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A long moment passed before either of them noticed a distant rumbling in the stillness of the night. A frown flickered across brow as he realized the sound was not born of the wind blowing through the trees. Indeed, no bridegroom could have been more determined to ignore the intrusion, but try as he might he could not banish the noise to the farthermost reaches of the universe. It grew increasingly louder until it became the rattle of many hooves thundering up the lane in front of the house.
Having failed to relegate the clamor to some distant clime, Jeff raised himself on an elbow and glared toward the bedroom door through which the offending clatter drifted, totally incensed that some of his blundering acquaintances might have chosen is precise moment to pay him a visit.
"I'll kill them!" he growled low. "So help me, if this is some kind of prank my friends have concocted, I'll kill the whole bloody lot of them!"
Sharing his disappointment, Raelynn trembled in frustration beneath him. Even now she could feel the fires cooling in his loins, while the ones in her own body still raged, yearning to be sated. "Who would visit at such an hour?"
Jeff heaved a frustrated sigh. "I'm afraid, my love, we're about to find out."
In the next instant, the front door slammed open, reverberating throughout the house, and a loud shout, heavily tinged with an accent, filled the halls. "Vhere is zhe master of zhis house? Vhere is zhat rat who stole my voman?"
Raelynn gasped, vividly recalling her revulsion and rage when her uncle had tried to sell her to the German. "That voice! Oh, Jeff! I'd know it any. where!" She claspedhis arm in distress. "It's Gustav Fridrich!"
Jeff muttered a curse as he rolled from her and came to his feet. Scooping up her chemise, he tossed it to her. "Quickly, my love! Dress yourself!"
As he reached for his breeches and pulled them on, Raelynn slid to her feet and hurriedly settled her undergarment into place. "What will you do, Jeff?"
"Gustav may reign like a ruthless barbarian over feeble old men, but here at Oakley, he'll soon learn he faces a different kind of adversary," he answered. "No man forces his way into my house without answering for it."
His words made his young bride quake with fear. " 'Tis foolishness to think that you can confront Gustav and his men alone, Jeff. You'll not remain unscathed. You've got to flee to safety before it's too late!"
"'Pon my word, madam. What kind of man do you think me?" Jeff stared at her in astonishment. "I cannot flee and leave so many of mine at the mercy of that brute. I'd be a coward in my own eyes, as well as in yours.
Even before uttering her plea, Raelynn had known he would deny her request, but she had felt strongly compelled to beg him just the same. His reply was no different than her father's had been when Evalina had begged him to make haste and flee from England on a ship. Having had truth on his side, Lord Barrett had thought he'd be victorious over his enemies, but of course that had not been the way of it Intuition had warned Raelynn that Jeff was a man who took honor and responsibility seriously, even at the expense of his own life, but lofty principles offered little solace to a bereaved widow.
"It didn't take long for Gustav to find out about us," she said, knowing only too well where the in formation had come from.
"I was wrong to think Cooper Frye would leave us alone," Jeff conceded. " 'Tis sure that he has had some hand in this matter and has deliberately sent the German to vie with me."
"You will be careful, won't you, Jeff!" Raelynn pleaded in deep consternation. "No one can predict what Gustav will do if he's crossed. He could even kill you if he gets the chance."
" 'Tis not my intent to yield him the opportunity, madam," Jeff replied, tossing her a grin as he strode across the room. "Now that I've found you, I have much to live for."
Opening the doors of a large armoire, he took a wooden box from the middle shelf and removed a pair of matching flintlocks. After checking the priming on both, he slid one into the top of his breeches and clasped the other firmly in hand as he went to the bedroom door. Laying a hand on the knob, he turned to face her. "Lock the door behind me, Raelynn, he urged. "I'd not take it kindly if some way ward rogue slipped past me and bundled you off to Gustav's lair."
The door swung closed, and Raelynn stared in frozen dismay at the portal. She waited, expecting to hear some slight sound as Jeff moved down the hall, but there was only the commotion created by the invasion of the brigands. The loudness of their entry Stripped away any hope that Jeff would be successful in holding so many men at bay. To be sure, if Kingston no longer was in the house, then her husband would be completely alone when he faced the ruthless rogue and his lawless band.
Her conscience reared up accusingly. This was her fault! Gustav Fridrich would never have come to Oakley if she hadn't defied her uncle and run away! Burdened by a growing dread of what terrible disaster might befall her husband, Raelynn cringed inwardly as a deep gloom settled its murky shroud over her spirit, coming nigh to smothering her. If the dreaded reaper wreaked the same degree of havoc upon the one she now loved as he had those she had cherished in the past, then surely calamity would have its day. She'd be powerless to stop it!
Copyright ) 1996 by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss