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Dark Tide

 
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Constance Stanley
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 04, 2017 9:22 am    Post subject: Dark Tide Reply with quote

September 1887: Bristol

By the evening of their second day in Bristol, Connie was beginning to grow agitated. It had been fine as long as they kept moving, but this enforced idleness was tortuous. Every time she heard the sound of footsteps outside the room, she jumped, fearing it was Edmund come to take her back; every loud horse on the street outside was her husband discovering her whereabouts. She was not afraid for herself, but for Oliver - if Edmund did find them before they could escape by sea, she would be locked away in Stanhope Hall. Oliver, on the other hand ... if Edmund couldn't have him arrested, he would destroy his livelihood, give him no option but to leave the country and never return. She was sure her restless unease was not helping Oliver stay calm, either, but she could not relax.

Oliver wasn't the kind of man to sit on his laurels and wait for Edmund to find them. He hadn't snatched Connie away from her husband and brought her all the way to Bristol only to have the man find them and steal her away from him for good. No sooner had they received word from Lawry and Clare that Edmund was in Bristol looking for them than Oliver made arrangements to check out of the inn early and move them to the Crystal Fall to await the ship's departure on board. It was a bit unusual, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

It was a little less frightening to be on board, but the confinement of the cabin was already beginning to pall as night fell. It was no longer safe to be seen, knowing that Edmund could be anywhere. How had he managed to catch up to them so soon? Had he come back to Stanhope within a day of leaving, only to find her gone? For that matter, why were Lawry and Clare here? They were supposed to be in the Lakes, far away from any of this as it transpired.

Connie rose from her seat, pacing across the small space of the cabin in frustration. "I need some air, Ollie," she confessed, making herself breathless with her anxiety. "Is it safe to go up yet?"

Ollie frowned. As much as he understood Connie's fears and restlessness, if they were going to escape Edmund once and for all, they were going to have to go through with this. It was the only way. Once they were safely across the ocean, they'd be free - he was sure of it - and he was starting to wonder if Connie was having second thoughts. "As soon as it's dark," he promised her, not wanting anyone to recognize them, especially not Edmund.

Laying one hand against her stomach, she leaned against the bulkhead, closing her eyes as she fought not to give in to the panic that was threatening to rise. She did not like confined spaces at the best of times. This was not the best of times. "Oh, why couldn't they have cast off today?" she bemoaned unhappily. "I shan't be able to sleep tonight, I swear. I can't go back to him. I can't, I'll die!"

Oliver's frown deepened, wondering again if he'd done the right thing, made the right decision. Perhaps they should have just traveled as far away from Arden and Edmund as they could by train before deciding on a final destination. He knelt down in front of her and took her hands in his, meeting her gaze with a calm, steady gaze of his own. "Listen to me, Connie," he urged, giving her hands a light squeeze. "The ship is leaving tomorrow. We only have a few hours left. If you want to change plans, we have to do it now, but I swear to you, no matter what happens, I am not letting Edmund take you away from me again."

She gasped for breath, forcing herself to meet his eyes, clinging to his hands as she shook her head wildly. "I'm not going back to him," she swore vehemently. "I'm not. I'll kill myself first. Oh, why couldn't he just go to York for his business as he has so many times before? I've put you in so much danger, and I never meant to. Oh, Ollie, I'm so sorry ..."

Now he looked alarmed. He had an inkling of how bad things were with Edmund, but he'd never expected to hear her talk like that - that she'd prefer death over staying with Edmund. His heart sank, but he felt even more determined than ever to save her. "Connie, please, don't say that. I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you. We'll be gone in the morning, and he won't ever be able to hurt you again." He said nothing about any danger to himself; he'd have gladly walked through fire to keep her safe.

She was letting her fear run away with her, stoked by her acute discomfort at being confined within the cabin for most of the day. If she wasn't careful, she was going to faint, or go into hysterics - both were bad. With Ollie to focus on, however, she could drag herself back from the brink, forcing herself to breathe deeply as she looked into his eyes. "I'm sorry," she apologized for her outburst. "I'm sorry."

