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 (5 page)


Don’t drink too much, Peter,” Dominic ordered, sitting back
and watching as Peter refilled his goblet, downing the contents
just as swiftly as the first. “We have to go back to
Havistock.”


Go to hell,” Peter snarled, defiantly refilling his glass and
downing that too. He was about to refill his glass for a fourth
time when Dominic’s hand on his stopped him. Rage began to build in
his chest and he snatched his hand away from Dominic’s.


We have Jemima’s body to take back to Havistock.” Dominic
watched as Peter froze and stared blankly at him as the
significance of his words sank in. “Edward and Sebastian have
remained at the gaol, to ensure her body is kept separate and
returned to us. He is returning to Havistock with her as we speak.
She deserves to be buried in consecrated ground, Peter, rather than
in that cesspit.”

Peter’s
blood chilled at the thought of Jemima’s body, cold and lifeless. A
wave of physical pain blossomed from his chest, spreading outwards
in a misery that numbed his senses. He glared absently at the
bottle before him, and was about to take another drink when a pale
and visibly shaken Sebastian appeared beside them.


Let’s go,” Sebastian suggested, snatching the bottle from
under Peter’s nose and taking a fortifying swig directly from it.
He hoped that it would wash away some of the horrors he had just
witnessed, but knew it would take far, far more than a few swigs of
watered-down brandy.


You have her?” Peter asked softly, eyeing his friend’s
haggard features.

Clearly
Sebastian was shaken by the morning’s events. His usually handsome
face was drawn, his blue eyes troubled and turbulent. Deep grooves
now sat on either side of his mouth, matching the wrinkles that
marred his high brow.

Peter
suddenly realised just how traumatic the morning must have been for
everyone, not just himself. He felt some of his anger diminish,
only to be replaced with soul-deep sorrow. However deeply the
brothers had been affected by the last few hours, they didn’t have
the connection to Jemima that he had. He had been the one who had
slept with her. He had been the one who had made promises to help
her. He had been the one who had failed to keep his
promises.

The
sudden memory of Dominic’s ordeal when Isobel faced death came to,
and he had a better understanding of just what Dominic had gone
through. Only this time was different, because Dominic had been
given a second chance. Isobel had been alive and, although ill, had
found her way back to him to seek the help he had readily offered
her.

For
Jemima, there had been no second chances. He had blundered, and
fumbled, and been useless in offering her any assistance at all,
leaving her to a humiliatingly public death. God knows what horrors
she had experienced in her final moments.

Anger
and self disgust swept through him as he pushed to his feet, moving
through the doorway of the tavern in a dark haze of grief. The
morning sunlight hurt his eyes as he approached the crude wooden
cart sitting directly outside the door.

His eyes
met and held Edward’s solemn gaze briefly before he moved to the
back of the cart and climbed aboard. His gaze locked on the outline
of the body clearly visible beneath the thick blankets.

With
shaking hands he slowly drew the blanket down, away from her face,
and swallowed the cry of denial that threatened to choke him.
Although he had known he was fighting for her life in Simpson’s
office, the stark reality of seeing her lifeless face for himself
scarred his soul.

Oblivious to the hustle and bustle of the busy thoroughfare,
tenderly he trailed a blunt finger down her cold, alabaster face.
She was like cold marble. It pained him to feel her so cold. So
lifeless. He wished he could see her amber gaze smiling at him just
once more.


God, Jemima, I’m sorry,” he whispered softly, his heart a
heavy lump in his chest. “I failed you, and I am so
sorry.”

Swiping
at the moisture on his cheeks, he sucked in a deep breath, aware
that, as he jumped down, Edward leaned backward in his seat and
covered her face again; something Peter couldn’t bring himself to
do. To cover her in such a way meant admitting she had gone beyond
his reach, and he simply couldn’t do it. He didn’t need to pull the
thick blanket down further to see the markings on her neck. She
seemed so peaceful, almost ethereal; almost as though she was
waiting for something, or someone to come along so she could open
her eyes. He willed her to do so, but knew it was futile. She was
gone. Dead.


