Marrying for Money Ch. 13byharemgirl©
As soon as the door closed, Leanna struggled desperately to wriggle free of her bonds, but the harder she tried, the tighter the rope became. Her wrists were raw before she finally gave up and began to sob. She heard sounds of the anchor being raised and the ship pitched and groaned as it was released from its moorings.
"Trevor! Darling, please wake up," she pleaded, but she didn't see the slightest movement from her husband.
Trevor had been dragged to a nearby post that supported the bunk. He was lying on his side with his arms and feet tied together behind the post.
Leanna began to fear that the coachman had killed him with the blow, and her heart constricted painfully in her chest. "Trevor please! Wake up!" He moaned softly and moved the slightest bit. "Thank God!" Leanna sobbed. "Please, darling wake up. I need you to wake up."
Trevor struggled to get his muddled senses shaken into place. He could hear Leanna's frightened voice calling to him, but he couldn't seem to get his eyes to open. A sharp pain was pounding in the back of his skull, and he moaned again. What the hell had happened, he wondered groggily. He struggled to remember . . . a ship . . . have to get to Leanna . . . a struggle . . . a shot . . . Steven! Trevor's eyes opened and he blinked several times, clearing the last of the cobwebs. The first thing he saw was Leanna.
Trevor lifted his head as much as he could and croaked, "where's Steven?"
Leanna was crying with both relief and sorrow. "They've killed him. Oh God, they've killed him."
Trevor groaned again, feeling the terrible weight of his brother's loss settle like a stone in his chest. He fought his anguish, focusing instead on trying to get Leanna to safety. Even now, he could feel the ship swaying, and he knew they must have set sail.
"We've got to get out of here, Leanna." He struggled against his bonds, ignoring the shooting pain in his head, but finally collapsed on the floor. "Damn!"
Trevor took a firm grip on his frustration. He had to think. There had to be a way out of this. There would be no help from the sheriff now. They had to get loose before the ship got too far out to sea, or even their slim chance of escape would be lost.
"Leanna, listen to me . . ."
There were footsteps in the hallway and the door abruptly opened again. Eliza waltzed through, freshly gowned, her hair once again pulled into a neat chignon. She sauntered into the room with an ugly smirk on her face as she noted that Trevor was awake and glaring at her.
"Well, well, isn't this cozy. It must be just like when you were newlyweds again."
"You bitch!" Leanna snarled. She opened her mouth to hurl more insults, but her eyes went past Eliza and she froze, her jaw dropping in amazed horror. "You!"
Neville Woodsworth strolled into the room and paused to give her a crisp, mocking bow. "In the flesh, Leanna. Have you been missing me?"
Trevor's eyes glazed with fury at the sight of the other man. "You bastard! If you lay so much as a finger on Leanna, I'll kill you!" Trevor struggled mightily against his bonds.
Neville's laughter rang with cold scorn. "That might be difficult, given the circumstances. I think you should be more concerned about how much longer I will let you live." Crossing to Leanna, he looked down, shaking his head sorrowfully. "Poor Leanna. It certainly doesn't look as if your marriage is agreeing with you."
He reached down to touch her cheek, but Leanna jerked her face away. There was pure loathing in her eyes when she faced him.
"Don't touch me! The very sight of you makes my skin crawl."
Neville gave a condescending chuckle. "That's not the way I remember it. You were ready to marry me until your husband came and hauled you back home just when we were starting to have fun."
He circled behind her and bent over her shoulder, reaching to stroke her collarbone and the higher slopes of her bosom. He spoke close to her ear but loud enough to be heard by all.
"Such a pity really. We wouldn't have had to kill you if you had followed our original plan. Eliza and I had it all worked out very nicely."
Stealing a glance at Trevor, Leanna noticed that he was surreptitiously working to free his bonds. She did her best to provide a diversion. She looked up at Neville as he toyed with the lace on her bodice.
"What are you talking about," Leanna ground out, trying to escape his lazy caress. "How do you know Eliza?"
As if preparing to lecture a misguided child, Neville straightened and placed his hands behind his back. He crossed to Eliza and the pair exchanged smug smiles before he continued.
"Oh, Eliza and I go way back, don't we dear?" He reached out and stroked her cheek.
Eliza preened under his attention. "Yes darling, we make quite a team. And now, we can finally be together."
