For Love or Liberty (Book 3) The MacGregor Legacy series
She wants to live in the past. He wants to step into the future. Will either of them recognize the love between them now? Coast of NC to Lake Erie, Ohio (1813)
One Sentence Blurb
For Love or Liberty is the story about a family learning to battle the heartache of grief, while growing in their faith, and risking the opportunity to love again.
Back Cover Description
Grieving over her twin’s death, Charlotte Morgan leaves the Carolina coast for the shores of Lake Erie, Ohio to help care for her niece and nephew. Captain Conrad Deaton goes along to support his brother in the role of a widowed parent. Soon, Conrad and Charlotte are locked in a battle of wills, as The War of 1812 rages around them.
Charlotte wants to preserve her sister’s memory, while Conrad believes they should not dwell on the past. In spite of their differences, Conrad has a certain charm and magnetism that draws her. Afraid of their past history, his rejection, and loving a man duty-bound to war and sailing the high seas, she tries her best to resist her growing feelings for him. As the battle on Lake Erie breaks out, fear and tension escalates. When neither brother returns with the others, Charlotte fears the worst.
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Read the first Chapter
For Love or Liberty
Wilmington, NC, 1813
Charlotte stood in the sand as waves washed over her bare feet, burying her heels and toes like an anchor holding her captive in time. The cool seawater receded from her skin leaving a mist of white foam layered with broken shells along the shore—much like the residue of the broken pieces of her life.
Her grieving heart threatened to succumb to the pain engulfing her, but the glistening colors of the scattered shells across the wet sand painted a brilliant scene of hope. If she could still see something beautiful through the dark clouds residing in her heart, it was a tiny reminder the Lord had not forsaken her. Even though Emily was gone, her twin sister had left behind two precious children for her to love and help raise. She clung to the thought with resolve, especially since it was Emily’s last request of her.
Charlotte covered her heavy chest with a trembling hand and released the aching sob she had held throughout the funeral. Here . . . alone . . . with the wide ocean as comfort, she could finally let out the pain. She wept until her empty stomach rolled and tears choked her. Charlotte’s eyes and nose swelled and breathing grew dificult as the inside of her head swirled like a monsoon attacking her brain.
Charlotte lost track of time and dropped to her knees. Oncoming waves swept her black gown into a floating parasol around her legs. The sound of the rolling ocean managed to console her as she lifted her face to the warm sun. From her earliest memories, the sea had always comforted her in times of distress. For Love Or Liberty/Jennifer Hudson Taylor 5 An aggressive wave tumbled over Charlotte, knocking her off balance and onto her side. Her head plunged under and her eyes burned from the saltwater. Once the wave passed, Charlotte sputtered and gasped for air, rubbing at her eyes. “Charlotte! What are you doing?” A man’s voice carried through the breeze and over the splashing waves. She groaned at the idea of Conrad Deaton finding her in such a predicament. Why did he have the habit of always catching her at her worst? Ignoring the broken shells beneath her feet, Charlotte scrambled to regain her balance before he reached her. She winced as a sharp edge sliced through the bottom of her heel. She grabbed her foot as another wave slammed her under a second time. Charlotte splashed her arms and legs, determined to land on her feet before the next wave hit. Strong hands grabbed her around the waist and pulled her out of the water. Charlotte gasped as cold air hit her wet skin and she could breathe again. Propelled against the warmth of a solid chest with a fast-beating heart, she clutched at his shirt. “What are you trying to do? Drown yourself?” Conrad asked, his voice like a commanding officer. Well, she wasn't one of his sailors to be commanded. Charlotte pushed against him and kicked in an attempt to be free. A lock of sandy brown hair fell across his forehead as he gripped her tight and grinned. His mustache moved with his mouth, revealing a row of healthy teeth in spite of his time commanding The Victorious at sea. His hazel eyes lit in challenge and a hint of boyish freckles peeked across his nose in the bright