One of the challenges about writing historical mysteries is that two hundred years ago there were no phones – mobile or otherwise – no trains, cars, planes, or any motorized forms of transportation. A journey that takes two hours today could easily have taken two days in Regency times.
Happily, people still murdered, cheated, lied and double-crossed. No change there then. And all those long journey meant there were posting inns dotted along all the main roads, with taprooms that were hotbeds of gossip, (a bit like modern English pubs, I guess). They were also great places for trysts and nefarious activities that keep us writers in business.
In those days a woman owned nothing. Or, if she did, the moment she tied the knot, what was hers became her husband’s. In Romancing the Runaway, the fourth and final book in my Forsters series, Miranda Cantrell is being kept locked in her room until she agrees to marry his horrible son. Not being the submissive type, Miranda legs it out the window and runs off, only to finish up on Forster land, rescued from near freezing to death by Lord Gabriel Forster.
The only thing Miranda owns that is of any value is her dilapidated family home in Cornwall, so Gabe figures that what must be what her guardian wants to get his grubby hands on. But why? The West Country was a haven for smugglers, but that would seem rather obvious.
Hiding from those looking for her at the Forster’s palatial home, Miranda makes a journey on foot into the local village. Gabe holds her to account for it:
“Precisely.” Lord Gabriel regarded her with a combination of severity and sympathy. “Now perhaps you understand the seriousness of your situation and will have the goodness to tell me what business took you into Denby.”
“I can’t, I—”
“I can easily discover who lives in the cottage you called at, but I would prefer to hear it from you.”
He was right. She’d only known him for a few days, but she owed him her life, which was no small consideration. He could have sent her packing as soon as she recovered, but that thought didn’t appear to have crossed his mind, even if by being here she was putting him in an awkward situation. Since she had regained her wits he’d done everything he could to be of service to her, asking nothing in return other than her cooperation. It must now seem as though she’d let him down, and he couldn’t be blamed for considering her the most ungrateful creature on God’s earth.
She instinctively understood he wouldn’t betray her confidence. She hadn’t behaved well and the very least she could do was be honest with him, especially since he appeared determined to take an interest in her affairs. Not many people in his position would adopt that stance and so he deserved to know as much about her sorry circumstances as she herself did.
“Very well.” She paused to assimilate her thoughts. “As I told you before, it was always my intention to return to the Wildes when I finished at Miss Frobisher’s establishment. It was only as I neared the end of my final year there that I turned my mind to practicalities, namely money. I can hardly start my business without funds but I won’t come into my inheritance until my one-and-twentieth birthday. The alternative was to remain with the Peacocks for another three years, which was out of the question.”
“Quite so.” Lord Gabriel flipped his coattails aside with an elegant movement of his wrist and finally sat opposite her, saving her from gaining a permanent crick in her neck by continuously looking up at him. “Did you discuss your plans with the Peacocks?”
“No, they never asked.”
“What, they just assumed you would remain with them, or spend your time flitting between your friends?” He seemed angry again, but this time she sensed that anger wasn’t directed at her. “Did they take no interest in your welfare at all?”
“None whatsoever. I always felt I was a burden to them, but Mr. Peacock could make a profit out of me, so that made the arrangement satisfactory from his point of view. Not from mine, however. I needed to know the precise terms of the guardianship and under what circumstances I could legally return to the Wildes before reaching my majority. To do so I needed to apply to the other trustee, Papa’s solicitor, Mr. Nesbitt. But when I saw Mr. Nesbitt, he told me there was nothing I could do to take possession of the Wildes before the appropriate time. He more or less told me not to waste his time. I found him disagreeable and most disobliging.”
“He didn’t let you see the trust deed?”
“No.” Miranda wrinkled her nose. “He treated me in a most condescending manner, and told me to go back to the Peacocks’ and forget all about it. I was furious.”
A ghost of a smile flirted with his lips. “I can imagine.”
“The only good thing that came out of those two visits was the friendship I struck up with his articled clerk, Matthew Blake. I explained my difficulty to him and he promised to try and gain access to the trust deed and let me know its contents. I planned to write to him when I was again in London and arrange a meeting. He’d told me not to contact him at his work since he could be dismissed from his post if anyone found out he was trying to help me. So he gave me his mother’s address instead.”
“Ah, now I begin to understand.”
“Before I could return to London my guardian demanded my presence at his home, told me I was to marry his son and has held me a virtual prisoner ever since.”
“Blake?” Lord Gabriel fell into momentary contemplation. “I know that name. Those cottages in the village belong to Hal and, if memory serves, we have a tenant by the name of Blake.”
“Yes, Matthew’s mother. He comes down to Denby to see her for two days in the middle of every month. I’ve been unable to contact him since being held prisoner and was most anxious to know if he’d managed to gain access to the trust. I can’t move forward with my plans until I know what the trust says, you see.”
“Yes, I do see. Was Blake able to reassure you?”
The Forsters Book 4, Romancing the Runaway by Wendy Soliman – Available everywhere from 28th April. http://amzn.to/1hYzxIv