More RWA musings... and an excerpt from Untamed

    Debbie H and I share a photo opportunity at the RWA literacy signing.

    Did I say it's hard coming back the real world? That's a bloody understatement! It's close to intolerable! One minute you're hanging with your author friends — some of the best friends you'll have in your life — and the next you're back at work where no one knows what a RITA is or even cares. That's life I guess.

    But I don't have to like it.

    I met a lot of great people this year. As Emma Holly said on the RBL Board, so much happened at RWA that it will take time to remember it all. Well said, Emma. But here's a quick list of some things I might have left out or glossed over...

    Debbie H.— She drove three hours from Oklahoma City with her friend Amie to be at RWA on Wednesday night, the night of the humongous literary signing. She walked up to me as I was sitting at my table, and I was thrilled at last to be able to put a face with the name. Debbie has been such a support these past months. She has a real mothering side to her, which has been very soothing at times. God knows, writing Unlawful Contact wasn't easy, and if it hadn't been for my online romance friends, I don't know what I would have done.

    Renee Bernard— Yo, Renee! You freakin' crack me up! I met Renee at the bar in the Adam's Mark where I was drinking with Bonnie Vanak after the Daphne ceremony on Thursday night, and fell in love. Instant click. We discovered by providence — what else could it be? — that we hate the exact same book! It's not published recently, but it's by a HUGE author — and we both hate it. She mentioned hating a book and said a few small things about it, but not enough to give it away. I was pretty tipsy, and found myself telling her about a book by author X that I hated for these 10 reasons. And it was the same book. My only regret was that we got to the bar only about a half an hour before last call.

    Renee, you and Bonnie and I need to hit another bar and soon!

    Kristie J. — Kristie flew in from Canada. I first met her via email after she read Ride the Fire and fell in love with my Nicholas. You can Google Ride the Fire, and you'll find her name everywhere. I found her to be sweet and very sincere, and I enjoyed exchanging emails with her. She's been through some very hard times, and it was such a pleasure to be able to deliver a real, human hug to her in person.

    Catherine Spangler — Cathy and I wrote for Dorchester together for a time. Now we're writing for Berkley together. The last time I saw her was in Dallas in 2003, so it was fun to spend some time with ther. I was in the middle of reading her book, Touched by Darkness when some scumbag stole it, together with the Nora Roberts autograph I had tucked inside. Can you say pissed? Sure you can.

    If you see a book that looks like this, it's mine!

    Then, of course, I was thrilled to meet the lovely Emma Holly in person. A very smart, classy and sophisticated woman. Yes, you may rightly ask yourself, "Why was she hanging out with Pamela?" (Renee is asking that question.) I don't know. I'm just lucky, I guess.

    From left to right: Emma Holly, Amie, Gennita Low, me and Debbie H. after nearly starving to death outside this restaurant. If they'd have offered us dog food, I might have taken it. The others were ready to rob the place of chicken. Fortunately all were fed.

    I met some very Smart Bitches and Sybil, too. A thrill for me!

    For now it's time to return to the real world and to turn my mind to... Upstate New York.

    The year is 1759, and it's springtime...

    Major Morgan MacKinnon has just left the family farm where his brother Iain, released from His Majesty's service, is starting life anew with his beautiful wife Annie and his new son Iain Cameron. Leading MacKinnon's Rangers, Morgan makes his way north to the Ticonderoga Penninsula where summer last so many good men died, their blood staining the soil red. Thanks to Iain's leadership and the support of Captain Joseph's Muheconneok warriors, the three MacKinnon brothers survived the slaughter, along with most of their men. The Rangers' mission this time is simple: Observe the strength of the enemy and harry them at every turn.

    But more lies in wait for Morgan and his men than he can know. And this time, the Rangers will lose their dearest blood...

    For this war is brutal and the men who fight it are utterly Untamed...

    Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga)
    New France
    July 8, 1758

    Amalie Chauvenet straightened the gold braid on her father’s gray uniform, trying to hide her fear. “I will be fine, Papa. You’ve no need to trouble yourself on my behalf.”

    In the distance she could hear the dull thud of marching feet and the scrape of metal against metal as thousands of British soldiers surrounded the fort’s landward side and prepared to attack. Certain les Anglaise would capture the fort in a matter of hours, her father had come to escort her to the little chapel where he felt she’d be safest.

    “If the fort should fall, stay close to Père François.” Papa’s dear face was lined with worry. “I will come to you if I can. If aught should befall me, Père François will take you to Montcalm or de Bourlamaque. They will keep you safe.”

    “Nothing will happen to you, Papa!” Her words sounded childish even to her own ears—a measure of her fear for him.

    It had become the custom in this accursed war for both sides to shoot officers first in hopes of leaving the enemy leaderless and confused. But Amalie could not abide the thought of her father in harm’s way, a mere target in some British soldier’s sights.

