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Authors: Janelle Taylor

Fortune's Flames

BOOK: Fortune's Flames
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A PIRATE’S KISS

Without warning, Jared leaned forward and sensuously sealed Maren’s lips. When she did not resist him, he continued on, eagerly exploring her mouth. He felt her tremble and press closer to his body. She smelled wonderful, and his senses spun wildly at her nearness. He guided her to the floor and lay half atop her as his mouth conquered hers.

Maren clasped his head, pressed his lips more tightly to hers. It was exciting to be in his arms and to have his full attention. His mouth claimed hers skillfully, tantalizingly, mind-dazingly. A fierce desire for him flamed within her heart.

Jared realized the effect his affections had on her, and his rich voice warned, “Be careful, my radiant siren, or I shall be tempted to take you away with me.”

“Surely the flames of fortune burn brightly today, as I can think of no better fate than becoming your willing hostage,” she replied.

JANELLE TAYLOR

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Fortune’s Flames
Janelle Taylor

I dedicate this book to my friend,
Lela Jennies,
for her generous and enlightening research.
She made me fall in love with New Orleans again!

And,
to my talented friends in the music business,
Terri Gibbs
and
Mike Dekle,
whose
music relaxes and inspires me.

And,
to my daughter,
Angela Taylor,
a marvelous
secretary and proofer who keeps me on
my toes and on schedule.

And,
to my many friends of
AHS class of ’62
who
enjoyed a terrific reunion in Athens in 8/87.

O’er land and sea, the Flames of war are raging;

And
Fortune’s
cloaks and faces swiftare changing…

What will you do, oh Destiny’s Child,

When fires of greed and hate run wild?

Searing away barriers and blames,

Baring your soul to
Fortune’s Flames…

Chapter One

Maren James stared at the handsome blond man standing before her. She did not want to believe him, but she knew Eric would not lie to her about something this grave. “My parents are dead and everything is lost?” she murmured. When he nodded, she argued, “Itcannot be true. Why didn’t you tell me sooner? You said everything was fine at home.”

“I couldn’t tell you this news before we left London because I didn’t want to distress our grandparents. They’re not strong enough to endure the loss of another son. It’s only been three years since my father and mother were killed in that hotel fire and they still agonize over their deaths. Grandfather blames himself for that tragedy because he sent his sons to America to expand his shipping business. With Father gone and this war ruining our trade, I just couldn’t place another burden on them. They’re old and weak, Maren; they won’t live much longer.
This news could devastate them.” Eric inhaled deeply. “Let them be happy until we’re forced to break their hearts again. Surely you understand and agree with my decision to remain silent, don’t you, little cousin?”

Maren could not fault Eric’s compassion and generosity. Her look and nod said she agreed with his behavior in London.

The green-eyed Eric, now a man of twenty-three, stroked her cheek. “I know this news is hard on you, little cousin, and I wish I didn’t have to be the one to tell you. Things have been chaotic at home and abroad since the war started and Uncle Cameron… passed away. I tried to get to you sooner, but this damned blockade is nearly impossible to run. I’ve lost two ships and crews since January, both loaded with expensive cargoes, and we almost got caught several times on our way over here. Blasted British! You’d think they’d be tired of fighting by now. It makes me ashamed of my ties to them. Why can’t they be content with Napoleon’s defeat? Do they need to crush us too?”

“If it’s as bad as I’ve heard and read, why did you risk a trip to London? You could have been killed or captured.”

Eric smiled in response to the concern and affection evident in Maren’s whiskey-colored eyes, aware that she was trustful and innocent. “President Madison received a coded message from some British traders and lords who want to help bring about a hasty end to this absurd conflict, secretly of course. It
seems that the only ones who want to fight us are the Royal Navy and that mad King. Anyone with intelligence knows Britain can’t lick us, at least not easily. You’d think they would have learned their lesson when they tried to conquer us nearly forty years ago. Blast them! It’s stupid for either side to refuse to negotiate a treaty. Even if we battle from now until forever, there can be no real winner, and it riles me to watch them destroying everything our parents built. Honestly, Maren, what gets into people to make them behave this way?”

“I don’t know, Eric. It seems such a terrible waste of lives and properties. Yet, both sides must feel action is necessary or we wouldn’t be at war. What happened at home?” she asked, trying to return the grim conversation to her personal losses, but Eric’s mind was elsewhere.

“The President was told to send someone those Englishmen knew and trusted to collect the money. They suggested that my older brother handle the secret dealings because they’ve done business with the American offices of James Shipping for years and they trust us. But Murray has a broken leg and couldn’t make the voyage. Since they know me too, I was asked to take his place. Besides, Murray was born in Britain, so he could be impressed if captured. I’m an American and have ‘protection papers’ to prove it.

