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A Different kind of lad.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF LAD.

[email protected] Dylanne Enough

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Shakespir edition.

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, and recording) without prior permission of the owner.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, procedures, incidents and ideas are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. This book is available in eBook format.

Other books by Dylanne Enough:

Under Emmery’s roof (The Emmery brothers’ series)

In Emmery’s heart (The Emmery brothers’ series book 2: Coming SOON)

A Different kind of Prince (Coming SOON)

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.

To God, for giving me words.

To all my wattpad readers, you guys rock! And you made my dreams come true, this book is for all of you.

Love,

Dylanne.

A different kind of lad.

Wren Donoghue doesn’t know it yet, but by rescuing two orphan boys, he changes his life forever!

Wren is a broken man with physical and emotional scars he can’t even begin to heal. He is harsh, rude and has no intention of marrying to appease his meddling mother. It will take a different kind of lad to tolerate working for him, and that lad is Hector.

Hector is unique, opinionated and very small for a nineteen year old young man. He only has one concern, to protect his younger brother, and Wren respects him for that. Hector is also a good looking boy, something Wren can’t help but notice and agonize over. And it doesn’t help when his sister wants Hector for herself! How will Wren deal with possibly having feelings for a man, or that man possibly falling in love with his younger sister? What will his family think of this brooding, respected gentleman being brought to his knees by a skinny, young man!!

One: TWO BROTHERS AND A DEER TRAP

Hazel wrung the warm, wet cloth and replaced it on her father’s forehead. The old man shifted slightly in response and a tear escaped his eldest child’s bright blue eye. The right, green eye never cried, one of the many peculiar things about the nineteen year old girl kneeling by her father’s bedside.

The old and frail man, who had once been robust and proud, was now wasting away on the small bed. He had suffered for seven months now after an infection to his lungs did not clear after treatment. The physician had tried everything but to no avail, and Hazel had been preparing for this day for a while now. His breaths were shallow and farther apart, the task in itself seeming extremely agonizing to the old man. Another tear cascaded down Hazel’s cheek and she quickly wiped it away when she heard footsteps toward the room. She rarely permitted herself to show any weakness, she had to be strong for her brother.

“Is papa feeling any better?” a whispering voice sounded in the room.

Hazel turned and smiled at her younger brother, shaking her head. “No Henry, I am afraid Pa is still the same.”

He knelt beside his sister and took his father’s thin and pale hand, “We are losing him, aren’t we.”

“Where is that wretched woman?” Hazel said instead, deliberately avoiding to answer her brother’s question.

Henry shrugged, “Probably at the inn, drinking pa’s money away.”

Hazel played with the pendant around her neck as she always did when she was emotional, that woman had no boundaries! Nor shame! She knew her stepmother could care less than not for her father but to disrespect him like that even in his last days, she had to be a true witch!

When her mother had passed away ten years ago and her father had brought a young, blonde woman home a month later, her father had obviously thought it a good idea. He had two small children to take care of and needed help, taking another wife seemed just the next step in getting that help. What he had not known, however, was not every woman was kind and loving enough to care for another woman’s child, let alone two. Fuelled with the anger of discovering her own bareness, she had hated the two siblings every day since she arrived. Her father had been oblivious to her vile behavior, of course.

“I hate that woman!” Hazel clenched her fists.

“She wishes to send me away, after you marry Mr. Worthington,” Henry said, his eyes cast downward at the wooden floor.

“Send you where Henry, this is our father’s house!” Hazel’s eyes widened in dismay.

“The orphanage,” the boy replied quietly.

“I am not marrying that man Henry! Why, he is seven years older than father! And spends all his time in that God-forsaken inn!”

“But Helen has promised you to him,” he replied. “I cannot come with you and have to stay at the orphanage until I’m of age.”

“Who said that? Helen!” Hazel seethed, “I will wring that woman’s neck with my bare hands I tell you!”

That was a futile solution, and she knew it. Not only would she be sinning, she would be hung and leave her brother behind! The very thing she was trying to avoid. So the woman’s life would be spared for now, until a better solution arose to get rid of her.

“What will we do Hazel? Everything Father owns will be in her name now.”

Hazel sighed and looked back at her father, foolish, foolish man! How could a man be ruled by his loins to the point of forgetting his flesh and blood?

“We have to leave, Henry.”

“And go where?”

“Anywhere far from this place.”

“But this is our home!”

Hazel twisted the pendant again, “This stopped being our home the day mama died. And if we stay, there is no telling what Helen will do to us.”

Henry nodded at his sister’s remark, “As long as we stay together, right?”

“Always,” smiled Hazel and looked at her father, silently thinking ‘father, don’t go.

….

“Hazel!” the drunk woman stumbled upon a stone and cursed, “where is that damned, wretched girl!”

“I bet running around with a rifle, is that not all she does?” the older man bellowed in drunken laughter.

“Wait till I tame her to be a good little wife! No more running around looking like a lad, I say, and no more hunting either!”

