Welcome to the Forums!  Please post an introduction after signing up!

For an updated map of Ren Fests check out The Ren List at!

The Chat server is now running again, just select chat on the menu!

Main Menu


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

Previous topic - Next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Blackjack Roberts

Days passed happily for Jack and Cecily. Never had she seen him quite so animated and happy as he took her to carpenters to order the crib. Working hard on the guest room of their cottage with a fervor, as if the child would arrive any second instead of months from now. Taking her to the best clothiers in Devonshire to choose clothing for the unborn baby, and in anticipation of her own soon to change figure. Doting on her as if she were made of spun glass.

"Has he even slowed down?" Annabelle Peterson asked to the sound of refurbishing that had been coming from above since she arrived. Jack had stayed down stairs only long enough to greet her and apologize before rushing back upstairs to resume his work.

"Only to make sure that I lift no more than a finger." Cecily giggled as she poured them more tea from the steaming pot. The morning sun streaming in through the bay window cheerily lighting the living room as the two friends sat back. Annie had come to check on her and ensure the baby was indeed doing well. Though how she could know at such an early stage was beyond Cecily's understanding.

Annie smiled over her cup. "I had always thought Jack would make a fine father. It would seem to be just what he needed in his life, besides you of course." She winked.

"Yes, Annie. I am so glad I decided to tell him. Especially after that veiled barb from Culpepper at the ball." She frowned at the memory. "I was surprised that he didn't cut himself when he shattered the crystal of punch he was holding."

"I'm surprised he didn't kill the man then and there." The Gypsy said earnestly. "You have had much more effect on him than you realize, My dear. Before you Jack would have killed the man without a second thought." Annie looked at Cecily and smiled warmly. "You have been good for him."

"No more than he has for me, Annie." Cecily grinned back. "Before Jack Roberts I thought love was something I had only read about. A writer's fantasy perpetuated to sell their books." She paused for a moment. "Jack saved me from far more than the slavers that night, Annie. He saved me from a loveless life. Maybe it might not have been Peter Culpepper, but it wouldn't have mattered. I would have eventually been traded off to some stuffy aristocrat who cares far more about his social standing than he did me."

The loud incessant knock at the front door caused them both to jump. Cecily quickly rose to answer. Josiah stood there white as a sheet. "Where's Jack, Cecily? For God's sake, where's your husband, Lass?!"

"He's upstairs working on the baby's room, Josiah. Why? Is something wrong with Molly?!!" Cecily paled at the look of the tavern keep. "Has something happened at The Crossbow?!!"

"Nothing to worry yourself about, Lass!" Josiah shouted over his shoulder as he bounded up the steps. "We'll be able to handle this."

"What?!!" She heard Jack shout mere seconds later. Within moments he came down the steps, his shirt sleeves still rolled past his forearms. A look of purest worry scarring his features. "I'm afraid I must leave for the tavern, My Love. I'll return shortly."

"Oh no you don't, Jack Roberts!" Cecily stood defiantly in front of the door, barring the way. "You'll not leave this house without a word of explanation just so I can worry myself sick wondering what's happened!"

Jack stopped with his cloak in his hand and looked at the floor for a moment. "Promise me then that you will stay here with Annie, where I know you and our child will be safe."

"Is it that bad, Darling?" She asked pulling him into her arms.

"Aye, it is." Jack looked as if he were walking to the gallows. "A note was found pinned to the door of The Crossbow from the girl who was with Michael. None knows who put it there." Cecily gasped as he continued. "She says she has letters that Katherine wrote to him in the Colonies. Letters that she says will prove who I am. She plans to turn them over to the authorities. I must stop her. For the sake of our child. I must stop her."

"But, how?!" Cecily asked desperately. "You have no idea where she is!"

"No, but I know who she is most likely to take them to." He said firmly, his jaw set. "I promise I'll be waiting for her when she tries." Cecily knew full well what he meant. He would be waiting as Black Jack Roberts. As soon as he and Josiah would arrive at the tavern he would again become the highwayman.

Cecily nodded, tears filling her eyes as she reached up to pull his head to her. "One kiss, My Bonnie Sweetheart." Jack whispered. "I am truly after a prize this night."

Soon the sound of Raven's thundering hooves faded into the distance as she stood watching from the window. "Please, be careful, My love." She whispered as the two men vanished from sight. Quietly she returned to her seat and placed one hand on her belly. "For both our sakes."

Jack wasted little time once he and Josiah returned to The Crossbow. After reading the letter he had Geoff and George scour the surrounding area around the tavern to ensure that there were no prying eyes about. Even though he was certain that Sergeant Major Barclay had taken the bait and concentrated his effort to capture him around Exeter, it still paid to be careful. Certainly it would not do for Black Jack to be seen leaving from his stable.

As soon as the twins reported back that the coast was clear he strode to the barn with purpose in his stride. This time he had far more to protect than his reputation as a simple business man, or Cecily's as his wife. Two lives now hung in the balance and everything depended on his actions this night. With luck one simple robbery would put all to right again. Cecily and his unborn child would be safe.

No sooner did he gallop into the cover of the surrounding wood than Thomas Banks left his hiding place near the edge of the stable, watching as Jack left. Madness filled the lovesick olster's eyes and a demented joy. Finally he could set the night's events into motion and all his prayers would be answered. Cecily Johnson would soon become Cecily Banks and no power under heaven could stop it now. Quietly he mounted his chestnut mare and made for the Johnson's cottage to report to the redcoats that all was going according to Lord Culpepper's plan.

From the forest Sir Peter Culpepper sat with the contingent of footmen patiently watching the little home. How Cecily could possibly prefer this rural hovel to a mansion filled with servants was beyond him. No matter soon Robert Johnson would stand revealed as Jack Roberts and she would return to the life she was born to. Just as soon as that foolish olster arrived with word that Roberts had taken the bait.

"I hope you know what you are doing, Lord Culpepper." Rupert Barclay whispered. "This is a very dangerous game we play this day. Should it prove that Robert Johnson is not Black Jack both he and Cecily will be well within their rights to have the lot of us ruined."

"Rest your worries, Sergeant Major." Culpepper assured his unwitting ally. "This night you will have all the proof you require when we pull that damnedable mask from Johnson's head." He did not bother to say what he really meant. The erstwhile official need not know that Sir Peter had no intention of letting Roberts live to see another day.

"Just remember." Barclay responded, as if he could read the noble's mind. "We take him alive. He must stand trial before the king's court. We are officer's of his majesty's justice, not vigilantes."

"Of course, Sergeant." Peter Culpepper smiled to himself. "That is the reason for the rest of the plan. We will trap him in his own tavern with the one bait he will never be able to resist."

Welsh Wench

Cecily sat there, just staring through the window. The tears that she tried to stop trailed down her cheeks.
Annie sat next to her and reached out to put her arms around her but something in the way the young woman sat made her stop.
Cecily had a backbone of steel that came from years of breeding. From the forefathers who came over with William the Conqueror. To those that survived the Black Death. The War of the Roses. Those that stood their ground as Royalists. It was the breeding of cavaliers and their ladies and their blood flowed through her veins.
Annie said quietly, "Are you alright, Cecily?"
She wiped the tears from her face and nodded. "I survived what happened at my wedding and the loss of my firstborn. I survived Michael Fairchild and I survived when I thought Jack was dead. And together Jack and I will survive this. And then do you know what?"
Annie shook her head wordlessly.
"I am going to convince Jack that we need to leave England once and for all. We need to relocate into the Colonies. I heard that Charleston is a lovely town. We could get land and raise rice...cotton....sugar even. We shall go where we won't have a price on our heads and our child can grow up loved and protected."

Annie looked questioningly at Cecily.
"Leave..all this? Cecily, you have your family here. Your friends."
Cecily said fiercely, "Jack is the only family I need. Annie, Culpepper and Barclay are relentless! They won't stop until he swings from the gallows. And not any of Andrew's or Father's money will stop that from happening!  And if that ever happens, my life won't be worth living. Jack has resources. We can cash in on them. And then sail off.
And change our names if needs be."
Annie took her by the shoulders and forced Cecily to look at her. "Cecily, don't you see how convoluted this thinking is? The King's Law has long arms. Your only chance is for Jack to get those papers and burn them. Clear his name once and for all. And then never--NEVER--even breathe the name of Jack Roberts again."

Cecily shuddered, "I'm not thinking clearly. I do know one thing."
"What is that, dear?"
"When this is all over, I want Jack to get rid--somehow--of Thomas Banks."

