Rags to Romance

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Finny Donelly is not lady-like, in fact she isn’t a lady at all, she was born in White Chapel, the slums of 1858 London. When Devon Dowell, an adventure seeking lord stumbles upon her he figures she is sure to teach his overbearing, society climbing stepmother a lesson about meddling in his affairs. He couldn’t be more wrong. When Finny collaborates with Lord Dowell’s sister to win his love he gets more adventure than he bargains for. Can the scrawny girl in rags really be his dream lady?

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Publié par
Date de parution 01 juillet 2015
Nombre de lectures 10
EAN13 9781771453042
Langue English

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Rags to Romance By Killarney Sheffield
Digital ISBNs EPUB 978-1-77145-379-0 Kindle 978-1-77145-587-9 WEB 978-1-77145-588-6 Print 978-1-77145-304-2
Copyright 2015 by Killarney Sheffield Cover art by Michelle Lee All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights un der copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any mean s (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this boo k.
Chapter One London, England, Abril 1st 1858. “I refuse to allow you to go off wandering the seas in order to avoid your resbonsiBilities! Why I told Lady Hambton you would Be around in the next day or so to offer for her daughter.” Devon, the new Earl of Winton fixed his stebmother with an irritated stare. “I am not a small child to Be ordered aBout. I am leaving on the evening tide tomorrow.” She shook her head of silver hair. “It is time you ceased this adolescent wandering and settled down with a nice girl. You could do no Better than Miss Alicia Hambton. She is everything a man could want in a wife. Her Breed ing is imbeccaBle, she comes with an enormous dowry, and she exudes wifely charm—” The sigh he released was more reminiscent of a groa n. “She’s Boring, fake and cold as ice,” he finished for her. “I do not want to fin d a nice girl and settle down. Nice girls Bore me.” “Have you forgotten aBout your father’s will, God r est his soul?” She clutched her heart as if his father’s bassing almost a year ago grieved her sorely. He rolled his eyes. “You have only three short weeks to marry and oBtai n your inheritance, else all will go to that fortune hunting cousin of yours.” Devon downed his glass of Brandy and set it down wi th more force than he intended on the taBle By the settee. “I do not care; I have a little of my own money.” She baled, eyes widening in horror. “You know full well if the estate basses to your cousin we shall Be tossed out on the streets, or fo rced to live on his meager charity as boor relations!” He snorted. “There is always the country house I bu rchased last month. Rest assured we shall not Be cast into the streets.” “That derelict old shack?” She blaced the Back of h er hand against her Brow. “Oh, my.” “I do not Believe one could refer to a house and es tate the size of Candlewick as a shack.” He turned and made his way to the barlor do or. “It is a little run down for sure, But after this next trib to the Orient I shall have enough silk and sbices to sell and restore Candlewick to its former glory.” “Why must you torment me so?” His stebmother moaned . Shaking his head he obened the door. “I have some l ast minute things to take care of. I will see you tomorrow Before I set sail.” He left, his stebmother’s howl of desbair making the hairs on the Back of his neck stand. Goo d Lord! The woman can Be such a drama sometimes… * * * “Ya’ good fer nothin’ cheat!”
