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 The Devil's Due Part 4

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PostSubject: The Devil's Due Part 4   Mon Nov 17, 2014 7:57 pm

The back door to the rented mansion flew open with a bang, shattering a single pane of glass.  Clementine barreled through the opening, threw her reticule onto the kitchen table, and stamped her foot angrily.  She’d had to hold onto her temper as William drove her home, but now he was gone and she erupted in a venomous hiss directed at her two companions. “How dare you?  You let me walk into that blind!” 


“What are you so upset about?  You got what you wanted,” said Heyes, tossing the fat envelope William had given him onto the table.  Jed stood by the door warily; he was ready to duck out if necessary.


Clem clenched her fists and made no move to pick up the envelope. “You did it on purpose!”


With a grim smile, Heyes said, “Maybe I did.  How do you like being forced to do something you don’t want to do?”


Curry shook his head and walked over to the kitchen counter, picked an apple from a small bowl of fruit, and took a bite from it.  He’d keep his mouth full while his partner dealt with this, no way was he going to risk saying the wrong thing.  Clem was mad at Heyes, ignoring him, and that suited him just fine.


“OOOOh!  Hmpf!  Aaagh,” she strangled out, her face turning puce right before all the fight went out of her.  She deflated like a child’s balloon and sank into one of the kitchen chairs, lifting tear-filled eyes to Heyes.  “I deserved that, didn’t I?”


“Yes.”


“William makes my skin crawl.  He…he…was suggestive,” whispered Clementine.


Heyes bristled.  He was angry with her, but he was still protective.  “What did he say?”


“That soon nothing would come between us,” she shivered, remembering how William had held her entrapped in his arms, “but it was the way he said it.  It was vulgar.”


She looked so young, so innocent, that Heyes felt his heart starting to melt, but then he remembered how ruthlessly she’d forced them to go along with her scheme.  “William wanted what he paid for; why are you surprised?”


“Heyes!” growled Jed from the other side of the room, “That’s enough.  She’s just a kid.” 


“I am not a child! Don’t you see?  The whole reason I wanted to pull this con was to prove to you that I’m as good as Jen.  Why do you all treat me like a baby?  I’m almost grown up,” cried Clem, tears overflowing her eyes.


Heyes pulled out a handkerchief and held it out to her.  “You’d be a lot more convincing without your nose running and your eyes leaking.  Why are you so hell bent on growing up so fast?”


Her cheeks reddened and her head drooped.   “I…I wanted you and Jed to look at me the way you look at Jen.  Now you hate me.”  She burst into to tears again.


Heyes had no idea what to say to that, he feared it was true, but Jed came over and knelt down next to her, taking one of her hands.  “Clem, Jen’s all growed up.  We know who she is, but you, you’re a mystery.  You don’t even know who you are yet, that’s one reason you’re not thinkin’ things through.  We ain’t mad at you; we know you didn’t mean to hurt us.  Heyes and me, we love you, just like we love Jen, but you’re different women so we’re gonna show it differently.  Ain’t that right, Heyes?”


“Oh yeah, real different,” muttered Heyes.


Jed glared up at his partner and continued.  “You’re gonna be one hell of a woman someday, Clem.  You’re smart and you’re funny and you’re real, real pretty, but you ain’t a woman yet.  You need to enjoy bein’ a girl first.”


“Why?” Clem sniffed.  “Why don’t you want me?”


“Because it wouldn’t be right; we’d be takin’ advantage.”  Jed squeezed her hand.  “”Sides, Jen is twenty.  Hell, she’s almost an old maid.”


Clementine giggled and wiped her tears with Heyes’ handkerchief.  “She is, isn’t she?”


“Now don’t you go tellin’ her I said that, she’d cut my heart out!”  Jed stood up and pulled her to her feet.  


Clem turned to Heyes and rested a hand on his crossed arms.  “Heyes, I’m sorry I’ve made such a mess of things,” she said sincerely, “You and Jed are right.  I’ve been such a jealous idiot.  I’ve always looked up to Jen and wanted to be like her.  I still do, but I guess I can wait a while longer.”  She reached out and took Jed’s hand, still holding onto Heyes’ arm.  “I’m so sorry I’ve ruined things here for you.  I didn’t mean to hurt you.  I love you both so much.  I was only thinking of myself and I’m so very sorry.”


Jed pulled her into a hug and kissed her forehead.  “Darlin’, don’t you worry.  We’ll get along all right.”


He let her go and she turned to Heyes, hopefully.  He was still frowning, but he knew he had to forgive her.  She really was just a kid and he could still remember the stupid, dangerous things he’d been doing at her age; things far worse than this.  He sighed.  She’d made a mistake and now it was going to cost her more than she ever realized.  “Forget it.  It’s time to clear out of here,” he said gruffly.


“I don’t have to go to the ball?” asked Clem hopefully.  She never wanted to see William again.


“You don’t have to and you can’t,” confirmed Heyes.  “The last thing we want is you standing up before hundreds of people and being introduced as William’s fiancée; the fewer people who can identify us, the better.   William’s gonna know he’s been conned eventually, but we’ll long gone by then.”  


“Does that mean you’re taking me with you?” asked Clem, afraid of the answer and heartbroken at the thought of having to say goodbye to her sister and father tonight.


“Don’t you know by now?  Me and Heyes never leave a friend behind.”  Jed stared over her head at Heyes, daring him to contradict.


