Authors: Michelle Kelly
‘You did not think I would thoroughly investigate your daughter before I became betrothed to her? The house and whatever meagre fortune her aunt left her will do in the place of a decent dowry, I suppose.’
In spite of his tone, Stanley glimpsed the flash of greed in the other man’s eyes.
‘Exactly why are you so insistent on marrying my daughter?’ he demanded.
‘Why not? Every eligible man in London wants her. I always have the best. And besides—’ his eyes narrowed ‘—I do not like being said no to. I look forward to teaching your daughter some manners.’
Stanley felt the rage rise in him at the man’s last remark, but swallowed it down. He had no choice. ‘Very well.’ He nodded curtly. ‘I will write at once.’
Horatio nodded and stood, taking his leave. He gave Lord Hedburn a contemptuous look before leaving the room, but allowed himself a smile of triumph. Amelia would return when she learned the true gravity of her father’s predicament; he would stake his life on it. And if she dithered, well, he would just have to go and fetch her.
In fact, perhaps he would do that very thing. That night, in fact. He smiled again at the thought of how soon he would be able to take her in hand, and the fact that she was at Trevan was perfect, for he could kill two birds with one stone. Horatio whistled to himself as he went off to make arrangements.
Amelia woke the next morning to see the strong lines of Jasper’s back and shoulder as he dressed.
As he dressed
…the memory of their lovemaking flooded through her, bringing with it a shiver of desire and the realization of a dull ache between her legs that was more pleasant than painful. She sat up, stretching her limbs as if she were a new foal testing her body. In a way, she thought, she had been reborn, remade in Jasper’s arms as he had given her a taste of what it was to be loved.
How hard it was going to be to say goodbye, when she had only just found him. Even if he wanted nothing more from her than the pleasure he had already taken, she knew the memory of these few days had imprinted itself on her heart forever.
‘Good morning,’ she said quietly, almost shyly. What did one say to a man the morning after such passion? When Jasper turned to her his smile was tender, but there was a guarded look in his eyes.
‘Would you like me to call for some refreshments?’ he asked, and Amelia went scarlet at the thought of being discovered. What excuse would she give to Mrs Brown?
‘No, I must get back to Trevan. I have much to prepare.’
‘You are leaving today.’ It was a statement, not a question, his voice and face carefully neutral so Amelia could not tell if he cared about her imminent departure one way or the other.
‘Yes.’ She held her breath when he leaned over and kissed her on the lips and went to speak again.
‘You will allow me to take you into town later this morning then perhaps, to see you safely on your way?’
‘Of course. Thank you.’ Amelia turned her face away to hide her disappointment. What else did she expect? Perhaps he was even anxious to be rid of her after she had once again all but thrown herself at him.
With that thought in her mind, she dressed swiftly and allowed Jasper to see her out and walk her to the edges of her land, all the while praying Vimes would not spot them. There was a tense silence between them that Amelia did not know how to break.
‘Shall I call for you at eleven perhaps? Will that give you time to prepare for your journey?’ He was almost overly courteous and barely meeting her eyes. Pain shot through Amelia at the thought that perhaps he already regretted their encounter.
‘That will be most pleasant, thank you,’ she replied in the same courteous tone, walking away with as much dignity as she could muster, even though everything in her screamed at her to turn and throw herself into his arms.
After a few steps she turned round, although she had no idea what she would say if he were there, but he had already disappeared into the trees away from her.
* * *
As Jasper walked back to Glendir his heart and limbs felt heavy. It had taken all he had not to ask her to stay just a while longer. After all if the information he had received that morning was correct then he may soon be able to ensure Horatio Winters was in no position to bother her again. She certainly would have no need to take off halfway across the Continent. Perhaps she could stay with her friend for a while and then… But no, he said to himself impatiently, if the danger was removed then no doubt she would want to return to her life in London, and who was he to stop her? He had effectively behaved no less callously than his father, taking her virginity and risking the ruin of her reputation even while withholding information from her. She deserved better than one such as him. In truth, as magical as their lovemaking had been, he now felt wretched.
For Jasper was a spy, working for the Crown against the French, and his lifestyle was not one that lent itself to love and domesticity. They were things he had never thought were meant for him, having known little love growing up or ever witnessed it between his parents.
