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Summoned

 
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Clare Grey
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 9:54 am    Post subject: Summoned Reply with quote

September 1887

Newly-wedded bliss was easy to come by when honeymooning by Lake Windermere. Though it had taken a full day for Lawry and Clare to emerge from the bedroom, they had taken to long morning walks and rides through the surrounding countryside; afternoons spent playing card games and chess, truly enjoying one another's company. A little over a week after their wedding day, they were sat down to a late breakfast when one of the maids, Hannah, came in with a small bundle in hand.

"If you please, milord," she apologized, curtsying. "Post's come, and there's a telegram for you, too."

"A telegram?" Lawry echoed curiously, setting his cup of tea aside to take the bundle from her. "Thank you, Hannah," he told her, before leafing quickly through the bundle to search for the telegram in question. "Who would be sending us a telegram?" he mused aloud. Telegrams were more important than letters, usually tending to be of a more urgent nature, but he couldn't think who would be sending them one or why. Everyone knew they were on their honeymoon, which caused him to worry that it was bad news.

The telegram being what it was, was very short and to the point. Each letter cost more than most working class men made in a week, after all. It read, simply enough - Blackwood a thief. In pursuit to Bristol. Come at once. It had been sent from the telegram office at Warwick station, and the name announced that it was from Edmund Stanley.

Lawry read over the telegram not once, but twice, his face paling at what he read there. Oliver, a thief? But what could Edmund have that Oliver could possibly want? That was when Lawry realized exactly what it was that Edmund wasn't saying. "Blast," he muttered under his breath as he set the telegraph on the table. "He finally did it."

Clare looked up from her perusal of the letters left on the table. "There's a letter from Connie here," she said mildly. "I had wondered why she had not ... Lawry?" The paleness of his face brought a frown to her own. "What is it, dearest?"

He frowned worriedly as he looked over at Clare. He wouldn't have put it past Oliver to run off with Connie, but he didn't think Connie was that foolish. If that was what had truly happened, and Edmund got there before he did ... He didn't want to finish that thought. "Read it," he told her. "The letter from Connie."

Alarmed by the expression of concern on his face, Clare slit open the envelope with her knife, slipping a single page from inside. Long fingers opened it. "My dearest Lawry," she began, "I am sorry to leave you in this way, but there is no help for it. I cannot continue as I am. I am leaving with Oliver, and when next I write, we shall be far from Edmund's reach. I love you, and I wish you nothing but joy in your life with Clare. Your ever faithful sister, Connie." Clare's own expression had grown alarmed as she read aloud, her eyes darting to meet Lawry's gaze. "Who is the telegram from?"

He sighed as he heard his sister's words, hearing her voice in his head, even though it was his wife reading them. "Edmund," he said, tossing the telegram onto the table so that she could read it for herself. "I have to go to Bristol."

She took the telegram, scanning the words with a frown. "We have to go to Bristol," she corrected him, rising to her feet. "Hannah!"

A moment later, the maid reappeared. "Yes, ma'am?"

Clare smiled reassuringly at her. "Could you have our trunks packed and sent back to Arden Manor, please?" she asked the servant. "And have Jimmy prepare the carriage. I am afraid a family emergency has occurred, and we must cut our visit short."

Confused, nonetheless Hannah curtsied to them both. "Yes, ma'am."

Clare turned back to Lawry as the girl left. "We should dress for travel," she said to him. "We can collect tickets at the station, and I will send a telegram to Father. He has factors in Bristol. Perhaps they can delay Edmund if he is there already."

Lawry wasn't really surprised by Clare's quick thinking or action, but he wasn't too happy about the thought of her getting in harm's way. "Clare, Edmund is dangerous," he pointed out, reaching for her hand, as if to make her stop and think a minute. "This isn't going to end well. Someone is going to get hurt, and I don't want that someone to be you."

"If you think for one moment that I am going to let you go haring off alone, you have another thing coming," she informed him, curling her fingers to his as she looked him in the eye. "Though I may hope for this to turn out well, for Connie's sake, you will need me there if it does not. Some things women will not talk about to a man, even their own brother."

