|DAUGHTER OF DECEIT|
I wanted to write a different blog, but I have been advised not to write what I want to at the moment. Instead, I will leave you will this. I now have an editor. Whispers of a Legend, Part Three- Vision of Destiny will be released fully edited in March along with a printed copy Whispers of a Legend, Volume I. I am pulling the first three installments into one book. Also, I have plans to put Daughter of Deceit into print after it's edited.
As I promised...
Daughter of Deceit
The carriage trundled through the falling darkness. Alyce braced herself on the edge of her seat while the wheels beneath her slowed. Thank all that was good! The journey had stretched on too long, far too long. Her head pounded. Her body ached from the rough roads she had traveled in a short period of time. She pushed up the blind and saw the lights of an inn, a lively inn from the looks of things.
Lights and people, more people than she had seen in the last two days. Surely this quaint inn was close to civilization. She prayed they would stay the night. She had not seen a bed in ever so long. She needed to rest and wanted never set foot into a carriage again, if the truth be known. At least not in present company.
She stared across at her companions. Dear old Uncle Munford had succumbed to travel fatigue; he slept soundly for most of the journey this day. The moment the carriage stopped, she watched his head rise from the side of the carriage. He glanced over at his wife, Emma, where in truth Alyce’s immediate worry lay.
The elderly woman sat clasping her head in her hands. Alyce feared she was about to have an attack of apoplexy. Over the last eight years of living with Aunt Emma, Alyce had come to know the signs well of an eruption. Not that Alyce hadn’t expected as such, not after the week they had endured. But she had no time for an outburst. Immediately upon the carriage halting, Alyce’s hand was upon the door.
“Alyce, now don’t go and…” Uncle Munford’s word drifted off quietly. His hand rounded his wife.
“Dear uncle,” she said, using the endearment even though neither Mumford nor his wife was her true relation. “You know my concern and the answers I seek do not lie in Whickhoe.”
“You know well that Colonel Tolworthy specifically ordered you to Whickhoe.”
The door opened before Alyce attempted a response, but she made no secret of her extravagant eye-roll upon the mention of her guardian. Her imaginary guardian, if you asked her. Why, over the years she had seen him only a handful of times and never for more than a week’s visit. She pulled the hood to her cloak over her head and exited the carriage to the cool night’s air.
She paused for a moment, glancing at the sign hanging outside the entrance door, and entered the Cat and the Fiddle Inn. She hadn’t the foggiest idea where they were, but she hoped it was not too far outside of
. She had to get to London . London
She looked back at the bustle of an attendant upon their post chaise. Behind him there was a fresh change of horses. Oh, good Lord! Within minutes they would be on their way once more. Not if she could help it. She could not abide another minute in that carriage with her two companions. Besides, she had to get to
or at the very least send a message to Charles. She had to. London
Alyce mounted the stairs and walked into the inn without a thought. Immediately, she noticed her entry seemed to garner unwanted attention. She glanced around to find several eyes inspecting her from head to toe. Her face warmed to their scrutiny. She had not the experience of staying at an inn. The bold gazes from the men and the assumptions implied by their stares unnerved her, but she couldn’t let her discomfort keep her from her intent.
She looked back over her shoulder to see if Uncle Munford followed her, but for the life of her, he was nowhere to be seen. He must be attending to Aunt Emma, she thought. She swallowed hard and gathered herself. Her eyes swept across the crowded inn, looking around the room until she found what she assumed would be the innkeeper.
Unsure exactly what was expected of her, she moved to the side of the man, a rather hefty man with round red cheeks, and asked for two chambers for the night. To her dismay, the man turned upon her, scowling. He did not bother to hide his grimace at her appearance. She wanted to bolt.
“Do you have companions traveling with you?”
His tone did nothing to ease her anxiety. All the years she had lived under the same roof as Uncle Munford and Aunt Emma, she had learned to handle situations on her own. She had little choice if she wanted to eat or keep warm. She would handle this as well. Determined, she pushed back the hood of her cloak.
