Innocent Deception by Rose Connelly

I’ve had a few people ask me when I plan on selling another book on Kindle. I do have another novel finished, but it needs some tweaking and I’m not sure when or if it will be self-published as I am continuing to look for an agent for it.

In the meantime I unearthed and polished a short story that I submitted to a Writer’s Digest contest a few years ago. It is set in England in the early 1800s and will be posted in two parts. Enjoy.

 

Innocent Deception

by

Rose Connelly

Tongues of bright orange and yellow flame licked across the ceiling of the bedroom, creating a mesmerizing display that captured her eyes for precious seconds.  She watched in morbid fascination as it snaked down the far wall and blocked her path to the door.  Her trance was only broken as smoke filled the room and she coughed harshly.  The fire was supposed to have distracted her jailors, but not thwarted her escape.  Her only option now was the window and the dubious support of a bed sheet.  She hobbled across the room, praying that her aching back would hold out.

      With a gasp of pain Emily Hale sat up in her tiny bed and clenched her right hand, feeling the slight bumpiness where her palm had scarred and recalling with a shudder the scorching pain as she had gripped the hot window casing.

      It had been over a year since the incident and she hadn’t had the dream in months.  The morning’s news could be the only explanation.  He was here in her little town and.  She ached to see him, if only for one moment, but the danger was too great for both of them. 

      Well, Emily decided as she closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep, she would just have to resist temptation and stay away from him.  She felt a pang at the thought, but resolutely ignored it.

 

*******

 

      “You badgered me into coming to this bloody house party, Lee.”  Adrian St. John, the Earl of Edgewood, finished tying his cravat and turned to face his friend.  “I refuse, however, to give any of my time to those, pampered, selfish girls that mothers continue to throw at me.”

      “You could always toss some of them my way,” the sandy-haired man quipped.  He uncurled his lanky frame from the sofa and picked up his jacket.  “It’s not like you have to marry one of the girls, just talk.  For God’s sake, man, it’s been over a year since Emily died.  I know you loved the girl, but it’s time to move on; you’re only 34.”

      Adrian looked at his clenched fists and considered strangling the dissolute, cynical rake.  Lee Westford, however, had been his friend for many years and he was the only person who had stood by him when his despair was so deep that even his servants avoided him.  He settled for a glare.

      Lee shrugged and opened the door.  With a prayer for patience, Adrian straightened his jacket and followed, but after an hour of listening to an interminable round of gossip, innuendo, and sometimes outright propositions from the so-called ‘ladies’ he had had enough. 

      Before he had joined the war effort and gone off to fight against Napoleon he had been exactly like Lee, always looking for the next flirtation, the next conquest.  Now, he could barely stand the false, glittery world that was society.  Let Lee fend for himself.  He turned away and headed for the dubious sanctuary of the gardens.

      After weaving his way past giggling couples and embracing lovers, he found a shadowed bench at the back of the garden.  With the peaceful solitude surrounding him and the night breeze drifting over him he was finally able to relax. 

      From the corner of his eye he caught a hauntingly familiar flash of color near the back wall.  Heart thudding, he sank further into the shadows and waited.  Moments later his patience was rewarded.  A pale face, surrounded by deep red curls, slowly peered around a full bush.

      “Emily.”  The anguished sound was barely a whisper, but she must have heard him.  The wraith, for that’s all she could be, sprang from her concealment and sprinted for the low garden wall.

      “Wait!”  Adrian jumped up and chased after her.  He knew he wouldn’t be able to touch her, but he had to see her again if only for a brief moment.  Her hurried flight took her to the wall, but instead of passing through, as he had half expected, she made a running jump, latched on the top of the wall, and vaulted over.  A soft thud sounded, followed by hurried footsteps, and then silence.

      One thing was certain — that had not been a ghost.  Burning curiosity and a slowly building anger filled him.  He spun on his heel and stalked back toward the brightly glowing house.  Something strange was going on and he would bloody well find out what it was.

*******

      The heavy basket pulled at Emily’s shoulder muscles and caused her steps to drag as she made her way along the wooded shortcut that led to St. Mary’s orphanage.  She badly wanted to sink down on the soft leaves, lean back against a tree, and set her burden down for just a few blessed minutes.  The throbbing ache, however, was a fit punishment for the stupidity she had indulged in last night. 

      She had made a solemn promise to herself and to Rose to stay close to home while the party was going on at the big house on the hill.  While her deceitful, self-serving uncle was still alive she had to remain hidden.  If she were found it would put both her and Adrian in mortal danger. 

      She panted lightly as she climbed a small incline and pushed on.

      What had she done though?  Just like a stupid, lovesick schoolgirl she had put on her one remaining good dress, snuck into the gardens and hidden, praying to catch a single glimpse of the man she had once adored with all the fervor in her young heart.

