Chapter 13

Chester, England.

Fourding's carriage rode into Chester at an unremarkable pace and he arrived at his sister's home quite late in the evening, certain that dinner would already have been served and finished. He glared at his unapologetic valet whose care for his health of ten led him to questionable and defiant ends. He was even now advising that he retire as soon as he saw his sister. In as dangerous a tone as he could manage he told the other man to mind his damned business and that he could very well decide for himself what exactly he was going to do once he entered the house. Giving his daughter a piece of his mind was at the very top of the list and he had no intention of retiring until at least part of that was worked out of his system.

Accepting his man's assistance as he climbed out of the vehicle, he surveyed the unsettlingly quiet household. He was in the process of convincing himself of some intriguing conspiracy as he approached the front door and he was almost certain that something was wrong until the door was open to him and the familiar face of Henley, Augusta's butler welcomed him with what he knew was congeniality. No one who was not familiar with the butler would have recognized the slight change in expression that was his manner of showing happiness. Greeting the man with all the enthusiasm of a man glad to have been proved wrong, he was nonetheless puzzled over the butler's suddenly confused expression when his valet followed him and shut the door.

But the well trained man gave no further indication of bewilderment, so Adrian was forced to ignore the unguarded moment. His sister and her husband had retired to an upstairs parlor, having dined already and would be informed of his arrival. After this information, he harrumphed and followed the man up with him. He knew Henley expected no less and he supposed it would be best to see his sister before confronting Victoria. He might be given some insight as to this mad escapade and that was something he would dearly like. It was not like Victoria to cause him undue worry, despite her somewhat unconventional ways. It just wasn't her style and that alone had aroused his suspicion and frankly, his confusion. Henley only had time to briefly announce his presence before he intruded upon the cozy couple.

"Good evening Augusta, I dear say you've been expecting me. Good evening, Chandish." He greeted them both and accepted his brother-in-law's hand shake. His sister rose to offer a warm hug but said with much surprise.

"Hardly, Adrian, this is very much a shock. You might have let me know you were coming by, I would have had dinner delayed."

He looked at her in some puzzlement and asked, "Well surely, you must have known I would come by soon enough."

"Soon enough, certainly, old chap," the earl of Chandish said in a jovial manner, "You've been promising a visit for some time. Is Victoria downstairs? No doubt she's directing the unloading of your things."

"Well how should I know if Victoria is downstairs? Though she might very well be doing just that if she knows I've come. I assure you however, that that will not be enough to placate me."

"What on earth are you talking about, Adrian?" His sister asked with some impatience. "How could she not know that you've come if she came with you?"

"Came with me? But she's been here for the past week and more!" He directed the accusation in an infuriated manner, wondering why husband and wife were looking at him as thought he'd sprouted horns.

"Been in Chester? Adrian, are you quite alright?" His sister's concern was almost as frustrating as her confusion.

"Of course I'm alright," He blustered. "I'd just like you to produce my daughter so she can explain to me why she found it necessary to flee London in this- this manner."

"Adrian, how on earth are we supposed to do that if she isn't here? You don't mean to say you've misplaced Victoria?"

"Misplaced her?!" He looked affronted at the accusation and looked from man to wife. "You mean to say she's not here?"

"Well no, of course she's not. You don't know where she is?" Augusta's alarm was contagious and he felt a wave of unease.

"But her note! It said she was here, that she'd decided to visit with you for some time."

"And you only thought to come now?" The countess looked incredulous and Adrian fought the desire to reply in the defensive.

"I assumed she would write again once she had arrived and er explain herself. You must understand that Victoria is given to unusual ways and I often allow her much- much freedom."

"Adrian, you cannot mean to say that your daughter has been missing for the past week and you've only just discovered this?" She didn't wait for an answer to that quite unanswerable question but swept out of the room in search of Henley.


"My lady! Something has happened?"

"Yes, and you must use the utmost discretion. Send someone you trust or go yourself for the chief constable."

"The chief constable?"

"Please don't ask questions, just have him here immediately."

She turned and caught sight of a made peering into the front hall from the kitchens and she called her in.

"Clarice, isn't it?" She asked the girl sharply.

Blushing furiously at having been caught peeping, the maid nodded.

"Very good, I need you to arrange a portmanteau of only very necessary things for myself. Mind that, only very necessary things."

"Me, my lady?" Her eyes grew wide and surprised.