“My uncle is seeing to my aunt. She fell ill upon our journey. They will be in here in a moment, I’m certain, and will need a room.”
The man frowned. His mouth tightened while his eyes shifted over her in the most uncomfortable manner. “I get paid up front.”
Her eyes widened in mortification. She may not have been socially adept, but she knew well she had been insulted. Her body stiffened. She hadn’t even asked if the stagecoach into
stopped here. She drew herself up to her full height and mustered all her
indignation over his slight. “I take from your manners you have issue with me.
If that is your position, rest assured I will not bother you further…” London
Her words faded when Uncle Munford entered, hunched over with his arms tightly around Aunt Emma. She walked hastily back to them.
“Done told ’em to just put up the horses. We’ll be staying. Colonel Tolworthy won’t like it one bit, but got no choice here, not with Emma so sick and all.”
“I thought as much myself and have already asked for rooms. I’m sorry, uncle, but the gentleman apparently has none available for us. We will have to continue.”
Uncle Mumford shook his wrinkled drawn face. “Can’t, Alyce. My Emma isn’t in any shape to continue. Done gone and overdone it again. Upset and all, what with the fire.”
Oh! The smell of his sour breath overwhelmed her. She wanted nothing more than to huddle in a corner and disappear. Oh, why had Lord Cranleigh insisted upon these two escorting her? She would have been better to have traveled alone! She sighed heavily. Nothing could be done differently now. She would have to make the best of it.
Alyce’s hand rested on Uncle Munford’s back. “I will not stay here, Uncle. Why, that man insulted me when I tried to get our rooms!”
Her voice rose. She didn’t care. She was tired, hungry, and scared. Oh, terribly scared. Uncle Munford didn’t understand. It was why she had to get to
Charles would understand the minute he heard about the fire. He would realize,
as she did, that the fire was no accident. London
“Ain’t goin’ nowhere, child. Did you tell ’em you’re Colonel Montague Tolworthy’s ward?” he glanced back at her. “You didn’t, by the look of you.”
Upon his reprimand, Alyce felt a tightness in the back of her throat that signaled tears. She fought them back, but her attempt turned futile. A moment later silent tears slid from the corners of her brown eyes.
“Excuse me,” a male voice said from behind her. “Perhaps I can be of service.”
Alyce turned. Straight way, she recognized the man was a gentleman. Without question his presence dominated the room. The man towered over her, a good six feet in height, with a broad physique. Devastating handsome, he was dressed in a simple but elegant, fashion: a gentleman of quality. But all of a sudden he looked dangerous to her when her eyes met his. For a moment she paused. Something about him seemed familiar...the eyes, the build. She had the distinct impression she had met him before, but that was quite impossible.
The man flashed a smile as if to reassure her. She wasn’t reassured at all.
“Pardon me. Let me introduce myself. I’m Lord Julian Casvelyn. I couldn’t help but overhear Colonel Tolworthy’s name mentioned. Is it Colonel Montague Tolworthy from Evermonde?”
Only half listening to the gentleman, she avoided looking directly into his eyes as she spoke, “Yes, I’m his ward, Alyce H…”
“Miss Alyce Rufford, my Lord,” Munford interrupted. He gave Alyce a sharp glance to silence her and bowed his head the best he could while holding his wife in his arms. “Munford Cummings, my Lord. My wife, Emma. Alyce has been in our care. Unfortunately, the cottage that had been our home burnt to the ground last week. The Colonel sent word for her to withdraw to his estate. No where else to go.”
A slow smile spread across his face. “But of course not. And you tarry from?”
“A small village outside of
“You have traveled a great distance,” his tone abrupt and sharp. “Come. I know the Colonel well. I will take care of this misunderstanding.” He turned to Munford. “Your wife is ill?”
