When Lord Rutherford arrives in Cornwall to appraise his newly inherited estate, he finds the coast overrun by smugglers and the countryside sadly lacking in amusements. But the dowdy young widow he dismisses as unworthy of his attention is not at all what she appears. . .
To her neighbors, Merrie Trelawney is a poor widow who keeps to herself. But under cover of darkness, she leads a band of reckless smugglers to pay for her late husband's debts. When Lord Rutherford discovers her scandalous secret, he pursues her relentlessly, determined to prove that the thrills she can find in his bed will be far more fulfilling than her lust for adventure. . .
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By Jane Feather
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1986 Jane Feather
All rights reserved.
"The sky will clear before long." The short, stocky Frenchman peered anxiously up into the black canopy where an ominous gray tinge threatened.
"Aye, but 'tis only a quarter moon." The slight figure of his companion shrugged. "We cannot always bend the elements to our will, mon ami."
"More's the pity." Jacques frowned at the busy, silent scene in the small cove, where a fishing boat rocked without lights in the shallows, figures moved with orderly speed, each so certain of his task that they carried crates and bundles ashore with a familiarity that required neither words nor light. "We shall be away before the clouds break," he said. "It is you will face the danger, Meredith."
"'Tis not an unfamiliar one, Jacques." Another shrug and the figure adjusted the knitted cap that fitted tightly around a small, well-shaped head. "The coastguard are a pesky lot these days, though. For some reason, they appear to have taken uncommon offense at our activities." A low musical laugh accompanied the statement and the Frenchman smiled his understanding.
"A fact that adds to your pleasure, I'll be bound."
"You were always a sharp one, Jacques."
"Never a fool, that's for sure, and never one to court danger without cause." He began to move across the sand, his companion keeping pace beside him. "Our task is completed, it seems," the Frenchman resumed, taking in the neat piles on the sand, the sudden stillness of one group of men, the movement of others back to the boat. "We'll make good our escape until our rendezvous next month."
"I think it would be as well to change the position of the signal," Meredith said thoughtfully. "If all's well, we'll show the beacon at Devil's Point, four nights into the new moon. It is agreed?"
"Agreed. God keep you until then."
"And you, Jacques."
Meredith did not linger, after the firm handclasp, to watch the Frenchman and his crew into the boat. The task facing the group of Cornishmen on the beach was onerous and fraught with danger as they loaded onto patient ponies the casks of brandy, bales of silk and lace, well-wrapped bundles of tobacco that were so eagerly awaited by the customers in the villages and hamlets of the county. The deliveries could not be made immediately, and for this night the contraband must be transported to the safety of the cool, dry cave beneath the cliff some two miles to the west of this secluded cove.
As the procession moved across the beach toward the narrow path snaking up to the cliff road, Meredith looked back to the dark Atlantic Ocean. The French boat was nearing the line of surf crashing against the hidden reef at the entrance to the cove. There was one small break in the reef, invisible to all but the skillful and initiated. Jacques was both, and the watcher on the beach could not tarry to see him safely through.
As they reached the cliff head, the clouds parted and for a breathless instant the moon shone clear, shedding its silver illumination on the dark-clad, silent group.
"We're like butterflies on the end of a pin," a rough voice grumbled.
"If anyone's out to pin us tonight, Bart, we'll have a surprise for them," Meredith replied with a sardonic laugh that somehow conveyed both confidence and reassurance.
The clouds closed over the treacherous light once more, and the procession moved on, the ponies' hooves, muffled in sackcloth, making little sound on the stony road.
Saracen lost his footing for the hundredth time in the hundredth pothole and Damian, Lord Rutherford, gave vent to his ill temper in a powerful oath, deciding for the hundredth time that Cornwall was only fit for Cornishmen. He had been riding for hours along murky, ill-paved roads, through an unfriendly countryside, until evening became blackest night and the journey's end appeared no closer. He was alone — a condition he tended to prefer these days, anyway — Walter's horse having gone lame some two hours back, and his lordship, after one look at the only accommodation available in the nearest hamlet, having decided, with a well-bred shudder, that the open road was infinitely preferable. Now, he was regretting the impulse. Better a flea-bitten mattress and dirty sheets than this wasteland.
