Home > A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove #1)(4)

A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove #1)(4)
Author: Tessa Dare

And Susanna needed the Highwoods, for reasons she couldn’t easily explain. She had no way to go back in time and undo the misfortunes of her own youth. But she could help to spare other young ladies the same friendless misery, and that was the next best thing.

“Trust me, Mrs. Highwood,” she said, taking the woman’s hand. “Spindle Cove is the perfect place for your daughters’ summer holiday. I promise you, they will be healthy, happy, and perfectly safe.”

Boom. A distant blast punched the air. Susanna’s ribs shivered with the force of it.

Mrs. Highwood clutched her bonnet with a gloved hand. “My word. Was that an explosion?”

Drat, drat, drat. And this had all been going so well.

“Miss Finch, you just claimed this place was safe.”

“Oh, it is.” Susanna gave them her most calming, reassuring smile. “It is. No doubt that’s just a ship in the Channel, sounding its signal cannon.”

She knew very well there was no ship. That blast could only be her father’s doing. In his day, Sir Lewis Finch had been a celebrated innovator of firearms and artillery. His contributions to the British army had earned him acclaim, influence, and a sizable fortune. But after those incidents with the experimental cannon, he’d promised Susanna he would give up conducting field tests.

He’d promised.

As they moved forward into the lane, a strange, low rumble gathered in the air.

“What is that noise?” Diana asked.

Susanna feigned innocence. “What noise?”

“That noise,” Mrs. Highwood said.

The rumble grew more forceful with each second. The paving stones vibrated beneath her heeled slippers. Mrs. Highwood squeezed her eyes shut and emitted a low, mournful whimper.

“Oh, that noise,” Susanna said lightly, herding the Highwoods across the lane. If she could only get them indoors . . . “That noise is nothing to be concerned about. We hear it all the time here. A fluke of the weather.”

“It cannot be thunder,” Minerva said.

“No. No, it’s not thunder. It’s . . . an atmospheric phenomenon, brought on by intermittent gusts of . . .”

“Sheep!” Charlotte cried, pointing down the lane.

A flock of deranged, woolly beasts stormed through the ancient stone arch and poured into the village, funneling down the lane and bearing down on them.

“Oh yes,” Susanna muttered. “Precisely so. Intermittent gusts of sheep.”

She hurried her guests across the lane, and they huddled in the All Things shop’s doorway while the panicked sheep passed. The chorus of agitated bleats grated against her eardrums.

If her father had hurt himself, she was going to kill him.

“There’s no cause for alarm,” Susanna said over the din. “Rural life does have its peculiar charms. Miss Highwood, is your breathing quite all right?”

Diana nodded. “I’m fine, thank you.”

“Then won’t you please excuse me?”

Without waiting for an answer, Susanna lifted her hem and made a mad dash down the lane, weaving around the few lingering sheep as she made her way straight out of the village. It didn’t take but a matter of seconds. This was, after all, a very small village.

Rather than take the longer, winding lane around the hill, she climbed it. As she neared the top, the breeze delivered to her a few lingering wisps of smoke and scattered tufts of wool. Despite these ominous signs, she crested the hill to find a scene that did not resemble one of her father’s artillery tests. Down at the bottom of the lane, two carts were stalled in the road. When she squinted, she could make out figures milling around the stopped conveyances. Tall, male figures. No short, stout, balding gentlemen among them.

None of them could be Papa.

She took a relieved gulp of acrid, powder-tinged air. With the burden of dread lifted, her curiosity took the fore. Intrigued, she picked her way down the bank of heather until she stood on the narrow, rutted road. In the distance, the figures of the men ceased moving. They’d noticed her.

Shading her brow with one hand, she peered hard at the men, trying to make out their identities. One of the men wore an officer’s coat. Another wore no coat at all. As she approached them, the coatless man began to wave with vigor. Shouts carried up to her on the breeze. Frowning, Susanna moved closer, hoping to better hear the words.

“Wait! Miss, don’t . . . !”


An unseen force plucked her straight off her feet and slammed her sideways, driving her off the lane entirely. She plowed shoulder-first into the tall grass, tackled to the turf by some kind of charging beast.

A charging beast wearing lobster-red wool.

Together, they bounced away from the road, elbows and knees absorbing the blows. Susanna’s teeth rattled in her skull, and she bit her tongue hard. Fabric ripped, and cool air reached farther up her thigh than any well-mannered breeze ought to venture.

When they rolled to a stop, she found herself pinned by a tremendous, huffing weight. And pierced by an intense green gaze.

“Wh—?” Her breath rushed out in question.

Boom, the world answered.

Susanna ducked her head, burrowing into the protection of what she’d recognized to be an officer’s coat. The knob of a brass button pressed into her cheek. The man’s bulk formed a comforting shield as a shower of dirt clods rained down on them both. He smelled of whiskey and gunpowder.

After the dust cleared, she brushed the hair from his brow, searching his gaze for signs of confusion or pain. His eyes were alert and intelligent, and still that startling shade of green—as hard and richly hued as jade.

She asked, “Are you well?”

“Yes.” His voice was a deep rasp. “Are you?”

She nodded, expecting him to release her at the confirmation. When he showed no signs of moving, she puzzled at it. Either he was gravely injured or seriously impertinent. “Sir, you’re . . . er, you’re rather heavy.” Surely he could not fail to miss that hint.

He replied, “You’re soft.”

Good Lord. Who was this man? Where had he come from? And how was he still atop her?

“You have a small wound.” With trembling fingers, she brushed a reddish knot high on his temple, near his hairline. “Here.” She pressed her hand to his throat, feeling for his pulse. She found it, thumping strong and steady against her gloved fingertips.

“Ah. That’s nice.”

Her face blazed with heat. “Are you seeing double?”

“Perhaps. I see two lips, two eyes, two flushed cheeks . . . a thousand freckles.”

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