Authors: Anne Herries
‘Yet at this time it would not be right or proper of me to marry a man who is the enemy of my family.’
‘I am not your enemy,’ he said softly, ‘but I respect your feelings and I shall wait until the time is right to ask again.’
He would ask her again! For a moment she could not breathe.
Babette's throat tightened and she wished that she could throw caution to the winds, tell him that she liked him more than any man she had ever met and go with him. Yet if she did she might never see her brother again, for he would think that she had betrayed him and his cause. The pain about her heart was intense, but she turned her head aside so that Captain Colby should not see her indecision.
He took hold of her, both hands about her waist, tossing her up on her horse's back and giving her the reins. She felt as if her body were on fire and wanted to cling to him, to let him kiss her until she forgot all else—but common sense made her hold back. She could not love the enemy.
This book is the latest in the
series that began with FORBIDDEN LADY. The previous book was A STRANGER’S TOUCH.
James is a Roundhead Captain, and Babette a secret supporter of the King. They should be enemies, but love does not respect a man’s beliefs or a woman’s wishes. Torn apart by war and prejudice, can they ever find happiness?
I hope you will find pleasure in this story.
You can contact me for more details of this series at www.lindasole.co.uk
lives in Cambridgeshire, where she is fond of watching wildlife and spoils the birds and squirrels that are frequent visitors to her garden. Anne loves to write about the beauty of nature, and sometimes puts a little into her books, although they are mostly about love and romance. She writes for her own enjoyment, and to give pleasure to her readers. Anne is a winner of the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romance Prize. She invites readers to contact her on her website: www.lindasole.co.uk
ames Colby stood by the grave of the woman he had loved, then bent to place a single delicate flower on the grass, which now covered it. He had come to say his final farewell before riding off to the war and an unknown destiny. Perhaps before too long had passed they would lay him in the earth beside his sweet Jane and the sorrow he had known these past eighteen months or more would be ended.
‘Forgive me,’ he whispered as a gentle breeze seemed to stir and grief caught his throat. ‘You were too young and lovely to die. If a life was forfeit, it should have been mine.’
For a moment the sun came out from behind the clouds and it was as if a kiss grazed his cheek. He seemed to see the face of the girl he’d loved and hear her voice.
‘You were not to blame, my dear one,’ the voice said close to his ear. ‘Forgive me that I was too young and foolish to wed you when you asked.’
James cried out in agony. For she was so close that he could almost touch her, and he wanted to breathe life into those white lips, to bring her back to the world of sun and laughter.
The world was so much less without the innocent, gentle girl he had loved and cherished with all the tenderness of calf-love. Turning away, his heart wrenching because he must leave her there, James began to think of the months and possibly years ahead. The war was certain now that King Charles had set up his standard. He had tried to arrest the five members of the Houses of Parliament and his action had led to outrage and an upsurge of feeling against the tyrant who believed that only he could judge what was best for England.
‘What is best for Charles Stuart more like,’ Cromwell and Hampden had said when James talked with them about the future. ‘If the people of this country are ever to be free from tyranny, we must rise up and fight for our principles.’
James could only agree. He enjoyed his life as a landowner, a man of peaceful habits who had no wish to argue with his neighbours, but he now understood that for his way of life to continue he must fight. The King had imposed unfair taxes to fund his disputes and laws that were biased against the common man. Although James would have preferred not to take up arms, he knew he had little choice for soon the whole country would be split.
Besides, perhaps some action would ease the ache about his heart and the sense of having failed Jane, though he did not know what he might have done differently.
Donning his hat, which had a wide brim and a curling feather, James walked away from his betrothed’s grave. He did not think he would return again. He must put the unhappiness of Jane’s death from his mind and begin his life again.
Lost in his thoughts, he did not see the shadow lurking behind a huge oak tree at the edge of the graveyard, nor did he see the expression of hatred on the man’s face.
