John called Branson and Nicholas to the house that evening and gave them a brief summary of what Bell had told him and hoped to enlist their help. John was assured of Branson, as he was always first in line for dangerous or clandestine actions. John was thankful that there had been few in his life, but Branson was his second in command in situations just as this. Nicholas was always there for him but John knew he had a wife and children, and John would never think any less if he ever declined. If he was in that position, he would think twice, himself. To John’s reckoning, there didn’t seem to be any physical danger in this unless Bell spoke of other things tomorrow. Both men agreed immediately, but John asked Nicholas to talk it over with his wife, as this could take two weeks or more away from home.
John was starting to come alive again as he felt his emotions resurrecting from the dead. He would sacrifice all he had to stop this marriage, bringing everything to bear that he could. He began to form a last plan of attack if all else failed. He would hope to convince Margaret to marry him ahead of her planned marriage, therefore creating an impediment. He would offer an annulment to her when he felt she and her brother were safe. If he couldn’t save both, at least, he would save her. He prayed that she still held him in some regard after all her time spent in London and could see the merit in his offer, at least for safety measures. He would tell her that he did not expect their vows to be consummated. John didn’t feel the others should know. As much as he would want that for himself, being selfish of her love, that still didn’t settle his worry for her brother. He gave little thought to what it could do to his Magistrate position. That was worth nothing to him where she was concerned.
Captain Grant Hartford had come to the acquaintance of Maxwell Lenox quite by accident, or so it was thought. As their friendship began to grow, Maxwell had begun to think of Grant as a possible suitor of Miss Hale. He knew Edith was concerned that they would go out for the evening, always leaving Margaret home. Maxwell had no knowledge that he had been used as a pawn in this game of blackmail that Grant was bringing to bear. Grant felt confident that Margaret would never stop at anything to save her brother’s life, so he had free reign over her. How he had marveled at the hints, from a friend of his, who worked in the law office where Bell had recently divested his holdings. Grant paid dearly for the information of the net worth that Miss Hale would bring to him. Between his pay as a Captain and her money, life would be good. Mr. Brimstock from the law office would be handsomely paid when everything came to fruition. Grant had also enlisted young Lieutenant Gathers should other work be needed which he could not do himself: delivering notes, picking up packages and the like. Lt. Gathers was not privy to the dark side of the work being done but wanted to impress his Captain if he were needed.
Margaret had completed her exhausting day which began the long process of fitting a bolt of cloth to the curves of her body. The day seemed endless due to the fact that she did not want this wedding, the dress, or the man paying for it. While standing on the small platform for the seamstresses, she wondered how she ever came to meet with Grant at the beginning, but it was eventually all too clear it was with the urging of her cousin and her fiancé at a group setting. She liked Maxwell and never doubted that Edith was a happy bride-to-be. Margaret couldn’t conceive that Maxwell would have had any knowledge of what Grant was doing. She was sure Maxwell had been told of the family history with Frederick, which no one seemed ashamed of and Margaret didn’t even think he would turn him in if found.
There was no pretense anymore between her and Grant. He would heap upon her affection and the most admirable politeness and compliments, but when they were alone, he became a different man.
Margaret readied herself for another evening out with Grant. There would be little conversation unless there were people about that knew Grant. Margaret made every attempt not to be alone with him, but tonight she would take advantage of the coach ride to inquire about her brother. She was not completely set in her mind that he was telling the truth. Where was Adam Bell when she needed him most? He could write to Frederick and warn him of the impending dangers. Since he now knew of her situation, she was sure he would help all he could. Margaret wondered if his absence could have something to do with Fred. Mr. Bell had taken the news quite badly when she finally broke down and told him of her plight. He did what he could to assuage her but never spoke of any action he could take. Surely, he would write to him, even if the marriage had to go on.
Captain Grant Hartford was at the door when the knock came. Edith and Maxwell had already begun their evening of dinner and the theater. Margaret was fortunate to only have a dinner planned, as far as she knew. Wherever their dinner engagement was this evening, it was not at one of the nearby restaurants.
“What are you surprising me with this evening, Grant?”
“A place you have never been Margaret. We are going to dine at my home. The cook has worked all day to prepare you a fine meal.”
To Margaret’s recollection, Grant did not have a home but stayed with his men in a barracks, although, he had private quarters.
“I am very surprised at that. I thought you stayed on post,” she said, beginning to feel very uneasy.
“I’ve always had a home, Margaret. I rarely stay there. A small staff tends to the manor during the day, and I try to alert them when I will be spending time there. They hire more staff for my holiday. I sent a note as soon as you accepted my invitation.” Grant cheerfully acknowledged.
Margaret grew more uneasy. He was too overtly cheerful for her comfort.
