Hearts Adrift – Part Thirteen

Chapter Thirteen

Manon followed her uncle downstairs to the large library, where a cluster of comfortable chairs was gathered around a low table. He gestured towards one of the chairs and turned to Pritchard, who had opened the door for them.

“Bring us some coffee, Pritchard.”

“Very well, sir.” The butler bowed and went off.

“Why is he addressing you thus? Are you not a nobleman? Should he not call you ‘my lord’, instead?” Manon asked, drawing her brows together over a question that had been on her mind for several days.

Richard smiled and shook his head.

“I am not a peer of the realm, Manon, so I cannot be a lord. I am a mere baronet, which is landed gentry but not peerage. Landed gentry cannot inherit their titles – except for baronets, whose estates can usually be traced back several centuries. My estate goes back to 1328, the year King Edward III bestowed it upon my forefather, Sir Eustace de Briers. He, in turn, can be traced back to William the Conqueror, and there is a small estate in Normandy, France that bears the name of de Briers.”

Manon nodded, and tried to take it all in.

“If you are interested in British nobility,” Richard said, “I have a book that describes it all rather thoroughly. I think you should read it. It might be useful to you in the future.”

The quizzical look on her face drove Richard to explain further.

“Imagine if your future husband is a duke’s son or the heir to an earl. You would want to know how to address your future in-laws, would you not? And their assorted family? It can become quite confusing, niece.”

Richard could not place the look Manon gave him. It was not a friendly one, that was certain. He wisely refrained from asking about it. Instead, he continued in a casual manner.

“How is your brother settling in?”

“Well enough. He seems to have found himself a friend in little Queenie, the youngest scullery maid. She is teaching him English, no less.” She chuckled at the funny implications of this until she saw her uncle’s facial expression. “What? Why are you frowning, Uncle?”

Richard cleared his throat. “Well, I could never for the life of me agree to a friendship between my nephew and a lower member of the staff. After all, Jéhan has a role to uphold, Manon. As matters stand now, he is my heir.”

“What? How?” Manon was truly baffled as she had not expected this explanation.

“My baronetcy is a hereditary title that can only be passed on to a male relative. As my sisters’ son, Jéhan is exactly that. Unless I marry and beget a son, Jéhan will be the fifteenth baronet of Bearsham.”

“Oh!” Manon exhaled. “In that case, I doubt it will ever come to that. You are still young, uncle.” And here, Richard noted, she threw him a genuine female look of sly teasing. “You will marry sooner or later, and beget a son, will you not?”

He could not prevent the burning rush of heat that rose into his cheeks, but he passionately hated himself for it. The little vixen! How well he understood her meaning! With a grim effort, Richard kept his temper, determined as he was not to let himself be drawn into an argument with his niece.

“I will, niece, but not until you are settled in a suitable marriage.”

Manon grimaced and, Holy Virgin, stuck out her tongue at him.

“Manon, for Heaven’s sake, would you behave? You must let go of these childish habits and grow up. You appear to be adopting your brother’s habits, and he yours, with his intelligence. ” Yet he had to fight the urge to smile.

She should take pity on him, Manon thought. He was right; the time for foolishness was over. She needed to grow up. “Forgive me, Uncle. That was ungracious of me.”

Acknowledging her apology, Richard continued, “I have decided to take on Jake Davies as Jéhan’s tutor. Jake has always served me well in his capacity as my Paris businessman, but obviously, he is currently without employment. He is well-educated, speaks fluent French, and has considerable knowledge of mathematics. Jake will do perfectly for the first years of Jéhan’s education. The boy trusts and likes him, and they get on well together.”

“Oh, I agree!” Manon exclaimed, relieved over her uncle’s choice. For some reason, she had expected him to hire a dull, dried-up person as her brother’s teacher.

“Concerning you, niece, here is what I have decided,” Richard went on. “You have acquired a lady’s maid in Bessy Crampton. All you need now is a suitable companion to guide you through the intricacies of society, one who can also be a chaperone when you go on outings. Remember never to go anywhere without your companion, Manon. Reputation is paramount when it comes to young society ladies.”

“Am I to have a say as to whom you will hire, Uncle?”

“I would love to have your full consent, niece, but how are you to judge who is apt to the job? You do not know anyone here yet. I promise you that if the person I choose does not meet with your approval, I will search for someone else. Yet the person that I have in mind will meet with your wishes, I am sure. I have yet to speak with her father, so we will come back to that subject when I have done so.”

Manon bowed her head in silent acquiescence. She was certain her uncle would be wise and kind enough to know what kind of companion she would need.

“Then there is the matter of finding you the right husband, niece,” Richard said, looking at her in a serious manner. “I have several candidates in mind but first and foremost, I want you to have the final word. I want you to be comfortable in your marriage, Manon, and if possible, to find happiness with the man you choose.”

For several moments, Manon did not speak but instead scanned Richard’s face intently. What was it that went on behind that smooth, austere brow, she wondered? What were his piercing blue eyes hiding from her? How could he talk in so detached a manner about her husband-to-be? Did he not know she could marry yet never find love or happiness with the man she would eventually choose? Her path, she knew, was already laid out. It would be a marriage of convenience, one that would serve to give her husband a son, and that was all. They might reach a certain understanding, a comfortable companionship, a friendship even, but never would they love each other the way Manon wanted to be loved.

She sighed inwardly, knowing her uncle requested a proper answer from her. “Very well, Uncle. I put my trust in you, as I know you have my best interests at heart. Do as you intend.”

He should have felt relief at her words, Richard thought, yet he did not. Instead, he felt only grief and bitterness. He wondered if he would be able to find peace of mind ever again.

 

Two weeks passed in a flurry of activities, weeks in which Manon did not notice the passing of time, because she was too busy with new, exciting things.

First and foremost, Manon made the acquaintance of Miss Prudence Butterworth, second daughter to the Reverend Horace Butterworth and his wife Adelaide. Mr Butterworth had the parishes of Bearsham Village and of the three adjacent ones – Banting, Featherstone and Markville. With seven daughters yet unmarried, Adelaide Butterworth was all too keen to put one of them to Manon’s service. The girls were all suitably schooled and well educated.

Prudence Butterworth – or Pru, as she preferred to be called – was a tall, slender young woman of twenty-eight years. No one could call her beautiful or pretty, although some might consider her straw-blond hair and her violet eyes to be attractive, if they would look past her large beak of a nose and her wide, thin-lipped mouth.

The moment they met, Manon was immediately struck by Miss Butterworth’s joie de vivre, and the good-natured acceptance she displayed toward her own situation in life.

“Miss Favier, I am well on the shelf, and that is how I prefer it,” she joked, eyes dancing. “I could never apply myself to being a wife to any man, be he handsome or hideous, rich or poor! Should one of them manage to capture my heart by some strange twist of fate, I would make my poor husband’s life a misery, because he would always be in my way. I want to have the freedom to do exactly what I like to do, but alas, a woman without money has no real options in our society. I would like to travel the world and see all those exciting places that I read about. I want to meet new people other than just Englishmen and learn about other civilisations first hand, not just from books. So I am extremely grateful to Sir Richard for offering me this situation. He pays me a substantial salary just for teaching you all that I know about society. I think we will get along nicely, you and I.”

“I am sure we will, but you must call me Manon, at least when we are alone. I hate being called ‘miss’. It makes me feel old. I will call you Prudence, in return.”

“Oh, please! Pru is what my sisters call me.”

“It suits you. Pru it is!”

 

With Pru’s help and her uncle’s unlimited financial support, Manon applied herself to acquiring an entirely new wardrobe. There were gowns to be made, shoes and bonnets to be bought, underclothes to be purchased, and jewellery to be chosen. That kept the two young ladies busy from morning ‘til evening, and in addition, every free moment was filled with mastering the appropriate conduct for a young, unmarried lady.

Manon’s uncle acquired a pretty bay mare by the name of Buttercup for her, and enlisted her in a riding school for young ladies of noble breeding. Learning to ride proved to be the hardest thing Manon had ever had to conquer. It was weird because, when they were fleeing France, she had managed well enough on Mélissande, the mare she had had to leave behind – to her infinite regret. Now, on Buttercup, her body seemed unwilling to find the proper seat and her limbs were unable to make the correct movements, even though the gentle mare was nothing but easy and obliging.

The first week, Manon was sore and stiff, and her body ached with muscle pains and bruises. Yet she gritted her teeth and finally managed well enough to be able to take on short outings with her uncle’s head groom, Griffiths, an elderly, fatherly-looking Welshman. With his help and patience, she made considerable progress, and her uncle was content.

Slowly but inexorably, Richard watched his niece grow into a refined, extremely beautiful young lady who was already being eyed by many young bucks wherever she turned up. It was as it should be, Richard accepted. It was what his father would have wanted. Richard’s promise to his dying father was unbreakable. He would keep to it if it killed him.

Hearts Adrift – Part Twelve

Chapter Twelve

The ride to Brighton was to take six hours, necessitating a stop in Hastings for luncheon. The Saxon and Norman Inn, near Hastings Castle, served a decent shepherd’s pie and boasted an appreciable amber-coloured ale by the name of “Coxcomb”. Lucian Blackthorne, Viscount Rossiter requested the private parlour for his party.

During the meal, Richard kept himself in the background, responding only when a direct question was addressed to him, glad that his friend Lucian was not drawing him into the conversation. Lucian started lecturing about the famous Battle of Hastings in 1066 and the subsequent conquering of the British Isles by the Normans. Manon was well aware of Richard’s quiet presence but found Lucian’s story quite interesting. He had a way of narrating that made the tale easy to follow and never dull. He captivated his audience by weaving exciting anecdotes among the historical facts. To her surprise, Manon discovered she was beginning to like this friend of Richard’s. Like, but not love him. Love … never again.

Brighton, a seaside town of modest proportions with a population of sixty thousand, had come to the attention of the Prince Regent in 1783. The future George IV had exercised the full royal power since 1788, when his father became too ill to reign. Prinny had fallen in love with Brighton from the start, and that love had never faltered. Since 1787, Henry Holland had been designing Prinny’s plans for enlarging the modest farmhouse the prince rented for his seaside retreats from the London Court. The first wings of the Royal Pavilion were already in place, and Manon and Jéhan looked in astonishment as they passed the building site. The carriage rode over the Grand Parade on its way to King’s Road, where Richard’s townhouse was situated. So strange, Manon mused. Across the Channel, a kingdom was being obliterated, while here, on this small island, the monarch amused himself with fulfilling his dreams, and building them in stone.

King’s Road was a seafront road, and the de Briers townhouse – a stately four-storey Georgian building, with a cream-coloured limestone facade and high windows – occupied a considerably large area. A sign beside the double front door told the name of the house – “The Wild  Rose”. Seeing that Manon was reading the name with a puzzled frown, Richard hastened to explain.

“A ‘briar rose’ – or ‘B-R-I-E-R’ in the old spelling – is a wild rose, also called ‘églantier’ in French. It resembles the common yellow or white dog roses that you can find in many a hedgerow, but this one is always a soft pink. I think you fit quite nicely into our family of wild roses, Manon.” The last words were said solely for her ears, a fact that made Manon blush with unexpected pleasure.

“Ah,” Richard exclaimed, deliberately diverting everyone’s attention, “here is my erstwhile butler! Good day to you, Pritchard!”

The man, of middle height, rotund, and balding, exuded an air of quiet competence. He bowed to his master and said, “Good day, sir. We expected you back some days ago. I trust all went well?”

“Only the slightest of delays, but nothing that we did not expect, Pritchard.”

Richard took Manon and Jéhan by the hand. “This is Manon Favier, my niece, and her brother Jéhan. I am counting on you to make them feel at home, Pritchard.”

“I will tend to that personally, sir. Welcome to The Wild Rose, Miss Favier, Master Jéhan. If you would follow me inside, I will show you to your rooms.”

Jéhan was baffled. “What did he say, Manon?”

“He was welcoming us into our uncle’s house, mon chou,” Manon replied, putting a hand on her uncle’s proffered arm.

In the hall, the staff was assembled to welcome the master. A short, rather plump woman of some sixty years stepped forward when Pritchard beckoned her.

“Miss Favier, Master Jéhan, may I introduce you to Mrs Carson, our housekeeper.”

Mrs Carson was dressed in a severe black calico frock that hugged her ample curves. It presented an austere contrast with her abundant white hair, which was drawn back from her rosy, round face. Her dark brown eyes were warm and welcoming and she curtsied before Manon, her  mouth curving in a sweet smile. “Welcome, Miss  Favier, Master Jéhan. Mr de Briers, sir.” Again, she curtsied, and Richard bowed back in return.

“Thank you all,” he said, “for welcoming my family. We will be staying in Brighton for a few weeks before we ride to Bearsham Manor. Now let us get the young master and miss settled, Mrs Carson.”

 

That evening at dinner, Manon sat listening to the quiet, serious conversation Richard and Lucian shared about the recent turn of events in the country she had been born in. Manon was no longer interested in what happened in France. Since the day her father was murdered, she hated her former fellow countrymen, and she was convinced she could never set foot there again. Jéhan, who  had been whisked away by Mrs Carson to eat in the kitchen, should be ready for bed, Manon thought. She patiently waited for a lull in the conversation and asked permission to leave the table.

Both men stood when she rose. Lucian came to bow over her hand and press a feather-light kiss on its back.

“I hope you will grant me the pleasure of your company on an outing in my curricle one of these days, my dear Manon? There is a lot to be seen in Brighton.”

Manon’s eyes involuntarily darted to her uncle, who nodded slightly. “Yes, Lucian, I would be delighted,” she replied and left the room.

Richard felt as if the room grew colder, as soon as Manon closed the door behind her. Angry with himself, he reached for the Cockburn port and poured himself a generous amount of it. His friend Lucian raised an eyebrow when Richard tossed back his glass in one movement.

“I say,” Lucian commented, “are you out of sorts, old chap? I hope you do not mind me taking out Manon.”

