The busiest place in town was the Edinburgh club. The club served as pub, gambling house and entertainment only men would find enjoyable. Open all night the place attracted all range of customers from the town drunks to the elite of gentleman's society in Scotland. Every nobleman from all over knew of the place and would make their way there any time they were in Edinburgh.
The front of the club was where one could find the best in ale, scotch, brandy and even whiskey. The supplier of this fine brew was even a nobleman; although only a handful knew his name. Every class of customer had their favorite with the common folk mainly choosing ale as it was the least expensive. The supplier made sure that the club owners kept their prices for ale reasonable for even the poorest types. The front of the club also offered hot meals. Mutton was the popular favorite but stew and other meats were served as well. Rarely anyone at the club would break the fast in the place but the menu offered a good portion of eggs, ham, sausage, biscuits and gravy. Coffee was even served although it was rarely ordered, as patrons preferred something much stronger.
The back of the club was wear gentlemen of means could be found. The wealthy and the titled spent many hours' playing cards, or placing bets at the various gaming tables in the expansive room. Cigar and cheroot smoke filled the room and the better brands of drinks were served back here, especially scotch and whiskey.
The gaming area was also where one could find the entertainment portion of the club. Though the entertainment could be gotten in the front of the club it was to the more wealthy gentlemen the local girls plied their trade. A long, winding staircase led up to the second floor from the back of the gaming room and all night long one could see gentlemen descending and ascending the massive stairs to the delights that awaited above. The girls themselves could be seen circling the room in grand style attempting to catch some gentleman's eye.
The club's main attraction presently sat at the table in the far corner of the front part of the establishment. With her back to the wall she looked every bit at home with her surroundings and like she was looking for something or someone.
Yvonne had been at the club for many years and was a favorite by many patrons. She preferred the wealth of the nobility that graced the gaming room but she understood the common folk more and was never known to turn any man away. She had received many solicitations to become some man's mistress and even a few marriage proposals over the years but she would just laugh and tell them they could not afford her. Only one time did she ever consider becoming a mistress and although he never formally asked she soon learned she could get all she wanted from him with no need of ever leaving this place or the life she had made here. This was the only life she had ever known and the girls that she oversaw were the only friends and family she knew that she would ever have. But she had plans though. Plans to open her own establishment
in London and with the help of her new partner she was well on her way to achieving that plan.
Seeing her friend Livey coming from the gaming table she wavered her over as the front door opened and a new wave of men entered. Yvonne was momentarily disappointed that neither of the two faces she was waiting for had entered but she knew there was plenty of time. Both would show. A breathless Livey sat down next to her.
"My Von but they're about to run me off me feet in there." Lively said catching her breath.
"Let the girls handle them. We have business to attend to." Yvonne stated.
"Have you seen him yet?" Livey asked.
"Which one?" Yvonne smiled.
"Ooh I didn't know you were expecting them both." Livey said gazing around the room.
"I always expect him and EJ is due to report on the holdings." Yvonne said lowering her voice so as not to be overheard.
"He hasn't been here in a couple a months. Does EJ know this?" Livey asked.
"You know more than you should Livey. And no EJ doesn't know. Though I'm sure he will ask first chance he gets. Never let him know you know. He is dangerous Liv." Yvonne stated.
"That's what worries me with you Von. I don't trust EJ. I have never seen him. Have you?" Liv asked.
"Yes and you don't want to see him. He is not to be recognized in town; especially in here." Yvonne said.
"Speaking of that has his friends been back recently asking questions about the…. you know?" Live asked.
"Not lately but it's them I don't trust. They are like his bulldogs." Yvonne said and they both laughed.
"Any word on Dolly" Liv asked.
"EJ says she's fine. Made it to London with the first shipment. She should be setting up the place now." Yvonne said seeing movement at the door again.
"And when do I take the second one." Liv asked.
"Ssh. Not now. EJ will let us know. Few things have to happen first." Yvonne replied.
"Yeah like he has to show up." Liv said.
"Ssh. I think he is here." Yvonne said standing.
"Him?" Liv asked looking around for the man she was referring to.
"No." Yvonne said walking toward the door. Liv sighed she knew it was the bad one.
"Yvonne get your carcass over here right now." a man shouted out as Yvonne walked.
"You just wait your turn duckey." Yvonne said pointing at the man, never breaking stride for the door.
Greeting her at the door in hooded cloak was one of the men she had been waiting for. Yvonne gestured toward the stairs but he shook his head and headed for a dark corner of the front room. He seated himself laying a pistol on the table and never lowering his hood. He waited for Yvonne to sit down. Yvonne managed to sit still facing the door to watch for the other one. She certainly did not want them both to be here at the same time.
"Well?" the man asked.
"Well what?" Yvonne replied still looking at the door. The man grabbed her roughly by the arm and forced her to face him. She jerked her arm back and rubbed the spotted where he left the bruise.
"Do not be coy with me woman. Has he been here lately?" the man asked.
"No. But he will be." Yvonne stated calmly.
"He bloody well better be. We need more money and we need it now. Those hellions are nothing but trouble." the man said and Yvonne could not help but laugh.
"I told you to let Livey tend them." Yvonne stated.
"Yvonne this is not a bit funny. We need that money. Do you understand?" the man stated.
"Oh course I understand. You better be careful with those hellions as you call them I hear some are from the largest areas." Yvonne stated.
"I know. Got two now that are screaming their Lord will be coming for them." the man said.
"They're not….." Yvonne asked the man nodded.
"You be careful EJ. With them and him. He is here." Yvonne sated rising and going to the bar to greet him.
Frederick entered the Edinburgh's gentleman's club and headed for the bar where the owner was waiting for him. Joe McDougall was an old friend from the village and owner of one of the largest investments he and his partners had in Scotland. The club was primarily for the elite of Scotland but Frederick made sure that the common people had a place to come and drink and enjoy the attention of the ladies.
"Good evening Lord Ravenslair. Are you here on business or pleasure?" Joe asked smiling.
"Both actually Joe. A whiskey to start." Frederick said looking around the place. The club was packed as usual and from the noise coming from the gaming room he surmised that was crowded too.