Annie asked, "Thomas? He's been at the Crossbow for ages. Why now?"
"Annie, he's been increasingly strange. I find him staring at me all the time.
And I don't like the look on his face when he talks to me.  Once I ran into him in the orchard. A few times--I can't be sure--but I think I have seen him over by the woods near the stable. He stands too close to me. Once he insinuated that Jack was too old for me. Annie, he's like a man with a mission. I don't trust him at all. And I think he may be the key to this whole thing."
"Can you prove it?"
"No. But it's an intuitive feeling I have."

They sat there in silence. Cecily stood up quickly and said, "Oh, my goodness!"
Alarmed, Annie exclaimed, "What?"
Cecily put her hands on her abdomen.
"I--I'm not sure."
Annie put her hands on Cecily's belly, hoping beyond hope that what she felt was not cramping.
"Does it Or  here?"
Cecily shook her head no.
"It--it almost felt like I swallowed a butterfly!"
Annie's face broke out in a grin.
"What you just felt, my dear, is your baby's first kicks."
"You think?"
Annie smiled, "I know. Cecily, this is wonderful news! You are past the danger zone and you WILL carry this baby to full term. You are definitely starting on the next generation of Roberts!"
Cecily smiled but her eyes welled up with tears.
"Jack needs to be here for this. Oh, Annie...I want him HOME."
Annie hugged her and whispered, "He will be, my dear. He will be."

To keep Cecily's mind occupied, Annie asked, "Have you and Jack decided on a name for the baby?"
She shook her head. "Not really. I had thought of 'Jack' but Molly's little boy is named after 'Unca Robert' and I really have felt that a child should have his own name. Not be shackled to someone's shadow and have to live up--or down--to a person's reputation. But Jack has been so busy with the spare room that we haven't even talked on what to call him."
"Well....yes. I mean, the baby is a boy."
"Not necessarily."
"Annie! Oh, my goodness! A girl never even crossed my mind! I guess I am just so used to thinking I am carrying a never entered my mind!"
"I would suggest you think of two names, Cecily. You know...just in case!"

Cecily turned thoughtful. "I know this is going to sound strange...but when I get worried and stressed when things like this happen and Jack is off doing his...thing? There is one thing that carries me through."
"And what is that, dear?"
"I'll show you. It's upstairs."

The two women climbed the stairs to Cecily and Jack's room. Cecily opened the top drawer of a tall-boy chest and took out a black velvet box. As she opened it, the emeralds caught the light.  She took the necklace out of the box.
Annie touched it and said softly, "The Duchess of York's necklace. Jack gave that to you on your wedding day."
Cecily nodded and clasped it on. "I wear this when I want to feel close to Jack. It always seems to bring him home to me. And Annie? I'm going to wear it now. Because I know Jack will come back to me."
Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Blackjack Roberts

Cecily and Annie made their way down the stairs to the living room again. Annie felt elated that finally this highborn woman who had become so much a part of the extended family of Jack Roberts would see her child be born at last. If only her own cousin Peter Culpepper were removed from the picture she felt certain happiness would reign in the two lover's lives.

She had not meant to break the Romany law of silence, but Jack had caught her cursing her vile relative in Romany and had spent enough time listening to her to have picked up more than a few phrases in the ancient tongue. Jack was more than intelligent enough to put the rest together himself. Though she could do nothing personally to remove the blot on Gypsy honor that was Sir Peter, the Council had stated they would do nothing to protect, or avenge Culpepper should he meet his just fate at the hands of a Gadjikane.

In her heart she knew that unless her cousin gave up this vindictive crusade against Jack that fate would be far closer than he knew. Cecily had not cooled his temper that much and pushed far enough no power on Earth would be able to stop Jack Roberts then. If only the cards would give her some hint as to what was to come next. But sometimes even a choveani such as herself was blind. The answer came sooner than she had expected.

For the second time that day the two women were startled by the loud insistent knocking at the door. Their eyes met in a mixture of wonder and concern. Surely Jack could not have returned. Only a few hours had passed since he and Josiah had left, barely enough time to arrive at The Crossbow and back again. He would not have had a reason to knock anyway. Annie felt a shiver rush down her spine.

"Dear, God! What can it be now?" Cecily rose to answer the door. No sooner did she crack it open than the footmen on the other side pushed into the little cottage, sending her staggering backward several steps. Sergeant Major Barclay and Lord Peter Culpepper soon followed them in.

"Sergeant Major! What is the meaning of this?!!" Cecily demanded, her hands on her hips.

"In the name of King George, I hereby place you under arrest, Cecily Johnson." The official scowled.

"Don't be ridiculous, Sergeant!" Cecily shot back. "On what charge?!"

"On the charge of aiding and abetting the outlaw known as Black Jack Roberts!" Barclay returned in his most official voice.

"This is preposterous!" Annabelle Peterson leapt to her feet "You have no grounds to make such an arrest! Peter Culpepper, you are behind this!" She shook an accusatory finger at the silent noble.

"Silence, Gypsy!" Rupert barked. "Or I'll have you in geol on charges of loitering! Corporal do your duty!"

Annie strode forward as two of the redcoats grabbed Cecily and began to tie her hands, only to be seized herself. "You cannot do this!" She screamed. "You have no right."

"We have the right of the law, Gypsy!" Sir Peter finally spoke. "Bind her as well, we will leave her here!"

"Sir Culpepper, I insist you stop this at once!" Cecily demanded as she struggled. "You go too far this time! Father will have your head and your station if you do not release us this instant!"

"I'm afraid not, Cecily." He spoke in a gentile tone that made his voice seem all the more sinister. "This time there will be no doubt. That low born cretin you married will stand revealed as Black Jack Roberts and the Sergeant Major will witness it with his own eyes. Take her away!"

As the footmen dragged Cecily from her home Annie stared holes of hatred in Peter Culpepper. "Te bisterdon tumare anava! Akana mukav tut le Devlesa!" She spat in his direction. For a second Sir Peter turned beet red, then laughing he turned and followed the redcoats out, slamming the door behind him.

"What was that the Gypsy said to you, Sir Peter?" Rupert Barclay asked as they swung into their saddles.

"How would I know?" Culpepper lied. "Do I look like a Gypsy to you, Man? Probably one of their silly curses." In a fashion he had spoken the truth. What his cousin had said was that she wished for their names to be forgotten and she left their fates to God. "Don't worry, Annie." He thought to himself. "My name will be remembered long after yours is but a memory none can remember." Digging their heels into the flanks of their horses the group galloped off towards The Crossbow, Cecily in tow and praying for all she was worth that Jack had long since left.

"Oh, Mother Mary!" Molly exclaimed, her fear turning her a pallor that frightened Josiah to his core.

"What is it, darling?" Josiah ran to stand beside his wife at the window she had been periodically checking since Jack had left. His own complexion quickly matching hers as he saw what she had been looking at. A band of redcoats were riding towards them with Peter Culpepper at their head, and Cecily surrounded by the footmen.

"For the love of God, Woman, take our child and leave out the back way!" He shouted, panic all but consuming his reason.

"No! What will become of you?!" Molly shook like a leaf.

"I'll be fine. Take George and Geoff with you and get our boy to safety. Now!" He all but pushed her to the kitchen. Reluctantly she kissed her man, thinking she would never see him alive again. With tears streaming down her cheeks she gathered little Jack in her arms and ran out the back, yelling for the twins.

Josiah breathed a prayer of thanks as he heard the sound of the horses fade into the back wood mere minutes before the tavern door opened and Sergeant Barclay entered, followed by Sir Culpepper and the squad of redcoats, Cecily trussed up like a common thief in their midst. The fear and worry in her eyes nearly breaking his heart.

"What the Hell do you lot think your doing?!" He demanded.

"That, Barkeep, is little concern of yours." The Sergeant Major spoke sternly. "If all goes well you may yet keep your and your wife's neck from the hangman's noose. Fail to cooperate and I will assure you both of you shall hang as accomplices."

"Accomplices?!" Josiah roared. "Have ye taken leave of your senses, Man?!! Accomplices to what, for God's sake?!!"

"Black Jack Roberts." Rupert spoke matter of factly. "We have reason to believe he will return here this very night and we plan on being here when he does. Warn him in any way and I assure you your son shall soon reside in an orphanage. Cooperate and I give you my word the both of you shall have the king's mercy."

"Why drag the lass into it?" Josiah asked, cowed for the first time in his life. "She has not to do with this."

"She is our insurance that Roberts does nothing stupid when he returns." Peter Culpepper smiled. "And trust me, Mr. Parker, if you wish her no harm you will obey everything the Sergeant Major commands of you."

