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 (8 page)

With a
sigh of impatience, Peter brushed past him and Edward, who drew
Eliza to one size and held her head close to his shoulder to
prevent her from turning around.

Peter’s
world stopped.

His
breath locked in his throat.

The
ground shifted beneath his feet.

He went
cold, then hot.

His
heart lurched in his chest, as a wave of shock swept through him
that was so strong his fingers tingled and the vision became
hazy.

Jemima?

Very
pale; very thin. With unkempt hair, almost black with dirt, and her
face so gaunt and pale that the dark shadows beneath her eyes stood
out in stark contrast. She looked like a ghost. But she was
walking. A walking ghost. Did ghosts walk?

His mind
tried to assimilate what he was seeing. Jemima was clearly alive,
and presently shuffling toward him.

He
couldn’t believe it.


Does everyone see what I am seeing?” Edward murmured to
nobody in particular.


What?” Eliza snapped. “What is it you are all seeing?” Losing
patience with Edward’s restraint, she roughly pushed his hands from
her shoulders and turned around, standing on tip-toes to peer over
Peter’s broad shoulder. Her gasp was half-squeal as she stared into
the haunting face of her sister, who had paused halfway down the
corridor, and was now staring back at them in confusion.


Please?” Jemima croaked, feeling the black swirling mist
begin to take hold once more. Her eyes locked onto Peter’s, begging
him to help her. Why were they just staring at her?


Please help me?” Jemima murmured, putting a hand to her head
in a vague attempt to stop it spinning.

Peter
struggled to draw breath for fear of breaking the wonderfully
enticing vision before him. Was she real? His mind just couldn’t
take in this latest turn of events.

Was she
alive? How could she be? She must be alive, his logical mind
reasoned. She must be, because everyone else could see
her.

On
hollow legs he slowly moved toward her, fearful that she would
simply vanish if he got too close, and this wonderfully startling
moment would all turn out to be a dream.

Could
ghosts appear so real? He wasn’t sure, but he had to know for
certain. He had to touch her to find out. As he approached, he
could smell the faint odour of the gaol on her clothing, and saw
tiny bits of straw tangled in the wild mass of her hair.

Did ghosts appear
that
real?

He drew
to a halt mere inches from her. She was so deathly pale she was
almost translucent. She began to sway as she tipped her head back
to look at him. Her wonderful amber eyes met his, so achingly
familiar that he felt the sting of tears in his eyes.


Jemima?” His voice was laden with all the pain, grief and
longing in his shattered heart. His stunned gaze travelled over the
delicate arch of her brow, the long slender nose, the high sweep of
well defined cheekbones, to the soft, plump lips he had kissed so
often they felt as familiar as his own.

He
lifted a trembling hand to her face, the blunt edges of his fingers
briefly resting on her cold cheek as he absorbed the sheer essence
of her. She blinked slowly as she stared at him, the soft tickle of
her breath brushing the back of his hand, as gently as a
feather.

It was
all the proof he needed. Although she was very cold, she was alive.
His thumb brushed the side of her nose, and swept over the delicate
arch of her high cheekbone, committing each curve to loving
memory.


You’re alive,” he whispered, his voice trembling with
emotion. A single tear broke free of its restraint and meandered
slowly down his lean cheek as he stared into the loving eyes of the
woman before him.

He
sensed her confusion as her eyes clouded at his words, and he
wondered if she had any recollection of the morning’s events.
Immediately, his eyes dropped to her throat and he studied the
clear, unmarked skin visible above the neckline of her grimy
dress.

She
hadn’t been hanged.

Confusion warred with joy as he simply stood before
her.

Cupping
her almond-shaped face in his large palms, he slowly placed his
forehead on hers, closing his eyes as he whispered her name for a
brief moment. Whatever had happened earlier that morning, she was
alive; she hadn’t been hanged and that was all that mattered. He
sent a silent prayer of thanks to the heavens for their
mercy.


God, I love you Jemima,” he whispered, his voice trembling
with emotion as he relished the faint, but steady, pulsing of flesh
he could feel beneath his lips when hauled her into his arms and
buried his face in the hollow at the base of her neck.

Jemima
leaned against his solid warmth, savouring the hard length of his
arms around her. She had ached for this moment for so long that she
had begun to think it would never happen. Slowly sliding her hands
around his waist, she clung to him as desperately as he clung to
her and they revelled in the wonder of simply being
together.

Jemima
hiccupped. Although she had the wild urge to cry, no tears would
come. She couldn’t seem to work her way through the thick fog that
was clouding her mind. What was wrong with her?

For the
first time since she had woken up in the room, she didn’t feel the
urge to run for her life. Peter’s solid strength soothed her
confusion, and gave her the strength she so desperately needed to
remain upright. She wasn’t sure what had happened to her, or why
Peter was so disturbed by her appearance, but now he was there,
Jemima was certain everything would be alright.

Eliza
suddenly appeared at her elbow, staring at her for several moments
in stunned disbelief as tears cascaded down her face.

Peter
reluctantly withdrew his arms, and allowed Eliza to embrace her in
a perfumed embrace for several long moments. Although he stood
back, he didn’t relinquish his hold on her, keeping his hand firmly
on her back. He daren’t let go of her, even for a moment. He
couldn’t bear the thought that she could simply vanish.


Oh darling Jemima, I thought -” Eliza whispered around her
sobs before placing a tender kiss on her cheek. “Oh God, I’m so
glad, so very glad,” she whispered over and over as she held
her.

Eventually Edward’s persistent hands on her shoulders drew
Eliza back. Reluctantly she relinquished her hold on Jemima enough
to allow Edward to stand before her.


