Title: An Acceptable Arrangement
Author: Christi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rating: PG-13, but um, not really at all.
Timeline: If you think this falls somewhere in the show’s actual timeline, I would check the expiration date on your medication. It’s obviously not working properly.
Category: Austen!verse (Which is very, very AU.)
Pairing: Shep/Weir UST. And seriously, look at that U there. Do not read this story if it’s going to bother you. I don’t want rageful emails at the end bemoaning the lack of closure. Don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning, because this is me, giving you warning. Also, a tiny little bit of established Sam/Jack and Vala/Cameron.
Disclaimer: Did the high boots and petticoats give me away? Yeah, I thought so.
Author’s Note: Okay, I’m not really certain how much of the Sam/Jack fandom from SG-1 overlaps with the Shep/Weir fandom. I figure it’s probably a good bit, but just in case, I’m going to go through a quick explanation here. Basically, awhile back I wrote this really bizarre AU where the characters of SG-1 were all sort of transposed into a bad Jane Austen knock-off situation. Anyway, it sort of spun into this series thing, and of course the Atlantis people had to get in on the action. (Well, my brain dictated that it was necessary, anyway.)
really have to read the previous stories in Austen!verse to understand this fic.
(Though if you would like to, they can be found at my website, http://literatiwannabe.the-family-archives.com)
I mean, events will be kind of referred to, but not really anything essential.
Just…go with the silli
As always, I have to thank my beta readers, thekatebeyond, caroly_214, and raisintorte. Without raisintorte, Austen!verse never would have happened. Without thekatebeyond, I never would have gotten the guts to post it. Without caroly_214, Austen!verse (and really life in general) would just suck. So, thank you. Also, thank you to the many, many, many people who I have ranted and raved and rambled at, who have plotted with me and listened to me bitch and whine and moan. (jennukes? aj? karma_aster? I’m looking at you, here.)
“Evil to some is always good to others.”
Despite Gateshire’s undeniably convenient proximity to the
Of course, this all changed when John Sheppard arrived in Gateshire.
second (and his parents might claim, lesser) son of a barely landed country
would have been entirely spent soldiering had it not been for the simple fact
that, for as long as he could recall, John Sheppard had possessed a r
As a result, John found himself the unlikely holder of vast financial resources, much to his chagrin. As he saw no sense in continuing to garner a salary he had no use for, he resigned from the military, planning to indulge himself in the life of leisure he had unexpectedly earned.
weeks after this decision, John forced himself to reevaluate. As it turned out,
He quickly dismissed the idea of resuming his education. Becoming a barrister seemed too dreary, becoming a doctor too gory, and he certainly did not have the temperament to become a politician. No, a business venture was clearly what he needed, something entertaining and new and preferably profitable for other employees.
Atlantis Trading and Shipping was created, born of equal parts boredom and
excess wealth. John had slowly been building what he believed to be an
unparalleled staff of ship captains, sailors, scientists turned shipwrights - a
winning team when combined with his own financial prowess. However, as was
clearly evidenced by the letter he currently held in his hand, there was one
crucial component of his company missing – a diplomatic el
“How can they claim we don’t have a permit?” he wondered aloud. “I obtained one when we began to build the boats a few months ago.”
“Ships,” muttered Rodney McKay from across the room. “They’re called ships.”
known that, of course – he just enjoyed Rodney’s exasperation. “Those little
puddle jumpers? They hardly se
the point now, isn’t it? Small, but fast. Efficient. Get the goods quicker in order to stand a chance
against the monolithic East India Trading Company,” Rodney retorted. “And I
swear to God, if you name th
Seeing as Rodney made similar declarations at least once a day, John foresaw no immediate threat. “That’s reason enough,” he replied cheerily, just to bait him.
Turning his attention back to the letter that had just arrived in the post, John felt a distinct sense of frustration. “Yes, right. So what are we going to do about this?”
just looked at him blankly while Cameron shrugged. “I’ve no idea. I think a
been dreading that inevitable suggestion. “I hate
Cameron raised his hands, a smug grin on his face. “Do I really have to point out who the owner of this company is? Besides, I’m a newlywed yet. Tearing me away from my new wife and her many charms right now would just be…cruel.”
Somehow, John suspected that six months from now, after spending weeks in close quarters at sea with his newly won spouse, Cameron would be singing a different tune. But no matter.
go!” Rodney volunteered. “I love
As happy as John would have been to pass the odious duty of hobnobbing with the privileged and repellent to someone (anyone) else, the idea of sending McKay to sort out diplomatic matters could be nothing but disastrous. “No, I’ll go. I suppose it’s my office as the head of this company. Besides, I want to see if I can find someone to take care of this sort of thing fulltime – dealing with contracts, easing the way with foreign dignitaries, opening trade possibilities in other regions. Lord knows none of us will be any good at it.”
“That he does,” John admitted with a grin. “But unfortunately, I already offered the post to Mr. Jackson. He’s refused, incapable of imagining himself away from his studies so regularly. He did say if we ever need a traveling dignitary he might consider a trip or two, though. For all the good that does me now.”
“What about his protégé?” Rodney suggested. “You know, the annoyingly cheerful one.”
“Jonas Quinn. I considered it, but although he’s undeniably bright, he’s a bit on the inexperienced side, don’t you think?”
Their silence was answer enough. “No, someone new is our only recourse, though I fear it may take me at least a fortnight to sort out this whole mess.”
take at least that long to install the rest of the new improv
John curbed the impulse to laugh. “Anxious to get rid of me, Rodney?”
Seeing as Rodney had never been one to bother with the charade of good manners, John should have expected his reply.
“Is it that obvious?”
John Sheppard was packing for his reluctant trip to the city, Elizabeth Weir
was swallowing a bitter pill of her own – the finalization of her wedding
Ideally, such an event was supposed to be heralded by something other than a vague sense of dread, but Elizabeth Weir had learned long ago that reality was rarely ideal. Her impending nuptials were neither her choice nor her desire, but rather her duty – a state of affairs that she had become more than accustomed to over the years.
untimely death of her mother more than a decade previous,
So really, it shouldn’t have surprised her when her father arranged her marriage with the same calculating eye that he had used for every previous undertaking regarding his daughter. She knew better than anyone that every move he made was a political one, and having a daughter married to the promising young Mr. Simon Narim was sure to be a beneficial arrangement for both men.
the idea of consulting
Still, despite her lack of involvement in the situation, she found herself curiously unemotional about the idea. Mr. Narim did not seem to be a bad sort of man – merely ambitious, an attitude to which she was accustomed. At the very least, marrying him would allow her to continue flourishing in a familiar situation, exerting what little influence she had in an attempt to guide political matters in a way few other women had the means or interest in doing. So while part of her naturally wished that she had some stronger emotion for her husband-to-be, the larger, more practical part accepted her marriage with all the grace she could manage.
If some small, romantic part of her rebelled at the idea of such a calculated union, then no one need know about it. She had long ago learned to keep her own counsel about such matters.
she laid out her dress,
“That strand of pearls you have would look lovely just there, Miss,” pointed out her lady’s maid, Miss Simpson.
thought had occurred to her, but for some reason,
lovely they are. The necklace is just the thing.” Simpson fetched to pearls
“...from politics, it was an easy step to silence.”
Simon was gaining a reputation, too – though it was doubtful that being most widely renowned as Elizabeth Narim’s husband suited his lofty political ambitions.
Instead, she focused on pushing whatever political agenda Simon seemed involved in this week, bantering her way to floor vote successes and smiling faces. It was a rare day that they spent at home, instead dining with politicians, lobbying interested (and most often well-funded) parties, and smoothing the way with the occasional aristocrat.
On this particular afternoon, she was on the way to witness a vote in the Lower House. Despite nearly continuous campaigning since her wedding, the direction the vote would swing was a mystery to everyone. As such, she was in a particular hurry to be on time and perhaps not paying as much attention to her surroundings as would be normally required.
as she was,
If not for the quick reflexes of a passing stranger, she had no idea what would have become of her. But as things happened, a man saw the commotion and darted in to pull her to safety. All she could recall was the echoing of furious hooves against stone and the warmth of a hand clasped around her arm.
Seemingly still a bit winded, the man waved his hand in dismissal. “Nonsense, the carriages are driven entirely too quickly on these side streets. It is a hazard.”
The stranger shot a devastatingly charming smile in her direction. “I assure you, it was my pleasure,” he replied. “But now, I fear I’m going to be tardy for a meeting with the Magistrate, so if you’ll excuse me….”
At that she frowned, eyeing him with a neutral eye before deciding to speak cautiously. “If you’ll pardon my intrusion…do you mean Magistrate Everett?”
The inquiry caught his attention and he hesitated. “As a matter of fact, yes, I do. I have a business matter of some significance I’ve been told he may be able to advise me on. How did you know?”
shrugged at that. “He’s the only magistrate with offices near here.” Still
considering whether or not she should say what she was cont
He raised an eyebrow, intrigued. “By all means, though we’ll have to find a carriage first. Should I jump in front of it, or would you rather push me?”
“Nothing so drastic as that,” she assured him. “I was merely going to suggest you reschedule your appointment for later in the day and change your apparel.” At his somewhat dumbfounded expression, she couldn’t help but laugh a little. “I apologize about the way that sounds, but you see, Magistrate Everett is well known for being something of a dandy. Impeccably shined shoes, the latest in tailored jackets, perfectly coiffed hair….”
Inevitably, his hand rose to his hair, as though checking to ascertain whether the chaotic mess was still in place. “I’m uncertain what you’re getting at,” he admitted after being properly reassured as to its presence.
“Just that he appreciates the same attention to appearance in others. He’ll be much more likely to help you if he…approves…of you.”
“Ah,” the man said, understanding dawning. “And here I thought those attitudes had died out with the coming new century.”
“Yes…I do hate this city,” he sighed, following it with a bow. “Thank you for the advice, though.”
At that, she couldn’t help but laugh while she curtsied. “My pleasure.”
headed off in their own respective directions, and
been nearly a week since John had arrived in
Thankfully, he had listened to her unique counsel, even going so far as to buy a new suit jacket – the meeting with Magistrate Everett hadn’t exactly been enlightening, but the perfectly coiffed official (as the mystery woman had put it) had managed to finagle John an invitation to the dinner party he was now milling through, a congregation of businessmen who would supposedly be able to help him with his permit problem.
Unfortunately, the only thing John had managed to accomplish thus far was seeming invisible to those men of any use at all. Everyone seemed to be worked up over some new bill that had been introduced on the Parliament floor that afternoon, something he knew absolutely nothing about. And if he did manage to find a group that weren’t discussing the new bill, then they were invariably discussing the outcome of the vote that had occurred just previous to the bill’s proposal – yet another subject for which he was ill-equipped.
Taking his place for dinner, he found himself exiled to the far corner of the long table, a placement reserved for the less desirable elements of any party – wives, retired and bored stockholders, and those with scandalously liberal opinions. Chagrined, John prepared himself for a quick and boring meal to be followed by another disappointing evening.
That is until he looked across the table to find the woman from the street this morning looking back at him.
Seemingly just as surprised as he was, she smiled. “Well, if it isn’t my street-side savior. I didn’t realize that heroes did anything so prosaic as attend dinner parties.”
“Tonight is an unfortunate exception, I assure you,” he retorted wryly. “I much prefer saving ladies from speeding carriages.”
She smiled, amused. “Of that, I have little doubt. Regrettably, you might find such heroics hard to come upon in a gathering like this.”
Seeing as the party fell short in both ladies and in speeding carriages, John couldn’t help but agree. “Very regrettable indeed,” he replied solemnly. As they both shared a smile over their own joke, he offered, “I am John Sheppard.”
She bowed her head in a small gesture of acknowledgement before countering with “Mrs. Elizabeth Narim.”
“It is nice to formally meet you, Mrs. Narim,” he said sincerely as everyone began to sit for the meal.
“The pleasure is mine, Mr. Sheppard,” she responded by what he suspected was a matter of habit as the first course was brought out. However, a spot of mischief sparkled in her eyes. “Excuse me for inquiring, but is that a new jacket?”
John fingered the fabric, sharing a smile. “As a matter of fact, it is.”
“It’s very nice,” she approved. When her eyes trailed up to his hair, however, they contained only mirth.
Compulsively, he began to reach toward it. “Well, I did try.”
genteel enough to at least att
he was then distracted from their discussion as he eyed the plate put down in
front of him, more than a little disturbed by its contents. This was the
Hearing a barely stifled snicker, John looked up to see yet another amused look on Mrs. Narim’s face. “Escargot,” she said by way of explanation. “It’s a French delicacy, and seeing as Monsieur Chirac is French….”
Monsieur Chirac was, of course, seated in the prime center of the table, surrounded by loudly disagreeing businessmen passionately arguing the new bill once again. At least one plus of being exiled from the main party and served glorified slugs was that his present state of ill information would not be exposed.
Or so he thought, until Mrs. Narim asked kindly in an attempt to begin conversation, “So, do you have an opinion on the Hayes Bill, Mr. Sheppard?”
