Bethan Owen would give her life for her identical twin. With the care of Elunid’s troubled mind resting on her shoulders, she knows the love of a man will never be possible. But she can’t fight her attraction to the mystifying Henry Stephens, who, despite his lowly occupation as a night soil man, captivates her with his courtly manners and vitality.
Henry’s entire life revolves around building a fulfilling life for his mentally challenged son. When the vibrant and beautiful Bethan captures his heart, his world changes, but the secrets he harbors remain. Will he be able to give himself completely to the one he loves?
When Elunid’s behavior becomes more unstable, she makes a vicious enemy. Bethan is forced to make the greatest sacrifice, exchanging her life for her sister’s. Can Henry save Bethan and keep their love alive? Or will the dangerous adversary destroy all that is dear to them both?
King’s Harbour, England 1736
Bethan Owen stood in the doorway of the Siren Inn, drawing dawn’s gray light around her like a cloak. She peered down the cobbled street at the English Channel, cool mist bathing her face and washing the sleep from her eyes. Patches of green churning sea sliced through the heavy fog, revealing a ribbon of pink and violet at the horizon. Her twin sister Elunid would be relieved when she awoke to see the sun in the sky, for every night at sunset she feared it would never return.
She sighed. If only her sister could break through the darkness like the sun. She straightened her shoulders, breathed in the fresh new day. She would draw strength from this moment of peace, for Elunid would require her utmost vigilance, and soon the inn would be bustling with customers. Who knew what new faces the tide would bring?
The squeak of wagon wheels on the next street over interrupted her reverie. Of course, who else would be working this time of day but Henry the night soil man and his son, George? Henry’s bass voice rumbled softly, making her ears tingle. Why did the accursed man have such an effect on her?
“The tide rolls in, the tide rolls out
And brings adventure with it.
Be it rowboat or frigate, or schooner
They’ve stories to tell, fine items to sell
And I wish they’d be getting here sooner.”
George joined in with his sweet tenor at a much higher volume.
“Too loud, Son. We mustn’t disturb the good people of King’s Harbour. They would not appreciate being awakened by the sound of their own shite hitting the barrel.”
George giggled. “Da!”
Henry laughed, and every bit of skin on Bethan’s body warmed in the cool air.
“Take a care, my boy. Lift with your legs. That’s right. Climb up now, you may take the reins. Do you know where to go next?”
She should go inside, have a peaceful cup of tea before Elunid awoke. Would her sister be defiant and fearful today? Or would she be like her old self, clever and funny with an intense artistic flair?
Instead she closed her eyes and leaned against the doorway, letting the man’s soft, yet curiously cultured words glide into her, unraveling the worry tangling her thoughts like fishing rope.
“That’s it. Easy there. You’ll get more from this fine lady horse with a firm but gentle touch.”
Like Henry’s touch upon her arm, mindful of her safety as they’d searched for Elunid a few months ago. A most noxious odor wafted up the street, quashing the memory of his touch. The wagon appeared around the corner at the bottom of the street, and the two hopped out.
Henry grunted as they lifted the yoke into their shoulders, the barrel at the end. “Remember what the old bard said?”
“I don’t know. He said a lot of things.”
“Oh, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.”
Bethan forgot the stench upon recognizing the words of William Shakespeare. Measure for Measure? How did a night soil man come to quote the immortal words of the bard? Most puzzling, and likely the reason she couldn’t get Henry out of her mind.
They soon returned to the wagon, and Henry watched George, a small smile on his face.
George scratched the horse behind the ears. “Good girl. I shall never hurt you.”
They made their way up the street, and the closer they got, the more repulsive the odor became. She covered her mouth with a handkerchief but couldn’t take her eyes away from his broad shoulders and wide back, looking strong enough to carry any burden. Even hers. He waved at her and strode up the street.
He walks like royalty, not as if he has the most disgusting job in town. She lowered the cloth as curiosity got the better of her.
He stopped a good twenty paces from her, took off his work gloves, and bowed. “I shan’t get too close, Mistress Bethan. Good morrow.” He had eyes the color of Lena’s best summer ale. “You’re up early.”
She nodded. “It’s peaceful this time of day, when the town is still asleep.”
“Except for us.” He grinned. He wore no hat, and his black hair curled around his face. “I enjoy my work for the same reason.”
“You enjoy your work?” Was the man mad?
He nodded, his eyes darkening from summer ale to stout. “Why should I not, despite the nature of it? It’s honest and important work.” He turned toward his son. “And a good trade for young George to learn.”
What a snob she was. “I didn’t mean to insult.”
He stepped forward, and she stepped back, rapping her elbow on the door frame. “Ouch!”
He rushed toward her. “Are you all right?”
His fingers on her arm were warm and reassuring as she closed her eyes and waited for the stars to disappear from her vision. Then she came to her senses and recoiled from him.
He backed away. “I’m sorry to have disturbed your reverie, Mistress Bethan.” Formal, cold.
Emptiness echoed in the pit of her stomach; she had offended him. Why should she care? Nevertheless, she watched him retreat down the hill toward his son. Such a mystery.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jennifer Taylor spent her childhood running wild on an Idaho mountainside. Although she’s lived across the U.S., she’s still an Idahoan at heart and a notorious potato pusher. She has a degree in Human Services and has been a roofer, a hoofer, a computer data entry operator and a stay-at-home mom.
She’s dreamt of writing historical romances since reading WUTHERING HEIGHTS at the tender age of twelve, and is now living her dream of writing love stories set in 18th Century England. She feverishly lobbies for the return of breeches and would love to see her husband of thirty-four years in a pair.
Jennifer lives in rural Florida with her husband and enjoys the comings and goings of their three grown children and three grandchildren.
Visit Jennifer on her website www.jennifertaylorwrites.com