Dreaming of You

By: Jennifer McNare

Chapter 1

England, 1840

“Honestly Gavin, if Mama mentions that dreadful Lord Hensley once more I swear I shall scream,” Natalie Montrose stated vehemently, an exasperated scowl marring her delicate features as she kicked a stray stone from the well-worn footpath with the toe of her leather walking boot.

Gavin Montrose fought the urge to roll his eyes at his seventeen-year-old sister’s fervent declaration. He adored her, but his younger sibling had always had a penchant for the melodramatic, and thus he couldn’t resist ribbing her a bit. “Hensley is quite a catch, Nattie. Are you certain you’re not interested?” he asked, his voice deceptively ingenuous. He knew very well that she had long ago set her sights on their neighbor, Alfred Marshton, Viscount Pennworth, the young man she had harbored a not-so-secret affection for since childhood.

Natalie’s head whipped toward him, her blue eyes wide and her expression incredulous. “You must be joking! The man is a complete lecher, not to mention old enough to be my grandfather.”

“Yes, but he is an earl, and rich as Croesus as well,” he said with mock sincerity, repeating the offhand comment their mother had made earlier that morning. “And considering his advanced age, odds are you will outlive him by a long stretch.” He fought the urge to chuckle as his sister gaped at him in outraged disbelief. “Who knows, if you’re fortunate you could become a wealthy young widow before too many years have passed,” he continued tongue-in-cheek, trying with increasing difficulty to maintain his earnest expression. She stared at him for a long moment, her eyes narrowing in speculation. Despite the fact that their father was a duke, Natalie, like him, wasn’t obsessed with titles and wealth like so many of their peers and she quickly caught on to his game.

“You’re teasing me,” she said, eyeing him in irritation, though her tone was only mildly aggrieved.

“Who me?” he asked with exaggerated innocence.

“You are awful you know.” She shook her head from side to side, causing her long, chestnut-colored ringlets, the color nearly identical to his own short brown locks, to bob and sway around her shoulders.

“True, but you love me anyway.”

“Of course I do you wretch,” she said, swatting his arm playfully. “As does every other female you have ever come in contact with,” she added with a grin, looping her arm through his as they continued their leisurely afternoon stroll.

“What can I say?” He returned her grin with a mischievous one of his own. “My natural charm and devilish good looks are impossible to resist.”

“Honestly, your ego!” Natalie rolled her eyes dramatically.

He laughed aloud, the sound reflecting the lightness of his mood as they walked. He loved the country, as well as the time spent with his family away from the constant hustle and bustle of Town life. Over the past years he had gradually taken on more and more responsibility within the family, assisting his father and older brother with the direction, as well as the day to day management of their various assets and holdings. He enjoyed the challenge, but unfortunately, it meant spending the vast majority of his time in the city.

He inhaled deeply. The clean, gentle breeze that ruffled the tall grasses and lightly stirred the last of the autumn-colored leaves that clung stubbornly to the branches of the trees, was a refreshing change from the ever-present smog that shrouded London like a heavy blanket.

“Mother is right you know.”

He arched his left eyebrow in a questioning fashion.

“You are too handsome for your own good.”

He merely grinned. He wasn’t vain, but he was well-aware that women found him attractive, and truth be told, he couldn’t say that he minded overmuch. Since losing his virginity as a precocious youth, he had bedded more than his share of accommodating females, thanks in large part to his striking features, emerald green eyes and charming personality; a potent combination, or so he’d been told. “Forgive me if I beg to differ,” he began, his tone still teasing, “but since Richard is set to inherit the title, it only seems fair that I should have inherited the looks in the family, don’t you think?”

“You! I thought we had long ago established that we had inherited the looks in the family,” Natalie stated with mock affront.

“Forgive me, I misspoke of course.” His grin widened as he took in Natalie’s playful pout. She had always been a pretty little thing, but in the past few years his sister had blossomed into a true beauty. He and Richard were certain to have their hands full keeping all of the interested gentlemen at bay when Natalie had her Season.

Rounding a bend in the narrow walking path, their lighthearted banter came to an abrupt halt at the unexpected sight of two men standing on the trail a short distance ahead, the lower portions of their faces hidden behind dark cloths tied about their heads. Natalie clutched his arm more tightly, clearly frightened by the menacing looking figures who had no business being on the private land surrounding Rutherford Park, their family’s country estate. He tensed, two against one, the odds weren’t in his favor but he was big and strong and quick, and unless they were armed he had a chance. Unfortunately however, with his eyes focused on the men ahead, he detected the third man slipping silently from the cover of the trees just a few feet behind, a moment too late. Before he could react he was struck by a crushing blow and in the next instant the back of his head seemed to explode in a burst of agonizing pain. His sister’s terrified scream was the last sound he heard as he crumpled to the ground and everything around him went black.