Enchanted Rendezvous: A Tangled Hearts Romance

BOOK: Enchanted Rendezvous: A Tangled Hearts Romance
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ENCHANTED

RENDEZVOUS

A TANGLED

HEARTS Romance

Rebecca Ward

Copyright 1991 by Maureen Wartski.

For Shirley Gould and Elisa Falcione

CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter One

C
ecily had never seen such fog. It oozed up from the seaward side of the road, wrapped its gray tentacles about the stretch of Dorset coastline, and obliterated the moon. Even so, the driver of the mail coach continued to press onward.

“Stap me if I ever saw such a fogbank,” complained the red-faced solicitor who sat across from Cecily. He drew a silver flask from the folds of his greatcoat and offered it to the clerical gentleman beside him. “Best medicine for your cold on a night like this, Reverend.”

“I thank you, Mr. Bowens, but no.” The minister, whose name was Tibitt, was small and purse-mouthed and had a cold in the head. “I do not hold with taking spirits, even for medicinal purposes,” he added primly, “but I agree that the night is vile. Better suited for thatch-gallows, highwaymen, and smugglers than honest folk.”

Cecily tightened her hold on the large wicker basket in her lap, and the motherly looking woman seated beside her protested, “Now, sir, isn’t the
night bad enough without you talking habout ’ighwaymen and all?”

Mr. Bowens took another swig from his flask. “It’s the fault of this curst war with the Americans. We’re too busy fighting the colonials to deal with criminals at home. But don’t fear, Mrs. Horris. The reverend and I will see to it that you and Miss Vervain come to no harm.”

Somehow this was not very reassuring. Cecily looked out through the window of the mail coach and saw only blackness. But when Mr. Bowens fell silent, she could hear the angry crash and roar of waves.

“We must be nearing the Widow’s Rock,” Mrs. Horris exclaimed. “It’s a nasty spot, I can tell you. ’Twas so named on haccount of a poor girl what threw ’erself into the sea when ’er man was lost in a storm. They say as ’er ghost walks to this day.”

Mr. Tibitt closed his eyes and put his hands together prayerfully. The solicitor took another swig of brandy. Cecily gripped her basket even more tightly but said, “Well, we will soon be at our journey’s end, Mrs. Horris. You will be toasting your feet at your son’s fire, and I will be with my grandaunt.”

“I’d forgotten about that.” Cecily wondered at the odd note in Mrs. Horris’s voice but put it down to fatigue. It had been a long, jolting journey on the mail coach, which she had boarded at Brighton, and Cecily’s muscles ached. No doubt Mrs. Horris’s bones were sore also. “So Lady Marcham’s hexpecting you, dearie—I mean, miss?” Mrs. Horris was asking.

“Yes . . . that is, I believe so.” Cecily’s dark brows puckered in a worried frown as she added, “I sent a letter from Brighton, but I did not hear back.”

“Fault of the mails,” Mr. Bowens interjected. “Her reply was no doubt delayed.”

Cecily hoped that this was what had kept her grandaunt from answering her letter. Aloud she asked, “You used to live in Dorset, Mrs. Horris. What is Wickart-on-Sea like?”

“Oh, the village’s well enough. A fishing village, it is, though there’s some that farm their bit of land. My boy’s a fisherman, but my daughter-in-law likes ’er garden.”

The mail coach jolted, bouncing its occupants like hot chestnuts in a pan. It then commenced to climb up toward Widow’s Rock. To keep her mind off the grisly story she had just heard, Cecily asked, “Can you tell me something about my grandaunt? I have never met her.”

“Now, then, why should the likes of me, ’oo used to cook for Lady Maples, meet with the quality?” But Mrs. Horris’s laugh sounded nervous. “She’s a grand lady, from what my son says. The villagers respect Lady Marcham if they know what’s good for them.”

At that moment there was a loud, cracking sound close by, and the horses went mad. One moment they were plodding along, and the next they were whickering and pawing the air like crazed creatures. Before the occupants of the mail coach could realize what was happening, the horses had bolted.

Up the fog-shrouded road they went. The coachman shouted frantic commands to no avail. Mrs. Horris clutched Cecily’s arm and moaned, “Gawd save us, we’re going over the Widow’s Rock!”

