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Authors: Elizabeth Bailey

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Angel's Touch

BOOK: Angel's Touch
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AN ANGEL’S
TOUCH

 

Elizabeth
Bailey

© Elizabeth
Bailey 1992, 2013

 

All rights
reserved.

 

The moral right
of the author has been asserted.

 

No part of this
publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior
permission in writing of the author. Nor be otherwise circulated in
any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is
published and without a similar condition including this condition
being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

All characters
and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the
public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons,
living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

 

First published
in Great Britain by Mills & Boon Limited 1992

 

Re-edited and
published on Smashwords by Elizabeth Bailey 2013

www.elizabethbailey.co.uk

 

© Cover art and
design by David Evans Bailey 2013

www.davidevansbailey.com

 

Original print
used in cover illustration kindly loaned by Louise Allen of
www.louiseallen.com

An Angel’s
Touch

 

Outspoken
Verity Lambourn berates the mentor of two lost children, having no
idea that the lame young man with the vibrant black eyes is the
widowed Henry, Marquis of Salmesbury. When she knocks him flying in
Tunbridge Wells, Verity realises she has not been able to get him
out of her mind.

Tumbling
towards a promising future, Verity must confront the shadows of
Henry’s tragic past. Matters come to a head when the children are
kidnapped, but it takes a threat to Henry himself to test the
strength of Verity’s love and the truth of a gypsy’s prophecy.

Chapter
One

 

Through the window of the slow-moving coach, a patch of
bright colour in the valley below caught at the traveller’s idle,
wandering gaze. Leaning forward in her seat, Miss Verity Lambourn
discerned a clutch of gaily painted wagons grouped about a neat
clearing, from the centre of which emanated a plume of
smoke.

Since this sunny afternoon in mid-July was fine and warm, it
was to be inferred that the fire was lit for the purpose of cooking
the gypsies’ dinner, rather than the provision of illumination for
a night of wild revelry to the strains of a fiddle and the beat of
a rhythmic drum.

But the young lady
whose clear hazel eyes were devouring the peaceful serenity of the
scene was of an imaginative turn of mind. Already she had conjured
up a mental image of a dusky, raven-haired beauty, of voluptuous
mien, improbably attired in a flouncing petticoat of violent hue,
dancing with wicked abandon about the flickering flames, while her
handsome counterpart looked on with a brooding, sullen passion that
boded ill to his erring inamorata.

For
in such manner was Miss Lambourn prone to enliven the tedium of her
days, and in particular the hours of enforced inertia on the
present journey to Tunbridge Wells. The heavy old-fashioned coach
made but ponderous progress from one stage to the next, even though
drawn by six horses. They had of necessity had to traverse a
cross-country route from their home village of Tetheridge in the
county of Hampshire, and the roads, being less well-kept than the
main pike thoroughfares, were not conducive to speed. Then, too,
Lady Crossens had declared that she would not rattle her old bones
more than she need, and the journey had occupied five days at a
snail’s pace when two might well have sufficed.

They had joined the
main road from London to Tunbridge Wells at Sevenoaks, however, on
this last leg of the journey, and the smoother ride had encouraged
her ladyship to sink into slumber, her chin resting on her chest,
leaving Miss Lambourn free to the indulgence of her visions.

So Verity leaned from
the window to people the gypsy camp with the creations of her vivid
imagination. Her ideas were perhaps ill-informed, culled as they
had been from the products of the pens of more experienced
observers than herself, and she had the wit to realise it.

But
perhaps they were not so far removed from the truth, she thought
with an inward smile, as her glance found the nearer figure of a
man very much like the sultry figment of her mind, and, by his
rough clothes and the spotted handkerchief about his neck, clearly
a member of the gypsy clan from the encampment in the valley below.
And those two children there, below the big tree by the roadside—a
small boy, not much older than her little brother at home, who
guarded with both hands an infant who might be of either sex. Were
they not gypsy urchins? Her hero’s bairns perhaps, she wondered
amusedly as she saw the gypsy man halt in his way and turn to look
at the two.

Then, as Verity gazed
on the scene from the window of the passing coach, it was as if a
curtain lifted, dissolving the dream and presenting her with
several incontrovertible signs of stark reality. She took them in
all at once, her thoughts racing to a swift conclusion.

The
children’s attire bore the unmistakable stamp of gentility.
Sporting a well cut frock-coat and breeches, a neat neckcloth and
boots, the boy was every inch the miniature replica of a country
gentleman. And no gypsy child would be swathed in that baby bonnet
or the plain white round gown, embroidered and laced. The infant
was whimpering, little hands clutching at the other small body
whose protective arms now gathered it to him, in his face a look of
fear as he stared at the gypsy not twenty yards away.

Almost without conscious decision, Verity was up, grabbing at
the little window above the forward seat by means of which the
passengers might converse with the coachman and the groom by his
side, and pushing it open.


Stop! Oh, please, Brading, stop
at once!’

It took a moment or
two for her anxious voice to penetrate the ears of the coachman on
the box above, and by the time the vehicle came to a standstill the
little drama being enacted was several yards behind it.

But
Verity did not wait for the wheels to become completely motionless.
She thrust open the door, gathered up her skirts, and sprang
hazardously down into the road. She stumbled a little, for the
coach doorway was some few feet off the ground. But in her anxiety
for the children she made nothing of it, righting herself swiftly,
and hardly hearing the sleepy but exclamatory tones of Lady
Crossens from behind her.


