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December 22, 1774 – Greenwich, Cumberland County, New Jersey
The Incident with the Cargo
"'Tis a damn cold evening."
At my side, Jasper's shivers make his teeth chatter. Whether his chills are due to the frigid night or due to the purpose for which we are here, I cannot discern.
"Aye. 'Tis the sort of evening where a body might do well with the warmth of a…"
I shake the remainder of that blasphemous thought from my head before it leads me to speak treason.
"Aye," Jasper agrees with a wistful chuckle, for he must guess the rest.
Rubbing my hands together, I narrow my lips and blow hot breath on them. Then, I inch forward and focus my gaze beyond the brick corner of the tannery across the square. For a few seconds, the heavy snowfall and my swirling breath block the view.
"Look, there be Emmett," Jasper whispers.
When the snowflakes and my chilled breath dissipate, I spy Emmett lurking, halfway hidden by the building's shadows. Like Jasper and I, he has affixed a mass of turkey feathers to the cloth tied 'round his head. Red and black dye streak his face. However, unlike Jasper and I, Emmett sports no shirt, and his hair is parted and plaited past his bare shoulders. His breeches are tattered and torn to his upper thighs, and neither does he wear stockings.
"That mad, son of a bachelor," Jasper murmurs. "He shall freeze off his cock."
"Aye, but then Em is not the sort to perform tasks in half measures, is he?"
We share quiet snorts.
I as well am willing to do much for The Cause, for my homeland, and for its future children. I will tar feathers to my headscarf and paint lines 'cross my face. I will break into and destroy another man's property. I will risk a visit to the stocks and pillory, and I will chance a public flogging with the cat 'o nine tails which generally accompanies such a visit.
But in this weather, I shall keep my breeches intact and safeguard my cock. At one-and-twenty years of age, I have had little opportunity to apply it to good use. 'Tis a sad fact I would like to remedy.
We here in the colony of New Jersey have been fortunate for the most part, if one may refer to the past few years as fortunate. Over the course of these years, the Crown's attention has been diverted by the rebellious acts enacted by our brothers further north. All that may change as of this eve. Yet, we go forth in this endeavor with full knowledge of that likelihood.
I sweep my gaze past Em and further down the dark square, where behind another building's corner, Jacob the Free Man awaits my signal. He is disguised much as the rest of us. Thankfully, the marketplace is mostly empty at this time of evening, save for the occasional boy with his seditious pamphlets or the vagabonds searching for a pocket to lighten.
When these find their way out of the square, I step from the shadows. Emmett nods to me. Then, with a sharp nod of my own, our future is set in motion.
Emmett releases an ear-splitting Indian call, and as one, forty men return this call of the wild while rushing toward the building. 'Tis a warrior cry marking us as sons of this land, sons of liberty and not of that tyrant sitting upon a throne in a faraway land on which most of us have never stepped foot.
Jacob throws the brick through the window. When Eric leaps through the broken pane and quickly unlocks the door, the rest of us pour into the house, yelling and shouting.
Daniel Bowen, Loyalist traitor, appears almost immediately. He wears his long shirt, sleep cap, and sports a rifle. We carry sticks. Unlike the red-coated scum currently holding these colonies in its grip, we are patriots not murderers.
Bowen raises his weapon, but Em surges forward and snatches it before the man can fire.
"How dare you invade my home in this manner!" Bowen says. "What are you doing?" he enquires when Jasper pulls his arms behind his back. I provide the rope to bind him. At the same moment, a woman screams from a chamber further down the narrow hall.
I gesture toward Jasper. "Ensure the wife is locked in."
As Jasper moves toward the bedchamber, I assume the knotting.
"If my wife is harmed, I shall see you hang!"
As I push Bowen onto a chair, Emmett commandeers the rope and winds it 'round both Bowen and the chair. Once he is well bound, I lean in and clarify things for the Tory gentleman.
"I give you my word, sir, my men and I mean you and your wife no harm. We are merely here for the cargo."
His eyes bulge.
"Ah," I grin, "did you truly believe no one saw you and your friends unload that cargo onto our shores?"
"That cargo belongs to the crown!"
"That cargo insults every man, woman, and child in this colony; nay, everyone in this nation, and we mean to rectify that."
"'Tisn't a nation," he hisses in return. "'Tis merely a settlement of the King!"
I press together my lips, for Tory traitors do not see their treason, and I shall not waste my breath on a useless endeavor.
"Tell us where the cargo is, and we shall not long impose on your hospitality."
He sets his mouth and shoulders in defiance. "I shall see you face the gallows."
"That may be, sir," I smirk, "but if I am to face the gallows, you must tell me where to find the cargo so that I may incriminate myself with it."
The men surrounding us chuckle. Bowen's lips form an implacable line.
"Captain Bowen," I say with a sigh, "you may withhold the information for as long as you wish, for I have forty hale and hearty men at my disposal and a score more not far from these parts," I lie. "Even with your plentiful Loyalist friends here in Cumberland County, there shall be no one riding to your rescue anytime soon lest they wish to meet with my Mohawks."
"You are not real Indians!"
"What gave us away?" Jacob the Free Man snickers.
Bowen's eyes rake up and down Jacob's bare-chested form. "In your case, not even an Indian's skin is as black and filthy as-"
When Jacob swiftly raises an arm to strike the man, Bowen flinches, allowing me a fraction of a second to still Jacob's massive hand.
"Have a care with your words, sir," I warn Bowen, "for insults at this moment do your situation no favors."
"You gave your word I would not be harmed!"
"And because I am a man of my word, I shall not allow my friend to strike your filthy mouth. But you have now offended him, and I gave no promise regarding your possessions. We will have that cargo, even if we must tear down this house to uncover it." I rise back to my full height. "Make this easier on yourself and on your property by telling us where to look."
When he turns away from me and refuses to oblige, I signal the waiting men.
"Search the house."
Before the last word leaves my mouth, Jacob and a few of the more eager amongst us are already knocking down furniture. Again, the wife screams.
"Sarah!" Bowen yells. "Worry not! 'Tis only the furniture being abused!"
"No! No, not my furniture!"
"Sir, I do believe she would prefer to hear the breaking of your bones rather than her furnishings," Jacob snickers.
Bowen huffs indignantly. "Instruct them to stop this madness this very moment, or it shall be you whom I hold responsible!"
"Tell me where to find the cargo."
He squares his jaw.
For the next few minutes, furniture is turned over and carelessly tossed about, while the mistress of the house screams like a banshee.
"My Queen Anne chairs!" she exclaims at one point, evidently so fond of them that she recognizes the sound each makes as it breaks. "Husband, I beseech you! Make them stop!"
Bowen sits bound and defiant.
"Husband, they are destroying all my lovely items!"
When the tinkling of something delicate filters through the house, the madam appears to have reached her limit.
"For the love of God, not my tea set! Desist! If my husband does not tell you where the cargo is, I shall tell you!"
I quirk an eyebrow at Bowen. "Shall we have it from the mistress or from you? Either one will serve. Or, if you prefer, we may continue with the-"
"In the cellar," he spits through his teeth. "Tis all in the cellar!"
I offer him a mock bow. Then, whistling through my teeth, I turn toward the destruction. "Very well, men, stop!"
