The Bride Takes a Groom


The Basingstoke Select Academy for Young Ladies
Coventry, England
June 1805

A summer evening.

Overhead, a full, golden moon.

A soft masculine voice murmuring in her ear, “Ma chérie, je veux te toucher.”

A hand, drawn across her bosom.

Pleasure. Refuge. Connection.

She pressed herself closer, and as she did so, to her drifted the faintest scent of lavender, carried gently on the breeze that rustled leaves, caressed flowers, stirred the light muslin hem of her gown.

Lavender, and . . . witch hazel?

A sudden, urgent warning sounded deep in Katherine Brooke’s brain, but it was too late.

“Miss Brooke! Monsieur de la Motte! What is the meaning of this?” came the outraged voice of Miss Wolfe, headmistress of the very exclusive and even more expensive boarding school at which Katherine had been immured for two long, miserable years.

Germaine — Monsieur de la Motte — gave an audible gasp of horror, and before Katherine’s equally horrified gaze the dashing music instructor who had been so bold, so eloquent, seemed abruptly to become a rather large pile of blancmange. He released her and pulled away as if he had just been holding in his arms a repulsive, bad-smelling troll he’d found lurking under a bridge somewhere, and gibbered:

“Oh, Mademoiselle Wolfe, forgive me — it was nothing — without significance — a brotherly embrace to comfort only — the poor demoiselle so lonely and far from home — and but this one time, I do assure you — it was that I felt so very sorry for her —”

“You lie, you — you weasel,” interrupted Katherine hotly. If she’d had her wits about her, she might have gone along with his inane little story and maybe, just maybe, mitigated this rapidly unfolding disaster, but there was something about the way he was babbling on, as if she was nothing, as if she was without significance, that made a crimson mist of rage rise up in front of her eyes like a vengeful wraith. What had happened to all those bewitchingly romantic words of passion?

She wrenched herself around to face Miss Wolfe. “It’s not the first time, we’ve been meeting in the garden for weeks, and he’s been kissing me!”

Germaine de la Motte, no doubt aware that his days at the Basingstoke Academy for Young Ladies had drawn to an immediate close, and that within mere minutes he would be booted out onto the street with nothing but his hastily packed valise in hand, gave Katherine a look of undisguised malice. “But recall, mademoiselle, how ardently you sought me out.”

Oh, splendid, now the cat was well and truly let out of the bag, thus making things instantly go from bad to worse. Katherine could feel her fury dissolving with almost ludicrous speed and giving way to soul-shattering embarrassment and shame. “I — I thought you liked me,” she faltered.

He smiled thinly and lifted his shoulders in a Gallic gesture of dismissal. “Ma pauvre chérie.”

His words came at her like a slap in the face, cruel, patronizing, stinging. It had all been a lie. A malign and hard-hearted deception. So much for those embraces, the kisses, the furtive touches here and there, the exciting feel of a man’s body against her own. How wrong and awful she’d been, how stupid, how bad —

And here, to emphasize just how bad, was Miss Wolfe again, very nearly sputtering in her fury:

“I can hardly believe my ears! That a pupil of mine would stoop so low! To solicit such a thing! To sneak about, like a sordid criminal! And you but barely turned fifteen, Miss Brooke! Be sure that I shall inform your parents by express first thing tomorrow.”

Katherine hung her head. She was a low, sneaking, sordid, criminal sort of girl. Hadn’t she known, underneath it all, that she was behaving dreadfully? “Yes, Miss Wolfe,” she muttered, aware, to her further horror, that tears were gathering in her eyes, had begun to roll in heavy, wet, revealing drops down her cheeks. More ashamed of herself than ever, with a kind of desperation she scrubbed at the tears with her bare hands. Oh, she hated this place. If she was lucky, her parents would have her removed at once.

But as it turned out, she would stay on for four more long, miserable years at the Basingstoke Academy, Mother and Father agreeing with Miss Wolfe’s expert (and, ultimately, costly) assessment that Katherine — so gauche, so inattentive — would need them in order to acquire even the most fundamental degree of polish, that essential and elusive je ne sais quoi, which would enable her to someday, one hoped, comport herself without committing further, dreadful gaffes.


Six years after the hushed-up incident at the Basingstoke Select Academy for Young Ladies . . .
Somewhere near the Canadian border
April 1811

It had been a perfectly good day, tramping along the St. Lawrence River and leading his men in a jolly little reconnaissance through the woods, until all at once there was a crack and a slight whistling noise.

