She is under threat and turns to the only man she’s ever loved... He's a damaged war hero who can't allow anyone to get close....
Miss Susan King is an heiress, who doubts her own worth because of the harsh treatment she receives from her family. Constantly belittled, she can’t turn to them when she is faced with danger.
Lord Miles Longdon, has returned from fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. Outwardly, he’s the same person who left the shores of England many years before, but his nights are haunted by the sights he’s seen and the people he’s lost.
Can two damaged people work together to have their own happy ever after? Or, are they doomed to remain alone? Complex characters brought together in this gripping Regency Romance. Characters who first appear in Lady Edith’s Lonely Heart get their own story.
Miss King’s Rescue is a Regency romance topped with a generous dose of humour, action, and tears. If you like simmering chemistry, fast-paced adventures, and strong characters, then you'll love Audrey Harrison's Regency tale.
Release date: April 16, 2020
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 237
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Miss King's Rescue
Dear Lord Longdon,
Please forgive my writing to you, but I do not feel there is anyone else I can express my concerns to.
You see, I think I’m being followed.
Your sister told me everything about what happened with Mr. Sage and Mr. Malone. As her best friend, I can assure you of my silence with regard to the details. I am just so relieved that she is no longer in danger from Mr. Sage and that no forced elopement took place.
I would normally write to Edith about my concerns, but she is on her wedding trip, and I cannot in all conscience disrupt that. I would not normally have contacted you, only I genuinely feel my safety is at risk. Please be assured that I am not one prone to dramatics or hysterics; in fact, I pride myself on being completely the opposite.
For the last sennight, I have noticed that whenever I have stepped outside there has been a man in the shadows near my home. I did not recognise him at first; he is very unkempt and dishevelled. One night, though, I foolishly approached him and asked him what he wanted. I was accompanied by a servant, so was not taking too much of a risk, but I felt great alarm when I realised who it was: Mr. Malone.
He asked if I could spare some pennies, and I admit I gave him all that I had in my reticule – recognising him had shaken me so much. He acted as if we had never met before, until I was walking away and he muttered, “I’ll see you again soon. Very soon.”
His words, I confess, unsettled me, and although I have ensured that a male servant is with me whenever I leave home, he is still there. All of the time.
I am afraid and embarrassed to admit that if I confessed any of my concerns to my stepmother, she would not take them seriously. My father is very much influenced by her, so there is no point seeking assistance from them. The only other family I have at home is my half-brother, and he is still in the schoolroom, so you see my dilemma? I hope you understand, for I feel unsafe and cannot think of anyone else to turn to for assistance.
I can only think that my fortune is his motivation for targeting me. To what end, whether it is purely to obtain money from me in larger amounts, I do not know. I cannot quite allow myself to dwell on any other reason, but it does niggle at the back of my mind. Why he is no longer in society I presume has to do with what happened to Edith, but, believe me, he looks as if he has fallen on very hard times; strange, when it was only weeks ago that he was in the finest ballrooms in London. I would have supposed he had the funds to set up somewhere away from your family.
If you could offer me advice as to what to do, I would be most grateful. I admit to being a little perturbed and unsure of the best course of action to take. I would hate to make an unnecessary fuss, but I am concerned.
There. It was done. Only fear for her safety had pushed her to contact the man she loved, who barely knew of her existence. She could only hope that he would offer some guidance or help, for she wasn’t being overly dramatic in expressing that she had no one else to ask for assistance.
She had never felt so alone and vulnerable in her life, and she was in the middle of the busiest city in the world.
* * *
“Susan, you can be the most annoying chit a woman ever had the misfortune to be related to,” scolded Mrs. King, Susan’s stepmother. “Will you at least try to look your best when you’re attending one of the biggest functions of the season?”
“But peach makes me look sickly,” Susan protested feebly. Their encounters were always the same, even after fifteen years of being related. Susan was the despised stepdaughter, the darling of her father, and a woman who, if the scolding by her stepmother was to be believed, was intent on putting off every possible suitor the season had to offer.
“Mr. Lawson said he liked peach. Therefore, you will wear peach for his ball,” Mrs. King responded as the modistes hovered in the background, glancing at each other in discomfort.
“As I don’t wish to give Mr. Lawson the slightest indication that I might be willing to accept any proposal he’d be foolish enough to offer, I would prefer to wear a different colour,” Susan said, setting her shoulders. “Please get me some options of pale blue,” she said to the head modiste. For once feeling as if she was in control of some part of her life, if only a little.
