lost_spook (lost_spook) wrote in runaway_tales,

White Chocolate 5 [Divide and Rule]

Title: Shot in the Park
Author: lost_spook
Story: Heroes of the Revolution (Divide & Rule)
Flavor(s): White Chocolate 5 (outrage)
Toppings/Extras: Brownie + Gummy Bunnies (also for hc_bingo square “orphans”).
Rating: Teen
Word Count: 6925
Notes: Aug 1951; Edward Iveson, Julia Graves, Roderick Howe, Amyas Harding, Diana Foyle, Lionel Graves, James Seymour.
Summary: Edward can’t seem to get through a visit to the Howes’s without injury. This time it’s worse than the last.


Neither Edward nor Julia wanted to have another stay at Lord Howe’s country estate but since Mr Morley had insisted Edward go in his place on this occasion, they had little choice.

“It’s only four days,” Edward said, after he’d broken the news. “If you don’t want to come, there’s no reason you should.”

Julia shook her head. If he had been going anywhere else, she would have agreed with him, especially at the moment, when she had reason to want to stay home and keep safe, but their last visit to the Howes’s had been peculiar and she wasn’t sure she could trust Edward to have a proper sense of self-preservation. “Oh, no. Look what happened last time – and I only took my eye off you for a moment. I dread to think what you might do if I wasn’t there. I’m coming.”

“Julia,” Edward said, pausing in opening his letters to give her a dark look. “I have no plans to throw myself into the fishpond on this occasion, I assure you.”

“I’m glad to hear it, but I’m still coming with you.”

The first two days passed uneventfully – tediously, even, at least for Julia, who hadn’t been able to escape with the Howes’s daughters this time, as they were away visiting their grandmother. Edward seemed to have plenty to discuss with any number of people, especially Amyas Harding, and she merely had to spend her time with Lady Howe and various other stray members of the party, who were merely there for enjoyment, not business. On the third day, having learned to steer clear of the actress who was one of Lord Howe’s current celebrity guests, Julia found herself talking to an odd, shabby man who introduced himself as James Seymour and said that he’d been at school with Edward.

She remarked on the coincidence to Edward that evening as they dressed for dinner, surprised that he hadn’t seemed to notice his school friend, only to be roundly corrected on that point.

Not a friend,” Edward said, adjusting his bow tie for at least the fourth time, and squinting into the mirror in dissatisfaction. “The reverse, if I’m truthful. He doesn’t look as if he’s done very well for himself, does he? I wonder what he’s doing here. Lord Howe is hardly much into charity work.”

Julia raised an eyebrow, merely standing there, watching him.

“What?” he said, eventually registering her stare.

She shrugged. “I think that’s about the most cutting I’ve heard you be about someone unless they’d done something completely awful.”

“Perhaps he has,” said Edward. “Lord Howe doesn’t care for me or you, or more accurately, it seems, he didn’t much care for our parents. And now he’s invited Seymour here – I don’t like it.”

Julia laughed at him for that – after all, whatever it was that Lord Howe had said to him last time, she hadn’t heard it, and Edward had just banged his head quite badly – but after dinner, Lord Howe cornered her, and the moment was odd enough to also give her cause for concern.

“I knew your mother well,” he said, leading her aside to look at some paintings he’d recently acquired. “I was sorry to hear – well, I needn’t go into that again, I daresay?”

Julia was glad he hadn’t. She couldn’t like him, and she would rather not have sympathy from someone she disliked.

Lord Howe then glanced across the room, at where Edward seemed to be talking to James Seymour at last. “Old friends, those two, I gather. I’m sure they have a good deal to catch up on.”

There was something as strange somehow about that as there had been in his supposedly innocent condolences over her mother’s death. Julia made a mental apology to Edward for doubting him on the subject last year.

She gave an uninterested shrug and carried on staring at the painting without taking in any of it. “I don’t think so – more in the nature of an acquaintance, so Edward told me.”

“Oh?” said Lord Howe, with a lift in his voice, and then turned back to the painting, asking her to guess how much he’d paid for it before he finally consented to tell her.

She made her excuses as soon as she could without being rude, unsettled by the encounter without being able to pinpoint why. If she’d recounted the conversation to anyone else, they’d be bemused at her unease. But generally Lord Howe cut straight to business, that was the thing; even in the few times she’d met him, she’d gathered that. If he was going round the houses about the issue instead, he was most likely up to something. It was, however, hard to imagine what or why.