Then there was a sharp pain six inches down and to the right of his heart.

“Damn it to hell,” said Hugo Penhallow, whipping around and in a single rapid motion bringing up his own musket, sighting the French sharpshooter two hundred paces away, and targeting him rather more effectively. He watched with grim satisfaction as the other man crumpled like a puppet released from its string, then sat himself down hard on the ground. His hand, pressed against the front of his red jacket, came away red also, but unfortunately with his own blood.

If he was lucky, the bullet that was now resident inside him hadn’t struck anything of particular importance. It occurred to him now that he was very fond of his internal organs, as they’d functioned beautifully all his life, and he’d love for them to keep on doing exactly that.

Carefully, Hugo allowed himself to slide down into a prone position. Everything was getting all hazy and woolly, and just before he closed his eyes he saw the concerned faces of his men hovering over him. A nice bunch of chaps. He was fortunate to have a group like this under his command. Too bad for them they’d have to convey him all the way back to camp, but that, after all, was one of the hazards of military life, and he was sure they’d do a decent job of it.

The pain, he noticed, was getting worse. Well, this certainly was an annoyance. How he loathed those pesky Frenchmen, and wished they’d stay in their own country where they belonged, kowtowing to that blasted little egomaniac Bonaparte and also making brandy which was, admittedly, of excellent quality. In fact, he wouldn’t object to a long swallow of that right now. But, he suspected, he was soon to be losing consciousness, so all things considered, the brandy might well have been a waste.

His last sentient thought was gratitude for the fact that the reconnaissance had been a useful one. His men would be able to confirm that yes, of a surety, there were active enemies in the area, and here was their bloodied and insensate captain to prove it.




Chapter 1

Six months after the eventful reconnaissance mission along the Canadian border . . .
Brooke House, five miles inland from Whitehaven, England
October 1811

Many people would have considered Katherine Brooke to be an exceedingly fortunate young lady.

She was rich — very rich indeed. Her jewels were of a quality and a quantity that even a queen would envy. Her gowns were made from the costliest fabrics. Her hats, gloves, shoes, stocking, shawls, pelisses, reticules, and parasols were delivered by the dozens. And her immense bedchamber had been modeled, without thought as to expense, after the neoclassical style made fashionable by no less a personage than the Prince Regent himself. It was a marvel of a room, with a high domed ceiling, large gilded mirrors, fireplaces artfully crafted so as to resemble the fronts of ancient Roman temples, half a dozen busts of eyeless long-dead emperors rendered in the purest of white marble, and walls painted Pompeiian red.

It was here that Katherine stood with her back against the closed door, looking at her maid Céleste. “Do you have it?”

“Oui, mademoiselle.”

“Give it to me, please.”

Je suis désolée, mademoiselle, but it cost more than expected.” Céleste’s narrow face was impassive, her tone respectful, but her attitude was nonetheless imbued with every bit of her usual sly, self-satisfied insolence.

Here we go again, Katherine thought. “How much more?”

“It came all the way from London, mademoiselle, and as you know, secrecy is difficult to maintain across so many miles.”

“I know it all too well. How much more?”

“Le coût total is one pound, eighteen shillings.”

“That’s absurd.”

“Mademoiselle is concerned about le coût?” Céleste shrugged, glancing around the luxurious room as if she didn’t, in fact, know just how much pin-money Katherine received. “Quel dommage. Rest assured, I can dispose of it elsewhere.”

“I’m sure you can.” Katherine reached into the satin reticule hanging from her wrist, her fingers slipping past the downy, fragile marabout feathers with which it was ornamented, and extracted two golden guineas which she held out to Céleste. “Here.”

Céleste didn’t move. “Would mademoiselle like back les trois shillings?”

“Keep them.” With effort, Katherine kept her face bland. Oh, tedious, tedious, this final extraction of money on top of what was doubtless an inflated fee, but one had to tread carefully with Céleste in these matters. She added, insincerely: “By way of a thank-you.”

“Mademoiselle is too kind.” Without hurry, Céleste took the guineas, then slid her hand into the pocket-slit at her waist and produced from within it a small rectangular bundle wrapped in cheap, plain paper.

Katherine snatched it from her, and Céleste smiled.

“It is always a pleasure doing business with mademoiselle.”

“You may leave.”

“But you are expected downstairs, prior to the dinner hour, and your hair is ébouriffé.”

