Newest Release & Excerpt
Upon Your Love (genre: historical romance/family saga)
Release Date: February 26, 2017
Fara Hill, mother and faithful wife, is torn between her family at home and her urge to be at sea. Soon, she learns some disturbing truths. Was the past a fairy tale instead of reality?
Chloe Hill, loving wife and young mother, questions her faith when her husband sets an ultimatum she cannot meet. Will she be able to keep her marriage from falling apart?
Adrienne Bellamont Hill, born of a valiant captain and a fiery redhead, is untamed to her core and will bow to no man. Then Christian du Plessis enters her life with an offer she can’t refuse. Discovering the man behind the polished gentleman, she is drawn to him in many ways. Holding out for love is a family tradition, but can she resist the temptation of passion?
Christian finds this young woman to be a fascinating challenge, and is torn between keeping his distance from her and succumbing to her charms. A fierce battle of wills ensues as he sees she is much more than he ever imagined.
But danger lurks, threatening to destroy everything…
Can these two strong-willed individuals unite in the cause before time runs out?
Here is an excerpt for your viewing pleasure!
UPON YOUR LOVE
July 18, 1882
Adrienne Bellamont Hill was considered a young lady in society. But to her, she was different, much more than that….
The nine year old girl tightened her hand in her father’s as they entered the group of sailors milling down the lengthy Halfpenny Pier, a part of Harwich called ‘the quay’. Some were talking business while others walked steadily along. Still, the pier was chaotic, and Adrienne wasn’t sure she wanted to brave the crowd. She and Papa were to meet her mother and Gabriel at the Pier Hotel. Her father, the captain, had said he needed to finish up some business on La Voyageur first before escorting her there. The odor of decayed fish drifted on the air, her nose wrinkling. Forty-two days at sea, she’d been told, and they’d just landed in England this afternoon.
She was glad they were on land once more. Though she’d come on board La Voyageur before, she’d never been at sea until now. It hadn’t been easy living on the ship, but Adrienne could handle it just as well as her brother if need be, she thought with a firm lift of her chin, her dark tumble of curls brushing her face. She often wanted to compete with him in activities he deemed she was too young for. Her brother acted much older sometimes. He was so overprotective of her, even at home. But at the age of nine, she was a great runner and she would do more than that if her Maman allowed it. She often got scolded for being headstrong, though she still wasn’t sure what that meant.
Just prior to reaching land this morning, a search party had been sent out, despite the fact that she’d only intended to quickly breakfast in the mess deck before meeting her parents on deck. She hadn’t planned to worry her family. Papa had often warned her of the dangers for a young girl at sea. Not only could she easily drown in the mass of tides, but injuries could happen with the equipment sailors used. He had worried that she’d also get adventurous and climb the rigging, as she was prone to do with trees at home, and be caught in a sail or fall. This was why he had informed her she shouldn’t be unsupervised on deck.
Captain Hill murmured to the others as he tugged her along now, probably excusing himself. She thought they would squeeze through the mass of people but, then, two men eased very close to her, crowding her, making it hard to breathe. Her fingers slipped from the captain’s grasp. “Papa!” she shouted, but her voice was caught in the din of voices on the pier. She experienced an odd sensation in her stomach and her heart raced wildly. On impulse, she crouched down, trying to crawl out of the crowd. “Papa!” she tried, again.
A big hand clutched her small body, jerking her to her feet. A sense of relief swamped over her, until the hand shook her.
“You little pickpocket!” a man ground out.
She shrank back at the unfamiliar, booming voice, but glanced up into the man’s face, which was red from the sun. His clothes were tinged with dirt and she detected a strange odor upon him. She glanced around for her father. She’d been taught to avoid strangers unless her parents were present. His insult did not go unnoticed, however.
“I am nothing of the kind, sir,” she declared. “I am a lady. My father was—”
His hand tightened on the back of her dress. “Is he a thief as well?”
“Thief? Why, no, he is an honorable man, a captain, and you must unhand me or he’ll do you harm, I swear.” Panic swept through her at his hold, and a shout tore out of her. “Papa!”
“No one can hear you, scamp. And you stole my money.” He grasped her arm.
“I am not a scamp!” she cried. “I am a lady.” She stamped her foot on the ground. Fear threatened to choke her, but she knew it wouldn’t solve a thing. Her father was gone. She had to rely on herself. Her gaze swept the pier until her attention was caught by a quarrel nearby. A boy, perhaps about eleven years old, attempted to wrest a blue reticule from a young girl, who was screaming. A few bills stuck out of the boy’s side pocket. “Sir, I do believe that is the rascal you’re looking for.” She pointed across the pier. “Now, if you’ll be so kind as to let me go….”
His eyes followed hers. “Well, I’ll be damned.” He glanced at her clothing. “I suppose you don’t look like a pickpocket.”
He released his hold on her. His brown gaze softened, and he swept a hand over his dark hair. “How old did you say you were?”
Adrienne frowned. “Well, I didn’t. I’m nine,” she proudly announced with her hands on her hips. This brought a laugh out of the man, but she couldn’t see why.
“We must find your father.”
“I appreciate it, sir, but it looks as if your money is getting away.” Even now, the boy was yanking the reticule out of the girl’s grasp and Adrienne gasped as the girl, dressed in a dark blue gown, fell head over heels into the water by the dock with quite a splash. “Mon Dieu! We must help her!” Adrienne said.
She grasped the man’s hand, tugging him over to the scene.
Her mouth gaped further as the man shook his head, dropped her hand and took off after the boy who’d stolen his money. Adrienne had no time to remark on his actions, and moved to her stomach, leaning over the pier. She took hold of the girl’s hand as she thrashed in the water, desperate to stay afloat.
