e-mail: Heidi

Type: Gen Hurt/Comfort
Characters: Vin, Chris, Seven
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Will be high in physical pain and angst.

Author's Notes: This is a standalone story in the Vengeance AU, but provides information on some of the character's backgrounds. One of the questions we get often is about Vin's past, and maybe we'll drop a few clues throughout this one. I tried to be historically accurate throughout, but any mistakes or creative licenses are my own. Many,  many thanks to Cin who took the rough formed clay this was made of and shaped it into a story worth reading. Enjoy!


"So farewell to the little good you bear me."

            William Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Act III, scene ii.

"...My high-blown pride At length broke under me, and now has left me,

Weary and old with service, to the mercy
Of a rude stream that must for ever hide me.
Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye!"

            William Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Act III, scene ii.

Part One

"Stupid la-de-dah Larabee," Vin Tanner muttered while working. He
scraped chunks of mud from the hooves of the prized horse Seagold
Chris rode in the steeplechase. Horses this fine did not sit in
their stalls covered in splattered mud, especially with it hardening
around the hooves. "Tryin' ta make work fer me, not that I don't
have enough ta do."

Seagold swung his head around and tried to bite him.

Fast reflexes and familiarity with this particular horse kept him
from suffering another insult. Vin grabbed the bridle and yanked the
head around until the equine eyes met his. "Ya keep yer teeth in yer
head and yer mouth shut, Seagold, else I'll leave ya filthy like
Larabee did."

Seagold visibly calmed.

"That's better. I ain't no la-de-dah, and I ain't gonna put up with
yer attitude. That might be just fine fer his Mightiness, but it
ain't fer me."

More mud flicked away from the hoof. Vin's steady hands finished the
scraping, following with a gentle rinse, ending with a pat-dry. As
the horse trainer carried on with the mundane cleaning, he let his
mind wander. He thought about his friend and this gathering. For
the thirteen Colonies full of people wanting to separate themselves
from their former countrymen, some because of the class system that
held them so downtrodden, they sure seemed to hang onto the high-
class, elitist way of life. Seems all anyone could think of around
here was holding a party or a social event, just to show how well off
they were. Vin felt sorry for the forgotten ones who really paid the
price for these events, the servants both indentured and freemen and
the increasing number of slaves appearing among the landowners,
especially here in the southern Colonies. Little thought was given
to the extra workload these people bore so someone supposedly better
than them, and much more selfish, could look good for people they
truly did not need to impress.

Vin snorted; it all seemed worthless to him. There were more
important things they should be doing. He knew Larabee's appearances
at these functions was more than showing off. The man loved his
horses and enjoyed displaying and selling them; that was his
business, but there was another side of him that only a few knew
about. For that hidden business, these events also served as a vital
source of information. A valuable tool used by all the members of
the privateer ship Vengeance who traveled with him, or attended other
gatherings. Everyone kept their eyes and ears open to anything that
would help their cause.

He shifted to the second back leg, beginning with rinsing and
scrubbing it off. "Reckon there ain't a mud puddle within a mile
that he didn't hit, and ya loved every minute of it." The wide, flat
end of the tool pulled chunks out from the indentation in the hoof,
his wrist flicking it off to the side.

"Hisself gets dirt on him, he's gotta change. Ain't proper fer a
gentleman ta be seen dirty. Not like Hisself don't stink."

Seagold snorted.

"Ya know he stinks, too. That's some statement ya think he smells,
considering how foul ya came in here."

The horse shifted.

"Don't even," Vin warned.

Seagold stilled.

"That's better. Ya know ya have ta listen ta me." Flick,
flick. "I'm the one that takes care of ya, cleans ya up. Hisself
just drops yer reins in my hands with ya all lathered up and filthy,
has the nerve ta say, 'Tanner, clean him up. He did well', as if I
weren't watching him risk his fool neck and yer precious life."

Tanner's reflections turned more to his employer and friend and the
different personalities he'd seen the man exhibit since he'd come to
know him. Most of the time, Chris Larabee was unassuming and
easygoing, treating all those he employed fairly and did not hold
with owning slaves. Most of the workers considered by Society to
be "slaves" on the horsefarm were freemen and freewomen, knowing they
received an honest wage for honest work. They, Chris, and Vin let
others have their misconceptions because the truth was, employment
for freemen and freewomen was scarce with all the indentured folk and
the ready availability of slaves.

In fact, Larabee worked just as hard as anyone on his farm and didn't
care about appearances. Yet, Vin knew very few truly saw the other
half of the man as the steel-eyed, justice driven captain of the
privateer ship Vengeance. The schooner's captain would defiantly
scare most of the faint-hearted, weak-spined souls at this
gathering. It was the persona at these fetes that Vin wished he
didn't have to see. Larabee wasn't the worse of them, but he acted
the fop with the best in the trainer's opinion. Sometimes, it seemed
Chris believed his act too well, like someone else he knew.

Sadly but fondly, Vin remembered his old mentor and friend's views on
the so-called elite of the Colonies. After watching him deal with
his own brother and his obsession with becoming a prominent member of
peerage, none of his opinions flattered or were well thought of in
higher circles, his friend gaining enemies with each proclamation and
telling. As Vin absently rubbed his-kerchief covered neck, his own
opinions were of the same line if not worse. It was his mentor's
impersonations and his reference to those trying to act better than
they were as `la-de-dahs' that he remembered now. Sorrowfully, Vin
reminisced that it was because of Jess Kincaid he was even here; if
it hadn't been for him, he might never have met Larabee or gotten
involved in this cause.

Of course no matter how much he liked Chris, or what Larabee
accomplished to right wrongs, didn't mean he couldn't be a little put
out with him from time to time. Like now. . . flick, flick.

He finished getting the muck out, rinsed the hoof, and moved on to
the front left. The process repeated with more complaints until he
reached the scraping.

"I'm gettin' mighty tired of this. Hisself ain't here."
Flick. "Hisself couldn't even call me by my name." Flick. "Name's
Vin, not just Tanner like these indentured folk. I could be actin'
all la-de-dah too, but I ain't putting on airs."


"I Beg Your Pardon!"

The yelp, loudly spoken in most offended, over-emphasized tones,
interrupted his diatribe. He looked up to see two pairs of well-
polished boots, his blue eyes traveling up to the mud-splattered
pants of two men. Recognition came immediately, causing a
smirk. "Well, if it ain't Hisself and Gentleman Standish. Seems
like ya got a little mud on ya." He flicked again, enjoying them
dodging the mess sent in their direction.

"Mr. Larabee, I thought you taught your horse trainer refinement. Or
did you demote him to stable boy?"

"I ain't no stable boy, ya pompous windbag," Vin started,
straighening from his crouch to glare at the merchant. "Ouch!" He
turned on Seagold. "Ya won't do that again. That'll cost ya oats."

Chris Larabee talked over his trainer. "I apologize, Mr. Standish.
It appears the lessons did not take. Apparently he seems to believe
that we are required to be covered in mud like him. I will, of
course, reimburse you in the event those trousers are ruined. From
his pay."

"What a bunch of -"

Ezra Standish, merchant and illegal gambling hall owner, spoke louder
than the trainer. "I would not expect anything less from a Gentleman
such as yourself."

"I appreciate your understanding," Chris gave Ezra a friendly pat on
the back.

Having had enough, Vin shifted until he lined up his shot, sending a
large clump of loose muck at the two men, nailing them both in the
face. "Reckon that'll cost me in soap." He smirked. "Worth it."

"How dare you, Mr. Tanner!" Ezra sputtered, ineffectively attempting
to blot the mud off him. "I must change."

"Ya can't change yer stripes," Vin joked. He pointed to the
pinstriped vest. "But I can change yer appearance." He threatened
another flick of mud.

"You, sir, are no gentleman."

Vin grinned broadly. "I never claimed ta be."

"I think I'll join you in changing, Ezra. It seems we cannot go to
dinner wearing stable mud."

"Ya went through it, ya can wear it too. Seagold did nothin' ta end
up this dirty." Vin finished with the third hoof. Tossing the third
bucket of water onto the hoof, he released some of his frustration
over some of the last few days by allowing it to splatter toward
Chris and Ezra.

"If you chose to act like a gentleman, you would be able to join us
for dinner." Larabee easily dodged, stroking the horse's neck with
obvious affection.

"With them la-de-dahs? I ain't in the mood, Chris."

"We are in Loyalist country," Ezra pointed out. "Being such fine,
upstanding Loyalists ourselves," the sarcasm dripped from every
syllable, "Mr. Tanner here should not call too much attention to
himself. The Loyalists still value the class system. Even my
esteemed presence, being a mere businessman, is pressing the limit
with some of the true elite."

Both Chris and Vin snorted at the truly affronted expression on
Standish's face.

"Irritates ya, don't it?" Vin snickered.

"Of course," Ezra said surprised by the obvious. "To be shunned even
when some have more class than those who claim they are born to it."

"Like they don't use the privy the same way," Vin griped.

Chris smirked. "He might be right, Vin. Much as I want you there,
staying here might be best."

"Won't hurt my feelings." Vin snorted. "I ain't one fer airs."

"Yes, you have made that very apparent." Ezra wiped ineffectually at
the mud, only smearing it and getting it on his hands.

"Saw some British soldiers before we came in here," Chris warned.

"Probably after a free meal." Vin scowled, continuing his work on

"No doubt." Ezra sighed, his hands falling away from his shirt.

"You have someplace to go? Someone brining you meals?" All kidding
aside, the blond showed his concern, blatantly not liking the
situation himself.

"With the rest of the visitin' servants and slaves. Ya get any
offers on my horses yet?" Vin knew he could stay in the main house
as a guest, but he preferred being with the honest folk who worked
for their livings.

Chris smiled, a twist of his lips that could only be described as
predatory and satisfied. "Five, and a wager."

His head lifted at the word wager, shooting a look at the merchant.
The trainer saw Ezra's eyes dance, causing him to stare until the
blond explained.

"Two Gentlemen want Hermes. Since they tried to outbid each other
standing there -"

Ezra picked up the narrative, "Which was rather rude, so I
interceded. They will compete in three events, best out of five.
Winner will win the privilege of buying the horse, yet the loser has
the option of scheduling stud service prior to the completion of the

"What's yer cut? We win regardless, but what about yer take?" Vin
straightened, giving Seagold a warning look before turning his
attention back to Ezra.

