I Killed Him – Pt 4

Chapter Four

John Thornton  was ready to storm Margaret’s hospital room if the doctors didn’t finish with her soon. A million things had crossed through his mind while he waited. One was how loved he felt that she had found her way back to him when she was barely alive. The other was how slowly could he kill a man. Not so much the slow death, but how he would go about it, kept whirling through his head.

I Killed Him 250x375Finally, Donaldson came from her room.

“I’m going in there, not matter what you say.” John started to walk that way and Donaldson grabbed his arm.

“Let’s sit for a few minutes and then you can go in. She is not awake but that is on purpose. I will tell you the findings.”

John hung his head. “Is there more I don’t know? I’m not sure I can take much more.”

“Did you want to know or not?”

“All of it.” John said, as he stood to start his pacing again.

“One of the things I know worries you most or any man in love, is the fellatio assault. There was no presence of his semen, but a small piece of skin was removed from her front teeth. Her mouth has been thoroughly cleansed, so you may kiss her as I know you will. She fought hard, John. There were finger prints on the back of her neck and arms.” Donaldson paused.

John flopped down in the chair in the waiting area and slumped over, averting his eyes. Donaldson could hear his attempts to keep his weeping silent.

“She does have a slight fracture to one rib, and it did cause internal bleeding. That is our major concern right now. She has stopped coughing up blood, so I think that is slowing down. We will keep a close eye on that for a few more days. He did not break her cheek, however he did loosen a few back teeth, which is hard to do, but they should stabilize quickly. You saw the black eye. That is only the beginning. You know they last a week or more.”

“And the fists to her body?”

“I’m afraid we found evidence of about 9 or 10 punches, several in the kidney area, which is of moderate concern. Until we can get some urine out of her, we won’t know how extensive that damage is. There is a very small chance that getting with child could be difficult, but far from impossible.”

Still sniffling and refusing to look Donaldson in the eye, he asked, “Is there more? I cannot believe there can be more and she still is alive.”

“I believe her best recovery lies with you, now. Her body will heal. Continued beatings and torturous stress could have taken a mighty toll on her. That yet remains to be seen. It may not manifest itself right away, either. It could be a year from now. Much will depend on what happens with her brother, your commitment to her, of which I have no doubt and the outcome of the man that is responsible for this. I have to ask, John, do you have any reservations about saving her brother from the hands of the Navy, being a Magistrate?”

“None. None at all. I plan on resigning before there are any questions about where my actions will lie. She is my whole world now. I’ve waited over two years for this and nothing will deter me. What is important to her is important to me. That’s all I need to say on that subject.”

“I know it must be a difficult position to put you in but . . .” Donaldson was interrupted.

“No, you are wrong. There is no difficult decision. It’s one of the easiest I will ever make. I will sacrifice all for her. I may do that this morning. Once I’ve seen her and spent some time with her, I will go home and we will make plans to rescue her brother from this madman. When I know he is out of danger, I will go after the man that did this.”

“John, just remember what you sacrifice for revenge, you do so for two of you.”

“I have to do it. I cannot live with myself otherwise. I am already being consumed by this man. Someone has taken the most precious person in my entire life and played with her until she broke. And it’s all been due to his greed and an apparent enjoyment of torture. He is a dead man to me.”

“So, do you know your immediate plans? Where do I contact you for any changes in her condition?”

“I will know in a few hours. You will be informed. I’m going in there now.”

John stood and walked to Margaret’s room, pausing at the door, bolstering himself to weather what he was to see; he opened the door and then closed it behind him.

 

With Adam Bell having written Frederick a few days ago; their chances of him having moved on looked better than normal. The three men felt that they could handle the search for Frederick and leave John here. He had Margaret and the man in London to contend with. Adam was sure they could locate Frederick, but doing so without being followed was his concern. The other two did not know what Frederick looked like and how could they approach him with him thinking people were after him. Mr. Bell felt he would be the bait. His hope was that Frederick would keep his head if he happened to have heard all that his sister had endured on his behalf.

 

John spent the next half hour with one arm wrapped around Margaret’s head on the pillow, as if, in his arms, and the other wiping her brow or kissing her fingers. He spoke soothing words of love and told her she was safe. She would never see that man again.

John wept at her bedside.

He could see the hand prints of long fingers on the sides of her neck. Her arms showed identical bruising. Eventually, he left the room to be sick. He kept telling himself that she would heal. She would live and he would bring her love. He couldn’t love her anymore than he did, but somehow he would make up for the treatment she had suffered.

John wondered if she would fear him in any way. If she had found her way to him under such impossible odds, he hoped that would not stand in their way. He did not care how long it took him, even the rest of his life, he would give her happiness.

“Mr. Thornton, I am surprised to see you visiting here. Is this someone you know?” said a nurse unknown to him.

“And you are?”

Nurse Pickering. I shall be one of Miss Hale’s day nurses.

“And how do you know who I am?”

“Mr. Thornton, everyone knows who you are. The newspaper people are already gathering outside.”

“Thank you for telling me. To answer your question, this is the woman I will marry. I’ve waited two years for her to be my wife.”

“I am terribly sorry for both of you. She is in a bad way, but I believe there is great confidence that her health will eventually return. If this is the woman you have waited to marry, I shall be glad to know her. Even though all of our patients have the best care, I will personally see to her every need.”

“Thank you. How long will she sleep with the medication she has been given?”

“In her current state and the need of absolute rest from physical movements, as well at mental emotions, I believe the orders are to keep her sedated for a full day.”

“A full day? I had not counted on that. I will marry her at her sickbed as soon as she becomes conscious, if she will have me.”

“My heavens, such determination you have. Do you know what or who caused this to her? It’s been a fierce time for her. Did it happen in Milton?”

“No, not here. I know who did this and that’s all I will say.”

“Mr. Thornton, you need not leave the room, but if you could just turn your back for a few moments, I need to check something of this lady.”

John stood, pulling his arms from her and turned his back. He could tell by the rustle of sheets that the nurse was checking below her neck.

“Can I ask if you are checking her dispelling of urine for potential kidney problems?”

“Yes, you may ask and since you will be her husband before she leaves here, I will tell you that is exactly what I am doing. I see no evidence of a problem.”

“Can I turn around?”

“Not yet. Dr. Donaldson did not think she had any family in the area. Are you considered the closest person to her?”

