The Last Time We Met - By Lily Lang

Chapter One

London, 1832

For three days and three nights, Miranda Thornwood had sat curled beneath a broken crate in a St. James mews, waiting for Jason Blakewell to emerge from the club that bore his name.

She had had little to drink and less to eat. Sleep had come only in brief snatches. The freezing rain had begun two nights ago and had not ceased since, but the broken crate in which she sat failed to actually shelter her from either the cold or the damp. Rats scurried through the narrow alley, often close enough to touch, and the air stank of horse droppings and rotting food.

But after the desperate thirty-five mile journey without food or shelter from Middlesex to London, Miranda was accustomed to physical discomfort. She kept her weary attention focused on the door of the club, and when a pair of beautiful black geldings drawing a gleaming black closed carriage clambered to a halt, she lifted her head.

The great front doors opened. A man in sleek, dark evening clothes stepped out into the night and down the shallow flight of stairs. A short, muscular bullfrog of a footman followed, holding up a large black umbrella.

Miranda leaned forward. The gaslight wavered through the shimmering rain. Despite the chill of the evening, the man wore no cloak, but his evening clothes, though plain, were perfectly cut and fitted, his white cravat tied in a simple knot. Carelessly cut dark hair curled over his high forehead and the nape of his neck.

Miranda’s heart pounded. Stretching out her aching, weary muscles, she scrambled out from the crate.

Despite the rain and the lateness of the hour, carriages and people still crowded St. James. Miranda drew her heavy cloak more securely around her mud-splattered dress and darted across the street, ducking past horses and drunken dandies. As she drew closer, the man’s face became clearer: dark eyes set against harsh features, and a strong, powerful jaw line.

Her breath caught.

It was Jason Blakewell.

She came to a sudden halt on the edge of the street, overcome by a nameless emotion so powerful, so agonizing, it stole her breath.

She had not seen Jason in ten long years. For six of them she had believed him dead, and even when she’d learned he had not perished, as she had feared, on the prison hulk to which her father had consigned him, she had known he was lost to her forever. Surely he still hated her for what he believed she had done to him, but nothing could stop the sudden shock of joy that coursed through her as she gazed upon him for the first time in over a decade.

“Eh, lady, get out of the way!”

A pair of monstrous gray stallions drawing a huge carriage came thundering directly toward her. Miranda, still dazed, could not move quickly enough, but Jason had looked up and seen her. He reacted instantly. In a second he reached her and drew her aside to the safety of the paved footpath. His hands on her were gentle and impersonal.

“Are you unwell, madam?” he asked in the deep voice she remembered so perfectly.

The folds of her heavy cloak hid her face. He had not yet recognized her.

She couldn’t answer. She managed a quick shake of the head, and he said, “You had better be careful. The streets can be dangerous if you don’t watch where you’re going.”

He gave her a courteous bow, as though beneath her heavy mud-splattered winter cloak she might be a duchess, and turned back to the waiting carriage. With a tremendous effort of will, Miranda found her voice.

“Jason,” she said.

He stilled. For a moment he stood without moving. The rain dampened his hair and jacket. The dull thud of her heart drowned out even the clamor of the streets.

At last, very slowly, Jason turned. She pushed back the hood of her cloak so the gaslight shone full on her face and her matted hair. But before she could speak again, the footman came around the side of the carriage to see what had delayed his master.

When he saw Miranda, his face crumpled in annoyance.

“Stand back now,” he said. “Mr. Blakewell don’t want no one bothering ’im for no money.”

Miranda ignored him, her attention focused solely on the expressionless man who stood before her, gazing at her with a stranger’s eyes out of a heartbreakingly familiar face. The rain fell in silver sheets around them.

“Please, Jason,” she said, her voice faint. “I need to speak with you.”

The footman scowled, reaching for her arm,