Sarah glanced at Adam, sitting across from her, as the carriage left the estate and turned onto the country road. He had not said a word since they were alone. Sighing, she decided it was up to her to make an effort to break the silence.
"You seem out of sorts. Has something upset you?" she asked gently.
"Upset me? Hah! I would say I was more than upset," Adam answered peevishly. "It is bad enough to know you are acquainted with such unsuitable persons, but to let that . . . that Lothario hang all over you . . ."
"How can you say that? He was not hanging all over me! We were just discussing the possibility of my working for him," she snapped back.
"It looked like . . . ," he started to say, when she interrupted.
"And what do you mean unsuitable acquaintances? How dare you say that to me, when I happen to know that you, Lord Townsend, are very much acquainted with Nicole and Sally, and most likely some, if not all, of the other women!"
Adam had the good grace to blush at that accusation. She was right, he was well acquainted with them, but that was different.
"It is not the same when a man is acquainted with people of that sort. Women should not!" he answered huffily, avoiding eye contact.
"Oh! You . . . you . . . hypocrite! If it were not for you so-called gentlemen, there would not be disreputable people. Did you ever think how Nicole or Sally, or Gayle ended up working for Lilly? No, indeed you have not!" she said scornfully, crossing her arms and glaring out the window.
How did they ever get into this conversation? Sarah wondered. She did not want him angry with her, but it seems he did not understand her, or why she happen to be in her position. She could have ended up just like Gayle, if not for the good fortune of being hired to take care of the accounts.
Adam began to feel guilty at his callous assessment of Lilly's employees. To be honest with himself, he did like them, and they have always been kind to him. He had no reason to be taking her to task, because of what other people might think. How many times had she told him that no one knew her in London, and there was no reason to worry about gossip? She is right. She never mixed with the customers, so they would not know her, and especially now that Sir Vincent, and Cranleigh were dead. They were the only ones who knew of her connection to nobility. The only problem now would be, if she went to work for Lance at the tavern. He could not let that happen.
Adam surveyed Sarah as she stared out the window, admiring her beautiful profile, with the sun highlighting her auburn hair with gold, the curve of her throat, those long lashes, and pouting lips. How could he possibly be mad at her when he really wanted to kiss her? He took a deep breath, and decided he had better propose now, or he may never get the chance if she moved in with that group.
"Sarah?" Adam said softly.
Sarah turned, and he could see her green eyes on the brink of tears.
"Oh, Sarah . . . I'm so sorry," he said gently, moving to sit beside her, as he reached to pull her into his arms.
"I had no right to . . ."
Suddenly the carriage lurched, and a loud crunch echoed through the interior, before they were thrown sideways when the carriage tipped.
The horses became entangled with the harness, as the carriage went over the embankment into a ditch. The footman jumped free, but the coachman still holding the reins, was thrown from his seat, and pinned under one of the horses.
Inside the carriage Adam lay on his back, pinned against the door that was now level with the ground. Sarah was on top of him in a tangle of legs and skirt. Stunned from the impact, they laid quietly, staring into each other's eyes. Adam reached up and brushed the hair from her face.
"Are you all right?" he asked concerned.
Sarah nodded, unable to speak from the shock. She was content just to gaze into his mesmerizing silver-grey eyes.
After brushing her hair out of the way he looped his hand under her hair and brought her lips down to his, kissing her gently. With a sigh, Sarah, returned the kiss, sliding her hands up to his shoulders to balance herself. Adam brought his other hand up to encircle her small waist carefully, not touching the cuts on her back. The kiss deepened, and they were unaware of their situation, until the footman called to them as he climbed up onto the carriage to unfasten the door. Abruptly they broke apart, and tried to work their way into a sitting position.
"Milord? Are you uninjured? Can you manage to get out?" Tom, the footman, called as he heaved the door up, and out of the way.
"Yes, Tom, we can manage. Are you and John, all right?"
"No Milord, John coachman is caught under one of the horses, but thankfully he has passed out. The horse is injured, and not moving . . . I fear he's dead. The other horse has broken free and is in good shape."