"A small fee." Standish held his fingers a tiny bit apart.

"How small?" Tanner tilted his head.

"A Gentleman's fee for arranging and officiating," Ezra
explained. "Since our host felt five events would significantly add
to the success of this weekend sojourn, he was rather excited about
the prospects. Mr. Larabee will provide half, the host the other."


"He gets a portion of my next share, since it took so much whispered
negotiation between them." Chris shook his head. "Why talking
business is considered rude I will never understand."

"Another reason you are considered a Gentleman, but not of the First
Water," Ezra told him. "As I pointed out before, I am a Gentleman
only because I am needed. If I were no longer able to provide the
services I do, I would be shunned."

"Nah. They like pompous windbags," Vin teased.

"Not of the First Water? I do believe I was insulted," Chris said
softly. "Did you insult me?"

"Of course I did. How perceptive of you to notice," Ezra
retorted. "Perhaps I should increase my portion."

The horse trainer chuckled. "Fair enough."

"Hey!" Larabee protested. "No, he's getting enough already."

"That, dear sir, is open for debate."

"He'll take care of ya," Vin said. He figured Chris would never let
Ezra rip him off, and he could guess what it took the merchant to
arrange such a profitable endeavor for them all. The fee would be
small by Society's customs, which he knew Chris would feel was not
enough. Giving Ezra a portion of the Vengeance take from their next
sail should make up the difference.

"I am so pleased you agree," Ezra said, his voice dripping sarcasm.

"Chris knows he ain't supposed ta make deals without me." Vin
smirked at his boss.

Larabee rolled his eyes.

"On that topic, I will take my leave to change." Ezra inclined his
head, leaving thereafter.

Vin finished the last leg and hoof. He cleaned up the supplies,
putting them in their appropriate places. With an affectionate pat,
he led Seagold back to the stall assigned to him near the rest of the
Larabee horses brought for sale and show. He felt someone staring at
him, turning to find Chris giving him an intense look. "What?"

"You know?" Chris trailed off after those two words.

He saw the concern in the other man's eyes. His friend worried the
attitude they needed to display of employer-employee for Society's
sake at these events would be taken as an insult by Vin, especially
considering their equality when at their home. Seeing the blond
continuing to stare, he nodded once.

Silent understanding passed between them.

Chris relaxed his stiff posture.

Vin grinned. "Go be a la-de-dah, Hisself. Change first, because ya
have mud on ya, and that ain't allowed."

"I wonder where it came from," Chris dryly replied.

"Spendin' too much time in the stable."

The blond laughed.


Vin walked toward the quarters assigned to him along the path beside
and leading around the main house. Groups of guests milled about,
most around the lighted terrace doors, and some disappeared into the
gardens or the thick trees lining the paths and property. It was
none of his business what Society did, or what scandals they
generated. Good, wholesome food filled his stomach, and sleepiness
started to take hold. It had been a long day, he reflected,
considering he settled ten prize horses, their grooms, and supervised
getting quarters and meals for all of their entourage. Then he chose
to take on a good part of their chores for himself.

The steeplechase had kept everyone busy, the grooms required to be
with the horses when Chris ran them, or showing them off. He chose
to clean Seagold after his race because the horse had a bad
temperament. Besides, it helped that Seagold's groom could help with
Hermes. The large stallion was a crowd favorite, and two handlers
worked better to keep the spirited horse calm and the eager
spectators back. The solitude did him wonders, away from the press
of too many bodies and busybodies. If he fended off one more pinch
to his bottom, that woman of so-called better Quality than him would
find herself humiliated publicly. He did not care one whit about his
reputation, but the bad reflection on Chris might hurt their
business, and Larabee's stature among the Colonies.

A footstep sounded a short distance ahead of him, breaking him from
his musings to stare ahead. He saw the man waiting along the path
for him.

"Mr. Tanner, a word?"

He was stuck. The trainer knew what the man wanted; it was always
the same, and always a source of friction between them. Even if they
knew each other publicly in passing, the man took a risk speaking to
him. They could cover under the guise of discussing one of the
horses, but this man could easily visit the Larabee place since he
lived so close. Some attending here might consider the gentleman
should be speaking with the owner anyway, not bothering with the
help. Vin grabbed the man's shoulders and yanked him further into
the nearby forest's edge. "Speak quickly," he whispered. "We have
little time."

"Tell me where she is."

Frustration filled the horse trainer. The same questions, with no
answer to be given. It was not his answer to share. He said nothing.

"You know where to find my sister. I want to see Claire," Rafe
Mosely demanded.

"Ain't possible." He had given his word never to reveal the location
of the village, especially to Rafe or his father. The colonists would
trade with the tribes, but if given the chance, there is no telling
what a group might do if they were enticed to seek their camps out.
Vin would abide by his word to keep his friends safe. In his
opinion, Claire was better off where she was than under the stern
hand of her father.

Rafe grabbed Vin by the shoulders.

Even prepared for it, Vin still felt the impact when Mosely pushed
him back into a tree.

"You help hide her with savages. Lord knows what has been done to
her." Rafe pounded him back against the tree again.

He allowed Rafe his anger. They were shipmates on Vengeance, the
only reason Rafe was still unharmed. Vin could understand his worry
and anger, and the younger Mosely never learned the full truth from
his father. If all he knew was that he had a sister who disappeared,
and someone else refused to speak the truth, he would probably be
inclined to beat them until they talked too. However, Rafe needed to
understand Vin was not talking, never would, and Mosely's worry
allowed him only so much leeway. Vin tried words again, even though
he knew it was futile. "I ain't hidin' her. She's happy. Ya need
ta accept that. Quit tryin' ta drag her back. This ain't her life

"If all is as you say, let me see for myself."

"No." It hurt him to deny the request. His own efforts with Chanu
to arrange the meeting fell on deaf ears; with Claire expecting,
Chanu refused to let anyone upset his wife. Tanner understood the
emotional pain Claire would suffer from seeing her brother. Rafe
would try to convince her to return, forcing her into a choice
between her husband and her brother. Rafe would lose, and he was too
unpredictable to chance the village's safety on. It was one area in
which he was much like his father, though Rafe was loathe to admit
it, but he was quick to anger. His temper could cause more harm.

Rafe pulled back enough to punch Vin in the stomach. "How dare you,"
he hissed, swinging again.

Vin dodged, choosing not to strike back. He anticipated the strikes,
missing some, but catching enough that his own temper began to rise.
Rafe was not going to calm down anytime soon. Vin was certain it had
a bit to do with the liquor he smelt on Rafe's breath. Well, being
in a constant battle with Rafe was a price he paid for keeping his
word and being caught in the middle, but accepting the fact did not
mean he had to take it. His hands curled into fists. Maybe it was
time Rafe realized that attacking Vin only brought animosity between
them, not the results the other man wanted.

"You're half-savage yourself. Did you hurt her too? You won't let
me see her because she'll tell me what you did?"

The thin control Vin held over his temper snapped. He tackled Rafe,
took him to the ground, straddled, and pinned him. "I ain't touched
yer sister. Ya should believe that unquestioned."

Running footsteps reached his ears, his body acting on instinct.
Sensing arms reaching for him as the intruder neared he braced for an
attack, his leg automatically swept back to try and trip the
newcomer. His periphery vision caught the results of his attempt,
the body just on the edge of his sight, trying to sidestep the
attack, stumbling among the woodfall and into the brush, striking his
head upon a log as he fell. The figure lay where he landed, not
moving, hat fluttering to a landing beside him, dark hair spilled
over the still face.

"JD," he called, letting Rafe go. He needed to see if the kid was
okay; he was not part of this fight. Damn his temper; he knew better
than to unleash it. He crawled over to the still form. Their ship's
pilot for this trip did not deserve this; he probably wanted to stop
the fight before anyone else saw it.

"Is he well?" Rafe hissed, circling around to the other side of JD.

"You there! Unhand him!"

Vin heard too many voices like that to not know the British soldiers
arrived. He groaned, rolling back into a squat and was roughly
yanked to his feet. He tried to shake free, but the red-coated arms
held him still. His count was six of them, one of him. JD was still
unconscious, and Rafe could not be counted on.

"What's going on?" A man wearing sergeant's insignia inserted
himself between Vin, JD, and Rafe.

"A private matter," Rafe tried to explain, his voice full of years'
worth of haughtiness instilled into him. "Thank you for your
assistance, but the matter has been settled."

"No, sir, it has not. Your name?" He lifted the lantern in his hand
to Rafe's face, casting it in firelit shadows.

"Rafe Mosely."

"I've heard of your father," the sergeant remarked. "How's the boy?"
he asked his man down by the still form.

"Just a knot, sir. He be comin' around shortly," the soldier

"And you. Who are you?" The lantern rose to brighten Vin's features.

Patience, Vin instructed himself, have patience. These soldiers do
not know. Cold fingers of dread flowed through Vin as he was held
tightly between the two soldiers. The instinct to run nearly
overpowered him, but the knowledge the soldiers would shoot him for
running kept him in place. He had a chance if he played

"Name's Vin. . ."

"He's Mr. Larabee's horse trainer," Rafe jumped in before Vin could
continue. "They are honored guests of our host. We were just having
a gentleman's disagreement about the purchase of one of the horses.
I assure you the matter has been resolved."

The sergeant looked hard between the two men.

"I saw this one attack the Gentleman, sir," one of the soldiers spoke
up. "Then he knocked this one out when he tried to pull him off Mr.

"Sergeant, I already stated . . . "

The sergeant held up his hand to stop Rafe from speaking
further. "Please, Mr. Mosely, I'm sure Mr. Larabee will not dishonor
any contract with you. In fact, once his employee's misdeeds are
brought to his attention, you might receive a better bargain."

"I attempted to explain our disagreement was a private matter," Rafe
interjected, "one already handled."

"It is our duty to keep order in the Colonies, Mr. Mosely." The
sergeant motioned his men to bind Vin's hands. "We cannot allow such
miscreants to roam among our good folk. You've no fear sir, we will
be sure this one causes you no further harm."

Vin stayed silent, knowing any attempt by him to state his case would
only make matters worse, if they could get that way. This sergeant
was out to make himself look good among the local peerage. He would
just have to wait and see what was to happen next. He could not wait
until the sergeant made Chris Larabee's less than happy
acquaintance. Still, he prayed the soldiers didn't find other
reasons to hold him. As the two soldiers holding him began to pull
him roughly away, he sent a final feral glare in Rafe's direction.
He could tell by the look on Mosely's face that he was well aware of
what kind of trouble his misguided persistence had gotten them into.
This could very well put them all in danger, not to mention the
mission of Vengeance.

