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Forlorn: Wavesongs, #2

Forlorn: Wavesongs, #2

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Forlorn: Wavesongs, #2

Length:
359 pages
5 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Mar 9, 2019
ISBN:
9789198468427
Format:
Book

Description

Nick Andrews is back in England. He is a broken man, living on the streets and trying to cope with everything he's been through. Nick thinks that his life is over, but then Tom comes along. Tom, who is handsome and wealthy and intent on making his acquaintance.

Nick ends up as Tom's valet, a position that brings him to the remote estate of Ravensleigh. At Ravensleigh, he soon realizes that Tom and his family have a past laden with shadows. Nick regrets coming there, but at the same time finds it harder and harder to resist Tom's advances.

Then one night, a stranger arrives at Ravensleigh. And Nick's world is turned upside down once more.

*

Warning: This book ends with a cliffhanger. The series as a whole will have a HEA ending.

Please note that the books in the Wavesongs series should be read in chronological order!

Publisher:
Released:
Mar 9, 2019
ISBN:
9789198468427
Format:
Book

About the author


Book Preview

Forlorn - Elvira Bell

Prologue

I won’t be a minute.

Good. I miss you already.

L ook who’s back , lads. Christopher Hart’s boy.

Nick can’t recall seeing the men before. They’ve obviously seen him. Has he been here some other time? He must have—after weeks of walking these streets, there can’t be a single tavern in Nassau that he hasn’t been to. It’s not the first time he’s been recognized, but no one knows his name. All they know is that he belongs to Christopher.

Belonged to Christopher.

Please, he says once he’s reached their table. His lips are dry, his voice hoarse and strained. It doesn’t sound like it used to. Please, you have to help me. I need to find him.

The men roar with laughter. Their faces are blurry in the dim light, but there’s one man at the back who isn’t laughing. Nick stares at him, though all he really wants is to turn away. That look in the man’s eyes is the same as the one Hill gave him before they parted ways outside a tavern just like this one two weeks ago. Eyes brimming with kindness. Pity. Nick doesn’t want pity, doesn’t need it. Because nothing is over. He is going to find Christopher again.

Was marooned, wasn’t he? another man at the table says, and takes a gulp from his tankard. And it must’ve been weeks ago by now. You’ve got to have something in that head of yours, boy. I’m sure you know there’s not much left of him to find.

Nick backs away as though the man’s words have burned him. Please. He has no money, no fine clothes to sell. Even the shiny steel buckles on his shoes are gone, stolen during his second night in this cruel town. He has nothing to offer.

The man with the pitying gaze stands. He comes up to Nick and drops a hand to his shoulder. We’ve all lost dear ones. It’s a damn hard thing to go through.

Nick breaks free. I ain’t lost him!

He’s dead.

No. No. Nick barely hears the sounds around him, his pulse is drumming so loudly in his ears. No, he—

The man pats his shoulder again. You need to get yourself away from Nassau before whoever took over that ship comes here and finds you. Do you hear me?

Hill had told him the same on the night of their escape, in the dinghy that brought them away from the Victory. Leave, go anywhere. There is nothing left for you here.

But I— He turns. Flees, pushing his way out of the tavern. Guests and wenches turn to watch him, shouting or laughing, but he can’t make out their faces. Just shapes, dark and light.

At the street corner he stops, drawing short, fast breaths. Dusk has long since fallen, and there is no one around but stray dogs and rats. Nick cries. He hides his face in his hands, pressing his palm against his mouth to muffle the sobs. There is nothing left to do. Of course he knows. He has known for days, maybe a week. There will be no reunion. He has seen Christopher for the last time. He bites into his knuckle as he recalls Christopher lying next to him in bed, whispering his name. That soft, soothing voice.

He won’t ever hear it again.

One

Five months later

It’s been four days since he’s eaten anything. Nick can easily remember how juicy the apple was, and how bitter the seeds. But he ate all of it. Even bitterness is better than nothing.