Josiah watched helplessly as they took Cecily up to a room that overlooked the Devonshire road and tied her to the foot of the bed. A shiver of revulsion shook him as the redcoats then rigged a musket with the barrel pointed at her head, and a tripwire attached to her body.

"I wouldn't move about much if I were ye, Lassie." One of the men chuckled.

"As you were, Privet!" Rupert Barclay growled. "Take your positions and stand to the ready!"

Silent tears streamed down Cecily's face as she watched the footmen take their places at the windows. "Please, Jack." She thought desperately trying to have him hear her very thoughts. "Please go home first. Don't come back here."

Welsh Wench

Cecily laid there on the bed, careful not to jostle the gun nor the tripwire.
Her fear was almost more than she could bear. She and Jack were so close to having everything they wanted. Was it so terrible to want a normal life?

Jack so deserved it. An impoverished youth. The death of his parents. Having to resort to thievery just to survive. And then the betrayal of Katherine Fairchild.
Any other man would have folded.

The ropes were not as tight as the redcoats had intended. Perhaps Barclay had intended them that way. Was it a trap to see if she would try to escape? Was the best way to flush Black Jack Roberts out would be to sacrifice his wife?
Cecily found that hard to believe. What was more chilling to her was the deadly calm voice of Sir Peter Culpepper. Calculating. As if they were all actors on his own private stage, from his own script.

Cecily could feel the tears filling her eyes. This baby has a right to be born!  Culpepper will NOT take my child away from me again.
When this is all over, I shall hunt him down myself. This is no longer between Jack and Peter. It has now become between Peter and me.

In the distance Cecily could hear the familiar pounding of a large stallion coming up the lane...RAVEN!
Oh, dear God! Jack is here!
Did he go home and Annie tell him I was here? Or did he end up here first? I must warn him..he has to be told this is a trap!

Her fingers worked frantically on the knots...
Raven's hoofbeats getting closer....
One more knot and then I can warn him....
One more...

It was then that Cecily's finger accidently touched the tripwire.
Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Blackjack Roberts

Jack rode for The Crossbow, berating himself every bit of the way. How could he have been such a fool? He had fallen prey to one of his own tricks, though in a slightly different form. Now it would cost him dearly in ways he had hoped never to have to face , but there was little else to be done about it.

He had waited hidden along the road leading from Devonshire to London searching for one of two things. Either a black haired lass, or an official carriage bearing the standard of King George. No matter which should appear he could be certain that it would be guarded by as many footmen as they would think necessary to capture him, and he had spent many worried hours preparing for just that emergency. Praying he had the time to get everything in place before either materialized.

Finishing a little before noon he allowed himself to breathe a sigh of relief. The trap was set should the worst happen. Standing in the shadows of the tree he had chosen he idly stroked Raven's muscled neck as the horse hung it's head across his shoulder. Soft as a whisper the coal black stallion snorted, eyeing the road with as much seeming intensity as his master.

"Getting impatient, Old friend?" Roberts chuckled softly beneath his hood. "Aye. So am I. I only hope we are in time." He reached beneath his cloak and offered his companion a fresh apple, taking his blue green eyes off the road long enough to admire the animal that had been his friend for so many years.

By the sun it had to be nearing four o'clock. As he watched Raven chewing the treat he began to worry that perhaps they were too late, and the hated documents were now well on their way to London and beyond his reach. Had the dark haired lass rode directly for Devonshire after pinning the note to the Crossbow's door? Had they taken another route to London? A longer one? Suddenly Raven stopped in mid-chew, his ears pricking up as he tossed his head. Then Jack heard it as well and smiled.

There in the distance the sound of many horses trodding in their direction and the faint creak of the wooden springs of a wagon, or carriage. Silently climbing into Raven's saddle he reached behind him and pulled his dagger, placing the razor sharp edge against the tensioned rope that he had tied across the trunk. Watching as they came into view over the rise.

Two armed footmen rode well in front of the enclosed carriage. Behind no less than four more equally armed soldiers  followed a few paces behind. Roberts held his breath as the slowly neared. The windows of the transport were shut, but that would not matter. One lone driver drove the team on at a leisurely pace, secure in the closeness of his armed guards. Only a fool would dare to attack them alone.

Jack waited until the carriage bounced past his hiding place, a grim smile of satisfaction spread beneath his mask. There on the side of the coach was all the proof he required that this was what he had waited for, the royal coat of arms. Once it had rolled well past him he applied all the strength in his arm he could muster. He would have to make this quick.

The tension of the rope aided him as it separated with a snap. A thick branch whipped out into the road sending the rear guard sprawling into the dust. At that moment Roberts spurred Raven out from their cover and raced toward the carriage. Pulling his pistols he shot the two footmen who had turned around at the commotion and aimed their rifles at the dark figure bearing down on the closed coach. Both fell to the ground dead as their weapons discharged harmlessly into the afternoon sky.

Without breaking Raven's momentum Jack stood up, keeping one foot in the stirrup and placing the other on the top of the saddle. Drawing even with the panicked driver he released the reigns and sprung for the open mouthed driver, swinging his gloved fist into the man's nose with all the force he could muster.

As the stunned redcoat tumbled off the other side Jack grabbed the reigns before they could slip into the road and snapped them as hard as he could. The four horses now under his command rocketed forward, Raven galloping along side as Jack disappeared into the distance, leaving the carnage he had wrought far behind him.

He had pulled the carriage far from the prying eyes of the road before he leapt down from the driver's seat. Quickly cutting the traces he sent the team galloping off into the wood, then drew one of his newly charged pistols, reached for the door. The stream of curses that spewed from his mask were like none he had uttered in years. The carriage was empty.

It could only mean one thing, the letters were now well on their way to London and he had been duped. He and Cecily were now in mortal danger. He had to get back to The Crossbow, change his clothing and get her out of England as fast as possible. He would have to stay. Only if they could arrest and punish him would his wife and child stand a chance to escape the king's justice. No matter what they must survive, even if it cost Jack his life.

Twilight had begun to fall by the time his tavern came into view. Jack knew he would have the devil's own time convincing her to leave without him. Perhaps he could convince her that he would soon follow her into hiding. Hiding. That was a laugh. As long as he roamed free the law would never cease to hunt them down. His wife and baby deserved better than that.

The last five years with Cecily had been more than he could have hoped for. She had given him all that he had ever hoped for and far more than he felt he deserved. Even with the trials his life had brought into theirs, he would not exchange a single moment for all the gold the world. Now it was time to pay the piper. He would lay down his life for theirs without a single regret.

Jack reigned Raven in sharply as a single shot from The Crossbow rang out into the night! For a few tense moments he waited then a barrage of rifle fire spewed from the upper windows of his tavern and the whine of passing musket balls filled the air around him. A trap!

It was worse than he had thought. Some fool had fired too soon at him in their eagerness to be the man who had killed Black Jack Roberts. This could only mean that the Sergeant Major was there awaiting his arrival. Jack would have to ride for the cottage and attempt to spirit Cecily out of there. Praying they had not yet gone to his home and waited at the tavern to spring their trap.
Jack galloped off into the forest, headed for the path that cut miles off the road to his home. "Please, God!" He silently prayed as he urged Raven to as much speed as the stallion could muster. "Please let her be there alone and safe!"

Welsh Wench

Geoff pounded on the door of the Hare and Hound. The moon had been high for a few hours. Judging from its position, it must be close to midnight. The inn was dark.
A voice was heard to yell, "I'm coming...I'm coming."
Gilbert threw back the bolt and his mouth dropped open at the sight before him.
There stood two men, a woman and a small child in her arms. The three horses were dancing agitated in the courtyard.
"Geoff! George! And...Molly?"

Molly looked like she was about to collapse at any moment. Gilbert rushed forward to take the boy out of her arms.
"For the love of God, come in! What has happened?"
Geoff led Molly into the tavern great room. George pulled a chair out for her and she sat down as if in a trance. Little Jack was asleep. Gilbert laid him down on a pallet near the fireplace.
The old tavern keeper ran his hands over his face. "What is wrong? It's Josiah, isn't it?"
George shook his head. "Not Josiah. It's Jack."
"Lord have mercy! Did they catch up to him?"
Molly looked at him and said woodenly, "Not yet. But it is a matter of time. They have arrested Cecily and charged her with aiding and abetting the outlaw known as Black Jack Roberts."

