Writing under the nom de plume Diane du Pont, New York Times–bestselling author Jacqueline Briskin presents a captivating, novel about a nineteenth-century American woman who embarks on a passionate, exotic journey when she is given an ancient necklace with strange erotic powers
Fleeing Washington in 1814 as the British sail up the Potomac and her powerful guardian prepares to make her his wife, Liberty Moore seeks refuge on a ship bound for France, determined to continue the work of her late father, a renowned Egyptologist. On the high seas, she falls passionately in love with an American naval hero named Stephen Delaplane, but a pirate attack alters her destiny.
Sold to the most powerful ruler in the East, Liberty must adapt to life as the newest member of her husband’s harem. When the pasha gives her a coveted, ancient necklace known as the Emerald Embrace, she begins to experience the passions of a woman who lived centuries ago. Swept into the dangers and temptations of a strange new land, Liberty must unlock a secret that dates from classical antiquity to determine her own future as two very different but equally alluring men vie to possess her for all time.
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About the Author
Briskin was born in London, England, the granddaughter of the chief rabbi of Dublin, Ireland. Her family moved to Beverly Hills, California, to escape Adolf Hitler and religious orthodoxy. A few years later, she married her best friend and the love of her life, Bert, whose family was deeply embedded in Hollywood and the movie business. When Briskin’s three children were little more than toddlers, she attended a class at UCLA entitled “The Craft of Fiction.” To her surprise, it was a class about writing fiction rather than reading fiction. And so her career began.
Over the next forty years, many of Briskin’s books topped the New York Times bestseller list. Her adoptive home of Los Angeles and her husband’s old stomping ground of Hollywood often play a prominent role in her meticulously researched books.
Read an Excerpt
The Emerald Embrace
By Jacqueline Briskin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1980 Jacqueline Briskin
All rights reserved.
On the night of August 21, 1814, Washington was stifled by airless heat and though both windows were open the candle threw only still shadows across the small, book-lined parlor. Through the windows came the peaceful chirp of crickets as well as the urgent pounding of hooves that had become routine in the two years of this, our second war with England, the pounding of hooves on the soft earth of Pennsylvania Avenue. Day and night messengers passed our house on Pennsylvania Avenue as they went between Capitol Hill and the White House, as the President's home was now being called. In my apathy, I accepted the fast hoofbeats as belonging to such a courier.
The horse slowed. I heard the jingle as someone dismounted. Another condolence call, I thought, getting to my feet with a sigh.
Up the dark path came a massive and familiar figure.
Hatred shuddered through me and the candle flickered.
My caller was the man who, single-handed, had ruined Father, Amos Thornton.
The front steps creaked under Amos Thornton's weight. He had a pleased expression and seemed to take my trembling hand as a form of feminine flattery. He was used to women throwing themselves at him.
Amos Thornton appeared to have no idea that I blamed him. Since Father had remained on friendly terms with him to the end, Amos assumed I felt this same warmth. At the funeral he had insisted on being a pallbearer, and he had called at the house twice since. Fortunately, there were other visitors, and I could ignore him.
Tonight I could not ignore him.
A massive, powerful, tall man staring down at me. Following his gaze, I saw the cleft between my breasts. Remembering too late that in the hot night I'd undone my bodice, I flushed and set the candlestick on the hall table, fumbling with the buttons.
Amos Thornton continued to stare at me. A tremor quivered unpleasantly in my stomach.
Finishing, I clasped my shaking hands. "It's very late, Mr. Thornton," I said.
"The hour's unavoidable," he retorted. "Well, aren't you going to invite me in?" The broad face assumed an avuncular expression, yet there was a husky quality to his voice that I'd never heard before.
"You can't come in," I said.
But he strode by me into the parlor, raising his blue uniform coattails as if to sit on the chest Father had used to store the mass of notes for his book.
"Don't sit there!" I cried. My own forwardness amazed me. While it was true that Father hadn't taught me subservience, he had taught me manners.
"I'll leave as soon as we've settled the matter I'm here for," he replied. But he didn't sit on the Egyptian chest. "Yesterday the British fleet was sighted entering Chesapeake Bay."
