She woke to dancing shadows and the face of evil staring her down. The look on James Pure's face was malice unleashed; there was no other way to describe it. Jerking her hand, she realized that she was tightly roped to a chair, hands tied behind her back, ankles attached to the legs of the chair. White bandages swathed James's left hand, the spot where his pinkie finger should have been reduced to a stub.
He plucked at the lace around her neckline. "I thought you gave up this life." He taunted.
"Where is Jonas?" She demanded, pulling against the ropes with no avail.
Pure fiddled with the knife in his hand and growled. "Dead."
Delilah felt as if her heart had been ripped out. "That's a lie," she said weakly.
"Do you expect me to pity you?" James's eyes narrowed. "Now you and I are alike. You took my brother, I took your husband." He slowly tested the edge of the knife with his thumb. "Now you know how I feel. Why I'm going to kill you."
"I'm sorry, James." She strained against the ropes around her wrists. "I liked Gregory. You know that. I would never have killed him, not in a million years."
"And yet… you did." James leaned closer and dug his fingers into her cheek and jaw. "Without any hesitation. You pulled the trigger. He's dead." Straightening, he walked around her chair slowly.
"It was an accident. I didn't mean to use the gun on him," she protested. "Please, James…"
His fingers dug into her hair suddenly, and he yanked her head back. "You liked him? I'll send you to join him."
A knife was at her throat and dangerously close to slitting her skin. "So kill me, James." She really did not care what happened now. If Jonas was dead, who was there to live for? "If you have the guts."
He slapped her, hard. "Your tongue always did get in the way of your beauty."
"And your cowardice always won out," she shot back.
His eyes narrowed. "I had hoped to draw this process out a little. Show you how much pain you've really caused me." He drew a line up her throat with the tip of his knife, drawing blood. "But you're so eager to die. Why is that?"
"I'm not ready to die," she gritted out, straining her wrists at the rope that tied them. "But at least I'm brave enough to admit the truth. And Gregory was a drunk pig. I should never have wasted my time on him." Her tone dripped with sarcasm.
"I told you not to say his name." His voice was dangerously icy, and for a moment she expected him to make a hole in her throat with his blade.
But she kept the fear out of her eyes. "You're a coward and a dog, James. Just like your brother."
He bent close to her face. "Prepare yourself to meet the Devil." His blade dug into her skin, right over her heart. She had maddened him enough to kill her on the spot. With a deep breath, she raised her chin and met the eyes of the man who was about to murder her in cold blood. There was a feral anger in his eyes that chilled her to the core.
Suddenly, the door burst open and Jonas stumbled backwards into the room. He was prostrate for a brief second on the floor, and she felt elation flow through her. He was alive! And he winked at her.
James's face became livid. "You were supposed to kill him!" he snarled at a man who rushed in after Jonas.
Jonas sprang up. "Well, someone died." Before James was able to switch his line of sight, he was hit in the face by Jonas's left fist, and knocked backwards into the wall. "Several someones, in fact." His cocky attitude only slightly covered the fact that he was favoring his right arm.
Delilah could only sit and wince as he was tackled from behind, but Jonas was not about to be trapped. He jammed his head back into the man's face and reared forward swiftly, effectively breaking the hold around him. Then, with practiced aim, he slammed his knuckles into the man's temple and dropped him where he stood.
James was pushing off the wall, knife in hand, headed for Delilah. Swiftly, Jonas grabbed the Colt from the downed man's holster and aimed it at James.
"Stop right there, Pure," he warned, cocking the hammer.
There was a little skepticism in James's eyes, and he slowly put his foot down, still clenching the knife. His left hand jiggled a little as he locked gazes with Jonas, taunting him, testing him, tempting him to pull the trigger.
"I've as good an aim with my left hand as I do with my right," Jonas said. "And even if I didn't, it's close enough I won't miss." His voice lowered. "Drop the knife."
Delilah held her breath. James was boring into Jonas with his eyes, testing how much time he could get away with, waiting for a chance to lunge forward and slit her throat. His narrowed eyes flicked to her, and she saw the rage in them. Jonas's gaze followed James's for a tenth of a second, and it was then that she knew: James Pure was moving towards her.
With a lunge quicker than she had expected, James jumped forward, knife stretched towards her neck, hand open, teeth bared. The shot that came from Jonas's gun reverberated in the space, deafening and final. James slumped to the floor, limp hand just barely brushing the skirt of her dress.
All of the breath came rushing out of Delilah at the sight of the blood pooling beneath the man's body. He was dead. Her head started to swirl, and the room swayed in her vision as Jonas rushed forward, immediately cutting the bonds around her ankles, hands, and body.
"Are you okay?" He touched her face, the blood on her neck. "Are you hurt?"
Weakly, she shook her head. "I'm fine." She could not tear her eyes away from James's dead body. He was really dead?
"The guards I didn't knock unconscious or kill will have heard the shot." Jonas gently lifted her from the chair to stand on her feet and cupped her face with his left hand. "Del? We have to go."
