Authors: Angel's Fall
Angel's Fall by Kimberly Cates
A vicar's daughter, Juliet Grafton-Moore is also the proprietress of Angel's Fall, a house where London's ladies of the night receive shelter from the past. It is an institution despised by distinguished peers and peasants alike, a place where the women learn by Juliet's pristine example -- and no men are allowed. But the rule is soundly broken when Juliet, suddenly besieged by an angry mob, is swept to safety by the dark-eyed, notorious Sabrehawk....
This sword-wielding legend, also known as the dashing Adam Slade, expects merely to fulfill a promise when he takes this spirited beauty under his wing. But upon seeing Juliet he is moved by her gentle blue eyes. Her golden curls, and her admirable will. A man who has fought the fiercest foes, Adam now finds his greatest challenge in protecting this Lady ... and resisting the unimagined heights of their growing passion...
"Adam," she whispered In a breathy, angel's voice. "I want you so badly, that I'm ... afraid."
Blast, she had the courage to be honest, to say aloud the emotions clamoring inside him. Juliet, his valiant crusader, his guardian angel, his
She deserved every drop of courage in his soul. He turned to her, his voice a gravelly rumble as he made an admission no torture master could ever have wrung from him before.
"I'm afraid, too. I don't want to hurt you. Don't want to sicken you when you see the scars—I've led a hard life, angel. Spent most of it on the opposite side of an enemy sword."
She reached up, touching the scar on his face. "You're beautiful to me."
The words touched him, wrung his heart. She could never know how much. "I don't want you to awaken tomorrow and regret this," he told her. "If you have the slightest doubt about what we're doing, you have only to ask, and I'll"— the prospect bit like a savage vise about his chest—"I'll let you go, angel, without a word of reproach. Look into my eyes, Juliet. Do you promise me?"
She caught her lip between her teeth, her eyes wide and full of wonder, her cheeks stained the hue of the roses she tended with such devotion. Then she stunned Adam by not waiting for him to make the first foray with hands and mouth. She reached between them, her fingers unfastening the ties that held the front of his shirt together....
A Pocket Star Book published by POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc. 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
Copyright © 1996 by Kim Ostrom Bush
This Pocket Books paperback printing May 2004
Printed in the U.S.A.
To my husband, Dave, who taught me that dragons can turn into princes just when you least expect it; and to Linda Marrow, editor extraordinaire, who took my darkness and let in some light.
Adam Slade had always told his half-brother Gavin that no good deed went unpunished, but he'd never had perfect proof of it until tonight.
Only a monster could have ignored the supplicating hands of the figure reaching out to him from the edge of the Irish country road. Unfortunately, Adam hadn't managed to become that cold-hearted yet, but it wasn't from lack of effort.
He swore, cursing himself for a fool as he reined his gelding to a halt and dismounted beside the rain-soaked form huddled beneath a scraggly tree. The Irish coast was crawling with smugglers, desperate men trying to claw out a living from beneath the crushing grip of English law. Men desperate enough to murder the unwary who stumbled across their path to insure the shield of their silence.
It would serve him right if a band of outlaws was waiting in the underbrush to attack him, the shadow-shrouded form nothing but bait to lure him into a trap.
The moon peeked from behind the last bruised clouds of the storm that had flooded the coast half an hour ago, spilling silvery rays across an old man's haggard features.
Thick white brows banked like snow on the intelligent expanse of his brow, his Roman nose all but overpowering his thin face. His garments, though torn and travel-stained weren't the coarse clothes of a wanderer with only the open road for a home. They spoke of comfort if not luxury. Warm firesides and book-lined studies. What the blazes was this man doing here?
Adam knelt down beside him, wounds from a dozen battles aching in the damp chill, the wind lashing his wild ebony mane into his eyes. He knew he looked more night-demon than deliverer as he bent over the old man. "Don't fear. I won't hurt you."
