As the coach rumbled along the road, leaving London far behind, Sarah talked of inconsequential things to keep Bertie happily talking. His behavior was like an exuberant child, but every once in a while, his eyes would glitter as he surveyed her figure, causing her to shudder. They would be reaching her father's estate within the next half-hour, and she hoped that her head groom, Tyler, was still employed there. Tyler would surely help her hide until she escaped to the Hartleys.
Sarah wondered if Adam would know that she was missing, then quickly put that thought out of her mind. He did not care that much about her if he could move another woman that he knew intimately, into one of his homes a day before he married her. He must have intended to have a mistress when he had proposed to her. As much as her heart ached over her discovery, she had to concentrate now on getting free of Bertie.
It has been more than eight months since she had been back here, and Sarah looked eagerly out the window to view her home of so many years. With a cry of shock, Sarah viewed the estate as they turned into the drive leading to the front door of the manor house. Everything was run down and overgrown with weeds, the house look deserted, and the stables empty.
"What . . . what has happened?" she cried dismayed.
"Papa was very angry when you ran away, and he yelled at everyone . . . telling them to go away, then sold all of the horses. We returned to our own estate. Nobody has been here since . . . except me . . . I would come here often to look for you, Sarah. I knew I would find you . . . and I did . . . of all places in London!" he giggled again.
Sarah began to panic. There was no one here to help her, and she would be alone here with Bertie.
The carriage came to a halt in front of the mansion, near the entrance steps. Bertie opened the door, and with a tight grip on her wrist, dragged Sarah with him, out of the carriage. Bertie turned to the driver, and told him to return to London.
"No! Please don't . . . ," Sarah cried before Bertie put his hand over her mouth again.
When the driver hesitated, Bertie glared at him.
"You heard me! Get out of here!" he shouted angrily.
The driver looked into Sarah's pleading green eyes with regret, then shaking his head put the coach in motion. He was used to this lunatic's antics, and now that Bert Trillwell was the Earl of Cranleigh, he was afraid to say anything about the oddities of what went on. As long as his duties were limited to driving the coach, he felt it was none of his business what went on inside of it. His salary was paid by the solicitors of the Cranleigh holdings, and he had a job, which was more than most men nowadays. Pushing aside any feelings of guilt, he drove out the gate without looking back.
Bertie reached up and wrapped his fist in Sarah's hair, then letting go of her mouth with his other hand, and ignoring her screams, pulled her by the hair into the house.
"Come, my dear . . . we're home," he crooned.
He dragged her stumbling and crying across the vestibule, then up the stairway to the second floor linen closet. Bertie opened the door, shoved her in, and turned the key in the lock.
Sarah leaned against the door, then slid to the floor of the closet in a crouched position, and covered her face with her hands, when she heard his voice.
"You won't run away again, my sweet," he called through the door. "You wait here, dearest, while I fix something to eat, then I'll take you to the bedroom. The Master suite is ours now . . . it has a very big bed . . . we will have fun . . . just the two of us, my lovely bride," Bertie's laugh fading as she heard him walk away.
Horrified at the thought of his return, Sarah quickly stood up. Frantically she reached out with her hands to search in the dark, feeling around on the shelves, to see if there was anything she could use as a weapon.
Sarah felt around among the sheets, blankets, pillows, towels and was about to give up when she reached up higher and felt a sewing basket on the top shelf. Taking it down, she rummaged through it until her hands found the scissors. With the scissors, Sarah cut an inch long, double slit near the waistline of her dress, just under the spencer jacket, to make a holder for the scissors. She slipped the scissors into it, and pulled the jacket back down to cover them. Sarah then found a few long hat pins in the basket, and slipped them into the inner lining of the cuffs, and lapel, of her jacket. Next she grabbed one of the blankets off the shelf, unfolded it, held it in her hands, and taking deep breaths to calm herself, Sarah waited, praying she would have the strength to throw it over Bertie's head when he opened the door.
Adam had taken his curricle and horses back to the mews behind his town house, and had the groom saddle his horse. With the stallion he would be able to ride faster, hopefully making up some of the time he had wasted searching for the Earl's address and getting the location from the mother, where Bertie had taken Sarah. The Earl was traveling in an old coach that would not have much speed, therefore, he should not be that far behind them.
Adam was glad he had been out to Roger's estate before, so he would not have to waste any more time trying to locate where Sarah had lived as Roger's neighbor. He would cut across Roger's land to take a shortcut to the other estate.
