From Ruin to Riches(2)


 ‘But we are not going to London. We are going to Gretna, to be married.’ She drew two painful breaths as he did not reply and the truth dawned. ‘We were never going to Scotland, were we?’

 Jonathan shrugged, but did not trouble himself with denials. ‘You wouldn’t have come if you’d known otherwise, would you?’

 How could the world change in one beat of the heart? She thought she had been chilled before, but it was nothing to this. It was impossible to misunderstand him. ‘You do not love me and you do not intend to marry me.’ There was nothing wrong with her thought processes now.

 ‘Correct.’ He smiled, his lovely slow, sleepy smile. ‘You were such a nuisance to your relatives, clinging on, insisting on staying.’

 ‘But the Grange is my home!’

 ‘Was your home,’ he corrected. ‘Since your father died it belongs to your cousin. You’re an expense and no one’s fool enough to marry a managing, gawky, blue-stocking female like you with no dowry. So...’

 ‘So Arthur thought a scandalous elopement with Jane’s black sheep of a third cousin would take me off his hands for good.’ Yes, it was very clear now. And I have slept with you.

 ‘Exactly. I always thought you intelligent, Julia. You were just a trifle slow on the uptake this time.’

 How could he look the same, sound the same, and yet be so utterly different from the man she had thought she loved? ‘And they made you seem a misunderstood outcast so that I felt nothing but sympathy for you.’ The scheme was as plain as if it was plotted out on paper in front of her. ‘I would never have credited Arthur with so much cunning.’ The chill congealed into ice, deep in her stomach. ‘And just what do you intend to do now?’

 ‘With you, my love?’ Yes, there it was, now she knew to look for it: just a glimpse of the wolf looking out from those blue eyes. Cruel, amused. ‘You can come with me, I’ve no objection. You’re not much good in bed, but I suppose I could teach you some tricks.’

 ‘Become your mistress?’ Over my dead body.

 ‘For a month or two if you’re good. We’re going to London—you’ll soon find something, or someone, there. Now come back to bed and show me you’re worth keeping.’ Jonathan stood up, reached for her hand and pulled her to her feet.

 ‘No!’ Julia dragged back. His fingers cut into her wrist, she could feel the thin bones bending.

 ‘You’re a slut now,’ he said, ‘so stop protesting. Come and make the best of it. You never know, you might learn to enjoy it.’

 ‘I said no.’ He was a liar, a deceiver, but surely he would not be violent?

 It seemed she was wrong about that, too. ‘You do what I say.’ The pain in her wrist was sickening as she resisted.

 Her feet skidded on the old polished boards, the hearth rug rucked up and she stumbled, off balance. There was an agonising jolt in her arm as she fell, then Jonathan’s grip opened and she was free. Sobbing with pain and fear and anger Julia landed with a crash in the grate. The fire irons clattered around her, striking elbow and hand in a landslide of hard little blows.

 ‘Get up, you clumsy bitch.’ Jonathan reached out to seize her, caught her hair, twisted and pulled. It was impossible to roll away. Julia hit out wildly to slap at him and connected with a blow that jarred her arm back. With a gasp Jonathan released her. Get up, run... She rolled free, hit the foot of the bed, dragged herself up on to shaking legs.

 Silence. Jonathan sprawled across the hearth, his head in a crimson pool. Her hand was wet. Julia looked down at her fingers, rigid around the poker. Blood stained her hand, dripped from the iron.

 Blood. So much blood. She dropped the poker and it rolled to come to rest against his bare foot. Not my dead body—his. Oh, God, what have I done?

                       Chapter Two

 Midsummer’s Eve, 1814— King’s Acre Estate, Oxfordshire

 The nightingale stopped her. How long had she been running? Four days...five? She had lost count... Her feet took her up the curve of the ornamental bridge, beyond pain now, the blisters just part of the general misery, and, as she reached the top the liquid beauty poured itself into the moonlight.

 Peace. No people, no noise, no fear of pursuit. Simply the moon on the still water of the lake, the dark masses of woodland, the little brown bird creating magic on the warm night air.

 Julia pulled off her bonnet and turned slowly around. Where was she now? How far had she come? Too late now to regret not staying to face the music, to try to explain that it had been an accident, self-defence.

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