Authors: Jayne Fresina
Tags: #Historical Romance, #Victorian
He's the eldest son of Victorian England's most notorious rogue, but Storm Deverell just wants to keep life simple. Unlike the other members of his wild tribe, he steers clear of scandal and leads an honest, hard-working existence on a Cornish farm.
Of course, it hasn't always been that way. In the days of youthful rebellion, that hot Deverell temper earned Storm a bad reputation. But now he keeps his anger tamed so well nobody would ever know it's still there.
All things considered, Storm has everything he wants, whenever he wants it, in his uncomplicated world. And even if life is a little quiet sometimes, at least it's predictable.
Until a strange woman arrives to shatter his unchallenged bachelor tranquility.
Stubborn, proudly independent and apparently immune to his infamous charm, Katherine Kelly is a disruption, a sharp-tongued, haughty madam, and the last thing he needs moving in as his neighbor.
One touch of her smooth hands tells him she knows nothing about managing a farm. One glance at her rose-embroidered stockings warns him she'll cause a commotion.
Good thing he's not looking for trouble these days.
Escaping a seedy, gas-lit world of deception and villainy with a spinet full of stolen banknotes and snuff boxes, Kate is seeking a new beginning and a better future for her son. She's come a long way to find sanctuary and fresh air, so that frustratingly calm, self-satisfied, straight-talking farmer in the next valley will not spoil it for her. Clearly he's ruled the roost around here far too long, a local legend in his own mind. So what if Deverell believes a woman can't survive without a man? Surviving is something this single mother knows how to do.
One touch of his rough hands tells her he's dangerous. One glance into his blue eyes warns her he'll be a distraction.
Good thing she's not looking for trouble these days.
But these two headstrong, accidental neighbors will soon learn that trouble can find them without being sought. Because what's "nice" can also be naughty, and what's naughty.... is usually a Deverell.
The Deverells, Book
Twisted E Publishing, LLC
The Deverells, Book Two
Copyright © 2015 by Jayne Fresina
Edited by Marie Medina
First E-book Publication: September 2015
Cover design by K Designs
All cover art and logo copyright © 2015, Twisted Erotica Publishing.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED:
This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
"Here I come for your nuts, Bert. Hope you're not too attached."
Katherine Kelly, often told she possessed a flair for the dramatic, paused on the threshold of the darkened room with a candle in one hand and a wood axe clutched in the other. It didn't matter that there was no one present to hear or witness her entrance. She felt the potency of this moment in her bones, in her fingertips, in the very curl of her hair. This performance was for herself alone.
Parting the darkness with her solitary candle, she moved boldly forward. The disturbed night air bristled around her, objecting to the intrusion, whispering against her skin. Odd, she mused, how silence was never truly quiet, and how this room seemed so much larger while veiled in the dustcovers of midnight.
At last, as the soft glow of her light stretched along the wall ahead, a cabinet loomed into view, its contents guarded by a padlock that dangled there like a hanged corpse left on the gibbet. Such a ghastly deterrent was meant to strike fear and awe into the heart of any observer. But the woman approaching it now felt only elation pulsing through her veins, a joy so intense and overdue that she barely kept her feet on the ground. In short, she felt slightly foxed.
Because Kate Kelly was about to be reborn.
Tonight, as the sun's blood finally drained out and that deflated orb sank below the sooty rooftops, her existence— as she lived then— went with it. But tomorrow, when daylight awoke again to the hurry-scurry of pigeons, those rejuvenated rays would shine brightly on a new world and a new beginning for her.
And there was only one more obstacle in her way.
With her candle raised in one hand, she paused before the cabinet. Buttery dribbles of color trickled over the surface of that padlock, until it resembled the smug, heavily jowled face of the man who put it there every night. Its tightly pursed mouth appeared to sputter the same lies.
"You do as you're told and you'll have what's coming to you one day," Albert Soames had promised, while counting out the house earnings and putting it away in this cabinet. His mutton fists worked more efficiently at that task than at any other she ever saw them undertake, for when it came to money, the clumsy lummox transformed into a lithe, speedy squirrel hoarding his hazelnuts for bad weather. "Once you've satisfied the terms of your contract with ol' Bert, you'll get your share."
