The Windflower


By Laura London

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The classic tale of passion on the high seas, available in print for the first time in 20 years . . .

Merry Wilding is a lady of breeding, of innocence, and of breathtaking beauty. With high hopes for a holiday in England, she sets sail from New York-but the tide of her life is destined to turn. Mistakenly swept aboard an infamous pirate ship, Merry finds herself at the mercy of a wicked crew . . . and one sinfully handsome pirate. Soon she’s spending her days yearning for escape, and her nights learning the pleasures of captivity.

Devon Crandall believes Merry is in league with his greatest enemy. He’s determined to slowly urge her secrets from her. But along the way, he discovers her beautifully unbreakable spirit . . . and a desire unlike any he’s ever known. She is hiding something from him, and yet, each day that passes brings her deeper into his heart. When fierce arguments give way to fiercer passion, can a pirate learn to love a woman? Or will true love be lost at sea?


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Chapter 1

Fairfield, Virginia, August 1813

Merry Patricia Wilding was sitting on a cobblestone wall, sketching three rutabagas and daydreaming about the unicorn. A spray of shade from the swelling branches of the walnut tree covered her and most of the kitchen garden, but even so, it was hotter here than it had been inside. A large taffy-colored dog with thick fur stole past the fence; she noticed it as a flicker of movement in the corner of her vision. Light dust floated in the air and settled on the helpless leaves. The breeze brought the scent of baking ground and sun-burnt greens.

There was no one about to disturb her solitary concentration, or to mark the intriguing contrast she made with the homey products of the earth that grew freely near her soft-shod feet. Her appearance suggested a fragile, pale icon: lace and frail blossoms rather than fallen leaves and parsley plants. She was a slender girl, with delicate cheekbones set high in an oval face, and dark-lashed eyes, lazy from the day. Early that morning she had put up her heavy hair in anticipation of the heat, but the ivory combs and brass hairpins were working loose and silky red-gold strands had begun to collapse on the back of her neck. It never occurred to her that some might find the effect charming; it merely made her feel hot, untidy, and vaguely guilty, as though she ought to return to her bedroom and wind her hair back up. She would have been so much more comfortable, she thought, if she dared sit as the housemaids did on the back stoop in the evening, with the hems of their skirts pulled up past their knees, laps open, bare heels dug into the cool dirt. A slight smile touched her lips as she imagined her aunt's reaction, should that lady discover her niece, Merry Patricia, in such a posture.

Setting down her pencil, Merry spread and flexed her fingers and watched as a tiny yellow butterfly skimmed her shoulder to light on the ground, its thin wings fluttering against the flushing bulge of a carrot. The beans were heavy with plump rods, and there would be good eating from the sturdy ruby stalks of the rhubarb. Merry looked back to her drawing and lifted her pencil.

The rutabagas weren't coming out right. The front one had a hairy, trailing root that jutted upward at an awkwardly foreshortened angle. Though she had corrected the drawing several times, the result remained an unhappy one. It would make a better exercise to continue reworking the picture until she had captured the very essence of the vegetable, in all its humble, mottled-purple symmetry.… Merry was disappointed to discover in herself a flagging interest in the rutabagas… discipline, discipline.

Discipline and a hot afternoon sun are the poorest allies, and while Merry forced her pencil back to its labor the dream invaded her mind once more.

Last night the unicorn had come again.

Ten years ago she had had the first unicorn dream, after seeing an impression of the creature fixed into the sealing wax of a letter to her aunt from England. Merry had been eight years old then, and as she slept the unicorn had come to her, like a tiny toy with great soft eyes, and she could pull it after her on a string. As she grew the dream had altered. She would dream of meeting with the unicorn in an enchanted wood, and they would run between the trees, a race which neither won, and afterward they would drink from a secret spring. She wasn't allowed to have pets; but her dream unicorn was satisfying, exclusively hers, and would always come again if she went to the edge of the woods and called. Her aunt would never find out about it because it lived in the wild and was only tame for her.

