by Fran Connor
Genre: Historical Romance
Victorian England with its hypocritical mores, a poor orphan girl elevated to High Society where she learns how to be a 'Lady', a handsome and wealthy love interest and a dastardly baddie combine to make this Romatic Thriller a page turner that you won't put down. The road up from the gutter is long; the way back may be quicker unless Victoria can outwit her Nemesis and overcome her jealousy.
Fran Connor is British and lives in SW France with his wonderful wife Viv, their dog Molly and chickens. He claims he's living in that area for the lifestyle and weather which he says helps an author's creative juices. It may just be an excuse to drink wine and lounge in the sun. He writes novels, nine published so far with two more coming out soon.
In addition to novels, he also writes screenplays.
Excerpts from Honourable Lies by Fran Connor
Victoria gazed around the vast, white-walled refectory of the place that had served as her home for the past sixteen years. She looked at the date board on the far wall that for the last two years had been her responsibility to chalk up daily.
Tuesday 24th June 1862
The date filled her with hope. Tomorrow she would be sixteen years of age and free of this orphanage. Free to make her way in the world. Free from the grip of Tweedale and his harridans. She would not miss this dark house. Deep in her heart, though, she felt a pang of sadness that she would be leaving many of her friends to the mercy of the regime. Not that any mercy was found within these walls. There was nothing she could do for the inmates now.
Victoria reached up to the window and in one mighty effort dragged herself up onto the sill, threw her bundle out of the window and jumped out after it.
She landed on a patch of wet undergrowth that broke her fall. Sharp branches scratched at her skin. With her heart pumping so hard the palpitations filled her ears, she ran as if the Devil was after her towards the only place that offered a way over the eight-foot-high brick wall surrounding Gravestoke House. Her legs felt weightless. Fear gave her wings as she bounded the wall, using an old oak’s gnarled trunk as a launching pad. She heard the harridans’ shouts as she hit the ground on the other side, but she soon disappeared into the blackness. The hail stung her face, but her terror drove her on.
Victoria strode off to find Mrs Jolyon, whom she thought would probably be in the kitchen with the boiler man. Indeed, she was. Victoria opened the kitchen door to find Mrs Jolyon on her back across the pine table, her drawers on the floor and her skirts up around her chest. The boiler man’s trousers were round his ankles and he was pumping hard.
Victoria looked in horror at the sight. She knew some boys and girls at the orphanage did it though she had not. She was shocked to see her employer in this position and thought about kind Mr Jolyon so far away. She did not know what to do. Had Mrs Jolyon seen her? If not, she could pretend that she never saw anything. Then her eyes met those of Mrs Jolyon.
‘Oh my God, not again!’ screamed Mrs Jolyon.
Victoria slammed the door and stood in the hallway, wondering what on earth she was going to do.
Flustered, Mrs Jolyon burst out of the kitchen, now fully clothed. ‘Come with me, Victoria, I need to talk to you.’
Victoria followed her into the kitchen. The boiler man now wore his clothes and a sheepish look.
‘You did not see anything,’ said Mrs Jolyon.
‘I did not see anything,’ said Victoria.
‘You can’t trust her,’ said the boiler man.
‘You’re probably right,’ said Mrs Jolyon.
‘I won’t say a word, honest,’ said Victoria.
‘Too risky,’ said the boiler man.
‘Yes,’ said Mrs Jolyon.
‘Please, Ma’am, I won’t say anything.’
‘Go and get your things. I’m afraid you will have to leave,’ said Mrs Jolyon.
‘But . . .’
‘And do not think you can blackmail us, young lady. We’ll say you were dismissed for stealing, like the other one,’ said the boiler man.
Victoria knew she would have to go. ‘May I have a reference, Ma’am?’
‘No, that could complicate matters if you were dismissed for stealing,’ said the boiler man.
‘Get out now,’ said Mrs Jolyon. ‘And leave the clothes I lent you behind. Do not speak to Elizabeth on the way out.’
A warrior, six feet tall with bulging muscles in his arms and legs, stepped towards the boy who looked up and ran towards the man, flinging his arms around his legs, shouting something that Richard could not understand. This warrior then barked out something to his companions.
The other five warriors let out a cry—something like ‘Ugh!’—and advanced towards Richard with spears pointed. They jabbed the weapons forwards and backwards as if making stabbing motions.
‘Ugh!’ again and they came on.
Penelope screamed. Lady Adele put her arms around her daughter.
Richard threw a look towards Sipho to see if he had loaded the rifle. If he could get one shot off it may slow down the others enough for him to dash into his tent and grab his weapon. The odds would be better, though still against them. It was a slim chance, but he didn’t have much choice. He took a deep breath. With blood surging around his body to prepare him to fight, Richard kept his eyes fixed on the warrior. He cleared his mind of any reluctance to kill in the full knowledge that it was kill or be killed.
To Richard’s surprise, Sipho wore a grin. Had he turned against him to save his own life?
The warriors moved closer, still jabbing the air with their spears and chanting, ‘Ugh, ugh.’
One of the warriors was now near enough to stab Richard. If he was to die, it would not be without a fight. Richard fixed the warrior with his eyes and moved first to his left and then to his right. The warrior followed him with his spear.
