The Mask Revealed
The second in the fascinating series about the lives of the beautiful Beth Cunningham, her family and friends.
Britain moves ever closer to the 1745 rebellion and the impending attempt to restore the Stuarts to the British throne. With no other options available to her, Beth marries the effete and tedious social butterfly Sir Anthony Peters.
She resigns herself to a future of formal parties and dismal social gatherings, whilst accompanying a husband who is both tiresome and physically repellent to her, but consoles herself with the thought that if she is not to know love, then at least she will have a secure and comfortable life. It may be uneventful, but she will be free of her brother.
The ink on the marriage contract is hardly dry, however, when Beth makes a shocking discovery, one that turns her world upside down and throws her whole future into doubt once more.
Almost immediately she must make a decision. Will she opt for the safe but dreary life her husband wishes her to lead, or will she fight for a life of passion, adventure and excitement, knowing that in doing so, she risks not only her own life, but the lives of those she loves?
Join the rebellion of one woman and her fight for freedom in…
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Books in the Series:
Mask of Duplicity (Book 1) - FREE
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“You ask too much of me,” she said after a moment. “Not only do you want me to be disloyal to my mother by cultivating a friendship with people who rejected her for no good reason, but you also want me to go cap in hand, begging for favours from them. Then you want me to sell myself into slavery to some court fop so that you can get promotion.” She threw her napkin down on the table and stood up, her meal untouched. “If you want promotion you will have to concoct another plan. You go and beg to them if you want. Maybe you can bag yourself a wealthy heiress.”
She made her way towards the door, which started to open as she reached it. In a flash Richard leapt from his seat and reached the door before her, slamming it shut in the startled Martha’s face and standing with his back to it.
“Let me past,” she said coldly. When he didn’t move, she reached past him towards the doorknob, certain he would stand aside when he realised she had no intention of staying to listen to any more of this rubbish.
Instead he reached out and gripped her by both arms, pulling her round to face him. Startled, she pulled against his grip, but he squeezed tighter. His mouth twisted.
“Do you know nothing of society life, you little fool?” he said, shaking her. “It is not possible for a sergeant in the dragoons to marry a wealthy heiress, even if I were the most handsome man in Christendom. Beautiful women on the other hand, marry above themselves all the time. Particularly when they have a huge dowry!” His voice rose almost to a shout on the last sentence.
“I am not like you, Richard,” she replied, struggling to break his grip. “I’m quite happy living here. I have no great ambitions, and even if I did, I would not demean myself to achieve them.” She kicked out at him, but to little effect, hampered as she was by her skirts. “Let me go, Richard, you’re hurting me!” she shouted, enraged.
Instead of complying with her wish, he dug his fingers deeper into her biceps, smiling as she cried out. A muscle twitched in his cheek, and she realised with horror that he was actually enjoying her pain. Then he released her suddenly with a push, and she staggered backwards. He opened the door and turned back to her.
“Take a little time to think about it,” he said. “It’s the only reasonable solution.”
“I don’t need any time,” she retorted coldly. “I will not change my mind.”
She moved forward again to pass him and he pushed the door closed slightly, impeding her exit, although he made no attempt to seize her again.
“Oh, you will, sister,” he said quietly. “You will.” He opened the door wider and she took the opportunity to escape, making herself walk slowly, and not run as she wanted to. She was uncomfortably aware of his eyes following her as she mounted the stairs, and she reached her room with a feeling of the utmost relief.
It was the first time her brother had touched her, and was a far cry from the fraternal embrace she had hoped for when he had first arrived. Normally inclined to look for the best in anyone, she began to suspect that Graeme had been more accurate in his assessment of Richard than she had thought, and prayed that her suspicions were wrong.
The door was thin and somewhat rotten and when she was close to it she had no difficulty hearing the conversation that was taking place in the room. A few moments of listening told her that these were definitely not the kind of people who would be likely to help her, but although she knew she should retreat, still she stayed, mesmerised by the soft cadences of the foreign voices.
When the man opened the door, his fingers already undoing the buttons of his breeches preparatory to relieving himself, and saw the young woman standing there, it was difficult to ascertain which of the two was the more shocked. Both of them froze momentarily, then Beth’s hand drove up forcefully, aiming for the soft area just underneath the sternum, at the same moment as he leapt sideways. The knife sliced through his shirt and tore into his skin, raking along his side.
He was fast. Before she could recover her balance he had grabbed her wrist and pushed her up against the doorframe, twisting her arm so hard up her back that her shoulder creaked alarmingly. She cried out in pain and he plucked the knife deftly from her fingers before spinning her round and pushing her into the room he had just been about to leave. He closed the door, and stood with his back to it. Her hip collided painfully with the edge of the wooden table which dominated the room and she almost fell across it, taking her weight on her hands and wincing as her abused shoulder protested at the sudden weight it had to bear.