“Margaret, you appear quiet this evening. Is anything wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong, Grant. I was hoping to discuss my brother this evening that was all. It seems we will have the time alone to permit that. There are staff in the house, are there not? It would be quite improper without them, you know. Even though you have me bound to you, I do expect the proprieties and conduct of a gentleman.”
“Margaret, you do worry too much. In a few weeks time, we will be man and wife. I will be glad to relieve you of that feminine burden you have carried all of your life.”
“Grant, I wish not to hear such vulgar talk.”
“Margaret, you should know by now, that I don’t care what you think,” he said with a smile.
She felt like jumping from the carriage. Margaret knew she would be defenseless against him. Certainly, the driver would be on the premises to take her home if the other staff left for the night. Would he hear her if she screamed? Would he come to her aid if he did? Margaret thought about slipping a knife from the table in her reticule.
The evening began in his parlor with his subtle hints to ply her with wine. Margaret drank slow and would only drank water at the dinner table.
“Margaret, what is it that you have on your mind that we have not covered repeatedly? Surely, you know the fate of your brother’s life is squarely in your hands. You control his destiny.”
“Grant, is it merely the money that I am to inherit driving you to this act of insanity? You can have it all but without me. What would your senior officer say should he hear a hint of this? You could find yourself in a great deal of trouble. I could tell them that this business about you knowing my brother’s whereabouts is a trick to blackmail me when even I do not know where he is.”
Margaret never saw the blow coming. She felt the air in her lungs gush out as she tumbled to the floor from the sofa. She lost her focus as the room swirled, causing her to bend forward and fall. Quickly she thought this was the end of her life. She was unable to inhale as it was too painful. She hoped she would not survive the attack, this time. Her body could not take these hits anymore, and her mind seemed to want to bring it on, causing a final assault by Grant. In the blink of an eye, she thought of Frederick and then John. Every time he attacked her, John came firmly into her delirium. In the distance, she could hear a voice, speaking to her.
“Margaret, you will be all right.”
She felt him dab the blood which she had coughed up. He had to have broken a rib this time. Grant pulled her back to a sitting position and began his soothing talk about her silliness, once again.
“Margaret, I have been trained in interrogation tactics. I could do this to you all night, and you wouldn’t die. I will not even break a bone. When are you going to learn?”
Margaret had little air to speak. All she could do was try to fill her lungs. Gasp after gasp came upon her. She thought of shouting out. Perhaps, the cook would know what her master was doing. She tried but failed.
“I would not shout if I were you, Margaret, my love. You haven’t begun to see my wrath, my dear. There, there. See you are feeling much better, are you not?”
“I need a doctor,” Margaret whispered.
“You just think you do, dear. I believe our meal is being laid on the table. Come.”
Grant helped her to stand, but Margaret was definitely leaning to her left. The pain was intense on that side. She acknowledged to herself that if she married this man, she would be dead within a month. She had to write Bell and get him to change his will so that Grant would not inherit at her death. She had to endure this until Bell could write to Frederick and have him move on and watch for followers.
Margaret was seated at the table but couldn’t eat. Grant enjoyed his meal and did not bother her much about her not eating. He liked hearing himself talk.
“Margaret, I hope this is the last time that you force me to do this. I do not particularly like beating a woman, especially one who is as beautiful as you and will soon be my wife. You should taste this food. The cook will be disappointed if you do not.”
Margaret decided it was best to try a bit so that her eating utensils were scattered and he would not miss the knife amongst the other dirty pieces.
“Grant, I am sorry. I wish you would just kill me and get it over with. You are driving me to the point where I am ready to do it myself. I will just have to call your bluff; that is all that you are leaving me.”
Margaret saw the swift backhand coming to her face, and she could not get out of its way. She was able to remain in her seat, but he had made a big mistake hitting her where it was visible. What would be his next move? He would probably throw her from the coach on the way home regretting the unforeseen door closure that the driver had not fastened properly. The longer she sat there, the more she plotted. She would just have to disappear when she arrived home tonight.
They finally adjourned their dinner back to the parlor. Grant handed her a brandy. Margaret took it, feeling she had to gird herself for what might follow. The far away dim noises of plates and pans being washed had died away. She wondered if they were alone.
“Grant, I feel it is time for me to be home if you don’t mind.”
“Oh, but I do, my love. The evening is young, and you need your fiancé to love before this night comes to an end. I need my sweet woman to pleasure me.”
“Grant, you told me that you would not take me until we were married. You did swear that if you have any decency at all.”
“I really don’t have any decency whatsoever, Margaret. But I did not lie to you. You do not have to lose your virtue in order to please me,” Grant said, moving towards her.
Margaret almost vomited on the spot. The thought of him touching her was too ghastly to think about.
“So now, you are resorting to rape and torture? What kind of a man are you?”
“Margaret, my dear, I am not going to rape you. What kind of officer and gentleman would I be?”
