Knight and Day – Elizabeth Johns

EDMUND CLOSED THE door to the church after evensong, but did not lock it. He never locked it. He was proud of the reputation Saint Michael’s had as a place of refuge, even if it was exhausting at times. He had not even walked five feet from the entrance when there was a vicious pounding on the door. Edmund opened it to reveal a small urchin, who stood there panting. “Are you Victor Knight?” Edmund tried hard not to smile. “I am.” “Good, cause I ’ave a message fer ye from yer brother.” Edmund frowned. Only one brother was likely to deliver a message in such a fashion. “Very well. Come in and have some food, and tell me all about it.” The little waif followed him inside, looking around as though something would jump out of the shadows and grab him. He clung close to Edmund as they walked through the now dark, Gothic nave to the vicarage. Mrs.

Lowe was in the kitchen and gave Edmund her usual look of dismay whenever he brought in a child or one of his “doves”. “What is your name, child?” Edmund asked as he indicated for him to take a seat at the table in the kitchen. “Johnny.” Edmund nodded and took the seat next to him while Mrs. Lowe placed bowls of stew and slices of fresh bread in front of both of them. “Can I tell ye my message now? I’m afraid I’ll forget.” The boy looked worried. He must be between eight and ten years old, Edmund thought. Street children were often malnourished and older than they looked. “Of course.

” The boy furrowed his dirty brow and thought for a moment, as though he had to recall every word perfectly. “’E said as there is a virgin auction at Madame Celeste’s. ’E thought ye would want to know there is a lady there against ’er will.” Who wasn’t there against their will? Edmund wanted to shout the words as he worked to control his temper. He had made it his life’s work to help rescue women who were forced into prostitution unwillingly. But a lady? “You are sure he said a lady?” The boy nodded as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Eat quickly and then you can take me to this place. Do you have a home, Johnny?” The boy gave a little shrug as if he were embarrassed to answer. Edmund did not press any further. After he had spent some time with the boy, he would bring the topic up again and discover if Johnny needed help.

While he ate, Edmund went to shed his vestments for more suitable clothing and Mrs. Lowe packed a little sack of food for Johnny to take with him. A few minutes later, they headed out into the damp, cold night. Edmund hailed a hackney and they both climbed in. “Did you walk all the way here, Johnny?” He shook his head. “The toff put me in a hack like this. Said ye would feed me if I gave ye the message.” Heath knew him well. “You did well, lad.” He tossed him a coin.

“If you ever need help, you can always find it at Saint Michael’s.” The boy was gone in a flash. Edmund stood before the nondescript three-story wooden house that looked much like the others on the street. He had been here before, and a feeling of evil washed over him. Saying a quick prayer for strength and protection, Edmund climbed the steps and knocked on the door. Two large ruffians were guarding the entrance. He handed one of them his card—the one which proclaimed him Lord Edmund Knight. They looked him over and, clearly seeing just a well-dressed, arrogant young lord, nodded their approval. They stood aside for him to pass, and he followed the noise to the main drawing room. The room was overheated and smelled of sweat, smoke, and spirits.

It was dark except for the chandelier above a center dais, where a beautiful young woman stood. She was garbed like a harem girl, in nothing more than a tiny bandeau covering her chest and a nearly transparent skirt with slits up either side revealing long legs. Wavy russet locks flowed down her back, drawing attention to her shape. The girl wore a mask, but it did nothing to hide her beauty—or her fear. Edmund’s blood boiled with anger. Was this the lady? The auction was already in progress, as shouts of otherworldly amounts of money sailed through the room. “Five thousand guineas!” someone shouted across the crowd. “Eight!” another countered. Was he too late? Edmund’s heart sank. Spying his brother, Heath, across the crowded room, Edmund began pushing his way through the engrossed men.

“It took you long enough,” Heath said into Edmund’s ear when he reached his brother’s side. Edmund did not bother to reply to that. “Is this the one?” Heath nodded. “There have been others, but she is the main attraction.” Edmund wanted to retch. “It appears we are too late, then.” “Ten thousand guineas.” The bidding war was still going. “I will distract the winner,” Heath said. “They will take her to a room at the back of the house, where there is a door to the alley.

