The Outskirts of Town:
On the outskirts of town, a tired looking vehicle sat quietly at the doorstep of a small tavern. Within the darkened interior of the coach, two lone passengers sat silently awaiting the hour at which they’d been expected to arrive.
Unable to bite his tongue a moment longer, Baron Miles Crenshaw studied his daughter in the dim light, knowing how irate she would be if he criticized her decision to come one more time. Still, he was utterly perplexed with the foolish decisions she was making, as always.
This time was no different than any other, it seemed. She was acting without taking any time to think her position through—a habit that had proven to be her undoing so many times in the past. One would think she’d have learned better than to leap without looking by now.
“Is there any reason you feel the need to keep us huddled here in the coach? Though I’d rather not have you be seen inside there, at least we’d be warm by a fire indoors,” he remarked with great distain for the chill in the air.
“Daddy,” Sharon rolled her eyes as though the answer should be as plain as the nose on his face. “The note said to be here at four o’clock. We are not going inside until the appointed hour. I don’t want to appear overly eager to see him again. In fact, I think it would be just desserts if we actually showed up a bit late.”
“If you think you are going to get a penny more from him, especially if you are anything less than cordial—“
“Cordial?” She fairly spat out. “That man deserves no leniency from me! Much less does he deserve any kind of respectful greeting from me after all these many months! Not a word has he written since our last court date, and he didn’t even have the decency to show up for it!”
Sighing impatiently, Miles viewed his daughter, realizing there just wasn’t any reasoning with her at times—especially now, when she was so incredibly emotional. She was already overdue to give birth to her first child, a fact that made him all the more leery to bring her inside the doors of a tavern.
“Sharon,” he reasoned patiently, “Blake Ryder’s father offered you far more of a settlement than the courts were going to award you. He at least made it possible for you to afford the child a trust fund. I do not see what more—“
“Father,” Sharon sat forward in the seat, a fire brewing in her eyes. “If this note holds true, Blake is meeting me here today to discuss the fact that he knows an injustice was done in that courtroom. If by some chance, he is going to finally admit this child’s true paternity, there’s a chance this grandchild of yours may yet see more than that pittance of an inheritance—“
“The note said nothing of the kind, Sharon. You really need to sit back and read it again. And, besides—“ he objected. “If Blake had any intention of acknowledging that he is the father of your child today, don’t you think he might have done so in front of a court? Or perhaps invited you to his actual residence where it could be stated in view of his family? Why would he choose to meet you on the edge of town in an establishment like that one out there?”
Clutching the note closer to herself, she suddenly sat back on the seat, completely disregarding every last bit of concern her father was displaying. Since receiving the note two days ago to meet him here today, there wasn’t a doubt in her mind what he really wanted. He must have heard that the baby was overdue to be born at this point. Perhaps it was weighing on his mind more and more as time went on. It was a turn of luck she hadn’t expected, but she was not going to question his change of heart in the least.
It hadn’t been that long ago now. She’d spent enough time in his company to know that deep down Blake was a man who valued family above all else. At this point, she was dead certain that he must be having an attack of conscience, and she was going to take full advantage of the entire situation, if he was indeed beginning to falter and accept his responsibility to her.
The note he’d written to her indicated that he realized a lot of mistakes had been made in the past. At this point, he felt she deserved so much more than she’d received at the trial so many months ago.
She had been so angry at the time, attempting to use the courts to force his hand into admitting that the child she carried was actually his heir. What she’d really been seeking was some legal assistance to force him to fulfill the contract of marriage that he had rescinded. Unfortunately, he won the verdict without even having to attend the trial. Unbeknownst to her, he had already taken a wife by the time her court case was heard.
That day had been the most humiliating one of her life. She’d been standing there as a row of men fairly scoffed at her pitiful situation. It had been stated in no uncertain terms to her that even if Blake hadn’t taken a wife, she had no physical evidence to prove that the baby had any relation to the Ryder family line—but of course not, because the baby was not even born yet! And then there was Stephen, Blake’s father. He’d been standing there so uncharacteristically sympathetic as he spoke to the courts, offering up a charitable donation to her unborn child if she would simply drop the entire matter altogether.
Her loathing for both men had remained deep and true throughout the course of these last months. She had no desire to make this situation an easy one for any of them, even if they were all finally having a change of heart. She knew without a doubt what was troubling them all right now. In just a matter of days when the baby was born, a scandal of gargantuan proportions was going to spew itself all over town. When the child was born, it would be obvious to the entire world who the father was. It would be born the spitting image of him… Of that, she had no doubt at all. There would be no disguising a child’s true heritage as it grew, especially if it bore the same colorless hair and intensely pale eyes as its father had—
“Well, it’s time now,” Miles tilted his head with a touch of sarcasm. “Shall we sit here freezing for another half hour or so? Perhaps give him enough time to rethink whatever decisions he’s made up to this point? Eh?”
Sharon’s jaw dropped slightly then, considering her father might be right on that point. Perhaps giving Blake some additional time to think wouldn’t be the best move after all.
Moving as best she could to heave herself forward, she reached for the door, shrugging off her father’s arm as he tried to assist her. “I can do it myself,” she ground out objectionably.
“I don’t think so,” he shook his head.
“Father, I really don’t need you in there in order to talk to Blake. I have no doubt that I can handle that man just fine on my own.”
“You’ll wait for me to come in with you or we will be leaving to go home right now. I am not letting you in there alone until I know what we are dealing with.”
“You’re not going to say a word in there,” she insisted bitingly. “I don’t even want you sitting at the same table with us. The last thing I want is for him to feel as though he’s being ganged up on!”
“Lord sake,” he rolled his eyes. “Talk to the man yourself. Whatever makes you happy—as always,” he added angrily. “I just want to make sure the place is safe enough for you to enter, that’s all.”
Pulling away from him, she opened the door and wriggled herself down the steps in a spectacle of fury. If her father thought she needed any protection… The idea of it galled her completely. She was no stranger to the type of men who hung out in these establishments. With a wink and a smile, most men would have certainly welcomed her presence with open arms. Perhaps not in the shape she was now, but several months ago it would have been a different story altogether.
Miles walked close behind her with a feeling of dread in his heart. As he followed her toward the door to the tavern, he wondered where the young woman had gone who’d had such a bright future ahead of herself just one year earlier. She had smashed to pieces any chance of ever becoming the well-titled woman she could have been, now trying to grasp what small pieces of that type of life remained.
No matter what he’d said though, he simply couldn’t convince her to see reason. She was so certain the letter she’d received from Blake would be her ticket back into his good graces at long last. Deep down though, in the pit of his stomach, he had a feeling this meeting with Blake was going to be the worst mistake his daughter had ever made. Deep down, he had to wonder if his former son-in-law’s real motive for this meeting might actually be an attempt to take the child from Sharon completely.
Unfortunately, his daughter was so blinded by the dreams she had left that she simply wasn’t seeing this situation for the nightmare it truly might become… He was not so naïve, and it saddened him to think that his daughter might be walking out of this place with far less than what she had right now. If she would only see reason, he thought to himself… But sadly, that wasn’t to be…
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