Alyce stood silently. She watched the stranger see to their accommodations, ignoring the glances he cast her way. She wasn’t sure what was expected of a lady in this circumstance, but if the gentleman thought she was impressed with his interference, she wasn’t. She had only one thought.
Reaching into the pocket within her cloak, she clutched tightly to her letter addressed to her dear friend, Lissa. She needed desperately to get the message to Charles. Lissa would give it to him, she was certain. It was the only way she knew he would receive it. Oh, whatever was she going to do?
A moment later, the innkeeper gestured for Alyce to follow him up the stairs. She hesitated. She needed to send the letter. She glanced over her shoulder. She would never get to send it if she retired to her room.
“Do you have another issue, Miss Rufford?” Lord Casvelyn asked from behind her.
She turned to find him beside her.
“If you are concerned about letting the Colonel know of your progress, rest assured I will be sending him a message shortly.”
She wished he hadn’t moved so close to her. His gaze all but skewered her and greatly unsettled her; she could feel an intensity of interest emanating from him. She stirred in response to his gaze. She pressed her lips together, unable to immediately respond. She thought how Charles would laugh at her and remind her how naïve she was to be affected by this stranger. It annoyed her that she was susceptible to his allure. Stop acting like a ninny!
“I believe I’m becoming indebted to you, my Lord. I’m certain the Colonel will be relieved to know we have made it this far under the circumstances.” Her eyes lowered staring at the letter. “It is my letter that concerns me. I need to have it delivered to my friend as soon as possible in
. I had hoped to
post it before I left but found I was unable to.” London
“You have stated you are Colonel Tolworthy’s ward. He would be greatly disappointed in my person if I didn’t care for your needs, I assure you.” He gave her another smile and seemed greatly amused at her expense. “What if I show you my good intentions? Do you want the note delivered to your friend?”
“Yes,” she said. Her manner eased slightly. “I would be so greatly appreciative. Can it be delivered immediately?”
“If it is that important to you, I will see to it.”
“She will get it tonight?” she questioned again before she handed him the letter.
“I will see to it, Miss Rufford.”
“Excuse me, ma’am,” a young lad interrupted her. “Is this all ya got?”
Alyce looked at the boy holding her valise. It must have seemed odd she had no trunks, only one valise which held all the items she could call her own. It was only by the goodness in Lady Cranleigh that she had any clothes at all. She nodded, but could not help but notice the look Lord Casvelyn directed toward her as the boy passed up the stairs. She said nothing more, but followed the lad up the stairs.
* * * *
Lord Julian Gillespie Vernon Casvelyn, the Earl of Pentilyon, and a host of all assorted titles, poured himself a glass of port. He drank down the entire contents while he pondered the information his man, Jamieson, had only just discovered on this Alyce Rufford. Still he wondered who the hell she was! To say he was taken quite by surprise when his grandfather’s name was mentioned as her guardian was an understatement. He had no doubt of her deception, for he would have well known if his grandfather had a ward.
In all, he had more questions than answers. It was no coincidence his grandfather had sent for him and now this young woman claimed to be his ward. No, he didn't believe in coincidences. He didn't believe in fate. He no longer believed in many things, not since he lost his brother, Roland. It had been eight long years since the death of his best friend...his twin. In that time he had lived with regret, guilt, and anger with so very little to give meaning to his life knowing his brother should have never died. The unfairness of it all!
Nor was he sure what to make of the information Jamieson had gathered. The coachmen who drove the carriage were in the employment of a baron from Lancefield, Lord Nigel Cranleigh. According to the information, Lord Cranleigh had requested the young lady be delivered to Colonel Montague Tolworthy in Whickhoe in quick measure. The men confirmed that his grandfather was indeed the girl's guardian, informing Jamieson that Colonel Tolworthy had ventured to Lancefield a few times in the past years.
