Adam listened half attentively while George complained of his married life of two days. He could not believe the difference in a woman's attitude before and after marriage. George and Melinda were married Saturday morning, and now tonight, Monday, he was already disenchanted. His new bride thought conjugation was vulgar, and already complained of headaches to avoid him the second night.
Taking another sip of his brandy, Adam nodded distractedly, while his mind was on Sarah. He hadn't seen her at all, since last Monday. It's been a week now, and she has been in his thoughts constantly. He wondered if she stayed away from the gambling area and the men. Especially the men in the group that was with her at the balloon ascension. They seemed too friendly, and just the thought of it annoyed him as he remembered the way they had looked at her. He took another sip of his brandy to erase that thought, and tried concentrating on George's litany.
"Why don't you take her on a honeymoon, Georgie? She probably needs a little romance," Adam asked, after he found a break in George's long-winded grievance.
"We planned a honeymoon to the Greek Isles, but we were unable to consider it for another two months. My father insisted I stay to help with the estate business before we left on our tour," George answered.
"It would have been better to plan the wedding at that time, would it not?" Adam inquired.
"Bloody Hell, I would have waited a year, if it was up to me! Melinda insisted, because of her relatives being in town at this time, and her grandmother couldn't make the trip again," George grumbled, picking up his glass to finished off his drink then motioned for the waiter for another. He had been drinking steadily since he came in this evening.
"I say, Adam, do you think it's too soon for me to take a mistress? Some of my friends have had the same mistress for years . . . before and after they were shackled. I know I would have never let such a thing enter my mind before I married, mainly because I was afraid I would lose Melinda, but after you took me to meet Sally, well . . . I began to have second thoughts about the prospects. I really never thanked you for that introduction to Sally, and the fine time I had that night!" he grinned sheepishly.
"Maybe you should stick to just visiting Sally, instead of contemplating the expense of a mistress, Georgie. At least, until after you inherit your title. You would have a hard time explaining the excess financial output on your quarterly allowance," Adam chuckled.
George nodded in agreement. "Very wise, Adam, very wise, indeed! I can afford the occasional trip to see Sally, but you're right, I wasn't thinking of the expense it takes for a mistress . . . setting her up in a love nest, hiring servants . . . paying her modiste bills . . ."
"Do not forget the lovely pieces of jewelry you must give her as gifts," Adam added with amusement.
"Of course, that too! Why, it is almost like having a second wife!" George shook his head in amazement, never having given much thought to what it involved.
"Ah, but the best part of a mistress is . . . she is yours to command, and to pleasure your every need. Then if you grow tired of her . . . or see someone else you are attracted to, then she is handed her conge . . . something you cannot do with a wife!" Adam answered, while thinking to himself, that the one thing a mistress cannot do, is give you a legitimate heir to your title and estates. Once again his thoughts returned to Sarah.
After taking another swallow of his brandy, George leaned forward and touched Adam's sleeve. In a confidential manner he said in a low voice. "I'll tell you a secret."
Adam smiled at his friend's serious expression, "If you want to tell me, I will keep your secret," he promised.
George cautiously looked around, then said, "After that night you took me to see Sally, I went back again the following two nights . . . to get in practice for my wedding night, of course . . . then I went to see Sally again three nights ago, the night before my wedding. I really do like that chit, Adam . . . no . . . 'tis more than just like . . . besotted would be the word. She is so full of life, passion . . . and gaiety . . . not like Melinda. Melinda is serious and sensitive, and will no doubt be a good mother to my heirs. But, after meeting Sally, I know there is something more I want. I have always been serious . . . like Melinda . . . well, you know how I am, but lately, especially now that I 'm married, I feel I have missed part of what life had to offer. Do you understand?"
Adam looked into George's eyes that pleaded for understanding, and wondered if he had not done his friend a disservice by taking him to Lilly's place and introducing him to that kind of life's excitement. George had always been happy and content with his lot in life. Sometimes Adam had even envied his friend's peaceful existence. Now, it was gone, and in its place was a man awakening to a life that will offer him pain, and discontentment in the future.
"I understand, Georgie, but I think you should know that . . ." Adam broke off in mid-sentence, as he noticed a commotion near the entrance. Men were hurrying to exit the building, and as an acquaintance passed him, he stopped him with a gesture.