“No, not at all. Why should I mind?”

Lucian nodded, took a cigar out of the silver box Pritchard offered him and presented it to the butler to be set alight. “You do know I am seriously considering taking an interest in your niece, I hope? Manon is a fascinating young woman, and her beauty matches her bright intellect and her lively wit.”

“I am aware of it, Lucian. I have eyes and a brain, too.”

The two men sat in silence after Richard dismissed his butler. Richard was conscious of a certain uneasiness stirring within him. His lifelong friend was beginning to take an interest, then. Small wonder there.

“Lucian,” he said, in a casual manner, “I intend to make sure that Manon receives all the attention she is entitled to. There will be parties and balls once my niece is properly kitted out. She will be given riding lessons, as well as dance instruction, and she will have to undergo quite a transformation before she is fit to meet the Brighton bucks. Are you sure you want to commit yourself already? She might turn out to be an entirely different woman than she is now, you know.”

“Oh, pish! Give her some credit, Rich! She will become even more beautiful and she will certainly grow more sophisticated, but she will always be the same, warm, uncomplicated and impulsive young woman that she is now. However, I think I have your meaning, old boy. You want me to behave and take my place in the queue that will line up for Manon as soon as she steps into the light.”

There were conflicting feelings in Richard’s mind as he listened to Lucian’s banter, for that was what it was. To Lucian, this was all just a game, a battle of words and actions governed by playful rules that varied according to the steps taken throughout the strategy. With rising panic, Richard recognized these rules and this game, and felt an unexpected shock as he realised he had played that game too since reaching adolescence and experiencing carnal attraction.

When they had become young bucks of society, privileged and rich and utterly irresponsible, he and Lucian had gone hunting for skirts. It did not signify what female came into view, and it did not matter how highborn or common the girls were. Lucian and he had laid out their strategy, lures, and charms to play the game of seduction, ruthlessly and determinedly, until they had gotten their prey where they wanted them. After the deed, no thought was left for what the unfortunate female had have been subjected to. Always onward to the next hunt – that had been their motto. Richard had always enjoyed the game. Until now.

This time, there was a snare. The female in question was Manon, and she was sacrosanct.

Fighting to keep the rising irritation out of his voice, Richard stated, “I would appreciate your reserve, Lucian. I want Manon to have every opportunity she needs to find the husband she wants. Your hovering at her elbow would not help in that. I am sure that this does not need to be said, but you do realise that our old hunting games will not be tolerated here. ”

 

In the kitchen, Jéhan was having the time of his life, Manon saw.

He was sitting at the enormous oaken table with a treasure trove of delicacies before him enthusiastically stuffing them into his mouth under the enchanted eye of both the housekeeper, Mrs Carson, and the cook, Mrs Petheridge. A few yards away, a couple of giggling scullery maids were watching the scene with glee.

“Oh, Mrs Carson, I hope my brother has not been overstepping the mark? Jéhan has no boundaries when it comes to sweets, I fear,” Manon asked.

Mrs Petheridge smiled broadly and replied in Mrs Carson’s stead. “Oh, no, miss! I love having him here! He is such a bright, handsome little chap, are you not, my pet?”

Jéhan nodded and to Manon’s surprise answered in English. “You are the best cook in the world, Mrs Petheridge!”

“Now where did you learn that?” Manon inquired, speaking French again.

“From Queenie there!” Jéhan replied, pointing at a petite little redhead in the small group of scullery maids. She looked to be the same age as Jéhan. “She is teaching me English!”

Manon looked at the wisp of a child, thin and pale, but laughing her head off with mirth.

“Hello, Queenie,” Manon greeted the girl. “Thank you for being my brother’s teacher.”

“Yer welcome, miss! I c’n teach ’m how ta peel vegetables too, if you want!”

That provoked a new peal of laughter between the maids. Mrs Petheridge leaned closer to Manon  and whispered, “She looks small but she’s almost ten. I took her in some two weeks ago, and she never said a word nor ventured a smile, until your brother walked in here. Now she is acting like a normal child for the first time since she came here. The two of them instantly began talking to each other, your brother in French and Queenie in her Brighton dialect. They seem to understand the other without effort.  Hopefully, she’ll settle in now and I want to put some flesh on that thin frame as fast as I can, poor little mite!”

“I appreciate your effort in making a welcoming home for Jéhan,” Manon said in response. “He has gone through some troublesome times, and so have I. I know that being under my uncle’s protection will bring back normalcy into our lives.”

“Right you are, miss. Mr de Briers is solid gold, do not worry. He will take you and Jéhan under his wing.”

Manon smiled at her, then ordered, “Jéhan, come with me. It is long past your bedtime.” She took her brother upstairs to the rooms that had been assigned to him in the left wing of the house. There she relinquished him into the hands of his newly appointed nanny, a pleasant fifteen-year-old girl by the name of Maisie Howard. She was Mrs Carson’s niece and had expressed a wish to serve in a stately household. When the family moved to Bearsham Manor in a few weeks’ time, Maisie would come along, as would Bessy, Manon’s lady’s maid.

Manon watched for a few moments while Maisie helped Jéhan undress and don his nightgown. She then tucked her brother into the large four poster bed and kissed him goodnight. Jéhan was exhausted, and so was she. Manon wished Maisie goodnight and left the room to go to the right wing, where her own rooms were located. On the landing, however, the deep voice of her uncle halted her.

“Manon, could I have a word with you before you retire for the night? There are some matters that need to be considered.”

Hearts Adrift – Part Eleven

Chapter Eleven

Manon woke when Bessy knocked and entered the room with a tray of tea and toast.

“Sir Lucian’s compliments, miss; and would you join the gentlemen in the breakfast room when you are dressed?” the girl said in a cheerful voice.

“Thank you, Bessy,” Manon answered, glancing surreptitiously around the room. She was lying naked under her covers, and she was terrified the maid would find out.

He was not here. Understanding why did nothing to dampen down the wave of burning grief that washed over her as disappointment struck. He had left her after he lifted her up to the heavens and gave her the most exquisite pleasure in the world. It was done, over, gone, as he said it would be.

As soon as Bessy disappeared into the adjoining dressing room, Manon slipped out of bed and hurriedly donned her nightgown. It had been tucked under her pillow, no doubt by Richard before he stole out of her room in the dead of night.

While Bessy assisted her with her bath and toilette, Manon relived the pleasurable events of the previous night.

Richard had disappointed her, she realised as she thought back over their night together. Even with her lack of experience, she knew there should have been more to their consummation than what had taken place. He had denied himself and her of their ultimate closure. By bestowing infinite pleasure upon her but not asking that his needs be satisfied in return, he had indebted her to him. Manon had not been Richard’s equal during the most notable event in her life, her initiation into lovemaking. The guilt was overwhelming. He had said that he loved her, so why the incomplete act? She should have known there would be no further intimacies after he told her to sleep.  She was determined to experience love with the man she loved more than life itself, even if they were doomed to be apart.

 

Richard listened to Jéhan’s French-cum-English chatter with an absent mind, only partially engaged in the conversation between Lucian and the boy. Wide awake at six in the morning, he had gone out for a long ride on one of Lucian’s excellent horses in an attempt to shake off his black mood. Afterwards, he had come back exhausted, but not in the least relaxed. Even the hot bath and the excellent attentions of Lucian’s valet, Travers, who had groomed and dressed him in an impeccable manner, had not been adequate to restore his peace of mind.

It was all for naught. The previous night, he had not slept after he went back to his own room. The image of Manon’s sensuous body, the feel of her perfect femininity in his arms, the glory of her pleasure – it all played over and over in his head. Adding to that the frustration in his own lack of fulfilment, it was enough to put him thoroughly out of sorts. Leaving her after their joined experience had been the hardest thing he had ever done in his life.

He was a man in the prime of his life, and denying himself satisfaction had never been his strong point, especially when he had not been with a woman for a long time, as was the case now.

In addition to that, Richard had another, more poignant issue to come to terms with; he loved Manon, with a depth of feeling he had never experienced for any woman.

Manon’s youth, her innocence and her eagerness were extremely hard to resist. Despite her twenty years, Manon was still an innocent, a matter that astonished him, given the fact that she had lived in Paris. In the minds of many young Englishmen, Paris was the city of freedom, of the mind and of the body. Richard had visited France and Paris only once before with his father, just after he had graduated from Cambridge, five years earlier. The impression the city had left on him had been one of sheer debauchery and gaiety, and the women had seemed to have no boundaries at all. Yet amidst all that sin, Manon had remained pure and untouched. That was remarkable enough in itself, he mused.

The door to the breakfast room opened to let his tormentor in. Merciful Lord! What an image she presented! Someone must have lent her some attire, for she was dressed exquisitely in a fresh morning gown of pale green muslin, sprigged with tiny moss green hearts. The neckline modestly revealed the onset of her breasts, not enough to be indecent, but sufficient to be utterly teasing. Her glorious auburn hair was swept into a heavy coil at the nape of her neck, held together by a silver filigree net, and strands of carefully arranged curls graced her face to perfection. That face, Richard noticed at once, though of a faultless porcelain complexion, was set in a solemn, almost grim expression. Manon’s chin was raised in defiance, and her green eyes were cool and detached. Her lips, usually rosy and full, were now a thin line of challenged rejection. But in the back of his mind, he could only remember her sounds of pleasure.

By Jove! She was not taking his approach towards the situation well at all. Richard stifled a sigh and braced himself for what was to come.

 

Manon barely had time to glance around the pretty, sunny room before her little whirlwind of a brother jumped up from his chair to throw himself into her arms.

“Manon! We are going to Brighton today, and Luke says I can pick a toy in the shops! Is that not grand?”

Jéhan’s speech was a confusing gibberish of French, laced with the occasional English word he had picked up randomly. He was overexcited, Manon noticed. Therefore, she gently admonished him in his native tongue.

“Calme-toi, mon chou! You will injure yourself before long, and what would I do then, eh? Now, go finish your breakfast, and behave.”

While her brother darted back to his seat at the round breakfast table, the two men rose and bowed to Manon. She curtsied and addressed them in perfect English, with only the slightest accent.

“Good morning, gentlemen. I hear we are bound for Brighton. Might I ask, Uncle, what your plans are for today?” She smiled brightly at Lucian but did not look at Richard, lest her grief would show in her gaze.

Richard, to her disappointment, did not rise to the bait. He traversed the room in three strides of his long legs and offered her his hand. “Good morning, niece. May I escort you?”

Manon took in the magnificence of his appearance with a barely stifled gasp. He was clad in light grey silk breeches, with white silk stockings and black slippers. His shirt was of the finest white linen, and under his perfectly cut, dark blue frock coat, he wore a white silk waistcoat, plain and unembroidered. The whole was topped by the froth of lace on a white neck cloth, arranged in an intricate knot. He was neatly shaven, which brought out his clean-cut, granite jaw, and emphasized the strength of his features. His hair was brushed away from his brow and tied in a thick tail on his back. His sparkling blue eyes were eying her coolly. Manon had never seen his eyes take that deep blue colour before. It was most enticing, even with the brooding stare they gave her. She lowered her gaze to his mouth, which was pinched and colourless. And utterly forbidding.

He was doing exactly what he said he would do, and that was to treat her in an avuncular way. In a distant, cold way. Very well then. Richard had admonished her about their future behaviour, and she would play that game until she could speak to him alone. Knowing how much she loved him, she would hold her tongue and not embarrass him to another person present.

“Ah, my dear Manon!” Lucian hailed from his seat at the table. “I have saved you some toast and tea, and a chair at my side. Would you do me the honour of sharing my breakfast?”

“It would be my pleasure, Lucian,” Manon replied, inclining her head and ostentatiously ignoring Richard’s proffered hand. She inwardly grinned when she saw a flash of anger though instantly suppressed in his blue eyes. Gathering her skirts, she glided towards the table and sat down next to Lucian, whom she favoured with a genuine smile.

During breakfast, Manon and Lucian struck up a pleasant conversation between the two of them, leaving Richard to listen and respond to Jéhan’s many questions about England, and about Brighton in particular. Better that way, Richard told himself. Let her get better acquainted with a suitable man like Lucian.

The meal ended soon thereafter, and Lucian announced that he and Jéhan would go and see if their carriage was ready. “I promised Jéhan I would show him the litter of puppies one of my dogs  threw last week,” he apologized himself to Manon. She smiled at him.

“Jéhan, do be careful, mon chou. Do not disturb the mother too much, will you?”

“I will keep an eye on him,” Lucian winked.

The sudden silence took them both by surprise, so Manon asked her uncle if he cared for another cup of tea. Richard shook his head. “I would like to inform you, niece, about your prospects.”

Manon’s surprise showed, but she asked in a level voice, “Prospects, Uncle? I was not aware that I had them.”

“Your circumstances and Jéhan’s have changed in the last week, Manon. Since the death of your father, I have become your legal guardian, and, of course, Jéhan’s too.”

Manon hated the cold formality in Richard’s voice. She felt irritation growing but made an effort not to reveal it. “As you undoubtedly know, Uncle, I will reach my majority on the third of October. I have no means to support myself yet, so I am grateful that you are kind enough to provide for my brother and me until I find a new situation. In the weeks to come, I intend to search for a suitable position. I am sure that I could…”

Richard could not bear it any longer. After the first shock of hearing Manon’s suggestion that she would find paid work, he was so taken aback that he had not been able to react, but now he raised his hand to silence her.

“Manon, I fear you have no real grasp of who you are. You and Jéhan are members of the de Briers family, my dear. Lily de Briers, your mother, was my sister. She would have inherited her share of my father’s money, had she not died when Jéhan was born. In his will, my father bequeathed that share to you and Jéhan in equal parts. When you will reach your majority, you will have access to twenty thousand pounds, Manon, and the same goes for Jéhan when he turns twenty-one.”

Richard realised he had to give Manon time to absorb this, so he waited before going on. She seemed stunned and utterly shocked by what he just told her.