He was chased away from his makeshift sleeping quarters in the early morning, thrown out headfirst from the backyard where he’d made a home for himself. It doesn’t matter. For a few weeks when he first came to London he lodged in an old widow’s house, paying his landlady with the pennies he made doing odd jobs in the port.

If only it hadn’t been the port, with its smell of tar and salty wind. He might have been able to do it then.

Oi! Don’t I know you?

Nick flinches, but the woman across the street is calling to someone else. No one knows him here. Unlike in his nightmares, where ghosts from the past try to reach him with their bloody hands. He prefers the nightmares, though, to the other dreams. The other ghosts, who make him cry in his sleep.

His empty stomach has brought him to the Haymarket. The buildings around him are tall and grand, and his soles clack against paved streets. He’s never been fond of the wealthier parts of town, but the smell of food lures him to the stands and street vendors here. Heaps of red apples and glistening oysters make his mouth water, their scents blending with those of fresh hay and animals. There are farmers everywhere, tending to their horses or arguing with buyers over the price of hay, while others gulp down gin and ogle the harlots walking by.

One young farmer is talking with a girl of that kind—Nick overhears him struggling to charm her. Their conversation doesn’t interest him, but the loaf of bread lying forgotten on the edge of the farmer’s cart does. Nick doesn’t enjoy stealing. He never has, but it’s either that or going back to working down by the wharves. This man has sold a lot of hay already, and he can’t be very hungry in the first place to abandon his meal so carelessly. Clearly, he is more interested in whoring than in filling his belly.

The street is wide, but the market is swarmed and Nick is just one out of many trying to pass through. No one notices him slipping by the young farmer’s cart. The man is laughing stupidly at something, the harlot giggling along. Nick stretches his hand out. Grabs the chunky loaf and hides it underneath his coat. Then he hurries past the farmer, trying to blend in with some passers-by.

What do you think you’re doing? someone barks. That’s what you get for wasting your time on them whores, Stevens. Oi, you little thief, get back here!

There’s a commotion behind Nick. Stevens curses loudly, and several other people are shouting. Nick glances over his shoulder, the stolen bread burning in his hand. Shit. It’s not just Stevens chasing after him but a bunch of other men as well, pushing their way through the crowd. Nick has no time to think. He dashes to the side, slinking past a coach that’s just pulled in. He rushes blindly, hiding in the crowd as he tries to escape the marketplace.

You’re not getting away with this, you ain’t! Stevens calls. Nick can easily imagine the beating he’ll get if they catch him. The humiliation of the pillory. He’s on a side street now, the elegant brick buildings blocking out the sun. Dimly, he’s aware of people staring at him. The tricorne on his head obscures his face, at least—the hat stolen as well, during his first week in London.

Another street, crowded and loud, and he makes a sharp turn to the left. Flees past the fancily dressed people strolling along. His heart races. He can’t run much longer. Glancing around, he doesn’t spot Stevens or his friends—but they can’t be far away. On the street corner is a flight of stairs leading down to the door of some tavern. He can hide in there. Mix in with the guests and wait for things to calm down.

He stumbles down the stone steps and through the door. It closes behind him with a bang.

Please, sir, mind the door! a voice calls. What’s the use of putting up signs if no one bothers to read them?

The man stands behind a counter in the far right corner, frowning at Nick as he adjusts his wig. Nick bows his head and removes his hat, pressing the loaf to his side and praying that the man won’t notice it and realize what Nick has done. What he is.

This is not a tavern. That much is clear. It does resemble one, with long oaken tables lined up between rows of sturdy benches. There’s an unfamiliar smell in the air, though, spicy and burnt at the edges, and the man behind the counter doesn’t look like he approves of drinking. Blending in with the guests is impossible, because there are none. Just the proprietor watching Nick, still frowning.

