Traitorous Hearts




They were on opposites sides of a war, held apart by duty, family, and danger, but brought together by a love that overcame it all.

Harper Monogram · isbn: 0061081833

Traitorus Hearts Okay, overlook the Texas socialite in a 70's prom dress on the cover (an object lesson in "Why one does not make jokes about ‘rolling in the hay' on art facts sheets). Ignore the war-heavy back cover copy. Just read it! This book, my second, is one of my very favorites, with a broader sweep than anything else I've written, larger-than-life-characters, and a truly heroic hero. The heroine has a huge (in more ways than one) family, and I would have loved to be able to write the stories of some of her brothers as well. Unfortunately, the colonial era doesn't seem to be terribly marketable, so I'll have to be content with talking people into giving this book a chance.

I'll admit that this book had its roots in the first historical romance I tried to write, back when I was fifteen or so. Only then the heroine's name was Fawn (blech!), she was perfectly beautiful, and the whole thing was as trite as it could possibly be. I'm glad I only got through a couple of chapters then, so that, fifteen years later, I could write it right. It was certainly the most fun to write of any of them; with one book under my belt, I wasn't making too many raw beginner mistakes, but I was still green enough that I wasn't thinking "oh, no, I can't do that!" with every word. I just wrote it, and enjoyed every moment of it. I hope you do, too.

--Susan


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Traitorus Hearts1774

He was the most beautiful man in the world.

It was a pity he was an idiot. Even worse, he was British.

Elizabeth knew who the man was even before he lumbered into the Dancing Eel. She should; she'd been hearing about him for weeks, ever since the company of British troops had been stationed just outside New Wexford. Every patriotic colonist was outraged at the indignity of Crown soldiers camping so near their village. However, the town's women couldn't help noticing that the over-aged, stupid lieutenant looked like a baffled angel.

Elizabeth handed a tankard of hard cider to a ruddy, middle-aged farmer, a regular customer, and slipped into the shadows cloaking the kegs near the back of the taproom.

She would watch, and wait.

It was one thing she was good at.

The Dancing Eel seemed perfectly suited to its location. If it was small, rough, dark, smoky, and insular, nobody seemed to mind. It was also snug, the diamond-paned windows shut tightly against the frigid wind of a Massachusetts autumn. The tavern was convivial, sometimes boisterous, and relentlessly, passionately colonial.

There were two things everybody knew about the Dancing Eel: it drew a good beer, and the British never bothered with the place.

Until now.

When the small contingent of British soldiers had entered the tavern, it had gone silent -- dead silent. The air, which had smelled of ale, whale oil from the lanterns, and good roasted meat, now smelled of anger and mistrust, of arrogance and fear.

No one laughed, no one sang, no mugs were clanked together. No one was having fun anymore. Worse still, no one drank.

The owner, Cadwallander Jones, couldn't let that happen. He scrambled forward, hoping to dispose of his newest customers as quickly as possible. He planted himself in front of the men, his big feet spread wide, his arms crossed in front of his still-formidable chest, and looked down at the man wearing the silver insignia of a captain. Pretty tall, but skinny, Cad thought. Turkey-necked. The floppy wig perched on the top of his head made him look like a mop.

"You are not welcome here."

Francis Livingston, captain of the Light Company, 17th Regiment of Foot, gulped slightly at the size of the man blocking his way. But he had plenty of support, the captain reminded himself. Besides, this fellow was old, as the solid silver of his wildly wavy hair attested. Livingston adjusted his meticulously curled wig -- the only one worthy of his station that he'd been able to find in this godforsaken place -- and stepped forward.

"I am Captain Livingston. We, as the military representatives of this area, are welcome anywhere," he said, holding his head at what he assumed was a regal angle.

"Ah." Cadwallader scratched the bridge of his nose and tried another tactic. "How silly of me. Of course you are. We, however, are simple colonists. We prefer to take our entertainment without worrying about disturbing such exalted personages as yourselves. Surely you would not be comfortable in such ordinary surroundings, sir." The customers snickered at the sneer that had crept into Cad's voice.

Livingston was momentarily perplexed at their chuckles, but then smiled, gratified at the respect the owner obviously had for him. Perhaps he was not the troublemaker the captain had been led to believe.

