Home > A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove #1)(11)

A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove #1)(11)
Author: Tessa Dare

The path was a familiar one. Over the years she’d resided in Spindle Cove, Susanna must have walked it thousands of times. She knew each curve of the land, every last mottled depression in the road. More than once, she’d covered this distance in the dark of night with nary a misstep.

Today, she stumbled.

He was there, catching her elbow in his strong, sure grip. She hadn’t realized he was following so close. Just when she thought she’d regained her balance, his heat and presence unsteadied her all over again.

“Are you well?”

“Yes. I think so.” In an effort to dispel the awkwardness, she joked, “Mondays are country walks; Tuesdays, sea bathing . . .”

He didn’t laugh. Nor even smile. He released her without comment, moving on ahead to take the lead. His strides were long, but she noticed he was still favoring that right leg.

She did what a good healer ought never do. She hoped it hurt.

Perhaps, with that swooping tackle in the road, he had saved her from losing a few toes. But if not for him, there would have been no danger in the first place. If not for him, right now she would be seeing the Highwoods settled in at the rooming house. Poor Diana. Poor Minerva, for that matter. Charlotte was young and resilient, at least.

They climbed the rest of the way in silence. Once they crested the sandstone ridge, Susanna pulled to a stop. “Well,” she said between deep inhalations, “there it is, my lord. Rycliff Castle.”

The castle ruins sat perched at the tip of an outcropping, an arrowhead of green heath jutting over the sea. Four stone turrets, a few standing arches . . . here and there, a bit of wall. This was all that remained. In the background spread the English Channel, now turning a lovely shade of periwinkle in the dimming afternoon.

Silence reigned for a long minute as the men took in the scene. Susanna kept quiet, too, as she tried to see the ancient fortress through fresh eyes. As a young girl, she’d been taken with the romance of it. When one viewed the castle as a picturesque ruin, the absent walls and ceilings were the best features. The missing parts were invitations to dream; they inspired the imagination. Looking upon this as a prospective residence, however, she could only imagine the missing parts would inspire grave misgivings. Or perhaps hives.

“And the village?” he asked.

“You can see it from here.” She led them through a standing fragment of arched corridor, across an open expanse of grass that had once been the castle’s courtyard, to the bluff, where they could overlook the crescent-shaped cove and the valley that sheltered her beloved community. From here, it looked so small and insignificant. With any luck, it would remain beneath his notice entirely.

He said, “I’ll be needing a closer look tomorrow.”

“It’s nothing special,” she hedged. “Just an average English village. Hardly worth your time. Cottages, a church, a few shops.”

“Surely there’s an inn,” Lord Payne said.

“There is a rooming house,” Susanna said, leading them back from the edge of the bluff. “The Queen’s Ruby. But I’m afraid it is completely occupied at this time of year. Summer visitors, you understand, come to enjoy the sea.” And to escape men like you.

“An inn won’t be necessary.” Lord Rycliff walked slowly about the ruins. He propped a hand against a nearby wall and leaned on it, as if to test the wall’s soundness. “We’ll be staying here.”

This statement was received with universal incredulity. Even the stones seemed to throw it back at him, rejecting the words as false.

“Here,” the corporal said.

“Yes,” Lord Rycliff said. “Here. We’ll need to begin settling in, if we’re to make camp before nightfall. Go see to the carts, Thorne.”

Thorne nodded his compliance and quit the place immediately, descending the way they’d come.

“You can’t mean to stay here,” Lord Payne said. “Have you seen here?”

“I have,” Rycliff answered. “I’m looking at it. So we’ll be camping. That’s what militiamen do.”

“I’m not a militiaman,” Payne said. “And I don’t camp.”

Susanna would guess he didn’t. Not in those fine boots, at least.

“Well, you camp now,” Rycliff said. “And you’re a militiaman now, as well.”

“Oh no. Think again, Bram. You’re not pulling me into your tin soldier brigade.”

“I’m not leaving you a choice. You need to learn some discipline, and this is the perfect opportunity.” He cast a glance around. “Since you’re so fond of setting blazes, see if you can start a fire.”

Susanna put a hand on Rycliff’s sleeve, hoping to claim his attention.

She got it. His full, unwavering attention. His intent gaze ranged over her face, searching out her every feature and flaw.

“Forgive the interruption,” she said, releasing his sleeve. “But surely camping isn’t necessary. My father may not have made the express invitation as yet, but I’m certain he intends to offer you lodging at Summerfield.”

“Then give your father my thanks. But I will respectfully decline.”


“I’m meant to be defending the coast. Difficult to do that from a mile inland.”

“But my lord, you do understand this militia business is all for show? My father’s not truly concerned about an invasion.”

“Perhaps he should be.” He glanced at his cousin, who was currently snapping dead branches from an ivy-covered wall. With a tilt of his head, Rycliff drew her aside. “Miss Finch, it’s not wise for officers to quarter in the same house with an unmarried gentlewoman. Have a care for your reputation, if your father does not.”

“Have a care for my reputation?” She had to laugh. Then she lowered her voice. “This, from the man who flattened me in the road and kissed me without leave?”

“Precisely.” His eyes darkened.

His meaning washed over her in a wave of hot, sensual awareness. Surely he wasn’t implying . . .

No. He wasn’t implying at all. Those hard jade eyes were giving her a straightforward message, and he underscored it with a slight flex of his massive arms: I am every bit as dangerous as you suppose. If not more so.

“Take your kind invitation and run home with it. When soldiers and maids live under the same roof, things happen. And if you happened to find yourself under me again . . .” His hungry gaze raked her body. “You wouldn’t escape so easily.”

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