The destruction ceases. Yet, in the ensuing silence, what sounds like a lone teacup strikes a wall and shatters.
From her bedchamber, the wife wails.
No, we are not fond of tea cups.
'Tis almost as cold below stairs as it is outdoors. I assume it keeps the cargo fresh. A lot of care has apparently been given the treasonous cargo unloaded in the smaller, and what the British likely supposed was safer, waters of Cohansey Creek, New Jersey.
We shall now teach those English tyrants not to think our colony weaker than the rest. Though we may be Tory-infested due to our proximity to New York, we shall show the British that we stand completely and irrevocably with our sisters and brothers in Philadelphia, Boston, Charleston, and Yorktown. Let them enact their coercive and retaliatory acts here, for they shall regret it.
The men lay what is likely needless siege to the contents of the cellar – for the crates are clearly marked and labeled in the corner of the room. When we finally work our way to the crates, each man heaves one on his shoulder and carries it above stairs.
Bowen scowls when he espies me once more. "You still have time to stop this madness or you shall pay dearly for confiscating the Crown's property!"
"I assure you, sir, confiscation is not our intention."
We carry the cargo out of the house. In the snowy street, a crowd is forming, consisting of men, women, and some children. The ones who circle the cargo are obviously Patriots. Those who are Loyalists scurry away like the traitorous cowards they are.
By the time all the crates have been carried out, the crowd has found its voice. It is eager to send the Crown a message, and the cargo from the Greyhound shall do well as the instrument of that missive. It shall now face a similar fate to the cargo from the Dartmouth in Boston a year earlier.
"Burn it! Burn it! Burn it!" the crowd yells while my fellow defenders of liberty and justice cup their hands over their mouths and resume their war cries.
"What of Bowen?" Emmett asks eagerly.
"I shall retrieve him."
"Hurry, my cock is freezing!"
In the house, Jasper keeps watch over Bowen.
"Keep the wife locked in her bedchamber and safe from the crowd. Those people are ravenous!" I grin wryly as I cut the rope binding Bowen to the chair. Next, I wrench him up by the binds around his hands.
"What will you do to me?" His voice quivers, all his defiance leaching out of him.
The crowd outside verily salivates when I return with Bowen. It is no longer simply thirsty for the cargo's fate, but all agog for violence. They crave vengeance for the brutality enacted on our brothers and sisters in Boston and for the ongoing blockade of its port, which makes it nigh on impossible to provide Bostonians with even basic necessities.
The crates have been opened and the cargo piled high.
Bowen appears ready to piss himself. "I pray you, do not hurt me," he pleads. "You gave me your word!"
"You believe the word of a man who shall soon face the gallows?" I sneer.
Emmett hands me the lit torch. I take it in one hand, holding Bowen by the collar with the other. All the while, he struggles to escape my grip.
Jacob the Free Man rushes Bowen from behind. When he turns the jar over on Bowen's head, the Loyalist screams and drops to his knees. While the thick, brown substance oozes down Bowen's face and frame, about a dozen of our men follow quickly and deposit the feathers on him.
"What is it? What have you done? Stop it, I beg you! Stop!"
"Come, sir. Quit your girlish protests. 'Tis merely tar and feathers! It does not hurt! Observe how we also have some on our heads – well, on our head scarves," Emmett laughs. "We would not tar feathers to our heads."
The crowd roars its approval.
"Captain Daniel Bowen," I announce at a volume which hushes the crowd, "you shall now be placed in the square's pillory for all to see you in your feathered glory. Should you ever again consider going against your countrymen and breaking the embargo against those who seek to oppress us, I ask you to remember this night. I ask you to recall the sight and sound of Patriots standing together as one. And I want you to behold your treasonous cargo's fate."
As soon as I put the torch to the cargo, the entire thing goes up in flames, for it has been kept dry. The crowd whoops and hollers. My fellow Indians howl at the moon.
"Savages!" Bowen yells, spitting feathers out of his mouth. "How dare you treat me –nay, how dare you treat the Crown's property in this manner?"
The flames dance before my eyes, warming me all over. Emmett and the rest of his bare-chested followers revel in the heat, rejoicing, for their cocks shall live to see another day. The cargo's scent wafts in the air. No, I shall not deny that I miss its taste upon my tongue, but I shall die a thousand hypocrite's deaths before I ever consume it again.
"A mob of smugglers and traitors exploiting an excuse to rid yourselves of legal cargo, that is all you are!"
I grin crookedly. "Smugglers we may be, sir, but traitors we are not. We are loyal – loyal to our land and our birthplace, which is far more than I may say for you."
"You are cowards! Show your faces if you are such brave Patriots."
"Sir, we are Patriots, not imbeciles!" Emmett chuckles, performing a war dance around the bonfire.
The crowd laughs while the fire burns. Embers and feathers float in the dark sky, joining the snow. As the embers and the laughter die down, I cast my gaze around. In spite of the laughter, the flames of the bonfire clearly illuminate the sadness etched 'cross some faces.
Emmett leans in, his speech hushed and much more somber. "Edward, New Jersey's Sons of Liberty shall no longer be unknown to the red coats."
I nod slowly, my gaze on the bonfire. "Aye. Just as our brothers in Boston accepted retaliation in exchange for defending their rights as men, so shall we." I glance at Emmett out of the corner of my eye. "Shall we not?"
"Aye." Emmett replies. "Nevertheless, I put forth the reminder lest it go forgotten in the moment's merriment."
"A merry moment indeed," I say with a smirk. "We shall make a hearty attempt to control our glee as we dance upon the ashes of treason."
After several moments of silence, one of the women in the crowd speaks, her wistful gaze on the evening's bonfire.
"'Tis a shame, nonetheless, that we must burn it. A cold evening it is, and under other circumstances, a good 'ole cup 'a English tea would do a body well."
February 15, 1775 - Freehold, Monmouth County, New Jersey
The Incident at the Assembly
"You are late."
I pull out my pocket watch and study it.
"James, your sharp observation skills shall serve you well in your new endeavors. Indeed, you are correct," I agree, returning the watch to my waistcoat. "I am late."
James pulls on the green coat assigned him as ensign in the newly-formed Royal Americans for Peace regiment – a twistedly-named British military unit if ever I encountered one.
"What was the delay? Was your father's smuggled shipment not up to par?"
I deliver my retort in a low and dispassionate tone. "Just so we understand one another, should you be overheard, not only would my father and I spend time in the stocks, but for partaking, that new coat you sport would be ripped off your back faster than you could say, 'Exactly how far down would you like me to bend, my King?'"
He busies himself with adjusting his cuffs. "Edward, I overlook your indiscretions due to our longstanding friendship," – he leans in and speaks all the lower – "but do not insult my manhood."
"How can I insult that which you do not possess?"
For one long moment, we glare at one another.
Then, we break into fits of laughter, clapping one another's shoulders hard. I inwardly smirk when he is the one thrown off-balance.
"After this ridiculous assembly, let us return to my father's tavern and sample that shipment to which you allude. I might even withhold my laughter as you prance around in that ridiculous, green coat."
He exhales heavily. Insults to his manhood do not overly vex him, but I have used the word "ridiculous" twice, when referring to both the assembly and his coat. The gathering is meant to formally introduce his green-coated regiment to the town folk. Ridicule is not what he expects this eve. I must tamp down my urge to provide it.
