My Enemy, My Heart
Laurie Alice Eakes
Publisher: Waterfall Press
The sea is Deirdre MacKenzie’s home, and the crew of her father’s Baltimore clipper is the only family she loves. She’s happier wearing breeches and climbing the rigging of the Maid of Alexandria than donning a dress and learning to curtsy. But when the War of 1812 erupts, the ship is captured by a British privateer, leaving her father, the captain, dead. Deirdre watches her crew herded into the hold, destined for the notorious Dartmoor prison in England. Though her fate as a noncombatant is uncertain, she knows she must find a way to free her crew.
Kieran Ashford has caused his family one too many scandals. On his way to exile in America, he is waylaid by the declaration of war and a chance to turn privateer and make his own fortune. But he regrets his actions as soon as the rich prize is secured. Now his best chance at redeeming himself in the eyes of his family is to offer Deirdre the protection of his name in marriage.
But love and loyalty clash as Kieran begins to win Deirdre’s heart despite her plot to betray him. Will Kieran’s plan mend the relationship with his family, and can this fated couple find true love despite the secret lies between them?
The War of 1812 may be the most fascinating war America has ever gotten herself into. The majority of our citizens opposed it, though Great Britain was behaving badly, bullying our merchantmen, stealing our sailors, and telling us where we could and could not trade as though we were still their colonies. Yet we had no business taking on the most powerful nation in the world—again. We pitted our 18 naval vessels against their 506, our ragtag army against their well-oiled war machine. We lost nearly every land battle we fought. And yet we excelled in the water, conquering the British through their merchant fleet, and gained every concession in the Treaty of Ghent we demanded.
As with every war, however, the price was lives lost or broken, fortunes lost and won, and families torn apart. This story is about how a handful of people try to rise above enmity of nations and find common ground, loyalty, and love.
PART I – CHAPTER 1
“Nothing to worry about.” Her observation of the ship on the horizon complete, Deirdre MacKenzie shoved the spyglass into her waistband, swung into the rigging, and slid down a backstay to land on the deck with a barefooted thud. “It’s only a British merchantman, Captain, sir.”
Daniel MacKenzie gave her a faint smile, amused to have her call him Captain instead of Father, as she had done since she could talk. Despite the smile, his face remained pale, grayish due to the ill health that had plagued him since their rough passage around Cape Horn. “If it’s only a merchantman, we’re safe running up the Stars and Stripes.”
“Are you certain about that, sir?” the first mate, Ross Trenerry, asked from where he stood manning the Baltimore clipper’s wheel. “We haven’t been what one would call friends with the British lately.”
“Only their navy, Ross.” Father pressed one hand to his chest, and his breath rasped loudly enough to be heard above the whistle of wind in the rigging.
Deirdre bit her lip. She wanted to wrap her arm around her father’s too-thin frame and lead him below, suggest he lie on his bunk and let Ross or her make contact with the other merchant ship if the British came their way. He wouldn’t welcome the solicitude, though. She knew that all too well.
“British merchantmen aren’t impressing men from American merchants.” Deirdre spoke more to reassure herself than convince Ross or her father.
Ross shook shaggy, dark hair out of his face and snorted. “The British think they can do whatever they want. I think we’re better off hightailing it out of here.”
“You may be right.” Father sounded as though he’d been running a footrace. “I’d like a bit more wind . . . for that. Deirdre, nip up top again and get their heading. We’ll evade . . . them . . .”
“Sir—” She wanted to stay near him when he looked so poorly. But he was her father and her captain, and one condition of being allowed to stay aboard these past ten years, working as a crewman on voyages such as this recent one from Alexandria, Virginia, to Canton, China, and back was that she obey him without question. “Yes, sir.”
She exchanged a glance with Ross. His eyes held the same concern she felt. He swung his glance toward her father, then jabbed a thumb toward his chest. The message was clear—he would take care of their ailing leader.
