Isabelle's Burden

PART SIX

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PART SIX
PART SEVEN
EPILOGUE
FEEDBACK

“Stop looking at me.” Grief took D'Artagnan by the reins and pulled him steadfastly along as they made their way to the stables where Athos, Aramis and Porthos were already stalled. The brindle’s large expressive eyes seemed to be asking for a pardon. “If it was up to me you’d be dog food by now. You know that, don‘t you?” Grief inanely warned the horse.

The comment was met with a dispassionate snort from the animal.

Washing up at a pump near a small hay and feed out-building across from the stalls, Paiku watched the captain. Although somewhat detached, Grief was surprisingly good with the horses. The stable hand had never really thought of him as anything more than a good man of the sea. He was a smart and fair person to be sure, managing to get Miss Isabelle to forgive an errant young native after a bad spot of trouble many months ago. She rehired Paiku at the captain’s urging. That placed David Grief very high on Paiku’s list of men whose respect he would like to maintain.

Drying hands on the front portion of his dark work sarong, Paiku continued to watch Grief as he led the last brindle into its pen. The captain then shut the gate and looked long and hard at the beast, as if trying to figure it out. The horse reached out with his long nose and nuzzled Grief’s cheek. He drew back, vaguely annoyed, but then an expression came over Grief’s face that Paiku recognized as reluctant forgiveness. Smiling kindly, he reached out and gently patted the horse, rubbing below its right ear.

Cautiously, Paiku moved forward, approaching Grief. If he could absolve the horse of its part in the making of Miss Isabelle’s condition then perhaps Grief might do the same with a wayward Matavian native. “Captain, it’s only five o’clock. Do you think, perhaps, we are bringing the horses in too soon?”

“There is such a thing as over-working a horse, Paiku.” Grief said, “They went through their paces earlier today, as they have all week. Tonight they rest. Tomorrow, when the buyers come, the horses should be eager and ready to go.”

“The men from New Zealand will be very impressed.” Paiku predicted, “You and Mauriri have done an excellent job.” Paiku glanced from Grief to D'Artagnan, “I know Miss Isabelle is very pleased.”

Aware there was something unspoken on the young native’s tongue, Grief looked steadily at Paiku. “It hasn’t been just us.” he ventured a guess, “Paskow, Baru and especially you, Paiku, deserve a firm pat on the back. I’ll be sure to tell Isabelle this tonight.”

Paiku appeared startled, “No, don’t do that.” His expression was then thoughtful and slightly nervous. “I know she appreciates all we have done.” Paiku kicked a small stone with his bare toe, uncomfortable at having revealed something better left concealed. Still, there was no denying it: “She is very special - Miss Isabelle - isn‘t she?”

“Yes.” Grief said and meant it, “Never tell her she can’t do something. That’s Isabelle Reed.”

“She appreciates qualities in people and animals like no other.” Paiku continued, “She understands her workers too, as we understand her and what she is trying to accomplish.”

Curious, Grief‘s brow creased. “I’m certain she values your loyalty. “ If he didn’t know better Grief would think Paiku was fishing for answers to an elusive question. It then suddenly occurred to him what might be on the young native‘s mind, “I also appreciate all you have done, Paiku.”

He looked up at the captain, “Really?”

“Yeah,” Grief smiled and rubbed D'Artagnan’s nose, “I know I was fuming earlier. Bringing Miss Isabelle out here when she should have stayed at Lavinia’s was, rationally speaking, not too terribly smart but I also understand that Miss Isabelle, as good a lady as she is, can be a little … persistent.” He met the native’s eyes, “I can see how someone, particularly an employee, might be intimidated by her and - umh - might do something they otherwise would not do.”

Paiku’s smile was knowing. He found himself wondering if Captain Grief was talking about Miss Isabelle’s stable hand or - perhaps - himself.

Grief continued, “And, seeing how well Isabelle has reacted to being home, laying in her bed, surrounded by her property and horses …. It was the right thing to have done, Paiku.”

“Thank you, Captain.” he said then reflected, “The horses are her life and her livelihood. She buys and sells. A little of herself goes out with each animal that is purchased. It is good Miss Isabelle has so much life in her and can give of what is hers so freely.”

Grief said: “You care deeply for her, don’t you?”

An uneasy Paiku paused in his thoughts, unable to deny the hidden meaning of Grief’s question, “Yes, I do.” he said, straightening. “But she cares deeply for another. I want her to be happy. She deserves it.”

