“I say, Pembroke, let’s call it a night,” Sir Laurence Jameson said to his companion at the other side of the oaken table in the smoke-filled card room.
Lord Alexander Pembroke clicked his tongue and scratched his thick coffee brown hair. “You’ve got to let me win back all you’ve won from me.”
Laurence grinned. “Now, milord, I believe you can hear the rampage going on outside. I believe a storm is brewing.”
As if to collaborate what he was saying, the wind howled and beat against the French windows.
Grinning at his friend’s use of his title, he sighed. “Very well, Laurence. I’ll let you go this time. But next time, you can be sure that not a single penny will come to you.”
Laurence broke out in guffaws. “Aren’t you tired of making empty threats, Pembroke? You say those exact words every time you lose. Perhaps we should stop these card games. I wouldn’t want you to declare bankruptcy very soon.”
Pembroke threw back his head as hearty laughter poured out from his chest.
“A man wins a mere five hundred pounds, and he thinks he has won my whole inheritance. It’s going to take you quite a number of games for you to get me penniless, Laurence.”
His friend chuckled, cocking an eyebrow. “I’m a very patient man. I’ll wait for that day.”
“You might have to wait forever, Laurence. I don’t intend becoming a beggar for your sake.”
Grinning, Laurence replied as he languidly rose to his feet. “Then perhaps you should find someone to take lessons from. Mayhap, Huntington and Montrose might come to your aid.”
Pembroke made retching sounds from his throat, causing his friend’s chest to rumble with laughter.
“Those arrogant bastards? I’d rather take my chances with you,” Pembroke declared and shook with trepidation at the thought of asking those two men for help.
Still grinning, Laurence pushed back his chair. He stood for a moment to throw the remnants of the liquid in the glass down his throat. He always favored the Spanish Madeira ever since his days in the high seas and his only friend, Pembroke provided him with the good stuff, not the watered down imitation that were provided in some taverns.
The liquor brought back memories of when he used to be a successful agent and privateer with the aid of the shipping company he inherited from his uncle. Although the occupation had been derisible and of questionable character to him, he enjoyed it wholeheartedly. The feel of the wind on his face, the thrill of a voyage, the fear when he and his crew encountered a wild and raging storm in the seas made his mouth run dry.
All that were in the past now—ever since he was commissioned by the Regent’s navy to execute a delicate extraction and negotiation of a political prisoner from Algiers, a permanent guest of the Ottoman Empire. The pirates were known for plundering ships in the Mediterranean as well as kidnapping wealthy people for a huge ransom. They were also adept at taking slaves and merchandize.
His successful negotiation and subsequent plunder of the Algiers fleet meant a knighthood and reward of both title and land, as well as a substantial annuity from the crown ascending him as Sir Laurence into the stratosphere of the social elite, but never quite on par with the true aristocracy. He was seen as something of a social rebel, but no misfit. He was tolerated only for his cunning, forward planning, and most of all, his desire to aid those far richer than himself to succeed further, for a nominal fee, of course.
Laurence was a self-made man, and what the ton called new money, but he didn’t mind. He had worked very hard to get to where he was. However, sometimes he wondered if it had been worth it, taking the commission.
He missed going on voyages. He longed to captain a ship again. The image of him standing in his office on his ship surrounded by ship journals, plans, navaltomes, maps, sketching tables, canvases of ships, and liquor flashed through his mind.
The thrill of seeing his cargo hauled in containing cotton, rum, sugar, tobacco, and clothing flowed within him.
He let out a deep sigh, causing his friend to raise a brow. That was his past now. Although he still had the shipping company, he had relinquished control to his next in command. A knight couldn’t be seen in the Mediterranean, accosting pirates and taking their merchandize, which he did just for the thrill of it sometimes.
Now, he conducted his business on land, and with respectable gentlemen, not pirates with dirt of the sea on them or farmers who couldn’t string a complete sentence of English together.
Some considered him fortunate to have received the commission which changed his life and introduced him to aristocracy. Sometimes, he didn’t think so.
His mind drifted back to the present. He realized then that he had been standing there, staring at the empty glass cup. Shaking off his past from the recesses of his mind, he looked at the lord who had been staring at him with queer eyes.
“Please ring for your butler to get my belongings. I’ll see you in the morning,” Laurence instructed his friend as he placed the glass on the table.
Pembroke rose, settling incredulous eyes on his friend. “Surely you don’t mean to go out in this terrible weather.”
With a smile twisting his lips, Laurence nodded and said, “That’s exactly what I mean to do.”
