“Stand and deliver!”
The demand came loud and clear, as Lady Caroline Godwin’s coach came to a sudden stop. She sucked in a deep breath, holding onto the sides of her bench seat to brace herself against falling off. Her maid did the same, looking up at her in fright. “Oh, my lady. It’s a highwayman. I knew we shouldn’t have travelled at night.”
Lady Caroline couldn’t have agreed more. However, upon receiving news that her father was gravely ill and had lost a fortune at cards again, she knew she must leave London and return home. Travelling at night to get there as quickly as possible had seemed worth the risk. Not only did she need to know exactly how much her father had lost, she knew that her mother wouldn’t be able to cope with the situation. Her father had suffered a stroke immediately after losing and was currently bed bound.
Lady Caroline tried to reassure her maid. “I need you to be calm, Maisie. If we do as the rogue asks, we will come to no harm.” Yet after the initial shout, there was no sign of the highwayman. Furious both at her father for gambling away his money, and for getting stopped like this, Lady Caroline was feeling brave rather than scared. She was about to get out of the coach and see what was going on, when there were a few muffled curses from above them, a few thumps and then silence. She frowned, straining her ears to hear more.
“He’s going to kill us all!” cried Maisie fearfully, before fainting.
Lady Caroline looked at her maid lying in a crumpled heap on the bench seat opposite and couldn’t help feeling even crosser. “For heaven’s sake,” she muttered. And what has happened to my coachman and footman? “Frank? George?” she called out. She was met with silence.
She gasped as the door was suddenly pulled open and a tall, masked figure appeared, holding a pistol. The man, dressed all in black and with a tricorn hat on his head, looked around the coach, before returning his gaze to her. The pistol was aimed at her. “Good evening, my lady.”
Lady Caroline stared at him. The moonlight shone down on him, but didn’t reveal much, due to his dark clothing and black eye mask. She could make out sensual lips though, her gaze drawn to them because it was the only part of his face she could clearly make out. Then her gaze dropped to the pistol aimed at her and she felt renewed anger. He’d caused her maid to faint, he’d done god knows what to her male servants and now he was aiming a weapon at her. She raised her chin and glared at him. “It was a good evening, until you came along,” she told him. “What have you done to my coachman and footman?”
The highwayman had the nerve to grin at her. “They’re gagged and bound, my lady. But unhurt.”
He climbed into the carriage, sitting down opposite her, on the edge of the seat, next to her unconscious maid. “Now, if you don’t mind handing over some of your baubles, I will leave you in peace.”
Thanks to her father, Lady Caroline didn’t have much in the way of jewelry. What she did have held no value. She looked down her nose at him. “I’m afraid you’ve robbed the wrong coach tonight.”
Dark eyes glittered behind the eye mask. The man looked her over slowly, glancing at the small travelling bag by her side. “I’m sure my lady has something of interest in that bag which she wouldn’t mind giving to me?”
Caroline refused to back down or be afraid of the imposing stranger. “It contains my smelling salts.”
“Indeed.” The single word spoken in that deep, distracting voice of his as well as the slight twitch of his lips told Caroline he didn’t believe her. Then he glanced down at the unconscious maid before returning his gaze to her. “My lady is clearly made of sterner stuff than her servants. I doubt smelling salts are needed.”
Damn it. The rogue was not to be diverted and wouldn’t leave without something. She was going to have to give him her bag of jewelry or risk being shot. Maybe he would shoot her when he discovered its contents. Caroline sighed. She suddenly didn’t care anymore. This encounter was the perfect end to an awful evening. “Very well,” she said, bringing her bag onto her lap. She reached inside and took out a black velvet pouch. Then she gave him a hard look before throwing it at him.
The man had lightning reflexes and deftly caught the bag before it could hit him in the face. “Careful sweetness,” came the gruff warning.
Caroline merely lifted a brow. “Aren’t you going to open it? See your ill-gotten gains?”
The man considered her in silence for a moment while Caroline held her breath. Perhaps she shouldn’t push him. The pistol remained pointed at her. After several long seconds, he finally rested the pouch on one strong thigh, loosening the strings with the fingers of his free hand. He pulled it open and took out a pair of diamond earrings. He held them up for a look. “Very pretty.”
Caroline gave a harsh laugh. “You think so, do you? Well, they’re paste. Like all of my jewelry, thanks to my gambler of a father. So, you see you’ve wasted your time holding up this coach.” She held out her hand for him to return the pouch. “There’s nothing of value I can give you.”
The masked stranger put the diamond earrings back and handed her the pouch. He was silent when she expected anger. Shrugging, she put the pouch back and looked back to find the man had put his pistol on the seat beside him. Thank goodness. Now he would leave. Instead, he stared at her. “You’re wrong you know.”
“I am?” What was the rogue referring to?
“You do have something of value to give me and I insist I have it.”