    Papa lifted her chin, forced her to meet his gaze. “Listen to me! You are an officer’s daughter, Amalie, but in the rush of victory, even disciplined soldiers are wont to rape and pillage. Do not allow yourself to be found alone!”

    She heard her father’s words—and understood the unspoken message beneath them. She was an officer’s daughter, but she was also Métis, her blood a mix of French and Abenaki. Though most French accepted her, the British were not so kind. In their eyes, a woman of mixed blood was little better than a dog—or so she’d been told. If the fort should fall, her standing as a captain’s daughter likely would not keep her safe without a high-ranking officer’s protection.

    Oui, Papa.” Dread spread like ice through her belly. “Is there no chance that we will prevail?”

    “The British General Abercrombie commands a force of at least fifteen thousand, easily double our number—and MacKinnon’s Rangers are with him.”

    Amalie’s dread grew. Everyone knew of MacKinnon’s Rangers. There were no fiercer fighters, no warriors more feared or reviled throughout New France than this band of barbaric Scotsmen. Unmatched at woodcraft and shooting marks, they had once crossed leagues of untamed forest in the dead of winter to destroy her grandmother’s village, ruthlessly killing most of the men, burning the lodges and leaving the women and children to starve. The French had put a bounty on the MacKinnon brothers’ scalps—but the Abenaki wanted them alive so they could exact vengeance in blood and pain.

    Some among her mother’s people said MacKinnon’s Rangers could fly. Others claimed to have seen them take the forms of wolves or bears. Still others claimed they feasted upon the flesh of their dead. The stories about them were so incredible that some believed these MacKinnon men weren’t men at all, but powerful chi bai—spirits.

    But there were other rumors, stories of Rangers sparing women and children, tales of priests and nuns whom they’d shielded from British regulars with their own bodies, accounts of mercy shown French soldiers and enemy Indians alike.

    But which stories were true?

    Amalie did not wish to find out.

    “Why did you not stay at the convent?” Her father’s brow folded into a frown. “At least there you would be safe.”

    She smoothed a stray curl on his gray wig. “I came because you needed me, Papa.”

    She’d journeyed all the way from Trois Rivières in April to care for him when he’d fallen ill with fever. He was her only true family. Though she had cousins and aunts among the Abenaki, she barely knew them. Her mother had died in childbed when Amalie was not yet two, and her father had parted ways with his wife’s kin, preferring to shelter his only child among the Ursulines than in the wild. And although Amalie was grateful for the care she’d received at the abbey, she had long chaffed at the strict rules and rigid routine that shaped convent life, longing to see the world beyond the abbey’s protective—and often stifling—walls.

    “Beware of seeking adventure,” the Abbesse had warned her when Amalie had announced she was leaving. “You might not be prepared when it finds you.”

    Amalie’d had no idea what the Abbesse had meant—until yesterday when a flotilla of British boats had landed to the south disgorging countless soldiers dressed in blood-red. Now battle was imminent, and only God knew what the next hours would bring.

    Yet, despite the peril, she did not regret her decision to come to the frontier. She’d never spent more than a few weeks at a time with her father, and the months she’d lived by his side were among the happiest and most exciting she could remember. She’d found joy in nursing him back to health, in cooking and cleaning for him, in mending his uniform, heating his bath and filling his pipe, as any devoted daughter would do.

    But there was more.

    They’d laughed together, read Voltaire and Rousseau, discussed the latest ideas of the day, notions about society and liberty she’d not encountered at the abbey. Her father had let her speak her mind, even encouraged her to do so, never chastising her for asking questions as the Abbesse had so often done. She’d come to know him as a father, to admire him as a man, to respect him as an officer. She’d come to love him.

    She could not bear to lose him.

    She pressed her palm to his cheek. “If the strength of our army should fail, it will not be long before the British reach Trois Rivières and Montréal. Then abbey walls will make little difference. I would not trade these months with you for something so small as safety.”

    His gaze softened. “Ah, my sweet Amalie, I do need you. You have brought such sunshine to my life. If I had but considered it, I would have taken you from the abbey long ago. But if the breastworks cannot withstand Abercrombie’s artillery… ”

    His voice trailed off. Then he smiled and drew her close, surrounding her with his reassuring strength and his familiar scent—pipe smoke, starched linen, and spicy cologne. “It is in God’s hands, ma petite chou.”

    My little cabbage.

    And so Amalie went to await the outcome of the battle in the chapel, swallowing her tears and forcing herself to smile when her father took his leave of her and returned to his duties at the walls.

    “Be safe, Papa,” she whispered as he walked away, so smart in his gray uniform.

