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Authors: Catherine Lloyd

Betrayed

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BETRAYED
 

Windemere Hall Trilogy

 

Book Two

 

§

 

Victorian Villains Gothic Romance

 

CATHERINE LLOYD

 

Copyright 2015 Catherine Lloyd

Electronic Edition 2016

Writewood Creations

261 Lac Bernard Road

Alcove, Quebec

Canada J0X 1A0

[email protected]

www.writewoodcreations.blogspot.com

 

ISBN 978-0-9938963-2-3

 

All rights reserved.

This publication remains the copyrighted
property

of the author and may not be redistributed
for commercial

or non-commercial purposes.

 

Cover Image by Grape_vein

Cover Design by Writewood Creations

Also by Catherine Lloyd
 

Mandrake Falls Four Seasons Romance

 

The Jilting ~ Summer

Lie for Me ~ Autumn

The Way Home ~ Winter

Love Rising ~ Spring

 

Dark Redeemer Historical Romance

 

Wanton

Wastrel

Traitor

Soldier

 
From the Publisher
 

Clara Hamilton discovers her cousin Branson’s
secret and it nearly kills her. When he insists the attack was all in her mind,
she escapes Windemere Hall only to be snared by another man she has reason to
distrust—Captain Strachan. After throwing her over four months before, the
captain reveals his secret love for her. Meanwhile, in an attempt to win his
cousin back and execute his plan of revenge, Branson corners Clara at her
father’s house in London, in the middle of a glittering party. His revelation
has disastrous consequences for them both.

 

Betrayed
is the second episode in
Windemere
Hall Trilogy
, Catherine Lloyd’s
Victorian
Villains Gothic Romance Serials
. Steamy gothic romance in the tradition of
Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt set in 1867 Victorian England. The
novellas will be released in instalments like the “penny dreadful” of the Age.
Each episode ends in a cliff-hanger. These spicy romances contain scenes,
language and themes written for a mature audience.

 
 
 

Windemere Hall Trilogy: Book Two

BETRAYED
 

§

 
Chapter One
 

SHE COULD bear anything
but a lie.

That was Clara Hamilton’s first thought
upon waking in Branson’s bedchamber, alone. And then she remembered how she
came to be alone. They had quarrelled. She told him to get out. Branson did as
she asked, for once.

Branson
Reilly-Hamilton. Her cousin. Her betrothed. Her jailer.

She could bear anything but a lie, but she
could bear his pity even less. A lie, she could forgive. Pity was inexcusable.

Clara rose wearily from the four-poster bed
and put her feet on the floor. She had not slept a wink all night. And
Branson—where did he sleep?

She crossed to the window and gazed over
the Somerset countryside. The view was beautiful beyond compare.

Clara’s spirits sank.

Branson was not waiting for her on the Down
as he had done yesterday, magnificent astride his horse, his cloak lifting
behind him like black wings. Yesterday, she almost believed he had feelings for
her. How easily she was persuaded! She’d succumbed to his magnetic presence and
his possession of her body, never seeing that he was manipulating her to gain
her trust—a trust he meant to abuse.

Clara leaned her forehead against the cool,
smooth glass.

Yesterday
was a lifetime ago. Branson didn’t love her and he never would. It was time to
leave Windemere Hall.

The decision made, Clara quickly crossed to
the bedroom door and opened it soundlessly. She peered out, looking down the
hall to the left and right. She had to return to her own room to dress and
somehow escape notice.

At the end of the hall, halting her flight,
she saw Branson speaking to Piers. Their voices were low, hushed, but from the
expression on Branson’s face and the animated intensity of Piers’ replies,
Clara knew they were arguing.

A
whispered argument about what?

The corridor was unlit. They had not seen
her. She crept closer and concealed herself in an alcove.

“Three days. That is all I require, Mr.
Hamilton, but if I cannot depend upon you to hold up your end—”


My
end? You forget yourself, Piers. I have done everything I said I would do, and
more. I have broken every vow known to man, and it is I who must live in the
hell I’ve created. Do not lecture me about
my
end!”

Piers looked up, peering down the dim
distance of the hall. Clara pressed flat against the wall and held her breath.

“What is it?” Branson demanded.

Piers pressed his finger to his lips. “I’m
not sure, sir. I thought I saw something.”

“Oh God, not you as well,” he said in a low
tense voice. “I am sick of ghosts. I’m sick of the whole damned thing! Enough,
I have business in the village. Remember what I’ve said. This is your last
warning, Piers.”

