Adam had taken the well-sprung traveling coach because he was concerned about Sarah's back, wanting her to be comfortable, but the drive to the estate seemed unusually long to Adam, with Sarah's silence, and wondered if she was contemplating her decision to leave London.
He should propose to her right now, but the words would invariably stick in his throat, when he remembered all that George had said, after being married only two days. Then the thought of being permanently leg-shackled with his freedom gone forever put more doubts into his mind. Were his feelings for Sarah strong enough to erase those doubts? He cared for her more than he has ever cared for any other woman, since Portugal. Her kisses had stirred him passionately, and he loved the way she felt in his arms, he thought observing her now, as she stared out the window. Remembering how her auburn tresses looked spread on the pillow, and her green eyes when she gazed into his . . . he felt he could drown in her green eyes.
Adam sighed, and leaned his head back against the velvet squabs. He wished his friend Roger were here to discuss this with him. Damn him for going to America! Damn that promise! If it wasn't for Roger, and that promise, I would never be in this situation. He thought closing his eyes.
When they reached the outskirts of a nearby village to the estate, they turned on a narrow country lane. A few kilometers later they reached the gates of the property. The coachman stopped, and the footman jumped down to open the gate.
Sarah had been deep in thought the whole trip and was surprised when they had stopped. Her mind had been in a state of confusion since Adam had kissed her the night before. She thought that he had really cared for her as a woman, then this morning he had returned to his usual casual, friendly demeanor. She could not live in close proximity with him, not knowing how he felt, and hoped Lilly would let her stay here with the others. Sarah leaned her head out the window to view the Tudor house, with a circular driveway in front, surrounded by attractive landscaped grounds.
"It is lovely!" Sarah exclaimed.
"I am glad to see that you have returned from your wool-gathering," Adam teased with a smile.
"Oh! I...I'm sorry, you are right . . . I was deep in thought," Sarah said, blushing when she realized that she had hardly said anything while they were traveling.
Adam reached out and took Sarah's hand, raising it to his lips, then meeting her eyes above their hands.
"I hope part of that thinking was devoted to accepting my Mother's offer to stay with her. You know you do not have to worry about your security. Sarah . . . I want you to . . . ," he paused, squeezed her hand, then let it drop. He froze when the words of marriage came to his lips. Damn! What is the matter with me? "....I want you to know that you will always be welcome at my parents home," Adam concluded so lamely that it sounded hollow even to himself.
The carriage went through the gate, and the footman jumped on back as it continued up the driveway.
Sarah wondered what had happened to him. Adam had taken her hand, while looking at her with such warmth in his smile and his silver grey eyes, reminding her of the way he looked at her last night. Suddenly Adam's smile had faded, the look of warmth changed to confusion, and his manner became indifferent. Sarah was relieved that they had finally arrived at their destination.
Having completed their negotiations for the purchase of the house with George Penthill, Lilly and Jacques joined the others where they were relaxing in the large formal parlor.
"Everyone, may I have your attention?" Lilly said, raising her voice over the laughter and conversation in the room. "Jacques and I have just purchased this lovely estate," she paused at the exclamations and congratulations.
"We just want to assure you, that all of you will have a place to stay until we are able to rebuild the Jermyn Street building. Hopefully, that should be less than a year. But if any of you feel you need to seek employment elsewhere, you know we wish you well in whatever you decide. Until then, please consider this your home," Lilly finished looking into Jacques's eyes, as he stood beside her, smiling in agreement to her words.
They were beleaguered by a flurry of questions while off to the side, Lance and Marcus came to a quick whispered agreement.
"Now that you and Jacques are the owners, would both of you consider leasing a piece of land? Lance and I have decided to open a tavern, and eventually, an inn. We were out riding this morning, and discovered that the far corner property line meets the main road that runs between London and Bristol. We would like to lease that portion of land from you, and build our place there. Maybe later, when business brings in a good income, we might be able to buy the land, if you would be willing to sell by that time," he said, and Lance nodded in confirmation. Both waited eagerly for Lilly and Jacques's reply.
