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 (2 page)

The
gaoler tapped his desk. “He says that you are his wife.”

It took
every ounce of brazenness she possessed to continue to stare
blankly at Mr Simpson. Her heart clenched painfully in her chest as
she fought the urge to run across the room and hug or hit Peter,
she wasn’t sure which. She was humbled that he was prepared to take
such a drastic step on her behalf, and angry with him for risking
everything to try to resolve what was a hopeless
situation.

Reluctantly she turned to stare at the one man she wanted to
see more than anything in the world and in equal measure, never
wanted to see again.

Especially here.

A heavy
weight settled in her chest as she looked at him, and despite the
emotions that battered her senses, she kept her gaze impassive as
she studied him from head to toe. His fashionably cut brown hair
was windswept, as though he had been running his hands through it
repeatedly, or had ridden there at a full gallop. His clothing,
although fine, was dusty and crumpled, and there were dark smudges
beneath his eyes. Wherever he had been when he had learned of her
fate, he had called at the gaol swiftly in an attempt to help
her.

Even
from several feet away, she could see the hard determination,
warring with lurking fear shining clearly in his beseeching eyes.
Looking into his eyes now, she knew that he realised that he
couldn’t save her, but was trying anyway. The fact that he was
trying to claim her as his wife snuffed out the last flickering ray
of hope she possessed, turning it to ash in her heart.

In that
moment, she understood just how much of a hold Peter had on her
heart. It warmed her and chilled her to the bone in equal measure.
It was wonderful that he had put everything he had at such risk to
come to her aid, but it was horrifying that he had learned of her
situation and imminent future – or lack of it. The last thing she
wanted was to know that he would be there in the morning to watch
her die.

It
helped her make the right decision. Despite the growing knot of
grief in her chest, she firmed her jaw and turned flinty eyes back
to Mr Simpson, the gaoler.


I have no idea who he is. I’ve never seen him before in my
life,” Jemima stated boldly, her emotionless eyes holding the
gaoler’s defiantly for several moments. Peter’s immediate objection
cut deeply into her wounded soul, and she couldn’t look at him. Her
hold on her own emotions was tenuous at best. If she looked at him,
or allowed him to see the cracks in her armour, she would
crumple.


Are you sure?” His voice dropped several notches as he
studied her, clearly giving her a chance to change her response.
Did he know she wasn’t being honest with him? Jemima wondered why
he was studying her so closely and, in particular, why he didn’t
seem willing to accept her answer.


Jemima, for God’s sake!” Peter spat, moving swiftly
forward.

As he
approached, Jemima shuffled sideways to avoid him, her chains
rattling against the stone floor. The noise made him pause and look
down at her hands and feet in consternation.

Her love
for him drove her to take the horrible step of pushing him away
forever. With every ounce of fortitude she possessed, Jemima turned
her head sideways to glare contemptuously at him. Inside, her heart
swelled with longing for something she knew could never be hers.
Sucking in a deep breath, she turned her gaze back to the
gaoler.


He’s lying. I’m not married to him,” she said flatly,
shuffling toward the door. She didn’t want to go back to the horrid
pit of a cell. The warmth of the fireplace had soothed her achingly
cold flesh and it was bliss to feel human again, if only for a
short while, but she couldn’t stay there for much longer without
giving in to the clawing need to touch him. She was struggling
enough to contain her own emotions; she couldn’t cope with his as
well.


Jemima, you are my wife!” Peter protested, following her and
grabbing her elbow to swing her around to face him. He cursed when
she yanked her elbow out of his hold.

Immediately the gaoler who had escorted her to the office
stepped forward to intervene, only to be waved back into his corner
by Mr Simpson.


I am not your wife. I don’t know who you are, or what you
want,” Jemima bit out, clenching her teeth hard against the need to
cry.

Dominic
Cavendish, the oldest of the Cavendish brothers, who until now had
been standing before the fire, slowly moved forward to stand beside
her. His brother, Sebastian, moved with him, clearly prepared to
step between her and the door if she tried to leave until this was
resolved. But it was the youngest man standing next to the door,
Edward Cavendish, who captured her attention. He was silent and
watchful as the scene played out before him.

Her gaze
met and held his for several long moments, and a wealth of
understanding swept between them. Immediately her thoughts turned
to Eliza. She didn’t know why. Why him, and not the others. But she
knew, somehow, that if anyone could get a final note to her sister,
he would.


Jemima, for God’s sake, stop this,” Peter pleaded from
directly behind her.

Jemima
could feel the warmth of his breath on her neck. Her body cried out
in desperate need as the memories of their nights together came
flooding back. She couldn’t turn round. She couldn’t look at him.
His voice held a hint of desperation that was clear to everyone,
and it made her sick to her stomach with the unfairness of it
all.


I want to go back,” she murmured to the gaoler, her desperate
gaze meeting his for several long moments. She fought the urge to
scream at him when he made no move to take her back to the
cell.


You can’t go back, Jemima. You don’t belong here. We know you
are innocent,” Peter declared, his voice heavily laced with
frustration. Why wasn’t she helping herself?

Her hair
hung in a tangled mass down her back; so wildly unkempt she looked
like a banshee. Dark smudges lay beneath eyes that shone out from a
gaunt face, so pale that she was almost ethereal.

The
months since he had last seen her had clearly been anything but
kind. She was so thin, he felt certain that he could pick her up
with one hand. He could see the bony protrusions of her knuckles so
clearly, the skin was almost translucent. But it was her eyes that
disturbed him. Or, rather, what lurked in those amber
orbs.

