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Angel's Flight

Chapter One

 

The tall windows of the governor’s mansion shone with candles, and the polished wide board floor reflected the glow. It was a splendid New York City ball carried off in high style, as if a war weren’t crouched somewhere close by like a filthy, murderous maniac. Officers paraded in red uniforms and crisp white wigs, while the ladies exhibited low-cut dresses, tightly laced waistlines and towering hairstyles. The glossy, spilling curls were sometimes their own—but, more likely, purchased.

Into this scene—as sophisticated as any in London—strode Jack Carter. He was neither tall nor red-coated, but of middling height and wearing a black suit. Not only his clothing, but the way he moved separated him from the crowd. The other men beside the governor were fawning—or, at least deferential.

Not this stranger. As he was ushered onto the dais for his introduction, he paused to turn back. For an instant, his eyes swept the room below with all the serene and abstracted confidence of a prince.

“Who is that lordly fellow? The one dressed like a rich Quaker?” Angelica whispered behind her fan. Her companion, Minerva Livingston, had recently married a British officer.

“Quaker?” The new Mrs. Colonel Bradford couldn’t quite smother the giggle. “Not by a long chalk, my dear! ’Tis said Jack Carter was an officer and in all sorts of wars. My William heard that he’s a gentleman of good breeding who has come to our colony to escape the consequences of a duel. ’Tis also said his family holds land up the Hudson, by Kingston. But, I must say, the time he’s picked to inspect them is marvelously bad.”

Angelica nodded. All the time her companion spoke, her eyes never left the strangely compelling Mr. Carter.

Suddenly, there was a shock, as tangible as a slap. The stranger’s restless search of the room abruptly ended—at the instant his gaze collided with Angelica’s.

Tingling all over, she watched his expression change to one of pure, masculine delight. And, unaccountably—recognition!

It must be a trick of the light, she thought. Looking away, she permitted herself a thought. Perhaps, he likes what he sees as much as I do.

“I met Mr. Carter yesterday,” Minerva continued, “at Lady Tryon’s tea. When you get closer, you will see he’s had that handsome face of his spoiled.” She leaned ever closer as she talked. When she was quite close to Angelica’s ear, she whispered, “Carter isn’t his real name, either, my William says.”

“And what does your William say his real name is?”

“No one is entirely sure,” Minerva answered, a flash of annoyance brightening her plump cheeks. “Although the governor must know. Some say he’s Mr. Church of Oxfordshire, others that he’s a Villiers from Somerset or one of the Devonshire Clarkes. He was charming at supper, but what a way he has about him. Quite the cock of the walk.”

“Poise isn’t the same as pride.” Angelica felt obliged to object.

“Well, Lord! Just look at him! You’d think he was the most important man on the dais.” Her friend boldly poked her fan in the direction of her subject. “And you should see how polite the men are around him. He is supposed to be quite a dangerous fellow…to have killed a man in that duel. Over a woman, William says! Why,” she ended breathlessly, “he’s practically in exile.”

“Indeed.”

Even without Minerva’s gossip, Angelica was intrigued. The man’s easy manner, his absolute self-confidence, made a sharp contrast with the obvious peacocking of the young officers. As for the rest, she knew Minerva embroidered every story she heard.

And the look he’d sent! So admiring, so—so—possessive….

“Killed someone over a woman?” she asked. “Are you certain? That would be a terrible scandal, impossible to keep quiet, even this far from England.”

Although she could neither approve of dueling, (nor, these days, of British officers), Angelica found herself unable to keep her eyes away from the mysterious Mr. Carter. When he passed close, dancing with one of the ladies of the governor’s circle, she saw he was older than she’d first thought—perhaps as old as thirty.

His only bow to fashion was a single row of white silk cross-stitch along the lapels of the jacket. With a proud, athletic bearing that spoke of far more than adequate muscle beneath his coat, his fair, unpowdered head held high, this Jack Carter was in manhood’s full glory.

Is this not the best-looking man I’ve seen in ages? Does he not carry himself like a lordly stag—a stand-out figure among these complacent—sheep?

“Here. Before I forget.” Minerva broke into her thoughts. Slipping a long, fair hand into a pocket, her friend removed a single, neatly pressed rectangle of printed calico.

“Oh! Just look!” The print—destined to be the center of a quilt Angelica and her friends had planned to sew round robin—was a distraction. On an ivory background, a pair of bluebirds flew on either side of a brown nest containing a clutch of eggs. It was a triumph of the most modern method of textile printing, executed by a craftsman who had used a Dutch nature print for his inspiration.

“This is from a Philadelphia shop,” Minerva replied. “Even my William allows it is as handsomely done as any English piece he’s seen.”

“What a wonderful choice for our center! Such a sweet scene—and so many nice colors to work with!”

“Yes, I thought so, too. Will you have any difficulty matching the material?”

