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Royalist On The Run

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«Royalist On The Run» - Хелен Диксон

The fugitive colonel!Years ago, Colonel Sir Edward Grey broke off his engagement to Arabella, destroying their chance for happiness. Now, the English Civil War has thrown them back together, and, fleeing for his life, Edward needs Arabella’s help to protect his son.Lady Arabella Fairburn is reluctant to aid the man who once spurned her, yet sees he is still honourable at heart. Together, they escape to France, and Arabella must decide if she can a take a chance on Edward–and their rekindled passion–once again!
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Royalist on the Run Helen Dickson

‘Arabella … Any minute now I may forget that I shouldn’t be here, alone with you.’

‘Please don’t go.’

At that unequivocal invitation, without restraint he closed the distance between them. His arms curled around her and once again she felt the immense thrill of being held against him. She was overcome by a passionate desire to surrender herself to him.

As his lips touched hers, despite the roughness of his beard which brushed her face, a sharp intake of breath betrayed her longing for him. The force between them had grown powerful and impatient, and the longing could no longer be denied.

The English Civil War in the seventeenth century, which saw almost ten years of conflict, upset the lives of people in England profoundly—and in ways they could not have envisaged. There were strong differences of opinion, and those loyal to the King found the concept of a country without a monarch at the head of its social order virtually unimaginable.

The war saw the execution of a king, followed by the establishment of a military dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell. It gave rise to new ideas, political and religious, but following years of repression and the death of Cromwell the people called for the monarchy to be restored.

I have always been fascinated by this time, and have chosen to focus this story on the Royalist cause, with my hero and heroine on the same side.

Royalist on the Run

Helen Dickson

HELEN DICKSON was born and still 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.




Title Page

About the Author

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten




Chapter One

Arabella couldn’t say if it was the children crying in the room next to hers that woke her, the hard-edged rain pelting the windowpanes that sounded like stones, or a shutter banging against a wall in the far reaches of the house.

Opening her eyes, she listened to the wind blowing and moaning like a tortured soul over the land. She prayed the shutter wouldn’t blow off. And then she realised what it was that had disturbed her—the rhythmic beat of horses’ hooves approaching the house.

Soldiers. Who else could it be?

Closing her eyes, with foreboding in her heart she prayed they weren’t about to have a repeat of what had happened in the past, when Parliamentary soldiers had sacked the house.

‘Are the vultures about to gather again?’ she muttered, knowing she should pray hard and fast that it was not so, but she was too weary to do what had proved useless in the past. With her heart racing and shivering with cold, she got out of bed and went to the window and looked out.

Rain was falling hard, but the moon between the swirling clouds was full and bright, illuminating the sturdy walls of this fourteenth-century manor house in the county of Gloucestershire. Four riders, Royalist soldiers—the wide-brimmed hats with swirling plumes worn by two of the men indicating this—were riding through the gatehouse. They halted in the courtyard, but for King or Parliament it made little difference. They would want feeding and there was little food at Bircot Hall to be had. The soldiers were dismounting, staring about them with a confident air.

Pulling on her dress of deep blue which she had shed earlier, one of the few dresses left to her after the Roundheads’ purge of the house in search of anything worth stealing, she heard a loud persistent hammering on the stout oak doors. Wind shook the house as she hurried from her room and the darkness seemed charged with energy. Every fibre of her being was on alert. She had a throbbing in the base of her skull all the while, for there is nothing as contagious as panic.

The atmosphere of acute anxiety was rife when she arrived in the hall, with the few servants—Sam Harding, his wife, Bertha, and their son, Tom, who remained loyal—and family standing close together, all with strained eyes and drawn faces, not knowing what to expect. Even Alice’s children, aware of the tension, were fretful and clinging to their mother’s skirts.

Arabella looked at them, at Alice, her sister, aged beyond her thirty years by the trials and tribulations the Civil War had wrought. In the absence of Robert, Alice’s husband, who had fought for the King and was now in exile in France, Alice had withstood the invasion of the Parliamentarians into her home and shown herself capable of gallantry at least equal to that of her husband. But she was weary with all that had befallen them and trying to keep her children fed.

Then there was Margaret, even tempered, calm and rational. She was Alice’s twenty-year-old sister-in-law. Holding deeply religious convictions, Margaret had no desire to complicate her life with a husband and children, preferring to devote herself to her family and to prayer. It would take more than the Civil War to break Margaret’s composure and her faith in God. But Alice had told Arabella that she was not totally convinced by her sister-in-law’s convictions. Margaret had led a sheltered existence for most of her life and Alice held a firm belief that Margaret would eventually succumb to the male sex when the war was over and the world was opened up to her.