Well? the man says. Do take a seat, but I will need to receive payment before I serve you. One can never be too careful. He gestures to the empty tables. I’ve only just opened for the day. Soon enough you’ll have to fight for somewhere to sit.

Nick’s fingers dig into the doughy bread. He can’t risk going back out into the street. Not yet. Sorry, I ain’t… I ain’t got a lot of money.

The man raises his thick gray eyebrows. Anyone could tell as much from the look of you. Well, I don’t hand out my coffee for free. If you don’t intend to buy anything, I suggest you take your leave.

Nick drops his shoulders. Coffee is a rich people’s drink. Even if he did have money, it probably costs far more than he could afford.

Just a moment, the man says. I take it you’re in need of money?

Nick turns back to him. Studies his face, trying to grasp what this is about. I—

The boy I had hired as help ran away last week. Took ten pounds of mine with him. The grim look on the man’s face makes it even more wrinkled than before. You wouldn’t happen to have any experience serving?

Painful memories. Too many of them. I do, sir.

The proprietor’s eyes turn weary. Not in a place frequented by gentlemen, I’m sure… but it will have to do. I honestly don’t believe I could manage by myself. It has been rough, what with Griffiths gone. He clears his throat. Come over here and tell me your name.

Nick approaches him warily, unwilling to get too close because of the stolen loaf. Name’s Nick Andrews, sir.

The proprietor nods. Up close, Nick notices how tall he is.

Welcome, then, Mr. Andrews. I’m George Goodall. Now, what do you know of coffee?

Nick glances toward the wide fireplace, where shiny pots stand in front of the crackling fire. Nothing.

Nothing at all? I see. Goodall purses his lips. I won’t trust you with making it, then. Your main task will be to serve the customers. You will see to it that their cups are filled and that the tables are cleaned as soon as a party has left. Do you understand?

Yeah. Yes, sir. He has had much more complicated tasks before. Looking out over the empty room, it’s hard to fathom why Goodall requires any help at all.

Well. Goodall clears his throat again. Now that you’re here, could I ask you to mind everything for me while I dash upstairs? I’ll only be a minute. He gives Nick a pointed look. And there’s not a single coin down here for you to steal, so you can spare yourself the trouble of going through the drawers.

I wasn’t— Nick begins, but Goodall leaves without listening to his protests. From the other room comes the slam of a door, then quick footsteps up noisy stairs. There’s no time to lose. Nick pulls out the bread from under his coat. Bites into it, chewing off big pieces and barely tasting it at all, he’s eating so fast. When Goodall comes back down a short while later it’s gone, all of it, and Nick’s hunger as well. Goodall won’t find out that he’s a thief. And even though Nick has no great desire to work in a coffee house, it might get him enough money to buy his bread instead of stealing it. Also, it’s not the wharves. The smell of coffee is sharp, but it’s new to him and doesn’t bring back memories of anything.

An hour later, Nick is rushing between the tables. Customers squeeze themselves in next to each other, talking loudly and expecting prompt delivery of their coffee and their news. Goodall has newspapers, gazettes, and pamphlets spread out in front of him on the counter, and he doesn’t trust Nick with them—he hands out each requested paper himself, like it’s the most delicate thing, and carefully examines it once it’s returned to him.

Nick finds that working pushes some of the dark thoughts away. He hasn’t got time for them. The coffee pots are scorching when he grabs them from the fireplace, but the customers seem to enjoy their drink almost at the point of boiling. They are a motley crowd—some are elderly, in long, flowing wigs, while a large portion of the men seem to be shop owners from the area.

In the late evening, though, a pair of young men who undoubtedly rank above Goodall and all his other customers arrive. One has a fur-trimmed hat, the other an ornate cane he twirls between his fingers.

Lord Newberry! Mr. Wilby! Goodall hurries up to the men, hands held out in greeting. What a delight it is to see you here, gentlemen. Any news from the theater, Lord Newberry? He turns to the taller of the two, who makes a face.