Pembroke shook his head. “You always have been a stubborn mule, Laurence.”
“You know me well, Pembroke.”
“However, in this happenstance, I beseech you to stay here for the night. You can return to your hotel first thing in the morning,” Pembroke suggested mildly.
Laurence shook his head and stubbornly said, “I will do no such thing.”
Although Pembroke’s London apartments were very cozy, Laurence sought privacy. Whenever they were both in London for business, he usually stayed at a hotel. He didn’t want that to change.
“Be reasonable, Laurence,” Pembroke pressed, “the storm will break out any minute now.”
Laurence listened to the whistling of the wind outside and grimaced. “I’ll be fine, Pembroke. My hotel, I believe, is less than a mile from here if I’m not mistaken.”
“Even if it were just next door, I wouldn’t advise you to go out in that terrible weather.”
“Stop being a worrisome sot, Pembroke. I’ll simply walk down to the hotel before the storm breaks.”
“What about your winnings? It’s dangerous carrying such a sum about. Miscreants will be about at this time of the day.”
“I’ll deposit it in the bank first thing tomorrow morning,” he informed his worried friend, “and as for any scoundrel who comes my way, he will get a bullet in the head for his troubles.”
Pembroke grinned at that. Laurence returned the smile. His revolver was in his coat pocket, and he wouldn’t fail to use it at the first sign of trouble, though he believed it was highly unlikely to encounter a brigand in this weather. There were desperate ones out there, though. He was certain that he could handle himself.
When his friend continued to look at him with concern, Laurence grinned and said, “As they say in the colonies, ‘I wasn’t born in the woods to be scared by an owl.’” For his friend’s understanding, he said, “It means that after my life in the sea and facing many challenges including the threat of death, I’m not afraid of anything. Better to war out than to rust out.”
An indiscernible expression crossed Pembroke’s face. The lord shrugged. “Alright, Laurence. If you say so.” Then he rang for his butler to get his guest’s coat, hat, and gloves.
Laurence strode out of the card room to the impressive vestibule. After adorning his pieces of clothing which were handed to him by the butler, he turned to his friend.
“Thank you for an entertaining evening, Pembroke. I’ll see you in the morning.” He slightly tilted his hat at his friend.
Pembroke nodded at him. A massive draught of wind burst into the house immediately the butler opened the massive oaken door. Laurence cursed audibly as the waft almost upset his hat. Nevertheless, he obdurately strode out the door.
Lord Pembroke stood in the hall, staring at the closed door. He couldn’t believe that Laurence had bolshily gone out into the storm. He shouldn’t be surprised, though. Laurence had always courted danger and laughed at the face of death.
Truth be told, he was slightly in awe of the tall, dark and handsome man, which was a novelty to him. Laurence had genuine strengths as a competent seaman and explorer, businessman, landholder, and gentleman. Something that he, Pembroke knew nothing about. He could only pride himself as a businessman, but he didn’t think he was as astute as his neighbor and friend.
They had become very good friends over the years, consoling each other when they both lost their spouses to scarlet fever around the same time. They also shared a few vices except cards. Both of them were in a constant ebb and flow of debt and credit to each other, with them seeking refuge from the disturbing quiet of their privileged lives in the turbulent harbours, risk and potential loss.
They were also allies in their shared business projects to clear a section of the countryside for a new housing development, seeing a few hundred villagers moved on, and a deer park, with suitable and opulent country houses established for the social elite for when they visited Sussex, giving even the lowest of the ‘well-to-do’ a little country estate to call their own.
Pembroke couldn’t wait for the project to start. It was the reason they were in London. Although they had witnessed a small drawback in their plans, he believed it would be sorted out soon.
The lord turned away to retire to his room, hoping his friend would make it in time before the storm finally released its wrath.
“Dammit!” Laurence cursed heavily.
He wished now that he had listened to his friend because he had miscalculated the severity of the storm. He hadn’t thought that it would be this disastrous. Although he had experienced a great many storms in the seas, at least he would have gone under. But there was no escaping this one. He toyed with the idea of going back to Pembroke’s place, but when he turned around, he couldn’t make out anything or the direction from which he had come.
It was pitch dark, and things were flying in the air from every direction. Ahead of him, he saw people scuttling for cover and shelter of any kind. The wind howled all around him as if trying to tell him it served him right for not listening to his friend. He had since lost his hat despite the fact that he had tried to hold on to it. Now, his head was bare and his hair was plastered to it as showers from the rain bathed him.