The women bustled to the piles of fabric they’d brought with them to the large house on Curzon Street, leaving stepmother and stepdaughter alone for a few moments.
Mrs. King approached Susan and, before there was time to react, grabbed the fabric of Susan’s simple cotton day dress and dragged the girl to her. “Listen to me, brat,” she hissed. “You might be of age, but you are marrying this season; do I make myself clear? I am sick to death of seeing your ugly face in my home. I’ve reached my limit. You will accept someone in the next month, or I will arrange a marriage for you. Your father will agree with me, obviously, so don’t go whining to him. We’re sick of seeing your pained expressions every day. It’s time you married.”
Susan swallowed. She had been browbeaten for the last fifteen years, and it was hard to stand up to after such a long period of time. Only the desire to marry a man she loved gave her some of the inner strength she needed to face her tormentor.
“As I am of age, I can’t be forced into marriage.”
“Oh, can you not? I’m sure I can contrive to arrange a little situation in which I would shout out loud and clear that you had been compromised. A sure way to get you to the altar whatever your feelings on the matter.”
“Test me, and we’ll see you married by the end of the week,” came the snarling promise.
A quiet cough alerted them that the modiste wished to approach them. Mrs. King stood back. “Have whatever dress you like – just make sure the neckline is plunging. You have one asset; at least you can show that part of you off,” Mrs. King instructed before sweeping out of the room.
Susan’s cheeks burned, not helped by the looks of sympathy she was receiving from the women who were fussing around her in an effort to appear normal.
“Do you have my measurements?” Susan asked after a few moments of being treated with care and consideration, which had made her feel even more oppressed.
“In that case, I shall have those two designs, this in the blue and the second in the white. Please make the bodices a respectable height,” Susan said with a blush.
“Please excuse me, but I think I’ve no need to delay you any longer. Thank you for your time,” Susan said, walking out of the room.
She entered her bedchamber and leaned on the closed door. She couldn’t take much more of the abuse, the undermining, and now the promise of ruination. There was no doubt her mother would carry out her threat, and it horrified Susan.
She was an heiress, true, but she wasn’t beautiful. Looks didn’t necessarily matter if one had an inheritance. A girl with a fortune could always guarantee a husband, whether she be plain or pretty. If she liked that husband was another matter.
Susan moved over to the cheval mirror that stood in the corner, always a reminder that she hadn’t inherited her mother’s beauty, just her height and large bosom. The first Mrs. King had been stunning to look at: tumbling golden locks and clear blue eyes to enhance a tall, shapely figure.
Susan was three and twenty and had light brown hair and blue-green eyes. It was as if when she was being created, no one could decide what she should have, so they gave her everything. Hair that turned lighter in summer, but not light enough to be classed as blonde, and darker in winter, though not dark enough to be an interesting brunette. Her lips were a little too full, and her nose didn’t have the aquiline shape the aristocracy preferred. All in all, she could barely be classed as pretty, very often attracting the label of unremarkable, or the even more damning compliment of being personable. Added to which, she had been cruelly given the epithet of “Plain Jane”, by her stepmother, meaning her confidence about her looks was about as low as it could be.
She was of a quiet nature, partly forced by the fact that every time she spoke, her stepmother contradicted her. It was easier to remain silent than to face constant belittlement. Now, after years of being suppressed, she sometimes wondered who the real Susan King was, for she could barely remember herself.
Mr. King indulged his daughter, but only when they were alone. He had remarried for looks, not personality, and now when his second wife’s looks had faded, there was little else to recommend her. He was a malleable man who bowed to his chosen one’s wishes, even if they were to the detriment of his daughter. He found it made his life easier, and he could ease his conscience by delighting in spoiling his daughter when they were alone.
Feeling confined by her home situation, added to which was the apprehension of daily conflict, now heightened by the certainty she was being followed, Susan longed for relief. Making a decision, she grabbed a straw bonnet off her wardrobe shelf and went down the servants’ stairs to the kitchens.
It was a route she had used often, both in their London home and in the country house in Warwickshire. It was her way of escaping from her stepmother’s all-seeing eyes. The staff knew full well how Mrs. King treated her stepdaughter and unobtrusively did all they could to support and cosset the gentle young girl.
Entering the kitchen, she was greeted by Cook. “Now then, missy, what are you doing here? Thought you were picking out frocks to dazzle all them fine gentlemen with.”
