Authors: Constance O'Banyon
Tags: #Historical, #Romance, #Fiction, #18th Century, #American Revolution, #LAVENDER LIES, #Adult, #Adventure, #Action, #Jail Cell, #Brother's Disgrace, #Deceased, #Colonial Wench, #Female Spy, #Rendezvous, #Embrace, #Enchanted, #Patriotic, #Englishman, #Mission, #Temptation, #American Agent, #Colonies, #Code Name, #Swallow
The music filtered into the garden, while her heart sang, Julian, Julian. Hundreds of stars twinkled in the ebony skies and Lavender had the feeling that she had suddenly been touched by something extremely rare and wonderful. Could he feel it, too? "The moon seems so near it's almost as if it is an extension of the earth," she said in a dreamy voice.
His laughter made her realize how naive she must have sounded to this sophisticated man. "Have you ever been to England, Miss Lowell?"
She stopped beside a trellis that was entwined with sweet-smelling honeysuckle vines. "No, I never have."
"At my home, Mannington, there is a cliff that overlooks a river. On the nights of the full moon, it appears as though the water is on fire with hundreds of dancing stars. I would like to show it to you one day."
She felt as if a strong wind had just swept through her body stealing her breath away. "I doubt that I will ever see England, let alone your home, Your Grace."
"Have you no desire to see England?"
Not before tonight, she could have truthfully said. "No," she replied instead.
"You sound as if you have no particular liking for your mother country, yet your family was loyal to the king."
Be careful, she cautioned herself. "One does not have to travel to England to know where one's loyalties lay, Your Grace." Was she being too daring? she wondered.
He towered above her. "What else are you loyal to, Miss Lowell?"
"What do you mean?"
He reached out and lightly touched her cheek. "Is there a man in your life? A lover perhaps?"
"I . . . that is extremely personal. You would not answer if I asked about the women in your life."
His laughter was warm. "Go ahead and test me," he challenged. "Ask me any question you wish, and I will endeavor to answer you truthfully."
Lavender saw this as a way to get to know more about him. What did one ask a duke? she wondered. "Are you married?"
His smile was predictable. "I am not."
"Not even that. My cousin once tried to use me in a game of state, thinking an advantageous marriage would benefit him and England, but I would have none of it. I must say he considered banishing me from London when I declined the portly German princess he had chosen for my bride."
"But you are a duke, surely your cousin would not dare to use his power of persuasion with you."
"Oh, he dares all right, Miss Lowell. You see, my cousin is our Sovereign, King George."
"Oh . . ." Lavender was reminded of how wide the gap was between her and this man. He was her enemy and she was playing a dangerous game. "I am glad I have no such powerful relative. I would never be happy being forced to marry against my will."
His voice was smooth and questioning. "Can it be that you are a romantic?"
"Yes, hopelessly," she admitted. "I am not embarrassed to admit that I would sooner marry for love rather than to further matters of state."
"Spoken like a Colonial. You may be a Tory on the outside, but inside you are an American through and through."
Dare she tread farther on this dangerous ground? "Yes, Your Grace, make no mistake about that," she boldly stated. "This is my country, and 1 am proud of it."
"Bravo! Well said—I applaud your loyalty. It must be difficult to have your loyalties spat upon by the Whigs."
"I am not illogical in my beliefs, Your Grace." She grew bolder still. "Would it surprise you to know I feel America may win her freedom from England?"
"Would it surprise you to know I would not lose a night of sleep if America no longer belonged to England? Whether you believe it or not, there are those of us in England who never give a passing thought to this wild country of yours."
"But you are here now."
"That's another matter. I have become entangled in this war without meaning to."
Daringly, she felt the need to defend her country. "Have you not heard that a battle does not a war maker
A smile played on his lips. "My old acquaintance General Clinton commented to me after he won the battle of Charleston that there were few men in the Carolinas who were not either his prisoners or in arms with him."
"It is my belief that as time passes, General Clinton will find his boast to be too optimistic."
His laughter caught her off guard. "Are you sure that you are a Tory?"
Her passion for the American cause had made her speak foolishly. Dear Lord, she was speaking to an English duke. She realized it would be safer to move on to another subject. "What are you loyal to, Your Grace?"