sun. Something in her chest skipped with light-hearted joy at seeing him in a different light, but she swallowed back the temptation to let For Love Or Liberty/Jennifer Hudson Taylor 6 down her guard. This was Conrad, the man who tried to sabotage his brother’s courtship of her sister and would have succeeded if not for her wise intervention in distracting him. Everyone saw him as a sea loving adventurer who lived for the thrill of exciting heroism, but she knew him for what he was. Captain Conrad Deaton, a man bent on destroying true love, because he could never give up his beloved freedom and adventures at sea. Marriage imprisoned men with responsibilities and trials. He had begged his brother to avoid it. Charlotte feared while the rest of them grieved, he secretly viewed her sister’s death as a way out for his younger brother, David. He had shed his navy coat and wore a white buttoned shirt with blooming sleeves, navy pants, and black boots sloshing in the water and crunching seashells beneath his heels. Conrad smelled of leather and musk from a fresh shave and bath, having made a special attempt to look his best for her sister’s funeral this morning. Charlotte closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of him. It had an unexpected calming effect on her. She rested her aching head against him, knowing her struggles would be futile against his strength. “I realize you are grieving for your sister, but I am NOT about to sit back and watch you drown yourself over it.” Conrad clenched his jaw as he tightened his hold on her and concentrated on a targeted spot in the sand. “Do you not think the family has been through enough these last few days?” “It is true I am deeply grieved over the loss of my sister, but contrary to your belief, I was not about to drown myself.” Charlotte sighed in exasperation and shook her head. “I only needed a moment alone, to grieve freely without anyone watching and waiting for me to fall apart. Besides, I would never think of relieving you of my presence so easily. Whether you like it or not, I made a promise to help raise our niece and nephew and I aim to do it.” For Love Or Liberty/Jennifer Hudson Taylor 7 Conrad blew out a deep breath as he set her down on a mound of dry sand near his discarded coat. The rank of captain displayed in bold yellow threads on the shoulders. He settled beside her, propping his knees up and linking his hands between them. Conrad gave her a sideways glance, a look of determination crossing his expression. “Likewise, my dear, I am afraid you will have to put up with me as well. I have no intention of neglecting my brother in his time of need. I, too, intend to be part of my niece and nephew's life.” “We shall see.” She shrugged and looked away, wiping wet strands of hair from her eyes. “I doubt you could stay in one place long enough to be much of an influence on anyone.” Charlotte lifted her hand and gestured to the ocean. “The sea will call you back before little Davie turns six and Ashlynn is a year old.” “Actually, the navy has already tried to lure me away. I received word yesterday I am being transferred to the war on the Great Lakes. They need a captain to command one of their new ships on Lake Erie. I shall be stationed in Cleaveland.” He leaned closer, brushing her hair down the side of her face and behind her ear. “I suppose you shall get your wish. You shall be rid of me within the fortnight.” “What happened to not abandoning your brother in his time of need?” Charlotte jerked away from his touch, glaring at him with contempt. “Which is why I requested David be transferred under my command, so I can look out for him. Do not be so quick to judge me.” He reached for her again, but she slapped his hand away and scooted out of reach. Charlotte dug her palms into the thick sand for leverage and pushed her wet body to her feet. For Love Or Liberty/Jennifer Hudson Taylor 8 “You would have him abandon his children only a few days after losing their mother?” Her voice rose as the waves crashed behind her. She shoved her fists on her hips and stared down at him in disbelief. “You are insufferable!” “There you go again, assuming the worst about me.” He pointed at her as he stood. Conrad frowned and turned to wipe the sand from his backside. “We are taking the children with us. Your father has agreed to help us find a nursemaid for Ashlynn. I am not as insensitive and uncaring you like to think.” “Indeed you are.” She stepped closer, ignoring the ache in her neck from staring up at him. “My sister knew what