A wise man would never have shown Kate where he kept the money. Soames, however, in the tradition of any bog-dwelling ogre holding a princess for ransom in a fairytale, was not a complicated, long-term thinker. He clearly relished closing that padlock with a snap and knocking it with his greasy finger, making it swing before her eyes, tormenting her for his own spiteful pleasure. But he underestimated his captive's temper and overestimated her patience, because while he might be the typical storybook villain, she was far from the usual mild-mannered, hapless heroine.
Kate set her candleholder down and raised the wood axe in both hands.
"Prepare yourself for the chop, Bert. I'll make it swift, but I can't guarantee it'll be painless."
Swinging hard, she aimed not at the lock, but at the cheap cabinet door itself.
The force of the strike vibrated through her body all the way to the soles of her feet. Fortunately, in this part of town, most people stayed under the covers when they heard a ruckus, and kept their noses out of other folk's business. As for the "Peelers"— they were regarded as obstacles to a way of life, rather than arbiters of justice. And Albert Soames was currently confined to the backyard privy with a ruthless, and not entirely coincidental, case of 'the trots'.
She struck again and again, until the hole in the splintered wood panel was large enough to let her reach through. The rough edge of the cut chafed against her wrist, but she barely felt it.
While her fingers fumbled inside the cabinet, her gaze followed the upward flutter of light from that single candle flame. There, covering a stain in the damask wallpaper, a tattered poster promoted the Music Box supper room, particularly the delightful entertainment of "Kitty Blue", who performed twice nightly and, according to the artist's rendition, showed off an unseemly amount of bosom and well-rounded thigh in the process. It was, of course, like most things about this place, a deception. Lured in by the promise of a woman with impossibly lush curves and a loose corset, the audience must be disappointed when they saw Kate instead— an ordinary creature in a patched evening gown that didn't fit and, if seen in the honest light of day, would lose all its mystique. But they never complained. According to Bert Soames, they were smitten halfway through her first song.
"You keep teasing the punters and they'll come back for more," he'd wheeze, pausing to wet his counting finger with that slimy, serpentine tongue, before swiftly feathering through the bank notes clutched in his other fist. "Leave 'em wantin'. That's your trick. It's all in the suggestion of a wink and a bit o' shoulder. You bring a touch o' class to the place."
Wishful thinking, indeed. Queen Victoria herself would be hard pressed to bring a touch of class to the damp, musty carpet, warped mirrors, crooked dice and smoke-stained wallpaper of the Music Box supper room. But poor Kitty had tried her valiant best.
"Goodbye, Kitty, my love," she exhaled on a rushed breath. "Wish us luck!"
With her next puff the candle flame was out. Cool darkness reabsorbed both the woman on the gaudy poster and the one with the wood axe.
And as their life ended, another began.
Beware false pride and the fangs of the Bumble Trout
The lamb's head emerged at last, the small front feet tucked up under its chin. Once the head was through, the rest of the body slipped out with greater ease and the ewe turned, sniffing at the straw, relieved no doubt that her efforts were at last productive. Giving a slightly surprised and proud, base rumble, she nuzzled the newborn and licked the membrane from its face, while the lamb looked about keenly, already on a quest for milk.
Leaning over the pen, Storm Deverell smiled down at the newest member of his flock. There were few things to compare with this, he thought— the sheer pleasure of seeing another tender creature brought into the world always gladdened his heart and made him smile. Didn't matter how many times he witnessed it. Didn't matter that it was still dark when he got out of bed that morning, or that a chill, bitter wind had slapped his face as soon as he stepped out of doors. He loved this time of year, all the hard work that came with it and the heartfelt rewards, which were infinitely more satisfying than the hollow chink of coin.
"You're the eldest born son of the richest, self-made man in the country," a woman said to him once. "But no one who lays eyes on you would ever know you're a gentleman's son."
He'd laughed. "Calling my father a gentleman? Watch your tongue, woman!"
"You could live in a fine house in London," she persisted, "wear silk breeches and court debutantes."
Like his half-brother, Ransom, she meant. Storm shook his head. "Not for me." He'd never been as far as London, but traveled to Exeter once and didn't like the fact that he couldn't walk about the place with his usual long and steady stride. The streets were so crowded he had to change his steps all the time and measure his pace to that of other people who got in his way. Soon, deeply frustrated by that cluttered environment, he was cured of any desire to see more of the world.
