Swept Away is an action/adventure/romance set in Regency England. A body has been washed up on a deserted beach. He is half dead, badly beaten, and when he wakens, he has no memory of how he came to be there or why he is being charged with treason. To the lovely Annaleah Fairchilde, her frustration at having been sent to the seaside to live with her dottering old aunt for several weeks ends the moment a feverish and delirious Emory Althorpe opens his eyes and whispers: They have to know the truth before it’s too late.
What follows is a story filled with adventure, mystery, spies, kidnapping, treachery, and most of all, romance. Toss Auntie Flo into the mix, a character who was one of the most fun to write, and hopefully the reader will be…Swept Away.
A brief excerpt:
Ramsey reached out awkwardly with his stiff arm and snapped his fingers at one of the redcoats who in turn produced several sheets of paper out of a leather dispatch case. He handed one to Florence first, then to Anthony. Barrimore barely glanced at it before waving it away with a small frown, at which time it was passed to Anna. She took the sheet and braced herself before looking down, and considering it was only a rough sketch in smeared black ink, it bore a startling likeness to the man lying upstairs. The hair was wilder, embellished by the kind of braids depicted in stories about pirates. The eyes were close-set and mean, and more licence had been taken etching the scar in his eyebrow; far from being the slim nick it was in reality, the artist suggested it dragged across his brow and distorted the entire temple.
But it was him. It was Emory Althorpe, and the huge blocked letters beneath his picture declared he was wanted for Treason! Sedition! Piracy! Murder!
Anna glanced at Florence, who was studying the sketch as if was of no more importance than the evening menu.
“Have you seen anyone like that in the vicinity, Miss?” Ramsey asked. “Privates Dilberry and Ward may be able to help with additional information, as they were familiar with the rogue in his youth.”
One of the soldiers touched a forelock. “Aye. I know’d ‘im, Miss. Big man, ‘ee is. Stands near seven feet tall, wi’ a scrint eye, all scarred-like, an’ shoulders this wide.” His comrade nudged him on the arm and he amended the distance between his hands, increasing it beyond Broom’s impressive bulk. “Aye, more like this wide.”
“In absolute honesty, sir,” she said, addressing Ramsey, “I have not seen anyone who would match that description.”
“Nor is she likely to,” Lord Barrimore said dryly, “since there is some doubt as to whether he is even still alive. A report received in the foreign office stated there was some trouble in the harbor at Rochefort shortly after Bonaparte’s surrender and he was killed by one of the general’s own men.”
Colonel Ramsey shook his head, obviously not convinced. “He has been reported dead before only to appear like a bad dream some months later. I have heard nothing that would convince me this time is any different and until I see an actual body, I will not believe it.”
“You sound as if you have been looking for him longer than a few short weeks,” Florence said.
“I have had a personal interest in following his career these past three years or more,” Ramsey admitted. “The man is as elusive as smoke and twice as hard to catch.”
“Then I bid you the best of luck in your hunt, Colonel. Wild geese have never appealed to me, personally.”
“Too gamey by far, Auntie,” Anthony agreed, dropping the warrant sheet on the table beside him. “Especially if they have been dead for over a month. Was there anything else, sir? Any other bogie men we should be on the lookout for?” “I’ll not take up any more of your time,” Ramsey said, bristling slightly at the sarcasm. “Be advised, however, that there will be increased patrols along the coast roads and at every toll booth on the turnpikes leading in and out of Torbay. If you are planning to return to London any time soon, you might want to spare yourself any unnecessary aggravation by allowing for the additional delays.”
With that, he nodded curtly at Florence and Anna, and, after snapping his fingers again at his two men, stalked out of the room, following Willerkins down the hallway.
“Such an unpleasant man,” Florence said after a moment. “But can it be true? Is that dreadful little French general coming here to Torbay?”
“It has been in all the newspapers, Auntie,” Anthony said. “But of course, you would have no reason to read one. Not to worry, however. Barrimore, tells me there is more than enough room in his berline coach to carry you home to London with us. We shall consider it an adventure, shall we?” He leaned forward to rest his hand patronizingly on her knee. “A grand adventure to London town.”
Florence looked like she wanted to give his shin a sharp whack with her cane, but she smiled sweetly instead. “How thoughtful of you to worry about me, Nephew, but I do not often venture out of the house these days. My poor bones are so brittle, I fear even a brief journey in any manner of moving vehicle would likely crack my spine in two. No, no. It is kind of you to worry after my safety, but sadly, I must decline your offer.”
“But you heard what Ramsey said. Disregarding for the moment the rabble that will be swarming to the coast to catch a glimpse of Bonaparte, one should not be so cavalier in dismissing the possibility of a dangerous criminal being on the loose.”