Somehow meeting Amelia was changing everything he had ever thought to be true. Being back at Glendir had at first seemed like the perfect cover, giving him the chance to monitor the smugglers’ trails while he waited for the information he needed to finally catch Horatio, but being here and finding that his tenants may in fact need him had seemed a heavy burden. He had been longing to return to France, but now that he had had a glimpse of an alternative future… Jasper stopped walking and stared up at the clear blue sky where a lone kestrel soared. He wondered idly if it were an omen, the kestrel showing his own path in life, when another appeared and flew alongside it.
, he told himself, but he continued to watch them as they flew together past the horizon.
* * *
He did not hear Amelia’s scream as she walked back to Trevan House and straight into the arms of the man she thought she had escaped.
Her heart sank as she saw Horatio, along with a man she did not recognize, but who was certainly not any man of the nobility, judging by his rough clothes and the jagged scar down one cheek. Horatio of course looked as slick as ever, his smile cruel as he took in Amelia’s dishevelled appearance.
‘What are you doing here?’ she gasped, ‘How dare you just walk into my house!’
Horatio walked towards her as if she hadn’t spoken, raising a hand to touch her cheek, and Amelia flinched away, glaring at him, her heart squeezing as if in a vice as she thought of all that Madeleine and Jasper had said about the man in front of her.
Jasper. She must not mention him to Horatio. Composing herself, she straightened her shoulders and looked firmly at the despicable man before her.
‘If you came to convince me to accept your proposal, I’m afraid you’ve had a wasted trip,’ she said stiffly, her heart pounding in her chest. ‘I have not changed my mind. I intend to remain unwed.’
Horatio simply sneered at her and pulled a letter from his pocket. ‘This, my dear, is from your father. He intended to mail it, but I thought I would save some time and deliver it myself. It will, I think, quite change your mind.’
Amelia opened the letter, her hands shaking. The letter was brief and to the point, yet also surprisingly contrite, not a gesture she had expected from him. Her father was in greater debt than she had known, seriously so in fact, and only her marriage to Lord Winters could keep him out of gaol and her from disgrace. A wealth of emotions surged through Amelia as she took in this new knowledge. Relief that her father had not simply tried to force her into marriage for the prestige, horror at the realization that this was why he had been so ready to hand her over to a man she loathed, and then, settling in her gut like a stone, came anger at Horatio’s manipulation of him. She thrust the letter back at Horatio.
His brow furrowed. Behind him, his man had spied Sally hovering near the kitchen door and was looking at her lecherously. Amelia stepped towards them, only to have Horatio grab her arm, gripping it hard enough to bruise.
‘What did you say?’ he hissed at her, his features twisted into ugliness by his expression.
‘I said, no. My father and I will have to find another way. I’ll not marry you, and I don’t give a fig for the scandal.’
‘You’ll be ruined,’ he growled. ‘Your father will rot in prison.’
‘I’ll sell Trevan,’ Amelia retorted, surprised to see the sudden panic in his eyes. Did his uncommon interest in her lie with Trevan House? What could a man as wealthy and connected as Lord Winters care for this remote little place? In spite of her retort she knew that if her father’s debts were as heavy as he said then the sale of Trevan would barely scratch the surface.
‘You’ll do no such thing. You will either give yourself willingly,’ Horatio warned her, the look in his eyes sending a tremor of fear through her, ‘or I’ll drag you upstairs and take what’s been promised me.’
‘You can’t,’ Amelia said wildly. ‘I’m promised to someone else.’
Even if he was about to send me away
, she thought. Horatio however merely laughed. ‘Is that what you’ve been doing up here, my dear? Playing the whore? All the more reason for you to be taken in hand, then.’
Amelia spat at him. ‘I’d rather be a whore,’ she retorted, ‘than your wife.’
The blow came so quickly she barely saw it coming, just a blur in front of her face as Horatio backhanded her viciously. She heard Sally scream, and then through the ringing in her ears as she fell sideways to the floor heard a bellow of rage. Dazed, she saw a tall strong figure with a shock of red hair barrel into Horatio.
Jasper. He had come for her after all. He thrust Horatio up against the wall, a hand at his throat.
