The unsavoury character
Chapter 1: The meeting
Lucilla Stapleton had soft blonde ringlets and smoky grey eyes. Being 20 years of age she should have been on the most eligible lists and invited to every party. However this was not the case. Her father was an eccentric gentleman who had travelled widely before settling down with Lucilla's mother and having, not only Lucilla but also her brother Theodore. Because he was so eccentric he was strongly against Lucilla putting on any airs and graces. It was because of him that Lucilla was invited to so few parties but that suited her just fine.
Her father believed that everyone should be well able to use a pistol and sword, not excluding his daughter. So he'd taught her to shoot from a young age and sent her to her uncle, his brother, for fencing lessons as he was supposed to be one of the best in London.
That was where Lucilla was heading at that moment, not for lessons necessarily but to give her poor mother and father a break from Theodore, who had been sent on ahead and Lucilla was going to join. That was, however, before the carriage broke down.
"You stay here Sally," she told her maid. "I'm going to get help. There was an inn not too far back. You stay here and take care of the driver. Keep him still when he comes around."
Lucilla set off down the road, caring very little whether her dress was dragging in the dirt. Fortunately there had not been any rain in a while so the track wasn't muddy at least. The green hedgerows blocked her in, preventing her from seeing anything beyond them, and casting the path in green tinged shadows that provided welcome relief from the hot sun.
It wasn't long before the inn she'd seen earlier came into sight. Sighing with relief that she wouldn't have to walk much further in the sun, Lucilla strode up to it. It didn't look like the most hospitable of places and had clearly seen better days. The sign swinging above it was hanging drunkenly, with peeling paint, as was the paint around the windows. Good grief, she couldn't see through them they were so murky! A glance around the side as she entered, though, proved it was still in use. Four or five horses, some well groomed and others not so, were tied in the stable block - though that wasn't so surprising as this was the only inn for quite some distance in either direction.
Lucilla shook her head. The place would have to suffice. She pushed open the door and walked into the entrance. A shabby looking desk stood opposite with a grubby looking fellow lounging around behind it. Straightening her back she stepped forward deeper into the room.
"Excuse me, my carriage broke down. Would I be able to hire one here?"
"Ay," leered the man on the reception. She didn't like the look of him at all.
"I wouldn't though, if I were you."
Lucilla turned to the source and found herself looking up into a pair of Hazel eyes. The owner was a head taller than her and had a head of ebony hair.
"Edward Thornton," he bowed.
"Lucilla Stapleton," she replied.
"Miss Stapleton the carriages you could hire in this place are likely to break down the moment you step into them. I suggest you look elsewhere."
Lucilla bristled. The polite thing would've been to offer assistance.
"I say Edward, what's stopping you riding to fetch help." A kindly looking gentleman came out the doorway behind Thornton. His hair was a foxy brown. Thornton's eyes darkened in annoyance.
"Colin…you know I abhor helping anyone, especially women. Women are useless at every thing and if you help them with one thing another thing inevitably pops up just as one is going to do something one enjoys."
Lucilla was speechless with rage at this injustice, not to mention how rude it was. Edward saw her annoyance but only gave her a bland look, "And now I've piqued you." He sighed and rolled his eyes, "very well then."
"Don't put yourself to trouble on my account," she hissed through gritted teeth.
Edward laughed, "Oh how annoyed you look! No, I don't suppose you do want my help but you shall get it anyway." With that he strolled from the room.
Colin looked uncomfortable. "Colin Horton," he introduced himself.
"I am sorry about my friend. He…um…inherited the rudeness from his father. Never was taught to stand on ceremony."
"His father…?" Lucilla inclined her head questioningly.
Yes, she'd heard of him. He was known as being the rudest man in London. It looked like his son was trying to live up to his name.
Horton invited Lucilla back into the coffee room where they made small talk until Thornton returned. He walked in while Lucilla was telling Horton about her younger brother Theodore.
"I wouldn't have expected you to have a brother." Thornton said bluntly as he crossed the threshold and sank into one of the antiquated. "You don't seem the type." Lucilla gave him an icy stare, sharp words waiting to trip off her tongue. "Someone is fixing your carriage as we speak," he continued, completely changing the subject. "Nothing much wrong with it. It'll be fixed soon"
"Good," Lucilla rose, "then I shall return to it and my maid. Thank you," she told Horton, "for your conversation and company, and you," she glanced at Thornton, "for getting help." Turning she left the room.
"Now wait a minute, you can't walk back alone." Horton called out, "One of us must escort you."
"I'll do it,"
Lucilla froze. "No thank you," she said icily, "I shall be quiet all right. It really isn't necessary."
"Nevertheless…" Thornton got to his feet and walked to her side.
The journey was completed in silence. Thornton strode comfortably at Lucilla's side, making absolutely no effort to make any sort of conversation. Lucilla herself was trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to suppress the bubbling rage that had been building up inside her towards the silent man next to her, over his conduct earlier and his instience on walking her back and every other irritating thing he'd done since she'd first met him. The hedgerows she'd examined on her way to the inn flew past now in a blur of green as her eyes remained fixated firmly on the road ahead.
