No Choice But Seduction Page 3

“A search isn’t going to be necessary,” Boyd said grimly. “But I need to get this note to Sir Anthony immediately.”

“Bleedin’ ’ell, the cap’n is going to be furious ’e ain’t ’ere to ’elp.”

Boyd didn’t doubt that the captain Henry referred to was James Malory. The two younger Malory brothers were quite close, just as Boyd was close to Drew and Georgina, they being the three youngest in their family.

“Then I’ll just have to represent him,” Boyd said as he rushed out of the house.

Chapter Two

THE COACH RIDE WAS TERRIFYING. It was an old coach. The seats didn’t even have padding on them. They might have had padding when the coach was new, but how many centuries ago was that? Both windows were open to the elements. Any glass that might have been there had long since been broken and removed.

Mere cloth had been tacked over each opening to at least keep the wind from blowing in, but it kept out most of the daylight as well. At least there was no chance of freezing when it was merely the middle of October. Judith was grateful for one less thing to fear.

She hadn’t cried yet. She kept telling herself she was a Malory and Malorys were made of sterner stuff. And besides, her eyes would sting if she cried. She knew they would. And her hands were tied so she couldn’t wipe her eyes. But it was hard to keep those tears from falling.

What had started as a thrilling day had turned into a nightmare the likes of which she’d never before experienced. She’d been showing off in the park. She didn’t want her father to worry that the horse he’d bought her was too big for her, or that she couldn’t handle it properly.

It was a beautiful mare, a slender horse only a few hands taller than her pony. And she was well balanced in the seat. Her father had bought her a normal saddle, not a sidesaddle, and had told her she had a few more years to go before she needed to learn how to ride like a lady. She’d just wanted to see how fast the mare would go and prove that he didn’t need to worry about her.

But her short gallop had taken her around a bend in the path, far away from where her father had been standing watching her and out of his sight. She’d already been slowing the mare down to turn around and go back when she’d been yanked off her. The mare had been slapped and raced away, and Judith had been dragged through the thick foliage beside the path with a hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming.

Still a voice had threatened, “Make any noise and I’ll cut yer throat and toss yer dead body in the bushes.”

She didn’t make any noise. She fainted instead.

When she woke, her hands were tied, her feet were tied, and her mouth was gagged. Falling off the cushionless bench to the floor of the coach had woken her.

She didn’t try to get back up on the bench, didn’t think she could manage it. And the fear took over. She knew that the coach was speeding recklessly. Her small body was bounced all over the dirty floor. Wherever she was being taken, she was sure she’d never get there. The old coach was going to wreck and crumple around her.

But eventually it did stop in a normal manner and the door was opened. Something was immediately thrown over her, a cloak or a blanket, giving her no time to turn to see who was there. She was rolled in the cloak so that it covered every inch of her before she was dragged across the floor by her feet and then had the wind knocked out of her as she was dropped over a bony shoulder to be carted somewhere.

She still hadn’t gotten a look at who had stolen her, but the voice that had threatened her, while gruff, had sounded like a woman’s. But that didn’t lessen Judith’s fear.

She heard sounds now, lots of them, and voices, even a bit of laughter. And the smell of food was strong, making her realize how hungry she was. But Judith no sooner took all that in than it faded away, as if they’d merely passed by an open doorway or a kitchen or a dining room and were now leaving it far behind. She could see nothing from under that cloak, but she could tell that she was being carried upstairs. The person toting her began to breathe more heavily from the exertion.

A door was opened. It creaked. And then she was dumped on something soft. A bed?

The cloak wasn’t removed from her. She tried to wiggle out of it so she could see again.

“Stop that,” a voice growled at her. “Be still, be quiet, and ye willna be getting hurt.”

She went still. She’d already been quiet. And the door opened again, but she wasn’t being left alone. Someone else had arrived.

“I thought that was ye I saw slinking past the door tae the tavern room,” a man said in an accusing tone. “Where the devil ha’ ye been, womon? When ye dragged me down here tae visit yer aunt, ye didna say ye’d be disappearing for an entire day. I wake tae find ye gone this morning. What was I tae think, eh?”

