Authors: Samantha Holt
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #Victorian, #Historical Fiction, #British, #Regency, #Historical Romance
A Cynfell Brothers Novella
Copyright 2015 ©Samantha Holt
rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner
whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in critical articles and reviews.
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of
the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed
as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organisations, or persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
by Em Petrova
by Destini Reece
Ash Cynfell cracked open an eye. He closed it again at
the sight that greeted him. The sense of being watched failed to dissipate so
he forced that eye open once more and peered at his reflection.
No, not his reflection. His
“What the devil are you
doing here?” he grumbled, hearing the gritty tone to his voice. He closed both
eyes and concentrated working through the fog that had crowded his mind several
hours ago and left him lethargic and almost unable to move from his bed.
“Drinking again, brother?”
Harris asked. “On today of all days.”
Ash did not deny it. He
worked hard to open both eyes and stare down his brother as he leant over him.
While they were identical, Harris didn’t suffer the affliction of red-rimmed eyes
or creases on his forehead, as Ash knew he’d currently have if he braved a look
in a mirror.
“What do you want?”
“Well, that’s charming.”
Harris strode over to the chair in the corner of the bedroom, sat, and lifted
yesterday’s newspaper that had been abandoned when his vision had grown too
blurry to read it. His brother crossed one leg over the other and flicked the
Ash clenched his jaw and
lifted his gaze to the ornate ceiling of his townhouse bedroom. He took a few
breaths and counted to ten. As close as they were, he loathed how Harris had to
make such a display about everything. Nothing was ever easy with his brother.
Everything had to be dramatic and over-the-top.
“Goddamn it, Harris, piss
off and leave me to sleep.”
“It’s seven o’clock.” Harris
lowered the paper. “In the evening.”
“And I like my bed.” He
resisted the urge to pull the covers and sulk under them much like when they
“You would like it a lot
more if you actually got out of it and went in search of company. Honestly, Ash,
I’m beginning to have concerns about you. Are you sure you’re my brother? When
was the last time you kissed a woman, let alone bedded her?”
He didn’t want to consider
it, but he found himself doing so. A year? No, two. It wasn’t that he didn’t
have healthy male desires. It was simply that finding a woman took effort. With
these constant headaches attacking him, he hardly had the energy.
Not to mention, he did not
want to let someone close enough to find out about them.
“I get enough women,” he
His brother put the paper
onto the small table next to the chair and stood. He pushed a hand through dark
hair and straightened his waistcoat. Being identical twins had brought them
plenty of entertainment as boys and even as young men, but it also brought its
annoyances. They had the uncanny ability to purchase the same clothing or pick
out the same fabrics at the tailors. Looking exactly like one another grew old
and the constant comments, frustrating. The attention from women had been
interesting once but no longer—not since the headaches started getting worse.
Harris gave him a
disbelieving look but said no more. “Today of all days to drink yourself to
Ash forced himself upright,
swung his legs over the bed and crossed his arms over his rumpled clothing.
This morning he’d been dressed and ready to have a productive day until his
vision had begun to blur, a great swathe of dots dancing in front of it. He’d
taken immediately to his bed with the knowledge of what was to come.
An agonising pain and a
lethargy that barely let him put one foot in front of the other.
He wouldn’t correct his
brother. The assumption was always he’d been drinking or that he was too lazy
to get out of bed. His family had been assuming that ever since the headaches
started when he was a lad. Not the drinking part of course, but he was grateful
when he could start legitimately indulging in a tipple to have an excuse for
wasting hours and hours in bed.
Far better that than the
“Since when do my drinking
habits concern you?”
“Since you challenged Fred
Westerling to a duel and you need a steady hand.”
Ash swung a surprised glance
at the clock as if that could somehow tell him the day. But it told him his
brother had been right and it was now past seven o’clock. Past the time he was
meant to be meeting that damn fool for pistols at...well...dusk.
“Damn it all.” He pushed up
from the bed and tried to hide his wince.
His brother shot him a
concerned look, and Ash shied away from it. He didn’t want sympathy. The very
thought made his gut curdle. He was a man—a strong, fit and healthy one by all
accounts. It was just his head that was wrong, somehow.
But it mattered not. Men did
not take to their bed like delicate ladies because of a mere headache. He still
recalled his mother saying as much when he’d first begun suffering this
affliction. Her sharp voice practically grated his memory, and he resisted the
desire to wince once again.
“Do you think he will still
be there?” They’d planned to meet on the small green behind Westerling’s house.
Harris was to be his second.
“You’d better hope not. In
the state you’re in, you’ll never be able to shoot straight.”
“I could be dead and still
shoot Westerling.” The man was a terrible shot, no matter how much he bragged.
“Shoot him, yes, but in your
condition you’ll miss your mark.” Harris handed over the necktie Ash had been
scanning the room for. “I know you have no intention of killing the man.”
“A little nick to the arm
will give him a fright enough.”
His brother peered at him. “I
am afraid, brother, no man would look at you and think you could shoot straight
at present. I do not really want to have to start telling people my twin
brother is a murderer.”
“You won’t have to,” he
snapped. As long as his vision did not cloud again—which it should not as the
headaches never struck him twice in one day—he’d be able to give Westerling a
scare and come away unscathed.
“Is a lady really worth
prison time over?”
Ash could not quite remember
which lady it was he’d caught Westerling forcing himself upon. The man had a
habit of being ungentlemanly and that had been the last straw for him. No woman
should have to tolerate such behaviour, and the poor lady had blamed herself
for allowing herself to be near him, such was the man’s reputation. No more,
Ash had vowed, and thus he had challenged the blackguard.