“You have your work cut out for you with that one!” Helen exclaimed.

“Oh, you know very well I love a challenge! If you ask me, it is lack of a sound beating that lass suffers from! You done gone soft on her over the years. No daughter of mine would do half the things that girl of yours does.”

“You forget, dear old friend, she is not my daughter!”

They both laughed and stumbled to the door and Helen fumbled to open it.

“Hazel where are…” she stopped mid-sentence as she took in the two siblings weeping by their father’s bed.

Hazel looked up with red eyes but there were no visible tears on her face, typical of the girl, Helen thought. Henry was quietly sobbing and his shoulders were shaking as he kept his head pressed to the bed. Helen did not need to be told what was going on, it was clear her husband was finally dead. The wail that escaped her mouth was loud enough to rouse the neighbors.

“Oh Phillip you selfish man, how could you leave me all alone in this world!” Helen screamed and threw herself to the floor.

Her head spun at the movement and she felt nauseous for a short moment. She took a deep breath for the feeling to pass, then began crying aloud again.

“Oh Phillip, who will love me now! How could you just leave me all alone like this?!”

Mr. Worthington stood in the corner of the room, not knowing what to do. Helen could feel his eyes on her as she sobbed on the floor. She clutched her skirt, tearing it from the hem upwards as the volume of her cries increased.

“What is happening here?” Margaret burst into the room.

“Oh my word, Helen!” she exclaimed when she saw her friend’s state kneeling on the floor.

“He is gone Margaret, the man has gone and left me alone in this world! With children to feed! How could he do this Margaret, tell me, “Helen put her hands over her heart as her body shook dramatically with supposed grief.

Margaret knelt and embraced her friend, stealing a glance at the two children who were now staring blankly at their stepmother. Helen fisted strands of her hair and pulled, letting it loose from the pins holding it up. The nausea returned again and she stopped crying for a moment, taking another deep breath. This time it did not help as she immediately emptied the contents of her stomach onto the floor.

“By God, your grief will kill you too, Helen, if you do not calm down. You want to follow your husband to the grave and leave these children as orphans?”

….

….

Hazel glared at Margaret as soon as the word ‘orphan’ escaped her mouth. How dare the woman imply Helen was any kind of parent to them! Just moments ago she had been in the inn, drinking with filthy men while her husband was on his deathbed! She had no right to pretend she cared about him nor had she any right to claim she cared for his children. She and her brother had become orphans the minute their father got the deadly illness.

Hazel clenched her teeth as her nose flared in anger, all she had wanted was to grieve in peace. Surely, they could all afford her that? Instead, her vile stepmother was making a spectacle of her father’s death!

She stood and ran out of the room, leaving Henry behind, calling after her. She could not bear to be in that room a second longer, or she would lash out at Helen when all she wanted was to grieve. Murder would be the least of her concerns then. Hazel noticed John’s coffin shop was still open and she made her way across the street. That was the last thing she needed to take care off on the funeral arrangements for her father.

“John, are you in?” she called out as soon as she entered.

John’s desk was empty and the place was quiet. The silence somehow suited the business of the place.

“Hazel, is that you?” John called out from the back room.

“Yes John, can I see you for a moment?”

“Sure, I’ll be out in a second. Take a seat.”

Hazel looked around, deciding she didn’t want to sit down. The front office was quite small, serving only to receive potential customers. The back room was where John worked and all the coffins were stored. It was a small business, but served the small, religious town well. Most of the town residents wouldn’t bury their relatives in any other but John’s coffins.

“Hello dear, what can I do for you? I know this is my business but I always hate it when people walk through that door, “the old man chuckled.

There was warmth in his grey eyes that almost matched his hair, and Hazel wondered why her brother had always been afraid of the man. She concluded that all the children were afraid of John because they associated him with death. She almost laughed at John’s statement, her father’s death meant John had more coins in his pocket. How funny life was!

“My father is dead,” Hazel saw no reason to procrastinate the matter.

“Oh my dear child, when?” the old man’s face fell with sadness and sympathy for her.

“In the hour,” Hazel replied.

“The doctor saw him?” John asked, obviously trying to hold on to hope that Hazel had been mistaken and needed a professional confirmation.

“Yes, I sent Henry to fetch him as soon as I felt his cold hands.”

“I am so sorry child, if there is anything I can do…”

“I just need a coffin John. I wish for my father to be buried in the morning.”

“Morning?” John asked, surprised.

“You are not taking a day for mourning?”

“I have been mourning my father for the last week, I knew he would not recover John. Besides, I see no reason for Helen to have an audience for her theatrics!”

John was silent and Hazel took out silver coins and placed them on the table. The old man simply pushed the coins back in her direction, shaking his head.

“No, you keep it child. Your father was a friend.”

“Everyone who dies in this town is your friend John,” Hazel smiled slightly.

“Some are closer than most,” John smiled.

