Rafe looked up when he heard someone shouting his name. He grinned when he saw the pair of young men approaching him across the terrace. Putting aside his rifle and cleaning cloth, Rafe got to his feet.
“I was beginning to think you were never going to get here,” he said as he clasped Richard’s hand. “You do tend to make a grand entrance.”
Richard Hayward grinned.
“What can I say? We like to make sure everyone knows we’ve arrived.”
Beside him, Gregory Hayward rolled his eyes. Rafe ignored him. Richard’s cousin was always grumbling about how immature and daft Rafe and Richard were. In Rafe’s opinion, if a gentleman thought he was immature, then he shouldn’t be hanging around people seven years his junior.
Then again, knowing what Gregory was like, it was no wonder he had very few people his own age to converse with. Most members of society were just as fed up with his belligerent behaviour as Rafe was.
But Richard loved his cousin, and he was patient with him. Rafe couldn’t argue with that.
“So, when are we going?” Richard asked. “Is Sebastien around?”
“He’s with Father right now. They’re just having a discussion over something inside.” Rafe shrugged. “Don’t ask me what. They tend to leave me out of these things.”
“Is he trying to urge Sebastien to marry again?”
“More than likely. And my brother is going to fight him on this until his dying breath, I’m sure.”
That was nothing unusual lately. Rafe’s father, Earl Blackmore, wanted his eldest son to find a wife to marry and have children with. He wanted to be sure that there were going to be heirs for him once he passed. Sebastien argued that he didn’t want to marry, and it was likely that he never would as he had no inclination to have a wife. Rafe didn’t think the two of them would ever come to an agreement; they were each as stubborn as the other.
Personally, Rafe hoped Sebastien would eventually consider it. Because if their father realised that it was not going to happen, he would turn his focus onto Rafe. And Rafe didn’t want to think about marriage right now. If it happened later or it arose out of the blue, then he would seek it out, but he wasn’t about to go actively searching. He didn’t agree with forced matchmaking, and Rafe was sure it would end in disaster.
“Speaking of marriage,” Gregory said suddenly, “has Uncle William spoken to you about your impending engagement to Florence Carey, Richard?”
“Florence Carey? Where did you get that idea from?”
“I overheard him and Aunt Cecily talking about her. They agreed she would be a good wife for you.”
Rafe burst out laughing.
“Are you quite serious, Gregory? Florence and Richard despise each other. They’ve made it clear over the years. That will be practically impossible to carry out without one killing the other.”
“He’s the heir to the Viscountcy. He needs to think about marriage, not about having fun.”
“At my age, I’m entitled to do what I want. And what I want is certainly not contemplating marriage with someone I wouldn’t put out if she was on fire.” Richard turned to Rafe, still shaking his head. “Shall we get ourselves ready? It can’t be that long before we have to leave. We’re not going to get the prime part of the day if we want to hunt.”
“I’m sure Father and Sebastien will be out shortly. Speaking of which,” Rafe turned when he heard footsteps, “that sounds like them now.”
Sure enough, the tall, stocky frame of Earl Blackmore came out from the house, followed by Sebastien. His eldest son was scowling, glaring at his father’s back. Blackmore didn’t seem to notice, or care, as he strode over to the group, clapping Rafe on the shoulder.
“So, are we ready?”
“I believe so, Father.”
“Richard! Good you could get here, lad.” Blackmore shook Richard’s hand firmly, giving Gregory a brisk nod. “Your father was unable to come, then? Is he still not well enough?”
“He’s well enough to get out of bed, but his colour hasn’t quite come back.” Richard shook his head. “Mother said it was better that he sit this one out and didn’t overdo it for himself.”
“It’s a shame. I do wish that he was here, but I hope he gets better.” Blackmore clapped his hands. “Right, let’s go and get our horses. The pheasants and deer aren’t going to wait for us.”
Rafe picked up his rifle.
“Ready when you are, Father.”
Still wearing a broad grin, Blackmore headed in the direction of the stables. Rafe followed him, Richard falling into step beside him. Gregory and Sebastien followed, Sebastien’s face still looking like a thundercloud.
“So,” Rafe heard Gregory say suddenly, “who was Blackmore trying to get you to marry now, Sebastien? Or is he just that determined to get you to marry anyone?”
