Excerpt: The Lady and the Thief
“Lisette!” Adeline hissed, and when Lisette turned, wisps of her beautiful hair fluttering about her face, Adeline beckoned to her.
Lisette set down the firewood she was carrying and slowly crept down the hall, hands curled nervously in her apron. “Yes, Miss?”
“There’s nobody up here, stop that!” Adeline said with a giggle, taking hold of Lisette’s wrist and tugging her into Adeline’s bedroom. She closed and locked the door, then threw her arms around Lisette’s neck and kissed her soundly.
For a moment, Lisette was still, but then she ardently returned the kiss, slender but strong arms sliding around Adeline’s waist. She tasted like strawberries, likely from one of the leftover tarts from dinner. They’d been marvelous. But the taste of strawberries on Lisette’s lips was infinitely better.
When they finally drew apart, flushed and panting softly, Adeline playfully stroked an errant strand of vibrant, blood red hair and stared up into the beautiful gold-brown eyes she adored so very much. “I’ve been waiting for that all day.”
Lisette laughed. “You’ve been busy all day.”
Mock pouting, Adeline stepped back and folded her arms beneath her breasts. “That doesn’t mean I wasn’t waiting. I’d much rather kiss you than practice pianoforte or work on my embroidery.” She wrinkled her nose.
“And the pianoforte wishes you would do anything else,” Lisette said—and burst into giggles at Adeline’s affronted look.
Then Adeline ruined it by giggling as well. She stole another quick, strawberry-flavored kiss then clasped Lisette’s hands firmly. “But I’m getting distracted! There was something I wanted to talk to you about; that’s why I took care of setting all the fires for you.”
“I do appreciate it,” Lisette said, tucking the errant strand of hair back into her little white cap, looking curious and a little wary.
Adeline worried her bottom lip, suddenly feeling a good deal less confident, despite all the practicing she’d done all the day, all the quiet confidence-talks she’d been giving herself. “It’s only, I’ve been thinking hard about everything you said last month—”
“No, Addy, I thought we were over that. I was angry and tired. I never should have spoken to you like that.”
“Angry or tired or whatever, you were right. It is wrong that I’m a lady of the house and you’re a servant. We should be equals. I’ve been thinking very hard on it ever since we argued. And guess what?”
Instead of looking eager, or even hopeful, as Adeline had hoped, Lisette only looked more worried than ever.
Tamping down on her nerves, Adeline pressed on. It would all come out right in the end, it would. “I’ve saved up all of my allowance and sold off most of my jewelry and some other things. I’ve also been—” her voice dropped to a whisper “¬—doing work. Can you believe it?” She clasped her hands together. “I’ve been doing some embroidery for old Lady Weslow and tutoring some children in fencing. Plus, I won my last two tournaments, and they were good purses. I’m also signed up for several more tournaments coming this year.”
She hurried over to her night table and unlocked it, drawing out the papers she’d been keeping there, several bits of it circled in blue ink. “And look, I’ve found some flats that would work just fine, I think.” She thrust them into Lisette’s hands. “You’d know the areas better of course, but they’re all affordable, and we wouldn’t have to worry about money for a few months, and by then…” She trailed off, heart sinking at the frown on Lisette’s face. “What’s wrong?”
“What is all this?” Lisette asked.
“Oh! I’m sorry. I practiced this all day, but now I’m flustered and mucking it up.” She reached into the pocket of her gown and pulled out the tiny gold ring that was one of only a few pieces left of the jewelry that had once filled her case. Her aunt would murder her if she found out, but that was never going to be a problem because she was going to start a new life with the woman she loved and never live another day in this miserable prison of a house. “My darling, my beloved, would you do me the honor of running away with me?”
Lisette’s mouth dropped open. “You— Are you mad?”
“Mad with love for you and determined that we live as equals. I don’t want to have to keep hiding like this. Don’t you want to live freely? If we move to the city, no one will know or care who we are. I’ll have my fencing and embroidery, even though I hate that, and you can do whatever you choose. Doesn’t it sound marvelous?”
“It does,” Lisette said quietly, staring at the gold ring a moment longer before gently plucking it from Adeline’s fingers and sliding it one of her own. “It sounds like a dream.”
Adeline cheered in delight, then clapped her hands over her mouth. Then she laughed, pulled Lisette close, and kissed her with all the love and happiness and excitement coursing through her.
Eventually, however, Lisette had to tear away. “You! I’d best get my chores done before anyone notices something is amiss.”
“But you’ll come back, right? Stay the night with me? We can plan where to go.” She bent to retrieve the papers they’d dropped in their distraction.
“Of course,” Lisette said, and kissed her quickly again before darting away with a laugh, waggling her fingers before closing the door.
Adeline set the papers on her night table, then swiftly dressed for bed. Belting her dressing robe, she danced around the room and got into duels with shadows, playing a thousand scenarios of living in the city with Lisette. Of being free. No longer under the iron thumb of her aunt and uncle. No longer being constantly reminded of everything she owed them, how grateful she should be. Of all that was wrong with her, all that she needed to be to please them.
She’d be free. Living with the love of her life. Fencing, cooking, running errands, living.
Finally exhausted, she crawled into bed and picked up the book she’d been reading, a new book of poetry by her favorite poet, Frederick Cloud. Despite her best efforts, eventually she dozed off.
She woke to the furious shrieking and yelling of her aunt. Throwing herself out of bed, book tumbling to the floor, Adeline bolted into the hallway. “What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” Her aunt swung her arms wildly about as she whipped around, nearly taking out her husband and the butler. “That tart of a servant who struts about this place, that’s what! She’s made off with all of the house she could carry! My jewelry—gone! Most of the silver—gone!”
Adeline felt sick. She bolted back into her room and threw open her jewelry case.
All the money she’d saved. Her remaining jewelry, including her mother’s pearls. Gone.
She sank to her knees, hands wrapping around her stomach. It couldn’t be true. It couldn’t. Lisette loved her. She’d said so. She’d accepted the ring.
Adeline burst into tears.
A moment later her aunt came rushing in, for once kind as she wrapped an arm around Adeline’s shoulders. “There, there, darling. I know you were friendly to her. Did she take your things, too?”
Adeline nodded, crying harder than ever. “My pearls.”
“I’m so sorry. But don’t you worry. We’ll find that strumpet and have her strung up for this!”
But though they harangued the authorities endlessly, and even hired private investigators when that failed, six months later there was still not the slightest hint of where Lisette had vanished.
Eventually, Adeline threw the papers where she’d marked possible places to live into the fire. At least she’d never have to explain where her jewelry had gone.
And if she ever saw Lisette again, Adeline would stab her straight in the heart with a rapier.
Angrily wiping away tears, Adeline prodded at the fire until not even a scrap of paper was left, then headed downstairs for her dancing lessons.