“Come back in twenty minutes, and fix it then.”

“I shall come back in five.”

“Ten.” Her hands, Katherine noticed, were shaking a little with anticipation. But then, they always did at a moment like this.

“Five minutes, mademoiselle. Or votre chère maman will notice your absence, and she may well chide me for your lateness. I do not wish to be chided.”

“Nor do I.” A scanty patch of common ground between herself and Céleste. She said, “Have you ever wondered what would happen if Mother found out about our — ah — transactions?”

“I would doubtless be let go at once, and sans eference,” replied Céleste coolly. “One can only speculate as to your punishment, mademoiselle. Too, you would lose my services as an intermédiaire, which would be a punishment in itself, would you not agree? It is not so easy to find someone as resourceful, and as discreet, as I.”

This complacent assertion Katherine could not dispute. It had been six years since that humiliating debacle at the Basingstoke Select Academy and the maid Céleste had been forced upon her; they had lived alongside each other locked into a vile dynamic in which their antipathy was mutual, yet each had benefited from their clandestine dealings. Céleste had been magnificently feathering her nest with all the money Katherine paid her, and as for herself — she almost brought the little package to her nose, to breathe in its heady fragrance, but instead said:

“Which reminds me. Where are the books I asked for?”

“The volume of Shakespeare’s plays is en route, I am informed, mademoiselle, but the other — the Italian book —”

“La Divina Commedia.”

“Oui. It is proving more difficult to locate in the original language. Rest assured, I have not forgotten.” Céleste smiled, with a knowing sort of glimmer that made Katherine feel like her skin was prickling with shamed embarrassment. “Shall I leave you now, so that you might enjoy votre petite gâterie?”

“Yes. Do.” Katherine stepped aside, and Céleste sauntered out of the room with what had to be deliberate insolence; the moment the door was shut Katherine leaned against it again and carefully unfolded the paper in her hands.

There. There they were. Saliva pooled in her mouth as she stared at the two dozen diablotins, the dark thin disks of chocolate covered with nonpareils, tiny, tasty white balls of sugar. For years Mother had forbidden her candy, insisting it made her spotty, but still Katherine had found a way.


It meant imp or gremlin in French.

A defiant little smile curved her lips and she popped one of the disks into her mouth.

Oh, delicious. Delicious — exquisite — beguiling — magical — except that words couldn’t even come close to describing it. She closed her eyes, savoring. The taste was both bitter and sweet, the chocolate smooth and rich on her tongue; the little nonpareils crunched between her teeth, yielding up a tantalizing contrast of textures.

But one wasn’t enough. And time was short. Katherine opened her eyes and rapidly consumed three, four, five diablotins, waiting for the rush of pleasure that always came with eating chocolate. No wonder the ancient Aztecs believed that cacao seeds, from which chocolate was made, were a gift from the gods, or that they valued the seeds so greatly they used them as currency. She’d read that in one of her history books, at present hidden away in a locked box under her bed.

And speaking of books . . .

What excellent news that her contraband volume of Shakespeare’s plays was on the way. At school they could only read the Bowdlers’ version, The Family Shakespeare, edited — dissected was more like it — in a way that supposedly protected a maiden’s fragile sensibilities. All the really good parts had been removed, the bits having to do with bad people using bad words, no doubt, and doing bad deeds. Katherine could barely wait to read them all.

She smiled, really smiled. She was feeling it now. For a few precious moments she would feel happy. Good. Alive.

Until Céleste came back, did whatever she was going to do with her hair, and she’d have to go downstairs. Ugh. Another excruciating evening spent with her parents and their — what was a good way to describe them?

“Guests” didn’t quite do them justice. Katherine preferred “leeches in human form.” Hovering a few rungs below Society’s topmost echelon, they doubtless had received no better invitations elsewhere, and so here they flocked, the best her parents could do. They ate, they drank, they borrowed money, they expected the Brooke servants to wait on them hand and foot, and for all she knew they were smuggling the silver into their trunks.

This was bad enough, but it had also struck her that none of them appeared to have ever read a book from start to finish. And their conversation — if one could call it that — reflected this sad fact. Mealtimes were interminable.

But at least she would know, all throughout the next several hours, that concealed in her armoire, at the far end of a drawer beneath a pile of silk stockings, were eighteen more diablotins, waiting for her to come back.


At around the same time . . .
On the road to Whitehaven

Many people would have considered Captain Hugo Penhallow to be a man in trouble.