Hazel took the coins and placed them in her pocket, “Thank you John. I will see you in the morning.”

She turned to go and John spoke up, “Have you seen Father Abram?”

“Yes, after I saw the doctor. All has been arranged John, “she answered, turning to leave again.

“You do not have to put up a strong front all the time child, you need to mourn.”

“I cannot afford to act like a child anymore that is for Henry to do now” she said then closed the distance to the door, shutting it after her.

Her words rang true, Henry was the one she needed to take care of now. There would be no time to act like a child when it was clear no one would take both of them in. Hazel was of age, everyone would expect her to marry and have a husband to fend for her. No, she had no time to mourn.

….

The ceremony was short and fortunately, Helen behaved. She was standing next to Henry and his sister, dressed in a black dress and veil. Henry had cried when the coffin was lowered into the grave, holding his sister’s hand through it all. Hazel had just squeezed the young one’s hand but remained motionless and focused on the ceremony. A few people had attended, their father’s lack of friends and relatives clearly showing, but the two siblings had each other and that is all that mattered. From now on, all they had was each other.

As people walked away from the cemetery, Henry and Hazel stayed behind to pay their last respects to their father. Helen was nowhere to be found, and for that, Henry was glad.

“So, what is the plan?” he looked at his sister.

“We are leaving, we head west after we collect our bags from John’s shop.”

“When did you…”

“While you were sleeping. I packed everything and hid it behind John’s.”

“But we don’t have any money!”

“Sure we do, it is not a lot but it will do until we get to the last town on the Western map. I will have to find a job.”

“You are no good at cleaning houses Hazel, and who will take in the both of us?”

“Who said anything about housekeeping?” Hazel raised a brow.

“And I will take care of you.”

Before Henry could say anything else, his sister continued, “Come on, before Mr. Worthington comes to collect his prize.”

The two walked back to their house and found Helen and Margaret standing at the door. Helen scowled at them, “What took you two so long?”

“We were not in a hurry to say goodbye to our father like you were,” Henry replied and Margaret gasped.

“Such poor manners to the woman who has cared for you since you were a child!”

“It is quite alright Margaret, no one understands what I have endured for the sake of my Phillip.” Helen sniffed. “But I shall have no more of that, I know Phillip would have wanted me to be happy.”

Hazel finally looked up, “And pray tell, what would make you happy Helen?”

“To see you happily married of course, and Henry to be in a good home.”

“This is my home,” Henry raised his voice slightly, but Hazel squeezed the hand that was still in hers and he stepped back.

“An orphanage is not a home Helen, surely you know that. Or have you forgotten you, yourself, are a product of such a place!” Hazel challenged.

Helen stiffened, “I will not have you judge me Hazel, and you do not know what you speak of. But you will have a better life than most, Mr. Worthington is a man of means, he will care for you well.”

“We are still mourning Helen, or have you no respect for that?” snapped Hazel.

“Of course I do!” Helen said, alarmed at the public accusation, “I am mourning too, I just lost the love of my life!”

Henry resisted the urge to roll his eyes and waited for his sister’s response instead.

“We are holding a fast for our father, we will be at the chapel until dawn,” Hazel said instead, “unless you care to join us?”

“Oh no, I would like to mourn my husband in the privacy of my own home.”

“Or in the tavern,” Henry mumbled.

“What was that Henry?” Margaret questioned and Henry shook his head.

“I didn’t utter a word.”

“Now, if you will excuse us, we will be going to the chapel now,” Hazel continued, pulling Henry’s hand and walking away from the two.

“Did that seem odd to you?” Margaret whispered.

Henry looked back in time to hear his stepmother reply, “That girl is always odd.” Then they walked inside.

He focused on the road ahead and turned to Hazel, “So what now?”

“Are they still outside?” his sister asked.

“No, they went into the house.”

“Good. We will go to the chapel and say our prayers for a safe journey, then come back to collect our bags before we head West.”

….

It was dusk by the time the two were miles away from their hometown. Hazel’s shirt was damp with perspiration and she was grateful for not ever wearing women’s heavy clothing! She glanced at her brother and the younger boy was no better than her. They had been walking for hours without rest and the boy looked like he would collapse any moment.

Hazel spotted a large tree a few paces ahead and she walked in that direction, dropping their bags against the trunk.

“We can rest here for the night,” she said, looking around the woody area, “I will look for some firewood so we can keep warm.”

Henry nodded and slumped against the tree’s trunk, closing his eyes as he did so. Hazel walked away from him and began to collect a few dry twigs she could see on the ground. It was fairly difficult with the dimming light, but the twigs were everywhere and she only had to feel for them on the ground. The breeze was cool enough to promise a chilly night, but with a fire they would be warm enough.

Hazel knew well they had trespassed on someone’s property and therefore she did not worry about any wild animals in the woods. Fairly dense woods such as this one would have small animals such as rabbits and squirrels, the largest being deer. Any bears or other predators would have been hanging on the owner’s walls by now to reduce competition over the deer.

