About the book
He can still taste her sin on his lips…
Left with her father’s legacy as a mad inventor and the responsibility to care for her sister, Miss Ariadne Davys is desperate. And right as all doors are slammed in her face, she stumbles upon a dying member of the Peerage. Literally.
Edward Remington, the Marquess of Whitely, is a successful man with a beautiful betrothed and a prominent position in the House of Lords. Until he finds himself at the mercy of his impoverished subjects. And under the forbidden care of a beautiful hellion.
But when Ariadne comes to his rescue, she doesn’t account for the appeal his sinful touch would have on her. Nor the lengths his father would go to break them apart forever. And when the biggest fire London has ever seen tries to eat her alive, her father’s note is her only lead: “Fear the traitorous blood…”
In a small building, squeezed into a tiny corner of a London slum, Ariadne Davy knelt next to her father in the studio. The cold and wet room was her father’s sanctuary and where he spent most of his days, working away on his inventions.
“It’s late, Pa,” Ariadne said with worry in her voice. “The supper gets colder by the minute.”
“It can wait, Ariadne,” her father, George Davy insisted. He gestured at the parts scattered around his work table. His notebook that contained the blueprints of the project smudged with grease at the corners, nuts, bolts, screwdrivers of varying sizes cluttered the work table, even a brass mortise gauge. “This can’t.”
Ariadne sighed. She knew she couldn’t fight with him. She had after all inherited his stubbornness.
“How’s your sister? Is she all right?”
Ariadne frowned at the strange questions. “You saw Leda just an hour ago when she came to bring you hot tea.”
George ignored her. “Are you taking care of her? Sisters must always stick together.”
Ariadne’s frown deepened. She didn’t understand why Pa was asking such questions. She had been here like this with him at his work table several times. In fact, Ariadne loved tinkering with the bolts and nuts as much as her father did. Just a month ago, she had devised a small box so that the oil didn’t spill out from the stove while they cooked. However, something about this particular moment felt different. She just couldn’t place a finger on it.
“Leda is fine,” she said when her father continued to look at her expectantly. Pa nodded as if satisfied with her answer. “I knew I could leave her to your care without worrying about her.”
Ariadne shook her head. She didn’t like where this conversation was going. “You’re here to take care of us. Both of us.”
Pa looked away, staring into the distance. The studio’s windows were boarded up for privacy and no one was allowed in without her father’s explicit permission, not even to clean or dust out the room. Grime had accumulated on several of his old inventions, forgotten with time after he failed to acquire a patent. The King’s new rule that had come into effect a few years ago demanded official documents and a royal seal for a particular new invention to be used in the market.
Leda had expressed her disapproval at what her father did several times. But George Davy wasn’t a man to be brought down by words and disappointment, even as none of his inventions brought him the recognition he deserved. Ariadne knew that he was a brilliant man and one day, the world would know it too.
George held something under the blazing light of the work table lamp. The lamp, too, had been created by him and consisted of a wick lamp with the flame enclosed inside a mesh screen.
“What is it?” Ariadne asked peering at the device.
“This is my greatest invention. And, my dear, it’s going to save a lot of lives,” he said with what sounded like pride in his voice.
“How?” she asked, curious.
“I’ve designed it as a portable lamp for mine workers. Its mechanism is similar to this.” He nodded to the bright lamp on the table. “But in a compact manner. And since it is sealed, it will drastically reduce the chances of explosion.”
“Can you tell me how it works?” Ariadne asked, fascinated by what she saw.
“Air enters via tiny holes of the mesh, but the flames of the lamp cannot pass through it. Apart from giving them light, if they keep it on the ground they can even detect the absence of oxygen in the passageway. The wick will be snuffed out if enough of it isn’t present and they can make out of the mines before they suffocate.”
“Pa, that’s brilliant,” Ariadne said. She thought of all those helpless mine workers, so many who died every year.
“Thank you, Ari. All I wish is to see it exist in the world before I go.”
Ariadne glanced up. Until then everything seemed to have been pulled out from a distant memory, but then it began to shift and change. Her father’s features became soft and blurry as if she was watching him through a glass window. “You’re not going anywhere, Pa.”
George shook his head and smiled sadly at her. “I don’t have much time left, Ari. You have to take care of yourself, your sister, and everything I leave behind.”
Ariadne reached for her father to comfort him, to give him a gentle hug, and remind him that he wasn’t alone and that she was right there fighting for him. But as she shot her hand out, she touched nothing but air.
“Ariadne,” Pa said, his voice echoing in her mind. Ariadne bolted upright in her chair. The wick of the lamp was snuffed out so she awoke to complete darkness that threatened to swallow her. She placed a hand on her heart to calm it down. She was at the head table of the studio.
It was just a nightmare, and a terrible one at that. Tears streaked down her cheeks as the pain of his absence settled in her heart.
