You can't hide from the past.
Queen's world was shattered, and she was banished to a foreign land. Years pass before she dares to return, but what she finds is of little comfort. Greed and dishonesty have festered and grown in her absence. Embittered and cynical, Queen trusts few people.
Owen pursues a clandestine investigation and finds himself working side-by-side with a veritable ghost, an agent few have seen, a master of disguise known simply as Queen. He craves her trust…but then uncovers a secret from his family's past that could destroy her.
Queen once sought refuge in America and now seeks it in disguise. Owen has always found his refuge in God, but will his faith be strong enough for the challenges ahead? Can he convince Queen to stop hiding, or is he doomed to become her most hated enemy?
Christmas Eve 1817
Owen crouched low and looked around him. At least four hale and strong men had given chase. He was nursing a bullet wound to his side and a knee expressing reluctance to cooperate.The alley's darkness provided the illusion of safety. He might yet get out of this alive, if the clouds cooperated and kept the moon concealed.
Leather scraped on cobblestones to his right, and he pivoted, knife at the ready. An old man stumbled down the alley. His stringy grey hair was greasy and his coarse woven clothes tattered. He reeked of liquor, vomit, and… Owen wrinkled his nose as he fought the urge to gag.
The ruffians who'd been chasing him must have heard the old man, too. Or, worse, they'd heard Owen. They stopped their pursuit down the street and began backtracking to the mouth of the alley.
Drat. Owen slipped back behind some crates. He wanted to call a warning to the old beggar but couldn't risk giving away his position. Instead, he tucked his body as tightly together as his wounds would allow while he prayed.
"Did you hear that?"
"Someone's down there."
The old man shuffled his way, with a dragging hitch to his step, toward the street.
Come on, old man. Get out of the way. They're not looking for you!
"Never mind. It's a drunkard. Let's keep searching."
From his vantage point, Owen watched as one of the thugs shoved the beggar down onto the ground and then kicked him full in the ribs. He winced in sympathetic pain but dared not leave his hiding place yet. To reveal himself at this juncture would ensure a far worse outcome for both him and the old man.
The echo of footsteps faded and silence once again fell over the alley, broken only by the yowling of a tom cat. A few minutes ticked by with no indication the group would return. Owen eased himself out from his position, relieved to no longer be wedged between a slimy moss-covered wall and the dilapidated, rotting crates. Pain radiated up and down his side from where he'd been shot, and his knee burned with each step.
The old man hadn't moved since landing on the cobblestones. Stooping, Owen glanced at the man's hair-covered face. Age was kinder to some than to others. Between the faded moonlight and the excessive facial hair, Owen couldn't distinguish any features beyond the large bulbous nose. The poor gent could have used a little more kindness.
A slight movement of the chest caught Owen's eye, and he sighed with relief. Now to figure out how to move him…
The old man was bulky, and Owen was wounded. Could he rouse him? Would he be able to walk? Owen shook the man by the shoulders. His efforts elicited nothing but a high-pitched groan. Seeing no hope for it, he pulled the man over his shoulder and stood, keeping most of his weight on his uninjured knee.
No longer radiating, the pain in his side now pulsed with each beat of his heart, its intensity growing with his exertion. Getting the old man settled across his shoulder as best he could, Owen took a step toward the street. Dizziness swept through him, and he knew his knee was in worse shape than he wanted to admit. Three blocks would still be manageable. Wouldn't it? A back room in the apothecary's shop housed a clandestine meeting place for agents.
The apothecary was barely three blocks away…
Blast it, what had he been thinking?
The distance was too great. Defeat nagged at him. Half a block into the short journey, he stumbled and dropped to his good knee, the dead weight of the old man adding force to his fall.
The soft creak of leather boots told Owen he had company. He thought to protect his burden and turned toward the sound, but was silenced by a gloved hand over his mouth before he executed the move. "Not a word, Owen. Give me your baggage."
Relief gave strength to his limbs as he thankfully hoisted the unconscious form off on Tobias, his boss. Without the old man weighing him down, Owen regained his feet and limped along after his superior.