One of the coachmen also confirmed that Alyce's note was intended to go to his employer's daughter, the Honorable Mrs. Melissa Breck, with whom Alyce seemed to have been educated. Not much else had he learned other than this Alyce Rufford lived a quiet existence until the fire. The whole of the cottage where she lived burnt to the ground in the dead of night a little over a week ago. Nothing was left, and it was fortunate that no lives were lost.
"Nothing else, Jamieson? I want to know of her. Who is she? Why is my grandfather her guardian and I know nothing of it?”
“I'm sorry, my Lord. I can’t answer that, my Lord. All know her as Alyce Rufford, a name which has no significance to any. It is thought your grandfather owed the girl’s father, perhaps a soldier’s daughter? He brought her to Lancefield seven or eight years ago. It may have been during the time of your lordship’s brother’s death. Perhaps your grandfather didn’t want to bother you with a triviality.”
Julian pondered the situation a moment more before deciding his next move. The lady had immediately caught his attention entering the inn unattended. Upon first glance she seemed intent upon her purpose, unaware of her surroundings or the attention she caused entering alone. His thoughts were of a meeting with a clandestine lover until she lowered the hood exposing her face for all to see.
No, she had the look of one lost, glancing around the room, unsure of what she sought. Lovely, he had thought, with her thick brunette hair upswept calling attention to those large expressive eyes. Her clothes were of quality, but quite out of style. Seeing her distress, he rose to offer help to the lady, only to be taken by surprise in hearing his own grandfather’s name mentioned. No, there was something peculiar going on here and only one could answer for him.
Julian pulled his watch out of his waist coat pocket. Almost nine o’clock. If he left now for Evermonde he would be there well ahead of the lady. He finished off another glass and turned to Jamieson. “Prepare to leave within the hour.”
* * * *
Alyce prepared for bed. The tray of food delivered for her sat untouched. Aunt Emma lay in the room next to hers, having succumbed to the vapors. Shortly after retiring to their rooms, Aunt Emma cried for Uncle Munford not to leave her.
"Perhaps, Alyce, it would be best if I took Emma to my room," Uncle Munford uttered, trying to calm his wife. "At least for a time."
Alyce agreed. But the walls between their rooms were thin, and she heard all their words clearly when they talked, even Aunt Emma's mumbled incoherently words.
"The Devil’s after her. Old Mistress Nancarrow warned me. She did."
"Now...now...Emma, Alyce's a sweet child. Nothin' wrong 'cept your nerves are on edge with the fire."
"Yes. Yes. The fire. Tell me how she knew, Munford. I'll tell you. A restless spirit. You think it too. It's best we go. Leave her."
"You silly woman. You listen too much to stupid superstition. She saved us. Here, here. Calm yourself. Drink."
After listening to the conversation between Aunt Emma and Uncle Munford, Alyce came to the realization that the two of them wanted nothing more than to hand her over to Colonel Tolworthy and relieve themselves of their responsibilities as fast as possible.
Old rumors and whispers reemerged after the fire. Devil's spawn, witches' child. What more did one expect in the
Alyce suddenly appeared one day out of nowhere? Not exactly nowhere, but no
place any could know. land
Alyce arrived in Lancefield unannounced in the dead of night on the doorsteps of the Cranleigh's manor. She stayed only a short time at the manor before she began her life on the moors in a small cottage...a life no longer her own. Lord Cranleigh set rules for her existence within Lancefield. A new name. A new life. Introduced to Uncle Munford and Aunt Emma, she was told in no uncertain terms to accept the story of their connection to her. She could do little else. She was no more than twelve at the time.
Lady Cranleigh made light of the rumors that rose from her appearance. The lady of the manor gave no credence to mystic legends of ghosts and demons. At the time, Alyce thought little of the others' stares upon her. She cared naught. Taken away from the only life she had known...the only people she had ever loved.
Over the years, the rumors died out. The whispers behind her back ceased until...until the fire. It destroyed more than the house she had lived in. The fire destroyed the illusion she had created that she could live without searching for the truth. She had tried. Charles had helped her, but his father quickly quenched her hunt for the life she had known.
