My Regency romance, His: Two Regency Novellas is available on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. The book contains two novellas (each between 60,000 – 65,000 words). The first is “His American Heartsong.” It is the story Lawrence Lowery, the future Baron of Blakehell, and Arabella Tilney. Some of you may recognize Lowery as Sir Carter Lowery’s older brother in my Realm series. Many asked for more on how Law and Arabella came together. The second is “His Irish Eve.” The main character, Adam Lawrence, is my “go-to” guy. Adam makes appearances in nine of my novels and plays an integral part in The Phantom of Pemberley. This story is what happens to Adam after he released his mistress at the end of Phantom.
The Deepest Love Is Always Unexpected
His American Heartsong
Lawrence Lowery has been the dutiful elder son his whole life, but when his father Baron Blakehell arranges a marriage with the insipid Annalee Dryburgh, Lowery must choose between his responsibility to his future estate and the one woman who makes sense in his life. By Society’s standards, Arabella Tilney is completely wrong to be the future Baroness–she is an American hoyden, who demands that Lowery do the impossible: Be the man he has always dreamed of being. (A Novella from the Realm Series
His Irish Eve
When the Earl of Greenwall demands his only son, Viscount Stafford, retrieve the viscount’s by-blow, everything in Adam Lawrence’s life changes. Six years prior, Lawrence had released his former mistress Cathleen Donnell from his protection, only to learn in hindsight Cathleen was with child. Lawrence arrives in Cheshire to discover not only a son, but also two daughters, along with a strong-minded woman, who fascinates him from the moment of their first encounter. Aoife Kennice, the children’s caregiver, is a woman impervious to Adam’s usual tricks and ruses as one of England’s most infamous rakes. But this overconfident lord is about to do battle: A fight Adam must win–a fight for the heart of a woman worth knowing.
Chapter One of “His American Heartsong”
“I think…if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.”
– Leo Tolstoy
“What do you mean, you left them above Derwerth?” Lawrence Lowery demanded. “Please tell me you have more sense than to leave three women alone on the mountain!”
“But two of them be Americans, Your Lordship.” The coachman frantically worked his hat’s rim.
Lowery, who stiffened at the groundless denunciation, turned to his father Baron Blakehell. “Did you hear that? It is acceptable to treat these women with no respect because two are Americans! What the bloody hell does that mean?” He loomed over the hired driver.
Lowery stalked away from the man. He told the estate steward, Mr. Beauchamp, to find out what else the imbecile knew and then angrily turned toward the stable. “I require my horse and another for a coach immediately, Sack. I want, at least, ten men saddled and ready to ride within a quarter hour,” he barked out orders.
“Yes, Your Lordship.” The head groomsman hustled to do his bidding.
Lowery spoke privately to the baron, “I must go.”
“You might send Beauchamp and the men,” his father counseled. “There is no need for you to face the danger yourself, Lawrence.”
Lowery touched the baron’s arm encouragingly. Although his father was still quite spry for a man of his age, Lawrence realized the time for his succession drew nearer. “You know I must, Father. I would not count myself a gentleman if I left three ladies in danger.” Lawrence knew what it meant to be lost in the hills surrounding his estate. At age ten, he thought himself quite grown when he set off on a dare toward the summit. He had not made it more than a mile into the wilderness before becoming disoriented. It had taken his father some six hours to find him, and Lawrence could still recall the fear bubbling in his throat. He could not imagine being both a woman and an outsider and to be lost in England’s famous Peak District.
“I understand.” Blakehell turned toward the manor house. “You will take care, Lawrence. Remember you are my heir.”
Law had heard those words his whole life. “You always have Carter.” Lawrence could not control his constant need to deflect his father’s demands on him.
“I love my youngest child,” the baron began, “but Carter is not the right person for this title.” Which only meant Carter had defied their father on more than one front–something Lawrence rarely did. “Besides, Carter has his property now; he does not require this one.”
“Yes, Father.” He knew the baron meant well, but Lawrence could not spend his life locked in the house, afraid to risk the title. That was the reason his mother had delivered forth Lawrence’s younger brother Carter after the three sisters they shared–an heir and a spare, as the old adage went.