"Right away milord." Joe stated pouring Frederick a tall glass of whiskey. He joined him for the drink then at Frederick's nod escorted him to the back where his office was. Frederick caught sight of Yvonne but ignored her for the moment. He knew she would be here and upon seeing him knew that she had to remain free for him for the rest of the night. He was surprised that he was not anxious to get his business with Joe over with to be with her. He was suddenly in no hurry to be with her and wondered why until a blond vixen came intruding upon his thoughts.
"Problems Frederick?" Joe asked when they were locked in his office and could speak with his old friend and business partner freely.
"Several as a matter of fact." Frederick said taking a drink. Joe laughed.
"Why is it that lately whenever I talk to anyone they start laughing for no apparent reason. You should have heard Tom and Daniel yesterday." Frederick stated.
"Oh there is reason milord…..sorry Frederick. We all think it is a mite funny that you are stuck with your new ward." Joe said and Frederick sighed loudly.
"You too." Frederick said taking another drink, he knew it would take a lot of whiskey this night to get her off his mind.
"Daniel and Tom were in here the other day and mentioned the Lady of Claremore was to be arriving soon. I take it she has?" Joe stated.
"She has and I am in no mood to discuss that little problem. I have more important business this night." Frederick added.
"Ah yes, I am sure Yvonne saw you come in. Shall I get her now or later?" Joe asked.
"Later. That is not the business I am referring to." Frederick said helping himself to more whiskey; Joe was kind enough to bring the bottle.
"Oh, I understand Lady Charissa and all. Though Yvonne will no doubt be disappointed." Joe teased. Frederick was not amused.
"Some friends you and Tom and Daniel are. You know that minx." Frederick stated.
"Charissa. That child is lovely I am sure the woman is too." Joe said grinning.
"I will say to you what I said to Tom and Daniel; go see the little trouble maker. She may have been a sweet child but the woman is….." Frederick began.
"Beautiful and charming I hear." Joe interjected grinning. He like Daniel and Tom knew Frederick had been running from the child for years and they all knew why.
"Trouble!" Frederick corrected. Joe laughed.
"If you are through I have a more serious problem to discuss." Frederick stated.
"Oh anything amiss at Ravenslair?" Joe asked.
"Well yes, two of the village girls have gone missing but this concerns Ravenslair funds." Frederick said.
"I take it they have gone missing as well." Joe said lighting a cheroot and offering one to Frederick.
"Precisely. The thing I want to know is who and how. Has there been any missing drafts from the ones I send you Joe?" Frederick asked.
"Milord you are not suggesting?" Joe let the question hang in the air.
"Of course not Joe. Any new employees lately?" Frederick asked.
"Same guys running the gaming tables and no new girls have been added to the house. Besides Yvonne is the only other one in this office besides me and she does not have access to the clubs books only the payroll for the girls." Joe explained.
"I see. Any new delivery people?" Frederick asked irritated he was getting nowhere close to finding out who was stealing from him and how they were doing it.
"Same person every time, your partner's man. Again though no one comes in here but myself and Yvonne." Joe stated.
"I hate to ask this old friend but can we look over the books?" Frederick asked.
"Of course Frederick. This was, after all, your club first, I would not have the place if it were not for you." Joe offered producing the books.
An hour later they had finished the inspection of the books and found that all was in order. Every bank draft written over the last year was personally signed by Frederick and verified by purchase and expense. Nothing in the club's records showed anything remotely linked to anyone or any reason for forged bank drafts.
More irritated than ever that his life was in such disarray he went to the gaming tables with another bottle of whiskey and spent the next several hours winning. It was almost two in the morning when he had a message sent to Yvonne that he would be joining her in her room shortly. He arrived, bottle in hand, to find her eager and waiting for him on the bed. He took one look at her flaming red hair and images of a blue eyed blond flooded his inebriated mind.
He stumbled in the room set the bottle on the table and proceeded to undress. Several times Yvonne attempted conversation from her bedside view of the proceedings but each time he hushed her. She was annoyed at him but having more important things on her mind she dismissed his behavior as just being drunk. She had tried to listen at the door to Joe's office earlier when the two were in there but could hear nothing. When she finally got in there later she was angry to find that whatever they were discussing had nothing to do with business because no drafts were found. She was furious by midnight when for the millionth time she found him in the gaming room and from what the girls told her he had a bottle in his hand the whole night and seemed to be going through them like water. He was winning at the tables but she could not just take the cash. Even as drunk has he was he would remember enough to come looking for her and his money in the morning. She would simply have to do what she always did. She would wait until he passed out after their love making then go through his pockets. She was always able to find at least one draft on him. She knew she needed more than one this time as their funds were extremely low and EJ would not want to use a large sum on one draft. He would say it would be too traceable. But she had been waiting for Lord Ravenslair to visit her for weeks now and EJ was getting more agitated by the day about the Earl's disappearance. She sure hoped he was carrying at least one draft to get them by. The hellions as EJ called them, needed to be fed if they were to be of any use to them in the future. Besides they had Livey and her part in this to fund. So Yvonne smiled and prepared to do her part but her mind was on those drafts.
Frederick undressed and stood before her in all his glory and saw her rub her hands together as he hovered over her at the foot of the bed. But his mind was not seeing Yvonne. His mind was seeing Charissa and she was not anxious but afraid of him. Afraid he would hurt her.
Frederick sat on the edge of the bed to try and get a handle on his wandering mind. Yvonne reached up to caress him from behind and say something but her touch prompted him into action. He turned on her and had her on her back under him in a second. He closed his mouth over hers and Yvonne could have sworn she heard him call her Rissa before his tongue entered her mouth roughly. The Lord of Ravenslair was not a rough lover but the liquor and whatever had him so preoccupied also had him being more possessive than usual. Yvonne did not mind. She also did not mind his hands as they began to wander all over her unclothed body.
Caught up in his mind of loving the one woman he knew he could never have he slowly began to come out of his mind's visions and realized where he was. Yvonne's voice entered his mind and every nerve in his body froze as he realized what he had been doing and worse that his body was betraying him with a vengeance. Hearing his long time bed partner speak had the opposite affect of what it usually had and vague memories of who his mind thought was in his arms sobered him quickly. He sat up jerkily and stared down at the woman he had spent a lot of time with over the last two years and knew could never compare to the woman who was now housed in his manor in Ravenslair. He knew then that he would never be free until Charissa was safely wed and bedded by another man. Somehow the little minx had gotten in his blood and now his body wanted no other. But what his body may want his body could never have.