      When he had finally emerged from the house she should have allowed herself one brief glimpse and then snuck away as silently as she had come.  Instead, she had stood frozen, her starving eyes tracing the planes and hollows of his face and her heart aching at the signs of his pain. 

      His warrior’s cheekbones had been just a little sharper and in the faint moonlight she had just made out the lines of strain surrounding his beautiful blue eyes and pulling down his full, sensuous lips. 

      Her heart had almost stopped when he had walked in her direction and she had just managed to dive behind the meager cover provided by a nearby shrub.  She should have taken that as a warning and left immediately but, no, she had to be stupid and take one more look and of course he had seen her.  Her only hope now was that he had assumed she was merely a vision induced, perhaps, by the consumption of too much liquor.

      For the sake of her own sanity, Emily finally decided, she would be wise to do the same thing and put it out of her mind.  With new resolve she tightened her grip, squared her shoulders, rounded the last bend, and stopped dead in her tracks.  As if conjured by her own wild imagination there he stood, feet planted, blocking her path.

      “Emily.”

      His deep voice sent a remembered thrill racing down her spine and it was all she could do to stand when her knees wanted to buckle.  With an effort of will she stayed upright and thought frantically.  If she wanted to keep them both safe she had to rebuff him, lie to him and make him so angry that he would not want to speak of her, let alone see her ever again.

      She swallowed thickly, lowered the basket, and placed her hands on her hips in what she hoped was a provocative pose.  “Adrian.”  She slowly sauntered forward, allowing her hips to sway slightly with each measured step.  “What are you doing all the way out here?  Did you tire of your London amusements?”

      Adrian seemed nonplussed for several moments by her casual tone and brazen manner.  He rallied quickly, however, his spine straightening and his blue eyes hardening to the color of a cold, winter sky.

      His tone was biting and contemptuous when he spoke.  “I could ask you the same thing.  How is it, Miss Hale, that you are standing here in perfect health when you were supposed to have died more than a year past?”

      Emily stopped, just out of range of his powerful arms, and searched his eyes, unconsciously looking for something.  It was there, just hidden under a thin layer of anger — a well of anguish and longing.  She knew that with a word from her, a simple explanation, he might be persuaded to believe her, pull her into his arms, and erase the aching loneliness of the past year. 

      It would be so easy to release her burdens, tell him everything and let him take care of it, but it would be wrong.  She knew how powerful her uncle was and how viciously he would go after anyone who got in his way.  She would not willing put Adrian in danger again. 

      She walked forward and placed a dainty hand on his chest.  He flinched slightly, but didn’t move.  “Did you miss me Adrian?” she purred.  She stood on tiptoe and held her lips a breath away from his.  “I’ll admit that it was fun while it lasted.  I do like the attention of a nice handsome, strong man.”  She leaned in, almost touching him.  “How about a taste?  Just for old time’s sake?”

      His arms came up and yanked her against his body, sealing their lips together in a harsh kiss.  When she didn’t respond, he used his thumb to urge her mouth to open and his tongue plunged inside. 

      Despite her shock at the aggressiveness of the sensual assault, Emily felt her lips beginning to tingle and her limbs went weak.  Unconsciously, she raised her arms and wound them around his neck.  With a muttered curse he broke free and shoved her away. 

      She watched warily, wondering if she had gone too far, as he stalked a few feet away and leaned against a tree.  Had her gaze not been so sharp she would never have caught the brief grimace of pain that flashed across his face before it turned into a mask of cold indifference.

      “I see that you haven’t lacked for company,” he said.  “You seem to have gained a lot of experience since we last met.”  In a habitual gesture that caused her heart to ache, he lifted his hand and raked it through his shaggy black hair.  “Was it all some kind of a sick game to you?” 

      She opened her mouth to utter the damning lie, but found it wouldn’t come.  Let him take her silence as he would.

      “What purpose was there,” he asked, apparently taking her silence as an admission, “in playing out that deceit, in pretending to bear me some affection?”  His voice had thickened slightly, allowing some sign of pain to show through.  “Was it for the gifts?  The chance to live the kind of life you were unaccustomed to?”  He swiveled around to face her, sending a pile of autumn leaves skittering across the dirt path.

      Emily watched their dance intently, preferring it to the angry torment she saw in his eyes.  The memory of the brief happiness that had been theirs was now a bitter taste in her mouth. 

      He stepped forward and grasped her chin, tilting her head up.  “I would have married you,” he said as he intently searched her eyes.  “I would have given you everything.”

      She pulled free and turned around, giving him her back.  “Marry you,” she laughed harshly.  “Why would any sane woman want to bind herself to one man?”

      “Goodbye Miss Hale,” he said with cold finality.

      When his footsteps had receded and there was no one to hear but the forest creatures, she sank down, wrapped her arms around her knees, and cried like her heart was breaking.

 

Thanks for reading. Come back next week for the conclusion of Innocent Deception. In the meantime check out my contemporary romance “Running from Fate” on Amazon.

Happy Reading

Rose Connelly

 

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