Leanna frowned. "I thought you wanted Trevor."
Eliza's laugh was scornful. "You fool! I only wanted Trevor's money, and now I shall have it." Seeing Leanna's confusion, she continued. "Trevor was the prize catch of Virginia when he proposed to me. He was wealthy, he had a huge plantation, bigger than any in the area, and he was hopelessly in love with me. I was going to be rich and have all I ever wanted. Everything was perfect until the war. Then, Trevor went away, and for four years, I waited for him to return, but in the meantime, I saw all my dreams being steadily eroded. By the time Trevor came home, he was a pauper just like every other southerner, and I had no use for him."
Leanna chanced a glance at her husband and he was still trying to wriggle free. She looked back at Eliza. "So just because Trevor no longer had money, you didn't want him anymore?"
Eliza gave another cruel laugh, "Of course not. He was no good to me anymore. The last thing I wanted was to become a poor farmer's wife, scratching out a meager existence. That's when I met John. He was a Yankee officer stationed in Newport News, but his family had money. It was no real challenge to entice him, and in no time he had proposed. I knew my family would never give their approval, so we made plans to run away and get married."
Trevor couldn't resist a question of his own. "Then why did you come to me the night before you eloped?"
Eliza gave a shrug. "You were just part of the plan, Trevor. My family had become cautious once they knew a Yankee was interested in me, and father was keeping a close watch on my activities. I knew if I tried to sneak out and meet John, father might catch me and drag me back home before we could complete the vows. So instead, I came to you. Father always thought the world of you, and since we were supposed to get married soon, I guess he thought there was no real harm in letting us be together, especially since we had already waited so long. Once I was successful that night, I knew that if I snuck out again, father would assume I was coming to you and wouldn't follow me. Sure enough, my plan worked."
Trevor shook his head in disgust. "So you bartered yourself like a slut just to trick your father!"
"It wasn't that much of a hardship really," Eliza said, giving another careless shrug. "In fact, it was rather enjoyable."
"It must have been a shock to realize you had gotten pregnant," Trevor growled.
Eliza and Neville both began to laugh. "Oh Trevor, darling. You didn't get me pregnant! Neville did that."
"What?" cried Trevor and Leanna in unison.
Eliza was still giggling. "John and I eloped to Charlotte to get married, and on the way there, I started my monthly. On the day we exchanged our vows, he was called away to New Orleans on urgent military business, and he was gone for six weeks. I was left to wait in Charlotte, not knowing when he might return, and it was there that I met Neville."
Eliza turned to Neville and gave him a sultry smile. "He swept me off my feet. That was the most enjoyable few weeks of my life." She ran her hands along Neville's ribs, and they looked as if they had forgotten about their prisoners until Leanna jogged their memory.
"So Miranda is Neville's daughter, not Trevor's?"
Eliza turned to her and smirked. "That's right. By the time John got back, I already knew I was pregnant, but that stupid fool believed until his death that he had fathered my child."
"And how did you convince him that you were still a virgin," Trevor growled, "when you had bedded two men already?"
Eliza's laugh was dripping with scorn. "That wasn't hard. The poor man was besotted with me. A few drinks and a tiny bit of blood, and he was convinced he had done the noble deed. Of course, I waited for a while before I killed him. I didn't want anyone getting suspicious. I needed his money so that Neville and I could be together, but after he died, I found out he hardly had any money at all. He was a terrible businessman."
Leanna shook her head, frowning. "But Neville must have already been married, given the ages of his daughters."
"Just one more obstacle to overcome," Neville sighed. "A pity my wife got in the way."
Leanna gasped in shock. "You killed your wife?"
Neville gave a negligent shrug. "She had outlived her usefulness. I took her for a ride and planned to kill her in the woods and dump her body in a ditch. The stupid bitch got away from me and ran. When I was chasing her, she panicked and tried to jump a high fence." He smiled and gave a sigh. "Alas! She broke her neck and I was saved the trouble of having to strangle her."
Eliza smiled up at Neville. "We could have been together then, if only your wife's fortune hadn't been stolen from us." Turning to Leanna, Eliza grimaced. "It turned out that her wealth was tied up in trust with her family. The hateful bitch had become suspicious of Neville's intentions and had mentioned to her brother that she feared for her safety. After her unexpected death, her family refused to believe that it was an accident. They tried to gain custody of the children, pleading with a judge about their suspicions, but since they couldn't prove anything against Neville, they failed. Their one bit of satisfaction came from ensuring that Neville didn't get a penny of his dead wife's money. That's when we came up with the plan to get Trevor's money instead."