“I believe I am. I will make no decisions without consulting with Donaldson if that need arises. Should you have an emergency and cannot locate him, I will take responsibility for her care. I am a Magistrate and in lieu of no family present, I take full authority. It should take several days for her aunt to be contacted and arrive here from London. Hopefully, we will be married by then.”

“You may turn around now. Mr. Thornton, there will be no changes and nothing to see for at least twenty four hours. You should take that time for yourself, as you will probably be here when she begins to waken.”

“You are mistaken. There is everything to see here. I have not seen her for a two years. But I will take your advice and tend to some pressing matters. I appreciate your close supervision to Miss Hale. Thank you.”

The nurse left, and John returned to loving words and soft kisses to her undamaged cheek. Finally standing, he kissed her gently on her lips, her palms and her wrists. He left the room, and the rage returned.

 

The three men waiting for John seemed to be in deep conversation when he arrived home. They all stood expectantly, wanting to hear about Miss Hale. Unbeknownst to John, there was now a ‘Thornton Watch’ in effect.

“John, may we ask about Margaret,” Adam asked. He had been quite upset seeing her being carried away.

“Let me get one or two scotches into me before I feel I can speak the words.”

“It’s that bad, is it?” asked Nicholas.

“It is worse than bad,” John replied, belting back his first scotch glass at 10:30 in the morning. He didn’t even sit down between refills.

The men looked at each other knowing John was in a bad way, more than they had seen when he left.

“John, I have written to Frederick about his potential danger before coming to you last night. We do have that going for us. Nicholas, Branson, and myself, feel we can locate him somewhere in Paris, as I wrote of a meeting place he should check at a certain time every couple of days to find me. I believe the three of us and Frederick himself can work out a way to move him to another country and let you remain with Margaret. Before we contact Frederick, we will have to watch him and ensure he is not being watched or followed. This hold over Margaret could be genuine therefore we dare not tarry in Milton.”

John put away his second scotch and rose for a third. Again the men looked to one another.

“John, are you sure you want another one of those so quickly?” asked Higgins.

“I will have the whole bottle before this day is over.”

“I’m sorry, John. Margaret’s condition must be devastating. She is still expected to live, isn’t she?”

“Yes.”

“Have you talked to her? Can you relieve her mind that Frederick is in the process of being warned? She should know that she will not have to marry that dreadful man.

“Don’t you mean ­­­– that dead man?” warned John in no subtle terms.

“John, tell us,” Nicholas asked softly. “She’s our friend, too. Let us share this hard time with you. We worry for her but now we worry for you.”

“I see my responsibility, and I will dispatch it. Do not worry for me.”

“Tell us, John.”

John slowly swiveled the scotch in his glass, watching it coat the sides and he began without looking into their faces.

“It appears that Margaret has been beaten many times. There are at least nine or ten fist impacts to her body in various forms of healing. This dead man has taken quite an effort to keep her injuries hidden until . . . last night. I have not spoken with her and probably will not be able to for another day, as she is medicated for that long. It seems last night, she received another punch and a fist or backhand to her face, causing her back teeth to loosen and her eye to swell. The impact to her body has cracked a rib, and there is internal bleeding.” As John was talking, still looking into his glass, he heard the gasps around the room and Adam Bell weeping.

“I want you to keep this to yourselves, as Margaret would be very embarrassed for you to know. I am only willing to tell you the rest, so you understand the man I will deal with.”

Feeling the tears well in his own eyes, he continued the worst part of the story. “She fought hard against him, Donaldson told me. I saw for myself, the finger marks around the back of her neck and upper arms. She was violated orally.” With that, John broke down, but recovered quickly, where his friends did not. Even Branson rose and walked downstairs. Nicholas paced the other end of the room, and Adam wept where he sat.

John drew deep and continued. “That is behind us, now. She will never see anything like that again in her lifetime. And neither will this Captain. What’s his name, Adam?”

“Captain Grant Hartford.”

“And he’s a friend to Edith, Margaret’s cousin?”

Nicholas returned to his chair, and Branson returned from downstairs hearing the new conversation.

“I do not think so. I believe her fiancé, Captain Lenox, met him quite by chance, or so we are led to believe. John, she is alive and will heal. Don’t do anything to ruin what happiness she could have.”

“Adam, surely you have had too much to drink if you think I can let that man walk this earth. How could Margaret ever settle into a comfortable life knowing he was still out there? How could any man let what happened to her, not be avenged? Look how hard you all are handling this and she is not the love of your life.”

“John, couldn’t the military itself sort him out? He’s ruined, when it’s known,” offered Nicholas.

“Higgins, there are two things wrong with that scenario. He still could find some redemption in turning in her brother – some sort of legal bargaining. And two, they probably would not kill him.”

“Adam, not today, but tomorrow will you write her family and let them know where she is? I am going to marry her as soon as she wakes. That will take away the inheritance that he thinks he’s going to receive.”

“John, I can change my will, instead,” Bell mentioned as a matter to be considered.

“Adam, that is generous of you, and I will let you do what you will with your wealth, but I will marry her, regardless of that. I want her under my protective custody. If I should I hang for what I will do, she can inherit what I own, too.”

“What are you going to do, Guv? Can I help?”

“Branson, I’m not sure yet exactly what I will do. It will be slow. He will be scared and then hounded; he will run for his life like a rabbit. I will hunt him, and he will know it. I will have a week or more to plan this out. I can’t do anything until I know Margaret is married to me and Frederick is out of danger. Branson, you might enjoy this too much. I will think on it. Even if I do use you or any of you, remember, he is mine.”

“Do you not fear his formidable men that serve him?” asked Bell.

“They will know most of his deeds before he ever sees me coming. In my capacity as a Magistrate, I will serve papers against him to his senior officer. I am thinking of anonymously tipping him off as to what is coming so he will run.”

“John, I’ve never seen my friend be as diabolical and calculated as you seem destined to be. I’m not sure if I am worried for you or proud of you. If you hang, I will sorely miss you,” said Nicholas.

It was perfectly clear to everyone where they all stood as far as John went. No one could brook an argument against his intended deeds, and no one wanted to, either.

It was decided to meet again in the morning and leave John to himself. For all he had been through in the last eight hours, they knew he needed time to himself. They hoped he could dampen the rage that was building inside of him.