* * *
“How long must we wait for that stupid man to return?” Abigail Tilney complained for the fifth time in an hour. She despised any form of discomfort. It was for her wellbeing that they had taken the small coach when traveling on horseback would have been more appropriate. Abigail did not ride well, and she had refused anything, which did not come naturally to her; therefore, keeping her perfection in tact.
“I imagine at least a couple of hours,” Annalee Dryburgh, Abby’s cousin assured her. “Walking the horse after it threw a shoe must slow Mr. Moss’s progress.”
Abigail pulled her cloak tighter about her. “I hope it is soon. The air is much cooler in the uplands.”
“Lord, Abby, one would think a woman from Virginia’s mountainous region would appreciate the land’s beauty. I certainly prefer it to the coast lines.” Arabella Tilney stood, feet shoulder width apart and hands on hips, admiring the craggy landscape.
“It is a bog!” Abby asserted.
Bella sighed deeply. “But this day trip’s purpose was to explore the sights. The plateau above from this angle is spectacular. Come look!”
Abby turned her body to rest her head on the coach’s soft cushions. “The only view of which I wish to partake is the one from my room at the inn,” she grumbled. “Wake me when Mr. Moss returns.”
Bella sat good-naturedly on an uprooted tree trunk. They had left Hayfield to visit the Kinder Plateau, but did not reach their destination on this day. The horse had thrown a shoe, and now there was nothing to do but to wait and look out on the land’s beauty. If they had traveled by horseback, as she had preferred, then they could double up and still make it back safely to the inn. They foolishly had taken an open carriage to pacify Abigail, and now she, her sister, and her cousin were without options. Bella wished she had persisted when Mr. Moss suggested that they all walk the horse out, but again, they had deferred to Abby’s insensibility. Now, Bella prayed for Mr. Moss’s early return. She would not wish to hear her younger sister’s tirade if the man did not come before nightfall. Abigail would not be happy, and Bella knew that when Abby was not happy, her sister made everyone else within earshot miserable.
* * *
“Storm comin’ in, Your Lordship!” Mr. Beauchamp pointed to the encroaching cloudbank. “We should call off the search until it passes. Too dangerous out in the open.”
“Lead the men to the Cliff Hole cottage and wait it out. I will take the extra horse into Brook Pass. If I discover nothing, I will follow you.” The wind had increased, and debris had begun to swirl about them.
“Are you certain, my Lord? I could go.” Law knew the baron would have Beauchamp’s head if Law placed himself in real danger, but he felt he had to see this through.
Lawrence shook his head in the negative. “I must go, Beauchamp. I know it sounds unreasonable; yet, I cannot desert the search so soon.”
“Seek shelter, Sir, if it the conditions become worse.”
“I have it.” Lawrence took the horse’s leading rope. “See to the men.” Law rode toward where the path split, taking the one leading to the plateau. He thought the women quite foolish to have attempted such a trek in a carriage, but he understood the female mind as well as any man. He possessed three sisters, and he could easily picture one of them doing the same.
The wind whipped his coat tails, and Law had removed his hat so as not to lose it. He scanned the pathway, knowing it unlikely that the women strayed from the worn road. He felt the urgency of finding them. Lawrence knew the rain line spread across the valley below. He and the women would require immediate shelter; therefore, he nudged the horse forward, picking up the pace.
* * *
“Abby, we must find shelter,” Bella tugged on her sister’s hand. “A storm is coming!”
“I am going nowhere,” the girl asserted. “Unlike you, I am not afraid of lightning.”
Bella looked to where the storm clouds rolled over a nearby ridge. Thunder and lightning preceded nature’s drenching. “Well, I am! Please, Abby!” She had managed to bring her sister to a standing position just as the man approached on a coal black stallion–like a dark angel riding toward them. He whipped the horse’s reins, barreling down on them, but Bella experienced no fear. As dark and as foreboding as the man appeared, she felt her heart lurch in recognition.
