Read The Groom Says Yes Online

Authors: Cathy Maxwell

Tags: #Historical Romance, #Love Story, #Regency Romance, #Romance, #England, #London, #Scotland

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BOOK: The Groom Says Yes
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The worst was having the widow behave in such a condescending manner. She’d called Sabrina “innocent.” Another way of saying naïve. Or unimportant.

However, she did speak one truth. If her father remarried, Sabrina would be subject to the widow’s whims. Men were that way. They could be led.

Hot tears spilled from her eyes. She swiped at them, angry with herself for being hurt, for being afraid.

How soon men forget their grief. How quickly they move on. Bitterness threatened to consume her. She couldn’t return home, not yet. She’d do and say things she would regret.

As she moved to higher ground, she left behind the trees and the silver waters of Loch Tay. She left behind civilization. Here, where the sky touched the wild moors, she had space to breathe, to cry, and to scream her anger.

Not far from the road was an abandoned bothy. When her mother had been so frighteningly ill, there had been many a time Sabrina had needed escape. She’d discovered the bothy and realized here was a place she could go to release the horror of watching her mother slowly die.

In the bothy, she could break down, rage at God even, then dry her tears, dust herself off, and travel home with no one’s being the wiser. Because of the bothy, she had smiles for her mother and soothing words for her father.

And right now, Sabrina needed its haven.

The bothy was nestled in the crook of the moor’s rolling land. She picked up her step. Without hesitation, she ducked under the open doorway, strode right through the first room past the door into the second, windowless one. She stopped, facing a corner. Her face was flushed and her breathing labored from exertion and anger.

Doubling her fists, she gave vent to her outrage, speaking to the air as if to her father.

“You
can’t
marry that woman. You
mustn’t.
And if you think
I
shall live under the same roof with her or sit at the same table—you are wrong. Wrong, wrong,
wrong.
I shall not disgrace my mother’s memory by recognizing her. Do you hear me?
I won’t.

That last felt good. And so, she repeated it.

“I. Won’t. Not
ever.
You may cut me off, send me to the poorhouse, whip me with chains, but I will
not
sit at a table with the Widow Bossley. And she will never be a mother to me. Or anything else.”

She could have jumped up and down she was so angry. She’d never speak these words to her father. Mrs. Bossley was right; Sabrina had no choice but to accept the marriage.

Sabrina would become an unwanted appendage in their lives, a shadow of what she’d once been. Then she would die. Alone. Unmourned. A morality tale to young girls of what happened to the unmarried—

Her thoughts broke off as the hairs on the back of her neck tingled with awareness.

She might die alone,
but she was not alone now.

In the space of a pause, she’d heard someone else’s breathing, a heavy sound as if with difficulty.

Slowly, she turned, and her heart gave a start.

A man blocked the doorway to her room. He leaned against the stone wall as if needing support to stand.

He had the disreputable appearance of a brigand or a pirate. His black hair was overlong. A beard shadowed his jaw. He was tall, lean, muscular—and deathly ill.

His eyes burned with fever, he said, “Help me. Please. Water—”

His plea broke off as he fell to the floor at her feet.

Chapter Three

S
abrina stared at the man sprawled out on the floor—and then thought to scream.

She wasn’t one for hysterics. Her belated cry sounded as if she had been startled by a mouse, not a well-over-six-foot man with villainous looks.

A man who had dropped like a sack of grain . . . and didn’t appear to be breathing.

Surprise gave over to curiosity.

Was
he dead?

Charging up to the bothy alone now seemed like a terrible idea, especially when her only escape from the hut was blocked by his big body, although flat out on the ground, he didn’t seem as frightening as he’d been a moment ago. And what sort of blackguard asked for water? Certainly not a dangerous one . . . she didn’t think.

He wore dark breeches and a shirt made of what appeared to be good material. The linen was filthy now. His jacket and the neckcloth were in a heap on the floor of the other room. His boots were run-down at the heels.

