A second shot rang out, hitting Smith in the shoulder. He fell backwards, only to be dragged back up by the frantic hands of his accomplice. Putting his fingers to his mouth, the devil whistled so loud it shivered right through Teresa. The ground rumbled beneath her, as two horses appeared, charging towards the sound.
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A moment later, Smith and the other man leapt up into the saddles and dug in their heels, thundering as far away from the scene of their crime as possible. Even then, Teresa could not bring herself to sit up. She lacked the strength, her body shuddering violently from the fear and the cold of the water that drenched her. Black spots danced in her field of vision as the dizziness took over.
Soon, she was going to faint. She could feel it, creeping through her veins, threatening to steal away her consciousness. She did not know who had frightened the two highwaymen away, nor did she care at this current moment. That wretch had stolen something more valuable than all the gold in the world. Determined, she tried to get to her feet, her knees knocking as she struggled upwards. Even though she knew it was futile, she tried to go after the highwaymen, only to collapse a moment later, hitting the ground with one conclusive thud.
Presently, she became aware of arms around her, picking her up and carrying her back to the road. Looking up at her rescuer, she saw his face illuminated in the flash of a lightning strike. Water drenched his hair, making the color impossible to decipher, but he had two shining, blue eyes that reflected the stormy landscape raging around them.
His features were strong and masculine, with a hint of freckles across his nose. It is fortunate I arrived when I did, otherwise… well, that does not matter now. You are so very cold, and your lips are turning blue. He nodded. But, tell me, where is it you are headed? She nodded. My mind is so clouded. A curious smile lifted the corners of his lips. And might I know your name? You cannot remain out here in the bitter weather, or you shall catch your death of cold. As for any further injuries, I will arrange for a physician, do not fear.
She nodded uncertainly. This gentleman may have saved her life and her honor, but that did not mean she trusted him. With some awkwardness, Mr.
Morton lifted her up onto the front of the saddle. He got up behind her and shuffled his long, dark coat from his shoulders, wrapping it around her with a gentle touch. She sank into its warmth, as he slung the strap of his musket across his chest, grabbed the reins, and led the horse towards the driver. The poor man was now sitting up in the middle of the road, his hand pressed against a wound to the side of his head. She did not like to be this close to a strange man, especially after what she had just endured.
She glanced back, studying her rescuer more closely. He was a handsome man indeed, with chiseled features and a noble nose, and a sweet smile that reassured her of her safety. Although she could not ignore that he only wore a shirt and waistcoat, as she had taken comfort in his coat.
With it being so late, she hoped that nobody would see them on their journey to the Rowfex Estate. She did not want to have her reputation in tatters before she had even begun her new life. Not here. Not after what had just happened. She had almost lost her honor, and the tears began to fall as relief washed over her, the droplets hidden by the rain that spattered down. However, he did not seem to be a man of means, though it was hard to tell when he was sodden from the storm.
A nobleman would never have suggested something like this.
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His station cheered her slightly, reducing her embarrassment. At least they were on an even footing.
At the very least, she would not have to suffer the mortification of having her new employers know what had happened. This is for necessity, she told herself.
Your employers will see that this is only for necessity, once you explain. She could leave that part out and tell them only that they were accosted upon the road. Swallowing her sense of propriety, she watched the horizon. Her head pounded viciously, a pressure pushing at the inner sides of her temples.
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Staring straight ahead, she gathered her thoughts, letting gratitude wash over her. Things may have taken a turn for the dangerous, but at least she was still breathing. She just hoped those highwaymen would not seek revenge upon her, for having escaped with her life. Soft lights glowed from the endless windows that ornamented the exterior, embedded in the elegant sandstone.
He loved this house, a peace settling upon him whenever he was near it. It had been fortunate indeed that he had been returning from a military exercise with the local militia, to fulfil his military duties, at the very hour in which Miss Dowels had required immediate aid.
Otherwise, he might not have had the advantage of his musket, nor happened upon her at all. He did not like to think of what might have occurred if he had not passed when he had. She could barely hold her head up. He had tried to urge her to rest against his chest, but she had stubbornly kept herself forward. He could not blame her, considering what those men had tried to do to her.
It was a wonder she was even allowing herself to be this close to him. It was not something he had experienced too often, though he pushed any improper thoughts away, reminding himself of what she had endured. Instead, he satisfied himself with glancing at the curve of her neck, wondering what it might be like to kiss that soft, pale skin.
If only to show her that there were good gentlemen in this world, who could show her the gentle nature of ardor. And, perhaps, that would serve to chase away the demons of those brutish wretches. But not right now. If he touched her, in any soft way, he was certain she would bolt. Drawing as close to the front of the house as he could, he jumped down and pulled her from the horse, holding her tightly in his arms as he walked up the elegant front steps of the manor.
She nestled her head against his chest, making him feel like her safe haven. He liked the way her head felt against him, though he did not dwell on such thoughts. He could not. With some difficulty, he managed to grapple with the door handle and open it, stumbling into the entrance hall. Very unwell indeed. The coachman will require assistance, also—we must send men to attend on him and bring him back here.
Miss Dowels stirred in his grasp, looking up at him with some confusion. She was a slender, pretty creature with raven black hair and dark brown eyes, that reminded him of a doe. High on her blanched cheeks, there was a small, pink birthmark in the shape of a heart. He admired it for a moment, forgetting why he was there.
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Her eyes held a shadow of confusion. She shook her head. They must not see me with you.
They will think they worst. Rest easy, I will see to it that all is well.
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Just then, two more figures appeared on the curved staircase that led down from the first floor. He was a tall man of broad build, with salt-and-pepper hair, who shared the same blue eyes as Luke. Though he stood to inherit the dukedom, he also held a title of his own—the Marquess of Harpington. At nine-and-twenty, he did not look much like his father, with a curly tangle of fair hair, his eyes a much paler shade of blue, but they were of similar height and build, and gave off the same air of confidence.
A silvered scar cut down from the apple of his cheek to the bottom of his jaw, inflicted during his time fighting on the continent. There were other wounds, too, though they were not visible. A scar beneath his hair where he had been struck by a spray of debris, and a noticeable limp that grew worse in cold weather.