This is the last chapter...which I'm a bit upset about because I'm getting lovely reviews. I'm going to point out here that I stated in chapter one that this would be a short story and then a huge list of all my reasons why, so I don't want any complaints please.
A big thank you to Iheartstewart20, Jak Coffin, Daisy Silk, Prieda solo, Sara Frisch, Rising Flame 94, cinnamon-24 and Georgiana for reviewing.
Chapter 8: Proposal
James ran a hand through his hair in relief and allowed himself to slump exhaustedly in a chair. Margaret was already busy around the house, clearing up the mess that they had left. The Bow Street Runners had very considerately removed all the bodies, no questions asked. It didn't at all surprise him that the Chief of the Runners was a personal friend of Morris. He was also immensely grateful for the capture of the most wanted criminal in the country, as well as several other notorious ones, and was happily prepared to pretend that there had not been a pile of corpses that had needed to be buried. At least the unexpected arrival of the Bow Street Runners explained the strange absence of the two serving-men, who had apparently been sent out to get them. Philippe and Robert were recovering upstairs – along with William who kept insisting that there was absolutely nothing wrong with him. Morris was sitting in an armchair opposite and rubbing his eyes tiredly.
"It's going to take weeks to get this house back in shape." Morris glanced across at James, "so what do you plan to do now?"
James continued to sit in thoughtful silence. He had been disconcerted to find out that Eric hadn't been among those that had been captured and he would most certainly be out for revenge. He was that type.
"I don't know," James admitted.
"You want my advice?"
"Marry that girl, then go home and make up with your father."
James blenched, "W-w-what?"
Morris raised his eyebrows, "Did you not understand part of what I said or are you just in denial?"
James shook himself, "Eric is still out there and he's not going to be happy."
Morris nodded, "That's one of the reasons you should marry Henrietta. To protect her. There's also your duty towards her as you've completely ruined her reputation and owe it to her to give her freedom. Oh, and the most important reason, obviously, is that you love her."
James sat there speechless.
"Think about it." Morris got up and left the room.
'It'd never work. Our social standing is too different.
But if I did go home and claim my inheritance…
It still wouldn't work.
Well there'd be the constant threat that the remnants of The Boss's followers would hunt us down.
So, build a place like Morris' with secret tunnels.
She could handle it. She'd probably think it was romantic.
That is assuming that she returns your feelings.
That was really the crux of the matter.
Henrietta sat outside and stared up at the blue sky. Her thoughts were focused rather depressingly on the future and the whole uncertainty of it. Of course it would, every now and then, drift off into a romantic fantasy in which James would propose in various different forms and styles before being brought back down to earth with a bump when it hit snags in the fantasy, which was inevitably always when she started to wonder whether or not he did actually love her.
She heard a small cough and turned to see James standing next to her, looking awkward.
What a random comment. "Yes."
There was another uncomfortable silence.
"It was good that the Boss was caught."
"Yes. Yes it was good."
"What are you thinking of doing now?" James asked.
Henrietta gazed back off into the distance, "I was just thinking about that. I think the best thing to do would be to just go home and explain what happened."
This, she thought, was the point where he jumped in and admitted he loved her and couldn't bear to see her go.
James frowned, "They'd probably send you to a convent. No, that would never do."
"Then what do you suggest?"
"Well…" he suddenly got really tongue-tied, "since I got you into this mess I think it's only fair that I get you out of it."
Henrietta's face fell. She didn't like where this was going.
"So I think that we should probably get married."
Henrietta got to her feet. "You're offering me a marriage of convenience!"
"Well, yes, I…"
She didn't wait to hear the rest of what he said but stormed off angrily.
The next morning Henrietta paced outside in the shrubbery. How could he offer her such a marriage? Duty! As if she wanted to marry for duty! Well, at least she could be certain that he really didn't love her.
She caught the sob before it escaped.
"Henrietta? Are you all right?" Tagg joined her.
"I'm fine Tagg," she replied limply. "But I think it's about time I went home. Can you sort the arrangements out for me?"
"I'll talk to my father," Tagg told her and watched her walk off. The moment she was out of sight a frown crossed his forehead and he marched off.
