e-mail:  Heidi

Category: Christastrophe - Gen Hurt/Comfort
AU: The Vengeance Legend
Main Characters: Chris, Vin

Warnings: Some bad words, proper English based on colonial speech patterns of the 1770's, and a few suggestive comments. Violence (well, it is a Hurt-Comfort Fic).

Rating: PG-13

Introduction: The Vengeance Legend is where the seven are banded  together in 1774 with several other characters to sail a privateer schooner Vengeance against injustices by pirates, those attempting to take advantage of colonists, whether they wear the uniform of the British or not. This story focuses on Chris Larabee, horse farm owner, in his life outside of captaining the Vengeance. It is not necessary to have read the others for this story. If you are not familiar with this AU you may want to read the introduction and the beginning comments on our webpage.

Author's notes: Thanks to Cin for listening to endless discussions and offering suggestions on the way this brat would go. You're the best, pard.


Part One

It was choking him. Smothered in layers of propriety and multiple layers of heavy clothing, Chris Larabee thought that "fashion" was a misnomer. Suffering was another applicable term; or perhaps strangulation. He longed to be back on his horse farm, dressed simply in a pair of riding breeches and a lawn shirt, instead of this multi-layered stifling dictate of what was "proper fashion" for a gentleman. Chris drew the line at wearing a wig; he wore his hair brushed back in a queue instead, tied with a black leather thong instead of the black ribbon of fashion. Sometimes seeing the wigs twitch from the lice made him nauseous, desperately wanting a bath and distance from the owner. All this pretentiousness ground against
his own values, so false and confining versus his straightforwardness.

He cast a look back at the stable, seeing Vin Tanner lead his horse away. A pang of regret touched him while he watched. Not that he really could see much of his head trainer; the large crush of people
prevented him from seeing anything but the horse's neck and upper
body. It was one of his favorite horses, about sixteen hands high,
with equal muscle and heart. The disposition, however, needed
improvement. Fortunately, Vin kept a tight hold, not allowing Thor
to move his head or use his teeth. How long that lasted was anyone's
guess, especially if Thor was in a stall near other horses he didn't

Chris knew Vin would take care with Thor and the select others they
brought, staying with them until they were settled. He sometimes
wished he could be the trainer instead of the Gentleman of Quality
who must deal with Society. To wear less clothing, the freedom to be
mostly ignored thereby going about without censure or judgment, and
to be able to stay away from the huge mass of people here were all
things Chris wanted.

However, Vin also walked a challenging line - neither gentleman nor
poor man, he was solidly of the working class. Well-respected in his
station, often sought out for his expertise, invited to functions
like this, but never treated as an equal, and barely a Gentleman, to
the supposed civilized class of Colonial Society. Tanner's wild
edge - that part of him that announced he wasn't entirely
domesticated - frequently gave people pause, or caused them to look
down their noses at him. Chris hated that, believed that each man
was equal to another, but knew not everyone shared his opinion. In
some cases, he was considered at the least eccentric for giving so
much freedom and responsibility to his trainer, and for having freed
his slaves and now paid them honest wages. Not like the slaves here,
dressed in livery and wearing the scent of fear.

Larabee thought making his people wear oppressive uniforms like that
was ridiculous; he opted to let his people wear serviceable, sturdy
breeches and work shirts. But the visual of Tanner in one of these
brightly colored, several-layered, pompous, frilly getups like the
ones here brought a smile to his face. He'd teased Vin once about
putting him in proper gentleman's dress. The trainer's response
of, "Puttin' ya in them instead and hangin' ya from the mast", held
just enough threat to make Chris wonder whether Tanner would actually
to that to him. He thought his friend might, so Chris refrained from
trying. But he would hold the thought for a time when he might get
Vin drunk and enlist the aide of the others to help subdue him.

The horse farm owner sighed heavily. Accepting the invitation to
Katherine Brattenwrighter's weekend birthday party was not something
he wanted to do. However, he knew the strategic value of these
things were often well worth his own personal discomfort. People
spoke more freely and gossiped in these settings, even though Society
dictated they were not supposed to, because each person wanted to
show him or herself more knowledgeable than their neighbor. Since
everyone at this party except him and Vin were staunch Loyalists,
supporting the Crown and all the unfair acts, they often let slip
items of interest that served him and the crew of his privateer
schooner Vengeance well. Captain of a vessel devoted to protect
Colonial interests and shipping during these unsettled times, their
legal - and not so legal - actions had gotten a bounty placed on the
crews' heads. Information was key to their continued survival and
the eluding of the British soldiers ready to hang the crew for what
they termed treason. So he suffered for the potential benefits,
knowing the colonies needed to escape from the oppressive, strip-it-
until-it-was-bare exploitation by orders of England's Crown.

"Mr. Larabee." A feminine voice called him from behind.

Her sultry tones brought him out of his thoughts, treasonous to the
extreme in this gathering of staunch Loyalists. He turned to face
the newcomer, not having recognized the owner. Of course, far from
his own social circles here on the North Carolina/Virginia border, he
probably wouldn't recognize any voices. It was only because North
Carolina's governor's aide liked Larabee's horses that he was invited
to this soiree. But that was not important; presenting himself well
here and now was paramount. "Greetings Miss. You have the advantage
of me, since I know not your name. Have we met?"

She smiled. "No, we have not. Katherine Brattenwrighter."

He accepted her hand and bowed slightly at the waist over it. She
was the guest of honor, the main reason he was here. Turning
eighteen, the young lady was experiencing her last weekend of
freedom, her upcoming arranged marriage was scheduled for the next
weekend. The banns had been read, the license procured, and all that
was needed was the blessed date to arrive. Chris knew all this
through discreet inquiry with Magistrate Travis. What Travis
neglected to mention was she was a very attractive woman, eschewing
the customary wig in favor of her own long brown hair swept up in an
elegant style atop her head. Ignoring her looks, he remembered his
manners and gave her a proper greeting. "A pleasure to meet you,
Miss Brattenwrighter."

"Likewise, Mr. Larabee. I have heard that your stud service is among
the best in the Colonies." She waved her fan in front of her face,
leaving only her not-so-innocent brown eyes exposed.

He smirked at her risquι comment, tossing in one of his own. "I
pride myself on the services rendered. No one leaves unsatisfied."

"How divine. We must discuss this further." She sidled closer,
almost more than propriety allowed.

The invitation in her eyes was clear; she wanted him, and he wasn't
blind to her charms. However, tangling with the affianced guest of
honor would not be a wise course for him to follow; there would only
be stormy seas ahead if he foolishly accepted her offer. "About my
horses? It would be my pleasure, but I would not wish to bore a
young lady such as you. Nor do I believe your father would find it
an appropriate topic of conversation. Mr. Brattenwrighter." Chris
inclined his head at the older man taking a proprietary stance beside
his daughter. The resemblance was obvious.