“Why don’t you feed and water these animals while I go out and clean the corral.” Grief quickly changed the subject, “We want to make a good impression.”

“Yes sir.” Paiku hesitated, unsure what to make of the captain’s obvious discomfort and the way he changed the subject. “Tell Miss Isabelle, when you see her later this evening, Captain, that we have everything well in hand.”

‘Our last tutorial.’ Grief thought and watched the boy leave. He then thoughtfully looked up at Isabelle’s bedroom window. He could see the woman’s profile from where she sat on her bed, her back supported by pillows, her hair down and shoulders draped by a pretty robe. She was speaking to Lianni and although Grief could not see the other woman he could tell by Isabelle’s dazzling smile, the way her eyes sparkled, that something humorous must have been said.

Grief might have remained there for a long while, gazing at Isabelle and thinking deeply about what Paiku had said; he might have contemplated again about how lovely she looked, despite her bruises, while she rested nude in the bathtub, unaware she was being watched … except that he was interrupted by a voice.

“Something interesting?” Claire asked, standing beside him, looking up to where David had been gazing.

“No … I ah …” Grief stammered uncharacteristically, “I just thought I saw something.”

Claire spotted Isabelle in the window, “Apparently you did, David.”

“More biscuits, Claire?” Grief quickly asked, redirecting their conversation and noting the container in her hands.

“I heard Isabelle didn’t taste or see the last batch so I thought I’d pay her a visit.”

“Good. “ Grief said, “I’m glad. She’ll be very happy to see you …”

He excused himself with a murmur then headed out to the corral. Grief could not believe he never heard Claire enter the pen area. He could practically hear Mauriri’s laugh, telling him how he was losing touch. ‘Senility is only a few years away …’ he’d say and, ‘Maybe it’s time you find a wife and have a family, David. Make yourself useful.’

For the first time in his life David Grief found himself listening to Mo’s now imagined voice and, although Grief was loathed to admit it, he was finding himself agreeing with his Polynesian friend. Perhaps Mauriri wasn’t so wrong about his partner after all.

***

“ … and then Baru put us both on Dante!” Tahnee spoke enthusiastically with Isabelle, sitting at the edge of her bed, telling the temporarily laid up lady about her and Teveki’s day whilst visiting the stables.

“Well, that sounds exciting!” Isabelle spoke genially, “Were you afraid?”

“Oh no!”

While Lianni gathered up some dishes and placed them on a serving platter Teveki, with a white towel, was busily and earnestly drying the inside of Isabelle’s large, damp claw-foot bathtub.

“Can we come again tomorrow?” Tahnee asked.

“You have school tomorrow.” Lianni reminded her daughter then passed the tray to the girl, “Master Bradshaw holds class only twice a week, Tahnee, so you are going. It's important to your father that you have a western education as well as being taught the history and legends of our own island.”

The girl actually enjoyed school but was disappointed never the less. She liked talking with Miss Isabelle, serving her food, and romping outside with her horses.

“Say goodbye to Isabelle and take the dishes downstairs. Your brother and I will be down soon.”

“Bye.” Tahnee smiled a little despondently and slipped from the bed.

“Bye sweetie, thanks for the visit.” Isabelle winked at the girl, watching her leave, and then smiled up at Lianni. “So soon?” she asked.

“I’m sorry to leave you so early, Isabelle. It’s just with the children and all; I really don’t want to travel through the woods in the dark.”

“Of course, Lianni.” Isabelle precluded a smile and managed to look sincere although she still felt the native woman’s fears of a cursed woods behind her stables a little silly. Lianni had come in again today mentioning how she and the children could hear voices in the forest but did not see a single human being. “Don’t worry, Lianni. David will be coming up for his tutorial soon. I’ll be fine.”

“Good luck tomorrow, Isabelle.” Lianni said, sincerely. “I know everything will work out well.”

“Thank you.” Isabelle gave a short wave to Treveki as he and his mother walked down the stairs.

A few moments later Isabelle heard the back door, situated near her office, open and close. She told Lianni yesterday that it was much easier using that exit than walking through the corral and around the front gates. It was a nice short cut where a few minutes could be shaven off their walk-home-time. She was pleased Lianni listened and appeared to agree with her.

