Callista Brooke is trapped in the battle between her native England
and her adopted homeland. She is on the verge of losing everything,
including her life, when a handsome Englishman cuts through the
violent crowd to claim that she is his. Callie falls into her
protector’s arms, recognizing that he is no stranger, but the boy
she’d once loved, a lifetime ago.
Audley had been Callie’s best friend, and it was to Gordon she
turned in desperation to avoid a loathsome arranged marriage. But the
repercussions of his gallant attempt to rescue her sent Callie
packing to Jamaica, and Gordon on a one way trip to the penal colony
Gordon survived. Finding Callie is like reclaiming his tarnished
soul, and once again he vows to do whatever is necessary to protect
her and those she loves. But the innocent friendship they shared as
children has become a dangerous passion that may save or destroy them
when they challenge the aristocratic society that exiled them both….
August 20, 1814
Callie brushed a lock of damp hair from her eyes, then dried her fingers on a towel before she returned to pinning delicate silk. Like its namesake, the rebellious General Washington, this young capital city was fresh and exciting in comparison to her Lancashire home, but the hot and humid summer had her wishing wistfully for the soft, cool summers of her childhood. She tucked another pin into the gown she was altering for Mrs. Gerard, one of her best customers. The wife of a high official in President Madison’s cabinet, Mrs. Gerard accepted a clean linen handkerchief from Sarah, Callie’s housekeeper, cook, assistant, and friend.
After murmuring thanks, Mrs. Gerard said soberly, “We’ve decided to move to our country house for the rest of the summer. It will be safer there, and we’ll get away from the heat and illness of this malaria-infested swamp.”
Washington was famous for its unhealthy climate, but not everyone had a country house to escape the summer heat. Callie said, “The Royal Navy has been plundering the Chesapeake Bay for over a year. What does Mr. Gerard think will happen now?”
“Since Napoleon’s abdication has released British Army troops to come here, the cities around the bay are in danger of land invasion. If troops are landed on the Patuxent River, they can march to Washington, Annapolis, or Baltimore.”
Similar thoughts had been keeping Callie awake at night. Luckily, her customers kept her better informed than the news sheets. “Wouldn’t Baltimore be the most likely target because of its shipping and privateers? They say the Royal Navy admirals call Baltimore ‘that nest of pirates.’ ”
“Yes, and justly so,” Mrs. Gerard agreed. “But I wish this war was over.”
“So do I!” Callie accidentally stabbed her finger with a pin. “I’ve never seen the point of it.”
Before Mrs. Gerard could reply, the door to the dress shop flew open. Callie’s fourteen-year-old stepson, Trey, his black curls rioting around his face, burst into the salon. “The British have landed over on the Patuxent!”
Everyone in the parlor froze. “Speak of the devil,” Mrs. Gerard muttered, turning pale. “And here they are.”
Callie clamped down on her fear. Trey had an enthusiastic interest in the war, but he wasn’t prone to spreading wild rumors. “Where did you hear this?”
“An army scout just brought the news to President Madison!” Trey said excitedly. “Now the scout is at a tavern telling everyone.”
She had a chilling certainty that the British would attack Washington. Baltimore was a more valuable target, but also much more difficult. Capturing the American capital would be easier, and it would crush and humiliate the fragile new republic.
The fitting session ended more quickly than usual so Mrs. Gerard could hasten home. Wanting to preserve normalcy for as long as possible, Callie said to Trey and his sister, Molly, “Shall we make a lemon ice for supper? We’ll need lemons. Run down to the market, if you would. Molly, try to keep Trey out of trouble!”
Sixteen-year-old Molly laughed. “I don’t think that’s possible, but I’ll do my best.”
The ice house Callie had had dug behind her home had proved a godsend in this climate. There had been an ice house at her English home, but not the heat that made ices so particularly wonderful here.
Callie waited until the children were gone before turning to Sarah. A handsome woman in her fifties, Sarah Adams and her husband Joshua had been house slaves at the Jamaica plantation of Callie’s husband, Matthew Newell. When Callie had fled the island with the children, she’d asked the couple if they wanted to come with her. When they said yes, she’d freed them immediately. Now Sarah and Joshua were as much family as her two stepchildren; a better family than the one she’d grown up with.
“What should we do, Miss Callista?” Sarah said. “Reckon Mrs. Gerard is right that the British soldiers will march on Baltimore?”
Callie worried her lip as she wondered how best to keep her family safe. “My instincts say they’ll head for Washington.”