“Not a bit.” Carefully, Angelica refolded the square and tucked it into her own deep pocket. “In a few days, I shall carry what I’ve done to Caroline Beekman. The Livingston boys and I go there to dinner on Wednesday.”

“Will you sail to her?” Minerva asked. “In that awful little boat?”

“Yes, of course. There’s nothing to be afraid of. My cousins are wonderful sailors. As you can imagine, Aunt Laetitia must have her carriage at all times.”

Minerva shuddered. “I’m sure they’re very good, but I don’t see how you can trust yourself to boys—or to that tiny boat! The Hudson is as broad and deep as the ocean. Just the idea scares me to death.”

 

* * *

 

Mr. Carter, accompanied by no less of a person than the governor’s wife, was introduced to Angelica. He had a scar, just as Minerva had said, but his face wasn’t “spoiled.” There was simply a long, straight line that began on his right cheekbone and made a diagonal passage toward his mouth.

Angelica recognized the wound, the kind left by a close encounter with a rapier. Mr. Carter was lucky, she mused, not to have lost one of his sparkling gray eyes.

“I thought—” Jack Carter smiled as he lifted his head from bowing over her hand. “—that I certainly must make the acquaintance of a lady who has sufficient courage to flout not only fashion, but the frenzied urgings of a hairdresser.”

Quite an opening! The reference was to Angelica’s golden curls, tonight piled into a shining, tumbling corona. A few renegade locks had been allowed to trail negligently over one creamy shoulder.

The gentleman’s own wavy hair was queued, but like hers was untouched by powder. The color was light, but the exact color was difficult to pin down. In another light, it might prove to be chestnut, blonde or ash.

“It may be presumptuous, Miss Ten Broeck, but I have come to ask if there is a dance you might have free.”

His words were deferential, but his eyes were not. She was visited by a feeling that if all her dances had been filled, she would throw over someone—anyone—simply to please him.

“You may have the very next dance, sir,” Angelica replied. She found Jack Carter’s good looks amplified by closeness. “That is,” she continued with a nervous toss of her head, “if you are bold enough to tread a measure with a partisan of General Washington.”

One sandy brow lifted, but his beautiful eyes sparkled as if he loved nothing so much as a challenge. Those eyes were truly gray, so pale and clear that looking into them took her breath away. They were like gazing into the frozen face of the Hudson.

“I am bold enough for anything, Miss Ten Broeck.”

There was something about him, manner more than appearance, which brought ’Bram powerfully to mind.

Beloved ’Bram, whose yellow hair has become a glorious trophy for some Iroquois war chief…

The sensation, as he took her hand, was phenomenal, the familiar mingled with something exciting—and dangerous.

“You mean to tell me that mere politics has kept you disengaged?” Mr. Carter chuckled. A white smile came with the wintry flash of his eyes. “I do not mean to be impertinent, miss. Either to you or your cause, but these gentlemen must either be blind, timid—or both.”

“I believe their eyes are good enough, sir.”

Some applications for her hand Angelica had refused because she knew the man scorned her cause. Others, full of deference for what was generally felt to be Major Armistead’s stated claim, did not ask. Her guardian, Uncle Ten Broeck, would not approve of any of these Tories under any circumstances—although her aunt, at a distance in New York, might have thumbed her nose at his wishes had Angelica liked one of them. If a young woman took wedding vows before witnesses, she was married, whatever her guardian wanted—which was why elopement was so popular.

“The deficiency, sir, is in their backs. The yellow part, you know.”

She wondered if he’d think her rough, but Jack chuckled again. “Ah, but I have heard, there is a prominent gentleman, an officer not yet among us, who asserts a claim upon all of your dances.”

“He may assert, sir, but the plain fact is, that having made no promises, I am quite free to dance with whomever I choose.”

“And are there no others with whom you wish to dance?”

“I am of a mind to refuse all except the charitable offers of my kinsmen.”

“I do not wish to contradict you, miss, but it seems that outright pleasure, not charity, must be the sole motive for any gentleman who seeks the honor of taking you out.”

It was almost as if she could see herself mirrored in his silver eyes—a Dutch beauty with arching blonde brows, merry blue eyes and rosy cheeks.

“King of Denmark’s favorite!” The master of ceremonies announced the next dance. The orchestra, musicians from the military bands, was best at country dances, so this choice was ambitious. Fifes and drums, tonight helped along by a couple of fiddles, kept the sound shrill and the rhythm strong.

“Shall we go out?” It was posed as a question, but that strong hand of his maintained firm possession. His look was an arrow—aimed, with perfect frankness—at her heart.

On every side, fans fluttered. Angelica knew they were whispering about her.

To dance with a stranger was impulsive. Belatedly, Angelica hoped Mr. Carter would not condescendingly call General Washington “Mr.,” or sneer at “the ragtag, runaway army.”