Adam heaved himself out, then reached down and lifted Sarah out of the carriage. After helping her to a nearby tree at the side of the road, he and Tom hurried to aid John. Pulling him free from under the horse, they carried him over by Sarah. While Adam removed his coat and placed it beneath the coachman's head to make him as comfortable, as possible, Tom, retrieved a blanket from the carriage and covered John. A quick check revealed only a broken leg.
"There's not much more we can do until we get help. I just hope he stays unconscious until then, or he will be in terrible pain." Adam looked across the field at the other horse that had broken free.
"Tom, catch that horse, and ride him back to the estate for help. Tell them we will need a doctor for John."
"Aye, Milord," Tom answered, as he jogged off to where the horse stood in the field grazing.
Adam sat down next to Sarah, and leaned against the trunk of the tree. He pulled her into his arms, and she laid her head on his chest. He kissed the top of her head and rested his cheek against her hair, breathing in the fresh lavender scent. Why had he been fighting it all this time, when this is where he wanted to be . . . with Sarah in his arms. He reached down, and with his index finger lifted her chin. When her eyes met his, he bent to kiss her lips, then trailed kisses up her cheek to her ear.
"What I started to say, before the accident, was . . . I love you Sarah . . . will you marry me?" he whispered.
Her eyes closed, Sarah listened to what he whispered, and thought she must be dreaming. Slowly she opened them, and looked at the love shining in his silver grey eyes. It was not a dream.
"Sarah?" he asked anxiously, afraid she would refuse.
"Yes . . . oh yes . . . Adam," she sighed, and moved her hands to encircle his neck and bring him closer.
After a few lengthy, passionate kisses, Adam drew back, with a trembling sigh.
"I want to marry you now, or rather as soon as I can get a special license, possible two or three days at the most . . . I don't think I can stand waiting any longer than that," he said huskily.
Sarah nodded, blushing, "Yes . . . I agree."
Leaning her head back against his chest, she said teasingly, "Does this mean I won't be working for Marcus and Lance?"
"What!" he growled, looking down at her. Then seeing her mischievous look, he sighed with relief.
"I'll tell you what, if you really want to work, I have three estates and a horse breeding farm. You can manage any or all of them," he said, as he twirled an auburn curl around his finger.
Sarah sat up straighter, and eagerly looked at him. "Do you really have a horse farm? Can we live there? I am very good with horses, and raised them at home . . . before the Earl came to claim it. I had some horses being bred and a new colt that I planned eventually to be trained for racing. It broke my heart to have to leave them in the care of my cousin and his son."
"If that's what you want, milady manager, it shall be yours," he teased kissing her cheek. "The horse farm is near Newmarket. We will move there as soon as we're married. There is a caretaker and a few stable hands on the property. I have been going out once or twice a month to check on everything, and bring the books up-to-date, but I will gladly turn it over to you, so I can concentrate on the other estates. Is that agreeable?" he asked smiling at her enthusiasm.
"Oh yes!" she said giving him a hug and kiss.
"There is only one thing . . . you will have to do besides taking care of the horse breeding . . . and that's our own breeding. I will need an heir. You do not have any objections of being a mother, do you?" he questioned, looking for any doubt in her eyes, as he remembered George's complaint.
"I can't think of anything I would like more! I do hope we intend to have more than one. I was an only child and it was miserable. Could we have at least four?" she answered happily, bringing a smile to his face.
"Well, I certainly won't mind putting in the effort of trying for as many as you would like," he said, nuzzling her throat.
At the estate, the group still in the parlor, heard the shouting from the front entrance that brought them hurrying out to see what happened.
Tom, had yelled as soon as he had entered the gate, and didn't stop until he reached the front stairs of the house. By the time he came to a stop, the stable hands, and everyone in the house was there to meet him.
"An accident! The carriage turned over, and we need a doctor!" he cried breathlessly, sliding off the horse.
"I'll get the doctor! I have a fast horse, and can cut across the property to the village," said Spencer. " Where shall I take him?" he called to Tom, as he headed toward the stable.
"Just after the country road runs into the main road heading to London. Less than a kilometer up the main road," Tom called back.