"You must be Mr. Larabee, if horses are your topic of conversation.
Welcome to my home." They exchanged formal greetings. "Now,
Katherine, I hope you have not been pestering Mr. Larabee about his
horse farm."

"Father, I find horses fascinating, especially those of excellent
quality. Why, I saw one of Mr. Larabee's stallions, and he was
fifteen hands if not more."

"Sixteen, Miss Brattenwrighter," Chris gently corrected. The
formality was strangling him; he wasn't cut out to be a Society
gentleman. He'd rather smoke, wear less constricting clothing, and
speak his mind. This sugarcoating every word and making sure it was
not inappropriate churned his stomach. His face started to ache from
keeping such a pleasant expression.

"Sixteen, oh my. See, Father? Wouldn't that mare you bought me be
perfect for breeding?"

"Katherine!" The father gave her a reproving look. "Discussions of
horse breeding are not acceptable for a young lady. You will go
inside and assist your mother. I believe the ladies are gathering in
the parlor."

She nodded her head in acquiesce, keeping her head lowered. "Yes,
Father." With a careful turn to not catch her skirts or trip,
Katherine left the two men together.

"Willful child," the man muttered under his breath. "Magnificent,
willful young lady."

Chris said nothing.

Mr. Brattenwrighter followed his daughter's progress, a touch of
pride in his eyes, before turning to face his guest. "Let us cut to
the chase, Mr. Larabee, since my daughter has opened the door. I
would like to make an arrangement with you concerning your stallion
and my mare."

"I'd be delighted to hear it." Inwardly, he thanked Travis for
suggesting that he bring some of his prized stallions; the Magistrate
had heard that Brattenwrighter fancied himself a horse breeder, and
had recently purchased some mares. One mare was ready, and a
stallion was needed. His next question got into the specifics of the
transaction, the two men walking toward the house side-by-side deep
in conversation.

It was a welcome relief to not have to talk to anyone else, or
pretend to be more of a gentleman than he was. Brattenwrighter was
knowledgeable about horses, asked several pertinent questions, and
spoke the informal language of breeders. They went directly to
Brattenwrighter's study, having Brattenwrighter's secretary write up
an agreement and give Chris partial payment in advance. They made
plans for having the stallion and mare get together during the
following morning, when the ladies would be involved with their
samplers, and the men free to enjoy the afternoon how they saw fit.
Festivities would commence in the evening.

A knock on the study's door interrupted the moment; the secretary
admitted Matthew Davis, the governor's aide, and arguably the true
power in North Carolina's government.

"Mr. Brattenwrighter, Mr. Larabee. A pleasure to see you." He
greeted both men formally, completely ignoring the secretary.

"Mr. Mathias, thank you for your assistance. Please make copies of
the documents for Mr. Larabee," Brattenwrighter ordered the hovering

"At once, sir." The secretary left the room, closing the doors
behind him.

"Matthew, no need to stand on ceremony here. You have met Mr.
Larabee before?"

"Yes, Chester. I admire his ability to breed exceptional horses."

"Thank you, Mr. Davis." Chris forced a polite smile.

"Since Chester insists on informality amongst us, please call me

"Chris, then."

"And you must call me Chester, also. It's not often two men will
create life."

Davis started slightly. "You have already reached an agreement?"

"Yes. But I'm sure the stallion will be more than happy to do more
work." Brattenwrighter bobbed his eyebrows.


"Thor's endurance has been quite remarkable." How he managed to get
that statement out with a straight face was beyond him; he detested
Matthew Davis for all he was doing both legally and illegally to
thwart the colonists' grumbling against unfair acts by the Crown, and
the idea of going into business with the man was reprehensible to
him. But if he wanted to succeed and continue to have everyone
believe he was a Loyalist, Matthew Davis could keep him - and by
extension the Vengeance crew - informed and close to the inner,
planning circle of government. To do that, he needed to earn this
man's trust, and his impeccable behavior here, along with making
deals with the devil, were required. He spoke, "I think you will be
pleased with the results, but if you prefer a different stallion, I
brought six total."

"I inspected all of them prior to coming inside. I found Thor rather

"Thank you." Chris managed a real smile.

"I noticed Neptune was of a gentle nature. Interesting name for a
horse," Davis mused.

"He washed - or should I say swam - ashore off Portsmouth Village
after a storm. A childhood friend found him, could not find his
owner, and gifted him to me. His fascination with water earned him
the name." Chris related the horse's history easily. Inwardly, he
was reminded why he hated these things so much: because he had to
talk so often. "He has become the king of bathing in one of my

"I do prefer cleanliness. Would you be amiable to an arrangement
involving both Thor and Neptune? My daughter wants to raise a foal,
so I prefer a gentle demeanor from the sire. The mare I have in mind
is quite docile."

"I would."

The door burst open. A young man of about twenty-five years stormed
in, anger on his patrician face wearing a tight expression. His
clothes were finely tailored, of rich material, and of the latest
fashions. He filled out his clothes, showing muscle definition. A
proper Gentleman put together, until he opened his mouth, the words
tinged with disgust. "Your daughter, Mr. Brattenwrighter, requires
your firm hand of discipline."

"Mr. Pierce, might I introduce Mr. Davis, aide to Governor Martin,
and Mr. Larabee, an esteemed guest?" Brattenwrighter's tone was firm
and full of censure. "Gentlemen, my future son-in-law Gerald Pierce."

"Mr. Pierce," Davis acknowledged.

Chris tipped his head, sick of the gesturing; yet not wanting to say
it was a pleasure to meet this man. So far, he'd seen nothing
pleasurable, and the man's tone of voice was not annoying, but it was
not pleasing to the ear.

"My apologies for the interruption." Pierce forced a smile. "I will
come back another time."

"No, you are here now, and you have already made a telling
statement. Close the door and explain your words. I will not have
my guests believe me, my family, or my future son-in-law rude."

Pierce flushed. "Forgive me; I spoke out of turn."

"You have a complaint against my daughter? Which one - Katherine or

"Katherine, sir. She informed me you were negotiating a horse
breeding, and stated she intended to attend the mating. Absolutely

"My daughter's interests are in my stables. She has been told
previously, and will abide by, my desire for her not to be present.
Perhaps you misunderstood her intention for fanciful thoughts?"
Brattenwrighter stared hard at Pierce.

"You may be correct, sir." Pierce looked most uncomfortable after
the gently phrased rebuke. "Rest assured, once you have given her to
me as wife, her days will be filled with interests relating to our

"Undoubtedly, once - and if - she has become your wife,"
Brattenwrighter agreed.