For years now, I have perfected the art of feigned apathy to keep suspicion away from my loyalty and involvement in The Cause. 'Tis an act that is becoming increasingly difficult as the British grip on our colonies tightens.
James straightens himself. "If the evening ends as I would wish, this uniform you mock shall have me occupied with other forms of entertainment while you drink yourself into a smuggled-ale stupor."
I allow him that jab as we walk toward what was previously home to the Smythe family. With the Quartering Act now in full effect throughout the colonies, the Smythes have been "temporarily" relocated to a smaller house a few miles away so that the Captain of the newly-formed Royal Americans for Peace Regiment may call the grandiose home his.
"You refer to the young ladies who have arrived from New York to attend the event?" I inquire.
"Aye," James grins. "They are friends of Captain Swan's daughter. I hear tell she misses them grievously since moving here from New York."
My hands remain knit behind my back.
"The Captain's daughter is homesick, you say? That must explain why no one has laid eyes on her since she arrived a fortnight ago. Her melancholy keeps her within doors, but perhaps the remedy lies in acclimating to her new situation."
I fear I do a poor job of masking my dislike for the Captain's daughter - spoilt, demanding, and over-indulged creature she must be. 'Tis unfortunate, if so, for it is my duty to learn as much of the Captain as possible.
James side-eyes me. "The Captain's daughter is a gently bred young woman, born in New York to an Englishman and to the daughter of an Englishman. She is a Tory through and through."
"Yet, you and I set aside our differences for the sake of friendship."
"Ah, but you and I pursue other interests beyond The Troubles of our colonies."
With considerable effort, my gaze remains front and center.
"I also hear tell she is quite reserved and not very vocal," he adds.
"She sounds lovelier by the moment."
He turns his head sharply, and I meet his gaze.
Again, we chuckle.
"She does sound lovely."
"You sound as if you are already half in love," I jest.
"I very well may be."
This causes me to stop short. "So, when you hint you intend to woo one of the young ladies in attendance this evening, you mean you already have one in mind."
"Miss Swan is a reputed beauty," he grins, "eighteen years of age, docile, ripe for marriage…and for the marriage bed."
I raise an eyebrow. "For what more can you ask?"
"For what more can I ask?"
We resume our walk. "Tell me, does this docile and ripe beauty have a say in this love affair or is your determination in the matter sufficient to call it settled?"
He chuckles heartily. "As I said, she is eighteen years of age – ready for marriage. For what more can she possibly ask?"
"I see your point," I remark. "Nonetheless, if you seek marriage to a disaffected Tory, we have those here in Freehold."
He does not immediately reply. "She is the only daughter of the man who is now my Captain, and he has indicated that he would be amenable if his daughter and I should suit."
"Ah, now I see further. Tying the Loyalist Captain's daughter to the son of the County's Loyalist magistrate would be a Tory match made in heaven. Who knows? Perhaps our illustrious Governor, William Franklin, may attend the wedding – nay, officiate it! I hear tell he foregoes no opportunity to thumb his nose at his father, Mr. Ben Franklin."
Again, he stops and holds my gaze. "You are mocking me once again, but let us be honest, Edward."
"By all means, James, let us."
"You and I have been friends since we were barely in breeches, tied by the friendships of our fathers. Yet, in these past few years, our differences have grown greater than our similarities."
"'Tis true," I acknowledge.
"Now that I have joined the regiment, the rest of our friends no longer consort with me, and I honestly care little more for them."
"I shall not speak on their behalf, James, yet these affiliations of ours have never been a secret. You have not been shut out from society nor from any maiden's apple dumpling shop due to your affiliations.
He looks away from me and into the darkness. "Every day, there are more signs that these affiliations might soon come to a head. 'Tis why I joined the regiment."
I know not why I allow the following words to tumble forth. "You joined the regiment because you believe that the lobsterbacks, with their great numbers, shall be the winning side should war come, not because you actually believe in their cause. Let us not use the words affiliation and belief interchangeably, for interchangeable they are not. You affiliate with the Tories, yet you believe in nothing but yourself. If tomorrow, King George decided that the colonies certainly do have the right to govern themselves, you would quickly realize you had always been a Patriot."
He reels back, for now he is truly offended.
"Furthermore, if the lovely Miss Swan is as docile and malleable as rumors imply, if she truly lacks her own mind, you do her a great disservice by bringing no true convictions into the union. I, therefore, hold little hope for your joint marital felicity, for neither of you shall know how to truly pick a side when war comes."
"Is this what you really think of me, Edward?"
I have gone too far.
Yet, I keep going.
"I think you hold no true loyalties, James. I could respect you in that uniform far more if you were honestly the Tory you profess to be."
For a few moments, he stares at me in stunned disbelief. "You think everyone believes in the righteousness of their side as strongly as you suddenly seem to believe in yours?"
By God, man, desist! my mind implores me.
"I believe you are more attracted by Miss Swan's pedigree than by any other facet she may possess."
"Why this sudden concern with Miss Swan and what facets of hers I may or may not value?"
I drop my head and shake it from side to side, for I have no idea why I have dug myself into a shite hole.
"Let us quit this discussion," I say, attempting to contain the damage my reckless tongue has caused.
"No," he says heatedly. "Is this now your measure of happiness, Edward, the strength of one's beliefs? Pray tell me when this occurred."
Before I can even begin to explain the things I saw in Boston four years past, he moves in closer, with a challenge in his eye.
"Better yet, tell me how different are our methods of obtaining happiness, Edward? Truly, how different are they? Or have you suddenly moved beyond rebellion-for-profit-in-the-form-of-smuggling, for as far as I knew, that is all you believed in as of this morn?"
'Tis a good thing he stopped me from speaking, for I have given away too much already. For nigh on four years, I have kept my true beliefs from all except my fellow brothers and sisters in The Cause.
Stupidly enough, as James and I stand there reassessing our friendship, I silently blame the faceless and unknown Miss Swan for this. I know not why I felt the sudden need to champion her, dim as she must be if she was born and bred in this land yet affiliates with the English.
James seems to feel much of what I am feeling. "Edward, sometimes I suspect our friendship hangs by the thread of our differences, that lately we are friends more to keep an eye on one another."
As I have no response I should verbalize, this time, I manage to rein in my wayward tongue.
As we enter the assembly, I continue seething in silence. Nevertheless, this evening, chandeliers have been lit, candles set out, and the marble floors waxed until they all reflect one another's luminescence. The finest silver and china are being utilized.
English tea is being served.
James' eyes immediately locate his prize. "Look, there is Captain Swan, and that must be Miss Swan by his side. Shall you accompany me for introductions, or is this beyond your new loyalties?"
He is testing me.
The gentleman to whom he refers appears to be in about his mid-forties, of average height, dark-haired, and possessing a thick, dark mustache that curls on each end. The giggling, pretty-ish, young girl at his side possesses equally brown curls and a generous bosom. There is not much more to say of her.
Turning to James with a false grin, I gesture toward the refreshments.
"You should meet your future bride one on one. I shall seek some punch and apply for introductions shortly."
He nods. "I suppose it does make sense I seek introduction to her first." He leans in as he did outdoors. "But Edward, do seek an introduction. Whether you like it or not, Captain Swan is now the ranking officer in Monmouth County. 'Tis better to be on the gentleman's good side…than not."