“Someone help!” she cried, fearful she might drown before Adrienne could save her.
She took a deep breath, realizing she was still on her own. The girl didn’t appear to see her on the dock. She whistled hard, just like she’d seen her brother do on occasion. “Miss, can you swim?”
The girl’s tears mixed with the water on her face as she shook her head.
“Are you able to find a footing on the pylons below?”
“I, I think so,” she said, her teeth chattering now. The girl struggled more, and an odd look crossed her face. “Yes, I think I found it.”
“Good. I want you to grip my hand tight, and then take my other hand, all right? On the count of three, I’m going to pull hard and you will push off the pylon. Do you have that straight?”
The girl nodded, grasping Adrienne’s open hand.
“Now we count. One… two… three!” Adrienne yanked as hard as she could, and the girl clutched at the pier. She pulled her over the rest of the way, and they both rolled, collapsing hard on their backs, breaths labored as the setting sun shone down on their faces.
Sobs came from her companion. Adrienne hugged her until she stopped crying, and then looked into the girl’s face. She had damp, dark blonde hair, at least from what she could tell of the wet mop, and pretty blue eyes. “You did well.”
“Thank you. Oh my Lord, I think you saved my life!”
She smiled. “My pleasure. May I have your name, Miss?”
“Elena,” she said, though her teeth continued to chatter, and the girl rubbed at her wet arms.
She smiled. “Let’s get off our backs, shall we?”
They managed to stand upright. Adrienne saw a bit of dampness on her own gown, but didn’t care. She was more concerned about the girl. “Are you all right?”
“I think so,” she paused, then declared, “You don’t sound English.”
Adrienne frowned. “I am American. Well, my father is half English, and my mother is French. But, we live in the states.”
Elena lifted a brow. “A strange combination, to be sure.”
The way the girl proudly lifted her chin despite her bedraggled appearance made Adrienne laugh. “In any case, we will have to do something about this….” She gestured to the dirty water soaking through the girl’s dress and dripping at her feet.
Her soulful blue eyes darkened. “Oh, my dress is ruined. My mother will be so angry with me!”
“It’s all right.” She considered the girl for a moment. “I do believe I have a dress that might fit you.” Elena was a bit shorter than her, though.
“You mustn’t go to the trouble.” Her blue gaze searched the harbor. “I got turned around. My driver is gone. I took pianoforte lessons in town, and then he was to stay with me on a stroll I usually take at this time of day.” The girl bit her lip, and Adrienne thought she caught a hint of fear in those eyes as they darted around.
“Don’t worry. I do hope the man taught that ruffian some manners, however.”
“How can you tell me not to worry? I am at the harbor, and my family lives in the country. And without money—”
“We’ll help you.”
She frowned. “You don’t even know me.”
Adrienne shrugged. “I will still help you. Come, my family is nearby. We’re visiting England.” Surely, she could locate La Voyageur again. Perhaps George, Papa’s second-in-command, could help? Or, maybe she could find the hotel they were staying at, and her father could find her there.
“Oh, I suppose it would be fine if they took me home.”
She nodded. “Of course.”
She turned her head. “Papa!” she shouted, unable to express the pure joy of hearing his deep voice again.
The broad shoulders of her father came into view, his full head of dark, wavy hair swirling in the breeze as he stood in his gray day suit. He scowled down at Adrienne, clutching her shoulders as he shook her gently. He was stern just like on La Voyageur, in charge when he stood with his hands crossed behind him at first, waiting while the men lined up in two opposing rows.
“Twice in one day? Chére, how many times have I told you that you must not run off?”
She stuttered as she replied, “Papa, I got caught in the crowd, torn away from you. I couldn’t help it.”
“Are you hurt?”
He nodded, and then glanced over at Elena. “Oh. What do we have here?”
Adrienne frowned at him. “That’s a girl, Papa!”
His lips twisted. “Oui, I can see that. Who is your friend, chére?”
“Why, I…,” she frowned. “I do not know her surname.”
Despite her disheveled state, the girl managed a curtsy. “I am Elena Wyndham. Pleased to meet you both.”
Adrienne couldn’t figure out why her father looked so amused as she glanced at him, then back toward Elena. “A pleasure, of course. My name is Adrienne Bellamont Hill and this is my father, Captain Hill. Papa, Elena got herself into some trouble. A ruffian stole her reticule and pushed her! I saw it all. And I would have taken him to task if the man who found me hadn’t rushed off after him. I also had to pull her out of the water.”
The girl’s teeth chattered as she crossed her arms over her chest. “It’s true, sir. Your daughter saved me.”
“I see. Those are unfortunate circumstances, to be sure, Miss Wyndham. May I ask the whereabouts of your parents as you seem quite alone?”
“They are at home. I… got lost somehow, and I don’t know where my driver is.”
He nodded. “Well, we shall take you to them at once.”
“Yes, of course. But, she’ll borrow one of my dresses first,” Adrienne offered.
His dark gaze swept over Elena’s gown. “A reasonable request I’m certain we can accommodate. Come along, girls, and stick close to me. The hotel isn’t much farther, but we still must get through this crowd of people.”
This time, she took Elena’s hand in hers and clung to the edge of her father’s suit jacket with her other. She didn’t want to lose sight of him again. They went to the hotel, a blue and white structure at the end of the pier. Inside, Papa inquired about rooms, and Adrienne smiled at Elena. “Perhaps I will see more of you while we are in town.”
Elena nodded. “I would like that.”
“We could exchange addresses and write to one another. I don’t have any friends in England.”
