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 (6 page)

Ignoring
the fact that a woman was present, Peter cursed fluidly and watched
her stalk toward him, anger practically reverberating from her. He
should stand up and argue with her. He should protest that he was
grieving just as much as she was. But all he could do was sit and
watch her approach him. He couldn’t blame her for hating him; he
deserved her anger. Not only had he failed to protect her sister as
he had promised he would, but the results of his failure had
brought about untold grief from which neither of them would
recover.

His mind
clouded with a mix of brandy and grief, he stoically sat perfectly
still and silent, and waited for her to lambast him.


If there is one thing Jemima hated,” she muttered, grabbing a
fistful of his shirt and pulling it tight, drawing him forward
until they were nose to nose, “it was a drunkard. If I see you with
another bottle in your hand, I’ll beat you over your stupid head
with it.” Her voice trembled with the strength of her anger as she
glared into his eyes.


What are you trying to do? Do you really think you will
succeed in drinking yourself into an early grave too?”


I love her,” Peter’s voice was hoarse with grief and bitter
regret. Staring into eyes so similar to Jemima’s brought about a
pang of longing so sharp that he almost cried aloud with the pain
of it.


I know,” Eliza replied gently. “I do too, but drinking
yourself to death isn’t going to bring her back. She has gone,
Peter. If you really care about her, you need to sober up and help
us sort out her funeral. When she is buried, you have an estate
that needs your attention and people living and working there that
depend on you for their livelihood. You cannot fail
them.”


Like I failed Jemima?” Peter’s voice was harsh as the
horrifying memory of his last look at Jemima alive swam in his mind
before he could quash it.


You – didn’t – fail – Jemima.” She bit out each word through
clenched teeth. “Nobody did. If you really want to be harsh about
it, Jemima could have done more to protect herself. Instead, we sat
there in Derby like ducks waiting to be picked off by a merciless
hunter. It was only a matter of time before Scraggan found us.
Luckily for me, Edward found me and saved me before Scraggan got
me. Jemima wasn’t so lucky. There was nothing you could have done.
Drinking yourself unconscious is going to get you nowhere,” she
chided, releasing her hold on his shirt and pushing him abruptly
away from her.


She should have come to me,” Peter gasped through the heavy
weight in his chest. “I would have helped her.”


I know, but don’t you see? She was trying to protect you. By
staying in Derby, she was as close to you as she dared be without
actually seeking your help and putting you at risk too.”

Peter
studied her as she stood before the fireplace. She looked so
familiar, so like Jemima, he ached to hold her. It was all he could
do to remain in his seat.


I would like to remove her to Padstow. She should be buried
beside Father.”


I’m sorry, Eliza, it isn’t possible,” Dominic replied from
his position by the doorway, regret lacing his voice. “It’s too
dangerous with Scraggan’s men in the area. If we could get her
there, they probably wouldn’t give us the opportunity to bury her
in peace.”


We owe her the dignity of a peaceful burial, without the
threat of Scraggan disturbing proceedings,” Edward added. He didn’t
mention that Havistock was only a few hours away from his own
estate, Eliza’s future home. Having Jemima buried at Havistock
meant that Eliza could at least visit her sister’s grave whenever
she chose.


I have already arranged for the funeral to be held in two
days,” Dominic announced flatly, in a voice that brooked no
argument.

Peter
swore again and sighed deeply. Although he could understand the
need to give Jemima the peaceful burial she deserved, he hated that
her final resting place was so far away from his own home in
Oxfordshire.


Eliza, might I have a word with you?” Edward moved toward the
door that connected the study to the library and waited for her to
join him.

Within
moments, Peter was alone in the room with Dominic.


I’m sorry, Peter. I wish we could move her to Willowbrook, or
even Padstow, but it really is up to Eliza,” Dominic began,
struggling to find a way to communicate with the new and
grief-stricken Peter. Although his friend hadn’t actually vented
his fury at being knocked out, Dominic knew their friendship had
changed forever, and felt a pang of loss for the easy camaraderie
that they had once enjoyed. “I think Edward has plans to marry
Eliza, and wants Jemima buried her so she can visit the grave
whenever she wants to. You are also more than welcome to visit as
often as you want to, I hope you know that.”

Peter
ignored the comment, and stared blankly into the fire for several
moments. “As soon as she is buried, I’m going after Scraggan and I
won’t be back until the bastard is dead. If I go too, then so be
it.”


Don’t say that, the man from the War Office has just arrived.
We can decide between us what to do to make Scraggan
pay.”

Peter
snorted, and stood on shaky legs to glare at his one-time friend.
“It’s none of your business. You have your wife, and are expecting
your first child any day now. It isn’t your battle anymore. Stay
here and take care of your own.”


You are our own, Peter, whether you like it or not,” Dominic
countered swiftly, not liking the reckless determination on Peter’s
face. “I think there has been enough death, enough loss in the
family, don’t you?”


I will have vengeance,” Peter snapped, determined not to
allow Dominic to command him. “You can do what the hell you like,
but nobody is going to stop me getting vengeance for
her.”

He
couldn’t stand to waste time arguing with Dominic and turned to
stumble toward the door.


I’m coming with you,” Dominic declared, watching Peter’s
uneven gait as he lurched toward the door.


No, you are not,” Peter replied flatly, turning back toward
the room. “You have a family to protect. This isn’t your battle
Dominic, your job is done. You cannot control everything in your
world, especially me. I’m going after Scraggan, and I don’t need
your permission to do so.”


Let’s go and talk to Sir Dunnicliffe,” Dominic suggested
carefully, watching his friend sway alarmingly due to the effects
of the brandy. “You cannot interfere with a government operation,
you know that. Once you know what Sir Dunnicliffe and his men have
planned, then
we
can decide what to do.”