As I stand by the refreshments, my stomach turns with disgust for the part I must play. My patriot blood boils that I must pretend to respect these people, that I must act as if my Whig loyalties are as muddied as James' Tory ones.
My memory casts back to the pamphlet disseminated four years earlier, from which I first learned of eleven-year-old Christopher Seider. He was killed by a customs agent in Boston for protesting colonial grievances – acts and taxes placed on us without representation in Parliament. Then, I was only a seventeen-year-old lad myself, and it was Father who insisted we travel to Boston and pay our respects.
'Twas there we met Mr. Samuel Adams.
We remained in Boston for some weeks, more and more impressed with Mr. Adam's dedication to The Cause. Then, less than two weeks after young Mr. Seider's murder, there was the incident -no, the massacre on King Street.
My ire grows as the memories bombard me. The crowd on King Street had not been completely innocent, throwing rocks, jibes, and such. But those British soldiers should have never been there to begin!
Then, as if to add insult to such massive injuries, the customs agent who killed Christopher Seider was pardoned by an English court. And of the eight soldiers involved in that Boston massacre, six were acquitted, and the two charged with manslaughter were merely sentenced to branding!
By the time we left Boston, Father and I were decided.
Now, every day that passes, I abhor the Loyalists more. They are men and women who cannot think for themselves, and who look to a King thousands of miles away for leadership. They raise their children with the same mindless reverence and hold these assemblies to make the rest of us forget what they are truly attempting, what they-
"Sir, you have the look of someone sucking on a very large, very bitter lemon."
I blink away from my thoughts and turn toward the voice.
"Perhaps your cravat is too tight?" she continues, tilting her head so that dark, silk curls bounce around her head. "To be sure, 'tis a handsome knot, but if it gives you such pain, it may not be worth the trouble." Dark eyes lock me within their depths.
I confess I am struck mute. Her dress and accent mark her as one of the New York Tories, yet despite that travesty, she is an undeniable beauty. She wears a pale pink gown of silk with an intricate white embroidery on her slim bodice and wide petticoat. Her sleeves sport lace a'plenty.
"Sir, I must insist you loosen that knot if it prevents you from uttering even the basic necessities." With a raised brow, she turns her head in the direction which my glare was focused. "Or perhaps 'tis the sight which causes you such bitter looks. Pray tell me what offends you of the Captain and the young woman?"
I recover my wits and speak. "I am not at all offended by the Captain nor by the woman."
"Then perhaps it is the young officer with them who distresses you? He is handsome indeed, with his flaxen hair tied so neatly, yet he has the air of a dandy. Are you envious of his green coat?" She turns her dark gaze back to me. "If so, I assure you, you cut a more striking figure with your untamed copper hair and your dark coat."
"You are quite forward, madam."
"Am I?" She frowns. "Is your being strikingly handsome not a known fact in these parts? If it is known, then I do not believe there is anything forward in my simple acknowledgment of it. If it is not known, then you have my full apologies for enlightening you."
'Tis my turn to frown for I have no idea what to make of her.
She chuckles, and when she does, my eyes momentarily stray to her bosom. 'Tis not as generous as that of the young miss standing with the captain, but the swells above her bodice hint at exquisitely-rounded breasts.
"You say I am being forward, sir?"
My eyes swiftly return to hers.
She smirks knowingly. "Pray, make nothing of my momentary impertinence. Nevertheless, you have not answered my question." When she grins, she displays a fine set of teeth.
"No, I am not envious of his green coat," I manage to utter.
"What can it be then?" she murmurs.
For what feels like an eternity, the candlelight around us dances in her dark eyes.
She sighs. "I shall have to discover your secret at some other time."
"I have no secrets," I hiss, perhaps a bit too forcefully.
"Truly? None at all?" She taps her forefinger against her full, red lips. "I have found that those who have the most secrets are usually the ones who lay claim to none."
"Who in the-"
"Nevertheless, they are approaching, sir, and my breath of air is over."
I barely have time to draw in my own breath and recover from her onslaught before James, the Captain, and his dim-witted daughter are upon us.
"Ah, Isabella," the Captain says. "You have finished your dance."
"As you see, sir." The Tory Beauty takes his proffered arm. "I believe I have fulfilled all my required duties as hostess. May I be allowed to spend the rest of the evening at my leisure?" Her dark eyes flash to me.
The Captain chuckles. "I know of at least one gentleman here who is anxious for an introduction, and I must insist you allow him a dance before your leisure." He glances at James. "Isabella, allow me to introduce to you one of our new ensigns, Mr. James Pitman. His father is the Royal Magistrate of the County we now call home. Ensign Pitman, this is my daughter, Isabella Swan."
My blood pools to my feet at that pronouncement; although, it should not. Regardless of whose daughter she may or may not be, Tory she is.
Meanwhile, Isabella Swan performs a curtsey for James. He bows to her, hat in hand.
"Madam, your humble servant. I am very glad to meet you."
"Sir, I am yours. And I am glad to meet you as well."
The teasing expression is gone from her features. As we five perform the needlessly complex introductions common within the genteel class, curtsies and bows in ranking order, her pleasantries are delivered in a dull, monotone manner.
I find myself wondering if I have simply been imagining things.
The young woman next to Captain Swan is not his daughter; rather, she is Miss Jessica Van Tatten, one of Isabella's friends from New York.
"It appears there was some confusion, Miss Swan," James says, grinning like a fool. "My friend and I believed your friend, Miss Van Tatten, to be you."
"I imagine it was an honest error," she replies sedately.
"'Twas," James chuckles. "You see, Miss Van Tatten stood with your father. We had never met you, and Miss Van Tatten is also dark-haired, and-"
"And so the error is easily explained," Isabella shrugs with a smile. "Nevertheless, your observation skills shall serve you well, sir."
I almost laugh aloud, for 'tis quite the same statement I made to James earlier.
"I thank you, Madam. I should hope so."
She merely nods, truly appearing the limitedly vocal creature of rumors.
"Mr. Cullen," the Captain says, "in what line of trade is your father?"
"We own the tavern, sir," I reply, "and we have a farm in the area."
"I imagine the tavern has little to serve in the way of spirits." He crooks a brow.
"With the King's embargo, you imagine correctly," I lie.
"Are they prosperous situations?" he further enquires intrusively, but they see this as their right.
"'They are decent for two men, sir."
"She died of the throat distemper when I was a lad."
"From where did she hail?"
"From here in New Jersey, born to Dutchmen."
"How long have both the farm and the tavern been in your family?"
"I shall be their third owner, sir."
The inquisition is meant to discover where my loyalties lie, for my replies mark me as either Loyalist or Patriot – though not necessarily to what degree. He has already discerned that Whig I am by birth.
"You seem a strong, young man. Tell me, Mr. Cullen, why did you not join our regiment?"
And that is the question whose reply shall serve to sway him, one way or the other.
In the meanwhile, Isabella, her friend Jessica, and my friend, James, stand around silently and impassively – which clearly marks the three for what they are: disaffected Tories, those who care not one way or the other.
"Twas my dead mother's last wish that I not take up arms. Her father and brothers fought and died in the French and Indian Conflict."