“I agreed to take on this crucial task because I’ll do anything to have this war over quickly. I admit I used deceit, false papers, and false flags as a cover in order to fetch you home, but I had no choice. If I hadn’t
picked you up, my trip to London would have looked suspicious to some people. There are spies everywhere, and traitors on both sides. If you tell anyone about this mission, I could be hunted down and killed. Our President and country are depending upon me, and on this money, to hold our enemy at bay. As I said, little cousin, if I had left you there, I couldn’t have told you about Uncle Cameron and Aunt Carlotta. I didn’t want you to hear about them from strangers; news like this should come from one of the family.”

He hurried on before she could remind him that he had not done the same for their grandparents. “I like peace and prosperity, and I don’t want James Shipping wiped out before the war ends. I admit I prefer being rich and important. I guess that makes me selfish and greedy and vain, but I can’t help it,” he said. Then he chuckled.

Maren did not laugh with him. She did not want to discuss her cousin’s problems, flaws, or patriotism. “I need to know about my mother and father, Eric. I was so stunned by your first words that I hardly heard your explanation. It sounds as if I’m returning to nothing and no one.”

The playful sparkle left his green eyes and he became serious. “I’m sorry, little cousin; I forgot about your troubles. I’ve known about this tragedy since last summer, so I’ve accepted it, as you’ll have to. Our parents are gone, Maren, and we can’t bring them back. At least yours didn’t have to endure the terror and agony mine did during that fire. They
would want you to be strong and brave. And don’t worry; I’ll protect you and take care of you.”

As he was speaking, Eric’s impenetrable gaze took in the beautiful woman before him. To her Spanish mother, Maren owed her very dark brown hair, which she wore loose most of the time. It was thick and shiny, framing her oval face and ending just below her shoulders, and it waved becomingly. And although her skin was darker than that of most women who caught his eye, it suited Maren’s looks and personality. Its olive shade blended perfectly with her dark hair and golden brown eyes. His cousin was slim and shapely, and had a good height for a woman—five and a half feet. With her slightly turned up nose, large eyes, and exquisite mouth, Maren was a beauty who easily captured many hearts and eyes.

She was presently wearing a cream-colored muslin gown, decorated with leafy sprigging, and deep green kid slippers. After sailing, she had removed her green velvet Spencer jacket and had placed an ivory lace shawl around her shoulders to ward off the morning chill. Her day dress had a high waistline, and was banded snugly with a green ribbon directly beneath her breasts, in the current style that immediately drew a man’s attention. The short sleeves were puffy, and the round neckline was not too low. The full skirt, gathered into a raised waistline, did not conceal her slim midsection and pleasingly rounded hips. Eric concluded that his cousin would look good in anything, including a man’s garments.

Maren wondered why her first cousin was looking at her so oddly yet remaining silent. She decided that he must be seeking the right words to comfort her, or perhaps he was trying to suppress the bitter memory of his own parents’ deaths. As she waited for Eric to speak, in an attempt to block out his terrible news, her own mind wandered.

Unbeknownst to Maren, war had been declared before she had sailed to Britain in June of 1812. When she had learned of the conflict, she had assumed it would soon end and her parents would arrive to get her. She hated the war which divided her family; she was an American, but her paternal lineage was English. She was aware of the British and American grievances, and she knew each side was wrong in certain ways, even if both felt they were right.

America wanted impressment halted. Americans wanted to trade wherever and with whomever they pleased. Some even wanted to control Canada and Florida just to prevent enemies or foreign powers from “breathing too closely and hotly on our necks,” but most Americans simply wanted peace and prosperity.

Britain wanted to have her way on the high seas. She wanted to control trade, to impress British subjects when her ships needed sailors. And she also wanted to punish America for daring to challenge her, and for aiding Napoleon. To the British it was crucial to protect Canada from American encroachment, to bring America back into the Empire.

Twenty-two months before, Maren had sailed to Britain to marry Daniel Redford, the son of an English lord whose vast estate bordered her grandparents’ land. But her betrothed, having gone to seawhen war was declared, had actually left his homeland before her arrival. Within a month after his departure, his ship had been attacked and sunk by an American privateer. Maren had met Daniel during her first trip to visit her grandparents. After that she had spent two months in England every other summer, and she and Daniel had become good friends. She had been very fond of him, but she had not loved him; and it seemed he had been fond of her.