She looked around the dark studio and she was all alone. Her father was long gone. He had passed away three months ago after a sudden stroke. It was sudden and it was brutal. He hadn’t seen the next day’s light.
In her dream, she had seen her father again, as she had often since his passing. She clasped a hand to her forehead where beads of sweat had collected. She sobbed, mourning her father in the darkness, as reality finally came crashing down on her.
She looked down at the work table. The lamp, broken down into its various parts lay on the table. She had pulled it apart, trying to fix the design, and had probably fallen asleep tinkering with it. It didn’t have a name yet. Pa had made a point to name all of his inventions after they were done, but this one had remained unnamed after he passed away. Ariadne couldn’t bring herself to give it a name yet so it remained a nameless project. But it was also the one that had brought her terribly close to success. Just a little while longer—
She almost heard her father speaking at her ears. “Patience, dearie.” Ariadne looked around herself and then back at the table as determination filled her. Patience.
Her hands were covered with grease which had smudged all over her dress and probably her hair too. She cleaned her hands on the handkerchief next to her but her fingers still felt sticky.
Even though it was completely dark inside the room, it was only by design. Dawn had probably broken outside and if Ariadne had managed to sleep in, it was probably far into the morning. George Davy had built this small space himself on an abandoned lot to accommodate the rectangular, darkroom. It was the sanctum of his inventions.
She walked out of the space where she had been spending most of her waking hours. Ariadne shielded her eyes against the sudden brightness. It was in stark contrast to the darkness she had just emerged from and she didn’t think she would ever get used to it. She put on her bonnet even though her hair was a mess and locked the studio door. She then crossed the street and walked a few paces ahead to the building where she lived. The few people out and about on the streets threw her weird glances as she passed, but Ariadne ignored them. She knew what they thought of her, Mad Davy’s daughter.
The smell of eggs cooking greeted her as soon as she stepped into her own flat. It was a two-room space, with a small kitchen attached, but also it was her entire world.
“And finally we see her face,” Leda said, rushing to her with worry on her face. “You’re going to make yourself ill if you push yourself too hard.”
“Were you there all night?” This was Emma. She was at the small stove, cooking. She looked up as Ariadne entered the kitchen.
Ariadne rubbed her eyes and yawned in answer. “I got caught up.”
“You’ve been saying the same thing every day for the last couple of weeks,” Leda pointed out. Leda was Ariadne’s younger sister. At eighteen, she was five years younger than Ariadne and while Ariadne was plain in looks, Leda had grown up to be a beauty.
Ariadne washed her hands in the basin and took a seat next to her on the kitchen table. It was rickety and shook slightly as she sat down even though she had just fixed the legs last week.
“We’re out of eggs,” Emma said as she placed their breakfast in front of them. She took the one next to Leda. The last one remained empty. It was her father’s chair, whenever he actually remembered to come to the table to eat. “Can you buy some from the market?”
“Sure,” Ariadne said. Her stomach churned. Her repository of coins was all but empty.
“Even last month’s rent is due,” Emma sighed. “And you know how Mrs. Tula can get about it.”
“I know,” Ariadne said. Neither Emma nor Leda complained but after her father’s death, as his eldest daughter, it had fallen upon her to provide for them.
Guilt began to gnaw at her. Ariadne cast her eyes to her plate knowing that she couldn’t dwindle anymore. She had to act fast.
Emma shot her a sympathetic look. “It's all right, dear. We’ll figure out something soon.” Emma had come to live with them a few years after her mother had passed away. She was a lodger in their small home so that it was easier for them to divide the rent between them.
Leda sighed. “I just wish Pa had left a little more for us.” They had all but used up their father’s small savings. He was the second son of the Earl of Jenson and while he hadn’t lived with his family for a long time, their grandmother had, until her death sent a small amount of money for them to get by. With that they had managed to live a comfortable life so far, even having the privilege to stay in a home that hadn’t fallen to rot yet. But ever since their grandmother died, the funds had stopped coming in.
“Maybe we can ask our uncle?” Leda asked suddenly. “He could help us.”
She meant the current Earl of Jenson, their uncle Matthew. Ariadne shook her head. “They don’t consider us family. We don’t exist to them. Not after—” It was an understatement. They hated the very existence of the two sisters and refused to acknowledge them.
“There’s no harm in asking,” Leda said reluctantly.
Ariadne shook her head. She wasn’t going to sacrifice everything Pa had built by going to beg from the brother who had been a part of casting his own brother out of High Society. It would be nothing but disrespect to her father’s spirit.
“Papa wouldn’t want us to go against our principles. Everything else was taken away from him, so pride was all he had left!” Ariadne exclaimed.
“Papa wouldn’t want us to starve either,” Leda said. Her younger sister was right. She looked up at Ariadne, carefully watching her face. When had she grown up so fast? She was of marriageable age and if things between her father and his family hadn’t fallen apart, she would have made her debut this year. The thought made Ariadne’s heart pang. Her sister deserved better things.