They went hand to hand through the long line of the set they’d joined. The tune was gay and striding, adapted, like much of the music that night, from a well-known march. Jack proved a wonderful partner, graceful and strong, and Angelica looked forward to the moments when they would hold hands again.

Too soon the dance was done. Jack, his hand beneath her arm, guided her to a seat. It pleased Angelica unduly that her Aunt Laetitia was standing some yards away, engaged in a fan-fluttering gossip with Lady Phillipse. It also pleased her that Jack Carter seemed in no hurry to take his leave.

When he asked if he might sit with her for a while, she accepted with a rush of pleasure. He opened a conversation, but this, with distressing inevitability, drifted to the war. Mr. Carter, as she’d anticipated, was strongly on the British side.

“With respect, miss, you Colonials don’t seem to realize there is a cost to defense. Those taxes on tea and stamps were not high and only enacted to pay debts incurred by Britain on your behalf.”

“Then your help was purchased too dear,” Angelica countered. “For how did you defend us? Not particularly well, my uncle says. One of our cousins, who had gone to live north of Albany with her husband, was carried off by Indians. There were massacres and our frontiers towns were burnt.”

Jack began to reply, but Angelica hadn’t finished. “Mrs. De Keys, our housekeeper, says the officers quartered upon our family were insolent and rude. They were more for wasting her larder, making mischief among the girls than for fighting Indians and French in the woods. Strutting around in their fine red coats, they made admirable targets.”

“You have small respect for our fighting men, I see.” Instead of taking offense, Jack rewarded her with a big, easy grin. “But, as a retired soldier,” he continued, “I advise caution. There is such a thing as too much boldness when you are surrounded by the enemy—as you are tonight, Miss Ten Broeck.”

As he spoke, Angelica caught a glimpse of another self hiding inside this most masculine of men—a boy who liked to tease.

“As a man who has fought many battles, I believe there are times when discretion is definitely the better part of valor.”

“Discretion?” Angelica smiled up at him, into the harmony only the scar interrupted. “That seems a strange admission from a man of war.”

“Not so strange, but I must confess I am giving myself advice, miss, quite as much as you. I would be interested to hear what cure you would prescribe for the present malady? Would it help if you Americans could elect men to parliament?”

“To be out-voted every time? The plain fact is that the charters in every colony provide us with assemblies of our own. They decide what taxes we shall pay. We should be given free rein to raise our own troops to defend ourselves. How can you, living across a great ocean, understand what it is to live here on the edge of a wilderness?”

“I’m not quite a newcomer, miss. I spent some years with the army in Canada where I made all-too-close acquaintance with your Indians and those rascally French.”

“I assumed you were a newcomer—my apologies, sir.” Any embarrassment Angelica felt was almost blotted out while she wondered whether it had been a French sword that had vandalized his otherwise perfect face.

“No apology necessary. How could you know anything about me?” He inclined his fair head graciously.

“So, you do understand us a little.” For some reason, it seemed important he appreciate her point of view. “We Americans do not wish to be disloyal to the king. The trespasses of parliament have forced dire measures upon us.”

“Dire measures indeed, to engage the British army! While I must stand with the loyalists—I’ve been too long in the military for anything else, miss—I offer the hope your family does not suffer for convictions which appear to be honestly held.”

“War is certainly never to be preferred, but history teaches that it is sometimes a necessity.”

Once again, the master of ceremonies, Mr. Morris, a man with a huge Adam’s apple and great ears that stuck out on either side of his wig, approached the center of the room, an ornamental staff in hand.

“The Black Nag!” He announced, striking the floor with a cheerful thump.

“Are you free to dance again, Miss Ten Broeck?”

“I am, but I do not wish to set tongues wagging by dancing two sets with a gentleman who was, until this evening, a stranger to me. Therefore, I thank you, sir, for your flattering offer, but I must decline.”

“As you wish.”

A pause followed, but Jack did not excuse himself and leave. Instead, he once more took up the thread of their conversation.

What if I were to urge an economic reason for obedience and say that Britain is the natural market for your goods and the supplier of all your manufactures, right down to the needles you ladies ply?”

“Only because you keep us from manufacturing for ourselves,” Angelica retorted. “Why could we not make such things here? We have all the raw materials and plenty of water to drive mills and wood to fuel fires. Why must we buy everything from you? ’Tis the unlawful actions of parliament which—”

“Miss Ten Broeck,” a nasal tenor voice interrupted, “you are a sadly misguided young lady.”

Angelica startled, for here was Major George Armistead—white wig, red coat and sword—making a sudden and unwelcome appearance.

“I told you these colonies are quite astonishing, didn’t I, Carter?” The major drawled, leaning confidingly toward her companion. “The truly odd thing is that some of the wealthiest landowners and merchants are the loudest in this treason. The gentleman planters of the South echo the glum and dirty spawn of Cromwell, for they hope a war will relieve them of the debts they owe their London factors. Even,” he concluded, making a mocking bow towards Angelica, “their fair young daughters parrot these radical notions.”

