Ladies of Deception 03 - Betraying the Highwayman

BOOK: Ladies of Deception 03 - Betraying the Highwayman
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Betraying the Highwayman

Ladies of Deception Book 3

 

A Novel

 

Ginny Hartman

 

Copyright © 2013 by Ginny Hartman

All rights reserved.

Cover design by Ginny Hartman

Book design by Ginny Hartman

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

First printing: December 2013

 

To Hana and Hallie, who tricked me from the beginning. You were my greatest surprise and remain a source of constant joy. Always, forever, my googies you'll be.

Chapter 1

Sunday, April 24, 1814

Hefting her valise over her shoulder, Elenore Ogglesby groaned; the day was getting hot and her stomach had been rumbling for what felt like an eternity. While escaping the Duke of Kerrington’s townhouse, she had barely had enough time to pack a few meager belongings, let alone manage to grab anything to eat while on the road. Looking back, it was foolish of her to not plan more carefully.

As she strolled casually along the worn dirt road, she had ample time to think about what she was doing, where she was going. Though she had left a note indicating she was running off to join a convent, that had never been her true intent. She had only written it in hopes that it would discourage the duke from coming after her to bring her home, hoping he would see it as a safe and proper alternative to being his ward.

The day was getting hot, and Elenore felt a bead of sweat roll down the middle of her back. She squeezed her shoulder blades together to try and stop the tickling trail of sweat, but to no avail. She finally had to halt and set her valise down on the ground so she could reach up and attempt to awkwardly scratch the itch between her shoulder blades.

Once the itch on her back had been satisfied, her hands fell to her sides, while she looked around hopefully for a place to rest her weary feet. She had been walking almost the entire day, and the shoes she had selected, a pair of kid leather half-boots that were by and far her sturdiest pair of footwear, were growing rather uncomfortable. Her feet felt hot and swollen inside the confining shoes, and the outside of her little toe was becoming chaffed from rubbing constantly up against the inside of the boot.

Of course, there was nowhere for her to sit for a spell and rest her feet, unless she was willing to take up residence on the side of the dirt road, which she was not. She had only been able to bring a limited selection of clothing with her, the meager belongings having to fit in her small valise. The pink and green striped day dress that she was wearing was one of only two complete ensembles she had brought with her, and she wasn't about to risk ruining one of those outfits completely, even if she could offer her feet some rest in the process.

Now, for the first time since she had started out on her journey, Elenore wondered what exactly she was doing. To say she had been impulsive when deciding to run away would be an understatement, but she just couldn't fathom living a painfully dull existence, trying to fit in with the ton, when it was glaringly apparent that she did not belong. If only her parents hadn't died, she wouldn't be in this position now. But it did no good to blame them, when they were no longer around, so instead she focused on blaming her brother Paul. If he hadn't purchased his commission in the Royal Army shortly before their parents’ death, she would have been able to remain in his care and would not have been pawned off on the Duke of Kerrington. Life in the country was far preferable than life in society.

Picking up her valise once more, she began walking, though the going was slow because her painfully tired and sore feet did not allow for rapid movement of any kind. She had been purposefully walking on the most backward, deserted roads she could find, not exactly sure where they were taking her, but with no concrete plan in place, not exactly worried where she might end up.

She wasn't exactly sure how much time had passed, though the sun was beginning to set and the evening air was beginning to chill. It was with great relief that she spotted a somewhat dilapidated inn in the midst of the monotonous miles of road. It was the only establishment within seeing proximity, almost as if it had been plucked unexpectedly from a small village and placed out in the middle of nowhere. She didn't have the energy to contemplate the oddness of its locale. Instead, with weeping gratitude, she fled to the bench sitting in front of the main entrance to the inn.

She let out a sigh mixed with pain and relief, as she was finally able to relieve her feet of the weight of her body. The pain didn't evaporate completely, not even significantly, but it was just enough to provide her some relief. She reached down instinctively to unlace the boots and remove them from her feet. She knew it was highly improper to do so, but she wasn't sure her feet could survive another minute of imprisonment.

“Pardon me, miss.”

