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Authors: Allegra Gray

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Nothing but Trouble

 

 

 

Nothing But Trouble

By Allegra Gray

 

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Published by
Allegra Campbell Gray

 

Copyright © 2013 by Allegra Campbell Gray

 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

 

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Interior design by

THE KILLION GROUP

www.thekilliongroupinc.com

 

 

 

For my husband, Bryan, whom I met, fell madly in love with, and married during the writing of this book.

 

 

 

Chapter 1
:

In which desperate times call for desperate measures

 

March 1816, London

 

The initial flood of suitors had all but dried up. Only a trickle of men interested in marrying Charity Medford remained, and
they
had to face her brother in law, the Duke of Beaufort. So far, he’d deemed each and every one of them eminently unsuitable. Not the most auspicious way to begin one’s second Season.

“Fortune hunters, curiosity seekers, and philandering old men,” he’d remarked with disgust after the departure of the last one.

Since the duke had paid for both Charity’s dowry and the home where she lived with her widowed mother, his opinion was rarely challenged.

Not that Charity had any desire to challenge him
. She simply lowered her eyes and responded, “I shall endeavor to do better, Your Grace.” In truth, she agreed with the duke. He’d done her a favor in rejecting these suitors. None of the men who’d come calling interested her. No man did.

She trudged up to her room, reflecting
. That wasn’t entirely true…men did interest her. Some of them interested her quite a lot.
Marriage,
however, was what she objected to.

Last summer, she’d made her bow to Society and basked in the praise that came with being born a natural beauty
. “Charming,” they said. “Lovely.” “A diamond of the first water.” She could have married then, and married well. Instead, she’d had the audacity to poke her nose where it didn’t belong—into an intrigue between the Ministry of Defense and a group of French conspirators. Undeniably, the worst decision of her life. She’d gotten herself kidnapped, and even though she’d been rescued, nothing—nothing at all—had been the same since.

She’d tried so very, very hard to rid he
rself of the nightmares that plagued her. Nightmares that sent her back to the dark abyss where she might have died. Had it not been for the bravery and determination of her brother in law and his friend, who’d traced the French spies to their hideout, she would never have been found.

Charity knew she’d been fortunate to escape with her life—and even more fortunate to escape with her reputation, since her role in the whole fiasco had been kept quiet
. Still, when the nightmares came, reason left her. They were no ordinary dreams. She’d walked, talked, shrieked, and stuck out at those who tried to calm her. At least, that’s what she’d been told afterward, when she awoke—if waking was even the right word for it.

That
was why she couldn’t marry. A husband would expect her to sleep in his bed. What would he do when she woke shrieking, or sleepwalking? When she was so entrapped by fears she could hardly hear or recognize him?

He
r husband would think her crazed. At best he would leave her. At worst, he’d consign her to Bedlam. She’d heard stories of the inmates there. She would happily live a life of spinsterhood rather than risk that fate.

Of course,
that wasn’t the sort of thing she could tell her family, who so desperately wanted her to be normal again. To be happy.

So
Charity kept her fears to herself, as always, and went on searching for the peace that eluded her.

 

 

Crash
.

Charity jolted awake.

The noise had come from below, somewhere on the ground floor of her mother’s London town house. She gripped her sheets, held her breath.

Clomp
. Clomp
. Footfalls—boots on the wooden floor downstairs. Then, the mutter of male voices.

Immediately, she slipped from
her bed and to the window. That was a real crash she’d heard. Not a dream. She pinched herself to be sure. Yes, real.

This time
, she would not be captured so easily.

Where were her protectors
? Asleep, no doubt. Grown lax, as months had passed and no threat materialized. Not Charity. She had the nightmares to remind her to stay vigilant.

She flung open the lid of the trunk beneath the window, shot her hand to the bottom, and pulled out the knotted rope she’d stashed there
.

She paused, forcing herself to breath
e slowly as she listened. They weren’t ascending the staircase…yet. But if they were after her, it was only a matter of moments. She wasn’t taking chances.

A quick loop of rope around the bedpost
—just so. She opened the window and dropped the other end out. It uncoiled, the knot at the bottom hitting the exterior wall with a soft clunk. She lifted the hem of her nightdress and swung a leg over the sill.

Hurry
. Blood pounding in her ears, she swung the other leg over and shimmied backward. Someone tapped at the door. She scrambled to get the rope between her feet and ducked her head beneath the sill.

“Miss Medford?”

Charity froze, fingers still gripping the windowsill. Penny’s voice. Her maid.

“Miss Medford
? Is anything amiss? I thought I heard…oh, my.”

Charity heard the sound of slippered feet pattering across the room
. She looked up as Penny thrust her head out the window.

The maid’s eyes grew wide
. “Are you sneaking out?” she whispered. “Shall I pretend I never saw you? I’m ever so sorry.”

Barely two years older than her mistress, Penny often served as accomplice in Charity’s schemes
.

Charity shook her head, wincing as her aching fingers started to slip
. She clenched the sill harder. “Intruders,” she whispered. “Hide yourself!”

“The doors are all locked
, miss.” The maid tried to reassure her, distress clear in her moonlit expression. “Perhaps you were dreaming again.”

“I heard a crash,” Charity insisted
. Her feet had found purchase on the knotted rope, but she couldn’t hang here forever.

“The footmen are downstairs, moving some furniture your lady mother wanted chang
ed out for the spring season. Likely one of them dropped something. Here, let me help you in.”

The explanation made sense
. But what if Penny was wrong? Charity might have already lost too much time. “Please, go make certain. Get Matthews—he stands guard tonight.”

Charity allowed Penny to help her up until she was half-in, half-out of the window
. She flexed her nearly-numb fingers. The ridge of the sill bit into her ribcage, but she wasn’t coming any further without proof.