"No, this is my fault," he told her, frowning worriedly. "I should have planned better, asked you first, but I thought with Edmund in York, there was no better time for us to make our escape. I'm so sorry, love. I only want to make you happy. That's all I've ever wanted," he explained, eyes gleaming suspiciously.

"You do make me happy," she breathed, long fingers releasing his hand to smooth over his brow. "I am never happier than when I am with you. I'm frightened, Ollie, so very frightened of what he will do if he finds us. If I could, I would cast us off right now. Better to risk a stormy sea than let him catch up."

"We can leave tonight, if you like. Take a train south. Book passage on a ship to France and get lost in Europe. I don't care where we go, dear heart, so long as we're together," he told her, catching her hand and touching it to his lips. He might not be able to get a full refund on the trip to New York, but money wasn't important right now.

"We'd never reach the south, love," she said, shaking her head. "No, this is the best course. I am sorry, I ... I have never liked to be confined, and I feel hunted. I've put you in terrible danger. If anything were to happen to you, I do not know what I would do. I could not bear a world without you in it."

He couldn't promise that nothing would ever happen to him. He knew only too well that life was short, but he wouldn't go down without a fight. He frowned again, feeling guilty. "I'm sorry, love. I should have asked you first, but there was no time. I should have known!" he added, angry with himself for either not knowing or not remembering that about her.

"You did ask," she reminded him, calmer now she had something else to focus on other than her thoughts. "We had so little time to plan anything, but there was no other option. We are set on this course now, and we will hold to it, together."

"Together," he echoed, touching a hand to her cheek, a faint but fond smile on his face. "I love you, Connie, and nothing and no one is ever going to keep us apart," he promised. Not even Edmund Stanley.
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Constance Stanley
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 04, 2017 9:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Her own faint smile echoed his. "I love you," she whispered in answer. "I am sorry for my agitation. All I need is a little fresh air, and I will fine, I assure you. We will not need to be on deck for long."

It was against his better judgment, but he couldn't keep her a prisoner below deck. As long as it was dark, there was little chance of anyone spotting them from the docks, and they wouldn't be on deck very long. "Very well," he reluctantly agreed. "Just for a little while." By this time tomorrow, if weather permitted, they'd be out to sea, and she could get all the fresh air she wanted.

A little while was all she needed, time enough to breathe in fresher air and calm her nerves before they returned to cabin. Waiting for darkness seemed to take an age, but it was not so very long before Oliver deemed it safe enough for them to step out onto the deck. They deliberately kept to the seaward rail, away from the dock so close at hand, and Connie leaned against it heavily, taking in great lungfuls of the salt-touched air. Both missed the eagle-sharp eyes of a hired hand on the quayside, and the hasty messenger sent by the owner of those eyes toward the inns that lined the quay.

"It will not be an easy voyage," he told her, though they'd been over all this already. Even if they didn't encounter bad weather, the sea could get rough and choppy, the air cold and damp. Their quarters, though comfortable enough, were small and cramped, and there wasn't much in the way of entertainment on board. Concerned for her well-being aboard the ship, Ollie failed to notice that eyes were watching them from the pier.

"It is worth all the discomfort in the world to be with you," she murmured, curling her hand into his as she smiled wearily. It was just as well the captain and the watchman were under the impression they were a married couple; they'd see no impropriety in the way Connie laid her head on Ollie's shoulder with a soft sigh.

He hoped that was true, but who was he to argue. Propriety be damned, he touched a brief kiss to her cheek, as chaste as one might kiss a friend, or as tender as a lover. If only they were already somewhere far away from Edmund's reach, it would have been a perfect moment.

The sound of a carriage traveling over cobblestones on the quay roused Connie from her smiling contemplation of his face in the moonlight, glancing idly over her shoulder. Her face abruptly paled as she caught sight of just who was alighting from that carriage. "Ollie," she whispered urgently, not daring to move.

"Hmm?" he asked, belatedly noting the urgency in her voice, as he lazily turned his head to see what - or who - had caught her attention. "Blast," he muttered, when he saw who was alighting from the carriage. "Go to the cabin, lock the door, and don't come out until I come for you," he instructed, tugging her away from railing.