Lilly needed only to look at Jacques, to know that whatever she decided he would agree, and she believed this would be good for Marcus and Lance, also the lease would bring in added income for her and Jacques. No doubt they would also use some of the others as their employees, to ease that problem.
"It sounds like a very good plan, Marcus. When do you plan to start?" Lilly asked.
"Now!" Marcus and Lance answered in chorus, creating an outburst of applaud and laughter.
"Enrique, do you think you could find us a bottle of champagne to celebrate?" Lilly asked.
Nodding, Enrique turned to leave on his search of the kitchen, when George stepped forward pulling a ring of keys out of his pocket.
"Just a moment, my good man," George said to Enrique, then turned to Lilly.
"You reminded me, Madame, the keys to the estate . . . and there is a key on the ring for the wine cellar. I have not looked in it lately, but I do believe you will find bottles of assorted liquors of very good vintage still there, as I recall," George said smiling, handing her the keys. "Also, when the solicitor brings the sale documents tomorrow, if you would like, I will have him draw up the papers for a partial lease of land, with option to buy."
"You are very kind, mon cher. I am sure these gentlemen are anxious to get started with their new business," Lilly said smiling.
"It is my pleasure," George assured her, then returned his attention to Sally. He led her to an alcove, and asked her about her plans.
Shrugging, Sally confessed she had no plans, now that they were without a place to work.
"Maybe I will see if Marcus and Lance could use me in their new place," she said.
"No!" George cried emphatically, horrified that she would be subjected to the advances of any nefarious scoundrel who would patronize a tavern.
Seeing the look of surprise on Sally's face at his outburst, he took her hands, saying gently, "My dearest, Sally . . . I had hoped when you came here that I would be able to see you often because of being your landlord. Now that it is sold . . . I have no excuse for visits. I cannot in good conscience see you working in a place that will bring you in . . . uh . . . contact with the most scurrilous rogues," George paused, and he could see that she had not thought of those possibilities, then he plunged ahead with what was foremost on his mind.
"You know that I am married now, but I find that I do not want to let you go . . . I care too much. You bring sunshine into my life that I will never find at home. Do you think you might consider accepting my . . . my protection, and let me take care of you? I will find a place in London for us, with servants, and see to all your needs. You will never want for anything, or ever have to . . . to . . . accept strange men in your bed again," he concluded, looking at her anxiously.
By the time he had finished, Sally had tears streaming down her cheeks. Never has any man been so kind, and sweet as George had been to her. He had just given her the opportunity to have a place of her own without worry of financial security, and she knew that even if he tired of her later, he would make sure she still had that security.
"Oh, George! Yes . . . yes . . . yes! I would love for you to take care of me," Sally said enthusiastically, throwing her arms around his neck, and kissing him in her eagerness.
Adam and Sarah had entered the parlor at that time, and with surprise, took in the carefree, happy gathering, laughing and celebrating with champagne. This was definitely not the disheartened group that they had expected to encounter after losing everything in a fire.
"I see you are taking your recent misfortune very well," Adam said, when the group noticed their arrival.
"Sarah! We had heard you were injured and been taken to Lord Townsend's home. We did not expect you to be about so soon! Are you sure you are feeling all right?" Lilly said, with concern, as she rushed to greet them.
"Well, yes . . . my back was hurt, but it is getting better. The doctor was very good," Sarah said embarrassed. She felt ashamed that it was her own cousin who had done this to her.
"I am so glad. Some of the others had slight injuries, but everyone escaped which is a blessing," Lilly said, taking Sarah's arm to lead her to a chair.
"What are you celebrating?" Adam asked curiously, as he noticed Sally and George entwined in an embrace across the room.
"Well, in spite of everything, we have some good news! Bring them some champagne, Enrique," motioning to her cook with the tray in his hand.
