Authors: Chasity Bowlin
© 2016 by Chasity Bowlin
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Thank you for your patience while I slowly
lost my mind on this book.
he Dark Regency Series
: Volume One
The Haunting of a Duke
The Redemption of a Rogue
The Enticement of an Earl
The Beast of Bath
The Last Offer
The Dark Regency Series: Volume Two
A Love So Dark (September 2016)
A Passion So Strong (December 2016)
A Heart So Wicked (February 2017)
And writing as Seraphina Donavan:
The DuChamps’ Dynasty Series
Been Loving You Too Long
Have A Little Faith In Me
I’ll Take Care Of You
Back To The Beginning: A Duet (with Laramie Briscoe)
The Bourbon & Blood Series
Quentin (October 2016)
through the grime covered window revealed the rugged landscape beyond. It was both harsh and beautiful. It was also terrifyingly unfamiliar. She’d never traveled beyond London before, living all of her five and twenty years in a modest neighborhood that only just managed to cling to a bit of respectability. But London was lost to her now, she thought bitterly. Returning to her former home would never again be an option. So they journeyed on to an uncertain future.
Travel, in her opinion, was highly overrated. The constant rocking of the coach had resulted in a persistent and overwhelming nausea. While the last inn they’d stopped at had seemed clean enough and the food appetizing, she’d been afraid to partake of any of it. Now, hunger and illness warred inside her and she wondered if perhaps she hadn’t erred in her judgement.
“Is ought amiss, my lady?”
Olympia didn’t immediately respond. It wasn’t that she was lost in thought, it was simply that she had not become accustomed to being referred to as ‘my lady’ yet.
“My lady, are you well?” her newly elevated maid asked again.
The other woman’s concern penetrated even if the title didn’t. Olympia glanced up at her, realizing that her maid had clearly been speaking for sometime. “I’m quite well, Jane—Collins,” she corrected. With Olympia’s change in station, the young woman who’d been a scullery maid in her aunt and uncle’s home had suddenly become her lady’s maid, prompting the change of address from her first name to her surname, as was the custom. They both had some adjustments to make, Olympia reminded herself.
Stating that she was fine had been an exaggeration at best and an outright lie at worst. But there was no point in complaining to the maid as little could be done about it in their current situation. “I’ve simply not become accustomed to my married name yet. My apologies for worrying you.”
Collins glanced out the window herself then and shuddered. “Barren place, this.”
“It’s winter, Collins. I’m sure that in the spring and summer, it will be lovely,” Olympia assured her.
Collins’ expression was clearly dubious but she replied dutifully. “Yes, Lady Darke.”
Olympia, Lady Griffin. Viscountess Darke
. It was certainly going to take some getting used to. She’d been Miss Olympia Daventry for her entire life and had given up the thought of being married, content to remain Daventry until she shuffled off this mortal coil. Or she would have been, had her life at home not become so abysmal that escape of any sort was her only option.
Letting the curtain drop back into place, Olympia settled herself back comfortably on the squab seat, or as comfortably as was possible. The carriage bumped along the rutted road, jarring every aching bone in her body. She placed a hand over her rebellious stomach and willed herself not to vomit.
The journey to her new home was proving more arduous than she’d anticipated, but she reminded herself that it could always be worse. She could still be her childhood home, now in the possession of her aunt and uncle, suffering their false piety and bitterness. Instead, she was now married to a man she had never met.
Abruptly, the carriage pitched to the left, righted itself, and then pitched again in the opposite direction, this time listing heavily to one side. It slowed immediately and then stopped altogether.
“We’ve broken a wheel, my lady!” the driver called down.
Olympia sighed. “How far are we from Darkwood Hall?”
“It’s two hour still by road, ma’am, but if you cut across the moors, you can be there by dark.”
Olympia looked at the leaden and overcast sky. Rain threatened but the prospect of getting wet was not as unappealing as the prospect of being stranded in the infernal carriage for several more hours.
“We will walk, Collins, and leave the coachman here to care for the horses,” Olympia stated matter-of-factly.
Collins looked out at the barren and drab landscape and then began to rub her thigh through the fabric of her gown. “I can’t, my lady. My leg still pains me something fierce.”