They passed the apothecary shop and two other small businesses before turning down another blind alley. When they were trapped with no way out, Tobias hooted, mimicking the call of the city's hungry owls — often found picking off rodents at night. Before Owen knew what was happening, a pile of refuse moved, revealing stairs that led down to an open doorway. Tobias handed the old man ahead of them through the narrow passage. They followed and soon found themselves in a warm lantern-lit room. The door — presumably with garbage intact — was pulled back into place behind them.
The woman who pressed Owen into a chair had black hair threaded with grey. She handed him a bowl of hot fish stew and a crusty piece of bread. He dipped his bread and took a bite out of habit, but his eyes stayed busy examining the room and its occupants.
A man with a muscular cut and stormy expression carried the old man over to a pallet on the floor. The woman moved to fuss over the beggar, but nobody made any attempt to remove his hat or loosen his soiled clothes. The beggar's stench soon overrode the smell of the stew, a testament to the strength of his repugnant odor. Owen choked down another bite, fighting the urge to gag. He must have rolled around in vomit to stink as bad as he did.
Once the large man rose from laying the old man on the pallet, Tobias waved him over. The two stood, conferring in quiet tones. This one was built either to fight or to ride the deck of a sailing vessel. He was short, his legs braced wide, and his middle thick with corded muscles from long hours of labor. His red hair had begun to fade with age. However he knew Tobias, he wasn't eager to have Owen in his domain. Whenever he glanced at the table and the intruder with the bowl of fish stew, his nostrils flared and his eyes pinched with distaste.
Tobias joined Owen presently, taking a seat across the scarred table from him.
Owen wanted answers, but Tobias didn't seem inclined to offer any. Try as he might, the younger agent could hold his tongue only so long. "Why not the apothecary's?"
Tobias frowned. "It's been compromised."
Owen's boss shook his head. "We don't know yet, but you would have walked into an ambush had I let you go there."
"And Williamson?" The apothecary wasn't an agent, but he'd opened his shop as a safe haven for those in the area. A good man, he was a valuable asset in this part of London.
Tobias' lips thinned. "Gutted."
Owen sucked in a draught of air. Williamson was dead? "Torture?"
"It seems so."
"Do we know who?"
Again Tobias shook his head. "I have a short list of suspects, but that's as far as I've gotten."
Owen glanced around the room. He understood now why the red-haired man didn't welcome his presence. He didn't want to end up like Williamson, and who could blame him?
Tobias nodded to where the woman approached. "She's going to clean your wound and sew you up. Is the lead still in you, or did it go through?"
Owen pushed the stew away. He'd rather not embarrass himself if the pain was too much. Not that he'd eaten a great deal to begin with. "Through, I think, but I haven't checked."
The woman — he'd not learned her name — nudged him into a forward lean and removed his coat before he could protest. She gave it a gentle shake, and as she did, Owen could see the glow of the fireplace peeking through two holes dancing within the folds of the material, evidence that the lead ball had traveled all the way through.
Tobias must have seen the same thing, for the first smile of the night touched his lips. "I guess that's an answer."
Owen nodded toward where the old man lay, still unconscious. "Is he going to survive?"
The woman sought the red-haired man's glance first, an unreadable emotion giving luminescence to her dark eyes, before turning back to Owen and nodding.
"What aren't you saying?" Secrets added depth to her expression.
Tobias spoke before the woman could answer. "Too bad you're not a drinking man, Owen, because you could probably use something for what I'm about to tell you…"
Heather Gray authors the Ladies of Larkspur inspirational western romance series, including Mail Order Man, Just Dessert, and Redemption. She also writes the Regency Refuge series: His Saving Grace, Jackal, and Queen - plus contemporary titles Ten Million Reasons and Nowhere for Christmas. Aside from a long-standing love affair with coffee, Heather’s greatest joys are her relationships with her Savior and family. Heather loves to laugh, and this theme is prevalent in her writing where, through the highs and lows of life, her characters find a way to love God, embrace each day, and laugh out loud right along with her.
You can find Heather online at http://www.facebook.com/heathergraywriting, http://www.twitter.com/laughdreamwrite, and http://www.heathergraywriting.com. She can also be found most days at The Inspired Inkpot, a street team, prayer group, and all around awesome place to hang out - http://www.facebook.com/groups/theinspiredinkpot.
Amazon US- http://www.amazon.com/Queen-Regency-Refuge-Book-3-ebook/dp/B00P8ACR1C/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1415151461&sr=1-5&keywords=Astraea+Press
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