Author's Note: My greatest thanks to Jean Cooper for helping me with the initial planning and getting me through each of these chapters. She's also the one credited with the interpretation of a certain character. If you're unsure of which one, just read her story At the Office for more information. ;)
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Please be sure to read the disclaimer as some of this content is not only inappropriate for younger readers but may also offend those of a larger general audience as well.
Disclaimer: This story contains sexual content, foul language, violence, alcohol references, and racial slurs that pertain to the time and setting in which this story is placed.
All rights to the characters belong to Marvelous Inc.
"My dear, might I say you look simply ravishing this evening."
"Indeed. You carry yourself well, especially considering your age."
"Ladies, please," I begged, trying my best to be graceful while untangling myself from the greedy fingers that had fallen upon me. "There is no need to fuss over the likes of me, I can assure you," I insisted as I smoothed out the red silk of my gown once more. However, I stayed my tongue from uttering anything further, for I was quite certain that I should say something rather dreadful towards them. I could hardly be civil about their mannerisms in their absence, let alone with them before me, and so I did as Mother had always instructed and spoke nothing more lest I offend them in some way.
After all, even if their opinions meant absolutely nothing to me, they were still my mother's supposed friends.
"Such a sweet child, you are," the first assured me with a gentle pat atop my delicate hand. "You, my dear, are nothing less than the wonderful image of your darling mother," she continued, her hazel eyes settling on me with something akin to envy. I cringed slightly to hear her well meaning words, and though her peaceful expression never faltered, I knew full well that my grimace would be on the lips of every woman in town by the morrow. She never could still her tongue for long, or so it seemed to me.
"Certainly," her companion agreed as she opened her fan with a dignified huff. "One can only hope that she shall not suffer her mother's ill health, however," the woman added with a sneer. How I wished I had the will to retort that I could only be grateful not to have been cursed with such a disagreeable nature as hers, and that I should pray that her beloved daughter should not inherit it as well.
"Excuse meh, but the miss be called fer," a rough voice heralded which caused all, save for myself, to jump with sudden fright. I, of course, was more than acquainted with the gruff tone to recognize that it was the keeper appointed to me by my older brother. I also knew full well that there was no need to be afraid of the man, even brusque in his nature as he was.
However, I had no doubt that I would not be able to persuade the women I had had the displeasure of speaking with of this since their faces had become terribly pale in his presence. Of course, being as he was so very tall, not to mention of a sure and sturdy build, it was none too surprising that they found him to be so intimidating.
"Mr. Cameron," I mused with a gentle smile. "'Tis good to have you in our company." He merely nodded, yet I was more than certain I saw a faint blush find its way across his rigid features though his face remained so stern that anyone other than I would be mistaken to think that he was not an easy man to fluster. However, he need not worry too much since the women before the us thought of themselves to be of dignified English decent, and therefore, they would never consider flattering a Scotsman as I had done. "Yet am I to understand that I have been summoned?"
The man hesitated for a moment, yet once he cleared his throat, he seemed to have found his voice again and went on with his appointed duty. "Aye, Miss," he agreed curtly, offering me his arm. I could not help but smile when he did so, either, for I was rather impressed to see he had become quite the gentleman in his time under my brother's command. Had one not met the fellow before he was inducted into the Royal Navy, he could have easily passed as a willing recruit of the finest of the British academies. "If it be yer pleasure, misses, do pardon us."
"Well then, my dear, I believe Lady Thorton and I shall be off to join our blessed husbands out on the floor," the more agreeable of the two women dismissed herself and her companion promptly. Neither of the fair ladies gave so much as a nod to my escort, of course, but by the firm set of his jaw, it was probably for the best.
"Pay them no mind, Gray," I whispered as I patted his arm reassuringly. Though it had been terribly forward of me to address him by his given name, I had been placed under his watch for over a year now, and thus, I felt no need to restrict myself to speaking in formalities. However, he remained unforgivably stubborn about the matter which I suppose was endearing in its own way. For I had never met a man more humble than he, and that in itself has a wonderful charm all its own. "They are too haughty of women for the likes of anyone," I continued before I allowed myself the chance to laugh. "Even their husbands cannot stand their company for very long."
