Read Her Master and Commander Online

Authors: Karen Hawkins

Tags: #Historical Romance, #Fiction, #romance, #historical, #General, #Literature & Fiction

Her Master and Commander

BOOK: Her Master and Commander
2.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Karen Hawkins
 
 
Her
M
ASTER And
C
OMMANDER
 
 
 

To my son’s dog, Duke—

 

Thank you for keeping my toes warm
and never giving me that you-are-so-stupid look
you save for the cat.

 

Everyone needs a dog like Duke.

Contents
 
 

Prologue

“He will come.” Ten-year-old Tristan Llevanth leaned his forehead on…

 

Chapter 1

Pristine and perfect, the river wound through carefully tended forests,…

 
 

Chapter 2

The blue waves hurled themselves against the jagged cliff face,…

 
 

Chapter 3

Prudence marched home, her heavy boots thumping loudly on the…

 
 

Chapter 4

Tristan leaned his head against the high back of his…

 
 

Chapter 5

“You, sir, will remove your sheep from my garden,” Prudence…

 
 

Chapter 6

Prudence rapped a sharp, staccato knock upon the weathered door,…

 
 

Chapter 7

Moments before Prudence’s fall from the chair, Tristan had been…

 
 

Chapter 8

Tristan leaned his hand on the frame above his head…

 
 

Chapter 9

The next morning, Prudence slowly made her way toward the…

 
 

Chapter 10

She wanted him. The thought trembled on her lips, never…

 
 

Chapter 11

Morning arrived. Tristan made it to the library at a…

 
 

Chapter 12

Some ten miles east, on a particularly rocky stretch of…

 
 

Chapter 13

Tristan strode down the path, still mulling over Reeves and…

 
 

Chapter 14

On the day of the dinner party, Prudence arrived at…

 
 

Chapter 15

The dinner party was doomed the second they arrived. Not…

 
 

Chapter 16

It was silliness. It really was. And Prudence knew that.

 
 

Chapter 17

Tristan blew out the lamp, sending the inside of the…

 
 

Chapter 18

Reeves took Prudence’s arm and led her to one side.

 
 

Chapter 19

Prudence blinked. “I beg your pardon. What did you say?”

 
 

Chapter 20

Prudence threw back the covers and kicked impatiently at the…

 
 

Chapter 21

The ride to Tristan’s was filled with Mother’s incessant talking…

 
A COMPLEAT GUIDE FOR
BEING A MOST PROPER BUTLER
by Richard Robert Reeves
 

As I reach my thirtieth year of service as a butler in a gentleman’s household, I find myself looking back. Between my secret recipe for boot blacking (an indispensable tool for a butler), and a vastly superior method to remove wine stains from velvet (which some will erroneously hold to be an impossibility), I find my memories salted with some faint wisdoms, a few tested experiences, and many, many interesting stories.

My only regret is that, due to my devotion to this profession, I have no children into whose hands I might deliver my wisdoms and memories. Therefore, in writing this book, I have decided to dedicate it to all the young men who are considering accepting a position in a well-bred establishment as a butler. In many ways, you are my sons, all of you.

Thus, I begin…

Prologue
 
 

A servant—any servant—should never overstep the boundaries of his profession unless required by the utmost necessity. Even then, he should do so with extreme caution. It has been my experience that when a servant haphazardly crosses the lines of propriety, society—or some force within—will often shove him right back.

 

A Compleat Guide for
Being a Most Proper Butler
by Richard Robert Reeves

 
 

The White Thistle Inn
Yorkshire, England
1781

 
 

“H
e will come.” Ten-year-old Tristan Llevanth leaned his forehead on the cool pane of glass. Below him, across the muddy inn yard, lay the road to London. Long and narrow, a brown ribbon threaded through the scraggly countryside, it stood heart-wrenchingly empty. “I know he will,” he whispered, his breath fogging the damp glass. “Our father never lies.”

“How do you know?” Christian said with a disgusted curl of his lip. “The earl never speaks to us. He doesn’t even consider us his children.”