Lawry sighed again. As much as his gut was telling him not to take her along, he knew he'd be better off with her than without her. She was the voice of reason in a world of chaos, and without her, he wasn't sure what he might do. "I was afraid something like this might happen," he said, though he hadn't expected it to happen while he and Clare were on their honeymoon. On the other hand, the timing was perfect, as neither of them were there to stop them. "It's not going to turn out well, Clare," he told her worriedly. It wasn't that he had no faith in Oliver and his sister, so much as he worried what Edmund would do when he caught up with them.

She held his gaze, raising his hand to her mouth to kiss his knuckles fiercely. "Then we had better hurry, hadn't we?" she suggested, not letting go of him as she turned to make her way swiftly toward the bedroom. The sooner they were on their way, the better he would feel, at the very least. "And you can tell me of your suspicions on the way."

"Clare!" he called, coming to a halt before they got to the bedroom and pulling her back around to face him. "It's going to be dangerous. Edmund is dangerous," he reminded her again, though he wasn't quite sure he was getting through. "Ollie and Connie were childhood sweethearts. Father knew that and still gave her to Edmund. Edmund has been lording it over Ollie ever since. I'm afraid this is likely to end with one of them dead."

Pulled about to face him, Clare listened as he explained, but there was no sign that he was anywhere near convincing her to stay behind. "I have been visiting dockyards and moorings since I was a child, Lawry," she reminded him. "I am fully aware of the damage a well placed heel can do, and not at all afraid to use it. Your friend needs us; your sister needs us. I will not let you go alone, and Father is too far away to call on his aid. It's me or no one, Lawry, and even if you leave me behind, I will be on the very next train to follow you. Connie is my family too."

"Promise me you will not confront Edmund alone," he told her, needing her assurance that she'd do her utmost to stay safe and out of trouble. It was bad enough his sister and his closest friend were in danger; he could not bear it if something happened to her too, and there was no one he was more wary of than Edmund.

The look she gave him suggested that he might have lost his mind with that last comment. "Dearest, I'm angry, not an idiot," she informed him, giving him a tug into the bedroom. "I know perfectly well that this is men's business. Just try not to get yourself killed, please. Ideally, we'd like to come out of this with Edmund the only injured party."
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Clare Grey
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 9:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"I don't know how we will come out of this at all," Lawry admitted with another sigh as he followed her into the bedroom to get dressed. "There is no good solution, Clare." If there was, he'd have suggested it long ago. So long as Edmund refused to give Connie a divorce, she was a prisoner in her own marriage. He'd thought perhaps Oliver had finally given up after all these years, but after seeing the longing looks his friend and his sister had been exchanging at the wedding, he'd realized that was not the case. "Edmund is too proud and stubborn to grant Connie a divorce, and Oliver loves her too much to let him have her."

"I am not hearing anything about what Connie might wish in this, love," his wife pointed out, her tone just a little arch. Though their world was a man's world, she knew he thought more of his sister than most brothers did. "It seems quite clear to me that she has made her decision. Scandal or not, she deserves some happiness. Her husband is an unmitigated ass." As she spoke, she was unlacing her dress busily, shrugging easily out of it to fetch out her traveling suit, unashamed of parading about in her underwear in front of his eyes. There was nothing particularly alluring about the ridiculous sight of that bustle cage projecting out from her own backside several inches, anyway.

"I know what Connie wants, Clare," Lawry insisted, and if he knew of a way to legally give it to her, he would, but he'd been over it in his head countless times and had never come to a good conclusion. "Don't you think I want her to be happy?" he countered, as he helped her unlace her dress, relieved men's clothing wasn't so uncomfortable or difficult to change in and out of. "After Father's death, I sought legal counsel. I appealed to the church. None of them would listen. None of them cared. As far as they were concerned, Connie was legally Edmund's wife and property to do with as he pleased. Is it any wonder women seek emancipation when they are treated like nothing more than chattel?"

"I do not doubt your intentions, love," she promised him, turning to touch his cheek. "I know you love your sister, and your friend. Perhaps, if we reach them in time, we may be able to prevail upon Edmund to give her up. Surely his honor could better bear a divorce than the scandal of being abandoned?"

Her touch calmed him a little, though there was nothing that could calm the fear in his heart until he saw for himself that the two people he loved most in the world, save his wife, were safe. "I cannot read Edmund's heart or mind. He is the kind of man whose pride is stronger than his honor. He is the kind of man who would keep her, just to keep Ollie from having her," Lawry explained sadly. Though he did not know everything that went on in the Stanley household, he'd seen enough to know Connie was not happy with Edmund and did not love him.