It was all Chris could do not to roll his eyes, or leave the room.
Watching them politely cut each other to the quick disgusted him; he
preferred directness without the false veneer of niceness. He
definitely did not want to get in the middle of this brewing family

"Such melodrama," Davis said soft enough for only Chris's
ears. "However, Chester has become quite the supporter in these
troubled times."

"One must make allowances," Chris retorted, barely able to keep the
sarcasm from his voice.

"Quite." Davis cleared his throat. "Gentleman, if you will excuse
Mr. Larabee and me, I have further questions for him regarding the

"Of course," Brattenwrighter said.

"Certainly. Again, my apologies." Pierce stepped out of the way.

Much as Chris disliked Davis, he was not above using the man's excuse
to leave the private family discussion. They walked quietly to the
stables, only stopping long enough to exchange greetings and
introductions with persons Davis felt worthy enough to acknowledge.
The man's running commentary helped enlighten Chris in who dealt with
what and whom, minor information that could prove useful in the
future. Their arrival in the stables went unnoticed in the crush; it
seemed the men were gathered in one section of the massive,
interconnected buildings.

"Your horses have drawn the attention they deserve," Davis commented.

Before Chris could respond, the crowd parted to allow them through.
Immediately, Larabee noticed Vin's pensive expression, along with the
addition of several soldiers. From the way Tanner kept his head low,
tricorn hat forward, and Thor between him and the soldiers, there
were even bigger problems. In fact, it appeared Vin was encouraging
Thor to act up to create space between the press of people and the

He saw his grooms protectively positioned around the other stallions,
but the gentry trying to get a better look seriously outnumbered
them. Not caring for rules of acceptable behavior, he positioned
himself between his horses and what he considered the crude horde.
He ignored the shouted barrage of questions.

"Gentlemen." With a single word, Matthew Davis quieted the
throng. "I believe Mr. Brattenwrighter wished everyone inside to
formally welcome one of all. Mr. Larabee's horses will be here for
the weekend. I do believe we will have time to view them properly
without further upsetting these magnificent and high-strung beasts."

The crowd dissipated, moving in groups toward the house.

"My thanks," Chris said to Davis.

"Quite welcome. I feared for the horses becoming more agitated. Ah,
I see your trainer now has Thor well in hand."

"He has much skill with them." Chris followed Vin's line of sight,
seeing the three soldiers to his left, the main culprit for Tanner's
unease. Vin's history with some British soldiers south of here left
permanent scars on both his body and his soul, along with a tangible
distrust of anyone wearing the uniform.

"Mr. Davis, might I have a moment?" Wearing captain's rank on a red
uniform pressed to perfection and free of even travel mud, the thirty-
something broad-shouldered soldier waited patiently.

"Of course, Captain Darton. You bring news?"

"Important news, sir."

"What is it?"

Darton looked past Davis to the grooms, Tanner, and Larabee. The
rest of the crowd had left them alone in this section.

Chris feigned disinterest, moving beside Vin and speaking softly.

"Go ahead."

Captain Darton lowered his voice. "Sir, the Vengeance has struck
again. Last night."

Larabee's heart pounded in his chest; there was no way that his
schooner, the Vengeance, would have sailed without him, the captain.
He continued his supposed conversation with Vin, making certain to
visibly show he had not heard.

"What? Where? Details, man." Davis waved a hand for Darton to

"A sinking right off Ocracoke. One of Stewart James's ships barely
cleared the Banks when it was attacked, boarded, and sank. Soldiers
on lighthouse duty saw it all, sir. The vessel even ran up the
surrender, yet the colorless Vengeance stole the cargo, set the crew
adrift, and sank it. The ship could have been recovered and taken
for prize, but they scuttled it anyway. I was given the news on the
road here, and hastened to reach you."

"Colorless Vengeance?"

"Yes, sir. They were most clear on that. No flags, colors, or

"Did the survivors see the jib?"


"A sail with a skull and crossbones, dagger and blood coming from one

"I know naught of what you speak."

"What description was there of the boarders?"

"All cutthroats. Unkempt, unwashed, heavily bearded."

"I see. A ruse, then."

"Sir?" Darton questioned again.

"What made the survivors believe it was the Vengeance responsible?"

"The boarding crew. They told the captain 'Compliments of Captain
Vengeance', then laughed. I quote the line directly for you, sir."

"Doesn't that complicate the state of things," Davis mused
aloud. "Governor Martin has been told?"

"My messenger informed me a rider was dispatched posthaste."

"Send your fastest rider from here to New Berne with a message from
me to the Governor. 'Do nothing with this information'. Understood?"

"Yes, sir."

"Also post two men in the stables, if you please. I would prefer my
horses - and Mr. Larabee's - are well protected." Davis raised his
voice. "Mr. Larabee."

Chris separated from Vin briefly. "Yes, Mr. Davis?"

"Would you object if Captain Darton assigned someone to assist your
grooms in keeping the guests from harming your stallions? I fear the
informal gathering later this evening on the South Lawn will put many
a man too far into his cups."

"A drunken man should not be near horses, unless that man knows them
well. I would be grateful to Captain Darton for the guard."

"Two of my men prefer the company of horses to that of large
gatherings. Your horses will be quite safe, gentlemen," the officer

"Excellent," Davis said. "Captain Darton, please accompany me to the
house. I have questions, if you don't mind."

"Certainly. Mr. Larabee, a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

"Likewise, Captain. Mr. Davis, I will be up directly after one final

"Of course. The overprotective papa." Davis smiled at his joke,
leaving with Darton and the other soldiers. One enlisted man stayed
several paces away, out of hearing range.

"I ain't stayin' here with them here," Vin nodded subtlety toward the
retreating soldiers. "Ain't safe fer me."

"Is there going to be a big problem?" Chris asked. "Do you need to

"Couple look familiar," Vin admitted. "They stared hard but don't
think they recognized me. Leavin' only makes them think. Still
don't trust 'em, snakes are more honest."

"Brattenwrighter set up temporary cabins for the indentured servants,
maids, and valets on the North Lawn by the woods. Take some of the
boys and stay there with them, and leave the other grooms here with
the horses."

"Grooms can stay in a cabin. I'll camp in the woods."

"Why am I not surprised?" Chris gave his friend a wry grin.

"The woods are safer than bein' around people. They only cause
trouble. Speakin' on trouble, been thinkin' Davis knows it weren't

Chris nodded. "Not our style."

"James sank his own ship to blame us."


"All this propriety wipe out yer brain, Larabee? Hell, it's pretty
simple, even fer ya t'follow. He gets his backers t'buy him a new
ship, pay fer the lost load, and he keeps the cargo. He can sell it
fer straight profit on the black market with no one the wiser. This
was payback fer what we did t'him and his pirates not t'long ago."

