If you read my last blog you know that I’ve written a couple of Regency Romances. The Devil’s Own Luck is a sequel to The Bewitching Hour. I’ve posted the first few pages. Hope you like it!
France 1812, Ten miles south of Calais
Rand moved through the darkness, cursing his inability to silence the sound of his boots striking the cobblestone. The hair on the back of his neck prickled; his spine tingled. He’d had someone on his tail since the coach dropped him off at the village’s edge, though whether they were footpads, French spies or something in-between he had no notion. No, that was a lie. They weren’t footpads. Footpads would have made their move by now. His rendezvous with Morris had been compromised.
Trails of mist swirled about his greatcoat. His collar was drawn up and a dark felt hat covered his light hair and forehead. The night was black, the moon obscured behind cloud cover, and the narrow lane he traveled, unlit. The only glow of light came from a noisy tavern down the lane. He could not get caught. Too much depended on the papers sewed into the lining of his coat reaching their destination. He crossed the lane to avoid the tavern’s light. A moment-later his pursuers did the same. They quickened their pace. Their footfalls were muffled but he determined there were two shadows.
He closed his fingers around one of the pistols he carried and withdrew it from his coat pocket. Two pistols. Two chances. He couldn’t afford to waste a shot by firing blindly into the darkness. The raucous sounds from the tavern grew louder. The moon temporarily emerged from the clouds and the next five seconds passed in the blink of an eye. A gunshot behind him reverberated in his ears and he sensed one of his pursuers rushing toward him. Pistol in hand, he whirled around and fired at the approaching shadow. He heard a soft, surprisingly feminine grunt and the sound of someone hitting the cobbles. He dropped the first pistol, grasped the other and aimed at the second shadow.
“God’s teeth! Put the damned thing away!” Relief washed over him. The arrogant English voice belonged to his best friend and colleague, Lord Stratton. “I save your bloody life and you thank me by thinking to put a bullet between my eyes!”
Rand continued to hold the pistol as he glanced over his shoulder at the tavern. If anyone had heard the shots, it appeared they had paid it no notice. “There were two. What happened to the other one?”
“I took care of him. He’s about thirty paces behind us.” Stratton knelt down to check the pulse of the second victim. “Christ! Do you…” He was interrupted by the inharmonious sounds of a tavern song behind them. It grew closer. He rose quickly. “Let’s go. Now. I’ve horses tethered a few minutes away.”
They took off at a rapid pace. It wasn’t until the tavern’s light was well behind them that Rand spoke. “I’m grateful you decided to put in an appearance but what in the devil are you doing here? I was supposed to meet Morris.”
“Plans have changed.” The viscount’s breath misted in the chilled air. His voice was bleak as he continued, “Morris was found dead two days ago in Rouen. Don’t know how much he gave up but Connolly wasn’t about to risk the documents you’re carrying. He sent me to keep you alive, if possible, and make certain the information reached its destination. I kept in the doorway once I saw you were being followed. I was lucky to hit the bastard. It was too damned dark to get much of a look.” He paused. “You haven’t any idea who you shot back there, have you?”
“A French agent, I assume. Female. Can’t say that killing a woman sits well with me.”
“Don’t lose any sleep over that one. You’ve brought down Marguerite. Morris’s death had her stamp all over it.”
Rand came to a halt.
Stratton pushed him forward. “Keep going!”
Still stunned, he resumed his pace. Marguerite was a French spy who had tortured and mutilated at least a dozen English agents over the past three years. If she had been Morris’s interrogator, he had died a grisly death. Anger tore at him. Morris had been a decent chap. He attempted to close his mind to the picture that had begun to play itself out in his imagination. They had been warned what might happen if captured. God knows what he’d give up if he were put to the test. It was too gruesome to think about. But, they all understood the chance they took going in. And chances were, he had barely escaped the same horror Morris had suffered.
“You’re timing was fortuitous,” he said. “Once again, I believe I owe you my life. Though,” he added with a touch of dryness, “I suspect you will remind me of that whenever it suits your purpose.”
“Most likely. But you’re the one who’s truly owed a debt. Bloody hell, you’ve killed Marguerite. Damnable thing is, you’ll never be able to take credit for it.”
Rand shrugged. “Don’t know that I should get any. It was sheer chance on my part. By the way, where are we headed?”
“Calais. You’ll hand the papers over there. Then home. We sail before daylight. Not one of yours, I’m afraid,” he added referring to the three merchant ships, and numerous smaller vessels, Danfield Shipping had volunteered in the Crown’s fight against Napoleon Bonaparte.
“Damn! You know how I hate traveling in any conveyances other than my own. God only knows how seaworthy the thing is.”
Stratton chuckled. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“I’ve used up my quota for the week, tonight.”
