1781. On opposite sides of the War of Independence, British Captain Jacob Vaughan and Claire Monroe find themselves thrust together by chance and expediency.
Captain Vaughan comes to a stately North Carolina manor to catch a spy. Instead, he finds himself in bedlam: the head of the household is an old man ravaged by madness, the one sane male of the family is the very man he is hunting, and the household is overseen by his beguiling sister Claire.
Torn between duty, love, and allegiances, yearning desperately for peace, will Captain Vaughan and Claire Monroe forge a peace of their own against the vagaries of war and the betrayal of false friends?
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“No! Wait!” a woman shrieked.
“What the—” Hell died on Vaughan’s lips as the double front doors opened wide and a slender figure in a froth of turquoise flew out.
Snatching up her petticoats, she ran down the stone steps. “Captain, please, I would speak with you!”
Loose brown hair, streaked gold in the sunshine, cascaded over the young woman sprinting toward him. “’Twas a rash act by a mere boy bent on avenging the death of our father!”
The startled dragoons placed their bulk between her and Vaughan, kneeling beside Percy. She wasn’t deterred in the slightest. “Allow me a word, sir. I beg you.”
Was she actually leaping up in the air to see past the officers? Preoccupied as Vaughan was, her desperation and feminine appeal caught his attention. So totally unexpected. His temper, inflamed only moments ago, cooled to a simmer.
“If you desire leniency, Madame, bid your servants to fetch warm water and fresh linens and tend to my man.”
“Do as he says!” she called over her shoulder at unseen onlookers. “Send Joseph for Doctor Phillips.”
Vaughan sensed the flurry of activity in the seemingly unprepared household. Perhaps she spoke the truth and no foul play was afoot. No stealthy ambush awaited them.
How could he be sure? Snipers might lurk at every corner. Hidden and deadly, like a crouching panther ready to spring. Still, she seemed sincere, and Vaughan was an astute judge of character. Percy needed a skilled surgeon to remove the lead ball. With an able hand at the job and proper nursing, he should live, if infection didn’t set in. So many ifs with a gunshot wound, and this forthright female completely took him aback.
All these considerations ran through Vaughan’s mind in an instant. Accustomed to making sudden decisions based on hurried assessments, he determined in this matter, at least, he must trust her. An order swiftly followed. “McCray, let her pass and one other to fetch the doctor.”
“Yes, Captain.” McCray and Anderson stepped aside.
She dashed between them, followed by a wiry slave who made for the stables. “I am truly sorry for your violent reception at Thornton Hall and beg your forbearance,” she blurted, and flung herself at Vaughan’s feet just across from the wounded guide. “Spare my foolish brother, I beseech you.”
Hardly in a position to indulge her notions of chivalry, as he was stained with blood and constrained by the need to apply pressure to Percy’s wound, Vaughan scowled at her in bemusement. “Get up, woman. I shall consider your request.”
She raised her head and met his annoyance with a plea in her earnest gaze, like sunlight on water lilies. So clear, her hazel eyes, cast with a greenish hue, and her face was really rather pleasing. Remarkably so.
What on earth was he thinking? Vaughan wrenched his attention away from the distracting girl. “Might I have clean cloth to stem the flow, Miss—”
“Monroe,” she supplied, and reached into her bodice. “Claire Monroe.”
Lovely name. Too bad it belonged to a Rebel. Even so, he couldn’t stop his eyes from following the curves mounding up out of the lace-edged cloth as she withdrew a square of embroidered linen.
“Please. Take this, sir.” She passed the handkerchief into his free hand.
Her smooth fingers brushed his weathered skin and sent a jolt pulsing through him. He almost jerked up his head and stared at her, so violent was his reaction, but restrained himself from such blatant notice. Claire Monroe was leaps and bounds ahead of the camp followers he was used to who did laundry, cooked, tended the sick and wounded, bearing their children along the way. Apart from the higher born officer’s wives—and she outshone them—these hardy camp women were common. Despite her incomplete attire, Miss Monroe was a lady.
Shaking off the unnerving sensation she evoked in him, he replaced the soiled gloves with this unlikely bandage. The blood flow had lessened slightly from his ministrations, and he pressed her spotless handkerchief to the wound.
“Claire! Git away from that vile officer, ye wanton strumpet!” On the heels of the gravelly boom accented in a Scottish burr, an elderly man in a dusky dressing gown stormed from the house. Silver hair flowed over his shoulders, and a gray beard covered his chest.
She startled in marked alarm. “Grandfather—no.”
“Let me pass, defilers!” Waving her aside, the old gentleman railed at the dragoons.
Vaughan snapped an order. “McCray. Remove him at once.”
“Not easily done,” she said under her breath. “Mister Monroe’s gone off his head.” She leapt to her feet and flew back toward the fuming gentleman. “You mustn’t interfere.”
Lieutenant McCray seized the newcomer’s arm. “Unhand me, foul demon!” Battling to wrench free, he hurled venom. “Swine! Lucifer’s archangel!”
Red-faced, McCray glowered at the insults.
“Leave me be, ye stinking lobsterback!”
“Not another word from you,” warned the irate officer.
“Grandfather, you must desist.” Miss Monroe grasped her incensed relation’s other arm in an attempt to restrain him.
“Shame on ye, Claire! Closing ranks wie redcoats!”
He threw her off, as one might a child, and she reeled to the side. Vaughan cringed to see her go down onto her knees on the cobbles like an urchin cast into the street. She should be petted and adored, not suffer this rude treatment.
Then the infuriated man rubbed salt into her wounds. “Devil’s handmaiden! Defy this monster from the bowels of Hell, not yer own flesh and blood!”
Undeterred, the spirited girl scrambled to her feet. “Stop this now, before you’re punished!”
She might as well try to contain a mad bull, and McCray wasn’t known for his patience. The pistol stuck in his boot would come out next. It goaded Vaughan to see the old man felled, especially as he was evidently mad. And particularly not in front of his granddaughter, doing her utmost to save him despite his abuse.
Vaughan interceded. “Wait, Lieutenant! Take over here, Ensign.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Married to my high school sweetheart, I live on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia surrounded by my children, grandbabies, and assorted animals. An avid gardener, my love of herbs and heirloom plants figures into my work. The rich history of Virginia, the Native Americans and the people who journeyed here from far beyond her borders are at the heart of my inspiration. I’m deeply drawn to colonial America and the drama of the American Revolution. In addition to American settings, I also write historical and time travel romances set in the British Isles, and nonfiction about gardening, herbal lore, and country life.