The
helpless desolation he had seen in them when she had looked at him
earlier had branded his soul. His heart clenched painfully at the
soul-wrenching hopelessness he could see in the depths of her
steady gaze. When she had looked at him so contemptuously, he had -
for one very brief moment - wondered if he had finally lost her
after all. But he had seen the look she had shared with the gaoler,
the emotions she was trying so desperately to hide, and knew that
she wasn’t lost. She just thought she was.

If he was honest, he knew the odds were stacked against them,
but the battle-hardened warrior within him refused to just stand
back and simply accept that she was going to the gallows. While she
had breath in her body, there was still a ray of hope that they
could get a stay of execution, or persuade the gaoler that she was
a lady of quality and not the person she claimed she was. It would
be enough – maybe – to get a stay of execution while they got her
out. She may have given up on saving herself, but he wasn’t going
to admit defeat so readily. There simply
had
to be a way to get her out of
there. If the marriage thing didn’t work, then they would have to
come up with another plan. He wasn’t going to leave her
there.


You are my wife. We can request a stay of execution and
demand a retrial,” Peter argued, his hard glare of warning defying
the gaoler to contradict. “If you don’t admit the truth here and
now, then you are going to die.” Desperation clawed at him when
after several moments, it became clear that she wasn’t going to
help herself.

Grabbing
her thin arm, he dragged her over to the window and pointed out
into the darkness to the solitary wooden structure. The gallows
stood in shadowy menace, waiting for dawn to approach. Jemima felt
a jolt of horror surge through her as she stared at the gruesome
sight with glazed eyes. She knew that, once she had been condemned,
they would have to build the gallows, but hadn’t realised that they
would be able to build it so quickly.

Standing
so close to him, his scent teasing her nostrils, so achingly
familiar, she was sorely tempted to simply lean against him and beg
for his help. To take the opportunity to declare her love and
longing for him one last time. But she knew that to do so would
bring him nothing but more pain.

She had
heard the old adage, ‘if you love someone, you have to let them
go’, but she didn’t realise how much it would hurt. Somehow she had
to spare him. Chained like an animal, with men deciding everything
for her, there was little she could do except make him hate
her.

Turning
to face him was the hardest thing she had ever done. She studied
the beloved lines of his face for several moments, committing each
sun-kissed dip and hollow of his angular face to memory. Tears
pooled in her amber eyes as they met his turbulent green gaze
solemnly for several moments. The words she ached to voice hovered
so temptingly on her lips. She swallowed against the lump in her
throat.


I’m sorry,” she whispered, for his ears only. All her
longing, fear, desperation and sorrow were contained in those two
simple words.


For God’s sake, Jemima, help yourself, tell the man I am your
husband and we can get a stay of execution,” Peter demanded,
fighting the urge to shake her.

Jemima
looked over to the gaoler, who sat shaking his head sadly. He knew
the futility of their attempts to get her out, but appeared willing
to at least let Peter try.


I don’t know what you want from me, but there is nothing you
can do. I thank you for your efforts, but you must get on with your
own life now,” she declared boldly, her chin raised in defiance as
she began to shuffle away from him.

He
grabbed her elbow on a painful hold. “So that’s it? I’m just
supposed to go and watch you swing?” He knew he was shouting, but
desperation clawed at him. Why wasn’t she listening?


Go away!” Jemima gasped, wincing as his hard fingers bit
cruelly into her flesh. She could feel the rage trembling in his
fingers.


You are going to die! Does that not mean anything to you?
Do
we
not mean
anything to you?” He grabbed her shoulders and shook her once, far
harder than he ought. He was aware of a flurry of movement on the
other side of the room, but didn’t stop. Couldn’t stop. Desperation
drove him to force her to realise the significance of her plight.
There was going to be no second chance. This was it. Failure would
mean death.


Goodbye, Peter,” she whispered, trying to ease out of his
hands. The pressure of his hold on her branded her chilled flesh,
and she suddenly could stand no more.

Drawing
her chin upwards, she glared at him defiantly. “Thank you for
trying to help me, but you really have to go now.”


What about Eliza?” Peter shouted, desperately searching for
anything to make her see reason. “Does she mean nothing to
you?”

Jemima
wrenched out from beneath his hands with a cry, and shuffled across
the room.

As she
passed, her gaze landed on the oldest of the brothers. Even his
ruggedly handsome face was filled with sorrow and sympathy. He knew
there was no way out, but his affection for his best friend ensured
he was there for him.


Jemima, please don’t do this. They are going to hang you, for
God’s sake. Just admit that we are married and we can ask for a
stay of execution,” Peter argued, his voice rising as he watched
her cross the room.


We aren’t married,” Jemima replied, almost hearing her fate
being sealed by her own declaration. “We have never been married,”
she whispered, her voice hoarse with the depth of her emotion. “But
you simply cannot and will not put your life – your very future –
at risk because of me. I didn’t do it, I didn’t kill the mayor, of
course I didn’t; but I have no way of proving that I didn’t do it.”
Her gaze met and held Peter’s with an air of finality that made him
curse fluidly.

He
stalked across the room toward her, bristling with
temper.


Guards!” Mr Simpson bellowed, launching out of his chair at
the ferocity on Peter’s face.


It’s all right,” Dominic soothed, moving to stand between the
door and Jemima. He glared at Mr Simpson. “What do you think he is
going to do?” Dominic snapped, glaring at the officious man from
across the desk. “There is nowhere to go. She is chained, for God’s
sake.”


I’ve heard enough,” Mr Simpson announced. “It’s time for her
to go back to her cell.”


But you just heard her say she didn’t do it!” Dominic argued.
“You have a duty to make sure her side of things are taken into
account.”


She was given the opportunity in court,” Mr Simpson
argued.

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