Cursing under his breath he stood and Yvonne saw something she had never seen before because it had never happened to her before. The normally fully ready for her Lord of Ravenslair was not ready. Yvonne stared at it in horror and instantly began talking seductively to Frederick as he hurriedly dressed. Yvonne's mind screamed that this could not be happening even as she watched the man say not a word to her but finish dressing. Yvonne was off the bed and pleading with him to no avail by the time he picked his gentleman's coat off the chair, picked up the bottle on the table and threw the coat over his shoulder. He never saw the two papers that fell to the floor but Yvonne did. She closed the door behind him, practically pushing him out the door, and picked up the papers. There staring her in the face was the two blank bank drafts she and EJ had been waiting for. Whatever was on the Lord of Ravenslair's mind must be something powerful because he was normally more careful than this. But no matter they could continue their business venture and EJ's attempts at revenge; whatever they were, and this should hold them for awhile. Yvonne only hoped that the Lord of Ravenslair recovered soon and was back in her bed because she would need more eventually.
Frederick stumbled out into the night even as Joe was trying to see if he was all right. He was and Joe suspected and would discover later that he and Daniel and Tom were correct; Frederick was still running from Charissa. But Joe had the feeling that he would not be running for long not if the story Yvonne was later to tell him in practiced fury was to be believed. Joe, like Daniel and Tom, wondered how long it would take for the Lord of Ravenslair to make the Lady of Claremore his for life and if it would be a long and painful wait for both Frederick and Charissa. Joe decided he needed a vacation and would go home to Ravenslair and take Frederick up on his offer and see the Lady himself. He was sure though that he would see her better than Frederick was at this time. Charissa had the uncanny affect of getting under Frederick's skin and Frederick had the most painful way of fighting his feelings for her tooth and nail. Joe thought that it would be interesting to watch the show and no better seat than up close in Ravenslair. Joe began the process of closing up for the night never noticing that the ledger he kept Frederick's used drafts in was missing from it's place on the shelf where he kept it. Joe also did not realize that Yvonne was nowhere to be seen, being looked for by several of her regulars and not even in the building at all.
No one knew that five miles outside of Edinburgh a highwayman, with the help of two women was abducting another young female and one of his companions had two signed bank drafts from the Earl of Ravenslair. The one holding the drafts was a red headed woman.
The next morning Frederick woke up in his large mahogany bed at his flat in Edinburgh. He woke to find himself fully clothed, a wrinkled mess and with the worst hangover he could ever remember having. He wondered how he got here and at the state he was in when the memories of the previous night became to hit him. At first he panicked thinking he had bedded Charissa but realizing he had not he breathed a sigh of relief. He made a promise to himself that he would not return to Ravenslair Manor until he had this 'little' problem under control and could face Charissa again. He also resolved to pull himself together enough to go back to the club and if Yvonne was no longer to his taste he would find one of her girls and put these thoughts of Charissa out of his head forever. He also decided he did not like the hangover-state he was in so he went to the study in the house and opened a new bottle of whiskey and eased the pain in his head and heart.
The next few days Frederick did not venture far from his flat. He corresponded with his business partners and sent notes to Joe, Daniel and Tom; not mentioning his misadventures in the club that night. He did not realize Joe already knew from the dramatic tantrum that Yvonne threw for him the next day. He did receive the paper and was aware that on that very night another was abducted five miles outside of Edinburgh on the road to Claremore. He was relieved Charissa was safely housed at Ravenslair. By the fourth day of his self imposed cloister James and Mrs. Littleton arrived from Claremore and Frederick was busy explaining how he wanted the flat run and having that promised talk with James about the Wills and the Baron's wishes for the servants and workers of Claremore. By the end of the meeting James was relieved that all that could be done for the workers and servants was being done by the Lord of Ravenslair but James was not happy with the Earl's determination to break the spirited young lady from her rebellious ways. He offered numerous suggestions to assist Frederick but was sure that the Earl of Ravenslair had his own mind as to how to handle her. James knew he would never hurt the Lady but just as the others close to Frederick knew James knew Frederick was running from his feelings for her. James knew Frederick took his responsibility to take care of her seriously, and he knew the Lady's proud determination to be her own woman. He wondered how long the fight between guardian and ward would last, who would win the battle, and most importantly when would both of them come to realize that they were meant to be together and not fighting each other. James though shared none of his thoughts with his new employer.
James came out of his thoughts as he realized Frederick was looking for something.
"Milord?" James inquired causing Frederick to glance up at him.
"I was going to write you some drafts for things to get started here James but I seem to have misplaced the ones I brought from the Manor." Frederick stated then stood and grabbed his coat while James looked on confused.
"I will be back James." Frederick said rushing from the flat. He suddenly remembered he had both blank drafts when he was at the club that night and knew that someone, somehow, took them from him in the gaming room that night. There could be no other explanation, he told himself as he made his way to the Bow Street offices in town.
Frederick opened the door to the Bow Street office and ran into Samuel coming out. Both men looked at each for a long moment before the groom broke the awkward silence.
"Milord, I was just coming to see you." Samuel stated; now dressed much different from his usual stable attire.
"Oh. In trouble are we Samuel?" Frederick inquired to be met by a wide grin from Samuel.
"No milord, nothing like that. Please come into my office and I will explain." Samuel stated to be met with a raised eyebrow from Frederick who followed a little hesitantly.
Once inside the man's office Frederick got the distinct impression that there was at least one thing Uncle Robert failed to mention in his Will or in conversation.
"I am sure you must have numerous questions." Samuel said sitting behind his desk that was stacked high with papers.
"Indeed." Frederick replied taking the seat offered by Samuel.
"First of all my full name is Samuel McNeill esquire." Samuel began.
"Esquire?" Frederick said unable to help his stocked expression.
"Yes, milord. My father was a lawyer in Dundee many years ago and sent me to the finest school in London; where naturally I discovered Bow Street and well let us just say that I was hooked." Samuel explained to be met by a very confused look on the Lord of Ravenslair face.
