The female employees sat huddled together away from the fire on the opposite side of the street. The male employees, except a few who were injured while involved in the fight earlier, were assisting in fighting the fire. Marcus and Lance were two that had been hurt with knife cuts, and were being aided by Mrs. Kirby. She had ripped her petticoat to make bandages, after cleaning the wounds the best she could with water from a bucket.
"Ye'll be having t'find a doctor soon, for ye'll be needin some stitches. But 'twill do fer now," she said finishing up with the last of her patients.
"You're an angel of mercy, love!" said Marcus, with a wink at Mrs. Kirby, as he cradled his arm to ease the pain.
"Go on wi' ye!" she answered blushing, before she went to see how the ladies were doing.
Marcus and Lance relaxed against the brick building, but stayed alert to guard the strong box Karl had rescued from the safe, along with the various bags of cash and chips the dealers managed to grab from their tables before they escaped the fire.
"What do you think will happen to everyone?" Lance asked, as he looked over to where the ladies were sitting. He noticed a young gentleman was comforting Sally as she sat with her head on the man's shoulder.
"I guess they'll just have to make the best of it," Marcus shrugged, "From the stories I've listened to from the others, it isn't the first time they've faced misfortune."
"I know, that goes for me too. I don't know about you, but I have learned from my last downfall, and have been putting my money into investments . . . at least I have something to make a fresh start . . . maybe open my own business," Lance answered.
"I had the same thought in mind. I have enough put away in the bank to open my own tavern . . . would have liked to have opened an inn . . . that was my plan, if I had been able to keep working for Lilly," Marcus said.
They sat quietly, lost in their thoughts of the future, when Marcus with sudden inspiration, blurted out, "Bloody hell, we ought to open an inn together!"
"Think you would be able to work with a partner?" Lance said eagerly.
"Absolutely . . . don't you? We've gotten along working together so far, and I trust you to be responsible enough to kick in your share," Marcus answered, with a playful punch at Lance's arm.
Lance laughed, as the apprehension he had felt earlier drained from him. Excitedly, they began to plan their future.
"Mon Dieu!" Lilly whispered, viewing the fire from the carriage window, as they approached the St. James' area. She had a premonition since their arrival in Dover that something was wrong. Jacques hugged her tightly, feeling her anxiety. He felt, too, that the fire was located at or near their business.
The coachman pulled up and stopped at the edge of the crowd watching the fire. Jacques opened the carriage door, jumped out, then lowered the step, and helped Lilly descend. Turning to the driver, he said grimly, "Stay here with our luggage, Tim, we may be needing to leave again soon."
Holding Lilly's hand tightly, Jacques pushed his way passed the observers, until he found Karl talking to a group of men. The fire was under control now, and did not pose a threat to the other buildings in the area. Wiping his face with his handkerchief, Karl saw Jacques and Lilly coming toward him, and he stepped away from the group.
"Was anyone hurt?" Lilly asked anxiously.
"I haven't check to make sure, but I think everyone got out safely . . . there was enough time. It wasn't entirely an accident, it happened after a fight at one of the gaming tables . . . I think during the confusion, someone deliberately started the fire," Karl answered wearily.
Shaking his head, Jacques looked at the remnants of what once was a thriving business, and now nothing but ashes. He pulled Lilly closer, and kissed her forehead. She had worked so hard to become a success as a business woman in a man's world.
"Where are the others?" Jacques asked.
"Most of them moved out of the way, while the others were fighting the fire," Karl said, pointing to a group gathered across the street a few buildings away.
"I got the things out of the safe, Miss Lilly, and the men gathered the money from the tables before we left . . . at least you'll still have something."
"Bless you, Karl. I am just happy no one was trapped in there . . . how horrible that would have been!" she said with a shudder, as they walked toward the fatigued group.
