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Trousseau Trilogy #1

The Trousseau


by Victoria Staat

The Trousseau by Victoria Staat

Gen is taking care of her younger sister the best way she can—survival by robbery. The girls conceal their identities as young boys, all while running from a cruel father. But one day, they choose the wrong men to steal from—Cole and Merrick—and without warning, the tables are turned on them.

To Gen’s surprise, Lord Cole puts Gen to work on rebuilding his castle wall while Cal, her sister, whom they have discovered is a girl, works in the kitchens. Gen’s days start and end with carrying brick and rock and using her knowledge of weaponry to help build catapults to protect Lord Cole’s castle. Gen tries to keep her identity secret and does a good job of it until Cole finds out and demands the truth about the two girls.

It isn’t long, before Cole is barraged with surprise after surprise, until he finds himself giving up a Trousseau that is meant for his bride.



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Release Date: November 17, 2020
Genre: Historical Romance

~ A PINK SATIN ROMANCE ~


Excerpt

Chapter One

 

England

June 16, 1718

 

Gen and Cal came out of the tavern, laughing. It appeared they were delighted, with a small velvet bag full of coins. Gen was throwing it up into the sky, snatching it out of the air on its way back down.

“He never saw it coming,” Cal said with a wide grin.

“That’s true,” Gen said and threw the bag in the air again. “I have to give you credit though, you can spot a plump pigeon a mile away, and this one was the plumpest of them all.” Gen chuckled and went on, “Although it was my agile wrists that picked the man’s bulging pocket. As you can see, when I steal a purse, it’s all in the wrists.” She proved that with a flick of one. “What shall we buy first, Cal? A horse maybe, remember your animal is lame, or shall we fill our bellies as we contemplate all the uses for such a fat purse?”

“Well, hands down it has to be food. I would wager it’s been nigh on a week since we’ve had something other than infernal berries to eat.”

“All right, food it is!” Gen then looked back with a serious expression.

“What is it?”

“I think we should hurry to the next town. That fool in the tavern may put two and two together and come looking for us.”

That had Cal thinking too. “You’re right, my horse is lame, and yours needs feed, best we move on to the next town.”

They were both in their saddles and on their way at a quickened pace, when they heard their plump pigeon shout from behind them, “Come back here! You stole my coin, damn you to hell! I’ll find you and you’ll pay dearly for your thievery!”

Lord almighty, it was the plump pigeon! He was a short round man with a bald head and a thick salt and pepper beard. His holler had everyone staring in their direction.

With a nudge of encouragement, they forced both horses into a full gallop. Cal prayed that her horse could take the speed.

The sun was low in the sky as Gen and Cal rode into the next town. They were looking for a stable and an Inn. At that moment, exhaustion and hunger had them in its grasp. Finally, the horses were being fed while the stable master pointed out an Inn at the end of the road. They were off as fast as their feet could carry them. All they could think of was filling their bellies and sleeping in a proper bed.

A few moments later, the pair stepped into the Inn full of people. They took a seat in the corner and sighed with relief. It wasn’t long before the tavern maid took their order, leaving them with two tankards of ale. Comfortable in their chairs, they gave their lives some thought. They both knew then that things didn’t get much better than this. A hot meal and a warm bed were the best they could ask for. “God has blessed us with another day, again the rich have fed us,” Gen announced.

“Honestly, I couldn't care less, I just want food in my belly and a warm bed to sleep in,” Cal said with exhaustion.

Gen held the wooden tankard high and toasted, “To a full belly and a warm bed!”

Cal held the heavy tankard high and announced, “Aye, to the good life!”

* * *

Inside the Inn sat Lord Cole Renfew. He had just taken a seat across the table from his friend, Merrick—friend but more like a brother. One look at Cole and he had to say, “You look like the devil. Even your dark hair and eyes can’t hide your anger. What happened to the distinguished Lord Renfew?” He stared into Cole's face and said, ‘Hell, no one can shake you or even worry you, for that matter.’

Cole took a deep breath. “Damn it, your blond hair and green eyes can’t hide your anger and frustration either. Your tightly clenched teeth show that the same thing that’s bothering me is bothering you. The bloody wall!”

“There has to be a way to rebuild that west wall, Cole.”

