A Lady’s Honor
Laurie Alice Eakes
Series: A Cliffs of Cornwall Novel
On the cliffs of 19th-century Cornwall, a spirited, impetuous young woman is torn between the honor of her family and the longing of her heart. England, 1811 A tarnished reputation. A distant home. A forced engagement to a dangerous man. When Elizabeth Trelawny flees London, she has more than one reason to run. And when her carriage, pursued by her would-be fiance, is caught in a storm, she quickly accepts the help of a dark stranger. Anything to get back to Cornwall. Rowan Curnow is not exactly a stranger. Not quite a gentleman either, class disparity once kept him from courting Elizabeth . . . even if it didn’t keep him from kissing her. The couple elude their pursuers and reach Bastian Point, Elizabeth’s future inheritance and the one place she calls home. But in the very act of spiriting her to safety, Rowan has jeopardized Elizabeth’s inheritance—if her Grandfather ever learns she spent the night, however innocently, in the company of a man. When smugglers unite the pair in a reckless, flirtatious alliance—an alliance that challenges the social norms that Elizabeth has been raised to revere and rattles Rowan’s fledgling faith in God—Elizabeth must choose between the obedience of a child and the desires of a woman: whether to cling to the safety of her family home or follow the man she loves.
“Beautiful 19th century Cornwall offers a contemplative setting for this dramatic romance that involves murder, suspense and a surprise villain.”–Romantic Times, 4 1/2 stars
“Eakes delivers beautifully written romantic suspense set in Cornwall during the Regency era.”–Publisher’s Weekly
“Faster. Faster.” Elizabeth Trelawny leaned forward on the edge of the carriage seat as though the angle of her body could bring the impossible out of the coach and four—more speed. “This pace will never do.”
“It will g-get us all killed.” Her middle-aged companion, Miss Pross, stammered one more protest to the breakneck pace Elizabeth demanded of her coachman. “It’s d-dark out.”
Indeed it was—too dark. The three-quarter moon Elizabeth counted on to guide her escape floated somewhere above a layer of black cloud rolling in from the English Channel and threatening rain at any moment.
Rain would be her undoing, making narrow, winding roads too slick for speed.
“But the marquess is right behind us.” He had been since he caught up with them at an inn outside Plymouth. Only the freshness of Elizabeth’s horses and the fatigue of the marquess’s, coupled with her coachman’s quick thinking, had gotten them way ahead of Elizabeth’s would-be fiancé. With the size of Romsford’s entourage and the ability to send men across Cornwall on horseback or to sail along the coast in a fishing boat, Elizabeth’s slight advantage wouldn’t last for long.
“I must reach Bastion Point before he blocks our way in all directions.”
Bastion Point, perched on the cliffs along the north coast of Cornwall and still twenty miles away, had represented safety for Trelawnys for the past one hundred and fifty years. Elizabeth Trelawny was one more generation seeking shelter behind its gray stone walls.
“But this p-pace isn’t dece—ooph.”
Brakes squealed. The carriage slewed sideways and jarred to a halt.
“No.” Elizabeth shot up and rapped on the hatch. “Do not stop. Coachman—”
Shouts and the sound of galloping hooves surrounded the vehicle. A shot roared like thunder for the approaching storm. A man yelled. Another one laughed.
“Highwaymen,” Miss Pross cried.
“Romsford.” Elizabeth nearly sank to her knees. If only she knew something more than the liturgical recitations she performed with the congregation at St. George’s Hanover Square every Sunday morning.
“At least we’ve stopped.” Miss Pross sounded calm, her usual self-possessed person of governess turned companion. “You will see that the marquess will not harm you. His intentions are completely honorable.”
“Then why does he seem incapable of listening when I say no?” Elizabeth knocked on the hatch again. “Coachman, stop this nonsense and get moving.”
The hatch remained closed, the coachman silent, others unnaturally quiet, the hiss of their whispering voices not much louder than the sea a hundred yards away. Those murmurs rose and fell close to the carriage door, but not close enough for more than a word or two to penetrate the enameled panels as though the wind snatched a fragment of conversation here and there to throw it against the window.
