„Rebeccah and the highwayman” is a lesbian historical novel placed in England during Good Queen Anne’s reign. Those are dark middle ages times when countries knew two social classes : the very rich and the poor and some of the poor turned into Robin Hood’s because of the social differences. It’s not exactly a tale of the musketeers either, but highwaymen were highly rated and both loved and hated for what they were doing.
In this turmoil of a world, our two main characters meet : the Dutton’s carriage is attacked by highwaymen on their road home, yet the elder daughter of the rich family : Mistress Rebeccah Dutton is yet fascinated by „Blue Eyed Nick”’s eyes and mannerism or pity when „he” doesn’t take her father’s ring away from her.
I enjoyed how „Blue Eyed Nick”’s identity is kept a secret from Rebeccah, yet I wished it would have been kept a secret from the reader, too.
We make aquaintence with Kate, who’s a low class woman living with her landowner Alice, so our „Blue Eyed Nick” is a woman and above all, a woman who happens to love women. Of course, she had fallen in love at first sight with the fair haired and greened eyed mistress Rebeccah, yet she doesn’t want to let to go to the villain life and chooses not to ruin Rebecca’s path to a marriage.
Kate takes care of her mother and her brother’s son. Her brothers are both dead and we learn the man who made kate become a highwaywoman had betrayed her like many other apprentices and then turned them in. That’s a smooth spot on Kate’s conscience as she had killed him as revenge.
Mistress Rebeccah Dutton has a beautiful family, her mother and her sister Ann, ready to get married and wanting for her the same thing, yet Rebeccah had someone else on her mind. Loved her feminist views.
“Mama, I cannot marry him. I’d die in childbed, or if not there then of boredom. Besides, he’s fat and has a double chin.”
Her mother chuckled. “Not that fat. You are too particular, Beccah. You must lower your sights.”
“Do men ever lower theirs?”
“You cannot blame them for being concerned about financial matters, dear. But there are other considerations. Your face and figure are acceptable, thank heavens, and you have other assets besides your marriage portion. I didn’t agree with your father sending you to Mrs Priest’s – education only makes a woman dissatisfied with her lot – but I own that it instilled in you many of the accomplishments desirable to a husband.”
Rebeccah doubted any gentleman would appreciate her calligraphy, but held her tongue. “Then why aren’t gentlemen queuing to ask for my hand?” Her question was only half in jest.
“Be patient. Once Anne is married, it will be your turn. We will find you a man who is moderately wealthy, kind, well mannered …”
Rebeccah tuned out the rest of her mother’s list. I don’t want ‘kind’, I want passionate. Someone whose merest look can start butterflies in my stomach and make my palms damp. A pair of pale eyes popped into her mind’s eye. Oh, go away!”
Kate’s and Rebeccah’s second meeting happens all of the sudden again on the streets and playfully Kate as „Blue Eyed Nick” asks Rebeccah for a kiss and she convinces „him” to kiss her hand alone.
Rebeccah’s character is build far better than Kate’s, as she’s a villain, she should be a little scary and I get the fact that she’s attracted to her victim, but she’s to easy on Rebeccah and easily convinced to do as she pleases, now remeber she’s supposed to be a robber and a murderer.
„A sudden urge to see those blushing cheeks and green eyes again overtook Kate, and before she could stop herself, she had dug in her heels and urged Clover forward, angling the mare to intercept the approaching carriage.
“Have you not yet learned, Mistress Rebeccah, that it’s unwise to travel alone after dark across deserted heaths?”
“You may pass unharmed for a minor toll.” She heard her own words with a sense of amazement. What was she doing? She needed money and this family obviously had more than sufficient. “A kiss.”
“I will pay your toll.” Rebeccah ignored her sister’s sharp intake of breath and her mother’s shocked protest. “On one condition.”
Kate was intrigued. “Name it.”
“You may kiss only my hand.”
Still holding her gaze, Rebeccah began to remove a glove, finger by finger. Kate wondered if she was aware how arousing that was.
She laughed and made a small bow. “As you wish, Madam. And then I shall escort you to safer territory.”
As her mare fell into step beside the carriage, Kate saw that the curtains of one of the windows were drawn back and a pair of green eyes was staring out at her. She winked at Rebeccah, expecting her to blush and turn away, but the young woman continued to stare at her, brow creased
What are you thinking? wondered Kate. Did my kiss disgust you or give you pleasure? Would you like another? I would be more than happy to oblige, especially on those pretty lips.