Dismounting, he offered them no British civilities. There was no time: Large droplets accompanied him and quickly soaked the open carriage seat. “This way!” he yelled over the tumult, catching Bella’s hand and taking off on a run. Automatically, the other two women followed.
* * *
Without forethought, Law tugged the girl’s hand again, but she stumbled, unable to keep up with his long strides. Feeling her go down, he instinctively, grabbed the woman about the waist, lifting her petite form. In the other hand, he kept a death grip on the horses’ reins. When he saw the familiar cave, Law half shoved the woman he carried into the narrow opening, turning awkwardly to pull the other two along the trail.
The rain pelted them with a staccato of droplets, and Lawrence felt the dampness soak his greatcoat, but before he entered the rock face’s slit, he tied the horses to a Spanish oak’s lowest branches. Finally, Law squeezed his large form through the opening, impulsively, shaking the water from his hair and coat.
Law could barely make out their forms in the shadowed light. They hugged one another tightly, cloaks wrapped around each other–unopened wings of a gigantic eagle. “Is anyone hurt?” he asked between thunderclaps.
From somewhere within the monstrous depths of cooing females, a melodic voice rang clearly, “No, Sir. We thank you for finding us.” The butterfly wings opened and closed and became three.
Although he already offered a “bow,” being hunched over in the low-ceilinged crevice, Lawrence remembered his manners at last. “I am Lord Hellsman.” He timed his introduction between God’s fireworks. “I apologize for my rude entrance on the trail.”
“That is quite acceptable under the circumstances, Your Lordship.” Annalee straightened her clothing. “Without you, we could be miserable, suffering the storm’s worst. I am Miss Dryburgh. Annalee. My father, Lord Dryburgh, is Lord Graham’s second son.”
“From Staffordshire?” Law had prided himself on knowing the British nobility’s countryseats.
“Yes, Sir.” The woman remained the group’s spokesperson. “And these are my cousins from America, Miss Tilney. Arabella. And her sister Miss Abigail.”
Again, Lawrence could not make out their faces in the darkness. He could discern only their sizes–both small in stature–one downright petite. He could still feel the pressure of the smallest one along his side where he had carried her with him to the cave. Surprisingly, Law found he missed that brief feeling of warmth.
“We are pleased for the acquaintance, Your Lordship,” the sweet voice came from the shadows. Another lightning flash made the smaller one jump and clutch at her cousin’s arm. “My sister does not like storms,” the taller one explained.
“Forgive me, Ladies. I plan to practice rudeness again. I can barely see you in the cave’s recess, and I am a bit disoriented. I have discerned that Miss Dryburgh is the tallest in height among the three of you, but between the Miss Tilneys, I am confused.”
The melodious voice continued, “I am Abigail Tilney.”
Law turned his attention to the petite one, the one who trembled from the storm, the one he had carried. “Then that must make you, Miss Tilney,” he half teased. A squeaky “Yes, Sir” brought a smile to his face.
Miss Dryburgh asked, “How did you know the cave was here, Your Lordship?”
Law mocked himself. “When I was ten, I quakingly proved my manliness by hiding in this cave until my father rescued me from my wild imagination. If I am riding in the area, I revisit this spot. It keeps me humble.”
The squeak became a screech with a powerful flash. “How…how long will the storm last?”
Lawrence glanced toward the downpour. “The rain usually lasts several hours.”
“Hours?” The woman’s voice betrayed her fear.
“Do not worry, Miss Tilney. The fireworks will end soon, even if the rain remains.”
“It will be dark before long,” Miss Dryburgh noted. “I mean darker than it is now.”
Law stared at the sheets of rain streaming along the opening. A waterfall rushing down the cliff face and splashing outside their refuge. “When it eases a bit, I will gather some wood so we may have a fire.”
“You plan for us to spend the night in this cave, Lord Hellsman!” The sweetness left Miss Abigail’s voice. “That is not possible!”
“Miss Abigail, if there was no storm, we might maneuver the limited path down the mountain with some degree of safety. However, between the rain and the fog, which will blanket the woodlands with the darkness, there is no possibility of us driving your carriage off this peak tonight. Nor would I consider walking out at this point or even riding the two horses I have brought with me. The road is narrow, and one false step could send us plummeting into emptiness. Plus, who knows creatures the woods hold?”