"Just checking to see if your brain made the trip with you."

"Go t'hell, Larabee."

Chris laughed.

"Better yet, go back t'the party 'fore they miss ya too much. Why
they would, I couldna guess."

Larabee glared.

Vin smirked. "Leastways I can stay here fer a time. I ain't hoity-
toity enough fer the formal dinner."

"Be glad." Chris walked toward the house, dreading the entire
affair. He would probably be forced to accompany some simpering miss
friend of Katherine Brattenwrighter to dinner, a look of hope in her
eyes to snag him into marriage. He shuddered.

It was worse than he thought; his tardiness left only one partner
open to him - Brattenwrighter's older daughter, Clarissa. She was
apparently unmarried, twenty-three or so, and decidedly spinsterish
in manner. Porcupines had fewer sharp quills than this woman's
prickly demeanor.

"Miss Brattenwrighter, I am Chris Larabee, your dinner partner. A
pleasure to make your acquaintance."

"Mrs. Kingston, Mr. Larabee," she sharply corrected. "I am a widow,
not a spinster."

"My apologies, and condolences," he said sincerely. "I was only told
by your father to find Clarissa. He gave me no indication of your
married and widowed status."

"How like him to be so rude." Her nose aimed straight for the

She was going to try his patience, he decided. "Again, I meant no
disrespect, Mrs. Kingston. Will you do me the honor of accompanying
me to dinner?" He held out a bent arm for her to place her hand upon.

"Since you were foisted on me, I accept. To do otherwise would be
rude." She walked on his arm to the formal dining room, leading him
to seats near the head of the long table. He sat with Davis on his
right, Clarissa to his left, and across from Katherine.

So began one of the longest meals of his life to date.
Brattenwrighter gave another speech of welcome, followed by the
beginning of several full courses of food. Clarissa ate without
participating in any of the several conversations around her. He
made several attempts - a record for him - to get her talking, but
her curt replies discouraged him from trying further.

After he ate too much of the rich food and realized there were more
courses coming, misery set in. He rarely gorged himself like he was
doing here; a simple meal often filled him quite nicely. Yet, he
silently cursed, here he was required to partake of, and at least
sample each and every dish. His pants tightened, his stomach felt
bloated, and conversation stilted around him.

Just when he believed he would be rude and excuse himself from the
gluttony, he felt something on his leg. More specifically, he
discovered the feel of a lady's silk covered foot rubbing his woolen
hose. His eyes rose from his current plate to see Katherine giving
him a small innocent smile. Knowing this was completely improper he
tried to pull his leg free. He shook his head slightly at her in

Katherine's smile widened. "Mr. Larabee."

"Yes, Miss Brattenwrighter?" Somehow he maintained a pleasant

"I understand you live near the coast. Pray tell if you find life as
stimulating inland as I do. Here we may watch things grow."

Her foot was now in his groin, her toes wiggling where they were not
supposed to be. He shifted in his chair, attempting to hide her
brazenness and maintain his dignity. "Stimulation depends on
personal preference. Whereas I live outside our fair New Berne, on
the Sound as opposed to the sea, my dear friend lives in Portsmouth
Village. We agree our respective locations can be satisfying and
dangerous at the same time."

"Forgive my ignorance in geography, Mr. Larabee, but I confess I do
not know where to find Portsmouth Village. Is it high or low on the
coast? A large growing town, or a small, sturdy serviceable hamlet?
Would one go for a fast, thrilling visit, or a long, protracted
stay? Or more than one visit for the fullest experience?" The
entire time she spoke, her foot explored up and down, despite his
attempts to dislodge her without drawing undue attention on either of
them. Her words held double meanings, and he figured it was time for

Slipping one hand beneath the table unnoticed, he latched onto her
foot in a strong grip. If she wanted to play dangerous games in
front of those she held in high esteem, then he would show her the
consequences of those actions. Taking his thumb and placing it in
the arch of her foot, he began rubbing slow circles, not allowing her
to try to pull free. "Regarding your question about Portsmouth
Village, Miss Brattenwrighter, it is as untamed as our country's
western borders, and mayhap more dangerous. In fact, navigating its
rocky shores has become only an endeavor for the truly experienced.
The inexperienced or those too bold for their own good will find
themselves out of their depths. Floundering in the ever-changing,
tricky currents." He let her foot go and pushed it away, pleased to
see he had turned her on and flustered her by her reactions.

Her face was flushed, her eyes darkened, and she nearly panted. "Oh,

"Spoken like a sailor, Mr. Larabee. Did you serve in His Majesty's
Royal Navy?" Davis asked.

"No, sir. My father owned a shipping business, and he insisted that
I learn every position in his company to properly run it. He
believed being knowledgeable would prevent errors through ignorance.
I worked my way through shipping and receiving, to cabin boy, and
upward to captaining my own vessel."

"Yet you raise horses. Quite a change of heart, not to mention
professions, Mr. Larabee." Pierce finally entered the conversation,
shooting a perplexed look at Katherine's flushed complexion.

"Yes, it was," Chris replied. "For the love of a beautiful woman, a
man will make sacrifices, take stock of his life. I did, having
years of happiness with my wife and son. If I understood Magistrate
Travis correctly, may I offer congratulations to you and your lovely
fiancι, Mr. Pierce? Your nuptials are next week?"

"Yes, and thank you, Mr. Larabee," Pierce answered.

"Yes, thank you," Katherine echoed, her eyes granting him the point
in outmaneuvering her.

"A toast," Brattenwrighter called from his head of the table
position. "To my lovely daughter on her birthday, and my future son-
in-law's happiness."

"Hear, hear," the company echoed.

"What happened to your wife and son?" Clarissa asked when the
glasses lowered.

"They sailed to meet me in Savannah. Their ship -" he cut off to
swallow past a sudden lump in his throat, "- was lost at sea." He
fell silent.

"How tragic!" Katherine exclaimed. "My condolences."

He listened to everyone else within hearing offer their sympathy, and
he made the appropriate replies. The rest of dinner blurred for him,
when the ladies left, he stayed with the men only long enough not to
cause offense. After checking on the horses, he opted against
finding Vin with the other servants and retired to the guest room
assigned to him. It was small, yet down the hallway from the
family. Either Brattenwrighter really wanted Chris happy with their
arrangement, or his sudden good friend status with Matthew Davis
earned him this room in a position of honored guest.

It didn't matter; he was too caught up in his memories to give more
than a passing thought to the room. He fell into a tormented sleep,
dreaming of remembered happy times and imagining those final moments
in flame. Were they dead before or after the fire started? He
hadn't found out yet, and that was one of his own tortures.


Part Two

A discreet yet loud knock woke him from his blessed unconscious state.

He called out, "Yes?"

