Authors: Maureen Driscoll
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Adult Romance
Win lit up at the notion. And James was hit with a
wave of sadness thinking of how long it had been since he’d seen that glorious
“It is such a pleasure to meet you, my lady,” said
Irene. “Though I am terribly sorry for the circumstances.”
“The pleasure is all mine, I assure you, and please
call me Win. I cannot imagine it is every day that future sisters meet under
such circumstances. But you could not have chosen a better husband. I am also
looking forward to meeting your daughter, James.”
“You know about her?”
“I saw her from the window the day the two of you came
to the house.”
“So you were there. I knew that damned butler was
lying. But why didn’t you come down? Why didn’t you call out?” He tried to
keep the hurt from his voice.
“It is a long story and I cannot tell it fully
tonight.” She smiled wanly at him. “But know that had it been in my power to
do so, I would have.”
“Pierce kept you prisoner?” James was growing angrier
by the moment.
“Please, James. Not tonight.”
Irene took his hand in hers. She was the only one who
could help him in a moment like this.
Lynwood spoke again. “James, you and your daughter must
stay with us as long as Lady Winifred is in residence.”
James was torn. He didn’t want to leave his sister, but
he was becoming indebted to too many people. “Anna is at my family’s estate in
Wiltshire, though I sent word through Layton’s staff for my brothers and
sisters to come to London as soon as possible. I thank you sincerely for your kind
invitation, but I cannot impose on your hospitality. My family owes you enough
“It is not an imposition and my duchess will be terribly
insulted if I tell her you declined our invitation. Miss Wallace, we will drop
you at your home tonight, but you are, of course, encouraged to visit Lynwood House
daily and stay as long as you like.”
Irene cleared her throat and even in the dim light of
the carriage James could tell she was blushing. “Thank you, but this afternoon,
upon hearing that Lord James and I are to marry, my father and grandmother
disowned me. Effective immediately. I was going to stay with James at Lord
Layton’s house. I know it is most irregular given we are not yet wed, and this
certainly isn’t the impression I wanted to make on you or Win, but that is the
truth of it.”
“How horrible, Irene!” said Win. “They should be
ashamed of themselves.”
Lynwood cleared his throat. “Your father, Miss
Wallace, is an ass – if you and Lady Winifred will excuse my language. So is
your grandmother. Then that settles it. We will all return to Lynwood House.”
The ever efficient Heskiss opened the door upon their
arrival. Lynwood’s brother Ned was waiting in the foyer with two ladies. One
was Rosalind, the Duchess of Lynwood, and the other was Ned’s wife Jane.
“My love,” said Lynwood, as he kissed the lady wearing
spectacles and a welcoming smile, “we have guests. They shall be remaining
with us for a while.”
Quick to pick up on his master’s cue, Heskiss set an army
of staff in motion to prepare the rooms.
Lynwood made the introductions. “Lord James Emerson
and Miss Irene Wallace are newly betrothed, but for our purposes, we shall
consider them married.” He ignored Irene’s squeak of embarrassment. “Lady
Winifred has been accused of murdering her husband. She was released into my
custody by one of the more obnoxious inspectors at Bow Street. I will write to
Stapleton tomorrow about it.” He turned to Win. “He is one of Bow Street’s
finest inspectors. It was his former sergeant who summoned me tonight.”
“Was he the sergeant in the room with me?” asked Win.
“Yes. He’s a good man.”
“Very much so.” She turned to Rosalind. “Your grace,
I cannot thank you enough for allowing us into your home. And please be
assured you are not sheltering a murderess. Although I suppose that is exactly
what a murderess would say.”
“You are most welcome here,” said Rosalind, with a
She was not a traditionally beautiful woman, noted
James. She had brown hair and brown eyes – though it was hard to tell beneath
her spectacles – and appeared to be in her middle twenties, half a dozen years
younger than her husband. But her genuine warmth gave her a unique beauty.
Rosalind continued. “We are also not unfamiliar with
false accusations of murder. Ned was accused of murdering Jane’s grandfather,
which is how we met Joseph Stapleton.”
“Yes, nothing like being accused of a capital crime to
strike up a friendship,” said Ned as he shook James’s hand and bowed to the
women. “Violet has done nothing but speak of her excellent tea at Gunter’s.
She’ll be over the boughs to see the two of you and Anna again.”
“Before any of that happens, I would like to examine
Lady Winifred,” said Jane. She gingerly took Win’s hand. “You’ve been through
quite an ordeal, I think. Perhaps Rosalind can show us to your room.”