“Are you attempting to frighten us, Your Lordship?” Miss Tilney found her voice. His exaggerations caused her to momentarily forget the storm.
“Absolutely, not, Miss Tilney. Simply speaking the truth. I will not assume the responsibility of endangering you after rescuing you.” Thinking on the conversation, Law could not help but to chuckle.
“What is so amusing, Lord Hellsman?” The petite one took a confrontational stance.
Law wiped the grin from his lips, but something shifted in his chest. “I suppose, Miss Tilney, I find it a bit bizarre to be having this discussion hunched over from my surroundings and attempting to impress the three ladies of my most recent acquaintance with my ability to protect them through the night. It is somewhat surreal.”
“It is out of the ordinary,” Miss Dryburgh took the sting from her cousin’s tone. “We Brits are practical that way, are we not, Your Lordship?”
Although the faces were still in shadows, he could recognize the timbre of their voices. “Absolutely, Miss Dryburgh.”
“Well, I shall not sleep a wink. What if the walls collapse in on us? What if there are bugs or even snakes!” Abigail declared.
“Then by all means, Abby, be unreasonable,” Miss Dryburgh asserted. “If you had been “reasonable,” we could have ridden out of here hours ago. So, if you do not wish to accept His Lordship’s protection, then walk down the mountain at your own risk.”
“You do not have to snipe,” the girl retorted in an obvious pout.
Surprisingly, Miss Tilney took her cousin’s side. “Yes, Annalee does. You pay no attention unless we “snipe,” Abby!”
Law felt as if he had stepped into a parallel universe, one where men finally heard how women really spook to each other. Mayhap the cave held some sort of magical power: He had believed so as a child.
Miss Dryburgh approached a now seated Hellsman. “When you wander out for the firewood, Your Lordship, there is a basket under the coach’s seat. The bread is likely ruined, but the other items should still be edible.”
“More British practicality, Miss Dryburgh?” he responded in bemusement.
“Someone must make decisions for our American counterparts. We Brits possess the impeccable manners,” the woman taunted.
“So, we do, Miss Dryburgh.” Lawrence began to silently count to ten, seeing how long it would be before one of the Tilney sisters reacted to her cousin’s assertion. He reached two.
“Annalee, we are not barbarians! We have culture also. America does not exist only as in the eleventh century with stampeding hordes!” Miss Tilney closed the distance between them.
Miss Dryburgh laughed aloud. “I am well aware you were raised by Lady Althea, Cousin. You need not convince me.” She straightened her cloak. “And…by the way, Bella…you have forgotten the storm.”
Arabella Tilney held her fists on her hips but the length of a breath before she laughed also. A laugh that Law thought the most perfect one he had ever heard. It held the timbre of soft tinkling bells. Turning in Law’s direction, she asked, “How might we be of assistance, Your Lordship?”
“I would not have you exposed to the elements, Miss Tilney. My coat is heavier and my gloves thicker.” Lawrence peered through the opening. “The rain is not relenting, but it shall soon be dark. I must go while I can still make out shapes. I will bring the supplies to the opening and hand them to you? If my idea is acceptable?”
Miss Dryburgh shared conspiratorially, “You have discovered Arabella’s weakness, Lord Hellsman. My cousin lives to be of use to others.”
“There are worse vices, Miss Dryburgh.” Law pulled up his coat’s collar. Then he squeezed through the opening and ran toward the carriage. He retrieved the basket from under the bench. There were two lap blankets stuffed behind the box; he quickly placed them under his coat and ran once again toward the cave. “Here!” he called as he shoved the items into Arabella’s waiting hands.
Immediately, he turned to where he had tethered the horses. At least, under the trees’ thick canopy, the rain did not fall relentlessly. The thick foliage blocked the light, as well as the moisture. He efficiently removed the saddle and blanket from Triton’s back and carried them to the cave. He dropped it in the opening, saying he would move it when he returned, but Law noticed as he reversed directions that Miss Tilney tugged the leather in from the rain.
