At the Highwayman's Pleasure

Suddenly Charity felt very breathless, gazing up into the masked face and seeing the glint of the candlelight in his eyes.

There was only the length of the pin between them. She did not resist when he took her wrist and deflected the sharp point away from his body.

What was she doing? Alarmed, she dropped the brooch and put her free hand against his chest, but even as she opened her mouth to scream he captured her mouth, kissing her so ruthlessly that her bones melted under the onslaught. It was over in an instant. She was still gathering herself to resist him when he released her.

‘Yes,’ he said, his breathing a little ragged. ‘I was not wrong.’

‘A-about what?’

‘You kiss like an angel.’

In one swift, fluid movement he turned away from her, threw up the sash and slipped out into the darkness.

Charity ran to the window, but there was no sign of anyone and only the soft drumming of hoofbeats fading into the night.

AUTHOR NOTE

I first ‘met’ Charity Weston when I was writing an earlier book, LADY BENEATH THE VEIL. Then she was a successful London actress, calling herself Agnes Bennet and not behaving at all well. However, seeing the true happiness Gideon and Dominique achieved was a turning point for her, and she decided it was time to make a new start.

I knew then that I wanted to write Charity's story—to show her facing up to her past and using her real name, despite the fact that it might bring her back into the sphere of her abusive father.

Actresses in the Regency period could be fabulously successful, but they lived on the fringes of polite society. Some married, and one or two married very well. Others acquired a rich protector and some, like Charity, earned enough to secure their independence and were loath to relinquish all their worldly goods to a husband.

At the beginning of this book Charity is still an actress, but she is aware that she wants something more from her life—in modern parlance we might say she is aware of her biological clock ticking away! Then she meets the mysterious highwayman, ‘The Dark Rider’, who is so fickle that sometimes all he takes from his female victims is one sizzling kiss. After that encounter Charity's life will never be the same again.

I do hope you enjoy Charity's story. She is a strong lady, determined to fight injustice, and when she meets her hero she proves herself to be a worthy partner for him!

Happy reading.

At the
Highwayman’s
Pleasure

Sarah Mallory

www.millsandboon.co.uk

SARAH MALLORY
was born in Bristol, and now lives in an old farmhouse on the edge of the Pennines with her husband and family. She left grammar school at sixteen to work in companies as varied as stockbrokers, marine engineers, insurance brokers, biscuit manufacturers and even a quarrying company. Her first book was published shortly after the birth of her daughter. She has published more than a dozen books under the pen-name of Melinda Hammond, winning the Reviewers’ Choice Award from singletitles.com for
Dance for a Diamond
and the Historical Novel Society's Editors’ Choice for
Gentlemen in Question.
As Sarah Mallory she is the winner of the Romantic Novelists’ Association's RONA Rose
®
Award for 2012 and 2013 for
The Dangerous Lord Darrington
and
Beneath the Major's Scars.

Previous novels by the same author:
THE WICKED BARON
MORE THAN A GOVERNESS
    (part of
On Mothering Sunday
)
WICKED CAPTAIN, WAYWARD WIFE
THE EARL'S RUNAWAY BRIDE
DISGRACE AND DESIRE
TO CATCH A HUSBAND …
SNOWBOUND WITH THE NOTORIOUS RAKE
    (part of
An Improper Regency Christmas
)
THE DANGEROUS LORD DARRINGTON
BENEATH THE MAJOR'S SCARS
*
BEHIND THE RAKE'S WICKED WAGER
*
BOUGHT FOR REVENGE
LADY BENEATH THE VEIL

*
The Notorious Coale Brothers

AT THE HIGHWAYMAN'S PLEASURE
features characters you will have already met in
LADY BENEATH THE VEIL

And in Mills & Boon
®
Undone!
eBooks:
THE TANTALISING MISS COALE*

And in M&B:
THE ILLEGITIMATE MONTAGUE
    (part of
Castonbury Park
Regency mini-series)

Did you know that some of these novels
are also available as eBooks?
Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

To Willow, my beautiful dog.

Taking him for his daily walks over the moors has helped me to write this story.

Prologue

June 1794

C
harity closed her eyes and raised her face to the sun. It was blazing down from the cloudless blue sky while a skylark high above trilled joyously and a soft breeze stirred her hair, hanging loose and damp about her shoulders.

This is heaven,
she thought, but when she opened her eyes she saw only the familiar fields around her, and in the distance, just beyond the river but before the rugged hills to the east, was the village of Saltby, no more than a little cluster of houses dominated by the stark square tower of the church.

How she wished she didn’t have to go back there.

Charity tossed her head defiantly and felt the heavy weight of her hair rippling down her back. She would have to bundle it under her bonnet before they reached the village, but it was so good to have it loose, so deliciously
free
.

She heard a giggle.

‘Lord, Charity, ’tis so thick it will never be dry before we reach Saltby.’ Her friend Jenny lifted some of the blonde locks from her neck and let them fall again.

‘But it was worth it.’ She tucked her hand in her friend’s arm. ‘Come along now. Let’s get home.’

They continued along a narrow valley, chattering as they went and swinging their bonnets carelessly from the ribbons. It was not until they rounded the next bend that they saw the activity in the valley ahead of them.

‘Oh, heavens, I didn’t know they would be here today,’ muttered Jenny, coming to a halt.