Looking out her window to the stalls below Isabelle smiled mildly and a little solemnly. Lianni was very worried about Mauriri and she didn’t blame her. Isabelle had heard about the French pirates and no one on the sea was safe right now. It would have been better if the partners had left on the voyage together. There was safety in numbers and when David and Mauriri watched each other’s backs they could get by any obstacle. Yet, despite this honest and somewhat unselfish thought process, Isabelle was enormously happy David had stayed behind to help her.

Regardless of their tiff last night, how she bristled at what she felt was a betrayal by Captain Grief; Isabelle knew David had genuinely meant no harm. He could no more help being who he was than she could stop looking for something better in life. She was gratified they made up earlier in the day. In retrospect the whole apology this afternoon was rather adorable and entertaining.

David did not know that she knew he had been watching her in the bathtub. She saw him out of the corner of her eye, silent and staring. He stood there stunned and immobile and it gave Isabelle a great deal of personal pleasure knowing she was the reason he was staggered beyond words and movement. Isabelle had even rocked her head rearward, arching her back ever so slightly, so he could get a better view. It hurt but was worth it to know he still found her physically attractive. It was silly, quite self-indulgent of her really, and Isabelle knew if she was back in England or even in France many would believe her a hopeless flirt and harlot. Yet, she just could not help herself. She liked the idea of David looking at her, appreciating her beauty and possibly even wanting her desperately. Her injury, at that moment, was the last thing on his mind.

Blinking and coming back to the present Isabelle made a decision. She mentally promised, during tonight’s final tutorial, she and David would talk seriously about where, if anywhere, the two of them were going. They had been stepping around one another for far too long. There was no reason for it to be put off any longer. If he wanted her in his life she needed to know.

Aramis whinnied and Isabelle gazed down to the stalls, focusing on the bridles. They looked wonderful; almost as good as they would if she had been able to take care of them on her own. However, if they did not sell, if the New Zealanders did not want them after all, she would be cleaned out. And would have to … Oh David, if you’re sincere this time please let me know … I couldn’t take it if I thought …. If I had to leave and … Where was he?

“He’s not out there.”

Dazed, Isabelle turned and looked at Claire, who had entered her bedroom silently. “Wha …?”

“David. He’s cleaning the corral for your visitors tomorrow.”

“Oh?” Isabelle was still confused. Had Claire read her mind?

“You were looking out the window, Isabelle.” Claire explained, tossing her cream colored shawl on a chair. “A little earlier I saw David looking up at you from below.” Claire moved forward, “I really think you two should …”

“Thank you for coming, Claire.” Isabelle interrupted, somehow managing to sound tactful. “Did you bring me a treat?”

“Yes, I did.” Claire allowed the clever diversion for now. “And in return I’m willing to make us tea.” In a no nonsense manner, devoid of overt pleasantness, Claire handed the biscuit tin to Isabelle. She then made a move to the stairs once again. “When I return we can talk. At that time I will allow you to apologize to me.” Claire stopped on the first two steps, descending downward then, over her shoulder she winked at Isabelle and continued down to the kitchen.

Relieved, Isabelle sighed gently with a grin and looked down at the biscuit tin.

***

With the back of his opposite arm and hand, he wiped off the sweat which dotted his forehead and ran down his right cheek. Leaning on a rake, Grief surveyed the area with approval. The corral was immaculate. If the New Zealanders did not like what they saw then there would be no pleasing them.

They had to be impressed. If the brindles did not please Grief would take it as a personal failure. There was too much at stake. Isabelle might be forced to leave Matavai and, Grief was forced to admit, he could not abide by it. Matavai was Isabelle’s home and second chance. If she failed here, if he found himself unable to aid her, it would not just be the financial finish of the woman but possibly the emotional end as well. He saw how Isabelle looked out the window, how she silently fretted over her painful injuries and masked her fears … and he had wanted last night to make it all go away for her. He had wanted to ease her mind, to kiss her fears away … and he had blundered.

At least she had forgiven him. That was something. But now he needed more. Grief wanted to see her smile again. Not just a gentle, humorous smile but something big and genuine; filled with the joy of living. Perhaps it was time to take a step with Isabelle Reed. His heart had been telling him to seize the moment for months but his brain was stuck in the past, recalling a woman who could not be trusted. She had changed much since then and so had he.

“Captain!”

Grief looked to his right, near the east woods, where the call came from but he did not see anyone. It might have been Paiku but he could not be sure.

“Captain!” The tone sounded distressed.

Puzzled, Grief narrowed his eyes and leaned the rake against a heavy hold board. “Paiku?!” he called back.

