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Диксон Хелен

Destitute On His Doorstep

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«Destitute On His Doorstep» - Хелен Диксон

THE HOMELESS MISS LUCAS Destitute and desperate, Jane Lucas knows there is one place she can find refuge – her childhood home. Landing on the doorstep, Jane is confronted with a new Lord of the Manor! Devilish Colonel Francis Russell is known for his fierce reputation in battle.The Civil War might have ended, but by stepping over the threshold Jane fears she’s crossing enemy lines… She will use every weapon in her arsenal to claim back the home that’s rightfully hers, starting with her bewitching charm…and then she goes and falls under the Colonel’s spell!
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About the Author

From where she stood, Jane’s attention was entirely focused on him.

The stranger’s imposing presence seemed highly inappropriate in her late father’s home. Tall and well built, perhaps thirty years old, he was wearing severe black, but he had loosened his plain white stock and removed a leather glove from his left hand. The sun slanting through one of the high windows shone on his curly dark brown hair, springing thickly, vibrantly from his head and curling about his neck. His face was not handsome but strong, striking, disciplined and exceptionally attractive—the expression cool. He was also one of Cromwell’s Roundheads and a man who was familiar to her—a man she had once risked her life for.

The tender feelings that had governed her actions all those years ago had vanished when Cromwell’s Roundheads had killed her father. And now, finding one of them at Bilborough Hall, his very presence defiling the beloved walls, made her shake with anger.

She continued on down the stairs, finding it difficult to conceal the sense of outrage that possessed her on finding this Cromwellian in her home, treating Bilborough Hall as if he owned it. Sensing her presence, he spun round, all taut muscle, lean power and pulsing strength. His gaze was fixed on her as she crossed towards him.

About the Author

HELEN DICKSON was born and lives in South Yorkshire, with her retired farm manager husband. Having moved out of the busy farmhouse where she raised their two sons, she has more time to indulge in her favourite pastimes. She enjoys being outdoors, travelling, reading and music. An incurable romantic, she writes for pleasure. It was a love of history that drove her to writing historical fiction.

Previous novels by the same author:






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Destitute On

His Doorstep

Helen Dickson


The morning mist was thinning when the solitary figure on horseback turned for home. The slender form dressed in breeches and doublet, the shining black hair trimmed to the shoulders and framing a heart-shaped face in soft, natural curls, could be mistaken for that of a youth, but was, in fact a girl.

Suddenly she saw a handful of Roundheads on reconnaissance bivouacked around a fire that glowed like cats’ eyes in the gloom. Aware of the threatened danger to herself, she rode for cover into a thicket, just as a large contingent of Royalist soldiers appeared so suddenly that there was no time for the Roundheads to sound the alarm and prepare themselves.

In these fearful days of the Civil War, when it was no simple matter to draw a line between skirmishes and combats, actions and battles, the Royalists, having reached the remarkable conclusion that the King’s crown was settled upon his head again, were convinced they would crush the Parliamentarians. For weeks this Royalist troop had ridden about the countryside, harrying enemy patrols. The rising sun reflected upon the pike tips and armour, and except for the differing coloured sashes—red for the Royalists and orange for Parliament—there was little to tell them apart. But the arrogant expression on the face of the man who rode at the head of the Royalists, and the gold chain hanging on his breast, proclaimed him to be their leader.

What followed was chaotic for the Roundheads. The Royalists fought with so much resolution and audacity, and with such a clamour of swords, the butt end of muskets and shot that the surprised Roundheads must have thought they had arrived at Hell’s gates. The outcome was inevitable. The Royalists outnumbered them by ten to one, and the Roundheads must have known it was impossible for so few of them to triumph over so many. The fighting was fierce but brief. Roundhead losses were relatively severe, and those who survived were rounded up and bound.

