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"This is humiliating," the man grumbled.
"As if that signifies. Take care not to fall off, because we'll never get
you back on." He had her so convinced that the tide would wash over them
at any moment that she jumped when a drop of rainwater hit her nose. Oh,
excellent, she thought. Rain was precisely what they needed right now.
The man was ominously silent. "How are you feeling, sir?"
"Merry as a grig," he assured her. "What exactly is a grig?" he asked
after a while. "I've always wondered."
"Grigs are young eels."
"Oh. But why are they merry? How do we know they are merry?"
Clearly she was risking her life to save a lunatic. "I've no idea, sir.
Perhaps because they don't have to deal with the likes of you." The sand
was firmer there and she sensed they were on an upward slope. Raising the
lantern, she was able to see the cliff looming directly ahead.
Now what was she to do?
The horse would have to stay the night in the cave, of course. The nearest
way onto land for him was more than a mile away. But she dared not reveal
the cave's location to the smuggler, not while there was any chance he
could climb up the same way she had come down.
She was fairly sure he could not. And why bring him this far only to have
him die on solid land? But to take him through the cave would put Diana at
risk. Oh, damn.
With little hope, she decided to gamble he could make the ascent up the
cliff. If he faltered, they would simply have to go around the other way.
At least they were well beyond reach of the bore tide. She led the horse
to the inlet and came to a halt beside alarge boulder. "Will he stand if
I let go his bridle?"
"He'll stand. Jason, old lad, behave yourself."
Lucy helped the man slip off the horse, bearing much of his weight when
his feet hit the ground. She assisted him to the boulder and gestured for
him to sit. "I'm going to leave you here for a short time, sir. The horse
cannot go up this way, so I'll secure him a little distance down the
beach, where he will be perfectly safe until I can do better for him."
"Where is the way up?"
"About a dozen yards behind you. It's not an easy climb. I'll be back
within five minutes."
The horse was soon tethered to a rock deep inside the cave and away from
the coming storm. But the man was nowhere in sight when she returned to
where she'd left him. Blessedly, the rain was falling only in occasional
brief sputters. Lantern in hand, she entered Cow's Mouth Inlet and
discovered the man crawling on hands and knees up the path. He was nearly
halfway to the top.
"If I'm going the wrong way," he called over his shoulder, "don't tell me."
"You are doing fine," she said bracingly. On her own, she'd have
extinguished the lantern and left it behind, but she greatly feared he
would require its light when he came to the sharp vertical climb near the
top and the jutting rock directly above. "Slow a bit! Let me catch up with
you." She maneuvered herself along the rocky track with the lantern handle
clasped between her teeth.
He waited until she was at his heels before moving again, inches at a
time. She could hear the breath rasping in his throat and almost feel in
her bones what every inch of progress was costing him. He crept steadily
ahead, though, without complaint.
At one point her hand fell on a wet rock. She thought nothing of it,
assuming the moisture to be rainwater. But when she used the hand to wipe
perspiration from her forehead, she smelled the coppery tang of blood.
Nausea rose to her throat as she scrubbed her hand against her trouser
leg. What if he bled himself dry there on the cliffside?
"Who are you?" he asked, pausing for a few seconds before continuing on.
She removed the lantern from her mouth. "L-Luke."
"Glad to know you, Luke. More than I can say. My name is Kit. I should
advise you that I'm a trifle muzzy and am like to tumble off the edge at
any moment. But I won't be any less grateful for your help as I plunge to
"Might I suggest you save your strength for the climb?" she shot back at
him. "The hardest part is at the top."
He chuckled. "I should have guessed."
When he reached the last, almost perpendicular few yards of the cliff, she
tugged at his foot. "Huddle to one side, please. I shall try to go around
"Is that a good idea?"
"No. But you'll need me to pull you up. Take the lantern, will you?"
He did, and she slithered past him with half her body hanging over the
side of the cliff. Should they both survive this ordeal, she thought, she
would kill him for putting her through it. With a final burst of maniacal
strength, she clambered over the jutting rock and flattened herself atop
"You're almost done, sir. Put down the lantern and grab hold of my hands."
"Make that one hand. I've only the one to grab with."
Knitting her fingers together, she made a sort of sling for him to hang on
to as he thrust himself up and over to safety. He must have kicked the
lantern on his final push. It tumbled off the cliff and fell like a
shooting star, the light flaming out when it crashed against the ground
below. That could have been either one of them, she realized, suddenly icy
cold from scalp to toes.
He flopped onto his back, breathing heavily. "Well, that was a treat. I'll
try it again about fifty years from now. Are we there yet? Or do you have
another mountain for us to play on?"
If she had ever doubted it before, she was now convinced the man was daft.
"It's perhaps a hundred yards from here to our destination. Can you walk
if I support you, or would you prefer to crawl?"
"Walk, thank you." He lurched to his feet and seized hold of her waist.
As they teetered in the direction of the cottage, Lucy began to realize
that her problems had only just begun. She could not take him immediately
inside, not without warning Diana and making preparations. Somehow there
must be a way to get through this debacle without ruining everything, but
she had no idea what that way could be. A dark corner of her soul wished
the smuggler had been shot through the heart instead of the arm. Or that
he'd tumbled off the cliff.
But he was alive, drat him, a heavy weight against her now and an
impossible burden to carry from here on out.
To one side, she spotted the large flat tree stump that rose from the
ground a short way from the cottage. Some previous resident had smoothed
the top and now it provided a nice bench to sit on, with a view of the
woodlands in daylight. She detoured over to it and let go of the
smuggler's waist. "You'll have to wait here a few moments, sir. Let me
help you sit."
"Again?" He lowered himself onto the stump with a low groan. "We're making
more stops than a London post deliverer."
"Yes. It's unfortunate. I'll be back directly." He would simply have to
remain befuddled, Lucy thought as she dashed to the cottage and slipped
Diana, seated at a small table beside the hearth, looked up with alarm.
"What happened? Where is your witch's--"
"Never mind that. There's a man waiting outside. He's been shot." She
waved a hand when Diana tried to speak again. "I can't tend to him alone,
so you must be Mrs. Preston. Wear the veil and pretend to be mute."
"Is he badly hurt?"
"I don't know. He's not right in the head, and he's lost a good deal of
blood. We'll need bandages, scissors, perhaps needle and thread. Any
medicines you have that might be useful. Is there laudanum?"
"Yes. I'll bring everything I can think of." Taking her book, Diana went
to the door that led to the cottage's only other room. "Hadn't you better
fetch him inside?"
"In a moment." Lucy darted around the sparsely furnished room, grabbing up
anything that might provide a clue to their identities and concealing the
items in her portmanteau. Finally, taking along a sturdy walking stick,
she went outside to collect the smuggler.