Bending sideways to meet Trevor's glare, Eliza smiled almost sweetly. "It was really quite accommodating of you to work so hard to rebuild your fortune." She was disappointed to get no response and returned to her lover's side.
Neville took up the tale. "It was such a perfect scheme." He gave Leanna a charming smile. "You see at first, Eliza only wanted me to kill you so that she could marry Trevor. But unfortunately, your husband kept such a close eye on you, I could never find the right opportunity."
Leanna glared at him. "That must have been inconvenient," she spat.
"Hmmm, quite. But I had already decided it would be a terrible waste to kill you. I wanted to enjoy you before we got rid of you."
Neville bent down and placed a kiss on Leanna's shoulder. She jerked away from his mouth, but with her restraints, she couldn't move very much. Both Eliza and Neville laughed at her discomfort. Neville straightened and continued his tale.
"Then Eliza came up with the idea that if she could get you to leave Trevor, he would divorce you. Especially once he found out that you had been with another man." Neville paused to smile at Leanna's outraged gasp. "You see Leanna, it was no accident that I was on the stagecoach with you. I had, in fact, followed you into town the day you left. I was merely waiting for a chance to 'meet' you and offer you a position in my home so that I would have time to properly seduce you." Neville gave a wistful sigh. "I had the very pleasant task of making sure you were . . . entertained . . . until after your divorce was finalized. You would have amused me for a while, until Eliza and I could be reunited."
Leanna shook her head in amazement and looked at Eliza. "And that was your idea?" At the other woman's nod, Leanna continued. "But if you are in love with Neville, why would you want him to seduce me?"
"Why should I care if he bedded you? I was going to give myself to Trevor too. It was all part of the plan." Eliza reached up to stroke Neville's nape. "I know that I'm the only woman you really want, right darling?"
Before Neville could reply, Trevor interjected, "it must have really messed up your plans when I showed up to take Leanna home. Is that why you posed as highwaymen and tried to kill me?"
Neville's face showed a degree of surprised respect when he looked at Trevor. "Yes, actually. How did you know that?"
"I had my suspicions. I didn't realize that you were the highwayman until now, but I did suspect that my shooting wasn't just a random act. Now, it all makes sense."
Neville nodded, "It would have worked too, if you had just had the good sense to die."
Trevor looked over at Leanna, and there was love gleaming in his eyes. "I might have," he murmured softly, "but an angel saved me."
"Well, your angel has caused us a lot of extra trouble," Eliza sneered. "If it hadn't been for her, we would have been done with this whole business long ago."
Trevor frowned and looked at Eliza thoughtfully. "I don't see how killing the two of us will help you get your hands on my money."
Eliza laughed cheerfully, "why, through Miranda, of course. Thanks to your stupid wife, everyone thinks that Miranda is your daughter." She gave a mocking snort, "you even went to the trouble of setting up a fund for her at the bank, lending further legitimacy to my claim that she's your child, and plenty of people have heard us discussing 'your' daughter. It will be no trouble to convince a judge that your entire estate should be passed on to Miranda, and of course, I will be the trustee."
If looks could kill, Trevor's glare would have felled her where she stood. "Even Steven won't be around to dispute your claim. You've tied everything up very neatly haven't you?"
"Yes, we have," Eliza gloated. "Now, I'm tired of all this chit chat." She looked at Neville and smiled. "I really don't need to be present for the executions. I'll go to our cabin and wait for you darling." She glanced over her shoulder at Leanna and gave her a gloating smile. "My only request is that you please make her death painful. She deserves to suffer."
Eliza gave Neville a lingering kiss and then left without a backward glance. Neville gave first Trevor and then Leanna an evil grin. He circled Leanna's chair and once more stood behind her, but he looked directly at Trevor.
"Hmmm," he said thoughtfully. "It seems a shame to kill such a lovely woman without first having a taste of her." Neville ran a finger along the inside of Leanna's bodice as he grasped the hair at her nape and jerked her head backward. "We could have enjoyed one another, my sweet, if only you hadn't been so noble. You were almost ready to give yourself to me, and I really do prefer a willing female. Rape is so unpleasant."
