Authors: Kat Martin
Fanning The Flame
© Copyright 2015 as revised Kat Martin
48 Rock Creek Road
Clinton, Montana 59825
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means without the prior written consent of the publisher, other than brief quotes for reviews.
London, England April 1806
The battle raged inside his head, the crack of musket fire, the thunder of cannonade, hot lead tearing into flesh and bone, men weeping in fear and despair.
It's a dream,
he cried inside his mind, trying to convince himself, trying to awaken from another of the nightmares that plagued his sleep. Inch by inch, clawing his way back to consciousness, Adam Hawthorne, fourth Earl of Blackwood, sat upright in his huge four-poster bed. His heart was pounding. Sweat ran in rivulets down his naked chest and dampened his hair, urging it into heavy black waves that stuck to the cords at the back of his neck.
Though a chill pervaded the room, Adam shoved the feather comforter down past his waist and a shiver swept over him, pebbling his skin above the crisp linen sheet. He was used to nights like this one. He had suffered the terrible images for more than six years. Penance, he believed, for the part he had played in the war.
Running a hand over his face to erase the last vestiges of slumber, he swung his long legs to the side of the bed and stood up. Through a slit in the gold velvet draperies, the first gray light of dawn filtered into the room. Adam poured water into the porcelain basin on his dresser and performed the necessary ablutions, then pulled on buckskin breeches and a full-sleeved white shirt and shoved his feet into a pair of high-topped Spanish riding boots.
Making his way downstairs, he headed for the stable at the rear of the town house for his daily morning ride.
His groom, Angus McFarland, a big ruddy Scotsman, formerly a sergeant in the Gordon Highlanders, stood waiting, a beefy hand gripping the reins of Adam's prize black stallion, Ramses.
" 'Ave a care, Major. The lad's a bit full o' himself this fine mornin'."
Adam nodded. "We'll give him a run, then." He patted the stallion's sleek neck. "You'd like a good run, wouldn't you, boy?" The horse was as black and shiny as polished jet, with perfect conformation and a surprisingly gentle disposition. Once Adam had spotted him at Tattersall's, he had spared no expense to have him. It was his single real indulgence since he had unexpectedly come into the Blackwood title and fortune.
Adam patted the soft dark muzzle, then reached into his pocket and held his hand out, palm up, offering the animal a lump of sugar. "A little fresh air always makes the world seem better."
"Aye, and so it does," the Scotsman agreed. Adam swung up onto the saddle and settled himself on the flat leather seat. After eight years in the cavalry, he felt more at home on a horse than he did with his feet on the ground. He bid farewell to Angus, more friend than employee, and headed for his daily outing in the park, Ram in high spirits, dancing and snorting with untapped energy as they rode through the London streets.
At this early hour, the park was empty. Adam set the horse into a gallop, nudged him into a flat-out run, and they pounded around the carriageway. The sun had crested the horizon by the time horse and rider drew to a halt beneath a plane tree on a rise near the duck pond. Adam let the big horse blow, the stallion's sides heaving in and out with spent effort, both of them feeling the benefits of wind and early morning sun.
Giving Ram an absent pat, he turned his attention in another, more interesting direction, scanning the grassy field below in search of his quarry, spotting her on the same wrought-iron bench she had been perched on each morning since he had come upon her three days ago.
The expensive clothes she wore, today a pale green muslin sprinkled with small embroidered rosebuds, marked her as a member of the upper classes. She was shorter than average, with a slender frame and fair, unblemished skin. Beneath the rim of her lace-trimmed bonnet, he could just make out her face, the refined lines and straight nose, the nicely shaped dark copper eyebrows. He imagined her eyes were blue, but at this distance, he couldn't be sure.
What amazed him was how badly he wanted to find out.
On the bench below, the woman smiled at the growing cluster of ducks that swam or waddled toward her, fanning out to surround her feet. To each in turn, she passed out bits of bread, watching with delight as several of them plucked a morsel from her hand. She laughed as a mother duck clumsily waded ashore, six tiny ducklings lined up in a row behind her.
He thought she might have glanced his way, spotting him on the knoll, but perhaps he only imagined it. He wondered who she was and why she came to the pond by herself, so early in the morning. He wondered if, as he did, she sought solace from turbulent thoughts.
He wondered if she would be there again when he came to the pond on the morrow.
Departing the carriage from her morning journey to the park, Jillian Alistair Whitney whisked through the big double doors of the Earl of Fenwick's town mansion, a brisk spring breeze having driven her early from her daily morning outing. She grabbed the rim of her bonnet to keep the wind from blowing it off as the butler, Nigel Atwater, closed the heavy portal behind her.
"A bit chilly, isn't it, to be out gallivanting about?" He glared down his long beak of a nose with disapproval, mirroring the sentiment of a number of the servants, though Atwater was the only one secure enough in his position to let it show.
"The wind came up rather suddenly," she said matter-of-factly, refusing to let him know how much his censure hurt. "Perhaps we're in for a bit of a storm." It wasn't important what the servants thought, she told herself, and even if it were, there was little she could do to change things.
