Excerpt from The Rogue's Return
"A terrific, sometimes wickedly sensual love story." Joan Hammond, Romantic Times.
"...this is a terrific read and one I thoroughly enjoyed." Cheryl Sneed, All About Romance.
"Beverley beautifully blends complex characters, an exquisitely sensual love story, and a refreshingly different setting into one sublime romance." John Charles, Booklist.
Simon St. Bride traveled to Upper Canada in 1812, accidentally in time to help fight off the invading Americans. He stayed to help the Indian tribes who had fought on the British side, win what they'd been promised. It's an affliction in his blood -- a need to champion lost causes. It's been four years, however, and it's time to go home. In any case, he has evidence of fraud and other crimes and can fight those battles better back in England. After all, the St. Brides of Brideswell are a well-respected family, and he's a relative of the Earl of Marlowe. In addition, in England he can call upon the power and influence of his friends in the Company of Rogues.
Chapter TwoWhy the devil did people duel at dawn? In greatcoat, hat and gloves, Simon paced to keep warm. He glanced to where heavy clouds seemed to be weighing down the rising sun, wondering if rain or even sleet would halt the affair entirely. No one could risk damp powder.
No birds sang. Not even a dog barked. The only sound was the constant muffled moan of the great forest. Simon didn't usually notice it anymore, but he remembered how it had struck him when first here. White men found it foreboding, but for the Indians it was the music of home.
He supposed the early hour was to avoid the authorities. Pointless here, where lawyers and military officers were as likely to duel as anyone.
No wonder McArthur had hit upon this way of getting rid of him. A sprig of the aristocracy shot in a duel over a woman. Unfortunate, but not outrageous. It gave Simon satisfaction to know that whatever happened, this duel would never be seen as trivial.
And he hoped McArthur was choking on it.
He looked to where his opponent was also pacing and couldn't read any expression. The man was brave and bold enough, he'd grant him that. But a villain. Greed had driven him to fraud, theft, and though Simon couldn't prove it, murder.
Delahaye and Norton were meticulously settling the last details. At a distance, Playter, the garrison surgeon, stood hunched and disapproving, his wide-brimmed hat pulled well down, a woolen muffler wrapped twice around his neck. He'd greeted everyone with a curt, "Damn folly!" then taken himself and his ominous dark bag aside.
The seconds paced off the distance then marked the firing lines with short lengths of rope. Come on, come on, Sim thought. Let's get it over, live or die. But the proper procedures were important or someone might hang for murder, even including the seconds.
Norton and Delahaye went to one side to inspect and load the pistols. In the end they'd agreed to use a set of dueling pistols borrowed from someone else. No advantage to either and theoretically more accurate, but guns were unpredictable. Norton was loading Simon's. He hoped the man would take sufficient care.
Seeking calm, Simon turned to face the distant grayness of Lake Ontario. It didn't help. The lake was so huge that it could be the sea -- it even had its own navy. But it wasn't. Abruptly it mattered that he might die so far from the North Sea, which he'd been able to look out on from his bedroom window at Brideswell. Where he'd spent idyllic summers out in boats. That smelled of salt, which this freshwater lake did not.
In wartime, caught up in urgent purpose, he'd not pined about where and how he'd die, but now it threatened to distress him.
Come on, come on. Get on with it.
He heard someone approach and turned. Norton with the pistol in his hand. Simon's heart started to pound as it had before facing an onslaught, so as he stripped off his gloves and coat, he did as he'd learned to do and took steadying breaths.
His heart rate wasn’t fast from fear, but intensity could make the hands shake.
He handed his clothing to Norton, taking the pistol in exchange. Steadiness returned. He walked to take his place, concentrating on the justice of his cause and on the absolute necessity of returning safely to his family.
Would McArthur shoot to kill?
Which meant he should.
But he knew he couldn't. He'd aim high, hoping to hit the shoulder and put an end to it that way.
He presented his side, the narrowest target, murmuring under his breath, Ademar aidez-moi. It was a habit he'd formed during the war and as always it brought the cool detachment he needed.
Delahaye was to give the count -- one, two, three -- then drop a handkerchief. That was so that the duelists would have to watch him, not concentrate on aim.
Simon cocked the pistol and raised it.
He took steady aim on McArthur's upper torso.
He looked to Delahaye....
“Stop! Stop, I say!"
Simon whirled to the voice, feeling the ball whistle by him.
With the noise still shaking the air and smoke curling from McArthur's gun, everyone turned shocked fury on Jane Otterburn, running across the frosty field, skirts hiked up to her knees, hair flying loose.
Simon was tempted to shoot her out of pure fury. "Jane, go home."
"No! Uncle Isaiah-" She stopped to heave in a breath. "An accident. He's dying, Simon. He wants you."