Her heart beating hard enough to break through to her stomach, Elizabeth pressed her face to the glass. Despite her eyes adjusting to the darkness inside the carriage, she could see little beyond the window, as though a curtain had been drawn across the outside of the pane.
Yet the subdued argument continued, and this time she heard her name. Her name. No highwayman would have her Christian name.
She grasped the handle. “I’m going out there.”
“You cannot.” Miss Pross grasped Elizabeth’s shoulder. “They could be—”
The carriage door burst open. Strong hands grasped Elizabeth by the waist and swung her from the coach. A scream rose in her throat, but she choked it back. Souvenez qui vous etes, she recited the family motto in her head. Remember who you are.
Trelawnys didn’t scream; they fought.
She kicked the shin of the man who held her. Pain shot through her toes in their kid slippers. She sucked in her breath. The man merely laughed as he slung her over his shoulder and started carrying her away from her carriage.
Miss Pross was screaming as she scrambled out behind them. She carried no family motto demanding a certain type of behavior. “You let my lady go, you brute, you beast.” She ran after them, brandishing her umbrella.
The man ignored her and instead picked up his pace, striding forward as though Elizabeth weighed no more than her velvet cloak.
That same velvet cloak imprisoned her arms so she couldn’t beat on his back, twisted around her knees so she couldn’t jab him in the middle. Her hood tumbled over her face, smothering her and muffling the sobs pressing at her lips.
I’ll not cry. I’ll not cry. I. Will. Not—
Tears burned in her eyes. She struggled in the man’s hold, trying to loosen it.
He held on to her more tightly. “Stop it, Elys, you’re safe now.”
She went limp over the man’s shoulder. Only four people in the world called her by her Cornish name. Grandpapa, Grandmama, Conan, her childhood friend, and—
“Drake?” Her soft exclamation of her brother’s name became lost in Miss Pross’s shout of protest.
“I’ll not go back to the carriage without my lady. You cannot make me.”
Apparently they could. A door slammed and the protests grew muffled. A whip cracked. With a crunch of wheels on roadbed and the flicker of swaying carriage lamps, the coach began to move.
The man holding Elizabeth, the brother she hadn’t seen in six years, set her atop a horse. “Grab the reins,” he commanded in an undertone, a gentle voice just above a murmur. “You can still ride astride?”
“Yes, of course, but where—”
“Later.” He released her.
As bidden, she caught up the reins with one hand, then tried to smooth her skirts over her legs as far as possible with the other. Darkness, if not the fabric of her narrow skirt, preserved her modesty. As though allowing anyone to see her stocking-clad ankles mattered when Drake had not failed her after all but come to her rescue in the spectacular way she expected of her daredevil elder brother.
She nearly laughed aloud.
“Let’s ride.” Drake rode up beside her on another horse. “I’ve got a lead rope. You just stay in the saddle. We’re going to go fast to beat this rain.”
He clicked his tongue at his mount, and both horses sprang into action, heading west toward the narrow track that led over the spine of Cornwall to Bastian Point. Elizabeth held on with hands and knees, bent low over the horse’s neck, her hair flying loose of the last of its pins. Behind them, the rumble of the carriage and other horses faded away to the east, back toward Falmouth. Romsford would catch up with Miss Pross, not Elizabeth.
As long as his men hadn’t managed to ride cross-country or take a boat and get ahead of her.
She was free, flying through the night toward Bastion Point, toward home at last.
Except they continued west instead of taking the road—such as it was—north. Elizabeth smelled the sea on the rising wind before she heard the crash of waves against the rocky shore to her left instead of the quiet of the moorland at night.
Nearly breathless, she tried to rein in. But Drake with the lead rope kept her mount going, galloping despite the darkness, despite the danger.
“Wait.” She shouted above hoofbeats and surf. “This is wrong.”
“No!” Drake’s shout sailed back to her on the wind. “This is best.”
