Realm 03 - A Touch of Cashemere

BOOK: Realm 03 - A Touch of Cashemere
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 A Touch of Cashémere
By Regina Jeffers

 

Copyright © 2013 by Regina Jeffers

A Touch of Cashemere (Book 3 of the Realm Series)

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any format whatsoever.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

White Soup Press

 

Members of the Realm and Their Ladies

James Kerrington, Viscount Worthing–the leader of the Realm; the future Earl of Linworth; from Derbyshire; resides at Linton Park Eleanor Fowler–Brantley Fowler’s sister

Brantley Fowler, the Duke of Thornhill–from Kent; resides at Thorn Hill Velvet Aldridge–the Fowlers’ cousin; lives at Thorn Hall with Eleanor Marcus Wellston, Earl of Berwick, Lord Yardley–from Northumberland; resides at Tweed Hall Cashémere and Satiné Aldridge– Velvet’s younger sisters; Cashémere resides with the Averettes; Satiné with Baron Ashton Gabriel Crowden, Marquis of Godown – from Staffordshire; resides at Gossling Hall Aidan Kimbolt, Viscount Lexford–lives in Cheshire; resides at Lexington Arms

John Swenton, Baron Shannon–lives in Yorkshire; resides at Marwood Manor Sir Carter Lowery–second son of Baron Blakehell; a baronet from Kent; was given Huntingborne Abbey by George IV, the Prince Regent

Other Characters Important to the Story Line

Shaheed Mir–leader of a band of Baloch warriors; seeks revenge on the Realm for stealing a fist-sized emerald Murhad Jamot–Mir’s agent in England

Viscount Averette (Samuel Aldridge)–the Aldridge girls’ paternal uncle; raised Cashémere Baron Ashton (Charles Morton)–the Aldridge girls’ maternal uncle; raised Satiné Ashmita–Brantley Fowler’s first wife; attacked by Mir’s band

Sonali–Fowler’s daughter

Shepherd–the Realm’s leader; so named because he gathers “lost souls”

Miss Grace Nelson–daughter of Baron and Lady Nelson from Lancashire; she is employed as a governess by the Averettes

Prologue

“Where have you been?” Marcus Wellston hissed.

“Trying to find some place private–my stomach hurts.” John Swenton pushed past his friend. “Besides, what does it matter? We have been here for three days, and Mir has made one appearance,” he grumbled.

Wellston nodded his head toward the other table. “Well, things are about to change.”

Swenton shot a quick glance to where his friend indicated. “Please tell me Fowler is not going to do what I think he is.”

The third son of the Earl of Berwick groaned as he pretended to stretch, actually reaching for the pocket pistol he carried under his shirt. “It’s Fowler. You know how he is. He has been watching that girl’s tent for over a day.”

“Damn!” Swenton cursed under his breath. “Fowler will ruin everything.”

The words no more escaped Swenton’s mouth than Brantley Fowler stood and casually walked toward the tent’s opening. Just as predictably, one of Mir’s men stepped into the Brit’s path. Wellston’s heart lurched in anticipation. They’d fight again. Within seconds, chaos would reign. Fowler raised his hands, pretending to accept the Baloch’s silent warning, and then the future Duke of Thornhill struck the warrior guard with an uppercut, sending the soldier reeling backwards, blood pouring from the man’s nose.

Wellston shot the Baloch charging toward them in the knee, incapacitating the guard, and then he turned his attention to finishing off one of the two who assailed Swenton. Pulling a dagger from his boot, he attacked a dark-skinned warrior, quickly bringing the man down.

The next wave of Balochs streamed through the opening as Fowler elbowed his way towards the girl’s tent. Wellston wondered from where this obsession to save the world had come. Fowler always put himself in danger to save every abused woman he had encountered. Fowler, the would-be knight in shining armor, never learned the lesson Marcus learned long ago: Saving others did not make the pain go away.

“Now!” James Kerrington, Viscount Worthing, barked, and the Realm members responded in kind. Wellston delivered a lethal thrust to the throat of the man with whom he now tussled, leaving the guard gasping for air.