Then it left her dreams and hadn't returned for years—until last night. It had burst through the window in a frightening rush of energy, glass flying everywhere, and it had reared in the corner of the room, pawing and snorting, looking bigger than it had been before, its muscles white and glistening beneath its creamy hide, its chest broad and heaving, its horn poised and thick. She had cowered beneath the covers, but curiosity caused her to look in small peeps and then long gazes. Its eyes were different now, still big, but there was knowledge there, a frightening intelligence, and it tossed its head, beckoning to her.

He wants me to ride him, she had thought in her dream. Am I too afraid? She was going to leave her bed and go closer, but before she moved, it turned in a sudden dash and leaped through the window, hooves flashing in the moonlight.

The fantasy hoofbeats faded slowly from her daydream, slipping away into the dimly lit part of the mind where dreams lie in safekeeping. Merry came back to reality as the soft walking rhythm of a flesh-and-blood horse prosaically replaced her midnight creature.

She had been expecting no visitors, so she looked up quickly toward the sound, toward the narrow pebbled carriageway that split her aunt's two-story red-brick house from the old frame barn. From behind the potent green of a ridge of lilac bushes, she saw her only brother emerge and watched with unbelieving elation as he worked his sweaty animal over to the shaded wall beside her.

"Carl! Oh, Carl, hello! Hail! Salutations! Guten Morgen!"

Leaning forward in the saddle, her brother said, "I take that to mean I haven't arrived at an unwelcome moment? Who's been teaching you German?"

"Henry Cork—but that's all he knows, so it was a short lesson." Grinning her delight in a way she was sure must look foolish, Merry set down her sketch pad and extended her hand. Three months it had been since she had seen him, a comparatively short interval. Heroes, it seemed, didn't make the most attentive brothers. "How did you know to find me back here?"

"One of your abigails told me—Bess, I think. She's sitting around front, shelling peas and dickering with a trunk-peddler over a card of buttons," he said, taking her offered hand. "I imagine it will ruffle April's feathers that I didn't have myself announced."

It was clear from the unemotional tone of his observation that this was not a circumstance that would trouble him overmuch, but because her brother's casual dislike of their aunt made Merry uncomfortable, she sidestepped the ramifications of his remark and said, "Not at all, Carl. Family needn't stand on ceremony. How glad I am to see you. But I'm surprised! I thought you were in the capital with Father." Her expression changed. "Has something happened? Father—is he…"

"He's well. Same as always. Tough as a horseshoe, although Mrs. Madison says he doesn't get enough rest. I don't know. I didn't come to talk to you about him." He gave her hand a brief squeeze before he released it, and then removed his hat, brushed back his hair, which was red-gold like hers but not as thick, and put his hat back on. He was gray with road dust and had tired, fine lines on his lean face, around his eyes, unusual lines on one so young, mapping the intensity within. She could tell he'd ridden hard. He was wearing civilian clothes, riding clothes which flattered him less than his officer's uniform, making him look more like the young adult of twenty-one he was and less like a man used to drilling recruits.

He glanced around with shaded eyes. "Can we talk here?"

"Of course." She lifted her feet to the top of the wall and hugged her knees, looking up at him with a slight tilt to her lashes. "The only ears here are on the sweet corn."

"But the potatoes have eyes," he answered with a reluctant smile. "Is that what you've been doing, sketching vegetables?"

"Trying," she said. "There are riches in shape and shading under the leaves, but I've a poor hand this afternoon." She held up her sketch pad for him to see.

"Hmm. Amazing. Like life. I can't see what you find amiss with it."

Merry only smiled and closed the sketchbook. "Will you come in the house, Carl? It's almost teatime, and we've got cider cooling on ice chips."

"Later." He waved his hand impatiently, as though dismissing an inane courtesy. "I need you again, my girl."

Her heart quickened. "To draw, do you mean?"

It was the pride of her life that twice before she had been able to help him and the American cause. He had taken her once to a coaching inn and once to market day at Richmond, where he had quietly pointed out men suspected of collaborating with the British. She would make her best effort to watch them without seeming to and later had rendered the faces in detailed sketches. Carl saw to it that the drawings were reproduced and circulated, which neutralized the British agents as effectively as if they'd been captured or hanged.