Sam, an old and faithful retainer, glanced anxiously at Arabella.

‘Shall I open the door?’

Arabella looked at Alice, who nodded, trying to calm her three children. ‘I think you should, Sam,’ Arabella said, ‘and then maybe you should build up the fire. We cannot begin by offending them. Better to placate them—although being Royalist troops, they are not our enemy.’

When Sam had drawn back the bolts and opened the door, an officer strode briskly into the hall with his high, leather, silver-spurred boots ringing on the stone flags. The gust of frigid air was not much of a shock compared to the man standing there. Arabella stared at him, feeling something dark pass through her, like a cloud heralding a storm. Beads of rain clung to his eyebrows. Having removed the wide-brimmed hat from his head, with his long riding cloak hanging from his shoulders, a sword at his hip and the long dark hair curling about his ears, he had a dark, satanic look.

He was tall, his hair catching the glow from the few beeswax candles in wall sconces, which did little to lighten the gloom of the hall with its walls of dark-oak panelling. He was clean shaven, his skin swarthy, his face with its sharp cheekbones slashed with eyebrows more accustomed to frowning than smiling, which he was doing now. His mouth was hard and firm, the chin beneath it square, tense and with an arrogant thrust.

He was totally unconscious of himself or the effect he might produce on those gathered in the hall. Behind him came two of his men. His gaze passed over the inhabitants, as if searching for something—someone.

Arabella’s shock at the sight of him showed in sudden startling contrast, as her skin blanched, her eyes darkened and she put a hand to her throat as though it had become constricted. The room seemed to shrink around her.

Unaware of the stir he was causing in the young woman’s breast, he halted in front of the small group of habitants. He inclined his head slightly, not with anything which might be called humility, and his voice rang out in the vaulted hall.

‘I am Colonel Sir Edward Grey of His Majesty’s army.’

All Arabella could do was stare at Edward Grey, a man to whom she had been pledged when she was nine years old by their respective parents. At seventeen years of age, Edward had agreed to the contract, but as a man of five and twenty he’d been less interested to consider courtship and marriage to seventeen-year-old Arabella. After three years of war and the onset of fresh hostilities between King and Parliament, and Edward Grey’s infatuation with another woman, he renounced the requirements of the contract he had made with her father. Arabella would have found his breaking of their betrothal less painful had he not been so handsome—and in maturity, leaner, taller and more virile, he was far more so.

As a child she had adored him. He had been the hero of her girlish fantasies, in every way her shining knight. He had made her child’s heart pine for want of him, and on reaching seventeen she was sure she was in love with him. She recalled the nights she had lain in her bed unable to believe how lucky she was and, when the war came and he went to fight, she had been unable to endure the thought of his being wounded in battle.

When he cast her over the world had become a darker place.

It had been five years since she had last seen him. Despite the war and all its hardships he was little changed. There was still the same masterful face and he had not lost his aura of pride. It was in his stance, in his bearing and in his eyes as they passed over those gathered. Neither time nor war, it seemed, had any power over Edward Grey.

Arabella had followed his exploits over the years, of how as a quick-thinking and energetic cavalry officer his bravery and confident attitude kept up the morale of his troops. His victories were much talked about and tales of his exploits, true or false, believed by all who listened to them.

She had thought of him often in the past and now he had thrust himself, a solid, real presence, into her future. She felt the trembling in her knees quivering up her thighs and into her stomach. She would faint in a minute if she didn’t get a hold of herself, but still she stood, enduring a cold and sickening shock. She experienced anger, outrage, bitterness, all the strong emotions which stiffened her spine. How dare he come here? How dare he insinuate himself into her presence after the callous manner in which he had treated her in the past?

Colonel! So, he had been promoted. He wore his new position well.

Taking a deep breath, she tried to think clearly. ‘I know who you are,’ she said quietly but firmly, moving slowly out of the shadows towards him. ‘Do you not recognise me, Edward?’

He stiffened, brought up sharp by her words. He suddenly swung his gaze to her and held her in the dark-blue depths, his eyes narrowing in masculine predatory appreciation. Suddenly she was the captive of those fathomless dark-blue eyes and, while doubtless those around them went on breathing, Arabella felt as if she and this man were alone in the world. She felt as if something inside her had moved, subtly but emphatically.

Recognition dawned and he took a step forward, a puzzled frown creasing his brow. ‘Arabella?’

Staring into those enigmatic blue eyes that had ensnared her own, Arabella felt as if she were being swept back in time. ‘Have I changed so much?’

