Authors: Margaret McPhee
Tags: #Romance - Historical, #Romance: Modern, #General, #Romance, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Historical, #Romance - General
Her heart was thumping, fit to leap from within her ribcage.
‘I did not hear your answer, miss,’ he said in a voice that, for all its quietness, was unmistakable in its threat.
She swallowed hard and, not daring to look round at him, gave a small nod.
‘I am glad we understand each other.’
osalind’s gaze moved to the cottage door as it creaked open. Two men, both dressed in jackets and loose working trousers, came out.
‘You’re back then?’ said the bigger man of the two, in a broad Scottish accent.
From Wolf’s knowledge of her name, Rosalind knew that this was no opportunistic spur of the moment abduction, but one that had been planned.
Her eyes flicked over the smaller man in the background and her stomach jolted. A planned abduction indeed, for Rosalind recognized the man as Pete Kempster, one of Lord Evedon’s footmen.
Wolf lowered her from the edge of the cart. Even before her feet touched the ground, the big man was there before her, his hand firm around her elbow as he led her towards the cottage.
She tried to resist, pulling against the insistence of his
grip and kicking out at him, but the man laughed at her attempts and moved his hands to hold her by both arms.
‘Quite the wee wildcat.’ He was so big that he merely lifted her through the doorway that waited open to the interior of the cottage.
She was so frightened, so determined to escape, that she turned her face and tried to bite one the hands that re strained her.
The big man avoided her teeth and shouted at Wolf, ‘I thought you said she was a lady.’
She heard Wolf laugh somewhere behind her. ‘My mistake, Struan.’
The cottage comprised a single room. Wooden shutters were closed across the narrow windows, one in each of the front and back walls of the cottage. A fire burned on the hearth, casting dancing golden lights around the room and throwing out a warmth to chase away the night’s dampness. Beneath the rear window, there was a small square wooden table under which were tucked three stools. In front of the fire were three large wooden spindle chairs with a wooden box in between that served as a table.
‘You found her?’ Kempster asked as the big man released her into the room. She heard the faint hint of surprise that edged his words.
‘Is it her? Is she the lassie that we’re after?’ the man Wolf had called Struan said. Kempster nodded.
Rosalind met his gaze across the room, knowing that the last time they had met, circumstances had been very different. He had been one of the servants gathered outside Lord Evedon’s study that fateful night.
She did not know Pete Kempster well, even though she had seen him often enough around Evedon House. But his presence explained much. Wolf was not Hunter’s man after
all, he was Evedon’s, and she cursed herself that she had not listened to the warning shiver that his presence elicited.
‘Miss Meadowfield,’ Kempster said formally, the expression on his handsome face unreadable.
‘Mr Kempster,’ she replied.
In the background, the big Scotsman picked up a tin mug from where it sat upon the small makeshift table and sipped from it, relaxing into one of the spindle chairs, while Wolf walked back into the room carrying his saddle.
She watched him place the saddle on the floor beside the others, before removing his hat and hanging it on one of the row of pegs fixed to the wall close by the door. His long dark leather greatcoat followed, to hang next to it, revealing a rather shabby brown jacket beneath. Her eyes moved down to take in the faded brown leather trousers that ran the long length of his legs and ended with a pair of scuffed boots covered in dried mud splashes.
He moved over to the fire and threw another log on to the blaze. ‘Where’s the food?’
Struan Campbell nodded towards the little table. ‘Cooked ham, and cheese. We’ve already eaten. Bread’s a bit stale but the ale’s tolerable enough.’
Wolf helped himself to a plate of food and a bottle of ale. He worked in silence, not looking once at the woman although he was conscious of her attention fixed upon him. He did not need to look at her again to know every inch of her appearance. Wolf had both an eye and memory for detail. It had served him well during his time in the Army; it served him even better in his current occupation.
She looked nothing as he had expected. Her hair was escaping in long thick dark brown waves from the few pins that struggled to hold it in place. From his limited glimpses of her eyes through the moonlight or firelight, it
was difficult to see their precise colour although he thought them to be brown. She appeared to be neither tall nor short, neither fat nor thin. Her features were not of outstanding beauty, yet she was not uncomely. Miss Rosalind Meadowfield was a woman who would easily blend unnoticed into whatever background she was placed—an ideal attribute for a ladies’ companion…and a thief.
