Synopsis of A Lady’s Vanishing Choices by Wareeze Woodson
Deep in the forest off a deserted track, Bethany Littleton peeked through the undergrowth and witnessed a lone man digging a grave. A blanket wrapped form lay on the ground beside the mound of dirt.
Terrified, she carefully makes her way back to the gig and flees the scene. What should she do? With no constable or other law official in the little village of Chadwick, England in the year eighteen hundred and eight, she has a dilemma. There is no one in authority to which she may report a crime.
In her panic, she nearly crashes into Lord Rivton’s curricle. She is drawn to him because of his self-assurance and strength. Before she musters the courage to alert him to the situation, he gives her a sharp put-down. Pulling her gig out of the ditch, he mouths his disdain for women handling of the ribbons. He does not offer his name. She doesn’t ask. Soon, he reins his horse back onto the lane before driving away.
Bethany is left alone with her problem again. Somewhat reassured, soothed into a more reasoned state of mind, she wonders if she truly did view someone burying a body. In any event, who can she tell? She dares not inform her uncle she has taken the gig without his permission. Instantly, he’ll accuse her of inventing the entire incident to lessen her guilt. He is in charge of her and all of her wealth. She is led to believe she is the poor relation hanging onto his sleeve.
She cannot bear to listen to him harangue against her as he points out her faults to one and all. Instead of facing the problem, she hopes someone else will discover the body and make a report—somewhere. For the present, she decides to ignore the episode and does nothing. Now, danger stalks her.
Royce Carrington the Fourth Earl of Rivton wonders at the unreasonable terror in Bethany’s eyes. The near accident isn’t serious, but he has no time to seek answers. He is on a mission.
His cousin works for the Foreign Office and asks Royce to assist in the capture of a spy. Duty to king and country compels him to aid in the endeavor. He must help to discover the identity of the traitor passing secrets to the French as well.
Attracted to the driver of the gig, positively, but he has no room in his life for the kind of appeal she presents—the kind leading to love and total commitment. He wants to capture the traitor and continue with his plans to marry his neighbor’s eligible daughter, Bethany’s cousin. Not for love but to have a family and be relatively free at the same time. He is ordered to investigate the entire Littleton family to determine if there is a link to espionage. It goes against the grain with him to investigate the lady he is hoping to persuade to marry him, but it’s time to think with his head, not his emotions.
Bethany comes face to face with him when he visits her cousin. She had long since discovered his identity and thinks to inform him of her suspicions about the corpse. Longing to shift the responsibility of her encounter with the killer to his broad shoulders, she approaches him. However, he gives her the cut-direct rendering her attempt to inform him of the murder quite impossible. Now, her anger guards her heart against his charming appeal.
Dismayed to discover his younger brother plans to court Bethany, he forbids a marriage. He can’t divulge the danger she represents, his own involvement and attraction to her, or his mission. An argument ensues with his brother storming out of the house.
The next morning, he is informed his brother has been murdered. From a search for a spy and traitor, his efforts turn to a hunt for a killer. While on the trail of the serial killer/spy, he discovers Bethany is not merely a dangerous suspect but is in danger. Although she is still under suspicion of treason, he has fallen under her spell and wants to protect her from every wind that blows. He presumes she is forced into treasonous acts against her will.
She is nearly run down by a madman in a gig and drugged before being dump into the lake to drown. He fishes her out of the water and takes her to the Hall where she can recover out of harm’s way. The next morning he finds she has left his protection and returned to Birdlewood.
Spitting mad at the danger she faces, at the situation in which he finds himself and more than furious at her for placing herself in harm’s way once more, he sets out to the manor at a furious pace. Her reputation is in tatters. He intends to offer for her to restore her good name. He assumes her uncle will discount the housekeeper as being a proper chaperon for an unwed maiden passing the night under his roof. That suits his purpose exactly. He wants her out of her uncle’s house.