In fact, Mother decreed nothing on her death bed beyond wishes for my health and happiness.
"Ah, I see. Well then." Captain Swan smiles and returns his attention to his daughter. "Isabella, do indulge me and share a dance with Ensign Pitman."
Isabella gives her father an aloof nod. "Of course, Father."
"And while they dance, perhaps you might escort Miss Van Tatten, Mr. Cullen?"
"I would be honored," I say, grinning at the buxom young lady. She giggles excitedly.
"Wonderful," the Captain exclaims. "There is no better way to pass an evening than through dancing, do you not agree?"
Tar and feathering a Tory spring to mind.
Miss Jessica Van Tatten is quite the verbose creature. Unfortunately, most of what she says has no rhyme nor reason.
Isabella and James are further down the dance line, and so we do not meet throughout the set. Yet, I cannot stop myself from stealing periodic glances in their direction. James appears to be the verbal one in that pairing.
Truly, did I imagine the entire scene with her?
"…sort of place."
"Pardon me?" I have missed something of Miss Van Tatten's stimulating conversation.
She giggles and blinks prettily. "I was observing how different this county is from Kings County, from where I hail; though, they are merely fifty miles apart."
"How do you find them different, madam?"
"Oh, the people here are just so untamed…so rustic!" She giggles. "Your manners are so wonderfully primitive, and your way of dress so simple. I feel as if I am in a wood full of forest creatures!"
"I see," I nod. "I take it you in Kings County do not eat your young then?"
The dance moves us apart and then together. Her eyes have widened into horrified circles.
I whisper in her ear. "To be sure, we only do so when the temperatures dip so low as to prevent us from hunting boar or gathering berries."
It takes her two full turns of the set before she giggles loudly once again.
"You tease me, sir!" she accuses.
"I do," I grin.
I escort Miss Van Tatten to the refreshment table, where James and Isabella are already. We partake in punch and more dull conversation.
Yes. Yes, I must have imagined it all.
Good. 'Tis time to return my focus to where it belongs: to The Cause and to finding out as much as I can about Captain Swan and his plans for this new Regiment.
"Madam," I say to the Beautiful Tory, "may I have the next dance?"
She eyes me blandly. "You may."
Of course, now James must ask Jessica to dance, and so we conveniently exchange partners.
As I lead Miss Swan onto the dance floor, I have little hopes beyond a dance with a beautiful, treasonous woman and perhaps some useful information. When the flutes begin, Isabella curtsies, and I bow. We take the first few steps silently, eyes locked on one another. Her eyes…there is a light in them. At first, I believe 'tis a reflection of all the candles, but no. The light in her eyes seems to emanate from within. 'Tis very…
For the love of all, I am not here to examine the light in a Tory woman's eyes.
I shake my head imperceptibly to push out such nonsense, preparing to carefully and impassively question her regarding her father's plans. Then, as part of the dance, our palms meet mid-air.
About twenty years ago, Mr. Benjamin Franklin – now an illustrious member of our Sons of Liberty brotherhood – conducted an experiment in which he flew a kite with a key attached to its string. The charge of lightning from the sky struck this key. Later, Mr. Franklin penned his results, which were that when he touched the key, his hand fairly shook and burned.
This describes what touching the Beautiful Tory's palm does to me.
My breath hitches. From the look of her chest, so does Isabella's. Nevertheless, we follow the steps of the dance. When she returns to me, a half smile plays across her full lips.
"I know not of what you speak, madam."
She chuckles – not giggles – quietly. "Come, sir. Do not tell me you did not feel that. The Bitter Lemon Look made its return – though perhaps not quite as bitter?"
I remain silent.
We perform a couple of turns in this silence, but she will not be quiet long enough to allow me to gather my wits.
"You are offended, sir," she murmurs.
"Can you not dance silently and allow me to-"
"Allow you to what, sir?"
"You were quiet enough with James," I say. "I only saw you speak when spoken to."
Again, she gives me that soft chuckle that makes her perfect bosom swell. "You are a true gentleman."
Now I feel badly.
"If I have offended you, I apologize."
"If?" Again, that half-smile plays across her lips. "Mr. Cullen, for someone at a dance assembly, you do appear miserable."
"Again, I apologize. 'Tis simply…" – I must guide this conversation back toward usefulness – "I am somewhat concerned about your father's purpose here. We lead a quiet, peaceful life in New Jersey, far from The Troubles further north," I lie. "I would simply like to know that it is not your father's intention to change that in any manner."
For a few seconds, she holds my gaze as our steps guide us away from one another.
"My father's purpose here, Mr. Cullen," she says upon her return, "is to keep the peace in light of those treasonous events occurring in Massachusetts Colony. If New Jersey Colony plans no treason, it has nothing with which to concern itself."
"Treason you call what occurs in Massachusetts?" I attempt to maintain impassivity in my tone.
"What would you call it?" she smiles.
"I might call it steps to solving a problem."
"Truly?" She chuckles. "'Twas not sufficient to dump precious tea in the Bay? Now, they boycott all British imports. When penalized for their infractions, they establish a seditious government outside of Boston. They collect taxes illegally. They buy supplies illegally. They raise militias illegally."
Apparently, the British know much.
"They raise militias as does your father," I point out.
"Under the royal command of the King," she replies, "and in light of the fact that New Jersey Colony shows signs of rising up with some of her sister colonies."
I nod slowly, swallowing bile and biting back all the bitter truths I want to hurl at this beautiful yet full Tory woman.
"So, he establishes a regiment not to keep peace, but to ensure that our colony does not attempt to defend itself?"
"Defend itself from what, sir?"
I do not answer her. She has told me enough - for now.
"I have heard rumors, Miss Swan, that you are a docile creature with little care for The Troubles affecting our colonies. I do not know that the characterization suits you."
She lifts a perfect brow. "And I, sir, watched you weave a tale of your life that characterized you as something similar. Yet that Bitter Lemon Look that will not leave your countenance might tell a different tale."
This woman is dangerous. I know not how, but she sees me all too well.
April, 1775 – Freehold, Monmouth County, New Jersey
The Incident Which Leads to the Rest
Over the next several weeks, Captain Swan swells his ranks with both Loyalists and those disaffected Tories much like James. Meanwhile, Massachusetts Colony continues its state of open rebellion. We hear from our fellow brothers that they are arming. Unfortunately, the British hear this as well.
We in New Jersey Colony are arming too. All 'cross the colonies, the militias previously instituted both for defense from the Indians and for duty in the French and Indian Conflict are now being readied. This time, 'tis our very liberty we must defend.
Emmett, Jasper, Jacob the Free Man, and I secretly rally our fellow Patriots.
James spends his time between Captain Swan's errands and courting the lovely Miss Swan. He strolls about smugly in his disgusting green coat. With the warming of the weather, he and Isabella walk arm in arm down the square. I watch them from the tavern windows. He does the talking for the two. She merely smiles. The lovely and tame Miss Isabella Swan.
I abhor her.
"Then, why do you stare at her so much?"
I do not realize I spoke aloud until I turn and see Emmett and Jasper both leaning casually against the tavern door, smirking.
"I had not heard you come outside."
"Yes, we noticed," Jasper says. "You have not heard or seen much for the past ten minutes."
