THE LORD OF RAVENSLAIR

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Chapter 1

1758

The Earl of Ravenslair sat in his office reading the latest report from Bow Street on the nocturnal habits of the highwayman; he suspected murdered his father two years before. Next to him on the desk sat the latest report from his solicitors in Edinburgh about his accounts and the two or three small but tidy sums of money that were questionable. Over the last few months several drafts had been written, with his signature, but for no specific reason and he did not write them. He was in the process of investigating his employees himself to see who the culprit might be. This afternoon though he was reading the very boring exploits of the man he knew killed his father; although neither Bow Street or he and his friends had yet to link the man to that crime. Petty thefts were abundant and the man seemed to have a pension for lose women and posed as a nobleman but none of these were a kin to murder but he was determined that the link was there he just was not seeing it.

A knock on the library door brought in his aging butler, Charles, with the morning news. Frederick smiled as the man's slow shuffle made it's way to the side of his desk.

"Afternoon milord." Charles said laying the paper on the side of the desk; in the usual place. Frederick' smile became a bit brighter.

"Hmm. Morning paper in the afternoon now that's a novel idea." Frederick said glancing at the front page; disturbed to see the large headline listed the disappearance of yet two more girls in the district. He made a mental note to add that to the list of his detective work and waited for the long employed English butler to respond to him. He knew the man would.

"Pardon me, milord but you are usually a bed when it arrives; late nights and all." Charles said.

"Hmm. It is all right Charles I know how you enjoy the paper yourself. About my late nights; I will be looking for a new valet today so you will not have to double on duty for long." Frederick said.

"It is not a problem." Charles said.

"It never is." Frederick mimicked; grinning. The crusty old butler stood his ground.

"Charles how long have you been here at Ravenslair" Frederick asked mischievously.

"Since the last Earl was here milord." Charles replied.

"Come now do be specific." Frederick teased.

17

"Very well milord, since before you were born." Charles stated.

"And in all that time I have never seen you smile. Do tell me Charles; do you like your position?" Frederick quipped; one eye raised.

"Indeed milord." Charles said; not to old to know he was being teased. But he did not mind; the young Earl was always a favorite of his.

"And never smiles… my but a puzzle you are Charles." Frederick quipped.

"Yes milord." Charles answered turning to leave.

"Charles. It is all right to smile now you know. I am much more fun than my stuffy old father." Frederick said a little too seriously even for him to believe.

"If you say so milord." Charles said closing the doors behind him; leaving his lord laughing.

An hour later found the Lord of Ravenslair still in his office; studying both the report from Bow Street for anything helpful and the report from his solicitors trying to figure out where his finances were going. He heard the knock at the front door and knowing Charles was close lit a new cheroot and reached for the paper. The stark headlines were a familiar story in Edinburgh and it's surrounding districts lately. It seemed that girls from all over were disappearing, being abducted or even a few murdered and no ransom was ever asked and it seemed they were never heard from again. He was glad that no noble ladies were among the missing but any woman's disappearance was disturbing. He turned the page for the announcements; prepared any day now for the announcement that Charissa was to be married. He had not been to Claremore as he promised his Uncle Robert and Robert seemed to understand and never said a crossword about his nonexistence at holidays and such. When Charissa was safely married then he could venture there; until then he did not trust himself where she was concerned.

A moment later Charles knocked once then entered.

"A messenger milord. From Claremore." he said; handing him the sealed note then leaving. Frederick grew concerned as it was not familiar writing.

"Charles who brought it?" Frederick asked standing.

"That Samuel fellow milord. Is everything all right?" Charles said now needing to be dismissed before leaving. Frederick did not dismiss him for he was too concerned now. The servants never sent messages. He got a sickening feeling about the note.

18

Frederick ripped open the seal and then as he read slowly sat back down in his chair.

"Milord?" Charles questioned; seeing the blood drain from the Earl's face.

"Baron Robert Kinkirt is dead." Frederick said; feeling as if the wind had been knocked out of him. He knew Uncle Robert was feeling poorly when they met for dinner in Edinburgh several months ago but he had no idea it would lead to this.

"Poor Charissa." Frederick said laying the letter down on the desk; next to the newspaper article about the disappearing women.