"I appreciate your concern, my good man. But I must insist. We will stay for a drink. As I am the new commanding officer here, I deem it necessary to become familiar with the area."

Dropping his hands to his sides and clenching his fists threateningly, Jones straightened to his full, impressive height. A half dozen men, equally as large as he, gathered behind him in implicit threat.

"I'm afraid I must insist," Cad said, a thread of steel running through his voice.

The captain nodded in acknowledgement. "Ah. You must be Cadwallader Jones."

"I am," he affirmed proudly. "You've heard of me?"

"No one else would be foolish enough to threaten a British officer and his men over such a trivial thing as a tankard of beer."

Cadwallader stiffened. No one had dared call him foolish, not in a very long time -- no one but his wife, of course, and he would allow her almost anything.

"This post can be a very simple one for you, Captain, or a very troublesome one. I suggest you save yourself some trouble and leave now. We only want one thing from Britain: to be left to our own devices."

"I have no wish to make things difficult, Jones. I merely wish to test the waters, as it were. I have heard it rumored that anyone who can best one of your sons wins a free drink. I have I been misinformed?"

"No."

"Then I accept the challenge."

Cadwallader glanced pointedly at the Captain's thin arms, encased in spotless red wool, and snorted derisively. "You're not serious."

Captain Livingston smiled genially. "Oh, I don't mean to compete myself, of course. I have long outgrown such games. I am the intelligence of my company, not the brawn. I had thought to have one of my men contest."

Cadwallder shook his head. "No, we have no business with the likes of you."

Livingston gave an exaggerated sigh. "Pity. I hadn't heard you were one to back down so easily."

"A Jones never backs down!" Cadwallader shouted, his face going purple with the effort to control himself. One didn't just haul off and strike an officer of the crown, no matter what the provocation.

"Then it is a wager?"

"It is."

"Good." The captain inclined his head to one of the privates accompanying him, who leaned out the door and beckoned to someone outside. "Allow me, then, to introduce the muscle."

The man filled the door, blocking the pale light of the setting sun. He had massive, solid shoulders that looked like he could support the weight of the world as if it were a load of swansdown. His features were an unearthly blend of perfect symmetry and exceptional strength. His hair was simply brown, a color that on anyone else would look ordinary, but on him took on the depth and richness of a whitetail's coat.

Stumbling over the doorjamb, he crashed into the nearest trestle table, sending the tankard of cider on it flying toward the floor. The dark golden liquid spewed out in a high arc, drenching nearby men. He reached to catch it, missed, and overturned the rough-hewn bench.

"Sorry," he mumbled, clumsily righting the bench. He retrieved the empty tankard from the planked floor, setting it gingerly in the center of the table; the large pewter mug looked unusually small in his huge hands. He swiped at the table-board with his forearm, succeeding only in spreading the puddle of cider and thoroughly dampening his sleeve.

Apparently satisfied with his efforts, he straightened somewhat and turned to face his captain, hunching his shoulders slightly as if afraid that if he stood to his full height he would hit the ceiling -- and it almost seemed as if he might.

Grinning foolishly, he tugged at the uneven hem of his crimson coat, obviously unaware the tarnished buttons were pushed through the wrong holes.

The giant bobbed his head. "Cap'n? You asked for me?"

Livingston chuckled indulgently. "Yes." He turned to face the stunned owner and patrons of the Dancing Eel. "Allow me, Jones, to present Lieutenant Jon Leighton."

"Lieutenant?" Cadwallader asked incredulously.

"Yes, well, Leighton received his rank before he had a rather unfortunate episode with a horse. Kicked in the head, I'm afraid. He should have been drummed out of the service, of course, forced to sell out, but his commander took pity on him and allowed him to keep his commission. Despite his rather obvious shortcomings, however, he does have his uses."

Snickering laughter and a low, astonished murmur rumbled through the taproom. This was the best the British army had to offer? A pompous captain and a muddle-headed hulk of a lieutenant?

Lieutenant Leighton smiled more broadly, stretching his lean cheeks and showing gleaming, even white teeth.

