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Authors: Olivia Drake

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Historical Fiction, #Regency, #Romance Fiction, #Historical Romance, #Regency Romance, #Victorian, #Nineteenth Century, #bestseller, #E.L. James, #Adult Fiction, #50 Shaedes of Gray, #Liz Carlyle, #Loretta Chase, #Stephanie Laurens, #Barbara Dawson Smith

Dreamspinner

BOOK: Dreamspinner
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Dream Spinner

Olivia Drake

 

Copyright © 1990 by Barbara Dawson Smith

 

To the West Houston Chapter of Romance Writers of America

 

Acknowledgements

I am deeply indebted to Robert Nunes for the Hindustani translations; to Carla Luan for sharing her expertise on gems; and especially to Susan Wiggs, Arnette Lamb, Alice Borchardt, and Joyce Bell for their unfailing support and astute criticism.

 

Prologue

Castle Radcliffe, August 11, 1885

 

A distant scream drifted through the copse. Kent Deverell, Duke of Radcliffe, reined in the prancing gray gelding. Cocking his dark head, he sorted through the chitter of a thrush, the tinkle of a sheep’s bell, the whisper of the wind through the oaks. The heavy sweetness of honeysuckle wafted through the evening air. Nothing stirred in the dense shadows of the woods; the scene looked as it had a thousand times before. Yet the hairs at the back of his neck prickled.

He subdued the sensation. He must have heard one of the pair of peacocks that roamed the south garden. It wouldn’t be the first time someone had mistaken their shriek for a human cry of distress.

He lightly slapped the reins and the horse resumed its walk down the murky path. Beyond the stand of oaks rose the ancient turrets of Castle Radcliffe, starkly outlined against the purple sky of dusk. A breeze swirled up from the river and tugged at his loose sleeved shirt. After a long day helping his men with the reaping, Kent welcomed the coolness. Weariness weighted his bones, yet it was a good feeling. The crop promised to be bountiful; he prayed the fruits of his labor would be enough to pay off the creditors. Enough to take Emily on that belated honeymoon trip to Italy.

Regret wrenched his heart. God forgive him for speaking so angrily to her that afternoon. All she’d been trying to do was preserve harmony in the household; he shouldn’t have come down so hard on her for receiving a visit from that miserable snake…

Kent swallowed the bile of hatred and resolved to apologize to his wife. For Emily’s sake, he’d make the effort to forget their bitter quarrel. He’d leash his pride and keep the peace. Tender affection welled inside him. She’d brought only goodness into his life, kindness and caring and quiet joy. Soon she would present him with the greatest gift of all, a baby, his heir—

The cry came again, sharper, higher pitched. And this time he knew it wasn’t a peacock.

Emily?

Impossible. Yet that had been a woman’s scream.

Fear forced the breath from his lungs. His boot heels sank into the horse’s flanks. As the gelding leaped to the command, Kent hunched over the silken mane. Alarm hammered at his skull. The baby? It was too early. Four months too early. And why would Emily’s scream carry all the way out here?

The vast expanse of lawn sloped upward to the castle perched on a rocky knoll overlooking the Avon River. Nestled within the crumbling fortress walls, the chimneys of the manor house puffed smoke into the darkening lavender sky.

A movement on the battlements caught the anxious sweep of his eyes. From the parapet abutting the north tower something hung pale against the age streaked stone. He strained to see. Linens a servant had put out to air? No one ventured up there anymore, especially not at so late an hour.

His gaze fixed on the parapet, he urged the horse onward, over the grass. Through the gloom, he discerned two slim arms clinging to an embrasure. And golden hair tumbling down a slender back.

Disbelief paralyzed him. “Emily,” he said in a guttural whisper.

Another bloodcurdling scream rent the air.

Terror swamped him like a nightmare. He kicked the horse to a faster speed. The wind swayed her hair. Her arms shifted as if she were scrabbling, struggling to climb to safety. An impossible task for a woman so frail, so weighted by the burden of pregnancy.

“I’m coming,” he shouted. “For God’s sake, hang on!”

She fell. Her skirts billowed; her cloak flapped. Her thin, petrified cry penetrated the pounding of hooves.

Horror dried his throat. Time eroded into eternity. He sucked in a searing gulp of air. Then she vanished into a tangle of bushes on the rocky slope beside the water.

No
...
no
...
no.

Nearing the curtain wall, he jerked on the reins. Even before the gelding cantered to a halt, Kent leapt from the saddle and ran.

Dear God, let him be wrong. Let it be an illusion... a trick of the evening light.

Scrambling over the rocks, he forced a path through the prickly undergrowth of brambles and nettles. A branch tore his shirt sleeve; a thorn embedded in his palm. Heedless, he plunged onward, gasping out her name.

“Emily! Where are you?”

Only the harsh sob of his breathing answered. The scrape of his footfalls mingled with the lapping of the river.

No one could survive such a fall. No one.

Please, let her live..
.
please... please.

He nearly stumbled over her. She lay in the shadows, one arm at her side, the other lying across the gentle mound of her belly. She might have been sleeping.

He dropped to his knees. An inky splash of color marred the pale oval of her face. He cupped her cheeks and felt the sticky heat of blood at her temples. “Emily!”

No answer. No movement. Tears of panic blurred his vision. Christ, she couldn’t be dead. Not his beloved wife.
He ran shaking hands down the length of her. She felt warm, soft, limp. He felt cold, numb, devastated.
Oh, God, this couldn’t be happening. She was too sweet, too dear... the single shining goodness lighting his life. Without her, he would be lost to the depths of darkness.

He took hold of her shoulders; they felt like the delicate bones of a wren. “Darling, please, please, answer me!”

