Nothing Like a Ravishing Governess – Emily Honeyfield

It had been several months since the final court decision: Laura Pearce’s father, Timothy Pearce, was said to have embezzled money from his long-time business partner, an idea that had no bearing in reality. And in the wake of that horrific months-long legal battle, during which things were said between friends that had ruined their once-good standing forever, Laura’s father had become a mere shadow of who he’d once been—stoic and incredibly skinny and hardly speaking at all. Slowly, their little London house—never once described as “regal,” but certainly once regarded as a proper mid-income household, the sort of place where Laura had been allowed anything she’d required and been given a good education—had become a similar shadow, with their dinner platters growing smaller, their hopes diminishing. And thusly, just a few days after Laura’s 22nd birthday, she embarked from their London home, en route to Treadway House, where she’d secured position as a governess. She felt it the only way she could survive. And beyond that, she had structured a plan, a way to tear through the traitorous proceedings that had left her family broken. Her father, an embezzler? A thief? It simply wasn’t a possibility. The carriage splashed through the puddles and then cranked to a halt beside a small stone inn. Outside was a sign that read, Huddington’s. Laura drew her palms together and shivered. She was pressed up against the side of the little belly of the carriage, as she’d shared the carriage with several strangers from London proper. Two of them were burly and cumbersome men, whose bellies seemed to take up far more than their single fare should have allowed, while one of their wives sat on the other side, pressed up against her window. Occasionally throughout the ride, Laura had attempted to catch the woman’s attention, if only to live in a moment of discomfort together. But the woman had spoken sparingly and clenched her fists tightly upon her lap. Laura never got a sense precisely where they were all going, and due to the stench from their body odor that simmered in the coach, she prayed she wouldn’t have to sit with them the rest of the way.

The carriage driver announced that he wanted to take a stop for dinner before proceeding on the rest of the way. Laura had only a few coins on her, just enough for whatever stew they’d stirred up that morning. When the carriage driver pulled the door open, she dropped out and grabbed her trunk. As she drew it out, it smacked her on the leg, and she winced. “Easy there, little girl,” the carriage driver said. He stared at her in a way that told her it was quite a rare thing for him to cart about pretty brunettes with bright green eyes, especially all alone. “I’m quite fine, thank you,” she said. She lifted her chin and darted the rest of the way into the inn. On her way, as though created on cue, a grim rain pattered across her shoulders and hat. She grimaced and ducked inside the inn, into the deep and dark hollow, a place that smelled entirely of stew that had cooked too long and beer that had been spilled onto the floorboards and not cleaned properly.

Within the inn, a handsome and well-dressed, yet lonely-looking man sat at the far table, near the window. He read a newspaper with his arms crossed over his chest. Behind Laura, the two men from within the carriage ambled in. They sounded blustery and weary. The barmaid rushed forward to take their coats, but Laura clung to hers, not wanting to give anything away. She’d never travelled alone like this, as it wasn’t proper for someone of even Laura’s middle-class sensibilities. But as she’d told her worried father and mother before she’d left, they simply had to make do. Perhaps she wasn’t fully strong enough, but she could pretend to be. “Quite a journey,” one of the burly men from the carriage offered, as he passed his hat and coat to the barmaid, who also seemed to be the innkeeper’s wife. He flashed his head around to see Laura, and his grin was mischievous and oddly evil, as though he yearned to say something about the time he’d spent pressing her hard against the window.

“But we’re nearly there. I don’t suppose you have a room for my wife for the night? She doesn’t wish to go the rest of the way and asks that we pick her up tomorrow.” The innkeeper’s wife said they had a room and that she would prepare it. Then, she smiled at Laura warmly, perhaps with the thought that she was the wife of this wretched creature. Laura shook her head wildly, as the man burst into laughter. “Not this pretty thing, no. My wife is a dastardly creature. One with a hairlip. You’ll catch her the moment she—oh, here she is.” He whipped his arm out to gesture to the poor woman, who hunkered inside and flashed her hands across her shoulders to wipe off the rain.

The innkeeper gathered the woman and led her to the upstairs portion of the inn, where the bedrooms were. Laura perched at the edge of a chair near the other strange, handsome man and felt she might quiver out of her skin. She forced her face to remain stoic and firm, so as not to give away her fear. Slowly, she sat and waited and felt the ominous eyes of the men upon her. She squeezed her trunk with both hands, as though she could use it as a weapon. Of course, there was no way that she could possibly overpower them, if it came to that. The innkeeper’s wife didn’t return quickly. Laura’s ears craned for any sign of her. One of the men marched around the side of the bar and grabbed two pints and poured the beer inside. “A man has to do his own work around here, I see,” he said.

