Encounter on Winter Solstice 1879
Joy breathed in the cold December air. The trek up the hill to the ancient standing stones had taken the better part of an hour, but the blessed silence of that house soaked into her very soul. London was all so congested with soot and grime. Not to mention the bigoted aristocrats her adoptive parents spent the majority of their time socializing with.
Breathing rapidly she hitched her satchel of painting and sketching supplies further onto her shoulder as she reached the top. The view before her took what breath she had left. The moss and snow covered stones tilted up into the air like giant stone sentinels.
Quickly needing to sketch what she saw she dropped the satchel to the ground to pull her sketchbook out. She sat down spreading her wool skirts and cloak out around her protecting her rear from the snow still on the ground. Crickets sung in the moonlit meadow. Joy looked up trying to gauge the height of the top mantel piece. She gasped. Expecting to see the ancient stones she was startled to find a man stood before her, his back to her blocking her view.
The man turned slightly.
"You're in my view."
"My apologies." He stepped three feet to the side.
Joy sighed. The peacefulness of the solitude was gone. She tried to turn back to her artwork, but the need was gone. Groaning she threw the book and pencil back into her bag and stood up.
"I disturbed you."
Joy rolled her eyes turning to him. "You think?"
"There's no need to be sour about it."
She gave an exaggerated sigh grabbing up her bag before stomping off towards the stones. As nice as his voice was, she didn't want to be around anyone. Especially tonight.
Swallowing and sending a quick glance over her shoulder her stomach dropped. They were alone in the middle of no where and no one knew she was there. Now a strange man showed up trying to get her attention? She tried to ignore his calls as she rounded the stones of the outer circle. The energy in the area hummed as if she was in the middle of a Tesla experiment. She puffed warm air over her clasped hands only now feeling the dropping temperature. She wouldn't be able to be out much longer.
She groaned. All she wanted was to be left alone. Was that too much to ask? She ducked into the center of the ruin and crouched down behind the center bluestone altar. She held her breath as footsteps crunched in the snow.
"Ah, come on. Miss! Miss, you dropped something."
Joy hunched debating with herself for a minute. He'd come upon her and could have hurt her then, but hadn't. Why would he do something now? Unless he was one of those sick people who enjoyed their victim knowing who their attacker was. She peeked over the top of the altar. He looked frustrated and irritated, but as she watched him she really couldn't see him as someone who would hurt anyone. Not willingly. He had the carriage of a soldier. Finally figuring it would be easier to retrieve whatever she'd dropped than listen to him yell for her all night, she popped up.
He turned towards her as if he'd heard her. She shifted and snow crunched under her feet. Of course, he'd heard. He really was a handsome fellow. If one tended to look for that sort of thing. Past experiences had taught her that she wasn't the type for a happily ever after. The closest thing she could ever get was the quiet evening of the Winter Solstice in the middle of nowhere. For a quick second she thought of the driver she'd paid to deliver her to the peaceful wilderness. Would he still be waiting for her in the two hours she'd requested?
"There you are. You dropped this." He moved towards her.
Joy tried to move forward, but found her courage had frozen just like the ground under her feet. She held her trembling gloved hand out over the stone.
"Are you here alone?" He sent a quick glance all around them holding his closed fist above her open palm.
"My driver is waiting for me."
Joy scowled. "Of course not."
She slammed her open hand into the air. The jerk of her arm bumped the edge of her hood, a swift breeze rushed through the stones bringing a light snow flurry with it. The cold moisture felt refreshing against her heated cheeks as her hood flew away from her face. The world around them froze, the only sound his inhaled breath.
She was gorgeous. Like an ancient warrior Goddess. The snowy breeze only seemed to heighten the color of her rose cheeks. Cade blinked coming back to what they had been discussing before Mother Nature had decided to interrupt them. She seemed offended that he'd asked about a husband. Surely whoever looked out for her would never let her wander around in the wilderness alone. If she'd been his he would be assured she was at home cuddled in front of a fire content to stay inside. The snowy countryside was no place for a woman to be alone. Especially at night.
He shook his head. Of course. Her beauty had momentarily distracted him. He tried to smile but the muscles had been stiff and silent for too long and only twitched now. He lowered his closed fist to lay against her kid leather. He took a step closer bumping against the bluestone mantel between them.
