My Writing Exercises post last Wednesday featured a couple, stuck together in a cramped closet. Coincidentally, I’ve been working on my Regency romance, which just so happens to include a couple trapped together in close quarters, so I thought that might be a fun scene to share.
As a little set-up, Michael (Wallingford) is searching for the source of some treason accusations. He and Abigail are married, but it was a marriage of convenience and they are in the process of getting to know one another. Abigail is, as you will notice, not your typical, demure Regency miss.
Would love to hear what you think (what works and/or what doesn’t).
Searching for Evidence
Abigail waited in the darkness by the garden gate until one by one the lights in Lord Hadley’s house were extinguished as the servants retired for the evening. Once she was certain there was no one still roaming about she approached the house using the shadows from the trees and hedges to mask her movements.
Reaching the house without raising any alarm she ascended the terrace steps and carefully tried the handle of the French door leading into the morning room. It was locked. Of course, that would be too easy. Slowly she made her way across the back of the house methodically trying the windows one by one. All were securely fastened and her enthusiasm for the night’s endeavor gave way to frustration.
She eyed the creeper blanketing the side of the house with disdain. I do not want to have to climb that to the upper balcony. Fortunately for her piece of mind and sense of decorum, the last window on the east side of the house, half hidden by the branches of a plane tree, was unlocked when she tried it.
Quietly she slid the window open then stood still, waiting to make sure no one had been alerted by the slight sound. Once she was sure she had not been detected she hiked up her skirts and clambered over the sill, dropping clumsily to the floor below. Trousers would make this much easier, she thought as she tugged her gown back into place. The window provided just enough light to illuminate the faint outline of a door on the far wall. Once her eyes adjusted to the gloom she started across the room, which appeared to be a small light closet.
Just as she reached the door an arm snaked out and pulled her up against a warm firm body. She struggled to free herself from the vice-like grip. “Hold still you little idiot,” a familiar voice hissed in her ear.
It can’t be. “Wallingford?” she whispered. “What are you doing here?”
“I might ask you the same thing, madam,” he replied quietly, retaining his hold on her
“Searching for evidence to prove I’m right about Lord Hadley, of course.” Abigail unsuccessfully attempted to step back and put some space between them.
“Absolutely not,” he said, propelling her towards the window. “You will go home immediately.”
Abigail twisted out of his hold and turned back towards the door. “Don’t be ridiculous, my lord, I’m already here. There is no point in my leaving now.”
“I’m quite capable of searching for evidence myself,” he said, stepping around to block her path. “You’ll only increase our chances of being caught.”
“Nonsense. Besides, you don’t even think Lord Hadley is the one sending the letters.”
“I said I needed proof that he was sending the letters.”
“Well, that is exactly what I’m here to get.”
“It is highly improper for you to be here,” Michael insisted stubbornly. “I’m taking you home.”
“Be reasonable, my lord. By the time you do that, it will be too late to search and besides, I’ll just come back again and search myself the next chance I get.”
“Not if I lock you in your room.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” she said, refusing to be cowed by his threat.
Michael blew out a breath in frustration. “Fine.” He eased the door open slightly and checked to make sure the hallway was clear. Exiting the room he turned to the right and started down the hall, stopping abruptly as Abigail grabbed a hold of his coat.
“Where are you going?” she asked in a low voice.
“His study, of course,” he answered as he pried her hand loose.
She turned and headed down the hall to the left. “This way.”
“And you know this why?” he asked as he turned and followed her.
“Orphan’s committee meeting,” she answered. “Do keep up. We haven’t much time.
They froze when they heard the sound of a closing door from below-stairs, but there were no other sounds, so they cautiously continued on. Keeping to the edge of the hall to avoid any tell-tale creaks, they reached the study undetected. After listening to make sure there were no sounds from within, Michael eased the door open and entered the room, Abigail close behind him.
The glowing embers from the banked fire provided enough light to just make out a massive desk near the center of the room. Bookcases lined the back wall and there were two chairs and a small table in front of the fireplace.
Michael walked to the windows at the far end of the room and made sure the drapes were completely closed before returning to the desk and lighting a small candle he retrieved from his coat pocket. While he methodically went through the drawers, Abigail tackled the stack of papers on the corner of the desk, but found nothing of interest.
