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       A Night of Redemption (The Night Series Book 2), p.1

           Lori Brighton
 
A Night of Redemption (The Night Series Book 2)


  A Night of Redemption

  By Lori Brighton

  Copyright 2015 Lori Brighton

  www.LoriBrighton.com

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  Historical Romances by Lori Brighton:

  The Night Series:

  A Night of Secrets

  A Night of Redemption

  A Night of Forever (novella)

  The Seduction Series:

  To Seduce an Earl

  To Capture a Rake

  To Please a Lady

  The Wild Series:

  Wild Heart

  Wild Desire

  Wild Passion (novella)

  A Night of Redemption

  By

  Lori Brighton

  Chapter 1

  England, 1857

  She cast up her accounts in the rose bushes.

  It wasn’t exactly the arrival she’d been planning, but Beth hadn’t expected a dead sheep either.

  Oh, it had started out normal enough. The coachman had stopped at the end of the long drive, grunting that she’d have to walk the rest of the way. There was no time to take her to the door, nor to wait for a servant. He had a schedule to keep. Some such nonsense about having always been on time, as if she’d believed that ridiculous lie. No, she knew well enough that had she been dressed in finer clothing, he would have found plenty of time to take her to the door.

  Still, after having spent days hiding in small inns and hired carriages, she was happy merely to be free of the stifling confines of the coach. And so she’d left her traveling trunk at the end of the drive, hefted her carpet bag in hand, and started the long walk to the monstrous medieval castle that would have made a superb setting for a gothic novel.

  Although the front of the home loomed large and impressive, and those wide wooden doors beckoned warmth and safety, servants entered through the back. And that’s what she was now… a servant. Glorified perhaps, but still merely a servant. Beth’s throat felt suddenly thick with emotions she didn’t dare dwell upon.

  Refusing to focus on the lowliness of her newfound status, she’d walked what seemed to be to London and back, slogging through mud puddles and briers to get to the far entrance of the castle, only to come upon what appeared to be the housekeeper and a neighboring farmer arguing. She hesitated, peering over the iron gate, and taking in the two, then scanning the area that would be her new home.

  The back of the castle teetered near the edge of a hill, held up by a thick, stone wall that circled the kitchen garden. It was an eerie setting made for wandering virgin maidens in need of saving. Fortunately she was no virgin, and she’d save herself…thank you very much.

  A sudden cool breeze burst from the dark skies, tugging at her skirts and straw bonnet. It would rain tonight. Beth shivered, drawing her arms tightly around her, the carpet bag thumping at her side. She would not think about her lovely garden back home, and the creek where she would wade in the summer, daydreaming about a better future. And she most certainly would not think about the friends she had left behind. No, she would think only about today. And if she didn’t find shelter quickly, she would be more than merely muddy, but soaked through as well.

  Determined not to be caught in the rain, she pushed open the gate and moved into the walled garden. Wildflowers grew in abundance, and a vegetable patch was in full display near the door. The plants had been trimmed of any dying autumn blooms, so only perfect specimens remained. The lack of weeds and the straight rows told her all she needed to know, Lord Brimley had a wonderfully trained staff. A man who either demanded obedience with a heavy hand, or a kind and thoughtful master who had gained the respect of his staff. She could only pray he was the later.

  “Don’t know what ye want the master to do,” the housekeeper grumbled. She was an older, round woman with gray hair and rosy cheeks, the typical sort of housekeeper one expected to find in a well-run country establishment. The sort of housekeeper they’d had when she’d been a child.

  Beth considered her options.

  Perhaps she ought to have waited for them to notice her, but she was too bloody exhausted to stand politely by. She inched her way forward, kicking up mud across the back garden where chickens roamed, pecking at the dirt, looking for a tasty morsel. With each step her head throbbed, as it tended to do when she had too little sleep and too little nourishment but she forced herself to smile. Best foot forward and all.

  The carriage had held not only a woman who snored, but two men who smelled much like whatever lay in the back of the farmer’s wagon. She merely wanted a simple meal and shelter.

  She paused a few considerate steps from the two. There had been a time when she needn’t say a word. When she walked into view, a servant would run to do her bidding. But she was no longer at home, and she was the servant now. She cleared her throat. No one looked her way. They were too lost in their argument to notice someone as unobtrusive as she, a petite woman with plain features.

  “It must stop!” the farmer cried.

  Beth noticed, with some aghast, that the man’s twill trousers were covered with not only dirt, but what appeared to be blood. That’s when Beth’s stomach roiled for the first time.

  “That’s two pigs and one sheep in a mere fortnight.”

  The housekeeper frowned, settling large, red-worn hands on her apron. “I understand, and I’ll let the master know. But isn’t much we can do aboot it now.”

  “Compensation would do well enough,” he grumbled.

  With a sigh, the housekeeper moved closer to the wagon and narrowed her eyes. “Lord,” she whispered. “What a cursed nightmare.”