Joining the others, he raced toward the waiting horses. Out of his eye’s corner, Marcus saw Fowler ride off with the girl cradled before him. Wellston caught the reins of his horse, running along beside the animal before he could catch the saddle and physically pull himself onto the horse’s back. Settling his feet into the stirrups, Wellston kicked the horse’s flanks and galloped away from the scene. They would meet again in three days at the Bombay safe house. As the pounding ride beat at his body, Marcus prayed that some day, he would find his own salvation.

 

Chapter One
Six Years Later

The rain sheeted everything within sight, but Marcus rode on. The creek bed he followed into the Scottish backcountry swelled from the downpour, but he had crossed it at its lowest point and was on safe ground. He had returned from Calcutta nearly two months earlier, having turned over the Sir Louis Levering affair to Viscount Lexford, Aidan Kimbolt, and he had settled into the routine of running his estate and tending to Trevor, but Shepherd had sent word of Velvet Aldridge’s possible abduction, and he had left immediately. Evidently, His Grace, the Duke of Thornhill, had allowed the woman he loved to retreat to Edinburgh with her estranged family. Now, their old enemy Shaheed Mir targeted Miss Aldridge in a dangerous game of “Who Has the Emerald?”

Shepherd’s message said that he would send back up, but Marcus knew he was pretty much on his own. That was why he had set a course across the back roads: He could save time, and he could avoid detection. He had stopped for a few hours overnight to allow his horse to rest, but Marcus felt he could thwart Murhad Jamot’s plans just the same. So, when he cut across the open field leading to Viscount Averette’s land, Marcus expected to have to explain his sudden appearance to the sometimes-difficult Samuel Aldridge, but nothing he found met his expectations.

*

“Aunt,” Cashémere Aldridge called as she entered the room. “Have we any news of Uncle Samuel?” The household staff rushed about, trying to respond to an unknown crisis, and with no one to assume responsibility, they crisscrossed the open foyer accomplishing very little.

Alice Aldridge rocked her daughter Gwendolyn, neither having had much sleep over night. They waited for news of the family patriarch, who chased his niece across southern Scotland.

Viscount Averette had known the affection with which Velvet held Brantley Fowler, often professing that she had loved the duke from the time they were children together. Naturally, observing her despondency at being separated from Fowler, the viscount had assumed Velvet had done the unthinkable: She had risked her life on the road to return to England. He even suspected that the duke had arranged some sort of tryst, and Averette had departed immediately to intercept the girl. He had been gone since early yesterday afternoon.

Lady Averette glanced up from her child to give her husband’s niece a brief shake of her head, but she said for the child’s benefit, “We should not expect to hear from my husband for several days. He must follow each lead on your sister. I am certain the rain has slowed his progress, and that is why we have heard nothing of yet.”

A sharp knock at the door brought their immediate attention. “Possibly there is a message now,” Cashé remarked as she stepped into the foyer. She could not condone her sister’s actions, but Cashé knew the depth of Velvet’s misery. She had seen Velvet pine for Thornhill, and how her older sister discouraged the many suitors their uncle had paraded before her. Yet, Cashé believed her uncle’s actions correct: A woman’s virtue was her crowning glory, and she must protect it. The duke had led Velvet astray, and then he had deserted her. In the three months Velvet had resided with them, her sister had not heard one word from Thornhill. He had ignored Velvet’s weekly letters, and now her sister might lose her reputation unless their uncle could prevent it.

Blane hustled to answer the door. He swung it wide, expecting a messenger or even the viscount himself, but instead found a stranger. “Yes, Sir?”

An autocratic voice announced, “The Earl of Berwick to speak to Viscount Averette.”

The butler stammered, “His...His Lordship is unavailable, Sir.”

The voice pressed, “It is a matter of great importance.”

Blane motioned the earl in from the rain. “I offer my apologies, Sir,” the man began, but Cashé interrupted.

“Your Lordship,” she rushed forward, “please come in, Sir.” She wondered what brought the earl to their doorstep.

Berwick quickly dispensed with his hat and greatcoat before offering her a quick bow. “Miss Cashémere, might I speak to your uncle?”