Cad shook his head sadly, feeling a twinge of sympathy for the boy, who didn't even seem to know when he was being made sport of. No one had the gall to make fun of a Jones, thank God, and Cad could hardly imagine what it felt like to be the brunt of such ridicule. Ah, well, the lieutenant was clearly too stupid to be hurt by it all.

"I take it you mean for Lieutenant Leighton to be your champion?"

Captain Livingston lifted his chin smugly. "Yes. Unless, of course, you wish to simply concede and save us all the bother?"

"No one best a Jones once he hits four-and-ten years," Cad asserted, his hazel eyes glowering beneath bushy silver brows.

"Good." Livingston waved at one of his men, who scurried to pull out a nearby bench for his captain. Settling his lanky frame onto it, he glanced around the room. The colonial ruffians were watching intently, ill-disguised hatred on their faces. Livingston preferred to think of it as respect.

"How many . . . offspring do you have anyway, Jones?"

"Nine. Healthy and strong, every one of them."

"Of course. Well, nine drinks will be sufficient, I should think. There are only five of us, after all, and we rarely allow Leighton here to drink -- I don't think it wise to befuddle his wits any further."

"Nine? But Bennie can't --"

The captain cut off Cad's protest. "I will accept no excuses, my good man. Let's start with the eldest, shall we?"

Cad braced his fists on his hips and bellowed: "Adam!"

"Right here, Da." Adam stepped from behind his father. Taller than Cadwallader, he was a brawny man, muscular from his work as the town's blacksmith and just past thirty years of age. His blunt-featured face was roughly good-looking, his hair a sheaf of the pure gold his father's must once have been.

"Adam?" Captain Livingston's mouth curved wryly. "How appropriate for a first-born son."

Cad placed his hands on his son's shoulders. His voice was low, so only Adam could hear. "I don't want you to just beat that lobsterback, do you hear me? I want you to humiliate him."

Adam gave a confident grin. "When have I ever done anything else, Da?"

Cad clapped him heartily on the back. "True enough, son. True enough."

Going to the nearest table, Adam turned a bench sideways and straddled it. Once he had braced himself to his satisfaction, he plunked his elbow on the table and looked expectantly at Lieutenant Leighton.

Leighton brightened. "Hello. I'm Jon."

"Uh, yeah, I know that." Adam gestured at the opposite seat. "So are you going to sit down, or are you going to just stand there like a lump all night?"

"Sure." The lieutenant bobbed his head. "Thank you." He plopped down, a little off center, and wobbled for a minute before finding a precarious balance.

Adam looked up at the man across from him, realizing he hadn't had to look up to another man since he'd reached his full growth. It was unsettling -- or it would have been, if the man didn't have such a friendly, vacant grin on his face, like a puppy who didn't realize the wagon he was so happy to see was just about to run him over.

Leighton didn't have a clue what to do, Adam realized. "Look, first put your elbow on the table, all right?"

"All right." The lieutenant did has he was told.

"The put your forearm up in the air, and we're going to clasp hands."

"Uh-huh." He obligingly grabbed Adam's hand.

Adam gave a deep, exasperated sigh. Howe we he supposed to work up the appropriate anger and concentration? "Listen carefully now, Leighton. When Da says "Now," I'm going to try and push your arm down to the table, and you're supposed to try and push mine. We can't lift our elbows. Do you understand?"

"Uh-huh."

Adam tried again. "It's a game."

"I like games."

He gave up. "Da, go ahead."

"Just a moment," Captain Livingston interrupted. "Why should Jones be the one to begin the competition?"

"Do you object to this?" Cad asked.

"Well, actually, yes. How do I know the two of you don't have some secret single worked out, giving your son a head-start, and thus the advantage?"

"Are you questioning my honor?" Cad raged, taking a step toward the Englishman.

"Da, wait!" Adam nearly came of his bench in protest. "What does it matter who starts us?"

Cad forced himself to relax. "It doesn't, I guess. You'll win anyway. Rufus!"

"Yes, Cad?" A thin, bespectacled man, anxious for this chance to get a better view, hurried forward from his place in the back of the room.

"If I can't start them, you can't start them, Captain. Same reason." There was steely determination and barely suppressed anger in Cad's voice. "Rufus can start them. He's the shopkeeper, and he depends as much on your business as hours."

