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A fiery lass is stolen from her poor life among the dreary streets of old London and taken to a new world among the landed gentry of Scotland. The person who stole her is the aristocratic Lord Moray, a man of hidden secrets and lustful desires. His allure pulls her close to him even as she tries desperately to push him away. Her will slips away as his scent calls to her, and soon she finds herself in a most sinful position.
I was but eighteen winters when I was stolen from my life and taken to that far-off Scottish highland. It was there I met my lord, love, and mate.
But I am ahead of my story. My first seventeen winters were as harsh as any in those days. I was born and grew up in the lower streets of London where the cobblestones were nearly as ancient as Rome and the houses slightly less so. My parents both died of the plague when I was young, and I was left alone in the world to fend for myself. The Black Death left a great hole to fill in some quarters so I was apprenticed early to a seamstress. She taught me some very valuable lessons, not least of which that cruelty can come at the hands of woman and man alike.
By my fifteenth year I had abandoned her strong, uncaring hand and found myself in the employ of a tailor who was less cruel and who paid me for my services better than she. My salary covered my expenses in one of the most squalid houses in all of London.
I shared the single room with two other young women who also worked in shops. Our alliance was only through necessity, and each of us lived our own lives separate from one another but for that single drab room.
I was still employed in the tailor shop when my eighteenth birthday came and passed. The occasion was marked by none except myself, but that was my life. My only regret was that I had not yet found a companion, a husband, who might take me from my drudgery and give me a better life.
Little did I realize how abruptly my wish would come true.
The evening of my wish was like any other. The last of the grimy sun faded an hour thence and the street lamps outside were lit by the spry lamp lighters with their long sticks. The tailor shop was small, but two rooms downstairs, and the upper floor occupied by the tailor and his family.
“There you are, Mrs. Moore,” Mr. Maher, the tailor, spoke up as he handed over a boxed package to the large, middle-aged woman. “I am sure you will be the bell of the New Year’s Ball.”
Mrs. Moore looked down her long, peaked nose at the box in her hands. “We shall see. The last dress you made for me had a stitch off in the shoulder.”
Her eyes flickered to me as I sat in my corner in the back room toiling away at a shirt for a gentleman. I am sure she blamed me for the mistake, but little did she know the tailor himself had personally sewed her last dress. It was I who had sewed the one now in her hands.
“And I assure you that mistake will never happen again,” he promised.
“Indeed, or I shall expect my money returned,” she huffed.
Mr. Maher smiled and skirted around the counter in front of the back room entrance. “Of course, Mrs. Moore, of course,” he replied as he led Mrs. Moore to the door and opened it for her. “Come again any time for a repair and we will welcome you with open arms.”
A cool wintry wind swept into the shop. Mrs. Moore shivered and wrapped her fine cool coat closer to herself. “I will expect it,” she snapped as she stepped outside.
“And a merry Christmas and happy New Year to you!” Mr. Maher called after her.
Mrs. Moore didn’t reply, but neither did he give her much chance. He shut the door and turned to me with a scowl etched onto his lips. Mr. Maher marched up to the desk and slammed his receipt book closed.
“A fine woman that is,” he spat.
Here was the true Maher, a man little in love with his choice of occupation but with no way to escape his fate. He shoved the receipt book beneath the counter and pocketed the money from the till.
“That is work enough, Abigail,” he called to me. “You had best be off to home.”
“Yes, sir,” I answered as I set down my needle and the shirt. The work was half finished. In another few days it would be a fine silk shirt.
Mr. Maher eyed me in a strange fashion as I wrapped my robust figure in my slim cloak. I was not slim by any means, but my limited means meant I was not fat. I could only say I was large-boned and not particularly ugly, but nor was I handsome.
Mr. Maher cleared his throat. “Business will be slow for a few days until after New Years,” he warned me. That day was a fortnight into December. “I think I shan’t need you for three weeks hence.”
My eyes widened. “For so long?” I gasped.
He sighed and shook his head. “It can’t be helped. Some are behind on their payments, and others have put off their orders until the new year. All that is left to do is the shirt, and I can finish that myself.”
This was very dire news for me. My weekly salary barely covered my expenses, and now I would be three weeks without even that meager sum. Still, there was no use arguing the point. I would have to make do some way.
I pursed my lips. “I see. . .” I murmured.
“It is only three weeks,” he reminded me. Mr. Maher dug into his pocket and removed a few coins. He pressed them into my hand as he led me o the doorway. “Here is a little to help you. It isn’t much, but-”
I pushed the money against his chest. “You needn’t give me any money, Mr. Maher. I’ll get by,” I insisted.
He smiled and shook his head. “It isn’t given, but earned. You have finished enough of the shirt that I feel you have done all the work, and for that I will pay you. Please take it.”
I returned his smile and grasped the money against my chest as I stepped backwards into the cool, dark street. “Thank you, and God bless.”
Mr. Maher bowed his head. “God bless, and have a merry holidays.”
I turned away from the tiny shop and Mr. Maher shut the door behind me. I looked down at the few coins in my hand and sighed. They would not cover my rent, but they would help alleviate my suffering with a bit of food.
I pocketed the coins and moved down the street. The small tailor shop was set on a narrow side street that curved in both directions. I directed my steps to the right and hurried down the dark, lonely street. A soft snow fell from the gray sky and blanketed the world in a clean cloth. My footprints behind me were all that marred the white beauty. I shivered and wrapped my thin cloak closer to my body. Though I worked for a tailor I wore a thin, ragged old dress that was hardly fit for church.
I stepped onto a busier street where throngs of people walked to and fro on their way home for supper. Many ignored me as I paused beside a lamp post. A few handsomes whisked by filled with well-to-do businessmen in their white wigs and silk breeches. I heard their laughter as the wheels of their fast handsomes kicked up mud. A wheel flew past close beside where I stood, and a thin wave of dirty water splashed onto my cloak. I looked down at the muddy damage and whipped my head up to scowl at the careless driver.
That was when I noticed a strange carriage. The body of the vehicle was normal enough with a door on either side and a box on the front. A single black horse pulled the carriage, and a driver cloaked completely in black sat atop the box. I could not see his face for his head was well wrapped in a scarf.
The strange part about the carriage was the four lamps that hung on the four corners of the body. They were shaped like table lamps with the bottom and top as rounded chambers, and they gave out paltry light. The bottom chamber held the candle, and the top held a glass orb from which a perfume of sorts poured out the narrow top. The horse sauntered down the street and allowed the perfume to waft over both sides of the road.
I caught a whiff of the scent and found it pleasing. It was the scent of a cedar forest on a hot summer day when one was grateful for a soft breeze. Such an image was most peculiar for me for I had hardly any idea of the smell of a cedar tree, nor had I ever set foot in a forest except the one of stone and man that surrounded me even then. The carriage rolled down the street and I took in another whiff of the heavenly scent.
It was then that a maddening thought entered my mind. I had to follow the carriage. I could not lose sight nor scent of the vehicle. The carriage rounded a corner at the far end of the street. Heedless of my actions, I followed its trail onward to my fate.