Gabhart's Shaker series continues with more of the same impeccable research and moving characters who are searching for their place in the world and learning to let God guide them. – RT Book Reviews
Excerpt from The Gifted
Jessamine was ready to turn back when she caught sight of a boot up ahead of her. A boot that was connected to a man lying in a deep rut. She hardly dared breathe as she stepped closer to the man who was lying much too still. Blood oozed from an angry looking wound on the side of his head, and his right arm was bent in an unnatural angle.
With relief, she noted his closed eyes. That could be a hopeful sign. Much better than open and staring at nothing but the beyond side of death, she decided as she peered at his chest. Yea, he was definitely breathing, but she couldn't see the least bit of flutter to his eyelids. The fall must have knocked him senseless.
Jessamine had no idea what to do next. Go for help of course, but how without leaving the man there alone? That seemed wrong. She moved another step closer to him. His felt hat had spilled off and dark brown hair tumbled down over his forehead.
She shut her eyes and opened them again. He was definitely there. Still as stone, but definitely there. Dark whiskers were beginning to shadow his clean shaven cheeks. She stooped down beside him and reached her hand toward his face. She couldn't remember ever touching a man's face. Her granny had no use for men other than the old preacher and the princes who populated her stories.
"Make them up," her granny would say as she rocked back and forth in the chair on the porch. "That's the only kind to have truck with, my sweet little Jessamine. You keep that in mind when you get older, child. Wait for your prince. The good Lord will send one."
Of course, the Believers thought the Lord had changed his mind about men and women marrying and having families. The believed marriage was a sin a person did well to repent of and set aside. To keep back the normal temptations of the flesh, the Shakers made sure no touching went on between the sisters and brothers with their separate doorways and staircases. They feared even a slight brush against one of the opposite sex might plummet a Believer into sin.
So it could be with her touching this man's cheek. Her hand hovered in the air over him. The warmth of his skin rose up to her and she told herself she should put her hand behind her. What was that Bible verse where the Lord said it was better to chop off one's hand instead of letting it pull one into sin? But what was so sinful about a touch? No one would have to know. She wouldn't have to admit her sin of curiosity to Sister Sophrena. While the good sister claimed unconfessed sin was a burden on the soul, so far Jessamine hadn't felt all that burdened when she kept a lapse of obedience to herself. She rather thought it was a favor to Sister Sophrena not admitting all her wayward thoughts.
For years, the good sister had tried to get Jessamine to embrace the Shaker way, but Jessamine couldn't stop her wondering. She wanted to know things. And it would be good to know exactly how a man's face might feel under her hand instead of just imagining it.
"Is he dead?"
Jessamine was so startled by the voice she almost fell on top the man. She caught her balance and jerked back her hand as she scrambled to her feet. With her hand over her heart and a bit out of breath, she turned to stare at Sister Annie behind her. "You startled me, Sister Annie. I didn't know you followed me."
"I didn't want to. Believe me. But we are sisters and if there's danger, it's my duty to share it with you."
Jessamine turned back to the man in front of her. "I don't think he is a danger to us."
"Perhaps not in his current state, but what about the gunshot? You keep forgetting that there was gunfire." Sister Annie leaned forward to peer around Jessamine toward the man. "Does he have a gun?"
Jessamine let her eyes sweep down the man's slender body. He wore a coat something like the brothers wore to meeting, but of a richer looking cloth and his shirt was very white. The coat lay open and revealing the belt around the waist of his trousers. "No gun that I can see."
"Well, somebody had one. If not him, then somebody else." Sister Annie looked around. Her voice trembled as she went on. "Somebody who could be watching us right now. May our Eternal Father up in heaven protect us."
"Do you think he was shot?" Jessamine knelt down beside the man again. She thought of pulling her handkerchief out of her apron pocket to wipe away the blood on the side of his face. That could not be sinful even in Sister Annie's eyes. "We have to help him."
Sister Annie surprised her by agreeing. "Yea, but how?"
"You can go to the village and get help while I wait here with him."
"Nay. I won't leave you alone with a man of the world and besides I would get lost a dozen times trying to get back to the village. That would be no help to him or us either. By the time the elders sent out people to search for us, the man might be dead."
Jessamine's heart jumped up in her throat. "We can't let him die."
"God holds the number of our days."
"But I don't want him to die." Jessamine kept her eyes on the man's face.
"You don't even know him, Sister Jessamine. You are only imagining one of your stories in your head that get you into nothing but troubling fixes." Sister Annie's voice was cross again. "This man is not one of the princes in the fairytales your grandmother told you."
"Yea, Sister Annie. You are right, but even so, we must take him back to the village where Brother Benjamin can treat him for his injuries."
"That might be a proper plan, but how?"
"Perhaps on his horse." Jessamine suggested. The horse might still be nearby.
"The man's arm appears to be broken. He could have other bones broken as well. Even if we were strong enough to do so, we might make his injuries worse putting him on a horse."
"Well, if we can't move him and we can't leave him, what can we do?" Jessamine looked at his face with the blood trickling down toward his ear from the angry gash on his head. She did take out her handkerchief then and dabbed it against the wound. She waited to see if Sister Annie would condemn her actions, but when she did not, Jessamine reached out with her other hand to take hold of the handkerchief.
With great care to make her movement look totally unplanned, she gingerly laid her hand down on the man's cheek. The emerging whiskers were prickly under her fingers. She forgot about Sister Annie watching her and ran her fingers up his cheek toward his eye. There his skin was smooth and his lashes soft as downy feathers. Quite without thinking she dropped the handkerchief and touched her own eyelashes with her other hand. His felt much the same as hers.
"Whatever are you doing, Sister Jessamine?"
"Just wiping the blood from the gash on his head," she said quickly.
"I might be more apt to believe that if the handkerchief were in your hand instead of forgotten on the ground."
A flush rose up into Jessamine's cheeks as she snatched up the handkerchief and began dabbing at the bloody gash again. "Forgive me, Sister. But I had never touched a man's face before. I have continually wondered about their whiskers. How they might feel."
"Sister Sophrena often says your curiosity may be the death of you, but whether or not that is true, I am beginning to fear it will be the death of me." Sister Annie let out a long sigh. "And we are not one iota nearer a solution to our dilemma than we were. We have no choice. We must leave him here and go back to the village. Elder Joseph will know what to do."
"I suppose you are right."
Reluctantly Jessamine lifted her hand away from the man's face and started to stand. But before she could get to her feet the man's eyes popped open and he grabbed her wrist. She sucked in a startled breath as Sister Annie let out a frightened yelp behind her. She jerked to free herself but the man's grip was strong. She was caught as surely as a rabbit in a snare. So she went still and stared down into eyes the brown of butternut.
After a moment, she said, "Hello." Her voice carried hardly any tremble at all.
The Gifted is available online at ChristianBook.com, www.bn.com, Amazon.com or other on-line booksellers and at bookstores everywhere.
Visit Ann's website - http://www.annhgabhart.com.
Copyright ©2012 by Ann H. Gabhart
Published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group
All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.