"Agreed."

"Start them."

Rufus nervously pushed his spectacles up his thin nose. "But, Cad --"

"Start them!" The shout resonated off the ceiling.

"Fine." Rufus scuttled to the table where Adam and Lieutenant Leighton sat, their beefy fists wrapped around each other. "Are you both ready?"

"Yes. Are we going to play now?" Leighton asked excitedly.

Adam rolled his eyes. "Would you just get on with it, Rufus?"

"Yes. On my count of three. Ready? One . . ." All the spectators, their drinks forgotten, leaned forward in anticipation. "Two . . . now!"

Muscles strained. Biceps bulged. Tendons tightened and veins stood out in bold relief. Adam grunted, then groaned. Turned red, then purple. Sweat trickled down his face and dripped onto the table. Still the hands remained upright, locked.

And through it all, Leighton grinned.

Finally, slowly, almost imperceptibly, the hands inched toward the table. Adam's eyes grew wide with disbelief, and he pushed himself, taking a deep, gulping breath that bulged his cheeks, but to no avail. The back of his hand dropped to the planked wood.

"Good game. Next?" Jon said brightly.

The crowd was silent, stunned. Since Adam had been twenty-three, when he'd finally managed to defeat his father, they'd never seen him lose. Hell, no one had even bothered to challenge him for four years.

Adam, his face rigidly set, shoved his bench back from the table and stomped out the door, giving the wall a thunderous kick as he left.

Captain Livingston applauded enthusiastically. "Rather good showing by your son, there, Jones. That's one. Shall we work our way down the list?"

Cad clenched his fists. "Adam is just a bit out of practice. The others will do better."

"If you insist. Well then, where is your second son?"

"Ah, well." Cad shuffled his feet. "Brendan's --"

"I can speak for myself, Father," said a young man standing a bit away from the rest.

"Brendan . . ."

Brendan faced the captain. He was of average height and slender build; in no other place but among a collection of such outsize men as the Joneses would he look small, but here he undeniably did. He was dark-haired, had graceful, almost delicate bones, and looked nothing like any of his brothers.

"What my father is trying to say, Captain, is that I don't have the, uh, heft of the rest of my family. If you'd consider turning to a test of wits rather than strength, I'd be happy to oblige you."

"You don't look much like your father, do you?"

"I favor Mother. Now, what do you say?"

Livingston shook his head. "No, I'll stick to the original wager. It will be a contest of strength. Do you concede this match, Jones?"

"I concede nothing!" The men closest to Cad flinched at his bellow.

"But I do," Brendan said calmly. "I see no advantage in wasting my energy on a cause I cannot hope to win. It is something you might consider, Father."

Father and son stared at each other, the argument clearly an old one, but, equally clearly, neither was yet to yield to the other.

"Sometimes I wonder how I ever produced you," Cad finally said.

"I often wonder the same."

"There will be time for family squabbles later, Jones. I'm here to win some drinks. Who is the next one?" Captain Livingston asked.

"Carter."

"Carter. Good God, man, you can't mean you named them alphabetically?"

"I most certainly did."

The captain chuckled. "Well, then, bring them on."

Carter proved no better than Adam, nor did David, nor Frank. By the time Jon met George, the consensus was the lieutenant must be tiring. They were wrong. One big, strapping blond man after another was defeated, giving way to strapping blond adolescents. Through it all, the lieutenant grinned and laughed and generally seemed delighted with the whole process. By the time Henry and then Isaac lost, Cad's anger had faded into weary resignation. This man could best his sons. He was mightily tempted to give it a shot himself, but he knew deep down, bitter as it was, that he would not fare better. Besides, Mary, his wife, would make sure he regretted it if he did something so foolish.

"Well, that's it, then." Captain Livingston leaned back, crossing his thing legs at the knee, his booted foot swinging. "You may well bring us the beer."

"No E," the lieutenant put in abruptly.

"What?" Livingston asked.

"No E." Leighton pointed to the door. "A-Adam." He gestured to Brendan, who was propped comfortably against a far wall as he watched the proceedings. "B." He pointed to the remaining Jones in turn. "C, D, F, G, H, I. No E."