"But why do you work so hard when you don't need to?" his pretty companion had demanded many summers ago, as she lay in a hay cart, squinting up at him in the cider-tinted light.
"Every man needs work, Sally. When he has no occupation, that's when trouble starts."
Storm Deverell worried for men who sat on their backsides and lived off the toil of others. How could such an idle fellow sleep at night? Did he not still feel the unused energy coiled inside?
But explaining further to Sally White, the woman who questioned him with the sun in her eyes and hayseeds in her hair, would have been a waste of time. In his experience women were not great listeners, particularly when it came to reason and logic. And Sally wasn't the sort who cared how a man came by his money, as long as he had plenty to spend on her.
"You know what they say about all work and no play," she'd remarked with a coy flutter of gilded eyelashes.
"Is there anything about me that's dull, wench?"
Naturally, she couldn't pretend there was and he spent the next half hour proving it. That was as much as he could spare during the harvest. He had even less time now, in the spring.
As Sally would point out, he could quite easily have stayed by his warm fire this morning and left all this to his shepherd. But then he'd miss out on the sight of these little wooly creatures taking their first staggering steps.
It was a good day to be living.
Through the open barn doors dawn slowly swept in, like the foaming edge of a wave bubbling along the shore. He took a deep lungful of air and could smell rain on its way, a taste of moisture in the wind. Not that he needed the hint. Troubled, frothy clouds, drawn together and hanging like a crusty old man's brows, frowned over his path home across the fields. It was the kind of sky he was born beneath. Hence his name.
Surveying the grim horizon, he decided to head home to his hearth before those clouds emptied their burden. He expected another arrival today— one with two legs— and he ought to change out of this filthy shirt before she came. Sometimes a man had to make an effort, even if it was only for a new housekeeper.
After a brief word with the head shepherd, Storm set off for his farmhouse, whistling merrily, his mind— in its usual busy fashion— mulling over several different things at once. His dog ran on ahead, stopping occasionally to come back, only to dash off again, a black and white streak looping and winding through the meadow grass. The wind soon picked up, ruffling the tall goose-grass, making the daisies dance and shuffling clouds about. He had to whistle louder just to hear himself above the blustery, buffeting wind. And that was probably why he barely heard the approach of horses' hooves until they were almost upon him. In the nick of time, he stepped onto the verge and looked up.
, he thought instantly, is trouble.
She thundered by at a creaking, rattling clip, wheels and hooves spitting up muddy stones like bullets. Thus, his first sight of the stranger passed in a blur, consisting of one narrow jacket sleeve in robin's egg blue, a leather glove stretched tight over a clenched fist, a chestnut curl bouncing in the wind and a small leather walking boot pushed hard against the footrest. All innocent signs to an untrained eye, but Storm had experience of women, and one moving at barely controlled speed was never good news.
No woman he knew would be out driving an open cart this early on a filthy morning. Only an emergency would push them out into bad weather, and she was racing impatiently away from town, not toward it.
Not only that, but a local woman would undoubtedly wave to him as she passed. They all knew Storm. Most not so well as they would like.
But when he put up his hand to this one she didn't slow her horses or even turn her head to look at him. Instead, although the old wooden bridge was down, the woman in the blue jacket brazenly set the unbroken pace of her horses for a determined, direct course across the over-brimming river. There was no chance for him to advise her of another bridge— a sturdy granite stone bridge less than a mile upstream. No, there she went, dashing by without so much as a glance his way.
The young woman was careless and inattentive, but not only to him. She could hurt herself. From the look of it, she didn't have much experience driving horses either.
Now, while he watched with one hand shielding his eyes from the first pinpricks of rain, her cart shuddered to a hard halt. The horses could not move forward and she was stuck fast in the midst of the river, brown water swirling around the trapped cart wheels.
And down came the rain, full force.
Despite the good breakfast waiting for him at home, Storm knew he'd better stop and rescue the reckless lady. There was no one else around to help.
Shouting a command to his dog, he changed course and strode down the slope toward the river that crossed his property. His pace was easy, long and unhurried—the same steady speed he employed for most tasks. After all, she wasn't going anywhere, was she?
* * * *
"That's done it, Ma. We're stuck now. It's raining harder than ever. And your face is all red, like a big, fat, shiny cherry. With freckles."