He
carefully ignored Peter’s snort of derision and followed him out of
the room. They were half way to the library when a loud,
high-pitched scream rent the air. Cursing, Dominic turned and took
off for the back of the house. Peter paused and listened carefully
for several moments, before shaking his head. Whatever madness was
going on at the back of the house; clearly wasn’t Jemima, or Eliza,
and could be left to Dominic to sort out.

Isobel
appeared at the door in front of him.


Oh, Peter,” she gasped, her eyes full of tears. She made to
approach him, her arms held open for a hug, only to pause, and
stare at Peter in horror when he backed away.


Don’t, Isobel,” he growled in a hoarse voice. “Just don’t.”
He brushed past her, refusing to look at her again, and pushed
through the study door. He didn’t really give a damn what Sir
Dunnicliffe had planned for his men. It wouldn’t change Peter’s
intention to go after Scraggan himself. Sir Dunnicliffe was bloody
useless now. Whatever he was going to do, it was going to be too
little too late. If the man had appeared only a couple of days
earlier, then he could have been able to step in and keep Jemima
off the gallows. As it was, poor timing and bad judgement had
murdered her. Peter wasn’t sure he wanted to even see the man, let
alone listen to his officious plans.

Something deep inside him, however, some intrinsic need for
answers, made him want to see this Sir Dunnicliffe for himself. To
see the man who was just as responsible for Jemima’s death as the
hangman who had supervised her hanging. As he entered, he eyed the
man standing before the fireplace with blatant contempt and
immediately moved to the brandy decanter, making no attempt to
introduce himself.

Although
he had heard stories of Sir Dunnicliffe’s service in the armed
forces, he had never been personally introduced to the man who had
been lauded by many as a brilliant, intellectual soldier whose
forethought and planning had won many battles against the French.
Only, this time, his forethought and planning had failed, and for
that Peter would never forgive him.


Good afternoon.” Sir Dunnicliffe bowed politely toward
him.

Peter
gave him a perfunctory nod, and slouched in a chair beside the fire
as a clearly furious Dominic burst into the room.


Where the bloody hell have you been, man?” he demanded,
stalking across the room to stand before the new arrival, a glare
of accusation on his face. “We sent word for you several days ago.
It doesn’t take that bloody long to
walk
here from London!” Fury burned
in the tense lines of his body as he paused before Sir Dunnicliffe,
a muscle ticking rhythmically in his jaw.

Unperturbed by the rude welcome he had just received from
both men, Sir Dunnicliffe drew himself to his full height and
sighed apologetically.


I apologise for our unfortunate delay,” he said officiously.
“We were unexpectedly delayed with some government business. It was
unavoidable, I’m afraid.”

Dominic
moved to stand practically nose to nose with the man, his eyes hard
and merciless. “Do you realise that your ‘unexpected delay’ caused
the unjust death of an innocent person?”

Sir
Dunnicliffe simply stared directly back at him, almost defiantly.
“I’m sorry. If we could have arrived earlier, we would have, but
unfortunately matters were taken out of our hands and there was
little we could do.”

Dominic
swore, and turned away just as Edward and Sebastian
arrived.


Please excuse our anger,” Sebastian offered, having heard
Dominic’s shouting from the corridor. “One of our own was unjustly
executed this morning, and we are all in mourning.”

Sir
Dunnicliffe stiffened and stared at Peter in alarm.


Who else?” His eyes flew around the room to land on each man
in turn, as he waited for someone to fill him in.

Dominic
sighed deeply, and somewhat apologetically offered the new arrival
a glass of his best brandy, before waving everyone over to the
chairs next to Peter and the fireplace.


What?” Edward scowled, not understanding the
question.


Who else died?”


Jemima,” Peter answered. Even saying her name was painful.
“She was murdered this morning.” He watched Sir Dunnicliffe slowly
take a seat on the wing-backed chair opposite, a dark frown on his
face. There was something unusual about the man, only he couldn’t
figure out what. His drink-laden mind wouldn’t operate clearly but,
drunken stupor aside, there was something about Sir Dunnicliffe
that was vaguely - odd.


Murdered?” Sir Dunnicliffe sounded the word cautiously, as if
realising there was something he was missing. He studied the toe of
his boot intently and waited for someone to fill him in.

When
neither Dominic nor Peter seemed inclined to explain, Sebastian
took it upon himself to inform the man of the circumstances of
Jemima’s demise earlier that morning as briskly as
possible.


Ah, I see,” was all Sir Dunnicliffe said as he glanced at
each man in turn.


You got word about Scraggan, I take it?” Dominic snapped,
unwilling to allow the man off the hook just yet. He was well aware
that Sir Dunnicliffe had not actually told them anything, and,
given the circumstances of the morning, it rankled. A
lot.

Sir
Dunnicliffe nodded and looked sideways at him, before taking a
long, fortifying draught of the amber liquid in his goblet. He knew
if he had any chance of getting out of the room alive, he had to
choose his words carefully. He couldn’t afford to mess things up;
at least two people’s lives were at stake.

He
nodded and glanced at Dominic. “We got your message. The Star Elite
are in position and have been watching him for some time
now.”

The
conversational tone of his voice belied the brutal efficiency of
the small group of elite soldiers who often worked undercover on
the most secret missions for the War Office. Very few people knew
of their existence, with only a handful of men in the War Office,
and the Prince Regent himself, aware of what they have done to gain
results. For this particular group, failure was not an option. Sir
Dunnicliffe wondered if Peter and Dominic really knew anything
about the group of men they had left behind to tie up loose ends in
Norfolk, and somehow doubted it. They had certainly progressed from
the rag-tag group of ex-soldiers Peter and Dominic had once
considered friends.

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