Rebeccah and the Highwayman

Rebeccah and the Highwayman Barbara Davies
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Nuance
264 pp. ● 6×9
$15.95 (pb) ● $9.95 (eb)
ISBN 978-1-934452-01-1 (pb)
● 978-1-934452-15-8 (eb)

FICTION – Historical
FICTION – Lesbian
England – Social life and customs – 18th century – Fiction
Women outlaws – Fiction

About the Book

It’s 1706, the time of good Queen Anne. Mistress Rebeccah Dutton never dreamed that several encounters with the notorious highwayman Blue-Eyed Nick on the deserted heaths around London would turn her respectable world upside down. When she discovers the highwayman is actually a woman named Kate, her curiosity about the dashing thief turns to fascination. Kate has to deal with a thieftaker snapping at her heels and secrets from her past before Rebeccah can become better acquainted with this intriguing highwaywoman. Will Kate avoid the shadow of Tyburn long enough for Rebeccah to explore this twist of fate?


Praise

“The story is solidly written with a wealth of historic detail and exactly the right frisson of suspense. Given the genre, the initial plot structure is somewhat predictable, and it isn’t exactly a spoiler to guess that Kate’s brush with the gallows will come off well (after all, this isn’t a Sarah Waters novel!) but there is sufficient story remaining after that resolution that I was kept on edge trying to guess what other obstacles would rise before our heroines.” – Heather Rose Jones, The Rose Garden

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“Kate is a great character, full of zest and heart . . . The story is quick-paced, a fast read that would translate well into an epic period piece on the big screen. The historical details are rich, bringing the story to life before the reader’s eyes. I found myself easily engrossed in the plot, turning pages quickly in my haste to find out how Kate escapes the noose and whether or not Rebeccah gets her “highwayman” in the end. “If you love unconventional historical romances spiced with suspense and adventure, this book is a fun read that will have you looking forward to more from this talented author.” – J.M. Snyder, Rainbow Reviews

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“I found Kate terribly sexy and appealing, the female swashbuckler of my dreams. Davies, the author, pulls off an entirely believable heroine in Kate. Rebeccah for her part is just enough of a nonconformist to make choices another woman of her time might balk at. The story is exciting, titillating, and full of authentic historical material. A lovely cameo by Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, is a real treat.” – Nan Hawthorne, Bosom Friends

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“I found Kate terribly sexy and appealing, the female swashbuckler of my dreams. Davies, the author, pulls off an entirely believable heroine in Kate. Rebeccah for her part is just enough of a nonconformist to make choices another woman of her time might balk at. The story is exciting, titillating, and full of authentic historical material. A lovely cameo by Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, is a real treat.”–Kit Moss Reviews

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“Rebeccah and the Highwayman is one of those thrilling, swashbuckling stories that will keep you turning page after page . . . Davies gives us stunning descriptions of London life and times. She also gives us some of the more abhorrent imagery of less savory places, rounding out our picture of a fascinating era. The characters are people we grow to be concerned about and we want to root for the success of the good guys and the demise of the bad. There are cliff-hanging details, nail biting moments, and tender scenes of romance and attraction—in short, something for everyone. If you love historical romance and adventure, you’ll love this exciting, well-crafted period tale.” – Anna Furtado, Just About Write

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“Nice period piece by Barbara Davies. The characters are interesting, the setting is fascinating and definitely different. The plot is believable and picks up in pace when Kate is captured and sentenced for her thieving ways. I like that she is not portrayed as Robin Hood, while she does take from the rich she uses the money to support herself and her family. She is always in danger and always around some form of violence. That of course clashes harshly with Rebeccah’s protected life, but the attraction between the two is believable. So if you’re looking for a few hours of fun escapist reading that really takes you to a different world you I’d say you can’t go wrong with this one.” – Bookish Ramblings

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“Rebeccah and the Highwayman is a good, old-fashioned romp. Those who like period pieces will find the setting of early 18th century England perfect with its laces, manners and sword fighting. Readers who like a story with a historic background will appreciate the little details sprinkled through this book that give it authenticity. A number of times in this book the reader will find herself saying, “So that’s what they did about that.” The scenes describing life in the streets, conditions in the prisons and the carnival atmosphere of hangings are particularly rich. The result of this is a feeling for the reader of being in the time of the book. It also makes what could have been a routine romance a little more exotic. How often does a heroine rush into a scene on horseback firing flintlock pistols and brandishing a rapier? This is a well crafted book with adventure, suspense, tension and a little romance thrown in. Those looking for torrid sex scenes won’t find them, but that only goes to prove that a story can be entertaining and fun to read without them. If tales set in history are not what a reader normally looks for, this one still has enough selling points to make it worth trying.” – Lynne Pierce, lesfic unbound


Excerpt

Rebeccah tried not to belch pickled onion. Having something to eat at the last stop had been a mistake. At the time her grumbling stomach, without sustenance since breakfast, had seemed pathetically grateful for the ploughman’s lunch and cup of small beer provided by the shabby coaching inn, but now . . .

