Vanquished, page 1
TABLE OF CONTENTS
To my mom, Nancy Louise Tarr, for her steadfast support and unconditional mother's love, with heartfelt appreciation.
Published 2006 by Medallion Press, Inc.
The MEDALLION PRESS LOGO
is a registered tradmark of Medallion Press, Inc.
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment from this "stripped book."
Copyright (c) 2006 by Hope Tarr
Cover Model: Anna Ward
Cover Illustration by Adam Mock
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Vanquished is my first sale after a three-year hiatus from the romance-publishing industry, and as such represents a renaissance of sorts, both professionally and personally. Like most rebirths, writing the book brought its share of Dark Nights of the Soul and painful, uncertain times. I would be remiss indeed if I failed to thank the following loved ones and colleagues for their gifts of love, support, and encouragement.
Foremost, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to Earl Pence. Seventeen years of steadfast, loving partnership is no trifling gift, and the resulting wonderful memories are more than ample to fill any writer's treasure chest to brimming.
Love and thanks to my mother, Nancy Louise Tarr, for giving me safe haven, encouragement, and a mother's unconditional love, all when I needed them most.
To Marvin and Clara Pence, my second family, I miss you more than any words can express.
Warm thanks go out to my best friend, Lisa Davila for making me laugh and letting me cry at turns, and to Susan Shaver and Nancy Greer for being two of the best gal pals on the planet.
I also would like to thank Terri Wright (writing as T.A. Ridgell), Lori Pepio, Pamela Moniz, Paul Lewis, Karen Derrico, Carole Bellacera, and Christopher Whitcomb for understanding as only other writers can.
Many thanks to Kathy Liu, a romance reader living across "The Pond," for her help in sleuthing answers to my questions on the British suffrage movement from London-based collections. That said, any errors in the book are entirely my own.
Lastly, I would like to thank Helen Rosburg, Leslie and Wendy Burbank, and the wonderful staff at Medallion Press for their vision in giving a publishing home to Hadrian and Callie's rather unique love story.
"I may first of all broadly state the somewhat self-evident proposition that prostitution exists, and flourishes, because there is a demand for the article supplied by its agency."
--WILLIAM ACTON, Prostitution, Considered in its Moral, Social, and Sanitary Aspects,
Second Edition, 1870
Covent Garden, London
Another sharp gust of wind knifed its way through the boy's thin woolen jacket and trousers, drawing a shiver that ran from the top of his hatless head to the tips of his thinly shod feet. The snow beating down on his cold-chapped skin didn't help matters, either. The great fat flakes might look soft as feathers, but they felt more like stinging nettles. Before the night was over, he'd be soaked through--assuming he didn't freeze to death first.
It wasn't yet seven o'clock, but for Harry Stone the misery of it all made it seem at least midnight. Taking shelter on the columned portico of Saint Paul's, he surveyed the scene through eyes watery from the cold. The square that had been bustling a few hours before was rapidly approaching deserted, the flickering gaslights casting their oily glow on the handful of porters carting away crates of left over fruits and vegetables. As soon as the last of them was on his way, Harry would steal inside the darkened market and scavenge the stalls for what leavings he might make a meal of. But that would not be for a while yet.
He slipped a cold-numbed hand inside his coat, feeling for his gin flask. His stiff fingers worked the stopper free, and he brought the bottle to his lips, draining it in one long, sweet swallow. Propping a shoulder against the column, he savored the spirit warming his insides even as he practiced his failsafe antidote to misery of any kind--taking photographic pictures in his mind. Snowy Night in the Square of Venus he would call it, this photograph he could have captured had his camera survived its angry clash with plaster and wood. With its lodging houses and Turkish baths, playhouses and gaming dens, Covent Garden was said to boast the most whores of any quarter of the city. Being the son of one of them, Harry well believed it.
Not that he meant to walk the streets begging for long . . . or at least not forever. Someday somehow he meant to save up enough to buy a camera, a proper one this time, and set up as a real photographer. Like his idol Roger Fenton, whose documentary images of the Crimean War were known the world over, he would take big pictures, important pictures, pictures that made you feel and see things as you hadn't felt or seen them before.
But more than any static scene, it was the people he ached to capture with a camera's unerring eye. Ode to the Shadow People, he thought to call it, this series of photographs he couldn't seem to stop firing off in his mind. By now Harry knew them all, had heard or could piece together their stories. The tall blonde known as Poxy Polly, so named because of the sore at the side of her mouth that never seemed to heal. The pretty little Italian Maria who, with the help of a vinegar-soaked sponge, managed to grow a new maidenhead every night. Then there was Randy Roger, just a handful of years older than Harry but looking more forty than twenty on account of the opium he couldn't seem to smoke enough of. Like it or not, Harry was one of them now, one of the shadows.
