Authors: Diedre Clark
To Love a Lord
Much has occurred since last we saw each other. My actions have not reflected well on the Hoffman name. I allowed jealousy to cloud my judgment. Now I am in a bind. I hired mercenaries to assist in the kidnapping of Lady Allana Cunningham. I refused to accept her marriage to Lord Cunningham, or I thought thusly until now. But now it is too late. I have recently discovered Maggie Whiting is with child, my child. She is a maid at Westbrook who I took as my mistress many months ago, long before my courtship of Lady Allana. I decided to abandon my mission to kidnap Lady Cunningham and marry Miss Whiting even though you would surely disapprove of the marriage. I love her, Aunt. I simply did not realize it until I nearly lost her. The mercenaries discovered her. I will not go into the details of it. Just know they are holding both her and me hostage in my own home! Their leader, a man named Rupert Stone, would not accept my decision to abandon my plans and is still determined to kidnap Lady Cunningham to hold for ransom. I have sent my servant Weston with letters of warning to both Cunningham and Tananguard, but I fear he may be too late. Rupert is acting tonight. I intend to try to free Maggie and myself, but if I fail, please find her and take care of her and the child. That is all I ask of you. If you receive a ransom demand, do what you will, but know I may not be their prisoner by then. If all goes well, expect us in London shortly after you receive this letter. If we do not arrive as expected, then the worst has occurred. If so, again I beg you to find Maggie if she still lives, and provide a home for her and my child.
Henry Weston signed his master’s name. “It is done,” he said to his companion.
The other man opened his hand and motioned for the letter. Henry blew on the ink, doing his best to dry it before handing
it over. The other man read it carefully.
“Are we missing anything?” he asked, looking at Henry.
Henry sighed. “I cannot think of anything. Can you?”
The man shook his head. “
We’ve written the ransoms, we’ve written the letters to Cunningham and Tananguard, we’ve placed the bodies strategically…,” he sighed. “His death must look as though the mercenaries have done it. This letter will confirm that as will the other two. But is there enough information? Does it sound as though he would write it?”
Lucas was a hard man, but he usually knew when to give up on something foolish. In this case he did not, but with what we’ve accomplished, it will look as though he did,” Henry said.
The other man nodded. “Then I see no flaws. Do you?”
Henry shook his head. He hadn’t seen any. But both men were growing weary. They had been working together on this task for close to twenty-four hours. They were growing weary not only of their work, but of each other. Henry had known Arden for years. The man was Cunningham’s butler and had been so for over thirty years. He was wise, but thought himself overly so. Henry too was wise. He had been the Hoffman butler for just as long.
was the one who had approached Master Cunningham with this plan.
was the one prepared to fight for Lord Archibald Hoffman’s namesake. And
had succeeded only to be undermined by Arden.
Arden understood Henry’s need to save the Hoffman name, but he also understood his Lord’s hesitation in allowing that to happen.
Lord Declan Cunningham felt Lucas should be held accountable for his foul deeds, and if the man had lived, Henry would have agreed. He needed to be punished. But he had been killed. Was it truly fair to ruin the Hoffman name simply because one of them fell astray? Cunningham had finally agreed to allow Henry to try, but only if Arden helped. And now they had everything in order. The authorities needed to be contacted immediately, and their work would be set in motion. Lucas would appear a misguided man, but one who had seen the error of his ways before his end. Maggie would be taken care of, something everyone including Henry had agreed on. Lady Cunningham’s reputation would be spared, and Henry could feel some peace at last.
Oh Master Hoffman. Why did you go so far? You could have been happy with Maggie if you
had tried. Why?
Henry thought sadly. Poor Maggie was left with child at such an age. She was merely twenty. Henry and Mrs. Murphy had looked after the girl after her mother abandoned her to the Hoffman’s when she was barely five. She had been like a daughter to him, and Lucas had stripped her of her innocence. Henry had hoped Lucas would turn to Maggie in a more permanent manner. He had tried persuading him away from his foul plans. He had used all of his guile to persuade Lucas that Lady Allana was beyond him, that he needed to take comfort in what he had, Maggie. But it had all been in vain, and now Lucas was dead.