Hazel thought back to her small town, it was still fresh in her memory although they were far from it now. Trespassing through people’s fields and property had given them both protection and shorter routes for their journey. She hoped she never had to see her stepmother or Mr. Worthington ever again! If only her mother were still here.

A few tears escaped from her eye with that sad thought and she did not look ahead as she closed her eyes to wipe her face. The pain was sudden and acute, and Hazel screamed in the silent forest, falling to the ground. She clutched her leg and heard the clinking sound of the metal chain attached to the clamp in her flesh. Hazel realized she had obviously stepped in a deer trap.

….

Henry heard his sister’s scream and jumped to his feet, looking around. He could only hope no one had heard her scream echoing in the quiet woods.

“Hazel, where are you?”

He heard whimpering but it seemed to be coming from every direction now that it was dark. But he tried again.

“Hazel, you have to talk to me so I can know where you are.”

“Over here,” she groaned, obviously in pain,” find a stick and tap the ground before you walk on it.”

Henry did so and took careful steps,” What happened?”

Hazel groaned again before replying,” Damn deer trap! I should have thought of that before.”

Henry followed his sister’s voice and could make out her form in the darkness. He hurried his steps toward her and knelt beside her small, sitting frame.

“I need help removing it.”

Henry’s heartbeat sped and he bit his bottom lip, “But it will be painful…”

“I cannot leave it embedded in my ankle with all that dirt and rust, who knows what else! I will be fine Henry, it won’t hurt at all. Just help me pull it off.”

Henry nodded even though Hazel probably didn’t see his act of agreement, and traced the trap on her foot. The two, jagged sides of the trap were in her flesh and he could feel the blood oozing out. But he had to be brave for her, so he took his vest off and wound it around his fingers.

“Are you ready?”

“It only hurts because it is still around my ankle, pulling it off won’t cause any harm.”

“Alright,” Henry nodded again and put all his strength into pulling the metal apart.

It took several minutes to accomplish but the trap finally gave way, leaving fresh blood in its absence. Henry quickly tied the vest around the wound to cease the bleeding.

“Help me stand and collect the wood so we can make a fire.”

He did so and took the pile of twigs under his arm, so he could support his hopping sister on the other. They walked back together slowly to the large tree, which they could still make out. The night was dark with not a single star in sight, and the larger trees were providing a canopy that was not helping either. The siblings got to their shelter for the night regardless of that, and Henry started on the fire.

By the time he was done, Hazel was already asleep, to help ease the pain Henry supposed. He wondered at that, if it had been him, he would not have slept at all! But his sister was tough, he just hoped she would be alright. He knelt in front of her with their water bottle and a clean shirt which he tore to make a bandage. After washing the wound, he bound it again with the clean cloth before letting sleep claim him too.

.

Dawn came and the two made their way out of the woods, continuing their journey. The day was the same but considerably slower due to Hazel’s injury. When night came, the siblings rested by a tree once more after eating.

The third day was even slower but Hazel and Henry went on, never stopping except to drink water for refreshment. By the fourth day, Hazel had a fever and Henry worried about her collapsing during the journey, and in the middle of nowhere. They should be nearing a town by now, if the wide road they had reached was anything to go by. He took one look at his sister and noticed her eyelids were drooping, not a good sign at all. They had to rest.

No sooner had he decided that when Hazel dropped with a thud to the ground.

“Hazel!” he screamed, then dropped to his knees beside her, checking if she was still breathing.

Thankfully, she was. But her temperature was higher now, to a dangerous point. Even he could tell that was not good. Henry shook the wattle bottle, there was still a lot left from when he had refilled it last. He took out another one of his smaller shirts and dampened it, placing it on his sister’s forehead. He removed her vest and shoes and fanned her for a bit, all the while looking up and down the road for any sign of life.

The road showed it was used frequently enough, but he had no way of knowing when another carriage would pass by. Despite being of a bigger built than her, he could not carry his sister; they would never go far. So his best bet was to wait in the road until someone passed by and aided them. He prayed a quick prayer that no robbers would spot them, and for his mother to watch over his sister. He had no idea what he would do if any serious harm came to her, so he had to have faith God would help them.

A few hours went by and Henry realized it would be dusk soon. Still no one had passed by! He was already tired and considered leaving his sister to see if he could find a house nearby. From where he stood he could not see a building for miles, but he had to hope he would find help somewhere, and soon. Exhaustion pushed him to rest for only a few minutes, adding to his guilt for not thinking of walking around earlier. If only he could sleep for twenty minutes or so, then he would find help for his sister.

It was only a matter of seconds before sleep claimed the boy, and he lay there in the middle of the road.