Though in truth, strange things had begun to occur well before the fire, things that frightened Alyce. Dreams. She had dreamed before but not like this. So real. So terrifying.
Alyce crawled into bed, gripping tight to the covers around her. She had no desire to be alone, but Aunt Emma was in no shape to be pulled away from Uncle Munford and the comfort she sought from the bottle. The woman didn't want to be around her.
Laying her head down on the pillow, she heard commotion from the tavern beneath her. Down stairs the night had only begun by the sounds of the patrons. Sleep would not come easy this night.
Sleep had not come easy since the night of the fire. She shivered. The smell of the smoke hadn't left her. Sound asleep...if not for the voice calling to her.
Mary. Mary. Mary Alyce!
Alyce sprang up from the pillow. The feeling hit her-the same icy chill she had felt before. The same voice called to her, like the night of the fire. She hadn't dreamed it. She wasn't asleep. Glancing around the room, a chill encompassed her though the fire in the hearth illuminated warmth. Her heart pounded. She swallowed hard. Oh, she wished Aunt Emma was with her. Maybe she should check on her.
She eased off the bed. Walking in soft steps, she grasped her night robe over the chair by the fireplace. Suddenly she heard a sound. A quick glance behind her, she froze. The handle of the door turned...
Julian had certainly not expected his day to unfold as it had. He buttoned up his coat and closed the door behind him. Jamieson had his horse saddled and readied to ride. With the weather warming, the ride wouldn’t be unpleasant. Perhaps he could settle all quickly and return to
before the week’s end. Atkinson waited for his input on the situation arising
across the channel. London
Walking down the hall, loud voices echoed upward from the tavern below. He would not have found much sleep this night if he stayed not with the boisterous group that had arrived shortly after his encounter with Miss Rufford. Giving the quite respectable reputation of this inn, he wondered why the innkeeper allowed the disruption. Perhaps he should leave Jamieson to watch over Miss Rufford. He seriously doubted that her companions would deter any issues if they arose, not that any should. At this time of night, Miss Rufford should be tucked in soundly.
Turning the corner, a movement caught his eyes. Did his eyes deceive him? He could have sworn someone made a quick entrance into the far room down the hall. Frowning, he followed the direction of the distraction. On closer inspection he noticed the door slightly ajar. Moving nearer, he pressed the door back. Alarm crashed through him as he saw an intruder draw back his arm clutching tightly a knife which gleamed in the firelight.
“Bloody hell!” Julian cried, rushing forward. “Halt!”
Too late, the knife thrust downward toward the bed. A loud feminine scream emerged in the dimly lit room. He lunged for the assailant, knocking him down upon the floor. The assailant pushed back. The two tumbled, but Julian was stronger. His fist pounded upon the chin of the goon. Gripping the jacket of the man, Julian pulled the man upward.
Glancing back, a blow to his temple sent him sprawling. The impact sent him falling backward. Julian caught himself only to stare into a barrel of a pistol. A turmoil of movement caught his eyes. Suddenly cold water drenched him followed by a porcelain pitcher crashing to the floor. He grasped the gun, gripping the man’s wrist fighting desperately for control. A loud crack snapped through the chamber.
For a moment Julian felt nothing. He looked down. The sleeve to his coat scorched and torn, he uttered, “Damnation!”
Holding his arm, he watched the intruder up and run. He pulled back his hand and saw red blood oozing from the wound. Ignoring the searing pain, he ran out the door and scrambled down the corridor. Too late, the assailant was no where to be seen. Footsteps pounded down the stairs. Excited shouts came echoed from below.
Through the assembly of souls accumulating within the corridor, Jamieson emerged.
“My Lord!” he raced to his side. “Your arm!”
