Isabelle's Burden
PART SEVEN
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PART SEVEN
EPILOGUE
FEEDBACK

If there had been more than the six armed and dangerous brigands present he doubted Morlais and his men would have been able to overpower them. The pirates were skilled and callous in their limited numbers but, most beneficially for the law, the men’s pistols and swords did not match up to the contemporary rifles and modern side arms of the twelve fervent yet pedestrian Matavai law enforcement officers.

Grief had pushed his way through the chaos of scuffling men, punching and shoving both soldiers and pirates out of his way in a desperate bid to get to Isabelle. God only knew what those brutes were doing to her! Unexpected, before reaching Isabelle‘s home, he felt a slash across the left side of his belly.

“David?” Isabelle questioned. Presently, she felt him weaken against her body whilst he embraced her. There was a time in her life when she thought this a good sign; a handsome man’s well toned body melting against her own. However, the pained groan that followed Grief’s moment of softness and compassion was alarming.

“It’s nothing.” he said, pulling back from her and frowning. He opened the right side of his light weight vest. A distinct splash of red on the middle left side of David’s open-neck blue shirt was noticeable. “One of those bastards just got a little too close to me with a blade.” When Isabelle’s eyes looked up and met his, horrified, Grief repeated: “Really, it’s nothing.”

He was a bit taken aback by her fear and concern. It perhaps was merely the strain Isabelle had been under, the residual horror at having nearly been molested by one of those vile men ... Nonetheless, David had to admit to himself - if to no one else - he appreciated the softness in her current approach and the fact that it truly appeared that Isabelle cared.

“David, I thought for a moment you might have …” Isabelle started, nearly weeping. But then, coming back to herself, she looked over his shoulder, “Claire! Get me some antiseptic and bandages from the bathroom!”

“Isabelle, it‘s really not that bad.” David lifted a hand from her shoulder and softly caressed her cheek. They gently smiled at one another, savoring a moment of serene sweetness between them. He then whispered, “Don’t worry. I’ll go get a drink at Lavinia’s a little later on and have her patch me up …”

It was meant as a way to sooth her but Grief knew, the moment the words slipped from between his lips, that he had said the wrong thing. He saw how it appeared. Despite the fact that they were parted, even though Lavinia was involved with another, David Grief still looked to his former lover during those times when he needed mending and a kind word.

She was trying so hard to hide it but Isabelle’s large, beautiful eyes were looking up at him now with such pain. It nearly broke Grief’s heart.

“Of course. I understand.” Isabelle averted her gaze, clearing her throat gently, and tried very hard not to appear thwarted yet again. She then smiled softly and brushed the fabric of his shirt downward. Carefully, with David’s help, Isabelle lay back in her bed once again.

It was tough but she tried to be understanding. Much had happened. Captain Grief needed a safe haven. Isabelle really did try to identify with what David might be feeling. Lavinia’s place was a safe haven for everyone … But it did not stop the ache in her heart. Why, Isabelle pondered, after all this time did he not come to her when in need of patching-up and assurance? Wasn’t she the one who had dug a bullet out of his shoulder last year? Didn’t she prove herself again when Mauriri was badly wounded and needed medical help? Who was it that stuck by his side during that deplorable Jenny Duval fiasco?

Despite it all, including the reality that he may have just saved her life again, Isabelle could not help feeling abandoned by David Grief. And she hated that she felt this way and was experiencing such longing.

“Captain Grief. Miss Reed. We will be leaving very shortly.” announced Lieutenant Morlais. The soldiers had carried the pirates from her room during she and David‘s exchange. Morlais, who had been over-seeing their removal, now called over to Isabelle from the top of the stairs, “Miss Reed, I will be sending forms over tomorrow morning. You will want to press charges for the assault, I assume.”

“Yes, Lieutenant.” Isabelle tried to keep the annoyance from her voice. Morlais nearly made the comment into a question. Did he really think she wanted to be attacked by those monsters?

“There will also be a pro forma to claim your reward.”

“Reward?”

“You, along with Grief and Mauriri Lepeau have captured the dread pirates of the Terreur. There is a reward, naturally.”

Usually the announcement of a remuneration of any kind would immediately catch Isabelle’s attention but something he said caused confusion. “Mauriri? What did he have to do with it?”

David, having learned the story earlier, explained: “The Rattler didn’t get far. Mauriri had a hunch and he acted on it. He was the one who initially spotted the Terreur docked near Matavai. He contacted other sea men who notified Morlais as The Rattler kept its distance but watched what The Terreur was doing.”

“He was out there all day? Just watching?“ she asked then, at David’s nod, chuckled. “Mauriri and his intuition. Good for him. He and Lianni will need the extra money now that …” Isabelle trailed off, forgetting for a moment that the native woman’s condition was to be kept a secret at least until her husband was informed.