His eyes snapped towards her, trying to judge her motives. Surprisingly, she met his gaze squarely, and he realized that she was actually trying to help him rather than embarrass him. So, rather tentatively, he replied, “You mean the…tax…plan?”
“The tax increase on merchants and landed gentry, yes,” she affirmed, seeming relieved that he had played into her question.
John couldn’t help but feel distinctly relieved himself. “Right. Well, I honestly don’t see why a mere….”
“Two percent,” she offered helpfully.
“Yes, a mere two percent increase is causing all this fuss.”
Her smile was warm and approving, though her next words were spoken in jest. “Shocking words from a businessman such as yourself.”
John merely shrugged, unrepentant. “Well, at this point I’m merely a retired military Major with business aspirations.”
She looked curious at his correction. “Are you having problems with financing then?” she inquired.
“Actually, no. Financing is the one area I seem to be able to manage with ease,” he said, unable to keep some tinge of chagrin out of his tone.
His attitude seemed to confuse her. “By no means a small feat.”
Still, he remained dismissive. “All the money in the world does me no good if I can’t figure out how to obtain the correct paperwork. And I’ve never been much for paperwork.”
She laughed. “May I inquire what area your hopeful enterprise is in?”
“Trade,” he supplied readily. “I’ve financed a small fleet of ships, employed several crews. But the dock master refuses to let them leave harbor without the correct permit – which I thought I had.”
“Hmm. Sounds like a simple problem with the Oversight Committee.”
This observation prompted some immediate and probably rather startling arm-waving from John, his frustrations now reaching their boiling point. “That’s exactly what everyone keeps telling me! Unfortunately, no one seems to be willing to part with further information.”
Her sympathy was immediate and genuine. “That’s not to be unexpected. The Oversight Committee can be a delicate subject for most business owners.”
He stabbed a snail vehemently; annoyed with political and social rules he didn’t have a hope of understanding. Before he became too enraged however, she further expanded on her first remark. “Luckily, I am not a business owner.”
When he looked back up at her, she was smiling again. “You can help me?”
“Mmm, most likely. However, I don’t really think this is an
appropriate place.” She glanced down the table. “As exiled as we seem, talk spreads
quickly and talk of the Oversight Committee makes these types of men very
jumpy. I try to take a daily walk in
An overwhelming sense of reprieve filled him. “I would be most grateful.”
“Think nothing of it,” she reassured him.
So because she seemed to wish it, he dropped the subject, falling into an easy and companionable silence while returning to his dubious appetizer.
“Nobody minds having what is too good for them.”
afternoon was pleasant, and so
way through the damp grass,
“Enjoying yourself?” she couldn’t help but tease gently.
He cracked open one eye in reply, eyeing her woefully. “I was. But now you’re blocking my light.”
sense of humor r
not that I object to ambling in the grass, exactly, but I did wear my good
boots. It se
Mr. Sheppard stood obligingly, leading the way back to the cobblestone walkway. “Do you mean to say that this little visit with me was noteworthy enough to require your best footwear? I’m honored.”
a grin in his direction. “Don’t be. I have tea with the wives of several
“Ah. Sounds…dreadful,” Mr. Sheppard replied.
accustomed to it,” she assured him. “Like most of
“Please,” he said eagerly, taking her arm in his as they strolled easily down the wooded lane.
hardly reassuring. I’m sure you’ve noticed that my talents, while easily
stretched to matters like saving damsels, are not exactly suited for matters
requiring a lot of…fi
have been rude to laugh, so
He glared at her. “Oh, just get on with it.”
Laughing, she complied. “The Oversight Committee was originally created as a check for merchants – namely, the East India Trading Company. Certain individuals have long been concerned about the near monopoly they have on much of our trade, so a set of laws were passed that allowed a small circle of men to have intimate access to all of their private files.”
“But what does that have to do with shipping permits?”
point, Mr. Sheppard had a pained look on his face that clearly expressed his
doubt of that stat
be easier than you think. You see, the m
Even through her glove, she could feel the heat of his palm as he squeezed her hand. “I would be in your debt.”
She shrugged, uncomfortable with the praise. “It is nothing.”
“I beg to
differ.” After passing one more tense moment, he se
“He is a
Mr. Woolsey of the North End, but his offices are just outside of Parliament.
He has long been in the King’s
mean to say that their idealistic plans of an unswerving syst
laughter made her smile and though their busi
The next morning, John received a note in the Post informing him that he had an appointment early that afternoon with Mr. Woolsey, should the time suit him. Seeing as John’s sole desire was to get the whole mess straightened out as soon as possible, he hurried to ready himself.
once on his way to the meeting, he found himself blessing the hazard of runaway
horses. After all, without th
Now waiting patiently outside of Mr. Woolsey’s offices, John found himself too nervous to sit quite still. At some point in the hassle, Atlantis Trading and Shipping had stopped being an idle pursuit and become something important to him – if it all fell apart now due to his own incompetence, he was not entirely certain that he would recover from the blow.
As such, it made perfect sense to pass the time with aimless pacing.
wondered why there was such a delay – from every account
catch every word that was being said, but the general source of discord se
It was when the doors were flung open to reveal a livid Simon Narim that John’s interest stopped being merely idle curiosity and morphed into true alarm.
you must reconsider!” Mr. Narim d
that I cannot. I have given you all the latitude I possibly can,” a little
bespectacled man replied calmly from the door. “I would suggest that you begin
to make arrang
For his part, John was still reeling from this new and unwelcome piece of information. He did not have a chance to reel long, however, for Mr. Woolsey merely smoothed his vest down and turned to him. “I am sorry for the scene. I am afraid that Mr. Narim has always lacked a certain sense of…decorum…in private and economic matters. Do come in. I apologize for the wait.”
John followed the little man into his office and amidst talk of permits and national standards and shipping practices, the scene was pushed to the back of his mind.
It was nearly a week before Elizabeth’s path crossed once more with John Sheppard’s, at a local ball where she was decidedly out of spirits and he was obviously uncomfortable, though she highly doubted that one thing was related to the other.
part, she was still stinging from an unpleasant scene a few afternoons
previous, when her normally distant husband had felt it necessary to chasten
her at length over her association with John Sheppard in the park earlier in
the week. While it was perhaps regrettable that her meeting with John had
sparked enough interest that the gossip had reached Simon’s ears, she still
thought that it was a strange thing for him to take objection to, as she often
walked with his business and political allies at Simon’s request. But then,
during the course of their short marriage,
Still, she had to admit that she’d resented the rebuke. During the course of his rant, Simon had said many unpleasant things, all of which revealed a rather disparaging view of her person as a whole. The revelation that despite her best hopes, she did not much care for her husband had not been a welcome one for her.
Nevertheless, she was here to be charming and spotting Mr. Sheppard, who she had come to think of as a good friend, was helping her mood considerably. “Good heavens, Mr. Sheppard,” she exclaimed by way of greeting, “You look positively miserable.”
He smiled a little, bowing to her. “Am I that obvious? I apologize.”
“It’s all right. But whatever is the matter? Did the meeting with Mr. Woolsey not go well? I was certain that he would be able to help you in your predicament.”
“No, he was very helpful. In fact, the matter has been completely resolved. I am preoccupied by…other matters.”
require help with th
he did se
“Nonsense,” she insisted. “Please, share your concerns with me.”
He hesitated for a moment. “Well, firstly, I am having a good deal of trouble finding someone to hire for a chief position in my newly licensed company.”
when dealing with
“Diplomatic, mainly. I need a partner who has talents with the personal sphere
rather than the busi
She laughed. “You mean they were too much like everyday, ambitious politicians.”
At least he had the grace to look chagrined, at which she laughed once again. “And what is the second matter concerning you?”
There was once again a long hesitation from him, and just when she felt that he might say something serious, he deviated. “I fear that I am not very good at dancing.”
was a bit disappointed in the stat
His smile was warm. “I suspected as much. What do you suggest?”
she knew that he would not think her forward or inappropriate, she merely took
his arm. “That you dance with me while I consider a few potential candidates
for this job of yours. I’ve been told that I can make the most inept dancer se
Obediantly, he followed her lead. “Somehow, I have no doubt of that.”
hadn’t exaggerated her talents, and John found that dancing with
It was a
unique talent to be sure, and it made him feel no better about keeping silent.
John knew that he was somewhat socially inept, but even he knew enough of social
gaffes to realize that he had no place in telling
keeping it from her seemed duplicitous, somehow – she had been such help to him
already that allowing her to continue in ignorance se
“You’re making that face again,” she said lightly as they danced.
“Just concentrating,” he lied.
he was not even privy to enough details to be of any use to her anyway. Telling
But if that was the case, why did it feel so dreadfully wrong?
finished and John looked at his partner, resolved to at least att
looked mildly surprised at the sudden formality between th
gathered his courage. “How long have you and your este
Judging by the little frown on her face, she found his question a bit puzzling. “Not a month,” she finally answered, and with her response, his good intentions were dismissed.
Sheppard knew that to disturb the happy content of newlyweds with news such as
this was a nearly unforgivable sin. While he was completely of the belief that
“Ah,” he said hollowly. “My belated congratulations go to you, then.”
For his part, Simon Narim slipped out of the ball early, knowing that his annoyingly capable wife could find her own way home. He could not be bothered with such trivialities right now, not when everything he had worked for so many years to obtain was slipping away from him.
he didn’t believe he could be blamed. Was it his fault that popularity in
British politics often held a correlation to wealth? He had been raised with
all the appearance of wealth without the actual possession of it, and had att
So now, in the face of complete economic ruin, he felt the need for a little comfort. With the last bit of money he had in his pocket, he made his way to the home of a woman he knew very well. While her reputation was certainly questionable at very best, he had always found her company particularly soothing.
Sure enough, Madame Anise welcomed him with a wide smile and always open…palms. But what did it matter now what he spent his last bit of money on?
always, her company was pleasurable enough, and Simon Narim spent his night
quite contentedly. In the morning, he dawdled over breakfast, unwilling to
Besides, Madame Anise had just finished a fresh batch of muffins and he did enjoy a good muffin.
It was when his second muffin lodged in his throat, completely cutting off all air supply, that Simon Narim finally gave a passing thought to his wife, no doubt waiting at home.
thought as the world turned grey, she could deal with the financial probl
He then proceeded to choke to death.
“I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”
Narim’s funeral was a perfect farce, ridiculous in its dual earnest
as it turned out, the most praiseworthy thing that could be said of him was that
he had caused her less worry in life than he was promising to do in death, and
that was more due to the general state of ignorance he had kept her in than
anything else. Eyeing the stack of outstanding bills that she had piled before
Just then, a gentle knock sounded on the door. When she looked up, she was surprised to see Richard Woolsey standing there. “Forgive my intrusion,” he said politely. “There was no one to introduce me, and I need to speak with you about a matter of some urgency.”
Ever courteous, she stood in greeting before motioning for him to take a seat. “I suppose these might be the cause of some of your concern?” she asked, indicating the stack of parchment in front of her.
At the very least, Mr. Woolsey had the good grace to look chagrined. “So you’ve found out then.”
don’t say better late than never,”
“No,” Mr. Woolsey agreed. “This was a case where you should have been enlightened as to the state of things long ago. Several men in my circle have been trying to contrive a way to tell you for some time, but to go over a man’s head and report his financial concerns to his wife is not exactly a common practice, you know. We had little idea how to begin.”
Woolsey grimaced. “Yes, I am afraid so. I will hold off the creditors as long as I can, but your husband had already tried their patience considerably and even widows can use up their much abused goodwill. Is it possible that your father will be able to help at all?”
“I feared as much. Well, do let me know if there’s something I can do to help. Otherwise, I shall leave you to your mourning.”
Mourning, indeed. There was little that was mournful about how
had heard the news of Simon Narim’s untimely – and
unusual – d
But when she came to meet him with eyes slightly tinged with red, worry lines creasing her face, and no smile in sight, he was certain it was. Because he had no smooth words of consolation, he stuck with the basics while greeting her. “I’m so sorry.”
He thought it wise not to mention specifically what he was sorry for, as he seriously doubted Simon’s death would have made the list.
his hand easily, se
“Yes, I did,” he replied. “Can we…?” he gestured to the study and she nodded.
“Of course, come in. Would you like anything to drink?”
“You don’t have to entertain me, Elizabeth. I didn’t come here to subject you to endless small talk and platitudes.”
She smiled, albeit wanly. “I know. But serious conversation is just as serious over tea.”
established and the assurance from the soon-to-be-un
Unfortunately, he didn’t know quite where to start. After a lengthy silence, he explained, “I can’t think of a way to begin that isn’t horribly rude.”
Strangely, she found this amusing. “At this point, as long as you’re saying it to me rather than about me, I don’t care a bit.”
It was a
Her face took on a peculiar expression. “I didn’t realize that my late husband’s financial difficulties were such public knowledge.”
“Oh, they aren’t! As far as I know anyway, which isn’t saying much at all. But you see, the day you arranged that meeting for me, I overheard a conversation that led me to believe that things might in fact be very…serious. I wanted to tell you, but I had no details and despite appearances, we’ve only known each other a very little while.”
