Hello! It's been a long time, but I'm back again. I know some of you are wondering where all my other stories went to, but I took them down with the intention of reviewing and refreshing them. Alas, it has not happened yet, but hopefully sometime in the future I will get them reposted. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this story!

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Learning Curve

~x~

Chapter One

May 1780

It was hot, stiflingly hot, but Colonel William Tavington ignored the beads of sweat on his brow. He stood ramrod straight with his arms locked behind his back, his feet slightly apart, watching while his men lined up for a routine inspection. Normally he left this to his two captains, Bordon and Wilkins, but Lord Cornwallis himself wished to inspect the troops later that same day. Every man's uniform would be thoroughly inspected, right down to the brass buttons. The cavalry were considered to be the elite of his majesty's forces and William would ensure to drive that belief into his newest recruits.

"So, this is the best Britain has to offer," William commented to Thaddeus Bordon standing beside him.

"They are more promising than they look, sir," Thaddeus replied. Although he was slightly shorter than the colonel, his broad shoulders and thick-set chest made as equally imposing as his commanding officer.

"We shall see," William said idly and walked towards the first man in the line.

William's cold blue gaze scrutinised the first dragoon in line from head to toe. His brown hair had been scraped back, tied into a queue, and covered in a layer of lard to keep it in place for only heaven knew how long. It was a disgusting practice in William's view; he, like other aristocrats, was meticulous about his appearance and groomed himself daily. The rest of the private's uniform was spotless, even his boots and buttons had been polished to William's satisfaction. Continuing on down the line of men, he carried out the same thorough check, only having to reprimand two privates for a slovenly turnout – Bordon would deal with them later.

The morning continued slowly as the dragoons presented arms and horses for inspection; all of it had to be nothing short of immaculate. As the sun reached its highest point in the cloudless sky, William dismissed the men to make final preparations for Lord Cornwallis' arrival. With a slight nod of his head, he motioned for Bordon to follow him. They walked from the stables, striding through the crowded streets towards a grand townhouse. It had been granted by Cornwallis as temporary headquarters for the Dragoons in Charlestown. William gave little care to the fate of its previous occupants; after all, they had been traitors to the crown.

British forces were sweeping through the rebellious colonies, swiftly crushing all those who dared to take up arms against King George. William, however, had not accepted a command position out of a deep sense of conviction, although some had. It was necessity that had brought him halfway across the globe. Victory in war led to advancement through the ranks, but more importantly, spoils of war could make a man rich. His late father had squandered his inheritance on foolish exploits and gambling; it was only his commission in the army that had kept him from sinking into the depths of poverty.

William strode down a hallway towards the library. He had chosen to use it as his office partly due to its large windows, but a hidden stairway that led directly into his bedroom had settled the matter for him. Opening the door, he took several steps into the library then stopped abruptly.

"Sophia, what are you doing in here?" he said, narrowing his eyes slightly at a small, dark haired girl sitting on a chair behind his desk. "I've told you before to stay out of my office."

"I know, Papa, but I was bored." She gave a sullen pout. "There's nothing to do here."

"Nonsense, I gave you plenty of books to read. Now, get out of my chair and go upstairs, the captain and I have work to do."

Sophia leaned to one side so she could see around her father, smiling as she waved to Thaddeus. "Hello, Tad."

"Sophia!" William said sternly.

She shrugged her shoulders. "I hear all of his friends call him Tad."

"You are not his friend, and you would do well to remember that in future." He motioned with his hand for her to get out of his chair. "Now, go."

"Can't I stay? I'll read in the corner and be really quiet," she said, her blue eyes pleading with him.

William glowered at her, warning her that this was not a matter up for discussion. With an over exaggerated sigh, she conceded and slipped from the chair. Her shoulders were slumped and she dragged her feet as she walked to the door. Pausing by Thaddeus, she looked up him, offering him a sweet smile.

"There's no point in trying that old trick on the Captain," William said, a sharp edge present in his voice. "Upstairs. Now. Or else you will feel the sting of my hand on your backside."

At the threat of corporal punishment, Sophia hurried from the room, closing the door behind her. William tugged at each individual finger of his black leather gloves to remove them then tossed them carelessly onto his desk.

"She is a charming little thing, sir," Thaddeus said as he sat down on a seat opposite William's.

"That is exactly what she wants you to believe," William scoffed as he poured himself a glass of gin.

Thaddeus' mouth quirked into a hint of a smile.

"Drink, Bordon?"

"Yes, thank you, sir."

William handed him a glass then sat down. Maps and missives littered his desk, along with several letters from his family in England. His mother still resided in their family home, although it had been stripped bare of most of its furnishings to pay off his father's debts. His one comfort was that his two younger sisters had made good matches before the Tavington name had been disgraced.

He took a sip of his gin, savouring the taste, followed by a burning sensation as it slid down his throat. Setting the glass down, he gathered some papers up to put into a drawer, including a missive from Banstre Tarleton, which had been scribbled over in childish handwriting. He let out an exasperated sigh; that girl walked a thin line. Sometimes he wondered why he had not simply left her in England with his mother. The truth, though, was that he loved her too much, and as unconventional as raising her alone was, he wouldn't have it any other way. She was the only good thing that had come from a marriage to a woman whose heart had been as cold as the grave she now resided in. He had not mourned her passing and he doubted if Sophia even remembered her.

Placing the letters into a drawer, he closed it and lifted his glass again. "Have we had any word from our scouts yet?"