When the club slammed against the side of his head, when the stars and bubbles of color danced and his vision blurred to become gray then black, the only thing Grief could think of - before unconsciousness - was that Isabelle was going to be very disappointed in him again when he did not show for his final tutorial.

***

Isabelle and Claire looked at one another, smiling. They had made amends, quickly and without difficulty, and were now exchanging gossip. Sometimes it really was just that easy.

“She did tell me if he asked she would probably say yes.” Isabelle informed.

Sipping her tea, Claire nodded. “I think Lavinia and Nilo Rumha will be very happy. He’s no David Grief but he’s reliable and stays home most nights. It‘s that kind of security Lavinia needs.”

“What do you need, Claire?”

The girl raised her head and, with bright blue eyes glittering in the low candlelight, she spoke honestly, “Much of the same I suppose. I’m having the adventure of a life here on Matavai but one day I’ll want to settle down, set up house with the right man and have children.” The pretty blond then looked directly at her friend and asked, “What about you Isabelle? How do you see your future?”

Isabelle, her shoulders resting comfortably on plump pillows, sniggered. “To be honest, Claire, I am not at all certain if I have a future. I find myself living from day to day right now but if there is something ….”

“… or someone …’

“…special for me out there I’d like to see it happen after I’ve amassed my fortune.”

Claire appeared a little disappointed, “Is being wealthy so important to you?”

“Comfort is. I haven’t had a lot of it in my life, Claire.”

Understanding, Claire glanced at Isabelle’s wrapped shoulder. It was just another moment of distress in an already eventful and difficult life. Isabelle had and was still having an adventurous existence but she was right. There were more than a few bumps along the way. She was a good, brave woman and Claire was pleased they had become friends. Isabelle had taught her a great deal.

“So,” Claire stood from where she had been sitting, placing her cup and saucer on a side table, and rounded to the bedroom window. She gave the outside a perfunctory glance then turned about, the pane behind her. “How do you think Mauriri will react when he learns Lianni is expecting?”

“I think …” Isabelle began but was distracted when, looking in Claire‘s direction, she caught an odd movement behind her, out of the window. “What is that?” Isabelle sat up straighter on the bed.

Claire turned about and looked at what Isabelle had seen. She wasn’t entirely certain what it was she was witnessing. Two disheveled men with swords were carrying a sleeping Paiku between them through the main gates. They deposited him near an area where hay had been stacked.

There was already a man there, wearing a light colored soiled linen suite, sitting on the ground. Although he was not unconscious he appeared very disturbed. Something he said made one of the men, the one with the eye patch, back-hand him across the face. It was then that Claire realized his wrists were bound.

“Isabelle … “ she started, backing away from the window, “Something is very wrong.”

Leaning forward, frowning at the pain from her injured leg, Isabelle watched as an unconscious David Grief was then brought through the gates just as Paiku had been a few minutes before. There were about six strange men inside her stable yard now, two at the gates, opening and closing them when required.

Two of the men approached her brindles and Isabelle felt her blood run cold. One of the men shouted at another and she acknowledged the language as French. These men were thieves and villains … pirates.

“Claire, you need to get Lieutenant Morlais. Tell him what is happening here.”

“And leave you alone?”

“Go out the back door and hurry.”

“Isabelle …”

“Go.” she commanded then as Claire moved away, “Be careful.”

Isabelle warily reached over to her bedside table and pulled open the drawer. Her fingers searched inside and found what she was looking for. She pulled out the small gleaming derringer then closed the drawer with the back of her hand. She had placed a long, sharp-looking letter opener between the pages of a novel she had been reading and pulled it from the pages on the bed beside her. Isabelle hid both weapons underneath her bed clothes.

***

“Hey you, wake up!”

Grief squeezed his eyes together and listened to the annoying cultured voice. Was the great divine finally calling David William Grief forward and asking him to explain himself? Slowly and with great effort Grief blinked his eyes open. Even the soft glare of early evening light caused a sharp aching pain near his left temple.

“Thank heavens you’re all right.”

Sitting up, his hands were tied behind him, Grief looked at the pallid man sitting beside him. “Who are you?” he asked while working on his restraints.

“The name’s Richard Henry Hurst. I was a passenger on the Lady Jane.” The man’s voice was slightly clipped and educated, possibly Australian aristocracy. “Then these hooligans came and pirated us.”

Lady Jane? You were attacked by the Terreur?”