She had thought the kiss would be of no consequence, but it had been … unexpected. How soft the highwayman’s lips were! And how odd she had felt when they touched the skin of her palm … as though butterflies were dancing in her stomach.
Rebeccah followed her friend’s anxious gaze and shook her head. “I would have spotted him. He has his own hair, whereas most men of my acquaintance wear wigs. And then there’s his height and bearing, and those striking eyes …” She sighed. “In all likelihood I will never see him again.””
„Caroline gave her an approving glance. “The highwayman wanted to purchase the freedom of as many of those unfortunates as he could. Even after the Keeper had taken his share, there was still enough left to free five men and women.””
„Rebeccah commanded her racing heart to slow. The incompetence of most thieftakers was well known. In fact some were unlikely to come across their quarry unless they tripped over him or he gave himself up. Pray God she hired one of those.”
After the second encounter, Anne, Rebbecah’s sister hired a professional roadthief / highwaymen hunters and he seems to be the best. Rebeccah hoped he’s lame and wants to see her highwayman again. On their third encounter, Kte rescues her and her maid from other highwaymen, yet she’s shot by them and Rebeccah decides to take her home and this is how she finds out who’s behind the mask and is very confused with her feelings as she knows she has fallen for Blue Eyed Nick and now he’s a woman. After Kate gets better and Rebeccah gets to know her she realizes there’s no difference in her feelings. Is it possible she has fallen for a woman who happens to be a villain?
„With difficulty, she eased Blue-Eyed Nick’s coat over his shoulders, followed by his waistcoat, then started unbuttoning his shirt. Beneath it, wrapped tightly around his chest several times, was a long narrow strip of coarse white cotton, now soaked with blood. She frowned and wondered if it were protection against the cold, though on a warm August night it seemed unlikely. With a shrug, she began to unwind it.
From outside came a jingle of harnesses and murmur of voices. The carriage jerked forward a yard then came to rest. Then it dipped as Mary climbed aboard, her arms full of moss.
The last of the cotton strip came free, and Rebeccah’s startled intake of breath attracted Mary’s attention.
“Bless me, now I’ve seen everything!” murmured the maid, peering round Rebeccah at the shapely breasts now revealed. After a moment she chuckled. “Well, well.” She tried to ease past Rebeccah, who was frozen with shock. “Excuse me, Madam. But I’ll need to get closer if I’m to treat her.”
A groan from behind followed by Mary’s protest made Rebeccah turn. The highwaywoman’s eyes were open, and she had pushed herself up on one elbow and twisted to face Rebeccah. Her skin was ashen, and there was a glaze to the pale eyes that Rebeccah didn’t like the look of.
“Lie still,” ordered Mary. “Do you want to make the bleeding worse?”
“Your footman won’t be able to … Clover.” The injured woman slumped back, her eyes closing.”
„Realisation that the undercurrent of attraction between them was as strong as ever made her feel off balance. “Were you mocking me?” she blurted.
“I beg your pardon?”
“When you kissed me.
“When you kissed me. … For you’re a woman, are you not?”
Kate chuckled. “Whoever stripped me of my clothes …” She sobered as she saw Rebeccah’s expression. “But I see you are in earnest…. To answer you, my dear. Indeed I was not mocking you.”
For some reason, that ‘my dear’ soothed Rebeccah’s agitation. “Then why did you kiss me?”
“For the simplest of reasons,” said Kate gently. “Because the moment I saw you I wanted to.” She paused. “Does that shock you?”
“God gave me an appreciation of the female form,” said Kate, her tone unrepentant, “and I thank him for it.” Her gaze became quizzical. “Forgive me, but I was under the impression that you did not find my attentions wholly repugnant. Was I mistaken?”
Rebeccah cheeks flamed. “I thought you were a man!”
“So you did.” Blue eyes twinkled. “And now that you know otherwise?”
Rebeccah felt an overwhelming urge to tell her friend everything. But she would be shocked indeed to know that at this very minute Blue-Eyed Nick is sleeping soundly in my bed, and what’s more that he is a she. So she clamped down on the impulse and asked instead, “What can you mean?””
„Pulling a chair next to the bed, she took Kate’s larger hand in hers, pleased to find that, almost at once, the frown smoothed and the muttering ceased. She contemplated the other woman’s handsome profile, trying to decide which of her features she found most appealing, deciding in the end that it was those striking eyes, currently hidden from view, that caused her heart to flutter the most.”
“Indeed.” Kate grinned. “My mother paid the premium for me to be apprenticed to a mantua-maker.”