Although proud of her son's quick mind, there were times when Kate could do without his precocious narrative. "Thank you, Flynn," she replied tightly. "You are most observant."
He shook his head, arms folded. "Shouldn't 'ave tried to get across the river, Ma."Through a gap in the bundle of woolen scarves beside her, she found his eyes solemnly peering upward, their light brown color darkened today by the shadow of her face and the looming charcoal clouds above. By anxiety too. He was well attuned to his mother's moods. Too well attuned at times.
"I'd best see what can be done," she said firmly. "And I've told you before, it is common to say 'Ma'. Say '
' instead." As long as she was still correcting him, he would surely think their situation less dire.
"Can I help then, Mama?"
"Not this time." She patted the sprig of sandy hair which, having found its way through the layers of outer wrapping, sprouted upward from his head like the first hopeful stalk of Spring. "Stay here and sit still. I don't want you falling in the river dressed like that. You'll sink faster than a lead brick."
He sighed heavily, as if the idea of his mother managing this matter without his assistance was no less foolish than the confidence that made her think she could cross the river without incident.
"Hurry, Ma...Mama. Our treasure is getting wet."
By "treasure" he referred to the jumble of motley furnishings and possessions in the back of the cart— a collection to which he'd formed a deep attachment. He fondly remembered the origins of each piece and if he did not, then he made up a very grand story instead.
Kate cast a measuring gaze over the articles in their weighed-down cart. "These are only
, Flynn. They are all replaceable. One should not cling to sentiment. This is a new beginning, a new life for both you and I. We must look forward, not back. We may have to leave some of this behind. It is not all necessary, and we must be practical."
"Yes, Mama," he huffed. "'Tis what you keep saying."
She scowled. "Are you still in a sulk because I wouldn't let you have that parrot we saw in the town? What use would such a creature be to us? It costs money to feed and provides neither milk nor eggs."
From between the woolen scarves his eyes regarded her somberly. "Not everything has to be useful. Some things are just pretty."
"Decorative objects which serve no purpose encourage pride and vanity. We can do without such fripperies."
When she glanced at her son again, he was casting a salty eye over her pale blue silk brocade jacket, which was hardly a practical color— or material— in which to travel. Unblinking, he boldly met her cross frown with a determined look of his own.
Kate straightened her spine. "This very fine coat gives my spirits a boost on dark days, so it provides an important service."
"Because you know you look well in it. Ain't that vanity, Ma? And pride too?"
Her scowl deepened. Oh, why did the sweet babies, with their toothless, drooling smiles, have to grow up and become know-all men?
There were quite enough of those about already. Couldn't babies stay as they were, innocent and adoring? Men were everywhere, poking their noses into everybody else's business at any opportunity. And on this particular subject her temper rose as quickly as the river around them.
"Once again, child, it's
, not Ma!"
"That coat reminds you of my pa, so that's sediment too, ain't it?"
is the word, for pity's sake."
"But you just said we shouldn't 'ave none."
Being reminded of the rake who fathered her son was not likely to improve Kate's mood, and where Flynn came by the notion of her riding habit bearing any romantic significance was beyond her. Probably another of his fanciful imaginings. The child could be terribly melodramatic and she had no idea where he acquired the capacity.
"I daresay," he gave a woeful sigh, "that parrot would 'ave given
spirits a boost on dark days too."
She groaned, turning her gaze to the low clouds and feeling the vicious, spiteful beat of rain on her face.
This did not bode well for the wondrous "Fresh Beginning" she kept promising them both. The Cornish countryside, far from being the heavenly sanctuary she'd imagined, was wet, miserable and frustrating.
Inside her head a gruff voice scoffed,
Aye, so ye can look after yourself, can ye? That's how ye ended up stuck in the river, Missy Proud-foot. Impatient, stubborn and too hot-tempered to hear reason. Fine example for that son of yours. Should have stuck with what ye knew.
Missy Proud-foot— that was the name her father used to call her, and he would never approve of this adventure. He believed in staying where one was put and he didn't like change. Whenever he'd seen young Kate struggling to copy out the letters from a book, or practicing the syllables of an unfamiliar word, he had teased her scornfully, "Know ye place, Missy Proud-foot. Or else ye'll only ever know discontent."
She had to prove him wrong, didn't she? All these years later, here she was, still hoping to find something more, something better, especially for Flynn, her son.