The tantalising lines in his cheeks deepened as he offered her a smile that seemed every bit as welcoming and persuasive as it had once been. ‘You are—changed. Forgive me. It is you I seek. I was told I would find you here.’

Arabella stared at him. After all they had once meant to each other, when he had come to her home and they had walked and talked together, she had thought she was the most important thing in the world to him. When he had talked about the future they would have, how rosy that future had seemed to them both. And now, didn’t that past camaraderie allow them more than the stilted decorum of strangers?

For years she had imagined what it would be like if they should meet again, how she would spurn him as he had spurned her, yet now her heart beat a gentle tattoo in her breast like a besotted maid. She did not know whether to be angry, relieved or disappointed that he had sought her out, after all this time, but she suspected that whatever it was that had brought him did not bode well for the future.

A wry smile curled her lips and when she spoke her voice was noticeably lacking in warmth, conveying to him that she still bore a grudge, that she had not forgotten what he had done to her.

‘But you did not recognise me. It’s hardly flattering, though not surprising. Five years is a long time and much has changed. You have seen Stephen?’ she asked, eager for news of her brother, who had fought side by side with Edward Grey throughout the years of war.

He nodded. Tossing his hat and cloak on to a chair, he came to where she stood apart from the rest. He towered over her, but she was fearless. ‘He told me where I would find you. He is to join me—within hours, if everything goes well.’

Arabella’s heart lifted with joy. ‘Stephen is to come here?’ She looked at Alice. ‘That is good news, is it not, Alice?’

Trying to soothe her four-year-old daughter Nanette, Alice nodded, her eyes filled with gladness.

Edward’s gaze swept Arabella from top to toe. He lifted a dark winged brow and a faint smile touched his lips.

‘Look at you. You’ve no flesh on you.’

Turning from her, he went to the hearth where he stood, warming his hands. The logs Sam had fed into the fire sizzled as the flames ate into them.

‘Times are hard,’ she returned coldly, offended by his glib comment, but determined not to show it. ‘Rations are scarce and have been for many months. Look around you. You see how things are here. You are looking at a sacked house and starvation.’

He frowned, his expression showing his concern. ‘You have had trouble?’

‘We did have some uninvited guests, yes,’ she replied drily.

‘You have no men to protect you?’

‘Only a handful of servants—however ill equipped—and you have seen the house. It offers no defence against a hostile army.’

He looked at her hard. ‘And you? Did they harm you?’ She bit her lip. ‘Come now. This is war, Arabella, and I know well the atrocities done to women by the hands of a triumphant enemy.’

‘No—they left us alone. You were a captain when we parted company and now you are a colonel. I have nothing to say against your appointment, but if you have come here to commandeer livestock and foodstuffs with which to feed your army, insisting that military necessities come first, then you are going to be disappointed.’

‘That is not why I am here, and there are only four of us—five when your brother gets here. What happened here?’

‘Some months ago the Roundheads took over the house. Their behaviour was indefensible. The soldiers were quite out of control. Despite their puritan tendencies and without the steadying presence of proper leadership, the majority of them were drunk from dawn to dusk. Our Parliamentary brethren are not all as pious as they would have us believe.’

‘Were any of you molested in any way?’

Arabella shook her head. This was a conversation he should be having with Alice, but her sister was still trying to console Nanette, who was crying and clearly afraid of the fearsome-looking men who had burst into her home.

‘We were unharmed, but the war goes on and we live in constant dread that it will happen again. The Roundheads were here for four weeks. As you see they did not treat us or the house well. Doors were broken down, panelling ripped from the walls as they searched for places of concealment, hoping to find Royalists evading capture. Horses, sheep and cattle and all other livestock were rounded up along with the deer in the park. The granaries were emptied—along with cellars of ale and wine. It will be a long time before the land gives a return.’

Arabella looked beyond him to the door where a young woman had entered and, perched on her hip, she held a child. The infant, a boy, was about two years old. He hid his face in the woman’s shoulder, his thumb firmly in his mouth, seemingly afraid to look about him, to be curious as small children are. Puzzled, she looked from the child to Edward.

‘Who is this? Whose child is he?’

Edward beckoned the young woman forward. ‘Dickon is my son, Arabella. This is Joan, his nurse.’

Arabella dragged the air into her tortured lungs, fighting for control, and as she did so the boy lifted his head and his thumb plopped from his mouth. Turning his head, he looked directly at her. She was unprepared for the pain that twisted her heart. It was like looking at Edward. The boy had the same startling blue eyes framed with long black lashes. His hair was dark, the curls framing his exquisite face. She could not tear her eyes away from him. Even at so young an age he had the same arrogant way of holding his head as his father, the same jut of his chin. Yet there was a distress in him, an anxiety that was unusual for one so young.

