In our last chapter of Tabitha’s Folly, Tabitha found herself in a carriage with Damen, speeding away toward Gretna Green.
Tabitha awoke to the unsettling feeling of eyes watching. Her skin crawled, and she resisted the largest shiver of her life, hoping to stay very very still.
The hair on her arms stood on end. At first she felt frozen in place. What to do! What to do! The swaying of the carriage and the bumpy ride told her they were still travelling at breakneck speeds.
She opened her eyes.
Damen sat across from her, his face, cold, impassive.
She gripped her head, dizzy, and tried to sit up. “Damen, why are you doing this?”
“The laudanum will make you dizzy. I do apologize for that.”
“You gave me laudanum?” Her creeping sense of danger grew. She hid the shaking of her hands.
“You were so upset about Henry. I wanted to calm you.” His voice, smooth as ever, but the kindness was gone. Had it ever been there?
He had changed clothes. She felt ill at the thought of him disrobing in her presence even while she slept. He looked an English gentleman, cravat and shiny Hessians.
He gestured over his attire. “Today I will become legitimate.”
She wrinkled her eyes. “What are you talking about? Where are we going? Damen, take me back. You don’t want to do this. They will only catch you and–”
“They will never find us.” His face looked too satisfied. “Until there is nothing more they can do.”
“Then you don’t know my brothers.” Damen would not only be found but would not last long on this earth. She almost pitied him. “Or Henry.”
“That pompous do-nothing.”
“Do you think your precious Henry loves you? Do you think he even cares? He had years with you, not once taking note of what was right before his eyes.”
She swallowed, his tone so sinister. She didn’t want to provoke him.
“I am a noble, you know. My mother was a Viscontessa. Rare in Italy. My grandfather, a Conte in the kingdom of Sardinia.” He sat back, even more self satisfied. “So all these airs everyone puts on, not necessary with me. I myself come from titled blood.”
“Then why are you a servant?”
She regretted asking the moment the words left her lips. His face reddened and he clenched his fists. “And that is the question, isn’t it?”
He picked an imaginary lint off of his jacket. “My mother fell in love, was seduced by a lying English rat!” His mouth sneered in venom. “And his promises, his lies, of taking her to his home to be his duchess produced an heir.”
“Me. The heir who was never recognized, because the rat never made good on his promises, and my mother was left to hide in shame.” He ground his teeth. Then relaxed.
“Through the help of some family friends, a home was found for me here in England with a good servant family.”
Tabitha thought of the dark curls of Annabella.
“And a place for me to be gainfully employed.” He cleared his throat. “My mother never claimed me either and went on to marry a Viscount in Italy, presumably her new husband never the wiser. She sends me letters, but that is all.”
Tabitha sat quiet, sad for his plight, half listening, half planning how she would escape.
“When I approached my father, he paid me to stay quiet and offered education, employment as a barrister, solicitor even, a position in his home, possible steward.” He clenched his fists and stared dark menacing eyes into Tabitha’s. “But not family. He withheld the strength of his name, his title.”
He leaned forward, eyes sincere. “And so I am left an island between nations, families full of titles for generations back and no legitimacy of my own.” He grinned. “Until today.”
“No.” The word came out without her even thinking. “I won’t do it. Damen–”
“Stand and deliver!” The shout startled them. Tabitha felt a wild hope.
Damen leaned his head out the window and shouted, “Just barrel him down..”
Tabitha peeked out the window then gasped and ducked down on her carriage bench. The roads were narrow, the cliff face steep, and the man up ahead held a gun. She squeezed her eyes shut, breath coming faster and the world started to spin.
A swerve brought the carriage up on two wheels. Tabitha screamed, then jarred her teeth together when it landed back down on all four. Gun shots sounded, and the carriage began an incline. The horses burst into faster speed than even before. The road opened up on one side and Tabitha felt a little more relief. The other side dropped off sharply to her right.
Then the whole carriage went up high to their front as if climbing a rock, crashed down again and stopped, rocking forward and back as if swaying in the breeze.
“We’re on the axle.” Damen’s face went white. And for the first time, Tabitha felt hope. “Stay here,” he warned before he climbed out.
She followed immediately, then gasped as the carriage rocked and tilted on its axle with the shift in weight, stuck on something underneath her.
Damen grabbed her face, squeezing her cheeks until her mouth opened. “I said. Stay inside.” He pushed her back in and slammed the door.
“Ow.” She whimpered and grabbed her face. She peeked out the window. Damen was not nearby. So she approached the door again, stepping carefully as the carriage swayed with every step.
The door flung open and Damen yanked her out by the arm. “Come with me.” He jerked her roughly forward along the dirt road toward a horse.
“No.” She pulled back against him, but his grip was firm and she was dragged along with him. He stopped in front of a horse and grabbed her around the waist, throwing her up on the saddle. She wobbled for a minute. A man steadied the horse in front of her, held the reins. She scowled at him but he wouldn’t meet her eye. Damen placed his foot in the stirrup, but she was not waiting for him to leap up behind her. She kicked the horse. “Hiya!” which made it jump, and the coachman with the reins reached forward. “Easy girl.”
