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Authors: Margaret Bennett

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BOOK: My Lady Smuggler
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It had taken Melvyrn longer than he’d expected to
return from Marquise.  He’d been forced off the main road, taking to the fields and trails through woods to avoid several small units of French soldiers.  Melvyrn’s concern was that the soldiers were searching for Rosalind and him, in which case, he reasoned, they’d better return to the
Arrow
and get under way as soon as possible.

Thus, he wasn’t surprised when he didn’t find Rosalind in the old barn.  He was worried, however, that she’d met up with the French soldiers.  If she’d gotten away, she
’d have gone to Embree.  It was fortunate he continued on a back road that skirted the main part of the village.  Otherwise, he might have missed seeing Ratel and Rosalind.  Before he could get their attention, he saw Ratel strike Rosalind and a cold blinding fury over took him.

“Ratel!” he called out, hurrying his steps.  As he grabbed the Frenchman, he growled, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Robbing me of two francs,” Rosalind whispered, rolling over onto her knees and trying to get up.


Mais non
,” Ratel said, shaking his head vehemently.  “Your little friend, he lies--”

Melvyrn swung
Ratel off the road and slammed him against a large tree.  Then, he began pummeling Ratel, drawing satisfaction as blood oozed from the lying turncoat’s nose, then mouth.  Vaguely, he became aware of Rosalind pulling on his arm, begging him, “Stop!  You must stop before you kill him!” 

He glanced down and saw the worried frown, her frightened eyes--the purple swelling on her left temple!  He raised his fist again to finish off the
slimy bugger when he felt Rosalind’s arms about his chest, felt her body pressing against his to draw him away from Ratel, heard the fear in her voice, “Please, please, do not do this!”

With great effort, Melvyrn took a deep, steadying breath.  Slowly, the red, angry haze began to recede as Ratel’s battered face focused into view with one dark eye swollen shut, the flattened nose, the bloody mouth with a tooth sliding down his sparse beard.  Releasing Ratel, he allowed Rosalind to pull him back.  “Give back the francs,” he ordered.

With a shaky hand, Ratel held up his open hand with the two coins.  Melvyrn snatched them out of dirty palm, and Ratel hissed, “You’ll be sorry.”


Non
,” Melvyrn said, grabbing the Frenchman by the front of his jacket and shoving him into the tree.  “For your continued good health, you’d better hide.  I promise you the French will soon learn of your duplicity.”  He turned and took Rosalind’s arm and helped her to her feet.  “Can you walk?”  She nodded, and keeping a grasp on her arm, he led her down the dirt track. 

~~~~~

Reaching into the pocket of his jacket, Melvyrn asked her, “Hungry?” 

Rosalind nodded and gratefully accepted the piece of bread he offered.  It was doughy from being in his pocket, but she didn’t care.

He ate the bread in two bites. 
“Why did you leave the barn?”

“Soldiers were searching the area
,” she said.  

“How did Ratel find you?”

“A lot of people were out, and I thought it might be safer if I took the main road to Jacques’s cottage.”  She glanced up to see his reaction, but his eyes were intent on the road ahead.  “I saw him coming out of a café and ducked into a store.  When I came out, he was waiting for me.”

They’d gone about a mile when
Rosalind easily spotted the dark blue uniforms with their wide, white lapels of several French soldiers up ahead on the road just before Melvyrn grabbed her arm and pulled her off the road into a copse of trees.

“We’
ll keep to the woods as much as possible,” he said, leading her along a narrow path.  “There’re too many soldiers about, and we can’t risk being stopped and questioned.”

They soon
came up behind Jacques’s cottage.  Bending down, Melvyrn whispered, “Stay low.”  He threw his arm across her shoulders, then half ran with her across the narrow clearing toward the small horse shed attached to the rear of the cottage. Melvyrn pressed her into a corner behind a bale of hay, and she could hear Jacques’s voice through the thin planked wall being questioned by a soldier. 

“You’
re hiding British soldiers,” a gruff, angry voice yelled.


Mais non
, you’ve the wrong one, I tell you.” Jacques voice was soft, even.  “You’ve already searched my home.  Did you find anything?” 

She heard
a thump, then Jacques’s groan.  With fear constricting her heart, she clutched Melvyrn’s arm.  What had they done to her old friend?  Melvyrn’s hand covered hers as their eyes met.

“I want the truth,” the soldier shouted.


Oui
, so do I,” answered Jacques.  “Who told you these lies, huh?”

Rosalind heard another slap,
and Melvyrn’s hand squeezed hers. 

“Go ahead,” she heard Jacques say.  “Search my home.  Search my garden.  I tell you,
this is the wrong place.”

“Baaah!” 
There were sounds of a scuffle.  “Old man, you’d better not lie to me.  I’ll be back.”  The front door opened, and the soldier shouted orders for his men to move down the road.  Moments later, they were gone.

When Rosalind made to rise, Melvyrn stopped her.  “Wait,” he whispered in her ear.  “Give them time to disappear.”  He rose slowly and moved to the shed’s entrance and peered out.  “We can make it to the woods and then work our way back to the
Arrow
.  The sooner we leave, the better.”

She stood up and moved toward him.  “But we must help Jacques,” she whispered.

“No.  They may have left an outlook to see what Embree does.  He is safer if we do not show ourselves.” 

“Please,” she whispered, not knowing what they could do to help Jacques, only that she could not leave without trying. 

He nodded once and bent down on one knee by the back wall.  Rosalind quickly knelt beside him as he softly tapped on the cottage’s back wall.  He waited, then repeated the taps.  Moments later, she heard Jacques whisper.


Is that you,
ma petite
angel?”


Oui
, did they hurt you, Jacques?”

She heard his soft laugh.  “
Non
, only bruised an old man’s ego.  Are you with the nobleman?”

“I am here,” Melvyrn answered.

“Go with him.  Do not come back, Rosalind, for it is not safe. 

Tears stung her eyes as Rosalind heard the imploring note in Jacques’s voice.  “Non, what will happen to you?”

“I will be safe, have no fear,” he said emphatically.  “But you must not return.  This war cannot last forever, and we will meet again.”

“God be with you, Embree,” Melvyrn said.

Choking back a sob, she said, “Take care, Jacques.”

Melvyrn
grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the wall.  “Come on.”  They started for the woods.  “We’ll head for the beach.  Hopefully, Tolly and his men will be ready to leave early.”

 

***  Chapter 14  ***

From the top of the dune, Tolly watched his men and the villagers pass the kegs of brandy from the two farm wagons to the
Arrow
, bouncing in the surf a half dozen yards out. Another twenty minutes and they’d be finished. His plan was to anchor several hundred yards off shore to wait for the Earl and Miss Rosalind.

The number of French soldiers running about the village had Tolly anxious to get away as soon as possible. 
Even the villagers were edgy, complaining about the soldiers taking what they wanted, riding across ploughed fields, trampling new crops.  No, the sooner they got under way, the better, he thought.

He’d started to make his way toward the beach when he heard a noise behind him.  But before he could turn around, he felt a blow to his back, which sent him tumbling down the dune.  He managed
to grab a low shrub and dug in his heels.  Quickly, he stood and whirled around to face a gun pointed at him.  He noted the torn and dirty red coat with filthy white facings--a sergeant-major if the markings were correct. 

“Don’t move and be quiet,” growled the
painfully thin soldier.  His burr denoted a Scotsman.  He jerked his hatless, curly black head, toward the
Arrow
.  “That your boat?”

Tolly nodded.

“You French or British?” the sergeant-major asked.

“British.”

“Got a name?”

“Tolly.”

Not taking his eyes off Tolly nor lowering his weapon, sergeant-major called over his shoulder, “Whitmore, Jones, come down.”

Slowly, two men topped the dune.  As they started down, Tolly saw the black bloodstains covering the left half of one soldier’s coat.  The other soldier, a young lad, was limping with a tourniquet tied a
round his bloody right thigh.  Under their stubbly beards, both men looked pale, their glazed, feverish eyes half sunken in their sockets.

“I can help,” Tolly said. 

“Damn right you can,” the sergeant-major replied.  “We’re all getting into that boat, and you are sailing us across the Channel.”

Tolly nodded.  “Be my pleasure.  But we wait a couple of hours.”

The sergeant-major bared his teeth in a grisly smile.  “Don’t think you understand.  I’m commandeering your boat.  My men here need medical attention.  We’re tired and hungry.  And we’re leaving now.”

Tolly glanced down on the beach and saw that the relay line was breaking up, which meant the kegs had all been stowed.  Looking back at
the three soldiers, he said, “I’ll take you off shore, but I’ve got two other Englishmen to pick up.”

The sergeant-major cocked his pistol.  “Afraid we can’t accommodate your wishes, Tolly. 
There’s a pack of French soldiers closing in on us.  We’re leaving now.” 

S
hoving the pistol in Tolly’s back, the sergeant-major marched Tolly down to the
Arrow
.