From the start, Lord Fenwick had scoffed at the gossip her presence in a bachelor household caused. He was, he had said, old enough to be her grandfather, was, in fact, a close friend of her father's, a man who had seen more than forty years by the time he sired a child.
Jillian thought of the proud man who had died sixteen months past, a man who had doted on her, loved her to distraction, but left her without a farthing to see to her needs. If it hadn't been for Lord Fenwick . . . ah, but the earl
come to her rescue, and gossip was a small price to pay for all he had done.
Jillian tugged off her kidskin gloves and started up the stairs to her bedchamber, a cheery room done in pale blue, ivory, and gold, her mind on her situation and the solitude she found each morning in the park. She always went early, before the fashionable set arrived. She hated their knowing glances and speculative smiles and at that early hour, she had the park all to herself
At least she had until three days ago, when she discovered she wasn't alone.
"Beg pardon, Miss Whitney."
She had almost reached the top of the stairs when she heard the butler returning to the entry. "If you please, Miss, his lordship would like a word with you in his study."
Jillian paused in the process of untying her bonnet. "Certainly. Thank you, Atwater."
Making her way back downstairs, bonnet in hand, she walked along the hall to the suite of rooms in the west wing of the mansion that included the earl's private study, her mind still on the tall, dark-haired rider and magnificent black horse she had spotted on the knoll. There was something frightening about him. Something dark and forbidding. Something mysterious and intriguing.
In truth, he was attractive, in a hard, ruthless sort of way, sitting there astride his horse. At first she had been frightened, then it occurred to her that he would scarcely need to press himself on an unwilling woman. Handsome as he was, likely he could have whatever lady he chose.
A noise in the study drew her attention. Jillian knocked on the gilt-trimmed ivory door, then, at the sound of Lord Fenwick's gruff voice, turned the gold knob and went in.
"Ah, here you are, my dear. I thought I heard you in the entry. You are certainly one for getting an early start."
She walked to where he sat behind his rosewood desk, his stained meerschaum pipe gripped casually in an age-spotted hand. She bent toward him, kissed his wrinkled cheek.
"I'm always up early, my lord, as you well know. Morning is the best time of day. Everything is bright and cheerful, and it is quiet enough to hear the birds."
He chuckled, carefully set his unlit pipe down on its stand, and rose from behind his desk.
Oswald Telford, Earl of Fenwick, was a man well into his sixties, with patchy gray hair and a paunch beneath his white pique waistcoat He had never been a handsome man, with his sugar-bowl ears and slightly bulbous nose, but he was dear to her and she to him.
"Tonight is the Marquess of Landen's soiree," he said. "I thought you might like to attend."
She shook her head a little too quickly, steadied herself enough to smile. "Your gout is still acting up, and in truth I should rather remain at home. I thought perhaps we might spend the evening playing chess."
For an instant, a twinkle appeared in eyes a cloudy shade of blue much paler than her own bright hue. With a look of regret he shook his head. "I should like nothing more than to stay here and trounce you soundly, my girl, but I am not getting any younger, and I need to see you settled. It is beyond time I found you a husband, and the only way I can accomplish the feat is—"
"You are not that old! And at any rate, I am already on the shelf."
"At one and twenty? I hardly think so."
"We've had this conversation before. I thought you understood my feelings on the subject." Those being that she didn’t want a husband. At least not the sort the earl would have to buy for her. She wanted a man she could love, one who would love her in return. She wanted the kind of happiness her father had found with her mother.
Jillian had never known Maryann Whitney. Her mother had died giving birth to her only child, but her father had never remarried. He had loved his wife that much. And Jillian refused to settle for anything less than that same sort of devotion.
"Every woman needs a husband," Lord Fenwick grumbled, but he didn't press her further and Jillian was grateful.
"There are endless soirees," she said, "as evidenced by the stack of invitations on your desk." But the stack continued to dwindle as the gossip about them mounted.
As usual the earl ignored it. He was set in his ways and taking her in was as far as he was willing to go in her regard. "I refuse to have that old battle-ax of a cousin of mine in the house just to still the wagging tongues," he had said.
But sooner or later, without a proper chaperon, they would be ostracized completely.
Jillian summoned a smile she suddenly didn't feel. "Perhaps by the end of the week you'll feel better."
The earl fought not to show his relief "Yes, I'm certain I shall."
But Jillian was worried about him. He'd been looking a little more peaked every day. She would have to make certain he got plenty of rest and brew him some rose hip tea.
He had come to her aid when she had no one else to turn to. He had lost his only son the year before and perhaps he was lonely. Whatever the reason, he had taken her into his home, become the father she had lost, and she meant to take care of him.
And she didn't give a damn what the gossipmongers said.
Adam sat astride his black stallion at the top of the knoll. The day was fair, the breeze no more than a whisper. Ramses pawed the ground and snorted, lifting his magnificent head to study the lean bay gelding standing placidly beside him. Today Adam wasn't alone.