The Earl of Diamonds
Philip Areant, made good time on his trip. He found his jeweler, Ramon de Leon, and negotiated a very substantial amount for the pieces he sold. He rode all night, arriving home as the morning sun rose higher and the sky turned a bright blue. Entering the lane leading to his house, he saw Luis leading another horse that was saddled, so he waited.
"Did you find a stray?" he asked, after their friendly greeting.
"I found him grazing on the edge of your land by the fence. It looks as if he must have thrown the rider, but I see no signs of anyone around. From the looks of the saddle and pouches, it belongs to an English soldier," Luis answered, as he brought the horse closer.
Philip, with fear in his heart, quickly looked toward his farmhouse.
"I better check on Elise," he said, "Come Luis, I may need you," as they rode toward his house.
Stopping a few feet away under the trees, Philip dismounted and asked Luis to stay there and watch the horses. Drawing his pistol, he said "Come quickly if I call for you," and hurried quietly toward the house.
Stephen winced as the pain shot through his leg, he opened his eyes, then quickly shut them again. He was dizzy and his head was pounding from a hangover.
"Damnation! Why do I drink so much?" he thought, as he slowly opened his eyes again, squinting at the sunlight coming through the window. Looking around him at the pink ruffled curtains and rosebud wall covering, he was aware he was in a very feminine bedroom. He raised his head cautiously and glanced down at his aching leg that was neatly bandaged. Puzzled, he lay back to think where he had hurt his leg, then vaguely he remembered getting thrown from his horse, and coming to a farmhouse.
Turning his head on the pillow to the side, there was a beautiful woman stretched out beside him. Her face was turned toward his, but her eyes were still closed in sleep. He let his eyes roam over her face slowly, at the delicate shape, soft creamy complexion and thick lashes. Her hair was tumbled in long honey-golden curls, with one curl covering her cheek. The covers were pushed to the bottom of the bed in a tangled mess, with one of her shapely legs on top.
Carefully he turned on his side and lifted himself up on one elbow to get a better look as her, as his eyes moved down her perfectly shaped figure to her thighs, he noticed the pinkish-red tinted smear on her thigh and the sheet, he let out a quiet groan and laid back down with his arm over his eyes.
Oh Lord! She was a virgin! Guiltily he thought, I don't even remember what happened. Was I gentle or did I hurt her? Your getting more worthless all the time Taggart, so drunk you can't tell an innocent from a whore! He silently reprimanded himself.
Elise stirred, then opened her eyes, and smiled, as she gazed upon the man next to her. She felt as if the world had changed, making her a new woman. Remembering the loving words he said to her while they made love, she could feel the warmth creeping over her again. The pain she felt at the beginning was completely forgotten in the mad passionate caresses, and she could only remember how their bodies linked together in such completeness. Never had she guessed that love was like this, and it would happen to her. She reached out and laid her hand on his chest.
Taggart lowered his arm from his eyes and looked worriedly into hers. I remember those beautiful eyes, that violet-blue, but that's all I remember. I don't even know her name, he thought.
"Good morning, Stephen" Elise said with a smile.
"Good morning, uh . . . where am I?" he asked, not daring to smile back, for fear his pounding head would get worse if he moved any facial muscle.
Elise's smile faded, and looked at him in confusion. Just as she opened her mouth to answer him, the door burst opened, and her Grandfather stood there with a pistol in his hand.
"ELISE!" he shouted.
Stephen, startled, sat up too quickly causing his head to pound again, and his eyes to blur.
Elise quickly grabbed the blanket and wrapped it around her, before standing up to face her Grandfather in abject humiliation.
"Move aside Elise and get dressed, I will deal with you later," her grandfather said, as he avoided looking at her undressed state. "First, I will deal with this swine who dares to violate you." His hand holding the gun tightened, as he trembled in anger.
"No! Do not kill him!" Frightened, Elise moved into his line of fire. "I won't let you. I love him . . . and he loves me!" she said confidently, then holding her arm out, she displayed the bracelet that sparkled in the morning light.
"He has given me this as a token of his love, for we are to be married."
Stephen, winced when he saw the bracelet. Not daring to move, with his head still pounding he thought: Did I tell her that? The old man is going to shoot me, if I don't do some fast thinking to talk myself out of this one. What a bloody hell of a time for a headache!
