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Authors: Shannah Biondine

Cachet

Cachet
Shannah Biondine
Bwlpp (2011)

Falsely implicated in a capital crime, American Rachel Cordell needs a safe place to hide while her father tries to clear her name. She goes to visit her aunt in England, where by twist of fate she is offered the perfect answer her prayers…a position working in the obscure village of Crowshaven in Yorkshire.

 Morgan Tremayne expected his partner to hire a sedate, pliable young fellow to serve as their company clerk. Instead Boyd returns from London with a damned female in tow. A damned Colonial female, with luminous dark eyes, lush tresses, and a most irritating tendency to contradict Morgan at almost every turn. She’s clearly intelligent, but shares almost nothing about herself or her life prior to arriving in England. 

Attraction grows between them along with grudging mutual admiration, but everything is thrown into turmoil when Rachel suddenly claims she must return to America. Her father is gravely ill. Morgan insists her country is gravely ill and headed toward outright civil war. His business contacts in Atlantic shipping and trade assure him this is no time for travel to the States, but Rachel will not be dissuaded. She’s adamant about making the perilous voyage, despite sea lanes rife with privateers, blockade runners, and hardened mercenaries, not to mention what she may be facing once she reaches American shores. 

Morgan sees no choice but to go along and marry her at sea, placing himself squarely in the eye of a different storm. For he has no idea who the woman is he’s abruptly taken to wife, and as they will both discover, some secrets are dangerous to keep…but potentially lethal once revealed. Can two lovers from opposite shores weather the treacherous waters and somehow find peace together?

About the Author

Shannah Biondine is the author of eight novels of historical and/or paranormal romance as well as three fantasy novellas. Originally a California native, Shannah relocated with her husband and two children to Colorado in 2005 and now lives near the Arkansas River and Sangre De Cristo Mountains. Shannah won an Eppie in 2002 for Best Fantasy/Paranormal Romance, and has had works final in the Aspen Gold, PRISM, and Dream Realm Awards. She is also published with Double Dragon Publishing. Readers may contact Shannah at: [email protected]

Cachet

By

Shannah Biondine

 

SMASHWORDS EDITION

 

PUBLISHED BY:

Books We Love Publishing Partners

192 Lakeside Greens Drive

Chestermere, Alberta, T1X 1C2

Canada

ISBN: 978-0-9867514-1-7

Copyright ©2000 by Susan E. Block

Cover art by Sheri McGathy Copyright © 2010

 

CACHET
.
A seal on a letter or document. A mark or quality, as of distinction, individuality, or authenticity. From the Old French
cacher
, to hide.

 

 

Dedication:

 

In memory of Krystal—whose smile and gentleness are not gone too soon to ashes —but mingled with the night mists into faerie dust. May you know only love and laughter on the other side.

Chapter 1

London, 1860

 

"I didn't kill him, Violet."

Richelle's voice shook as she read the newspaper account aloud. "Grubstake Smith, Eastern gambler and financier, was found poisoned in his hotel room in Carson City. The hotel desk clerk placed a young brunette woman at the scene less than an hour before the body was discovered. Slender, with a single braid reaching past her waist, the woman had been identified as Richelle Nash, a newly-widowed matron from the Oregon Territory. She'd come to Carson City to meet a land speculator and collect her proceeds from the sale of the Oregon farm. Authorities speculate the meeting to settle her late husband's gambling debts went sour. Smith died from drinking the colored rubbing alcohol someone had substituted for the whiskey in his hotel room decanter."

Richelle handed the folded paper to her aunt. "I never even met Smith. I went to his room because Cletus died owing $500 from a poker game. I waited over an hour, then left the cash with a note. My old friend Jonas was in Carson City with me. We had tickets for the afternoon stage East. I never touched his liquor supply."

"There's no mention of a note or money," Violet pointed out.

"Probably because whoever did poison him stole the cash. What's robbery when you've already committed murder?"

"What does Jeremiah intend to do?"

"You know Papa. He promised he'd straighten things out. Jonas knows I'm innocent, but we parted company in St. Louis. If Papa can track him down and get his testimony, the marshal might consider dropping charges. They only have circumstantial evidence. Jonas will swear I never touched a bottle in that room."

"Knowing my brother, he'll have investigators combing the country from one end to the other for your friend."

"Yes, but America's a big country, Aunt." Richelle forced a thin smile. "I pray Papa's men can clear me soon. I'd love nothing better than to go home and be out of your way. But I can't leave until Papa advises it's safe. And I can't be Richelle Nash anymore. It's
Rachel
now. Rachel Cordell."

Violet returned the newspaper with a shudder and poured herself another cup of tea. "I hate to ask," she began delicately, "but what do you intend to do here in London? True, I have guest quarters, but only a modest pension. And I suspect you'll find life here with me very drab."

Rachel pulled a pouch from her handbag. "Papa gave me some traveling money. You're welcome to whatever's left. I haven't spent much."

