From Ruin to Riches

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 Chapter One

 16th June, 1814—Queen’s Head Inn, Oxfordshire

 He was all power and masculine arrogance with the candlelight dancing on those long, naked limbs as he stood and poured ruby-red wine into the glass and tossed it back in one long swallow.

 To be in his arms, in this unfamiliar bed, had not been what she had imagined it would be. Less tender than she had hoped, more painful than she had expected. But then, she had been very ignorant and she would be more realistic next time. Julia snuggled back into the warm hollow his body had made.

 ‘Jonathan?’ He would come back now, hold her in his arms, kiss her, talk more of their plans and all the uncertainties would vanish. On that headlong drive from Wiltshire he had ridden beside the chaise almost all the way and dinner in the public room below had not been the place to discuss their new life together.

 ‘Julia?’ He sounded abstracted. ‘You can wash there.’ He jerked his head towards the screen in the corner and poured himself another glass, his back still to her.

 Unease trickled through the warmth. Was Jonathan disappointed in her? Perhaps he was simply tired, she certainly was. Julia slid from the tangled sheets, pulled one of them around her and padded over to the screen that concealed the washstand.

 Making love was an embarrassingly sticky process, another small shock in an evening of revelations. That would teach her to think like a lovesick girl. It was about time she went back to being an adult woman making a rational decision to take control of her own life, she thought with a wry smile for her own romantic daydreams. This was real life and she was with the man she loved, the man who loved her enough to brave scandal and snatch her away from her relatives.

 The screen overlapped one edge of the window and she reached to twitch the curtain completely over the panes of exposed glass before she dropped the sheet.

 ‘London Flier!’ There was the blare of a horn below, too dramatic to ignore. Julia looked through the gap as, wheels rumbling, the stagecoach pulled out of the arch from the stable yard and turned right. In a second it was gone. Strange. Now why do I think that strange?

 She was too tired to puzzle over odd fancies. Julia washed, draped the sheet more becomingly and came out from behind the screen, unexpected butterflies dancing in her stomach. Jonathan was half-dressed now, seated staring into the empty grate, the stem of his wine glass twisting between his fingers. His shirt lay open, revealing the muscular flat planes of his chest, the dark arrow of hair that disappeared into his breeches... Her eyes followed it and she felt herself blush.

 How cold it was away from the heat of his body. Julia poured wine and curled into the battered old armchair opposite his. Jonathan must be thinking of the next morning, of the long road north to the Scottish border and their marriage. Perhaps he feared pursuit, but she doubted Cousin Arthur would trouble himself with her whereabouts. Cousin Jane would screech and flap about and moan about the scandal, but she would be more concerned about the loss of her drudge than anything else.

 The wine was poor stuff, tart and thin, but it helped bring things into focus of a kind. It was as though her brain had taken a holiday these past days and she had become nothing but an air-headed girl in love instead of the practical woman she really was.

 You are in love. And you’ve thrown your cap over the windmill with a vengeance, the inner voice that was presumably her conscience informed her. Yes, but that does not mean I have to be a useless ninny, she argued back. I must think how to be of help.

 The jolting, high-speed ride across country had been straightforward enough once Jonathan had explained why they were not going directly north to Gloucester and the road to the Border. Cutting north-east to Oxford and then going north would confuse pursuit and the road, once they got there, was better. They had turned on to the Maidenhead-Oxford turnpike about ten miles back, but apparently Oxford inns were wildly expensive, so this one, out of town, was the prudent option for their first night.

 She would look after the money now, budget carefully, save Jonathan the worry of sorting out the bills, at least. North to the border. To Gretna. How romantic.

 The north. That was what was wrong. The wine slopped from her glass staining the sheet like blood. The stage was going to London and it had turned right, the direction they had been heading when they arrived here.

 ‘Jonathan.’

 ‘Yes?’ He looked up. Those long-lashed blue eyes that always made her heart flutter were as unreadable as ever.

 ‘Why were we driving south for ten miles before we got here?’

 His expression hardened. ‘Because that’s the way to London.’ He put down the glass and stood up. ‘Come back to bed.’

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