Last Chance -- Available Now
Chances Are Series --
Tortured by memories of things he’s done and witnessed while protecting the helpless and saving lives, Mr. Silas Green relinquishes his post with the Royal Navy to fulfill his father’s dying wish by escorting his sisters to their mother’s Scottish homeland.
A bit in awe of Mr. Green, the man who rescued her from being sold into slavery, Miss Celeste Young also senses his soul-deep pain. When he asks her to become a companion to his blind sister and accompany his family on a journey, Celeste seizes the opportunity to escape London and the men eagerly seeking to become her protector.
The undeniable attraction between Silas and Celeste develops into a tender friendship. The more time they spend together, the more his torturous memories ease and his pain lessens. But dangerous secrets await them in Scotland. When Celeste’s life is threatened, it is up to Silas to save her or lose his last chance at love.
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Ipswich, England ~ Summer 1826
Hell was not for the dead, but for the living.
Silas Green had witnessed the degradation of society, the torture of slavery, and mankind at its worst. To him, Hell did not exist in some other realm; rather it surrounded him each and every day.
And right now, in this carriage jostling down a grassy trail, he sat in a different kind of Hell.
Hell was mayhap a bit extreme, but at present he definitely resided in Purgatory. Atoning for his sins, for all the times he’d spent bedding women, for acts he’d knowingly committed and admittedly reveled in.
Miss Celeste Young, the reason for his discomfort, sat across from him. After being cooped up in this carriage with her for six hours, he’d sell his soul to Lucifer just to touch her, to confirm her skin felt as soft as it appeared, to feel the silkiness of her brunette hair, to learn if her lips against his would take his dead soul to Heaven.
Silas shook his head, trying to clear it. He was not this deprived. He’d only been at sea for two months.
During the carriage ride today, he’d mostly listened to Miss Young and his sister, Brianna, joining the conversation only when directly spoken to.
“Do you believe so, Silas?” Brianna asked.
He nodded. “I think you are right. It is safe for you to return to Coleman’s.”
She’d resided at Coleman’s School for the Blind the last fourteen years, until a few months ago when one of the students was kidnapped. Silas rode hide for leather to get to Brianna and remove her from the school so she, too, would not be abducted.
“Oh, how wonderful.” His sister seemed most eager. At times it was almost eerie how her sightless green eyes showed expressiveness. “After we visit Father, will you see me back?”
Damn. Their father had other plans for her, yet Silas refused to be the bearer of that news. “Whatever you wish.”
Brianna turned toward Miss Young. “What will you do when I go back to school, dear? Where will you find work?”
Work? Would she prefer to work rather than find another protector?
Hiring Miss Young as Brianna’s companion might seem unorthodox to most people considering she’d once been Sir Roderick’s mistress. But after Miss Young’s rescue from nearly being sold into slavery, Malcolm Westbourne, Silas’s former captain, implored him to hire her. And since Silas’s return yesterday, Brianna had not stopped singing the companion’s praises.
“Do not worry over me,” Miss Young insisted.
“Perhaps you can find employ at Coleman’s,” Brianna said brightly.
Silas scowled. “Don’t they have mostly blind employees?”
“That is true. I plan to work there next year.” Brianna gingerly reached out, and when she found Miss Young’s shoulder she patted it. “We will find you something.”
How could his sister sound so certain? If Miss Young truly understood how the world worked, she would use her unparalleled beauty to secure her safety. Many men would offer their estates to have her as a mistress.
Silas never kept a paramour, not when there were willing females in every port and town. Yet after spending time with Miss Young, he might actually have considered asking her to sign a contract if she and Brianna had not formed such a close friendship. Plus, and he hated to admit it, he was unsure if he possessed the funds to support a mistress. For years he’d been in the Royal Navy. He often returned to London and Ipswich to check on his family, but had no idea the condition of the estate’s finances. He’d paid Miss Young out of his personal accounts since hiring her, and he could live comfortably on his saved earnings until he joined a business venture with his friends Malcolm Westbourne and Zachery Derby.