She pressed her handkerchief to her lips and stifled a groan. It didn’t help that she had a headache, and that Anne would keep prattling on about nothing in particular. Right now she was boasting of the admirers she had attracted while in Chatham, and speculating how jealous her two London suitors would be. Which led on to how much they must have missed Anne, and what they would be willing to do to prove themselves worthy of her hand.

Rebeccah ground her teeth. Since it was plain to anyone with the least ounce of sense that her sister cared neither for Rupert Filmer nor Frederick Ingrum (in fact she doubted if her sister could care for anyone except herself) she wished Anne would just toss a coin and get the decision over with. It wasn’t as if either man were after her for her sweet nature, after all. Once Anne married, her husband would own her and all she brought with her—in this case their father’s lucrative business and much of his fortune.

I will never marry except for love, resolved Rebeccah. As if that is likely! She gave an inward sigh. You know very well most men ignore you when they learn how small your portion is. A familiar stab of resentment flared, and she clamped down on it. Papa said it was for the best, she reminded herself. In order to keep his business in one piece . . . Ah, but was it best for Mama, Anne, and I?

The carriage jolted and lurched, and Rebeccah shifted in her seat. Carriages were fine for short trips around London, but the terrible state of the highways made long journeys an ordeal. Anne was too busy talking to notice her sister’s discomfort, and their mother was staring out at the stars—it was a remarkably clear night and she had drawn back the curtain. But Rebeccah’s maid threw her a sympathetic smile.

Mary had been the obvious choice to accompany them to Chatham. Though she was dumpy and rather plain looking, she was competent and reliable (though she did have a distressing tendency to speak her mind) and had been with the Dutton family the longest of all three maids. The choice of footman had been less straightforward. Rebeccah would have preferred Will to come with them, but they had a lot of luggage and his back had been plaguing him. So when Anne suggested the recently hired Titus, who was younger and stronger (and also, as Anne was fond of pointing out, more handsome), and their mother had voiced no objection, Rebeccah had reluctantly agreed.

Titus hadn’t done anything to make Rebeccah dislike him. Indeed, he had done everything required of him and more while at Chatham. But though his sheep-eyed adoration of her sister might endear him to Anne, it made Rebeccah uneasy. At least he wasn’t travelling inside the carriage with them. Armed with the flintlock pistol provided by his employers, he was keeping a sharp eye out for highwaymen and footpads.

That thought made her raise the curtain beside her and peer out into the darkness. They were crossing Blackheath she saw with some trepidation. Robert, the coachman, always carried a blunderbuss with him, but still . . .

“Not long now, Beccah,” said her mother with a smile. “It was nice to stay with your Uncle Andrew and see your cousins, but it is nicer still to be going back to one’s own home, don’t you agree?”

“Yes, Mama.”

Had it not been for the carriage’s rear wheel, which a rock had splintered beyond mending, they should have been home three hours ago. But it had taken the coachman longer to locate and fit a replacement than he had bargained on. When Rebeccah realized they would not be home until well after dark she suggested stopping at a coaching inn for the night. But inns were not the most hygienic or comfortable of places, and both her mother and sister had voted for travelling on.

She let the curtain fall and willed the horses to go faster. To her astonishment, they did. “I beg your pardon!” The increased swaying and rocking motion had thrown her against her sister, who crossly shoved her aside.

“What’s Robert playing at?” asked Anne, straightening her dress.

It was hard to tell above the clattering of the carriage wheels and the clip-clopping of the horses’ hooves, but Rebeccah could have sworn she heard a shot. Her heart began to pound. Distant shouts were followed by the sound of a horse whinnying. The coach slowed, then, from close by, came a loud bang.

Robert’s blunderbuss?

So suddenly it almost threw Rebeccah to the floor, the carriage stopped. From outside came the sound of cursing and scuffling.

“Robbers!” Mary’s eyes were as round as saucers. “They’ll cut our throats.”

Anne crossed herself with a shaking hand. “Why couldn’t we have decided to stay at the coaching inn?”

Why indeed? thought Rebeccah. But now was not the time for recriminations.

“If only your father were here,” murmured their mother, ashen-faced.

Had John Dutton been here he’d probably have been at as much of a loss as the rest of them, reflected Rebeccah wryly.

“We must stay calm,” she said, though such a thing was easier to say than do. She had heard terrible tales of horses slaughtered, of victims robbed, beaten, and left for dead, but she kept that to herself. “Robert and Titus may yet succeed in driving them off. And if they do not, well . . . if we give them what they want, they should have no reason to harm us.” She didn’t dare pop her head out the window to see what was going on. A horse neighed, and the carriage lurched forward then stopped.

Silence descended. Rebeccah clasped her hands tightly and exchanged a frightened glance with her mother and Mary. Anne had closed her eyes and was muttering “The Lord Is My Shepherd” under her breath.

The carriage rocked. A series of thuds followed.

“Our luggage?” wondered Rebeccah aloud.

Anne looked outraged. “They’ll smash that decanter Uncle Andrew gave Mama.”