Elena’s blue eyes twinkled. “You just made one. I’ll never forget what you did for me out there.”
Adrienne waved a hand. “Really, I think anyone would have done it.”
“I’m not so certain.”
She didn’t want to think about what might have happened if she hadn’t known what to do. She couldn’t imagine watching someone drown and doing nothing to help, as it appeared that man on the dock was capable of. Besides, receiving gratitude wasn’t something she had ever handled very easily. She knew her parents would have done the same in her position, though, and she was glad she’d taken action.
“Come now, girls. It appears your mother found some rooms. I’ll take you to her.” They followed her Papa and another man up a set of stairs and down a hall until the man knocked on the door.
Her mother answered. Fara Hill’s auburn hair, just a shade or two lighter than Gabriel’s, was pulled up into a bun. Her violet eyes, so like Adrienne’s, were filled with concern though they narrowed. “What kept you?”
Her father kissed Maman’s cheek, then tipped the man who’d accompanied them before ushering the girls inside the room.
“Sorry for the delay, love. Adrienne ran into some trouble, and it seems we have a visitor. This young lady is Elena Wyndham, and we are charged to return her to her parents.”
“Of course!” She smiled at Elena. “It is a pleasure to meet you. You may call me Fara, if you like.”
Her new friend curtsied once more. “You’re very kind, Mrs. Hill. How long do you think your family will be staying?”
Captain Hill scratched his chin. “Ah, maybe five days.”
“Then perhaps Adrienne can come to dinner with my parents tonight or tomorrow.”
Adrienne felt a sudden thrill, and she clenched her hands. “I would love to. Maman?”
“Well, I’m sure that would be fine. Elena, have your mother let us know when it is a good time to come back for Adrienne.”
“For now, Maman, Elena needs a dress.”
Her mother nodded, that swift violet gaze assessing Elena’s damp state. “I can see that.”
Papa cleared his throat. “Ah, that’s my cue. I shall disappear for an hour and procure a ride to Elena’s house. Where do you live, Miss Wyndham?”
“On the outskirts of Harwich, in the country. Everyone has heard of the Wyndham estate.”
“Very well.” He kissed her mother’s forehead, and fluffed Adrienne’s hair before leaving the room.
“You are taller than Elena, chére. I fear your clothes won’t fit her.”
She frowned. “No, Maman! I packed that light blue dress, the one you said was too short for me.”
“Hmm… yes, that might work.”
Soon enough, they had Elena stripped and sponged off using the water basin and soap nearby, then wrapped her in a warm towel. When she was warmer, she was given a shift and new pantaloons, as well as Adrienne’s spare pair of boots. Then her Maman put the light blue, silk gown over Elena’s head and buttoned it up.
“I will give all of this back to you tomorrow,” Elena said.
“It’s all right. We don’t need it.”
Fara Hill smiled. “Adrienne is right. We can buy her other clothing. Don’t concern yourself over it, all right?”
Her father arrived with a knock at the door and he escorted the young ladies to the waiting cab. They piled in, one by one, and headed off. The drive was scenic, but Adrienne was far too distracted to enjoy much of it. She didn’t want to let her new friend go just yet.
All too soon the driver pulled up to a large house in an ivory color with numerous, shuttered windows. Her father stepped out of the cab and helped the girls down.
A blonde-haired woman shouted as she came out of the house, “Elena, darling!” Then she gathered her daughter against her. “When Theodore returned without you, we weren’t sure what to do. Your father was about to fetch the constable.” As she drew away, she looked at Adrienne and her Papa. “Oh, hello….”
“Good evening, Mrs. Wyndham. I am Captain Hill of La Voyageur. We just docked this afternoon. My family is visiting with me in town and it appears my daughter, Adrienne, happened upon your own child at the harbor. She could have drowned, but she’s a very lucky girl.”
She gasped. “Are you all right, Elena? Do we need to fetch a physician?” She caught her daughter’s chin and lifted her face up to the setting sunlight.
“No, I’m fine, only grateful to Adrienne. She saved my life. And her parents, of course.”
She hugged Elena. “I am grateful as well, darling.” She glanced at the captain. “I’m sorry to be a burden on you since you just came into town.”
“Not at all. We were happy to help. And if I’m not mistaken, I think our girls have a burgeoning friendship.”
“Oh, well… we would, ah, only want Elena to associate with young ladies of her class, you understand?”
He nodded, but his smile vanished. “Of course, but have no fear. My daughter is an heiress, Mrs. Wyndham.”
“Oh! I didn’t know.”
“Adrienne is a pleasant, young lady. I can tell, Mama.”
“Of course, dear.”
“May she come to dinner this evening?” Elena asked, with a hopeful look in her blue eyes.
Mrs. Wyndham appeared to consider it. “Not today, dear. We have other plans tonight, but she may come tomorrow evening at eight o’clock. Would that be all right, Captain Hill?”
“Yes, of course. I will escort her myself and you can tell me when to fetch her.”
“Good. Come along then, Elena.”
“Mama, let me say goodbye to Adrienne….”
“All right, love. I’ll meet you inside.” She turned on her heel and had disappeared before they could blink.
Elena looked at them both. “Mother can be rather difficult about my acquaintances. I don’t know many girls my age as I only have a governess.”
Adrienne’s father frowned. “I still find it odd you were in town on your own, even with a driver.”
“Mother doesn’t go into town often, perhaps to the milliner’s shop, but nowhere else. We have done some traveling, however, to London and Bath.”
“I see. Well, we should head off now. Adrienne?”
She nodded. “Yes, Papa. Elena, it was nice meeting you.”