She moved with his tugging motion easily, only too happy to obey, but Edmund Stanley was already striding up the gangplank, his long-legged gait smooth and swift enough to intercept them both before they reached the hatch.

At the bow, the watchman belatedly realized someone unknown was aboard, blowing his whistle to call for help. "'Ere, you can't come on board!"

Edmund's hand closed over Connie's wrist with white knuckles as he glared at her. "Constance," he greeted her coldly. "Blackwood, be assured you will be hearing from my solicitor."

"Let her go, Edmund," Oliver said, grabbing the man by the shoulder to turn him back around. "You care nothing for her. You never have." He knew that, by itself, wouldn't be enough to convince the man to let her go, but it might at least attract the attention of onlookers, who Edmund would want to avoid at all costs.

"She is mine, Blackwood." Edmund raised his cane, rapping smartly at the hand Oliver had laid on his shoulder even as he pulled harshly on Connie's arm in his grasp. She cried out in pain at the rough way he handled her, hearing the stumble and slip of the watchman scrambling toward them.

"I'm warning you, Edmund. If you don't let her go, you will see me in court, and I can assure you that I will not hold back. Everyone will know the truth. If you want to avoid scandal, then let her go. Give her a divorce, and we will never blacken your door again. That I promise you," Oliver reasoned, hoping to appeal to Edmund's good sense, if the man had any. If either of them took the other to court, the entire sordid tale would be splattered all over the papers, damaging Edmund's reputation, possibly for good. As for Oliver, he didn't care much what people said about him. He and Connie would simply leave the country and start over somewhere else.

Edmund laughed scornfully at the offer. "Do you honestly believe I would ever act for her benefit?" he sneered at Oliver, thrusting his cane toward his rival viciously.

Behind Ollie, the watchman scowled. "'Ere now, sir, there's no call for violence," he declared. "Let the lady go and be on your way."

Edmund snorted derisively. "Don't speak to your betters, man," he snapped at the watchman, turning on his heel to pull Connie toward the gangplank, his grip on her tight enough to bruise.

"No, of course not! We both know the circumstances of your marriage. The question is whether you'd like that information to become public knowledge," Ollie replied, the threat obvious in his voice as he stepped around Edmund to cut off his retreat. "This ends here and now, Edmund. Your control over her is over." From the look on his face and the tone of his voice, he wasn't going to budge. Edmund was going to either have to let Connie go or force his way past Oliver.

But Edmund was not a man used to others he believed to be inferior standing in his way. He marched forward, dragging Connie behind, intent upon forcing a path through Oliver if he would not step aside. He should rather have been watching where he put his feet. A ship's deck is never clear of obstacles. His foot caught on a neat coil of rope, sending him lurching toward the gangplank, out of control of his own momentum. With Connie's arm in one hand and his cane in the other, he had no hands left to right himself, letting out a yell as he pitched off the gangplank, striking the dock's edge before he hit the water.

"Edmund!"

As much as Oliver hated the man, his instinct as a both a gentleman, a human being, and a seaman was to save the man's life, if he could. There was no time to explain or to shout for help. Instead, Ollie hurriedly shrugged off his coat and with no thought to his own safety, dove into the water after his sworn enemy.

Connie screamed, and finally that brought others running from the docks and ships moored on either side, the captain from his cabin. Men pushed against the Fall to keep her from crushing the men in the water, others jumped into danger to help with the rescue. The watchman was aghast, sending two of those watchers off - one for a constable, and one for a doctor. But the doctor would have little to do. Edmund was still, his neck broken by the crash against the dock, dead before he ever hit the water.
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Constance Stanley
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 04, 2017 9:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

After a few minutes, Oliver climbed onto the dock, helping the others to drag Edmund up after them. He was clearly dead, and while Oliver wouldn't mourn his loss, he wished it hadn't come to this. While the doctor might have nothing to do, Ollie knew the constable would have plenty of questions.