Angelica gathered herself to give the Armistead a piece of her mind, but, before she could, Mr. Carter intervened.

“Excuse me, Major Armistead, but while you and I may not agree with Miss Ten Broeck, does she not have a right to speak her mind, as does every free-born subject of England?”

There was a pause in which the temperature seemed to plummet. “It is clear, sir,” Armistead replied acidly, “that you are well out of the military.”

But I’m certain, major, that in twenty years of military service, I never did hear that the army exists to suppress an Englishman—or an Englishwoman’s—right of free speech.” Jack took a step closer, suddenly seeming much larger. His pale eyes shone with a barely contained gleam—and they were fixed upon the major’s mocking pockmarked face.

Angelica held her breath. She was country-raised, and had seen the mock battles of many species. Knowing Major Armistead for a sour-tempered bully, she experienced a rush of delight as she watched Jack Carter’s unspoken challenge force the detestable major to take an inadvertent—but utterly significant—step back.

 

* * *

 

“Such dull clothes on that extremely good looking Mr. Carter! Like a Boston merchant.” Swaying in the chill darkness inside Aunt Laetitia’s coach, Angelica said, “Auntie, Minerva Bradford says he is retired, but he still carries himself like a military man.”

“Quite so! His Excellency received Mr. Carter with great civility. In conversation, he was most charming, but he does not look like the Dorset Carters at all. I knew that family very well, and they are always brown.” Laetitia spoke with decision. “Quite brown-eyes—skin and hair! The Carters are freckled, too. Carter cannot possibly be that man’s name.”

“But, Auntie, doesn’t it seem most unlikely the governor would have received Mr. Carter without knowing exactly who he was? He himself told me he was traveling north to family land near Kingston.”

“Yes, Lady Tryon said that’s what she’d heard too. ’Tis a bad time for a visit north. Those dirty rebels will try to execute him on some trumped-up charge. A terrible pity, for he is obviously a man of good breeding.”

“I have a notion that this Mr. Carter knows how to take care of himself.”

Meanwhile, the coach rocked and rattled, carrying them up the wide dirt track of the Broad Way.

“Why did you refuse to dance with Major Armistead?” Aunt Laetitia suddenly asked. “It looked extremely odd for you to be a wallflower.”

“I had already given him one dance.”

“When he is practically your fiancé?”

“He is not! And he will never be, Aunt Laetitia.”

“Angelica, my dear, may I ask how the poor major has earned such scorn?”

Angelica didn’t answer, just played with the fringes of her shawl. They had been through this argument many times over the last two months.

“When I think that you turned him down flat! The son of a baronet and a friend of his Royal Highness, the Crown Prince! I nightly pray you will see the error of your ways.”

“He says my Uncle Ten Broeck is a traitor, Aunt Laetitia.”

“And so—not to mince words—your Uncle Ten Broeck is.”

“If Uncle William were alive, I believe he’d not think that.”

“As your uncle’s trade was with British merchants, he never could have supported the non-importation resolution of those madmen in that so-called congress.” Her aunt replied tartly.

On the surface, she seemed such a dizzy snob, concerned about little but her children and the accouterments of her house. Laetitia’s facade, as Uncle Jacob had often observed, covered a hardheaded business sense.

“I may as well tell you I have written to your Uncle Jacob, enclosing a letter from the major regarding his offer and your refusal, Angelica.”

“You have taken that odious man’s side against me?”

“It was common courtesy to inform your guardian. When this foolish escapade in which your uncle is so recklessly engaging has been put down, having an influential husband could prove his salvation.”

“Uncle Jacob would never ask me to marry a man like Major Armistead.”

“Are you so certain?”

“Absolutely.”

Angelica couldn’t explain the aversion she felt, but she despised Armistead. She detested his smugness, his pride of place, and the tone he took with his underlings. Angelica loathed everything about him, right down to the wiry black hair that grew on the back of his otherwise well-kept hands.

“Well, what do you want, miss? I’m sure Mr. Cruger don’t suit you neither,” Aunt Laetitia cried, exasperation letting loose the dialect of her Devonshire birthplace.

“You are quite right.”

“Didn’t you tell me when you first came to stay that you were fleeing that farmer lout of a cousin? Good heavens, girl! You’ll be twenty-four soon. It’s high time you were married.”

“My dear friend, Miss Schuyler, isn’t married either, and she is one of the best-tempered women alive.”

“Well, as dark-complexioned as that poor girl is, little wonder. It’s shocking—the Indian look in that family. You wouldn’t remember her uncle, Colonel Cortlandt Schuyler, who went to Ireland. His nickname was “The Savage.” Thank heaven your family wasn’t given to bringing bastards home from the forest, dear. When Major Armistead raises his glass at the officer’s mess, it is to “the fair Angel of the Hudson.”