Tearing her eyes away from the boy, she fixed them on his father. ‘I heard that your wife died, Edward.’ So deeply had Arabella loathed the woman Edward had married that even though she had died the bitterness Arabella held still remained and she would choke if she allowed her name to pass her lips.

‘Yes. Anne died shortly after giving birth to Dickon,’ Edward uttered, his voice flat.

She stared at him, searching for an emotion that would tell her how he grieved the loss of his wife. But there was nothing. ‘I am sorry for your loss.’ Her voice was as emotionless as his had been, but she could not pretend to emotions she did not feel.

‘And I for yours. Your husband was killed during the battle at St Fagans, I believe.’

Her expression tightened on being reminded of John Fairburn. His body had been brought back home in a coffin for burial. Having no wish to look on John’s dead body and being told he had been so badly wounded she wouldn’t recognise him anyway, she had buried him with the rest of his ancestors in the churchyard.

‘Yes. I am a widow—but that is none of your concern. Whatever the reason for your being here, I want you to know you are not welcome. You and I have lived our separate lives for a long time now and I would like it to remain that way. When you married Anne Lister you severed all ties between us.’ The expression on his face seemed to tell her that nothing she might do or say could reach him.

‘I will, of course, do as you wish, Arabella, and leave when Stephen gets here, but it is also imperative that I find a temporary home for my child.’

Arabella began to shake her head from side to side, for it was beginning to penetrate into her dazed mind what he had in his.

‘You cannot mean that you expect me to...’ Her expression was appalled. ‘No—no, I will not. How can you ask this of me? Have you not done enough to...humiliate me in the past? You cannot, in all conscience expect me to—to take him in.’

‘There is nowhere else, Bella—nowhere that is safe—no one else I can trust.’

Bella! He had called her Bella! No one else had called her that since he... Angrily she thrust such sentimental thoughts from her. ‘There has to be. You have a sister—Verity. Surely...’

‘With England under the rule of Parliament, Verity and her family have sought exile in France.’

‘Then why didn’t they take your son with them?’

‘I was too late.’

‘But why me? Why bring him to me?’

‘I have need of an ally in whom I can place complete trust. I sought you out because I thought that person might be you. There is a heavy price on my head. To lay their hands on my son would be a coup indeed for the Parliamentarians. Already the homes of my family and my estate in Oxfordshire have been invaded and torn apart by Parliament’s search for me and my son.’

‘And what of our safety?’ she demanded, her eyes burning with righteous anger that he could demand this of her. ‘By coming to this house you have endangered us all. To give succour to your son would count as treason to Parliament. They would hang us all.’

‘Not if you were to pass him off as your own should the need arise.’

Appalled, Arabella stared at him. ‘You ask this of me?’ she gasped. ‘Have you no heart? I had a child, too, Edward—a daughter.’ Tears pricked her eyes and her throat drew tight as she thought of her own dead daughter. ‘She was called Elizabeth. She died of a fever just one year after I received news of my husband’s death.’

‘I am truly grieved to hear that,’ Edward said, compassion tearing through him. ‘Stephen told me about your daughter.’

‘Did he indeed? I am only surprised you remembered I existed at all. And now you come here and dare to ask me—a woman you have not seen in five years, a woman you had so little care for you broke our betrothal—to pass your son off as my own?’ Her words carried with them all the raw emotion she felt over the death of her child.

Her words brought a look of pain to his eyes. ‘You are wrong, Arabella. I did care for you—deeply. I must confess that my conduct towards you at the time has been a cause of enormous regret for me and I hope that my manners have improved over the years.’

Arabella was outraged, her eyes burning. ‘I wouldn’t know anything about that, but I suppose because you believe you have acquired some manners, you thought it would be all right to come here when my brother suggested it. How dare you presume! How dare you think you could do that to me—to place me in such an impossible position?’

‘I do realise the gravity of the situation. It was not my intention to cause you hurt, Arabella.’

Arabella’s emotions came rushing to the surface and the anguish of the last few unhappy years were released in one sweeping moment. ‘I don’t care. The answer is no. How can you do this to me—to ask me to take care of your child when I am still grieving for my own? I am not made of stone. How can you put me in a position where I must turn a child from the house?’ she cried with unutterable sorrow, deliberately not allowing her gaze to fall on the child in the woman’s arms. ‘But I must. I really cannot possibly... I cannot allow your child into my life...after what I have suffered—after what you did...’

‘I am sorry.’

‘You are sorry? Being sorry is not enough.’