On his way through the forest, he discovers her emptying her stomach of poisoned food. He berates her for leaving the safety of his home.
“You never mentioned marriage before. You’ve held me in contempt, and you seem suspicious of me for some unknown reason. Why offer now?”
“To correct my careless actions of taking you to the Hall. You were chaperoned by my housekeeper, but your uncle will never let it rest there. The tale has been spread far and wide by a couple of tittering housemaids. You’ll be disgraced. I shan’t let that happen.”
That is a short version of his very romantic proposal. Although he desires her, he deludes himself about his reasons. She’ll be exactly where he wants her, under his eye, but also in his bed.
Faced with vanishing choices, she accepts. Besides, her heart beats a little faster whenever he enters the room and what could be better than a marriage to one she loves? She resolves to gain his love regardless of all the obstacles in her way. Her cousin wishes to drive a wedge between the married couple for reasons of jealousy, Royce’s determination to track a killer, and her own feelings of inadequacies plus the killer on her trail make her task harder than anticipated. Bethany doesn’t give up.
She tries to tell Royce about the grave and he finally listens before she leads him to the burial site. They find a ring plus a wax-seal and plan to trap the killer. He decides to take his bride to London to remove her from harm’s way and heads to town. His cousin and the other agents can remain at the Hall and continue the search for the culprit. He wants to be alone with his bride as well.
Her cousin (the female he wanted to court) arrives on their doorstep the very next day in the midst of the couple’s time alone. Not only that, but his cousin (working for the government) arrives at his London establishment as well interrupting any tender moments between Royce and Bethany.
Royce leaves Bethany guarded by his cousins and follows a clue to find the spy and possibly a link to the murderer. When he locates the woman he thinks may be connected to the crimes, he finds she bares a strong resemblance to Bethany. Helpless, he watches her fall under the wheels of a gig deliberately driven over her. Viewing the woman’s death brought him face to face with the fact of his love for Bethany. Love, not lust has dictated his actions from the beginning, but he fails to recognize the truth until this moment. He rushes home to reveal his love and to keep her safe.
A ball is given displaying the ring to lure the villain into making a mistake, but the evidence is stolen from under their noses. Bethany is abducted as well.
Royce is frantic and demands a search of everyone attending the ball. He discovers nothing and rides every trail in the area calling her name. He returns to the Hall for a fresh mount.
A friend of Bethany’s comes to call asking if there is any news. The young lady caused a distraction at the ball when she fainted and hit her head. Now, she is wearing the stolen ring slipped onto her finger by her betrothed at the ball. The killer is exposed, but where is he holding Bethany?
The spy, serial killer has lost his grip on reality and thinks his murdered sister has taken over Bethany’s body. He wants her at his side again. He intends to take her to France.
The traitor is in on the plot and is overheard my one of Royce’s men. The traitor is followed to the ruined abbey where Bethany is being held. There is a fight between the spy and the traitor. The spy-killer puts a period to the traitor’s life. Bethany attempts to escape during the distraction and shoves the deranged murderer down the stairs. The killer recovers quickly and is on her heels. She steps out into the night, and when the spy follows, five guns point directly at him.
Boiling with rage, Royce draws back his fist and lands a flush hit to the murderer’s face. The villain stumbles backwards down the stairs and breaks his neck. The crazed spy is dead as is the traitor and his tool of a son. The papers are recovered before damage can be inflicted on the nation or the war efforts. With the death of the Frenchman and his cohorts, justice is served. Bethany’s property and wealth is transferred into her husband’s keeping as is proper for the era.
Royce wraps Bethany in his arms and there is a happy ever after ending. Sigh, sweet romance!
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I am a native of Texas and still live in this great state. I write period romance tangled with suspense. I married my high school sweetheart, years and years ago. We raised four children and have eight grandchildren, and grandchildren are Grand. At the moment, all my children and my grandchildren live within seventy miles of our home, lots of visits. My husband and I still love each other after all these years the stuff romance is made of, Happy Ever After!