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London 1776 Dominic Blake, Earl of Vale, is a young man of privilege and breeding whose world is turned upside-down by Jack, a beautiful young girl in boys' clothing whom he finds sheltering on his doorstep after fleeing an attack by her abusive brother. Despite leaving his protection, Jack is once more destined to enter Dominic's life when, injured in a horse race, Dominic is forced to rusticate to his father's estate and again meets Jack in her boyish guise. In turn, she becomes his pupil and his love and despite danger and misunderstandings, this is the story of their unconventional and delightful courtship.



Publié par
Date de parution 09 mars 2013
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9781772999778
Langue English

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Dominic By Hazel Statham
Uigital ISBN EPuB 978-1-77299-977-8 Kindle 978-1-77299-978-5 WEB 978-1-77299-979-2 Amazon Print ISBN: 978-1-77299-393-6
Copyright 2012 by Hazel Statham Cover art by Michelle Lee All rights reserved. Withoût limiting the rights ûn der copyright reserved above, no part of this pûblication may be reprodûced, stored in or introdûced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) withoût the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above pûblisher of this boo k.
Chapter One London 1776 The main gallery of Blake House echoed with the cla sh of blades as the two friends padded backwards and forwards in the throes of a mo ck duel. “For pity’s sake, Dominic, put up, put up,” laughed Lord Wroxham, half way between amusement and genuine terror of his companion’s bla de. “We are supposed to be sparring. You take it too far; your wrist is so muc h stronger than mine.” “You cry truce too easily,” scoffed the Earl of Val e, in no way relinquishing his attack, ever driving his friend back. “Have some en ergy man, use more cunning and you will find I am quite easily overcome. I no more than toy with you!” “If this is toying with me I would dread to meet yo u when in earnest. Now have done, I tire.” Recklessly Wroxham threw aside his rapier, leaving himself open to attack. He was no match for the energetic young earl who, a lthough owning no more years than he, had a wealth more experience in his twenty -four years. His height and breadth of shoulder alone made him intimidating without tak ing in his dark, dangerously handsome countenance and mocking green eyes. Here w as no fop or dandy. His dress, although cut by a master’s hand, was casual with no sign of the fripperies affected by the Macaronis. However, when occasion dictated, he was known to dress to perfection as many would attest. He had an assurance of manner brought about by matter of birth but even at an early age was widely known as a wild youth. He was well respected amongst his contemporaries who hailed him as a top rate fellow but his escapades were eyed askance by the older members of the haut ton who lamented his rakish ways. Some, who professed to be in the know, likene d him to his sire, the Duke of Lear when in his prime. However, no such accusations cou ld be laid at the duke’s door now as, entering his fifty-sixth year, he represented the epitome of respectability. The young earl put aside his rapier, placing it on a small table set against the wall and stood with hands on hips, laughing at his frien d. “You were ever weak livered, John,” he mocked. “Too easily intimidated.” Looking at his companion’s sullen countenance, he relented. “Come, don’t hold it agai nst me, it was just too tempting. If you could have but seen your expression. It was pri celess.” Wroxham gave a reluctant chuckle as he rolled down his sleeves. “Damn you,  to take a rise out of me. Though I swear you will take your Dominic, you always know how scapes too far one of these days. Then where will y ou be? As like as not, up before the magistrate on a murder charge!” “You exaggerate, my friend,” continued the earl in good humor. “You were never in any danger, I assure you. I was in full control of my blade at all times. Now stop your wittering. I have a mind to go to Ridley’s. Do you accompany me?” “If I must, though I can’t help but deplore your ta ste. Surely you could find a more suitable gaming hell to enjoy your patronage?” “Not one that plays so high at this time of day. By -the- bye, I have an assignation with La Belle tonight so I needs be away before mid night.”