Henry sighed miserably. He
had not been able to save Lucas, but at least he would be able to save the Hoffman name and possibly the Hoffman heir, Maggie’s unborn child.
“I see no flaws either. The letter
work,” he told Arden. It had to work.
“Then it is time to move forward with the rest of our plans.”
Josephine Meredith was exhausted, but she could
not get the sleep she desired. She tossed and turned through the night, reliving the moment she had ended Lucas Hoffman’s life. She should have found peace from his death, knowing he couldn’t hurt anyone any longer. Yet it seemed that is exactly what he was still doing to her, hurting her. He had ruined her life, taking from her the only man she had ever loved, Connor Tananguard. And he was still tormenting her with knowledge he had withheld from both her and Connor until yesterday.
rolled over for the hundredth time that night and felt movement from the small body next to her. She groaned within. If she wasn’t careful, she would wake her four-year-old son. Then she would be forced to rise, and it was far too early for that. She wanted sleep. She needed sleep!
She held very still
and felt a tear trickle from her eye. Why? She had wept too much as it was. She could not cry anymore.
omma,” a small voice said. “Don’t cry, Momma. I’m here,” little Garret said. He curled up closer to her, found her arm, and pulled it around him. “Now go to sleep. I’ll watch over you.”
She wanted to laugh, but the lump in her throat swelled. Her little boy had just given her the comfort she needed. “I love you,” she whispered to him, and she kissed the top of his head.
He squeezed her arm tightly. “I love you, Mummy.”
warmed. He had called her
he used when he was worried or scared, but
he used when he was happy or content. He had comforted her, and it had made him happy that he could.
“Goodnight, my darling,” she whispered. And f
inally, sleep found her.
The desired sleep was short lived as a small breeze woke her. Josephine blinked several times and yawned, wondering where the breeze had come from. The flap to her hut had been left open. The little body that had slept so close and kept her heart warm was gone. Garret was up, which meant she had to rise as well. She groaned. The sun was barely peaking above the horizon! No one was awake yet, not after the events of yesterday. And she doubted anyone would appreciate her son waking them. She would find him and force him back to their hut!
She had fallen asleep in her clothes being too tired to change into anything decent, so there was no need to do so now. She slipped her boots on and left the hut in search
of little Garret. She spotted him toward the center of her uncle’s camp, staring at something Josephine could not see. She sighed and made her way to him.
“Garret Joseph Meredith,”
she hissed. “Get back here this instant.”
He glanced her way, but didn’t move. Again she sighed as she was forced to go and fetch him. She rounded a tent and froze. Connor Tananguard was sitting on a small log, staring at her in astonishment. She knew he was here in the camp, knew there was the possibility of seeing him again, but she hadn’t expected it so soon. He had been wounded yesterday while trying to rescue his sister from Lucas Hoffman. She’d heard he’d caught a knife just above his heart. The news was harsh to hear. She had wanted to find him and make certain he would live, but her aunt assured her he was well. Her aunt would not lie about such things, but looking at Connor now caused
Josephine to doubt her aunt’s healing skills. He looked horrible, face beaten and swollen, and he was far too pale to be healthy with blood slowly seeping through his shirt by his left shoulder. Yet even looking as rundown and trodden as he did, he still took her breath away.
He was tall with light brown hair and green-hazel eyes. His hair was curly and unruly, and she loved it. His face was strong with good angles that made him very handsome. And when he smiled, he was even more pleasant to look upon.
“Sophia?” he asked, standing to go to her. His body must have been very weak because he took one step and stumbled to his knees. He stared at her, agony clearly visible. Was it from the wound or from seeing her again? A tear slipped down his cheek. “I thought I had lost you forever,” he whispered. He tried to stand again but tumbled the rest of the way to the ground, breathing heavily.
Josephine watched him for a moment, wanting to run from him. She wasn’t prepared for this encounter, but she could not leave him in the condition he was in. She went to him, rolling him onto his back and placing his head in her lap.
