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Started by Welsh Wench, May 10, 2008, 12:41:08 PM

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Welsh Wench

Reply author: Welsh Wench
Replied on: 02/01/2008 19:48:03

Tom Banks stood there in silence watching the redcoats ride off. He was stunned that Jack Roberts, alias Robert Johnson, was still among the living. While he genuinely liked Jack, his overwhelming desire, bordering on obsession for Jack's wife coloured his judgment.
He looked at the lights in the tavern and knew that at this time his presence would not be welcome.
He turned to tend to the horses that were left in his care.

Jack sat in front of the fireplace, trying to regain his body temperature. Molly bustled forth with a bowl of hot soup and buttered bread. Cecily sat on the armrest, not letting go of him. Whether it was his shoulders, his arm or his hand, she had to make sure he wasn't just a dream.
Josiah gave him a brandy.
"For your strength, my boy. I swear, you must have your spirit nailed to yer spine! A cat with nine lives isn't as fortunate as ye are!"
Jack took the brandy eagerly. "Just what I need to warm my insides up!"
He took a deep drink of it and leaned his head back, closing his eyes. Cecily ran her fingers gently up and down his arm. He opened his eyes and the love in them brought tears to her own.

Within fifteen minutes, Doctor Cooper came into the tavern with Geoff close behind.
"Well, well, Jack Roberts. Heard you've been swimming. And in this chilly night. Trying to catch your death of pneumonia?"
Jack laughed and then grimaced. "Guess the wear and tear of the evening is setting in."
Doctor Cooper hefted his medical bag. "And you aren't the spring chicken anymore. Shall we go upstairs and access the damage?"
Cecily jumped up. "I'll go with you."
Doctor Cooper said, "No need, Miss Morley."
"That is Mrs. Roberts to you."
Doctor Cooper winked and said, "And since I delivered you, I was the first man to see you in your birthday suit, young lady."
Cecily turned several shades of red as the rest of them burst into uproarious laughter.
She took Jack's hand in hers and said, "There is no way I am letting this man out of my sight."
Doctor Cooper sighed. "If you insist."

Geoff and George helped Jack to his feet.
He groaned. "I feel pretty stiff. Must be the cold weather."
Geoff retorted, "Not to mention a fight to the death and hypothermia."
Jack held the blanket around him and nodded. "I just want to get to bed."
Cecily whispered, "But you need your rest.."
Jack grinned. "Let's see what the doc says first. Doc? After you..."

The three of them went up to the secret room. Jack gingerly took his shirt off as Cecily helped him. The doctor touched his ribs and Jack winced. He removed the bandages that Annie and Cecily had bound him with.
" really did it to yourself this time, Jack. A few broken ribs...some abrasions...what did you do, fall in a briar patch?"
"No, just the rocks on the bottom of the river. Fairchild had a death grip on me. Finally when his hand--his dead hand, I might add--scraped on the riverbottom did I feel his grip loosen. I think he held on to life long enough to attempt to kill me in the process."
Jack glanced over at Cecily and from the look on her face, he changed the subject.
" long before I heal, Coop?"
"I'd say four or five days. But you will be extremely sore. Cecily, keep an eye on him that he doesn't develop a fever. If he does, call me."
He bound Jack's ribs up and then gave her a bottle.
"This is laudanum. Just a few drops. Take some for yourself. Those rope burns don't look very comfortable."
For the first time since she returned, Cecily looked down at them. They were turning into deep red, angry welts.
Jack's mouth set in a thin line. She hastily said, "They are worse than they look."
Doctor Cooper nodded and went out the door.

Jack took her hands and turned her wrists over. "I can't believe he did this."
Cecily rubbed them. "They are fine. It's not like it was the first time this ever happened. If it weren't for the slavers, I never would have met you."
Jack stroked her cheek and said, "And if it weren't for me, you never would have met Michael Fairchild."

Cecily entwined her arms around Jack's neck and pressed her body close to his. It was then that she let her pent-up emotions go. She burst into tears and couldn't stop. All Jack could do was hold her and soothe her with gentle words.
As the sobs that wracked her body quieted down, he drew apart from her. They both looked into each other's eyes.
The realization that they were alive and together again poured from them like a torrent. Their lips met in a deep, searching kiss. They never broke apart even as Jack unlaced her as he had done so many times before. He gently pushed her back on the bed. Her eyes were filled with desire as she whispered, "Are you sure you are up to it, my love?"
"Never more sure of anything before in my life, darling."
Within seconds, the last vestiges of their garments were on the floor.....

Cecily's body entwined with Jack's as they held each other close. Never before had their lovemaking been filled with such tenderness and joy.
And desperation.
They both realized how close they came to losing each other. It made them want each other more than they ever had before.

As Cecily laid there contented in Jack's arms, her head on his chest and her golden hair swirling over it, Jack kissed her. She murmured, "You fought a madman and you went over the falls. You have numerous cuts and abrasions and a few broken ribs. Yet you still managed to make love."
She lifted her head and traced his lips with her fingers. "How is that possible? Are you from Mt Olympus?"
He kissed her and held her close. "I just want to know I'm alive. What better way?"
She felt the tears spring to her eyes and she pushed them far down.
Jack said quietly, "Cecily....we haven't talked about what happened. Did Michael...harm you? In any way?"
She raised her head and said, "No, Jack. He had plans though. He was going to take me to the Colonies as his personal slave, as it were. But no. He didn't. He said he was saving it for you."
Jack could feel his hatred for Michael Fairchild surface but he pushed it down.
"Thank God for that," he whispered. "Can you ever forgive me?"
Cecily touched his lips with her hand. "All but one thing.
"What is that?"
"Not making love to me again."


Reply author: Blackjack Roberts
Replied on: 02/03/2008 18:25:42

Tender light glowed in Jack's eyes that sent shivers of pleasure racing through Cecily's body. "Nothing would please me more, My Love." He whispered softy as one hand rose to stroke the soft golden locks of her hair.

Slowly, with infinitely gentile movements he drew her full length against him. His hand stroked the length of her spine as his lips lowered to her forehead in light kisses. The sweet softness of her skin shuddered with desire as he tenderly traced the curve of her face with his lips. Almost imperceptivity he drew her closer as his mouth neared hers until, as their lips finally met in a deeply passionate kiss he held her in a firm yet soft embrace.

Cecily's own hands began to explore Jack's body. One burying it's self in his loose shoulder length hair as she pulled his mouth ever closer to hers in the kiss. The other tenderly outlining every muscle in his back. She could feel their hearts pounding against each other in their closeness. Idly she draped one leg over his, softly stroking the back of his calf's with her foot.

Her breathing became deeper with her passion as she released his mouth from hers and Jack moved his soft lips to the side of her neck sending waves of pleasure coursing through her. His hands becoming more tender as they traced ever more intimate contours of her form, driving Cecily to new heights of abandon and love. She clung to him trying to convey with her own caresses the love and desire his had brought out in her.

Time distorted for them both stretching minutes into seeming hours that ended too soon as each did their best to give more love than they received. Soon they reached the point where neither could withstand the passion of the other's desire and Cecily rolled onto her back taking Jack with her. Her eyes closed, a soft moan of passion escaped her lips as they gave in to love's most intimate embrace.

Much later a discreet knock came at the hidden door. Jack carefully pulled the blankets up to Cecily's shoulder before he slipped from the bed pulling on his britches in the darkness. They must have fallen asleep for the candle had gone out. No matter, in the half gloom of his hiding room he could see well enough to find the oil lamp and light it before going to the door and cracking it open.

Molly stood in the empty hall with a tray filled with all the makings of a hearty breakfast for two. "Good afternoon to the two of you." She beamed.

"Noon?" Jack echoed. "Are ye daft girl? Your holding a breakfast tray."

"Be that as it may, Mr. Roberts." The pretty redhead laughed. "It be well past midday. We thought ye'd slept long enough and it be high time the two of ye dined on something more substantial than love."

Jack scratched his head in bewilderment. There were no windows in the room for good reason, he feared it might give away it's existence to one clever enough to observe from the outside. The sound of Cecily stretching as she awoke brought him about and he motioned for Molly to follow.

"Good morning, Dearest." She smiled as Jack emerged from the short entry hall. Then she smiled as Molly came into view. "Good morning Molly." Jack and Molly looked at each other and laughed.

"Sorry, My Love." Jack chuckled lying down on the top of the blankets to kiss her cheek. "It seems we have slept most of the day away."

"Aye, that you did." Molly beamed as she brought them their trays. "Josiah has closed the Crossbow for the day, so ye've naught to fear from unexpected guests. Come on down when the two of you are ready."

"Mayhap we would prefer to spend the rest of the day here." Jack teased, a merry twinkle in his eye.

"That would be a pity." Molly replied over her shoulder as she left the two lovers. "We've a privet party planned for the two of you. Be a shame if ye missed it."

Jack looked at his wife with wide eyes, frozen in mid chew. Cecily began to giggle at the ridiculous image it presented. "Don't look at me." She smiled raising a steaming cup of tea to her full lips. "I know as much about it as you do, but I think they can wait for us a little longer. Don't you?" The look in her sapphire eyes spoke more to him than her words ever could.

Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Welsh Wench

Reply author: Welsh Wench
Replied on: 02/06/2008 20:05:16

Josiah fumed, "What could they be doing up there that is taking them so blasted long to come downstairs?"
Molly leaned over and whispered to her husband.
"OH. Well. So be it."
Geoff and George burst out laughing.
Geoff quipped, "You should have been there the day the two of them came back from their honeymoon! Jack was supposed to meet us at the barn and it was over two hours later before he joined us."
George could scarcely control his mirth. "Aye. Jack had all these...marks...on his neck. And he tried to pull his collar up to hide them."
His brother continued, "And then we asked him what happened..."
The other twin picked up the thread, "...and he said he ran into a doorknob!"
The twins laughed heartily.
Molly tried to hide her smile behind her hand. Josiah turned red and said, "Ah. I understand. Well, she certainly has held his interest. I would have thought the two of them would have burnt that candle they have been burning down. Can't burn a candle at both ends and expect it to last."
Annabelle shook her head. "You forget that Jack Roberts is no ordinary man, Josiah. And he found his life's love in Cecily Morley. I have never seen a couple so in love. Present company excepted, you understand."
Geoff laid a gold crown on the table.
"Now...what are my bets they don't surface until the sun goes down?"

Cecily laid in Jack's arms, her fingers trailing over his chest. He held her close and stroked her shoulder.
"Shouldn't we be getting downstairs to join the party?"
"Ummm hmmm.."
"Wake up. We need to go downstairs."
He sighed.
"I guess we should."
Cecily wrapped the sheet around her and looked in the armoire for a dress.
Jack watched her and said softly, "Miss Morley, you take my breath away."
She held her finger up and said, "Ah, that is where you are wrong."
"I am?"
"Yes. It's Mrs. Roberts, you scoundrel! And my husband will thank you to remember...AHHH!"
Jack had grabbed her from behind and fell back on the bed with her in his arms.
He whispered, "He will never know! We can ride off into the sunset together!"
Cecily replied with mock seriousness, "But he is the most fearsome highwayman England has ever seen! He has slain a thousand redcoats. He has burned villages, he has plundered ships and..."
Jack silenced her with a kiss and then said, "You're right, love. It would never have worked between us. But we shall always have this one glorious day wrapped in each other's arms."
"I love you."
They both laughed and continued to get dressed.

"Would you do the honors, darling?"
Cecily held out her back lacings.
As he continued to lace her up, she said quietly, "Jack...about Michael Fairchild.."
Jack said quietly, "What about him?"
"He..I mean his....well, his mortal remains. What shall be done with him?"
Jack sighed. "He has been turned over to the constable and he will see he is buried..somewhere. I don't know and I don't care. There's no family to mourn him."