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Hearts Adrift – Part Thirty-Three

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Chapter Thirty-Three

 

Richard could see the vivid green of Manon’s eyes in the silver glow of the moon. He basked in that eternal fire, which always burned in them. He saw the cloak of her gorgeous hair, fanned out over her slim shoulders. Not even the lack of daylight could dim the abundant waves’ bright auburn shade. His hand came up to twine into the silken smoothness. Oh, Lord, the feel of it…so divine…

“My sweetling,” he croaked, summoning every ounce of sense he could muster, “do not try me so. I need to hold you in high esteem until you are mine before God and our congregation. I can do no less, dearest heart. I do not want to ruin you. You at least should come to me a virgin, as it should have been for Lily and Elizabeth.”

“Oh, that unbendable de Briers’ honour! I should have known you of all the ones that came before you would be the most steadfast, my Richard. I admire you for it, my love, and I love you for it, but … you would make me most thoroughly unhappy, if you let it come between us tonight. I cannot wait, my heart, I cannot.”

Manon placed her hands on his chest, stroking the taut muscles beneath Richard’s shirt. She could feel Richard’s heat radiating through the sheer fabric, and instantly, a responsive stirring, deep in her core, weakened her knees. Her pulse quickened and her heartbeat located itself between her thighs, deep down below. A sweet ache fluttered there at the apex of her thighs, causing her breath to stop. Hot moistness began pooling there, a sensation so enticing, that Manon released a soft whimper. She felt the urgent need to press herself firmly against Richard’s long, hard body. Oh, how she had longed for this!

Richard endeavoured to resist the soft, feminine curves that settled along his chest and stomach. Sweet Lord. When Manon’s belly pressed against his arousal, he groaned, his voice a deep, faltering rumble.

“Manon, do you know what you are doing to me?”

Her answering chuckle was seductively low.

“I think I have a fairly good inkling, my love. Why are we still here? Take me to bed, Richard.”

She paused, then looked up at Richard.

“Please, my love, I want to be yours. I cannot wait any longer.”

Richard buried his face in the soft richness of her hair and greedily inhaled her scent.

“Oh, my darling Manon, you feel so incredibly right in my arms.”

And that was where she was, Richard acknowledged with surprise. Somehow, sometime, he had wrapped her in the circle of his arms without even realising it. His blood was now racing madly, straight into his tautly aroused manhood. Rational thoughts were beginning to fade, as his body recognised the same signs of arousal in her soft, luscious figure. She became warm, and where his hands roamed over the cotton of her nightdress, dampness began to form.

He gave in and swept her into his arms, to strode indoors and up the stairs to his bedchamber. Bright, his valet, violently startled at the sight of his master carrying his betrothed in his arms, but Richard merely gave him a fierce, commanding stare. Matthew Bright literally fled the room, while Manon, utterly embarrassed, hid her face against Richard’s shoulder.

He set her on her feet, next to his large four-poster bed, and took her face between his hands.

“I can wait, my love, if you wish it,” he whispered, drinking in the green glow of her eyes. It would be deuced hard, but he would wait, if…

“But I cannot, my love…I cannot wait any longer…” Manon breathed, turning her mouth into the palm of his hand to kiss it softly.

With a groan, Richard captured her luscious mouth with his own, driving his tongue into her soft warmth to explore her sweet abundance to his heart’s content. He felt like a man starving after a cold, harsh winter, one who finally knew that his famine was at an end.

Manon answered him with all the fervour she felt, desperate as she was to quell the need she had experienced for so long. All those previous, heart-wrenching moments of painful longing for Richard were swept away in their fierce, intoxicating kiss. However, Manon realised, it was not enough. She wanted to feel all of him; she wanted to be his, totally and in every aspect. Fumbling for the buttons on Richard’s shirt, she began tugging it free from his breeches. He broke their kiss and coaxed her to sit on the bed.

“Wait, wait, sweet. Let me uncover you. We have to slow down, better to savour our lovemaking, my precious.”

Manon leaned back against the cushions on top of the thick, silken spread, and her eyes grew wide when Richard pulled his shirt over his head. His chest was broad, smooth, and oh, so firm. Her breath caught at the sight of those taut, finely chiselled muscles. His tanned skin was covered with a light sprinkling of dark hair that narrowed to a thin line where it disappeared below the rim of his breeches. And then, he shed his top boots and white silk stockings to reveal his strong, masculine feet. The tension was building inside Manon, like steam in a kettle on a kitchen stove. She stopped breathing altogether when Richard stripped off his breeches and small clothes to free what was inside.

He was utterly and beguilingly beautiful. He was all male splendour, magnificent and powerful. Her heart was pounding now, with trepidation as well as with longing. This was the hour. This was their moment.

His beloved lay perfectly still, Richard realised. He watched her eyes grow large, and when she moistened her lips with her tiny, pink tongue, a spear of raw desire skidded through him. Slowly, slowly, he admonished himself. She is a maiden. She must be initiated in a tender way.

He approached the bed and mounted the mattress. Crouching on his knees beside Manon, he began stroking her small, bared feet, lifting them to his lips. She whimpered when he let his mouth roam over the sensitive skin of her perfect instep, first one dainty foot, then the other.

He worked his way up to her knees, then to her thighs – creamy silk, and so soft and warm.

Manon felt as if her bones were melting inside her at the feel of Richard’s smooth, hot lips caressing her. A pressure was building in her belly and in her aching breasts, so fiercely that it made her writhe with need. She was hot and damp, and her skin would surely dissolve if Richard kept up his torturing like that. Oh, God! Now he was uncovering her belly, shoving her night rail higher, in order to free her breasts. Soon, her arms were lifted above her head, and her gown was suddenly gone. She had barely had time to wonder about the fact that she was now totally naked when he started kissing the delicate skin of her neck, right on the sensitive spot behind her ear.

Richard revelled in the silk of Manon’s skin as he worked his way down her elegant neck, to the exquisite swelling of her breasts. His manhood twitched when his lips caressed the hard, puckered nipples. He would have to be careful, or he would spill himself, before he was even inside her! Oh, how he loved the way she twisted and writhed beneath him! With slow, sensuous licks, he traced the contours of her gorgeous breasts, then finding his way down the silken plane of her belly, he began feathering light kisses around her rosebud belly button. Her muscles twitched in instant response, one that shot an arrow of lust down his already tightened groin.

