If you were mine, p.1

If You Were Mine, page 1


If You Were Mine

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If You Were Mine


  The Cavendish Mysteries

  Book One


  Rebecca King

  If You Were Mine

  Rebecca King

  Copyright 2013 by Rebecca King

  Smashwords Edition

















  Isobel slowly closed the bedroom door behind her, wincing as it squeaked loudly in protest. In the silence of the midnight hour, the noise was loud enough to wake the entire household. She waited for several long moments. Her heart thumped heavily in her chest. She was certain that any moment now she would hear the heavy boots of her uncle stomping down the hallway towards her, his face mottled with rage at being disturbed at such an ungodly hour, all too ready to give her another sound thrashing for simply being alive.

  Her stomach lurched with a wave of nausea at the thought of the beating she would get if she was caught outside of her room, on the darkened landing.

  ‘You can’t allow nerves to get the better of you now! Not with the only chance of escape possible at last, and freedom just a short, albeit nerve racking to journey across the upper hallway,’ she silently chastised herself.

  She stood shrouded in inky blackness, and tried to quell the rapid thundering of her heart. With each passing moment that the midnight air remained blessedly undisturbed, her tension began to wane.

  It had only been a few scant minutes since Kitty had appeared at her bedroom, yet Isobel already felt a lifetime older. Her stalwart maid had taken a considerable risk to offer Isobel the opportunity to escape the harsh cruelty of her uncle, and take control of our own future. Dear Kitty, who was now strapped, battered and bruised, to a hard wooden chair - as Isobel had been - a prisoner in the room behind her. Isobel shook her head remorsefully and considered the past few minutes, when her life had taken yet another astonishing twist.

  “His manservant was boasting just this Eve’ that ye be gone in the morning to be wed and taken off his hands,” contempt laced Kitty’s voice. “He has sold you Miss, to one of his old crones if’n you please! A Bertram DeLisle, I think he said. If you refuse to go with ‘im on the morrow, you know what will happen!”

  Isobel knew exactly what would happen. She shuddered against a wave of terrified revulsion. It would be the same thing that had happened every single time her uncle got into one of his rages. The bruising was deep and plenty; the cuts raw and painful. Isobel knew that Kitty would not be allowed up to tend to her battered flesh afterwards. She was very aware that lately, her uncle’s rants had become increasingly ferocious, until Isobel had begun to fear she could actually survive his next ‘lesson’.

  “Please, mistress, you must leave tonight! Now! You have to do this!” Kitty pleaded in a voice that, although kept low for fear of discovery, lost none of its urgent insistence.

  Isobel nodded jerkily in agreement. Her mind was unable to focus on anything apart from the wild possibilities that began to unravel before her in a confusing, and terrifying, jumble. She couldn’t absorb the import of Kitty’s outrageous suggestion. Was it really that simple? Her hands shook with a mixture of giddy elation, and sickening nerves, as she considered the enormity of what she was about to do. Could she really take the branch of freedom that was being so readily offered to her? Apart from her uncle and her Aunt Elspeth, she had only a handful of surviving family members living miles away. She felt like she had buried most, if not all, of those who were nearest and dearest to her over the course of the past few months, until there was hardly anybody left to care.

  With no protector or guardian likely to come forward and challenge her uncle’s claim to guardianship, Isobel was well and truly stuck in the daily hell she had been cruelly drawn into since her brother’s death.

  There had been only man, besides her brother, whom she had once considered someone she could trust. But he had unfortunately proven to be as duplicitous as her conniving uncle downstairs.

  She had given her heart and body to Dominic Cavendish, Lord Havistock, oh so foolishly. Despite his initial gentlemanly restraint, he had taken everything she had innocently offered, before promptly leaving her to walk up the aisle with another woman. If the gossip was indeed accurate, he had married his new wife within days of leaving Isobel, and was already in the process of setting up his nursery!

  “Damn you to hell, Dominic!” Isobel muttered, cursing her own folly.

  Quickly closing off the painful memories of him, she turned her thoughts back to her current predicament. ‘There was certainly nobody else in life, other than Kitty, whom you should consider,’ Isobel thought bleakly. ‘You are well and truly on your own now, so get used to it.’

  The stark reality of her situation was raw. But what shall I do? Where should I go? Trying desperately to quell the growing hysteria, Isobel took several deep breaths to try to calm herself down, and think rationally. She was suddenly so very glad for the reassuring presence of the woman before her. For the time being at least, she wasn’t completely alone in the hideous situation she was in.

  “Please Miss, you have the pouch of coins Master Peter left you with?”

  Isobel nodded hesitantly, and swallowed against the lump that had formed at the thought of her elder brother.

  “Then you must take it. Or what’s left of it. You must leave now, since they will take you on the morrow, and I fear for your safety - your very life - should you go with them.”

  Isobel closed her eyes as the mental image of the short, florid faced, elderly man popped into mind. The memory of his green eyes roving lasciviously over her the last time they had unfortunately crossed paths, was simply vile. The thought of being married to such a creature, and subjected to God knows what, left her quaking in fear.

  “Miss, hurry up!” Kitty’s abrupt shake of her shoulders snapped her out of her daze.

  “Oh yes, Kitty,” Isobel whispered, fighting the clawing panic that threatened to overwhelm her. “Of course, I will go now.”

  Isobel watched as Kitty hurried to the linen closet and began to pull out the few scraps of clothing her uncle had allowed her to keep. Everything had been used repeatedly since her arrival at the house several weeks earlier and were soiled beyond redemption, but they were all she had.

  Giving herself a stern mental shake, Isobel moved to the bed and quickly began to sift through the assembled garments. “Wait!” Isobel frowned down at the meagre pile of cloth. “I can’t take these! I have no way of carrying them. I will travel quicker if I don’t carry anything.”

  Isobel deliberately blanked out the gnawing doubt that continued to grow, and defiantly sat down on the edge of the bed, tugging on her only walking boots swiftly.

  “Miss, I have relatives in Coniston up in the Lakes. They will not be able to keep you for long, but they will be able to give you somewhere warm and dry to stay until you can decide what to do. You just get yourself there. However best you can.”

  Isobel could hear the doubt in Kitty’s voice, but chose to remain silent.

  “You tell them Kitty sent you, all will be well. Ask for Annie, she is my cousin. She works at Winheld Hall.”

  “Right, Winheld Hall in Coniston,” Isobel whispered softly with a tiny shake of her head. The words swam around Isobel in a hazy fog, and she considered the enormity of the task before her. She had never even been allowed out
on her own unchaperoned before, and yet here she was discussing with her maid setting out alone in the middle of the night, with nothing more than a few coins in her pocket and a handful of clothes on her back.

  “Here take these.”

  Isobel looked down the leather pouch of coins thrust into her palm. “These are your life savings Kitty; I can’t take these!”

  “Please Miss! When you are safe, you may get the coins back to me somehow, but first you must get out of here.” Kitty didn’t bother to inform her mistress of the rest of the manservant’s vile boasts about the exact nature of the future that lay in store for her, as the wife of a profligate gambler and lecherous beast. “Tie me up,” Kitty added, ignoring the startled gasp from the younger woman.

  Isobel looked down at the torn strips of stockings Kitty was holding out to her. Although she understood that it was the only way she could ensure Kitty would not be punished for helping her, Isobel couldn’t prevent the surge of horror she felt at the thought of inflicting pain upon another person.

  “If Rupert does punish you Kitty, and throws you out on your ear, you must make your own way to Coniston. I shall await you there. Do you have enough funds yourself?”

  “Don’t you worry about me Miss, I can get myself there,” Kitty’s eyes shone defiantly in the darkness. “Just make sure you aren’t caught.” The stern tone of her voice clearly reminding her mistress of the consequences to them both should she get caught. She took a seat on the rickety wooden chair in the centre of the room, and waited while Isobel quickly tied the makeshift straps to Kitty’s wrists.