As Jack finished lacing up Cecily, she reached behind her and draped his arms over her shoulders. She leaned into him and said, "I think things will start to calm down for us, love."
Jack kissed her neck and said, "About time, I say. Now....shall we see what our friends have planned for us?"
She turned around and kissed him.
"Alright. But only if we can continue later!"
Jack winked and said, "You drive a hard bargain, lady. But I do like 'chatting' with you!"
Cecily laughed, grabbed his hand and they walked downstairs.


Reply author: Blackjack Roberts
Replied on: 02/16/2008 22:02:51

They arrived down stairs to the thunderous applause of their friends. Jack and Cecily looked at each other for a moment, both their complexions raising a hue in color from the attention. The gratitude they felt for having such friends knew no equal, and each knew in their hearts that this was worth far more than any wealth the world held. Jack bowed, and Cecily curtsied in response.

As if on signal they soon found themselves surrounded by this extended family. Jack being hugged by the women and shaking hands with all the men. Cecily receiving hugs and light kisses from both sexes. The terrible events of the past few days washed away by the outpouring of affection that filled The Crossbow's main hall that day.

"Looks like your preparing for a Ball, Josiah." Jack noted. The center of the hall was cleared, and three of the largest tables were filled with food and drink. Yet one thing was conspicuous in it's absence. "If so, there seems to be a lack of musicians."

"Now I wouldn't be a sayin' that, Laddie Buck!" A familiar and welcome voice came from the kitchen.

"Gilbert!" Jack exclaimed as the elder tavern owner came grinning into view, his fiddle and bow gripped loosely in his left hand. Quickly he moved to shake his friend's hand.

"Aye, lad." Gilbert grinned. "It's good to see ye in one piece after the trouble that young imposter made fer ye."

"Our worse fear was that Jack's friends would believe it was him." Cecily chimed in, placing a soft kiss on Gilbert's cheek.

"And ye weren't far from wrong, Lass." He scowled. "I had the Devil's own time tryin' ta convince the others that it weren't Jack gone mad. There were some in the know who wished to end the spree by turning him in."

"Then I owe you yet another debt, Gilbert." Jack bowed to the tavern owner who had once saved his life.

"Ye owe me naught save yer friendship, Jack." Gilbert frowned. "Ye have repaid that debt many times over. However, the storm is past now and all has been set to rights. Yer secret is safe again, and I for one have had enough of this dark talk. 'Tis a time for celebration!" He placed his fiddle beneath his chin and bowed off a short series of lively notes for emphasis.

Cecily clapped her hands with joy. "Well said, Master Gilbert! But surely you don't intend to carry the night by yourself?"

Gilbert grinned. "I said to Jack the first night he brought you to my door that either the two of ye were destined to be the happiest couple in all of England, or he had bitten off more than he could chew. I've a suspicion I was right on both counts."

"Ye've no idea, Gil." Jack sighed exaggeratedly, eliciting a playful punch to his arm from his wife.

"Nay, Lass." Gilbert laughed. "My contemporaries are hiding yet in the kitchen, or too deep in their cups to come out yet!" The last he said loudly enough to add strength to his words as he winked knowingly to Cecily.

"Not nearly deep enough, Gil." Jenkins laughed coming into view, a tankard in one hand and a sailor's squeeze box in the other.

"And I do remember another who put away his fair share while we awaited the guests of honor." Cody winked as he followed carrying a similar tankard and flute.

The rest of the day, and well into the night, was filled with happy reminiscing and dancing. Little Jack more than once stealing the center stage with his attempts to imitate the adults dances. Squealing with delight as Andrew's wife, Lady Jane, held him in her arms for his first waltz. For once the joy of the moment caused neither Jack, nor Cecily any sad feelings from their own childless state.

Even the long looks from Tom banks in Cecily's direction went unnoticed, as the terrible events of the past few weeks melted away to the joy filled reunion of their extended family. Jack and Cecily would have both swore that could Raven and Aphrodite joined in the gaiety, they would have.

Sir Peter Culpepper watched from the ships rail as the harbor of Plymouth came into view. It had been weeks since he had word from Riggs, and he was quite certain by now that his young foil had gone renegade. More the pity when he found Michael. It was high time he took matters into his own hands, once and for all.

This time there would be and end to the thorn in his side named Black Jack Roberts.


Reply author: Welsh Wench
Replied on: 02/20/2008 20:41:31

Cecily and Jack rode through the forest, taking a route that would shave their time in half. The sun dappled through the trees, making the packed-down lane look mottled. Jack inhaled the autumn smells.
"Mmm! It's a good day to be alive!"
Cecily said quietly, "Jack, I was never so scared in all my life."
"I know, dearest. I can't imagine what it was like to be kidnapped by that madman."
"I'm not talking about that. I am talking about when you went over the falls. I swear, Jack. Someone must be looking out for us."
He took her hand and kissed it as they jogged along. "I know, love. But we must take further precautions. The black-haired lass is still out there. We don't know if she is part of a network or if Michael Fairchild acted on his own."
Cecily frowned. "As long as she doesn't have flintlocks, I can handle her. But just to be sure, maybe new latches would be in order. I feel so foolish, Jack."
"How so, love?"
"I fell right into their trap."
Jack stared silently ahead and then said, "Michael Fairchild certainly observed me. He knew every little nuance about us. Right down to the secret code we use. Someone was bankrolling him. He came from the Colonies. No one that poor comes back for revenge unless he is working hand-in-glove with someone."
Neither one wanted to say who that someone was. But they were both lost in their own thoughts.

Cecily smiled broadly at the view around the bend. Their cottage came into sight. She smiled happily, "I'm so glad to be home!"
Jack sighed, "I know the feeling. Nothing like the feel of one's own bed."
They rode Aphrodite and Raven into the stables and dismounted. Currying them and feedling them took a half hour and then Jack and Cecily walked arm-in-arm into the house.

Walking into the house that she and Jack had turned into a home with love, Cecily set about watering the now-drooping flowers on the table.
She muttered, "I swear, did Michael Fairchild taint everything he touched?"
Jack hung up their cloaks on the pegs by the mudroom.
"Pretty much so."
"Jack, what made him the way he was?"
"I don't know, Cecily. Was it circumstances or was he born that way? I suppose we will never know."
Cecily put the tea kettle on. "He rubbed his temples alot and seemed to talk to himself. As if he were thinking aloud and couldn't help himself."
She shivered and rubbed her arms. "That was how I found out alot of his plans."
"Ever see the woman before?"
Cecily put the tea in the cups. "I do believe I saw her as a tavern wench at the dim bulb and Bull over near Exeter."
"And what were you doing over there?"
She gave him a wide-eyed innocent look. "I stopped there for a bit of a repast with Andrew. That is all."
Jack looked at her doubtfully, "Uh huh. Well, I am just glad this is over."
Cecily poured them each a cup of tea and sighed, "I am too! Now maybe life can get back to normal!"

Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Welsh Wench

Reply author: Blackjack Roberts
Replied on: 02/21/2008 18:25:22

Raymond watched nervously from the foyer window. The master's personal carriage had left early that morning for Plymouth, and was due back any moment now. He had grown use to the relative peace that had surrounded the manor for the past four years. Not that he had neglected his duties, if anything he had kept them up with greater efficiency. He doubted that would continue once the constant harassment from his employer began again. It was something he dreaded to his very bones.

Sir Peter Culpepper sat back in the overstuffed carriage seat brooding. From what he had gathered in Plymouth he needn't worry about bringing Michael to bay, it would seem Roberts had done the job for him. That should get Sir Terrance off his back, and now the brigand would have to take up his mantle once again to prove himself the real thing. All Culpepper had to do now was to think of a way to turn that to his advantage.

Somehow the man had managed to thwart every plan that Sir Peter had laid for him. That had to stop. Perhaps it was because he had made this too much of a personal vendetta. Perhaps it was time to enlist help from more conventional means. Sergeant Major Barclay could be the key he needed, if only the man wasn't so bloody honest. Then again, it was said that every man had his price. All he had to do was find Barclay's.

Yes. It was time he brought his full resources to bear against Jack Roberts. He would have done so by now had it not been for Annie's attempt to kill him. The shock of seeing his own cousin pointing a rifle in his direction was bad enough, but it was what she knew about his true heritage that had caused him to take to flight. The nobility was prejudiced beyond belief, and Culpepper could only imagine the repercussions should the rest learn of his Gypsy blood.

He had given it four years and Annabelle had apparently kept to the Gypsy law of silence to the gadjikane that the tribes followed above all else. He was certain now that she would never revel his secret no matter what he did. Even as he was certain that she stayed in the vicinity on orders from the council to keep an eye on him. That was their mistake, for there was precious little they could do to curb him now. O chavorro na biandola dandencar. The child is not born with teeth. He does, however, acquire them.

That last thought brought a grim smile to his face. The Romani law against killing their own kind was all that had saved his life that day in Scotland. He was sure of it now, but the fact that she had tried had unsettled him greatly. He had forgotten who he was, and the power he wielded. He would never forget that again.

Raymond opened the main doors as the carriage pulled up to the steps. Inwardly he steeled himself for the first of the many brow beatings he would endure. He watched carefully as Lord Culpepper emerged from the covered coach, and took stock of his surroundings. Raymond's legs shook as his master walked calmly up the steps toward him, the coachman carrying his luggage.

"Ah, Raymond." Sir Peter smiled. "It's good to see you've kept the ancestral home well in order while I was gone. Well done. Now if you will be so kind as to bring me a brandy to the study, it has been a long voyage and I feel the need for some undisturbed rest."

"V-very good, Sir." Raymond nearly fainted on the spot from this unexpected turn of events. "Will there be anything else, Sir?"

"Not at the moment, Old Boy." Culpepper continued in the same civil tone. "I believe it will be a long night, and I've much to ponder. Once you fetch the brandy you may take the rest of the night for yourself."

As Raymond watched Peter Culpepper vanish into the study he could not think which was worse, the usual berating he had expected, or this new turn of character. Was this just the calm before the storm? It was all so unlike the man. What on Earth could he be playing at? Regardless the aged butler made his mind up to take full advantage and disappear once he brought the brandy to the study. God only knew how long it would last.

Jack cupped his hand behind the chimney of the oil lamp and puffed the flame out. The day had proven just as relaxing and carefree as the last few months had been turbulent. They had spent the entire day in each other's company, even to the point that he had done his best to help in the kitchen with the chores of cooking. Although a passable camp cook his skills were slightly lacking in the art of baking, and it had caused them both no end of laughter.

"So am I forgiven for the burned rolls, Luv?" He grinned drawing Cecily into his arms.

She stroked his cheek, a playful twinkle sparkling in her azure eyes. "You mean the charcoal bricks? I thought we could use them for barbecuing this weekend."

Jack threw his head back, laughing merrily as he hugged her closer. "Thankfully I never tried to become a cook." He smiled warmly to her. "I don't know about you, Dearest, but I'm for bed. It's getting late."

"It's not that late, My Lover." Cecily sighed, laying her head against his chest to listen to his heart beat. "But that is the best suggestion I've heard from you all day."

Jack gently stroked her golden locks. "Then there's not a moment to waste, Mrs. Roberts. I'll race you."

She beat him to their bed room by a good three steps.


Reply author: Welsh Wench
Replied on: 02/27/2008 19:48:50

"Your brandy, Sir Culpepper. I thought you may want your cognac as it is a welcome home for you."
Sir Peter Culpepper took it eagerly.
"Thank you, my good man."
Raymond looked around and realized Culpepper was talking to him.
"Will that be all? I shall retire to my---"
Raymond never finished his sentence as there was a frantic and loud banging on the door.
"Better see to it, Raymond. I am..indisposed for now."
"As you wish, Lord Culpepper."