“Richard … please, Richard,” Manon moaned, and grasped the firm support of his shoulders, as if to steady herself.

“Patience, my sweet. Just relax,” her lover cooed. Then he positioned himself with a knee on either side of her, and lifted her lower body, better to kiss her womanly curls. Manon gasped. Oh, sweet Lord…oh, oh…hot, sweet torture made her claw her hands into the thick abundance of Richard’s ebony locks. She arched her hips and pressed them more firmly against his mouth, better to savour the bliss he was giving her. His tongue explored her most private place, causing liquid fire to ignite with every stroke. He sucked, kissed, licked that hard, tiny bud at the edge of her womanhood, until Manon thought she would explode and dissolve into a myriad of shards. And then, it truly happened! She did, she truly did shatter!

Richard could swear he tasted the difference in her honey after she cried out and convulsed against his mouth in a long series of shudders. In one swift movement, he let her down onto the bed and slid his aching manhood into her wetness. Slowly, slowly…do not forget, this is Manon’s initiation. Christ! This was incredible. Her sheath was already closing around his flesh, nearly sending him over the edge.

Manon was still shaking with the aftermath of her climax, when he started moving inside her, with slow, careful thrusts, each of them deeper than the one before. It was heaven, the way he rocked inside her, Manon thought, as he filled her further and further, and ever so gently, with his powerful maleness. She started to feel the same tingling of arousal again and began to be swept away once more. Until… oh, Lord! A sharp, burning pain exploded deep inside her and raced through her entire body to her shocked brain. She was hurt; she must surely have been stabbed with a blade!

Her maidenhead resisted only for a short time, and Richard forced himself to keep still while he caught her cry of pain with a tender kiss.

“Shhh, shhh, my heart. It will pass, my sweet. Shhh, this will happen only this first time, I promise.”

Richard could feel Manon relax beneath him as her breathing eased, when he began thrusting again. Cautiously at first, then gradually increasing the rhythm and force of his strokes until he noticed she was following his pace. A wild jab of arousal, fierce and taunting, travelled up and down his body.  “Yes, my sweet, that is what I want you to do,” he crooned. He rose onto his knees, lifting Manon’s lower body, to match his rapidly increasing desire.

Manon could barely believe that her body warmed into arousal once again after the fierce pain in her inner core, but her body did exactly that. Again, warmth began bubbling in her womb; again, that tiny bud throbbed with a growing need; again her folds started to tremble with renewed desire. With a sigh of pure, raw pleasure, she gave herself over to the delicious sensations that shook her body.

Richard inwardly burst with joy when he felt her response. She was so hot and soft, and so incredibly tight, as her inner muscles drew him deeper into the heat of her core. In a split second of awareness, Richard felt the exact moment when Manon climaxed yet again. That was right before he lost himself into divine, overwhelming bliss. His muscles tensed, and his body went perfectly rigid with anticipation, and then he violently shuddered. His senses were drowned in a relentless sea of hot waves. He raced through the surf that swept him higher up into the flames. She was, he registered, riding with him. Riding him with the siren-like undulation of body and of soul. A hoarse cry escaped him, as the alluring motion of Manon’s hips milked him, drew every strength out of him, conquering all resistance. As his seed spilled into her depths, Richard shattered into a million pieces.

In the tiny second before she succumbed to the overwhelming exhaustion, Manon registered a pure, utterly feminine joy at the realisation that she had just given Richard the ultimate pleasure of love. She snuggled up against his warmth as he gathered her in his arms and drew the coverlet over them both.

 

Richard listened to Manon’s soft, steady breathing while he enjoyed the feel of her warm, naked body against his. He could not so easily find sleep, not after the bliss he had just experienced. He had to simply revel in the memory of their beautiful lovemaking. Tomorrow, she would be his wife. Tomorrow, he would love her yet again, and his rampant thoughts were already plotting new ways to make her reach heaven. He had long years of experience to look back on. Skilful women had shaped his own talents in lovemaking. Yet, with Manon, he was reluctant to use those skills. He wanted his wooing to be unique, to be reborn solely for Manon. He now wished that he had still been a virgin this night and that he would have had to work out the art of lovemaking for the first time with Manon. He would give his right hand if it meant he could start over with Manon as his first woman and to be a young, innocent boy again.

But it was foolish. The past could never be remade. At least, he could be hers, and hers alone, for the rest of their lives. That, at least, he would vouch before the Almighty tomorrow.

 

I Killed Him – Pt 3

Chapter Three

I Killed Him 250x375John spent the night thinking and packing. He had been thinking so long, he had to unpack things he hadn’t meant to pack. He was going to get a marriage license first thing that morning, before his meeting. He had determined to marry Margaret and save her first. He had no idea what she would think of that, but Bell had given him the barest of hopes.

He was encouraged that Adam Bell had a post office number that could be watched until Frederick arrived at it. John felt sure that this Hartford man would know Bell, but his lads who might be watching for Frederick would not know him on site. John decided that the first part of the plan was for Bell to write Frederick and tell him of the situation. They would decide on a new city to meet in and finalize Frederick’s safe exit from France. Somewhere in there he would find Margaret and steel her away to marry her.

 

John was having his early breakfast when a weak knock was heard. He shouted to Jane, his housekeeper, that he would get it. No one was expected this early, but the others probably couldn’t sleep either.

He opened the door, and his breath left him as he saw a frail Margaret, bent in pain with a swollen face and the burgeoning colors of a black eye.

“Oh God, Margaret.” He didn’t ask her anything. He stepped out, picked her up in his arms, and shouted for one of the yard men to get a doctor.

His eyes filled with tears as he carried her upstairs. Looking into her face, he saw his little angel was broken. If he hadn’t needed to tend to her, he would go and end the man’s life. It would happen, but just not right now.

Margaret looked at John through exhaustion.

“Margaret, I have never stopped loving you. I would have done anything to have prevented this.”

“I know you love me. I know I have loved you since first, we met. John, I killed him. I have killed my brother.” Margaret said as she collapsed.

 

John held her in his arms until Donaldson arrived. After her statement, she closed her eyes, and they had not opened since.

Donaldson opened the outside door and shouted up.

“Up here,” John said, as he carried her to his guest room.

Donaldson took one look at her and wanted to take her to his clinic immediately. “John, get one of your nightshirts, will you?”