OOOOOOOOOO


That evening, as the sun began to set over the Rockies, a handsome team of grays trotted up the circular drive and halted the carriage at the front steps.  William set the brake, straightened his tie one last time, and scooped up the corsage he’d picked up on his way here.  The virginal white roses would be perfect for his Isabella.  


Stepping down from the carriage, he whistled a happy tune.  Finally, he’d achieved everything he deserved.  He couldn’t wait to rub his parents’ noses in his good fortune.  They’d treated him like a fool and a failure, but now he was about to marry a rich, beautiful, and titled woman who was a virgin to boot.  He’d never had the pleasure of de-flowering a woman before.  Good girls, the kind of girls you married, were terribly frigid in their thinking and who ever heard of a virginal whore?  But Isabella was different.  She was very young, but passionate by nature.  He couldn’t wait to bed her and take her innocence.  Too bad itwas a pleasure he could only experience once; at least only once with Isabella.


Chuckling, he took the steps two at a time and tugged the clapper on the brass bell next to the heavy oaken door.  He waited impatiently and, when no one answered, he rapped his fist on the door which gave slightly. He pushed it the rest of the way open, calling out for Isabella and Juan.  It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dark gloom of the hall.  No lights were on and the last rays of the sun shone weakly from the kitchen windows at the rear of the house.  Everything looked the same except the hall tree was empty of the hats that normally hung there.  The Persian runner beckoned him to enter and he stepped inside, closing the door behind him.  


“Isabella!  I’m here to take you to the ball,” he called out.  The sound echoed through the house without answer.  He opened the door to the parlor, but there was no one inside.  Continuing down the long hallway, he peeked into each room before heading for the end of the hall and the kitchen.  He saw a note on the table held in place by a coffee mug and his temper started to rise.Williamwondered if this was a sign of things to come.  Isabella knew exactly what time he was coming to get her, and she was openly defying him by keeping him waiting.  He wouldn’t tolerate that behavior once they were married.  He was hard-pressed to tolerate it now.  Snatching up the paper, he read it with growing disbelief:


Dear William, 


I am so very sorry to disappoint you, but I find that I cannot marry you.  I know I accepted your wonderful proposal only this afternoon, and I should never have done so when I knew in my heart that I will never truly love you as you deserve to be loved.  I wanted so much to love you, but I realized, as soon as I had agreed to marry you, that I would be doing you a terrible disservice by becoming your wife.  Please forgive my cowardice; I simply could not tell you this in person.  


I have gone to Europe with Juan to rescue Catherine.  We are truly grateful for your assistance in this matter, and I swear on my good name, and my brother’s, Juan Ignacio Arturo Espinosa, Prince of Asturias, Duke of Caudal, that we will repay you handsomely for your kindnesses.  Consider this note our binding contract to do so.


I will always remember you with great affection.


Sincerely,


Isabella



The words swam around William’s mind until they coalesced into a cold, hard fury and the paper crumpled tightly in his fist.


OOOOOOOOOO


Heyes and Jed walked up the long drive to Soapy’s mansion, laughing and chattering about their future plans.  They would hop the late train to Cheyenne where they would purchase horses and go wherever the wind took them.  It was going to be hard to leave Denver, but now that the time had come they were looking forward to beginning the next part of their lives.  Clementine didn’t share their enthusiasm, she was fretting over parting from her family and how she was going to explain what she had done.  She was the first to notice the horses in the small corral adjacent to the carriage house.


“Soapy’s back.  His team is turned out.”  Her face paled and her heart constricted.  “What are we going to tell him?”


“We’re going to tell him the truth.  We pulled a con while he was gone and it went well, but now it’s time for us to disappear,” said Heyes.  “That’s all.  If he doesn’t know anything, no one can connect him or your sister and father to our job.”


“That’s right.  The less said, the better,” agreed Jed.  “They’ll understand.  We don’t know anything about their job either.   It’s safer for everyone that way.”


“I guess so,” said Clem sadly.


Heyes resumed walking, but he altered his course, crossing the lawn and making for the back door.  He had no desire to rush the inevitable.  Better that they packed their things and revealed their plans right before it was time to go.Jed took Clem’s hand to reassure her, and pulledher along reluctantly.


The backdoor creaked open with an ominous sound betraying their entrance.


“Heyes?  Is that you?” called Soapy from his library.


“Yes, we’re all here.  We’ll be right in,” returned Heyes.  He lowered his voice and spoke again.  “Let me do the talking.  Okay?”  Clem and Jed both nodded agreement and they all steeled themselves for what was to come.


Soapy was seated in his favorite chair by the fire, a brandy snifter resting casually in his left hand, and a book opened on his lap.  He looked up with a smile as his young protégés entered his sanctuary.


“Good, I’m delighted you’re home early.  Our little trip went very well and we’re hoping to complete our business tonight,” said Soapy, “therefore, we will be leaving town shortly.  Clementine, I am assuming that you will wish to take a brief sabbatical with your sister and father.  I believe there has been some discussion that you will visit your aunt in Philadelphia.  Boys, we will enjoy the delights of New York.”


“Actually, Clem’s leaving town with us tonight,” said Heyes abruptly.  His jaw set and his shoulders squared, he met Soapy’s consternation unapologetically.


“Tonight?  Whatever for?” asked Soapy, puzzled by the defiant demeanor of his cherishedstudent.Clem frowned and clutched Jed’s hand tightly; a gesture that did not go unnoticed by the elderly con man.  The brandy snifter was emptied and deposited on a side table, Soapy stood up, “What have you done?”  


“We pulled a con.  It went well, but we have to leave before the mark realizes he’s been shammed,” said Heyes flatly.  He wasn’t prepared to grovel, what was done was done.


Soapy’s complexion deepened and his kindly eyes darkened as a scowl formed.  “You did what?!”


“We pulled a con.  The Spanish Prisoner to be precise.  We wrapped it up this afternoon and we’re leaving on the late train to Cheyenne.”  Heyes knew this was it; Soapy was about to throw them out on their ear.  He only hoped they’d have a chance to collect their things.  They weren’t much.  Just enough to fill a saddlebag or two, but it was all they had in the world.


“How dare you!” Soapy’s voice rose angrily, “After all my hard work…”


Clem let go of Jed’s hand and reached for Soapy’s arm.  “I forced them to.  They had no choice.”


Stunned, Heyes’ and Jed’s jaws dropped open. 


“Soapy, it was all my fault.  I was so jealous of Jen; I wanted so badly for you to see me as capable as you see her.”


“My dear,” Soapy’s voice softened as he gazed into her tearful brown eyes.  


“It’s true.  I threatened them and they had to help me,” said Clem.


The elderly man turned to the two younger men in the room.  “How could you put yourselves in that position?Didn’t I teach you better than that?  What on earth did she threaten you with?”


“It don’t matter.  We helped her.”  Jed was too much of a gentleman to betray a lady, even a very young lady.


“Then you’ll have to accept the consequences.  When I took you in, I made it perfectly clear what my rules were and that you were to obey them.”  Soapy crossed to the fire and put a weary hand out to lean against the mantle.  He was so unhappy with them, that he could no longer look at them.  Instead, he stared into the fire as he spoke.  “I can’t tell you how much you’ve disappointed me.  I had such high hopes for all of you and you’ve failed me.  Get your things and get out.  All of you.”


“Soapy, please don’t do this to Heyes and Jed…” began Clem.


“Enough!” he said coldly, “They’ve done it to themselves.  We’re finished.”


Clem burst into tears and fled the room.   Jed felt so ashamed all he could do was nod his head and leave as well, but Heyes turned to Soapy.  The two of them had always had a special closeness and he couldn’t leave things like this between them.  He walked over to the old man and put a hand on Soapy’s shoulder.


“Don’t hold it against Clem; she’s just a kid.”


“I’m holding you responsible, Heyes.  You’re the oldest; you knew exactly what risks you were taking.Were you hiding something from me?  What could she have had on you that would force you to do such a stupid thing?” asked Soapy.  He was genuinely puzzled.  Heyes was his brightest student; a genius, really.   It must be something terrible.


Heyes saw his dear friend’s confusion and searched his heart.  He knew the answer, but instead he simply said, “I’d been gambling.  She knew it.”


“Gambling?  Is that all?  Why didn’t you just come to me and tell me?  I would have been angry, but it wouldn’t have come to this.”  Soapy’s eyes narrowed.  “No, it wasn’t the gambling; it was something more.  What?”


Heyes colored slightly and the old con man caught the tell.  “Don’t lie to me, Heyes.  You owe me the truth.”


“All right!” roared Heyes.  “I did it because I knew she was bound and determined to pull a con with or without us.  At least if we helped, we could make sure she was safe.”  He waved his arms in exasperation and started to pace back and forth, his anger at himself barely contained.  It wasn’t often he was contrite, but he was now.  “I know, I know.  It was stupid and if I had half a brain, I’d have figured out a way around her.  Don’t you think I racked my brains for an out?” he stopped and faced his mentor, lowering his expressive voice, heartache painting every word.  “Soapy, being with you is the best thing that ever happened to Jed and me since…we…well, since we ran away from Valparaiso.”


“Heyes…”


“I’m sorry we’ve hurt you.  It was the last thing we wanted to do, but I couldn’t risk Clem going out on her own.  She’s family.  It was the right thing to do.”


“Yes.  Yes, it was,” said Soapy.  He’d come to a decision.  “I understand why you did it, but you still need to go quickly.  We can’t risk the rest of our operations on the off-chance your mark traces you.  Take Clem and send word to Silky when the dust settles.  We’re leaving soon, too, and we’ll keep in touch through him.  I’ll let you know when it’s safe to return.”


“You’d take us back?” Heyes was astonished.


“Of course.  You may have broken several of my rules, but you did so in keeping the most important one.”


“Which one is that?”


Soapy smiled.  “One for all and all for one.”


OOOOOOOOOO


Last edited by Admin on Mon Nov 17, 2014 7:59 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: The Devil's Due Part 4   Mon Nov 17, 2014 7:58 pm

Jen heard the commotion and poked her head out of her bedroom as Clem ran sobbing up the stairs.  Alarmed, she hurried down the hall towards her little sister.  “Darling, what’s wrong?”


Seeing her, Clem changed course and flung herself into her Genevieve’s arms.  “I’ve ruined everything!”


“Calm down.  Whatever it is, we will face it together.”  Jen gently guided Clem back to her room and shut the door firmly behind them.  She then ushered her sister over to the double bank of windows and sank them down together onto the horsehair settee. Her arm around Clem, she asked, “Now, what is it that you’ve done that is so very terrible?”


Clementine wiped her eyes with the hem of her dress and sniffed loudly.  “I…I…you’ll hate me!”  She fell against Genevieve and clutched her tightly.  