White as a sheet, Connie inched carefully down the gangplank, her expression utterly horrified by what had happened. Though she had said she would rather die than go back to Edmund, she had never truly wished him dead. And to die in such a way ... Shocked beyond words, she burst into tears, pressing into Ollie's arms despite the sea water soaking his clothes.

For more than an hour, the dock was a hive of activity, with policemen and coroner being summoned to question witnesses and remove the body to the morgue. And though there was no way to avoid some of those questions, Connie and Oliver found that their staunchest ally was the watchman. He gave his statement to the inspector in confident tones.

"That fella there, God rest him, he was pulling at the lady so hard it hurt her, pushin' past the other gentleman hard himself. Got his foot caught in that coil there, not looking where he was goin', and it cost him. Nearly took the lady into the water with him, he did - hit the dock on the way down. The gentleman, he jumped in after, but it was too late, I reckon. Even if it hadn't been, I wouldn't have been happy to see that one back on board. No one should treat a lady like that."

Oliver couldn't have said it better himself and was relieved that no one was blaming either him or Connie for Edmund's foolishness, for it was precisely that which had gotten him killed. By the time they were done being questioned, Lawry had arrived to collect them and take them with him to the Rose and Lion to spend the night. Oliver excused himself so that he could change out of his wet clothes, as he was starting to shiver, leaving brother and sister to talk alone, while they awaited his return.

Lawry wasted no time in pulling his sister into an embrace in an attempt to offer her some comfort. He wanted to ask what she and Ollie had been thinking, but seeing how shaken and upset she was, decided against it. "It's all right," he assured her, not wanting to think bad of the so-recently dead, but knowing the world was a better place without Edmund Stanley in it. "It's going to be all right."

They would not now be leaving on the morning tide, and no doubt the captain of the Crystal Fall was glad to see the back of them, feeling foolish for not having realized what was going on under his nose. But he was a sensible man, and sensitive to the reasons not stated, keeping his opinions to himself and paying off his watchman with some of the fare Oliver had already paid him for the journey they would not be making.

Connie shuddered in her brother's arms. "It could so easily have been Ollie," she whispered to him. "Or me. He had such a tight hold on me as he went over ..."

"But it wasn't. It was Edmund, and I'm sorry to say, he had it coming," Lawry said, not really wanting to speak ill of the dead, but it was true. He was only saying what everyone else was thinking, but were too polite to say. "We have much to discuss, but first, you need some rest," he told her, touching a kiss to her brow. "Let's get you in the carriage. We can wait for Ollie there," he told her, wanting to get her away from the view of onlookers.

Nodding, Connie tucked her cloak more warmly about herself, hiding the torn sleeve of her dress from curious eyes as Lawry directed her to the carriage.

The inspector tipped his hat to her as she passed, and to Lawry, turning back to Oliver as he emerged from the cabins. "One last question, sir," he said apologetically. "In the pursuit of the complete story. May I ask why it is that you and Lady Stanley were on board without Lord Stanley?"

Oliver was looking a little rough around the edges, not quite as shaken as Connie, but clearly upset at the way their plans had gone completely awry. While he didn't feel guilty for Edmund's death and certainly wouldn't miss the man, he was starting to wonder if he'd acted wisely in trying to take Connie away. "Lady Stanley and I have known each other since childhood. We are close friends. Anyone who knows her can attest to that."

"Indeed, sir." The inspector nodded. "Didn't mean to give offense. I had to ask." He nodded to Oliver. "And where will you be staying, sir? I may need to speak with you and the lady again over the next few days, until the matter is closed."

"We will be staying at the Rose and Lion, for now," Oliver replied, though he couldn't say for sure how long they'd be staying there. In separate rooms, too, presumably, now that the ruse was over. His heart sank a little at that. Even though Edmund was no longer an impediment between him and Connie, he would have to allow her a respectable period of time to grieve before she could remarry.

"Aye, sir. Thank you." The inspector stepped away, allowing Oliver to make his escape into the carriage as the policemen heaved the body onto the mortuary cart. Edmund would not have the dignity of his station until the investigation into his death was closed. It was rather fitting, on the whole.