Amusement laced his voice. "I am not altogether sure."
"I think you are sure, Your Grace. I believe you are deeply committed to something that you do not want to talk about. Did you not assure me that if I ask you the questions you would answer me honestly? What about your family?"
He paused, his dark eyes tempestuous. "I have been taught from childhood that my first commitment is to my ancestry. I have no family other than my grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Mannington. Does that answer your question?"
"Not entirely. You have the king, your cousin," she reminded him almost impishly.
Now his dark eyes sparkled with humor. This little enchantress was far more then merely beautiful. She was witty, intelligent, and charming. She was the kind of woman who would never bore a man because he would never know what to expect from her. "Yes, I have old George."
Despite her situation, Lavender could not keep from laughing. She had never heard the king referred to as "old George." Suddenly the laughter died on her lips and she was reminded about the vital objective that still lay ahead of her tonight. She had to rescue her brother before daylight or she might never be able to free him.
"1 have enjoyed our conversation immensely, Your Grace, but 1 must go now."
When she edged away from him, he caught her wrist in a firm grip. "You cannot leave now, just when I was beginning to know you. Would you condemn me to a boring evening, Miss Lowell?"
He was so near she could see the rise and fall of his chest as he took a deep breath. "I must go," she answered, trying to pry his fingers from her wrist.
He did not release her, and instead pulled her closer to him, so her hand brushed against his cheek. There was hidden urgency in his voice. "When shall I see you again?"
"I fear we will never meet again, Your Grace. I will be leaving Charleston tonight."
With the mastery of an expert, he pulled her closer to him. Hearing her nervous intake of breath, he cautioned himself to proceed slower, but could he? What if tonight was all they would ever have? Could he allow her to disappear from his life forever? "Could you be so cruel as to leave me when I know so little about you, Miss Lowell? Surely you know 1 am enchanted with you?"
"I . . . have a feeling you make this very same speech to all the ladies of your acquaintance," she commented, feeling somehow envious of the untold women who must have paraded through his life.
"No, not like this—never like this," he whispered, pulling her the final inch that brought her firmly into his arms.
The moon was no longer merged with the earth, but now reflected in his dark eyes. For the moment Lavender was unable to move. The warmth of his body
communicated itself to her, and she felt something passionate and fascinating simmering inside her. She tried to remember the comfort she had felt when Brainard had taken her into his arms; but all she could think about was this man who now held her. His clasp on her was gentle, and she knew if she asked it of him, he would release her. Still she lingered, wanting and needing to feel close to him, while terrified by the magnitude of emotions that had command of her mind.
Looking into those bottomless dark eyes, she felt herself gravitating toward him. As if in a dream, she felt his hand move up her arm, past her neck to cup her face. Was it hours, minutes, or just a heartbeat until his descending mouth brushed lightly against her cheek. Pleasure and warmth shot through her body with the same intensity of a bolt of electricity.
No, no, her mind kept telling her—yes, yes, her heart replied, overruling her protest. He sprinkled soft, feathery kisses across her closed eyes as she melted against him. His mouth slowly moved downward, and in one sharp painful intake of breath, her lips begged for his kiss.
Someone moaned—it could have been her, but it didn't matter. Her heart was beating so fast she couldn't catch her breath. She wanted him to stop kissing her before she fainted, yet she never wanted him to release her.
His hands crept down to her tiny waist and rested there. There was no England and no America. There was only this moment in his arms. In a flash of sanity, she remembered her brother and how his life depended on her. She jerked away, her eyes wide and confused.
Julian took a step forward, holding his hand out to her. "Forgive me if I frightened you." His voice sounded sincere. "1 only meant to steal a little kiss."
She took a step backward, shaking her head. What was happening to her? She had to flee or she would be lost forever! Before Julian guessed her intentions, she whirled around and ran across the garden. By the time he realized she was leaving, she had disappeared around the corner of the house.
Lavender was running as if the devil was in pursuit. When she reached the front of the house, unseen hands reached out and pulled her into the shadow of a box hedge. She was relieved when she saw that Nicodemus was her rescuer. He held his finger to his lips, indicating that she should be silent.