Guilt clawed at Olympia. She knew only too well the circumstance in which Collins had been injured. The girl, for there was no denying that she was little more than that regardless of her station, had come to her aid and paid a price for it. By unspoken agreement, neither of them had spoken of that night. Olympia wished to keep it that way. “Very well, Collins. I will go alone. A short walk will allow me to stretch my legs and recover from the rigors of being trapped in this box for such an interminable journey. You may stay behind with a clear conscience.”
“If you insist, my lady.”
“I do, Collins. Quite firmly,” Olympia replied. She would never be so cruel as to insist that the young woman accompany her when clearly, she was unable to do so.
Knocking on the roof of the coach, she called out, “I’m going to go for help, if you could just lower the steps.”
“No steps, m’lady!” he called back. “Part of the wheel flew up into ‘em when it broke. They’re beyond repair.”
It was simply getting better and better, Olympia thought rather grimly. The listing side of the carriage was deep in the mud and muck, which meant she’d have to exit through the higher side. Every movement sent the carriage to rocking precariously. Climbing upwards toward the door, she managed to unlatch it and throw it open. It banged against the side of the carriage with the force she’d been required to put behind it. The sound was so loud it nearly deafened her. On the opposite seat, Collins jumped at the sound.
With an alarming lack of skill or grace, Olympia managed to lever herself out of the vehicle and jumped down to the road below. It was only a few feet, but in her present state of exhaustion, even that was a massive effort.
“I’d go for help myself, m’lady, but I’m afraid one of the horses might be lame. I can’t leave it,” the coachman explained apologetically.
Olympia looked at the horses, all of whom were already grazing happily on grass at the road side. She could question it, but to what end? The man had been useless and half drunk throughout their journey. “Of course. I do not mind the walk. It will be quite refreshing… if you could just point the way?”
He gestured toward a low rock wall that banded the road. “Just over the moors there. You’ll see the house soon enough. Right atop a rise and the biggest house in these parts. I’ll wait with the horses and the maid until another cart can be sent down.”
“Of course,” she agreed and then with less grace than enthusiasm, clamored over the rock wall and into the field beyond.
It didn’t take her long to realize that the coachman had significantly downplayed the difficulty of the walk. It was a hike, to be precise, over rough and uneven ground heavy with rocks and deep holes that were an invitation to a nasty sprain or worse. Even in her traveling gown and sturdy half boots, she struggled.
The slope was far steeper than it had looked and she was winded by the time she reached the top of the hill. Her feet had slipped multiple times in the wet grass and the mud, leaving her clothes dirty and her hair falling from the simple chignon that Collins had labored over just that morning. Slapping the label of lady’s maid on a kitchen girl did not make her one, Olympia reminded herself. And it was precisely because of her that Collins would not have been able to safely remain in her aunt and uncle’s home. Elevating the girl’s station to lady’s maid had been the only way to see them both safely from that house.
Having crested the rise, Olympia took in the vista, more because she needed to catch her breath than because she wished to enjoy the view. The illness prompted by the rocking coach and her decision to simply eschew food altogether had left her feeling weak and less than steady on her feet. The climb had taken what little energy she possessed and the rigors of the journey had wiped out any reserved she had. Of course, she’d been subsisting on a meager diet before that. Her aunt and uncle were miserly with the food budget, buying only the cheapest cuts of meat from the butcher and vegetables that most would simply have discarded.
The thought of food,
, prepared with flavor and taste that would leave her satisfied and happily stuffed had her stomach growling in anticipation. She loved food, Olympia thought. Truly loved it. Cakes, pies, biscuits, scones, thick cuts of pork and roast well seasoned and roasted in a heady sauce, or quail browned to golden perfection. Olympia swayed, weak with hunger. Darkwood Hall, she reminded herself. If she could just get to Darkwood Hall, she would be able to eat real food while sitting on a solid, unmoving surface. That thought spurred her on, prompting her to move forward.
The coachman, if her interpretation was correct, had told the truth. At the top another large hill, on an impressive promontory, stood a large and imposing structure of carved stone, weathered with age to a deep dark gray. Damp as it was, the walls appeared black. A shiver swept through her as she took in the imposing fortress-like appearance of her new home.