“Yes, that’s what they call themselves. They threatened to kill everyone, Mister ... ”

“Captain David Grief.“ he introduced then, “Why did they take you?”

The man appeared a little uncomfortable now. “The pirate captain was brutal. He threatened to kill the men and enslave the women and children because there was not enough plunder aboard the vessel. I stepped forward and told him I knew a location where there were four very rare and valuable horses. They might be equal or better than the booty they took from the ship … So they kidnapped my partner and me.”

“Where is your partner?”

“He’s still on the ship, along with their captain. I fear for his safety.”

“You and your partner are the New Zealanders that were to buy the brindles from Isabelle Reed?” Grief asked, suddenly aware.

“Yes.” he nodded, “All our correspondence with Miss Reed had been through the post or telegrams. But when she told us she had found brindles we knew this was a voyage that could not be skipped.” Then out of the side of his mouth, “Now I wish we had.”

“So you led them here? The pirates?”

“Yes, and I apologize. We didn’t know what else to do … It‘s bad enough being taken by pirates but why did they have to be French pirates?” he growled, frustrated.

If the situation hadn’t been so serious Grief might have rolled his eyes at Hurst’s snooty attitude but, for now, there were other things to worry about. “Where’s Paiku?”

“Paik … who?” The man indicated the unconscious figure on the other side of him, “That native lad? I’m afraid he took a nasty hit to the head from one of those ruffians, Captain.”

Empathizing, Grief lifted himself up on his elbows and looked passed Hurst. A small trace of blood appeared on the boy’s lips and a bruise was forming on his forehead, just below the hairline. He was still but Paiku’s breathing appeared normal.

“Thank goodness Miss Reed isn’t here.” Hurst murmured. “No telling what those men would do to her.”

As an automatic reflex, Grief’s eyes flashed upward to the window of her bedroom. It was at an angle and he could not see her. He hoped Isabelle and Claire knew what was happening and stayed out of sight. They were smart women but when it came to her property, particularly her horses, Isabelle often times lost her ability to think logically.

Grief looked about and noted that their assailants were milling about, knocking over barrels and crates, bragging, and telling filthy jokes but not, at the moment, actually stealing the horses.

That, at least, would keep Isabelle calm for awhile.

“They’re waiting for dark.” Hurst anticipated Grief’s question and looked up at the sky, “I suppose they feel it will be safer. That’s about an hour away I imagine.”

An hour, Grief thought. He had a cushion of an hour to think up something spectacular.

“I am bored, Bon amis,” One of the larger men shouted, “Why don’t we take one of these betes and see what makes them so valuable, eh?” He headed toward D'Artagnan’s stall.

Grief rocked his head back and forth, unbelieving. The good from this very bad circumstance was rapidly becoming horrific.

**

One of the pirates had found a riding crop and was snapping it near D'Artagnan’s face. The horse reared up on its back legs, remaining in place only because another pirate had a firm hold of his bridle. He was obviously a very unhappy horse.

Amused, the pirates laughed loudly.

“He’s magnificent!” Hurst exclaimed quietly, “Look how powerful that brindle is.”

Paiku, sitting beside the man and now wide awake although severely bruised, agreed. “They are all equally as beautiful.” He whispered through puffy lips. “And when you look into their eyes it’s as if seeing what the gods had intended for men.”

Grief looked at the two men. Were they mad? Isabelle’s stable had been taken over by murderous brutes, the Terreur sat dangerously close to Matavai, the three of them were being held captive, Isabelle was in harm’s way and the only thing these two could think about was how great the horse looked?

Determined, he worked harder on loosening his restraints. Grief could feel the rope fraying. If he could just catch someone by surprise before …

“Look!” Once of the men pointed to Isabelle’s window.

Grief’s mind screamed NO!

“I saw movement.” he said.

“A woman. It was a woman, I am sure of it.” said another.

The leader of this group of pirates, the man who was teasing D'Artagnan, called to the thugs closest to the stalls, “Laurent, François … go investigate. If it is a woman and she is pretty … bring her down to play.” he said, lewdly.

Grief’s fear almost got the better of him until he felt the ropes part from his wrists. He was about to whisper this fact to Hurst and Paiku when he caught sight of something interesting. A single guard was left at the gate while the men were having their fun with D'Artagnan but now he was missing and the gate had opened a crack. Grief could see the flash of a blue uniform … and Morlais mustache.

The cavalry had come.

