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Hawk Haven Manor, England February 1781
The moment the coach rolled to a stop, Drake Amberly, Fifth Duke of Hawk Haven, shoved open the door and leapt to the cobblestone drive. Icy rain struck his face, ran off the brim of his hat and slid down his neck, under the collar of his greatcoat. He marched up the wide front steps of his family's palatial home, his mood fouler than the weather.
Chaney, his wizened butler, opened the ornately carved front door in perfect time, allowing him to enter the manor's grandiose hall without slowing his pace.
"Good day, Your Grace."
"I've yet to find the good in it." Drake shed his hat and coat before passing them to the efficient servant. He raked his fingers through his black hair and turned in the direction of the sweeping staircase. Changing his mind, he headed for his study. His mud-splashed boots clapped on the marble floor, echoing in the domed space as he passed gilded mirrors and a display of fine porcelain. "I'm not available for the rest of this miserable day."
"Yes, Your Grace."
Drake crossed the threshold of his mahogany-paneled study, the sound of his steps muffled by the room's thick red carpet. The welcoming crackle of a roaring fire in the hearth and the familiar smell of leather-bound books did little to soothe his irritation.
He took his place behind the massive antique desk and without pause snatched up a quill. Dabbing the tip in ink, he flipped open one of his journals and began ciphering the figures from his latest shipping venture. Trade was an unpopular activity for the nobility, but Drake gave little credence to convention. Convention had caused him nothing but grief. Besides, he enjoyed dabbling in business to relieve his boredom, or annoyance, as was the case today.
Drake slammed the quill down on the desk, sneering as flecks of ink splashed across his accounts. Shoving the book away in disgust, he leaned back in his chair, his thoughts turning toward his former fiancée.
Were all women deceivers? He'd heard the rumors about Penelope, but finding her in the arms of another man was not something he could tolerate. He'd broken their engagement this morning and would speak with her father tomorrow. No strip of land was worth having a wife who couldn't be trusted.
A knock sounded at the door. Chaney peered into the room. "Pardon, Your Grace, but a Lieutenant Kirby is here.
I explained you're unavailable, but he claims to have news of Lord Anthony. I thought you might wish to see him straightaway."
Drake frowned. "Show him in. If they've sent someone, it must be urgent."
The butler departed. Drake closed his journal. An image of his brash younger brother came to mind. From childhood, Anthony had longed for adventure. When the revolt began in the Colonies six years ago, he'd booked passage on the first ship bound for New York. Determined to join their distant cousin's regiment, Anthony had been blinded by his ambition and lust for glory.
"Your Grace?" Chaney spoke from the doorway. "Please allow me to present Lieutenant John Kirby."
Drake studied the new arrival as he walked into the room and stopped several feet away. The man was short, wiry thin. Dirt marred his craggy face and sodden wig. His bulging eyes held respect and a hint of fear.
Kirby bowed low. His uneasy gaze flicked down at his less-than-spotless uniform. "Please forgive my appearance, Your Grace. The ghastly weather—"
"No matter, Lieutenant." Drake remembered his own battle with the soggy roads earlier in the day. Impatient, he motioned toward one of the chairs in front of his desk. "It would appear none of us is at his best this afternoon. Have a seat and tell me what news have you of my brother? I've received no word from him since before the new year."
Kirby sat on the edge of one of the leather chairs. Fidgeting, the soldier cleared his throat. His nervous gaze fell to the floor. "The news I have is ill indeed, Your Grace. I regret to say I've been sent here on the worst sort of errand.
There's no delicate way to put this. Your brother, Lord Anthony, is…dead."
"Dead?" Drake choked, inwardly absorbing the news like a blow to his gut. He'd anticipated something dire, an injury perhaps, but dead… ? Not Anthony.
"Yes, Your Grace. I'm sorry to be the bearer of such tragic tidings."
Drake stood and faced the windows that framed the gray winter sky and constant drizzle. Though it was just after one o'clock, the dreary weather made it dark as early evening.
He took a deep breath, desperate to relieve the sudden painful tightening of his chest.
Anthony will never come home.
The thought went round and round in his head. If only he'd insisted Anthony remain in England. He should have found a way to curb his brother's tempestuous nature. Now he'd lost the opportunity forever. "Are you certain? There's been no mistake?"
"I'm positive, Your Grace."
"How? Which battle?"
Kirby cleared his throat as though he had more news he was reluctant to convey. "No battle, Your Grace. A notorious spy known as the Fox murdered him."
Drake clamped his jaw. Fury mingled with his initial shock and raged through him. His brother wasn't the casualty of an honorable fight on the field of battle. A traitor had killed him in cold blood. "When?"
"The last week of December. In Charles Towne, South Carolina colony."
"Was this 'Fox' apprehended?" Drake swung around to face the messenger. "If so, I want his neck in a noose posthaste."
Kirby squirmed in his chair. "That's the rub, Your Grace. The Fox escaped. The soldiers who caught him—"
"I thought you said the spy eluded capture. Make up your mind, man. Did he or did he not?"
After an uncomfortable pause, Lieutenant Kirby explained. "He… he was caught, but the soldiers let him go without realizing who they'd bagged."
Drake seethed. "What ineptitude! 'Tis a wonder the rebels haven't won the war with lackwits such as those to fight."
"Yes, Your Grace, but you see, Lord Anthony arranged the Fox's capture with Captain Beaufort, my superior officer. As a cousin to your family, Captain Beaufort knew your brother on sight, but the men he sent to meet him did not.
"When our men arrived, Lord Anthony was dead. The Fox remained, or so I heard, refusing to remove his mask. Apparently, the spy had rummaged Lord Anthony's clothing and found his identification after he shot him. The Fox then used the papers to switch his true identity with that of your brother. Our men believed the Fox was dead until they took the body to camp. Once there, Captain Beaufort immediately realized the deception. By then, the Fox had flown, reward and all."