“Yes, yes, Jamieson. Some intruders broke into that room with a knife,” Julian pointed to the open door. His voice carried over the onslaught of noise surrounding him. “Did you see them? One was a large burly fellow in a black cape. We need to…”
“There is no need, my Lord.” The innkeeper pushed through the men wearing an expression of worry. Relief replaced it. “I saw the man. He rode off with his two friends, heading on the road toward
The scum! I’ll have my man call for the justice of the peace. The villains!” London
The innkeeper attention turned to Julian’s bloody arm. He turned and snapped his fingers. “Tomais, send after the surgeon. His lordship has been wounded.”
“There is no need,” Julian eyed the man with contempt. It was too late to rectify his gratification, not with being shot. The innkeeper reached toward Julian's arm to examine the damage.
“Get your hands off of me!” Julian commanded, swinging around. “It was not me the assailants were after. It was the occupant of the room. I saw someone entered and discovered the foe stabbing the poor soul in the bed.”
Ignoring the gathering of curiosity seekers in the corridor, he skirted back into the room and looked at the bed. Feathers littered the room. Water soaked the floor, but his eyes lit on the figure by the fire. Standing in her night gown and wrap, she looked up at him. Her face reflected in the firelight, soft and feminine, very feminine.
He didn't say anything but stared at her with thoughts running rapid in his mind...things that he shouldn't even be thinking about at this moment. She looked so vulnerable with her hair falling down her back, her figure silhouetted by the firelight, her eyes so expressive...so desirable...
His grandfather’s ward. He stepped forward toward her. Her eyes brimmed with tears and the hand covering her mouth shook.
“Are you injured?” he asked, glancing again around the chamber to ensure there wasn’t another assailant hiding. Satisfied, he looked back at her and asked again. “Are you injured?”
She spoke no words, but shook her head.
He nodded in response. Where was her aunt? Good lord had her companions left her alone at the inn? Then from behind him he heard the innkeeper entered with her companions in tow, gripping tight to each other. Julian stepped back in disgust, bombarded by the odor of rum.
One hand against the wall, the lady grasped her husband for support. “You…you. Cursed. I have always known you were cursed.” Her wrinkled old hand gripped her husband's coat. She cried. “I told you. The Devil is after her. I told you she’s marked.”
“Quiet, Emma!” Uncle Munford uttered under his breath.
The innkeeper pushed aside the two, pointing a finger at the lady. “I knew you were trouble the moment you walked in. Here I am trying to run a respectable establishment…”
“Shut up, you dim-witted simpleton! I spoke for the lady. Do you question the word of a gentleman? More I would say to your establishment for letting in those ruffians wanting to harm the lady,” Julian snapped. He would have none of fostering the blame for the innkeeper’s failings upon his grandfather’s ward.
The innkeeper backed away.
“I beg your forgiveness, Lord Casvelyn. I had my misgivings, but the lot of them gave reference to his Grace, Lord Roger Sinclair. They presented his card.”
“I doubt seriously if any had connections to Lord Sinclair!” Julian uttered in a loud angry voice.
“They paid upfront,” the innkeeper said, lowering his objection. Instead his intent turned to one of defensive of his own station. He turned to the door. “They will not bother anyone again this night. I will see to it.”
“As will my man,” Julian nodded toward Jamieson. “Let me know when the justice’s men arrive.”
“It may well be the morning before any arrive, my Lord,” the innkeeper hesitated before offering the information.
Julian sighed. His frustration weighed upon each breath. The man had no desire to interrupt the justice’s sleep!
“Jamieson, the men are long gone, but go see if any recognized any of the assailants,” Julian commanded.
Julian watched until Jamieson disappeared down the stairs. He turned back to find the innkeeper fidgeting in the same spot.
“If you do not want the surgeon called forth, do you need attention for your arm?” the innkeeper asked.
“Send up fresh water and clean cloth,” Julian said removing his hand from the wound. The bleeding had slowed. “Now, pray leave.”