He’d approached the bed as he spoke, but he backed away from it now with a gasp and turned around to snarl at the woman. “What is that?”

“That’s yer fortune,” she said with a chuckle.

The cloak was snatched off her. The lamplight in the room blinded her for a moment, but as soon as her eyes adjusted, Judith stared wide-eyed at a tall man with bright carrot-red hair and light blue eyes. He wasn’t ugly or mean-looking. He was dressed decently, too, like most gentry. And she watched his face grow pale as he stared down at her. She was frightened, but for some reason the man seemed to be even more frightened of her.

He turned his horrified expression on the woman. “Her hair? His eyes?” he choked out. “D’ye think I didna ken who she belongs tae?”

“Did ye think I’d be trying tae hide it?”

“Ye’ve lost yer mind, there’s nae other excuse!” he exclaimed. “Look at this crooked nose. Did ye think I was born wi’ it? Look at these scars on my face! D’ye know how many bones of mine that mon broke? I’m lucky tae be alive after the beating he gave me, and ye steal his daughter? How could ye do this? Why?”

“Every time ye put a few drinks in ye I’ve had tae listen tae ye whine aboot the fortune that should’ve been yers. Well, ye should be glad I’ve finally agreed wi’ ye. Aye, it should’ve been yers, it ne’er should’ve gone tae some silly chit who didna need it then and certainly doesna need it now, after marrying intae a rich family. So it’s coming home where it belongs, tae us.”

Geordie Cameron shook his head incredulously. He’d never really regretted marrying this woman—until now. He’d hired her to run his first shop in Edinburgh, since he knew nothing about owning a shop. He’d ended up succumbing to her flirtations and asked her to marry him. She was from the lower classes, but at that point in his life, he didn’t care. He might have done something like this himself back then. In fact, he had tried to force this child’s mother to marry him. In the end, Roslynn had changed his mind with her generosity.

“What a mon says when he’s foxed isna usually what he thinks when he’s sober. I gave up on that fortune years ago. My great-uncle had every right tae give it tae whom he pleased, and my cousin was his closer relative, so he gave it tae her. He would ne’er ha’ give any part of it tae me, hating me as he did.”

“Ye still should ha’—”

“Shut up, womon, and listen tae me. I’m telling ye why ye’ve lost yer mind. My cousin Roslynn gave me the means tae open our shops. Ten thousand pounds she gave me, slipped it in my valise wi’oout my knowing, wi’oout wanting a thank ye for it. It was enough tae open all three of our shops, and they’ve supported us well enough. We’re no’ rich, but we’re no’ lacking, either. And this is how we repay her?”

“And ye think I’ve lost my mind when ye just told the lass who we are?”

“Ye did that the moment ye mentioned that bloody fortune in relation tae her mother.”

She tsked, then grumbled, “And I took such precautions tae hide who we were. I even stole an old coach this morning afore I set oout tae London Town, just in case I might be noticed hying off. But nae one saw me. It was all tae easy. I had a plan tae get intae their house, but while I was watching it, oout comes the bonny lass here wi’ her father. Sae I followed them instead tae a big park, a much better place for a nabbing, I was thinking, until I realized the mon wasna letting her oout of his sight. I was aboot tae leave when the lass rode right intae my hands.”

“I dinna care how ye did this, I want tae be hearing how ye’re going tae undo it. Ye’re taking her back.”

“Nae,” she replied flatly. “And it’s tae late for that. Afore I left London, I arranged for the note to be delivered tonight, telling them where tae bring the fortune to. They’ve received it by now.” But then she smiled at him. “Ye’re the best thing that ever happened tae me, mon, there’s nae denying that. And now I’m paying ye back in making us richer than a few shops ever could. Sae what if we may ha’ tae leave the country because of this,” she added with a shrug. “That’s a small price tae pay for a fortune. Sleep on it. Ye’ll see I’m right in the morning.”