Jen gently tipped her sister’s chin up so she could look into Clementine’s eyes.  “Darling, that could never happen.”


Clem sat up again.  “Really?” she asked in a child’s voice.


“Really.  You are my baby sister and I will always love you.”


“But I’m not a baby!  That’s the problem.  I felt like everyone treated me like a child and it…,” she paused uncertainly.  Once she admitted what had driven her, there would be no taking the words back, “it made me so jealous of you.  You have everything.  Everyone thinks you’re wonderful.”


Jen laughed merrily.  “Jealous of me!  Why ever would you be jealous of me?  You’re smart, and clever, and oh so much sweeter than I am.”


“I’m not sweet.  I’m not nice at all.  I blackmailed the boys in the most awful way and now I’ve ruined their lives.  They hate me, too.”


“Stop, dear.  No one hates you.  Au contraire, everyone loves you!  Now, tell me what exactly it is that you have done.”


Despite her deepest fears, Clem trusted her sister.  They’d always shared everything.  Ever since their mother had died, it had been Jen she’d run to for comfort; Jen who had wiped her tears and kissed her wounds; Jen who had sat by her through her childhood illnesses reading stories and playing games to entertain her through her confinements.  How had she ever forgotten how dear her sister was to her?  


She told Genevieve everything she had done.  She admitted to her jealousies and resentments and Jen listened without admonishing her; instead, she held Clem’s hand tightly and rubbed her back, encouraging her to let it all out.  Clem let go of it all.  Every last detail, except one, she remembered Heyes’ warning not to divulge the mark.  It was safer for everyone if she kept William’s name to herself.


Eventually, Genevieve took down her sister’s hair and lifted the silver-backed brush she’d been given for her twenty-first birthday.  They’d always had their best conversations when they tended to one another’s hair and the older sister knew that the boar bristles sliding repeatedly through the long brown locks were just the calming and loving sensation the fretting adolescent needed.  “So, you’re jealous of me?  How silly.  And there was me getting jealous of you.  You are so much fun.  You just need to walk into the room and people start smiling.  Imagine you being jealous of stuffy, old me.”


Clem’s eyes widened in surprise.  “You are?  But you’re so sophisticated.”


“Boring, that’s what I am.”  Genevieve ran the brush through her sister’s hair.  “I do as I’m told, I follow all the rules; I’m a model student.  I never seem to have a single thought in my head that wasn’t put there.”  She paused, smiling impishly, “well, I do have some thoughts of my own.  I’m sure they’d make Father blanch in horror too.”


Clem stopped sniffing into her handkerchief, her interest piqued.  “Oh, yes?  Care to share?”


“Sometimes I wonder if I can tempt Jed to be more, well…”  Genevieve giggled, lightly.  “Maybe not more, perhaps less…”


“Less what?”


“Gentlemanly,” a smoothing hand followed the brush.  “He’s so polite and proper all the time, but he’s just putting it on.  I remember how wild he was when he was younger.  I’d love to see him let go a little.  In fact, given enough time and privacy I’m sure I could make him.”


“Jen!”


“What?” the older sister shrugged, innocently.  “I’m only human.  I’m just like you, but I have to act the way women are expected to act.”


“You see that’s the bit I just don’t get,” sighed Clem.  “I always go too far and do it wrong.”


“Do you?” Genevieve split her sister’s hair into three sections.  “You seem to have managed in the job you just pulled off.  I’m not sure I could have done that on my own at your age.  I’d say you’re clever and talented, you’re just inexperienced is all.”


“But Jed and Hannibal will never speak to me again,” Clem wailed.


“Of course they will.”  She started to braidClementine’s hair.  “They’ll get over it, but you’ve learned a valuable lesson.  You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.  You’ll find a way to apologize to Soapy and the boys and you’ll make everything good again.  I’d say giving them your share of the take would be a good start.  You say you only did it to prove a point, after all.  You did that magnificently.”


Clem suddenly brightened.  “You think that would help?”


“I certainly do.  You couple that with a genuine apology and tell everyone that you’ve learned your lesson, and I’m sure that everyone will get over it in a few months.  We’re all criminals, after all.  They can’t expect us to behave like paragons all the time.”


“Yes…” Clementine nodded, pensively, “and I have learned my lesson.  It’s been horrible at times.  It’d have been so much better to have worked with you and Father.  I’ll never do it again.”


Genevieve tied off the braided hair with a blue ribbon.  “Of course you won’t and you’ve learned a lesson money can’t buy.”  She sighed.  “I blame this life.  How can a growing girl get any kind of moral compass growing up like this?  No wonder you’re getting confused about who to flim flam and how to get people to see things your way.  When this is all over, we’ll go to Aunt Lucy.  She’s straight, honest and loving; just like mother.  We’ll let you grow straight for a while.  I had mother to give me boundaries and structure, but you missed out on that.  When you’ve been surrounded by normality you’ll feel a whole lot better about things.”


“Really?  You make it sound so simple.”


Genevieve sat beside her sister and drew her into a warm hug.  “I promise you.  What matters more than the road you’re on?  I’ll take you off this crooked one and make sure you grow straight and strong from here.  We’ll have enough money from this job to live comfortably for a long time.  I’ll tell Father that you need out of this life before it contaminates your soul.  Aunt Lucy will back me up.”


“Won’t it be boring?”


Genevieve chuckled.  “With you around?  Never.”


