Posted as a gift of my time and thoughts to the readers of my books, thank you for the lovely messages of appreciation,
© Jane Lark Publishing rights belong to Jane Lark,
this novel should not be recreated in any form without prior consent from Jane Lark
A tap knocked on the cabin door. Emerald knew it was Richard the moment his knuckles struck. No one else aboard the ship knocked with his confidence – as if they owned the ship. But she had not heard that knock for days and her body jumped at the command of it and she rushed to her feet, standing before her bunk. “Come in.”
She was not a coward. She knew she had to face him today. It was simply sooner than she had expected.
“What do you want?” she asked harshly as she stepped forward when the door opened so he did not come in too far. She had no patience for him. His presence irritated her. But even so, as she faced him for the first time in days, his threateningly handsome features spoke to her heart. He had some sort of invisible force that drew her closer Her mind flooded with memories of the things they had done together on this ship.
“Your family await you on the dock. I have come to fetch you.”
“Like a dog,” she mocked cruelly, but he had presented her with such a perfect opportunity for spite.
“You are not amusing and I am not in the mood to fight. Are you ready?”
“Yes.” Realisation suddenly sparked through her head. She would not be travelling with Richard… Relief and fear blended. “Who is here?” The man she had come to England to marry… Emerald looked at Rita. They were dressed in bonnets and cloaks prepared to leave – to face an entirely unknown future among strangers.
How long before her father could reach England?
“You are honoured, the Duke of Sunderland has come himself. Yet propriety is met; he is accompanied by your uncle, your mother’s brother, and his wife.”
“Oh.” She glanced at Rita again. She would not hide. This parting must be made. “We are ready.” She wanted to leave Richard and she had to leave the ship. Her heart leapt into a racing beat as she moved to walk past him but he caught hold of her arm to stop her, his mouth opening as if to say something else to her.
“Miss Martin, it has been a pleasure knowing you. I hope the future is good to you,” Mr Bishop stood at the door that Richard had left open, preventing Richard from speaking if that had been his intent.
She slipped her arm free from Richard’s grip, aware that he let her go, and offered her hand to Mr Bishop. Of course it was inappropriate, Mr Bishop was far, far, beneath her family, but he had been kind to her these last weeks. He held and squeezed her fingers gently.
“Thank you, Mr Bishop, for your company and kindness. I have greatly appreciated it.” When he let go of her hand she saw Mr Pritchard come forward behind him. She stepped past Richard and out on to the deck and offered her hand to Mr Pritchard.
He held it. “Miss Martin, it has been a pleasure. I am sincerely sorry about your mother. I hope you find good fortune in England.” He kissed the back of her gloved hand.
Good fortune… She did imagine she would find it in this dull dreary land. If she tried to look into her future now she could only see grey mist.
“Thank you, Mr Pritchard.”
He let her hand go.
She drew in a slow breath, her fingers were trembling.
Richard caught hold of her hand and laid it on his arm, then pressed his hand over it, in a gesture that said he was trying to help. She looked up at him. She would swear he had felt her trepidation but his business mask hid all emotion. He was so clever at that.
She looked over to face, “Dr Steel.” meeting his gaze. She did not remove her hand from Richard’s arm.
“I am sorry you find it difficult to understand my position, Miss Martin. I would like to part on good terms, but as that is not possible I wish you well regardless.”
“Thank you, for all you did, Dr Steel,” she acknowledged curtly, her pitch expressing the the reminder of all that he did not do. Yet he had saved her life, if not her mother’s.
When she did not offer her hand he bowed deeply. “Goodbye, I wish you well.”
“Thank you, goodbye.” She looked past him, over the edge of the ship, to the glossy carriage with the crest painted on the side. Her heart beat faster.
“Miss Martin,” Richard prompted, his arm falling from beneath her hand. Instead he gripped her elbow and began to guide her across the deck towards the gangplank.
She wished to cry out suddenly, hold back, wait.
There was an odd impatience in Richard. She ignored it, stepping onto the rough wooden boards of the gangplank and gripping the rope.
He was close beside her, still holding her other arm, and as she walked his grip tried to slow her down. He leant down towards her.“I wish you to know my feelings are unchanged. I am staying in England. I will give you time to grieve,” the words were rushing out of him, as though they had been bottled up for days, “but afterward I will call on you and court you as I should have done before and I beg you to consider me seriously. Do not make any rash decisions. Wait for me. Please give me a chance to make amends.”
They had reached the end of the gangplank, Mr Swallow was there.
“Miss Martin.” Mr Swallow bowed to her, then offered her his hand to help her step from the planks.
“It has been a pleasure. I wish you well.”
“And I, you. Thank you.”
Richard’s unrelenting grip on her arm slowed her down again as she took the last few steps towards the carriage. “I love you, believe me,” he whispered urgently, leaning towards her again. “I meant you no harm. I did what I thought best. I was wrong, I am sorry. Yet do not let that spoil what we could have together.”
She looked sideways at him. “What we had was not real, it was built on your lies.” Her voice carried and the footman who held the carriage door glanced at her.
Richard stopped. He let go of her arm and held her hand instead. She would have pulled it free but this time he did not let her go.