she was doing in asking me to help raise her children. She knew David would be too weak to deal with the likes of you and your meddling.” She poked his chest. “You will not take those children across the country in this war.” “No, their father is and there is naught you can do about it.” He crossed his arms. “We shall see.” She turned on her heel and stomped through the sand. * * * Conrad groaned as Charlotte rushed from him. He bent to retrieve his coat and realized a trail of red stains followed her footprints in the sand. Was it blood? Concerned, he ran after her. “Charlotte, wait!” He caught up to her, grabbing her arm. “Your foot is bleeding.” “Let go of me!” She jerked away and stumbled. Wincing, she reached for her heel. “I shall be fine.” “Not if you get sand in the wound and end up with an infection.” Conrad reached for her again, but she averted him. Tired of arguing with her, he strode after Charlotte and gathered her around the waist. He ignored her surprised gasp and lifted her up, tossing her over his shoulder. “I will not have the family blaming me for allowing you to be so foolish.” For Love Or Liberty/Jennifer Hudson Taylor 9 “Oh, so I am another one of your heroic deeds, am I?” She beat upon his back. “Put me down. You have no right.” Conrad pivoted around and carried her back to the sea. Charlotte continued to hurl insults at him, but he paid her no heed. He waded into the water to a foot deep and bent to one knee. Maneuvering Charlotte from his shoulder and settling her on his bent knee, Conrad dipped her injured foot to wash off the gritty wound. She stopped her complaints long enough to bite her bottom lip in obvious discomfort. It was all the confirmation he needed to know he had done the right thing. The blood washed away, and he could see a half circle cut, but it wasn’t too deep. If she would stay off it a couple of days, stitches wouldn’t be necessary, nor would she risk an infection. “At least this nasty gash is on your heel and not the tender part of your foot.” Unable to resist, Conrad lightly trailed a fingertip along the inside of her foot, tickling her. She kicked in reaction and jerked back with enough force to send him on his backside. With a chuckle, Conrad managed to keep her in his grasp and took the full brunt of the fall. His breeches were thick enough to protect his flesh from the shells, but not enough to keep from bruising his hide. “This is completely inappropriate,” she said, her green eyes blazing like fire. Charlotte’s pink lips twisted into a frown and her wet blond hair tangled around her face and shoulders. Even now she looked beautiful in spite of her disheveled state. The fact she glared at him as if she wished she had a pitchfork in her hand, did not discourage him in the least. Another wave rushed at them. Conrad gathered her tight in his arms and stood to his feet in time to avoid it. Breathing a sigh of relief, he glanced down at her. “We had better get you back, but I must say, I have quite enjoyed the fun.” A grin tugged at his mouth. He could never resist teasing her. She made the temptation too enjoyable. For Love Or Liberty/Jennifer Hudson Taylor 10 “Fun . . . indeed.” She turned and motioned to objects lying in the sand. “Do not forget my slippers.” “Would never think of it.” Conrad carried her over to them. “Step down on your good foot and I shall retrieve them for you.” For once, she obeyed, leaning on his arm for support as he bent to grab her brown slippers. He dumped the sand out of them. She couldn’t put them back on and risk getting sand in the wound. He held them out and met her gaze. She grinned. “You could rinse the sand out of them and then I could wear them again.” “And I could just carry you.” “All the way back to the house?” She lifted a golden eyebrow, her expression suggested he had gone daft. “No, back to my horse.” He bent and swept her up before she could protest. “Your mother asked me to find you. She was worried since you disappeared right after we arrived home from your sister’s funeral. The longer it takes me to get you back, the longer she will continue to worry.” At the mention of the funeral, Charlotte’s expression fell into a pensive frown. “I have been thinking, it would have been harder if Emma had not already married your brother and moved from home.” Charlotte surprised him by lying her head against his shoulder. “Now I am used to having my own chamber and being alone. Still, the aching pain lingers and deepens.” “I know we have had our differences, but I am sorry you are going