“I do not understand,” she finally said. “Why was that money not given to my father, as my mother’s husband, immediately after her death? He was her legal heir, at least, according to the French law.”

“I am afraid English law works quite differently, Manon. Unless your mother had made him her heir in a will, Thibaut nor you or Jéhan, for that matter would have inherited. I am fairly sure that Lily would not have made a will, since she would not have needed one in France. The only way that you or Jéhan could inherit money that came from my family is if my father, as head of the family, had bequeathed it to you. My father was an honourable man, Manon, and he did his duty towards Lily’s children because he loved his daughter.”

Richard paused and waited for Manon to nod her understanding. “Good,” he continued. “As I recently told you, I found the letters your father sent to mine over the years. In one of these, your father asks that the money be put into a trust fund. He deemed the situation in France too dangerous for him to have that money in a French bank. Remember that in 1788, when Jéhan was born, riots had already started over King Louis’s excessive spending. My father agreed but requested that he be kept informed about the situation in Paris. According to our solicitor, Mr Brownslow, my father begged yours to come back to England. The three of you would have been welcome at Bearsham manor. I read in your father’s letters that he was planning to do so, Manon, but unfortunately, he did not have a chance to carry out his plans.”

Manon’s head had begun to swim from what she heard. How had all this been going on without her knowledge? Why had her father not confided in her?

“He never said a word,” she whispered, in a small, pitiful voice that tore at Richard’s heart. He hastily continued. “Read his letters, Manon, and all will become more bearable. I will ask Mr Brownslow for my father’s letters, of which he has copies. I should have requested them after my father’s passing, but I was too anxious about you and Jéhan, and I wanted to ensure myself that you were safe. All these facts must make you realise that you are now a de Briers, Manon, and so is Jéhan. That brings on adjustments that you must be prepared to make. If you would consent to hear what I propose, I would be most grateful.”

Manon looked up into his face for the first time that morning, Richard realised and her eyes were large with apprehension. So he continued, “You will require a lady’s maid. Bessy Crampton has agreed to come with us and act as such until we find someone else. Her mother lives here in Romney, and Bessy does not wish to be separated for too long from her. I told her not to worry and promised her a large reward for her services. As I mentioned before, you will have need of a female companion. When we arrive at my Brighton townhouse, I will go to an agency that provides suitable  candidates. In her capacity as a chaperone, this woman will then accompany you to social events and parties. She will also instruct you in the accomplishments that English society demands of a young, unmarried woman. I have no doubt that, by the time you reach majority, you will have become a perfect English lady. Smart and beautiful as you are, you will able to reach every goal you set for yourself, once you have access to your money.”

With a jolt of joy, Manon registered what Richard had just called her. She was half French after all, and she instantly picked up on it, smiling surreptitiously at him. “So you find me smart and beautiful, Uncle?”

Her smile broadened involuntarily when a deep blush crept over his cheeks.

“Damn it, Manon! Will you behave like the grown-up woman that you are and not like a schoolroom chit enamoured with her dance teacher? Matters are not going to be easy in the weeks to come, and I will not tolerate any inappropriate behaviour, do you understand?”

Manon fixed him with a serious gaze, but made her voice gentle when she replied, “What I feel for you is not some silly schoolgirl puppy love, Richard. It is a feeling that glows deep within me, a feeling of safety when you are near me. Of awareness when you enter a room, and all my senses acknowledge your presence. Of belonging together when I think of you. Of joy when you smile at me. It is love, Richard, pure and simple.”

She shook her head, smiling at him. “We do not choose whom we fall in love with, Richard. We do not choose love; it chooses us. I know that, whatever may yet come to happen in my life, or whomever I choose to be my husband, I will always love you. I might come to love my husband in time, and I hope I will, but I still will always love you.”

Looking directly into his eyes, she continued, “I know what you did last night, and why you did it. You wanted me to go to my husband untouched. Thank you for that, Richard. I am so sorry that I put you through this, that I put myself through it, too. Nevertheless, it has indeed happened, and I rejoice in it. It is a memory I shall cherish for the rest of my life. I am prepared to do as you have  asked, Richard. From this moment on, you are again my uncle, and I vow to behave in a manner that will make life easier for us. You have my word, Richard, the word of a de Briers.”

The only words Richard could utter, were a strangled “thank you”. They both rose simultaneously and left the room together, Richard to summon the footman to collect their travel bags and Manon to go to her room and find Bessy.

 

The Noble Coachman – Chapter 21

 

Available Amazon Kindle

Chapter 21
The Brotherhood

 

To Squeaks, it felt like hours since Sarah hopefully escaped the house. Suddenly, her door burst open. Whoever it was, did not have a lantern with them.

Squeaks coward in a dark corner of the room, hoping the open window would not be noticed.

“Where is she?” Came a booming voice.

Squeaks could hear him moving about the room as if searching for her or a missing charwoman. That must mean that Sarah escaped, she thought. Being in a crouched position, she could see a dim light coming from the open door. She debated whether to run or not. The other man was somewhere. She had heard him return. Squeaks sensed the man in her room was coming her way and made a dash for the door. She was quickly subdued with her nightshift being ripped from her body. The man put his rough hands on her breasts.

“What have we here,” he asked in a playful voice.

“Nothing that belongs to you.” Squeaks started kicking his shins. She remembered her father telling her what to do if any man approached her with violence. As she swung her foot into his groin area, she felt her arm snap. He hollered louder in pain than then she did. The second man entered the room carrying a lantern.

His brother was writhing on the floor while Squeaks tried again to slip past him to the door. He easily caught her by the throat and lifted her onto the bed. “Did my brother try to have his way with you, pretty lass?” Placing the lamp on the table, his hand still in a stranglehold around her neck, he felt her breast, finally resting his hand between her thighs overtop of her undergarment.

“You know, my brother is selfish. He took both lasses first. I had to take second. That won’t work three times. He began to rip her underwear off but not without a fight.

Squeaks tried to fight back with her one arm, but she wasn’t succeeding in her own defense.

“Brad, you idiot,” came from the brother on the floor, “that charwoman you hired has escaped. We don’t have time for the wench.”

Unclenching fingers left her neck and private area. Brad backhanded her, knocking her unconscious against the wall. Her mouth bled badly from her teeth cutting the inside of her lips. The two men left the room.

It took Squeaks a few minutes to focus. She struggled with the pain in her arm, face and was gasping for air. She would never survive the next round. She felt like she was going into a coma. Her mind whirled. Any of the hundred drivers she had met or seen was capable of doing what just happened to her … and she hadn’t seen the worst. She knew men were much stronger, but the power they could actually wield against a woman fighting shattered her image of how she could protect herself. Why are women so weak? Now, she understood Kip’s obsession with protecting her or any woman. She’s not sure if she fainted again.

#

 

Kip heard his kitchen door open and men talking. Kyle returned with Inspector Marshall.

“Kip, you seem to have a plan. Do you mind sharing it with me or shall I endeavor to find her with my men?” Marshall cautioned.

Before answering, Kip looked at Kyle, who was holding a bag. “Stokes is gathering what he has in the house,” said Marshall.

Kip took the bag from Kyle and opened it, first pulling out a hank of her beautiful black hair that he loved so much. The apostles silently flinched in sorrow for Kip. Unable to grasp the enormity of what he was holding, he laid her hair in front of her sketch on the mantel. It looked like a shrine to those who saw it.

“There’s a note, Kip.”

Dropping the bag to the floor, he unfolded the note and read it. Mary swirled in his mind, bidding for his attention. He fell into the nearest chair. Holding his head, seemingly in a trance, he watched the images she produced for him.

“What’s wrong with him?” Asked the Inspector.

“We don’t know, but he’s done this before. Just wait. He’ll tell us something after he faints.”

“Faints?”

“Just wait.”

Kip closed his eyes, and the room went silent. First, she showed him the one-eyed man in the room with Squeaks. He jumped to his feet, pacing the floor with his eyes closed, fingers rubbing his temples. Everyone took a step back giving him room. As the image broadened, the one-eyed man was holding her bloodied nightshift. All went blank after that except for the number twenty-seven. Without realizing it, he kept repeating 27, 27, 27. Kip collapsed to the floor after that. Matthew and Lucas rushed to him as he was opening his eyes.

“Give me a few seconds, men.” Kip laid there and collected his thoughts and strength. Everyone was staring at him.

“The one-eyed man has her; he has a glass eye,” he said, looking at Marshall. She is still alive, but she’s been injured in some way, and I believe she’s stripped of most of her clothing. Excuse me for a minute or two.” Kip took the steps, three at a time, to the upstairs.

“Dear God, what he must be going through.”

There was silence in the room.

“Did anyone hear him say twenty-seven? I thought I heard him repeat that.”

“Me too.”

“Can someone explain what’s going on with him,” inquired Marshall.

“We don’t know. He just showed us this tonight. See these drawings; this came from his head, he said. He says they are exact drawings of who we are looking for. Kyle can testify to the coach.”

“So what did the note say?” Someone asked.

“The Inspector picked it up from the floor and read it to them.”

“It sounds like she may still be alive,” Marc replied.

“I am sure Kip, and I put no credence in that part of the statement.” The inspector added.

Kip came down the stairs asking what time it was.

“Quarter past 2:00 a.m.”

 

Hiding in dark doorways, because of the increasing streetlamps, Sarah felt she was finally in the better part of town. The streets were full of coachmen ferrying home the society after their evening out. She tried hailing a few coaches, but no one would stop for a person dressed as her.

Sarah would have to think of another way.

One coachman, having delivered his riders, was coming through town and saw a body lying in the road under a street lamp. Quickly pulling on the reins and setting the brake, the horses stopped in time. Another coachman coming the opposite way saw it, too, and stopped.

The first coachman knelt down to discover it was an older lady who may be injured. Suddenly, the driver felt his lapels being yanked, shocking him to the point of almost dropping her. The second coachmen assisted him in the carry.

“Do either of you know a driver, names Kip?”

The two coachmen looked at each other. “Yes, we do. What is it you have to say about him?” They inquired as they placed her on the curb.

Sarah pulled out a scrap of paper and handed it to the second man.

“It seems to be from Squeaks, saying she has been kidnapped. She is on Hanbury Street but gives no number. Zac put the lady in your coach,” said Perkins. “We must find Kip.”

 

“Let’s get to the park, lads. Inspector, are you coming with us? You will likely need to arrest me before the night is over.” Kip proclaimed with unfaltering resolve. “Just don’t get in my way.” He walked to Warrior like a knight approaching his noble steed. He was ready.

Arriving at the park, many drivers were waiting. There were over fifty, talking in groups. Some had horses. Others had their coaches. Everyone seemed to be armed, which surprised Kip. Again, tears came to his eyes in the darkness. This friendship overwhelmed him more than they could possibly imagine.

All the drivers parked and tethered their horses. They made a circle around Kip. There were in-service and independent drivers coming together for Squeaks.

“Thank you, gentlemen, for the help you are extending tonight to find Miss Dorset. To let you know what we know, I’ll start with telling you that Lord Stokes has a doctor with him because he has had chest pains. Clyde Dorset is going to have a breakdown, I fear. We have just received a ransom note, so there is hope that Squeaks is still alive. I know that she has been kidnapped by the same men who murdered Miss Caldwell. We have narrowed our search area to Whitechapel. I hope you may have seen the sketches of the men or coach we are looking for. If not, Marc has them in his coach. We do not have an address, but we do have an hour, and we do have Squeaks’ Army. She once said to me with all the help offered to her, she felt like she was building an army. Little did she know how true that would come to be. Detective Inspector Marshall shall be riding with us tonight. Is there anyone here that knows the Whitechapel District well?”

Several drivers raised their hands.

“Please come forward and help coordinate the search areas. It seems we have about 50 men here.”

“There are two coaches approaching. They are traveling fast.” Someone shouted. Everyone turned in that direction. The two coaches entered the park but had to park far in the rear. “That’s Zac. It looks like he has an old woman with him.”

“Make way,” Zac was heard shouting. He had to hold up the woman, so another driver took her other side.

“Kip, this woman has brought a note from Squeaks. She was hired to feed her, but Squeaks made her escape for her life. Here is the note. Her name is Sarah.”

Kip took both of Sarah’s hands in his as he faced her. “Was the lady alive when you left her.”

“She were, yes. They cut off her hair and broke her nose.”

Gasps came from the crowd surrounding them.

“She ain’t going to be alive long, though. I overheard them. They gots some kind of ransom note. I heard them say she and I would be dead before morning. They was going to hang me in the stable.”

“So they have a stable?”

“Aye, it’s around back. It’s really a shed. There are no doors on it, only a roof. You has to go down the back alley to get to the opening in the back.”

“Thank you, Sarah.” Kip read the note out loud.

“How long has it taken you to get this to us?”

“Maybe 2 hours. I didn’t know which way to get to the good drivers as the little Miss called you blokes. She told me to look for the brighter streets with many lamps.”

“You will be well rewarded. I’d like you to rest in the carriage you came in. We must find the young lady immediately.”

“You better hurry before they have …their way … with her, is whats they said. I knows what they meant.”

Kyle stepped up and took the lady by the arm and escorted her back to Zac’s coach.

Unexpectedly, Kip was overtaken by his sister’s swirling image. He stopped speaking in mid-sentence and held his head. He fell to his knees and closed his eyes. Mary was beautiful. She looked gay and happy as he had remembered her. “What do you want me to see? Show me what you wish me to see?” The drivers heard him pleading.

The drivers milled around talking among themselves at this strange sight.

“He’ll be all right in a moment,” shouted Matthew.

Just before Kip fainted, the number twenty-seven returned. Round and round it went in his mind, like a carousel. He collapsed. Lucas and Matthew ran to him and pulled him into a standing position. It took him a moment to focus. He pulled out Squeaks note.

“Listen up, men. I believe we will find her at 27 Hanbury Street.”

“What happened, Kip,” someone asked.

