Alternate universe. Written in 30 minutes.
London, England 1853
To many in London, the smell of the Thames River filling one’s nostrils at all hours of the day would not be a welcome smell. The curious mixture of sewage and grime that turned the waters a thick muddy gray on a good day was relatively unpleasant.
To Jason Morgan, the scent only reminded him how far he’d come from his childhood in the rolling green pastures of Hampshire and how much he owed his success to the water. Four years in the Royal Navy, three more working his way up on the docks—
He now owned three ships that made regular voyages along the French and Iberian coasts, trading in the goods and luxuries that the denizens of London craved. He’d gone from a one room cottage to a four story home in Bloomsbury, and he was stepping out of a building he owned, waiting under the alcove for his own personal carriage to be brought around.
Most people would agree that Jason Morgan lived a charmed life. Certainly, his best friend and silent investor Michael “Sonny” Corinthos thought so.
They stood beneath the alcove on the High Street in Wapping as rain pounded down around them, the drops sliding along the granite paving of the street.
“It’s going to flood,” Sonny murmured. “Maybe it’s not the best night for drinks at the club.”
Jason merely grunted, putting his hand on his head so that his hat wouldn’t blow away in the fierce wind. “I told you.”
Sonny shrugged. Very few things were allowed to get between him and a night at the gentleman’s club he owned. The Paradise Lounge was a gambling hell that Sonny loved more than he’d ever loved a woman, and to him, every night ought to be capped off with drinks and a hand of faro.
Jason squinted down the dark street, hoping to see his carriage turning the corner from the mews, but all he saw was a woman swathed in a dark cloak slogging along the walk, her head bent against the wind. Jason grimaced, stepped down off the step, intending to take her out of the rain.
The woman stopped in front of him, lifted her head, and Jason stopped short, his hand still stretched out towards her. It froze there, the rain sluicing down his sleeves, soaking his skin beneath, the chill sinking into his bones.
Her face was thinner than he remembered, her eyes so large in her face he could see nothing else. In the bright sun, he knew they were the color of sapphires, of the blue waters they’d grown up around. But in the dark, dim, October evening, they were as muddy as the waters of the Thames.
He shook his head. It couldn’t be—
But her lips formed a word—and he knew without even hearing the sound sucked away into the wind—he knew she had said his name.
“Jase!” he heard Sonny shout behind him.
Jason turned back to his friend for just a moment—but when he turned back—the woman had slumped to the ground, the cloak of her hood falling back to reveal matted brown curls that turned to inky black as the rain drenched them.
Jason threw himself forward to drag her into his arms, and he heard Sonny’s footsteps behind him, helping him lift her.
“Do you know her?” Sonny demanded once he’d helped Jason drag the woman’s limp form into the carriage, their clothing soaking the plush velvet interior. He threw his hat aside, dragged his hand through his coal-black curls. “What—”
Jason just shook his head, smoothing her hair away from her face. “A lifetime ago,” he murmured. “When we were children.”
Sonny said nothing else as the carriage careened through the streets of London, until they had reached Jason’s town home. Sonny helped him inside, sent one of the footman for a doctor. Once Jason had relinquished the woman to the care of his housekeeper and one of the maids, Sonny pulled his friend into the study and handed him a brandy.
“Who is she?” Sonny asked.
Jason scrubbed a hand down his face. “It’s complicated—”
They were interrupted by the butler with fresh towels and the announcement that the doctor had arrived and was seeing to the young miss.
“I told you my father sent me to the Navy when I was nineteen,” Jason said after a long moment. “He did that because our vicar was threatening to have me arrested for kidnapping his daughter.” He sipped his drink, looking younger than Sonny had ever seen him.
Sonny glanced towards the heavy double doors that separated the study from the stairwell—the woman had been taken a flight above them where the bedrooms were located. “I suppose that’s the daughter—”
“We asked for his permission, and he refused. She was only sixteen—we’d need him to agree to call the banns—” Jason swallowed. “So we decided to run away to Scotland.” He shook his head, closed his eyes. “We made it as far as the next shire.”
Sonny nodded. “And I suppose her father didn’t leave her much choice.”
“Go home with him or see me taken up on charges of kidnapping. He was a pious son of a bitch, but—” Jason hesitated. “I tried to go back to see her when she was of age—but by the time I got back to the village, she and her father had gone. The place was destroyed by typhoid—I never found her again.”
“Until tonight.” Sonny poured himself another brandy. “Seems odd she’d show up now. At night, in the rain.” Looking like death. He met Jason’s eyes. “What’s her name?”
“Elizabeth,” Jason said. He swallowed hard as he repeated the name he so rarely even allowed himself to think about. “Elizabeth Webber.”
Sonny went home after for a fresh change of clothing, and Jason’s valet also talked him into changing into dry clothes. By that time, the doctor had finished seeing Elizabeth and was awaiting him in the hallway.
“She’s in bad shape, sir,” Dr. Anthony Jones said with a regretful sigh. “She only arrived tonight?”
“Yes. Why? What’s wrong?” Jason demanded, his tone sharp.
“Well, she’s quite thin. Malnourished, I might add. Coupled that with the fever, I fear the child will be lost.”
Jason stared at him. “Child,” he repeated.
Dr. Jones raised his brows. He pushed open the door and gestured towards the bed in the middle of the room. Elizabeth lay on her back, her face pale against the blue linen, a white night dress twisted around her body.
Jason moved slowly across the room, almost as if in a daze. He could see the evidence of her illness in the sweat on her brow, the thinness of her wrist, the way her collarbone pressed against her porcelain skin.
Just as the small, tight, mound rose on her abdomen was evidence of the child the doctor now said was at risk. Jason swallowed hard, forcing the words out. “Will she recover, though?”
“With rest, with care,” Dr. Jones shrugged. “Hard to say.” Jason felt his eyes on him. “Did you say she was a relative, sir?”
“You’ll return tomorrow to look in on her,” Jason said, instead. He took a deep breath. It didn’t matter if Elizabeth was carrying a child, if she had married after Jason left. She had come to him for help, and he would not let her down.
“You will come every day until she recovers,” he said, roughly. Then he left the room.