"Jacques and I have purchased this estate from dear George," she announced, smiling at George across the room, who blushed and reluctantly separated from Sally.
"Well done! My congratulations, and I wish you a successful future," Adam said, then nodded to Enrique his thanks as he took the glasses, handing one to Sarah.
"Oh, Lilly, I am so happy for you!" Sarah said sincerely.
"But wait! There is more news!" Lilly said enthusiastically, "Marcus and Lance are going in business together. They are going to build a tavern and eventually an inn . . . right here . . . where they will lease some land at the end of the property that fronts the main road."
Marcus and Lanced jumped into the conversation, eager to discuss their ideas on the new business.
Sarah listened enthralled, at all the changes being made, so soon after the devastation of everyone's livelihood in the fire. She knew she could be a part of these changes, since Lilly and Jacques might need help with estate management, or Marcus and Lance with their record keeping at the inn and tavern.
Adam watched the excitement on Sarah's face, as she listened to Lance explain his plans, and felt a streak of jealousy. He was losing her. She would never accept a marriage proposal now. He cursed himself for not proposing during the drive here. What was the matter with him?
On a cushioned window seat across the room, Rachel glared at Sarah. Sarah was the cause for Jason having to leave England. Just yesterday afternoon, before the fire, Rachel picked up a letter at the posting station from Jason. In the letter, he explained why he had left so suddenly.
She had cried as she read how Jason was unjustly accused by Sarah of cheating, then after Karl had crushed his hand . . . to make him confess to the lie . . . Lilly had taken his money . . . Jason's very own money . . . to pay back the amount, Sarah claimed he had stolen. Now he is in a foreign country, penniless, and without a way to make a living because of the injured hand. He pleaded for Rachel to come to him, and bring whatever money she could possibly scrape together . . . hopefully to recoup the money he had given to Lilly . . . in anyway that Rachel could manage. He promised to take her to America with him.
Rachel was in love with Jason, and anything he wanted, she would do for him . . . even if it involved stealing. She had borrowed pen and paper at the posting house, and answered the letter immediately, informing Jason to expect her by next week, and that she had some money of her own, but will get more as he requested.
When the fire had started, Rachel had been entertaining a customer in her room. Panicked at being caught in a burning building, the customer frantically pulled on his breeches, and ran out of the building. Rachel calmly collected what he had left behind in his haste; his wallet, with ten thousand pounds, his gold pocket watch on a gold chain, a diamond and sapphire stick-pin, and a gold snuffbox. She added these to her collection of her own valuables. Then rummaging through the deserted rooms of the others that had already escaped, she quickly gathered anything of value left in their haste.
She reasoned the women would think they had lost their things in the fire. Rachel did not have to wait until next week to go to Jason, since she was no longer working. She planned on leaving this evening, traveling on the first coach to depart the area, then transferring later to a coach going to Dover, to catch the packet to Calais. Now seeing Sarah, she felt she owed Jason at least some sort of revenge on Sarah for the way she had caused his downfall.
Rachel, casually rose from the window seat, and sauntered over to eavesdrop on their conversation. After listening a few minutes, she quickly came to the conclusion, that whatever Sarah had decided, whether to move in here, or stay at Lord Townsend's, she would definitely be leaving with him this afternoon to see the doctor for her injuries. Rachel devised her plan rashly. She quietly slipped out of the house, and headed for the stable where Lord Townsend's carriage was parked. Years ago, she had watched a friend, a highwayman, sabotage a carriage wheel at an inn, in order to rob the passengers later, when the carriage would eventually break down on a deserted road. That plan would do for now, Rachel thought, if only to cause Sarah some sort of misery if the carriage should end up in a ditch or turn over.
Not being able to get Sarah's attention, Adam sought out George. Sally had left George's side, to seek out the other women to tell them of George wanting to be her protector. Passing by the ladies at the time Sally was disclosing her information, Adam paused to listen to this surprising news, then continued on in George's direction.