Philip looked at the soldier, who sat watching him cautiously, and made a decision. Elise was no longer a virgin now, and ruined for a suitable marriage. This man had an arrogant, aristocratic demeanor, and presumably above the common soldier in heritage, and if that diamond bracelet is not a fake, he is also extremely wealthy. Should their unfortunate carnal act produce a child, then Elise would be better off bearing a child of nobility through marriage.
"You are right Elise. He will marry you. I will not let this scum disgrace you further. If you are pregnant, you will not produce a bastard!"
Alarmed at what this man was suggesting, and about marriage, Stephen wrapped the sheet around his waist, and in the most dignified way possible for the situation, stood up to face the furious old man.
"Sir, you have every right to be angry, and I'm sincerely sorry for my disgusting behavior. My only excuse is, I was very drunk when I found your house after being thrown from my horse. I do not remember what happened, but I am willing to make amends. I can give you a . . . a very substantial monetary settlement, which should take care of . . . uh . . . this girl's future if any inconvenience should arise from this uh . . . situation."
Elise, listened in horror as he callously bargained with her grandfather. Her heart grew heavy as she realized he did not love her. All the beautiful things he had said, and the things he did to her last night, meant nothing to him.
Philip face hardens in anger. This man thinks he spent time with a peasant girl, and has probably bought off many greedy fathers who were more than willing to accept his offer.
"You are not putting a price on my Granddaughter as if she were a whore!" he spit out the words. "You have a choice. Die now or live as a married man." Philip raised the gun.
Stephen stiffened at the words. There was but one choice . . . for now. He would undo this travesty later.
"As you wish. We will be married," he said coldly.
"Get dressed. We will go to the next village, and you will be married in the church. After that, you are free to go back to your English troops," he said, as he backed up into the doorway and yelled for Luis to come in.
As Luis entered the front parlor, he looked warily at the bedroom door where Philip stood.
"Luis, bring the horses, and I will need to borrow a horse for Elise. I am taking this cur to his wedding."
"I will bring one back quickly, and I should bring Maria for a witness. You will need two, remember," he replied, carefully keeping his eyes averted from the couple within the bedroom, not daring to ask any questions.
"Yes, you are right, it is better to have witnesses we know, rather than strangers who might talk," Philip answered, nodding thoughtfully. He may need these witnesses in the future for verification, in case he needed to find the man's family.
While dressing, Stephen could not help thinking how quickly this was happening. For a rustic, the old man is very shrewd. He has a French accent, but if he is French, he would have shot me, or turned me over to Boney's army, instead of forcing an English Soldier to marry his granddaughter. What did I get myself into? I hope when I get back to England, I'll be able to have my solicitor get me out of it!
The ceremony was over quickly, and after signing the marriage documents, they left the church. Stephen did not look at Elise on the trip from the farm house to the village, or during the ceremony. Elise, humiliated did not raise her head, being too embarrassed to look at Luis and Maria, or her Grandfather.
Stephen had not mentioned that he was the Earl of Raynhurst, in case they should want to cause him further embarrassment in England. It was best they thought he was just an English Army Major, without any way to reach him in the future. He certainly did not want any of his friends or family to find out about this folly, and hopefully he'll have it straightened out before they do! Besides, he thought irritably, the peasant girl now has a marriage license, that certificate of respectability. Well, it will make her happy for a while, until I can talk to my solicitor.
Stephen glanced over at her, as he turned his horse around to head North. She was still standing with her head lowered, wearing the same lavender dress he vaguely remembered from last night, her hair partially covering her face. She was looking dejectedly at the ring she had given to him at the ceremony to place on her finger . . . an old ring he knew must have belonged to a past family member.
She is beautiful, he thought guiltily, and felt a tightening in his stomach. I don't think I'll ever forget those eyes! As if she heard his thoughts, she raised her head and looked directly at him. He flinched at the unbelievable heartbroken look in them. She stared for a moment, and then turned to follow her grandfather to the horses.
Stephen's headache wore off as he put further distance between him
and his folly. His thoughts drifted back to last night, and slowly, bits
and pieces of memory returned. Visions of wild, passionate lovemaking,
flashed in his mind, and he felt the heat creep through him again as he
remembered. It was hard to believe that a girl that young, and a virgin,
could be so utterly passionate and unquenchable. How could I have ever
forgotten something like that? Shaking his head in disgust, Stephen
urged his horse to increase the gait.
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