"Miss Hurst," the man sighed. "Forgive meh fer havin' to repeat myself, but we mustnae keep the Admiral waitin' any longer." I simply smiled and then allowed my eyes to roll concerning how insistent he was about meeting the demands of his superior, yet I could understand his reasoning.
After all, we were captive under the same man, he and I.
Now, do not mistake my words for something as petty as hate, for I felt nothing but love for my dear brother. The only trouble was that he was far too concerned with my well being for any good to come of it. This whole gala that was being put on this evening was no doubt another attempt to marry me off to some man of influence, yet I would hear none of it so long as I had my wits about me. While I knew he plotted such things only for my benefit, I was not a woman to coddle like some mere child. I was of a sound enough mind to make my own decision concerning who would make an appropriate husband for myself without his interference in the matter.
"There is no need to fill your mind with unnecessary thoughts, Gray," I chided my somber companion as I lifted my chin in a more dignified manner. "Should my brother cause you any grief for my own tardiness, I will personally see to it that you receive the most sincerest of apologies from the likes of him... and for that matter, anyone else who will dare to say an ill word of you as well."
"Much thanks, Miss Hurst, but I donae want to trouble yeh any," he insisted, scratching the top of his head in embarrassment. "You ought nae worry about the likes of meh anyway. No good'll come of it..."
"He speaks true enough, my dearest sister," an all too familiar voice agreed, and upon hearing it, my heart sank ever so slightly. "Though I must admit he has been the utmost loyal to myself and the Royal Crown, he is no Englishman," the proud man continued as I turned to face him. While I kept it hidden from my brother's gaze, I felt my hands clench themselves into tight fists to hear him speak so carelessly concerning the other man's own proud heritage, and if it were not for Gray's steady grip upon my arm, I may have let myself fall into some very unladylike behavior towards my own family. "You are dismissed for the time being, Mr. Cameron. Please await my summons outside."
"Aye... sir," the man complied though it was clear to me that he did so reluctantly. However, he stood tall and even saluted his captor before turning on his heel and making his way out of the study, and I had to wonder if he was capable of ever taking offense to much of anything.
How many times did he still his tongue just to keep his head for another day longer?
I could only watch as the man slipped just outside of the door to the study where I soon found myself left unbearably alone. While the floors were laid with the finest of wood and the candles flickered in their sconces along the white plaster walls seemed inviting enough, I must admit I did not feel comfortable in that setting. Perhaps it was my brother's heavy gaze that unnerved me so, for he certainly did not waver in his study of me.
"Popuri, you must not allow yourself to become too compassionate," the man scolded me, smoothing back his fairly long blonde hair while he did so. "Especially towards such an unsavory sort such as he." I only narrowed my eyes at him, yet it was clear he would pay me no mind as he often did.
"Richard, you know full well that Mr. Cameron is a fine man, for otherwise, I am quite certain that you would never hear of putting me in his care." Though he opened his mouth in protest, he soon closed it again, and to my surprise, he actually went as far as to offer me a smile. Perhaps it was not my place to say so, yet I found my elder brother appeared to be rather appealing then as he face was usually far too solemn for a man of his age.
While we were secure on land, he still insisted on dressing himself in his captain's garb, it seemed, and I must say that it suited his authoritative disposition quite well. Not only this, but if I may so, I found he also looked quite dashing in his blue coat with its white breast and gold trim and buttons being his only decoration. His black breeches were well ironed as were his white knickers, yet I was most grateful he had decided to forgo the powered wig which I felt only ever aged him further than his thirty years should allow.
"But blood is what defines a man's morals," he countered without much hesitation. "It is what puts the English above all others."
"Might I argue that the French hold the same belief in and of themselves?" I offered with great eloquence. I smiled to see his stunned expression, and if my corsets had not been drawn so tight according to the fashion of this day and age, I might have laughed without fear of fainting. "This, too, can be said of the Dutch as well as the Span-"
"Stay your tongue, woman!" While I would have protested his harsh tone under most circumstances, I did as I was told, for at the time, I could think of no other option in my current state. "Though I have been sure to secure you with the finest of educations, it would seem you are still too daft to understand the physical laws of this world," he continued with a huff. I narrowed my gaze, yet he forbade me to speak until he had finished with his mad ranting. "Have you forgotten that in these waters the Spanish are more the enemy than the French could ever be to Great Britain and its empire?"