His audacity took the breath from her body. She wanted to shout at him, to express all the heartbreak, pain, anger and the hatred and jealousy his alliance and marriage to Anne Lister had caused her. She prided herself on her calm dignity, her upright head and steadfast refusal to allow him to see how much he had tortured her spirit and her flesh. She would not, but she would dearly like to shout to the world of her outrage, her bitterness and revulsion at the idea and his nerve in bringing his child, Anne Lister’s child, into what she now considered to be her home. The loss of her daughter was with her for ever. In her sleep she dreamed of her. She would awaken with wet eyes, her face tearstained.

‘Dickon is my son, Arabella,’ Edward said, a fierce light in his eyes. ‘I have to make sure that he is safe.’

‘Why? Is there to be more strife? Is that what brought you here?’

She knew this must be true since there had been a shifting of troops towards the west for some time now. Sam told of the Parliament army moving in great swathes towards the River Severn, with oxen and carts pulling canon and laden with deadly loads of powder kegs. Everyone was thankful they didn’t come within distance of Bircot Hall.

‘It is likely. I am to join the King’s army. Malcolm Lister will not rest until he has my son in his clutches.’

Arabella stared at him, understanding at last why he was so desperate for her to care for his son. ‘So the two of you are still at loggerheads.’ She remembered Anne Lister’s brother. She had never liked him. There was a slipperiness about him and he possessed a streak of ruthlessness and an iron control that was chilling. Because Edward was a King’s man he had done his utmost to prevent him marrying his sister, but Anne had been determined. ‘I thought war would make a good substitute for private quarrels. You are a wanted man. You have put us all in grave danger by coming here.’

‘There was nothing else I could do. I will not surrender to them. Malcolm Lister knows that, which is why he will use my son, knowing he is the only reason I would give myself up to Parliament.’

‘Malcolm Lister is your brother-in-law. He would not hurt his nephew.’

‘I sincerely hope not. He married in the summer before the King raised his standard at Nottingham, all of nine years ago. It appears that his wife is unable to bear him a child so he has focused on Dickon. He hates the thought of him growing up a Royalist. As siblings Malcolm and Anne were close—he adored her and, for that reason and because of my allegiance to King Charles, he never forgave me for marrying her. He harbours some burning desire for revenge. He would take Dickon from me if he could and see me hanged. Do I have to remind you that the man is a Parliamentarian?’

Without another word he turned on his heel to speak to the two men who accompanied him, his long legs eating up the ground with each stride. Arabella thought she never knew of any other man who could in so short a time fill a room with his presence and become the master of a house as if he owned every stick and stone of it.

Arabella saw he had grown more worn, his face lined—the result of the endless anxieties that pressed upon him, but it was all still there: his self-assurance, his arrogance, his strength and his overbearing will which would let none cross him. There was still the twist to his strong mouth, that powerful, passionate certainty that though Edward Grey might be against the rest of the world, the fault was theirs, not his.

Having deliberately refrained from looking at Edward’s son, Arabella now looked at the woman holding the boy. She was young with dark hair and a wide mouth. While she was hardly a beauty, she had a wholesome look. She also looked weary, the child heavy in her arms. Her unease on trying to hold on to the boy was evident. His gaze was steady and grave, although his rosy mouth trembled with tears that were not far away.

Nanette’s tears had ceased and Alice seemed to take hold of herself. She spoke to Margaret. ‘Will you take Joan upstairs, Margaret—and see what you can find in the way of a bed and some food for her and the child? They must be tired and hungry.’

‘Thank you,’ Joan uttered, her voice soft and strained. ‘We’ve been travelling all day. Something to eat and somewhere to lay the child would be welcome.’

‘Sir Edward,’ Alice said when he returned to them. ‘I am Alice, Stephen and Arabella’s elder sister. I can understand if you don’t remember me—it has been a long time.’

‘Of course I remember you,’ he said, taking her hand and raising it to his lips. ‘How could I forget? Our families were close before the war. When you visited your father in London, you were always welcoming and charming as I recall.’

‘It’s kind of you to say so. I bid you welcome to Bircot Hall.’

Arabella bristled at her sister’s words. Edward Grey had destroyed her trust once, she was not so hasty to invoke such favour for a man whose motives she could not discern.

‘I am sorry that you see my home in a state of turmoil.’ Alice’s eyes shone with tears, but she did not acknowledge their presence. ‘Without our menfolk, as my sister explained, we have suffered greatly at the hands of the Parliamentarians. We have had several Roundhead patrols since. Mercifully they left us alone, but that does not guarantee that they will the next time. Robert, my husband, holds you in high esteem. It is indeed an honour to have you in our home.’

