Home > Grasp the Thorn

Grasp the Thorn
Author: Jude Knight





Wirral Peninsula, Cheshire, 1816

The intruder stealing his roses had delectable ankles.

Bear Gavenor paused at the corner of the house, the better to enjoy the sight. The scraping of wood on stone had drawn him from the warmth of the kitchen, where the only fire in this overgrown cottage kept the unseasonable chill at bay. He had placed each foot carefully and silently, not from planned stealth, but from old habit. The woman perched precariously on the rickety ladder seemed oblivious to his presence.

Or—his sour experiences as a wealthy war hero in London suggested—she knew full well, and her display was for his benefit. Certainly, the sight was having an effect. Her skirt rose as she stretched, showing worn but neat walking shoes. Her inadequate jacket moulded to curves that dried his mouth. Wind plastered her skirts to lower curves that had him hardening in an instant, visions of plunder screaming into his mind.

It had been too long since his last willing widow.

Disgust at his own weakness as much as irritation at the invasion of his privacy, fuelled Bear’s full-throated roar, “Who the hell are you, and what are you doing with my roses?”

She jerked around, then cried out as the rung she stood on snapped free of the upright. Bear lunged toward her as the ladder slid sideways. One upright caught on the tangle of rose branches and the other continued its descent. The woman threw out both hands but the branch she grasped snapped free and—before Bear could throw himself under her—she crashed onto the ground.

If the fall was deliberate—which would not surprise him after some of the things women had done to attract his attention—she had made too good a job of it. She lay still and white in a crumpled heap, her head lying on a corner of a flagstone in the path. He dropped to one knee beside her and slipped a hand into the rich chestnut hair. His fingers came away bloody.

He ran his hands swiftly over the rest of her body, checking for anything that seemed twisted out of shape or that hurt enough to rouse her. She had some scratches and a couple of puncture wounds in her hands. He removed one of the culprits—a large thorn snapped from the branch that failed to break her fall. Vicious thing, that rose, but the wounds it left were not life-threatening.

A large drop of rain splashed onto his neck, followed by a spattering of more and then a deluge. He cursed as he lifted the woman and ran into the house through the garden doors that opened from the room he’d chosen for his study.

She was a bare handful, lighter than she should have been for her height, though well-endowed in all the right places. He set her on the sofa and straightened. He needed a doctor.

The drumming of rain on the flagstones suggested neither of them would be going anywhere for a while. Bear couldn’t take her out in this weather, nor could he leave her alone in the empty house.

Pelman, the local agent for the man who had sold him the house he was here to restore and sell, had been asked to hire servants, but had been full of excuses. “People won’t come the distance from the village just for the day,” Pelman had said.

As a consequence, he had an unconscious woman depending on him for her care, and—if Pelman was to be believed—no one else for at least a mile all around. By which the man meant no gentry, presumably, for he’d seen some farm cottages.

Perhaps she was from one of them? If so, she was a servant, and a poorly paid one, at that. She was in near rags, neatly mended and clean, but much washed and threadbare. The shoes displayed by his careless disposition of her skirts were likewise clean and polished, but worn to holes in the sole.

Step one. Clean the wound so he could see how bad it was.

He found a bowl on a shelf in the kitchen and poured lukewarm water from the kettle into it. He’d been here only long enough to assemble a stew for his supper, which hadn’t begun to boil, and to glance into each room to figure out what space he had available.

The pantry boasted a row of neatly marked jars filled with herbs. Chamomile. That was good for healing. Yes, and here was a pottery tub of calendula paste. A basket on the floor yielded neat squares of linen. An old sheet, perhaps? Washed so thin that the remnants were fit only to be used as cleaning rags.

She was still unconscious when he returned to the room, her chest rising and falling as she breathed. He put the bowl on a small table near the sofa. With a bit of manoeuvring, he managed to drape the lady sideways so he could sit on the edge of the couch and reach the wound on the back of her head.

He dabbed gently at the blood.

Pelman had said Bear would need to resign himself to having servants sleep over. Pelman’s sister was willing to serve as Bear’s housekeeper, starting immediately, if she were permitted to sleep at the cottage. Bear had not met the lady, but was wary of allowing a female under his roof except in the company of others.

His huff of laughter lacked amusement. Despite his rejection of Miss Pelman, he had an unknown female on his hands, and his manservant was not due for several more days, since Jeffries travelled at a speed that avoided strain on Bear’s horses.

Could the woman be Pelman’s sister, come to secure her position? On the whole, he thought not. She looked nothing like the fleshy steward with his receding, dirty-blond hair. Besides, Pelman dressed in the height of fashion, so would surely dress his sister better than this.

His dabbing had started a seep again, but at least he could now see the wound properly. Said female had quite an egg, which had split and bled into her wealth of rich chestnut hair.

She groaned, then suddenly surged away from him to the back of the couch, twisting to shove him as hard as she could.






A trespasser sat in her little sitting room, and her head hurt. As she slowly regained her wits, Rosabel Neatham shrank against the back of her couch and pushed at the giant who hovered over her.

The giant leapt to his feet and took a step back, his light blue eyes fixed on hers, his thick blond brows drawn together in a glower.

“Get out of my house,” she said, without conviction. Some memory tried to break through the headache. Something to do with Pelman, that horrid man.

“You are in my house,” said the giant, looking down his long nose at her.

The memory clarified, making her wince. He was right. Pelman had thrown her and her father out of Rose Cottage, citing instructions of the new owner. Pelman had found them another place; a shack that kept out most of the wind and the rain. He said he could find them something pleasanter if Rosa could afford to pay. One way or another.

The giant must be the new owner, who had bought Thorne Hall and all its farms and cottages, including Rose Cottage, from the nephew of the old baron. The most popular topic of conversation in the village for weeks was what he planned to do with Thorne Hall, with its fire damage and its collapsed wing. “You are not meant to be here yet,” she said. Not her most brilliant remark, but her head felt ready to split in two.

The giant cast his eyes up to the ceiling, as if offering a prayer. Or, more likely, a complaint to some heavenly arbiter of unoriginal comments.

Outside the open doors to the terrace, a bright flash of lightning was followed almost immediately by a rolling peal of thunder. She winced at the noise. Father would be frightened. Since his mind had started to fail, storms disturbed him. Until the accident that confined him to bed, she had to watch him carefully to stop him from wandering into the storm, looking for something he could not articulate.

Hot Books
» House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)
» A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire
» From Blood and Ash (Blood And Ash #1)
» A Million Kisses in Your Lifetime
» Deviant King (Royal Elite #1)
» Den of Vipers
» House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City #2)
» The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #
» Sweet Temptation
» The Sweetest Oblivion (Made #1)
» Chasing Cassandra (The Ravenels #6)
» Wreck & Ruin
» Steel Princess (Royal Elite #2)
» Twisted Hate (Twisted #3)
» The Play (Briar U Book 3)