Home > A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove #1)(13)

A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove #1)(13)
Author: Tessa Dare

It was lovely. As the sky turned from blue to purple, a sprinkling of stars appeared above the castle ruins. Bram knew he’d made the right decision to decline quarter at Summerfield. All concerns of duty and restraint aside, he never felt comfortable in stuffy English manor houses. Their door lintels were too low for him, and their beds were too small for him. Such homes weren’t for him, full stop.

The open country was where he belonged. He didn’t need a place like Summerfield. However, his empty stomach was beginning to argue he should have accepted a meal at Sir Lewis’s table, at least.

A low bleat drew his attention downward. A lamb stood at his feet, nosing the tassel on his boot.

“Oh look,” said Colin brightly. “Dinner.”

“Where did this come from?”

Thorne approached. “Followed us up. The drivers say it’s been nosing around the carts ever since the blasts.”

Bram examined the creature. Must have been separated from its mother. By this time of summer, it was well past the age of weaning. It was also well past the age of being adorable. The lamb looked up at him and gave another plaintive bleat.

“I don’t suppose we have any mint jelly?” Colin asked.

“We can’t eat it,” Bram said. “The beast belongs to some crofter hereabouts, and whoever he is will be missing it.”

“The crofter will never know.” A wolfish smile spread across his cousin’s face as he reached to pat the lamb’s woolly flank. “We’ll destroy the evidence.”

Bram shook his head. “Not going to happen. Give up your lamb chop fantasies. His home can’t be far. We’ll find it tomorrow.”

“Well, we do have to eat something tonight, and I don’t see a ready alternative.”

Thorne strode toward the fire, carrying a brace of hares, already split and gutted. “There’s your alternative.”

“Where did you get those?” Colin asked.

“On the heath.” Crouching on the ground, Thorne drew a knife from his boot and began skinning the animals with ruthless efficiency. The rich smell of blood soon mingled with smoke and ash.

Colin stared at the officer. “Thorne, you scare me. I’m not ashamed to say it.”

Bram said, “You’ll learn to appreciate him. Thorne always comes up with a meal. We had the best-stocked officers’ mess on the Peninsula.”

“Well, at least that satisfies one type of hunger,” Colin said. “Now, for the other. I’ve an insatiable craving for female companionship that must be addressed. I don’t sleep alone.” He looked from Bram to Thorne. “What? You’ve just returned from years on the Peninsula. I’d think you two would be positively salivating.”

Thorne made a gruff sound. “There’s women in Portugal and Spain.” He set aside one skinned carcass and reached for the other hare. “And I’ve already found one here.”

“What?” Colin sputtered. “Who? When?”

“The widow what sold us eggs at the last turnpike. She’ll have me.”

Colin looked to Bram, as if to say, Am I to believe this?

Bram shrugged. Thorne was nothing if not resourceful. At every place of encampment, he’d always ferreted out the local game and found a local woman. He hadn’t seemed particularly attached to any of them. Or perhaps the women simply didn’t attach themselves to Thorne.

Attachments were Bram’s problem. He was an officer, a gentleman of wealth, and, all things being equal, he preferred to converse with a woman before tupping her senseless. Taken together, these qualities seemed to encourage a woman’s attachment, and romantic entanglements were the one thing he couldn’t afford.

Colin straightened, obviously piqued. “Now wait just a minute. I will happily be outdone when it comes to hunting game, but I will not be . . . outgamed, where the fairer sex is concerned. You couldn’t know it, Thorne, but my reputation is legendary. Legendary. Give me one day down in the village. I don’t care if they are ape-leading spinsters. I’ll be under skirts in this neighborhood long before you are, and far more often.”

“Keep your pegos buttoned, both of you.” Bram gave the sleeping lamb at his knee a sullen nudge. “The only way we’ll accomplish our task and be quit of this place is if the local men cooperate. And the local men won’t be eager to cooperate if we’re seducing their sisters and daughters.”

“What precisely are you saying, Bram?”

“I’m saying, no women. Not so long as we’re encamped here.” He cast a glance at Thorne. “That’s an order.”

The lieutenant made no reply, save to skewer the two skinned hares on a sharpened branch.

“Since when do I take orders from you?” Colin asked.

Bram leveled a gaze at him. “Since my father died, and I came back from the Peninsula to find you stickpin-deep in debt, that’s when. I don’t relish the duty, but I hold your fortune in trust for the next several months. So long as I’m paying your bills, you’ll do as I say. Unless you get married, in which case you’d spare us both the better part of a year’s aggravation.”

“Oh yes. Marriage being a fine way for a man to spare himself aggravation.” Colin shoved to his feet and stalked away, into the shadows.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Bram called. Colin was welcome to have his adolescent sulk, but he should take care. They hadn’t checked the soundness of the entire castle, and there were those steep bluffs nearby . . .

“I’m going to have a piss, dear cousin. Or did you want me to keep my pego buttoned for that, too?”

Bram wasn’t any happier than Colin about this arrangement. It seemed ridiculous that a man of six-and-twenty, a viscount since his tender years, should even require a trustee. But the terms of his inheritance—meant to encourage the timely production of a legitimate heir—clearly stipulated that the Payne fortune was held in trust until Colin either married or turned twenty-seven.

And so long as Colin was his responsibility, Bram knew of no better way to handle the situation than to make his cousin a soldier. He’d taken far less promising fellows and drilled a sense of discipline and duty into them. Deserters, debtors, hardened criminals . . . the man seated across the fire, for one. If Samuel Thorne had made good, any man had hope.

“Tomorrow we’ll start recruiting volunteers,” he told his corporal.

Thorne nodded, turning the roasting hares on the spit.

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