Cornwall, early autumn 1820
Twenty-two years was a long time to wait for life to begin. Even now, as Liam Twethewey guided his bay horse down the narrow, deeply rutted path, he could barely prevent the grin from spreading on his face.
Only a mile or so more and he would be in his new home. Everything he'd been dreaming of—his plans for developing the moorland and making his own way in the world—was finally within his reach.
He filled his lungs with the damp earth-scented air. The rain had, for the moment, subsided. Night was falling and twilight's ominous light cast shadows on the barren land surrounding him, and he squinted to assess the ribbon of road winding before him through the moor's purple grasses and jagged crags.
He might be far from the home he'd known for most of his life, but he already felt a connection to this bit of earth.
For he was now on Wyndcliff estate land. And it all belonged to him.
Perhaps it would have been wiser to wait for his solicitor, Edwin Kinden, to join him as they'd originally planned. Liam had never set foot on Wyndcliff property, and the directions he'd received at the inn in town were vague at best. As the man tasked with overseeing the transfer of property, Kinden was the most appropriate person to handle all introductions to the place. But after nearly two hours of waiting for the older man to arrive, impatience won out. He'd anticipated this moment for far too long to spend another second sitting idly in a dark, smoky public house.
Liam had left word with the innkeeper for Mr. Kinden to meet him out at Wyndcliff Hall when he arrived. After all, how hard could it be to find a large manor house along the main road at the moor's edge?
Liam urged his horse to a quicker pace. This might be his property, but it wouldn't do to be caught in a storm on unfamiliar moorland, especially this close to nightfall.
A gentle rain began to drizzle from the heavens, and Liam was about to press his horse to an even faster pace when a sharp, panicked whinny met his ears. He slowed.
The sound echoed again, followed by a muffled voice.
Concern trumped his enthusiasm, and he halted his horse. But all was now silent. "Anyone there?"
"Yes!" a feminine voice snapped, high and sharp. "Here! Please help! My pony's caught."
Alarm pushed Liam from his saddle, and his boots landed with a splash in the mud. After securing his reins to a rugged piece of rock, he tracked the direction of the voice.
"Mind the bog!" The increasingly volatile wind distorted the woman's cries, tossing them amidst its gusts. "It's deep along the crag."
Heeding the warning, Liam stepped from stone to stone, testing each footfall before taking another step on the marshy ground. The wind tore at his greatcoat, threatening his balance. He cut through tall grasses and crested a rocky ridge, and then a flash of dark blue in the sea of brown and stone caught his attention.
A slight woman with windblown golden hair was yanking on the head collar of a gray pony knee-deep in mud.
Alarm at the potentially dangerous situation shook him from his surprise. One wrong step and the woman would be trapped in the bog, just like her pony. "Stay there. Don't move."
He retrieved the leather strap from his horse's head collar and returned back down to the little valley formed between the crags. He inched down the decline, testing the firmness of the ground before committing his full weight.
The mud-caked pony thrashed and awkwardly bucked to free itself. It reeled back, tossing its muzzle and squealing, but instead of helping the pony break loose, each movement tightened the murky substance around its legs.
"Whoa, whoa," Liam soothed, lowering and calming his voice. With careful, measured steps he approached the animal, ignoring the rain, now more like sharp bits of ice as it pounded his caped greatcoat and wide-brimmed hat.
He had to get closer.
In order to free his own movements he removed his coat, tossed it on higher land, and stepped farther into the bog. His foot instantly sank to his ankle. Like a noose, mud cinched around it. It would be unwise to go farther, so he reached as far as he could and made several attempts to secure the pony's head collar.