‘You killed her, James Colby,’ the man said out loud as he watched him walk away. ‘You were responsible for her death—and because of that I shall kill you one day soon...’
abette was in the orchard, pulling ripe plums, when she caught sight of a small party of horsemen riding towards her uncle’s house. Calling to her cousin, Angelina, and their servant, Jonas, to follow, she picked up her basket and walked hastily through the orchard to the kitchen gardens of the modest manor house. She’d seen the figures outlined against the ridge of the hill some distance away and was not sure whether the soldiers were Royalist or Parliament men.
‘Aunt Minnie,’ she cried, ‘there is a party of horsemen riding fast towards us. I do not know whether they be Cavaliers or rebels. Where is my uncle?’
‘Sir Matthew has gone down to the long field. They are cutting the wheat today. Had you forgot?’
In her haste to return and warn her family, Babette had completely forgotten that her uncle had decided to set the men to cutting his wheat. Because Sir Matthew Graham had not chosen to fight when King Charles set up his standard, some of his neighbours suspected him of being for Parliament and the Royalists amongst them eyed the family suspiciously when they attended church.
It was everywhere the same in a country torn by civil war. The quarrel betwixt King Charles and his Parliament had blown up suddenly the previous year, seemingly out of nowhere, except that Aunt Minnie’s second cousin, Henry Crawford—who was close to his Majesty—said that the trouble had been brewing beneath the surface for a long time. When the King tried to arrest five members of Parliament only to discover the men he considered traitors had been warned and fled, he decided that only a war could bring these unruly men to heel.
‘Whatever shall we do?’ Babette’s aunt asked, looking flustered. She wiped her hands on her apron. ‘Should we lock the doors against them or welcome them as friends?’
‘It depends who they are and what they want,’ Babette said, though in truth she was not sure which side her uncle would choose if forced to take sides. Babette knew her own heart, but for the moment she kept her silence. ‘I think Jonas should go to my uncle with all speed and tell him that visitors are on their way.’
Aunt Minnie agreed and Jonas was told to saddle the old grey cob, which was the only horse not already in use in the fields, and ride to alert his master.
‘Will they kill us all, Mama?’ Angelina asked, looking frightened.
‘God have mercy, child! I hope not,’ Lady Graham replied, but her face was pale, and she looked at her only daughter anxiously. ‘We must lock all the doors, Babette. Maria! Alert the other servants. Close all the doors and windows. We shall not open them until Sir Matthew comes home to tell us what to do.’
Babette hurriedly locked and barred the kitchen door. Three ladies alone in the house, apart from a few female servants, could not be too careful and all the men were in the fields.
Her heart was beating rapidly as she went through the house, checking windows and doors. For herself Babette hoped that the visitors would be Cavaliers and be able to give them news of how the war went for King Charles. She had no doubts where her loyalty lay. Her beloved father would have offered his sword to the King had he not died of a virulent fever the previous winter.
Lord Harvey had been failing since his beloved wife’s death three years previously, followed a year later by the disappearance of his son, John. John, who was now Lord Harvey—unless already dead—had left the house in a rage, having quarrelled with his father over a young woman.
Since the young woman in question had also disappeared that same night it was presumed that they had run off together. John did not know of his father’s death because no one had any idea of his whereabouts to let him know the sad news.
Babette had cried herself to sleep on many nights, wondering if the brother she’d adored still lived. Alone in the castle, she’d written tearfully to her mother’s sister and been invited to come and stay with her aunt and uncle for as long as she wished.
They were a kindly couple, though Babette thought her uncle rather sombre at times. Aunt Minnie seemed a little in awe of him, always reluctant to speak on any subject unless Sir Matthew had made his feelings known. They had one son, Robert, who was presently away at college.
Robert was studying with a view to entering the church. His father had a living in his gift and would bestow it on his son when the present incumbent retired in a year or so, once Robert had taken his vows. Angelina was but fourteen, three years and some months younger than Babette.
The castle of Haverston was currently being held for the King by the Earl of Carlton, a distant cousin of Babette’s father. His Majesty had appointed him custodian of Lord Harvey’s estate and Babette’s own fortune, until she came of age and it was established whether John was alive or dead.