Miss Young peered out the window and sighed. Her bodice tightened the slightest bit around her...
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
Yes, this carriage grew hotter each moment, resembling Hell more and more.
He should have visited Mrs. Vick’s elite establishment prior to climbing into this godforsaken carriage. Then at least his body would be relaxed and sated.
Silas glanced at Miss Young’s profile. Who did he think he was hoodwinking? He would still want her. As if sensing his gaze, Miss Young turned his way. Her sherry-colored eyes met his and a smile touched her lips.
He felt a jolt low in his abdomen.
“I cannot thank you enough for allowing me the opportunity to become Miss Brianna’s companion these last months. I do hope to find another position as a companion, or possibly a governess.” So she did intend to find employ instead of searching for a protector.
“It is I who must thank you. I never once worried about her welfare while gone.”
“Silas, you must write a letter recommending her for employment to anyone interested in hiring her,” Brianna urged.
“Certainly. I will have it ready before we leave Ipswich.”
The sun stabbed between the clouds and rained in through the window, catching streaks of blonde in Miss Young’s brunette hair. How he wanted to reach out and capture the loose tendril hanging next to her cheek.
Returning focus to his sister, Silas switched the conversation back to her. “Brie, did you have many visitors while staying at the London townhouse?”
Brianna laughed. “I daresay we both did. Most were interested in learning more about Celeste and her reasons for becoming my companion. Tell him about the men, dear. About the flowers.”
A hint of a blush colored the companion’s cheeks. “It was nothing, really.”
Her expression appeared shy and introverted, not the confident look of a courtesan. Being Sir Roderick’s mistress should have infused her backbone with stiff solitude. She must have had propositions from half the men in London, yet she shied just now. Her actions did not make sense.
“Nothing? You are calling love sick men stumbling over themselves nothing?” Brianna folded her hands together in her lap. “After we attended Lady Drake’s ball, we were inundated with callers. So much so, we moved to Celeste’s townhouse to escape them. There we were still visited by many, but not hounded so badly.”
“Unless you consider Mr. James,” Miss Young added.
Ah, Mr. James. Silas wondered when the man’s name would come up. Mr. James made no secret of his interest in pursuing a relationship with Brianna. Five years older than Brie, he taught at Coleman’s. James’s sister was blind, and he claimed to always want to work with others with the same affliction. However, the man clearly wanted to do more than work with Brie.
“And what did Mr. James want?” he asked.
“He seemed extremely curious as to when Miss Brianna would return to Coleman’s,” Miss Young playfully said. “I believe his comment was that the days proved endless without her about.”
Brie’s neck and face blazed red.
Silas grinned, enjoying the fact Brie had someone to tease and talk with.
Miss Young made a dramatic gasp. “He seemed forlorn to leave the premises each day.”
“Each day?” Silas reiterated.
“Oh, yes.” Humor ran in Miss Young’s voice.
Brie inhaled. “Each blasted day.” That caused her and her companion to laugh.
He smiled at their easy interaction. Miss Young’s lightheartedness reached inside of him, making his chest feel lighter. Giving his soul a reprieve from the darkness he’d experienced.
“Please do not misunderstand. I am fond of Mr. James.” Brie bit her thumb. “But his visits seemed rather excessive.”
The carriage stopped, and Silas peeked out the window to see his father’s grey-bricked home. He flung the carriage door open and jumped down. After helping Brie descend the steps, he reached out to Miss Young. Her gloved hand smoothly slid into his, and she raised her foot over the carriage doorway.
Suddenly, her body plummeted toward the ground. She squealed.
Silas quickly stepped forward, wrapped his arms around her waist, and pulled her body against his. Her frantic breaths struck his neck.
He was back in Hell. And if this be what it entailed, he wished the devil would take him now. With her body pressed to his and her face buried in his neck, he never wanted to be anywhere else. He breathed deeply, catching the same scent that plagued him in the carriage. It wasn’t overpowering, but subtle, exotic, and alluring—different than any perfume he’d ever smelled.