It had been a small thing to do for her country, especially compared to the ultimate sacrifice American soldiers were prepared to make on the field of battle; the smallness of it had stirred within her embers of dissatisfaction with the useless gentility of her life. These yearnings would surely have wounded her staunchly pro-British aunt April, so Merry kept them to herself and tried to find solace in painting watercolor portraits of heroines like the courageous Mrs. Penelope Barker, who, thirty years ago in the First War of Independence, had stopped the British from commandeering her carriage horses by pulling her absent husband's sword from the wall and slicing to ribbons the reins in the British officer's hands. Inevitably Merry had tried to daydream herself into Mrs. Barker's shoes, but even if she'd possessed a sword, Aunt April would never have allowed such a gruesome object to hang on the wall, and the only horse they had was poor old swaybacked, buck-kneed Jacob, whom no one would want to steal. Furthermore, if enemy troops came within a hundred miles, Aunt April would undoubtedly whisk Merry away to a place of safety.

Carl shoved his hat back over his sweat-lacquered curls. "If you'll do it. Want to work with me again?"

"I dearly want to draw for you again, Carl." She stretched out a hand to stroke the horse's soft, damp muzzle, smiling at her older brother. Motherless, they had been reared separately; he by their austere, unloving father, she by Aunt April, their mother's sister. If she had seen Carl twice a year as a child, that was often. His boyhood had seemed to her an entrancing miracle of kite string and fishhooks, Latin tutors and wooden boats that really sailed. Unaware that she herself had become anything more than the awkward, overprotected girl-child who knitted mittens in the winter and stitched samplers in the summer, she watched as Carl grew taller, more clever, more self-confident. He was not an affectionate man. He hadn't once remembered her on her birthday. He rarely offered himself as a confidant or a protector, and yet, through his patriotic activities he had brought into her life a rare and precious dimension. Teasingly she told him, "You're my only chance to grab a little glory, you know. I suppose I'm not to tell Aunt April, again?"

"Not unless you want her to forbid you to go. Anyway, that's been taken care of. Father wrote a letter to cover us, saying that he'll be in Alexandria this Thursday on government business and wants you to meet him there for a visit." He jumped from the horse's sweating back. "Come with me while I walk the horse."

She slid from the stone wall and put her hand self-consciously to her hair. "I ought to fetch my bonnet, I suppose. I imagine I look all scraggly."

He looked surprised and irritated. "We're just going down the lane a bit. Does it matter so much?"

Instantly she shook her head and joined him in the bright, battering sunlight, embarrassed that she had been so petty. "Then Father knows about it," she said.

He glanced down at her as she caught up to him and tried to match his stride, her eyes blinking out the sun's stinging rays. "He knows you're going to draw for me again, Merry, but—" A bee, attracted by the sweating horse, buzzed around their heads, and he swatted at it. "But he doesn't know where. Truth is, I lied."

Shocked and honored at once by his confession, she said, "You lied to Father?" Her father had been forty-five when she was born, and now his wreath of white hair, long hooked nose, and still eagle vision made lying to him seem futile. He appeared to be looking for the lie in the face of every man he met. "Why?"

"Because it's not a place I should take you. I wouldn't either, if it wasn't such a rare opportunity. There's a man who is going to be there at nine o'clock Thursday who—no, I'll tell you about it later. But it's important. I would never take you to such a rough place if it wasn't important."

"A rough place? Do you mean a prizefight?"

He gave a rueful grin. "Is that the roughest place you can think of, Merry?"

The lane angled away from the kitchen garden, into a green meadow dappled with pink clover and birdsong. Merry had been holding her skirt carefully above the path's red dust, but at Carl's words she let it drop and snatched up the silver-seeded head of a thistle. She held it before her, flourished a hand over it, and said in an important voice, "This, my dear brother, is a crystal ball."

He had no particular taste for whimsy, but because she was young and female and his sister, he said indulgently, "Is it? Divine for me then, ma'am."