Mr. Bowens swore loudly and fumbled at the door of the rattling coach. “Do not do that!” Cecily cried. “We must all remain calm and—oh,
no,
Archimedes. Not
now.”

The basket on her lap had begun to move, and
now a shaggy head poked out. Above the din of curses, cries, and the pound of horses’ hooves, rose the loud caterwaul of an indignant cat.

“Oh, heavens,” Mr. Tibitt gibbered. “Shoo—get that beast away from me. Get him away, I say!”

The cat eeled out of the basket, evaded Cecily, jumped first onto Mrs. Horris’s lap and then onto Mr. Bowens’s head. The solicitor’s bellow, as sharp claws dug through his wig and into his scalp, almost eclipsed the sound of hoofbeats outside, but Cecily turned her head in time to see a shadow brush past the window. Next moment, an authoritative voice rang out, and the coach rattled violently as the horses were turned. The coach slowed, gave one massive, creaking jolt, and stopped.

Mrs. Horris was flung on top of Mr. Tibitt, and Cecily was almost crushed by Mr. Bowens, who was catapulted against her. As she tried to disentangle herself, she heard the cleric exclaim, “I feel faint. Air! I must have air—”

“Don’t open that door!” Cecily cried.

It was too late. As Tibitt swung open the mail coach door, a compact, furry body hurtled out into the night.

“Archimedes!”

Managing to push Mr. Bowens aside, Cecily fairly tumbled out of the coach. The muddy ground was slippery, and fog pressed so close, she could hardly see the horses. Near the horses stood the coachman, who was offering fervent thanks to someone in a dark riding coat.

“If it wasn’t for you, sir, we’d be smashed to bits on them rocks down there,” the coachman was saying. “Hinches close to the edge we was. One second more, and it ’ud ’ave been too late for us.”

He paused for breath, and the voice Cecily had heard earlier commented, “I thought I heard a shot
and wondered what fool would fire a pistol in this muck. Was that what set the horses off?”

“Probably, sir. Nervous on account of the fog, they was. Hanything could ’ave bedoozled them. And if it wasn’t for yer honor turning them at the very last second—bless you, sir, I hain’t seen nothing like it in all me puff. ’Twas like a miracle, you coming when you did.”

The horses snorted and pawed the ground, and Cecily feared that the great nervous beasts might frighten Archimedes. She called to him, but there was no answering meow. “Oh, where are you?” she mourned.

“Is he yours?”

The man had spoken behind her, and Cecily turned so sharply that she slipped in the mud. She would have fallen had not a strong, steadying arm gone around her waist. For a moment Cecily was supported against a man’s lean, whipcord-hard body. Then he let her go.

“I’m sorry,” her rescuer said. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. I wanted to return your cat.”

Now that it was no longer cracking with authority, his voice was pleasant, well modulated. Over his free arm hung a wriggling mass of fur. “Oh,” she cried, “you have him—he is safe.”

Silently he handed the cat to her. As he did so, there was a momentary lessening in the fog about them, and the mail coach lantern caught the glint of a heavy gold ring on his ungloved right hand. It was fashioned like a lion, with the tail forming the band of the ring and disappearing into the lion’s mouth.

An unusual ring indeed. She looked up into its owner’s face but could make out little except for eyes that looked almost black in the murk.

Earnestly she exclaimed, “Thank you—thank you
so much. Both for saving the coach and for catching Archimedes. He is old and quite deaf, but he can run quickly when he wants to. I was afraid he had disappeared into those woods.”

She could not actually see him smile, but there was humor in his voice as he replied, “I can’t take much credit for rescuing him. Your cat walked right up to me—or I should say, he
staggered.
If I didn’t know better, I’d have said that he was bosky.”

“He is,” Cecily agreed. “I gave him port in his milk at Brighton and once more at Dorchester. I thought port would be safer than laudanum, and he seemed to like it exceedingly.”

This time the man did laugh—a warm, friendly sound that made her smile. He started to speak but was interrupted by a shout from the coach. “Stap me, sir,” Mr. Bowens was braying, “but that was a brave deed. You have earned my eternal gratitude, sir!”

