Authors: Rebecca King
HIS LADY SPY
The Star Elite
© Rebecca King 2013
The moral right of Rebecca King to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any informational storage and retrieval system, without the permission in writing from the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual persons, either living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Further books in a new series will be published shortly.
“What is it m’dear?”
Portia jumped and glanced at her younger sister, Cecily. She should have known that Cecily would pick up on her dissatisfaction, and wondered if she should even attempt to avoid that far too probing gaze or simply tell her the truth.
“What makes you think something is wrong?” Portia
asked with one elegant brow arched haughtily.
d her eyes. “Because I know you dear sister. There is definitely something amiss. Do you care to tell me what it is?”
Portia stared absently down the
narrow country lane. She saw very little of the tiny wildflowers littering the lush green foliage of the hedgerow on either side of them, or the cloudless blue skies on the sunny August afternoon. All she could see was the imposing stone tower of the church sitting further ahead, and the market town of Tissington just a little way to the left of it.
lived in the small village all of her life but, at that moment, it felt like a suffocating prison she desperately needed to break out of. She ached to be able to stretch her wings and simply experience something other than the routine, very boring existence she was currently living. Her dissatisfaction with everything in her life was so strong that she could feel the heavy weight of its burden on her slender shoulders as realistically as the thick woollen cloak she had left at home.
“It’s your bet
rothal, isn’t it?” Cecily prodded when Portia made no attempt to answer.
Portia nodded slowly, unable to voice the words that were tumbling through her.
Her forthcoming marriage to a man twice her age was one of the problems currently plaguing her. She swallowed against the flurry of sickness that she usually experienced at the thought of being married to a man with large jowls which, when combined with his large paunch, made him look like Mr Masterson’s bloodhound.
“I cannot marry him,” Portia whispered
softly, her voice ringing with a hopelessness that was disturbing to Cecily.
here is nothing you can do, Portia.” Cecily’s beautiful face was sad and sympathetic. “Papa has already said that he will cast you out if you don’t go through with it.”
he man is twice my age!” Portia gasped, and tried to quell the rising panic. “You have seen him, Cecily, the man is an oaf.”
“Portia!” Cecily gasped
and glanced furtively around the empty lane. She turned scandalised eyes on her sister. Although she loved Portia desperately, her elder sister could be a little outspoken at times and, more often than not, it got her into trouble.
If she was honest, Cecily would be the first to admit that
Thomas Templeton, the man their father had picked out to be Portia’s future husband was indeed an oaf, and resembled a bloodhound, but there was no possibility that she could ever tell her sister that.
The vociferous disagreement between Portia and their father only last night still rang in her ears.
It hadn’t been the first time they had argued and, she suspected, wouldn’t be the last. The previous evening’s argument had held an underlying bitterness that had been disturbing to hear and had resulted in Portia slamming out of the study. Their father’s threats had continued to echo through the empty halls of the house long into the night, leaving neither sister with any doubt as to his determination that they should marry the old men he chose, whether they liked it or not.
turned sad eyes on her sister, wishing there was something she could say, or do to ease her sister’s worries.
Spying a gap in the hedge,
Portia studied the trickling stream in the field beyond. The urge to run away was so strong that she wished she had brought her small pouch of coins with her. She could go to her Aunt Tilly’s, or Uncle Robert and Aunt Susannah, but her father would just send for her to be returned. Most of her relatives were in awe of, or simply scared of, their father’s legendary temper, and would have no hesitation in returning the ladies at the first opportunity. As a result, both she and Cecily really had nowhere to go. They were trapped. She wanted to scream, rant and rave; vent her fury at the unfairness of it all.
“Wait!” Cecily gasped, watching Portia
lift the skirts of her walking dress and inelegantly climb the gate beside them. When Portia merely jumped down from the gate and began to march across the field beyond, Cecily glanced furtively up and down the lane before lifting her own skirts. “Where are you going? We have to go to the church to do the flowers,” she called, clambering down and hurrying after Portia’s rapidly disappearing back.
“You go, I need a few moments to myself,” Portia
replied, making no attempt to stop. Despite being outside, she felt as though she was suffocating. The desperate need to get away from it all, even for a little while, was clawing at her with merciless hands. She had to get a few moments by herself or she would go quietly mad with the helplessness of her predicament.
“Portia, I wish I could help you,” Cecily gasped, panting a little with the exertion of keeping up with Portia’s fast pace. When she got no response, she grabbed hold of Portia
’s elbow, drawing her to a stop in an attempt to force her sister to face her fears and discuss them.
Portia sighed and swung
around. She struggled to control the impatience at Cecily’s need to discuss everything in minute detail, and merely glared at her sibling and waited. She knew it wasn’t Cecily’s fault, and it was unfair to take her bad temper out on her young sibling. The sympathy in her sister’s beautiful sea green eyes did little to ease her frustration, but she resolutely pushed aside the gnawing anger and offered Cecily an apologetic smile.
need a few moments to myself.” Turning around, she headed toward the far corner of the field and the small stream that wound its way through the grass and disappeared into the woods. She didn’t bother to ask if Cecily was going to join her, and was unsurprised moments later when Cecily moved to stand beside her in quiet contemplation.
Dear Cecily, her best friend and confidant.
Portia would miss her when she moved to her marital home. She quickly closed that thought off when another wave of desperation swept through her. To move would mean she was married to the great oaf her father had chosen for her, and it would ultimately mean the end of life as she knew it. Although she wouldn’t be sorry to leave the family home and the draconian guardianship of her father, the thought of sharing anything with her future husband filled her with sickening dread.
