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 (3 page)


No, I wasn’t,” Jemima interjected. “Nobody
listened.”


What do you expect?” Mr Simpson snapped, his patience clearly
running out. “You were caught standing over the body, holding a
bloodied knife and the dead man’s coins in your hand.”

Silence
settled over the office.


I was set up,” Jemima replied weakly, feeling another wave of
helplessness sweep through her. She was suddenly so very tired. She
wanted to curl into a tight ball and forget everything.

Within
moments two burly guards appeared in the doorway.


Wait by the door,” Mr Simpson ordered them, resuming his seat
with a glare at Peter.


From what I can see, there is no evidence to confirm you are
married. The prisoner herself admits she is not married to you.
There is no ground for a stay of execution, or even requesting the
courts to go over the evidence again,” he reasoned. His eyes met
and held those of the gaoler standing quietly in the corner of the
room before he turned back to the prisoner, his face a mask of
dispassionate arrogance.


You are adamant you didn’t marry this man?” he asked, his
voice now officious and brusque. Clearly, his decision had been
made and he would do little else to assist them.

A sense
of finality hung in the air as Peter turned his horrified gaze back
to Jemima.


Why won’t you help yourself?” he demanded, so frustrated with
her that he wanted to punch something. He grabbed her shoulders and
shook her harshly. “Why? Why would you want to go to the
gallows?”

Jemima
gasped, and reluctantly lifted her hands to place them on his
forearms. Beneath the layers of material, she could feel the hard
strength that thrummed with life and almost cried out with the need
to be held by him just once more. Tears pooled in her eyes as she
stared into his eyes one last time.


I have no life now. Scraggan has seen to that. Even if I got
a stay of execution, he would still haunt my every waking moment.
There is no stopping him, you see,” and she swallowed harshly,
wishing she had longer to make him understand.

But
inside she knew that even if she had several hours, he would never
agree; never accept what she was about to say. “Scraggan set me up.
So professionally, so completely, that I am going to die. He
doesn’t have to sully his hands with murder. His deviousness has
led to me being killed by the authorities - how clever is that?
Even if I got out, what life do I have? Always looking over my
shoulder; always waiting for the day he will reappear. He will be
there tomorrow,” she nodded at the wooden structure outside. “To
see for himself that his scheming has beaten me.”

She
turned soulless eyes up to his, so lost in misery that she was
unaware of the tear that had managed to escape and begin a solitary
journey down her pale, dirty face.


Eliza: do you know where she is?” She turned instinctively to
the man beside the door.

Edward
coughed and shifted closer. “Jemima, Eliza is perfectly safe from
Scraggan. She is alive and well. She will soon have the protection
of my name, and me to keep her from any further threat from anyone.
I’m going to marry her,” Edward’s sympathetic eyes met hers. “She
will be perfectly safe and cared for; have no fear.”


You have affection for her?” Jemima asked, feeling driven to
ensure Eliza was a willing participant in this new turn of
events.


Oh yes, most definitely,” he assured her, his own voice
shaken.

Jemima
studied him for several moments, her tremulous hold on her emotions
wavering alarmingly. “Then be happy.” At least her sister would
find happiness, in spite of Scraggan.


Does she know?” She closed her eyes at Edward’s solemn nod.
“Please keep her away.”


Jemima,” Peter’s whisper shook with clawing fear. “Did you
ever feel anything for me?”

Jemima
couldn’t answer him. The words were there, but she couldn’t
speak.


Please don’t stay. I don’t want you there.” She croaked,
watching the panic on his face with growing dread. She couldn’t
bear to see him debased in such a way. Not someone as brave and
stoic as her beloved Peter.


Jemima, darling, please-” Peter argued, moving forward to
grab her again and swing her around.

Ready
this time, Jemima twisted out of his grasp and found herself face
to face with Dominic, the eldest Cavendish brother. She was aware
of Sebastian and the silent man behind the door rushing forward to
hold Peter back, and took a few precious seconds to study the man
before her.