“This feels so real,” he said, reaching up to touch her face. A smile spread across his.
“That’s because it is real, you fool. Now stay still, so I can look at your wound.” Her voice was bitter, but she still loved him. She would always love him and only him.
She opened his shirt to examine his wound. It was a jagged, deep cut in his left shoulder just below the collarbone, and it was bleeding again. She pressed her wrist to his forehead. “Oh Connor, you’re burning with fever, and you’ve lost so much blood. Garret, go fetch Aunt Kara,” she ordered her son.
omma,” little Garret answered, running off into the morning.
“You have a son?” Connor asked in a daze. “Handsome boy.”
“That’s because he’s yours,” she answered solemnly.
Connor laughed. “I always wanted a son.” He sounded faint. He didn’t seem to realize she was really there.
“Oh, Connor. You’re going to be so angry when you recover. Know this—it was for the best that I never told you.” She caressed his face tenderly. She’d tried to tell him once, and the memory of that day still pained her.
He smiled at her, not understanding what she was talking about. Then he clasped her hand in his and stared at it in awe. “You’re truly here,” he said barely audible. He was growing weaker by the moment, yet he still took the time to kiss her hand gently. He closed his eyes for a long moment before forcing them open to look at her. “Sophie, my love…” he swallowed and took several shallow breaths. “Sophie…stay…with me….” He blinked several times as if fighting to keep his eyes open.
“Connor. Don’t go to sleep, Connor,” Josephine said as he closed his eyes. “Connor! Somebody help me!” she cried. He was still breathing, but he was no longer conscious. She cradled his beautiful head in her lap. “Please don’t leave me,” she whispered as tears fell down her cheeks. She couldn’t bear it if the only man she had ever loved died in her arms before she could tell him…What would she tell him? That she still loved him; that her son really was his? Would she tell him the truth about Lucas’s betrayal? No, she would tell him none of these things. Lucas’s letter rang in her mind. She would not let Connor waste his life and dreams on her.
A man appeared suddenly, slightly groggy-eyed but alarmed from Josephine’s desperate cries. She recognized him
. She’d met him a time or two years ago when she and Connor were together. She wondered if he would recognize her. Much had happened to him since then, and their encounters had been brief. Back then he had been married to Rebecca Sterling, a horrid, hateful woman. He had been miserable, and one could see it in his eyes. Now he was newly married to Connor’s only sister, Allana Tananguard. Lord Declan Cunningham, the Earl of Westbrook, was beat up like Connor and obviously still quite exhausted from yesterday’s events, but his eyes were at peace. He had finally found happiness in his life with Allana, and he would go to any extremes to keep her by his side. Yesterday, he had tried to single handedly storm Lucas Hoffman’s estates in order to rescue her. It was only with the help of her uncle’s band of men, however, that Cunningham was able to succeed.
, Josephine thought bitterly. It all came back to him. He was the man responsible for everything bad in her life: Connor’s current condition, her brother’s near-death, and finally, the loss of a life with the only man she would ever love. Would his foul schemes never find an end? Her tears began to fall harder.
“What’s happened?” the Earl asked her.
His eyebrows rose in surprise as recognition set in. He did remember her.
“He’s fallen unconscious. I think his wound is infected, and he’s running a fever,” Josephine informed him as calmly as she could, which was not calmly at all. She wiped savagely at the tears that were streaming down her face.
Oh Connor, please be strong.
“Connor!” a woman’s voice cried from behind the Earl.
Josephine recognized her immediately. How could she forget Connor’s sister after yesterday’s events? Allana Cunningham was tall like her brother, yet different in all other features except her eyes. She and Connor shared the same green eyes, eyes Josephine prayed she would see open again on Connor’s beautiful face.
Allana ran to her brother, going to her knees opposite Josephine and pulling Connor’s limp body to her. “What happ—,” she cut off as her eyes focused on the woman across from her. “Josephine?” she guessed quietly.
