Chapter 38

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The jostling motion of being carried roused Elizabeth from her black out. Her head rolled against a firm chest as she struggled to clear the fog from her mind.

Edward... I knew he would find me...

Elizabeth forced her eyes to open, her eyelids fluttering, wanting to look upon Edward's handsome face. It felt as though she hadn't seen him for days now.

The sight her eyes rested upon made her gasp.

Mr. Stanton?

She stared up into, not the face of her beloved Edward, but that of her captor.

He looked down at her, smirking, "Not who you were expecting to see, I'm guessing by your reaction."

Elizabeth squeezed her eyes shut. "But, where...where is Edward? I know I heard him..." she croaked weakly.

"He's locked up good and tight, my dear. You won't be seeing him anytime soon, I'd gather... That is, unless he convinces your father to meet my demands," he paused, smirking again, "And, in that case, it won't be the happy reunion you're wishing for."

Elizabeth stared at him, wanting to wipe that cocky grin from his face, marveling yet again at his horrid, disturbing behavior. She wished to escape his appalling touch; her skin crawled at every place his body touched her. "How could you... He's your son..."

"Hush, now child. You've had quite a shock, barreling into me like that." They had reached the place where the horses stood, ready for departure. Mr. Stanton let her feet fall, placing them onto the ground, keeping his other arm wrapped around her shoulders.

As she found her footing, aches from colliding with Mr. Stanton sprang to life all across her body. Elizabeth felt a little wobbly still, and she sagged against him without meaning to.

"Nelson," Mr. Stanton barked, "come here and hold her steady. Then you can hand her up to me after I've mounted."

Nelson moved near to her, holding her still by the shoulders. "Why'd you have to give me trouble, eh?" he whispered.

Elizabeth, ignoring his question, stared back at him silently; her gaze focused on an invisible spot as despair mounted up inside her. Waves of doubt began to wash away the hopes she had held thus far, hopes of reuniting with Edward and her family, and hopes of reconciling with Mr. Stanton. She was afraid that Mr. Stanton would get his way after all, that Edward and her father, even Amelia, would give in to his demands in order to save her. And then she would suffer a lifetime of misery, watching her sister marry Edward, and after that, having his children. And she would belong nowhere... How on earth could she bear such a thing?

"Now, Nelson, hand her up here."

Mr. Stanton's gruff voice cut through Elizabeth's thoughts as Nelson moved to lift her up. Mr. Stanton grabbed her around the waist, pulling her across the front of his saddle. She sat sideways, with both feet dangling to one side, as her long, full skirts would not allow her to ride traditionally, the way men do.

Elizabeth sat there limply, feeling dejected. She turned her head toward Mr. Stanton, meeting his eyes.

"If Edward married my sister, would that truly make you happy, Mr. Stanton? Is that all it would take for you to stop this?" Her voice was soft, her eyes intense.

He stared back at her, eyes wide with surprise, as though he was not sure how to reply.

Elizabeth lowered her eyes, her voice barely louder than a whisper, "I'll convince Edward to forget me, if that's what you want. If that would put an end to this and reconcile the two of you..."

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