"What did you do?!" Tagg exploded at James. "The girl wants to go home!"
"I tried to propose," James muttered sheepishly.
"Well you must have mucked it up royally!"
James didn't deny it. "She seems to think," he muttered, "that I offered her a marriage of convenience."
Tagg groaned and dropped into a chair. "You're mad. You're utterly insane." He shook his head in despair, "You really are a fool. Henrietta's romantic. You know that. Do you really think that she would accept your offer of marriage when you portrayed it as you're duty?"
James thought about it a moment then swore loudly, "No. Of course she wouldn't. So what do I do now? Try to propose again?"
Tagg looked heavenward, "You really aren't at all romantic minded are you? Think. You've been with that girl for over a fortnight. What would she think would be romantic?"
"An elopement," James answered instantly, "but it's too late now to carry one out."
"Not if you kidnapped her again."
James stared at his friend in amazement, "Charles, you're a genius."
Tagg laughed, "Indeed. So go organise it already."
Henrietta-Maria sighed and stared out the window. Great! A convent. That would be really romantic. An image of James floated into her head but she grit her teeth and banished it swiftly from her mind – though rather unsuccessfully as he popped straight back up again a moment later.
She shook her head. Why had she said no? It was a totally unromantic proposal but she loved him. Why had he made it sound like a duty? She groaned and leaned her head back, closing her eyes.
The gunshot sent them flying open again.
There was a second shot; a cry of pain and carriage shuddered to a stop.
Henrietta glanced half nervously at the door and soon it was wrenched open.
The blood froze in her veins.
Eric sneered at the look of fear on her face, enjoying the feeling of power immensely. "Revenge is sweet isn't it? You and James brought down the Boss, and now you're going to suffer for it." He brandished the gun and aimed it at her chest. "I'm going to kill you, slowly, painfully, and then I'm going to find James and let him know just how painfully you died. Then kill him in exactly the same way."
Henrietta stared at the gun. Not quite registering what was happening.
"Ironic really, isn't it? This is how we first met."
He cocked the gun.
A gunshot. The whistle of lead. The soft thump as it hit living flesh. Eric collapsed.
James was revealed wearing his highwayman outfit, astride Domino, and holding a smoking pistol.
Henrietta continued to sit and gaze at the dead body.
James quickly dismounted.
"Maria, are you all right?"
She gave a vague nod.
James noticed the blankness of her gaze. She was clearly in shock, which meant he had to get her somewhere else quickly.
Henrietta barely noticed what happened after that. It all passed in a blur. The first thing she remembered clearly was sitting down in the nearest inn and feeling the cloudiness lift from her mind over a glass of something vile and alcoholic that someone had shoved into her hand.
"That was Eric," she said finally.
James looked over at her, "Yes that was Eric," he spat. "Eric. How I hate that name and will do for the rest of my life."
Henrietta stood shakily and put down the glass on a nearby table.
"I'm such an incompetent fool! I should have known he'd try something like that. I should have never let you leave. And you shouldn't have gotten so stubborn about leaving. I should have at least provided a guard…" James continued to rant angrily in this way. Berating himself and everyone else he could think of.
Henrietta stood there. The situation was just beginning to sink in.
"He…he…said he was going to kill me," her voice faltered as the realisation began to dawn. James looked sharply at her, his anger giving way to concern.
"He was going to kill me," Henrietta gulped as the shock melted into sudden comprehension and the room swam.
"Easy," there was a strong grip around her waist and a support that prevented her from falling. "Shush," James soothed, "its okay. It's over."
"You killed him."
"Yes, he's dead." He turned her to face him, "I had to shoot him or he would have…When I saw him pointing a gun at you…"
Suddenly his grip on her tightened and he held her to him fiercely.
"He almost killed you. If I hadn't come after you…" He loosened his grip slightly and tilted her chin up so that she was looking him directly in his eyes. "Never again. You're never leaving my sight again. I love you too much to lose you." Then he bent his head and kissed her.
Well this was extremely gratifying.
"Come on. Gretna's waiting for us." James led her towards the door.
"Of course," James smiled down at her, "How else did you intend for us to get married?"
He silenced her suggestions with another kiss.
"Tell me in the carriage."