To say thank you to my wonderful readers who voted Passion and Propriety into the number one place on the TwiFanFictionRecs Top Ten Completed Fics for February 2018, (Squeee!)I've decided to start posting my newly Twificced story, Innocence, so you have something from me to enjoy each day...well, most days. There might be the odd one when I don't manage to post a chapter. Sadly, this is not another Hearts of Honour story, though I promise I am working on the next one, and will be back as soon as possible with another tale in my Regency Era series.
Innocence is set 20 years later than Passion and Propriety, in 1831, under the reign of King William IV. It was originally posted as a Twific story called A Forbidden Love back in 2012, so some of you will have already read the earlier version. This version was P2P and underwent extensive (exhausting and torturous!) editing, which included a huge amount of research on my part as well as the addition of entirely new sections in the second half of the story. It was then published as two books, Innocence and Protection. I have recently combined both books under the title Innocence, and the original version is available on Amazon. This is the same version just with the names changed to those of our beloved Twilight characters. In the editing process, some of the descriptions of the characters were changed from Twilight canon. As I do not have the time to rewrite this, I am going to leave those descriptions as they are. This means that, in this version of the story, Bella has red hair. It became an integral part of the 'extended' story, and I can't see a way to change her to a brunette without having to make massive changes. I hope that doesn't bother anyone too much.
WARNING! When I first published this story on FFn, some readers were upset by and incredulous regarding Bella's level of ignorance about sex. From my research of the times in which this story is set, and my own family's history, I stand by this possibility. My own mother, grandmother, and great grandmother told me they all went to their marriage beds not knowing a blessed thing about what was going to happen. My mother, a university educated and very intelligent woman, was six months pregnant with her first baby when she plucked up the courage to ask the doctor how he was going to get the baby out of her belly button. I realise this seems incomprehensible to us nowadays, but times and access to information has changed beyond all imagining for women who were routinely kept in the dark about their own bodies. The heroine of this story starts out extremely naive and ignorant regarding sex and the ways of the world. She undergoes a transformative journey of discovery and personal growth, eventually becoming a woman of strength and character - but this is a process and doesn't happen overnight.
The other issue some readers had difficulties with (about 200 flaming reviews worth for one chapter alone!) is that the hero is a somewhat arrogant, entitled nobleman who thinks it is perfectly acceptable to seduce a serving girl and take her as his mistress, just because he very much likes the look of her. He, too, undergoes quite the transformation in character and attitude over the course of this story, far beyond what was actually likely for the times but in keeping with what makes a hero to our modern sensibilities.
If either of those issues put this story into your 'no go' zone, I completely understand. To everyone else, I hope you enjoy this story.
Summary: Ignorance is supposed to be bliss, but in Isabella Swan's experience, it leads to unwise choices and unnecessarily tragic outcomes . . . and there is nothing blissful about either.
Chapter 1 - Forced to Flee
"Mark my words, Sir Charles, Isabella will be mine."
Bella's hand rose to the doorknob uncertainly. Her father had assured her he wouldn't accept Lord James Hunter's proposal, but the odious man seemed unable to accept no for an answer.
An only child, Bella had not given much thought to her father's heir, a distant cousin, until he arrived, unannounced, bearing token gifts and oily charm. Some fifteen years Bella's senior, Lord Hunter had wasted no time asking for her hand in marriage, claiming a desire to save her from the humiliation of dispossession upon her father's demise.
The idea was ludicrous. Her father was robust, his death not something she feared even knowing his estate was entailed to a male heir.
Bella had long been aware marriage was where her future security lay, but she had only just turned eight and ten, so there was plenty of time. While she harboured concerns her unfashionable colouring would limit potential suitors, she was in no rush to face society's scrutiny.
"For the last time, the answer is no."
Bella was relieved to hear the determination in her father's voice.
"I shall not give permission for you to wed my daughter, and you will not be getting your hands on her dowry to pay your debts."