“That is an excellent idea,” said Rosalind. “I’ll
also have Heskiss send up some dinner, though unless I miss my guess, he has done
so already. I’ll also ensure that James and Irene are in the bedchamber next
to Win, if that is suitable to everyone.”
“Your grace…” began Irene.
“You must call me Rosalind.”
“Thank you, Rosalind. We are not as of yet married,
though we plan to be so soon. I would not wish to set a bad example for Violet
or embarrass you in any way with the servants.”
“You could not do either, Irene,” said Rosalind. “Now
let us get Winifred to her room. If you’ll be so kind as to accompany us, I
can show you where you’ll be staying.”
James started to follow them.
Win turned to him. “Perhaps, I should see you after
the examination,” she said with a slight smile.
James didn’t want to let her out of his sight. But he
also didn’t want to delay getting her the care she needed. He nodded, then carefully
kissed his sister on the cheek. “I’m glad we’re together again, Win. I’ve
missed you so much.”
Tears came to her eyes and she could not speak. She
nodded, then squeezed his hand before being led upstairs.
Win was extremely tired as she climbed the stairs. She
looked around to keep her mind off the pain that came with every breath. The
house had an understated elegance that her own sorely lacked. There was no
mistaking the wealth of the mansion, with the rich mahogany panels, the smooth
marble stairs and the occasional ancient vase. But the halls were also
decorated with family portraits. And not just of long-ago ancestors. She saw
a painting of the duke and duchess smiling at each other. It was a lovely
change from the customary regal poses usually adopted by the aristocracy. Win
could never have imagined posing for such a portrait with Clarence.
Clarence. Whom she’d found dead on the floor. She
still couldn’t believe it.
They entered a spacious bedchamber decorated in shades
of gold. The efficient staff had already laid out bandages, hot water and, Win
was relieved to see, a clean cotton nightrail with matching dressing gown.
“If there’s anything you’d like, please let us know,”
said Rosalind. “I’ll show Irene to her bedchamber now.” The duchess hugged
Win, careful not to hurt her. “Welcome.”
“I’m glad we will soon be sisters,” said Irene, who
hugged her gently, as well.
Once they’d gone, Jane closed the door and began arranging
the supplies the butler had left for her. Win tried to reach around to untie
the sash of her gown, then winced in pain.
“Here,” said Jane. “Let me help you.” She began the
elaborate process of unlacing and unbuttoning her. “I’m afraid there isn’t
much hope for this gown.”
“I never want to see it again,” said Win.
“I don’t blame you.” Jane helped Win step out of her
gown and petticoats until she was only wearing her shift. “I have a basin with
warm water and some of Rosalind’s lovely scented soap. One of the delights of
visiting Lynwood House is to see which new scents she has on hand. If you like,
you can wash behind the screen, but I would like to examine you after that.”
“You mean without clothes?” Win could not bear the
embarrassment and shame.
“It would help me treat your wounds properly.” Jane
studied her, then added quietly, “Something tells me it is not just modesty
that makes you reticent.”
“It is too embarrassing.” Win dreaded displaying the
evidence of Pierce’s longtime hold over her.
“Win, I believe you have been through a great ordeal
and I’m not just talking about tonight. I imagine you have injuries and scars
that bear witness not just to another’s cruelty but also to your own strength.
I need to see you to help you. Please let me help you.”
It had been so long since Win had known such kindness
that she wasn’t sure what to say. And this was from a woman she’d only just
met. But there was something about Jane Kellington that invited trust. So
while Win went behind the screen to finish undressing and washing, she did
emerge without any clothing.
She was scared of Jane’s reaction, but all she could
see on the other woman’s face was compassion.
Jane appraised the front of her, touching her swollen
jaw. “Fortunately, I believe this is severely bruised, but not broken. Are
any of your teeth loosened?”
“No. My husband didn’t want a toothless wife, so he
learned to strike me without loosening any.”
“What a bastard,” said Jane. “Excuse my language, but
I cannot think of a better description. Your nose is not broken, though your
eyes are blackened. Is your vision affected?”
“Thankfully, no. Reading has been a source of comfort
these many years. I would truly mourn losing the ability to do so.”
“As would I.” Jane moved her hands to Win’s ribs,
probing gently. “You may have a cracked rib. I’ll need to bind it. I’m
afraid it will hurt, but believe it to be necessary.”