“Pish. I knew Emory Althorpe when he was a boy, and if he has retained half the common sense he had back then, I should think Brixham would be the last place he would come. Not when there would be a very good chance he would be recognized, and certainly not with a reward on his head worth twenty times what most of the fishermen hereabout will earn in their lifetimes!”
“Nevertheless,” Anthony argued, “I cannot say I am comfortable with the notion of you being so far out of town. It could take hours for one of these creaking old servants to fetch help if it was required.”
“I am fine. We are all of us fine. There is a young boy--Blisterbottom--in the house who runs like the wind and we have Willerkins. He was a member of the King’s Royal Guard back in the ‘45 and is still a crack shot. Indeed, the locals--not to mention the field mice--are quite terrified of his prowess with a blunderbuss.”
Anthony looked dubious. “Mother will not be pleased when we return home without you.”
“Your mother will survive the disappointment, I am sure.”
“Both disappointments,” Annaleah said, “for I am not leaving either.”
“What?” Anthony had started to lift his tea cup but stopped. “What did you say?”
“I said...I am not leaving either. I am staying here with Aunt Florence.”
She might well have said she was taking up a gun and turning highwayman for the look he gave her in return. And were it not such a serious breech of parental authority she was proposing, she might have laughed out loud.
But this was no laughing matter. Whether he was guilty or not, she could not leave Florence alone in the house with a notorious criminal. Moreover, she had not changed her opinion of Winston Perry, Lord Barrimore and she knew if she left Widdicombe House and
drove back to London with him, her fate would be sealed. Her engagement would be announced, the marriage date settled, the banns read.
“Not leaving?” Anthony said again. “What nonsense is this?”
“I...I cannot leave,” she insisted. “Not while Auntie Lal still needs me. And if she is refusing...or unable to leave here...then it is my duty to remain.”
Anna hastened to her aunt’s side and settled beside her in a soft swirl of white muslin. Taking up one of the gnarled hands, she gave it an imploring squeeze. “I know you are determined to put forth a brave show for my brother and Lord Barrimore, but I could not live with myself if I left you alone, knowing that you are in such terrible pain.”
“Pain?” Anthony frowned at his aunt. “You are in pain Aunt Florence?”
“I am?” Florence looked from Anna to her brother. “I am. Well, not so much that you would notice.”
“There, you see,” Anna declared. “She would never tell you so, but dear Auntie can barely walk from one chair to the next without assistance. Her legs are so weak why...why she nearly took a dreadful tumble just this morning, and would have fallen head over heels down the stairs had I not been there to catch her.”
“My dear child, you exaggerate.” The canny blue eyes narrowed into their wrinkles. “I will have you know, it has been nearly a whole week since the last time my feet went up in the air. And the pain is not so very dreadful; my ankle can almost bear the weight.”
“The doctor said you were not to overtax yourself.”
“He did? Oh, of course he did. And you have been such a help to me, dear child, hovering about like a lovely little butterfly, at my elbow day and night to attend to the smallest request. But I should not impose further upon your sweet nature. Not if your dear mother wishes you to return home.”
“It was my dear mother who sent me here to help you and I shall remain here to help you for as long as you need me.”
“Anna,” her brother protested. “Mother’s concerns are genuine--”
“Her concerns were equally genuine when she hastened me out of London on a moment’s notice.” Anna said, conscious of Barrimore’s eyes boring into the back of her neck. She had wondered exactly what he had been told with regards to her abrupt departure from the city but because she doubted it was anything near the truth, she gambled it was more than likely her elderly aunt’s health that had been used for an excuse. “Can you not see I am still needed here? How cruel and cold a person do you think me that I would simply walk away and leave our aunt alone and helpless in her pain?”
“I have Willerkins to help me,” Florence said in a brave, quavering voice. “And Ethel, of course, though it is sometimes difficult to tolerate the smell of chicken that always clings to her.”
“You do not have to rely on either Willerkins or Ethel, Auntie. I am here, and here is where I shall remain.”
“I do not want to be a burden on anyone, even for the short time I have left.” Florence took up a crumpled lace handkerchief and touched it to the corner of her eye as she offered up a watery confession in Anthony’s direction. “The doctors, you see, have already said it will be a true miracle if I live to see another Michaelmas Day, not two full months hence. They apply leeches and open my veins every time I have a spell, but...the relief is only temporary.”
“You have spells?” Anthony asked, clearly concerned.
“Spells,” Florence nodded solemnly. “And then there is the chaos in my bowels. It erupts at the most inopportune moments.”
“I see. Well, ah, I suppose I could send Mother a post, explaining the situation.” He glanced around the room, at the aged furniture, the dark walls, the musty shadows and shuddered visibly. “Naturally,” he added with no attempt to conceal his reluctance, “I shall remain as well to offer what assistance and comfort I may.”