Julian Westfield passed within inches of Lavender's hiding place. When he stopped to look around, he was so near that she could have reached out and touched him if she had so desired. She could clearly see the look of distress on his face. Long moments passed as his eyes searched the area. He must have realized she had disappeared because he turned and retraced his steps to the garden.
Lavender felt tears trickle down her cheeks. This would be a night she would never forget. In the space of a few hours she had lost her heart to an English duke. She knew she would long carry the scars of pain and misery for daring to love her enemy! If he did return to Virginia, he must see her only as the clumsy drudge who was always tripping over him. He must never connect her with the woman he had met here tonight.
If Nicodemus had witnessed the scene in the garden, he was too much of a gentleman to mention it. He did not ask Lavender why she was crying, but merely handed her his handkerchief and waited patiently for her to wipe her eyes.
When he spoke, his voice was uneven. "I discovered where they are holding Chandler, Lavender," he told her. "I have three horses standing by. Don't you think we had better be off if we are to free him."
"Yes, Nicodemus, let us hurry. I have not seen my brother in a very long time."
Lavender and Nicodemus tied their horses to a branch of an uprooted tree and moved among the shadows toward the jail where Chandler was a prisoner. "I see only one man," Lavender observed, watching the guard who marched back and forth in front of the redbrick building.
"My informant thinks there is only one other guard inside, Lavender."
"Do you trust your informant?"
"Yes, his wife and infant son were killed in the siege of Charleston. He has no love for the British."
Lavender observed the guard for a few moments in silence. "I have a plan, Nicodemus."
He eyed her with concern. "Let me go in alone. There is nothing to be gained by you showing yourself."
She smiled at the little man who was so dear to her. "No, I must do this. It is my belief that the guard would be willing to help a lady in distress."
Nicodemus smiled. "I wouldn't be surprised if he offered his assistance. What is your plan?"
"Would it be possible for you to wedge a stone under my horse's shoe, just enough so he will limp?"
Nicodemus's soft laughter followed him back to the horses. When a short time later he led Lavender's mount forward, the animal did indeed limp.
Lavender took the reins and pulled the horse forward. "While 1 distract the guard, you can sneak around behind him and gain the advantage. I will then go inside and see if I can locate Chandler. If there is only one guard, I will endeavor to send him out to you."
"Have a care, Lavender," Nicodemus warned. He had primed his pistol and crammed it into his belt. "But remember I will have you in sight the whole time. If you get into trouble yell out and I will hear you."
"I never fear when you are watching over me, Nicodemus," she said, moving onto the roadway and crossing toward the public jail.
It had been an uneventful night for Corporal Peter Putman of the Grenadier Company, Sixty-fourth Regiment of Foot. It was his misfortune to have drawn guard duty tonight, while all his compatriots were at the Stag Tavern, drinking and wenching without a care in the world. He had just made a turn at the end of the jail and was headed back in the other direction when he heard a feminine voice call to him.
"Sir, could you help me please? I am so distressed. My horse has gone lame, and I am such a long way from home." Lavender deliberately sounded as if she were about to cry.
He watched the woman step into the light that was streaming through the front window of the jail. Damn, she was a real beauty. It might turn out that his friends would envy him before the night was over. He leaned his rifle against the building and straightened his tunic. "I'll help if I can, miss. Perhaps it's no more than a stone bruise."
Lavender gave the man her most winsome smile as he bent down and lifted her mount's foreleg. "Here's your trouble, miss. He has picked up a stone," the soldier said, digging out the offending pebble with his penknife.
Poor Corporal Putman never received the lady's thanks for his kind deed. A heavy blow was delivered to the back of his head and he crumpled to the ground. "I'll stow him around back, Lavender, then I'll be back in time to take care of the other guard."
Lavender watched Nicodemus hoist the unconscious man onto his shoulder and vanish around the corner of the building. She hurried to the door and was relieved when the knob turned in her hand. As she stepped inside, she quickly assessed the small office. There was a heavy padlocked door at the back of the room, and she knew that would be where the prisoners were kept. She glanced at the British soldier who was sitting at a desk, staring at her in astonishment.
Sergeant Patrick Riley was a hard-bitten soldier of many campaigns. He had been trained to distrust everything out of the ordinary. But this delicate young woman, with the face of an angel, did not arouse his suspicions. "May I help you, ma'am?" he asked, coming to his feet.
