Griffin Stone:Duke Of Decadence(2)

By: Carole Mortimer

‘Can you tell me where you are injured so that I can be sure not to hurt you again?’ Griffin prompted, his frown darkening when he received no answer, and was forced to accept that she had once again slipped into unconsciousness.

Griffin made his next decision with the sharp precision for which he had been known in the army. It was late at night, full dark, no one had yet come crashing through the woods in pursuit of this woman, and, whoever she might be, she was obviously in need of urgent medical attention.

Consequently there was only one decision he could make, and that was to place her in the phaeton and continue on with the rest of his journey to Stonehurst Park. Once there they would no longer be in darkness, and he could ascertain her injuries more accurately, after which a doctor could be sent for. Explanations for her state of undress, and her mad flight through the woods, could come later.

Griffin straightened to take off his driving coat and lay it gently across her before scooping her carefully up into his arms.

She weighed no more than a child, her long hair cascading over his arm, her face all pale and dark hollows in the moonlight. He rested her head more comfortably against his shoulder.

She was young and very slender. Too slender. The weight of her long hair seemed almost too much for the slender fragility of her neck to support.

She made no sound as he lifted her up onto the seat of his carriage, nor when he wrapped his coat more securely about her. He took up the reins once again and moved the greys on more slowly than before in an effort not to jolt his injured passenger unnecessarily.

His decision to come to his estate in Lancashire had been forced upon him by circumstances. The open war against Napoleon was now over, thank goodness, but Griffin, and several of his close friends, who also bore the title of Duke and were known collectively as the Dangerous Dukes, all knew, better than most, that there was still a silent, private war to be fought against the defeated emperor and his fanatical followers.

Just a week ago the Dangerous Dukes had helped foil an assassination plot to eliminate their own Prince Regent, along with the other leaders of the alliance. The plan being to ensure Napoleon’s victorious return to Paris, while chaos ruled in those other countries.

A Frenchman, André Rousseau, since apprehended and killed by one of the Dangerous Dukes, had previously spent a year in England, secretly persuading men and women who worked in the households of England’s politicians and peers to Napoleon’s cause. Of which there were many; so many families in England had French relatives.

Many of the perpetrators of that plot had since been either killed or incarcerated, but there remained several who were unaccounted for. It was rumoured that those remaining followed the orders of an as yet unknown leader.

Griffin was on his way to the ducal estates he had not visited for some years, because the Dukes had received word that one of the traitors, Jacob Harker, who might know the identity of this mysterious leader, had been sighted in the vicinity.

It just so happened that three of the Dangerous Dukes had married in recent weeks, and a fourth wed just a week ago, on the very day Griffin had set out for his estate in Lancashire. With all of his friends being so pleasurably occupied, it had been left to him to pursue the rumour of the sighting of Harker.

Running a young woman down in his carriage, in the dark of night, had not been part of Griffin’s immediate plans.

 * * *

She hurt.

Every part of her was in agony and aching as she attempted to move her legs.

A wave of pain that swelled from her toes to the top of her head.

Had she fallen?

Been involved in an accident of some kind?

‘Would you care for a drink of water?’

She stilled at the sound of a cultured male voice, hardly daring to breathe as she tried, and failed, to recall if she recognised the owner of it before she attempted to open her eyes.

Panic set in as she realised that he was a stranger to her.

‘There is no reason to be alarmed,’ Griffin assured her firmly as the young woman in the bed finally opened panicked eyes—eyes that he could now see were the dark blue of midnight, and surrounded by thick lashes that were very black against the pallor of a face that appeared far too thin—and turned to look at him as he sat beside the bed in a chair that was uncomfortably small for his large frame.

She, in comparison, made barely an outline beneath the covers of the bed in his best guest bedchamber at Stonehurst Park, her abundance of long dark hair appearing even blacker against the white satin-and-lace pillows upon which her head lay, her face so incredibly pale.

‘I assure you I do not mean you any harm,’ he added firmly. He was well aware of the effect his five inches over six feet in height, and his broad and muscled body, had upon ladies as delicate as this one. ‘I am sure you will feel better if you drink a little water.’