If you can get to her before they do…” Edmund nodded as he looked around the room. Lord Emerson was near Madame Celeste, smiling greedily as the amounts reached exorbitant proportions. Someone was going to be very, very angry if Edmund was successful. Who was this girl? Lord Wethersby shouted, “Twenty-five thousand guineas!” and the room fell to silence. No one else spoke as Wethersby walked forward and ran his hand down the girl’s arm. Edmund wanted to retch again when he saw her flinch. Wethersby cackled with laughter. “Going once, going twice? Sold to Wethersby for twenty-five thousand guineas!” Madame Celeste shouted. The men patted Wethersby on the back with congratulations as the madam led the girl away. Edmund looked at Heath and nodded.

Crossing the likes of Emerson and Wethersby was as good as a death sentence. “If you are going, do it now,” Heath warned. Edmund slipped out with a group of men who were leaving since the auction was over. They were heavily intoxicated, so it was not difficult for him to sneak, unobserved, behind the house to the alley. What Edmund was not fully prepared for was the guard standing at the back door. Falsehoods had never been easy for Edmund, but this was for a good cause. He put on his most bored face and hoped the guard was unaware of the identity of the man who had won the final auction. He strolled up to the guard with as much hauteur as he could muster. “I am here to fetch my winnings,” he drawled. “Where is your carriage?” the guard asked, narrowing his eyes.

“My driver is bringing it around. I wanted to get my hands on my prize as soon as possible,” Edmund said with a knowing wink to the guard. He pulled out a few gold coins. The guard grunted appreciatively and then turned to unlock the door. Edmund hoped his luck would continue when he saw the frightened girl sitting in the corner, shaking. She watched him warily as he quickly removed his coat. “Who are you?” He held his finger to his mouth. “I am here to rescue you. Hurry,” he whispered with urgency. She took his hand and he wrapped his coat around her before ushering her from the holding room and on down the dark alley.

He prayed silently that he could hail a hackney cab quickly before anyone noticed the girl was gone. Instead, his brother’s carriage was waiting for them. “Hurry, my lord,” the driver said, indicating that Heath had indeed intended him to use it. Edmund wished his profligate brother would show this side of himself to the rest of the world instead of maintaining an image as a complete wastrel. He bundled the girl inside and closed the door and the carriage set off immediately. “Are you unharmed?” he asked the shivering girl. “Wh-who are you?” she asked through chattering teeth. “My name is Edmund Knight. I am a vicar and I try to help girls like you.” “This happens often?” “More often than I would like to recount,” he answered softly.

“Where are you taking me? If my father finds me, he will kill me.” “If Lord Wethersby realizes what I have done, he will kill me,” Edmund countered. “What is your name?” “Isabella.” “I do not think you understand. My f-f-father sold me.” To Lord Wethersby, one of Lord Emerson’s cronies, Edmund thought with disgust. Of late, his brother Heath had been frequently associated with the same disreputable lord. Hoping his reflections were not revealed in his face, Edmund nodded. He understood perfectly. “My father lost his fortune in a card game,” she spat angrily, her teeth no longer chattering at least.

“He thought to recover some of it by selling me for one night and then marrying me off with no one the wiser.” The hairs on the back of Edmund’s neck were beginning to rise. He had a feeling that this girl was no mere lady. “I appreciate what you were trying to do for me, but if you do not take me back, my father will do something terrible to us both.” Edmund shook his head vehemently. “Do you mean to tell me you are willing?” He wondered if the girl had been used in such a way before. “Of course not! But you do not understand my father.” “It does not matter. My brother is a powerful man. He will help me protect you.

” “You would take me to the ends of the earth?” she asked doubtfully. Edmund had a feeling he might be willing to do just that, but for now he would do the next best thing. “No, but I will take you to the ends of England.” The carriage pulled up at the back door of the vicarage and they went inside. Mrs. Lowe was waiting for them. “Where to with this one, sir?” “We must leave with haste. I will be gone for some time.” Edmund cast a quick look at the girl. “I think it is time to visit the family seat.