"Take my carriage, Marcus. Take a couple of grooms with you," Jacques said, then turned to the others. "Does anyone else have a carriage we could use?"
"I have a curricle. I'll take that and see if it will be of any use," Lance offered, and followed Marcus to the stable.
"What happened? Are they hurt badly?" Lilly asked the footman, as she held tightly to Jacques's arm.
"No, only John coachman. He is unconscious, and his leg is broken. As far as we can tell, nothing else is broken. His lordship and the miss are fine. The wheel broke, and the carriage turned over in the ditch. One horse is dead, and John was caught underneath him. I rode the other horse back here," he said.
"Thank heaven it wasn't worse!" Lilly breathed a sigh of relief.
When the commotion started, Rachel knew what had happened. She stayed long enough to hear the footman yell for a doctor, and then she scurried up the stairs to her room to gather her belongings plus whatever else she could grab in a hurry. She did not want to be here on their return, or when they checked out the carriage. They would know it was not accidental, and that someone had tampered with the wheel. They would also know that the guilty person would be here in this house, since the carriage arrived here in good condition.
Undercover of the excitement going on in front, Rachel slipped down the backstairs. She grabbed a loaf of bread off the table and ran out the kitchen door, crossing the garden and into the orchard where she stopped to get her bearings. Rachel looked back at the house, to see if anyone had noticed her leaving. Satisfied she got away safely, she continued through the orchard, toward the road to the village.
She occupied her mind on the long walk with thoughts of Jason, and how happy he was going to be with the money, and jewels she had gathered. Smiling, she thought of the look on his face when she would inform him of the revenge she had enacted on Sarah.
Marcus and Lance arrived first at the scene of the accident, and assured Adam that the doctor would be along soon. After making sure the unconscious coachman was comfortable, the three men walked over to the carriage, to examine it, and contemplated on how much effort it would take to get it in an upright position.
It did not take them long to come to the conclusion the wheel had been tampered with, and that it was a deliberate attempt to wreck the carriage.
The three men were stunned at the prospect. Who could have done it, and who was it meant to injure? Automatically their eyes went to Sarah, as she adjusted the blanket on the coachman.
"I don't think we should mention this yet. I don't want to upset Sarah and we have no idea who did it. It would be better if whoever was responsible did not know we have found them out. At least until we can check out the situation," Adam said grimly.
"Your right, no use letting them know we're onto them," Marcus agreed.
"Oh, another thing, Lance . . . Marcus. Sarah has accepted my proposal of marriage. She will not be available to assist you in your new business," Adam said, meeting Lance's eyes and catching the disappointment in them.
"Congratulations, Lord Townsend. You found yourself one terrific lady," Marcus said, then glanced back at Sarah.
"Let's go over and congratulate her Lance," Marcus said, gripping Lance's shoulder. He knew how much Lance was beginning to care for Sarah.
As they started toward her, Adam wondered aloud, "If Cranleigh hadn't died in the fire, I would have blamed him. Sir Vincent is also dead, and that leaves him out too."
"Sir Vincent is dead?" Marcus asked, as he stopped and looked at Adam in surprise.
"Yes, Cranleigh killed him for trying to blackmail him about Sarah working at the gaming house," he answered, stopping too, and turning away from Sarah's view, so she wouldn't know what they were discussing.
"What does Sir Vincent have to do with Sarah? He couldn't have seen her, she's never around in the evening," Lance said.
"Sarah caught him and Jason cheating when she was working on the account ledgers. I guess it doesn't matter if you know now, since the place is burned down. Lilly didn't want anyone to know about Jason," Marcus said, not looking at him, feeling guilty that his new partner didn't know. He scuffed his boot in the dirt with his head bent and arms folded in front of him.
"Is that why Jason left so suddenly?" Lance asked, amazed at all this new information.
"Yes, Lilly had him taken to the Dover docks, and put on a packet to Calais. She wanted to make sure he was out of Sir Vincent's reach. Sir Vincent threatened to send Jason to Newgate if he involved him," Marcus answered.
"Bloody Hell! Where was I when all this was going on," Lance said shaking his head in disgust that he had missed all the action.