“Mrs Iveson.”

She turned, and then smiled in relief to find Amyas Harding at her elbow. “Oh, Mr Harding! I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there.”

“I am quite crushed,” he told her, and grasped her hand, kissing her on the cheek before drawing back. “I thought you’d like to know that Mrs Foyle will be joining us tomorrow. She said she was glad to hear you were here.”

Julia was equally glad of the news herself. “Oh, well, that’s something – although I suppose she’ll be locked up in meetings with the rest of you for most of the day.”

“We have a break tomorrow morning,” he said. “But, after that, I’m afraid so. Now where is that husband of yours, leaving you to be preyed upon by untrustworthy sorts such as myself? Ah,” he said then, interrupting himself as he evidently spied Edward across the room. “Who is that fellow he’s talking to – looks like a failed artist, not one of Howe’s usual exhibits?”

Julia gave a sigh, because if people were going to be peculiar about things, it would have been more helpful for her peace of mind if Edward hadn’t declared to have hated the chap and then gone off and spent twenty minutes talking to him. “James Seymour. They were at the same school, that’s all.”

“No,” said Amyas, breaking into a brief laugh. “Doesn’t look Edward’s sort of fellow at all, does he?”

“Ned,” said Julia, after he’d climbed into bed later that night. “Why are you worried about Seymour being here? Because Lord Howe was being odd about him, and I think you might be right. But I’d like to understand.”

Edward only gave a short sigh as he pulled the covers over him. “Look, it doesn’t matter. Ancient history. If Howe thinks he can find anything worth raking up there, he’s much mistaken.”

“Stop being cryptic,” said Julia, sitting up and poking him. “That explains nothing, and forewarned is forearmed. Anyway, you said you didn’t really know Seymour well. Please don’t lie to me.”

He pressed his head into the pillow and she thought that he was going to ignore her, but then he propped himself up and looked at her before finally replying. “I didn’t say that. I said we weren’t friends. And we weren’t – we despised each other. Seymour was nearly two years older and only in the same class because he’d been expelled twice from previous schools. He still didn’t care – his father was rich enough to make the sort of financial donations that’d keep him there even if he didn’t hand in his prep. And, you see, I was a prefect and I –” He stopped, and sat up again, giving her a hard stare. “If you’re only going to laugh, I’m not going to carry on.”

“Sorry,” said Julia, smothering her giggles in her pillow. “It’s only that of course you were a prefect, darling. I should have realised.”

Edward actually paused and looked at her in some surprise. “Weren’t you?”

Julia had to fight hard not to laugh even more. “Not everybody was, you know, even in a small school. Especially girls who had a German mother. It would not be giving the right message – although I was blackboard monitor a few times, so don’t despise me too much for my failure to be the upstanding sort the school was after. Please, go on.”

“Look, it’s not the sort of thing I’d mention in the usual way,” said Edward. “But if Lord Howe is coming out with ridiculous insinuations, I suppose I must. You see, underneath it all, I suppose he wasn’t quite as couldn’t-care-less as he seemed to the rest of us.” He lay back down on the pillow and frowned; his shifting about a clear sign of awkwardness and discomfort. “He liked me, you see. I had no idea until he left – and, as I said, I never had any time for him. It’s hard to imagine how Lord Howe knew, or what he thinks he could make of it.”

Julia stared up at the ceiling, and bit her lip as she thought about it; her amusement abruptly dying away. She shouldn’t be surprised, of course. When Edward had sat her down early on last year and finally explained to her about Nancy before she put her foot in it over the issue, he’d said, as if unable to understand her slowness, “But you went to boarding school!” He’d seemed to think that she could hardly have missed such things, which did rather imply that he had certainly noticed them at his school. She’d asked him then, whether he had ever had a relationship with one of the other boys, and he’d only laughed and said, not unless she counted the time he was twelve and one of his friends had first tried to kiss him and then, when he wasn’t taken with the idea, punched him on the nose and told him he’d knock him down if he ever told anyone. Whatever had or hadn’t happened, he’d left out James Seymour entirely.

“Edward,” she said, trying to think how to put it, “if – well, you wouldn’t have to lie to me, you know. I know you love me now, and that’s what matters.”

