Read The Gallows Bride Online

Authors: Rebecca King

Tags: #romance, #thriller, #literature, #suspense, #adventure, #intrigue, #mysteries, #romanticsuspense, #historicalromance, #general mysteries, #regencyromance, #romanticmysteries

The Gallows Bride (10 page)

It all
went horribly wrong the day she saw Scraggan’s son Rogan in the
village. She had been sent to collect some items for Cook, when she
had caught sight of him walking toward her. Instinctively she had
ducked into a shop to wait for him to pass, and had still been
there when Peter had trotted past with his friends. He looked so
arrogantly debonair, and at ease with his place in life, in such
stark contrast to the grubby unkempt Scraggan who visited her own
world, that she realised just how unfair she was being even talking
to the man.

Rogan
Scraggan Senior, was a loathsome creature, with a son who was just
as mean. Together they ran several ruthless smuggling gangs along
the Cornish coastline. As Magistrate for Padstow, Jemima and
Eliza’s father had taken papers detailing Scraggan’s illegal
activities to the War Office, only to be brutally murdered on his
way home. Suddenly finding themselves alone, and without a guardian
or protector, had forced Jemima and Eliza to run for their lives.
To see Scraggan so close to someone as handsome, and – well, civil
– as Peter Davenport, was enough of a warning to Jemima not to
involve anyone him.

Peter
Davenport was just being nice, that was all, whereas she was
halfway in love with him. Although she had decided to keep her
distance from him, fate had other ideas and the following morning
she was once again sent to light the bedroom fires.

Images
of Rogan and Scraggan had haunted her dreams, and she was tired and
frightened when she entered his room. She was just about to leave
when she heard his voice. She couldn’t be rude and ignore him, but
it hurt to remain. He had immediately picked up on her distress and
left the bed, pressuring her into telling him everything. Like a
fool Jemima had poured her heart out to him, burying her head in
his solid shoulder and sobbing as though her heart had broken. In
reality, it had. She knew there and then that she loved him. He was
everything she ever wanted for a husband, and it hurt to know he
could never be hers.

He had
offered to help her, pressing her for more and more information
until she had told him everything. She hadn’t thought to question
his request for time to digest the facts, but had agreed to meet
him somewhere where they wouldn’t be disturbed.

Their
meeting later that night was the first of many over the following
few weeks, as Peter teased as much information from her as he
could. Jemima was not only glad to have someone to turn to, to
confide in, but she was also grateful for the precious moments
alone with him. He seemed confident that he could help her,
assuring her that he had contacts who would help. His calm
reassurances went a long way to soothing her fears. Each time they
met, she fell in love with him just a little bit more until he
became as essential to her as the very air she breathed.

She
hadn’t protested when he had first kissed her, simply revelling in
his tender warmth. It had been inevitable that their attraction
would grow until neither was able to deny the passion that burned.
Their lovemaking was tender, generous and oh so very sweet in a
world of turmoil and confusion. It was the oasis in a desert of
desperation and fear. She hadn’t the strength, or heart, to deny
him anything. He had seemed just content to spend time with
her.

Until
the day when her rose-tinted glasses had been so cruelly ripped
away, leaving her to stare at the horrifying reality of the danger
she had put him in. At first she hadn’t believed the servants
discussing the strange accident that had befallen one of the
guests. It appeared the saddle girth worn by one of the guests’
horses had been severed, although the stable hand had insisted he
had checked it when he had saddled the horse. The guest had almost
been killed, having been trodden on by his friend’s horse moments
after hitting the ground.

Knowing
she risked losing her job, Jemima had quickly crept upstairs to see
for herself. Her heart had broken at the sight of him lying,
battered and bruised, on the bed. She had cried as she stood beside
him, despite his reassurances that he was all right. She hadn’t
linked his accident to Scraggan at first, until she returned home
later that night to find a knife and a piece of saddle girth on the
footstep of her aunt’s house.

She had
known there and then that in order to keep Peter alive, she had to
leave and sever all contact with him.

Knowing
Scraggan was in the area, she had taken a great risk to pay Peter
one last visit. At first she had simply wanted to comfort him, and
spend a few final moments savouring simply being with him, but he
had sensed her disquiet and demanded to know its cause. She hadn’t
told him, because she had been determined that he should learn
nothing else that would put him at risk. Instead, she spent their
final hours together saying her own private goodbye.

Their
loving was turbulent that last night, the passion flaring brighter
than ever before. Bathed in the warm glow of carnal sensation, she
had tearfully declared her love for him, aware of his searching
gaze. He seemed to sense that something had changed and had
repeatedly demanded to know what and why. It had taken every ounce
of self-control she possessed to deny everything but concern for
him after his accident.

Leaving
him before dawn the next morning had been the hardest thing she had
ever done. The tears she had shed as they had quickly left town
under the cover of darkness had continued ever since.

 

Jemima
sighed deeply and carefully closed the door on the past. The young
women who had left Devon that night had long gone. Her flight
across the country with Eliza had taken her further and further
away from Peter, breaking her heart just a little bit more with
each passing mile.

At the
time she had thought she was leaving him behind. She hadn’t stopped
to consider that he would follow her with the same dogged
determination as Scraggan.

The
first time she had seen him, she had merely put it down to them
both travelling in the same direction. From her position among the
crowds of the busy market town, she had watched him trot past, his
face stern and forbidding. She had given him enough time to leave
before heading in the opposite direction. She had thought that had
been the last of it, until she had seen Scraggan’s right-hand man
in the same village they passed through. Again they had moved on,
desperate to escape the threat that they didn’t seem to be able to
leave behind.