Edward inclined his head. ‘Thank you. Your hospitality is greatly appreciated.’

Arabella almost choked on the words that rose and stuck in her throat. How could Alice betray her when he had treated her, Arabella, so badly?

As if sensing her anger, Alice gave her a look of reproof. ‘Calm yourself, Arabella. This is war and no time for private feuds.’

So chastened, though unable to conceal the resentment she continued to feel for Edward Grey—a resentment that increased when she observed the amused twitch to his lips—Arabella dutifully clamped her own together.

‘We have had no news of my husband for months, Sir Edward,’ Alice said. ‘All I know is that he is in France.’

‘I am sorry I cannot help you, Lady Stanhope, but if he is in France then he will be safe.’

‘I thank God for that. It will be good to see Stephen again. If you are to stay overnight, the stables are at your disposal,’ Arabella was quick to say. ‘At least they are warm and dry.’

‘Arabella, where are your manners?’ Alice chided her once more. ‘Sir Edward and those with him are our guests. The house may be in a sorry state, but it has more rooms than we know what to do with.’ She smiled at Edward. ‘They are at your disposal. Now please excuse me. I will arrange for them to be made ready. The hour is late and I must put the children to bed.’

Having removed his cloak, Arabella gasped when she saw a dark stain on Edward’s jacket.

‘You are wounded.’

‘I received a sword thrust in the shoulder during a skirmish with a small band of Roundheads on the way here. They were spoiling for a fight. Fortunately we fought them off—although Stephen held back to make quite sure we weren’t followed. It’s a common enough wound. One of the men dressed it, but it continues to bleed.’

‘Come with me and I will tend to it,’ she said curtly.

Taking up a candle, she walked across the hall to the kitchens, through which the still room was located. It was where Alice liked to mix her own remedies. Arabella often helped her. It was clean and quiet and fragrant with summer smells of thyme, rosemary and lavender, berries and seeds, and herbs that were readily available in the hedgerows.

Glad of the opportunity to speak with her alone, Edward followed her. Her skirts swayed gently as she walked and the line of her back was straight and graceful. Removing his jacket, his sling and his sword, he slipped his arm out of his shirt sleeve to expose the not-so-clean bandage covering his injured shoulder. Sitting on a stool, he waited for her to proceed.

Trying to barricade herself behind a mask of composure as she held up the candle, Arabella’s gaze was reluctantly drawn to his exposed flesh. Lighting two more candles better to see, carefully she cut away the blood-soaked bandage. His bare, muscled arm and shoulder gleamed in the soft light. It was excruciatingly intimate to touch his flesh. It was warm and firm. He was strong, sleek but not gaunt, all sinew and strength, his muscles solid where her fingers touched.

Forcing herself not to think about his manly physique and to focus on the raw wound, which drove such thoughts away, she inspected it carefully. It looked angry, a thin trickle of blood oozing from the lacerated flesh. Tentatively she felt the surrounding tissue with her finger. He winced. It was obviously painful to the touch.

‘The wound appears to be quite deep. It has to be cleaned. You say it happened earlier today?’

‘Hopefully it won’t have had time to fester.’ Watching her as she lit more candles, filled a bowl with water and gathered cloths with which to wash the wound, he said, ‘You have changed, Arabella.’

‘War does that to people,’ she answered, her manner brusque as she proceeded to clean the wound, her pale hands working quickly and efficiently.

‘I am sorry you’ve had to endure its hardships.’

She shot him a look. ‘Why? You did not start the war.’

When she began to wash the wound his expression tightened and he gritted his teeth. Her heart wrenched, having no wish to cause him more pain. Yet she was quietly pleased by the sight and it gave her some satisfaction of him being less that formidable.

‘How long have you been at Bircot Hall?’ he asked.

‘Two years now. We really are quite impoverished. We have managed to put some of the house back to some kind of order. The property will be restored later, when it can be afforded—when the war is over. We hope it will be soon—although when King Charles was executed we thought it was the end of Royalist hopes.’

‘Not when the Scots proclaimed his son King of Great Britain and after Cromwell routed the Royalists at Dunbar.’

‘You were there?’

Edward nodded, as memories of that bloody battle slashed like a blade through his mind’s eyes. ‘I was there. I was one of the lucky ones. I managed to escape over the border and back into England, where I made my way south.’

‘We have heard that King Charles is heading south with a Scottish army. Is this true?’

He nodded, avoiding her gaze. ‘It is. I will join him when I know Dickon is safe.’

There was a stillness in the air, a foreboding that sent a cold shiver down her spine. ‘I can’t bear to think there is to be more fighting.’