  “Hit me, and make it good,” Kitty whispered with a hard glare of warning.

  “What?” Isobel squeaked, suddenly feeling sick. Having such first-hand experience of what it was like to be the recipient of a fist, she loathed to inflict it upon another. “No!”

  “You must, otherwise he will know it is a set up. If you really do not want me to get caught you must make it look real. Hit me, it is alright.” Kitty’s voice hardened in anticipation. “Make it good.” Her own safety depended on Isobel’s compliance.

  Tears pooled in Isobel’s eyes as she stared aghast at her maid for several long moments. Closing her eyes, with a silent prayer heavenwards, she raised her hand. Tears streamed down her cheeks at the sound of her hand meeting the other woman’s cheek. For several moments, she stood and wept, the hollow sound of her hand meeting flesh echoing in her ears with too much familiarity.

  “It’s alright Miss,” Kitty mumbled, her voice laced with pain she couldn’t hide. “You must go now.”

  Isobel couldn’t see how much she had marked the older woman through the darkness, but could see the dark tell-tale trickle of blood coming from the corner of her mouth.

  “I am so sorry Kitty,” Isobel muttered, wishing she could undo the ties and give the woman a hug.

  “Get out of here. Now!” Kitty’s voice was harsh in the still of the room.

  Swiping the dampness from her cheeks, Isobel sniffed and nodded before she turned away. Carefully drawing her only remaining shawl tighter around her shoulders, she turned towards the heavy wooden door to the room that had been her virtual prison for the past two months.

  Through the gloom of the darkened bedroom, Isobel glanced backward, wordlessly seeking reassurance of her only ally. With a quivering quirk of her lips, she accepted the encouraging nod Kitty gave her, and disappeared into the darkness of the upper hallway.

  She could only hope that one day she would be in a position to offer Kitty the thanks she so richly deserved. Indeed, if all of Isobel’s plans came to fruition, she would be in a position to ensure Kitty remained in employment for as long as she wanted. As long as her evil uncle didn’t dispose of her first.

  Isobel slowly opened her eyes. All of her senses tuned to any signs of movement in the hallway before her. She now knew what the term ‘deathly silence’ meant. Standing enshrouded in the inky blackness of the house that had once been so familiar to her was almost claustrophobic.

  Scenting her first taste of freedom for several long and very painful weeks, Isobel wanted to run as fast as her feet would carry her, straight out of the building and as far away as she could get. It took all of her willpower to ease away from the strangely comforting solidity of the bedroom door, and almost too slowly, take the first steps across the upper hallway towards freedom.

  There was no moonlight to penetrate the thick blackness that settled around her. Gosport Hall was her grandmother’s former residence; a large sprawling house that had been full of happy times and plenty of teasing laughter. There wasn’t any part of the rambling abode she didn’t know in minute detail. Most of her childhood had been spent chasing her older brother Peter through the long, draughty corridors that were as familiar to her as her own home in Oxfordshire, Willowbrook.

  Now, with the gaiety and laughter of her formative years nothing more than a faint echo of her distant past, Gosport’s once lavishly warm and inviting rooms stood cold and empty and alien to her. The heavy wooden shutters remained closed even during the daytime, leaving the rooms feeling isolated and damp. Thanks to her uncle’s greed and carelessness, the rooms held a menacing air that permeated the bones, and made one constantly cold and uncomfortable.

  Isobel fought back a pang of longing for those sweet fun-filled days of her youth. She had learnt the hard way that those days were now gone for good. Life could be truly cruel and unforgiving to those of the weaker sex, and she was no different.

  Throughout her early childhood, her parents rarely talked about her father’s younger brother, Uncle Rupert. His was a name shrouded in myth and mystery. In her youthful imaginings, Isobel had frequently dreamt he was a pirate buccaneer on his many ocean adventures, or a dastardly highwayman full of dangerous intentions. The reality was not as adventurous, or anywhere near as magical as all that. The reality was harsh, brutal and unforgiving. The man was evil personified.