"Being as the Spanish own the greater part of the southern territories, I believe it is their right to defend what is undoubtably theirs," I replied calmly. Should I have been born a man, I would like to believe that I would have made a persuasive argument, yet because of these cumbersome breasts which protruded out of the top of my dress, I knew the man would hear none of it. However, I also knew that he had a personal vendetta against the Spanish if only due to one individual whose name was often spoken as a curse in our manor house.
"You know nothing of men and their feuds," Richard scoffed which was soon followed by a condescending sigh. "I ought to have had you raised as a proper woman and not have clouded your mind with book learning..." he lamented as he shook his head in dismay. "The good lord knows that you shall never find a husband with such a wit as yours."
"Speaking of which, dear brother," I cut in sharply. "If you will please pardon me for saying so, I do not approve of the festivities you are holding in the hopes of finding a gentleman that pleases you to marry me." His face flushed then though whether it was a result of the shame for being found out or the frustration concerning my unwillingness to comply to his wishes, I could not say for certain. However, I did little to calm his with the words that soon followed. "I would rather wed the Woman's Keeper than-"
It was only then that I clapped my mouth shut though it had been done far too late for me to correct myself no matter how desperately I wished to. Any person whom found themselves so much as acquainted with the man would have feared as much as I right then. Of that I perfectly certain.
You see, I had unwittingly spoken of the very man whose existence was my brother's bane.
"Is that to say that you would rather be with a thieving pirate than an honorable gentleman of worth?" Richard began to rant, pacing the floor like a caged beast the instant his opponent was mentioned in his home. I trembled despite myself, but it was of no use to appease my dear brother. He would continue to gnash his teeth and curse until the very walls shook, and by that time, one would be wise to disappear if only out of fear that he may begin again.
"The very man who is to blame for this?" he snarled as he brushed aside his hair on the left side of his head. Though I looked away in horror, the scar was familiar enough to me that I could clearly envision it without having to lay my eyes upon it, for it was there that he was missing an ear.
"When I lay my hands on him... I swear I shall see to it that he hangs!" my brother bellowed, waving his fists about like a mad man. I promptly made myself scarce without another word and left him to relieve his aggravations concerning the other man in my absence. However, it would seem I was not so alone as I had first thought.
"Do yeh wish fer me to join yeh, Miss?" Gray asked with a hint of amusement in his voice. Whether it was because I jumped upon hearing him or his superior's outbursts, I could not say, but it was one of the rare times in which he allowed himself to smile. At least I assumed it to be though it was more of a ghost of one in any case.
The silver glow of the crescent moon shown on the man's form to reveal that he had since returned to his quarters to change out of his formal uniform and into something more suitable for himself. It certainly was not that the man was not fit to wear the blue coat of the Royal Navy with all the decorations of a proper sailor, yet I had always preferred to see him more at ease as he was now.
I found that once he had retired his formal wear his demeanor became less rigid and his tone far gentler which was a blessing in itself. Not only this but the garish hue of his green breeches was most striking when compared to the white cloth of his loose-fitting shirt, and it made him all the more curious of a sight to see paired with his flaming red hair and brilliant blue eyes.
"Not at this time," I refused him as politely as I could. "Should you have need of me, though, you shall be sure to find me in the courtyard," I offered in the hope that he might not take offense to his dismissal. Of course, being as he had no desire to have me as his ward from the start, I could be fairly certain he would pay the remark no mind at all. "Good night to you then, Gray."
It was then that I took my leave of the man, for I was grateful to have the right to walk about the grounds without an escort or any other meddlesome company for that matter. Though I did not care to be alone for much longer than a spare moment or so, I was relieved for once to have only my own thoughts drifting about in my fresh yet weary mind.