Gilbert's face turned a deadly shade of grey. "Dear Lord!"
Geoff returned with a bottle of whiskey that Gilbert kept under the cabinet. The distressed look on the faces of the twins confirmed it all.
"Where's Josiah?"
George answered, "He stayed behind. He saw the redcoats enter the courtyard with Cecily bound and right away he knew what was going to happen. He practically shoved Molly out the door and told her to light out with the boy and us. He was staying behind."

Molly burst into fresh tears. "I can't stand it. I don't know if I have lost my husband and my best friends."
George's face was grim and Geoff said quietly, "We have to believe things will be alright. Jack has a few tricks up his sleeve."
Molly shook her head. "There were papers en route to London with proof that Robert Johnson and Blackjack Roberts are one and the same. It was that horrid girl that disappeared after Michael Fairchild was killed. She pinned a note to the door of the Crossbow saying she turned over letters that Katherine had sent Fairchild when he was in the Colonies. Letters written confirming the real identity of Jack. That is why Josiah left so quickly. To warn Jack. Oh, my poor Cecily!"

Geoff said sadly to Gilbert, "And then there is the child to think of. If convicted, Cecily won't swing until after the chid is born. How can she go on knowing that her child would be raised an orphan? And she would have the knowledge that Jack was hung."
George said sharply, "We don't know any of this for a fact, Geoff. Stop upsetting Molly."

Just then two horsemen rode up. They entered the tavern quietly.
Gilbert looked up and exclaimed, "Cody! Jenkins! Didn't know you were back."
The two men looked at each other and took their cloaks off.
Jenkins said, "We'll be having some of that whiskey."
Cody finished, "And leave the bottle. In fact, bring another one."

The rest of them looked expectantly at the new arrivals. No one wanting to say nor ask anything. Not knowing was best.
Jenkins cleared his throat. "Yes...well...."
Cody picked up. "There' s news from the Crossbow."
Molly grabbed his arm. "Is my Josiah alright?"
"Physically..yes. But he's a bit unhinged right now."
Alarmed, Molly said, "What do you mean? Josiah is the most grounded person I know."
Geoff said tightly, "It's Jack, isn't it?"
Jenkins took a deep drink and with tears glistening in his eyes, he said, "Nay. It be the lass."
"Cecily? But we know they were arresting her."
Cody said quietly, "The redcoats arrested her, yes. And they detained her, as it were, in the upper room..."
Jenkins exploded, "Bastards put a trip wire to her with a musket pointing at her head! She tried to get loose. She tried to free herself to warn Jack..."
Cody finished, "She paid for it with her life. Oh, God!  Cecily Roberts is dead!"
Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Blackjack Roberts

Jack burst through his own door, both pistols drawn and fear gripping his heart in an icy vise. The sight of his own cottage unlit by candle, or lantern had brought his heart to his throat. If anything had happened to his love there would be mortal Hell to pay. He had left Raven hidden in the wood as close as he dared and using every stitch of cover he could find made his way to the back door.

The sound of a feminine voice calling for help from the living room sent him racing through the kitchen. Annie lay on the hardwood floor, her hands still securely tied behind her back, her legs by the ankles. Stowing one flintlock in his belt, Jack pulled his dagger and knelt down behind her to cut her free.

"Annie, where is Cecily?!" Jack asked quietly, fearing there may be soldiers in his home yet.

"Jack is that you?!" Annie sobbed as she sat up rubbing her wrists to get the blood flow back. "They took her! Barclay and Culpepper! Damn them to Hell, they arrested her and took her to The Crossbow! Oh, Jack! They're laying a trap for you and using her for the bait!"

He grabbed her by the shoulders, his face turned deathly white beneath the hood as every fear he had lived during Michael Fairchild's reign of terror became horribly real. Annie saw the pure panic in those turquoise eyes that stared wildly from the eye holes of the black silk.

"Arrested her?!!! For God's sake Why?!!" Though Jack knew the answer, he still had to hear it with his own ears.

"You know why, Jack." Annie said softly. "They arrested your wife for aiding you."

Roberts jumped to his feet and flew to the door, nearly tearing it from the hinges in his haste. The Gypsy witch raced after him shouting. "Jack!! Don't do it! They'll kill you for sure if you go there as Black Jack!!"

"They've already tried, Annie!!!" Jack shouted over his shoulder before whistling for Raven. "I've got to try and save her!! No matter the cost!! I have to try!! Go to the special house and wait for us! If I am successful we will meet you there!!!" Ignoring the road he spurred the dark horse across the field like a madman, straight for The Crossbow. The first purple inkling of dawn beginning to show in the eastern sky.

The sun had just begun to peek up from the horizon as Black Jack galloped full force into the courtyard of The Crossbow. Dust and small clods of dirt flew from Raven's hooves as he brought the powerful stallion to a skidding halt in front of the door. Before the first bits of dirt had hit the earth he was at the door, his pistols drawn. Kicking with all the force his terror had brought forth in him he sent the oak rebounding off the inner wall.

Josiah Parker sat on the steps leading up to the rooms, his hands covering his face. The sound of the door crashing into the wall brought his head up. His eyes brought the terrified highwayman to a dead halt. Red and swollen with weeping they looked at him with immeasurable sorrow. "Oh, Jack!" He sobbed, fresh tears coursing anew down his tanned cheeks.

Dropping his pistols Jack ran across the floor only to find his best friend blocking the way. "Don't go up there, Jack!" He begged. "If ever you loved that girl, don't look on her now!"

Unreasoning fear filled Jack Roberts heart. For the first time in his life he laid his hands violently on Josiah, grabbing his shirt and slamming him into the stairway wall. "What happened, Josiah?!! What happened to Cecily??! Speak, Man! Or by all that's holy...."

"It was an accident, Jack." Josiah mumbled miserably. "They had her tied up. She tried to escape, probably to warn you, and it just went off."

Roberts released his hold on the sobbing tavern keep and ran up the stairs two at a time, ripping the hat and hood from his head. As he reached the top he came to a stop frozen in place. One lone door stood open. Like a beacon inviting him to a Hell he knew he would never return from it drew him closer.

The horror that lay before him on the bed dropped him to his knees. Violently his stomach dispelled it's near empty contents across the floor before he could weakly crawl to her side. The musket still lay on the bed, the tripwire attached to the loosened ropes around her wrists. Only the color of her hair, and the Duchess of York's necklace let him know that the woman laying there was indeed his love. The musket had turned her beautiful face into an unrecognizable mass of flesh and blood.

One trembling hand reached up to tenderly stroke the golden tresses that had made his life such a joy. With infinite care he unfastened the lock of the necklace he had given her on their wedding day, his tears spotting the bed clothes as they fell with increasing numbers from his face. Gently he brought the bloodstained jewels to his lips and kissed them before placing them into the inner pocket of his coat.

Jack reached down to remove the last of the binding ropes from her wrists, then kissed the backs of her fingers for the final time. Sobs wracked his body like never before, for the first time in his life he could not cry in silence. Softly he arranged her body to what he considered a comfortable position. "I am so sorry, My life." His voice cracking with the sorrow that consumed him. "I have brought you to this fate and will never forgive myself for it. But know this if you are listening, Darling. Before I join you every damned one of them shall precede me to the grave!"

Pulling his hood back over his face Jack strode from the room, raging madness replacing the fear and sorrow that had consumed him. He pushed past Josiah without a word and snatched his pistols from the floor. "Which way did they head, Josiah?" He said so softly the barman almost couldn't make out the words.

"Into the wood ye vanished into, Laddie Buck."  Josiah knew better than to argue with Jack now. "Thomas Banks was with them."

"Banks will be the first to die then." Jacks soft spoken voice sent shivers down Josiah's spine.

Black Jack Roberts swung into Raven's saddle and wheeled the mighty horse around. Jerking his rapier from it's sheath he dug his heels into the muscled flanks and galloped off towards the wood he had used to make his escape. A curse of retribution screamed from his lungs into the uncaring sky.

Blackjack Roberts

Jack burst into the forest like a sudden thunderstorm, all caution lost in the lovesick rage that consumed his senses. Using his broad bladed rapier like a machete he vented his anger on the small limbs that stood between him and the men he would kill, secretly hoping to take as many as he could with him before he died at their hands. There was no doubt within his soul that he planned to end his life taking theirs. He had nothing left to return to now, no reason to live his empty life again. The gaping hole that Cecily had closed with her love reopened to consume him fully.

Curses flew from his lips with all the volume his lungs could find to propel them. He wanted the bastards to know he was there. "Come out you motherless curs!! Ye wanted Black Jack Roberts, well now ye have him, and all the fiends a' Hell itself besides!!" The madman screamed into the gloom. "I'll cut what's left a' yer cowardly manhood's from yer bodies and force ye ta choke on 'em afore ye beg me ta end yer misbegotten lives!!!"