I beg of you, Goodall, do not mention that dreadful place! Half of the orchestra is deaf and the other half can’t play. And the new little soprano was pretty enough, but her voice was not.

They were all ghastly tonight. Their shouting made my head ache, Mr. Wilby says. Where is our coffee?

Goodall’s sunken cheeks flush. Boy! he calls to Nick. We do not let such fine gentlemen wait.

Nick brings over two cups and a freshly filled pot.

Are we to believe this is young Griffiths’ replacement? Newberry says. Now, Mr. Goodall, how would you know that this boy is any better than that vile thief?

He looks rather filthy, Wilby comments, showing large front teeth. Say, why not employ a rosy young wench instead?

Goodall laughs nervously. And subject the poor girl-child to rakes such as yourselves, gentlemen? No, I think this is for the best.

Nick has had quite enough of them. He grabs the pot to take it back to the fireplace, but burns his fingers on it. He gasps, wincing at the pain as he draws his hand back.

Oh dear, Newberry says. Wilby, why don’t we place bets on how long the boy will stay? I bet you five guineas he’ll be gone before the week has ended.

But it’s Thursday already, says Mr. Wilby, sneering. I’ll give him until Tuesday, but no further. I’m sure Mr. Goodall will say the same.

Goodall murmurs something before making a hasty retreat to the counter. Nick’s muscles quiver with anger, but he can’t speak. And Goodall clearly won’t stand up for him.

I know who will like him, though, Wilby says.

Lord Newberry snorts. Oh, for sure.

They are among the last to leave that night. Goodall bows and smiles and wishes them a pleasant journey home, but Nick can barely bring himself to nod.

Bastards, he mutters as the door closes behind them.

What’s that? Goodall places a hand on his shoulder. Lord Newberry has connections, I’ll have you know, and Mr. Wilby is the youngest son of Lord Darville. I will not have you insult any of my customers again, Andrews. Do you hear?

I don’t care who they are.

Well. While you’re under my roof, you will act as though you do. Goodall sits down to count the day’s earnings, calling Nick to him after he’s done and handing him a penny.

You could have done better, Andrews, but it wasn’t too bad for your first day. Come back tomorrow at noon.

Right.

Goodall says his name again when Nick is almost up the stairs. There might be a place to sleep for you here if you prove yourself worthy of it. After what happened with Griffiths, I’m not taking any chances… but you keep it in mind.

Nick walks through dark streets, looking for some spot where he can spend the night. His feet are sore, and his shoulders too. But he has a penny more than he did this morning, and he’s kept himself busy. So busy that for a few fleeting moments during his night at Goodall’s, he didn’t have time for mourning.

When he returns to Goodall’s the next day, rain is pouring down. The street is much less crowded than the night before and people are taking shelter in the doorways, their eyes following him as he hurries toward the coffee house door and sneaks inside. He has spent the night behind some barrels in an alley close by, a space shared with two younger boys and a dog they claimed to own. He’ll have to find a better place tonight, especially if it keeps raining. He’s soaked to the skin, his breeches plastered to his thighs and his coattails dripping.

Mr. Andrews. Goodall is busy by the fireplace. There are no customers yet. Oh, dear me. He stands, motioning for Nick to stay where he is right by the door. Is it really that bad? The floor will become a mess.

Just a bit of rain, Mr. Goodall.

Goodall laughs—a short bark. Just a bit of rain… He shakes his head. The fire will get you dry soon enough. Come on, there’s work to do. After Nick has come closer, Goodall gives him a look of disapproval. What did that poor coat do to deserve such negligence?

Nick has no fondness for his coarse woolen coat. There are loose threads at the seams, two missing buttons, and an ugly tear in the lining. He would have cared for it before. Mended it as soon as it needed mending, washed any stains out. It has been many months now since he stopped caring. It’s odd to remember that once he had another coat as well, one as fine as any that Lord Newberry and Mr. Wilby might be seen wearing. Blue, embroidered cotton. The most cherished gift he ever received. Left, like everything else, on the Victory.