“I want you to examine her here, first. I want to know what we are dealing with. Disturbing news, of her being coerced into a marriage, came to me late last night. I am to have a meeting in about an hour and want to know what’s happened to her, and I mean everything.” John looked at Donaldson sternly.

“John, I will be a while. Get the tea brewing.”

John first ran across to the office as he’d heard Nicholas’s coach. He asked him if he would go find Bell at the hotel and bring him here. They had an emergency on their hands, now. He went for Branson, himself, returning as quickly as he could.

He had Cook prepare a tea pot and told her to keep them coming for the next several hours. John, also, mentioned that Margaret was here, in the guestroom.

Cook smiled but saw that her Master was completely overcome with worry.

As the men gathered, they all began telling John that she was out of danger now. He needed to calm down, but John knew they hadn’t seen her.

Donaldson called John into Margaret’s room. John walked in, closing the door behind him. Donaldson didn’t like what he was about to tell him.

“John, she’s alive. She will live, but she’s been badly and repeatedly beaten. It appears it’s been going on for some time. She has a newly fractured rib, and I will have to look closer at her cheek. I think she has internal bleeding. There are signs that this man forced her to perform fellatio. Do you understand that word?”

“Yes.” John began to let the tears fall as he folded himself onto the foot of her bed. He looked at her unconscious body.

“She has not been raped.” Donaldson continued. “She appears to have about six large areas of bruising from, I would think, a fist, in various stages of mending. There are some small signs that there have been more, but they are healing. Whoever this was, took great care to beat her where it would not show. Tell me the story on the way to the clinic.”

The men heard the door open and stood.

“Branson, get the coach.”

“It’s ready out front, sir.”industrial-darcy

All the men witnessed John’s tears dropping onto the lifeless form he was carrying in his arms.

Branson rushed ahead, while the other two walked to John.

“Is she . . . ?” Nicholas started to ask.

“She’s alive.”

“You two talk and I’ll send Branson back. I’ll be awhile.”

“John, take care of her.”

Mr. Bell was quite near tears himself. Beside her swollen face, he noticed a bit of blood oozing from her mouth and saw John lick that from her face. He broke down at the sight.

“I should have known,” Bell berated himself. “She never told me she was being mistreated only that she was being forced to marry in order to secure her brother’s safety.”

Bell felt a nudge on his shoulder, and looking up, saw a glass of scotch. He was glad to see it. “This is better than tea after what I just saw.”

“What did you see that I didn’t? I saw John’s face. I’ve never seen that face in all my years. I saw glassy eyes when his mother passed, but nothing like just now,” said Nicholas.

“Nicholas, Margaret had blood running from the corner of her mouth, and John licked it off of her face. That’s when I broke down.”

“I am sure I would have too, had I seen that.

“As bad as this situation is, it just got worse,” said Nicholas. “John will not be denied his revenge, but that still doesn’t mean that Frederick is out of the woods. Have you given this, much thought?”

“Much thought? That seems that’s all I’ve done for weeks. I finally sought out John for help. Margaret did not know I was coming here, but she found her way here under some horrific circumstances. I think we know she has finally figured out where her love lies. You know, Nicholas, it was the love of her brother and the love of John that kept them apart all this time. She felt she couldn’t tell John and break her promise to the family. John felt she was hiding something from him. He’d seen them embrace at the station as Frederick left after his mother passed away. John, I believe, was devastated seeing that. He lost hope. What a mess this has been keeping this secret for her, but I had promised. I watched both of their hearts break.”

“Adam, you need another scotch. I need another whiskey. This tale is one for the books. It seems that literature is writing its story in front of us. All the elements are here, and I know we have not seen nearly the end of this. John is going to be a handful, and I am not so sure I want to talk him out of it. I think it’s one of those rare times in a man’s life when nothing matters but revenge. He can’t be the man he is and let this pass no matter how much you, I or Margaret try to reason with him. He has seen the devil’s work today.”

“I hope he can keep his head enough and not destroy what he and Margaret have waited a long time to begin. If he destroys himself, he destroys her.”

Branson came up the stairs, shaking his head. “The Guv is in a bad way. I waited for a while with him until he felt embarrassed and sent me home. He went from kneeling on the floor trying not to weep to pacing the room like a bull. I don’t know how bad Miss Hale is, but it must be bad for him to show those emotions to me. I’m to pick him up in an hour and if he isn’t there, they’ll be at the hospital.

 

Edith finally decided to inquire why Margaret was sleeping so late and went to her door. Knocking she received no answer. “Margaret!” Still no answer. “I’m coming in.” She looked about the room to find Margaret missing; the bed hadn’t been slept in, and a few drawers were left open. Edith cheerfully skipped down the stairs to her mother.

“Mother, I think Margaret and Grant have eloped. It looks like she left last night and took a few clothes with her. I wouldn’t have thought Margaret would have done such a thing, but if she’s happy . . .” Edith began to remember how unhappy Margaret had seemed of late.

“I see that look on your face, Edith. My thoughts, too. She hasn’t been the example of a bride-to-be as we would have expected. I don’t like this. Can you get a hold of Maxwell? I think we need to contact Captain Hartford.

“Yes, Mother. I’ll take the buggy to the fort.”

 

Captain Grant Hartford didn’t know which hurt more: his loss of Margaret or the loss of skin. “Bloody hell,” he shouted from the confines of his leather chair, unable to walk around easily. He and his driver had waited several hours for Margaret to appear at her home. She had no money as her reticule lay on the couch and she wouldn’t have brought money in any case. If she walked home, it could have taken over an hour in good daylight. He didn’t know what to think she could be doing. Was she at the authorities, calling his bluff or had she come to her senses in regards to her brother’s life. Either way, she would marry him, but he just may not see her until the wedding. He did have the one ace up his sleeve. He did know where her brother was. He was in Paris.

 

“Sir, a Captain Lenox, and his fiancé are here to see you.”

“Did you tell them I was indisposed?” Grant asked, relieved to hear it wasn’t his Commander.

“Yes, Captain, but they said it was urgent.”

“Give me a moment and let them in.” Grant grabbed a small blanket and threw it over his lap. Just as they were being let into his study, he noticed Margaret’s reticule on the sofa, but not very prominently displayed. He wouldn’t ask them to sit down. Due to women’s large full frocks, they usually sought the sofa.