He sat up slightly and shook his head. “No, Julia. Honestly, it was just a mess – one of those things. If Lord Howe is trying to blow something up at of that, then he’s raking the bottom of the barrel and, my God, he’s got a damned nerve to try. All that I did in the end was – well, I got Seymour expelled again, if you must know. And, honestly, that was it. There’s nothing to tell.”

“But still,” said Julia, “if that’s what Lord Howe is aiming at, then he’s a very nasty little man, and, anyway I don’t suppose he has to prove things, does he? Insinuations in the right places would be enough – and he owns a national newspaper! Why would Seymour go along with him? He can’t still hold such a grudge that he’d risk prison just to get you into trouble, surely?”

Edward shrugged. “Neither can I. More likely, he’s in need of cash, or Howe has got something else on him.”

“It seems so ridiculous. I know Mr Harding and Mr Morley seem to think well of you, but you’re hardly in the sort of position to have newspaper magnates taking you down.”

“It seems ridiculous to me, too. But, I told you, he was peculiar on the subject of our parents last time, as if he thought you and I had got together and married merely to plot against him.”

Julia turned her head away and stared upward at the ceiling, unseeing in the greyness of the room. “We don’t know,” she said almost under her breath. She didn’t know what connection her parents had to Lord Howe, nor did Edward know when it came to his side, either, because they’d both lost them too soon, one way or another. And every new piece of information or question about Edward reminded her suddenly of how very little she knew of his history. She knew him well enough by now to trust him, but reminders of that fact always made her feel a little lost inside. She sighed.

“Julia?” he said, shifting slightly beside her.

She shook her head, and closed her eyes, turning away from him, her hand going to her stomach, unseen. Now was not a moment that she wanted to remember the odd genesis of their relationship. “Nothing, darling.”

The next morning most of the guests went on a walk, which Julia found a great relief from the enforced tedium of staying in the house and grounds with a group of people who were largely about as obnoxious as her Uncle Lionel. And it meant she could have some time with Edward.

“I think we’ve lost them all,” she said, leaning in towards him, slipping her arm through his. “Bully for us.”

Edward shook his head at her, but grinned, and they continued, breaking slightly apart as they walked on through the narrow stretch of woodland, out of sight of the nearest of their fellow guests.

Somewhere nearby, a loud noise disturbed the peace, most likely a gunshot. Was it time for shooting already? thought Julia. Didn’t that come later in the autumn? She wasn’t entirely sure, never having been a country girl, and while her parents had had active social lives, it hadn’t included visiting the sort of upper class set where people went off shooting grouse and pheasants on a regular basis.

“Julia,” said Edward in a tone of mild surprise. “It hit me. I’ve been shot.”

She turned, about to scold him for making such a joke, when something in his face cut her short and she stepped instantly forward, catching at his arm. “No,” she said. “Surely not! Where?”

“My shoulder,” he said, and nodded, but the action seemed to pain him.

He paled abruptly as she turned her attention to his other arm, moving round him till she saw the hole in his jacket, the darkening stain around it, and she stared and then, to her shame, simply panicked. “Ned! Oh, God! Ned!”

He still seemed almost preternaturally calm – in shock, she supposed. “Julia. I’m all right, I’m still here. Just –”

“Yes, yes,” she said, forcing herself to act, and helped him to sit down against the nearest tree. He bit back a short cry as he moved.

“I’m sorry, darling,” said Julia, putting an unsteady hand to his cheek. “Give me a moment.”

She pulled off her bag and searched it for something with which to stop the bleeding, but all she had was a packed lunch. She thought again and then pulled off her slip from under her skirt, folding it up and pressing it against the wound.

“Lean back,” she said, “you can hold it in place while I –” She dived back into the bag, her sentence trailing; a sign of her scattered mind, and then pulled out the flask of tea. Oh, God, she thought, her mind running in ten different directions, as he merely closed his eyes and gritted his teeth – she should apply the slip with proper pressure, she should make him drink the tea – she should run for help –

“Iveson,” said Seymour, arriving from behind them, pushing aside some branches as he made his way across. He was out of breath and carrying a shotgun. “Bloody hell, I’m sorry.”

Julia started, disbelieving both her eyes and ears for a moment. “Wait – you shot Edward?”

Seymour put the gun down and ran his hand through his already disarranged dark hair. “No. Yes. It was meant to be a warning shot. Over his head, to get you to go.”

“Well,” said Julia, since he didn’t seem to be about to have another try, “for the moment, hold this there, will you?” She nodded at the material she was holding against the wound.