JD came around slowly, his head aching. Pushing himself up, he felt
strong hands lifting him to a standing position. His eyes blurred,
bringing his hand to wipe the wetness from them. He remembered
seeing Rafe and Vin fighting, and running to stop them.

"I tripped over something," he said, feeling the stares of the

"You were assaulted by a miscreant," a rough voice beside him growled.

He blinked in confusion and trying to bring his blurry vision into
focus as he looked around him. Finally he focused on the sight of
Vin being roughly dragged away between two soldiers. "What's going
on?" He was still confused.

"You were wounded trying save young Mr. Mosely," the one seemingly in
charge explained.

JD took in the sergeant's insignia, along with the finality of the
man's words. In their mind, Vin was guilty of attacking a Gentleman
of Quality, and him another Gentleman's ship's pilot. "No. You do
not understand."

"Don't worry, son." The sergeant patted JD lightly on the
shoulder. "Your bravery will be duly noted in my report. We will
be sure the ruffian does not harm any more guests."

"No, this isn't right. What is going on?" JD turned to Rafe. "Mr.
Mosely? You know this isn't right. Tell them it was a

Rafe shook his head. "I tried, JD," he said softly. "There's
nothing I can do."

JD's eyes grew wide in fear and disbelief. He didn't know the whole
of the argument between them, but he knew his two crewmates often
butted heads over the least little things. "Can't or won't. You
want them to take Vin."

Rafe blanched. "No, JD…"

"Then do something."

Looking after the group of soldiers taking Vin away and the two still
standing by them, he shook his head. "I can't."

"Come on lad." One soldier pulled on JD's arm. "Let's see if Mr.
Vermenton's doctor can tend your wound."

JD shook the supporting arm off, glaring at Rafe the entire time. He
couldn't believe this was happening. "I'm okay."

"JD you need to be tended," Rafe insisted.

"Maybe, but I certainly don't need no help from you," he turned
angrily from Rafe and began walking up the path to the house.

Rafe stood uncertain which path to take. He needed to make sure
Larabee heard what had happened, but he wanted to make sure Vin was
okay. This was a big mess and it was his fault. He was scared of
how bad it might turn out for all of them.


Vin was pushed into the barren room, with his hands still tightly
bound behind him, his balance was off and tumbled to the ground. One
of the soldiers kicked him hard in the side, driving a sharp pain
through his body robbing him of his breath.

"You'll learn not to accost your betters, boy," the soldier sneered.

He was yanked to a standing position and shoved face first into the
wall. There he was roughly held against the hard surface while his
bindings were removed. He was then turned and slammed against the
same hard surface. His arms were jerked up and attached to the
chains and manacles secured to the wall for holding prisoners.

From his past experience with the British in the Colonies, he knew
those accused of crimes were treated as bad and sometimes worse than
those already found guilty of their crimes. He expected nothing
better here. And he knew he couldn't expect help from his friends.
They couldn't risk themselves or their greater cause, at least he
hoped they wouldn't. He would have to find his own way out of this.
He only hoped they didn't find out about his past and he lived long
enough to get the chance to get away.


Part Two

"How are your accommodations? Better than you deserve."

Vin heard the voice coming from the front of his cell, but did not
acknowledge the speaker. He kept his head down, thinking the less
they looked into his face, the better his chances. In his
experience, they would read the defiance there, especially in his
eyes and it would be all the excuse they needed to deliver a horrific
beating. He saw many a man die from such punishment, all in the name
of their justice for a perceived wrong. Wanting to survive this, he
intended to do nothing to incite his captors, but they would be able
to read his true feelings easily on his face.

When he heard the key in the lock, he braced himself. Even he, a man
who walked the fine line between three separate worlds, knew his
fight with Rafe, a man purportedly his better, drew consequences.
Bitterness filled him; the village where Claire lived with Chanu
deserved protecting. It was worthy of a fight to keep it safe, but
receiving a thrashing from a soldier acting on Rafe's behalf did not
settle well with him. He longed for the Indian village, all the
trappings of class stripped away, reverting to living off the land
and enjoyable companionship. Or back at Larabee's farm, where he
received equal treatment from all.

"You, a stable rat, think you have the right to touch a Gentleman, do

The man's horrid breath nearly brought up Vin's stomach contents. He
was sure that would bring only more misery on him, so he did his best
to hold fast, and not breathe in too deep of the added body odor he
now smelled. Keeping his head down, he was afraid to see what the
owner of such rancidness looked like.

"You are nothing. You have no worth."

Vin swallowed hard and remained silent.

"What's the matter, boy? Can't talk?"

Tanner closed his eyes and wished the foul-smelling soldier would
leave. His next thoughts, as well as all the air in his lungs, fled
as the soldier rammed the blunt end of the baton he held into his

"You scum need manners, learn to address your betters proper-like.
Now do you think you're better than me?"

Biting the inside of his cheek, Vin willed himself to hold his
tongue. This time the pain was like a thousand knives plunging
through him as the baton lashed against his side.

"You will answer when asked a question. Now do you think you're a

Vin could answer this question. "No," he replied softly.

His head was jerked painfully back and putrid breath sneered, "That's
no, sir, ta ya, and yer right ya ain't no gentleman, yet ya felt ya
could attack a gentleman and get no punishment." The soldier pulled
Vin's head back and ran the baton menacingly under his chin. "You'll
know your place when we're through with ya." He released Vin's hair,
roughly shoving his head against the wall as he did so. "Your owner
should have trained ya better."

"Ain't owned by no one, I'm a free man," Vin glared at the red coat,
sincerely hoping he was right and these soldiers did not look too far
into his past. He heard the proper diction slipping in the man's
voice, knowing the soldier was putting on airs he was better than his
peers, and hoping to play off the man's anger to his benefit.

The backhand cut swiftly across his face and with enough force to
snap his head back against the wall again.

"Jest like you Colonists, thinkin' you're more than what ya are," the
soldier sneered. "Iffen ya had any sense to ya, you would've done
like me and take a job that Gentleman or gutter snipe respects. But
ya will never be more than what ya are, ya son of a whore. Ya ain't
worthy of cleaning my boots."

Vin's temper got the better of him; he could take the insults but
cringed at the thought of someone disparaging his mother. He spat on
the man's polished boots. "Ya missed a spot."

Even expected, the blow caught the side of his face, twisting his
neck, brushing his cheek against his shoulder. He felt rather than
saw the soldier's boot brush against his pants, wiping the spittle
off. Satisfaction filled him, knowing he infuriated the soldier.

Blue eyes watched the booted feet back up two paces, unable to block
the kick to his midsection. His twist only made things worse;
instead of striking his stomach, the heel caught him where it
counted. Eyelids slammed closed, a groan escaping him.

"Serves you right, stable rat. There's more where that came from."
The soldier proceeded to kick and hit him repeatedly.

Vin forced himself to clench his legs tight together to prevent
another boot heel landing where he preferred it not to be, still
trying to recover from the first painful strike. When the pain
receded enough, he timed his movements. One fast sweep from left to
right knocked the soldier onto the ground. Yes, he would pay for
that, and probably in his blood, but it felt good to see his
tormentor lying in the straw.

"Ya ain't better than me, soldier," Vin said with meaning. "Ya just
have the advantage now. Makes ya feel good, don't it, ta beat a man
who can't fight back?"

"I am soldier in His Majesty's service. What are you?" The man
picked himself up, dusting off his uniform on Vin. "A captured man
facing discipline for attacking a Gentleman, and now a soldier. An
unprovoked attack, since I brought you food and water as ordered."

"Ya gonna tell yer sergeant I attacked ya?" Vin laughed at him,
still not looking him in the eye. "Tell him I got the better of ya,
dumped ya in the straw with my hands and arms chained ta the wall?"
Though it hurt, he chuckled, knowing this guard would be easy to

"Don't you sass me!"

"I'm speakin' plain truth. Now, if ya let me go and we went one-on-
one, maybe ya might win." He hoped to incite the guard enough to let
him go to make it a "fair" fight, overpower him, and escape. He
realized his chances to survive were slim; men hung for lesser
offenses in the name of the Crown and their attempt to control the
rebel colonists. They only knew his first name here; he needed to
get away before they found out more, or his circumstances put the
others in danger. He had hidden out before; he could do it again.
There would be few regrets, leaving Chris and the opportunity to work
as a horse trainer among them. Although it might be possible to stay
on Vengeance, he could at least continue his work there.

"Leverson!" The soldier yelled. "He needs to learn some manners."

Aw, hell, he thought, realizing his gamble failed. The soldier
called for backup, meaning he planned to have his friend help attack
him, the chained prisoner. His suspicions received confirmation when
the cell opened again. Unable to help himself, he used his periphery
vision to look at the new arrival. Tall, broad, and all muscle, Vin
knew he was in for it now.

"Charges?" the big man half-spoke, half-grunted.

"Assaulting a Gentleman."

Vin almost allowed himself a grin at the soldier's intentional
concealment of being dumped into the straw.

"His position?"

"Horse trainer or something."


"Claims ta be free. Overpaid groom, if you ask me."

"You have a name?" The giant stepped into Vin's face, a fat fist
lifting his chin, forcing him to stare up into the coldest brown eyes
he ever saw, made darker by the flickering torchlight.

"Misunderstood," Vin replied, attempting to shake off the hand.

"Smart mouth on you, boy. We have remedies for that." The meaty
fingers held his chin in place, a strong uppercut knocking into the
side of his temple.

The world spun, bright flashes filled his vision, and he tasted
blood. "Your name?"

He had enough. This was not the first time he found himself in a
position where no matter what he did, he could not win. He didn't
believe the others could help him, not and maintain the fine line
they walked among British Loyalists. It was better they stayed out
of it; might as well make the most of it, if this was going to be his
final stand against his oppressors. He spat blood onto his
tormentor. "Bloody Mary."