Raymond opened the door and there stood a woman in her mid-twenties. She was soaked to the bone from the thunderstorm, her cloak clinging to her legs. Her face was pale and her eyes were filled with rage. Strands of black hair were plastered to her face.
"I am here to see Lord Peter Culpepper."
Raymond said stiffly, "I am sorry but he is---"
Lord Culpepper came behind Raymond and took in the distraught woman.
"I am Lord Culpepper. To what do I owe this outrage?"
The woman pushed past Raymond and the look of hatred in her eyes was unsettling.

Peter stared at her and nodded imperceptively to Raymond.
"You may go, Raymond. I'll handle this..situation."
The woman spat at Peter, " 'Situation'? 'SITUATION'? The man I loved is DEAD and it is all your fault!"
Raymond looked to his employer and said haltingly, "Shall I send for the constable, Sir?"
Peter looked hard at the woman and said, "No. I'll handle it."
"But Sir Peter---"
"Raymond. Go. Now. I said I would handle this."
"As you wish."

As Sir Culpepper watched Raymond leave, he turned to the woman.
"Please. You are soaked to the skin. Sit by the fire and have some brandy. To calm you. And then we shall talk like civilized people."
She followed Sir Peter into the parlor where a roaring fire was going. He said, "May I?" and put his hand out for her cloak. She reluctantly gave it to him.
"Please. Warm yourself."
She sat in the chair shivering. Putting her hands out to warm herself, he handed her a snifter of brandy. Not his cognac. That was reserved for people of his own class. But he surmised this would be better than anything she had ever tasted before.

He sat in his overstuffed chair and drew out his pipe, lighting it. Taking a deep puff, he waited till she had taken several swallows.
"Now. Shall we discuss the problem here?"
She said viciously, "'Problem'. This 'problem' as you say has a name. Michael Fairchild."
Sir Peter tapped his ashes into a small brass cup.
"Ah, yes...Michael Fairchild."
The woman gazed into the fire and said softly, "I loved him. He took it upon himself to settle an old score with Black Jack Roberts. So he kidnapped his wife. I helped him. I held a gun to her head while he bound her up and we used her to lure the highwayman to an abandoned farm. But something went wrong."
Sir Culpepper said quietly, "And what was that?"
She looked at Peter with pain in her eyes. "He planned to dispose of me and take Cecily Roberts to the Colonies."
She hurried with the next thought, "But he didn't mean it. Michael would get these blinding headaches and then snap out of them. He would have seen reason. He would have. He...he loved me."

Sir Peter sat there waiting for her to continue.
"Black Jack Roberts came looking for his wife. He saw me in the barn and pushed me. I must have hit my head because I had a lump on my forehead and I heard commotion by Wallows Falls. Two men, both in black. Dueling. Then they went over the falls. I saw the woman--Cecily Roberts--screaming and then she sat there as in a trance. My head hurt too bad or else I would have taken my revenge on her for the loss of my man."
Sir Peter's fingers dug into his armrest. 'How dare she try to usurp any plans I had made?' he thought.
The raven-haired beauty continued. "Michael Fairchild washed up and was found. The constable laid him to rest in a pauper's grave. There was only one person to mourn him. Me."

Her hands clenched in fisted rage. Sir Peter rose up and looked out the window.
"The storm has not abated. I would suggest you stay the night. We have a guest room on the third floor, second door from the left. And we shall talk more in the morning."
She nodded dully. "Thank you for the kindness."
Sir Peter gave her an insincere smile but she didn't see the face behind the mask.
"May I inquire your name, Miss....?"
"Bradford. Bess Bradford."
"Pleasant dreams, Miss Bradford. You will find all you need up there."

She walked towards the door and said, "Again, thank you."
Sir Peter nodded and as she left, he took a deep draw on his newly-lit pipe.
'Well, Miss Bradford, it never hurts to have one more iron in the fire. Just in case...'


Reply author: Blackjack Roberts
Replied on: 02/28/2008 21:45:51

Thomas Banks lay in his bed wide awake. No matter what he did he could not sleep, tormented by his longing for another man's wife. He liked Jack for certain, the man had never been cruel to him, and had given him a fair job at a fair wage. Still the image of Cecily Roberts as his own burned in his mind, becoming an increasing obsession until he began to doubt his own sanity.

He had tried to replace her in his heart many times over the years, each attempt meeting with dismal failure. Now he had taken to hiding in the wood near their cottage, spying from the stable when they came to The Crossbow. Anything to get a glimpse of her. His days and night filled with fantasy so rich that he had begun to believe them himself. He knew they could be happy together if Jack would simply release his hold over her.

It was the only explanation. Jack Roberts had some hold on her, something that kept her from the only man who truly loved her. Himself. If he could only remove Jack from the picture, he knew she would run to him in a moment. Tom was certain that he had seen her watch him with the same unspoken desire that he held for her.

He knew the obsession was slowly driving him mad, but no longer cared. As long as he could have her in the end, any price was worth paying. Even the betrayal of the only man to offer him a fair chance at life. It was what had driven him to Barclay's door that night. As long as he kept most of what he knew to himself, no one could blame him for Jack's arrest, and he would be there to comfort her.

"And just how do you know that Robert Johnson is Black Jack Roberts?" The Sergeant Major had eyed him suspiciously that night in The Golden Cockerel tavern, having arrived in response to Tom's anonymous note.

"Because I've seen him, Sir." Tom whispered, desperate to keep any who knew Jack from seeing him speaking to the redcoat. "No one else knows, not even his wife. It was only by chance that I discovered his secret, and I am not anxious for him to know that I saw him."

"I can understand that, but I doubt his own wife does not know." Barclay was suspicious. "There is much here that stretches the imagination. Such as how he could use his tavern as a staging point and not have the rest of you notice."

"He is a canny one, Sir." Tom had rehearsed his betrayal well. "He had always made certain that he was alone when he put on that garish costume he robs in. It was by pure chance that I had been napping in the loft when he came in and changed that night. I believe that his marriage was why he allowed his activities to stop for four years, but he's back now and worse than ever from what I understand. That is why I came to you."

"Very well. I will accept your explanation for now." Barclay stood up to leave. "You will keep an eye on Johnson, and keep me informed. But let me make this perfectly clear. If I discover that any have been aiding this madman up till now, I will see you all hanged."

That had proven to be a fruitless plan in the end. Jack had succeeded in killing his imposter, and Tom had nearly uncovered himself when Michael Fairchild's body had been brought to the Crossbow. All his plans had turned to ash, and now Cecily was even deeper in Jack Roberts clutches. Barclay no longer trusted his word, and he could not implicate the others without exposing himself, and worse of all Cecily to the gallows.

There had to be a way to free her from Jack, and somehow he would find it. Even if it took him all night. Somehow, someway he would find a way to set her free and he would be there for her. Cecily Roberts would come to him, just like she secretly wanted to.

Sergeant Major Barclay sat at his desk deep in thought. Although it was highly probable that all the olster had told him was pure fabrication to take the wife of another, there was still a nagging feeling in his gut that all was not as it seemed with Robert Johnson.

True, every thing that the man had told him had checked out. The purchasing of the necklace, why he had not been in London as he had stated. He also had a hard time believing that any man who had lost the amount of blood they had found when they suspected Black Jack Roberts to have been critically wounded in a fight with some unknown assailant could have been on his feet. Much less to have so nonchalantly walked out to hold a conversation with him. The effort would have been nothing short of superhuman.

As to who that assailant would have been he now knew the answer to. An imposter. Yet why would this imposter have singled out Robert Johnson? Why kidnap the man's wife? Perhaps there was a connection between the two of them. Perhaps Johnson was working hand in hand with the highwayman. It would explain much.

Somewhere there had to be a chink in Black Jack's armor and he would find it, sooner, or later. Then, at long last he would gain the promotion he had worked a lifetime for. Who knew, maybe even a knighthood.

Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Welsh Wench

Reply author: Welsh Wench
Replied on: 03/04/2008 19:23:35

The carriage bounced over the ruts in the road, mud splashing its sides.
The woman in the back tapped the coachman with the handle of her umbrella.
"What is taking so long, Ferguson?"
"Ma'am, the roads are a mudhole. Ruts every time I turn the corner."

Lady Alice Morley tapped her fan against her hand impatiently and then patted her hair. She took out her lip colouring and applied it while looking in the glass window separating her from Ferguson.
Four years.
Four long years he had been away...

Lady Morley was forced once again to play the Lady of the Manor. The dutiful wife, giving parties for Cornwall's elite and also entertaining majors and generals from the King's Army.
She looked out the window, but couldn't see much. Her mind went back to the day she found out her daughter had run off to Scotland to marry that...that...bourgeois! The one and only time she had seen Cecily face to face was at Andrew's wedding. Alice had tried to talk to her but Cecily had turned away. She tried to find out how she was doing from Andrew, but he told her once that if Cecily wanted her to know, she would contact her. But Cecily never did.
If Wallace knew, he never mentioned it.

She did see Cecily coming out of a milliner's shop in Exeter. Lady Alice was in her carriage. Cecily was on the arm of her husband. From what Alice could see, Cecily looked happy. At least she was looking up at him and laughing. Alice had to reluctantly admit they made a handsome pair.
But in all those four years, Alice never once heard that she was a grandmother.
Very strange.

Ferguson pulled up to the large door under the portico. The grey stone mansion loomed like it was cut from a boulder against the dark stormy night. He opened the door and held his hand out to help Lady Alice from the carriage. The door was opened by Lord Peter Culpepper himself.
He held his hands out to her.
"Lady Morley! It is so good you could come calling in this inclement weather!"
Alice caught her breath. He was still handsome but there was a hardness in his eyes she hadn't remembered. Maybe it had been there all along and she didn't see it? Peter was leaner than he was before.
The time away seemed to have improved his mood too. Either that or he was just happy to be lord of the manor again.

Alice gave him a dimpled smile.
"I heard the other day you had come back to Cornwall and I had to call to say 'Welcome home!'"
Culpepper turned to Ferguson and said, "The cook has fresh apple muffins and some hot cider. Why not take a repast while Lady Morley and I catch up on times missed?"
Ferguson tipped his hat and went to the back.

"How have you been, Alice?"
They were settled with a brandy in front of the fireplace in the parlor. She touched his arm and said softly, "How do you think I am? I have been missing you these past four years."
"I kept in touch."
"Not the same, Peter."
"And what is the news of Cecily?"
Alice sighed. "She won't speak to me. Andrew won't tell me any news. Four years she has been married! And not a sign of a grandchild. While I suppose we should be grateful she has no child by Robert Johnson, I can't understand why. I was with child and birthed exactly one year to the day."
Culpepper topped off her brandy. "It must be him. Any man with a barren wife would get rid of her in order to procure an heir. He's more than likely grateful he has such a young wife whom he can bend to his rules."

Alice took a sip. "I do hear bits and pieces. Last month I had a party for the King's generals and majors. Sir Wallace said it would be good for our standing in the community and..."
"What did you say, Alice?"
"I said I hear bits and pieces."
"No, after that."
"Oh! Well, I had a party..."
"Interesting. Was Major Barclay there?"
"Major Rupert Barclay? Yes..yes, he was."
"Was Black Jack Roberts mentioned?"
"Why, how did you know that?"
"Because Barclay has just as much a vested interest in him as I do. But for different reasons."
"Peter, are you still under the illusion Robert Johnson is Black Jack Roberts?"
"Yes. Yes, I am."
"Well, I don't think so. When I was in London last season, I did a little inquiring. My daughter is married to a man who is half-Irish. Yet in spite of their modest living, it seems Robert Johnson is quite well off. He owns land in just about every shire in England. He has several taverns and a banking house in London. Yet they continue to live in that cottage. Major Barclay is not convinced Robert Johnson is innocent of it all. There is a connection...somewhere."