Free to go, Oliver handed the driver what little luggage they had before joining Lawry and Connie in the carriage. He looked as pale and shaken as Connie as he claimed a seat across from her, with Lawry by her side. "Well, go ahead," he challenged Lawry, though it wasn't Lawry he was angry at. "Tell me how foolish I've been. How I put Constance in a dangerous position."

"Constance put herself in a dangerous position, and I'll thank both of you not to talk about me as though I am not here," Connie interjected. Shaken she might be, but she wasn't deaf or an object. She was, however, hoping that Clare might have something medicinal for her use, or sleep tonight would be a vain hope.

Lawry frowned, not really wanting to scold them. They weren't children anymore, sneaking off in the woods alone to share their secrets. He had a feeling they were going to be a lot harder on themselves than he ever could be, and they were both dearer to him than life itself. "I don't think I need to remind you how much you both mean to me and to Clare and how much we'd miss you if you left. That said, though we might not approve, we understand why you did what you did. It's been a long day for both of you, and you need some rest. We can discuss the future in the morning."

There was silence for a long moment, the only sound the rattle of the wheels over the cobbles. Then Connie raised her head, meeting Oliver's eyes with a clear gaze. "In spite of Edmund's accident, I regret nothing," she said, as much for his benefit as for Lawry's. "Better to live a short while with love, than die an old woman and hated."
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 04, 2017 9:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"We have the rest of our lives, love," Oliver reminded her, his voice low, so that the driver wouldn't overhear, if he even could over the sound of the clip clop of the horses and the rattle of the wheels. He didn't bother to pretend in front of Lawry, who knew him better than anyone.

"Yes," Lawry agreed, knowing what it was like to want to share your life with someone you loved. "But first a period of mourning, or there will be scandal," he told them both, almost waiting for an argument.

"To hell with the scandal," Connie said abruptly. "Edmund was a tyrant. I will not allow supposed respect for his hated memory to keep my happiness a second thought a moment longer than is absolutely necessary. And yes, Lawry, I know society will likely scorn me for it, but that doesn't matter. They have you, and they have Clare, and I will happily live in a ditch if it means I can call myself Mrs. Oliver Blackwood."

Despite everything, Oliver couldn't help but smile a little at Connie's insistence that she'd be Mrs. Blackwood before long. He reached across the short distance between them to take her hands in his. "I have waited all my life for you, dearest. I am willing to wait a little while longer to have you for my own."

Lawry, too, smiled. "There. You see? I'm not asking you to wait years, just until after the funeral and the police investigation."

Despite her shock and her weariness, Connie smiled as Oliver took her hands, squeezing gently to acknowledge his answer to her declaration. "As soon as those awful lawyers are finished telling me that Edmund left me nothing, after the funeral, we will be wed," she promised him. "I care not a fig for the scandal." Drawing back, she sighed, resting her shoulder against Lawry's. "I should like to sleep, though."

Oliver reluctantly let go of her hands as she settled her head against her brother's shoulder. He exchanged a worried frown with Lawry, but refrained from saying another word about a possible future. He felt guilty enough as it was, not only for Edmund's death but for dragging Connie into all this, despite his good intentions. He didn't care much about what people might whisper about him behind his back, but Connie was another matter.

Clare was waiting for them in the foyer when they arrived at the hotel, taking Connie into her custody to calm and settle her sister-in-law in the bedroom they had engaged for her. One soft comment to Lawry had the men retiring to the private parlor attached to Lawry's own suite of rooms, with something to steady the nerves, whether they chose to speak together or not.

Half an hour later, Clare joined them. "She's sleeping," she told her husband and his friend, moving to gently embrace Oliver. "I understand why you did what you did, but don't ever frighten me like that again."

"I could not stand the thought of her being with that man another minute," Oliver explained in his defense, looking almost as weary and upset as Connie, but doing a better job at hiding it. "I did not mean for him to die," he added, though he knew they'd hardly miss the man.

