Entering the room, Ana saw Christian lying on the bed, his shirt open, revealing the taut muscular chest. Meanwhile Mrs. Jones ministered to him. His face was twisted in pain as the housekeeper ripped his breaches from hip to knee in a sudden movement. Ana gasped as Christian writhed.
“Aaarrggghhh!” Christian’s head was tossed back against the pillow, his face sticky with sweat. The veins of his neck stood out as he gritted his teeth against the pain. Mrs. Jones glanced over her shoulder as Ana moved closer to the bed, then returned to what she was doing. Christian’s thigh was exposed showing a large angry gash high up on his outer leg. The flow of blood had already been stemmed and Mrs. Jones was cleaning the wound and applying a salve.
“What on earth?” Ana’s first instinct was to cover her mouth and clutch at her breast. She did not easily faint at the sight of blood but the shock of seeing Christian in so much pain was unbearable. His glazed eyes focused and fixed on hers and her next impulse was to run to his side and hold him. Just as she was about to do exactly that, he yelled.
“Get her out of here.” It took a moment for Ana to realize that Christian was talking about her. She looked from Mrs. Jones to Taylor. Nobody moved. “Taylor! Get her out!”
“Are you enjoying your visit to Faversham?” Mrs Jones looked like she knew the answer already. Somehow Ana was going to have to pick the woman’s brains regarding the strange attitudes she had encountered. Mrs Jones didn’t pause for Ana’s answer but picked up the cup and carefully raised it to her lips.
The murmur of voices had resumed enough for Ana to be sure that they could not be overheard. “Yes. The town is very pretty and surprisingly busy.” She refused to say anything else about the strange attitudes that she sensed. Not yet, anyway.
“The bastard Captain’s new mistress, no doubt.” Two women were seated at the table adjacent to Ana’s. They were smartly, if somewhat unfashionably attired, so she was sure that they must be wives of important local landowners or businessmen. Both women paused their cups at their lips, as they leaned in to talk in raised whispers. “I hear she was a servant. Rising above her station, thinking to marry the son of a Duke. A failed naval captain, if you please. She’ll be another slut, like the others. Probably leave her brats all over the countryside and run back to the city. More for his collection of waifs and strays. Wouldn’t be surprised if she’s foreign, like the others.”
Read Blackheart: Chapter 8 here
“Well, that seemed to go very well.” The Duke, seeming quite pleased with playing his part, grinned at his wife before taking her hand and pressing a kiss. The Duchess pulled her hand away.
“Don’t count your chickens, Carrick. You know that if anyone can possibly ruin the outcome tonight, it would be your sons. They are both quite charmingly hopeless.” Glancing about the room, she smiled at the revelers in an encouraging way. Enticing them to continue with their fun and ignore the fact that four young people had just disappeared, unchaperoned, under dubious circumstances.
“Those young ladies are well-matched with your errant sons, m’dear. I think this will all go very well.”
“Carrick, you are ever the optimist. As much as I like Miss Steele, I fear that Christian has underestimated his opponent. As to Lady Katherine. We both know that she is not the problem.” She smiled fleetingly at Lady Montford as she waddled past, effectively dismissing the tiresome old biddy’s unwelcome approach.
“Would you care to wager?” Her Grace raised an eyebrow as her husband continued, “four gold sovereigns that there will be grandchildren on their way by Mistlemas.”
Her Grace laughed. “Grandchildren! Oh, I should like to take that wager, and I would gladly lose.”
“What happens now?” The Duke snatched up a glass of champagne from a passing footman.
“We hope that Sir Raymond remembers his lines.”
Read Blackheart: Chapter 6 here
“Really, Christian, it wouldn’t hurt you to smile.” Grace spoke through her own perfectly open visage, her eyes twinkling under a delicate frame of sea foam lace, as Lady Myrston and her tedious son drifted on to the ballroom wearing matching peacock masks that looked for all the world like they might take flight.
“I do believe that it would be the most painful experience of my life, Your Grace, second only to listening to your outrageous conversations with Sir Raymond over canapes.” The Grey men all wore understated silver-grey eye masks to match their dark green jackets and dove-grey breeches. Since they were all of a height and wore powdered wigs (their half-hearted attempt at dressing in costume for the occasion), they were easily confused by those who did not know them well. Elliot and Carrick both grinned at Christian, delighting in his discomfort, meanwhile Christian had plans that would mean he would not be joining them at 3am when their wigs would become overly hot and itchy, for which he was entirely grateful.
