It’s the second leg of our journey to London and the nature of our next adventure has been determined by the voters. (They ignored my pleas so we are not about to encounter a freak snow storm. Probably.) The eight authoresses, Lady B, Albert, Harold and Monty are crammed into the clown car/TARDIS/carriage. We’re all interested to observe Monty, whose face is healing up nicely. Only a day or two more and we’ll finally know what he looks like.
Sabrina wants to know where we are and Kate claims she saw Oxford down in the valley, but Gaelen is emphatic that we are in Wales “There are no spires in Wales,” Sabrina says. “It looks like the south coast to me.” Tessa breaks off her argument with Sarah about whether Corporal Thorne could take the Marquess of Bourne. “We must be near Spindle Cove. Let me look.”
“Everyone knows Sussex is nowhere near Wales,” Lauren says. “Although we’ve been in this carriage for days and we could be anywhere.”
I close my eyes and try not to think about the nightmare I went through for my forthcoming novella, THE SECOND SEDUCTION OF A LADY, calculating travel times to Scotland from an estate I’d rashly located in Somerset.
“Stop the carriage!” Monty stands up, and since he’s quite large several of us fall onto the floor. “I need to get out. Now.”
Lady B taps on the ceiling and the carriage draws to a halt.
“It’s so unfair,” Sarah says, as Monty withdraws into a stand of trees. “Men only have to unzip and point.”
“Actually,” says Katharine, “Monty has nine buttons on his breeches.”
“You counted?” Eight voices and two squawks speak as one.
Katharine shrugs. “Research.”
Seconds later we hear the carriage door open again but instead of Monty a strange face peers in. His lips are full and beautifully shaped, his chin masterful, his nose firm and shapely. Raven-dark hair flops over a noble brow. And such eyes! Piercing blue eyes, glinting through a narrow black mask.
“Stand and deliver,” he says in a basso profundo like a velvet cushion, staring down the barrel of a handsome chased silver pistol.
“Deliver what?” Lady B says at most stentorian.
“Your valuables of course, ladies. I’ll start with a kiss.”
A squeal of authoresses launches at the door with cries of “me first” and “he’s mine.” We land in the mud in a heap.
“One at a time,” the highwayman drawls. “Or maybe two. No more than three. I have some standards.”
OMG, he’s a bad boy alpha rake in need of reform. Probably a duke too. And all of us are willing to volunteer, even Kate, who five minutes ago was moping because she wasn’t in the boys’ carriage with Lord B and her new husband. The argument about whose hero he is has barely started when Monty charges out of the copse with a cry like a Viking warrior. From the corner of my eye I note that only three of the nine buttons have been fastened. I can do research too.
The highwayman stows his pistol and the fisticuffs begin. The authoresses takes bets. Albert and Harold fly overhead squawking madly. “Not the eyes!” someone says. (I strongly suspect that Albert is on the highwayman’s side, but Harold is trying in his clumsy toucanish way to assist his master.) Poor dear Monty makes a good effort, but is ultimately hampered by his breeches, which fall to his knees in mid-fight. A gunshot rings out. The highwayman leaps onto his coal back stallion and gallops away.
We all clamber back into the carriage, with some grumbling at Monty for spoiling our sport. His face looks like a butcher’s scrap heap again, the green eyes are swollen shut, and his wavy brown hair is caked in blood. Katharine removes her petticoat and tends to his wounds.
Lady B is holding a tiny gold smoking gun.
“I had no idea you were armed, Lady B.”
“I never travel without my muff pistol.” She stows it away in her peacock blue muff with purple satin lining. “I find it useful to repel villains and calm overexcited authoresses.”
It’s growing dark but we can see large wet snowflakes plopping past the window. “We’ll have to stop,” Lady B says. “I see a light ahead.”
What lies ahead of us, stranded in the middle of nowhere? What miseries or delights does that lone flickering light presage? You, the readers decide.
What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you on a journey?