A Traitorous Heart
Publication Date: June 2013
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He lost his new wife in a brutal attack six months ago during one of the first battle surges by Le Grande Armée. Left with an injury to remind him of that time he reluctantly takes up his mantle as a Peer of the Realm and uses his skills with numbers and letters to help the War Office as a code specialist.
Nothing could surprise him more than walking into a government safe house to question a suspected traitor and find his supposedly dead wife lying injured with no memory of their time together. Is she a traitor? Where has she been all this time? And is their love strong enough to survive or will the truth tear them apart forever?
“Good evening, my lord,” Lieutenant Harding greeted Derek as he arrived at
the safe house well past midnight.
“Lieutenant,” Derek nodded curtly. Harding held Goliath while Derek
lowered himself to the ground. Derek untied the cane and removed the two
pistols. “The prisoner?”
“Upstairs, my lord. She’s a right fetchin’ lass.” Derek nodded and paused
giving Harding a look that had the man looking sheepish. “Pardon me, my
lord.” Derek prominently limped as he moved toward the stairs, leaning heavily on
his cane. His leg was beginning to throb and become thoroughly uncomfortable. He
silently reprimanded himself for not taking a carriage.
“Has the physician arrived yet?”
“No, my lord.”
“Show him up as soon as he arrives.”
“Yes, my lord.” Derek climbed the short entrance stairs and saw the guards
standing at the far end of the hall. He gave a short nod before entering the chamber
where the prisoner was held. The guard opened the door for him and closed it firmly
after he entered. There was a slight figure lying on the bed in the shadows. The fire
burned cheerfully in the grate belying the seriousness of the situation. Derek stopped
in front of the fire and removed his coat, waistcoat, and cravat. He knew from
experience it would be a long evening and decided to get as comfortable as
possible. He wished for a draught for his leg, but needed all his wits for questioning
Derek lit a candle from the fire. The glow showed the cracks in the ceiling
and the stained walls. If this were not more of a prison, it would be a slum. He
moved towards the bed and noticed the prisoner was dressed as if she resided
here. She looked more like a street urchin than a woman with traitor’s secrets.
Her feet and good arm were manacled to the thick bedposts by long
chains. Her other arm lay at a slightly odd angle from the shoulder, and her skin
looked pasty and was beaded with sweat. Her auburn curls caressed her sunken
cheeks. She looked to be in desperate need of food. A light blanket covered her, but
her teeth were still chattering. He attributed the action to shock.
Derek lowered the candle to get a look at the woman’s face. There was
something familiar about her. He studied her more intently, trying to see past the
grime that covered her. His heart picked up an unsteady rhythm. His hands shook and he tried to calm himself, placing the candle on the side table with a thud before he
dropped it and caught the whole bloody house on fire.
She turned her eyes away from the candlelight, and a moan escaped her
lips. Her hair was matted at the base of her skull and when he lightly touched the area
there was a huge lump and his fingers came away covered in her blood.
He took out his handkerchief and wiped at the red staining his hand, unable to
remove it completely. He lectured himself about look-a-likes and imposters. She
could not have survived. No one had survived. He had been assured over and
over. Derek grasped her pointed little chin in his hand and turned her face towards
him once more. She cried out at the movement. He focused on the freckles scattered
across her upturned nose and the lush bow shape of her lips. Her brow was furrowed
in pain, and her eyes squeezed tightly shut.
There was a small crescent-shaped scar under her right eye that she had
received as a child. Auburn hair, a crescent scar, and that familiar spattering of
freckles – it could not be, yet the evidence said otherwise. He fell heavily onto the
ladder-back chair that sat next to the bed. His heart thundered until he thought it
would leave the confines of his chest at any moment. He grasped the hand of her
uninjured right arm, not noticing the blood that covered it. He chaffed it gently
between his own.
“Open your eyes,” he commanded.
* * *
She heard the commanding voice and moaned as the pain filtered into her
unconsciousness. She heard the command again. I’m trying, she thought. She fought
her way out of the darkness to hear the voice she thought was forever lost to her. The
pounding in her head was so great it almost caused her to give up. She tried to move
her hands to her head, hoping to ease the pain. One was stuck and she cried out at the
pain that radiated from her right shoulder. Oh please, just let me die, she thought as
the throbbing intensified. No, she would not give into death, not when so many others
had been taken from her.
