Exclusive FREE READ! from Virginia Heath
You read it here first folks! Our exclusive Free Read this month is an extract from
Virginia Heath's book The Determined Lord Hadleigh.
He’s got iron control…But she might be his undoing!
Part of The King’s Elite. Haunted by Penny Penhurst’s courage on the witness stand, meticulous barrister Lord Hadleigh offers her a housekeeper position at his estate. Despite trying to stay detached, Hadleigh is charmed by her small child and surprised by how much he yearns for this proud woman! Can this he break through his own – and Penny’s – barriers to prove he’s a man she can trust…and love?
The Old Bailey, May 1820…
She had attended every single day of the trial. Alone in the gallery, face pale but sat erect, her slim shoulders pulled back as she stared straight ahead. Her hands hidden amongst the folds of her skirt. It had taken Hadleigh almost a week to realise she hid her hands because they provided the only clue to the way she was truly feeling- as they twisted the ruined handkerchief into tight, agitated spirals which she kept proudly from view. She had a child, he knew. A son who was a little over a year old. Yet she never brought the babe to the court as some did in a bid to elicit sympathy. Nor did she give any indication she noticed the hordes who had come to gloat at her tragedy. The blatant pointing and unsubtle whispering; the shameless newspaper artist who frequently perched himself directly in front of her and sketched her expression incorrectly for the breakfast entertainment of the masses. Such was the gravitas of this case that everyone wanted to know about it. And about her.
The traitor’s wife.
That quiet dignity had both impressed him and humbled him because it was eerily familiar. Her honesty, yesterday, had shook him to his core. In a last-ditch attempt to save her husband and prove his good character, the defence had called her as a witness at the last minute. Unexpectedly. They asked leading questions, to which she could answer only yes or no, then stepped aside so that he could cross examine her.
“Was he a good husband?”
She had looked him dead in the eye. “No.” He had expected her to lie but gave no indication of his surprise. Her gaze moved tentatively to the furious man in the dock. “No. He wasn’t.”
“He wasn’t at all who I had hoped he was.”
“This court requires more explanation Lady Penhurst. In what ways was the accused a bad husband?” He’d had an inkling. More than an inkling if he was honest, especially as he had lived in a house where a marriage had become a legal prison, but as the Crown Prosecutor his job was to present the government’s case as best he could. The jury deserved the whole truth about the man in the dock, no matter how unpalatable it was. Or how intrusive.
“He was violent Lord Hadleigh.” His friend Leatham had said as much. Violent and depraved and his heart wept for her suffering. She reminded him of another woman in another time. One who had also endured stoically because she had no option to do otherwise and had not wanted to burden him with her troubles. The bitter taste of bile stung his throat at the awful memory so long buried.
“He beat you?”
Her eyes nervously flicked to her husband’s again because she knew that if he was acquitted, she would pay for her disloyalty today and there was nothing in law to stop that happening. But her spine stiffened again with resolve and she slowly inhaled as if to calm herself and find inner strength. He knew how much that small act of defiance cost her. “If I was lucky, only weekly.” Her gloved index finger touched the bridge of her nose where the bone slightly protruded. “He broke my nose. Cracked a rib…”
“Objection!” The defence lawyer shot to his feet. “My learned friend knows what happens between a husband and a wife in the privacy of his house is not pertinent to this case.”
Hadleigh addressed the judge. “I believe it is pertinent m’lud. It gives the jury an insight in Viscount Penhurst’s character.” Because a man who used his wife as a battering ram was rarely a good man, as his own mother had learned to her cost.
“We have debated this many times before Lord Hadleigh, therefore I know you are well aware the law clearly has no objections to a husband disciplining his wife.” The judge had the temerity to look affronted that it had been brought up in the first place, seemingly perfectly happy that a husband had the right to beat his wife senseless and the courts who supposedly stood for justice would do nothing. “You will desist this line of questioning immediately and the witness’s answers will be struck from the proceedings.”
Hadleigh nodded, his teeth practically gnashing, consoling himself that while the law was an ass as far as the rights of married women were concerned, at least the seeds had been sown. You could strike words from the record but once said, they took root in the mind. A few of the jurors had looked appalled. That would have to do. “My apologies.” Hadleigh made no attempt to sound sincere before he turned back to her and the job in hand.
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