“What happened?” Brie frowned.
Miss Young held on to him for another three heartbeats and finally looked up. Their gazes locked. For seconds they stared at each other. Finally, her light brown eyes blinked and she released him. Obligated to do the same, he stepped back.
“My shoe caught on the carriage doorway and I toppled out headed straight for the drive. Your brother caught me and saved me from making an arse of myself.” She straightened her dress, the shoulders having slipped down her arms. Some of her hair had fallen and curls now framed her face.
“Where are you when I need you, Silas?” Brie giggled.
“Dear, you make an arse out of yourself too often for me to save you every time.”
Brianna slapped his arm. She had good aim for a blind person.
Miss Young smiled. “Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Green.”
He opened his mouth to answer when Eric approached from the side of the house. The long-time stable master was almost completely grey-haired now. “Lieutenant Green. Miss Brianna. Ye are finally here.”
“Eric, it is good to see you.” He shook the man’s hand. Silas tilted his head to one side, then the other, trying to stretch out the tension held there. “I am no longer a lieut—”
The front door flew open and his father’s most trusted servant rushed out. Well, Hamilton was more than a servant, he—
“Come, Silas. Brianna.” Dressed in black from head to foot, urgency had replaced Hamilton’s normally staid countenance. “You must come quickly. It is your father.”
Silas reached for Brianna’s arm.
“Go ahead. I will bring her,” Miss Young said.
He nodded and followed Hamilton, having to run to keep up. Hamilton uttered, “I only hope it’s not too late.” They scaled the stairs as if rabid hounds chased them.
Hamilton stopped at the top of the stairwell and pointed down the hallway. Father’s bedchamber door stood open. Silas entered to find his sisters, Jean and Lorna, each on a side of the bed, both crying into handkerchiefs. Father lay on the mattress motionless. Lifeless.
The girls looked up and ran to Silas. He held them, each crying on a shoulder. Dr. Montgomery picked up his leather bag, bowed his head as he passed them, and left the room.
Silas’s focus returned to his father. He’d been expecting this day, yet…he swallowed hard. He loved and respected his father, even though they had not agreed on many things.
He kissed his sisters’ heads before leaving them to approach the bed.
His heart pounded in his chest and ears. It wasn’t as if he’d never seen a dead person. Suddenly, images of lifeless faces and bodies bombarded him.
To distract himself, he took inventory of the room. This bedchamber had not changed since he could remember. Decorated in rich colors of green, it housed a mahogany four poster bed, a huge mirrored dresser, and a single nightstand. Two wingback chairs flanked the fireplace in the corner.
Once at the bedside, he closed his eyes and took a fortifying breath, then peered down. His father’s almost bald head looked dull, his skin white, and his cracked lips were blue.
Words eluded him. What did one say to a dead man?
Whispering at the door caught his attention. Lorna and Jean were in front of Brianna and Miss Young, stroking Brianna’s hair and murmuring. Brianna’s coloring had paled, and she still clutched Miss Young’s arm. He cleared his throat as he advanced toward the women. “Brie, would you like to say goodbye?”
“I would.” She held out her hand. He gently placed it on his arm and escorted her toward the bed. “I may be spoiled from living with Celeste and her love of fresh air, but this room is sweltering. And it smells of laudanum, Silas. Heavily.”
“I am sure they administered it for pain. We would not have wanted him to suffer.”
“You are right.” When he stopped, she let go of him. “Can you direct me toward his hand?”
Silas grasped his father’s still warm hand and placed it in Brianna’s. She leaned over and raised it to her face, kissing the back. “May you rest well, Father.” Such a sweet gesture, yet somehow cold. Not cold exactly—more detached. Brianna had lived at Coleman’s for so long Father was more of a figurehead to her. Lorna and Jean, on the other hand, considered him a papa in every way.
“I wish I’d spent more time with him.” Brie straightened, tears hovering on her lids.