through this.” Conrad wanted to comfort her, but he wasn’t sure if she would allow it. Instead, he kept silent as he carried her to where he had left his horse tethered to a nearby tree. Once he settled her in the saddle, he took the reins and mounted up behind her. Now away from the water, the humid heat For Love Or Liberty/Jennifer Hudson Taylor 11 made his lungs feel like they were suffocating and the discomfort of his wet clothes and soggy boots scratched at his skin. Conrad smelled the salty sea in her wet hair brushing against his chin. His arms pressed against hers as he guided the reins. Rather than increasing his discomfort, having her near brought a measure of satisfaction he had not anticipated. He wondered if she felt the same. Was it a bond between them or attraction? Charlotte had a way of confusing him like no other, but she also infuriated him quicker than anyone. He used to think his brother had the distincthonor, and then he had met Charlotte. They arrived at the two-story brick home half an hour later. As he rode up to the front porch, Charlotte sighed. “Now we will have to explain why we look so disheveled.” “Do not worry, I am sure they are used to it by now. Since the day my brother and I met you and your sister six years ago, you have been headstrong and in constant trouble.” He didn't say it, but he had always thought Emma was her voice of reason, keeping Charlotte from straying too far. With the passing of her twin, he feared Charlotte’s behavior would stretch beyond the limits of what was considered proper. Her grief alone could launch her in any direction. The way the family watched her, and the comments they made, told him he wasn’t alone in his concern. The front door opened and her mother came rushing out wringing her hands and worry on her wrinkled forehead. She was tall for a woman. He guessed nearly six feet, but she remained thin and healthy for one nearing fifty. Her hair was swept up on her head in a mixture of red and gray locks. She wore a black gown, but had removed the black hat she had worn to the funeral. Conrad helped Charlotte dismount as her father and brothers followed her mother out onto the porch with marked concern on their stern faces. A moment later her brothers’ wives and children appeared, flanking around them and shielding their eyes from the sun. For Love Or Liberty/Jennifer Hudson Taylor 12 “Charlotte, you have been worrying your mother—today of all days.” Her father crossed his arms and shook his gray head in disappointment. He stroked his full beard in thought as if pondering how best to handle the situation. He wore a black suit and his gray eyes flickered as he assessed their rumpled attire and wayward hair. Unsure of how Captain Donahue Morgan would react, Conrad remained silent. Charlotte leaned into him, as if seeking his support to face them all. He swept her into his arms and carried her toward the house. Mrs. Tyra Morgan breathed deeply as tears filled her eyes, but she took a defiant step forward and shoved her hands on her hips. “What have you gone and done now, Charlotte? Why can you not walk?” “Where did you find her?” Charlotte’s father’s asked, stepping forward to take her. “In the ocean.” Conrad handed her over to her father, knowing the man was still in fine health and could handle her weight. “She has cut her foot on a shell and we needed to clean sand out of it. I think she will be fine.” “Hugh, take her in and set her on the couch, so I can see if she needs stitching,” Mrs. Morgan said. “Thank you,” Hugh said, his gray eyes meeting Conrad’s. “Is there anything else we should know? Other injuries?” “No, I am fine,” Charlotte said. “I am sorry, I did not mean to worry everyone. I only needed to be alone. You all know how I find solace at the sea.” “Since we just buried Emma this morning, it would help if you would think of someone else besides yourself once in a while.” Scott, her oldest brother scolded her. Someone cleared her throat and the whole family parted, creating an aisle for Charlotte’s grandmother, Lauren MacGregor. She walked forward, leaning on a cane, as she approached For Love Or Liberty/Jennifer Hudson Taylor 13 Charlotte. Unlike the others, a smile lit her wrinkled face, but moisture gathered in her blue eyes as she reached over and cupped Charlotte’s cheek. “Lass, ye remind me so much of yer mother when she was yer age, strong-willed and stubborn. And Emma was more like me when I came from Scotland.” She turned and stared up at Mr. and Mrs. Morgan. “This family has had enough sadness