Self-portrait of a boy leaning against a column. Head bowed, shoulders folded inward, hands shoved into pockets the subject's stance . . . everything about him said he'd rather be anywhere but there. Only it wasn't a portrait, not a real one, as you couldn't see the face beyond a forehead covered with shaggy blond hair, a suggestion of finely molded nose, the tip of a squared-off chin--features recollected from a memory that seemed to grow more blurred with each passing day.
Harry hadn't looked into a mirror in more than a year.
Before glancing at his reflection hadn't been so much a daily ritual as an unavoidable occurrence. Growing up in Madame Dottie's Palace of Pleasure, mirrors had been in abundant supply unlike the sherry and champagne and fancy foods that were brought out only on special occasions or when an important client called. Great gilt-edged pier glasses covered nearly every wall; more mirrors hung from the ceilings of the bedrooms where women like his mum had entertained their "guests." And then there were the special mirrors his friend, Sall
He did now.
A torque of his belly pulled him back into the present. The last of the produce wagons was just pulling off. It cleared the thoroughfare, and Harry spotted a tall man in a top hat and greatcoat cutting through the empty square.
Heart thrumming, he shoved away from the column and hurried down the slick steps to the street. Putting himself dead center of the man's path, he looked up into the blunt-featured face and forced his cold-stiffened lips into a smile. "Spare a coin so a poor lad can sup tonight?"
The man didn't smile back, only glared at him from beneath bushy eyebrows, the jutting forehead drawn into an unmistakable frown. With his fierce eyes and stone-carved features, he reminded Harry of one of those Methodist do-gooders, the sort who preached against the evils of drink on East End street corners and spooned up thin soup at the Christian Mission on Whitechapel Road. But beneath all that piety, Harry sensed an edgy hunger not unlike that he'd seen in the faces of some of his mum's best customers. Heaven and hell, saints and sinners--only the finest of lines separated the two.
He glanced at the substantial-looking cane the man wielded, at the large hand wrapped about its knob, and backed away. "Sorry, guv, my mistake. I'll just be on my way then." He turned to run, thinking to lose himself in the labyrinth of castoff crates and rubbish bins.
"Hold. Hold, I say!" From behind, a gloved hand took firm grip of his shoulder.
Equal parts terrified and furious, Harry wheeled about. "Hey leave off, I said I was sorry."
The staying hand fell away. "You mistake me, young man. I mean you no harm. I only want a word with you." The hooded eyes regarding Harry were shrewd but not unkind.
Harry ran a practiced eye over the man's broad-shouldered if slightly stooped frame. His coat and hat were both finely made, and the knob of his walking stick looked suspiciously like gold.
"All right then," he finally said, "but it'll cost you."
The weathered face fell at that, whether weighted by pity or disgust Harry couldn't quite say. With a sigh, the man reached inside his coat's breast pocket. "I presume this will suffice?"
He pulled a five-pound note from his money clip and held it out. A fiver! Harry felt his mouth drop open. Closing it, he answered with a mumbled "right-o" and pocketed the bill before anyone watching them might see.
"What is your name, young man?"
Harry hesitated. Giving up your name was a tricky affair, especially when your business with the asker wasn't yet clear. "Depends on who wants to know."
"Mine is William."
Harry wavered a moment more. "The name's Harry."
That he didn't offer up his mother's surname of "Stone" was a matter of both principle and practicality. William, if indeed that was his real name, hadn't given up his. If things got dicey, he might take it into his head to snaffle the old gent's purse and make a dash for it, in which case volunteering his surname would be pretty bleeding stupid.
Solemn eyes settled on Harry's face. "How old are you, Master Harry?"
Old enough was Harry's standard reply, but something in William's manner prompted him to give a more sober answer. "Fourteen, I think, maybe fifteen." Dragging the toe of his boot through the snow, he found himself admitting, "I'm . . . I'm not exactly sure."
Voice gentle, William asked, "Have you any parents, any relative who might give you succor?"
Harry couldn't say what "succor" was, but he felt his eyes watering in a way that had nothing to do with the cold. "Only me mum, and she's dead." He looked sharply away, ashamed by the cracking of his voice. "Of the typhus," he added because at least typhus was a respectable ailment unlike the pox, which peppered you with putrid red legions and drove you mad as a March hare. Of course, considering what his mum had been, she might have had the pox, too. But no, Sally had assured him it was typhus that had carried her away, and Sally was the one person in the world he trusted not to lie.
You had to trust someone.
