Chapter 37

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Edward's father called out to his lackey as he and Edward approached the dilapidated building where presumably Elizabeth was being held. The building was little more than a shed; it couldn't have been more than ten or twelve feet square. During the walk, his father had warned him not to call out until he had a chance to tell his man to stand down, as he would be on alert. Edward had readily agreed, for Elizabeth's safety.

Elizabeth...

How his heart ached for her, wondering exactly what sort of terror she had felt at his father's hands. He had promised Edward that Elizabeth had not been harmed, but Edward would not be satisfied until he could see that for himself. Edward glanced over at his father; he was still rightly furious with him for all of this treachery, but they would have to sort through all of that over time. Right now, all that mattered was seeing his beloved Elizabeth released and comforted in the safety of his arms.

His father approached the door and pulled it open, gesturing for Edward to enter first.

"After you," he said, "your fair lady awaits."

It was dark, and Edward tried vainly to peer into the black interior of the shed. "Elizabeth?"

Too late, the alarms rang in Edward's mind; he was shoved hard from behind, causing him to land face first on the dirt floor, and his ribs crashed painfully into some hard object. He heard the door slam shut on him, and something being wedged into place, holding the door secure.

Edward scrambled to his feet and lunged at the door. He pounded at it, but it held firm. "No," his attempt at a yell came out in a ragged breath, for the wind had been knocked from his chest when he had crashed into whatever had broken his fall.

"Edward," he heard his father's confident, smug voice through the door, "I want you to give Mr. Montgomery a message for me. Tell him to meet my previous demand, and I'll return his daughter to him. Also, I'll need my box, in addition to everything you took from my office, returned to me. That is, if you want your sweetheart to come home safe and sound."

Edward's chest heaved as he stared coldly at the door his own father had slammed shut in his face, just like the figurative door of their relationship.

Maybe Elizabeth was right... Maybe it's impossible for him to change, to care about anyone but himself.

"And, Edward," his father began again, "I wouldn't alert the law, if I were you. Such a shame the two of you didn't cooperate before, we could have had all of this settled. I'll be sending someone to collect the goods tomorrow. Good night, Edward."

Edward could hear the crunch of dirt and gravel as his father turned on his heel and walked away. Barely daring to breathe, Edward listened until he could hear nothing, trying to discern the direction his father had gone.

"Blast him!" Edward pounded the door once more. "Elizabeth!" He called out at the top of his lungs, having recovered his breath, not knowing whether or not she was anywhere near enough to hear him. He had to find a way to get out of here so that he could follow his father - and find Elizabeth.

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Elizabeth heard the snort of a horse as she and Nelson neared the tree-line edging the woods. Panic streaked through her body.

Where is he taking me?

Nelson hauled her into the cover of the trees, and Elizabeth strained to see in the thick darkness. She heard the swish of a horsetail to her right, and realized that there was not one, but two horses standing in wait.

Nelson whispered gruffly as he removed his hand from her mouth, "If you'll behave, I won't put the gag back on you. But so much as one peep out of ya, and I'll tie you up real good, I will."

Elizabeth nodded; she was not sure if he could see her gesture of compliance in the night, but she was also too afraid to even squeak an answer.

Nelson turned toward one of the horses and began loosening its reins from a tree. As soon as his back was to her, Elizabeth began quietly pulling at the ropes around her wrists.

What had happened back there? Why did Nelson hastily flee with me at the sound of Mr. Stanton's voice? Unless...

A muffled yell sounded in the distance, back in the direction of the dingy shanties. Elizabeth's breath stuck in her throat as she jerked her head up to listen.

"Edward?" she barely breathed his name. Yes, she was sure it had been his voice crying out her name.

Without a second thought, she shot forward. "Edward! Edward, I'm here!" she screamed out, darting as quickly as she could toward the place she thought his voice had sounded from. She moved as fast as she dared, dodging trees and trying not to trip on roots and branches, since her hands were still secured before her.

"Hey!" Nelson grunted in surprise from behind her.

The scuffling sounds of Nelson's pursuit reached her ears from behind, but still she pressed on. She had no hope of out running him, but she had to try, perhaps her yells would alert Edward or somebody else of her location.

"Edward!" she yelled again. Elizabeth could see the edge of the tree-line, where the woods opened up into the field; a few more steps and she could run with more confidence, and she'd be within view of the old outbuildings.

As she reached the edge of the woods, Elizabeth dared a glance behind her to see how close Nelson was. She couldn't see him, but the noise he made in the trees told her he was but a few feet behind her. She could do nothing but will her legs to propel her forward.

Snapping her face forward again, her body slammed hard into something, knocking her a little senseless. Her first thought was that she had smacked into a tree, until arms closed firmly around her, holding her tight.

"Edward," she murmured, slumping against the warm body holding her.

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Edward had wasted no time looking for an exit. He stumbled over piles of old junk and deteriorating furniture, feeling along the walls of the shack, searching for a weak spot, a window, anything he could break through to make an escape. He knew his time was short if he expected to catch up to his father.

Blast it... Lord, I'll do anything to have Elizabeth back... I'll even fight him if I have to... You know I'm enraged enough to kill him...

Edward knew deep down that he could not let that happen.

Edward's body was beginning to protest, betraying his weariness. He was nearing twenty-four hours without sleep, and even his mind was growing hazy. In his delirium, he had actually imagined hearing Elizabeth's voice calling out to him.

After what seemed like hours, he finally pushed his hand through a dry-rotted board of siding. He began tearing at the hole, ripping away the disintegrating boards before kicking his foot around the edges, making the opening larger.

Edward poked his head through the hole, and had his torso about halfway out of the opening, when he clearly heard Elizabeth's voice calling his name. Jerking his head up, he listened, concentrating on the direction. The wind carried her sweet voice from the direction of the trees beyond the clearing.

So I wasn't imagining things... She must have heard me! She cannot be far, then.

Mustering all the energy he had left, Edward hauled his body the rest of the way through the hole in the shed, and stumbling, took off at a run toward the woods.

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Hello dear readers!

I'm sorry this chapter is a little short - and for the cliffhanger! ;)
We're right in the middle of the action scene and I couldn't put it all into one chapter.

I have read a lot of historical romances that have a twist of mystery, suspense, and/or some action, and I wanted to incorporate this concept into my story. This particular action piece is important to the outcome of several characters' internal conflicts.

Thank you all for sticking with me through this process and for the continued support through reads and votes!! :)

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