Pledged to the Wolf – Elina Emerald

This whole wife hunting business was giving Dalziel a headache. But he had no choice. He was in Northumbria now. A place he detested, on a mission for King Macbeth, and he needed to shackle himself to an English wife with exacting specifications so as not to arouse suspicion. Like everything else in his life, it all came down to precision, or you were dead. Dalziel turned to his steward, Rupert and asked, “How goes the search?” Rupert said, “I have found some women who could meet your requirements.” Mrs. Armstrong, Dalziel’s Scottish housekeeper, walked in with a tea tray and began setting the tea service out for the men. “What requirements would those be me lord?” she asked. Dalziel replied, “I want a quiet woman above reproach, excellent reputation. Plain and unobtrusive. Twould be preferable if she had a brain in her head and I want her to behave and dress respectably. “You forgot to mention ‘walks on water and performs miracles’ as well.” Mrs. Armstrong smirked as she continued serving tea.

Dalziel gave her a stern look, which she ignored as she placed a scone on his plate. Rupert said, “I’ve narrowed the list of contenders to five such women.” “With criteria like that, I’m surprised ye found any.” Mrs. Armstrong muttered under her breath. Dalziel scowled at his impertinent housekeeper and bit into his scone, then tried not to groan because it was delicious. She had topped it with his favorite potted cream and jam preserve. He realized that was the only reason he put up with her, and the blasted woman knew it because she gave him a smug smile. “First name on the list?” Dalziel asked Rupert after he had inhaled his scone and gestured for Mrs. Armstrong to serve him another.

“Delia Crawford, nineteen—” “Too young. Next.” Dalziel interrupted. Rupert moved down the list. “Abigail Foster, two and twenty…” “Go on.” “Daughter of a Baron, currently widowed.” “Widowed? So young?” Dalziel inquired. “Her beau fought in the Welsh Battle at Rhyd Y Groes and never returned.” Dalziel filed that information away and asked, “Character traits?” “Quiet, pleasant, although there is a hint of scandal.” “What kind of scandal?” Dalziel raised his brow.

“Tis rumored she had an affair with—” “Next,” Dalziel said. Rupert continued. “Mary Trench, three and twenty, daughter of a peer, biddable, quiet, no scandal.” “Finances?” “Independently wealthy, attractive, many suitors vying for her han—” “Next. I dinnae want to be calling out love-sick beaus.” Dalziel dismissed yet another contender. “Harmony Durham, four and twenty, daughter of a merchant, excellent reputation, quiet—” “And thick as two planks of wood.” Mrs. Armstrong snorted, then realized she had spoken aloud. She quickly made her way out the door.

Dalziel rubbed his forehead. “Continue,” he said. “There is no more my lord. This is the fifth list where you have rejected every prospective bride, but I can keep searching.” Dalziel sighed. “Aye, please do. There has to be someone in this blasted Shire who satisfies my conditions.” Sometime later after Rupert left, Dalziel was sitting in his study when Mrs. Armstrong hovered in the doorway. “Might I suggest something me lord?” “Would it make any difference if I said no?” Dalziel asked.

“None whatsoever,” she said as she strode across the room and took a seat. “Do make yourself comfortable, Mrs. Armstrong,” he said sarcastically. “Thank ye, I shall. Now then,”—she sat forwards as if imparting some secret wisdom— “I think ye have been going aboot this wife hunting the wrong way. Ye need to go out into society and meet women to judge for yourself.” “Mrs. Armstrong, I dinnae have time to prance about searching for a wife. Tis why I pay Rupert to do it for me. Macbeth wants me back in Scotland, my Chieftain needs me back in Scotland and I cannot let them down.

” “Who chooses your horses, me Lord?” Mrs. Armstrong changed tack. “I do.” “Why is that? Why not pay someone else to find them for ye?” “Because horses are a tremendous investment. I ken what I want, and I am an expert in horseflesh.” “Surely a wife is an even greater investment, and unless ye want to put her in the stables with the horse, she will be living in this house alongside ye. Would ye not want to make sure ye choose the right one?” “She may live here, but I dinnae intend to spend any time with her. I have enough trouble in Alba to contend with.” “So, ye would trust a stranger ye know nothing aboot, to live here, among all your secretive things,”—she waved her hand about his study — “while you hie off to the Highlands?” Dalziel thought on it. It would be remiss of him not to at least scrutinize his future wife before deciding.

