High Hall, Massachusetts
Catherine Markham gripped the stiff scrap of paper. "I
knew it," she whispered, her fingers trembling. "Royce is
Happiness flooded through her and she slid to the floor
beside the desk, a single tear slipping down her cheek.
Since the day a few weeks earlier when Uncle Elliot had
told Catherine that her brother had drowned, his heavily
loaded frigate sunk off the rocky Carolina coast after a
ruthless attack by the British, her life had become a
Why did Royce have to go on that blasted trip? Catherine
asked herself for the hundredth time. He usually stayed
home, but he’d been anxious to show support for the
Continental Army as they struggled to throw off British
oppression, and he’d decided to see to the shipment of
leather and iron himself. The shipment was destined for
New York, where a convoy of carts would convey it to
General Washington's army.
Catherine sighed. Royce had always been drawn to the sea.
Four years ago, he had been the captain of one of Father’s
most profitable ships. Only thirteen at the time,
Catherine had idolized her brother, who was a full twelve
years older than she, waiting excitedly for him to return
from his voyages. He always brought her something -- silk
from China, an engraved ivory tusk from India, a silver
chain from England. And she, in return, wrote him long,
long letters of life at High Hill Manor.
After Catherine's parents were killed in a carriage
accident four years ago, Royce had come home, and together
he and Catherine had struggled to heal what was left of
their family. It had taken a number of sad months, but
eventuallylife had fallen back into a comfortable pattern.
Catherine had come to discover that, all in all, it was an
ideal arrangement. Royce trusted Catherine's judgment and
listened to her thoughts and suggestions, and in return,
she respected his opinions and listened to his advice. In
a way, he was not only her brother but also her best
And she had not been able to believe he was gone forever.
She blinked away tears as she read the note once again.
Torn and dirty, the ink had smeared in places and the
spelling was far from perfect. But the message was clear:
The author claimed to have rescued Royce from the sea and
to have him in his care. But it was the last sentence that
sent chills through Catherine -- if the Markhams wanted to
see Royce again, they would have to bring fifty gold
pieces to the Red Rooster Inn in Savannah by the first of
"The first of June," Catherine whispered. "That's in less
than two weeks."
Her heart thudded hard against her chest. Surely Uncle
Elliot had already paid the ransom. Catherine’s uncle had
come to stay at High Hall as soon as he'd heard the news
of the attack on Royce's ship. Catherine wasn’t overly
fond of her uncle; he seemed very cold and unemotional to
Still, as much as Catherine disliked Uncle Elliot’s
overbearing presence, she had to admit that he had been
helpful since Royce’s disappearance, taking over the daily
duties of running the Markham shipping business and
fending off the many people who came to call and offer
For Catherine, that had hurt the worst -- how quickly
people believed that Royce would never return. Every
visitor who arrived at High Hall in the days after Royce’s
ship sank seemed to add more credence to the one thing
Catherine would not believe: that her brother was dead.
And now . . . her fingers tightened on the note and a
small smile began to curve her lips. She’d been right; her
brother was alive.
She wondered why Uncle Elliot hadn't told her about the
note. She knew he wouldn’t leave Royce helpless in the
clutches of a group of madmen. Perhaps her uncle had
already paid the ransom and Royce was even now on his way
home and it was going to be a huge and wonderful surprise
"Catherine?" Uncle Elliot stood in the open doorway, the
light from the hallway outlining his broad shoulders. He
was built like all the Markham men -- tall, strong, and
muscular. "What are you doing in here?"
She got to her feet, feeling somehow guilty even though
she had every right to be there, at Royce’s desk. “I came
to get some paper to write a thank-you note to the
governor for the kind letter he sent. I -- I found this on
the desk.” She held out the note.
Uncle Elliot strode forward and took the note, his brows
lowering in a quick frown. The late afternoon light
briefly touched the lines on his face and Catherine noted
that he looked more and more like Father as the years
passed. The main difference between the two men was that
while Father had always laughed and had a tendency to see
the good in everything around him, Uncle Elliot was more
somber, less playful. He rarely smiled, and even then it
was more a polite gesture than anything else.
"I'm sorry, Catherine." Uncle Elliot turned away briefly,
placing the note back on the desk. "I should have told you
about this, but I didn’t want you to worry and -- "
"You paid the ransom." Catherine took a step closer,
smoothing her dress in a nervous gesture. "Royce is coming
home soon, isn’t he? Did you send a ship for him? Or will
he -- "
"No." Uncle Elliot faced her now, his expression troubled.
Her heart thudded harder. "What do you mean?"
"The letter came only two days after the attack. It is
obviously a sad attempt by a very desperate group of
persons to profit from our grief." Uncle Elliot shook his
head gravely. "I can’t allow that."
"You . . . you believe the note is a fake?"