"Let me see!" A soft breath of air from her pink lips sent a powdery cloud of feathered seeds spinning off across the high June grass. Staring with comical intensity into the thistle globe, she said, "Yes, it's becoming clearer now! I see—a room. A rough place! There are men there, some of them unshaven, and they are—horrors, they're setting great flagons of ale upon a maple-wood table and leaving dreadful water rings! The high corners are dripping with spider webs, and the side tables beg to be dusted." She glanced at her brother. "How am I doing?"

"Shockingly well. A body would think you'd taken to tavern-haunting."

"The doors to Mr. Hardy's taproom were open as we walked home from prayer meeting last Thursday, and I took a good look inside." Taking in a deep breath, Merry turned the thistle in her hand and was about to blow into the remaining plump hemisphere when the breath choked short in her throat and she said in a startled voice, "Carl! Does that mean you really do intend to take me to a tavern?"

Frowning heavily, he said, "There. I've shocked you, have I? There's worse yet. The tavern's on the coast, and isolated, and we'll have to be there after dark. Furthermore, the place is frequented by some of the lowest rogues that… Look, here's the straight truth—the tavern's a smugglers' den."

When Glory smiled, she smiled with a vengeance. The thistle's dark-green stem slid from Merry's suddenly numb fingers and was crushed under the hind hoof of the ambling horse. Her first instinct was to ask Carl if he really meant it, but she stopped herself. Never had he looked more serious. With experimental bravado she said, "Then I'll be able to find a good price on some English cotton for Aunt April."

He was too much a soldier not to be pleased. "Well said! And things aren't quite as bad as they seem on the surface. We'll be in and out quickly—and things are likely to be more unpleasant than dangerous. Sal and Jason will be with us."

"Our Boston cousins?" They were Carl's friends much more than hers. "I haven't seen them in over four years! But I had thought from Father's latest letter to Aunt April that Jason would be at Sackets Harbor with General Wilkinson?"

"Making Jason an aide to Wilkinson was the worst idea somebody ever had. Jason's never bothered to be discreet about his belief that Wilkinson was wrongly acquitted at the Fredericktown court-martial, and within a bare twenty-four hours of his arrival in Sackets Harbor, Wilkinson arranged Jason's transfer down to Knoxville to fight Creeks with the Tennessee militia. He has to report to Jackson within the month, but he and Sal are eager as dying saints to run a paid agent of Britain to earth with us before Jason leaves."

The lane dipped to a narrow stony brook that bordered a field of Indian corn, and Carl loosed his gelding's reins and watched as the horse dropped his head into the gurgling water.

"And the war news?" she asked quietly.

"Is nothing you wouldn't have read in the newspaper. If we can get the Northern Army into Montreal before winter, we could have Britain out of North America by spring! We'll win this bloody war yet, Merry. Justice is with us." He scooped a round, glistening stone from the brook and lofted it hard into the corn, scaring out a large crow, which flapped tiredly away toward a far stand of trees.

"Farewell hope, then, Britannia," cried Merry, pulling a handkerchief from her sleeve and holding it up to wave in the hot breeze.

As he watched her his face changed, as though a new and uncomfortable thought was first entering his mind. He said suddenly, "We can't take you to the tavern looking like that."

"Why, of course not, Carl. I told you I should have returned to the house for a bonnet…"

"No, not a bonnet. An old hat, felt, I think; cheap felt. And I'll need a shabby dress."

She couldn't resist it. "Oh, are you going in disguise as well?"

He gave her a wisp of a smile. "Of course I'll be in disguise, but not in skirts, Merry."

"What then?"

"You'll find out Thursday night."

The modest home that Merry shared with her aunt had been pretty once, with its brick patterns of Flemish bond and richly detailed interior woodwork, the latter mostly covered now with muting layers of olive house paint. The kitchen alone was large, but the other rooms were high with many windows broken into small square panes that charted the faded carpets in white sunlight.

Since Aunt April had had the care of it the house had grown homely, though it was meticulously kept. Here were neither the bleak look of poverty nor the irritating frothings of a trite taste, but rather a place made dreary by the bewilderment of a lady unable to decorate within the boundaries of a limited income. There was no money and very little access, therefore, to gilt porcelain, to chairs with graceful legs turned in the workshops of Sheraton, to fine tables with gold inlay, to paintings by men with great names, to fabrics so supple that they inhaled light and breathed it out again, made new and glowing. Gone forever were the exquisite, expensive things that Aunt April had touched and smiled at and draped on her body in the childhood spent across the Atlantic's bitter waters.

