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Even before she opened her eyes, the clear smell of open country air hit her nostrils. What followed was the realisation that she was not, in fact, in her bed, as she could generally expect to be. Her back was propped against a wooden interior wall, and she could feel the same texture on the seat beneath her. She was also acutely aware of the stinging sensation when she moved her wrists, and upon finally opening her eyes to gaze about, she realised that they were rather harshly bound.

Lady Harmony Garner was not at all surprised to find herself in the small space afforded by the post-chaise. The crunching of stone and dirt beneath the wheels of the carriage had alluded to this fact. She was, however, rather disconcerted to find that she was not alone. A young man, most likely her assailant, was seated opposite her in the far corner of the chaise, and very much asleep.

A swelling sense of panic bubbled deep within, and Harmony tried her very best to soothe her anxiety with the swiftness for which the situation called. Her focus became the act of clearing all cobwebs from her mind; it was imperative that she establish just how she had come to be where she now was. She did not get on at all. Indeed, all she could recall was kissing her father’s papery fine cheek, wishing him luck on his venture, and going straight to bed.

It was clear then that this man, she turned to cast her gaze upon him, had removed her quite literally from the luscious folds of her bed, and thrown her unceremoniously into a carriage. Her contempt built rapidly.

The windows of the carriage were concealed by a heavy plum drapery, preventing her from gauging the hour. Harmony pushed her shoulders back and inched ever closer to the window, lifting her wrists to brush the fabric back. She was greatly relieved to see that the sky beyond was still a blanket of inky darkness. That meant, she surmised, that they had not travelled far.

She could only hope then that her nurse maid would uncover the truth and send word for her father and his men swiftly. Once they did, the uncouth individual who had dared to abduct her would very much regret that decision. Yet, in spite of the confidence she felt at such a rescue, fear still burned like a fire in her throat and she struggled to pull oxygen to her lungs.

She took a deep breath and assessed the situation. Harmony was still dressed in her night clothes, but she wore her ermine-trimmed pelisse in order to preserve her modesty. Of all the indignity, she thought. The young woman cast her dark eyes toward the still figure of the sleeping man.

He was a contrast to the heavy darkness. The man wore full black clothing—the better for stealth, she presumed—from his worn boots, to his heavy coat. His breeches too were black, but she averted her eyes quickly from straying in that direction. It was his skin which caught her attention. It was the shade of palest milk, disturbingly soft in appearance. His hair, ghostly in hue, was bound from his face by a ribbon at the nape of his neck.
 
The shadows in the carriage gave him a sinister sort of beauty, deepening the hollows of his cheekbones, and showing the strong line of his nose. When Harmony’s gaze fell upon his lips, a wave of heated embarrassment suffused her skin. If truth be told, she could not help but think that were circumstances different, were he some lovely and polite gentleman as opposed to her unscrupulous abductor, she might very well have been pleased to dance with him at an assembly.

This was all frivolous, in any case, as she felt rather confident in her assertion that he was not a regular attendee at the balls of St James’ Court. She most certainly would have recognised such a man if he were. She surveyed him once more, determined to find some indication of his intent, or his identity. Her success was entirely non-existent. The make of his clothing suggested Quality, and yet the carriage in which they travelled was far too simple to be of fashion.

The indignation surged again, a pulse that ran thickly in her veins. This man, she thought, whoever he was, had been audacious enough to remove her from her chambers and escort her into the countryside in her undergarments. Her father would have his head once they were discovered. Pity it was such a handsome one at that. After all, it was much easier to perceive villainy in the unattractive.

Such musings came to a halt upon the young woman realising, with both relief and trepidation, that the carriage had slowed its pace. It was, she acknowledged, the most likely opportunity she would find for an escape. Harmony eyed the young man once more, noting the way his head rested against the side panel of the coach, and his long legs sprawled carelessly before him.

The item, however, which caught her interest most in this second perusal of his form, was the glint of metal which caught the dull sliver of moonlight peering through the crack in the curtains. Harmony knew that if she were to have any hope of success in this venture, she would need to sever the ropes tied about her wrists. Relieving the young man of the blade he kept securely at his hip was the most viable option she had.