"Milord shall I have Joseph prepare the carriage?" Charles offered.

"What? No Charles, that will be all. I will send my regrets to Lady Charissa." Frederick said then dismissed the faithful servant.

By midnight the office floor was littered with crumpled paper; each scribbled with the beginnings of a letter of regret to Charissa and each promptly dispatched as trash. The Lord of Raveslair was in a terrible state. Several times each hour he summoned the butler and temporary valet Charles to the office to pack his bags and prepare the carriage that he was going to Claremore but each time he sent the confused servant from the office with no instructions. The housekeeper, Mrs. Billinsley, was threatened with bodily harm should she attempt to bring him food again. By the third attempt even the buxom, Irish tempered housekeeper, stayed out of his way. Ravenlair Manor was in an up roar; both from mourning the death of the life long friend of the elder Earl and godfather of the current Earl and the mood he was in.

Frederick was on his third bottle of brandy and hundredth writing of what he could not seem to be able to put on paper when he decided enough was enough. Tearing through the house and practically knocking Charles down in the hallway he left the manor and headed for the stables. He saddled Red Devil in silence so as not to wake Joseph and his son and took off for the moors. He knew what he needed. A night on the moors on Red Devil and he would get these thoughts, these memories, out of his mind. The most troubling was what was going to happen to Charissa now that the Baron was gone. He had yet to see an advertisement in the paper about nuptials and Uncle Robert had never even mentioned a suitor. Uncle Robert had no brothers who could take her in and only one sister; a nun in the Convent in North Scotland. Even Robert could not find her. Since the Scottish monarchy went into exile over a hundred years ago convents and monasteries were cloaked in extreme secrecy. No one knew where to find them. In fact Uncle Robert's sister was the only living relative Frederick knew of, the only one closest to being family for her except for him. He refused to even contemplate that idea. Lady Charissa being taken care of by the devil himself would be more preferable.

19

The next morning found the office floor even more cluttered with crumpled papers. The Lord of Ravenslair was slumped over his desk sleeping off the brandy he polished off after the learning the news of the Baron's death. The fire he had allowed the butler to light for him was down to embers. The only one he permitted in the room since he started his self imposed mourning ritual was Charles the butler and only twice. Once to bring up another bottle of brandy from the cellar and once to light the fire in the fireplace after his midnight ride.

Through the fog of his drink soaked brain he heard pounding on the door. He was about to yell for Charles to see why he was not at his post in the hall to answer the front door when he realized it was his office door being knocked on and Charles outside calling him. He got up slowly, swayed, and righted himself then started for the door to unlock it. He turned the lock, turned around and started back toward his desk and the second the door opened from the other side the butler wished he did not have to disturb him.

"Charles the manor better be on fire with all this infernal pounding." Frederick stated feeling every bit as rough as his voice sounded.

"Milord forgive me but Baron Kinkirt's solicitor is here and insisting that he see you." Charles stated.

"Richardson's here. Wonder what he could want? Show him to the library then get someone in here to clean this mess up will you." Frederick said straightening his clothes.

He knew he must look a fright but it could not be helped. Richardson had the irritating habit of showing up unannounced. Most solicitors sent a card ahead so preparations could be made for their visit. Richardson was not like most solicitors. Frederick was glad the man did not work for him.

Knowing Charles would show the man to the library right away Frederick waited the respectable time for an Earl before meeting the solicitor. He had thought the man would be paying him a visit as over the last two years Uncle Robert said that Frederick was in his Will as Charissa was in Frederick's father's Will. But he did not expect the man before the Baron was even buried. The customary time period was a month before Wills were opened and discussed. What the man could possibly want now was beyond Frederick but he entered the library to find that Charles had left the man with no refreshment. Frederick knew his butler well enough to know that Charles did not like the man either and knew Frederick would not mind such deplorable treatment; but then this was no guest but a hired man. This was a hired man not expected and not sent for. Frederick noticed the man was impeccably dressed. Frederick mused that the Baron must pay his solicitor well. Maybe he should give his own solicitor a raise; then he could discover who was writing bank drafts in his name and with his very own signature.

20

"Lord Ravenslair, pardon the intrusion but I wanted to see you before you made the trip to Claremore." Richardson began then a look of horror came over him as he saw the Earl of Ravenslair's disheveled appearance. Frederick grunted at the hired man's outraged expression at his appearance. He was sure the whole countryside would know by day's end.

