I’m getting close to the end of Her Counterfeit Husband. I hope to have the first draft done in about a week (July 14). *fingers crossed* Today, I thought it’d be fun to post a snippet of the book and (hopefully) do an interview with Anna (the heroine) and Appleton (the butler) this weekend.
As a quick note: I do have small changes to make to this scene. For example, the gentleman who’s identical to Anna’s husband will be in the middle of the forest road. At the moment, I have him to the side of the road. I have the notes down on what should be different, but I haven’t made the changes yet. I prefer to wait until the first draft is done before I go back and change anything. I also have done no proofreading on it.
Oh, and I haven’t drawn out a timeline for this story yet, so I’m not sure when it begins, but I’m thinking sometime in autumn.
Anna is the heroine (the Duchess of Watkins)
Appleton is the butler (and protective father figure)
Lord Mason is Anna’s brother-in-law (and he will factor more in the story later on)
Those disclaimers aside, here’s the part of the book where Anna buries her first husband…
He’s dead. Anna stared at her husband, hardly believing it. Though death was, in itself, an ugly thing, she studied him. His vacant eyes remained open, his pale skin had taken on a bluish tint, and he wasn’t breathing. Even as part of her experienced an overwhelming feeling of relief, another part knew she had a much bigger problem waiting for her.
She glanced out the window. Dawn still hadn’t come. A look at the pocket watch on the table beside his bed told her it was just after midnight. Her husband’s valet had walked out, and considering how many valets her husband had been through, she hadn’t been surprised when the last one quit. Her husband had expected to hire another one once he got well, but this wouldn’t be the case now.
No. Now, the next valet in this house would be Lord Mason’s. Unless… She bit her lower lip and walked to the window. It was dark out there. Not even a moon tonight. Anyone could be out there, and there was no way she’d see him. She reached up and gripped the curtains. Did she dare? Could she get away with it? But she couldn’t do it alone. Her husband was too heavy. Even if he was weak and had lost considerable weight, she could never carry him out of the house and quietly dispose of his body.
What she needed was help from someone she could trust, someone who would keep her secret to their grave. Appleton. If there was anyone who’d understand her plight and help her, it was him. She dropped the curtain back in place and turned from the window. No. She couldn’t ask Appleton to do such a devious thing. Not when he was the one good thing in her life, the one person who’d helped her keep going when all she’d wanted to do was give up. Her gaze fell to the scars on her wrists. If he hadn’t found her when he did, she wouldn’t be here now. And he’d saved her for what? So her lot would fall to someone worse than her husband?
Her attention went back to her husband. The Duke of Watkins. She never did feel comfortable enough to call him by his title or his Christian name. Six years. For six years, she’d been under his thumb. And as his last act of imprisoning her, he thought to hand her over to his disgusting brother. Taking a deep breath, she walked over to him, each step slow and calculated as she thought of all the misery he’d caused her, and even now in death, he had a slight smile on his lips, as if laughing that he had gained one more victory over her. When she reached him, she slapped him.
“You don’t win this one,” she hissed. “If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll make sure your brother never becomes the duke.”
Feeling a new sense of determination, she crossed the room and slipped through the door leading to her bedchamber. She hurried over to the cord on her wall that would ring the bell in Appleton’s room. If she was going to act, she had to be quick. The doctor would arrive in under eight hours, and the longer she waited, the harder it was going to be to succeed in her plan.
She reached her wardrobe and pulled out a black dress and cloak so she could blend into the dark night. After she returned to her husband’s bedchamber, she waited by his door until she spied Appleton hurrying down the hall. She motioned to him to enter the room, and he obeyed.
“Your grace?” he whispered.
She quickly shut the door and led him over to her husband. “I found him like this thirty minutes ago.”
His expression grim, he said, “I don’t know whether to be relieved or not.”
“I can’t let his brother assume the title,” she whispered, glancing at her husband.
With a heavy sigh, he nodded. “That wouldn’t be a wise idea.”
“It’s dark out there. If you wore a covering and we wrapped him up in a dark blanket, we can carry him out of here and dispose of his body without anyone seeing us.”
He stared at her for a long moment, and she waited for his response, wondering if he’d agree or tell her it was impossible. “What you’re suggesting is very unusual,” he slowly replied.
She tightened her hold on the edge of her cloak. He wasn’t going to go along with it!
“However,” he began, causing her heart to leap with hope, “I see no other alternative than to quietly bury him, but we can’t hide the fact that he’s missing for long. If he were to take a trip for an undetermined amount of time…”
Relieved he was going to help her, she nodded. “We’ll do that.”
“We also need to take him off this property. No one must ever find him.”
“We’ll need to take a carriage. There’s no way we can carry him as far as we need to.”
“Can we risk it without being seen?”
“There is an old carriage that no one uses. It’s in the old stable. I’ll get that one ready. As for finding the horses, I’ll find that are hardly used. You find a blanket, and when I get back, we’ll wrap him up and carry him down the servant stairs. No one should see us this late at night.”
It sounded wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that it might actually work! While he left the bedchamber, she searched through the room to find a suitable blanket to cover her husband up.
Their task was a morbid one. Two hours past midnight, Anna held the lantern up as Appleton finished burying her husband. He pounded the new mound of dirt over the spot in the forest, which was hidden by a group of trees half a mile from the path.
Appleton straightened his back and turned to her. “I think we’re done.”
She stared at the spot where her husband was buried, finally feeling free. Six of the worst years of her life were over. She didn’t realize she was crying until Appleton removed his gloves so he could reach into his pocket and hand her a handkerchief. Grateful to his everlasting kindness to her, she thanked him and wiped her face.
