Prince of ravenscar, p.1
Prince of Ravenscar, p.1Part #11 of Sherbrooke Brides series by Catherine Coulter
Table of Contents
Chapter 2 - THE PRINCE RETURNS
REGENCY NOVELS BY CATHERINE COULTER
REGENCY NOVELS BY CATHERINE COULTER
The Sherbrooke Bride
The Hellion Bride
The Heiress Bride
The Scottish Bride
The Sherbrooke Twins
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Copyright © 2011 by Catherine Coulter
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Published simultaneously in Canada
ISBN : 978-1-101-54807-3
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To my beloved Kaitlyn.
You will help many people throughout your life with your skill, your kindness, and your caring.
And that is a good thing.
Near Saint Osyth
On the Southern Coast of England
The night was as black as the Devil’s dreams, not even a ghost of a moon, not a single star to pierce through the thick rain clouds.
It was a perfect night.
Julian tethered his sixteen-hand bay gelding, Cannon, to a skinny branch of a lone bent oak tree and made his way carefully down the steep narrow winding path to the hidden cove, a trek he’d made countless times in the years before he’d left England. It was good to be back. He slapped his arms against the cold, the wind off the channel slamming against his thick coat, wheedling in to cozy up to his bones. Down, down he went. When he finally reached the shadowed overhang in the cliff, he lit the lamp and held it up, flashed it three times, a signal he himself had established many years before.
Three answering flashes of light came five minutes later, some fifty yards offshore. Two boats were moving closer now with every passing second. Soon they’d be close enough for him to hear the oars dipping rhythmically through the water. Julian felt his blood pump faster, as it always did with the ever-present threat of excisemen suddenly appearing over the edge of the high cliff, waving guns and yelling. He could only hope the bribes his man Harlan had put into place held, though to his knowledge no one even knew about this small hidden cove.
No matter how you dressed it up, smuggling—free trading always sounded high-flying and righteous—was still against the law. And smuggling would continue until those idiots in the government finally did away with the high import duties. Would they ever see reason? Julian hoped it would take the old curmudgeons a while, since he’d enjoyed the midnight hide-and-seek since he was sixteen, when Sergeant Lambert had introduced him to the adventures of smuggling. Teas, brandy, tobacco, China rice, gin—it didn’t matter, he did it all. Every time Julian walked down to this beach, he thought of Lambert, who’d died the way he’d lived, all flash and excitement, charging forward, his bayonet fixed, a yell coming from his mouth when a howitzer shot had exploded at his feet. Julian remembered falling to his knees, tears flooding down his face as the mayhem continued around him, searching, tearing at the bloody ground, but there’d been nothing left of Lambert. Julian knew someone had dragged him away from where Lambert had died, because he remembered Wellington buffeting his shoulder, telling him to carry a message to his left flank. It was demmed important, move! And Julian had run faster than he ever had before.
He still wondered how he’d managed to survive Waterloo with only one sword gash, in his left shoulder. Blessedly, his memory of those long hours that became days blurred with the battle blood and screams and death, and with Wellington’s voice, yelling orders, always encouraging, even at the end of the day, when exhaustion sapped everyone’s will.
Until Julian had left England three years ago, every June seventeenth he’d visited Sergeant Lambert’s empty grave at his farmhouse near Saint Osyth. Julian was certain Lambert’s spirit knew he was using his favorite smuggling cave, and perhaps he occasionally slipped through from the other side to watch Julian bring in his boats. Is there smuggling in Heaven, Lambert? Why, he’d asked Lambert on the eve of Waterloo, couldn’t men ever be content? Because greed and envy and jealousy were sewn into the very fabric of a man’s body, Lambert had said, and spat.
So quickly the future became the present, and the present became a collection of memories, some bringing a smile, others still with the power to smash you with despair. Would he die in the next war, blown apart, as Lambert had died at Waterloo? Witness what was happening in Europe, revolution everywhere, and death and destruction, and always there was hope that something good would come of the violence. He wondered if this was ever true.
“All’s well, Captain!”
He smiled and walked down to greet Cockeral, a madman, some whispered—but only out of his hearing.
He stilled. He’d heard something, he knew it. Excisemen? He held up his hand for quiet, and Cockeral and his men fell flat beside the boats.
Someone was there, watching, waiting, Julian knew it. But what? Who?
Time passed. They unloaded the cargo, mostly brandy and tea this time, and stored it in the hidden cave. Julian listened but heard only the wind.
When he fell exhausted into bed an hour before dawn, he knew in his gut his prized hidden caves were no longer a secret.
THE PRINCE RETURNS
Near Saint Austell, Southern Cornwall
Corinne threw her arms around him, hugged him close, and breathed him in. He smelled of a wild wind and a storm-tossed sea. His face was darkly tanned from months spent striding the deck of his ship, and his eyes were alight with pleasure. He looked fit and healthy and splendidly male. Her son. She’d thought of him every single day he’d been gone, savored his letters, most arriving each and every week, and she’d worried, but he hadn’t wanted her to come to Genoa, where he’d lived. Too dangerous, he’d written.
She stepped back, her hands still clutching his arms. “At last you’re home, dearest. Ah, three years, Julian, three whole years—but now you’re here safe and sound. Come and sit down, and I will serve you tea, just as you like it, a tiny squirt of lemon, nothing more. Oh, dear, you haven’t changed, have you?”
“Not about how I like my tea, no, I haven’t.” Julian lightly laid his palm on his mother’s soft cheek. She looked not a day older than she had when he’d left her on that miserable stormy Tuesday, only two days after Lily’s funeral. Her eyes and hair were nearly as dark as his, but unlike him, her complexion was fair. “You’re still as beautiful as when I left you three years ago.”
