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 (9 page)

Eliza’s
actions were so mundane that Jemima found herself struggling to
mentally keep up with her sister’s constant flow of chatter.
Tiredness began to creep up on her as the wonderfully scented water
in the bath began to soak the grime away, and soothe her aching
limbs. Giving herself over to Eliza’s care, she submitted to the
maid who was tasked with washing and then combing the wild mass of
her hair, and listened as Eliza told her about the assorted family
members currently residing at Havistock Hall.

Eventually, curiosity won through and as soon as her hair lay
in neatly combed waves about her shoulders, she placed a gentle
hand on Eliza’s, stilling the flurry of movement.


Tell me what happened to me.” She knew that if anyone in the
house wasn’t inclined to tiptoe around her, it would be
Eliza.


What do you remember?” Eliza asked cautiously, not wanting to
bring unnecessary distress to her elder sibling.


Not much. I have vague snatches of something sinister, but it
vanishes before I can make sense of it. It’s all so very odd,” she
frowned and stared at her knees. She had the distinct recollection
of resting her head on them wearily, but couldn’t remember anything
about her surroundings.


Maybe we should update you later,” Eliza replied cautiously,
picking up the brush and absently brushing Jemima’s already brushed
hair.


No, Eliza, now.” Jemima turned and placed her hands on
Eliza’s, tugging them until her sister sat on the floor beside the
tub facing her.

Eliza
knew that Jemima wouldn’t give in until she had what she wanted.
With a deep sigh, she stared at the wall thoughtfully for several
moments.


You were -” Eliza paused, and considered her words carefully,
“we were told you had been hanged.” She sensed the tension in
Jemima who simply sat and stared hard at her, clearly
nonplussed.


Where?”


At Derby Gaol, where you were being held in the condemned
cell until your execution this morning,” Eliza whispered, tears
pooling in her eyes at the memory of Jemima’s arrival in the house
mere hours ago.

It
seemed such a long time now, and so many things had happened since
that it was almost impossible to keep up with the emotions sweeping
through her. “You were caught standing beside the dead bodies of
the Mayor of Derby and his wife, with a knife and his pouch of
coins in your hand.”


I didn’t do it,” Jemima immediately protested, knowing with
certainty that it was the absolute truth.


We know. You were set up by Scraggan,” Eliza replied, her
eyes remorseful as she studied the pale, gaunt face of her beloved
elder sibling. Today had brought so many twists and surprises that
she wasn’t sure what to make of it, but she was so very glad about
the latest turn of events.


Scraggan.”

Memory
came flooding back, and Jemima had a sudden image of a grey haired,
wiry man with black eyes and a scar across his chin. A
smuggler.


Peter,” Jemima whispered, thinking back to the moment when
she had stepped out of that icy room, into the long
corridor.


He was there.”


At the hanging?” Jemima gasped, putting her hand to her
throat in horror. Only then did she think to feel the flesh around
her neck, frowning at the unbruised skin beneath her
fingertips.

Suddenly
memories began to unfurl, and she stared into space as the scene of
the night before replayed in her mind: Peter’s pleas for her to
help herself, and her own heartbreak at having to leave him,
knowing what lay in store for her.

She
sucked in a sob and stared in horror at her sister.


You remember.” Eliza didn’t need Jemima to confirm it. The
trauma of the memories were clearly written on her face.


I wasn’t hanged, was I?” She turned beseeching eyes upon
Eliza, frantically searching the amber depths so similar to her own
for the truth.

Eliza
shook her head slowly, a deep frown marring her brow. “No, clearly
you weren’t, but we were told you had been hanged. When the men
brought you back here, your body was as lifeless as one of the
departed. We all believed you had been hanged. You looked so
deathly pale.”

Jemima
was absently aware of a young maid topping up the water to make it
warm again, but was lost to everything except the horrible memory
of her final moments in Mr Simpson’s office.


So why am I still alive?” Jemima frowned, and sat patiently
as Eliza picked up the brush and began to comb her hair again.
Clearly she felt better having something to do with her
hands.


We don’t know, but I get the distinct impression that Sir
Dunnicliffe does,” Eliza replied, staring distractedly at the long,
now silken, tresses in her hand. “It seems a little too convenient
that he arrived here mere hours after you – your body.”


Sir Dunnicliffe?” Jemima frowned, searching her memory but
finding no trace of anyone of that name.


When we found out where you were and what was going to happen
to you, Dominic sent word to one of his contacts at the War Office,
who in turn sent Sir Dunnicliffe to assist. When we got back to
Havistock Hall,” Eliza glanced at her sister, “where you are now,
Peter, Edward, Sebastian and Dominic immediately left again to try
and get you out of the gaol.”


Got back? From where?” Jemima asked, her brow puckered in
confusion.


I was going back to Padstow to check our secret hiding place.
When you vanished from your job, I didn’t know if Scraggan had seen
you and you had run to keep me safe. Edward, Peter, Sebastian and
Dominic all escorted me,” Eliza replied, leaving the pertinent
facts for a later date. “We were nearly there when we got news of
your being in Derby Gaol. As soon as the men found out, we came
rushing back to Leicestershire to help you.”


I remember,” Jemima whispered, tears forming in her eyes at
the memory of the raw pain on Peter’s face moments before she left
the office. She turned solemn eyes to Eliza. “I gave Edward the
papers.”


I know, he gave them to me,” Eliza replied. “They are safe
now. Dominic is going to see they get into the right hands at the
War Office.”


Who is this Dominic?” Jemima frowned at the ceiling,
wondering if the rhythmic movements of Eliza brushing her hair were
helping to calm both of them in some way.