Lavender pretended distress. "I hope so, sir. My horse is lame and I cannot ride him home. I am late and my mother will be most distressed by my absence."
This redheaded Irishman was a much older man than the other soldier. Lavender knew he would not be so easily fooled. "Why didn't Corporal Putman help you, ma'am?" the sergeant wanted to know.
Lavender lowered his head and acted as if she were crying. She was ashamed at how easily she had learned to lie since she had become the Swallow. "The truth is, he made an improper suggestion to me, and I was frightened of him."
The sergeant's face was distorted with anger. "You just wait right here, little lady, and I will tend to Corporal Putman. No man serving under me can get away with insulting a lady."
Patting her shoulder, he seated her in a chair. "There, there, ma'am, I'll make short work of Putman, then I'll see to your horse and personally escort you home. I have a daughter just about your age and I wouldn't want her out alone at this time of night."
He was being so kind that it made her feel more ashamed for what she must do. There were many things about being the Swallow that were abhorrent to her; being deceitful when someone was nice to her headed the list. "Thank you, kind sir," she murmured.
The sergeant stalked across the room with murder in his eyes. After he closed the door behind him, Lavender jumped to her feet and ran to his desk. She rummaged through the papers and searched the desk drawers, frantically looking for the key. Finally, in the bottom drawer she found what she sought. Hurriedly she moved across the room to the locked door. Her hands trembled as she inserted the key in the lock and heard it click. She pushed on the door and it swung open on well-oiled hinges.
She picked up a candle and stepped into the room. The light flickered into darkened corners and Lavender saw there was only one cell and it was crowded with prisoners. Silence ensued as the astonished men came fully awake and stared at Lavender. Her eyes moved across each face, trying to find her brother.
"I am looking for Chandler Daymond," she announced in a clear voice. "Chandler, if you are here, please step forward and identify yourself."
Silently the prisoners moved aside to allow a tall figure to come forward. Lavender stared at the face that she remembered so well as a child. Now, of course, there was a new maturity, because he was a man. Golden hair, the same color as hers, fell in tangles across his wide forehead. His eyes, as blue as her own, stared at her without recognition.
"Chandler," she whispered, reaching out to him. "It's me. Don't you recognize me?"
His brow furrowed into a suspicious frown, then a rakish smile curved his lips. "I make it a habit never to forget a beautiful woman. You must have me mistaken with someone else, because I can assure you I could never forget anyone as lovely as you."
By now, several prisoners had gathered around Chandler, and Lavender noticed, for the first time, that they each wore blue uniforms, while her brother was dressed as a civilian. "You must surely be getting absent-minded, sir," one of them quipped. Laughter and sneers quickly ceased when Chandler turned a disapproving glance on the men.
"Are you all from the Virginia Regiment?" she asked, suspecting that the other prisoners must be under her brother's command.
Chandler's blue eyes darkened with suspicion. "I am not a fool, ma'am. I can see through your ploy. When the British soldiers couldn't get me to admit my name, they thought to send a beautiful woman to accomplish what they failed to do. Go back and tell them that you failed also. I am not this Chandler Daymond you speak of."
"Chandler, please listen to me. We haven't got much time—"
He held up his hand to silence her. "I have all the time in the world, ma'am. At least until they slip a noose around my neck."
"Chandler, for godsakes, be quiet and listen. It's me—Lavender!"
His eyes snapped wide, and he stared at her long and hard. Finally the merest smile tugged at his lips, and his eyes now danced with joy. His hand reached out to her. "My dearest little sister, how could I not know you when you are the female counterpart of myself?"
Tears glistened in her eyes as she placed her hand in his. His grip was firm and he pulled her closer to the bars, planting a kiss on her forehead. "Sweet Lavender, I thought never to see you again."
Suddenly the urgency of their situation reminded Lavender of the need for haste. Wiping her tears away, she moved to the cell door. Fumbling with the keys, she finally inserted the correct one and the door creaked open. In no time at all, Chandler rushed to her, enfolding her in his arms, and they clung to each other.
He held her away from him and smiled lovingly. "I don't have time to ask how you found me, or to inquire about what fool allowed you to put your life in jeopardy, but I still want to know all about it when we are away from here."