If David was tipped off to anything he did not visibly show it.

“Well, I have much to do. Once again, thank you Grief and Miss Reed. You services have been invaluable.” Morlais excused himself with a patrician tone and a swipe to the bushy mustache on his upper lip.

The formality caused Grief and Isabelle to glance at one another and exchange winks.

“Do you want me to stay, Isabelle?” Claire, nearly forgotten in all the turmoil, asked from where she stood near Isabelle‘s wardrobe.

“If you don’t mind, Claire.” Isabelle nodded, grateful. The thought of being alone all night after everything that had happened was too much for even the courageous Miss Reed to suffer through.

“Not at all. I brought a bag just in case. I’ll get it from downstairs. Sitting here with you will give me a chance to think up a good byline for next week’s newspaper.” As Morlais had before her, the pert young English woman made her way to the stairs and descended. She paused on the third step, “Even wounded, you two are heroes once again. You make a good team.” she observed and sashayed downward.

Isabelle tried to smile. She was just too exhausted and, once again, thoughts of Grief being tended to by certain beautiful tavern keeper made her gloomy.

Unexpected, perhaps reading her thoughts, Grief gently moved forward and touched Isabelle’s cheek, “By the way, I think you will have no problem selling the brindles to the New Zealanders tomorrow. As a matter of fact you might even get double what you‘re asking, Isabelle.”

Isabelle blinked. She hadn’t even thought about her much treasured horses during the last hour. It was strange how priorities changed during a life or death struggle. “And how do you know that, David?” she asked.

“Let’s just say I have inside information.” Grief smiled at Isabelle and was pleased when she beamed in return.

***

That evening both women, dressed in nightgowns and sipping warm tea, talked.

Isabelle learned what had happened from Claire‘s point of view. The young newspaper woman had gotten to Morlais just as he was leaving the police station. She told him all that was happening, how brave Isabelle was left to fend for herself as fierce pirates were invading her land and stables.

The French lieutenant told her that they had spotted the Terreur docked only a few miles outside of Matavai. The pirates were not flying a customary skull and crossbones flag but the ship was recognized.

Claire said, “Lieutenant Morlais told me that once the pirates had taken your brindles and stowed them safely aboard their ship they planned on raiding other areas of Matavai.”

“I’m going to have to apologize to Lianni.” Isabelle told Claire over her steaming cup. Although not ghosts, those sounds the native woman had heard in the woods were not imagined. The crew of the Terreur had been watching her stables and other areas of Matavai from their camps during early and late evenings.

Fortunately for Isabelle, David and Matavai, Mauriri and The Rattler had ended their plans before they could be properly executed.

***

One month passed.

She was daydreaming. About what he did not know. He could only guess. But Grief could tell by the way Isabelle looked into the wooded area, behind and beside her home and stables, the way her lean yet alluring figure propped heavily against the solid gate of the corral, that she was pondering something of great depth.

Did Isabelle still have concerns about her health? Five days ago the bracing and bandages had been removed from her shoulder - to her great relief - and now she was slowly and carefully partaking in an exercise regimen to strengthen those muscles. She still sported a sling but all the superficial bruises had disappeared. Her lovely face was now clear and smooth and Isabelle’s disposition had also improved. As it turned out, the most serious of Isabelle’s injuries was her leg. She still limped when she walked and that concerned David but the doctor told Miss Reed that with suitable training and tenacity she would see improvement in no time.

Grief reached down and touched his rib area. His own injury was healing nicely, the wound much deeper than he let on the day it happened, but he was glad that if it had to happen it was during a time when he could recover without much loss of profit. As a matter of fact he, Mauriri and Isabelle had landed a nice chunk of reward with the capture of The Terreur. All three were surprised by the amount.

Mauriri, soon to be a father again, used the bulk of his money to add an extra room onto his modest home on the beach. They needed the extra space. Soon Tahnee would be a young lady and might need a room of her own. Besides, it kept him at home more. Mauriri sensed Lianni needed him more now, at this time in their lives, than with her other pregnancies. He was happy to oblige.

Isabelle, with her reward and also the cash she earned for the brindles paid off all her debts and did, with great satisfaction, buy her stables from the bank. Claire was so happy for her friend that she had a party for Isabelle last week at Lavinia’s. As a legitimate property owner she was now looked up to by many on Matavai, both native and European, and she was pleased.

It was at this party Isabelle learned from Claire that Lavinia and Nilo Rumha were officially engaged. She wondered if David knew as she watched him, from across the bar, talking with Mauriri and Jack and imbibing as the men always did during a celebration -- or any other time that were in a tavern.

David Grief, with his part of the reward, made repairs to the Rattler. It was a never ending obligation but one he took pride in. Then, with the other half, he made good on a promise. He bought wood. A lot of it. With the help of Jack McGonigall and Isabelle’s stable hands, he began to build her a new perimeter fence and corral.

