How to Best a Rakish Marquess – Violet Hamers

Almost here,” Reginald muttered. The carriage, his prey, came nearer with every passing second. Reginald adjusted his position, taking care not to crush any of the dry, brittle leaves underfoot. He doubted that either the driver or the horses would notice him, for he’d taken good care to hide himself, but a careless highwayman was as good as dead, and Reginald had no intention of facing either the gaol or a hanging. Reginald’s blue eyes swept over the team of horses pulling the carriage. They were fine animals, much nicer than his own russet mare who he’d hidden further off the road. She was near enough to aid in a quick escape, but not enough to draw attention. Usually, Reginald didn’t steal horses; they were too much trouble and couldn’t be hidden beneath cloaks and shirts the way that money and jewels could. These were tempting, though. They could fetch a decent price if he could find a buyer. It’s not as if this man would miss the horses or could not afford to replace them with an equally good pair. When the horses were only a few feet away, at a narrow bend in the road, Reginald sprang from his hiding place. He withdrew his pistol and pointed it firmly at the driver’s face. “Halt!” The driver pulled back on the reins, and the horses stopped abruptly. Reginald smiled grimly and tried to conceal his relief.

He really had no desire to shoot any man. He was a thief first and foremost, not a killer. But he’d found that men could be notoriously unpredictable. Most often, they surrendered. Then, Reginald and his men relieved their wealthy travelers of any valuables and sent them on their way. But there were always a few that fought. “Cooperate and no harm will come to you,” Reginald said. “Do you understand? We only want your passenger’s valuables. We can avoid bloodshed today.” At Reginald’s words, his associates revealed themselves.

There was Charles, broadshouldered and tall. He was a dependable sort of fellow with a curly red beard and a noticeable scar over the empty socket, where his right eye should’ve been. The other was Edward, who was so slight that he appeared as if a good gust of wind would knock him over. But he was quick and good with locks. They emerged from behind the thick woods and brush which lined the sides of the road and slowly approached the carriage. Each brandished pistols, which if everything went well, would remain unused. Only one member of their band was missing—Isaac, who was usually responsible for arranging the best robberies. The driver tensed, and his hands tightened on the reins. He was a thin, young man with a ruddy complexion and limp brown hair. As Reginald approached, the driver visibly shivered.

“Don’t do anything foolish,” Reginald said. “We’re not here for you.” There was no point in robbing the driver; he probably didn’t have any money on him. And it wasn’t as if Reginald especially enjoyed what he did. There was no satisfaction in stealing from the poor, who were like him and just struggling to survive. Charles rapped his pistol against the door of the carriage, which promptly opened. “What is the meaning of this?” a man’s voice boomed. It was an old voice but one dripping with authority. Reginald could recognize one of the ton from that tone alone. “Your money or your life!” Charles declared.

“Quickly, now!” Already, Edward was emptying the carriage of its luggage. Reginald smiled pleasantly at the driver. “How much do you earn for driving that old man around?” he asked. “Is it thirty pounds a year? A small amount from a man who has so much more than you.” The driver swallowed. “Less?” Reginald asked. “Twenty-five,” the driver replied at last. “It’s a very generous salary, one which my family greatly appreciates.” Reginald nodded. His eyes flitted to Charles.

He could only partially see the man because of the carriage door, but the transaction seemed to be going well. And Edward seemed to be nearly finished relieving the carriage of its contents and taking it to the waiting horses. The best jobs were the ones which went like this. “Your family?” Reginald prompted. It was best to distract the driver. One never knew when a man might lose his nerve and try something foolish, such as attempting to flee in the midst of a robbery, and Reginald had learned the art of distraction well. “My sister,” the driver replied. “I have a younger sister and my mother. I’ve been taking care of them both since my father died two winters ago.” “Quite a responsibility to bear!” Reginald exclaimed.

The driver slowly nodded, and he offered a shy, tentative smile. Reginald grinned and lowered the pistol. Instead, he withdrew four shillings and held his hand out. “Here,” he said. “Buy your sister and your mother something. Something that brings them pleasure, not something they need.” The driver blinked several times and looked taken aback. His wide, brown eyes searched Reginald’s face for any sign of deception, but he slowly extended his hand. Reginald deposited the coins into the young man’s palm. It was a small amount, but it was enough to make a difference to the driver.