Somehow, it was almost a relief to know that John’s mind had not overblown the situation. It meant that his worry – and the resulting solution – had not been for nothing. “I thought it might be. That is why I have come with a…proposition…for you.”
One delicate eyebrow rose, lending her face an endearing, quixotic quality. “How intriguing.”
I mean, if you do not have a plan already at your disposal,” John said,
suddenly realizing that that might in fact be the case. If there was one thing
he had learned over the course of their short acquaintance, it was that
John refused to admit, even to himself, that he would be distinctly disappointed if that were the case.
Taking a deep breath, John tried to begin as simply as possible. “You know about my recent search for a partner in Atlantis Trading and Shipping.”
“Of course, did any of the names I gave you turn out well?”
He waved his hand dismissively. “There were a few that might have worked, but none as well as…you.”
“Not that I’m not flattered by your obviously high opinion of me, Mr. Sheppard,” she began. “But I’m not entirely certain how you mean to work this. Would I move to the country…with you?”
I’ll…well, I’ll get to that part. What I propose is
simple enough: I will pay out the entirety of your late husband’s debts here
and wherever else he might have acquired th
John winced. “Yes, well. That’s what I was going to get to next.” He hesitated, then gulped the rest of his tea. “You must forgive me, because I’m fairly certain I’m going to make a mess of this.”
Obviously confused, she just nodded. “Of course.”
“I am not
a particularly romantic man. I’ve never expected…well, honestly, I had never
planned…what I mean to say is….” he trailed off, lost in his own muddled
himself scratching the back of his head in befuddl
“All right then, John. What are you trying to say?”
Gathering his courage, he looked her straight in the eye. “I think we should get married.”
Complete and obviously stunned silence was her only immediate reply.
~Pride and Prejudice
This awkward sort of question hanging in the air was an entirely new experience for her.
Finally, she managed to clear her throat. “Forgive me. You just…caught me by surprise is all.”
John looked a little stunned himself. “Yes, the idea is rather startling, I admit. May I explain?”
He nodded. “Well, as you said yourself, coming to Gateshire on your own so recently after the death of your husband would be inappropriate. And while our marriage would certainly cause…talk…I think it would be a more salvageable situation in the long term. I have a few more things to settle here in town, and even a hasty wedding takes time, so the way I see it, it would be feasible for us to wed in a fortnight, which would be just when your traditional month of mourning ends.”
the immediate scandal would likely be hugely indecorous, he was correct –
marriage usually helped a situation blow over as quickly as possible. And
frankly, there was already a scandal bigger than anything
But what was she thinking? She couldn’t be considering this! “It is certainly a noble offer,” she said tentatively. “And a kind one. But I’m afraid it’s simply too much.”
John frowned. “But I…well, it’s not entirely altruistic, you know. I want you to work for me, no one else. This is how I can obtain that. Do you think it would really be so bad? We get along well and could be great friends, I think. And we won’t…what I mean to say is, I wouldn’t expect you to…well, you would have your own room. And an office. And an equal investment in Atlantis Trading and Shipping. As I said, I know it’s not a very romantic proposal. If you ever find someone that you think you’d be more pleased with, I’d freely give you a divorce. I just….”
Somehow, she found herself smiling at his strangely earnest expression. “This isn’t just a whim, is it? You’ve really thought it through.”
“To be sure,” she agreed. “But is there not some young lady who might be a bit disappointed at your sudden marital status?”
John shrugged, looking uncomfortable. “As I said, I’ve never been particularly romantic. There have been…flirtations, I admit. But certainly nothing that would stand in the way of our marriage, should you accept. I understand if you want to take some time to think about it. I realize the timing is quite horrible, but I was under the impression that time was likely a concern for you now.”
It was a
strangely surreal conversation, calmly discussing what could ideally be a very
amiable lifetime together while eating blueberry scones. And yet, the more he
explained himself and the longer
But despite those undeniable facts, when she looked at John, he didn’t feel like a last resort. He simply felt like the best choice.
“No,” she said quietly. “I don’t have to think about it. If you’re certain about this, then I’ll happily accept.”
He froze for a moment and she had a sudden, distinctly unpleasant image of him changing his mind and taking it all back until finally, he smiled. “Really?”
She found herself smiling back. “Really.”
“I…I am glad to hear it. I think…I really think this could work, the two of us.”
Somehow, she found herself agreeing.
John found it incredibly surprising how easy it was to get married once one put their mind to it. The decision had been the trying part of the whole situation; now that it had been made he found himself curiously calm.
He firmly believed that having her at Atlantis would be well worth the price, however.
end of a fortnight, things had fallen into place. John arrived exactly on time
“You look…lovely,” he said a little awkwardly, because it was true and needed to be said. White suited her particularly well, and if he wasn’t mistaken she was wearing her good boots, which made him rather ridiculously proud.
She smiled. “Thank you. I’m sorry that I’m running a little behind. It’s just…well, this is the same dress I was married to Simon in because there was no time to have another made. I had a few alterations done, but essentially, it’s the same dress, so I’m wondering if perhaps a little deviation in wardrobe would be appropriate.”
“Yes, please,” John agreed. “What did you wear last time?”
He curbed the impulse to wrinkle his nose at the fussy addition. “Don’t. Just the dress is fine.”
Yet, she still hesitated. “Maybe these pearls? They were my mother’s.”
those are quite nice.” Advising her on her wardrobe should have se
She nodded and turned around. Slipping the strand over her neck and affixing the clasp easily, John had the sudden realization that this scene could likely be reflective of the rest of his life.
He found that he didn’t mind the idea at all. “Shall we go?” he asked lightly, as though they were merely off for a party or another stroll in the park.
With her arm in his, they proceeded out of the door and to the church, chatting easily along the way.
“Business, you know, may bring you money, but friendship hardly ever does.”
ceremony was short and to the point, and
There was a brief kiss, and then they calmly walked out of the church arm in arm, where John helped her into the waiting carriage. With minimal fuss, they were on their way to Gateshire.
“So,” John asked after a few contentedly silent moments. “How do you find married life the second time around?”
She pretended to consider this carefully. “Well, seeing as we’ve been married for an entire ten minutes now, I must say that marriage improves dramatically upon a second attempt. And how are you feeling about the entire nuptial experience?”
“Very well, thank you. I can’t imagine why I never tried it before.”
you lacked the proper inducement,”
He responded in kind, with an acknowledging smile. “Obviously, that must be it.” After a moment, however, he sobered considerably. “Honestly, though. Do you have any regrets?”
Because she knew that he would appreciate an honest response more than a hasty one, Elizabeth took pause. “Really, I don’t know what regrets a person can have in the first half hour of a marriage,” she finally replied. “But I do not anticipate any distressing feelings of remorse, no.”
that’s something, I suppose,” John admitted. “Although I doubt you anticipated
your first husband choking to death on a muffin, either.”
The silence that fell between them was immediate and heavy, and John looked rather pale. “Oh. I…well, forgive me. That was callous.”
She found herself biting her bottom lip, uncertain of how long she could hold out.
When John reached for her hand in a pleading gesture, she couldn’t help it. The laughter escaped full force, filling the cabin of the carriage. For a moment, John looked scared, then stunned, and finally, amused. “Why, you little….”
Because there was no other response, John grinned. “I suppose that would have been quite the social scandal.”
she was now in a carriage riding to a new town with a new husband merely a
month after her previous had passed away, the realization that she had, in
fact, been avoiding social contempt prompted yet another bout of laughter from
After a few more moments of silence, something obviously occurred to him. “I suppose I should tell you something,” he said slowly. “I meant to mention it before, but it continually slipped my mind.”
the frenzied events of the past few weeks,
“You know, of course, that my money is from investment and not inheritance. As such, there was no family estate, no ready and waiting base of operations. There was just me and a ridiculous amount of money.”
She had no idea where he was going with this. “Are you trying to reaffirm that I married well? Because it’s really rather unnecessary.”
“No, no. I’m just telling you this, because about the time I was looking for proper housing, I was also beginning construction on the headquarters for Atlantis Trading and Shipping. As such, I decided on a whim just to combine the two. And things sort of…grew from there.”
“Yes. It ended up being a rather large structure, when all was said and done. Overlarge, some think. I rather like it, but then I suppose I would have to.”
she had no idea what he was trying to say. But then, as
He grimaced. “Just wait. You’ll see for yourself.”
until nearly eight hours later, when they came to a stop overlooking Gateshire,
that John’s meaning became clear. Although he had tried to warn her about the
size of their intended destination, staring down at it,
Atlantis Trading and Shipping Company was not merely a building – it aspired to be a second town center. On one side, she could make out the hazy shapes of boating docks, anchoring a small fleet of streamlined ships. Nearer to the road, there were doors for what appeared to be an extensive stable and shipping area. Meanwhile, the East Wing was clearly the main house, being more familiar in architecture and style, and the West Wing seemed similar – some kind of extended staff quarters, perhaps. If all of that wasn’t enough to attract attention, at the center of the entire structure towered a lighthouse.
with the sight,
was thoroughly nerve-wracking for John, who found himself
studying the spectacle that was Atlantis through less enamored eyes. Whereas
before, he had always viewed his home with nothing but satisfaction, he now
found cause to critique it. He feared that it was too big – ostentatious, even.
Perhaps it really was disrupting to
the eye when taking in the general landscape of Gateshire. He had heard all
these complaints before and had little trouble dismissing them. Somehow,
he felt that if
So when she finally exhaled a long, low breath, John found himself holding his own. Luckily, he didn't have to for very long.
"It's amazing," she said softly.
Relief flowed through him and he found himself grinning like the fool he undoubtedly was. "You think so?"
"I really do. It must have taken forever to build."
"Not particularly. It's remarkable what you can accomplish when money is no object."
Her responding smile was wry. "I wouldn't know."
"You will now," he pointed out easily. "Let us go. I find myself eager to be home."
she returned to the carriage and before long, they found themselves pulling
into the stables of Atlantis. John barely had time to help
After considerable effort, John managed to calm the majority of his staff, pushing through them to once again join Elizabeth, who was still waiting patiently by the carriage. “I guess that I was missed,” he joked.
“Hardly,” Cameron corrected from across the room with a teasing lilt in his voice. “It’s just that you divvy the wages.”
“Well, there is that,” John conceded with a grin of his own. “Nevertheless, it’s good to see all of you,” he said to gathered crowd.
“How touching,” Rodney remarked dryly, causing John’s eyes to shift over to the sharp-tongued scientist.
“Not so much you, Rodney,” John clarified.
“Yes, yes, I’m stung by your indifference,” Rodney replied, rolling his eyes. “Can we get down to business already? As I recall, we sent you to town for two specific purposes, and while the correct permits have already arrived by post, I don’t see any kind of diplomat accompanying you.”
just like Rodney to not even notice
“You’ll simply have to forgive me if my memory slips. Easy enough to do considering that you’ve been gone for two months.” Rodney retorted.
“Well, excuse me for not following the demands of your rigid schedule and rather wanting to take my time and find the best person for the job!”
“For all the good it did you, obviously. After two months, where is your so-called perfect employee?”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, she’s right here!” John yelled, gesturing to Elizabeth, who he had a feeling was only barely managing not to burst into laughter at the whole spectacle.
In the silence that fell over the room after his proclamation, she was predictably the first person to recover. “Gentlemen, perhaps we should take this discussion to a more…private location?”
Rodney shook his head by way of response, and John watched as the shipwright’s face progressively turned a brighter shade of red. “Who are you?” Rodney demanded in frustration.
Feeling an undeniable twinge of triumph, John delivered what was sure to be the piece of information to push Rodney straight over the edge of reason. “This is Elizabeth Sheppard. My wife.”
“Wife?! WIFE?! We send you to find a diplomat and you come back with a wife?!” Dr. McKay yelled as soon as the conference room’s doors were latched.
hardly a scandalous concept, Rodney. People get married every day,” John
pointed out, still gloating over his temporary victory in a way that made
“Yes, but that’s not exactly my point, is it?” Dr. McKay retorted, rather pointedly avoiding glancing in her direction.
“Then please, enlighten us. What useless and no doubt small-minded stereotype are you trying to drive home?” John shot back.
This seemed to temporarily stop Dr. McKay’s tirade, and he even had the grace to look sheepish for a moment. Unfortunately, it passed quickly. “It’s just that you can’t go to town on business and then decide to turn over a large portion of this company to a woman just because she’s attractive.”
Dr. McKay glared at her. “Please, save me. I have no patience for women, seeing as they are taught to do nothing but dance and embroider cushions and bat their eyes in a coquettish manner. Unfortunately, John doesn’t seem to share my common sense.”
merit, I assure you,”
Out of the corner of her eye, she could make out John grinning at her, with what seemed to be pride shining from his eyes. The expression bolstered her spirits, and somehow the whole situation was suddenly tinged with a touch of the ridiculous. “Now,” she said, much calmer. “Could someone please tell me how things are faring now that we have the appropriate permits to undertake our first trading run?”