Damen’s foot became caught and twisted in the stirrup, and he hopped to stay balanced, grasping for the saddle but could find little to grip.
Tabitha kicked again and the horse jumped, skittish now. Damen was flung off and landed in the dirt. She kicked again,”Come on girl! Go!” At last, they took off at a gallop. She urged the horse faster, faster, not caring where she went as long as she escaped Damen. A sob caught in her throat. How could she be so deceived? And what would become of him now that he had done such a thing? She tore across the empty field as though chased by demons.
Horse hooves sounded behind her. Fear in her heart, she whipped her head backwards. How had he hopped on another horse so soon?
Henry. His face a stone, a mask of determination, he tore after her, horse hooves flinging dirt out behind them. She was saved, oh Henry. Her heart soared, and she found new courage.
Exhilarated, overjoyed, she lay forward, grabbing for the reins, but the horse was frightened, and the ride, not smooth. Riding at a crazed gallop across an open field, she hoped for no rocks or holes in the uneven ground.
Pounding of hooves sounded behind her and a wisp of a voice, carried on the wind. “Tabby!”
She at last got hold of the reins and pulled back. “Woa girl, easy now.”
The horse would not listen. Henry raced closer. “Hold on.” His shout nearer, his strong voice helping to calm her heart and steady her hands.
He came up to her side, reached for the reins and then slowed both horses together.
When they at last stopped, her leg pressed between the horses’ flanks, Henry’s frightened face searched her own.
He leapt off his horse, coming around to her side, and pulled her down into his arms.
“Henry.” Sobbing, she couldn’t stop, she clung to him, a great wave of relief washed over her. Even if this is all he offered, the love of a friend, a brother, he was in her arms. She squeezed as though she’d never let go.
“Tabby, my Tabby. Are you well?” He ran his hands up her back, on her hair, pulled away and looked into her face. “Are you unharmed?”
She choked on a sob to see his frantic care. “I am well.” Then she smiled. “You came.”
“As soon as I knew. Your brothers–”
The sound of more horse hooves approached. Edward crested the hill, a figure draped across the back of his horse, followed by Julian and Oscar.
Edward’s face was white, but he waved to them and urged his horse faster till he skidded to a stop, Damen’s body falling to the ground, while Edward rushed to Tabitha.
She couldn’t see for her tears. Dear, dear Edward.
Henry squeezed her hand. “He’ll be a much happier chap when we’re married.”
She gasped beside him.
He winked at her and then Edward picked her up and swung her around. “Did he hurt you?”
She shook her head, “No, unless you count the laudanum. I feel fine.”
He looked to the sky, such a relief on his face that a lump rose again in her throat.
“I’m sorry to be such a bother, such a worry.”
He held his finger to her mouth and shook his head. “No Tabby, you are just right. It is our duty to protect you.”
Dear dear Edward.
Tabitha hugged Oscar and Julian in turn. “I don’t understand how Damen could be so awful.”
Edward snorted. “Don’t you?”
They all turned to his body, slumped on the ground but no one was there. Tabby gasped, “he’s gone!”
Oscar turned his horse around and took off in that direction.
And then Henry cleared his throat. They all turned to him.
“It will be light in a few hours. Let us return, make an appearance at the ball before finding our beds.”
“Good idea. Keep Tabby’s reputation intact.”
Henry led Tabitha towards his horse.
“What are you doing?” Edward’s voice held a note of incredulity. Tabitha wondered the same. All looked to Henry.
“Taking Tabby back.” He grabbed her by the waist and lifted her up on the saddle. Only when he had settled in behind her, his arm wrapped around her front, with her body safely ensconced against his, did he turn to the brothers.
Tabitha couldn’t hold back her grin.
Edward looked from one to the other. “I suppose you’ve been doing this for years.”
Tabitha’s enjoyment deflated a hair. It’s true. They had.
But Henry chuckled behind her. “Oh no, Edward. I’ve never held Tabby quite like this before. Have I, my sweet?”
Tabitha turned to face him, wonder filling her heart. “So you won’t try to brush me off on low lying branches like you used to?”
He shook his head. “I promise not to do such a terrible thing. Lest I lose someone who is most, most precious.” His eyes smiled at her. The love in them beaming at her in bursts of joy.
She sucked in her breath. “Henry?”
“I love you, my Tabby Cat.” His words for her only, spoken in a deep hush, sent gooseflesh through her core.
“I love you too.”
- Seventy Four: At Last
- Chapter Seventy: To the Rescue
- Sixty-Five: Nothing as it seems
- Chapter Sixty: Daring Declarations and Deception
- Chapter Fifty-Two: Poetry and a Kiss, Perhaps?
- Forty Seven: Stolen Moments
- Forty-Two: Distrust all Around
- Thirty-Eight: Up to Something
- Thirty-One: Whist and Wagers
- Twenty-Seven: Midnight Meetings and Stained Glass