Ariadne, of course, had no intention of marrying ever. They already thought her queer for following her father’s footsteps. The last thing she needed was for a man to control her life. Her father was the only one who could see through her anyway. No, she would lead her life by her own terms just fine.
She quickly finished her meal and got up from her seat. “Leda, please fetch my bonnet from my room.”
“Where are you going?” Leda asked. But she did as Ariadne asked and disappeared into the room the two girls shared.
Ariadne looked toward the hearth. The dying fireplace barely cast out any heat and Adriane found herself shivering despite the fact that the sun was out outside. It would be worse at night.
“I’m going to out to earn some coin,” Ariadne said decidedly. She knew it was easier said than done but she had never cowed in front of adversity. She wouldn’t bow to her fate now. She would start small, a few coins at first. Her invention would have to take a backseat for now, to be worked on only at night.
Emma stood up from her chair. “You’re educated and are well groomed even if you lack the sponsorship and the disposition the society requires. You can easily take up the position of a governess if you so wish.”
The thought of going to work for a rich Lord had occurred to her several times. But her father had taught her to be self-sufficient, and it was only the thought of him that stopped her from doing so.
“Lord Brexley is more than generous enough to overlook your mother’s background and place you in a suitable and respectable position in his staff. You should reconsider his offer,” Emma continued.
Ariadne had known the Earl of Brexley for the last few years. And while the man was just as Emma said, generous and willing enough to employ her under his care, it didn’t matter to Ariadne. She had already said no and she rarely changed her mind.
He had been to their home just last week, leaving behind a small sack of rice and lentils and promising more if she took him up on his offer.
“He just sees us as one of his charity cases. Someone who will make him look and feel good,” Ariadne said. “While I do not doubt his good intentions, I simply do not wish to work for him.”
Emma shook her head. “Maybe it’s time to stop playing inventor.” Her tone was sterner than Ariadne expected and she was almost taken aback by it. “People have begun to talk.”
“People’s words never mattered to me. They’ve called me worse, since I was a kid.” Ariadne preferred the company of her father’s tools instead of dresses and dolls. Kids her age laughed at her and this mockery continued well into adulthood. It was both a good thing and a bad. Ariadne had hardened herself to these jibes.
“Look at yourself. You’re barely a girl anymore. You’re turning more and more into your father every day.”
“And is it such an awful thing?” she asked. Her voice was soft but Ariadne heard the disappointment loud and clear in her voice.
“It is when you start forgetting about yourself and others around you.” Even though Emma remained calm, her words hurt Ariadne. “Think about your sister.”
Ariadne was silent. She was always thinking about Leda. But this thing she had to do for herself. She had expected support from Emma at the least. She had grown to see the woman as a second mother. She had all but brought them up and was always around to help around the house since her mother passed away.
She started for the door when Emma called out to her. “What are your plans?”
“I’ll decide on the way,” she replied. That was exactly like her to do this. Jump into an adventure before pondering on it. But more often than not, she succeeded in her endeavors. Maybe that’s why neither Emma nor Leda protested as she left.
As she was on her way out, she ran into Mrs. Tula. “Are you goin’ somewhere, Ariadne?” she asked.
“Yes,” Ariadne said warily. She didn’t trust the woman’s thin lips or the way she assessed her shrewdly.
“I hope it’s to make coins because if you don’t give me the rent within the next two days, I’m afraid I’ll have to throw you and your family out to the streets.”
Edward Remington, the Marquess of Whitely and recently nominated MP to the House of Lords stood at the roaring fireplace of his dear friend Charles’ home.
“Care for whisky?” Charles called behind him as he poured himself the amber liquid in a small glass.
“Certainly,” Edward replied. He was also his first cousin by birth as their mothers were sisters. The boys had grown up together and had become steadfast friends over the years. Today he was there advising him on the upcoming election for a ticket to the new seat in the House of Commons. His cousin had developed a sudden interest in politics and since he didn’t have an official title bequeathed upon him yet, he would have to fight for his place.
It was different for Edward. His family had produced outstanding MPs for as long as society could remember. So when Edward’s father had decided to retire, Edward was nominated to replace him by the writ of acceleration.
“Invited to take the seat by the King himself,” Charles murmured as he took a sip of the amber-colored liquid. Edward didn’t care much for spirits but he partook it in just for his company’s sake. The liquid fogged his mind as he settled back on his plush chair.
“Is that envy I trace in your voice?”
“A tad,” Charles said.
Edward chuckled. While politics was a new whimsy for his cousin, he had been brought up for this his entire life. His father had told him about the members of parliaments in the previous generations, all of who had brought great honor to the family while being part of the changing socio-political landscape of Britain.