After a moment’s hesitation, Dr. McKay returned to his previously strident tones. “Not well! At all! I’ve been trying to contact our dear Mr. Sheppard here for the past fortnight in an effort to tell him that a new, much more serious problem than mere sailing permits has come to my attention.”
“Elaborate please, Rodney,” John said, no longer amused at the way the conversation had turned.
“Oh, now you want the full story…”
chagrined, Dr. McKay proceeded to share the company’s current troubles. “The
“Are they so duplicitous?” John asked.
don’t gain a veritable monopoly over British trade without having more than one
distasteful card up your sleeve,”
skeptical Dr. McKay promptly furnished one, and with one finger,
“Yes what?” Dr. McKay asked, intrigued seemingly despite himself.
the impulse to gloat,
Looking more than a little shocked, a dazed Dr. McKay replied with, “No, the puddle jumpers weigh considerably less than the average trading vessel, to promote easier maneuverability and quicker traveling times.”
Then I propose that I quickly compose a letter to Monsieur Chirac negotiating
the use of these docks for say, a ten percent cut of all profits we make out of
“Which would be brilliant if we could only get the letter to him in time to keep our schedule. As things are, it will take at least another week to receive his reply,” Dr. McKay pointed out.
Chirac is lately in
“Monsieur…surely not the man who forced me to eat snails?” asked John, remembering the dinner party from weeks earlier.
He laughed. “Very nearly. But go ahead and write your letter. Perhaps when the affirmative reply returns to us tomorrow, Rodney will have gathered himself enough to muster up an apology.”
down at the nearby table and already beginning the correspondence,
“It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides.”
Eyeing the dock and shoreline laden down with goods, Cameron Mitchell seemed incredulous. “How did we think this was going to work again?”
“It will work,” Rodney said confidently, the only member of the group seemingly not suffering from buyer’s remorse.
“Are you certain?” John asked. “Because the laws of physics seem to dictate otherwise.”
The look Rodney shot him in response was one of pure disdain. “I designed the ship, didn’t I? As long as we load it correctly, the puddle jumper should be more than capable of handling this load.”
That brought a smile to John’s face as he remembered something. “Yes, you did design the ship. With the help of a woman.”
“Samantha O’Neill is no ordinary woman! She’s…well, really rather remarkable. Although why she married that idiot….”
“He adores her,” Vala Mitchell said as she picked her way up the dock, around crates. “That’s reason enough for a woman in this day and age.”
“This from the woman who demanded adventure and entertainment before she agreed to marry me,” Cameron teased.
“Someday, you’ll have to tell me that story,” John laughed. “But for now, we’d best get started. Rodney, what should we load on first?”
“Heaviest crates go first, obviously,” Rodney said. “Get some and follow me in.”
“You’re not going to take any?” John asked, annoyance lacing his tone.
“I have to show you the way, don’t I?”
Behind him, Cameron Mitchell picked up a crate and shook his head. “Just let him be, Sheppard. Remember, we still have to spend two days with him on a very small ship.”
John grinned. “You have an excellent point, Mitchell. Let’s be going, then.”
They would have begun loading right then, except that Vala interrupted. “Wait. Who’s that?”
turned to look downriver, where three ships made their way slowly up from
“Ah, the competition. You know, their fabrics really are horribly overpriced,” Vala remarked, still watching the ship’s progress.
“Good to know,” John remarked, trying to file away the information for use later. After all, they had bought some remarkable bolts of silks and satins in the city.
“You know that they’re watching our every move, don’t you?” Cameron pointed out.
John had been aware of the fact, almost able to feel the weight of the other crew’s eyes upon them. “Let them watch. It’s about time they began to reconcile themselves to a little competition.”
gone and the business finally underway,
“As you know, Mrs. Sheppard, Atlantis is composed of three main wings – the house, the business, and the staff quarters,” he began explaining as they walked toward the main room. “Naturally, the business takes up the most room. Besides the obvious necessities of docks, stables, and a loading area, the business part of the building also houses conference rooms, offices, workshops, and of course, the lighthouse.”
He smiled politely. “Yes, ma’am. Now, in addition to five complete crews for the puddle jumpers, Mr. Sheppard also keeps in his employ several inventors, shipwrights, and scientists, as well as having a standing arrangement with a group of local tradesmen.”
“What trades, exactly?” she asked.
“Oh, carpenters, blacksmiths, even fishermen. Mr. Sheppard didn’t want to disrupt the already established economy of Gateshire, so he decided to work with them whenever possible. The locals have a representative who meets with him at least once a week to discuss…whatever needs to be taken care of.”
it’s very progressive of him,” Mr. Bates affirmed as they arrived in the main
For the first time, Mr. Bates’ smile actually seemed in earnest. “Yes, it is a bit startling, isn’t it? I don’t quite understand it myself, but Dr. McKay claims that the acoustic affect was created on purpose. From this outer level of the main room, conversations can be held in various places all over the building as though you were standing right here. It’s quite convenient at times, considering the sheer size of our operation. Still, there’s no way to turn it off, either, which means you catch the everyday din as well as the important information.”
“Many positive things are often tinged with a bit of inconvenience,” a soft feminine voice said from behind them.
Mr. Bates exclaimed. “I am sorry, did Mr. Sheppard not
contact you? You know that he decided to accompany the first trade run to
“I was notified, yes,” Miss Emmagan confirmed. “However, I was also told that there was someone else who might be better equipped to meet with me. I came to you in hopes that you might point me in the direction of that particular person.”
moment, Mr. Bates looked lost, so
“Yes, my father and his father were both experts and I was not to be deterred from learning, despite my father’s frequent protestations.”
“Thank you,” Miss Emmagan acknowledged, relaxing a little. “I am afraid that you shall have to excuse me, but…I was not aware that Mr. Sheppard was married,” she added a bit stiltedly.
“It is a
rather recent development,”
days on that extremely small ship, John found himself more than a little
anxious to arrive back at Atlantis and get as far away from Rodney as possible.
Ironically, however, when Atlantis actually came into sight, John forgot
completely about getting away from Rodney and looked more towards seeing
He was not disappointed when he stepped off the ship and found his new wife standing composedly on the dock, a welcoming smile gracing her face. “Good day,” she said by way of greeting. “Welcome home.”
Home was still a strange concept for John Sheppard, so he found himself grinning somewhat inanely. “Thank you. How did you fare in our absence?”
“Oh, well enough,” she assured him. “Although next time, I would appreciate some notice that I am to have a meeting with the representative for the local tradesmen.”
They began to make their way down the dock, arms linked easily, but he frowned at her chastisement. “Did your meeting with Miss Emmagan not go well?”
“Oh, it was lovely, but it would have been even more pleasant if I had been able to order tea in advance.”
“Ah,” he said, wondering why he had never thought to order tea for his meeting with Miss Emmagan. “Yes. Well, now you see why we needed you here. I never think of things like advance tea service.”
She laughed and the sound made him smile. “A very serious fault indeed. However did you manage without me?”
“To be honest, I haven’t the slightest idea,” John admitted.
“How flattering, though you’ll likely want to retract that sentiment once I make my next proposal to you.”
“That sounds ominous. I’m not certain I want to hear it.”
“You likely don’t, but I think it’s necessary. You see, I’ve been considering it carefully, and I have come to the conclusion that with the first trade run back successfully, this might be a perfect opportunity to have a formal launch of the company.”
John narrowed his eyes. “That sounds suspiciously like you want to throw an event of some sort.”
by his undoubtedly sour expression,
He had feared that exact response, and without conscious thought, John quickly recoiled against the idea. “Must we? Really?”
put it that way, it sounded so damnably logical that John found it hard to
argue against. Besides, the idea of the high and mighty social set of Gateshire
socializing with the largely working class of Atlantis’ staff was almost
fiendish in its amusement. “I suppose I’ll have to wear the new suit I had made
at her apparent victory,
“Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society...”
~Pride and Prejudice
With his shirt buttoned incorrectly, his cravat tangled in a hopeless knot, a smudge of dirt on his cheek, and of course, his perpetually mussed hair, John looked positively hopeless. “Have I mentioned lately that I hate balls?”
Silently reminding herself not to laugh, she crossed the hall between their dressing rooms, trying to formulate a logical plan of attack for his current state. “Not in the last half hour, I believe.”
“Well, I do,” he reiterated sulkily, fidgeting as she began to undo and then correctly button his shirt. “You look beautiful,” he added after a moment’s silence, sounding almost surprised.
“I’ll try very hard not to be outraged at your astonishment,” she teased, now attacking the cravat. “And just imagine, I managed all this in half an hour.”
“You had help!” he protested. “I happen to know for a fact that Miss Simpson arranged your hair.”
“A job at
which she is most adept,”
Even the mention of such an idea had John wrinkling his nose in distaste. “I know. It’s just…well, perhaps it’s my less than glamorous position as a second son, but I have always felt that there was something rather odd about paying a man to help you dress yourself.”
“Perhaps,” she allowed. “But is it more odd than appearing at your own social event in a thoroughly unacceptable fashion?”
John looked annoyingly smug. “Well, at least I am beginning to have some fashion, regardless of the style.”
This time, she really couldn’t stop her laughter from filling the hallway. “Oh, John, I’m afraid that fashion isn’t one of those things that’s commendable in any way. Rather, it tends to be an all-or-nothing virtue.”
“For you, it most certainly is,” she agreed, turning to his hair and finally giving up. “Mr. Grodin!” she called down the stairs, pleased when he appeared so quickly that it was almost certain he had been waiting only to be summoned.
“Please take Mr. Sheppard and see what you can make of him. And Mr. Grodin, there’s a week’s bonus for you if you can manage it quickly.”
Mr. Grodin was up the stairs before she had even finished her sentence, looking distinctly relieved at being allowed to step in and avert disaster. “Thank you, ma’am.”
third time that evening, John caught himself surreptitiously trying to loosen
the abhorrently tight knot that Peter had managed to wrench his cravat into
Considering the ease with which she had been greeting people and conducting business so far, John found this claim to be particularly amusing. “Thankfully, you seem to have enough charm to compensate for my many shortcomings.”
“So you seem convinced,” she allowed. “I must say, my last husband wasn’t nearly so pleased with that exact circumstance.”
“Yet another way in which he was grossly short-sighted,” John muttered, taking a moment to ruminate on all the various pains he would have liked to visit upon Simon Narim if given the chance.
Her hand squeezing his arm was what dragged him back to his ballroom and the spectacle that filled it. “Nevertheless, do try to focus. It’s just one evening. Seeing as the guests seem to have all arrived, shall we begin the dancing? I have asked the musicians to open with a quadrille.”
even John knew enough of social etiquette to know that people would expect them
to dance the first round, he felt he couldn’t refuse. “Fine, but if I step on
your feet, I implore you to pretend as though it never happened.”
Her responding smile was far too innocent to be genuine. “I did last time, did I not?”
The dance was brisk and invigorating, and afterwards John found himself actually wishing that he could spare a few more moments for another turn around the floor. However, keeping company with business contacts required more circulation than dancing, so he and Elizabeth began to take turns about the room, making sure to hobnob with all the investors and businessmen that had somehow taken an interest in the Atlantis venture. While conversation with them wasn’t exactly sparkling, it was certainly better than the incendiary nature of the conversation they found Rodney engaged in with Mr. Woolsey.
Considering how instrumental Mr. Woolsey had been in the eventual success of Atlantis, the very last thing John wanted to hear Rodney say upon their approach was a scathing dismissal of the Oversight Committee and all it stood for.
Of course, that was exactly what he was saying. “I mean, the very suggestion that this so-called ‘Oversight Committee’ is anything but a bunch of politicians looking for an underhanded payday is ridiculous.”
Mr. Woolsey, to his credit, seemed to be holding his tongue when he might have justifiably jumped straight to irreparably insulted. “Are you earnestly suggesting that the Oversight Committee is entirely corrupt in its purpose?”
“To be certain,” Rodney blindly agreed. “How else do you explain the chokehold the East India Trading Company has over British trade?”
disaster before it had a chance to fully coalesce,
“Oh, I’m not saying they are without sense,” Rodney agreed. “It takes a great deal of sense to know exactly who needs a decent bribe. I don’t suppose that that’s an option for us?”
wondering if Rodney could possibly reflect more poorly on Atlantis than he had
thirty seconds previous had been a mistake, and John winced at the question.
Watching Rodney’s face actually pale was a sort of sadistic pleasure for John, and when Rodney spoke again, his voice actually squeaked a bit at first. “You…you’re on the Oversight Committee?” he asked Robert Woolsey.
“Yes, Dr. McKay,” was Mr. Woolsey’s wry reply. “Would you like me to lodge a formal complaint in your honor at the next board meeting?”
“No! No, that will be quite unnecessary,” Rodney assured him, looking lost. “I…what I mean to say is….”
almost sorry when
Rodney’s reply of “Not at all” was barely out of his mouth before he had darted in Carolyn Landry’s direction, conveniently some distance away.
apologize for his rash comments, Mr. Woolsey. Please be certain in the
knowledge that your aid is held with nothing but gratitude here at Atlantis Trading and Shipping,”
For a tense moment, John feared that Mr. Woolsey was not in a forgiving mood. Thankfully, the worry passed when a small smile appeared on the little man’s face. “Not to worry. Problematically, Dr. McKay is not entirely wrong; the Committee has gone astray in the last few years.”