"I will not be going to Claremore. Ravenslair is in mourning for the late Baron, my godfather, here in cloister. The Lady Clarissa does not need non-family members intruding upon her grief. She will be receiving my condolences shortly. You may tell her so." Frederick said wondering if Charissa sent him here.

"Not going to Claremore? You must reconsider milord." Richardson said nervously.

"And why is that? Tell the Lady Charissa I will send her an invitation to visit Ravenslair within the month. She has no need of me now and she has no need to send her father's man to fetch me. The Lord of Ravenslair does not answer to a summons." Frederick stated.

"You misunderstand milord." Richardson said handing him the first of two very large leather bindings he would be receiving in the next few days. Frederick took the thick leather binding that resembled a leather bound book in bulk and removed the sealed letter from the top. The crest of Claremore engraved on the envelope and on the wax seal.

"Richardson if this is some trick on Lady Charissa's part to get me to Claremore then you can tell her that I am use to all women's tricks. I will not be led around now that her beloved father is gone." Frederick stated glaring at the solicitor.

"Milord if your would read the letter I believe you will discover that it was good I came here before going to Claremore." Richardson stated calmly facing Frederick.

Frederick sat in the chair opposite the solicitor and setting the binding on the side table broke the seal on the letter and started to read. What he saw before his eyes on that paper was the most horrifying, infuriating, wonderful, unbelievable words he had ever seen. His boyhood wish was about to come true, in a way, but now he no longer wanted it. To have it would destroy them both.

Frederick Rehnsworth, III,

Son, if you are reading this then I have gone. Your father must also be gone for you to get this particular letter; as we wrote several of them for all situations. If your father went before me I hope I have done my best by you. Frederick, your father, was my oldest and dearest friend. We would do anything for each other and had no problem asking each other for help. We wanted the same for our children. I hope I have been of help to you in transitioning into the title and position that is your birthright.

21

Know son that your father loved you very much and was very proud of you all your life. I think of you as my own son and my love and pride are equal to his. In these two leather bindings you will find the completion of Lord Ravenslair's Last Will and Testament and that of the Baron of Claremore. When Scotland lost for the last time to regain our independence in 45 your father and I decided that to make sure our lands stayed whole and intact we would combine them. The particulars you will find in these two volumes. You have time to go through them. The first part you must be prepared for now. My solicitor has in his possession my Will for my most prized possession. Take care of her Frederick. Your father's and my thoughts regarding this matter are outlined through the leather bindings of our Wills but we trust you to make sure she is happy and well cared for. My life is in your hand's son. If I have helped you in any way since your father's passing please do this for me. Upon my death and until her twenty-fifth birthday Charissa Kinkirt is under the legal guardianship of Frederick Alton Rehnsworth, III; Earl of Ravenslair. My entire estate is in Charissa's name and is under the protection of the fore mentioned Earl of Ravenslair. Take care of her son and yourself.

Uncle Robert

Baron of Claremore

Post Script: Be careful Frederick. I have reason to believe that your father's killer is still out there and may have his sights set on Charissa. I have reason to believe she has come in contact with him recently. If it is who we think it is she could be in real danger. I trust you will keep her safe.

Frederick sat motionless staring at the letter. It could not be.

"Richardson when was this written?" Frederick asked.

"Some time ago milord. Although a few months back the Baron came to my office personally to make a change; to that very letter I believe. If you look close the seal was broken then re waxed." Richardson responded; confirming Frederick's worst fears.

"Thank you Richardson, that will be all for now. When will I get the second volume?" Frederick asked.

"After the funeral. But milord you must take possession of your charge now." he said.

"Possession yes." Frederick repeated. "Does she know?" "Yes, milord." Richardson said.

"Good. Tell her in one week's time she is to pack herself, two servants and driver and bring her coach. I have business in Edinburgh but will be back soon after. Tell her I said "no tricks". She is to get herself here and nowhere else. Understood?" Frederick said, the solicitor nodded. Once alone Frederick re read the letter and started pouring through the first binder. He could not believe what he was reading and was determined she would never see it. He locked the binder in his desk and pocketed the key.