Two: A MAN OF FEW WORDS

#Wren

I looked out the small window of the carriage and sighed, the journey had been long and the destination was nowhere in sight. I longed to be home, bathed and clean, in my own bed, it was my favorite state to be in. I was a livestock and grain farmer, and had made my monthly visit to the town place. Going to the town market for business always left me drained and all I desired was to hide from the world for the longest time. Full of filth and noise and too much bargaining, it was my least favorite place to be. But it was my chosen trade, the only I was good at anyway, and I had to put up with the ugly side of it. In my case, going to the town place. So you could not blame me for just wishing this journey to come to an end already, was that too much for a man to ask?

The answer to my question came soon enough when the carriage stopped. What now, I thought. My impatience and exhaustion could hardly handle any more delays, and not even Matthias taking time to relieve himself! I swear, the old man would drink something and it just went straight to his bladder! Like pouring water into a sieve. Looking out my window, I could see Matthias on the ground, walking toward something. I slowly opened my door and stepped out, walking around to see a kneeling boy in the middle of the road. He looked worn out and lost, his eyes too dull and innocent to be a cunning robber attempting to trick us. My guard now slightly lowered, I noticed the body next to the boy, what exactly was taking place here!

“Boy, what is the meaning of this?” Matthias asked, echoing my thoughts exactly.

“By God! You are sitting in the middle of the darn road!” He continued shouting at the boy, who cowered a little in response.

“It is my…,” the boy hesitated and looked down at the body, “…brother. He is hurt, please, we need help.”

I frowned at his hesitation, perhaps they were partners in crime and not really brothers?

Matthias kneeled next to the boy and checked the body, “Dear Lord! The boy is burning up! What happened to him?”

The boy hesitated again, making me raise my guard again, before he answered,” His foot was caught in a trap, a deer trap.”

Matthias gasped, "A deer- were you boys trespassing?"

I almost rolled my eyes, of course they were! People only put up traps on their property after all, it was within their rights. The young boy lowered his gaze as if in shame and I had half a heart to just leave and ride away then.

“We need to get him to a physician and with haste.” My traitor of a servant said.

I narrowed my eyes at Matthias in disapproval, he certainly did not expect us to pick up these two strangers, did he? Who knew where they were from and what they did in life! By the boy’s own admission, his brother’s injury was a result of their trespassing. Heavens only knew what else they dabbled in! The old man looked at me and I shook my head vigorously, no!

Matthias, however, ignored the look from his employer and bent to pick the boy up carried the injured boy as if he weighed nothing. The man simply ignored my wishes, the nerve! The boy’s limbs were lifeless as Matthias walked to the carriage and placed him on the side I had not been sitting on. I just stood there, watching the events as they unfolded, until Matthias helped the other boy to sit up where he was driving the carriage. Was the vigorous sideways-shaking of my head not signal enough of my disagreement? Or the stern glare? It became evident this old man was not jesting at all! Grudgingly, I entered the carriage and faced the unconscious boy.

The carriage felt tiny now and I drew as farther away as I could into my own corner. I faced the window again, trying to ignore the boy’s presence as the carriage began to move. My mind wandering to Matthias once more, the man disregarded my authority time after time! Perhaps stemming from the fact that he had been in my employ for long, he did not fear me as the others did. With them, I only had to glare and they would scurry away like mice! Which was how I liked it, masters and workers were not supposed to be friends! Not when I had to pay them each month and provide food and shelter as well. No, they provided a service and I gave them a fair wage, no need for friendly terms at all!

I got startled when the carriage hit unlevelled ground, my instinct instantly being the ill boy. I caught him in time too, cursing when I pushed him farther from the edge of the seat. Halting when he stirred a little, I could not help but brush the hair from his filthy face. It was cut shorter in the back it seemed, but fell in dark bangs over his face. Probably to hide his eyes, a trait of a liar and a thief! I groaned in frustration at Matthias’ impulsiveness and gullible heart, it would surely end in a tale of woe one day!

The boy stirred again, mumbling incoherently just as he opened his eyes. I froze, silently cursing my stupidity. Even immobile, the boy could still see me and wonder what I was doing so close to him! Pugh, I did not need to explain myself, I could stand on my head if I wanted! This was my carriage, thereby entitling me to every square inch of it to do with as I pleased. Armed with my silly encouragement, I stared back at the boy who appeared immobile as well. I gasped when I looked into his eyes, surely mine were deceiving me!

I had heard of such genetics, in exotic women of the ton who lured men with their rare eyes. But here was a pair right in front of me, and I understood why men would be so intrigued with a pair of eyes! I forgot for a moment he was even a boy! One eye as blue as a calm ocean and the other as green as well-nourished pastures, it was the most intriguing sight! The boy closed his eyes then, but his eyes burned deep into my mind. One blue and one green, what a pair indeed!

Even with all the filth on his face, I could tell his skin was pale and smooth, probably never having grown a beard yet. Which was odd, considering that he appeared to be at least ten and eight. Did boys not become men around that age, why, I had my first shave at ten and seven! I supposed it differed, this boy was also small for his age too. I looked closer at his face now, he looked entirely too feminine! And I could see now that under the dirt, the boy was beautiful! How could any man be so…delicate? Where had these two boys come from really? That is the first question Matthias should have asked, the fool! But judging by his clothes, they looked well kempt enough, probably they came from a family of acceptable means. Although what family would let two young boys travel on their own? Perhaps when the physician was sent for, we needed to send for the Inspector as well. Because I was beginning to suspect these boys were up to no good!

