Territory of Michigan, 1810
The harsh bellow shattered the early-afternoon
peace, startling Emily Ambrose. Her hands froze in
midwring as her gaze flew from the pile of laundry to
her father, a tall, rail-thin man with a wild mane of
ash-brown hair. The tails of his overcoat flapped
angrily behind him as he marched down the bank with
a Bible in one hand and a whip-thin switch tucked
beneath his arm. He stopped less than a foot away
from where she knelt in the shallow water.
Rushing to her feet, Emily nearly fell when she
stepped on the sodden hem of her dress. She gained
her balance and stared up at her father with wary eyes.
“Father?” Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth.
She shivered, not from the cold of the river, but
from the icy contempt of the man who’d sired her.
Emily cringed and took an involuntary step back at the
fury raging in her father’s eyes. Since the disaster at
the mission, he’d not spoken a word to her, and she’d
stayed out of his way. Until now. These horrid words
were the first he’d spoken to her in weeks.
She trembled, unable to bear the terse silence and
18 White Dawn
the torturous wait. “Father?” she repeated, her voice a
mere whisper. She didn’t know what had caused him
to break his silence to her, but the fact that his fury had
kept him silent for so long boded ill. Her fingers
bunched in her skirts, and water lapped at the soaked
hem, tugging at the fabric as if trying to pull her out of
her father’s reach.
The man’s eyes narrowed to furious slits, his sharp
chin jutting out as he clenched his jaw. His face turned
a mottled hue of red and purple. “Devil’s daughter!”
he exploded, leaning over to deliver a stinging blow to
her face with his open palm.
Her cheek stinging, Emily bit back her cry of pain.
“Have you no shame? No decency,” he spat, his
voice rising, then ending abruptly as he ran out of
Fear kept Emily as still as a deer scenting danger in
the air, but unlike that wild animal, she had no place to
run. Biting her lower lip to still its trembling, she
wondered what had set her father off—not that it took
much for her to anger or upset him.
Timothy Ambrose glared down, his gaze raking
over her, his hand shaking as he pointed a long, bony
finger. “You’re no better than the whore who gave
birth to me.”
Emily glanced down at herself and gasped when
she caught sight of the bodice of her mother’s old
washday dress. To her horror, the swells of her bosom
had escaped the too-small confines of both her dress
and the long shift she wore beneath it. The shift was
low-cut, the dress several sizes too small and far too
Susan Edwards 19
tight in the bodice. It had inched down without her
being aware of it. A frantic glance behind her revealed
the shawl she’d worn earlier lying on the bank.
“Please, Father,” she begged, “I meant no
disrespect. My dress is hanging to dry, and Ma’s other
dresses don’t fit. I—I don’t have any others.” Her
voice shook. Watching her father’s mouth tighten,
Emily knew it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t care that she
had only one dress. He’d view her lack of decency as
another act of rebellion, against not only himself, but
against God. In his view, there was no greater sin.
With crazed eyes, he tightly grasped the switch in
his right hand. “Whore!” Down came the switch.
Emily ducked to avoid the blow to her face, crying
out against the sting of pain burning across the backs
of her shoulders.
“No-good—” A second strike seared her back, the
thin material of her dress proving no barrier to the
slashing force of the switch.
“Sinner!” Another blow followed, and another.
“Father, please,” she begged, falling to her knees
on the muddy bank, hunching over, using her arms to
protect her face.
“Daughter of the devil!” He shoved her with his
booted foot, then kicked her in the ribs.
Emily whimpered and curled into a tight ball. Her
apparent disregard for modesty had destroyed the cold
control her father had managed since their family had
left the mission. With one innocent action, she’d
unleashed the storm. Emily feared her father’s wrath
as never before.
20 White Dawn
She cried out with the sting of another lash, this
time on her thigh. Sobbing, she cowered on the
ground, helpless to stop the indignant rage raining
down upon her.
“Timothy!” Emily’s mother rushed over, but Emily
didn’t look to her for help. No one stood against her
father when he was in one of his righteous rages.
He speared his wife with mad eyes. “You bore the
of Satan!” He lifted his arm.
His wife grabbed his arm. “No! Leave her be,
Timothy. In the name of Jesus Christ, leave her be,”
she begged. Beatrice Ambrose was appealing to her
husband’s religious nature, but it didn’t seem to
He tossed her aside. “Look at your daughter. Clad
like a whore!”
“Timothy, be reasonable. It’s washday. There’s no
one else around. Tonight I’ll sew her a new dress.”
The woman’s interference earned her a slap.
“You’re no better, wife, encouraging her sinful
behavior. And I won’t waste good material on the likes
of her. It’s her own fault she ruined her last dress.”
Emily knew better than to protest. The bodice of
her dress had been ripped beyond repair during her
struggle with Father Richard.
“Please, Timothy. For the love of God—”
“Do not use the name of our Lord when talking
her! She led a Jesuit into temptation.” His voice
man of God! She has no regard for my work.
She has destroyed me.”
