Lyon’s Prey by Anna St. Claire

Prologue

December 1815

Epsom, Surrey, England

What is takingthe miserable doctor so long? Evan Prescott, the fifth Earl of Clarendon, poured another measure of brandy and took a long sip. The heartbreaking screaming coming from upstairs had gone on for hours. Rogue tears slid down his face as he stared at the open door to his study, and he brushed them aside. He wanted it to be over for her.

Evan had sent for her family and his, but the weather was making it difficult for anyone to get there. He only hoped the doctor would make it soon. The frosted glass of the large windows drew him, conflicting with the warmth of the room and the brandy. He rubbed some frost away with the side of the hand holding the brandy to peer outside. The pristine beauty of the snow and full moon offered a sharp contrast to the terror he felt inside. Heavy snow covered everything, leaving an almost fairy tale quality to the grounds glimmering beneath the moonlight. It had been snowing all day and showed no signs of letting up.

A throat cleared behind him, and he turned to see his butler, Bernard, standing near him.

“My lord, the doctor has arrived. His carriage got stuck in a snowdrift, and he had to leave it and walk the rest of the way. He is about the size of your father, so I ordered some dry clothes for him. Do you wish to speak with him before he goes upstairs?”

“Thank God! Thank you for getting him some warm clothes. My needs are all upstairs. Please send him to my wife at once.”

A piercing scream rent the air, causing both men to jump.

“Immediately, please. She needs him now.”

“Right away, my lord.” The older man scrambled to move quickly but knew only one speed.

Unable to control his growing frustration, Evan walked to the door and stuck his head into the hall. “Good God, man. Hurry.” He immediately regretted his action, even though the sound of footsteps almost running away from his door felt more satisfying. Taking a deep breath, he walked to the fireplace and leaned against it, staring as the flames licked wood and ricocheted off the back of the chimney and into the night sky. Evan pressed the now warm glass of brandy to his forehead to dispatch a pounding headache, feeling a weakness he had never known before.

“God, please pull her through this,” he said aloud to himself. While he was not deeply religious, Amelia was. “I promise to be a better man; please do not take my wife away.” He swiped at the tears that ran down his face.

Thoughts flooded his mind. Amelia had pronounced the house ready for Christmastide, having been on her feet against his wishes, supervising the footmen and maids as they assembled boughs throughout the house. “It is snowing, and you know how I love it. Will you take me on a sleigh ride?” Amelia had pleaded. She wanted fresh air, tired from the bedrest of the past four months. They even joked about how they may not get another sleigh ride like this for a while after the baby came.

Rather than disappoint her, he ordered the sleigh and horses brought around, and the two took a ride into the village and purchased trinkets for the baby.

His wife wanted a little boy that looked like him, with dark brown hair and brown eyes. Evan wanted a girl, one that had rosy cheeks, blue eyes, and curly blonde hair like her mother. A son could come later, if that was what happened. He could cherish a house full of girls that all resembled their mother. His own mother was pushing for a son to carry on the family name, constantly reminding him of their duty to produce an heir. Amelia would gently respond that she would do her best. His wife understood his mother, something he struggled to comprehend, yet was always grateful for.

Memories clawed at him. The two of them had had the road to themselves that afternoon, laughing and kissing as they rode with the snow swirling around them. The clop-clop of the horses’ hooves rhythmically hitting the earth created a romantic, memorable moment.

“This is the most wonderful day, Evan,” Amelia enthused, snuggling closer under the blanket. “Tell me again that you will be all right if this turns out to be a girl instead of a boy.”

Evan lightly touched her pert red nose with his forefinger. “Yes, darling. I love this child, whatever it may be. I mean that.” He kissed her nose, basking in her smile.

They spent the afternoon discussing names again, cuddling together under the thick cover as the driver took them on roads, some with perfectly shaped canopies covered in fluffy snow crystals. It had been a day full of beauty and only the hundredth time they had discussed names in a fortnight. They both liked the name Jason, after his father. However, she liked Edward, saying it was a potent name, and as his second name, it was her favored choice. They decided if it was a girl, the baby would take Amelia’s mother’s name. By the time they returned, he realized that they had still made no decision on the boy’s name, but it mattered not. They would meet the babe first.

Stark quiet invaded his thoughts. How long has Dr. Pembroke been up there? It is too quiet. Unable to wait another minute, Evan threw his drink into the fire and hurried from his office, taking the steps two at a time, praying. The thirsty wail of a baby caused him to stop and look up. There are no voices. He reached his wife’s room in a trice and flung open the door.

Amelia’s lifeless body lay on sheets still pooled with blood.

“My lord, she . . .” Her maid’s tear-stained face saw him approaching, and she hurried away from the body to stand near the wall.

“No!” he howled, moving Amelia’s hands to his shoulders and pulling her up to him as he cried into her damp blonde hair.

Dr. Pembroke put a hand on his shoulder, and he pushed it away. There was no comfort. He could have no life without Amelia.

A weak cry sounded behind him, and he tried to turn from Amelia to see the baby.

“My lord, you have a son,” the midwife whispered brokenly, offering the small child to him.

Swiping at his face, he looked down at the bundle of wrinkled pink skin. Carefully laying his wife back down, he reached for the baby. Blue eyes framed by tiny wisps of blond hair looked into his face, and a small hand grabbed his finger and held on.

“Edward. You are Edward.” He smoothed back the baby’s hair as the door opened.

His sister had arrived. Through swollen eyes, he watched her glance first at Amelia, then at Edward before rushing to his side.

“Evan, oh my God! How… what can we do to help?” Catherine said tremulously, pressing her hands to her ashen cheeks.

“She is gone. My Amelia is gone,” he cried hoarsely, thrusting the baby into her arms.

“Where are you going?” she screeched after him.

Evan stopped and half-turned to face his sister. “I need air,” he croaked, looking down once more at the bed and noticing the rattle and cloth doll he and Amelia had purchased just that day. “Please understand.”

I am broken.