“He says he’s got the perfect young lady who is willing to marry me without worrying about anything except doing her duty,” Sebastien grumbled. “I told him it’s not going to happen. Especially not with the woman in question.”
Gregory sounded amused.
“Not quite a woman of your tastes, then?”
“Not when the woman in question is my brother’s lady.”
Rafe stopped and spun around. He thought he hadn’t heard correctly.
“What did you say? Did Father just….”
“Did Father say I should have Katherine Romaine as my wife?” Sebastien nodded. “Yes, he did.”
Rafe really couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Katherine was his woman. They were in love, and Rafe had been planning on making her his wife. He had brought Katherine to the house plenty of times, and his father knew about this. Why would he suddenly say something like that?
“What?” Richard looked just as shocked. “But, he…he can’t do that!”
“Can he not?” Gregory looked slightly smug. “After all, she’s being courted by two different gentlemen. What’s one more added to that?”
“What are you talking about?” Rafe demanded.
“Didn’t you know? My little cousin is sweet on her as well.” Gregory arched an eyebrow. “I thought dear Lady Katherine would have told you that she’s been in your friend’s embrace a few times.”
Rafe felt like Gregory might have gotten less of a reaction if he had just punched him. He turned to Richard, who was looking a little uncomfortable.
“Is this true?”
Richard hesitated, but Rafe could see the truth in his eyes. He was courting Katherine as well. Rafe felt nauseous. Of all the people to hurt him like this, why did it have to be Richard?
Shock turned into rage, and Rafe reacted. He brought up his rifle and smacked Richard in the face with the butt. Richard yowled and stumbled back, clutching at his face. Almost immediately, Sebastien got in between them and held Rafe back as he started towards Richard.
“Don’t! How’s that going to solve anything?”
“It’ll make me feel better,” Rafe snarled. He glowered at Richard, wishing his brother would get out of the way. “You knew she was mine! You knew I was going to marry her! Why did you do this to me?”
Richard straightened up. He was bleeding from the mouth, blood dripping off his chin as he glared back.
“You think she was yours? She didn’t want to marry you, but she didn’t know how to tell you that she didn’t want to be with you. She was scared of how you would react.”
“You think I would lie about something like this?”
Rafe gritted his teeth. He really wanted to throw Sebastien aside and attack Richard again, but moving his brother would be practically impossible, not when he was this solid.
“Why would you do that to me? You’re my best friend. Why?”
“Sometimes, we can’t explain why.” Richard brought out his handkerchief and wiped his mouth. “But I love her. And she loves me. She’ll never marry either of you. I’d marry her before that happens.”
Gregory was standing just off to the side, looking very pleased that he had caused them to fight. Rafe wanted to beat him as well for riling them up.
This was not happening.
“What is going on here?!”
The bellow made Richard turn. Blackmore was storming over to them, looking outraged. The sight of his father’s fury made Richard back down a little, but not much.
“I get to the stables, and I realise the four of you are not there anymore. Now I find you fighting.” He looked from one man to another. “What’s going on?”
“It’s nothing, Father,” Sebastien said before anyone else could speak. “Just a disagreement over something.”
“Then why is Richard bleeding?”
Richard wiped the last of the blood off his face and shoved his handkerchief into his pocket.
“It just got out of hand, my lord. Nothing more.”
Blackmore’s expression said he clearly didn’t believe it. He shook his head and focused his scowl on Rafe.
“I’ll be having a word with you later, Rafe. We need to discuss how we’re going to deal with that temper of yours. Now, let’s get moving. I don’t want to waste the day dealing with grown men arguing like children.”
He stalked away, and Sebastien gently moved Rafe aside.
“Don’t do it,” he whispered. “It’s not going to be worth it. Let it be for now.”
Rafe wanted to argue, but he knew his brother was right. This was not something to do now. But later, once they were alone, that would be a different story.
Rafe pointed at Richard.
“This is not over. We’re going to finish this later.”
Rafe ignored his friend’s protests, turning to Gregory, who was still smirking.
“Happy now? Or would you like to say something else to ruin the day?”