“Do excuse me for not rising. I am a bit ill. Maxwell, to what do I owe the honor of your presence?”

“I’m sorry to interrupt your morning. I am sorry you are feeling unwell.”

“It’s nothing that a few days rest will not cure. How can I help you?”

“We have a concern for Miss Hale. It seems she did not sleep in her bed last night, and she is missing this morning.”

“Missing?” Grant said with great surprise.

“I was wondering if you could remember the circumstances of taking her home last evening.”

“Why, yes. Missing you say? Let me think. We had dinner here. After, we talked about our wedding and other things for about an hour, when she asked to go home. She seemed to have something on her mind, but would not permit me to help. I believe I left her at her door around 10:00 p.m. What is being done to locate her, Maxwell? I am quite disturbed by this as you can well imagine.”

“It has just come to our attention when she did not come down to breakfast only a short time ago. We were hoping that she may have said something to you of plans she might have had at the last minute. Could I ask if you two had any kind of quarrel?”

“It seems I have been caught out. I was hoping to convince her to move the wedding up, and we may have had a few unpleasant words, but nothing that I could ever feel would cause her to flee. Leaving it, as it had been planned, was the final word, and she seemed relieved that I had given up for an earlier nuptial.” Grant saw Miss Shaw’s eyes start to wander around the room.

“Miss Shaw, she gave you nothing to concern yourself about?”

“No, but we have all been in agreement lately that she has seemed quiet and reserved; not the spirited, independent Margaret we love. I guess it is just pre-marital nerves. Those are always common, never really any worry in them.”

“If that were the case, my conversation last night could have brought more pressure to bear than I had thought it would. I hope she’s not gone somewhere to think about changing her mind. It would not have seemed so last night. My cook made a special meal for her. She seemed to enjoy that. Maxwell, keep me informed. Let me know immediately of any new developments.”

“I will, Grant. Sorry for interrupting so early in the morning. I hope you are fit in a day or two. We will see ourselves out. You shall be kept informed. Good day.”

“Good day to you both and I certainly hope it is a good day. I will worry now.”

Edith and Maxwell turned to leave the room. Out of the corner of her eye, Edith noticed Margaret’s reticule. She almost stopped to say something, however, refrained, wanting to tell Maxwell first.

As soon as they were out of the house, Grant hobbled over and collected Margaret’s small bag and threw it in his desk drawer.

As the carriage pulled away, Edith told Maxwell what she had seen.

“Are you sure? Are you positive it was Margaret’s?”

“I’ve borrowed it enough times to be sure. Maxwell, she would never leave without that. Wherever she is right now, she doesn’t have it with her. Do you think he acted overly friendly?”

“Yes, I do. Margaret’s bag was left on his couch. He was sitting with a blanket over part of his lap. Hmm …”

“Maxwell, what are you thinking?”

“I know I would have been out of that chair if someone had brought the same news to me about you. His less than enthusiastic concern bothers me. I don’t like what I am thinking, and I’d rather not say at the moment.”

“But you can’t hide things now. Could he have harmed her? He could not have her hidden away, could he?”

“No. If he had her, you would not see signs at the house that she left. My guess is he was too forward with her, and she ran if you must know.”

“In what way? He’s an officer.” Edith thought about Maxwell noting the small lap blanket. She couldn’t believe such a thing could have happened. “Even if he was that vulgar, why would Margaret run away?” Edith asked, letting Maxwell know she knew what he was thinking. She would have come home, even if she walked.

“I find it hard to believe what we are supposing, but still, Margaret is missing, whether voluntary or not, I don’t know.”

“Maybe we should contact Mr. Bell. They are close friends. She could be hiding over there until she can sort things through in her mind.”

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Hearts Adrift – Part Thirty-Two

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Chapter Thirty-Two

 

In the end, Richard and Manon kept matters as uncomplicated as was possible since their wedding was only twelve days hence.

They purchased a special marriage licence at the Brighton Register Office and asked the Rev. Mr Hiram Merryweather, vicar at St Wulfram’s Church in Bearsham Village, to perform their wedding ceremony on August twenty-second. Mr Merryweather kindly consented to allow an Irish priest he was acquainted with to perform a Catholic ceremony afterwards. Father Damian O’ Rourke and Mr Merryweather had been at Oxford together and had stayed friends over the years. Manon was particularly touched by the vicar’s gesture, as it showed the kindness of his heart. After all, she had been brought up in France and had no wish to forestall the faith of her youth.

 

Richard informed Mr Brownslow and his son Daniel of his upcoming marriage, instructing the lawyers not to alter the stipulations of his father’s will regarding Manon’s and Jéhan’s inheritance. The elderly family solicitor was of course extremely surprised by the latest turn of events, but not even he could deny the contents of Sir Robert’s letter and his explicit wish to safeguard the Faviers’ fortune.

“I sincerely hope you do understand, Sir Richard, how the revelation of Lily Favier’s illegitimacy will be received in society. You might find yourselves ostracised from the ton, both in Brighton and in London. Have you fully considered the consequences of such a possibility?”

“My betrothed and I have thoroughly gone over the consequences of becoming excluded from the folds of society, Mr Brownslow, and we find that we do not overly care. We have no significant interest in what the ton thinks of us, so we have no particular need of their support. My investments, as you know full well, are primarily tied up in the American colonies and in the Manchester cotton mills. Since President Washington’s ascent to power, supply of cotton is fully guaranteed, which is vital to the spinning mills in England. Resources have been steady and abundant. Furthermore, there are Bearsham Manor’s excellent profits, which give me the opportunity to make it even more prosperous every year.”

“So, you and the future Lady de Briers will not overly venture into society after your marriage, I take it?”

“No, we will not, Mr Brownslow. We will live a quiet, domestic life at our estate, and raise a family without the interference of polite society.”

Mr Brownslow nodded, but inwardly he shook his head in doubt. Sir Richard de Briers and his lady would indeed lead an extremely quiet life if Mr Brownslow was to be the judge of it.

After Richard had seen Mr Brownslow out, he climbed the steps to the west wing of the manor where his mother’s suite was located. He needed to have a serious conversation with her , and there was no point delaying it. He could have entered without so much as a by-your-leave. He was, after all, lord of the house but Mildred was his mother. Despite her nasty character, Richard still felt an innate disposition to treat Mildred with a basic respect that, in contrast, she never showed her son. So he knocked and waited until Rawlings, her maid, opened the door.