Clare frowned with him, reaching up to kiss his cheek. "Then we will simply have to be persuasive," she told him. Though she did not know Oliver Blackwood well herself, she trusted that Lawry could not be wrong in his friend. That Connie loved him, and had done for years, was a tragedy that had to be set right in her eyes, and though it was not ideal, this situation provided them with a perfect opportunity. "Or I could hit him with a hat stand while they make their escape," she added, trying to lighten his expression a little. "Your choice."

"That is a tempting thought," he admitted, glad for a little humor amidst the worry and even smiling a little. "Let us just hope we arrive in time to stop Edmund from killing them both," he added, turning to go change into something more appropriate for travel than a smoking jacket and trousers.

"I very much doubt Edmund can hold his own in a fair fight with Mr. Blackwood," Clare pointed out, pulling her skirt on over her head to secure it safely at her waist. Edmund was an aristocrat; Oliver was a sailor. A fair fight between the men could be decided without a single punch being thrown, but she doubted Edmund was the type of man to fight fair.

"Yes, but Edmund won't fight fair," Lawry pointed out, saying exactly what it was that Clare was thinking. "I am not sure how we are going to resolve this," he said sadly, at a total loss, though he was not yet willing to give up.

"Then we will have to make it up as we go," she said firmly, sliding her arms into her jacket. Her hair was half down, but there was no time to dress it. She would simply have to hope that no one passed too much comment on that fact. The hat might make it look like a new fashion. She could hope, anyway.

"Is it horrible of me to have wished they'd escaped?" he asked, as he exchanged one coat for another and ran his fingers through his hair in a meager attempt to look presentable. He wasn't sure where Ollie and Connie had been planning to go, and he knew he would have missed them, but if it was the only way they could be happy, then so be it.

"Not at all," she assured him. "I don't doubt they planned this as best they could, but no one can predict Edmund. The man runs hot and cold without forewarning." She caught up her gloves and reticule from the table, turning to meet his gaze. "Let's go, shall we?"

"I'm sorry, Clare," he found himself apologizing. Though what had happened was not his fault and couldn't have been predicted, it was cutting their honeymoon short - a honeymoon they were both sorry to see end.

"Oh, darling ..." She smiled gently, catching his hand in her own. "There will be other times for us. I think we should make sure that your sister has that luxury for herself, don't you?" She let her lips brush his cheek lightly, stepping back. "Come. You won't be easy until you see them again."

It was Edmund he was dreading seeing, knowing the man was going to be difficult at best, but he nodded his head in agreement, wishing there was some way they could warn Oliver and Constance in advance. It would take a while to get to Bristol, and he wasn't going to rest easy 'til they got there.

The housekeeper met them at the bottom of the stairs, taking quick instructions from Clare as to how and where to send their trunks before bidding the couple farewell. It was a matter of only an hour to take the carriage to the station, and the train to Pembroke station, where they had to change for Bristol. There, Clare sent a telegram to her father, asking him to instruct his factor in Bristol to delay Edmund Stanley if at all possible, before they boarded the very next train. By the mid-afternoon, they were in the city port, weary of travel, but both agitated by their proximity to what they both hoped was not a disaster in the making.

"I am not sure how we are to find them before Edmund does," Lawry complained as they disembarked, looking around to get their bearings and decide where to go from there. He wasn't as familiar with Bristol as Oliver would have been, but he guessed his friend would have chosen a place not far from either the station or the port, but comfortable enough to suit Connie's tastes.
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Clare Grey
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 9:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"This is why you brought me, love," Clare pointed out, leading the way toward the hansom cabs lined up by the station. "Father's factor will delay Edmund, but he won't delay us." She wrapped her arm through Lawry's, drawing him to a cab.

He linked his arm with hers as she led him toward the cab, unsure where to start in their search for his sister and friend. Oliver wasn't the type of man to play games. There was only one reason he'd bring Connie to a port city and that was because he intended to travel by ship. But which ship, when was it leaving, and where was it going? "I suppose we should speak with your father's man first, otherwise, it will be like looking for a needle in a haystack," he admitted, as he waved down a cab.