“That is very kind of you to remark upon, dearest.” She studied his beloved face for a moment, so very beautiful he was, and she could see some of herself in him, the way his eyes shined when he was pleased, how he threw back his head when he laughed. Did he look at all like his father? She didn’t know, she’d never seen a portrait of her husband as a young man. She supposed there was a portrait hanging at his ancestral home, Mount Burney. She’d sometimes wondered if the father had resembled the son when he’d been young, if he’d had Julian’s habit of tilting his head when he listened, if he’d usually thought before he spoke, if he’d been as beautiful as his son. Such a pity Julian’s father had been old, white-haired, but never stooped, no, the old duke had stood straight as a sapling until his death, and he’d had most of his own teeth when he’d breathed his last breath.
“Three years, Julian,” she said again. “I hope you have—” Recovered from your grief hung in the air, unspoken. “That is, how are you feeling, dearest?”
He grinned down at her. “I am fine, Mother. Three years is a long time, too long, truth be told. I am very glad to be home. No, I do not still mourn Lily, but I miss her. I suppose I always will.”
Corinne looked up when the drawing-room door opened. “Pouffer! There you are, tea and some black cake for my returned prodigal.”
“Yes, your grace,” Pouffer said, his old eyes on Julian, but he bowed grandly in both their general directions. He gave another wide grin to Julian, so happy he was to see him at last.
“Ah, Prince, I was remarking to Mrs. Trebah that you look as grand a gentleman as even the sternest critic could demand. She agrees, though she only saw the veriest glimpse of you.”
“Thank you, Pouffer.” Julian’s earliest memory of the Ravenscar butler was from his third year of life—he’d rolled a ball against Baron Purley’s feet, and Pouffer had bowed to the baron as grandly then as now, scooped Julian up, rubbed his head, stuck him under his arm, and carried him out, Julian yelling for his ball. Pouffer had little hair now, only a white tonsure circling his head. As for Mrs. Trebah, the Ravenscar housekeeper, she’d been here even longer than Pouffer, come when the old duke had been a mere seventy, five years before he’d married Julian’s mother.
“Come and sit down, Julian.”
Julian hugged his mother once more and gladly accepted her fussing over him. She gently slipped a thick blue satin pillow behind his back, positioned the hassock directly in front of his wing chair, and even lifted his booted feet. He was laughing. “Enough, ma’am, I am not used to being so spoilt.”
“I am your mother, I will spoil you as much as I like. Now, while we wait for Pouffer to bring in sustenance, I will tell you we must leave for London very soon.”
He looked at her blankly. “London? But I just came from London.”
“You went to London? Already?”
“Well, yes, I had business with Harlan.”
“Ah, well, Mr. Whittaker and business, that is very different. No, dearest, I mean London, as in the Season. You did turn thirty-two last month—although you were not here to celebrate your birthday—and in my disappointment, I downed an entire bottle of champagne. I drank so many toasts to your beautiful self I was flat in my bed all the next day. It is past time you were wed again.”
The words burst out of her in a torrent. Julian raised a black brow at her as he pulled his watch out of his waistcoat pocket. “I have been home exactly ten minutes, Mother. Perhaps we can wait to leave for London? Perhaps in a day or two?” Past time for him to wed again? What was this?
He found himself looking around the vast drawing room, giving his mother time to marshal her arguments, always entertaining, always worth waiting for. “I like what you have done with this room, Mother, the blues and cream shades suit it nicely, and the Aubusson carpet is magnificent.”
“I am glad you admire the carpet, since you paid a substantial number of groats for it.”
“As for London, you’re right, Mother, I was there only a few days. As you said, I spent most of my time with Harlan, reviewing all Ravenscar expenditures, tenant profits, repairs to be done, crops to be adjusted. You’ve done an excellent job, Mother.”
“Well, none of the stones are crumbling away, all our tenants are content—well, several of them would complain even if God himself were to take tea with them. Actually, since you wrote detailed instructions to me every single week, it required little thought on my part.” She paused for a moment, gave him a fat smile. “Did you not notice the score of palm trees—so very tropical they look, and so very distinctive—and the silver maple and oak trees I had planted along the drive? And now all the bare ground is covered with heath and daffodils. They have softened the landscape, which is what I wanted. I always thought Ravenscar looked so brutally stark.”
Actually, Julian had always liked the bar
“Ah, Pouffer, here you are at last. Bring on the black cakes for my beautiful son. He is fair to dwindling away before my eyes.”
When Pouffer grandly lifted the silver dome to uncover Mrs. Coltrak’s black cakes, Julian’s stomach growled.
He was drinking his second cup of tea when his mother said, “Lily died three years ago, and you left England, not, of course, to avoid scandal, since there wasn’t any, but to leave the Langworths and their terrible grief, and their blame. It is behind you now, Julian.”
The gentleness dropped from her voice. She became brisk. “You are not getting any younger, dearest. I will remind you yet again that you are turned thirty-two years old. You really must have an heir.”
This was an interesting approach. “An heir? Why? Mother, I’m a duke’s son, true, but I am only a second son, not a duke’s heir. Why is it so important that I produce a male child?”
His very smart mother realized her logic wasn’t sound and retrenched in an instant. “Well, what I really meant is that I have the fondest wish to be a grandmother.”
Now, that was a lie that didn’t bear scrutiny. He lifted a dark eyebrow. “Shall you be called Grandmama, or perhaps Nana Corinne?”
“Mama, I have no desire to return to London. Indeed, I have an overdue ship from Constantinople, the Blue Star. I must travel to Portsmouth.”
Prince of Ravenscar by Catherine Coulter / Romance & Love have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes