Kathryn had heard Christopher’s voice in the foyer and rushed downstairs to greet him but it was too late. Christopher was galloping out the front gates of Crestwood Hall. “Where in the world is he going now?” She asked Jeffrey who had come up to stand next to her.
“To the constable’s office.”
“Oh my god! He can’t do that! You must stop him Jeffrey,” she said, clutching his arm desperately. She knew Christopher needed to stay away from the constable and his son Steven until such time that they could figure out who was trying to frame him, with David’s help.
Releasing himself from Kathryn’s grip he agreed to go after his brother and try to convince him to reconsider this course of action. But he knew it would be virtually impossible to sway Christopher from his decision because when he had it set in his head to do something, nothing could stop him.
Several hours had passed since Jeffrey left and Kathryn was beside herself with worry. Pacing back and forth in the drawing room, she would check the front door every few minutes for some sign of their return. With seeing no trace of them, she would reluctantly come back to the drawing room again and continue her pacing. The twins were there, sleeping in their cradles that had been brought downstairs at Kathryn’s request with Dodger lying next to them, his head resting on his forepaws.
Suddenly she heard a horse ride up and quickly raced through the front door to see who it was. A frown crossed her brow when she recognized the rider to be her step-mother and spun around disappointedly and stomped back into the manor house without saying a word to her.
“Kathryn wait,” she implored, dismounting and following her in a rush, trying to catch up to her.
Kathryn ignored her and went back into the drawing room, keeping her back to her.
Dodger growled and showed his teeth when Cassandra came up behind Kathryn. “Darling, I have something very important to tell you, but I can’t with that mangy dog here,” she said, becoming alarmed with Dodger’s obvious intent.
“Dodger won’t harm you unless I want him to,” she replied with a wry smile on her face. She knew her step-mother was deathly afraid of Dodger and had every right to be for he hated her and became riled every time he saw her. “Just tell me what you think is so important and then leave me alone.”
“Kathryn, there’s been a dreadful accident. Christopher has been seriously injured,” she said with a deep concern in her voice.
“Christopher? Hurt? How?” Kathryn exclaimed in horror.
“I don’t have time to explain, you must come at once!” She said, grabbing Kathryn’s arm.
Quickly the two women raced out of the drawing room with Kathryn telling Emma to watch the babies as they made their way down to the stables. Within minutes Kathryn was mounted on Starr’s back and was flying out of the stable yard with her step-mother leading the way. They rode for several miles before turning off the main road leading to Dartmoor and headed across the open meadows. Kathryn became confused at their destination, not understanding why they had left the main road and rode up closer to Cassandra to question her about it.
“Darling, I don’t know why either, all I know is that we must come this way,” was her only reply.
They were deep in the forest when Casandra finally drew her horse to a halt and dismounted. “We have to walk the rest of the way, Kathryn.”
A for boding feeling came over Kathryn when she dismounted Starr for she had never been this deep in the forest before. With the trees still barren of all their leaves, their ominous appearance caused a prickling feeling to run down her spine. “Cassandra…are you sure of where you’re going?” She asked hesitantly, doubting her step-mother’s sense of direction. She felt totally lost in this place and knew it would be difficult to try and find her way back.
“Yes darling, I’m positive.”
A moment later, Kathryn heard branches crackling behind her and spun around quickly.
“Well, its bout time you be showen up, we’ve been waiten here for hours,” Billy slurred while he ogled Kathryn through bloodshot eyes.
Fear went through Kathryn’s body when she viewed the two men standing behind her. She hadn’t felt this afraid since that terrifying night on the road from London so many months ago. “You?” She shouted before Billy grabbed her around the waist and drew her to him. His wet, slimy lips came down on hers while she tried frantically to break his hold on her. “I’ve waited ooh so long to taste ya charms, my pretty.” His hands roaming over her rudely.
“Billy, you can’t have her yet,” Tommy declared, angrily. He knew there would be hell to pay if he damaged the merchandise.
Cassandra was nowhere in sight when he finally turned Kathryn loose. “I’ve waited this long for her, I guess I can wait a little longer,” he drooled, dragging Kathryn by the wrist in through the opening of the cave that had been uncovered by Tommy. Once inside, he turned her loose roughly causing Kathryn to fall down on her knees.
“Thank you gentlemen, on your success this time,” Steven stated, his eyes sparkling with a devilish gleam when he leered at Kathryn.
She picked herself up off the ground and glared at Steven. “What is the meaning of this?” She demanded furiously.
“You’ve caused me a great deal of trouble madam,” he snapped at her, his face forming a tight line. “But no longer. This time we have you.”
“I don’t understand what it is that I’ve done to you sir,” Kathryn replied, bewildered. He hated her from the moment he had met her and then even after he found out she wasn’t a highwaymen he still hated her. But what was he doing here with these highwaymen.