Sir Peter filled her glass again with the brandy. Suddenly he smiled.
"Alice? I do believe it is time you had another soiree with the King's officers. With one little difference."
"What is that, Peter?"
"I will be there. You see, my dear, we all have pieces of the puzzle. And together we can make a lovely picture....suitable for framing!"


Reply author: Blackjack Roberts
Replied on: 03/11/2008 20:55:59

As Sergeant Major Barclay entered his office he felt the unmistakable pressure of the barrel of a pistol behind his left ear. The unknown assailant had hidden in the shadows behind the door awaiting him to return. The click of the hammer being drawn back sent an involuntary shudder through his being from his head to his feet, but he was determined not to show his fear to the enemy.

"Stand and deliver, Mate." The low gravely whisper came from behind him. "Make a single sound to alert yer watch, and it'll be yer last act in this world."

"Roberts!" The erstwhile officer whispered into the gloom.

"Aye. Now if ye would be so kind as to divest yerself of them weapons, and hand them back to me, along with that fat purse ye be carrying 'a course, we'll be getting' down ta the real reason I be here." Jack spoke in hushed tones, using the deep rough voice he had effected long ago to disguise his own. Then he nudged the flintlock a little forward behind Barclay's ear. "A little slower than that, if ye please, Guv'ner."

Rupert immediately slowed his movements, glad now for the gloom of the dimly lit office as a single bead of sweat rolled down one side of his face from beneath his powdered wig. How had Black Jack gotten in here? There had to be at least seven men on watch about the building. Seven men who were about to be demoted if he survived this encounter.

"You must be mad, Roberts!" He hissed as he handed his sword, pistol, and wallet behind him. "You'll never leave this building alive!"

"Had no trouble getting' in, Guv." Jack chuckled quietly, grinning beneath his black silk hood. "I'll be takin' me chances about getting' out. It be high time ye and I had a little talk."

Rupert Barclay fumed at the indignity of being taken by surprise so easily, but remained quiet. Jack motioned to the big leather chair behind the desk. "Have a seat, Guv, and please, no foolishness. Be a shame at ruin that fancy uniform."

The steaming Sergeant Major sat heavily down, watching every move the black clad figure made as he produced a coil of rope from beneath his cloak. The brigand quickly, and expertly tied him to the chair, then sat on the edge of the polished desk facing him.

"As I said a few nights ago, I now owe Robert Johnson a debt fer removing' that pest," Jack began, "And I can't say it sets well with me at all. Ye see, I'm more accustom ta him bein' in my debt. Ahhhhhh. I thought that might be peek'n yer interest. Ye twigged there be a connection between me an' him, didn't ye?"

Barclay nodded, stiff lipped as the dark clad outlaw chuckled merrily. "I thought as much. I be here ta fill in the blanks fer ye, and repay me debt. I has been usein' The Crossbow as a base fer me operations. Ye see Robert Johnson didn't come by his wealth all honest like, an there be a few skeletons in his closet what I knows about. Skeletons what could ruin the man should they be made known."

"Then it's blackmail!" Barclay could no longer contain himself.

"Aye." Black Jack chuckled again. "I found out one night when I robbed him, and have kept certain papers safely hid ever since. He has been under me thumb ever since, and even more so once he wed that little girl 'o his. No one was happier than he when I decided ta retire once he was wed. I figured it be high time I enjoyed the fruits 'o me labor, and quit while I was ahead."

"Before ye gets yer hopes up," Jack continued noting the gleam in his captive's eye, "I was never fool enough ta reveal meself ta Johnson. That would have turned the tables, so ta speak, and I likes havein' the upper hand in all me dealings. Besides I still have his papers, so even if he did twig it, ye'll never pry it outta him. Had it not been for that fool of an imposter thinking' I was Johnson, an wreakin' havoc in me good name, I would have stayed retired. Now that I'm back, I've found I missed the old game."

"So you intend to begin your wicked ways again!" Barclay growled.

"Aye, that I do, Guv, and may I remind ye ta keep yer voice down." Jack growled lowly back, pointing his pistol at Barclay's head for emphasis. "Now that ye know about me base, I'll not be usen' that again. Johnson an' I be square now, an' I dare say he's happy ta be rid 'o me presence."

"Ye also know why that young fool kidnapped his wife. Only problem was he sent the message ta the wrong man, or I'd a run the little bastard through meself." Jack produced a length of cloth from inside his cloak and moved behind Rupert Barclay to gag him. "I'll be takin' me leave now, Guv'ner. Ye give 'ol Robert me best when ye see him again an' tell him we're even now."

Once he was certain he was alone Major Barclay began to jump up and down as much as he could in the chair, thumping the legs against the wood floor. Soon a couple of privets entered the room to investigate the noise, and stood dumbfounded at the sight of the officer bound and gagged in his own office.

"Call out the guard! Send the men on sentry duty to my office!" He shouted once they had freed him. "Black Jack Roberts is near! And not a word of this to anyone, or I'll have you both flogged!!!"

Cecily heard Raven's hoof beats distantly in the forest. She ran to the back porch with a trembling heart, holding the hurricane lamp aloft as she strained to see through the darkness. Soon she spied Jack walking across the field towards her, and she ran out to meet him. Setting the lamp on the ground, she threw herself around him, kissing his face over and over.

"Do you think it worked, My Love?" She breathed into the twilight.

"I believe so, Luv." Jack grinned. "The Sergeant Major now has answers to all of his questions. Straight from the horse's mouth."

Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Welsh Wench

Reply author: Welsh Wench
Replied on: 03/19/2008 21:07:02

Molly was taking the blueberry muffins out of the oven when she glanced out the window.
"Annie! I do believe that is Aphrodite in the stableyard!"
Annie looked out the window and said, "And I just saw Cecily go into the stable. I'd best get the butter out for those muffins and put on a teakettle."

Cecily led Aphrodite into the stall and got some oats out of the bin.
"Good morning, Cecily."
She felt a chill down her spine. "Good morning, Mr. Banks. And that is Mrs. Johnson to you."
He leaned closer to her. "I thought we were better friends than that. I've known you over four years now."
"And that was before you almost let it slip that my husband was Black Jack Roberts."
Tom apologized, "I'm very sorry about it. When I saw the man's face, it was my first reaction."
"And that first reaction almost tipped the hand."

She looked into the eyes of Tom Banks. Something about him was different. His eyes...they were gazing at her with a strange look on his face. Almost like he could read her thoughts.
She quickly closed the stall door on Aphrodite and walked out of the stables as quickly as she could. She looked back once. He was leaning against the door and staring. She picked up the pace and walked into the tavern.
' It was too bad he knew so much about Jack's operation. He really needs to be let go,' Cecily thought.

Tom Banks could feel his longing for Cecily rise from his very core. He could barely restrain himself from taking her in his arms. He imagined what it would be like to hold her, to run his fingers through the golden locks. To kiss her and possess her as a man would want to possess a woman, body and soul.
'Someday, my darling. Someday we will be together....'

"It's about time you came to see us! Where's Jack?"
Cecily removed her cloak and sat down. "He had to go to Exeter. Something about some meadowland he wants to purchase. So I decided to ride over and visit."
Molly set the muffins down and Annabelle poured the tea.
Cecily took one bite and closed her eyes in delight. "I swear, these are the most delicious muffins I have ever tasted!"
Molly said, "Cecily, dear, you have been tasting these muffins for over four years now and this is the first time I have seen you so enthusiastic about my blueberry muffins before."
A strange look crossed Annabelle's face. She said, "Cecily, stand up."
Cecily looked at her quizzically. "What?"
"Stand up."
"Do I have something on my dress?"
Annie ran her hands lightly on Cecily's abdomen. Her brow furrowed in concentration then she broke out in a smile.
"Is it true?"
Cecily blushed and nodded. "It is possible."
Annie touched her hand and said in a low voice, "I told you it would work."

Molly looked from one to the other. "Someone had better tell me what is going on here. I hate to feel excluded."
Annie and Cecily exchanged glances.
Annie said quietly, "Cecily came to see me for a spell to help her get with child."
Molly laughed uproariously. "Cecily, Jack knows a better way!"
Cecily blushed. "I thought it couldn't hurt."
Molly said, "I'm sorry. I prefer the good old fashioned way but I'd like to hear about this."

Annabelle explained, "I got my tarot cards, specifically the Ace of wands, ten of cups and the Sun. Cecily brought something specifically for this."
Cecily interjected, " A small blanket."
"And we lit nine red candles. I laid the tarot cards out one by one. Cecily had to visualize herself pregnant. Then she had to repeat the incantation."
Cecily closed her eyes and recited, "With these cards and with this spell- I call upon the good and helpful powers. I desire to start a family - I desire energy and love to continue. This small item is the token of the commitment we are ready to make. We are ready to love our children - we are ready to teach our children and we are ready to have our children.
So it is - so it shall be!"
Annabelle said, "The spell is sealed with kisses and hugs followed by the actions necessary to start a family."
Molly scoffed good-naturedly, "I can see the actions but not the spell doing the trick."
Cecily said softly, "No one knew but the night that Jack came back from the near-death plunge with Michael Fairchild, Annie helped me with the incantation."
Molly said, "...and?"
Cecily's eyes were shining as she said softly, "I think we conceived a baby that night!"

Molly's mouth dropped and Annie hugged her.
"Oh, my dear! I'm so happy for you!"
Molly came out of her shock and hugged her too.
"I didn't hear Jack ride over here and pass out cigars! Why is the man keeping this joyous news from us?"
Cecily looked down and ran her finger around the rim of the teacup.
"I haven't told him yet," she said softly.
Molly exploded, "Why not, girl? He's the father! He will be beside himself with joy!"
Cecily looked at Annabelle and took a deep breath. "As you know, Molly, I have had at least five miscarriages that I know of. I don't want to get Jack's hopes up just to have them dashed again."
Molly felt her eyes begin to tear up. She knew how desperately Cecily wanted a child and she was praying this would not be a false pregnancy.

Cecily knew that Jack wanted a family more than anything else in the world. That is why she braced herself and took Annie's exilirs and herbs without fail.
Annabelle touched her young friend's abdomen carefully and nodded. "Cecily, I do believe you are with child! How long has it been?"
Cecily blushed and said, "I'm about two weeks overdue. And I am nauseous and I am craving fruit all the time."
Annabelle nodded. "A heightened sense of taste."
Molly crossed her arms and said in a pout, "And here I thought it was my muffins you were raving about!"
The three women laughed then.

Cecily said, "Annabelle, I want you with me when the time comes. Jack will be beside himself and make me even more nervous about it. I heard it is a bit painful?"
Molly laughed. "Like pushing a piano through a casement window!"

Cecily gathered her cloak and said, "It is about time I go home. Jack will be in before sundown and I want to have dinner ready for him."
Molly took her hand and said, "Cecily? Promise me you will consider telling Jack. The sooner the better so he can not miss one moment of the joy of this little life."
Cecily hugged her and said, "I just have to make sure I don't disappoint him again!"
She waved good bye and headed towards the stable. Tom Banks was nowhere in sight. She mounted Aphrodite and headed towards home.


Reply author: Blackjack Roberts
Replied on: 03/21/2008 20:56:31

Jack had closed the deal for the meadowland he had been interested in. It would make quite a profitable farm once he had the buildings in place and an overseer to run it for him. Now was the time to put into motion the more important reason he had come to the little town. The rebirth of Black Jack Roberts.

Since he had filled Barclay's head with what he wanted the man to believe he now had to carry out the actions that would give credence to the lie. It would have to appear that he had changed his base of operations, and that he had indeed come out of retirement. Exeter was just close enough to seem to be his new base, and just far enough away to lend it credibility.