She stirred. Her eyelids fluttered. Through the gathering dusk, she stared blankly up at him.

Hope blazed like a miracle in his chest. “You’re safe, darling,” he muttered. “Safe! We’ll get you inside, fetch the doctor—”

Her spine arched and her hands lifted. She gripped the loose linen of his shirt with a strength that startled him. Her lips moved as if she were frantic to tell him something.

He heard only the breath rattling in her throat. Blood trickled darkly from a corner of her mouth.

Alarm invaded him anew. “Lie still! Don’t try to talk. You’ll be all right. You have to be... ”

Her head rolled from side to side; she murmured something he couldn’t distinguish. Desperate to soothe her, he stroked her brow. Precious moments were ticking away. He didn’t dare try to lift her for fear of causing further injury.

“Emily, I must seek help—”

He gently pulled at her wrists, but her fingers tightened on his shirt. As if exerting every last seed of energy, she clung to him. Her lips moved again. She coughed, and the gurgling sound chilled his soul.

Her grip slackened and her eyes glazed. On a final wisp of breath, she choked out one distinct word: “Dreamspinner!”

 

Chapter 1

London, June 1888

 

Was he staring at her or at the house? Clutching the bucket, Juliet Carleton peered past the wrought iron fence that bordered the front garden of Carleton House, near Belgrave Square. Across a cobbled street teeming with elegant broughams and hansom cabs, a landau was parked. A faded gold crest adorned the black door of the carriage. In deference to the balmy afternoon, the top had been folded down, and a coachman perched like a brooding oak on the driver’s seat. But it was the man sitting inside the landau who interested her.

Lounging in the rear seat, an arm stretched along the side of the vehicle, he gazed straight toward her. A huge plane tree overhung the curb and cast him in shadow. Yet she could discern keen dark eyes and the slash of proud cheekbones. Clad in a white stock and fine coat, a top hat crowning hair as black as a raven’s wing, he might have been any one of scores of gentlemen out enjoying the exceptional weather. Except that this stranger watched with an intensity that verged on insolence.

Was it only her fancy that cloaked him in an air of mystery?

Yes, Juliet told herself firmly. He must be waiting for someone. He merely passed the time by studying the architecture of her father’s magnificent mansion.

She tipped the wooden bucket and poured the last of the pungent manure water over the soil. Sunshine heated her shoulders as she inhaled the fertile scent of newly turned earth. With a jaundiced eye, she surveyed the ornamental row of bushes bearing an array of crimson and yellow blooms. Roses were pretty, but dull. Someday she’d have her own house and grow a garden of more unusual flowers, red campion and white water soldier and purple speedwell... so many names she’d only encountered in textbooks. And she’d have a vegetable garden to cultivate more useful plants.

Her gaze strayed to the stranger. She oughtn’t stare back, yet his very presumption stirred a reckless alertness within her, a fluttery sensation like rose petals tossed by a gust of wind. Did he believe her to be a servant girl assigned to assist in the garden? With the apron thrown over her navy silk dress, she might give such an impression.

Setting down the bucket with a sharp click, she squared her shoulders. Let him think what he pleased.

A draft horse trudged by, pulling a dray piled high with beer kegs. At least it blocked that annoying stranger from her view. Spying the curled leaves of a dock weed half hidden beneath a rosebush, she stepped off the path, the heels of her kid leather shoes sinking into the soft, wet loam. Hitching up her hem, she angled sideways to evade the thorns.

“Juliet Diana Carleton! Whatever are you doing?”

The scandalized murmur was almost lost to the rattle of carriage wheels and the clopping of hooves. She turned to see her mother gliding down the flagged path; the immense gray stone mansion formed a stately backdrop for her elegance. A gown of mauve striped silk hugged a figure as slender as a debutante’s, and a wide brimmed straw hat guarded her lily complexion and perfectly groomed fair hair.

Juliet crouched to tug at the weed; it gave a sickly sucking noise and snapped in half. “Good afternoon, Mama. I’m preparing the garden for tonight’s party.”

“You’re making a spectacle.” Dorothea Carleton spoke in an undertone to avoid attracting the attention of the fashionable folk promenading the street. “Now come out of there before someone of consequence sees you mucking about like a common laborer.”

He
saw. Juliet resolutely kept her gaze from wandering to the landau. “In a moment, Mama.”

Without troubling to fetch her trowel, she plunged her fingers into the damp soil and loosened the long taproot.

Dorothea shook her head in despair, setting her bonnet ribbons to bobbing. “We do have gardeners, darling. One would think two years at a finishing school would have taught you–” She paused, her nose poised upward. “Gracious, what is that abominable odor?”

“Manure,” Juliet said, blithely aware of the ripe smell that mingled with her mother’s subtle fragrance of Parma violets. “The rose bushes must be fertilized if they’re to bloom well.”

Distaste turned down the corners of her mother’s fine mouth. “A lady should be content with cutting and arranging flowers.”

“A
botanist must get her hands dirty.”

Dorothea released a long suffering sigh. “You’re not to speak such nonsense.” Her voice a sharp whisper, she handed Juliet a handkerchief. “Here, do wipe your hands before the neighbors see you looking as filthy as a... a crossing sweeper.”

Stepping back onto the pathway, Juliet tossed down the weed and held on to her patience. Arguing served no purpose; she must simply persevere and hope that one day her parents would relent.

“Oh, darling, I do detest scolding, but you should be resting. Don’t you realize the importance of this evening? Lord Breeton has accepted the invitation to your come out ball. If you mind your manners, you may someday become a marchioness.”

Juliet grimaced. “And spend the rest of my life listening to his lordship’s braying laugh? No, thank you.”

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