Mercedes screamed and pressed her body firmly to her husband, closing her eyes. Silently, she prayed his life would be spared.
Off in the distance, a man’s shout rent the air, and seconds later, another pistol fired. And then something thumped heavily on the ground.
Mercedes snapped her head up. No longer was Kat standing over them holding a pistol. Instead, she lay on the ground as blood covered her chest.
William’s gasp alerted Mercedes to someone walking their way
by Marie HigginsCopyright © 2011 by Marie Higgins / revised 2017Her twin sister had gone mad.
Dorchester, two weeks laterMercedes Maxwell stepped down from the stagecoach, breathing a heavy sigh. The trip had been too long, and jostled her around so much the coiled hair style at the base of her neck fell in a disarray of curls. The constant sway of the coach made her feel like she’d been on a ship at times, especially when she closed her eyes. If not for all the dusty dryness coating her mouth, she would have thought she’d been tossed by waves instead. Thankfully it was early spring and the summer humidity wasn’t yet upon them.
Silence stretched through the crowd as all eyes aimed toward Mercedes. Even the horses seemed remarkably quiet. Panic grew inside her chest like rising dough, suffocating her slowly. They all expected an explanation—one she couldn’t give.“My dear.” Mr. Braxton took a step closer. “Will you please clarify why you were running from me?”All of this was a mistake. She needed to set the matter straight. Now. Although she assumed Mr. Braxton’s change of attitude was all for show, her heart leapt at the tenderness he displayed. That could be the only reason her mind had go
Why did she return?William Braxton paced the green and gold Aubusson carpet in the parlor, hands clenched into fists. Where was Mrs. Braxton? What was taking her so long? Rather than cooling off as he should since they arrived home, his anger intensified.Usually an understanding man, he couldn’t forgive her this time for leaving without a word, amongst the other crimes she’d committed since their wedding. For the past few months, his life had hung by a thread, and any more catastrophes could send him to his doom.
Mercedes furrowed her eyebrows. Why did that inconsiderate man question her attire? Studying her image in the fancy glass on the mirrored sidebar, she wiped her moist palms down her skirt. Nothing was wrong with her dress. It was certainly more proper than the gowns she’d found hanging in her sister’s closets.Her thoughts quickly came to a halt and her heart sank. Realization turned her blood cold. She’d have to dress in the same manner her sister had. Kat never once dressed modestly when she lived at home, so why would she change after marriage? Why hadn’t Mercedes thought of this before she decided to play her twin?
Staring at herself in the full-length mirror, Mercedes groaned and twisted her mouth in distaste. The indecent rusty-red evening gown trimmed with black lace looked horrid on her. Besides exposing a lot of her shoulders and bosom, it was much too tight. The stays nearly squeezed the breath right out of her. Several times she struggled to lift the shoulders so they wouldn’t drop down her arms so far, but they refused to go the way she wanted. No way would she be seen like this. She couldn’t even look at herself without blushing. How would she react when others rested their eyes on her?“Beth? Could you choose another gown for me?”
A new dawn crept through the partially opened drapes of William’s room, touching and stirring him from the depths of a dream he didn’t want to remember. Last night’s events had kept his mind awake into the wee hours of the morning. Despite his sluggish body, he pulled himself from his exhausted state and climbed out of bed. The refreshingly cool air stroked his skin, awakening him even more. With half-closed eyes he reached for his robe, wrapping the silk garment around his body before ringing for his manservant. A cool bath would bring him alert to the new day.His servant carried up buckets of water and filled the copper tub. Once relaxed in the liquid comfort, William’s foggy memory of the previous evening claim
Mercedes placed a shaky hand over the erratic beat of her heart. Once the door slammed, announcing William’s departure, she breathed a sigh of relief. Thankfully, she hadn’t humiliated herself in front of him by crying. He thinks I’m Kat, she tried to reason, but her trembling body would not listen to rationale. Changing his mind was most important. If he couldn’t trust her, he wouldn’t allow her into his life so she could spy on him.A nudge of guilt stemmed in her heart for the deception, yet when she remembered the way Kat had pleaded…begged for Mercedes to make William pay for ruining her twin’s life, Mercedes hardened her heart once more. Kat had been a loving woman at one time unti