Arthur Charles Francis Hammett, Lieutenant in His Majesty’s Navy, heir to the Viscount of Daneford, rode his horse up the steep hill. He took a path that led to the point where the cliff rose steep and straight from the sea along an indented coastline. He reined in his horse before a scene of breathtaking beauty. Across the cove, his home, Ayercombe Manor, stood on the cliff’s plateau facing the sea, lit brightly under a full moon in a cloudless sky.
This was the last night he would be home for quite a while. He was set to depart for his ship and the war on the morrow. His spirits lifted up on the magnificent sight of the granite mansion, majestic and noble, that towered over its domain and defied all who came against it. Pride surged forth as he soaked up the view.
Ayercombe Manor had been in his family for many generations. The manor had been built during the reign of King Henry VIII. Only once had his home fallen out of his ancestors’ hands—during the Civil War. The Hammetts had been staunch Royalists. Only after Cromwell’s death and the crown restored was Arthur’s family fortune and estate returned. Since that time, the Hammett name had been held with respect and honor within all of Devon.
His great-grandfather, Charles Tristan, the Baron Sandrow, had been the first Viscount of Daneford. The title was bestowed upon his great-grandfather for his service to the Crown as ambassador to Russia. His father, Francis Geoffrey, had served within the diplomatic corps, but his service was cut short on a diplomatic mission to Lisbon when his ship sank during a violent storm. Both his father and mother perished. Though Arthur remembered little of his father, he felt his decision to serve his country against the devil himself, Napoleon Bonaparte, would do honor to his father’s memory.
In his youth, Arthur would never have taken solace upon the sight before him now, but in his youth he had been brash and reckless, quite the devilish rake. Arthur rebelled against most told to him. Acceptance did not come easy to his nature. Resentment gnawed within him and oozed out in his behavior. A rebellious soul against the boredom that being the heir meant to a young gentleman, he gave his grandfather many a sleepless night.
That was before Harriet. Miss Henrietta Burke…Harriet. The woman had changed everything about his life. The daughter of a major in His Majesty’s Army. The granddaughter of the local squire. Most of his life, he had given little notice of the family, much less to Harriet. At a glance, he had thought Harriet plain and dowdy in their previous meetings: her hair pulled back too tightly from her face; her dress ill fitted to her frame. Nothing in her manner demanded any more attention from him other than a polite nod.
His eyes fixated on the cove. That was where he first met her, not a polite formal greeting. He met her…the real Harriet, the one behind the façade of polite society. That was where he was to meet her this night. Where was she?
Surely, she would have been able to sneak out tonight…this night of all nights. He didn’t know what he would do if he wasn’t able to see her one last time. A moment later, his fears eased. He saw her emerge, rounding the bend of the shoreline on her horse.
Arthur whistled and waited only for her to look up in his direction before he began his descent down to the beach. He wasted no time. Every moment was precious.
The cool night breeze greeted him when his mount stepped onto the sandy beach. She smiled at him. How had he ever thought her plain! She looked incredibly lovely in the moonlight. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.
Her bright eyes sparkled in the moonlight reflecting off the water’s gleam. She had a flawless complexion enhanced by the silkiness of her long eyelashes and full rosy lips. Her golden, almost sunlight color, hair pulled back in a fashionable manner, framed her oval face. Her dark brown eyes met his with a mixed expression of annoyance and adoration.
“You are late.”
Arthur had no time to answer. She kneed her mount’s flanks and galloped down the beach. He didn’t know whether to laugh or curse. The race was on! Faster and faster, the two galloped along the stretch of deserted beach. She glanced over at him and laughed.
For a brief moment, his eyes warmed at the sight. The gown she wore gathered up about her knees; her hair, freed of its bounds, blew back in the wind. Gawd! How was he ever going to leave this woman!
Suddenly, she reined back and slowed her pace. He followed suit and rode to her side. In one swift motion, his arms rounded her, pulling her off her horse and into his arms. Off balance, the two fell back into the rolling waves.
Drenched, Harriet coughed. Her soaked cloak hung back on her back, leaving Arthur with a full view of her gown that clung tightly to her figure. The wet fabric left little to the imagination, outlining her round, firm breasts.
She gave little thought to her appearance. She pushed back against his chest, trying desperately to gain her balance. “My horse! Arthur! Look at him! What if he returns to the stables? Uncle Walter will know!”
“I don’t give a damn what Uncle Walter knows,” he said. He held her so his eyes bore into hers. She didn’t back down, but challenged him.
“I do, Arthur. You are leaving. I have…”
He would have none of it. He wrapped his arms around her, drawing her up to face him. Swiftly, he bent down and pressed his mouth upon hers. He kissed her before she had time to object and not sweetly either. He took her mouth hard, releasing a swelling hunger within him for this woman.
He seduced her mouth open so his tongue was in her, tasting, exploring, and possessing her. Her gasps spoke her shock, yet he felt her relax in his arms. His hand slid up to her breast, coaxing a cry from her. He kissed her neck as his hand cupped her breast.
“Harriet, my love,” he whispered. “Whatever are we going to do?”
“Arthur, I can’t,” she protested rather weakly.
He broke from her only far enough back to see into her eyes. She would. She would let him ravish her at this moment. He felt her need…his. Bloody hell! He wanted her, but it would never do. He was to leave in the morning and would not be here if there were consequences. He had to suppress his want.
“I know. I know,” he answered her with the greatest reluctance. “It was not my intention to seduce you, but God knows I want to, as do you.”
Harriet nodded, seemingly lost for words. Pressing her lips together tightly, she nodded as tears began to well in her beautiful eyes.
He reached over and caressed her cheek. “I love you, Harriet.”
The words undid her. A dam of tears burst. She fell into his shoulders and wept. He held her then in the stillness of the night with the only sound of the waves rolling in and out.
“I love you, too, Arthur.” She choked back her tears. “I’m so proud of you. You are going to do your family proud. It is only…I’m going to miss you so.”
“And you do not know where we stand. You and I. I have been so thoughtless, Harriet. I should have well proclaimed my feelings before this night. Be strong, my darling. I will return.” He leaned down and brought her chin upward. He kissed her lips, gently this time. “I will return and make you my wife.”
She could do little to contain her shock. “Your wife? Oh, Arthur, whatever will your grandfather say?”
“It is not his consent I want to hear at this moment. Tell me, Harriet Burke, that you will be my wife. I know what is true. I want only to remember this feeling between us, how it feels to touch you, hold you…love you. Let me leave knowing you will be here for me when I return.”
“If you want to know I love you and will wait for you forever, then go and hold no doubt I will be here,” she uttered before his mouth claimed hers once more.
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