An added benefit would be that he just may be able to draw the king's men away from Devonshire. Like a fox leading the hounds away from it's true den. The problem, as always, was making certain that no one suspected Robert Johnson's absence while Black Jack was plying his trade. The new distance could prove that to be problematic. It was far easier to suddenly appear as Johnson when he worked from The Crossbow.

Well, there was nothing to be done about it now. He had to make sure that Black Jack was indeed back in business, and that he no longer used The Crossbow to work from. Fielding the inevitable questions the Sergeant Major was sure to ask Johnson would be easy. He merely had to play the blackmail victim. Dealing with Culpepper would not prove so easy.

Had the highborn weasel indeed been behind Michael's vendetta? Most of the young madman's information could have come from Katharine, Jack had never changed much of his operation when she left. He had never expected he would have to. Even in his heartbroken state he trusted her to keep his secret. Still where had Michael gotten the money to copy Jack so completely?

If it were Culpepper, then the bastard would have no doubt as to Jack's true identity. Did he have proof though? It was something Jack would have to discover, one way or another. Perhaps the upcoming ball would provide an opportunity for him to trap his foe into giving something away. It was the only reason he could think of for even considering attending. First things first, however.

Jack pulled the trademark silk hood over his head, placed the black caviler's hat back on his head, then swung into Raven's saddle and waited for his prey. The fat landlord who had been in the Silver Goose drunkenly bragging about the fleecing he had been giving his tenants all but begged for his attentions. Jack certainly didn't need his money, but he could be sure the parasite's victims did.

He had made it a point to befriend the wealthy landowner, even though it made his skin crawl. Most around the area knew him to be a landowner himself, and it was easy to worm his way into the pig's confidence. After all the fool thought Robert Johnson was one of his own kind.

"Aye! These peasants sicken me!" The rotund man thundered, lifting his fourth ale. "Always claiming poverty when it comes time to pay me rent! Squeeze 'em a bit though and they come up with the coin!" He winked at Jack and laughed heartily.

"They do seem to find the sovereigns when they need to, Mr. Merryweather." Jack had laughed along, tipping his own ale to his fellow landlord.

"That they do, Mate." Merryweather grinned. "Enough so that I've been able to raise me rent to double over the last few months. They don't fool me with those rags they put on before rent day!"

"Just another ploy to keep us from our own." Jack sniffed. "The very idea."

"Ha! It works out for me either way." Merryweather chuckled. "Why just the other day I had to foreclose on three of the vagrants. We auctioned off their belongings today, and the entire haul barely came up to six hundred gold! Can you imagine? Only six cows and a few skinny sheep between the lot of them! I made more off the furniture and heirlooms. Such as they were."

"It's highway robbery!" Jack exclaimed feigning outrage.

"Not so bad, Mr. Johnson." The overstuffed vulture sniffed. "Between the auction and my collections I've made a pretty penny to take home this month."

"So what became of them?" Jack leaned in with a false grin that belied the contempt he felt for the man.

"Last I heard they were headed for London by the north road." Merryweather laughed. "Probably to attempt to find a workhouse that will have them."

Jack had stomached as much of the worm as he could before learning the road he would take home and excusing himself. Now he waited in the deepening gloom of the twilight wood next to the road. He was going to enjoy this.

Just as the sun set below the horizon, turning the sky to the glorious tints of purple, red, and orange he heard the sound of the carriage approaching. Just before he prepared to bolt from cover Jack pulled up on raven's reigns. Merryweather had not proved as much a fool as Jack had taken him for. Two off duty redcoats flanked the rear of the carriage. This required a change in plans. As quiet as a shadow he dismounted Raven, and uncoiled Old Hob from his belt. He waited until the entourage had passed him before bursting from the underbrush.

Quick as a flash he sent Old Hob' tip slapping against the rump of the nearest redcoat's horse. The stricken animal suddenly reared, throwing it's startled rider onto his back with a resounding thump before bolting headlong down the road. As the second footman pulled his pistol Jack sent the bullwhip's coils wrapping around his arm and jerking back with both hands pulled him into the dust.

The coachman snapped his own whip and the carriage rocketed away from the fray. Jack knew he had to put an end to this quickly if he ever hoped to catch his prize. A second snap from his whip sent the next horse fleeing into the wood opposite them, and he whistled for Raven.

The coal black stallion leapt from his cover like a patch of shadow cut suddenly loose from the quickly falling night. Without slowing he raced toward his master at a breakneck pace. Black Jack jumped for the saddle horn and swung up onto the galloping steed with practiced ease, flying down the road, a living nightmare from a childhood storybook in pursuit of the fleeing coach.

Merryweather looked behind them to see the demon bearing down upon them. The black cloak flapping wildly in the wind like a living black cloud that continually changed shape. To him it seemed as if the devil himself were chasing them, coming to collect his due. He was not far from wrong.

Black Jack raced to the side of the bouncing coach. Pulling one of the twin flintlocks he carried he took careful aim and pulled the trigger, sending the coachman's hat flying off into the night sky. The effect was instantaneous. The terrified driver pulled back on the reigns with all his might, bringing the nearly run away carriage to a trembling halt, and raised his hands high into the overhead gloom.

Jack leisurely pointed his second pistol at the sweating Merryweather. "Stand and deliver, Mate." He smiled under his mask.

The three dispossessed families huddled around the meager campfire they had pulled together to build off the side of the road. The two skinny rabbits they had been lucky enough to catch had at least insured that the children would not sleep on empty bellies that night.

The sound of rapidly approaching hoof beats brought the men to their feet, standing protectively in front of the only things they had left in the world to care about. The living shadow emerged from the gloom at the edge of the circle of light cast by the fire. It's arm swung forward underhanded, and a fairly large leather bag landed with a promising chink at their feet.

"Take them small ones to the inn not three miles down this road!" The living shadow's gravely base voice filled the night. "There be highwaymen here abouts!" With that it wheeled it's coal colored horse about and vanished into the gloom from whence it came.

"What in Hades was that?!" One of the men whispered.

The leader picked up the leather bag and turned to his friends with a smile. A single tear raced down his cheek. "That, lads, was Black Jack Roberts."


Reply author: Welsh Wench
Replied on: 03/27/2008 20:10:21

"Darling? Are you almost ready?"
Jack put the saddlebag across Raven's back.
"Just about. I need to make sure we locked the door."
"I did, Cecily."
"Was the fire put out?"
"Yes. Cecily, let's not delay."
She sighed. "I'm sorry, Jack. I guess I am delaying the inevitable."
"We didn't have to go, you know."
"I know. But Andrew thought it would be a good thing. Father isn't getting any younger."
"And your mother?"
Cecily grimaced. "She will go on forever. People like her always do. I swear, she must drink the blood of scarabs or found the Fountain of Youth."
Jack helped Cecily onto Aphrodite. Not that she needed help. He still looked for any opportunity to put his arms around her.
"I'm glad I sent my gown on ahead, Jack. I didn't want to take the carriage. And it is such a lovely spring day."
Jack gently tapped Raven's flanks. Wherever Raven went, Aphrodite was sure to follow. "I think it will be nice to spend a few days with Andrew and Jane."
"She's perfect for eventually becoming the next Lady Morley of Moreland."
Jack said quietly, "And for producing the next generation of Morley heirs."
Jack always delicately broached the subject of heirs and children where Cecily was concerned. He knew how sensitive she was about her barreness. Lord knows, he held her and let her weep in his arms each time she miscarried. Even though his heart was breaking too, he had to be strong. For her.

They rode through the forest, making small talk but each lost in their own thoughts.
Cecily wondered when would be the perfect time to tell Jack of the pregnancy. Perhaops when they are settled in at Andrew's on Moreland lands. She felt certain she would carry this pregnancy to term. It was now two months. Annabelle had given her a strong elixir and she took them dutifully, even though it tasted nasty. She said it had an herb to heal. From some unknown means, she was able to obtain it from an herbalist in China.

"A shilling for your thoughts, love."
Cecily gave him a warm smile and said, "Just wondering where we will be in our lives a year from now, darling."
Jack reached over and brought her hand to his lips and said, "Exactly where we are today. You and me."

It had been two months since Cecly suspected she was with child. Annabelle had been watching her closely and nodded in satisfaction when she touched Cecily's abdomen.
"I really believe this will be fine, Cecily. I always believed that any injury you sustained from Culpepper woud correct itself. You were young and healthy."

I'll tell Jack tonight. Right after the ball when we are back in our own rooms and have our privacy.
Jaack glanced over at his beloved. "Cecily, you have been smiling to yourself in spite of the fact that you are confronting your mother for the first time since our marriage. What do you have planned behind that beautiful face of yours?"
"Me? Nothing at all."
He gave her a look. "I know you well enough,. What do you have on your mind?"
She reached over and touched his hand. "Just how much I love you and how perfect our life is now."

Later that morning, they entered the gates of the house that was built on the edge of the Moreland lands. When it came time for Andrew to assume hs righful place as head of Moreland, he would move into the manor.
"Andrew! They are here!" Jane shouted and ran out to meet her sister in law.
As Cecily dismounted, Jane threw her arms around her and gave her a hug. "I am so delighted you will be here a few days!"
Andrew clapped Jack on the back. "Robert, it's wonderful to see you again as always!"
Andrew referred to Jack as Robert as Jane still was not privy to the secret tht Black Jack Roberts and Robert Johnson were one and the same. The less people that knew about it, the safer the secret.
Jane tucked Cecily's arm into hers and said, "Your gown arrived safely and is hanging up in the room on the second floor. It's ever so comfy and cozy there. Oh, we shall have such a wonderful time tonight!"

Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Blackjack Roberts

Alice Morely survey the ballroom with practiced satisfaction. The cream of Devonshire and Exter society were all in attendance, a testimony to her own standing. She may have not been born to the aristocracy herself, but that hardly mattered in the evidence before her eyes.

She moved from queue to queue, engaging each semi-isolated group of friends in the typical conversation of a perfect hostess. Finally moving to where Sir Peter Culpepper stood alone near the punch bowl at the heavily laden food table.

"So, where are they?" He asked, a bit more impatient than she would have liked.

"They are both here, Peter." She replied gaily. "They arrived at Andrews this morning. Andrew and Jane haven't arrived yet themselves. I should suspect they shall all arrive together."

"The Sergeant Major hasn't arrived either." Culpepper huffed beneath his breath. "I should hate to think all of this was for nothing. I have much riding on the success of...."

"Lord and Lady Andrew Morely!" The doorman's announcement rose above the buzzing din of the party goers. "Mr. And Mrs. Robert Johnson!"

Alice noted the narrowing of Sir Culpepper's pale gray eyes at the mention of Robert Johnson's name, and shuddered inwardly before excusing herself to welcome them. Although she herself was convinced that Johnson was no more that notorious highwayman than Andrew, it was clear Peter would never accept that fact.

"Well," She thought to herself, "the evidence that Sergeant Barclay had discovered in his own investigation was good enough. Maybe he can prove it to Peter as well. Once he arrives, that is."

Peter Culpepper felt his hatred rise at the sight of Cecily holding the arm of that blackguard. How she could have approved of that common thief over himself was beyond his ability to understand. That was all Jack Roberts was in the end, no matter how rich. A common thief.

Still, if everything he had planned for this little get together went as well as he hoped, that little arrangement would soon take a turn for the worse. Robert Johnson , Black Jack Roberts would soon be in his grave and Cecily would at last be his. Along with everything else in Moreland Estates.

"Cecily, dearest!" Lady Alice embraced her wayward daughter briefly and kissing her on the cheek. "I'm so glad you came! It's been too long since we have spoken."

