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The Heiress’s Secret Love: The Balfour Hotel Book 1 by Davis, Amanda (1)

Prologue

Sweeping winds flowed from either side of the Thames, leaving Christiana cold and wary as she peered about. There was a foreboding in the air, one which she could not easily identify but which fell heavily over her thinly cloaked shoulders. She wished she had thought to dress more warmly but she had not expected to be out for so long.

What has become of him? She wondered, looking about the banks of the river before rubbing her worn mittens to create a small friction through the wool. It was high time she knit new ones, the winter cold seeping into her bones like clever little knives, knowing precisely which entry to seek.

If all goes well enough, I will have someone else to knit me mittens, she thought. Perhaps I will have an abigail to knit my outer clothes and another for my articles.

It was likely the reason she had not done so herself already; Christiana was clinging to the hope that her future would be much brighter than her present appeared in those moments.

Somewhere in the distance, she heard the ringing of church bells, indicating that the hour of six had arrived and yet she remained in wait.

Has he not taken me seriously? She wondered, a fusion of panic and ire sparking within, the emotions warming away the chill of the eve. I hope he is not so bold as to leave me here, not when so much is at risk.

There was no way for her to know, not when she had stood at the location for over an hour.

I must return to the hotel, she thought, gathering her cloak and spinning downwind. It was a relief to remove the sting from her face, and idly she wondered why she had not done so sooner but Christiana had never been known for her wits. With stinging eyes, she blinked away tears and made her way toward the street holding her skirts firmly within her grip as she moved.

The rain began then, an icy pelt which began to pound upon her without notice nor mercy and Christiana slipped against the slick rocks as she attempted her climb upward.

My word, she thought furiously, fighting to regain her footing. What else could go amiss?

It was the wrong question to ask the heavens for as the words passed through her mind, a clap of thunder caused her to start and gasp. She paused a moment, if only to catch her breath, and looked behind her. Once more, the wind assaulted her face. Her cheeks stung as her cerulean eyes took notice of a form drawing near her.

Pivoting fully, her heart in her throat, she raised a gloved hand to wave but through the now-driving rain, she was suddenly unsure if the figure approaching was the one she had been waiting upon.

She opened her mouth to call out but the name was lost against another rumble of thunder. A flash of lightning illuminated the winter sky, creating a streak of white light upon the newcomer’s face.

Christiana froze, her jaw slack with fear as her bowels seemed to turn to water.

It is not him, she realized. Yet the man stalked closer, his hat pulled down to shield his face as though he did not wish to be detected. There was no godly reason for any soul to be down by the river banks at that hour on a winter’s night, not for good cause. It was why Christiana had chosen it, after all.

Nothing good can come of me being here, she thought desperately, whirling back to climb over the rocks again. She did not give herself time nor grace as she scrambled to climb to the top of the bank but she quickly realized that her movements were to no avail. She continued sliding back down the sleek sides of the wide boulders.

Fear threatened to swallow her whole but Christiana knew she must not be caught by the man who drew closer with every slip she made.

He sent this one here, Christiana thought mournfully. I should never have put him in such a position. How much did he pay this one? Is it enough?

It was unfathomable to believe, but as she fell for the final time, her drenched clothes collapsing around her, Christiana began to sob.

The man was at her side now, the brim of his top hat still shadowing his face but Christiana knew precisely who he was and why he had come.

“Please!” she moaned, holding her hands up as if to ward the inevitable away. “Please, no matter how much he paid you to do this, it is not enough. Think about our history together!”

“Good evening, Christiana,” he said pleasantly but the gleam in his eye contradicted his genial tone and there was little doubt what he had come to do. Slowly, she looked to him, his even voice unnerving her more that his presence and the mounting storm combined.

“Why?” she cried. “Why would he do this?”

He shrugged in the most casual way.

“You are becoming a nuisance, Christiana. You cannot fault him for wishing to see the end of this.”

She closed her eyes again and hung her head, knowing that she was helpless.

“Do whatever you must,” she sighed with resignation although her heart continued to pound with intense ferocity.

“This is not my decision to make, you understand,” he told her quietly. “It stands solely with you.”

The words confused Christiana more deeply than she was already and she stared at him imploringly, her blue eyes wide.

“I-I do not understand,” she murmured. “What is your intention, then?”

He sighed heavily and reached for her hand to help her to her feet but Christiana did not accept his assistance even though the rain crept down the folds of her cloak and slithered against her frozen skin.

“If you come with me, your fate will be revealed,” he told her, refusing to withdraw his hand. “You need not make this more difficult than it already is, Christiana. Please, do as I say.”

She maintained her crouched position, lowering her head like she hoped he would simply disappear but she was not so naïve to believe in such a miracle.

“Christiana.” His tone was no longer amiable. “You will come with me, one way or another.”

From deep within her, she felt a yearning for survival creep to the surface waiting to erupt. She lifted her head and stared at him defiantly, their eyes clashing in the darkness. Foolishly, he seemed to think he had won and a slow smile formed on his lips.

“Come along now,” he insisted, looking about for the first time, apparently concerned that they might be seen. “We have not much time.”

Christiana shook her sopping head of dark hair.

“I will go nowhere with you,” she hissed. “Do what you must but I refuse to make this easy for you!”

Without warning, she threw her head back and released a scream to match the howling wind swirling about them and watched as his face turned black with anger.

“As you wish,” he countered, raising his hand to strike her and suddenly the Christiana’s world went black.

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