22

One Week Later

The old carriage cantered roughly over the torn up gravel road as it lumbered its way far from the land it had traveled over for years. With each mile and winding turn it veered dangerously from one side to the other as if in utter protest of the journey it was forced to under take by the two coach drivers sitting staining to keep the reins held fast on such unfamiliar roads. The coach, with its awkward rein handlers, was not the only one protesting the journey being undertaken.

The lone passenger sat huddled in the dark corner of the coach staring out at the ever- growing black sky. The wind was slowly beginning to pick up in what no one with the coach knew was going to be a storm more deadly then any they had ever seen. The storm brewing was no stranger to the land it was about to plummet but to the unsuspecting travelers in the coach it would be just one more reason why none of them wanted to be going this way.

The first crack of thunder brought a new nervousness to the drivers as the lingering lightning flash gave, though briefly, the only light the inside of the carriage had seen in hours.

If anyone been accompanying the young occupant the lightning that flashed revealed eyes just as terrifying as the storm, and as furious. Upon closer look, with another flash, behind the fury of the eyes can be seen a underling depth of sadness and fear altogether different then the fear of what was happening outside the meager shelter of the carriage.

Without warning the carriage came to a halt sending the passenger inside on the cramped space of the carriage floor; skirts flaying in a heap around her. Seconds later one of the drivers was tearing open the door as if the devil himself was after him. The startled passenger jerked her head up at the intrusion, not only at his arrival but at the state she was sure she was in.

"Yo'r Ladyship, you alright? Sorry, a big rut in the road, almost hit it. Mr. James wanted me to see if you was alright before we started again." the man said through ragged breath.

"Yes, Samuel I am fine. Tell Mr. James that it must take a true coward not to come tell me that himself." the young woman responded, straightening her skirts.

"Pardon Yo'r Ladyship but Mr. James he busy securing the bags. It's fixing to come down hard milady Mr. James wants to get there soon so as to get you out of this weather." Samuel replied.

"Well, tell Mr. James, oh never mind I'll tell him myself." the woman huffed as she attempted to rise from the pile of skirts she was stuck in. Samuel helped her to rise and exit the carriage. She wasted no time in hurrying around the open carriage door and going around to the rear of the rig.

23

"Mr. James." she began with her most irritated voice; though both she and her life long servant knew she did not mean it as bad as she tried to sound.

"My Lady, please go back inside. The weather My Lady, please." Mr. James replied looking up from his task of tightening the luggage to the sky.

"Oh, hang the weather. If it's to be that bad then we must stop for the night." she said. Mr. James pretended to be shocked by her outburst but could not be too surprised.

"Now, My Lady you know we can not. I have strict orders to see you safely to Ravenslair Manor and that is what I intend to do." Mr. James replied.

"Oh, why did papa do this to me, to us. I know that this is just as hard on you as it is on me. Why couldn't papa make arrangements for me to stay at Claremore Manor where I belong then have my very life in jeopardy going all the way to that awful place?" she said.

"Now child you do not know that. I'm sure that Ravenslair is a fine manor and it is not forever now is it. Just until your twenty-fifth day." he said.

"No not forever only an eternity." The servant rolled his eyes at her retort.

"What exactly did father say James?" she asked and James thought he saw a spark of fear in her eyes and it tore him apart watching the child he thought of as his own so alone in the world.

"I'll tell you as I put you back in the carriage. Come milady." he said; now being the stern one. Reluctantly she gave him her arm and allowed him to escort her back.

"The old Earl of Ravenslair, your father's oldest and dearest friend, is to be your guardian until you reach your twenty-fifth birthday. Then he will read the will your father left at his law firm in London, of which the old Earl has a copy, and you will know how wealthy you are my child. Now inside you go. It will be long after dark now before we reach Ravenslair. Sure hope the worst of the storm holds off until then." James said; this time allowing himself the privilege of entering the carriage behind her. He would have to stop long before they were in sight of Ravenslair and remove himself back to Samuel'' side but he was tired and did not want to get soaked in the oncoming storm.

"But why not stay at Claremore until then James. Why move bag and baggage to that dreadful place?" she said.