‘We are all weary of it. There have been times when we were defeated, but we are not destroyed.’

‘And new plots are being devised to continue the fight every day. If you are killed? What then?’

‘If you agree to let Dickon remain here for the time being, should the Royalists be defeated, then I would ask you to take Dickon to my sister in France.’

‘I see.’ Pausing in her task, she cast him a wry glance. ‘Your audacity knows no bounds. You ask too much of me, Edward.’

He met her gaze steadily. ‘I know. I am desperate, Arabella,’ he said softly. ‘My property has been confiscated. My son is all I have left. I have to know that he is safe. The war will end—but not as you or I would like. The way Cromwell has trained his army is something else. Never in England, until now, has there been an army like it. For the first time soldiers are properly trained. They proved how well at Dunbar.’

Looking into his eyes, she saw there were haunted shadows and she guessed that, like every other soldier who had survived, the ugliness of the wars had left lasting scars on his mind. ‘So—what are you saying? That there is no hope?’

‘Unless the King can produce a miracle, the cause is doomed.’

‘I fear we are all doomed whatever the outcome.’

‘You sound bitter, Arabella.’

She gave him a cold look. ‘Bitter? I remember those months after Marston Moor, when everyone thought the war must end. It seemed impossible then that it would start up again. How soon they were to be proved wrong. And now look at me. My husband is dead—along with our child. My father was killed at Naseby and my brother is preparing to prolong the fight. I have no home to call my own and I have been forced to throw myself on my sister’s charity, whose house has been violated by men who care nothing for the cause but only for what they can plunder from the homes of decent people without respect to their persons. Yes, Edward, I am bitter. Bitter that there are those not satisfied and continue to stir up the ugly storm of war, determined to drag it out to the bitter end.’

‘No corner of England has remained untouched by the evils of war, Arabella. In every shire and every town, families have been divided and much blood spilled. With the failure to find a political solution all England is in confusion. Many remain loyal to the king.’

‘As a man or as a symbol?’

‘The latter, I think. When the end comes there will be no recovery.’

‘King or Parliament—it’s not as if war decides who is right—only who has the power to rule.’

‘I fear you are right. Royalists are fleeing in their hundreds to the Continent like rats deserting the sinking ship.’

‘If they loved their homes more, they would stay behind and share the burdens of defeat with their womenfolk.’

Edward was silent while she wrung a bloodied cloth out in the bowl of water, then, ‘Do you bear malice toward me—for what happened between us?’


Briefly Arabella closed her eyes. It was painful to recount such memories, especially when she had become so accustomed to burying them—or trying, for no matter how hard she had tried she had not succeeded. Secretly she had missed him more than she would have believed possible, for how could she ever forget how volatile, mercurial and rakishly good looking this man was?

She recalled the pain she had felt when told he had renounced their betrothal, the horror and humiliation of it. She had promised herself that never again would she allow herself to be so treated.

Reaching deep inside herself, she pushed thoughts of his rejection of her away. Thinking like this served no purpose. There was nothing to be gained from these haunting thoughts. Shaking the shroud of the past from her, she set herself firmly to this one task of tending his wound. Besides, she had other matters on which she must focus now—his child and what she was going to do about him.

‘Why should I bear malice? I can understand it must be a grim prospect indeed for a man who is compelled to exchange marriage vows with an unappealing woman merely to satisfy his family. You wanted Anne Lister, I knew that. Despite her family being for Parliament, the moment you were introduced you were smitten by her.’

He nodded gravely. ‘That I cannot deny.’

‘You merely married the woman of your choice.’

‘Aye. And look how that turned out,’ he replied, his lips twisting bitterly, seated on the stool at the side of the table.

‘I heard and I am sorry.’

‘Are you, Arabella?’

‘I believe she left you.’

‘After eight months of marriage she went back to live with her brother—her father having been killed at the beginning of the war.’

‘I—also heard that she wanted some kind of judicial separation.’

‘She was carrying my child. I refused to give her one.’

Lowering her eyes, Arabella wondered how he had felt when his wife told him she wanted to leave him. Had Anne’s rejection of him hurt him as much as he had hurt her, Arabella, when he shattered all her hopes and dreams?

‘If she had not been with child, would you have let her go?’

He nodded. ‘I would not have kept her with me against her will. She was not like you, Arabella. Commitment was not much in her thoughts when she married me.’ He studied her face closely. ‘I should not say this, I know, but I did miss you when we parted.’

‘No, Edward, you should not. You left and for me nothing was the same any more. What we have to share is no more than a distant memory, as old and useless as the lame nag the Roundheads left behind.’

‘I hurt you.’

‘You made a promise you did not keep.’