  Curious, Beth edged toward the housekeeper, hovering near the shorter woman’s shoulder. She saw red first. Brilliant red splashed all over the wagon slats. She gasped, lifting her gaze to the sheep itself. Fluffy, white fur died red, pink flesh hanging in shreds, white bone. Blood…drip…drip… dripping.

  The vision wavered in and out of focus, her mind spinning. It was a brutal nightmare of a scene. Oh Lord indeed. She stumbled back. The beef stew she’d had for luncheon hours ago rose in her throat. Her insides grew hot, her face burned. She was going to be sick.

  Frantic, she dropped her bag and spun around, searching for a place to hide and divest of her lunch in private. No such luck. As her stomach cramped, Beth bent over a beautiful red rose bush and vomited.

  “Oh my!” The housekeeper cried, finally noticing her, unfortunately when Beth would rather be left unseen. Warm hands were at her arms, then patting her back in a soothing, motherly way that made Beth feel even worse. The compassion would only make her seem weak. “Dearie, are ye all right?”

  Of cour
se she wasn’t bloody all right! Oh, how wretchedly horrible! She wasn’t sure which burned more, her stomach or her humiliation. Well, she’d commanded attention all right. She hadn’t expected a ball in her honor, but she hadn’t expected this sort of welcome either.

  “Want to make a wager on which is more disgusting, that or the sheep,” the farmer said, with deep chuckles that grated Beth’s already frayed nerves.

  “Mr. Roan, please!” the housekeeper shooed the man away, forcing him back toward his wagon of nightmares.

  Frowning, he climbed up onto the bench, and picked up the reins. “Fine, but best make sure to tell his lordship what happened with me sheep. I expect something to be done about it. It’s gone on too long now.”

  With a grunt, and a slap of his reins, the wagon lurched forward. The housekeeper glared at the man until he rolled through the open gate. As the sound of the wheels faded, she turned her attention back to Beth. “Who are ye, dear?”

  Beth took the handkerchief from the reticule dangling from her wrist, attempting, with no success to cease the trembling of her hands. “Beth…er… Beth Church. The new governess.”

  She patted the corners of her mouth, cursing her stupidity. It was the first chance she’d had to use her new surname and already she’d stumbled over the word as if it was another language. Fortunately the housekeeper didn’t seem to notice. Perhaps becoming ill was the best way to arrive after all, it certainly dissuaded discussion and questions.

  She gripped Beth’s carpet bag, as she shook her head. “Poor child.”

  Was the woman speaking of Beth’s illness, or her position? She wasn’t quite sure, and felt too wretched to care. The woman wrapped an arm around Beth’s waist. “Come along. Liza’s peppermint tea will be jist the thing to ease yer belly.”

  Beth glanced up at the crescent moon, just visible through the thickening clouds. Too late to leave and hide in shame, besides where would she go? And so she allowed the woman to escort her to the back door. She was utterly stuck. Utterly humiliated. And yes…not for the first time…utterly terrified.

  “What have ye gotten yeself into?” the woman muttered.

  Beth was wondering the very same thing. The housekeeper pushed the wooden door wide and they stepped into a large, warm kitchen that smelled of freshly baked bread. The sights and sounds were like any manor kitchen, comforting in its normalcy. The hum of activity and the clang of pots and pans as the servants prepared the evening meal eased her discomfort. No one had time to wonder over her… a pale, lifeless woman. They were too busy.

  Beth settled in a worn chair, the wood smooth with age, and rested her elbows on the table, her head in her hands. Auburn hair fell in a veil around her face, having come loose from the usually tidy knot she wore. Unlike the clean and neat kitchen, she was an utter mess.

  “How’s the soup coming, Becca?”

  “Well, indeed, ma’am.”

  The housekeeper frowned, pulling up a chair next to Beth. “I’ll be the judge of that. Liza, put the kettle on.”

  A small mousy child who couldn’t have been more than twelve years curtsied and rushed to the large coal range at the far end of the room. Metal clanked against metal, fires crackled, maids hummed, a melodic sound to Beth’s troubled mind. She relished the familiarity of it all.

  “I’m Mrs. Turner, the housekeeper, and most times cook.”

  Beth nodded. “Pleased to meet you.”

  Mrs. Turner clucked her tongue and folded her arms across her wide girth. “Dearie, dearie, but ye look exhausted. A long journey then?”

  Beth nodded. She took no offense at the woman’s comment, for she had heard worse in her lifetime. She certainly held no illusions of beauty. “I suppose I look like I’ve been through a storm.” She patted her hair, tucking loose strands behind her ears and doing her best to appear presentable. “The travel was rather exhausting.”

  But Mrs. Turner remained stubbornly silent, so watchful Beth’s face grew red imagining what the woman thought. She’d never felt more alone, more unsure in her life. She’d left everything behind in order to escape the persecution she knew was to come. Perhaps she should have stayed and fought, or perhaps she should have accepted her punishment, after all she wasn’t exactly innocent.