Marcus laughed. "It just goes to prove, if Lilly wants something kept quiet . . . she knows how to get it done."
"Yes, I know what you mean . . . she insisted she had dropped that paper weight when I had interrupted your little meeting with Jason," Adam said wryly, remembering how shocked he was when it happened.
"You were there, too?" Lance said surprised.
"Only by sheer accident of passing by at the time," Adam assured him.
"Don't worry, Lance. You aren't the only one that was kept in the dark. The only others that know are Karl and Jacques. Well, maybe Rachel . . . she came in as we were ushering Jason out the door," Marcus said.
"Yes, Jason had a thing going with her . . . you know . . . you've seen him sneaking up to her room in the afternoons," Marcus answered.
"Right . . . she did sort of fall for him the minute he started working there. She must be in love, if she's giving it away free," Lance said laughing.
"Hold it! Are you saying this Rachel was in love with Jason?" Adam asked.
"Well, she must be. She sure cried enough when he left. We did give him a chance to talk to her before he was sent on his way," Marcus answered.
"Then he had a chance to tell her what happened, or at least let her know he would keep in touch with her," Adam said.
"Are you saying that she knew Sarah caught him cheating and might have wanted to avenge Jason for being sent away? That she might have caused this accident?" Lance asked, as he started to piece the story together.
"Yes . . . you know, Rachel always did have a jealous streak, when it came to competing with the other girls," Marcus said nodding. "I remember many a time she'd shoot daggers out of those turquoise eyes of her. If looks could kill . . . ," Marcus said, thoughtfully.
The three stood lost in their thoughts, when Sarah called bringing them back to the situation at hand.
Looking up, they saw her pointing down the road at Spencer on his horse, along side the doctor driving a tilsbury. In a few minutes, they arrived, and pulled over by the turned over carriage.
All other matters were forgotten, while the doctor strapped the coachman's leg to keep it secure, until he could set it, and everyone concentrated on helping the coachman get settled in the carriage with the least amount of pain.
Adam offered to ride in the carriage with his coachman, and graciously accepted Lance's offer to escort Sarah in the curricle. Now that he knew she loved him, he wasn't so worried about Lance. Marcus drove the carriage, while the doctor, and the others followed him back to the estate.
With his curricle last in the line, Lance drove slowly to have time to talk to Sarah. He wasn't surprised she was marrying a Viscount. He could never compete with nobility. And he was happy for her, she deserves something nice.
"I wanted to tell you congratulations. Lord Townsend, told us you had accepted his proposal," Lance said. "I am happy for you, but I'm sorry we're losing out in getting our books set up," he teased.
"I do not doubt he enjoyed letting you know I was no longer available," she said smiling.
"Yes, he was rather pleased about that" he answered wryly.
"Oh! I had just thought of something!" Sarah said eagerly.
"It must be a brilliant thought from the look on your face," he laughed.
"Why, it most certainly is! I think that Gayle would be perfect to manage your accounts," she said.
"Gayle? You mean one of our whor . . . hostesses?" he said, chagrined at what he almost uttered.
Sarah gave him a sharp look, "Gayle, is very intelligent, and she was a governess, before some unprincipled oaf . . . anyway, if she could have found a job like I have, she wouldn't be where she is now," she said angrily.
Lance was silent for a while, as he thought about what Sarah had said. It never dawned on him how the women ended up in the jobs they had taken. He liked all the girls working there, but never wanted to get seriously involved with that type. Now he began to think of Gayle, and how pretty she is with her golden brown eyes. He remembered how impressed he was, when Gayle had discussed various subjects in a knowledgeable way.
"You're right, Sarah. I never thought much about how or why the girls
came to work for Lilly, but when we get back to the house, I'll speak to
Marcus. I'm sure he'll agree, and then I'll find Gayle, and have a talk
with her. It would be good if she knew how to set up our books," he said
smiling, as he envisioned Gayle sitting primly behind a desk, with her
sable brown curls piled on top of her head. Her beautiful face in deep
concentration over stacks of papers and ledgers. Yes, he would like that.
* * * *
[Chapter 18] [Back] [Menu]