Seated along both sides of the table were several men, who regarded her silently with surprise. The room was pleasantly warm and they were all in shirtsleeves, having removed their coats, which hung on the backs of their chairs, and several of them had rolled up their sleeves, exposing muscular forearms. Clearly they had been here for some time. A brazier glowed redly in one corner and two candles burned on the rough wooden surface of the table, which also held a number of pewter tankards and a large flagon of mulled wine. Beth shrank back a little, instinctively trying to disappear into the shadows, although her common sense told her how futile an action that was.
The solitary man seated at the head of the table nodded his head briefly at two of his companions, who stood immediately and left the room.
“Are ye alright?” he addressed the wounded man by the door, who had now taken off his shirt and rolled it into a ball, pressing it against the wound in his side.
“Aye, It’s nobbut a scratch, but if I hadna moved, she’d ha’ stuck me in the heart,” he replied, a distinct tone of awe in his voice that such a fragile-looking woman had nearly killed him.
All of the men were bareheaded except for the one she presumed to be the leader, judging by his air of authority. He had thrown a cloak around himself and had pulled the hood low over his brow, casting his face into shadow so that she could not make out any of his features. The other men all had dark hair, except for one, whose hair was a mass of fiery red waves hanging loose to his shoulders. Their features differed dramatically, but they had one thing in common. They all looked extremely ruthless.
The shadowed man now turned his head towards her. She was aware of his close scrutiny, although she couldn’t see his eyes, and she ran her tongue around her lips nervously.
“Welcome to our gathering, lassie,” he said mockingly. “Would you care for some refreshment?”
When Beth descended on the evening of her first ball Sir Anthony was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs, resplendent in sapphire-blue satin, his coat and waistcoat heavily embroidered with silver. She was already in a bad humour; her stays were too tight, her skirt was so wide as to be a danger to anyone who came within four feet of her, and her shoes were hurting her. She had not yet put on her social face, and scowled blackly at him as she reached the hall.
“My dear Miss Cunningham, how absolutely exquisite you look!” he twittered, holding his arm out to her and smiling sweetly. “I thought you might like to enter the room on the arm of someone with whom you are already acquainted, but if you think I am being too bold, please, do tell me.”
She put her hand on his arm and leaned on it while she struggled to bend down and take off her shoe, which had something sharp in it.
“Oh, this is ridiculous!” she said after a few moments of futile battling against the restrictions of her clothing. “How can it be sensible to wear clothing which render it impossible to take off one’s own shoe!”
“Allow me, my dear,” he said, kneeling in front of her and managing to take off the offending item of footwear without touching her at all. He shook it, and a small stone fell out. “There!” he said, replacing the shoe onto her outstretched foot. He stood up and offered her his arm again. “Now I would suggest, dear lady, that you also take the sharpness out of your face and replace it with a smile, however painful that may be. Although you will no doubt be besieged by young men eager to make your acquaintance, regardless of your facial expression. Money always wears a smile.”
She looked up at him.
“Does everybody know about my dowry then?” she asked.
“Of course, my dear. What do you think your cousin and your brother have been doing for the last days? Now, let us go in. I am so delighted that you chose to wear blue, and a shade which complements my own outfit so well! We will be the talk of the room.”
“Well, as we are already acquainted, people will assume we have dressed in the same colour deliberately, as a way of stating that we are…sympathetic to one another, shall we say?” he beamed down at her, displaying a set of perfect white teeth.
She looked at him with horror, and his smile faded slightly.
“If you wish, you can announce that it is mere coincidence, but you may prefer to use the assumption to your advantage.”
“What possible advantage could there be to me if people think we are sympathetic, as you put it, to one another?” she asked tactlessly.
“Well, when you find the constant attention and compliments a little overpowering, just signal to me, and I shall rescue you immediately. I promise not to say anything complimentary to you at all, and to pay you very little attention,” he suggested, undismayed by her obvious abhorrence of him.
She smiled, in spite of her apprehension.
“Ah, that is better. You look so beautiful when you smile…but I have promised. No more compliments. You will have a surfeit soon enough.”
“You are exaggerating, Sir Anthony,” Beth said, determined that once she was in the room she would not go anywhere near him for the rest of the evening.
“We will see,” came the reply.
Julia has been a voracious reader since childhood, using books to escape the miseries of a turbulent adolescence. After leaving university with a degree in English Language and Literature, she spent her twenties trying to be a sensible and responsible person, even going so far as to work for the Civil Service. The book escape came in very useful there too.
And then she gave up trying to conform and resolved to spend the rest of her life living as she wanted to, not as others would like her to. She has since had a variety of jobs, including telesales, teaching and gilding and is currently a transcriber, copy editor and proofreader. In her spare time she is still a voracious reader, and enjoys keeping fit and travelling the world. Life hasn’t always been good, but it has rarely been boring. She lives in rural Wales with her cat Constantine, and her wonderful partner sensibly lives four miles away in the next village.
Now she has decided that rather than just escape into other people’s books, she would actually quite like to create some of her own, in the hopes that people will enjoy reading them as much as she does writing them.