Keep him safe,” she whispered softly, tears flowing freely
now she was away from Peter’s close scrutiny. “Please, if you have
any affection for him at all, please take him away from here and
don’t look back. I don’t want him there to watch.”

She
could hear her words as though they were spoken by someone else. In
the past few moments something inside her had closed down and was
gone forever.


I’ll take care of him,” Dominic declared, placing a gentle
hand on her shoulder. He wanted to sweep her into a hug, but
instinctively knew she wouldn’t allow it. He felt the bitter sting
of regret at the unfairness of it all as he watched her shuffle to
the door and pause beside Edward.


Jemima!” Peter shouted, watching her move toward the door.
“Please don’t do this. Please. Darling, I love you. Please don’t do
this.” He twisted and fought against the hands that held him
back.

She
daren’t look back. Tears trickled freely down her face as she
stared out of the now open doorway into the darkness of the
corridor beyond. It was like going down into the bowels of hell and
she knew what awaited her at the end.

She
turned to the man beside her. Edward. “Take care of Eliza; tell her
I love her.” She watched as Edward swallowed harshly and nodded.
“You need these.” She dug down into the front of her dress and
removed three folded sheets of paper and a letter, handing them
solemnly to Edward. “She is to read the letter first. Make sure
Scraggan doesn’t get to her too.”


I promise you here and now, Jemima, that Eliza is perfectly
safe from harm. Nobody, not even Scraggan, will harm her while I
have breath in my body,” Edward promised solemnly, frustration and
grief at his inability to help sweeping through him as he watched
her blink back the tears and square her shoulders.


You should have agreed he was your husband,” he scolded,
knowing as well as everyone else that it was pointless.

Slowly
she shook her head. “He has sacrificed so much for me, given me so
much that I can never repay him. I know that I have no way out of
this: we all do. There is no absolution. Even if there was a stay
of execution, it would only delay the inevitable. He doesn’t
deserve to have his good name associated with a condemned, woman.
Not after everything he has done for Eliza and me. Keep him safe.
When this is over, and you are all old and grey-” Jemima paused,
her voice wobbling with her tears, “tell him that I did love him,
to my very last breath.”

With a
sad smile, she shuffled out of the door and into the darkness.
Peter’s shouts were swiftly cut off by the heavy slam of the door
behind her. The only sounds left were those of the booted feet of
the men returning her to the condemned cell to wait for
death.

 


I’m sorry, Peter,” Dominic murmured. The sound of Peter’s
desperate pleading echoed hollowly in Dominic’s ears until he
couldn’t stand it any longer. With little choice on how best to
help him, Dominic stalked across the room, drew back his fist, and
felled him with one well-aimed blow.

Stunned
silence settled over the room as Peter’s unconscious body was
slowly lowered to the floor by Sebastian and the gaoler.

Dominic
turned to Mr Simpson, his cold eyes laden with menace. “We will
prove her innocence, and the men who hang her will be brought to
justice for their ignorance.” His eyes met and held the gaoler’s
for several moments in silent warning. With some satisfaction, he
watched the gaoler grow pale and drop into his chair, clearly
shaken.


Let’s get him out of here,” Edward murmured, heaving Peter’s
prone form over his shoulder and turning toward the door Sebastian
held open. “He shouldn’t be here when he wakes up.”

Once
outside the office, they watched the heavy cell door close at the
far end of the corridor. Its heavy thud rang solemnly through the
silence. A dank, musty smell of stale air hung over them, heavily
accentuated with urine, vomit and a plethora of unidentifiable
smells that assailed the nostrils and churned the
stomach.


Sweet Jesus,” Sebastian muttered, shaking his head and
studying the long line of cell doors. Although the wall esconces
were lit, their meagre brightness did little to penetrate the gloom
within the cavernous walls. It gave the building a fatalistic air
that scarred the soul. He wondered if anyone ever made it out
alive.