“Your instincts have always been good. So what do we do now?”
Callie drew a deep breath. “Leave the city. Start packing the necessities for the children and you and Joshua so that you can be off tomorrow morning.”
“Where would we go? West into the countryside?” Sarah asked doubtfully.
“To Baltimore,” Callie said. “The city is much larger than Washington and better defended. There’s also a place for you to stay there. Mr. Newell owned a warehouse and he left it to me. The living quarters on the upper floor are rather primitive, but they’ll do until you can come home.”
Sarah frowned. “You talked about ‘us’ going. Won’t you be with us?”
Callie shook her head. “All my worldly goods are here, and if the house is destroyed, we’ll be in dire straits. Since I’m English born, I should be able to talk the British troops into sparing this house.”
Sarah gasped. “It’s too dangerous for you to stay here alone!”
“Other women will be staying in the city to protect their homes. British soldiers aren’t monsters, Sarah. They have orders not to hurt unarmed civilians. Even the horrible Admiral Cockburn, who’s been raiding up and down the bay since last year, only destroys property and militiamen, not women and children.”
“Joshua should stay with you,” Sarah said firmly.
“The children need you both.” Callie smiled as if she wasn’t half sick with fear. “Remember that Mr. Newell taught me how to use a gun, just in case. I can drive off looters if need be.”
Since Sarah’s frown didn’t abate, Callie said, “Maybe my intuition is wrong and the British Army won’t come close to Washington. Perhaps the fact that we’re preparing to evacuate will guarantee that evacuation is unnecessary.”
Sarah snorted. “The world doesn’t work that way! I’ll start on the packing.”
After her friend left the room, Callie drifted around the high-ceilinged drawing room that she’d transformed into a fashionable salon. Most of the furnishings were secondhand, but elegant. A handsome oriental screen in one corner provided privacy for ladies to change their garments. Joshua had built shelves along one wall to hold the tools of Callie’s trade: pattern books and lengths of fabric and boxes of buttons and trimmings.
Callie skimmed her fingertips over laces and ribbons, scooped up a handful of buttons and let them trickle through her fingers. She’d worked hard to build this business and this life, and it might be swept away through no fault of her own. Life wasn’t fair, a painful fact she’d learned as a girl.
She paused at a window and gazed out at the street in front of her home. One of the principal thoroughfares of the city, it ran all the way to the Capitol, a grand building designed to show the world that the United States was a nation to be reckoned with. If the British invaded the city, they might march down this very road.
Growing up as the daughter of a baron in England, she had never imagined this life she lived. Everything that happened had been her fault, of course. If she’d been better behaved, less rebellious, her father wouldn’t have forced her into marriage with a stranger. She wouldn’t have run off with her dearest friend, and he wouldn’t have ended up dying on a prison ship on the long voyage to New South Wales.
Of all the mistakes she’d made, causing Richard’s death was the one that weighed most heavily. He’d been as much a rebel as Callie, and they’d had enormous fun acting out different roles, like scenes from a play. Pirates and maidens. Greek and Amazon warriors. Athena and Mars—and sometimes they’d switched roles, with her being the lord and he the lady, and they’d end up rolling around in the grass laughing until their stomachs hurt. Ah, Richard . . .
She cut off the thought, knowing how futile her regrets were. If she hadn’t run to him for help, or accepted his suggestion that they elope together, he’d be alive now. Or at least, he wouldn’t have died as a direct result of her actions. Once he became old enough to escape his father’s control, he would have found his way to a happier life. He had strength and wit and more kindness than he showed to the world.
He should have lived to become happy. Instead, his bones rested on a distant ocean floor.
a New York Times and USA Today bestselling
author who has written over 50 novels and novellas. A ten-time
finalist for the Romance Writers of America RITA, she has won the
honor twice and is on the RWA Honor Roll for bestselling authors. She
has been awarded two Romantic Times Career Achievement Awards, four
NJRW Golden Leaf awards, plus the NJRW career achievement award for
historical romance. Though most of her books have been historical
romance, she has also published contemporary romances, historical
fantasy, and young adult paranormal historicals.
Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Patricia Rice, Nicola Cornick, Cara
Elliott, Anne Gracie, Susan King are the ladies otherwise
known as the Word Wenches. These eight authors have written a
combined 231 novels and 74 novellas. They’ve won awards such as the
RITAS, RT Lifetime Achievement award, RT Living Legend, and RT
Reviewers Choice award. Several of them are regulars on the New
York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.
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