"None yet, sir; my men are not due back until tomorrow."

"I want them debriefed as soon as they return and their reports on my desk by tomorrow evening."

"Of course, sir."

"I suspect, though, we will be in Charlestown for some time." William leaned back in his chair. "With any luck those rebels will spend the summer licking their wounds."

Thaddeus nodded his head in agreement. "Indeed."

At that moment there was a knock on the door. "Come in," William said.

"Sir, a letter has just arrived from Lord Cornwallis."

"Well, don't just stand there, Lieutenant, bring it here."

The scrawny officer, not more than nineteen, bustled into the library and handed the letter over. He acknowledged Thaddeus then made a swift exit. William broke the wax seal, opened the letter, and began to read.

"Typical," he said disdainfully, "His lordship has decided to forgo an inspection in preparation for a ball being held in his honour this evening."

"Are we expected to attend?"

"Yes, unfortunately."

William crumpled up the letter and threw it into a wastepaper basket beside his desk. It was a wonder the British army ever won any battles at all; its officers were more obsessed with parties, whoring, and gambling than waging war.

"I shall go and tell the men to stand down," Thaddeus said, rising from his chair.

"Stay where you are, Bordon." William pushed his chair back, stood up and walked over to a window. He opened it and leaned out. "Lieutenant Hawkins, tell the men to stand down."

"What about the inspection, sir?" Hawkins called back.

"Cancelled. Now, get on with it."

"Right away, sir."

Thaddeus smirked slightly at William's somewhat unorthodox manner. He had perfected the art of striking fear into his subordinates and at times it was rather amusing to watch. He had served under the Colonel for several years, after being transferred from another cavalry regiment. For some reason William had treated him differently from the beginning, although Thaddeus suspected it was due to their similar age and his intolerance for nonsense. He would not go as far to say that they were friends, but they certainly held a mutual respect for one another.

After shutting the window, William poured himself another glass or gin and returned to his seat. "Help yourself, Bordon; it's going to be a long night."

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"Pick up your pace, Sophia," William said irritably. "I don't have time for your dawdling."

Sophia stopped walking and looked up at him. "I'm tired, Papa, I want to go back to the house."

"You were the one who pleaded with me to let you come into town," he said, giving her a gentle shove forward. "Perhaps this will teach you not to question my judgement in future."

She let out a long sigh and began to follow him again through the busy streets, keeping a tight hold of his hand. Half-running to keep up with his long strides, her legs soon grew tired again, but she knew better than to slow down for a second time.

Soon they arrived at a tannery, owned by a man named Alexander Craig. Sophia's father led her into the shop and she wrinkled her nose at the overpowering smell of leather. Sword belts, holsters, and pistol buckets hung from nails on the wall, while the floor was littered with water buckets, portmanteaus, and trunks, as well as saddles and all the parts of harness for horses and vehicles.

"Ah, Colonel Tavington," Mr Craig said, setting down a bridle awl and the piece of leather he was working on. "Good morning to you and to you, Miss...?"

"Sophia Tavington," William said, "My daughter."

Mr Craig smiled at her. "It's a pleasure to meet you." He turned his attention to William. "I have your saddle ready, Colonel, and I think you will find it's to your satisfaction."

William nodded. "I'll take a look at it now."

"John," Mr Craig called and a lanky boy came in from another room. "Bring me the Colonel's saddle."

"Yes, Mr Craig."

While John disappeared into the back, William bent down and whispered in his daughter's ear. "There's a bench outside the door, wait there until I'm finished dealing with Mr Craig."

"Yes, Papa."

William watched her exit the shop and sit down. Her legs dangled from the bench and she placed one hand on top of the other on her lap – it wouldn't last for long, though; she'd be fidgeting within three minutes. At only six, he wondered if he sometimes expected too much from her. But then he was reminded of her mother and how she had been a spoilt brat from birth, and he would be damned if Sophia turned out to be like her.

Cicely Daventry had been a woman of incredible beauty and he had gladly taken her as his wife. At first, he had basked in his good fortune, but he had soon discovered that beneath her smooth, creamy skin lay a self-centred harpy. Sophia had been born a month before their first anniversary, and in truth, he had been disappointed with a daughter. He had hoped that next time Cicely would provide him with an heir, but after learning she shared the beds of other men, William refused to touch her.

Three years had already passed since Cicely's untimely death, but William still clung onto bitterness. He had never loved his wife, though that had not lessened the sting of her betrayal – she had died carrying another man's bastard.

"Here it is, Colonel," Mr Craig said, snapping William from his melancholic thoughts.

William ran his hand over the newly polished leather. It had been skilfully crafted and he noted the fine detail in the stitching. Mr Craig had been right, it did meet expectations. His current saddle had begun to show signs of wear, and he thought it wise to break in a new saddle before riding into battle.

It wasn't long before William had paid Mr Craig for the saddle in full and arranged for it to be delivered to the Dragoon's stables in the morning. His business complete, he turned and left the shop. As he had expected, Sophia was not waiting patiently for him on the bench. He walked around the side of the shop, but there was no sign of her.

"Sophia?" he called. "Where are you? Come here now!"

Receiving no answer, he walked around the back of the shop and down the other side. He scanned the street in front of him, hoping to catch a glimpse of her dark hair and yellow gown. An awful, gut-wrenching feeling began to churn his insides.

Where was his daughter?