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Never Trust a Rebel

By:Sarah Mallory



The Porte St Honoré was crowded with the usual mix of smart carriages, heavy wagons and tumbrils, all anxious to reach their destination before dark. Suddenly shouts and an unseemly scuffle interrupted the steady flow of traffic. A group of liveried servants surged down the Rue St Honoré, dragging in their midst two figures whose bloodied faces, muddied frockcoats and torn lace ruffles suggested that they had been seriously manhandled. When the group reached the city gate they carried the two men outside and threw them down on to the cobbles.

‘If you are wise you will not return to Paris, messieurs,’ growled one of the servants, making a great show of dusting his hands.

‘Aye, we do not take kindly to English dogs cheating our master at his own card table,’ declared a second, while several others aimed vicious kicks at the two men on the ground, before the whole group turned and made their way, laughing, back into the city. The excitement over, the traffic on the Rue St Honoré resumed its steady progress, passing on either side of the two bodies with barely a glance.

One of the men struggled to his hands and knees and stayed there for a moment, as if debating if he could get up. He made the attempt and stood, swaying. Then he pushed his long, unpowdered hair back from his face and turned to help his companion.

‘Come along, Harry. I think it best if we heed their advice.’

‘No choice, my friend. The duc will see to it that we are not made welcome in Paris for some time.’ Harry gingerly touched his swollen lip. ‘I can’t abide a bad loser.’

‘You were flirting with La Belle Marianne. That was damned reckless of you.’

‘Faith, Drew, the lady gave me a blatant invitation to pursue her. And what of you? Madame le Clere has been warming your bed for the past se’ennight.’

‘Someone had to amuse her, with her husband out of Paris. Not quite the same as dallying with the duc’s mistress under his very nose. You should have resisted.’

‘Nay, my boy, where is the fun in that? Now, where the devil’s my wig?’

Drew scooped up the sorry-looking jumble of hair and silk and held it out, saying, ‘And you are sure you did not mark the cards?’

‘Of course not.’ Harry jammed the wig on his head. ‘Stap me, boy, I should call you out for that.’ He winced and put his hand on his back. ‘Egad, but that hurts.’ His grin faded and was replaced by a look of shock as he staggered. He collapsed against his companion, saying with a feeble laugh, ‘By Gad, I fear they have finished me, old friend.’

‘Come along, Harry,’ Drew wrung out the cloth and wiped the ashen face. ‘We’ve been through worse than this.’

He frowned as he regarded the restless figure on the bed. He himself was stiff and bruised from the beating he had received but he was recovering, whereas Harry appeared to be growing weaker, writhing in agony as the effects of the laudanum wore off. They had made their way to an inn on the Rue de Chemin Vert where the landlady quickly ushered them upstairs to a bedroom, declaring that the sight of them in their present bloodied state would frighten away her customers. Drew welcomed her ready assistance and suspected she was another of Harry’s conquests. He felt a momentary irritation with his friend: they might not be in this situation now if Harry had been able to resist flirting with every pretty woman who came his way.

As the long night wore on he could do nothing but bathe his friend’s face and administer more laudanum. In the long periods between he thought back over the years they had spent wandering Europe together. Three years ago Drew had been scraping a living as a mercenary, fighting for any foreign power that would pay him, but then he had met Harry Salforde. Drew was more than ten years his junior but the two men had struck up a close friendship. Harry had taken Drew under his wing, bought him a suit of fine clothes and introduced him to the gambling hells of Rome, Naples and finally Paris, where they had practised their skills at games of chance. So successful had they been that Drew had been able to put away a tidy sum. Thus he was not too concerned about their current lack of funds. It was one of the hazards of living by one’s wits.

They had found themselves at the gaming tables with the richest and most powerful nobles in France, but those same nobles did not enjoy losing to their English opponents, and Drew supposed it was inevitable that one day their luck would turn. That the duc should have them beaten and thrown out of the city in such an ignominious manner rankled, but Drew bore the man no ill will. He had learned that much from Harry over the years. He merely shrugged off misfortune, learning from his mistakes and moving on to the next city.