Next, he located as much dry wood as he could muster. The copse seemed the most likely source. He found several broken limbs and some branches he could use for kindling. It took four trips to stock enough wood for them to maintain a fire during the night. Law knew his men would not come until the morning, and it would be his responsibility to protect the women until then. He found it exhilarating in many ways to have to fend for himself. Occasionally, he enjoyed being out of the drawing room and into nature. He often made overnight hunting or fishing trips with some of the local gentry. As one of the highest-ranking men in his shire, Law felt the responsibility of maintaining a sense of Society in his home. Yet, having been raised essentially alone, always in training to replace his father, he appreciated the communion of a group of men enjoying sport.
“That should serve us,” he announced as he bent over to reenter the cave. He laid the wood to one side of the opening. Forgetting about the low ceiling, he banged his head when he instinctively straightened. Law laughed at his error. “Surprisingly, this cave’s roof has descended since I was age ten.”
“It is perfectly tall enough for me, Your Lordship,” Miss Tilney taunted as she spread one of the two blankets he had retrieved from the carriage on the earthen floor. He looked closely at the diminutive form moving freely about the dead end crevice in which they had sought shelter. Miss Arabella Tilney was as busy as the mouse of which she reminded him. First the squeak and now darting everywhere. He shook his head in amusement.
Law turned his attention to removing his drenched greatcoat. He sat close to the cave’s opening. “I will start a fire. We should place it close to the opening. That will serve for circulation, keeping the heat in and the smoke out. Plus, I think it important to deter any animal, which might also seek shelter from the elements.”
Abigail half whined as she sat bundled up against the back wall of the enclosure. “Is there no way we might leave here tonight?”
“Personally, Miss Abigail, I pray my men do not attempt to rescue us this evening. I want none of them to perish. The danger is eminent, and although we may be a bit uncomfortable, we shall not perish. However, the fire at the cave’s opening will serve as a signal if they do search against my orders.” Law noticed how Miss Tilney and Miss Dryburgh busied themselves with preparing what food they had, as well as a space the ladies might share overnight, while Miss Abigail offered no assistance. He disapproved of those who would not assist themselves.
He used a small spade he kept attached to the saddle to dig a shallow pit; then, Lawrence stacked the wood he had found, lacing the kindling between the logs. He removed the flint and matches he stored in his saddlebag. The kindling flamed and soon they had a small fire burning steadily. The heat radiated throughout the tiny enclosure, removing the damp chill and driving away the encroaching darkness. “That is better,” he declared as he turned toward the women.
“Come join us, Your Lordship,” Miss Dryburgh gestured to the spread.
Law moved forward on hands and knees. “Thank you, Miss Dryburgh.”
“One end of the bread remained untouched. It appears you reached it in time, Lord Hellsman,” Miss Tilney revealed.
Lawrence reached for an apple, allowing the women to eat before he chose any of the scarce offerings the ladies had laid before him. He took a small bite, trying to make the fruit last longer.
The fire’s muted light provided him a better look at the three women. Abigail Tilney appeared the youngest, likely seventeen or eighteen years of age. She had a head of golden locks that reflected the dancing flames’ brilliance, as well as a long, slender neck. Miss Abigail was likely very lithe in stature based on his peek of her thin arms when the girl reached for the bread. She had yet to remove her cloak so he had no true idea of her figure.
Annalee Dryburgh’s full figure showed well in the dark gown she had chosen for the day. Her corset cinched her waist, making it seem small compared to her ample bust line and hips. Not plump, but compared to the excessively thin Miss Abigail, Miss Dryburgh appeared well fed. Her chestnut hair framed a heart shaped face.
Then his eyes rested on the elder of the Tilney sisters. Arabella. She was nondescript–dull, brown hair–very wavy–small breasts–excessively petite–and always moving–foot tapping–fingers drumming. Amorphous. Yet, for some reason, Lawrence’s eyes remained on her.
“Might we know more of your family, Your Lordship?” Miss Dryburgh asked as she wrapped some bread about hard cheese.
