The Viscount's Rose

By: Meara Platt
CHAPTER 1




Mayfair District, London

June 1813

“JULIAN, PLEASE. I wish you’d meet Rolf.”

“Enough, Nicola! I’m not interested.” Lord Julian Emory, the tenth Viscount Chatham, stifled a groan as he assisted his sister down from his carriage in front of Number 3 Chipping Way, the stately residence of her best friend, the one whose given name he couldn’t recall at the moment because Nicola always referred to her as Rolf. Who would call a young lady that anyway? It was the sort of name one gave to a dog.

Nicola frowned at him. “She’s wonderful, as are all the Farthingales. You’ll agree once you meet them. Rolf is so much more clever than any debutante making her come-out this season. Much nicer than those supposedly elegant ladies you keep fast company with. Please come in with me, Julian.”

He was about to decline, as he had every day this past week, when a small explosion suddenly rocked the quiet street. “Nicola, get back in the carriage. Now!”

“But Rolf—Ack!”

He tossed his sister inside without waiting for her to obey and ordered his coachman to drive a safe distance away before leaping over the gate, for he’d heard several high-pitched cries for help coming from the garden of the very townhouse his sister was about to visit. He ran toward the screams and noticed a small funnel of black smoke rising from a makeshift structure in the far corner of the garden.

Two young girls were being held back by two older women, but the girls were obviously struggling to break free and run toward the danger. He couldn’t allow that to happen. “Is anyone in there?” he demanded to know, removing his jacket. He intended to use it as a blanket to extinguish any spreading flames, although the fire appeared to be contained and dying out on its own.

“Our sister’s in there,” one of the girls replied, gazing at him through tearful blue eyes.

“Her kiln exploded,” the other girl said, gazing at him through identical blue eyes. Had his vision suddenly blurred? He was seeing identical faces.

No matter, he’d sort it all out once he’d rescued their sister.

Julian placed his jacket protectively over his nose and mouth, dropped to a crouch, and nudged open the door, which had almost blown off but was still hanging on one hinge. The black funnel of smoke quickly dissipated as it wafted outside, confirming the fire had burned itself out, leaving only smoke in its wake. He had only to find the sister.

Don’t let her be dead or injured.

He’d engaged in enough battles on the Peninsula to understand the damage that wounds caused. The remnants were not only visible scars but invisible ones as well, the sort that pierced deep under one’s flesh and festered. Damn. He didn’t even know the young innocent’s name to call out to her. “Miss? Can you hear me? Where are you?”

His eyes watered as smoke and dust enveloped him. He wasn’t halfway into the small enclosure when he heard a soft moan coming from behind an overturned table. The girl was alive but in what condition? He approached and saw that her ankle was pinned under the table, so he quickly righted it and then knelt to check her for broken bones before he dared move her. The bigger risk now was a break, a bump on the head, or other unknown internal injury.

He brushed a few stray locks off her forehead and spoke gently, relieved to feel no lumps forming on her brow. “Can you move your fingers?”

“I… I th-think so.” She appeared to do so without much effort.

“Now raise your arms, one at a time.” Again, she managed with little effort. “I’m going to touch your legs, don’t be alarmed.”

“Nothing will alarm me after this,” she said, punctuating each word with a cough. Even so, the gentle amusement in her raspy voice sent an unexpected warmth coursing through his blood. There was a sweet, melodic quality to her voice.

“Good, because I need to make certain you have no spinal damage and then get you out of here before the roof collapses atop us.” He touched her leg. “Can you feel my hand on you?” Because he sure as hell could feel her soft, shapely leg, and that warmth flowing through his blood had just turned fiery.

“Yes, I can.”

He cleared his throat. “I’m going to take off your slippers and I’d like you to wiggle your toes, one foot at a time.”

She was able to do as he asked but winced as she tried to move her injured ankle, which appeared to be the only damage she’d sustained. Of course, she’d inhaled some smoke. That was worrisome depending on how much she’d taken in. “Put your arms around my neck.”

He lifted her into his arms while she did so and carried her out into the cool, fresh air. She coughed again as her lungs took in the cooler air and—merciful heavens—he felt each heave of her ample breasts against his chest.

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