~~~~~

It was late afternoon when they crested the dune.  Melvyrn crouched behind a short shrub and peered over the sand--and muttered a curse.  The
Arrow
was nowhere in sight, nor was Tolly or any of his crew. 

“Something’s wrong,” he said. 

“Tolly would not have left us stranded,” Rosalind said, peering over his shoulder.  “Maybe he was forced to leave with all these French soldiers around.”


Except for those out on the horizon, no boats are off shore,” Melvyrn said.  “Did you have a plan if something like this happened?”

Rosalind shook her head.  “No
t really.”  Biting her lower lip, she scanned the water.  “He will probably wait until dark to return.”

“That makes sense.” 
Melvyrn took her hand and started down the dune.  “In the meantime, we need to find a hiding place where we can watch for his return.”  Walking along the beach with Rosalind close behind him, he kept close to the dunes where there were outcrops off bushes and large rocks.  Finally, he pulled aside some dense bushes that grew up against a large rock protruding from the dune.  “Squeeze behind this,” he said. “Put your back to the rock.”  Then he followed her, wedging himself into the space next to her. 

Their position
s were cramped, but at least they could see a good part of the beach through the leaves of the bushes.  Most importantly, the thicket provided them the cover they needed.  “Try to make yourself comfortable,” Melvyrn said to Rosalind.  “Rest if you can.” 

A
s the sun slowly made its descent, he spent a good deal of the time studying Rosalind.  Her eyes were closed, her breathing slow, the rise and fall of her chest even. The bruise on her temple was more noticeable, and Melvyrn’s fists curled, as anger roiled his blood and concern constricted his heart.  When had he come to care so much for this beautiful young woman?

Time dragged on. 
With his knees drawn up, periodically Melvyrn shifted his position to ease the cramping in his legs.  Then, just before the sunset, he saw four soldiers making their way down the beach.  They stopped and searched behind the rocks and bushes, sometimes jabbing their bayonets into them.  He looked over at Rosalind.  Her eyes were still closed, but the moment he touched her, they flew open. 

“Soldiers are coming,” he said.  “
Draw your legs up more.  Make yourself as small as possible.”  He waited as she pulled her knees closer to her chest and ducked her head.  Putting an arm around her, he drew her to his side, then wrapped his body around hers with his head resting on hers.  He felt her try to push him away and he tightened his hold.  He could hear the soldiers talking, calling out to one another.  “Be still,” he whispered.  “They’ll hear you.” 

“They are looking for us,” she
whispered. 

He heard the panic in her voice as she started to push away from him.  “Be still, Rosalind,” he
hissed. 

“They wi
ll find us,” she said with her eyes as round as saucers. 

BOOK: My Lady Smuggler
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