Part 3 of The Raven’s Lady, the short story I wrote as a prize for Crystal Cox.
When Felix got back to the house, he could not find Miss Bellingham. However, he found the servant, Betsy.
“Tell Miss Bellingham, please, that I heard her cousin Cyril and the Black Fox plotting against her, and I need to see her now. I’ll wait in the library.”
After a shocked moment, Betsy hurried upstairs, and a few minutes later, Miss Bellingham entered the room.
She’d clearly been interrupted before she could complete her change. She’d put on a dress, but her hair was caught back in a long plait that brushed her rump as she walked. Betsy came in at her shoulder, and their glares were identical.
“Mr Matthews? What’s this about my cousin?”
“Not Matthews,” Felix told her. “My name isn’t Matthews. I was sent here to investigate the Black Fox for the Crown. I followed you last night, and I saw you bringing in your cargo.”
Now the women had identical looks of alarm.
“It is not what you think,” Miss Bellingham said. “I am not the Black Fox. And the women; they were just following my orders. I am the leader. Arrest me. Let them go.”
“No, Miss,” Betsy objected. “We all agreed. We’re all in this.”
“None of you are in this,” Felix said. “I’m not after you. I want the Black Fox. In any case, Miss Bellingham, I don’t wish to arrest an old friend, and I certainly don’t intend to arrest the wives and daughters of my tenants.”
Betsy was bewildered, but Miss Bellingham was examining him with narrowed eyes. “You are dead,” she told him.
“No,” he said.
She was shaking her head. “We were told you were dead.”
Joselyn still got a white pinched look around her lips when she was angry, Felix noted, and two bright spots of colour on her cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” he said, not sure what he was apologising for.
“You should be. I cried. I wore black for a year. Why are you not dead, Felix?” And then she was in his arms, punching his shoulder and fighting back tears. “I am so glad you are not dead.”
He tightened his arms around her, but Betsy cleared her throat, and Miss Bellingham pushed away.
“You be Viscount Maddox, seemingly?” Betsy asked. “Come to take yer own, is it?”
“After we catch the Black Fox and Cousin Cyril, yes,” Felix said. He was finding it hard to focus on the job ahead of them, given how wonderfully Miss Bellingham filled his arms and how empty they felt without her. The idea of redeeming his boyhood promise was growing more and more appealing.
“Where have you been? Why have you waited so long to come home?” That was his Jocelyn; pestering him with questions.
“I will answer every question you have,” he told her. “But we don’t have time today. Today, we have to decide what to do with your enemies.”
Quickly, he told the two women what he’d overheard. Then he had to repeat it for most of the rest of the household. Not the valet or the butler who, Joselyn said, were from London, and Cyril’s men through and through. The local people, she said, could be trusted.
When Felix had finished his story, the servants were of a single mind.
“You can’t go, then, Miss,” said Betsy. “We’ll have to let the Black Fox have the cargo.”
“We can’t risk you, Miss,” one of the other servants said, and the others murmured their approval.
Joselyn turned to Felix. “I suppose they are right. But I hate letting Cyril and the Black Fox win.”
“I might be able to help there,” Felix said. “What if we went ahead with the move, as planned, but set an ambush for the Black Fox and our delightful cousin?”
They couldn’t settle their plans immediately. Joselyn would need to bring in the farmer’s wives who, with Betsy the housekeeper, were her chief lieutenants. And Felix needed the officers of the troops who awaited his orders in the nearby town.
“I’ll send messengers,” Jocelyn said.
“We can’t risk Cyril finding out,” Felix warned. “Is there somewhere else we can meet?”
Joselyn and her supporters fixed him with identical looks of exasperation. “We have a place,” Joselyn said patiently. “I’ll give your officers the direction.”
The servants went to carry out Joselyn’s orders, but Felix lingered, and so did Joselyn. Betsy, the last to leave, looked at her mistress uncertainly.
“Go, Betsy,” Joselyn told her. “I’ll just have a word with Lord Maddox and be along shortly.”
But when they were alone, she was silent. Was she shy, all of a sudden, his brave Joselyn?
On the cliff-top, she had referred to the last time they’d seen one another; that long-ago morning when his mother had carried him off to the other end of England. Should he start there?
“Joselyn,” he said. “I came back to redeem my promise.”
Joselyn laughed, her mouth turned up in a smile, but something unreadable in her eyes. “No, you did not, Felix. You came back to catch the Black Fox.” And then, suddenly sober, “After eight years of silence, Felix. Eight years!”
All his excellent reasons for staying away turned to dust in his mind in face of the angry tears pouring down her cheeks. In a moment, he had her in his arms, and was kissing the tears away, murmuring apologies and endearments.
Finally, they drew a little apart. “I have made your shoulder damp,” Joselyn said, brushing at it ineffectually.
“We had better join the others, my love,” Felix said. “We have a busy day ahead of us.”
“Your love, Felix? You hardly know me. And I am still angry with you,” she continued sternly. “Do not think to butter me up with a few kisses.”
“After the ambush, I will tell you my whole story, and make whatever penance you assign. But, yes, you are my love. Now and forever, Joselyn. Show me the way to this meeting place. We can argue later.”