Tristan turned to face his brother. “The earl of Rochester is a busy man. And he does, too, consider us his children for he gives Mother money to pay for our upkeep and the tutor.”

Christian didn’t look impressed. “He wouldn’t be too busy to see us if we were his legitimate heirs. And he certainly wouldn’t leave us here where it’s cold and boring.”

Legitimate.
The word burned into Tristan’s soul and he had to grit his teeth against the threat of tears. “He will come to save us. He must.”

Christian met Tristan’s gaze for a long moment, his expression skeptical. One would scarcely know they were twins to look at them. Whereas Tristan was blondish with broad shoulders and fists the size of ham hocks, Christian was black-haired and slender, though every bit as tall.

The only commonality the two shared was the color of their eyes, an oddly light and compelling green, like that of a newly bloomed leaf. An elfish color, one of the chambermaids had called it.

Tristan rather liked that. Perhaps he
was
magic and if he tried hard enough, their father would come riding through the fog and save them all. Especially Mother, who needed saving more than anyone else.

At the thought of Mother, locked away in a damp prison all alone, Tristan rubbed his chest where an ache lodged and grew. He knew what the ache was—fear. And it was the enemy. If he let the lump grow too large, he would not be able to make decisions, find a way out of their present difficulties. And Christian, for all his posturing otherwise, had to be as frightened as Tristan.

In the taproom below, the sound of raised voices echoed up the wooden stairwell, rising with Tristan’s fears.

Christian glanced uneasily at the closed door. “We should leave. This place is not safe.”

“We cannot,” Tristan said sternly. “We wrote Father that we’d be here, waiting. And we will be.”

“Tris…Brooks said the earl’s men would not let him in. They just took the letter and sent him on his way.”

“Father is an earl. He is a very important man. I am certain when he finally had time to read the letter—”

“He wouldn’t even see Brooks. What makes you think he’ll read our letter?”

Tristan shook his head desperately. “
No.
You are wrong. Father
will
come. He has to, Chris. He has to.”

Christian’s brows lowered. “You…you aren’t going to cry, are you?”

Tristan pulled himself up, fighting the tears that choked him. After a moment, he rasped out, “I do not cry.”

Christian met his gaze straight on. “Neither do I.” Yet after a long moment, his shoulders sagged and he turned back to the window, staring sightlessly out at the graying evening.

Hands curled into fists stiffly held at his sides, Tristan said in a quiet voice, “If Father does not help, Mother could—” He swallowed.

Christian rubbed his forehead. “Brooks knows that. It is why he has been acting so strangely of late. He…he is afraid.”

Tristan knew that Mr. Brooks only stayed with him and Christian because the tutor believed that once Mother was freed, she’d reward him for his assistance in watching over her sons. At first, the tutor had been rather benign in taking care of them. But as each day passed and the likelihood of Mother returning seemed more remote, Brooks’s temper had changed.

Last week, after he’d been turned away from the earl’s house, Brooks had become more noticeably sullen and cross. He drank heavily and no longer pretended to be polite in speaking to his charges. There were times, in fact, when he was anything but. Tristan rolled his shoulders and winced where a bruise lingered there from the stick Brooks had applied to Tristan’s shoulders for asking yet again if perhaps they should write another letter to Father.

“Does it still hurt?” Christian asked quietly.

“It’s just a bit stiff. I almost forgot about it.”

For a split second, emotion flashed hot and ready across Christian’s eyes. Raw, bloody fury that made Tristan gape in surprise. But in the blink of an eye, the expression was gone and Christian had turned to look out the window once again.

Christian was like that; he hid his feelings well. Mother always said he was like a lake, calm on the surface though a powerful current rumbled beneath. Tristan, meanwhile, was the ocean—his feelings frothed and foamed on the surface, crashing like waves into every situation. Even this one. Especially this one.

The distinct roar of drunken laughter erupted from the taproom below. As one, Christian and Tristan turned to look at the closed door. The roar faded a bit, though the noise level was noticeably higher. Somewhere in the midst of that roar was Mr. Brooks, drinking and gambling away what precious little they had left.

