Hawthorne Mansion, Danbury, England. 1816.
George Ashton stared out her window into the pouring rain. She sighed, longing for thecomfort of her horse, Thane. In her current mood, she would very well have gone out for a ride just to get away from that horrid crow that she was cursed to call Aunt. Having justreturned from finishing school, of which she was most certainly finished, she wasshocked - no horrified to find her home under the control of that tyrant, Aunt Eileen. Her father, whom she had always preferred at a distance, had let her aunt take over anddespite George’s attempts to get him to force her aunt off the throne, he seemed contentto let her rule and add his own two pence when necessary. George had never been particularly fond of her father and he had always returned the sentiment. He had wanted a boy and had never hid that fact from his daughter. At first George listened to her mother and tried to be the best daughter he could have in the hopes that he would realize that shewas as fine as any male. But when her mother died, George, at the age of seven, stoppedtrying. It was futile and she took comfort in the fact that one day she would leaveHawthorne for good. Finishing school was merely a temporary escape route. She detestedit but, with her only other choice being her home, it had been no choice at all. Somedayshe would get married and leave for wherever her husband’s home was. She wasn’topposed to marriage, the right marriage; a marriage where both parties were in agreementand she would be regarded as a partner not an elevated servant.A sharp pain pulled her out of her reflections and caused her to look down in disgust atthe needle work her aunt had ordered (and her father had agreed!) her to do in order to“improve herself”. A drop of blood formed where the needle had pricked her and in amoment of defiance she smeared it across a half completed swan. Standing up, she smiledgrimly and placed her work on the seat; hopefully her aunt would discover it, since sheseemed to find sneaking into other people’s rooms an amusing sport. When she lookedout the window it was to discover that the rain had stopped. Every leaf glistened and beckoned her outside. Eager to acquiesce she picked up her riding crop which lay on her bed. She took in her clothing and shrugged; in her opinion she was ready for a ride in breeches, a white cotton shirt and sturdy black boots. She wore the breeches more to defyand scandalize her aunt than anything. She flicked a glance at a jacket she had thrownover a chair but rejected the idea and instead unpinned her hair and ran her fingersthrough the long black tresses with a silent apology to her maid, Ruth. After all
in for a penny, in for a pound
; if she was going to look like a hoyden then she might as well do it properly. Regarding herself in the mirror on her vanity, she grinned; she really looked awild thing.She left her room, made her way down the hallway then crept towards the stairs whereshe stopped and listened. She didn’t fear a confrontation with her aunt but then again if she could avoid it, why bother. Hearing nothing she continued down the stairs and, takingthe back entrance out, emerged in the dense forest that formed a semi-circle around themanor. She followed the path leading to the stables, enjoying the aromatic smell of wettrees. Leaving the cover of the green tunnel, she entered the stable and was surprised to