The frustrated man cursed again as he tightened his coat around his body. He could hardly see in the violent wind. A newspaper covered his face, and he tore it off and glared at the offending piece of paper with annoyance. He threw it away and forged on in the dark, determined to get to his destination whether the storm liked it or not.
Laurence stood for a moment and tried to get his bearings. The blasted tempest had blighted the entire city, eliminating any landmark he could have held on to. He gritted his teeth at where Pembroke’s London home and the hotel were situated; almost in the outskirts of the city. If it had been positioned in the main streets, he would have commissioned a carriage to take him to the hotel. Alas, that wasn’t the case. Even though it would have been dangerous since vagabonds went about at this time of the day, his revolver, which he knew how to use very well, would have given the man or men second thoughts.
Laurence sighed. Unfamiliar with the area, he decided to trace back the direction from which he had come. Although there were no landmarks to guide him, he trudged forward. Feeling the weight of being stranded with no houses in sight except dilapidating sheds that several people had already taken shelter in, he walked on against the wind. It would be very dangerous of him to continue walking in the storm for a long time because he was sure to catch his death of cold. He was already soaking wet as it was; his hair clung to his head, and his clothes clung to his body.
It was useless trying to go back to Pembroke’s residence. Besides, he had come too far to go back. It was better he continued forward with the hope of eventually finding the hotel than walking back there and getting further lost.
Laurence groaned when the cold began to seep through his gloves and boots. In a matter of minutes, his body became numb, and his fur-lined coat couldn’t be of much help.
After walking for some minutes, Laurence saw what looked like a small shed, and he breathed in with relief. He would take shelter there until the storm was over. The tired man hoped no one else had occupied the place.
Laurence deduced that the elements were against him when the roof of the shed, which had been moving to the rhythm of the wind, suddenly uprooted and flew into the air.
Laurence gritted his teeth. “What did I do to deserve this?” he muttered.
Even in his years as a seaman, he had battled with tempests and won, but this one was proving difficult. He couldn’t find his way back to the hotel, and now, his only means of shelter had been decimated by the storm.
He just stood there gritting his teeth in anger and thinking he might have made the wrong turn when he left Pembroke’s house; thereby getting him lost.
A scream pierced the air. It was a wonder that he had heard it given the raging storm. Perhaps it was because the storm had taken a few seconds of respite before continuing virulently. He quickly scampered in search of the source.
A short distance away, he saw the source of the scream and the cause of it. The annoying storm had wreaked its havoc on a poor woman. The young woman of slight build was trying to lift the zinced roof that was uprooted from the shed.
For a moment, he just stood there and watched the woman alternating between groping under the sheet and trying to lift it. He couldn’t see her face clearly, but she was obviously in distress.
He swiftly strode forward to assist her.
“Maybe I can be of some help,” he informed her shortly.
The woman screamed into his ears, nearly rendering him deaf. The sound rang in his ears, causing him to wince. The woman placed a hand across her mouth, looking at him with despair.
“I’m so sorry. You frightened me,” she informed him in a low sweet voice.
“I’m sorry if I did,” Laurence returned, removing his gaze from the roof. “What are you searching for?”
The woman appeared ashamed. She turned away and said, “My parasol. It flew out of my hand just when the roof came flying in the air. I just managed to avoid being hit in the nick of time.”
“Thank goodness for that,” he said, trying to discern the features of the woman from the very little light the day offered.
“Indeed,” she replied and turned away. She tried lifting the sheet to no avail.
“Let me assist you,” Laurence simply said.
The woman nodded and stepped aside.
He flexed his hands and arms before stooping to lift the roof. It was surprisingly heavy, but he was able to raise it from the ground.
The woman cried with delight when she located her parasol and took it.
“You can drop it now,” she informed him with a wide grin on her face.
Laurence smiled back at her and then carefully placed the roof back on the ground. She opened the parasol and tried to shelter him with it as well. It was a lost cause because of his height. He stood at six feet four inches while he didn’t think she was up to five feet five. She barely reached his shoulders.
He grinned at her. “Don’t you think that’s a lost cause?”
She shrugged. “It’s the least I can do given the fact that you helped me with retrieving it.”
He shook his head. “It’s of no use. I’m already soaked through and through. Including you I must say.” His head drifted to her simple dress which clung to her body.
He was about to take off his coat to put it around her shoulders when he heard the sound of what seemed like crazed horses over the thunderclap. He couldn’t be sure because of the wind.