"Sir, Mr. Brattenwrighter requests your presence at the family
morning meal in a quarter hour."

"Where?" He cleared his throat, detesting the frog-like sounds
coming from his scratchy, sore throat.

"I will escort you, sir."

"I accept the invitation. Please return for me in ten minutes."

"Yes, sir."

Once he heard the man's retreating footsteps, he groaned. He didn't
sleep well at all, and his head felt woozy. Perhaps the night's
tears of loss did not help soothe his throat. This did not please
him; nor did having to rise to greet the Brattenwrighter family.
Well, he accepted the unexpected invitation because it would be
beyond rude to do otherwise, and rolled out of the bed. He took care
of his needs, then washed up in the basin provided. What disturbed
him was the heated water; that meant a servant entered without his
waking. A quick checked showed no lock on the doors, nor was there
anything amiss with his belongings.

He shaved quickly, then set about the long process of dressing like a
Gentleman of Quality. Horse dung, he thought. It would have been
easier to have a valet, yet he refused to bring his man here. He
doubted this so-called enlightened group would understand Big Luke's
deft hands. Nor would he subject the freed slave turned valet to the
obvious prejudice of these slave owners. Big Luke deserved better.

First he started with the white lawn shirt, made of a very fine
material that stretched to his knees. Next came his navy breeches,
his shirt tucked into the knee-length soft wool pants. His waistcoat
went over the shirt, a lighter shade of dark blue embroidered with a
simple pattern in varying shades of blue. He sat for the next part.
His hose, the part of the outfit he detested most, slid on up to the
bottoms of his knees, tied tight to prevent slippage. The edge of
his pants hung over the tops, not allowing them to show. He pulled
on his boots, then stood to yank on his jacket and button it.

By the time the servant returned, Chris finished tying the last part
of his outfit - the choking device. Cravat was the proper name for
it, he reminded himself. He followed the man to a small eating area
just off the large dining room, joining Brattenwrighter, his wife,
Matthew Davis, Katherine, Pierce, Clarissa, and a woman he had not
met protectively positioned by Katherine.

"Mr. Larabee, welcome. Allow me to introduce Mrs. Brethsby, Clarissa
and Katherine's governess. Well, Katherine's until her marriage,"
said Brattenwrighter.

With sharp features, a disapproving expression, and a rather
forbidding demeanor, Chris believed she could face a hurricane's full
force and make it back down. Instead of vocalizing his less-than-
complimentary opinion, he said instead, "How do you do?"

"I have been better, Mr. Larabee, but thank you for asking."

"Shall we be seated?" Brattenwrighter suggested.

Again, Chris found himself beside Clarissa. He wondered if his
appetite - grown stronger from the labor of getting dressed - would
be killed because of her or Mrs. Brethsby. Both were enough to turn
his stomach.

He needn't have worried. The fine fare was more than tempting and he
stuffed himself full again. Not to the painful point of last night's
dinner, but a good sense of sated. Even better, Katherine only gave
him coy looks instead of fondling him with her foot beneath the
table. The streaming sunlight probably prevented her; last night's
muted candlelight and long tablecloth covered most inappropriate

They adjourned, the men headed for the stables to complete their
transactions. Brattenwrighter had built a smaller barn and corral
away from the main stables, and the horses were led to the corral.
Since Neptune only had one service, he went first, and all agreed
that there should be a foal forthcoming.

It was Thor's turn, and Brattenwrighter allowed Davis's mare to go
first. Since the mare was as spirited as Thor, there was quite a
battle for domination. When the now-docile mare was led away, Chris
noticed Katherine on the other side of the corral, her governess
tugging on her to leave.

"Miss Brattenwrighter followed through with her fanciful thinking,"
Davis murmured to Chris.

"Yes. I wonder if anyone else has noticed." He looked around.

"No, because Brattenwrighter's mare has arrived. A most excellent
stallion, Chris."

"My thanks for the transaction, Matthew. I fear your foal will come
out kicking."

Davis laughed. "Even better. I would go check on my mares, but I
believe the excitement here will be more impressive."

Chris looked to see Captain Darton escorting Katherine to their
group. She looked furious to have been caught, and the fiery glares
at Mrs. Brethsby were rather telling as to whom was responsible.

"Mr. Pierce, it was my pleasure to bring your fiancιe to you."
Darton bowed and offered Katherine's hand to him.

"You are most welcome, Captain. My thanks for your escort." Pierce
accepted her, a false smile on his face. Disapproval radiated from
his entire body posture.

"Katherine! I thought we agreed this was not a place for a lady,"
Brattenwriter reproved.

"Father, you have allowed me to watch Willow since we purchased her.
I just wanted to be here when she becomes a woman for the first time.
Almost fitting, since I will become a wife and leave next weekend."
Katherine turned pleading eyes on her father.

"Let her stay," Davis suggested. "It pleases me to see a young
person so interested in this business."

"I object most strenuously," Mrs. Brethsby said forcefully. "A lady
of breeding does not belong here."

"Your concerns are noted, Mrs. Brethsby. However, I wish to share
this time with my daughter since I will be giving her away into
marriage in one short week. Come, Katherine. Stand beside me."

The excellent breakfast felt heavier in his stomach the longer Chris
watched these people. Everyone seemed intent on ruining every event
with some type of bad behavior or supposedly scandalous action. The
sooner tomorrow came, the sooner he could leave this place behind.
He did not comment on the baleful glares both Pierce and Mrs.
Brethsby gave Katherine for getting her way; nor did he speak on
Davis's small grin. Captain Darton's amused countenance was not
worth mentioning aloud, either. He focused his attention back into
the corral.

If he thought Davis's mare was spirited, Brattenwrighter's outright
refused to participate. She even bit Thor in the side to keep him
away. That only excited the stallion, which went after her with
significant vigor. He won, crushing her resistance until she agreed
and participated.

"Papa, does it not seem she acts the part of the discontent
Colonists? Much protesting, but still submitting to the stronger
will of the British?"

"Miss Brattenwrighter!" Mrs. Brethsby exclaimed. "You will not
speak of that. Come now; the event has ended."

"Go with Mrs. Brethsby, Katherine." Her father kissed her on the
forehead. "Speak no more of politics, my dear, since we have guests
who might not understand."

"Yes, Father." Katherine meekly followed Mrs. Brethsby toward the

"Forgive her; the fault is mine." Brattenwrighter sighed. "I wished
my daughters to be educated to understand the world around them. I'm
afraid Katherine took those lessons more to heart then her sister.
Sometimes my child tends to forget her restrictions."

"And her place," Pierce muttered. "That will change in my home."

"Of that I have no doubt." Sarcasm dripped from the father's tone.
He warned, "Have a care not to crush her spirit."

"Yes, sir." Pierce obediently lowered his eyes.