She then scooped up the child and set her down on the floor in the corner of the room so they could have their bed back. Geordie immediately grabbed both pillows from the bed as well as the top blanket and put them around the child to make her more comfortable. His wife laughed at him. He gritted his teeth, hoping a night’s sleep would make her see the error in what she’d foolishly done. He didn’t like thinking that he’d have to put his own wife in prison just to save her life. But he had no doubt at all that what she’d started was going to get them both killed by Anthony Malory if the lass wasn’t returned to him posthaste.

“Please, please tell yer father I had nothing tae do wi’ this,” he whispered to the child as he gently covered her. “It wasna my idea, I swear.”

“What are ye mumbling aboot?” his wife demanded.

“Nothing, m’dear.”

Chapter Three

THE MEWLING WOKE KATEY TYLER for the second time that night. A cat? A baby? It was hard to tell exactly what was making that noise, but it was very irritating, and it seemed to be coming from the room directly next to hers. Her bed abutted the wall that divided the rooms, and while she had briefly considered trying to move the bed to get farther away from the noise, it was a big bed and she didn’t think she could manage it without waking everyone else on the floor.

They had arrived at this inn on the outskirts of Northampton quite late last night. It wasn’t fully occupied so Katey had been able to get her maid, Grace, a room, too. She wished that hadn’t been the case, because if Grace were here, they could probably have moved the bed together.

The adventurous thing to do would be to get up and go investigate the sound. After all, hadn’t Katey come to England to have adventures? Well, not England exactly, it was merely the first stepping-stone on her trip around the world. But the whole point of her trip was to see and do new things and to put some excitement into her life. Adventure, excitement, maybe even a little romance if she was lucky.

She’d gotten more of the latter than she’d bargained for on the Atlantic crossing from America to England, or she would have if she hadn’t panicked and set herself up with an identity that wasn’t really hers to avoid being bothered by men. But it was just as well that she’d presented herself as a married woman. She was just starting her grand tour and didn’t want it to end immediately by her falling in love with the first handsome man she came across.

That had been a definite possibility when she’d met Boyd Anderson. When he’d held her in his arms there on the dock in Bridgeport, Connecticut, saving her from a nasty fall off the crates she’d climbed up on, she’d been quite flustered. But when he smiled at her! Good grief, what that had made her feel inside was so strange it frightened her, so she’d been glad of an excuse to run off.

And she hadn’t really calmed down from that encounter by the time he approached her on the deck of his ship a short while later. What did she know about men, after all? Having three marriage proposals from old men in her village hadn’t prepared her for someone like Boyd Anderson. Even having a sixteen-year-old lad chasing after her carriage when she was riding out of Danbury with her mother had engendered no feelings but amusement. The boy had followed them about during their brief shopping trip to the bigger town, but hadn’t said a word until they left. Then he’d shouted after her that he’d make her a fine husband! She’d been twelve at the time. She’d done no more than giggle while her mother rolled her eyes.

But Boyd Anderson with his curly, golden brown hair and those dark brown eyes that so easily mesmerized her was the most handsome man she’d ever seen. And if he hadn’t approached her again there on the deck, so soon after their first meeting, how differently that trip might have turned out. But he did. He even brushed against her, overwhelming her with his masculinity. And then that new smile, so sensual it stole her breath and produced a wealth of new sensations that unsettled her enough to bring the panic back. It was no wonder she had jumped on the idea that he gave her, when her maid had approached with the two children they were escorting to England, and he’d teasingly asked if they were hers.

He hadn’t approached her again, so pretending to be married had served her purposes. It had kept him from making any more overtures. But, oh, how exciting that had been! Knowing he was attracted to her, seeing it in his eyes, in his expression, every time he got near her. His restraint had been especially admirable because he had seemed like a powder keg of passions!

Thinking about him was keeping her from getting back to sleep immediately, but that wasn’t unusual. She regretted having panicked when a man as handsome and masculine as Boyd had expressed interest in her, but that’s why she’d come on this trip—for adventure and experience. The next time she encountered the attentions of a handsome man, she’d know how to handle the situation.

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