for one day. There is no place for anger in a grieving family. ’Tisn’t unusual for Charlotte to go running off. She is back now. Let us take comfort in it and in each other. Right now, there is much to be decided for Emma’s children.” * * * Charlotte sat on the couch in the parlor and listened to her family’s chastisement for disappearing after Emma’s funeral. Painful memories flashed through her mind. Staring down at her twin’s cold, empty body, felt like she stared at herself in the coffin. As identical twins, she and Emma shared more than their looks, a bond beyond anything she could ever hope to explain. The moment she held her sister’s hand and watched her breathe her last moments after Ashlynn’s birth, something inside her snapped and a deep loneliness engulfed her. She had forced herself to endure the funeral, including all the nods and condolences of their friends, but afterward, she could no longer cope and fled. Little Davie came over and crawled onto her lap. At five years old, she could only imagine what must be going through his mind. While he seemed to understand his mother had died and would never come back, did he really comprehend death when Charlotte continued to struggle with it at a score and three years? Did he feel like his mother had abandoned him? “Auntie, I thought you left like Mama.” Davie swung his tiny arms around her neck and squeezed so tight he cut off her breath. For Love Or Liberty/Jennifer Hudson Taylor 14 “No, I only went for a walk to the ocean.” She hugged him back, resting her chin on his brown head. Not once had it occurred to her he might think of her dying as well. The idea of hurting him was more than she could bear. The muscles in her chest closed in on her lungs, nearly suffocating her. She closed her eyes as she kissed the top of his head. Fresh tears squeezed past her eyelids and crawled down her face as the ache in her heart and chest deepened. David couldn’t take the children away. At less than a week old, Ashlynn wouldn’t know any better, but Davie would. His reaction to her brief disappearance proved it. Besides, she had made a promise to her sister, and as she had told Conrad, she intended to keep it. “While I am still living and breathing, I will never leave you. I promise.” Charlotte stroked the back of Davie’s head. His wide hazel eyes blinked up at her as a slow grin spread across his face. “I love you, Auntie!” Satisfied and reassured, he gave her another big hug and scooted off her lap to go play. Charlotte took a deep breath and used the back of her hand to wipe the tears from her face. She glanced over at Grandma Lauren rocking little Ashlynn to sleep in a wooden rocker her Grandpa had made before his death two years ago. Grandma understood her grief. She once told Charlotte everything reminded her of Grandpa Malcolm. Now, everything would remind Charlotte of Emma. There was a childhood memory lurking in each room, lingering in every corner, all the places in town would haunt her, even her own face each time she looked in the mirror. Throughout the afternoon families dropped by to express their condolences and brought dishes of food and baked desserts. While it was a strain on her family to keep up the fake smiles, For Love Or Liberty/Jennifer Hudson Taylor 15 the trivial conversations, and their true feelings at bay, it was expected. Their distant cousins from the Baker family were the last to leave. Charlotte's father closed the front door in the foyer. A moment later, he walked back into the living room and paused to clear his throat. “David, it is my understanding from your brother you are being transferred to the Great Lakes. I would like to know what you have decided to do about the children. Who will care for them during the long months you will be serving aboard a naval ship?” Silence filled the room as the air thickened with anticipation. Like the rest of her family, Charlotte watched David's reaction, hoping he would be willing let the children stay where she could better care for them. They were familiar with their home here, their grandparents’ home, and the city of Wilmington. Here, familiar faces surrounded them in love, comfort, and security. Fear clutched her heart as she glanced around the somber room. The bottom half of the walls were made of dark paneling encased in carved squares and thick molding, while the upper half of the walls were painted beige. As the sun’s light diminished through the windows, someone lit candles around the room. Charlotte’s mother sat on the couch beside her, mopping