Authors: Raven McAllan
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No part of this book may be
used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission,
except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or
dead, is entirely coincidental.
To Paul and Doris … JoAnne and the
Chicks who voted unanimously for this title.
Cursed Treasure, 1
Copyright © 2015
loved Devon. The hills in the distance, the sea murmuring in the background, and
the wind that got up in a minute and teased the treetops and grass of the
rolling fields around her. Whatever the season, she was drawn to this area of
the country. However, she admitted to herself, autumn was her favorite. It was
a joy to see the blackberries ripe, plump, and juicy, and decking the hedgerows
as they displayed themselves for picking and eating—as it was to watch the leaves
turn to the golds and russets of the end of the year, and fall to carpet the
earth with their glorious hues. It was satisfying to know the harvest was
safely gathered and the grain and vegetables securely stored to see them
through anything the winter would throw at them.
she felt she was herself. Not someone who had to appeal to those chinless
wonders who called themselves young bucks or pinks, or even the elite gentlemen
of the ton. Here she was just Tessa. Even at night when, as her maman said,
pixies danced and the night creatures played, Tessa felt welcome. Perhaps being
born on the stroke of midnight had something to do with it. Not only did she
straddle two days, with her birthday on All Hallows Eve, she hovered over the cusp
where the veil between the living and those who had passed was thinnest. She
sensed emotions deeply, sometimes to her detriment.
shook her head and let her hair dance around her shoulders. Freed from its
normal neat and tidy-ish chignon, it fell almost to her waist in a mass of russet-colored
curls, and covered her cloak like a cape. She kicked a pile of leaves high into
the air, spun around in a circle, and let her hair fly out around her. She laughed,
her voice melodious on the night air. Then she sighed. For some reason, tonight
she was twitchy, and she had no idea why. That in itself was peculiar. Tessa thought
deeply and had an intuition far greater than most. It was rare she couldn't
work out what her feelings and thoughts meant. Perhaps because her parents
were, in the words of her sister Amalia, loved up, and Tessa felt excluded? Where
Amalia got her expressions heaven knows, but Tessa thought it fitted their
maman and papa perfectly. However, it didn't explain her own state of mind.
it wasn't their fault she felt cast adrift, it was the whole find-a-soul-mate
scenario. Why couldn't she experience that?
a harmonious evening, playing childhood games such as "go fish" and "spillikins,"
the rest of the family had retired to bed, and as far as Tessa knew all their
candles were snuffed, and all the other occupants of the house were fast
asleep. But not Tessa. The age-old call of the night had tempted her senses and
demanded she listen and join them—it—outside.
air sang, and the scents of the earth and all things that grew there surrounded
Tessa, and as she'd hoped, brought a modicum of peace. However, it was not
enough to stop her wondering why she was on edge.
gathered her cloak around her as a gust of wind teased the fallen leaves to
swirl upward in a mini whirlwind of what would be, in daylight, glorious color.
She could imagine it. They created a barrier between her and the trees on
either side of the ride—one of the swaths of grass several yards wide, which
bisected the woods around Birch Hall's gardens. For several seconds she was in
the center of a cloud of dancing foliage. Several twigs and leaves landed on
her hair and shoulders, and one tiny one settled on her nose. Tessa scrunched
her nose up and blew it off. It tickled.
rabbit, barely discernable in the darkness, scurried across the grass with
hardly a look in her direction, followed by several others. The final one—the
buck—stopped a few yards away, sat, twitched, and then satisfied all was well,
disappeared down a burrow.
nearby in the dark night, an owl hooted to be answered by one closer to her.
shivered. Stories of smugglers and their way of communicating with each other infiltrated
her troubled thoughts, and she looked around nervously. She should not be out
tonight, but that tempting, teasing, indefinable something called to her, and
she'd ignored her thoughts and left the house. Now maybe it was time to regret
her spur of the moment decision. Heaven knew Mijo had warned her about her ‘act
now, think later’ impetuousness.
gust of wind shook a nearby tree, and its leaves fell softly to the ground like
silent raindrops of molten gold. Tessa shook her head at her fanciful thoughts.
She bit back a whimper as a whirring noise made her jump and turn around. The glimpse
of the pale feathers of an owl as it flew in front of her went some way to assailing
Fool, All Hallows' Eve is not yet
should know. It would add another year to her age and yet more insinuations of
how unmarriageable she had become. As far as Tessa was concerned, long may that
the itch, the damnable Tessa early warning system she'd been blessed with and
used to her benefit on many occasions, struck her with enough force for her
steps to falter, her mouth to go hollow and dry, and her stomach to churn. Really,
one of her least sensible ideas
to come out and walk at this hour, with no moon and the smell of a storm
people said Tessa was being fanciful when she sniffed the air like a gundog and
said she could smell bad weather. But she was rarely wrong. Hopefully tonight
would be one of those times when her senses let her down. She didn't want to be
caught outside in one of the violent storms that sprung up in no time along this
part of the south Devon coast. However she needed to walk her fidgets off,
compose herself, and try to appear even half-enthusiastic about the family's return
to the capital for the forthcoming season.
smiled to herself as she recalled the various degrees of antipathy cast up by
the youngest, and about to embark on her first season as a deb, was of course, ecstatic.