Seymour moved forward and did as she asked. Julia could smell the stale alcohol on him; he must still have been drunk, she thought. No wonder he couldn’t shoot straight. It was all so unreal, she couldn’t even start feeling furious, and she mustn’t let herself till she’d got Edward safely to a hospital.

“No,” said Edward, suddenly opening his eyes and flinching, as Seymour pressed the makeshift bandage in place.

Julia held out the tea to him. “Ned. Never mind him; drink this. It’ll help.”

“Shame it’s not brandy,” said Seymour.

Julia turned her head to glare. “Better that it’s not, actually. Better you hadn’t had any earlier, either. Now, Ned, drink this. Please.”

Edward looked at her, the confusion fading out of his face, and let her hold the flask top filled with tea to his mouth.

“Darling,” said Julia, as he took a careful sip, “we have to get you help.”

Edward gripped her hand with his good one, giving a small nod. “Yes. Look, the road can’t be far off in that direction,” he said, speaking with an effort, but sounding calmer again. “There was a telephone box a little way along, just at the edge of the village. It won’t take long. You go, Julia.”

She opened her mouth to argue: it was one thing not to try and fight Seymour here and now, another thing to leave Edward to his mercy. “But –”

“It had best be you,” he said, squeezing her hand again. “I’ll be all right, Julia, I promise.”

Julia nodded, finally seeing his point: given the circumstances, Seymour might simply run off; he could trust her not to. And Seymour would only be in far worse trouble if he finished Edward off now, with Julia to tell everyone about it. Even so, she hesitated. Instinct screamed otherwise, whatever logic might suggest. “Yes,” she said, but didn’t yet move. She shifted her gaze to Seymour. “I won’t be long,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”

“I tried to tell you to go last night,” said Seymour, holding the bloodied petticoat against the wound. “You should have agreed.”

Edward found it required too much energy to say yet again that he had been sent here by Mr Morley, the Foreign Secretary, with business to conduct that had not yet been finished.

“I thought a near shot’d work as a warning – so you’d see how serious the bloody thing is. Oh, God, I don’t know; I wasn’t thinking straight. Still not sobered up from last night.”

Edward kept his eyes closed and pressed his head back against the rough surface of the tree trunk, wishing Seymour would go away, or at least shut up. “Yes, yes,” he muttered.

“I haven’t been sitting around plotting revenge since school,” Seymour went on. “Just that damned fellow knew a sight too much about certain things, and I had to go along with him for the moment.”

Edward bit back a sigh and opened his eyes. “One thing,” he said. “I don’t care what you intended or didn’t intend; you weren’t sober enough to shoot straight and you could just as easily have hit Julia. And that – that I can’t forgive.”

Seymour did, at last, shut up.

“It would be better if you went away,” Edward added. “I don’t think any of us want to try and explain this to the authorities. Just go.”

“I would, but you’re still bleeding. I’ll have to wait till Mrs Iveson returns.”

Edward struggled to make himself focus on something, and managed it. “Seymour. How the hell could Howe know? About you – me –”

“Beats me,” said James. “But, God, you know what school was like. Maybe you were oblivious; doesn’t mean everyone else was. I think Stevens used to work for Howe, you know. He was your friend, wasn’t he? Maybe one day he said something unwise over a glass of brandy or what have you. Somebody must have done, that’s all I know.”

“Not you?”

James grimaced. “No. Even in a different world, it’s not something I’d go round talking about it, is it?”

Julia hurried back through the trees, and, on reaching Edward, dropped to her knees beside him amidst the old leaves, heedless of her dignity. She took his good hand again. “There’s an ambulance on the way,” she told him breathlessly, with barely a glance for Seymour. “And Diana was at the house and she’s coming straight out here with Dr Soper. Everything will be all right.”

Edward blinked and seemed to take a moment to focus on her, and then he gave a slight nod. “Good.

Julia surveyed him with concern, thinking him even paler than when she had left him. Despite her success in calling for help, she couldn’t help but worry: what if they weren’t quick enough? What if it was worse than it seemed? She prayed under her breath: God, you can’t take Edward away; you simply can’t. Then she turned her head and said, “Mr Seymour, would you mind keeping an eye out for them by the road, so they don’t miss us?”

“Of course,” he said, and let her take the cloth back from him before hastening off.