What. . .what. . .? What is amiss?’

Then she was running
back and in seconds saw that her surmise was correct. The gypsy had
started towards the children, and the boy was backing away, having
inexpertly lifted the infant in his arms, hampered by the added
burden of its weight from taking to his heels.

Verity, calling out,
came hurtling towards them, and she saw all eyes turned on her in
amazement. The gypsy halted, staring, and the boy looked as if he
feared equally an attack from this new quarter.


Gracious, where have you been?’ gasped Verity in mock
exasperation as she arrived out of breath at his side. ‘We have
been hunting for you all over!’ Then, leaning down to him a little,
she dropped her voice. ‘Are you in trouble? May I be of service to
you?’

The
boy blinked at her and clutched closer to his inadequate bosom the
infant, who now began to cry in earnest. Under cover of this fresh
noise, Verity added, ‘Don’t be afraid. I will help you if I may.
Let me first get rid of this man.’

Then
she turned to the gypsy and called out, ‘So foolish of my little
friends. They lost their way. But they will be safe now with
me.’

The
gypsy’s face darkened with a flush, whether in anger or shame
Verity could not tell. He stared hard at the little group for a
moment or two, and then his eyes went past them just as Verity
heard a footfall behind her. She turned to see that the groom, who
had come down from his perch on the box of Lady Crossens’ coach and
followed her, had taken a step or two forward as if to offer his
protection.


Pray don’t,’ she said to him softly. ‘There is no need for
alarm, I am persuaded.’


Maybe not, miss,’ muttered the groom gruffly, ‘but I’ll be
keeping me place beside you all the same.’

It was impossible to
tell whether the gypsy overheard this exchange, but he shrugged
slightly and turned away, walking unhurriedly off in the direction
of his camp. Within a short time, he disappeared from sight as he
descended into the valley.

Miss
Lambourn, satisfied and not a little relieved, turned back to her
protegés. She was forestalled, however.


Her
ladyship says as how you’re to come back at once, miss,’ the groom
told her apologetically.


Yes, I shall do so directly,’ Verity said with impatience. ‘I
must first see how we can assist these poor young things.’ Then
without further ado, she began to speak to the boy.


Tell me, if you please, how I may help you. You are lost,
perhaps? I know you cannot be out here all by yourselves on
purpose.’

The boy shook his
head, his initial fear fading. Whether it was her friendly manner
or the presence of the burly groom, he was visibly relaxing, though
Verity noted that his thin shoulders were still shaking.


It
was Peggy,’ he said in a grudging tone, as if the explanation were
forced from him, indicating with a dip of his chin the small child
he still clutched to his meagre chest.


Peggy”
was wailing
so loudly that Verity felt impelled to do what she might to stem
the flood before she could expect to converse with any degree of
coherence. She crouched down, therefore, and addressed soothing
blandishments to the little girl.


There now, little one, don’t cry so. You will be home
directly, darling, I promise you. Come, now, come. All will be
well, you’ll see.’

Surprise arrested the child’s sobs, and she stared at the
stranger out of big blue eyes, luminous still with her tears. But
when Verity held out her hands and would have taken the infant into
her arms, Peggy pulled back and turned her face into the boy’s
chest.


Tittoo,’ she uttered plaintively. ‘Peddy want
Tittoo.’


She
means her nurse,’ the boy translated. His young arms were evidently
tiring for he set the little girl down. Though she clung to his
slim torso, Peggy made no protest, but eyed the strange lady with
interest, whimpering for ‘Tittoo’ now and then.

Had
she had any knowledge of such things, Peggy would have noted that
Miss Lambourn was far from fashionable. She was neatly turned out
in the forest-green greatcoat dress of linen that had been made for
her for travelling, and a pretty tall-crowned beaver hat
embellished with ribbon. The feather tippet and muff for extra
warmth against draughts had been discarded in the coach, but the
ensemble lacked that touch of elegance that would have taken from
it a countrified air.

Miss Lambourn was no
beauty, either, though regular features in a fresh complexion,
taken together with her candid direct gaze and the dark curls
rioting under the hat, had an attraction all their own. That was,
for those ready to overlook the defects of a plump bosom, and
height a little below the average. She had, however, an uncommon
degree of animation and a very friendly smile, which no doubt
encouraged the waifs she had encountered to extend to her their
trust.


Peggy is your sister?’

The
boy nodded again. ‘She was in the garden with Kittle—that’s her
nurse—and I saw her run off towards the woods.’


Didn’t—er—Kittle see her?’


She
weren’t watching. Gossiping with one of the gardingers, she was,’
the boy said, with an austerity that sat uneasily on his small
person.


How
very shocking,’ Verity commented primly, suppressing a smile. ‘But
could you not have called out to her?’


I
did
call out,’ protested the boy, tossing his head
indignantly so that the straight fair locks that rested on his
shoulders flicked about his cheeks. ‘I called
plenty
times. Only I was quite far
off, you know. And Peggy can go ever so fast when she wants, though
she is not much above two years old. I had to run myself, but she
was into the woods before I could catch her. And she would not stop
when I shouted, not she.’

BOOK: Angel's Touch
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