I finally closed my eyes to catch some rest for the remainder of the journey, which was not long now, a couple of hours at most. And when next I opened them, we were already at my home.

:::::

Matthias glared at me as soon as he opened the door, as if I had done anything to the boy! I rolled my eyes and got out, pushing him out of the way as I did so. If he wanted to treat me like the villain, then I would do my best to act like one! As soon as that boy was well enough to travel, I wanted them gone. My home was not a charity house and I did not owe them a thing. Boys or not, strangers were not welcome in my home.

“One of these days, you will need someone to show you kindness!” Matthias called after me.

I groaned but ignored him, making my way to my house. Whatever he decided to do with the boys, I had done my part by not throwing them out of my carriage! Did I need do more than that? Was that not kindness enough?  Why could not people be kind to me and just do as I pleased? Pugh, life was unfair, not me.

“Wren! Where are you off to in such a hurry? Did your trip not go well?” My mother asked, startled after I had banged the door loudly.

I ignored her as I made my way to my bedchambers. No, business had gone well, I thought. Fifty dozen of eggs, two pigs and thirty bags of grain was not a bad sale. And all with good prices as well! I was pleased when I took my journal to record my earnings, the profit was enough to last two months even after I had paid my employees’ wages. So yes, not bad at all. Not including the daily earnings from the milk and products we sold to the nearby families. I took out my purse of earnings and pushed aside my bed, unlocking the safe built into the floor to place my money. I would need to pay the workers before the week ended, so I had not put all my profits into the bank when I had been in the town place. After pushing my bed back into place, I took a deep breath as I loosened my tie.

I stared at the portrait in front of me as I always did after a day at the market place. I did it again, I thought. She looked cold and menacing, even the artist had captured that in her portrait! I grimaced when I thought that I had actually married this woman, she was no one’s wife but my own! The phantom pain I always felt in my side when I thought of her returned, more piercing in my arm than anywhere else. I took off the glove from my right hand and massaged the wrinkled skin. A permanent reminder of my wife and all that she had done to me. I touched the right side of my face that matched my hand, burnt and forever scarred, just as I thought of the two boys in the workers’ quarters.

They had to go, and soon. Because the last time I had let a stranger into my house, I had acquired these scars in return. Yes, it had been my own fault, but I was determined to never do that again! My wife had taught me one thing, kindness birthed pain, and pain brought with it regret.

Three: A BEAUTIFUL DREAM

#Hazel

Silver eyes stared into mine as I tried to say something. Like who was he and why was I with him? How had he found me? Where was my brother? The man looked frozen in place, but his captivating eyes continued blinking, giving away that he was indeed; real. His face was breathtaking, strong jaw and gaze, just as I remembered from my dream. One side of his face was horribly burnt, and I had an overwhelming desire to reach out and soothe him, even though it did nothing to take away from his beauty. Nothing could ever make him any less beautiful, I thought.

He had at least a day’s stubble on his wonderful face, a golden brown, just like his short hair, and pale lips. Why couldn’t I speak?! And even more so, why wouldn’t he? That was my last thought as sleep claimed me again. My eyes involuntarily closed just as I heard him leave.

I opened my eyes to unfamiliar walls, white and not at all like the beige, stained ones at home. I groaned as I sat up, my muscles stiff from laying down for a while, but how long exactly, I had no idea. Looking around the room, I spotted a small cupboard with books and a cup on top, and the only other furniture was a cabinet in the corner, which I supposed was for clothing. I stretched my arms in a yawn, sensing no immediate threat in this foreign place, all I had to was find Henry now.

I was sitting on a mattress, it was thick and extremely comfortable; one could only imagine how long I had slept just enjoying the comfort! I was not one to sleep for more than five hours in a night, and the stiff muscles were a dead giveaway that my body had gone through an alien experience. I drew the warm covers from my body, surprised to see my trousers had been cut from the knees downwards! I laughed at the ridiculous and jagged art, done to gain access to treat my wound I supposed. I felt no pain, just an annoying itch I failed to scratch on top of the thick bandage. But I had to find my brother, I would check my wound later.

The door opened then, making me draw back in defense, just as my young brother entered.

“Henry!” was the first word I said to my brother when he entered.

My younger sibling rushed and embraced me where I sat,” Hazel! I am so glad you are awake.”

He proceeded to rain kisses on my forehead and cheeks as I chuckled at his antics.

I pushed him away gently and looked at him.

“What happened? And where are we?” I asked.

“Your leg became infected, and you collapsed. Two men helped us, brought us to this home and got a physician for you. You have been sleeping for two days.” Henry said, all in one breath.