“I have a small gift of sight. It’s only recent but it has been steady and true, For the second time today, I kept seeing the number twenty-seven. Squeaks note says she’s on Hanbury Street. Where are the drivers that know Whitechapel?”

Kip had a street map ready from when he was learning. The former Whitechapel drivers showed everyone where Hanbury Street was.

“If I could have everyone’s attention. We will fast-pace from here to Hanbury Street. It’s unfortunate that people are abed. We should be a sight. When we get within one block of Hanbury, I would like to hear everyone whistle sharply, like we hear all day. That is intended to get their attention and move away from Squeaks to the windows. This should buy us another minute or two. We will encircle the block to prevent any attempted escape. Myself, the Inspector and several others will go through the front door. Those near the back, break that door down. Inspector, do you have anything to add?”

“These two men will be armed and prepared to fire. As will be expected, they will know they cannot escape the house and will find Miss Dorset and use her as a shield. We may have to negotiate, but I doubt that. We just want to be able to prevent them from shooting her. They will have no compunction about pointing a gun to her head, hoping we will let them go. I’m asking everyone here not to act hastily. That is all.”

“Tomorrow, the world will see us as more than mere drivers. All set men? Let’s drive.”

Hearts Adrift – Part Ten

Chapter Ten

Manon’s proposition made perfect sense. Richard’s logical mind acknowledged Manon’s words, and his foolish heart welcomed them, of course. It was true that he loved her, and he knew beyond all doubt that she loved him back. Despite the fact that he knew they could never be husband and wife, Richard was overwhelmed by true, unmitigated happiness, because his Manon loved him. His Manon? Yes, it was the undeniable truth. She was Lily’s daughter, and Lily had been the light of his life. Manon, so like Lily, had come to fill the hole in his heart that had been gaping since Lily’s departure.

Richard needed to think clearly, he knew. He needed to assess the consequences of what might come if he decided to make love to Manon, something he most dearly wished. With infinite tenderness, he cupped her face in his hands and lifted it up so that she could see his eyes. “My sweet Manon, before we decide to do this, I want to be certain that you fully understand what you are about to do. Once we have made love to each other, there will only be one option open to us. I will be forced to keep my distance from you again. We will never be allowed to express our true feelings, not by a word nor by a gesture. Not even, dearest, by a look. If people became aware of the love we harbour, we would be outcasts. We would end up in prison for incest.”

Manon saw nothing but love in those beautiful eyes, now a soft violet because of the desire she knew he must feel. She felt the same desire welling up in her heart. She focussed on communicating this glorious feeling to her darling. She smiled, and Richard was lost. Her beckoning rosebud mouth parted to reveal her small, even white teeth. He dipped his head, but she met him halfway, touching her lips to his.

A shock, sharp and intoxicating, sparkled between them, and fire spread like lightning, head to toe. Richard’s lips were firm and warm and utterly beguiling. He tasted like spice and sweetness intermingled, like chocolate combined with cream, like genuine, uncompromising male. It was heaven! She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her body against his, eager, desperate to feel all of him.

The movement set Richard’s senses alight with an intensity he had never felt before. She was so soft, so feminine and, he realised, so trusting in the way she gave herself over to him without fear or restraint. Conscious of the fact that Manon was still untouched, he would have to be tender and cautious. But as much as he wanted her, all of her, he could not allow himself to take her chastity and leave her impure for her eventual husband. It would ruin her. Oh, why did it have to be this way? He considered the moment and acknowledged their unbridled passion, which left them teetering on the brink.  He struggled to regain a fraction of his control. There was only one possible way he could proceed. It would not be all that it could be, but it was all that it ever would be.

Gently skimming her lips with his tongue, he heard her rapt intake of breath, shallow and quick. She tensed in his arms when he slowly parted her lips, but she did not withdraw. Instead, she pressed herself even closer, a gesture that caused sparks of pleasure to run down his spine. Plundering the soft, sweet cavern of her mouth, he drank in her taste of raspberries and cream, of pure, undiluted woman.

She was unique, she was Manon, and his body knew her for what she was – his own woman.

He allowed their kiss to continue for just a few moments longer, then broke it. Gently he scooped  her into his arms and carried her all the way up to her room.

 

Manon could not think of anything but Richard’s strong arms sweeping her off her feet and up the stairs. Her heart beat fast and loud. Her pulse raced. She was aware of the heat coursing through her veins, and of the eager anticipation of what was to come. She embraced it whole-heartedly. Any possible qualms were laid to rest, any objections ignored. She would be his, completely his, and she welcomed it with all her being.

Richard put her down beside the bed and slowly, reverently, as if she were some goddess to be worshipped, began to undress her. First her dressing gown was removed, and then Richard’s tender hands brushed the straps of her flimsy satin robe from her shoulders. It pooled at her feet with a faint whispering sound.

Merciful Lord! She was exquisite. She was slender, but round and curvy in all the places Richard liked a woman to be. Her breasts were gorgeous, her areolas a soft, puckered pink, and her nipples firm and red like ripe strawberries. He cupped his hands over both of them, revelling in the delighted gasp she took. When he stroked the nipples with his thumbs, she gave a small, whimpering moan. He felt it right down to his fully erected penis, his groin tightening further.

“That is … Oh, God! That feels incredible…” Manon breathed. “Please, do not stop!”

“I have no intention of stopping,” he said hoarsely, letting his hands slide to her slim waist to roam over her firm buttocks and back to her tight stomach. Her thighs … Oh, heaven! The skin was like velvet, and beneath it, her muscles were firm and soft at the same time. When his hands reached for her folds, she stopped him.

“Now it is my turn,” she said, placing his hands alongside his body. “Let me discover you, my love.”

 

A slight smile on her lips, Manon began unbuttoning Richard’s shirt, brushing the skin of his tanned chest with every button she undid. He reacted with little gasps at first, but when she placed her palms on the wide expanse of finely chiselled muscles, Richard groaned, his eyes closed in delight. Emboldened, Manon explored the surface under her hands – soft skin covering hard muscles. So enticing, so beautiful. Her fingers traced the lines of his collarbone and went down to skim his nipples, flat and hard under her touch. She followed the light dusting of coarse black hair that encircled the nipples, then let her hands slide down to where a thin line of hair disappeared beneath the rim of his breeches. Her breath now coming in short gasps, Manon undid the buttons of the flap, which proved rather difficult with the bulk of his arousal pressing against it. She had it open now.

Oh, sweet Jesus, but he was large, long, and hard! Manon had never imagined it would be like this. For a moment, she hesitated, not sure if she would be able to receive him.

Richard immediately sensed her anxiety.

“Go and lie down, my sweet,” he whispered. “I will finish undressing and come to you.”

His avid eyes followed every movement of her long legs, her round buttocks, her pert breasts, as she climbed onto the mattress to lie flat on her back, her limbs stretched out alongside her body. Richard quickly kicked off his shoes, stepped out of his breeches and peeled off his stockings. He lowered himself beside Manon and let the entire length of his naked body touch hers. She eased closer, pressing herself against him, skin to skin.

“Now, my darling,” Richard crooned, “let me worship you.”

He turned onto his back and lifted her atop him. She was on her back, too, so that his aroused member slid between the crescents of her buttocks. With slow circling movements, Richard stroked her arms, her shoulders, her breasts, carefully pinching the nipples. He revelled in the little whimpers that escaped her and felt something akin to triumph when quite spontaneously she parted her legs further until they rested on each side of his thighs. That gesture left her fully open to his touch, and he smiled to himself.

 

She was on fire, Manon thought. It flared up wherever Richard touched her, and it grew hotter and more intense, as he worked his wicked way down her body. His fingers were everywhere at once, it seemed, never resting, never still. They brushed the sensitive skin of her inner thighs, and the air left her lungs in a low cry. How was she to bear this? It was torture – slow, wicked, exquisite torture. Then, in one smooth caress, Richard slipped a finger into her folds. She cried out when liquid fire began warming her womanly place, and only grew hotter when another finger followed. He moved his expert fingers to draw slow, languidly exquisite circles into her folds, stroking deeper with every turn. Occasionally, he flicked her sensitive bud, and she cried out once more, not knowing how to find that coveted pleasure he seemed to spur on and on. Whispering sweet nothings in her ear, he drove her higher and higher up the slope of pleasure, and she had to draw in deep breaths just to keep up with him. Finally, he pushed her over the edge. Stars exploded behind Manon’s eyes, as warm, liquid flames consumed her from the inside out.

It was everything, it was incredible. The waves of delight rolling over her, again and again, Manon fought to catch her breath, yet all she could do was drift along that sea of pleasure and drown.

Richard turned them both onto their sides, wrapped his arms and legs about her and drew the covers up. She would be exhausted, he knew. Too many new and highly exciting experiences.

“My darling,” he crooned, “sleep, my sweet, sleep.”

 

With a small sigh, she slipped into sleep. Richard felt her lithe body relax against his, and he closed his own eyes for a brief period of respite. It was unbearably hard to keep himself from going further with Manon, but she was, as his conscience was screaming at him, his niece, and therefore forbidden.

He had done what she asked. He had shown her what it was to be loved, to experience pleasure. It would have to be enough. More than that he could never teach her.

 

 

 

The Noble Coachman – Chapter 20

Available Amazon Kindle

Chapter 20
Squeaks’ Plan

 

By 7:00 p.m., Kip was home with two sketched faces of the men who killed the Caldwell relative. It was apparent, only to Kip, that these men were responsible for Mary’s death and were currently holding Squeaks. He couldn’t let himself think about the worst. The four apostles plus Kyle piled into his sitting room, and Kip began his sketch of the old coach. Finishing in an exhaustive faint, the line drawing was an exact image of the carriage. His friends wanted to know how he did that, but he didn’t have time to make up something believable.

Kip drew several copies of each and handed them around to the gathered drivers. “I want you to show these to the Brotherhood. Inform them of who and what they are looking for. I am calling for all coachmen, who could help in the rescue of Squeaks, to meet us at the park at 3:00 a.m. Tell them they will be paid.

“Kip, none of us will take your money. You know that.” Marc reminded him.

“Squeaks is one of us now, anyway.”

“Are we going to Whitechapel, Kip?”

“We are. Should anything change overnight, I will take care of it myself or speak with all the drivers before dawn.”

“I am going to stay with you.”

“Me, too.”

“I think all of us will be with you through the night after we circulate your drawings.”

Kip’s eyes began to water, but the embarrassment would just have to be understood. None of the apostles knew the depth of his love for Squeaks, until now. It only was a fondness in their thoughts. The brother drivers, the union of fine gentlemen, were the army that Squeaks felt she was creating. Little did she know.

“I don’t know what to say, except thank you. Kyle, I promised Stokes that someone would be by his castle once an hour. If either of us has any news, we share it then.”

“I’ll do that, Kip.”

“Thank you. I want to contact the police, while you men contact all the drivers you see. Come back here when you can think of no one else.”

Kyle and the apostles left. Kip had lied about the police. He went to see his father.

 

Arriving at Lord Caldwell’s apartment, Briggs came from the stable.

“Lord Trevor, excellent to see you so soon. You have no coach with you, I see. Just your horse tonight?”

Yes, Briggs. We have a family emergency, and I must ride fast. Is father home?”

“Yes, milord. Your brother went home today.”

“Thank you. I’m just going to go in. No announcement.”

“Very well, milord.”

Trevor walked through the servant’s area and found the steps to the upstairs. His father was hunched over his desk reading documents of some sort. “Father!”

“Trevor, what’s wrong? How did your visit to Norcaster turn out? Scotch?”

“Yes, please. Squeaks has been kidnapped from her bed, nearly two days ago,” Trevor stressed in a helpless tone. “She’s been missing since yesterday morning, while I was in Norcaster. I contend it’s the same brothers, our former servants, we talked about earlier.”

“Sit for a moment. Please, this can’t happen to you again, or Miss Dorset. Oh my, God, I don’t know what to say. What can I do to help? Is there anything?”

“Yes, you can help.”

“Name it. It’s done.”

“It’s going to be four hours round trip, but could Briggs ride home and collect Inspector Marshall. I will be in trouble when this is over, and before you say anything, nothing will change my mind.”

“I see you have two pistols with you. Trevor, if I were a good father, I would warn you against what you are planning, but I am not a good father. You do what you need to do. I will stand behind whatever are your actions. All I care about is that you stay alive. I know if it came down to it, you would save her before yourself. Just save both of you. Do you have anyone to help you?”

“An army. Squeaks’ army. Probably, I will have forty to fifty drivers if they’re the men, I think they are.”

“Promise any monies you need to. We will pay anything if that will encourage them.”

“Father, they are a brotherhood. They will not take money to help me. Our problem is finding Squeaks before she is injured or dead. I am going to meet all the men coming to help at 3:00 a.m. If you have any word overnight, send someone with a note to Stokes. If you have the Inspector, tell him what you know. We will be at the Promenade Park.”

“Indeed, son. How is Lord Stokes doing?”

“Not well. The doctor is staying with him until this is settled. He is having chest pains. I’m not sure how much longer driver Dorset can hold up either. I will send a messenger to Stokes every hour for communication.”

“I will not go to bed. Have your messenger stop by here, now and then?”

“Thank you, father. Thank you for understanding that I may do something this noble family is going to regret.”

“We will regret nothing except my brother Nathaniel that started all of this. Goodbye, son.” Lord Caldwell walked over to Trevor and hugged him. “Come back safe and bring that young lady with you. I love you, son.”

“As I, you, father … Gus, too, of course. Tell him that if … if I don’t come back.”

 

Sarah brought the tray of food, the pencil and a scrap of paper to Squeaks room near half past 9:00 p.m. One of the men was getting ready to leave for somewhere. This was her best chance to get away. She unlocked the door and Squeaks cringed in the darkness. “It’s just me deary.”

“Did you bring the pencil and paper?”

“This is the best I could find.” Sarah handed a bit of paper to her. “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t see no number on the house, but we are on Hanbury Street.”