“It’s over, your grace,” he said, his voice soothing.
“As long as no one finds out, we’ll be all right,” she agreed.
In silence, the two turned to the path that would take them to their carriage. So much had happened that day, and her exhaustion was quickly catching up to her. Once they reached the carriage, she slipped into the carriage while he discarded his clothes and put on new ones. From there, he led the horses carefully through the forest. She closed her eyes and rested her head against the back of the seat.
Exhaustion was quickly taking over, but even so, she couldn’t sleep. She wanted nothing more than to sink into the sweet bliss of dreams where she could forget everything from her tainted marriage to the misery that brought her and Appleton to covering up her husband’s death. The entire night kept replaying itself in her mind. As much as she prayed no one would ever find out what happened, she couldn’t help but worry someone would try to find her husband and learn the truth. But maybe by then, she and Appleton could leave the country. They could assume another identity. Maybe by the time people realized her husband was dead, she and Appleton could be long gone.
The carriage came to a stop, startling her. She bolted up in her seat and peered out the window, wondering if someone caught them. Maybe someone saw them sneak out off the estate and followed them into this forest. Her heartbeat accelerated in dread. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. With a hard swallow, she told herself that whatever happened, she would make sure they knew this was her idea and she forced Appleton help her. She’d do everything she could to absolve him from guilt.
The carriage door opened. Her eyes flew open, but instead of someone else, she saw Appleton’s bewildered expression. “What is it?” she asked him, tentatively peering out of the carriage to see if someone else was in the area.
“There’s a gentleman, your grace,” he told her. He held his hand out to help her down. “I can’t tell for sure, but he looks a lot like your husband.”
Her eyebrows furrowed, she followed him around the carriage. He lifted the lantern so they could see the path in front of them. She bent to avoid a tree branch and stepped over a dip in the road. But then Appleton stopped and she came up beside him. Her gaze went up ahead where a bloodied gentleman was lying unconscious off to the side of the road.
A scan of the wooded area revealed no one else was nearby. “You said he looks like my husband?” she whispered.
“He’s been beaten, but there’s no denying the resemblance.”
Curious, she approached the gentleman. He was lying on his back, his eyes closed and mouth open as he struggled for breath. It was almost alarming to see him covered in blood, his lower lip swollen, his nose out of place, bruises lining the side of his face. His clothes spoke of a commoner, but his face was horribly reminiscent of the husband she’d just buried.
She glanced at Appleton before she proceeded forward. While Appleton held the lantern for her to see where she was gong, she approached the stranger and knelt beside him. “Sir?”
He gave no response. Uncertain, she looked back at Appleton.
“He might be the answer to our prayers, your grace,” Appleton softly told her.
Could he be? She turned her attention to the stranger. It was hard to tell in the dim light, but it seemed to be the same blond color as her husband’s. She inspected the rest of him, sizing up his height and build. If she wasn’t seeing it with her own eyes, she would never have believed it. This stranger…this gentleman who was in no way of noble birth…could pass for her husband.
The stranger let out a slight moan of pain, and something in her snapped. “We have to help him,” she told Appleton.
Appleton handed her the lantern. She stood up and held it for him. “He needs help. If we’re not careful, we’re going to lose him.”
It took her a moment to realize he meant that this stranger could die if they didn’t tend to his wounds. “But… Who can we get to help him? No one will believe my husband got beat up like this.”
“I have a friend we can go to who won’t ask questions.”
Surprised, she asked, “You do?”
With a kind smile, he lifted the stranger in his arms. “An old friend. I haven’t seen him in years. He went to study medicine while I went to work for your husband’s father.”
“Will he be upset that we came to see him so late and unannounced?” she asked as he gingerly carried the stranger to the carriage.
“No. I believe he’ll be too concerned about this gentleman’s wounds to think of the hour we’ll be coming to him.”
“But what will we say? We can’t tell him we buried my husband and found this stranger on the road.”
“I’ll tell him this is your husband and he got into a nasty brawl. I don’t think he’ll ask anything beyond that.”
“Then what?” she asked.
“Then we ask him if he’ll pretend he’s your husband.”
She halted in her tracks for a moment until she could comprehend what he was saying. She quickly started walking again so she could open the carriage door for him. After she removed her cloak and set it on the seat so it wouldn’t get dirty or bloody, Appleton set the stranger securely in the carriage.
Appleton turned to face her. “Do you want to sit with him?”
She studied the stranger. His head was tilted to the side and his eyes still closed. She doubted he would wake up before they reached their destination. “I’ll sit in here,” she decided. And if nothing else, perhaps she could make sure he didn’t slide off the seat.
“If you change your mind, tap on the roof and I’ll stop,” Appleton replied.
With a nod, she let him help her into the carriage and sat by the stranger, close enough to help him remain in place if needed but far enough so she wouldn’t have to touch him. As Appleton shut the door, she dared a good look at the stranger.
She couldn’t see anything but his silhouette, but even so, the likeness between him and her husband sent a chill up her spine. Oh God, let this stranger be a kind gentleman, she prayed. If they could just work out an agreement and get along amiably enough, it would solve all her problems.
The carriage moved forward, and she made sure the stranger didn’t fall out of his seat before she relaxed enough where her shoulders slouched. She rubbed her eyes and thought of what an exhausting day it’d been. So much had happened and was still happening. She knew her life would never be the same again, but the question was would it be better or worse or more of the same? She turned her gaze to the stranger who remained unconscious. Only time would tell if she and Appleton had made a wise move or a tragic mistake.