John sighed heavily. “Unfortunately for the rest of us, being right is a rather annoying habit of his.”
While being invited to a ball such as this in her state was certainly a welcome novelty, Samantha O’Neill quickly found that there was more than one reason pregnant women did not often venture out in the public eye. While the judgmental glares and whispered exclamations did not bother her in the slightest, she found that shortly after her arrival, her feet were positively throbbing. As such, it was not long before she escaped onto the balcony, where Vala and Janet quickly joined her.
“Are you all right?” Janet inquired, concern lacing the midwife’s tone.
“Yes, fine. Just tired. I thought some fresh air might be nice.”
“Yes, but by darting out so quickly, you missed the spectacle of the evening!” Vala exclaimed, sitting on the bench next to her. “One of the scientists and one of the businessmen nearly came to blows.”
“You’re kidding,” Sam exclaimed, bewildered. “Who in the world…?”
“Dr. McKay,” Janet exclaimed, and really, it no longer required further explanation. “Vala exaggerates, though. It wasn’t nearly that close of a call. The newly dubbed Mrs. Sheppard caught it in plenty of time.”
“How clever of her,” Sam said admiringly. She knew from regrettable personal experience that Rodney McKay was a hard man to derail when he was intent on disaster. “I wonder if there’s a story there.”
“Oh, it’s a fabulous one,” Vala assured her, obviously relishing the gossip. “You see, she was actually very recently wed to a man in town named Simon something-or-other, and….”
Her telling of the story was cut short when the door to the balcony swung open and their hostess herself appeared, slightly flushed. She didn’t see them for a moment, seemingly just taking a moment away from the festivities to gather herself. When she finally did catch sight of them, she actually jumped a bit. “Oh! Do forgive me, I did not mean to intrude. I just…wanted a moment to breathe.”
“Completely understandable, I’m sure,” Janet agreed.
“Yes, it’s a rather stuffy crowd you’ve got in there,” Vala couldn’t seem to help adding, much to Sam’s dismay.
Thankfully, Mrs. Sheppard did not seem to take offense. “The evils of doing business, I’m afraid,” she allowed. “Now, forgive me, I know that you are Mrs. Mitchell, wife to one of our captains, but the names of your company seem to have escaped me.”
“I’m Janet Fraiser, the local…”
“Midwife! Of course, my apologies. And that means you must be…Colonel O’Neill’s wife?”
Sam smiled. “That is correct, Mrs. Sheppard.”
“Wonderful to formally meet you,” the other woman replied. “I understand congratulations are in order.”
Ruefully, Sam placed a hand on her ever-protruding belly. “So it seems, though sometimes I feel like it should be condolences.”
Mrs. Sheppard laughed. “Yes, I’ve heard it can be an uncomfortable experience. Do you require anything?”
It was a sincere and sweet sentiment that touched Sam. “Not at all, but thank you. I was just pleased to be invited – a woman in my condition isn’t often asked to events like this.”
“Perhaps, though I’ve always found that to be ridiculous. What in the world are you supposed to do for nearly a year, just hide away?” Mrs. Sheppard rolled her eyes. “But then, I suppose that my modern education is showing a bit. Really, John and I decided to invite anyone who had remote connection to the company, and it was my understanding that all of you have been helpful in your own ways.”
“We like to think so,” Janet responded.
“Nonsense, I’m sure it’s not a debatable matter.”
Upon conversing with their new neighbor, Sam had to admit that Elizabeth Sheppard was…unexpected. “I realize that you probably have to return to your hostess duties,” she began tentatively, “But first, let me extend an invitation to you. Once a week, when Vala is in port and Janet is not consumed by her work, we have a…well, an embroidery meeting is what we call it. Would you like to join our circle this week?”
She hadn’t expected to issue the invitation, but judging from the way Mrs. Sheppard’s face lit up, it had been the correct gesture. “That sounds lovely!”
“Excellent. I will send you a note with all the pertinent information.”
“I look forward to it,” Mrs. Sheppard assured her. “Now, if you ladies will excuse me, I really should get back inside.”
With that, she was gone, and the three friends found themselves once again alone on the balcony, silent in thought. “You know,” Vala finally ventured. “She may actually show some promise.”
Sam laughed. “How much would you wager that she’s thinking the exact same thing about us?”
what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at th
~Pride and Prejudice
to Cheyenne Manor for the first time,
So, with an embroidery project that hadn’t been worked on since she had had a governess to make her practice tucked under one arm, Elizabeth knocked on the impressive front door of Cheyenne Manor.
promptly greeted and escorted in by a bespectacled man with white hair, and in
no time at all, Samantha O’Neill, large with the weight of her pregnancy, came
to meet her. “
“Not at all, I’ve been looking forward to this. Though I must admit now that I’m rather out of practice.”
darkened the other woman’s features. “Out of practice at
what?” Then, seeing the bundle under
It was a rather confusing statement, considering what the wording of the invitation had been. “I…excuse me?”
Samantha smiled. “Follow me, dear. You’ll see.”
More than willing to leave her wayward attempts at handcrafts abandoned, Elizabeth took Samantha’s arm and followed her into a sitting room, where Mrs. Frasier and Mrs. Mitchell both sat – though neither was doing any sort of embroidery. Instead, Mrs. Frasier was reading aloud from a book of what seemed to be a collection of Shakespeare’s more lascivious sonnets, while Mrs. Mitchell was actually lounging and commenting on the logistical merits of each of the poet’s suggestions while smoking a cigar.
It was a
Next to her, Samantha grinned. “I am so glad you approve. We were taking a chance that you would. Now, let me make a few less formal introductions. That is Janet over there reading, and Vala stinking up the room. And you can call me Sam.”
spite of herself,
“Nice to properly meet you, then,” Vala said from her armchair. “Do sit and let Janet continue. She was just about to get to an interesting verse.”
willing to comply,
Silence followed the final verse for a moment, before Vala predictably broke it. “All respect to the man and his rhymes, but I still think I’d rather be on top.”
Thankfully, Elizabeth had swallowed her brandy before the implication of the other woman’s sentence fully registered, which avoided the potentially embarrassing scene of spitting her drink back out again. However, the other women in the room seemed to take this comment quite in stride. Janet, in particular, was laughing so hard that her face flushed. Perturbed by this reaction, Vala shrugged. “What? I married a man who is fabulously good-looking and promised me pirates. It seems the least I can do to give him a good lay now and again.”
hear!” Janet cheered. Truly,
For her part, Sam merely looked amused before gesturing to her protruding stomach. “Well, don’t look in my direction. I think it’s fairly obvious that Jack and I don’t suffer any in that respect.”
enough,” Janet allowed, still giggling.
“Forgive me, but…your husband promised you pirates?” she asked Vala, almost dreading the response.
At her inquiry, Vala merely looked very serious. “Well, the possibility of pirates, at the very least.”
explained…exactly nothing. “Ah,”
“Cameron and Vala had an….unusual courtship,” Sam ventured, to which Janet snorted.
“That’s certainly a pleasant way of putting it. The rest of us might call it the shipwreck that it was.”
“Oh, it certainly wasn’t that bad….” Sam protested, but Janet cut her off with a stern finger.
“You have no room to talk! I still get headaches when I think about the mess that was your courtship.”
“Now, just because you and Mr. Teal’c have reached some sort of bizarre accord, that doesn’t mean….”
Once again, Janet interrupted her friend. “Mr. Teal’c and I understand each other and our situation perfectly, which is certainly more than could ever be said about you and the Colonel a year ago.”
enough, Sam merely laughed at this, silently acknowledging her friend’s point
before turning to
it unlikely that some version of the scandal had not reached the Gateshire
gossip scene by now,
As she thought, Sam’s face took on a distinctly guilty tint. Vala, on the other hand, seemed free of shame. “Of course we have,” she said airily. “Well, parts of it, anyway.”
“But parts are rarely as interesting as the whole story,” Janet offered by way of consolation.
At this, Vala tilted her head. “Actually, I find parts are almost always more interesting,” she commented. “But certainly less informational.”
hard to fault her reasoning or her honesty, but
Thankfully, she was spared from having to relate the details by the opening of a door on the far side of the room. She recognized Colonel O’Neill as the man who came in, smiling sheepishly. “Forgive me for the intrusion, ladies. I just…well…I wanted to….”
To Elizabeth, who watched silently as the Colonel wandered across the room to his wife and sought out her shoulders, massaging the undoubtedly tense muscles there, it seemed that he had merely wished to check on his pregnant wife. But rather than say this, the Colonel managed to come up with an excuse. “You see, Mr. Siler has had an unfortunate mishap with a mangle.”
Sam, leaning back into her husband’s hands with a contented sigh, laughed a little. “Again? That poor man.”
Colonel O’Neill smiled. “Yes. He claims that it is not too serious, but I thought Mrs. Frasier might be kind enough to look at it for him regardless.”
Suddenly clear-eyed, Janet sat up, all business. “Certainly. Please excuse me, ladies.”
Seemingly perfectly content to stay where she was with her obviously doting husband close at hand, Sam smiled. “What in the world was he doing with a mangle, anyway? Laundry hardly falls under the scope of his duties.”
“Apparently, it was squeaking, so he thought that he would try to force the rollers apart with his hand. He’s asked me not to worry, though, because apparently he knows from experience that his hand will not stay that peculiar shade for very long.”
her nose in apparent distaste, Vala stood. “I do believe that’s my cue to
enjoy the company,”
“Of course! Do come again next week.”
the friendly atmosphere and the happiness radiating from the homeowners,
Sitting in his office reviewing the profits of the first trade run, John could not help but be astounded at the amount of profit they had managed to make in less than three days. Granted, after the appropriate people were compensated, the profit would be negligible at best, but still, it was better than he had ever expected to do at first.
Which was exactly why he was double-checking the numbers – just in case.
Somewhere in the midst of this complicated procedure, he was interrupted by Rodney knocking perfunctorily on his door. “Excuse me, but have you seen your wife anywhere?”
More than willing to be sidetracked if it meant mocking Rodney, John put aside his equations. “Do you mean to say that you have something that a mere woman can help you with?”
For his part, Rodney was not aggrieved by this comment so much as he was dismissive. “Obviously, she has proven to be no ordinary woman, and as such, I fully plan to report to her as instructed. Which is why I need to speak with her – I have reviewed the applications she sent down for me to look at and narrowed the field to an infinitesimal list of barely qualified candidates.”
It was just like Rodney to admit he was wrong without ever really admitting it at all. Idly, John wondered if the other man practiced such social idiosyncrasies, or if they were just a natural part of his character. “Well, I’m afraid she’s out at the moment, visiting. You might consider making an appointment next time, rather than just having the presumption to appear unannounced.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I shall just wait for her here. You have a most convenient view of her office from yours. I suppose that was intentional? How…sentimental.”
In reality, it had been anything but sentimental – at first, it was entirely unplanned, and by the time they had realized it, the convenience of easily being able to attract the other’s attention seemed wise. Still, there was that ever-present sanctimoniousness in Rodney’s voice that prevented John from clarifying the situation. Somehow, he sensed that if Rodney knew about the arrangement between John and his wife, life would only be more complicated than it had to be.
he just smiled. “You must admit that
“As I have already said,” Rodney allowed. “What’s more, she tolerates your company on a regular basis, proving herself to be even more formidable than first impressions would dictate.”
John just shook his head. “You can’t just admit that you were wrong, can you? There is always some caveat to it.”
“Well, of course there is. I would never be just flat-out wrong.”
John hoped that eventually, he would be able to quote that declaration back at him in ironic triumph. Unfortunately, he feared it might take a long while.
Steve Wraith never enjoyed having to report in the main offices of the East India Trading Company. He supposed it was a little pathetic to be so terrified of his own uncle, but to be fair, he thought that his uncle was legitimately terrifying.
Waiting outside of the office, he stewed in a nervous silence before finally being called into an audience with his uncle, the head of the infamous East India Trading Company.
“Well?” the man behind the desk asked impatiently.
“Well…Atlantis Trading and Shipping is officially up and running,” Steve reported dutifully. “What is even more concerning is that it seems that the early rumors about their ships were not exaggerated. While small, the ships seem to be able to carry a surprisingly large amount of cargo.”
“How disappointing for us. Have they completed their first trading run yet?”
Steve winced, as he had been hoping to avoid that particular topic. “Yes, sir. It was, by all accounts, a resounding success.”
“Well, that just won’t do, will it?”
Dread settled low in Steve’s stomach. “No, sir. Is there any specific action you would like me to take?”