Lawrence’s gaze scanned all three women. “My home seat is Blake’s Run in Derbyshire, and I am the eldest son of Baron Blakehell, Niall Lowery. There are three sisters–Louisa, who is married to Ernest Hutton, Lord MacLauren; Marie, who recently married Viscount Sheffield; and, lastly, Delia, the Viscountess Duff. From them, I have one nephew and two nieces. The youngest of the family is my brother Carter, upon whom the Prince Regent quite recently bestowed a baronetcy for Carter’s service during the war.”
“Two seats within one family? Quite unusual, my Lord.”
“It is Miss Dryburgh, but my father is more than pleased to have both his sons holding a title. Sir Carter is renovating Huntingborne Abbey in Kent, under my father’s guidance, of course. Actually, I believe it has given the baron new life to have another son to instruct in the way of the land.” Lawrence grinned knowingly. “The baron is a great one on duty and responsibility.” He took a small sip of the wine, which Miss Tilney had poured for him. “And what of you, Ladies?”
“We are seeing some of the English countryside before we travel to London for the Season,” Miss Dryburgh shared. “This will be my second Season. Unfortunately, we did not stay the entire Season last year because Grandmama took ill. My cousins are being presented by our Aunt Sarah, the Marquessa of Fayarrd.”
“And you, Miss Tilney? What of you? Are you anxious for a London Season?” His face told her he half teased.
* * *
Arabella took a closer look at the man who had literally carried her into their shelter. She thought it amusing in some ways. If His Lordship had manhandled either Abby or Annalee as he had her, they would have had a case of the vapors. But Bella knew hard work’s value and was accustomed to being around men. However, Lord Hellsman held a mystique, which made her a bit uncomfortable. Gentle and aristocratic, Lawrence Lowery exemplified the English nobility; yet, raw masculinity exuded from him. He made decisions based on reason and followed them through. Bella found those qualities very appealing.
“Our mother, Sir, was at one time a member of the court, but she left to the Americas with our father some two and twenty years prior. However, she always dreamed of sending her daughters to London to enjoy what she determined was real society.”
* * *
“And is there no society in America, Miss Tilney?” he taunted.
She smiled at him, and Law felt something like desire shoot through him. “The Appalachian Mountains possess their own culture, but it is not society as you know it, Lord Hellsman.”
“The Appalachians?” he questioned, rolling the word around in his mouth. “I am not familiar with the area.”
Miss Tilney countered, “You are in error, Your Lordship. They are the same mountain range the English celebrates in Scotland and Wales.”
Lawrence enjoyed being challenged. Miss Tilney’s audacity was quite beguiling.
“That is just your theory, Bella,” Miss Abigail asserted. “To think the mountains at home might be under the oceans and part of this land demonstrates your blue stocking education.” To draw his attention to her, the girl lightly touched Lawrence’s arm. “I am certain His Lordship does not wish to discuss geography with a mere female.”
Lawrence casually shifted his weight to allow the lady’s hand to fall away. “Far be it from me to correct you, Miss Abigail, but I find any mental challenge invigorating. Regrettably, any woman who chooses to be successful during the Season must temper her words. Many men prefer their potential wives to simply be an excellent household manager.”
“See, Bella, even His Lordship agrees with me,” Miss Abigail preened. “You cannot be Papa’s hoyden if you expect to attract a husband.”
Miss Tilney shrugged her shoulders. “Who says I wish a husband? I would be content to return home and to take care of the manor house.”
“Of course, you wish a husband,” her sister corrected. “Mama would have been horrified to have you return to American unmarried.”
“Papa insists I meet my obligations this Season,” Miss Dryburgh also did not guard her words. “I have two younger sisters who have yet to know a Come Out.”
The parallel world remained: Even his sisters never spoke so liberally before him. Mayhap the openness of the Americans led them all into an instant intimacy. The Tilneys exemplified the American spirit and the American primitiveness, especially Miss Tilney, but Lawrence thought he would not trade this moment in this cave for all the drawing rooms in England. It was “freedom.”