Elenore jerked up instantly, surprised by the intrusion. She had been convinced that she was completely alone. Brushing back a wayward strand of hair that had escaped her bun, she looked up to behold a young nun. “Yes?” she asked wearily, anxious to get back to her task of removing her boots.

“Mind if I have a seat?” The girl asked in a mildly soft voice.

Elenore slid to the opposite end of the bench and placed her valise on the ground next to her so as to make room for the nun. She didn't wish to seem unpleasant, but she had one thing on her mind and that was her aching feet. She bent once more to resume her task, hoping the nun would forgive her impropriety.

Once more her task was interrupted by the probing voice of the nun. “What's a young girl like you doing all by yourself in the middle of nowhere?”

Elenore stiffened but remained in her bent-over position, staring at the soft, brown leather of her boot, as she tried to decide how to respond. She couldn't tell the nun she had run away from her guardian with the intent to sail to America for a life of adventure, nor could she lie to her and tell her that her parents were inside. For surely it would be a grave sin to lie to a servant of God. She slowly sat up, desperately trying to formulate a truthful response that wouldn't cause her trouble.

Seeing the look of panic on her face and sensing her hesitancy, the nun reached one hand forth and gently placed it on Elenore's arm in an attempt to comfort her. “I have secrets of my own.”

Elenore looked at her quizzically before turning defensive. “Who says I have secrets?”

The nun laughed. “Maybe you don't have secrets, but you certainly do not have a good excuse for being here unchaperoned, do you?”

Elenore couldn't deny it, so instead she sat silently, unwilling to say anything that might incriminate her further.

Leaning closely the nun whispered, “I have a proposition for you. If you'd like to come to my room, you can remove your shoes and soak your weary feet in a basin of water, while I tell you of my dilemma.”

The thought was tempting, but she had no idea to what sort of proposition the nun was referring. Looking intently at the young nun's face, she weighed her options; she could either say no and remain on the bench, removing her boots to allow her feet some much needed relief, while she formulated what she would do next, or she could agree to at least hear what the nun suggested. After all, she wouldn't be required to agree to anything, though she would get the promised foot soak which was too tempting to pass up. Besides, it would buy her some more time to figure out what she was going to do, where she was going to go.

“Very well. I'll listen to what you have to say, but that doesn't mean I'm agreeing to any of it, understood?”

The nun smiled. “Agreed.”

***

Elenore sighed in relief as she lowered both feet into a basin of warm water. The blistering on her toes stung momentarily before the pain abated and she felt a weariness overcome her. She bowed her head, resting her chin on her chest and let her eyes drift close. She must have fallen asleep because the next thing she remembered was being gently nudged by the nun, a bowl of fragrant stew being pushed under her nose. At that moment, her hunger outweighed her need for sleep, and she eagerly took the proffered bowl and began eating; food had never tasted so good!

The nun watched her with amusement before seating herself on the edge of the small, down-filled mattress, taking up most of the space in the room. “I'm not really a nun,” she stated simply, never once taking her eyes off of Elenore.

There was a moment’s delay in Elenore's brain, as she attempted to process what she had just been told. She was having a hard time thinking past the delicious stew that she was furiously ingesting. Regretfully she set the spoon down and asked, “What do you mean?”

The nun reached up and slid the cumbersome veil from her head, revealing auburn hair that cascaded around her shoulders in thick curls. Elenore gasped—the girl looked younger without her veil, certainly not much older than Elenore herself.

“My name is Olivia, formerly Lady Olivia,” she stated sadly.

“What's going on? If you are a lady, then why are you at an inn by yourself disguised as a nun?” For a moment Elenore questioned if she was still sleeping and if this was all a part of some bizarre dream.

“My family disowned me, sent me to the Magdalen Hospital when they found out that I...”

Elenore began shaking her head furiously. “I don't need to hear anymore.” She pulled one sopping foot out of the basin and cringed at the pain that enveloped her foot when she placed it on the hard wood planks of the floor. She had heard about the Magdalen Hospital, most people had. It's where they sent prostitutes and other fallen women to rehabilitate them back into society. She had no desire to associate with such a pariah.