The twins, Marielle and Sybille, were ambivalent, Cecily, her other sister, and
Dare, her brother, enigmatic about everything as usual. Sometimes she wondered
how her parents had such ornery children.
strode on, deep in thought. Something was bothering her parents, and for once
she had no idea what it was. Even with those extra senses she rarely used, or revealed
to others, she couldn't fathom out what it was. For once they had let her down,
and it didn't sit well with her. Tessa needed to know that all was right in her
world, and if it wasn't, that she could try to sort it.
clap of thunder and the flash of lightning that streaked across the sky made
her jump and scream. The owl hooted again. A second crash, louder than before,
filled the air, and somewhere close by, Tessa thought she heard a horse whinny.
spun around in the direction of the sound, her heart beating much faster than
it ever should, and squinted in the all-enveloping darkness.
took a deep, juddering breath, and swallowed. Sometimes an overactive imagination
was a pesky thing.
Time to turn back.
before nothing. Just walk
steadily and oh my goodness, what
bushes to one side of the ride moved, there was the jangle of metal, a muttered
oath, and then a large hand clamped over her mouth.
bit hard on the flesh and was rewarded with a swiftly cut-off profanity before
she found herself lifted into the air with her legs dangling. She flailed her feet
in the direction—she hoped—of her captor. It seemed her Tessa early warning
system had failed her this time.
boot-clad foot hit what she assumed was a leg—
pity it wasn't higher, didn't Dare say that part of a man was the most
stop it, woman, or I'll put you out." The voice was cultured, at odds with
the rough homespun he—she assumed it was a he—wore and which scratched her
cheek. "Behave now and no one gets hurt." He let out a soft,
two-toned whistle, which was returned from somewhere close by.
zigzagged across the sky and lit up her captor. Tessa got a brief glimpse of a gray-whiskered
face and dark brows above brown, almost black, piercing eyes, the like she'd
never seen before. It was such an anomaly she stared, open-mouthed. The man swore,
ducked his head, and flung her over his shoulder.
mouth shut with a snap as her chin clipped his shoulder hard enough to bring
tears to her eyes. Tessa's brow bumped off his back as he turned abruptly and
left the ride to push his way through the bushes and into the trees. It was not
only ignominious, it made her head spin.
are you doing?" As soon as she could draw breath to speak, Tessa did so.
She drummed her feet on his chest and her arms on his arse. For some
inexplicable reason, she had to force herself not to curl her fingers into the
firm flesh. "Put me down this instant, or I'll scream."
Damned if my protestation is only
away. Who will hear?" He laughed quietly and clamped her legs with one
arm, and somehow her arms with his other. Tessa wondered how on earth he'd
managed it. She opened her mouth and lifted her head only to jar it on a
branch. The pain was sharp and immediate, and all thoughts of screaming went
out of her mind.
I warned you, be quiet." The nip on her rear was swift and sure.
Does he have five arms? For he
always seems to have one free to do as he pleases.
you sweetheart me, you ruffian." Mindful of his diktat, Tessa hissed the
words. "How dare you tell me to be quiet? This is my family's land."
Tessa was too angry to be apprehensive with regards to her precarious situation,
and unwittingly her voice rose. "What are you doing and ahh...!" Not
only did she have a pain on her skull, she now had a pain in her temple and it hurt
like nothing she'd ever experienced. Not even when she'd fallen out of a tree
did warn you."
tried to ask what he meant, but bright-colored lights swirled in front of her eyes
and the thunder took up residence in her head before everything went black.
gone and done it now, youngster. She be dead. How you goi'n t'splain that to
his Lor'ship, eh?" The rough voice echoed and fluctuated like the sound of
waves rushing in and out of one of the numerous caves in the cliffs below Birch
House. Tessa took a sharp inward breath and winced as one of the drums of the
local regiment played a brisk march on her skull. How dare they? She needed to
sleep, not be entertained in such a manner.
not dead," the smooth-as-her-morning-chocolate voice said. "I didn't
hit her that hard, a mere tap. Just to let the ponies get on. See, she's still
breathing, you fool. Look, her bosom is heaving like a ship under full sail."
ship under full sail indeed. She may be nicely endowed in that area, but not to
those extremes. That picture in her mind conjured up Lady Frame, whose bosom
was akin to his description.
moaned and struggled to sit up. Strong hands held her firmly.
wriggle, woman. You may well do me a mischief if you do, and I swear you might
not welcome the results."
stilled immediately as a distinct bulge made its presence known in the cleft of
now, see? She's wakening." The velvety, cultured voice spoke once more.
it familiar? Tessa couldn't get her thoughts straight enough to work that out.
on, sweetheart, show us you're back with us again." Those strong arms—she
had no reason to believe it was any other—gathered her up, and she felt safe
and cossetted as a calloused hand stroked her cheek and then gave it a gentle
tap. "Stop pretending."
she considered she was cosseted before, now she felt scolded like a
you off, young sir." The rough voice had become urgent. "Leave her
with me. I'll knock her out again and get away afore she comes around again."
enough of the violent thoughts. You go and do your bit, and I'll speak to you
tomorrow. She won't see my face. The men need to know all is well, and you can
reach them better than I can. I'll do what is needed here. Off you go before my
lady opens her eyes and clocks your ugly phizog. It might send her off
was a cackle of laughter, then a rustle and the fading sound of someone walking
over what sounded like shingle.
on now, I know you're awake. Your breathing changed. Stop playing the dead man,
and let's get on."