Lily Fitzhugh is desperate to get to America, where her father is imprisoned as a traitor against the Crown. To gain passage, she accepts a dangerous job: to sneak aboard a ship headed to New York and spy on suspected colonial patriot Griffin Faraday.
Griffin Faraday doesn't trust the beautiful, tempting stowaway. He has a secret shipment of guns to deliver to General George Washington. Nothing can get in the way. But when Lily is ordered away with pirates, a sure death sentence, Griffin proposes marriage, the absolute last thing he wants.
Now Lily and Griffin are spies hiding the truth while they try not to fall in love.
Thrust into a world where deception and silence are the rule and political loyalties can mean prison or death, Lily and Griffin must face their greatest challenge—learning to trust each other.
|Publisher:||Wild Rose Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)|
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After a weary night of travel, Griffin Faraday stopped and let his horse drink from the stream beside the road. He dragged a hand across the grit and stubble on his cheek and squinted against the early morning sun, relieved his business in England was at an end. All he needed was one more day without mishap. Then it was on to New York with the English no wiser as to his deception. Surely, he could manage such a tricky feat.
Beneath him, his horse shifted. The head jerked up and its ears cocked at the growing rumble in the distance. The urgent drum of horse hooves signaled trouble. Had the English discovered his covert activities? Had they learned about the guns for General Washington? If so, countless lives would be lost, and his most certainly, if he were captured.
His breathing quickened. A powerful charge shot into his limbs. He had to flee, but his tired horse would never outrun a cavalry. Nor would the thin copse of trees alongside the brook offer concealment. "Damn."
The pulsation rumbled louder and echoed the anxious beat in his ears. His muscles coiled and he patted the ready knife handle sheathed to his hip.
A rider exploded from a far-off wood, almost flying over the crest, and plunged down the grassy slope. "A woman," he said, shocked at her perilous speed. She cast a frightened look over her shoulder just as another rider breached the mound and gave chase.
A relieved breath whooshed from his lungs. He wasn't the target.
The two riders tore across the open field, kicking up clods of dirt and raced past a lone crofter's cottage trellised with ivy. The woman hurtled recklessly forward. Her loose ebony hair fluttered as if flags whipped in a gale. She'd kill herself in a tumble if her pursuer didn't murder her first.
Griffin's fingers tensed around the reins. A voice in his head urged him to remain uninvolved, to ride off and forget what he'd seen. But he couldn't. What sort of man turned his back on a woman who needed help? He swung his horse toward her and galloped full-on. His thighs clasped around the animal's girth tight as a manacle. The rising thunder of horses clamored in his head. The woman sped across his path, her face clenched with alarm.
"Whoa! You there," he shouted at her pursuer. "Stop!"
Head bent low over the stallion's neck, the attacker advanced at a dangerous pace. Griffin swore and angled into his path. His heart banged against his ribs. The oncoming horse wheeled in fright. The whites of its eyes appeared to stretch and enlarge. The animal snorted and flung back its head. Its hooves dug into the earth and it jolted to a stop. The force pitched the rider into the air. Arms cartwheeled and his legs spun in space before he slammed into the ground with a sickening grunt.
Griffin winced as he imagined the man's pain judder along his thighs and into his spine. He jerked the reins and swept from his mount. The smell of dust and sweet grass flooded his nose as he strode to toward the poor fellow.
The assailant, on hands and knees, swayed erratically. Auburn hair curled in a mess over his forehead. Anger radiated from his flushed face. "What in blazes do you think you're doing?"
Any hope Griffin might remain levelheaded evaporated at the man's surly tone. "I might ask the same of you." He offered a hand only to have it slapped away. "Conceited ass," he muttered under his breath. "I meant to aid to the lady. From what I observed, your objective was far from noble."
The woman had doubled back. She watched with a distressed frown as the fallen man pushed to his feet and whisked dirt from his coat sleeves. Though why she cared when he so clearly intended her harm made no sense to Griffin.
"Are you hurt?" she asked.