The solicitor was advancing with his hand outstretched, and both Mrs. Horris and the minister were at his heels. “The wretched coach would have gone over the side of the road in another minute,” Bowens continued. “Allow me to shake the hand of a hero, sir—”

“It was nothing,” their rescuer interrupted. “I wish you all good evening.” Then, lowering his tone he added to Cecily, “I wouldn’t feed that cat too much port if I were you. It brings on gout.”

Before any of the others could reach him, he strode swiftly to his horse, mounted, and rode away into the fog. Mr. Bowens sucked his teeth. “Now, why did he want to fly off as if the devil himself was at his coattails?” he wondered.

Mr. Tibitt sniffed. “Perhaps the man is one of the infamous ‘brethren of the coast.’ I have heard that smuggling is rife in these parts.”

Cecily was indignant. “How can you say that? He saved our lives.”

Immediately attention shifted to her and to the shaggy bundle in her arms, and Mr. Tibitt grumbled, “Now I see why I have been sneezing. I always do so when a cat is near me. I loathe the little beasts.”

“Well, you don’t ’ave to sneeze no more,” the coachman interjected. “She hain’t taking that hanimal back onto me coach.”

Cecily protested, “I assure you that Archimedes will behave himself.” Archimedes immediately laid his ears flat back and spat dreadfully. “We are very near to the village and to Marcham Place,” she added hastily, “and I will pay extra transport for my cat.”

But this worthy only repeated that he was having no animals in his coach. “It’s hagainst regulations, that’s wot it is. Heither get in by yerself, or be left ’ere with that hanimal.”

At this Mrs. Horris rounded on the coachman. “Are you mad or ’eartless, you old bag pudding, you? You can’t leave a slip of a girl out ’ere so close to the ’Aunted Wood.”

She began to argue fiercely with the coachman, and Cecily, who was trying to repeat that she would pay for Archimedes’s fare, could not get a word in edgewise.

“Hoy there, what’s all this argle-bargle?”

They had been so involved in their arguments that none of them had seen or heard a curricle approaching. This vehicle now pulled up beside them, and a young man in a fashionable driving coat leaned over the side. “What’s all this brangling?” he demanded.

Cecily started to give an account of what had happened but was interrupted by Mr. Tibitt’s re
peated sneezing and the coachman’s declaration that he wasn’t such a Jack Adams as could be forced to take a cat back onto the mail coach. If the young lady wanted to get back on board, she would have to leave the animal behind.

Cecily flared, “Very well, then—I will walk to Marcham Place.”

“Hoy!” exclaimed the driver of the curricle. “Marcham Place your direction, ma’am?”

“Indeed it is. I am Cecily Vervain, and Lady Marcham is my grandaunt.”

“That so! Beg to introduce myself, Miss Vervain—James Montworthy, at your service. The pater’s estate abuts Lady Marcham’s. If you wish, I could convey you to Marcham Place in the curricle. Nothing simpler, give you m’word! Your abigail can ride behind with the baggage.”

Gratefully Cecily exclaimed, “You are exceedingly kind, sir. I have only the one bag and Archimedes’s basket. There is no abigail.”

“Quite so. Hoy, coachman, where’s the lady’s bag? We don’t want to stand out here in this muck longer than we need to. Be careful with that, careful!”

Issuing commands and directions, James Montworthy descended from his curricle. In the moment Cecily took to say her good-byes to Mrs. Horris and bundle Archimedes back into his basket, he had watched her bag bestowed, shaken out a blanket to wrap around her feet, and commended the coachman to Hades. “That rackety old rumstick,” he wrathfully told Cecily as they drove away. “I should have drawn his claret for wanting to abandon a lady by the side of the road. But what can you expect from the driver of a mail coach?”

“I cannot blame him too much. Archimedes did appear quite suddenly.” Memories of her cat’s sud
den entrance brought a smile, but then she added soberly, “Also, there was a sharp noise—a pistol shot, I believe—that drove the horses mad. If it were not for the brave gentleman who turned them on the edge of the Widow’s Rock, we would all of us have been lost.”

BOOK: Enchanted Rendezvous: A Tangled Hearts Romance
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