Branson strode away and after a moment’s
thoughtful hesitation, Piers followed him.

Clara sagged against the wall, her heart
pounding.

 

§

 

CAPTAIN STRACHAN found escaping Petherham Manor far more
difficult than he imagined. Every legitimate excuse he could think of was
overruled by his betrothed, Miss Trudy Delisle. Colonel and Mrs. Brockville
were even less willing to part with their young guest. They insisted on
accompanying him on his walk when his sole reason for walking was to seek out
Miss Clara Hamilton for a private conversation. At last, Strachan was forced to
take Colonel Brockville into his confidence if he was to make any headway.

“I must see if she is all right, Colonel. I
am aware it is none of my business how the lady is; I have no right to think of
her at all. But I feel responsible for bringing Miss Hamilton to a bad end with
this Branson Reilly character.”

“His name is Hamilton now and I don’t see
that he is such a desperate bargain for a young woman.” Colonel Strachan drank
his tea and pondered the view from Petherham. The sweep of the Somerset
countryside looked almost purple under the hazy September sky. “I understand
Clara Hamilton’s situation made his offer of marriage very desirable indeed.”

“But that is just it, sir. According to my
inquiries, there has been no marriage. None has been registered at Windemere
Chapel as Branson Hamilton claimed and further inquiry indicates there was no
ceremony in London either.” Strachan leaned in closer to press home his point. “Clara
Hamilton is in danger. I have information that indicates she travelled from
London without a chaperone and her trunks were delivered to Windemere Hall the
following day via a private coach. You must see the position Branson has placed
her in.”

Colonel Brockville drew himself up. “You
have no business inquiring into Mrs. Hamilton’s situation, Strachan. I say this
as your friend and colleague, you made your bed when you threw her over and now
you must lie in it. Let her alone. Whatever is going on at Windemere is none of
your concern.”

“So you
do
suspect something is amiss! Tell me what it is, Colonel. Upon my honour, I am only
asking out of concern for a former friend. I am aware of the part I played in
bringing her low, and I regret my actions. I have no ulterior motive; I only
wish to help her if I can.”

The colonel pulled on his beard. “There
have been stories, rumours about Windemere Hall circulating for the past seven
years. I put the tales down to superstitious nonsense myself but Mrs.
Brockville pays them more notice. One of our housemaids did some scullery work
for Branson Hamilton a few years back and she reported hearing ghosts in the
place. A woman’s laughter, sometimes there was crying, heartbreaking sobs they
were. The girl said she wouldn’t go back for love or money. His hired men
apparently hear nothing out of the ordinary and go about their work
undisturbed, but the maids and even the older matrons are given a right
terrorizing.”

Colonel Brockville gave out a bark of
laughter when he saw the look on Strachan’s face. “The supernatural was not the
nefarious intrigue you had in mind, eh, Captain? Well, if the stories are true,
Clara will not be mistress of Windemere Hall for long. The ghost will frighten
her off as it has every other would-be lover of Branson Hamilton. As for the
position Branson has placed his cousin in, I would say the less we know about
it the better. These things have a way of working themselves out. I beg of you,
do not interfere in Branson Hamilton’s personal affairs. He is not a man to be
trifled with.”

“With all due respect, neither am I. I have
an obligation to Clara and ties with her family. If she is in danger of being
compromised, I have to do something.”

The colonel returned to the view with a
snort of disgust.

“I’ll not waste my breath arguing with you.
Proud, stubborn fool—be off you with you then, if you must go. I’ll tell your
fiancée I’ve despatched you to the village on urgent military business. That
ought to give you an hour or so to find Mrs. Hamilton at Windemere. See that
you do not get up to mischief or I shall disavow any knowledge of you,
Strachan.”

Strachan gave a short bow and tried not to
bolt from the room.

“And Strachan,” bellowed the colonel, “if you
do discover something nefarious in my neighbour’s dealings with his cousin,
remember that the girl’s reputation is on the line as well. Take care in your
zeal to expose Branson Hamilton that you do not to drag Clara Hamilton down
with him.”

“Thank you, sir. That is sound advice,” Strachan
said fervently and left the room. If Colonel Brockville was aware how earnestly
Strachan wanted to save Clara, his commanding officer would stop him from going.
Captain Strachan was supposed to be in love with Trudy Delisle.