“It doesn’t signify,” said their mother. “Andrew can buy me a new one.”

Then came a long pause that seemed to go on forever.

Anne’s eyes blinked open and she looked round hopefully. “Perhaps they have taken what they want and gone—”

Footsteps crunched towards the carriage. The handle beside Rebeccah turned, and the door was wrenched open. Rebeccah put a hand to her mouth and shrank back in her seat.

A stranger peered into the carriage, one hand resting on the sword hilt at his left hip, the other brandishing a pistol. “Ladies.” A kerchief over the bottom half of his face muffled his voice. Behind his mask his eyes were bright and startlingly pale, though it was hard to make out their colour in the moonlight.

Mary let out a gasp. “Blue-Eyed Nick!” Oddly, her terror seemed to ease at the sight of him.

“You have heard of me, Madam?” Amusement coloured the intruder’s voice as he turned to regard the maid. “I’m flattered.” He doffed his tricorne and bowed, and Rebeccah saw that, regardless of the fashion for wigs, his hair was his own, long, and black, and tied at the nape of his neck.

“My apologies for any inconvenience,” continued the highwayman, straightening, “but I must ask you to hand me your valuables.” He turned once more to Rebeccah and thrust his upturned hat at her. “Let’s start with you, Madam. That pretty trinket around your even prettier neck.”

Her hand rose to her pearl choker necklace, then stopped as a thought occurred to her. “Our coachman and footman,” she managed. “Are they hurt?”

“Give him what he wants, Beccah,” urged her mother, her voice fearful.

“They were well the last I saw.” The man’s tone was neutral. “If you would care to step outside and see for yourself, Madam?” He put his hat back on and held out a gloved hand.

“Stay where you are,” hissed Anne. “Who knows what the blackguard will do to you once you are in his clutches.”

The eyes behind the mask grew cold. “You have my word, she will not come to harm.”

“The word of a murderer?”

The highwayman ignored Anne’s question and turned his pale gaze on Rebeccah once more. Suddenly the cramped carriage that she had longed all day to escape had never seemed more desirable. Robert and Titus. She sucked in her breath, and with as dignified an air as she could manage, took the proffered hand, glad it was gloved since in the confines of the carriage she had removed hers.

Her fears that he might take liberties with her person proved unfounded as he handed her down to the hard ground and stood back. Only now that they were on the same level did she realize how tall the fellow was.

He gestured towards the rear of the carriage. She followed the direction of his pointing finger and saw two figures lying there, hands bound behind their backs. Beside them lay the Dutton luggage, which had been opened and rifled, and the servants’ discharged weapons.

“Your pardon, Madam,” called a dejected Robert. “He was too much for me.”

Movement in the open doorway of the carriage proved to be her mother peering out. Rebeccah gestured reassurance and glanced round. A single black horse was cropping the grass by the side of the road. One man managed to best two?

“A lurching seat and a trembling hand can throw off a man’s aim,” said the highwayman, as though divining her thoughts. “Do not think too badly of them.”

The comment brought a string of obscenities from Titus, and Rebeccah felt her cheeks heating in response. Pulling a kerchief from his pocket, the highwayman strode over, stooped, and stuffed it in the footman’s mouth. Titus continued swearing, but now Rebeccah couldn’t make out the words.

A highwayman defending my honour, she thought, with a sense of unreality. Bless me!

“Now we have settled the matter of whether I am a murderer,” continued Blue-Eyed Nick, “perhaps we can get back to that trinket?” He took off his hat once more, upturned it, and held it out.

His effrontery triggered her temper. “Perhaps not a murderer, sir, but a common thief who preys on helpless women,” she blurted, then wished she hadn’t. But the eyes behind the mask crinkled with amusement not anger and she let out a breath in relief.

“Thief I may be, but common?” He chuckled. “As for you, Mistress . . . Rebeccah, wasn’t it?” He seemed to relish saying her name. “‘Helpless’ is not the first word that comes to mind.” Again he waggled the hat.

She remembered her instructions to the others. The highwayman was behaving pleasantly enough, if verging on the familiar, but who knew what turn his temper might take if she didn’t give him what he wanted? Best not to try his patience. She reached up and undid the clasp, then dropped the pearl choker necklace into the hat.

“Thank you. Those too.” He pointed at the matching peardrops in her ears. When they had thudded into the hat alongside the necklace, he picked one up, examined it, and said, “Exquisite.”

“Your opinion, sir, is irrelevant.” Was that a snort of amusement? To her annoyance, her cheeks grew hot.

“Are you well, Beccah?” It was Anne this time peering out of the carriage.

“I am,” called Rebeccah. “And Robert and Titus are both safe, though bound.”

Anne turned to relay the information to her companions.

“The ring too.” The highwayman pointed to the signet ring.

“No!”

The pistol came up and he took a step towards her. “I did not give you a choice.”

“Take it by force if you must.” Hot tears spilled down her cheek. “But I will not give it willingly. For it was my father’s and he is dead.”

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