So, after taking a deep and calming breath, she inched toward him, taking much care not to lose her footing in the moving vehicle. The leather pouch, in which the blade was encased, was mere inches from her fingertips. She cast a quick glance back toward his face, ensuring that he was indeed still sleeping. Her fingers carefully grazed the leather, brushing the draw strings before a strong hand trapped her own against a solid and very warm thigh.

Harmony’s eyes flew upward to clash with the mercurial gaze now fixed upon her.

‘I must say, you are rather forward for a lady of Quality, after all ... we’ve not yet been introduced.’ The words were uttered in a lazy drawl of unconcern, and coupled with a look of sheer smugness, both of which were clearly intended to make her gasp in shock.

She did.

The insinuation by this heathen was appalling, and very un-gentlemanly, even for a kidnapper. Upon his release of her hand, now seared from the curious heat of him, she threw herself into the far corner of the carriage. Her head raised with as much hauteur as she could muster.

‘You know perfectly well that I was reaching for your blade.’ She paused to assess him before continuing, disdain colouring her every word. ‘I presume you are the one responsible for this.’ She raised her arms in reference to their bindings.

‘Actually,’ he said, ‘you can blame your father for your present situation. He had other options ... he elected not to take them.’

She raised a brow and her response was scathing. ‘But of course ... when one does not get his own way, it is natural the next recourse is to remove an innocent woman from her bedchambers!’

The man turned his head, lifting the fold of fabric over the window in order to divine their location. It vexed her excessively to know that she was being ignored. The man, whose name she did not yet know, would begin to realise that she did not defer to people like him, and she certainly would never accept being disregarded quite so blatantly.

Sir,’ she said, her tone clearly denoting she felt he deserved no such address, ‘I demand to know why I have been treated thus. Do you know who I am? My father will—’

‘Your father will comply with my demands or he will never see his daughter again.’ He turned his silver gaze upon her, causing her skin to tighten and tingle. ‘And regardless of who you are, Lady Garner, you should remember that you are at my disposal. Quite literally, if you continue to talk so incessantly.’

He turned his head back toward the window. Her gaze narrowed at him, despite the underlying threat in his words. Harmony had never really mastered the skill of being silent. Her mother was forever admonishing her for her cheek.

‘Will you, at the very least, tell me the name of my abductor?’ She pushed her shoulders back, sitting with perfectly straight posture and a look of cultivated disdain lighting her features.

He sighed in aggravation. ‘At the risk of indulging your whims, I’ll deign this once ... for fear that you shall never tire otherwise.’ He arched a brow in daring at her, and she rather felt he saw through the hauteur. ‘I am Lord Darius Marfly, unimportant enough to be of no concern to either yourself or your forebears. I do, however, defer to someone who is. Lord Tòmas Ryder.’

She gasped at the name uttered, and realisation struck her. Lord Tòmas Ryder was an enemy to much of England. He was a man of great evil, building armies in the north in the hopes that he would bring war upon their country. His was a name which wrought fear in women, and encouraged valour in men. Harmony knew much of these matters because her father always indulged her curiosities, and told her. He was a man of great honour. A man who she knew would bravely throw his force behind the King’s men. In fact, he had already pledged such support to the General, Henry Power, who would lead the troops to battle.

She could see now just why she was so involved.

‘Your intention is to convince my father to retract his pledge of support for the English …’

He merely nodded.

‘But that would cause him great dishonour. He cannot go back on such a promise!’ She leaned forward as she spoke the horrifying words.

The young man turned towards her appraisingly. ‘Such things are not of a woman’s concern. Think about your reticules and your tapestries instead.’

She spat venom in response. ‘You call yourself Lord, but how can you when you defer to such a man. It is weakness.’

He lashed out, grabbing her wrist and pulling her close. She tumbled until she fell atop his thighs. She was immediately conscious of their heat and strength beneath the very thin layers of her underclothes. His grip on her arms was strong and he held her face very close to his. The look of fierceness in his eyes caused her the first true pangs of fear.

‘You know nothing of what you speak, stupid girl. I am many things, but not weak. Never weak.’ He glared at her. ‘You cannot fathom what it is that drives me.’