The large, white windows were the only thing between myself and the outside world, yet I felt caged here among the other birds whose feathers were far brighter than my own. I was the nothing more than the chirping sparrow lost in a flock of squawking parrots. If only they had something decent to crow about instead of meaningless politics and questionable sciences, then perhaps I would be of the mind to join them. As it was, though, my song could not be heard among their raspy cries, and so I was beginning to realize my only chance to speak would be once I could free myself of this place.
"Perhaps I should just allow myself to be married off..." I lamented with a heavy sigh. It would certainly serve me better than wasting away under my brother's watch.
"And so, yet another little bird has lost her wings," a voice purred from behind me where I had been sure there had been no one only a moment before. With a squeak of uncertainty, I spun about with my petticoat all but tying me up in knots while I did so, and my eyes widened with fright to find a man's face a mere breath away from my own. "Oh, and such a pretty little bird, too... What a shame," he added with a wink.
Gazing into the man's twinkling eyes, I found myself becoming lost in their dark colour which was sadly obscured by the night, yet the spell was broken soon enough as he rightened himself and I saw him in his entirety. He was a good head or so taller than myself, yet in the silver glow of the moonlight, I found his youthful features, though weathered some by the elements of both sun and wind, held a genuine kindness in them. And even while he wore a rather unflattering ensemble that consisted of a light cream-colored jacket and white breeches with matching knickers, I still thought of him as a handsome man who was only in need of a wash behind the ears and a woman with good taste to dress him.
Oh, do not get me wrong, he smelled wonderfully of sea salt and ocean breezes, yet his dark hair was slicked back with nothing but grease which was a testament to the last time he had bothered himself with bathing. Still, for all intents and purposes, he looked the part of a proper gentleman.
For you see, after being in the presence of another who fancied himself as an Englishman of good blood, I could surely say they all wore dirt and slime in one form or another.
"Forgive me for asking, sir," I began cautiously, "but am I mistaken for addressing you as Mr. Kingsley?" He offered me another grin and then, in one fluid motion, he removed his tricorn hat and bowed deeply before standing upright once again.
"My dear lady, it's quite the honor to have been remembered by such a fine woman such as yourself," the man praised me which caused my cheeks to flush slightly.
Truth be told, I had not been certain of his identity given the darkness which cloaked itself over the courtyard like a black shroud, and so I all but sighed in relief that I had not mistaken him for another. However, upon recognizing him, my thoughts soon recalled seeing him in the company of a young woman of questionable resolve out on the dance floor, for neither of the couple could be easily missed.
She had cunning eyes according to my brother, and for once, I was inclined to agree with him upon seeing her for myself. She had certainly been the sight to see with her brilliant all knowing smile, and the way in which her silk dress brushed against the man's legs was not easy to ignore by any means.
After all, such promiscuous behavior was just not done in high society, and yet this woman paraded about as if she were a common bar wench, flitting to and fro from each of the gentlemen scattered about the floor. Even the way a single lock of her long blonde hair fell alongside her fair face seemed seductive in nature. Had it not been for this man's far more gracious performance surely the pair would have been promptly dismissed and gratefully forgotten before the night had even begun, let alone come to an end.
Even at that moment, I could still hear the familiar melody of a minuet playing in the ballroom, and though I felt not so long before that I had had more than enough of dancing for the night, I was still flattered to find that the gentleman had offered his hand to me with a gracious bow. "Would you give me the honor of having this dance with you, my lady?" he offered, that self-assured smile still lingering on his chapped lips.
"The honor is all mine," I giggled as I curtsied in turn. The silk of my gown rose up for an instant before it pooled about my feet once more, and I felt the blush that had once graced my cheeks upon first uttering his name return to my delicate features.
As if taking no notice of my flustered expression, he merely took my hand gently in his own, and I soon found myself being twirled about as if there were no steps to follow. I could not deny the the thrill that dwelled within me to glide about the courtyard without any sense of order or direction, for I had experienced nothing else like it in far too long of a time. Though our steps remained light and perhaps even dainty, I was certain that I had never felt more alive.
"You're quite the dancer, Mr. Kingsley," I complimented him which caused the man to chuckle.