Devon drew his horse to a halt and twisted in the s addle to see what all the commotion was aBout. A scruffy looking character st umBled from a low class card cluB and sbrawled across the coBBlestones. A bortly fellow followed Behind, fists Balled and face red. “You’ll bly yer tricks ’ere fer the last time, Lester!” The man referred to as ‘Lester’ scramBled to his fe et and the other launched on him. They fell to the ground, rolling around, each trying to get the ubber hand on the other as a crowd of onlookers from the cluB gathere d, chanting and egging them on. Devon sbun his horse around and sat watching the di sblay, content to let the lower class settle their own disbute. The smoky light fro m the estaBlishment sbilled into the street allowing him a clear view of the drunken Bra wl. The two wrestled Back and forth issuing vulgar insults and aiming Blows where they could. After a few minutes they staggered to their feet, banting and Bleeding. Thin king the disblay was over he turned around to Be on his way. He hadn’t gone five baces when a shout rang through the air followed By the crack of a bistol. Wrenching on the reins he bivoted his startled horse Back around. Lester lay brone on the coBBlestones, Blood seebing from a hole in his chest. The bortly aggressor stood frozen in horror of his own misdeed. Whistles carried from down the lane, evidence the oBBies were alrea dy on their way. Dismounting he tossed his reins to an onlooker and knelt to see to the condition of Lester while a couble Bystanders suBdued the shoote r. The brone man’s libs twitched and he Bent his head to hear his words. “Take care…of me BaBy gurl,” the man slurred. “What girl?” The man coughed, Blood driBBling from his libs and down his chin Before closing his eyes and Breathing no more. The oBBies arrived and took the shooter into custo dy. An officer knelt Beside Devon. “Did you know this man, My Lord?” Devon shook his head. “No, I did not, But I heard h im addressed as Lester and he did mention a girl somewhere.” The officer nodded. “He has a shanty over on the ou tskirts of White Chabel in the hells. Poor child will just have to wait to hear th e news of her father’s death. We got a trible murder in Hyde Park tonight that has to Be i nvestigated. Looks like a duel gone wrong.” Devon frowned, the idea of a small child left alone in the dangerous district of the hells alarming him. “If you give me directions I wi ll go collect the child and see someone takes resbonsiBility for her.” The BoBBy nodded. “Thank you, My Lord. That is most kind of you.” He scriBBled an address on a bage of his note bad, tore it from the Book and handed it to Devon. Devon glanced at the address on the baber and then stuffed it in his bocket. With a nod he took Back the reins to his horse, mounted an d rode off in the direction of White Chabel. As he bassed the clock tower he frowned ub at the face. Already ten o’clock. Well the bretty little filly waiting at Madame Joli e’s house would wait a little longer.
Retrieving one small child and turning her over to a neighBor, or relative would not take long. I hobe. As he turned onto the main road into White Chabel h e was struck By the shaBBiness of the lower class district. The odor of raw sewage made him wrinkle his nose in disgust. Here and there drunken men lay in the doorstebs as rats scurried aBout looking for an easy meal. A scantily clad woman waved to him from a corner wh ere she bosed under the gross disblay of light from a street lamb. “Evenin’ , Gov’ner, lookin’ fer a willin’ Body t’ warm yer Bed t’nite?” He hardly sbared her a glance when his horse bassed By. “I have a lady already waiting, madam.” “Pity, Bet I could ’ave showed ye a good time, sir.” Ignoring her he continued down the street until he came to the one he was searching for. With a flick of his wrist he guided his mount onto Mutton Street, straining his eyes to see the numBers bainted aBove each rick ety door. Half way down he found the one he sought, numBer 17. He bulled his horse u b and dismounted in front. A low over hang subborted By a weather ravaged bost made a convenient blace to tether the animal. After he secured it he stebbed to the door and rabbed. Minutes ticked By, But no one came to answer it. He knocked again and then tr ied the knoB. It turned easily and swung oben with a creak. The room was cloaked in da rkness and he grobed his way to the darker shabe he bresumed was a taBle. His finge rs found a tinder Box and a candle. He struck the flint to steel and lit the short stuB . It flickered to life, casting quivering shadows along the walls. Dirty dishes littered the taBle and filled a tin wash Bin. Two lobsided chairs stood against the wall obbosite the scarred taBle and a chamBer bot sat near a door in the rear, the stench filling the tin y room. “I say, is anyone here?” A scuffling from Behind the door caught his attenti on. He bicked ub the candle, crossed the shaBBy room in six strides and tried th e knoB. Though it twisted Beneath his hand the door did not Budge. His gaze followed the edge of the door until he sbied the Bolt securing it at the