The low chuckle that greeted his offer was hardly reassuring. “Relax, Steven. I’d hardly ask you to strain yourself. No, I want to wait and observe what happens next. No use rushing to action if this little company will be obliging and die all on its own. If it doesn’t…well, then we shall see, won’t we?”
just prayed that he would not be forced to see such a thing first-hand,
wondering if his uncle could be convinced to approve a transfer to someplace as
far away from the politics of trade as possible. Maybe it wasn’t too late to
join his brother in the
“An engaged woman is always more agreeable than a disengaged. She is satisfied with herself. Her cares are over, and she feels that she may exert all her powers of pleasing without suspicion. All is safe with a lady engaged; no harm can be done.”
he had enjoyed his excursion to
One of his most favored was a weekly fencing lesson with the local blacksmith, Teyla Emmagan. While it might seem unusual to be tutored by a woman, John had found that there was no man better in town with a foil than Miss Emmagan. Besides all that, their weekly meetings about business had sparked an unlikely friendship, surprising to but cherished by both parties.
The training room was yet another novelty in the Atlantis building, the architecture and design of the space allowing for training on all terrains as well as the inevitable falls caused by John’s still questionable technique.
Miss Emmagan was already patiently waiting for John’s arrival, and he
sheepishly greeted his friend for the first time since his return from
“Of course,” she said dismissively, standing to meet him. “It has been too long, Mr. Sheppard.”
“Yes, it has,” John admitted, kissing her cheek. “You’ll have to forgive me for that, as well.”
“It is already done,” Miss Emmagan assured him. “Tell me, however, have you been practicing?”
“I…well, not in so many words, no,” John admitted.
This actually prompted a smile from the young lady. “I did not imagine you had. Between becoming a worldly and thoroughly married man, I can not imagine when you might have had a chance.”
John laughed. “Yes. I suppose there isn’t any chance that you shall be kind and let me win at least one bout?”
“You suppose correctly, Mr. Sheppard. En guarde. Prêt. Allez.”
With only those four words of warning, Miss Emmagan quickly launched into a series of lightning fast thrusts and jabs that immediately had John falling back. “For heaven’s sake, Mr. Sheppard,” Miss Emmagan exclaimed, not even out of breath. “If you have not learned parry four yet, I have little hope for you.”
For his part, John was just trying not to trip over his own feet, which quickly proved impossible and had him eyeing an amused Miss Emmagan from the less than ideal vantage point of the floor. “I think my vanity is permanently bruised.”
“Nonsense,” Miss Emmagan assured him, giving him a hand up. “You shall be fine. What’s more, that’s not any worse than you were doing two months ago. I’m uncertain if it’s markedly better, but it is certainly no worse. Again?”
Wondering why in the world he had befriended such a persistant woman, John nodded, starting the whole process over.
While it could not be denied that Elizabeth was more than enjoying the responsibility and faith John was entrusting in her, really treating her as a partner, there were times when it was a decided inconvenience as well. For example, while she had no objections to reviewing the various agreements Atlantis struck up with different businessmen and city ports, it would be a notably easier task if John had targeted cities in which she actually spoke the language. She had made it a point to learn five languages growing up, but at no time was Portuguese one of them.
she had heard tell of a man in town who spoke many languages, and considering
the stack of contracts from
She was greeted at the door by a cheery young man who introduced himself as Jonas Quinn, Dr. Jackson’s apprentice. Whilst chattering happily, Mr. Quinn led her straight into Dr. Jackson’s office, shockingly without announcement. “Daniel, this is Mrs. Elizabeth Sheppard,” Mr. Quinn finally said after taking a break to breathe. “She says that she needs some translating done.”
For his part, Dr. Jackson peered at her over the rim of his spectacles, smiling. “Is that so? Well, do sit, Mrs. Sheppard. I would be more than happy to help you with whatever you require.”
thrown by his easy and informal demeanor,
Dr. Jackson smiled at her long-winded explanation, taking the papers. “Think nothing of it, Mrs. Sheppard. I am always happy to help a neighbor in need. You say that you speak five languages yourself? That is no mean feat for a woman.”
light blush grace her cheeks,
“I understand that perfectly,” Dr. Jackson assured her. “I have never been able to learn them quickly enough for my liking, though it was certainly not for lack of effort.”
This statement puzzled her. “Forgive me, but I believe that I have been told that you speak somewhere near twenty languages with various degrees of fluency.”
“Actually, he speaks twenty-four,” Mr. Quinn corrected gaily. “As well as being well-versed in reading the dead language of Sanskrit.”
Now it seemed that it was Dr. Jackson’s turn to flush. “Yes, thank you Jonas. I wonder, would you mind procuring some fresh parchment for our translating efforts? I believe there might be some in one of the storage cupboards.”
“Right away, Dr. Jackson!” Mr. Quinn agreed happily, proceeding out of the room in a quick, if enthusiastic, manner.
Laughing a little, presumably at his apprentice’s perpetually positive demeanor, Dr. Jackson shook his head. “You’ll have to excuse him. He tends toward being a little too eager for most people.”
“So do I,” Dr. Jackson admitted, smiling warmly at her. “Now, let’s see if we can’t translate these documents for you.”
After taking a moment to peruse the contracts, he smiled. “Ah, I see now. You are John Sheppard’s new wife. How are you finding the trade business?”
“Very well, actually. It’s certainly more engaging than an average woman’s life in the city,” she responded thoughtfully, evaluating the vast changes her life had gone through since having the happy luck to meet John Sheppard.
“I can imagine,” Dr. Jackson intoned. “I have heard so much talk of those new ships your husband built. What do they call them again?”
She laughed. “Puddle jumpers. It originated out of some jest, I believe, and just happened to stick.”
He chuckled, obviously diverted by the unusual name. “Yes, well, I hear that they are quite impressive. Do you find them to be everything people say?”
surprisingly, the first time that
“That must make singing their praises to your investors rather difficult, then, must it not?” Dr. Jackson reflected.
Dr. Jackson smiled. “I have no doubt that you will, Mrs. Sheppard. Not one doubt at all.”
“I want you to take me on a boat ride.”
Startled, John looked up from calculating the most recent payroll. “Excuse me?”
It wasn’t that he was adverse to this proposition. It was just that it was coming a little out of the blue. “I…I thought you had your embroidery circle this afternoon?”
this brought a smile to
The good tidings did not fail to bring a smile to John’s face either. “How lovely. Should we send a gift?”
“Oh, I have already seen to it.”
Really, John reflected, she was an exceptionally good sort of wife for a man to have. “Excellent. Now. What is this about a boat?”
John carefully considered her words and quickly saw that her arguments were more than valid. “Fair enough. Can you meet me at the dock in a quarter of an hour?”
“Yes. Conveniently, I just received the news that the fourth puddle jumper is ready for its trial voyage. Why not kill two birds with one stone, so to speak?”
“Why not, indeed?” she repeated.
And so, a quarter of an hour later, John found himself preparing the fourth puddle jumper to set sail, Elizabeth an attentive and involved pupil. “One of the advantages of the design of puddle jumpers is ease. Even a barely seaworthy fellow like myself can manage them for a short journey, and for longer trips, the entire ship can be handled by only four men.”
“I haven’t the slightest idea, really. I know the size has something to do with it, as well as the unusual placement of the sails. Rodney and Mrs. O’Neill did most of the actual designing, so you might want to talk to them in more detail.”
certain to do so,”
“Well, I did not say it was scant!” he objected, which prompted a teasing smile to light his wife’s face. His eyed narrowed at the expression. “You really do that to me a little often for my liking,” he complained, stepping onto the ship before helping her on as well.
She merely shrugged by way of response. “Well, you make it so simple.”
“Hmmm. Hardly the point I was trying to make, but we’ll revisit that argument another time. For now, come here and let me teach you how to steer.”
She obediently crossed the deck, joining him at the helm. “I assume that you know the basics of port and starboard, compass navigation, that sort of thing?” he asked.
“In theory, certainly,” she affirmed. “I’ve just never put the knowledge to the test.”
Wondering a little if someone as small as she would even be able to control the wheel, even if it was smaller than the average vessel’s, John quickly concocted a secondary plan of attack. “All right, come here then,” he gestured, stepping back so that she could take the place of navigator.
When she seemed fully settled, John proceeded to step closer to her, reaching around her so that he could guide his hands with her own. They were surprisingly small and pale against his, and he became strangely aware of her proximity so near. With her head almost resting on his chest and brown curls occasionally tickling his neck, it seemed that she was everywhere and the knowledge lay heavily on his mind.
Clearing his throat and trying to focus once more, John tried again. “All right, so your hands should probably be placed about….here. Now, check the wind. Are you ready?”
She glanced over her shoulder, face alight with joy, and for the first time it occurred to John that really, Elizabeth was a remarkably beautiful woman, not merely when she was dressed for a social function or when she tried at it, but simply by being. “I am,” she assured him.
“I…” he began, feeling as though he should have something particularly profound to say. Thankfully, the feeling quickly passed and John shook his head and smiled ruefully at his own foolish flight of fancy. “Let’s be off, then.”
“Every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies.”
~Pride and Prejudice
The next week was particularly trying for John, which with a new business was hardly unusual. What was unprecedented was that it was not from Atlantis that his troubles stemmed, but rather from issues more heavily involved in his personal sphere. Namely, his boating lesson with Elizabeth earlier in the week had been witnessed by many a member of the company, and as such, there seemed to be a renewed interest in the supposed romance of the two newlyweds which had him constantly on the receiving end of such sly and knowing comments that irked him exceedingly. Not surprisingly, Rodney was one of the most frequent culprits, and the constant jibes and jokes had set John well on edge.
result, not only was he more snappish than his usual pleasant demeanor dictated,
but he additionally felt that for his own peace of mind, it might be wise to
avoid close contact with
“Is everything well?” he asked with somewhat more than a mild concern, considering her obviously animated features.
well,” she assured him with a wide smile. “It is merely that I have recently
been the recipient of some particularly interesting news. John, you know, of
course, that my father currently holds the position of King’s Ambassador to
“Of course,” he acknowledged, though if he was being quite honest, he was uncertain if he had known her father’s exact position.
have just received a letter from him containing a most intriguing proposition.
You see, the King is scheduled to take a tour of the Scandinavian countries
next month, but has long had a tense relationship with the authorities in
John smiled. “As is the way of things.”
course. Unfortunately for the King, many of his Royal Navy ships are currently
embroiled in the ever-growing conflict with
suspecting where this line of thought was heading, John found himself rising
from his seat in anticipation. “
inordinately proud of herself,
overwhelmed by such an enormous boon, John finally stood completely and, at a
loss for what else should be done, took
She merely rolled her eyes at his effusive praise. “I take it that you agree to my father’s terms, then?”
“Yes, most eagerly! I shall begin to make arrangements without any further delay.”
Before she could respond, there was a sound at the door that drew both of their attention. “Mr. Sheppard, the….”
Mitchell stopped shortly upon entering, staring for a moment until John
remembered that he and Elizabeth were still in what could be a misleadingly
intimate position. Sparing no time in clearing his throat and releasing
apologize for…my interruption,” Mr. Mitchell began. “But I came to announce the
arrival of Captain Lorne’s puddle jumper back from
“Yes, of course,” John acknowledged. “I’ll join you on the docks shortly to begin unloading.”
For his part, Cameron nodded shortly, and after one more ridiculous, supposedly knowing grin, was gone. “I am sorry for that,” John offered stiltedly.
“Absolutely. Send Aidan Ford to town with the message as soon as you’ve finished composing it – he is by far the fastest rider we have, and the most trustworthy.”
nodded, making her way toward the door. “Go on and inspect your booty from
As she left, John wondered that she should feel the need to reassure him. He certainly did not feel a requirement for it.
Considering the extreme degree of scandal with which she had departed London and all of her contemporaries in fashionable society there, it was with no small amount of amusement that Elizabeth beheld the stack of letters in front of her nearly a week later. Perhaps she should have anticipated this turn of events when the delivery of the King’s most particular gift to the Demark government was accomplished with a swiftness and professionalism unlike he was previously accustomed to, even going so far as to prompt a letter of thanks from His Royal Majesty herself, hinting at possible future employment opportunities for Atlantis in the near future.
so far removed from the society of veneer-thin manners and currying favor had
All of this she had been reflecting upon in the sitting room of their more personal quarters when John entered, disrupting her introspections. “You look very serious,” he teased, as was his habit in the last week, being in so good a mood as a result of their sudden good luck in business.
“I assure that it is nothing dire. I was merely reflecting on the transient nature of social standing. Right now, it seems we are quite in favor with the King, and as a result, everyone else.”
seemed undisturbed by this fact, other than it might mean he would be required
to be a bit more sociable than he might otherwise like. When
“Surprisingly, no,” she teased back. “Really, I lived in that world because it was required of me and because I was adept at maneuvering through it. I find, however, this life to be much more rewarding, where my status seems based purely on the quality of my work.”
“Which is above reproach,” he pointed out.
“Well, yes, that does help, doesn’t it?” she laughed. “Nonetheless, I have instructed the cook to prepare a more elaborate meal than usual tonight. I thought we might celebrate our fashionable status, seeing as it is certainly going to be of short duration.”
seemed to appeal to him, and soon the two were dressed and seated together for
dinner, as had become their habit whenever John was in town.
of the profits been reported from the recent
“Nearly, and I’m pleased to say it was one of our most profitable ventures yet. Captain Lorne and his crew really did a remarkable job. I have been considering hiring them full-time, now that they have proved themselves.”