Babette had come to her aunt because she was lonely, but glancing down into the courtyard as a party of some fifteen or twenty men rode in, her heart caught. In that moment she almost wished she was safe in the castle, but then scolded herself for being a coward. They were but men after all, even though she thought, from their dress, they were too sober to be Cavaliers. A man in a dark coat and grey breeches seemed to be at their head, but he was wearing a hat with a wide brim and she was unable to see his face.
Having ensured that all the windows and doors were shut, Babette ran quickly down the stairs as someone knocked at the door. The knocking was loud and insistent, reverberating through the house. The servants had huddled together looking scared, and Aunt Minnie was holding Angelina’s hand. Babette saw that her cousin was crying and went to her, putting an arm about her shoulder.
‘They will not harm you,’ she whispered. ‘I dare say they have come for food and supplies.’
‘Open this door in the name of Parliament,’ a stern voice said. ‘I had not expected this from Sir Matthew Graham. We come to ask for help, not as an enemy.’
Aunt Minnie’s brow creased, a puzzled look in her eyes. ‘I think I know that voice,’ she said doubtfully. ‘It may be your uncle’s second cousin on his mother’s side...Sir James Colby...’
‘Should I ask him what he wants of us?’
Babette’s aunt hesitated, but Babette did not wait. Going to the door, she called out in a loud voice, asking their visitor to give his name and state his business.
‘We barred our doors, for we did not know who you were, sir,’ she said. ‘We are a house of women and dare not admit strangers in such fearful times.’
‘Is that Lady Graham?’
‘No, her niece, Mistress Harvey.’
‘I am second cousin to Sir Matthew—and I come in friendship. My name is James Colby.’
‘Open the door,’ Aunt Minnie said, looking relieved. ‘Sir James may enter, but his men must remain outside until my husband returns.’
Babette lifted the bar cautiously, peeping round the door. Her first glimpse was of a tall, commanding figure. The stranger had removed his hat, and she could see that he was dark-haired with eyes of grey, a firm hard chin and a mouth that at this moment looked stern and angry.
‘My aunt says she will admit you, sir, but your men must remain outside until my uncle returns.’
‘They are tired and weary from the road, lady,’ Sir James said with a sigh, his eyes narrowed and his manner harsh. ‘It seems that this is Royalist territory, but I thought we would receive a better welcome from my cousin’s house.’
Babette pushed a lock of pale hair back beneath the modest cap she was wearing. Despite his expression, she decided that the stranger looked more weary than dangerous and stood back to allow him to enter. Sympathy was in her voice as she said, ‘If your men would care to go inside the barn and rest, I am sure we could send food and refreshments to them, sir.’
‘Thank you, mistress,’ Sir James said. His gaze focused on her for the first time and he made a jerky movement with his hand; for a moment the expression in his eyes made her fear, for it was such a strange, intense look he gave her, a flame deep in his eyes—but then he smiled. When he smiled it was as if he were a different man, his eyes almost silver and lit from within.
Babette’s heart caught oddly, because his smile was most pleasant, even though he had confessed himself for Parliament and was therefore her enemy. He turned and directed his men towards the barn, and they dismounted leading their horses towards the shelter it offered.
‘Sir James, forgive us,’ Aunt Minnie said, coming forward. ‘Sir Matthew has gone down to the long field to cut the wheat and most of the servants are with him. We were afraid of so large a party of men coming to the house and locked our doors. Will you not step into the parlour, sir? We shall give you food and drink, and my husband will be here shortly to speak with you himself.’
‘Yes, thank you kindly, Lady Graham.’ He had taken off his hat now, and Babette saw that his hair was longer than the style adopted by many of those who had joined the ranks of Parliament and were known as Puritans, because of their strict views on religion and private life. His clothes were of a sober hue, dark grey with a sash of yellow across his chest, a leather belt, which held a plain scabbard and his sword, gloves of buff leather and long black boots. His collar was white linen with a small edging of embroidery. Most men of the Puritan persuasion allowed themselves no ornament of any kind, perhaps to set themselves aside from the Cavaliers who delighted in finery and the latest fal-lals.