‘No, Arabella. My parents made a promise on my behalf. As yours did.’

‘That does not alter the fact that you let me down. I got on with my life when you married Anne Lister. I believe the wedding was held in the presence of the King.’

She smiled thinly, remembering how beautiful Anne had been. The Listers had been known to Arabella’s family, but because of the Listers’ allegiance to Parliament they were never friends. As the only daughter of doting parents and the sister of three adoring elder brothers—two of whom had lost their lives at Naseby—Anne had been spoiled and indulged all her life. She harmed everything she touched. With a sly look and a mere inflection of her voice she could cause pain to the happiest of hearts.

Arabella had often asked herself why Anne was like she was, inflicting cruelty for its own sake, taking a sensuous delight in seeing another’s pain. Arabella could see her now—those slanting green eyes beneath the brown hair, that hard, red-lipped mouth. It seemed incredible to Arabella that anyone could have been deceived by her. Yet her power to charm had been overwhelming. People fell under her spell like skittles knocked over.

But Arabella had not been taken in, not for a moment. The moment they had laid eyes on each other, both of them had been aware of a mutual hostility. It hadn’t mattered to her one iota that Edward was a King’s man—indeed, she had preferred the rich trappings of royalty than the spartan, puritanical way of life her family tried to force on her.

But Anne would have none of it. She had been determined to have Edward and married him without her brother Malcolm’s consent when he was away with his regiment. Once she had what she wanted she flaunted herself shamelessly when in the company of Edward’s friends. Edward’s appeal was diminished and she was entirely without mercy. Their heated quarrels were notorious and it was no secret that Anne had begun to look elsewhere for her pleasure.

‘Anne had a large inheritance from her mother,’ Arabella went on. ‘So, yes, Edward, you married well. When you ended our engagement when the first conflict was over, like many more Royalists who had no intention of abandoning the cause, you needed funds to raise a troop of horses. You would have been a fool if you had let her slip from you and didn’t seize her fortune for yourself.’

His face hardened. ‘You think I am that mercenary?’

‘You gave me no reason to think otherwise.’

‘However you interpret it, it served my purpose. At the time the whole future of England was at stake. Desperate means called for desperate measures.’

‘Are you saying you didn’t love your wife?’ she ventured pointedly.

‘I thought I did. I was wrong and you were right. I needed money. Emotions did not count.’

‘Emotions, but not honour. Your actions were not exactly subtle and did you no credit in my eyes.’

He looked at her for a long considered moment before saying, ‘You are a different person, Arabella. I feel I am meeting you for the first time.’

‘And do you approve?’

‘I approved before—however badly I behaved towards you.’

‘Then why did you leave me?’ She looked at him steadily as she waited for him to answer, yet not wanting to hear it. ‘Please don’t tell me. I knew Anne. She was very beautiful—and exciting. No man could resist her. You were no exception—and I was very young and inexperienced in the ways of the world.’

‘But now you are a woman.’

‘I had to grow up quickly when I married John.’

‘Were you not happy with John Fairburn?’

‘Marriage is not always what we expect.’ More than that she would not say, but with her head bent over her task so he could not see her face, she thought of silent meals, of the brutality she had been forced to endure in her cold bed, of John constantly chastising her for any transgression, however small, and she said nothing.

‘After John died followed so soon by our home being sacked and burned when the Roundheads came calling, with Stephen away and London being an unsafe place to be, I came to Alice.’ He was watching her intently. Arabella could feel the heat of his gaze burning through the fabric of her dress. ‘I shall be a while longer,’ she said, struggling to sound casual and unconcerned. ‘Are you comfortable?’


She jumped at the sound of his voice so close to her ear. Her eyebrows sloped gently above her eyes and furrowed slightly as she continued to clean away the dried-on blood from around the wound. Her hair fell across her eyes in such a way as to provide a drape from his penetrating gaze that so disturbed her.

‘Please put your head to one side. This is very precise work.’ She was finding it difficult to concentrate with him so close, close enough for her to breathe in the smell of his skin.

‘Is it in your way?’

‘Yes, it is. It’s blocking the light.’

He tilted his head back. ‘Is this enough? Can you see now?’

‘It’s fine.’

The cold of the still room was welcoming, but it could not keep pace with the heat building up inside Arabella’s body. She had not seen him for five years. She should be immune to him by now and it angered her to know he still had the power to stir her deepest emotions.

She remembered how, before he had ended their betrothal, he had teased her and playfully tugged her hair as though she were still a child, unaware how her blood thrummed in her veins and her heart beat quickened in her breast, as she yearned for him to look at her the way he looked at Anne Lister.


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