"I am quite surprised that Baron Kinkirt did not tell you about me." Samuel said.
"Well this is all news to me Samuel….a.. McNeill…." Frederick stated at a loss for words.
"I imagine it would be. And please call me Samuel. The servants know me as such and to maintain my undercover status it is best not to alert people that I am titled. Besides I consider myself more a hire man by trade." Samuel offered.
"Well Samuel it is not everyday that the man I believe to be the groom for Claremore is really a Runner and as you say a hired man. The question I have is why did you not tell me right off." Frederick said.
"Well the weather put a damper on me actually entering the Manor and well Lady Charissa's actions prompted you to send me off to collect her belongings and servants and well the time never did arise then but like I said outside I was on my way to see you." Samuel explained.
"Understandable. Now, what on earth were you hired for man." Frederick stated coming out of his shock.
"I was hired by the Baron to protect Lady Charissa. Or to be more precise watch Lady Charissa." Samuel explained.
"Watched? Is she in some sort of trouble, as her guardian I must know." Frederick said and Samuel smiled remembering a conversation that James had with him on their return to Claremore; one servant to another.
"No milord of course not. The Baron believed a highwayman was in contact with her and who he was and seeing as how dangerous he is the Baron wanted me to intercept the letters; if there were any." Samuel offered.
"And were there?" Frederick asked now understanding the post script in the letter with the Will.
"Not that I have uncovered. But I believe as did the Baron that somehow she is in contact with him and does not realize who is he." Samuel said.
"No she does not. And she never will, if it is the same man as I believe it is." Frederick stated.
"As do I although since his release from goal he has not been seen in the area. He is reported to have bound a ship for England. If he did he is probably in the goal there. But the Baron believed her to be in contact with the man shortly before the Baron passed on." Samuel said.
"Then why are you here and not at the Manor watching Cha… Lady Charissa." Frederick stated.
"I delivered her belongings and learned you were in Edinburgh, I had to check in so I decided to come now and pay you a visit. Has the butler, James, arrived and Mrs. Littleton?" Samuel inquired.
"They have. I will keep you on retainer and I do not know if you are aware but I have been using the services of Bow Street for some time now." Frederick offered.
"No milord I was not. I have been at Claremore for almost two years now." Samuel stated.
"I see. Well I think you can be of assistant to me in more than the Lady of Claremore. The same man suspected by the Baron is the same man I know killed my father." Frederick stated.
"You know milord?" Samuel asked.
"I have never been able to prove it mind you but yes I believe it. My father is the reason he was in goal in the first place." Frederick stated.
"I see. I will take over the case if you like. Anything else?" Samuel asked.
"Yes as a matter of fact. See what you can discover about these women." Frederick stated handing him the latest news article.
"Milord several here are already on the case." Samuel interjected.
"I am sure. But I want you to look into it as a favor to me. I must keep Lady Charissa safe and if being one step ahead of an abductor keeps her safe then I must to all I can." Frederick stated rising. He reached for the door and remembering why he came in the first place turned to the Runner.
"Oh Samuel one more thing. Someone has been taking blank bank drafts of mine and forging my signature and stealing Ravenslair funds." Frederick stated.
"Interesting. The agents here working on it?" Samuel asked.
"Yes but now you are my sole contact from this office. I want no one else on the case the less that are involved the better." Frederick stated.
"Understood milord." Samuel stated.
"I was at the gentleman's club last night and well let us just say I was enjoying myself a bit to much and the two blank drafts I had on me to supply the flat here in town are now missing." Frederick stated.
"I see. Milord I know this sounds strange but we must look at all possibilities." Samuel began.
"Go on." Frederick interjected.
"Did the a…lady you were with there last night…well could that be how they disappeared." Samuel stated causing Frederick to laugh.
"Relax Samuel we are men after all and no I do not think Yvonne would do that besides whoever is taking them is using them and I can not see Yvonne forging my signature but I do think they were taken while I was at the gaming tables last night. Perhaps we could start there." Frederick stated.
"Certainly milord. But pardon me for saying so but Yvonne is no lady." Samuel stated and Frederick sighed and ran a hand down his face.
"True too. Search where you think is best. But under no circumstances is Lady Charissa to know of her or these thefts." Frederick stated. Samuel nodded.
"I am going home." Frederick said. "To the flat? In case I need to reach you." Samuel asked.
"No Ravenslair. I have been here too long already. Come to the Manor as soon as you can." Frederick said then left the office and went to the flat to have James prepare him to return to Ravenslair and the Lady of Claremore. He would have to find another way to deal with her.
Frederick was getting his usual late start after returning from Edinburgh. The looks Charles were giving him while helping him get himself ready for the day were extremely unpleasant. At times Charles felt like his father rather than his servant. He figured that this feeling had something to do with the fact that Charles helped raise the boy. Being a widower with a nine- year old was hard on his father. The duties and responsibilities of an Earl left him time for little else and having a boy underfoot only complicated matters. Charles had taken up the neglect of a father for him and even into his teenage years Charles would offer advice and even chide him on occasion for his latest exploits at school or in town. But once Frederick became Earl himself Charles went back to being just a servant. Frederick had missed his old confidant but was unsure how to break the untouchable bridge that was between employer and employee. This morning though Frederick was getting more than his share of reprimands and Charles had yet to say a word other than "Good afternoon milord." Of course Frederick knew he said it in sarcasm because of Frederick's continual nocturnal habits.
"All right Charles say what you are thinking." Frederick said with a sigh as he put on his hose.
"Milord?" Charles said innocently.
"We both know you wish to express something. Tell me quick." Frederick stated.
"Milord I would never try to …" Charles began but was cut off.
"You use to. I give you permission again. Go ahead." Frederick said; remaining sitting on the end of his large four post bed with the black and red plaid bed curtains with matching drapes.
"Well milord it is most unseemly for you to be away for such long periods with the young Lady here now." Charles stated having been given the floor to speak.
"My but you do state it plainly when given the chance." Frederick said bracing his hands on his knees then rising. He did not expect the man to say that; or maybe he did.
"Lord Ravenslair you did give me leave." Charles defended.
