Duke Goes Rogue(2)

By: Eva Devon

When the men had gone to war, she’d had to stay on dry land and wait. . .

In the last months, she’d continued to wait. For a miracle. It hadn’t come.

Now, she was land bound, furious at the world and hungry to change the injustices that had been wrought upon her family. ’Twas a hunger that couldn’t be sated as a lady sitting in the small cottage in a small town at the edge of the world.

A hard rap on the door commanded her thoughts to the present. She tucked her layers of wool skirts and shawls tighter about her frame.

She didn’t have enough coin to buy coal. She kept a little coal for emergencies and so the fire was little more than a single flame to light the darkness. The cottage was frigid. In fact, if she chose to see it, she could spot her own breath puffing out in front of her face as she walked to the door.

She peered out the window, not willing to lift the iron latch. After all, she was a woman alone now. Though she’d never been truly afraid. There was a pistol in the sideboard and a knife under the table if she needed.

One always had to be prepared.

The old man standing at the doorstep sent a shudder through her.

It was tempting to shout at him to go away but he was too powerful in the town for that. If he chose, he could send bailiffs in for her overdue rent. Horrible as it was, Horace Jonas had bought her cottage from the previous owner and, ever since, the peaceful days from collections had begun to vanish.

She opened the door slowly.

He was a toad of a man.

Mr. Jonas stood swathed in a long coat with a high collar. On a taller man, it would have been most becoming. It had the unfortunate result of making Mr. Jonas look like a turtle, with his short stature and nearly nonexistent neck. Said neck was nonexistent due to the copious jowls covered in wiry gray sideburns.

His fleshy lips parted in a smile of anticipation. His small eyes gleamed under the brim of his expensive beaver hat as he studied her. Without waiting to be invited in, he waddled over the doorstep.

She wasn’t fooled. Horace Jonas might waddle, but he wasn’t someone who could be pushed about.

“Good evening, Olivia,” he said as he doffed his hat and began to unwind his scarf.

She bit back an unpleasant reply, not missing his blatantly rude and familiar use of her given name. Instead, she took his hat and scarf and waited for him to peel his coat from his corpulent person.

It was most frustrating, having to bear his presence. But she had nowhere to go at present and no recourse to take.

It was, as she could see, the only unfortunate side to having lived a life of adventure, free from the ties of land life for so long.

With her parents and twin brother dead, she had no friends. Her parents had no friends. Not truly. Not in England. Not the sort one could count on in times of distress. There was an uncle on her father’s side, but her father had spoken with fury and dismissiveness when any hint of his family was mentioned. She couldn’t go to them.

So, she found herself having to be polite to someone like her nefarious landlord.

“Would you care for a cup of water?” she asked as kindly as she could.

“Wine?” he suggested, rubbing his hands together.

“Alas, I have none, sir.”

“Ah,” he replied with surprising cheer. “Then it is good that I have considered your unfortunate state ahead of my visit.” He pulled a bottle from his coat pocket then handed both his coat and the bottle to her. “Pour out two glasses.”

She held the items in her hands, barely able to believe he was so forward. Oh, she’d seen shocking things all her life the wide world over. But this was England. Men were supposed to be gentlemen. Weren’t they? Apparently not.

“No, thank—”

“I insist,” he replied before he shivered and scowled. “My God, it’s cold in here. And I suggest you keep me in good humor. A friendly glass will do just that.”

The warning was there. It had been before. If she didn’t please him, he would take action.

Biting back a sigh, she took the coat and the bottle of wine. She headed to the large sideboard which kept the plates, glasses, and cups that had been collected by her family over the years.

“Shall I start a fire?” he asked, though it sounded more like a statement.