On the flat land by the beck the sheep were being sheared. A stone-walled fold beside the stream was already packed with animals, while shepherds were driving more sheep into the water to wash the fat from their coats ready for shearing. A familiar black-clothed figure was standing on a boulder in the middle of the activity. His arms were raised to the heavens and he had a book clutched in one hand. Even at this distance Charity knew it was a Bible. He was reciting passages from the gospels, but the shearers paid him little heed, continuing with their work with a steady, dogged persistence that would see all the sheep sheared before dark.

‘Oh, heavens, ’tis your father,’ hissed Jenny.

‘Yes,’ said Charity bitterly. ‘Phineas thinks himself another Wesley, preaching to the godless. Let’s go back before he sees us. We’ll take the long way over the hill.’

‘Too late.’

The black-coated figure had jumped down from his makeshift pulpit and was striding towards them, shouting. There was no help for it. The girls stopped and waited for him to come up.

‘And where might you be going?’

It was Jenny who spoke up.

‘We are on our way home, Mr Weston. We have been to visit old Mother Crawshaw, to take her a basket of food. Now her son has gone for a soldier there is no one to provide for her and Mrs Weston thought—’

But Phineas wasn’t listening. He was glaring, his face mottled with fury as he raised a shaking finger to point at them.

‘You have been traipsing the countryside like that, with no kerchiefs to cover your shoulders and your hair down your backs like, like—’

‘It was so hot we stopped on the way back to bathe at the secret pool,’ said Charity, giving him a defiant look. ‘We have done it many times before.’

‘Aye, but you are not children now. You are fourteen years old and should know the Lord frowns upon women displaying themselves in such shameless fashion.’

‘We did not intend anyone to see us,’ she retorted. ‘Our hair will be dry by the time we reach Saltby, and if it is not we will put it up beneath our caps before we get there.’

Even though he was still some yards away his fierce eyes burned into her and she could see the spittle on his lip as he ground out his words.

‘And you would parade yourself here, before all these men, like the veriest trollop.’

‘No, we intended to go the other way—’ She broke off as he swiftly covered the ground between them and caught her wrist. ‘Let me go!’

‘God knows I have tried to teach you the ways of righteousness, but to no avail. “Even a child is known by his actions”, and you are certainly known by yours.’

‘But we have done nothing wrong.’

‘I’ll teach you to flaunt yourself in this way.’ He made a grab for Jenny, but Charity clutched his sleeve and pulled him away.

‘Run!’ she shrieked to her friend. ‘Run home now.’ When Jenny hesitated, she cried, ‘You can do nothing for me, save yourself!’

‘Run away, then!’ shouted Phineas as the girl fled. ‘You cannot hide from the Lord’s wrath, Jennifer Howe. I shall denounce you from the pulpit come Sunday!’

‘Oh, no, you won’t,’ flashed Charity, struggling to free herself. ‘You will see Mr Howe and he will give you three guineas for your parish fund and that will be the end of it.’

‘You dare to censure me for doing the Lord’s work?’

Her lip curled. ‘I have seen too many times how a few pieces of silver will mollify your righteous temper!’

His eyes narrowed. ‘Unnatural daughter!’


We
were doing the Lord’s work,’ she flung back at him. ‘We were ministering to the poor, which is of more use than your preaching to them.’

Phineas waved his free arm towards the scene of activity by the river.

‘You were using it for an excuse to come here and throw yourselves at these men. I know your wicked ways, girl.’ He thrust his hand into her hair and Charity screamed as he tightened his hold. ‘You know you distract men with this...this golden abundance, don’t you? It is a vanity, girl, do you hear me, a vanity. “They that are of forward heart are an abomination to the Lord!”’

‘Let me go!’

‘Not until you see what becomes of those who mock the Lord and his servants.’

Ignoring her screams, he dragged her with him, back towards the sheep shearers. The men looked up warily as he approached, some muttered under their breath, but none dared protest. He hauled Charity to the boulder that he had been standing on moments earlier and forced her to sit.

‘Jacob, come and hold her here.’

‘Nay then, Parson, I don’t—’

Phineas turned on the man with a snarl.

‘Dare you gainsay a servant of the Lord?’

Jacob stepped up and took her arms.

‘Sorry, lass.’

She hardly heard his muttered apology, for she was sobbing now, her scalp burning where Phineas had almost torn the hair out by the roots. She heard his hard voice boom out.

‘Elias, bring me the dagging shears.’

‘No!’

She screamed, cried, pleaded, but it was no use. She heard the rasp as the shears cut through her hair, handful by handful, and all the time Phineas was reciting from the Bible.

It was all over in minutes, less time than it would take a man to shear a sheep. There was a curious lightness to her head; she could feel the burning sun on her scalp. Jacob released her, but she did not move. She sat hunched on the rock, her eyes dry now, staring unseeing at the ground.

Phineas stood back.

‘And the Lord said, “Withhold not correction from the child”.’

His words fell into silence. The men were milling around, uncertain what to do. The skylark had gone, and even the sheep had ceased their bleating.

Slowly Charity got to her feet. She stared around her. The sky was still an unbroken blue vault and the hills looked the same, but everything was different, as if her world had tilted and she was looking at this scene as a detached, indifferent observer. She raised her eyes to look at her father. His face was still an angry red and he was breathing heavily, his arms by his sides and the cruel steel shears clasped in one hand.

‘But I am not a child,’ she said slowly. ‘Not anymore. And that is the last time I will let you lay a finger on me.’

With that she turned and walked away, leaving her hair, those long, silken tresses, lying at his feet like a creamy golden fleece.

 

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