“It’s a great responsibility to be able to mold the very face of our country,” his father, the Duke of Bromswell, always told him. It was his way of reminding Edward that not only was he an heir-apparent to one of the most important dukedoms in the country, but he also had his ancestor’s expectations resting square on his shoulders. And while so far Edward hadn’t brought in any exciting reforms or ideas to the Parliament, he was confident he would soon enough.
“How’s your betrothed?” Charles asked. He was speaking about Jane, the lady with whom Edward was engaged to be married the following year.
The truth was that Edward didn’t know her, not truly. His marriage to the daughter of the Viscount of Bynthrope was decided when she was just a babe. It was another clever means to secure a political alliance between the families. It was no different from the marriage of Edward’s parents themselves. Arranged matches like this rarely awakened passion and Edward wasn’t foolish enough to expect or even go looking for love.
“She’s fine,” Edward replied. He was expected to marry her and he would. He felt nothing for her beyond his obligations to his family. The last time he had seen her was at a family dinner. They had discussed the latest piece of jewelry and a hat that she had bought at the King’s market. The conversation had been exceedingly boring, partly because he had no idea about women’s fashion and she had no apparent interest in politics. And at eighteen, Edward felt she was much too young for him. But he would never voice these thoughts aloud. She was a Viscount’s daughter and would make a fine duchess and an MP’s wife.
“I met with the King during the last session. Next time I see him, I’ll put in a good word for you,” Edward said, steering the conversation back to things that were of concern to him. He imagined the King had been much impressed with his vocational theories and had even invited him to summarize at the next session of the Parliament. That was a great honor, one that had pleased his father too.
“Thank you, cousin,” Charles said gracefully. “That means a lot to me.”
“Meanwhile we put together your political alliance. You’ll have my support, of course, and our friends at the Gentleman’s Club can be counted in as well.”
“That’s all very well, but I want more than that. I want to appeal to the masses. My ticket is from the House of Commons, not the Lords.”
Edward brushed away his cousin’s concern. “That wouldn’t matter once you have enough influential backing.”
Charles still didn’t look convinced.
“Save what we shall discuss this elaborately tomorrow night at the Gentleman’s Club. You’ll have a clearer perspective once you talk to some of the other members of the House,” Edward said.
“Men, who spend most of their days away in vice and then show up at the Parliament barely coherent?”
Edward cleared his throat. While he had his thoughts about such incompetent nincompoops, this was the King’s business. It was, after all, he who decided who would get to sit on the Parliament and who wouldn’t. He didn’t want any conflict with him.
“What about Mr. Kent? He is a business shop owner who won the ticket from Trentdike to the House of Commons last year. I wish to speak with him too,” Charles said. “He’s a fine fellow.”
“He’s not a Lord,” Edward objected. “What solution might he have to give for this? If you hope to win the seat at the Commons, you will need the help of house titles, not a common man.”
“He has worked with people, for people. I have much to learn from him.”
His popularity is the sole reason why he won the seat. I don’t see any reason why he should even be there.”
“By your logic, you’re in no position to hold the seat either.”
Edward maintained his composure and said, “You’re forgetting who I am, where I come from.”
“On the contrary, I haven’t at all,” Charles said. “You’re the future Duke of Bromswell. You’re expected to be on the Parliament and that is that. What if your grandfather hadn’t held the seat or his father before him?”
“Someone needs to fight for this country. Someone needs to make the decisions on behalf of the uneducated masses who might do more harm to themselves than good if left to their wits.”
“And that someone is you?”
“Why not? I had the finest tutors growing up. I’ve studied mathematics and literature both at Eton that makes me exceedingly qualified over my peers. I know every law practiced in this country by rote.”
“And do you know of the injustice?”
“I beg your pardon?” Edward asked, frowning.
Charles fixed his gaze on him. “You’re a Lord. What you experience is limited. What do you know outside of your peerage?”
Edward pulled himself out of the chair and paced the room. “Do you remember the workers’ protest last week? It was abhorrent. Think of the things they might do if left to themselves. They might very well burn this city down.”
“While I admit the protest itself was of a vile nature, they surely had a few ideas.”
“Exactly!” Edward said. “And those are precisely the ideas that will destroy them and everything this country stands for.” Edward wasn’t one of those fanatic Catholics who voted for religious supremacy in Parliament. He wanted nothing to do with those zealots. He knew people had the choices but needed to make informed ones. That’s where he and the rest of the Parliament came in. But his thoughts on women and other sensitive issues like class distinctions tended to be more on the conservative side and he didn’t see anything wrong in that.
“Have you ever been out of London? And no—I don’t mean your country estate. Have you been to the Continent or even just the slums fringing the main streets of London?”
“No,” Edward admitted.
“Then what gives you the right or the motive to decide for these people?” Charles asked, making a sweeping motion with his hand.
“My birthright,” Edward said simply.
“That is a weak argument,” Charles said. Edward knew it too so he fell silent. He wanted to do well for the masses, but it had never occurred to him to go out there and meet them. He had just assumed that they would be fine with the decisions made in the Parliament. The King had the best interests of his subjects after all.