Julia gave Edward a look that he missed, closing his eyes again, and causing the fear to immediately seize her again. “I’m fairly sure that’s not the standard procedure for dealing with the culprit of a failed murder attempt, but I suppose needs must!”

“It wasn’t a murder attempt,” said Edward. “I wouldn’t have sat here with him if it was.”

Julia put her free hand to his face briefly and forced a smile. “Yes, well, I told you we shouldn’t come here. I told you nothing good could come of it, and I was right. I suppose I should have realised that you were so annoying at school that your former classmates are all out to shoot you.”

“Julia,” he said in faint protest.

She had to bite back tears. “You know I don’t mean it,” she said, failing in her effort at keeping up a stream of nonsense. “Oh, Ned, they’ll be here soon. The ambulance will take a while, but Diana and Dr Soper should be here any minute, and he can at least fix up a proper bandage.”

Dr Soper was less confident than Julia on the subject when he turned up. He was, as he reminded her, a Harley Street specialist, not a GP. “Let me see,” he said, Julia moving aside to let him take a look at Edward. “Hmm. Assuming all these years humouring the rich haven’t rendered me entirely useless, I should be able to at least fix you up for the journey.”

Julia had to help him with removing Edward’s shirt and was standing back out of the way again, when Diana came hurrying upwards from the road to tell them that the ambulance had arrived.

“Oh, thank goodness,” said Julia, letting Diana take her arm as the ambulance men got Edward onto a stretcher and carried him back down to the ambulance. Watching him go, Julia felt herself turn suddenly light-headed and queasy. Diana tightened her hold on her.

Julia breathed in and out. “I don’t think it’s very bad,” she said, as if Diana was the one worrying. “I’m sure he’ll be all right now.”

“No doubt of it,” said Diana. “Julia, darling, are you all right -?”

Julia felt the nausea worsen and pulled away sharply, dropping to her knees to be sick at the foot of the nearest tree, hands buried in the dirt and years-worth of old leaves. She drew back, and then got shakily to her feet. “Sorry,” she said to Diana.

“Don’t be silly,” said Diana, handing over a handkerchief and leading Julia back down through the copse to the road, only to see the ambulance drive off.

Julia stared at it; she’d simply assumed that she would go with Edward and now found herself dazed and lost.

“Well, it’s good to know that they’re not wasting time in getting him to a doctor,” said Diana, slipping her arm through Julia’s again. “Come on. We’ll follow in the car. And it’ll give us a chance to pop back to the house and you can clean up.”

Julia felt herself moving only slowly, but she looked downwards and eventually took in her blood-stained state. “I suppose so,” she said. Diana was right, of course; but she wanted to lose no time, not pause to be sensible about everything.

“It’ll be as well to pick up a few of Edward’s things, too,” said Diana. “He’ll want his night-things, no doubt, and a tooth brush. Come on, my dear.”

At the hospital, they had to wait, Edward having been wheeled away to have the bullet removed as soon as was possible. Julia sat down next to Diana and couldn’t keep herself from alternately sighing and fidgeting, not feeling in the least bit patient. All she wanted was to see Edward again and know he was alive, and then she could settle to something.

“Are you all right?” Diana asked. “Let me get you some tea.”

Julia turned her head. “Yes, yes. I’m fine. And I couldn’t – I need to see Edward and then I can –”

“Well, that could be a while,” said Diana. “You should have something first. I know it isn’t any of my business, but you hardly want to waste the nurses’ time by passing out here, you know. You’re pregnant, aren’t you?”

Julia stared downward and nodded. Of course Edward would be all right, but she didn’t want to think about her pregnancy in conjunction with this; not with any possibility that Edward might die. It was worse than worrying it might all go wrong again.

“Come on, then,” said Diana. “We shall go and have some tea, and when we come back, you might be able to see Edward, you never know.”

“I can’t –”

Diana rose, holding out her hand as she turned back to Julia. “They said it would be at least an hour. Come on, now; be sensible.”

Edward was not fully conscious when Julia saw him again, but he had been cleaned up and properly bandaged and presumably no longer had a bullet lodged in his shoulder. He still looked fairly deathly in colour, but probably already slightly better than he had when she’d last seen him propped against the tree.

Julia sat down and watched in for a while, reassuring herself that he was still breathing, occasionally stirring slightly, turning towards her a little when she caught at his hand outside the worn hospital blanket.

“It’s all right,” she said, even as he stilled again. “I’m here. You’re safe now, Ned.”