"Mr. Larabee, my thanks for bringing such excellent horses."
Brattenwrighter turned to Chris.

"My thanks for your patronage, gentlemen."

"I suggest a morning ride. It should clear our heads and prove
invigorating." Brattenwrighter smiled. "The South Lawn in about an

Those assembled agreed, and the group scattered. Chris went with Vin
and his horses back to the stables. He was disturbed by Katherine's
use of Thor to analogize the Colonial resistance to the British
Crown's unfairness. More and more he felt like he was staying in a
snake pit waiting for someone to make the first strike.

"Ya all right?"

Vin's voice shook him from his reverie. "When we leave, I will be."
He kept his words soft so only his friend could hear.

"Ya ain't alone in that thought."

"Great work with Thor and Neptune."

"Hell, both of them were itchin' ta work. Neptune's docile, and
Thor's fighting sleep. The others can smell it, and they're a little

"I wouldn't be surprised if the other guests make offers. Since I
will be stuck playing esteemed guest with the family, go ahead and
make arrangements. Brattenwrighter gave permission, provided he and
Davis received first services."

"I'll take care o'it."

"The soldiers? Are they bothering you?"

"Ones I worry about are stickin' t'the house. Seems there's plenty

"And men willing to lift their skirts," Chris wryly added.

"Speaking o'skirts, watch fer the older daughter. Heard tell yer
gettin' cozy with her."

"Hell, no. Formal obligation." Larabee shuddered. "Buck wouldn't
even want to try."

Vin laughed. "That sayin' somethin'. Serious now, keep yer
distance. Seems she's got a Scandal attached t'her name, and
Brattenwrighter's tryin' t'unload her."


"Miss Mary Lou, Davis's valet's wife, knows the stories on everyone.
Her kin live near here. Said the oldest daughter's marriage was
arranged, and the groom didn't like her."

"Buck would say she has more thorns than a rose's stem."

"She didn't deserve what happened. They got along fer a few years,
but he didn't stay true t'her. Seems he thought he had rights t'the
slave women, too. Got murdered in one's cabin, the girl slave too,
and the poor girl was carryin' his child. When the dust settled, the
authorities found five more kids he had by the slaves. His family
raised a hue and a cry, sayin' the wife was too cold fer him."

"They catch who killed him and the slave girl?"

"Nope. Thinkin' was a slave man mad at the master fer abusin' the

"Yet another reason I detest slavery," Chris said.

"No man can ever own another person."

They shared a smile, a silent reaffirming of their friendship and
similar beliefs.

"Any more I should know?"

"Dead man's family inherited because there were no heirs; booted the
wife out with only her clothes and heirlooms from her side of the
family. Sent her home in disgrace. Miss Mary Lou thinks the woman
grew cold and mean because o'it."

"That would explain it. Hey, did you realize you've talked for five

"Ya ain't gotta be rude. Reckon yer hangin' around those la-de-dah's
too much. They're rubbin' off."

"Then I will depend on you to keep me grounded."

"Gimme one swing and I'll ground ya inta the hay." Vin's blue eyes

"You have to swing first." Chris grinned back.

"Ya won't see it comin'," Tanner promised. "What do ya plan t'do
today? Smoke cigars, drink brandy, and sit on yer arse all day?"

"We're going riding in a short while. Who do you suggest?"

"Neptune. He's done fer the day, and the others are fresh. 'Cept
Thor, o'course; she bit him good. He needs rest."

"You expect one more round out of him?"

"Maybe. I'll have t'think hard on that."

"Poor Neptune."

"Neptune's lady will harm him more if he comes back battered.
Ursula's jealous."

"She is that." Chris smirked. Neptune found a mate in Ursula, one
of the most even-tempered mares he owned. He was seriously taken
aback when they brought Neptune back after a week's work, and Ursula
bit him every chance she got. Vin finally resolved things by having
the two in a corral overnight under Vin's watchful eyes until the
horses got along with each other again. Then he tended the wounds,
but the humans learned Neptune was not a horse to be overused.

"Guess we better get him ready. Don't ride him too hard," Vin warned.

"I won't."

"No jumpin'."

"He's not a jumper," Chris responded.

"No steeplechase."

Larabee rolled his eyes. "Yes, Father." He dodged the punch, but
not the kick. His shin throbbed.

"Go get inta ridin' clothes, ya fool. That outfit you'll only split
yer pants."

Chris glared, then retreated to his room to change into a more
appropriate riding outfit. He hoped the ride would go quickly.


Captain Darton rode abreast with Chris. They conversed on several
topics, but Larabee knew the Captain had something on his mind. He
was content to let the soldier broach the subject first. It took
nearly an hour.

"Mr. Larabee."

"Chris," he offered. All the "Mr. Larabee's" were grating on his

"Thank you. Please call me Paul."

"Paul," he acknowledged. "You seem to have something weighing on
your mind. Might I be of some assistance?"

"Since you have offered, may I ask a question of a personal nature?"

"I may not answer."

"I accept that. What is your interest in Clarissa? I mean, Mrs.

"Mr. Brattenwrighter has graciously placed me as her partner. If you
are asking if I have any romantic notions, rest assured, I do not. I
still grieve the passing of my wife and son."

"My condolences, Chris."

"Thank you, Paul. May I infer you have an interest?"

"Yes. It was dreadful how she was mistreated. Her husband was
murdered, and she bore the Scandal from it through no fault of her
own. I sincerely hope she will accept me calling on her."

"I wish you the best of luck."

"My thanks."

From behind them, the sound of a galloping horse grew louder. Both
men fell into single file on the side of the path. A large mare
passed them, the rider's long hair flowing freely behind her.

"Katherine!" A second rider chased, Pierce calling her name to get

"Catch me!" She yelled back to him.

Once they passed, Paul commented, "I do not envy him. Katherine's
spirit will challenge him at every turn."

"Why does he marry if they do not suit?"

"His family has fallen heavily into debt more than once. Long time
friends of the Brattenwrighters, his father suggested an arrangement
between them to settle the debts with the marriage of Clarissa and
Pierce. There was a dispute, and his betrothal to her fell through
before it was official. It was not until recently that the families
agreed they needed strong supporters around them because of the
unrest. Pierce's father refused Clarissa as the wife because of the
Scandal, and Katherine was substituted."

"Why marry if he does not want to? Friendships will survive the
current troubles if they are strong enough."

"Brattenwrighter will pay off all the debts accrued, and there are
many, in exchange for their unwavering loyalty. He holds Katherine
in check by telling her she will always be welcome here if she and
Pierce do not suit. He will allow them to live separate lives in
separate residences after a period of one year, or one heir."

"Not very traditional."

"No, but Katherine's the favorite. And here we are, back at the
stables. A pleasure speaking with you, Chris."

