“Ben?” Her voice cut through the darkness like a knife. “Are you awake?”
“Mhm.” His voice was muffled.
Mercy sat up straight and peered across the room. Through the darkness, she could just barely see his frame as he too lay on the floor, facing away from her. “Ben, what day do you think it is?”
“Wednesday, I suppose.”
She shivered. “How long do you think we’ll have to hide?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think they’ll find us?”
“I don’t know!” Ben groaned as he rolled over onto his side and looked at her. “Do you always ask so many questions?”
“Well, do you ever know any answers?”
Silence followed, then shuffling feet as she stood and hurried across the room.
Ben sat up. “What are you doing?” She didn’t answer him. “Mercy, where are you going?”
“Are you crazy?” He struggled to his feet, minding the bandage on his leg where a bullet had bit him. “If you go out there, the Redcoats could find you.”
“Well, if I stay here, they could find me too.” She headed for the door.
“You’re safer here.” Ben sighed. “Just where do you think you’ll go? And how exactly are you planning to find your way?”
“Now who’s asking all the questions?”
She shrugged. “We can’t stay here forever.”
“We have to think this through. You could die out there!”
“We could both die in here with our provisions getting low.”
Ben spotted her small feet as they crossed the moonbeams on the floor.
“Mercy, stay!” His voice was gentle but firm. “Please.”
She paused, standing before the sole window of the shed. Ben could see her profile silhouetted against the backdrop of silver moonlight. Mercy could hear the irregular rhythm of his steps as he limped, his boots clunking across the frozen floorboards until he reached her. Stepping into the moonlight, she saw his face. She expected to see an expression of anger painted there, but instead she simply saw eyes filled with concern and a piercing blueness that captivated her.
Ben furrowed his brow. “For a lady of nearly twenty you sure are stubborn!”
“Well, call it what you may, but you’re just plain childish.”
Her mouth gaped open. “Childish?”
He shrugged. “Well, you are rather young.”
“I’m not much younger than you, Ben.”
“Well, you sure do act like a child.”
“Oh really? Would a child have saved you from dying on that battlefield?”
Ben gulped. “I didn’t mean that.”
Her breath hitched, and she turned away from him. He had wounded her pride more deeply than his bullet hole. Facing the window, she peered out through the gaps between the boards. A light rain began to fall outside. Mercy tried with all her might to stop the tears from leaking out of her eyes like the raindrops falling from the cloudy night sky. She failed.
“Mercy.” His voice was quiet, his tone soft. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I was just upset.” Ben let out a heavy sigh. “Mercy, please look at me.” He stepped closer and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder as he turned her to face him.
She followed his prompting and turned reluctantly. Her teary eyes met his. She could see him much more clearly now as they stood so close, bathed in silver streams of moonlight. She admired the features of his handsome face—his chiseled jaw, sandy-colored hair, and eyes the color of cornflowers which were now filled with remorse too.
“Forgive me?” Ben’s voice was a whisper. His hand moved from her shoulder to her face as he cupped her cheek. His thumb gently caressed her smooth skin as he wiped away her tears. His touch set her heart racing.
“Alright.” Try as she might, Mercy couldn’t stay mad at Ben for long.
“I really don’t think you’re childish.” Ben smiled at her. “I think you’re very brave.” With his fingertips he brushed back one of the dark brown curls that framed her face. “And beautiful.”
Mercy grinned. “You do?”
He nodded. His fingers lingered in her hair. “Mercy, were you really going to leave?”
“No.” She paused. “Ben, what—what’s happening between us?”
He had been wondering this too, but he hadn’t dared to voice it.
Ben hesitated. “I’m not quite sure.” He took her hand in his. “But I feel it.”
She nodded, her lips slightly quivering.
In that moment, Ben desired nothing more than to bridge the narrow gap that remained between them, taking Mercy in his arms and covering her trembling mouth with his own.
But he did not.
He was afraid of what he was beginning to feel for Mercy. He didn’t know if he could really have such strong feelings for someone he’d only met a short time ago. He barely knew this woman, yet he felt as if he’d known her a lifetime.
Ben had fallen for Mercy from the moment he first saw her angelic face peering down at him as he lay dying. She’d saved his life, and he was eternally grateful.
But it was more than just gratitude that he felt for Mercy. He was beginning to realize that now.
Ben loved her.
He loved her strong-willed charm. She was as sweet as she was fiery, the epitome of American patriotism, strength, and courage. Perhaps, her courage was what he had grown to loved most about her. Not just any woman would have rescued a wounded soldier, extracted a bullet from his leg, sewn him up, and nursed him back to health. But Mercy had.
Ben was the soldier. He was supposed to be the heroic one. But Mercy was his hero.
“Come.” Ben took her hand. “Let’s get away from the window.” He led her across the room, and they sat down together, resting against the back wall of the shed.
Mercy rested her head on Ben’s shoulder, and he swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing nervously at her nearness, yet he knew in his heart he never wanted her to leave his side.
Mercy looked up at him. “Ben?”
He kept his eyes forward, watching the window. “Yes?”
“I’m glad you’re here with me.”
“You can trust me.”
He smiled warmly at her. “It’s late. Why don’t you get some sleep?”
“Oh, I couldn’t.” A yawn escaped her lips.
“You sound sleepy.”
“I’ll keep you safe.”
She sat up straight. “Well, if I’m asleep, who’s going to keep you safe?”
The warmth of the expressions that they exchanged seemed to fill the room with their own light.
This time, Ben didn’t hesitate. He gathered Mercy close and pressed his lips to her own, igniting them with his loving kiss. Mercy returned his affection wholeheartedly.
When their kiss ended, they were both smiling. Ben draped his arm around Mercy’s shoulders.
She eyed the bandage on his leg. “Ben, does your leg still pain you greatly?”
He shrugged. “Some.”
“I imagine it must.”
“I’ll live, thanks to you.” He nudged her. “I’ve got the best doc in town.”
“I’m not a real doctor.”
“Not yet...but you will be.”
Mercy’s smile grew. Becoming a doctor was her dream, but no one had ever believed she could succeed as a woman in a man’s field. But Ben did.
She leaned in to kiss him again. But just as her lips brushed his, a deafening explosion sounded in the distance, and they both sprang apart.
“Cannon fire.” Ben’s chest heaved.
“Near town?” Mercy’s face filled with panic.
Out the window, they could see a flash of light. “I’m not sure.”
Gunshots began to echo in the distance. Mercy trembled. Another explosion erupted, and she flung herself into Ben’s embrace.
He held her close. “It’s okay.”
“Are the shots getting closer?”
He took a deep breath. “Yes.”
“Ben, what will we do if they come here?”
“I don’t know.” Ben stroked her hair. “But take courage, Mercy. I promise I’ll protect you.”
Mercy nodded and smiled as she felt Ben kiss her brow. And while she knew of the danger outside their door, she suddenly felt completely safe and unafraid in the arms of her courageous patriot.