Her heart slowed its beat. Common sense returned.

It was quite possible that he wasn’t anyone to be alarmed over but a traveler who had taken ill and sought out the shelter of the bothy for protection.

Sabrina had learned a great deal about healing while caring for her mother. She now considered the gentleman with a critical eye before kneeling and pressing her fingers against his neck. He had a pulse, a faint one. His skin was hot to the touch, and her fingers left white print marks. The man did need water and anything else liquid she could think of to pour down his gullet and cool the fever.

He’d probably suffered chills as well. Fever and chills. She didn’t want to think he could have the influenza.

There hadn’t been a bout of it in the valley since the disease had claimed the life of the Menzies baby and one of the family’s aged aunts as well last year. Many others had come down with the sickness, but after a period of
wishing
they were dead, they had recovered.

Usually, people Sabrina’s age could weather the illness. This man should be able to fight off influenza
if
he’d been healthy enough before contracting it, and that was the question.

He was thin, too thin. He might not have been in robust health before the illness. There was a pallor to his skin she could not like, and the rattling in his chest concerned her. She knew that sound. She’d heard it in her mother before she died. He might not survive the night if something wasn’t done for him quickly.

Her own problems evaporated.

“Sir, do you hear me?” Sabrina said, talking loudly and distinctly and wanting to rouse him.

He did not answer. He didn’t move.

Unafraid of doing something drastic to make the man respond, she clamped her thumb and her finger around his well-shaped nose.

He appeared capable of breathing out of his mouth, but then he started coughing. Good.

She held on.

Unable to catch his breath, the man came awake with a start, his eyes opening in surprise.

“Hell-o,” Sabrina said. “Who are you? What is your name? Do you have family?” The answer to those question would be very important if he died.

His brows came together. He had definitive brows, the kind that could express emotion on their own, the kind that made a man’s face interesting, appealing.

“What?” he grumbled out. “Couldn’t . . . breathe.”

“Of course, you couldn’t. I was holding your nose.” Sabrina clambered to her feet.

His scowl deepened. He’d understood her. “Me nose?”

“Your nose,” she confirmed.
Me nose
. What a quaint quirk, she thought, then realized he had the hint of an accent she couldn’t quite place. “Where are you from?”

He’d started looking around the bothy as if completely disoriented. She repeated her question.

However, instead of answering, he tried to help himself up, using the stones of the doorway for leverage, but he lacked strength. His arms could not give him support, and he fell back against the door between the two rooms, his expression dazed as if he didn’t understand what was happening to him.

Sabrina softened her voice. “Sir, you are very ill.”

Glassy brown eyes met hers. They reminded her of the color of good sherry when sunlight passed through it.

“What is your name?” she asked again.

“Enright,” he said.

“Enright,” she repeated, wanting to confirm what she’d heard. When he didn’t correct her, she said, “Mr. Enright, do you know where you are?”

Those expressive brows came together, but before he could answer, he began shaking. The chills were starting to come upon him, and she had nothing to use to help him fight them off.

“I need to fetch help,” she said, starting to rise. “You—”

She didn’t finish her sentence. With unanticipated swiftness and a strength that must have cost him everything he had, Mr. Enright grabbed her, placing a hand to the back of her neck, so he could look her in the eye. “
No.

The single word reverberated in the air around them.

“But you need help,” she said. Surprisingly, she was not afraid. “If you don’t receive care, you could die here.”

She watched as he processed her words and realized he’d already accepted the possibility of death. He
knew
how ill he was.

“Please,” she whispered. “It might not be too late.”

“No,” he repeated, the word spoken softer but just as emphatic. “No one else. Safe here.” It was taking great effort for him to speak. “Secret. Keep . . . secret. Promise me.”

For a second, Sabrina could imagine they were the only two people in the world. He was asking for her trust.