That statement gave Margaret no solace. She knew there were other hideous acts that could be done to an unwilling woman. She felt for the knife in her sleeve as he moved closer to her on the sofa.
“Don’t look so afraid, my pet. It won’t take long. I just want you to touch me, that is all. There is no pain for you, but there will be pleasure for me. You have been my bride-to-be for several months now, and I have not asked for anything from you except a kiss now and then. A man cannot live on kisses alone, and I have been faithful to you. You shall know this soon enough.”
“You mean you want me to touch you? Touch you there?” Margaret wished she could faint. A refusal would mean another blow possibly knocking her out entirely. She would be totally at his mercy if that happened.”
As she saw Grant begin to unbutton his trousers, he said to her, “Margaret, you can give me the knife before we start. I know it’s in your sleeve, and you might be tempted to injure me. When this is over, I will take you home. You can think about that while you pleasure me. This ordeal will finally come to an end for you.”
Margaret handed over the knife in defeat. She turned her head as Grant continued his partial disrobing until she felt him grab the back of her neck.
“Just close your eyes, dear, and touch me with your mouth,” he said, pulling her face to his groin.”
Margaret struggled vehemently, but he was too strong. He rubbed his manhood across her face as she pushed against the sofa to be away from him. She waited for the punch but instead he pinched her mouth open and proceeded to place himself in her mouth. She started to wretch and choke, and all she heard was his laughter. He tried to grab her hand, encouraging her to stroke him but he finally gave that up and stroked himself. Margaret was beating his thighs with her fists, but that only seemed to inflame his excitement. She only had once choice left, and as his moans of lust increased, she took both her hands, ripped his trousers, and bit down on his manhood as hard as she could. Margaret jumped to her feet, forgetting her injury and flew to her escape while his pain lasted. She ran out into the dark and started looking for lighted streets. She ran as far and as fast as she was able. Eventually, she would see his coach patrolling the streets as she hid in the darkness of the night. If she could only get a few more streets over, she would find a cabby to . . . what . . . she wondered. What could she do now? Going home was not an answer, but she would get close to home. With any luck, Aunt Shaw would be abed, and Edith would not be home yet. She could sneak in the cellar coal door and up into the house. She knew where her aunt kept spare money, and she would take that and a small satchel of a few needed accessories. The train. She would head for the train.
Margaret checked the streets carefully before she stepped out to hail a cabby. One stopped for her quickly and saw the distress she was in.
“Miss, How can I help you? You look a fright.”
Margaret asked if he would drop her off one street over from her home, ride around the block once or twice and come back to pick her up. He seemed very amiable to come to her rescue and understood she could not pay him until she came back.
Margaret slipped in and out of the Shaw residence with little problem. She made her way back to the street behind their home, and her cabby was just coming down the cobblestoned road. She thought she saw the Captain’s coach turning the corner and spoke to the driver.
“Sir here is your money. I may have to leave in a hurry. There is a coach behind you, and it may be the man that has tried to force his attentions on me tonight. I ran away. I want to go to the train station eventually but not if we are being followed. Could you get away from that coach if you had to?”
“Yes, Miss. In the city, that is no problem. Out where his two horses could have their head, I could not. I can turn corners faster, and I know all the back streets. I can pull into dark areas while they pass. Do not worry, Miss. They will never suspect you in this carriage, and if they try to gain on me, I will lose them. Rest yourself. Do you have a time for the train station?”
“No, I don’t even know where I will go, but I have to get away. I fear he is dangerous. You should know that he is a military man and quite proficient at tactics.”
“He does not have the skill of a London cabby, Miss. Do not worry.”
Margaret held her breath as the cabby took his time, as he normally would. It was either a false alarm or they had given up on this cabby, but eventually, there was no one behind them.
To insure it, the driver made some instinctive moves that Margaret thought were very intelligent, in case they were being watched. He stopped the coach once, in front of a house of a friend, and went to the door and knocked as if he were picking up a passenger. Margaret finally felt safe, but her next concern was would Grant have men at the station. What story could he have told his troops as to why they were to collect her if they found her?
Thanking the driver profusely, they arrived at the station, and he pulled into the darker recesses of the trees to let her out. Margaret handed him an extra tip, but he refused.
“No tip, Miss. I was glad to help. Would you like me to wait until your train departs?”
“I think I’ll be well if I stay away from the gas lights. Thank you so very much. You may have saved my life tonight. What is your name, sir?”
“My name is Bennington, but I am just called Ben.”
“Thank you, Ben. I hope to see you again.”
“I wish you the best, Miss. Goodnight.”
Ben reined his single horse cab away from the station when he saw her take cover under the trees.
Margaret slowly worked her way around to the platform side of the station and looked for red coats. There did not seem to be any. It would not be unlike Grant to have friends who did not wear red coats.
She slipped up to the platform ticket door.
“Where to, Miss?”
“Milton,” she said before realizing it.