Without so much as a glance around him, the Royalist, Captain Jacob Atkins, sat his mount, impassive and cold, his bloodied sword still clutched in his hand. All his attention was focused on the leader of this bunch of Roundheads, Colonel Francis Russell. Unable to believe his luck in coming upon his sworn enemy unexpectedly, his gaze never wavered. His one remaining eye was a slit of pure venom and something glinted through it, like some predatory fish swimming just beneath the surface. So much hatred emanated from this man that the girl still in hiding nearby shivered as the Roundhead Colonel was seized and led away with his fellow soldiers to await his fate. They were being taken to an immediate holding area—in this case the church in the small market town of Avery.

In his buff coat and carbine and orange-tawny coloured sash—the colours of his captain-general, the Earl of Essex—his proud head bare of the triple-barred helmet, which he’d had no time to put on, the Colonel rode stiff backed and tall in the saddle and not without dignity, looking straight ahead. Nothing showed of the pain and humiliation of defeat which lacerated his fierce pride.

The girl’s attention had been drawn to him during the skirmish as he had tried to fight off this Royalist force, confirming her assertions that Parliament might have control of the country, but the Royalists were crushed but not yet beaten. The Colonel must have known what the outcome would be, but despite this he had fought gallantly, wielding his sword as the girl had seen no other do, while his compatriots were cut down.

There was a hardness concealed within a ruthless instinct for survival that made him formidable. The girl wondered what demon drove him. The ferocious wildness that had spurred him on to slay his enemies, sparing himself no hardship in the process, had gained him her admiration.

Despite her young age she was an avid follower of the Civil War and the men who controlled both sides. She knew who Colonel Russell was, as did every Royalist soldier present. As one of Cromwell’s ironsides he was an impressive figure. Without doubt he was a superb trainer of horsemen and a tactical leader in Cromwell’s recently formed New Model Army, having gained a larger-than-life reputation for invulnerability in every battle in which he had fought, demonstrating a valour above and beyond the call of duty.

A supporter of the King and confident that she had nothing to fear from the Royalists—she was well acquainted with Captain Atkins, for he was her stepmother’s brother—the girl rode into the open. ‘What will they do to him?’ she quietly enquired of a young soldier as they watched the prisoners herded off in the direction of the town.

The soldier glanced at the young stranger he took to be a youth, wondering briefly where he had come from and what he was doing there, but then he shrugged and turned away with little interest. ‘Atkins will give him no quarter. Russell alone is more dangerous to the Royalist cause than an entire troop of Roundheads. With Atkins it’s personal. They’ve met once before, at Newbury, and there isn’t a day goes by when Atkins doesn’t curse the injury inflicted on him by this Roundhead’s sword. It took his eye out, and it almost cost him his life. Atkins has vowed vengeance. He’ll see to it that the Roundhead doesn’t live to fight another battle.’

‘He’ll bring the wrath of the whole Parliament force down on him if he does that. It would not be in his own best interests. Colonel Russell is an active and daring commander, highly thought of by Cromwell himself. An exchange must be negotiated.’

The soldier turned and looked at her grim-faced. ‘Not in this case. This is different. Woe be it for me to speak ill of my superiors, but Atkins is an ugly, vicious bastard, a man devoid of any kind of honour. He deals out his own style of justice—thinks he can do what he likes, and if he thinks he can get away with shooting a Roundhead officer, even one as highly valued as this one, he’ll do it without batting his eye. You wouldn’t want to witness how he deals with his enemies. He inflicts pain first, lets them stew a while, then …’ he made a slicing gesture with the side of his hand across his throat ‘… that’s it.’

The soldier moved off, leaving the girl to watch the Roundhead’s departing figure. Shock and anger at the injustice of the situation rose like bile inside her. Colonel Russell was a Roundhead and therefore her enemy, but he was too worthy a man to die in such a sadistically cruel manner that was nothing short of murder.