Nevertheless, he turned around just in time to see a team of four horses with a carriage heading for him and the young woman. It was so sudden that Laurence barely had time to react. He quickly pushed the woman to safety in the nick of time. Caught off guard, he lost his footing in the wet mud on the street and tumbled backward to land heavily on the ground. The carriage, including horses and rig, shattered into the tree.
Laurence lay unmoving on the wet ground.
With her lips quivering, Harriet Beauchamp stared at the still man on the floor. Fear snaked up her spine as she believed that he might have been killed by the crazed horses.
Dear God, what am I going to do?
Oh, why of all days had she chosen the one when a tempest would hit to call on her friend? If she hadn’t been so much in need of companionship, she would have stayed at home. And she had been having such a good time with her friend that she hadn’t been conscious of her surroundings. The wild wind that threw open the French windows with such ferocity had startled both women.
“Good God, is that a storm coming?” her friend had shrieked with fright.
“I better be on my way,” she had said, hastily rising to her feet.
Her friend had pressed her to stay back and spend the night, but she had insisted on leaving. The woman had been shocked that she would rather risk a storm than spend the night with her.
And so, Harriet had been forced to tell a whooper.
“I’m so sorry, Anne, but I have to go. You see, I’m with the key to the house. Julian will be home any minute.”
She had crossed her fingers behind her back, hoping that Anne wouldn’t ask to see the key or infer that the storm would make her brother find alternative lodgings.
Harriet had inwardly let out a sigh of relief when Anne shrugged and agreed for her to leave. She had all but danced for joy. If she had told Anne the real reason she had to leave, her friend would have been hurt. And since she was no marriage breaker, she had insisted on leaving.
Anne finding out that her husband was keen on Harriet would have been devastated. Harriet had been shocked to say the least when Anthony had approached her one night that she spent at their residence. The odious man had professed his love for her, singing her praises, talking about her beauty and mourning his decision to marry Anne. Not one to take nonsense, Harriet hadn’t hesitated in gracing his cheek with her palm. She had warned him never to approach her again, particularly when he was foxed. Afraid that the man would run to his wife with tales of how Harriet tried to seduce him, she had left first thing in the morning. Nevertheless, upon her second visit to the house, the man had accosted her in the garden and begged for her attention. Harriet had decided then never to call on her friend again. But her need for companionship and her friend’s worry that she no longer visited had pushed her into going there.
Now seeing the man who just saved her life lying motionless on the wet ground made her regret her decision. If it wasn’t for trying to save her, he would have moved away in time instead of trying to secure her safety. Mayhap if he hadn’t come to her rescue in the first place, he wouldn’t even be here now. Regret coursed through her as she pushed herself to her feet, wincing as she felt pain on her derriere. She had also landed awkwardly on the ground when he pushed her to safety.
Her lips trembled when the horses, neighing, dislodged themselves from the tree and bolted down the street. A gasp left her mouth when she saw an equally crazed stable boy emerge from the broken carriage.
“Oh, my God!” he shrieked, confronting both the terrible scene and the terrified young woman.
“Oh, my God,” the stable lad screamed again as he gazed intently at the still man on the ground. “I’ll hang fer this fer sure. Oh, cursed be this night and this storm fer doin’ this.”
Harriet stood there observing the shivering stable boy totally oblivious of the storm still raging on. Her gaze settled on the poor man who was still being pelted by the rain. Ignoring the hysterical boy, she slowly bent to see how hurt the man was.
She prayed within her that he wasn’t dead. That would be another problem entirely. Harriet settled on her knees on the muddy ground beside him, holding her breath. Her hand reached out to feel his nape just like Julian had taught her to do so many times.
Relief whooshed out from inside her as she felt a pulse. He was alive! Although the pulse was a bit weak, it was there, nevertheless, and she was grateful for it.
“Dear God, thank you,” she muttered, wiping the mud off his face. It was getting darker by now and so she couldn’t really see his face. She heard his voice again in her mind and smiled a little. He had a unique and distinct voice that she would always remember; rich and compelling.
“Why am I thinking of his voice?” she cursed. “He’s lying here probably dying, and all I can think about is his voice.”
Why was she acting like a henwit over a stranger? Exhaling softly, Harriet put her thoughts in order. The man wasn’t dead and so needed help. She knew the one place where he would get medical help. If only she could find a way to get him out of the mud.
Harriet turned to look at the harried stable boy who had stopped lamenting about the man he thought was dead and was now talking about his bolted horses.