“The worst part of it, Merrick, is the work. All the rocks from the fallen wall, and many of the pieces are large, we must move them.”

“What of our men?”

Cole leaned over the table and spoke so only Merrick could hear. “You know as well as I do our army is much depleted. We have many that are faithful to us, yet most of them are about the countryside recruiting men. I fear that Lovett will come back. The bastard wants my keep, and craves my land, too. His castle is small, and his land is barren. We are also only two days’ ride from London. He is deep in the mountains.”

“I don’t understand, Cole, did you wrong him in another life?”

“Hell, after everything he has put us through, I wished I had. The truth of it is, he wants my land because it is large and fertile. Lovett has a sizable army and a weak fortress. It’s no secret that land here in England is quite dear. He would just as soon take my land by force than put out his coin.”

“So, he just takes what he wants then?”

Cole sat back in his seat and took a deep breath. “Yes, he will try fiercely to take what is mine, just because he can. I’ll tell you this, Merrick, if we don’t get that gaping hole in our wall repaired, the worthless sod will surely walk right in and take the bloody family jewels!”

“What do you suggest we do?”

“I suggest we go to the next town and hire some men to do the task.”

“My friend, I know you still own the family jewels, but you have little else. How do you intend on paying these men?”

“That’s true enough, however, there is still the coin my mother left me.”

“Those funds are all you have. You told me years ago that your mother wanted that coin used for a wife and family. It’s up to you to continue the family bloodline.”

“Merrick, my dearest friend, there will be no bloodline to continue if Lovett comes and takes all I have. There is no choice here, we do what we must.”

The tavern maid placed two deep wooden trenchers of lamb stew in front of them. The conversation stopped until the woman stepped away.

Once she went to the next table, Cole turned to Merrick. “Well, my friend, enjoy this, as we never know when it could be our last.”

“We are both nearly thirty and we haven’t starved yet.” Merrick chuckled.

Cole held his tankard of ale up high, and Merrick did the same. Cole announced, “To continuing our nasty habit of eating,” 

Merrick laughed out loud, “Yes, to eating.”

* * *

It was nearly noon the next day when Gen and Cal woke in the same bed. Both of them still had their clothes on, and it had been weeks since they’d had a peaceful, safe night’s sleep. Gen sat on the edge of the bed combing her short curly hair with her fingers as she asked, “How much coin do we have left?”

Cal sat up and pulled the coins out of the burgundy velvet bag deep in her pocket. After counting them, she said, “I would say there are twelve shillings left.”

“That won’t last long, we need another pigeon, and a fat one for sure.”

Cal leaned back in the bed hands clasped behind her head. “Oh, how I would like to have all the gold coins I ever needed. It would be wonderful if I didn’t have to take other people’s money.”

Gen stood at the end of the bed, gripping the footboard. “A fairy tale to be sure, but this, Cal, is no fairy tale. It’s our life, and unless you fancy starving, I suggest you get up and find us another pigeon. I will then use my talented fingers on their pockets. Hopefully, we can eat for another fortnight.”

Cal took to the floor with an attitude and yelled out, “You always have to ruin it for me. Can’t a person dream, at least a small dream, a little hope for a home and a family?”

“Stop it, Cal!”

“And that’s another thing, I hate the name you gave me. My name is Colleen, and while we are at it, I hate these men’s clothes that I am forced to wear even more!”

“Cal or Colleen, you like eating, don’t you?”

“You know I do.”

“Then put that braid under your cap and find us another fat pigeon!”

Cal pulled on her boots in a huff and when she walked past Gen, shouted, “I hate you, Genevieve. You’re mean and cruel. I’ll find your pigeon, but don’t ask me to help you.” Cal then left the room with a slam of the door.

* * *

Gen slowly lowered her body to the bed. She was weary of their life, too. Yet, what was she to do? She had to save her sister from the cruel life they lived, and for now there was no other way to care for her sister. A tear rolled down Gen’s cheek as she thought about how she hated always being the wicked sister. When would she and Cal ever be able to enjoy life again? 