Much of her knowledge had come from her father, a prominent Royalist. He had told her that when officers were captured, on each side it was normal for commanders to negotiate exchanges of officers of equivalent rank, and they could even be paroled on the promise never to fight again, but it would seem Captain Atkins made up his own rules. He was to show no such leniency to this particular Roundhead who had been a thorn in his side for too long. To shoot him would be a flagrant breach of the rules of war, but Captain Atkins, a cruel, sadistic man, would not be swayed from his decision. What hope had this Roundhead of being spared by such a man? And he was such a fine man.

Raising her head and squaring her shoulders resolutely, one thing the girl knew, she would not in all conscience let them kill this brave man.

When she came to Avery she pulled her hat low over her eyes, though with such a large influx of soldiers all taking care of their own needs, no one paid her any attention. She rode up the winding, cobbled street between gabled and thatched houses and made straight for the church, which was set apart from the centre of the town.

It wasn’t difficult to find out what had happened to the Colonel. When she saw a couple of men drag him out of a building adjacent to the church, none too ceremoniously, it was evident that Captain Atkins had lost no time in putting his victim to the torture. He was as quiet and still as a dead man, but he wasn’t dead—she could hear him breathing; she heard Captain Atkins order the guards to take him to the vestry, to keep him away from the other prisoners until dark, when his fate would be sealed.

The men stood guard over their prisoner, grudgingly, for all around them their fellow soldiers, celebrating their small victory over the Roundheads, were making merry with the liquor, which was in plentiful supply in the town’s ale houses.

With a combination of her wits and a goodly amount of this strong brew, which the girl plied on these guards, she soon had them snoring. Even though she knew she was putting her own life in danger, she was determined to get the Colonel out of the vestry. After obtaining the key from the pocket of one of the guards and picking up the discarded jacket from the other, careful not to draw attention to herself, she let herself in.

The interior was dimly lit by light slanting in through a high window. The Colonel was sitting propped up against the wall. Thankfully his eyes were open and clear. The girl was slender and pleasant looking, and her dark eyes, though often defiant, were gentle.

In that moment an emotion that was completely alien to her gentle nature almost overwhelmed her as she stared mutely at the slumped figure. She hated Captain Atkins for the cold and cruel calculation of which this Roundhead Colonel had been the victim. He had been treated with savage cruelty. His dark hair, blackened by gunpowder, was soaked in sweat. His handsome face was battered and bleeding, and his burned and bloodied and mangled right hand he held cradled to his chest.

Swallowing the nausea that rose in her throat and gathering all her courage about her like a cloak, she went towards him. Putting a finger to her lips, she said quietly, ‘I’ve come to get you out.’ She looked towards the door, her nervousness growing with every minute. ‘My plan is simple. But we must act quickly.’

The Colonel’s face was as rigid as if it had been carved of stone. ‘It is a brave plan and I am grateful for the thought which your heart and sense of justice dictate, but you must see it is impossible.’

In an attempt to raise his spirits, she gave him a grin of confidence. ‘Not as impossible as you think.’

‘Is it not? Tell me. Why should I trust you?’

‘I speak out of respect, not insolence. I am no chivalrous knight in gleaming armour. I saw you fight. I’ll not stand by and watch Colonel Atkins destroy you. Are you able to walk?’ He nodded. The girl handed him the guard’s coat. Out of her pocket she drew a rose-pink scarf. ‘Take off your coat and put this on. I’ll help you. It may be a tight fit, but it’s the best I can do.’ She passed him her wide brimmed hat. ‘You can wear this. Pull it well down.’ Dragging a table over to the wall, agile and nimble on her feet, she climbed on top and shoved open the window. As she looked down at the prisoner, despite her fear her grin was mischievously wicked. ‘Don’t worry. I don’t expect you to climb up here, but when the guards find you gone, they will think this is how you escaped.’

Jumping down, she helped him to his feet and to remove his coat, careful of his injured hand. Assisting him into the guard’s coat and grimacing when it came nowhere near fastening over the Colonel’s broad chest, knowing there was nothing she could do about it, she passed the Royalist colours over his shoulder.