“A little confused, perhaps?” Steven said, pleased that he would finally be rid of her.
“Yes, very. What do you intend to do with me? She asked numbly, eyeing the two ruffians who were standing near the entrance of the cave.
“I don’t plan on doing anything with you, madam. Not until you’re dead that is.”
“Enough!” Roger bellowed from the shadows where he stepped out.
Kathryn gasped in horror when she saw him. “Lord… Chatsworth!”
“Precisely, my dear. You didn’t think I would give up on you just because you made the wrong choice and wed Steele did you?” He sneered. “That was a dreadful mistake on your part, for you see, I would have grown tired of you soon enough and let you whelp your brats at Glastonbury. But now…” he let his sentence dangle.
Steven’s hands tightened on her arm and roughly pushed her down into a chair, tying her hands behind her back.
“You’ll never get away with this, your lordship,” Kathryn said, with more confidence than she was feeling.
“And who pray tell is going to come rescue you, my dear. Your loving husband? Hardly, he’s cooling his heels in the local jail, awaiting execution for murder, right Constable Hawk?”
Suddenly Kathryn’s eyes opened wide when it dawned on her who had framed her husband. Turning her head to face Billy and Tommy she said. “You two are the ones that robbed Christopher and took his family crest ring. But how did it get next to the girl’s body?” She said, more to herself than to the men staring at her.
Steven took a short bow and smiled viciously at Kathryn. “It was my pleasure, madam. You see, I was with my idiot father when we investigated the last crime site and it was so easy for me to simply drop the ring in question next to the body.”
“But why incriminate Christopher?”
“We had to because the person committing the murders needed a scapegoat and it had to be a person with authority. Someone who was above the law so to speak. Otherwise, Christopher would have figured it out soon enough.”
“Then you’re the one who’s been killing all the girls?”
“No madam. I didn’t as much as I would have liked to, I just made sure there wasn’t any evidence left behind after Billy and Tommy dumped the bodies.” Steven informed her.
“Then who, if it wasn’t you or them? She said, before her head snapped back to Roger who was staring at her with a triumphant smile on his lips.
“Yes my dear, you finally got it right this time. Now you’re going to be the next victim.” He told Billy and Tommy they wouldn’t be needed for a while and for them to leave. When it was time for them to dump her body, he would send Steven after them.
Kathryn watched sickly when the two ruffians disappeared through the brush at the entrance of the cave and knew her chances of surviving this ordeal were slim to none.
Jeffrey had arrived at the constable’s office just when Steven was leaving and he had cast him an impertinent grin before mounting his horse and riding away. He shook his head and entered through the open door to see what he could do to help his brother.
“Can I help you Mr. Steele,” Constable Hawk stated dryly when he saw him enter.
“Yes, I want to speak with my brother if you don’t mind.”
“That could be arranged if you wait a moment, I was just about to leave,” he said, calling his assistant from the back room of the office. “David here will take you to him. He’ll be here guarding the prisoner the rest of the day.”
Jeffrey followed him down a long corridor where Christopher was angrily pacing his small cell in total frustration. “Jeffrey, boy I’m glad to see you,” he exclaimed. “We’ve got to make them understand that I’m not the murderer.”
“I know Chris, but what proof do we have?”
David remained close behind Jeffrey and listened quietly. He never really believed that Lord Christopher was capable of the crimes he was accused of but what could he do about it. Coming to a decision that would probably cost him his job, he pushed past Jeffrey and unlocked the cell door. “Your lordship, I know you’re not guilty and you are probably the only one that can find out who is, so I’m setting you free.”
“Thank you, Mr. Cabot for your astute observations. I have a very good idea who is responsible for all of this. If we could go back to your desk. I would like to see all the data that’s been collected thus far.”
“As the three of them thumbed through the paperwork, Christopher’s anger rose. “Damn it to hell!” He cursed before explaining to the other two what his suspicions were and stomped out of the office heading for Crestwood Hall.
Bursting through the front door, he was now anxious to see Kathryn before he had to leave again and searched through the house, unsuccessful in locating her. He was told by the servants that she had left with her step-mother some time ago and did not return with her. “Cassandra,” he bellowed, until he found her sitting quietly in his study having a small glass of sherry.
“Darling! What’s all the racket about, you would think the house was on fire the way you carry on so,” she cooed before taking another sip.
He slapped the glass out of her hand, to her astonishment and then demanded she tell him where Kathryn was.
“Christopher, must you be so violent?” She said from beneath her lowered lashes.
“Damn it to hell Cassandra, just tell me where she is or I’ll show you what’s violent!”
“Really darling, I’m not my step-daughter’s keeper. I don’t know where she is, she met up with that friend of hers, Roxanne or something like that. Anyway, they went off together.”
