The Elusive Bride

By: Stephanie Laurens

Dear Diary,

I have waited for so long and will admit that I had fallen into the habit of imagining it would never happen, that now that it might have, I find myself rather cautious. Is this what my sisters meant when they said I would simply know? Certainly, my stomach and my nerves proved to be singularly sensitive to Major Hamilton’s nearness, but how reliable is that indicator?

Until I know more about Major Hamilton, I cannot know if he is “the one”—my “one,” the gentleman for me—so my most urgent need is to learn more about him, but from whom?

And I need to spend more time with him, too—but how?

I must devote myself to finding ways—I have only a few days left.

And after all these years of waiting for him to appear and coming all this way before meet-ing him, sailing away and leaving my “one” behind just doesn’t bear thinking about.

E.





Prologue




September 2, 1822

Road from Poona to Bombay

Ul-ul-ul-ul-ul!”

The battle cries of their pursuers faded momentarily as Emily Ensworth and her escort thundered around the next bend. Gaze locked on the beaten surface of the dirt road, she concentrated on urging her mare even faster—on fleeing down the mountain road as if her life depended on it.

She suspected it did.

They were halfway down the hill road from Poona, the monsoon capital for the upper echelons of the British governing Bombay. Bombay itself was still hours of hard riding ahead. About them, the usually serene beauty of the hills, with their majestic firs and cool crisp air, was again fractured by the ululations of the riders pursuing them.

She’d got a good look at them earlier. Clad in traditional native garb, their insignia was a black silk scarf wound about their heads, long ends flying as, swords flashing, they’d charged wildly in their wake.

Their pursuers were Black Cobra cultists. She’d heard the grisly tales, and had no wish to feature in the next horrific installment.

She and her escort, led by young Captain MacFarlane, had fled at a flat gallop, yet somehow the cultists had closed the distance. She’d initially felt confident she and the troop could outrun them; she was no longer so sure.

Captain MacFarlane rode alongside her. Her eyes locked on the sharply descending road, she sensed him glance back, then, a moment later, he glanced at her. She was about to snap that she was an accomplished rider, as he should by now have noticed, when he looked ahead and pointed.

“There!” MacFarlane waved at his lieutenant. “Those two rocks on the next stretch. With two others I can hold them back long enough for Miss Ensworth and the rest of you to reach safety.”

“I’ll stay with you!” the lieutenant shouted across Emily’s head. “Binta and the others can carry on with the memsahib.”

The memsahib—Emily—stared at the rocks in question. Two tall, massive boulders, they framed the road, with the sheer cliff face on one side, and an equally sheer drop on the other. She was no general, but while three men might delay their pursuers, they’d never hold them back.

“No!” She glanced at MacFarlane while they continued to thunder on. “We all of us stay, or we all of us go on.”

Blue eyes narrowed on her face. His jaw set. “Miss Ensworth, I’ve no time to argue. You will go on with the bulk of the troop.”

Of course she argued, but he wouldn’t listen.

So complete was his ignoring of her words that she suddenly realized he knew he wouldn’t survive. That he’d die—here on this road—and it wouldn’t be a pretty death.

He’d accepted that.

His bravery stunned her, rendered her silent as, reaching the rocks, they pulled up, milling as MacFarlane snapped out orders.

Then he reached over, grabbed her bridle, and drew her on down the road.

“Here.” Drawing a folded parchment packet from inside his coat, he thrust it into her hand. “Take this—get it to Colonel Derek Delborough. He’s at the fort in Bombay.” Blue eyes met hers. “It’s vital you place that in his hands—his and no others. Do you understand?”

Numb, she nodded. “Colonel Delborough, at the fort.”

“Right. Now ride!” He slapped her mare’s rump.

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