Before the older man could respond, Rafe strode away, anger still making him shake. How could he forgive Richard after doing something like that? His closest friend had just taken the one woman he loved away, and he didn’t seem to think it was a big deal.
Rafe would make it a big deal, and Richard would regret it.
South Fork, Colorado, 1818
“Mowbray! You in there?”
Rafe put down the bale of hay he had been moving across the loft and flexed his fingers. The bales certainly had gotten lighter over the years as he got used to the hard work, but he would never get used to the string digging into his fingers.
He went over to the ladder and looked down. Steven Marsh was below, pushing his hat back so he could look up into the loft.
“What is it?”
“What are you doing up there?”
“Just getting things tidied up.”
“We’re not going hunting anytime soon, and I wanted something to do.”
“You really should just leave things alone. This isn’t England where things have to be tidied up.”
“I understand that….”
“You’ve been around us for five years, Mowbray. We don’t care if things are out of place. Especially not when it’s hay bales for the horses.” Steven beckoned him down. “Come on down. We may not be hunting right now, but we need to exercise the horses, so get a move on.”
Rafe didn’t argue. Nobody argued with the boss. He knew better than to do that, especially when Steven Marsh was in one of his moods. He seemed to have surges of grumpiness and anger that could snap at any moment. It made being around him a little nerve-wracking, as Rafe didn’t know when he was going to explode on them.
But he was a good employer, and he paid Rafe handsomely for his work. Especially when they were out hunting elk. With Rafe’s natural accuracy, they were able to bring more of them in and get the hides to sell.
Although there were days when Rafe wished he didn’t have to do any shooting. It reminded him of that day in England.
The day when people started to believe that he had shot and killed his friend.
An image of Richard’s dead body floated across his mind, and Rafe shuddered before pushing it away. He was not going to think about him now. It made him freeze up, and it wasn’t good when he was now working as one of the mountain men who ventured out to hunt animals. Steven didn’t like it when men froze up. They had a business, and they couldn’t stop because one of them freaked out at the wrong moment.
It was better not to think about him or about how he had ended up in the middle of nowhere being a hunter instead of living in England as a gentleman. In Colorado, nobody cared about a person’s upbringing or title. They only cared that you did your job and did it well.
That was all Rafe wanted. To do something well, seeing as he had ruined the rest of his life.
As Rafe saddled up his horse, Dark Ash, against his initial decision not to think about Richard and that fateful day, his mind went back to the morning when they had gone hunting. He had been furious at Richard at the time, knowing that the woman he loved had been seeing his best friend at the same time. But as the morning went on, and they were moving through the woods looking for pheasants, the more Rafe thought about it, and the more he realised that he was aiming his anger at the wrong person. Katherine was the one at fault, not Richard. Both of them had been duped by her, and they shouldn’t be fighting over someone who didn’t care. That was what she wanted.
Rafe wouldn’t give that to her.
He had told Richard that. He had asked Richard to speak with him privately once he had calmed down, and they had both apologised. They made amends, and Richard promised that he would not see Katherine again. Rafe had made a decision to walk away from her as well. He couldn’t be with a woman who didn’t care that she was walking out with two friends, and they were fighting over her. She probably enjoyed the thrill of knowing she was doing it.
The talk had gone well. They were friends again, and Richard had even forgiven him for splitting his lip.
Less than ten minutes later, Richard was dead, and Rafe was being blamed.
The problem was, Rafe couldn’t fight it. He couldn’t even remember what happened after he walked away from Richard. Did he even walk away? He could remember the talk and how they loved each other in spite of everything. But after that, it was blank. Just nothing. Which left him confused. How could he not know what happened?
Even after six years, he still couldn’t remember what happened next. One second he was embracing Richard and saying he would always love him, and the next, he was waking up on the ground by shouts, blood coming from his head and the world spinning around with Richard dead close by. And Rafe’s rifle was close by, covered in blood, as were Rafe’s hands and his shirt.
One look at the situation, and everyone believed that Rafe had killed Richard in a fit of rage over a woman. Rafe had tried to deny it, that they had made up, but there had been no witnesses. Nobody believed him.
There were times, though, when Rafe didn’t believe himself. Had he and Richard gotten into a fight anyway? Was what he was remembering beforehand just a fantasy to hide the fact he had actually killed Richard? Was anything of that hunt before Richard was killed actually real?