“How can you hug me?”  Clementine dropped her head.  “I’m a blackmailer and a thief?  I said such terrible things about you.”


“How?”  The older sister drew her into an even tighter embrace.  “We’re made of the same stuff, you and I, and when I look at you, I see the damage; not how you react to it.  We’ll get you fixed up.”  She released her.  “When I’m through with you all you’ll steal is hearts.”  Genevieve stood.  “Well, I’d best get dressed for the ball.  It’s the last night and we’ll be out of here tomorrow.  Have you seen my emerald earrings?”  


OOOOOOOOOO


Genevieve removed her velvet stole, revealing graceful shoulders and an extravagant décolletage.  She arched her long neck and looked around the ballroom at the invited cream of Denver society congregating at one end of the hall to reduce their chance of meeting mere ticket buyers like her.  A suppressed smile played in her brown eyes; a pretty face gave open access to almost all areas, especially when confidence shone like a beacon.  Most women had followed fashion by donning the modish pastel shades, but Genevieve’s shimmering gold silk stood out dramatically in the sea of safe and bland, underscoring the single-minded uniqueness of the woman who seemed oblivious to the staring eyes.


“Miss Abbott?”  Burdon’s smile beamed over hands gathered like a praying mantis.  “May I say how stunning you look tonight?”


Genevieve blushed prettily and smiled diplomatically at the banker’s wife.  “Thank you, but I’m surprised you noticed with your wife in such a becoming gown.  That blue matches your eyes exactly.  What do they call that shade?  I would love to have something made up in that color.”  She linked an arm with the matron and flicked open a tortoiseshell fan.  “You have such a good eye, Mrs. Burdon.”


Hale beamed at his daughter’s ability to keep the mark’s wife from being alienated.  Hit at the emotions and people just don’t think too hard about the facts.  His oldest daughter was doing well at this flim-flamming.  She was such a natural it might be worth going for gold and trying to find her a rich husband, but neither of his daughters would be happy marrying just for money.  That mark would have to be chosen very carefully and the motive kept strictly private; probably best to dress it up as an introduction.  He shook himself back to the business at hand and nodded at Burdon.  “Did you bring the contracts?”


Burdon held out a hand towards a side room.  “Right this way, Abbott.  It’s all laid out and I have two impartial members of staff ready to witness the signatures too.”


Hale arched a brow.  “You seem to have thought of everything, I like that.”    


A long arm snaked around Hale’s shoulders as Burdon steered him towards the door.  “I try to anticipate the needs of my clients.  I’ve brought Crighton and young Hawkins from the office to witness the document and make sure it’s locked up in the safe afterwards.”  Hale felt the top of his arm patted.  “We don’t want this contract to go missing, do we?”


“No…”


“Good.  Now step this way, don’t worry about your daughter.  My wife will look after her and we’ll only be gone for a short time.”


“But I’ll want to read it…”


“Fine,” Burdon held back the door and gestured to a minion to fetch a chair for their guest.  “You take all the time you need.  Effie will take care of everything,” he waved a dismissive hand to his wife, “the sooner we get this done the sooner we can all enjoy the festivities, huh?”


OOOOOOOOOO


Genevieve watched her father disappear into the side office and turned back to the woman chattering aimlessly by her side.  “He’s right over there, or at least he was,” Effie Burdon paused and frowned heavily.  “Where is he?  I just don’t know what’s wrong with William tonight.  Ah!  There he is.  I want you to meet William and then we’ll introduce you to the Martinsons.  This is their house, you know.  Isn’t it magnificent?”


“Very lovely.”  Genevieve felt herself unceremoniously steered over to the elite end of the ballroom, bustling past people who smiled, raised a hand to get Mrs. Burdon’s attention or tapped gently on the shoulder.  Even those who stepped in front of them were skillfully circumvented while the younger woman jiggled along in the matron’s wake as she sought out a young man heading over to the French windows.  “William!”


A young man turned aroundsharply and glared at them with hostile blue eyes.  “What!?”


“William, this is the young lady I wanted you to meet.  Miss Abbott, this is my son.  I have wanted to introduce you to him for a long time.”


The stare hardened, but the steely eyes drifted up and down, lingering in a most ungentlemanly fashion before motherly indignation punctured her son’s bubble of ire.  He found himself slapped back into the present by the thud from surprisingly heavy fan to the shoulder.  “William Henderson Burdon!  Where are your manners?  Say hello to the young lady.”


“Sorry, mother,” he dipped his head in a curt bow to Genevieve.  “I’m sorry.  I have had a dreadful day.  William Burdon, Miss Abbott.”  He frowned.  “Have we met before?”


Genevieve inclined her head to the side.  “Have you been to London, Mr. Burdon?” 


“No, but I get the feeling we’ve met.”


“Don’t be ridiculous, William.  Miss Abbott and her father have just arrived in Denver before coming with us to San Francisco.  How could you have met her without us?  We’ve been around almost all the time.”  Mrs. Burdon turned back to Genevieve.  “Please excuse him. He’s excessively distracted by something.  Has one of your friends let you down, William?”


“You could say that, Mother,” William muttered.


“Well, I think they did you a favor, leaving you here alone,” the older lady smiled proudly at her son.  “Miss Abbott is related to a Duchess and has met the Queen of England.”


Angry bile rose in William’s craw at the reminder of what he had lost.  “So no title?”


Genevieve tilted her head provocatively.  “Yes, of course I have a title.”