Jane pulled out a long bandage, then had Win hold it
to the front of her ribcage. Win was so intent on doing so, she didn’t think
to warn Jane before she moved to Win’s back.
“Oh, Lord!” said Jane from behind her.
Win’s face flooded with color. She was so ashamed.
After a moment, Jane regained her composure. “I’m so
sorry, Win. But you’re away from him, now. He’ll never get the chance to do
this to you again.”
“Please don’t tell anyone.” Win knew it would kill
“I….of course, I won’t. But you must tell someone.”
“I do not…I do not have any friends.” Another
embarrassing admission. But Pierce wouldn’t allow it. He couldn’t risk her
becoming close to anyone.
“There, you are wrong,” said Jane. “Irene is quite
lovely. And while you’ve only just met Rosalind and me tonight, we are now your
friends. It is simply impossible not to like her. Well, actually, considering
all the disappointed ladies who had their hearts set on becoming the Duchess of
Lynwood, she does have a few detractors. But I love her dearly. What do you
say? Shall we all be friends?”
Win had to swallow against her tears. “Thank you.
Your offer means more than I can express.”
“I look forward to getting to know you. And Violet
will be in alt to meet you.”
“But I wouldn’t want to frighten her with how I look.”
Jane smiled sadly. “She may only be seven, but she
understands the world is not always a pleasant place. She’ll feel bad for your
injuries, but it will only make her more determined to be your friend. So, you
see, tonight you have already made four female friends. Not a bad start to
your new life. Now, let us get you bandaged. I’d like to apply some salve,
then get you ready for bed. Your dinner should be arriving shortly.”
“I’m not sure if I’m more tired or hungry.”
“I am certain you are both. Eat as much as you can,
then go to sleep.” She took Win’s hand. “You are safe here and among
friends. Never doubt those two things.”
“Is everyone at Lynwood House so kind?”
“Yes. It starts at the top and emanates from there.
I believe you’ll soon grow used to the Kellington way, regardless of what you’ve
been used to up ‘til this point.”
you,” said Win. “I very much look forward to starting anew.”
Alexander Lewis sat back from the brief he was writing
and stretched his arms. He’d been to the boxing salon that morning and his
opponent had been skilled. Alex had gotten in a few good licks of his own, but
he would feel these bruises for days.
But at least he’d volunteered for the beating he’d
taken. There was a difference when it was optional.
He looked forward to the bouts not just for the
physical exercise, but as a way of breaking up the tedium of his day. Not that
he didn’t enjoy his profession. At two and thirty, he was a barrister, and had
the distinction of being a KC, formally known as King’s Counsel. He lived and
kept an office in chambers at Lincoln’s Inn off Chancery Lane. And he had
earned a reputation as one of the Crown’s best prosecutors.
It hadn’t been easy. His presence was resented by the
others in his chambers, most of whom were members of the aristocracy, though
usually second or third sons or distant heirs. But Alex wasn’t a peer. He
wasn’t even from the merchant class as some of the junior barristers were. He
was a bastard, pure and simple.
His mother had been the longtime housekeeper to the
late Marquess of Lanning. No one knew who his father was, though many had
suspected it was the marquess himself. Lord Lanning had been very kind to him
and his mother both, even going so far as to pay for Alex’s schooling. But the
marquess had never admitted to being his father.
And now that both Lanning and Alex’s dear mother were
dead, he’d never truly know.
Alex had been teased mercilessly in school about his
parentage, so he’d had to fight back, earning a reputation as a formidable
fighter. He’d grown into a pugilist’s body. He wasn’t quite six feet tall,
but even now he was heavily muscled, thanks to his appointments at the boxing
He was one of the best KCs in chambers, but still
wasn’t fully accepted. Many barristers had studied law solely because they had
to earn a living and had no desire to go to war or join the clergy. But Alex
had a genuine love for the law. He was often given the most difficult cases.
And it was his ability to triumph at court that made him one of the most feared
prosecutors in London.
Today, he was rewriting a colleague’s brief. The man
was the fourth son of an earl and had neither interest in nor aptitude for the
law. However, it would look bad for chambers to file such shoddy work, so Alex
had been asked to bring it up to snuff.
It was tedious work, but it wasn’t like he had much
else to occupy his time. He had few friends and little chance of finding a
wife, since he was a man caught between classes.
There was a knock on the door of his small office.