"Untrue," I say with perhaps more vehemence than necessary. "I am guarding the tavern. You both should be within with my father and Jacob, instructing our new recruits."
"They are mostly finished, thank the Lord. For if Captain Swan and his regiment had stormed the tavern within the past few minutes, I do not believe you would have noticed until we were all hanging by our necks."
I turn my head and scowl at Emmett.
He and Jasper share hearty chuckles.
Emmet pushes himself off the wall. "I am teasing, Edward." He quirks a brow. "But she does distract you."
My eyes stray beyond him and through the tavern window, where our brothers sit, plotting and planning.
"She puzzles me. That is all. At the assembly, before her father and James, she was reticent and…dull. Yet when speaking to me, she was…" I shake my head. "She is a paradox and nothing more," I repeat, as I have been repeating in my head for weeks.
"She is a Tory, and she is Captain Swan's daughter," Jasper reminds me.
I meet his gaze. "I have not forgot."
"Katrina asked me to invite you to dinner this eve," Emmett says.
Ah, the sweet Katrina McCarty: Emmet's nineteen-year-old sister. She is tall, shapely, fair, and as James would say, ripe for marriage and the marriage bed. 'Tis an institution and a bed to which she has aspired to lead me for the past two years. Yet, with all that is occuring in our colonies, marriage has been the last thing on my mind.
"Tell Kat that I shall be honored to dine with her and your father," I reply.
Emmett nods. "But now, James and his lovely partner approach."
Emmett and Jasper situate themselves casually before the tavern window. I turn and grin just as James and Isabella reach us.
"How goes it, James? Good afternoon, Miss Swan."
We three remove our tricorns and bow to her as she performs a perfect, succinct curtsey.
"Edward, Emmett, Jasper," James replies. "Isabella and I were taking fresh air on this prodigious, warm afternoon. It has been a long winter."
"It has," I agree.
"I have informed Isabella that your father's tavern serves the best ale and the freshest fish from the Navesink River."
I cannot suppress the angry flare of my nostrils. "Aye, fish we have, but as you well know, ale we do not."
James chuckles. "Come, Edward. Do not concern yourself with Isabella's knowledge of your smuggling. At the moment, petty smugglers are of trifling importance."
I manage to suppress the urge to dig my fist into James' face. All the while, I feel Isabella's dark gaze burning me.
"We do not serve ale, James."
"You are making me look a liar in front of Miss Swan." His grin is no longer amused.
"Then perhaps you should not lie."
As I take a step forward – for sense has abandoned me – Emmett places a massive hand on my shoulder.
More importantly, Isabella speaks.
"James, I am neither hungry nor thirsty." When she places a hand on his forearm, his eyes cast downward, appearing stunned. "The weather is lovely, and I would rather continue our walk."
James stares at her mouth as if he's shocked to see it moving.
"Of…of course, Isabella. Let us continue our walk." He pins me with one final glare before turning without taking his leave.
Isabella curtsies once more, keeping her eyes on the ground.
"By your leave, sirs."
"Your servants, madam," I reply.
A few days later, 'tis Jasper who brings the news.
We are gathered in the tavern. For weeks, it has been known that the British will likely march on Concord, where the Massachusetts Provincial Congress has been established in open rebellion. Rumors also claim that a quantity of provisions and war-like stores are lodged in Concord. Therefore, we are all in a tense state of waiting when Jasper rushes in, breathless.
"News from Massachusetts!"
"Tell us," I say.
"Margaret Gage informed Joseph Warren that her husband gave orders for an expedition to Concord. The weapons have been removed, but the expedition has indeed departed."
"So, it begins," my father murmurs. "Thank God in heaven for Mrs. Gage, regardless of her reasons."
Mrs. Gage, wife of Thomas Gage, General and Commander-in-Chief of the British military forces garrisoned in Massachusetts, is in fact, New Jersey born and one of our most valuable Daughters of Liberty. Rumors are that Doctor Joseph Warren, President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, is her lover.
It seems a woman will do much for her lover.
Jasper continues. "Mr. Revere rides from house to house informing those on the road from Boston to Concord that the British are coming! They aim to capture Mr. Adams and Mr. Hancock! Massachusetts Colony's militias are rising up!"
Nostrils flaring, I stand on my wooden chair and jump on the table.
"Then 'tis time for our uprising as well, for we stand as one!"
The tavern explodes into a frenzy. Men join me on tables, throwing fists and voices high into the air. We have been waiting for weeks –nay, for years, for this.
As I sweep my gaze around the room, I am close to bursting with pride. My brothers in liberty and justice refused to accept a fate that left us governed without proper representation. We are free men, and now, we shall fight for our natural rights as such! I watch the men stamp their feet. They smack the tables. They holler and swear their loyalty to our nation, for we are all-
We are all…
We are not all celebrating.
A small, thin man, whose tricorn covers most of his face and whose clothing fairly hangs off of him, slinks like a snake through the crowd of howling men. He makes his way 'round tables and toward the tavern's back door. Out of my periphery, I spy Emmett standing on an opposite table, also watching the small man.
When our eyes meet, Emmett quirks a brow, to which I reply with a shrug.
We both lunge. The small man attempts to outrun us, but we reach him. With everyone busy cheering, I wordlessly grab the vagabond by the collar and shove him through the door. Then, I thrust him hard against the brick wall.
When he grunts in pain, I reel back.
For what feels like an eternity, we remain silently locked in one another's gaze.
"Get your filthy hands off of me!" she finally demands.
"Isabella…what in the name of God…?"
She glares at me, dark eyes aflame.
"What in the…?" Jasper is now behind me, apparently having noticed the commotion, and he as unable to finish a thought as I.
"Edward, get her off the streets," Emmett hisses quietly. "If the men espy her, there is no knowing what they shall do, as riled as they are."
At this, Isabella's eyes grow wide. "Let me go!"
"Edward!" Emmett repeats when I fail to move. "Ride with her to my father's house – 'tis the closest. We shall meet you there!"
"I shall not ride with-"
"You have no say at the moment," I say through a clenched jaw.
Jasper has already brought my stallion, Aro, 'round. I mount him swiftly, and Emmett picks up Miss Swan, placing her in front with one leg on either side of Aro's back. She makes another grunting noise, apparently unused to straddling a horse.
I wrap my arms around her to grab the reins. Then, I place my mouth close to her ear. "Madam, if you can dress like a man, then you may ride like a man too."
And we are off.
We ride through darkness with my mind in uproar. I cannot even focus on the revolution finally upon us! As for the woman, she sits stiff and silent in front of me. Her fury rolls off her, adding to the heat emanating from her body. I cannot prevent my cock from stiffening, and I know she must feel it pressed against her backside, yet she makes no movement.
When we arrive at the McCarty home, I jump off Aro before he comes to a full stop. Then, I reach up and pull off Isabella, cradling her in my arms.
"Set me down!"
Ignoring her, I kick the door. Katrina opens quickly, and I walk past her shocked expression.
"Why are you carrying a…" she trails off, her breath hitching. "'Tis a woman dressed as-"
"The British are marching in Massachusetts Colony," I say. "The revolution is here."
The way Katrina stares between Isabella and me makes me think she has little care for the revolution at the moment.
"Where are my Father and brother?"
"They are at the tavern and shall be back soon. If you do not mind, I must escort this young lady," I sneer, "to your cellar."