at her damp face with the handkerchief her father had given her. Melanie, her older sister at a score and five years sat on Charlotte’s other side, no doubt charged with the responsibility of watching over her in case Charlotte decided to disappear again. She favored their mother with fiery red hair and green eyes. Her husband, Rob McCauley, was outside with their toddler son, making sure the older children behaved. He claimed to be out there to watch the kids, but Charlotte knew it was because he smoked his pipe. For Love Or Liberty/Jennifer Hudson Taylor 16 Her oldest brother Scott and his wife Caroline sat on the settee by the window. He was named for their uncle, Scott MacGregor, who had fought and died in the War of Independence. At the age of three scores, her brother now had four children, who all chased lightning bugs outside with their cousins. Like her and Emma, he had blond hair favoring their Grandma Lauren, but unlike them, he had the same deep blue eyes as their grandmother. Her brother Duncan stood beside his wife, Elizabeth, seated in a wood chair by the pianoforte. Duncan was named for their great-grandfather from Argyll, Scotland. At a score and seven years, he was the second oldest with dark brown eyes and black hair like their father. During their seven-year marriage, they had a six-year-old son, and a three-year-old daughter. “David, we know you do not feel like discussing these decisions right now, but we have to find a permanent nursemaid for Ashlynn.” Uncle Callum’s deep voice carried across the room as he walked to stand beside Charlotte’s father. After Grandpa Malcolm passed away, he now ran The MacGregor Quest estate and took over as the patriarch of the MacGregor family. “Mrs. Brown has agreed to come over and feed her for the night, but only this one night. We need to hear your plans so we can help you, lad.” David stared at the wood floor where he sat in a chair in a dark corner. His eyes were red and swollen with shadows beneath them testifying to his lack of sleep. He had not shaved so brown whiskers now graced his face and neck. Kneeling forward, he placed his elbows on his knees and rubbed his chin with a weary sigh. “I promised Emma I would be a good father, and I cannot do so if I abandon my children and leave them here. They have already lost their Mama. I cannot allow them to lose their daddy, too.” His voice broke and he looked away at the wall. For Love Or Liberty/Jennifer Hudson Taylor 17 Charlotte closed her eyes as familiar pain sliced through her chest. Even though Conrad had already told her their plans, a small part of her still hoped David would change his mind. She glanced over at Conrad leaning against the wall near his brother. His warm, hazel eyes locked with hers as he remained silent. Doubt flickered in his eyes. Did he doubt his brother’s decision, but felt honor-bound to stand by him? Her unease grew. “But David, have you considered how dangerous it would be to travel with a newborn infant?” Mama asked, disbelief thickening her tone. “I have already spoken to the doctor, and will wait a fortnight as he suggested before we leave.” David brushed his hand through his hair leaving a small gap on the side. “Once we arrive and get settled in Cleaveland, Ohio, I plan to hire a nursemaid to stay with the children.” “A complete stranger?” Mama pressed the heel of her hand against her forehead. “I cannot believe this. Besides, you will need a nursemaid for the journey. You cannot wait until you arrive.” “I am sorry, Mrs. Morgan,” David blinked back tears. “But I am their father and war or no war, I will not abandon my children. My mind is made up. They are coming with me.” “It will be hard finding a nursemaid who is willing and able to travel with you.” Charlotte’s father crossed his arms, as a frown wrinkled his forehead. “However, I shall endeavor to do my best to find someone.” “Hugh! You cannot be serious?” Mama scooted to the edge of the couch, ready to battle all of them for the care and safety of her grandchildren. “The country is at war with England once again. And dare I suggest the worst? David will be fighting on a battleship. What if he cannot return to them? The children will be all alone in a strange place.” For Love Or Liberty/Jennifer Hudson Taylor 18 “I made a promise to my twin.” Charlotte stood, her chin trembled and tears threatened to choke her, but she swallowed them back. “For as long as they need me, wherever they go, I will go. Unlike the rest of you, I have no husband, no children, and I am available.”