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

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

One

Sussex, England

Summer 1813

Bram stared into a pair of wide, dark eyes. Eyes that reflected a surprising glimmer of intelligence. This might be the rare female a man could reason with.

“Now, then,” he said. “We can do this the easy way, or we can make things difficult.”

With a soft snort, she turned her head. It was as if he’d ceased to exist.

Bram shifted his weight to his good leg, feeling the stab to his pride. He was a lieutenant colonel in the British army, and at over six feet tall, he was said to cut an imposing figure. Typically, a pointed glance from his quarter would quell the slightest hint of disobedience. He was not accustomed to being ignored.

“Listen sharp, now.” He gave her ear a rough tweak and sank his voice to a low threat. “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll do as I say.”

Though she spoke not a word, her reply was clear: You can kiss my great woolly arse.

Confounded sheep.

“Ah, the English countryside. So charming. So . . . fragrant.” Colin approached, stripped of his London-best topcoat, wading hip-deep through the river of wool. Blotting the sheen of perspiration from his brow with his sleeve, he asked, “I don’t suppose this means we can simply turn back?”

Ahead of them, a boy pushing a handcart had overturned his cargo, strewing corn all over the road. It was an open buffet, and every ram and ewe in Sussex appeared to have answered the invitation. A vast throng of sheep bustled and bleated around the unfortunate youth, gorging themselves on the spilled grain—and completely obstructing Bram’s wagons.

“Can we walk the teams in reverse?” Colin asked. “Perhaps we can go around, find another road.”

Bram gestured at the surrounding landscape. “There is no other road.”

They stood in the middle of the rutted dirt lane, which occupied a kind of narrow, winding valley. A steep bank of gorse rose up on one side, and on the other, some dozen yards of heath separated the road from dramatic bluffs. And below those—far below those—lay the sparkling turquoise sea. If the air was seasonably dry and clear, and Bram squinted hard at that thin indigo line of the horizon, he might even glimpse the northern coast of France.

So close. He’d get there. Not today, but soon. He had a task to accomplish here, and the sooner he completed it, the sooner he could rejoin his regiment. He wasn’t stopping for anything.

Except sheep. Blast it. It would seem they were stopping for sheep.

A rough voice said, “I’ll take care of them.”

Thorne joined their group. Bram flicked his gaze to the side and spied his hulking mountain of a corporal shouldering a flintlock rifle.

“We can’t simply shoot them, Thorne.”

Obedient as ever, Thorne lowered his gun. “Then I’ve a cutlass. Just sharpened the blade last night.”

“We can’t butcher them, either.”

Thorne shrugged. “I’m hungry.”

Yes, that was Thorne—straightforward, practical. Ruthless.

“We’re all hungry.” Bram’s stomach rumbled in support of the statement. “But clearing the way is our aim at the moment, and a dead sheep’s harder to move than a live one. We’ll just have to nudge them along.”

Thorne lowered the hammer of his rifle, disarming it, then flipped the weapon with an agile motion and rammed the butt end against a woolly flank. “Move on, you bleeding beast.”

The animal lumbered uphill a few steps, prodding its neighbors to scuttle along in turn. Downhill, the drivers urged the teams forward before resetting their brakes, unwilling to surrender even those hard-fought inches of progress.

The two wagons held a bounty of supplies to refit Bram’s regiment: muskets, shot, shells, wool and pipeclay for uniforms. He’d spared no expense, and he would see them up this hill. Even if it took all day, and red-hot pain screamed from his thigh to his shinbone with every pace. His superiors thought he wasn’t healed enough to resume field command? He would prove them wrong. One step at a time.

“This is absurd,” Colin grumbled. “At this rate, we’ll arrive next Tuesday.”

“Stop talking. Start moving.” Bram nudged a sheep with his boot, wincing as he did. With his leg already killing him, the last thing he needed was a pain in the arse, but that’s exactly what he’d inherited, along with all his father’s accounts and possessions: responsibility for his wastrel cousin, Colin Sandhurst, Lord Payne.

He swatted at another sheep’s flank, earning himself an indignant bleat and a few inches more.

“I have an idea,” Colin said.

Bram grunted, unsurprised. As men, he and Colin were little more than strangers. But during the few years they’d overlapped at Eton, he recalled his younger cousin as being just full of ideas. Ideas that had landed him shin-deep in excrement. Literally, on at least one occasion.

Colin looked from Bram to Thorne and back again, eyes keen. “I ask you, gentlemen. Are we, or are we not, in possession of a great quantity of black powder?”

“Tranquillity is the soul of our community.”

Not a quarter mile’s distance away, Susanna Finch sat in the lace-curtained parlor of the Queen’s Ruby, a rooming house for gently bred young ladies. With her were the rooming house’s newest prospective residents, a Mrs. Highwood and her three unmarried daughters.

“Here in Spindle Cove, young ladies enjoy a wholesome, improving atmosphere.” Susanna indicated a knot of ladies clustered by the hearth, industriously engaged in needlework. “See? The picture of good health and genteel refinement.”

In unison, the young ladies looked up from their work and smiled placid, demure smiles.

Excellent. She gave them an approving nod.

Ordinarily, the ladies of Spindle Cove would never waste such a beautiful afternoon stitching indoors. They would be rambling the countryside, or sea bathing in the cove, or climbing the bluffs. But on days like these, when new visitors came to the village, everyone understood some pretense at propriety was necessary. Susanna was not above a little harmless deceit when it came to saving a young woman’s life.

“Will you take more tea?” she asked, accepting a fresh pot from Mrs. Nichols, the inn’s aging proprietress. If Mrs. Highwood examined the young ladies too closely, she might notice that mild Gaelic obscenities occupied the center of Kate Taylor’s sampler. Or that Violet Winterbottom’s needle didn’t even have thread.

Mrs. Highwood sniffed. Although the day was mild, she fanned herself with vigor. “Well, Miss Finch, perhaps this place can do my Diana some good.” She looked to her eldest daughter. “We’ve seen all the best doctors, tried ever so many treatments. I even took her to Bath for the cure.”

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