    She knelt down with her rosary beside Père François and had just begun to pray when the battle exploded. Like thunder it seemed to shake the very ground, the din of cannon, musket fire and men’s shouts almost deafening. She’d never been near a battlefield before, and her hands trembled as she worked her way through each bead, fighting to remember the words, her thoughts on Papa—and what might happen to all of them should the fort fall.

    The soldiers would be imprisoned. Her father and the other officers would be interrogated and traded for British captives.

    And the women…

    In the rush of victory, even disciplined soldiers are wont to rape and pillage.

    “Notre Père, qui es aux cieu …” Our Father, who art in heaven…

    She hadn’t been kneeling long when Père François was summoned to the hospital to comfort the wounded and anoint the dying. Impatient to help and mindful of her father’s warning, Amalie, who’d tended sick and injured women at the convent, asked to come with him.

    “Are you certain, Amalie?” Père François looked down at her, doubt clouding his green eyes. “This is war. It will be gruesome.”

    She nodded, braiding her long hair and binding the plait into a thick knot at her nape. “Oui, Father, I am certain. I have seen death before.”

    But she’d never seen anything like what awaited them at the hospital.

    The dead were so numerous that there was no room for them inside. Their bodies lay without dignity in the hot sunshine, moved hastily aside to make way for those still living. The wounded lay on beds, on the floor, against the walls. They muttered snatches of prayer, groaned through gritted teeth, cried out in agony, waiting for someone to ease their suffering. The surgeon and his men worked as swiftly as they could, but there were so many. And everywhere, there was blood, the air thick with the stench of gunpowder and death.

    Surely, this was Hell.

    Amalie thrust aside her emotions, donned an apron and set to work, doing what the surgeon asked of her. Outside, the battle seemed to come in waves, building until she feared the very sky should fall, then fading to silence, only to begin anew.

    A soldier clutched at her skirts with bloody fingers. She took his hand, sat beside him, and knew the moment she saw the wound in his chest that he would perish. If only she could give him laudanum, ease the pain of his passing, but there was not enough. She’d been told to save it for those who at least stood a chance of survival.
    He seemed about to speak, struggled for breath.

    And then he was gone.

    About her age, he’d died before she could utter a word of comfort, before Père François could offer him Last Rites, before the surgeon could tend him. She swallowed the hard lump in her throat, muttered a prayer, then drew soldier’s eyes closed.

    Another blast of cannon shook the walls of the little log hospital, making Amalie gasp.

    “Those are French guns, mademoiselle.” The soldier in the next bed spoke, his voice tight with pain. “Do not be afraid. As long as they fire, we know the breastworks stand.”

    Ashamed of her fear, Amalie covered the dead soldier with a blanket, a signal to the surgeon’s attendants to remove his body. How could she, who was safe behind the fort’s walls, allow herself to cower at the mere sound of war when all around her lay men who had braved the full violence of the battlefield?

    “It is I who should be offering you comfort, monsieur.” She moved to sit beside him and checked beneath the blood-stained bandage on his right arm. The musket ball had passed through, but it had broken bone. “Are you thirsty?”

    “You are the daughter of Capitaine Chauvenet, are you not?”


    “You are just as beautiful as the men say.” He smiled, his skin pallid. “I hope you take no offense at my boldness, but I have never seen such long hair.”

    Though she’d been at Fort Carillon for more than three months, she still hadn’t grown accustomed to the attentions of men. Uncertain how to respond, she reached for her plait, which had somehow slipped free of its knot, its thick end touching the floor when she sat. Quickly, she bound it up again, lest it trail through the blood that was tracked across the floorboards.
    Then she pulled the water bucket close, drew out the ladle, and lifted it to the soldier’s lips.


    The wounded soldier had just taken his first swallow, when there came a commotion at the door and Montcalm’s young aide-de-camp, Capitaine de Bougainville, was brought inside, bleeding from what looked to be a minor wound.

    “How goes the battle?” someone called.

    An expectant hush fell over the room.

    De Bougainville sat with a grimace, his white wig slightly askew. “We are prevailing.”

    Murmurs of astonishment and relief passed through the crowded hospital like a breeze, and Amalie met the injured soldier’s gaze, her own surprise reflected in his eyes.

    “For whatever reason, Abercrombie hasn’t brought up his artillery.” De Bougainville gritted his teeth as a soldier helped him out of his jacket. “We are cutting down the enemy as swiftly as they appear, and their losses are grievous. Four times we have repulsed them. None have even passed the abatis to reach our breastworks.”

    “Abercrombie is a fool!” one of the soldiers exclaimed to harsh laughter.

    But de Bougainville did not smile. “That may well be—and thank God for it!—but his marksmen are laying down a most murderous fire upon us from the cover of the trees. We have pounded them with cannon, but we cannot root them out.”

    “MacKinnon and his men?”

