A SERIAL NOVEL BY MARIANNE KRESSE

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ENGLAND 1815

She’d been running for weeks and was tired, so very tired. With winter now upon them she had thought she was finally safe. No one in their right mind would follow her here to the cold snowy depths of Chesham especially with the snow already knee deep and only three weeks into winter. She had everything she needed to hold out here for months, but the sound of a bullet had frozen her to the spot. ‘It’s only hunters,’ her mind kept repeating. But who would hunt here? She was miles from anywhere, anyone.

Creeping through the woods she silently made her way to where she thought the bullet had gone off, but sound in the woods was deceptive as it echoed its way through the tall trees and snow covered bushes. She was mad to go anywhere near the hunters, but Amelia had never been sane. She had been dubbed the ‘Witch of Wembley’ and her actions had always bordered on crazy, at least to the Ton, who eyed her warily and with fear. Her last act being the reason she was now running for her freedom, her life.

Her uncle had wanted her gone. Married off to the highest bidder, and unfortunately that happened to be the Marquis of Waverley, who at last count was no younger than seventy and had a soul as black as the devil himself, or so the rumours whispered. She had stood defiantly in the Weatherby’s ballroom and screamed and cursed… a fit born from desperation with enough crazy in it to ensure it scared the hell out of everyone present. And it did, the Marquis all but crying off the betrothal, the whole event leaving in its wake a most furious uncle and the prospect of being sent to Bedlam. And so she had packed what few possessions she owned and fled.

But her uncle, the bastard that he was, had sent someone to find her and this someone had been patiently tracking her for months. And she had thought she had lost him. Until now.

Pain flared in Dominic’s chest, his world tumulting as he finally crashed from his horse and landed heavily to the ground, grunting as his back connected with the jagged edge of a huge rock. Just his luck, he thought miserably to find the only rock in this god forsaken, snow covered, freezing, desolate hell. His head was throbbing as nausea and dizziness made his stomach churn, his head light. His chest was wet, he thought somewhat confused, as he brought his hand slowly up to investigate. It came away red, covered in blood, his blood. Bloody hell! Would his luck – or rather lack of – ever change?

Turning to his side with difficulty he brought up his breakfast, before he collapsed again onto his back the pain causing his vision to waver as he fought to remain conscious by analysing his situation.  He’d been shot. He would die here in this frozen hell. Well, that definitely was a short and sweet summation, he thought dismally, certainly nothing that would encourage him to remain conscious. The voices he heard in the distance however did give a little more encouragement. As they moved closer, he instinctively closed his eyes, the cold snow already seeping into
his body making his breath too shallow. Feigning death apparently would not be too difficult, he thought wryly. It seemed he was almost there.

‘Is ‘e dead?’

‘Looks like….’

‘If ‘e ain’t dead yet, ‘e soon will be. The cold will kill him soon enough. At least we don’t have to worry about hiding the body, ‘e’ll be covered in snow in no time, won’t be found for months.’

‘Yeh. Let’s get what we came for and get outta here!’

‘So where did ‘is bloody horse go?’

‘Must ‘ave got scared by the noise of the bullet and thrown him. Come let’s find ‘is damn horse.’

As they moved off Dominic slowly opened his eyes.

His horse was gone? Mercury would never leave his side. Even through the whole damn war that horse had remained steadfast and true to his master.

Tears glistened on his long black lashes, the pain of Mercury’s desertion leaving him cold. His one and only friend had left him to die alone.

He could still hear the men’s voices in the distance, and tried to rouse himself when he heard their screams. But he was weakening, the brightness of the snow now seeming duller, foggier.

He blinked wildly trying to stay awake, but his limbs were going numb, the pain in his chest dimming as the cold seeped into his body. The sudden shadow falling over him startled him. Bloody hell! It was her… and she was holding a gun. He knew he was now dead for sure. She would not help him.

Holding the gun casually she stared down at the man coldly.

‘It seems the chase is finally over,’ she whispered hoarsely.

He nodded, the motion causing him again to violently vomit, gagging as he began to choke and black out.

What an ignoble way to die. Suffocated by his own puke…

But then somehow he was on his side. And he could breathe.

‘Who is paying you to follow me?’ she asked coldly.

He was gasping for air, his body’s trembles now beyond his control as he looked up one final time his voice crackling with sound as he attempted to answer, though no words came out as he breathed his last breath before all went black….