“As Blane just explained, Your Lordship, my uncle is away at the moment. Please join my aunt and me in the drawing room, and perhaps we might be able to address the reason for this unexpected visit.” Cashé turned immediately on her heels, expecting him to follow her. She had not allowed him time to protest. It pleased her that he’d trailed along behind her. She had not seen Berwick since the day after Prinny’s party. They had celebrated Sir Louis Levering’s downfall over supper at Briar House. Cashé had thought she might learn more of Lord Lexford from the earl. With her family’s quick retreat to Scotland, she had not possessed the opportunity to say a proper farewell to the man.

“Aunt,” Cashé called, obviously nervous, “the Earl of Berwick has come to pay his compliments.” She rushed forward to take Gwendolyn from the woman. “Let Edana put our dear Gwen to bed for awhile.” She lifted the child to her. “Excuse me, my Lord. My young cousin had a rough evening.” She handed off the sleeping child to a waiting maid, before closing the door behind him.

Lady Averette belatedly stood to greet Wellston, who remained stolidly by the door. “Your Lordship,” the woman gestured Marcus forward, “please come join us. I apologize for my husband’s absence.”

Wellston glanced about the room, obviously unsure of how to proceed. The man crossed to the chair her aunt had indicated. “Might I ask, Ma’am, when His Lordship will return. I have urgent business.”

The viscountess shot a quick glance at Cashé. Her aunt had depended on Uncle Samuel in social situations; she knew not how to respond. Therefore, Cashé answered instead. “It may be some time, Your Lordship.”

“Then might I speak with Miss Aldridge? My business concerns your sister.”

Cashé stood behind her aunt, resting her hands on the chair’s back. “That too is impossible, Your Lordship.” She smiled politely at the man.

“Miss Cashémere,” Marcus beseeched, “I have been sent to Scotland to offer your sister my...”

Cashé cut him off. “We are quite aware of why you have been sent to our home!”

Berwick looked aghast. “And why might that be?” he asked incredulously.

“You are an intimate friend of the Duke of Thornhill,” she asserted.

“I am,” he hissed. “Yet, even with that...”

Again, Cashé interrupted. “My uncle will foil Thornhill’s plans and save my sister.”

“Cashémere!” her aunt warned.

The girl’s words had brought Marcus to his feet. He advanced on her. “You need to explain,” he demanded.

“You are in my home, Sir. I do not have to obey you.” Her hands fisted at her waist.

Marcus loomed over the girl. From behind him, Lady Averette gasped, but he had no time to practice his manners. “You will do as I say if you wish to guard your sister’s safety. I am here to protect Miss Aldridge.” According to Shepherd’s information, Jamot planned his attack for today.

“You are here at the duke’s bequest, but you are too late!” she charged.

Marcus’s temper flamed. “What do you mean ‘too late’?”

She raised her chin in defiance. “As if you did not know, my Lord.”

Marcus thought of turning her over his knee to teach the girl about respect, but he had no time. He caught Cashé by the arm and dragged her to a nearby chair, shoving her to a seated position. He saw Lady Averette take a step toward the bell cord, but he stayed her with a deathly stare. He seethed with anger. “Now, Miss Cashémere, you will answer my questions.”

The girl rubbed her arm where he had grabbed her. “I shall do no such thing!” she declared.

Marcus glanced at the cowering viscountess. “I am certain your aunt will see things differently.” He strode angrily toward the woman, but before he took three steps, the girl jumped onto his back and began to kick and punch.

Marcus’s hands protected his face as she swung indiscriminately, landing blows along his chin and ears. “Bloody hell!” he cursed, catching the girl’s arms and whipping her before him and effectively clamping the girl’s arms to her side. Although she still attempted to kick him, she plastered his chest with her warmth. He finally shoved her into a second chair. “Stay!” he growled, pointing his finger at her as if she were a dog.

His roughness brought tears to the girl’s eyes, but she started to attack him again; however, her aunt stepped before her niece, effectively cutting off the exchange. “What is it you want, my Lord?” Lady Averette spoke softly.

BOOK: Realm 03 - A Touch of Cashemere
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