Protecting Her Honor

A One Shot
FNF#39B: "A man with charm is an entertaining thing, and a man with looks, of course, a sight to behold, but a man with honor -- ah, he is the one, dear reader, to which the ladies should flock."
The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn

As he hid in the shadows of the large, empty room, the brooding blonde wondered, and not for the first time, just why exactly he was there that evening. He hated parties. The ritual, the pomposity, the sheer waste of the host's excessiveness, it bored him, and it made him feel uncomfortable. As did the clothes he was wearing, the man reflected as he tugged hopelessly on his cravat. If he was anywhere but at LadyQuart Manor, he would be free to go without the fine trappings of a wealthy, Southern planter, but he wasn't.

Oh, on the outside, he understood the reasons behind his presence there at the engagement ball. He had come for his little sister. For her, he had donned his finest clothes, dusted off his finest manners, and left behind his life of debauchery and sin, as his grandfather would put it, to come and drink chilled champagne and eat buttered lobster tails with the finest of Charleston's grand society. And, because of his heritage, there, at LadyQuart Manor, he wasn't snubbed like he was everywhere else, but the hypocrisy made him even more uncomfortable. He was used to being the rogue, the unsavory member of his fine family, but to pretend that he was anything but who he was made the dashingly handsome young man feel uncomfortable in his own skin.

But Emily's happiness came before his own. It always had, and, as far as he was concerned, it always would. He wasn't delusional enough to believe that she was in love with her betrothed. Frivolities such as passion and attraction in a marriage on the woman's part were not entertained in polite society. A proper girl would marry who her family wanted her to, she would bear the responsibility with grace and poise, and she would be thankful that they had made such a suitable, if not affectionate match, for her. It was in that mindset that his younger sibling was prepared to marry Mr. Jasper Jax.

Obscenely wealthy, the Jax family was the only family on the Ashley River that could rival the Quartermaines in either rank or power, and it was his grandfather's own personal coup d'état that he was succeeding in marrying his only granddaughter to the sole heir of the Jax family fortune, for, upon their marriage, Jasper would sign over his legacy… for a certain price… and allow Edward Quartermaine control of the combined families' wealth until his death, upon which Edward would name a suitable heir, something Jasper, in the meantime, aspired to become.

It was all rather Machiavellian for his tastes, and Jason was just glad that he would not be in the fray attempting to compete for his grandfather's favor. Rather, he was a self-made man in a society where such an idea was frowned upon, but he didn't mind the lack of respect from both his peers and those he had grown up being presented to. His older brother Alan could worry his mind about besting Jasper for their grandfather's esteem, while he would continue to live his own life, free of the complications that came with being a Quartermaine.

Although the party would no doubt go on for quite some time, the youthful blonde was hiding in the library, fighting off his impending headache, as he waited for an appropriate chance to escape. He had come to his baby sister's engagement ball, just as he had promised. He had dined with the high muckamucks of Charleston society, he had exchanged pleasantries with all the guests who had deigned it safe enough to be seen speaking to him, and he had even managed to take Emily on a twirl or two around the dance floor, complimenting her, suitably, on both her dress and her becoming engagement glow. Not that he believed such things were important, but his younger sibling did, and Jason did anything he could to make Emily Lila Quartermaine happy.

After pouring himself a stiff scotch, the rogue of the family moved back into the shadows provided by the moonlight streaming into the otherwise dark and deserted room. With the long, thick drapes eddying around his perfectly immobile form, Jason seemed to blend into his environment; he became one with the walls of leather bound books.

The alcohol coursed powerfully down his throat, and the dashing blonde smirked to himself. Many things could be said about Edward Quartermaine, certainly some if not all of them, in his mind, derogatory, but the one thing the young rake did admire about his grandfather was his taste in liquor. No one had finer, older scotch than the patriarch of the Quartermaine family.

As his mind went over the various escape routes available to him, he settled upon slipping out the back door which led, through a covered passageway, to the plantation home's large, sweltering kitchen. From there, he could take the lane that led to the stables, barns, and rice fields, saddle his own horse, and ride to where the ferry would take him back to Charleston and, once again, far away from the chivalrous refinement of LadyQuart Manor. Just as his crystal tumbler, though, made contact with the sideboard, he heard voices in the hall outside of the library, and Jason immediately melted back into the gloomy dimness, unseen and unheard.