    Oui. Their Mahican allies are beside them.” De Bougainville wiped sweat and gunpowder from his brow with a linen handkerchief. “The lot of them shift from tree to tree like ghosts and will not relent.”

    “And they call themselves Catholic!” The soldier who’d spoken spat on the floor.

    But de Bougainville held up his hand for silence. “Listen! They are retreating again.”

    The sound of shooting died away, replaced first by the distant beating of drums and then by an oppressive, sullen stillness.

    So many times now the battle had ceased, only to begin again. Amalie dared not hope, and yet…

    Barely able to breath, she bent her mind back to her work. Whether the battle was over or not, these men needed her help. She bound the soldier’s wound in fresh linen, gave him laudanum, prayed with him, then moved to the next bed and the next. She’d gone to the back room to fetch more linen strips for bandages when she heard the drums beat afresh.

    Her stomach sank, and her step faltered.

    “Curse them!” a soldier shouted. “Do they not know when to withdraw?”

    There came a roar of cannon, and again the battle raged.

    More dead. More wounded.

    But not Papa. Not Papa.

    Holding onto that hope, Amalie went where she was needed. She carried water to the injured men who lay on the bare earth outside, cleaned and bandaged their lesser wounds, offered what solace she could. She did not notice the sweat trickling between her breasts or the rumbling of her empty stomach or her own thirst.

    Then the cadence of the British drums changed again, and once more the battle fell silent. And then—was she imagining it?—cheers. The sound swelled, grew stronger, and all heads turned toward the northwest, where soldiers stood upon the walls, their muskets raised overhead, their gazes on the breastworks and the battlefield beyond.

    A soldier ran toward them, his face split by a wide smile. “They are retreating! The British are fleeing! The day is won!”

    Relief swept through Amalie, leaving her dizzy. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, felt a gentle squeeze from the soldier who’s hand she was holding.

    “C’est fini, mademoiselle!” he said, a smile on his bruised face. It’s over.

    Amalie opened her eyes, smiled back. “Oui, c’est fini.”

    But even as she said it, she knew it wasn’t true. For the men who lay here and those inside, the fight was far from over, life and death still hanging in the balance. She threw herself into their care with renewed strength, refreshed by the knowledge that no more need die today and grateful beyond words that her father did not lie among the injured or the slain.

    But if she’d expected the end of the battle to stem the tide of wounded and dead, she’d been mistaken. Carried on litters or hobbling, they arrived by the dozens, some scarcely scathed, some terribly wounded, some already beyond all but God’s help. Most had been hit by musket fire, holes torn into their flesh by cruel lead. Others had been pierced by wooden splinters or burned by powder.

    “Be thankful they never had the chance to use their bayonets or their artillery,” said a young soldier when she gasped at the terrible wound in his shoulder. “Have you ever seen a man with his entrails—”

    “That is quite enough, sergeant.”

    Amalie recognized Lieutenant Rillieux’s voice and glanced back to find him standing behind her, his tricorne in his hand, his face smeared with gunpowder, sweat and blood. One of her father’s officers and a tall man, he towered over her where she knelt on the ground.

    He bowed stiffly.

    “I pray you are not wounded, monsieur.” She stood, wiping her fingers on her blood-stained apron.

    It was then she noticed the pity and sadness in his eyes.

    The breath left her lungs, and her heart began to pound, the sound of her pulse almost drowning out his words.

    “Mademoiselle, it is with great sorrow that I must report—”

    But she had already seen. “Non!”

    Two young officers approached the hospital, bearing her father on a litter.

    Heedless of soldiers’ stares or Lieutenant Rillieux’s attempt to stop her, she ran to him. But it was too late. Her father’s eyes were closed, his lips and skin white, his throat torn by a musket ball. She didn’t have to check his breathing to know he was dead.

    “Non, Papa! Non!” She cupped his cold cheek in her palm, then lay her head against his still and silent chest, pain seeming to split her breast, tears blurring her vision.

    Over the sound of her own sobs, she heard Lieutenant Rillieux speak. “He was slain during the first assault. He toppled over the breastworks, and we could not reach him until the battle ended for fear of the Ranger’s rifles. You should know that he fought bravely and died instantly. We shall all mourn him.”

    And in the darkness of her grief it dawned on her.

    Everything her father had been, everything he’d known, everything they might have done together was gone. Her father was dead.

    She was alone.

    April 19, 1759
    New York frontier

    Morgan MacKinnon lay on his belly, looking down from the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain to the French fort at Ticonderoga below. He held up his brother Iain’s spying glass—nay, it was now his spying glass—and watched as French soldiers unloaded kegs of gunpowder from the hold of a small ship. Clearly, de Bourlamaque was preparing to defend the fort again.

    But if Morgan and his men succeeded in their mission tonight, that powder would never see the inside of a French musket.