Mrs. Burdon’s brows rose in surprise.  “You do?”


“Yes, it’s ‘Miss.’ Miss Arrabelle Abbott, and I am sufficiently proud of my family to be quite happy in my own skin.”  Genevieve flashed a cold smile.  “I am sorry to be a disappointment to you, Mr. Burdon.  I will ensure that you can escort my aunt around the floor on our next visit to the States.  She is grand enough to intimidate the Princess Royal herself.  You must excuse me.I believe the refreshments are served over there?”  She turned on her heel and headed over to the punch bowl.


William felt an elbow connect with his solar plexus.  “Wait until I get you home,” his mother hissed.  “She is perfectly delightful and the best-connected young lady we have ever introduced you to.  You shake off whatever fugueails you and get over there.”  Mrs. Burdon sucked in a breath.  “Look!  Thomas Philby is moving in on her.  If you mess this up because of another of your tantrums you’ll have your father to answer to.”


“An English girl?  What’s next?A Mexican rancher’s daughter. A local politician’s sister? The butcher’s cousin?”  Sulky blue eyes glowered at his mother.  “Why do you keep pushing all these boring, oh-so-respectable paragons at me?  Don’t you trust me to make a match of my own?”


William found himself skewered by an uncompromising glare.  “Consideringthe types you have been seen escorting around town, I’m sure that question is purely rhetorical.  You will go over and ask Miss Abbott to dance.  Do you hear me?”


“And if I refuse?”


Mrs. Burdon’s eyebrows rose another indignant inch.  “You better get yourself a home and a job, young man.  We are helping you build a future but if you are not interested in that you can always leave and build one of your own.”  


“On what?” William blustered.


“Your father built his fortune on his wits and hard work.  You have the option of doing the same or taking our help,” the Matron glared in challenge at her recalcitrant son.  “I’m sure that doing the mazurka with a pretty girl fits your immediate plans better than rising at dawn to find alternative accommodations?”


William started to tremble with rage.  “Mother, I am not in the mood to deal with this woman tonight.  Tomorrow, next week, anytime; but not right now!”


“She will not be here forever, William.  She is going back to London soon and I need you to have made an impression on her.  She has already expressed a desire to live here and her very wealthy father has no sons to inherit.  Do you understand me?  I want her to go back to England thinking wistfully of the man who whisked her off her feet in Denver.  That had better be you.”  She held out her fan imperiously towards the buffet table.  “She’s over there.  Make your choice or face your father.”


The fuming face altered as William decided to change tack.  “Mother, I’ve had the worst of days.  You can’t imagine.  I don’t know how I can begin to explain to you, but I had hoped that tonight might be a bit of gentle fun to restore my spirits.  You know I’d do anything to make you happy and I’m not denying you my help, I’m just asking for more time, when I’m in better spirits.  How about tomorrow?”


The begging eyes could only start a thaw in the mother’s heart, but they had the desired effect.  “Oh, William.  You are incorrigible.  What would I tell your father?”


“Tell him that I have made inroads but need more time.  We all know how cold the English are, so I can’t be expected to win over an ice-maiden in one evening, can I?”


“You’d have to show that you at least tried, William.”


“Fine, I’ll dance with her.  Invite her to lunch tomorrow and I’ll be at my most debonair, but just give me tonight to deal with my problems.”


Mrs. Burdon’s brow furrowed.  “I have no idea what problems you could possibly have.  You don’t work, you aren’t courting and you are not engaged in any sporting competitions…”


“I have been let down by a young lady, Mother.  I was rather keen on her and hoped to introduce her to you this evening, but I have found out that she wasn’t as respectable as she claimed.”  Globes of hurt shimmered at his mother.  “I have found the whole experience rather painful and had hoped to lick my wounds in private this evening.  I intended to show my face to please you and then leave.  Now, if I dance with the English girl and invite her to lunch will you support me?  I know father will be angry, but we both know that he doesn’t share our delicate feelings.”


Mrs. Burdon sighed, considering her son’s predicament.  “Of course I will, Bunny.  I had no idea.  Was she very lovely?”


“Oh, Mother!  I’ve told you before.  Don’t call me that in public.  How am I expected to have any credibility if anyone ever finds out you call me Bunny?”


OOOOOOOOOO


“A lady fetching her own drink?  Not while Thomas Philby is around, ma’am.”  The soft Southern tones drifted as elegantly as the long fingers reaching out to the punch bowl.  “Let me get that for you.  I’m sorry, we haven’t been formally introduced.”


“I’m sorry too.  This seems terribly forward.  My father has been detained on a business matter with Mr. Burdon and I find myself abandoned.”  Genevieve beamed innocently up at the gentle smile surrounded by light-brown wavy hair and noted the man’s similarity to Jed in the reassuring air of kindness.  “I’m sure he’ll be out in a moment.”  


“May I offer you a cup of the fruit punch, Miss…?”


“Abbott.  Arrabelle Abbott, Mr. Philby.”


“And what’s a young English lady doin’ out here on her own in a Denver ballroom,” Philby asked.


“As I say, I’m not really on my own.  My father is here to see Mr. Burdon.”


“Well, we can’t have you floatin’ around on your own, can we?  That’d be downright inhospitable,” he touched her elbow with a soft hand.  “Allow me introduce you to my sister and her friends.  Oh, Em!”


He raised his hand to wave at a group of fawns, only to have William Burdon step in the way.  “Miss Abbott.  My mother is asking for you.”