Except this time it did not look as if Harry would be moving on for some time.

Drew spent a sleepless night, finally getting a little rest as dawn broke and Harry was sleeping more peacefully, but it did not last and as the morning wore on he grew restless again. Drew noted with some unease that Harry was sweating badly and he fetched a damp cloth to bathe his face. Harry looked at him with bloodshot eyes and for a while did not seem to recognise him. Then at last he gave a sigh.

‘I think I’m done for this time, Drew.’

‘Devil a bit. Rest is all you need, old friend.’

Harry shifted in the bed, wincing and Drew reached for the laudanum.

‘Here, drink this, it will help you sleep.’

‘No, not yet.’ Harry grabbed his wrist. ‘Before that, there’s something I must tell you. Something you must promise me.’

‘Of course. Anything.’

‘I have a daughter.’

‘I know. Elyse.’ Drew forced a grin. ‘You told me she is a rare beauty.’

‘Aye, she is. She had just emerged from the schoolroom the last time I saw her but she was bidding fair to become a diamond, like her mother.’ His face contorted in pain. ‘Lisabet. Frenchwoman, y’know. Beautiful, spirited—only woman I truly loved. She died several years ago and since then Elyse has been in the care of her aunt, my sister, Matthews in Scarborough.’

‘She is safe then.’

Harry’s grip on his wrist tightened.

‘No. There’s more. That last time I visited her was just before I met you. Viscount Whittlewood was in Scarborough for his health and I chanced upon him at the gaming tables. Naturally we sat down together on several occasions.’

‘Naturally,’ Drew said drily.

‘He—er—lost. We came to an arrangement. He would marry Elyse to his younger son, in payment of the debt.’

‘What? But that’s outrageous.’

Harry gave a laugh that was cut short by a gasp of pain.

‘Whittlewood had lost an outrageous sum. There is nothing so bad about it. Elyse and William were dancing together at the assembly and getting on famously. Smelling of April and May, both of ’em. That is what gave me the idea. Contracts were drawn up, the boy proposed, everything was agreed, but the viscount asked that the marriage should be put off for a while until his son had reached his majority. I saw no harm in it. After all Elyse was only seventeen at the time and had much to learn about the world.’ He coughed, wincing as the pain tore at his insides and it was some moments before he could continue.

‘Whittlewood’s son was one-and-twenty six months ago but he made no move to claim his bride. I wrote to the viscount, advising him that my patience was wearing thin. Play or pay up. Whittlewood agreed that I should deliver Elyse to him by Michaelmas, when she reaches her majority, and the marriage will take place within the month.’

‘And what does your daughter say to all this?’ asked Drew.

‘What should she say, but yes? What girl in her right mind would turn down the chance to ally herself to the Reversons? They are one of the foremost families in England. Besides, he’s a good-looking young man and they were fancying themselves very much in love even then. Don’t look down your nose at me, Drew. I know that was a few years back but m’sister’s last letter informed me that Elyse has been corresponding with Reverson and he is still eager for the match. So all that needs to be done now is to take the bride to her groom. Only I did not expect to cock up my toes before I could do it.’

‘Do not talk such nonsense. You will be up and about again in a few days.’

Harry closed his eyes, one hand waving feebly.

‘I don’t think so, my friend, not this time. I won’t be able to escort Elyse to her new family, so I must ask you to do it for me.’

‘Me!’ the shock of it surprised a laugh from Drew. ‘Lord, Harry, you more than anyone should know that I can’t go back to England. There’s a price on my head.’

‘You can change your name. It wouldn’t be the first time. And what has it been, ten years since you went back? Who is likely to remember you?’

‘That is not all, Harry. I have lived those past ten years by my wits and my sword, stealing kisses from other men’s wives and daughters. A disreputable rogue! I am the last man you should entrust with such a task.’

‘No, you are the perfect choice to look after my precious daughter.’ Harry’s voice was failing, but he managed a weak grin. ‘Poacher turned gamekeeper. Help me sit up now, and I’ll write a note for m’sister, then she will give Elyse into your care.’