"You forget my husband, Mother." Cecily's voice was as warm as a winter's day in Scotland.

"Of course, My dear. Forgive me, I was just so glad to see you again." Alice put on her best fake smile, and extended her hand towards Jack. "Mr. Johnson."

Jack smiled warmly as he briefly touched his lips to the back of her fingers. "Always a pleasure, Lady Morely."

Before either of them could react Alice Morely linked her arm through Cecily's. "If you will forgive us gentlemen, but it has been too long since I have had a proper chat with my daughter." With that she led a reluctant Cecily off into the crowd towards the study.

"Thank God she doesn't have her whip." Andrew leaned close and whispered to Jack, then turned to his wife. "Dearest would you mind accompanying them?" Jane smiled and nodded before she hurried off to catch the quickly receding women.

"Shall we find something to amuse ourselves, or just go ahead and send for a doctor now to tend to them once their 'talk' is finished? Andrew grinned as he turned to Jack.

"I fear Cecily may gain her inheritance this night if your mother presses her too far." Jack grinned good naturedly. "Cecily has been more than a bit hardened during her life with me."

"Best thing that could have happened for her." Andrew laughed. "come let's see if the cook still makes the best punch this side of Leeds."

As they made their way to the table Andrew suddenly stiffened. "How dare that bastard show his face here after what he did to Cecily?!" He hissed.

"Calm yourself, Andrew." Jack cautioned. "I was actually hoping he would be here. It seems there may be a bit of amusement to be had yet this night."

"Good evening, Sir Culpepper." Jack smiled as he filled two goblets and handed one to Andrew. As much to calm the young lord as to give his hands something to occupy themselves with, rather than to wrap them around Sir Peter's throat.

"Mister Johnson, isn't it?" Peter Culpepper smiled like a cat that had swallowed a canary. "It has been a long time. What, four years now?"

Andrew downed his drink in a single gulp, his eyes boring holes into the elder man. "Not nearly long enough!" He said beneath his breath.

"Pardon me, Young Morely. I didn't quite catch that." Culpepper grinned.

"I said welcome back to Moreland, Sir Peter." Andrew replied stiffly. "If you will forgive me, I have a need for some fresh air."

Peter chuckled as he watched Andrew stalk off into the crowd before turning back to Jack. "He seems a bit distracted, wouldn't you say, Jack?....Forgive me.....Robert?"

"Dear God, man! Are you still unconvinced that Jack Roberts and I are two separate men?!" Jack laughed easily, far too crafty to be taken unawares by such a simple ploy. "I did have some dealings with the brigand, but he was blackmailing me into using the Crossbow as a base. Our good Sergeant Major knows all about it. From Black Jack himself no less."

Peter frowned inwardly, but kept it off his face. He had often played such games of cat and mouse in his rise to power and knew the game was too fresh to be won by a single ploy. "Again I apologize. I had no idea you would be involved with such trash."

"Of course not. You thought I was such trash." Jack laughed merrily.

"Still, I should apologize again for my actions on your wedding day. My only excuse is I was blind with jealous rage at losing Cecily to you." Peter's gray eyes locked with Jack's as he finished. "I would like to see your children. Surely by now you would have a fine heir and family."

Welsh Wench

Cecily glanced back once at her husband but saw that Andrew was next to him when Sir Peter Culpepper approached them. Jack looked at her and gave a slight nod of his head to her and she knew that he was in control of the situation. Surely no one would dare start anything at Moreland.

Lady Jane came behind them as Lady Alice opened the study doors. She turned to Jane and said in her condescending voice, "Jane, my dear, I haven't seen Cecily in a few years. Would you mind very much if I had a mother-daughter talk with her?"
Jane's face reflected hurt at being shut out but Cecily quickly hugged her.
"Jane, I need to speak to my mother so would you please keep an eye on the other women here? I already noticed a few of the women heading my husband's way."
She laughed and then whispered in Jane's ear, "My dear, I know how to handle her. Please watch over the men."
Jane nodded and said cooly to her mother-in-law, "Most certainly, Mother. Enjoy your visit with Cecily."

Lady Morley gave her daughter a big smile and embraced her. Cecily stood there with her arms to her sides and didn't return her mother's kiss on her cheeks.
"Cecily, what is wrong with you? Are you having trouble with your....time?"
Cecily burst out laughing in her mother's face. "Since when did you ever--EVER--concern yourself with me?"
Lady Morley was taken aback. "Cecily, there is no need to take this tone with me. I  am still your mother."
"And what did you ever do for me, Mother? Did  you teach me to keep house? Did you ever make an apple tart with me? Of course not, the servants did the cooking. Did you ever ask me how I felt? What I wanted? Who I was to love? Did you ever know where Andrew and I were in the summer? Did you ever even tell me about carnal love and childbirth?"

Lady Morley was dumbfounded at the verbal lashing her daughter was giving her.
"Cecily, I...."
"And do you even know that Sir Peter Culpepper appeared at my wedding in Gretna Green and tried to kill my husband? Oh, murder was done that day, Mother. Murder was done!
Only it was Sir Peter Culpepper who did the murdering. And do you know who he murdered?"
"No, I..."
"Of course you don't. It was your first grandchild, Mother. Your first grandchild. That's right. I miscarried my first child on my wedding day. And I have had five miscarriages---that I know of--and every loss was another murder for Sir Culpepper."
"But you can't..."
"Oh, yes I can! And I do. I say my prayers, Mother. Just like Nanny Dawson taught me. And then I curse the day that Sir Peter Culpepper ever drew a breath! And then I look over at my husband--MY HUSBAND--and reallize that I am the most fortunate woman to find a man who loves me as much as I love him. And that, Mother, is something that Father will never have."

Lady Alice Morley slapped her daughter's face. Cecily put her hand to her cheek, shocked that her mother struck her. Lady Morley whispered hoarsely, "You don't know a thing about social standing or your station in life. If you did, you never would have married a commoner!"
Cecily found her voice and said fiercely and quietly, "I never had to 'settle', Mother. You were ready to sell me off to the highest bidder. And that was Sir Culpepper. Buried two wives, both with child. He's the kiss of death. Literally. Well, I deserved better, Mother. MUCH better. And I have it. And now this conversation is over."

With that, Cecily went out of the study and left Lady Alice Morley to wonder what she had done to deserve a rebellious daughter like Cecily.

Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Blackjack Roberts

The crystal shattered in Jack's grip. Only the luck of the Irish saved him from cutting his hand deeply as the force sent the glass from his grip a hair's breadth from his hand closing on it. Several near by pairs of aristocratic eyes turned towards the sound as Sir Peter calmly sipped his own punch, a slight smile at the edges of his mouth.

To Lord Culpepper's surprise Robert's only other reaction was a blaze of ice in those piercing turquoise eyes. The moment seemed to stretch into eternity as Jack murdered the high born bastard a thousand times, in a thousand different ways. All in a few seconds of tense silence.

Then Jack merely looked down at the splattered glass and punch and spoke glibly. "I've no idea where Lady Morely got her crystal from, but I would demand a refund."

Peter Culpepper was flabbergasted. He knew first hand Roberts' rage and had hoped to push him beyond his point. Then he could have spoken with Barclay alone. Not to mention the added pleasure of seeing Roberts expelled from the social gathering as the common ruffian that he was.

Jack picked up a second glass and filled it. "Let us hope the craftsman took better care with this one." He quipped as the loose gatherings of the British hierarchy returned to their individual gossips.

"I'm afraid we haven't been so blessed, yet, Lord Culpepper." He continued, only a little cooler than usual. "But we are ever hopeful." He grinned.

"Please, Robert." Peter held one hand in front of him for peace. "Forgive my ignorance. I had no idea. And please call me Peter, after all you've married into the cream of English society."

Jack grinned to himself. Culpepper had played right into his hands, and given him the perfect opening to make the snake twist in Jack's web this time.

"I don't think it will make the least bit of difference in my standing, Lord Culpepper." Jack lowered his voice so that only this noble dog could hear him. It was time to make this bastard pay for taking his hopes of a family of his own from him. For daring to harm Cecily in a way that no woman should ever be harmed. Jack intended to stick the knife in and twist it for all it was worth.

"We both know that English blue blood runs too deep for a commoner like myself to ever fit in properly." He continued in a matter of fact tone. "Why a Gypsy have an easier time getting invited to Buckingham Palace!" He chuckled.

"W-w-w-what did you say?!" Sir Culpepper stammered. The color drained from his face.

Jack leaned in closer. "I said, could you imagine the repercussions if a noble turned out to be a Gypsy?"

Fear that reached into his very soul grew in the nobleman's eyes. Dear God! Annie had done it! She had broken the law and revealed his darkest secret to this blackguard! Now he knew he had no choice Jack Roberts had to be destroyed, before he destroyed him!

"Why Sir Peter, are you ok, man?" Jack Grinned "You look like you've seen a ghost."

"I swear, Roberts!" The shaken lord hissed quietly. His eyes darting to the other party goers, praying all in earshot were deaf. "If so much as a single word passes your lips I will....."

"Sergeant Major Rupert Barclay!" The doorman announced.

Blackjack Roberts

Rupert Barclay handed his tricorn and cloak to the doorman, who took them with a bow. Seeing Robert and Sir Culpepper by the punchbowl he made his way over to the two men, stopping briefly to speak with various members of England's highborn. It never hurt to have, and keep, friends in high places. Especially when one hoped to one day join those ranks.

As he grew nearer he noted that Lord Culpepper and Johnson must have been arguing. For although the nobleman's composure was seemingly as unshakable as the rock of Gibraltar, sweat lightly beaded his brow, and his tone was far more pinkish than normal. "Score one for Johnson. Unless I'm sadly mistaken." He thought.

"Ah, Sergeant Major." Jack extended his hand easily. "Glad you could make it, Good Man. For a while we thought you would miss the event of the season."

"Good to see you again, Mr. Johnson." Rupert shook the offered hand willingly, before turning to Sir Peter with a short bow. "Lord Culpepper. Welcome home, Milord."

"Thank you, Sergeant Major." Culpepper returned the bow equally. "It's good to be back.  I must agree with Mr. Johnson though, I feared I would miss you this night."

Barclay grinned sourly. "I'm afraid I was delayed, Sir. It seems that blackguard Roberts has been busy this night!" The officer's face reddened at the thought of the laughing stock Black Jack was making of him. "We've spent the better half of the evening chasing the rogue over hill and dale!"

"The fox eluded you I take it?" Sir Peter spoke nonchalantly as he filled a crystal for the soldier.

"You take so correctly, Lord Culpepper." Barclay groused. "If I did not know better, I would swear the man is a ghost!"

"I am sorry, Sergeant." Jack frowned. "I would have told you sooner, had my hands not been tied.....Oh, hello, Dearest." Jack slid one arm around Cecily's waist and lightly kissed her cheek as she joined them. "Was your talk with your mother fruitful?"

"Did I just hear you talking about that dreadful robber again?" She smiled, deliberately ignoring Peter Culpepper's very existence. "I would love to hear all about it, But I'm afraid my talks with Mother can be exhausting. If you will excuse my husband, and myself?" She took Jack by the arm and led him toward the French doors that led to the open patio near the fountain.

Peter Culpepper fumed inside. "You'll be mine again, Cecily." He thought as he watched her leave with that common snake. "You and your husband just think this game is over....and that shall be your downfall."

Turning to the officer he smiled his most diplomatic smile. "In a way this is fortuitous, Rupert." Peter Culpepper all but purred. "I had hoped to speak with you alone. I am wondering why a dedicated official of the monarchy, such as yourself, has not yet been rewarded for your efforts?"

