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Authors: Andrea Kane

Tags: #Romance, #Historical

The Silver Coin

BOOK: The Silver Coin
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1
London, England December 1817

She was going to die.

It was only a question of when.

He sat calmly at a far corner table of the London coffeehouse, sipping his tea and gazing out the window as he contemplated the busy cobblestone streets. London looked the same as always. It was chillier than when he’d left with winter closing in. The fog had transformed from a clammy blanket to a raw mist—a mist that thickened as it mingled with the puffs of cold air emerging from the mouths of scurrying patrons and plodding horses. Everyone seemed in a hurry, including the shopkeepers who stepped outside in rapid succession, glancing about for any last minute customers, then locking up for the day. One by one, they turned up their collars and hurried home to their waiting families.

How touching.

How convenient.

The throngs of people, while providing an interesting scene for an early evening diversion, made it easy to remain unnoticed. He’d intentionally picked this coffeehouse—one whose customers were primarily artists and authors, none of whom would have the slightest idea who he was. So he remained, a solitary gentleman enjoying his solitary late-day tea.

And if, by chance, one of his colleagues happened to wander in, spot him at his corner table, that colleague would doubtless offer his greetings, inquire where his lordship had been, and learn about his prolonged business trip abroad.

Given his status and position, his explanation would be accepted without question or doubt.

Ah, anonymity. It came in many forms, each one of them satisfying indeed.

He set down his cup, tugging his gloves more snugly into place and studying his cloaked hands—his right one, in particular. The German physician had been remarkably skilled he mused, turning his palms up, then back down again. Same size. Same shape. Right down to the tapered fingers. With his gloves in place, it was impossible to tell that his right forefinger was a mere replica of what it had been. Oh, it couldn’t bend at the knuckle, of course—wood never did—but he had no cause to bend that forefinger anyway. Not anymore. Now he had a substitute: his middle finger—a trigger finger impeccably trained, ready to perform on command. He also had a new weapon, one fashioned especially for him, made by the same craftsman who’d designed and constructed the original. Both weapons were unique. But this new version was a stunning, one-of-a-kind achievement. Mastering it had taken every ounce of his skill and concentration, given his physical impediment. But master it he had—as brilliantly as he’d mastered its predecessor—and almost as quickly.

Yes, the weapon—and the proficiency to use it— had been acquired within a month of leaving England. But conquering the pain— thathad taken every day of the three long months he’d been away.

Still, it would surge to life, sometimes so acutely he nearly screamed aloud. It would never truly leave him. That he knew. Not even for a day.

But it also wouldn’t stop him.

Nothing would.

As if to taunt him, the front door of the coffeehouse opened, admitting a cold blast of December air. He winced as the chilling wind shot through the room, found him in his corner, and set off the throbbing in his hand. Gritting his teeth, he waited for the worst of the pain to subside, bitterly acknowledging that the winter months were going to be excruciating. Cold intensified the dull ache that gnawed relentlessly athim, sharpening hisagonywith apiercing stab.

He had no choice but to endure it.

Damn the winter.

Damn the pain.

And damn Breanna Colby.

He finished his tea, cursing silently as the hot beverage did nothing to warm away his agony. A drink. That’s what he needed. A good, stiff drink to dull the throb.

Tossing some coins on the table, he left the establishment, shoving his hands in his pockets as he made his way through the tangle of people to the nearest tavern.

Inside, it was dark and smoky, but he paid little attention to his surroundings as he ordered a brandy. He tossed it down in three gulps.

The liquor worked wonders, burning through his system and making its way to the raw nerve endings at his knuckle.

When all this was over, he vowed, he’d spend winters somewhere warm, somewhere where the pain was bearable. There he could live in seclusion. There he could savor his victories.

Especially the one hovering just ahead—his ultimate triumph and long-awaited revenge. Doing away with that miserable bitch who’d done this to him, condemned him to three months of agony and a lifetime of physical torment.

She’d pay for each and every day he suffered, each and every night he’d awakened, drenched in sweat, pain spearing through his hand, shooting up his arm. Oh, yes, she’d pay. First, by watching her precious cousin die at her feet, then by waiting, wondering, when the bullet meant for her would find its mark.

It wouldn’tbe immediate. Oh, no, it wouldbe pro longed. Torturing her had to be savored. He had to terrorize her to the point where she’d be crazed with fear.

Until she realized, with a final surge of panic, that she couldn’t escape him.

Until she understood he never failed, never missed his mark.

Until she knew it would take one bullet, and one bullet alone, because he never needed a second.

And until she knew that he was watching her, toying with her, deciding when and where to end her wretched life.

Oh ,Lady Breanna Colby, by the time I kill you, you’ll beg to die.

And die you will.

p. 

2
Kent, England

The grounds of Medford Manor were alive with the sounds of activity, as a large crowd of workmen hammered and sawed, moving about the shell of what was becoming an elegant house—one that stood directly across the grounds from the existing one.

Bricklayers stood on scaffolding, spreading mortar and laying the final bricks of the structure, while carpenters hoisted up beams and rafters, nailed them into place. Stonemasons were constructing the marble fireplaces that would stand in each of the numerous bedchambers and meticulously shaping the stones that would define the sculptured footpaths and entranceway steps.

Breanna eyed the scene from thirty yards away, folding her arms across her breasts and nodding definitively.

Anastasia and Damen’s home was well under way.

It hadn’t been an easy feat to accomplish—not given the speed with which they wanted everything done. For starters, Breanna had sped up the processby doing a few quick sketches—based on what she knew of her cousin’s tastes and what she suspected of Damen’s—the week before their wedding. She’d showed the sketches to the soon-to-be newlyweds— and gotten their instant and unconditional approval.