The two years of warfare had taken place far away, around the Canadian border and the Great Lakes. However, there had often been rumors of mighty British armadas sailing up the Potomac toward Washington. "I've heard that before, Mr. Thornton."
"This time it's no rumor. I've come directly from Secretary of State Monroe's home. He called me and the other ranking Militia officers to discuss strategy. He had just received an urgent message from Cape Henry. Yesterday, the lookout there counted fifty-one British vessels. Brigs. Troopships. Three ships of the line."
I peered through the dimness at him. "Fifty-one British ships? That's too exact to be invented."
"And the first flew a blue flag." Amos Thornton enjoyed having attention. "That, Liberty, means there's an admiral aboard."
"Yes, I know. Have they landed?"
"All we know is that a huge force of redcoats is somewhere in the vicinity. It's caught President Madison and Secretary Monroe by surprise." His tone said he would have been prepared. "I pointed out that logically the British would strike for Baltimore. It's a prize for them, our third largest city. Washington's just a sheep patch with only nine hundred buildings, most of them mean little shacks like this. Yet none of us could discount the British wanting to take Washington. After all, it is our capital, and losing it would be a tremendous blow to our country's morale. So it's entirely possible they're heading here, and in a couple of days the town'll be under fire."
"If you came here to frighten me, you haven't succeeded." This was almost true. At the moment the entire British Army and Navy were far less my enemies than this one tall, stout American colonel.
"Then you're even more foolhardy than I imagined," he said. "It's just as well I'm looking after you."
I felt my jaw drop. "You're what?"
"The Maryland Militia's been called. Tomorrow I'm going to Baltimore to take my command. I'll drop you off at Willowood. It's on the way, and quite far enough from the road to be safe."
At the mention of Willowood I shuddered. Once, as a child, I had spent a week at the remote plantation. The Doric-columned mansion was magnificently proportioned and my rooms furnished elegantly, the vast, lush green gardens had a marvelous boxwood maze for me to play in. Yet Willowood tobacco was grown by four hundred oddly subdued black men, women and children. One afternoon, when I was exploring, I came upon a clearing centered with a stout whipping post. The brass manacles shone against the drab, dusty wood. Despite my closeness to Father, and his strong opposition to slavery, I had never been able to tell him about the obviously much used whipping post. Instead, the memory festered, giving me nightmares.
"Mr. Thornton," I said with an effort. "Didn't I make myself clear? I blame you for ruining my father."
"Nonetheless, the times put you in need of protection. And Willowood's safe."
"I'm not going there."
"Liberty, you can't realize what's best. You're barely seventeen, and an innocent. What do you know of warfare? Or of men? You've grown into a real beauty. That mass of fair hair, those huge, melting blue eyes. Your mouth—"
"My mouth's no concern of yours!" I shouted the first words that came to me.
"Those spot-faced boys who came here to learn their Greek and Latin told you the same thing. Of course they did."
I had been told I was pretty. Whenever one of Father's more forward students caught me alone, he would blurt it out, and those hasty compliments were pleasant. Amos Thornton's words were not. Clenching my fists, I managed to reply coldly. "A house of mourning isn't the place, nor is this the time."
As though I'd called upon its aid, the old hall clock began coughing. We both were silent as it wheezed eleven strokes.
"It is late, yes," Amos Thornton said. "But I didn't choose when the British would sail up the Potomac. And I can't permit you to remain in Washington. A girl as beautiful as you is an open enticement to men's baser instincts."
I swallowed sharply. I'd heard matrons whispering about such things, but I wasn't certain what they meant. After a brief silence, I said, "Mrs. Yarby'll let me move into the boardinghouse. She has a vacant room."
"Don't you listen? There's a good chance the town's about to be attacked."
"The British are chivalrous enemies and—"
"Tomorrow," he interrupted sternly.
"Mr. Thornton," I interrupted in turn. "I appreciate your coming to warn me, and your kind concern." With difficulty I repressed my sarcasm. "You've been very helpful."
"It's my duty. A moral obligation."
"You owe me nothing," I said.
"You're coming to Willowood with me tomorrow."
"And if you keep arguing about it, I'll go to Judge Lee. He'll appoint me your legal guardian."