Emily lifted her head and brushed muddy water and
Susan Edwards 21
strands of wet hair from her face, tired of being
blamed. “I didn’t do anything wrong, Father,” she said
with a sob. How many times had she tried to convince
him? Yet still he refused to listen to her. “Father
Richard tried to rape me. You saw it! You were there!”
Her voice broke.
“Spawn of Satan,” he continued with unrestrained
and unholy fury. He stepped back.
Emily gasped, her father’s hate piercing her heart,
causing more pain than his beating. And Timothy
Ambrose, mired in his own narrow beliefs, stared
down at her as if he’d never seen her before, as if she
were some condemned heathen instead of his only
child. He shot his wife a look of loathing.
“This is your fault.”
His eyes went blank then. His voice reverted to the
cold, flat, unemotional tone he’d adopted since their
exile. “No more lies. No more living with the shame.
We’re leaving. Now.” Timothy spun around and
Emily shivered. Water lapped at her skirts, but she
shook too much to stand. Her father had gone crazy.
The eerie light in his eyes frightened her more than
had feeling the lash of his anger. Her hair whipped
across her face, and she hugged her arms tight around
Beatrice Ambrose, white with fear, bent down and
stroked her daughter’s hair and smoothed the pale
strands from her face. “I’m so sorry, Emily.” Sorrow
edged her words.
“It’s not your fault, Ma,” Emily tried to comfort her
22 White Dawn
mother. The woman was as much a victim as Emily
herself when it came to Timothy Ambrose and his
strict religious beliefs.
Her mother laughed bitterly. “It
is my fault,
daughter. And I’m more sorry than you will ever
know.” She stood, her shoulders bent as if under a
great weight. She sent Emily a pleading look. “Stay
out of his way this evening, daughter.”
Emily stared at her mother, seeing a downtrodden
woman who blended with her surroundings, devoted
her life to serving God, and tried to be the perfect
missionary’s wife. She set her jaw, forcing the tears
back. Then she asked her mother. “Why won’t he
listen to me? He was there. He
saw it. Why won’t he
admit the truth?”
Emily fought the memory, but it haunted her.
Father Richard had shown up at their small one-room
house after her parents had left to take food, medicine
and the word of God to a nearby Indian village. The
Jesuit had often asked her to help with his
correspondence, but that day was different. He’d
leaned close, his breath fanning her cheek.
Uncomfortable, Emily had tried to shift away. Father
Richard had laughed, holding her in place while
kissing her on the lips.
She’d told him to stop, but he’d refused. When she
struggled, she fell off her chair. He’d pinned her
beneath him on the floor and had his hand up her
skirts. That was how it had been when her father
returned unexpectedly. He’d found her crying and
fighting off the priest.
Susan Edwards 23
Emily shuddered. “Father saw me fighting him,
saw me trying to get away, but Father Richard said I’d
invited him in, that I’d teased him until he gave in to
temptation.” She stared up into her mother’s eyes,
needing reassurance. “You believe me, don’t you,
Beatrice Ambrose closed her eyes. “Yes, Emily. I
thunk drew their gazes. Emily’s father was
throwing boxes and equipment haphazardly into the
back of the farm wagon he’d purchased years ago,
when they’d made their living going from town to
town so he could preach. They’d never stayed long in
one place, though. They’d stayed at the mission for
some time, had been forced to leave because of
Timothy’s shame, and now they were leaving this
small campsite on the edge of nowhere.
Bitterness welled deep inside Emily, seeking
release. “He hates me.” She waited for her mother to
defend her father, to tell her that she was wrong. But
the woman didn’t. Her mother’s silence said it all.
Deep inside, Emily hurt. All her life she’d tried to live
up to her father’s expectations, tried hard to prove
herself worthy of his love. But no matter how hard she
tried, she’d never gained his affection—or even a kind
word. He hated his own flesh and blood.
“I’m so sorry,” her mother repeated. “This is my
fault. If only…”
Emily waited for her to finish, but the woman
seemed lost in another world. “If only what?” she
prompted. But she knew. If only she’d been born a
24 White Dawn
boy. Her father made no secret of his contempt for
Shaking her head, her mother looked old, sad and
guilt ridden. “Just stay out of his way, Emily.
Millicente said as soon as her husband returns, she’ll
have him organize a party to come after us. When they
do, I’ll send you to a friend in Kentucky.”
“I hope so,” Emily prayed, her gaze following her
father’s angry movements. Millicente Dufour was their
only chance. The woman lived at the mission they’d
just left, staying there whenever her trapper husband
was away. She helped school some of the native
children, and she’d befriended Emily’s mother.
Sometimes Emily sneaked back to help teach, but it
was mostly to be around the cheerful and loving
Beatrice jumped at the harsh bellow.
Seeing her father watching them, Emily got to her
feet. She knew her mother was regretting past choices.
After years of traveling from church to mission, going
farther and farther away from civilization, her mother
had finally tried to put her foot down, here. She’d
refused to leave this last mission for the wilds of an
unknown and untamed land. She and Emily’s father
had fought, and Timothy had told Beatrice she could
stay but that Emily had to go with him. But Beatrice
had given in, and now her father seemed determined to
take them even deeper into this wild and untamed land.