Only in Merry's room had April made an effort, with chintz hangings and animals cut from nursery prints set with care into colored heavy-paper frames. The rest of the house had been left alone and clean, its fixings growing old-fashioned and paler with each scrubbing.

That evening Merry sat as she always had with Aunt April in the "green drawing room," never quite realizing how laughably grandiose was the title for this tiny parlor with its faded chartreuse-and-vanilla-dotted wall covering and shabby mustard-colored wing chairs. The room was always too hot, in the winter from the oversized white stone fireplace and in the summer because Aunt April was too worried about flyspecks to leave the window open. The heat filtered into the horsehair stuffing in the chairs and drew from the fibers the scent of that long-ago sacrificed animal. But tonight the warm weather had rendered the perfume of the stables so strong that even Aunt April had reluctantly agreed that the window must be opened.

In the glowing twilight Merry could see families walking together on the village green, fathers pitching their little sons up to ride on broad shoulders and stooping to toss balls to their daughters. Sweethearts walked in pairs, sometimes laughing, sometimes earnest, and the parson was taking his nightly two turns for health, tipping his hat to the ladies as he went. To Merry it might have been another world, because Aunt April had shunned the other villagers so completely that all save the most thick-skinned had long since ceased to visit. Twenty-five years ago Aunt April's father had packed up what was left of his once illustrious fortune in a few cloth bags, bought his family passage to the New World on a leaking, rat-infested hull of a refitted slaver, and left England and an angry flock of creditors shaking their fists from the wharf. The shock of being reduced in the course of a day from irreproachable respectability to a position close to that of the wretched poor had been the death of April's mother, father, and older sister, and the same fate might have befallen April and her younger sister, Annette, had not Annette had the good fortune to have been knocked down by a horse being ridden by a young civil servant, who, full of remorse, had decided he was in love with Annette and married her, rescuing them from a state of dire poverty.

Carl and Merry were the result of that union. Not five years after Merry's birth Annette had died politely in her sleep from a weakness of the heart. Aunt April went on to run her sister's motherless household with such sterling competence that before he was out of mourning gloves for his wife, Mr. James Wilding had decided to remove himself from the house on the slim pretext that he didn't want to trouble April with his maintenance. Taking his son, he set up a small, comfortable home for himself along one of the rutted lanes in the nation's brand-new capital and proceeded to make his way up the ranks of the Treasury to his current exalted position. Each month without fail he had sent to April a sum of money to maintain herself and his daughter, Merry.

The arrangement suited him, for he had never been at ease in the company of any woman, not excepting his highborn wife, and had more than once told April that he didn't know what to say to little girls anyway. If Merry had been a boy, well, then, that would have been different.

And so April had stayed, raising her dead sister's child, hating the rawboned land that was to her a prison, flaunting her royalism to her offended neighbors, and searching with desperate, secret restraint for some way to return to England and her vanished life.

In her turn Merry had developed like a tree split by lightning, both halves continuing to grow; one side an intense loyalty to her prim, well-meaning aunt, and the other side an exciting patriotism, pride in this rough, wild, unmapped country. It seemed always that she must protect her aunt from how different the two sides really were. When Merry was little, the village children had shouted at her: "Tory, Tory, shoot the redcoat," so she had stopped playing outside their own garden and never told Aunt April why. The other children had to content themselves with sticking their tongues out at her in church when they could get away with it, until they grew old enough to tire of the game. Merry had grown up lonely and shy, and the village, not understanding, said what a shame it was that her beauty had gone to her head and made her a snob like her aunt.

Opening the polished marquetry cap of the sewing box, Merry pulled out the pillowcase hem she had been monogramming for Aunt April. It was tedious work after the quick, fluid pen strokes of drawing, and Merry glanced over to where April was sitting ramrod straight on the settee, the sensible lap desk balanced on her knees. She was a narrow woman, narrow everywhere—in the hips, the shoulders, the face, the hands; Carl would have added, in the mind. Her hair was light, fine, and had a tendency to wander, and her voice was marred by a tremor left from childhood measles. For as long as she could remember, Merry had felt only one emotion whenever she had looked at her aunt, and that was love.

