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Chapter One

July 12, 1817

      "It's about bloody time." Grumbled Clive Edward Colcord the Lord of Breakerton. He had traveled the length of the Milton road looking for a highwayman he was beginning to think did not exist. Not that he had anything better to do, but he had begun to consider the men who implored him to find the highwayman threatening the area had done so on a lark. His spirits rose knowing he had not been taken for a fool. He could now hear the waves beating against the shore signifying how close he was to the sea. His blood still boiling from the two gunshots sending his team careening along the moonlit road. It was only just that Clive managed to get a grasp on his walking stick cum saber, but his pistol had been misplaced within the carriage somewhere.

     "Step free of the vehicle. I shan't ask again.” He heard the impatient braggard demand. Considering the hours Clive was forced to ride The Milton tonight looking for this criminal, he could wait.

      The moon still shone brightly, but his foe was crafty and remained in the shadows while the cool briny wind from the ocean stung his face once outside.

     "Good evening. Wonderfully bright evening is it not?" Clive quizzed in his usual jovial manner. The reports of this fiend were woefully vacant of tales of violence. He decided to be at his leisure until the situation called for otherwise. He was satisfied when his foe stepped further into the shadows. "How might I be of assistance?”

     "I am in need of but two things and as luck would have it you can assist me with both.” The inky figure answered back in an unusual raspy tone sending Clive's nerves on edge.

     "I am at your service.” Clive started toward the voice in hopes of seeing better.

     "Stop!” The shadow ordered "That will be far enough. What I need is for you to leave your coin purse on that rock to your right, then regain your carriage, instruct your driver to turn around and go back from hence you came."

     "If you are playing at being a highwayman might I ask why you did not instruct me to stand and deliver? I am not accustomed to such employment, but was under the impression it was a requirement of your profession.” Clive asked with humor clear in his voice. His would be assailant seemed to be taken aback momentarily."

     "You sir seem to have read your share of penny novels. I would have thought them below your station and gender for that matter.”

     Clive quite liked a quick wit and it seemed even in these circumstances he could appreciate it. "Well played lad." He commended with a bow of his head. "It is quite refreshing to see one be so industrious and forward thinking in their craft. I am afraid I will be unable to acquiesce, however.” He turned to see, what he already knew he would. Paul, his driver had been instructed to make haste in hiding himself out of sight. He might like the diversion of hunting dastardly deed doers, but it was no reason to put his people in danger. "As you can see, I am afraid my driver fled. I do believe he is unaccustomed to being shot at. Not to mention, I quite like where my coin purse is and would rather keep it on my person. Also, I have business ahead on this road not behind." The din of the waves drowned out the usual night sounds making this encounter seeming even more intimate than he would have thought.   

     Strange, that.

     A stunned silence filled the expanse between them except for the sound of the sea and the wisps of salt air mussing his locks. In the silence he heard the clean sound of a sword leaving its sheath. Clive, never wanting to be left out, did the same, but continued his attempt at conversation,. "Shall I bid you farewell then?" He prodded.

     "I am afraid you may not.” The voice answered with a deadly tinge to the huskiness. The shadow advanced with a slow stride. One had to be impressed by such confidence, Clive decided. The moon glinted off the highly polished steel. "I will ask only once more. Leave your change purse, then turn tail and take your arse home hence you came."

     "I don't believe my arse is any of your concern, but thank you.” Clive answered. He was enjoying himself quite a bit which easily waylaid his annoyance from earlier. If nothing else this highway man appeared above the pale where intelligence was concerned. "Did you bring that sword for show or were you planning on using it?” He heckled.

     Before he could ready himself for the answer he was forced to jump out of the way as the blade hummed past his ear. Along with the humming sound came the smell of--jasmine? He managed to rally and block the next blow with his own sword making his arm tingle from the reverberation of the swords coming to blows. They volleyed back and forth for several moments.