Violet counted the folded notes. "This will help for a time. However, you do realize what your father's undertaken could take some months to conclude?" At her niece's nod, Violet rose and headed for the staircase. "You had an excellent upbringing and education. Perhaps you might consider employment as a governess or tutor for one of London's better families."

Rachel started up the stairs. Violet opened the door to the guest room and paused. "I'm giving a small gathering tomorrow evening. There wasn't time to change my plans. Invitations had gone out before I received your father's letter. We won't let on there's a problem. Only that you've decided to visit me after your unfortunate loss."

"Unfortunate?" the girl repeated. "Hardly, Aunt. It was a blessing Cletus died. The answer to my prayers."

"Don't talk like that, dear."

"I know it's not polite to speak ill of the dead, but it wasn't polite for my father to give me to a man I barely knew, either. I met Cletus only once before our wedding day. I never knew him until he was my husband, then I grew to hate him. Arranged marriages don't always end up happy. Perhaps it's best not to speak of the past. Then I won't have to pretend a sorrow I can't feel."

Rachel kissed her aunt and shut herself away in the guest room. She was safe for now. There were no marshals hunting for her or handbills with her likeness on them here. No more newspaper reports. She was safe. Tired.

Banished.

The following evening the lamplighter made his way down the street as Violet's town house filled with visitors. Rachel stood in a corner of the tasteful drawing room, awed by the glittering candlelight, softly murmuring cultured voices and muted laughter of Violet's guests. She'd almost forgotten all this, so much time had she spent on the frontier with its raw wood and coarse pioneer folk. She'd forgotten the feel of taffeta, the taste of goose liver. Forgotten that warm gatherings and happy times had once been part of her life.

Rachel watched Violet snag her banker even as he crossed the marble foyer. Before he could hang up his hat, Violet whispered something into his ear and together they moved with purpose to greet a younger man. Then the trio disappeared into the small alcove Violet referred to as her library.

Rachel circled the salon, nodding at her aunt's guests. A short time later, while reaching for a champagne flute from a silver tray, her gaze lit upon a sandy-haired man in his thirties. He appeared to be staring directly at her.

Was he from a detective agency, or some freelance agent who'd traced her from America? She'd used her alias while traveling and changed her hairstyle. He still watched her from behind a group of loud business types. She glanced toward the foyer, wonder how she might slip past him.

She never got the chance. She'd no sooner turned to set down her champagne glass when he approached her. "Madam Cordell, I'm Boyd Atkinson, a colleague of your aunt's investment banker. Mr. Soames seems to think you might be open to an offer of employment. Might we talk a moment?"

Rachel indicated the adjoining sitting room. She perched on the edge of the deep turquoise velvet sofa, eyes wary. "An offer of employment, you said."

"Yes, I need a clerk for my holding company in Yorkshire. I understand you're American and well educated. It's most regrettable you find yourself in such doleful circumstances, but perhaps a change of scene would help to cheer you."

"A change of scene." She was repeating his words like a trained parrot, but she was helpless to stop. It was either that or dissolve into hysterical laughter. Here she'd imagined being dragged off to some London prison, and the man had only been considering her for a job! He seemed nice enough. She forced herself to take a deep breath.

"I'm from Yorkshire, in the north. My partner and I have a small firm. I've concluded we must abandon haphazard reckoning for precise bookkeeping to improve our profits. A lick and a promise just won't do in these changing times, you see." She nodded. "My partner's forte is acquisition and financial negotiations. Administrative matters fall to me. Neither of us has time for auditing and posting. Therefore, I've decided to seek a clerk."

Rachel took a breath. "I've been living out West the past several years, sir. Far removed from my father's offices. The closest I've come to tallying anything lately was counting hen's eggs."

He laughed aloud. Rachel found herself warming to both the idea of the clerking post and the man himself. It was impossible to dislike someone with such a pleasant smile. It crinkled the skin around his clear blue eyes and lit up his whole face. "Still, you'd outshine the locals. My neighbors are uneducated farmers for the most part."

"But you seem educated."

"My partner and I are exceptions. We were tutored by a spinster as lads. The post would mean staying in our small village. I can't offer much in wages, but there's a cottage I rent for my partner. It happens to be vacant. The rent's modest and it's within walking distance of our offices."

"A position and a place to stay? I'd be foolish not to accept, wouldn't I?"

"I wouldn't leap to that conclusion," he responded easily.

"But you hoped I would," she teased gently. "I can see you're very much a man of trade. You're quite persuasive, Mr. Atkinson."

"If only my partner had heard that," he chuckled. "He thinks he's the only one with a talent for persuasion. I'm headed back Monday. You can think about it for a few days."

Violet floated in and settled beside Rachel, beaming at the young man. "Oh, do take the post, Rachel dear! I'll write your father you've gone to Yorkshire. Working with merchants and trade. I'm sure he'd approve. You'd be pioneering once again in a sense, you see?"

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