Hurrying to the kitchen, Babette spoke to Maria, arranging for food and drink to be carried to the men outside. She poured ale into a pewter jug, set fresh bread, a small crock of butter, cheese, a cold chop of pig meat and a bowl of her aunt’s best pickles upon a tray, adding a slice of apple pie with cinnamon she’d made earlier that morning. Carrying it into the parlour where her aunt was still speaking with Sir Matthew’s cousin, she set it down on the table.
His gaze went appreciatively over the food offered. ‘You have been most generous, mistress. I thank you for your kindness. My men will be grateful for whatever you have. We have ridden for several days, finding food where we could. Since we encountered the enemy in a skirmish some days ago, we have been without some of our baggage. Some householders have been kind enough, but others made it clear we were not welcome.’
‘We are at war, sir, and not everyone is of your persuasion. Some would feel you are rebels—traitors.’ Babette had spoken without thinking and she saw the flash of fire in his eyes. She saw a nerve flick at his temple and his hands clenched. He was clearly angry, though he struggled to control it.
‘The King is the traitor to his country,’ he said harshly. ‘It was he that imposed the tax of ship money on us, he that imposed the iniquitous Star Chamber—and he that tried to arrest the five members.’
‘He tried to arrest them because they defied their King,’ she replied, angry in her turn. Her head went up, and, had she known it, her eyes flashed in temper. ‘If the King needs money for a war and the Parliament will not grant it, he must impose taxes whether they be popular or not...’ She faltered as she saw the leap of answering fury in his eyes, then, aware that she had pushed him too far, said more hesitantly, ‘That was my father’s opinion...’
‘Then he would be for the King,’ Sir James said. ‘I had thought this household for Parliament—am I wrong?’
‘Take no notice of Babette,’ Aunt Minnie said soothingly. ‘She is but a girl and talks of what she does not understand. Sir Matthew, like many others, does not take one side or the other, sir, but hopes only for peace—though he will tell you himself, for here he comes.’
She breathed a sigh of relief as her husband walked in and pushed Babette before her from the room. Only when in the kitchen did she speak to her niece.
‘You should be more careful, Niece. I know your father was a true Royalist and that may be your persuasion, as it may be mine, but we must keep silent, especially when there are men of another persuasion in the house, dearest.’
‘Yes, forgive me, Aunt. I should not have spoken so to a guest, even if I was angered by his views. It was rude and immodest of me.’
‘Your uncle might think it immodest and perhaps Sir James might find you impertinent, but I do not blame you—though I caution you not to speak so frankly before your uncle.’
‘Forgive me. I do not know what made me lose my temper.’
Yet she knew only too well. It was the man with the eyes of cold steel who looked at her so arrogantly that she had wanted to strike him and had spoken thoughtlessly.
‘You are entitled to your own views, Babette—but it is best not to speak them in Sir Matthew’s house.’
‘Is my uncle of their persuasion, Aunt?’
‘I would not say that he was for Parliament. Sir Matthew is against any war that sets brother against brother and father against son. He cares for his land and would see it prosper. War is dangerous, Babette. Tempers rise and terrible things are said and done. As yet we have lived quietly here—but for how long can it continue? This is the first time soldiers have come to our door and they came in peace—but others may demand where Sir James requests. I think it will not be long before the whole country is aflame and then we shall all have to choose one way or the other.’
‘Yes, I know, Aunt.’ Babette was thoughtful. Her uncle had said little about the outcome of the first battle of the war at Edge Hill. The matter of who had won depended on whose side you supported, for some declared that it was a victory for the King, while others thought the men of Parliament might have won a decisive victory had they held on a little longer. In the months since that first battle there had been only minor skirmishes, indecisive clashes that had no real significance, small troops of opposing forces that met and fought. It had mainly been a time of recouping on both sides, of drawing lines and discovering who was your friend and who your enemy. ‘I know the castle of Haverston still stands for the King, but some houses are not as well defended and have fallen to the rebels.’
‘You ought not to name them so,’ her aunt chided her gently. ‘It shows your loyalty and may make you enemies. Sir Matthew has been careful not to choose sides publicly, though I think perhaps he may be drawn more to the side of Parliament, for he says they are the voice of the people.’