“I imagine you have no plans
on bedding her either.”
“None at all.” He finished
tying his necktie in a messy knot. He kept no valet and minimal staff. It was
easier to keep his affliction quiet that way. Did it matter if it meant he
never looked quite as turned out as his brother? He didn’t think so.
“Now I’m convinced. You
cannot be a Cynfell.”
“If I’m not a Cynfell, then
neither are you,” Ash snapped back. He saw the teasing glint in his brother’s
eyes and rolled his own. “Come, let us get this debacle over with. If the man
is still even there. He must know he hadn’t a hope in hell of shooting me in
the near dark.”
Ash finished tidying up his
appearance and retrieved his pistol. They took Harris’ carriage to Green Park,
and he ordered the driver to wait. He wasn’t sure his brother had any
confidence in his ability to shoot at all and half-expected him to need a quick
trip to the doctor.
He narrowed his gaze at the
dark shadows of the trees. Lamps lit the streets and the night was a silvery
colour but he saw no sign of Westerling.
“He’s given up!” Harris
The park was empty—one of
the reasons they’d chosen to duel in the evening rather than the traditional
morning. It was unlikely anyone would create a fuss about them duelling, but he
wasn’t a fan of having his illegal behaviour in the gossip rags. Let him leave
the column inches to his other brothers.
He smirked. Who were steadily
becoming less newsworthy than even himself, which was saying something. Four of
his brothers were busy playing doting husbands, and three were now fathers. Only
Pierce and his countess hadn’t opted for extending the Cynfell pack. With his
wife already having a fully grown child, he could not quiet blame them.
A pang of guilt struck him
when he thought of his nieces and nephews. He hadn’t even met Viola and Julian’s
most recent baby. Not that they expected him to visit, given his reputation,
but he had to be about the worst uncle in the world.
“Wait.” Harris drew his
attention to the park.
A movement. “Is that him?”
They moved toward the shadowy figure. It was Westerling. The fellow seemed to
stagger, stop...then he collapsed.
“What in the devil?” Ash
hastened forward and came to the man’s side. Something damp met his fingertips
and a rasping breath told him all was not well.
“Damn you, Cynfell,”
Westerling rasped. “He killed me.”
“Who killed you?” Harris glanced
around but saw no one.
Only a bubbling sound and
the thump of Westerling’s hands falling to the side answered him.
“Ash, we need to get a
“Too damned late for that by
the looks of it,” his brother muttered but sprinted off toward the houses.
His eyes adjusted to the dim
light of the park, and he saw the dark stain of blood on Westerling’s clothes.
Whoever had hurt him had done so with the intention of killing him.
He stiffened at the sound of
crunching leaves. Taking a glance around, he saw no movement but then...his
heart bounded into his chest. A woman’s scream. Without thought, he was on his
feet and racing toward the source of the noise. Another scream. It pierced his
insides. This was a scream of terror.
He spilled out of the park
and paused. Not far from Spencer House, he spied the woman. A man had her
pinned against the brick wall of the building next to the mansion, and Ash
caught the glint of a knife as the golden glow of lamps bounced off it. He
barely recalled covering the distance between them or barrelling into the
attacker. The sting of his knuckles told him he’d struck the man and the cry in
his ear announced the safety of the victim. The man kicked out, knocking him in
the gut and forcing the air from his lungs. Whoever he was, he easily matched
him. Ash didn’t even manage to catch a glimpse of his features before he
wriggled away and ran.
The crying woman prevented
him from giving chase. He turned his attention back to her and stilled. She
wore an emerald green evening gown, cut low across her shoulders and breasts.
Several scratches marred the pale skin there. Diamonds glinted on her neck and
wrists, and they shimmered with her trembling movements.
Really, he should have
chased the criminal, but how could he abandon her?
“You’re safe now,” he
She lifted an unsteady hand
to her mouth, and he admired the slender fingers beneath white gloves. Her
red-rimmed gaze met his. In spite of the tears and the clear horror in her gaze,
Ash couldn’t fail to notice how beautiful they were. Vibrant green, slightly
slanted, with dark lashes that few fair-haired women were blessed with. They
screamed innocent and wholesome yet were utterly alluring.
And her hair. It had fallen
from whatever intricate style it had been in and skimmed over her shoulders.
One golden curl nearly reached her waist. He longed to finger it.
“I-I saw him.”
He offered an awkward hand,
pressing it to her bare arm. Cold skin met his fingertips, and he quickly undid
his jacket and slung it over her shoulders. She leaned into him slightly as he
did so, making his heart expand.
Ash bit back a groan. There
had always been something that appealed to him about a woman in need. He’d
dreamed of being a hero in his younger years until the headaches had taken
hold. Maybe he would have captained a ship or gone exploring. Something bold
and courageous, and he’d return home and the ladies would adore him. Perhaps he
would save a woman or two in his travels. He’d never been able to resist the
little girls on his father’s estate wanting his help to catch a frog or climb a
tree, and that hadn’t changed in his adulthood.
Ash kept his arm around the
woman. “What is your name?”
“Miss L-Lila Radley.”
“Ash Cynfell.” He never
bothered to use the courtesy title that came with being one of the many sons of
a marquess. “No harm will come to you.”
She looked up at him, those
wide eyes seeming to burrow deep down inside him. “I saw that man kill the
A sinking sensation struck
his gut. Poor woman. Not only had she been nearly killed, she’d seen what
looked to be a murder happen in front of her. He was tempted to ask her why she
was out alone, but he didn’t wish to make her feel any worse.
Several people began to
spill out of Spencer House. Whoever was renting it at present must have been
hosting a party. He noted his brother with a man in tow, heading toward
“Were you attending the