Few people know the time and day of their own deaths, she mused. Mine will be August tenth, seventeen ninety-two.
Marie Antoinette. Beheaded in the prime of her life. What if her fate was changed? What if she escaped that night the castle was stormed? What if she was mistaken for a common woman? What if she found herself aboard a convict ship bound for Australia? What if she had a second chance at life and love?
The blistering hot sun baked her skin as they trudged along. Marie wiped the sweat from her face for what seemed like the thousandth time. Long shimmering waves of heat blurred the path ahead. She forced herself to put foot after foot, her heels blistered and stinging with sweat and red dirt that worked its way into everything. Scratching at her peeling nose she sighed. “Can we stop for a while?”
Reagan did not look back. “We have to keep moving and put as much distance as we can between us and the settlement.”
"But I am so hot and thirsty.” She bit her lip hating the whine edging her voice.
This time he paused and handed her a water skin. “You had best keep up, or I will leave you here for the vultures.”
She took a swallow of the cool liquid and then frowned. “Vultures?”
"Those.” He pointed up at two large birds circling in the cloudless sky above them. “They eat dead and dying things.”
"Oh.” Giant birds that prey on people, is he jesting? She took another swallow of water and handed the skin back to him. With one last look up at the scavengers she resumed walking. It was pure torture. Her feet hurt, her legs where shaking, her skin felt like it was about to peel from her body and her head began to throb. A bead of sweat trickled down her bare arm and dried to a salty spot by the time it reached her wrist. How do peasants survive such conditions?
Marie tied the bandana Reagan gave her earlier around her neck wishing she had thought to soak it in the cool water to ease the burning of her skin before giving the sack back to him. Shading her eyes she focused on his back as they trudged along. “So, where are we going?”
"How do you know which way we are traveling?”
She glanced up at the bright hot orb and then tried again to strike up a conversation. “Why are we going north?”
"That is where Brisbane is.”
"What is in Brisbane?”
He sighed, or was it a growl? “A ship to get us off this God forsaken isle.”
The remembrance of her last ship voyage filled with seasickness, cold, fear, disgusting sights and sounds made her cringe. Of course, she reasoned, passage on a luxury sailing ship would be so much more comfortable than the hold of a prison vessel. She looked down at the red earth kicked up by their feet. Anything will be better than walking. “What are you going to do after you see me safely to Austria?”
"What makes you think I am going to escort you to Austria?”
Startled she lifted her gaze, stopping short when Reagan spun around to face her. The muscle in his jaw twitched. Arms akimbo she fixed him with a stubborn stare. “I paid for your protection.”
He lifted an eyebrow and scowled. “You paid for my protection at the settlement and my help to escape.”
"Surely you are not going to just leave me in this Brisbane place, alone?”
"Surely, I am.”
Well of all the nerve. She glared at him. “But—”
Holding up a hand he silenced her. “Once we get to Brisbane you are own your own, princess.”
"Queen!” she spat. Taking a step forward she shook her finger at him. “Now see here…”
He marched to within an inch of her nose and her intended sentence trailed off. “That was the bargain that was struck, princess.” With a look brokering no further argument he turned and stalked off.
At first she stomped after him. How dare he just leave me to fend for myself. Does he have any idea what kind of horrors could befall a woman traveling alone? If he were my servant why I would...She bit her lip. He wasn't her servant. He was simply a man who made his living doing whatever he could to survive and apparently the key to survival was money. Perhaps the way to gain his cooperation was through her purse strings. Well, her brother's purse strings. She stopped and crossed her arms.
“Perhaps I have gone about this entirely wrong. It seems I have forgotten the huge reward my brother will offer for my safe return.”
He paused midstep and turned around. “Reward?”
She noted the gleam of greed in his eyes with satisfaction. “Oh my, yes. My brother will offer you anything you desire if you return me to him safe and sound.”
With a snort he turned his back and continued up the ditch. “I assure you I will desire more than a mere shilling, or a donkey or two for returning you. Your brother no doubt could not spare enough to make it worth my while.”
Oh the cad! A donkey? Did he just insinuate I am worth no more than a pathetic beast of burden?
“Fine! Go ahead without me then.” She climbed up on a waist high log and pulled the pearls from her bodice. “Since you are unwilling to fulfill your part of the agreement I shall just keep my pearls. Let's see you book passage off this, as you call it 'god forsaken isle' without any coin.” He stopped and turned back around. With a triumphant smile she bounced the pearls up and down on her palm a couple of times before tucking them back in her bodice.
Award Winning Author Killarney Sheffield- Because, 'Love Makes You Believe'.
Guilty Kisses- 2011 Covey Trailer winner,
A Courtesan's Desires- 2012 YouGottaRead Cover award winner & 2013 Epic Ebook award finalist.
Inventing Love- 2012 P&E best Steampunk winner.
Releases from MuseItUp Publishing:
Guilty Kisses, Stand & Deliver Your Heart, The Horseguard's Lady, A Courtesan's Desires, Inventing Love, Love's Deception & Marie.
Releases from Crimson Romance: Through Gypsy Eyes.
sheffield.spruz.com & Twitter @authorkillarney