Authors: Margaret Bennett
Tags: #Nov. Rom
“Tinsley, my lord,” the butler said. “Should I send for Doc Pritchett?”
“Not yet,” Melvyrn replied. “The fewer people who know about this the better.”
“Here, my lord,” Mrs. Boroughs said, placing a stack of white linen cloths on the table along with several jars with labels. “There’s calendula and comfrey.”
At the stove, Cook
poured hot water into a bowl and brought it over to the table. Round eyed and round faced with brown hair pulled under her white cap, the short, rotund lady put the bowl down and, with a quick curtsy, returned to the stove.
Dipping the linen strips in the
hot water, Melvyrn carefully began cleansing the wound. “It’s not deep. Probably ought to be cauterized.”
“No,” Rosalind said. “Please, this is bad enough.”
Melvyrn laughed softly. “Ah, so the lady isn’t completely fearless.”
“I can get blackberry leaves to help stop the bleeding,” Mrs. Boroughs said.
He shook his head. “If we keep the wound clean and keep it covered, it will heal better.”
“Yes, my lord,” Mrs. Boroughs said, who now had a pair of scissors cutting up
more linen into strips.
Tinsley returned with a bottle of brandy and several crystal goblets.
After filling both goblets, he passed one to Melvyrn and said, “Here, my lord. Perhaps Miss Rosalind would like hers in coffee?”
“This will do.” Melvyrn gave the goblet
to Rosalind. “Drink up, Miss Wensley. It’ll help you rest more comfortably.”
As Rosalind did as bid, t
he back door opened and Tolly, his expression grave, entered. He went immediately to Rosalind. “I’m sorry, Miss Rosalind. I’d rather take a ball myself.”
Rosalind reached out with her
good arm and took his hand. “Please don’t blame yourself, Tolly. You had no way of knowing soldiers were on the cliff.”
“She’s right, Tolly,” said Melvyrn. “And fortunately the
wound is superficial.” He smiled at Rosalind and said, “It feels much worse than it is.” When Rosalind met his eyes, he was struck again by their size and unusual color and said softly, “I should have recognized those eyes.” He gave himself a mental shake and rose. “You should rest, Miss Wensley. If you don’t mind, I’ll borrow a mount to ride home?”
“Please take Devon, my lord,” she said.
“Thank you,” he said. “I will return him in a day or two, when Tolly and I come by.” Taking his leave, he and Tolly headed toward the stables. As the fisherman opened the stable door, Melvyrn said, “You’ve got some explaining to do, Sergeant.”
next morning, Tolly appeared at the back door and conferred first with Mrs. Boroughs about her condition. When Tinsley showed him to the study, Rosalind thought he looked sheepish and decided he still felt guilty for her being shot. So, she asked him about the cargo.
“The crew took the Arrow back out,” Tolly said, “and sailed down to Hythe. They roped the kegs together and sunk them. We’ll go tonight and float them to shore on a raft--that’s if the revenue cutter ain’t anywhere near.”
“So the men all made it safely to their homes?”
“Them revenuers hung about the village half the night, thinking to catch one of us coming in. Only thing to see was old man Pickard coming out of the woods after sleeping off his dinner.”
“Did they harass him?”
“Not after they got a whiff of him and had to listen to his whining about his old lady kicking him out for being too sick to help Squire Hopkins plant his oats.”
“So the revenuers let him go?”
“Not right away.” Tolly’s smile was evil. “The blighter started begging for some blunt, seeing as how the Mrs. wasn’t likely to let him sleep in his own bed without brining home enough to pay his own way.”
Rosalind laughed, picturing the scene Tolly described about the neighborhood ne’er-do-well.
“What about you, Miss Rosalind?” ask
ed Tolly giving her a searching look. “Hurt much?”
“Not much,” she lied. Truth was that her shoulder was very sore, especially when she awoke that morning. Although the stiffness worked out of it after a while, it still throbbed and even burned if she accidentally knocked it. She also suspected that the purple circles under her eyes and her pale countenance she saw in her mirror that morning told its old tale. Besides, she knew Tolly had been unlucky enough to stop several pieces of lead over the years while fighting under the Earl’s command.
“Best you lie low for a couple of days. It’ll get better.”
She didn’t bother to correct him but nodded in understanding. “When will the next run be?” she asked.
“That’s not for you to worry about,” was his curt reply.
“Of course it is,” she shot back, surprised and not a little upset by his tone. “You need me to translate.”
“Not no more,” he barked.
“What are you talking about?”
“The Major can go in your stead.”
“What does the Earl have to say about any of this?” She was angry and hurt and didn’t intend to let Melvyrn get away with
“He can talk with Jacques. It’s too dangerous for a woman. Next time, you might not just get
your wing clipped.”
“You have no right to make
that decision,” she replied with a deadly calm that had more effect on the old soldier than if she’d pranced around the room, screaming and carrying on.
Throwing up his huge hands, Tolly said, “I never should have let you talk me into
any of this. My men and me could have done the same without you there.”
“And the Earl?” she prompted, knowing there was more.
“His lordship’s the one pointed out you ain’t needed now.”
“You can not fire me, Tolly,” she challenged, grim faced.
When he started to refute her statement, she said, “I conceived the idea. You agreed that I would translate and help nurse the soldiers, long before the Earl ever came.”
Her anger was so great she was shaking even as she bit her lower lip to hol
d back the tears. It meant so much to her to help those soldiers, young men who would not have had a chance of surviving otherwise, just like her brother.
To hide her tears, she abruptly turned her back to him, dismissing him, saying softly, “Go home, Tolly.”