“Do you have a moment, old boy?” Sir Wilfred
Hollingsworth, senior barrister in chambers, entered. He was the son of a
minor landowner in Derbyshire, but since receiving his knighthood had taken to
emulating the peers he so ardently admired. Alex didn’t have the heart to tell
him those same peers ridiculed him at every opportunity, though never within
hearing distance. That was because Sir Wilfred assigned cases and barristers
were not allowed to turn down assignments. If you got on Sir Wilfred’s bad
side, it could haunt you for years.
It could even end your career.
The fact that Sir Wilfred was seeking him out was
worrisome. When Alex was given a good case, he was summoned to learn about it.
But when Sir Wilfred came calling, it meant the case was virtually unwinnable.
It’s not that Alex didn’t appreciate a challenge, but given his unpopularity,
if his record of wins changed he could very well lose his position.
And he couldn’t afford to do that.
“Good afternoon, Sir Wilfred,” said Alex, rising.
“Please have a seat.”
“It seems you’re rather busy,” said Sir Wilfred. “Are
you rewriting another one of Darlington’s briefs?”
Alex shrugged. “It is in the best interest of the
“Good of you to pitch in, but I’m afraid you’ll have
to put it aside. We have a case for you that’s frightfully important.”
Alex could only wonder what was wrong with it.
Sir Wilfred continued. “Seems there’s a Mrs. Pierce
who’s offed her husband. A fairly open and shut case. It shouldn’t be too
difficult for you.”
Now Alex was very suspicious. “Why did she kill him?”
“Haven’t the faintest idea. Word is he used to slap
her around here and there, though he was completely within his rights to do
so. She was his wife, after all.”
Alex stiffened. He abhorred violence against women.
And though the law did give a husband the right to physically discipline his
wife, he thought any man who would do so was hardly a man. And if this Mrs.
Pierce had killed him to stop it, then he didn’t believe she’d committed a
Unfortunately, the law disagreed with him. And it was
his job to prosecute transgressions.
Sir Wilfred helped himself to some brandy. “Why so
glum, Lewis? I would think you’d jump at something like this. It’ll give you
another win. You need that after the Kasey debacle.”
Alex’s last case had involved the son of a viscount
who’d been charged with raping a housemaid. But halfway through the trial the
poor girl recanted and, though Alex had fought to prove witness tampering, the
bastard had been found not guilty.
“What’s this Mrs. Pierce’s story?” Alex asked.
“She’s the sister to the Earl of Ridgeway and the
unacknowledged half-sister to the Earl of Layton. And both earls will be very upset
that we’re going after her.”
Alex couldn’t blame them. If he had a sister, he’d do
anything to protect her. Though it was too bad they couldn’t have done
something when her husband was beating her. He didn’t know either of the
earls. No doubt they’d gone to Oxford. And he didn’t care if he made enemies
of them. But he did worry about a woman who’d had to kill her attacker.
“Tell me why she’s a suspect.”
“Not a ‘suspect,’ Lewis. She did it, mark my word. They
found her covered in blood, kneeling over the deceased. If that’s not enough
to convince you, the man didn’t have an enemy in the world.”
“It sounds like he had at least one.”
“Yes, the wife. You’ll like this part, given your
love for the common man…her husband was the son of a merchant and she, of course,
is the daughter of an earl. This will give you the chance to even the score
with all those peers who gave you such a hard time in school. Not to mention
the ones around here who think you’ve risen too high for your station. I have
clerks interviewing the pertinent parties at Bow Street. You should have quite
the dossier by the end of the day. With any luck you can have this shrew hanged
by summer. It’s always advantageous to give the rabble a good show when the
weather turns hot. Well, keep me apprised of your progress.” He turned to go.
“How did she do it?”
Sir Wilfred turned back, irritated by the
interruption. “Excuse me?”
“How did she kill him?”
“Slashed his throat.”
“She’s a tall woman, I take it?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea.” Sir Wilfred narrowed
his eyes at Alex, a telltale sign of his displeasure.
“How recently had she been beaten?”
“How the devil should I know? Probably not recently enough,
given her proclivity to murder. I really don’t know what….”
“Because if she had been beaten recently, I’m not sure
how she could have had the strength to slash his throat. It’s a difficult task
for any woman, even when she’s healthy. When women kill, they’re more likely
to use poison or a pistol.”
Sir Wilfred poured himself another glass, then downed
it in one gulp. “I didn’t know you’d done a bloody study on the habits of
murderesses. Frankly, I don’t care how she did it. You just have to win. Get
cracking, Lewis. We want this wrapped up quickly."
