It was just before dawn when Christopher and Jeffrey rode out of the stable yard, with the morning dew still on the ground and a cold crispness in the air. They had planned on going hunting this morning since Jeffrey’s last excursion had been so successful.
“Chris, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something for quite some time now,” Jeffrey blurted out, not knowing how to broach the subject with his older brother.
“Well, what seems to be bothering you?” Christopher replied, pulling Thor to a much slower pace.
“I don’t want to stay at Crestwood Hall any longer. I want to go back to London.”
“No. It’s too dangerous. Not until we find out who’s trying to kill you.”
“Christopher, that could take years maybe. I don’t want to sit around here waiting month after month. I want to get on with my life. I want to go to London,” he implored.
Christopher could understand his brother’s needs but it still kept coming back to the dangers of the situation. “I’m sorry Jeff, but you can’t leave at this time. Think about it for a moment, you would not only be in danger yourself but you would be placing everyone around you in danger too. Can’t you see that?”
“I guess you’re right. You’re always right,” he said, dejectedly.
Christopher felt sorry for his brother while they rode along in complete silence for the next several miles. Each lost in their own thoughts. He couldn’t blame Jeffrey for wanting to get on with his life for his own life had changed drastically since his marriage to Kathryn. Thoughts of her came to mind as he remembered how shocked he had been that morning when he woke up and found Kathryn curled up, sound asleep next to him in his bed. What could have prompted her to join him there, he wondered. He could still feel her warm body pressed up against his, with her arm slung leisurely across his chest and her head laying ever so gently on his chest. It was a peaceful moment for him while he laid there, watching her sleep until he heard the twins stir from the other room, wanting to be fed soon. Kathryn woke with a start when she’d heard the babies and also appeared disoriented when she had first glanced at him from beneath her dark lashes. He had greeted her good morning in a husky voice and held her tight against him, not wanting to let her go yet. Their eyes lingered for a moment before his lips came down on her half-parted mouth, kissing her deeply. He could feel his arousal grow having her full-length pressed against him, with only the thin, silk night gown between them. His hand moved slowly upward from her hip, making its way to the black satin strap that laid over her shoulder. Sliding it down, his lips formed a path across the swell of her breasts that were now exposed to his warm, passionate mouth causing a moan of pleasure to escape from Kathryn. He found the softness between her thighs and entered her with slow, deliberate thrusts until their passion drove them to a wild frenzy before they reached their ultimate goal. The twins now had begun to cry, demanding their mother’s immediate attention so he regrettably turned Kathryn loose to let her give them their much needed breakfast.
A shot rang out bringing Christopher out of his thoughts abruptly and saw his brother slump over his saddle with blood oozing from his shoulder. Two more shots followed and hit their mark, causing blood to streak down Jeffrey’s now distraught face and leg. Drawing his pistols out while dismounting, Christopher fired in the direction of where the shots had come from and instantly heard a shriek of pain, knowing he had hit one of the attackers. Before he could reach the area, he heard the sound of a horse’s hooves galloping away at a fast pace and could only get one more shot off at the now distant rider who had made his getaway. Seeing the man he had shot lying on the ground grasping his chest, Christopher kicked his weapon out of reach, making sure it was safe to go see to his brother and quickly raced over to him.
He was lying in a pool of his own blood barely conscious when he saw Christopher approach through a misty haze. “Why Christopher…” he said just above a whisper, before the blackness overtook him.
“Damn it to hell!” Christopher swore, viewing his brother’s serious condition. He pulled his cravat off and tied it around Jeffrey’s leg, making a tourniquet to stop the flow of blood that was gushing out of the large hold that was there before searching for what damage was done by the other shots. A sigh of relief escaped him when he found that there was only a flesh wound to Jeffrey’s head for the ball had only just grazed him there. He had to get him back to the manor house soon because he had lost a substantial amount of blood and couldn’t stand to lose much more. He had the tourniquet on but it was imperative he get medical attention soon or he would die. Looking down at his brother’s pale and clammy face he was glad he had lapsed into unconsciousness for the ride back to Crestwood Hall would have been difficult for him to endure.