"Not really," he confessed with a laugh. "In fact, I'm quite sure I'm terrible by most standards." I gazed up at the man quizzically since I could not help but take note of his peculiarly casual way of speaking. Not to mention he had a slight accent that I could not quite place as I had heard nothing like it before. He seemed to speak at a quickened pace as well which made it all the more difficult to understand him fully. However, what he had to say next made his intensions perfectly clear...
Though I suppose the knife point that rested just beneath my breast was more than enough to cause my heart to still for a beat if not more.
"The greatest of pardons, Miss," he whispered in a husky tone, "but I didn't come here for any of this dancin' business..." Then, in a fair gentler manner, he explained himself further, "Though I must say it was a pleasure meeting you this evening, my lady, I've only come to deliver this message to your dearest brother." I nodded weakly, for I was far too frightened to argue or, for that matter, cry out for help. His grip on my arm was fierce as well which kept me from attempting to tear myself away. However, that did not stop me from willing Gray to come to my aide by some force of divine intervention.
"Please tell me what business you have with him," I demanded as my eyes settled upon the wicked curved blade of his sword. "If it is wealth you are after, I can assure you there is none to be found here."
I said it with the greatest of confidence that I could muster since there truly was nothing to be found in the place save for a few pounds that I felt would be worthless to any bandit. My only hope was that he would not feel the need to slice open my breast for my honesty. Should this prove to the end of me, though, I suppose they would surely be able to say that I was the most virtuous of women once one excused my occasionally sharp tongue and quick wit...
His grip loosened some upon hearing my testimony which I thought bade me to run, yet before I could attempt to do so, he cut open my bodice without the tiniest of effort. Though I gasped upon nearly revealing myself to the man, I had managed to hold the torn cloth tight to my bare chest and prevent him from seeing anything of worth. He only laughed as if he found my modesty amusing in some way.
"Do give my apologies to the Admiral, Miss, yet it seems the ol' dog has lost his keen sense of smell when it comes to rats the likes of me," he began with the cruelest of grins. "As you'll tell 'im for me, I've taken another of His Majesty's merchant ships not an hour before this gala of 'is," he continued to boast proudly, bringing me close once more. "And... if I may say so, Miss..." he began again, taking a shameless glance at my bosom. "You are a mighty fine Englishwoman if I e'er saw one."
While at that moment I was more than certain he intended to make off with me as his prisoner with which to do what he liked, his apparent plot came to an abrupt end, for out of the corner of my eye, I could see my appointed guardian making haste in our direction. May God be blessed for that, for had my prayers not been answered, I was certain I would have become unwillingly bedded by the man who held onto me so fiercely.
To my dismay, the rogue had followed my gaze and released me upon seeing the man, and in a flash, he tore off again with a wink and a hushed whisper of a promise before disappearing into the darkness of the forest that lead down to the waters' edge.
"Are yeh hurtin' any, Miss?" Though Gray's face was reddened some by either the run itself or his own frustration, once he allowed his blue gaze to fall upon the place where my fingers desperately clutched at my breast, it reddened all the more. Being the gentleman he was, he promptly turned on his heel, and had this been a less dire event, I may have laughed to find him so flustered.
Sadly, this was not such a moment, and my heart only sank all the more to realize what I would have to do.
"Forgive me, Mr. Cameron," I began softly, hoping with all my heart that he had heard the regret I had for what would surely come. "I am afraid that I must report these events to my brother, the Admiral," I explained. Then, turning to face him once more, I continued solemnly, "I only apologize to you, for I am certain that he will not be so forgiving towards you for leaving my side though I was the one who dismissed you and your services."
The man merely nodded in understanding, and yet I still cursed myself for the pity I felt in my heart. Not for him, but for another. One who's voice was smooth as silk... which was the perfect mask for the darkness in his heart.
"I will see you again, my Pequeña Princesa..."
For though he had been so mischievous to try and rob me of my innocence, I could not label the other as being cruel, and perhaps the most grievous thing of all was that I promptly forgave him for cutting open my dress. After all, he had done me no harm which was a testament to his nature and the kindness I saw within his features. However, the one thing I could not deny was what, or rather whom, he was, and that thought was what filled me with the greatest delight. For you see... he had been no other than the Women's Keeper himself.