Come on, let’s get out of here,” Dominic muttered, aware that
they were drawing the interest of curious eyes.

After
several moments, Peter moved to his horse, taking the reins Dominic
held out to him.


If we can get her back to Havistock, we’ll tell Eliza what’s
happened, then I’ll make arrangements to get her to Willowbrook for
the funeral,” Peter said, daring anyone to argue.

After
several moments of careful silence, Dominic decided that Peter
couldn’t really hate him any more than he already did and, after
meeting the watchful gazes of Edward and Sebastian, regretfully
shook his head.


We can’t do that. Don’t you think Eliza has been through
enough? Scraggan is still out there somewhere,” Dominic inwardly
cringed when Peter swung around in his saddle to glare at him.
Sucking in a fortifying breath, he continued, “I think that we owe
it to her to make certain Jemima is laid to rest in peace and
quiet.”


She is being buried at Willowbrook,” Peter argued, his hard
eyes meeting Dominic’s in stark warning.


It’s really for Eliza to decide; she is her sister, after
all. I think Eliza may want to bury Jemima next to her mother and
father in Padstow, but Scraggan definitely wouldn’t allow a funeral
to take place in his patch.”


Look, Dominic, it really isn’t anything to do with you. It’s
not your decision to make. You didn’t know her,” Peter glared at
him, refusing to back down.


I’m just being practical,” Dominic argued, ignoring Edward’s
look of warning. “It is my fault.” He turned uncompromising eyes on
Peter and waited until their eyes met before continuing. “If I had
remained in Norfolk all those months ago, this would never have
happened, but instead I insisted on getting back to Isobel. It’s my
fault that Jemima has paid for my mistake with her life and, just
like you, I have every intention of making amends.”


It’s too late now!” Peter snorted, glaring at his friend.
“What do you expect to do?” he shouted, pointing a shaking finger
toward the back of the cart. “She’s dead! It’s too late! We were
too late! Now, it is nothing to do with you,” he growled, shooting
each of them a hard glare. “I love her, and I know Eliza will agree
that if Jemima cannot be buried in Padstow, then she should be
buried far away from Scraggan. She can rest at
Willowbrook.”


Look, you two,” Edward interjected, scowling across the width
of the cart toward his brother and Peter. “I think Eliza is the one
who has to make the decision. I can understand your argument Peter,
but arguing over her body now really isn’t respectful. Leave this
discussion until later.”

Swamped
by roiling emotions he didn’t know how to handle, Peter lapsed into
sullen silence and slowed his horse enough to settle into a steady
walk behind the cart. It gave Peter the distance from the others
that he desperately needed at that moment. He hadn’t intended to be
disrespectful by arguing over Jemima, but felt a fierce
protectiveness toward her especially after failing her so
catastrophically. Ensuring she could rest in peace was something he
could achieve, and he had every intention of not letting her down
again.

Little
else was said on the long ride back. Peter was disinclined to
converse with anyone, preferring instead to remain at the back of
the procession, his gaze locked on the lifeless body of the woman
he loved.

The
atmosphere between the men had grown increasingly tense throughout
the journey. None of them had lost sight of the fact that they
still had to inform Eliza of her sister’s fate. Edward’s face was
filled with dread as they turned into the long driveway of
Havistock Hall. Peter couldn’t stand the thought of facing anyone
else’s heartbreak, and had to dig deep to enter the house beside
Dominic and watch Edward break the news. Briefly his eyes met and
held Eliza’s as she desperately sought confirmation that Edward was
telling her the truth. Peter couldn’t speak. His throat was locked
tight. Unable to bear the desolation on her face as the stark
realisation of her loss sank in, Peter averted his gaze, his jaw
clenching tightly against the burning need to punch
something.


We were too late,” Eliza whispered, doing nothing to swipe
the tears from her drawn face. “Oh God, Edward, we were too
late.”


