Brambles and Thorns
Elena Bellwood’s life is thrown into chaos when her mother dies and leaves her penniless. She is forced to move from her beloved home in New York City to live with an aunt in Connecticut—an aunt she never knew existed. During her journey north, she meets Benjamin Garrick, a blunt-spoken gentleman with a strange hobby. Against her will, Elena finds herself attracted to his manly demeanor, and she is both pleased and flustered to learn he is a close friend of her aunt and lives in the same village.
In her new life with Aunt Rosalie, Elena begins to question her past. Why had she never been told of her aunt? What is the significance of the odd items she found in her mother’s bedroom? Who is the stranger in town that seems always to be staring at her? To answer these questions, Elena must explore past secrets that tear apart her world.
“Willa!” she cried. “Look what you’ve done!” While the gentleman assisted Willa, Elena gathered her belongings and stuffed them into the valise. The effort caused her to become splattered with mud, and her temper rose in proportion to the abatement of her dignity.
As she attempted to brush off her dress, she became aware that the gentleman was staring at her. She faced him and his angry dark eyes.
“Madam,” he said coldly, “I do not know your city of origin, but if you are an example of its inhabitants, they are a heartless set of beings.”
Elena gave him an icy glare and pulled her eyes away, too shocked to reply. Hoisting her valise, she said, “Come, Willa,” and turned to move away. The gentleman, to her utter amazement, reached out and seized her arm.
“Will you have the goodness, madam, to take notice that this young lady has injured herself?”
Elena jerked her arm away, but she looked at Willa, who was on her feet but leaning heavily on the gentleman.
“Willa, are you indeed injured? I did not realize…”
“It is nothing, Miss Bellwood. If the gentleman could assist me to the boat, I’m sure I will be well in a few minutes.”
“I believe you have sprained your ankle,” said the gentleman. “You must allow me to carry you. Your…friend…can manage the valises.”
With that, he picked Willa up in his arms and bore her effortlessly across the slippery terrain to the longboat. Without ceremony, he deposited her on a forward bench. He made no attempt to assist Elena with the bags, and Elena with a great effort gathered them in her arms and struggled toward the boat.
Good lord, these bags were far too heavy for one person. I’ve been very cruel in not helping Willa with them.
While the gentleman assisted Willa to place her injured ankle in a comfortable position, a young sailor came forward to help with the bags, but just as he had almost reached Elena, her feet hit a patch of wet ice, and she tumbled to the ground. She cried out as she found herself sprawled on the ground with the valises spread about her. She had landed in a cold puddle, and mud, freezing water, and shards of ice were all over her.
The gentleman immediately rushed to her and with the help of the sailor lifted her to her feet. She was not injured, she immediately realized, but her dignity was shattered, and her only thought at that moment was the necessity of sitting down somewhere and crying her eyes out.
Willa stumbled from the boat to assist her mistress and, shrieking from the sudden pain in her leg, staggered against the side of the craft and clung there. The gentleman knew not whether to drop one lady to rescue the other or hold onto the one already in his arms, but the sailor declared, “I’ll get ’er!” and ran to Willa.
In a few moments, both young women were in the boat. They were thoroughly embellished with mud, and Elena’s face was scratched and abraded, while Willa’s ankle was rapidly swelling. The sailor stowed the valises, after the gentleman, to Elena’s mortification, had scooped up her silk chemises and pantalettes, which had once again escaped when she fell, and stuffed them back into her valise.
Elena dragged a wet handkerchief from her reticule and swabbed her face, swiping mud across her forehead. The gentleman smiled and turned away while Willa solicitously applied her own handkerchief to her mistress’s face. Two wet handkerchiefs were insufficient, and the gentleman was in the act of searching for his own in the pockets of his greatcoat, when the sailor solved the problem by producing a soft linen towel.
“This is a horse towel, ma’am, but it be a clean one.”
In ordinary circumstances, Elena would have spoken sharp words to anyone offering her a horse towel to wipe her face, but she eagerly accepted it. Having thoroughly cleaned her hands and face, she felt better and, ashamed of her previous unkindness to Willa, applied the towel gently to the dabs of mud on the maid’s face.
Her temper and self-control restored, Elena turned to the men and attempting a smile said, “I am grateful to both of you for your kind assistance. It would please me to know your names.”