Genevieve arched a brow.  “She is?  Please tell her I’ll be with Miss Philby and her friends.”


William stepped to the side to block her way.  “She’s very keen to speak to you.”


“Then please advise her that I shall be happy to have tea with her tomorrow at my hotel.  It is clear that I have intruded upon a family moment,” her brown eyes hardened, “and I have no intention of forcing myself upon her.”


William blocked her way again.  “Mother was insistent that I entertain you.”


“Then please advise your mother that your company entertains me far less than your absence.  Mr. Burdon, will you please step aside.”


“Burdon, you move and leave this lady be or answer to me,” growled Philby.


William’s lip curled dismissively.  “I don’t need to be told anything by the son of a cotton farmer.”


“I’ll be the judge of what you need to be told, sir.  And I’ll ignore that remark, after all.  We can’t expect more from a merchant’s son.”


“My father is a banker, a self-made man.  He built up a chain of businesses from scratch,” William snorted.


“Yeah?  I guess that’s better than bein’ a mother’s boy, Bunny,” Philby stepped between Genevieve and the increasingly angry young man.  “Get outta here.”


The blue eyes glittered dangerously.  “Or what?”  


“Or I’ll have to show you how to behave around a lady,” Philby drawled.


“Is everything alright here?”  A puzzled young man looked at each of the challengers in turn.


“Yeah, it’s fine.  I was just about to show some fancy footwork,” Philby stared straight into his opponent’s eyes, “one way or another.”


“Gentlemen,” Genevieve raised her fan to her chin.  This was getting out of control and the last thing a confidence trickster needed was to be the centre of attention.  “Please, I don’t want a scene.  Would one of you please escort me to the door and help me hail a carriage?”


William’s head snapped around, anger still simmering in his eyes.  “You’re going?  I’ll help if you have to go, come with me.”


She dropped her fan, shaking her head in refusal.  There was an arctic coldness in those blue eyes which was both discomforting and forbidding.  “No, thank you.  I shall get one myself.”


“My mother would never forgive me if I left you to do that.   It would be ungentlemanly.”  


“Mr. Burdon,” Genevieve sighed heavily.  “I am suddenly feeling unwell.  I’m afraid you must exclude me from any plans.  I am going back to my hotel.”


“Let me escort you,” William proffered an arm.


Genevieve swallowed back a knot of irritation and decided enough was enough.  “Mr. Burdon, you could not have made itclearer that my presence is an inconvenience to you.  I am politely asking you to leave me be, but be aware that should you continue to annoy me, I will demand it.”


The banker’s son fell silent, glaring at her before a knowing smirk wormed through his anger.  She felt the intense scrutiny as a stiletto of blue ice hit a nerve as he stared through her.  He nodded curtly.  “You do look especially lovely tonight, Miss Abbott.  Those earrings compliment your complexion perfectly.  Good evening.”  He turned on his heel and strode off in the direction of his mother.


Genevieve blinked hard, her composure suddenly shaken.  She raised a gloved hand to her chest and quickly gathered her equilibrium, unsure what exactly had caused this unexpected stripping away of the carefully adopted character, but she knew she had to pull herself together fast.  “Miss Abbott, are you feeling alright?”  Thomas Philby’s concerned frown made the arm being stretched around her waist socially acceptable.  “Em!  Get some help. She’s having some kind of turn.”


Yes, a swoon was just what was needed.  That’d buy her some time.  She let her knees buckle as strong arms caught her and whisked her from the ballroom.  Conversations bounced around above her head.  “Take her to the lobby, there’s more air there.”  “Catch her, she’s falling.”  “Poor dear, did she eat the chicken?  I had that…”  She felt herself lowered into a seat near the entrance and the main doors were opened to potentiate the cool air being wafted in her face by numerous fans.  


“I blame these new-fangled corsets,” a portly matron declared.  “I have exactly the same problem with mine.  It makes me feel quite out of breath.”


“Can someone please tell my father?”  Genevieve whispered, huskily.  “He’s in the side-room over there.”


As if by magic her father appeared at her side, examining her in concern.  “Father,” the fact that she retained her false accent along with an almost imperceptible nod instantly reassured him that she wasn’t too bad.  “Are you nearly done here?  I feel the need to go home.”


Hale nodded.  “Five minutes.  I’ll get this done as soon as I can.  Shall I call a cab?”  He paused, alert to the possibility they’d been rumbled.  “Is that allright or should we go now?”


“Five minutes is fine.I’ll get the doorman to call it for us, Father.”  Genevieve stood and gave a watery smile to the women cooing around her.   “Thank you so much, ladies.  I think I’ll step outside and wait with the doorman while he organizes things.”


“Can you to stand?”


“Much recovered, thank you.”  She walked over to the door and lifted her face to hail the night air.  


A liveried doorman pulled back drooping shoulders to indicate he was suddenly back on duty.  “Ma’am?”


“Can you call us a cab?  My father will be out in a moment.”  


Two fingers touched the peak of the tipped cap to confirm.  “I’ll step out to the street and hail one for you, ma’am.  We can’t have a lady shoutin’ in the streets, can we?  I’ll be right back.” 