Still reluctant, Deirdre swung into the rigging and climbed to the crosstrees with practiced ease. The slanting rigging of the Baltimore clipper was harder to negotiate than a ship-rigged vessel with straight masts, but the speed with which they could sail made every other hazard worth the risk. With wind, they could outrun everything, especially a British merchantman.
One arm hooked around a line to hold her in place sixty feet above the deck, she held the telescope to her eye. A moment or two passed while she adjusted balance and vision to the increased sway at the top of the mainmast. Then the glorious view of the world came into focus through the magnifying lens—blue sky, bluer water, white lines of gently rising wave crests. Hot sun blazed down on the water, shimmering and sparkling like half-submerged gold and gleaming off the pale sails of the distant ship. Merchantman for certain, and the British Union Jack prominently displayed and unmistakable at her masthead even at that distance.
“They’re on a due easterly heading,” Deirdre shouted to the nearest man in the rigging, a half Seneca man called Blaze for the white streak through his black hair.
He passed the word to the deck. The other thirteen crewmen, whether on duty or not, stood to attention, sail mending or personal laundry forgotten when any moment they might need to spring into the rigging and change tack.
No order to do so came from her father. The men began to drift back to their tasks, and no one raised the Stars and Stripes. Apparently, her father had decided that the British ship would miss them altogether if they continued their own north-by-northwest course. He’d chosen that direction as the safest action. Yet he didn’t order up more sail. In a moment, Deirdre realized why.
The wind was dying. What had been a brisk blow at sunrise had steadily dropped throughout the morning. Now, at early afternoon, with the sun at its zenith, its heat seemed to beat everything into somnolence—including the precious wind. Once-billowing sails began to slacken and drooped from their yards. Crewmen wiped sweat from their brows and glanced toward the west.
Dry-mouthed, Deirdre used the telescope to look to the west. The British merchantman should be becalmed, too.
She wasn’t. Like a graceful sea creature, she glided across the water. Her heading changed. Instead of a tack that would take her well past their stern, she now headed straight for the Maid of Alexandria.
“Sweeps!” Deirdre dropped the spyglass in her scramble to reach the deck. “They’ve got sweeps.” She sucked in a mouthful of briny air. “And big guns.”
In the Caribbean especially, oars long enough they required at least three men to operate them, along with cannon ranged along the gunwales, meant only one thing: the Union Jack was a trick, a ruse to engender a sense of safety.
Ross swore and gripped the near-useless wheel with such force his knuckles showed white through his tanned skin. Behind Deirdre, old Wat Drummond muttered “pirates” as though it were the worst of disasters.
To a frail schooner like the Maid of Alexandria, it was a disaster. The Baltimore-clipper-style schooners were equipped to run, not fight. Without wind, they couldn’t run. Their ordnance consisted of four one-pounders, a cutlass apiece for the fifteen crewmen, and a sword for her father.
Deirdre read the hopelessness of this disadvantage in her father’s face, now blue-lipped and beaded with perspiration. He met her gaze with eyes the same pale green as her own. “Deirdre, get below.”
She dropped her hand to the dirk sheathed at her belt. “No, sir.”
“That’s . . . an order.”
“I’m disobeying you, sir. I’m useless below.”
“You’re safer below.”
She crossed her arms over breasts bound to maintain the illusion that she was a tall, gangly youth of fifteen, not a woman of twenty-three. “No, sir. I am as much a part of this crew as any of the men. If they fight, I fight.”
For several moments, only the flap of limp canvas and creak of timbers broke the silence that fell across the deck. Deirdre held her father’s gaze in a wordless battle of wills they’d fought since she could talk. The crew looked away, staring toward the approaching enemy, faces taut, waiting for the family battle to end and their captain to give orders to collect arms, run out the guns, or raise a white flag.
Deirdre took a step away from her father and toward the nearest gun.
“You know this means . . . you will . . . never sail with me . . . again.” Her father’s call was labored.
