The meeting started in strange silence. Perhaps the men chatted when I wasn’t around, but whenever I entered with their drinks and intermeal foods they were silent as rabbits, and I did not have words to fill the air. They stared behind me as I walked, but it was different than before. Before, they had regarded me with laughter and lust. Now, something even worse: contempt.
In the little corner between the kitchen and the dining room, I stood with a bowl of candied almonds, waiting. Waiting for them to speak. Waiting for them to reveal the reason for their contempt.
“Well, what are you going to do?”
Charles’ voice, a low rumble: “I’ll take care of it, don’t worry.”
Nothing after that, so I brought the almonds to the table. As I walked away, I heard, “Shame that The Blue Orphan didn’t make it through the harbor. It would seem someone caught word of it.”
I hovered in that corner for a few seconds after the meeting ended, feeling a tingle of dread running through my whole body. They knew.
I should not be in the shadows. I didn’t feel safe hiding in darkness these days, but I stood there for a moment to catch my breath before I would head back into the kitchen and put on a brave face for my husband.
A hand at my neck, gripping me tight before I had time to grab my knife.
“You bitch.” I was still; I couldn’t move. The hand squeezed tighter around my neck, the same hands as last time, and the voice was in my ear, just as it had been that night. Firm and quiet. “Nobody else knew about The Blue Orphan.” He hissed, “It was you.”
He squeezed tighter. I kicked, shoved him away, clawed at him with every ounce of strength, but he was too strong. I was powerless. I had nothing.
Suddenly, his hands were all over me again, and right here, in this house, with Jasper only a door away, he was going to take me again, as he had done in the darkness when we were alone and I had nobody to save me.
I screamed, and he clapped a hand over my mouth, but certainly Jasper had heard me, and he was coming, and he would help me. Jasper. No noise; I could not make an alarm with his hand over my mouth, but I struggled. I would not be frozen like last time, when the knife was at my neck. If he wanted me now, he would have to fight.
He pushed down the sleeve of my dress, baring my shoulder, and squeezed it with his free hand. I wept, wept as he lifted my skirt, wept as I closed my eyes and willed God to take me, wishing he were pressing a knife to my throat like last time, wishing he would dig in the blade hard enough to end this.
He stopped. My eyes were closed, and I didn’t want to open them, not for anything in the world, but I wanted to know what had seized him. Was it a cruel glimmer of false hope? Was he sizing me up before he pounced?
When I opened my eyes, I was met not with the sight of Charles, but with Jasper’s urgent gaze. I had never seen rage so potent. He had a gun to Charles’ head, and Jasper shoved him away from me, the gun still trained right on his nose. There were no words in the ensuing moments, just guttural roars as Jasper attacked him like a lion. The gun clattered onto the ground, a more useful weapon than his bare hands, but apparently not as satisfying. Jasper was on top of him, pushing him to the ground, beating the wits out of him, until he was nearly unconscious.
When the loyalist was incapacitated, Jasper went back to the gun. He knelt to pick it up, slowly cocking the trigger, not taking his eyes off my attacker for a moment.
“No,” I gasped, still weeping and incoherent. I did not want to watch a killing. “No blood.”
Jasper turned back to me, confused. He was a wild animal distracted from his prey. He had never been so angry, not that I had ever seen, and it would take a particular strength to coax him back to enough sense to put down the gun and let the culprit live. I feared I did not have that strength.
“No blood,” I said. “Not here.”
Jasper regarded the unconscious perpetrator, and a careful moment passed, a moment that would determine life or death. With a glance back at my desperate, disheveled form, he tucked the gun onto his belt and came to me, drawing me to him, pressing me close so I could breathe in his familiar smell as my whole body shuddered, overcome by wave after wave of tears.
Once I was relatively calm, he took a moment to drag Charles away. Knowing Jasper, he’d likely dragged him to the sewer out back where, if God was good, some madman might find him and stick a knife in his neck. Regardless, he would wake up in the gutter with a clear picture that if he tried to enter this place again, Jasper would rip him apart with his bare hands.
I didn’t speak a word the whole night. Jasper took me upstairs to our room and laid me onto the bed before disappearing. I was anxious to be alone, so I listened to the indistinct sounds of knocks on doors, of harsh words, and then footsteps down the stairs.
When he came back, my mouth was too dry to ask what he’d just done, but he explained. “All of that cohort are gone. I watched them go, and they’re not coming back.” How he could be so sure of that, I didn’t know, but I trusted him.
He held me tight, and I pressed deeper against him, desperate for his warmth and the protection of his arms. “Lucy,” he whispered, “That will never happen again. I promise.”
I did not know if he could keep such a promise. He blew out the candle and crawled back to the bed, where he held me so tight I could hardly breathe and muttered words of comfort while I periodically battled a flood of tears. Neither of us slept that night.