She had to abide by the visiting hours, however, and that meant she had to return to the Howes’s without Edward. She squeezed his hand again before she left, saying goodbye, even if he seemed to be fully asleep again.

However, he startled her by moving his head and opening his eyes to look up at her, still drowsy. “Julia,” he said. “Don’t say – Seymour –”

“No, I know,” she said, leaning over as she rose, and kissing him gently on the forehead. “You just get better. I’ll be back as soon as they’ll let me, I promise.”

Seymour caught her outside the hospital; alone while she waited for Diana to return for her. He was at least sober by now, but that was all that could be said for him, and Julia backed away instinctively.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but I have to tell you what happened.”

Julia raised an eyebrow. “I think you made that clear earlier, and I don’t want to hear any more, thank you. Edward doesn’t want me to say anything, but otherwise –” She hadn’t been thinking of it inside, with Edward; now, facing Seymour again, she felt positively murderous.

“Not the, er, the outcome,” Seymour said, with a wave of his hand, as if happening to accidentally shoot his former school-fellows wasn’t anything to worry about. “No. But I told Iveson – I told him to go, but he’s still a stubborn sod and he wouldn’t. Howe wanted to ruin him – finish his career. Meant to use me, and I wasn’t in a position to argue. I thought a word with Iveson would scupper that, but no.”

Julia folded her arms against herself. “Yes, so you thought, jolly bad show, I’ll shoot the blighter instead?”

“He is all right, isn’t he?” said Seymour, which Julia thought was somewhat belated. “I mean, I assumed he must be –”

Julia swallowed. “So they tell me. Look, why don’t you go? Nobody’s going to want you here now, and I’ve half a mind to tell the police anyway, never mind what Edward says.”

“Yes,” said Seymour. “I’ve been working on a bolthole since I ran into that bastard. Howe, I mean. But, look, I’m in a mess regardless. If you need my testimony against him, you have it. For what it’s worth.”

Julia reminded herself to keep calm and breathe. “Thank you, although I’m not sure why, when Lord Howe didn’t try to kill anyone. And, honestly, I don’t understand any of this. Why would he try to ruin Edward? He doesn’t even know him and the whole thing is ridiculous. People simply don’t behave like this. It makes no sense.”

“He didn’t tell me that,” said Seymour. “All I can gather is he’s got some bee in his bonnet about Iveson – thinks he’ll do him no good if he rises in the party. He said it was old history, that was all.” He paused, and gave Julia a sharp look. “You know, he didn’t say much, but I got the impression it wasn’t to do with Iveson’s family so much as yours.”

Julia glanced away, thinking about Lord Howe talking to her about her mother. It still didn’t make any sense to her. There was only one thing to do, she decided. No matter how much she detested him, she was going to have to ring her Uncle Lionel. She might only send him Christmas cards under protest, but when it came to people taking pot-shots at Edward and plotting a scandal, then she’d do whatever it took to sort it out.

“Roddy Howe?” said Uncle Lionel as Julia huddled in the telephone box along the road. Diana was waiting in the car, rather bemused as to why Julia insisted on phoning from somewhere other than the house. Uncle Lionel had sounded genuinely pleased when he’d recognised her. She wasn’t at all sure how she felt about that.

She concentrated on his voice; the line was bad. “Yes. Lord Howe.”

“Well, he’s an ass,” said her uncle. “Always has been. Jumped up little –”

Julia cut in, even though she agreed with him this once. “Yes, but why should some history of his with Mother or Father make him go so far just to keep Edward and me out of his way? It sounds silly to say it – but it’s almost as if he thinks we’re some sort of threat to him.”

“Ah,” said Uncle Lionel suddenly. “I might have an inkling, but I can’t be sure without asking some questions. I knew he had a hand in – well, never mind that, but perhaps there was more to it and the fellow’s suffering from a guilty conscience. Tends to make a chap jumpy.”

Julia blinked. “Whatever do you mean?”

“Give me a while,” he said. “I won’t say anything in case I’m wrong, but I’ll get back to you before tomorrow lunch time.”

Julia put the telephone down and thought, with a sinking heart, that tomorrow lunch time felt like forever away, and in the meantime, she had to stay in this house with Lord Howe who was the indirect cause of all this, and she couldn’t be with Edward. Even having Diana around couldn’t make it seem much better.

