Banish the Dragon
Forced to choose an English bride, Simon Radcliffe marries the beautiful Katherine Maguire but it's his cousin Jonathan who saves Katherine, time and again, from ravishment. Months later, the marriage annulled, Katherine travels from Seven Oaks Plantation to Carlyle, New York, where she finds love and Jonathan Radcliffe, slayer of dragons.
Two men met in a small village, too distant to be swallowed up by the ever-expanding city of London. The day, cold and gloomy, mirrored the mood of the two as together they approached the beckoning warmth of the alehouse. Pushing the heavy wooden door open, the two eyed those already gathered together for their evening pint and a chance to exchange views on the vagaries of life. An inviting fire crackled in the hearth, the flames dancing wildly as a small gust of wind blew across the room at the opening of the portal.
A momentary lull in a myriad of conversations fell over the smoke-filled room as the shorter of the two strangers stepped hesitantly inside, pausing briefly in the doorway. Good-natured glances containing only mild curiosity were directed at the new arrivals, for the villagers were accustomed to travelers halting temporarily in their quiet hamlet. Finding nothing noteworthy about either, the villagers soon returned to the business of enjoying their ale and the camaraderie of their fellow merrymakers.
Lord Talbot, a portly figure of a man, stepped forward into the dimly lit room, brushing fussily at the droplets of rain on his woolen cloak. A ruddy complexion overpowered his thinning ginger-colored hair and wispy moustache. Pale eyes swept the room, seeking a private corner and, upon spying such a nook, haughtily beckoned the daunting figure who waited, unmoving, behind him. He struck out across the room, weaving his way through the closely packed benches and tables until he reached the corner he sought, hoping the whole distasteful business could be conducted without interruption.
Tall and imposing, the second man lingered in the doorway a moment before following his companion. He absently used his hat to brush away the raindrops that still clung to his cloak, revealing a head of blond curls and an arrogant expression on his handsome face, dominated by cold blue eyes. He surveyed his surroundings and, finding nothing untoward, crossed the room, carrying himself with an air of nonchalant grace. Broad shoulders and long legs completed the picture of a man not to be trifled with.
The remoteness of their scarred table discouraged the rowdier patrons from attempting to join their hushed conversation, should any of them have been so inclined, and both men felt safeguarded from anyone imprudent enough to eavesdrop. A nod to the tavern keeper soon had a bottle of wine delivered to their table by a buxom barmaid who, although long past the age of comeliness, still entertained a distant hope of earning a shilling or two from either of the two richly garbed gentlemen. Coins were paid for the bottle and the disappointed barmaid was curtly dismissed as the two fell into earnest conversation, oblivious to the raucous din of the room.
The older of the two peered apprehensively at the younger man, nervously licking his thin, dry lips before speaking.
“Now sir, I have spoken to my wife and she, well, let me just say only that she went into transports of joy when I explained your dilemma.” The blond head nodded slightly but offered no other encouragement. Stuttering nervously, Lord Talbot continued. “I told her only of your urgent need of a wife. I, ah, well, I made no mention of how we came to meet—nor shall I. And I am trusting you, sir, on your word as a gentleman, to return my markers, discretely mind you, once the marriage vows are spoken.”
Having finished speaking, Lord Talbot mopped his damp brow with a wrinkled handkerchief. His face had taken on an even pinker hue than the one he normally exhibited, and through thinning strands of hair, beads of perspiration could be seen, despite the relative coolness of their poorly lit corner. His pudgy fingers toyed nervously with wispy strands of his moustache as he waited on the younger man’s reply.
The blond head, after slight deliberation, wordlessly nodded his agreement. In the dim light, Lord Talbot could barely discern the younger man’s eyes, but as he had already gazed into their icy blue depths in a London gaming room four days prior, he was reluctant to be regarded again in so chilling a manner. Again mopping his brow, he leaned back, satisfied with the precise presentation of his proposal, having rehearsed it repeatedly on the long ride from Marlow Court to the city. He had suffered a sense of panic when at first he couldn’t locate the man but as the day progressed, he had chanced upon the Yankee’s cousin, who had directed him onward, and now here they were and the deal was all but done.