"Really Milady Charissa you have not seen Ravenslair since you were a child of twelve why you don't even remember it well enough to call it awful and dreadful. Now stop this nonsense. Your father's orders are your father's orders and one must obey your father's orders."

24

"No matter what the cost Mr. James. No matter what the cost." Charissa sighed sinking down in her seat to once again stare out the window of the rolling carriage at the black sky.

Charissa was beyond furious and her faithful butler knew it. He wondered if he should have stayed up top with Samuel. Her mood had been black for days; ever since her father's solicitor brought her the Lord of Ravenslair's directive to be packed and at Ravenslair within the week. James was sure she had not believed her father when he told her from his deathbed that the Earl of Ravenslair was now her guardian. She had first beg her father not to let it happen but with his dying breath he told her loved her and Lord Ravenslair did too and he would take care of her. James did not think it was the old Earl's love that tormented her. He was sure she had no idea it was the younger Earl who would be her guardian but he kept such thoughts to himself. His former employer had kept the news of the old Earl's death from her because of the circumstances. Charissa rarely left Claremore and then only in the company of the Baron himself or those friends he allowed her to be around. Charissa Kinkirt had lived a very sheltered life. Now the butler feared it would be far from sheltered. She had also begged James himself to take her away or lock her in Claremore but James could do no such thing. He had been told by the Baron just days before his death that James, Martha, Mrs. Littleton and some of the other staff were now part and parcel with the land and the manor and were under the employment of the Earl as well. The good Baron did this so they would not lose their employment when the Earl temporarily closed Claremore as he felt sure he would do. The Baron had let it slip, in his illness, that the Earl would be none to pleased to be her guardian or was he ready to assume the position but the Wills were drawn up years ago and were unchangeable. The Lady knew not that he referred to the younger Earl but she would soon find out. James had the feeling the Wills were drawn up that way purposely.

Charissa Kinkirt sat watching the storm rage outside and it matched the storm inside her. She did not want to going to Ravenslair. She had not seen Uncle Frederick in years and had come to the conclusion that the Earl now despised her as his son did. It hurt her to think so; not so much for her as for her father. Her father had torn out of Claremore two years ago saying the Earl needed him and to her knowledge that was the last time he ever mentioned his dear friend. He had been in and out of Claremore for the last two years, on business he said, but no further word was ever told to her of the Earl or his son. She was hurt beyond words that the Earl had not seen fit to attend the Baron's funeral. She had heard all her life how close of friends they were. Frederick was no where to be found, seen or heard from in seven years so she knew she would get no response from him. But it was not the Uncle Frederick she knew not to be at his friends side. James had said that perhaps the elder Earl was ill himself but the order to arrive here did not sound like a sick man's directive. In fact it sounded strangely like yelling; like Frederick yelling at her. But that was impossible. Father would have told her if Frederick were the Earl now.

In Charissa's mind she was now her own woman. Upon her father's death she was now all that was left of Claremore and she meant to keep it. Uncle Frederick would be made to understand she told herself. She was ready to be on her own and she had managed to keep a secret from them all over the last couple of years. She had met and was in correspondence with the man who

would soon be her husband. She would not be staying at Ravenslair long. Just

25

long enough to convince her kindly uncle that he could be he guardian from a distance. She would promise to be a good girl and stay at Claremore. She would not tell her uncle that she would not be alone.

By the time she reached Ravenslair Manor she had her speech prepared for her Uncle Frederick. She also had the fact that she had not followed his directive to the letter under control. Uncle Frederick could never abide her tears and though she would not normally use them to get her way she would use them to explain that she could not just abandon her childhood home.

The lights of the Manor were burning brightly as Samuel pulled the coach onto the cobbled drive and up to the door. Charissa thought it strange that no one was there to greet her. The lateness of their arrival was probably the reason, she thought. The sun had set a good hour ago and the darkness was thick because of the cloudy sky and no moon. The storm let up some time ago but the cobblestones were still slick from the rain. The darkness of the night left no sign of the black clouds growing ever thicker and as soon as Charissa stepped from the carriage the rain started in anew. She was soaked by the time old Charles swung open the doors to Ravenslair Manor.