The maid curtsied and hurried out
. If she thought her employer’s mistrust a trifle excessive, she was intelligent enough not to say so.

Perched on the sill,
Charity let her head drop. How much extra, she wondered, did her family pay her maid not to mention their youngest daughter’s peculiar antics to anyone outside the house?

More footsteps
. Charity sucked in a breath. This time coming up the stairs. Two sets, one lighter than the other. Good. Penny and Matthews.

Sure enough, the maid tapped and burst back in
, the solemn Matthews a step behind her. “Not to worry, Miss Medford,” Penny said. “Two of the footmen, Mr. Simmons and Mr. Percy, were moving a trunk and Percy backed into a table and sent a pair of candlesticks crashing down. No damage was done, and they are terrible sorry to have disturbed you.” She clasped her hands anxiously.

“I assure you, Miss Medford, the premises are secure,” Matthews avowed
. “I shall inspect the doors, windows, and grounds again, that you may rest peacefully while my eyes and ears remain alert.”

Charity eyed him closely
. He did appear quite alert. Perhaps he’d not grown lax after all. She eased off the windowsill, letting out a whoosh of breath as her feet hit the floor. Panic gone, she simply felt deflated. Exhausted. Perhaps the exhaustion was a blessing in disguise—if she hadn’t been so tired, she might be embarrassed to have panicked, yet again, over such a trivial thing. “Thank you, Penny, Matthews.”

“Of course, miss
.” Penny helped Charity back into bed as the guard bowed and stepped out. “Shall I bring you some tea? Warm milk?”

“No, I sha
ll be well now.” She wished it were true. But when the maid was gone, she lay awake, staring at the ceiling.

How many more false alarms would she endure before the moment of truth
? The servants might whisper, and Charity’s family might look upon her with pity, but none of them could shake what she knew in her heart.

It might take years, but her enemies
would
come for her. The duke still checked daily with the Ministry of Defence—Charity knew that for a fact, because she was the one who’d insisted upon it—but of the five French spies found on English soil last summer, only three had been caught. They no longer lived. The other two had escaped alive. And because they’d once kidnapped her, Charity Medford was the only person in England who could identify both by sight.

 

 

March
1816, Grantown on Spey, Scotland

 

Graeme Ramsey Maxwell scanned the gray, brooding horizon and hoped it wasn’t an omen predicting his future.

“Are ye sure ye wish to set out today
?” Tom Brevis, driver to the earls of Leventhal since before Graeme had been born, cast a critical eye in the same direction. “Awful early in the year, my lord.”

“Not in London,” Graeme countered
. “The Season has already begun there. I prefer not to miss much more of it, since I’ve no idea how long it will take to acquire a wife.”

Tom pursed his lips
. “Somewhat longer than to acquire a horse, I believe.” He nodded thoughtfully. “Though a fine lord such as yerself shouldna have a problem, eh?” His wrinkled face broke into a conspiratorial grin.

Graeme chuckled
and gave his team of horses one final check, lifting hooves and running a soothing hand over each mane. Undoubtedly Tom and the head groom had both done the same. Everything appeared in impeccable order for his trip to England.

Exc
ept that his nephew and ward was nowhere to be found.

“Good work, Tom
. Have you seen Nathan?”

“Nay
. It’ll break the wee lad’s heart if ye leave w’out sayin’ goodbye, my lord.”


Wouldn’t think of it.” Graeme had already promised the lad as much. He strode back toward the manor, grimacing at the delay. Tom was right about one thing: this early in spring, the roads could be treacherous. He’d planned to use every minute of available daylight to navigate them.

A search of the nursery revealed only an empty ro
om. Same for the breakfast nook, and the kitchens.

He’d just stepped onto the expansive back lawn when a frantic woman ran up
. He recognized her as the gardener’s daughter and assistant. “Lord Maxwell, come quickly. Your wee nephew ‘as got himself stuck out by the quarry.”

“Stuck
?” Immediately he set off in the direction of the quarry, slowing his pace only enough for the woman to keep up. “Is he in danger?”

“Only if he tries to move
. Got himself on a ledge, and the pebbles slide whenever the lad tries to ease off.”

“Who was watching him?”

“I couldna say, my lord. I was only passing by when I heard his cry.”

Bloody hell
. “Where is his governess?”

“Beggin’ your pardon, my lord, but ye havena hired a new one yet.”

“What?” Graeme missed a step, allowing the woman running beside him to catch up.

“Ach
. I thought ye knew, Lord Maxwell. Miss Parr run off yesterday. Maisie caught her foolin’ with one o’ the footmen, and knowin’ Maisie, the whole staff would know in minutes. We figured ye’d fired her, but mayhap she run off before ye could get the chance, my lord.”

Graeme
choked back a growl. He’d been so preoccupied with planning this trip, he’d brushed off the housekeeper when she’d approached him earlier. Likely she’d been attempting to impart this news.

But whether Miss Parr had run off or been fired,
she was gone now. Qualified governesses weren’t easy to come by in the highlands. He’d dismissed the one prior to Miss Parr after discovering her inordinate fondness for his liquor cabinet.

Just one more confirmation his journey to London
was necessary—though technically, it was a wife he sought there, rather than a governess. Someone who could manage a staff and had a talent for producing competent governesses where none existed.

“Very
well,” he told the young woman. “Go on back to the greenhouse. I’ll fetch Nathan. Actually, I’d be obliged if you’d stop at the main house first, and tell Mrs. Saxonberry I’ve asked her to select someone responsible from her staff to stand in and look after the lad until I return from my trip.” No sense delaying his journey just to engage in what would surely be a fruitless search for a qualified, educated,
local
replacement.

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