In the tradition of The Last of the Mohicans... and honoring the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Ticonderoga...
The sequel to Surrender
They were a band of brothers, their loyalty to one another forged by hardship and battle, the bond between these Highland warriors, rugged colonials, and fierce Native Americans stronger even than blood ties.
Though forced to fight for the hated British, Morgan MacKinnon would no more betray the men he leads than slit his own throat—not even when he was captured by the French and threatened with an agonizing death by fire at the hands of their Abenaki allies. Only the look of innocent longing in the eyes of a convent-bred French lass could make him question his vow to escape and return to the Rangers. And soon the sweet passion he awoke in Amalie had him cursing the war that forced him to choose between upholding his honor and pledging himself to the woman he loves.
Read an excerpt below...
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Amalie bathed the Ranger's face with a cold, wet cloth she'd dipped in water sprinkled with wild sage and juniper. It was a cure she'd learned from her grandmother's people. The wild sage would purify him, and the juniper would cleanse away the remnants of his sickness. His fever had broken early this morning. There was no doubt now-he would live.
His skin was no longer pale but flushed, his dark hair slick with sweat, little rivulets trickling down his temples, his neck, his chest, drenching the linens beneath him. He slept peacefully, his long lashes dark against his cheeks, his jaw shadowed by many days' growth of beard, his chest rising and falling with each deep, steady breath.
But his peaceful rest would not last long.
The laudanum would soon wear off, and whatever pain he still had would return. Monsieur Lambert, hoping to save their dwindling stores of the precious medicine, had given the Ranger his last spoonful a few hours past, vowing to force water down his throat should he refuse to drink again. But that was not the worst of it.
When she'd come down to breakfast, she'd overheard Lieutenant Rillieux and Bourlamaque discussing what to do with the Ranger next. As soon as he was able to stand, they would move him to the guardhouse-and his suffering would begin anew. And this time.
Amalie did not wish to think on it.
She dipped the cloth back in the scented water, squeezed it out, and nudged the linens down to his hips. She bathed first his arms, which were still stretched above his head, each wrist shackled to a bedpost. Then she wet the cloth again and bathed his shoulders, working her way over his chest and down his belly.
Although she knew it must be sinful, she couldn't keep her gaze from following her hands, his man's body so different from hers, the sight of him both disturbing and intriguing. His skin was soft, but the muscles beneath it were hard, the feel of him like iron sheathed in velvet. Although his nipples drew tight from the chill of the water as hers did when she was cold, his were dark like wine, flat and ringed by crisp, dark hair. Where her belly was soft and rounded, his had ribs of muscle-and a trail of dark curls that disappeared beneath the linens.
As if drawn by a will of its own, her hand left the cloth behind to press against those ridges, her fingers playing over his sweat-slick skin as she slid her hand slowly from his belly up to his chest, something tickling inside her at the feel of him. Her hand came to rest above his heartbeat, its rhythm steady against her palm.
"Your touch could bring the dead to life, lass."
Amalie gasped, jerked her hand back and saw to her horror that the Ranger was watching her. Heat rushed into her face, made her cheeks burn, English words forsaking her tongue. "M-mon Dieux! Pardonnez moi, monsieur!"
"Easy, lass. I didna mean to frighten you." He watched her through dark blue eyes, his gaze soft, a hint of amusement on his face, his speech accented by a soft lilt.
"Forgive me if I offend, monsieur!"
Morgan's mouth was as dry as sawdust. His chest ached. His right leg throbbed. But at the moment he didn't care. He watched the play of emotions on the French lass's face,fear, shame, wariness and found himself wanting to lessen her unease. "Tis only nature's way for a maid to be curious about men. Besides, I wouldna be a Scotsman if I shrank from the touch of a bonny lass- a beautiful woman."
Did she understand him?
The deepening flush in her cheeks told him she did.
And she was beautiful. Her eyes seemed to hold all the colors of the forest greens and browns mixed together. He'd never seen any like them. They seemed to slant upward at the corners, or perhaps that was just the effect of her cheekbones, so high and delicate they were. Her nose was small and fine, her lips full and well-shaped. Her skin was flawless, almost luminous. Her hair was the color of sable, dark and gleaming. It hung to the floor when she sat, tresses so long and lovely they made his hands ache to touch them.
She was French that much he knew but he'd bet his ration of rum she was also Indian. Her cheekbones, the slight slant of her eyes, the hue of her skin like cream with just a hint of coffee bespoke a mixed ancestry. And then there were the herbs she'd placed in the water. No simple French lass was likely to know about such things. Was she Huron? Abenaki? Mi'kmaq?
What did it matter?
She's like to be the last lass that e'er you set eyes on, MacKinnon.
As Morgan has always loved the lasses, twas was a strange thought.
Roused by the blessed relief of a cool cloth against his skin and the fresh scents of sage and juniper, he'd come slowly back to awareness, thinking for a moment that he was a lad again, that he'd fallen sick and was in Joseph's mother's lodge in Stockbridge. Then he'd opened his eyes to find himself being perused by the same lovely French angel who'd visited him in his fevered dreams, and it had pleased him to know she was real.
He'd watched through half-closed eyes while she'd bathed his body, her gaze traveling over him with innocent curiosity. Then she'd laid her small, soft hand upon him, her timid touch burning a path over his skin, threatening to rouse him in an altogether different manner.
"The Abbesse says I am far too curious." Her accent was soft and sweet.
She nodded. "From the convent where I was raised."
Aye, and that explained her bashfulness.
"Och, well, if you were raised in a convent amidst womenfolk, tis even more reason for you to be curious, aye? No wrong has been done, lass. Dinnae trouble yourself. What is your name?"
She looked as if she did not want to answer. When she spoke, her voice was almost a whisper. "Amalie Chauvenet."
"Tis a bonny name. I'm thinkin' you already ken who I am."
She nodded gravely. "Morgan MacKinnon, the leader of MacKinnon's Rangers."
There was a hint of was it anger in her voice when she spoke?
"How long has it been?"
She glanced at the window, at the ceiling, at her hands, which lay folded in her skirts but she did not look at him. "Fifteen days since you were wounded."
No wonder he felt so bloody weak!
Connor, Joseph and the men would have long since made their way back to Fort Elizabeth. Surely, even Iain would have gotten word by now. Would his brothers believe him dead? Would they mourn him?
He pushed the questions from his mind.
"Might I have some water, Miss Chauvenet?"
She reached for the water pitcher, a surprised look on her face. "You no longer seek your own death?"
He shook his head. "I have lost that battle."
Her lovely face grew troubled. She poured water into a tin cup, then lifted his head and held the cup to his lips. Silken strands of hair slipped over her shoulder to fall against his chest, the scent of her like lavender, fresh linen and woman. "Drink."
He asked her to refill the cup four times before his thirst was quenched, wondering as he drank at the distress he saw on her face. Had the Sisters raised her to be so primsie that she still felt guilt for touching him? Perhaps she was afraid of him and did not wish to be here. "I thank you for your care of me, Miss Chauvenet."
The troubled look on her face became genuine anguish.
And he understood.
"You ken what awaits me, and it troubles you to be speakin wi' a dead man."
She stood so quickly that her stool toppled over. Then she stared down at him with eyes that held the first sheen of tears. "I do not care what becomes of you, monsieur! Why should I? You and your Rangers killed my father!"
Then she turned and fled in a swish of skirts.
And as he watched her hurry to get away from him, Morgan knew that his sins had caught up with him at last.