"We know that," Clare assured him softly. "And though it is a tragedy, I cannot say that I am sorry he is gone. He was not the sort of person to put me at my ease." She exchanged a meaningful glance with Lawry, moving to sit down. "I take it we will be in Bristol for a few days, while the investigation is underway?"

"That seems to be the case," Lawry replied. None of them had been fond of Edmund Stanley, but what concerned Lawry most was his sister's well-being. "There's no question that Edmund's death was an accident, but I'm concerned about a possible scandal," he said.

"I don't give a bloody damn about a scandal!" Ollie exclaimed, pounding a hand against the nearest flat surface for emphasis. Except where Connie was concerned, anyway.

"You should care, Oliver," Clare said quietly. "If it becomes widely known what you were attempting to do, your character will be blackened. My father may not be able to keep you in his employ if such a thing happens, and no other would risk taking you on. Connie will be shunned and snubbed by the society she was born into. If too much scandal attaches to your names, you will not have an easy life together."

"Then we will go where no one knows us and no one cares about such things," Ollie insisted, though he knew Clare was right. It was for the very reasons she'd suggested that he felt so guilty. He sighed as he leaned back in the chair and rubbed a hand across his face. "This is all my fault."

"Hardly." Clare shook her head, wondering why Lawry was so quiet on this subject. "Connie is a grown woman, and she chose to go with you. Edmund was an arrogant idiot, and he chose to follow. The fault ultimately lies with her father, and though I am loath to speak ill of the dead, he was an idiot, too."

"There's plenty of blame to go around," Lawry broke in, taking a share of that blame for himself. "What we need to do now is ensure that neither of you suffers for what's taken place. If the public were to know what Connie suffered as a result of her marriage, perhaps they would be more sympathetic," he reasoned.

Clare bit her lip thoughtfully. "We would have to ask Connie, of course," she said, but the mind behind her eyes was already working, prompted by her husband's suggestion. "But we could insist upon a public inquest, in which she could relay under oath the circumstances of her marriage. Edmund's death was obviously an accident, but to have it all out in the open, reported in the newspapers ... it would certainly bring public opinion to your side. I doubt many of the members of Parliament would be able to escape their wives' opinions on the subject, either."

"It might bring my father's reputation into question, but it could also change the way women are treated in the future," Lawry added, obviously more concerned with his sister and Oliver's reputations than his late father, for whom he'd held little regard.

As for Oliver, he looked a little surprised to hear them suggesting they make the whole story public, when he'd expected the exact opposite. "We would have to ask Connie first," he pointed out.

"Of course we would." Clare rose, nodding firmly. "And she may not agree, in which case we will defer to her wishes. But this is a tale that is not uncommon. If one woman speaks out, others may find the courage to do the same, and all Parliament needs is the opinion of the people to intimidate it into changing the law."

"Women should not be treated as chattel," Lawry added, in complete agreement with his wife. It was rare that a man agreed on such matters, but Lawry had always been a forward-thinking man, and he'd witnessed first hand what his father and Edmund had put Connie through.

"You would do this for us?" Ollie asked, looking between them both, though he wasn't sure why he was so surprised when he knew how they both felt.
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 04, 2017 9:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Clare raised a brow above a surprisingly mischievous smile. "If it would help you both at all, I will convince my Great-Aunt Octavia to mention it in the presence of the queen herself," she offered impishly. "The government really wouldn't be able to put up a fight if Her Majesty were to become interested."

For the first time since Edmund had accosted them, Oliver was feeling hopeful, his face brightening, though he still looked exhausted. He was not the villain of the story, and to know the Queen herself might come to their aid was more than he had ever hoped for. They might not have to flee England, after all. "You would really do that?" he asked, incredulously.

"Of course, Oliver, and it isn't solely for you and Connie, though you are our deepest concern," Clare told him as gently as she could. "The world looks to Britain to lead the way, and our society is in many ways still dreadfully mired in the Dark Ages. It may not be emancipation for women, but it will be a step forward."

"If you can help us find a way out of this, I would be forever in your debt," Oliver told them both, though they already were indebted to Lawry and Clare for helping them, as it was.