“My master is sure to sell me to pay fer the horses. I be ruined. Ruined!”
Harriet opened her mouth to call for his help but changed her mind. So focused was he on jumping up and down and waving his hat about that she surmised that he would be of little help.
However, when she tried to lift the unconscious man from the ground, it proved to be too difficult for her. She almost toppled over in her bid to at least raise him to a sitting position so that she could feel around his head for any wound.
The determined woman tried again, but it was all for naught. She couldn’t even raise him halfway. She settled on her hunches and regarded him with weary eyes. Although he was of lean stature, he was muscular and broad-shouldered. Nevertheless, she hadn’t thought that she wouldn’t be able to raise him. His masculine strength hadn’t been apparent to her before now. But she guessed she should have from the easy way he had lifted the roof for her to retrieve her parasol.
“What am I going to do now?” she muttered as she stared at the still unconscious man.
Her head jerked to the young boy who was still engaged in theatrics. She waved a hand at him to get his attention, but he was still hell-bent on showing how displeased he was with the situation that he had found himself. Frustrated, she snapped at him.
“Stop acting like a cork-brained dolt and come help me with the man.”
The boy stopped moving about and turned to look at her as if he was only just noticing her presence there. He looked at her and blinked repeatedly.
“What you say, miss?” he questioned after he had stared at her for some seconds.
Groaning inwardly, Harriet replied, “I said come help me with this man.”
“What?” The boy’s eyes widened. “What ye be doing with his body?”
“He’s not dead, you dimwit!” Harriet’s exasperation at the stupid boy got her short-tempered.
He eyed her warily. “How be ye know it?”
Harriet sighed heavily, trying her best to be patient with the lad. It wasn’t his fault that he was addle-brained.
“My brother is a physician. He taught me how to check if someone’s is dead … or not. In this case, this man isn’t dead. He’s only unconscious.”
“How be ye so sure?”
Harriet placed a hand on her forehead and massaged her throbbing brows. She was beginning to get a headache, and the rain wasn’t letting up. She didn’t have time for this interrogation as if he were a bow street runner.
Her head snapped up and she said, “Come and listen to his chest for his heartbeat. I’m sure you’ll hear one.”
The boy looked frightened at the thought as if the man’s ghost would rise and strike him on the head. He darted his tongue across his lips.
“Ye be a lad or a coward?” Harriet, in frustration, broke out in his broken English.
Stung by her question, the boy thrust out his chin and strode forward like a knight in shining armour, ready to do battle with a fierce enemy.
Swiftly, he fell on his knees, and after a moment’s hesitation, he placed his head on the man’s chest. His eyes widened instantly.
“Oh, blimey! He alive!” He sat up, staring at Harriet with eyes as wide as saucers.
Nodding, she answered, “Yes, he is. I need help to take him to my lodgings. He needs to be attended to posthaste.”
Harriet almost screamed at the boy when he stared at her with wary eyes.
“Miss, what if he dies afore ye get ta yer ’ouse? Ye be saddled wif a corpse.”
Clicking her tongue she responded tautly, “Well, that won’t be the case if you hurry. I think he’s only unconscious, probably knocked out by the fall. He doesn’t seem harmed in any way.”
The boy only stared at her.
“If you would be so kind as to lift him carefully, I’ll feel his head for any injury.”
The lad stared at her for some minutes as if she had spoken some indiscernible language. Then he nodded and did her bidding.
Carefully, Harriet caressed the man’s head for any bleeding or bump, but she felt nothing of that sort. Perhaps he was just winded from his fall.
“We have to find a way to get him to my house. It’s only about a hundred yards or so away,” she informed the boy looking around her to see if she could get help from anyone with a horse.
The boy nodded. “I go look for my horses and bring them.”
Harriet shook her head. “There’s no telling what this delay is doing to him. It might be worsening his situation. He needs to be examined by a physician promptly.”
The boy look affronted that his suggestion was swept under the rug. “I can’t be carryin’ the man on me back ta yer ’ouse. Can’t ye be seein’ that the man be twice my size? Why, he be far taller than me. And wif this cursed weather, we be fallin’ on the ground aplenty times.”
Harriet regretfully saw that what the lad said was true. The man was too sturdy to be carried by a thin lad no matter the proximity of their destination.
“Well then best you be on your way to find your horses. But I dare say if they are still acting crazy, you should find another more acquiescing animal than those unruly beasts!”
Clearly affronted by her choice of words on the animals, the boy fixed angry eyes at her.
