Family in the Making

By: Jo Ann Brown

Chapter One

Porthlowen, Cornwall

October 1812

Another inch. One little inch, and she would have it.

Maris Oliver stood on tiptoe on the chair and stretched her arm across the top shelf, groping for the box she had seen from the floor. When she had asked the cook about a box of small cups, Mrs. Ford told her to look in the stillroom. She wanted to retrieve the cups that were decorated with nursery rhyme characters to use in the nursery.

“Just another inch,” she muttered to herself as the stool wobbled under her toes.

She could have waited and asked a footman to help her, but she wanted the cups for the children’s next meal. She had read the rhymes to them, and they would be excited to see the characters. Making the youngsters smile always was a delight.

The four tots and tiny baby in the nursery, as well as the little boy who lived with the parson and his wife, had been discovered floating in a jolly boat in the harbor. Brought to Cothaire, the great house on the hill overlooking the cove, they were taken in by the Trelawney family. Its patriarch, the Earl of Launceston, had given his children carte blanche to provide for the youngsters until it could be discovered who had put them into that boat and set them afloat and why.

Shortly after their arrival, Maris was offered the position of nurse to oversee the children and the nursery. The position would end once the search for their real families proved fruitful. She should worry about where she would go next, but she spent her time focused on the children, guiding them, teaching them manners, playing games with them in the nursery.

She doted on the adorable urchins. When she was with them, she could forget why she had run away to West Cornwall in the first place. She had found a haven in Porthlowen, and the children had found a way into her heart.

A perfect solution...at least for now.

Her fingers brushed the edge of the box she sought. It rocked.

“C’mon,” she murmured. “An inch more.”

Could she stand higher on her toes? She tried and managed to push aside the box beside the one she wanted. It bumped into others, and one toppled onto another. She held her breath, but nothing fell to the floor.

One more try.

Extending her arm and hand as far as she could, she hooked one finger over the side of the box. She drew it back carefully. It moved an inch, then stopped.

“Bother!”

She was not going to give up. She gave another tug, then a harder one.

Too hard. Her finger popped off the side of the box. The motion propelled her backward. She windmilled her arms before grasping the edge of the shelf. The stool stopped rocking beneath her. She let out her breath in a soft sigh. That had been close.

Suddenly, an arm wrapped around her waist, yanking her off her feet. A shriek burst from her throat. The moment her toes touched the stone floor, she was shoved against the lower shelves. As she was held there by a firm chest, terror took control of her. No! She would not let this happen. Not again! She tried to pull away, but broad hands tightened on her.

Exactly as hands had at her dear friend’s house that evening when Lord Litchfield refused to let her escape him as he squeezed her to the shelves behind her. The brash, flirtatious young lord had proved he was no gentlemen when he had chanced upon her in the book room. The echo of her own screams burst from her memories, his breath hot against her face, the screech of ripping fabric...the laughter of his friends.

Not again! She would not let it happen again.

She drew back her arm and drove her fist into her captor’s gut. Air whooshed out of him, but he did not release her. She aimed her fist at him again. She froze when boxes cascaded down beyond her captor. They struck the stone floor and broke apart. Wood splinters flew in every direction. He pushed her head to his chest. His face hid in her hair. Glass shattered, and metal clanged.

Silence except for her uneven breathing...and her captor’s. No, not her captor. Her rescuer!

Voices rang through the room. She started to raise her head, but the man pushed it against him again. She opened her mouth to protest. Anything she might have said vanished as another storm of boxes fell from overhead, crashing and splintering.

The man holding her recoiled toward her. Had he been struck? She did not move until he lifted his head off hers as silence returned.

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