He studied his father one last time. When he turned, his other two sisters were at the foot of the bed, both staring at Father.
“Shall we?” He motioned to the doorway and his sisters led him and Brianna out of the room and down the stairs. Miss Young was nowhere to be found.
And why in Hades was he looking for her anyway?
Silas helped Brie into the study and settled her on the settee. While his other sisters found places to sit, he walked to the door and shut it. This study remained his domain whenever he visited Ipswich. Since becoming an adult, he’d felt more contented here than anywhere else in the house. Maybe the feeling came from the familiar paintings on the walls or the various nautical items his father had accumulated while he served in the Royal Navy. Or perhaps the masculinity of the room, the dark red walls and dim lighting, made Silas relax.
“How was he before he passed?” he asked.
Jean’s tears began anew. “Extremely anxious to speak to you.”
It felt as if he’d received a fist to the gut. His father was supposed to tell the girls of their commitment in Scotland. Had he? Or had he left that task to Silas?
“He wrote you two letters. They are on the desk.” Jean turned toward Brie and spoke as if addressing a child. “He also left one for you, Brianna.”
Brie stiffened. “Thank you. I will have Miss Young read it to me later. Speaking of Miss Young, where is she?”
“When you entered Papa’s room, she mentioned something about wanting to see to your things and hurried off.” Lorna wiped her nose with a handkerchief. “I am sure she is giving us time as a family.”
“What of services, Silas?” Jean rubbed her arms like she was cold.
“After I read Father’s letters, I will know if he had any special wishes. However, I assume he would like to be buried quietly with a funeral feast like we did for Mum.”
“When?” Lorna questioned.
“Soon as possible.” Silas glanced at the side table. The brandy called to him, but he ignored the beckoning. He needed to be able to think clearly while reading his father’s letters.
“I would like to freshen up.” Brianna stood.
“Let me help you to your room.” Lorna got to her feet and grasped Brie’s hand.
“Lorna, have you ever noticed how Silas leads me around? I hold on to him, not the other way about. That is easiest for me and the person assisting me.”
“Oh. As you wish.”
“It is not a wish. It is a routine, one that helps me feel comfortable. If you and Jean would have visited Coleman’s you might have learned that technique. It is one of the first things taught to those who are close to sightless people.”
Silas could not fault Brie for finally bringing up the fact neither sister visited Coleman’s, although this did not seem like the appropriate time.
Brie exhaled in a huff. “Is my letter from Father here in the study?”
“How did you know we were in the study?” Jean stood, retrieved the note, and placed it in Brianna’s hand.
“Three clues.” Brianna’s voice rose as she spoke. “One, I did live here and visited over the years, so I do know which way the study is from the stairs. Two, it smells of Father’s tobacco. And three, you mentioned Silas’s letters were on the desk. See how I did that using the powers of deduction. Do you not think a blind person can—”
“Brianna,” Silas quietly reprimanded.
She threw her hands up. “Well, they think I am an idiot.”
“We do not!” both sisters quickly argued.
“Fine. A simpleton, then.” Brie’s voice returned to normal. “I have wants, needs, and dreams, the same as you. I have lived away so long, I do not expect to have a close relationship with either of you, but I am not to be feared or pitied.” She let go of Lorna, walked around the desk, behind the settee, and pulled the bell pull. “I do remember some things around here.”
The girls stood dumfounded. Obviously, Lorna and Jean were surprised at their sister’s words and actions. Brianna appeared both angry and astonished, the latter undoubtedly from finally confronting this issue.
Hamilton entered the room. “Yes?”
“Please ask Miss Young to come to the study.” Brianna’s words were short and clipped. “I am in need of her assistance.”
“Right away.” Hamilton left.
None of the staff was equipped to help Brianna. Indeed, their parents had been mistaken not to employ a person to assist her. Not even when she was a young girl.
Stilted silence hung heavy in the air.