She didn’t know when he left. Though he was a huge mountain of a man, he moved soundlessly. But after a while, she realized she was alone, truly alone. The Earl had managed to convince the one person she could trust and confide in that they could no longer work together.
She went to bed immediately after dinner. Her shoulder ached and throbbed, but it was nothing compared to the unbearable sense of loss, the devastating feeling of being alone in this world.
When she awoke the next morning, her pillow was still damp from all the tears she’d shed. Her shoulder didn’t feel any better, either. But her spirits had risen with the morning sun. She now knew her argument was not with her old friend, Tolly, but the Earl of Melvyrn who thought to usurp her position.
For two days, Rosalind kept to the house, mainly, she told herself, to pamper herself so she’d be strong enough for the next run. However, she was honest enough to admit to herself that the real reason was to avoid running into the Earl. She half expected to hear the front door knocker, but fortunately, it never sounded.
On the third day when she saw Melvyrn, holding Devon’s reins, ride up on his huge stallion, she requested Tinsley serve tea in the drawing room. Thus, she was seated on the settee with Tolly, with his massive dark head bowed, standing beside her when Melvyrn greeted her with a warm smile. “For an invalid, Miss Wensley, you appear quite well. How is the shoulder?”
I expect to be totally healed before the next run,” Rosalind said. She saw Tolly shift uneasily and exchanged looks with Melvyrn.
“Miss Wensley,” Melvyrn began
after both men were seated, “I am afraid you will not be accompanying the
crew on any more runs to France.”
Rosalind felt her temper flare but
took time to tamp it down. Taking a deep breath, she turned to Tolly. “You cannot agree with the Earl?”
Looking down at the rug, he said, “Told you from the start it was a bad idea.”
“But it wasn’t,” she said. “Look at all the men we have helped.”
“Yes,” Melvyrn said, “and you should be commended for that. However, it has become far to
The other night was the first encounter we have had with soldiers,” she interjected.
“Still, it happen
ed probably because more soldiers have been assigned to the Shorncliffe Redoubt. Also, I’m involved now and can do the work you have done in the past.”
“No!” Rosalind stood, fisting her hands at her sides
, and ignored that both men had risen after her. She was trembling, she was so angry. “How dare you come here and tell me I cannot help our soldiers.” She tossed her chin in the air. “I will be on the next run.”
“Why?” Melvyrn asked.
“Why?” she repeated. “I don’t understand?”
Why are you driven to risk life and limb?” he asked.
Rosalind let out a steadying breath and sank back down on the damask settee. As the men followed suit, she asked Tolly, “You did not tell him?” Tolly shook his head, and she sighed. “My brother,
Edward, was an officer who served in Portugal.” She stopped, gathering her thoughts even as tears already threatened to undo her. After a moment, she said, “He was returning home to sell his commission at my father’s request and had reached Coulogne when he was ambushed and grievously wounded. For two weeks, he laid in a barn, waiting for word of a boat to take him to England. The boat came the day after Edward died, my lord.” Rosalind choked on a sob.
“I’m sorry, Miss Wensley,” Melvyrn said.
“My story doesn’t end there,” she said in a small voice as she squared her shoulders. “My father took Edward’s death especially hard. His health drastically declined, and he, too, died eight months later.”
“Then you must see that your father would want you to be safe,” Melvyrn said.
“Yes, he would.” She gave him a long pleading look. “But while he was ill, he talked almost daily about how my brother would have lived had there been a regular run or possibly a safe house. He even talked about his good friend, Jacques Embree. If Edward had known about Jacques, he could have gone to Wissant, or at least gotten word to him. Then Edward would be alive today.”
Have you thought about your reputation?”
do I care about a good reputation? I have lost everything that is dear to me.”
“No, my lord,” she said, shaking her head, “it does not matter what you say. I will be on the next run.” She
leveled a sapient look on Melvyrn. “And should you leave without me, I will simply find another smuggling crew.”
Looking out his study’s window, Melvyrn’s foul mood matched the ominous rain clouds that were bellowing in from the west. Over the past several days, it had rained almost every day, making his daily ride with Hector quite nasty. Even the big stallion had been more ornery than usual, fighting the bit or trying to unseat Melvyrn at odd moments. Lord Denholm, who had elected to stay over until the weather improved, rode each day with him and laughed each time Hector pulled his antics. At one point he suggested, “Might be time to trade that devil in for one you can handle, Melvyrn.”
Their discussions, while he and Denholm sat
around a cozy fire with a bracing goblet of brandy, helped Melvyrn come to grips with his feelings for the lovely Miss Wensley. He’d not seen or heard from her since that morning in the Hall’s drawing room when she audaciously demanded to be a part of the next run. How a little slip of a woman could command a nobleman such as himself and a huge burly fisherman like Tolly to do her bidding. Well, it fairly made his blood roil with anger and frustration.
Having never met the diminutive young woman, Denholm was at first incredulous that a veteran intelligence office
r like Melvyrn had not penetrated her disguise.
“How could the woman, if she is a
s attractive as you claim, disguise such feminine features?” Denholm demanded.
“You forget that
ex-sergeant of mine kept her away from me,” Melvyrn growled. “Then too, she wore lose clothes, a scarf about her neck, and kept her hat pulled low.”
“You don’t really intend
to let her go with you again?” Denholm asked scornfully.
Melvyrn shrugged. “She’s safer with Tolly and me than another crew. This way
, we can keep an eye on her.”
“There’s no denying the girl’s mettle.”
Denholm snorted his derision. “What am I to tell Roeburn? He’ll have an apoplexy when he learns that one of the mercy smugglers is the unattached daughter of a peer. Can’t imagine what he’ll say when I tell him the girl was shot by our soldiers.”