Here's an excerpt.
Adam had reached the hall when the knocker sounded, and he stepped back as his butler opened the door. To his utter astonishment, Lady Cortland and Lady Sarah Heath were on his doorstep. They wore serviceable clothes, and walking boots. They each carried a small portmanteau.
“We would like to see his lordship, please.”
It was Cortland’s voice, but with a tremor and a buried fear in it. He had never thought to hear her so distressed.
Before Barnes could answer, Adam stepped forward.
“Come in, ladies. And quickly. You must not be seen calling on a bachelor, you know.”
Adam spoke lightly, but neither one of them smiled. He led
them quickly down the hall and into his library. He saw Cortland give a quick look around with a flash of approval in her eyes for the walls of books and the comfortable couches and chairs. There were many map cabinets, and he saw her make a slight move toward them and then shift her glance to the large table in the center of the room covered with books. Some of them were open and many were marked with small slips of paper. She looked at them hungrily, but went to the window, and stood clutching a gold velvet drape.
“I hope you have come for help, my ladies. I can’t think what else would bring you. And I would be flattered if that is so. Won’t you both sit down?” He glanced down at his breeches and loose shirt. “You must forgive my informal attire, but I was not expecting such delightful company so early in the day.”
Corry flashed him a glance that thanked him for his courtesy, but remained standing. Sarah sank gratefully into a commodious chair that seemed to swallow her small form.
“Lady Cortland?” He motioned her toward an equally comfortable chair, and she hesitated. Finally she walked stiffly toward it and sat carefully on the edge. She still said not a word. He saw the wince of pain and knew that the trouble they had come about was not ordinary. Something was seriously wrong.
He turned to Sarah.
“Lady Sarah, I think something grave has occurred, and your sister seems under some constraint of spirit. Can you tell me while she regains her composure? I suspect something terrible has happened to bring you and Lady Cortland here.”
“I am not subdued,” burst out Corry. “Far from it. I’m flaming angry.”
“He beat her,” Sarah babbled. “Beat her with his cane. As hard as he could. Our own father. Unmercifully. I was made to watch.”
She sobbed once and then stopped herself, her fists to her mouth.
Corry eyed her sister with displeasure. “I thought we were not going to mention that.”
“Corry, how can we ask his help without telling him the facts? She’s been promised a like thrashing every day, my lord, until she agrees to marry Mr. Boyston.”
Adam was white, even to his lips. He had seldom been so angry, and he could not remember before being speechless. He thought of the lithe form under that serviceable traveling costume. Her rounded derriere, showing its softness and appeal even through her heavy skirts, must now be marked by stripes and welts like a rebellious schoolboy. It was not to be borne.
He went to Cortland and knelt by her chair, taking her hands in his. He buried his face against her hands until he had regained some composure. Then he lifted his dark eyes to her amber ones, and smiled sweetly at her.
“I cannot tell you how honored I am you came to me, my dear. I will set things right.”
“Oh no, my lord, I do not ask that of you. I know my father has the right to discipline me, and it would be a scandal for you if you interfered. I only ask for a little help in getting away.”
“How did you get here?” he asked.
“We left too early for anyone to be about. We’ve been sitting under a tree in your garden for some hours, my lord.”
He shook his head in disbelief. The one thing he knew for sure was that he would never help her get away from him. Still he kept questioning, anxious to know what was in her agile mind.
“Might I ask what you plan?”
Corry took her hands from his and began to twist them in her lap.
“I have it all worked out. We will have to leave England, that’s certain. I have plenty of money available, if you’ll only get it from the Brownings. They will be more than willing to help, but I don’t want them in any trouble if I go to them directly. Aiding a runaway daughter would be a serious charge to them or anybody who tries to assist us. If you could help me acquire some of my own money, and find a ship that is sailing for the Americas, I can take over. Sarah and I will board ship as soon as possible and hide there until it sails. I don’t think my father will think to search all the ships in the harbor.”
She was silent for a moment when he did not speak, and then added, looking up at him with a desperate hope, but no certainty she could count on him.
“I had to come to you, you see. You are the only one I can think of who’d not suffer from helping us.”
Adam thought it was a far more sensible plan than he’d be able to formulate under the same circumstances. And through all her troubles she was still concerned about others. What a truly admirable girl. What a marchioness she would make, once he had secured her."
Guilty Secrets is on pre-order at Amazon now, and will go on regular sale at the all the usual places on March l. MuseItUp, Barnes and Noble, etc. My website, www/jeanhartstewart.com has more information and I"d love you to go there. "Til next month.......Jean