Deirdre’s heart staggered in aching response. She should be reaching toward him, not backing away from him. But this was not the time to argue. She could not skulk in her cabin or the hold while her fellow crewmen and, most of all, her father suffered at the hands of pirates.
“So be it, sir.” Deirdre’s voice sounded thick in her ears. “But right now, the men need orders to take up arms and fight.” She turned her back on her father.
In that instant, gunfire split the stillness.
Deirdre raced for the nearest cannon. It looked like a child’s toy compared to the gun that blasted the stillness. But she was a good shot. If she laid even a one-pounder in the right place like along a line of sweeps, or into the crowd of men on the fo’c’sle . . .
She made calculations of barrel angle as she kicked open the gunport. Yanking off the tackle rope holding the weapon secure, she ran through the steps of ramming, priming, firing.
Firing. She needed fire to light the fuse.
She spun toward the galley.
Ross and Blaze tackled her halfway down the main deck. The three of them tumbled to the planking, winded, struggling to disentangle arms and legs.
Above them, another blast from the English vessel ripped the day in two. A cannonball sailed through the bowsprit, shattering it to kindling.
“Let me go.” Deirdre punched Ross in the belly with one fist and Blaze in the jaw with another. “If you’re all cowards—”
Deirdre caught her breath at Ross’s stark announcement. “No!”
But a glance toward the quarterdeck told her that her father no longer stood there. He lay on the deck, Old Wat and Zeb, a former slave, bent over him.
“No.” Though she repeated the denial, the fight drained out of her. She stumbled to her feet on the canting deck and headed aft.
Ross and Blaze turned toward the schooner’s pitiful excuse for ordnance. She pushed Zeb and Wat aside so she could kneel at MacKenzie’s head. “What is it, Father?”
His breath rasped and rattled. He didn’t speak.
“What is it?” Deirdre laid her hand on his brow. “What’s wrong with him?”
“Apoplexy,” Wat said.
“What should we do?” Deirdre didn’t know to whom she posed the question.
Her father answered. “Get . . . below.” He gave the order around a wheeze. “Surrender.”
“Not after this. We—” She stopped. A rattling breath and glazed eyes told her that her father, her captain, had heard her argue with him for the last time.
Her chest tightened. Her throat closed. Springing to her feet, she whipped the dirk from her belt. “Why are you all just standing here? Run out all the guns. Break out the swords. We can’t run, but we can fight them off.”
No one moved.
Toward the bow, the enemy ship drew near enough for her to see details without a spyglass. Long guns bristled from the bow and along the beam. Men swarmed across the deck and maneuvered the sweeps, at least three times the number of men than on the Maid.
“We can’t fight them.” Wat gave her a pitying look. “Not unless we’re all ready to die trying.”
“Your captain died.” Deirdre swallowed against the hitching lump in her throat. “Are you going to let them get away with driving my father to his death?”
In response, Blaze stepped forward and began to run a white flag up the masthead.
“Stop!” Deirdre flung herself at him.
Ross caught her by the upper arms and swung her around to face him. “You stop.” His words came out harder-voiced than she thought possible spoken in a South Carolina drawl, and he gave her a none-too-gentle shake. “We don’t have the men or arms to fight. We’ll be prisoners, but we’ll have a chance at living and even escaping. If we fight, we’ll die for sure.”
“Suit yourself.” Deirdre tried to pull away. “I’m going to fight them.”
“No, you’re not.” Ross spoke with utter assurance.
As though he had given a command, every one of the Maid’s crew closed ranks around her, hemming her in like prison walls.
“You’re going to stand here and keep your mouth shut so they don’t notice you’re a girl, just like we do every time we meet another vessel. We don’t want them to work out that you’re the captain’s daughter when we won’t be able to protect you.”
Deirdre gritted her teeth. She hated to admit that Ross was right. As the captain’s daughter, she would be held for a higher ransom at best. At the worst, as a female . . .