Rafe didn’t know anymore. All he knew was he was glad that he had been given an opportunity to leave with his life. The Hayward family had been furious, and initially, they had wanted to see him hang. They believed it was an act of cold blood, no matter what Rafe said. Viscount Selkirk, especially, believed that Rafe was lying about not remembering what he did so he could get out of being punished for killing the Viscount’s son.
So, he had been given a one-way ticket to the New World. America was a place where everyone seemed to be travelling to, and if Rafe went the same way with no intention of coming back, they would not pursue charges. Rafe had agreed, terrified at the thought of being charged with murder. He would never do that to Richard. He couldn’t have killed him.
Or had he? Rafe had searched his head for answers, trying to figure out what had happened. But it was like that part of his life was completely gone now. Even the memories of him and Richard reconciling were sketchy. Rafe didn’t know what to think anymore.
He was stuck in America, his only contact coming from letters that his parents and brother sent him. They knew where he was, and while they didn’t approve of what he was doing, they knew he was alive and safe. That was enough for them.
It wasn’t enough for Rafe. He wanted to come back. He wanted things to go back to how they were before.
But it couldn’t. It could never get better.
Once he saddled up Dark Ash, Rafe mounted and headed out of the stables. Steven and the four other men who worked for him were waiting, Steven looking impatient.
“What on earth were you doing in there, Mowbray?”
“My apologies,” Rafe mumbled as he joined them.
Steven shook his head.
“Honestly, one would think you’ve never put a saddle on a horse before.”
“Well, he had people to do it for him,” said one of the other men with a grin. “He’s just used to the easy part.”
Rafe gritted his teeth and ignored that. Even after all this time, he was still sneered at for being part of a titled family. Out here, titles meant absolutely nothing. They didn’t get you anywhere, and Rafe understood that. He just wished that he wasn’t ridiculed for it all the time.
“Let’s get moving.” Steven turned his horse towards the hill. “It’s been over a week since the animals have been exercised. We’ve got a long trek soon, and I don’t want them collapsing on us.”
He led the pack, and the group started galloping down the hill. Rafe hung back, trying to ignore the annoyance that his title was brought up. The men he worked with seemed to find it amusing, although they didn’t seem to care how he grew up and who he was before.
He just wanted to be an ordinary person. Maybe he should have stayed in the cities on the East Coast. They had their own society, just like England, and things were very similar to what he was used to. But even across a huge ocean, rumours could fly around, and people would find out very soon why he was in America. Rafe didn’t want to go through that. He wouldn’t get a good reception from it at all.
It was easier to be further away from that, being around people with no titles and who didn’t care what you did as long as you worked hard. Rafe did work hard. That’s what he needed to occupy himself.
He just wished he hadn’t had to leave in the first place. That this had never happened. Much as he wanted to go back and be with his family, Rafe didn’t want to be put on the spot again. He didn’t want to be made a pariah for something he didn’t know he had done.
Pushing those thoughts aside, Rafe kicked his horse into motion, and they galloped after the other hunters. He didn’t want to be teased for being the last one. Again.
Robin Hood’s Bay
The waves crashed against the rocks far below, the noise deafening even high up on the cliffs. Victoria sat near the edge, looking out into the cove that was Robin Hood’s Bay. On a day like this, when the sun was beginning to set, the place she had grown up in looked beautiful. She loved hearing the waves rolling and swirling, the smell of the sea air, and even the occasional whiff of fish coming from the fishermen on the docks. The waste did stink, but Victoria had been accustomed to it for years. You couldn’t expect to live in a fishing town and not smell fish.
At least it was calming her down. It was why she was out here now, getting away from having to set eyes on the people who dared to cross the threshold into their house.
The Earl of Blackmore had some nerve coming here. After what his son did to her brother, he knew better than to approach them for anything. He should have been thanking his lucky stars that his son didn’t go to the gallows for his crimes.
So why would he want to torment them further by coming to their home?
Six years on, and Victoria was still angry over the death of her brother. She missed him dearly. Richard had been everything to her. Victoria had adored him, even when he was being a brat. And he had been taken away so viciously. All over a lady in society. Such a stupid thing to argue about, and it had cost Richard his life.
