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Cindy's old pocket watch displayed twenty—five minutes until midnight. She'd been standing on the dirt road outside Lord Gerard's large manor for about ten minutes now, wondering if she was doing the right thing. Her inner voice kept telling her that she was being silly, that perhaps the medals weren't worth the hassle, but then memories from the past contradicted her voice of reason. Ida, Cindy's stepmother had no right to sell her dead father's possessions—she was only her guardian. Everything, including the estate itself, still belonged to her, and would so permanently as soon as she fulfilled the clause in her father's will. Besides, she couldn't allow Ida to get away with selling her father's private collection. Ida was doing everything out of spite, just to make her life difficult, and Cindy wasn't planning to sit idly by and obey her.

The medals were priceless. Cindy's father had gotten them from his great—great grandfather. He had often removed the medals carefully from their encasement, polished, and then just stared at them for hours. Cindy had never asked what they'd truly meant to him, but many memories of her father were in those precious items.

A few minutes later, Cindy steeled her nerves and crept as silently as were possible around his estate. After she ensured none of the lamps were still burning, she decided to sneak inside through the back door. Her heart was thumping loudly inside her chest. There was a forest behind the house, and Lord Gerard's large garden was overgrown. Cindy suspected he must have stopped paying his gardener, too.

She was disappointed when she discovered that his back door was locked. This wasn't the first time Cindy had to break into someone's house. After her father died, she stopped being a respectable young woman and rebelled. She just couldn't deal with the grief of losing her father, and things grew worse when she started keeping company with a group of highwaymen late in the evenings. Now she wished she could forget about that dark period of her life, but her stepmother was constantly there to remind her that she was the one who ruined her own future.

Cindy walked up to the smallest window; it was parted midway. She found a fallen grey stone from the fencing line and shattered the glass. At that point, Cindy was frustrated with her slow—going progress, and was running out of time. For several seconds, she just stood there, allowing her gaze to wander in the darkness, and waiting for someone to appear, but no one did. She wasn't entirely sure if the lord was inside his home or not, but she was willing to take the risk. Minutes later, after removing the leftover shards of glass, she shimmied through the small window, finally inside. Cindy was slender so it worked to her advantage, but she'd torn the hem of her dress on the jagged windowpane.

Soon she found herself in a large kitchen that stunk of wet dog. There were dishes piled in the sink and bits of food on the floor.

Cindy took a deep breath, walking into the spacious drawing room. Luckily for her, the room was empty. There was a plate filled with bits of meat and several bottles of rum on a small side table. It couldn't have been too long since Gerard had gone to bed, or perhaps he hadn't come home from the tavern at all. She needed to hurry, because she wasn't entirely sure how much time she had. She started searching through his things, rummaging through the drawers inside of his bureau and looking through old papers inside another small wooden desk. Her hands were slightly trembling, but after several long minutes, she realised the medals weren't anywhere in the room. Ida had sold them to Lord Gerard earlier on, so maybe he decided to put them away in a much safer place. The old lord must have realised they were worth more than the meager sum he'd paid.

A split second later, Cindy heard a noise coming from upstairs, and her heart nearly stopped inside her chest.

It seemed that Sir Gerard was indeed at home, and he had company. In the next moment, Cindy heard a feminine laugh. She began searching for the medals more frantically, telling herself she wasn't going to leave without them, then headed to the dining room. She walked a few steps and then nearly tripped over what seemed like a package of some sort, lying on the wooden floor. When she looked down, she saw a paper bag. She opened it, peering inside.

He must have gotten rid of the boxes and then tossed the medals in a paper bag. That made Cindy even more furious; the boxes were handcrafted, and they were probably worth more than the medals themselves.

"Stop it, sir, that hurts." The woman's voice echoed throughout the house once again. She placed the bag inside the pocket of her long dress and then headed upstairs. She knew it was a bad idea, but her curiosity won out.

She peered through the door of the last bedroom on the second floor. She recognised Gerard's company. She was a local woman from the nearby brothel. The lord had her pinned down on a large wooden bed. Cindy bit her bottom lip. She knew women like that were used to pleasing men, and in the end, it was their job, but right then, something felt a little off about this particular situation.

What the lord enjoyed doing in his spare time was none of her business. She'd retrieved the medals—what she'd come for. She was just about to leave when she saw Lord Gerard strike the woman. Cindy gasped, and the girl cried out in pain, trying to wiggle herself out from beneath him. A second later, he began forcing himself on her, breathing hard, trying to untie his belt at the same time.

"You're such a naughty, naughty whore," he rasped, and then clasped her hands above her head so she couldn't move. Her cheek was red, raw, and Cindy was horrified. The lord was slurring his words, too. Cindy supposed he must have been drinking heavily before the girl showed up.