A thud jarred the clipper from stem to stern. Without looking, Deirdre knew the enemy had grappled their ship to the Maid. In moments, pirates in the guise of British merchantmen would swarm aboard and take over her father’s beloved vessel and the precious cargo of tea and silk. They would imprison the crew, including her, if they thought she was a boy.
Her stomach rolled with the pitch of the schooner as the first boarders landed on the foredeck. She must pretend she didn’t care any more about her father’s death than anyone would care about the loss of a stern but fair captain. Regardless of what they might do to his body, she must not show that he was her beloved father, who had spoiled her too much to leave her on shore.
She ceased pulling against Ross’s hold, swallowed the lump clogging her throat, and turned with everyone else to watch their captors board.
They didn’t look like she imagined pirates would. Their white canvas breeches and striped cotton shirts were clean, their hair short, their faces smooth-shaven. With cutlasses in hand and a few pistols in belts, most of them resembled boys playing at pirate, taking orders from an older, harder-faced man.
“Secure the prisoners,” commanded the older man in a clipped English accent.
Five men swarmed toward the Maid’s crew. Three men with pistols drawn, two with muskets. Others dropped down the ladders to the lower deck and the hold.
Deirdre rested her hand on her dirk, tempted to draw, to avenge her father’s death with one blow.
“Don’t even think about it.” Ross curled his fingers around her wrist.
“Drop your weapons and kick them here,” one musket-bearer commanded.
Ross tightened his hold on Deirdre’s wrist. “Drop it.”
She dropped the dirk and kicked it between the legs of Zeb and Blaze, who stood in front of her like human shields. But that wasn’t the only weapon on her person. At her father’s insistence since she grew into womanhood, she had worn a stiletto braided into the thick plait of hair he would not allow her to cut. The British would never know.
“Prisoners secured, Captain,” a carrot-haired youth with spots proclaimed in a voice that sounded as though it had recently broken.
The man addressed as captain stepped forward and cleared his throat. “By the power vested in us, master, owner, and crew of the royal privateer vessel Phoebe, by His Royal Highness, the Prince Regent of England, we declare you prisoners of war of the sovereign . . .” His proclamation blurred into nonsense in Deirdre’s ears beneath the rush of confusion, then disbelief.
Prisoners of war. Prisoners of England. This was a British privateer, not a pirate ship.
The deck rolled beneath Deirdre’s feet. She braced herself against Ross’s sturdy arm, saw that his face displayed the same kind of astonishment she felt. She’d never in her life believed that President Madison would actually go to war with England. The United States didn’t have the ships, the equipment, or the men to fight the British Empire.
“Where is your captain?” the Englishman concluded his proclamation.
Deirdre didn’t dare answer for fear her voice would break if she spoke one word about her father. None of the rest of the Maid’s crew said a word either. Nor did any of them look at MacKenzie’s supine body a few yards away.
The enemy captain looked annoyed. “I need to know who accepts our terms of your surrender.”
A bubble of laughter rolled up Deirdre’s throat at the absurdity of this remark. As if any of them would accept their surrender willingly. A few of her crewmates even snorted.
The Phoebe’s crew shifted, aligning their weapons as though preparing for a fight. Deirdre stared at the Phoebe’s crew. One by one, she memorized each countenance from the carrot-haired youth with spots, whose pistol looked less than steady in his hand, to the middle-aged man with silver hair referred to as captain, to . . . him.
He was the true privateer, not a fighting man or even a sailor, but the mastermind behind the adventure. Deirdre knew it the instant he appeared on the bulwark of the Phoebe. Tall and lean-muscled, he posed against a backdrop of the two vessels’ bowsprits, one broken, one whole, and a flawless blue sky. His features were indistinct from that distance, but his straight posture and the angle of his head proclaimed “mine.”
Deirdre feared if she didn’t look away, she would break past the nearest guard and fling herself at this man, her stiletto in hand. Yet she couldn’t stop staring—at the blue-black hair he wore in an old-fashioned queue, at the broad shoulders covered with a fine, white cambric shirt, at the long, muscled legs in buckskin breeches and Hessian boots.