Besides, the occupant of this carriage would have more than sufficient funds to make the venture profitable. Reginald was willing to give a little to ensure the driver’s cooperation. “Is that everything?” Edward asked. “It appears to be,” Charles replied. Reginald patted the flank of one of the horses and walked along the side of the carriage. He peered inside. The velvet-lined carriage had only one occupant. It was an older gentleman, but despite his finely tailored clothes, there was something vaguely sickly about the man. His brown hair was thick but streaked with white and gray, and his pale face was heavily lined. There were dark shadows beneath his eyes, which spoke of either sleepless nights, illness, or frequent indulgence.

Perhaps, it was all three. His eyes were blue and cold, and something about his gaze was sharp, nearly hawk-like. “How much money did he have?” Reginald asked, leaning over to inspect the stolen items. Charles held open the bag, now filled with a handful of jewelry and coins. Reginald arched an eyebrow. “I’d expected more.” “I don’t carry my valuables with me,” the man said. “The roads aren’t safe these days, as you can clearly imagine!” Reginald laughed heartily. “The roads are safe for the most vulnerable. I’ve no doubt that you’ve many other trinkets besides these.

” Horse hooves beat against the road, and Reginald snapped his head towards them. Two men on horseback came quickly towards them, but worse, they were the constables. Reginald swore quietly. They weren’t even properly inside the city of London yet! A breeze drifted through the air, and Reginald raised his hand, raking back his hair from his eyes. When Reginald turned his attention back to the carriage occupant, the man had frozen. He looked as if he’d seen a ghost. “Run!” Reginald shouted. “Go!” There was one rule that all highwaymen always followed, and that was that every man had to think of only himself during sudden escapes. Charles bolted, taking the stolen jewelry and money. Edward vanished quickly into the trees, and with the constables quickly approaching, Reginald turned to run.

“Wait!” A hand seized his wrist with surprising strength. It was the carriage occupant. Reginald scowled. He had no desire to fight a foolish, old man, but he also refused to be captured. “Release me at once!” Reginald snapped, raising his pistol. The man’s eyes were wide, and although his jaw dropped, he didn’t relinquish his grip on Reginald’s wrist. “Reginald, please!” How does he know my name? Reginald froze, his heart thundering against his ribs. With a sudden burst of force, he pulled his wrist free of the man’s grip. Reginald raised his pistol and fired a shot into the air, several feet from the man. It was only meant to be a warning.

“Stay in the carriage!” Reginald snapped. But as he turned to run, the man from the carriage pursued him. And there were the constables, too. If he fled further up the road, Reginald knew they would quickly overtake him on their horses, so he needed to hide. The woods would be his best chance for eluding their grasp. They ran alongside the road and were too filled with hidden holes and roots for horses to travel through. That was why he’d left his own further back. A hand seized his coat and pulled him back. Reginald twisted around, the movement sudden enough to send the man from the carriage falling to the ground. “Quit pursuing me!” What is the matter with this man? I’ve never been pursued like this in my life! Ordinarily, the wealthy men he robbed remained in their carriages and made all haste away once Reginald and his men had withdrawn.

They’d only ever been pursued by a few young and foolish men with quick tempers and delusions of heroism. Hooves beat against the ground, and Reginald found his path blocked by the constable atop his horse. He clenched his jaw and raised his pistol, even though this was clearly a battle he couldn’t win. Without turning around, Reginald knew that the constable’s companion was behind him. “Are you unharmed, Your Grace?” That was the driver, come to collect his master. Your Grace? I tried to rob a Duke? Isaac had mentioned that he’d heard a wealthy gentleman would be traveling to London, which was how Reginald and his band of highwaymen had known to wait for him. Now that Reginald was thinking about it, it w a s rather strange that the constables had happened outside of London at the precise moment which the robbery was to occur. It was too convenient for them and too disastrous for him. That was, unless Isaac had betrayed them and told the constable about the crime. Isaac had never mentioned that they would be robbing a Duke, despite clearly having some information on the carriage’s occupant.