“He is a most agreeable man, and certainly clever enough to turn a profit, so why do you hesitate?”
At this, John looked a little awkward. “I wished to consult with you before doing anything that might be construed as long-term.”
This fact touched her a great deal, and she reflected that she could not be more content with her current situation. She had wondered briefly, when first agreeing to his proposal all those months ago in the city, if she and John should really suit each other as partners for longer than a lively conversation. Now, watching him across the dinner table, she found that he was perhaps a dearer friend to her than anyone had ever been previously. But because she knew him well, she knew that to say this would only embarrass him, and instead stayed within the limited scope of business when replying.
“Then by all means hire him,” she said before sipping at her beef and barley broth.
Mr. Kolya was not accustomed to being summoned and then kept waiting. His area of specialty had often imbued a certain mixture of respect and fear in all of his business associates, a situation that he preferred vastly to this waiting indeterminately for someone to be ready for his arrival.
Finally, however, he was permitted to enter the office of a Mr. Wraith, the man who had rather curtly requested his presence with the promise of making it more than worth his while. “Ah, Mr. Kolya, do come in,” said Mr. Wraith in greeting. “I apologize for the delay, but as you can imagine, running a business like mine is no easy task.”
“Nor mine, Mr. Wraith,” Mr. Kolya said shortly. “But I was assured you would more than compensate me for my time.”
“That is my hope as well,” Mr. Wraith agreed. “I have asked you here with the expectation of coming to a business accord with you. It is my understanding that you and a small number of your countrymen housed within this country run a sort of…business of requirement, where you accomplish certain deeds that might perhaps reflect badly on a gentleman of my stature if they were connected to me.”
“We have been known to do such things from time to time,” Mr. Kolya admitted easily. “For a price.”
“Of course, of course! Now, to the particulars. There is a small company to the south of here that has lately become something of a thorn in my side. I am convinced, however, that they would be significantly less troubling if I could merely examine the plans to a rather renowned ship of theirs, which seems in everyway to be inferior to mine superficially, but seems to outsail, outship, and outmaneuver mine at every turn. They call it a puddle jumper, I believe.”
“And do you require the possession of a previously made ship, or would something less…bulky…serve your purposes better?” Mr. Kolya asked.
“Mr. Kolya, I can already see that you and I are of like mind. A ship is much too difficult to steal and easy to trace for my liking, and the work of reverse engineering something of that scope leaves me rather impatient. I would assume, rather, that there are set plans for these ships somewhere within the headquarters of Atlantis Trading and Shipping, that could, at the right time, be procured more easily than an entire ship.”
“That seems to be likely. Do you have a set date by which you would prefer to have these plans in your possession?”
“I can be
a patient man when I must be, Mr. Kolya. However, I have heard tell that
Atlantis is currently planning a much longer journey than their recent day
trips to mainland
“A clever plan, indeed, Mr. Wraith. I assure you, my team can do this job for you easily and without hesitation.”
“Excellent, Mr. Kolya, excellent. I look forward to this and many future business transactions between us,” Mr. Wraith said easily, leaning back in his chair. “And please, if we are to be well-acquainted, you must call me Michael.”
“Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.”
fall, it was clear that Atlantis was no mere flash in the pan of business
ventures. After turning a substantial profit three months running,
really, why John was going at all was a source of more than usual consternation
for her. With the holidays looming, it was a bad time for any business owner to
be away from his investors, but even her sound advice fell on deaf ears. John,
apparently, had always wanted to see
She had to admit to a feeling of relief when John was unavoidably detained from the launch by an unforeseen financial tangle, and allowed Cameron and Vala to sail off without joining them. Her relief was short-lived, however, as John promptly announced that he planned to follow them a mere three days later, hoping to catch them still docking in France.
by the time he was prepared to leave,
Having loaded the last of his necessities onto the awaiting ship, John turned to the company waiting on the dock, headed by Elizabeth and McKay. “I think that’s the last of it,” he said unnecessarily. “Was there anything else you required of me before I set off?”
we can make do,”
“Probably better than when you’re actually here, mucking things up,” McKay muttered.
“Yes, well, be that as it may, I shall return as soon as I can all the same,” John teased. “For now, I take my leave of you.”
For some reason, his goodbye caused McKay to raise an eyebrow. “While that unemotional sentiment suits me just fine, even I know that you should probably give a warmer assurance to your wife.”
Trying not to laugh, she smiled at him unhelpfully, enjoying the chance to torment her usually smug spouse. “Perhaps.”
she could almost swear that she saw him go pale before leaning towards her
slowly. “The things I do for my business,” John muttered with a teasing light
in his eye, the soft comment obviously meant to be heard by
It brought an honest smile to her face, as it was meant to. “Just close your eyes and think of Atlantis, if it helps you get through it,” she whispered back.
She felt the puff of air displaced by his laughter against her lips a second before she heard his retort. “Somehow, I think I’ll manage.”
was brief and suitably unremarkable to the many pairs of speculative eyes
watching them. For
watched her husband board his ship,
When his team paused just outside of Gateshire, examining the large structure that was Atlantis Trading and Shipping in person for the first time, Mr. Kolya could not help but overhear one of his company wondering if they had brought enough men to effectively secure a building that size.
be so timid, Mr. Doran,” Mr. Kolya admonished him. “I find it exceedingly
tiring. Remember, there are only a few people still there, the rest left for
Really, Mr. Kolya reflected as they made their way toward the building, it was rather tiresome to constantly be dependant on a group of other people. Perhaps after this job, he would begin seeking employment that only required his own considerable expertise.
“Now remember,” he lectured as they drew nearer, “it is only the central wing that concerns us, as our intelligence suggests that will be where any scientific plans are being kept. Each use the entrance assigned to you and be certain to capture anyone you see on your way to the central room. From there, I will interrogate them as to the whereabouts of the ship designs.”
They each went their separate ways then, with Mr. Kolya moderately confident that this plan would be successful. One of its chief failures had been the fear of being overheard in the tranquil English countryside, but judging from the ever darkening horizon, fate had more than seen to this potential problem. While he did not approve of relying on luck as a matter of course, in this instance, he was not at all sorry that it seemed to be on his side.
her arms close to her body,
Hardly seeming concerned, Dr. McKay barely looked up from his calculations – she believed that he was working on something that involved wind speeds and ocean depth and current prediction, though she could not be certain. “Oh, it’s hard to say, exactly. Probably not, considering the direction that the wind seems to be blowing.”
It was not exactly the reassuring response she had been unconsciously seeking, but then, why she would apply to Dr. McKay for anything but the painful truth, she had no idea. “I see,” she replied quietly.
not like Atlantis this quiet – over the past few months, she had grown
accustomed to the constant hustle that was a working business. Between the
crews now headed to
barely finished forming this notion, however, when a sound from somewhere
behind her forced
The man, dark and undoubtedly sinister, smiled. She supposed that it was meant to be an expression of charm, but instead, she found it most disturbing. “To begin with, Mrs. Sheppard, you can proceed a little further into the main room. Secondly, you can, without further struggle that would waste both of our time, tell us where the plans for your little puddle jumpers are. And thirdly, if you would be so kind as to silence Dr. McKay, I would be grateful. If you do not succeed, I assure you that I will.”
only when he pointed it out that she heard Dr. McKay’s distraught yells over
the pounding of blood in her own ears. Seeing as her first
duty was to her employees,
Perhaps it was volume or even the shock of being so informally addressed by a woman that was effective, but either way, she was grateful for it. “Hush,” she warned.
Flustered and wide-eyed, Dr. McKay looked at their captors, who seemed to total five in all. “But they have pistols! And swords!”
“So they do, Dr. McKay. Let us not then give them any cause to use them.”
The man who had spoken to her earlier appeared to be their leader, and seemed vaguely impressed with her words. “So reports of your intelligence have not been exaggerated, I see, Mrs. Sheppard,” he said almost admiringly.
“As I have never heard any myself, I could not say,” she retorted, resenting his intrusion here, where she was most at home.
He merely found her amusing. “That seems fair,” he acknowledged, before being momentarily distracted by one of his men.
“Mr. Kolya, we believe that we have all of the exits secured,” reported a young man.
“Do not believe, Mr. Ladon. Know,” the man now identified as Mr. Kolya snapped before returning his attention to his two hostages. “Where was I?”
believe we were speaking of my intelligence,”
“Ah, yes. Well, I suppose that your common sense shall be tested soon enough. You have succeeded in two of the tasks I gave you, but it is time to turn our attention to the third.”
Drawing his pistol and very calmly pointing it at Dr. McKay’s head, Mr. Kolya asked, “Now, where are the design schematics for the ships you refer to as puddle jumpers?”
With ice cold rain pelting him from all directions, John could not deny a distinct feeling of relief when the light shining from Atlantis’ lighthouse came into view. All of his intentions of catching up with the expedition to India had quickly evaporated when he had encountered this storm, and after a few too many close calls, John had been more than happy to decide that turning back was quite obviously the safer course – after all, riding the edge of the storm back to Gateshire seemed infinitely easier than trying to push his way through it.
So it was
a bone-weary John Sheppard that finally managed to dock and secure the puddle
jumper, wanting nothing more than a warm bath and perhaps some soup. He was
things being what they were, it was no surprise that he was practically inside
before John noticed that something was most definitely amiss. To begin with, he
thought it odd that no one came to greet him. The docks were visible from most
windows in the house, and he knew that
it was a combination of whim and a distinct sense of unease that caused John to
use the servant’s entrance in the house, rather than one of the many more trafficked
ways into the building. As he did not find any sign of
remained uncertain of his motivations until the main room finally came into
view and all of his previously ridiculous seeming suspicions were proven to be
valid. There, huddled on the floor with Rodney next to her, was
“You are trying my patience,” the man said, quietly enough to seem severe and loudly enough to be heard. “For the last time, where are the building schematics?”
Kolya, I have already told you that I do not know,”
“Do you really expect me to believe that you, the wife of this company’s owner and seemingly its chief organizer, do not know where the company’s most valuable assets are held?”
John wanted to scream at him, to insist that she was telling the truth and to spare her any harm. He wanted to rush to her and check any wound this interloper may have inflicted upon her. But somehow, he found himself frozen, watching the entire scene with mounting trepidation. “My duties have nothing to do with the jumpers,” she explained very slowly, as though talking to a petulant child. “And as such, I have not yet taken the care to know every particular about them.”
Finally seeming to accept this rational argument, Mr. Kolya’s eyes slid to a cowering Rodney, who flinched under his gaze. “And what of your knowledge, Dr. McKay? As designer of the infamous ships, I assume that you know exactly where the plans are kept.”
Eyeing the pistol that had not once faltered from its ominous aim, Rodney replied readily, “Of course I do. Unfortunately for all of us, they aren’t there right now. Mr. Sheppard borrowed them right before his journey to refresh himself on the exact measurements of the cargo hold and somehow managed to forget to return them.”
In a flash, John recalled that as usual, Rodney was correct. Returning the schematics had slipped his mind with his impending departure, and they were even now lying on the dining room table of his home, collecting dust.
Looking down at the foreboding scene, John took a moment to try and formulate the correct plan of action. When one did not immediately come to him, he took another moment to retrace his steps and fetch the plans, hiding them away where he was quite certain no one but he could find them.
As he was hiding them, the realization happened upon him that no one knew Atlantis better than he did. He had paid for every piece of wood and stone in this building, and as such had taken a particular care to be acquainted with all of it. If there was one way to extract these interlopers from his home, it was to use his superior knowledge against them.
Almost without thinking about it, he made his way to an upper floor – one of the many hallways that echoed strangely down to the main room. Feeling positively mutinous at the current state of affairs, John proceeded to take a deep breath, yelling out, “Mr. Kolya!”
Dr. McKay’s snort of what John assumed was derision and someone jumping from shock did not even manage to bring a smile to John’s face. “Who is there?” the voice he knew as Kolya’s asked.
“I am John Sheppard, owner of this company. This is my home you have so unceremoniously invaded, and it will now be the home I unceremoniously expel you from.”
“Ah, Mr. Sheppard! I cannot say that I was anticipating this meeting, but your arrival certainly does make our situation more interesting. You realize, of course, that I have your lead shipwright and your wife hostage. If you merely comply with our demands, I promise that they will emerge unscathed from this ordeal. The same can not be said if you trouble me overmuch.”
had already ceased to listen to this interloper; instead moving to a more prime
location where he might be able to surprise one of the four men Mr. Kolya was
sure to send his direction. Even now, he could vaguely hear the orders being
given to find John Sheppard and dispose of him, and John had to prepare himself
for the onslaught sure to come. So it was arranged that even though his mind
was roiling in turmoil at the idea of that man being anywhere near
If she felt it absolutely necessary, he might not even begrudge her making certain that Rodney came to no great harm.