Although, as yet, the boy was none too impressed with her efforts.
"If only we 'ad that parrot," he muttered. "The feller said it was a lucky parrot. But no, you wouldn't trust 'im, just like you never trust anybody."
She sniffed. "I didn't like his face."
"I simply didn't. I have an instinct for these things."
"He was a happy fellow. I liked him."
"He grinned like a jack o' lantern and his breath was rife. There is a difference, Flynn, between happy and in one's cups. Kindly take note."
"If you don't want men smiling at you, then you shouldn't wear that coat."
"I wear this coat for
, young sir!" The splendid riding habit happened to be the finest garment in her possession and it made her feel bold, capable of tackling any obstacle. It was, in effect, her armor.
"So here we are, no lucky parrot just when we need one, and all about to be drowneded. Just because a man smiled at you. Snakes preserve us!"
preserve us. Not
"Should 'ave got that lucky parrot."
"I'll not sit here in the rain discussing a wretched parrot, Master Flynn Michael Kelly. I am the adult here and so I get my way. When you are an adult it'll be your turn and you can have all the parrots you want. Although I sincerely doubt you'll ever reach adulthood if you keep talking back to your ma in this fashion."
Exasperated she twisted around on the seat, preparing to hoist up her skirts and step down. It was then Kate realized there was someone already in the water, wading toward them. A large someone. A male someone.
Of course. They were everywhere. Even out here, it seemed. Now here came another to lecture and ridicule her for getting stuck. He was already laughing at their predicament. She saw it in his very brazen, very blue eyes, and heard it in the low, country burr of a voice that seemed barely capable of containing amusement.
"If you're planning on a spot of bathing this early in the year, ma'am, I hope you're wearing stout woolens to keep frostbite off your cheeks."
Kate's fingers curled tighter around her whip. She'd heard all manner of horror stories about what happened to women traveling alone. In fact, she'd almost hired an escort to ride with them, but then at the last moment balked at the idea, unable to trust anyone she found willing. To her, the choices who put themselves forward had all appeared somewhat shady characters. But, as Flynn pointed out, if she tried hard enough she could find fault with anyone.
The big, scruffy brute now coming toward her needn't think he could take advantage, manhandle her person and steal her mother's spinet. Or, even worse, kidnap her little boy and sell him into servitude as a chimney sweep. She still had that wood axe under her seat, within reaching distance should it be needed.
The stranger had something spattered on his shirt that looked very much like blood. Any moment now he could be joined by his comrades who would emerge from the bushes to descend upon them like savages.
Swept up in the horror of the moment, she flourished her whip and exclaimed, "Come no closer, unkempt, shifty-eyed ruffian!"
Surprise lifted his brows. "Well, I've been called plenty before, but that's a new one."
Thus, jovially ignoring her warning, the man resumed a steady progress toward them.
He wore a shabby, stained coat that trailed in the water, and no hat over his hair. His face was browned by sun and a little beaten by the weather, but although he blinked hard against the rain, a calmly bemused, azure gaze was fixed upon her very determinedly between each downward swipe of lashes.
Kate stood, intent on hiding her son from him. "I've nothing for you to steal. Go back, I say! Go back, villainous wretch!"
He was probably a gypsy, wild and lawless. Heaven help them!
Suddenly the cart lurched another good few inches down into the riverbed, bouncing her roughly off her feet and back into her seat. It did not, however, silence her tongue.
"If you lay a hand on me, you'll be sorry. I am in possession of weaponry and wholly prepared to make use of it!"
"Madam," he said coolly, "I've never laid an unwelcome hand on any woman in my life." Kate had barely allowed those words to sink in, than he added, "Unless it was self-defense."
She stared, holding her breath, her lips pursed.
"I won't suffer blows without some form of retaliation. So if I were you, I'd think wisely and sheath those claws." With one hand he swept wet hair back from his brow. "I don't hold with this business of treating women like fragile china. Especially not when they threaten my body parts with damage. And when I catch them trespassing on my land."
He nodded. "Storm Deverell is the name, and everything within three miles of this spot belongs to me. That includes all the beasts found upon it."
Her pulse was too fast. She almost dropped her whip, her fingers feeling numb.
"Which makes you fair game, my lady." He grinned so suddenly it was like a burst of sunlight through the rain, dazzling her. "Finders keepers."