Adam mentally reviewed what Sally had said about seeing Sarah not far from the house when she was closing the door after he had left her. That could only mean that Sarah did see him kissing Sally at the open doorway, and that she also knew he had owned that house. Not only must Sarah be in a horribly dangerous situation, but she would have on her mind thoughts of his betraying her.
"If only I would have looked in that direction when I had left Sally's, I would have seen Sarah and prevented all this from happening," he admonished angrily, forcing the horse to a faster pace.
Sarah heard Bertie's footsteps coming down the hallway toward the closet door. She took a deep breath and willed herself to be strong. This would be the only chance to get away from him.
"Sarah? You promise you won't scream anymore? I don't like that noise," Bertie called petulantly through the door.
"Sarah? Answer me. Sarah! Are you asleep? Sarah?"
The key was turning in the lock, and the door opening.
"Sarah . . ."
Sarah threw the blanket up in the air at his head, and it billowed out then settled on him. She gave a shove throwing him off balance, and lifting her skirt up for easier movement, she made a dash for the stairs. Halfway down she heard his thundering steps, and a loud yell.
Just as she reached the first landing, he grabbed at her skirt that was flaring out behind her. The sudden jolt as he pulled, broke her stride, and caused her to stumble. Still hanging onto her skirt, Bertie tried to haul her back, hand over hand, toward him.
Sarah had one hand on the banister of the staircase, and with her other hand she groped for the scissors, but she could feel herself losing the grip on the smooth, waxed, railing as he pulled her closer.
With the scissors finally in her hand, she turned, raised her arm and brought it down with as much force as she could muster, sinking the blades into Bertie's upper arm.
A painful howl erupted from him, as he gaped at the scissors buried in the fleshy part of his arm through the sleeve of his coat. Still holding her skirt in a tight fist with the other hand, Bertie glared at her. A horrible rage crossed his face turning it into a grotesque mask. Frightened, Sarah tried to back away, but he still held her in his grip. She fumbled in the lapel for one of the hat pins. Retrieving it, she moved to strike, but Bertie had let go of her skirt and pushed hard against her shoulder throwing her off balance. Sarah jammed the pin into his wrist before she completely lost her balance and tumbled down the stairs. Bertie screamed in pain as the pin stuck in his flesh. He looked at it in dismay, then rushed down the stairs after her.
Before Sarah could get up from the floor, Bertie was on top of her, straddling her, still with the handle of the scissors sticking out of his upper arm and the pin in his wrist. With the other hand, he reached across and pulled the scissors out of his flesh with an agonizing roar of pain. In a maniacal fit of revenge, he lifted the blood splattered blades above his head to bring them down into Sarah.
Sarah closed her eyes in terror waiting for the blades of the scissors to pierce her. She heard a loud thundering blast and felt Bertie's weight fall away from her. Her eyes flew open, and she saw Bertie's head covered with blood, as he lay crumbled to the side. Sarah started to turn her head away from the sight, when she saw a man's boot out of the corner of her vision. Terror struck her again and she let out a piercing scream.
"Sarah . . . darling, it's Adam . . . shhh . . . it's all over," he said gently, as he stepped into her view, and knelt beside her.
Bewildered, Sarah looked at Adam, then at the pistol in his hand. "You sh..shot him? Is he dead?" she asked tremulously.
"I had to. He was going to kill you," Adam answered as he pulled her up, and holding her close in his arms, he eased her away from the bloodied body.
"Let's get away from here. I only have my horse, so we shall take his carriage," Adam asked.
"It's not here. Bertie sent it back to London. The coachman wouldn't help me! He drove away and left me here," Sarah said breaking into sobs, burying her face into his cravat. "Oh Adam, I was so frightened."
The events of the past few days had taken its toll on Sarah and the tears shed were for all those held back, now bursting like a dam.
Adam handed her a handkerchief while he held her tightly, stroking her hair and whispering endearments to ease the emotional outbreak. Finally, her tears lessened, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
"Come, everything will be all right now. We will ride together on my horse, but we should stop at a post station, where I'll be able to hire a carriage. It is getting late and it will be dark before we get back to London," Adam said.
"We could go to Vicar Hartley's in the village. He will be able to find something," Sarah said.
"Good idea. The village is close by, is it not?"
Sarah nodded then looked back at Bertie, lying in a pool of blood.
"Wh..what about Bertie?" she said with a shudder and quickly turned away.