Nothing was going to bring him back and having Blackmore arriving at their home in his carriage like nothing had happened between them was sickening. Her parents should have turned him away and told him never to come back. Why on earth had they agreed to see him?
They might want to see him, but Victoria wasn’t about to. She had slipped out as soon as her parents left the room, thinking that she would be following them. It might have been embarrassing for them that their daughter had disappeared so suddenly, but Victoria didn’t care. They knew her feelings about the Mowbray family. She wasn’t about to change because they were giving in.
It felt like a betrayal to Richard to forgive the Earl for raising a killer.
In the distance, Victoria heard the chiming of the church bells. She had been in her favourite spot on the cliffs for over an hour. Maybe it was time to head home. She couldn’t see Blackmore staying for very long. Once she was back, Victoria would try to find out what was happening. Her parents had to be out of their minds. The last time Blackmore was discussed, her father said he would never entertain his old friend again for defending his son over a heinous act.
What were they up to? Victoria didn’t like it.
She got up, dusting herself off, and started away from the cliffs, leaving the thundering noise of the waves behind. Her father wasn’t going to be impressed that she was on the cliffs again, especially when it could get dangerous, but Victoria didn’t care. She had stopped caring what her parents said.
Although she was grateful that the riding officer hadn’t come upon her this time. The man just couldn’t seem to leave her alone. Every time he was out here, he would question her about her presence and tell her that she should be going home. He kept pestering her, and Victoria found it tiresome. Didn’t he have better things to do, like attempt to catch the people who smuggled contraband into the area?
Then again, considering the gruesome way the last riding officer had been dealt with, maybe he was just trying to get out of it by attempting to be a gentleman and escorting ladies around. Victoria didn’t want him around her. Riding officers were not viewed kindly at all, and she wasn’t about to associate with the man. Even if he wanted to associate with her.
It didn’t take long for Victoria to get back to the house, making her way up the slope to the front gates. From what she could see, there was no carriage out in front of the house, nor was there a carriage in the stables. It looked like Blackmore was gone.
Thank goodness for that.
Victoria entered the house, putting her bonnet and coat away in the closet. There was no sign of the butler, and none of the footmen were present. It was rather strange to find the foyer empty. Maybe that was a good thing that nobody was around. If she was lucky, she would be able to get up to her room and hide there until dinner. Perhaps she should ask for a tray to be brought up, so she didn’t have to face her parents. That was going to be hard to ask for, especially if her parents refused, but she could try.
As much as she wanted to know what was going on, Victoria didn’t want to deal with the anger flaring even brighter.
Victoria paused at the bottom of the stairs, inwardly groaning. No getting away now. She turned and faced her mother, who was coming out of the drawing room, her skirts swishing around her long legs. Cecily Hayward, Viscountess Selkirk, always seemed to stride everywhere like she was in a hurry. She frowned at her daughter.
“Where do you think you’re going? And where on earth have you been?”
“I went for a walk, Mother.”
“You embarrassed us in front of Lord Blackmore.”
“Mother, you told me that Lord Blackmore was not to step foot across the threshold of our house ever again. I was angry when he was standing here like he deserved to be here, and I thought it was best to leave before I lost my temper.” She turned away. “You wouldn’t want me to embarrass you like that, would you?”
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m going to my bedchamber.”
Lady Selkirk shook her head.
“You’re to come with me. Your father and I have something to say to you.”
Victoria wanted to protest, but she could see it was not something her mother was willing to argue over. Sighing, she went towards the drawing room, following her mother’s quick pace. Maybe she should get this over with, and then she could leave. It was probably her parents saying they had forgiven Blackmore, and they were going to be friends again. Victoria didn’t know how they could do that and disrespect her brother like that.
Whatever they wanted to do was not going to have anything to do with her. She wouldn’t allow it.
Her father was sitting in his usual chair by the window, looking out at the perfect view of the bay. But from his expression, he didn’t look as though he was marvelling at the scenery; he looked to be deep in thought. As if he was prepared to deliver big news that wouldn’t be well-received.
Just seeing him like that made Victoria want to run away again.
Taking a deep breath, she headed toward her father and kissed his cheek.
