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Tag: Mark Virtue

Harry Townsend Found and Lost Again

Whenever Lily was alone in the workshop, she sat in her father’s chair.

He was out back with the new apprentice, showing him how to split a log into usable planks. From her seat at his desk, the familiar sound of sawing all but drowned out her sisters’ incessant chatter and the noise from the street outside. She leaned back and swung her boots onto the desk, taking up her file and setting to work on the toy in her hand. It was nice out here. The furniture for sale couldn’t tease her or pull her hair. It didn’t cry or scream or ask her for anything.

She could get used to this.

The door swung open and Tommy Henshawe rushed in. His cheeks were pink and he was out of breath, but he was smiling. He set a little cloth sack on the desk in front of her. “I can’t stay long, but I saved you some of these.”

Lily dropped her feet to the floor and leaned forward. “Cinnamon biscuits?”

He shook his head. “Raspberry this time. Grandma Ruta has a bush behind the bakery. I wanted to bring you some before they ate them all back home.” He opened up the sack to reveal half a dozen biscuits sticking to each other in the summer heat. They were golden and flaky and smelled like honey.

Lily snatched one and popped it into her mouth with a moan. “You have the best grandma,” she said between bites. “I thought she lived in the city.”

“She does.” He took a biscuit for himself. “She’s been coming around more to help mum until the baby comes.”

“How much longer?” Lily pinched another biscuit.

“Another month or two, I think.” He noticed the file and her half-finished project. “What are you working on?”

“I’m making a present for the baby. It’s a dagger.”

Tommy cocked his head. “I don’t know if babies are supposed to have daggers. They can hurt themselves.”

Lily rolled her eyes. “That’s why it’s wood,” she explained like he was stupid. “Mum and the girls are making blankets and clothes for it. Don’t tell your mum, I think it’s meant to be a surprise.”

Tommy grinned. “She’ll like that. Your mum’s so good at that. I haven’t been cold once since she patched my trousers. Are you going to learn to sew, too?”

“God, no.” Lily shuddered. “I’m going to grow up to be like my daddy.”

He nodded solemnly. “Me, too.”

The door opened again and a man stepped inside, looking lost. He was her mum’s age and dressed like a curate. He approached the desk slowly, no doubt surprised to find the shop being kept by a little girl. “Erm…good afternoon. Does Mark Virtue live here?”

Lily crossed her arms and looked him up and down. He was either a vicar or a lawyer, and she couldn’t think what either would want with her dad. “Who’s asking?”

“Eli Hartford,” he introduced himself. “I have a letter for him.”

He held the letter in one hand and his hat in the other. She had never seen such clean hands in her life. She didn’t trust him. “Why are your hands so clean?” She blurted.

He blinked at her, surprised by the line of questioning. “I work with lepers. Everything is clean.”

She nodded sagely, though she wasn’t quite sure what that meant. She got up and stuck her head out the back door. “Daddy! There’s a leper here to see you!”

Mark stopped dead in his tracks, the saw halfway through a log. “What?”

“I’m not a leper–” the man protested.

Lily shot him an impatient look over her shoulder.

Mark wiped the sweat from his face and pulled his shirt back on. He told the apprentice to take a break and strolled into the workshop. He looked relieved when he saw the man. “Lily, he’s not a leper, he’s a curate.” He shook his head. “How can I help?”

The man let out a sigh of relief and held out the letter to her father. The paper was thin and battered, as though it had traveled a very long way. “My name is Eli Hartford,” the non-leper repeated. “My sister Maude is indentured in the Carolinas and this was included in her last letter. She asked me to be sure you received it.”

The color drained from her father’s face. He seemed to know what it was. “Thank you, Mr Hartford. Do you know what it is? Is your sister well?”

“She’s well. She mentioned some trouble earlier in the year and that she believed you were looking for someone. That is all I know.”

Mark shook his hand. “I can’t thank you enough. Can I offer you a cup of coffee?”

The man shook his head. “My thanks, sir, but I must be on my way. I hope you find who you’re looking for.”

After the man had left, Mark all but ran to the house, tearing the letter open as he went. “Jane! Jane!”

Lily ran after him, and Tommy followed close behind. Her mother appeared at the door with the baby on her hip. “What is it?”

“Word from the Carolinas.”

Jane’s eyes widened and she met him in the garden. “Harry?”