**

She did not mean to do it. She had stayed as far away from the window as possible, laying as still as she could, but when she heard those bastards abusing one of her precious brindle’s Isabelle could not keep motionless.

Isabelle heard her front door open. She clutched the hidden weapons in her bed, under the covers as she saw the shadows creep up her wall, the steps of her stairs squeaking, announcing unwanted company.

The shadows and sounds turned into human beings, scruffy men who were now standing past the top step, staring at Isabelle as she lay on the bed, studying them.

Her expression was passive, revealing neither anger nor fear.

“Laurent, look at what we have here. A beautiful little bird with a broken wing.” the bearded, thinner of the two pirate commented. “Our reward for all those months at sea?” he suggested.

The men moved forward a few paces.

“Come any closer and you will regret it.” Isabelle cautioned.

“Ah, a bird with a very sharp beak, I’d say.” the heavier pirate with a barrel chest remarked to his companion. “You first, mone amis?”

You. François wishes to watch.”

Both men sniggered then the bigger pirate made his move. “Com’er darling, let Laurent kiss your blessure and make it all better.”

“Do not come any closer!” Isabelle’s shoulders stiffened and her expression grew a bit more anxious, “You are making a big mistake.”

“A challenge. I would not be Laurent the Amoureux if I didn’t …”

Isabelle lifted her weapon into view from beneath the covers and, wasting no more time, shot her would-be attacker once in the chest. The small gun held only one bullet but her aim was true. Isabelle watched as the big man staggered backward, clutching the front of his now bloodied tunic then fell at first to his knees then pitching forward onto the floor.

Quickly, taking advantage of the bearded pirate’s shock, Isabelle threw the emptied gun at him, connecting with his cheek, trying to do as much damage as she could while she pulled up her sharp blade-like bookmarker.

Undeterred, the pirate stepped over his companion’s body, barely acknowledging that he had been struck, and launched himself at the woman.

Isabelle swept wide with the letter opener; catch the front of his tunic, tearing it, but not connecting with skin. Pain shot through her shoulder. If she had been healthier it might have worked, she would have downed her enemy without a hindrance, but the combination of her injured shoulder, pain and medication caused the usually agile Isabelle to falter.

She cried out in frustration and fear as the pirate knocked the letter opener out of her hand. He grasped both of her wrists as he lay on top of Isabelle, pinning her wounded leg and shoulder, pressing rudely against the sling, causing terrible pain, keeping her still.

“Laurent was my best ami. We practically grew up together. I’m sorry to see his demise.” He spoke close to Isabelle’s face, his rough beard and bad breath causing her to wince. “I suppose I will have to take my anguish out on your soft, white flesh, cheri‘.”

“Not in your lifetime!” Isabelle spat and struggled but she was truly overwhelmed and knew it. She had known many Frenchmen. Some where charming and quite romantic but this fiend was none of those. She could not even pretend to go along with his vile threat, pretending to be interested to buy time.

As his thin, cold mouth came down to crush hers she cried out and bit his lower lip hard. He drew back quickly, “Slut!” François bellowed. The pirate reared back and struck Isabelle across the face, dazing her. He then began to tear at the front of her nightgown.

But then he was away from Isabelle, his weight pulled from her body in an explosion of shouts, violence and profanity.

And David was there … sitting beside her. His hands were caressing her cheek where the pirate had slapped her, “Are you all right?” he asked in a most gentle voice, “Did he hurt you?”

She was dazed and still a little frightened, “I’m ... I'm okay.” she said in a weak, confused voice, her face slowly crumbling under the pressure of knowing what would have happened if David and the others had not arrived when they did.

“Grief!” Morlais called, “I just received word. My men have seized the ship and now Miss Reed’s stable is secured!”

“Did you hear that, Isabelle?” Grief’s hands were on her shoulders, massaging them softly, soothing her. “Thanks to you sending Claire off to get Morlais the Terreur is no more.

“My brindles?” she asked, still not entirely certain of what was happening around her.

“Safe.” Then he smiled, knowing something she did not. “And I have a feeling the New Zealanders will give you anything you ask for them now.”

“David …." she began but could not continue. Isabelle leaned into him, wrapping her good arm around his waist, feeling him embrace her warmly and whisper soothing words into her ear. She felt safe yet again and, not for the first time, wished she could have him hold her like this forever.

***

(Only one more chapter left! Coming very soon!)

Oh ... just a few more things to clear up .... <g>