"Not enough to need a nursemaid," the surly rogue snapped.
Griffin's hands fisted. He wanted to clout the ass for his rudeness.
She made no reply, but her striking violet eyes narrowed with a rise of temper. At her show of spirit, Griffin felt a rush of blood, excited by her wild, untamed air. Unruly hair, black as pitch, tumbled at her shoulders. Dressed in a peacock blue riding costume and rosy cheeked, she exuded an undeniable vitality. As he savored the exotic sight, a fist slammed into his jaw.
Pain exploded and ripped into his bone. Grunting, he stumbled and ducked as another jab sailed past his cheek. With a grimace, he snatched his attacker's forearm and whipped him around. A knee thrust and the man dropped to the ground, with Griffin after him. They thrashed in the dirt and grass. Crude fury drove his assailant, but his wild, inexperienced jabs proved unsuccessful. Within seconds, Griffin straddled him and pinned his shoulders to the ground.
"Stop it," the woman shrieked. "Stop it this instant!"
"Can you be civilized?"
Griffin hissed and the man jeered, "Get off me."
"Gladly." As he eased his grip, the maniac bucked and tossed Griffin to the side but not before a blow clipped his chin. They leapt to their feet. Faster of the two, he snagged a wrist and twisted a limb behind the fellow's back. The hothead squealed.
"Stop it," she cried, frantic as she slid from her horse. "You'll break his arm."
Griffin frowned. Why should she care when he'd just saved her?
"Let him go. Please. He means you no harm."
No harm? Her fretful entreaty on behalf of the fool pricked at him. Was this his appreciation for his good deed? An abhorrent comprehension dawned. There'd been no danger. He groaned, irritated with his faulty judgment. When she graced her youthful pursuer with a sympathetic glance, he couldn't help but scowl in regret for his hasty involvement.
Stomach curdling, he shoved away the firebrand. He wouldn't risk jail for this unfortunate mistake. Nor would he miss his departure for New York. Washington had placed his faith in him, and by God, he would not disappoint.
The male stranger sniffed disagreeably with his nose high in the air. He gave a taut yank to his well-tailored, expensive lapels. "You must be mad to charge at me."
"The lady appeared in danger."
"You thought I meant to harm Miss Fitzhugh?" He chortled with snooty contempt. "It appears you're a bigger idiot than you look."
A muscle jumped in Griffin's jaw. He would gladly pummel the ass again were it not for his sworn duty.
"The lady was not in danger. This was nothing more than a spirited race."
Griffin sought her confirmation. "Well?"
A stiff nod signaled her agreement.
Embarrassment heated his cheeks. Clearly, he was more tired than he realized to misjudge a vigorous race as something more sinister. What a fool he was to chase after a damsel who didn't need rescue. An apology was in order, yet words of contrition stuck in his throat. He blamed her for sprinting about like a lunatic. "Do you always ride like a crazed woman?"
Feet set wide apart, she planted her hands on her hips. At her bold stare and the sheer strength of her presence, his breath snagged in his throat. Lord, she had pluck.
"There's no harm in a good race."
Who was he to argue with such confidence?
"I'm an excellent rider though I regret the misunderstanding."
A memory fluttered, a long-ago image of a similar wide-legged stance and the resolute set of shoulders and spine. The coal-black hair. The proud demeanor. His chest swelled with lightness. Could it really be his old tutor's bossy daughter? What was her name? Ivy? Rose? Lily! He caught himself before he blurted the name aloud. Better to keep quiet and be on his way.
"Lily," whined the young whelp. "Don't indulge the man. From the smell of him, he's spent the night in some hellish dive."
Griffin eyed the pissant, irritation heating inside, and remained silent.
"Give the man credit for coming to my defense," she cajoled. The offensive brat didn't deserve her sweet smile. "If I'd been in danger, you'd want someone to help me, wouldn't you?"