My heart gave a thump. I knew the law. A boy under fourteen or a woman under eighteen must have a male guardian. My seventeenth birthday had been three weeks ago, so I had almost a full year left before I was of age. During my infancy, however, Father had worried because he was so much older than me: he had asked Captain Yarby to take on the responsibility—should the need arise. "I have a guardian. Captain Yarby."
"Professor Moore wrote it in his will?"
"You know as well as I do that Father didn't leave a will." Now my heart was beating erratically. "Why would Judge Lee—or any other judge—make me your ward?"
"Captain Yarby's on a long voyage. It could be a year before the Ithaca returns. Times are very troubled, and a judge would certainly realize you need a male protector."
"But you have no wife—or mother or sister."
"Being single doesn't prevent me from carrying out my obligations. And I have one toward you, Liberty. I was Professor Moore's friend."
"Friend!" I cried. And then I bit my lip, forcing back the furious words. My impetuous streak often led me to leap before looking. But even in my distraction I saw the dangers in this particular case. If Amos Thornton could indeed get himself appointed my guardian it would be almost impossible to escape. At all costs I must avoid legalities.
I had no intention of going with him, but I asked in a low, shaky murmur, "What time will you pick me up?"
At this he smiled, moving toward me. I shrank back toward the open front door. In the close heat of the narrow hall I could smell the tobacco on him, the pomade he used on his thinning, reddish hair and the heavy, male odor of his flesh. His nearness overwhelmed me. For the first time in my life I understood the raw strength that emanates at close range from a powerful masculine body. I was no longer able to repress the quivers radiating from my stomach. I began to shake.
"You're very distraught. I'm an exceptionally understanding man, Liberty, so I forgive the way you spoke to me earlier. But remember this. As your father's friend, it's my duty to protect you and to discipline you."
Into my mind popped a vision of that stout whipping post. I shook harder.
He stepped by me onto the porch. "Be ready at eight sharp. Oh, and no need to pack. I'll bring along a couple of my black bucks, and they'll load your books and these few other bits into a wagon."
The porch steps groaned under his boots, his spurs jingled down the brick path and his horse whinnied in the impenetrable shadows.
I slammed the door, shooting the bolt, leaning against the smooth, painted wood, breathing in great gulps.CHAPTER 2
When my shaking finally subsided, I climbed the narrow stairs, holding the candlestick with one hand, clinging to the banister with the other. My legs moved as if they were cast in lead.
My sluggish body was at wild variance with the agitation in my mind. Amos Thornton, I thought. I have until eight tomorrow to decide on a course of action. I should run. But where can a girl with no relations hide? Never had the war seemed less real to me. All I could think of was Amos Thornton.
In my room the slanting shake roof had trapped the day's sweltering heat, and I opened both dormer windows, letting in the cooler air, which was laden with the sweet smell of the front porch honeysuckle vine.
Glimpsing my shadowy reflection in the long pier mirror, I held up the candle to examine myself as if I were a stranger.
As part of my mourning, my hair was fastened into a tight bun at the crown of my head, but several long wisps had escaped, hanging in bright tendrils at my brow and ears, altering the severe coiffure into a Psyche's knot. My eyes were made a more intense blue by thick, dark lashes. My upper lip was fuller than the lower, and the more daring of my admirers had told me that my mouth invited kisses. Though I tightened my expression, my mouth remained soft, provocative.
It was my body, however, that a stranger, especially a male stranger, would notice. Even my drably dyed frock couldn't disguise the almost too lush curves. The short-waisted bodice with its demure, high-buttoned collar set off the fullness of my breasts and the narrow skirt hinted at my slim waistline and rounded hips.
I stared into the mirror, wishing fiercely that the reflection were plainer, more serious-looking, angular. For every beat of my agitated heart told me had I been a homely orphan, Amos Thornton never would have decided that I was in need of his protection. Even so, I realized that he fully believed in his own altruism—his self-esteem was such that he couldn't believe himself capable of baser motives.
He wants to do what he says the British soldiers do. Revulsion made me start shaking again.
I sat on the ladder-back chair, pressing my palms together, trying to get my mind on my problem. I needed a solution before eight in the morning.