"Likewise, Paul." They shook hands and separated. The long ride
gave them just enough time to tend their horses, then change for the
formal dinner and dancing.

Chris had to check his horses first. He noticed his stallions were
either asleep or half-asleep. Thor was completely asleep. Vin found
Chris, tossing him a brush before removing Neptune's saddle.

"Well?" he asked his friend and trainer.

"Ya know that purebred stallion ya want in Charles Town?"


"We could buy three o'them."

Chris slowly smiled. Vin's business acumen probably rivaled Ezra's,
since that particular stallion was highly expensive. Another reason
he came here was to raise capital to afford him. "How did you manage

"One fella wanted more than one cover t'be sure. Said he'd pay fer
each cover. I ain't gonna say no."

"I wouldn't. Thor?"

"Not him. Damn near kicked the stall t'pieces when Odin came back
reekin'. Three men pooled their money t'have him even knowin' he'd
already gone twice. They're splittin' the profits after the foal's
born and sold."

"What will you do tonight? Going to join me?"

"Like hell. Miss Mary Lou invited me t'eat with her and her kin.
Seems she has a niece Nadine she wants me t'meet. I ain't eatin'
high on the hog like ya are, but I'll be eatin' with real people.
Not them la-de-dahs."

Chris scowled. "Enjoy yourself; one of us should."

"I will. Much more than ya will. Now get. Ya smell like horse."

Larabee laughed. Dusk had fallen, throwing the wide, winding pathway
between the stables and the house into shadow. He passed by a few
forks in the path, and a stand of trees. Voices reached him not too
far from the house, the owners hidden behind the tall hedges.

"Right there, yes! Yes!"

He picked up his pace; he had no wish to intrude on two lovers having
a tryst.

"Oh, Gerald. If only we were to marry, then we wouldn't steal
moments in the grass and hide our love."

Chris nearly stopped - that was Clarissa's voice, and Gerald was
Gerald Pierce, Katherine's intended. Determined not to get any
further involved, he continued toward the house.

"I know, Clarissa. Give me that year, and I will come for you. I
will come for you before then; there will be no pleasure for me with
your child sister. I need you to be my woman."

Chris quickened his pace.

"I need you."

I need you both to shut up, Chris thought. It was too quiet out
here; their voices carried clearly through the stillness. With the
scandal already surrounding the two, Chris would have thought they
would have been more circumspect. Then, when he thought about it, he
realized no one he'd met at this gathering was showing an abundance
of brains.

"If only Katherine was out of the way," Pierce said. "I can live
with the Scandal; it's my parents that won't allow that."

"We could make them understand; we've loved each other for years.
Katherine just needs to go away for us to convince them."

"But how? Let me think on it." There was a pause. "We must not be
missed, dearest Clarissa. Dress quickly, so we can prepare ourselves
for dinner."

"It's so hopeless, Gerald." She took a deep, noisy breath. "I love

"I love you, Clarissa."

I'm going to be ill, Chris thought. Then the situation worsened, a
few short feet from the door when he believed himself free of this
muck. Captain Darton stood before him, having just stepped out the

"Chris! How delightful. I was just looking for Clarissa. Have you
seen her?"

Hell and damnation, he thought to himself. "No, Paul, I have not
seen her." He hoped God would forgive him the omission of hearing
her. "Mayhap she is in her room dressing for dinner?"

"Perhaps. I will check again. I understand your horses did
exceptionally well today."

"Yes, they did."

Paul Darton waited for Chris. Just as they entered, Clarissa and
Pierce came up behind them.

"Ah, there you are. Might I have a word?" Paul asked her.

"Of course."

"If you'll excuse me, I must dress for dinner," Pierce bowed to his
companion. "Mrs. Kingston, thank you for the demonstration of proper
rose garden dimensions. I intend Katherine to have only the finest."

"You are quite welcome, Mr. Pierce," she replied.

Chris slipped away before he gave something away. When he reached
the top of the stairs, he heard voices.

"Miss Katherine, you need to learn decorum."

Not again, he thought. This time it was Mrs. Brethsby berating

"I will marry him in a week. Since I must produce an heir, the
sooner I do, the faster I earn my freedom."

"That does not excuse your lying with him before the ceremony. You
could have been caught and ruined."

Now Chris was in a pickle; either he made noise and announced his
presence by coming up the stairs loudly, or he stayed and hoped they
moved away. He was learning too much about these people; the more he
found out, the more he wanted to leave. Fortunately, the pair moved
away. He heard Mrs. Brethsby's voice right before a door down the
hallway closed.

"Nothing good will come of this. You will control your behavior.
I'll not have such scandal occur under my watch. Someone will take
exception, and make you pay. Your foolishness will get you killed;
see if it won't."

That was twice he'd heard the young woman indirectly threatened. It
was too much, really, and none of his business. He resolved to say
nothing and leave this intrigue behind tomorrow morning. Katherine
seemed more than capable of caring for herself. The only innocent
was Paul Darton, unaware the older sister he cared for was involved
with her future brother-in-law.

Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he dressed in his best
outfit. He also promised himself not to be such a glutton tonight at
dinner. That decided, he headed downstairs, not very surprised to
find himself blessedly alone for dinner; Paul had taken his place as
Clarissa's partner, moving him further down the table. He didn't
mind; their transactions were complete, and the less he interacted
with the family now, the better.

Per custom, he wrote his name on the dance cards for Mrs.
Brattenwrighter, Clarissa, and Katherine. His first obligation
passed easily; he thanked Mrs. Brattenwrighter for her hospitality.
The second with Clarissa was stilted and formal; neither indicated
they knew of the other's activities. When he claimed Katherine for a
dance, he had the misfortune of walking up to hear Brattenwrighter
scolding his daughter.

It just was not his night. The father needed to lower his voice;
hell, this whole family could use instruction on keeping secrets and
preventing Scandal.

"You will cease your harlot behavior immediately, Katherine."

"Harlot behavior? Please, Father, who has been telling you false

"Do you deny your liaison with Pierce?"

"We are to be married, Father. You arranged it."

"Then why did you take a soldier to your bed last night? It was
fortunate Mrs. Brethsby insured he left early this morning before
anyone rose."

"I wanted some fun before I entered a loveless marriage."

Chris made a production of his arrival, letting them fall silent and
wonder what he heard. He did not reveal that – again – yet another
conversation he held no wish to be party to reach his ears. "Miss
Brattenwrighter, I do believe this dance is mine."

"Why yes, Mr. Larabee. Father?"

"We will continue this discussion later, Katherine. Mr. Larabee,
enjoy yourself."

"Mr. Brattenwrighter." He offered his arm to Katherine. "Shall we?"