She paused at the side of the brook and took a deep
, fortifying breath. They were several miles inland but the stiff breeze still held the gentle tang of the sea. It left her with a pang of longing so deep that she had to swallow against the sting of tears. She was so lost in her thoughts that she jumped when Cecily’s cool hand slipped into hers.
“I wish there was something I could do to help,” Cecily whispered.
“There is nothing anyone can do,” Portia sighed, hating their father more than ever. There had never been any love lost between her and her sire, but their relationship had never been as strained as it was now, and she wasn’t all that sorry for it. She would have been glad to leave the house, if she wasn’t leaving for an even darker place.
“It wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t so decrepit,” Cecily sighed.
“Or fat.” Despite her despondency, Portia smiled at Cecily’s shocked gasp. “Oh, Cecily, you really are such a ninny.”
, someone is going to overhear you and then you will be sorry. You will get into so much trouble, not even that overbearing bloodhound of a husband is going to save you.”
“I don’t care,” Portia declared boldly. “Have you ever considered that there might be more to life than this?” Portia asked, studying Cecily’s delicate face carefully.
Cecily was by far the more beautiful. Of average height, her jet-black curls bounced gaily against her pale, almond-shaped face. Dark green eyes and rosebud lips accentuated her timeless beauty that made her look like a porcelain doll. At two and twenty, she should have been married by now, and would have been, if it wasn’t for their father.
James Montford, Lord Calverton
, had put forth a very reasonable, if surprising, offer for Cecily only a few months ago but, for some reason only known to him, their father had bluntly refused to even consider the offer and had instead ordered him from the house. It was a shame because Portia knew that Cecily had considered herself besotted with the dashing lord. Theirs could have been a happy marriage but, as it was, Cecily was herself now facing marriage to their father’s choice of husband. The thought made Portia shudder with disgust, and feel a sad sympathy toward her sister’s own plight.
“There is more than this, of course there is,” Cecily replied
sadly. “But not for us. There is nothing we can do about Papa. To go against his wishes by choosing our own futures would bring about a scandal that would ruin both of us.”
her head. “This is
future though. I am the one who has to live it, not my father.”
how you feel because I feel the same. I almost wish –” Cecily sighed, absently kicking a stone beneath her foot.
“He could come back for you, you know,” Portia replied
gently, watching all trace of emotion instantly vanish from Cecily’s face.
“We both know that is not a possibility. Father was so rude to him when he cast him out that no man would face such a stern rebuttal for a second time.”
“I cannot believe father actually did that. A lord as well!” Portia sighed, shaking her head in disbelief. “You would have thought he would want us to marry well and would want the social standing of being related to a nobleman.”
Anyone else would. Not father, though,” Cecily reminded her. “He only wants us to marry his friends, so he can garner business with his old cronies.”
“It’s such a shame
. I liked Lord Calverton.” The memory of that awful afternoon when Lord Calverton and their father had argued so fiercely, was still raw for both Portia and Cecily. Although the severity of their argument had been difficult to forget, it had been the sight of Cecily’s tears when the eighth Earl of Dumbatton took his leave that had broken Portia’s own heart.
“So did I.” Cecily’s voice quivered with
“I’m sorry Cecily.
I didn’t mean to bring you more distress.” Portia clasped Cecily’s hand and gave it a gentle pat.
Although Portia knew her sister’s association with Lord Calverton had been very brief, she had been as delighted
, and surprised, as Cecily, when he had appeared at the door to offer for her. Although Portia would never say so to her sister, she had often wondered what had driven the dashing, well-to-do lord, to offer for a young miss like Cecily, who came with no recommendation, and had no title to match his. Although she was beautiful, he undoubtedly had his social standing to take into consideration and, on that matter, they were far from equal. It didn’t make sense for someone like Lord Calverton to even glance twice at Cecily, let alone go so far as to seek a more permanent connection. Nevertheless he had, although his appearance at their door one afternoon had been far from welcoming, to say the very least. Their father had been rude and churlish, refusing to even consider Lord Calverton’s offer before practically ordering him from the house. Lord Calverton had not called again, or made any attempt to contact Cecily since that fateful afternoon, leaving Cecily as confused as Portia.
“It’s alright,” Cecily sighed. “I want to run away practically every day, but there is nowhere to go.”
“I just wish we could have at least one adventure,” Portia whispered, gazing across the brook toward the thick patch of trees opposite. “You know, really experience life before it is taken away from us.”
Portia sat on a small boulder nestled on the bank of the brook, tucking her legs to one side as she studied the gentle trickle of the waters heading toward the sea. Absently picking a handful of the lush grass beside her, she tossed it into the stream and watched the water carry the blades away.
If only something could carry me away so easily,
Portia thought, tossing another handful of grass into the water.
The silence that settled about them was interrupted by the gentle rustling of the leaves on the trees,
accompanied by the merry chirping of the birds nestled within. But their beautiful surroundings did little to lift the pervading sense of gloom that had fallen over the sisters. Not even the brilliant sunshine beaming down from the cloudless blue skies lifted their spirits.
risk of grass stains on her skirts, Cecily settled on the ground beside Portia, stretching her legs out to study the toes of her shoes.
“Do you think we should throw ourselves on the mercy of Aunt Adelaide?”
Cecily asked after several moments of contemplative silence.
denial was silenced, and she studied her sister carefully while she thought about it. Aunt Adelaide hated their father, and was probably the only person in the world who would consider taking them in. But it had been so long since they had been in contact with her that there was no way of knowing if she would even allow them entrance into her home, let alone be prepared to accommodate them and risk incurring the wrath of their father when, not if, he found out.