“It not be their fault. This cursed storm has them scared. Did ye hear the thunder? Is enough ta drive even a man insane. My horses be just reactin’ ta it.”
“Alright, alright!” Harriet put up her hands in submission. She didn’t want to argue with the lad, all she wanted was a means of transportation for the poor man to her house.
To your house? Really Harriet, lying doesn’t become you.
Harriet blushed fierily, grateful for the increasing darkness to hide her pallor.
“Be gone, stable boy. And don’t be tardy about it,” she warned tautly to hide her discomfiture. When the boy made no effort to move, she reached into her reticule and tossed a shiny coin at him.
Needing no further urging, the boy rose. After a rueful glance at his broken carriage, he ran in the direction of the horses. For a moment, she wondered if she had made a mistake giving the coin to the boy. What if he didn’t return? Her gaze flew to the broken carriage. No matter what, he would have to come back, at least for the carriage. So she would wait there until he returned.
As she was left alone with the man, not knowing what else to do, she stared at him. In the increasing darkness, she couldn’t quite make out his face. When they reached her house, she surmised that she would be able to.
Damn! She had referred to her former employer’s lodgings as her house again. If she wasn’t careful, she would be saying it out loud for everyone to hear, just like she did with the stable boy only a moment ago. A rueful sigh left her lips as she once again remembered her predicament.
Recently, she had been freed from her position as governess due to the death of her employer’s father. The man had decided to return to their home country in France as there was nothing to keep him in London anymore.
Harriet had been sorry to be told of his resolution. For three years she had served as governess to Jean and Celine Froussard, both adorable twins. She would miss them dearly, but she would also miss her job.
In the weeks since the departure of her employer and his family, she had experienced first-hand the hardships of being neither a woman with name or status, nor any prospects for a suitor. She wasn’t acquainted enough to mix with people above her status. And men of her station were somewhat intimidated by her level of knowledge. She could speak several languages including Italian, French, German, and Latin. She also spent an almost unhealthy amount of time with her nose stuck in books on her days off.
They were also in search of a woman with a large dowry, not her who wouldn’t bring anything to the union. Indeed she had nothing to offer beside her books and her small belongings. Since when her parents died, ruined from her father’s scandal with gambling debts and then drink, she and her brother were left with nothing, mainly as the family home and silver were seized by sheriffs. Her mother, unable to bear the shame, had died of a broken heart soon after the seizure.
Julian had been fortunate enough to find a sponsor who was responsible for his education in becoming a doctor. She had wanted to become a teacher, but not having the right connections, she had settled for being a governess. Although she had yearned to go with the Froussards to Paris since she was adept at speaking the language, Madame Froussard had insisted she couldn’t come along.
Harriet had wondered if it was because her husband’s wandering eyes had been fixed on her recently. She had hastily pushed the thought away, preferring to think happy thoughts than be distraught by the way the woman had treated her.
A small sigh of distress fell from her lips. In a matter of weeks, she would be homeless. Once the Froussards sent for the rest of their belongings, the house would be closed off, and she would have to find alternate lodgings, perhaps a boarding house.
Harriet was still lamenting at her present situation when the lad returned with one of his horses.
Breathing heavily, he said, “This be the only one I can find. I go after the other ones later.”
Harriet was grateful for his return even though she believed it was because of his horses and carriage. In between them, they were able to gently lift the man upon the horse. The stable boy who she got to find out was called Billy led the horse with its reins while she walked beside them.
The storm was the worst they had experienced in years. Along with the pouring rain and thunderclap, there was no sign of it yielding soon. She was soaked to the skin by the time she reached the old mansion that had been her home for three years. It was situated between two wrought-iron gates with huge windows, spacious rooms, and a beautiful large garden and a gazebo.
Getting the man down from the horse became another matter on its own. Billy felt ill-equipped to do so. Exasperated with the young lad, Harriet offered her shoulders for the man to be placed so that she could take him inside the house away from the pouring rain. Ashamed at the way she brought herself forward despite her petite frame, the lad reluctantly agreed to carry his charge into the house.
Negotiating the steps proved tricky because they were wet, but Billy was able to manage it. Since most of the house had been closed off, and she lived only in a small part of it, she led the way to the small sitting room.
“God’s teeth, the man be very heavy,” Billy said, taking in deep breaths as he practically dragged the man on his shoulders, scraping his feet on the bare ground.
“This way, Billy.” Harriet threw the door open to a sitting room with a settee and a fireplace and rushed to light the candles. “Please place him here on the sofa while I see to lighting the fireplace.”