Spying a wastebasket beside the desk, she retrieved a few sheets of crumpled paper and smoothed them out. One was an invitation to a ball but the other was a letter, complete with signature. “How about this?” she asked, handing the letter to Michael. “He smudged this one terribly when he signed it. Probably why he threw it away, but the writing definitely matches the letter you received.”
“It does indeed,” Michael said as he examined the page. “Good work.” Quickly setting the desk to rights, he grasped her hand and led her to the door without delay.
Surprised by Michael’s unexpected compliment, Abigail offered no resistance. As they exited the room they heard the front door open and close, followed by approaching footsteps.
“Damn!” whispered Michael under his breath, pulling Abigail back into the study. With no time to escape out a window and no suitable furniture to shield them, they were forced to use one of the window alcoves for cover. Kneeling on the padded window seat, they pulled the curtains closed and hoped the footsteps would continue past the study without stopping.
Abigail held her breath as the footsteps reached the study and then entered. She heard something being set down on the desk, a candle perhaps, then soon after the sound of liquid pouring into a glass. The footsteps slowly echoed along the far side of the room near the bookcases. They stopped, then continued on, then stopped again.
Abigail tried to keep her focus on what was happening on the other side of the curtains, but the warm body pressing against her made it hard to concentrate. It was the first time she’d been so close to her own husband but instead of enjoying it, she was worrying about being discovered by Lord Hadley.
Several interminable minutes later, the footsteps advanced and then finally exited the room, leaving them alone once again. Abigail let out a relieved breath as the door closed and the sound of footsteps faded completely away. She and Michael remained hidden for several more minutes to make sure it was safe before quietly making their way to the door.
Slipping out of the room they retraced their steps and successfully made it back to the light closet window without encountering anyone in the house. Once outside, they crossed the garden and passed through the gate into the lane beyond. Michael reached back to re-lock the gate then they re-entered the Lutterworth’s garden with evidence of the Lord Hadley’s guilt firmly to hand. After rejoining the guests in the ballroom, they stayed just long enough to make their presence known before making their farewells.
When they reached his carriage, Michael didn’t say a word as he tossed Abigail inside. Directing the coachman to Banbury House, he closed the door and they made the short journey home in silence. Abigail wasn’t sure what his frame of mind was. She could only hope his pleasure at uncovering the identity of his anonymous accuser outweighed his annoyance at finding her breaking into Lord Hadley’s house. Judging by his silence and terse expression, however, it seemed unlikely to be the case.
When they arrived at Banbury House, Michael towed Abigail into the house and down the hall to his study. Closing the door behind them, he turned, pressed her up against the door, and kissed her soundly.
“Don’t ever do that again!” he said as he broke the kiss and stepped away towards the fireplace.
Pardon?” Abigail asked, caught off guard by the kiss and struggling to find her place in the conversation.
“What were you thinking breaking into Lord Hadley’s house?” He didn’t give her a chance to answer. “Do you know the risk you took? You could have been caught. What would you have done then?” He continued on in the same vein for several minutes.
Abigail kept her own temper in check and waited for his tirade to wind down before carefully answering. “There was hardly any risk, my lord. I knew Lord Hadley was occupied at the Rushden’s ball across town and his cousin and sister safely retired upstairs. As a matter of fact,” she said, thinking more about it, “had you not delayed me, I would have been out long before he ever returned home.”
Michael turned and stared at her, apparently stunned into silence.
“So really,” she concluded, “had we been caught, it would have been completely your fault.” She turned and swept out of the room before Michael could marshal a comeback. Seconds later she swept back in. “And another thing. Next time you kiss me, my lord, it better be because you mean it, not because you’re exasperated.” With that she left, closing the door firmly behind her.
Michael stood where he was, staring at the closed door long after Abigail’s footsteps faded away trying to figure out what had happened to his carefully made plans. Lady Wallingford. Abigail. That’s what happened. He couldn’t help but smile. That was the Abigail he remembered. Determined and fearless.
Being pressed up against her as they attempted to remain undetected at Lord Hadley’s house had been a special kind of torture. It had him thinking of things that he had no business thinking about until this whole traitor business was laid to rest.
He shouldn’t have kissed her, he knew, but she was wrong to think he hadn’t meant it. He had meant it and he wanted nothing more than to follow her to her bedchamber and convince her of the fact. At length and preferably while they were both naked.