"Are these all your men, Chandler?" she asked, knowing the time would come when she would have to tell her brother all about herself.
"Yes, these dozen are all that survived the battle." He looked worried for a moment. "You didn't come here alone, did you, Lavender?"
"Of course not. I am not completely crazed. Nicodemus is with me."
Nicodemus chose that moment to appear at the door and Chandler grabbed his hand and shook it vigorously. "It's good to see you, Nicodemus. I have missed you almost as much as I miss my father."
"I would have been with you, Chandler, but I felt the need to look after your sister."
Chandler nodded his agreement. "Rightly so, Nicodemus. I always knew Lavender was in good hands with you caring for her. However, later I will want some answers as to why you allowed her to come here."
"I thought you might, but we don't have time for that right now," Nicodemus stated. "I took care of the jailers, but we don't know what time they change the guard." He glanced at the other soldiers before he spoke again. "We only brought three horses with us, but I noticed there are a dozen or more in the corral out back."
Chandler took his sister's hand while he spoke to his men. "Take the horses in the corral and get away from here as quickly as possible. It is better if we break up into smaller groups—that way some of us may escape. If you get through, report to our unit in Richmond within a week."
"Let's get away," Nicodemus said urgently. "It's no more than two hours until dawn."
Chandler smiled down at his sister. With his arm around her shoulders, he led her out of the jail. With the orderliness of trained troops, the men silently disbursed, each in a different direction. Lavender, Nicodemus, and Chandler turned their mounts toward Virginia, knowing they must be far away before the hue and cry was sounded.
It was well past the noon hour when the three weary travelers felt they had covered enough distance so it would be safe enough to stop and rest. Nicodemus had scouted ahead and found a barn in back of a burned-out farmhouse. When Lavender and Chandler caught up to him, he had already found fresh hay and strewn it on the floor to make soft pallets. There was a bucket of water from the well and dried meat for them to eat.
Too fatigued to move a muscle, Lavender dropped down onto the soft bed of hay, closed her eyes, and immediately drifted off to sleep. She did not know that Chandler and Nicodemus talked for a long time in hushed tones so they would not disturb her.
As they talked, both men rested their backs against the barn door, both alert in case they were being followed. Nicodemus told Chandler what Lavender's life was like, living with stern and unloving Aunt Amelia.
"It never crossed my mind that Aunt Amelia would be so unfeeling to my sister. I found comfort thinking she was being well cared for."
"Oh, she don't go to bed hungry, but she works harder than Jackson and Phoebe put together." Now there was reprimand in Nicodemus's voice. "I know there is a war going on, but did you never consider looking into your sister's welfare? You could have written her. She has had a lonely and sad existence. One letter from you would have given her joy for months."
Chandler looked dejected. "I deserve anything you say to me, Nicodemus. My only excuse is that I am so caught up in this war that I hardly think of anything else."
"If you had looked after your sister better, she wouldn't be in the predicament she now faces. Others have been using her to their own advantage, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The only thing I was able to do was stay near Lavender to keep her from harm."
Chandler's face paled, and he became tense. "What are you saying? Who used her? What harm are you talking about?"
Nicodemus set his jaw stubbornly. He cared for Chandler, but his burning loyalty belonged to the girl he had come to love as if she were his own daughter. He was fiercely protective of her, and not even her brother could make him betray her trust. "It ain't for me to say. If you want to know what your sister's been up to, I suggest you ask her."
"You can't imagine the thoughts that are going through my mind at this moment, Nicodemus. I will kill any man who has misused my sister." His eyes took on a look of horror. "You aren't saying—no one has—"
"No, by God, or I would have killed him myself. If you want my opinion, or if you don't, I'd look into the matter if I was you."
Chandler's eyes wandered to his sister, who slept, unaware of his concern. "You can be satisfied that I will do just that." He watched the way her golden hair made a halo around her head and the half smile on her lips that hinted that her dreams were sweet. "I still thought of her as a child. I pictured her as she looked the last time I saw her. She was crying and hung onto my neck, begging me not to leave her, telling me I was her best friend." His eyes became misty. "It seems that I have let my best friend down by way of neglect."