Known to some as Gentleman Jack and others as Swift Nick, Jack Nevison preys on the wealthy, stealing coin (and the occasional kiss) on England’s darkest roads. Jack’s dangerous deeds are legend but the thrill of a highwayman’s life is growing cold–until he meets the intrepid travel writer and spinster, Arabella Hamilton.
Beautiful and bold, Arabella may come from the world Jack despises but she’s a kindred spirit at heart. When circumstances bring them together the sparks ignite–yet they remain on opposite sides of society and the law and with each encounter they risk more. To be together, will one of them have to give up their world forever?
The adventures and exploits of real-life highwayman Swift Nick and the observations of 17th century travel writer Celia Fiennes are woven throughout this tale–which takes the reader from the privileged world of London’s aristocracy to the highways and byways, inns and hunting grounds of some of England’s most celebrated rogues. I hope you will enjoy it, and think it worth the wait.
I can find my own way home from here, Jack. I don’t need to be fetched and escorted about,” Arabella said as he took her by the arm and pulled her into a stairwell in the courtyard. She didn’t know why she should feel so out of sorts when home and safety were at last so close at hand, but there was a queer panic in her heart, and she was unaccountably close to tears at the thought of saying goodbye.
“Yes, you do, Arabella. It is safe inside the inn, but you mustn’t travel alone or even walk alone outside it. Trust no one but Nate and Mary. This is a dangerous area. A harbor for thieves and highwaymen, most of whom don’t share my scruples about using violence.” He straightened her collar with his free hand. “They gather here to prey on travelers. The wiser customers meet at the bottom of St. John Street and make their way to the inn in groups under armed guard. Pray put my mind at ease. Stay here for tonight and in the light of day, Nate will find you men you can trust, and see you safely home.”
“Yes of course. You make them sound like fishermen lining the banks when the salmon are ready to run—all of them hoping to snatch a fine fish. You needn’t worry. I shall do as you recommend. It’s rather odd though. Most of my life I’ve felt safe and protected in my father’s halls, but I was often bored and lonely. I’ve never felt as frightened as I have in these past few days, but nor have I ever felt so gloriously alive. No sky has ever been so beautiful. No evening air has smelled as sweet. No ride has been so thrilling.” She looked at him with luminous eyes.
He smiled, and brushed his knuckles gently across her swollen cheek. “Those are dangerous thoughts, Bella.”
“Is danger always so exciting?”
“Yes…to some.” He wrapped his finger around a glistening tendril of her hair and drew it out its full length. “Will you allow me a keepsake of my adventure with the daring Belle de nuit?”
Breathless, she gulped and nodded. A wicked looking dagger appeared, and with a soft snick he cut one long lock, and put it in his pocket. It was a romantic gesture, but it filled her heart with sorrow. Soon he would be lost to the night, and something wonderful would come to a close. She didn’t want him to remember her. You remembered what was gone. She wanted this night to never end. She wanted him to stay.
“I suppose I should give you back your coat.” It was all she could think to say.
“That’s not necessary, Bella. Keep it. Let it keep you warm.”
But she was already struggling out of it. The coat was far too big for her and her arm caught in her sleeve as she tried to shrug it off.
“Here. Let me help,” he said with a low chuckle. The struggle to free her arm drew her closer, and his low laugh cut off abruptly as their eyes caught and held.
I thought his eyes dark and shadowed, but now they are amber in the torch light. At times, it almost seems like they’re aflame. Arabella was intensely aware of his parted lips, the feel of his fingers wrapped around her upper arm, and the rise and fall of his chest, just inches from hers. She watched, mesmerized, as he lowered his head toward her, holding her breath as he nuzzled the curve of her shoulder and neck. His breath was warm against her ear, sending shivers through her body, and she turned into him. His eyes gleamed and she made no protest as he lowered his mouth to hers. His kiss was careful, gentle, mindful of her bruises, but it thrilled her to her toes.