"I thought you might see it my way," she smiled, trying to encourage him. She hadn't insisted on coming along simply to be involved, to be close if she was needed. Her father's man would see them immediately if she was there. If Lawry was alone, it might take several hours to get to the top. Climbing into the hansom, she gave the cabbie their destination, capturing one of Lawry's hands in both her own. "This will not take long, love," she promised him. "At least it will give you a place to start from."

He helped her into the cab before settling in beside her, obviously agitated - worried for his sister's safety. "We must find them before Edmund does, Clare," he murmured to her quietly as she took hold of his hand, though she already knew the urgency of the matter.

"He left no message at the station," she reminded him gently. "If he had found them already, he would have done so, to tell you where she is, to summon you to be his second. He clearly believes you will side with him, and so long as he does not contact you, he has not found them yet. We have time, love."

"How can I side with him against my own sister?" Lawry asked, though he didn't expect her to answer. He had always thought a little differently about things than most of those around him, and was a stalwart supporter of social change.

"I didn't say I thought you would," she pointed out, stroking her fingers over his knuckles as the cab turned onto the waterfront, toward the warehouses where her father's business offices were situated. As they drew up, she patted his hand. "I'm going to do my very best impression of Great-Aunt Octavia, dearest. Try not to look too shocked."

He arched a brow at her, unsure just who Great-Aunt Octavia was, since they'd had a small wedding that had included only a few family members and close friends. "Darling, I have never met your Great-Aunt Octavia," he reminded her.

"Exactly." Her impish smile was wiped clean the moment the cabbie opened the door of the hansom for them. "Pay the man, dear," she told Lawry in an imperious tone, sweeping down from the cab and striding toward the door of the offices. When the men lounging in front of it did not move to open it for her, she glared at them. "I see Bristol men have fewer manners than I was taught," she announced, and one of them jumped to open the door. "Finally. Run on ahead and tell Mr. Phillips that Lord and Lady Arden are here to see him, and Mr. King will have his head if he keeps us waiting a moment longer."

Lawry's mouth dropped open for a fraction of a second, and he had to stifle a chuckle at the kind of woman his wife was trying to portray - and apparently succeeding. He'd never known her to have a bossy or arrogant bone in her body, but somehow she didn't seem to be having any problem pretending to be just that. "Yes, dear," he quipped in response, paying the driver before hurrying after her.

News of Lady Arden's arrival rushed ahead of them, punctuated by Clare's berating of every sloppily dressed merchant and clerk in the place, until they were whisked into the office of Mr. Phillips. As soon as the door closed, however, Mr. Phillips snorted with laughter. "Miss Clare, you really have to stop doing that to my people," he chuckled, shaking his head at her.

Clare smiled winsomely. "But it's so much fun," she pointed out, before sobering. "My father contacted you?"

Phillips nodded, turning his attention to Lawry. "Welcome to Bristol, my lord," he greeted him. "How can I be of assistance?"

Lawry arched his brows as he looked between the pair, only realizing as the door closed behind them that her father's man was in on the ruse. "Thank you, Mr. Phillips," Lawry replied, offering the man a hand in greeting. "I cannot share all the details of why we are here, but I'm wondering if you can find out if there are any passenger ships leaving Bristol in the next few days and where they might be going. Also, a passenger manifest would be helpful, if possible."

"I can have that information for you in just a few minutes, sir," Phillips assured him, moving to the door. He opened it, and opened his own lungs to bellow down the stairs. "The manifests, Simkins!" Then he shut the door again, turning back to Lawry. "We keep an eye on the comings and goings in the port, sir," he explained. "Mr. King likes to know about the neighbors."

Lawry winced as the man shouted down the stairs. "You should know that we are trying to keep this matter private," he added, hoping the man knew how to be discreet, despite just announcing to everyone within earshot that he needed to see the ships' manifests, though he had not been told why.

"No one here will think anything of that, love," Clare assured him. "We are a part of the family that runs the business, and Father always expects to see the manifests of his competitors whenever he arrives in an office."

Mr. Phillips nodded along with her. "She's right there, sir," he told Lawry. "Though you should know that Lord Stanley has been circulating a description of Captain Blackwood and a lady, and offering a sizeable sum of money for information on their whereabouts."