Hit number two felt no gentler than the first. The dizziness and
nausea battled with his pain receptors to see who could scream in
protest the loudest. The headache forming with excruciating tendrils
of agony centered around the side of his head, seemingly meeting with
the aches in his stomach and side so he wasn't sure where the worst
hurts came from, much less how to stop them chained and manacled.
His determination to not give in and have them believe they had
beaten him down gave way under the assaults. The battle to remain
conscious fell by the wayside. It did not seem important anymore,
the fight, whatever it had been. Darkness called to him and its
beckoning warmth comforted him. It was after all a means of escape.
Finally, he gave in to its call and sank into its gentle embrace.

JD continued his hunt. He could not find Chris or Ezra anywhere, no
matter whom he asked. Not even the servant's grapevine could give
him a location. Wishing he could just search the house and ballroom
himself, he used stealth to climb the terrace railing for the second
time, hiding in the shadows. His status as a ship's pilot did not
qualify him as a Gentleman, denying him entry into the ballroom. He
peered in the oversized windows of the terrace doors, noting the
whirling colors of rich men and women gorging themselves in excess.
Some of these people wore jewels worth more than he would make in ten
lifetimes, and clothes equaling a year's wages. Yet, there they
were, dancing, drinking, eating - all in excess - some women openly
fondled by intoxicated men in the darkened corners of the room, not
counting the couples he passed having encounters under the cover of
the trees. This was polite Society, and he wanted no parts of it.
These people were supposedly his betters, yet they acted worse than
the wharf rats in Boston. At least with the wharf rats you knew they
were skulking about in the darkness intent to rob, kill, or help sell
the unlucky into impressments; it was what they did to survive.
Here, these people hid behind their fancy clothes and status,
pretending to like you and need you, when all they wanted was what
could help them with more status, money or prestige. If they had to
stab you in the back to get what they wanted, they would do it with a
smile. He just needed to find Chris and Ezra and rescue Vin.
Hopefully, before his aching, miserable head rolled off his
shoulders, the pain a constant reminder of the troubles.

Not spotting him in the ballroom, JD climbed down to the ground
level, walking around the side of the house toward the rooms with
windows. Perhaps he might spot Chris or Ezra in one of the private
rooms. While he searched, he saw Rafe in the front drive talking to
the sergeant. Maybe Rafe was trying to get Vin released, or had word
of their friends. He quickened his pace along the darkened side of
the house, attributing his lack of balance and weaving to his worry.
His body craved rest, but he could not allow it until Chris or Ezra
learned about Vin.

Hope died quickly when he watched Rafe look from side to side; making
sure no one saw him, before passing what looked like money to the
sergeant. The Gentleman and the soldier shook hands, parting ways.

He was a fool. Here he was sneaking around, making a fool of himself
pestering people, trying to gain access to places he normally would
not go because he was not a Gentleman to find Chris and Ezra. Then
here was one man he was suppose to trust, a friend and compatriot,
and the one man able to walk those prohibited hallways, yet who
betrayed them all. His assumption Rafe also searched for a way out
for Vin proved the adage about assumptions right. He thought Rafe
was helping, since he was the cause of all this mess, and would be
trying to secure Vin's freedom as soon as he could. But with his own
eyes he was watching the man contribute to Vin's certain fate.
Didn't Rafe see what this meant to all of them? Not just Vin
personally, but to Vengeance?

Fury filled him at the supposed Gentleman and friend's behavior.
When he saw the sergeant leave, he stomped over to Rafe, yanking the
man's arm hard, spinning Mosely to face him. "How dare you! You set
Vin up!"

Rafe shook him off. "Lower your voice. It's not what you think, JD."

"You just gave him money! Was that the payoff for having Vin

"No! I'm trying to help him." Rafe's face showed indignation that JD
would think such a thing of him.

"So, you were paying him to get Vin released?" JD didn't care about
Rafe's wounded pride; Rafe started this, so he needed to take care of
getting Vin out of the mess.

"I can't get Vin released," Rafe explained softly, visibly upset that
he could not secure the trainer's release so easily.

"Or don't want to," JD hissed.

"That's not true," Rafe insisted.

"What am I supposed to think?" JD continued, "It's because of you
he's imprisoned!"

"Stop yelling, you're attracting attention. If you touch me again,
you will be joining Vin in jail."

"That's what you'd like. So I can't tell what you did."

"It's not," Rafe hissed. "It's what they'll see and perceive. Is
that what is best for all of us?" He tugged on JD's arm, leading him
further into the darkness, away from the well-lit front drive. "We
can't afford a scene."

If it wasn't a payoff what else was it for? Words spewed from his
mouth with speed, flying out before his brain could stop or control
them. What was wrong with him?

"A scene? Vin's in jail because of you, and you're worried about a
scene? I saw you passing money to the sergeant. If it wasn't a
payoff, what else was it for? I knew you and Vin had differences,
but this is low, even for you. You know what gets me? You're
supposed to be the Gentleman. If being a Gentleman means acting the
way you do, I don't want to be one." He shook off Rafe's hand and
jogged away. Intentionally, he ignored the man's hissed whispers to

Where were Chris and Ezra? Part of him almost stopped and turned
around to make Rafe find them, but the seed of mistrust flowed
through him, making him wonder what other treachery his crewmate

Sergeant Daniel McComassey rode to the compound of buildings,
appropriated by the Crown to house the soldiers in this colony. It
did not matter that several families were displaced; it was their
duty to provide for His Majesty's forces so they could maintain
order. Going to the slave quarters, which served to house their
prisoners, he tied the reins of his big bay to the post outside, and
entered. The unmistakable sound of soldiers cheering reached his
ears. He hustled to the cells in the back of the building, his eyes
widening in horror at the beating his prisoner received from

"Stop it this instant!" His strong voice rang out over the yells and
cheers of the others crowded into the small rooms, bringing order to
chaos. Strong strides carried him past his men to the open door of
the cell, pointed glares lowering heads to inspect the floor and boot


McComassey recognized that voice; it belonged to one of the ugliest
men he had the misfortune to meet, much less command. Because of his
hideous looks, bad teeth, and even worse breath, the soldier abused
the limited power provided him. Using the might and the power
provided by his uniform to demoralize and literally beat down those
who he felt would do the same to him otherwise, because of their
greater class or appearance. Usually, the sergeant kept him in
check, assigning him to provide water and food to the prisoners.
Most of the time they limited themselves and only dished out verbal
abuse he could apologize for later if the situation warranted it.
Their occasional lapses were usually against such low life that it
did not matter, and so far was fortunate to cover their misdeeds.
Unfortunately, Hannon and Leverson designated themselves dispensers
of justice, and this prisoner suffered under their care.

"I have already spoken on this before," McComassey said with
authority. "Prisoners are not to be mistreated. Leverson, Hannon,
step out of the cell and stand guard outside the building."

The two men went, both openly displeased with the orders.

McComassey knew it was imperative to keep command and order among his
soldiers, many of who could turn on him easily. "Listen up. All
prisoners are to be treated equally and with professionalism. We
must keep order and keep these colonists on our side. There has been
too much mistreatment lately, causing unrest among the locals."

"Seems to me the rabble get what they deserve, sir," one of the older
soldiers spoke up. "Wasn't this one attacking a guest? Seems the
gentry would be grateful we're around to provide punishment."

McComassey nodded in acknowledgement of what should be the truth.
However, he realized other factors were coming into play here, that
could mean trouble for his garrison. One the locals, gentry
included, were becoming more vocal and showing unrest because of the
soldier's presence and their conduct. Second, he was not happy with
what he found out about their prisoner; he was not an indentured
servant or slave as he first believed, but the respected employee of
one of the influential guest of the plantation owner. This might
bring trouble from beyond their colony, attention he could not afford.

"Are you aware this prisoner works for Chris Larabee, the noted horse
breeder, who currently is an honored guest of Mr. Vermenton? We must
handle this delicately; especially considering Mr. Vermenton makes
considerable donations of materials to our barracks and our
stomachs." He gave looked each of them in the eye. "Not to mention
his influence in keeping the rest of the locals appeased of our
presence, and gives us glowing reports to the Governor. Allows us to
keep our position here. I care not to anger him, else we find our
situation greatly changed." Seeing they properly understood the
implications, he broke eye contact with them to stare at the prisoner.

It was worse than he thought, and he swore he could feel his stomach
drop. At the very least, he knew if he did not find a way to correct
this situation, his position, nay, his very life might be in
jeopardy. Gentleman Mosely paid him a significant amount to keep
this prisoner in good condition, well fed, and in a cell free of
pestilence. The beating would be impossible to conceal. Long, damp
hair veiled the man's face from his eyes, but the blood matting the
strands and splattered across his tattered shirt spoke volumes. Only
his manacled arms kept him aloft; his body hanging limply from the
chains like a broken marionette.

"This cannot be concealed," McComassey announced. He quickly thought
of options and made a decision that he hoped would save them
all. "We will move him tonight to the jail for the Magistrate.

"Yes, sir!" Efferty, one of his youngest soldiers, snapped to
attention in front of him awaiting his orders.

"Prepare a wagon for transport; we dare not put him on a horse in
this condition. Make sure to get a tarp to conceal him."

"Yes, sir!" Efferty saluted and hustled out to do his bidding.

"Won't his employer come lookin' for him, sir," another soldier asked.

"Yes, he will," McComassey paced in front of the unaware prisoner,
deep in thought. "We must do something to delay him finding his
condition, and perhaps give him something else to be concerned
with." An idea came to the sergeant that would surely solve all of
his problems. "Kipney, go through our dispatches. Find a warrant
that matches this man's description."

"Yes, sir," Kipney saluted and turned to carry out the order.
Hesitating, he turned back to the sergeant. "But sir, what there is
no matching warrant?"

McComassey smiled icily. "I'm sure we will come up with something."

"Of course, sir, sure, sir." Kipney agreed and left to find a
warrant, understanding he would find one, whether it was real or not.

The sergeant turned back to his remaining men. Walking over to the
prisoner, using one finger he tilted the head up a bit to look at the
lax features. "Mr. Larabee should take care, some might consider his
carelessness in hiring such riff raff an example of how he handles
all his affairs."

Letting the head drop back down, he motioned to two more of the
guards. "Davis, Monroe, lower him to the ground and prepare him for

Vin felt the pressure release. He gasped for air, the weight and
force of his arms holding his body up driving precious breath from
him abate. Survival outweighed the need to escape; each sweet
lungful of oxygen returned strength to him. His legs and arms felt
made of lead, even though he sensed someone moving him onto the
floor. His eyes refused to work, leaving him in darkness. He heard
voices, most telling him to be still and not to cause any trouble.
If most of his body did not hurt, he might have laughed.