Welsh Wench

Jack closed the French doors behind him and walked with Cecily over the bricks to the far end of the veranda.
"What is wrong, love? Are you hot?"
Cecily shook her head. "I just wanted to get away from that maddening bunch before I made a scene. Mother is as exasperating as ever. She hasn't changed one whit. And Culpepper with his 'hail fellow well met' when all the time I am waiting for another trick he has up his sleeve. I swear, Jack, why I ever agreed to this ball is beyond me!"

Jack pushed a strand of hair out of her face. "It's proving to be an interesting evening, love."
"What was all that about chasing Black Jack Roberts all over?"
Jack chuckled. "Just a little fox-and-hound with the co-operation of a couple of twins."
Cecily put her hand to her mouth and giggled. "You're so bad, Jack Roberts!"
He took her hands and brought them to his lips. "And that is just the way you like it, love."
She straightened his cravat and then asked, "I was coming out of the library when I saw the glass break. Jack, that is Murano crystal. What caused it to break in your hand?"
Jack's jaw tightened. "He wanted to see our children. Said we must have a fine heir by now.  BASTARD!"
His fists unconsciously clenched. Cecily was always so in tune to Jack's moods that she quickly grabbed his hand and stroked the back of it.
Softly she drew his head close to her lips and whispered, "I hate him . I HATE HIM and if I have half a chance, I'd run him through myself. All those babies that we lost because of him."
Jack looked up at Cecily and quickly composed himself. He above all knew what grief she endured. When she realized she could not carry to term, she quietly told Jack she would step aside so he could  have what he wanted more than anything in the world.
A family of his own.

He drew her close and said quietly, "Cecily, we could always take in a foundling. That would be our greatest gift to each other. While the child would not be of our flesh, could it be anymore loved?"
She kissed him and enfolded herself in his arms. 'Oh, Jack, if you only knew!'

She shook her head no. "I'm twenty-one, Jack. I say we give ourselves one more year and then we decide. While it would be wonderful to give a child a home, I want to see if we can have a child of our own. I want to see a son with eyes of turquoise!"
Jack tried to remain optimistic for Cecily's sake but he knew that while not barren, she was damaged internally due to Sir Peter Culpepper's insane jealousy and need for revenge. He knew that one day---one day!--the tide would turn and he would exact his revenge on the man.
He cupped her chin in his hand and looked into her eyes. "And I should delight in a daughter with eyes of sapphire blue and golden locks."

She took his hand and held it. "Then I say we get a bottle of Sauterne from the Moreland wine cellars and have it sent to our room. Then we shall see what transpires, my love!"
Jack  grinned and said, "All in good time, my darling. Let us go inside and see what Major Rupert Barclay has in mind. I swear, I haven't had this much fun since I gave him the 'confession'!"

As they walked back into the ballroom, Cecily leaned her head on Jack's shoulder, her hand resting on his offered arm. She looked at him with an adoring look that made Sir Peter Culpepper's blood boil.
'Enjoy it now, my dear. Because by this time next year, you shall be mine. MINE! And the mighty Cecily Morley will be possessed body and soul by a half-breed gypsy.'
Sir Culpepper fought the rising tide of revenge that had been bred in him. No one knew his secret--except one. And dead men tell no tales....

Cecily was lost in her own thoughts. A smile played on her lips.
Jack whispered in her ear, "For one being in a place where you have no desire to be, you are particularly happy, my dear. Care to share the secret with me?"
Cecily squeezed his arm and said, "Perhaps, Mr. Roberts. Perhaps I will by the time the night is through!"
Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Blackjack Roberts

"And I'm telling you, Lord Culpepper, that everything the man told me checked out." Barclay shook his head, wondering if Sir Peter's unwavering insistence that Johnson was indeed Roberts did not border on obsession. Brought on by losing his bride to the man. "Not to mention that Roberts has indeed changed his base of operations to Exeter by all accounts. I and a squad of my men chased the villain all about the countryside before we lost him. There is no way it could not have been him, and by your own account Robert Johnson has been here since this morning. No horse is that fast."

"He has help, Sergeant Major." Culpepper calmly insisted. "I've a lass staying at my manor who was assisting the young fool that drew him back out into the open. She herself is more than convinced at what she saw, and was there the night he was killed. All I ask is that you speak with her. Then if you remain unconvinced I will let the matter drop."

"Which begs the question as to how she happened to come to you, Lord Culpepper." Rupert returned a bit suspicious.

Peter laughed lightly. "She came to me for protection. I frequented The dim bulb and Bull tavern where she worked. A quaint place, but suitable for when one wishes to enjoy an evening without interruptions. When Roberts had killed her man, and nearly her in the bargain, she made her way to my estate in hopes I could afford her some measure of justice. She also swears the man she saw fighting with hers was not Robert Johnson, but Black Jack Roberts."

"And how would I know that she is telling the truth?" Barclay asked.

"Check her story out in Innswich, of course." Culpepper grinned. "If you find that much true, come and see her at my manor on the morrow. What have you to lose, except a promotion?" He smiled inwardly at the light he saw in the Sergeant Major's eyes at the word promotion. The man's desire for advancement was the chink in that armor of honesty he had been looking for.

"Very well, Sir Peter, I shall." He frowned in thought. Had it been so easy for Johnson to fool him? And who were his accomplices? Regardless, he would see them all hang if this latest development proved true.

At that moment the French doors opened. "Not a word, Sergeant." Peter cautioned. "No sense spooking the game before the trap is set."

"Indeed not." Rupert returned lowly. "Then just as we thought we had the robber pinned between us he vanished completely, again!" He said loudly as Cecily and Jack joined them.

"Robert, Cecily. So glad you could rejoin us." Lord Culpepper smiled warmly as if just noticing their return. "The Sergeant major was just regaling me with the events of tonight's chase."

"Oh?" Cecily smiled warmly at Barclay, ignoring Culpepper again. "And would you mind telling us the story, Sergeant?"

"Nothing would please me more, My Lady." Rupert Barclay bowed deeply. "However I fear I must leave now. While we were attempting to run the villain to ground it occurred to me that his new base must be somewhere in Exeter, and I think I've a good idea where. Duty first, I'm afraid."

Cecily feigned disappointment, secretly hiding her glee that Jack's plan had worked and the redcoats would be searching Exeter for her husband. "Perhaps another time then?"

"Most assuredly, Lady Johnson. Please give your mother my regrets." The sergeant major gently pressed his lips to the back of her fingers, then extended his hand to Jack. "Robert, until we meet again."

Jack shook the official's hand firmly. "Sergeant Major. You and your men are always welcome at The Crossbow." He smiled.

The trio watched as the redcoat made his way back to the door, claimed his coat and tricorn and left the ball. "Well, Cecily," Sir Culpepper smiled warmly. "I must say married life is agreeing with you. You are more radiant than I remembered."

Bess Bradford paced the study. How long was Peter Culpepper going to be gone this night? Every day her revenge on those two went unanswered was like a dagger in her heart, twisting slowly. She stopped for a moment to stare into the flickering flames of the fireplace, wishing Michael would have let her blow the blond wench's head off. At the least it would have put Jack Roberts in her own situation. Alone and loveless.

His face still haunted her dreams and she thought back to the times she would comfort him when his headaches would start. Dreadful things they were, lasting for hours. The pain so intense at times that his mouth would pull down at one corner as if it had a will of it's own. Then he would stare into empty space, his eyes as blank as a dolls. Sometimes speaking in slurred sentences that made no sense to anyone.

Not one bit of it had mattered to her. Michael Fairchild was hers, and even with all his faults and rough edges she loved him deeply. There were more than a few moments when he had been the kindest man she had ever known and never had he looked down on her for being a tavern wench. She would see his murderer brought to justice, no matter what the cost.

"Raymond!" Bess called out.

Within the space of a few moments the door to the study swung slowly open and the aged butler entered. "Yes, Mum?" he smiled. "Is there something you require?"

"Yes." She frowned. "A brandy.

The servant moved to fill a snifter for her from the silver tray on the table near the wall. Carefully he filled the goblet to within a quarter inch of the rim and handed it to the raven tressed beauty with a slight bow. "Will there be anything else, Mum?"

"No. Yes!" Bess switched gears. "Did Sir Peter say when he could be expected back?"

"No, Mum. But he did say it would be later tonight." Raymond said matter of factly. "Any thing else?"

"Not at the moment." She scowled. "But do tell me the moment he arrives."

"As you wish, Mum." The butler replied as he closed the doors behind him. Why had Sir Culpepper given her run of the house, with all of the servants ordered to obey her wishes? In any other time the master would have turned her out in a moment. What ever his lord's reasons Raymond knew to his core that it couldn't be good. Not good at all.

Welsh Wench

Cecily smiled warmly at Jack and said, "Darling, I'm quite thirsty. Would you mind getting me a glass of the strawberry punch?"
He looked from Cecily to Sir Culpepper and back to Cecily again. She imperceptively nodded her head and Jack grinned. "Delighted to, my dear."
He chuckled as he walked off, already feeling sorry for Culpepper because he knew that Cecily could hold her own. And win.

She turned to Peter Culpepper and said cooly, "Yes, married life DOES agree with me, Lord Culpepper. A lot more than it would have a few years ago."
Sir Peter Culpepper raised his eyebrow, replying, "I don't understand what..."
"No, you don't understand. Shall I explain why?"
"That is Mrs. Johnson to you, Lord Culpepper. My God, I can't believe how my mother was willing to sell me off to you! And that I went along with it as far as I did!"
"But what..?"
"You were so egotistical that you couldn't see that you didn't have a naive young girl at your beck and call. I can tell you now because I am safely married to Robert. But I never loved you. How could I? You are a cold-hearted son of a cur and I even considered throwing myself off the Tower into the Thames rather than marry you!"

Lord Culpepper's face visibly darkened as he fought for control of his temper.
"I advise you, dear Cecily, that it is not wise to..."
"Not wise to what? Annoy you? Upset you? Tell you what I REALLY think?"
"Tread carefully, my dear..."
"Oh, Peter--and since we are on familiar terms, I'll use your name proper--I think being married to you would be the kiss of death. Margaret died in childbirth. As I recall, so did Arabella. Well, I will be DAMNED if Cecily Morley would have been added to the ranks of the late Lady Culpeppers. What is your pattern,  Peter? One bedding and then it is the eternal rest? I had no intention of being a broodmare for you. Get yourself an heir on a sturdy healthy farm girl--if she will have you--and maybe she will prove too much for even you. Why, she could even be the death of YOU."

Sir Culpepper grabbed Cecily's wrist and drew her to him. In a low voice he said, "Heed my words, my dear...because I shall break Robert Johnson. You will be penniless and come crawling to me on your knees, begging me to take you in. And I shall. With much pleasure--MUCH pleasure, I might add. The haughty Cecily Morley will be brought to nothing. It WILL happen, Lady Cecily...and sooner than you think."
She wrenched her hand out of his grasp and said, "In your dreams, Lord Culpepper. In your dreams."

"Cecily? Darling, here's your punch."
She turned to Jack, smiling sweetly. "Thank you, darling. I do say, let us go back on the veranda for a breath of fresh air and then say our goodnights to my parents.  I would love turn in early."
Jack turned to Sir Culpepper and nodded, a grin on his face. "I do believe my wife wants to spend some time alone with me, Sir Culpepper. If  you will excuse us...?"
Cecily turned to Peter and extended her hand. "Thank you, Lord Culpepper. I can't remember when I have had such a satisfying and stimulating conversation."
He nodded, stiffly polite. "The conversation was enlightening, Mrs. Johnson. I shall bid you goodnight then."

Robert could barely contain his laughter as he led Cecily outside. "And what was that all about?"
She smiled and patted his cheek. "Just talking about our hopes and dreams, dear."

