Home > A Heart Adrift

A Heart Adrift
Author: Laura Frantz

 

Prologue


Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, men were deceivers ever;

One foot in sea, and one on shore, to one thing constant never.

Shakespeare

VIRGINIA COAST

APRIL 1745

With his back to the coastal wind, Henri Lennox settled his arms around Esmée Shaw, guiding her soft, pale hands with his tanned, callused fingers as they let the long silken line out. The pear-shaped kite caught on a gust, tugging at the string till it threatened to snap.

“Let it fly away from you bit by bit,” he told her.

She did so, her laugh a surprised trill as the kite climbed higher. “Shall I let out more line?”

“Slowly, aye. With the right technique, you can even make it dance.”

“What?”

“Just give a tug to the string now and again. Like this.” He showed her as they gazed upward, the kite zigzagging against the azure sky, its tail a scarlet streak as it soared and dipped.

Wonder laced her tone. “Where did you get such a winsome creation?”

“The East Indies. They’ve been kite-flying for centuries. We colonials are just coming awake. Our kite lacks but one thing.”

“Oh?” She tugged on the line and sent the kite dancing again.

He relaxed his hold on her hands, resting his jaw against her hatless head. She fit neatly beneath his chin, her back warm against his linen-clad chest, the wind riffling her carefully pinned hair like he longed to do with his fingers. He breathed in the telltale rose scent that seemed to imbue every ebony strand. “The kite lacks decoration. Our entwined initials should suit.”

“Henri . . . how romantic.” Her voice held a touch of teasing. “’Tis something I might fancy, not you.”

“You’ve no idea what keeps me awake long nights at sea.”

The afternoon sun sank behind them when it had been in their eyes minutes before. Had it not just been noon? At their feet was an empty basket, the remains of a piquenique. The cold meats, cheeses, and fruit had been devoured, even the little comfits molded in the shape of anchors from Shaw’s Chocolate shop. Esmée’s hat was atop the sand near her discarded shoes. Henri saw Admiral and Mrs. Shaw at a distance, slowly walking the beach with Esmée’s younger sister.

He kissed his beloved’s soft brow, his hands falling to her tightly cinched waist. “With you, time seems to melt away when I want it to stand still.”

“If I could stop the clock, I would.” She let out more line, head tipped back as the kite soared higher. “I want to run with it.”

“In those petticoats?” Even as he asked it, she darted away from him. Lithe and laughing, she ran full tilt along the shore, a ruffled white wave breaking over her bare feet.

He started after her, stepping over her hat and slippers. The sand slowed him, his boots heavy, but he finally caught up with her. He untangled the kite string from her fingers and led her behind a dune that hid them from any onlookers.

“Henri, will you spoil my merriment?”

“My mind is more on kissing than kites, Esmée.”

She caught her breath as he brought the kite string behind his back, out of her reach, while his free arm encircled her. She laid her head upon his chest, her long-lashed eyes closing. Emotion knotted his throat. Did she realize she held his heart? Not just a piece of it. The entire whole of it.

She raised her head, her green eyes soft yet wary. “Don’t, Henri.”

He brushed back a dark tendril of her hair. “Don’t kiss you?”

“Don’t tell me you’re leaving again.”

“All right, ma belle. I’ll just kiss you then.” The tender moment was theirs, the future be hanged. He kissed her soundly. Rather, she kissed him, her arms tightening around his neck as if anchoring him to the spot and preventing their parting. Sensations she alone was capable of rousing swam through him, widening eddies of desire shadowed by regret.

“Captain Lennox? Esmée?”

At the sound of the admiral’s voice they drew apart, and inexplicably Henri let go of the line. The colorful kite kept soaring, borne on a west wind over the water, seeming to touch the clouds before vanishing from sight.

 

 

CHAPTER

one

 


YORK, VIRGINIA

SEPTEMBER 1755

Chocolate had been Captain Henri Lennox’s one weakness. Was it still?

Pondering it, Esmée wiped cocoa-dusted hands on her apron and stood in the open doorway of the chocolate shop facing York’s sail-studded harbor. The noon sun still held a touch of summer, drenching her in buttery yellow light.

A pint of honey-sweetened milk. Two dried Mexican chilies. One cinnamon stick. A crushed vanilla pod. All whisked into a steamy froth with a wooden molinillo.

That was how the captain preferred his chocolate. Though it had been ten years since she’d last seen him, Henri Lennox’s memory still chafed like a saltwater rash. Would it always?

Overhead the shop’s wooden sign swung noisily on its iron bracket in a contrary coastal wind. Shaw’s Chocolate. Newly painted and adorned with a silver chocolate pot, it beckoned countless cocoa-craving customers.

At six o’clock, Esmée moved to close the door, trading the briny tang of the sea for the warm, rich scent of cocoa instead.

“Daughter, have you finished Lady Lightfoot’s almonds?”

Esmée rounded the worktable as her father emerged from the adjoining coffeehouse that served as his office, his pleasure plain. Upon the long wooden countertop before them was tray after tray of confections. Esmée’s favorites were the chocolate almonds, but she’d made several batches of sugared almonds too.

“Fit for the most fastidious matron in all the Tidewater,” her father announced after close perusal. “And her annual ball.”

Esmée smiled. “I’ve used cochineal and saffron to color them red and yellow—and spinach and berries for green and blue.”

“Vibrant.” He tossed a red confection into his mouth. “Delicious.”

“I’ve more to do tomorrow if the weather continues cool, though I’m running short of orange flower water.”

He crossed to the large bow-fronted window, taking in the moored vessels like the admiral of old. “We’re overdue for a merchant fleet. We’ve too much illicit Dutch tea and silk handkerchiefs of late.”

Was there a beat of regret in his voice? Did he miss his seafaring days? Alarm unfurled like a pirate’s black flag inside her. Barnabas Shaw held himself erect, defying the stoop of age, his silver hair hidden beneath a white periwig, his garments tailored to his distinguished frame. He seemed preoccupied of late. A bit on edge. He claimed it was on account of all the bloodshed, but that seemed naught but a bad dream, the conflict on the distant frontier betwixt faraway England, France, and the Indians.

Or was he pondering her mother? Though Eleanor Shaw had been gone three years, it seemed far longer.

Turning, he faced Esmée. “Where is our summons to the ball? I’ve not had a look at it.”

She unearthed a stack of papers beneath the counter, the gilt-edged invitation at the very bottom.

“Read it to me, if you would, as I’ve misplaced my spectacles.”

She held the card aloft in the fading light. “‘Pleasure Ball. While we live, let us live. Admiral Barnabas Shaw and Miss Esmée Shaw are requested to attend the ball at Lightfoot Hall on Tuesday, seventh of October current, at seven o’clock p.m.’”

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