"Adam! Good to see you, old friend," George said cheerfully, looking better than Adam had ever remembered.
"Bloody Hell, George! What are you doing?" Adam growled in a low voice.
"Why . . . what do you mean?" George asked astonished at Adam's attitude.
"I mean the idea of you taking Sally as a mistress!" he hissed. "Do you realize the expense? I thought we had discussed all this last night, and how impractical it would be on your income," Adam said, worried that his friend was getting in way over his head.
"That is no longer a problem," George laughed. "Father and I have come to . . . uh . . . an understanding. He is raising my quarterly stipend, and I am receiving the full income from the sale of this estate. I can now afford to buy a town house in London for Sally, from part of the sale price, plus any other expenses she may need."
"My God, George! Have you resorted to blackmailing your father? That is the only thing I can think of that would make that tight-fis . . . pardon me, George . . . I didn't mean to say that," Adam said, chagrined at his unruly tongue.
"Don't worry about it, Adam," he said, clapping his friend on the shoulder, "what you said is only the truth. My father had always been very frugal, especially when my Mother, or I would request anything which involved costing him financially. I have . . . how shall I put this . . . found out information regarding his not-too-distant past. Details he found embarrassing for his son to know, including where part of his finances had been disbursed. Finances that had been denied his family. He decided it would be wise to treat me with a little more respect. He actually apologized for pushing me into that marriage to Melinda!"
"Congratulations, George! I was curious as to why you had suddenly gained such self-confidence. You deserve all the happiness you can find, and if that is with Sally, well, I wish you the best," Adam said sincerely. He had met Melinda, and did not envy George's married life. Maybe that was one reason he hesitated with Sarah, although he could never picture Sarah being such a shrew as Melinda.
Sally sauntered up to them, curling her arm around George's, greeting Adam with a new embarrassment. She had spent more than a few nights in Adam's company, and now after pledging herself to George, she felt awkward meeting Adam's eyes. Adam did not notice Sally's discomfort, his attention was drawn to Sarah's laughter as she still conversed with Lance. His eyes narrowed as he noticed Lance had his arm behind Sarah, across the back of the sofa, where they sat close in their conversation. Her auburn hair and his blond almost touching as Lance leaned closer, speaking so only she could hear.
Adam vaguely listened to George as he was saying, " . . . and when Sally said she was going to work for Lance and Marcus in their new tavern, that's when I . . ."
Adam looked at George in surprise, then looked back at Sarah. That's what that blond Romeo is asking Sarah now! He's talking her into keeping their books at his tavern.
"Excuse me, George, Sally, I'll see you soon," Adam said, as he hurried across the room. His anger at the situation was making his temperature rise, and the pulse throbbed at his temple as he clenched his jaw. He could not let her go from one disreputable working place to another. First he had to get her away from here to talk some sense into that independent head of hers. Seething, he thought maybe he ought to punch that blond adonis's pretty face for starters.
Sarah glanced up and saw Adam approaching with a menacing look, turning his grey eyes to hard steel. What could have happened to anger him, she thought, as she braced herself for some sort of outburst of temper. She smiled tentatively at him when he stood in front of her. He nodded curtly at Lance, then turned to Sarah, holding out his hand.
"Is something wrong?" she asked cautiously.
"I am sorry, Sarah, but we have to leave now. Tell your friend good-bye, and we will find Lilly to let her know we are leaving," he said firmly, helping her to her feet.
"As you wish, Adam. Please excuse me, Lance, perhaps we can continue our conversation at a later time," Sarah smiled as she rose to join Adam.
Lance rose from the sofa, and started to protest, but meeting Adam's eyes, he thought better of it, and politely bid farewell to Sarah.
Not wanting to increase Adam's anger, Sarah, quietly heeded his wishes,
and allowed him to escort her out.
* * * *
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