“If I promise, you must let me help you,” Sabrina said, uncertain even as she spoke the words why she should be willing to make such an offer, and yet there it was.

Suspicion came to those hard sherry eyes.

“You aren’t in a position to refuse me,” she reminded him gently.

A bark of rusty laughter escaped him, as if she’d made a jest only he understood. His hand slid from her neck to rest on his thigh. He slumped against the door, a wan smile of defeat on his lips. “Suit yourself,” he managed, and Sabrina felt a note of triumph.

She sat back on her heels. “I always do,” she admitted. “Is there anyone I should contact for you if the worst happens? A wife, perhaps?”

He shook his head. It was all he could do. His eyes were growing heavy, and his shivering grew stronger. Sabrina stood and fetched his jacket. She placed it like a blanket around his shoulders. “I will return shortly,” she promised, and left the bothy. She needed to fetch her pony cart. She could not leave Mr. Enright alone overnight. He would not survive without food, water, and good care.

And she
would
have to tell one person of his presence—her father. Certainly, Mr. Enright could understand the necessity.

Besides, she hadn’t given him her promise, not actually, although she would honor his wishes to the best of her ability.

Her feet didn’t slow until she reached the trees surrounding Kenmore village.

Little more than an hour had passed since she had walked out of the Kenmore Inn, but it seemed as if her confrontation with Mrs. Bossley was another lifetime ago.

The ladies of the Quarterly Meeting had apparently finished their luncheon and gone home. All the vehicles were gone. Only Dumpling remained, and he was lonely. He caught Sabrina’s scent on the wind and called to her.

Sabrina had to step into the inn to collect her hat and gloves. The Orrock lad had been watching for her and had them at the ready. She had no doubt the ladies had thoroughly thrashed out what had happened between herself and Mrs. Bossley. The look in the lad’s eye told her that he’d heard a thing or two.

But Sabrina couldn’t worry about what people thought of her right now. She had to save Mr. Enright’s life.

She thanked the lad for his help, promised him a coin when she saw him next for his diligence, and left the inn.

Tying the ribbon of her bonnet under her chin, she crossed the road to her cart. As she approached the kirk, she caught a glimpse of a woman studying the markers in the graveyard around the church building. Because her mind was preoccupied, and since there was always someone paying respect to the deceased, Sabrina barely paid her a moment’s attention.

Instead, she gave Dumpling a pat, promised him an extra bit of oats after they finished a “special” errand, and climbed into her cart. It was a lovely little vehicle made of wicker and white-painted wood. The sides were solid, and the undercarriage and wheels were a deep green that reminded her of the forest. The only door was in the rear and very narrow. She feared she’d have a time of squeezing Mr. Enright through it. She prayed he was conscious enough to help.

She sat on one of the two cushion-covered benches lining the sides of the cart, pulled on her gloves, and picked up the reins. However, before she could leave, Bertie Kinnion, the Reverend Kinnion’s wife, came rushing up to her. She had been the person lingering amongst the gravestones.

Sabrina and Mrs. Kinnion were of the same age. Bertie was not an unhandsome woman, just a quiet one. She had been Dame Agatha’s penniless niece until the reverend had offered for her and given her a position in the local society. It had been a good match. Everyone said the reverend was devoted to his wife and she to him.

“Miss Davidson, may I have a moment?” Mrs. Kinnion asked, placing gloved hands on the side of the cart so that Sabrina would be rude to pull away.

Holding up the reins, Sabrina gave the reverend’s wife a cheery smile. “Only a moment. Father expects me.”

“Yes, yes, I’m certain he does.” Mrs. Kinnion did not remove her hold on the cart. “You left the luncheon abruptly. I hope all is well?”

Sabrina’s cheery smile stretched her face uncomfortably. “I needed some air.” Her words were true. She hadn’t been able to breathe in the inn when she contemplated a life under the Widow Bossley’s thumb.