“All right, cousin,” Edward said. “I’ll take your leave now.”
Charles stood up from his chair, looking at his childhood friend. “Did I offend you?”
“Not at all. It will take more than that to crack through our veneer of friendship. Besides, I enjoy these debates with you. It has given me much to think about.”
And it had indeed. As he entered his carriage and instructed his footman to drive him home, Edward couldn’t stop thinking about what his cousin had said. Had he really hidden away behind his privilege for so long and that had, in turn, muddied his perspectives? He was a politician and it wouldn’t do to think of his own gains. He was to remain neutral without his upbringing coloring his view of the world.
Could Charles possibly be right? Edward’s mother always donated to charity, raised funds through the balls of the year every year at the start of the debutante season. But had he ever met someone who had needed the money and the clothes they gave away?
The answer was no.
Edward looked out of his carriage window. It was a little after ten and the cobbled streets were empty. It had rained a while ago and had probably driven people back into their homes.
Something needs to change.
“Halt,” Edward called out to the driver. The footman came scurrying around to the door and threw it open.
“Yes, my Lord. Do you want anything?” the footman asked expectantly
“I wish to talk a walk along these streets.”
“That is not advisable, my Lord,” the footman said. Fear flickered on his face. “The streets are filled with scoundrels and thieves at night with naught to stop their wicked deeds.”
Edward raised a brow. “What about the policemen?”
“Even they are afraid to enter some of these parts,” the footman replied, looking around himself.
“What lies beyond this street?” he asked, making a sweeping motion with his hand. He didn’t recognize this one in the darkness of the night.
The footman hesitated. “There’s a slum called Clerkenwell. It lies beyond the main streets, in the fringe. All sorts of crooks abound the dark by-lanes and alleyways.”
Edward tapped his walking stick on the ground as he exited his coach. His footman’s words had just made him more determined to find out what lay beyond the streets. And while the thought daunted him, he was haunted by Charles’ words too. He needed to find out if he was indeed right.
“If I don’t come back in fifteen minutes, come look for me.”
“But my Lord—” the footman protested.
Edward held up a hand to stop him. He would see his cousin tomorrow and for that, he needed to have to keep his arguments ready. He would show him that he wasn’t just some spoiled brat hiding behind his title. He was ready to fight for people, and if that meant getting down to the dirt, so be it.
He left his carriage behind him as he walked ahead, careful not to ruin his expensive breeches in the water that sloshed the streets. When he noticed a small alley leading away from the main street, he followed the trail of the flickering lights from the streetlamps above him.
The neighborhood began to change the further he walked in. There was a stink in the air, smoke coming out of several chimneys atop the rickety houses that lined the alley which seemed to get narrower and narrower by the second. Rats scurried in and out of sight and there was a nasty stench of rotting garbage in the air. It was so overwhelming that Edward had to take his handkerchief out and press his mouth into it for some relief. The road was worse here, missing entirely in several places.
Edward cursed under his breath as his gait began to slip. Some women called out to him, even daring enough to sidle up. They wore cheap perfumes and their lips were blood red. Edward knew what they were—night women.
He swallowed his disgust but paid them no heed and carried on. He had seen enough. Now there had to be a way out of there without stepping back through the same path he had come through. As he tried looking for someone for directions, Edward spotted three men some distance away. They clung to the wall, sharing a smoke and their laughter carried over to him.
Before Edward could walk up to them, however, two men closed in on him. “What do we ‘ave ‘ere?” one of them asked. He had a Cockney accent.
“Gentlemen.” Edward greeted them. His breeding dictated him to be polite to people, circumstances withstanding. The two men were eyeing him up and down with some interest.
“Lost yo’ way now, ‘ave you?”
The back of his neck pricked. “If you’ll kindly allow me to pass—”
“Kindly?” one of the men asked. They looked at each and started laughing. They eyed his clothes with interest, an almost maniacal glint in their eyes.
“I don’t mean any trouble here,” Edward said quietly.
“Ya don’, but we do.” The Irish man turned around and called out to the three men behind him. “Oi, look who we ‘ave here.”
Immediately they stamped out the cigarette and approached. By then, all of Edward’s instincts were on high alert. Even though he had an experience of wrestling in Eton, it had been ages since he had folded up his sleeves and got down to fight. Besides, there were too many of them.
“Gentlemen, we can settle this like civilized people.” No sooner had he said it, that one of them took out a knife and brandished it at him.
Edward took a single step back and raised his arm.
The man continued to brandish his knife. “How much ackers do yer have?”
“I have my wallet in my pocket,” Edward said calmly. The money didn’t matter to him at the moment, his life did.
“His kit ‘ave a look expensive,” one of them said. “I cop cold in me own jacket. What do yer say, fellas? Should I take this one?”
The other egged him on as he drew close, a knife held out to him.