“Piffle! We were merely doing what people of our dotage tend to do. What else is left for me but to speculate on my lack of grandchildren? Speaking of which, when are you going to marry, young man? I shall be one foot in the grave and too old to enjoy your progeny if you don’t at least make half an effort to find a suitable wife.” Her Grace also wore a high powdered wig and a gown from the previous century, her waist cinched to show off the girlish figure she still maintained. She had toyed with affecting a French accent all evening until her daughter, Lady Mia, had pointed out that Marie Antionette was, in fact, Austrian and that the effort would be lost on their guests.
“Not for lack of trying,” Christian muttered under his breath.
“What was that?”
“Nothing, Your Grace. Be assured, I shall marry when my brother does.” Christian’s announcement was loud enough for Elliot to turn and thump him in the arm.
“Boys! Really! Please show some decorum,” the duchess hissed from behind her fan.
“Yes, mother.” The young men chimed in unison while their father chuckled.
Read Blackheart: Chapter 5 here
Check the menu for Chapters 6, 7, 8 and 9
“Good heavens. Are you by any chance related to the Duke of Carrick? I knew him in my youth. Did a spot of grouse shooting and salmon fishing with him as a lad and did you know that you’re the spitting image?”
Christian felt his heart crash to the floor along with any hopes that Sir Raymond would grant his request. Elliot shuffled uncomfortably in his seat in a most ungentlemanly way. For a moment Christian wondered if he hadn’t caught something from one of Miriam’s whores. Elliot, to his credit, recovered quickly.
“Why, yes, I’m his son. Lord Elliot Grey at your service, Sir.” Elliot smiled broadly and Sir Raymond was up out of his seat, leaning over offering one slightly gnarled hand. Without a glance or grimace, Elliot took it and shook, clasping it with his other hand. “It is a delight to meet you, Sir. My father has spoken highly of you.”
“Has he indeed?” Sir Raymond looked pleased with the flattery. At first. A slight frown creased his eyebrows as he sat back down. “Well, m’Lord. What can I do for you?”
He looked suspicious and so he should be. To Christian’s knowledge, their father had never mentioned Sir Raymond. Be that as it may, the conversation was settling into something he felt he could manage so he approached the table once more.
“May I introduce my brother, Captain Christian Grey of the Ruby Queen.”
Christian offered his hand, which for an awful moment, he thought Sir Raymond was not about to take. Finally, with pursed lips and a deep look of consternation, Sir Raymond reached to grasp his hand.
“A pleasure to meet you, Sir Raymond.” There was very little confidence left in Christian at this present moment but his voice did not betray him. He ran over several possible approaches to his request in his head and none of them were arriving at the desired result. He had hoped to find a man who was a little desperate to marry off his only daughter, announce that she had been compromised and offer to make her an honest woman. Instead, he had the sinking feeling that that particular offer would be met by pistols at dawn, which although outlawed, Christian was certain that Sir Raymond would have conveniently forgotten that little detail.
“I take it that this is not a courtesy call.” The shrewd older eyes flickered between the brothers, leaving Christian momentarily at a loss.
“Well, yes. I wondered if you would accept my mother’s invitation to the family dinner tonight prior to her masque. You see, my brother here has had the honor of a chance meeting with your daughter at Lady Katherine’s townhouse and has become, I’m afraid, quite unreasonably enamored. He has insisted on having both young ladies in attendance tonight and when I heard that you were in town I thought it would be wonderful for you to renew your acquaintance with my father and have you escort the young ladies.”
Read Blackheart: Chapter 4 here
“Lord Elliot, I was delighted to receive your card.” Kate’s smile was far too wide. Obviously, she was pleased that Ana was about to be rescued but she had forgotten just how presumptuous and arrogant the Grey men could be. It all came flooding back to her as she spoke through gritted teeth. “Tell me, how is your mother, Her Grace.”
A small whimper came from the floor as Hyde obviously realized whose presence he was in. He went on all fours, placing his hands on the ground so that he might rise to his feet. When he did, he barely came to Christian’s shoulder and that realization caused yet another small whimper. Ana was so embarrassed at the whole scene that she could do nothing more than focus on the Aubusson carpet. Christian was here, with his brother and he had no doubt circumvented the most horrideous proposal from Mr Hyde. But why was he here? He had made it quite clear that she would not see him again. Her heart ached at the confusion of it all.
“Miss Steele, Anastasia.” Christian moved past Hyde who almost tripped over the chaise in his efforts to get out of the way. “My darling, please tell me that you were not going back on our understanding?”