"Do... angels hurt those they... stoop to comfort?" the old man asked in English accents, tears of gratitude tracking the worn lines of his face. "Prayed so... long... and no one would stop."
The God who sent Adam Slade to answer a dying man's prayer must have a warped sense of humor, Adam thought. He loosened the man's collar, felt the faint threading of a pulse beneath his fingers.
"Who are you, where are you from, and what the devil are you doing out here in the blasted rain?" he demanded, not certain who he was most irritated with—the old man or the deity Adam pictured as laughing uproariously from his perch on a cloud.
"Name is... Joshua Grafton-Moore. Vicar of... Northwillow."
"Vicar?" Adam shrank back. He would have preferred a band of smugglers eager to slit his throat. What the devil was an English vicar doing lost on this deserted Irish road? Waiting to torment Adam Slade, no doubt.
Adam grimaced. It would be just his bloody luck to stumble across a vicar in the middle of nowhere. From the time he was a grubby-faced boy, they'd never been anything but trouble. But now that Adam had stopped, he could hardly remount and say,
Just remembered a pressing engagement. Hope someone else comes along.
He started, realizing he was glaring at the man with the ferocity that had made entire battalions of soldiers back down. Thunderation, at this rate he'd scare the man to death.
"You needn't fear," Adam said gruffly. "I won't hurt you." He hoped it was a promise he could keep. He'd never been able to be in the company of a vicar for five minutes without wanting to throttle him. "Are you injured?"
"No. Fever. Stricken... two weeks ago..."
"You've been sick for weeks? What the devil are you doing wandering about in rain? In Ireland for God's sake?"
"Had to... keep searching. Promised... I wouldn't come back to England until I found..." The old man's voice shattered on a racking cough that shook his very bones.
"We have to get you to shelter."
"Doesn't... matter. I'm going to die."
"Don't be absurd. You're not going to die," Adam scoffed, dragging the man to his feet and struggling toward his restive gelding. "There was a church about three miles back. I'll take you there."
Dump you into the lap of another do-gooder and be on my way.
The old man's knees buckled. Rain-slickened, he slipped from Adam's grasp and sagged to the ground.
"There isn't time to take me anywhere," the vicar insisted.
"Hell, yes there is!" Adam started to hook one heavily muscled arm beneath the man's legs, the other around his back, but the vicar struggled free.
"Look at me... really look. You'll see."
Adam stared down into his features, wanting to deny the man's claim. But he'd fought on too many battlefields, seen too much death not to know the signs.
"You know... it's too late as well as... I do. I see it... in your eyes."
Frustration and more than a little alarm ripped through Adam as he faced the truth. Another man would have offered the vicar platitudes, comfort, encouragement. Another man would have lied. Adam looked square into the old man's eyes. "You are going to die. But you might as well do it somewhere warm and dry."
"Can't waste strength. Have to tell you... ask you..." A spasm went through his thin frame. "What—what's your name?"
The man swallowed hard, his eyes old and wise as the ages. "Christian name."
"Adam. Adam Slade." It had been an eternity since anyone besides his family had called him by that name. An eternity of blood and battle, swords and death and the gritty taste of exhaustion in the back of his throat. In the eight years since he and Gavin had sailed away from Scotland, outlaws evading the King's justice, countless opponents had hungered for Adam's blood. Not for any purpose but to gain the glory of being the man who cut down the legendary Sabrehawk. Even the pardons eventually granted by the Crown hadn't stopped the string of fools with their weapons and their dreams of fame. Adam grimaced. It could be damned exhausting being a legend.
The vicar's mouth tipped up in a ghost of a smile. "You're an honest man... Adam Slade. God... sent you to me."
"God doesn't have much to do with me anymore, old man. He leaves me to the devil's care."
"Not true." Those anguished eyes clung to him with the desperate tenacity of a doomed man's last hope. "You're a good man. Can see it in your eyes."