"Lord Ashley, What's happening?" Adam asked.
"There was a mill at that new gaming hell on Jermyn Street, and a fire accidently started. Suppose to be burning out of control," he answered as he hurried toward the door.
"Oh God . . . Sarah! She's on the third floor!" Adam moved quickly, shoving past the others as he rushed to get to Lilly's place.
George was not far behind him, though inebriated as he was, his thoughts focused on Sally, and her safety. He sobered quickly as he followed Adam out into the cool evening.
The noise from downstairs had awakened Sarah. She lifted up onto
an elbow and listened in confusion as to its cause. Slowly she got out
of bed, lit the candle on the bedside table, and reached for her robe.
Sleepily Sarah stumbled toward the door, as she slipped her arms into the
robe. When she opened the door, and peered out into the hallway, she could
hear a loud commotion coming from the gaming room below. Sarah cautiously
made her way toward the front stairway to investigate. She began to smell
smoke as she grew nearer to the stairs. Fire! There's a fire that is
causing the commotion! She froze in her steps deciding what to do,
then glancing down at her robe, she turned and ran back to her room to
The Earl of Cranleigh paused partway up the staircase, to remove the fake mustache and goatee, then looked back at the pandemonium in the gaming room. The fire, caused from the candles in the wall sconces that had been deliberately thrown against the tapestries, had taken hold, and the flames were swiftly spreading up the wall. The screams from the women, and the shouts from the employees trying to put out the fire were combined with the panic cries from the customers trying to escape the room.
Cranleigh smiled at the chaos he had caused by arranging two of his
men to feign an argument and fight on one side by the gaming tables, creating
a distraction while a third man started the fire at the other side of the
room. Satisfied with the results, he continued up the stairs to the third
floor where his informant reported Sarah had her room and office.
Sarah had removed her nightgown and slipped on her chemise. She had picked up the dress when she heard a noise behind her. Clutching the dress in front of her, she turned and saw her cousin, the Earl of Cranleigh, standing in the doorway.
"Good evening, my dear. You have given me a most exasperating time in trying to locate you," he sneered.
"How did you find me?" she asked, hoping he would not say it was Lord Townsend that had given him her location.
"Sir Vincent had offered the information, for a price," he shrugged, then laughed, "Sir Vincent finally gave me what I wanted, thinking I would pay. Instead he paid for his mistake . . . permanently. No one blackmails me!"
"What do you want?" Sarah asked, wondering what he had done to Sir Vincent, while she frantically scanned the room to find a way past him.
"What I want is to see you punished. Why did you run away from me? You were to be mine, the mother of my child, the new heir, when I could rid myself of that maniac, Bertie, and have him committed. Do you realize the plans you have ruined, when you came here and degraded yourself? Now you are defiled, no longer the pure virgin I craved. Ruined! Everything's Ruined!" he said angrily, as he walked toward her.
Sarah backed away in fear, as she looked into his eyes that burned with hatred, and wishing that she had a pistol like Beth's for protection.
"No, No your wrong! You wanted me to marry your son, and I did not want to, that is why I ran away," she said trying to reason with him.
"I wanted you to marry Bertie, but you were to belong to me!" he growled and steps nearer.
"No, please, leave me alone," she pleaded, retreating further, until she felt her back against the bedpost.
"Just where I want you," he smiled, as he slapped her hard across the face.
The swift movement stunned Sarah, she felt the sharp pain on the side of her face, and her legs gave out. Dazed she tried to get her balance, by grabbing the bedpost. Before she recovered, he had hold of her wrist while removing a rope from his coat pocket, and swiftly tied her to the post, facing it, with her wrists bound to the post. Grabbing the linen chemise at the neckline, Cranleigh gave a quick yank, ripping it down the back, leaving her naked with the remnants of her chemise hanging from her arms.
Sarah screamed in terror, fearing what he might do.
"You can scream all you like, slut, no one will hear you over the commotion below," he laughed. "I intend to exact my revenge on you before you die. Every flail will give me pleasure and you pain. You will be punished for coming to this place of harlots." He then reached in his pocket again, and removed a folded leather razor strop. Carefully he let out the length and felt the sturdiness of it, before clasping the ringed end.