Florence dabbed her eyes again and smiled. “You are more than welcome of course. There are at least a dozen empty bedrooms that have not been used in, oh, several years. But I am certain a few hours with soapy water and carpet brooms should make one or two of them presentable. And as long as it does not rain at night, you gentlemen should be quite comfortable. The bats, as your sister has discovered, are not so very great a problem if you remember to keep the curtains drawn and rags stuffed in the window sills. And you, sir--forgive me, but I have quite forgotten your name--?”
“Barrimore,” said the marquis by rote, looking even more appalled than Anthony, if that was possible, at the prospect of rags and bats.
“I knew a Barrimore once. He used to steal the oranges out of the children’s Christmas boxes. He was the butler, I believe, or perhaps the dustman...it was so long ago, the faces all crowd together...but of course he would have been your grandfather’s age, and I dare say your grandfather was not a dustman, was he?”
“No, madam. He was not. Nor would I would dream of imposing upon your hospitality at such a trying time as this. Fairchilde,” he snapped. “A word, if I may?”
Anthony sprang to his feet at once. “Of course. Ladies, you will excuse us a moment?”
He offered a brief bow and retreated with Barrimore to stand before the window.
Anna bowed her head and her lips barely moved. “I am so sorry, Auntie, but I did not know what else to do.”
“There is no need to explain anything to me,” Florence murmured. “Would I be mistaken in presuming to guess Lord Barrimore is the paragon your mother has chosen for your future husband?”
Anna tilted her head up, her huge blue eyes shining with confused emotions. “She insists he is a fine catch.”
“Mm. No doubt he is rich, titled, handsome and she has told you that you should be grateful he has even deigned to consider you a marriageable prospect?”
“A thousand times,” she agreed dully.
“And you have said no a thousand times and so she has sent you here to me as your punishment?” Florence’s hand tightened over hers. “Only say the word and I shall send Willerkins to fetch his fowling piece.”
“I...just need some time to think,” Anna said.
“Then you shall have it. And a wise choice, all things considered,” Florence winked, obviously enjoying the conspiracy, “for in truth, the blind old fool damned near shot his foot off the other day endeavoring to clean a pistol for Broom.”
As anxious as she was about her own situation, Anna had not entirely forgotten their other ‘guest’. “Mr. Althorpe is awake, Auntie. We spoke for a few moments and--” she cast a cautious glance over her shoulder to ensure the men were far enough away not to overheard-- “and he claims he does not remember anything.”
“He does not know how he came to be on our beach?”
“He does not know anything,” she reiterated. “Not where he is, or who he is; nor can he remember anything about his...his activities before he washed up on shore.”
“How extraordinary. I have never heard of such a thing. Well, no, that is not exactly true, for I have heard of it--a sailor once claimed to have lost all memory after suffering a high fever at sea, but I suspect it was more because his wife in Plymouth discovered he had a wife in Portsmouth. You say he remembers nothing?”
“He did not even know his name.”
“How extraordinary,” Florence murmured again, leaning back in the chair just as the men rejoined them.
“Barrimore has suggested a brilliant compromise,” Anthony began, “if it meets with your approval, that is. He says he has often stayed in Torquay while tending to his business affairs and knows of a perfectly respectable villa overlooking the bay. We would be but five miles away, close enough to respond to any emergency should one arise yet far enough not to inconvenience you with our presence. In the meantime, I shall dispatch a post to Mother at once, explaining the situation, begging her leave to remain in attendance a few days more.”
Florence responded with a dotty smile. “You do not have to rush off right away, do you? You will stay to lunch, will you not? With my teeth falling out at such an alarming rate, I usually have little more than a bowl of mashed turnips and soup, but I have no doubt Mildred could catch a grouse to boil for you.”
“Ah...” Anthony caught a glare from Barrimore’s eye, “no. No, thank you, Auntie. As it happens, we partook of a rather large breakfast this morning. And we really should see to the post for Mother. The sooner sent, the sooner received.”
Florence raised her hand to accept Anthony’s buss. Over his head, she smiled at Lord Barrimore. “It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, my lord. I trust we will have occasion to meet again.”
He took her hand and bowed over it, but did not trouble himself to feign the smallest smile. “I shall not draw a happy breath until we do, madam.”
- Marsha is the author of sixteen Historical Romances and one Contemporary Romance.She has won multiple awards for swashbuckling romance, including a starred review from Publishers Weekly touting the sizzling pirate adventureThe Iron Rose as one of the six best mass market books for the year. A USA Today Bestselling author with a loyal readership, many appreciate her use of history, action, and adventure to place the reader right into the heart of the story.
If you want to know more about Marsha Canham, you can visit her website, her facebook , twitter, and her blog, Caesars Through the Fence
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