Rawlings was a bit older that Mildred and had come with her from Manchester when her mistress married Richard’s father. She was a tall, bony woman with dark eyes and grey-streaked dark hair in a tight chignon at the back of her head. Her face was riddled with shallow little lines, giving it a stern look. Her thin mouth under the beacon of her long, narrow nose instantly pressed tighter when she saw Richard. However, Rawlings did not forget her manners and dipped a curtsy.

“Sir?” she asked, voice flat and weary. She did not move to let him in.

Richard stepped past the servant.

“Thank you, Rawlings. You may leave us now”

“But, sir, my mistress is indisposed. She always wants me to appraise her first when a visitor comes calling. I…”

“Thank you, Rawlings,” Richard cut her off and headed for the dowager’s boudoir door without so much as a glance at the faithful maid. Poor Rawlings, he inwardly commiserated. At times, it must be hard waiting on his irate, unbalanced mother.

Mildred de Briers was lounging on a long chair, a book in one hand and the other dipping into a box of sweetmeats. She started when Richard strode in, her beautiful face immediately crunching into a scowl.

“My lord! You are trespassing!” she shrieked, using her most formidable weapon – her shrill, loud voice.

Richard had known that voice all his life, even from before he had been old enough to realise he could be hurt by it. Yes, he knew of being humiliated, mortified, and deeply hurt by the mother he had tried so desperately to love. It had lasted until he went to Eton, where other challenges claimed him, challenges that were sometimes painful, when he was drawn into brawls and fisticuffs. Yet those physically painful skirmishes were never as hurtful as the emotional ones his mother inflicted upon him. Richard had learned to physically defend himself at Eton – and simultaneously to shield himself from his mother’s vicious emotional stabbings. It had, however, taken him longer to realise that his mother hated him so much because he was his father’s son. Mildred had a heart filled to the brim with black, seething hatred for her husband, and she needed a scapegoat, any scapegoat upon which to ventilate that emotion. Richard had been the most convenient scapegoat of all, so he had learned from a tender age not to be bothered by his mother’s shrieking, nor by the words she flung at him.

That was why he was able to stare her down without so much as a flicker of his eyelids.

“Madam, I came to make you a proposition, which you would be wise to consider. It will not be made twice, should you reject it. It will also not be altered to please you. You are my mother, so a part of me esteems it an obligation to my honour to treat you with deference.”

He paused deliberately to let his words sink in. Mildred was eying him with abject loathing but also with a shrewd interest.

“What torture have you in mind, my lord? Have I not suffered enough from the cruel treatment you have been giving me since your father died? Will you impose yet more misery?”

With an inward sigh, Richard forced himself to keep his temper under a tight rein. He had come with an offer he hoped his mother would not reject.

“As you are aware, madam, my nuptials will occur on the twenty-second of this month. My wife and I will live at Bearsham Manor, as is our due and our duty. You are granted permission to stay here for the rest of your days, because you are my mother, the Dowager Baronetess Bearsham.”

He fixed her with a stern look, feeling his mouth hardening. Then, accordingly, he tightened his voice to an icy coldness.

“You will not, however, be permitted to be a nuisance, madam. My wife and I will require peace and quiet if we are to have a family, which is our most fervent wish. You can be part of that family, if you behave appropriately. However, if you find you cannot attempt to behave like a true mother, I will be forced to take measures to ensure my family’s welfare. What is your answer to that, madam?”

“So you want me to condone your marriage to that…that…”

The fire in his eyes must have warned her, Richard thought, for she hastily swallowed whatever term of abuse she had been about to utter on Manon’s behalf. Instead, she continued, “That girl of common descent – a bastard, to boot! She will lower you and your house to her own level, my lord. She is nothing. She will destroy whatever respect you carry in society.”

“Madam, I will not permit you to abuse Manon. We love each other dearly, and that is enough to ensure our future happiness. Besides, Manon is not a bastard; I already told you that. Her parents were legally married before she was born. And if you are referring to Manon’s mother, Lily, her descent is at least half noble. Not that that little detail is of any concern to me. Manon has her own worth; that is sufficient for me.”

“Love? What is love but a meaningless word invented by poets to…”

Richard had had more than enough. He strode from the room with a vile taste lingering in his mouth, a feeling he often had after speaking with his mother.

 

The three days that separated Manon from her wedding day stretched like eons in her eager heart. She suffered through them with spells of delirious joy, during which she fantasised about how she and Richard would spend their wedding night. Those thrilling moments were alternated with bouts of dark misgivings about how their union would be looked upon by society. Manon knew that she and Richard faced a rough time ahead.

Time passed slowly, even though Manon was extremely busy. She had the seamstresses working around the clock to finish her wedding dress in time. With the help of her trusted Pru, who had come up from Brighton, Manon helped Mrs Briskley, the housekeeper, and Thornton with the organization of the wedding breakfast. Footmen adorned Bearsham Manor’s grand hall with flowers and ribbons. Maids were polishing and cleaning all the rooms and corridors – a titan’s task.  Invitations had been delivered to a plethora of Richard’s acquaintances and neighbours. Oh, Manon thought, would that they would grant them their esteem!

 

On one of these hectic days, Richard welcomed Viscount Lucian Blackthorne, who was to be his best man. The two friends joined in the library at Bearsham Manor for a drink of whisky.

“I still cannot fathom the amazing events that have transpired during these past weeks, Rich,” Lucian said, bewilderment in his voice. “You and Manon, a betrothed pair. So you harboured a love for her that was not quite…” Lucian stopped, realisation keenly upon him that he was overstepping the mark. “Forgive me, my friend, I was about to judge you, and I have no business doing that.”

“You are merely expressing the general opinion that people will have and show, I fear. How am I to explain to society that I thought Manon to be my niece, but oh, now I have discovered that my sister Lily is, in fact, not my father’s daughter? People will look suspiciously upon our union, Luke.”

“Well,” Lucian said matter-of-factly, “perhaps you should let society go hang itself. You do not need to explain anything, Rich. You can prove beyond all doubts that Manon is not of your blood. You love her, and she loves you. As a consequence, you two will marry and be happy. However, it must have been awkward for you, Rich, all these past months.”

“Luke, it was sheer agony, believe me. I was attracted to Manon from the moment I set eyes on her, yet I knew all too well that she was not for me. The worst of it was that she felt the same attraction towards me.”

