Griffin Stone:Duke Of DecadenceBy: Carole Mortimer
(Dangerous Dukes Book 3)
July 1815, Lancashire, England.
‘What the—?’ Griffin Stone, the tenth Duke of Rotherham, pulled sharply on the reins of his perfectly matched greys as a ghostly white figure ran out of the darkness directly in front of his swiftly travelling phaeton.
Despite his concerted efforts to avoid a collision, the ethereal figure barely missed being stomped on by the high-stepping and deadly hooves, but was not so fortunate when it came to the back offside wheel of the carriage.
Griffin winced as he heard rather than saw that collision, all of his attention centred on bringing the greys to a stop before he was able to jump down from the carriage and run quickly round to the back of the vehicle.
There was only the almost full moon overhead for illumination, but nevertheless Griffin was able to locate where the white figure lay a short distance away.
An unmoving and ghostly shape was lying face down in the dirt.
Two strides of his long legs brought him to the utterly still figure, where he crouched down on his haunches. Griffin could see that the person was female; long dark hair fell across her face and cascaded loosely down the length of her spine, and she was wearing what, to him, looked suspiciously like a voluminous white nightgown, her feet bare.
He glanced about them in confusion; this private way through Shrawley Woods was barely more than a rutted track, and as far as he was aware there were no houses in the immediate vicinity. In fact, Griffin was very aware as the surrounding woods and the land for several miles about them formed part of his principal ducal estate.
It made no sense that this woman was roaming about his woods wearing only her nightgown.
He placed his fingers about her wrist, with the intention of checking for a pulse, only to jerk back as she unexpectedly gave a pained groan the moment his fingers touched her bared flesh. It let him know she was at least still alive, even if the sticky substance he could feel on his fingertips showed she had sustained an injury of some kind.
Griffin took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the blood from his hand before reaching out to gently stroke the long dark hair from over her face, revealing it as a deathly pale oval in the moonlight.
‘Can you hear me?’ His voice was gruff, no doubt from the scare he had received when she’d run out in front of his carriage.
Shrawley Woods was dense, and this rarely used track was barely navigable in full daylight; Griffin had only decided to press on in the darkness towards Stonehurst Park, just a mile away, because he had played in these woods constantly as a child and knew his way blindfolded.
There had been no reason, at eleven o’clock at night, for Griffin to take into account that there would be someone else in these woods. A poacher would certainly have known his way about in a way this barely clothed female obviously did not.
‘Can you tell me where you are injured so that I can be sure not to hurt you again?’ Griffin prompted, his frown darkening when he received no answer, and was forced to accept that she had once again slipped into unconsciousness.
Griffin made his next decision with the sharp precision for which he had been known in the army. It was late at night, full dark, no one had yet come crashing through the woods in pursuit of this woman, and, whoever she might be, she was obviously in need of urgent medical attention.
Consequently there was only one decision he could make, and that was to place her in the phaeton and continue on with the rest of his journey to Stonehurst Park. Once there they would no longer be in darkness, and he could ascertain her injuries more accurately, after which a doctor could be sent for. Explanations for her state of undress, and her mad flight through the woods, could come later.
Griffin straightened to take off his driving coat and lay it gently across her before scooping her carefully up into his arms.
She weighed no more than a child, her long hair cascading over his arm, her face all pale and dark hollows in the moonlight. He rested her head more comfortably against his shoulder.
She was young and very slender. Too slender. The weight of her long hair seemed almost too much for the slender fragility of her neck to support.
She made no sound as he lifted her up onto the seat of his carriage, nor when he wrapped his coat more securely about her. He took up the reins once again and moved the greys on more slowly than before in an effort not to jolt his injured passenger unnecessarily.