  With a reputation of gambling, and shady business dealings, his entire livelihood was questionable. His associates from the lower end of the social spectrum were just as mysterious and equally as brutal. Rupert’s wealth materialized from no reasonably identifiable source, and seemed to vanish again just as quickly. Nobody knew what he actually did to earn his place in society, or his living. Had they had the temerity to ask, his cold ruthlessness immediately surfaced, leaving you feeling distinctly threatened, as though you had crossed some imaginary boundary into territory that was far from safe.

  It was the stark reminder of just how brutal her uncle could be, that gave Isobel the strength she needed to make it to her goal. At the far corner of the sprawling mansion lay her brother’s old bedroom.

  ‘Oh God Peter, why did you have to go and leave me like this?” Isobel’s voice was a mere shiver in the cold midnight air. She watched in horror as her breath fogged before her when she whispered, and immediately slammed her mouth shut, her blood pounding in her ears as all too familiar fear threatened to overwhelm her.

  Tears stung her eyes. Ignoring them, she softly eased towards her elder brother, Peter’s room, and the brief sanctity she knew it offered her. At the far corner of the main building to her own room, she knew that a rose trellis used to run the length of the house. During his wayward youth, Peter had often used this method of escaping the house, and in doing so had secured a trellis, strong enough to carry his weight, tightly to the wall. Isobel fervently hoped the ravages of time hadn’t rendered it useless, since it was her only way out.

  Still, a broken neck is better than a life at his merciless hands, Isobel reasoned starkly, moving silently toward the looming doorway before her. She entered the bedroom, easing the door closed with a quiet click. On first glance, it was evident that little had changed. Covered in dust cloths and old sheets, it was clear that the furniture hadn’t been moved in some considerable time. Dust motes were clearly visible, even through the darkness confirming that the room hadn’t been aired either. However, despite the ravages of time, the faint
scent that was distinctly Peter still hung in the air.

  Isobel’s chest tightened with a wave of grief so strong, she wasn’t sure her knees would support her, and she leaned briefly against the wall to gather herself. She desperately longed to lie down on the bed and give in to the sobs that threatened to choke her, but with each passing moment, dawn was approaching and the risk of discovery increasing. It was imperative to both herself and Kitty that she got out of the house.

  It took several minutes of jiggling the stubborn metal latch on the bedroom window before the old ironwork finally released, and allowed her to slide the rickety frame upwards. A quick peek at the wall outside revealed the trellis was still where Peter had secured it. Carefully easing her leg out of the window, Isobel paused and scowled downward into the gloom. Peter had once said that scaling the trellis was risking his neck, and he had been unencumbered by skirts. Frowning down at the crumpled and soiled linen of her dress, Isobel slowly eased her leg back into the room and turned towards the darkness with a frown.

  “Now what?” She muttered, considering her options. She certainly wouldn’t get very far dressed as she was. Although she was not in finery by any stretch of the imagination, she was still easy to recognize. She would fall victim to every ne’er do well within one hundred miles! If she was to survive the first day alone, she could not afford to leave any trail for her uncle to follow.

  When Peter had ventured into the village, he had been dressed as one of the locals, not as the eldest son of a lord. Frantically searching her memory, she vaguely recalled him mentioning a small drawer hidden in the bottom of his linen press. Several moments later, she pulled out a somewhat musty pair of buff breeches and rough cotton shirt, along with a smelly pair of old boots, a thin jacket, flat cap and a long riding cloak.

  Without hesitation, Isobel quickly donned the clothes; carefully making sure the telling mound of her breasts was tightly bound with torn off strips of her petticoat. Dubiously, she squinted through the darkness at the size of the boots before she tied the boot laces together and hung them around her neck for later. She quickly put her dress, along with her shawl, into the hidden drawer. She eased it closed, relieved when she was rewarded with a soft click.

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