THE EARL AND THE HIGHWAYMAN’S DAUGHTER
1. “Don’t worry about my reputation, my lord. We leave that sort of fuss to the gentry. I don’t envy you your fancy manners and morals. All a sorry lot of pretense, that is."
Eugenia Hawthorne, daughter of a deceitful highwayman, saves the life of the Earl of Trentham after he’s deposited at her door suffering from a bullet wound. Outsmarting her father, the earl takes Eugenia to live in his beautiful country estate, Lilac Court. But what does he really want from her? It seems there’s a mystery attached to an emerald necklace, which he wishes her to wear at a London ball. Could Eugenia be the daughter of a powerful duke, but born on the wrong side of the blanket? Her mother refused to tell her.
As Brendan, Earl of Trentham, works to bring down a hated foe, he and his sister instruct Eugenia in the ways of the ton. She is beautiful and, despite the cloud over her birth, will be desired by many men. Why doesn’t that prospect make him happy?
Review:“The Earl and the Highwayman’s Daughter is indeed a Cinderella story with Eugenia as our young beauty and the Earl as her “prince.” I was delighted to spend a few hours with the characters while they navigated their way through society’s dos and don’ts, all in the name of hope and sweet romance. It didn’t take me long to care about the characters and I was invested to know what would happen to them.” Books & Benches.
At the banging on the door, Eugenia jumped up from the table where she’d been sewing by the light of a candle. She seldom felt vulnerable here alone at night, aware that her father’s reputation would protect her. Still, the feel of the heavy pistol in her hands made her braver. She unbolted the door a crack and poked the pistol through it. “Who’s there?”
“Don’t shoot, miss. We’re in need of help. My master’s been shot.”
A wiry-haired man stood on the step, struggling to hold up a much bigger man, who sagged in his arms. Blood dripped down from his hand onto the step.
Eugenia opened the door wide. “Bring him inside.” He hefted the man into the room. “Lay him on the settle by the fire.”
She lit the lantern and went outside to check the road. There was no sound of approaching riders and nothing moved in the shadows beyond the arc of light. She shut the door and eased the bolt across.
“We were set upon by highwaymen in the forest,” he explained while laying the man down on the wooden seat. “Milord’s been shot. I suppose it’s too much to hope there’s a surgeon in the village?”
“Just an apothecary. I know more than he does. I’ll tend to him. Help me get his coat off.”
Moving him gently, they peeled off the man’s greatcoat and dark blue tailcoat, exposing his waistcoat and fine linen shirt beneath, soaked with blood. “His lordship, did you say?”
“Earl of Trentham.”
She took her scissors from her sewing box. “How long ago was he shot?”
“Not long ago and not far from here. If you can manage without me, I’ll put the horses in the barn. They’re a signpost to our whereabouts for anyone that’s looking.”
She nodded and cut the shirt away from the wound exposing his lordship’s well-muscled chest. He was a healthy specimen. That might stand him in good stead. The ball had passed through the soft flesh high on his shoulder and bled freely.
“At least we don’t have to dig for the ball.” Eugenia poured water from the kettle on the hob into a bowl. She added cold water from a jug, soaped her hands, then dried them thoroughly. What evil was afoot this night? She feared for her father. The man came inside and shut the door behind him. “What is your name, sir?”
“Neal Pollitt, miss. I’m his lordship’s groom.”
“Mr. Pollitt, take this cloth and press it against the wound. I’m going to pick some herbs.”
She knew every inch of her garden even in the dark and located what she sought with little trouble. Her arms full of yarrow, Lady’s mantle, lavender and garlic, she returned to the house.
Pollitt stood by his master’s side. “We should cauterize the wound.”
“Yes. I’ll do it if you hold him down.”
Pollitt nodded at her, admiration in his gaze.
Eugenia fetched gunpowder and tapped a little into the wound. She held up the taper. “Ready?”
The groom took a firm hold of his lordship’s arms. “Do it.”
Eugenia lit the taper from the fire and touched it to the gunpowder. As it ignited and flared, the injured man groaned deeply and struggled against Pollitt’s firm hold. The acrid smell of burnt flesh filled the air.
Eugenia winced. “Poor devil. Soothing herbs will aid him.”
She poured hot water into a bowl and added lavender. Taking a cloth, she dipped it in the bowl and wrung it out then wiped the worst of the blood and gunpowder away. She continued until the wound was clean. It now bled a good deal less.