Then again, Breanna had reflected with a smile, they were so absorbed in each other, she doubted they’d even studied her sketches. In fact, they’d probably have made a fuss over them even if she’d flourished pictures of a giant chamber pot and enthusiastically heralded them as sketches of their new manor—a manor that was destined to be the most exquisite home in all of England.

Ah, love.

Well, Stacie and Damen were more than entitled to that love. Lord knows, they’d been to hell and back waiting for the day they could wed. And it had come—aperfect day thatunited aperfect couple. As for the sketches—it didn’t matter whether they’d truly seen them or not. Breanna’s instincts told her they’d be pleased.

That very day, she’d taken action. The best architects had been hired, as well as the finest craftsmen, with the understanding that the Marquess and Marchioness of Sheldrake’s home was to be completed as quickly as possible without compromising quality.

Everyone had taken that order to heart and, within days, plans had been drawn up. Those plans were approved on the day before the wedding—by Breanna.Thatshe’d only agreed to do after Stacie had all but begged her. It seemed the bride-to-be was far too excited to sit still and look at drawings, and besides, she’d added brightly, Breanna was the artistic one in the family. So didn’t it make sense for her to look over the plans? Finally, Breanna had relented, and taken over the task herself. As a result, everything proceeded on schedule and, on the day Stacie and Damen left for their wedding trip, a work crew arrived at the site and construction began.

The way things looked now, the manor would be finished before the Season began in March.

And not a minute too soon, Breanna thought, smoothing her hair as she strolled through the gardens, watching the structure take shape. Damen had made it abundantly clear that he intended to fill that house with children—as soon as nature permitted. Knowing Damen and Stacie… well, Breanna wanted this house ready.

She fingered the folds of her mantle, nodding her approval as she angled her head this way and that, watching the manor take on detail and dimension.Nothing too elaborate. Just a room y,air y, lovely home, filled with light and love.

Especially love.

She smiled, thinking with more than a little excitement that Stacie and Damen should be returning from the States any time now. They’d been away nearly three months, and Stacie had promised they’d be back for Christmas.

The wedding trip had been an exciting one, according to the letters Breanna had received. Fidelity Union and Trust—Stacie and Damen’s bank—had opened its doors in October and was already thriving. Judging from the newspaper clippings Stacie had included with her letters, the bank was the financial triumph of Philadelphia, a perfect merging of the Lockewoods and the Colbys. Enough so that the new Mr. and Mrs. Lockewood weren’t needed at all, and could spend loomed ahead—filled with house parties and laughter—and she herself had a full life to lead. One she’d tentatively but successfully initiated as soon as the trauma—and the scandal—of her father’s arrest had begun to die down.

She’d been prepared to be ostracized. Most especially by theton.But, to her surprise, people were more sympathetic to her plight than she’d realized, somehow coming to the conclusion that her only offense was being George Colby’sdaughter—a bittertwist of fate rather than a character flaw. One by one, callers began coming by; first, matrons whose kind hearts compelled them to soothe and comfort her. Then, their daughters—young women she’d met at the few parties she’d attended two Seasons ago.

And then the major turning point had occurred. Lady Margaret Warner, who’d been affable toward Breanna since Anastasia’s coming-out last summer, had come to call. Lady Margaret’s visit was a signal to the inner circle of young noblewomen who followed her example—a signal that it was socially acceptable to associate with Breanna Colby. Tacitly, she instructed them to follow suit. They began visiting Medford Manor in a steady trickle—to gossip, yes, but eventually, upon learning of Breanna’s artistic talents, to show her their needlepoints, to ask her opinion of their sketching. And, when she responded with warmth and encouragement, they began inviting her to their homes as well.

Breanna was amazed at her own transformation. In fact, she discovered she was not at all the loner she’d believed herself to be. Instead, she was hungry for companionship—companionship she could receive and reciprocate, now that her oppressive father was gone

In no time at all, she had friends, homes to visit, events to attend. Her days were no longer spent in lonely isolation—arranging and rearranging her porcelain figures, sketching, and reading. Guests arrived several times a day, including even an occasional gentleman or two. No one particularly enthralling. Then again, she wasn’t looking to be enthralled. All she wanted was a bit of youthful merriment: some conversation, a stroll, perhaps even a little flirtation; the very things she’d been denied.

So what if the gentlemen were a trifle bland, acceptable rather than exhilarating? Exhilarating had never been a trait she was attracted to, anyway. Stable, even tempered, well-mannered—that was what she felt comfortable with.

Still, shewasbecoming a bit bored, feeling oddly restless these past few weeks.

Well, all thatwould vanish the instant Stacie returned.

Our house party,she thought suddenly, her foot poised on the first entranceway step.The one Stacie proposed before she left.

Excitement flared inside her.How could I have missed this opportunity?she mused, recalling her cousin’s idea to celebrate both their comings-of-age with a gala party at Medford Manor. Stacie hadn’t specified a date. Well, now was the perfect time. Stacie’s twenty first birthday had arrived in October, and her own had occurred just last week. Plus, the celebration could be not only in honor of their birthdays, but in honor of Stacie and Damen’s homecoming. And it would herald the holiday season.

It was ideal. The more she thought about it, the more enthused she became. In fact, she’d sit down with Wells right now, begin a guest list. Invitations could be sent out in a matter of days. But would that be enough time, with Christmas a mere fortnight away?

Gathering up her mantle, Breanna scooted up the steps, bursting through the front door and colliding with Wells at his post.

“Oh, Wells, I’m sorry.”

The butler straightened, smoothing his uniform and tossing her a look that was more amused than it was bothered. “It’s quite all right, Miss Breanna. Although I must admit that, for a moment, I thought Miss Stacie had returned.”

BOOK: The Silver Coin
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