Tristan leaned his forehead against the glass. “I hate this.”

Christian turned and looked at his older brother. He loved Tristan and looked up to him, but there were times when his twin seemed to cling to hope when there was none. “We cannot stay here.”

“We have to. For Father.” Tristan sighed, his breath frosting the glass. “Maybe Mr. Brooks can write Father’s man of business and find out why he hasn’t replied—”

“Mr. Brooks has done enough,” Christian said more harshly than he intended. Tristan’s mouth thinned, a wounded look shone in his eyes. A surge of guilt made Christian clasp his hands behind his back. He squeezed his fingers so hard they burned. It wouldn’t do for anyone to see how much his hands were shaking. When he’d sat at the top of the stairs last night, he’d heard far more than he’d shared with Tristan. Mr. Brooks had been talking to a man in a long coat. The tutor owed the man money—a lot of money. Brooks had already sold everything they had of value. All he had left was—

Christian pressed his lips together. He wouldn’t think of it right now. Later tonight, when Tristan was asleep, Christian would think of a way to leave before the tutor decided to sell the only assets they had left. He and Tris would escape, perhaps go to London themselves and find one of Mother’s friends. Perhaps they could even find someone to help her. Someone who cared more than their father.

The thought of the earl burned a hole in Christian’s stomach. He hated his father. Hated him so much that seeing the old man dead wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy the bile that flowed in Christian’s veins. One day, he’d kill his father for what he’d done to him and Tristan. For what the old man hadn’t done for Mother. There the old man sat, surrounded by his title, his lands, his fortune, yet he could not be bothered to keep watch over anyone who was not in his immediate favor. Not even Mother, who had once been wildly in love with the man.

The thought of Mother raised new shadows. It had been almost six months since she’d been dragged from her bed and arrested, thrown into gaol without a word of explanation. For weeks, no one would tell them why she’d been arrested. When Christian had finally overheard the butler telling the housekeeper that Mother had been imprisoned on charges of treason, he’d thought he’d misheard. But he hadn’t.

Even now that day seemed a horrid dream. Mrs. Felts, the housekeeper, had cried, and Melton, the butler, had looked pale and grim. Neither of the boys had understood, of course. All they knew was what Mr. Brooks told them, that Mother was gone, but would come home any day. That the charges could be fought, refuted. But somehow, as the days passed, those words were spoken less and less often, until now, when they weren’t spoken at all.

From the second Mother had been imprisoned, the funds from the earl had stopped. Not a single pence arrived. The servants had gone away, one by one, until only Mr. Brooks was left.

One day, a burly, unsmiling man had arrived at the house and nailed a sign on the front door saying the premises were reassigned back into the care of the bank because of arrears on the property.

Christian wasn’t sure what “arrears” were, but within hours, Brooks had all of the silver in the house packed into a cart, and they were on their way. The family silver didn’t last long. Slowly, as the weeks passed, the quality of their lives lowered. They no longer went to the inns in the center of town, but to the ones on the outskirts. Dirty and damp and vermin ridden, the feather mattresses gave way to hay ticking. And then to the hard floor.

Now, they were down to the last two candlesticks. Christian wondered what would happen when those were gone. What would they do then? More importantly, what would Brooks do?

A hand settled on his shoulder. “Don’t look like that,” Tristan said. “I will think of something.”

Christian turned to look at his brother. “I hope so.”

Tristan squeezed his brother’s shoulder, suddenly filled with an aching determination to fix things. “We will manage. Wait and see if we don’t.”

Christian pushed his hair from his eyes. The light slanted over his face, touching the dirty lace at his throat and shining on the worn velvet of his coat. “Tristan, there is something you should know. The other day, on the steps…I heard Brooks talking to a man. About us.”

Tristan’s heart thudded an extra beat. “What did he say?”

“Brooks owes the man a lot of money. The man asked if we were strong. Tristan, he said—” Christian swallowed loudly, visibly collecting himself. “He said the last two recruits he’d pressed had died before they’d even made landfall.”