"Yes, yes of course. Is there anything else?" Frederick asked as Charles opened the door for him.
"Well milord. Mrs. Billinsley and I were concerned that you might…well we are aware of where you go in Edinburgh and we feared…. well if you do not mind me saying so…. we are worried that you will bring your amusements home with you and that you should not be going there quite so often anymore. The young Lady Charissa being here and all. The Lady is very impressionable and Mrs. Billinsley has grown quite fond of her in such a short time and is concerned for her…..a… her moral character milord." Charles stated and Frederick stood agape not believing he was able to get all that out of his mouth not to mention what he said.
"Yes I am sure you are fond of her too Charles but that is neither here nor there. As to bringing my…what did you call it….amusements. My personal life in that regard stays outside this Manor and as to going there, often or not, it is after all Charles my personal life and I will determine what is best and what is not. Understood?" Frederick corrected.
"Yes milord." Charles said waiting for Frederick to exit his room first. Frederick stopped and turned to his one time caretaker.
"Thank you Charles. I may call upon you in the future for you insights." Frederick stated then left.
"Yes milord." Charles replied as he closed Frederick's bedroom door and went down the hall to the servant's stairs that would take him to the kitchen.
Frederick was in a much better mood as he descended the stairs to his office. He removed the key from his shirt pocket and unlocked the door. He strolled into the office to search for the advertisement from Edinburgh. His head hurt and his frustration was still in tact. His purpose for racing to Edinburgh did not turn out the way he had planned. The little minx in his home had temporarily interrupted his extracurricular activities. His trip to see Yvonne had backfired horribly. She was none too pleased with him. Furious was how he would describe her. First she was furious for coming unannounced, then for not being his usual vigorous self. He knew that she had others she had made no mistake over the years in letting him know and he really did not care because he did not want a mistress in the usual sense. He had no time to set up a woman just for his pleasure when the mood struck him. He did not want to waste his money on a kept woman. So the arrangement was she would make herself available to only him when he was in town and what she did when he was not there he did not want to know. He knew he would make her mad showing up unannounced but he thought he would be making it up to her with a wild night of fun. But his best-laid plains dissolved when she was under him on her bed. The only face he saw in his mind was Charissa Kinkirt's. She haunted his dreams since her arrival and now she was interfering even more so in his nocturnal nature. Of course she was always in his thoughts when he was with another woman but never did he find he could not perform because of Charissa's image in his mind. He feared he would be a miserable, frustrated man until he found her a suitor or she turned twenty-five and his guardianship came to an end. He had already decided that upon her twenty-fifth birthday, if he had not found a husband for her, he would send her to the ladies finishing school in London. There she would have the opportunity to be introduced to the Ton and there, more than Scottish Society, she would stand a better chance of finding a husband who would not steal her fortune and lands but take care of her. But thinking of Charissa Kinkirt in anyone else's arms but his was pure torture for him. Then again, he kept reminding himself, seeing her hurt while in his arms would kill him for sure.
Retrieving the article from the fashion section of the London paper he acquired in Edinburgh over his disappearance he went to the library to find her. She was not in the library so he checked the dinning room. She was not in the dining room either. He bounded up the stairs again and though he knew he should not, for her sake, he knocked on her bedroom
door. There was no answer at her door. 'Where is the minx.' he thought as he went back downstairs to retrace his steps. Finding her nowhere in the house he began to panic. As far as he knew it were only the two girls from his village who were taken. But there had been another abduction while he was in Edinburgh. He remembered seeing the grief stricken parents at the constable's office, in town, and the angry townspeople; demanding the law or Bow Street find the abductors before another was taken. He hoped she had not gone to the village or out riding alone. He did not want to tell her about the missing girls but he would if he had to scare her into obeying him. She was not suppose to be out alone anyway he reminded himself and went in search of Mrs. Billinsley. The housekeeper would know where the minx went off too. He burst into the kitchen; startling both Charles and Mrs. Billinsley. He had not entered this room since taking over the Earldom.
"Where is she?" Frederick ordered; his panic starting anew to find Charissa not with the housekeeper.
"She is out walking in the yard. It has rained the last few days and she was tired of staying inside. I told her to stay close to the house. Milord she can not stay a prisoner in her new home." Mrs. Billinsley stated but Frederick only heard part of her speech. He was out the kitchen door at 'stay close to the house'.
"If that man does not stop fighting the inevitable and marry that girl he is going to drive her into such a nervous state there will be no help for her." Mrs. Billinsley rambled.
"What makes you think he will marry her?" Charles asked, attacking his noon meal again.
"Don't tell me you did not know about the Wills?" Mrs. Billinsley questioned.
"I did. How do you know about them?" Charles inquired.
"The previous Lord Ravenslair told me," she stated hoping he would not inquire why or under what circumstances. There were some things the young Earl did not need to know.
"I did not realize. Pardon me I forget you run this Manor." Charles said.
"Yes but I should be working for her." Mrs. Billinsley stated.
"He has not married her yet." Charles stated the fact.
"Well he better hurry up and decide soon. Martha says that she will not be staying long." the housekeeper said sipping her tea.
"Oh and where would she be going?" Charles asked.
"Nowhere Charles, nowhere. But Martha thinks she had been secretly writing some man in Edinburgh. Should he come here he may offer for her hand." the housekeeper speculated.
"He will never let that happen. Mark my words, the minute he sees another man come near her he will wake up and take her as wife. You will see it will all be fine. The Earl and the Baron knew this that is why they set him up as her guardian. The prospect of finding her a husband will one way or another bring him around to realizing that there is only one husband for her and then he will marry her himself." Charles explained.
"I hope you are right. That boy always has been a stubborn one." Mrs. Billinsley said.
"So is she Mrs. Billinsley. So is she." Charles stated.
"They will drive each other crazy before this comes to pass I fear." Mrs. Billinsley stated.
"Maybe. Let us hope that he comes to his senses before that happens." Charles said watching Frederick from the kitchen window as he discovered that to Lady Charissa the yard meant then entire estate of the Manor. Luckily for Charissa Frederick could walk to where he realized she was. Frederick did not know that he looked about ready to explode or that his housekeeper and butler were having a grand old time laughing their heads off at his very odd behavior. Both the housekeeper and the butler knew the young Earl was definitely not the same these days.
Frederick had searched all the way around the house and found no sign of her. He even went to the stables but no Charissa. He checked each and every stall to make sure that none of his horses were missing and on seeing all twelve, including Red Devil, safely in their stalls he came out to stand at the entrance to the stables. He stood thinking with his hands on his hips; the light wind blowing his kilt around his knees. Seeing Joseph come out of the paddock he inquired if she had been seen. He breathed a sigh of relief at Joseph's nod hoping he would say that she had returned to the house when pure dread struck him as Joseph pointed to the back of the estate where the old chapel was and the monuments. She was welcome to go to the chapel and visit the graves but that was one place he did not want her going alone. The place was surrounded on three sides by nothing but forest.
He marched with determined steps to the cemetery but soon that was not fast enough. He was in an all out run by the time he reached the top of the incline that held the cemetery below. He stopped suddenly at the sight before him. Curled up at the entrance to the double doors of the monument that held his parents and grand parents remains was Charissa. She leaned her head against the stone door and sat on the stone floor with her legs curled halfway underneath her. Part of a hosed calf and ankle was just visible sticking out from the folds of her cream colored skirt. The slippers on her feet matched the cream color of the dress. She had her lace shawl wrapped around her shoulders for the chill and he believed it to be the very shawl his father had given her for her sixteenth birthday. He had showed him the gift before giving it to her to try to encourage him to attend her celebration. He did not.
Frederick approached slowly so as not to frighten her. He could hear her murmuring what he thought were prayers. He stood there and listened for a moment.
The chapel and the monuments sat in a semi-circle in the little cove nested in the back of the Manor's massive grounds. The chapel was to the left with the large monument in the middle and the small monument on the right as you walked toward them from the house. Behind them and on both sides was a massive expanse of forest that turned into a part of the moors farther out. The forest belonged to Ravemslair but at the start of the moors the estate land ended. The monuments were older than the chapel. Frederick's father had decided to build the chapel for his new bride and Frederick remembered that he and his mother spent a lot of time there. Until the Lady of Raveslair died in childbirth there had been a priest who lived in a room at the back of the chapel and was available for any occasion Lady Raveslair would need him and held Mass there daily. Upon her death Frederick's father could not deal with the memories and moved the priest to the village to serve only the church there. The first time the chapel has been used in recent years was for his father's funeral two years previous. Frederick made the decision on seeing Charissa there that as soon as the highwayman abducting women was caught he would bring the priest back to the chapel and start having regular services there for her. Frederick himself rarely went to Mass but on occasion in Edinburgh he would attend. He felt strange going into the village for Mass because the people in the village were his subjects. He made a mental note to have his man in the village come up and see about the necessary repairs for the chapel before it could be used again.
Frederick scanned the outline of the forest and feeling nervous because he had brought no weapon with him for protection decided that it was time to get Charissa back to the manor. He started walking down the incline to the large monument were his parents were buried and was surprised when he not taken two steps when she turned to face him. He could not be sure but he thought she was annoyed at his presence. He had so hoped to find her in a good mood.
"Did you think I got myself lost 'your lordship'?" Charissa said as Frederick approached. He sighed, 'No not a good mood', he thought.
"Just wondering where you were off to milady." Frederick remarked without a pause.
"Mrs. Billinsley allowed me to walk the grounds." Charissa said.
"Yes, well Mrs. Billinsely said to stay close to the manor. Can you see the manor from here?" He asked reaching down to help her up. She shrugged off his hand and got up herself by bracing herself against the stone of the monument doors. It took her awhile but she managed to get up. She did not know the picture she presented to him. He chuckled as he realized she was not allowing him to help her on purpose. He should have insisted because her attempt at rise from the stone floor was not very lady like.
"I can from the top of the hill there." she said once she was standing. She pointed behind him to the incline he just descended.
"Charissa?" he questioned knowing she knew that was not the right answer.
"Are you telling me now that I am forbidden to come here too?" Charissa asked sarcastically.
"Not at all. You just can not come here alone." Frederick responded.
"You mean I am under guard again?" Charissa said placing her hands on her hips in a huff. He thought her delightful just then. So delightful in fact he wanted to wrap his own hands around her hips. 'Where did that come from,' he thought.
"No. But you can not leave the manor without protection." Frederick explained.
"A chaperone you mean." she retorted.
"If you like." he said; both words meant the same. Then he thought she had no idea she needed a 'chaperone'; from him.
"Why are you being like this?" she asked.
"Charissa what do you see behind you?" Frederick asked waiving his arms toward the forest.
"Trees." she answered with a smart tone following his gesture.
"Be serious. You know as well as I that is forest. Anyone can be in there Charissa. You may be under my protection as your guardian but you are still a Baron's daughter and some people would hurt you or take you for ransom or worse because of that fact." Frederick explained.
"I guess you are right." Charissa responded walking past him to go back to the manor. He was right behind her.
"Of course I am right. It is only your welfare that concerns me." Frederick stated.
"Yeah right." Charissa said then almost fell as her slippers slipped on the damp grass. Frederick caught her and held her a little longer than he should have.
Frederick could not break the contact of her eyes and the feel of her in his arms sent heat to parts of his body he was trying to avoid just then. He had been trying to avoid that heat since her arrival but holding her now he knew he never could. His frustration doubled knowing too that the longer he held her the harder it would be to let her go.
"Charissa." he breathed and she felt his breath on her face. "I am concerned about you." he concluded. 'Especially around me,' he added leaving that unsaid. He released her and placing his hand on her elbow assisted her up the incline. Just touching her elbow did not ease the ache in his body but he fought off the thought and the feeling as he guided her back to the manor. He did not realize his nearness was difficult on her as well. She was having trouble breathing and not from the walk.
Frederick was not in his office long before Charissa came strolling in. He glanced up from the paper he was reading and was ready to admonish her for being where he told her not to be but was stunned speechless. She wore a light pink dress with puffy sleeves and a flowing skirt. If he did not know better he would swear she was dressed for bed. He dismissed that thought as he watched her close the doors behind her.
"Good evening milord." she said in a pleasant tone that surprised him. Usually she greeted him with her customary 'your lordship' but tonight she was down right delightful. Her blonde hair was drifting down her back and even her slippers made the outfit look like a nightgown.
"My Lady." he managed to say as she made her way to the row of books on the shelf to the right of his desk. He made a quick glance to the left side to make sure he looked the desk drawn with the Wills in them. He had. He went back to the paper as he noticed she was humming. 'This is new.' he thought as he picked up where he left off in the paper. But his attention was not on what he was reading but on the slight sway of her out of the corner of his eye as she went from one book to another. He could have saved her the trouble of looking through them because all the books in here were volumes on farming and sheep shearing and governing a village. In his mind there was nothing here that would interest a woman. Of course he reminded himself Charissa was not just any woman. He assumed this was a game on her part and decided to see how long she would play until she was bored. To his amazement she glided over to one of the chairs in front of his desk. In her hands was a rather large volume on the mechanics of sheep shearing. He almost laughed but the second she leaned forward to sit down the laugh caught in his throat. He received a momentary look at her luscious cleavage. He really did not see anything; as Charissa was too modest for that, but the brief glimpse of skin at the top of her breasts was enough to send fire straight to his lower region. He swallowed hard and must have made a sound because she looked up at him then with innocent eyes that asked if he was all right. For a moment he thought that was her game but ladies of breeding did not make overtures of that nature. But never having much contact with ladies of gentle breeding he could not be sure. He was not sure of much anymore.
"You know there is more interesting reading in the library." he said clearing his throat.
"No thank you. I am fine." Charissa remarked scanning the contents for a chapter. She really did know what she was reading.
"If you are sure?" he stated.
"Yes I am sure. Go ahead with what you were doing. I did not mean to interrupt." she said.
"You have not interrupted me." he lied.
A moment later the office doors opened again and Charles entered carrying Frederick's evening tea. He had decided that brandy was out for the time being while he was in the home. He had enough trouble being around Charissa he did not need brandy to make things worse.
"Come milady I have a nice fire prepared in the library. Surely you would be more comfortable in there." Charles said handing Frederick the cup of tea.
"No thank Charles. I am fine." Charissa replied not looking up from her book. Charles looked at Frederick.
"It is all right. That will be all for now Charles, thank you." Frederick responded.
"Yes milord. Milady." Charles said bowing. He turned and left the office.
"You know Charissa you may be more comfortable in the library. The fire and all." Frederick stated.
"I am rather warm for a fire your lordship and father taught me to never take a book from the room." Charissa said never looking up from the page she was reading.
"Surely the library has more interesting books than manuals Rissa." Frederick stated annoyed that she was back to 'your lordship'.
"You mean books a lady would enjoy do you not?" Charissa responded looking at him.
"No, of course not. You can read any book in this house." he replied.
"Just not in this room." she replied sarcastically.
"Speaking of that, did I not forbid you from being in here." Frederick said putting down the paper; more fascinated with the woman in front of him than the London financial reports.
"I assume you meant only when you were not here. It must be me then. You just do not want to be around me. I understand. Seems the child is still bothering you." Charissa said standing but not moving. Frederick sat stunned.
"I will try to stay out of your way 'your lordship'." she concluded and walked to the bookshelf. He surprised them both by meeting her there and lightly touching her arm as she went to replace the book on the shelf she retrieved it from.
"Rissa wait. It is not that. There is just things in here….." he began. She cut him off and turned to look at him. His only thought was that she was way too close to him. He could feel the heat from her arm where his hand rested and fire was shooting through his whole body.
"That a woman, that I should not see." she finished for him. He thought she was a little too close to the truth.
"No Rissa. This is an office now not the study and it happens to be my private hiding place." he said before realizing he had said the wrong thing.
"Privacy from me." Charissa said turning to leave. He caught her arm again and pulled her to him. This time she was inches from his face. He backed up a couple of steps.
"Not from you. From this house, these memories." Frederick said then kicked himself for revealing some of his private thoughts.
"Oh." Charissa squeaked out. This was all she could manage to say because all of a sudden she was feeling very strange. He haunted her dreams and now he was standing very close, too close. Just like her dreams. Now it was she who took a couple of steps backwards.
"Let us start over here. When I am home and here in the office and you want a book or to come to talk to me you may enter but never under any circumstances are you to come in here when I am not here. Understood?" Frederick said. All Charissa could do was nod; not really hearing him.
He reached up and handed her back her book. He suddenly turned it over and pretended to study the cover. He shook his head and handed her the book.
"I have never known a lady to like the mechanics of sheep shearing before. You surprise me milady." he teased.
"After all I am a Baron's daughter; a Baron who runs a sheep farm. I had to learn all I could to take over the family business." Charissa said honestly.
"A woman as beautiful as you does not need to run a family business; especially a sheep farm." Frederick said slowly releasing the book into her hands.
"Frederick." she whispered taking the book from him. Her hand brushed the tip of his fingers and both pulled their hands away as if struck by lightning. Charissa almost dropped the book but clutched it to her breasts for support. She did not notice that
Frederick's eyes followed her hand that held the book.
He coughed suddenly then broke contact between them and went back to his desk.
"Please milady carry on with your reading." he said motioning her to the chair she had just vacated. She stumbled slightly then followed his lead.
Both were a little shaken from the encounter and both were trying very hard not to let the other see just how much. Both tried to go back to the reading they had been doing.
Sometime later though neither were doing any reading. Both sat staring at the pages in front of them and each sneaking periodic glances at each other like two school children. Whenever the one would catch the other looking they would smile at each other than pretend to go back to reading. Frederick broke the mood first because he knew if he did not get her out of there he would be across his desk and ravish her where she sat in that chair.
"All this reading is making my eyes hurt. How about a game of chess Rissa? I will have Charles bring us both a cup of tea and we will see if you have gotten any better at the game than when you were a child." Frederick said standing. He came around the desk and took the book from her hands. He smiled seeing she had read no more than he and knew he had acted just in time. She would have sat there in silence then reveal she was not enjoying the book. He turned to replace the book for her and she moved to the small table by the wall opposite the book self and sat down at the chessboard. He knew that staying in there would only make things worse for him so he walked over and taking her by the hand stood her on her feet.