“Two days!” I exclaimed, alarmed, then quickly reached out for my brother,” I am so sorry I failed to protect you!”

I was a terrible guardian! Not even a week on our own and I had already placed him in harm’s way. Leaving him to be the adult while I lay at the mercy of road bandits!

Henry smiled, “I am perfectly fine, and we protect each other.”

“Have they been good to you? The two men you mentioned. “I asked, worried nonetheless.

Henry beamed, “Yes, very much so.”

“I am glad, you did good Henry.” I gave him an encouraging smile, genuinely proud of the young boy. And grateful too, he had managed to save my life.

“Thank you,” he said, then bit his lip, looking away.

“Henry? What is it?” I asked, worry flooding me once more.

“I… I told them you were my brother.” He mumbled.

I burst into laughter, “My clever young brother! What made you think of such a thing?!”

“I thought it would help to keep you safe, and if you wanted to look for a job around the area-”

“Henry, you are brilliant! I taught you well, I see.” I laughed again.

“Keep screaming like that and they will never believe that you are a boy. I had to hide your bag in case anyone found your… feminine things.” My brother rolled his eyes.

“Is this better?” I asked, deepening my voice, making a terrible impression of a man.

Henry nodded though, “I am really glad you are alright, I could not bear it if I lost you too-”

“Hush now, do not speak like that. I will not leave you.”

I am certain he refrained from pointing out to me that I had no control over such things, and even though I did not want to, I had almost died. If those men had not helped us, the infection would have killed me for certain.

We embraced, comforting one another with each thinking of their worst fears. I was terrified that I had made promises to my brother I could not keep. I had failed to care for and protect him, death was not in my control! I drew back from him then, as a memory rushed back to me.

“Just before I woke up, there was a man here.” I said, hoping he would know why.

“Are you certain? No one enters this room except for the physician and myself. And the physician is not even on these premises as we speak.”

“I am certain I saw him.” My imagination could not have conjured up someone so handsome, of that I was certain! I had been sleepy though, but there had been someone here.

“Perhaps you were still dreaming, what did he say?”

“Nothing, he left rather abruptly. I was not dreaming, Henry.”

“I believe you, brother,” Henry smirked, earning a playful punch from me.

“I swear I saw him. He was…handsome,” My face heated up and my brother raised a brow at me. I ignored him and continued,” but he had a scar on his neck, at least I think I saw a scar.”

“Mr. Donoghue?” My brother said, surprised.

“Who is Mr. Donoghue?” I asked, curious. And perhaps more than a little excited that I had not been dreaming after all, he was indeed real!

“The master of this house,” my brother answered, “but I can promise you that he would not have been here!”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“He is not a very… hospitable man,” Henry grimaced.

“But I thought you said we were welcome here!” I accused.

“We are,” my brother rolled his eyes at my outburst, as if it was uncalled for!

But he had just said Mr. Donoghue was not hospitable, and whether he had helped us or not, I would not stand for my brother paying for it in being unfairly treated!

“He is generally a surly man,” Henry continued.

“Never utters a single word, does not want people around him. He has not said it in words, but I am certain he wants us out of here soon as you are well enough.”

“Of course, this was not our intended destination.” I agreed. My leg felt good enough, we could leave in a day. It did not, however, explain why Donoghue was here.

“But I know I saw him here.”

“How come I did not meet him on his way out? I think you must have seen him in the carriage when you were still ill, then had a dream about him.”

“Hmm, perhaps.” I said, still not quite convinced.

“Although I do not see why you would think him handsome,” Henry smirked, earning another punch from me.

I stopped the playful banter I was engaged in with my brother and looked at the door. I suddenly felt compelled to go and open it wider, and had an odd prickling on my neck alerting me that we were being watched. Henry must have followed my stare, because he stood up, making his way to the door. He opened it ajar, looking down the corridor, then looked at me again.

“There is no one there, Hazel. No one followed us here,” he reassured me.

“It is not that, I did not feel threatened, just watched.” I tried to explain. Which was true enough.

“I think that dream really shook you up,” Henry shook his head slightly, “I am certain you will change your mind when you meet him.”

“This is not about Mr. Donoghue!” I protested, narrowing my eyes at my brother, but felt my face coloring nonetheless.

“Of course, brother. Just do not forget you cannot be found making moon eyes at him, lest they think there is something wrong in that head of yours.” He said, thumbing said head.

I bated my eyelashes at him in an exaggerated manner,
“There are gentlemen known to prefer other gentlemen all over the land.”

“Yes, but even they, have to hide it because society would ruin them!”

“You have developed quite an attachment to this place, haven’t you?” I sighed.

“It feels like home, might not be for long but I like it here,” my brother shrugged.

“We will find a permanent home soon, I promise you. I will get a good job and we will be happy, you will see.” I could only hope.

Henry’s sad eyes looked up at me, “It will never be the same without papa around.”