“The pleasure was mine.” They shook hands like she’d been taught. “We’ll exchange addresses after dinner tomorrow, Adrienne. It is all right if we write to one another, sir?”
Captain Hill smiled. “Of course.”
“Thank you, sir. Goodbye, Adrienne.”
“Goodbye, Elena. I will see you tomorrow.”
Elena curtsied and then went inside her house.
Adrienne waited while her father boosted her into their hired cab and, after he climbed in, the hansom cab began to move. Papa squeezed her hand and she glanced over at him. “Hmm?”
“Elena is a nice young lady. I see no reason you shouldn’t become friends with her.”
She nodded. “I was thinking the same thing, Papa.” She bit her lip. “She was so grateful to me before, I knew not what to say.”
“You saved her life. I am so proud of you, bébé.”
“Thank you,” she whispered. “In truth, Papa, I don’t know how I did it.”
“That is often the way of things when someone is in danger. We can only react.”
When they arrived at the hotel, her father lifted her out of the cab, took her hand and they went inside. She froze in the front hall just inside the door. That man from before, the one who’d confronted her, stood there, with his ruddy appearance and soiled clothing. She drew behind her father, grasping his suit jacket, and tugged.
He frowned, glancing back at her. “Chére?”
“Papa, that’s him, the man who thought I was a thief and handled me roughly, then went after that boy.” Captain Hill’s dark eyes widened for a moment, and then his face became a hard mask. She realized she’d forgotten to tell her father everything before, and she shivered. “Papa, I—”
“Let me handle it, Adrienne.”
She nodded and watched as her father stepped forward, his hands clenched into fists. “My daughter is no thief, Monsieur. If you’ve come to recover what you’ve lost, you’ll have nothing from us. She had to pull that poor girl from the drink—”
“No, and I’m sorry…”
“I, I’m sorry, Captain. I never meant for her to have to do that. I was desperate, but I found the boy.”
“Interrogated him, did you? I hope you handled it without resorting to violence at least.”
He shrugged. “No, I barely touched the rascal, but I did get my money back. I also retrieved this,” he said as he handed over a royal blue, satin, drawstring purse with braided cording.
“Elena’s reticule!” she cried, and moved closer.
“Just so. I thought the young lady might have need of it.”
As she glanced between the men, her father’s eyes narrowed. “I trust her belongings are still there?”
“Of course. I am not without scruples, sir.”
“How did you find us?”
“I inquired on Halfpenny Pier to see where the girl might have gone. When they mentioned both had disappeared with a man down the pier, I began to fear for their safety. I see you found your daughter, anyway.”
“Yes. Thank you for returning the reticule. We shall deliver it safely, I assure you.”
He nodded, then made a move to leave the building, but turned back. Both Adrienne and her father watched as he shook his head in a wry fashion and pointed at her. “That one, she is one to watch out for. Fearless.”
“You have no idea,” her father murmured.
After the man left, she frowned up at her Papa, shaking her head. “I was plenty afraid, Papa, when you left, but I knew I was on my own so I had to figure it out.”
He smiled. “You learned an important lesson today, chére.”
“There is never courage without fear.” He drew his arms around her then, and she leaned her head against his waist.
Adrienne knew there was something important to having met Elena and she had the feeling this wouldn’t be their last encounter. So much more was to come, and just like she’d felt during the entire trip, she knew it had to do with her future.
Her father took her hand, tugging her back to the room her mother had been in before.
She relented when her parents suggested she rest while they had a quiet chat in the corner of the room. It had been a long day, but she was glad to be back with her family. As her lids drifted down, she knew she was where she should be.
February 21, 1894
Adrienne stood on the dock, waiting as the stevedores unloaded cargo from the ship, La Voyageur. She strained to see, but as of yet no one had appeared, at least not who she waited for. Her father could have arrived two possible ways at New Orleans, either through the internal port, heading straight up the Mississippi River, or the external port, which would have brought him past Florida through the Mississippi Sound and Lake Borgne. This time, he’d chosen the latter. She scrunched her hands in the skirt of her bright pink day gown, wrinkling her nose as the smell of fish and hard labor wafted over to them. The matching, velvet bonnet on her head provided some protection from the sun high over her head but, in truth, it was a nuisance. At her Maman’s insistence, she’d put one on, but couldn’t bring herself to drag along a parasol.
She refrained from following the dictates of society, a fact which caused her contemporaries to shy away from her at times. As a child, she’d been more likely to wrestle in the dirt with her brother Gabriel instead of having tea parties with dolls and her nursemaid. She still wore gowns and didn’t mind dressing up now and then, of course, but she cared not for paying much attention to her wardrobe as most ladies did. Adrienne dressed as she did because her maid gave her little choice, and she would hate to disappoint her mother and Tante Lina. She knew her place, knew how to act in society. She just hadn’t had the heart to attend to such things in the past two years.
Truthfully, she had lost her joie de vivre. Losing her fiancé, Robert Morel, to a needless war nearly two years ago had taken its toll. About three months back, her mother had urged her to start wearing colors again rather than those black or gray silk costumes she’d worn for some time. It was a relief, in a way, for even she, who didn’t usually care what she wore, had grown to detest them.
When she learned her longtime friend Elena would visit her here in New Orleans, she had felt a new thrill, a kind of excitement which she found refreshing after her listlessness. Now, she could barely keep still even as Eric Caron, her father’s valet and a close family friend who acted more like an uncle, stood beside her. As soon as the messenger had come with that letter, she’d left the house as soon as possible. Of course, the message had been from her father, addressed to her mother, stating that though he was in port, he’d be in for dinner at the latest. She would have taken horses for the journey, but Eric had convinced her otherwise.