“Another of your affectations I deplore,” replied W roxham with some distaste. “Could you not be more discerning in your choice of mistre ss? I would have thought her artifice to have bored you.” “She will reign only as long as she amuses me,” ass ured the earl, drawing on his well-fitting boots. “I am well aware of her faults and promise you her days are numbered. I begin to tire of her already and will n ot tolerate her foolishness for much longer.” “Then pay her off now and have done with it.” “Once I have a replacement, I assure you I will. So for pity’s sake, have done with your complaining. Be certain I know what I’m at.” T aking up his coat, Vale shrugged into  sweeping staircase. “We but call at my it and led the way out of the gallery toward the rooms to enable me to change and then we’ll be away to Ridley’s,” he said, as Wroxham came abreast of him. “I must recoup some of my losses. I dropped enough blunt last night to buy a kingdom and should it com e to my most estimable sire’s ears, he will try to rusticate me.” “You play too wild, Dominic; you’re reckless in you r choice.” “Which, admit, usually pays off. You play like an o ld woman, John.” “Your opinion of me is forever poor, I wonder you p ut up with me,” sneered his lordship, not now in the best of humors. “Perhaps i t would be better if I relieved you of my company?” “Don’t put yourself into such a taking,” laughed th e earl, negligently laying his hand on his friend’s shoulder as they descended the stai rs to the hallway. “You ever were a hen-worrier, though truth be told, I need you at ti mes to keep my head level. Come; cry truce and we will make what best we can of the rema inder of the day.” * * * Leaving La Belle’s house in the early hours of the following morning it was seen that the earl was not at all in the best of moods and ap peared, by the slight rolling of his gait, to be somewhat in his cups. At last he had ended th e affair. Assured that she had already secured a new protector, he completely igno red her protestations of undying love and devotion, confirmed that the only love and devotion she ever felt was for herself  no fool; the affair had run its course. There rema ined no novelty in her alone. He was ploys and her charms had decidedly waned. Indeed, h e was amazed that he had ever found her worthy of any notice. It did not help matters that he had again lost heav ily at the gaming tables, everyone exclaiming at his bad luck. It was rarely seen that Vale did not recoup, but on this occasion he was not able to come about, a fact that only served to blacken his mood. Cursing his bad luck, he made his way through the d imly-lit streets toward his apartments, resolving to evolve some fail-safe sche me. He would not go to his father and he would be damned if he would start to issue n otes of hand. A wager he was sure to win seemed his only chance, one that would not i nvolve the laying out of any blunt— but what?
So engrossed was he in his musings that, approachin g the steps to his apartments, he failed to see the form huddled in the shadows of the doorway and was startled as it attempted to push past him. “Ho, young sir, what are you at?” he exclaimed, gra bbing the youth by the throat as he would retreat and pushing him back against the d arkened doorframe. Under Dominic’s scowling gaze, the lad attempted to pull his tricorn further over his face and replied in a small gruff voice, “I would b eg your pardon, sir. I was but seeking some means of shelter from the elements.” H e that pinioned him to the increased his efforts to wriggle free from the iron-like grip door, but to no avail. Dominic’s hand held him secu rely. “You do not fool me so easily, lad,” scorned Vale. “You would way-lay me, but I tell you to your teeth, you would be sadly disappointed if you knew the contents of my pockets.” Without releasing his hold on the boy’s n eck, with one hand, he turned out his pocket linings as proof. Clawing at his retaining hand, the boy tried to kic k his shins, but even in his inebriated state, the earl demonstrated a nimblenes s his condition would have belied. “Spitfire,” he exclaimed, but then, as the fitful m oon illuminated the half of the boy’s face that was visible beneath the tricorn, he drew in hi s breath at the cuts and bruising he saw there. “I take that to be the retaliation of your previous victim,” he mocked, but he slackened his hold on the boy’s throat and instead took hold of his shoulders, attempting to turn him more fully to the light. “Ho w old are you?” he demanded, for his would-be assailant seemed no more than a child. “Eighteen,” came the youth’s reply as he calmed sli ghtly, reasoning that if this man had intended him any real harm, his body would have been in the gutter by now. Examining his face, the earl again drew his breath in sharply and, freeing one hand, sought out his key. As he opened the door he ignore d the youth’s plea to be set free and pushed him roughly inside. Once inside the diml y-lit hallway, he gained access to his  propelled the boy inside. ground floor rooms and The youth, having no comparable strength to prevent his actions stumbled as he crossed the threshold, catching at the doorframe fo r support, but Vale prized his fingers free. “Stand still; don’t move,” he commanded as he locke d the door behind him. “Wait now whilst I light the candles.” “Let me go, sir, please let me go,” pleaded the you th. “I truly meant you no harm. See, I don’t even carry a weapon.” Vale was surprised at the boy’s cultured tones. Her e was no ruffian, and unless he was much mistaken, this was a gentleman’s son. Taki ng a taper, he ignited it from the lamp left for his use and lit the candles in the sc onces set about the room. He knew they would not be disturbed as his man was under in structions not to wait up for him and slept as one turned to stone. “Sit there,” he commanded, pointing to a chair set at the table, the effects of the brandy he had drunk earlier still very much in evid ence. “Now face the light.”
The boy sat still, ignoring the command. “Face the light,” commanded Vale in an awful voice. “Do not defy me or it will be the worse for you. I will not be ignored.” The youth turned toward the candles but attempted t o shield his face with his hand. The earl relented slightly. “You have obviously bee n badly beaten,” he said in a somewhat quieter tone. “One would not suspect so slight a youth of being a pugilist.” “I am no pugilist, sir,” said the boy, attempting t o smile but pressing his hand against his cheek as if the movement pained him. Vale’s attention was riveted on the boy’s face, the n he ran his eyes over his slight figure. “You say you are eighteen?” “Yes, sir.” “You are not a very robust eighteen. Where do you c ome from?” “Nowhere, sir.” “Nonsense, everyone comes from somewhere.” “I do not, sir. Please let me go.” “If you come from nowhere, to where am I to let you go?” enquired the earl with some aplomb, marveling, in his present inebriation, at his own ingenious. “I but wish to relieve you of my presence, sir. I will trouble you no longer.” “I will let you go when it pleases me to let you go . Now, take off your hat and that disgustingly dirty coat, which, by-the-bye is far too big for you.” Again the youth did not move to remove the garments but clutched the coat even tighter about his figure. “Am I to remove them?” asked Vale, moving forward m enacingly. “I am quite capable, sir,” replied the youth, hesit antly removing the offending garment to reveal a surprisingly clean white shirt and breeches beneath. “Now the hat!” “Must I, sir?” “Most definitely!” With a great reluctance the youth reached up to rem ove his tricorn and a riot of golden curls tumbled from beneath. Vale stood riveted as the girl turned fully to face him. “My god,” he breathed, staring into her blue eyes that peered between swollen lids , “I suspected, but thought I was imagining it. ‘Pon faith, a wench.” “Then let me go, sir, now that you know I cannot po ssibly pose a threat to you. I will go quietly and you will not even know I have been h ere.” “What is interesting though in fact, my dear, is th at youdidfind your way here. How come you by the bruising? Am I to suppose you fell foul of a former lover?” The girl made to rise, terrified of his mood and th e fact that in his inebriation, his eye turned bold, but he was at her side and placed a restraining hand on her shoulder. “Come, sweeting” he cajoled in a mocking tone. “Who did this to you? Did you not please your protector? Would you not comply with hi s ruling?” “Sir, you mistake me,” she cried indignantly, pushi ng his hand from her shoulder. “I am no lightskirt as I would have thought obvious...”
“Then why this masquerading as a boy?” he continued to scoff, seeing not her fear. She sprang from her seat and attempted to reach the door, but he was before her, barring the way. “What, you you would leave me so soon in our acquaintance? I am sure would not deny me payment for my hospitality,” and taking her into his arms, he forcibly kissed her. Her well-shod heel came into sharp contact with his foot and he dropped his hold in amazement. “Hellcat,” he cursed. “Do not think I am so easily dissuaded from my purpose. You have thrust yourself upon my company a nd you will pay the consequence. Come, you will not find me ungenerous.” “I had thought you better than that, sir,” she scow led, rubbing her sleeve across her mouth, repulsed by the smell of spirits. “Then that shows how little you know me.” he mocked , once more advancing toward her, making his intentions only too obvious. Seeing a carelessly discarded fruit knife on the si deboard by the door, the girl snatched it up in desperation and held it menacingl y before her, attempting to ward off any further embraces. “I will use it” she assured h im, backing away from her tormentor. “Then use it, little spitfire and be damned,” he gr inned recklessly, taking no mind to the threat and advancing, not to be distracted from his course. Taking hold of her shoulders, he once more bent his head toward her. H e was intent on taking a second favor but in that final moment when he would have d rawn her to him he felt the knife rip into his sleeve and enter his forearm. However, he did not relinquish his hold immediately as he had previously, but took the favor before releasing her, and only then did slowly look down to see the dark stain spreading o ver his satin sleeve. he Seeing the scarlet start, the girl threw aside the knife and pressed her hands over her mouth, tears welling in her eyes, “I have wound ed you,” she cried. “Of course you have, you silly chit,” he replied, g rinning. “What exactly did you expect to do? Surely, you must know that you would not intimidate me. Though I must admit, I admire your nerve. I have faced far more t hreatening adversaries than you, my dear, but, ’pon reflection, none that have managed to pink me quite so neatly, I assure you.” “You did not deserve that I should wound you,” she cried, overcome with remorse. “Please forgive me. I wanted only to ward you off. Have you some linen that I might bind the wound?” He smiled with genuine amusement, the injury doing much to sober him. “Don’t put yourself into such a taking. There are not many you ng ladies of my acquaintance who would have carried out such a threat—couldhave carried out such a threat! By Gad but you have spirit. Here, take my handkerchief. I will do very well; it is naught but a scratch, nothing at all for you to worry about. Ind eed, it was my true desserts, I am well served, goblin.” Removing his coat, he seated himself by the hearth to roll up his shirt sleeve and expose the wound which proved to be no more alarmin g than a deep scratch. However, he allowed her to bind his arm as it gave him time to examine her bruised countenance.  of obvious breeding and he cursed himself for a fo ol. Had He saw before him a young girl
the brandy so clouded his judgment that even in suc h unusual circumstances he had failed to recognize a lady? He had mistaken her ini tially for a fair Cyprian, so used was he to their usual guiles and the arts they employed to bring themselves to the notice of young gentlemen of rank and fortune. The task completed, the girl stood uncertainly at h is side. “Come, we will cry truce,” he said, as he rolled down his sleeve. “You will ex plain your predicament to me and we will see what can be done. I am not such a fiend as I would have you believe; though you must admit, our introduction was somewhat uncon ventional.” At his words, she moved to the table and once more took her recently vacated seat, tears welling up into her eyes to course down her c heeks. Placing her arms on the table she laid her head on them and sobbed unrestrainedly . At any other time, a sobbing female would have had the effect of sending him hot foot in search of the door, but he was taken aback by her only too apparent distress and the abuse she had suffered. He could do naught but stand in frozen silence, his dark countenance mirroring his astonished concern. He co uld not believe that anyone would treat a young girl in this manner, indeed, she had been subjected to unforgivable misuse and his immediate impulse was to seek the pe rpetrator. He stood quietly at her side until he thought her s obs to be subsiding then, taking a decanter and glass from the center of the table, poured a measure of brandy and as she raised her head from her arms he pressed the glass into her hand. “Here, drink this,” he ordered in much quieter tone s, “and when you are recovered you can tell me what has occurred. Have no fear, yo u are quite safe here.” Then chuckling softly he added, “Though I am not quite s ure of the propriety of the situation. What is your name?” “Jack.” “Surely you have another name? One more befitting y our gender?” “I do not think it prudent to give it, sir.” “I think it a little late for prudence, don’t you?” “Could I not remain just Jack?” she asked in some a gitation. “It is better that I am not recognized. Though I must admit, sir, I am aware of who you are.” “Am I that notorious?” Vale smiled his incredulity, as he too took a seat at the table the better to study his visitor’s face. “Perhaps I should say well known amongst society, m y lord,” she replied, attempting to return his smile but wincing at the m ovement. “We divert from the issue here,” he said, once more frowning at her injuries. Placing his fingers beneath her chin, he turned her face sl ightly toward him, the better to view the cuts and bruising. “These are fresh wounds. Whe n were you attacked?” “This morning, sir.” “And you have wandered around like this all day?” h e asked in amazement. “I had nowhere to go. If I had gone to family, I wo uld have been found out, and that I must not be. There is no possible way that I could return to my home, the situation is untenable.” Again her pleasantly low voice shook wi th emotion, as if she was once more about to succumb to weeping.