Lilly was greeted with a mixture of gladness upon seeing her, and compassion for the disastrous end to what should have been a happy moment returning from her wedding. After finding out that Sarah had been hurt and taken to Lord Townsend's home, Lilly looked around and noticed a few others were gone. It was explained that Julie had left Sunday afternoon to go shopping, and as far as anyone knew, she had not returned and no one has seen her all evening, which was not unusual due to her irresponsibility, as she often took an evening off. Since there was nothing left here, Paul and Alan needed to find work, so they left for Brighton. Then Carla and Rose decided to go with them. Lilly nodded, hoping the four would find something since she no longer had work for them. She then looked around again at her employees.
"Where is Tony . . . and Barry?" she asked.
"Now, there's a surprise for you," Karl said. "It turned out that Tony is from a very wealthy family in Greece. He decided to go back there, and has taken Barry along with him as his . . . companion. All expenses paid. Tony said Barry would like the Greeks."
"You mean that Tony is . . . the same as Barry?" Lilly said after she recovered from the astonishing news that a wealthy young man had been working for her.
Karl shrugged, "It seems Tony likes them all . . . male or female."
Lilly nodded, then noticed the knowing glance exchanged between Karl and Jacques.
"You knew about them?" she asked Jacques.
"It was hardly a secret among the men, Lilly. After all, we were all housed on the same floor," Jacques answered.
"I see," she said thoughtfully, wondering how much more she did not know about her employees. She surveyed the remaining weary and disheveled crew.
"You poor dears, sitting out here as tired as you must be! We must get you to a hotel so you can get some rest. Jacques where should we take them?" Lilly asked, looking up at him expectantly, thankful to have him with her in this crisis.
"Pardon me, Madame, if I may be of service?" George said, as he stood at the back of the group with his arm around Sally.
Everyone turned to look at him with interest. George removed his arm from Sally's waist, cleared his throat and said, "I hope you won't think me intruding, but well . . . I would like to help," he said shyly, as he glanced at Sally. "My family has an estate that is up for sale. The property is about an hour's drive west, just off the road to Bristol. It's a small estate, twenty acres, but the manor house is quite large . . . large enough for all of you. It is vacant, no one is in it, but the house is furnished, and you can be assured of privacy as it is completely fenced and landscaped."
Lilly looked at the earnest young man, who undoubtedly belonged to the ton, and wondered if his father would approve of his son's admirable gesture.
"Would you step over here a moment, m'sieur?" she said smiling, as she held out her hand to lead him to a quiet spot away from the group. She glanced at Jacques, who winked in agreement of her discretion.
George knowing his face must be beet red, followed Lilly as she moved away.
"That is a very generous offer, m'sieur. But I wonder if your family would approve of our occupying one of their homes? You must know that we are not quite the type your parents would approve having as their tenants," she said quietly. Then after giving it some thought, Lilly added, "But if you could manage to arrange it, I certainly would insist on paying for the use, perhaps a lease on the property, if possible. It would solve our problems, at least, temporarily."
"I understand your concern about my family's approval, Madame, but my father has turned part of the management of our estates over to me, and this particular property is under my supervision. I see nothing wrong in leasing the property to you . . . if you insist on paying, then he could hardly complain if we finally gain a financial return on something that has been vacant for the past six months," George answered, feeling more confident. After all, he was a mature, married man now, not a mere lad fresh out of school, and eventually he will be Lord Penthill, inheriting all the estate holdings. It is time that he showed some authority.
"In that case, m'sieur, I would be pleased to lease your property! You have saved us, mon cher," Lilly said smiling as she touched his cheek causing him to blush.
"Well then, since we have an agreement, I will pick up the keys at my town house on Mount Street, and return within the half-hour, with a carriage, and my curricle, but you will probably need additional transportation."
"We have our carriage. I know most of the men have their own horses and curricles, but, if necessary, I will arrange for others while you are gone. You have been very kind, Mr . . . why, I do not even know your name!" Lilly said in embarrassment, knowing he surely must have been one of her customers.