“Where did you go, Victoria?”
“I went for a walk. I didn’t want to be around Lord Blackmore.”
Lord Selkirk sighed and shook his head.
“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. But this conversation did include you as well.”
“You know I don’t want any part of that, Papa.”
“Well, you’re going to have to.” Selkirk gestured towards a nearby chair. “Won’t you sit down?”
“I think I’ll stand.” Victoria folded her arms. “What is it you want to tell me? That you’ve forgiven Lord Blackmore and his family for not turning over his son after what he did?”
Her father’s hesitation was enough. Victoria’s heart sank.
“You haven’t! Papa!”
“Blackmore says he’s tired of the friction between us, and he wants us to bury the hatchet, so to speak.” Selkirk glanced at his wife, who was standing just off to the side. “He also had a proposal for us. One that we’ve accepted.”
Victoria didn’t like this.
“That you marry Sebastien.”
For a moment, Victoria thought she had misheard. Had they really…? She stared at her father before looking at her mother.
“Is that true? You accepted?”
“We did, Victoria.” Her mother didn’t blink as she looked back. “You’re getting to an age where you’re too old for marriage, and you need a husband….”
“I don’t want to marry into that family!”
“You don’t really have a choice. Not when you’ve never had any prospects.”
Victoria felt her rage bubbling up. She didn’t like being reminded that she had never had a suitor, nor had any gentleman shown any interest in her once they found out what family she came from. Her brother’s murder had left a shadow over them, and nobody wanted to be involved in that. It was frustrating, but Victoria had accepted it.
She had suspected that her parents would arrange a marriage for her, just so they knew her future was secure, and they wouldn’t have to worry about her if anything happened to them, but to that family? They had to be out of their minds.
She shook her head.
“No. Absolutely not.”
Selkirk sat forward and reached for her.
“No, Papa, no!” Victoria backed away. “I won’t marry Sebastien Mowbray! I will never marry him! Never!”
“This isn’t up for debate, Victoria,” her mother said sharply. “You’re going to become Lady Mowbray.”
“Absolutely not!” Victoria screamed.
The thought of having anything to do with that family, especially in that capacity, was leaving Victoria struggling to breathe. Gasping for air, she staggered against the window seat. This couldn’t be happening. It really couldn’t.
But the expressions on her parents’ faces said that it was. And they were steadfast on this.
Unable to look at them, Victoria turned to the window, shutting her eyes tightly as the tears began to build.
Rafe was glad when they returned back to the shack they called home. They had been tracking some elk for some time, and they had settled near the river, closer to home than he expected. They had managed to get two of them, and it had taken two days to strip the hides off them before getting whatever meat they could get to take back to their homestead.
After all this time, Rafe would be glad never to eat elk again. It was nice for a while but having it all the time got tiring after a bit. He was looking forward to going back to civilisation and having chicken or turkey, maybe even some beef. Anything that wasn’t elk.
This job did pay well if they got what they were meant to get, and they got plenty of it, but when there was nothing around, the money dried up. Rafe had to admit that this helped him monitor what he had and look after his money better. Far different from living as an Earl’s son with a hefty allowance that he would use most of as soon as he got it. At least he was learning how to be a better person when it came to finances.
Had he grown as a person? Rafe had no idea. He was still haunted by everything that had happened and filled with regret that he could never go back. That had been the agreement, and Rafe had to stick to it.
Maybe he should move on. Go further north. There was a country he had heard about, Canada. Apparently, there was a lot to look forward to there. Or he could venture to the south and see what he could get there. Wander around and pick up various jobs. With nothing to tie him down to one place, he could do whatever he wanted.
And nobody would need to know that he was a disgraced Earl’s son. He could build up a reputation on his own instead of what he had left behind.
Once the month was up, Rafe would see how things were going elsewhere. He didn’t want to be a tracker and hunter for the rest of his life. There had to be more to do.
He was the last one to finish putting away his horse’s equipment, and it was silent in the stables as he brushed down Dark Ash. Nobody to talk to, nobody to tease him about his title. Just time to himself, which was rare.
Plenty of time to think.
“Rafe, where are you?”