Genevieve watched the man disappear beyond the glow of the lanterns and into the dark street beyond and heaved a sigh of relief.  It was almost over.  Tomorrow they would clear out the overdraft facility on the new account and hot-foot it out of town.  She needed a break, but most of all she needed time with her sister.  These silly rivalries were fine when it was about who got to wear something or in deciding which of them was being flirted with, but it had gone too far.  This criminal world was unreal and it was too easy for an immature girl to get things out of perspective in a topsy-turvy world.  Siblings practice on one another so they can learn how to operate in the real world, but poor Clem had been out of normal society for too long.  How could anyone blame her for taking things too far when all she saw were lies, manipulation and graft?  They were flowers from the same garden, after all.  Clem needed time to put some proper roots down, and they had to be grown in good honest ground.


She heard a yell from the street as the cab was hailed; then it began…


OOOOOOOOOO


Gerald Hale looked around the empty steps and frowned.  Genevieve hadn’t gone back into the ballroom; he’d already checked with a servant and walked around to main ballroom.  The doorman walked up the drive, following a hansom cab he’d hailed in the main street.  The vehicle crunched to a halt by the door to find only a worried father peering into the night.  “Have you seen my daughter?” 


“The young lady who was here, sir?”  The doorman rubbed his chin and looked around.  “Didn’t she go back inside?”


“No, I’ve already asked them.”


“She didn’t come my way.I’d have seen her,” a gnarled forefinger pushed back the cap to scratch his head.  “There’s only one way out at the front and I was standing there.  She must have gone back in.”


Hale rubbed his sweating palms on his jacket.  “No…  She really didn’t.  Get a lamp.  Help me search.”


The doorman followed the man’s harried gaze into the shrubbery.  “She wouldn’t have gone off across there, sir.  Not in an evenin’ gown.”


“Get a light!  She didn’t come back in.”


The doorman paused at the sudden change of accent coming from the angry Englishman, but the urgency of the words pushed him inside to call for both help and illumination.  Hale grabbed the oil lamp from the table by the door and held it aloft.


“I’m tellin’ you, sir,” a gaggle of chattering staff followed the doorman out of the door, “those lawns slope off sharply to the bushes and there are the roses.  The missus loves her roses, but they got big thorns on ‘em.  She’d be likely to tear her skirts.  The ladies ain’t gonna walk on uneven ground in the dark.”


“She didn’t come back in, I tell you!  I checked.”  Hale’s voice rose an octave.  “Why isn’t anyone helping me?”


The unmistakable figure of Ernest Burdon loomed over the people on the steps.  “Abbott?  What’s going on?”


“Je…” Hale quickly recovered his senses and chose the correct alias.  “Arrabelle seems to have disappeared.  She came out to get us a cab and nobody’s seen her since.  I’ve looked inside.  I’m worried, Burdon.  I don’t mind telling you”


Burdon grinned.  “She’s probably just slipped off for an assignation, huh?”  


Burdon’s lascivious smile made the concerned father’s hackles rise.  “My daughter is not that kind of woman.  I’m worried, Burdon, so if you’re not here to help you can damn well leave.” 


“No need for that, Abbott.  We’ll find her.  She can’t have gone far,” Burdon pointed at the chattering servants.  “You two take a lamp and look that side.  We’ll take the lamp and look to the left.”


OOOOOOOOOO


The waiter at the buffet table frowned and glanced around.  “Toby?  Have you seen that carving knife?  I’m sure I left here.”


“I never touched it.”


“I didn’t ask if you touched it.  I asked if you’d seen it.”


Toby shrugged.  “Did you send it back to the kitchen with the dish and the bone when you finished slicin’ the last one?”


“No,” the waiter waved back at the empty spot once more.  “It was here.  Right beside the plates.”


A terrible scream rent the air, shearing through the festivities and causing the orchestra to drop their instruments in alarm.  All eyes turned to the open French windows where concerned men rushed out into the grounds while women bunched together in chattering knots of agitation…    


OOOOOOOOOO


“What was that?”  Hale swung around to seek out the source of the cry.  “Where are you?  We’re coming.”  His voice cracked with emotion, “Daddy’s coming…”   


Two groups descended the steps and split to search either side of the bushes, the lamps piercing the darkness with incandescent shafts.  They continued down the sloping lawn, slipping and sliding on the damp grass until Hale let out a cry.  “A shoe…and it’s a woman’s.”


“Is it hers?” Burdon turned it over in his hands.  


“I’m not sure,” Hale stammered.  “They show you their shoes and hats, but do we really look?”


“Good God!” The doorman let his lamp drop and staggered backwards.  The oil spilled from the broken glass and crept across the lawn.  Hungry flames leaped on the fuel, seizing the opportunity to explore and consume until it reached the rose bushes in the shrubbery.  Fingers of flame jumped from branch to branch, licking the deliciously dry thorns and burgeoning blooms of the rose bushes until they were competing with extravagant bouquets of flame.  Within moments the shrubbery was aflame, casting sinister, dancing shadows over the bloodstained figure slumped at the bottom of the slope.  Hale let out a cry and slumped to his knees.


Burdon seemed unable to avert his horror-stricken eyes from the scene; the smell of the sizzling,spitting trail of blood as it met the heat of the fire caused his stomach to flip and churn.  He pulled off his coat and handed it to the nearest servant.  “For God’s sake cover her and pull her dress down.  No father should ever see his child like that.”  He placed a comforting hand on the sobbing father’s shoulder.  “And somebody get the law.  We can’t deal with this by ourselves.” 


“Yeah,” muttered the shocked doorman.  “I got a cab already waitin’.”

To be continued...
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The Devil's Due Part 4
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