The girl laughed when she saw the look of disgust that crossed the Colonel’s face at having this final indignity forced on him. ‘This could save your life and lose it in the same day if you are not careful.’

‘How so?’

‘It will get you away from here, but if you don’t take it off before you reach your fellow Roundheads, they may shoot you for a Royalist without asking questions.’

Tearing a strip of white cloth from one of the vestment robes hanging on the back of the door and concealing the Colonel’s coat beneath them, she set about tending the wounded hand as best she could. The mutilation appalled her, not because of the gory sight, but because it was his right hand, his fighting hand, and without it his future as a soldier—if he was successful in escaping Captain Atkins—was over.

The colonel shuddered, groaning. As he watched her bandage his injured hand his voice was harsh with bitterness. ‘Dear Lord in heaven! Could Atkins not have dealt me another wound but that? He’s made damned sure my sword hand is useless.’

Always practical, the girl said, ‘You have another hand, Colonel, a perfectly good one. If you are half the man you are reported to be, you will learn to use it. There will be other battles to fight before this business is done. Now come. The more important matter of saving your life concerns me now.’

Going to the door, she opened it a crack and looked out. Seeing the guards were as she had left them and the soldiers who weren’t clogging the taverns carousing on the village green, she beckoned the Colonel forwards. ‘Go round the church to the back. Walk through the graveyard and when you come to the gate let yourself out and turn to your left. Halfway down the street turn left again down an alley way. There you will find a horse waiting for you.’

Wonder, astonishment and, finally, admiration glowed in the Colonel’s eyes. Before slipping out he paused to look at the young stranger he fully believed to be a youth. There was a strange intensity in the pale face under its unruly mop of curly black shining hair. ‘You’ve thought of everything. It’s a scheme worthy of a master planner.’

The gratitude in his voice took the edge off the girl’s fear. ‘Promise me you will take care of the horse. His name is Arthur.’

Colonel Russell frowned with concern. ‘It is your horse?’

She nodded.

‘And yet you are willing to part with it.’

‘There is no other way you can get away from the village. All I ask is that you treat him well.’

‘I promise you no harm will come to it by my hand. You help me even though you know what will happen to you if you caught. Your age will not protect you. You will be hanged for a traitor.’

‘I know that, sir.’

‘Why are you helping me?’

‘This is war, Colonel. Captain Atkins may be of my persuasion, but that doesn’t mean to say that I have to like him. I don’t hold with personal vendettas. I could not stand by and watch him kill an honourable man.’

‘Thank you. Human nature is full of surprises. You are a remarkable young man. I am grateful. Avery, which is staunchly behind Parliament, has been taken by the Royalists, but it is only a matter of time before we take it back. Can I not persuade you to change sides? We could do with men like you.’

She would have laughed out loud had she not thought he might see through her deception. ‘I am not yet old enough to fight, sir. If the war is not over when I am of age, then my sympathies are firmly with the Royalists.’

‘And your name? At least tell me that?’

She grinned, a mischievous, wicked twinkle dancing in her dark eyes. After a moment’s thought, she said, ‘You may call me Tom, sir.’ She inclined her shining head in a respectful bow, the smile widening on her lips. ‘Glad to be of service.’

‘God be with you, lad. I’ll never forget the debt I owe you for saving my life.’ With that he slipped away.

When he had disappeared round the church and she had locked the door, covering her tracks, she put the key back in the guard’s pocket. She was elated, considering all the danger to have been worthwhile to acquire Colonel Russell’s esteem and to help him escape the odious Captain Atkins. Thrusting her hands into her own pockets, she left Avery and followed the road that led to her home. Already she missed her beloved Arthur, but, knowing he would aid a brave man escape the clutches of Captain Atkins and that he would be well cared for, she didn’t mind so much.

On finding his prisoner had escaped, in his rage Jacob Atkins came to two decisions, which he would never alter as long as he lived. The first was very simple. One day, he would meet that accursed Colonel again—and when he did, he would kill him.


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