In the night, Julia turned in the bed, alone, and shivered. She knew that Edward ought to be all right now. The doctor had told her so, but he had looked so white when she had left him, falling in and out of consciousness, and the image remained lodged in her mind as she tried to sleep. She kept thinking of the rest of it, too – Edward quietly collapsing against that tree; Seymour with the gun. She buried her head further into the unfamiliar pillow, as if that might help shut out the memories. After all, she didn’t truly know what was happening to Edward right now. Sometimes unexpected things went wrong – complications, they always said. She didn’t know he was out of danger, not for certain.

She shifted again, lying on her back and staring up at the ceiling in the dark, setting her mouth as she reclaimed a steel thread of determination. Whatever information she could get from Uncle Lionel, or maybe even from James Seymour, she would, and she would put a stop to these games of Lord Howe’s. He had, she decided, targeted the wrong one of them entirely and he’d understand that before she left this place.

Julia rang the hospital in the morning, to find out how Edward was. They said he was awake and doing well, which could only be a relief, but she disliked having to wait to see him. Even aside from the strict visiting hours, she was expecting a telephone call from her uncle.

Everyone else suddenly seemed to be treating her too carefully, lowering their voices to ask if she’d heard any news about Edward. It unnerved her, quite stupidly, as if they knew better than the hospital and Edward was worse, not better.

Eventually, she decided to go upstairs and pack, aided by Diana. Julia had come to the conclusion in the night that, whatever happened, she couldn’t stay at the Howes’s any longer and had booked herself in at the nearest hotel. There were limits, after all.

“You know,” said Diana, “that’s the third time you’ve started emptying the suitcase instead of putting things in it. Something tells me that your mind’s not on the job.”

Julia sat down on the bed and pulled a rueful face in Diana’s direction. “I am sorry. You’re a saint, helping me like this, when I know you’ve better things to be doing.”

“Nonsense,” said Diana. “I’ve escaped what promised to be a singularly tiresome meeting, that’s all. Now –”

They both turned on hearing a knock at the door. Julia stood as one of the maids looked in.

“Mrs Iveson,” she said. “You’re wanted on the telephone – we’ve put you through to the library so you’ll have a bit of peace.”

“Thank you,” said Julia, and walked downstairs. Uncle Lionel had better have found something she could use to beard the lion in his den. She wasn't sure she knew another way to end it, other than shooting Lord Howe and that, she knew, Edward would take exception to. Prison visiting hours were even more awkward than those of the hospital.

Julia had wondered if catching Lord Howe alone would be difficult, considering all the guests, but some of them had started to disperse and Lord Howe had had telephone calls to make, she was informed, so he was in his study.

She walked in without ceremony, or even pausing to knock and stopped in front of his desk. “I needed to speak to you.”

She wouldn’t use his title; she couldn’t any more. He hadn’t been the one who’d tried to shoot Edward, but he was ultimately to blame for this awful tangle, and he would happily have ruined both Edward and Julia simply to put them out of his sight. And as for the rest of it, for what her uncle had just informed her – Julia clenched her hands to stifle a tremor of rage that went through her. Besides, ruin and disgrace was enough to break some people, and who knew where that could end? Certainly, Lord Howe couldn’t, and that meant he was prepared to risk any consequences that might have come of his schemes.

“Mrs Iveson,” said Lord Howe, rising to greet her. “And I can see that you must have questions, but I assure you, I was not to blame for your husband’s unfortunate accident. I suggest that you –”

She raised her chin. “It’s not that I needed to discuss with you. Perhaps you realise, perhaps you don’t, but James Seymour was the one who shot Edward. You were the one who brought him here, and I know why now. I didn’t before, that’s the irony. Neither Edward nor I know a great deal about our parents, and we certainly had no idea that they had any history with you.”

“Yes,” he said slowly, sinking back into the chair. “Yes. I was beginning to realise that might be the case myself.”

Julia held onto her purpose, and to her anger. “You drove my mother out of this country, didn’t you?”

“No,” he said, disconcerted by something she’d said for the first time. He ran a hand through his hair. “It was not my intention, it was only – damnation! It was a matter of business. Your father always detested me, and I had the opportunity to undermine his company, so I did – played the market, bought up the shares. It is what one does.”