Onward he spurred Raven, following the disturbed forest floor that told him of the passing of many horses. Tears of rage and sorrow staining the black silk of his hood a darker shade of black. A shade that now matched everything left in his life. Jack's only thought was to see as much blood pour from his enemies as he had seen on the bed where he had left his heart. No! Not as much! More! Much, much more! For every drop she had shed he would see them spill a river!

The search party of footmen had split up in their attempt to find him. Without thought as to who he might encounter first Black Jack simply chose a set of hoof prints and galloped at full speed in their direction. The horrible sight of Cecily's death branded into his mind goading in him a cruelty he had never before known as he soon encountered the two hapless footmen.

The redcoats whirled their mounts around at the sound of the shrieking lunatic bearing down on them. The fear in their hearts at the sight of the enraged demon hurling through the wood at them cost them not only time, but their lives as well. Raising their rifles a second too late Jack rose in Raven's stirrups, throwing his rapier like a dagger as his free hand pulled one of his pistols.

The sword flew across the closing distance between them like a deranged fan, ending it's whirling dance of destruction in the first redcoat's stomach and the musket fired harmlessly into the ground. The second, a young soldier was so frightened that he wet the saddle he sat in as his own shaking aim sent his ball flying wide of the target. Jack's shot, aimed precisely where he intended it to go, caught him in the left shoulder. Roberts had no intention of killing them just yet.

Old Hob snaked out from Black Jack's left hand as he rode between them, tearing his rapier free of the first footman's belly with as much twisting as he could. Shock began to take over the wounded man as he desperately attempted to keep his guts from spilling out the gapping opening in his midsection. The younger broke at the sight and laid spur to his steed in an attempt to escape Lucifer come to Earth.

Roberts turned Raven around and drew his left hand back. Slinging the braided leather through the air he smiled as Old Hob wrapped around the terrified man's throat and jerked him from the saddle with just enough force to choke the bloody bastard. Just as the redcoat pulled the coils of the whip from around his throat Blackjack swung with all the strength of his arm. As the youngster's head rolled free of his shoulder's he filled his britches a second time.

Black Jack turned his attention to the eviscerated foe he had left for last. The man had fallen from his horse and knelt weeping in fear on the forest floor. Bloody screams of vengeance filled insanity echoed through the wood as Jack rode the man down over and over. Raven's coal colored hooves turning darker with each pass over the mangled body.

The horror of the sight brought Rupert Barclay's gorge to his throat as they burst into the small clearing. Matching his first sight of the mangled body of Cecily Johnson. Nothing was worth the terror his deal with Culpepper had unleashed this day, and he regretted his part in it more than any other act he had ever committed.

"Black Jack Roberts!" He shouted out to the obviously grief stricken madman. "Surrender in the name of king George!"

The living shadow of terror jerked the stallion to a halt. For long moments they stared at each other. Rupert stared into the turquoise eyes, red rimmed and devoid of any semblance of humanity. Suddenly it struck him, they were the same eyes as Robert Johnson's. No two men could have the same exotic color. The pain and utter hopelessness of those blue green orbs cut him to the quick as the dark robber pulled his remaining pistol and took aim.

The sound of the explosion caused the Sergeant Major to start, fully expecting to find a bullet hole in his chest. He stared with wonder has the raging highwayman slumped forward onto his horse's neck and realized the shot had come from behind. The bandit's unfired pistol fell to the shattered ground from his nerveless fingers.

Peter Culpepper reigned in beside the officer as the remaining redcoats galloped past to capture the lifeless form that slumped in the saddle of the midnight hued stallion. Suddenly the beast turned and galloped away taking his dead master with him.

Rupert finally broke from the shock that had held him fast, watching the scene unfold as if he were an outsider instead of a participant. How could he have let this go so far? How could he have ever agreed to be a part of it?

"I killed Black Jack Roberts!" Culpepper crowed in triumph. "I finally got him!"

Rupert Barclay, Sergeant Major, servant to king George, guardian of his majesty's law looked at the puffed up nobleman. "You unmitigated Bastard!" Was all he could say.

Welsh Wench

It was near dark when Sergeant Major Barclay rode into the Crossbow Inn courtyard. He was alone. It was something he felt he had to do by himself.
It wasn't supposed to end like this.
Things had gone so terribly, terribly wrong.

A solitary light was in the tavern, no customers at all. Barclay opened the door and there sat Josiah Parker.
An empty bottle of whiskey before him as he sat and stared into the fire in the common room.
Barclay cleared his throat. Josiah looked up at him with red-rimmed eyes, not saying a word.

The sergeant major removed his hat and said quietly, "May I sit down?"
Josiah looked up and said, "Why?"
Barclay sat and stared into the flames. "I--I'm sorry about the lass. It was my job to bring Black Jack Roberts to justice. I liked Robert Johnson. I honestly did and was hoping beyond hope that they were not one and the same."
Josiah still stared at the flames. "Why are you here? To tender your sympathies to Robert Johnson? The man's wife was murdered."
Barclay ran his hands across his face and said, "Robert Johnson, also known as Black Jack Roberts, is dead. Shot by Sir Peter Culpepper."
Josiah looked up as tears ran down his face and said barely above a whisper, "Thank God."
"Excuse me?"
Josiah said quietly, "He couldn't have gone on without his beloved Cecily. She changed his life. Never had I seen a couple more in love. Did you know she was going to have a baby?"
Barclay hung his head in shame. "No, I didn't know."
"Aye. The baby would have been the one thing that Jack always craved. A family of his own. And he was about to achieve his dream. But you--YOU!--you destroyed it."

Barclay could barely meet Josiah's look of pure hatred. "And...and what was done with the lass?"
Josiah spat, "She's at the undertakers when she should be home in the arms of her husband, ye miscreant.
Her family has been notified. She is to be buried in the family crypt at Moreland.  Satisfied? SATISFIED, YE BASTARD?"
Barclay said nothing. Josiah asked, "And where is Jack Roberts' body? Did ye take him to an undertaker? Did ye leave him in the woods for the scavengers? Or have yer men used him for target practice?"
The redcoat said, "I have no idea."
"What do you mean, you have no idea?"
"When he was shot, he fell forward and was still in the saddle when that horse of his galloped off. The men will wait for daylight to search for his body."
Josiah said nothing but continued to stare into the fire. He reached and opened another bottle of whiskey. Barclay continued, "When we do find his there a preference for the um...burial? Since there is no family."
Josiah leaned his head back on the overstuffed chair and closed his eyes.
"Contact Sir Andrew Morley. I am sure he will want Cecily Morley Roberts and Jack Roberts buried together. What you damned King's men did in this life will by no means keep them apart in Eternity."
The redcoat nodded. "I shall."
Josiah continued, "One piece of advice. Your days here are numbered. Jack had many, many friends. One of them will avenge him and Cecily. You'd best look over your shoulder every time you wake and whenever you go to bed. Because of this moment, your life is not worth a farthing."
"Are you threatening me, Mr. Parker?"
"No. Just predicting your outcome. And may God have mercy on your soul. Because you won't get it on God's green earth."

Barclay stood up and opened his mouth to apologize one more time. Josiah looked up at him with contempt.
The innkeeper whispered, "Now get out of here. GET OUT OF HERE, YOU HEARTLESS BASTARD!"

All that Josiah heard was the door to the tavern close quietly.
"Bastard, " he whispered. "I hope the hounds of hell find ye, Barclay. You and Culpepper can dance to the tune of the Devil. May there be no rest for ye."
Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Blackjack Roberts

Sir Peter Culpepper's covered coach bounced along the road towards his summer estate in Kent. The smile that grace his countenance was a mixture of both triumph and wickedness. He had not only finally rid himself of Black Jack Roberts, but had even had the pleasure of doing the deed himself. Now there remained only one final task to make his victory complete.

He reached over to his only companion and pulled the hood from her head. The sapphire eyes that stared back at him were filled with a malice that did little more than amuse him. reaching behind her head he untied the cloth that had bound her mouth shut. It was time to break Cecily Roberts to his will as easily as he had broken her husband.

"Peter Culpepper, I swear if you do not release me this instant, I will..." She spat at him, eliciting an even larger smile before he cut her tirade short.

"You'll what, My dear?" The vile nobleman spoke in an intimate tone that was far closer to the voice of a lover than a kidnapper. "Have your husband run me through? That is the reason for this little trip. Black Jack Roberts is at this moment securely locked in a cell in Kent awaiting execution."