"Sir! I found one!" Kipney announced as he re-entered the room.

"Good work, Kipney," the sergeant praised.

"Thank you, sir," Kipney beamed.

"All right men, let's move him, and keep that warrant with him! If
anyone inquires, we will say that we once we found the warrant he
resisted and made to escape."

Vin's heart sank. Even in this weakened condition, his past haunted
him, giving him no peace. They found the warrant on him, the one
about his mentor and friend Jess Kincaid. The one that accused him
of killing the man who like family to him. He had a good start at
rebuilding his life, but now there was nothing left. He would face
the justice the British felt he deserved without protest. In his
mind, he was just as much to blame for his friend's death. Even the
soreness from the beating receded in the wake of the numbness left
behind from the discovery of the warrant. He allowed himself to
drift into unconsciousness, a blessed reprieve from the harsh
realities he had not the strength to fight now.

Chris Larabee sipped his brandy, absently appreciating the taste.
The expensive cigars smoked easily, their flavor a perfect compliment
to the brandy. Ezra's own stock, shared with Buck's private stores,
was better, yet this neared Standish's in quality. He leaned back in
his chair, crossing a booted leg negligently at the knee. His
examination of his cards showed he would probably win this hand,
unless Ezra came up with a miracle. Knowing Ezra, anything was

Locked in the rich, private study of Mr. Phineas Vermenton, the host
for this evening, Chris allowed himself a moment of enjoyment.
Opulence surrounded him, from the rich wainscoting, crown molding,
and ornate furniture, to the well-appointed upholstery on the chairs
and settees, accompanied by the liveried footmen bearing trays of
sumptuous refreshments. Even better, no women cluttered the room,
giving him an escape from the amorous widow Williamston. Although
the company of women challenged him, dodging the widow's advances
while not bringing a Scandal to his name - he already had more than
enough to qualify him as Dangerous and Brooding - caused significant
expenditures of energy. He preferred his women with teeth more the
color of white linen and not darker than the hay and wheat fields.

His hand won this round, leaving enough to ante up for the next
hand. Ears remained open for gossip and information in this company,
where the men were free to discuss their business without "boring"
the women. Since most of these men relied on shipping interests to
provide or supplement their income - run by paid business managers
and not themselves - they boasted often of the ships bringing them
the wealth from the Mother Country, or the Islands where they traded
with the soldiers and British Merchants there. The British East
India Company held the lion's share of the market, to which these men
raised and sold their crops.

From his perspective, anything destined for the use of British
soldiers was fair game in the murky rules of privateering. He
already heard a few men talking about joining their goods with those
of Stewart James, paying James a small fee to ship and sell their
goods in the Islands. Anyone who did business with the crook Stewart
James could afford to lose goods, having them rerouted via the
Vengeance crew to those more in need of the goods right here in the
Colonies. He needed to be careful so his source of information
should never become compromised, or allowing information he acted on
be traced back to them. Fortunately, his business as a horse breeder
allowed him access to almost all of Society's cliques through one
form of invitation or another, not to mention freedom of travel on
the pretense of looking for new stock or selling what he had. It
also allowed for meeting a range of people, of all classes, and
rarely did he see the same people repeatedly.

He lost this hand, deciding to stop while he still had sense in his
head and money in his pockets. Yes, he won more than he lost, but he
preferred not to press his luck. He did that often enough with his
secret life as Captain Vengeance. Shaking hands with the others at
the table, he strolled to the fireplace, staring into the flames.

"Mr. Larabee."

He recognized the voice; his host, Phineas Vermenton, speaking from
beside his shoulder. "Mr. Vermenton."

"May I have a private word?"

"Of course." He figured Vermenton planned to offer for stud service
from two of his horses, waiting until the proper moment to discuss
it. Chris followed the man through a nearly concealed door into a
smaller study, this one more private and secluded than the large one.

"Please, have a seat." Vermenton motioned Chris to one of the
overstuffed leather chairs on one side of the desk.

Chris complied.

"I am sure you know your invitation was partially due to my interest
in your horses."

Chris nodded, not saying anything yet.

"It has come to my attention that one of your grooms, how can I put
this? May I be blunt?"

"Yes." Chris leaned forward in his chair, wondering who did what to
whom to encourage this meeting.

"One of your grooms accosted one of my esteemed guests, and also
another member of your entourage. Apparently the offender was taken
by the soldiers to their holding cells."

His heart rate spiked, yet outwardly he remained calm; everyone knew
there was too much at stake to raise another Scandal or draw
attention to them. "I apologize in advance, Mr. Vermenton."

"Phineas, please."

"Phineas. Please call me Chris, then."

"Chris. I have managed to keep this discreet. Luckily, there were
few witnesses and those were given a reasonable story and sworn to
secrecy. We both are aware what that means. I would hate that
malicious gossip put a black mark upon someone of such strong
Loyalist standings such as yourself. You know what troubled times we
live in. "

Larabee allowed a small nod. He knew that piece of gossip would keep
the guests titillated for days, each person supposedly in the "know"
telling someone else. Even the truth would be twisted until it grew
out of all proportions. His stomach churned at the words "strong
Loyalist standing", only because he was the opposite of them, yet no
one would ever know that. Mostly his friendship with Magistrate
Travis, who held the ear of Governor Josiah Martin, kept his name
among the Loyalist leaders.

"According to the sergeant, your senior groom and Mister Rafe Mosely
tussled off one of the paths behind the house. Your ship's pilot
attempted to stop it, with your trainer assaulting him as well. I
arranged for my doctor to check over your pilot; he should be resting
comfortably in his quarters. The amount of laudanum given will allow
him a good night's rest."

"How long ago did this occur?" Chris had a sick feeling in the pit
of his stomach. Rafe would have no quarrel with any of his grooms,
but he knew he carried a lot of animosity toward Vin, and was afraid
his friend was now in the hands of their enemy.

"Some time ago. I instructed my people to insure the rumors were cut
short before informing you. I would appreciate your cooperation in
keeping this quiet. We cannot afford any disfavor with the Crown."

Chris forced a half-smile. Phineas Vermenton did not want to anger
Chris, and by extension his friends, by bringing a public Scandal of
this magnitude on them both. However, he knew the man's real purpose
was to insure his standing with the British was not in question. He
wanted to thrash the host for not informing him earlier; JD was
probably sick as a dog, because he did not take laudanum well. The
possibility that Vin was in the custody of British soldiers did not
bode well for anyone. "I appreciate your discretion."

"I've arranged for my carriage to be brought around for your use. It
will take you to the holding cells if you would like to check on the

"Excellent. Do you know the whereabouts of Mr. Mosely so I might
speak to him?" Chris knew exactly what this was about, intending to
thrash Rafe for his stupidity. One good placed fist might knock some
sense into the man's head.

"Mr. Mosely awaits you in the carriage. He felt you would want to
speak with him about the situation."


"Mr. Standish will need to stay here, of course. His absence will be
noted and remarked on, especially considering his reputation of
retiring at the dawn."

"I understand. Again, Phineas, your discretion has been most
admirable, as is your hospitality." Much as he wanted to deck the
man for keeping him in the dark, allowing him to have a cover story
protected his interests better. No matter how much he hated it, he
owed this man a debt, one he expected to be called in the future.

"Please let me know if there is anything further I can do," Phineas
said. "I will explain the situation to Mr. Standish during a break.
If you will come with me, this corridor will take you out to the
drive without being seen by the other guests."

Chris followed, exiting a hidden door to come out on the side of the
house. A narrow pathway led to the front drive, where a groom
directed him to the end. He felt someone coming from the trees more
than saw him. His hand slipped to the weapon he kept hidden until he
recognized the form. JD. Blocking the groom from preventing
contact, Chris grabbed hold of the wobbling man and tugged him


"Don't speak, JD," Chris instructed harshly. "Just walk with me."
Even in the near complete darkness, the white bandage stood out in
stark contrast. His arm tightened to hold the younger man upright,
sensing the lack of balance from the weakness in the limbs.

They entered the carriage, Chris nodding once to Rafe.

"What's he doing here?" JD sneered.

"Be quiet," Chris hissed. He checked the door was closed securely,
the curtains drawn, rapping twice on the roof to get them
moving. "How's your head, JD?"

"It hurts like hell, and he's at fault." JD had not stopped glaring
at Rafe since entering the conveyance.

"Rafe, you better have a damn good explanation for this." Chris used
the interior's single lantern's light to glare into the other man's
eyes. "Now."

"You know what happened. I lost my temper, demanding Vin tell me
where to find my sister."

"I thought your sister was dead." JD said in a shocked tone of
voice. Both men ignored his outburst.

"Again, he refused," Chris said in a flat tone of voice. "You
attacked him."

"Yes. He let me beat on him, probably hoping I would regain my

"You didn't."

"No, Mr. Larabee." Rafe's head lowered. "I did not. I insulted
him, and he took exception. I don't blame him, I pushed too far.
When I went down, I realized my mistake. By then, JD ran up to help
me, and Vin tripped him."

"Vin tripped me? I thought the soldiers lied about that."

"I don't think he knew who you were; I didn't," Rafe
admitted. "Until after. I'm sure he just thought you were someone
else try to attack him. The soldiers saw it. I could not convince
them it was all a private matter, settled between us."

"What did you expect?" Chris yelled, enjoying Rafe's flinch. "A man
dressed and smelling like a stable attacking a supposed Gentleman!
They hang people for that, or have you forgotten?" The blond did not
forget; he remembered Vin's story about his own near hanging, the
scars the reason he wore the kerchief around his neck.

"I apologize."

"You will do damn more than apologize." Chris growled. He did manage
to lower his voice as he continued to berate the young man before
him. "I thought we had this settled. I can understand your concern
for your sister. I thought you accepted the fact that she is safe
and Vin is only doing as she wishes and is trying to protect her too."

"But I'm her brother. . ."

Chris held up his hand before he could go further. "You don't know
the whole story, Rafe, and until your sister is ready to talk to you,
you are going to have to accept the situation as it is. I trust Vin
and believed him when he said she is safe. I thought you did too. I
warned you we cannot afford your outbursts; you'll put us all in
jeopardy. You promised me you could accept it, but apparently I
can't trust you."

"You can't, Chris," JD agreed excitedly. "He paid the soldiers," JD
continued. "I watched them. He paid them to take Vin."

