An Undeniable Passion Ch. 17

byopels©

Drake smiled and nodded wordlessly before running off the ship. On his way to the courthouse he passed the mercantile. He figured they would know everyone in town so he decided to stop there first and ask. He walked in and approached a pretty girl behind the counter. "Excuse me," he said. "I'm looking for either a Virginia Templeton or a William Forrester that may be living in this area. Do you know either of them?"

Smiling the young woman said ,"Yes sir, I do." She was absent mindedly twisting a large diamond ring on her ring finger.

He let out a low whistle and said, "That's quite a ring you have there. Are you engaged? If so, he must be very wealthy."

"Yes sir, he is. Actually it's William Forrester that I'm engaged to," she replied, extending her hand to show him the ring.

Drake stared at her in amazement. Forrester wealthy? How was that possible? He had only been gone five months. I guess it's true that anything's possible in the New World. "Well congratulations miss, he's a good man. My name is Drake Stratford, I'm a former employer of his. Do you know where I can find him, or rather Miss Templeton? She's the one I'd really like to see."

"Well, they live together on her farm."

"On her farm?"

"Yes sir. Aurora."

Drake stared at her in amazement again. "Aurora? She named her farm Aurora?" If she had done that then maybe she had forgiven him and he still had a chance. A smile crept across his face.

"Yes, Billy said she named it after a ship that he was a sailor on. You just said you used to employ Billy. Are you the captain of the Aurora?"

"Yes, I am. I'm very pleased she named her farm after my ship. Can you tell me how to get there?"

She gave him directions and just as he was leaving, she commented, "You're the second person today to ask me where her farm is."

"I am?" he turned back to her. "Who else asked?"

"Another man, he didn't give me his name but I noticed that Miss Templeton and he have the exact same accent."

Drake heard alarm bells going off in his head. "What did he look like?"

"He wasn't as tall as you, just average height, with light blond hair and pale gray eyes. And he wasn't very nice, rather rude actually," she said.

"Charles," he whispered. He called out, "Thank you," over his shoulder as he ran out of the store. He had originally planned to hire a carriage to take him out to the farm but realized that that would take too long. He needed a horse. His mind raced, trying to figure out where he could quickly get one.

He ran to the importer's office just down the street and asked a friend there if he could borrow his horse. The man noticed the urgency in Drake's request and agreed. He indicated which one was his and Drake took off at a gallop. He didn't know what Charles wanted with Virginia but knew it couldn't be good. He just prayed he would get there in time.

The hired carriage passed Billy on his way into town to pick up the chandelier pieces from the smith. As it went by he thought he recognized the man inside as the rude one he had seen in the harbor the night before. He didn't think much of it and continued into town.

Charles arrived at the farm and told the driver to wait for him. He stood outside for a moment surveying the house. It's a good sized house, he thought, not too bad. He turned and noted that they were close to the river, a wise choice. He looked out at the fields beyond. The girl at the mercantile had told him the farm was called Aurora. He snorted with disgust. She must have had an affair with Stratford to name her farm after his damned ship he thought to himself. He walked up the front steps and using the knocker banged on the door. At first he thought that perhaps no one was home and was about to knock again when the door opened and he was looking into Virginia's astonished face.

Virginia acted upon her first instinct when she saw Charles on her doorstep and quickly swung the door closed. He pushed it back open though and burst inside the house. She nervously stepped away from him. "What are you doing here, Charles?" she asked him as he approached her. She knew that eventually he would discover where she had really gone but had doubted that he would actually come after her.

The humiliation her disappearance had caused him came bubbling to the surface in the form of anger. She could see the fury burning in his eyes as he sarcastically said, "What, no joyful greeting for your long lost fiancé?"

"You're no longer my fiancé, Charles. I told you that in the note I left you."

"Ah yes, the note you left. The one where you said you were going to France." He looked around and said, "I found out from a very helpful young woman at the mercantile that you live here with your 'cousin', Billy Forrester. Is he here?" He tilted his head back and yelled "Billy Forrester? Hello?" When he received no response he said, "I guess he's gone out." Still stalking her he continued "She also told me that you own this farm. When you left England you were destitute. How did you manage to finance this?" He pointedly looked down at her hand. "Where is the ring I gave you, love?"

Slowly backing away from him and ignoring his question she asked "How did you find me?" She wondered if she would be able to outrun him up the stairs and into the hidden staircase. It would take him quite awhile to find the catch and by that time she could be hidden in the small room off the attic. He would never find her there. However, she didn't think her chances of outrunning him were very good. She would have to think of something else. Where were those pistols? Billy had taught her months ago how to use one, but she had never practiced. Still it was worth a try. She remembered one was in the sideboard in the music room. She began making her way over there.