He had almost no money, and no income to anticipate; an old house was his only property. In addition, he had a large family to support: a widowed mother, a younger sister, and three younger brothers. His profession for the past eight years, in the Army, was no longer a viable one, for he had recently sold out. As the son of a gentleman, naturally he had no training for any other occupation. And, finally, several months ago he had badly broken his left leg and so now, when he was fatigued, he walked with an unmistakable limp.

Yet here was Hugo, riding north along the Longtown Road on this cool, cloudy afternoon, sitting his horse with casual grace and whistling cheerfully, giving all the appearance of a person without a care in the world.

This was, in fact, largely how he was feeling.

For one thing, he was on his way home, and he’d soon be with his dear and delightful family, whom he hadn’t seen once during those eight years, as he had been sent to the annoyingly obstreperous territory along the Canadian border. Letters had helped bridge the distance between himself and home, although he was fairly certain that not all of them were delivered or received, it being not uncommon to have placed in his hands a missive that looked as if it had been in a battle itself, so bent and begrimed was it.

As for the financial difficulties, Hugo wasn’t ignoring just how dire they were, but he was taking action: he had decided to capitalize on his two chief assets, both intangible but clearly of significant value in certain circles.

One — he was a Penhallow. It was an old and illustrious name that loomed large, extremely large, among the haut ton. The first Penhallow, it was said, had long ago come to England with the great Conqueror himself, and the Conqueror had humbly deferred to him. Although he himself was but a straitened member of the cadet branch of the Penhallow family, Hugo was fully aware of the effect his hoary surname exerted upon even the loftiest dukes and earls, permitting oneself to walk about trailing, as it were, clouds of glory. All rather comical, in his opinion, but there it was.

Two — the female sex evidently found him attractive, which would make his task easier. For years he had heard himself compared left and right to a Greek god which, as a modest fellow, he found extremely silly. He was one of those tall, fit sort of men, an attribute for which of course he was appreciative, but still, one couldn’t help being born the way one was, and it was decidedly uncomfortable to be stared at as if one were an exotic beast on display.

Yet if his appearance assisted him in his quest, so much the better. And that quest was to marry into money. He had evaluated his limited options carefully, and all in all this seemed to be the best and the most expeditious way to solve the problem.

He could have continued to accept assistance from his older cousin, Gabriel Penhallow, who several years ago had not only generously purchased his commission but had also provided him income in the form of an allowance (which he’d had diverted to his stalwart mother, holding the fort back in Whitehaven). No, that sort of thing — charity — was all well and good for a single-minded, Army-mad youth, but he was done with that now. That bullet in his midsection back in April had resulted in a serious, lingering infection which had his kindly commander forcibly putting him onto a ship bound for home, and there was nothing like a long sea voyage when one was weak as a damned cat to inspire an extended period of introspection.

While Gabriel’s assistance — which also included sending additional cheques to Mama — was gratefully received by both himself and the mater, the plain truth was that it wasn’t sufficient to see the children adequately established in life. With Gwendolyn now fourteen, the twins Percy and Francis thirteen, and Bertram twelve, the issue had become rather more urgent. But he had no intention of asking Gabriel for anything more. Never in a million years could he imagine himself saying, Thanks for all that you’ve done, Coz, and now could you give me many times that sum over again.

It was, Hugo had concluded, a perfect time in which to take destiny by the shoulders and give it a good hard rattle.

And as luck would have it, a tremendous storm had blown up as the ship neared the western coast, forcing them to divert from Liverpool to Bude, where, his wound having reopened in spectacular style, he’d decided to hotfoot it to Gabriel’s estate in Somerset, it being much closer than Whitehaven and the last thing he’d wanted to do was horrify his family by staggering home as a moribund invalid.

Once he got to Surmont Hall he had — in an embarrassingly dramatic fashion — toppled off his horse like a sack of turnips and nearly bled to death on Gabriel’s enormous graveled carriage-sweep.

Some might have thought this a bad thing, but really, when you looked at it another way, it had all worked out beautifully. He’d been able to recuperate at his leisure, attended by a very capable doctor as well as by servants offering a tempting array of food and drink multiple times a day. Too, it gave him the opportunity to thank Gabriel in person for his generosity and insist that he both accept repayment for the commission and terminate the allowance; to write home alerting them to his arrival upon terra firma; and to receive in return a buoyant letter from his mother which contained along with her usual fond, rambling report of his siblings’ health and activities a tidbit of neighborhood news which had caught his eye.