Julia gave a crooked smile. “Oh, yes. Of course it is. Except that my father died. Not directly your doing, naturally, but no doubt all the stress and worry of financial failure hastened the heart attack. It would be wonderful if it hadn’t. And then my mother –”

“She should have applied to me; she was meant to!” he snapped, standing again. “I had no intention of hurting her – I would never hurt Hanne.”

Julia couldn’t keep back a laugh, although not one containing much amusement. “But you did. She ran away from the situation, from the rest of Father’s family, and no doubt, from you, too. And it wasn’t just business, or not as I hear it. My uncle is looking into it and your actions were underhand – and illegal. You do anything to me or to Edward again – you so much as breathe one word of scandal, come near either of us, and we’ll drag you through the courts. Even Seymour says he’ll testify against you. So that'd be fraud and blackmail on top of the rest. I think we’d weather the business a lot easier than you. We've less to lose.”

“Yes, yes,” he said, as if more irritated than anything else. He pushed at the papers on his desk. “God, what a mess.”

Julia swallowed. “Well, who’s to blame for that?”

“I would have helped Hanne,” he said. “I hope you believe that. It was never meant to end as it did.”

Julia couldn’t let herself think too hard about that; about everything that had followed. She might be sick again. “No, but you’ll understand that I don’t think it had a very good start, and when you compound all that with trying to destroy Edward, you can keep your excuses. I don’t want to know what you thought you were doing – only that you’ll leave us alone from now on. In return, we’ll do the same for you. I suppose I ought to make you pay for it, but I’d rather never see you or think about it again.”

“Yes,” said Lord Howe.

Julia shot a glance at him, suddenly unsure as to his response, or what he might be planning, but he had closed his eyes. She began to realise that maybe he did mean what he said about Hanne. It didn’t justify anything.

“One last thing,” said Julia. “You implied that Edward’s father had something to do with this, too, and I don’t see how he could.”

Lord Howe looked up, raising his eyebrows in surprise. “John Iveson? Not this, but he knew your father well, and there was one occasion, early on in my career where, rather ironically, he quashed one of my schemes – not unlike you today. It is a funny old world, isn’t it?”

“Sometimes,” Julia said. “And sometimes it’s not very amusing at all, if you ask me.”

By the time Julia returned to the hospital, Edward was indeed awake and looking much more like himself, if still a little worn. She sat down beside him and felt, when she smiled at him, as if it had broken some façade, tears stinging her eyes. “Hello, darling.”

He gave a small, tired smile. “Well, there’s no need to look so sorry I’ve survived,” he murmured, putting out his good hand to her, and giving a slight nod.

She couldn’t laugh; she had to stop herself before she did cry at his beside, in front of everyone.

“I’m all right,” he said, watching her in mild bemusement. “Honestly. And, Julia – Seymour – Howe –” He stopped and leant back against the pillows.

Julia squeezed his hand. “There’s no need to worry about any of that. I’ve sorted everything out, I promise.”

Edward stared at her and then pulled himself up the bedstead so sharply that he clearly caused himself pain, stopping to wince. “Ow. Julia, what have you been doing?”

“Honestly, you could show a little more faith in me. Really, it’s all dealt with – I’m serious. Mr Seymour ran away after promising to give evidence against Lord Howe if it was needed,” said Julia. “So, you needn’t worry about him. I haven’t hunted him down in revenge or anything. And, as for Lord Howe, I telephoned my uncle and he delved into the past for me. It turns out that most of this has to do with my parents, not yours. I’ll explain a little more when you’re not here, but there we are. ”

“Your uncle?” was all Edward said, raising his eyebrows.

She raised her head. “Somebody shot you,” she said, her voice not as steady as she had expected. She also saw him react, giving a slight flinch and realised that she should have avoided reminding him of it. He had seemed so very calm about it yesterday, but that, she supposed, had only been the shock, or necessity. “In those circumstances, I’ll even talk to Uncle Lionel.”

“Thank you.”

Julia reached his hand again, this time clasping it in both of hers. “Yes, well, do everything the doctor says, and then, as soon as I can, I’ll take you home.”

He smiled.

“And next time I hope you’ll listen to me about not going to stay with questionable people,” said Julia. “Or at the very least, please try something less drastic if you want to escape. I don’t think I could cope a third time.”

Edward’s smile grew, slowly, but he said nothing.

“What?” she said.

“Well, somehow,” he murmured, “I rather expect you would, darling.”

Tags: [author] lost_spook, [challenge] white chocolate, [extra] brownie, [topping] gummy bunnies
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