The directions had seemed straightforward, if he'd understood them, given as they'd been in that abominable accent that bore little relation to human speech as Lord Rutherford knew it: Keep to the coast road some ten miles, bear left at the gibbet at Hacket's Cross, and the village of Landreth would somehow appear. So far, he had come upon nothing remotely resembling a gibbet, with or without a swinging corpse, and the dark Cornish night enclosed both man and horse, the crash of the breaking surf to his right the only sound.
Until the sudden clash of steel upon steel drove irritation to the four winds, sending the soldier's blood racing and drawing a long whinny from the horse, as seasoned a campaigner as his master.
"Easy, Saracen." The soft command was hardly necessary as the Mameluke training reasserted itself, and the black quivered in readiness, velvet nostrils flared to catch the smell of powder and blood that indicated battle. There were voices raised in anger and confusion, the bellow of a musket. Lord Rutherford eased his mount into the scrub beside the road, dismounted, and crept toward the bend that hid the action from his quickening interest.
A veritable melée met his gaze as he crouched with some discomfort behind a gorse bush. In the darkness, he could make out only a tangle of figures, could hear only a muddle of orders shouted in a variety of voices. One figure caught his eye. Lithe and quick, with the supple speed of youth, the young man was everywhere, a short sword flashing, and slowly Lord Rutherford discerned a pattern. One group of combatants was in uniform, coastguard clearly, the others darkly melting into the night. As he watched, he saw the smugglers reduce in number, fading into the blackness as if by some prearranged plan. Those in uniform tripped over their feet and their swords, following a bungled series of orders that seemed to focus on the dancing stripling and two others — burly and broad as oaks — who kept their opponents fully occupied with a series of tantalizing maneuvers. Above the racket came a light, melodious laugh, taunting the revenuers to yet further futility as their prey vanished into the night.
"Break now, Bart!" The command rang clear and decisive over the general cacophony. The accent was as roughly Cornish as any Lord Rutherford had heard this day, but there was a lightness to it, hardly disguised by a note of assertion, so well entrenched as to defy all opposition. The two burly men were suddenly figments of his imagination, gone heaven only knew where, and for a second only the youth remained, poised on the edge of night, radiating a mocking defiance. The instant before he, too, vanished, the dark sky gave way to a sliver of moonlight that revealed a profile, sharply etched against a tight, knitted cap; a tip-tilted nose with a scattering of freckles, the curve of a well-sculpted mouth, the squared-off side of a small chin, and then the light was doused and the figure was no more.
Damian remained in hiding, as puzzled as the discomfited coastguard by the mysterious disappearance of their foes. It was as if the earth had swallowed them, and that taunting laughter seemed to hang in the air so that the revenue men bickered amongst themselves and threw accusations of stupidity as they gathered themselves together and rode off down the cliff road in the direction of what his lordship rather hoped was the village of Landreth.
Meredith crouched on the narrow ledge just below the cliff overhang, listening to the tumult on the road overhead. The cliff at this point appeared to fall sheer to the rocks beneath, and even in broad daylight the sandy shelf was invisible from above. It was a perch fit only for a goat at the best of times but in an emergency could be a lifesaver. Tonight, when the trap had been sprung, the smugglers had followed the routine they had practiced many times. One by one, they had dropped over the cliff under cover of darkness and the distracting tumult of their fellows. Singly, they had crept along the ledge, hugging the cliff face, until the ledge petered out and they had swung themselves up onto the cliff road a quarter mile from the site of the ambush, to vanish into the scrub and gorse. Now only Meredith and Bart remained, waiting in hiding until the night was still and quiet again after the retreat of their disgruntled opponents.
"'Tis as well to be forewarned," the burly Cornishman grunted, heaving himself onto the road and stretching an arm down to his companion. Meredith took the proffered hand and scrambled up beside him.