"No," Rafe shook his head adamantly, obviously afraid of what Chris
would think. "No, honest, that is not what happen. I tried to tell
you, JD, but you wouldn't listen. Yes, I paid the sergeant, but I
wanted to insure Vin would be treated well. I tried to gain his
release, but I did not have enough."

Chris sighed and rubbed his hand over his face. "And was that wise,
bringing more attention to yourself that you would try to buy a
simple stable man's freedom?"

Rafe paled. "I didn't think. . ."

"No you didn't," Chris agreed, "And you have not been thinking. This
is not over Rafe, but right now my concern is with Vin. We must fix
this disaster of your making. The only reason we are not facing a
Scandal of monumental proportions is because our host protected our

"Mr. Larabee, I am truly sorry. I'll do all I can to free Vin and
you have all the resources I can muster at your disposal," Rafe

"We'll probably need all of them. Just hope your money kept Vin
healthy; any other condition will be unacceptable. You are fully
accountable, Rafe."

"I accept responsibility."

"Damn right you should." JD crossed his arms across his
chest. "They say I'm the immature one; you just outdid me there."

"Stop it!" Chris ordered, seeing Rafe's mouth about to open. "I
think we need to focus; Vin is the priority, followed by escaping
this with as little Scandal as possible. That means cooperation and
discretion, starting now." He gave both of them glares to show the
gravity of the situation. "No more fighting amongst ourselves.
Rafe, we will settle the situation between you and Vin in some manner
once we have his release. You have my word. JD, Rafe made a mistake
and he accepts responsibility. Let him be. For all our sakes, I
hope we can resolve this quickly and quietly." Chris figured his
winnings tonight, along with the name dropping of his acquaintances
would buy Vin's freedom, returning them to the Vermenton estate
before morning. It should not be more complicated than that.


Part Three

It felt like he was floating, but it was not a peaceful or pleasant
feeling like he experienced when he swam. This was excruciating; his
entire body ached, from head to toe. Vin fought his way out of the
haze, fought the nausea and the pain that threatened to send him into
darkness again. He wanted to give in, to quit feeling, but somehow
he knew this might be his only chance at survival, he had to
prepare. The two soldiers carrying him none too gently, haphazardly
loaded him into the back of a wagon. It was little more than a
farmer's cart, a short bed cart on two wheels with high wooden sides
but no tailgate in the rear. A thin layer of hay served as his
cushion, the soldiers not even making sure he was completely in
before they covered him with a tarp. He painfully pulled up his legs
so they did not dangle over the end of the wagon, and curled up on
his side trying to find some relief from the pain the trip from his
cell reignited. As he took slow even breaths, an idea for escape
began to form in his mind.

The tarp stretched over the top of the wagon, fastened at the
corners, but not around him. Since the cart was so deep, and the
tarp did not touch him; he was sure his body was unnoticeable
beneath. His fuzzy mind noted in relief that while his wrists were
secured, his legs were free. He was sure they felt him too injured
to be a problem. They might be right, but he had to put his pain
aside if this was his last chance to get free. He now hoped now he
would get the opportunity because he believed if he stayed low
enough, if an opportunity presented itself along their route, he
could roll out the back and maybe not be noticed. He continued to
give them the impression he passed out and would be no problem for
them, while in fact he gathered his strength.

Peering out from under the cover, he peeked through mostly swollen
eyes at the rear rider, a soldier too interested in complaining about
his duty and arguing with the wagon driver. He did not need to see
the man; he could hear his every move, the man was loud enough in his
complaints it made him easy to track. The man's pattern varied
little; he yelled, rode up on the left side to bicker, then fell back
behind the wagon, continuing to grumble about forgoing a night in a
warm bed with a willing female to escort a half dead settler.

He was not sure how long they had been traveling, but he did know
timing meant everything. He heard the sound of the ground change to
the pounding of wood, guessing they were moving over a bridge. Vin
realized if he wanted to escape, this might be the best time to go.
Having no idea how high the bridge was, he only hoped it was over
water. Hopefully his luck would hold. If he could get off the cart
without being detected though the water might be his best chance at
staying that way. If his flight did not go unnoticed perhaps the
water might deter his guards from following him, or if he could stay
hidden long enough, they might think him drowned. It offered him
more of a chance than an attempt into the unknown brush territory
they had been passing through, and his guards could not easily
follow. Whether, it was to be a long fall off the bridge, or a hard
landing, it was time to go.

Vin counted to three, waiting until the wheels echoed the loudest,
along with a quick peek to verify the rear rider was in front of the
wagon instead of behind it where he should be. Their loss. Taking a
deep breath, he rolled out the back, thumped hard off the wood, and
continued off the bridge.

Cold water rushed over him, encasing him from head to foot. He gave
thanks again; they neglected the chains or manacles because of his
injuries. Having the freedom to move his legs allowed him to get his
feet under him, kicking for the surface of the water. Breaking into
the night air from beneath the water's depths, he took a quick
breath, and quickly tried to get his bearings. His eyes were still
swollen, his sight still too blurry to see clearly, but he heard no
shouts coming from above; just the continued clacking of the wheels
over the wooden bridge and the loud complaining of the less than
attentive guard. As the procession continued without him, the man's
cursing carried through the night air.

Even though his hands were bound, Vin was a strong enough swimmer
that he treaded the water easily. Slowly, keeping his attention to
the sounds above him, he moved toward what he hoped was the bank. It
was not long before he felt the bottom of the stream beneath him.
Vin remained still, listening. After what seemed like hours, the
procession left his hearing. Forcing himself, Vin waited a bit
longer to be sure he was in the clear. As the rush of the escape
left him, he began to shiver in the cool water, which brought the
pain back with a vengeance. Only then did he move. Reaching the
side of the stream, he did not have the strength to stand. He used
his bound hands to grip whatever purchase he could, half-crawling up
the side of the stream, dragging himself by sheer willpower onto the

Feeling solid ground beneath him, he knew he should move to shelter.
Pushing himself up he managed to crawl a bit further until he felt
hidden in the bushes. He groaned, unable to move any more, he gave
into the pain and slipped into darkness.

"I'm here about the prisoner," Chris announced, entering the
garrison's quarters. His voice brooked no argument; his demeanor
challenged the sergeant.

"Which prisoner? We have two drunken men scraped from the taverns,
and a man awaiting trial for horse thieving." The sergeant stared
calmly back.

Chris straightened to his full height, his eyes boring into the
soldier's. "Perhaps I was unclear. The prisoner brought here under
your orders from the Vermenton estate. The man in my employ, a horse
trainer by trade. His supposed victim stands with me not wishing to
file a complaint."

Rafe, who'd entered with Chris to do his part to free Vin, remained
silent yet nodded his head.

"Your name?"

"Chris Larabee."

"Mister Larabee, may we speak privately?" The sergeant motioned to a
private office off to the side.

"Whatever you have to say, say it now. I have no patience for games."

"Fine, then." The sergeant squared his shoulders, preparing to
deliver a telling blow. "Perhaps you should take greater care in who
you employ."

The blond's green eyes narrowed, only knowing he would not help Vin's
cause by getting himself into further trouble with the British kept
him from strangling the man before him. "There has been a
misunderstanding, perpetrated by your men. You will keep your
opinions of those I hire to yourself. It is none of your business."
His tone held all the haughtiness of the Gentleman Society told him
he was, including a cutting edge to each word.

The sergeant refused to be intimidated. Any guilt he felt previously
over his prisoner's condition vanished. He was going to enjoy taking
this man down a peg. "I'd have a care, sir," the sergeant
huffed. "You clearly do not know the man we speak of." Nodding
towards Rafe standing quietly by Larabee's side he continued, "The
young gentleman here is lucky to be alive."

Chris placed a hand on Rafe's arm to stop him from speaking, holding
in his own rage. "Mr. Mosley described the situation to me; he was
never in any danger. Explain yourself."

"Your trainer," the sergeant sneered, "was a wanted man. We
discovered a warrant on him, dating from a few years ago."

It was all he could do to hold himself passive and keep his breathing
normal while he continued to confront the man before him. "I find
that exceptionally hard to believe."

"I have heard you are an astute businessman, Mr. Larabee. I am sure
you do find it hard to believe a ruffian took you in, made a fool of
you. But, there is no mistake; he might have tried to hide by
changing his names, but the description and etching match precisely."

"And what was his purported crime?" Chris was still struggling with
the fact that after all this time, Vin's past might have caught up
with him. He still felt something was wrong; he did not want to
believe it.

"Murder," the sergeant resisted the urge to smile as he studied
Larabee's face. "Am I correct to assume you were unaware that your
horse trainer was wanted for murder?"

Chris intentionally flinched. "No, I was not aware." He was, but he
could not allow this man to see he knew about the outstanding murder
warrant on Vin. Harboring a wanted man carried stiff penalties.
What he could not believe was that he allowed his friend's capture on
it in this small backwater of a burg. There was no hint that the so-
called warrant ever circulated among the thirteen Colonies and
outside the town issuing it; he knew because he checked discreetly.

The sharp, indrawn breath to Chris's right caused a wince, one not
feigned. Though the men who served on Vengeance worked close on and
off the ship, little was really known about each other's past, and no
one save Chris and Nathan knew anything of Vin's, especially the
personal vendetta against him which resulted in a warrant for murder
being drawn. Rafe finding out like this did not bode well for Vin.
It also undermined the tenuous control he kept over the younger

"Once we verified the warrant matched the subject, I felt it best the
prisoner be transferred immediately. Justice has waited too long to
be satisfied. He is under escort to the county seat to see the
Magistrate about this matter. Then he awaits a transfer back to the
jurisdiction with the warrant."

"I understand," Chris said, trying to remain calm and think of a
plan; matters were definitely worse now. He always feared this day
would come; now that it was here, he knew what he had to do. There
was nothing on the earth that could make him like it, but his defense
of Vin must be carefully crafted and executed.

If this was the true warrant they feared, Chris knew there would be
no fair trial. Especially if Vin was taken before his accuser
because he would be executed on sight. As Chris studied the sergeant
though, something in his gut told him he was being lied to; a good
lie, but a falsehood nonetheless. Too many men tried lying to
Captain Vengeance; experience gave him the advantage of sorting truth
from fiction through body language, not only from years of doing
business, but from facing men in fear of death. He sensed this man's
emotions go from fear to almost seeming to gloat in his actions, and
things seemed too pat for his liking.

"May I ask a question?" He stopped Rafe from speaking again. Part
of him gave thanks JD passed out in the carriage. The young man
could not keep his mouth shut, and hearing these surprising
revelations about Vin would make his pilot say something damaging.


"What name was on the warrant?"

"Vincent Livingstone. Wanted for murder and robbery out of

Chris allowed a frown to show, but held the sigh of relief. Yes,
there was something wrong here. He refused to apologize to a man he
knew deep in his gut lied to him, but it had to appear he acquiesced
none too gracefully. "I hope you understand I am very disturbed
about this information."

"Of course." The sergeant relaxed and smiled. "I am sure it is very
disturbing news to find you were so deceived."

Chris wanted to punch the smiling man's teeth down his throat. He
congratulated himself on holding his control. "Yes, very. I would
like to confront my trainer personally to find out if there are other
matters where I might have been deceived. If you would provide me
directions to the county seat, I will take my leave."

"Of course." The sergeant was pleased his plan worked so well. It
appeared Larabee could care less about his former employee now, nor
would he be able to say for sure where he accrued his injuries. That
is if the man was still alive when he caught up to him. He provided
the man with directions, writing slowly, taking his time to make sure
that they were clear and easy to follow.

Chris remained silent and kept Rafe silent by a single glare.
Personally not wishing to, but for the sake of appearances, Larabee
thanked the sergeant for his time and understanding and left the
jail. Returning to their carriage, Chris still had not said a word,
and Rafe acted unsure and nervous about how to bring the obvious
questions up. The matter went out of his hands once they were
underway and JD finally roused enough to blink wide-eyed at Larabee.

"Where's Vin?" asked the younger man. "Did they release him? You
told them it was a mistake, right?" JD glared at Rafe as he asked
the question.

"They have a warrant, JD." Rafe explained still in disbelief
himself. "I may have had differences with Tanner, but I never
thought the man a murderer. The warrant's for murder and robbery."

"What?" JD was aghast. "How? Why? Didn't they understand it was a

"Chris?" Rafe could not answer all of JD's questions.

Chris frowned, not sure he could or should explain anything right
now. "They think it's Vin, and the first name matches, along with
the drawing."

"That can't be true," JD slumped back in his seat in disbelief.

"It's not."

"Are you sure?" Rafe dared asked.

"Yes," Chris glared at him. "On this one I'm sure, something is not
right. Anything else we will deal with later. Lord knows the last
thing we need is scrutiny, especially considering our frequent

Rafe and JD stayed silent though they exchanged nervous glances
knowing there was more to the story. They wanted to know more,
concerned that if they did how it would affect them.

Chris broke through their individual musings. "Here's what I plan."

The shivering woke the pain, which in turn woke him. He began
moving, trying to find shelter and at least get out of easy sight of
any searchers coming for him. Ten minutes with a sharp rock released
the bonds, making his wrists even more painfully raw than they were
before. His journey was slow, painful going. Vin was so cold. Even
without it very chilly out, his wet wool clothing pressed against his
skin, leeching away the heat. Knowing from his time at Kojay's
village men perished from being too cold, he forced himself to keep
moving. All too soon, his legs gave out, his knees skinned from
crawling, and he left a trail any person with tracking experience
could follow.

He knew that when the soldiers realized he no longer enjoyed their
hospitality, a search party immediately would roam the countryside.
They would backtrack and hunt every square inch of their route of
travel until they figured out where he got out without them
noticing. Their backtrack will bring them to the bridge at some
point, and his tracks led off from there.

Frustrated at his stupidity for not covering his tracks, he debated
on going back and trying to disguise them. Yet going back put him
closer to them, and wasted the valuable time he was free.

"Think, Tanner, think." He closed his eyes briefly. Maybe...an idea
formed slowly, taking shape in his mind. Hobbling back the way he
came, he used most of his reserve energy to set three false trails.
The fourth he walked without leaving many marks until he found a
toppled tree. Crawling under it, he took refuge, allowing himself to
rest. Only for a little while, he promised himself. He was not far
enough away, but in truth he knew on foot and injured, he was not
going to get far regardless.

Chris Larabee secured a private meeting with Phineas Vermenton first
thing in the morning.

"Phineas, I need your assistance."

"Of course," the man replied.

"The matter with my trainer requires my immediate attention. I must
travel to meet with the Magistrate, yet I do not wish to create
uproar by leaving abruptly."

"Ah, yes." Vermenton tsked. "An unfortunate incident. I hope it
does not bode too dire for your reputation."

"I know the quarrel with Mr. Mosley was a misunderstanding; the
soldiers overreacted."

"Reverend Mosley frequently is my guest. I am not as well acquainted
with the son, although his father has stated he has had to take a
firm hand. Youth today are so rebellious and quick to anger, but he
seems an agreeable young man. I am sure as you say it was a
misunderstanding, an indiscretion of youth."

"Yes, it was an unfortunate incident and I'm sure the matter will be
cleared up quickly." Larabee was not certain if the landowner heard
about the warrant yet. Regardless, he knew the man would do anything
to protect his own reputation, with any concern for his or Rafe's
character only a cover for his own continued standing in Society.

"Yes, I am sure. Anything I can do to help?"

"Will you keep watch with my grooms over my horses?"

"I am honored with your trust."

Trust, hell, Chris thought. He figured Phineas would be motivated
enough to make sure the horses would be well treated. He knew he
would be looking at all the angles and anticipating what he could
gain. If all turned out well, he wanted to stay in Larabee's favor.
If not, compensation would go to Phineas for the Scandal with Chris's
property as forfeit. The blond could almost see the wheels turning
in the man's head. He would play his own part in the game. To
secure that cooperation, he needed to "sweeten the pot," as Ezra
often said.

"I noticed your interest in Seagold."

"Such a fine horse," Phineas agreed. "I have a mare, well," he
paused. "This is not the proper time for that."

"Mayhap on my return we can discuss in length your mare and my
stallion." Chris let the suggestion hang in the air, not adding any
more than necessary so he did not lose face, nor make it appear a
bribe. Seagold might be the sacrifice Chris paid if things ended in

"I look forward to it."

As expected, Chris judged Phineas very interested in the potential
arrangement. "If you will excuse me, I need to speak with Mr.
Standish before leaving."

"I anticipated your request; he awaits your pleasure in the stables."

Chris paused for a moment, almost certain now Vermenton was obviously
more knowledgeable about his problems than he let on. "Thank you,"
he finally responded and took his leave.

Walking quickly toward the stables his thoughts went over the plans
the small group had hastily made upon their return to the plantation
late last night. None of them had gotten much, if any sleep. Part
of him wanted to groan as he thought of meeting Ezra. Standish up
early was never a pretty thing. Lack of sleep, and making him smell
stable first thing in the morning did not bode well for anyone. He
was thankful for the businessman's input last night though and hoped
their plans succeeded.

"Good morning," he called to his impeccably turned out friend, the
only mar being the black circles under Standish's eyes.

"I find it very disagreeable to be up at this early hour, yet the
circumstances require my participation. Young Mr. Dunne caught the
tide around four this morning; Lady Luck willing, he arrives by
tomorrow at the latest."

"Knowing JD, he'll be there by tonight."

"True enough. I took the liberty of signaling." Ezra ran a thumb
down the side of his cheek.

"Good. Rafe?"

"Mr. Mosely followed your instructions."

"Thanks, Ezra."

"Get Mr. Tanner back. He still owes me for ruining my clothes with

"I will do my best."

"And Mr. Larabee. . ."

"I know, I know. I will watch my temper."

Ezra smirked. "Please do, this is enough trouble."

Chris managed a weak smile. "You'll keep them entertained?"

"You won't be missed. It is not very difficult, especially
considering your deplorable social skills. Go before I forget my
good intentions and return to my bed."

Larabee clapped him on the shoulder, accepting the reins to one of
the riding stallions he brought. This one built for endurance, not
speed, allowing him to cross any distance with little effort. He
mounted, heading off Vermenton's property, and hopefully towards
gaining Vin's release.

Rafe Mosely knew he needed redemption. The trouble they found
themselves in he recognized as largely his fault. He allowed his
blasted temper to get in the way again. Drinking so many brandies
did not help him. It never did. He made a promise to himself to
ease off on the alcohol. His impaired mind then made him forget all
caution; he brought a very volatile personal matter out in public
causing the incarceration of a friend. Since they would never
forfeit one of their own, this led to danger for all of them.

If it ever came out that he was part of the Vengeance crew, his life
was forfeit. Not counting all the other people involved - those who
served on the ship and those that backed them in their own way among
the Colonies. Too much damage threatened to overwhelm the good they
did. Chris was right to berate him about his behavior; if there was
one person he respected, it was Chris Larabee. Because of Travis and
Larabee's help, he was able to escape the restrictive confines of his
father's house. They also understood his father's politics were not
his own. Knowing it was dangerous for themselves to allow someone
into their ranks with relatives so close to the Crown, they still
did. He believed in the Colonists' cause, in his own mind and his
own heart, and his actions were more of another rebellion against his
father than zealousness to the cause. Too late, he realized his
sister had found her own rebellion, and was probably the safer and
happier for it.

This was entirely his fault. Being called to account for his own
refusal to accept things the way they were, resulting in putting the
entire cause in danger, damaging their reputations, and responsible
for the near certain hanging of one of their crew did not sit well on
his conscience. He had to make things right.

He would do as Chris bid . . . later. Like their leader, he had a
bad feeling about this. He paid good money to keep Vin safe until he
could get a fair hearing. Somehow, he thought he made that payment
in vain. Now he wanted to get to where they were holding Vin to make
sure they treated him properly. He also worried about Larabee
traveling to meet Vin on his own. He knew he had a bad temper, but
it was nothing on Larabee. If his presence directed that ire away
from the redcoats, he would do what he could.

Rafe had mixed feelings about the warrant. Chris assured them Vin
was being held falsely, but there was something more, he was sure
another warrant they kept secret. Regardless of their differences,
he served with the man and believed him to be honorable. Yes, he
realized that no matter his feelings, that Vin deserved a fair
hearing. It was true, Vin protected his sister from him, but when he
forced himself to look at his own actions he thought that might be a
good thing. In addition, Chris made him realize that there was more
at stake than his family.

Although this went against his family comes first beliefs, if Claire
did not want to see him, he needed to accept her feelings. Forcing
himself on her might cause her to disappear forever, severing her
ties with him. She was all he had left; he could not handle losing
her too. Maybe just knowing Vin could reach her gave him some peace;
there was still hope to see her. She was not dead, which meant there
was always a chance at redemption or contact. Moreover, Vin insisted
she was happy, that had to count for something.

Rafe decided while he still had light to cut through the woods to
save time. While still under his father's tutelage, he traveled in
this area with him extensively. He knew the roads meandered around
the dense foliage and sporadic farms, more than traveling a straight
path. He would save time making his own way. As he carefully
watched the dense path ahead to guide his horse over any obstacles,
he was unprepared for branch suddenly flying his way, startling him
and his horse. He tried to duck, yet still caught a glancing blow.
His horse reared in fright, easily unseating him. Breath flew out of
his body, as he impacted against the hard ground leaving him lying
still and gathering his scattered wits. Surprised eyes recognized
the clothing of his assaulter, battered but now looming over him.

"Vin!" he whispered.

Startled, it stopped the man's attempt to finish the assault with the
rock he held in a shaky hand. "Rafe? Aw, hell." The strength in
Vin's reserve left him at that moment and he sank down on his knees
beside the fallen man. "What are you doing here?''

"Going after you," Rafe stated what he thought was the obvious
answer. "What happened?" He started to reach up and push some of
the blood-matted hair away from Vin's face but a weak grip on his
wrist stopped him.

"British justice," Vin stated tiredly. "Where is Chris?"

"By now on his way to the county seat to see about your release."

Vin nodded.

Rafe stared at the battered continence before him, not showing
revulsion at the disfigured features, but more like remorse. "This
wasn't supposed to happen."

Vin didn't want to argue; he was too tired, but he couldn't help
it. "Wasn't it?"


"What are you doing here?"

"I was on my way to the county seat, to see you. And to be sure the
Magistrate knew I would not be filing charges."

Vin could manage no more than a weak snort and a shake of his head in

"Look, we can settle our differences later." Rafe got to feet. "We
need to hide you before the soldiers come back to search for you. We
haven't much time to spare."

"What's with the we?"

"I deserve your contempt. I am twice the fool for causing this, but
if we don't leave the area quickly, both our lives are in danger."

"Why are ya helpin'?"

"Because I owe you a debt."

Vin eyed him suspiciously. "Still not givin' ya Claire."

"We can discuss my foolishness later. Come on, we need to get out of
here." Rafe gently helped Vin to his feet, but the horse trainer
pulled away from his grasp as soon as he was upright.

Rafe noticed Vin wobbled on his feet, grimacing every few seconds.

"I paid a large sum of money to keep you healthy. I must remember to
ask for a refund."

Vin snorted, winced, finally lifting one hand to gently rub his
battered nose. "Still waitin' on a reason."

"You stubborn mule, I want to help. I need to help fix the problems
I have caused. Don't you believe in second chances, or a chance to
clear my name?"

Realizing his own problems, Vin gave in. "Good reason."

"Get on the horse. We'll ride double for a time."

"Ain't gonna be easy. Busted ribs."

Rafe led his horse to a fallen log. He provided a counterbalance,
allowing Vin to push up off the log and him onto the horse without
having to pull his weight as much.

After Rafe settled behind him, Vin took control of the reins. "Kinda
know...area. Need ta hole up. Have an idea where to go."

"All right." Rafe agreed, not wanting to fight with the injured
man. He understood the strain getting on the horse caused Tanner's
already abused system, yet the man refused to show it. He would be
there though, ready to catch him if the other man started to fall
from the horse. Tanner flicked the reins. He led them through the
woods in the direction Mosely wanted at a pace Rafe found less than
sedate. The reverend's son watched the muscles remain tense in the
body before him, yet he also noticed the occasional sway in the
saddle from the usually competent horseman. He knew Vin wanted him
to keep his distance; he could not trust him completely. Mosely did
not blame him. Yet Rafe knew he was going to redeem himself. He
would wait and watch and be there Vin needed him. Until then, he
said nothing.

Vin wondered what the hell Rafe's game was, damn the confusing man.
Here he could barely walk, much less defend himself, a situation Rafe
would usually find to his liking. On top of it, he set a trap
intending on stealing the man's horse, though at the time he did not
know who would fall into his hastily planned plot. Now, here the man
was, saying he wanted to help, even giving him control to lead them
out of here. Rafe was confusing him, they barely gave each other the
time of day. Yet it was his fault they were in this mess
anyway . . . and what was all that about paying to make sure he was
treated well? Only the rich paid for prisoners to receive benefits;
he sure wasn't a Gentleman, or a relative to get a boon like that.

The little strength he garnered to pull off, what he felt sure now
would have been an ill-fated attempt at surprising an unexpected
traveler, faded fast. Feeling the nausea he had been fighting since
he woke a few hours before finally overwhelm his system, he stopped
the horse, leaned over, and vomited. It hurt like hell, his
midsection screaming in agony as the dry heaves took over.

He sensed the hands before they touched, easing him back into the
saddle. "Let me lead for now. I have a place we can hide, at least
until you're able to ride."

Much as it pained him to hand over control, he let Rafe have the
reins. He concentrated on remaining alert, still wary of any tricks
waiting the relaxing of his guard. He gave Mosely credit; their pace
remained steady well into the afternoon. The even gait of the horse
allowed him to force the nausea back to manageable levels. When he
stopped the horse for a rest and water, Mosely helped him off, then
lifted him back on when they continued. In fact, Vin thought he
dozed for a bit, but he did not want to admit it.

The horse's stop brought him back to awareness. Tanner looked around
the woods, realizing the trees were still thick, providing
significant cover. He did not recognize any of the landmarks.

"Where are we?"

"Where we won't be found." Rafe assured as he dismounted, holding a
hand up to the other man to help him down.

Vin accepted it gratefully; part of him worried about falling on his
face when he climbed down from legs feeling to weak to hold him.

"Come." Putting one hand on Vin's shoulder, but not applying
pressure, Rafe silently requested he walk with him.

Vin went along with it, finally spotting the outline of the cabin
hidden between layers of moss and vines. Even knowing it was there
and their destination, he questioned his poor eyesight, thinking it
was not real.

"My father owns various properties throughout the Colonies. We're
now at the cabin he uses for his 'Biblical' retreats." Rafe scoffed,
opening the front door, lighting a lantern once inside. He held it
up, nodding to himself. "Come on, I want you to lie down."

"I ain't gonna fight ya," Vin agreed wearily, hating to admit he was
ready to give in. He stepped into the cabin, taking in the almost
cozy feel. A large bed dominated one quarter, with the woodstove in
the opposite, along with a counter space with cabinets to the left of
the woodstove. "Biblical retreats?"

"He meets his women here." Rafe stated simply. "Being a traveling
reverend on occasion makes that rather simple for him. The Right
Reverend Mosely leads them to calling for the Lord." Sarcasm dripped
from every word.

Vin groaned.

"Lie down, Vin. I won't be party to you hurting yourself from a fall
when your legs give out on you."

"Reckon the bed looks invitin' enough."

"Only snake in it was my father," Rafe replied. "Just rest. I'll be
riding out later tonight to find out what happened today."

Vin stretched out on the bed, groaning from the relief he felt. "Why
haven't ya asked?"

"Asked what?" Mosely looked up from the woodstove he just lit.

"'Bout the warrant."

"Chris said it was a fake."

"I got a warrant on me."

"Murder and robbery."

"Don't know nothin' 'bout the robbery, but there's one for murder."

"That's comforting to know," Rafe said sarcastically as he put on a
kettle of water to heat on the now lit stove.

"Didn't do it."

"I wish I could say it doesn't matter to me, but it does. Yet your
continued safety has become paramount to the protection of all of us
on Vengeance. Add to that you are my only link to Claire. I love my
sister very much, and I want to see her again. If not see her, get
her a letter."

"Ya never asked that 'fore," Vin's words slurred. "Can try
that . . .easier than a meetin'."

"Then we must get you through this."

"Think . . . need ta . . . sleep." Vin's voice faded as his strength
finally gave way and he fell unconscious.

"Go ahead," Rafe reassured the unaware man. "I give you my word
nothing will befall you here."

JD reached Portsmouth Village near midnight. Having caught a
tailwind pushing his sails, and taking risks that he would not
normally do with anyone else aboard, the young pilot arrived in
record time. Due to the lateness of the hour, he veered toward
Josiah's anchorage for the Aesthetic, not surprised to find the older
man waiting for him.

"Welcome, John Dunne," Josiah called down.

"I should be with Vengeance, guiding her out of the Sound into the

"Brewster knows what he's about."

JD winced. He forgot about Vin's second in command, serving as a
pilot on Vengeance, operating out of New Berne to the Atlantic Ocean
versus out of Ocracoke like JD. "I know that. I just forgot.
Permission to come aboard?" When Josiah nodded, the young man
secured his anchors between the two boats, jumping onto the
Aesthetic's deck.

"What happened?" They continued off the Aesthetic onto the long
dock, Sanchez leading the way with a hand on JD's shoulder.

"Vin got arrested on a warrant for someone else named Vincent
Livingstone. We need to find the real Vincent Livingstone before the
British hang Vin."

Josiah's expression darkened, motioning with a hand for JD to explain

"Rafe and Vin got into it, which is why Vin got arrested in the first

"What?" Josiah frowned. "JD, I think you should start at the

"Vin got arrested because he assaulted Rafe, a supposed Gentleman.
What makes Rafe a Gentleman, and people like us not?"

"Because Rafe's father is a wealthy political power in North
Carolina, with followers all over the Southern Colonies. His
standing as brother-in-law to Virginia's governor, plus having the
missionary ministry gives him standing. By extension, Rafe receives
the benefits of his father's position in the social elite."

"It's not right."

"There's plenty of wrongs in the world we can fix, JD, and many we
can't. We just have to pick the right wrong to right."



Chris arrived in the county seat, heading straight for the jail.
What he found caused him considerable concern; there was no Vin, and
a manhunt about to begin. No one would speak to him, other than to
ask him to give up Vin's whereabouts. At least it was easy to
convince them he had no knowledge, else why would he be here
inquiring about him?

Where was Rafe? Why didn't he arrived first?

All he could do was wait for the rest of his plan to fall into

He hated waiting.