He bowed his head and lifted her hand. She could feel the warmth of his lips through her cotton glove as he kissed her fingers. Memories stirred; haunting her. She met his gaze as he straightened and looked into his eyes. “If you have need of me,” he said in a harsh whisper. “If there are repercussions. You must write to my shipping office; address it to me here, in Blackwall docks. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” She understood. He meant if she was carrying his child, she had not considered it until now. She could be.
He let her hand fall. “I am sorry the journey has been so difficult for you, Miss Martin,” he said in a normal pitch.
A strange sensation struck her through the heart. It was a sudden sense of loss akin to the feeling she had known when her mother died.
Richard’s eyes looked beyond her. She turned to face a man who stood a few feet away. He was dressed very smartly. Richard held her elbow once more and led her on towards the man.
He was Richard’s height and of a similar age to Richard, though he was broader in stature and his eyes were a piercing blue.
“Miss Martin,” Richard said, “may I introduce your distant relative, the Duke of Sunderland.”
The man removed his hat, revealing thick blond hair and bowed slightly. Emerald’s heart thumped as she curtseyed, freeing herself from Richard once again. This was what her mother had wished for, for Emerald to meet this man – and then marry him. He lifted his hand for Emerald to take. “May I call you Emma, as we are related, all be it distantly.”
Emerald took his hand, her answer a smile. “Your Grace.”
He smiled too. He seemed pleasant, he had a genteel manner, and the kindness in his introduction had quelled her fear, so she was not inclined to receive him unkindly and she put aside judgement.
“Let me help you into the carriage.”
When she looked up into the carriage she faced another man and a woman. She looked away from them as she climbed the step, remembering that Richard had said her uncle and aunt were here. Her mother’s brother. A man who had turned his back on her mother. She looked at him as she sat down. He had her mother’s features, in the shape of his eyes and his mouth. But his expression said his thoughts were uncertain.
Emerald hoped he felt guilty. He should. He had not communicated with her mother for years and now he would never see her again.
“Your aunt and uncle Emma, Mr and Mrs Coomb.” The Duke leant into the carriage and smiled as he made the introduction. There was confidence in his tone, as there was confidence in Richard’s. “Mrs Coomb will play chaperon to you while you reside in my home. We shall take you there now and then we will discuss what needs to be done and how we shall progress.”
“Mrs Coomb. Mr Coomb.” Emerald bowed her head while inside she wanted to ask why – why her father had not been good enough, to a point they had cut her mother? She said nothing, though hurt pride cried out within her. She was reliant on these people now. What would her mother have thought of that?
“I was very sorry to hear about my sister.”
Emerald’s heart bled at the words and the fear returned. She was in a strange land, reliant on people she did not know. She looked out of the window at Richard. As she had felt when she had sailed from Calcutta months ago, and on the deck as her mother’s body had fallen into the sea, she felt the shift of the ground that was ripped from beneath her feat.
“The maid may ride up on the driver’s box,” the Duke was saying to Richard.
“What is your address?” Richard’s voice cut the air, it had grown in command. Her heart swelled at the familiarity of that voice. “I shall call and pay my respects.”
‘I wish you to know my feelings are unchanged. I am staying in England. Consider me seriously. Do not make any rash decisions. Wait for me.’ His words ran through her head as she watched the Duke withdraw a card holder from his pocket and then give a card to Richard.
Richard bowed and the Duke turned away gripping the carriage door.
Emerald slid over so the Duke could sit beside her.
She hoped Richard did not call. If he did it would extend her pain. She would be reminded and have to cut him out of her heart and part from him again. She had lost her mother, she had lost India and her father, and now she had lost him.
The carriage door shut and It felt like a lid closing, trapping her inside. Would there be obligation again now? She had been freed from that on the ship. But her mother had agreed Emerald’s marriage to the Duke and Emerald had sworn that she would fulfil her mother’s wishes.
As the carriage turned she looked through the window, leaning forward and looking back to see Richard. He stood beside Mr Swallow with his hands gripping his lean waist. It was a pose she had seen him take often when he had stood on the poop deck. It was a posture that said he was surveying a situation. His eyes were on Mr Swallow but as the carriage pulled away, he looked back and saw her watching. Their gazes met for an instant and in that instant she saw the words within him. Don’t leave me. But it was too late.
She lost sight of him after a moment.
He was gone.
She breathed in deeply, fighting panic.
She may never see him again. She had lain with him. She might be carrying his child. And she may never see him again.
Her fingertips had been prized from a cliff and now she was falling.
Then she remembered Rita was sitting on the driver’s box above. Emerald was not entirely alone. She clung to the knowledge as her gaze passed over the unfamiliar streets.
“I believe you have not been to England previously,” The Duke said.
Emerald turned to look at him.
To be continued…
The Marlow Intrigues: Perfect for lovers of period drama
The Tainted Love of a Captain #8 – The last book in the Marlow Intrigues series out in May and available to preorder
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all
The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4
The Persuasive Love of a Libertine #5.75 now included in Jealous Love, (or free if you can persuade Amazon to price match with Kobo ebooks)
Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback
Go to the index
- the story of the real courtesan who inspired The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
- another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
- the prequel excerpts for book #3 The Scandalous Love of a Duke
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark