Authors: Stephanie Laurens
Tags: #Fiction; Romance
Will caught his eye. “We searched all yesterday, up and down the coves, but we didn’t find any other survivors.”
“Just the two dead bodies we found near you,” Chester added.
“Two dead?” Logan glanced at Linnet.
“The bodies are here, in the icehouse. Two sailors. The boys will take you to view them later, in case you know them.”
If he remembered them. She didn’t say it, but he saw the thought in her eyes. He merely nodded and attacked the ham. It tasted like the food of the gods.
The boys chattered on. Apparently no one had yet gleaned any clue as to the name of the ship, where she’d been from, or whither she’d been bound.
Jennifer started talking to Buttons. Linnet spoke to Gilly about some chicks. Conversation rose around Logan, gradually returning to its earlier pitch, with many conversations running all at once, voices interweaving, an underlying warmth blossoming in a laugh here, a smile and a teasing comment there.
This wasn’t a standard family, yet a family it was—Logan recognized the dynamics, felt inexpressibly comfortable, comforted, within its warm embrace. As he set down his knife and fork and reached for the cup of coffee Linnet had—without asking—poured for him, he wondered what this pervasive sense of feeling so much at home here said of his life, of the life he was used to.
The boys had finished their meals and were eagerly waiting on him. He drained his mug, then nodded to them. “All right. Let’s go.”
They grinned; poised to leap to their feet, they glanced at Linnet.
She nodded, but said, “After showing Logan to the icehouse, I want you back to do your chores.”
With promises of obedience, Will and Brandon leapt up. Chester had already been reminded he had a lesson with Buttons. He’d pulled a disappointed face, but, Logan noticed, didn’t argue, or even grouse.
Linnet looked up at him as he rose. “I left a heavy cloak for you by the back door.” She studied his face. “Nothing more’s returned?”
He met her green eyes, shook his head. “Not yet.”
ill and Brandon led Logan past the kitchen. He looked in to thank and compliment Mrs. Pennyweather, a bright-eyed, flushed, but jovial woman, then followed the boys to a short hall by the back door. While the boys donned coats, Logan found the cloak Linnet had left and swung it about his shoulders, then they stepped out into the winter morning. The air was chill, crisp; their breaths fogged as they followed a path through what he assumed was the kitchen garden. The neat beds lay largely fallow under a white lacing of frost, with berry and currant canes cut back and tied.
Beyond the garden, a stand of trees screened what proved to be a large stable, with a barn flanking it, a cottage to the side, and numerous outbuildings arranged around a sizeable yard. Beside the boys, Logan walked into the yard and was immediately hailed.
Halting, he waited as a heavily built man of middle years and average height came forward. His gaze shrewdly assessing, carefully measuring, the man offered his hand.
“Edgar Johnson—estate foreman.”
Logan gripped, shook. “Logan—I’m not sure of the rest yet.”
“Aye, well, you took a nasty knock, and you’ve that gash, too. How’s it healing?”
“As long as I don’t reach too far with my left arm, the gash isn’t a great problem. The head’s still throbbing, but I have it on good authority that that will fade.” Logan smiled easily as three other men and two older lads, who had emerged from various buildings, came to join them.
Edgar made the introductions. The men shook Logan’s hand or nodded deferentially. All made appropriate noises when he mentioned his lack of memory. John, a tall, weedy, lugubrious soul, was, Logan learned, the man-of-all-work about the house, while Vincent, a grizzled veteran, was the head stableman. Bright, not as old as the other three, was the gardener. The two lads—Matt and Young Henry—worked under Vincent, caring for various horses and carts; they were about to depart for the nearest village with cabbages for the market.
Logan asked the two lads to keep their ears open for any word about the wrecked ship. Touching their caps, they vowed they would, then they crossed the yard, clambered up into the cart, and sent the heavy horses lumbering out, onto a track that wended away across a relatively flat plateau.
From the moment Logan had walked into the yard, the older men had been measuring, weighing, and assessing him, a fact of which he was well aware. Now, as if agreeing, for the moment at least, to accept him as they found him, they all nodded and returned to their chores, leaving Will and Brandon to lead him on.
“It’s not far.” Brandon pointed to a narrow path leading away from the main yard.
Flanked by the boys, Logan trudged along, juggling impressions against what he thought should have been, what he thought he should have encountered from the older men.
Mostly buried under a mound of piled earth, in this season the icehouse was empty, yet decidedly chilly. Later in winter, the stocks of ice would be replenished, but for now there was plenty of space for the two bodies laid out on old farm gates balanced on trestles.
The bodies proved uninformative; Logan had no recollection of either man.
The boys had halted in the doorway. They shifted, perhaps uncomfortable with the taint of death.
It was a smell Logan realized he knew well.
What that meant . . . he couldn’t tell.
Glancing back at the boys, he let his lips curve. “Why don’t you two head back to your chores. I know the way back.”
Brandon flashed him a grin. “You could hardly miss it.”
Smile widening, Logan inclined his head. Both boys raised their hands in waves . . . salutes? Logan didn’t frown until they’d disappeared, but, again, the instant he tried to pin the memory down, it fled.
Turning back to the dead sailors, he studied their faces, their clothes, but felt not the smallest stirring of recognition. “Poor souls,” he eventually murmured. “What happens to you next, I wonder?”
“I can answer that.”
Logan swung to see a man—a gentleman from his dress—silhouetted in the doorway. As the man stepped inside, Logan saw the white collar around his neck.
“Hello.” Brown-haired, brown-eyed, and of medium height, the man smiled and offered his hand. “You must be our survivor.”
Logan gripped the man’s hand firmly. “Logan. I’m afraid I can’t remember more at present.” He indicated his bandaged head. “I took a crack over the head, but I’ve been assured my memories will eventually return.”
“Oh, I see.” Behind his overt cheeriness, the vicar, as Edgar and company before him, was measuring Logan. “Geoffrey Montrose, Vicar of Torteval Parish.”
Logan shifted his gaze to the dead men. “So these are now yours.”
“Sadly, yes. I came to say what prayers I can for them.” He looked more closely at the men, then grimaced. “Although I suspect my prayers will be the wrong sort.”
“I’m not sure they’re Spanish—they could be Portuguese, in which case your prayers might be appropriate.” How he knew that, Logan had no idea, but he knew it was so.
Apparently Montrose knew it, too, for he nodded. “True—very true.” He glanced at Logan. “Do you know who they are?”
Logan shook his head. “I don’t know that I ever knew.”
Montrose drew his vicar’s embroidered scarf from his pocket and draped it about his neck. He looked at Logan. “Will you stay?”
Logan considered the men. “They were on the same ship. They died, I didn’t. The least I can do is be here to note their passing.”
Montrose nodded. In a solemn, cultured voice, he commenced a prayer.
Head bowed, Logan followed the words, but although they were familiar, the cadences more so, they stirred no major memories.
After Montrose had performed the rites he thought fitting, Logan followed him back into the weak sunshine.
“Are you heading back to the house?” Montrose asked.
“Yes.” Falling into step beside the vicar, Logan added, “I’m not sure I’m allowed further afield yet.” Lips twisting, he continued, “Truth be told, I’m not sure I wouldn’t lose my way—no telling how damaged my memory is.”
“Well, you’ve fallen into the right hands if you need to heal and convalesce.” Montrose shot him a sharp glance. “Linnet—Miss Trevission—is famous for taking in strays and . . . I suppose you could say nurturing them back to full health.”
Logan wasn’t sure he hadn’t been insulted, albeit subtlely, but let the comment slide. He was fairly certain he had a thick skin, and besides, he’d wanted to ask, “The children?”
“And the men, too. And then there’s the animals.”
Logan’s lips twitched, but he held to his purpose. “I had thought the children might be relatives.” Not all of them, but Gilly had similar coloring to Linnet . . . it was possible.
Montrose blushed faintly, clearly understanding what sort of relationship Logan had imagined. “No—not at all. They’re orphans whose fathers died in the family’s employ. Linnet—Miss Trevission—insists on taking all such in and raising them at Mon Coeur.”
Logan’s brows rose in sincere surprise. “A laudable undertaking.” As they emerged from the trees, he looked at the house. Definitely of manor house proportions, solid and well-tended. “Especially with no husband.”
“Indeed.” The single word was sharp. An instant later, Montrose sought to soften it. “We all help as we can. In such a small community, the children would otherwise have to move away, possibly even leave Guernsey.”
Logan merely nodded. His most urgent questions answered, he paced beside Montrose up the garden path. And continued to dwell on the connundrum posed by Linnet—Miss Trevission. The strangeness of her household derived from her; the entire household was centered on her, anchored by her. Possibly, he was starting to suspect,
From all he’d thus far gleaned, thus far seen, she was a highly eligible, apparently reasonably wealthy, extraordinarily attractive gently bred lady in her midtwenties, and yet, for all that, she remained unwed.
More, Montrose was a passably handsome gentleman and was, Logan judged, of similar age to the lovely Miss Trevission. The good vicar surely must harbor some hopes in her direction. The population of Guernsey, especially this remote corner, wouldn’t be large, the eligible females few and far between. Yet although he’d detected a similar degree of male protectiveness in Montrose as he had in the other men—the ones old enough to consider him a potential threat to Miss Trevission’s virtue—from neither Montrose nor the others had he picked up any suggestion that they had any intention of broaching the matter with either Miss Trevission or him.
Which, in his admittedly possibly erroneous view, seemed odd. Men like Montrose and the others were usually more vocal about who the females they cared about allowed to reside under their roof. Usually more challenging. Indeed, he wouldn’t have been surprised to have received a subtle, or even an unsubtle, warning. Yet although they’d assessed him, not one had made any direct comment—not even Montrose.
Neither Edgar nor any of the other men slept in the manor house itself, a telling point. At present, he, a complete stranger, was the only adult male in residence at night—and he was occupying Miss Trevission’s bed.
While that point appeared to be common knowledge—apparently Edgar and John had helped tend him—Logan seriously doubted the associated fact—that Miss Trevission had shared her bed with him—was similarly widely known.
As they neared the back door, he glanced at Montrose, and wondered what the vicar would say if he knew.
But that reminded him. . . .
Waving Montrose ahead, he followed the vicar past the kitchen and dining room, and into the parlor. Mrs. Barclay was there; she welcomed the vicar warmly. They settled to chat about the local church services leading to Christmas. The children, presently with Miss Buttons in the schoolroom, were, Logan gathered, a significant part of the choir.
He sat quietly in an armchair letting the comments flow over him—they didn’t stir any memories, didn’t seem to connect with him at all. He suspected he was no churchgoer. Given the subject occupying his mind, he was content to have the vicar distracted while he wrestled with his recollections.
His problem was that he didn’t know, couldn’t tell, whether his recollection of the previous night was a memory or a dream. When he’d woken that morning, he’d assumed he’d had an amazing, richly detailed, highly erotically charged dream, with predictable consequences. He hadn’t had such a dream in decades; the question of why now had at first puzzled him. But then he’d found Linnet asleep beside him and hadn’t known what to think. To imagine. Yet she’d been covered and trussed like a nun, with a bolster of blanket between them. He’d concluded his first thought had been correct—all he recalled had been a dream.
But then she’d woken. Opened her eyes, looked at him, spoken. From that moment on, he hadn’t been so sure. And the more he learned of her, her strange household, her unusual status, only further made him question whether his increasingly clear recollections were truly a dream, or . . .
He was still in two minds when Linnet walked into the room.
Although Logan didn’t move a muscle, his attention sharpened as his gaze locked on her. Linnet knew it. She didn’t so much as glance his way, yet she felt the weight, the piercing quality of his dark blue gaze.