He must know what he was doing. He knew Cornwall better than she, having never left it save for his illegal forays to France for silk and tea. He knew more than she of why she should not allow their parents to force her to marry the Marquess of Romsford. After all it was Drake who had written to warn her against the nobleman even before his lordship’s behavior made his repulsiveness quite, quite clear to her.
She shuddered, sick at the memory, and concentrated on maintaining her seat atop the galloping horse. She would be sore in the morning, but what matter as long as she suffered in her old room under her grandparents’ care?
Laughter bubbled to her lips again, worry fleeing on the Channel gales.
“Home. Home. Home,” she called out.
Lightning forked across the obsidian sky. Her mount shied, then skidded to a halt just as the sky opened with a torrent of rain.
“All right?” Drake dropped back beside her.
“Yes.” Her legs ached from the unfamiliar position of gripping the horse with her knees, but it had saved her from sliding to the ground.
Drake squeezed her arm. “Good girl. We’re almost there.”
He either did not hear or chose not to answer her. No matter. He’d suggested that he help her get home safely, escape the man their parents insisted she marry after her three—to her parents anyhow—unsuccessful seasons. They didn’t believe the rumors about the Marquess of Romsford. They saw his title and his ten thousand pounds of income a year income. Elizabeth saw the look in his one good eye when it fell upon her. A patch covered his other eye. A quantity of scent failed to cover up less pleasant odors on his person. His title and money didn’t stop him from attempting liberties no gentleman should take.
She would endure a hundred miles in the driving rain to get away from him.
She endured perhaps one, although it felt like a hundred with rain soaking through her cloak, sarcenet pelisse, and gown to pebble her skin with gooseflesh. She couldn’t feel her cold fingers inside her leather gloves. Presumably she still clutched the reins. She couldn’t tell until after Drake finally slowed them and led her mount into a cobbled yard, the horses’ shoes ringing on the stones. He dismounted to help her down.
“Let go.” He tugged the reins from her frozen hands. “We’ll be inside in a moment.”
She sounded like Miss Pross with her chattering teeth.
“The inn. Or what used to be an inn. No one comes here anymore except a few locals on Saturday nights. But there’s an old innkeeper here. He’ll give us shelter until the rain stops and we can take a boat around Land’s End to the Point.”
Drake lifted her to the ground. “I expect so, but wait beneath the eaves until I am sure none of Romsford’s men have gotten ahead of us and sheltered here first.”
Elizabeth started forward toward the dark bulk of the inn that couldn’t boast more than a common room and one or two rooms to let for wayfarers not wanting to stay in Falmouth five miles behind. Perhaps a fisherman or two.
Above the roar of the rain and wind, the sea’s deep boom crashed against the rocky shore a hard stone’s throw away. The inn lay silent and dark. She hesitated beneath the eaves. They afforded little cover from wind and rain. Drake had said to wait there. But surely she would be all right to step over the threshold. If she was wrong and someone was inside, she could dash into the night again, hide . . . somewhere.
She groped for the dagger she kept in her pocket. Drake had given it to her when she left for London at fifteen. A lady couldn’t be too careful.
She lifted the handle and nudged open the door, then poised on the threshold. She’d never walked into an inn alone in her life. No matter that this one appeared deserted, a hollow blackness reeking of spilled ale and vinegar. Twenty-one years of training told her entering a common room on her own just would not do. Yet her hands, toes, lips, and chin had gone numb. She smelled no smoke to suggest the innkeeper was present and had built a fire. But at the same time, a roof, walls, and air warmer than what blew off the sea beckoned. And Drake would join her in a moment.
In a flash of lightning through a window, she caught a glimpse of tables and chairs, black humps rising from the dark chasm of the floor. Nothing moved save for a piece of paper skittering off one of those tables and into a distant corner. Beyond the deserted chamber, most likely where the kitchen lay, a streak of light shone from beneath a door.
Fire. Hot water. A cup of tea.
Elizabeth started forward, her kid slippers a mere whisper on the dusty floorboards, her sodden skirt clinging to her legs. And then she stopped. She must appear disreputable, worse than something the cat would think to drag in, with her hair tumbling down her back as though she’d been swimming in the sea, and her clothes clinging to her in a most unsuitable fashion. Even if one or more of Romsford’s men hadn’t managed to get ahead of her and seek her in the first shelter the bleak coast offered . . .