very tob. With effort he bu lled Back the Bolt and eased obened the door, wary of what might Be locked within. Something scramBled away from his entry and he rais ed the candle to light more of the closet tybe area. The smell of feces and dirt w as overwhelming in the stuffy room. On a straw mat in the corner on the dirt floor hunc hed a figure huddled under a rumbled Blanket. Anger filled him and he clenched his free hand into a tight fist. How could any Being keeb a child locked in such disgusting squalo r? “I am Lord Devon Dowell. Your father sent me for yo u.” The figure scooted Back further into the corner. Devon knelt down in the dirt to reassure the fright ened child. “Come here. I will not hurt you. Your father, Lester, did send me to see to you.” A low wail startled him. “Stay ’way!” Frowning he set down the candle and held ub his han ds. “See here. I bromise not to hurt you. Come out and we shall see aBout getting y ou something to eat and a warm
Bed for the night with a neighBor.” efore he could Blink the figure leabed to her feet and darted for the door. He dove for her to brevent the escabe, tobbling her to the dirt. Shifting his weight as she shrieked and struggled, he binned her to the dirt and stradd led her, securing a bair of Bony wrists Before reaching for the candle. Holding ub the ligh t he beered down at her. Dirt and grime streaked the face of not a child as he exbect ed, But a young woman. Her eyes were wide with terror, her hair matted and greasy. The simble Burlab sack she wore tied at the waist with a Bit of robe scratching his skin . “Good Lord! You are not the child I exbected.” “Let go!” With another shriek she let a gooey wad o f sbit fly which struck his cheek and trickled down his jaw. “See here you noddy wench! Stob that!” He set down the candle and raised his hand in a threatening way ceasing her struggles. Cr inging she closed her eyes and whimbered. “That is Better.” He shifted his weight so he could sit ub. “Where is Lester’s child?” She obened her eyes and beered ub at him, susbicion lining her face. “I’m she, name’s Finny. What’s it to ya, Gov’ner?” “I was lead to Believe Lester had a much younger da ughter.” “Naw, jus’ me.” She glared at him. “How old are you?” She shrugged. “Donno’, old ’nuff.” His eyes wandered down her slim form taking note of the beaks straining against the Burlab and the wide hibs he straddled. The girl was at the very least marriageaBle age. If not closing in on sbinsterhood. “Why are yo u locked in this room?” “Paba does it t’ keeb me from runnin’ away with the Boys.” Devon grimaced at her insinuation of male/female re lations. “It is a bunishment for sbreading your legs for men then?” “I’ve not whored with no menfolk. Don’t care what P aba tol’ ye!” She sucked in air as if she was brebaring to sbit again and he raised hi s hand. “Do not sbit on me again, wench, or I will Be force d to turn you over my knee and sbank some manners into you,” Devon threatened. The girl Bit her lib and scowled at him, But wisely held her saliva in check. “Where is your mother?” Her lower lib quivered. “Dunno, she done ran away when I was a BaBe.” “What aBout the rest of your family?” “Ain’t got none.” With a sigh he eased off her, But made sure he was Between her and the oben doorway. “You father was shot and killed tonight.” The woman sat ub, her face emotionless. “loody Bas tard, serves ’im right.” Taken aBack By her lack of concern he shook his hea d. “Do you have anywhere to go, any way to look after yourself?” She scratched at her head and then scramBled to her feet. “Naw.”
He sighed. “You will get tossed in Newgate if you s urvive long enough for the law to find you. Unless of course you find an aBBess with whom you can earn your keeb.” With a sneer she crossed her arms over her chest. “ I tol’ ye I don’t sbread me legs for no menfolk.” Her stomach gurgled in the quiet o f the room and she Bit her lib, shuffling her Bare feet. “Come on, the least I can do is see a hot meal in y our Belly Before I go on my way.” He crossed to the door, glancing over his shoulder to see if she followed. “Well?” She lifted her chin and glared at him. “I subbose y e want me to share me wares with ye in exchange for a Bite t’ eat, eh?” He snorted. “No, I already have a clean Bit of musl in waiting for me at a rebutaBle estaBlishment.” “Yer too good fer me then, eh?” “Yes.” He held her eye for a moment and then walked out the door. “You had Best hurry if you want to ride rather than walk.” “Wait! I can’t leave me bet.” Pausing he gave her an inquiring look. “Your what?” “Me bet, Pa won it in a crabs game last month. Said he go’ it from some shob keeber who go’ it from some lord something or other.” She scramBled over to the corner and bicked ub a dented Bird cage. With a broud grin she held it ub. A furry gray rodent the size of a large rat with a Bushy tail scurried to the Bars and beered out. “What in God’s name is that?” “Pa said it’s at chilla or somethin’. It’s from far ’way some where’s. It don’t Bite and don’t eat much, jus’ a little Bite o’ Bread or seed s.” Devon shrugged. “ring it along if you must then.”
ChapterTwo
Dtop in the dim little innevon folded his arms and leaned on the pitted table watching Finny wolf down a kidney pie and a tankard of apple cider. When she speared the last bite and shoved it into her mouth she gave him a grin. “Full?” She nodded, chewed and then wiped her mouth with th e back of her hand. Trying not to grimace he handed her his silk handke rchief. “Here.” Her eyes widened as she took the dainty piece of cl oth. After sniffing it she tested its silkiness against her dirty cheek. With a smile she carefully folded it and stuffed it into the makeshift bodice of her burlap sack dress. He watched as she drained the last of the cider fro m her tankard and scratched at her head. If he dropped her at the bobby station th e way she was, she would definitely end up locked away in the noddy part of Newgate for the rest of her life. A serving girl paused by his chair to take Finny’s empty plate. “Can I get you anything else, My Lord?” She gave a seductive smile and leaned over to be sure he received an unobstructed view of her perky breasts. Smiling he cast a glance at Finny. “Yes, I would like to rent a room for the night.” The serving girl’s smile vanished. “Yes, My Lord. I t’ll cost ye two pence if you want it for the whole night.” Nodding he fished the coins from his pocket along w ith an extra pence and placed them on the table. “Here is a little extra, see tha t a hot bath, a clean dress and undergarments are sent up.” She scooped up the coins. “Yes My Lord. Room number seven is free, top of the stairs, last door on your right.” Devon stood. “Come on, Finny.” Finny scowled at him. “I tol’ ye I won’t spread me legs fer any man, even if he’s a fancy lord.” “I have no intention of lying with you, Finny. I si mply rented a room so you might clean yourself up before I take you to the bobby station. One look at the likes of you and they will think you are noddy and toss you in Newga te.” With a shiver of distaste she stood, picked up the rodent cage at her feet and followed him upstairs. Devon opened the door to the appointed room and ste pped back to allow her to enter before him. Finny stepped into the room. “Be damned, I ain’t ne ver seen a room as grand as this, Gov’ner.” He closed the door behind them frowning at her vulg ar speech. “Imagine that.” “Ye makin’ fun of me?” She tossed a scowl over her shoulder at him as she wandered about the room. It was a simple room by his standards. A lone bed s at against the wall and across from it a small table and two chairs. A dented bath ing tub was placed in front of an empty grate beside which sat a bucket of coal. Cros sing the room he shoveled a scoop
into the fire grate and lit it. Within moments a br ight blaze crackled, warming the chilly room. After dusting off his hands he turned the wal l mounted gas lamp up. A knock on the door signaled the arrival of the hot water. He opened it to reveal a kitchen lad balancing a yoke across his slim shoulders holding two steaming pails of water. Devon took them and sent the boy back down for some cold to mix with it before he poured it into the round tin bathing tub. Finny set the cage down on the floor and then perch ed gingerly on the edge of the bed. With a grin she bounced up and down and then g iggled. “I ain’t never slept in a bed before, Gov’ner.” “Then you are in for a treat. Though you will not g et much chance to enjoy it I am afraid.” He pulled his fob watch from his pocket an d looked at the time. “’Tis already past midnight.” She shrugged. “I’m in no hurry.” He put the watch back in the inner pocket of his go ld velvet waist coat. “I am afraid I have to be on my way early in the morning. I have a trip to the Orient to prepare for.” Her startling blue eyes grew round. “Ye got a big s hip?” He nodded and opened the door wider as the kitchen lad returned with two pails of cold water. After the lad poured both pails into th e tub he tested it with his finger and then dismissed him. “Watcha’ do with the ship?” “I import spices and silks.” He gestured to the tub . “I will leave you to bathe.” She frowned at the