Those legs began to move. They carried him forward with the unhurried precision of a cat stalking its prey.
No, not a cat. That produced images of something warm and cuddly. He was far more dangerous, a tiger ready for a feast. He passed the Phoebe’s crewmen as though they didn’t exist, all his attention focused on one goal. The closer he drew, the tighter Deirdre’s muscles grew. She sensed the tension of the men around her, as though all of them held their breath. The crew of the Phoebe watched him, their faces wary.
He paused beside Daniel MacKenzie’s body. His face tightened. His nostrils pinched as though he smelled something more foul than a ship three months at sea.
Deirdre’s body jerked. Her hand flew to her braid tucked beneath the neck of her loose cotton shirt.
Ross caught hold of her arm and yanked it down to her side. “Don’t you dare.” His words were barely audible above the clamor of men taking over the Maid.
The tiger must have heard him anyway. He raised his head and looked straight at Deirdre.
Despite the blazing sun, a shiver rippled through her. She’d never seen eyes like his, topaz gold beneath thick, dark lashes and heavy lids that lent them a sleepy look. They gave nothing away as to his thoughts or feelings. Neither did his face display any expression. With its full-lipped mouth and straight, high-bridged nose, that flawless, sculptured countenance would have been too pretty for a man save for the strength of his chin and broad cheekbones.
He broke eye contact first, addressing the Phoebe’s captain. “Why has this body been left here?”
His voice jolted Deirdre. It was pure English aristocrat, the sort she had heard from the boxes at the theater during their one visit to London before the relationship between the two countries deteriorated. She had been happy then, released from the boarding school where she had been uncompromisingly miserable in dresses and gloves, and so little activity her muscles grew soft.
A sob escaped her throat.
Behind her, Wat laid a hand on her shoulder and whispered, “Steady there. He’s given you too much attention already.”
She swallowed the lump in her throat and blinked back tears. She would not grieve in front of these strangers, these enemies.
“We thought to take care of the live ones first, Kier—Mr. Ashford,” the older man said. “We are looking to see if anyone is hiding below and inspect the cargo to see what—”
“Later.” Ashford gestured to her father’s body. “Then take this poor man away and prepare him for burial.”
They weren’t going to simply dump him overboard. Gratitude softened a crumb of Deirdre’s heart toward this man. Then he faced them once more, and she closed her eyes against the impact of his gaze.
“Who is he?” Ashford demanded.
None of the Maid’s crew responded.
“I wish to give him a Christian burial.” The man’s voice held annoyance. “I cannot do that without knowing his name.”
A nice ploy. Once he had her father’s name, he would look through the captain’s log and know he was the captain. He would then know that he had prisoners without a leader, without one of them deserving, by the laws of the sea, the respect of a cabin rather than the hold. Not one of them would be up top with a chance at freeing the others.
Deirdre squeezed Ross’s arm. He was the first mate. He should claim the role of captain with her father . . . gone.
He shook his head, the merest fraction of movement.
It drew Ashford’s attention anyway. He fixed his gaze on Ross. “Who are you?”
Ross drew back his broad shoulders, tilted his chin. “Ross Trenerry out of Charleston, South Carolina, first mate.”
“And you?” Ashford shifted his gaze to Deirdre.
“The dead man,” Ross said with more speed than usual, “is Daniel MacKenzie, our captain.”
The tactic worked to draw the man’s attention away from Deirdre. Ashford looked back at Ross. “Thank you.” He turned to two of his crew. “Find a bit of sail and sew him up. We’ll bury him at sundown. Now get the prisoners below.” Pivoting on his heel, he stalked to the ladder that led to the Maid’s cabins.
The clipper had two cabins. One belonged to the captain. The other should have gone to Ross, but Deirdre needed privacy, so received the privilege.
She thanked the good Lord that she didn’t own anything female, not so much as a hair ribbon or piece of jewelry. Nothing would give away her sex to the English aristocrat turned privateer.