"Ah Charles I am a mess. It is really pouring." Charissa exclaimed turning around and around in the hallway examining her soaked skirts. James followed her bowing slightly to Charles who did the same. Samuel was busy unloading the meager luggage on the carriage. No one saw the man hidden in the shadows down the hallway. He stayed out of sight so he could observe his new charge without being detected but he was sure Charles knew where he was. He always did.

"Where is Mrs. Billinsley? I could use a hot bath and a hot, stiff drink." Charissa said laughing. In the shadows another was not. Two seconds in the door and she was ordering his servants around and drinking, he thought. He would not have it. Not any of it, his mind raced.

"I am here milady." Mrs. Billinsley said rounding the corner but only hearing her name.

"Oh good, a hot bath would be lovely." Charissa said causing Charles to chuckle under his breath and Mrs. Billinsley looked shocked. Even the Earl did not treat her like this. Charissa was unaware of it all of as she removed her shawl and gloves and gave them, not to Charles, but to James. James was standing there speechless; both at her mood and at her way of ordering them.

"James take the bags up to my regular room. I want to see the Earl." Charissa said looking around; then making her way strait to the office. Now it was Frederick's turn to be shocked.

"Milady he is not here at the moment. If you would like to wait in the library." Charles offered.

"He did not know I was coming. That is not like Uncle Frederick." Charissa said causing Mrs. Billinsley to gasp. Charles just cleared his throat and tried to steer her to the library. Frederick was standing in the shadows stunned. No one told her of his father's death. Then he grinned. He could play with her for a while. Let her think she was under his father's rule and not his.

26

"Milady, I am sure he will be home soon. The library has a fire going for you." Charles lied knowing the Earl was in his office.

"Nonsense Uncle Frederick always had me wait in the study." she said whirling in the direction of the office. She stopped suddenly and all heard her gasp as she stood facing the current Earl.

Frederick was getting tired of the way she was acting and decided that there would be no games between them. She needed to know he was her guardian and that meant he was in charge.

He was not prepared for what greeted him though. Almost as tall as him, she stood in front of him. She was gasping; he guessed both from being startled and from her efforts to get away from Charles. Charles may be past his years but he when determined he could possess the strength of several men.

Charissa Kinkirt was surprising him a lot tonight. He was a man who could not be surprised easily either. She stood before him more beautiful than he could have possibly imagined. Gone was the little girl and in her place stood a tall, graceful blonde. He wished he had gone to Claremore to see her before now. But just as quickly as that wish came to mind another did as well. He had made a silent promise to her seven years ago that he would see no one ever hurt her and he would not change his mind now to stay far away from her. How he was going to do that when she was under his roof and under his very control now he had no idea.

He saw her smile for a moment before it dawned on her who he was and then his heart broke at the pure horror that momentarily spread across her face. She took a deep breath and regained her composure and he realized he much preferred the ordering woman he had been listening to then to see a defiant woman in front of him. But he had to admit that it only made her more beautiful. Long blonde hair hung in lose curls around her face and down her back. He could not see how long it was but he had an urge to run his fingers through it and find out. He brushed the thought aside. She was wearing a pale green dress that was soaked through and he could not help but notice the way the dress clung to her; reveling every curve and womanly feature on her lovely frame. He had to force his eyes from her breasts; that stood at attention as if begging him to claim them. He shook his head this time to get a hold of himself. He looked her over from head to toe and smiled as he saw the spectacles barely staying on top of her head. He wondered if she knew they were there. He came out of his trance in an instant.

"What in the devil is going on out here?" he hollered for show.

"Milord the Lady Charissa Kinkirt has arrived." Charles said trying to regain control of the situation to present her to the Earl.

"So I gather. What is the meaning of you ordering my servants around?" he said glaring at her.

"Where is Uncle Frederick?" she demanded not bothering to answer him. Again Mrs. Billinsley gasped and Frederick momentarily looked over Charissa's head to give silent orders to his housekeeper. She disappeared instantly.

27

"Not here madam." Frederick responded as he silently spoke to his staff.

"Well then I will wait." Charissa said trying to get around him to go into the office. Frederick thought to himself; it will be a long wait. He grabbed her arm and pulled her closer than he realized. Heat and passion hit him like a rock. He held her by the arm but back up a bit.

"Under no circumstances are you to go into this office. Do I make myself clear Madam?" he said. He saw her swallow hard and wondered if she felt the heat and passion between them.