"That's right, isn't it?" Captain Livingston clicked his tongue against his teeth. "We may as well make this complete. Where's the fifth one, Jones? Hiding him? Perhaps he's not quite up to snuff, eh?"

"I told you, Bennie can't --"

"Bennie? We're looking for the E one. Lose track of your letters, Jones?"

Cad ground his teeth together. "I most certainly did not! Bennie's a nickname."

"Well, then, bring him out. I'm sure Lieutenant Leighton won't mind humiliating another one of your sons."

"I'm Bennie." At the soft, musical voice, Jon leapt to his feet, tipping his bench over in his haste to stand rigidly at attention.

"Dear God!" Captain Livingston's boots thunked on the planked floor as he abruptly sat up. "He's a woman!"

"How brilliant of you to notice, Captain. I am Elizabeth Jones," she said.

The captain stood and circled her slowly while she stood comfortably tall and waited. She was clearly a Jones: tall, strong-boned, and clean-featured. Her hair, wayward curls escaping from the tight braid down her back, combined all the various shades of her brothers': sunny gold, pale wheat, and a few strands of the dark, warm brown that matched her eyes. And, despite the loose, concealing fit of her flowing white shirt and baggy, gathered brown skirt, she was also clearly a woman. She had broad, square shoulders, generously rounded hips, and matching, impressive bosom. The bunched fabric at her middle hid but hinted at a sharply curved waist.

Captain Livingston smiled slowly and reached out to wind a curl of her hair around his forefinger, marveling at his good fortune. This wonderfully proportioned woman was the most intriguing female he'd seen since he'd landed. She was not only a colonial, but she worked in such a place as the Dancing Eel; clearly a woman who'd be flattered by the enthusiastic attentions of a young, fast-rising British officer. "You're rather a lot of woman, aren't you?" His gaze dropped to her breasts. "Ample. I like that."

The spectators drew a collective, anticipatory breath and waited. In New Wexford, Elizabeth held a rather unique person. They didn't think of her as a girl, exactly; she was just Bennie Jones. She didn't really have a gender. But, on rare occasions, a traveler passing through town, intrigued by her curvy figure and encouraged by her quiet manner, would make the mistake of thinking that a wench who worked in a tavern was naturally a tavern wench.

The damage Bennie could do to a man's ego was matched only by the damage she could do to his body -- she'd had eight brothers to learn from, after all. And if that weren't enough, any man who was, in her brothers' opinion, disrespectful to Bennie could look forward to a painful visit from one or two or several of the Jones boys.

Bennie stared directly down at the captain from her two-inch advantage. She grasped his wrist in one hand, and peeled his fingers off her hair with the other, bending those fingers back, and back, and back.

"Yes, I am a lot of woman. It's too bad you're so little a man, isn't it," she said, so quietly Livingston was the only one who could hear her.

The captain's face blanched nearly as white as his wig. He tried to jerk his hand from her grasp, but her grip was firm. She smiled and released him, giving a careless shrug. "Too bad."

Color flooded back into his face. "Why, you . . ." He stopped. "Lieutenant Leighton, it appears you have another drink to win."

"Now see here, Captain Livingston. I won't be having my Bennie touching that lump you call a lieutenant. I'll give you the damn drink," Cad protested.

"Oh, but that wouldn't be acceptable at all," Livingston replied. We had a wager. One drink for every one of your offspring the lieutenant defeats. I demand that you honor it."

"But you didn't make Brendan go through with it."

"No." The captain chuckled. "But there was no sport in that. This, I think, could be highly entertaining."

"I will not have it!" Cad thundered.

"Da." Bennie laid a calming hand on her father's arm. "I don't mind."

"Ben, he could hurt you."

She shook her head. "He won't."

"You sound very sure."

"I am."

"Cad sighed heavily. "But, Bennie, I --"

"I'm going to do it anyway, Da, whatever you say."

"Do none of you ever plan to let me finish a sentence?"

She rose to plant a kiss on his grizzled cheek. "I can't help it, Da. I'm a Jones."

She walked over to her opponent, who, for some reason, was still at attention, his gaze fixed at some point over everyone's head.

Dear Lord, he was a big one, she thought. He was taller than her brothers, who, with the exception of Brendan, towered over her, and she was taller than every other man in New Wexford.