"Your carriage," Thornton stated as the newly fixed transport came into sight, "and next time you go out make sure that it's completely checked over then I shan't be obliged to move myself from my seat of comfort."
Lucilla glared at him, "Then one might ask oneself why you chose to walk me here."
He shrugged, "You were bound to get in more trouble if I didn't escort you. Women generally have the knack for that."
Lucilla was unable to give a civil reply to this so obstinately shut her mouth and silently fumed.
Thornton opened the door for her and handed her up, "Now don't get into any more trouble."
Lucilla couldn't still the retort that was on her tongue and words spilled from her mouth before she could halt them, "Sir, I find you excessively rude and overbearing and although I am thankful for the service you have rendered me I shall be glad to be rid of you and hope never to see you again."
Edward burst into laughter, "You've been wanting to say that all day haven't you? Well the feeling is entirely mutual."
Before she could reply he'd shut the door and told the, now recovered, driver to move off.
"Well miss! What was all that about?"
"Nothing Sally. Just MEN!" She relapsed into a brooding silence.
They stopped the night at a quaint country inn and had the carriage double-checked as they were staying there. Lucilla had been put into a decidedly bad mood by her maid who had, after her comment on men, proceeded to launch herself into a long speech about how not all men were bad and to expound on all the qualities of that 'nice Mr Thornton who obligingly helped us', so that by the time they reached the inn Lucilla was heartily sick of the man's name and got herself into bed at the earliest opportunity.
They left early the next morning, as Lucilla was desperate to get into London. The roads were virtually empty and the sun was just struggling over the horizon, casting an eerie half-light and making extra shadows, as they left the green countryside and headed out onto the more barren moorland, the brown and purple of heather occasionally broken by scattered rock outcrops. Lucilla watched the beautiful sunrise marvelling at its splendour and at the same time getting a shiver at ghostly effect it had on the landscape.
Gunshots shattered her reverie. Lucilla was thrown forward as the carriage jerked to a halt. She groaned. Excellent, they were being held up. Sally was flapping around next to her repeating, "what'll we do?" over and over. Lucilla gave a small sigh and made her face impassive.
The door was flung open and the barrel of a gun thrust through the opening. "Hand over her gee-gaws and no one will be hurt."
Lucilla gave the speaker an icy look, "My what?"
"Gee-gaws. Your jewels."
"Oh, well why didn't you say that in the first place? No."
The highwayman seemed taken off balance, "Cool as a cucumber you are ain't you? Hand over your jewels."
He stared at her angrily. "Now! Or I shoot your fancy maid."
Sally uttered a little screech as the gun was aimed at her and fainted. Lucilla gave an irritated sigh, "Very well."
She slowly began to reach for her bag, where her pistol was kept. It would have to be a quick shot, followed by a swift reload.
It happened though that there was no need. Lucilla had just gripped the handle of her gun when there were hollers from outside, a volley of gunshots and the pounding of hoof beats. The man with his gun pointed at her staggered away from the door swearing profusely, his gun arm was hanging uselessly, blood pouring from a gunshot wound.
In an instant the two men were fleeing.
Lucilla breathed a sigh of relief and began to rummage in her bag for something to revive her maid. The hoof beats ceased and there were the sounds of a dismount. Lucilla turned to the door to thank her rescuer but the words froze on her tongue.
"You!" Thornton exclaimed in disbelief as he glanced inside the carriage then gave a bark of surprised laughter. "I thought I told you not to get into any more trouble!"
Lucilla narrowed her eyes and anger loosened her tongue, "I had everything under control."
Thornton smiled, "Oh yes, it looked like it!"
"Sir," she replied testily, "I don't at all care for your tone."
"And I don't care for yours," he retorted. "Where's the gratitude?"
"It doesn't signify that you came! In another moment I would have shot the man myself."
"Indeed?" he said raising his eyebrows. "And you would have hit him?"
"Yes," she hissed sharply.
"I doubt it," he smiled lazily. "I told you, women are useless at everything."
Lucilla glared at him. Thornton's eyes registered amusement then flicked to the prostrate maid. "Well at least you're not one of those females who insist on fainting."
"Why are you still here sir?"
Thornton looked at her again, "I will receive your thanks and then I will leave."
"Well you shall be waiting a long time," Lucilla stated. "Because you won't be receiving any."
Thornton gave a small smile, "I don't suppose you realise what your position is Miss Stapleton. You are stranded miles away from any help with both your driver and your maid unconscious," her body froze, she hadn't realised the driver was out cold, "with me, one of the most unsavoury characters in England."
For a moment Lucilla was silent, digesting this information, "That may be," she answered finally, "but if you made any attempt on my virtue I could always shoot you."
Thornton burst into rich laughter, "I don't doubt it." His eyes softened, "Would you like me to keep you company until the driver recovers?"
"I'm sure that won't be necessary. I know how you hate to put yourself to any trouble, especially on a female's account."
"Touché! But let me assure you that it would be no trouble." He glanced back outside the coach, "No matter. It seems that your driver had recovered." With that he slammed the door and disappeared. Lucilla opened and shut her mouth, of all the rude ways to say goodbye! There was the mumble of voices outside then the carriage started up again and they continued down the road. Hopefully leaving Mr Thornton far behind.