Rebeccah And The Highwayman by Barbara Davies could easily be the prototype for the lesbian highwayman romance. In early 18th century England, Rebeccah Dutton is strangely drawn to the gallant masked robber who stops her family’s coach. In a moment of sentimentality, the outlaw allows Rebeccah to keep her late father’s signet ring while stripping the family of their other money and jewelry. That sentiment is repaid when “Blue-Eyed Nick” is left wounded when rescuing Rebeccah from attackers and she takes the outlaw under her protection to nurse and conceal…her! Kate is the archetypal “highwayman with a heart of gold” who took to the road to support her aging mother and her late brother’s family. She shares her secret and her bed with her landlady but knows that soon or late she may face the gallows. That danger is intensified when she loses her heart to one of her victims.
Rebeccah and Kate are distinctly different characters, each well motivated and with a rich background history. There were a few places where I felt the historic grounding slipped a little and the protagonists betrayed more modern reactions and sensibilities, but not enough to spoil the story for me. There are some great cameos from actual historic figures such as Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough who had a deep emotional (if not necessarily erotic) relationship with Queen Anne and whose appearance in the story serves to convey some of the attitudes of the time about women’s same-sex relationships.
The Writing Style
There’s a wealth of historic detail and exactly the right frisson of suspense when Kate is arrested and faces the gallows. (But this is a romance, so the reader can rest assured that all will turn out ok.) The writing is solid and entertaining and weaves the love story into an adventure that could stand on its own.
The author has a very solid grounding in the history of the time and both the opportunities and obstacles for women who love each other. I especially loved the complexity of the story. It doesn’t simply end abruptly once our heroines get together, but concludes with a believable future as they sort out their lives and expectations. There was never a point where the situations seemed contrived or the characters seemed forced into encounters just to heighten the tension or drive the plot.
I did wish that there had been a minor secondary crisis in those concluding chapters. The pacing felt a bit off, like reaching for a step that isn’t there.
If you like your action-adventure dressed up in lace and sweeping cloaks, this is a solid, well-written story by an author who knows her time and place.
Excerpt from Rebeccah And The Highwayman by Barbara Davies
“Turn around,” said the Ordinary of Newgate, shouting to make himself heard above the mob’s heckles and catcalls. Kate did so without reluctance–far better to look at those who had travelled miles to attend Tyburn’s Hanging Fair than at the Triple Tree.
Hawkers were selling snacks and gin, and pretty girls in white were distributing flowers and oranges from baskets. That group of keen-eyed men must be surgeons seeking specimens for dissection. As for that old woman doing a brisk trade in flimsy pamphlets…Kate squinted and made out the title: The Confessions of ‘Blue-Eyed Nick’, the female Highwayman. No doubt a luridly exaggerated account of her exploits. She curled her lip.
“Here come your visitors.” The guards around the cart parted to let through a group of four. She blinked down at the familiar faces of her parents and brothers. “Say your farewells and be quick about it.” The Ordinary jumped down and went to talk to the hangman.
“Kate.” Her father was gazing up at her, his expression sad. Beside him stood her mother, eyes bright with intelligence, the way they had been before grief and hardship fogged her wits.
“Thank you both for coming,” managed Kate.
“What, no word of welcome for me?” Her younger brother was still wearing the uniform he’d died in at Blenheim.
“You are welcome indeed, Ralph.” The ragged wound in his temple made her wince. “Does it hurt?”
He shook his head. “Not any more.”
“And are you glad to see me too?” Eyes as blue as her own regarded her.
“When am I ever not, Ned?”
The ruggedly handsome face crinkled into a smile. “Bless you. Couldn’t miss a good hanging, could I? Especially when it’s my sister’s.”
Yet it’s odd how I am the only one hanging today, thought Kate. For this cart is wide enough for eight.
“We’ve come to say our farewells,” said her father, “haven’t we, Mother?” His wife nodded.
“To give you a good send off,” said Ralph.
“And provide a friendly face in the mob,” added Ned.
Their kindness humbled Kate. “Thank you.” She paused then said gruffly, “I’m sorry for . . . everything.”
Her father sighed. “Too late for that, I fear.”
Ashamed, she ducked her head, and when she looked up again, it was to see the Ordinary coming towards her, shouting, “Hurry along now. The time for farewells is over.” He scrambled up onto the cart.
Kate watched with blurred vision as her family was escorted to the edge of the crowd, and scanned the people standing on either side of them. A familiar face stopped her in her tracks.
“You may give your speech now,” said the Ordinary in her ear.
Ignoring the prison chaplain, she glared at the handsome figure in the expensive clothes and brand new wig. He gave her a mocking smile and doffed his hat. Rage bubbled up inside Kate, and her hands balled into fists before she remembered—Wildey was dead. The shot from her own pistol had taken his life.
“Your speech,” repeated the Ordinary, impatience seeping into his voice.
She glanced at him. “I have none.”
His cheeks flushed with annoyance. “You had plenty of time! To the nub of things then.” He jumped down and signalled.
The hangman secured the other end of the halter looped round her neck to the massive beam above her. He hopped up onto the cart and came towards her, a blindfold in his left hand.
“Take a last look,” he advised.
She tried to fix her family’s faces in her mind. Her father and brothers’ eyes were glistening, and her mother was holding a handkerchief to her nose.
“Goodbye,” mouthed Kate. Then the blindfold stole the view, leaving her feeling alone and vulnerable.
“Get on with it. We haven’t got all day!” yelled someone in the crowd, triggering laughter. Nearby, the Ordinary had begun to pray loudly for “this wretched sinner,” and above her a crow cawed.
The cart rocked, and she knew that the hangman had stepped out of it. She tried to still the trembling that had overtaken her. Then a whip cracked, and a horse whinnied, and a great yell went up from the crowd as the cart lurched forward. Kate would have gone with it, but for the noose around her neck…
She woke with a gasp and sat up. Her heart was threatening to pound its way out of her chest. She took in the familiar surroundings with a sense of relief and wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of one hand.
“Are you well?” asked the red-haired woman lying next to her.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781934452011
- Publisher: Bedazzled Ink Publishing
Barbara Davies Online
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