"Indeed it is, Bart." A light chuckle enlivened the night. "They're such addlepates, though, there's little amusement to be had in outwitting them."
"More than enough for me," Bart stated. "I've no ambition to swing from the gibbet at Hacket's Cross, but there's times when I think you do."
"There's little real danger if we're warned as we were tonight. Had we been surprised with the ponies on the beach, it would have been a different matter. As it is, everyone's away to their beds, the goods and ponies are in the cave. All's right with the world, Bart."
"Until the next time you decide to lock horns with the revenue," the Cornishman muttered. "There was no need to walk into that ambush tonight."
"There was every need, Bart. It was necessary to show them that they do not deal with ill-prepared fools. But we'll not do it again, I promise."
"And with that, I suppose I must be satisfied." Bart peered up at the sky. "We'd best move before the moon finally shows herself. The road's no place to be discovered at this hour of the morning."
His companion nodded agreement, and the two clasped hands briefly before making off across the headland, blissfully ignorant of the watcher hidden in the gorse.
Lord Rutherford retrieved his horse, wondering if he could believe the evidence of his eyes and ears. If so, there were some very strange goings-on in this benighted land. A tiny smile played over his lips, a smile that transformed the somewhat forbidding countenance. It was a smile that had been conspicuously absent in the last six months and one that would have gladdened his mama's heart had she been on that lonely Cornish road to see it.
The smile lasted just as long as it took Lord Rutherford to find Mallory House, outside the village of Landreth in the county of Cornwall. His cousin Matthew had been a reclusive eccentric, not given to the society of his family — or anyone else if rumor were true — and the slate-roofed, gray-stone manor house offered little sign of welcome to the traveler. The driveway was clogged with weeds, the hedges were untrimmed, the paint was peeling on the great door. His lordship's lip curled in distaste as he hammered the tarnished brass knocker and stood back, looking up at the shuttered windows. Cousin Matthew had been dead these two months, but his heir had instructed the servants to remain in situ until he came to examine his inheritance and make what provision was necessary. They had also been instructed to prepare for his arrival, but there was little sign that his orders had been obeyed, a dereliction to which Colonel, Lord Rutherford, was not accustomed.
Lord Rutherford regretted yet again that he had yielded to impulse and abandoned Walter and the comforts, however dubious, of the country inn. He pounded the door a second time, the noise reverberating in the still night. Then came the creak of bolts, muttered expletives, and the door groaned wide on its hinges. A bowed figure in cap and nightgown, a horse blanket over his shoulders, held a candle high, peering up at his lordship to demand, "What's all this then? The last trump?"
"I am Rutherford, man," his lordship declared crisply. "Did you not receive my message?"
"Aye," the old man muttered. "But we wasn't expectin' you in the middle o' the night."
"Have someone see to my horse." Lord Rutherford pushed past the servant to stand in the stone-flagged hall lit only by the man's candle.
"There's nobut meself and the missus — not till mornin'."
His eyebrows meeting above gray eyes, Damian stared in cold disbelief at the old retainer. He was not accustomed to being addressed thus by servants, regardless of the time of day or night, and his expression said so with alarming clarity. Under that hard glare, the elderly man shuffled his slippered feet on the cold stone floor. Rutherford's expression did not lighten even as he recognized that the servant was old and frail, and clearly his late master had not been particularly exacting. After what he'd seen this night, little would surprise his lordship about this godforsaken country, but the hour was too advanced for a lesson in conduct toward a peer of the realm and the heir to a dukedom. Time enough tomorrow to bring a little military discipline to bear.
"Show me to the stables, then," he directed. "I'll see to him myself. While I do so, you'll be pleased to fetch brandy and food. I've ridden many miles this night and am exceeding sharp-set."
"What is it, Harry?" A thin voice quavered from the dark oak staircase, and an elderly woman, bearing a lantern, shuffled into the yellow circle of candlelight.
"'Tis his lordship from London," her husband informed her. "Come to see to his inheritance."
"I'm in need of supper and my bed," Rutherford announced.