Angelica said no more. Six months ago, there had only been one unwanted suitor, and now here she was with two—caught, it seemed, between the monster and the whirlpool.

In retrospect, Arent Ten Broeck, her first cousin and the other claimant for her hand, didn’t seem so bad. A widower with three children, he was a hard-working, decent man, twelve years her senior.

It would be a prudent match. Joining the properties Grandfather Ten Broeck had divided between his sons (her father Hendrik and her Uncle Jacob) would be good for the family.

Nevertheless, she’d come to visit Aunt Laetitia in order to avoid Arent’s increasingly warm courtship. Almost as soon as she’d arrived, General Washington lost the city. Along with the conquering British army came Major Armistead. Angelica had gone from the frying pan into the fire.

Hunted by Armistead, almost from the moment the city had changed hands, Angelica had come to see far more good in her burly cousin. Arent was a plain Dutch farmer, occasionally too blunt in his attempts to win her heart, but if it was to be one man or the other—Arent was a far more acceptable candidate.

How much she wanted to go home, but it was no longer safe for women to travel. The roads were full of soldiers, deserters, and bandits. By letter, Uncle Jacob and her Aunt Livingston agreed it would be prudent for Angelica to wait for things to calm down. Perhaps, Governor Tryon would grant her a safe conduct to Kingston.

“Are you still planning to go to Beekmans’, dear?”

“Yes. Caroline has written to say that they’ll be glad to drive me back to you on Sunday. That is, if the weather settles—and if my cousins will indulge me.”

“Indulge themselves you mean, my dear,” her aunt said. “With this early spring, Mr. Roberts has been hard pressed to keep them at their books. They are both simply wild to spend a day on the river. I pray that a single day of sailing will suffice to tranquilize them.”

“Minerva gave me a marvelous center patch of printed calico for our quilt progressive—bluebirds guarding their nest. The colors and the rendering are so fine, I’m certain we shall all be inspired.”

“Blue? I certainly have plenty of that. Every shade, I’d guess.”

“Yes. You do favor it.”

“Well, dear, we shall have to look at the remnants right after breakfast.”

“Lovely! Perhaps I can have the first row pieced before I visit Caroline.”

 

* * *

 

Angelica slowly awakened by swimming upward through swirling dreams of indistinct forms and figures, tantalizingly familiar, yet just out of reach of consciousness.

Dancing? Yes—I was at a wonderful ball, dancing with—with—yes!—that utterly magnificent Jack Carter!

She opened her eyes to gray light filtering through the heavy damask draperies her Aunt Laetitia favored. Thinking it was early, she lingered in the last glowing remnants in the dream, now slowly slipping away. She came fully awake when her fingers, crushing the soft cotton batiste of her nightdress, brushed lightly against her rosy, erect nipples outlined in the petit-pointe of her bodice. Startled, she sat up at once, throwing the heavy comforter off. Swinging her legs off the bed, she slipped down and padded to the window.

Pushing aside the draperies, she saw that the grayness she’d believed pre-daylight was, in fact, full day—dim and threatening rain. Full sails of cumulus tumbled across the sky. Angelica suddenly felt as heavy as the clouds looked—and, at the same time, light. She was still tied to tendrils of the dream—the endless mirror world where she had blissfully danced—the potent masculinity of her partner—the remembered glitter of admiration in those sun-on-ice gray eyes.

Stretching, she wrapped her dressing gown around herself and rang for the maid. The Swiss clock on the mantel chose that moment to strike the hour—nine o’clock!

And—I’m still abed! Shameless hussy, she thought, to dream away the best light of a rainy day thinking of a man I barely know. To dream about a stranger, when I should be remembering—’Bram!

At once, her heart contracted with the old, dull ache. She imagined this was how an arrowhead, buried too deep in living flesh for the surgeon’s knife, must feel. A knock on the bedroom door brought her back to the present.

“Enter,” she called.

“Miss?” The door opened and the tiny, pinched face of her aunt’s upstairs girl peeked around the massive walnut frame. This newest of her aunt’s charges, fresh to service, looked for all the world like a tiny mouse, all pink and white and tremors, bright eyes darting everywhere at once, seemingly searching for whatever large cat might be lurking nearby.

If I meow, she’ll run for her life, Angelica thought, smiling.

“Ah, Maysie! There’s a good girl. Quickly now, help me make myself presentable. I’ve a lot to do and little time in which to accomplish it.” Angelica turned to her wardrobe. “The gray silk, I think. It suits the day.”

And, my mood, she thought. Cloudy, insubstantial, the unbroken rule of past sorrows was interrupted by a narrow, here-and-gone ray!

Dressing, the maid’s fingers stumbling at her back stays, Angelica felt suddenly oppressed, pursued by some unknown force which hovered on the horizon, a storm pushing through a darkening sky. As she sat to arrange her hair, she examined herself in the dressing room mirror.

She must stop this before it got started. Sorrowing over things lost and gone forever, she reminded herself, is no virtue!

Carrying her sewing reticule, Angelica entered the morning room where her Aunt Laetitia was seated before the double window facing the garden. On a table beside the opposing chair was a silver service, its contents wafting the rich aroma of that glorious and now rare breakfast drink—coffee.

 

* * *

 

Laetitia had ordered coffee rather than the usual tea because this was the last breakfast she would be sharing with her treasured niece for some time, and she wanted it to be special. She had personally overseen its brewing, as well as the baking of Cook’s famous raisin and cinnamon scones.

Hearing her niece enter the room, she turned. “Ah, how lovely you look this morning, dear! Such color in those cheeks! Come sit with me and brighten this dreary day.”

Laetitia motioned towards the empty chair. “Would you pour, dear? We can attempt to bring the sun of the islands into a dismal morning with this heavenly blend Cook procured at Mr. Cruger’s shop.”

Angelica dropped a kiss upon her aunt’s cheek and squeezed her plump shoulder. “It smells divine! How does Cook always know when Mr. Cruger has something special?”

“She has yet to fail in thirty years of service. And I dread the day she will leave us. We have been together since I was a bride in this house and together have watched our springtime fade. And, sons! Lord! Sons!” her aunt exclaimed. “I was a perfect wife, I’m sure, raising five boys, but would just one daughter grown to womanhood have been so much to ask of the Almighty? Which is why we love having you here, my darling!”

“Auntie! Enough.” Angelica knew better than to allow her aunt to dwell on those adored, lost daughters, all buried before they were ten. It would make a gray day even grayer—for both of them. “You are nowhere near the crone you make yourself out to be, and Cook is forever here and faithful.”

Angelica placed her reticule on her lap, opened its drawstrings, and removed the square of blue calico along with stork’s head scissors, silver thimble and a wooden spool of finely spun cotton thread. A packet of needles completed the array.

“And so, dear aunt, what do you think of Minerva’s Philadelphia calico?” Angelica spread the smallish square, printed with bluebirds hovering around a nest—traditional symbols of love and marriage.

“It is perfectly lovely. And perfect for the center, as well. Did you have a plan, or…?”

“No, although perhaps you can help me. When I get to Caroline’s, she and I will start a round robin together, and then I’ll carry what Caroline and I make on to Lucy’s. But I love these dear little bluebirds, and now wonder whether I should give them up to the round robin!”

Laetitia placed her white hands atop Angelica’s. “Look at me, dear.” As Angelica’s gaze met hers, she said, “I sense something is not well with you today. What is it, my dear? Can I help?”

Angelica gazed upon her aunt’s hands, so elegant, which had stilled hers. She knows, she thought. She always knows.

“Dear Auntie,” she said. “Perhaps it is the war. Perhaps it is the weather. And perhaps I’m just a spoiled brat who does not know her own mind. At any rate,” she said, laughing ruefully, “this will not get the quilt underway. So—how to proceed?”

Laetitia gazed steadily at her niece’s face, at the periwinkle blue eyes that always held a hint of sadness, of loss.

“All right, dear. As you will. And for your quilt, well—I’ve already been thinking.”

Laetitia reached for a small willow basket resting at her feet. “I think this will do nicely.” She offered a folded package, wrapped in rough muslin.

Angelica unwrapped the package and then exclaimed, “Oh! How beautiful!” Her hands fluttered among scraps and squares of blue and white cotton sateen that was somehow familiar to her. “But this blue—this cannot possibly be from the chairs. It is so bright.”

Smiling, her aunt unfolded several of the pieces. “Which only proves my point, darling.”

“Pardon me, auntie?”

“The chairs, Angelica! They are as old as you are, darling. But, unlike you, they have faded with time, and are now the pale blue you know, not the brilliant blue they once were…like these scraps.”

Her expression sobered slightly. “You must remember, above all else. No matter what a thing becomes, what it was will always be part of it. Everything changes, yet, everything remains the same.”

Angelica felt tears prick. She loved this woman, even as shallow and conventional as she could sometimes be, for there was a depth here that defied the exterior.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

The day cleared, and Angelica and her young boy cousins, George and Charles, had gone for that promised sail. They’d only gone around the second point when a long boat, sailed by marines, had flown out from behind a snag. They’d aimed to intercept, and Angelica felt a thrill of foreboding.

They’d called for a halt in the king’s name, and the boys, having nothing to hide, hove to. A moment later, the marines had hooked the little boat, and pulled alongside. Men scrambled over like a pack of rats and, suddenly drawing pistols, seized Angelica. She’d screamed and hit one in the face. The boys attempted to fight, too, but they were laughingly pushed into the river.