"We will tell the Vicar when we get to the village. He will know who to call in such matters. I will explain how it happened . . . after all, he tried to kill you, and it is a well-known fact that Bert Trillwell was abnormal. The Mayfair watchman has the report of his abducting you, and his attack on you could not have ended in any other way, except his death. Someone will be back to take care of everything. Do not worry, dearest," Adam said guiding her toward the front entrance.
Sarah's thoughts turned to the comfort of the Vicar's cozy home. She would like to see Mrs. Hartley again. Sarah remembered that she was going to go there after she escaped Bertie, and also after she saw Adam with Sally. The sudden reminder of Adam and Sally kissing, brought her quickly back to the heartache she had felt, and she pulled away from him, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, as the tears formed again.
Seeing the tears, Adam reached out to comfort her, but Sarah stiffened and moved away from him.
"Sarah?" Adam said puzzled at her reaction to his touch.
"I cannot think. I'm sorry . . . 'tis just that I'm upset right now," Sarah choked, not able to finish for the lump in her throat. How could she explain that she saw him with Sally? That she could not trust him anymore? She knew that men had mistresses . . . and that ladies did not discuss the philandering. She only knew that she could not handle the fact that he would hold someone else in his arms. Sarah turned toward the door, afraid she would again break into uncontrollable tears.
Adam stared at her for a moment, wondering what had happened, as he watched her leave. Then shaking his head, he thought it must be the shock of seeing him kill another human. Would she hate him for taking a life even though it was to save her?
He groaned when he suddenly remembered Sarah had seen him with Sally. She was upset over Sally and that kiss! With a sigh of regret for causing her to distrust him, Adam came up behind her before she reached the front steps. Taking her by the shoulders, Adam turned her around and, cupping her chin with his hand, tilted her face up.
"Look at me, Sarah," Adam said softly, and when she raised her sad, watery, green eyes to his, he said, "I love you, my darling. I do not want any other woman in my life . . . except you."
Sarah looked at him doubtfully, before she lowered her eyes.
"Dearest, I know you saw me kissing Sally, but," When Sarah tried to turn away, he stopped her, "but that was only a kiss of gratitude for taking such good care of my friend, George. I sold that place to George. He is now the owner of that house, and he moved Sally into it."
Sarah looked up at him in wide-eyed surprised at this news, and Adam nodded.
"Yes, Sally is George's mistress . . . not mine. You need not worry, Sarah, for I am never going to have a mistress as long as I have you. Hopefully, that should be a lifetime."
With every word he spoke, Sarah's spirits soared, and the watery eyes shimmered like emeralds, shining with a new hope of happiness. When a smile appeared on her lips, Adam knew he had regained her trust, and kissed her gently, then again with more passion to prove his love.
Pulling back, Adam dipped down, sliding an arm behind her knees picked her up and carried her to his horse. He climbed up behind her to cradle her in his arms, as they rode to the village.
"Sarah, I do not think I can wait until tomorrow. Why not let the Vicar marry us? I have the Special License in my pocket. Then we can spend our wedding night at the nearest inn, tonight," Adam said huskily.
"What about your mother? She will be disappointed, she was looking forward to the wedding," Sarah said, closing her eyes enjoying the kisses.
"I'll send a message from the inn. Mother will not be disappointed for long, since she'll be glad I am finally married. We'll let her plan a wedding reception for us later. Much later," he murmured into her ear, as he nibbled at the lobe, then trailed kisses to her nape as he brushed her hair aside.
"Well . . . there is an inn in the village . . . very close to the Vicar's house . . . we would not have to travel far," Sarah said between kisses she returned to him.
"I believe that is a yes?" Adam murmured against her lips, before kissing her again.
"A definite yes!" Sarah answered, turning and throwing her arms around his neck, causing the horse to sidestep at the sudden movement.
Tightening the reins to bring the horse back into control, Adam placed a firmer hold on Sarah.
"The sooner we get there, my love, the sooner we will be married, and then I will show you how much I love you . . . ," he paused for another kiss, "in a more . . . relaxed, and comfortable position," Adam whispered seductively in her ear.
Sarah felt safe in Adams arms. He had risk his life to save her from the fire and now again he had come to her rescue. How could she have doubted his love? Looking up at him, Sarah said tenderly, "I love you too, my darling" then settled her head on his chest contentedly, feeling the easy rhythm of the horse's saunter.
After a few quiet minutes Sarah spoke tentatively.
"Do you think the horse might go a little faster?"
Adam laughed, then prodded the horse to a faster pace.
* * * *
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