"You lie!!!" Cecily screamed into his face. Her fury rising with each passing moment.

"Do I?" Culpepper purred. "Have a look at this."

Reaching down into a satchel on the floor of the coach he pulled forth an official looking parchment, opened it and held it up for her to read. It was an order of immediate execution signed by the king himself. The name of the condemned was her husband, Black Jack Roberts. Cecily went white with shock.

"You see, My dear, the king is not only more than willing to rid his country of your troublesome spouse, but he is even willing to forego a trial." Sir Peter continued. "Now there is only one question you have to answer. Do you want the world to know that your husband, the respectable Robert Johnson, is indeed the thief known as Black Jack Roberts, or would you rather he remain a simple man of business who's friends would never be implicated as accomplices to his crimes?"

Cecily saw the threat that this monster in human form was holding over her head. Either she would bow to his demands, or all the friends she had made during her life with Jack would pay the price.

"I will be kind and leave you the rest of our journey to decide." Culpepper smiled and sat back in the seat, half closing his eyes. He allowed his thoughts to drift back to his master plan, the thought of his cleverness deserved to be savored.

It had been child's play to convince that tart of Michael's to use saffron to dye her hair blond, telling her that they would use her for bait to ensnare Roberts. no sooner had her hair dried than Culpepper had blown her face off with the same musket he had convinced Barclay to use to keep Cecily from trying to escape. Neither of them knowing the weapon was never loaded.

Once Roberts had shown himself Sir Peter had fired a shot into the ceiling of the adjoining room, causing the rest of the footmen to fire way too soon to have a chance of hitting their target. When Barclay had given the order for them to give immediate chase he and Banks lagged behind just long enough for them to switch Bess' body for Cecily, put that damned necklace on her, and spirit Cecily out the back. A small pail of calf's blood had completed the effect.

Annie had done just as he had hoped and sent Roberts racing back to save his love. All that remained was for him to stay safely out of the raging madman's reach long enough to get the shot in. A single pistol shot to the heart, and he was free to claim the spoils of the victor.

The thundering sound of hoof beats brought Annabelle Peterson running from the door of the safe house deep in the Devonshire wood. It could only mean that Jack had been successful and all that remained was to spirit him and Cecily out of England. Her heart nearly stopped at the sight that greeted her.

Raven galloped into the small clearing with Jack draped across his neck, his arms flapping limply down either side of the black horse's chest. As the stallion stopped in front of her the body slid down one side to land heavily at her feet.

"Gregorio, Rasa, come quickly!" She screamed as she knelt down to examine the still form before her. Two Gypsies ran from the house at her call, their knives drawn to ward off any danger. They raced to her side, scanning the surrounding forest for any sign of peril.

"So this is the famous Black Jack?" Gregorio asked as he slid the curved blade back into his sash. "Is he?"

"No, thank Duvall!" Annie sighed with no small measure of relief. "But until we get him inside where I can examine him more through I've no way of knowing how badly he is hurt."

"Then we must make haste." Rasa spoke as he nodded for his brother to help him carry Jack inside. "Black Jack has help our tribe more than once, and Duvall willing he'll not die this day."

The only mark Annie could find on Jack's body was a large purple bruise over his heart, as if a giant fist has struck him. It had knocked the wind from his lungs, and rendered him unconscious. A search through his clothing revealed two things of interest to her. A squashed lump of lead and Cecily's emerald necklace, the huge center stone shattered into more than a dozen pieces.

Welsh Wench

Cecily sat in the coach, rubbing her temples, her mind in a jumble. She tried to remember what had happened. She remembered the redcoats tying her up and the musket being rigged to her body. Lying there with her own terrifying thoughts and just as she had freed her hands, who should come in but the Devil himself--Sir Peter Culpepper.
She remembered him swearing when he saw her loosened bonds and then he took a cloth with some foul-smelling substance and put it over her nose and mouth.
Everything went black.

She woke up to her mouth gagged and a black rough hood over her face. She couldn't tell where she was, only that she was in a carriage, her sore and aching body being jostled with every rut in the road.
'Oh, dear God, please--please don't let my child suffer any harm.'

Culpepper had pulled the hood from her face and it was then that he revealed to her what had happened and his diabolical plot to her.
Could he be any more of a monster?

Her husband was to be hung without benefit of a trial and her friends' lives were being used as a bargaining chip.
She had a decision to make--let the world know her husband was Black Jack Roberts, deprived of his rights to a fair trial? Or sacrifice his good name to protect those who protected him.
She was beginning to see she had no choice in the matter.

She gently rubbed her stomach. Lord help her and her child if Lord Culpepper knew she was carrying the child of Black Jack Roberts! She knew she had to stall for time. She looked him in the eyes, willing her emotions to quell.

"What do you want of me, Peter?"
He gave her a caressing smile. How much he looked like a feral cat with a fresh kill in his mouth!
"It's very simple, my dear. We will go to Ireland. There we shall be married. And then you will return with me to the Culpepper mansion where we will live happily ever after."
"NEVER!" she screamed.

He sat back and srveyed her. How he would enjoy subjugating this one under his thumb! A challenge that made Margaret and Arabella look like a walk in the park!

"So, if you refuse, my dear, then every one of your friends will swing. The innkeeper...his wife---and think of their child!---those ruffian twins...every one that ever knew Black Jack Roberts will be suspect, interrogated and then determined if they were conspirators. You, Cecily--you have the power of life or death for your friends. Now---what shall it be?"
"But my parents...Andrew....they wil know what happened."
"On the contrary. As of now, a young woman has been turned over to the family as the body of Cecily Morley. I imagine it will be quite the emotional funeral."
He put on a face of mock regret.
"Ah---do you remember a woman named Bess Bradford? Pretty little thing...or she was."
"What do you mean--'was'?"
"I'm afraid Bess met with an unfortunate accident. She got too close to a musket I was cleaning. I'm afraid she took a shot to the face and...STOP, DRIVER!"

Cecily had her hand over her mouth and when the coach made a stop, she dashed for a small copse of trees where she proceeded to get sick.  As she stood with her head against the birches, Sir Peter Culpepper came up behind her.
"It was regrettable. But I am afraid Bess Bradford has taken your place in the Morley crypt."
"But---but how is she mistaken for me? Bess had black hair."

Culpepper smiled cryptically. "It seems she had always wanted to be fair-haired. She was commissioned--by Sargeant Major Rupert Barclay, no less!--to dye her hair to lure your husband into a trap."
"I really don't see where you have much of a choice, my dear Cecily.  We go to Ireland and you marry me. After a year or two, we return to Devonshire.  You tell your family you had a breakdown and I had taken you away for recuperation. The letters of explanation must have been lost in transit.  What a pity!  Andrew will be overjoyed to have his sister back. Lord and Lady Morley will be beside themselves. And Black Jack Roberts will be a distant memory till he disappears from your head and your heart."

Cecily sat there, not believing what she was hearing. This monster had it all planned out form the beginning to the grand finale!

He leaned forward. "And if you refuse, I'll see that everyone of them are hung in the public square. The innkeeper's child will be an orphan, sent to live in an orphanage. Are you willing to become my wife and save the others? Or will your damned Morley pride put them all in jeopardy?"

Cecily sat there, her eyes filling up. Her beloved Jack to be hung and possibly all his friends destined to have the same fate? How could she do that to them? Jack, as much as he loved her, would never forgive her.

Sir Pete Culpepper regarded the young woman. She would watch her husband swing even though he wa already in the grave and by Culpepper's own hand. How he would enjoy breaking her to his will!

The possession of the Morley lands were secondary now. Revenge and the possession of Cecily Morley was his focus now.  He intended for Jack Roberts to be a distant memory to be wiped out for all times.

An heir would be a bonus. If no child were produced in due time, he could wait. Wait until her father had passed on--maybe even helped along the way--and the meadowlands and the land between their estates would be inherited by Cecily.  How foolish of Lady Alice Morley to tell him the terms of Sir Wallace's will.

Cecily could always be 'dispatched' or sent away. Insanity is such a disagreeable trait in a wife. Yes, possession of Cecily and eventually the lands...she was by far the loveliest woman in the shire.

He reached over to touch her knee in a way a lover would.
"What is your answer, Cecily?"
Her voice sounded hollow as she said dully, "You win, Sir Peter. I'll agree to it."
Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....

Blackjack Roberts

Gregorio brought Annie the mug of heated water, watching with interest as she selected the herbs from the carpet bag she stored them in. If Roberts were to stand the slightest chance of surviving the night her magic as a healer would be his best chance.