Rafe looked around as the stocky shape of Charlie Mayfield appeared at the opening of his stall, sweat beading his bald head. His closest friend in the hunting group looked like he had been running. Charlie held up a letter.
“I’ve got something for you. It’s probably from your family again.”
“That would be about right. It’s about due.” Rafe carried on brushing Dark Ash. “Would you mind reading it to me? I don’t want to get in trouble for not looking after my horse.”
“As you wish, my lord.”
“I’m not a lord anymore, Charlie.”
“I know, but it’s still amusing that we have someone coming from money as a part of our group.”
Rafe rolled his eyes.
“You’ve been saying that for years. Doesn’t it ever get old?”
Rafe couldn’t be cross at Charlie. The two of them were close, and they had formed a strong bond since Rafe stumbled upon them in Washington. Charlie was the one who saw something in the younger man and stood up for him in order to make Steven agree to bring him along. Rafe wouldn’t have been able to prove his worth if it hadn’t been for Charlie.
Of course, he still teased him, but Rafe could handle it. For the most part.
“So,” Charlie started to open the letter, “what do you think your parents are going to say now? Are they going to give you another boring account of what is going on in high society?”
“More than likely. Mother loves the gossip.”
Although Rafe couldn’t really argue. His mother had been distraught that he had been forced to leave, and she had promised to write to him if he let her know where he was going to be. The postal service took six weeks to get from him to England, but Rafe did look forward to these letters. It made him feel like he had some sort of connection with his homeland.
And knowing that his mother had always been on his side helped. His father and brother had believed he wouldn’t hurt Richard, but Lady Blackmore had been the staunch believer leading everyone. Rafe was sad he would probably never get to see her again, but he did appreciate her support.
Charlie opened the letter, frowning at the words.
“It’s in a different handwriting.”
“Not from Mother, then?”
“Apparently not. It’s less pretty.” Charlie turned the letter over to look at the signature. “Oh, it says Sebastien. Is that your brother?”
“Yes.” Rafe frowned. “He hadn’t written to me since Christmas.”
Charlie started to read.
“‘Rafe, it is with great regret that I have to tell you of tragic news. Mother…’” He hesitated, glancing up at Rafe. “‘Mother passed away three weeks ago.’”
Rafe stopped brushing. The words slammed into him and jumbled up in his head. He tried to find his voice.
“Mother? She…she’s dead? How?”
Charlie frowned as he read, scanning the lines.
“It seems that she got a fever, and it just wouldn’t leave. The doctor says it was scarlet fever, and when she died, she was crying, clutching onto a small portrait of you.” He swallowed. “Her last words were how she wished you were at her side.”
His mother was dead. And it felt like Charlie had just punched him in the stomach. The world began to tilt, and Rafe felt himself falling.
“Easy there!” Charlie grabbed him and led him out of the stall. “We don’t want you passing out under a horse.”
Rafe didn’t reply. He didn’t really know what to say, not after that. Charlie urged him to sit down, which he did rather heavily. He felt like he was going to be sick. Charlie hovered by him, watching him nervously.
“I…I don’t know what to say, Rafe. This…this is just….”
“Just finish reading, Charlie,” Rafe croaked.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I need to hear it.”
Charlie didn’t look convinced. He crouched down beside Rafe and carried on reading.
“‘I know this is not what you wanted to hear, but I thought it was best that you heard it from me. Father is asking for you to return. He is not well himself, and he doesn’t want to regret not seeing you again.’ I thought you said you couldn’t go home due to the scandal.”
“I can’t. If I set foot back on English soil, I’m going to be arrested, I’m sure of it.” Rafe slumped forward, keeping himself up with his elbows on his knees. “Does he say how I’m going to get back without the repercussions?”
“Wait a moment. Here we go! He says, ‘Don’t worry about the Viscount and his family. Father has decided to unite the families. I am to marry Richard’s sister Victoria, and by doing that, we can settle what we have between us. I think he’s hoping to convince them that you didn’t kill their son. Whatever he said, the banns have been announced, and I’m to marry Victoria. Father would like you to be there at the wedding so we can settle everything. I hope you can come home and that we can be a family again. The wedding is on the thirtieth of July. I love you, Brother. Please come home. Sebastien.’”