“Be careful!” Harriet shouted when Billy all but threw the man on the chair.
The boy doubled over breathing heavily. He glared at Harriet, and she wondered if the moisture on his forehead was sweat or rain. Pushing it aside as irrelevant, she left the fireplace and strode forward.
“I need you to do one more thing for me.”
Billy groaned as he straightened. “All these for a coin? I reckon ye should giv’ me more if ye want me ta do more for ye.”
“Hush, Billy. After you see to your horses and carriage, I want you to help me find my brother. He’s the only one who can handle this man.”
Seeing the defiant look in the boy’s eyes, Harriet sighed and reached into her reticule again. She was afraid that if she didn’t give him more money, the boy wouldn’t go on her errand, and she would be saddled with the unconscious man all night without knowing what to do.
Again, she tossed the coin at the boy who gladly and eagerly took it with his eyes shining just like that of the coin.
Grinning and staring at the coin like it was some lover of his, he said, “I thank ye, miss. This storm mighta not be cursed after all.”
Harriet stamped her foot on the ground to get his attention. “Focus, Billy. I need you to go to Number 3, William’s Street and fetch my brother. His name is Dr. Julian Beauchamp.”
Billy nodded, but she had the distinct feeling that he wasn’t listening to her but thinking of ways to spend his money.
Harriet snapped her fingers until he was looking straight at her. “Billy, listen to me. This is very important. This man’s life depends on you right now. You must fetch my brother to come and attend to him. I don’t know what ails him. Only Julian can help him. So, you must fetch my brother posthaste.”
Billy nodded again. “Must fetch Dr Julian.”
She smiled softly at him. “Yes, at this address. Number 3, William’s Street. He went there to attend to a patient of his. I’m sure he’s done by now, and it’s only the storm keeping him there.”
“Number 3, William’s Street,” Billy muttered. His gaze fell on his coin one more time, and Harriet couldn’t help rolling her eyes. At least he got the address right and would fetch her brother. She could only hope that he wouldn’t tarry, staring at his coins.
“Please don’t tarry, Billy,” she pleaded with a tender voice. Her glance fell on the man before returning to him, “I fear that the more time we waste in attending to him, the worse he’s getting.”
“Never fear, miss. I be fetch the good doctor ta attend ta him,” Billy promised and hurried out of the room.
Harriet hoped that the accident with his carriage wreck hadn’t drawn any attention yet. It was highly unlikely with the storm raging outside; the worst they had seen in decades. If people had gathered to find out what happened to the carriage, it would be a while before Billy showed up. However, she was certain that wouldn’t be the case.
A thunderclap had her jerking from her musings. She crossed herself and hastily strode to the fireplace to light the pile of wood that Julian had stacked there.
A smile dashed across her face when she had the fire going and blazing. In no distant time, the room began to get warm irrespective of the terrible wind outside.
Unable to contain her curiosity any longer, she took a lamp and quietly walked to where the man was still lying unconscious. Gently kneeling before him, she lifted the lamp high to access his features. Her lips ran dry as she gawked at the man.
Dear God, he was quite a handsome fellow. Even though his midnight black hair was plastered on his head and his pallor was pale, there was no denying the fact that he was a very attractive man.
He looked to be in his late twenties, broad-shouldered and oozing masculine strength even though he was unconscious. His face was quite striking with a broad forehead, black thick lashes, an aquiline nose, and beautifully-shaped lips. His jaw was clean-shaven.
She wished he would open his eyes so that she could see their colour. Certainly, she knew it would be as compelling as his voice and as striking as his face.
Underneath his dark velvet coat was a ruffled shirt, black cravat, and dark trousers. Black leather boots covered his feet. She longed to loosen his coat and boots to make him warmer but feared that she might hurt him in some way since she couldn’t find any injury on his person. Besides, she wasn’t used to undressing men and might find it pretty awkward.
Her colour heightened immediately she realized that she had actually been gawking at him for some minutes. Shamefacedly, Harriet lowered the lamp.
Worry snaked up to her spine as she wondered if she should have taken in the well-dressed man at all. If only she hadn’t gone out, she wouldn’t be in this situation.
Harriet rose promptly and strode to one of the wing-backed chairs and settled herself on it. She struggled to keep her gaze from the man even as her eyes travelled to where he lay every now and then.
