VI. 'Bye, Guv!

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Three years ago...

Ralph watched as the beautiful lady in blue moved stealthily through the stream of gowns and suits. He knew he ought to try to follow faster but instead he paused and stared at her with awe. There was something about her that was beyond enchanting.

She moved not gracefully like the other ladies, but fast and certain—almost alert.

Which made it more so exciting.

Ralph smiled to himself. He was certain she saw him and he was quite sure she knew he was watching.

She was trying to escape.

But not fast enough, he thought as he started to move.

*****

Alex could not believe that she had expected to be warmly welcomed when she began her journey to Whiston.

Whyever did she think that Ysabella and Emma's brothers would want to offer her a seat and listen to her words?

She ought to have known better. This was a shame!

To be tied down and shoved into his brother's carriage, to be ordered to be silent for nearly an hour as they traveled to another estate, was torture. She could hear her cousins laughing at her fate by the time Ralph Everard pulled her out of the carriage and into this estate which did not look as grand as Whiston.

In fact, she thought it dreary.

Unlike Whiston, Beechworth did not have a plantation. It did not have its own hole, thus the lighting was shamefully lacking. Or perhaps he liked it that way?

A footman followed them up the second landing, to the east wing and into a large bedchamber.

Alex knew they would not be using the bed. She did not fear it. The bloody bastard did not even recognize her. He did not have the same hunger and enchanted look in his eyes many years past.

In his eyes now, she was a bandit who could be lying to him to extort money. Or worse, he might consider her amongst his many enemies for it would not be truly surprising if Ralph Everard had any.

Considering what she knew about his family, Alex was certain that the Forest Lady was an integral part of something that concerned the entire Everards. And if that were so, she was somewhat willing to be a part of it.

But not this way. Not while she was tied and treated like a bloody prisoner.

She would give the man a few minutes, but if he was to ever prolong this charade, she would have to find a way to attack him again.

He led her to a chair while the footman closed the door behind them, leaving the two of them behind.

Alex slumped into the chair while her hands slowly worked at the knots behind her.

Ralph stood before her, intimidating and fearless. If she knew him any less, she might be shaking with fear. But she knew enough about him to meet his gaze with equal measure of stubbornness and pride.

"From the start," he said without elaborating on his order.

Alex sighed. "I found Forest Lady—"

"Who?"

"Forest Lady, guv," she said. "I told ye, I dinna know her name, see? She deserved one so I call her Forest Lady."

He stared at her for a moment, his emerald green eyes studying her intently. He nodded but said, "Start from before you found her. Where were you? What were you doing and why did you end up in the Dark Forest?"

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