His
respect for the woman who had returned to the condemned cell grew
as he considered the last few moments. Despite her dire situation,
she had sought to protect those around her, namely Peter, from any
scandal that being associated with her would undoubtedly cause.
Even Eliza hadn’t escaped her protection. He was humbled and awed
by her strength and generosity in the face of such
desolation.


Wait,” Dominic ordered, frowning at Peter for several
moments. “Peter’s going to want her back.” His eyes met and held
those of his brothers. “In the morning, when it’s all
over.”


He can’t stay here to watch. Jemima doesn’t want him there.
You saw what he was just like,” Edward reasoned. “Don’t think for
one second that I’m stopping to watch.” He didn’t add that, if he
was away from Havistock Hall for too long, Eliza would most
probably set out after him to find out what was happening. He was
eternally grateful she hadn’t been with them to witness that past
half hour.


We need to get him away from the area, and then make plans
before he wakes up,” Sebastian added, moving toward the door. He
had to get out of the fetid place before he threw up. The pervading
sense of gloom was starting to fray his nerves. If he remained in
the desolate hole any longer than absolutely necessary, he was
going to start screaming himself.


Hold on a minute,” Dominic snapped, returning to the office
and throwing open the door without bothering to knock. He scowled
at Mr Simpson and the gaoler, who were deep in conversation. They
froze at his intrusion, but made no move to call for the
guards.

Closing
the door behind him, Dominic met each man’s gaze in turn and made
his demands. Moments later he swept from the office, slamming the
door behind him. He winced as the sound echoed hollowly down the
empty corridor, and mumbled an apology at the faces that gazed
helplessly out of the cells as he passed.

Within
minutes they were stepping out into the fresh air of the prisoners’
yard, the heavy thud of the gaol door echoing threateningly in
their ears as it was slammed behind them, leaving them to face the
long walk across the prisoners’ yard alone. To the left of the path
lay nine empty graves, ready and waiting for the new arrivals.
Dominic cursed and quickened his stride, flicking Peter a glance to
make sure he was still unconscious and wouldn’t witness such a
macabre scene.

On their
arrival at the gaol a lifetime earlier, it had been pitch black.
They had stood before the heavy wooden doors waiting for their ring
of the bell to be answered, not knowing what to expect. Having
never been inside a gaol before, they had been lost in their own
thoughts, mentally planning the few desperate options available to
them.

With
only the gaoler’s torch to light the way, they hadn’t seen the open
graves.

Now, as
the first stain of sunlight began to shimmer on the horizon, the
haunting sight of the empty pits was almost painful to see,
especially knowing that one of them was meant to contain the
remains of the woman who had touched all of their hearts with her
bravery in the face of such overwhelming adversity.

Edward
quickened his stride and, moments later, draped Peter
unceremoniously over his horse. His breath fogged in the cool
morning air, and he took a moment to steady himself as he breathed
the crisp air deep into his aching lungs, the stench of the gaol
still heavy in his nostrils. He ached to have a bath, to scrub
himself clean and rid himself of the horror of the hellish pit of
inhumanity, but he knew that it wouldn’t be enough.


We need to secure a cart,” Dominic announced, mounting his
horse and turning toward his brothers. “I’ll stay if you want, and
wait at the back of the gaol for-” his voice hitched as he
considered his next words carefully.

He had
to make sure nothing went wrong when it was over. The consequences
were just too dire; if they were late, she would be quick-limed and
buried before they could retrieve her.


When she is-” he paused and sucked in a breath, unable to
voice the words aloud. “When she is cut down, she will be taken
into the holding area at the side of the gaol, away from prying
eyes. It’s there that they take the death masks. When they are
done, they will take the bodies around to the graves and cover them
in quick-lime before they are buried. We only have a short amount
of time to get her back before they move the bodies. The quicker
they are put in the ground, apparently, the quicker they can move
on and forget.”

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