"May?" Felicity Harrington called, anxiety making her voice shake. "May, hurry please!"
Another tremendous gust of wind hit the house, rocking the building. Felicity held on to the banister, fearing the storm would push the house off its foundation and hoping the old place would hold steady until she and May made it safety down to the ground floor.
"Felicity, the rain's coming in my window!"
"I know, sweetling. But there's nothing we can do about it right now. Just bring your blankets and we'll sleep in the morning room. It'll be an adventure."
"Damnation, Nigel Harrington," Felicity muttered through clenched, chattering teeth, "you should be here."
It wasn't that her brother would have been of any use; he never had been before. There were times, like tonight, when she felt a thousand years older than her twenty-two-year-old twin. Though they both had their mother's black hair and dark eyes, as did May, all similarities ended there. Mother had used to say that Nigel had inherited Father's share of common sense, which was a kind way of saying that he had none at all.
Five weeks ago he'd dismissed Smythe, the last of their servants. True, the butler's absence would save them three pounds a month, but then Nigel had taken it into his head to go to London and win enough money to see their ancestral home repaired. Despite her protests, off he'd gone, taking their carriage, their last horse, and all their ready cash with him-all except what she'd been putting aside in case of emergency. But tonight looked more like a catastrophe.
Wind and torrents of rain battered the old walls, and the attictimbers groaned. Plaster dust fell in a damp cloud around her as thunder boomed again over Forton Hall.
"Felicity!" May screeched.
"I'm coming!" She could only guess what May, only eight and possessed of an excruciatingly vivid imagination, must be going through.
With a curse she heaved her bulky quilt over the railing and let it drop to the foyer floor. It knocked one of their last crystal vases off the hall table as it went, shattering the delicate glass. As Felicity hurried down the hallway toward May a window broke, and she shrieked at the sudden cold blast of wet wind that hit her. Shielding her face with one arm, she made her way into her sister's bedchamber.
Curtains flapping above her head and her dark hair blowing around her face like a mad halo, May was swiftly piling clothes, books, toys, and shoes onto the middle of a blanket. "Felicity, where is Polly?" she asked frantically, her brown eyes wide.
"She's downstairs in the morning room, still having tea with Mr. Bear. Here, let me help you with that."
Kneeling, she pulled the four comers of the blanket together and knotted them. Dragging the bundle out into the hall, she headed for the stairs. May followed close behind her, her favorite pillow held tightly to her chest.
"Everything's getting all wet!" she yelled, ducking her face behind the pillow.
Felicity grabbed her sister's arm and pulled her toward the stairs. "It's all right-it'll dry!" The groaning of the old west wing took on an alarming timbre, and she looked anxiously up at the ceiling. Cracks spread across the rough surface with such speed that she could see them growing. "Oh, no," she whispered, hoping May wouldn't notice and panic.
They reached the bottom of the stairs just as the front door blew in. May screamed. One of the double doors cracked off its hinges and slammed onto the foyer floor, narrowly missing the two of them.
The wind howled like a mad wolf. Felicity grabbed May by the arm and dragged her toward the morning room in the newer east wing. Her hair had come loose from its clips and the wet strands whipped into her face, half blinding her. More glass broke behind them, and the house shuddered again.
A resounding crack echoed through the west wing. With a rumble louder than thunder, the entire wing lurched drunkenly sideways and then collapsed on itself. Plaster and glass and wood and water flew outward. Felicity screamed, but she couldn't even hear the sound in her own throat.
Without realizing it, she'd fallen to the floor. As soon as the house stopped shaking and shuddering, she scrambled to her feet, fighting against the tangle of her sodden skirts. "Come on, May!" she yelled. "We'll be safe in the morning room!"
May shook her head. "No! It'll fall, too!"
"No, it won't! The east wing is much sturdier, May. We'll be fine! I promise."
"I hope so," May wailed, gripping her older sister's hand tightly.
So do I. Felicity glanced up at the dark, lightning-streaked sky where a third of her roof used to be. Damn Nigel for running off. If he didn't return with money soon, there wouldn't even be a Forton Hall for him to return to.
Rafael Bancroft awoke to the sensation of having his chest licked. Reluctantly he opened one eye to see a disheveled head of flaming red hair working its way down toward his abdomen.
"Good morning, Lydia," he murmured, stretching and trying to ignore the pounding in his skull. "Where are we?"
She lifted her head to look at him, then grinned and resumed her downward journey. "My room, upstairs from Jezebel's." Lydia giggled, the sound muffled. "And it ain't morning."
Rafe glanced over at the window. "Damn." Although what she was doing felt very good, he supposed he did have things to do. He stretched once more and started to sit up, but then her nimble fingers joined her mouth. With a happy sigh, Rafe lay back and closed his eyes again. Nothing was worth hurrying over that much...