“Was it a member of your family who attacked you?” he insisted, astonished at the thought. “Whoever it was must be brought to justice . To beat a woman is insupportable; you must tell me what has occurred.” “It was my brother, sir...” “My God,” he expostulated. “What brother would do t his? He has thrashed you shamefully.” “It was my own fault—though I cannot regret it.” “Whatever could you have done to bring about such r etribution, such dire results?” and he rose to pace the room. “My brother wishes to be rid of me and pledged my i nnocence on a bet against a considerable sum of money. Needless to say, he lost the wager and I cannot accept the consequences of the situation. He would force me to go to his so called friend but there is no way that I could comply.” “What of your parents in this situation?” he asked, halting his perambulations to stand incredulously before her. “They are both dead, sir. My brother is my guardian . He was ever a violent man but my mother always stood some between us when she was alive, she at least could wield control over him, until he started to drink. The si tuation came to a head over breakfast this morning and then he thought he could beat me i nto submission. Once I had lost my senses, he locked me in my room, intending to try t o coerce me later, but my younger brother unlocked the door. These are his clothes, t hough not the coat,” she said, eyeing the offending garment and giving a wan smile. “That belongs to the groom, which I suspect you can guess from its state. I left the ho use and hid in the grounds until I was sure that my brother had gone out, and then I just ran through the streets. I had nowhere to go. I wandered until the light began to fade and then I sought shelter in your portals where you found me. I beg your pardon, sir, I would not have involved you in this coil, and if you would but let me go, I will be on my way.” “To where and at this time of night?” “I don’t as yet know, but I will evolve a plan. I w ill trespass on your hospitality no longer.” “You certainly will. There is no way that you could find shelter at this hour. How much money do you have?” “None, sir.” “Exactly! You will remain here until morning and we will see what is to be done. In the meantime, your face must be bathed and a cold c ompress applied to the swelling. Now wait here and I will find some cloths and salve . There is no need to disturb my man, we will manage quite creditably.” * * * Returning a short while later with the required obj ects, the earl set about bathing Jack’s face. She said nothing, but he could see by her expression that she found it painful.
“Thank you, sir,” she said quietly, when he eventua lly laid aside the cloths. “But now you must let me leave. I have encroached on your ki ndness long enough. It is not right that I remain here.” “You cannot be left to wander the streets,” said Va le, reasoning. “Who knows what kind of ruffians you will come up against and what their treatment will be. Although this is not a situation I would have wished to be involv ed in, it is not one that I can ignore.” Or take advantageofs acquaintance, he said beneath his breath, a thought those of hi would not have believed him capable of; his reputat ion amongst the fairer sex rivaling that of his father. “I have been thinking,” he continued. “The most rea sonable course open to me is to place you under my mother’s protection. Now don’t l ook at me with those frightened eyes; I assure you, she is the soul of discretion. You will find her most understanding and sympathetic to your cause. I can think of no on e better to whom you could be entrusted. I have two younger sisters so you will h ave some company whilst under her roof. I am convinced she will know exactly what is best to be done, she always does.” “The Duchess of Lear will not welcome my being thrust upon her, sir; especially if  circumstances of our meeting. She will not believe me blameless, I am informed of the sure. Perhaps if you would but lend me some money I could make my departure from London. I promise to repay you as soon as I can fin d suitable employment.” “As what?” he mocked skeptically. “I know not, sir, but I am sure something will pres ent itself. I am not without resolve,” she said, straightening her shoulders as if to prov e the fact. “I can well believe it,” he said, suppressing a smi le. “But consider, my dear, employment is not easily found and you have no expe rience to offer a would-be employer. Who knows what will befall you should you fail in your efforts. I would gladly give you money but my pockets are to let. No, the only course open to you is to seek my mother’s protection. Indeed, I insist upon it. Y ou do her an injustice to suppose that she would not believe your plight.” Her thoughts in turmoil, she gave no answer. Surely the duchess would insist that she be returned to her family, yet how was she to a ffect her escape from Vale’s protection? She could not embroil him in this dread ful tangle. She knew her brother and would not lay the earl open to his reprisal, the co nsequences of which could be disastrous. Seeing him stifle a would-be yawn, she took the opportunity to delay the ordering of her future, thinking that once he had t aken some sleep and the remaining  dissipate, he would view the situation more effects of the brandy had been allowed to logically. Though exactly what she was to do, she k new not. Vale rose and taking her silence as agreement to hi s ordering, took her arm and said, “Come now, we are both in need of rest. All will seem a deal better in the morning.” Then seeing the terror in her face as he would have lifted her to her feet he smiled. “Have no fear, my dear, you are quite safe. I have no thoughts of seducing you. I am not in the habit of ruining ladies of quality. You will sleep in my chamber and I will do very well in the chair by the hearth.” Grinning he presented her with the fruit knife. “You may take this with you for protection as I know you will have no compunction in using it.