“Why have they not appeared?” she grumbled, shifting her weight from one leg to the other. “This is not Papa’s usual behavior.” Eric had already asked a man from the crew to see if the captain would meet them on the dock.
“I have to agree, Mademoiselle, but we must be patient. Your father would be cross with you if you set foot, unescorted, amongst that group of men. With me as well,” he muttered.
She eyed him. Even now, he put a hand to the sword strapped to his waist and carefully scrutinized every sailor who passed them on the dock. She knew he also carried a concealed pistol. She wanted to laugh at his overprotectiveness, but suppressed it. He knew her humor well but his duty was paramount to him as he was charged to protect the ladies of the household. He’d been appointed long ago, around her tenth birthday, but he’d always been under her father’s employ in some capacity. She lifted a shoulder and glanced away. “I know most of them, Eric.” Sailors had already waved to her in greeting. Some she did not recognize and she thought, by their obvious appraisal, he might be right about their intentions.
“You have not been at sea enough, Mademoiselle. After a long journey, the only thing a man wants more than a good drink is a woman.”
“Yourself included?” Adrienne glanced over, grinning.
He cleared his throat, crossing his arms over his chest. “I am not a young man anymore.”
“Ah, but you were once.”
He shrugged. “My duty was first to your father. I had time for nothing more.”
She wasn’t so sure. Eric took his position seriously, that was true enough. However, she had caught one of the new maids furtively glancing at him before. Claudette, was it? The woman always blushed when Eric came into a room or looked her way. He might not be a young man, but there were no age limits placed on love. Or desire, she thought as she suppressed a laugh.
No more than a couple of years past her father’s age and still attractive, Eric had kind brown eyes with corners that tended to crinkle when he smiled, and he also had aged dark hair. She wondered if she would have to meddle a bit to get Eric and Claudette together. There was nothing more she wanted for Eric than to see him content and settled with a wife. She was sure her father would agree with the assessment.
Adrienne groaned. “I cannot stand this any longer. Either you go on board with me or I go alone.” With a shrug, she marched up the gangway and boarded La Voyageur.
“Mademoiselle!” Eric called after her.
Adrienne eased through the madness on deck, ducking to avoid a collision with sailors carrying goods from the ship. The ties of her bonnet pressed uncomfortably into her throat. She reached up, undid the pink, silk ribbons on the hat, pulled the contraption off her head and flung it aside. There, that was better. She shook her head and the pins she’d haphazardly put in came down as well. She jerked a few out and shoved them in the pockets of her dress. The dark waves of her hair rested freely around her shoulders, then began to lift with the strong winds off the sea.
“Holy hell,” a man swore behind her and whistled in an appreciative tone.
Adrienne spun, pinned the sailor with a raised eyebrow and then took off in the direction of her papa’s cabin. Her steps became carefree as she got closer. When she reached the heavy door, she knocked twice.
“Enter!” a familiar voice said after a moment.
Adrienne smiled, turned the knob and pushed into the room, observing that it looked as it always had. Sunlight spilled over a masculine cabin with dark wood, numerous shelves and a bed. An oriental rug was thrown down for comfort as well, and a massive desk sat nearby, where she saw her father leaning over and gathering up some papers. She gave herself a moment to inspect him for changes. It was always some time before she saw him again when he went away at sea.
Capitaine Grant Hill was a tall man, just a bit taller than her as she was fairly tall for a woman. His once dark hair now had a more aged appearance, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, but he was still a handsome rascal. She could see why her mother was so enamored of him. He wore a white shirt and black trousers with tall, black, leather boots. More sailor than gentleman now, he could just as easily transform into a captain or master of the estate, a versatility that had always fascinated her.
As he finished arranging the papers, he glanced up. She saw surprise flare in his dark gray eyes before it was replaced with joy. He broke into a wide grin, sidestepping the desk as he strode to her and embraced her, lifting her clear off her feet. Adrienne laughed as he kissed both of her cheeks before setting her back down.
“Bonjour, chére. What a sight to come home to.” The smile didn’t leave his lips. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Papa, I thought you’d meet us on the dock. Someone was to inform you, but nevermind. You don’t imagine I’d really let Elena be without me as an escort to the plantation, do you?”
He lifted a shoulder. “I hadn’t thought of it. And I assure you, I was not aware you’d come to the harbor.”
“Then you would have escorted Elena?”
“Oui, of course. What am I, a scoundrel?”
Her Maman thought so sometimes, but she imagined she’d only said it in a jesting manner. Adrienne took a deep breath before she began, “I wanted to meet her here. I simply can’t wait to see Elena. Where is she?”
He leaned back against the heavy desk, crossing his arms over his chest. “I imagine she is still in her cabin. I believe she’s resting.”
“There will be time enough to rest once she is ensconced in her own bedchamber back at home.”
He shook his head. “Leave the girl alone, Adrienne.”
“You sound like Gabriel,” she frowned at his scolding tone.
Her father lifted a dark brow. “You shouldn’t make her a puppet to your whims.”
Adrienne frowned. “That is unfair. You know me better than that.” She crossed her arms in a defensive gesture and took a deep breath. “It is different now. Everything is.”
“What do you mean?” he grimaced.
“Papa, I don’t have many friends anymore, not since…” She tried hard not to think of Robert. “Since what happened. I see Chloe occasionally, of course, but not too often. Most of my amies have deigned to leave me alone to grieve.” In truth, the women who were in her social circle before had all but abandoned her once she’d left society. And she imagined they’d only tolerated her because of her family’s position. She was too different. Of course, gambling against one’s hostess and chatting with the lady’s son about target practice was considered odd.