Grimacing, Susan picked up a shortbread biscuit, always available in the kitchen. “Mother wanted plunging necklines and colours that would make me look like some sort of sickly Gothic heroine,” she said, sitting on a stool. “I had to escape.”
Cook clicked her tongue in disapproval but said nothing. She would rant to the housekeeper later, but it was best to hold her counsel for now. “And what does sneaking down here and eating biscuits do to help? You’ll be getting thickset, like me, and your dancing days will be over. You should hold me up as a warning.”
Susan grinned. “You shouldn’t make biscuits that taste so good; then I wouldn’t eat so many. I’m actually going to have a walk around the garden after I’ve finished this.”
“Not going to Hyde Park?”
“No.” Susan frowned. “I think I’ll just remain within our grounds for today.” She felt unable to appear confident if she were to see Mr. Malone, after the tongue-lashing her stepmother had given her. She needed a little time to regain her equilibrium, which she had to do most days.
“I’ll have a nice bit of ice cream for you when you’ve finished your stroll,” Cook promised.
“Mm, you make ice cream almost as well as you make biscuits.” Susan smiled, moving from the chair.
Popping her bonnet on her head, she left the kitchen, and after passing the scullery and cold store, she emerged into the small kitchen garden. A gate in the wall led to the formal part of the grounds, which wasn’t huge in comparison to those found on country estates, but large enough for a reasonable walk if she didn’t mind doubling back over some of the pathways.
Susan decided to pick some of the flowers from the overflowing beds to brighten up her bedchamber. On hearing a creak behind her, she paused. She turned slowly, letting out a whoosh of breath when she saw nothing. She was clearly alone.
Cursing herself for hearing threats that weren’t there, she continued in her task. Her thoughts drifted to Lord Longdon who would have received her letter by now. Writing to him had been folly; she had been desperate for help, and he was the only person she could seek advice from, but she knew her inner feelings had driven her as well. She had been in love with him for years, before he’d even gone to fight with Wellington in the Peninsular War. She thought he’d return after Napoleon had been defeated, but no, he’d gone to America to fight there, and then had followed Wellington to France.
She’d seen a difference in him when the fighting had finally ended. It was no surprise really – he’d been fighting for years; one couldn’t be unaffected by that – but her feelings hadn’t changed. Not one bit. A pity he hardly seemed to notice her other than as the best friend of his sister.
She was destined to admire from afar, and although she’d never expected to actually marry him, there had always been a flicker of hope while they both remained single. Now, thanks to her stepmother, even that was about to be permanently extinguished. For there was one thing that was certain about the second Mrs. King: once she decreed something had to happen, it occurred within a surprisingly short amount of time. She’d decided Susan was to marry, and without a doubt that would happen, whether Susan wished it or not.
Sighing, she turned and stopped walking suddenly, her mouth dropping open in a silent ‘o’.
“Don’t make a sound and you won’t get hurt,” Mr. Malone said, pointing a gun in her direction.
Susan faltered, staring at the weapon pointing at her. Her heart pounded noisily, and her breathing was shallow. Afraid she was going to faint at the sight of the glinting silver aimed at her, she took a steadying breath. Panicking would not help her, so there was no point in wasting her energy on it.
“I can give you money, but I haven’t any on my person at the moment,” Susan said, surprised that her voice, although shaky, was clear.
“I don’t want the pennies you’d throw at me,” he sneered. “It’s you I’m here for. You’re coming with me.”
“What? No!” Susan wanted to run, but she could see the gun was primed. “I can give you more than I did last time.”
“Yes, you can, but not in the way you think,” Albert Malone answered. “Stop trying to delay. Come with me, or your father will be mourning the loss of his only daughter.”
Susan paused. She was terrified, but the oddness of the situation struck her forcibly. “You are trying to kidnap me, but if you shoot me, I’m no use to you at all.”
“Just stop talking and come on! You infuriating baggage!” Albert cursed.
“No,” Susan said, gaining strength from goodness knew where. “I’m not coming with you.”
The crack of the gunshot startled the birds around the garden; there were squawks of complaint as the ruffled creatures took flight.
Susan fell backwards to the hard ground with such force it took her breath away. She gasped, struggling to inhale. Black dots appeared around the edges of her eyes, and her vision started to fade. She could feel herself being roughly handled and heard cursing. The last thing she saw was the rough, dirty face of Albert Malone.