     This highway man had been trained with the blade. Of that Clive was sure. He himself had studied at Angelo's Fencing Academy. He felt a pagne of homesickness for London, and all his chums that spent time at the prestigious academy, however he doubted any of them would believe he was at this moment fencing for something more than a free pint. Again, the smell of jasmine skitted across his nose filling his senses. That, mixed with the brine of the ocean was a sensual mix.   

     Clive shook his head. When had he gotten so depraved that a sword fight become sexually arousing? As he again blocked and parried he decided he needed to seek out a mistress as soon as he got home. Either that or call for one of his sisters to come and sign him into Bedlam. When a man began getting sexually aroused during a sword fight--well, let us just say it conjures up all sorts of complications, not to mention many safety hazards. He made a lunge toward his opponent just missing the braggart’s shoulder.

     That was when he saw it. At first he thought, along with his nostrils, his eyes were beginning to falter, but then the moonlight caught and trailed down a distinctly feminine lock of black, curly hair. It lay along the shoulder Clive almost ran through only moments before, trailing along her arm.

      A woman.

      The damned highwayman was a woman. It all clicked into place. The smell of jasmine, his physical reaction, and the lack of information the other victims, all men, were willing to give.

     Unfortunately, his concentration was broken just enough and his jasmine scented thief lunged and made contact. Pain shot down his arm to his fingers almost forcing him to drop his own blade. The litany of expletives was enough to make him blush, but in the shadows he could see a satisfied cat-like smirk on his opponent. The only woman as of late who could make his loins react was also the one person who could best him in a sword fight. This was not speaking well for him in the least.

     "I hope you realize my tailor with be less than impressed. This happened to be an original." He said through gritted teeth. The truth was she had managed to slice him in the meaty upper arm muscle. He could already feel the hot blood covering his left arm. It hurt like hell.

     "I am willing to consider this a warning. Now, toss over your change purse please, then leave and go back and tell your friends not to come by this way unless they care to have a similar fate.”

     She stood silently waiting. He did his best to remain upright as the pain worsened. He was still digesting the fact she was a woman. Angelo, would be so disappointed. He eyed her for the tick of a second hand.

     "I would love to do as you have so convincingly asked, however I am unable to now reach in my waistcoat and procure said item. I am afraid if you truly want my money you will have to gain it yourself. It's on the right side.” Clive added to the effect by popping out his right hip. How much did she want his money and how bold was she?

     She was out of the darkness enough for him to see her open her mouth then shut it again. He could just imagine how lush her lips were. He saw in her eyes the moment she decided to have a go. She took a moment to pull her neckerchief around her nose to hide her appearance and that beautifully full mouth then she advanced. He stood still not attempting a bit of assistance. Not very gentlemanly, but she had just delivered quite a nasty cut to his arm. When she finally wrenched the purse free, Clive's libido reacted and he was grinning despite the pain in his arm. She looked for only a fleeting moment at him. Her eyes were a deep color. The moon was not bright enough to make out the hue, however.

     Quickly, she stood back. "Thank you sir, for your generosity." She said with a flare Clive appreciated.

     He inclined his head. "No, thank you. I have never been robbed by one with such a gentle touch. You may have ruined me for my current affair.”

     She gaped at him for only a moment, and she was gone. Just like that. In the darkness he could hear rustling then hoof beats leaving the scene. He scanned the darkness for only a moment until Phillip came to the rescue.

     "He got ye, My Lord! I could see it from where I was! Are ye gonna die on me?” He heard Phillip ask as he ran to assist.

     "No, I am afraid you will be stuck with me for a while longer.” He chose not to enlighten Phillip on his new found knowledge. His arm however, needed some tending. "I would ask that we find our way home post haste."

     "Of course, MiLord. Jus’ hold on."