“It has to be.” His family gathering around him, he read aloud. “Dear Mr. Virtue, We have received your letters. My master burns them. I am forbidden from replying, but I write to you to repay the kindness Mr. Townsend showed me during his time here.”

Jane swallowed, the hope on her face fading.

“Mr. Townsend worked here for four years. He was treated very poorly and my master kept your letters from him. I saved one from the fire and read it to him.”

“Are we sure it’s the same Harry?” Jane asked. “It’s not an uncommon name.”

“He robbed my master, seduced his wife, and incited a riot the likes of which has not been seen since Virginia in ’76. Servants and slaves have escaped and a number of farms have been burned to the ground.” Mark grinned. “It’s him.”

Jane gaped, but she didn’t look unhappy. “Good lord, Harry.”

“My master has sworn vengeance and hunts him to this day. If he finds him, he’ll be shot. I am loathe to bear this tragic news, and I pray Mr. Townsend finds his way back to God.” Mark punched the air in triumph. “He’s fine.”

Jane laughed. “What do you mean, he’s fine? It sounds like he’s in trouble.”

“Nah.” Mark shrugged. “He’s found his way out of worse.”

***

You can read more about Harry, the Virtues, the Henshawes, and the other residents of Southwark in Jessica Cale’s The Southwark Saga, out now.  Mark and Jane’s book is Virtue’s Lady:

Virtue’s Lady

Lady Jane Ramsey is young, beautiful, and ruined.

After being rescued from her kidnapping by a handsome highwayman, she returns home only to find her marriage prospects drastically reduced. Her father expects her to marry the repulsive Lord Lewes, but Jane has other plans. All she can think about is her highwayman, and she is determined to find him again.

Mark Virtue is trying to go straight. After years of robbing coaches and surviving on his wits, he knows it’s time to hang up his pistol and become the carpenter he was trained to be. He busies himself with finding work for his neighbors and improving his corner of Southwark as he tries to forget the girl who haunts his dreams. As a carpenter struggling to stay in work in the aftermath of The Fire, he knows Jane is unfathomably far beyond his reach, and there’s no use wishing for the impossible.

When Jane turns up in Southwark, Mark is furious. She has no way of understanding just how much danger she has put them in by running away. In spite of his growing feelings for her, he knows that Southwark is no place for a lady. Jane must set aside her lessons to learn a new set of rules if she is to make a life for herself in the crime-ridden slum. She will fight for her freedom and her life if that’s what it takes to prove to Mark–and to herself–that there’s more to her than meets the eye.

Read Now on Kindle Unlimited

At Home With Mark Virtue

Long before the sun came up, Mark Virtue kissed his sleeping wife and dressed quickly in the darkness. The door glided open on well-oiled hinges and he crept into the hall like a shadow without his boots on. Twenty-four stairs stood between him and his coffee, and he needed to cross them all without waking any of the beasts that slept in his house.

One, two, three—skip the fourth, it creaked—five, the outside corner of the sixth, and he landed like a cat on seven. His breath was shallow and slow; even the slightest sigh could unleash unholy chaos. Eight, nine, ten, and he reached the floor below. The middle floor was the most perilous. Six of the little blighters were split between the two rooms nearest their parents so Jane could hear if one of them so much as hiccuped in the night. He passed the open doors on the balls of his feet until he made it to the banister at the top of the long stretch of stairs.

That final stretch was his favorite. Though he’d only installed them a few years before, they still creaked enough beneath his weight to give him away. Short of flying, there was only one solution.

He sat on the railing and slid on his arse to the bottom.

Mark dismounted with a smile, pausing to listen for any stirring from the top of the stairs. He hadn’t taken to the highways in years, but he was as quiet as ever, a fact that gave him no little satisfaction. As it happened, being a father required many of the same attributes as being a thief: patience, agility, awareness of one’s surroundings, and a loud, clear voice.

When two full minutes had passed without a sound, he carried on into the kitchen, started the fire, brought in a bucket of water from the well, and set the coffee to boil. It would be some time before it was ready, but Jane would appreciate it when the baby woke her up. God knew he would need it. He left it bubbling away and headed outside and through the back garden to his workshop, lantern in his hand.

Once he made it inside and closed the door, he let out a noisy sigh of relief.

“Good morning, Daddy.”