Trevor was again straining at his bonds, having felt some give in them, but they refused to part and his frustration was supreme. "Get your hands off her!"
Neville was unconcerned, not raising his eyes from Leanna's décolletage. "Surely you don't prefer him over me?" When she didn't answer, he boldly fondled her breast. "What would you prefer, my sweet? Should I make love to you in front of your husband or spare him the agony by killing him first?"
Leanna pretended calmness as she looked at Neville. "And if I give myself to you willingly, will you let him live?"
"No Leanna! He's going to kill me anyway." Trevor felt another slip in the ropes as he strained against them. "Don't do this!"
Neville ignored him completely, fascinated by Leanna's offer. His eyes gleamed as they boldly swept her curves.
"I've always regretted not bedding you. It would be even more enjoyable under your husband's watchful eyes."
As he said the words, Neville produced a knife and neatly severed the ropes around Leanna's legs. He still held her hair in his fist when he cut the ropes around her waist and wrists. Then he held the knife at her throat and lifted her from the chair.
"Of course," he grinned, using the knife to trace a path down her neck, "you would need to be very willing for me to spare your husband's life."
"Nooo!" Trevor roared. He struggled like a wild beast, desperate to escape his bonds.
Leanna ignored her husband's protests as she turned to Neville. She wrapped her arms around his neck and stretched up to kiss him, pressing her body full length against his. Leanna concentrated all her efforts on convincing him. Neville tasted her lips leisurely, enjoying Trevor's enraged snarls. Eager to test Leanna's resolve, Neville lifted her hips onto the tabletop, flipped her skirts up to her waist and crushed her beneath him as he boldly fondled her breasts. Leanna accepted his caresses willingly. Indeed, she began to stroke Neville's chest and buttocks, trailing kisses along his neck.
Neville's desire exploded, and he ripped the bodice of her gown open to her waist, baring her bosom clad only in a thin chemise. He mauled her, spreading hot greedy kisses on her breasts, as he reached to unbutton his trousers. Leanna chose that moment to kick him in the groin, bringing her knee up as sharply as she could.
Neville groaned in agony, trying to hold onto her, but Leanna hit him on the side of the head with both fists, knocking him down. While he was writhing and trying to rise, she raced to the wood stove and snatched a half charred piece of wood. Swinging it high overhead, she clubbed Neville, knocking him unconscious.
Leanna didn't waste a moment. She snatched up the knife from the floor where it had fallen and ran to Trevor. Kneeling on the floor, she slashed through his bonds, and they were in each other's arms. There was time for only a brief hug before the necessity of escape took precedence. They were free of their bonds but not out of the woods!
Trevor grabbed a long piece of rope and drug Neville to the same post where he had been tied. Searching Neville's body, Trevor found two pistols and tucked them into his own waistband along with the knife, before securing Neville's arms and legs around the post. Then, Trevor asked Leanna for a strip of her petticoat to use as a gag. While he was finishing there, Leanna ran to kneel beside Steven. She gently turned Steven over and was surprised when he gave a weak moan.
"He's alive!" Leanna cried, feeling an overwhelming sense of relief.
Trevor ran to kneel beside her. It was hard to see the bullet wound with so much caked blood, but he felt gingerly along Steven's scalp, eliciting another moan, this time a bit stronger. Trevor looked at Leanna, joy written clearly on his face.
"The shot only grazed him, it's not deep at all. He should be alright."
"Thank God," Leanna whispered. "Here, use this."
Leanna reached beneath her skirts and ripped another long strip off her petticoat. She handed it to Trevor to use as a bandage. When he was almost finished securing it around Steven's head, his brother opened his eyes, blinking groggily.
"What happened?" he croaked.
"There's no time to explain right now, little brother. We have to get out of here. Can you walk?"
Steven frowned, "I'm not sure. It feels like the room is tilting."
Trevor laughed briefly, "It is tilting, but only because of the waves. Here, let me help you."
Bracing a shoulder beneath Steven's arm, Trevor helped him stand. They paused a moment, making sure that Steven's legs would support him. Steven was quickly coming around, and despite a slight feeling of wooziness, he was able to walk on his own.
"Can you handle a pistol?" Trevor asked. At Steven's nod, Trevor gave him one of the guns, and both men checked to make sure they were loaded.
"Wait!" Leanna cried.