She stood at the other side of the room, totally silent and motionless as if she were hoping that they would forget about her.
‘Sit down and eat,’ Wolf directed.
She eyed the table dubiously and made no move. ‘Who are you, sir, and why have you abducted me?’
‘You already know the answers to both of those questions, Miss Meadowfield,’ he said and did not even look up from his ale.
‘You are from Lord Evedon.’
‘You see, you do know, after all.’ He looked at her and smiled cynically.
‘I am surmising that, from Mr Kempster’s presence.’
‘Then you surmise correctly, miss.’
She met his gaze and he could see the suspicion and fear in her eyes. ‘Why has he sent you?’
Wolf raised an eyebrow. ‘Yet another question to which you already know the answer.’
She swallowed hard and gave a small shake of her head. ‘I beg to differ, sir. What is his intention?’
She knew. He was sure of it, yet he told her bluntly. ‘Unsurprisingly, his intention is the capture of the woman who stole his mother’s jewels.’
She made a small sound that was something between a laugh and a sigh of disbelief. ‘And he has sent you to fetch me back to him?’
‘You did not think that he would let you go free after stealing from him, did you?’ Wolf watched her closely.
She glanced away but not before he had seen the guilt in her eyes. ‘Lord Evedon is mistaken. I am no thief.’ Her hand fluttered nervously to her mouth.
She was lying, and Wolf knew all about lying and the ways in which people gave themselves away.
‘Of course,’ he said, ‘and I suppose that is why he is paying such a generous sum for the recovery of you and the emeralds.’
‘I have already told you sir, I did not steal the emeralds.’
‘Just the diamonds that were found within your chamber.’
‘I have no knowledge of how the diamonds came to be so hidden. Some other hand must have placed them there.’
‘That is what they all say.’
‘It is the truth.’ She held her head high as if she were innocent, acting every inch a lady wronged. It irritated Wolf.
‘Stealing from the dowager while you were acting as her companion.’ He made a tut-tut sound. ‘Such behaviour is to be expected from low-class riffraff such as myself, but better is expected of the likes of you. All your pa’s money not enough for you, Miss Meadowfield, that you had to rob Evedon’s old sick mam? No wonder he’s mad at you.’
Normally by now they were trying to bargain with him, swearing their very souls to the devil and offering Wolf the world if they thought it would win their freedom. But Wolf had never retrieved a lady before. He wondered what Rosalind Meadowfield would offer him. Her rich father’s money, or something else? He let his eyes range over the shapeless cloak that hid the figure beneath. Not that he would accept her offer, of course; he never did. Wolf hated
the idea of being bought as much as he hated women like Miss Meadowfield.
‘I am innocent.’
Wolf gave a dry humourless laugh. ‘Of course, you are.’ He placed a slice of ham upon a piece of bread and, watching her surreptitiously as if he had not the slightest interest, began to eat.
The colour had drained from the woman’s face to render it pale as she leaned back against the whitewashed wall as though to merge into it and disappear, her eyes staring into the fire.
‘Mr Stewart is expecting me. He shall enquire as to my absence.’
‘Mr Stewart has been informed of your situation,’ said Wolf coldly.
‘What did you tell him?’ Her expression was pained.
‘I told him nothing.’ Wolf chewed at his bread. ‘Evedon has taken care of Hunter.’
She seemed to sag slightly against the wall. ‘As he means to take care of me.’ Her gaze was distant and her words were whispered so quietly that he only just heard them.
Wolf did not allow himself to soften. She had made her bed, and now she must lie in it, he thought. He had finished his food before she spoke again.
‘How did you find me?’
‘You left behind the newspaper. It was not difficult to discover which advertisement you had torn from it.’
She closed her eyes at that and was silent. When she opened them again she asked, ‘Who are you Mr Wolversley?
are you? A Bow Street runner?’
‘Nothing so official. Just a man that Evedon is paying to deliver you back to him.’ He noticed how Kempster watched her.
Campbell sipped from the battered mug, an amused
expression upon his face. ‘Ocht, he’s just being modest. We’re in the retrieval business, so to speak, and we’re mighty good at retrieving. Some might call us thief-takers, Miss Meadowfield.’
‘Do not take me back to him…please.’ She spoke the words quietly.
The Scotsman gave her a contrite smile. ‘I’m afraid that’s our job, lassie.’