During those early teenage visits, Daniel had taught her to shoot, to fight, to hunt, and to use a rapier. They had enjoyed rides, picnics, swims, and long talks. Between the visits, they had exchanged letters. A few times he had told her about devilish pranks he’d played with other lads or about his amorous conquests of local girls, though she had doubted these tales were true. Daniel had loved to make up wild stories, to see how many people he could fool with them. He had possessed a wonderful imagination and a gift for charming others, and he had been handsome and polished, a marvelous catch for any female. Yet, as far as Maren knew, there had been no romantic magic between them. Oh, they had shared a few kisses and hugs, but there had been no fiery passion.

Their last time together had been during the
summer of 1810 because Daniel had left before she had returned to Britain nearly two years ago. Perhaps it was best they had not wed, for gossip implied that Daniel had changed greatly since she had last seen him four years past. She had heard whispered comments about his wild behavior—his gambling, drinking, fighting, and whoring—and she had wondered what or who had changed him during her absence. One day during an afternoon stroll, a bold female had approached her and had informed her that when Daniel returned from sea she would continue to be his mistress, even after Maren married him! The woman had then told her dreadful things about her betrothed, and Maren had believed her. After Daniel’s death was announced, eager suitors had come around to take his place. Always they told her how lucky she was to have eluded the trap Daniel had set for her. They’d said he craved her wealth. Yes, others had been quick to point out Daniel’s flaws, but no one would or could tell her what had happened to change him.

No matter now. Her betrothed was long dead and the truth was lost forever. She and Daniel had agreed to marry because their grandparents had wished it, as had Daniel’s parents, and because at the age of eighteen, no other had captured either of their hearts. Or so Daniel had claimed in his last letter. It had seemed a good match, socially, emotionally, and economically. Two years ago, she and Daniel had been willing to “do their duty,” but it had not been fated that they wed. He had been a good friend and a
delightful companion, and despite the nasty rumors about him, Maren had grieved for him for several months. Finally, revelations of the unacceptable changes in Daniel had helped her to get over her loss.

Now, in May of 1814, she was twenty, still single, and without parents and a home. It was as if Fate had turned its back on her. How, Maren wondered, had everything gone awry in only two short years? What would she do when they reached New Orleans?

Maren’s golden brown eyes appeared liquid and shiny as she focused them on her cousin. She shook her head of dark brown hair and declared, “It cannot be true, Eric. This must be a mistake or a bad dream. Dead for nearly a year…the plantation and business gone… Explain to me how such horrible things happened.”

Eric pulled her away from the mullioned porthole in the captain’s quarters of the
Martha J
and guided her to a chair. This merchant ship could sail from Britain to America in four weeks, if the winds held and they confronted no perils. She had eighteen gunports, but they had been used rarely. Fake logbooks, papers, and flags had seen her safely from port to port. The
Martha J
had been named for their paternal grandmother, whose side they had left that morning. “Are you sure you want to hear it again?” he asked.

“To accept it, I must,” Maren answered. She listened as Eric James told of the hurricane that had attacked the lower Louisiana parishes and had caused severe flooding around and in New Orleans.
Maren understood this peril of nature. From June to November of every year, that area’s inhabitants feared those powerful storms, and many left it to avoid them. But violent weather was not the worst danger; disease bred of displaced waste and refuse was. Bodies of decaying animals could not be cleared away quickly enough. Their carcasses added to the stench and created a health hazard once the hot sun and the intense humidity returned. Mosquitoes and flies rapidly spread infection, and for weeks afterward both water and soil were contaminated. Following most hurricanes, more people and animals died from illnesses than from injuries caused by the storm.

Eric quickly repeated the disturbing tale. “Your father was in town on business, and your mother had accompanied him to go shopping. We had lunch that day, and were to see a play together that night. Except when we were at sea, our lives were little changed by the war. The hurricane struck before anyone realized it was approaching. It was a terrible one, Maren, filth and stench everywhere. I’ve never seen the insects so bad—big enough and mean enough to eat you alive. Your parents were trapped in New Orleans, but as soon as the roads were passable, Uncle Cameron rushed Aunt Carlotta out of the city. I tried to persuade him to remain where it was safe, but he wanted to get home, he said, to clean water and fresh air. Perhaps it was already too late because the day after they reached the plantation, they lost consciousness. As soon as I could get away, I
went to check on them. They were both burning with fever. I summoned a doctor, but nothing could be done. I doubt either knew the other was sick. I had them buried and then placed their belongings in one of my storerooms.”

He poured two sherries and handed her one to sip. Draining his glass with one large swallow, he placed it on the table before stuffing his sweaty hands into his pockets. “It took months for workmen to get the town cleaned up and repaired. Your father’s losses were heavy. I had to sell the plantation to pay off Uncle Cameron’s debts and commitments. With foreign ports blockaded and several ships destroyed or captured, his office had taken a beating. For a time, I feared if I didn’t cut it loose, its debts would sink the Baltimore and London offices. But I was determined to save it.”

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