  “Pardon me for asking, but ye aren’t with child, are ye?”

  She hadn’t been expecting that. Horrified to be discussing something so personal, Beth immediately shook her head in denial. “Of course not.”

  The older woman shrugged. “Jist saying, we’ll find out eventually and best to come clean now.”

  “No,” she whispered, glancing around, embarrassed as she realized that the other servants were watching and listening, the gossip too good to ignore. “It’s… impossible.” Thanks to her husband she’d never have children.

  But the words didn’t seem to put Mrs. Turner at ease. She shook her head, looking gravely disappointed, almost as if she would have welcomed a scandal. If she only knew the truth, she’d be thrilled.

  “Ye don’t look like much.”

  “Excuse me?” Beth asked, bristling.

  They might call her plain, but never would she allow someone to call her weak. How blasted tired she was of people underestimating her. If they knew half the things she’d endured, they might change their tune.

  “Pardon,” the woman said. “That came out wrong.” The kettle whistled and she sighed, standing. “Ye do know how many children Lord Brimley has?”

  “Four.”

  She pulled two tea cups from a shelf above. “And ye realize they’re all boys?”

  Beth paused, unsure what the woman implied, but finally nodded. The housekeeper had said the word boys as if the male species were spawns of the very devil himself. “Yes, of course. I was well informed.”

  “Hmm,” was all Mrs. Turner said as she poured hot water into two cups.

  Her disapproval certainly caught Beth off guard. Did the housekeeper feel this affinity toward all males, or only these males? For not the first time since her journey had started Beth doubted her ability, not that she would admit as much. “Madam, I assure you I am quite well equipped to handle the young lords.”

  That was a lie, but the woman didn’t need to know. Six months. She and Meg had agreed upon six months. If she stayed here six months, they might give up their search, the ruckus might die down, and perhaps, just maybe, if God was on her side Meg might uncover the truth.

  Mrs. Turner settled a steaming cup of tea near Beth, watching her warily. She obviously had much work to do in order to convince this woman of her worth. Would the master of the house be just as hard to please?

  “Thank you,” Beth muttered, wrapping her hands around the chipped porcelain used for servants, and warmed her trembling fingers. In that moment all that mattered was the plain white cup of heated tea, the coziness of the kitchen, and the chair offering rest for her weary body…pure heaven.

  “I mean no offense, of course, but…” Mrs. Turner settled in her chair once more, and thoroughly looked Beth up and down. Apparently she found her lacking, if her frown was any indication. “Ye look like a strong wind could tumble ye over.”

  Beth sighed and sipped her tea but was too content to care. She had heard it before. She was thin, too thin. But worry would do that to a person. Before she’d married, her curves had been wonderfully soft, she hadn’t needed a corset to push things up and out. Oh, she’d never been beautiful, but she’d been pretty enough. But now…now she was a pale reflection of a woman, a ghost of a lady. Even her brilliant red hair had lost some of its usual luster. Someone whom people did not notice, someone who blended into the shadows, and for once she was glad of it.

  “My husband died not long ago.”

  Genuine emotion softened the woman’s round face as she lifted her cup of tea. “I’m so sorry.”

  Beth ran her finger around the rim of her cup, staring into the amber liquid as if expecting answers like a gypsy fortune teller. She feared she no longer had a heart, but she was ut
terly aware that others still valued sympathy, and she used it to her benefit. “Tis all right. I’m fine. But I’ve been so busy taking care of the details that I haven’t had time to take care of myself.”

  The woman lifted a graying brow. “Yet ye think to have time now, here, with four rambunctious lads to teach?”

  Beth resisted the urge to curse. Talking to Mrs. Turner was like talking to the local constable. She’d thought to explain her situation, but had made things worse. Beth settled her cup upon the saucer, ignoring the curious stares of the maids who should have been working. “Mrs. Turner, I assure you I can handle the lads well enough. I’ve dealt with far worse.”

  True enough, but the old woman sighed, sinking back into her chair and looking rather unconvinced. “Well, isn’t fer me to judge anyway. Tis for the master to decide.”

  The older woman set her cup upon the table and stood, fishing in her apron pocket. Before Beth knew what she was about, Mrs. Turner lifted a silver flask and poured what appeared to be a healthy dose of brandy into Beth’s tea cup. “Finish yer tea, ye’ll need the fortitude.”

  If she’d had an ounce of sense, she would have grabbed her carpet bag and fled. But apparently her good judgment had left with the traveling coach.

  Instinct sent alarm bells ringing through her head. But instead of fleeing Beth lifted her cup and drank deeply, praying her instincts were wrong.

  ****

  Nate heard the thump of feet a good five minutes before they arrived.

  Thud. Thud. Thud. Women… two.

  He closed his eyes, his forehead resting against the polished surface of his massive desk, too exhausted to stir. His father’s desk before his. He spread his fingers over the scarred wood, smoothed with age, finding comfort in the familiar.

 
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