‘Do not do anything, Nkosi,’ shouted the grinning Sipho.
But Richard continued to move to the left and then to the right. A second warrior had now come within stabbing distance.
Richard looked over at his mother and sister, helpless in front of their tent. He did not want to imagine their fate.
Suddenly the warriors stepped back and raised their spears in the air. The one to whom the boy had run moved forward.
He said something to Richard but it was beyond his comprehension, partly because it was in a language he did not understand, and partly because the blood pumped around his body with such force he could hardly reason.
‘They are honouring you, Nkosi,’ said Sipho.
It took seconds to sink in but it did. Richard looked at the warriors. They were smiling and waving their spears in the air.
‘That one is the boy’s father and he is thanking you for saving his son,’ said Sipho. ‘They are not going to kill us!’
Humphreys stood at the main door on the top step. A carriage pulled by two horses halted on the drive.
Bonnie slipped by Humphreys and made her way to the bottom step. The carriage door opened and Victoria saw a tall young man with a shock of unruly black hair climb out and embrace Bonnie. He was indeed as handsome, perhaps more so than advertised.
The young man reached into the carriage and helped a young lady down the step. Penelope, said Victoria to herself. Next came an older woman. This must be Lady de Mornay. Richard held her hand as she descended from the carriage.
Bonnie hugged Penelope and Lady de Mornay. Richard and the three women climbed the steps.
A black riding boot with a brown top stepped down, followed by the rest of the man. Victoria gasped. She recognised him at once. She could see the ivory Chinaman’s head hanging from his watch chain. He stood on the gravel and then came up the steps behind his family.
He walked with a limp. A limp from when I stabbed him. Will he recognise me? She turned towards the house.
‘Do come in,’ said Bonnie, with her arms around the shoulders of Richard and Penelope.
‘And you can get out of the habit of inviting us into our own house,’ said Lord de Mornay.
Richard shot around, his face flushed and angry. ‘My house, not yours.’
Lord de Mornay huffed and puffed. Richard turned back to walk in with the two ladies.
Victoria looked at Humphreys. He seemed to be smiling as his eyes met those of Lady de Mornay, who quickly averted her gaze.
Richard stood behind Victoria and put his arms around her to hold the gun in both his hands. ‘Now take the weapon from me, carefully.’
She transferred it into her own hands and held it tight in a two-handed grip. Richard adjusted her hands so she held it firmly but not too tightly. She could feel his breath on her neck. A few butterflies cavorted around inside her. Since their encounter in the field was disturbed by the gypsies, they had not spent any time together, alone. He guided her hands until she was looking down the five-inch barrel. Hitting the bucket was the last thing on her mind. Being engulfed in his strong arms was all she wanted.
‘Now squeeze the trigger, gently.’
She eased back the trigger until suddenly a deafening bang went off and the gun kicked upwards in her hands. The noise made her ears ring. ‘Did I hit it?’
‘Well, you hit the manure about three feet to the right of the bucket.’
Richard still had his arms around Victoria. He guided her hands back to the shooting position. Carefully she squeezed the trigger and then closed her eyes just before the bang.
‘How was that?’
‘Two feet above. You closed your eyes. Keep them open!’
Her third shot tore into the manure just below the bucket; the fourth and fifth hit the target. Richard clipped five more bullets from his pocket with one hand while keeping the other arm around Victoria. She leant back against him. She knew it was not a gun barrel she could feel pressing against her. It sent a tingle of excitement down her spine. He wants me and I want him. To hell with convention.
Now with two arms back around her, Richard reloaded the pistol and put it back into her hands. She lowered it to her side and turned in his arms to face him. She slipped her free arm around his waist.
‘Richard, we cannot go on ignoring what we both feel.’
‘I agree, absolutely. I know it is wrong for us to be together until I am no longer married. But I do not want to wait any longer. We must be very careful to protect your reputation. I confess, Victoria, I have fallen in love with you.’
‘I love you too, Richard.’ Thank goodness, his halo has slipped!
He pulled her to him. Gently their lips met.
Victoria felt a wave of joy surge through her body. At last! At last!
The sound of horses’ hooves and the metal rims of carriage wheels on the stable-yard cobblestones made them quickly separate.
‘Bonnie and your mother are back.’
‘Damn! Sorry!’ said Richard, taking the pistol from her hand. He slipped the gun into his jacket pocket.
‘We need to talk,’ said Victoria.
‘I know. Could you come to my room before dinner this evening? I have something crucial that I need to tell you about Peggy.’
‘Yes. I wish you were coming away with us. I will miss you terribly.’
‘And I you.’
And then a shot of guilt ran through her. ‘But Richard, you are married. I am not sure . . . I know you are going to divorce but . . .’ And then the memory of that kiss and what she felt took over. ‘Yes, Richard. Yes, I will be there. Please do not be shocked. I do not want to wait for the divorce. It is so far in the future.’
‘I will explain everything this evening. You will understand.’
Victoria’s head was in a spin from the kiss. She hardly took in a word that Bonnie said or took notice of the results of their London shopping trip to buy clothes for the holiday, even though there was a stunning white dress for her in the bundle.
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