Mrs. Kinnion nodded, but a frown had formed between her eyes, and she appeared as if she’d scarcely paid attention to Sabrina’s response. This was unlike her.

Puzzled, Sabrina asked, “Are
you
all right?”

Mrs. Kinnion crossed her arms tightly against her chest. There was a beat of silence before she said, “My husband is missing.”

“The reverend?” Sabrina asked, then felt silly because what other husband did Mrs. Kinnion have?

Instead of taking offense, Mrs. Kinnion nodded. “Everyone acts as if I know where he is, and I should. I pretend I do. He’d promised he would be home four days ago. I assumed his trip had kept him delayed; and then I feared I had misunderstood the date he’d told me he would return. His leaving was strange as it was.”

“Where had he gone?” Sabrina asked. She hadn’t even heard that the reverend had been traveling. Usually, as an important member of the church, her father would have known. Or the gossips would have ferreted out his absence.

“Edinburgh. His uncle is a church vicar there. He sent a letter saying he needed my husband for a matter of some urgency.”

“Well, then, why don’t you write the uncle? I am certain there is a simple explanation. Travel can be so difficult. There could be a dozen different reasons for his delay.” She picked up the reins again, but Mrs. Kinnion reached for the rein nearest her and clenched a fist around it.

“I know my concerns sound a bit overwrought. I have no proof something is wrong, but inside”—she pressed her free hand to her heart—”I am certain my husband is in danger. I know it. Please, I can’t share my fears with anyone else. He’d be furious if I did. But he always said you have a great deal of good sense, and I must confide in someone, Miss Davidson, or I shall go mad. He’s all I have, and he is very dear to me.”

Sabrina lowered the reins. “I’m certain there is a simple explanation for his late return. He may have been distracted with business. A delay of several days is really nothing to worry over, especially on the roads between here and Edinburgh. Last spring, my father made that trip quite often. He experienced numerous delays—”

She stopped, struck by what she was saying. Had her father been delayed on his travels from Edinburgh, or had he been cozily ensconced in Mrs. Bossley’s bed while she thought him elsewhere? The idea revolted her, especially since he would never have tolerated such behavior in his daughter. Why did men believe they were so special anyway?

“I never knew when to expect him,” Sabrina finished lamely.

Mrs. Kinnion nodded agreement, but the air around her crackled with tension.

Sabrina reached for her hand. “I have known Mr. Kinnion for a number of years. He is the most reasonable of beings. What trouble could he find?”

“Yes, you are right,” Mrs. Kinnion said, but she didn’t sound convinced. “I appreciate your listening to me. I am so scared something has happened to him or could happen to him, I feared I was not being rational.” There was a beat of hesitation, then she confided, “I cannot return to my aunt. I can’t. She is very difficult to please.”

After the trick Dame Agatha had played on her today, Sabrina could well imagine, especially in light of her own possibly changing circumstances. The thought made her shudder.

“I also hate to think my husband might have had an accident and be broken and alone in a ditch or in the care of strangers,” Mrs. Kinnion was saying. “He may need my support.”

Her words reminded Sabrina that she needed to help Mr. Enright.

“What a dramatic mind you have,” she chastised the reverend’s wife. “You are believing the worst, and there is no reason to do so, not yet. Your husband is probably busy arguing theological tracts with his uncle and has lost track of time. However,” she continued, “if it will reassure you, I’ll ask my father to send a message to your uncle. Do you have an address?”

“Thank you, Miss Davidson, I do—and I appreciate your listening. It helps to finally express my fear out loud. I feel much better. His uncle Ebenezer Kinnion is rector at St. Jude’s in Grassmarket.” She hesitated, then said, “I hope my husband will forgive me for sharing his business.”

“Father will be discreet,” Sabrina assured her. She lifted the reins again. “Now, if you will excuse me, the hour grows late. Dumpling wants his dinner.” The pony swished his tail as if agreeing.

BOOK: The Groom Says Yes
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