Lucian stared into his whisky before continuing, and Richard suddenly saw the banked sorrow that was burning in his eyes. Had his friend harboured feelings for Manon, after all? Richard was astonished, for he had not thought Lucian interested in Manon. Lucian had never offered for her.

“Luke, what is troubling you? You have never proposed to Manon, so I figured you did not care for her. Yet your attitude shows that you are disturbed.”

“I was confused, Richard. I could not win Manon for myself, no matter how fervently I devoted myself to her. I have always adored Manon. But at the same moment, I felt that a wall stood between us that could not be breached.”

A joy warmed Richard’s heart at the thought that his Manon had never given in to any other man but him. Yet he keenly felt Lucian’s distress, too.

“I am sorry, Luke,” he tried, but his words rang falsely in his own ears.

“I will survive,” Lucian said in an airy voice, which was belied by his weary eyes. “Think nothing of it, Rich and enjoy your good fortune.”

With a flourish, he toasted his glass to Richard’s, and the two lifetime friends drank to each other’s health. Then, the two friends almost simultaneously turned their gaze toward the windows overlooking the terrace where Manon was walking arm-in-arm with Pru. Richard’s heart lifted when he saw her. He smiled happily and said, “Miss Butterworth is the best of companions to my dear Manon. I am so fortunate that she consented to stay after our wedding. Manon will still have need of her many skills when there is a ball or dinner to be hosted at Bearsham Manor.”

Lucian let his gaze roam over the tall figure that was chatting with Manon while graciously striding the length of the sun-bathed terrace. Miss Butterworth…so that was her name, he mused. He found himself taking in the slender waist, the long, straight back, the non-existent bosom Miss Butterworth displayed in that grey and very drab morning gown. Earlier on, he had glimpsed her thin, elongated face and her lustreless straw-blond hair, which she wore in a severely tight bun at the nape of her neck. Poor woman, Lucian silently commiserated. She truly had no qualities at all that could entice men to seek her attention. Apart from her eyes, Lucian conceded. They were a deep-ocean blue and they changed colour from lilac to deep violet when she laughed.

 

“Oh, Pru,” Manon sighed, “you have no idea how confused I am. Here, I am to be united with the love of my life. I should be overflowing with joy, yet I am also frightened.”

“Frightened?” Pru asked. “How can that be? Your un…erm…Sir Richard is the kindest of men. He worships the ground that you walk on.”

“Yes, I know that, Pru, and I will never be afraid of anything as long as we are together, Richard and I. But you almost called him my uncle. That is a telltale reaction, Pru. People will never believe that we are not uncle and niece. They will regard our marriage as incestuous. They will ostracise us, Pru. And that, I am very much afraid, will affect Richard in the end.”

Prudence Butterworth was a vicar’s daughter and she understood all too well how people behaved when inexplicable events came their way. Heavens, it seemed unfathomable even to her that Manon was now going to be the wife of the man, who had been considered her uncle before now. And yet there before her lay the truth. Sir Robert’s letter was crystal-clear. The former baronet had married a woman already pregnant by another man, and he had adopted her child as his own. That was what a true gentleman would do, and it was to Sir Robert’s credit that he had done so. His noble gesture could not be allowed to go to waste.

“Listen, Manon,” Pru said, taking Manon’s hands. “You will need all your strength in the days and months to come. You will surmount this, I know it. Concentrate upon your marriage to Sir Richard and devote yourself to making him happy. Do not overly heed people’s reactions. Be friendly, smile, and stay composed, whatever they say to you. Show them that you love Sir Richard, no matter what happens. People will change their attitude over time. I know that they will. I have seen it happen on numerous occasions in my father’s parishes. Life provides people with many distractions, and your story will only last until something else occurs that draws people’s attention from you. And believe me, dearest, something will.”

“Thank you, Pru,” Manon whispered, tears of relief staining her cheeks. “You always say what I need to hear when melancholy overcomes me. You are a dear friend, Pru.”

 

The evening before his wedding, Richard stood on the terrace and gazed at his moonlit gardens. The nightly orb stood above the manor’s roofs, painting the manicured lawn in a silvery light. The night was balmy and perfectly still, the sky an indigo blue sprinkled with a myriad of stars. Richard needed the stillness to calm his nerves and gather strength for the day to come. He knew his own worth well enough and he would hold his head high, no matter what might come. He was also certain that his beloved Manon would stand her ground in any circumstance, and in answer to any insult society might throw in her face. She was brave, his Manon. She may not have de Briers blood in her veins, but she certainly had the fierce family courage.

No, it was not for the way she would stand her ground that Richard feared but for her noble, brave heart. She would be hurt by people’s reactions – not at first, but slowly, through the years of ostracism, bitterness would grow and destroy her. He could but try and protect her from being hurt.

“A penny for your thoughts…”

Manon’s sensual voice broke through his abject reasoning, like a ray of sunshine through a blanket of heavy storm clouds. He turned, and his breath caught at the sight of her.

She was wearing her nightgown, a shawl thrown over her slim shoulders. The gown was a sheer linen thing, made translucent by the silvery light of the moon behind her. All her lush curves were perfectly outlined, and they were beckoning to be caressed. Richard’s mouth watered, and he swallowed hard.

“What are you doing here, my love? I thought you would like to have a decent night’s rest.”

His own voice sounded hoarse – and also harsh- to him. Manon stood there, smiling at him. She stretched out a hand.

“You owe me, my darling,” she said, “and I have come to claim that debt.”

His expression must have been one of bewilderment, because she uttered a tinkling peel of laughter. It lit up her face and gorgeous green eyes, and he felt a surge of arousal from head to toe, and right into his manhood. He wanted her yet he must wait until the next day to claim her as his wife. It was agony, but it was also a definite necessity. He would not ruin her as her grandmother and mother had been before their marriage. His honour forbade such a scheme. Most adamantly so.

“Richard,” Manon said in a voice that reverberated along his spine, “I once asked you to love me as a man loves a woman. That night, you deceived me. You pleasured me, my darling, and you gave me the most beautiful experience I ever had. Yet you denied yourself that same pleasure, and by doing so, you got yourself into a debt. A debt to me, my love. You owe me the right to pleasure you as much as you did me that night. I want you to make love to me tonight, my heart. I want to be yours, in every sense of the word.”