Authors: Carol Caldwell
Tags: #Historical Romance
SEA OF FIRE
The tale is told about a night,
When grey-green waters glow red light,
‘Tis said to be the flames from hell,
An omen for those who’ll soon thus dwell.
Former Captain Taylor Traynor, now Baronet, and Jalene, Lady Traynor, strolled across the grounds towards a wooden bench. A short distance away, their fraternal twin sons played near the edge of Lough Erne, the lake that bordered their estates and plantation castle, Knights’ Head.
Jalene watched as the lads, Christian and Adam, busied themselves with a fleet of crude toy boats—barges, currachs, and schooners—that they had made with the help of their father and then set afloat in the Erne. A long, lightweight cord attached to each boat allowed them to drift far from shore yet enabled the lads to call the fleet back on their command. They’d shout “return to port” and slowly reel and maneuver each one home.
“No rescues today,” Taylor called to his sons as he and Jalene seated themselves on the bench. “The air is too cold for a man overboard.”
She smiled up at her husband, and said, “I’m glad you taught them how to swim. They do love the water.”
“If memory serves me correctly, the moment they started walking I was commanded by a higher authority to introduce them to the water.” He lightly placed his arm around her shoulder.
“And you’re glad I did,” she saucily answered.
“Aye. They’re now strong swimmers and will only get stronger as they become men.”
She leaned her head into his shoulder and his arm tightened around her. No sooner had she settled comfortably when circumstances forced her to sit forward on the edge of the bench. Adam had ventured too near the end of the bank. He tottered, balanced between falling into the lake and onto the grass behind him. Christian, who stood beside Adam, grabbed his brother by the arm and yanked him back from the water.
Relieved, Jalene took her previous position in the crook of Taylor’s arm. He gave her a grin. “They do swim, remember?”
“Though they can swim, I can’t help but be concerned. I don’t want them catching cold,” she explained. “Besides, ‘tis not the first time that Christian has rescued Adam from potential trouble.”
“’Tis simply a phase Adam is going through. It will pass,” he assured her.
She sighed and snuggled closer to him. “I’m so happy, Taylor. Sometimes I become frightened because I’m so happy. Maybe I shouldn’t be, lest the Fates decide ‘tis too much happiness for anyone and take it away.”
“I understand your fears, for only to a certain extent do we have control over our destiny. What will be will be, sweetness.” He had called her that since their first meeting eleven years ago.
“Though we’ve only been blessed with two children, I can’t be sorry. Look at the lads. Healthy and strong.”
She glanced at Christian, who had inherited his maternal grandfather’s dark hair, but whose eyes were the same amber color as her own. As for Adam, he resembled his father, dark blond hair and grey-blue eyes. The two youngsters were fraternal twins. Adam had come into the world first by a matter of minutes, followed by Christian. The two had been inseparable companions since their birth.
She reached out to touch Taylor’s cheek. “I do love you so.”
“And I love you, Jalene. Let’s call the lads to tell them our news.”
She stood and called to Christian and Adam. “Children, bring in your boats. ‘Tis time for our picnic.”
A short while later, she and Taylor spread a ground covering on the grass a few feet behind the bench. Dappled by sun filtering through the trees, the four sat down to eat.
“Your father has a surprise for you, boys,” she said, looking from lad to lad.
“Aye,” Taylor said. “Your birth date is fast approaching. You’ll be the age of ten and old enough to remember a sea voyage to Scotland.”
“Will we stay with Aunt Margaret and visit the orphanages like grandfather used to do?” Adam asked.
“Only if you want to do so,” she answered, and smiled at her son. “I believe you could learn much from talking to the children and ...”
“I want to man the ship,” Christian interrupted, jumping to his feet. “Will it take us long to get there? I want to go on adventures like father used to do and put black-hearts in prison.”
Christian paused only a second for breath, looked at Taylor with pleading eyes, and added, “Like the time you and mother discovered the cave.”
Jalene frowned at Taylor. “You told the children about the distillery?”
“Now don’t get upset. ‘Tis not what you think.” Taylor tried to calm her.
She patted a place beside her and told Christian, “Sit and eat.”
Christian plopped himself down near his plate and started to devour a turkey leg. She glanced at Adam, but he needed no prompting.
“So, husband, what should I think?” she quietly asked Taylor.
“That I had the good sense to know what to tell and what not to tell in order to satisfy the curiosity and daring ways of two imaginative lads.”
She considered his response and knew this man she loved would have done just that. Pleased, she smiled and said, “Sometimes your father got into more trouble than he anticipated, working for the government. His adventures, as you call them, Christian, were assignments, and often became dangerous. One time in particular—he almost got himself killed.”
“Your mother is right, Christian. If you and Adam want to serve your community or country when you get older, there are less perilous ways to do so.”
“Like what?” Christian asked.
“By helping those less fortunate—having charities, or holding an office and defending the rights of the people, or any number of interests serving the needs of the community,” Taylor suggested.
“I think I’d like to help poor children,” Adam said as he wiped a biscuit crumb from his mouth with his tongue.
Christian set his plate aside and stood again. “I shall sail the seas and travel around the world,” he determined.
“Ha! That’s silly,” Adam said and chuckled. “How does that help anyone?”
“It will in some way,” Christian said in a most certain tone.
“How?” Adam taunted. “‘Tis stupid.”
“All right. No more bickering, boys,” Taylor broke in. “You both have plenty of time to decide what to do with your lives.”
“Aye,” Jalene agreed. “For now, enjoy being children.”
“You ought not do that.”
Elizabeth Louise Corry broke from her beau’s kiss and coyly scooted a short distance from him on the sofa. “As much as I like it, Hannah could return at any moment. Now, tell me, what brings you here at this hour?” Elizabeth faced Adam Traynor, the gentleman who’d been courting her for the last two months. “I was about to retire.”
