Authors: Danelle harmon
TAKEN BY STORM
Copyright © 2013 by Danelle Harmon
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As children we all have our heroes, and when I was a little girl, mine were horses. This version of
Taken By Storm
is dedicated, with affection and long-standing admiration, to my own personal childhood favorite—the beautiful, indomitable, curious and charismatic 1930 American Triple Crown winner, Gallant Fox, on whom Shareb-er-rehh was based.
The fire started as a spark set to hay, a twisting viper of black smoke before a draft from the stable’s open door blew it into life.
With a savage, whooshing roar, the hay burst into flame.
Satisfied, the man tossed the lantern into the loose straw and stepped back as the fire’s hot breath hit him. He stood watching the hay blacken, crackle, and disintegrate, mesmerized by the flames, feeling their heat pressing against his face and sucking the moisture out of his pores, drying out his eyes, searing the inside of his nose, and crawling into his lungs with deadly malice.
Take this, you bastard. Teach you to go breaking agreements. If I can’t have the Weybourne fortune—
the horses—no one can.
Acrid smoke blackened the air, banked down from the rafters. Coughing, he whipped out his handkerchief, covered his mouth, and stepped back, toward the safety of the door and the coolness of the night beyond. Already, the fire was out of control, a frenzied demon swallowing up stacks of hay, leaping up the partitions that separated the empty stalls, and charging toward that one, single box at the end that was not empty at all.
A shrill whinny pierced the night, and then, hooves ringing desperately against wood.
The stallion was the most valuable horse in England, if not the world, but the man made no effort to save it. He heard its whinny become a terrified scream, felt the fire growing hotter, louder, angrier, pressing hot clothing against his skin, beginning to scorch, blister, and suffocate him. Smoke began to choke him, and he tasted burning wood and hay, turpentine, leather and dirt. Eyes watering, his lungs constricting in the searing heat, he retreated from the stable, the fire raging at his back.
From behind him came the stallion’s frightened scream, piercing the hellish clamor of fire and heat. It was a horrible, ghastly sound of pure terror and he pictured the flames reaching for the proud animal, engulfing it, burning it.
Such a waste.
It could’ve been otherwise, Weybourne. You old fool.
Outside, the night air engulfed him like a cool blanket, and he sucked huge gulps of it into his lungs to rid them of smoke and heat. At his back the inferno roared, and he heard the great timbers of the stable caving in upon themselves, a last distant battering of shod hooves meeting wood . . .
And then, a crescendo of thunder rising behind him.
He whirled and saw the stallion.
Wild-eyed with fury and terror, its tail streaming smoke and fire, the horse came charging out of the flames like a winged specter of death. It made straight for him; he saw the fire reflected in its savage black eyes, against its burnished coat, in its wide, flaring nostrils that burned an unholy red—
He threw himself out of the way just in time.
The great beast galloped madly off into the night, its mighty hooves making the earth tremble beneath him.
Shaken, his trousers smudged with dirt, the man pulled himself to his feet. Sweat poured down his hot face and sheets of fire snapped and popped and reached for him. Flames danced within the collapsed building like legions of angry devils. And now, faintly, he heard hoarse cries, and turned to see Weybourne himself running from the house, trailed by servants who were trying in vain to catch up to him.
“Shareb!” the old man cried. “Shareb-er-rehh!”
Silhouetted in the conflagration’s bright light, the fire-starter moved backwards, and behind a stately elm whose leaves were already curling in agony against the intense heat. Smiling, he watched as the earl came rushing toward the stable, arms waving, old legs pumping, his night cap trailing from his head.
“Shareb!” the old man cried, and then his voice rose in a desperate scream of bleak agony: “
“Stop him!” shouted one of the servants, running as fast as he could. “My lord, no!”
Another section of the stable roof imploded, spouting a fountain of sparks and churning black smoke toward the stars above.
“No, milord! Don’t go in there,
it’s no use
The old earl ran blindly through the sheets of flame and into the burning stable; the servants charged toward the back of the building in the hope of gaining a safer entrance; then, there was only Weybourne’s horrible screams as the fire caught him. His clothing ablaze, he came staggering out, gaining fifteen, maybe twenty feet, before he fell, clutching his chest.
The arsonist moved out from behind the elm and stood staring coldly down at the dying man.
“You . . .” the old earl gasped, the flames glowing orange against his face as he dragged open his eyes and saw who stood over him. “Knew it was you . . . did it for revenge, didn’t you . . . should have trusted my instincts about you . . .”
The fire crackled and sighed. Pungent billows of black smoke enclosed them, cut them off from the shouts and screams and calls that pierced the darkness.
