RomanceScience Fiction & Fantasy

The Laird's Marker

Sorcha McAllister

Fate intervenes to save Ally from her abusive husband… but then she finds herself in a completely new world. Transported back in time to the 1700s, she’s mistaken for Emily, a ward of the King. When she’s sold off to be the wife of a former Scottish Privateer, does another marital nightmare await her? Or will she finally succeed in finding a new life all her own?

Age Rating: 18+

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The Laird's Marker - Book cover
RomanceScience Fiction & Fantasy

The Laird's Marker

Sorcha McAllister

Fate intervenes to save Ally from her abusive husband… but then she finds herself in a completely new world. Transported back in time to the 1700s, she’s mistaken for Emily, a ward of the King. When she’s sold off to be the wife of a former Scottish Privateer, does another marital nightmare await her? Or will she finally succeed in finding a new life all her own?

Age Rating: 18+

1: Chapter One

The mirror had to be wrong. It was that simple. Ally may have not been happy with her life and wanted more, but she was not the kind of woman to build a fantasy world to get it.

She was a seasoned ER Nurse for God’s sake. She lived in cold, hard reality every day. There just had to be a logical explanation.

She reached up and touched the reflection in the gilded mirror in front of her. It felt like glass as a mirror should feel, but she was looking at someone else.

The person staring back at her was a person, not some picture filter or funhouse reflection. The woman was quite striking.

Ally watched the reflection do the same actions she felt herself doing as she pulled the long, golden blonde braid forward so she could see with her own eyes what the mirror was showing her.

Yep, exactly like the mirror. That could not be right. Her own hair was dark brown, not this. She wore it short and spiky because it was easier to take care of every day.

Once she finished it in the morning, she did not have to fuss with it again. Long hair was such a bother. She looked up into the mirror again.

The eyes staring back at her were blue, light like cornflowers. The eyes she had looked at every day for the last thirty-one years were a cognac-brown and more almond shape.

Her lashes only looked that long if she applied about a pound-and-a-half of mascara. These looked bare. Her face was round, not the heart-shaped face she was looking at. What. The. Freaking. Hell.

There were four choices here. The first was that this was real, and she was someone else. She immediately discarded that with a shake of her head. Two, she could be insane.

She was generally level-headed, in control of her surroundings and her emotions. She had to be, or people in her care died. She supposed that she could have totally given up on reality.

Lord knew she had enough scars, inside and out, to have made her leave reality behind, but if he had not broken her before as hard as he had tried, why would she break now when she had gotten away from him?

It just did not seem probable. She did not feel like emptying the bathtub by hand. She had to chuckle to herself about that old stupid joke used to diagnose a crazy person.

You would fill a tub with water and then offered them a bucket, a teacup, or a teaspoon. If they took one, they were nuts. A sane person would simply pull the plug. So not crazy, she decided.

Three, it could be a hallucination, but that did not seem right either. Hallucinations, whether vocal or visual, always addressed the person directly.

They accused, seduced, humiliated, or jeered at the person. The hallucination interacted with the person. She did not see the blonde in the mirror making fun of her.

She walked through the health problems that typically contributed to hallucinations, and she did not have one of them. She did not do drugs.

In hallucinations everything changed as soon as there was a thought, no matter how crazy.

She looked at the image in the mirror and willed it to turn into that big red-headed comedian with the birth-control glasses who made a career about being Jewish.

This seemed like the weird situation that he would get stuck in. She stared for several minutes, hoping she would see an enormous woman with birth-control glasses. Blue eyes just stared back.

Okay, hallucinations were probably off the table, too. That left option number four, a dream. The reality train had long left the station, that was for sure. What was she supposed to do about a dream?

Not much, she rationalized. She would wake eventually. Either that or she was in a coma and it did not matter. It was out of her hands either way. She sighed. She felt better already.

Nothing bad could happen to her in a dream.

***

“M’lady?” said the young woman standing behind her had such a concerned look on her face, it drew Ally out of her reverie.

She looked at the young woman who stood there patiently waiting on her. She wore a monochromatic floor-length gray dress with a white apron. She stuffed her wild curls into a white lace cap.

She thought she saw petticoats peeking from under the edge of the skirt. The texture of the fabric that she could see seemed somewhat rough. “Who are you?” Ally asked.

“M’lady?” she asked with a very confused look on her face.

“Who are you?” Ally asked and then scowled as she realized her voice sounded funny. That notched up her anxiety. It was more than just roughened from non-use. There was a definite accent.

Why did she have an accent? She was from California.

“My name is Sally, M’lady. I am your maid. Are you not feeling yourself again this morning?”