The man stammered as if uncertain whether to kill him or lie at her feet like a whipped dog. Griffin didn't think the fellow was the sort to forgive. Knocked off his horse and thoroughly trounced, he wouldn't forget his humiliation or the idiot who handed it to him.
Fed up and weary of the harangue, he retrieved his hat from the ground and swept into the saddle, prepared to take his leave.
"Thank you for coming to my rescue, Mister ...?"
Sadly, it served no purpose to reveal his name or prolong this unfortunate incident. He wouldn't risk the unwanted attention. "My pleasure, madam."
He held her gaze, disappointed no light of recognition stirred in her astonishing eyes. If only the circumstances of their chance meeting were different. In another time and place, after the war was over, maybe their paths would cross again. He would like that.
"Lily." Her foul-tempered companion stood impatiently beside her horse, hands clasped together, offering a hands-up mount. "Let the hero go sleep off his drink." To Griffin, he said, "Pray we never meet again."
Griffin gave a curt nod and wished he were already standing on the boat and watching as the shoreline of England faded away. Only twenty-four hours more. Surely, he could go another day without the misfortune of seeing the odious prick again.CHAPTER 2
"Something dreadful has happened to Papa," Lily said, chewing a thumbnail. Brow taut with worry, she stared at her uncle seated at his gilt ornamented desk. Amid the richness of his library where leather-bound books filled the glossy wooden shelves, she sank deeper into the plush brocade cushions of the settee. Her shoulders slumped.
Lord Percy Coventry regarded her with a bland, unconcerned air. "You worry too much." He stroked the silk stock at his neck. The late afternoon sun glinted off the garnet ring on his index finger.
"No, Uncle, you must take this seriously. Papa is in prison. Mr. Fletcher says so in his letter." For effect, she waved the recent missive from the New York attorney in the air.
In his usual fashion, Percy crimped his lips with annoyance and provoked an ongoing disappointment. Just once, she wished they could agree without an argument. Ever since she'd come to live with him seven years ago, communication posed a continual challenge. Since the death of her aunt, the situation had worsened. Constant loggerheads summed up their relationship.
"Mr. Fletcher says Papa was jailed for his public outcry about the British officers quartered at his house." My house, too, she recalled as a familiar ache, heavy as a stone, lodged in her chest. How she longed to go home. She wanted to have the pleasure of assisting Papa with his work and to enjoy the pretty flowers in the garden. And to sleep in her own bed.
Percy shook his head, as if he pitied Papa for a fool. "Once your father gets sick of jail and his ridiculous protest, he'll post bail. Fletcher can handle the details. Life will go on as usual when Henry accepts the British are in New York for good. Most likely he's at home as we speak."
"So why hasn't he written?" She slipped the attorney's letter into her dress pocket, too obstinate to accept Percy's glib explanation.
"You know how absent-minded he becomes when he works on a new invention. Besides, even without a war, the mail is unreliable. With our ships commandeered by American privateers, it's a wonder we see any news from the Colonies."
Stung by his words, she glowered and rushed to her father's defense. "Papa's never been too busy to write. And Mr. Fletcher's letter got through." No one would argue Henry Fitzhugh was thickheaded and lost to his work. Still, six months was a long time to forgo writing, even for him. The lack of contact, along with news of his imprisonment, fueled her apprehension and knotted her stomach.
Without thinking, she scrunched the pressed silk of her fashionable gown in her closed fist. Percy cringed, but before he could launch into another lecture about caring for her costly clothes, she spread her fingers and released the wrinkled fabric. She knew how he hated the expense to pretty her up, to make her a shining reflection of his well-dressed, glorious self. Image mattered to him, but not to her. Doubtless, the vainglorious man was calculating costs as they spoke.
She waited for him to utter a hopeful word about her dilemma.
"Lord Warwick wishes to marry you."
"What?" she blurted and sat forward upon the settee. Marry me?
"It seems surprising, does it not?" He simpered and dabbed his nostrils with a lacy hanky. "One might have expected him to choose someone more ..." Glancing at the patterned swirls on the ornamented ceiling, he rotated his hand as though he might scoop the proper word from the air.