Let’s get you out of here,” Edward said gently, trying to
ease her into the study, only for Eliza to dig her heels in,
refusing to budge from the cold marble floor.


Where is she going?” Grief made her voice tremble.


We’re going to move her to one of the back rooms. She can
stay there until we can arrange the funeral. The maids will prepare
her,” Dominic moved forward and held her cold hands. “I am so very
sorry, Eliza,” he said softly, his chest tightening with guilt and
remorse.

Peter
couldn’t stand it any longer. Struggling to contain his grief, he
walked silently out of the front door, sweeping past Sebastian
without a glance. Once in the fresh air, he sucked in a deep breath
of the crisp morning breeze, desperately trying to regain some
control over his emotions. If it was his house, he would have no
hesitation in going back inside, slamming the door shut behind him
and smashing the place to pieces in an attempt to assuage his
burning rage. But it wasn’t his house, it was Dominic and Isobel’s,
and as a guest he had to respect their property. His inability to
vent his pain only increased the burning fury at the unfairness of
her death, and he struggled to control the raging emotions that
threatened to overwhelm him.

Determined to get Jemima inside, away from any prying eyes,
Peter strode to the cart and stood behind, waiting for the others
to join him. Within moments Edward, Dominic and Sebastian had
appeared on either side of him, helping to slide the board beneath
Jemima into their waiting hands.

They
carried her solemnly through the front door, past a weeping Eliza
and down the corridor toward the back of the house and the
servants’ quarters. Dominic had already ordered his butler to clear
a storage room, and the maids were just finishing carrying the last
of the boxes out of the room when they approached. Standing back
respectfully, they watched as Jemima was placed carefully on the
solitary table in the middle of the room.

Peter
paused for a few moments, resting a gentle hand on her shoulder
before reluctantly leaving the room. As he approached the main
corridor of the house, he could hear Eliza weeping, but couldn’t
bring himself to offer his condolences right at that moment. He
just needed to be alone.

At the
doorway to the library he paused and glanced into the main foyer. A
bitter pang of envy stole through him as he watched Edward sweep
Eliza high into his arms and carry her up the stairs to the privacy
of their rooms. Dominic drew Isobel into his arms for a hug,
clearly needing comfort himself.

The
sight of their intimate embrace left Peter feeling more desolate
than ever; it was a stark reminder of everything he could never
have for himself.

Quietly
closing the door behind him, he headed for the brandy decanter.
While he was pleased his friends had found happiness, a slow tide
of bitterness swept through him that he had no woman to come home
to now. No wife to have children with, and share the ups and downs
of everyday life with. No best friend, and no soul mate.

All he
had left now was a raging thirst for vengeance. Until his dying
day, he would not rest until Scraggan was brought to justice. He
owed it to Jemima to make sure her death wasn’t in vain. If that
meant hunting down the man responsible for setting her up, and
meting out his own justice, then so be it. He would face the
consequences with pride.

With the
image of Jemima’s cold and lifeless face firmly in his mind, Peter
took another long draught of his brandy and slumped back against
the chaise-lounge to make his own macabre plans.

Some
considerable time later, he was slouched, half-drunk, on the
chaise, when a visibly shaken Eliza sat down beside him. He
couldn’t summon the thoughts, or the interest, to ask her what had
happened and was about to take another swig of his brandy when the
bottle was abruptly snatched out of his loose hold.

Peter
jerked out of his alcoholic stupor and sat bolt upright, grumbling
a protest at her abrupt removal of his emotional
anaesthetic.


What do you think you are doing?” she demanded, standing over
him and holding the bottle aloft.

He
wondered briefly if she was going to hit him with it and
immediately tried to stand, only to find his legs wouldn’t hold him
up. Eliza’s small hand in the middle of his chest propelled him
further backward until he was leaning uncomfortably against the
hard arm of the chaise, watching in disgust while she opened the
window and hefted the bottle outside.

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