"Nonsense," Lawry replied. "We're family," he pointed out, not only because Connie was his sister, but because Oliver was the brother he'd never had.

"I'll talk to Connie about it tomorrow," Clare promised. "I don't think either of you should be involved in that conversation. If she comes to the decision on her own, all the better for it, and I don't want anyone taking that decision away from her."

"Very well," Oliver replied in agreement.

Lawry slapped his hands against his thighs and rose to his feet. "But enough talk for one night. You look like the devil. Nothing more can be done tonight. Time we all got some well-deserved rest," he declared.

"Of course." Smiling, Clare picked up a key from the cabinet by the wall, offering it to Oliver. "Your room is just down the hall from here," she told him. "As is Connie's. Try not to get caught if you go sneaking in to see her."

Oliver snorted as Clare's suggestion. She really did know him far too well. "I think perhaps I should not tempt Fate twice in one night," he said, too exhausted to do anything but sleep anyway and not wanting the servants to catch them together come morning.

She chuckled, patting his hand. "Go to bed, Oliver," she told him warmly. "I need to put my own husband to bed, after all." Notice, there was no mention of sleep involved in her comments. Lawry might be yawning in the morning.

For the first time that night, Oliver smiled a real smile. "I cannot thank you both enough," he said, repeating something he'd said earlier.

"Go get some sleep. We'll talk more in the morning," Lawry said, shooing his friend off to bed.

With Oliver heading off to his own bed, Clare and Lawry were left alone. The redhead wrapped her arms about her own waist, meeting her husband's eyes in concern. "What really happened to Edmund?" she asked softly. "Connie couldn't bring herself to say more than that he died, and it was no one's fault but his own."

"I wasn't there to see it, but apparently he was trying to drag Connie off the ship when he got his foot caught on a coil of rope and fell to his death," Lawry explained what had happened, as he understood it. "Oliver jumped in after him, but it was too late."

"Good lord," she murmured faintly, allowing herself to be shocked now there was no one but him to see it. "At least there was no violence done to him. It was an accident, nothing more. That, in itself, is a blessing."

"There might have been violence, if not for the accident. I doubt Ollie would have let Edmund take Connie away," Lawry said, with a frown. Thankfully, things had not ended in violence, but they might have. He moved over to draw her into his arms and brush a kiss against her cheek. "But they are safe now, and Edmund is dead, God rest his soul."

Unwinding her arms from her own waist to wrap about his, she leaned into his embrace, sighing heavily. "I fear Connie will blame herself for his death," she warned in a low voice. "Though she had no love for him, she was his wife. She will feel responsible for putting him in the position where he lost his life, and guilty that Oliver may feel himself responsible for it."

"Then we will have to make sure she understands that it was not her fault or Oliver's. Edmund made his choices, and she is better off without him," Lawry said, without regret or doubt. He'd seen firsthand how Edmund had treated his sister, and if the man had given her the divorce she'd wanted, he might still be alive.

"We will," she promised him fiercely. "And you will give her a generous dowry when she marries Oliver, no matter where they choose to make their life together. I cannot see you behaving any other way."

"So long as it's not too far away," Lawry said, not above a little bribery himself if it kept his sister and oldest friend near. He knew they'd been planning on running away together, but he did not know they'd been planning on going all the way to New York. "So long as there's no scandal, I see no reason why they should leave."

Clare couldn't help smiling at that. "We will do all we can to shield them from the worst of it," she promised once again. "Now ... come to bed, love. The day has been long, and tomorrow will likely be fraught with discomfort."

"Yes, dear," Lawry replied obediently, only too happy to follow his wife to bed. It was still a man's world, and yet, Lawry seemed perfectly content to let his wife be an equal partner in their marriage and even to sometimes be in charge.

Though they had been married only a week, they seemed already to have settled into a gentle rhythm that suited them both quite well. Once the tragedy was over, once Edmund was buried and away from them for good, there would be more to celebrate, Clare was certain. Connie would not long be a widow, and that, in itself, was worth smiling about.
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