Heedless of all the lessons she’d been taught, she stood up on her toes, wrapped her arms around his neck, and hesitant, curious…she kissed him back. He groaned and hugged her tight against him, backing her into the wall, the fingers of one hand threading through her hair as his mouth claimed hers in a heated caress. Her lips, already swollen and tender, ached with pain and pleasure. The feel of him pressed against her, his arms around her…made her forget all else. She didn’t want it to stop, she didn’t want him to leave, and she sighed when he finally pulled away.
“My apologies, Lady Hamilton,” he said with a shaky laugh.
“Please don’t do that.”
“Do what? Kiss you?”
“Please don’t apologize. That was my first kiss, Jack. Do you regret it?”
His lips curled in a slight smile and he caught her chin between thumb and forefinger. “A starry night, a lady brave and bold, a first kiss. You have been an adventure well worth the risk, Bella, and I don’t regret a thing.”
The way he said her name warmed her like a caress. “I owe you so much. How can I ever repay you?”
“Come and find me if they ever catch me, and give me a kiss to warm my soul before I hang.” He brushed her bruised lips with a kiss as soft as a whisper, and she stepped fully into his embrace.
His fingers traced her neckline with a delicate touch, leaving shivers of sensation that rippled through her body and made her nipples ache and harden as if from the cold. He caressed her collarbone, and then spread his hand wide and slipped it under the cool rope of her necklace, to lie warm against her skin. Her heart thrummed beneath his palm. He deepened his kiss as his fingers toyed with the faintly glowing moonlit strand encircling her throat. Traveling its length, his knuckles brushing the tender skin peeping from her modest décolletage to linger a moment, barely touching, just below her ear.
He felt her tremble. He felt a moment of knee-weakening lust, surprising tenderness, and unexpected regret, and then he plucked her necklace from her neck, and dropped it in his pocket.
“Jack?” She stared at him in stunned surprise, clutching her throat. “What are you doing? That was my mother’s!”
“I warned you, Bella. I am a highwayman.” He let out a piercing whistle and Bess came galloping, with Nate not far behind. “Keep her safe, Nate,” he called as he caught the swift moving mare by the mane and swung easily onto her back. Wheeling about to face Arabella, he bowed from the waist and tipped his hat with a flourish. “Adieu, Bella! Until we meet again.” The black horse reared up, taking several steps backwards, and then leapt forward. A moment later horse and rider were swallowed by the night.
Arabella stood there, staring into the dark. She could hear the bustle from the inn behind her. Someone was playing a fiddle. An argument was growing heated on an upper floor. A carriage rumbled by on the road behind her and somebody slammed a door. They were ordinary sounds on an ordinary night. She felt for her necklace, but both it and her highwayman were gone. I have just awoken from a dream. Her overwhelming feeling was one of loss.
AUTHOR BIO: Judith James, award-winning author of IPPY gold medalist BROKEN WING, Historical Novels Reviews Top Choice and Barnes and Nobles best of the year HIGHLAND REBEL, and Booklist starred reviewed and Romantic Times 2010 best book nominee LIBERTINE’S KISS, is an avid reader and history buff who grew up in Montreal Quebec. She is a bit of an adventure junkie and has travelled, worked and lived in many places, including the Arctic, Ireland, London and France.
Variously employed as a trail guide, horse trainer, and clinical psychologist, she’s had the opportunity to live out many of her dreams. She has found the perfect place to write on the East Coast, with a view of the ocean from her window. Judith’s writing combines her love of history, romance and adventure with her keen interest in the complexities of human nature, and the heart’s capacity to heal.
She is currently getting ready to publish her Rakes and Rogues of the Restoration series. If you haven’t met them yet, catch up with the libertine, William de Veres and his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth Walters in Libertine’s Kiss. Meet the soldier and the courtesan in Soldiers of Fortune, previously known as The King’s Courtesan and prepare to be swept away by The Highwayman, a story based on the real highwayman Swift Nick and inspired by the intrepid 17th century traveler and journalist Celia Fiennes.
Ms James is always pleased to hear from fellow readers and writers and invites you to visit her on Facebook, her webpage or on twitter.