Rafe let the words sink in. Sebastien was to marry little Victoria Hayward? How had Sebastien agreed to that? From what Rafe remembered, she was a gangly, awkward girl with hair that didn’t seem to be tamed at all. She had to be a young woman now, and probably hadn’t grown out of her awkward childhood. What was their father thinking?
It might make things better for them to have the hatchet buried, so to speak, but how was this good for everyone involved? Rafe couldn’t see Sebastien being happy with this. He certainly wasn’t, and all he was getting was a second chance to come home.
It felt like a trap.
“So, what are you going to do?” Charlie asked.
“I…I don’t know.” Rafe buried his head in his hands. “I’m still trying to get over the fact that my mother is dead. It’s been six years since I last saw her, and I….”
“I know. I know.” Charlie squeezed his knee. “It’s not easy. And being this far away….”
Rafe felt his throat tightening. He gulped in air, but it didn’t seem to help. Right now, he wanted to have a breakdown and just scream, but that would bring everyone running. Then he would be ridiculed for breaking down in such a manner. No man showed feelings like that. It just showed they were weak.
At this moment in time, Rafe was almost past the point of caring. His mother had died, and he would never be able to see her again.
Now his father was sick, and he wanted him to come home. Rafe didn’t know what to think. The thought of going home left him with mixed feelings. It just left him with memories so painful that he was left in tears.
He had no idea what he wanted to do.
“Do you mind if…if I can have a few…a few minutes?” he asked. “I…I need….”
“Of course. Take all the time that you need.” Charlie patted his thigh and stood up, leaving the letter on the bench. “And whatever you decide to do, I’m right there with you. Whatever you need.”
Rafe couldn’t respond. He simply nodded, staring at the floor. After a moment’s hesitation, Charlie walked away, his footsteps fading as he left. That was when Rafe slid off the bench, curling into a ball as he hugged his legs. He rested his head on his knees, and he just broke. He couldn’t hold it back anymore.
After all this, and the result was his mother dying when he was across the ocean? Rafe would give anything to go back to that day and make it right.
And now he couldn’t. He could never get it back.
“Under the Earl’s Wicked Spell” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
When her beloved brother was mysteriously murdered by his childhood friend, Victoria Hayward’s life sank into sorrow. His killer was sent into exile, but an unbearable rivalry has spread between the Hayward and the Mowbray family. Years after, Victoria finds herself in the most despicable position, forced to marry the man who shot her brother. As doubts start to clear the air of what happened that fateful night, Victoria’s hatred for her seductive husband will slowly turn into feelings of scandalous, guilty lust…
Will she allow herself to surrender to her untamed desire?
Rafe Mowbray is certain of his innocence, but his blurry memory leaves him helpless. His return to England was marked by the sudden death of his father and brother who was about to marry Victoria and bring peace to the families. Now, Rafe must take his brother’s place, inherit the title of the Earl of Blackmore and marry the fiery woman who deeply hates him. Yet, his flaming passion for her sparks from their very first glance, and living under the same roof starts tormenting his fervour dreams.
Will he be able to prove his innocence and win his tempting wife’s heart?
Victoria and Rafe’s conflict soon bursts into a sizzling, forbidden romance, and they find themselves trapped in a perilous game of lust and deceit. Even though they are determined to unveil the real events of that fateful night, someone will lark to make sure that truth will never shine. Will they manage to reveal the dark secrets that the past holds? After all, can these enemies ever be more than passionate lovers?
“Under the Earl’s Wicked Spell” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.
5 thoughts on “Under the Earl’s Wicked Spell (Preview)”
Hello there, my dearest readers! I hope you enjoyed this little treat! I will be waiting for your comments here. Thank you 😊
I loved the preview very much. I have much feeling for Rafe and look forward to following his journey through this story. I think you have a winner here!
Thank you so much dear Anna! The book will be released soon! Stay tuned!
OH! I absolutely LOVE this. I love it so much that I hope to be an ARC reader for it. I can’t wait to find out who actually killed Richard and why. Not to mention why they set Rafe up for it and how Victoria responds to all of it. This is most definitely another winner.
I’m humbled, dear Christy! Thank you so much for your lovely comment and support!
You can definitely be a member of my ARC, let me know if you wish me to add you!