Fortune’s Hazard

Georgiana Leighton’s worthless husband has gambled away all her money in the ‘hells’ of Regency London before being murdered by another player. The penniless young widow must risk all on a chance to save herself and her child by accepting sanctuary among strangers on Exmoor. Who to trust among her new companions? But sinister intrigue and danger lead, finally, to a powerful love.

A few moments from Fortune’s Hazard:

For a few hours they could see nothing outside but the rain lancing down, caught in the lamps of the carriage. At last they paused, and Georgiana made out a gatehouse, roused into sudden activity by their arrival. In the short interval Mandeville appeared, leaning towards the window as if to speak. She let down the glass.

“Welcome to Garlands.” His face was obscured in the gloom, his voice betraying nothing except common politeness. Rain streamed from his hat and cloak. Georgiana could hardly reply. Her mouth felt dry and her heart was beating most painfully. Had she done the right thing, after all, or was this an act of utter madness? As they moved forward, Daniel’s hand felt for hers beneath the folds of her cloak and she squeezed it tightly. Through the streaming glasses they could make out the wavering lights of torches, sent out to greet them, and the facade of a house with many windows brightly lit in welcome through the drenching darkness.

There was no turning back now.

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As soon as they left her Georgiana slipped through the door and closed it firmly behind her. The orchestra had begun to play a waltz and in shutting out the seductive strains she craved also to shut out all the tormenting demons of her traitorous heart – memories of romance, dreams of love. But the music was still audible, and all the sweeter for being heard without the distraction of the ballroom. She crossed her arms across her breast, hugging herself for comfort, and stood for the moment motionless while the sharp pang subsided. Through the glass doors at the end of the room the moonlight fell in cool bands upon the library floor, the coals of the fire a ruby glow. There was the faintest click behind her…

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The day was one of those strange precursors of spring when all of God’s creatures seemed happily deluded: robins sang from every tree and even the blackbirds tried out snatches of their piercingly sweet song, whilst small columns of tiny insects frolicked in shafts of mild sunshine. The world seemed a sort of presage of paradise, her eyes and ears filled with the sights and sounds of harmonious beauty as she wandered through the red-berried yew hedges bordering the dormant flower beds. Closing her eyes, she lifted her face to the sun. She had been in the dark for such a long, dreary time that her young energy responded almost flower-like to the impulse of its life-giving warmth and light. A sudden shadow darkened her eye-lids, and opening them, she gave a little gasp of shock as she saw Roland Sydney standing in front of her.

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A storm was howling outside, and the wind surged around the house rattling the windows and waking her suddenly. She softly crossed the room to secure them more tightly, noticing with dismay the fresh accumulations of snow on the ledges and the whirling, relentless flakes as they spun and spiralled dizzyingly against the panes. The draught from the chimney was making the fire leap and spark, sending strange shadows around the room dimly illuminated by the few night candles which guttered and hissed. She sat down again, gazing anxiously at Aunt Charlotte who was turning restlessly in her bed, her cheeks flushed, her brow, when Georgiana touched it, burning. Striving to quell the alarm that was rising within her, she gently raised her aunt’s head and induced her to take a few sips of water containing the drops meant to ease her discomfort. But after a few moments the restlessness began again, now accompanied by a low murmur of words ceaselessly repeated…

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Georgiana had actually gasped with shock on seeing him, but was now so beset with torments that she hardly cared that he must have heard her. The noise, the glare, the unaccustomed crowds, the frenzied need to escape, all threatened to overpower her, and for a dreadful moment she thought that she would faint. Without pausing to think she seized upon his words heedless of any consequences and possessed only of the imperative urge to be anywhere but here.

“Yes – that is if you would be so kind. My companion Lady Butler is unwell and desires her carriage, but I cannot see her servant.”

“Say no more, Mrs. Leighton. I undertake to have her ladyship’s carriage at the door in ten minutes.”

She made her way back to their box as best she could, heart beating fast and head still spinning at the drama of this latest encounter. Within minutes their servant appeared and escorted them to their carriage, Georgiana sufficiently in command of herself once more to countenance the thought of thanking Guy outside the theatre for his aid. But he was nowhere to be seen, and after accompanying Lady Butler to her door she was driven back to Grosvenor Square. She entered swiftly, surprising the servants by her early return and abruptly requesting Hannah to prepare her some soothing drink in order to defer having to talk to her while she undressed. She needed time, time to think over what had just happened, time apart from every other creature so that this intolerable burden of concealment could be for a few minutes laid down. Without thinking she turned into the drawing room and shut the door unconscious of the fact that she still wore her evening cloak, then began pacing its length as she twisted her handkerchief in her hands. Only a few candles had been lit although it was quickly growing dusk and a fire burnt low against the chill of the summer evening.

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