"Has he?" Lawry said, scowling in annoyance and curling the fingers of one hand into a fist at his side. He'd had just about enough of Lord Stanley lately to last him a lifetime. "Let us hope no one takes him up on his offer," he said further, offering no more information regarding the situation just yet.

"There'll always be one or two," Phillips warned him, moving to the door at the sound of a tentative knock. A harried looking clerk handed in a sheaf of paper, and rushed away before the door was closed again. "Mr. King made it very clear that he wanted Lord Stanley delayed at all costs, so I've had a few men feeding him false leads over the day. Just give me a moment, sir, and I'll fetch out the manifests you'll be wanting to see."

"Yes, of course," Lawry replied, adding, "Thank you." What else was there to say, after all? They were at the man's mercy. Looking for his sister was going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack without some leads. He was obviously nervous and seething a little about Edmund, his fingers tapping anxiously against his thigh. The sooner they found Oliver and Constance the better.
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Clare Grey
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2017 9:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Clare touched his arm gently, trying to soothe him. A few minutes was not going to make any difference at this moment. And it was only a few minutes.

"Ah, here we are, sir," Phillips said, handing over three sheets of paper. "Manifests for the Charlotte Rhodes, the Crystal Fall, and the Following Wave, all bound for America or Australia within the next three days."

America or Australia? Lawry frowned. They couldn't run much farther away than that, and if Lawry and Clare were smart enough to find the manifests, so was Edmund, even if his father-in-law had slowed the man down a little. Lawry took the manifests in hand, gaze skimming the list of passengers who were scheduled to travel aboard each of the ships. He had a feeling Ollie wouldn't be foolish enough to use his own name, but he hoped he'd find some clue among the names, and lo and behold, there it was - scheduled to board the Crystal Fall in two days time, bound for New York - Mr. and Mrs. O. Black. That had to be them. Lawry handed the manifests back to the man with a grateful smile. "Thank you, Mr. Phillips. That was very helpful."

"My pleasure, my lord," Phillips nodded to him, taking back the papers. "Can I help you with anything else, sir?"

Clare glanced curiously at Lawry - if he had found what he was looking for, then he wouldn't need her close at hand any longer. Perhaps she should book into a hotel and make a big noise; it might distract Edmund for a little while.

Though they might have the name of the ship Ollie had booked himself and Connie on, they still didn't know where they might be staying in the meantime. "Actually, there is something else. My wife and I are going to be staying in Bristol for a few days. Can you recommend a respectable hotel or inn that's not too far from the docks?"

"The Rose and Lion is an appropriate sort of place, sir," Phillips told him, the name coming easily. "They'll fall over themselves to see you to both."

Clare smiled. "Thank you, Mr. Phillips," she nodded to him. "Please don't worry about our business here. With luck, it will not impact upon you in the slightest."

And with any luck, Oliver had chosen that very same inn for those very same reasons. Lawry moved to his feet and offered a hand to his father-in-law's man. "Thank you, Mr. Phillips. You've been very helpful."

"As I say, sir, if you need anything else, I'll be happy to oblige," Phillips assured him. "My clerk will have held your cab for you." Though he couldn't pretend to know what was going on, the sudden presence of Captain Blackwood, Lord Stanley, and Lord Arden on the Bristol docks suggested something momentous was about to happen in his small slice of the world.

"If we need anything else, we'll be in touch," Lawry assured him, before turning to take Clare's arm and lead her toward the door. There was no necessity to pay the man as he was in the employ of Clare's father and as such, paid for his time and trouble.

Thankfully, Clare's sweeping performance on the way in meant that clerks jumped to open doors for them as they made their way out, and the cab was, indeed, waiting for them on the stoop. The Rose and Lion turned out to be a very nicely appointed little hotel, perfectly situated for first-class passengers to embark on their voyages without having to travel far to the docks at all. Within an hour, Clare and Lawry had been settled in a beautiful room.

"So how much of a performance should I make of myself while you're gone?" Lawry's redheaded wife asked him with wry amusement.

"I suppose that depends on whether you encounter Edmund or not," Lawry replied, once they were settled in their room and had taken a few minutes to freshen up. "I found a Mr. and Mrs. Black scheduled to depart in two days aboard the Crystal Fall," he told her, now that they were alone.