Before leaving the scene, he quickly went back over where the attacker was lying, to evaluate his condition and found that he had a gaping hole in his chest and probably wouldn’t make it back to Crestwood Hall, but he was still conscious now. Christopher knew that this was his only chance to find out who was behind this ambush and knelt down beside the wounded man and began interrogating him. The man wouldn’t answer any of his questions until Dodger came up beside him, growling and showing his teeth. “If you don’t tell me what I want to know, then I will let him finish you off,” Christopher said dryly, motioning to Dodger with his hand.
The man’s eyes grew large as he clutched his wounded chest seeing the ferocious dog standing over him, waiting only for his master’s approval. So he decided to tell him what he wanted to know. “It wasn’t personal govn’ a…”he strained when another wave of pain went through him.
“A name, damn you! Who hired you to kill my brother?” Christopher screamed angrily, afraid that the man would die before telling him anymore.
“Lord Chatsworth…,” was his last words before his eyes closed for a final time and his body went limp.
“Chatsworth!” Christopher shouted at the dead man. His eyes went black with rage when he thought about Roger Chatsworth, the Earl of Somerset. “But why? How could he benefit from Jeffrey’s death?” He thought. Rising quickly, his only thoughts now were on getting Jeffrey back to Crestwood Hall, alive.
Fortunately, they had not ridden a great distance and Christopher reached the stable yard in less than half an hour where he pulled Thor to a halt. Lowering Jeffrey down with the help of a groomsman, he was able to get him into his bed fairly quickly. Emma and her sister Mary worked on the younger Steele brother with expert hands and had him resting comfortably in a short period of time. “He’s a mighty lucky young man, your lordship,” Emma told Christopher who was still standing beside the bed. “If you hadn’t put that tourniquet on when you did….”
“Will he be alright, Emma?” He asked worriedly, feeling responsible for his brother being shot.
“He’ll live, your lordship” she replied slowly.
“It’s not your fault, Christopher,” Kathryn said from behind him, sliding her arms around his waist, she laid her head up against his broad back. She knew he would blame himself for what had happened.
Reaching around, he drew her into his arms and held her tight while he stared forlorningly at his brother. “I killed the man who did this to him,” he stated bluntly. At her surprised expression, he continued. “But he lived long enough to tell me who ultimately wanted to see Jeffrey dead. And I will kill him, with my bare hands!”
Kathryn shook in fear when she saw the hatred and determination on her husband’s face and knew he would do exactly what he said he would do. It frightened her to see him in such a black mood and to know what laid just under the surface. “Christopher, you must let the authorities handle this and not take the law into your own hands,” she implored, afraid for him.
“That would be impossible, madam! For you see, the only person who could have proved it, is dead. It would be my word against his and who do you think they’ll believe?” He said, bitterly.
“Christopher, you’re a Marquis and a very powerful lord. How could they not take your word as the truth?” She asked in puzzlement.
“Because my sweet wife, the person who wants to see Jeffrey dead is our dearly beloved friend Lord Roger Chatsworth, the Earl of Somerset. And he madam, is a more powerful lord than I am. Now do you doubt me in what I say?”
Kathryn was stricken with horror when she heard the name of Roger Chatsworth. Why he haunted her at every turn in her life, she wondered sickly. Now her husband would have to break the law in order to protect his brother from this fiend and he would be going up against a foe that would stop at nothing, that didn’t suit his own purposes.
Christopher saw Jeffrey’s eyes flicker open and was beside him instantly. “You’re going to be alright, Jeff, just lay still,” he told his brother with a worried frown on his face.
Jeffrey tried to smile but he winced with pain in doing so and became serious again. “Chris, the man who shot me…”
“He’s dead. But the other one got away.”
“He was one of the men I hired on the Mariner, just before we left London.”
“I assumed as much,” Christopher murmured. “It was Lord Chatsworth who hired them but for the life of me I don’t know why.”
“I think I do,” Jeffrey sighed, seeing Kathryn standing beside Christopher.