Lord Hunter had inherited his father's barony some years earlier, Swan Manor being a mere bauble in comparison. But rumour had reached Sir Charles his heir was cash-poor, having run his estate into the ground with his propensity for gambling and licentious living.
"Her dowry is irrelevant. I might even let her keep it." Lord Hunter laughed, but the sound was devoid of humour. "We both know she's worth far more to me in other ways."
"You are mistaken. Isabella does not care for your manner, and I do not care for your insinuations."
"And I don't give a damn about either of you. I will marry your precious daughter and reap all the rewards, monetary and otherwise. It shall be my pleasure to teach her a thing or two. Redheads are quite corruptible, in my experience. She'll earn me a pretty penny on her back."
Bella was uncertain as to the visiting lord's meaning, but her father's roar of anger confirmed her suspicions the words were highly insulting. At the sound of a loud crash, she burst into the room to see him lunge for his heir . . . who was holding a pistol in his outstretched arm. While she watched on, helpless, the rogue shot her father in the chest.
She watched helplessly as he fell to the ground. Before she could reach his side, Lord Hunter grabbed her arm and spun her to face him.
"You have three days to mourn your father and prepare for our wedding."
Neither his tone nor his expression gave any indication he had just shot a man, and Bella stared at him in horror. Lord Hunter was insane.
"I will never marry you!" She tried to pull away, but he tugged her closer.
"Oh, but I think you will. Once I have reported your father's accidental death—he really should have been more careful when handling his weapon—it will be a simple matter as his heir to have myself appointed your legal guardian. You, my dear, don't get a say in the matter."
Her father groaned, and Bella tried to break free of Lord Hunter's grip.
"I shall tell the authorities the truth . . . that you shot him in cold blood."
"He lunged at me, not that it matters. Do you honestly think anyone will take the word of a country chit over a peer of the realm?"
"Papa was unarmed. The servants will verify my version of events." Bella stopped struggling, her tone less certain. The word of a young lady from a very minor family would hold little weight against that of a baron, a servant's word would hold next to nothing.
Lord Hunter's smile faded. "The servants will respect their new master or suffer the consequences. As will you."
"I shall never submit to you," Bella said, but her voice trembled.
"Oh, but you will," he whispered close to her ear. "To me and any man with whom I choose to share you . . . at a price, of course."
He released her with a shove, and she stumbled across the room. After quickly righting herself, she knelt beside her father. Mr Waters, her father's estate manager, had rushed into the parlour at the sound of the gunshot and worked frantically to stem the flow of blood from his master's wound.
"You're wasting your time." Lord Hunter sneered. "I shall return in three days with the necessary paperwork and a minister. Miss Swan had best be prepared for her wedding, or she won't be the only one to pay the price."
Mr Waters caught Bella's eye, the slight shake of his head warning her to keep silent.
"Yes, my lord," he replied meekly, as the baron strode from the room. "All will be in readiness."
"What are you thinking? I can't marry that monster." Bella's words ended on a sob, as she stared at the vivid red stain spreading across her father's shirt.
"Oh Papa," she murmured.
His eyes flickered open. "You must flee to Worthington Hall, Isabella," he said between rasping breaths. "Before that devil returns for you."
"I can't leave you like this," she said, even knowing she must. Lord Hunter might be devoid of honour, but in this instance, she feared he would be true to his word.
Her father reached for her hand, his grip feeble. "Take your mother's pearls with you, but don't show them to anyone but Carlisle. He will keep you safe."
The bond formed between Bella's father, Sir Charles Swan, a military officer knighted for services to his king and country, and Lord Carlisle Cullen, the Duke of Worthington, had been forged during the war against Napoleon. The two men corresponded regularly, but it had been many years since the Duke had visited Swan Manor.
"Very well, Papa. I shall go to Uncle Carlisle," Bella said, unsure if she should use her childhood name for the Duke or if it might be inappropriate after so long.
"Promise me you will trust no one else. No one."