The huge purplish bruise that covered the left side of his chest had caused them all no small measure of concern. Thankfully there were no broken bones that could be discerned, but Duvall only knew the effect such a blow might have on the man's heart. At last having a face to put to the name of the man who had saved their tribe from extinction made the situation all the more emotional. Especially for Rasa.

Winter had been hard on their tribe, though this was not an unusual thing for them, this winter seemed to be especially cruel. The ever deepening snow had insured that the small band would have to weather the storm of white that poured from the sky without end right where they were. They had taken as much care as they could to insure the relative safety of the children and elderly among them, herding the lot of them into a single brightly painted wagon that contained their only wood stove. That's when the plague struck.

The small pox had come from one of the men who had the misfortune to have brought back bread begged from a home with an infected child. Within a few short days it had raged through most of the camp, striking hardest in the claustrophobic wagon that held the children and old. Six of the band had succumbed to the disease when Rasa's only daughter came down with the fever. Gregorio's little brother was beside himself with worry, refusing to leave the child's side.

Annie had found out about the dire straights the tribe was in when the weather had broken enough for her to attempt to bring much needed food to her people. It was not long afterward that the news had traveled to Jack's ears.

Donning the identity of his alter ego Jack had waylaid a shipment of medicine bound for London from Plymouth. Taking only enough to give the small tribe a fighting chance at survival he sent the rest on it's way intact. It had proven to be the most confusing robbery of his career, from the stand point of the authorities.

As Robert Johnson he then went into Devonshire and purchased enough food and blankets to tide the Gypsies over until spring thaw and sent Annie, along with the twins, to deliver the rented wagon to the snowbound band. His actions had saved many of their lives, but one in particular had earned him the undying respect of Rasa. His daughter had lived.

Rasa gazed stoically at the prone figure laying on the couch, only a single tear that slid down his bronze cheek gave away his true feelings. "It is strange to have a face to put to the name, Annie." He spoke up at last. "Before now Black Jack Roberts was something beyond human to us. He will live won't he?"

"If I have anything to say about it he will." Annabelle Peterson replied firmly. As much to bolster her own emotions as Rasa's.

"Is there anything, anything at all, that Gregorio and I may do to help?" The desperation in Rasa's voice betrayed his worry.

"Yes, Rasa. The two of you tend to Raven." The Gypsy witch looked up from her ministrations. "There is a small stable behind here in the wood. Hide him there and keep watch for any footmen. If any approach lead them away from here. Jack cannot be found, and they will surely be looking for him."

Rasa expanded his chest and checked the edge of the wickedly curved blade in his sash. "No man will come through that door, save through my dead body!"

"And mine!" His older brother added for emphasis.

Once the two brothers left Annie turned her full attention to her long time friend. "Hold on, Jack." She whispered into his ear. "I have seen Cecily's fate in your eyes and know of your desire to join her once again, but stay a little longer. Do not let her death go unavenged by your hand."

Rupert Barclay entered his office. His heart more heavy than it had ever been in his thirty two years of life. Had he known for one moment what that bastard Culpepper had planned he would have turned the man down flat. Now he would have to find a way to live with himself for his part in the tragic events he himself had helped to instigate.

Reaching into his desk he drew forth the unopened bottle of Irish whiskey and glass he kept there. Something he had been saving to celebrate bringing Jack Roberts to justice. The irony was not wasted on him as he pulled the cork from the neck and filled the glass to the brim. Instead of seeing justice done he had bore witness to, and participated in not one, but three outright murders.

He lifted the glass high, studying the rich brown liquid. "I know it may be small consolation." He said aloud to the empty room. "But if you can hear me, Jack, Cecily,.......and most of all you, Little one. Know this. If there were anyway on Earth that I could relive the events of this day I would shoot Sir Peter Culpepper myself! Here's to you, Black Jack Roberts. You proved to be a better man than that lout could ever hope to be."

The Sergeant Major downed the glass and immediately refilled it with a silent prayer the liquor could help him to forget. At least for a little while.

Welsh Wench

"Foster? We shall spend the night in Dorchester."
Sir Peter Culpepper tapped on the glass window and the coachman opened the sliding window.
"Aye, M'Lord. Any particular inn?"
Culpepper said, "The Queen Mary."

He turned to Cecily who hadn't said a word on the road to Kent.
"My dear, you must be famished. A good hot meal in an inn will set you in a better mood."
She didn't say a word. Culpepper put his finger under her chin and turned her face to meet his.
The look of hatred in her eyes was unmistakable. It took him aback for a minute but he knew there was a fine line between love and hate and if she could hate with this much passion, how delightful it would be when the tide turned.

As the carriage pulled up into the portico of the inn, the coachman reined in the horses and opened the carriage door.
Culpepper alighted and held his hand out to Cecily. She ignored it and disembarked on her own. He opened the inn door for her. She brushed past him.
Sir Culpepper gave a smile of amusement. She would be his ultimate challenge. He gave her six months before she finally came around.

While he made arrangements for lodging, Cecily sat down and gently touched her stomach, rubbing it.
She knew that above all things, this little life must be protected. Cecily had come too far to lose what she wanted more than anything in this world.....

"Cecily? Our lodging has been obtained. This way."
He extended his hand and she once again ignored it. As they reached the top of the stairs, she held her hand out and said, "The key, please."
He took it out of his pocket and held it up. "It stays with me."
"One room, one key. Did you honestly think I would let you out of my sight for one second?"
She fought the revulsion that threatened to surface.
"Now, I shall order supper. I took the liberty of having a few dresses and various articles of clothing brought along. Foster has already brought the trunks upstairs."

The room was spacious. She silently opened the trunk and shook out a dress. She pushed aside the nightclothes he had purchased. She went into the alcove and changed. When she came out, Sir Culpepper had a supper laid out consisting of roast, potatoes, green beans and squash. Biscuits and honey were on the plates. A bottle of wine was opened and poured.
He pulled a chair out for Cecily and she sat down.
"Would you care for the squash or the beans?"
"Neither. I don't care to dine with you now or at any other time, Peter."
"My dear, your pride will starve you yet. I highly suggest that you keep your strength up. We have another day and a half before we reach Kent."
She thought of her child. Keeping him healthy was paramount. Quietly, she said, "A bit of roast, if you don't mind."
He cut her a slab and poured gravy on it. Looking around the room she noticed only one bed. And then it occurred to her.
Sir Culpepper had planned on sharing it with her. She almost got sick at the very thought.
But she remembered something.
Annie had given her herbs to help her sleep. They were in her pouch which she saw in one of the trunks.
She said quietly, "Excuse me, Peter. I seem to have forgotten a lacing on this dress."
She jumped up before Peter could see that she already was laced and she rummaged quickly through her pouch.
The herbs were still there.

Hiding them in her long sleeve, she rejoined him at the table.
"Wine, my dear?"
She nodded silently and then dropped her fork.
"Oh, dear."
Peter bent under the table to retrieve it. With lightning fast action, Cecily dropped the powdered substance into Sir Peter's wine.
All of it.

"Thank you, Peter," she said quietly.
He raised his goblet to her and said, "Cheers, my dear."
Cecily had seen Peter before in the past and knew how he was fond of his wine and had a habit of tossing it back rather than sipping.
And this time was no different.
Within a few minutes, he began to get drowsy.

"Peter? You don't look very well."
"I--I think the day is catching up to me. The food seems to make me a bit sleepy....and the wine..."
Cecily brought her goblet up to her mouth to hide her smile. "I really don't think you are well at all. Perhaps you had better lie down?"
He stood up. "I think you are right, Cecily...."
He barely made it to the bed before he passed out. Cecily hastily took a few things and rushed to the door to leave.
She rattled the door and kicked it but to no avail.
She was locked in.

Cecily rolled Sir Culpepper over and rifled through his pockets. No key.
'He must have hidden it when I was changing.' She searched but couldn't find it. She opened the casement window and looked out. No trellis and the rose bushes were below. Besides a jump from twenty feet would put her baby in jeopardy and she had no intention of ever causing any harm to the baby. She had waited too long for this. Jack would never forgive her if anything happened to his child.

She wiped tears of frustration from her eyes. She looked at Sir Culpepper soundly sleeping on the bed and carefully she crawled onto the other side. She knew she would need all her strength for tomorrow.
She said a quick prayer that God would watch over all three of them.
And Sir Culpepper wasn't on that list.

Before she knew it, exhaustion overtook her and she fell into a deep sleep. The only dream she had was holding her child with Jack at her side.
Suddenly she woke up and realized the man in bed next to her was not Jack.
She burst into tears and cried herself back to sleep.