"I beg your pardon, Madame. Forgive me for not introducing myself sooner. I'm the Honorable George Penthill, son and heir to Lord Samuel Penthill, Ninth Baron of Swynton," he said with a formal bow, taking her hand to his lips.
"It is a pleasure, and an honor to meet you, Mr. Penthill," Lilly said, surprised at the name. After a closer look, she could see the resemblance to his father, whom she had known for years. Lord Penthill had frequently visited the Casino she and her husband had owned in France, and patronized the ladies working for them. Lilly glanced over her shoulder at the others, then she leaned forward to whisper confidentially to George, "It might save you a disagreement with your father, if you tell Lord Penthill, that his very good friend, Lilly Monainge, sends fond regards to Sammy."
George looked at her with a startled expression, then laughed, shaking his head. "I would have never believed it of the old codger! He will definitely receive the message, and I thank you for giving me a bit of leverage," smiling he added, "Even my mother does not call him Sammy."
"My pleasure, and I am looking forward to having you as our landlord, m'sieur," Lilly said, as he turned to leave.
George glanced over at Sally watching him with her sweet dimpled smile, then turned back to Lilly.
"Believe me, not half as much as I am looking forward to having such lovely tenants," he said with one last look at Sally.
He briskly walked away to hasten the arrangements for their move to his property. His outlook on life had brightened from what it was earlier that evening. Now, he will have the delightful Sally in a place far away from the rogues who visit the gaming house.
Adam paced outside the door of the guest room where Sarah was being aided by the doctor and his housekeeper. He felt as if it had been hours instead of only forty-five minutes since the doctor had been in the room. As soon as he brought Sarah into the house, he had sent a message to his parents, hoping his mother would come over and lend respectability to Sarah being in his bachelor home.
Checking his watch again, he found only another five minutes had passed, and continued pacing, while reflecting on how brave Sarah had been through the whole ordeal. She did not go into hysterics or faint when they were cut off from the exits by the fire, no, she courageously stayed alert through her pain and the discomfort of the suffocating smoke, to help him find another way out. He had never known another woman like her. When he kissed her after fixing the sheet to ease her pain, he had wanted to continue with that kiss, even when he knew it was not the right time or place. He suspected she had felt the same, from the way she had looked at him, when their lips separated.
"Bloody hell! What's taking that doctor so long," he muttered, trying to focus his mind back to the present situation.
The door to the guest room opened behind him, at the same time the valet answered the front door at his mother's arrival.
"How is she?" Adam asked the doctor anxiously.
"Much better after getting that sheet off where it had stuck to the dried blood. Luckily, they were not deep wounds, just surface cuts. After cleaning the cuts, and putting some healing balm on her back, I gave her some laudanum to ease the pain. If you want to speak to her . . . do it now, she'll be falling asleep soon from the medication," he said with a smile, and a pat on Adam's shoulder, before heading for the stairway.
"Thank you, Doctor," Adam said with relief and entered the room. Sarah lay on her side, with the lightweight blanket just at her waistline. She had on one of Adam's loose fitting soft cotton night shirts. He thought his shirt never looked better than it did on this beautiful woman, with her auburn curls spread on the pillow.
Seeing him, Sarah smiled, self-consciously, and pulled the blanket above her chest to her throat, still leaving her back uncovered. She was beginning to feel sleepy but she wanted to thank Adam for all he had done. She reached her hand out to him.
He took her hand and raised it to his lips, kissing the fingers and then her palm, before sitting on the chair next to the bed.
"I'm so glad you're feeling better, Sarah darling," he said tenderly, and as soon as the word `darling' left his mouth, he realized that was how he felt about her. She was his darling Sarah, so unlike any other woman. He leaned forward and kissed her lips. She did not pull back but returned his kiss. Still holding her hand, he looked into her eyes searching for a sign that she returned his feelings.