“Most definitely not. Where am I?” she asked, noting the maid’s use of ‘again’. Maybe Sally could shed some light on this strange situation.

“Your home,” she stated. “Charlton House,” she added when she noticed the confusion on her mistress’ face.

“Charlton House? I have never heard of it. Where is that?” Ally felt her heart rate speed up. This was getting weirder by the minute.

She did not think she could dream of a place she had never heard of

“Charlton House is in Wiltshire, just outside of Malmesbury, M’lady,” she said.

“Malmesbury?” Ally parroted. Realizing what she said, she had a moment of pause.

Sally noticed the confused look on her face, and said, “Yes. Malmesbury, England, M’lady,” The chipper young woman headed towards the wardrobe on the side wall.

“This has been your home since you were born.”

England? That just could not be right, Ally marveled to herself. She had never traveled abroad in her life. “I know this sounds insane, but who do you think I am?” she asked the young woman.

“Emily. Lady Emily Howard. You are the daughter of the late 6th Earl of Suffolk.

“Are you having trouble with your memory again, M’lady?” the young woman questioned calmly, as if she had experienced her mistress’ confusion before.

“I poured the wash basin for you. The linen is right next to it,” Sally said cheerily as she reached into the wardrobe. Apparently, Sally rolled with everything.

She looked to where Sally had pointed. There sat an actual wash basin. She had seen them on TV, but it was a little different when it was sitting right in front of her.

She leaned back from the wardrobe and gave Ally a kind smile. Ally knew that look. She had given it a thousand times in the ER, to people who just were not themselves. She guessed she really was not.

“Do you need help, M’lady?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No, I have got it,” Ally responded. She had the PTA bath down pat. She pulled off the cotton dress and dropped it on the floor next to the basin stand.

She had long ago shed her shyness over nudity after playing high school sports. She squeezed out the cloth and began giving herself a sponge bath. She sighed as she washed her chest.

The Itty-Bitty-Titty Club. Fabulous. She no longer had the swell in her lower abdomen from the pregnancies she had lost. Well, that was a plus.

She could forget her losses if she did not have to look at the reminders everytime she took a shower. Her thighs and arms were thinner.

On the positive side, at least she got to enjoy not having to look at the hated cellulite she had battled for years. If ever she had a cherished dream, that was it.

She stopped rubbing her skin with the cloth as she moved over her arm. After she lifted the cloth, her breath caught.

The scars from the pins placed in her left arm after he had broken it were missing. She looked at her bare legs. She did not see a single scar on her body, not even the ones she got as a child.

She laughed at herself for being surprised, especially given that everything else physical was different. She also noted that she obviously weighed less.

Not that she was that big before, but she could not be more than a hundred pounds soaking wet right now. Ally smiled at that.

Take that, you stupid ten pounds that refused to leave no matter how hard she worked out. Then she realized that she was in a dream.

Of course, the extra weight would be gone, and the scars had disappeared. They had bothered her for a long time, and her subconscious must have eliminated them.

***

“M’lady, what would you like to wear today?” Sally prattled on as if nothing were amiss.

“Sally, do I seem more confused than usual to you?” she asked.

“No,” Sally answered. “You get confused every now and again.”

Ally understood confusion. When she had tried to leave that bastard after he had broken her arm, he had hit her hard enough to cause a concussion. Abusers never stopped.

She knew this from taking care of domestic violence victims. She never gave up trying to get away. It had been exhausting hiding, always wary that somehow, he would find her.

All she had ever wanted was to be safe and loved by a man who would cherish and protect her. A man who would take on the world to keep her safe from harm. She chastised herself for such naivete.

Disney did not write real life or real men. They wrote male characters who did not exist anymore.

She had been out of his clutches for almost five years now, and yet, she still looked over her shoulder.

“M’lady? Would the yellow be acceptable?” Sally asked again. Ally nodded as she watched her pull out a clean slip-like thing and stockings from the wardrobe.

After she had set them on the bed, she surprised Ally by bunching up the clean garment. Sally saw her expression.

“This is one of your new chemises, just arrived from Paris.” She then slipped it over Ally’s head. The fabric was silky and felt amazing against her skin. It fell around her shins.

Ally did not know it was possible that you could feel such sensations in a dream. She never had before. Sally held out the stays for Ally so she could put her arms through the straps.

The whole process of getting dress was ridiculous. Ally had no idea what any of the millions of layers were. Ally was grateful that she had help to get dressed.

Sally patiently explained the bum roll, the petticoats, the pockets, all the different types of gowns. The sheer volume for one outfit was almost as much as Ally had in her closet at home combined.