"Lucky, please," he heard a young woman beg as the apparent couple entered the room. There was an obvious strain to her voice. The family rebel instantly tensed. "You're hurting my arm. I'm afraid you're going to bruise it."

"I guess it's a good thing you have on long sleeves tonight then, isn't it, Elizabeth?"

Jason's mind raced. He knew these voices; he knew these names. While several years younger than he was himself, Lucky Spencer, the notorious son of an even more notorious Luke Spencer, had always been someone Jason had steered clear of. The younger man had a chip on his shoulder the size of his old man's bank account. Though relatively new money compared to both the Quartermaines and the lady's own family, the Webbers, the Spencers were a force to be reckoned with in the low country, for no one could transport their rice without Luke Spencer's shipping business. As for Elizabeth Webber, well, she was his sister's most trusted, most beloved friend. The two brunette girls had been inseparable since they were toddlers and first capable of walking.

"Now, Elizabeth," Jason heard the other man in the room placate the young woman. "I wouldn't have to hurt you if you would just cooperate with me."

"But I didn't want to leave the party. Emily is my best friend, Lucky, and, as her maid of honor…"

"You'll be her matron of honor by the time Jasper and Emily wed, my dear."

Jason perked up at that admission. So, the Webbers had decided to marry off their youngest child to Luke Spencer's son. It was, fiscally, a sound decision. Not only would such connections help to build up young Patrick Drake's, Sarah Webber-Drake's husband's, plantation's profits, but it would also align the doctors Webber and Hardy with an economically powerful family. Plus, with the Webber-Hardy political influence, Luke Spencer would be a force to be reckoned with. However, sentimentally, to saddle Elizabeth with such a brute of a husband made the blonde shudder.

He remembered the scruffy, petite girl fondly from before he left his family's home. Elizabeth, while not a fair beauty like her elder sister, was… well, fun. She laughed at jokes, played all the latest games and sports with the boys, and could draw better than anyone Jason had ever met before. Between the two of them, Elizabeth and his sister had gotten themselves into their fair share of innocent scrapes, and he feared that her somewhat untamed temperament would be throttled and starved as the wife of Lucky Spencer. However, with that said, such matters were certainly none of his business, and he pledged then and there to keep things that way.

"I know," he heard Elizabeth whisper, obviously recognizing her betrothed's statement to be true. "We marry in less than a month. I'm well aware of the date."

"Well, you don't sound very excited about it."

While the young man seemed petulant, angry, his bride-to-be sounded hesitant and apologetic. "I'm sorry, Lucky. I didn't mean for what I said to…"

"Then why did you," the dark haired man interrupted tersely, demandingly.

"I just… tonight is Emily's night," Elizabeth excused. "Shouldn't we be focused upon her?"

"Personally, I don't give a damn about the insufferable chit!"

"Lucky, please," his sister's best friend beseeched her intended husband. As the impertinent, offensive words fled from Spencer's mouth, Jason clenched his fists in anger, but, still, he did not make his presence in the library known.

"Please what?"

Murmuring softly, the petite brunette said, "please, don't swear in front of me."

"You better get used to my ways soon, Elizabeth," the other man warned, "because, once we're married, you'll do as I say, when I say it."

"I'm well aware of a wife's place."

"Then maybe you should start to act like it."

With that, the silent blonde watched as Lucky Spencer bent his head down and roughly took Elizabeth Webber's mouth under his. He kissed her savagely, almost abusively as if he was trying to brand the young woman as his own or teach her a lesson. He didn't like it, but, nevertheless, what went on in private between an engaged couple was none of his business. However, he then saw the dark haired man bite his betrothed, making her scream out in pain, and he took a single step forward.

"What… what are you doing, Lucky," Elizabeth asked, sounding terrified, her lip slightly bloodied. "I want you to take me back to the ballroom right now."

"And I want you… right now."

The young woman gasped. "I… we… but we're not married. It's wrong!"

"Do you think I really care about your sanctity, about what society says?" Under his breath, the Spencer heir tsked the brunette. "Oh, Elizabeth. You are so naïve, do you know that? But, after tonight, you'll finally grow up. I'll see to that."

"No!"

Lucky grabbed the youngest Webber by the arm, dragging her towards him, and that's when Jason couldn't remain hidden any longer. Stepping out of the shadows, he said in a calm, even tone, "I do believe the lady said no, Mr. Spencer."