With that ominous statement, he let go of her immediately and uncaringly thrust her back to her side of the coach. She had never been treated with such complete disregard for either her feelings or her station. It was clear that this rogue was another sort of man altogether, and she decided then that she had best be cautious in her dealings with him.


*


It was some time later. The quality of light in the carriage was brighter and so she could only presume that it was deeper into morning. There had been an uncomfortable silence in the passing minutes or hours which had descended upon the two seated there. She had the misfortune of being caught sneaking glances at the volatile young man on more than one occasion. She thought it only reasonable given the tedium that such a long journey without conversation could yield. He was also rather a riddle. And try as she might, she never had been able to resist them.

But she had also used the time to formulate some semblance of a plan. And it was with such a scheme in mind that she chose that moment to interrupt the silence with a delicate cough. As she had come to expect, the polite request for attention was ignored.

‘Lord Marfly,’ she said with as much grace as she could muster, relishing the look upon his face when it finally turned toward her. ‘We have been in this carriage for a long time ... I am feeling rather ... delicate.’ She stressed the words quite carefully and noticed the look of distrust and realisation which lit his features.

‘Be that as it may, Lady Garner, I have not the means to accommodate you.’ He made a sweeping gesture toward the window. ‘We are in the countryside and there is no place to stop.’

Very well, if she could not have them stop at an inn, she would run through forests and fields to evade him. If the man had done his research better, he might have known just how determined a young woman she was.

‘I must insist.’

His aggravation was clearly written across his features, but she also saw a small measure of resignation and she took delight in it. ‘In that case, My Lady, I will have to offend your delicate sensibilities and offer you a bush on the side of the road.’ The arch in his brow showed the enjoyment he took in extending her such an offer.

She sniffed irritably, but nodded her head in acquiescence. Although it peeved her that he seemed to think this acceptable, it was of little concern. All she needed was a minute or two in privacy. Harmony watched as Lord Darius Marfly knocked three times on the wood behind him, noting the signal to stop. He sent her a look of warning, before opening the latch and stepping outside into the soft light of dawn. The hand he extended to her was firm in its grip, and she valiantly ignored the strange swooping of her stomach when she touched it.

Once she had vacated the carriage, she turned and, with as much hauteur as one could muster when wearing her hair loose about her face and traipsing around in night clothes, she raised her wrists before him.

‘I cannot imagine you think I’ll manage in this condition.’ He muttered wearily under his breath and pulled the blade from its case at his hip. The silver metal cut cleanly through her bindings, and it disconcerted her to see quite how comfortable he felt in using it.

She swallowed as she watched long and nimble fingers toy with the weapon as though it were nought but a piece of straw. His other hand lifted to brush her chin, guiding her face upward to meet his. ‘Do not attempt anything untoward … I will know.’

Curse the man, she thought. Of course she was going to try something; she was not the simpering fool he clearly believed her to be.

‘Good heavens, no,’ she said sweetly.

His grip upon her upper arm was firm but gentle as he brought her to a small clearing, which was concealed by rather large bushes.

‘None of my men will see you from here.’ He turned to gesture some ten feet or so away. ‘And I will be standing right there, lest you get any ideas you shouldn’t.’

‘It is extremely untoward! I am a lady and ought to be treated as such.’ She quirked her brow, as he often did, raising her chin in defiance.

He let out a string of muttered imprecations and stalked further away, keeping his back to her.

Eyeing him carefully, Harmony licked her chapped lips before casting a quick and cursive glance around her. And then she bolted, ducking and weaving between trees and bushes. Her feet were quiet on the soft earth, which was fortunate because she heard him call out to her.

She ran faster.

The cold morning air bit at her exposed ankles, and her unbound hair whipped in manic curls around her face. Her heart stuttered when she stared ahead at the clearing which opened up before her. There was no more cover under which to hide, and she was certain he would gain ground if she stood still a moment.

This fear was validated when she heard the cracking of twigs beneath heavy footfalls from behind her. She fled, ignoring the ragged quality of her breathing and the burning sensation in her throat. She cast a quick glance over her shoulder and saw him emerging from the trees, the weak sunlight making him burn an ethereal blaze of pale gold.