Ten minutes later, Gen came down the stairs of the Inn. She saw her sister leaning against a thick wooden beam column in the middle of the room. Cal looked like the young man once again. Her cap was low over her forehead and eyes, her arms were across her chest. Cal motioned her head toward two men sitting in the corner, and with a nod from Gen, she joined Cal as they waited for their opening.

Gen had her doubts about the two men as they were large. Still, Cal always had an eye for the perfect pigeon, and these two truly had the look of wealth. With a deep breath, she put her reluctance behind her and watched closely for their chance.

The girls didn’t have to wait long, because a few moments later, the men made their way to the back door. Yes, they were the plump pigeons, engrossed in deep conversation. Gen assumed that was why they didn’t notice that they were right behind them.

The men headed for the stables, which worked out perfect for the girls, as Gen figured that this would aid them in a quick escape. Especially since their horses were there, too. They could escape before anyone even noticed. It would just be a matter of tying them up and hurrying off.

They were so deep in their conversation Gen knew they never saw them coming. Until both men had a blade in their backs, and Gen said in a deep voice, “It will do neither of you any good to fight, so hand over your purses and no blood will need to be spilled today.”

One man winked at the other as he said, “And why would I give you all my coin?”

Gen pushed the blade deeper into her hostage’s back. She didn’t cut him, mind you, but she imagined he felt the pressure. “You’ll hand those purses over to us to save your bloody hides,” Gen warned.

She then noticed a nod from the dark-haired man to the other. At that moment, she understood that they would fight. Suddenly, both men turned on their heels.

It amazed Gen at how quickly the men vested them of their weapons. Still, the girls were not giving up easily. Gen watched as Cal took her cue from her. And now they were fighting for not only the purses, but their weapons as well.

Back and forth they struggled, Gen punched away at the dark-haired man’s stomach as Cal kicked the other man in the shins. To their dismay, they found that the men were definitely larger and stronger, and it wasn’t long before the girls were on the ground. The men were sitting on their waists, holding them down.

Once wrestled to the ground Cal’s cap fell off and her long golden braid hung free.

“Look at this, Cole, this highwayman is really a woman.”

Gen was trying to hide the fact that she was a woman, too. “Yes, she is, and I am her older brother!” she blurted out with a deep timber to her voice.

The dark-haired man called Cole held Gen down by her shoulders. “A good thing to teach your sister how to steal! Some big brother,” he snarled. “Don’t you know that highway-men are large strapping lads?”

Gen shouted, “We do well enough on our own!”

Cole leaned over and stared into her eyes. “Well, you’re not doing well today, are you?”

Gen struggled as the men pulled her and her sister up at the same time. A moment later, the other man asked, “What do you think we should do with the pair of them?”

Cole stood, rubbing the three-day-old stubble on his face. “Well, Merrick, we need all the help we can get back home, so why not put them to work? The boy here can move rock and we could put this girl to work in the kitchen. That will be their punishment for being such terrible thieves.”

Gen looked on as Merrick, the other man, leaned over and whispered to Cole, but still she could make out what they were saying. “What are you thinking? They can’t be trusted. They will kill us the first chance they get.”

“No, the worse they’ll do is run, and for God sakes, they’re puny the pair of them.”

“All right, it’s your neck they’ll be cutting so I sure hope you’re right.”

“You, Merrick, worry too much.” Then Cole whispered, “And the best part of all of this is we won’t have to pay them a shilling.”

Cole and Merrick each pulled a girl into the stable, as Gen prayed that these men would treat them fairly.

It was then that Gen heard a bit of a conversation. Cole announced that they would all four be behind his castle gates by the evening meal. At that moment, she realized that her fears would come to life by the end of the day, and that worried her.

A few moments later, Gen and Cal found their hands tied to Cole and Merrick’s horses. Gen heard Cole mention what a sorry lot their horses were. She knew that Cole figured it would be best to keep them close.

She knew their horses were pitiful, yet they took what they could to survive. And these two horses just stood there alone, waiting for a thief. So, here she sat, knowing that they would have to ride double with these two strangers.

The blond-haired lord was the first up on his horse, right behind Cal, and off they went. Suddenly she felt the dark-haired, dark-eyed lord slide in behind her. He reached around her and took hold of the reins. He was broad, with muscles like steel. He also radiated heat, and when he pulled her close to him, she seemed to lose the breath in her lungs. Without a word, they rode out of town at a quickened pace.