Edward pulled himself to his height and said, “I’m a member of Parliament. You should think twice before trying to hurt me.”
“Do yer think we care who yer are ‘ere?” He spat at Edward’s feet. “This isn’t your world to dictate as you please, dukey. The streets are ours.”
“I can help you. You don’t have to be a criminal,” Edward said. “I can show you a better path.” Edward was convinced that they would listen to his voice of reason, and not the retaliation of senseless violence.
“Yer think yer better than me?” The man charged, his hands outstretched as if to throttle him. Edward dodged him easily and landed a strong punch to his ribs. The man landed a few feet away. But Edward wasn’t fast enough for his next attacker.
The blows and punches came fast and steady. The knife drove into his side and he keeled over at the pain, clutching at the wound which spurted fresh blood.
“Did we kill ‘im?” one of the men asked.
“The coat is soaked with blood.”
“Just take the chuffin’ brass and let’s cop the hell out of ‘ere.”
Edward had the faint feeling of being turned on his side which made his pain worse. The last thing he remembered seeing was the men running away into the night before his eyes grew heavy. He tried to hold on but dark thoughts began to crowd his mind. He would die here on the streets tonight, cold and forgotten.
The freezing wind climbed up her skirts, making Ariadne shiver as she walked down the empty street. It had rained an hour ago, filling the narrow alleys with filthy water and mud.
She couldn’t stop thinking about what Mrs. Tula had said. She wouldn’t actually make them leave, would she? The thought was grim but she knew the truth. Mrs. Tula would do anything to get her coins and her rent. She couldn’t care less where they went after.
Adriane had managed to earn a few coins after selling flowers at the square. She had tried to look for an apprenticeship at a workshop, but unfortunately, nobody wanted to take a woman in. They scoffed at the sight of her, mocking her before they showed her out the door. Ariadne rubbed the angry tears from her eyes. Why was this world so unjust? She was as good as any man.
She looked down at the few coins in her hand which she clutched tighter to herself. The meager amount would buy bread and a few vegetables. But what came next? And how would she ever pay the dreaded rent on time? It was only two days away.
The only way out of her predicament and an actual permanent solution was to finish up the design of the lamp and attempt to get the patent for it. But she already knew that it would be a long and hard road ahead. She had seen her father wither away, trying to chase recognition for his myriad of devices. He had died before the world could see what he was capable of. Ariadne vowed to herself that she would keep fighting, for her sister and her father both.
She was so lost in her thoughts that she almost didn’t notice the man lying by the side of the road. It wasn’t until he groaned that she finally took note of him and then dismissed it almost immediately. There were a few cheap pubs around here and it was no surprise to find at least one drunk man lying by the side of the road at the end of the night. Ariadne was used to such a sight and worse. Drunk men could be persistent.
She was about to walk past him when something snagged her by the ankle. Ariadne almost lost her footing at that, her heart hammering up to her chest as she attempted to dislodge herself from the grip.
“Please,” the voice groaned near her feet.
“Let me go,” she cried out and after struggling for a few moments, the man stopped moving, and his grip on her loosened. Ariadne ran away as fast she could. When she looked back, the man still appeared to be passed out.
Was he all right? He didn’t seem to be. He laid flat on the cold, wet ground naturally. And why was she bothering about him anyway? His friends would come to take him away later. And yet something about this didn’t feel right.
There was nobody else on the street. Ariadne found herself walking back to the man, despite herself. It was almost as if something was pulling her to him. She knelt beside him and touched his hand. His skin was gradually turning cold and he didn’t respond.
It was then, to her horror, that she noticed the blood pooling around him. Christ! She hadn’t noticed his wound at first under the dim light of the streets. She tried to turn him on his side but he was too heavy for her. His coat was missing but his breeches and undershirt along with his cravat made it evident to her that this was no unruly street urchin. This was a rich man—maybe even a Lord, and he had probably been robbed and left here.
Ariadne swallowed. She knew the danger of taking him to her house. He appeared to have been gravely injured. Would she be able to save him? And what if he died in her home? Ariadne considered the grim possibilities and she also knew that she couldn’t leave him her alone. It would haunt her for the rest of her life.
“Can you hear me, Sir?” she called out. No answer.
With all her might, she was able to turn him on his side. He was caked with mud and his clothes were soaked to the bone with water. She could barely even make out his features. The movement caused a fresh spurt of blood.
“No, no, no, no,” Adriana whispered to herself. The man groaned this time. She slapped him on his cheeks repeatedly, trying to bring him back to consciousness.
“Wake up,” she said. “Wake up.” To her astonishment, he listened to her. His eyes flew open and his amber eyes seemed to be transfixed on her for a few seconds before his eyes closed again. Ariadne froze under his gaze but quickly recovered herself. “You have to keep yourself awake. Please, I beg you.”