    Conner stretched out beside him and spoke in a whisper. “I cannae look down upon this place wi’out thinkin’ of that bastard Abercrombie and the good men we lost.”

    Morgan lowered the spying glass and met his younger brother’s gaze. “Nor can I, but we didna come here to grieve.”

    “Nay.” Connor’s gaze hardened. “We’ve come for vengeance.”

    Last summer, they’d had no choice but to follow Abercrombie—or Nanny Crombie as the men had called him—to a terrible defeat. An arrogant bastard who paid no heed to the counsel of mere provincials, Abercrombie had ignored their warnings that Ticonderoga could not be taken without artillery. He didn’t believe that the hastily built abatis—the barrier of felled trees and branches that had been piled before the walls—could hinder trained British Regulars and had ordered his men against the French breastworks with naught but muskets. Soldiers had become ensnared like rabbits, cut down by French marksmen before they could reach the walls, victims of their own loyalty and Abercrombie’s overweening pride.

    On that terrible day, the Rangers, then under the command of Morgan’s older brother Iain, had taken position to the north together with Captain Joseph’s Muhheconneok warriors and had fired endlessly at the French marksmen, trying to dislodge them. But the French had turned cannon upon them and pounded them into the ground. So many had been lost—good men and true, men with families, men who’d fought beside them from the beginning.

    ’Twas here they’d lost Cam—and dozens more.

    Dead for naught.

    When Abercrombie had finally sounded the retreat and the smoke had cleared, the fort had stood just as it had before.
    Never had Morgan seen such senseless death—and at the age of seven-and-twenty he’d seen death enough to sicken a man’s soul. For nigh on four years, he and his brothers had lived and breathed war. Forced by that whoreson Wentworth to choose between fighting for Britain or being hanged, they’d taken up arms against the French and their Indian allies, harrying them with ambuscades, seizing their supplies, fighting them in forest and fen. They’d slain fellow Catholic and heathen alike, burying their own dead along the way.

    Morgan had never imagined that he, as a MacKinnon, would fight the French, traditional allies of all Scotsmen still faithful to Church and Crown. During the Forty-Five, the French had aided the Highland clans, including Morgan’s grandfather—Iain Og MacKinnon, laird of Clan MacKinnon—in their vain struggle to drive the German Protestant from the throne. Then, after the disastrous defeat at Culloden, the French had given refuge to many an exiled Scot, saving countless lives from the wrath of Cumberland. Even now France sheltered the rightful heir to the throne, bonnie Charles Stuart. Every true Scotsman owed the French a debt.

    Aye, it was a devil’s bargain that had spared Morgan and his brothers the gallows. Father Delavay, the French priest Iain had kidnapped last year when he’d had need of a priest to marry Annie, said the sin was not theirs but Lord Wentworth’s. And yet absolution stuck in Morgan’s throat, for it was not bloody Wentworth who pulled the trigger on his rifle, but he himself.

    If anything gave him peace, it was knowing that Iain was now out of the fray, settled on the MacKinnon farm with his wife, Annie, and little Iain, the firstborn of a new generation of MacKinnons. Wentworth had released Iain from service, not because he’d wished to spare Iain, but because he was besotted with Annie.

    Whatever the cause for Wentworth’s mercy, Morgan was grateful. He’d never have found the courage to face Annie had Iain been slain in battle—or worse, taken.

    Morgan saw something move in the dark forest below, heard the slow click of rifles being cocked around him, and felt a warm swell of pride. He rarely needed to give orders. Having fought side by side for so long, the Rangers thought and moved as one. There were no better fighters in the Colonies, no men better suited to the hardship of this war. ’Twas an honor to lead them, as Iain had done before him.

    Morgan closed the spying glass, raised his rifle, cocked it. But it was not French scouts who emerged from the green wall of forest, but Captain Joseph’s warriors, eighty men in black and white war paint moving swiftly and silently through the shadows. They’d been watching the Rangers’ west flank on the long march northward and had gone on to scout out the French sentries while Morgan and his men surveyed the fort from above.

    Morgan lowered his rifle and whispered to Joseph in Muhheconneok. “You thrash about like a herd of randy bull moose. We heard you coming from a league away. You might have been shot.”

    Joseph grinned. “There is more to fear in a bee’s sting than in your muskets. My old granny has better aim.”

    Bonded by blood to Morgan and his brothers, Joseph Aupauteunk was the son of a Muhheconneok chief and a fearsome warrior. He and his father had come to the MacKinnon farm, bringing gifts of dried corn and venison that had helped Morgan and his family survive their first bitter winter of exile in the colonies. Though Morgan’s mother—God rest her soul—had been terrified of Indians, a lasting friendship had grown between Morgan’s family and the Mahicans of Stockbridge. ’Twas Joseph and his uncles who’d taught Morgan and his brothers to track, to fight, to survive in the wild. As for what Joseph’s sisters had taught them, Morgan was too much of a gentleman to say—without a gill or two of whisky in his belly.