Once Sir Wilfred left, Alex sat back and wondered how
a beaten woman could overpower a man and slash his throat.
Then he wondered why they were in such a rush to close
There is that moment between sleep and consciousness
where everything is peaceful. Before pain is felt and memories come rushing back.
For one blissful moment, Win thought of nothing but the comfortable bed she was
in and the soothing smell of eucalyptus nearby. Which was odd, since she never
had fresh plants in her room.
Then she remembered.
She sat up with a start, then winced at the pain in
her ribs. She gently probed the area, then realized Jane had done an excellent
job bandaging her. That was also a new experience. In the past, she’d had to
tend to her cuts and bruises by herself.
Jane. Her new friend Jane.
Win gingerly got out of bed and took a slow, deep
breath against the pain. Not too deep, of course. That was always a mistake
with bruised ribs. She gingerly made her way over to the wash basin, trying to
avoid the mirror. She was afraid to see what she looked like, especially since
James was there and it would kill him when he saw her. He already had seen her,
of course. But Win knew from experience that she always looked worse on the
second day of a beating, sometimes even the third.
But she was no coward, so she looked up to see an
image even worse than she’d imagined. Both eyes were blackened, and one was
severely bloodshot. Her right cheek had a cut that corresponded to Pierce’s
signet ring. Her bottom lip was swollen, with a horrible scab on it. There
was a yellow tint to her skin around the bruising.
Even her long black hair had lost its luster. Jane
had been kind enough to braid it the previous night, since Win had been hard
pressed to raise her arms to do it herself. She had learned a great deal about
anatomy during her years of beatings and apparently ribs helped a person do a
great many things.
After carefully washing, she realized she had nothing
to change into. She would have to ask James to send for her things since she was
prohibited from leaving the house. Then she realized most of her clothes would
be unsuitable since she was officially in mourning.
There was a soft knock at the door.
“Come in,” said Win.
A very pretty servant entered, carrying a black gown.
The woman curtsied. “Good morning, my lady. I’m Mrs. Rigg. My husband and I
work for Lord Edward and Lady Jane. I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“No, not at all.”
“Lady Jane wanted to be here but Master Daniel needed
her – that’s her new babe. He’s quite handsome he is, but needs to be fed constantly.
Just like a man.” She smiled and Win could tell the Kellingtons were quite
good at picking servants. “Lady Jane said to tell you she’d be here shortly.
In the meantime, I’m to help you dress.” She laid out the simple black gown,
along with the appropriate petticoats and a shift. “She said you’re not to
wear a corset or be laced too tight until you heal.” Mrs. Rigg added quietly, “I’m
sorry about what happened to you.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Rigg.” It was a new experience to be
treated with such kindness from everyone. “Who lent me this gown? I would
like to thank her.”
“Her grace had it made for you since, fortunately,
there’s been no cause to wear mourning in the Kellington family recently.”
“But how could she possibly have done that? I didn’t
get here until late last night.”
Mrs. Rigg grinned. “She sent a footman to her
shortly after you arrived, asking for this gown. She
had to guess at your sizes, but her grace said we needed it right away – and it
only just arrived. They’ll come measure you for the others as soon as you’re
up to it.”
Win could not believe the trouble Rosalind had gone to
for her. “This is too kind. I barely even know her grace.”
Mrs. Rigg shrugged. “’Tis just who she is. And, of
course, there’s no shortage of
anxious to receive a commission
from the Duchess of Lynwood, so there was no question this would be done on
“I am so glad the gown arrived,” said Jane from the
door. “How do you feel?”
“Much better, thanks to you. I cannot begin to
express my appreciation.”
“It is nothing. But if you’re up to it, my daughter
Violet would like to meet you.”
Win put her hands to her face. “Are you certain I
won’t frighten her?”
“She has been anxious to meet you since she learned of
your arrival. You are most fortunate she didn’t sneak in to watch you sleep,
as she does with baby Daniel. At least I hope she didn’t. May she come in?”
Win nodded, though she braced herself for the girl’s
But she needn’t have worried. A smiling,
seven-year-old girl with blonde hair and green eyes entered, holding an
assortment of flowers.
Jane beamed at her daughter. “Lady Winifred, may I
present my daughter, Violet Kellington? Violet, this is Lady Winifred.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, my lady,” said Violet
with a curtsy. “Aunt Rosalind and I were in the hothouse and I picked out
these flowers for you.”