Christopher wheeled around and crossed the room in swift strides until he practically knocked over the young lady waiting in the foyer. “Excuse me madam, I didn’t see you standing there,” he said, apologizing for his rudeness and helped her to her feet. “Roxanne?” He said in disbelief. “What are you doing here and where is Kathryn?”
“Kathryn, I just came to visit her, your lordship, if that’s alright with you,” she said, timidly under the staring eyes of the Marquis.
“You mean you haven’t seen her today?”
“Why no, your lordship, I just…”
Cassandra overhearing the conversation in the foyer, tried desperately to sneak out before Christopher saw her, but it was too late. He whirled around and blocked her exit. “You conniving little bitch, you lied to me! Tell me where Kathryn is or I’ll throttle you within an inch of your miserable life!” He bellowed, grabbing her by the throat and slamming her painfully up against the wall.
Cassandra broke under his pressure and agreed to take him to the hideout where she had led Kathryn several hours earlier. “She’s probably dead already, Christopher,” she whined while they made their way through the thick forest.
“”Why Cassandra, why did you do it?”
“I had to Christopher, if I didn’t agree then Roger would make me give back all the money he had given me to ruin Squire Grey and to convince that twit of a daughter of his to marry him.”
Christopher looked over at her with disgust, “all for money. That’s all that you’ve cared about your whole life, isn’t Cassandra?” He said and dismounted for they had finally arrived at the entrance to the cave where Kathryn had been left.
Quietly Christopher made his way inside where he saw Kathryn bound to a chair in the middle of the cave. Relief flooded his senses, seeing her still alive before he was suddenly hit over the head with a blunt instrument, dazing him for a few moments. But it was long enough for Steven to get a jump on him and tie him to the chair opposite Kathryn. When his eyes became clear again, they locked with hers in a brief encounter before he dragged them away to look straight into the brown ones of the Earl’s.
“I assumed you would be here after piecing everything together,” he said, bluntly.
Roger chuckled deeply and rubbed his fingers across his thin mustache at Christopher’s statement. “I knew Steele, you would figure it out. But do you know all of it?” He questioned lightly.
“Why don’t you explain it all to me and then I’ll tell you if I knew it all or not,” Christopher responded tartly.
“Very funny, Steele, but I would prefer you tell me what you know.”
Christopher decided to humor him by telling him all his suspicions. “I knew it had to be someone with power who headed up this gang of ruffians who were murdering and plaguing the highway around here, because they could never be caught.”
“You’re wrong there Steele, they didn’t murder, they only got rid of the bodies for me,” Roger interrupted with relish. “I do know that you found out it was I who was behind the attempts on your brother’s life, though.” Getting within an inch of Christopher’s face, he spat, “no one does what Jeffrey did to me at the Denham Ball and lives to tell about it! He was damn lucky twofold; to have survived the sinking of the Mariner and dodge an assassin’s bullet.
Now for your reward for all your efforts,” he grinned savagely, running his finger down Kathryn’s cheek, “you can watch me torture and rape your wife right before your eyes.”
Chills of terror went through Kathryn when Roger touched her cheek and her eyes grew wide and pleading for Christopher to save her.
“Keep your filthy hands off her, Chatsworth or I’ll kill you, so help me god!” He swore, struggling furiously to get loose from the chair he was bound to.
Roger looked at Christopher’s blazing eyes with satisfaction, pleased with himself for having him right where he wanted him. He had never had witnesses before and decided it added a great deal more pleasure to his ritual. He could probably drive Steele out of his mind, he thought viciously, taunting him with the slow deliberate torture of his beloved wife. Slowly he drew a knife from its sheath and held it up for the candlelight to reflect a beam of light off its blade, heightening the moment when he brought it down and placed it against Kathryn’s throat. Eyeing Christopher’s distraught face, he brought the blade down and cut the ties that held her bodice together. “Now you really didn’t think I was going to cut that beautiful neck of hers, did you? At least not yet anyway,” he taunted. Laying the knife down on the table, his hands came back and rested on her shoulders, causing Kathryn to wince in fear. With every move he watched Christopher’s face, thoroughly enjoying the torture he was putting him through. “It’s such a shame my dear, you’re not pure any longer for I waited for you to grow up, knowing you would be a real beauty. But alas, it didn’t work out that way. Now you’re just a whore, who whelped this bastard’s brats,” he snarled, pulling her dress down off her shoulders and running both his hands across her now bared flesh.
Kathryn closed her eyes, not being able to look at Christopher when Roger’s hands found her open bodice and yanked it apart, leaving only her thin chemise covering her.
With the knife again in his hands, Roger slowly cut her chemise open, laying the cold steel of the blade between her naked breasts causing a terrifying shriek to escape from Kathryn’s mouth.
Steven came out of the shadows licking his lips for he wanted a better view but he had distracted the Earl from his pleasure and received a bitter tirade from him. When Roger had finished his raking of Steven, he smiled viciously and continued on with his game of slow torture.