Ariadne bit her lip. Her father had taught her how to stitch up an injury but she was no expert. And she had only mended his tiny bruises and cuts, nothing like this. But if she was able to take him back to the house, she could find a way to help him.
She tried to help him sit but failed in the first few instances, lapping up mud on her skirts and hands instead. She dragged him away from the worst of mud and water, careful not to put pressure on his injury.
She kept talking to herself as she managed to finally pull him up, his hand around her shoulder and her hand around his waist. His hips settled beside her for support and her breasts crushed against his ribs as she supported him.
Ariadne had never been this close to a man before. She blushed at the thought. When they were upright, she almost buckled under his weight. Lord, he must have been at least a few stones heavier than her.
She panted as they pushed forward. Her flat was only a few minutes away but it seemed almost like an eternity as she dragged him through the streets. In the distance, thunder clapped across the sky, threatening a fresh spell of rain.
Ariadne gritted her teeth and carried on. The man’s head lolled sideways and ultimately rested upon her bosom. Ariadne swallowed her embarrassment and nudged his head back up to the crook of her shoulder. He wasn’t in his senses.
“You’re too heavy, Sir! If only you were in your senses, it won’t be a pretty sight at all.” Ariadne muttered to herself. “But I’ll let it go, just this once.”
It was becoming more difficult for her by the minute to carry him forward but just as weariness began to seep into her bones, she caught sight of her small building which was squeezed between a butcher’s shop and a leather factory.
Thanking gods above, Ariadne managed to push him under the shingles of the building just as the sky opened up again. Climbing the stairs to the flat proved to be of some more difficulty, but she managed by propping him in front of her as they climbed each agonizing step. By the time they reached the flat, she knew how many rickety steps there were to it.
Ariadne knocked on the door with some urgency, hoping Emma and Leda weren’t already asleep. The door flew open and an alarmed Leda rushed out. “Ariadne, where were you? We were worried sick.” And then her eyes fell to the figure cradled by Ariadne and she shrieked. “Who is he?”
“Shh. We don’t want Mrs. Tula to hear us.” The landlady would have her skin if she found out about the stranger. “I don’t know who he is. I found him on the streets.”
“And you brought him here?” she said. “Look at him. He’s a rich man. Everything about him says so. Even now people must be looking for him out there.”
“I had no choice. I couldn’t very well leave him out there,” Ariadne said. “Now help me carry him inside.” To her great relief, Leda did as she asked. As her sister caught his other hand, balancing his weight between them, Ariadne felt her load lighten.
“Let’s carry him to Papa’s room,” Leda suggested.
Emma came out in her nightgown to check on the commotion. She looked positively alarmed when she saw them. “What in the world is happening here?”
“Close the door behind me. I’ll explain everything, I promise,” Ariadne said. The two sisters carried the mystery man to their father’s room. It was a small one and all it had was a bed and a desk. It was mostly empty as George Davy wasn’t a man who believed in material possessions.
They laid him carefully down on the bed. The man groaned at the action.
“Lords above, he’s bleeding,” Leda gasped.
“I wanted to stop it but couldn’t find a way. I couldn’t leave him out there to bleed out and die. So I brought him here.”
“What if he dies here?” Emma said. “Look at his clothes. He’s obviously a peer! They will come for us if something happens to him.”
“Maybe,” Ariadne said.
“Do something. Lord, he’s bleeding. I can’t stand the sight.” Leda turned away as if repulsed by the wound. Ariadne sat down beside him and examined the blood under the candle. It did look bad.
“Bring me a washcloth and my needle and thread. We need to cauterize and sew the wound.”
“What does that mean?” Leda asked.
Ariadne’s stomach turned at the thought. It was going to be an unpleasant experience for him but it was necessary. “I’m going to apply high heat to the wound so that it can heal and doesn’t infect itself. And then I’m going to sew it shut.”
Leda grimaced. “That sounds painful.”
It was painful. Worse, Ariadne had never actually worked without the supervision of her father. She could end up making things worse—
The man had now begun to toss from side to side.
Emma touched his head. “A fever has started to set in. Ariadne, help me take off his clothes.”
Ariadne squirmed. Despite the situation, he was still a man and it would be highly inappropriate to take his clothes off. That, too, when he remained unconscious and was in no state to give his consent.
“It’s not the time to blush,” Emma said. That statement jolted Ariadne to action. She would treat him not as a man, but as her patient. Besides she was no prissy maiden.
Ariadne nodded. Putting her apprehensions aside, she set to the task. She first took off his shoes and socks, both of which were soaked. And then she sat down next to him on the bed and started to take his cravat off. The action was so intimate that despite herself, her body began to burn and she turned scarlet almost immediately.
The man’s face was scrunched up in a moan. But there was no denying that he was beautiful. Ariadne memorized his sharp features, the straight line of his aquiline jaw, and his thick brows. He was mesmerizing.
