But she didn't want to see James hang, which would almost certainly be the outcome. Fellport was a baronet. An estate manager couldn't kill a baronet and get away with it. "James," she said, more loudly, "you must stop."
James paused, just long enough for Fellport to get a good look at his face. "You!" Fellport grunted.
James's body was shaking, but he held his voice low and steady as he said, "Apologize to the lady."
Fellport's head slammed against the ground.
"Apologize to the lady."
Fellport said nothing.
And then, in a whir of movement so quick that Elizabeth couldn't quite believe her eyes, James pulled out a gun.
Elizabeth's breath caught, and her quivering hand flew up to cover her mouth.
There was a loud click, and James pressed the muzzle of the gun to Fellport's head.
"Apologize to the lady."
"I—I—" Fellport began to shake uncontrollably, and he couldn't get the words out.
James moved the gun slowly, almost lovingly, against Fellport's temple.
"Apologize to the lady."
"James," Elizabeth said, terror evident in her voice, "you must stop. It's all right. I don't need—"
"It's not all right!" he roared. "It will never be all right! And this man will apologize or I'll—"
"I'm sorry!" The words exploded from Fellport's mouth, high-pitched and panicked.
James grabbed Fellport's shirt collar and hauled him off the floor. Fellport gasped as the fabric bit into his skin. "You will be leaving this party," James said in a deadly voice.
Fellport just made a choking sound.
James turned to Elizabeth, never once loosening his grip on Fellport. "I will be right back."
She nodded tremulously, clutching her hands together in an effort to stem their shaking.
James dragged Fellport outside, leaving Elizabeth alone in the stall. Alone with a thousand questions.
Why had James been carrying a gun? And where had he learned to fight with such deadly precision? James's punches hadn't been influenced by friendly, sporting pugilism; they had been designed to kill.
And then there were the scarier questions, the ones that wouldn't allow her heart to stop racing, her body to stop trembling. What if James hadn't come across them in time? What if Fellport had turned brutal? What if... ?
Life couldn't be lived according to "what ifs?" and Elizabeth knew she was only prolonging her misery by dwelling on what might have happened rather than what did, but she couldn't stop replaying the attack over and over in her mind. And whenever she got to the point where James had saved her, he didn't appear, and Fellport pushed further, tearing off her clothes, bruising her skin, taking her—
"Stop," she said aloud, pressing her fingers into her temples as she sank to the ground. Her tremors began to widen into shakes, and the sobs she hadn't allowed herself to feel began to well in her throat. She took deep breaths, trying to keep her traitorous body under control, but she wasn't strong enough to hold back the tears.
Her head fell into her hands, and she began to cry. And then she felt the oddest thing. Malcolm crawled onto her lap and began to lick away her tears. And for some reason that made her cry all the more.
* * *
James's interview with Sir Bertram Fellport was brief. It didn't require many words to explain what would happen to the baronet if he ever again set foot on Lady Danbury's property. And while Fellport was shaking with fear and resentment, James amended his threat to include Fellport's ever coming within twenty yards of Elizabeth, no matter her location.
After all, if James followed through with his plans to make her his wife, they would undoubtedly cross paths in London.
"Do we understand each other?" James asked, his voice terrifyingly calm.
"Then get the hell off the property."
"I need to gather my things."
"I'll have them sent to you," James bit off. "Did you bring a carriage?''
Fellport shook his head. "I came with Binsby."
"Good. The town is barely a mile away. You can hire someone to take you back to London from there."
"And if you breathe a word of this to anyone," James said in a deadly voice, “if you so much as mention my presence here, I will kill you."
Fellport nodded again, looking as if he wanted nothing more than to follow James's orders and leave, but James still had him by the collar.
"One more thing," James said. "If you mention me,
I will, as I said, kill you, but if you mention Miss Hotchkiss..."
Fellport soiled himself.
"I will do it slowly."
James let go of Fellport's collar, and the baronet stumbled a few steps before running off. James watched him disappear over the gentle rise of the hill, then strode back into the stables. He hadn't liked leaving Elizabeth alone after such a traumatic experience, but he'd had no choice. He had to deal with Fellport, and he didn't think that Elizabeth wanted to be in the same room as the scoundrel for one moment longer than was necessary.
Not to mention that Fellport could have revealed James's true identity at any moment.
The minute James stepped into the stables, he heard her crying.
"Damn," he whispered, stumbling for half a step as he went to her. He didn't know how to comfort her, didn't have the slightest idea what to do. All he knew was that she needed him, and he prayed to God that he didn't fail her.
He reached the corner stall, the door still hanging drunkenly from its hinges. Elizabeth was huddled against the far wall, her arms wrapped around her legs, her forehead resting against her knees. The cat had somehow wedged itself into the hollow space between Elizabeth's thighs and torso, and, much to James's amazement, appeared to be trying to comfort her.
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