With painstaking deliberation Aunt April was transcribing a letter to England, to a friend who had years ago ceased to care. Faithfully every month Merry's aunt wrote to more than a dozen ladies and received back, at the most, two letters a year. It seared Merry's heart to watch April's elation when letters came, but it hurt much worse to watch her aunt hide her disappointment on those days without number which came and went with a barren post. There was nothing Merry could do except ache with impotent pity and hate the callous British aristocrats who ignored her aunt and those letters filled with forlorn pleasantries.

Merry was about to thread her needle when April, with a sudden irritated gesture, jerked the quill from the paper and slid it into its holder, and stretched her neck like a turtle, sniffing the air.



"I smell tobacco!" Her aunt set the lap desk with a clatter on the side table and went to the window, bending from the waist to peer out into the velvet-black evening, gesturing toward the dark lacy mound of the honeysuckle bush. "Henry Cork!" she called. "Are you smoking in those bushes?"

Henry was Aunt April's only male servant. He'd come under an indenture from Ireland, where, he was wont to tell the admiring maidservants, he'd not done a day's work in all his forty years. There was only one area in which he'd ever chosen to invest his energy, and that was in doing everything he possibly could to send Aunt April into a tizzy.

After a minute April called again, "You… Cork! Are you out there?"

She was answered by silence, and a palpable waft of tobacco smoke, which even reached to the corner where Merry sat.

"Shall I go out and talk with him, Aunt April?" she asked.

"No, no, it's not the least use. If he sees you coming, he's bound to run off, and who knows what mischief he'll get into. I suppose I should be grateful that I can smell where he is." She came away from the window to trim the wick of a sputtering candle. "Plague take that man! How many times must I read to him from the Virginia Charitable Fire Society pamphlet: 'May not the greater frequency of fires in the United States than in former years be ascribed in part to the more general use of segars by careless servants and children?' " April turned to her lap desk and pulled out the evening paper. "Why even tonight, in the National Intelligencer…" She gave Merry a look heavy with significance and carried the paper to the window, holding it so that the candlelight enabled her to read from it in an unnaturally loud voice. " 'There is good reason to believe a house was lately set on fire by a half-consumed segar, which a woman suddenly threw away to prevent being detected in the unhealthy and offensive practice of smoking.' " Her aunt paused and peered into the darkness again.

The honeysuckle bush began to shake with Henry Cork's half-suppressed laughter, a sly, roguish chuckle that filtered into the room and hung there as pungent and smoky as the spent tobacco. Aunt April blinked her eyes in exasperation and slid down the window with a certain force. The incident seemed to have put her out of the letter-writing mood. She went to the sewing box and drew from it the gaily colored alphabet sampler that she said she was designing for Merry's firstborn child. The project had astonished and amused her niece, who didn't know a single unrelated gentleman of marriageable age and could scarcely imagine herself talking to one, much less (very much less) creating a child with one.


On Sale
Apr 29, 2014
Page Count
544 pages

Laura London

About the Author

Laura London is the pen name for the husband and wife writing team Tom and Sharon Curtis. Married more than forty years, Tom and Sharon published ten historical and contemporary romance novels from 1976 to 1986, many of which have come to be regarded as classics in the genre. The Windflower is in numerous top 100 lists of best romances of the twentieth century, including Goodreads, The Romance Reader, All About Romance, and Dear Author. Tom and Sharon have been featured on both The Today Show and Good Morning America.

The daughter of a petroleum geologist father and historian and magazine editor mother, Sharon was raised overseas and lived in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the Canary Islands, Turkey and Iran, and attended high school in London. As an adult, she worked in bookstore management.

Tom attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison and has worked for a public television station as a writer and on-air reporter. He is currently employed as a semi truck driver for a chemical company and plays guitar with a Celtic band that includes a son on bodhran and a daughter on fiddle. Together they have played eighteen years of annual performances at the largest Irish musical festival in the world.

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