“What of the lady?” The man glanced over at the silent woman and her companions in disdain. “I do not want them wandering about my property. They have caused enough commotion…”
“I would hold my tongue. My patience is worn. I will handle the situation. I expect you will take care that the magistrate is prompt in his attention to the assailants. Leave now.”
Julian dismissed the man with such firm authority that the innkeeper straight away withdrew taking the remaining audience with him.
Julian closed the door. His eyes fixed on his grandfather’s ward. Trouble for certain! Oh, what had his grandfather gotten himself into becoming her guardian?
“I’ll not take her,” the old woman cried wobbling toward him. She waved her hands in a disordered fashion. “No. We’ll all be struck dead…"
“Shut her up,” Julian demanded turning his attention back to the problem before him. He wasted no time trying to talk sense to the inebriated old woman. He directed his words at her husband. “Take her and her ranting away from me. I will not tolerate such nonsense.”
He turned his attention back to his grandfather's ward. The lady made no effort to detain her companions. Impatient, he gestured for her to come with him.
“Come I will not find the answers I seek within this room.”
At first he thought she was going to protest, but her eyes fell upon his wound. She followed him timidly down the hall back into his chamber. He almost kicked the door opened. After she entered, he slammed the door soundly behind them, shaking the wall.
Julian sat on the bed. Wincing, he slid off his wet waistcoat and tore off the remnants of his tattered shirt sleeve. Upon closer examination, the bullet had only grazed him, but well scorched his arm. Not a pretty sight, blackened and bloodied.
“Do you want me to care for it?”
He looked over at her. In the better light of his room, he found his opinion of her changed little. She had a flawless complexion enhanced by the silkiness of her long dark eyelashes. Her wavy long hair hung loose framing her oval face. Brown eyes were illuminated with fear and trembles shook her. She looked like a sacrificial virgin waiting to be offered to the gods, frightened half out of her mind.
The door opened without a knock, bringing him back to his immediate needs. He turned to see a maid scurry in. She quickly bobbed a curtsy to Julian and placed a basin and bucket of water near the table by the bed. She laid clean cloths on the mattress. She hurried out closing the door behind her, but not before giving Alyce a strange stare.
“I should well send for your aunt. It will be bad enough..."
“Neither are my true relations. If I'm not mistaken, I believe they are quite relieved to be done with me," she said bluntly.
"I find it difficult to believe that Colonel Tolworthy would have hired two such as the ones that were escorting you."
"I don't believe he cared, my Lord. I haven't seen Colonel Tolworthy for two years. I have been an obligation at best."
His face fell in disbelief of her frank words. Who was this woman to talk in his manner about his grandfather?
"Miss Rufford, Colonel Tolworthy is a gentleman. No matter the obligation, he would have well seen to your needs. I'll be damned if I'll condemn the Colonel for behavior that I have had no knowledge of the circumstances. I find it even harder to believe that a young gentlewoman has assailants after her for no reason."
He grimaced upon his utterance for expelling his frustration he caused his arm to bleed once more. He swallowed hard not to let a groan escape in his attempt to take his damp shirt off. She moved toward him.
“Here let me help,” she said. Her attention fixed firmly on his wound. Her soft hands pulled the tattered fabric from his injury. “It needs to be washed and dressed properly.”
He leaned up, pulled his shirt out of his pants, and then unbuttoned it. A moment later his ragged shirt lay on the bed and she began cleansing the wound.
If she was shocked to see him half-naked, she did not show it. Neither did she flinch at the sight of the gash the shot left. Calmly and efficiently, she washed and dressed the wound. Her face showed no emotion while she went through the motions.
“Are you going to tell me who attempted to kill you?” he asked.
Seemingly too shocked and frightened to endeavor to come up with another version of the happenings, she breathed out deeply, but said nothing. She kept washing. With his other hand, he stopped her.
"You stated you are Colonel Tolworthy’s ward. Since he is not here, you are left in my care. Come, you must have suspected something. You weren’t in the bed. I take it that you did attempt to disarm the scoundrels with the end result of my being drenched.”