Sally slipped the yellow silk gown over Ally’s head. It split down the front of the skirt so it would reveal the pale blue overskirt.

A gap sewed into the gown lined up with the slit, given access to the pockets. Ally had worn nothing so fancy. She marveled at the feel of the silk between her fingers.

She expected the material to be smooth, not rough. Sally spun her around without warning again and cinched up the back of the dress.

She then spun her back and inserted the stomacher in front, displaying soft blue flowers on a field of white. Ally was getting dizzy from the back and forth.

She had Ally sit down and made quick work of the white stockings, garters, and slippers. She then motioned for Ally to sit in the vanity chair and face the mirror.

“Sally? How old do I look?” she asked Sally as she looked at the woman in the mirror. There were always several ways to find things out.

“M’lady? You turned 17 years on your last birthday. Why would you look like anything other than yourself?” she said mystified as she unwound Ally’s braid.

Ally sat there dumbfounded. 17? 17? Ally could not remember being that age. “Is my mother downstairs?” she asked as soon as she shook off her surprise.

No 17-year-old girl would live on her own in an era that had stays and petticoats.

“M’lady, your mother died when you were eleven. Remember?” she told her.

“No,” said Ally softly.

“My mother worked for yours. I was only but six or seven when she passed. I became your maid when my mother passed a couple of years ago.”

“I am so sorry, Sally. I am not feeling myself today,” she blurted, trying to cover up her gaffes. There was so much to learn!

“It is fine, M’lady. You were like this for several months after Lord Charles hurt you,” she said.

“Lord Charles?” Ally asked.

“Your uncle,” she whispered. She started brushing out Ally’s hair.

“Can you explain everything that happened again? I am having trouble remembering today,” she asked.

“Are you sure, m’lady? It is always upsetting to you,” she said.

“Yes,” she answered. Sally had her undivided attention.

Sally explained the chain of events around the succession of Earls through the males in her family after her father had died when she was a baby, finally ending in her Uncle Henry, who was the current Lord of Suffolk.

With him came his intended, Lady Sarah Inwen, who according to Sally was a shrew.

“Is she that bad?” asked Ally.

Sally sighed.

“She threatened to have both of us kidnapped and sold on the docks of London if we caused her any problems with Henry after he saw a bruise on your face from when she hit you.” Sally sighed.

“She threatened to have both of us kidnapped and sold on the docks of London if we caused her any problems with Henry after he saw a bruise on your face from when she hit you.”

Well, that certainly told Ally everything she needed to know.

***

Ally could hear the anxiety in her voice. And the anger. “Does she live here are Charlton House?” she asked.

“Sometimes. She goes to London a lot. She is always shopping for gowns,” Sally said contemptuously.

“Well, at least she isn’t here all the time,” Ally sighed. “Now explain to me about my Uncle Charles,” she said firmly, changing subjects.

Sally was quiet for several minutes, debating what to say. She finally whispered, “When he first came here, he ignored both of us. Which was fine. He was not Uncle Edward, so you really did not care.

“Uncle Edward was always good to you. He gave you Mirabella,” she explained.

“Mirabella?” asked Ally, scrunching her eyebrows. Great. More people to deal with.

“Your mare. She is so sweet,” said Sally. “Anyway, Uncle Edward gave you love, and education, even taught you how to read Latin. He took you to plays until Lady Sarah put an end to that.

“He let you read books from his library. You taught me to read and then would lend me the books. We both love Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. You even got to read Alexander Pope.

“Imagine a Lady reading such a subversive,” Sally giggled. She sobered immediately at Ally’s expression. “Anyway, Lord Charles was different. He gambled and drank all the time.

“He had a string of whores that came and went constantly, so we were never in his line of sight.”

“He came here when I was 14?” she asked.

Sally nodded.

It shocked Ally that he could be such a jerk, parading that kind of women in front of an impressionable young girl!

“Your governess had to explain a lot of things to us once he came here.

“The gossip from your governess was that Lord Charles’ wife, your Aunt Henrietta, left him to be the King’s Mistress, and they paid handsomely for him to look the other way.

“She only came to visit a few times after she left. She brought Percy when Lord Edward died to keep you company.”

“Who is Percy?” Ally asked.

Sally smiled a big grin. “He is your English Mastiff and nearly with you every moment. He is a beautiful dog. Gray with brown brindling. He has an exceptionally good temperament,” she explained.

“I bet he is big, right?” asked Ally, remembering how big mastiffs were.

“Most definitely. About 12 stones, I think,” said Sally, as she worked on Ally’s hair.