"I see," William said. Making himself meet that kind, knowing gaze, Harry could almost believe he did. "What if I were to tell you that, if you come with me now, I will help you secure employment in the country where you will receive wholesome food, clean clothing, and a warm bed?"
"Workhouse, you mean." Harry spat on the snow-covered cobbles to wash the detested word from his mouth. Everyone knew workhouses were terrible places where children were made to work all day and pray all night--and beaten soundly if they failed to do either in sufficient quantity.
A pained look crossed William's weathered face. "Roxbury House is not a workhouse, far from it. It is an orphanage established and operated by the Society of Friends--the Quakers. Commensurate with its mission of placing orphaned boys and girls in Christian homes is reaching out to those who have fallen into sin and preparing them to embark on productive, God-fearing lives."
Harry shrugged though inside his heart was drubbing his chest like a mallet. "What's that to do with me?"
"As it happens, the orphanage finds itself in need of an able young man to serve as assistant to the groundskeeper. The position would entail plenty of fresh air and exercise while working in the gardens and about the property."
The only air Harry had ever breathed was London air, heavy with coal dust and ripe with rubbish. As for gardening, he doubted he'd know a radish from a leek. Yet when he closed his eyes at night, the vision he summoned to send him to sleep was one of rolling green fields and cobalt-blue skies; of milk thick and creamy and still warm from the cow; of groves of apple trees where a boy might make a feast of fruit plucked straight from the branches.
William bent to him, his gaze boring into Harry's. "Might you be that able young man?"
The snow was falling faster now, feathering William's shoulders with silver, the silver of . . . angels' wings? Harry held his breath without knowing why.
Might you be that able young man?
Might he? Harry reached inside himself, searching his bruised soul. A chance for a new life, a chance for something clean and good--could such a chance truly be within his grasp?
Almost afraid to believe, he found his voice and mumbled, "As able as the next, I expect."
Seemingly satisfied, William nodded. "For tonight you will come back with me to my house, where my dear wife will see to your supper. Tomorrow we shall set your feet on the path to a new start in life."
Without another word, he turned and set off in the direction of James Street, the tip of his cane leaving chink marks in the mounting snow. The scene reminded Harry of a story he'd once been told about a little boy and girl, lost in the wicked forest, who'd scattered a trail of breadcrumbs behind them so that they might be found.
I want to be found.
Heart pounding, Harry ran after him, thin soles skidding on the sticking snow. "Hold. Hold!"
Gulping down great mouthfuls of icy air, he raced on, ignoring the fiddle music, raucous laughter, and occasional shriek pouring out of the doorways of the gin palaces and brothels he streaked past. He caught up with William at Long Acre as he was climbing inside his carriage, an impressive black-lacquered conveyance, not unlike the ones Harry saw depositing well-heeled theatergoers at the entrance of Drury Lane.
He launched himself at the open door before the caped driver might close it in his face. Breathless, he fell back against the tufted leather seat across from William.
The older man regarded him with sober, searching eyes. "Well then, young Harry, am I right in thinking you are prepared to put your wicked ways behind you?"
Before he might answer, the carriage door slammed closed
But when William reached out to him, it was only to hand him a carriage blanket and to point out the two flannel-wrapped bricks set on the floor beneath his seat. Enfolded in the warm wool, feet propped atop the heated bricks, Harry let his head drop back against the leather squab. Inhaling the comforting scents of fine leather, cigars, and bay rum, he felt his eyes drifting shut. When he opened them again, the carriage was at a standstill and a hand, firm but gentle, was shaking him to wakefulness.
He shook it off and scrambled upright, horrified he'd let himself fall asleep in the presence of a stranger. "Where . . . where are we?"
If William was offended, he gave no sign of it. Sitting back against the seat, he folded his gloved hands over the knob of his walking stick. "My house on Downing Street. Number ten, to be precise."
Ten Downing Street; why that direction should strike Harry as familiar he couldn't say, for lifting the leather window shade and peering out onto the quiet, elegant street, he could be certain he'd never been there before in his life. A plain-faced woman of middle years threw open the black-lacquered front door for them before the lion's-head knocker need be raised. When she whisked away William's wet coat and hat and then shooed him off to the library fire with dire predictions about the effect of the damp on his ague, Harry knew she must be William's "dear wife." As for Harry, he soon found himself wrapped in a homey quilt and bade to sit on a bench before the kitchen fire, a bowl of savory stew and wedge of crusty bread pressed into his hands. Afterward he was placed in the care of a plump, pleasant-faced maid who ushered him up the grand staircase to his room, which smelled so wonderfully clean that for a moment he just stood breathing in the freshly laundered scent. Though he'd expected to lie awake brooding on the queer turn his life had taken, he fell into exhausted slumber the moment his head hit the goose-feather pillow.
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