Maybe it was something he needed to do himself. “Aye, point taken, Mrs. Armstrong. I’ll speak to Rupert to arrange a dinner where I can meet these ladies.” Mrs. Armstrong grinned. “Tis settled then.” “What is?” “There’s an Assembly of the gentry in town tonight. I prepared your bath and clothes upstairs. The stable boy has already brought your horse around and Mr.

Rupert will meet ye there.” She took her leave. Dalziel watched her disappear down the hallway before he chuckled and shook his head. Mrs. Armstrong should be an assassin. *** Driftwood Cottage, Bamburgh, Northumbria Clarissa Harcourt dug her hands in the dirt and pulled out more potatoes. “Yes!” she shouted in defiance. “We shall eat a veritable feast tonight, Ruth.” She grinned at her cook. “Where are yer shoon?” Ruth asked.

“You know I dislike wearing shoes I prefer to feel the grass under my toes and the wind in my hair,” Clarissa said doing a quick pirouette in the dirt. “And the ague in your bones if ye’re not careful,” Martin, Ruth’s husband, said while pulling out more potatoes. “Tis not a done thing to be roaming about the countryside like a wee sprite.” Ruth admonished. “Now Ruth, you flatter me, but I am not a sprite. My hips are too wide.” Clarissa responded with a wink. The couple laughed. They were in their fifties and had been with Clarissa’s family for years. They were the last remaining servants who stayed on after Clarissa and her brother Cedric had inherited a mountain of debt from their late father.

“Ruth mayhap you can make us a tasty potato pie?” “I can do that, Mistress,” Ruth said cheerfully, “and we can add some cabbage to it.” Clarissa glanced at the lifeless cabbage Ruth was holding up and tried not to grimace. She turned to Martin and asked, “How did you go at the docks?” “There is still no word on the shipments, or Cedric. Something does not feel right,” Martin replied. “I agree, we have never gone this long without a word before. If something is not done soon, we will have to move our precious cargo and find some much-needed funds.” Martin said, “I have asked at the Mill and they’ve agreed to take me back on half pay if I apologize. It willna be much, but it will tie us over until we hear from Cedric.” “Absolutely not Martin. That Mill owner is a cheating sack of coo dung! You should not apologize for calling him out on it.

” –Clarissa stood and wiped her hands on her apron– “I still have pieces of jewelry I can sell to get us out of this bind.” Clarissa touched the gold chain around her neck. It was all she had left of her mother, but she could not be sentimental when they were about to starve to death. “Mistress ye cannot sell yer ma’s precious necklace, tis all ye have to remember her by,” Ruth exclaimed. “Memories will not feed us Ruth. We need to eat, and we need to survive. Others depend on us now. Let us pray that the good Lord above delivers up a miracle.” No sooner had she spoken than she saw the unwelcome sight of someone approaching. Clarissa abandoned all thoughts of food, looked towards the house and cringed.

Ruth and Martin moved closer to stand behind her. No doubt for support. “Ah, Mr. Snape, what a surprise to see you,” Clarissa said in greeting. Edmund Snape was a wealthy merchant and the tithing-man for their collective. It was his role to ensure each family contributed their share to the common group. He was a lanky coxcomb with a skeletal frame and greasy blond hair. Clarissa knew he was there to collect their debt. There was no way she could pay it. Not after the lean winter and the added expenses.

Snape ran his beady eyes the length of Clarissa. She schooled her features even as he lingered too long upon her chest. “I am here to collect your contribution.” He spoke with a hissing voice. To Clarissa, he sounded like a snake. Snape the snake. She repeated in her head before saying, “Mr. Snape, as I have discussed with you before, I must await my brother Cedric. Tis he who oversees our family contribution. Snape was skeptical.

“What about the frankpledge? If tis not paid, the whole collective will suffer. I will have to involve the Shire-Reeve in the matter.” Clarissa hid her emotion. The last thing she needed was a Reeve and law enforcer poking about their business. “Please Mr. Snape, tis unnecessary to involve anyone, I just need more time. My brother—” “We all ken your brother has abandoned you.” Snape hissed. “Tis not true. Cedric will be home soon, and he will set things to rights.