Thank God Brockville lacked a romantic
imagination. True love, passion, obsession—Brockville was insensitive to these
finer feelings. Whereas Strachan had been possessed by a single thought since
seeing Clara with Branson Hamilton, and that was to see her again. He had to
learn if she’d truly forgotten him and the love they once shared.

Strachan was a man possessed. The bait was
the lewd suggestive nature of her living arrangements at Windemere. It had
appalled and thrilled him. Shy, stuttering Clara Hamilton taking up residence
with her cousin—a single man and notorious rake. What the devil had she gotten
herself into?

The captain felt a duty toward her, but
this morning he was driven by something more powerful than duty to seek her
out. It had a name.

Jealousy.

 

§

 

CLARA DRESSED in her oldest travelling gown and chose the
plain mantle to take her walk after breakfast. She repacked her trunks,
determined that Piers would not put her off this time. Her wedding dress had
not yet been returned. She would have to remember to ask Piers to put it in the
trunk upon her return.

She walked out of the Hall and took the
path that led to the forest. She hoped the fresh air and exercise would steady
her nerves for the battle to come. Branson could be very persuasive. It would
take every ounce of her willpower to leave him.

All was not well in this house. Someone
knew about the vision she’d had of the red dress floating in the lake and was
using the information to try to unbalance her mind.
But who?
Dr. Hargreaves and Branson were the only people who knew
about her hallucinations.

There was another point to consider. Seven
years ago, Grace Leeds visited Windemere Hall wearing a red silk afternoon
dress. Was Clara truly losing her mind after all?

That
is what Branson would have her believe
. Clara
walked faster along the path through the forest. Branson Hamilton wanted her to
doubt her sanity to discredit her. A mad woman would have a poor case against a
wealthy landowner.

But Branson didn’t know about her vision
until last night. The woman in red appeared in her room
before
Branson heard the story. He must have found out somehow and
hired a girl from the village to dress up as Grace Leeds. He was tied to the
intruder in some way. He was not telling her the whole truth.

Reason enough to leave as soon as possible.
Even without the other.

Something
happened at the lake.

The memory was pressing dangerously near.
Soon it would burst forth and Clara could not let that happen. Dr. Hargreaves
would often ask her why in their sessions and Clara would not answer. It was
the same scenario every time. The image got too close and she beat it back with
something—anything—to keep it from being known.

A stutter for instance.

Yes!
Yes, I would stutter rather let the memory out
.

“Enough! I’m getting out of here. This is
exactly the sort of thing he wants me to do—doubt my sanity. It was just a
dream!” Clara hollered defiantly to the tree tops.

A woman laughed.

Clear as a church bell. A feminine laugh
rose to her ears and her blood ran cold.

Though the sun was high and there was not a
cloud in the sky, the forest was filled with shadows. Clara forced her feet to
move in the direction of the laugh.

Ahead, as before, there was an apparition
in white darting through the trees. This time, Clara followed it. If she was
mad, she would face that horror and not run from it. But if the phantom was a
living, breathing human being playing a cruel game, she was strong enough to
unmask her tormentor. Whoever he might be.

The phantom darted inside the chapel as
before and Clara ran after it. She yanked open the door and rushed inside
before the ghost could escape.

It took her eyes several minutes to adjust
to the gloomy interior.

Standing before the altar was a young woman
dressed in a white wedding gown. Clara stared at the apparition in horror. The
wedding dress was hers, missing from the first night of her arrival at the Hall.

The young woman looked familiar, but even
as the memory of where she had seen her before struggled to surface, terror
clawed her scalp as the young woman came closer.

There was no mistaking it—the vision was
material
—not an apparition, not a
hallucination. This individual was living, breathing, warm and alive as Clara
was herself.

Her fear abated, Clara raised her hand and
pointed to the dress. “That is mine. How did you get it?”

“I found it. It is not yours. You are not
his wife. It is mine by right.”

Summoning her courage, Clara took a step
closer. “That is a lie. You stole it from the Hall. Piers was cleaning it for
me. Who are you?”

“I watched you with him that night. I
watched what he did and you allowed it. It was disgusting. He is not your
husband and yet you allowed him to do those shameful things to you. Are you his
mistress? You’ll never have him, you know. He doesn’t want you. When he has got
what he wants from you, he’ll throw you into the street.”

“Who are you?” Clara demanded, forcefully.
Her heart was pounding in her chest.

“I am Grace Reilly. Branson Reilly’s wife.”

BOOK: Betrayed
10.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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