"You will not take me below stairs!" Isabella protests.
"Have I not made it clear you have no say at the moment?"
She yells, kicks, and screams at me the entire way down. When we finally reach the landing, I set her down, and she pulls off her tricorn, loosening her long, silky tresses. Then, she throws the hat at me before shoving me in the chest.
"Miss Swan, there appears to be some confusion as to whom the wronged party is here."
"You are a Patriot rebel and a spy!"
I must be honest. A mixture of both awe at her nerve and fury at her nerve fight for dominance.
"I am a spy?" I hiss, digging a finger into my ribs. "I am a spy?" I turn the finger toward her. "You are the one who dressed as a man and snuck into my tavern!"
"I am no spy!"
When I step forward, the woman stands her ground, raising her chin defiantly.
"Then what were you doing at my tavern? Did your lover send you?" I sneer. "Were you on errand for your darling or was it for your traitorous, Loyalist father? Yet, you have the utter gall to stand there, dressed as a man," I say, yelling loudly by this point, "and point an accusing finger at me when you are nothing more than a dimwitted Tory whose only use-"
She reaches out and lands a palm 'cross my cheek.
For a few seconds, I am stunned silent.
"I am not dimwitted," she seethes, "and I run no one's errands." Her voice quivers, but not with fear. "I chose to go! I chose to dress as a man to sneak past your useless sentries and to sit in on your treasonous conversation!"
Grabbing her forearms, I guide her backward until her back hits the wall. Of course, now that I know she is not a small man but a large-mouthed woman, I wrap my arms around her waist so that she does not sustain injury.
"For what purpose were you there?" I ask, feeling her warm, deep breaths on my neck. "Answer me, Isabella, or by God, I shall-"
"You shall what, Edward Cullen?"
I know not if it is my name falling from her lips or the challenge in her voice or the adrenaline coursing through me…or perhaps the darkness of the cellar coupled with her skin under my hands, which does away with every ounce of control left in me.
Cradling her face, I crush my mouth to hers.
The maddening woman does not even fight me! Instead, Isabella Swan, Tory enemy, wraps her entire body around mine, her arms 'round my neck and her legs 'round my waist. Her lips part as she sighs into my mouth.
"Isabella…" I suck on the sweet nectar of her mouth, her lips soft and supple. Her hands fist the short hairs at my nape. When I attempt to pull away, she tightens her hold. This time, I offer no resistance. I bury my hands in her silky hair and kiss her with a passion I knew not I possessed.
We kiss in this hungry manner for what feels like ages, yet not long enough. Her body is soft and warm. My cock grows and twitches, and I know not how Man has ever fought…ever thought beyond such sensations.
When we must finally breathe, I pull away and skim open-mouthed kisses across her jaw and down her neck. The taste of her skin is inebriating. I find myself wishing she was in one of her elegant gowns with the top swells of her breasts before me, instead of dressed in this man's outfit.
'Tis that thought which allows me to muster my strength and pull away from the bewitching traitor.
"No, no, no!" I chastise myself, raking a hand through my hair and fisting it hard.
Meanwhile, Isabella's beautiful chest heaves. Her long hair is wild from my ministrations. Her lips are swollen, and her dark, impish eyes sparkle in the dim light filtering from above stairs.
"What were you doing in the tavern, Isabella?"
She folds her hands innocently behind her back. "I was curious."
"Am I supposed to believe that? Were your kisses meant to lull me with your lies?"
"I am not lying," she says. "For weeks, it has been obvious to anyone with two eyes and half a brain that you and your friends hide more than smuggled ale within that tavern!"
"Have you shared these observations with anyone else, with your lover or with your father?"
"I have not, and pray quit calling him my lover!"
"Is that not what he is?"
She does not respond.
"What am I supposed to believe here, Isabella?"
"I care not what you believe Mr. Cullen," she snarls. "You are a traitor and a smuggler attempting to bring about revolution merely to increase your gains!"
"Is that what you believe?" Again, I step toward her. "You believe I do all I do for profit?"
"What other reason can there be?" she counters. "There is no benefit in cutting ties with the Crown beyond an excuse to block shipments from England, so you and your kind may sell your goods without competition!" She curls her lip in disgust. "So much hubble-bubble about tea. 'Twas only an excuse to rid yourselves of legally imported and thereby cheaper products!"
"Are you mad? Do you truly not see why we needed to destroy the tea, or are you just upset because its destruction has meant you have had to do without?"
She stomps her foot. "'Tis about more than the confounded tea!"
A humorless chuckle escapes her. "I suspect we are not actually agreeing, Mr. Cullen."
"Heaven forfend we ever do."
Her eyes narrow into slits. When I approach her once again, she watches me warily. But I cup her cheek gently in my hand and speak with more tenderness, for I have kissed this defiant woman.
"'Twas more than tea, Isabella. 'Twas everything which led to it. 'Twas the taxation without representation."
"The crown taxes all its possessions-"
"We are not possessions. The issue has never been the taxes but the manner in which they are imposed, as if we are cattle to be branded without choice. We are men, women, children…humans endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. Life, liberty, happiness; we should have the ability to seek these without answering to a Crown thousands of miles away. You…" – I slide my hands around her neck, stroking her smooth skin – "you should not have to seek anyone's permission to display all the passion innately held within you."
As if with a mind of its own, my mouth has inched closer.
"I…The Crown protects us, Edward. My father and his men protect us."
"We can protect ourselves better than any British Army can ever do so."
The sound of footsteps above have me back away from her just as the cellar door creaks open wider. Light floods the corner in which we stand as four pairs of feet pound below stairs.
Emmett appears first, followed by Jasper, Jacob, and behind him, Katrina. The four come to a stop a few feet away.
Jasper speaks first. "What story does she tell?"
"She claims…she claims she was curious."
"Curious?" Emmett echoes, his massive arms crossed against his chest.
"Curious," I confirm.
"Curious," Jacob nods. "'Tis a dangerous thing to be in these times."
Isabella neither cowers nor speaks.
"And how much of this…curiosity," Emmett further enquires, "was at the behest of our friend, James, or even better, of her father, the Captain of the British Regiment?"
"None!" she snaps. "I have already explained that to Edward!"
"You've explained it to Edward, have you, Miss Swan?" Jacob smirks.
She presses together her lips, for she hears his insinuation.
Jasper turns toward me. "Edward, what are your thoughts?"
My thoughts, he says, as if I am capable of having any at this moment. I rake a hand through my hair.
"Regardless of…curiosity, there are only two salient facts here," Emmett says before I may answer. He lifts one finger. "She is a Tory," – he lifts another finger – "and she has decided to satisfy her curiosity on the worst possible night."
For the space of an entire minute, no one speaks.
"The question is, Miss Swan," Emmett says, "what shall you do with what you have learned?"
"She shall do nothing," I say. "She shall keep what she has heard to herself."
All eyes turn to Isabella.
"I…I…" And then, her innate stubbornness -nay, her innate courage rises again. Yet what she says does her situation no good. "I cannot allow my father to be hurt or ambushed by your militias!"
Slowly, I shut my eyes and exhale through narrowed lips.
Again, there is a long pause.
"Isabella," I finally say, "you must see that you cannot disclose what you have learned."
"But my father-!"