“Remember the night of the Denham Ball, Kathryn when Michele and I rescued you from the clutches of Lord Chatsworth?”
“How could I ever forget,” she retorted.
“He threatened me that night, promising that I would rue the day I interfered with him.”
Christopher’s anger rose beyond the limits when visions of Roger Chatsworth accosting his own beloved wife came to mind. “I will kill him,” he said under his breath, his hands forming into tight fists while he tried desperately to control the raging fury inside him to do the Earl of Somerset great bodily harm. “Now we know,” was all Christopher said before turning and stomping out the room, his intentions very obvious to all.
Kathryn entered Christopher’s bed chamber and closed the door quietly behind her before she leaned up against it and watched her husband stride around the room stuffing things into his traveling bag. She knew he had to go but was afraid for him to do so. There was no power on this earth that could keep him here, she thought dismally. “Christopher,” she murmured.
Upon hearing her voice, Christopher stopped what he was doing and looked over at her. He could see the fear in her eyes and he knew there was nothing he could say to her that would soothe her apprehension, so he said nothing. “Christopher, there has to be another way. Please don’t do this,” she pleaded.
“Kathryn, there is no other way and you know it. Lord Chatsworth is a very powerful man and has a lot of very powerful friends in places where it counts. To try and have justice served here would be virtually impossible. Therefore, I have no other choice but to take care of him myself, once and for all. If I don’t, Jeffrey could never be safe again as long as he lives.” Walking over to her, he gathered her up in his arms and placed a tender kiss atop her head.
“You will be careful, won’t you,” she mumbled before the pent up tears she had been holding came trickling down her face.
“That my little bandit, you can be sure of.”
It was around midnight when a servant hesitantly rapped on Roger Chatsworth’s bed chamber door and waited reluctantly for a response from his master. He could hear the Earl cursing inside and wished he hadn’t disturbed him for his lordship didn’t like interruptions when he retired for the evening, especially when he had taken one of the chambermaids with him.
“This had better be important,” he bellowed when he bade the servant to enter.
“Sorry to disturb you, your lordship,” he said with eyes downcast.
“Then what’s so bloody important that you have to disturb me at this hour of the night?” The Earl barked from his bed with only a blanket covering him up to his waist.
“There’s a man downstairs insisting on seeing you right away. He says it’s… important,” the servant stuttered. He could see the anguish on the young chambermaid’s bruised and battered face for she was lying there uncovered, completely naked with her hands trying desperately to cover herself from his eyes. She was young and had never known a man before, intimately. His lordship had a fetish for virgins for he had over-heard the Earl say once that it was more of a thrill because they didn’t have any idea of what to expect when he took them to his chambers.
Cursing, Roger told the servant to have the man wait for him in his study and that he would be down shortly before he turned back to the frightened young girl. “I guess you get a short reprieve my dear,” he cooed, ogling her with a perverted gleam in his eyes. “But, I shouldn’t be gone long and we can pick up where we left off….”
Striding into his study with a black scowl on his face, Roger viewed the man who had so untimely interrupted him. “What’s so bloody important you have to drag me out of bed at this late hour?” He snapped at the ruffian.
“Beggin your pardon, your lordship, but I thought you would want to know right away that Patrick was shot and killed during our ambush of Jeffrey Steele.”
“So the bloke got himself killed, what’s that to me?” Roger scoffed. “It sure isn’t important enough to disturb me tonight. All I care about is the end result!”
The ruffian shuffled his feet and tried to find a way to tell the Earl that their mission had failed.
At his continued silence Roger became concerned. “You did kill Steele, didn’t you?”
“We wounded him sir, but I don’t think we killed him, your lordship… and I think Patrick might have talked before he died.”