“I have loved none but you.”
not be denied that when
He was here and that in itself was a miracle. However, the prospect of now losing him to these base ruffians seemed almost unbearable. The panic she felt at even the idea seemed so insurmountable that she could almost detachedly wonder at its magnitude, until the uninvited realization settled upon her that somehow, between an awkward, stilted business proposal and hearing his voice coming to her rescue, she had fallen in love with her husband.
The knowledge was almost too much to bear, as it was both untimely and unwelcome. Apparently, her visage was so altered with dread at the prospect of it that even Mr. Kolya could easily note it. “You are concerned for your husband.”
“Yes,” she admitted, almost without thought. To be fair, it could be excused if she was a little more scattered than usual – she had never before had this oppressive sense of trepidation and realization overcome her.
“How touching,” Mr. Kolya said, in atone that implied he thought it was anything but. “Did you hear that, Sheppard? Your wife is pale with concern for you. It is my understanding that she has already been widowed once. For a young woman to have to suffer such an affliction twice seems almost unforgivable. Perhaps, if you die, I shall just have to comfort her myself.”
In a few moments, John’s voice echoed through the room once again, most definitely from a different location and slightly winded. “You lay one finger on her Kolya, and I will kill you.” It was stated calmly, as though it was a matter of fact, and something about it made her smile in spite of the situation. “Also? You are now down to three men, besides yourself.”
A livid rage quickly overtook Mr. Kolya’s visage, and he spun to face his captives once more, studying them with care. “Mr. Sheppard, I must warn you that if you persist in this ill-advised course of action, I will be forced to take my own. The next time I discover that one of my men has been incapacitated, I will have to kill either Mrs. Sheppard or Dr. McKay. Would you like to select your first victim, or shall I surprise you?”
silence for a long moment, and when John’s voice finally echoed through the
room once more,
This revelation angered Mr. Kolya so much that he face flushed with ire, drawing his pistol. “Congratulations, Mr. Sheppard. You have just killed Dr. McKay.”
There was a rush of movement, the loud crack of a gun, and next to her, Dr. McKay’s shriek echoed in her ears. When Mr. Kolya took pause, it was over Dr. McKay’s now prone body. “You shot him?” she asked, a bit dazed due to the commotion that had just occurred.
“He fell into a swoon,” Mr. Kolya corrected, disgust lacing his tone.
With those words, she suddenly understood – Rodney’s nerves had failed him right as his captor had shot the pistol, conveniently causing the nervous doctor to fall out of harm’s way. “Thank heaven,” she muttered.
“I would not be too thankful if I were you, Mrs. Sheppard,” Mr. Kolya warned. “Now, you are my only useful leverage.”
some distance above the central room, and as such could not clearly see the
results of Kolya’s threats. Still,
Trying to slow his pounding heart, John took a moment to lean against the wall. Perhaps fueling Mr. Kolya’s anger was foolhardy, but John had never taken well to being threatened. When backed into a corner of any kind, his immediate response was to fight his way out of it. The fact was, he had an entire company to think about. The puddle jumper’s unique design was one of the main reasons Atlantis was proving successful, and its loss would be a blow from which the company very well may never recover. While the loss of income would certainly not disturb John overmuch, he had almost a hundred employees whose futures were entirely dependant upon the regular wages they earned at Atlantis.
So really, giving up had never really been an option.
Now a bit more calm, John checked the ammunition and weapons he had gathered from the two young men he had already disposed of – they were both unconscious, gagged, and tied together somewhere on the third level of the building. That left two more on the prowl that must be dealt with, and this was the most logical place to lay in wait for them.
Sure enough, he could soon hear the approaching footsteps of one more mercenary, and when the time seemed right, John sprung out of his hiding spot and tussled with him. If there was one thing his somewhat dysfunctional childhood had taught him, it was the art of wrestling.
credit, the other man fought well, landing more than one painfully placed elbow
in John’s chest before he could completely manage to overpower the intruder.
Eventually, however, the scuffle ended with John victorious, and with another
piece of rope he had lifted from the docking area, quickly tied the man up. He
briefly considered flaunting this victory to the smug Mr. Kolya, but almost as
readily dismissed it, reminding himself that now,
John considered his options. Obviously, there was one more man that must be dealt
with before he could pursue Mr. Kolya himself. There remained a question of
tactics, however – any way he considered the situation, Mr. Kolya had far too
many opportunities to harm
Before he could judge himself too harshly, the sound of a second set of footsteps reached his ears, and John prepared for one more brawl.
bit dazed from events both physical and mental in nature,
“Nor is it in yours, I suppose,” Mr. Kolya snarled.
His obvious disdain merely caused her to raise her chin a bit defiantly, refusing to showcase the fear that she was barely keeping at bay. “I do not believe it is, no.”
“More is the pity for both of you, then,” Mr. Kolya retorted.
“Perhaps,” she acknowledged. “But allow me to inquire as to your plan now. After all, you are now significantly short-handed, and are likely becoming even more so as we speak. Soon, you will be all alone here, with a very angry man and an uncooperative hostage. You are surrounded by a countryside with which you are not acquainted and an ocean wild with the weather. How do you suppose to extract yourself from such a precarious position?”
“I could kill you all,” Mr. Kolya threatened.
obvious that this line of questioning was irritating him to the extreme, and
while he was certainly more volatile in such a condition,
Wildly, Mr. Kolya looked around him, as though he was already trapped. “I will take a ship!” he proclaimed triumphantly after his eye had landed upon the docks outside.
“How?” she asked simply. “You do not know how to operate our ships. Perhaps you could manage in fair weather to not kill yourself, but in a tempest such as this, I very seriously doubt you’d have the same success.”
Her captor’s eyes slid to Dr. McKay, who was still blissfully unconscious, then returned to her, studying her carefully. “Ah, but you know how to sail those infernal ships,” he stated certainly, as though she had somehow unconsciously broadcasted the information.
Denial seemed like her first, and only, option. “No, I….”
“Ah, hush now, Mrs. Sheppard. You have been so collected until now that I would hate for you to lose your composure at this late juncture. The very fact that you are so close confirms my belief.” He looked outside once more, then up at the floors surrounding them. “Report!” he yelled.
When no reply came, he sighed. “It seems that it is time for our departure, then, Mrs. Sheppard,” he stated. Thoughtfully, he disarmed himself of his pistol. “This will hardly be of use to me out in the wet. Perhaps it is past time to rely on old-fashioned methods of persuasion.”
With that, he drew his sword, pointing it in her direction. “Now, stand.”
Reluctantly, she acquiesced, glaring at him. “If you touch me, I will scream,” she warned.
Rather than making him hesitate, this information seemed to please him. “All the better,” he assured her, reaching out his spare arm to draw her closer to the blade.
Following her pure instinct, Elizabeth responded by darting forward and managing to bite the heel of his hand, drawing blood and a yell from Mr. Kolya. Then, keeping her word, she let loose with an ear-piercing yell.
his plan, John rushed down the remaining steps, knowing that anything and
everything must be done to keep
He grabbed the first sharp one he could see and then wasted no time exiting onto the docks. The storm had increased a thousand fold since his own arrival, and John could barely keep his eyes clear from the pounding rain, angry wind, and roiling black sea. Still, he could vaguely make out the two figures of Elizabeth and Kolya down the dock, beginning the process of untying one of the puddle jumpers.
“Kolya, halt!” he yelled over the shrieking of the wind.
of complying, Mr. Kolya responded by grabbing
remain calm even as
“Why does anyone do anything in this age? Money, Mr. Sheppard. It always returns to money.”
It was with no small amount of satisfaction that John noted Mr. Kolya backing up, inching his way away from John even as John managed to advance more quickly toward him. “Someone paid you to invade our establishment? Who?”
“Does it matter? Trade is a prosperous business, Mr. Sheppard, and where there is money, there is treachery. Now, do not come any closer, or I will slit your wife’s throat while you are powerless to do anything but watch.”
The threat froze John on the spot – he could not have moved even if he had wished to. “Mr, Kolya, please. Unhand her and we will let you leave. There is no cause for bloodshed.”
“How chivalrous of you, Mr. Sheppard. Unfortunately for you, I have
quite a fondness for bloodshed.” With that, Mr. Kolya increased the pressure on
his blade ever so slightly, and
of it, rather than filling John with fear, freed him from his paralysis.
Infuriated, John lunged forward, managing to exert enough control over his
blade to avoid
horrible moment, John could only watch as both Mr. Kolya and Elizabeth fell
back, off of the dock and toward the angry ocean beneath them. John leapt
forward, and it was only at the last possible second, with desperate fingers,
that he managed to pull
Safe in his arms, he could feel her shaking with repressed emotion and chill, and John found himself unable to let her loose right away. For one moment, he had believed her lost forever, and found that recovering from even the idea was no easy task.
Eventually, he managed to distance himself a very little, enough to brush long locks of sopping hair away from her face, studying every inch of her. “Are you all right?”
Her nod was hesitant, but present. “I believe so,” she replied faintly. “Thankfully, you have remarkable reflexes.”
He laughed, and if it had a tinge of hysteria in it, she was kind enough to not notice. John just pulled her close once more, her head resting on his shoulder with one of his hands tangled in her hair. “You’re fine,” he said softly, reassuring himself more than her. “Just fine.”
As she seemed amenable enough for the moment, John just held her, needing to be near her, to reassure himself that he had been successful in adverting disaster. She had just given him the fright of his life, and it took him a moment to accept that he was so affected not because his business had been compromised, or because his friend had nearly died, but because Elizabeth, just Elizabeth, had been in danger.
He did not know when she had come to mean more than a mere partner should, and really, he was not certain it mattered. The fact was that he had fallen in love, deeply in love, with the woman he now held in his arms.
This knowledge was accompanied by the very real awareness that there was nothing to be done about it.
While for some men, loving their wives was a source of lifelong joy and fulfillment, for John, it was a decided inconvenience. He was married to a woman whom he had promised nothing but friendship. Love had been left entirely out of their arrangement, and while now it seemed like a most garish oversight, at the time, it had not been a relevant issue.
was in love with
Gathering himself, he pulled away, studying her one last time with new eyes. She was crying and soaking wet and deeply shaken, but still, she was beautiful. And he would not tell her.
“Come,” he said, standing and helping her. “Let us go dry off before we both catch a fever.”
She nodded, smiling a little, and hand in hand, they headed inside.
the lingering remains of the storm, a constable could not be sent for until
morning at the earliest. As such, John merely collected the remaining intruders
in one of Atlantis’ empty storage rooms, checked to make sure their bonds were
quite secure, and locked them there. The valet, Mr. Grodin,
was summoned to attend to Rodney, who was still unconscious is the main hall.
great care, John took her arm once more and led her to her private rooms, where
she was left to change and gather herself. And though she was still extremely shaken,
It was not five minutes before John emerged from his rooms, looking considerably better outwardly, but, she suspected, still quite shaken in all other aspects. She offered him a wan smile, trying to calm him as best she could. “Thank you for the fire. And the tea,” she remarked softly.
had been trained on her so intently that he looked almost startled to remember
the actions he had taken. “Oh, it is nothing,” he said dismissively, crossing
the room toward her. “
Feeling no need to lie to John, who was if nothing else, one of her dearest friends, Elizabeth sighed. “No, I am not.”
She immediately regretted her words as his face paled even more drastically. “Shall I send for a physician?”
“No, there is no need. I simply meant that…I am ill at ease,” she clarified, hoping to allay his worries. “It will pass, I’m certain. Come, drink your tea.”
He sat across from her with a heavy sigh, lifting his own cup tentatively, as though it required Herculean effort. “I must admit to still being a bit unsettled myself,” he muttered. “When I think of the nerve of Mr. Kolya, invading our business, our home in such a manner….”
John frowned, anger settling heavy on his face. “Whoever it is, they have made an enemy in us that they will come to regret.”
It was probably foolish of her to relish John’s simple, innocuous use of ‘us’. The night had been one of great turmoil and confusion, but amidst it all, her wonder at the revelation of her feelings seemed to be the most lingering feeling. In retrospect, she could not even place exactly when her feelings had grown beyond the terms of their arrangement, although she suspected that they had always been greater than she had blindly assumed.
Knowing her own heart now could not change anything, and yet, it altered even the way she looked at him as he sat sipping his tea. “Would you like me to start asking our contacts for any gossip they may have heard?” she offered.
He considered this carefully, and then shook his head. “Unless you think it is imperative we do so, I would wait. Asking questions now will only attract more attention.”
She agreed, finishing her cup of tea and staring blankly into the flames for a few more minutes before standing. “Well, I think sleep is the only thing for me now,” she said, ignoring the instincts that were so reluctant to leave his side after such on ordeal.
Because he was, despite his protests, a gentleman through and through, he stood as well. “And you are certain that you are well?”
by his concern and wishing it could be more,
John looked at her, seemingly confused. “Why? Without it, they might not have invaded tonight.”
“Perhaps. But without it, you would not have been here to stop them, either,” she pointed out.
That particular realization made him smile for the first time all evening, and he nodded. “Well, goodnight then.”
things could be different – and knowing that they never would be –