“Rev. Jameson?” Charles asked the man standing at the front of the church.
“I’m Charles Carson and I’ve been told that you know where Elsie Hughes is.”
“Who sent you?”
“No one sent me. I came on my own. I’m her friend. We worked together.”
Rev. Jameson narrowed his eyes. “It was you. You’re the reason for her fall.”
Charles frowned. “What are you talking about? She didn’t fall. Elsie Hughes is the most upstanding, moral, woman I have ever known. She took the blame for something that never happened to save me from losing the respect of the family we served and the staff I commanded.”
“If you are her friend as you say, you would say anything to protect her. She was a fallen woman, but we’ve made her respectable. If you’ve come thinking you’ll take her back to England, you’re mistaken. She’s Scottish, and she’s where she belongs.”
“Where is she?” Charles demanded.
“I’ll not be telling you anything other than she’s married to an upstanding pillar of the community in which she now lives.”
Charles felt his heart stop beating in his chest as the words, she’s married, swirled around his head, banging into his brain with brut force. He’d been so sure she would have escaped, would have fought tooth and nail and gotten out of marrying. But she hadn’t. Why?
Why had she let this happen to her?
He knew Elsie.
He knew how stubborn she was.
And he knew that she would not let herself be forced to marry a man she didn’t know.
What had gone wrong?
Shaking his head, he glared at the minister. “I don’t care that she’s Scottish, and I don’t care that she’s married. I demand to know where she is. If you do not tell me, I’ll just make a few phone calls. I’m sure the Dowager Countess of Grantham can contact the Marquess of Flintshire, Laird of Duneagle, and have him learn who your superior is and I’m sure she will be happy to report to him how wonderfully helpful you’ve been.” Charles looked down on the man, using every inch of his height to his advantage, his face showing his satisfaction at the look of worry on the man’s face. He knew enough to know that the Marquess of Flintshire probably couldn’t do anything, but he also knew enough to know that throwing around the name of one of the peerage would get him what he wanted.
“Fine then, I’ll tell what you ask, but her husband won’t just let you take her away. She is his wife.”
“The information, Rev. Jameson.”
Charles found himself staring out the window of a moving train once again. He had a sick feeling in his gut that something was wrong with Elsie and the situation she was in. Rev. Jameson had been just a bit too, something, for Charles’ taste. There was a coldness about the man that Charles felt shouldn’t be present in a minister. Even Rev. Travis, with his cool dislike of Catholics, wasn’t a cold man.
Eyelids slowly lowering, he gave into the fatigue of the day, knowing that he would wake the moment the train stopped. A smile flitted across his lips as he saw the blue eyes he’d missed staring up at him, a smirk on rosy lips a welcome sight.
“Elsie Hughes, what are you up to?”
Elsie’s smirk spread to her eyes, causing their blue to sparkle. “Me? Up to something?” she asked as innocently as she could.
Charles scowled down at her. “Don’t play innocent with me. What have you done?”
“I’ve done nothing. It’s your blessed Lady Mary that’s done something.”
Charles rolled his eyes. “She isn’t my blessed Lady Mary.”
Elsie rolled her eyes. “She’s more yours than her father’s some days.”
“Now, Mrs. Hughes,” Charles frowned.
Elsie shook her head. “Enough of that. Do you want to know what I’ve heard, or not?”
Elsie sighed, “Spoil sport.”
Charles laughed and pulled her to him. “Never change, Elsie. Never change.”
Resting her hands on his chest, Elsie looked up at him with a smile. “Change is good for you, my man.”
Charles nodded. “I suppose I am,” he answered as he nuzzled her neck. “That means you’re my woman.”
“Mmm,” she murmured. “I suppose I am.”
Charles chuckled against her ear before nibbling at the lobe. “Sassy.”
Elsie pulled back, cupping his face as she grinned. “I thought you liked my sass?”
“I love your sass, very much.”
Eyes sparkling with love, Elsie caressed his cheek with her thumb. “Will we always be this happy together, Charlie?” she whispered.
Charles sighed at the use of the nickname. Any other human being calling him that would have received a growl and a curt, “Don’t call me that,” but when his beloved whispered the name, it gave him a thrill and made him warm all over. “I’ll do my best, Love, to make every day the best that it can be, but I can’t promise we’ll always be happy all of the time.”
Sighing as she snuggled her face against his neck, Elsie closed her eyes against the tears that pooled in them at the love she felt for the dear, sweet man whose arms held her close.
Charles felt her tears soaking his shirt. “Why the tears, Lass?”
“Love, Mr. Carson, love.”
Charles blinked as he woke up. Looking about him, he nodded his head to greet the man that had joined him in the carriage.
“Sorry to disturb you.” The man smiled and held out his hand. “The name’s Smythe.
Settling down on his side of the carriage, Mr. Smythe smiled at Charles as the train started to move again. “I believe I’ll join you in your nap,” he mumbled then titled his hat down over his face.
Charles chuckled slightly then stared out the window. Sleeping seemed far away after the dream he’d been having.
Charles jerked awake and blinked up at the man sitting with him. “Yes, Mr. Smythe?”
“It’s nearly time for the stop. I thought I would wake you so that you didn’t miss it.”
“Thank you.” Charles gave the man a weary smile.
“Yes.” Charles answered quietly, his mind still muddled from the dreams he’d been having. He was so tired, he’d actually forgotten he wasn’t alone. “I’m afraid I’d forgotten you were here.”
Mr. Smythe smiled. “You look like you’ve been traveling for several days.”
“Not all in one trip, but yes, I have been. I started from Yorkshire five days ago.”
“What brings you into Scotland?”
“I’m looking for a friend.” Charles answered just as the train came to a stop. Standing, he stretched a bit, scowling when his knees cracked. “It was nice to meet you, Mr. Smythe. Enjoy the rest of your journey.”
“Good luck finding your friend.”