Miles reread the letter, his stomach churning. Miss King wasn’t the type of young lady to create theatrical melodramas; in fact she was a sensible young woman. One who would attract the title of bookish and pleasing, rather than a comment about the beauty of her features. She wasn’t overtly attractive, yet Miles had always thought she had something about her that made her a little different from the usual simpering misses one had the misfortune of meeting.
He stood, walked to the bell pull and tugged the rope, waiting impatiently for the almost immediate entry of his butler.
When the door opened, he turned to face his member of staff. “I’m going to London today. I’ll be riding ahead, but send instructions to Ashurst that he needs to follow me at speed.”
Miles frowned as he read through the letter once more. There would only be one reason Albert was targeting his sister’s best friend, and that was for her fortune. The only way he would succeed would be to compromise the chit. His blood ran cold at the thought of someone being hurt because he hadn’t made sure that Albert had disappeared when their paths had crossed the last time.
Thinking back to when he’d last seen Albert, he scowled. Miles had beaten him senseless for being involved in a plan for his own sister to be kidnapped by a rogue whom Albert had introduced into their circle. Miles had threatened Albert with worse than the beating he’d received if he dared to come into polite society and try the same trick on some other unsuspecting family. Miles had spread the word through his network of military men that Albert was no longer to be trusted. It ensured the man wouldn’t receive a welcome in any reputable society. It was a pity, because Albert had been a fine cavalry officer when it had mattered, but a decent officer never betrayed his fellow men, and Albert had done that most spectacularly.
Cursing, Miles ran a hand through his hair; he should have checked that Albert had left London. He had presumed he would. He should have known better. Now, if Miss King’s words were true, Albert was desperate, and it was partly Miles’s reaction to him that had caused it. That made Albert less likely to be constricted by ethics or morals, which made the intended victim even more vulnerable.
Miles left his study, running up the stairs two at a time. Albert had been in his cavalry regiment when they’d fought abroad in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo. He was a good cavalryman, a cold killer, a soldier who had volunteered and led some of the “forlorn hopes” to gain promotion. As those same forlorn hopes usually had little chance of being successful, the men who volunteered were hardened, or desperate for promotion and reward should they survive. Only the men with nothing to lose volunteered for those missions. Albert had always returned. He was a lethally effective killer, and he was targeting an innocent girl. Miles had to get to her. Fast.
* * *
Arriving in London early that evening, Miles stopped at his town house in Curzon Street to change before approaching the Kings. From the information in the letter, he would have to tread carefully in order to find out from Miss King what the latest news was.
One of the senior footmen helped him to dress in some of the clothes he kept in Curzon Street. His valet would not arrive until the following day at the earliest. Miles chose evening attire, in case he had to chase across London to find the ball or soirée the Kings were attending that evening. He gave his frock-coat a last tug, nodded to the footman and hurried downstairs, impatient to leave.
Stepping onto the marble of the hallway, he turned to another footman. “If my mother should arrive home with her friends before I do, advise her that I have arrived from Barrowfoot House, but I shall only be returning late tonight. I will see her at breakfast, or luncheon tomorrow.”
His mother being out was a blessing; she would have delayed him with a thousand questions and then gossiped about what had been happening in town. Better to face her on the morrow when he had concocted a more feasible reason for travelling to London at such speed. He would be more relaxed when he knew that Susan was safe.
The Kings lived only ten doors away from his own home. Something of which his sister, Edith, and Susan had taken full advantage during their stay in London. It had been quite usual to see one or the other coming and going between the two houses without the need for a chaperone. No one would lift an eyebrow at them scurrying along such a short distance.
It seemed that light blazed from each window of the Kings’ abode. With increasing trepidation, Miles knocked on the door and waited.
A flustered servant opened the door. “I’m sorry, sir, the family are not receiving calls at this time.”
“I need to speak to Miss King. If you tell her Lord Longdon has arrived, I’m sure she’ll see me,” Miles responded.
The servant paled.
“What has happened? Am I too late?” Miles demanded.
“I— the family— Miss King …” came the stuttered response.
“For goodness’ sake, stand aside, man!” Miles said, walking into the entrance of the house. “Either take me to Miss King or her father.”
Miles was taken to the study of Mr. King. Barely waiting until he’d been announced, he entered the room as soon as begrudging compliance was heard from the gentleman inside the study.
“My lord, please excuse us. We are not ourselves this evening,” Mr. King said, standing to greet his unexpected guest.
“I gather not. Forgive my abruptness, but where is your daughter?” There was no point being constrained by the niceties of etiquette.
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