“Do you blame them?”
“No, of course not. But, Papa, Elena means a lot to me. I have missed her so. We still pen letters but, you see, I was greatly anticipating her visit.”
He leveled her with a steady gaze. “Forgive me, chére. I suppose I did not realize you needed a friend so much.”
She managed a shrug, and then briefly took hold of his hand. “I want to thank you for fetching her from England, Papa. It’s very kind of you.”
“You’re welcome,” he smiled. “I just want to see you happy again, bébé.”
Adrienne nodded, but felt the press of tears nonetheless. She hadn’t been lying. Until now, she hadn’t realized how isolated she’d become. She cocked her head when she heard a curse.
“Papa?” she asked, as she looked at him uncertainly.
“Were you not escorted aboard? Surely, you would not be so careless.”
She frowned at the change in his mood. “Papa, please. There is no danger. I am the captain’s daughter.”
“And you believe they all know that? You know nothing of how men think.”
“Don’t fret about something so silly—”
He grabbed her arm, scowling. “Silly? You don’t realize how dangerous it is, my girl.”
“You must be more careful.” His dark eyes flashed.
She did not see him angry very often at all. She began to understand why his crew respected him so much, or perhaps feared him. If this was the other side of him, she was certain she preferred ignorance. “I, I… but, Eric brought me to the docks.”
“And he allowed you to come on board alone?” His hand tightened.
“Well, I suppose he hadn’t a choice. I wanted to see Elena.”
“It’s as I suspected. Any man who didn’t know you could have cornered you or done worse.” He dropped her arm, but caught her chin as if lifting her face to the light which spilled into the room from the sturdy windows placed astern of the ship. “You’re far too headstrong, chére. Just like your mother. Why can’t you be responsible like Gabriel?”
“Headstrong, am I? Like you?” She didn’t relish the comparison. Her father had never been so unfair before.
A brief smile crossed his lips and he dropped his hand from her face. “Perhaps. I imagine your husband will have a time of it with you.”
She scowled then, crossing her arms over her chest. “I want no husband.”
“So you say now. You may change your mind,” he shrugged.
That wasn’t likely. She never wanted to go through what she had again.
“You must indulge me in this, chére. We cannot watch you constantly. You must protect yourself as well. You shouldn’t invite trouble.”
She nodded, relenting as she could hear the love and concern in his voice. “Oui, Papa. I understand. I will try to be better.”
He waved a hand at her words. “You are my daughter. You are bound to cause waves. Just don’t go too far, hmm?”
She hugged him hard, and then stepped back. “I will see to Elena now. Perhaps you’ll come to dinner?”
“Oui, chére. Your mother and I have much to talk about.”
She frowned, wondering at his grave expression. Her father had a tendency to be mysterious at times. She supposed if something was truly wrong, she’d find out soon enough.
“Where is Elena?”
“I tried to appeal to her comforts. She is in Gabriel’s old cabin.”
“Merci, Papa.” She curtsied and left the room.
Adrienne sprinted down the corridor, then back up top. She crossed to the other side of the ship, heading below toward the crew quarters.
She ignored the call and pressed forward, passing the cargo hold. She gasped in indignation when a man firmly seized her arm, propelling her around. She opened her mouth to take the crew member to task.
The sable of his hair mixed with gray, and his pleasant brown eyes caused her to freeze. Eric dropped his hand, but his features were hard, unforgiving. “You must be more careful, Mademoiselle. You can’t imagine what sort of situation you’d end up in if I, or your father, weren’t around.”
Unfortunately, she did know what he meant. A maid had described it to her once when she was a child.
“It goes this way, Mademoiselle,” the woman had said with her thick brogue. “You lie down and a man covers you. It is over soon enough, though, and then the insufferable man leaves.”
Strangely, after she’d told her mother that story, Blanche was released from her position. Well, she got better at keeping information to herself after that. Adrienne wasn’t naïve. Surely, some women had to enjoy the act or they wouldn’t go around with secret smiles on their faces. A few men had to know what they were doing. Not that she ever intended to get so close to a man.
She sighed as Eric launched into a long spiel once more about the dangers of a woman on board a ship. “My father just finished lecturing me about it,” she advised him.
“Is that right? Well, I always said he was a wise man. You will be more careful next time, won’t you?”
“Yes,” she agreed, wearily.
“Remember, chére, I’d prefer to keep my job.” He cleared his throat. “Is he in his quarters?”
“Good. I must speak with him about my negligence.”
She grimaced. “Oh, but, Eric—”
“It’s between your father and me. Now go see to your amie.”
Adrienne watched him head off, then she turned away toward her brother’s old quarters. She knocked on the door. After a moment, she tried again, listening carefully as she tuned out the sounds of the ship above. No rustling or movement came from the other side, not even a voice.
She knocked once more, calling, “Elena! Chére, are you in there?” Concern moved through her now, and she turned the knob, shocked that it opened with ease beneath her hand. She pushed into the room and found her friend lying atop the mattress, the top part of her cornflower blue and gold button-up day gown open to the breeze from the porthole, her straight, honey blonde hair across the pillow.
With a curse, Adrienne shut the door. She stalked over to Elena and shook her. “Elena, chére, you must wake.”
Her friend’s medium blue eyes opened slowly and as her gaze shifted to Adrienne, she stammered, “I… I’m sorry. Were you calling me?”
She nodded. “Oui, I was worried about you. You did not lock your door. That is quite dangerous on board a ship full of males, you know. I just received the same lecture from my father.”
Her hand rose to her throat. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. I should have been more careful.”
“And your bodice is open, a further enticement for sailors, I imagine.”