“You blotched it again?” He said with contempt. His eyes became nothing more than black slits when he stared at the man who had failed him a second time. “You idiot! You and your partner came highly recommended to me! I wanted results, not excuses!” He slowly walked around his desk and pulled out his top desk drawer. Lifting up the loaded pistol he kept there he shot the man standing in front of him. The ruffian’s body fell at once into a crumbled pile on the floor while Roger laid the now empty pistol back down and closed the drawer. “Steele’s still not dead,” he mumbled to himself while he plopped down in his leather chair to contemplate on what he should do next. If that idiot talked then undoubtedly the Marquis will come here looking for me, himself. He has always protected his brother. It’s high time I got rid of him too, he’s getting much to close with all his investigations. Anyway, I still have a score to settle with him. He took what was rightfully mine and I intend on making him suffer for it, before I kill him that is. With his new plans set in his mind, Roger smacked his lips and headed back upstairs to enjoy himself with the frightened young chambermaid who waited for him there.
It had been over a week since Christopher had left for Somerset and Kathryn tried to keep herself busy so she wouldn’t worry about him so much. She would start her day feeding and playing with Alex and Alexis and then she would go visit Jeffrey, who was still convalescing from his wounds. He would be up and around in the next few days Emma had told him.
. After visiting with him, Kathryn would go down to the stables with Dodger to check on the daily progress of Shadow, her dapple gray mare. John had done a marvelous job in tending her for her leg was healing nicely. She was going to miss riding her, she thought sorrowfully but at least she wasn’t dead and she did have Starr, who Christopher had given to her as her very own.
“I’m so glad you’re here to take care of her,” she said tenderly to her old groomsman, who she was very fond of.
“Well, that makes two of us mum, for I’m thoroughly enjoying my stay here and hope I can stay permanently. His lordship has the best thoroughbreds I’ve ever seen and it’s a real pleasure to tend them.”
“I’m sure there won’t be a problem with you staying on permanently, John, I’ll speak with Christopher about it as soon as he returns.”
“Thank you mum,” he said with affection. He had known Kathryn ever since she was born and had sorely missed her when she had left Glastonbury.
Michael interrupted them saying that her ladyship was needed in the manor house and she was to come at once.
With not knowing what this was all about, panic seized Kathryn for her first thoughts were the twins. Could something have happened to them,” she wondered sickly while she made her way quickly up to the main house to see what was amiss. Upon her arrival there, she was told that the constable and his two assistants were waiting in the drawing room and wished to speak with her immediately. She knew this had to do with Christopher, for what other reason would they have for wanting to speak with her. Was he hurt, she contemplated for a moment no, he had promised her he would be careful. He couldn’t be hurt or even worse, she won’t let her imagination run away with her again until she heard from Constable Hawk, himself that something was wrong.
She entered the drawing room where the three men were standing, waiting for her and she asked them to sit down. “Now what’s this all about, Constable Hawk?” She asked, sitting down on the edge of the chair across from him, her hands folded tightly together in her lap.
“Lady Kathryn, I understand his lordship has gone on a short trip and has not returned as yet, that’s why I wanted to speak with you….”
“Has Christopher been hurt,” she interrupted, not being able to control her fears any longer.
“Why no, your ladyship. Is there a reason for your question?” He asked, looking at her suspiciously.
“No, no. I just thought… I don’t know what I thought,” she stammered, confused.
“Where has Lord Christopher gone?” He asked, knowing she was acting strangely.
“Uh, I don’t know.” She replied simply. She couldn’t tell them where Christopher went because he was going to commit an act that was against the law.
“Kathryn…” David started to say, wanting to comfort her.
“Be quiet,” Constable Hawk insisted, motioning David to take a seat. “There has been another girl found murdered and tortured not far from here, on your husband’s property as a matter-of- fact.
Kathryn gasped at this information. “Oh my god! Another one. Who could be responsible for these horrible acts?”
“We found evidence this time.” Constable Hawk stated bluntly. “And we’ve come here to arrest your husband.”
“Christopher?” She shrieked, her hands flying up over her mouth. “You’ve got to be kidding! Christopher wouldn’t, couldn’t do such a ghastly thing. How dare you accuse him?” She shouted, warming up in Christopher’s defense. “He’s a Marquis, you can’t treat him like some, low-life criminal.”
At Kathryn’s look of outrage the constable remained quiet but Steven didn’t. “Madam, your husband is a murderer and a defiler of women. We have indisclaimable proof that it was him.”