"Well, I don't know as 'ow we've much in the way of vittals, m'lord," the woman said with a worried frown. "There's a morsel o' pig's cheek in the pantry left over from Harry's supper ..."
Damian shuddered. "Bread and cheese will do, woman. Surely you can lay hands on that?"
"I daresay I might," she agreed. "You'll be wantin' sheets on the master's bed, I'll be bound. Hasn't had none on it since they took him away — rest his soul." Muttering, she shuffled off into the nether regions, taking the lantern with her.
"The stables, man!" Rutherford swung impatiently on his heel and strode to the door, Harry following, huddled in the coarse blanket.
It had clearly been some time since the stables at Mallory House had housed an animal of Saracen's caliber, if, indeed, they ever had done so. Two cart horses and a sway-backed nag occupied adjoining stalls. The remainder were empty, bearing odorous signs of their previous occupants. Lord Rutherford decided that he was unequal to the task of mucking out stables in the early hours of a July morning. Saracen would have to endure dirt and discomfort for one night, as his lordship gloomily supposed he must, also. In future, however, he resolved to keep Walter at his side throughout this entire, misbegotten expedition.
The heel of a stale loaf and a chunk of cheese clearly destined for the mousetrap did little to relieve his spirits. The brandy, however, was more than tolerable, a fact that did not surprise his lordship unduly after the scene he had witnessed on the cliff road. The Gentlemen were clearly very active on this part of the Cornish coast and would provide some compensation for discomfort.
Cousin Matthew's bedchamber was as gloomy as if the corpse still remained. There were sheets on the feather mattress, though, and an oil lamp on the bulky armoire. A pitcher of cold water appeared on request, initial reluctance to fulfilling the request having disappeared miraculously when it had become a sharp order issued in tones more suitable to a barrack square. His lordship was slowly becoming resigned to the idea that London ways had not reached Cornwall. He could have appeared unexpectedly at any one of the establishments owned by the Keighley family, at any time of the night, and been received as if it were mid morning and he had been eagerly awaited. But those establishments were staffed by veritable armies, a far cry from the morose, elderly retainers who had served Cousin Matthew and were now to serve him. Or would do so, if he could bring himself to remain beyond the morrow, Rutherford reflected moodily, dousing the lantern and climbing onto the high mattress. He sniffed suspiciously — the linen was most definitely musty, but at least it didn't feel damp. He'd endured much worse in the Peninsula, of course, but he hadn't had a stiff shoulder then, and what a soldier expected in a war was rather different from what a man expected in his own house in a country at peace.
Excerpted from Smuggler's Lady by Jane Feather. Copyright © 1986 Jane Feather. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you are a true romance reader this book will only disappoint. The author did not create the personal connection between the hero and heroine necessary to keep you entertained. I found myself reading paragraphs so boring I was unable to retain what was in it. I had to re-read many sections because of make believe words and lack of imagery. The story line is all over the map with the actual smuggling part very limited. The reason used to keep the heroine from saying yes to the hero was not credible and painfully drawn out. The book was about 100 to 150 pages to long. This book will be settled comfortably at the back of my collection collecting dust until the next yardsale. Heed my advice and save your pennies, its not even worth the discounted price.
Fun read and entertaining. I recommend!
A unique take on the usual British romance novel. Merrie has resorted to leading a small band of Cornish smugglers to earn the money needed to redeem her home in Cornwall after her now deceased husband left her a legacy of gambling debts. Damian, Lord Rutherford, takes up residence in the godforsaken and unkempt country home of his deceased cousin Lord Mallory. Things at that estate are in a serious state of squalor. What ensues is the romance between an unsuited pair. I found the story interesting on many levels. It was quite evident to me that Ms. Feather has done her research on the varying aspects of Cornish smuggling and London society. However, I was a bit put off by the use of 'period vocabulary'; while necessary to a certain point, too much of it can be a bit confusing for the average reader. Overall, the story moved along at a steady pace. The characters were quite complex. And I found myself trying to figure out what conflict could come next before the two decided to yield to their common interest: love. Readers of this genre will not be disappointed.