The footfalls grew louder and faster and she cursed her body for being so weak. Still she ran, even as she knew that he would catch her. His voice was deep and threatening when it called out to her, making her lose her footing for a split second. It was enough. She felt a solid weight hit her from behind, strong arms wrapping about her waist and pulling her to ground. She gasped as the air rushed from her body, wriggling around to face her tormentor.

The pale strands of his hair had come loose to fall around his face, several of those strands tickling her forehead. His gaze was stormy and intense, and his breath was a little bit ragged. He was propped on his elbows, staring down at her, and she was conscious of the rise and fall of her breasts with each lungful of air drawn in. So, it appeared, was he.

She wriggled again, an attempt to free herself from his weight, and the look he gave her was strange and unfamiliar.

‘Stop moving,’ he said in a low murmer. Harmony flushed red, realisation causing her stomach to tingle. She was not a girl with that sort of experience of men. She’d had her fair share of secretive kisses and gentle embraces, but never anything more scandalous.

Her skin seemed to burn from where it met his, and the already erratic pulsing at her throat increased. She licked her lips instinctively to moisten them, and noticed the way his eyes seemed to follow the movement. This was a decadent sort of entanglement to which she was very much unaccustomed. It was also incredibly improper, not least of all because he had abducted her only hours earlier. That was a difficult thing to remember when his hard thighs encased her own. It made her begin to wonder about what those breeches concealed.

‘For a lady you know how to cause great torment,’ he whispered, his voice now low and husky in the cool morning air.

The words were sufficient both to make her flush with embarrassment at the insinuation, and realisation at just how precarious the moment was. She raised her knee swiftly to dislodge him, but the man clearly read her move and captured her thigh more tightly between his own. It was at this point that she realised just how high up her leg her garment had ridden.

She pushed roughly against his chest, seeming to take him by surprise, because despite his superior strength she managed to roll them both around so that she was now astride him. Something both sweet and sinister pulsed through her, and she was mortified at the strange feeling that curled in the pit of her stomach.

She swallowed visibly, before pressing her small hands against the wall of his chest. He could easily have brushed them away, but remained as he was, back firm to the ground and gazing up at her with a curious expression.

‘This is no way to treat a lady,’ she whispered, the breathless quality of her voice still evident. She could feel the fast thrum of his heartbeat beneath her fingers and it was highly distracting. His face caught the morning sunlight at such an angle that yielded him almost seraphic in his features. It was deception, she knew; there was nothing of the angel in this man. And yet she wanted nothing more in that moment than to brush her fingers across his skin.

Something seemed to shift in his gaze, for he chose that moment to sit up, his face coming unbearably close to hers so that she could feel the cool rush of his breath against her cheek.

‘You are like no lady I have ever known.’ And with that curiously whispered statement, he raised her from him to set her on her feet. His hands were gentle on her now, but she could sense that he was not about to let her run away again.

She was not entirely sure she would have in any case. He was unlike any man she had ever known.

He interrupted her thoughts and she turned her face towards his to catch the last of his sentence. ‘You will have to forgive me for this; I’ll take no more risks with you …’

She was about to ask to what he was referring, before she was swiftly hauled over his shoulders in a most undignified manner. Her squeals and the pounding of her palms across his shoulder did nothing to stop the man as he trekked back through the clearing and the woods toward the carriage.


*


‘I am to be engaged, were you aware? The betrothal is almost finalised. He will have your head for this.’

‘Your would-be fiancé? Will he now … a fearsome fellow, I suppose?’ The lack of concern in his tone aggravated her. This was most likely because, whether he knew it or not, his mocking response was warranted.

The man whom her parents wished for her to marry, Reginald Westley, 5th Earl Westley, struck more of a slovenly than fearful figure. Her lip curled in instinctive distaste at the thought of marriage to such a man. He had little manners and certainly not the charm or handsome looks to compensate for his faults in character. What he did have, however, was a title and the extensive wealth and land which accompanied it. A good match, her mother had said.

She was not, however, about to share her lack of enthusiasm for the man with her present companion.

‘Indeed. Have you knowledge of him, then?’

The smile he sent her was mocking. ‘Certainly. His conquests are notorious in some circles.’ The expression shifted to appraise her intently. ‘To confess, I think you wasted on such a man. And in any case, you are not his yet.’

