Staff Feature: Kimberly Duffy
Margaret ducked her head. The tomato grazed her cheek before slamming into the iron bars behind her. She huffed, tugged the chain attaching her to Buckingham Palace Gate, then turned to face the crowd.
A few dozen people, mostly men on their way home from work, made a semi-circle around Margaret and the four other suffragettes.
“Go home where you belong,” a man jeered, his cheeks red with the brisk November wind and anger.
“We women, belonging to every class,” Bridget shouted beside Margaret, the lilt of her Irish accent washing her words in softness, “join together and say we will not be ruled by a government who will not hear our voice or receive our vote.”
“Eh, listen to the bogtrotter preach!” called a woman wearing a patched coat.
“Won’t you join us?” Margaret asked.
“Take up the fight for our voting right,” her co-protestors chanted.
The lower class lady hooted. “And who has time fer that, Milady?” She curtsied with a flourish.
Margaret’s stomach clenched. She had hoped, in her unadorned navy walking suit, no one would recognize her as nobility. She looked at Bridget. “Do you think she knows who I am?”
“She meant nothing by the term. She was only funning.”
Margaret groaned. “My father will be furious if he finds out I’m protesting.”
“You will be caught eventually.” Bridget shook her head, and Margaret felt every bit the young and sheltered daughter of a baron.
A young man separated from a tight knot of peers and drew close to Margaret. “Hello, Miss.”
Margaret inclined her head. “Hello.”
He glanced back at his friends who hooted and laughed. Then he turned around, his lips pulled into a wolfish grin, and leaned close. His hand grazed her hip.
Margaret squeaked a protest and tried to escape his touch but the chain held one arm firm. She fumbled in her pocket for the key.
He laughed and grabbed her wrist, pulling her hand free of her skirt. “Your escape?” he said, jerking his chin at the key held between her fingers.
“You’re a group of silly things, aren’t you? You don’t deserve the vote.”
Heat poured through Margaret. “We understand what’s happening, and we deserve to be represented by a government who listens to us.”
His brow and lips tipped, mocking her. “Pretty words.” His gaze traveled down her throat. Then lower. “Pretty lady.”
“Let her go, you eejit.” Bridget spat at him, the glob landing on his shoulder.
Margaret twisted, but he held her arm firmly with a hand that burned. “Release me.”
“I believe the lady wishes you to leave.” At the sound of a man’s cultured voice, Margaret opened her eyes and met the gaze of her knight.
Peter Russell, her older brother’s childhood friend, heir of the Earl of Brentwood, and the knight to her captured princess in every make-believe game the three played growing up. The dreadful man withered beneath Peter’s gaze and he darted off.
“Tag, Meggy, you’re it.” Peter brought her hand to his lips. He narrowed his eyes at the sight of the red mark, left by her captor’s grip. “Why are you chained to a fence among a bunch of rabble rousers?”
“We’re protesting for the right to vote.”
“They’ll arrest you.”
“Why would they arrest us?”
Peter flicked the green, purple, and white ribbon pinned to her lapel. “The leader of this organization was picked up yesterday for attacking the prime minister with a riding crop. They’ll crack down on all who join with her.”
Margaret sucked in a breath. “Miss Mayfield did that? I had no idea.” She turned to Bridget. “Did you know?”
Bridget’s wide eyes and gaping mouth answered Margaret before the girl even shook her head.
A whistle blew from beyond the tree line. Peter swiveled his head. “Bobbies are coming. Quick ladies, unlock your chains and leave.”
Bridget released herself and, with a quick pat on Margaret’s shoulder, trotted away from the gathering.
The other two women stared at her defiantly, their backs rigid with pride.
For a moment, Margaret felt tempted to stay with them. To stand firm. But she didn’t want to go to prison. Didn’t want to be aligned with violence. She only wanted a vote.
Peter took the key from her hand, twisted it in the lock, and yanked the chain from the belt’s loops. “Come.”
Margaret took his hand as several officers rode through the crowd, dispersing the hecklers. “Halt!” one shouted.
Peter pulled her and they took off, rounding the gate and pushing past the street crowds. Margaret knew nothing but the choking dust from their churning feet and the ba-bump, ba-bump of her heart against her chest in rhythm with the hooves pounding behind them.
“In here,” Peter shouted, pulling her into a dim, narrow alley.
He leaned against the slimy wall and she ducked into his chest, breath wasted from the race, until their pursuers thundered past their hiding spot.
“I think we’re safe.” Peter heaved a great sigh.
She peeked up at him and saw him smiling at her in a way that set her heart racing again. “Do you believe women should have the vote?”
She cupped his face in her palms. “Not many men do.”
She lifted onto her toes, her face less than a kiss’s breadth away. “And you are my courageous knight.”
“This is no game, Margaret.”
Her lips lifted. “No. We will win the vote.” She pressed her lips against his. “And…tag, you’re it.”
She whirled and started away. Not too quickly, though, for they were no longer children and she wanted him to catch her.
Kimberly’s debut novel, A Mosaic of Wings, releases May 5, 2020 (Bethany House a Publishers).