Disclaimer: I don't own the characters (that honor falls to Michael Pryor) only the plot.
Chapter 1: One Fine Day
Miss Caroline Hepworth stared unseeing as the ordered grazing meadows flitting past the trains windows slowly morphed into denser shrubs. The sky was a profound blue and devoid of clouds, allowing the sun to shine through unimpeded to sparkle on the morning dew that had yet to evaporate from the grass. Perfect weather for flying, Caroline would have thought to herself; if her thoughts had been directed in that direction.
As it was, her attention had drifted to another, decidedly less pleasing topic.
"Thinking about Aubrey again, Caroline?" Rose Fitzwilliam, sitting in the seat opposite, watched carefully for Caroline's reaction. After seeing her younger companion drift into the same troubled thought sporadically over the past few days, she had finally decided the time to act had arrived.
Caroline looked at Lady Fitzwilliam, her eyes gradually clearing and focusing, through a slight frown still creased her forehead. Her expression remained inquiring while her distracted brain begrudgingly processed the words.
'No", Caroline responded quickly; a little too defensively, she realised. She could feel her cheeks flush slightly and cursed herself for her transparency. "And what do you mean by 'again'?" she demanded crossly.
"Now now, dear, there's no need for hostilities". Mrs. Fitzwilliam rose elegantly, despite her heavy trekking boots, and settled on the seat next to Caroline's with an air of sympathetic wisdom.
Not wanting to meet her gaze, Caroline instead stared resolutely at her hands. She noticed with some surprise that she was attempting to strangle her handkerchief. She breathed deeply, and with an effort was able to relax her hands.
"My son is intelligent and full of good intentions, but he has much to learn about the world and the people in it. I know that his actions must have upset you. Betrayal by a friend isn't easy to digest…" She paused, searching Caroline's face for a moment. Caroline made an effort to keep her features impassive. "I understand that being independent is very important to you. But you shouldn't keep all this caged up inside; it is not healthy."
Caroline squared her shoulders and fixed Lady Fitzwilliam with a defiant look. "I regret the loss of my studies in Lutetia; that is all. I am perfectly content."
"Thank you for your concern. But it is unnecessary."
Lady Fitzwilliam nodded. She stood and returned to her seat, reaching for the papers she had been reading. She looked up and caught Caroline's eyes; they shared a brief look. She abandoned her papers again, clasped her sun browned hands in her lap and arched an eyebrow at her young protégé.
In response, Caroline sighed dejectedly and leaned her forehead against the window in defeat. The cool glass soothed her and assisted in organizing the disarray that her mind had become. "And I thought myself so enigmatic." Apparently not.
Lady Rose smiled gently, encouragingly. "Everybody is less mysterious than they think they are, my dear. One need only look for the correct signs. And we did work together for a reasonable period of time; I flatter myself that I know you better than most." She waited patiently for Caroline to continue.
"It's not that I care that much", Caroline opened, her eyes daring the Lady to refute her. "I just… can't seem to stop wishing he hadn't done it."
"Ah. And are you still angry?"
"Yes… Actually, I think I'm more disappointed than angry."
"I thought as much." She changed tracts swiftly. "You seemed to be having a good time at the ball."
Caroline shot a probing look at Lady Rose. Yes. I believe you do.
"Are you going to forgive him?"
Straight to the heart of the matter, then. Caroline felt an unfamiliar twinge of indecision. She wasn't ready to make that choice, she told herself; she just needed more time. She chose her words carefully. "If I don't, I have a feeling that life will take a turn for the dull. Excitement and Aubrey seem to be synonymous concepts."
"Oh, I have a feeling that soon you'll have more excitement than you can handle, young Miss."
Three men had appeared at the compartment entrance. The one who had spoken was a handsome man somewhere in his twenties, slight in build and clean shaven except for a well groomed mustache. The expensive cut of his dark suit practically screamed affluence. He pointed a pistol at Caroline's chest; she noted warily that his stance was relaxed but poised, weight shifted forward slightly on the balls of his feet. He held the gun with quiet confidence. Caroline recognized martial training when she saw it. You don't need a gun to be dangerous, I think.
The other two men were coarse in comparison; they both sported worn clothes, their rough visages protruding from underneath grey caps. They looked like wrestlers, or weightlifters. Definitely hired thugs, Caroline decided. One pointed a pistol at Lady Rose. The other had a rope coiled over his shoulder.
"Who are you? What do you want?" demanded Lady Fitzwilliam. Her irritated tone betrayed only a hint of fear; Caroline admired her cool in the face of physical harm.
"Who I am is not you concern", he drawled, a cruel smile creeping slowly over his face. "What I want is a war on the continent; and I'm going to use you two to get it."
He nodded at his beefy companions. "Tie them up. Oh, and Miss Hepworth; I know all about your skills, so don't try any heroics. I do need you alive, but remember, people survive being shot all the time. Hesitation is not in my nature."
ooooooo they're being taken hostage…
dum dum dum!
What will happen next?????? Read on…