Emily tried to smile. It came out a weak grimace.
“You had no choice in all this, Ma,” she said. “Now go
Susan Edwards 25
see what Pa wants.” She didn’t want her father to turn
his anger to her mother, for his was a harsh hand.
Emily knew better than any. Timothy Ambrose
believed women—all women—needed to be sternly
governed, for they were the daughters of Eve. It was a
man’s responsibility to keep them subservient and
firmly under control. And if prayer or lectures didn’t
give him the desired result, a man must resort to
physical punishment. He had not spared the rod on his
“Stay here until we’re ready to leave,” her mother
whispered, gathering up the basket of laundry and
hurrying toward the wagon.
Emily planned to stay as far from her father as she
could. Biting back a moan of unhappiness, she stared
out across the flowing river, finding no peace in the
sparkle of sunlight on the water or the gentle sway of
trees lining the banks. They would soon be leaving
here for even more dangerous lands.
Picking up her shawl, she wrung the excess water
from it and draped it over her shoulders. She shivered
from both the cold and the pain of the water on the
welts her father had just given her. Pacing along the
bank, she knew she had to find a way for both her and
her mother to get away. Her father’s fanatical devotion
to the Bible, and to all things holy, had gotten out of
hand—as had his abuse. More and more, he compared
Emily to her grandmother, who’d been forced to use
her body in a brothel to survive.
Emily thought of her father’s mother, a woman
she’d never met. Her father had never gone back to see
26 White Dawn
the woman after he’d run away at the age of twelve. A
traveling Methodist preacher had taken him in, and
later her father had married the man’s daughter,
Beatrice. But Timothy’s hatred of his mother ran deep
and had affected his ability to deal with women—even
those in his own household.
For as long as Emily could remember, her father
had been a cold, distant man. The older she’d gotten,
the worse he’d become, as if the simple act of her body
maturing from child to woman made her evil. And
now, at sixteen, she attracted the attention of men
wherever she went—which made her father even more
unreasonable. Glancing over at her parents, she winced
when her father threw a pot of beans at her mother.
“He’s insane,” she whispered. The anger in his voice
as he continued to shout at her mother was frightening.
Emily had never seen him so out of control.
When he swung his furious gaze in her direction,
Emily backed up and quickly averted her eyes. “It’s
not right,” she mumbled, wishing she had the courage
to stand up to him. After all, she hadn’t asked God for
the extra curves and flesh on her short figure. In fact,
her looks—her generous bust and her white-blond hair
and blue eyes—had brought her nothing but trouble. It
seemed it didn’t matter if men were married, young or
old. They looked.
A few brave men had even tried to court her, but
they had only caused Emily grief. The more persistent
a suitor, the more hours her father forced her to spend
on her knees in prayer, begging forgiveness. If he
caught lust in the eyes of a married man, he’d take a
Susan Edwards 27
belt or a switch to her, accusing Emily of using her
body to entice them into committing adultery. And the
final straw had been Father Richard’s interest. In
Timothy Ambrose’s eyes, tempting a man of God had
made Emily the daughter of the devil.
It did not take him long to load the wagon and hitch
the mules, and when Emily spotted her father heading
toward her, holding his well-worn Bible in both hands,
she clutched the ends of her shawl tightly around her
and swallowed a moan of pain. Her arms and
shoulders still burned with her every movement.
“Kneel, daughter of Satan,” her father said as he
reached her. He closed his eyes and clutched the Bible
to his chest, as if drawing strength from it.
Emily bit back a cry of protest at the abominable
name he called her. Gingerly she knelt, wincing as she
assumed the expected pose: clasped hands, the picture
of a sinner begging forgiveness, though she prayed not
for forgiveness, but for mercy. She’d done nothing
wrong, nothing to be ashamed of. It wasn’t her fault
that her father refused to part with any of the cloth he
reserved for trading with savages so that she could sew
a second dress for herself. Sometimes it seemed that
her greatest sin lay in being born a female.
Her father lifted his voice in prayer. “Hear me,
Father in heaven. I have tried to instill virtue and
humility in this child entrusted to my care. But I can
do no more. She refuses to act in a manner befitting a
humble servant of God. She has forsaken the church;
she lures men of God down the path to hell.”
He paused. Emily risked an upward peek. Her
28 White Dawn
father’s eyes were wide open, staring heavenward. His
voice dropped to a whisper, and his eyes closed as if in
pain. “The day I left my mother’s life of sin behind, I
promised my life to you to atone for her sins. I can do
no more. Take this child and do with her what you
Timothy Ambrose stepped back and stared down at
his child with eyes that were chillingly empty. “I have
Emily stared up at her father in confusion. Instead
of anger in his eyes, she saw nothing. No emotion. It
was as if she no longer existed. An ache settled in her
chest. This outright rejection left her breathless.
“Father?” Her voice choked.
“The Lord has spoken. This is His will.” Taking
another step away, he said, “You, daughter of Satan,
are at the mercy of our Lord and God. You live or die
by his hand.” He called to Beatrice: “Come, wife, we