Josephine’s eyes widened as she nodded uncertainly. How did Allana Cunningham know who she was?
“You were the one who pulled the trigger.” This time the comment was barely audible.
Josephine nodded again, glancing around to see if anyone had heard. People were gathering, and only a handful knew she had slipped away with the men yesterday to assist in the rescue of Lady Cunningham. And from those select few, only five knew she had been the one to end Lucas Hoffman’s life.
A familiar voice approached the scene. “Josephine, what happened?” Kara Meredith, Josephine’s aunt and William Meredith’s wife, asked in concern. She strode over to the unconscious man. She placed the inside of her wrist upon Connor’s forehead, feeling for a fever; then she examined the wound. “It’s broken open and possibly infected.”
“And he’s lost so much blood. He lost consciousness. I didn’t know what to do,” Josephine said as fresh tears seeped from her eyes.
“For one, you should have ordered one of these men to carry him to a warm bed. This cold air is not helping the matter, and the sooner we get this wound
tended the better. The longer we let him lie here, the worse it could get,” Kara scolded the younger woman.
“I’m sorry,” Josephine said helplessly.
Kara ignored her. “Eric, Thomas. Pick this man up and bring him to Josephine’s hut,” she ordered.
Declan Cunningham reached Connor before Eric and assisted Thomas in carrying
“But why my hut? There are plen—”
“Because yours is the closest and probably the cleanest. Don’t argue when a man’s life is in danger!” Kara rounded on Josephine angrily, almost daring her to protest further. “Nothing else to say? Good. Go gather your things, and take them to my hut. You and Garret may stay with William and I until this man’s condition turns.”
Josephine nodded meekly. She knew her aunt held little respect for her. She had given Kara no reason to respect her. She had ignored all questions regarding little Garret and the situation leading to his conception and birth. She had been rude, mistrusting, and distant, not letting anyone close to her, not even her brother; and he
knew the truth of her misfortune and her son. She had disappeared for a time, not telling anyone where she was or where she had gone. And she had grown bitter and angry toward everyone except her son. It was no wonder Kara disliked her.
Josephine did as she was told, gathering enough provisions for herself and little Garret from her hut while the men situated Connor into her bed. Quickly, Josephine transferred the items to Kara’s hut and returned to her own in order to help in Connor’s care. Kara was cleaning his wound. Lady Cunningham was on the other side of Connor, watching intently with her husband standing quietly in a corner, eyes never leaving his wife’s face.
“What can I do, Kara?” Josephine asked quietly.
“Nothing,” Kara answered coldly, not looking at Josephine. “Lady Cunningham will assist.”
“But surely there is—”
“You’ve done enough already. You are not needed here,” Kara interrupted, glaring darkly at Josephine.
Josephine’s jaw tightened as her body stiffened. She nodded curtly, resisting the urge to fight back, and left the tent.
Allana Cunningham watched the exchange between Kara and Josephine. She did not understand the resentment Kara seemed to hold for Josephine. They were family, yet there was contention between the two. What had caused such dislike and pain?
“Surely we could use her help,” Allana said to Kara.
“No. I will not have her poisonous manner in here,” came the reply.
Allana looked at her questioningly. Again she wondered what had caused such dislike.
Kara sighed when she looked up and saw Allana’s face. “I apologize,” she began quietly. “My behavior toward my niece is puzzling to you, so I shall explain. But first hand me a fresh rag and rinse this one,” she added, handing Allana the bloodstained rag she was using to clean Connor’s wound.
Allana took the rag and replaced it with a clean, wet one.
“Thank you,” Kara said, turning her attention back to Connor’s shoulder as she explained her reasoning behind her feelings toward Josephine. “As you know, William’s brother, Josephine’s father, was killed many years ago while saving William’s life. Josephine resented my husband for her father’s death. She felt it should have been him, not her father, to die. But since it wasn’t, she grew bitter toward William. That I understood, but then she conceived Lucas’s child.” Kara paused, studying Connor’s face for a moment. “At least that is what she told us,” she added quietly. “Hmm.”