No Way Out
“I’m afraid we have been left with little choice in the matter, my dear. And for that, I am gravely sorry.”
Lord Robert of Filey’s voice was tinged with regret as he drew Roana to him in a strong embrace. Roana lay her cheek against her uncle’s chest and nestled into him, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. A stocky, kindly man with a gentle temperament around the home, Robert had always had the power to soothe away her troubles. But, on this occasion, it would take a lot more than a hug to make things right in Roana’s world.
Robert was correct – she had no choice. She was to marry Sir William and save Filey from Devereux’s vile threats. And there was very little she could do about it.
The barn fire could have been so much worse, and Roana knew that Devereux would carry out his threats if she didn’t toe the line. The Sheriff of Yorkshire was a dangerous man. What he lacked in a conscience, he made up for in brutality and extortion, and he was feared by many. Yet he could be benevolent to those who followed his strict rules.
It suited Robert and Eleanor to stay on his good side, and Roana would not be held responsible for destroying that. She owed them her life, and she would never forget that.
If it hadn’t been for Robert and Eleanor, Roana’s life could have taken a very different turn. Born in Nottingham to Robert’s brother, Sir Malcolm of Locksley, and his wife, Sarah, Roana had been raised alongside her elder sibling, Robin, until Sarah had died of tuberculosis in Roana’s eighth year. Crippled with grief and unable to provide an adequate upbringing for a daughter, Malcolm made the difficult choice to send Roana to Yorkshire and give his brother and sister-in-law the child they so desperately wanted. Unable to conceive, they had welcomed Roana with open arms.
Roana couldn’t complain. Her aunt and uncle had doted on her from the beginning, and presented her with so many amazing opportunities. She couldn’t fault any aspect of her childhood, and she would do anything to acknowledge that. If that meant marrying a man she despised, then so be it.
“It’s okay, Uncle Robert,” she said, as he released her. “There are worse things than being betrothed to a buffoon, I’m sure. He will provide for me, for one.”
She trailed off, unable to think of another advantage in that moment, and smiled wanly at her aunt.
“Oh, Roana,” Eleanor sympathised. “I know it’s not what you want, but William is very eligible. And we are very grateful. Don’t ever forget that.”
Roana sighed then rallied, valiantly. “It’ll be fine. I can do this. I’d rather not, but nevertheless, I CAN do it, and I will.”
She held a hand out to both her aunt and uncle. “Don’t worry about me.”
“But we do,” Robert said, taking her offered hand. He looked at her, his gaze stern. “You could have been seriously hurt last night. Why do you continue to defy our wishes by going out at night? It is inappropriate for a lady of your standing to gallivant around the countryside in darkness, and dressed as a man no less! You must curb this disobedience.”
Roana lowered her head, chastised. She knew that Robert and Eleanor disapproved of her night time activities; it was too dangerous for a young noblewoman to be roaming the countryside after hours. Anything could happen to her! Roana was well-versed in the do’s and don’t of life as a Lady, and one who was the sole heir to Filey, but her heart was restless, and she often felt confined within the trappings of her title. She longed for freedom, and she found it in the saddle at night. But this indulgence would have to come to an end once William took her for his wife.
There was a knock at the drawing room door, and Eleanor’s maid, Agnes, entered.
“My Lord, Sir William of Bridlington is on his way to meet with Lady Roana,” she said, breathlessly.
Roana exchanged glances with her aunt and uncle. “Again? But he has already visited today!”
Agnes looked flustered. “I have no idea, my lady. His man has just arrived to alert us to Sir William’s arrival. He’s on his way!”
“Thank you, Agnes,” Eleanor nodded, kindly, giving Agnes permission to leave. She turned to Roana. “He is now your betrothed. You must act accordingly, and welcome his presence.”
“Do I have to?” Roana moaned, then caught her aunt’s warning glare. “Alright, alright. I will be on my best behaviour, I promise.”
She arranged herself, primly, on a chair and waited, wondering what William could possibly want for a second time that day. She was tired; last night’s ministrations were catching up on her, and she had little patience for unwanted company. But she couldn’t turn him away, and she pasted a smile onto her face as he swept into the room, strutting like an overgrown peacock.
“My lady,” he spotted her and approached, taking her hand and bowing low to plant a kiss above her ring finger.
Roana allowed him to, suppressing the urge to snatch her hand away, breathing deeply and willing herself to remain patient.
William straightened up and glanced around the room, airily. Robert and Eleanor had made themselves scarce, and William seemed satisfied that they were alone.
He turned back to Roana. “My lady, I am due in Nottingham tomorrow to visit my cousin, the sheriff of the town. I plan to stay for at least a fortnight, if not longer.”
“Oh!” Roana was pleasantly surprised. “So you will be away for quite some time?”
William nodded, declining the chair she directed him to and leaning instead against the table by Roana’s side. “I will, my lady. And, as my betrothed, I request that you join me on my travels.”
“Wait.. what?” Roana was stunned, but quickly collected herself. “My Lord, it is such short notice. I am not sure that I can make it.”
William interrupted her, smoothly. “My lady, I insist.” His voice brooked no argument. “There is nothing here that cannot wait, I am sure. I will ensure that your uncle agrees to your absence.”
Roana was gobsmacked. Yet again, decisions were being made for her.
However, as she struggled to hide her irritation, Roana mulled on William’s demands. Would it be so bad, to spend a fortnight in her home town? She had not been back to Nottingham since she was ten, when she had visited briefly to pay her respects after her father had died in a house fire. It would be nice to revisit her childhood home under happier circumstances. It would also be the perfect opportunity to meet with her brother again, after all these years apart.
Plus, if she accepted willingly, would she not be taking the decision out of William’s hands, and regaining control of her destiny? If she could not escape the inevitable, they why not embrace it and take it in her stride?
Steeling her resolve, she smiled up at William. “I would be delighted to join you tomorrow. What time will we be leaving?”