"How did I find you? Imagine my surprise when the Aurora sailed back into town and the sailors began spreading the story of the pretty red headed stow away."

She had forgotten that the men would have been unable to resist telling that story.

"So, I asked a few questions. And imagine my further surprise when I found out that after you were you discovered on board, you spent the remainder of the journey sleeping with the ship's captain!"

Trying to pacify him, she said, "It was a perfectly innocent arrangement Charles. Nothing happened. There were no available berths on the ship and since Dra...er... Captain Stratford was the only gentleman on board, he felt it best that I share his cabin."

"The sailors I spoke with said you had a romance. That it was understood amongst them that you were 'with' the captain."

"That was only done to ensure my safety. Really Charles, I can't believe that you would trust the word of sailors. You know how they exaggerate. And besides, you know me, I would never do something like that." She was halfway through the sitting room, she just had to get into the next room and she would be fine.

"Yes, I thought I knew you, but I was wrong. I thought you were the sort of woman who would honor her obligations, her promises and those of her late father." The malice in his voice, caused the hairs on the back of her neck to stand up on end. It took every ounce of her willpower not to turn and run. She needed to keep a steady head and not to let him out of her sight.

"I was not going to marry a man who already had a mistress and an evil temperament that he had been hiding. You were unfaithful and dishonest. And the agreement you made with my father did not include marriage. And even if it had, I felt that your actions had already dishonored it."

He started and looked at her with surprise. "You know about Meredith?" he asked.

"Yes, I saw the two of you together in the garden during the Summer Ball."

He furrowed his brow as he tried to remember what they had been doing. It came to him and he began to chuckle, "That does explain your sudden desire to leave early that night."

"You think it's funny? I was mortified and heart broken." She wasn't about to reveal that his betrayal was only part of the reason for her distracted air that evening. Her encounter with Drake on the terrace had only added to her troubled emotions.

"Heart broken? Come, come, my dear. We both know very well that your heart never had a part in our engagement. You needed my money and I needed a cover for my affair. We were both getting what we wanted."

"Well, I don't need your money any more. I can replace the ring you gave me and then we'll be even."

"Even? Hardly, my dearest. Every one in town quickly knew that you had abandoned me. Me! The most eligible bachelor in Liverpool! Every where I went sad eyes showered me with pity. I was humiliated. How do you intend to pay me back for that?"

He was getting dangerously close and she was nowhere near the pistol yet. She glanced to the doorway to judge whether she should run for it, but in that moment Charles lunged for her. He grabbed her by the waist and pulled her down onto the couch. She fought with all her strength but he was stronger and he soon had her pinned. He was straddling her hips and holding her wrists as he leaned down into her face. "So, you say nothing happened on that ship between you and the captain. The dashing and handsome Captain Stratford?"

"Yes, I swear it," she lied, struggling to get free.

"I don't believe you," he said, his face inches from hers.

"I don't care if you do or not. Let me go!" she cried.

"Not yet," he said quietly. His thin lips pressed against hers and she fought back a wave of revulsion. His wet lips slid over hers as she tried to twist her head away. He raised his head and she gasped for breath.

With glittering eyes and a wicked smile he said, "I think I know of a way that you can pay me back for the humiliation you caused me and we can find out if anything happened on that ship at the same time."

Frightened by his smile, she asked, "What do you mean?"

Holding her wrists with one hand, he reached behind him and began pulling up her skirts. Realizing what he meant she renewed her struggles. She managed to get a hand free and she raked her nails down the side of his face, drawing blood. He put a hand to the scratches and seeing the red stain on his fingers, he drew back his hand and back handed her across the face. She felt her lip split and she tasted blood. She continued to struggle but Charles simply reached up, grabbed the bodice of her dress with both hands and pulled, tearing the fabric. She felt a sharp tug on the back of her neck and realized that he had also broken the chain of her amber pendant. It tumbled off the sofa and onto the floor. She had stopped wearing corsets and her breasts were now exposed.

He was momentarily entranced by her nakedness and she managed to push him off of her and tumble from the couch. She stood and tried to run but he grabbed her again. He spun her around and bent her over the back of a chair. He pressed one hand firmly into her back, pressing her chest against the piece of furniture, forcing the air out of her lungs. She tried to catch her breath but was unable to. Spots swam in front of her eyes and she began to feel faint but she still tried to struggle. He had managed to pull up her skirts and was tugging on her pantalets when suddenly a dark figure loomed over him and he was pulled off of her. Virginia slowly turned, taking in great gulps of air and watched through dazed eyes as Charles seemed to dance across the room. She slipped into darkness as he crashed against the wall.

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