The voice called to her again. Perhaps he was her angel, come to take her to
heaven. She had always thought it would be her mum to do that, but as long as she
was with him again, she didn’t care. Her eyes fluttered open, but the light from the
fire and small candle on the bedside table were too much for her to bear, so she
quickly closed them again. She was almost certain she was going to be sick.
“No, open your eyes now,” the voice demanded again. Sometimes he could be
so high-handed. Nevertheless, she obeyed this one final time and opened her
eyes. She knew either he would not really be there or she was dead. She had dreamed of him so many times and woken up certain he would be with her, but there had been
no one. So, she decided, she must be dead, but she hurt too badly.
Derek watched intently as her emerald eyes shown brightly from behind
fluttering lids. They had a fevered look to them. Her face was so dear to him. He
brought her manacled hand up to his lips and brushed a kiss over the knuckles covered
in dry blood.
“Contessa,” he whispered softly.
“I must be in Heaven,” she said hoarsely, “but it feels like Hell.” And with
those words uttered, the ragamuffin prisoner smiled at her jailer and then let the
darkness carry her away once more.
Derek stared dumbfounded at the limp hand that he held in his. In his earlier
inspection he had missed the signet ring that encircled her ring finger. He gently
caressed it. She looked malnourished. What had happened to her in these last six
months? How could Gabe think that she was a traitor? What possible causes did he
have to even consider it?
He stood painfully and leaned over her letting his lips lightly caress
hers. Derek stood watching her and raked his hands through his golden brown hair
giving it a decidedly rakish appearance. He paced the room like a caged animal
forgetting about his throbbing leg. The Earl of Blackburn alternated between
thanking God that He had seen fit to bring her back to him, and cursing the
circumstances all in the same breath. He limped to the door and jerked it open. The
guard jumped to attention.
“Have you heard from the physician yet?”
“Yes, my lord. He sent the lad back with word ten minutes ago. He will be at
least another half hour.”
“Damn,” he paused and rested his head against the hand tightly gripping the
door. “Send the lad for Lord Hawkescliffe. Tell him it is an emergency,” Derek
barked the order. “Give me the keys to the manacles,” he held out his hand and his
tone brooked no argument. The guard handed over the keys reluctantly and Derek
slammed the door in his face. He knew the man was only doing his job, but he had to
take his frustration out on someone.
He limped back over to the bed and released the prisoner from her
restraints. The chains dropped to the floor with a loud metallic clank. He sat and
stared at her, his thoughts chasing each other. How could it be? Everyone was
supposed to have perished, except the handful that had been severely
wounded. Nearly an entire village had been wiped out. There was a disturbance
outside the door before it flew open. “All right Blackburn, what was so damned important that it could not wait
until morning?” Hawkescliffe demanded as he strode into the room. Derek was at a
loss as to how much time had passed while he watched her and thought. The doctor
had not arrived yet, so surely not much time had passed. Derek shushed Hawkescliffe
when the woman winced. “Did you just ‘shush’ me?” he asked incredulously.
“As my friend, shut the hell up,” Derek whispered. “Follow me,” he led Gabe
to the fireplace.
“Well, what is it? What is so important that I had to leave my conference with
the Prime Minister?”
“This woman is not a traitor,” Derek spoke with conviction.
“What makes you so certain? Tell me you have not let an attractive woman
turn your head. You are a better man than that. This woman was found with
incriminating evidence on her person. Of course she is a traitor.”
“I swear to you she’s not.”
“Have you questioned her? Did she give you reason to believe that she isn’t?”
“No, I have not had the opportunity to question her.”
“Then give me one good reason why she is not, and,” he cut him off before he
spoke, “I assure you it had better be one bloody good reason.”
“Because she’s my wife, dammit!”
About Tammy Jo Burns
From a young age I could always be found carrying around books to read while watching my grandmother's soap operas with her. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on and even made up skits and stories for my friends and me to act out. Once I outgrew the children's and YA books, my mom introduced me to an entirely new world - contemporary romance. Upon discovering I had a love for history I began devouring historical romances. One day, sitting in a college British History class, something the professor said made me think, I wonder. I quickly called mom (also a writer) and ran the idea by her. After being told, "Of course you can do it, you're my daughter," the rest, as they say, is history. I currently share my love of reading with the next generation as a high school librarian, and share my personal life with my demanding dog trapped in a cat's body, Ajax.