    Morgan switched to English so that those among his men who did not speak Muhheconneok could understand. “What does de Bourlemaque have waitin’ for us?”

    It was time to plan their strategy.

    # # #

    Amalie picked at her dinner, her appetite lost to talk of war. She did her best to listen politely, no matter how dismayed she felt at the thought of another British attack. Colonel le Chevalier de Bourlamaque was commander of a fort in the midst of conflict. It was right that he and his trusted officers should discuss the war as they dined. She did not wish to distract them with childish emotions, nor was she so selfish that she required diversion. And if, at times, she wished de Bourlamaque would ask to hear her thoughts…

    Her father was the only person who’d ever done that, and he was gone.

    And so Amalie passed the meal in silence much as she’d done at the abbey.

    “We must not let last summer’s victory lull us into becoming overconfident.” De Bourlamaque dabbed his lips with a white linen serviette. His blue uniform, with its decorations and the red sash, set him apart from his officers, who wore gray.

    “Amherst is not a fool like Abercrombie. He would never have attacked without artillery.”

    Lieutenant Fouchet looked doubtful. “Surely he will think twice before attempting to take us again. The British lost so many men!”

    Amalie had heard that British losses exceeded 1,500 men. She could not imagine so many deaths. In all, the French had lost three hundred, and that had seemed devastating. And yet, Amalie had overheard de Bourlamaque call those losses light.

    Lieutenant Durand took a sip of wine. “How can they dare to plan another attack after having been defeated so resoundingly?”

    “That resounding defeat is exactly why Amherst will attack.” De Bourlamaque fixed both Fouchet and Durand with a grave eye. “For the sake of British pride, he will try to capture the fort this summer.”

    Capitaine Rillieux leaned back in his chair, his face a wide grin. Alone of the younger officers, who favored their natural hair, he wore a powdered wig, the white a marked contrast to his olive skin and dark brows. “Let him do his worst.”
    Amalie stifled a gasp. How could he tempt fate in such a way when it meant the deaths of his own men? He’d do far better to pray for peace!

    But Capitaine Rillieux didn’t seem to realize he’d said something shocking. “We will drive Amherst back into the forest just as we did his predecessor. My men are ready.”

    “Were they ready when MacKinnon and his men attacked that last supply train?” De Bourlamaque raised an eyebrow in clear disapproval. “We lost a fortune in rifled muskets—not to mention several cases of my favorite wine. No matter how well you prepare, the Rangers seem to stay one step ahead of you.”

    Amalie’s belly knotted, as it did anytime she heard mention of MacKinnon’s Rangers. They seemed to be everywhere and nowhere, these men who had killed her father. Although her father had reassured her that there was no such thing as chi bai, she’d begun to wonder if her cousins were right. Perhaps the Rangers weren’t men after all.

    Capitaine Rillieux’s nostrils flared, and he bowed his head in apology. “My regrets once more for your loss, my lord. MacKinnon is a formidable adversary, but we will break him. Arrangements have been made. As I said, my men are ready.”

    But Amalie wasn’t ready. She hadn’t forgotten last summer’s battle and feared the prospect of renewed bloodshed. Her grief for her father was still keen, her dreams filled with musket fire and the cries of dying men.

    If only the accursed war would end! Life would be free to blossom again in New France. Sails would fill the harbors, bringing not soldiers but men and women who wanted to build homes here. The towns would bustle with hay wagons and apple carts. Farmers would return to their fields and orchards, trappers to their forest trails.

    And what will you do, Amalie? Where will you go when the war is won?

    De Bourlamaque, who was now her guardian, was of the mind that it was past time for her either to take vows and serve Christ or marry and serve a husband.

    “I would see you safely settled,” he often reminded her. “It is my duty to your father, whom I greatly admired, despite his politics.”

    But she had no desire to return to the dreary life of the convent. It seemed to her that she’d drawn her first real breath when, after sixteen years, she’d left its walls. There she’d felt listless, as if some part of her were trapped in slumber. Here at Fort
    Carillon, in her father’s company, she’d been truly happy. She’d felt alive.

    She supposed she ought to marry, and yet in her grief she had not the heart for it. De Bourlamaque assured her that a husband and children were the answer to her sorrow, and she knew he believed a swift marriage would be best for her. Still, she had hoped to make a love match like her parents. She wanted a husband who cherished her and whom she cherished in return, a man who valued her opinions more than her obedience, who would see her as more than a helpmeet and a mother for his children. She had yet to meet such a man.

    And so she had pleaded bereavement, feigning confusion over which path to take—that of a novice or that of a wife—and de Bourlamaque had relented.

    For now.

