Crowe Legacy: Heat Rising

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TWELVE

Returning to Celia with what he hoped was a composed smile, Lafayette said, “Mon Chérie, I sincerely offer you my humblest apologies.” And, taking hold of her gloved hand, he stroked his thumb across the small width of it, “famille devoirs requires me elsewhere.” Turning the hand over, he placed a kiss on her palm, “My thoughts will be of you Chérie…. wait for me, s’il vous plaît. I would feel blessed by any time you would grant upon me.”

“My goodness, Lafayette… so serious,” Celia replied, flashing the smile that had broken down his fortifications. “I will await your return.”

Bowing adieu, he released her hand, heading for the dance floor with Jackson close on his heels. Weaving through his neighbors like wind through a sapling grove, Lafayette refused all who approached with a shake of his head. Upon reaching the platform, he crossed his arms, his dark eyes narrowing as he followed the last movements of the waltz.

‘This has already gone too far. Blast her!’ He thought, snorting with frustration. He held no illusions about how this would get back to their Father, and many times over for that matter, because he could feel their neighbors’ disapproval like a malleable entity. ‘Tarnation, Father’s displeasure is goin’ to come flat down on me and par Dieu, not just once, either. Non, each time he hears of this, he will jump all over me like he ain’t ever had a chance before.’ As he waited, he became conscious of the outraged image he was presenting. Uncrossing his arms, he slid his thumbs into his vest pockets, all the while forcing himself to remain calm and not barrel onto the floor causing an uproar, even though he really wanted, too.

Trying to tamp down his rising rage, he told himself, ’Being a mademoiselle, it is possible, Jo is unaware of the atrocities Jim Lane, his Jayhawkers, and their militia pals have been ladling out. However, whether she is or not, our neighbors, especially the monsieurs are starin’ at her as if she is a viper in their very midst.’

Josephine whirled by giggling and watching her, he could not help but wonder if she comprehended, how with each step her reputation was being further sullied along with their family name. Abruptly, his anger roared brighter than a flaming pine knot, ‘Hellfire! Why am I always the one who has to deal with the fuckin’ difficulties my siblings create? Well, soon enough, I will not be called to clean up after ‘em any longer.’ With the last chord of music fading, he stepped onto the dance floor making a direct bearing for his sister.

Spotting him, her brown eyes shot-wide and pulling away from the tall officer, she hastily said, “I do believe that last dance left me rather desperate for a drink. If’n it would be no trouble, would you mind terribly fetchin’ me a draught of something sweet?”

Before hurrying off, the Lieutenant took hold of her hand, giving it a teasing squeeze, no part of him noticing her rising state of agitation.” I shall be back in a jiffy, Josie,” he said, brushing by Lafayette without a glance.

Seeing the left dimple dipping and diving in her brother’s cheek, Josephine’s face shifted to a mask of wariness.

For a full moment, the pair of them stared at each other, balanced on the top rail of a fence. The situation was ticklish, for Lafayette fully understood Josephine could be docile or become pugnacious quicker than a coin flip.

Licking his lips, he released a smooth smile, and took a step toward her, ’all that is required is for her to break off fraternizing with her new acquaintance. You can do this... be diplomatique. Do not start a melee.’ Extending his hand, he said, “Jo, chérie, I would say, you have danced enough.” Despite his best intentions, Lafayette could hear a mocking sneer in his voice and by the wrinkle appearing along the bridge of his sister’s nose, he knew which side of the fence she was preparing to land on. Before she could act, he snagged her hand, tucking it about his arm, and walking them swiftly down onto the lawn, saying, “You seem rather fatigued, m’ précieux.”

“Why, Lafe, merci, for your concern however, I am fine.” she replied, her voice tight as she considered. ‘Is he herdin’ me about, because he deems, I have been dancin’ more than a proper lady should?’ Not liking the idea of him making choices for her, she dug in her heels, determined to go no further.

Feeling her, he clamped hold of her hand, to prevent her escape, “You may feel fine. Still, why do you not be a chérie, and come along with me straight away, anyhows.”

‘I damn well know that smile he is plying me with is false,’ she thought, studying his profile; ‘What the hell has him bunched up? Well, it does not matter none, I ain’t about to let him have his way, not after how he treated me this morning.’ Having made her decision, she placed her mouth near his ear to whisper, “I do not know what kind of burr is under your blanket, but I am still mad at you and I am no child for you to boss about.”

His left brow arched sharply as he turned his head to look her in the eyes, the venom in his tone could not be denied when he hissed, “Josephine Michelle.”

With a curl of her lip, she responded in kind, “Lafayette Henri.”

His nostrils flared and leaning closer, he whispered, “Fille, this is not the time. And, you best be trusting me, this is not the quarrel you want to start.”

With a snort, she tossed her head. “I am old enough to make my own choices. If’n I want to dance and have a little fun, I will, and without you harassin’ me.” Then, like a headstrong yearling, she jerked her hand from his grip.

" Toute autre jour, je lui donnerais. Mais, Jo, vous dérange nos voisins, que nous ne pouvons pas avoir. Jamais, peut-on perdre leur foi ou de confiance en nous, non pas avec la politique actuelle. Pour l’amour de Dieu, s’il vous plaît, pour une fois il suffit d’écouter le point de quelqu’un d’autre de vue et de se comporter." 1

“Do not go to babbling at me in French. You rightly know, I cannot keep up with it. If ’n you want to state your case, you do it in good old American English.”

Glancing to their neighbors, who were acting like they were not watching, Lafayette sighed. Appealing to her in their family’s language, had been his last hope of keeping some of their encounter private. “All right, fine, you are correct. I should not drag you about. If’n you still feel like dancin’. I would be pleased to take you for a twirl.”

She cocked an eyebrow, crossing her arms.

“Maybe, not me.” He looked rapidly about them, “how about Dick or Jackson?”

Josephine tipped her head to the side, ‘If’n he is not upset about me havin’ a good time… then what the hell is he up to?’

“Come on, Jo, honey... Chérie, there are plenty of others who would be delighted to dance with you. Will you s’il vous plaît cease dancing with... that, Lieutenant.” Reading the pinching about her eyes, he forced out a full smile, thinking. ‘She is close to throwing one of her tiffs.’ Taking a small step closer, his voice dropped, pleading, “s’il vous plaît, Jo, for me, s’il vous plaît.”

“Humph!” She grunted placing her hands on her hips, “As I said, I am still mad at you. I can also smell when you are up to trickery. I ain’t lettin’ you honey and sugar me into doin’ what you want. I have no intention of switchin’ dance partners. I like Lieutenant O’Rourke. He is witty, charming, and a good dancer. Honestly, Lafe you are makin’ no sense at all. Why are you fussin’ so about ‘em?’ And asking this, she raised her chin, her jaw locking as she looked down her nose at him.

‘Ah damnation, she just balked in the traces,’ he thought. ’Ain’t non way, I am moving her without a fight.’ Rubbing at the back of his neck, he rotated his head, his lips pursing into a tight snarl, ‘This simply is not goin’ to end nicely.’ Understanding he was throwing diplomacy in the dirt, he declared with a bitter chuckle, “I see you want to do this the hard way.”

Behind him, he heard Jackson say, “Uh, Bub, do not….”

Paying him no mind, Lafayette leaned in, stating, “Jo, you want to put on a damn show for everyone, very well, then listen real close. You are offendin’ our neighbors. You are doing so by pairing with a man, they look on with suspicion, bordering on hostility. If’n you do not cease, it is very likely you will start a melee that has a good chance of blood being sprayed all over this here lawn. Now, as your elder, I am orderin’ you to cease dallying with this Lieutenant and come along with me simul.”

Josephine’s mouth fell open, her eyes turning to various soldiers. ‘Who the hell cares if Sean is a soldier? Our family has not taken part in any of this political hogwash. Father says we will always be a part of the Union.’ Her brows were twisted tight when she turned back to her brother. ‘When did he become so paranoid? Well, it does not matter; I ain’t lettin’ him drag me into his delusions.’ Having made up her mind, her face shifted to the perfect image of disgust and taking a step back, she sneered, “Do you even realize how offensive you sound? And, trust me Lafe, there ain’t no way you can order me to act as you are behavin’.”

Not sure where to go from here, Lafayette canted his eyes to Jackson, who raised his hands and shrugged.

“In fact, let me tell you, what I have concluded Lafayette Henri. You are the one losin’ your composure. Everyone else is just fine and all you have uttered sounds perfectly damn ridiculous.”

’Hellfire, this here picnic is freezing over. The Mademoiselles are retreating indoors with their children and the monsieurs are grouping tighter than a pack of coyotes.’ Thinking this and sorting through the shock he felt, he did not interrupt her rant.

“Mark me, m’ frère, you can take your bossiness and do what you damn-well like with it. I ain’t listenin’ to any more of your bitter-minded ways. You go right on believin’ what you feel you need to. Just leave me out of it.” And, to add authority to her declaration she shoved him, same as she had when they were children arguing over the rules of some game.

His astonishment wilted before his fury and pushing his lips to her ear, he hissed in a voice strangulated by rage, “I do not care if you fuckin’ believe me that you are in danger of losin’ your réputation. However, I will be damned before I allow you to endanger notre famille.” His voice dipped lower, “I am tellin’ you if’n you force my hand, Josephine, I--”

Poking him in the chest, she cut him off, “What? You will do what!?”

“I will drag you from this property and non amount of cursin’ will stop me. Do not suppose, I will hesitate for une moment.”

Her eyes sparkled at his challenge, a malicious grin inching its way across her face, “Lafayette Henri, you lay one finger on me and you will regret it! I swear you will. I will scream and set into you like you ain’t ever seen. Moreover, despite what you think, Sean has treated me like a lady. Unlike someone!” Finding perverse pleasure in disobeying, her smile grew bigger. “In fact, I do believe, I will take ‘em up on his offer to go ridin’ later. Of course, that is after I eat barbeque with ’em.”

“Well, I suppose you better start screamin’.” Lafayette snarled, snatching hold of her wrists. “Because as long as there is a breath in my body, there ain’t non way in hell, I am allowin’ any of that to happen.”

Tugging against him, Josephine was unable to free herself and furious at her own weakness, she squalled, “you best be lettin’ go of me!”

Lafayette kept moving toward the stables.

Clawing, and dragging her feet was gaining her little, at her wits end she kicked him in the back of the leg.

Lafayette’s leg buckled slamming him to the ground. However, he was on his feet, just as fast as he had gone down, and still dragging her after him like an unruly horse.

“Lafayette stop! Unhand me!” Josephine shouted. “Who are you to determine who I can socialize with? Damn it, Lafe, let go! You have no right treatin’ me this way.”

Feeling her weight shift as it had before she kicked him, he flung her around in front of him, ”Par Dieu, you kick me in my bad knee again and I will throw you over m’ shoulder.”

“You... you… narrow-minded, pompous elitist! I swear, your mightier than thou notions have you soundin’ just like a bushwhackin’ border ruffian, and Lafayette Henri, I want no part of it” She screeched and with a twist, she wrenched a hand free. “Leave me be, damn you!” And, it was unclear which was louder, her words or the sound of her backhanding him across the face. Either way it all echoed off across the silent lawn.

The color drained from him. Releasing her, he rubbed his hand under his nose, his black eyes drifting from the blood smeared on it to her.

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