Sarah braced herself not knowing what to expect, until the leather slapped hard against her buttocks. Her body arched, as she gasped on an intake of breath, leaving her stunned and unable to continue breathing. The sharp pain that seared through her, and up her spine, caused her to gain her breath enough to let out an agonizing scream, as another stroke slashed across her back and shoulder, cutting into the flesh; then another, and another, until her back felt like a sheet of fire, as her knees buckled, and she slouched against the post, in a semiconscious state.
Adam could see the flames before he reached the front of the building. Knowing it was useless to try and enter that way, he ran around to the back entrance. The fire hadn't advanced to this area yet, but the smoke was pouring out the doorway choking the people staggering blindly through it to get out of building. Adam untied his cravat and wrapped it across his nose and mouth, then shielded his eyes with his arm as he went in and up the back stairs.
Reaching the third floor, he opened the door to the hallway. The smoke had just begun to cover the area. He stooped down to get below the level of the smoke and made his way down the hall toward Sarah's room.
Adam heard the anguish screams as he reached her door. He gasped in shock at the sight of Sarah tied to the post, her back bared, revealing red welts on her white skin, and blood oozing where the strap had cut into the flesh.
With a howl of rage, Adam leaped at the man who was beating Sarah. The man turned in surprise. When Adam realized he was the Earl of Cranleigh and Sarah's cousin, he became infuriated. He ripped the strap from Cranleigh's hand, punched him in the stomach, then the jaw, with such force, Cranleigh slumped to the floor and lay motionless.
Adam quickly moved to undo the rope from Sarah's wrists, and gently turned her around. He winced when he saw the red mark of a hand-print on her cheek.
"Sarah, darling, can you move?" Adam asked tenderly. When she nodded, he breathed a sigh of relief.
"We have to get out of here, while we can," he looked toward the door at the smoke billowing.
Sarah began coughing as the smoke grew thicker. Adam took his handkerchief from his pocket to tie around her head, covering her nose and mouth.
Rushing to the bed and hurriedly tossed the covers off, Adam grabbed both sheets. Wadding them together in a pile on the bed, he then moved to the table to retrieve the pitcher of water to pour on the sheets. Taking the wet sheets, Adam gently draped one over Sarah, in a hooded cloak fashion, carefully laying it on her back wounds, and the other he wrapped around himself.
"Come, we need to leave," he said, as he took her arm and headed for the door. Reaching the hallway, he turned toward the back stairs. They had gone only a few yards when the heat and smoke increased in density from the stairwell.
"We can't get out that way! Is there another exit beside this and the one in front?" he said coughing and squinted through burning eyes to look around.
"S-Stairs . . . Lilly's room" she coughed, pointing back in the other direction. They got down closer to the floor, feeling their way along the wall toward Lilly's suite. When they were almost even with Sarah's door again, they heard a shout, and watched as Cranleigh staggered out and then rush blindly through the smoke toward the front stairs.
"No! Stop! You can't get out that way!" Adam yelled, but it was too late.
They heard his scream and a crash as the weakened stairs collapsed with his weight.
Stunned, they stared at the space where the stairs had been, watching sparks and pieces of wood shooting up, followed by a burst of flames.
"Hurry. We got to get out!" he cried, as he took Sarah's hand and continued toward the door to Lilly's suite. Feeling along the wall he came to the door, finding it locked he stepped back, and with his foot, he kicked hard near the lock, then with his shoulder he shoved against the door with his hand on the door knob. He repeated the process again and the door broke free of the lock. Adam pulled Sarah inside and closed the door again to keep the smoke out.
"The staircase is behind that cabinet . . . but it's locked too!" she said frantically.
Adam picked up a poker by the fireplace and jimmied the lock, until the door opened. Sarah stepped forward and pushed the side panel. The cabinet swung out, and she pushed the panel on the wall to reveal the passage. They could feel the heat coming through the opening, but there was no smoke or fire. Taking the candle from the mantle, Adam lit it and started down the steps, with Sarah behind him.
"Wait! I may need that poker when we reach the bottom if there is another locked door," he said as he went up the few steps to retrieve the poker.
"We're lucky the walls here are made of brick instead of wood," he said.