He clipped his beer against his friend’s, and the two of them laughed horribly. Then, he turned towards Laura and said, “I don’t suppose I can get you one, too, little lady?” Laura was horrified. Throughout the past weeks, she’d done nothing but tell her mother and father that all would be fine if she took this governess position. Of course, she’d left out one of the biggest elements of her scheme, knowing that she couldn’t fully reveal her intentions to her parents. They would have forbidden it. “She’s frozen solid. Look at her,” the other man said. He rubbed his large belly and leered at her. “She reminds me of little Gretchen upstairs when she was younger. Doesn’t she look just like her?” “Nah.

Your missus was never this beautiful,” the other man scoffed. The innkeeper’s wife finally arrived and took both men’s food orders—beef stew with freshly baked bread. Laura’s heart raced as the innkeeper’s wife approached. She said, “Can I get anything for you?” Laura spoke too quickly, and her voice wavered. “I suppose it would benefit me to … to … to leave my trunk here with you, my lady,” she said. “If only so that I can arrange for it to be taken on to my destination later.” The innkeeper’s wife seemed a bit incredulous. “The carriage driver will carry on soon. He’s upstairs washing up for his meal. I’m sure you can wait for him.

” But Laura didn’t wish to wait. She felt if she did, then she would be stuck in the carriage with these two wretched men. She had to protect herself. She clutched her smaller travel bag and just said, “I can leave an address and half the payment, to be paid in full when the trunk arrives.” The innkeeper’s wife shrugged. She grabbed the trunk and drew it around the side of the bar and then splayed a ledger across the sticky counter. Laura tapped up and informed her of the address—The Treadway House, a bit more than 15 miles away. “I suppose I could rent a horse?” Laura asked. “To be returned either later this evening or tomorrow.” The woman nodded and added another notch on the ledger.

“I’ll show you to the horses now if you’re in a hurry.” Laura felt she’d never been in such a hurry in her life. She held the travel bag tight against her waist and cut through the door of the inn, through the streaming rain. The innkeeper’s wife was hunched as she walked, like she wanted to curl into a ball. The stables were 30 feet from the main door, and by the time they reached them, Laura’s hair fell in streaks down her back. The sinewy stable boy within drew a horse from within, added a saddle, and watched as Laura clambered atop. The innkeeper announced, “Safe travels, then. And you’ll have your trunk in due time …” At this, Laura slipped her hand into her travel bag and drew out half of the amount, plus the cost of the horse. Only a few coins clanked around in the belly of her bag, now. If anything happened, she would be destitute and out in the chill and the rain.

But she had to press on. By the time Laura led the horse out of the stables, however, the rain had lifted. She shook atop the horse as it eased towards the road, and her fingers turned white with chill as she squeezed the reins. She focused on the road ahead. It was still afternoon, and there would be plenty of grey light to lead her to her new home. The Treadway House. About a mile down, the road grew narrow and dark. Enormous and leafy trees lined either side and towered over her. A long way down the road, she saw light again, and she focused on it like it was heaven itself. But seconds later, she heard the clopping behind her—the sign of horses.

She whipped her head around to see the two wretched men from the inn. She leaned forward and whispered for the horse to gallop faster, go harder. But within just a few seconds, they had her surrounded: one man on either side. They drew closer to her until she screamed and said, “I’ll stop! I’ll stop!” She pulled at the reins, and the horse reared back and neighed. The two men leered at her and slowed their horses before turning back and facing her. She glanced back towards the inn and half-considered going the other way. But it was no use. Their horses were bigger, and they would catch her if they wanted to. “What do you want?” she demanded. They imitated her.

“What do you want?” they echoed, cackling. She glowered at them. She’d heard rumours of murder, of dark deaths on lost roads outside of London, but she’d never envisioned it for herself. “Let’s see your travel bag,” one of the men side. He pointed at it, hanging there on Laura’s shoulder. “Everything in it.” “I haven’t much,” Laura insisted. “Come on. The sooner you give it to us, the sooner this is all over,” the other said. “And get down.