“Did you travel from Staffordshire?” He asked to change the subject.
“We came to Matlock with my parents,” Miss Dryburgh shared. “They traveled to Lincolnshire to share time with my paternal grandparents. We thought my cousins might enjoy the Peak District after leaving western Virginia. We departed Hayfield this morning.”
And so, the conversation continued over the next ninety minutes. Lawrence told them of the areas’ history, of his estate, and of some of the other families in the area. Miss Dryburgh related like information regarding Staffordshire, and the Tilneys spoke of their life–describing the land, the people, and their situation. Ironically, Miss Abigail spoke of rolling hills and Southern manners and a genteel lifestyle at her mother’s feet, while Miss Tilney spoke of rugged mountains, poor tenants, and the use of slaves on the adjoining properties. A more diverse description of their home could not be had. It was as if the sisters had described two different lands. Yet, as he thought on it, little difference existed with what he knew of England. Poor tenants and rich landowners subsisted side by side on English estates.
Outside, the rain had not lessened, and Law added more wood to the fire. He could not imagine women of the ton adapting so quickly to their surroundings. Although he suspected Miss Abigail would easily matriculate into the ways of the “beau monde,” her cousin’s and her sister’s censure managed to quail the girl’s constant complaining.
“I will sleep near the fire to assure it does not go out overnight,” Lawrence announced as the time on his pocket watch indicated sleep might be possible. His clothes remained damp, and a chill ran up and down his spine. If alone, he would remove his boots and his waistcoat, but a gentleman would never think of doing so before a lady. Besides, if he removed the boots, Law was not certain he could get them on in the morning. The leather would likely shrink.
He gave the women the blankets to use along with their cloaks, and they made a “group” bed near the enclosure’s back wall. Lawrence used his saddle as a pillow and his damp greatcoat for a blanket. Miserable as he remembered being in a long while, Law forced himself to settle on the floor of the rock face.
“Your Lordship,” a half sleepy voice he recognized as Arabella Tilney’s called out, “do you have a gun for protection?”
He smiled at her practicality. “Aye, Miss Tilney. Several.”
“That is exceedingly fine, Lord Hellsman,” she said huskily. “So do I.”
Law did not answer. He just widened his smile as he closed his eyes to welcome sleep.
* * *
He did not know how long he had slept–ten minutes or ten hours–but definitely not long enough. A sharp sound came from behind him and to the left, and Law forced his eyes open to let the fire’s light in. A squeak told him immediately who and a sharp crack of thunder told him what, as he scrambled to his feet to reach her. This new storm, was, obviously, more violent than the previous one.
Arabella Tilney huddled, like a broken animal, against the cave’s sidewall, shivering and incoherent. A quick glance behind told him that neither Miss Dryburgh nor Miss Abigail had heard their traveling companion, and for a moment, Lawrence wondered if he should not wake them. But Miss Tilney cringed and covered her head with her arms in a protective stance, and Law could do nothing else but to take her in his arms. He draped an arm about her small form. On his knees before her, he gently encompassed her, hiding the woman’s face in his chest and pulling Bella to him. “Easy, Sweetling,” he whispered close to her ear. “I have you.” Another thunderclap and an accompanying lightning bolt sent her clawing at his shirt and whimpering. “Come, Mouse.” He instinctively rocked Bella in place, stroking her back and caressing her arms. “I will permit nothing to harm you.”
She clutched at him, attempting to, literally, crawl under his skin, seeking his body as her shield. Bella plastered herself to him. “Do not leave me,” she begged.
“Never, Sweetling,” he murmured. Madness must have taken his reason. He held this woman in an intimate embrace, and if either of her relatives awoke and observed them, Lawrence would be honor bound to offer for her; however, he could not release her. Besides, Bella Tilney’s obvious distress, Law realized belatedly that he liked the feel of her along his body: her heat suffused into him. The blood rushed to his groin. She fit. Fit as if she was made for him alone. “Come, Mouse,” he nuzzled behind her ear. “Come with me.” Bent over, he led her to his makeshift bed. “I will hold you until the storm passes.”