She gazed mutely down. Refusing to accept silence, Julian looked directly at young woman and lifted her face with a firm hold. Making no effort to withdraw from him, she shifted her eyes back to his. He smiled at her for it was impossible not to and waited for her reply. Finally, she spoke.
“I must apologize for dousing you. It was not my intent. I meant to hit him. He was readied to shoot you. It was all I had within reach. I quite forgot it was filled with water…” She drew in a deep breath. Then in an obvious attempt to change the subject, she said. “This isn’t proper. Far from it, my Lord.”
“Without question. Highly inappropriate, but it is not often that an attempt is made on one’s life. Is it? I'll make an effort to find someone to see to you after our talk. But at this time of the night, it may well be that I can only offer you this room and my protection. I will stand guard at the front door.”
She hesitated then nodded, but offered no insight to her dilemma. Only her eyes...her eyes held fear in them. He pressed her, “Since your companions aren’t in any shape to see to your needs, it would seem the duty falls to me.”
“Oh, please, my Lord, what do you want me to say? I apologize. I didn’t mean to put you into the middle of this. In truth, none of this would have happened if I had gone to
Lissa, as was my wish. She would see to my well being, but the Colonel’s note
detailed I go straight way to Evermonde. I’m certain if he realized that my
welfare could be seen to by another, he would have no objections.” London
Again her words took him by surprise insinuating that his grandfather ignored her care. “The Colonel doesn’t see to your welfare?”
"You misunderstand,” her voice quivered. She watched him with caution, guarding her words. “He sees to my care, if that is what you are asking. But truthfully, I have only met Colonel Tolworthy a few times in my life. I was fostered upon him. I believe he would be quite content without the problems I present, but it will not be for much longer. I’m sure you are not interested in my story, although I am deeply appreciative of your defense of me this night.”
“Then you are mistaken that I do not want to know your story. I do not take lightly being shot at for an unknown reason.”
“Then pray forgive me. I trust few and none that I do not know,” she said.
His eyes blazed at her for dismissing his request. Taking the clothe from her hand, he took her hand in his. “This isn’t a request, Alyce Rufford. This isn’t a game. Do you not believe that the events beg for an explanation? I need to know what I’m dealing with.”
She tried to withdraw her hand, but he tightened his grip. She said in a voice not much louder than a whisper, “It is not your concern, my Lord. Nor is it the Colonel’s. And who are you to answer for him. A relative of some sort?”
"Yes," he said. He had no desire to divulge more. "He has never mentioned you."
A slight laugh escaped her lips. "Are you asking me why he would have done so? I'm sorry if you are looking for information from me. I hold none. I have only been told what to do and not to do. And learning about my past has to do with the latter."
"The Colonel knows of your life before I take it and he has not offered it you?" He edged closer to her.
"I know who I am," she said defensively. This time her eyes met his unwavering. "My father looked after my needs before his death. I'm not poor. In fact I have only a few more months than I will have my inheritance and will not be a burden on the Colonel. I will not be beholden to anyone."
“Then what have you done to cause someone to seek your life?” His face set in a stern expression.
Suddenly the day’s events took its toll upon her. He watched her legs buckle beneath her. She sat down beside him, shaking her head.
“Perhaps, my Lord, perhaps I do have need of you at the moment. Your assumption is correct. Someone wants me dead. I had thought the fire was set. I told Lord Cranleigh, but he thought that Aunt Emma in one of her episodes had started it. I wrote the Colonel to let me go to
She paused, running her trembling hand through her hair. “You would not
understand. You know where you come from, your family. What if all was taken
away from you? What if all you had thought true was taken from you?” London
“We all have our burdens to bear, Miss Rufford. What has that got to do with someone trying to kill you?”
Defiantly, she pushed back the hair from her face. “Because, my lord, I want to right the wrong of my father’s death.”