‘Put your hands where I can see them, or I’ll choke the traitorous bastard,’ Jasper snarled at Horatio’s henchman. ‘You, girl, go and fetch help.’ Sally did as she was bidden, running the way Jasper had come. Amelia sat herself up, her head ringing, and Horatio, even though his face was reddening under Jasper’s grip still managed to sneer at her.
‘So this is who you’ve been whoring for, some petty Scots bastard,’ he wheezed. Jasper tightened his grip.
‘The name,’ he all but growled at Horatio, ‘is Lord Glendir, and if you call her a whore again, I’ll string you up before the Law gets the chance. Oh yes,’ he nodded as Horatio’s eyes widened in surprise, ‘I know all about your dealings with the French. You’ll not get either Amelia or access to the smuggling trails.’
‘Smuggling trails?’ Amelia was confused. Jasper nodded grimly, keeping his gaze firmly on Horatio.
‘Lord Winters here—’ he practically spat the man’s name ‘—has been selling arms to France. After operations were discovered and shut down in Cornwall, they were planning on using the old smugglers’ caves nearby. This double-dealing traitor doesn’t like getting his own hands dirty and has managed to elude us. Until now. Perhaps if you weren’t so arrogant,’ he addressed Horatio, ‘you would have realized we were on your trail.’
Amelia drew in a sharp breath as things suddenly fell into place. That explained why Horatio had been so eager to marry her that he was even prepared to bail out her father; he wanted the control of her lands—and the smugglers’ trails that led onto them—that being her husband would give him. But what was Jasper’s involvement in all this? That knowledge too seemed suddenly all too obvious. He was a spy for the Crown. That explained his absences and the mysterious reputation—and why he had been so guarded with her. Amelia pressed a hand to her still-ringing head as she tried to take in this new revelation.
The scarred-faced man, who had been sidling his way towards the front door hoping to make his escape before Sally returned with help, had stopped and looked over at the two men, his expression one of disgust.
‘What’s all this about the French? You told me we were ‘ere to fetch yer woman. I’ll not work for some Frenchie.’
Jasper turned slightly at the man’s words, and although he kept his arm firmly at Horatio’s throat, he left just enough space between their bodies that Amelia saw the captured Lord Winters slide a hand into his overcoat.
‘Jasper!’ she screamed in warning just as the shot rang out, deafening in the small hallway. As if in slow motion she saw her lover fall and scrambled to her feet to run to him, only for a triumphantly leering Horatio to grab her, pistol still in hand.
He made as if to drag her off, Amelia struggling against him, panicking at the sight of a deathly still Jasper crumpled on the floor, blood spreading like a crimson flower across his white shirt.
Then Vimes was in front of her, the butt of his shotgun pressed right into Horatio’s gut. Horatio looked pleadingly at his henchman, who promptly strode over, but not to offer him aid. Rather he swung one meaty fist straight into Horatio’s jaw crumpling him like a tower of cards.
‘Good job,’ Vimes acknowledged gruffly. Amelia ran to Jasper’s side, her pulse roaring in her ears. Thank God, his eyelids fluttered as she knelt next to him.
‘Amelia.’ He opened those beautiful green eyes to look at her and smiled weakly. ‘Stay with me,’ he said before lapsing into unconsciousness.
* * *
When he came to, he was in Amelia’s bed, his side bandaged and throbbing, with Amelia next to him holding his hand in hers. She leaned over him in both concern and delight as she saw him wake.
‘Don’t try to sit up,’ she admonished as he attempted to do just that, ‘the doctor said it’s a flesh wound only but you’ve lost a lot of blood.’
‘Horatio?’ he asked. Amelia smiled.
‘Vimes locked him up in the pantry until the law came. They’ve taken him to Edinburgh, awaiting your evidence. I’m sure you’ll have a lot of people to talk to, my brave spy, but not yet.’ She pushed him gently back down as he once more attempted to raise himself up and kissed him lightly on the lips.
With surprising strength for one wounded he pulled her down with his good side and kissed her back passionately, then pulled away and looked seriously at her until she blushed under his intent gaze.
‘I meant what I said before. I want you to stay. As my wife.’