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In the Shelter of Hollythorne
Author: Sarah E. Ladd





Blight Moor, Yorkshire, England

Summer 1813


Charlotte Grey should have been more careful with her heart.

She tightened her grip on the letter and traversed the uneven, rocky path toward Even Tor, refusing to acknowledge the pangs of remorse over her uncharacteristic lack of restraint.

She’d always pitied silly young ladies who freely gave their hearts, who would flirt and open themselves to unnecessary censure and dejection. What was more, she’d never really believed in romantic love—the sort of attachment that intertwined one’s mind and soul irrevocably with another’s.

Not until she’d first encountered Mr. Anthony Welbourne exactly three months prior.

Charlotte paused in her steps to look once again at Anthony’s hastily written note.

Even Tor. Sunset.


She quickened her pace and rounded the bend, and Even Tor crept into view—a gnarled, weathered rock formation towering above the surrounding grassland. Imposing limestone boulders and stones stood as sentinels at the base of the majestic structure, adding to its isolation.

No one would happen upon them here.

All around her, as far as her eyes could see, the vast, waving moor grass emphasized the seclusion. The blooming heather danced in the summer’s golden light, and the ever-present wind carried perfumed scents of earth and blooms and mewled a mournful song, as if in melancholic commiseration. This location had been their haven, the private place where they would pass the evening hours away from unapproving eyes. But in mere minutes the amber sun would dip down behind the jagged landscape, taking with it any semblance of warmth and comfort. The day would end, the morrow would dawn, and Anthony would leave for war.

She shaded her eyes with her free hand and squinted at the brilliant setting sun. Anthony was there, just as his note had indicated, clad in the brilliant crimson wool coat and white linen trousers of a regimental soldier.

Anthony Welbourne, with his confident nature and even-tempered disposition, was the physical manifestation of all her girlhood dreams—of all her womanly hopes for romantic love, like her parents had shared, and fantasies of a family and security. She wanted to run to him. Fling her arms around his neck and kiss his familiar lips, as she had so many times since their first meeting, and laugh as if time were limitless and the future was free.

But she refrained.

Tomorrow their worlds would shift. Life would propel them down different paths, and the likelihood that those paths would once again converge was implausible.

He straightened as she approached and lifted a hand in greeting. The sun behind him highlighted the wild curl of his dark hair and the strong cut of his broad shoulders. She’d been planning for this—their final conversation—for days, if not weeks. All along she’d determined to show no emotion. What good could come from tears? After all, it was her own fault her heart was breaking. She’d known the risk all along.

She lifted her pale violet chintz skirt to step over the stones at the tor’s base. As she drew nearer, he extended his bare hand to assist her over the crumbling rocks. She accepted it and joined him under the tor’s cool shadow, hidden from the outside world.

He smiled his casual, easy grin—the very one that had entranced her during their first encounter on the path near this very spot, when they had happened upon each other and he assisted her when her pony threw a shoe. “I was beginning to fear you wouldn’t come.”

She pulled her hand from his and reestablished a respectable distance, finding it difficult, almost impossible, to meet his gaze. “How could I not?”

They’d never been uncomfortable in each other’s presence before, but in this instance an awkward silence hovered that dared each one to speak first.

A dozen sentiments simmered on the end of her tongue, but every word, every notion, brimmed with danger. If spoken aloud, they might reveal a glimpse into the deepest part of her heart—and that she could not allow. She knew well her own hopes and feelings, but she knew not his. In all their time together, he never once made her a vow. He’d rarely spoken of the future or of the dreams that would come next—after the war.

He broke the silence, his alluring voice raspy and low. “I don’t know how to bid you farewell.”

She forced her practiced smile, almost grateful for how the incessant wind blew long wisps of her hair in front of her face, disguising her features. “We both knew this was coming. That you were leaving. It was expected.”

As silence once again fell, the sickening twinge of panic took hold. How, in such a short span of time, had he become the person who understood her better than anyone else in the world? In all her eighteen years she’d never encountered someone who accepted her and her opinions without judgment and whose attention and mere presence emboldened her. He boasted tenacity where she lacked it, encouraged humor where she needed to develop it, and offered companionship when she craved it most. The time they shared had become her sole focus and inspired every dream and ambition. But the attachment would be ending. A thousand thoughts battled for dominance, yet she could only mutter, “I will think of you often, you know.”

He chuckled, but wistfulness tempered his usually cheery tone, and an atypical shadow darkened his cobalt eyes. He reached out and tucked a wisp of hair behind her ear, letting his fingers linger against her cheek. “Ah, Charlotte. You will think of me for a bit. Maybe even miss me. But then your life will go on. You will marry, have a family, and live a long and healthy life. Just as you should.”

At the mention of marrying another, she jerked her head down and away from his touch. “Stop. Please.”

Did he know how agonizing this was for her? She loved him. She did, and the idea of it was intoxicating—of a love that would challenge time and endure war itself.

But it was not to be. For he’d never declared his love for her.

The sun sank farther, and with every second, the vibrant glow dissolved into the misty dusk of twilight. The back of her throat tightened. Her nose twitched. Her confidence in her ability to conceal emotion was wavering. Every passing second prolonged the inevitable and intensified her anguish.

In that moment if he but asked her to, she’d pledge to wait for him. Her heart longed to hear the words that would validate the feelings that domineered every thought.

She hesitated, giving him the space to declare himself.

But he did not.

After a length of silence, she reached to smooth the golden tassels on the epaulet of his crimson coat. “You should go. Your uncle will be expecting you, and everyone will be gathering to say their farewells. If you do not hurry, you’ll be missed.” She managed a weak smile. “I’m certain mine is not the only feminine heart to break at your departure.”

But he did not join her smile. His blue eyes narrowed. His scent of outdoors and leather encircled her as he drew closer. “Yours is the only one that concerns me.”

The touch of his hand on her upper arm burned like fire, perilous and wild.

This had to stop.

Every touch, even every word, heaped torment on an already-tender heart. As it was now, they lived in different worlds. Even if he were not leaving, it did not matter what they wanted. Given the nature of the strained relationship between their families, any true union would be impossible. Her father and his uncle were bitter enemies. Both families would vehemently oppose a match between them.

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