She finger combed her hair away from her face and twisted it into a knot at the base of her neck, where her hood held it in place. She could do nothing about her sodden clothing.
Whether the enemy or an innkeeper, his wife, or his maiden aunt sat behind the door with the promising light, she couldn’t walk in there alone. The mahogany color of her hair and ice-blue eyes would give her away as a Trelawny. By morning her reputation would be in tatters. She must, at the least, be accompanied by her brother. Drake’s behavior wasn’t always the most respectable, but he was beloved in the county. If he told the innkeeper to remain silent about her presence, then the innkeeper would remain silent about her presence.
Romsford’s men wouldn’t remain silent if it would serve their master’s purpose. The marquess was determined enough to wed the last female in London whose parents were desperate enough to be rid of their obstinate and unpopular daughter to accept his offer. Especially after that unfashionable daughter had been caught kissing a dance partner in one of the ballroom bowers. A stupid, schoolgirl stunt to play, but she had been so weary of society—and hoping to be returned to Cornwall once and for all—that a stupid action seemed the right course to take.
She’d been hoisted in her own petard, giving her parents reason to marry her off as soon as possible.
Of late, she’d made too many mistakes. She didn’t need to risk making one more.
She remained where she was in the middle of the floor, motionless, listening. The wind was shifting, carrying the spring storm west to the Atlantic. Waves still slammed against the shore. Storm and surf blotted out all other sounds from outside or in, and Drake reappeared beside her with no more warning than the absence of cold air from the still-open door as it clicked shut.
“You should have waited outside as I told you to.” Though he spoke in the undertone that suggested he didn’t want anyone to hear him more than a yard or two away, an edge of anger tinged his voice. “This innkeeper has always been a friend to . . . a Trelawny, but one never knows when someone with the marquess’s rank comes along.”
“I know. I was thinking Romsford or his men could have come by sea and gotten ahead of me.” She held out her hand, still shaking from the cold and perhaps more, needing reassurance. “He couldn’t have, could he?”
“I’d like to say no.” He took her hand and tucked it into the crook of his elbow. “I haven’t seen any sign of another boat or horses present, but we’ll proceed with caution. Shall we?” He led the way across the common room, his booted feet making less sound than her slippers and dragging gown.
At the inner door, he released her and raised his hand to his neck. When he brought his fingers in front of him again, light flashed off the blade of a knife.
Elizabeth raised her own knife and stepped back.
“One can’t be too careful.” His teeth flashed in the faint light, and then he lifted the door latch with his free hand.
Light flared from a single candle guttering on a deal table in the center of the kitchen. Cold air swirling around them suggested an open door beyond the stacks of barrels lining the walls and forming a divider against one end of the room. Despite the candle, the room appeared deserted.
“Where’s the innkeeper?” Elizabeth asked.
“I don’t know. I thought he would be in here by a fire.” He glided away from her, moving through the shadows cast by the flickering tallow dip on the table. “I’ll secure this back door and then build a fire.”
Teeth clenched against their chattering, Elizabeth huddled by the door to the common room, her dagger drawn, her gaze fixed on her brother.
He prowled around the periphery of the room, looking behind the stores too plentiful for an inn with little business, a clear sign of a man in league with smugglers. He moved with grace and stealth for such a big man. And a man he was now, not the youth of nineteen she’d left in Cornwall. He’d grown brawnier, seemed a bit taller. And he apparently cared little for the fashion of shorter hair; his own fell in loose waves around his ears and collar. Such pretty dark hair for a man to possess.
Too pretty. Too dark.
He glided out of the shadows behind a stack of barrels. The candlelight fell full on his face for the first time, and Elizabeth pressed a hand to her lips to stifle a scream, her heart battering against her ribs like the sea beating at the rocky shore outside. She managed to choke out, “You’re not my brother.”
Available at Christianbook.com, Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, Family Christian, Lifeway, Parable, Books-A-Million, Printsasia and your local bookstore.