Olivia rushed over to Elenore, reaching out her hands to help steady her on her feet. Elenore recoiled from her touch. “Please,” Olivia begged. “It's not what you think. Allow me to explain myself further.” Without waiting for Elenore to agree, she continued, “I fell in love with one of my family's stable boys, much to my mother's chagrin. When she found out that I had been escaping my room at night to meet with him she was livid, automatically assuming the worst. She accused me of the most heinous things and almost immediately arranged for me to be sent to the Magdalen Hospital, hoping that they could reform my waywardness. She said that there was no way she could live with such a disgraceful daughter such as I, so she sent me away and disowned me.”

There was no disguising the sorrow that filled Olivia's voice—what a horrible story! It wasn't unheard of, sending away genteel young ladies when they had been compromised or made poor choices that would reflect on their family and affect their standing in society, but usually they were sent to a distant relative in the country or to finishing schools outside of London, away from temptation and the prying eye of the ton. But to completely disown your child and send her to the Magdalen Hospital seemed extreme and just a touch cruel.

“I'm sorry,” Elenore muttered, feeling compassion for the girl she had just judged unfairly. She couldn't imagine her parents ever having done something so cruel, even if she hadn't lived up to their expectations.

Olivia smiled wanly. “What about you, what's your story?”

Elenore eyed the girl shrewdly, feeling compelled to share her dilemma with her after she had shared hers. She was weighing whether she could trust the girl or not when Olivia urged, “I may be able to help you.”

Without thinking, Elenore spewed, “I ran away.” Olivia nodded encouragingly as she continued, not the least bit shocked by her declaration. “My parents died just over a year ago, and I was left to my brother’s care. The only problem was, he had already purchased his commission with the Royal Army and was leaving the country. He entrusted my care to his good friend from school, the Duke of Kerrington.”

“Was he cruel to you, is that why you left?” Olivia asked with concern.

“No, not at all, it was nothing like that. I was raised in the country. My parents had limited funds, and we didn't readily partake in much that society had to offer, which was fine by me. Everything changed when I came to London—I was introduced into society, and to put it bluntly, I didn't belong. I grew more and more miserable trying to fit in and be something I wasn't. The constant reminders of my shortcomings drove me mad until I finally decided to leave. I'm thinking of going to America.” She hadn't meant to lay it all out before a complete stranger, but for some reason, she felt like she could trust the girl, seeing as she had her own secrets to share.

“Surely you don't plan on attempting to sail to America by yourself. You'll never gain passage, and if you do, it isn't seemly for you to travel alone.”

“I know. I realized the foolhardiness of my plan after I left. I'm not sure what I'll do now, but I'll think of something.”

“I might be able to help, if you are willing to help me.”

Elenore looked at Olivia, one eyebrow raised. “I'm not even sure I can help myself at this point, let alone you. I should just give up and go back to the duke and apologize for being so foolish.”

Olivia slid off the side of the bed and knelt before Elenore, taking one of her hands in her own. “Why should you go back to a life you can hardly tolerate? My life at Magdalen Hospital was horrendous.” She shuddered, then continued. “I couldn't have survived there much longer, being forced day in and day out to slave away like a common laborer, berated into making penance for my wayward actions. I knew there was no way my mother was going to come to my rescue either, so I took matters into my own hands. It wasn't hard to steal some of the nuns clothing, since I helped launder the robes. It was much easier to slip away undetected than if I would have tried to flee without disguise.”

“What are you going to do now?” Elenore asked, impressed with the girls bravery and determination.

Olivia's face split into a wide grin revealing a set of small, white teeth. “I'm meeting Ryan, the stable boy, of course. We're eloping to Gretna Green tonight.”

“Truly?”

“Truly.” She nodded, showing her delight. “This is where you come in. If I leave here and go get married looking like a nun, it would only cause unwarranted suspicion when we showed up to be wed. And you forget, the nuns at Magdalen Hospital will be looking for me by now. I'm sure that they've noticed not only my absence but the missing robes as well. I'll never make it out of London like this.”

BOOK: Ladies of Deception 03 - Betraying the Highwayman
4.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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