David was deep in thought when he rode along the main road of Dartmoor. He didn’t know what to do other then go back to Crestwood Hall and speak with Lord Christopher and offer his assistance to him when he saw two riders approach. Not recognizing them he started to ride past but they halted him before he could pass them.
“So we’re needed back at the hideout already? That didn’t take long, Steven,” Tommy said, knowingly. “Where should we dump the body this time?”
David stared at them, shocked at what they had just told him. They think I’m Steven, he thought amusingly. Now all the pieces to the puzzle were falling into place with Tommy continuously filling him with information. “You haven’t answered my question yet, Mr. Hawk,” Tommy said, growing annoyed at his continued silence.
When he spoke he assumed the role of his cousin Steven and answered their questions with questions of his own. They looked at him as if he were daft and furnished him with everything he wanted to know. It was hard to not show the fear on his face when they told him it was Kathryn’s body they were to dispose of. He quickly realized he was their boss and ordered them to stay where they were until he returned for them and spurred his horse into a full gallop wanting to reach Crestwood Hall to tell Christopher of Kathryn’s predicament. When he arrived, Jeffrey informed him that Christopher had learned of Cassandra’s treachery and made her take him to the place she had lead Kathryn to. But he had not returned with her as yet. Remounting his horse, David flew like the wind back to where the ruffians waited for him and told them he would accompany them to the hideout.
“Why do we have to wait out here,” Tommy moaned, wanting to get this deed over with. He partially didn’t like this part of their job and whined until David barked at him to shut his mouth.
With great care, David sneaked into the cave, unnoticed by everyone inside and crotched down to observe what was taking place. To his horror, he could see Roger tormenting Christopher, using Kathryn as his object of torture. She was in a state of undress, her torn chemise her only protection. A trickle of blood was dripping down from her mouth and there were bruises and welts rising on various parts of her body as his heart went out to her. His cousin was standing nearby, thoroughly enjoying himself and paid no attention to him when he soundlessly made his way behind Christopher and untied him. Waiting for Christopher to make the first move, he then moved back into the shadows to remain hidden from the eyes of Roger and Steven until he was needed. It wasn’t long before a blood-cuddling scream came from Christopher as he leaped out of his chair landing on top of Roger, who was taken totally by surprise. Instantly, David jumped his cousin Steven with the same amount of fury and wrestled him to the ground.
Roger’s face became a bloody-pulp as Christopher punched him repeatedly, cursing him with every blow. He threw him up against the wall of the cave and punched him in the stomach over and over again until Roger finally fell unconscious in a heap on the hard, dirt floor. With his still bloodied hands, Christopher untied Kathryn who instantly melted into his arms and hugged him tight.
Moments later, Jeffrey and Constable Hawk rushed into the cave but were too late to lend assistance for Christopher and David had things well in hand by the time they entered.
Wrapping his mantle around Kathryn, Christopher kept his arm around her and viewed the situation.
“Christopher, Kathryn are you alright?” Jeffrey asked worriedly, taking in their appearance. He had sought out the constable and explained everything to him after David left Crestwood Hall earlier, after he had encountered the two ruffians. The two of them made Cassandra, who the constable had arrested at once, bring them to the hideout where Christopher and Kathryn were being held captive. Upon their arrival, they arrested Billy and Tommy and had secured them outside before they entered the cave.
“Well, I see you have things already in order in here,” Constable Hawk said entering the cave. He felt ashamed for his actions in all of this. He had to have been out of his mind when he arrested Lord Christopher. Whatever had possessed him to even think he was responsible for all those girls being murdered, he didn’t know. And come to find out his own son, his only son was deeply involved in all the crimes that had happened around Dartmoor these past months. He was the ring leader of the ruffians and took his orders only from Lord Chatsworth himself and that’s why there had never been any proof and the highwaymen had seemed to know their every move. He was in a position to cover up any of their mistakes and keep them well-informed.
David and the constable hauled all their prisoners back to Dartmoor where they would wait to stand trial for each of their crimes and be punished accordingly.
As they watched the rag tag group of sorrowful faces depart the thicket, Christopher once again took Kathryn in his arms and held her in a warm embrace. How close he had come to losing her, he thought. But never again, for he would protect her and cherish her with every inch of his being for the rest of his life. Thoughts about how much his life had changed since leaving the Mariner so many months ago came to mind. He had never known that married life could be so fulfilling. Kathryn was so different from any other woman he had ever known and he couldn’t imagine life without her now. His little bandit. It was a fateful love that was meant to be, the way they had met on that lonely stretch of dark road lying between London and Dartmoor.
“I love you, Kathryn,” he murmured in a husky voice before his lips covered hers in a loving and tender kiss that consumed them both, for what was to be an eternity.
Are you enjoying my ongoing story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, SusanLargentWrite a Review