Goodall still has his eyes on him. Andrews, when was the last time you ate? Really, a handsome lad like you, and you’re wilting away. He gestures for Nick to come over to the counter. Wait here. He disappears into the back room and returns with a bit of cheese. Eat now, be quick. I’ll take it out of your wages, but in the state you’re in you should thank me for it.

Nick is thankful. The cheese is strong, and so fat it dissolves in his mouth. He can’t recall the last time he had anything like it. It’s kind of you, sir.

Goodall huffs. I can’t have people thinking I’m mistreating my staff.

Some hours later, they’re both busy. The rain isn’t drumming quite so loudly against the shutters anymore, but the guests all leave wet footprints on the floor. They’re better prepared for the weather, though, in heavy cloaks or greatcoats. Most of them gather close to the fireplace, entertaining each other with stories and jokes. Nick fills their cups and stokes the fire. He sighs when Lord Newberry and Mr. Wilby come through the door.

You behave, boy, Goodall hisses. Nick doesn’t reply. His clothes are still damp, and they’re making his skin itch. If he were alone he’d tear them off, and his soggy shoes as well.

My, my, what horrid weather. Almost makes me pity my coachman. Lord Newberry removes his tricorne and gestures for Nick to come to him. He doesn’t even bother to make eye contact as he sheds his cloak and drops it into his arms. The fabric is cold and dripping. Nick stares at the bundle. He knows what is expected of him but can’t bring himself to do it.

Well? Newberry frowns. Next, you hang it on the coat rack. That can’t be too hard, even for you.

Nick lets the cloak fall to the floor. If you know what to do, sir, why not do it yourself?

The room goes silent. Lord Newberry’s face is white.

Will you listen to that? one of the men by the fireplace says. They are all watching, eyes glowing with excitement. The new one’s got spirit.

Hang your own damn cloak, Newberry, someone else cries. The rest of the men collapse with laughter. Can’t you tell the lad’s got better things to do?

Very well, Newberry says, pretending to laugh along with them. He reaches for his cloak, his eyes on Nick’s face. They’re dark with suppressed fury.

Before Nick has made it back to the hearth Goodall grabs him, taking a firm grip around his neck.

I told you to behave. I want no more of that sort, do you hear?

Yeah, Mr. Goodall. But Nick is pleased to think back on that look in Lord Newberry’s eyes.

It’s well into the evening when a small boy comes rushing into the room from upstairs. He’s snotty and miserable, and very much out of place among the pipe-smoking gentlemen. Nick expects Goodall to tell him to leave, but the proprietor greets the boy with a short look.

What now, Jim?

Mum said to get you, Uncle George. Can you come? Can you?

Goodall looks around, a hint of color spreading on his cheeks. He touches the boy’s hair and shushes at him. Fine, fine, but next time I’ll… He turns to Nick, frowning. Andrews, I’ll be back shortly. You know what to do.

Nick doesn’t really know at all. But he does what he can, serving and keeping things in order. Hopefully the coffee won’t run out.

He’s serving some old men poring over the latest issue of a newspaper when the front door opens and a loud voice is heard.

Newberry! Wilby! I’m here at last. Did you miss me terribly?

Just what he needed—another man like those two. They’ll probably end up staying longer as well, now that their friend has joined them. Newberry has ignored Nick for most of the evening, but Wilby has been shooting him ugly glances. Nick hesitates for several moments before walking up to their table to serve the newcomer. Better to just get it over with.

Hellish weather, the new man says as he hangs up his greatcoat. He’s young, handsomer than the other two, and has a smile that seems permanent on his face. His wig looks freshly powdered and his skin has a healthy glow. He’s not as tall as Newberry, but nowhere near short. While both Newberry and Wilby are dressed fashionably, they seem colorless next to this man in his bright yellow coat. His cane is made of some wood that catches the light, and it’s ornate with what looks like carved white bone and golden inlays at the top. He looks up as Nick starts pouring him coffee, and his smile widens.