"Your father is a Loyalist traitor," Katrina shouts suddenly, "as are you! Edward, Emmett, 'tis obvious what must be done!"
There is something dark in Kat's gaze I have never seen before.
In two long strides, I stand before Isabella, and when her small hands grip my waist…there is no turning back.
"No one will touch her lest they go through me," I snarl.
Katrina stupidly steps toward us, but Emmett sets his arm in front of her.
"Edward, she is the enemy, and we have no choice. We can ride into the Pinelands and…leave her. The bears and wolves shall do the rest."
"Are you mad, woman?" Jacob growls. "'Tis murder!"
"It is not!"
"There must be another way!" Jasper says.
"'We must do this for the revolution!"
"This has nothing to do with the revolution, and you well know it!" Emmett hisses.
"Of course, it does!"
"ENOUGH!" I bellow.
All talk immediately ceases.
"Enough," I repeat through gritted teeth. "I want you all gone from this cellar."
"What will you do, Edward?" Katrina enquires.
"Leave, Katrina. Now."
Her nostrils flare, and in one motion, she picks up her skirts and runs above stairs.
"The rest of you," I say, "I ask you to leave this to me. I give you my word-"
"Yet that is the dilemma, Edward," Jasper says, not in a confrontational manner, simply as fact. "You cannot give your word for she makes no attempt to give hers."
"I shall resolve the dilemma, Jasper. I promise you."
With a not entirely convinced nod, Jasper and Jacob remove above stairs.
"A quick word, Edward," Emmett requests before following the others.
With slow, careful steps, I leave Isabella's side and approach him.
"Edward," he whispers close to my ear, "She is a Tory, and she has heard damning information which can hurt not only us, but the entire revolution. She knows of Mrs. Gage and of Dr. Warren. She could-"
"She will not."
He pulls back and meets my gaze. "She is a Loyalist, and more than that, she is loyal to her father. There is no man to whom a woman is more loyal."
"There is…one," I reply with a smirk.
He exhales heavily. "Know you what you are doing?"
"We shall find out."
With a deep breath, he turns and heads above stairs.
When I turn my attention back to Isabella, she shakes her head, a wry grin on her beautiful face.
"You are mad."
I stalk slowly toward her.
"I shall not marry you, Edward."
"Isabella, you are too smart for your own good."
She quirks a brow. "And you plan to remedy that?"
When I stand before her, I take both of her warm hands within mine.
"When I am your husband, I shall help you channel your intelligence in the proper direction."
She chuckles, but it is shaky, and her eyes remain locked on mine. "Have you forgotten, sir, that I already have a suitor?"
When I raise her hand to my mouth and place a kiss on her palm, her breath hitches and her eyelids grow heavy.
"Tell me, Isabella," I say, skimming my lips up to her wrist. "Has James ever made you feel the slightest fraction of what you felt when wrapped around me?"
When she breathes my name in that manner, I lose all control. My mouth finds hers yet again. She fists my hair and wraps her body around mine once more.
"Say you shall be my wife," I breathe in her ear as I suck her lobe into my mouth.
"No," she breathes instead.
My lips skim down to her chest, and as I undo the buttons to her man's shirt, her breaths grow shallow, yet she does not stop me. When I wrap my mouth around her small, round breast, she moans. I groan and swirl my tongue around her peak. She fists my hair all the tighter as I kiss my way to the other.
"So soft and sweet. You are now compromised, Isabella. Say yes."
"No," she chuckles.
With a groan of frustration, I return to her lips, parting them with my tongue. When she gasps in shock, I enter her mouth. She is confused at first, but then her tongue moves slowly with mine. All the while, our bodies fit together like two pieces of the same puzzle.
"Please," I plead. "Say you shall be my wife. Feel how much I need you," I say, pressing myself against her.
"Edward…this has nothing to do with your need for me. And my father shall kill you."
"He shall not."
"Then he shall kill me for marrying a Patriot."
I chuckle in her ear. "He shall be furious, yes, but there shall be no murder. In turn," I pull back and meet her dark gaze, "I promise I shall do my best throughout the coming war to ensure your father's safety."
She lifts a brow. "If I do not speak of what I heard in the tavern."
She smirks. "I am not convinced that these are the best of reasons to commit to marriage. You do so to prevent me from speaking of what I saw and heard. I do so to prevent your friends from feeding me to wolves and to obtain your word that you shall try to ensure my father's safety."
I circle her swollen lips with my finger. "Can you truly say those are the only reasons, Isabella? Can you say you do not want me?"
"Setting aside want, we would be marrying for miserable reasons."
"We would not," I grin. "I have heard of many unions based on worse reasons."
"Such as…" I chuckle. "I cannot think of any at the present."
"What of love, Edward?" she breathes. "I thought love, especially here where we are so free," she says drolly, "was to be the main reason for marriage. I do not love you, and you cannot claim to love me."
"You cannot claim to feel nothing, as evidenced by your reactions to me." Again, I kiss her softly, then pull back, watching her heavy breaths and the dazed look which plays across her face. "I arouse you."
She grins impishly, eyes half-lidded. "Arousal is not love."
I slide my hands through her hair and hold her firmly within my palms. "Isabella, I want you more than anything. No, arousal and want are not love, but…you arouse more than my body. You arouse my mind, and I cannot imagine that ever changing."
Still, she shakes her head, something like sadness now darkening her features. "But you do not want me more than anything. You are a son of liberty first and foremost. Would you give that up for me?"
I swallow thickly and brush my lips against hers.
"That is not a response," she whispers against my mouth.
"We do not need all the answers at this moment."
She sighs and pushes me away. "Edward, I am a Loyalist. You are a Patriot. I do not foresee those positions changing with this revolution."
I exhale heavily. "Perhaps I should leave you to the wolves then."
She eyes me, then shoves me hard, and I chuckle.
I pull her against my chest, and she does not fight. "Isabella, this land was colonized as a place where all – Quakers, Catholics, Scots, English, all could coexist. Why cannot a Tory and a Whig?"
"Those others did not have to share a bed."
I am almost distracted by that statement. For if I manage to get her to agree, then this very eve, Isabella shall share my bed! Her warm body shall be wrapped around me once again, except this time, 'twill be unclothed. She is passionate; of that there is no doubt. She shall cry out my name to the heavens as I have been told women in the throes of pleasure do. She shall allow me to-"
She shall allow me to…love her.
Yes, as insane as it is…I love her.
She claims she does not love me, but I am not convinced.
I meet her eyes. "Let us make ourselves one vow: regardless of what comes, regardless of this revolution and for which side we cheer, let us not keep things from one another."
I cradle her face. "We shall figure it out, but…I believe if we are honest with one another, our union shall succeed."
She searches my eyes, and I do something I would have never believed myself to do: I open myself to this Tory woman who should be my enemy, yet whom has become the most important being in my world. I allow her to see all of me.
We have…issues, yes, yet as I hold her gaze, all I see within her eyes…is my future.
What our nation will resemble in twenty years, I know not. But this, I know: I shall traverse it with her by my side.
"Very well, Edward."
"Yes." She grins somewhat shakily. "I shall marry you."
With an overjoyed grin of my own, I wrap her within my arms and brush my lips against hers. There is an uprising upon us, yes, but the one I did not even realize raged within me…has been won.