This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
shrieked, clutching his arm. “What was that?” She angled herself behind Kensington and peered over his shoulder, trying to get a look at whatever it was. He laughed. “I think that was a squirrel.” “It was not,” Alessia declared, vexed. “It was small and brown with a furry tail. Fear not,” he replied, smirking. “Impossible,’ she insisted. ‘There were too many feet...” she trailed off, realizing she sounded ridiculous. “Well, too many feet or no, why don’t we get you something to drink?” he asked, his face almost implacable but for a brief flash of an emotion that Alessia couldn’t identify. “I believe that perhaps some lemonade will calm your nerves.” Alessia nodded, murmuring her agreement while beating herself inwardly. How could she sound so ridiculous, and in front of Lord Kensington at that? He already had the advantage of her, and now she’d just made a laughingstock of herself. Who knew how the man would use it to ridicule her. She meekly followed him to the park and allowed him to pour her a drink and find a place for her to sit without making a fuss, and wonder of all wonders, he behaved himself. She ended up sitting next to Lady Rebecca watching a group of people play badminton. “Your sister looks rather enthralled, doesn’t she?” asked Lady Rebecca. “Of course, anyone related to Lord Kensington would be charming to a fault.” Alessia looked over at Heart, who had both of her hands wrapped around one of Sean Kensington’s, attempting to show him the proper way to hold a badminton racquet and giggling. “You think he’s charming?’ she asked absentmindedly. ‘I thought he seemed rather arrogant.” Lady Rebecca laughed. “Well, you have me there. But that’s always the way of it, nay? It’s never the humble ones who catch the pretty ladies.” “Of course not,” Alessia agreed, solemnly watching her sister.
“I’m beginning to find this match rather tedious,” Lady Rebecca declared shortly. “How would you like to go exploring?” Alessia nodded, still distracted, then looked over. “What?” “I have an impeccable sense of direction,’ Lady Rebecca informed her, ‘and I’m quite fond of rambles in the woods. Walk with me?” Lady Alessia glanced around. Most of her acquaintances were occupied with the badminton game, and there were several older members of society, including her father, gathered round a table well engrossed in talking and drinking. Lord Kensington looked over and winked at her, backhanding the shuttlecock onto the opposing team’s half of the court. “Point!” Alessia looked back at Lady Rebecca, nodding eagerly. “Why yes, a ramble does sound lovely.” They wandered down beneath the trees, discussing a new French designer that had arrived in town and the beautiful new jackets that just everyone had to have. “Look!’ Lady Rebecca pointed out. ‘Violets!” They walked off the path to a small patch of wildflowers, picking a few and wrapping them in their handkerchiefs to press when they got home. Lady Alessia walked a little further to a gnarled old tree. “Would you believe how large this tree is? And look at these roots, it must be over a hundred years-” she screamed as she fell through the roots into a cave, dirt falling on top of her. She quickly stuffed her hand in her mouth to stop the screaming, and tried to get to her feet, falling back down when she tried to put her weight on her ankle. A whimper escaped through her fist. Lady Rebecca’s head appeared through the crack. “Lady Alessia, are you alright? Can you move?” Alessia waved her arm. “I can move, but I think I twisted my ankle. Could you fetch some help? It’s dark down here,” she ended softly, not wanting to sound as frightened as she knew she was. “I’ll be right back,” Lady Rebecca replied. “Don’t worry, you’ll be out in moments, I promise,” she said, then ran off. Light came filtering back through the space that Rebecca had left, but all it did was illuminate the fact that the cave was much larger
than Alessia had originally thought, and the darkness surrounding was suddenly much more imposing. She could hear the dripping of water echoing nearby, each echo making her a little bit more jumpy. It was getting windy outside, the air whistling through the cave, and the sun was beginning to set. It seemed Lady Rebecca had been gone an interminably long time. Was she lost? They had wandered off the path, maybe she couldn’t find her way back again. Her heart started to beat faster, when all of a sudden she heard something not the wind. She held her breath, trying to hear if someone was coming to rescue her, but the noise wasn’t coming from above her. It sounded as if whispers were coming from deep inside the cave, the sound of shhs and sss echoing around her. Alessia whimpered again, covering her face in her hands and closing her eyes tightly as whatever it was skittered away. She shrieked as something crashed down next to her, flinching away. “Well, you’ve gotten yourself in some kind of mess now, haven’t you? I knew you were trouble the moment I saw you,” Lord Kensington told her. Breathing deeply, her hand on her chest, Alessia protested. “I’m trouble? You have done nothing but harass me since we’ve met!” “I know your kind,” he smirked. “Have to keep you on your toes as a preemptive mechanism.” “Excuse me,” she huffed. “Can you please just help me out of here? I don’t believe it is good for my constitution to be stuck in a cave. Or my reputation.” “Well, if you really insist,” Kensington agreed. “Boys, send down the ropes,” he yelled at the opening. “Ropes?” Alessia asked querulously. “Unfortunately we are short one staircase at the moment. You’ll just have to settle for being carried up.” “Oh,” Alessia said quietly. She stayed silent as Kensington lifted her up, then sat the two of them in the makeshift sling that had obviously been quickly constructed. They were carefully raised out, revealing Sean, Lord Quinly and Lord Jacob with Lady Rebecca waiting at the top for them. “Safe and sound,” announced Kensington. “You are now officially looking at Lady Alessia’s white knight. This will do terrible things to my reputation.”
“And by terrible things, you mean improve it?” asked Lady Rebecca. “Isn’t that what I said?” he asked, and they all laughed. Lady Rebecca sniffed. “Well, look at Lady Alessia, clearly she is in a complete state, and shouldn’t she be? Lord Kensington will carry you back to the park, your father and sister are so worried, and a doctor has been summoned.” “Oh, thank you all so much,” said Alessia. “You were all so wonderful to come and rescue me after I made such a fool of myself.” “Nonsense,” declared Lord Quinly. “My lady is well-known for dragging others into trouble they would never have known how to get into on their own.” Lady Rebecca laughed and took his hand as they walked began to walk back to where everyone was waiting. As they arrived, everyone was milling around, several people gasping at Alessia’s disheveled self. She buried her head into Kensington’s shoulder, not wanting to see the commotion. He set her down gently on a pile of pillows, her father, Sir Gerald, and her sister hovering over her. “Oh!” Alessia exclaimed, seeing blood smeared across his jacket and he looked down, his eyes darting from his jacket across to Alessia, where a deep gash ran down her forearm. Concern flickered in his eyes briefly, then the doctor pushed his way through. “Everyone back up, let me help.” The doctor got her patched up, and then she was helped to the carriage where her father and sister fussed over her all the way home. Both Heart and Alessia were terribly fond of their father despite the relatively distant manner he had carried the years since her mother’s death. She was settled into her room at home, given some laudanum and promptly fell fast asleep. Despite her weariness, she did not sleep well. Her dreams were constant and blurry, impressions of people whispering incomprehensibly, snakes slithering around her, and one dark figure coming out of the shadows, disappearing just before his features became clear. When morning finally came, she woke with much relief. The day was filled with visitors expressing their concern. The last and most notable showed up late in the afternoon, just before supper. Lady Heart greeted Lord Kensington and Sean at the door, her face brightening. “Oh, it’s so good to see the two of you- we didn’t get a
chance to properly thank you for rescuing Alessia! Thank you so much for coming.” “Please, it was nothing,” declared Lord Kensington, bowing over her hand. “And you must call us by our names, I feel we are all so well acquainted now. Sean agrees, don’t you?” Sean nodded emphatically, his eyes twinkling down at Heart. “Nothing would please me more,” he agreed. “Oh!” said Heart. “That is so kind of you- please, go right ahead and call me Heart as well. Would you like to see Alessia? I know she wants to pay her respects to both of you.” Sean hesitated. “I believe Brooks here would like to make sure she’s safe with his own two eyes. Perhaps you could show me your garden while he does so?” Heart turned pink. “Of course, that sounds wonderful!” She waved the maid over to show Kensington to the parlor and walked Sean out the French doors into the garden. “He seems very fond of Alessia,” she commented. “Oh, I think he realizes that the women in your family clearly have something unique about them,” Sean replied, tucking a tendril of loose hair behind Heart’s ear, and she blushed again. Kensington walked into the parlor to find Alessia dozing on the chaise. He sat down next to her, his boots knocking against the floor, jerking her awake. Circles underneath her eyes belied her lack of sleep, and she stared at him for a moment before fully awaking. “Oh! Lord Kensington,” she said, a hint of sullenness in her voice. “Alessia. Please, after such an intimate experience, feel free to call me Kensington,” he told her. “Everyone else does.” “Mmmm,” she replied, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. “I don’t believe I properly expressed my gratitude to you yesterday.” “I don’t believe you did,” he agreed, that smirk returning to his face. “Who knows if my ego will ever recover?” Alessia snorted. “I’m sure your ego could take a few good hits without doing any damage whatsoever. It might even improve your personality by going down a few notches,” she retorted, then closed her eyes, gathering herself. “I am sorry, that was uncalled for.”
“I don’t believe it was,” disagreed Kensington, contrary to the bone. He shifted slightly and his pocket squeaked. “What was that?” Alessia asked, looking at him, eyes wide. “What could it be?” he wondered along with her, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small bundle of black fur and dumping it onto her lap. “Maybe you could identify this wild beast for me?” Alessia looked down at the kitten currently residing in her lap, yawning to reveal a bright pink tongue. A soft coo escaped her, and she rearranged it as it curled up and fell asleep. “Sir Lancelot here is to protect you from those dangerous squirrel beasts,” Kensington told her, grinning. “Awww, he’s too small to go up against any squirrels yet,” Alessia told him. “I don’t think I’ll be suffering from that danger for a while though.” Heart and Sean returned, and Heart fussed over the kitten as well, until Sean and Kensington had to leave, promising to return soon. Alessia slept much more soundly that night, nightmares of the previous forgotten with the furry body of the kitten curled up next to her.
NOTE BY AUTHOR: This novel is not historically accurate, and as a fair warning, about to get drastically different from early modern history. Don’t be surprised.