So little time.
Captain Yarby, whom I loved and whom Father had chosen to look out for me, was the logical one to help me. But he was somewhere on the Atlantic aboard his two-master and Mrs. Yarby—a woman—would have little power.
The first logical thing to do, I told myself, was to discover if it was legally possible for Amos Thornton to be awarded my custody.
Mr. Key would be able to tell me.
At the thought of Mr. Key I sank back against the rungs of the chair, weak with relief.
Mr. Key, now a successful lawyer, had studied with Father ("My most poetic pupil," Father often had said) before I was born, so he was only a nodding acquaintance. Still, both he and Mrs. Key were kind. He'll help me, I thought, and clutched my arms around myself, hoping that somehow Mr. Key would be able to get me a restraining order.
It was all I could do not to run the mile or so up moonlit Pennsylvania Avenue to the Keys' house. But even in my state of mind I knew that rousing a near-stranger in the middle of the night was a poor way to enlist his aid.
I'll go at dawn, I thought. My plans completely obliterated any thought of the war.
The candle sputtered out and suddenly I thought of Father and began to cry. Fully dressed, I lay sobbing into the quilt.
When I woke, the faintest tinge of gray lit the dark sky. Through my open windows came a muffled sound that took me a full minute to recognize. It was the uneven stride of booted feet on the soft dirt of Pennsylvania Avenue.
I ran to the window. In the dimness, I could make out men alone or in pairs, all moving in the same direction, ghostly bits of humanity drawn by the magnet of the drill grounds at Capitol Hill.
Mrs. Yarby's door opened and in the pool of light Mr. Hodges, the sharp-nosed boarder who owned the dry goods shop, pulled on his tall shako, the cockaded headgear that was part of the District of Columbia Militia's uniform. Mrs. Yarby, folllowing him out, handed him a bandanna-wrapped package.
A small, uniformed figure jogged by. Squinting, I made out Wally Bruton, the fourteen-year-old printer's devil at the National Intelligencer. After him, Dr. Hartley, the gray-bearded physician, limped along as quickly as he could.
Why was the Militia drilling so early?
Reaching for my bonnet, I ran outside to join Mrs. Yarby.
My godmother's tall, sturdy figure was encased in a neat brown silk dress with a plain neckline that fitted about her throat to her square jaw. The straight fringe of gray hair showing under her matron's cap turned her face into a rectangle. She was as sensible and practical as she looked. And I loved her dearly. Both her daughters were long married; one had moved all the way to Philadelphia and the other lived not too far off in Georgetown. Mrs. Yarby mothered me. It was she who had threaded my first needles, she who had pulled my first lumpy cake from the oven, she (her square face averted) who had informed me that a monthly flow was normal in a female, and then given me knitted pads with instructions how to boil them to scrupulous whiteness each month.
Hurrying to where she stood under a poplar tree, I asked breathlessly, "Why this early drill?"
"It's no drill. The British have landed in Benedict."
"Benedict!" I cried. "But Benedict's not thirty miles off."
"Don't look so worried, child. The drummer boy who came to rouse Mr. Hodges told us it's only another little band of marauders."
"Fifty-one vessels," I repeated mechanically.
She turned, staring sharply through drab early light at me. "Fifty-one sails? Why, that's a whole fleet!" she exclaimed. "Liberty, you mustn't listen to rumors."
"A lookout counted them entering the Chesapeake. Secretary Monroe told Mr. Thornton."
Her mouth tightened with dislike. "When did you talk to him ?"
"Then you should have called me over. It's not right, this staying by yourself. The only sensible thing is for you to take the vacant room." Her tone changed to kindness. "Child, there's no need to look so worried. The British fleet's not the end of the world. We took care of the redcoats last time, and that was a real war. We'll manage them again."
"It's not the British."
"What's wrong then? I've never seen you look so pale. Was it something Amos Thornton said?"
I nodded and quickly told her the facts of his visit, without alluding to the baffling sense of menace I'd felt coming from him.
Excerpted from The Emerald Embrace by Jacqueline Briskin. Copyright © 1980 Jacqueline Briskin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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