Her face flushed from his words and what they suggested, something she was not unaware of, in addition to the heated look he sent her. She did not like how responsive she was to such looks.

‘Whatever sort of man you think him to be, he has pride … he will not like to think you have … touched me.’ She hesitated only briefly, but noted that she had his full attention now. It was a great feat indeed.

‘And have I?’ His brow raised in question and there was a merciless quality to his ash-like gaze. ‘Touched you, that is …’
 
She swallowed, shifting uncomfortably on the seat at the turn in the conversation—her own doing, unfortunately. He moved across his seat so that he was directly opposite her. He leaned forward with his elbows resting on his long and lean legs, so that his face swam before her.

‘Has your pearly white skin been tainted by my own?’ He moved closer, and his hand rose so that it skimmed a breath above her throat. Even though she could not feel the scrape of his skin against her, the heat was consuming. ‘You act for all the world as though I’ve ravished you.’

Her breath caught at the gently stressed word and the way it was formed on his mouth. He pulled back quickly then, a barely concealed anger clear in his bearing.

‘Whatever sort of villain you perceive me to be … know that I am not that sort of man.’ He turned his head toward the window once more. ‘You will come to no harm under my care, and when your father complies with our demands, you will be safe to marry your knight with little thoughts of me.’

She watched him with an overwhelming sense that he was, above all, a complicated man. What other qualities he owned, she could not fathom; she only knew that her interest in him was increasing with each torrid moment. Lord Darius Marfly had told her that she could not hope to understand his motivations, and given his strange pride and scruples, she began to think he was correct.

They settled once more into silence, the quality of which had become increasingly tense. It was during this time that Harmony began to yearn most fervently for a bath, even above the wish for her rescue. The hours of travel, and the sojourn in the woods, had given her lamentable state of dress an even more rumpled and unseemly look.

She had begun to wonder whether they would ever stop their travelling, when the coach finally slowed and a shout rent the air. Lord Darius flicked a finger beneath the drapery to assess their location, before casting a cursory glance toward her.

‘We have arrived.’

Her heart soared with relief at the prospect of escaping the small boxed confines. She was about to say something before he continued speaking.

‘The woman with whom we are staying is loyal to me. Do not think that she will assist you in escaping. I guarantee you she will not.’

‘How could this woman not protest? No matter how loyal, surely she would object to your dragging a woman into her house in my current state.’

He grinned then, and the sight made her blink in response. ‘Ah, but it’s quite ingenious. In your … current state, as you put it … you look thoroughly debauched. She will think you nothing more than a conquest and I’ll do nothing to disabuse her of that notion.’

She gasped and reached to smack him, an extremely unladylike reaction but he’d driven her to provocation. He caught her wrist swiftly before continuing, ‘Would you prefer anyone to know the truth? If your reputation is to be preserved, it is best that no one be aware you ever left your estate.’

She pulled back her hand and narrowed her eyes at him. She wanted nothing more than to claw at his perfect features, for as much as the degradation horrified her she knew his words to be true. There would be no higher insult than for even the slightest suggestion to reach the ton that she had been soiled.

The sun was strong as it hit her eyes upon vacating the post-chaise for the second time that morning. It was, however, a relief to know she would not have to spend the immediate future cooped up and feeling quite so wretched. The carriage had left them before a humble little house, laid out over two floors. She saw a figure in the window upstairs looking down at them. Shortly thereafter that same person flew out the front door. She was an older woman with greying hair and a homely figure.

Harmony watched disbelieving as the woman gathered up Lord Darius, in all his breadth, into a bone-crushing embrace, before releasing him and holding his face close to hers. There was a maternal sort of affection there that one could not fail to notice.

‘Let me look at you,’ the older woman said to him, before casting him aside to set appraising eyes on Harmony. She must have looked an awful sight because the other woman turned to cuff the young man about his ears. ‘What’ve you done to the poor thing?’

She cast a reproving look back at him, his expression rather sheepish, before gathering Harmony toward her. ‘You can call me Mrs Pommeroy.’ Her words were kindly, something for which she was most grateful. ‘Come now, let’s get you cleaned up.’

It was, she reflected, the most delightful prospect she’d had all day.


 

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