- 6 . At Bowerly Hall – 06
- 7 . At Bowerly Hall – 07
- 8 . At Bowerly Hall – 08
- 9 . At Bowerly Hall – 09
- 10 . At Bowerly Hall – 10
- 11 . At Bowerly Hall – 11
- 12 . At Bowerly Hall – 12
I PUT a first nervous foot on to the top step. Gingerly I stepped down. But Peggy was right. The steps were reasonably broad and flat. There was no reason to fear. I moved carefully and methodically down.
The stair was built diagonally into the rock so that as I descended, I always had the shelter of the rock face to my right. I concentrated on placing my feet.
I told myself not to look along the beach. Not to search for the lantern. I did not ask myself what I was doing here.
My hair swung into my face and I pushed it back impatiently. The last few steps were slimy with seaweed. I lurched and clutched at the rock.
Then, at last, my feet touched the crunch of sand.
I had barely caught my breath when I became aware of someone running. There was a thudding on the sand. Just as I realised that whoever it was, was coming towards me, I was knocked hard on the shoulder.
Crying out, I fell heavily. I tasted the grit in my mouth. The person had not waited to help me to my feet. He or she had not seen me when they pushed by me.
It was surely a man. A woman would not have such force or bulked strength.
I managed to stand. My legs were shaking. Suddenly, I had had enough adventure.
Slowly, I climbed the stone stairs. I prayed that whoever had run past me was gone. I hoped no-one was waiting at the top. Above all, I wondered what was going on.
Somehow I made it back across the meadow and through the kitchen garden. I was tense and as alert as the small creature hiding from the owl. At any moment, I expected the unknown figure to appear.
I reached for the door handle at the front of the house. A hand gripped my arm and I screamed in shock.
My scream was muffled by another hand over my mouth. I struggled violently. There was a murmured curse.
“Hold still, dammit. Be silent.”
I recognised the growling deep voice. It was Charles, Viscount Bowerly.
Immediately I calmed. I did not imagine he intended me harm.
“Please unhand me, sir,” I whispered severely.
The hands across my mouth and arm dropped. He stood close and I was too aware of his height and breadth.
I was conscious of my state of undress. At least it was dark. Hopefully, he couldn’t see the trailing skirts of my nightgown or the state of my hair.
There was a long pause. His scent was of male sweat, leather and horse. Had he been out riding at night? Was it his horse’s hooves I had heard earlier?
Before I could form questions of my own, he was interrogating me.
“Why are you here?”
I could ask the same of you, I thought. As I framed a careful reply, he spoke again impatiently.
“What are you doing outside the Hall? Speak up, Miss Thorne. Now.”
“I heard a noise.”
“A noise?” He seemed to relax slightly.
Yet he stood still too close. Close enough that I felt the heat of his body and a strange heightened awareness of how his hands had felt upon me.
I shook away this whim.
“Yes, I think maybe a horse’s hooves. It was foolish of me to venture out. It must have been your horse I heard.”
He frowned. I barely made out his features in the moonlight.
“It isn’t safe to wander out here at night. You must return to your rooms. I shall escort you inside.”
“There is no need for that, my lord. I am quite capable of finding my way alone.”
He grunted. I took this as agreement and turned away from him. My pulse was beating quickly. I felt his gaze upon me, burning into my back.
I didn’t look behind me. Once safely in my bedroom, I listened at the door. There was silence. Charles had not entered the house after me.
Where was he going? Where had he been?
I mulled over our brief conversation. My first impression of him had not changed. He unsettled me.
I realised he had not confirmed or denied that he had been out riding. He had cleverly kept his focus on my whereabouts.
If the viscount had indeed been out, where had he been?
I sat down rather heavily as another thought struck me. Was it possible that he was the man who had carried the lantern to the beach?
Had he hit me hard as he ran past me on the cliff path?