      Once in the carriage, Clive wrapped his cravat around the throbbing under his coat. She did an admirable job, damn it. He tied a knot to secure his expensive bandage. Adrenaline surged through him, and he could still smell jasmine. He closed his eyes and still heard her voice. Her voice should have given away her gender -- A raspy, husky, sultry tremor. He laid his head against the squabs. When he left for this little assignment he was intrigued. Now, he was exhilarated. This would prove to be diverting after all.

     "Hold on mi lord! We're almost there!” Phillip shouted. He must have called out in pain. He didn't remember. Closing his eyes hoping his driver was true to his word and he would soon be able to exit this insufferable vehicle. Visions of his assailant, no longer easy to conjure over the pain, and queasiness played in his mind.

     He laid his head back on the squabs as his prison on wheels continued down the road. He stretched his good arm out to the corner of the bench. His hand slid over something smooth and cool. Clive laughed wincing from the shaking of shoulders jarring his wound. His pistol had been on the bench all the while. The thought of what he could have done sobered him instantly. Had he put his hand on the firearm earlier, he may well have shot and killed a woman. He wouldn't now be in so much pain bleeding on his favorite London-made waistcoat, but this mystery woman would be dead. She may have stolen from him and all but cut him to shreds, but there was something more to this woman. His jasmine scented highway woman. The magistrate may have put him to finding and stopping a dangerous highwayman, but he now finding a damsel in distress took precedence. The question is; would she want a champion and at the end of the day would he have what it took?

     "Oi, this will be exhilarating.” He closed his eyes giving into the darkness which engulfed his thoughts and his pain..

     "I do not need a surgeon.” A very harassed Clive complained the next morning as his housekeeper, butler, and valet fussed over him. The prior night as soon as he arrived home they had clucked and fretted. It hurt like hell, but he knew it was not life threatening once they staunched the flow of blood. Cook had immediately brought water and linen to clean him up. The bleeding had stopped and he was able to examine his injury. It was a long gash running horizontally along his inner arm. Had it been but a scratch he would have been thankful, but his little minx of a thief cut him deeply. Therefore, every time he moved his arm it would begin gushing a new.

     "Aye, ye do." Grumbled Mrs. St. Syer. "If'n ye don't get that stitched up ye'll bleed out afore ye can heal. May I show 'im up?” She bustled around the bed plumping pillows and smoothing wrinkles from the coverlet.

      Could he ever become free of meddling women? "Very well.” There was nothing to do, but suffer the attentions.

More than an hour later, Clive lay in bed waiting for his brandy. The effects of laudanum were not to his liking. He needed to keep his wits about him and after years of practice brandy did not seem to fog his mind as much. He had managed to send word to the magistrate that he had some information about the thief. Just what he was going to offer of all he knew he had yet to decide. It went without saying he could not let the secret of her gender be known. If word got out there would be several who might take a try at apprehending her. That would lead to nothing Clive wished to consider.  In fact, any of the men who knew of her gender were unwilling to admit they had been bested by one of the more genteel persuasion. If he could make it appear he believed it to be a man, he might very well be able to keep those men quiet--at least for the moment.

     The fire crackled. That was a touch Mrs. St. Syer insisted on. She claimed he might catch a chill. As it was now moving into the summer months, he doubted it greatly. His valet managed to open the window next to his bed and pull the drapes when she wasn't looking in hopes to cool the room a trifle. Lying in the center of the large four-poster bed he wondered why the room couldn't hold this heat in the dead of winter.

     It had taken much of his remaining energy, but once he managed to throw the last of his well-meaning assailants out of his room and nibbed the lock he was able to tear his way out of his night shirt and dressing gown. The saving grace, however was the drape, now a puddle on the floor which once covered the window and the blessed Scottish breeze. The caress of the heather filled room and kissed his chest. Goosebumps bristled along his skin and his nipples hardened. The brandy had soothed the worst of the pain, but he could still feel each pucker where the surgeon had put a stitch. Exhaustion pulled on his eyelids while visions of beautiful black hair, luminescent dark eyes, and full rich burgundy lips drew him down into brandy hazed dreams.

     For the time being.

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