At first, shock and her fear of falling into the deep water—for, of course, she could not swim—were strong. She screamed and clung to the side of the boat, although she knew they were too far out for anyone to hear cries for help. Once she had a close look at those ugly, pocked faces, she resolved it would be best to simply throw herself into the river and die a clean death.

However, they were all around, and she was brutally forced into the wet bottom of the boat. One used his weight to hold her down while another one expertly bound her, hand and foot. All the time they were binding and gagging, they’d shouted orders at her, but their accents were so strong of the London gutter she couldn’t understand.

Overhead, she could hear someone yelling, “Swim for shore, you little bastards! Swim or I’ll shoot, damn you!”

Almost at once they were sailing again, ripping along in the wind. After they’d bound her, her captors, evil seeming though they were, did not touch her again. The rope cut into her wrists. Angelica prayed her cousins would know the better part of valor, and that the cold river water would not overwhelm them.

They’d landed upriver a few miles further on, at the jetty of an old two-story house. As the men had dragged her out and pushed her along the path, she saw, with horror, a long, lean redcoat wearing a familiar grin sauntering to meet her.

 

* * *

 

“Give me back my locket, you monster!” The skin of her throat burned as if she’d been garroted. His first act, after dragging her up the stairs, had been to tear away the locket she always wore—the one with that last precious lock of ’Bram’s fair hair.

“How foolish to carry a dead man over your heart!”

“Who dared to tell you that?”

“Money buys everything, my dear, don’t you know? But it doesn’t really matter, does it? You’ll not need this anymore. I’m the man in your future.”

Jamming the necklace into his pocket, Armistead came at her like a whirlwind. Angelica seized a chair and held it in front of herself, attempting to ward him off. He pinned her and the chair together against the wall. She was not certain how long they’d been trapped in this mean little room together.

“My descent,” she raged, gripping the ladder back for dear life, “is from the first Patroon. The insult you offer me will bring the wrath of every gentleman in this state—Tory or Rebel—down upon you.”

“Marriage with a gentleman of my stature is hardly an insult, miss. Wouldn’t you like to be presented at court? Think of that! I have a charming little house in London. You can go there as soon as our solemnities have been adequately…celebrated.”

The chair was torn away and tossed. Major Armistead seized her, a handful of golden hair and one wrist. She was learning his rules—struggle was rewarded with pain; submission led to brutal lovemaking.

Exhausted, she let him force a kiss. It was hot, wet, and meant to be persuasive.

When he drew back, Angelica spat full in his face. His pitted skin reddened furiously. Although he roughly jerked her head back, he didn’t slap her. The glow in his eyes seemed to say that there was, for him, a certain enjoyment in this dance of pleasure and pain.

“I think, my stubborn dear, you ought to consider that after this little American skirmish is concluded—when General Howe catches that fumbler, Washington—”

“General Washington, damn your black heart!”

“Scold away, miss. But when your uncle and all the other traitors are about to be hanged for treason, perhaps you’ll see where prudence lies. Your family will be stripped of their property and hanged. That is, unless you have me. I am, after all, a friend of the Prince of Wales.”

“Boast away, sir! We shall not lose, for we’re in the right.”

Armistead snorted contemptuously, but rage had boiled away all Angelica’s fear. “As for your inducement of saving my uncle from hanging and our lands from impoundment…why should I trust promises made by a kidnapper?”

Armistead shook his head back and forth, like a bull trying to get a fix on a barking dog.

“I must say your resistance shows admirable spirit,” he said. “And spirit is exactly what I desire—both in my horses and in a lady upon whom I shall certainly sire some magnificent sons.”

He came down deliberately and pressed a kiss against her neck with his thin lips. Angelica accepted it without a struggle, allowing his passion to rise. Then, as hard as she could, she jerked up a knee.

As he doubled, gasping, she tore herself free. Swirling to the washstand, she grabbed the full pitcher and heaved it at him.

Armistead let out another shout, but recovered himself sufficiently to get out of the way of her cumbrous missile. Arc harmlessly completed, the blue-and-white pitcher burst upon the floor. A shower of crockery and water exploded, splashing everything, both her checked calico skirt and his high black boots.

“I regret,” he choked, “that I have not the leisure just at this particular moment to begin your education.”

He was nursing the injured part, a bulge huddled between the four buttons of his trouser drop. He will not, she thought with satisfaction, walk with ease for some time.

She thrust her hand into her pocket. There were her needles, thread, the folded center with the sateen she’d pieced with Aunt Laetitia just yesterday. At the bottom, she found her scissors. Short—but sharp—a weapon of last resort.

Maybe, if I am quick, I can drive them into his neck.

Limping to the door, his pale, hairy hand went to the latch and gave it a sharp rattle. “Mrs. Crimp,” he called. “Let me out.”