Ally racked her brain to remember the stone-to-pound conversion. Holy cow, that was nearly 160 pounds. “Where is Percy right now?” She had not seen a dog all morning.

“Sarah won’t let him in the house when she is here. He does not like her. She says his growling scares her, so Henry lets her keep him out of the house.

“He stays with the gardener, Mr. Hutchison, when she is here.” Sally said with a scowl.

***

“Sally, what happened? With my Uncle Charles?”

“Fine, but do not say I did not warn you. You were so torn up by what he did to you, it took months for you to even come close to your normal self.

“After Lord Charles had spent all his money on whores, liquor, and gambling, he wanted the money your father and mother left for you. He even wanted the money that Lord Edward left you.

“The King controls it, not you. Even though you have lived with your uncles, you have been a Ward of His Majesty, King George since you were an infant. You had no power to give Lord Charles anything.

“The King had already claimed your lands you inherited from your mother so there was nothing even to sell,” the anger starting to show in her voice. An anger on her behalf, Ally realized.

Sally told the story so fluidly that Ally knew she had to have told that story many times.

Ally waited for her to continue. Sometimes silence works better than anything to get someone talking.

“He was furious when he turned up nothing.

“He beat you so bad trying to get you to tell him where the gold was, that your governess confronted him and told him she would tell the King if he touched you again.

“He ended her employment and had her put on a boat going to France. Then he started touching you, and cornering you, and sneaking up on you any chance he got. My mother kept him away from me.

“She tried to keep him away from you, too. Percy helped. He growled at him and made Charles keep his distance, but he just would not stop.

“He looked for every opportunity to grab you, particularly when Percy was not right at your side. But Percy always knew. He could smell him on you. This went on for months.

“Your letters to your Aunt Henrietta asking for help either never made it to her or were ignored.”

“Then?” Ally asked softly. She had a fairly good idea where this was heading. Only a few things made a healthy young woman lose her memory.

“Charles sent me on an errand to get me out of the house and locked my mother in the buttery. Then he locked you in the downstairs guest parlor with Percy outside the door.

“He snuck up on you from the passage hidden behind the wall. You said you would never forget how his breath smelled of liquor as he dropped on top of you.

“How he said horrible things you could not understand. You said you kept trying to push him off, but he was so big and so strong…” Sally paused and hugged Ally.

Tears were streaked down both of their faces.

Ally had not realized she had been crying, too. She understood the horror that this young woman had endured. She had lived it herself. Ally wiped her face and motioned for Sally to continue.

“He, he dishonored you,” Sally started before a sob broke loose. She got herself under control and continued. “Percy finally broke through the door, bit into his buttocks, and yanked him off.

“Percy then pinned him to the floor by the throat. You feared that Percy would get put down if he killed him, so you made him release that scoundrel.

“Lord Charles died a couple of weeks later from infection. Lord Henry came to live with us after that. Fortunately, you didn’t get with child.” Sally wiped away a tear that trailed down her cheek.

“We told your Uncle Henry he only tried to hurt you but failed. Lady Sarah did not believe us, of course.

“She was adamant that we had to not say a word about your being ruined or no man would want you since you were not pure any longer.

“She said just the possibility of a scandal could prevent any kind of match for you.”

“It is so unfair. You did nothing wrong. But we have told no one so you do not get saddled with a horrible husband,” said Sally sadly.

It was obvious why Emily frequently forgot her life.

Ally got up and walked over to the window. The gardens below were beautiful. They looked like something out of Versailles. The neatly trimmed shrubs and the lawns perfectly manicured.

Gardens like this did not exist anymore. That lead to another thought. “Sally, what year is this?” she asked, without turning around.

“Year of Our Lord, 1734,” she says solemnly. “June 23rd, to be precise,” she pointed out.

“1734, huh,” Ally repeated. Her dream had brought her to the past. That brought a whole new host of concerns, even if this was a dream world. She knew virtually nothing about this period.

Even if she did, why would she choose here? How could she even be here and imagine all of this? It was so different from anything else she knew. Even the silk was rough.

She had no reference point for that. She had thought silk was smooth.

How would she deal with being in this time? Having been at the mercy of the foster system since she was thirteen, she could think fast on her feet in a world that she understood. But this one?

But whose mercy would she be at here? She did not even understand all the players or any of the rules. The ways she knew how to protect herself did not exist now. She could not support herself. now.

Nursing was so different in the 1700s, not that she could work. She could not drive now. She could not vote or own property. She could not wear pants or even swear, not that she did a lot of that. now.

She could not even live alone. She was in a world of No now.

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