Gen was trying to think of a good plan. A way to get free and away from these gigantic men. She glanced over at Cal. Lord, when her sister chose wrong, she really chose wrong.

A couple hours later, the girls found themselves in the same town they left the day before. They kept looking at each other with concern. They had enemies there, especially one round, angry, older man, who was more than furious at the loss of his purse. That’s why Gen shouted from behind, “Why are we here? Do you hail from this place?”

Merrick turned in his saddle and glared. “You, boy, should be grateful that Lord Cole has not killed you for what you tried to do. If I were you, I’d shut your ungrateful mouth!”

At the sound of Merrick’s roar, Gen knew her attempt at finding out anything was futile. Although, it wasn’t long before she found out what these lords were up to.

* * *

Once they rode into the tiny village, Cole made his way to the middle of town. He dismounted and jumped up on a hay wagon that sat in the center of town and shouted, “I need able-bodied men, the pay will be good.”

A crowd of men gathered around the wagon as an older man yelled out from the group of men. “What sort of work, milord?”

“My castle wall is down. I need strong men to haul rock, I could also use skilled brickmakers.”

A young man in the center of the crowd shouted, “What is the pay?”

“Two shillings a week, and food to fill your bellies.”

As the crowd roared with delight. Cole noticed Merrick as he sat upon his horse watching the thieves and his horses. He was just shaking his head at him. It was obvious to Cole that Merrick wasn’t happy that he was spending every ounce of gold he had, along with the family jewels. Yet, he knew he had no choice in the matter. Getting his wall back up was the only way to save their lives and his castle.

Cole was making his way back to Merrick when an older man took hold of his arm. Cole looked over at him with a glare. “Oh, Lord Trent.” Cole didn’t like the man much as he insisted on using the whip that hung on his belt way too much. He had seen his handy work on his man-servants many times, Trent always chose the weaker person to brutalize. He figured that it must have made Trent feel more like a man when he wasn’t much more than an animal. “What can I do for you, Lord Trent?” Cole asked.

“Lord Renfew, I see you have two young men there.”

“Yes, we caught them trying to clean our pockets.”

“Aye, they did the same to me, only they succeeded. They stole twenty shillings from my person. I would like to have those boys, for my whip will teach them never to take a lord’s purse again,” he said as he patted the coiled whip that hung from his hip.

“First off, it’s only a boy and a girl.” Cole watched as the old man licked his lips, likely thinking of a young, beaten girl in his bed. However, it wasn’t long before Cole saw the man’s hopes for punishment fade away, because Cole went on. “Furthermore, I have plans for them myself. There is much work at the Renfrew castle, Rose Thorn. They will learn not to steal through hard work.”

Trent leaned close to Cole. “Once you’re satisfied that their punishment is sufficient, I will take them so that their debt to me can be paid.”

Cole gave the old fool a half smile. “We will speak of it then because you see, the coin is the least of it. They attacked our person. It may take me years to collect what they owe me.”

The smile on the old man’s face was absolutely wicked. “All I have is time. I can wait.”

Trent walked past Merrick and the prisoners, but when he looked at Cal, he reached up and pulled the cap off her head. It was then that her braid fell down her back. He couldn’t help but say, “I knew you were a girl. Your face is far too lovely to be that of a boy.” Again, he looked in Cole’s direction. “I will be waiting, Renfew, aye, waiting for my turn.”

Cole took a deep breath as he mounted his horse once more.

“What did that old fool want?” Merrick asked as he watched Lord Trent walk away.

“The usual pain and retribution,”

“I take it you didn’t allow him that?”

“No, Merrick, I hate the old bastard.” He looked over at his new charges and warned, “You’ll both do as you’re told, else that old buzzard will rip off your skin with his whip and peck you to death.” Cole rode off ahead of them.

* * *

At that moment, Gen could see by the look on Cal’s face that she didn’t understand the old man’s remark. However, she did, yet by Cole’s conversation with the man, she felt as though he wanted to protect them. Did he really mean to save them from Trent, or did Cole just want his revenge in his own way? It didn’t matter now, because they would find out soon enough.

 

 

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