Only as they stumbled out of the room did she realize that they were in James's cellar. Rows of imported wine bottles shone dimly on either side of them, catching light from the open door at the top of the cellar stairs. Jonas tugged her away from that door, though, opting for the storm doors which led directly outside.
Outside, it was dark and cool. A dog barked, straining against his tether as he smelled them, but no one came running. They were all in the house, shouting to each other over James Pure's death. Would they follow her and Jonas? Her husband held tightly to her hand and ran towards the barn, seeming to be unaffected by the gunshot wound still oozing blood from his shoulder.
A man was beginning to stir on the floor beside a horse that stood patiently, still saddled, glancing at them calmly. Jonas pushed her towards it. "Get on it," he told her. "Quickly." His voice was hushed.
Delilah complied without a word. Jonas heaved up behind her, grunting slightly. The horse did not fight them, but seemed eager to be off as Jonas spurred it out of the barn and away from the farmhouse. Lights were turning on, shouts rang out, Pure's dogs barked. But as they got farther and farther away, no one followed.
They rode for hours, until the sky was hazy and the sun was beginning to peek over the horizon. The wagon had been left behind; Jonas had not been able to locate it in his quick search. Delilah did not care. They were far into the hills, miles away from James Pure and town and everything she had lived through in the last nine years. She was about to start life over again. She could handle losing a few things along the way.
Finally, they stopped in a little valley up in the hills, surrounded by trees, beside a creek that ran pure and clean. Delilah was almost certain nobody was following; she'd glanced back from time to time and seen not even the faintest glimmer of someone behind them. Not a sound, not another horse, not a shout, not a dog.
In the peace of the little valley, as the sun came up over the hills, she dismounted and watched Jonas slide off the horse. His shoulder was soaked in blood. She took the reins from him.
"Let me. You're wounded." She led the horse a little ways away and found a rope in one of the saddle bags. It would do to harness the horse to a tree for the day, keep it from wandering off. With ease, she loosened the girth and slid the saddle from the horse's back, stroking it and talking to it, telling it what a beautiful, good horse it was.
Jonas had a slight smile on his face as she walked back to him, a tired one, an admiring one. "You are an extremely adaptable woman," he said as she started to unbutton his shirt.
"I want to have a look at that wound," she told him.
He raised an eyebrow suggestively. "That's all you want to have a look at?"
Her neck warmed up, and she bit her lip. "It did bleed quite a lot."
But after she wiped away the blood with the collar of his shirt, she found that the bullet had simply grazed his shoulder, cutting in, but not going through. It would heal just fine. He would have a scar, but the bleeding had stopped and was beginning to scab over nicely. She let out a little sigh of relief.
"You'll be fine," she said, more to reassure herself than anything else.
"I know." His hand slid around her waist and he pulled her to rest against him. "Now, about that bravery of yours…"
Delilah lowered her eyes. "Well, I don't know, Jonas. I'm exhausted, and I'm sure you must be too. We should really get some rest." It surprised her that she was able to keep her voice steady and the smile off of her face.
He loosened his hold just a little, and she could not resist peeking at his face. She could not hold back the little smirk that crossed her lips at his expression of insecurity. He believed her. But he caught the smile on her face and his eyes narrowed.
"After all that, after I save your life again, you go and deny me the kiss I've waited for? Very patiently, might I add." He leaned his forehead against hers, smile growing. "You are a difficult woman."
"You're the one who stayed when you had the chance to leave," she returned, then grew serious. "Thank you. For saving my life." Slowly, she slid her hands around his neck, careful to avoid the wound on his right shoulder. "For staying when I thought you'd run." She raised up on her toes so that their lips were just inches apart. "And for restraining yourself when you thought I'd feel used."
Jonas's right hand found its way around her waist as well, and he tugged at the buttons on the back of her dress. "This better not be one of those times." He smiled just before his lips met hers.
The thrill that rushed through her was unlike anything she had ever known. Delilah felt passion pour through every bone in her body, melting her to a pulp until all that kept her up was Jonas's strong arms around her. He kissed her until she was lightheaded, and her heart beat a thousand miles a minute. When he finally pulled back, she could hardly tell which thundering heartbeat was hers, and which was his.
"I love you, Jonas Avery," she whispered breathlessly against his lips. "I don't know where we're going to go, or what we're going to do. But I love you."
Jonas smiled and brushed her cheek with a kiss and his fingers undid a few more buttons on her dress. "We should have kids."
She laughed, and felt heat curl through her body when he kissed her neck and told her he loved her. The grass was soft beneath her as they sank to the ground, and she had no fear or distaste or worry of any kind as she helped Jonas unbutton her dress. She was finally free. Whatever else happened, wherever they went, whatever they did, she knew one thing was sure.
She had found her companion, and she would never regret marrying him.
A/N: Well? I know, predictable, right? Kind of cliche. It was still a fun read though, yes? Ok. I hope you enjoyed it despite the shortness and the possible cliche/predictable ness. This was just a break from more serious writing anyway. :) Mara
(Oh! By the way, there are character pictures on my blog.)