"I thought we were playing chess your lordship?" she questioned and he cringed at her usual choice of addressing him.
"I need some air and the library is a much pretty room for chess than this place." he said and pulled her along behind him as he started for the door. He ignored the heat of her touch. Charissa could not.
By the time they reached the short distance to the library Charissa was out of breath. She was winded not from the walk but from the way his hand made her feel and she felt disloyal to her love for feeling this way. She was in love with another and feeling strange around Frederick. No man, not even her intended, ever made her feel this way.
Leaving her in the library he went to find Charles. She was glad for the moment alone, as she needed the time to get herself together. She liked Frederick. She even loved him but she had promised herself to another and besides Frederick had made it perfectly clear he despised her. She knew she was just imaging those strange feelings.
The grand clock in the hall chimed midnight and both Frederick and Charissa were still involved in their chess game. Charissa was more of an accomplished player and he knew she had been practicing over the last seven years. His heart jumped at the thought that she had been practicing her strategy to play chess better just for him. But the thought quickly faded as he realized that he was wishing for something that could never be. A shrove move on her part had him laughing.
"Rissa that is cheating." he said laughing.
"It most certainly is not. That is a legal move and what's more Lord Ravenslair you know it." Charissa said joining in the laughter.
"Yes I know it. You are very good at this game Charissa." Frederick stated wondering if he had been wrong about gentle ladies knowing how to play games. But he chided himself that this was a game of chess not those kind of games.
"Well having all the time in the world to play father and Uncle Frederick I learned quickly." Charissa stated then drew in a breath because she was saying too much. He suddenly knew what she meant.
"I am sorry I was away so much Rissa. But I had a lot to learn myself." Frederick said taking a drink of his sherry. They started with tea until Charissa insisted on something stronger. Sherry was about as strong as Frederick would allow in Charissa's presence.
Charissa smiled at him realizing that he did not know that she had followed his exploits for years, well as far as her father would let her. She knew he was often seen at local clubs, gambling, drinking and as her father put it entertaining the ladies. But Charissa was no fool she knew what entertaining meant. Frederick was a rebel and a rogue and had almost caused several scandals in recent years. This is what she learned from her female friends who were all gossips in Society and all crazy about Frederick. They had told her for years that he was the bachelor to get and she should stake her claim being the closest to his father. She did not tell them that the man could not stand to be around her.
"I understand. I grew up remember." Charissa said in response to him then realized how that sounded. Frederick took it just that way and a step further thinking 'you sure did'.
"Yes. Uncle Robert raised a fine lady. He is proud I know." Frederick said their chess game all but forgotten.
"Thank you milord." Charissa said.
"Charissa you can still call me Frederick you know." he replied.
"That would not be proper milord. You are my guardian after all." she responded.
"Well how about only when we place chess." Frederick reasoned. Charissa smiled at him.
"Certainly mi…Frederick." she answered. He returned her smile very pleased.
"You know Rissa I am still your friend." he began; his heart trying to tell him she was more than that. He was not listening to his heart.
"Can a guardian be a friend?" Charissa asked out loud.
"Charissa I believe your father made the right choice here. We have known each other since we were children he knew I would do right by you." Frederick reasoned. Charissa sighed.
"And the evening was going so well. I better go upstairs now before we fight again." Charissa said and started to rise. Frederick rose and came around to stop her.
"Rissa do not leave yet. Tell me what you mean." Frederick said taking her arm and turning her to face him. He realized he was wrong; a change of room did not change the feelings when she was near.
"Please Frederick let me go, I do not want to fight." she said.
"Nor do I." Frederick stated.
"Then do not ask me to explain." Charissa said trying to move away. He would not let her.
"Explain Charissa." he said matter-of-factly.
"I am useless here. I could be home at Claremore being useful." she said.
"How could you be useful in an empty house." he said. She did not realize what he meant.
"I could run the farm. I have been doing it for years." Charissa said. Frederick sighed.
"You do not like it here?" he asked.
"Oh, Frederick it is not that. I have nothing to do here. Nothing." she answered.
"What if I come up with something for you to do around here? Would that be better?" he asked.
"Like what?" she asked.
'I could think of a couple of things' he brain screamed to him but he pushed that thought aside. Neither her nor him needed for things to go that way.
"I will sleep on it and tell you in the morning. All right?" Frederick said smiling at her.
"I guess that would be allright." Charissa replied.
"Good." Frederick said softly having the sudden urge to run his hand over her hair.
"Shall we finish our chess game?" Charissa asked.
"I believe we already finished it my dear." Frederick said gesturing the chessboard. She had put him in checkmate in one move.
Charissa leaned over to see the board around him and inadvertently moved closer to him. Frederick's loud intake of air caused her to raise her head rapidly.
The next instant Charissa found his lips closing over hers and him pulling her firmly against him. Without realizing it Charissa groaned out loud as he lips made first contact.
Frederick was lost the second his lips touched hers. Her lips were soft and warm and surprisingly responsive to him. He deepened the kiss and ran his tongue over her lips for entrance when he felt her hands on his chest. He was falling under her spell so rapidly that he was slow to realize she was ever so slightly pulling away.
Charissa had waited for him to kiss her since she was fifteen and began dreaming of him kissing and holding her. She too was becoming lost in the moment. She felt him put his arms around her and her hands were resting on his chest. She felt him run his tongue over her lips and reality began to creep in. She wondered why a man who hated her and did not want her around was kissing her. Then she wondered why she was letting him if he hated her so. But the moment her intended's face entered her mind she stopped wondering. She did not belong to Frederick. She would never belong to Frederick because of the simple fact that he did not want her around. In that moment she knew that the only reason she had agreed to marry the other man was because Frederick would never want her for his. Shocked at herself that she was kissing the very man she was running from to another she began to push against his chest.
Frederick broke the kiss and took a second or two to regain control; never realizing she was pulling away. He only knew that he had to stop this before he ruined her.
"Run Rissa." Frederick said through gritted teeth. Charissa frowned at him.
"Now!" he shouted and needing no other order bolted from his arms and the room. He did not know that she ran upstairs in tears. He just hung his head his breathing slowing.