” A small whistle escaped Mrs. Lowe’s lips before she nodded. “You will be needing lots of blankets and food, then. Come with me, I will find you some clothes. You cannot be wearin’ that where you’re going, dearie,” she said as she led the terrified girl away. Edmund shook his head, then set about packing and arranging for a post-chaise for the long journey to Devon. His brother, the Duke of Knighton, would take this girl in and shelter her—even if reluctantly. Knighton wore a hard outer shell, but would always help when Edmund asked. There was nowhere else Edmund could take her where she might be protected from the dangerous web she was entangled in. When she came downstairs, Edmund was hard-pressed not to stare.

Even dressed in a servant’s garb of drab grey, a mobcap covering her hair, she was stunning. Her eyes were of varying shades of blue that made him think of a stormy sky. Despite her demure appearance, it would be hard not to imagine Isabella as he had seen her only a short time ago. Thankfully, most people would see her as a governess or the sister of a vicar. It would probably be the best way to hide her. Soon, they were packed into a traveling coach and on their way. Isabella slept for most of the journey, and they only stopped to change horses and tend to the necessities. Edmund could not imagine what she had been through while fearing what was going to happen to her. Even when she was awake, she spoke little and stared out of the window. “I think it would be best if you did not use your real name or any name that your father might recognize.

” She nodded her head and looked as though she was thinking. “My family calls me Bella.” “I think the easiest way to hide you would be to find you a position in my brother’s household. I know it is unlikely, but do you have any talent for sewing, cooking, or cleaning?” “I can do embroidery, but I do not know if that would be helpful.” She twisted her mouth and thought. “Cook used to let me help her when I was small and left at the house alone. I used to sneak down to the kitchens when my nurse was napping.” She smiled a little sheepishly. By God, she was beautiful. It was no wonder Wethersby had paid several fortunes to have her.

Even if Wethersby’s intentions had been honorable, Edmund did not know if he could bear to let him have her. As it was, Wethersby was a lecher and already married, even if his wife was reported to be an invalid. “Perhaps the kitchen would be the safest place for you.” Most other positions would be visible to any guests, though Rowley did not host large house parties often due to the distance from London and his dislike of them in general. “Miss Thatcher. I think that is what I would like to be called.” “Very well. You know best.” Once the eternal trip to Devonshire ended and they arrived at his family’s estate, he alighted and showed Miss Thatcher to the kitchen to wait while he went to speak with his brother, the duke. He hated asking his brother for favors, but in this, he had no choice.

“Rowley!” Edmund said as he stopped, midway though pacing across the carpet when he realized his brother had come in the room. “Edmund, to what do I owe the pleasure? Something tells me it is not a brotherly visit?” Rarely did Edmund leave his parish unless it was to assist one of his “doves”. “I need your help.” “What, or should I say who, is it this time?” Rowley drawled in that arrogant manner he had when he felt put upon. “You know I will help as best I can, but for practical purposes you are like to find more success by appealing to Cummins.” “Normally, yes.” Edmund was frequently asking his brother’s secretary for help. Rowley had a way of making them all feel like small children. He leaned back against his desk and crossed his arms and one leg over the other simultaneously. He did not bother to speak.

“This particular person might be looked for. I was hoping there might be a place for her here at the Grange.” “Doing what, precisely?” Edmund almost sighed. Rowley was softening. “She is not afraid to work, Rowley, but she is deathly afraid of being found. I would not feel comfortable leaving her elsewhere, but I cannot keep her in London.” He hoped she was not afraid to work. Edmund would not mention she had no experience. “Who, pray tell, is she running from? And will I be expected to provide a nursery in the next few months?” Rowley asked. “Unless she has greatly deceived me, I believe I saved her before she was defiled.

” “Good Lord, Edmund! You speak as though she is a lady.” She was. “If I had it my way, all females would be treated as such. Simply look to how God protected Rahab in the book of Joshua, for example.” “Yes, yes.” Rowley held up his hands. “I am certain there is somewhere we can hide your latest dove.” “Thank you, Row,” Edmund said, and embraced him heartily. “Where is the girl?” “I left her in the kitchen with Cook. She was too afraid to go elsewhere.

” “Will you stay awhile?” “I think I will stay a few days to make certain Miss Thatcher is situated in her new position.” “Find Mrs. Haynes and tell her to prepare a room for your girl. Once she has had some time to recover from her fright we can discuss what to do with her.” “You are the best of brothers, Row. I knew you would help.” Edmund cast him a grateful smile and left the study to inform the girl of the good news. She should be safe here as long as she never left the estate

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