Mark just about jumped out of his skin at the tiny voice greeting him from the darkness. “Christ wept, child! What are you doing out here?”

Lily rolled out of one of the workshop’s dozen wardrobes with a yawn. “Mary snores. Is it morning already?”

“Not quite,” he yawned, the impulse contagious. “Tell me you didn’t sleep out here.”

She pursed her lips.

He waited. “Well?”

“You told me not to lie.”

Mark ran a hand over his face. “You’re too little to be sleeping out here on your own, darling. You should be in the house with the others.”

She shrugged and put on his old hat, looking more like a tiny cutthroat than a child of six. Without a word of argument, she meandered out of the workshop and into the house. He watched her until she was inside with the door closed. She was safe enough within the house, the workshop, and their little walled garden, but he knew his daughter well enough to make sure she didn’t try to jump the fence.

Alone, he sat at the desk and put quill to paper. He would have precious little time to himself and there was a letter he had been meaning to write. He had sent many like it over the past years, and would continue to send them until one of them reached his cousin.

10th May, 1679

Dear Harry,
I am writing you again with hopes this letter finds you. I do not know if you are alive or dead, or where you might be. You have a son. His mother did not survive his birth and he is with us now. We’ve called him Hugo after your father. He is four years old and he’s a good little chap, healthy and with your look. We love him as one of our own and he will always have a place with us, but he should know his father. Every day we pray you can find your way back

A coffee appeared at his elbow. Lily watched him with curiosity over the rim of her own mug. She took a noisy sip.

“That coffee won’t be ready yet,” he warned her. “It has to boil for an hour.”

“Tommy’s dad only boils it for ten minutes. Try it.”

Mark rolled his eyes. Ever since Meg had married Jake Cohen, all the children could talk about Tommy’s new father. He was teaching Tommy to box, he’d made Meg kinder, and by all accounts was making progress in fixing Chris Cooper’s busted leg. Now he could boil coffee faster than anyone. No doubt he didn’t have to use the bridge to get into town at all as he could walk straight across the river.

He was a long ways better than Tommy’s real father, so Mark couldn’t complain. He liked the man fine, he just didn’t need to hear about his accomplishments before he’d had his breakfast.

“It’s better,” Lily insisted.

“Oh, for God’s sake.” Mark gulped the coffee. Instead of the tepid water he’d been expecting, the coffee had a texture closer to ale than the thick, black sludge he was accustomed to drinking. It was much better. “I’ll be damned.”

Lily gave him a smug little smile but she didn’t gloat. “What are you writing?”

“I’m writing to your uncle Harry in the Carolinas.”

She wrinkled her nose, the one gesture she had in common with her mother. Everything else about her manner was him. “Will he come home soon?”

Mark’s heart sank. Transportation and the labor that followed was notoriously difficult. Few survived it, let alone found their way back to England. He hoped Harry was alive, but it got harder to hold that hope with every passing year.

If anyone could do it, it was Harry.

“I hope so, sweetheart.”

***

You can read more about Mark and his family in The Southwark Saga. Mark and Jane’s book is Virtue’s Lady:

Virtue’s Lady

Lady Jane Ramsey is young, beautiful, and ruined.

After being rescued from her kidnapping by a handsome highwayman, she returns home only to find her marriage prospects drastically reduced. Her father expects her to marry the repulsive Lord Lewes, but Jane has other plans. All she can think about is her highwayman, and she is determined to find him again.

Mark Virtue is trying to go straight. After years of robbing coaches and surviving on his wits, he knows it’s time to hang up his pistol and become the carpenter he was trained to be. He busies himself with finding work for his neighbors and improving his corner of Southwark as he tries to forget the girl who haunts his dreams. As a carpenter struggling to stay in work in the aftermath of The Fire, he knows Jane is unfathomably far beyond his reach, and there’s no use wishing for the impossible.

When Jane turns up in Southwark, Mark is furious. She has no way of understanding just how much danger she has put them in by running away. In spite of his growing feelings for her, he knows that Southwark is no place for a lady. Jane must set aside her lessons to learn a new set of rules if she is to make a life for herself in the crime-ridden slum. She will fight for her freedom and her life if that’s what it takes to prove to Mark–and to herself–that there’s more to her than meets the eye.

Read Now on Kindle Unlimited

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