“I cannot wait any longer. I must speak to your father.”
“I barely see him myself these days,” she answered. “He’s been researching something quite mysterious that he won’t even talk to me about.”
“Does he not tell you when he’ll return or where he’ll be?”
“Nay. He does not. Even when my mother lived with us, he didn’t discuss his work. He used to say, ‘The less you know—the less likely it is you’ll get involved.’ ”
“Would he be at Four Courts?”
“Adam, whatever is this about?”
He grabbed her palm and kissed it. “I want to ask your father for your hand in marriage. That is, if you’ll have me.”
Though she had expected him to propose one day, his announcement surprised her. If she were to follow her heart, she’d have to say aye. She cared for Adam. She wasn’t sure it was love, but his kisses were pleasant, and she was more attracted to him than to any other man she had ever seen. He was handsome, with his dark blond hair and grey-blue eyes. She was interested in no one else, and she was unlikely to have few other offers anyway.
Over the years she had earned the reputation of being sharp-tongued and as prickly as her quill pens—someone who loved her calligraphy more than she’d be able to love any man. That reputation wasn’t entirely false. Her elegant lettering gave her more pleasure than listening to the endless boasting and conceited chatter of many a male companion.
“Should it please my father, I’d be honored to be your wife, Adam,” she answered and smiled.
Instantly, he gathered her into his arms and kissed her. When they separated, he persisted, “Can you tell me where I can talk to your father?”
“Must you pursue him this eve? I can tell him in the morn you’d like to meet with him. He’ll give me a time, and I’ll let you know.”
“Nay. I must receive his blessing this night. Please, Elizabeth.”
Part of her wanted to tell him; however, the other suffered from distrust, and it wasn’t exactly because of Adam. She trusted no one except for Hannah and her father. She was simply afraid to completely trust anyone else. She never wanted to experience again the kind of hurt she’d felt when her mother had left them to live with another man in Scotland. Consequently, she never let down her guard. Still, she had accepted Adam’s proposal. He would be her husband. She had to learn to trust. She had to start somewhere. What better time than now, and to trust the man she was to wed?
“Very well. I’ll tell you, but promise me it will be our secret. No one else must gain knowledge of this.” She waited for his words of promise.
He nodded and said, “You have my word, my love. ‘Tis not common knowledge, but I happen to know he always takes an underground passage beyond Four Courts, exits, and walks north towards the Linen Hall, and then heads home.”
“What time do you think he’ll leave this eve?”
“He usually arrives home by eleven, as I hear him rattling about his bedchamber. It’s a good half-hour jaunt from Four Courts, so he must exit the passageway sometime half-past ten.”
Adam quickly stood to leave, bent over and kissed her cheek. “Thank you, my love. I’ll call on you tomorrow.” He planted a final kiss on her hand and speedily left.
Elizabeth inwardly smiled. She was to be wed. Her father, the Right Honorable Edward Corry, magistrate by day and investigative dabbler by night, would be happy. At last his daughter, at the matronly age of six-and-twenty, had found a man that appealed to her.
She didn’t know too much about Adam’s background, as he rarely spoke about family. When she asked, he quickly changed the subject, saying it was a discussion he preferred to have at a later time in their relationship. For now, he needed to know she was attracted to him for himself, but not for who he might be.
Naturally, such a statement piqued her interest, but because she cared for him, she decided to question him no further. Besides, she knew her father had interrogated others about Adam and checked his background before he would allow the man to come courting. Her father remained mysterious, however, for when she asked him what he learned, he simply said Adam would tell her in good time.
“Mercy,” she said aloud, suddenly thinking how she had missed a perfect opportunity to question Adam. After all, shouldn’t one be entitled to know one’s betrothed’s history before one was wed? No matter, the morrow would be soon enough.
“Mercy what?” Hannah, her governess asked, entering through the doorway to the parlor. “Did Mr. Traynor leave? He’s such a nice man. If ye were smart, ye’d set yer sights on him, for sure.” The older woman stopped talking long enough to plant her hands on her large hips. “By the saints! I’ve known that smile and those twinkling blue eyes since ye were a wee cracker, Bethy. Ye’ve already won him, haven’t ye?”
“Aye, dear Hannah. He’s proposed to me this very eve.” She practically floated over to Hannah and hugged her.
“Ah, me Bethy.” Hannah held Elizabeth to her huge bosom. “The Fates are shining down upon us today for sure. Praise be to the Lord. Now, when will the event be happening?”
The two women separated, and Elizabeth walked over to the window of their town house that faced Henrietta Street. “We haven’t made any plans. Adam only asked me this eve. He still needs father’s permission. ‘Tis where he ran off—to meet father.”
“Ye run along to rest then. I’ll stay up to greet yer da. If he doesn’t agree to a gentleman like Mr. Adam then I’m afraid he’s gone daft, and I might have to tell him so.” She made a swishing motion with her hand to encourage Elizabeth up the staircase to her bedchamber.
“Good night, Hannah.”
“Good night, Bethy. Even when ye’re wed, ye’ll always be me wee cracker.”
Elizabeth turned and retreated the few steps down to Hannah. She kissed her cheek and said, “And I’ll always love you, Hannah. You’re more like my mother than my mother was.”
* * * *
Elizabeth glanced at the clock on the mantel. It was eight in the morning and her toilette was practically finished. Earlier, a loud crash sounded from the street below her second floor bedchamber and awakened her. Try as she would to go back to sleep, she couldn’t, so she decided to prepare for the day. She was anxious to meet with her father anyway, and he was an early riser.