“Ariadne, the shirt now. Quick,” Emma said, snapping her back to reality. She nodded as her fingers dropped to his shirt now. Her breath hitched as his bare skin came into view. Ariadne had never seen a man naked before. She didn’t know what to expect but it was definitely not the smooth planes of his chest. He was bare except for a small tuft of hair on his chest.
He wasn’t as well built as one of those men that she had seen work at the factories. The stranger was tall and lithe and his skin unmarred and untouched by poverty and hard work. But the sinewy lines that wove through his shoulder and down his abdomen made it clear that this man was strong too. Only it was the quiet kind.
The thought made her angry. What must it be like to have your whole life handed to you?
She turned back to Emma. “Please leave me be. I need to work alone.” Emma nodded and left with Leda, closing the door behind her.
Ariadne turned back to the stranger and began to work. With the help of a heated blade, she cauterized the wound so that pus wouldn’t grow around the wound, making things worse. Then she cleaned the wound with soft strokes. The man hissed as she continued to work but didn’t wake up.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” she said even though she knew he couldn’t hear her. “It will pain you just for a moment.”
Thankfully her father was always prepared for emergencies and had kept water and gauges tucked under a box beside his desk. Ariadne rummaged through it and brought out everything she needed. And then with careful precision, she stitched the wound together and pressed the gauge on it.
When she looked up, he was staring at her. That startled her and she stood up. But no—he wasn’t actually looking at her. His eyes were cloudy and unfocused. And then he fell back unconscious again.
She left the room after making sure he was indeed asleep. The hinge almost came off in her hand. Everything about this flat was slowly falling apart. It was probably irony for the state of their life itself.
“What happened to him?” Leda asked with concern evident in her voice.
Ariadne shrugged. “I found him beside the street, unconscious. He must have gotten into a bad fight.”
“But what was he doing here at night? He doesn’t belong here.”
The question had occurred to Ariadne as well. Rich men like him wearing the finest set of clothes she had ever seen didn’t usually make their way into slums unless they were quite desperate. All sorts of trade went down here. But she doubted someone like him would be involved in all that. But then again, what did she know of him?
“Do you have any idea who he is?”
“No,” Ariadne said. “But I assume we will know soon enough.”
Ariadne walked to the basin to clean herself off the mud. Leda stood next to her as she washed her hands. The clothes were too dirty and would simply have to be changed.
“You must be hungry. Let me get you something to eat.”
Ariadne realized that she was, in fact, starving. Emma brought her a small plate with chunks of bread and some porridge. She ate in silence as Leda spoke. With her blonde hair and alabaster skin, she never failed to garner attention while Ariadne was silent and content to stay where nobody would notice her. She was no great beauty and with her plain and common features, easily dismissed by people.
“There’s a man on Papa’s bed,” Leda said as if she almost couldn’t believe herself. “Do we know who he is?”
Ariadne shook her head. She recounted the details of how she had found him. “Maybe he’s a prince and he’s here to sweep us off our feet and carry us into his world.”
Ariadne rolled her eyes. Trust her sister to make romantic notions out of air. The two sisters couldn’t be more different. “We don’t even know who he is.”
“Well at least, he’s rich. Have you seen his shoes? Those alone will fetch us dinner for at least a year,” Leda said. This was true. His clothes were fine too. Ariadne blushed at the thought of the stranger’s naked skin. She had touched him. She had felt the pulse beneath his skin. Even though he was only feverish, Ariadne felt the heat scandalous.
Emma came into the room, clutching her shawl to herself. “Is he all right now?”
“He seems to be passed out for now.”
“You have your mother’s spirit and I see so many parts of her in you.” Emma held Ariadne’s cheeks fondly. “Ever brave, ever kind.”
Ariadne didn’t remember her mother anymore. Emma had raised her but the thought of her being even slightly like her late mother brought immense joy to her.
“Are you going to stay beside him?”
Ariadne nodded. Someone needed to keep an eye on him. She quickly changed into her nightgown and went back to her father’s room. The flame of the candle placed beside the table cast an orange glow on the stranger on her father’s bed.
Ariadne brought over an old wicker chair and placed it beside the window, a few feet away from him so as to not disturb him. She was almost drifting away to sleep when the stranger’s moan woke her up. She rushed to him and found beads of sweat rolling down his forehead. Ariadne sat down beside him and rubbed at it.
Her other hand that was placed beside him suddenly moved and she found his fingers intertwined in it. Her touch seemed to have given him some comfort. She looked up to see if he was conscious, but he didn’t appear to be so. Ariadne looked down at their clasped hands. Heat rushed through her body at the contact. She flexed instinctively to feel more of his skin that was smooth under her touch. His hand swallowed her tiny one. For some reason, this felt more intimate than taking his clothes off. It was nothing like touching her sister, Emma, or someone else.
He was probably having a nightmare. Not willing to break their contact, she lay down beside his bed on the floor, arranging the blanket around her. This was going to be a difficult night.
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