“You are close to the forest here, Miss…”
“Might be that the robbers will return, Miss Hawthorne. I should stay and keep guard.”
They wouldn’t come to her father’s house. “My father swears blind he saw a specter there. That wood is said to be haunted. A highwayman was strung up there, many years ago.”
“Ghosts don’t shoot people, do they? Anyway, his lordship shot one.”
She swung around and studied his face. “Was he killed?”
“Yes. Stone dead.”
She frowned. “What did he look like, this highwayman?”
“I didn’t stop to see. He wore a kerchief over his face. Red hair and he was young. Might you know him?”
“No,” she said with relief. “Where does his lordship hail from?”
“His country seat, Lilac Park, some miles from here. Over in Surrey.”
She nodded as she worked. “I’ve heard some mention of it. The place sounds pretty. Is it?”
“Indeed it is.” He examined his master with a worried frown. “Be all right, will he?
“Too soon to tell. Why are you traveling in these parts?”
“We were on our way home from a visit to Chatterton Hall.”
“I know of that manor house. It’s very grand.”
“’Tis the home of his lordship’s father-in-law.”
She gazed at the big man crumpled on her settle. “His lordship’s married then?”
Pollitt shook his head. “A widower, these two years past.”
“Sad to see his children orphaned.”
“He doesn’t have children.” He stepped closer to peer at his master. “He breathes well. You don’t think he’ll die, do you?”
She held his lordship’s sturdy wrist in her hand. “Gunshots are tricky, but his pulse is strong. He has a good chance I’d say.”
“You must have heard of Lord Trentham? He married Lord Chatterton’s daughter, Lady Anne.”
Eugenia shook her head. She didn’t listen to village gossip; it was often untruthful. She’d seen Chatterton’s daughter ride past once on a handsome grey, with two well-dressed men and another woman. They’d stopped at the village inn for luncheon. Lady Anne’s hair was dark beneath her hat, and she’d worn an exquisite habit of emerald green velvet. Eugenia had suffered a bout of envy. Not for those people and their privileged lives exactly, but just for that green velvet. The color would suit her. One day she would have a gown like that.
She ground herbs in a bowl with a mortar and pestle. When would her father see fit to return? A chill of unease snaked up her spine. She made a poultice and placed it against the man’s wound then bound it with cloth. “There’s boysenberry wine in that jug on the shelf. Help yourself before you brave the cold.”
“Don’t mind if I do. I’ll ride to Lilac Court and return with a carriage to take his lordship home. He’ll do better there with the family doctor.”
“Maybe he will. Although doctors…” She shrugged. “They’re as likely to kill you as not.”
Eugenia frowned. She was anxious to get rid of his lordship and the sooner, the better, but he did look poorly. “He should not be moved tonight,” she said with some reluctance. What would her father say when he came home and found him here? She didn’t trust her father an inch.
The groom put down the tankard. “’Tis a good drop, miss. Anything more I can do before I go?”
“You can lift his lordship onto my father’s bed. He’s too tall for the settle.”
“Right you are.”
Pollitt was stronger than he looked. He heaved the unconscious man up and laid him on the bed. Lord Trentham groaned but didn’t wake. “I’ll pull off his boots, shall I?”
She nodded, caught by the earl’s handsome face. Dark lashes feathered his cheeks, his thick dark brown hair disheveled. Long powerful legs stretched over the cot. A fine figure of a man.
Pollitt pulled off a boot. “I hope he’ll be safe here if I leave. Looks like the highwaymen have given up.”
“He will be,” Eugenia said firmly, determined to make it so.
When the other gleaming Hessian boot dropped to the floor, Pollitt headed for the door. “I’ll be off then.”
“The longer he has to rest before you move him, the better.”
Pollitt nodded with one last glance at his master. “I’ll return as soon as I can. And thank ’e, Miss Hawthorne. His lordship will be most grateful.”
When the door closed behind him, Eugenia returned to her patient. She sprinkled lavender over the pillow and covered him with a blanket. He was deeply asleep. She wondered what color his eyes were. Her fingers itched to trace his brow, his fine straight nose and well-formed lips. But he was so far above her the one thing he might want from her she’d never be prepared to give. She rose quickly and fetched her mending to keep herself busy. She would not sleep; she would listen to his breathing. He must live. Despite the differences in their station, their futures were linked in some way. She felt it in her bones. Her mother had pronounced Eugenia to be far-sighted. She leaned over and smoothed back his dark waves, like silk beneath her fingers. She hoped it was true.