A blush came over the girl’s cheeks as she fastened the top buttons of her gown, the upper curves of her medium-sized breasts at last concealed. “Forgive me. It grew quite warm in here this morning.”
“It’s all right, Elena. All is well now. Unless you are ailing? Should I have someone fetch a physician?”
“No, please don’t. I had some seasickness at first, but I acclimated to the ship. I am fine.”
“You can rest at the house too if you like.” With a wry grin, she added, “I imagine Eric will be finished with his lengthy complaints of my grave misconduct to Papa and may be waiting for us at the carriage.”
“Eric? Oh, yes, I believe you’ve mentioned him before in your letters.”
“Mmm-hmm. He is a family friend and hired protector. If I must leave the house, he offers himself as an escort.” She didn’t mention that often enough, she refrained from telling Eric what she was doing, and let Pierre take her instead. Of course, he’d caught her in the act a few times as well.
“A fine gentleman then.”
“Indeed.” She clapped her hands together. “You are prepared to leave?”
“Yes. My trunk is packed if you have someone who might bring it along.” Elena sat up and began to use her fingers to comb through her blonde locks. She stood then and straightened the blue gown she wore which complemented her eyes perfectly.
“I will ask if father can spare a stevedore for your portmanteau.” From her spot on the mattress, Adrienne watched as her friend looked in the nearby mirror to check her appearance. Elena knew more about fashion than she did and her pursuits were more ladylike. She loved reading and could play a fine game of whist. Her friend painted well and knew how to play the pianoforte, while Adrienne’s interests were more physical.
At one and twenty, Adrienne could read as well as the next person and she certainly had a competitive streak during card games, but she preferred to go for a walk rather than stay inside. While other ladies kept away from storms and even light rain, she relished the weather and often got scolded for coming into the house soaked when she should have taken an umbrella, or avoided the elements, entirely. Frequently, she wondered how she and Elena had become such fast friends when their interests didn’t always align, but to her Elena was a confidante and when they were together, she found herself gossiping just like one of her contemporaries.
“We should get you settled in at the house then.”
Adrienne stood up and hugged her friend. She hadn’t realized just how much she needed Elena until this morning when she’d spoken with her father.
“Are you well, Adrienne?” Elena patted her back.
She nodded. “I am only glad you are here.” She pulled away and sent her a reassuring smile. “Come. Let’s head to the house.” They left the room, went down the hall and took the companionway to the deck. She glanced around and didn’t notice her father there so they left the ship via the gangway. She took Elena’s arm and kept her close as a precaution when they walked down the long dock. As they passed, sailors stared overlong or whistled in appreciation. She tried to beat away the unease she felt. “It’s all right,” she whispered to her friend, who now had an anxious look on her face,
She knew Eric had been right about the circumstances, but she eased herself with the thought that if they got into a bad situation, she had a contingency plan in the form of a small scabbard on her thigh. In any case, she imagined Eric wouldn’t leave her out of his sight for long.
As predicted, the man stood waiting by the carriage with his arms crossed behind his back. When they reached him, Adrienne made the introductions as this was the first time Elena had been in New Orleans. Before, she had always been in Harwich with her friend, and Eric hadn’t been there.
“Eric, I’d like you to meet my good friend, Elena Wyndham. Elena, this is Eric Caron.”
“Enchanté, Mademoiselle.” He bowed over her hand as he held it.
Adrienne smothered a laugh when the girl blushed. Perhaps Eric still had the charm in him after all. This was promising, and it just might work in her favor.
“Eric, Elena’s portmanteau is still in her cabin. Perhaps someone can fetch it?”
He nodded. “I will see to it right away, Mademoiselle.” He turned on his heel, and then left them with Pierre, who helped the girls into the carriage.
By the time Eric returned, they were laughing and Elena giggled at Adrienne’s retelling of one of her pranks.
After Eric climbed in, landing on the seat across from them, he scowled. “Oui, I was present for that one. It was about a month after Maitre Gabriel’s wedding. I was just passing by when her mother found flour instead of facial cream in one of her tins as she was preparing for bed. When I heard the shriek, I went into the room. As soon as I saw it, I knew our Adrienne had struck again. What punishment did you receive for it, chére?”
Adrienne lowered her eyes for a moment. “I was not allowed to ride Persephone for two whole weeks!” Then she shot a conspiratorial grin toward Elena. “Papa thought it was funny, though. He couldn’t stop laughing until Maman glared at him. Then, he so graciously handed her a towel.”
A soft laugh came from her friend. “Oh, my, Adrienne. I see there will hardly be a dull moment during this visit.”
“Indeed.” Eric lifted a brow.
Adrienne shrugged and looked out the window as the carriage began to move. They went through town and along the way, she pointed out the impressive St. Louis Cathedral, where her aunt attended Mass, as well as the Vieux Carré.
Sometime later, they reached the Bellamont Plantation, its line of oak trees surrounding the drive, and the house with its ivory façade and fine columns in the Greek Revival style. Eric helped them both out of the carriage and, inside the house, she got Elena settled in by helping to unpack her trunk. Because her friend needed to rest awhile before dinner, she refrained from giving her the official tour. Descending the stairs, she glanced around, taking in the home she’d always known. The lower level contained a long, central hall that ran between the front and back exits, and each room was complete with dark wood flooring, Oriental rugs, dark cherry furniture and blue velvet upholstery. Upstairs, the rooms were a little different.
She left the house and took a walk about the estate. When Daniel waved her over to the garden, she was happy to help out. By the time she returned to the house, her dress and hands were caked with dirt from planting.