Then, a
couple of months later, she had seen him again. She had been
working in a coaching inn, collecting pots and washing dishes, when
he had sauntered in, looking as debonair and handsome as he had the
first time she had seen him. The job had been a wrench to leave,
but she had been given little choice. Their exit had been swift,
the post chaise they used to get out of town speedy but
uncomfortable.

The
months that followed had been a confusing time of new jobs,
Scraggan, Peter, moving on at speed until neither she nor Eliza
knew where they would be sleeping from one day to the
next.

Until
the day they had found themselves in Derby. The bustling market
town had been just what they needed. People coming and going, a
vast array of shops, taverns and coaching inns provided ample
opportunity for both Eliza and Jemima to find work. They had
quickly settled, but had stayed too long.

Scraggan
and Peter had both caught up with them with far too much
ease.

The
thought made her pause, and she frowned deeply, carefully
considering their way of life in Devon. If Scraggan had wanted to
kill her and Eliza, why had he not taken one of the many
opportunities they had given him? After all, Eliza spent most of
her days, and evenings sitting by herself in their aunt’s house.
With no protection, and no neighbours to hear her scream, why
hadn’t Scraggan or his men taken the opportunity to break in and
kill her? More importantly, although she had been carrying a very
sharp knife, Jemima herself had walked at night, alone, in the dark
through the gardens of the huge estate to the rear of her aunt’s
house. She had been alone, in the middle of nowhere. A prime target
to have her throat cut.

So why
hadn’t Scraggan taken the opportunity to get rid of both of them
when he had a chance? Why chase her halfway across the country, and
go to the time and trouble of setting her up?

She went
cold inside, and recalled their journey to Derby, fraught with
tension and worry. They had no sooner settled, found jobs and
somewhere to live when Scraggan or his men would appear, forcing
them to move on. It was almost as if they were being shepherded
toward Derby.

Jemima
frowned and shook her head. She was being ridiculous – wasn’t
she?

The more
she considered the events of the past several months, the more she
felt that something about the entire situation wasn’t
right.

Her
stomach rumbled loudly in protest at being deprived, prompting her
to see to her more pressing needs. At the moment, they were
questions that had to remain unanswered, but she made a mental note
to discuss them with Peter later.

One
thing was for certain: the threat of Scraggan was still very real.
While he roamed free and was able to run his smuggling gangs, and
go where he chose, she was just as much at risk from him as she had
been back in Devon, and she couldn’t afford to allow Peter’s
presence to lull her into a false sense of security.

Her own
brush with death had been far too close. She still didn’t
understand what it had all been about, but knew that if she
achieved one thing today, it had to be to find some
answers.

When her
stomach grumbled loudly in protest again, Jemima eased out of
bed.

Whatever
the reason behind Peter’s stubborn determination to pursue her,
Jemima had seen the raw emotion on his face in Mr Simpson’s office.
It had been a clear and honest reflection of the depth of his
anxiety.

So where
did that leave them now?

She
wasn’t sure, but the insistent rumbling of her stomach would surely
wake him if she lay in bed any longer. She quietly eased the covers
back and swung her legs over the side of the bed, relieved that she
wasn’t assaulted by the dizziness that had plagued her the day
before.

Thankfully, Eliza had left a dress over the back of one of
the chairs, along with the necessary accessories. Within moments
Jemima, feeling significantly stronger, dressed and tugged her hair
up into an untidy knot before donning some exquisite satin
slippers.

She
moved to the door and stood with one hand on the latch for a
moment. Her gaze turned to Peter still fast asleep on the floor. He
looked so relaxed, so at ease with his world. If it weren’t for the
dark shadows beneath his eyes and the deep grooves bracketing his
mouth, she would have thought he hadn’t a care in the world.
Despite his stubbled jaw, there was a vulnerability about him while
he slept that reminded her of a little boy.

She had
missed him so much while they had been apart, and had considered
him a part of her past she could never recapture. To see him again
now, so close, was like manna from heaven. Unable to resist, she
slowly tiptoed across the room and carefully knelt on the floor
beside him. She winced as her stomach rumbled loudly in the silence
of the room and paused, waiting to see if he had heard it too.
Relieved when he continued to sleep, Jemima leaned over him and
brushed her lips carefully over his in a feather-light kiss. She
had no idea if this moment was going to be the last she had with
him, and couldn’t resist feeling his lips against hers once more,
even if he didn’t know about it.

When he
mumbled under his breath and turned over, she eased back and moved
quietly to the door. Taking one last lingering look at Peter, she
left the room.

She had
no idea where she was going, but the delicious aroma of food
wafting up from somewhere was enough to spur her on. One end of the
corridor was brighter than the other, so she followed the sunshine,
eventually finding herself on a large landing at the top of a
flight of long, sweeping stairs leading down to a cavernous
entrance hall.


Good morning,” Sebastian chirruped from behind her, still
struggling with the shock of seeing her alive, and looking equally
as beautiful as her sister. She looked so unlike the unkempt
ghost-like creature that had glided out of the storage room that he
struggled to believe it was actually the same person. Despite his
love for his wife, he could fully understand why Peter was so
smitten with her.

She was
gorgeous.

Jemima
jumped, emitting a low squeak as she turned and found herself face
to face with a tall, black-haired man who had a calm air of
authority about him.


I’m Sebastian, by the way.” He smiled gently, sensing her
disquiet and doing his best to put her at ease.


I’m sorry,” Jemima replied after several awkward moments of
silence.


Hello ‘Sorry’,” Sebastian smiled, flashing an even row of
white teeth at her. “Well, ‘Sorry’, I am not sure about you, but I
am starving and if the smells coming from the breakfast room are
any indication, I do believe Cook has excelled herself this
morning. Shall we?” With that, he held his elbow out for her in a
gentlemanly fashion, clearly waiting to escort her down to
eat.

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