Why Mermaids Sing
Saturday, 14 September 1811
On the Road between Merton Abbey and London
Fear twisted Dominic Stanton's stomach, compressed his chest until his breath came shallow and quick.
He told himself he was being a fool. A fool and a coward. He was a Stanton, for Christ's sake. In less then two months he would be nineteen years old. Men his ageyounger, much youngerwent off to war. Yet here he was just a few miles outside London and he was acting like some silly girl from the village, about to pee his pants with fear every time the thunder rumbled or the rising wind rustled the oak leaves overhead.
A copse of mingled oak and chestnut closed around him. Dominic kneed his mare into a canter. Dusk was only just beginning to fall, but the heavy cloud cover and the thickness of the grove created their own eerie air of twilight. Over the keening of the wind he could hear the faint clip clop of a horse's hooves coming from somewhere behind him. He wasn't imagining it again, was he? He glanced over his shoulder at the empty road curving away out of sight. "Jesus," he whispered.
It was his mother's fault, he decided. She's the one who'd insisted he make it home in time for her stupid dinner party. If it weren't for her he'd still be back at the pub with Charlie and Burlington and the rest, calling for another round and talking over each blow and rally of the prizefight they'd all ridden down to Merton Abey to watch. Instead, here he was riding back to London alone at dusk with a storm about to break.
Telling himself he was hurrying because he was going to be late, Dominic urged his mare on faster...and felt his saddle begin to slip.
Shit. Stupid ostler, forgetting to tighten the girth. Dominic reined in, his face slick with cold sweat. Casting another quick glance around, he hopped down from the saddle. His fingers were shaky, clumsy. Throwing the stirrup leather out of the way, he fumbled for the buckle and heard the rattle of harness, the clatter of wheels coming up behind.
He whirled around, his mare tossing her head and sidestepping nervously away from him. A horse and carriage loomed out of the darkness. "Oh my God," whispered Dominic as the driver drew up.
© C.S. Harris
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