Hot blood flooded Adam's cheeks despite the chill. It wasn't any wonder the vicar was delusional. It must be a hell of a fever if it could drape Adam Slade in the guise of a hero. "You've never even seen me before," he scoffed. "I'm not what you think I am."
"You are... my last hope."
Adam flinched at the stark certainty in the man's voice.
"Have to get word to... Juliet."
"My daughter. At vicarage, Northwillow. Tell her... sorry failed her. Tell her... love her."
"Blast it, tell her yourself. We can send whoever's in charge of that church here to fetch her from England— he'd be a damn sight better at comforting a grieving woman than me. I'm terrible at it. Hell, whenever my sisters turn on the waterworks I end up bellowing at the top of my lungs."
The vicar arched up with strength born of despair. "You'll do this for me. Go to her, if you have any mercy in your soul."
Mercy? Adam was taken aback. When was the last time the dread swordsman, Sabrehawk, had felt such a gentle emotion? As a youth, standing over the first man he'd killed? On the bloody battlefields leading to Culloden Moor? He had lost it so long ago he couldn't even remember.
The man's hand clawed at Adam's shirt. "Don't understand. My daughter is alone in world... so fragile. Sheltered her... whole life. She was... sickly as a child. Thought heaven would take her... before me. Not afraid to... entrust her to Heavenly Father. But never imagined... I would have to leave her behind on earth."
Adam saw hellfire reflected in the old man's eyes. Fury and denial welled up inside him. He prayed like blazes that they'd drown out the tiny ache somewhere in the heart he claimed he didn't have.
"She doesn't... know the... horror waits in the world. Didn't teach her... to survive. You know how. See it in your... face. Know how... cruel... the world can be. Oh, God. I was a fool."
Adam groped for words of comfort that were foreign to him. "Parents make mistakes all the time. Just ask any grubby brat, and they'll tally up a list of transgressions. You did what you thought best. She was damned lucky that she had you."
"Love... only thing can take with... you to heaven. Always knew that. But my love can't... protect her anymore. Didn't know... how much would hurt... not to know she is... safe."
The death rattle sounded in his throat as he groped for something in his waistcoat pocket.
"Damn old fool! We could be halfway to the church by now—"
"You will... take this... necklace to my Juliet, Adam Slade. It was her... mother's." Grafton-Moore held out a delicate chain of golden lilies, the heart of each fragile blossom a glistening diamond.
Perfect, Adam thought. He'd probably crumble the thing to dust in his pocket. He was forever breaking things. He could only hope to get it into the hands of a messenger in one piece.
"I'll see that she gets it," Adam said gruffly. "I'll post it to her—"
"No. Take it yourself. Promise me you'll make sure she is... safe. Taken care of. Swear it."
Thunderation! He didn't even know the father, and he was supposed to cart this gewgaw back to a grief-stricken daughter and tell her, what? That her father had died in the muck on a deserted Irish road, half out of his mind with fear for her?
"You don't want me anywhere near your daughter!" Adam attempted to dissuade him. "I've got a dozen scars from irate fathers who were trying to drive me away at the point of their sword."
"Swear it," Grafton-Moore demanded. "Word of... honor."
Adam's jaw clenched. His word of honor. The last vestige of the reckless youth who rode out to be a hero and discovered that only death could be won by the tip of his sword. A boy who had wanted to win eternal fame, but had walked away from Culloden Moor wanting only to forget. Forgive. Especially himself.
Damn, he couldn't make the promise this old man needed. It was insane. Impossible...
"I have urgent business. I can't go chasing back to England searching for a girl I don't even know—"
"If ever... loved anyone, help me. Help me!" The plea was like a sword thrust, boring into Adam's chest. In a heartbeat he was back in a Scottish dungeon, the half-brother he loved more than anyone on this benighted earth mere hours away from facing a traitor's death. Adam could still taste the terror, the horror, feel the desperation pounding inside his chest as he fought to save Gavin.