“That will have to do.” Squeaks scribbled quickly. “Thank you. You may be saving my life and yours. I did use the chamber pot, so you have something to empty. Once you get outside, just start running. Begin looking for the brightest streets. The more lighting on the street, the closer you are to the center of London where the good drivers will be working. Ask a coachman if he knows Kip, the driver. If he says yes, give him the note. Then hide. If possible, he may take you with him so you can show the drivers where I am. When you can, come to Lord Stokes Castle for your reward.”

“I will, miss. I had thought that you could take off your slip and wave it out of the window in a while from now. I know you have them man’s undergarment on. At least, it’s something.”

“This is a man’s, is it?”

“Yes, deary. How old are you?”

“Old enough to have known better.” She hugged Sarah before she picked up the chamber pot. “Good luck to you. Stay alive.”

 

The front door to the old tenant flat was slammed shut and rattled the glass in Squeaks’ window. Dark had come, and the only light she had was from oil lamps burning in the two flats close by. She could barely see the street as there seemed to be only one street lamp near the corner. She kneeled in the chair watching dusk saying goodnight. The cool air felt good. Feeling her face, she knew her nose was broken. She had trouble breathing, and it was quite swollen. She imagined she was sporting two black eyes. For the moment, she still felt brave. Her father and Lord Stokes had always remarked about her spirit. Sarah had to make it to center London before her captors found out. Squeaks felt she could survive anything except a bullet. She listened at her door for any sounds of discovery, but all was quiet. “Sarah should be away by now,” Squeaks told herself. Her fate now lay in the hands of an old woman and a London coachman.

 

It was 11:15 p.m. when a young boy rapped on the Stokes Castle door. Morgan was there instantly. He asked the small lad to step inside. “Do you want to see the master of the house?”

“I don’t know. I was just paid to bring this bag to you.”

“Wait here. We may want to pay you, too.”

“Blimey, Guv. I’ll wait.”

Morgan took the cloth bag into the study where the vigil continued. “A young lad, who is still at the door, was told to bring this bag here.”

“Morgan will you look inside for us.”

“Yes, milord.” He untied the string and walked closer to a gaslight. “There is a note and something else.” Morgan gasped. “It appears to be Miss Squeaks’ hair.”

“Oh, dear God,” Clyde began whimpering.

“The note, Morgan!”

 

“Stokes. If you want this pretty little lady back, we want gold or jewels tonight. We haven’t hurt her too much, but she’s only got a few more hours. Fill this bag with enough for two men to live comfortably for a lifetime. If you contact the police, or the bag is light, I’ll place your little girl where someone will find what’s left of her. If you know of the Caldwell girls, you’ll know I’m serious. Send your driver on horseback to Regents Park at half 4:00 a.m. If he doesn’t return, she is dead. Someone will be in touch.”

 

“Bring the lad in here.”

Morgan brought the lad in who had his palm outstretched for a coin. “Lad, you will have to talk with the Master before he pays you.”

“Young man, where were you when you were given this bag to bring to our house.”

“I was near me home on Grover Street.”

“And where is that?”

“That be in Whitechapel.”

“Did a man approach you on his horse?”

“Aye, Guv. He rode me over this far and pointed to this house. Then he paid me and sped away.”

“Did he say how you would get back home?”

“No, Guv. I thought he’d be waitin’ on me, but he left.”

“I will give you 2 pounds if you wait here until morning, and we will find someone to drive you home. It may even be earlier than that.”

“Two pounds? How do I know you’re not lying to me like that other bloke?”

Stokes went to his desk and pulled out a box. From within, he pulled two notes being a pound each. “Here you are. You can put it in your pocket.”

“Bloody hell! I’m obliged, sir.”

“Morgan, take him to the kitchen and get him something to eat. Find one of the drivers we have left and ask him to come in here.”

Stokes would have to wait for another twenty minutes before the communication driver would arrive.

 

Kip, Kyle and the apostles were pacing around his flat.

“Why don’t we go down to Whitechapel and look for this coach ourselves?” Marc was anxious to free Squeaks.

“How badly, I want to do that, but I fear alerting them to our presence, driving up and down streets. If we go in as a band of drivers, by the time they realize we’re swarming the area, they may run, leaving Squeaks alive.”

“Kip, I know we would be doing this for Dorset no matter who it involved, but we didn’t have any idea of your deep feelings for Miss Dorset. We thought it a mild fancy. We will find her and find her in time. Believe me, brother.”

“I’m sorry, gentlemen. It all happened extremely fast. Primarily being brought up by her father, she wasn’t taught the politeness of society. She is pure naivety. She has welcomed me into her space with no hesitation, even hearing my weak discouragements. I am quite sure, once she is out and about, she will find a proper man.”

“You’re a proper man.”

“I may be proper, but there is much in my past that I believe would dampen her current interest in me.”

“You know we’ve never been interested in your past to much extent. We have relied on other skills and attributes you display. We’re comfortable with you. Will we one day find disappointment with you?”

“I can assure you, it is nothing like that. I do thank you for giving me space in my silence. Someday, you shall know what there is to know. I will say this much, and no one knows except Squeaks—and she’s only known for a day or two. I ran away from a death in my family that I was unable to bear. That’s all I will say.”

“We are exceedingly sorry for such an unfortunate incident in your life. We shall ask no more.”

“I’m going over to Stokes. Anything I should tell him?” announced Kyle.

“First ride to the Caldwell estate. If Detective Inspector Marshall is there, tell him of our plan and where we are. Bring him here if you can.”

 

 

Hearts Adrift – Part Nine

Chapter Nine

Lucian’s carriage was a large chaise-and-four, drawn by four splendidly matching greys. It would cover the twenty-three miles in less than three hours. They were heading for Lucian’s estate, Whitehaven, near Romney in Kent.

Jéhan was fast asleep, snuggled up in a blanket against Lucian. Jake was sitting next to the coachman on the bench, while Manon and Richard occupied the bench opposite Lucian.

Night had fallen, and as the carriage rolled on through the quiet countryside, Manon felt her body go limp with fatigue. Her head lolled as her eyes grew heavy, and eventually, she could no longer stay awake. Richard carefully caught her and drew her close to him, so that her head rested against his shoulder. By then, Manon was already asleep.

With Manon safely settled against him, Richard could finally sit back and breathe. They had made it to England and to safety. The first part of his promise to his dying father had been fulfilled.

“She is truly exquisite, Rich.” Lucian’s mellow tenor voice snapped Richard back into reality. He lifted a mocking eyebrow and teased, “I am happy to see that your eyesight is still in good order, Luke!”

“So, tell me, are you her guardian as well as her uncle?” Richard nodded briefly. “Why do you want to know?”

“I want your permission to court her. She is lovely and sweet. I am at an age when I should settle and start a family. Manon is a de Briers – if not in name, then surely by blood. She is a suitable match and besides, we would become family, Rich.”

“Oh, and you know that a quarter of an hour after meeting her? Is that not a bit premature, Luke?”

“That is why I am asking you, if I am allowed to pay her a proper court, Rich.”

Mixed feelings formed in Richard’s mind about his friend’s proposal. Of course, Manon would have to be introduced in society, and, beautiful as she was, she would capture the attention of many young bucks in search of a wife. It was not that Richard was opposed to Blackthorne as a potential husband to Manon. She would reach her majority on the third of October, which was in a little over three months. On her twenty-first birthday, Manon would come into her own fortune, which amounted to twenty thousand pounds. In his will, Sir Robert de Briers had bestowed the part of his money, that would have come to Manon’s mother Lily on Manon herself. Once the inheritance became hers, Manon would be free to choose her own path, yet she would also be subject to any fortune hunter that crossed her path. Therefore, Richard would try to protect her, whatever the cost, and the best way to do that was to find a suitable husband for her. Luke Blackthorne was a prime candidate for his niece and Richard would love to have him in the family as his nephew by marriage, since they were long-time friends.

No, it was something entirely different that made Richard reluctant to give his permission for a courtship. The notion that another man – any other man than Richard himself – would have the exquisite pleasure of having Manon at his side for the rest of his life was abhorrent to him. He rejected the idea as soon as it presented itself, because and here, he dared not formulate his thoughts; it caused him unbearable pain. To be condemned to a life without Manon, to be forced to watch from afar while she made some lucky devil the happiest man in the world, proved unthinkable. However, it had to be just so. Manon had a right to seek and find her place in the world. So he pushed his rebellious thoughts aside and considered the matter in a rational manner.

“Look,” he said, his voice even, “Manon has a long way to go yet before she is fit to move about in British society. She is like an uncut diamond, Luke. She has been brought up in Paris, in a shop, and has no notion of what is required of a gentlewoman. Give me a couple of months … say half a year, to educate her. After that, I would be happy to welcome you as her suitor.”

“Fair enough,” Lucian grinned. “I admit that you are right in the matter of Manon’s necessary education, yet I refuse to stay away from her for six months. I can help with her education, Rich, and you know that. So prepare yourself for the notion that I will not be far away from Bearsham Manor in the next half-year.”

 

When the carriage rolled through the wrought-iron gates of Whitehaven, Richard gently shook Manon awake. “We have arrived, niece,” he whispered in her ear. She slowly came to her senses, but shied away when she saw where she had been.

“Uncle, forgive me. I did not know I was…”

“Think nothing of it,” Richard interrupted, before she said something that might embarrass them both. Nonetheless, when he caught Lucian’s gaze, Richard could not help noticing the strange expression on his friend’s face. Bugger, he thought. He would have to be much more careful in his dealings with Manon, lest the shrewd Lucian grasp the way matters were lying.

Since Lucian had sent word of their estimated time of arrival, the butler, the housekeeper and a lady’s maid stood to attention in the hall. Manon, still heavy-lidded from her nap, only vaguely noticed her surroundings. She was all too happy to have the maid, a pretty blonde by the name of Bessy, bring her to an upstairs bedchamber and help her into her nightclothes. The maid had produced a delicate, white, satin nightgown with a deep neckline, and a matching dressing gown. However, Manon was too tired to pay much attention to it.

“Do you require anything else, miss?” Bessy asked, dipping a neat curtsy. “Shall I bring you something to eat?”

“No, thank you, Bessy,” Manon replied. “I am quite exhausted and shall go to bed this instant.”

When she lay down onto the thick, soft mattress, she immediately sank into a deep sleep.

 

Manon woke with a start from a dream she could not quite recall but which left her in turmoil. Her heart was beating fast and irregularly, and she was perspiring all over her body. Jéhan! Where was he? With a muffled cry, Manon jumped out of bed and ran to the door of her bedchamber. She was standing on the landing, confused and forlorn, before she realised she had no inkling where to find her brother in this strange house. Dieu! Why had she not asked His Lordship where Jéhan’s room was?

She went back into her own room, lit a candle and donned the pretty dressing gown Bessy had laid out for her. The thick carpet covering the parquet muffled the sound of her footsteps. She descended the stairs and looked around the hall. It was not overly large but quite elegant with its soft grey hangings and wallpaper. A large bowl of fresh roses on the dark, polished abbey table spread a delicate perfume.

Uncertainly, Manon looked around to find the green baize door that led to the servants’ quarters. She discovered it on the right side and went through it. A large staircase led to the servants’ parlour and cellars. With surprise, Manon saw the dancing light of a candle in one of the downstairs rooms. She went down to find it. One of the maids was probably doing some overdue work she had not had time for during the day. The light came from the enormous kitchen and revealed the tall figure of her uncle, standing near the stove to heat a kettle.

Richard turned around when he heard the soft footsteps. “Manon! What is the matter? Are you unwell?”

Manon was still recovering from the enticing sight of her uncle in breeches and an open-necked shirt, and she gaped at him, tongue-tied and confused. She must have alarmed her uncle, because he crossed over to her in three long strides. His warm hands on her upper arms dragged her back to her senses. “No, Uncle, I am well. I was just concerned about Jéhan. What kind of a sister am I, that I should tumble into bed and not know to which chamber they have taken him? I am thoroughly ashamed!”

“No need for concern, Manon. I just checked on him. Jake and he are sharing a room, lest the boy should wake and be confused by his surroundings. Jake will watch over him, have no fear.”

Infinitely relieved, Manon thanked him, then asked, “What are you doing here?”

“I could not sleep,” Richard replied. “Travelling always brings me into a state of watchfulness until I am back in my own home again. I was about to make some tea. Would you like to join me?”

“Oh, yes, please! I am thirsty, and hungry as well, come to think of it.”

Only now did Richard realise he was still holding her by her arms. She did not seem to have noticed herself, but she did when he released her. A violent blush spread over her cheeks, her neck, and the enticing expanse of skin revealed by the low neckline of her white satin nightgown. The onset of a pair of small, round breasts peeked alluringly over the lace-trimmed rim.

Immediately, Richard’s body reacted, and he hastened to turn away. Busying himself with the tea, he cursed the treacherous embarrassment his body caused him. He wrenched his thoughts away from Manon’s slender figure, outlined through the sheer material of dressing her gown, and tried to recover his composure.

Manon, too, was affected by what she saw, in a way she had never experienced before. Broad, muscular shoulders filled the sheer linen of Richard’s shirt, and the v-shaped opening at his throat revealed tanned skin dusted with a fine covering of dark hair. That, however, was not what had shaken her the most. No, it was the realisation that her gaze had travelled lower, to Richard’s powerful thighs encased in the buff buckskin breeches, and on top of that, the large bulge behind the flap.

Manon had never lain with a man. No one had ever caught her attention for longer than a few days at the utmost. She knew what it felt like to be kissed, having received the pushy attention of impatient youths at the occasional summer dances on the quays of the Seine. She had never liked it much and she abhorred the feeling of an erection against her belly. It seemed so intrusive, so overwhelming.