“Lower your weapon and place it on the ground!” the constable ordered, his gun pointed at Reginald’s face. “Please, do it,” the man from the carriage—His Grace, it seemed—said. “Listen to the constable.” Reginald clenched his jaw. “I don’t see why it matters to you, Your Grace. And I don’t want your pity now or ever.” Men like His Grace were all the same; they liked to pity, but they never liked to help. They were never interested in improving anyone’s lot in life save their own. And regardless, Reginald knew that this would end in either imprisonment or worse. The Duke cleared his throat.

“Please. I can help you, son.” “Now,” the constable ordered. “I’m not your son,” Reginald said, reluctantly placing his pistol on the ground. “Don’t call me that. I don’t want your empty endearments.” “Stay away from the pistol!” the constable ordered. Reginald stepped back. From the ground, the weapon seemed to mock him, but he knew he’d lost. The constable had a gun and a horse, and the man behind Reginald did, too.

His only chance for escaping this with his life was to comply and inevitably throw himself at the mercy of the courts, although he doubted they would be any more forgiving. “Aren’t you, though?” His Grace asked. “You have a scar on your forehead that I won’t soon forget. I saw it when the wind ruffled your hair!” No, this is impossible. Reginald felt ice trace a path down his spine, and he wasn’t sure if it had more to do with the approaching constable or His Grace’s assertion. Probably the latter. Still, he forced a bold, haughty laugh. “I earned this scar in a duel with a gentleman much like yourself, who didn’t know when he ought to let well enough alone.” “Is that what you tell everyone? I seem to recall you getting that scar in a different way. When you were a boy.

” A lump formed in Reginald’s throat. He remained still as the constable fastened the irons around his wrists. This seemed like the strangest end to his career as a highwayman, being captured both by the constable and by the past he’d fought so hard to avoid over the years. He swallowed hard and shrugged, as if by continuing to deny the truth, he could make everyone around him disappear. “You’re mistaken.” The Duke approached, and the constable, who took a firm grip of Reginald’s arm, cast him an alarmed look. “Be cautious, Your Grace. You can’t trust highwaymen.” “Quite true,” Reginald admitted. But Reginald couldn’t keep his own gaze averted.

Instead, he looked at the Duke again, searching his features more closely. The man was older and more worn than Reginald remembered. Once, he’d been a striking man, who’d only grown handsomer as he aged. Reginald remembered this man being lively and exuberant. Now, he seemed like a diminished husk of that man. “I don’t think you want to do this,” Reginald said. “I can scarcely imagine the scandal this will create.” His Grace raised a trembling hand, and Reginald inwardly flinched as the Duke’s thumb traced along the old scar. “Ah, I realize it’s none of my business,” the constable’s companion said. “But what’s… happening?” “You caught a common criminal,” Reginald said, forcing himself to sound cheerful.

“Excellent work.” “Yes,” the constable said, pulling roughly on Reginald’s arm. “I’m sure many people will be quite pleased, and soon, we’ll have your associates, too. It’s over, you see. We already know where you and your men have been planning these robberies.” Is that true, or is he saying that merely to taunt me? Long ago, Reginald had accepted how his end might come, and although he wasn’t keen to be punished for his crimes, he had no one. There was no wife or child waiting for him to return home after a long day’s work. But his associates did. The Duke drew back his hand, looking distraught. “You’ve caught my son.

I’m sure of it. Of all the professions you could’ve chosen, why was this the one, my child? What would your mother think?” She would be horrified, utterly horrified. “She’d admire my resolve,” Reginald replied. “We must take him to the gaol,” the constable said, looking uncertain. “I’m sure you understand, Your Grace.” The Duke looked hesitant, and Reginald looked away, unable to bear the expression on his father’s face. My father. It seemed so impossible for him to be there, after being gone for ten years. Reginald cleared his throat. “You’d best not become involved, Your Grace.

Let this be the end of the matter.” His Grace, his father, shook his head. “It won’t be. I can assure you of that. I will help you.” Reginald wasn’t sure which would be worse, facing justice for his crimes or having his father interfere after Reginald had tried too hard to leave his old life behind. Maybe it would be better to face the gallows or exile than to endure what his father might consider penance or worse—knowing that he’d been spared when he didn’t deserve to be, while his associates were hanged for their crimes. It wasn’t fair, any of it. “Please,” Reginald said, offering one last plea. “It’s better for all of us if you just let me go to my ignominious end.

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