She wore her usual dark dress and cloak, but her red-gold hair rioted loose down to her waist, shocking in its magnificent wildness.
She sucked in more breaths. "Come on! You men can kill one another tomorrow."
After a numb moment, Simon gave his pistol to Norton and strode off.
"My God," McArthur protested, "you shan't slide out of it like this, you coward. I'll have you horse-whipped!"
Simon wheeled on him. "I'll fight you tomorrow, McArthur, and kill you tomorrow. With pleasure. Now, I attend my friend."
He began to run toward his horse. He became aware of Jane only from gasping breaths and slowed. "What happened?"
"He… shot himself." She was still breathing hard, a hand on her side. "He heard about the duel... Wanted to fight in your place. A pistol. Something went wrong."
"Old fool." Simon wanted to howl it. Damn it all to Hades!
He could hardly pick out his horse from the others because tears were blurring his vision. Isaiah couldn't be dying. He turned to glare at Jane, loathing the bearer of bad news, but he couldn't abandon her here. "Can you ride behind?"
She looked up at the horse. "I never have." But then she firmly added, "Of course."
He mounted then helped her up behind him. With a struggle, she got a leg over to sit astride, not seeming to care that she was showing her knees. But then, she'd not cared about that as she ran across the field to stop the duel.
What had happened to the quiet nun?
He felt her hesitation before she put her arms around him, but when she did, she held on tight. Once she was secure he urged the horse to speed toward the town. They'd be there in minutes, but had Jane run all the way, skirts up, hair down?
And why her? Why had she brought the news?
He felt as if his entire world had been shaken up and spilled in pieces. Was the duel over? Was he shot and hallucinating? But everything -- sharp air, pounding hooves, arms clutching -- was absolutely real.
He drew up in front of Trewitt House, swung off and helped Jane down. Abandoning Hereward to the gathering crowd, he ran into the building, only realizing as they entered that he was hand in hand with her.
He let her go.
There were people inside the house, too -- probably anyone who thought they had an excuse to get close to the drama -- so he had to push his way through. As he was recognized a way parted and he was soon in Isaiah's office. It stank of blood.
His friend lay on the floor, perhaps where he'd been found, his head on a pillow, his raw-boned body covered by a blood-drenched blanket. The wound was clearly somewhere in the lower torso, and that demolished hope. No one survived a belly wound.
Doctor Baldwin, Isaiah's neighbor and friend, was kneeling by his side. He looked up and shook his head before Simon could ask the hopeless question. Simon fell to his knees on the other side. Isaiah was conscious but looked glazed.
"I've given him opium," Baldwin said quietly. "It's all I can do. Blood loss will get him soon and it'll be a mercy."
Simon knew about belly wounds, how they could take days to bring an excruciating death from infection. He took his friend's big hand; the hand of a sea carpenter, trapper, and adventurer that hadn't been softened by a decade as a merchant.
"I'm very angry with you," he said.
"Angry with you. My fight. Dying now," he added without apparent concern. Opium could be a blessing. But then he frowned. "Need to take care of Jane."
Simon squeezed his hand. "I'll do that. Don't worry."
Simon's mind froze.
"No!" Jane knelt beside the doctor. "Uncle Isaiah-."
"Got no one," Isaiah said, his eyes on Simon, and obviously staying open only with effort. "And this trouble.... Can't die easy, Simon."
It was pure blackmail. Isaiah Trewitt had always gone after what he wanted, using every weapon, legal and illegal, and a drift toward an opium-veiled death hadn't changed that. Simon knew that if he debated and delayed Isaiah might die before he made the promise, but what sort of gratitude was that to a man whose guidance had probably saved Simon's life many times over?
"Of course." For the listeners he added, "Jane and I were intending to ask your blessing anyway."
He flashed her a look, commanding that she not argue. Her eyes were huge and dark with shock, but then she lowered her head to look at her uncle. Tears leaked down her cheeks to splash darkly on her gray bodice. Her hair trailed loose around her and she still wore her dark blue cloak.
She resembled a mourning Madonna.
Painted by Rafael, perhaps.
Simon jerked out of tangled thoughts and met Isaiah's eyes. They were attempting a ferocious glare but only looked piteous.
"Now, Simon. Want... want to witness it." His eyelids conquered his will and closed, but he whispered again, "Now.”
This book can be read alone, but it is part of the Company of Rogue's series, which has been in process for sixteen years. The main series will finally complete in January 2007 with the story of Lord Darius Debenham. Those of you waiting anxiously for Dare's story will be glad to see him at the end of The Rogue's Return. Those of you wanting completion of Hal and Blanche's story will be glad to see Hal in TRR. Even when all the surviving Rogues are married, however, the world will live on, for it is a world, full of interesting people, some of whom will fall in love.
Read more about the Company of Rogues by clicking here.
An annotated list of the books is here.
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