Now, however, witnessing Richard’s arousal, caused just by him touching her, made her realise she was as aroused as he was. Low in her belly, a warm, liquid feeling was teasing her, and her breasts tingled where the peaks, hard and sensitive, brushed the satin of her gown. She was aware of a languidness spreading through her body, an exquisite feeling of excitement, of well-being. She wanted to touch Richard, to stroke and feel him, and she wanted to do so while they both were naked in a bed.

Her hands flew to her cheeks as she felt those thoughts spring into her mind. What kind of wanton woman was she? Richard was her uncle, Sainte Marie, Mère de Dieu! Her brain was shouting at her to run to her room and lock the door behind her, but still her body was screaming for Richard’s touch with overwhelming force. She could not! She could not submit to these unseemly feelings, yet her most secret female parts were humming with excitement, a warm liquid pooling in her inner core. She found the sensation quite exquisite and wanted Richard to know what she was feeling. She could not!

But … would it be so impossible? They were a man and a woman, and they were alone.

 

When Manon said his name, it was in a low, sultry voice that made Richard’s senses react with violent arousal. God! It was unbearable! He felt her hands slide around his waist, which caused him to groan with frustration.

“Manon … Let go of me, please. If you …touch me in that way, I cannot …”

“Richard, look at me.” It was a command, he realised, and one that he was unable to resist.

Manon stood before him, solemn and proud like a queen. Her green eyes were glowing with unmitigated love – not lust, but love. She no longer touched him but folded her hands as if in prayer.

“I know we can never be together as man and wife, Richard. Fate has made us blood relatives, and a union between uncle and niece is forbidden. I am aware that I shall have to marry someday. Unmarried females have a fate worse than death in this English society. So I am prepared to welcome any suitor that might come my way.  However, when I wed, I shall be a dutiful wife to my husband, even when I know for certain that I will not love him.”

She paused and drew breath, closed her eyes and shuddered.

“Of course you will love him, whoever he is,” Richard heard himself growl.

She looked at him, startled. Then her eyes filled with a sullen determination, and she said “No, I cannot ever love another man, since it is you that I love, from the bottom of my heart and the depth of my soul. The love I feel for you can never be born twice, Richard.”

“Lord, Manon! You do not know what you are saying! How can you love me as you would love a lover? It is wrong, it is unnatural, it is sin!”

“Love can never be a sin, my darling.”

Oh, how sweet that sounded from her lips! In despair, Richard closed his eyes to shut out the lovely, loving woman before him. But she continued speaking, relentlessly but oh, so sweetly.

“I want to know how it feels to be made love to by the man who loves me, my sweet, strong, handsome Richard. You do love me; I can sense it in every gesture you make, in every look you give me. I hear it in your voice when you speak to me. I see it in your beautiful eyes when you gaze at me. We love each other, my darling.”

It was true. He did love her, like he had never, ever loved before. He knew, for certain, he had never loved before in his life, now that he recognized the depth of his feelings for Manon. He was doomed.

“Dearest Richard, will you please teach me how exquisite lovemaking can be between two people who love each other? We will be together only once, only tonight. After that, I will not bother you ever again. I will set you free so that you can forget me, and so that I can find my future husband. You cannot, may not refuse me tonight, Richard.”

 

 

 

The Noble Coachman – Chapter 19

Available Amazon Kindle

Chapter 19
Abduction

 

Kip left the railway coach and hired a cabby to take him home. When he arrived, a curious sight of three other coaches parked by the stables met him. He was sure the carriages belonged to Marc, Lucas, and Matthew.

“What the bloody hell has happened?” He mumbled, paying the driver whom he knew. He speculated as he walked to his door. Jonathan’s had an accident. They didn’t know he went home to Norcaster. Surely, they were here to tell him about Lilith Caldwell. He remembered Mary’s swirling anger. Mary’s anger had now infused him. She followed him here, still full of wrath. Coming through the back door, his friends stood.

“What has happened? You three look pathetic. Has something happened to Jonathan?”

Nobody could speak.

“Speak someone!  I know about Lilith being found. I wanted to follow up on her demise, so I hunted her family.”

“The Caldwell girl was found? We hadn’t heard that.”

“Then what the bloody hell is wrong? Someone say something!” Kip was in a bad mood, and he let the men see his annoyance, a scene rarely witnessed by anyone among his family or friends.

“Kip, I don’t know how to say this except to say it,” declared Marc.”

“Just say the words, whatever they are, before I go mad.” Kip’s voice rose in tenor as he shouted at Marc.

“Squeaks has been missing for a day and a half.”

“Sorry?” Kip barked with incredulity.”

“Squeaks has been missing from Stokes Castle since yesterday morning. We have been looking for her since we heard. Jonathan is out searching now. Please go to see Dorset and His Lordship as soon as possible. We know you’re fond of her. Tell us what to do.”

“Give me a moment.” Kip flopped down in his reading chair. He leaned forward placing his elbows on his knees and holding his head. “Could you wait outside for me?”

“Of course, Kip.” The men noticed the portrait of Squeaks standing as a rear footman that was on Kip’s mantle and knew instantly that this was more than a fondness.

When the door slammed shut, Kip slid to the floor, allowing the tears to flow. “I will kill the bastard who has done this. Why Squeaks? Where could she be? Where do I start? I cannot live without her.”  He felt a trembling inside of him that had been absent since he lost his sister. It was a sickening helplessness.

Mary, tell me what to do. Where do I begin?

He knew who had kidnapped her and violent anger roiled inside of him. Kip didn’t care if he lost his life, he would find her.

Kip dried his face and headed towards his stable. He had no time for the agony anymore. Action with leadership had been the mainstay of his learning. All rules, regulations, legal maneuvers, politeness, and nobility weren’t words he recognized anymore.

“If you chaps would canvass the other drivers for any news. Be back here by 7:00 p.m. and bring Kyle. Tell the others, they may soon be called upon for a rescue.”

“Aye, Guv,” said Lucas. The three took to their benches and rolled out of the yard.

Kip looked heavenward and shouted at God and shook his fist. “Why Squeaks, God? Why her? I have only just found her, and you let them take her. This is my fault, not hers.”

Kip went to his stable and loaded his two pistols. While harnessing his horse, a swift pain came to his stomach, causing him to bend at the midriff and vomit. It was pure fear for the woman he loved.

Mary was back. Thank God. He stopped and closed his eyes trying to catch what she wanted him to know. She no longer was angry, but saddened. He glimpsed his image of Squeaks riding footman. He didn’t know why but he went back for his sketch pad.

As Kip began his twenty-minute journey on horseback to the Stokes Castle, he thought about Mary appearing after the discovery of Lilith. “Is she trying to confirm to me that the men that had killed her, had Squeaks?” The intent seemed obvious, as he raced to see Clyde Dorset.

Kip thought that once Lilith was located, Mary would find peace. Nevertheless, with Squeaks being taken, it would explain her angry images yesterday. And he knew, because of him, she would be their next victim. He couldn’t bear to think past kidnapping. He needed his head, and dwelling on something unknown would hinder him, right now.

“The killers know who I am. They must! There would be no other reason for Squeaks to be captured.” Now he knew why he brought the sketch pad. He would visit with Lucy Blevins and draw a picture, from her memory, of the two men who were at the ball. Resolving that gave him hope, but a whole day and a half had passed.

 

Squeaks woke, not knowing where she was. It was a bare room with only a bed, small table, chair and no oil lamp. Her head ached and feeling her scalp, there was a large lump up there. The last she remembered was talking to her father about her picnic day and then going to bed. It was a day she would never forget. She became Kip’s lady. She remembered being so happy when she told her father who did not look very surprised. However, he was moved when hearing about Kip saving her life from that racing carriage and team. She wondered if that coach rode hard toward them for a purpose.

Squeaks walked to the window, which was boarded from the outside. She could peek through the slats that didn’t fit well. It seemed to be afternoon. There was an old poor tenant flat next door and another across the street from that. Seeing all she could, she went to the door to listen.

Two male voices and one female were heard, but not what was being said. It was only a moment later when she heard footsteps coming closer and then a knock on the door.

“Deary, can you hear me?” Came the elderly voice.

“Who are you and where am I?” Squeaks replied.

“I have brought you some stew. I want you to sit on the edge of the bed, while I unlock the door.”

Squeaks was starved, she complied. “I’m ready. She heard the lock click.

The door opened a fraction barely before swinging open. The old charwoman carried a tray to the small table. She quickly closed the door and then sat on the bed. Squeaks went to the small table and pulled up the chair.

“Who are you and why am I here? Do you know who I am?”

“Listen, deary. It makes no never mind to me who or why you’re here. I’m being paid to see that you are fed, and your chamber pot is emptied. It’s under the bed.” The woman checked it. “It’s still empty. Don’t you piss, Deary?”

“How long have I been here? I only just woke.”

“Well, I gots here after dark last night, and you was up here by then. I think those two  men down there, are up to no good. ‘Tis you worth somethin’? They says I will be paid real good, enough for a fancy frock.”

Squeaks kept quiet and allowed the charwoman to wax on about this task she was hired to do. “They makes me stay in the kitchen. They been talkin’ about a ransom note all day. Your pa got money?”

“No. I am in service. I know my Lord would pay you a lot more if you let me out.”

“Awe … deary, I can’t do that. They might kill me.”

“They will probably kill us both. You’ve seen their faces. They won’t let anyone live who has seen their faces.”

“One sure is an ugly cuss. He only be havin’ but one glass eye. I gotta go. They be wantin’ their dinner.”

“I don’t know your name, but think about my Lordship paying you more coin, even a whole lot more if you can find a way to free me.”

“I’ll think about it, but I thinks I likes livin’ more. Stay where you are.” Sarah, watched Squeaks closely as she unlocked the door and slipped out. “My name is Sarah,” she locked the door.

Squeaks sat there eating her stew, wondering why she was taken. She wasn’t worth anything unless they wanted money from His Lordship. They were foolish to try that. She thought of Kip and could make no connection there. She began to worry about her father, and Lord Stokes. They would be most upset by now, yet; she was still unharmed except the bump on her head. Squeaks noticed she had a night shirt on. She finished her food and water and went back to the window. Although it was nailed shut, she took her fork prying out the two nails holding it closed. She was able to raise the window only a little which left her room to knock out one of the slats of wood. That seemed as far as she could go unless she smashed through it all with her chair. She closed the window and slipped the two nails back in the holes.

The slat of wood fell to the ground leaving more light coming into the room. She was thankful that dusk was near. She sat on her bed and looked at the window. “What else can I try? I can wave my arm outside. Someone might notice.”

Suddenly, she heard heavy boots coming toward her door.

 

As Kip came up the drive to Stokes Castle, he jumped off his horse and threw the reins to a stable boy headed towards him. Without asking or saying anything, he walked into the servant’s area and asked which room was Clyde’s. He was told that Clyde was with His Lordship.

“Where is that, again? Take me there immediately.”

The housekeeper led him through the labyrinth of staircases until she met Morgan.

“This gentleman …” she was interrupted.

“I know who he is. It’s all right. Follow me, Mr. Kipling.”

“How is the family? Has there been any word on Squeaks?” Kip was frantic.

“No word, sir. The entire household is quite worried. We all love her as I am sure you know.”

Morgan knocked on the door to the study. “Mr. Kipling, your Lordship.”

Kip passed into the room, and the sight looked worse than he imagined. A doctor was attending His Lordship, who apparently was having chest pains, and Clyde was distraught with worry.

“Kip, Thank God you are here.” Both men tried to speak at once. “Go ahead, Clyde. You tell him what we know.”

Kip was handed a glass of scotch to which he declined, but he did take a seat close to Clyde.

“Please, Clyde. Everything you know and what you think?”

“No one on the property has seen Squeaks since the night she returned from the picnic with you. Upon waking, we found her bed empty. The police think she was taken during the early hours of the morning. We are still trying to find out how that could have possibly happened. Our only conclusion is that this Castle has never been broken into for centuries. We are sure a window was unlocked, but the back door was wide open—perhaps to carry her out. No one at the stables heard anything. The police believe she was moved further down the lane to some other transportation. They also think she was unconscious at that time, as there is a spot of blood on her pillow.

Kip had taken to his feet long ago and was pacing the room. As he stopped and peered out a window, Clyde stopped talking. “Please proceed,” he said with his back to the room and water in his eyes.

“Our first thought was that the two of you may have run off to be together, but that was quickly dismissed. However, the police did find that you had left London the night of your picnic. I think you were under suspicion for a while since you both were gone so soon after having been together.”

Kip turned to see if they were expecting an explanation. They were.

“Kip, I am sorry. I had to break your confidence with me, but only to Clyde.”

“I see. In such matters, it is entirely understood. As for leaving London, we had a rider from our estate come to my father’s apartment, telling us of the discovery of Lilith Caldwell’s body. She was found where my sister was found. I left on the train that night to represent the family and settle the staff – my brother was visiting here. I returned only an hour ago. I am worried there is a connection from me to Squeaks. What is being done?”

“The police are in the dark. There was nothing similar to Squeaks being found missing and the abduction of Lilith Caldwell. I dare say they do not associate the two cases. Do you?”

“Most certainly.”

“How do you come by that?” Asked His Lordship.”

“It comes from my dead sister. I will explain at another time. I have irons to cast into the fires. I will bring all the London coachmen to bear. We will find her. I only hope we are not too late.”

“Do I see two pistols in your belt.”

“Yes, you do. I have a rifle with my horse. If Squeaks has been hurt in any way, they will find a dead man. I will send a driver over every hour for any communication. I must go. Good evening.” Kip waited for no reply. He turned on his heel and left.

Kip headed for the Blevins Manor.

 

The heavy boots did not call out to her to stand away from the door, he opened it, giving Squeaks no decency had she needed it. He entered carrying an old lamp with a bailing wire handle, holding it high to see the dim room. “There you are. Cute little thing, as were the others.”

Squeaks couldn’t help but tremble. Although dressed as a gentleman, his speech, and unkempt look said differently. She gauged he was twice her weight. “I think you are mistaking me for someone else. I have no worth to anyone.” Squeaks began to plead her case.