Sir Culpepper took a flask of brandy out of his pocket and took a deep drink of it.
'Just you wait, Cecily Morley. Broodmare? I'll break you like a colt, Mrs. Johnson. And the lessons will be pleasurable. At least for one of us. I won't rest until I have you in my bed...'
Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Blackjack Roberts

Jack and Cecily left the ball in the company of Andrew and Lady Jane. The cooling walk did little to calm the inner turmoil Jack still felt from the dig that Culpepper had gotten in on him. The bastard knew full well that he and his only love had been left childless by his hand, and it had been all Roberts could do not to kill him then and there. In truth he had surprised Jack with the off hand comment, it had been a subject that any other human being with an ounce of feeling would have avoided.

Then when Cecily had offered to free him from their marriage that he could seek another who could bare him a child nearly un-manned him. Never could he leave her side. In all the world she was the only thing in his life he could not afford to lose. Wealth he had for a long time and women, before Cecily entered his life. Neither had filled the void he held inside, only her love had ended that pain and he would be damned if he would go willingly back to that life.

For the sake of this Jack Roberts stretched his acting skills to their limits. Cecily knew him far too well, and would catch the slightest mistake. She did not deserve to suffer because of that monster. Jack was determined that she never know just how deep Culpepper's blow had struck home.

"Bravo, My love!" He whispered softly into her tiny shell like ear, his breath barely stirring the loose strands of golden hair. "Had your words been a sword, Lord Culpepper would be bleeding to death even now."

"Would that they were, Darling." She smiled back in the near darkness as they walked back to Andrew's home. "It would be no less than he deserves." Her small hand squeezed his tightly. "But let's forget all this unpleasantness and take the rest of the night for ourselves."

Jack felt his heart leap at the promise her voice held out to him. Even after over four years together their lovemaking had not lost a gram of the passion he had felt for her that first night under the stars outside of London. As far as he could tell it was the same for his wife. In this he felt the most fortunate of men, for few ever found a love this strong in this wicked world.

Much later that night he found sleep elusive. Even the sweet charms of his wife had failed to drive the heart wound Culpepper had inflicted on him completely away and he slipped from their bed, taking great care not to wake the angel he had been so lucky to find.

Opening the French doors that led to the small balcony adjoining their chamber Jack Roberts stepped silently out into the night air. From the position of the full moon he guessed that only a few hours remained until the dawn. Here alone and grateful to be so he finally allowed the emotion Sir Peter's callous words had raised within him to have their way. Without so much as a sound the tears began to flow down his face in a torrent they had not seen since Katherine had left him to his fate.

Sir Peter Culpepper stormed into his manor a little past midnight. Between Roberts revelation to him and Cecily's biting words he could do little to keep his true nature buried. In many ways Raymond was relived to see some of his old master return.

"Raymond! You worthless lout! Where are you, Man?!!" Sir Peter's voice boomed in the empty hall.

"Coming, My Lord!" The aged butler wheezed, shuffling as quickly as his old legs would take him.

"Bring me a cognac! Strike that, bring the entire bottle! I've a bad taste in my mouth that will need every drop!" The enraged aristocrat growled. "I shall be in the study!"

"B-Begging your pardon, Lord Culpepper," Raymond stammered, "b-but the young lady is still in there awaiting your return."

Suddenly Peter Culpepper's mood changed with a quickness that unnerved the poor servant even more. "Forgive me, Raymond." He spoke gently. "It was a bit of a bad ending to the night and I shouldn't take it out on such a faithful servant as yourself. Do, however, fetch the cognac and I will attend our guest."

As Raymond shuffled off to fulfill his duty Peter Culpepper softly opened the study doors. There she lay asleep on the leather sofa. Seeing her again he studied her closely. Yes, there could be no doubt this tavern wench was indeed the key to the scheme he had envisioned on the journey home from the ball. Just as soon as the esteemed Sergeant major had a chance to question her, and Sir Peter had a chance to speak with the olster that worked at The Crossbow.

First he would have to coach this strumpet on just how much she could safely tell the redcoat. It would not do to have her accidentally let it slip that he was behind the faux Black Jack Roberts and he had more than enough information from Fairchild's sister to ensure a proper story could be built around the truth.

Next he would have to get word to this Thomas Banks. Culpepper scowled slightly at that thought. Barclay had informed him of the man's treachery with his employer, as well as the reason for it. Well, if the fool could be made to think Cecily would be the prize for his part in the plan so much the better. He could always have the pretentious little stable hand hung later, or kill him himself. As if Cecily would stoop to loving a common piece of filth like that! Roberts was bad enough! Cecily Morley would be his and his alone!

Raymond returned with the bottle of his finest and the half gypsy ordered him to his bed for the night in such a generous manner that he felt the nights food and drink rise to the top of his throat. No matter, soon all of this pretending would be a moot point and things could get back to normal.

He poured himself a full crystal of the nut brown liquid, inhaling the inviting aroma before sipping it with relish. Looking down on his first stroke of luck against the highwayman a smile of pure evil graced his features. Finally there were cracks in Jack Roberts' armor and there was no time like the present to begin exploiting them. He reached down to gently waken the girl.

Welsh Wench

"Jack?" Cecily's sleep-filled voice called to him from the bed.
Hastily Jack wiped the tears from his face. He steeled himself and turned to face her. The moonlight shone on her face as she drew her dressing gown on and came to put her arms around him. At that moment, he thought he couldn't love her anymore than he did.
He tenderly stroked her blonde tresses. She tilted her face up to his and drew his face down to hers.
"Have I told you lately I love you, Mrs. Roberts?"
She smiled and whispered, "Just every time you breathe."

They stood there in the moonlight, gazing out and not saying a word. Cecily laid her head on his chest and then very quietly she said, "Jack, we need to talk."
"I'm listening."
"I really don't know where to begin or how I can explain what I have kept from you.."
"Cecily, you aren't ill, are you?"
She shook her head. "No, nothing like that. When we lost the first baby, Jack, it was like a stab to my heart. It never got any easier. You know. You held me. Yet you never let me feel your grief. You felt the loss as much as I. And I wanted to spare you that."
She gathered his arms around her and leaned back into him, both of them looking at the moon together. She wrapped his arms around her.
"Cecily, your happiness is all that concerns me. As I said, we could always take in a foundling and give a child a home."
"And I said let's give it a year."
"Darling, we can love a child no matter who the parents were. We have so much love to give."
"Jack, I think the time is right for you to know. I held off as long as I could but Annie has given me the go-ahead."
"Are you saying the time is right to try again?"
She shook her head no.
"Alright so we don't try...
Cecily said softly, "Annie has assured me that the last elixir worked."
"So we do try?"
She took a deep breath. "It was the night I almost lost you to the waterfall and Michael Fairchild. And we were lost in each other that night."
He kissed the top of her head and whispered, "I never felt so close to you as I did that night."
She took his hands and placed them on her abdomen.
"Jack, that night we got a little more than we bargained for..."
"What are you saying, Cecily?"
Her voice said softly and filled with love, "We're going to have a baby."
Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Blackjack Roberts

Jack stared at his wife in open mouthed shock gently turning her to face him. "Dear God, my love! Is it true?!!"

Softly she reached up to stroke his cheek with her soft finger tips. "Yes, My darling." She breathed softly, the undeniable truth written in her eyes. "It is true and Annie assured me that this time all signs say the child will live."

Jack Roberts fell to his knees before his wife and pulled her belly as close to his face as he dared. His tears renewing themselves in joy this time as he kissed her stomach softly over and over. "Oh, My love! My precious love!" He choked as she ran her fingers through his hair, her own joy spilling from her eyes. Glad now that she had told him. "Never in all my life could I have asked for a more treasured gift than this!"

Cecily drew him to his feet, then pulled him to her lips in the most tender kiss he had ever experienced. "Come back to bed, Jack." She whispered huskily. "Neither the cruel words of Peter Culpepper, nor the slings that life has placed before us in the past will touch us this night."

Jack gathered her into his arms. The joy written across his face knowing no equal in the world as he carried the only things he truly cared for in life back to their chamber. Every pain he had ever felt from the life he had led melted away in her arms.

The next day in the afternoon an incessant knock at the thick oak doors brought Raymond shuffling for all he was worth. "Hold your water! I'm coming! Give these old bones a chance would you?"

He opened the door to find Sergeant Major Barclay waiting. Without an invitation he marched into the hall. "Tell your master that Sergeant Major Rupert Barclay is here to see him!"

"No need to, My good man." The calm voice of Sir Peter came from the top of the stairs. "I've been expecting you, Rupert." Lord Culpepper easily descended the partially curved staircase to welcome his new pawn in Roberts destruction. As he reached the bottom he extended his hand. "A pleasure to see you again."

Barclay shook the offered hand firmly. "Our men in Scotland have confirmed much of the information you gave me last night by carrier pigeon. Is there somewhere we could speak alone? Then I wish to meet this girl you spoke of."

"Of course, Sir." Culpepper's voice nearly dripped honey. "Raymond! We will retire to the study, send for Bess, then see we are not disturbed."

"As you wish, Lord Culpepper." The aged butler bowed, wondering what sorrow his master had planned to unleash into the world now and how many would suffer for it.

Culpepper closed the doors to the study behind them. "Cognac, Sergeant?" He asked reaching for the cut crystal decanter.

"Thank you, Lord Culpepper." Barclay bowed. "I believe I will. It may make me feel less the fool, if I learn what I suspect your informant will tell me."

"Tut, tut, Rupert." Sir Peter smiled handing the officer a full goblet. "Anyone could have been taken in by this brigand. He is very clever after all."

"You were not, Lord Culpepper." Rupert groused. "At the first I had merely put it down to jealousy. Now I am not so sure. Of course if this proves to be true she will have to stand trial with him."

"I anticipated as much." Peter grinned. "Perhaps you should read this first, before we continue." He handed Barclay a parchment.

The redcoat's eyes grew wide in astonishment as he read the document granting Cecily Morely Johnson the king's pardon for any duplicity in her actions as the suspected wife of one Black Jack Roberts. The seal and signature of King George unmistakably at the bottom.

"How did you obtain this?" He asked in wonder.

"A favor from an old friend who happens to have the king's ear." Sir Peter grinned. "I saw no reason why she should suffer for the recklessness of misguided youth. And I still love her."

A soft knock at the doors brought their conversation to a halt. "Ah, that should be our young lass now." Culpepper smiled. "Come in."

Bess entered the room and curtsied. "M'Lords." she smiled.

"Sergeant Major, may I present Bess Bradford. Former lover of Michael Fairchild the imposter to one Black Jack Roberts." Peter smiled. "I think you will find her testimony quite enlightening."

Thomas banks read the letter for the twentieth time since it had been hand delivered that morning. He could hardly believe his good fortune. Lord Peter Culpepper not only offered him amnesty from any prosecution in the case of Black Jack Roberts, but he promised to deliver Cecily to him for marriage as well!

It was almost too good to be true. All his dreams brought to reality in one fell swoop and all he had to do was to help Sir Culpepper bring Jack to justice. Even Jack's life would be spared. He would spend the rest of his life in prison, but he would be spared the gallows. Thomas couldn't resist the chance. He would go to hear the noble's plan this afternoon.

"And you are certain of this, Miss Bradford?" Barclay asked again.

"As sure as you are sitting before me now, Sir." She nodded emphatically. "The man who went over the falls with Michael was none other than Black Jack Roberts, not Robert Johnson. I spent all too much time seeing Michael in that horrible costume."

"Very well, I am convinced." The officer struggled to keep his color at the thought of how easily Robert Johnson had fooled him. "The problem now is how to prove it."

"Leave that to me, My good man." Culpepper beamed. "We have one player yet to arrive and I expect him any moment. Once he is here I will tell you all my plan to catch the highwayman known as Black Jack Roberts!"