‘Save your pleading for Evedon, Miss Meadowfield,’ said Wolf. ‘It is most assuredly wasted upon us.’
Campbell glanced away, an expression of awkwardness on his face.
Wolf took another sip of his ale. Her greed would cost her dear, he thought, but that was not his or Struan’s problem to worry over, besides her type deserved to pay the price. He glanced round at the woman.
‘Our journey starts at first light. You are returning to London come what may, Miss Meadowfield. I care not whether you eat, but be warned that starving yourself into a faint shall not delay our progress. I’ll tie you across my saddle if I have to.’
Wolf said nothing more, just turned his attention to Campbell and Kempster, conversing with them in low tones, while the woman made her way hesitantly across the room to sit down upon a stool at the table and eat a little of the remaining bread, ham and cheese, all the while keeping a cautious eye on her captors.
Rosalind watched uneasily while the men made up makeshift blanket beds, rolling out four grey blankets side by side over the bare wooden floorboards before the fireplace. Her eyes measured the distance between her stool and the cottage door.
‘Do not even think about it.’ She heard the warning that edged Wolf’s voice.
The pale eyes glanced up from where he had removed the chairs and was laying his coat out as a bed-cover in their place, and she wondered how he had known what she was thinking.
Rosalind did not move, just sat there, with a growing anxiety, watching their movements. She knew little about men. Her brother had long since disappeared, and with the disgrace of her father’s execution and the lack of money, there had never been any question of a Season for either her or her sister. Her experience of men was limited to the few older gentlemen she met as Lady Evedon’s companion, and Lord Evedon, of course. She bit at her lower lip.
‘You need not concern yourself with me. I will sleep here on this stool.’
Wolf raised a sardonic brow and looked at her. ‘You will sleep on the floor alongside the rest of us.’
‘But…’ she felt the heat of a blush flood her cheeks.
From across the room she heard Campbell chuckle, and from the corner of her eye she saw him shake his head.
‘You need not worry, Mr Campbell and I not in the habit of
with the criminals that we’re apprehending…no matter what they offer us in exchange for their freedom,’ said Wolf.
She felt the blush deepen at his horrible insinuation.
The flicker of the flames lit golden highlights through his hair and emphasized the mocking tilt of his mouth. It was a hard face, a face which looked as if it felt no fear but knew well how to instil it. He made Kempster’s pretty-boy looks appear weak and effeminate in comparison. And yet for all his harshness, there was something compelling about him, something darkly attractive. She shivered and
wrapped the cloak more tightly around herself, trying to hide her vulnerability and anxiety.
Wolf walked towards her, and her eyes shifted to the coil of thin rope he held in his hand.
She rose slowly, warily, ready to flee.
‘Come now, Miss Meadowfield. You do not think we mean to leave you free to run away again, do you?’
‘You do not need to tie me. I will not run away, I give you my word.’
‘Forgive me if I place little trust in your word, miss.’
Her eyes darted to the doorway and she tensed. His hand reached for her and she tried to rush past him, but he side-stepped, catching her to himself.
‘No!’ She struggled to pull free, but he held her, gently yet firmly, until at last she realized that her effort was in vain and she stilled. ‘Please,’ she whispered, unable to bear the thought of being trussed and completely at the mercy of these men.
He seemed to pause, and for a moment she thought he would heed her plea, but then he gestured Campbell over, and the two men bound her hands behind her back. It was Wolf who tied the knots, testing the tension of the rope before he did so, slipping his fingers between the coarse hemp and the skin of her wrists to ensure that it was not tied too tight.
He led her over to the blanket closest to the fire and farthest from the door, pushing her, not roughly, down to sit upon the grey wool. Then he bound her ankles, catching the rope over the soft leather of her boots before folding a second blanket for her pillow.
‘You have no need of it as a cover; your fancy cloak is warm enough.’ He stepped away and did not look back at her.
Rosalind lay there for a long time, just staring into the flames and listening to the men’s breathing in the single
room of the cottage. She was acutely aware of Wolf lying so close behind her back. It seemed that she could almost feel the heat of him across the small space that divided them. The floorboards pressed hard against her hip and shoulder bones, and her limbs were uncomfortable from the restriction of her bindings, but the fatigue that had weighed upon her earlier had disappeared. Her mind was wide awake, flitting with thoughts…and fears.