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

I just want to be Layla.....

Blackjack Roberts

Jack's eyes flew open, his first thoughts were of Cecily. He had to save her! Quickly he began to sit up only to be held back by the gentile strength of Annie and the sharp pain that shot through his chest. It felt like a horse had kicked him square across the heart and he had difficulty drawing a full breath. It was then the events of the last two days rushed in upon his consciousness.

Annabelle Peterson watched as his face went through a gauntlet of emotions, from blind fear to heart wrenching sorrow, to unreasoning rage. Even the tears that streamed down his cheeks could not hide the unholy anger that burned in those turquoise hued irises. He began to strain with all that remained of his strength to rise from the couch he lay on.

"Let me go, Annie!" Roberts rasped. "They have to pay! Every single one of them!"

"You'll do no such thing, Jack!" Annie shouted back. Only his weakened state allowed her to hold the struggling, grief stricken madman down. Even so his sheer determination threatened to overcome her. "You have been seriously wounded and I'm not about to allow you to leave here and get yourself killed! Don't make me summon help!"

In the end Jack's steel will could not overcome the blow Cullpepper's ill fated bullet had dealt to his chest and he fell backward in a fit of coughing that brought a thin trickle of blood to his lips. At that moment Gregario and Rasa burst through the door, alarmed by Annie's shouts.

"Duvall, Annie!!" Gregario ran to their side with Rasa close behind. "What in the Seven Hells is going on?!"

"It's Jack!" The exasperated healer's features blanched slightly at the sight of the blood. "He's trying to continue his vendetta against those who caused the death of his wife! His mind is consumed by his grief!"

The highwayman's pain seared coughing had subsided and he renewed his efforts to rise and conclude his desire to see his enemies dead at his feet. Rasa was not about to see the man he owed his daughter's life to commit suicide and ran to the arm of the couch grabbing Jack's shoulders he forced the enraged man back to the couch as softly as he could.

"Please, Mr. Roberts!" He begged. "Please lie still! You'll not avenge her like this! Gather your strength, then take your revenge. Give yourself the chance to succeed, for her sake."

Something in the distraught Gypsy's voice caught Jack's attention and he gazed deeply into the deep brown eyes of the man who held him fast. Truth and genuine care he saw clearly in the man's eyes, and something else. Gratitude. Why would a stranger be grateful to him? Jack Roberts body had reached it's limit and he passed out again from the exertion.

Rasa picked up one of the cloths that Annie had soaked in an herbal water and wrung the moisture from it. Softly he patted the sweat from Roberts brow. "Thank Duvall." He whispered.

"Anna." Gregario used the Gypsy pronunciation of her name as she sank back into the chair she had pulled to Jack's side. "How did you know his wife is dead?"

Annie took several sips of the fortifying tea she had set on the table when Jack had come to before answering.

"The death of his beloved would be the only thing to drive him to such madness." She explained. "That and I saw clearly the image in his mind. It was the sight of his love dead that burned into his mind. It is that image that drives him. He won't release the horror he saw."

Rasa nodded. "I cannot blame the man. Were someone to take the life of my wife I would feel the same."

"No, Rasa." Annabelle stared into his eyes. "Believe this, Jack Roberts has been driven insane by the death of his beloved. Nothing short of death itself will stop him now."

She sat the cup back onto the table and thought for long moments. "Go, fetch rope." She said at last. "We will have to restrain him if he is to have a chance to heal."

"Then what, Anna?" Gregario asked. "We can not keep him tied up for the rest of his life."

"Nor do I have any intention of doing so." The Gypsy witch looked at him with eyes harder than he had ever seen in her. "Once he is healed we will release him, and may Duvall have pity on those he seeks. Black Jack Roberts will not."

Welsh Wench

Cecily woke up to the dampness of a cold morning in the countryside of England. Startled as to where she was, she woke up as if from a nightmare, bolting upright in bed. She shook her head and looked over to the prone form of Sir Peter Culpepper, still in his riding clothes from the night before.

She shuddered with revulsion. Looking over at him, his breathing was slow and steady. She crept out of bed and crossed the cold floor. She opened the casement window and looked down to see the Culpepper carriage parked in the portico.
Cecily rubbed her stomach tenderly and said, 'Little darling, we need to keep our head in all this. Sir Culpepper has to pay for what he has done. I know your father will find a way out of this. I just know it! No one stops your papa.'
An idea had formulated in Cecily's mind. There had to be a way. But it would take split-second timing and could be very risky. She knew where it was kept. But would it still be there?

Sir Culpepper stirred and opened his eyes.
"Up early, are you, Cecily?"
She turned to him, her face barely masking her hatred for him. For some reason, it amused him.
"Yes, well....we shall be on our way. By this evening we will lodge in West Sussex and the next day finish the last leg of our journey to Kent.
He arose and went to the alcove to change his clothes and wash his face. Drying on a towel, he said, "I shall leave you to change your clothes while I get some breakfast for us."
"I'm not hungry."
"Then go hungry. It makes no mind to me."
He left the room. She heard him lock the door behind him.
Quickly she changed and then went over to the trunk he had purchased for her. She looked and saw a cloak that he had purchased for her. And one item caught her eye.
It was a large muff in brown mink.

Culpepper came back with a tray of eggs and country sausage. A pot of tea was steaming. He looked at her and said knowingly, "Don't even think of splashing the tea in my face, my dear. It shall go badly for you if you do. I barely forgave you for the hot candle wax but then you were just a child then."
She sat down and took a biscuit and honey and washed it down with the hot tea.
"You really should eat more than that, Cecily."
She stared at him as he shrugged."Not unusual for a woman to eat light while traveling."

Within a half hour, the footman came up for the trunks. Sir Culpepper pulled his gloves on and held her cloak out for her. She reluctantly let him drape it across her shoulders.
"Then let us be off."

As Sir Culpepper extended his hand to her to help her into the cab, she suddenly turned Sir Culpepper. "Oh, my goodness--I remember leaving my blue cloak on the hook behind the door. Peter, would you get it for me?"
"And leave you here alone? No."
"Oh, get real, Peter. Where am I going to go? I am in no-man's land in Dorchester. How far would I get?"
He sighed. "Alright."
As he disappeared into the inn, Cecily decided to turn her charm on the coachman.
"Excuse me...Foster, is it?"
He nodded silently.
"Foster, I hate to be a bother to you, but would you run up to Sir Culpepper and tell him I also left my silver brush on the washstand."
He stood there dubiously. "I shouldn't let you out of my sight."
She put her hands on her hips and said, "Are you going to make me go up there myself and tell him you refused to do a favor for me? I'll tell you the same thing I told him. Where am I to go? I'm in the middle of nowhere."
He stoically tipped his cap to her and he went inside the inn.
Quick as a flash, Cecily reached under the seat and got the very item she was looking for.
The coachman's twelve-foot whip.

She glanced around quickly and didn't see her two 'errand boys' around so she wrapped it as tightly as she could and shoved it in the fur muff. As soon as she did, Foster and Culpepper came out together.
"Cecily, there is NO blue cloak on the hook."
Foster added, "And he found no silver hairbrush."
Cecily looked surprised.
"Really! Let me check my trunk."
Foster sighed as he took it down and Culpepper opened it with his key.
Cecily became indignant. "Do the two of you MIND? There are....personal items in the trunk that a respectable man wouldn't glance at!"
Foster reddened and Culpepper said, "Oh, for the love of God!"
She glared and he turned his back.
With lightning fast moves, she shoved the whip to the bottom of the trunk and then proceeded to search around for the missing items.
"How very odd...I must have only thought I saw them."
Culpepper gave an exasperated sigh. "Let's get going."
Sir Culpepper opened the door for Cecily. She made a face as she entered the carriage. He did a slow burn.
' soon as you become Lady Cecily Culpepper we shall see how long the insolence lasts.'

"Milord? A problem..."
"What is it, Foster?"
"The whip. It's missing."
"What do you mean, 'missing'?"
"It was under the seat where I always keep it and now it is gone."
"Well, most likely one of the local rabble nicked it from you. Carelessness on your part, Foster."
"Aye, sir..but still. Seems odd they left other things. Bridle. Reins. Just the whip."
"They probably didn't get enough time, Foster."
"Aye, Milord. That must be it."
'And what do you intend to do?"
"I have a switch I can use until we make it to the next village and begging your pardon, I'll stop and purchase a new whip."
"Very well. Let's get this carriage rolling."
"As you wish, Milord."

Within a few minutes they were on the road to Sussex.
Show me your tan lines..and I'll show you mine!

I just want to be Layla.....