Tristan’s chest burned with the effort to breathe. Life at sea was difficult and deadly. Ships often sent gangs to capture able-bodied men and boys who were then dragged on board and pressed into service as sailors. It was perfectly legal to do so, even though many never returned to their homes.

Urgency tightened Tristan’s throat. Surely they had a few more days to find a way out of this fix. Perhaps they could take the candlesticks and leave Brooks behind. Yes. That is what they should do—

Tristan stiffened. Over the noise of the crowd, he thought he heard—there it was again. Brooks was coming up the stairs, and he was not alone. There was no time. “Christian! Quick! Out the window.”

“What—” His brother’s eyes widened as Brooks’s voice carried into the room. Christian whirled to the window and frantically began to work at the latch.

Tristan took the one chair that graced the room and rammed it under the doorknob. Pitifully wobbly, it was all he had.

The window latch gave with a loud snap. Christian pushed the window open and leaned out. “Tris, it’s a long way down—”

The door rattled. Brooks’s angry voice rose. “Damn it! Open up!”

Tristan ran to the bed and pulled a small red bundle from beneath it, the candlesticks clanking together. The door rattled louder. Brooks’s voice rose with each word. “Open this bloody door or I’ll beat the both of you!”

Another man’s voice said something low and Brooks agreed. “I can do that.”

Tristan grabbed up the bundle and ran to Christian. “Here.” He thrust it into his brother’s hands. “Take this.”

“Tris, we’re two stories up.”

“We have no choice. I’ll be right behind you—”

The door burst open. Mr. Brooks stood in the entry, his cravat mussed, his eyes wild. Behind him stood a large, cadaverous-looking man with eyes red-rimmed from drink.

Panic freed Tristan. He acted without thought, without direction. Whirling, he shoved his brother out the window. Christian clutched convulsively at the bundled candlesticks as he fell backward. A lone scream pierced the night.

“Good God!” Brooks said, leaping forward, his face pale.

Tristan made a mad dive for the window, but the man with Brooks was faster. “Ye bloody bugger!” the man yelled. He grabbed Tristan and jerked him back inside, the windowsill cruelly scraping his chest.

Tristan kicked, his boot landing solidly on the man’s shin.

“Why you—Nobody treats Jack Danter like thet!” He tightened his grip even more, his strong arms pressing the air from Tristan’s lungs.

“Careful, Danter!” Brooks said, looking ill. “You—you said they’d come to no harm.”

“Stop yammerin’ and fetch t’other!” Danter snapped, his lips tight over yellowed teeth. “I’ll deal with this one.”

The tutor swallowed. “I don’t believe I should—”

“Then pay what ye owe!” Danter’s gaze narrowed, his arms tightening even more cruelly around Tristan.

Tristan gasped for breath. His chest burned, his eyes blurred and wet.
Run, Christian! Save yourself!
He thought it over and over, as if by repetition he might make it happen.

Brooks’s gaze moved back to Tristan, something dismally sad in their depths. For a second, Tristan thought the tutor might save him after all. But instead, the man’s shoulders slumped and he turned and went silently out the door.

Anger exploded behind Tristan’s eyes. He sucked in a deep breath and lurched free from Danter’s grasp.
“Christian! RUN!”

Danter grabbed Tristan by the throat, his fist drawn back, his face twisted in anger.

As if in a dream, Tristan saw the fist coming toward him. There was nothing to be done. He was lost. All he could do was hope that Christian had made it, that Tristan hadn’t killed his only brother by shoving him out the window.

It was the last thought he had before the fist met his temple and, with an explosion of white pain, blacked his mind to everything else.

BOOK: Her Master and Commander
2.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Deadly Slipper by Michelle Wan
Cover Model by Devon Hartford
A Romantic Way to Die by Bill Crider
Texas Takedown by Barb Han
Kiss Crush Collide by Meredith, Christina
Too Great a Temptation by Alexandra Benedict
Through the Storm by Maureen Lee