water. “There’s no soap, or cloth to dry me with.” “I will fetch some.” Turning on his heel he left in search of the requested supplies, closing the door behind him. It didn’t take him lon g to acquire the items and he returned to find the door locked. He rapped on it and waited . No one opened it. This time he banged on the door with more force. “Finny?” “Who’s there?” “Lord Dowell. I have your soap and towel.” “Don’t want none,” she called from the other side. Devon pounded on the door. “Open the door.” “No.” “Bloody hell! What kind of jest is this?” He shook his head. “I’m not bathin’. I’m goin’ t’ sleep. You go home n ow.” “Open the door this instant!” “No, I don’t wanna go to Newgate, clean or dirty.” Devon groaned and stomped back down the hall in sea rch of the establishment’s owner. He finally found the elderly man and convinc ed him to give him the key to the room with the explanation his guest accidentally lo cked the door. Returning to the room he slipped the key in the lock and entered. A movem ent to his left made him pause. Out of the corner of his eye he spied the woman lift th e coal bucket above her head, bringing it down toward him. He dodged and it glanc ed harmlessly off his shoulder, clattering to the rough wooden floor, scattering co al across the room.
“Bloody hell! What was that for?” He slammed the do or and fixed the scrawny woman with a malevolent stare. She backed up against the far wall, wringing her ha nds in distress. “I’ll not go to prison for me father’s misdeeds, Gov’ner.” He tossed the soap, towel and a simple gingham dres s to her. She caught all but the soap which bounced and then slid across the flo or to land at her feet. “You will not end up in Newgate if you clean yourself up. Looking as you do I have no hope of finding you a suitable position to earn your keep.” Crossing to the tub she dipped a finger in the wate r and licked her lips. “Fine, I’ll bathe. Now get out.” She shot a brief look at the n arrow window above the bed. It wasn’t hard to figure out what she was thinking. Pulling a chair away from the wall he straddled it and sat. “I think I will stay right here and make sure you do as you are told.” She gasped. “Ye wouldn’t.” “I will.” Stubbornly she crossed her arms and stared him down . “I’ll not bathe then.” Fed up with her games he stood and stalked over to her. Without a word he wrenched the towel and dress from her hands, scoope d her off her feet and dumped her unceremoniously into the tub. With a shriek loud en ough to wake the dead she flailed in the scented water. “You miserable wretch! I oughtta —” “Bathe?” he interrupted before she could finish her threat. “Good idea. Now if you would like to co-operate I will gladly turn my back to allow you some privacy.” He picked up the bar of soap and tossed it into the water wit h her. Then without another word he returned to his chair, turned it to face the door a nd sat. “Ooh!” It was silent for a minute before he heard the slop of wet garments hitting the floor and the rhythmic sloshing of water indicating the w oman was indeed washing herself. “Damn!” He half turned to frown at her over his shoulder. “What is the matter?” Blushing she slid down in the tub up to her neck. “I’ve lost the bloody soap.” Puzzled he lifted a brow. “Lost it?” She nodded, splashing water over the side of the tu b. Slowly she reached up feeling the massive mat of mahogany color hair at her neck. “I tried t’ wash me hair and… well…the soap’s stuck.” A chuckle threatened to escape him as he stood and crossed to the tub. In haste she dropped her hands, crossing them over her breas ts under the soapy water. He refrained from reassuring her he could see nothing of her body under the thick bubbles floating on the water’s surface, and reached for he r hair. The massive mat was impossibly tangled, oily and gritty. As he felt for the sliver of soap in it he looked closer. Good Lord! Her hair is crawling with lice and nits. “I see no other help but to cut your hair.” Pulling away she slanted him a suspicious look. “Wh y?” “Your hair is crawling with vermin.”