The woman must have been waiting, for at once there was the scrape of a key.

What’s broke? Damn it, major! You Army gentlemen are always bustin’ up my furniture.”

“Just a pitcher, ma’am.”

The madam’s fat, gaudy figure was momentarily visible as he ducked through the opening.

“Do not open that door for any reason. I’ll be back about seven to continue this—discussion.”

“By morning, I’ll warrant,” the woman said, with an appreciative chuckle, “a fine gentleman like yourself will certainly reach an understanding with this saucy wench.”

This remark sent Angelica careening against the door. She knew she couldn’t get out, that nothing she said or did would help, but it was impossible to stop.

“Monster!” She hammered the dark wood with both fists. “Criminal! I shall never marry a man without honor!”

“Now, now, Miss Ten Broeck! Don’t excite yourself. When I return, we shall have a lovely supper together. Then we’ll talk. Reasonably, I hope, but if not—well, one way or another, by morning I promise, we shall be on far more intimate terms.”

Angelica shrank, lifting her slender fingers from the wood. She felt as if his touch might somehow reach her, sully her, straight through the door.

Next, she heard the sound of retreat—his booted stride and the woman’s heels, a speedy, shuffling clack, attempting to keep up.

Heart pounding, she ran to the open window and peered out, but she could see no foothold, no ivy, no nearby sturdy branch. What she did see were milling marines, laughing and joshing as two of their number, jacketless, their shirts hanging loose, emerged from a first floor window.

Then she heard something else—a creak—as if someone was still not only upstairs, but nearby. In a whirl of the serviceable blue-and-white check she’d worn to go boating with her cousins that morning, Angelica turned.

Yes! The delicate click of a lifted latch….

The sound was muffled, but close. It seemed to come from behind the folds of an ancient blanket draped across one plaster wall of her prison.

Holding her breath, Angelica retrieved the largest piece of pitcher from the watery mess on the floor. It was a heavy chunk attached to the bulky handle.

The squeal of a door, the old blanket billowed—and there stood a man! Putting every ounce of strength she had into it, she threw.

Surprise momentarily crossed the face of this new intruder. Then, in a smooth, infuriatingly effortless gesture, he warded off what otherwise would have struck exactly where she’d aimed—his forehead. The missile, deflected, fell to the floor and shattered. At the same instant, there was a dizzying flash of recognition.

Those blonde good looks, marred by a long, fine scar….

With a finger pressed against his lips, he stepped forward. “Miss Ten Broeck,” he whispered, “it’s me, Jack Carter. I’ve come to get you out of this damnable mess.”

Angelica stared. She hardly believed her eyes—much less her ears.

“Come.” He gestured with one of those strong hands, as graciously as if he were ushering her out to dance. “We’ll go through here.”

To demonstrate, he raised the blanket. It had concealed a narrow door.

What followed was a blur. Wrapping Angelica in her cloak, Jack led her into the adjoining bedroom. Then, after a spell of listening, they made a quick march down the hall, through another door, and down a rickety outside stairway. From there, they dashed into the overgrown shrubbery which surrounded the house.

Emerging beside a rutted road, the first thing Angelica saw was a well-dressed black servant holding two horses. After passing a purse and a few quick sentences with this man—something about a ship and a letter—Jack mounted the larger of the horses, a tall, powerful bay with a magnificent black tail.

“You and I will double. Do you know how to go astride?”

“Well—” she began.

“Put your foot on my boot,” he directed. “Daniel will help.”

In the next instant, the servant’s hands were on her waist. With his assistance and Jack’s hand on her arm, Angelica was briskly lifted to a seat behind.

Then, as she tightened her arms around his waist, they were off, trotting north. As she looked back, the last thing she saw was the servant and his horse. They, too, were traveling fast, kicking up dust, but they were heading south, toward the city.

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

They rode in silence. Angelica, who thought she ought to keep up her guard, found herself lulled by the strong body her arms enclosed, as well as by the loveliness of the warm, bright spring day.

The river on their left sparkled, each ripple capped with a glittering top. Birds sang in the high branches. Ducks bobbed in ceremonious courtship among the rushes.

“You were in the army, I understand,” she finally said. It was easier to make conversation than silently dwell on the events of the last two hours.

“Twenty years in His Majesty’s cavalry.”

“You must’ve been young going in.” She wondered if she’d misjudged his age.

“I was eleven.”

“Truly?”

“My grandfather was angry with me and he ordered it. I went in as an ensign, but to tell the truth, I was a major’s servant. I blacked his boots and ran his errands. My first promotion was to cleaning up after his horse. Old Major Cummings was a stern taskmaster.”

“What could a boy of eleven have done to merit being sent from home so young?”

“Well, I was in and out of scrapes from the time I could walk. When my father died, my grandsire, the general, could see my mother wasn’t up to coping with me and ...

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