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The past week since Amelia had found and dragged her injured ‘guest’ back to her small cottage had been one of the longest and most stressful of her life. Through all the dramas incurred and survived over her last 23 years, the responsibility of trying to save a person’s life had quickly become the scariest of them all. Her uncertainty and fear only deepened, as her ineffectiveness – ineptness seemed too harsh a word – became all too glaringly obvious, as the man’s life not only continued to remain in the balance but appeared in all honest reflection to be slowly getting worse.

Of all her talents, it had become despairingly obvious that ‘healing’ was not one of them. His fever was growing with each passing day and she feared unless she found a way to bring his temperature down, he would soon die. The thought made her head pound as her lack of sleep began to take its toll. Closing her eyes briefly she tried to calm herself, but her agitation was too set in to be easily soothed.

“Damn it!” she swore, as she stared grimly at the unconscious man before her. She did not even know his name. Sighing, she placed the cloth into the snow-filled bucket and began the lengthy task of trying to cool down his body. The wound still looked raw. Although the bullet had gone straight through and she had cauterised it, infection had nonetheless set in. No matter what herbs or remedies she tried, nothing seemed to helped. She would have had the same results had she spent the last week dancing around a fire wearing nothing but mud, feathers and cow bells while clucking like a chicken and braying at the moon, she thought humourlessly. The frustration she felt only worsened as her patient began to groan painfully and toss about, muttering softly to himself.

“Shhhh!” she whispered frantically as she held him down trying to still his movements. “You must stop all this fuss before you hurt yourself further.” “Hot…so bloody hot…” her patient moaned, his fevered emerald green eyes suddenly opening to stare piercingly into hers. The clarity in them startled her.

“I know, I know…” she murmured soothingly as she placed a cool cloth to his forehead and another on his chest. “It will get better soon, I promise,” she whispered, not caring how heavily the lie in her words rested on her conscience or her soul.

Dominic was burning up. His shoulder throbbed painfully and his head seemed ready to burst. He felt her presence as she tried to comfort him, but it was only after he opened his eyes and stared into her frightened blue ones that he forced his mind to clear and his body to relax. He did not like the look of total weariness and fear that had reflected back at him from her startled gaze. He tried to focus as a cool cloth was placed on him. Tried to concentrate as she squeezed water into his mouth, moistened his lips. Tried to speak, but his voice would not co-operate. His croaky whisper, “It will be alright Amelia….everything will be alright,” only seemed to shock her more as she shied back from him in fear.

“who are you? How do you know my name”?

“I have come to save you,” he whispered.

“Save me?” she muttered as she passed the moist cloth again over his chest then down his arms.

“Why on earth would you need to save me?” she said quietly, unable to contain the shiver that ran down her spine as the look in his eyes intensified.

“Men…” he grunted as pain flared through him. “Bounty hunters…are following you…they are the ones who shot me…” he paused, struggling for breath.

“Bounty hunters? Why would they be tracking me? I have done nothing.”

“Murder…”

She sat back suddenly too shocked to respond. The man raised himself on his elbow so that he could face her fully. Reaching out he grabbed her hand.

“They think you murdered the Marquis of Waverly.” The man finished with a sharp intake of breath, his position making his shoulder ache. “How is that possible when I have never met the man?” she asked astonishingly. “What proof do they have?”

The man slumped back wearily and sighed.

“I do not think they have much, but that does not mean you are not in danger. They are a superstitious pair who will not take too much convincing of your guilt, particularly after your display at the Weatherby’s. The curse you screamed has half the Ton seeing you guilty.”

“They think I murdered the Marquis with a few angry words?”

“Yes.”

“Bloody hell!” she swore. “The fools, can they not see the truth?” She stood needing to pace the room as frustration and fear caused her body to tremble. She flicked her gaze at the dampening fire and it suddenly flamed with renewed life.

“Fools,” she muttered to herself as she stomped angrily around the small room. Biting down her fear she turned and strode back to the bed and glared at the man lying there.

“And why are you here sir? Why have you taken it upon yourself to ‘save’ me? Do you not think I murdered the Marquis also?”

Slowly he shook his head.

“I do not know exactly what is going on here but I do know unequivocally that you did not kill the Marquis of Waverly.”

“And how would you know that? You know nothing of me!”

“I know because I am the Marquis of Waverly,” he said stiffly. “And although I may be now laying at death’s door, I still have not passed through it.”

She stared at him in disbelief. “You are Waverly?”

He nodded. “Dominic Edward Horacio Windermere, the Marquis of Waverly, at your service madam.”

To be continued…

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