Secrets and Intrigue in Regency England

The Assistant: Before Pride and Prejudice

Riana Everly

When textile merchant Edward Gardiner rescues an injured youth, he has no notion that this simple act of kindness will change his life. The boy is bright and has a gift for numbers that soon makes him a valued assistant and part of the Gardiners’ business, but he also has secrets and a set of unusual acquaintances. When he introduces Edward to his sparkling and unconventional friend, Miss Grant, Edward finds himself falling in love.

But who is this enigmatic woman who so quickly finds her way to Edward’s heart? Do the deep secrets she refuses to reveal have anything to do with the appearance of a sinister stranger, or with the rumours of a missing heir to a northern estate? As danger mounts, Edward must find the answers in order to save the woman who has bewitched him . . . but the answers themselves may destroy all his hopes.

Book Excerpt

Autumn, 1799

The rains had come in a deluge the previous night, with thunder and lightning, frightening horses and sending young children into the arms of their anxious parents. A storm this heavy could cause damage to homes and bridges, could knock down trees and block roads. Such heavy rain was unusual for the early days of autumn, but not unheard of, and consequently the servants at the estate were prepared for the worst when the first crash of lightning lit the midnight sky as bright as noon.

They were prepared when a subsequent bolt struck the stables, setting it afire despite the torrential rains. One small crew worked fearlessly to bring the terrified horses to safety under the portcullis of the old buildings, while another strove to douse the flames that licked at the hay stacked under the peaked roof. The work was exhausting and all-demanding, and when, after some time, the fire was extinguished and the horses returned to the slightly charred but otherwise undamaged building.

No one noticed the small figure that crept its way out of the kitchen door, which had been left ajar to allow men access to the warmth and sustenance.

The ground was wet and spongy underfoot, and the passage of two feet left small puddles in their wake, grass-covered indentations filling with water before slowly releasing their liquid back into the rain-soaked earth. In the heavy cloud-laden darkness, still hours before dawn, the slight figure picked its way tentatively down the edge of the hedges that rimmed the long drive, ducking into the foliage wherever possible so as to avoid being noticed by any who might still be awake and watching. The figure hefted a small bag onto one shoulder and wrapped the greatcoat more snugly. At long last, upon reaching the road at the end of the property, the tense shoulders relaxed just a bit, the first ordeal having been survived. One step closer to freedom!

It was a long walk to town, near on ten miles, but the traveller did not seem to be in any hurry. Although the road from the estate ran straight into the town, it was too well traveled for the fugitive’s peace of mind. A little known path through the woods that bordered the thoroughfare would provide better protection. Keeping to the bushes, the rough-clad wanderer crept slowly onward through the wet undergrowth, anxious of unseen stones or slippery patches in this darkest of nights, stopping every now and then to assess location and direction. In the woods ran a stream, surging from the recent downpour, which fed the river that flowed through the city, and the traveller carefully and slowly followed the sound of the rushing water. There was no need to hurry. There was no one waiting. Brushing dirty hands on rough woolen trousers, the wanderer adjusted the much-worn coat atop thin shoulders and moved on, towards what, heaven only knew.

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Riana Everly is the pen name of a South African-born Canadian author. Her first poem was published in the local newspaper when she was six years old, and she has been entranced with the written word ever since. In grade school, she began dabbling with short stories, and later on produced a sizable volume of academic writing, but she never imagined she would be able to write a novel. Then, one day, she decided to give it a try, and to her own surprise, succeeded! She has since melded her love of history and her love of writing to create a series of carefully researched romances.

Riana is influenced by the beautiful writing of Jane Austen and the rich historical tapestry of the early nineteenth-century, as well as by the fascinating history of early Canada, where British, American and colonial cultures met.

Riana now lives in Toronto with her family and is often found sneaking chocolate when she thinks no one is looking.

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