"This is not what you're paying me for. Let me go. You're hurting me, sir!" the woman shouted, and Cindy could hear the panic in her voice.

"Shut your mouth, you stupid whore! I've been paying Martha a fortune for your lot, so it's about time you do what I want," he snarled and hit her again, then began moulding her breasts in his hands. The woman was pleading with him to stop, but he refused to listen to her at all.

Cindy stood there watching them, frozen to the spot. She also knew that this wasn't the first time: Lord Gerard often took advantage of the young ladies in the Farrington Kingdom. She never knew he was willing to pay for Martha's services, too. She was fuming with anger, remembering when one of the highwaymen had forced himself upon her in the forest. The rage inside of her spiked, and in that moment, she lost control of herself.

"Gerard, I think you have something on your face," Cindy said, walking inside the bedroom and making her presence known. Lord Gerard was too drunk and most likely too aroused to gather himself in time. Cindy didn't think, she just punched him hard, directly between his eyes, hearing his bones crunch in the process. The lord howled and blood poured down his face. For a second, she was blinded by the pain in her fist, also, she was shocked by her own unexpected strength. The woman managed to wiggle herself from underneath the lord's large stomach and then screamed. This wasn't the reaction Cindy had expected from her.

"Get out of here before he realises what's happened," Cindy snapped at her, backing away toward the door. The woman nodded at her, and began picking her clothes up from the floor.

Lord Gerard roared with fury, trying to get up from the bed, but he seemed to be struggling.

"You took what didn't belong to you: my father's medals. My stepmother had no right to sell them, and you should be rotting in royal prison, you sick bastard. When a woman says no, she means no!"

Cindy had no idea why she was saying these things, but she felt as if she could kill Gerard with her bare hands. He started coughing, trying to stop the bleeding when, finally, Cindy let go of his throat.

"You little blond whore. You're going to pay for breaking into my house," Gerard snarled at her. "I'm not a whore, and no one should be treated this way, not even women of the night," she said, and then stormed out of the room, knowing that Lord Gerard was most likely going to remember his broken nose. Cindy didn't want to waste any more time, she had to get back home as soon as possible.

The front door was wide open, so she hurried out, trying to calm herself. It was chilly outside, and the harsh air stung her rosy cheeks.

She pulled up her hood and started walking, heading toward the forest. She glanced to the right, noticing a light was on in one of the houses, and now the elderly lady was staring at her through her front window. Cindy sped up a little, panicking. This wasn't good. Mrs. Porter must have recognised her. On top of everything, Cindy's stomach was growling. She hadn't eaten since breakfast, and she felt like she was going to pass out at any second. She had to rush home before her stepmother discovered she'd left without her permission.

She turned the corner a split second later, hoping to quickly disappear through the forest. There, she saw several horse riders blocking her way. Her heart accelerated, because she instantly recognised them.

"We meet again, Cindy Rutherford," General Davies shouted, obviously recognising her, too. She considered running away, but she knew that she would be making her situation much worse.

General Davies had a smug look on his face when he dismounted his horse and walked up to her.

"What's going on, General?" she asked him, pretending she had no idea why he'd stopped her. The other Officer of the Court, Kenneth, approached, too, but the third didn't move from his horse. Cindy suspected that someone from town must have seen her sneaking around—or worse. Perhaps someone was watching her when she broke into Lord Gerard's home.

"Search her, Kenneth," Davies ordered.

"You have no right to touch me. Anyone can walk on the road at night," she snapped, backing away from them.

General Davies smirked. "Anyone apart from you, Rutherford."

Kenneth ordered her to lift her hands while he searched her. She glanced at the third man of the king's guard. He was staring at her with such intensity that she lost her bearings for a moment. She couldn't take her eyes off him, even when Kenneth, the Lieutenant, accidentally brushed his hand over her left breast. A wave of electricity moved through her core. It felt good that, for a moment, the stranger allowed her to forget about what was happening around her.

"Aha, we've got something," Kenneth said, pulling the medals from the pocket of her dress. Now Cinderella knew she was going to be in serious trouble. They were undoubtedly going to accuse her of stealing her own father's medals.

Then she inhaled sharply, realising that this entire situation must have been staged from the beginning. Her stepmother must have paid Lord Gerard to take the medals, because she knew Cindy would go after them. How could she have been so blind? Had Ida known she'd been listening in?

Kenneth looked inside the bag, and then Davies turned her around abruptly, placing a rope securely around her wrists.

"Cindy Rutherford, in the name of King Caspian the II, you're under arrest for theft."

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