    Yet she knew her reprieve wouldn’t last. Neither Monsieur le Marquis de Montcalm nor de Bourlamaque wished her to remain at Fort Carillon any longer than was necessary, insisting that the frontier was no place for a woman without a husband. If it hadn’t been for MacKinnon’s Rangers, whose lurking presence made the forest around Fort Carillon perilous, de Bourlamaque would have sent her back her to Trois Rivières when Montcalm had traveled north to Montréal. But the destruction of several supply trains and the loss of almost thirty soldiers to the horrid Scotsmen had convinced him that she was safer for the moment staying at the fort.

    What will you do if the British prevail and the war is lost, Amalie?

    The thought sprang unwelcome to her mind, dousing her last spark of appetite.

    Everyone in New France remembered the fate of the poor Acadians.

    She set her silverware aside.

    “You haven’t eaten a bite, Amalie.” De Bourlamaque frowned. “Are you feeling ill?”

    Amalie had come to feel affection for de Bourlamaque, the sort of affection one might feel for a favorite uncle. She did not wish to seem spiteful. “I fear talk of another battle has ruined my appetite, monsieur. Forgive me.”

    “There is nothing to forgive.” He smiled indulgently. “We soldiers must do better to govern our tongues in your company.”

    Capitaine Rillieux took her hand, stroked his thumb over her knuckles. “You have nothing to fear, mademoiselle. There is not a soldier at Fort Carillon who would not fight to protect you. Is that not true, gentlemen?”

    “But of course!” Fouchet and Durand insisted.

    Amalie pulled her hand free, tucked it in her lap. “I am not afraid for myself, messieurs, but for the soldiers. More than four hundred have perished since I arrived last spring. I would hate to see more crosses planted in the earth.”

    Capitaine Rillieux chuckled. “Your concern is to be commended, Amalie, but they were soldiers. It was their honor and privilege to die for France.”

    Amalie felt heat rush into her face, and the words were out before she could stop them. “That does not mean France should be wasteful with their lives.”

    Capitaine Rillieux’s smile faded, his gaze boring through her. “And what can a young mademoiselle who was raised in a convent tell us about the complexities of war? Do go on, for I am most eager to hear.”

    She lifted her chin, was about to speak, when de Bourlamaque held up his hand.

    “Your point is well taken, mon cher Capitaine,” he said, “but let us speak of something else. In Paris, we would never be forgiven if we were to persist on so dismal a topic in the presence of ladies.”

    Capitaine Rillieux bowed his head again. “Ah, quite right, monsieur. I do apologize.”

    But Amalie did not miss the flush beneath his olive skin, nor the angry press of his lips.

    It was de Bourlamaque who spoke next. “Père François tells me the little medicinal garden you planted behind the chapel is thriving, Amalie.”

    And so they passed the remainder of the meal in polite but forced conversation, Amalie regretting her temper if not the words themselves. De Bourlamaque, Fouchet, and Durand spoke on topics they seemed to think might interest a woman—the uses of herbs, the new vestments Amalie had sewn for Père François, the weather—while Capitaine Rillieux looked uninterested.

    The last course had just been cleared away when she heard it.

    The sharp retort of musket fire.

    Then the front door flew open and a young sergeant dashed inside, a look of excitement on his face. He stopped when he saw de Bourlamaque and saluted smartly. “Monsieur le Colonel, it is MacKinnon’s Rangers! We have them!”

    # # #

    Morgan knew it was a trap the moment the first keg failed to explode.

    He’d waited until it was dark. Then with Connor and Joseph to guard the retreat, he’d crept along the riverbank with a small force of Rangers to fire upon the kegs and ignite them. But, though he knew for certain he’d hit his mark and the others theirs, not a single keg had gone up. Now the enemy were alerted to their presence, and with no explosions or fire to distract them, the French would come after the Rangers with their full strength.

    “Fall back!”

    Even as he shouted the command, the French opened fire—but not only from the walls. At least twenty infantrymen stood on the deck of the ship moored behind them, muskets aimed at the pier below. ’Twas like shooting ducks on a pond.
    Morgan and his men were trapped in a crossfire.

    “To the river!” He drew his pistol, felt a ball whiz past his cheek, crouched down to make himself a smaller target, peering through the darkness to account for his men.

    Killy. McHugh. Brendan. Forbes.

    All running back to the riverbank.

    Where was Dougie?

    Then the forest behind them erupted with musket fire as the combined forces of the Rangers and the Muhheconneok—almost two hundred men—returned fire. They staggered their fire, giving the enemy no chance to breathe, sowing panic among the French, particularly those on the ship who seemed to realize all at once that they were outside the fort walls—and vastly outnumbered.

    That’s the way, boys!

    Morgan took cover behind a battered hogshead, aimed his rifle at one of the soldiers on the ship, and fired, watching out of the corner of his eye as, one by one, his men reached the riverbank and dropped out of sight, Killy cursing all the way.
    “Bastard sons of whores!”