Minutes ticked into an hour, yet Julian didn’t come. Harriet began to wonder if she should have just gone in search of her brother instead of commissioning Billy to do so. It was getting obvious that the boy had been quick to collect her money because he didn’t plan on going on her errand. Billy was obviously only interested in his horses and his wrecked carriage. But she couldn’t have gone out in this weather. And what would she have done about the stranger? There was every chance that he would have woken up and left the house. Who was to say what he would have done before leaving the house? Although he looked like a nobleman, no one could actually be trusted.
Incapable of sitting still anymore, Harriet got up and began pacing the carpeted floor. Her motion took her to the window where she drew aside the drapes to see if she could find a man of her brother’s figure approaching the house. Or perhaps view Billy coming with his team of crazy horses to report that he couldn’t find her brother. She didn’t know what she would do then. Possibly she could try rousing the stranger and getting him to tell her who he was and if he would like her to send a message to his family. But how would she send someone to get to his family? Billy had probably absconded with her money and wouldn’t be returning, meaning that Julian wasn’t going to show up.
The thought of what that meant had Harriet darting to look at the man. Dear God, it meant that she was stuck in the house with a stranger, and there was a raging storm out there.
Her lips quivered as trepidation stole up to her body. What if the man woke up and wasn’t a nobleman at all? What if he was just a brigand dressed as an aristocrat? What if this was just a ploy he used to get unsuspecting women alone so he could take advantage of them?
A sudden giggle escaped her lips. She was getting ahead of herself. If she wasn’t careful, she would scare herself silly over nothing. Just to be sure that her suspicions were unfounded, she slowly walked toward the man.
Waving a hand across his face to see if he was conscious, she knelt beside the chair again. When he didn’t move, she felt his temperature at his neck. Although he was warm now, his pulse was still not strong, which got her a bit worried. Perhaps she was doing it all wrong. Julian had taught her how to feel for someone’s pulse a long time ago. Maybe she wasn’t doing it accurately.
Harriet decided that if she really had to be sure that she was safe with this stranger, she had to at least know something about him.
“I hope you don’t choose to wake up while I’m searching you. I wouldn’t want you to think that I was trying to steal from you,” she murmured as she searched for some clue to his identity.
Her hand reached into coat, checking if she could find a form of identity on him.
“Yes!” she exclaimed when she found his pocketbook.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t find any form of identification in it. Her eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when she saw the amount of money in it.
“Five hundred dollars!”
Her astonished eyes took in the unconscious man, and she wondered for the umpteenth time who he was. If he had this amount of money, did that mean he had robbed someone or some people? Or was he so wealthy that he went about with that much money?
Intrigued, her fingers went through his other coat pocket, and she found something more shocking than the huge sum of money.
Speedily she dropped it as if it were a scorpion that had stung her. In her haste to get up from her kneeling position, she fell backward and landed on her derriere on the carpet, looking at the man as if he were some strange being.
“Who are you?” she whispered fearfully, cursing for bringing herself into such a pickle.
A man with five hundred dollars on his person, a revolver, and no single clue as to who he was lay on her sofa in the middle of a storm.
Fear left her sitting numbly on the ground staring at the man with huge eyes. What had she gotten herself into?
As the minutes passed, and Julian didn’t show up, Harriet feared that the man might die and she would blamed for the death of the nobleman, thereby getting blood on her hands.
“Dear God, what have I done by having this man brought here?”
“A Matter of Honor and Passion” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Sir Laurence Jameson was always a successful negotiator and his reward for it was a title and acres of land, ascending him into the stratosphere of the social elite. When an accident during a wild storm renders him amnesiac, with no recall of either his recent or distant past, his life will change forever. Rescued at the last moment, destiny brings Laurence, a seductive lady to his side, to care for him. Why does he feel such an instant attraction though? Was this accidental meeting a coincidence or was it meant to be?
Recently freed from her position due to the death of her employer’s father, Harriet is experiencing first-hand the hardships of being a fiery woman with neither a name nor any prospects of a suitor. Life will bring her to the nursing bed of the dashing Sir Laurence, with the only aim to bring him back to good health. Her task will prove to be unexpectedly challenging, as the sizzling passion between them is undeniable. But when his darkest secret is revealed, will she give him a second chance?
Once Laurence regains his memory, she will find out that he is the notorious Sir Laurence she’s been fighting against for months, petitioning against his land development. Harriet’s own romantic feelings will be thrown into chaos when she realizes who she has been helping. Will Sir Laurence reciprocate the love and kindness he has received? Or will he ignore his chance at true love again over his lust for money and power?
“A Matter of Honor and Passion” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.