Tears blurred Bella's vision as her father's eyes closed, and his hand went limp.
"There's no time for weeping." Mr Waters lifted her to her feet. "Ye must do as Sir Charles says."
"How can I? Lord Hunter will be furious if he returns and I'm not here. You heard his threats. He will make you all pay."
"Don't ye be worrying about us, Miss Isabella. I'll tell him ye ran away in the middle of the night. The men who served under yer father can make false reports saying ye were seen riding south and west, away from Worthington."
"But it's on the other side of the country. How will I get there?"
"Jacob and Leah can escort ye, but ye'll have to disguise yerself as a commoner."
"A commoner?" Bella's eyes widened.
"Aye, or Lord Hunter will track ye down in no time."
She nodded jerkily, her gaze returning to where her father lay. "But what about Papa? Is he going to . . ."
Mr Waters sighed. "We'll do what we can, lass, but his injury is grave. Ye need to prepare yerself for the worst, I'm afraid. The best thing ye can do fer yer father now is get to safety."
Stifling a sob, Bella turned and ran up the stairs to her room where his wife, Mrs Waters, the housekeeper, was waiting.
"Serving lasses don't wear stays, so ye'll 'ave to go without," she said, undoing the buttons on the back of Bella's floral gown. "Leah can help ye on the journey, but it needs to look like ye've dressed yerself, so I've chosen yer plain blue gown with the front buttons."
Bella's stomach churned at the thought of masquerading as one from a lower class.
"I've sent Leah to fetch ye one of 'er bonnets, as none of yers are suitable," Mrs Waters added, after helping Bella into the new dress and rearranging her hair into a simpler style. "Just keep yer 'ead down and try not to let anyone see yer face."
"Aye. Your bone structure's too fine and skin too smooth. You've got nobility stamped all over yer lovely features."
In years past, Bella would have scoffed at the housekeeper's assessment, but her likeness to the mother she had lost when she was only a girl had grown with time. Sir Charles's wife had been renowned for her beauty with her creamy skin, flashing green eyes, and rich, auburn hair, dark enough not to be deemed the dreaded red. While Bella had her father's smile, and her hair was a much fierier hue, the similarity was now undeniable.
"I've put some old gloves in yer satchel. Wear them in public to keep yer 'ands covered. They'll give ye away in an 'eartbeat." Mrs Waters placed a small, velvet bag in Bella's hands. "Yer mother's pearls. Tie them to yer chemise, and don't let anybody see them."
Bella did as she was told before donning the plainest of her coats, a dark grey pelisse that fitted her curves a little snugly now she had removed her stays. Hesitating in the doorway before rushing to catch up with the housekeeper, she looked around the room she had called her own since graduating from the nursery.
Jacob, an apprentice smith and her father's part-time carriage driver, waited in the courtyard with a plough horse harnessed to a tray-backed cart. Bella's steps slowed, the answer coming to her before she could voice the question. Of course, they couldn't take her father's carriage and team of four. Lord Hunter would track her down in no time.
Leah, Jacob's fiancée, came running from the house, a bag and bonnet in her arms.
"Here, Miss. Put this on." She pushed the plain, black hat into Bella's hands while Jacob helped her into the back of the cart. "Ye'll have to lie down so we can keep ye hidden."
"Very well." Bella eyed the wooden slats warily but did as she was asked.
Leah covered her with a coarse blanket and was about to pull it over her head when Mr Waters approached.
"I'm sorry, lass, but I don't think yer father's goin' to make it." His brogue deepened with distress. "Ye'd best not try to contact us until His Grace says it's safe."
Unable to speak for the lump in her throat, Bella huddled down as Jacob urged the old horse into motion. With her head covered, she was denied a last look at her home and the people she loved, but their images were burned in her memory. Of her father, she could not bear to think.
Grateful for the musty blanket covering her head, Bella gave in to her grief and wept until exhaustion overtook her.
Thank you again for all your support of my stories. You guys are wonderful!