According to Cook who had it from the butcher’s wife who somehow seems to know everything that happens within a twenty-mile radius of Whitehaven, Brooke House is packed to capacity with guests along with, of course, Mr. and Mrs. Brooke as well as Katherine — your former playmate, such a sweet, lively little girl she was! — who had her first Season and received many offers (highly understandable given the extent of her fortune) but came home without, evidently, any of them being accepted. Cook also says that the butcher’s wife told her that one of the custom officer’s children very nearly drowned yesterday. Bertram says he knows the boy and that he’d been told many times to stay away when the waves are rough. How very frightening for his people. Also Cook mentioned —


Now here, to be sure, was another great piece of luck. An unwed heiress practically on his doorstep! And it was someone he knew, even better, and had, once upon a time, liked.

To own the truth, he hadn’t thought of Katherine in years. It was well over a decade since he’d last seen her. He had been thirteen at the time, and had come home from Eton for Father’s funeral. The Brookes, then, had lived next door, and more than once had little Kate — five years younger than himself, yet even so they’d been good friends — slipped between the line of bay trees separating their house and come to console him.

He’d been grateful for her visits, for a hard time it was, very hard indeed: first the shock of Father’s sudden death, and then its painful aftermath, with his three siblings so little, still in leading strings, and Mama pregnant with Bertram.

Their man of business, Mr. Storridge, had laid it out plain: the late Anthony Penhallow, always more interested in science than in money, had left behind very little for his family aside from the modest sum of eight thousand pounds invested in the five percents and their big old house overlooking the wide sandy shore that gave way to the blue-green depths of the ocean.

If the remaining Penhallows practiced the strictest economy, Mr. Storridge had said in his dry, precise voice, they would manage to get by. Hugo had immediately declared his intention to withdraw from Eton and spare Mama the expense of his keeping there, but this she had, in her gentle way, forbidden.

“Oh, my dear Hugo,” she had said, smiling through the tears which seemed to flow continually during those dark days, “it was your papa’s dearest wish that you receive the same education he did. He was so very proud of you! And wasn’t it clever of him to pay your fees in advance? Almost —” And here she had paused to hold back a pitiful sob. “­—almost as if he knew something would happen to him.”

“Yes, Mama,” he’d replied, “school’s not a bad thing, but what about Gwennie, and the twins, and the baby? I’ll make the headmaster give you back the money. And I’ll find a job. I could become a sailor.”

“And a marvelous one you’d be, too, darling Hugo. I can just picture you climbing a rigging like a monkey! But do, please, go back to school, and don’t worry about the children. Everything will be fine.”

Somehow he had managed to swallow a great lump in his throat, and say, “How will it, Mama?”

“It simply will,” she had answered, confidently. “And look, I’ve just today received a letter from dear Anthony’s cousin Henrietta Penhallow, with an invitation to spend the summer holiday with her and her grandson Gabriel in Bath. You and Gabriel will travel from school together. Isn’t that kind?”

He would infinitely rather have come home, but had only said, “If it will save money, Mama, I’ll do it.”

“That’s my brave boy,” she’d said, and at that moment he had felt that any sacrifice, large or small, was worth it, if it could but lighten her load. It was a feeling that had never left him, and now Hugo smiled a little, noticing with pleasure the familiar tang of salt air, and the faintest hint of the ocean’s restless breeze.

Not much further now.

With luck, he’d be home by dinnertime.

Whistling again, gently he pressed his heels into his horse’s side, urging it to go just a little faster, and obligingly it picked up its pace.


Actually, by the time Katherine reluctantly made her way downstairs, there were only fifteen diablotins hidden in her armoire, as she had managed to eat three more before Céleste had returned.


A light rain had begun to fall, and dusk was settling its mellow hand upon the streets, buildings, and gardens of Whitehaven, lingering softly upon the broad expanse of sand and sea, as Hugo came to the old stable that stood upon a corner of their property furthest from the beach. He dismounted and thrust the horse’s reins into the hand of the aged groom who had cautiously emerged from the stable and was now staring in evident amazement at the master upon whom he’d not set eyes in quite some time.

“Hullo, Hoyt!” said Hugo amiably, “you’re looking exactly the same, I’m happy to see. Trust all is well?”