Dominic Cavendish is head of the Cavendish family. There are
Dominic, Sebastian and Edward, who is the youngest,” her voice
softening as she spoke Edward’s name.

Jemima
thought back to the group in the corridor. “Edward was the man
standing behind you in the servant’s corridor?”


Yes,” Eliza paused, and smiled shyly at Jemima. “I should
like for us to get married.”

Jemima
wasn’t surprised, and felt a thrill of delight for her sister that
was conveyed in the bright shine of joy in her amber eyes. “He
loves you,” she declared with certainty, thinking of the
protectiveness she had witnessed earlier.

Eliza
nodded with a smile of satisfaction. “As I do him,” she whispered
softly. She briefly considered telling Jemima about her own near
death experience earlier that afternoon at the hands of Rogan
Scraggan, but decided to leave that for another day, when Jemima
was stronger.


That’s excellent news, dear sister. Congratulations, I know
you will be very happy together,” Eliza smiled softly at her
sister, the first time she had smiled in many months.

Companionable silence settled over them for a few moments,
each woman lost in her own thoughts.

Suddenly
filled with the urge to discover the truth herself, Jemima turned
her gaze to Eliza. “I’m exhausted, but nothing is going to stop me
from asking this Sir Dunnicliffe a few questions of my
own.”


I will be right beside you,” Eliza promised. “But now let’s
get you fed. Once you have eaten, you can see the doctor and get
some rest. We will confront this Sir Dunnicliffe later, and get the
truth out of him, even if Peter has to beat him to a
pulp.”

Determination rang clear in her voice as she rose to her
feet, clearly not expecting any objection from her
sister.

Without
further ado, Jemima was swathed in a wonderfully soft nightgown,
and tucked into the huge bed moments before a knock on the door
heralded the arrival of the doctor.

CHAPTER
THREE

Sunlight
was streaming through the open curtains when Jemima awoke the
following morning. She lay for several moments and simply enjoyed
the soft sheets beneath her cheek and the warmth of the morning
sunlight on her face. It had been so long since she had awoken
without thinking about working. She couldn’t remember the last time
she had experienced the luxury of sleeping on such a soft
mattress.

In the
quiet of the early morning, she slowly became aware of the soft
rumble of a snore not far away. A frown crossed her brow as she lay
perfectly still and listened. She was alone in the bed, of that she
was fairly certain, so where was he?

A
cursory glance of one side of the room revealed it to be completely
empty. Carefully she rolled over until she was facing the
fireplace.

There,
lying on the floor, fast asleep, was Peter. His hair was tousled
and his chest bare to the waist as he lay on his back before the
hearth, covered in nothing but a single sheet that did little to
preserve his modesty.

She knew
she should wake him up and usher him to his own room, but couldn’t
find the heart to wake him.

Once
again the memory of their last moments in Mr Simpson’s office
returned with startling brutality. The raw emotion, the pain, the
heartbreak, the helplessness all came flooding back. He had been
absolutely devastated by what he had considered his failure to help
her. She was surprised he had found her at all, much less put
everything that was his at risk of social censure in a desperate,
last-ditch attempt to keep her alive.

Although
she hadn’t been raised in the higher echelons of society, she was
fully aware that, for someone of Peter’s breeding, being connected
to any condemned person, especially a woman, would bring about
immediate social disgrace. Despite the risk to his title, estates
and family name, he had tried to claim her as his bride
anyway.

But
where did that leave them?

Her
thoughts turned to the first time she had seen him.

 

 

She had
loved him from the first time she had seen him sitting around the
dining table in Devon. She had been working as a servant and had
stood at the side of the room beside the footmen, helping serve a
meal. The deep rumble of his cultured voice had held her captive.
She had served him soup and had been startled as his gorgeous eyes
had met and held hers briefly as he murmured his thanks. A thrill
of anticipation had settled low in her belly, and she had been
aware of him watching her as she resumed her position beside the
serving table. As a servant she was supposed to be invisible and
forbidden from conversing with the guests unless they approached
her. But that was fine with Jemima, as long as she could stand in
the dining room and listen to him talk. The silken warmth of his
voice shivered over her, holding her captive to his every
word.

She knew
he was simply staring because of her outlandish behaviour at the
table. She shouldn’t have looked at him so directly, but didn’t
regret any anger he may have felt toward her. The moment was hers,
and nobody could take it away from her.

The
following morning she had been sent to light the fires in the
bedrooms before people started to rise. She had entered the room
without realising it was his. Most of the guests slept with their
bed curtains closed, and didn’t know she had even been in the room.
Except Peter, who had left the bed curtains open and himself in
plain view. She had stared openly at the broad expanse of chest
clearly outlined against the stark white sheets. A tiny thrill of
feminine attraction unfurled in her belly until she began to grow
uncomfortable with the warmth stealing through her.


Thank you, Jemima,” his soft rumble had made her freeze with
her hand on the doorknob and she had reluctantly turned back to
him, her heart hammering furiously beneath her breast.


Y-you’re welcome,” she had replied, rushing out of the room.
She had been halfway down the corridor before she realised he had
used her name.

Over the
following days their paths had crossed on more than one occasion.
She had tried to be like every other servant and had stood to one
side, her eyes lowered respectfully while he passed, only for him
to actively seek to converse with her.

He had
been kindness itself, generously overlooking her lowly status as he
had questioned her age, background and shared funny titbits about
his day. He had such an air of calm reassurance about him that was
so intrinsically reassuring that Jemima quickly grew to love the
few brief snatches of time she had with him and looked forward to
the next time he spoke to her with girlish joy she held secretively
to her heart.

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