After her brief rest to catch her breath and shoring up her wavering courage, she continued on. The fine mist that hung in the air gradually grew heavier and finally gave way to a cold, driving rain. Shivering, teeth chattering, her whole body aching from the arduous journey in the poorly sprung coach, Olympia trudged on.
She stumbled again, several times, falling to her knees in the damp grass. With her hands planted on the grass, she pushed herself up to a standing position, but her ankle twisted painfully beneath her and sank again to the damp earth. Was this to be the end of her then? Having come so very far, with the house in sight, she would die of cold and exposure right there in the field?
A low rumble reached her ears. At first she thought it was thunder, but it grew louder and closer, and the earth seemed to tremble beneath her feet. Glancing to her right, she saw a horse bearing down on her. The large, black beast was massive beyond description and the darkly cloaked rider on its back only added to the sense of menace.
Whether it was the rain or just recklessness, the rider didn’t slow. The horse’s massive hooves were dangerously close. Olympia screamed and dove to the right, landing on the muddy ground with enough force to leave her dazed. Her ribs connected painfully with a sharp stone, robbing her of breath.
The horse reared, rising on its hind legs and thrashing in the air. Hooves flashed in front of her. Terrified, Olympia drew herself up into as small a ball as possible as the rider cursed and tried to calm the raging beast.
As abruptly as the terrifying encounter occurred it ended. The sound of crashing hooves stopped.
Cautiously, Olympia rolled onto her back and looked up, blinking against the rain. She wasn’t seriously injured, but badly shaken.
“You bloody fool! Do you have any idea what might have happened to you?”
Olympia craned her neck in the direction of the angry shout. She didn’t have the breath to reply.
He approached then, having discarded his hat. His hair was just as black as the cloak he wore. His face might have been handsome had his expression not been so fierce.
“Are you hurt?” he demanded. The question itself might have been concerned, but his tone was anything but. Angry. Biting. Harsh.
“I’m fine,” she managed to utter breathlessly.
“What the devil are you doing out here?” he asked, offering a hand to help her up.
Olympia accepted it gratefully. Even through their rain soaked gloves, she could feel the heat of his strong hand. As she got to her feet, her ankle crumpled beneath her, refusing to bear weight. Had it not been for his strong arms closing about her, holding her up, she would have fallen again.
“Our carriage broke a wheel,” she explained. It was difficult to speak, unnerved as she was by his proximity, by the feeling of his firm chest against her and his arms about her. Haltingly, she finished, “It was closer to cut through the moors than to take the road.”
“And your mistress allowed this?” he demanded angrily as he helped her toward a large stone that would provide support for her to lean against. His expression was grim, his lips pressed into a firm and disapproving line. “What sort of person are you employed by?”
Handsome as he was, unnerving as his presence was to her, she would not tolerate anyone speaking to her that way. Was that not the very reason she had left her aunt and uncle’s home? “I have no employer. Only employees. The coachman could not leave the horses and my maid complained of a pain in her limb,” she snapped, her tone imperious. “I do not understand why you are angry with me! I’ve done nothing wrong. I was simply walking when you and that beast nearly ran me down!”
“Nothing wrong? Is trespassing no longer illegal, then?” he shot back sarcastically as he stalked back toward the beast in question who was still prancing agitatedly.
With her chin up defiantly she replied as stiffly and with all the imperiousness she could muster, “It isn’t trespassing! These are my husband’s lands!”
He stopped abruptly, turning back to her. One of his dark brows arced upward as he asked in obvious disbelief, “And who is your husband, madam?”
Drawing herself up to her full height and squaring her shoulders, she replied firmly, “Lord Albus Griffin, Viscount Darke… And who are you, sir?”
He crossed his arms over his chest as if in a challenge and with one peaked eyebrow raised, replied, “I am Lord Albus Leopold Griffin, Viscount Darke!”
Of course he was. Her disastrously poor luck would allow for nothing else. Olympia started to speak, to say something that would be an appropriate response to learning that the dark, fierce man before her was her husband, but as she opened her mouth, the earth seemed to shift beneath her feet. She grappled for the stone behind her, something to hold on to, but it was no use. Her vision dimmed, blackening around the edges and shrinking down to pinpricks. She could just make out him speaking to her but what he was saying was impossible to comprehend. Her last coherent thought, before unconsciousness claimed her, was that she had never fainted before in her life.