„Kate’s face darkened. “Mistress Coggs’ husband. Though I was just turned thirteen and he five-and-sixty, the drunken sot took a fancy to me. One afternoon, when his wife was out, he tried to rape me.” She shrugged then winced and clasped her injured shoulder. “I was able to defend my honour – my brothers had taught me how. I kneed him in the stones and fled.”
“Where did you go?”
“The streets, of course. But I had no intention of selling my body, so I became a cutpurse.”
“But surely … Your parents…”
Kate shook her head. “My father died when I was five. And I could not bring the constables down on my mother. She had been through enough already. … That was the year my sister died.” she explained. “Jane was only nine. Smallpox.””
„Yet it was odd, mused Rebeccah, how safe she felt with this self-confessed thief and escaped prisoner. Maybe that was an indication of just how dangerous Kate really was. She charmed her way inside your defences and before you knew it she had stolen your money … and your heart.
But how is that possible? She is a woman!”
„Thomas looked shocked at the very idea. “Do not give up hope yet. For someone as sweet and goodnatured as you, there is a suitable husband out there, I am certain of it. It is just a matter of finding him.”
Her, corrected Rebeccah sadly, but she managed a smile for her companion. For I have already found and lost her, I fear.”
Kate is feeling better and she has to leave Rebeccah’s bed, besides small kisses and embraces, nothing has happened, but their attraction grew wilder, yet they had to go back to their lives. Kate went back to her lover Alice, to her duties and to her mask of Blue Eyed Nick, yet it doesn’t feel so right anymore and she doesn’t know what to do, yet fate comes her way again.
Anne, Rebeccah’s sister is about to be married to a Mr.Ingram when she’s kidnapped by their footman and she fears that man will marry her sister without approval for her fortune as their father had left Anne his business store, as Rebeccah was beautiful and Anne not very gifted on this part. So, Rebeccah reaches for Kate’s help, yet finds Alice who kind of dismisses her, yet Kate finally comes to the rescue and together they find Anne and that man in a bad neighbourhood were illegal marriages were being taking place. They bring back Anne home , yet the man she hired for hunting Blue Eyed Nick has found Kate and called the Police, so Kate is now a convincted highwaywoman, a thief and a murderer and she’s about to be hanged.
With all this, Rebeccah needs to find a way to rescue Kate and above all she gets a marriage proposal.
Her mother’s opinion about marriage:
„“Bless me, are we back to that old song? A woman must learn to count herself lucky if her marriage brings her security and good company.” Rebeccah’s mother glanced at her, saw the stubborn set of her jaw, and sighed. “But I collect that you will do as you think fit, as always. Keep in mind, though, I beg you, that at three-and-twenty you are not getting any younger, Beccah, and another marriage proposal may not come your way.””
Rebeccah’s marriage proposal refused
„“Good God!” He tugged his waistcoat straight, and a button pinged into the fireplace. Rebeccah bit the inside of her cheek to keep from bursting into hysterics. “Do you mean to tell me, that I have travelled all this way, risking hours of discomfort, highwaymen and Lord knows what else, and this is to be my answer?”
“I fear so. I can only apologise once more for the gross inconvenience you have suffered.”
“Well, ‘tis of no matter.” He sniffed. “There are plenty of other sensible young women,” he eyed her meaningfully, “who will be only too eager to become Mistress Dunlop.””
„She was in a noisome cell at Newgate, sitting on the lap of a convicted felon, a woman no less, who, if things didn’t work out as Rebeccah hoped, was going to hang in a two days’ time. And she had never felt so at home or so alive in all her life.”
After that, Rebeccah asks her aunt Sarah’s help, who happens to be Countess of Marlborough and a very good friend of the Queen, as we know Kate’s only chance is to get a pardon from the Queen to be released from everything. After a long quest and little time, Rebeccah manages to get the Queen’s pardon and get to Kate in time before the hanging. Yet, that pardon came with one condition from the Queen : Kate has to be employed by the Dutton’s and leave her bad ways behind. Kate has no doubt about it, as she knows she’s in love with Rebeccah and this would be the best way to be close to her, yet doesn’t want to ruin her chance to be with a man, yet Rebeccah doesn’t want that, but she wants Kate for good and invents a business for both her and Kate : a horse riding school for children and women. It’s quite brilliant and enjoyable.
I loved to read this story, a romance between women in a dark era, yet somehow too romanticized and I would have loved more villain action and a little lovemaking between them.