Let her get some space Eliza,” he chastised ruefully. His
eyes met and held Jemima’s for several moments. He didn’t speak. He
didn’t feel the need to, and knew from the look in her eyes, that
Jemima understood. His eyes met and held those of his future
sister-in-law’s in a silent communication that held a wealth of
understanding.

Jemima’s
lips quirked in a ghost of a smile that was so brief, he wasn’t
sure he had seen it. After several moments Edward returned the
smile full force and took her gently into his arms.


Thank you for coming back to us,” he whispered, for her ears
alone before he placed a gentle kiss on her cold cheek and released
her, sliding an arm around Eliza and hugging her close to his side
in jubilation. He was as stunned and confused as everyone else, but
was eternally grateful to see his future sister-in-law alive, even
if she was painfully thin and freezing cold.


I don’t know how I did,” Jemima whispered back, glancing at
Peter who had moved closer to slide his hand across her back. “I
don’t understand any of it.”

She was
aware of someone else standing at her elbow and she turned to stare
up at him.


None of us do, Jemima,” Dominic croaked, his own voice hoarse
with emotion. “But I have never been one to question fate. Come
here,” and he didn’t wait for her acquiescence. Despite their short
acquaintance, he drew her into his arms just as gently as the
others. His eyes met and held Peter’s in silent question for
several moments, only for Peter to shrug. Eventually he released
his hold, allowing Peter to move closer once more.


Hey, what about me?” Sebastian’s voice trembled. He grinned
at Jemima and hauled her close. “I refuse to be left out of such a
defining moment of everyone’s lives. I deserve a hug too.” His
voice was a mixture of disbelief and wonder.

Blinking
against the sting of tears, Jemima’s wobbly smile evaporated as a
wave of dizziness swept over her. Sebastian immediately released
her and frowned as she turned, one trembling hand reaching out for
Peter, who immediately grasped it and pulled her against him when
she began to sway.


Let’s get you out of here,” Peter muttered, sweeping her
effortlessly into his arms. “You are so cold, and you must be
starving.”

He
didn’t wait for the others as he swept down the corridor, easing
her carefully through the doorway and into the main body of the
house.

Jemima
couldn’t find the energy to protest, and rested her head weakly
against Peter’s broad shoulder as he carried her through the house
and up the stairs. She was nearly asleep by the time Peter
deposited her gently on a bed that stood in the middle of a
bedroom.

Battling
the blackness, Jemima was vaguely aware of a flurry of activity
within the room. It took all her remaining energy to open her eyes
as the soft mattress dipped beside her. She wasn’t surprised to
find Peter staring gently at her. The tenderness she saw reflected
back at her warmed the deepest parts of her heart, that she had
once considered frozen forever.


I’ve missed you,” she whispered softly, summoning the
strength to place a trembling hand against his chiselled jaw. She
studied the changes in his face since the last time she had seen
him.

Although
still a rich mahogany, his hair was tinged with grey at the
temples, giving him a mature, yet debonair look. There were dark
circles beneath his beautiful dark blue eyes, indicating his rest
hadn’t been peaceful of late, or frequent enough to sustain him.
There were deeper grooves bracketing the firm lines of his lips,
and more creases beside his eyes than she remembered. But it was
his eyes that conveyed the most. There, in the shadows, was an
inner torment that disturbed her: a glint of some deeper suffering
that would remain with him throughout his life. She wondered what
he had meant earlier when he whispered, “You’re alive.”


Can I ask you something?” she whispered, suddenly needing to
know as much as he could tell her.


Of course - you can ask me anything,” Peter answered
honestly, unable to resist placing a tender kiss on her dry,
cracked lips.


Why did you think I was dead?” She saw the instinctive flinch
he wasn’t quick enough to hide and waited, knowing somehow that he
had believed her dead, and this was the cause for the hidden
shadows in his gorgeous eyes.


You can’t remember?” The thick slashes of his brows drew
downwards as he studied her.

Jemima
shook her head slowly. “Nothing.” Her gaze locked with his. “Tell
me.”

Peter
shook his head regretfully. “I think you should get some rest
first, and something to eat before we go into all of that.” He
raised a hand when she took a breath to protest. “I will tell you
my darling, of course I will, but we need to make you more
comfortable first. When you are feeling a bit better, I will tell
you anything you need to know.” At that moment, Peter couldn’t deny
her anything – except the truth. The memories were too raw. He
needed time to understand the latest twist before he could put the
events of the past few days into any logical order.

Their
brief moment of privacy was shattered as Eliza entered, closely
followed by two maids.


Now, Jemima and I are the same size, so we will need another
dress,” she informed one of the maids, “oh, and the essentials.
Could you ask Lady Isobel if we could impose on her good
nature?”

All too
soon a veritable army of maids and footmen arrived with buckets of
steaming water, and a tin bath.

Within
moments, Peter found himself unceremoniously shooed out of the
room, and the door closed in his face. His last sight of Jemima was
of her sitting on the side of the bed, holding a hand to her head.
He cursed, staring at the wooden panelling on the door for several
moments, before reluctantly turning on his heel and heading in
search of the others.

With
startling speed, Jemima found herself stripped and sitting
shoulder-deep in the luxuriously warm water, watching her tattered
and very smelly dress being eaten by the flames in the hearth,
listening to Eliza bustle about the room, all efficiency and
maternal fussing.


That was the only dress I had,” she informed her sister
ruefully, wondering what she was going to wear now.


Isobel, Dominic’s wife, is sorting you out a couple of
dresses to wear,” Eliza stated matter-of-factly as she began to
help Jemima wash her hair. “The doctor has been summoned and should
be here shortly, and Cook is preparing you a tray of
food.”

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