” They all eased off their horses. Laura tried to make sure she didn’t cry. She drew her bag off her shoulder and passed it to them. They pored through it—at the few coins she had, her travel papers, and her letter of reference for the governess position. The man began to unfold the travel documents and letter, while the other collected her coins. There was another clopping of hooves. Laura whipped around to see the other man from within the inn, the handsome one who’d read alone near the window. The two men who’d overtaken her glared up at the stranger, and the stranger halted and glowered down at them. He seemed oddly regal, powerful, like he’d been cut from a very different cloth. “Gentlemen.

I suppose this goes without saying, but I suspect that you have very little business with this woman, do you not?” the stranger said. The men blinked at one another. Their grins were malevolent. “What a tough, smart man he is,” one of them said. “The brightest in the land,” the other said. “Return her things this moment,” the man said. He sprung from his horse. Laura was surprised to see that he was quite a bit taller, with about three inches over the tallest of the two middle-aged men. “What are you going to do?” one of the men said. The stranger stepped closer to him.

Confidence beamed off of him. “I’ll have you know that I come from one of the most important families in this region. If they learn that you laid a single finger on this woman, or on me, they will come after you.” One of the men reared forward with his fists rolling. The stranger grabbed his fist and twisted it as hard as he could until the older man winced and cried out. He staggered back, holding his wrist. The other gaped at him, but the stranger kept his ground and pointed at Laura’s travel bag. “Now.” The men grumbled and slipped her papers back within the pouch. They didn’t return the coins, but Laura didn’t want to press her luck.

She grabbed her bag back and slipped it back over her shoulders. The stranger said, “It will behoove you to return to the inn this moment, collect your things, and move along to wherever it is you’re going. Otherwise, we will have even more of a problem.” As the men galloped away, Laura pressed her lips together and again told herself not to devolve into any kind of hysterics. When she spoke, her voice was clear and articulate. “Thank you ever so much for your assistance,” she said. The wind kicked up and raced through his chestnut brown hair. He arched his dark brow and said, “It isn’t entirely ordinary to spot a woman like yourself riding on this road alone. I dare say it’s foolish.” Laura flared her nostrils and lifted her chin.

She’d always had a bit of a stubborn streak. “I only have a bit further to go,” she said. “You can ride with me, if you wish,” the stranger said. The offer was tempting, but it pushed a boundary that Laura didn’t want to consider. If she allowed herself to ride with the man, she would most certainly be safe from outsiders. But ultimately, this man was, himself, a stranger, and she wanted nothing less than to be indebted to him or allow him to believe he could be familiar with her. She swallowed and said, “The offer is quite considerate, sir, but I really must continue by myself.” The man seemed to understand the strange, whirling thoughts between her ears, although she couldn’t be sure. “May I ask your name?” “My name is … Laura Johnson,” she said, with enough hesitation to make it seem like a lie. The stranger smirked.

He clearly knew she had lied but didn’t wish to call her out. He turned and swung his horseback, making the dirt scuffle beneath it. “Laura Johnson. What a remarkably plain name, don’t you think?” Laura’s cheeks burned with embarrassment and fear. Was there anyone on this earth she could trust, now that she was far from home? “Remarkably plain? I’m afraid it never passed through my skull to consider myself to be remarkably plain. Perhaps you wish that you’d allowed me to be taken over by those fine gentlemen back there? That’s the sort of thing that should happen to plain women. Don’t you think?” His grin widened. Laura demanded of herself, what was she thinking? Was this a strange flirtation, with a man on the road? Already, they were losing still more sunlight. She blinked towards the light at the end of the tree tunnel and followed his lead, back atop her own horse. Up there, all she had to do was live through the strength of his gaze.

“A fierce creature, she is, Laura Johnson,” he said. Still, he beamed. His mockery wouldn’t end. “I wish you a good day, sir,” she offered. She realized, with a pang, that she’d forgotten to ask his name, but soon decided that she didn’t care. “I wish to thank you once more for saving me. I hope you arrive at your destination safely.” Without allowing him to answer, Laura rode ahead of the stranger and then drew the horse into a trot. Before long, she raced through the trees and out into the grey light. Moors stretched on either side, with enormous mansions that looked like miniature doll houses dotting the land.

She forced herself to breathe—inhale, exhale. It would do no good for her to faint with panic, now that everything was over. Within the hour, she would be safe, in the confines of Treadway House, ready to orchestrate her plan. She had to focus.

.

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