The arsonist knelt down to the old man’s level. “Pity, pity, Weybourne. I suppose young Tristan told you all about me, did he not? Is that why you wanted to break the agreement?” He arched a brow, a faint smile touching his mouth as the earl stretched a wizened hand toward him, fingers clawing the glowing earth in a spasm of agony. “Well,
in debt, too . . . and I’ll be damned if I let you break your promise to me. Good-night, Weybourne. May you rot in hell.”
He stood, still looking at that pitiful old hand reaching toward his boot. Above the fire’s roar, he heard Weybourne’s wheezing gasps, watched the feeble hand jerk and stiffen, saw, in the unholy glow from the burning stable, the skin going ashy and gray.
And heard, off in the distance, the thunder of hoofbeats.
Hard, fast, and furious.
The stallion was returning.
This time, the man slithered off into the night, while behind him the stable burned . . .
WANTED: Any information leading to the whereabouts of Lady Ariadne St. Aubyn, daughter of the late Earl of Weybourne, who disappeared on Sunday last following the stable fire at Weybourne House in which Lord Weybourne perished. Her Ladyship, who is nineteen years of age, is described as having a very small frame, a most remarkable shade of red hair, and has in her possession a bay stallion. A REWARD of ten thousand pounds has been offered by her brother, the new Lord Weybourne, for the return of said horse, of which he is the new and rightful owner. Enquiries may be made to Weybourne House,
“That ought to do it.”
Seated at the carved mahogany desk that was now his, the new Lord Weybourne scanned his words a final time, put his seal on the document, and briskly handed it into the care of his waiting butler. “Make sure a copy of this gets posted at every inn and public house from here to Kings Lynn, and get it into the
as soon as possible.” He picked up his gloves, took his hat from his valet, and slapped it atop his dark russet hair. “For all the good it will bloody well do. My sister is probably halfway to Norfolk with that horse by now.”
The door opened and a groom stood there. “Your mare is saddled and ready, my lord.”
“It’s about time,” Tristan said darkly, and slammed from the room.
Outside, the servants were already lined up on the lawn to see their young lord off. As he strode swiftly down the steps of Weybourne House, they quailed at the look in his eye, the grim set to his mouth.
“May God be with our dear Lady Ariadne, wherever she is,” a maid whispered to the footman who stood rigidly beside her. She wrung her hands. “Oh, William, I only hope she reaches Norfolk before
“She has a good head-start,” the footman said, out of the corner of his mouth. He kept his face fixed and attentive. “
Shareb-er-rehh. He’ll not catch her.”
Tight-lipped and silent, the servants watched as their new master checked his horse’s girth, scowling at the animal as though damning it for not being one of the fast Norfolk Thoroughbreds. Tension crackled in the air, and tense sideways glances passed up and down their waiting ranks. Lady Ariadne had lost so much in the last two months alone. First the strange epidemic at the country house in Burnham Thorpe that had killed all but one of the Norfolk Thoroughbreds; then the London stable fire that had claimed her father, and nearly Shareb-er-rehh as well—and finally, the opening and reading of his will. It had been the final blow. Surely, old Lord Weybourne had meant well . . . but to think he had been blind enough to bequeath Shareb-er-rehh, the last, and only remaining, stallion, to his derelict rakehell of a son. Who could blame Lady Ariadne for stealing the horse and fleeing London?
It was a good thing young Tristan was ignorant of their thoughts—and, where their sympathies lay. His handsome face exhibited no sign of grief as he passed the gutted stable on its black and ugly patch of charred ground, his eyes belied no emotion as the damp London wind skated over the rubble and brought with it the acrid stench of ashes and dead dreams. There was nothing in his countenance but fury—and grim resolve.
Sensing it, the mare rolled her eyes in fear as he pulled on his gloves, took the reins, and snapped out final instructions to his grave-faced butler. “If anyone comes looking for the reward money, put them off until my return. God knows I don’t have the funds—
—to pay it out. But I will, as soon as I catch up to my sister and get my hands on that stallion.
So help me God I will.
Then the young master of Weybourne swung himself up in the saddle, wheeled his horse, and in a clatter of hoofbeats, was gone.
# # #
“There sir! In the street!”
Colin Nicholas Lord took one look at the dog and knew it was dying.
Gripping his bag, he sprinted as best he could toward the animal even as a woman broke from the confused group that milled around it. She hurried to meet him, her skirts flying, her face flushed and anxious. “Oh sir, they said you’re an animal doctor! Please, do something to save our precious Homer—you’ve got to save him, sir, oh,
you’ve got to save him, he’s my son Tommy’s only companion and if he dies—”
The crowd parted, ushering him through. The big black mastiff was lying on its side, lips pulled back in a grimace of agony, body stiff, eyes glassy and staring into nothingness. A little boy, six or seven years old by the look of him, was huddled on the street next to the dog, his skinny arms wrapped around its massive neck, his bright blond head buried in its fur. He looked up, his eyes huge and blue, his cheeks streaked with tears.