Up close, he appeared less like an angel. His face wasn't ethereally perfect and insubstantial. He looked more like her vision of a devil, his face sharply chiseled, strong, seductively appealing. A face capable of drawing her in, luring the unwary into sin and destruction. A fallen angel.

But that was only at first glance, for once she got past the initial shock of that compelling face, she could see it was strangely empty, devoid of life. Blank. His grin was broad, vacant. His lids were lowered over his eyes, making him look half-awake, or half-asleep. She could catch only a glimpse of pale, pure blue beneath them.

"Hello," she said. "I'm Bennie."

He looked down at her. Bennie blinked. Had she imagined it? For an instant, his eyes had opened fully, and she had seen blazing, brilliant blue -- intense, aware, assessing. Now there was only that dull, simple expression again.

"Yes, Bennie," he said. "Girl."

She must have imagined it. She smiled back, unable to resist his childlike friendliness. She felt a twinge of pity for this simple, happy man. She had seen the way the other men had ridiculed him, had made him the butt of jokes, how his commanding officer had dismissed him. Simple Jon. Perhaps he didn't notice, but she did. She knew what it was like always to be the different one, the odd one, to have people see only the obvious. Perhaps it was easier not to know.

"Yes, a girl. It's my turn to play the game now, all right?"

"All right."

He bent, clumsily righting his bench, and plopped down, jamming his elbow on the table and holding his hand in the air. He glanced at her expectantly. "I'm ready now."

She couldn't suppress a small laugh. When she was younger, out of sight of her mother and father and the rest of town, she had often tested her strength against her brothers. And not just arm wrestling, but sometimes in a full-scale, flat-on-your-back-in-the-dust wrestling match. She'd acquitted herself well, actually, winning her share -- at least against her younger brothers. When she was thirteen, her mother had caught them at it. Her mother's obvious disappointment had wrenched Bennie, and she'd given up rough play. She'd missed the exercise almost as much as she regretted hurting her mother.

Now Bennie would get a chance to try again. She knew she wouldn't win, of course, but the thought of competition sent the blood , warm male rushing through her veins anyway. Her mother would be disappointed once more, but Bennie had long ago given up the idea of being the daughter her mother wanted. It wasn't that she hadn't tried -- and tried, and tried. She simply couldn't do it.

Rolling up the sleeve of her linen shirt, she sat and placed her elbow carefully on the table, arranging herself for maximum leverage. She lifted her hand to place it in his -- and froze.

His hand. Dear Lord, he was going to touch her! With that big, strong, male hand. Attached to that big, strong, gorgeous male body. She felt oddly . . . odd.

Stop it! she told herself. She'd touched lots of big, gorgeous men. So what if they were all related to her?

She tilted her arm forward an inch. Her mouth went dry.

That large, warm male hand wrapped itself gently around hers.

"Are you two prepared now?" Rufus asked. "Get ready. One . . ."

"Stop!" Bennie licked her parched lips. She couldn't concentrate, could only stare at him. Strands of smooth brown hair escaped from the clumsy club at the back of his neck, falling around his beautiful, unearthly face, those sleepy blue eyes.

"What's the matter, lass?"

"Huh? Oh, nothing, Rufus, nothing. Just give me a moment, please." If they didn't start yet, then it wouldn't end so soon, and then maybe he'd hold her hand for just a little bit longer.

What was she thinking? He was a British soldier. A clumsy, bumbling oaf of a British soldier at that. Maybe if she didn't look at that face . . . She dropped her gaze below his neck.

Bad idea. In the warmth of the crowded tavern and the heat of the struggle, he'd discarded his coat and matching scarlet waistcoat, tossing them over the end of the table. His dingy white shirt was missing a button. The lamplight was dim and wavery, but she could catch occasional, flickering glimpses of . . . skin.

He wasn't hairy. Her brothers were hairy. His chest looked like his hand felt: smooth, hard, warm. She squeezed his hand experimentally. Unyielding. Strong.

Traitorus HeartsHe squeezed back.

"Ready to play now, Bennie-girl?" His voice was low, a rumble as much as words, felt as much as heard.


END OF CHAPTER ONE
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