“We knows exactly who you are Miss Dorset. You live with His Lordship, isn’t that right?”

“I am only a servant there. I am not a member of the family. I only have my father, and he works as staff. What do you mean, I’m like the others? What others?”

“I guess I can forgive you for not knowing the Caldwell women. You wouldn’t be traveling in the same circles.”

“I heard about Miss Lilith Caldwell if you are trying to scare me. I know there is Lord Caldwell at the House of Lords. I knew neither and have no association with them, and have no value. How can I benefit this scheme of yours?”

“You have a nice young body, like those two. Me brother and I fancy that. First, though, we have decided to get some money for you since you aren’t a noble.” The one-eyed man laughed. “You’re so small, I don’t know if you be worth much.” He laughed again.

“That makes no sense at all,” Squeaks said in her normal spirited attitude.

“Well, you have two Lords that are keen on you. At least one should be amiable to pay to get you back.”

“I don’t know what you mean by two Lords. You have me confused with some other.”

“It doesn’t matter which one.”

Squeaks saw the other brute-of-a-man come through the door with a long kitchen knife.

Squeaks felt the urine running down her leg as she began backing into a corner. She called for help but was quickly subdued.

“Miss, we ‘taint going to kill you yet. We just want some of that lovely hair of yours. They’re going to need proof that we have you.”

In her stuttering voice, “I should think being missed is proof enough for them.”

“We won’t take all of it this time. Brad, I’ll hold her. You cut.”

Squeaks was violently thrust to the one-eyed man, while the other began sawing off her hair with the dull knife, about halfway up. Squeaks started to cry. The seriousness of her situation was pressing in. Would she ever see Kip again?  “Did you kill Miss Caldwell?”

He roared with a laugh. “We got them both. You seem to think we are here to have a conversation.”

“Why?”

“Why? That family killed our sister just as if they shot her. She was young and pretty, like all of you. My brother and I have waited a long time to even the score.”

“How am I involved in this?”

“You are the lady to Lord Trevor Caldwell. But Lord Stokes will pay more for ya.”

“I know no Lord Trevor Caldwell. You want some other woman.”

“Maybe this will stop you from insisting on that.” Hair cutting completed, the one-eyed man punched her in the face, breaking her nose.

Squeaks fell to the floor, staining her nightshirt red while she lay unconscious.

The charwoman came running in when she heard the noise. “You men are brutes. What that young lady ever do to you blokes?”

“Shut up, or you’ll get the same. Clean ‘er up.” The brothers left the room mumbling about getting on with their job.

“I figure we have one more day. We’ll get that ransom note to Stokes and see if he reacts. If he doesn’t send gold or jewels within a few hours, we’ll have our fun with that young thing upstairs. In the morning, you take care of that old woman. I think you can hang her in the back stable.

Unknown to the men, Sarah overheard the end of the conversation as she headed for a pan of water and a cloth to wash Squeaks. “I don’t have no clothes for her,” she said, hoping they didn’t give a thought that she heard anything.

“You can leave her clothes off. We’re gonna tear ‘em off anyway.” The brothers laughed and refilled their glasses.

“So … which one? Stokes or Caldwell?

“Stokes. Hit him while we can. We still have the other Caldwell brother’s lady to snatch and then we can leave this country. After finding that last Caldwell wench, they know the deaths are connected. That inspector may be putting things together. Throwing in the Stokes girl should muddy their thinking for a couple of days. Where’s the coach?”

“It’s around back like you wanted. I put it under the coach shed. Don’t worry, brother. It may be a bit old, but that was an expensive ride at one time. The inspector won’t be looking for a carriage like that down here.”

 

By the time Sarah had cleaned up Squeaks, she had a new opinion on the offer that was made to her. Squeaks regained consciousness. She and the charwoman had a brief chat about how could they live through the next day.

That evening, Sarah folded a piece of scrap paper, along with a pencil, and put them in her apron pocket. She took a food tray to Squeaks.

Hearts Adrift – Part Eight

Chapter Eight

As Richard had foreseen, they reached Boulogne in three days, but it was night when they entered the small seaside town. As a precaution, they had not slept at inns the two previous nights, after they had spotted a company of soldiers camped near the village of Quend, fifteen miles north of Abbeville. Instead, they had made camp in the woods lining the road. It had been uncomfortable, but not overly so, because the June nights were balmy.

With Jake and Jéhan present, it also proved bearable to sleep close to Richard, Manon found. She took her little brother under her coverlet during the night, his warmth a veritable comfort when dawn set in and the temperature dropped. Nevertheless, she did not sleep soundly, but in short stages, and she lay awake for long periods, watching Richard when it was his turn to take watch. Jake and he changed every two hours.

She would look at his moonlit, aquiline profile as he sat near the banked fire. His face was strong, his jaw clean, even with the shadow of beard now blurring it. His wavy, black hair was tied with a bow at the nape of his neck, and Manon revelled in the sight of his proud, uncovered head. During the day, he always wore his beaver hat, which made much of his beautiful hair invisible. How she longed to weave her hands through the black silkiness of Richard’s hair. To caress his jaw, to feel the roughness of his beard, to run her fingers over his neck and shoulders. To press her lips against his mouth and part those finely chiselled lips with her tongue.

No – she was not allowed to perform all those wonderful gestures. He was forbidden to her in that way. That night at the inn in Abbeville, they had slept in the same bed, an experience that would probably never occur again in their lives. She had lain awake listening to Richard’s breathing, feeling every movement as his body dipped the mattress when he shifted position, his warmth when his body accidentally touched hers. His scent, clean and spicy, was so intensely male that when it reached her nostrils, it set her flesh on fire.

She would have to endure this suffering no longer once they crossed the Channel. In England, they would be staying at a friend of Richard’s, where his coach stood waiting to bring them to Bearsham Manor. Their adventure was nearing its end. Once they were in England, society would effectively separate the two of them.

Yet Manon was reluctant to let Richard drift apart from her before she had even experienced what love truly meant. Her uncle was forbidden, as was his touch. Manon, however, had seen too much despicable behaviour in her hometown. Paris was the centre of sexual excesses where people knew how to keep it all hidden, even from the almighty Roman-Catholic church. Yet living in the town centre with all the brothels nearby, where the aristocrats used to go before the Revolution, had given Manon a notion, although weak, of what transpired behind the walls. Depravity was riot in a city like Paris, and it had cost Thibaut Favier a lot of effort to keep it away from his children. More specifically from his daughter.

Manon loved Richard, and she was certain, beyond all doubt, that he loved her too. They were physically attracted to each other, and they found it difficult not to act upon it. She would be married someday to a man she would probably not love at all, and Manon longed for Richard’s touch now, even if it would be only once. She desperately wanted to be initiated in the ways of lovemaking by the man she loved, so that she would have no regrets about being touched for the rest of her life by an indifferent husband. She longed for memories she could cherish throughout a life she would spend without Richard. They would have to find a way, it was essential.

 

In Boulogne, they found an inn near the harbour. It boasted four private rooms and a large common room. Because of the country’s uproar, the inn stood empty, all attempts to travel to England having come to nought.

After a restful night, they breakfasted and went to find the boat Richard had hired to come to France. La Nymphe was a fisherman’s craft, and her owner, Paul Lafitte, made daily voyages deep into the Channel to earn his living. Richard had managed to secure his services when a storm had blown La Nymphe into Dover Port. He made a deal with Lafitte, who promised to wait for him in Boulogne Harbour for a month. After that, the deal would be over, and Lafitte would be free to go. Since only three weeks had passed since Richard had set foot in France, Lafitte was still waiting for him. He welcomed Richard wholeheartedly.

“Bring us to England, Paul,” Richard said. “I will make it worth your while. Thank you for being here as we agreed.”

 

The boat was small, every storage space destined for the cargo of fish Paul would catch when he went out on the North Sea. She was sturdy, and her skipper kept her in excellent order. There was only one cabin, however, where Paul had his bunk and galley. He graciously left it to Manon and Jéhan, should they need a rest, but the crossing would only take four hours in this weather. The sea was calm, and the sky was clear. They should reach Dover early in the afternoon.

As soon as they set foot on the boat, Jéhan began behaving strangely. He stayed close to his sister, clutching her skirts tightly as he used to do when he was a toddler.

“What is it, mon chou?” Manon asked gently, ruffling his dark curls.

“Manon, I am scared! What is this … thing? What is happening?”

His sister realised that Jéhan had never seen the sea. Paris and the surrounding countryside were all he knew, and the five-year-old must be confused indeed. She took her little brother downstairs to the galley while the three men prepared the boat for sailing. In the cosy confinement of the cabin, Manon sat Jéhan on the bunk next to her.

Mon petit frère courageux,” she said, pulling him close, “I need you to be truly brave. We are leaving France to go to England. You knew that, did you not?”

Jéhan nodded. “Yes, but what is this large water? Are we not going to sink? You cannot tread on water, Manon! We will drown!”

“No, love, we will not. This is a boat, not quite like the ones you see on the Seine in Paris, but similar. You know the river boats on the Seine, do you not?”

“Yes, but I have never been on one! Will it sink, this boat?”

“No, it will not. Monsieur Lafitte, our skipper, will bring us safely over the North Sea to England. That is the name of this large expanse of water you see here, Jéhan. It is the North Sea, and it separates England from the European continent, where France lies. Uncle Richard says it will take four hours to reach Dover, which is the nearest port from Boulogne, where we are now.”

Jéhan stared at her with large, frightened eyes.

“We will leave France? But … but Papa is in France, in Paris! We cannot leave Papa behind, Manon! We must go back and bring him with us!”

With mounting apprehension, Manon understood that now was time to tell her brother about their father. She could postpone it no longer. Taking him onto her lap, Manon tenderly embraced the little boy.

“Listen, Jéhan, I must tell you about Papa. You need to be very brave, because it is not pleasant news. Papa is dead, my sweet darling. The rioters killed him and left his body in our kitchen. I found him on the very first night that we slept in our house after the rioters took everything. I buried Papa in our garden. I did not want you to see him, Jéhan.”

Her brother’s hazel eyes, Papa’s eyes, Manon realised, were round with shock, but he did not weep or wail. He just nodded and said, “We will never see Papa again, will we? He is gone forever.”

“Yes, mon chou. Papa has gone to join Maman in heaven. They are together now, but so are we.” By now, Manon’s eyes were burning with unshed tears but she swallowed them back, not wanting to upset her brother further. Jéhan was trembling in her arms, so she held him close and stroked his curls to soothe him.

“What will become of us, Manon?” His small, frightened voice wavered, tearing at the strings of her heart.

“We will go to England, to live with our uncle and his mother at their estate. I will always be with you, Jéhan. I will never leave you. Our uncle will house us, feed us, clothe us, but I will care for you for the rest of your life, Jéhan. Whatever happens, you and I will never be separated. We are Manon and Jéhan Favier.”

Jéhan was quieter now, Manon felt. He sighed and nestled closer to her.

“If you are with me, I am not afraid, Manon.”

“I am with you, Jéhan, and I always will be.”

 

When the siblings went back up onto the deck, they were surprised to see that the boat had reached the open sea. With the resilience of childhood, Jéhan ran to the railing and cried out, “Mon Dieu, Manon, come and look at this! There is water everywhere! Oh, look, a seagull! Sister Marie-Ange showed us a drawing in class!”

Manon joined him at the railing and cautioned him not to fall overboard. “Here, Jéhan. Take hold of my skirt and do not let go of it. Be careful, mon chou. If you fall overboard, you will drown.”

“Yes, I know that, silly!” Her brother humphed, then asked, “Can I go and see what le capitaine is doing? I will be careful, I promise.”

Paul Lafitte hailed him and Jéhan ran off without waiting for permission.

“Do not worry,” a deep voice rang beside her, “he will be safe with Lafitte. The man has a family of his own, somewhere near Boulogne. I have met his wife Isabelle and their two children.”

Manon looked up into Richard’s smiling eyes. A lump formed in her throat, and she said, “I have told him about Papa.”

Richard’s hand, warm and strong, covered hers on top of the railing. “That was necessary, Manon. You could not keep the truth from him forever.”

“I know,” she replied in a small voice, “but telling him was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life.”

“You did well, Manon,” Richard said. “Look at him. He is already fully absorbed by what Lafitte is doing and enjoying it. Children are resilient. As long as we are there for Jéhan, he will do well.”

 

They reached Dover when dusk was settling in. The crossing had been smooth, but the travellers were tired, so it was with relief that Richard spotted his friend’s carriage waiting for them at the quayside.

Lucian Blackthorne, Viscount Rossiter, had been Richard’s friend since their days as Cambridge students. Lucian’s father was the Earl Clifford of Middleton in Kent, but the viscount had a small estate of his own near Romney, which was twenty-three miles south of Dover.

He now stepped and grasped Richard’s profited hand in a tight grip.

“Richard!” he said with unmitigated relief in his tenor voice. “Finally, you have come. I have been keeping men watching here for over a week, not knowing when you would arrive. I am so glad you made it back to England again.”

Manon, still weary from her sea voyage, came off the gangplank carrying her sleeping brother against her shoulder. She did not notice the tall, blond Adonis until he came striding in her direction, concern in his dark brown eyes.

Mademoiselle,” he said in perfect French, “let me relieve you of your burden.”

He took Jéhan from her before Manon could react. “I am Lucian Blackthorne, Viscount Rossiter,” he presented himself. “Your uncle de Briers and I have been friends for nigh ten years. Welcome to England, mademoiselle Favier!”

Manon had been full of apprehension when the stranger took Jéhan from her, but now she curtsied and replied, “Thank you, my lord. I am most happy to make your acquaintance.”

“Rich, you old scoundrel! You did not tell me your niece spoke our language! May I congratulate you, mademoiselle, on your perfect English? And please, no titles. My name is Lucian, and I would like you to use it.”