Instantly, the younger man dropped his intended bride's arm, and Elizabeth flew across the room to stand as far away from her groom-to-be as possible, shaking in fear yet still maintaining her composure. Glaring in the blonde's direction, Lucky demanded, "excuse me? Just who in the hell do you think you are? What goes on between my fiancée and me in private is none of your concern."

"Except when you treat your fiancée like nothing more than a common whore," the Quartermaine rake argued. "A southern lady is to be respected, cherished, pampered, and a southern gentleman never lays a hand in anger upon a woman, especially not on his betrothed."

"Just what exactly are you accusing me of, sir," Spencer inquired "Are you questioning my honor?"

"I'm saying that you have none."

Bristling like a newborn bear cub, Lucky spat in Jason's direction. "I demand satisfaction!"

"So be it," he grinned, tipping his head deferentially. "It would be my pleasure to meet you on the dueling field."

"Name the place and the time, sir."

"Tomorrow morning, at dawn," the older man stipulated, "at the bend in the river road right before you come to the old, abandoned Baldwin plantation. I'll bring the pistols. Make sure you have a second with you."

With that, Jason turned to leave, first bowing in Elizabeth's direction before he strode purposely out of the room.

Just what in the hell had he gotten himself into now?

~ } { ~

Because of how dim the room had been the night before, Elizabeth was unsure as to who the man was that Lucky was fighting that morning. While the voice had sounded vaguely familiar, as if she had known the man who possessed it several years before, his form had been utterly unrecognizable to her. Surely, the gentleman wasn't a stranger, though, for why would a stranger risk his life just to defend her honor? But, then again, if he wasn't a stranger, she would know him, wouldn't she? She knew everyone in the Quartermaine family's circle, for her own family belonged to it as well.

Long before the sun had started its ascent in the sky, she had slipped out of LadyQuart Manor where her family had spent the night the evening before. Because of how late Emily's engagement ball had lasted, her grandfather, Steve Hardy, had decreed that his family would not return to their home in Charleston until the next day after they all got some rest, and the Quartermaines had only been too pleased to entertain their closest friends.

For the first time in her young life, she had kept a secret from her best friend. Unsure of what was going to happen and more than just slightly afraid of the events that were sure to take place that morning, Elizabeth had neglected to tell Emily of the duel that was going to be fought over her reputation. However, that fear did not keep the young woman from venturing out on the sly to observe the action herself.

She had arrived just minutes before the two contesting parties and managed to hide herself in a grove of trees just shy of the dueling field. While she hoped that the trunks of the large oaks with their waving, weeping moss would keep her both protected from any stray bullets and from being seen, they, at the same time, still afforded her a clear sightline of the two men who stood back to back. From there, they proceeded twenty-five paces forward each at the call of Lucas Jones, Lucky's cousin who was acting as his second. Her defender's second, a man she had heard being referred to as Jagger that morning, kept his eyes solely trained on the opponent, visibly wary of the other man and distrustful.

Finally, the pacing stopped, and the duelists turned around to face one another. Lucky shot first, his bullet missing its target by several feet and landing inefficiently in the long, tall, whispering grass. However, the blonde, familiar stranger took his time firing, and, when the small puff of smoke from his weapon cleared, it was revealed that his bullet had pierced Lucky between the eyes, rendering him lifeless and prone immediately.

Her fiancé was dead.

Rounding the trees that had provided her with her sheltering hiding spot, Elizabeth confronted both her defender and her betrothed's murderer. "Why did you…" Shaking and extremely pale, she accused, "a gentleman doesn't fight that way, sir."

"You're right."

Not hearing his agreement, she plunged on, "after Lucky missed, you're supposed to spare his life and simply walk away the victor, your honor intact. Killing him, it was…"

"The only way to make sure that he never attempted to rape you again."

She gasped at the ugly word that fell from the tall, broad man's lips and stepped back when he bent forward to bow at her feet once more, just as he had done the night before. "Miss Webber, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance again, properly this time. It has been many years."

Narrowing her gaze, the brunette asked, "who are you?"

"Why, I'm Jason Morgan - the rake, the rogue, the scoundrel, the black sheep, the proud disgrace of the Quartermaine family, and, now, I am also your savior."

As realization dawned that her honor had just been defended by a man who had none of his own, Elizabeth fainted.