“It’s more than a week’s worth. Our adventure’s over. Morris’s capture has effectively ended our operations. I don’t suppose either one of us will be returning to the continent any time soon. At least not until this bloody war is over.”
Rand took in a deep breath letting the crisp, cold air fill his lungs. Truth be told, he was glad to be returning home, still breathing and in one piece. As they approached their mounts the animals were snorting and pawing restlessly at the ground. With a little luck they’d be in England sometime tomorrow.
Four years later, London, England
Of all the wretched, damnable luck. He was a marquis. A goddamned, bloody marquis. The normally winsome, sandy-haired Thomas Randolph Danfield, affectionately known to his friends as Rand, was now the Marquis of Clarendon. But it was no cause for celebration. Not to his mind, anyway. Scowling, he uttered a string of barnyard curses and then leaned over and retrieved the crumpled paper he had just thrown in the waste bin, smoothed it out against the surface of his desk and stared at it. The words were the same. Robert Franklin Stephens, the eleventh Marquis of Clarendon had met his demise and he was now the twelfth bloody Marquis of Clarendon. He shoved it across the desk and looked up at the solicitor, a white-haired little man who was staring at him in bewilderment.
“I don’t care what you have to do, Mansfield. Fix this,” he ordered. “Now. Before my mother finds out.”
The solicitor pushed his wire rimmed glasses back up his nose and inquired nervously, “Fix it, my lord?”
He nodded brusquely. “Fix it. I have no desire to be a marquis. None whatsoever. I have enough to do as it is. And don’t address me as my lord. Someone might hear you.”
The new marquis glared at the solicitor who promptly shut his mouth. “I was seventh in line,” Rand muttered. “Not even in the running. How the devil did this happen?” But he knew how. A streak of amazingly bad luck coupled with amazingly bad judgment had befallen the heirs of Clarendon. Two he couldn’t fault. They had lost their lives fighting the bloody French. One in Salamanca and the other just recently at Waterloo. He would never begrudge that. They had, after all, sacrificed themselves for the good of England. But the rest of the lot were imbeciles. Complete morons without enough sense to know when to come in from the rain. Or more to the point, how to keep from killing themselves.
Only a year ago, one had drowned trying to save a friend who had fallen into the lake from their small fishing boat. The friend could swim. His would be savior could not. Then another had decided to gallop along the moors of Cornwall completely foxed and received a broken neck for his efforts. The fifth was fatally wounded in a duel when he accused the Duke of Beresford, an accomplished card player as well as a crack shot, of cheating during a high stakes game of Baccarat. And the most recent marquis had been thrown to his death from a high perch Phaeton while racing another like-minded idiot along a country road. Stupid bugger! Taking chances like that before he’d sired an heir. Still scowling, Rand picked up a pencil and began tapping it against his desk.
“Who is my heir at present?” he grumbled.
The solicitor hesitated before he answered. “I believe you will be required to produce the next heir, sir. You are, regrettably, the last of the line.”
All hopes dashed, Rand flung his pencil on the desk. “Damn it! If that doesn’t beat all. There’s simply no way out of this, is there?” He looked up at Mansfield, who shook his head.
“No. But it’s a great honor, my lord, and I believe there are extensive lands for grazing. Wool is quite profitable you know. And there are the textile and pottery mills, as well.”
“I don’t give a tinker’s damn about titles and I’m already an extremely wealthy man,” Rand said. “My great grandfather and grandfather made bloody certain of that. Even my wastrel father couldn’t deplete the fortune. I can’t spend what I’ve got, as it is. Why in the hell would I want more?”
“I’ve no idea,” the solicitor mumbled dryly.
“Just where are these ancestral lands I’ve been shackled with?”
“Devon primarily. A beautiful area.”
Refusing to be mollified, he glared at the solicitor. “It could be Camelot for all I bloody care.” Well aware that he was being childish Rand sighed heavily and asked, “Other than the tenants, who currently resides on the estate?”
Mansfield adjusted his glasses again. “The previous marquis was newly married and as there was no issue, his widow has returned to live with her family. But there is an elderly lady, a distant relative I believe, still living in the main house.” He paused. “She has spent most of her life dependent on the generosity of the various marquises and is, I believe, somewhat anxious as to her future. I was not certain as to your plans.”
Rand’s mouth tightened. “My plans do not include throwing an old lady out of her home,” he said curtly. “Send a missive straightaway to assure her of that. And also that I will be out to survey the estate, sometime within the month.” He reached for the bell pull. “Leave the rest of the documents on my desk and I’ll read over them this evening. I’d like to finish my accounts before I take on anything else. Edwards will show you out.”
Obviously dismissed, the solicitor left the brooding Lord Clarendon to his accounts.
~ ~ ~
Have a great week!!!