He ushered her in the library. Still holding her by the arm he flung her in the chair by the fire.

"Stay. I will return shortly." Frederick said then went back out to the servants still in the hall. He did not know that she was now at the library door.

"Thank you Charles." he said then turned to James and Samuel who had just entered with the last of her bags.

"James I am sure you have had a long and tiring trip from Claremore. Charles will show you to your room for the night and we can have a talk in the morning. Samuel pull the carriage in the stable as is. You and Joseph can bring the rest of Lady Kinkirt's trunks in at first light. Joseph has a room in the stables for you. Where are her maids?" Frederick stated talking to her servants.

"Milord she brought only us. She insisted that no one else have to make the trip. She did not even want me to come; said Samuel could bring her but I knew you would not like that This is all the bags she brought." James said.

"Very well. If the storm has passed by tomorrow you and Samuel will return to Claremore for the maids and all her belongings. We will discuss the remaining servants there tomorrow." Frederick said.

"Yes milord." James said as Samuel bowed and went out to the stables.

"Charles, just this once see if Mrs. Billinsley will have a bath drawn for her. I know the weather but I think this one time it will be all right. Tell her it is an order to make her feel better." Frederick said.

"Very good milord. James." Charles said and Frederick watched as the two older butlers left the hall. He did not have to turn around to know that she was not where he left her and she was right behind him; breathing fire with her anger over all that she overheard. He sighed and faced her.

Frederick turned and for not the first time tonight surprised, delighted, and scared her a little. He pushed her back in the library, sat her in the same chair and locked them in. But she soon quickly learned that this was not the friendly home coming from him she had waited for.

28

"When I tell you to stay I mean for you to stay." Frederick said after locking them in.

"How dare you order me around. You gave up any right of that years ago when you would have rather yelled at me and sent me to the house." Charissa said getting up again.

"Rights. You wish to talk of rights. All right madam here is a right for you. I have every right; by your father's brilliant design I am your guardian for the next six years or so. How is that for rights." Frederick said fast becoming tired of her attitude to him and his people.

"That is impossible. Father would not be so cruel. This has to be a mistake." Charissa said not knowing that she hurt him by using the word cruel. Frederick had never thought she would think it cruel to be his ward; just unwanted. He quickly masked his hurt with anger.

"No mistake madam. Believe me." Frederick retorted.

"But Uncle Frederick…." he finished for her.

"Is dead madam." Frederick concluded then wished he had not blurted it out. The horror on her face told him plainly that she had not known. His anger faded and was replaced by a longing to hold her in his arms. His father was as dear to her as hers was to him. He had always known that.

"Dead?" she repeated sitting down on her own this time. He knelt in front of her.

"Oh Rissa you did not know?" he said taking a kerchief from his pocket for her. He realized that of course she would not have known. Uncle Robert could not have explained the Earl's sudden death without details. A vague memory of Uncle Robert referring to his curious daughter came to mind. He should have let Uncle Robert send for her for his father's funeral. It had been hard enough on him. It would be harder on her; she was mourning both at the same time now.

"No." she sobbed taking the kerchief from him and wiping her eyes.

"When? How? Did father know?" she asked suddenly and he did not know which to answer first or how much to say.

"Two years ago love. Yes your father helped me bury him." Frederick offered; not realizing he called her love.

"How?" she asked again.

"Let us leave it at when Charissa. It was a long time ago and you should be thinking of your father not mine." Frederick stated.

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"I wondered why he did not come to father's funeral." she said and a stab of guilt struck him; he should have gone he was just not ready to see her and announce she was now his ward. He still was not ready to see her but she was here, as ordered, and although he was not the guardian she was expecting it was all the way their fathers had wanted it. Almost. Frederick walked away from her and did not see the expression come over her face.

"How long have you known?" she asked. He turned frowning.

"Known what?" he asked.

"That you are…. Are…." he finished for her.

"Your guardian. Only the day after he died." he stated. She stood glaring at him.

"And you did not come to me yourself and tell me. You ordered me here. Why? More ways to torture me!" Charissa screamed at him.

"Madam I suggest you keep your voice down unless you want the whole countryside to know of this." Frederick said under his breath.