Minutes later, Miss Young arrived at the door in the same lilac gown she’d worn on their trip, having tidied her hair. “May I be of assistance?” she offered.
Brie nodded. “I wish to freshen up.”
Miss Young looked at Silas as she neared Brianna. He gave her an unhelpful shrug. Her eyes widened the slightest bit, yet she kept her face impassive. She reached Brianna, turned toward the door, and placed Brie’s hand on her arm. “This way, dear.”
What a gentle spirit the woman had. He’d witnessed it on their trip.
Brianna tugged Miss Young to a stop at the door and spun around. “Lorna, Jean, how many seasons have you had?”
“Three,” Jean said.
“For three seasons you traveled to London and never once visited me?”
Silas folded his arms over his chest. He refused to get involved in his sisters’ disagreements. He’d already interfered when Brianna lost her temper. It was not his place to make peace between his siblings.
Lorna frowned. “Papa didn’t think it wise.”
“Did he give any reasons why?”
“He only said you would be jealous and didn’t want to upset you.”
“Every season I expected you to at least call on me at Coleman’s.”
Jean stood. “I believe Papa’s intentions were good.”
“And what of your intentions? We are no longer children. Did either of you ever think to visit me?”
Lorna let out a heavy sigh. “We might turn that question back on you, Brianna. You stopped visiting Ipswich four years ago.”
“True. I did not belong here.”
“Perhaps we did not belong at Coleman’s.”
“Touché.” Brie turned, grasped Miss Young’s arm, and they left the room.
“Someone should get that bee out of her arse.” Jean walked to the side table and poured herself a glass of brandy.
“Maybe Papa was wrong and we should have visited her.” Lorna took Jean’s glass and sipped.
These two sisters were close, like sisters should be, like twins. But they were not twins, they were triplets. He was unsure if Lorna and Jean would ever simply be friends with Brianna.
He glanced at one of them for a second, then the other. “Please, try to make her comfortable while she is with us.”
“Of course we will,” Jean pledged.
“Do you think we will not?” Lorna glared at him.
“Oh, no. Do not bring me into this. This is between you three. I’m loved by all of you and plan to keep it that way.”
“We do love you.” Jean smiled. “I must inform the staff Brianna brought a guest.”
“Is she really a guest?” Lorna asked.
Silas looked at her pointedly.
“We have seen Miss Young before. We know she…” Lorna appeared uncomfortable and uncertain what to say.
“Has an association with Sir Roderick,” Jean finished for her.
“Gossip does not become either of you,” Silas admonished.
“It is hardly gossip if it is the truth,” Jean defended.
“It is unfavorable toward Miss Young, and I won’t have it mentioned again. Her association with Sir Roderick is over. As I wrote to you, she has been Brianna’s companion since I last left London. In that time, Brianna and Miss Young have become good friends, and we will treat her as such. Please have the room across the hall from Brianna’s readied for her.”
“I will see to it.” Jean hurried from the room.
Father’s letters stared at him from the desk. He needed to read the bloody things.
Lorna set her empty glass on the side table. “How are you, Silas?”
“Weary. I only docked yesterday and have been traveling the whole of this day.”
“Was your voyage successful?”
He thought of the freed slaves and rescued English children. “Extremely. Tell me, Lorna, how do you fare?”
“I am tired of the country. I believe I would much prefer to live in London. Papa claimed proper young ladies must retire to the country and live quiet lives.” She scowled. “Why did he not just say boring, uneventful lives?”
Silas held back a laugh. Clearly his sisters were getting to an age where they felt free to air their complaints.
“Jean and I should have husbands by now.”
“It is not for lack of suitors.” Silas had been in Town for a few weeks during both their first and second seasons and witnessed the flock of young bucks around his sisters. “How many proposals have you received?”
“Four. Jean’s had six. Each time Papa refused the betrothal and insisted we wait.”
“Did he explain why?”
She shook her head.
Damn his father. He’d made some deal with the devil and his daughters would pay the price.
Well, not if Silas had anything to say about it.