"Aye, there's a price on the brigand's head. Your brother, also known as Hawk, was to collect it from the soldiers sent by Captain Beaufort."
Drake's brow furrowed in disbelief. "You're suggesting my brother was involved in espionage?"
Kirby gulped. "Yes, Your Grace. Lord Anthony spied for His Majesty. The traitors believed he worked for them, but I assure you, his loyalty to England never wavered."
Drake considered the information. Truthfully, he couldn't imagine Anthony being self-disciplined enough to make a successful spy. That his brother had chosen such a reviled occupation surprised him. Its need for secrecy conflicted with his brother's demand for attention. "How long did he work in that capacity?"
"I don't know, Your Grace, but I suspect for some time. From what I understand, the rebels thought highly of him, too."
"The rebels," Drake said scornfully.
"They're tenacious and unpredictable," the soldier added. "None is so bold as the Fox."
Drake's jaw worked as he struggled to conquer his temper. "So, the scum got away with murder and the reward. Very clever."
"Aye, Your Grace. Your cousin, Captain Beaufort, thought you might prefer to keep this matter secret until the Fox is found and punished. Because of that, he dispatched me to deliver the news, rather than someone from Whitehall. I secured passage from Charles Towne the day after your brother's shooting and arrived in London yesterday morn."
Drake returned to his place behind the desk. "Who is leading the hunt for this Fox?"
"As far as I know, Captain Beaufort remains in charge. However, he did say he would post further information to Hawk Haven by way of special courier if any became available."
The muted sound of rain outside filtered through the lead glass windows. Grim resolve filled Drake's mind. No one could be allowed to kill an Amberly and escape unpunished. "Tell me everything you know about this rebel spy."
Kirby tugged at his ear, and his brow pleated with concentration. "I don't know much. No one does. The Fox is the most elusive spy in the Colonies, Your Grace. So little is known about the sly dog, stories boast he's a phantom."
Drake snorted in contempt. "Phantoms do not murder people."
"No, of course not, Your Grace. In truth, the only certain information is the Fox resides in Charles Towne or the nearby environs. Most likely he's a man of wealth, perhaps a planter."
Frustrated, Drake rubbed his angular chin. His pain and fury grew with each tick of the clock. "There must be a suspect or two. Anthony must have known something of the person with whom he dealt. Why didn't he tell Beaufort the traitor's whereabouts, and simply have the man arrested?"
Kirby shook his head. "He couldn't, not without compromising his position in the enemy spy ring."
Drake had heard enough for one sitting. He stood, barely controlling the need to smash something. He snapped his fingers, and Chaney entered from where he'd been waiting in the hall. "That will be all, Lieutenant. My butler will show you to a room. Prepare for a possible journey. Should I hear no word from Beaufort by week's end, you and I shall return to the Colonies to root out this slippery vermin ourselves."
"Yes, Your Grace. With God's help we'll find him soon." Kirby stood, clicked his heels and bowed as he backed out the door.
With God's help, indeed.
Drake stared through the window at the mournful weather. In his youth, he'd trusted in God, but no longer. Years of grief and disappointment had hardened his heart until he'd been able to forget God as effectively as God had forgotten him. Now, there was no room in his life for forgiveness or faith. It was vengeance he needed to set things right.
His fingers drumming steadily on the desktop, his mind quickly formed a plan. He'd wait two days to hear from Beaufort. Then he'd hunt down the unsuspecting Fox. When he located him, and he had no doubt of his success, he'd make certain the fellow danced at the end of a noose posthaste.
Charles Towne, South Carolina July 1781
Elise patted her powdered wig into place, smoothed the green silk gown over her hips and took a deep, relaxing breath as she prepared to leave the safety of her bedchamber.
Dear Lord, You've promised You'll never leave me. Please help me through tonight.
Taking a deep breath, she stepped into the dimly lit hall and closed the heavy door behind her. A moment later, Christian Sayer departed his own chamber two doors down. A handsome young man, Christian looked the picture of a wealthy planter's son in a finely woven white shirt, honey-toned breeches and matching embroidered waistcoat. A well-cropped wig disguised his dark brown hair. His blue eyes sparkled with their usual mischief. Like her, he possessed unquestioning loyalty to the American cause, and worked under the directive of his father, spy-master Zechariah Sayer.
Christian greeted her with an appreciative glance and bowed gallantly. "You look sublime, dearest. That bright shade of green you're wearing matches your eyes precisely." He sighed as though put upon. "I can see tonight's ball will offer me little enjoyment. I'll be far too busy fending off the sea of gents bent on wooing you."
Elise rolled her eyes and restrained her laughter. She wasn' t the plainest of women, but there was nothing spectacular about her brown hair, and her lips were too full for her oval face. Christian loved to tease. More oft than not, she was his favorite target. Other than her half sister, Princess, he was the only person she held dear. She loved him like a brother.
"I can take care of myself, thank you. If one of us must defend the other this night, it will be I protecting you. Alice Harris has marriage on her mind, or so I hear."
"Alice Harris, you say? She's fetching enough. Since you won't have me, I suppose she'll do. Tell me of her plans, will you? With a woman like Alice, I'll need to be prepared."
"What makes you think I know her full intentions? Alice and I are hardly confidants."
Christian flashed a wicked grin. "I'm aware that you know everything, my dear Fox."
Elise swatted him with her folded fan. "Shh, you silly dolt. Don't bandy that name about. Do you wish to see me dangling from the nearest hangman's tree?"
"Rest easy. There's no one here. Do you think I'd be that foolhardy?"