    But where was Dougie?

    And then he saw.

    Dougie lay on his back near the stack of kegs, reloading his rifle, a strip of white tied around his thigh. “Go on! Go!”

    But Morgan wasn’t about to leave without him. He’d led them into the trap. He would bloody well get them out.

    He glanced toward the riverbank, saw McHugh, Killy, Brendan and Forbes nose their rifles over the top of the bank and take aim, ready to cover him. He hurled his rifle and his tumpline pack to Killy and got ready to run.

    And then it came—the Muhheconneok war cry. It rose out of the forest, primal and raw, terrifying the French, turning their attention away from the pier and giving Morgan the chance he needed.

    Blood thrumming, he drew in a breath, dashed out from behind the hogshead and ran a jagged path toward Dougie, barely feeling the ball that burned a path across his forearm or the one that creased his hip.

    “A fine time to get shot this is!”

    But Dougie was ready for him, crouching on one knee, his injured leg stretched out behind him. “You’re daft!”

    Morgan dropped down, took Dougie onto his back, and forced himself to his feet. “Och, you’re heavy as an ox! And you stink!”

    His gaze fixed on the riverbank a hundred feet away, Morgan ran, Dougie’s added weight pounding through the straining muscles of his thighs to the soles of his moccasins, his heart slamming in his chest.

    “You run like a lass!” Dougie shouted in his ear. “Can you no’ go faster?”

    But Morgan didn’t have the breath to do more than curse. “Mac-dìolain!”


    Sixty feet. Fifty. Forty.

    A roar of cannon erupted behind him, the French firing their twelve-pounders at the forest just as they had last summer, trying to turn the shelter of the trees into a charnel pit. Jeers coming from the trees told him balls had fallen short of the mark—this time.

    Thirty feet. Twenty. Ten.

    Morgan sucked breath into his aching lungs, drove himself forward, hurling both of them over the edge. They tumbled, arse over elbow, down the embankment to the sand below. No sooner had they landed than McHugh and Forbes took Dougie between them and hurried him along the river toward the forest beyond.

    Young Brendan clasped Morgan’s forearm, helped him back to his feet, then hurried after McHugh and Forbes, already reloading.

    Killy held out Morgan’s rifle and his pack, a smile on his old Irish face. “You bloody daft Scot.”

    Another blast of cannon.

    Morgan slipped the tumpline over his head, grabbed his rifle and began to reload, shouting over the din. “Help McHugh and Forbes! I’ll cover our backs in case those bastards on the ship try to follow!”

    “Aye.” Killy turned and was gone.

    Morgan got into position, peeked over the edge of the riverbank, picked a target on the darkened deck of the ship and fired.

    Reloading quickly, he kept up a rapid fire, glancing over to watch his men’s progress until they disappeared among the trees. Then, feeling a rush of relief, he cast one last glance at the fort walls—and felt something strike him in the left shoulder.

    Instantly his left arm went numb, falling useless to his side. Something warm and wet trickled down his chest.


    He’d been shot.

    It was then the pain struck, forcing the breath from his lungs, driving him to his knees.

    He heard a shout of victory and looked up to see a French soldier high in the ship’s rigging, musket raised over his head.

    So this is how it ends.

    The thought ran through Morgan’s mind, detached from any fear.

    But no’ just yet.

    Unable to fire his heavy rifle with one hand, he dropped it to the sand, withdrew his pistol, aimed and fired, ending the soldier’s celebration. But several other soldiers had climbed into the rigging to see what their comrade’s cheering was about, and before Morgan could take cover, several fired.

    A ball ripped through his right thigh, the shock of it like fire and ice.

    And Morgan knew it was over.

    He fell onto his side, forced himself onto his belly, and tried to crawl for cover, gritting his teeth against the pain.


    He recognized Connor’s voice and saw his brother emerge from the forest at a run, Killy, Forbes, and McHugh behind him.

    “No, Connor! Stop!” From somewhere nearby Morgan heard the tromp of hundreds of boots and knew the gates of the fort had been thrown open. Were the French planning a counter attack? “I am lost already! Get the men out of here!”

    Even in the dark, he could see the anguish and horror on his brother’s face as Connor realized he would not be able reach him in time to keep him from the swarming French.

    His strength all but spent, Morgan met Connor’s tormented gaze, his chest swelling with regret, grief, love. So long they’d been together, the four of them—Morgan, Iain, Connor, Joseph. And now…

    Gathering all his breath, Morgan shouted. “Beannachd leat!”

    Blessings go with you, brother!

    And dinnae mourn me overlong. Tell little Iain—

    But he never finished the thought.

    The last thing he heard before darkness claimed him was Connor’s shattered cry.

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