"Someone from a titled family," said Lily, astonished and flattered David wanted her for a bride. A special bond had been forged between them when she'd come to London after the death of her mother. Two lonely, awkward children, they'd become each other's support. She was forever grateful for his friendship.
"More traditional and refined," he added.
She bristled at his less than subtle reminder of her shortcomings. "David does as he pleases. Perhaps he recognizes my uniqueness." Criticized for being too bookish, she cut a jagged path between her outspoken manner and her odd interest in machines and mathematics, subjects avoided by a proper lady. David didn't seem to mind. Not many people were as accepting.
"A diamond in the rough, eh?"
"A challenge," she countered.
Two unwanted souls, together they'd struggled to make their way in a cruel and difficult world. Nevertheless, with David in London and Papa in New York, she felt her loyalties divided.
"I should think Warwick is inspired by your father's money. Henry has done well by his inventions and investments."
"You would make this into a mockery." As the third son, David was not likely to inherit his family's sizable fortune, but it didn't matter. Not to her. Hard as it was for Percy to accept, there were those who liked her. As for love, he held no such emotion in his heart. From the day she'd stepped off the boat, a frightened twelve-year-old girl, he'd made no secret of his dislike of children. He agreed to take her solely for Aunt Charlotte's sake. For his trouble, Papa saw him well compensated.
"Should he propose, Niece, I expect you to accept graciously. You may never see another opportunity."
Heat bled into her cheeks.
"Warwick asked my permission. I granted my approval this afternoon."
Astounded, she reared back against the padded sofa. "You? It's a duty reserved for Papa."
"It would be, if he were here." He huffed, as though blowing away an objectionable odor. "In the meantime, I have his permission to act on his behalf in all matters concerning your welfare. Very thoughtful of him, don't you think?"
At his smirk, every muscle in her body tightened. It took considerable effort not to shriek at the unfairness of him to make such an important decision. This was her life. Shouldn't she have some say in the matter? With a deep breath, she laid her palms one to each thigh, and forced herself to relax.
"So, you'll marry Lord Warwick." The comment wasn't a question but a statement of fact.
She answered without haste. "At present, there are more important concerns on my mind. Papa must be in prison or he'd have written. Perhaps he's sick or ..." She faltered at the image of him shrunken and withering away with illness. An ache tore into her chest. "He may be dying."
For a moment, her uncle remained quiet. Wrapped in a luxurious satin jacket with an embroidered waistcoat, his bony shoulders drooped with a weary sigh. "Don't exaggerate your worries. I loathe hysterics."
"I need to go to him."
"To New York?" he choked. "What of the cost? And Lord Warwick?"
"I'm his only child. There's no one else." Only she, the loving daughter, could see to his care. It was her right.
Face pinched, he shifted his thin frame in the leather chair. "Your loyalty is misplaced for a father who, in all these years, has never found the time to visit."
The hurtful words scorched her skin and prickled her spirit. In shame, she dropped her gaze. Her hands trembled as she clasped them over her lap, her nails sharp against her skin. "As you said, Papa is a busy man." The words tumbled out, thick with emotion.
Over the years, she'd made excuses for Papa's absence. His scientific work consumed his time. Furthermore, losing a beloved wife sickened him with despair. In spite of the justifications, an ugly fear gnawed at her peace. Perhaps another reason beyond his prolonged melancholy better explained his decision to send her to England. Perhaps he didn't love her.
Foolish thoughts would do no good. Shoulders pinched together, she sat up straighter, spine like forged steel, and forced a confidence shaky at best. "Had it not been for the hostilities in the Colonies, Papa would have sent for me." Whatever the truth, she would cling to the best of explanations.
He ignored her as if she didn't matter and shuffled the papers on his fancy desk with the gold inlays. Steam rose in her head. How she loathed his selfishness and petty cruelty. "I must go to him, without delay. He needs me."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Amaryllis"
Copyright © 2019 Joyce Proell.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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