His housekeeper hovering in the background, smiled with approval at the concern of her master for this lady, while she discreetly picked up the discarded sheets that had been removed from Sarah. When Adam's mother came into the room, she curtsied, and moved to the door to leave. Adam rose, and motioned his mother to sit in the chair.
"Oh Sarah, you poor dear! I had spoken to the doctor, and he told me what happened. From the message you sent, Adam, we hurried here as soon as possible. Your father dropped me off, and continued on to see if the fire was out, or to learn more details on how it started," she said, coming over to Sarah to make sure she was all right before sitting down.
"Well, I am damned sure it was started by Cranleigh. He is the one who did this to Sarah!" he said angrily.
"Lord Cranleigh? That odious man! Whatever had come over him to do such an outrageous act? To his own relative, too! He should be punished for such vile cruelty," Lady Lyndmere said, appalled at the disclosure.
Calming down again, Adam remembered that Cranleigh had received the ultimate punishment for his act of cruelty.
"Cranleigh's no longer a threat to Sarah, now, Mother, he died in the fire," he answered grimly.
"Oh my!" she gasped, leaning back in the chair.
Sarah, vaguely heard their conversation, as she became drowsy, and could no longer keep her eyes open. She had heard Adam call her darling, and he kissed her. The horror of the fire, and the pain she suffered diminished, leaving only pleasant thoughts of Adam's kiss and his silver-grey eyes, as she drifted off to sleep.
Adam glanced at the sleeping Sarah, and rang for the housekeeper. Then taking his mother by the arm, helped her from the chair and escorted her out of the room. When the door was closed, he asked his mother to go on to the parlor while he waited to instruct the housekeeper to sit with Sarah.
After his mother went downstairs, he re-entered the room. Quietly walking to the bed, he smiled down at Sarah before reaching out to lift the curls that had fallen over her face. He could smell the faint scent of smoke that lingered in her hair as he bent to gently kiss her forehead. He decided that this was the woman he would marry, and spend the rest of his life with . . . if only he could convince her to give up her independence, and let him take care of her.
Adam and his mother were having tea and a light repast, when his father arrived. After joining them, Lord Lyndmere informed his son, that the fire was out, and the three men who had caused the fire were caught before getting away. They had confessed to being hired by Cranleigh, and the Bow Street Runners were looking for the Earl.
"They can stop looking, he died in the fire," Adam answered wearily.
"Oh . . . you do not know!" his mother said, at the surprised look on her husband's face. "The Earl is the one that had hurt poor Sarah."
Lord Lyndmere shook his head in disgust, "I never did like that man! It is just as well he ended that way, rather than swinging on the gallows, after a long and scandalous trial involving Sarah."
Adam nodded in agreement. That was one thing Sarah did not need was exposure at a court trial, which would have surely revealed where she worked. Yawning and stretching, he rose from his chair, recalling what a long active night it had been, and it was taking its toll on his body.
"Will you be staying here tonight? You know your room is always available," he asked his father. "I would like Mother to stay to lend countenance to Sarah's being in a bachelor home."
Lord Lyndmere shrugged, "I might as well, no use making the trip back to Kensington. There's to be a vote at the House of Lords tomorrow . . . I mean today . . . Good God, it is daylight already?" he said as he looked toward the window, then at his watch.
Walking up the stairs to their rooms, Adam asked his father if he had heard anything about the employees who were stranded by the fire.
His father chuckled, "By Jove, I did . . . you know your friend George Penthill? Well, he must have been a trifle bosky, for it seems he had offered that whole group the use of an estate his family has up for sale. You can imagine what his father will say to that shatterbrained idea!"
"How can you say that, dear?" Lady Lyndmere injected, "That was generous of George to help those poor souls who were burned out of their home. Stranded without anywhere to stay, and only the clothes on their backs."
Adam smiled to himself as he envisioned his shy friend, George, stepping
forward to make that offer to Lilly. He knew that George would have only
one person in mind when he made that offer . . . the lovely, curvaceous
* * * *
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