Oh. Did the old man get rid of Griffiths at last? His eyes are as blue as Nick’s own.

Should’ve kept the thief, Wilby says. This one is useless. You should have been here earlier and seen what he did.

No need to speak of that, Newberry cuts in. I knew you’d be partial to him, Arlington. Always the same with you.

Well, Arlington says as Nick returns to the counter. You were right.

Whatever Goodall’s sister needs him for, it takes time. Nick is holding up quite well, he thinks, but there’s not a lot of coffee left in the kettle. The last thing he needs is for the customers to complain because he has nothing to serve them.

He’s behind the counter, dividing his attention between the customers and the fire, when a group of men leave their table. Three of them go out into the street while one comes up to Nick to pay. Nick recognizes him as one of those who laughed the hardest when he dropped Newberry’s cloak.

Here, the man says, pushing a coin into Nick’s hand. I don’t have less, but you must have plenty of change.

Nick stares at the coin, his cheeks burning. He knows it’s a shilling. He knows the men should pay a penny each.

But he has no idea how many pennies he should give the man as change. He should know—he’s counted coins before, lots of them; he’s seen gold and silver—yet he’s standing here blushing and he doesn’t know a thing.

That was a tough task I gave you, wasn’t it? The man laughs. His voice is loud enough for everyone to hear. Give me eight pence back, lad. And you’d better have Goodall teach you about money. He leaves, still laughing. The shilling burns in Nick’s palm.

Money’s a pain.

Nick doesn’t look up, but he sees a flash of yellow silk out of the corner of his eye.

No need to concern yourself with it, unless you have to.

Nick puts the coin down. Doesn’t reply.

What is your name? Arlington has lowered his voice. Nick looks up at him, and there’s that smile again. Out of curiosity.

Nick shrugs. What’s it to you, sir? He starts cleaning the counter, sweeping it with his hand, gathering invisible dust. Arlington waits for a few moments. Then he snorts and returns to his table. Some minutes later Goodall comes back, excusing himself for his absence. He scolds Nick for leaving the shilling on the counter and for failing to clear one of the tables of dirty cups. As Nick starts cleaning up he hears Arlington call out.

Mr. Goodall! I was just telling my friends here how much I appreciate this establishment. No place like it.

Goodall’s smile is strange, as if his face isn’t used to it. That is most kind of you, Mr. Arlington. Most kind.

Across the room, Arlington’s blue eyes meet Nick’s. I think I shall have to come here more often.

Just as Nick is leaving that night, slinking past bawling drunks and puddles left from the rain, he’s stopped by someone calling out to him. He’s not sure whether he should be surprised as Arlington steps out of the shadows and grins at him. The man left Goodall’s half an hour earlier, together with Newberry and Wilby, but they are nowhere to be seen. He is alone, and he has obviously been waiting for Nick to come this way.

Mr. Andrews. Arlington’s bright attire is hidden under his thick cloak. The chill has brought roses to his cheeks, and he wears the hat low over his forehead. Forgive me for listening in when Mr. Goodall spoke to you. I had to rely on him, didn’t I, when you wouldn’t give me your name yourself.

Nick’s clothes have dried, but they’re not warm. The rain has cooled the air down considerably, and it’s freezing even though it’s the middle of March. Mr. Arlington can’t have been comfortable standing out here in the cold with the drunks and streetwalkers passing by.

I suppose, Nick mutters, and continues walking.

Arlington laughs, easily keeping up with him. Tell me something. What did you do to enrage Newberry so? I’ve been dying to find out all evening.

Nick keeps his eyes on the street. The gutter is brimming with litter and sludge, inches from his feet. He’s a bastard.

I know he is. Arlington’s tone is light. "They’re horrid, those two. Did you spill

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