A Regency Novel
Fleeing arrest by a spurned suitor, Lady Riana Travistock heads for London where she is knifed in a street brawl when she helps a man attacked by footpads. Luckily for Lady Riana, the victim of the attack is army surgeon Captain Devlin Carrington who takes her home to tend her injury.
When Dev cuts off her blood-soaked chemise to suture the wound, a fortune in jewels spill onto the blood soaked sheet. Has he saved a lovely jewel thief only to watch her hang?
Riana claims the jewels as her own. Worried about the consequences of their situation–she is a lady and he is the son of a baron–she tells Dev she ran away from her abusive husband who is a jewel merchant. Although captivated by his lovely patient, Dev investigates her story.
Can these two go against society’s conventions to grab the lives they desire?
Dorking, England 1811
The heavy brass door knocker banged against the front door, startling Lady Riana Travistock into dropping the two portmanteaus. They thumped to the bare wood floor at her feet while she frowned at the door. Since the last of the household servants had left yesterday, she would have to answer the summons. Stalking across the foyer, she paused long enough to curve her mouth into a polite smile before opening the door.
“My dear Lady Riana!”
The smile froze on her face. Sir Hector Stalkings was supposed to be in London, not Dorking. An unladylike expletive exploded in her brain. She tried to soften her smile, but her mouth felt as starched as the cravat around Sir Hector’s thick neck. “Sir Hector, what a…pleasant surprise.”
Peering beyond her into the shadowed hallway, his brown gaze swept the room, stopping at the bags bunched on the inlaid oak floor. “What I hear is true? You’re leaving us?”
Gossamer wings of panic unfurled in her breast. She had hoped to escape Dorking without seeing her father’s friend. “You heard correctly. Pennywise and I are booked on this afternoon’s stagecoach.”
“Thank goodness I returned from London before you left,” he said.
Good manners forced her backward when he started through the door. The scent of the late June roses blooming along the front portico wafted into the hall behind cloying waves of his Canterbury violet perfume.
“Stricken,” he said, “absolutely stricken to hear you and Mrs. Pennywise have been forced to leave your home.”
The wings of distress flapped against her ribs with the power of a kestrel fighting to be airborne as Sir Hector stepped into the foyer. Only years of deportment lessons kept its drumming beat out of her voice.
“Thank you for your sentiments, but Mrs. Pennywise and I quite look forward to this change in our lives.”
“Look forward to the change! How can you? I hear Pennywise is to retire to her sister’s home in Woking. And you have secured a teaching position in London. What a brave face you have put on this disaster.” Sir Hector shook his head as he closed the front door. “‘Tis a sad day when Lady Riana Travistock is reduced to teaching someone else's brats.”
He hadn’t heard the complete truth, but no one in Dorking knew about the jewels except her and Pennywise. Once Riana reached London and converted them to cash, Pennywise would have a pension and Riana was off to Canada and the Wentworth Academy for Young Ladies. Her own school! Her head swam at the idea of such independence.
Sir Hector took her arm while she woolgathered, his touch slamming her back to reality. “Please, Lady Riana, there is no reason for you to leave Thistledowns,” he said, guiding her toward the drawing room. “We must talk.”
She dug her heels into the worn wood floor.
His pudgy fingers tightened their grip, but he paused.
“We cannot go into the drawing room,” she said. “It isn’t proper for me to be alone with you.” Rule Number One, the single most important rule branded into every young woman’s brain from birth. She may detest the rules, but she knew them all.
“Come now, Lady Riana.” He patted her arm with his free hand while his tone dripped with paternal condescension. “Some rules are made to be broken.”
She wanted to swat away his hand as she had wanted for years to swat him out of her life. His presence made her as uncomfortable now as it had since she was a child. She had never liked the way he watched her when he thought no one was looking.
The jewels hidden in her shift kept her quiet.
“An ardent suitor,” he continued, “cannot be denied time alone with the object of his desire.”
Ardent suitor? The strong sweep of panic’s wings started their flight anew in her chest.
"Alone?” She resisted when Sir Hector pulled on her upper arm. “But we cannot…” Her small frame had no hope of stopping his heftier body.
“Now, now, there is no reason to play the coy young miss with me. You know as well as I that my suit was postponed out of courtesy for your period of mourning. I’m sure you had quite given up on me or you would never have taken a teaching position.”
“I did not know.” She disliked the frightened tremor in her voice.
None too gently, he pulled her into the drawing room and pushed her into the nearest chair. “There is no need for you to worry about your future any longer.”
The words trailed in his wake as he recrossed the room and closed the double doors. When she heard a faint click, every cell in her body sounded an alarm. Had he locked the doors? Apprehension prickled through the hairs on her neck. She perched on the edge of the chair, folding her hands primly in her lap. He left her little choice but to hear him out. A marriage proposal, a refusal, and he would leave.
He turned, tugging at his cravat with his right hand. An expensive but gaudy ruby and gold ring glittered with the motion. She consoled herself with the knowledge that his impeccable manners made him quite the local favorite. Why, if he asked for the hand of one of Lady Blythington’s numerous daughters, he’d be wed before the words were out of his mouth.
With a tiny creak of stays, he walked toward her. When he dropped ponderously to one knee a scant foot away, she edged back in the chair.
“Indeed, Sir Hector, you must not.”
“Oh, but I must.” He untangled her right hand, tugging it free of its death grip on her left hand.
The warmth of his touch seeped through the thin leather of her glove, distracting her from embarrassment at their shabby appearance.
Drawing a deep breath, he addressed her hand. “My dear Lady Riana, you must be aware of my admiration. I have known your family for many years and have watched you mature into a gentle lady of quality. Last year, I wanted to tell you how I felt, but your father’s illness stilled my tongue. Then, God rest his soul, he died. I remained silent out of respect for your period of mourning.”
Sir Hector’s position revealed the efforts of his valet, who had tried to cover a balding patch on the crown of his employer’s head by combing long strands of dyed hair across it. The youthful sheen of black hair contrasted sharply with the puffy creases age had etched into the jowly face he now turned up to her.
“I can no longer be quiet,” he said as he took her hand and placed it over his heart. “Not when my beloved faces being thrown penniless out of her very home. Not when she is forced to toil for the food she eats. Please, Lady Riana, let me restore you to your rightful place in society. Say you will marry me.”
“Oh, Sir Hector.” Lowering her gaze, she pulled her hand free. The scent of violets shrouded the air between them. “Please rise. I do not know what to think. To do.”
“Do what is best for you. Marriage to me will ensure your least desire is met. After all, I am a wealthy man.”
Befuddled female didn’t come easy, but she gave it her valiant best. “You do me such honor. But really, a marriage proposal, I truly did not expect it.”
He patted her knee. Her heart slammed into a higher pace. The cologne and his proximity crowded her. She wanted to push him over backward so she could breathe.
“Your father approved my suit. In fact, he told me it pleased him greatly to know his daughter would be cared for after he died.”
What a plumper! Her father had ceased caring for her after his sole male heir died in that ridiculous gun accident.
“I could not speak my heart while you were in mourning,” Sir Hector said, “but your father promised me your hand in marriage.”
The words hung in the air, their graveyard stench overlain with the sickly sweet scent of the oppressive Canterbury violet perfume. Her father’s animosity reached out from the grave to clamp a cold hand around her heart. He never forgave her for living while his heir died. Not content to ruin the estate, now he had found a way to ruin her life. A molten flare of anger devoured the pain of betrayal and rejection. Her father was dead. No laws of obedience bound her now.