“What kind of proof could you possibly have to connect my husband with this brutal act?” She asked doubtfully, glaring back at Steven with unabridged hatred.
“We found your husband’s family crest ring next to this latest victim.’ He said with a smirk. “And the ring definitely has the Steele’s Crest on it, so make no mistake about it.”
“His ring?” Kathryn asked with a frown coming over her face. She had remembered Christopher talking about his family crest ring but she couldn’t remember what he had said about it. Oh if only he were here to defend himself, she thought dejectedly.
Thinking she believed them now, Constable Hawk said simply, “when Lord Christopher returns from this so called trip, we will be back to arrest him.”
Tears were welling up inside Kathryn when she watched the constable and his son leave and was very grateful for David, who stayed behind. “David, how could this be happening? Christopher isn’t a murderer. I know he’s not.
“But Kathryn, how do you explain the ring lying next to the victim?” He asked, sincerely.
“I don’t know but…I know he’s innocent,” she cried.
David gathered her up in his arms to comfort her for he hated seeing her so distressed. He knew it had been a mistake for her to marry the Marquis. But it was done before he could stop it. Now she had two children by him and would soon be made a widow after he was executed for murder. What will happen to her then? All his lands would be confiscated by the crown and she would be left penniless. She couldn’t go back to Glastonbury for her father had also died penniless and she would be left to the mercy of the Earl of Somerset who ruled over Glastonbury and all its people.
Christopher felt discouraged when he finally turned Thor onto the road leading to Dartmoor. It had been a wasted trip for Lord Chatsworth was not residing at Somerset and his servants told him that the Earl had gone abroad and would not return again until late spring. He had to have been informed by the attacker who got away that this latest attempt on Jeffrey’s life had failed, so why had he left the country? And for so long. It didn’t make any sense to him. He made the final turn in the road and rode swiftly through the gates of Crestwood Hall, where he dismounted and entered the manor house unannounced.
Jeffrey came out of the study and was surprised when he saw Christopher. “You’re back!”
“Of course I’m back,” he said dryly, noticing for the first time that Jeffrey walked with a cane. “How’s the leg? It must be better seeing that you’re up and about.”
“It still pains me a lot but I’m not going to let that hold me down.” He looked at his brother seriously. “We have bigger problem, Chris…”
“First I need a drink,” Christopher interrupted, and with long strides walked into the study and poured himself a liberal size glass of brandy.
“Constable Hawk and his two assistants came her to arrest you, Chris,” he state bluntly.
“What! Arrest me! Damn it to hell! For what? He bellowed, unbelievably.
“I didn’t kill Chatsworth, so who else was I supposed to have murdered?”
“They think you’re the one who’s killing the local girls and torturing them first.”
“How pray tell did they come up with that conclusion? I was at sea when some of them were killed? Christopher shouted, thinking that the constable had lost his mind.
“They found proof this time. Your ring was found next to the last victim.” Jeffrey said slowly, not wanting to believe that his brother was the killer.
“My family crest ring?” Seeing his brother’s nod, he cursed under his breath. “That was stolen from me months ago and now it turns up next to a murder victim,” he said, incredibly. “If that’s not bad enough, they want to arrest me? I don’t believe it!”
“They’ll come and arrest you as soon as they find out you’re back,” Jeffrey told him.
“Well, I’m not going to wait for them to find out, I’ll go tell them myself that I’m back!” He said, determined to set them straight on this matter and stomped out the door.
Christopher hadn’t even opened his mouth when Steven grabbed him from behind as he’d walked through the door at the constable’s office.
“You’re under arrest, your lordship,” he sneered, with an amusing look on his face.
“Get your hands off me, you impediment wretch,” he growled back at him.
“I’m sorry your lordship, but that’s quite impossible for I am placing you under arrest for the murder of five local town women.” Constable Hawk stated. “Now, lock him up.”
Christopher was beside himself, he couldn’t believe he was actually being arrested. Steven had roughly shoved him into one of the cells and slammed the door shut, locking him in. “I demand you release me at once, Hawk!” But the constable wouldn’t even look at him before taking his seat again.