"Yes, indeed." She started another shocking conversation while they
twirled. "Tell me, Mr. Larabee. Would you consider a discreet
intimate encounter with me this night? I wish to learn about
pleasure before my marriage."

"I do believe that would be highly improper." Somehow, he kept a
straight face.

"Hang propriety. If I did not know Gerald sought out Clarissa's bed
as well as mine, I would not ask."

"I beg your pardon?" He cleared his throat. They were nearing those
treacherous family waters he did not want to set foot in, much less
be tossed willy-nilly into.

"They think I am ignorant, but I see more than many wish me to see."

"Much as I find your offer tempting, I must decline. You can rest
assured I will not speak of it."

"You are a good man, Mr. Larabee." She allowed him to escort her to
Pierce, who claimed her for a waltz.

"Mr. Larabee."

He turned to see Clarissa seated alone nearby. "Yes, Mrs. Kingston?"

"Might I impose on you to fetch me some punch? Captain Darton was
called away by Mr. Davis, and I am quite parched."

"Of course." He fetched two, one for him to keep him from passing
out in these oppressive clothes and the room's suffocating heat.

"Would you hand me my fan behind you?"

"Certainly." Chris was forced to get up for it, but manners dictated
he do so if he wished to remain a Gentleman of Quality. When he
returned it to her, he waited half a beat for another request.
Relieved one more was not coming, he asked, "May I join you?"

"Yes, please." She indicated the seat across from hers. "Allow me
to apologize for my previous rudeness; I thought Father was
attempting matchmaking."

"I sincerely hope not; I'm still in morning for my wife and son." He
was getting very sick of saying that over and over again, but
hopefully someone would figure out he wasn't on the marriage mart.

"I understand. You have treated me with nothing but respect; for
that, I am grateful. Might we be friends before you part, and
correspond after?"

"That would be nice." He drank deeply of his punch, having had it
alcoholically spiked by Brattenwrighter when he got it.

Both knew she would not write, but they played the game by the rules
long established.

"Chris, Clarissa." Matthew Davis walked over. "Captain Darton will
be returning shortly."

"Matthew," Chris acknowledged.

"Please join us, Mr. Davis," Clarissa offered.

"Lovely weekend," Davis remarked.

The music ended and a loud voice carried across the ballroom floor.

"No, Gerald. We are just starting out, so our money is needed to
build our estate, not give it to an unappreciative Crown."

Pierce tried to shush Katherine.

She shook him off. "We will pay our taxes, and not one shilling
more. We will quarter soldiers only if we must, but we are not
opening our new home to them as a barracks. I refuse to do more than
what is required of us. We are Loyalists, but we are not foolish
Loyalists." She spun on her heel and stormed outside onto the

"That distresses me." Davis scowled. "Excuse me; I must speak with
her." He hurried off.

Would this day ever end? Chris thought it probably wouldn't; at least
not anytime soon. He finished his punch, excused himself when Darton
arrived, and found his way to Brattenwrighter's study. Several
cigars and glasses of port later, he staggered outside for some much-
needed air.

His thoughts were hazy at best, so he stepped onto a path to walk and
clear his head. It led to the stables. He figured he would look in
on his stallions. Nature called most insistently; he stepped off the
path into the trees for privacy. He readjusted and restored his
appearance when he was done; that was definitely much better.

Pain exploded in the back of his head, followed by sharp, fast jabs
to his ribs. A blow hit the back of his knees, sending him crashing
forward. Before his slowed reflexes caught up to the signals
generated by his brain, bright white stars appeared in his vision.
He remembered nothing after that.


Someone was screaming. The sound, high-pitched and grating, ripped
through the darkness to rouse him. He hurt, and it seemed
everywhere. One eye cautiously opened to receive a bright ray of
daylight into it, and Chris quickly closed it.

"Ow," he moaned.

"Dear Lord!" a male voice yelled.

The screaming continued.

"What have you done?" the man demanded.

What had he done last night? He was in pain, damn it, and whatever
he did was not worth hearing the caterwauling. "Shh…" he hissed.

"Make way, make way," a different male voice called out. "You
bastard! Get him up!"

Blessedly, the screaming ceased, mutating into a mournful
wail. "She's dead! He killed her!"

He forced his eyes open then. Beneath him, Katherine
Brattenwrighter's open eyes stared unseeingly back at him. Trying to
move, he found his hands pinning her down. Her clothes were ripped
open, exposing her to the air when he pushed up. Crimson stained her
left breast, and the hilt of a small, distinctive knife protruded
from the fatal wound. Someone tossed him to the floor, landing on
his backside, and he stared down at himself.

Blood covered his previously, pristine white dress shirt, but it did
not cover his bare behind. The length of the shirt was bunched at
his waist. He pulled it down. His hands were scratched and bloody,
and thin stripes of dried blood stained the sleeves on his forearms.

"I didn't do this!" he protested, the fogginess of his brain clearing
rapidly as he became more aware of the situation. His eyes found
those of Pierce, Brattenwrighter, and Darton staring accusingly down
at him. "Someone struck me from behind last night on the path to the
stables. I have the lump to prove it!"

"With this!" The chambermaid, probably the source of the screaming,
reached down and picked up a tankard on the floor.

"Give me that," Darton demanded. He examined it quickly. "Dented
and bloody. You were struck, Mr. Larabee, as your victim fought
you. You are despicable!"

"I didn't kill her!" Chris yelled, pushing himself to his feet. He
wobbled when the room spun violently, tipping him to one side.
Bloody hands grabbed his head, trying to keep it on his shoulders.

"I have seen enough. Mr. Brattenwrighter, have you a place to hold
him for trial?" Darton demanded.

"What?" The father's eyes remained on his daughter's
corpse. "Katherine." He looked away. "She shouldn't be seen like
this." One shaking hand grabbed the covers and pulled them over her
abused body to the shoulders.

"A place to hold him, Mr. Brattenwrighter. Where?" the officer asked.

"The slave cellars."

"With your permission, my men and I will guard him and send for the

"Yes. Do what you must."

Paul latched onto Chris with less-than-gentle hands.

"Get off me, Darton. Why won't anyone believe me?"

The captain wrapped his great coat around Chris, using that motion to
detain the dazed, injured man. He pushed him out the door and into
the hands of his soldiers. "Take him to the slave cellars and lock
him in tight. Set a guard. Allow no one near."

"Yes, sir."

"If he fights or tries to escape, subdue him. We want him alive for
trial, though."


Chris made a break for it, but was pushed down the stairs by the
soldier. The new injuries only worsened his condition, as he feared
his arm broken. There was no mercy; he was thrust into a dark dirt
cell below ground with his good arm manacled to the wall at waist
level. Two soldiers came in and beat him unconscious, easily
overwhelming his weak defenses.