” Clarissa was trying to keep her anger in check. She hated Snape, she could easily crush his windpipe if she wanted to but that would only attract unwanted attention and discretion was key. Snape leaned in and whispered in her ear, his fetid breath brushing against her neckline. “Ye know my terms. Ye need only warm my bed and I’ll cover the debt.” Martin was raising his fist to punch Snape, but Clarissa stayed his hand and stepped back. “Thank ye for your kind offer Mr. Snape, but I must decline.” “Ye’ll come around soon. I always get what I want, Clarissa…” “She’s Miss Harcourt to you, you skamelar!” Ruth angrily bit out.

He laughed out loud. “You think yourselves better than us, but look at ye now, just poor sods playing in the dirt.” With those words, he stomped on the potatoes with his shoe, crushing them into the ground. Clarissa stared in horror at the remnants of what would have been their supper. Snape’s eyes raked her once over and he said, “Ye have a sennight’ or ah’ll be collecting your debt another way. Enjoy your supper, Miss Harcourt.” He sneered, then left. When he was no longer in sight, Ruth asked, “What are we going to do, Mistress?” “We need to find Cedric. I’ll speak to Harmony tonight, mayhap she has heard from him. I know he loves her and if there is anyone, he would contact it would be her,” Clarissa said.

“But she’ll be at the town Assembly, tis too risky to talk of matters there.” “Do not fret Ruth, I’ll bathe and wear my best dress so I can blend in.” Clarissa turned to Martin, “Can you accompany me into town?” “Aye Mistress, of course.” *** Town Hall, Bamburgh From the moment Dalziel entered the Assembly, several women and their mothers accosted him. It would appear everyone was expecting him and eager to make his acquaintance. “What the devil did you tell these people, Rupert?” He tried to feign a smile while talking through gritted teeth. “I just let it be known you are a wealthy Thane from the Highlands, and you desperately need a suitable wife.” “You did what?” Dalziel frowned. “How the hell can I meet anyone if I keep getting attacked by women with embroidered handkerchiefs?” He plucked out several surreptitiously tucked into his coat and dropped them on the floor. Rupert just shrugged.

It was an hour later when Dalziel could finally extricate himself from a group of marriage minded mothers and their desperate offspring. He quickly made his way out to the Hallway to get some fresh air. That was when he saw her. She had vibrant colored auburn hair tied back in a severe bun, although the curls seem to struggle for freedom. Her eyes were green and glittered like emeralds. She stood against a wall beside a woman with raven black hair and they appeared to be talking in urgent whispers. He thought her unremarkable, her clothing was modest and her face unpainted. Average height, nicely curved and rather plain, but those eyes they captured his attention. They sparkled with intelligence despite the serious frown on her face. He began circling.

Dalziel asked Rupert, “Who is that woman?” “Clarissa Harcourt.” “Husband?” “None.” “Why was she not on the list?” Dalziel asked. “I thought her a bit too long in the tooth.” “How old?” “Eight and twenty.” Dalziel was glad she was closer to his age. “What of her family?” he asked. “Father was a Marquess, her mother was a foreigner, merchant class.” Rupert turned up his nose at the word foreigner. “She has one brother, although no one has seen him, for some time.

” Dalziel kept watching Clarissa and her friend. Both women were becoming agitated about something. “What is she like?” “Wallflower, boring, horrendous to be around.” “How do you ken that?” “Tis just what most gentlemen say about her, especially ones who have tried to woo her in the past. Lord Chamberlain and Lord Lancet over there,” –Rupert nodded towards two men on the other side of the Hall– “they say she is dull as ditch water.” “I see. And the woman beside her?” “That is Harmony Durham, she was on the list you rejected.” “Ah, the one Mrs. Armstrong believes to be a dunce. How do they ken each other?” “Alas my lord, I know nothing more about Miss Harcourt other than what I have told you.

” “Then I shall have to find out for myself. Introduce me.” Dalziel nudged Rupert with his elbow. “My lord?” Rupert stammered, slightly taken aback. “I’d like to ken her better, see if she is suitable. Introduce me.” “But… but surely there are—?” “There are what, Rupert?” “Prettier… younger, options.” Dalziel felt affronted by Rupert’s words and glared. “Rupert, I suggest you stop degrading my potential future wife before you find yourself unconscious on the floor.” “So sorry, forgive the impertinence.

I will organize an introduction at once.” Dalziel watched Rupert make his way across the crowded room, but before Rupert reached the woman in question, she had inched her way to a side entrance and disappeared.

.

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