"Oh dear." Clare sat down on the window seat, closing her eyes for a moment. "That is very obvious, love," she warned. "If Edmund has discovered the ship, he will have discovered where they are by now. You should go to the dock and meet with the captain. He'll know where his passengers are staying in Bristol."

"Yes, I was thinking the same thing, but I suppose he didn't have much choice," Lawry replied with a worried frown. He supposed it wasn't that easy trying to travel incognito when you were expected to prove who you were, though Ollie could probably afford to pay for a few extra favors. "We just need to find them before Edmund does," he added, though what they were going to after that, he wasn't too sure. Talk them out of leaving? Somehow convince Edmund to let Connie go? "What do you suppose Edmund wants even more than Connie?"

Clare's expression darkened. She had her suspicions, but she didn't really want to share them. And yet he had asked her. She couldn't lie to Lawry. "Dearest ... it's fairly obvious that he wants Arden," she said quietly. "For what other reason would he keep Connie, and be so disapproving of your marriage? If I were a suspicious sort, I might even think he had a hand in your first wife's death."

Lawry's jaw dropped open and he blinked in obvious shock, not only at the suggestion that Edmund secretly desired Arden, but might have had a hand in Adelaide's death. "But ... Arden belongs to me. If he truly wants Arden, he'd have to ..." He trailed off, not really wanting to finish that thought. Edmund was a cad of the worst kind, but was he a killer?

"He'd have to kill you," Clare said soberly. "And me. Connie is your heir, until you have children, and since the law dictates that a woman cannot own property of her own, that makes Edmund your heir. I do not want to think it, but his actions toward your sister would suggest his goals are not seemly."

"You're suggesting he had a hand in Adelaide's death," Lawry said, his face turning a shade too pale. Whether she was right or wrong, it was too late to prove it now, unless the man admitted his guilt outright. Could Edmund really be that cunning, that deceitful? "It would also explain why he was so against our marriage," he pointed out. That made Edmund far more dangerous than Lawry had considered.

"A man in his position would ordinarily have divorced a wife who did not give him children long before ten years passed," she said quietly, staring down at her knees. "He must have some other reason to keep her. But if this is his plan, and he does manage to remove us, Connie will not long survive us, I think."

"All the more reason for us to find her," Lawry said, though if that was truly Edmund's plan, he wouldn't dare harm Connie until after he got rid of Lawry and Clare. He wondered briefly if they should get the authorities involved, but that would cause a scandal for sure, and that was exactly what they were trying to avoid. "The sooner I speak with the captain, the better. Are you going to be all right here while I'm gone?" he asked, torn between the desire to find his sister and the desire to keep his wife safe.

"I will be perfectly all right," she promised him, rising to her feet. "Should Edmund arrive and ask to speak with me, I will not allow myself to be alone with him, I swear to you." She reached out to touch his arm, worry clear in her blue eyes. "You will be careful, won't you?"

"As careful as I can be," he promised, sliding his arms around her waist to touch a kiss to her sweet lips. "I will make it up to you, love. I swear," he promised, lingering in her embrace, though he knew he couldn't linger long.

She nestled into his arms, answering his gentle kiss with her own. "Just come back to me whole and successful," she told him softly. "I do not need to be placated for the loss of one week when we have a lifetime to share." She kissed him softly once more, gently pulling away. "Now go. Your sister may not know it, but she needs you."

"I'll be back as soon as I can," he promised, pulling reluctantly away. So long as Edmund didn't know she was there, she should be safe, but Clare's suspicions worried him, not so much about his own safety as hers. "Don't let anyone in that you don't know and trust. If I'm not back in a few hours, tell Phillips to contact the proper authorities."

"I won't," she assured him obediently, unwilling to risk distracting him with worry when he needed to lay all his attention and care onto Connie and Oliver. "Be safe, love. I'll be waiting for you."

"I love you," he told her, just before he stepped out the door, a man on a much more urgent mission that either of them had originally believed. If Clare was right, then something had to be done about Edmund before he hurt anyone else. Even if she was wrong, he had to be stopped. If that meant putting his sister and closest friend on a boat for Australia, never to see them again, then so be it. They had all suffered enough for Edmund Stanley's pride.
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