Maman had just left the study, most likely handling the family accounts, when her eyes widened. Her mother’s auburn hair was drawn up into a half chignon with the other part falling down her back, and her tresses caught the light in the room like sunrays when she shook her head. Now her violet eyes flashed with disapproval.
“Mon Dieu, chére. I’ll not have your father see you this way on the day of his return. I will send for Selene to help you get ready.”
“I was just helping Daniel in the garden,” she explained.
“I don’t want your excuses today. Go upstairs now, as I said.”
Adrienne agreed just to placate her mother, but was annoyed with being reprimanded like a child. Still, she had learned a long time ago there were some battles she had to concede on. Once prepared for dinner, in a costume of teal with a black lace overlay, she approached Elena’s room and knocked softly. “Elena?” When no answer came, she opened the door. After a cursory glance, she realized her friend was not in the room. With a small shrug, she shut the door and went downstairs.
She found Tante Lina, Elena and her mother in the parlor. She sat down beside her friend. “Is Papa here?” she wondered, aloud.
Maman nodded. “Indeed. He arrived just over an hour ago. He’s in his study.”
“Oh.” She caught the frown on her mother’s face and wondered at it, but decided it wasn’t worth pursuing. Maman was certainly welcome to her private thoughts.
Eric came into the parlor a few minutes later and announced that dinner was ready. Everyone followed him.
Papa was late to the evening meal, which was quite out of the ordinary. They were partially into eating the gumbo, roasted duck and apple cider gravy alongside sweet potato hash, which Amelie, the cook, had provided for them when she noticed a strange look pass between her parents. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Fara Hill swept a hand over her drawn up auburn waves. She shook her head.
“Maman, tell me,” she urged.
“It seems your father will be departing soon. He has another mission.”
“Fara—” her father frowned.
She held up a hand. “I know. It’s not like that anymore.” Her mother’s lips pressed tight so they were almost colorless, then she pushed her chair back and stood up. Her gaze swept over the long dining table until it rested on Elena. “Elena, chére, I am sorry to leave you as you’re settling in, but I am not quite up to dinner right now. If you’ll forgive me, we may speak on the morrow.”
“Of course,” Elena murmured, exchanging an inquisitive look with Adrienne.
She watched as her mother left the room. Maman was a strong woman, not prone to many tempers, or even highly emotional but Adrienne was not naïve. She knew her father’s absences affected her mother and she couldn’t blame her. He was gone far too often for comfort.
She looked at her father. He looked a bit lost as he glanced away. “Papa, what does she mean? You are leaving again? But, you just arrived.”
After a moment, he cleared his throat. “Indeed, I must go. A matter of import has come to my attention. I don’t relish being away from any of you, you understand.”
“What about the ship? Won’t you need time to repair it?”
“In most circumstances, yes, but we didn’t sustain any damage from this past journey and we can attain the necessary supplies in a short amount of time.” He rubbed his jaw with one hand. “The only comfort I take from this is that Gabriel will accompany me this time.”
“Gabriel? But, why?”
“He has insisted and the area we are going to is a bit dangerous, I have to admit. I wouldn’t mind having the extra hand in case something goes wrong.”
Her father was unfailingly honest; if he said there was danger, he meant it. “Ah. Bien. I would want you safe.”
Tante Lina cleared her throat. “Perhaps I should see to Fara.”
Her father shook his head. “No, I will go.” He looked at the plate of food before him. “I seem to have lost my appetite besides. Lina, if you will attend to the girls….” “Oui, of course.”
“When, Papa? When are you leaving?” Adrienne asked, as her father stood.
“Two days, chére.” Then he turned on his heel and left the room.
She watched unseeing, and pushed her own plate away. “It seems to be catching, this malady.” She looked to Elena. “Are you finished?”
“Come then, filles,” her aunt said. “We will retire to the parlor for tea.”
She followed Tante Lina as Elena tailed behind her. A fire had already been lit in the fireplace, but the room’s welcoming warmth could not erase the chill which spread inside her, nor the unease growing in the pit of her stomach. She hugged her arms about herself as she sat down on the settee.
Her aunt sat down next to her and put an arm around her shoulders. “Ah, chére. I am so sorry.”
“Why does he have to go again? Maman will miss him terribly. We all will.”
“Oui, I imagine it’s as he said. He has no choice. You know he wouldn’t choose to leave your mother. Or you.”
Adrienne knew Lina was right. She glanced at Elena. “I did not mean to burden your time here with melancholy. Forgive us.”
She lifted a shoulder, her blonde hair shining in the firelight. She smiled a little. “There’s nothing to forgive, dear. I understand. If my father was away so much, it would be terribly heartbreaking.”
Tante Lina returned her smile. “You are both so young. You should enjoy life, divert yourselves with some kind of happy event. The opera?”
Adrienne shook her head. Then the idea came to her. “We received an invitation just yesterday, Elena, to the Broussard’s party. They are celebrating an engagement, I believe. Their daughter Angeline is to wed a nice gentleman. The event is in a few days. Would you mind going?” she asked her friend.
“Oh, it sounds lovely. Are you sure it is appropriate, though, given the circumstances?”
“You should go,” her aunt insisted. “I must take care of your mother, chére. She will be devastated when he is gone.”
She glanced at the woman. Her Maman was a private woman with her emotions, yet she was clearly affected by the situation. How strange, she thought, that she’d failed to notice how very human her parents were before. Tonight, she had observed the odd pallor to her father’s skin after her mother left the room. He didn’t want to leave any more than anyone else wanted to see it. Although she hated to leave Maman alone, she had an obligation to entertain her guest. She may as well try to enjoy it.
“All right then,” she agreed.
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