Thérèse Bondurant trusted her parents to provide for her and her young half-sister, though they never wed due to laws against mixed-race marriage. But when both die of a fever, Thérèse learns her only inheritance is debt—and her father’s promise that somewhere on his plantation lies a buried treasure. To save her own life—as well as that of her sister—she’ll need to find it before her white cousins take possession of the land.
British officer Henry Farlow, dazed from a wound received in battle outside New Orleans, stumbles onto Thérèse’s property out of necessity. But he stays because he’s become captivated by her intelligence and beauty. It’s thanks to Thérèse’s tender care that he regains his strength just in time to fend off her cousin, inadvertently killing the would-be rapist in the process.
Though he risks being labeled a deserter, it’s much more than a sense of duty that compels Henry to see the sisters to safety—far away from the scene of the crime. And Thérèse realizes she has come to rely on Henry for so much more than protection. On their journey to freedom in England, they must navigate a territory that’s just as foreign to them both—love.
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Until the moment her half sister’s shovel struck solid wood instead of soft, heavy mud, Thérèse hadn’t wholly believed her father’s story about the treasure. Oh, she’d risked everything for it, sneaking out of the city and running toward the armies when any person of sense would’ve run away, but it had been more gamble than faith. Maybe she was more her father’s daughter than she’d thought.
So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that she hadn’t heard the wounded redcoat until he’d staggered to within a few yards of them.
She didn’t want to shoot him. She’d never fired her pistol at anything more than a paper target, though Father had trained her to have a good eye and a steady hand. This poor man was already wounded. The quantity of blood staining his left side a darker red than his coat was enough to turn her stomach. And he hadn’t come here seeking to harm them. He was a stranger. He knew nothing of their business. But now he was here, and he’d seen their treasure—her dowry, her sister’s freedom. How could she let him live?
“Go on,” Jeannette said. “Kill him.”
She spoke Creole, and the Englishman frowned, more baffled than afraid. Then his eyes widened. Thérèse couldn’t help noticing those eyes, such a startling light blue. “No.” He swallowed, and that pale gaze wavered between her pistol and her face. “Please,” he continued in good clear French. “I won’t hurt you.” He lifted his hands yet farther away from his weapons. “If you’ll help me to the road, there—” he pointed his chin toward the river, “—I’m sure someone will come along who can take me back to my army. Or your army. It doesn’t matter which. Please help me.”
It wasn’t his fault he was here. If she bought her independence and her sister’s freedom on his life’s blood, the guilt would haunt her for the rest of her days. She lowered the pistol.
“Thérèse!” Jeannette hissed. “He’s seen.”
“I don’t want your treasure,” he said.
Jeannette tossed her head. “All men want treasure,” she said, smoothly switching from Creole to French. Really, the girl was far too cynical for a child of thirteen, but Thérèse couldn’t say she was wrong.
“If I can live and go home to my family, that’s treasure enough for me.”
He spoke simply, and for all that he was a stranger and she had no reason to trust him, Thérèse believed him. He probably had
money of his own. She knew enough of military uniforms from watching Gratien Roche drill with the militia of the gens de couleur libres, the free men of color, to guess that this redcoat must be an officer. He carried a sword, and though his uniform coat had clearly seen years of wear, it seemed too well tailored and elaborately trimmed to be something issued to a common soldier. Officers were usually gentlemen, even more so in aristocratic England than democratic America. This treasure that was everything to her might be a trifle to him, not worth putting the theft on his conscience.
But what was he doing so far from the battlefield? She and Jeannette had heard it that morning, booming artillery and the sharp crack of rifles and muskets. For all that it sounded terrifyingly close, Jeannette had sworn the plantation where the American army had made its fortifications was nearly two miles away. “You’re far from your army,” Thérèse commented in French, keeping her voice neutral.
He blinked, pain and confusion written on his face. “I got lost.”
What if he was lying? What if he wasn’t a proper wounded officer, but a deserter looking to rape and plunder? Maybe he’d gotten those wounds from someone he’d attempted to rob, not from an American bullet. Maybe he wasn’t as badly hurt as he seemed, and she needed to shoot him before he attacked them.
But then why would he be going about in full bright red uniform, marked as an enemy to anyone who saw him? Being hurt or sick could certainly confuse someone enough to get them lost. She remembered how Fontaine, who lived next door to her mother, had acted just after he’d taken that blow to the head fighting with Bosque, and how badly Father’s wits had wandered in the last days of his illness. He’d been so sure it would be easy to locate this treasure, saying again and again, Capucine helped me bury it, and never mind that Capucine had been dead two years!
She sighed. It was useless to repine over Father’s failings, especially when he hadn’t been lying about the jewels after all. He had left something to his daughters, though how she was to dispose of anything as rare and spectacular as these emeralds without his erstwhile employers, the Lafittes, learning of their existence, she couldn’t begin to guess.
But she could help this man. He was lost, he was injured, and though he might be her nation’s enemy, away from the battlefield the accidents of birth that had made him English and her American were nothing to kill over. “We’ll take him to the house,” she told Jeannette. “There’s still some furniture there.”