They hurried down the stairs, past the observation room area, until the stairs turned to the right, away from the main part of the building where the fire had started, and continued on down at an angle to the first floor and a door. The door had an iron bar slid through an iron ring for a latch. Handing the candle to Sarah, he dropped the poker and then slid the bar out. Adam pulled the heavy door open, and a burst of cool air hit him in the face. He breathed in deeply, then taking Sarah's hand, they went out onto a narrow path which lead to an alleyway alongside the neighboring building. They did not stop until they were away from the burning building. Reaching a safe area, they sat down on a stone step to recover their breath and renew their energy.
Sarah started to lean back against the building, and a sharp burning pain shot through her. The shock of the fire and the frantic race to escape, had numbed her to the pain of her back wounds from the lashing. She let out a sharp cry. The sheet had dried and stuck to the lacerations.
"Don't move, let me help you," Adam said gently, as he tried to ease the sheet away, but it caused her to cry out again. He took her by the arms and lifted her slowly into a standing position, and taking hold of the bottom of the sheet he raised it higher in order to tie it around her hips to take the weight off the area adhering to the wound. Seeing her bare legs as he lifted the sheet, Adam remembered that under the sheet she had nothing on but a torn chemise. Readjusting the sheet he tied it loosely to cover more of her body. Taking the sheet he had used, he draped it over the other, to protect her from curious eyes until they were safely away from the area.
Sarah bit her lip, trying to keep from crying out, as she watched Adam tie the sheet. She was so thankful he had come to her rescue, that her indecency did not enter her mind. Noticing his consideration as he attempted to lessen her pain, Sarah wanted to reach out and hug him.
"This should do, until we get you to a doctor," he said, when he finished. His eyes met hers, and seeing that look of pain in those shimmering, tearful green eyes, Adam, without further thought, bent down and gently kissed her mouth, and then softly touched his lips to her bruised cheek wishing he could kiss away her suffering.
"We will have to find a hackney," he said hoarsely. Carefully taking her by the elbow, Adam led Sarah to the street in the opposite direction away from the crowd avidly watching the scores of men laboriously working to contain the fire.
When he caught sight of George with Sally, Adam managed to convey to him, over the noise, that he was taking Sarah to his home.
Luckily, Adam found a hackney as soon as they cleared the congested area, and after helping Sarah in, he directed the driver to his London town house.
Adam braced Sarah against him, to keep her wounds from touching the seat. He felt her fingernails dig into his forearm that she held, whenever the coach hit an extra rough spot in the street. Adam kissed the top of her head leaning against his shoulder.
"It won't be long now, we're almost there, and I'll send someone to get the doctor," he said softly by her ear.
"Th . . . thank you . . . for sa..saving me," Sarah murmured against his coat.
"Oh God, Sarah" he breathed in a low voice. "It's my fault that you were still there. I should have insisted that you leave last week. I would have never forgiven myself if anything had happened to you. And Cranleigh! If he had not died in the fire, I would have killed him myself after this was over," he muttered angrily.
"It . . . it's not your fault. The fire was an . . . an accident. The Earl . . . I don't understand why he did this," she said between gritted teeth, as they hit another bump in the road.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the fire wasn't planned by Cranleigh," he growled.
"I...I thought you had told him where to find me . . . but it was Sir Vincent . . . tried to blackmail him," she said.
"I would never tell anyone you were there! Not when I tried to protect you from others finding out," Adam said offended.
"You say Sir Vincent was blackmailing him? Was he the one you found cheating?" he asked after considering the rest of her remark. When she nodded, he continued softly, "Sir Vincent is dead, Sarah. He was found murdered in Hyde Park Wednesday morning. No doubt with Cranleigh's assistance."
With a gasp, she clutched his arm tightly.
"Lord Cranleigh said Sir Vincent has paid permanently for his blackmailing," she said trembling.
"And Cranleigh has paid for his vileness," Adam muttered, wishing he had given Cranleigh back some of the pain he had caused Sarah before he died in the fire.
"Do you think everyone got out safely?" Sarah asked, when she thought of all the others that had been downstairs when it happened.
"I'm sure they did. The fire had already started when I was at White's, so they had plenty of time, since it was only beginning to get out of control, when I got here," he answered.
"Poor Lilly, she doesn't even know yet. She was due back tonight. She and Jacques went to France to get married . . . now there is nothing here when she returns," Sarah said sadly.
* * * *
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