Manon smiled and begged the viscount to do likewise. She liked this pleasant, open young man from the start. He was the opposite of her uncle, she thought. Wavy golden hair, warm brown eyes, and a thin moustache that graced his wide, sensual upper lip. He was as tall as her uncle was, but of slighter build, though he had the same musculature about the chest and shoulders. The difference between them, Manon realised, lay in their character. Where Richard was a quiet, grave and somewhat withdrawn man, Lucian was exuberant and outspoken. Richard had a decidedly distinctive tendency to brood, whereas Lucian seemed to have no care in the world. Perhaps he really did have none, Manon mused. When your father was an English peer, you had no significant qualms or concerns.

She followed the two men to the waiting carriage, watching them as they strode side by side. Two friends, and every inch each other’s opposite.

 

 

Noble Coachman Chapter 18

Available Amazon Kindle

Chapter 18
Lilith

 

It was nearing four in the afternoon when Kip attached the coach and horses. He and Squeaks had an amazing ride through the forest. He had to admit she was quite a good horseman herself, once he got her in the saddle. Their great love for horses was equally cherished, but how would she feel about being a countess? Kip felt in his heart that his love could reach through her, to the other side if she joined his noble family, but could she reach back to him?

He knew she would not expect or demand extra respect. It would be like her to blend in as one of his own residents rather than their mistress. Perhaps, that would be a good thing. She could ask that something be accomplished instead of issuing commands. She would be well loved. His father would live another twenty years before Kip, himself, would have to accept his due title. Being a coachman for another decade would give Squeaks what she wanted. Their dreams could be fulfilled on both sides of the peerage line. As he rode, Mary came into his mind again, she was there often during this period of his life.  With her presence so entrenched within, his attitude was softening about one day returning home. Squeaks was changing his world, even more. He was beginning to think less of his own life and more of hers.   He had to make her happy.

Kip handed her the reins when they left the forest and traveled the main roads.

“Squeaks, when we get to the outskirts of London, would you like me to ride rear footman?”

She started to giggle thinking about it. “I think we should wait until we are very near Stokes Castle.” Kip could again see the child that was still invading her subconscious. She was easily pleased like a little one at Christmas. There the innocence remained. Someday that would be gone. He would cherish it while it lasted.

“When can we see each other again, Kip?”

“That will be up to you, my love. Tonight, I have an affair to attend. I know you are only available in the evenings, and that tends to be when I am working. We will definitely begin to plan nights so I can refuse fares.”

“How do we tell people about us?”

“We don’t say anything. If someone asks if you and I are a pair, just say that you are seeing me. Word will spread fast.”

“Does that mean I can see no one else? Can I not attend an evening meal with someone who asks?” She was teasing him, but he did not recognize it as that.

“That is usually what that means. Have I totally misunderstood you?”

“No, I am glad to have a reason to turn another down. Friday morning, without you, was a bit sad, having to disappoint so many men.” Her dimpled cheeks popped up.

“So many, was it?” Her charade had worked for a moment. “You don’t know how often I thought about you that day. Did you really have men asking to escort you out?”

“Yes. It was rather thrilling. I’ve never had that adoration, and now it is everywhere. I was asked several times if I was single and once if I was married.” She grinned.

“As if my control with you isn’t hard enough, you are going to make this difficult to woo you, properly.”

“But you said I didn’t need wooing, didn’t you? I’m not sure how I would make it difficult.”

“I believe you just did. A man takes very great pride in his lady. His first aim is to possess her. No one else may have her, or touch her. He will defend her with his life.”

“And you feel that way?”

“Yes. How many ways can I say it? I thought you were riding along with me today. Did you just arrive, woman? What have you done with Miss Dorset? The only problem Dorset has is listening to me, or perhaps it is believing in me.”

“Am I your lady?”

“You said you weren’t a lady if I remember accurately. Do you want to be? I thought you loved me.”

“I do.”

“Then it is a ‘yes.’”

“I think I need an official scorekeeper. I do not know what levels of love there are. I do not like assuming.”

Kip laughed out loud. “Excuse me. I have just been slapped across the face for which I deserve. I love your innocence and then forget that you really are that naïve. Yes, I dare say you need me to keep your score. If it needs to be clear, you are officially my lady. We are seeing each other.”

She gave Kip a broad smile. I now have a ranking. I am your lady. Is this the first step?”

“No, I’d say we were on our third step. We have declared our love to one another. Touching the other in any way that was not a customary courtesy, such as a kiss, was the second step.”

“How many steps are there and what is waiting at the top?”

“That’s hard to say. If we are right for each other, it will continue to grow and strengthen.

“So which level is the most intimate?”

“Squeaks, don’t do this to me. Do not force me to put a number on it. I have never been to that level in love.”

“I hope it is under five, although two was a wonderful awakening. Do you think I am wanton? What does that mean exactly?”

“Good God Squeaks! I should be shot for chipping away at your virtuous veneer. I think we need a few days of separation to cool you down. You are frothing?”

“And you’re not?”

“I think I am barely under control.”

“How about that bump underneath me?”

“The bump?” Suddenly, Kip blushed.

“What step was that?”

“Actually, that can be part of the needy thing and be step zero or lower. Sometimes it is there when we least expect it or don’t want it.”

“Was it that way today?”

“Squeaks, you are going inside the coach. This conversation is over.”

“But you said to ask you, not the women.”

“I did say that, didn’t I? Well, now is not the time or the place. And don’t go asking your father or His Lordship. God, you are driving me insane.”

“I am afraid you created this in me. I am your responsibility.”

“I want that more than anything in life, but let’s take it gradually. I want to be a gentleman and not a rake or a swain. I want to show you respect above all else.”

“How is that going for you?” She giggled.

Startled at that, Kip laughed. “I thought I could leave that up to you, but I see I cannot. You have no boundaries.”

“Should I? Do you have boundaries?”

“I’m starting to believe I’m the only one on this ride today that does. And I am not doing a very good job of it. Just how much Byron did you read?” Kip had to wonder if these questions were in earnest or in jest. He hoped he never found out. It was an appealing part of her nature and fun, which he rarely experienced.

 

It was 7:00 p.m. when Kip arrived at his father’s for dinner.

“Come in, son. Chandler, get Trevor a scotch.”

“And another one for me,” shouted Augustus.”

“We’ve been looking for you. All we knew was that you took Miss Squeaks out for a ride. What a day to not be able to find you.”

“What is it, father … Gus?”

“Lilith’s body was discovered today exactly where Mary was found.”

The air in the room became thick. Trevor gulped his drink and refreshed it. A heavy frown formed as his father and Gus looked to him for some possible guidance …an answer …anything.

“How were you notified?”

“Richards dispatched a rider with a note.”

“And what has been done since you found out?”

“Gus sought out Inspector Marshall, and I went to visit the Blevins. I imagine they will tell the family. I would assume the police in London and Norcaster are communicating by telegraph.”

“Marshall is on his way there,” Gus interrupted.

“I will go tonight, father. My job isn’t critical. I will represent the family and talk with the staff and constabulary.”

“Thank you, son. Are you sure? This could be very hard for you.”

“Trevor, I will be up sometime tomorrow,” replied his brother.

“Yes, father. I want to do this. If dinner is ready, could we eat, and then I’ll be on my way.”

 

Trevor wrestled with his decision to return home for the challenging sadness. The other Caldwell’s could be on this train, he thought. Within two hours he was at his door.

“I’m so glad you are here, Lord Trevor,” said Richards, looking exceedingly relieved. “I believe Chandler should be here on the next train. This way, Sir.”

As Trevor entered the sitting room, there sat Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell, half in tears. Inspector Marshall had been there about two hours, and the local constable was present. No one knew to introduce him to the other Caldwell’s.

He walked over to the distraught couple. “I am sorry to be meeting you under such tragic circumstances. I am Trevor Caldwell.”

The couple bowed, and Trevor asked them to sit. “Please let us have no formality during these few days. My father wishes to be here, but I am afraid he cannot face another death as has happened. He sends you his best and please honor this house with asking for anything that you need. My brother, Gus, will arrive tomorrow. Inspector, advise me on what you know.”

“I would prefer to do it elsewhere, so these poor folks don’t have to hear it again.”

“Indeed. Would you please excuse us, Sir and Lady Caldwell?”

Trevor, the constable, and the Inspector went into the study across the reception hall. He walked to the bar and asked for drink orders. He was the only one, so he fixed it for himself. All were seated within minutes.

“Lord Trevor, unlike your sister, this young woman was beaten and raped elsewhere, but her body was brought here. The doctor assumes, at first glance, that she died of internal injuries, but there was a strangulation attempt. He believes the body to have been there for about three days. Your brother ordered the icehouse to be torn down, and that was how she was discovered.”

Trevor rubbed his forehead as the Inspector continued.

The body has been moved to the mortuary, where she will be examined and then made ready for transport tomorrow. Her parents will take the same train. I shall stay on here for a few more days and ask around and inspect the site.

“Is there nothing we can do?”

“I will soon speak to your Butler, Chandler when he returns since he has been here the longest. We are sure, now, that it is a revenge killing. Chandler may know things he doesn’t realize he knows. We will talk with him after the Caldwell’s have left for the train. He will assist us with all your previous staff. He has decades of records, I understand. Since Mary was attacked first, this vendetta would seem to stem from your side of the family. We will also look into these other Caldwell histories. Again, the other Caldwell families have been alerted. Both women were young and ‘out.’ They were visible to the public. There are no other females in the Caldwells that match this scenario.”

“What scenario would that be, Inspector?”

“We believe a Caldwell member or Caldwell staff could be responsible for these deaths. It is only the women. The men could be targets, but we don’t think they are. The revenge seems to be aimed at women. We are most likely looking for a man who may have resided in this household. Our initial assumption now is that some harm, discharge or disgrace may have come to a woman who worked here. Unfortunately, I think your uncle, Nathaniel, is at the root of this revenge. Being almost 20 years ago since Sir Nathaniel was asked to leave; and if he is the cause of these murders, a plan has been in the works for a long time. You continue with your coachmen, and I’ll work with Chandler on your previous staff. The end may be close.”

“My father has spoken of Nathaniel. Have you heard that story?”

“Yes. His Lordship and I discussed him at length after Miss Mary. How are you doing, by the way? I see you driving in London, using another name and wonder why?”

“I had to get away. It is that simple. Being Mary’s older brother and her protector I wanted to shoulder all of the blame and I couldn’t do it here. Perspective was needed, no matter the time it took before I felt I could assume the role that is planned for me. I have quite enjoyed being with the lads. We are seen but not noticed. A lot is known to us but no one else. It came to me that at some point, perhaps the subject of Lady Caldwell would be mentioned whereby I could learn something.”

“Please don’t take on any retribution until I know about it. Can you promise me that?”

“No, sir. I cannot.

“Because you are a Noble gives you no special privileges where the law is concerned.”

“I am quite aware of that, and it has been considered. I will tell you, now, if I find the killer of my sister, I will dispatch him myself.”

“There are at least two of them. We know that much.”

“I know that, also.”

“Please reconsider.”

“I am warned, sir.”

“It is past 11:00. We should return to the parents.”

 

The following morning, Trevor gathered every servant and had a long conversation with them. First, he spoke about his feelings of Mary, trying to help him. He mentioned how comforting it felt and hoped they could see it the way he did. That seemed to appease most of them. Anyone wishing to leave their employ would go with a good reference.

 

Later, he, Chandler and the Inspector would have a conversation after Chandler had pulled out his old books. To fill his time, Trevor rode his horse. He could feel the wind whipping through his long untethered hair as he sprinted through the nearby riding acreage. A thought came to him, and he rode across town to see the Friesian horse breeder.

 

After the mid-day meal, the house was quiet. He had nothing to do but reflect on the image of Squeaks in this manor house. Trevor took the stairs to Mary’s room once more. It was still the same. Her clothes had been removed, and he wondered what had happened to her jewelry. However, the wall-hangings and colors stayed the same. Even the furniture was as he remembered. He sat on the side of her bed. Eventually, he flopped back and spread his arms, looking at the ceiling motifs. Suddenly, Mary was in his head. Swirling her image with a vengeance. Trevor found it a bit frightening this time. She seemed angry. She even wore a frown if that were possible. He left her room thinking that being there could have upset her, but the anger did not abate. Something was wrong. He went to visit her gravesite. He wept during his talk with her and told her about Squeaks.

 

Trevor strolled into his father’s study and saw Mary’s portrait over the mantle. His father commissioned it three years before she died. The swirling image didn’t have much resemblance to the portrait at the moment. He rang for Chandler.

“May I help you, Sir?”

“Yes. Please close the door and come in. Do take a seat this time.”

“I prefer to stand, Sir.”

“I know you do, but I would rather you sat.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“I want to thank you for what you have done for this family, especially in this past year and moreover these last few days. Who is with father right now?”

“Richards and I changed places for several days until the staff could be settled. I will be heading back tomorrow. Richards should be here before noon.”

“Did you listen when I talked with the staff about seeing Mary in my dreams? Lately, her image is getting stronger in my mind. I’m beginning to feel her presence without seeing her face. I am sure she is going to lead me to her killer.”

“Yes, Sir. I heard you say that. I remember you telling your father and brother about most it, except this more recent sensing.

“What do you think of that?”

“I cannot come to a decision on it, Sir. If you say it, I believe it. From someone else, I would question it.”

“I just came from Mary’s room a short time ago, where she appeared in my head again. This time, she seemed angry. I left the room, but something is bothering her. Do you have any ill feelings about this house or anyone in it?”

“None, Sir”

“Speak up, no matter how insignificant something may feel.”

“Sir, there is nothing to report. All feels as it should in this household. In fact, it is calmer than it has been in a long time. I am sure that is because you are here. They have worried a great deal about you, Sir.”

“Thank you, Chandler. I am returning tomorrow. You are excused for the night.”

What could be bothering Mary?

Kip didn’t remember seeing her this livid when she lived. He didn’t have a good feeling this time.

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