"Yes, you. I've seen you help Kathy with my things before, so you'll know where they are. Please be quick about it too, but for heaven's sake don't rumple anything."

"Yes, my lady."

"And when you're finished, you may pack some things of your own. Necessary also, please."

"Of course, my lady." The girl looked ready to burst with this personal mission and was making a quick progress up the stairs.

"And, Clarice?"

"Yes, my lady."

"Endeavor to keep this to yourself." The countess made sure to pierce her with a sharp stare that boded trouble if she shared the gossip with the rest of the staff.

"Yes, my lady." Clarice had the good grace to blush before she continued up the stairs.

Turning back to the right stairwell, she walked briskly back to the parlor where her husband and brother were in conversation.

"I cannot imagine why she would write the note, if she had no plans to come here." Adrian said, his face ashen and looking so pitiful that Augusta could not help but feel sorry for him.

"Yes, well perhaps she didn't write the note." She suggested softly, making them both jump.

"I've said as much, considering subterfuge." The earl added. "Victoria is a very straightforward young woman."

"Perhaps she has gone to Littleborough?" Adrian suggested perking up.

"Perhaps," Augusta conceded. "Which is why, Richard, you will make a trip to Edenland tomorrow while I accompany Adrian back to London."

Edenland, the marquis's country seat was unfortunately some distance away and Augusta would rather have been in London already than making a long and probably unnecessary trip to Lancashire.

"Of course," the earl said, rising. "I'll join you in London later. I must arrange things with my man." He quitted the room with a nod at Adrian, whose color had not yet fully returned.

"We'll find her, Adrian." Augusta said quietly to her brother. "In spite of Richard says, I think I know Victoria better and this is undoubtedly some new adventure of hers. If what you say about giving her free rein is true, I rather think she may not have considered the possibility that you would come looking for her. Thoughtless certainly, but we can ensure that no real harm comes about from this."


James deepened the kiss and felt himself losing control as she pressed her body to his. He held her to him and carried her as he rose. She hadn't been distracted by the process of moving from the chair and he was encouraged to take things further. He pulled away reluctantly and swept her off her feet. Her eyes were burning with desire, if only she knew it and he wasted no time heading for his bedroom. Perhaps it was the sight of the bed or perhaps the haze of desire had just faded because she suddenly asked with no small amount of apprehension.

"What are you doing?!"

"Moving to more comfortable arena," he said with a smile that wasn't lost to her. She refused to be diverted however and struggled in his arms.

"Put me down, Ardsley! I don't know what you mean by 'comfortable arena,' but you're not carrying me into your bedroom in this- this scandalous fashion!"

The smile was gone as quickly as it had come and he stopped in his tracks. With gritted teeth he said, "Please don't do this now, Victoria. I know what we both want."

"I have no doubt you know exactly what you want, Ardsley, but you are very far off the mark if you think I wish to engage in…licentious activities with you. Now please put me down."

"You seemed eager enough some minutes ago," he bit out.

"Obviously it was the…novelty of the experience that kept me distracted but I will not allow you to take advantage of me. Again." The last word bought a frown from him but he remained quiet, considering ignoring her demands and proving that he did know what they both wanted, damn it.

"Put me down, Ardsley." She made it sound like a royal decree and he decided he didn't like her using his name. He wondered how much his conscience would bother him if he dropped her right then.

"Now, Ardsley." Damn but she had a mouth that could shrivel a man's desire. It hadn't done much for him however and while he slowly let her down, he was still not decided on simply letting her go. He was lucky he was paying attention because as soon as her feet touched the floor, she spun around and raised her hand to deliver what he was sure would be another stinging slap.

He caught her hand in mid-air and said in a voice of steel, "You really should stop doing that, m'dear."

A/N: It's been a while, qui? So after re-reading this story, I realized how much I loved Victoria and James. And I realized how much editing needed to be done. So I did it! Yay! Nehoot, I went over the chapters, changed a couple of things so it makes more sense (hopefully) and I added a couple of things cause I like doing that lol. Notes on James: He's modeled after the majority of Johanna Lindsey's heroes (if you haven't heard of her, where have you been? Lol) and sometimes he comes across rather politically incorrect. But eh, he works. There's a chapter in this story that's so unlike all the others in the writing…I think I was reading too much Jane Austen when I wrote that but I'd have to re-write the entire thing to fix that so…lol, well you've seen how long it takes for me to update from scratch… As always, reviews are welcome. It is a strong encouragement. J