"And since you brought it up. I do not answer to you madam. This is Ravenslair and I run this place, the village and Claremore. By the way you may have played games with my father with not following orders but you will obey me in everything. I am sure you heard, Samuel will be taking James and the carriage back for your maids and all your belongings as soon as the weather breaks." Frederick stated.

"No." Charissa said; squaring her shoulders. Frederick was to her in a second. He grabbed her by both arms and ignoring the heat from her stared her down as he bit out.

"Madam you ever tell me no again and I will tear the skin from your hide." he saw her throw her head back in defiance.

"Try me Charissa, just try me." he panted.

His eyes kept straying from her eyes to her lips and with her new air of defiance her breasts were pressing against his chest. He was on fire he knew and he had to get away from her but he also had to make her understand.

"This is an end to it Rissa. Mrs. Billinsley is having a bath drawn. I expect you to be good and take your bath and go to bed. Understand." Frederick stated pushing her away.

"Yes, your lordship." she spit out nastily. He did not miss the disrespect in her tone. She left his sight and he breathed a little easier. This was going to be hell, pure hell. He heard the door upstairs slam and grabbing his coat he tore out to the library, into the hall and out into the storm. Red Devil and the storm would ride this desire from him; or so he hoped.

30

Upstairs in her usual room Charissa was pacing the floor. She was alternating between rage and delight. She was so happy to see him again; she had waited seven years. He was more handsome than she remembered. She had not expected to turn and see him standing in the door to the study and she was shocked by how he looked. The unruly curly hair she remembered was not so unruly any more. His hair was still long but it was now tapered at the end to rest just above his shoulders. The brown locks made him now look every bit the Earl he told her now he was. She could not believe her father had not told her that Uncle Frederick died; she hoped it was not an illness like her father. Seeing her father waste away over the last three months brought tears to her eyes each time she recalled those days. Frederick was not as tall as she remembered but she mused that she was much taller now herself so they were on more equal ground; at least in height. He had been wearing the colors of Ravenslair. A greyish green kilt with the buckle of the crest of Ravenslair and a sea green shirt neatly tucked into the kilt. His wool socks also had tassels of the crest on them and his boots were of the shorter variety than her father had worn. He was the picture of an Earl and, as she recalled his temper, just as dangerous. His eyes most of all spoke volumes to her. His eyes were so soft and inviting when he knelt to give her his kerchief as he told her of his father. His eyes flashed fire when yelling at her; as they always had. Although she could not see his eyes as he directed the servants his voice said they shone warm with gentleness. Mostly though she remembered his eyes as he had grabbed her to him in fury. She could have sworn that underneath that fury there was a fire. A spark set off by probably his temper but she sensed there was more to that fire than just anger.

It was those eyes that haunted her as she slept that night; when sleep she could get. In her dreams though those eyes held only passions fire and not anger. In her dreams he was holding her; not in anger, but in a passionate embrace and he was not telling her Mrs. Billinsley was having a bath drawn for her, he was drawing that bath himself. In her dream he did not push her away and order her to be good and go to bed, he picked her up in his arms and carried her to bed himself. In her dream he did not pull away from her but brought his lips to hers in a kiss as hot as the heat she felt from his chest as he held her in the library. She woke from sleep in a panic and greatly troubled. She could not be dreaming about Frederick like this. For one thing she knew he hated her and wanted nothing to do with her. He had made that clear the day of her accident seven years ago and everyday since by never coming to see her or accepting her invitations. He did not even come home when her father was alive for the holidays because she was there. Whatever she had done all those years ago he could not forgive or forget because his hatred for her was still there. But that was not the main reason she did not need to be dreaming about him; she was promised to another.

Downstairs in his office Frederick was not fairing any better. Afraid to go to his own room, as it was two doors away from hers, he fell asleep with his head on his desk after having a bracer or two to get through the night. But brandy or no his dreams were haunted with alternating images of the little girl who almost got killed seven years ago by knowing him and the woman he had held in his arms earlier. In his dreams he was not being a guardian and giving orders but holding her, kissing those delicious lips and making love to the woman his heart loved; the woman his heart had always loved. When he woke drenched in sweat he knew he had to go to Edinburgh. He needed to see his mistress. He needed an outlet for his current situation.

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