Kid leather was expensive, her wool cloak of good material. She wasn't poor which meant she didn't live in the area. Only farmers lived near Stonehenge. And only a select few would ever dare to visit on such a wintry evening. She sighed again rolling her eyes. He opened his hand not sure why he was finding it difficult to let go of the slim copper and bone dagger.
She pulled her hand back frowning.
"That isn't mine."
"It was by your feet."
"I guarantee it's not mine. I wouldn't have anything to do with a dagger."
"Not even to sharpen your-"
"Not even then." She shoved it back to him.
Instinct took over. He grabbed the shoulder of her cloak and yanked her towards him. She jerked across the stone with a scream. Ping!
Someone was shooting at them. Breathing heavily Cade couldn't believe one of the farmers would so willingly endanger anyone on sacred land.
"Get off me!"
"Hush." Cade clamped a hand over her luscious mouth searching over the stone for the shooter.
Whoever had fired had been aiming from the woods to the right. And downhill. She bit down on the fleshy part of his palm. He growled pulling his hand away. Her chest rose and fell rapidly. His stomach dropped. She'd been hit. He slipped his hand under her cloak breathing in relief when he didn't feel any wet liquid which would mean she had been shot. He scowled when instead his fingers discovered his swift action had caused a stay in her corset to snap and press into her ribs. If he didn't remove it soon she would suffocate.
"Leave me alone!"
He shook his head at her whispered vehemence. Her body started to sway against the stone.
"Down the path."
He looked back down the path he'd come up. There hadn't been anyone at the end of the path much less a carriage. He turned back to her kneeling over her to gently lay her on her wool cloak so that the corset laid flat. Her eyes fluttered shut.
"Forgive me, but-"
"Just do it. Quickly."
He nodded though she couldn't see in the failing light. He pulled the copper dagger from her gloved hand and tilted her slightly away from him. He sliced through her woolen bodice to the ribbons tying the corset sides together. With a slight puff of air the two sides popped open. She gulped in a full breath, groaned then went silent. She stared at something above his right shoulder. He tightened his grip on the bone handle.
Cade glanced up over his shoulder. The light had nearly vanished leaving everything in a hazy shadow world. A world he knew so well it felt like his home. A glint of moonlight bounced off the barrel of a pistol. Older model. More likely to misfire at close range.
"Move away." The assailant waved the gun at him.
Cade sent a quick glance down at the frozen woman. Her lips were starting to turn blue from the cold wind sweeping towards them. Even the thug above them shivered and hunched further into his woolen jacket. Cade raised his hands in the air trying to present a harmless target as he slid away.
"I'm awful sorry, miss, but we can't let you take control." His voice was soft in the snowy darkness.
Cade silently slipped behind the man as he stepped towards the woman pointing the pistol at her forehead. Her sigh was soft in the air but went straight to his heart like a bolt of lightening. She closed her eyes as if she was waiting for someone to end her suffering. He wouldn't allow that. The pistol hammer clicked into place.
The world slowed.
Cade slipped his arm around the man's neck and twisted.
The neck snapped.
The pistol exploded.
The wind rushed in blowing heavy snow with it. Cade dropped to his knees just as another shot rang out.
In rapid succession which could only mean a Gatlan gun. Someone really intended for her to perish. He dropped his body over her.
"Who are your friends?"
She shook her head vehemently her body trembling against him.
"We have to get out of here."
Cade searched around them. They were sitting ducks. He needed to get them to cover. Unfortunately, the only cover was the woods the shooters were using.
"Can you move?"
"I...I... think so."
"Good. We're going to make a dash-"
"Where? There's no where to go."
He cupped her cheeks trying to get her gaze to focus on him. After a few seconds her gaze collided with him.
"There we go. I need you to concentrate on me."
"I don't know you."
He felt the little twitch of a smile again. "I know, but it looks like we don't have a choice."
"Do you know..." her gaze slid to the man whose neck he'd snapped then shot back to him. She swallowed. "How do I know you're not one of them?"
"I had plenty of chances to hurt you. I didn't. I saved you from being shot. At least three times."
I hope you enjoyed this short. The next installment will be posted on January 3, 2014.
Copyrighted 2013 Mae Pen