In a week it was done, solid and picture perfect, and the thrilled expression on her face when Grief took Isabelle on a tour made him feel such a deep and tender feeling of pleasure he could have looked at her smile all day. She jumped forward and kissed him intensely on the lips, thanking him, then limped over to Jack and the hands to verbally thank them for all their hard work. The kiss had been brief but passionate. David watched, could not take his eyes off of her, as she shook hands with the other men, hugging Paiku briefly.

It was then and there that David Grief decided he was in love. He didn’t believe it before, tried valiantly to make it never happen, but now there was no doubt. But what about Isabelle? Would she ever believe he wasn’t merely playing a hero? Could she ever get passed his history with women?

In the present, he approached the corral and its lovely owner. She still stood there, gazing out into the woods and the mist that hung low to the ground. “Penny for your thoughts.” he said.

Gently jostled from her reverie, Isabelle smiled mildly. “Hello, David.” she responded. “Just thinking about William. I received a letter this morning. The rebuilding is going well.”

Grief paused and gazed out into the misty woods with her. “You miss him.”

She nodded, “Yes and maybe envy him a little as well.”

Grief looked at Isabelle and raised his eyebrows.

“Despite everything he’s been through, the destruction of his home and livelihood, William is still very happy. He has his wife and son and a sense of security that has nothing to do with monetary wealth.” Isabelle suddenly looked up at David, who was studying her closely. She had said too much. Quickly, she shrugged, “Not that I personally would subscribe to that life style but it’s … nice …. for him.” she trailed unconvincingly.

“I guess there’s something to be said for monogamy.”

The silence which followed was not uncomfortable.

David asked, “How are you feeling, Isabelle? Are you in a good place?”

It was such an odd question coming from David Grief that Isabelle had to turn and look directly into his enigmatic expression. “Hunh?”

“No fevers? No aches? Financially sound?”

“David what are you …?”

“I plan on doing something, Isabelle, and I want you to be in a good frame of mind.”

“For what?” she asked, a little exasperated.

“For this.”

His arms came around her gently, careful of her shoulder and sling, yet the action also managed to be passionate and sweetly demanding. His lips - at first - merely brushed hers. The memory of a hand reaching out to slap his cheek was vivid. But her lips were just too tempting and he deepened the kiss. Grief was elated when he felt her good arm raise and rest on his arm then slowly slide up to his shoulder and finally rest to the back of his head, her fingers stroking his soft hair.

When they finally parted, David whispered into her hair: “I’ve wanted to do that for such a long time.”

“I’ve wanted you to do that for a long time.” Isabelle replied over his shoulder, into his ear.

He pulled back, gazing at Isabelle, a mischievous glint in his eyes, “Really?” he asked, “Seems to me the last time I ….’

“I know.” she appeared regretful, “I know. But things are different now.” Isabelle looked up into his eyes, never tugging from his embrace. “I think you are different now … and I am most definitely different now.”

“A good difference, I think. Both of us.” David said, deciding no further comment was needed.

They kissed again, Isabelle ending the contact by sliding her supple mouth against his cheek and jaw, breathing shallowly. She pulled back, brushing his firm chin with soft fingertips. “David, I know I should probably be demure, have you woo me as a gentleman might court a proper lady, but you know me too well. I’m not your typical lady … and I want you so much right now … I just want you so much …”

He chuckled lowly, kissing her forehead. “What are you suggesting, Miss Reed?”

“Instead of going back to the Rattler tonight why don’t you come over for supper …?”

“Where we can discuss …. business?” he tantalized.

“You could say that.” She moved in to hug him close again.

David, reluctantly considering the downside of their current conditions, pushed her gently back. “Isabelle, maybe we should take it slow.” he said, “Your arm and leg still aren’t one hundred percent and my side,” He patted his month old knife wound, “could used another couple of weeks of healing before I put any added strain on it.”

“Is that what you really want?” she breathed.

“No …” he said quickly and his expression clearly confirmed his dissatisfaction. But then he gently caressed her slung arm, “But we can wait. We want it to be just right, don‘t we?”

“I suppose.” Isabelle appeared a little disappointed but then she smiled, disengaging herself from him. “On the other hand,” she moved behind him, sliding a provoking finger across his broad shoulders, and spoke over David’s shoulder, “Perhaps our current injuries might - umh - force us to be creative.”

“Creative?” Grief suddenly brightened a little.

“Unhunh.” Isabelle moved away from David, limping carefully towards her home. She then paused and looked seductively over her shoulder at him. David seemed interested but also a little undecided. With a wink, Isabelle motioned him with a shake of her head.

“I can be very creative.” Captain Grief whispered and followed in Isabelle‘s steps, smiling in anticipation of things to come.

**