At the other’s dumbstruck nod, Hugo went on, “Splendid! Do take care of this nag, will you? She’s held up wonderfully well all the way here, bless her, and I’m no featherweight, am I? Well, I’m off to the house — hope I’m not too late for dinner. Good night, then.”

He had already unstrapped from the saddle his neat leather rucksack, and so, after a friendly nod to the still-speechless Hoyt, walked with eager steps toward the large, rambling old house which looked, even to his own affectionate eyes, considerably more dilapidated than he remembered. The reddish clay bricks with which it was constructed were crumbling in places, the sloping slate roof looked extremely weather-beaten, and several windows on the uppermost story had been clumsily boarded up.

He took this in, and went lightly up the front steps onto the wide, welcoming portico.

He was home at last.

From inside he could hear dogs barking — they’d doubtless heard him come onto the portico — along with some odd screeching noises. Not bothering to bang the old iron knocker, Hugo opened the door and let himself in, into a large, high-ceilinged entry hall, shabby and familiar, and quite possibly the nicest place on earth. As he dropped his rucksack onto a bench, a pack of mongrels, all unknown to him and barking fiercely, surged down one of the halls, even as a maidservant scuttled in from the kitchen passageway, looking alarmed and gasping out:

“Oh! Sir! Was you expected? I’ll just get the mistress, if you’ll wait here, please —”

“Not to worry, I’ll go to her,” answered Hugo over the tumult of barks, yips, nails madly clicking on wood flooring, and loud hostile panting. “Are they all at dinner?”

“Yes, sir, but —”

“What’s your name, then?”

“It’s Eliza, sir, but —”

“Quiet!” said Hugo to the dogs who, recognizing the genial tone of authority, instantly subsided and sat on their haunches, wagging their tails and casting up at him looks of servile adoration. He counted them. There were only five, after all, although from their collective volume one would have thought there were at least a dozen, and altogether a motley lot — one was missing an ear, another seemed to have the head of a poodle set upon the body of a dachshund, and still another had eyes of a milky opacity which suggested severe vision problems if not actual blindness.

Hugo patted the biggest of them, an enormous white and brown Great Dane whose front legs were crooked, and said to Eliza:

“Tell Robinson to set another place for me, would you? I’ll go in directly.”

“Oh, sir, but Mr. Robinson’s not here.”

“Egad, not dead, is he?” Hugo hoped not, as he had been very fond of their old butler; he’d loyally stayed on after Father had died, despite having his wages drastically reduced.

“Oh no, sir, he’s alive, but his palsy got so bad that the mistress pensioned him off, you see, and he’s living with his daughter Nancy and her family, up on Roper Street. Very happy he is, sir. Takes a pint every day at the pub, and sings in the choir on Sundays.”

Hugo was pulling off his greatcoat and hanging it on a peg. “Well, that’s excellent news. I’ll go see him later this week. See here, Eliza, I’m hungry as a bear. Can you set a place for me?”

“To be sure I can, sir! But — but — if you’ll forgive me asking — who are you, sir?”

“Good God, didn’t my mother tell any of you I was coming? No wonder poor old Hoyt looked as if he’d seen a ghost.” He laughed. “Never mind. I’m the prodigal son, Eliza! The eldest, you know — Hugo.”

Eliza looked astonished. “Oh! Sir! You’re Mr. Hugo? We was all afeared you was dead!”

“Dead! Why?”

“Because the mistress said you’d been shot by a Frenchy, Mr. Hugo, and that you was laid up in your cousin’s house — and then there wasn’t any more letters from you! Cook says them French bullets have a special poison in them, sir, that drains the life right out of a person!”

Blast it all, he’d deliberately trivialized the nature of his illness when writing home, not wishing to worry them — and why hadn’t Mama gotten the letter he’d written from Gabriel’s house a fortnight ago, informing her that he was fine, and would soon be on his way? Well, he could allay their anxieties right now.

“I was shot,” he said to Eliza, “but it would take more than some beastly Frenchman to kill me, that’s for certain! Go on, now, and bring me some supper, that’s a good girl.”

She bobbed a curtsy and Hugo, favoring his left leg ever so slightly, went down the long, familiar hallway, the dogs trotting behind with the same pliant obedience the children of Hamelin might well have displayed while following the Pied Piper. He came to a pair of oak-framed double doors, brought them open, and strolled into the dining-parlor. “I say, I’m home.”

Five golden-blond heads swiveled in his direction, five pairs of wide blue eyes displayed shocked surprise, and then pandemonium erupted.