“Hush now, do not dwell much on that. We are still a family, let us be grateful for that.”

“But-”

“No, none of that. Nothing will take me from you, do you understand!”

“Do not go stepping in any more animal traps then, I do not think you could handle a bear trap!” My brother grinned mischievously, making me ruffle his hair as we laughed.

No, definitely no more traps for me. But I would make a better life for us, of that I was determined!

“So what is my new given name?” I finally asked.

“Hector,” my brother responded, making me grin.

I liked Hector, and I could see myself making a good Hector. And first order of business tomorrow was to go and visit this Mr. Donoghue. To thank him for helping us, and find out if he had really been in the room while I slept!

#Wren

I went through the boys’ bag of clothing, finding nothing suspicious or anything of value. They had a few changes of clothing, mainly shirts and vests, a small bible and a worn picture of two adults. The older boy was sound asleep while the younger one was in the workers’ kitchen. I had made sure that I would not be caught snooping, it would not do for the servants to think I had no respect for their privacy. I did not, have any respect for their privacy that is, this was my house and I did what I pleased. But I also did not want them to know.

I turned to the sleeping boy again, his rosy lips in a small pout and his delicate hands clenched in front of his face. Now that he was cleaned up and treated, his skin had a healthier glow about it and natural tan. I was taken aback by the beauty of his face, no man should ever be so perfect! Everything about this boy was pretty and delicate, it appeared, and in his sleep he looked like a child.

I held my breath when he suddenly opened his eyes, staring at me like he had in the carriage. His intriguing eyes held so many questions it seemed, ones I was not prepared to answer. Like what was I really doing here? Why, investigating of course! I hated when things were not in my control, just like the fate of these boys. Matthias had taken it upon himself to care for them, bringing the younger one with him to work and not bothering to even update me! He stared at me for a little while before drifting off again, and I took that as my cue to leave, and quickly.

I heard footsteps coming from the main door and I immediately retreated, entering one of the rooms I knew were never locked. I heard the person enter the room I had just left but did not hear the door close. I cursed my luck, how would I leave now! After waiting for a few minutes, I decided to try and sneak out, exhaling when I realized the door was not ajar, but slightly open. Open enough for me to hear the words, ‘when I woke up, there was a man here.’

The boy’s voice was just as I had expected, soft and almost feminine. It suited his face and build, just as delicate as the rest of him.

“I swear I saw him. He was,” he hesitated for a bit before continuing, “handsome.”

I was surprised to find myself smiling, something I rarely even did. So the boy thought me handsome? Intriguing.

“But he had a scar on his neck, at least I think I saw a scar.”

Instinctively, I reached out to touch my scar, instantly reminding me that I was behaving like a fool. Sneaking around to investigate two boys? Being intrigued by one of them? What kind of man was I! I was never one to do odd and juvenile things, and yet here I was. The boys had to leave, and soon, before I made a fool of himself more than he already had.

“Mr. Donoghue?” The younger one questioned, sounding very much surprised.

“Who is Mr. Donoghue?” His ill brother asked.

“The master of this house,” was the answer, “but I can promise you that he would not have been here!”

“Why is that?”

“He is not a very… hospitable man.”

For a moment, I felt a pang of guilt. But it fleeted just as I felt it.

“But I thought you said we were welcome here!” His brother accused.

“We are,” he paused before continuing. “He is generally a surly man, never utters a single word, and does not want people around him. He has not said it in words, but I am certain he wants us out of here soon as you are well enough.”

“Of course, this was not our intended destination.” His brother agreed.

“But I know I saw him here.”

“How come I did not meet him on his way out? I think you must have seen him in the carriage when you were still ill, then had a dream about him.”

“Hmm, perhaps.” He replied, not at all convinced.

“Although I do not see why you would think him handsome,” the younger one teased.

Their playful banter stopped just as I felt it. A prickling sensation down my spine, like he was looking right at me! It was the most peculiar and unnerving thing! I hurried out of there before either of the boys realized my presence!

:::::

I took my supper in my room, facing away from Catherine’s portrait. On normal days, it had the most amazing ability to make me lose my appetite! Why then keep it, you might wonder, because I needed the reminder and punishment for my stupidity. It was the only way I could avoid making the same mistake twice.

If only it had all been a simple nightmare I could forget!

I might not have been able to forget, but for tonight, I was content with dreaming of a unique pair of eyes. One blue, and one green. There was something different about that boy, and I could not afford to let him stay long enough for me to unearth it.

Four: SOME BROKEN WORDS

#Wren

I grimaced as I tried to get the cow dung off my boots, I smelled worse than a darn barn! I ran my boots through the grass again and was pleased with the final results. It was at times like these when I had to rack my mind for the exact reason I had chosen this darn profession! But I took a deep breath calming myself, I could survive the next couple of hours until I could get a bath. Putting my hat back on, I walked into the storage room to get a basket.

Mother had said she needed some carrots and spinach, which I needed to get for her now. I maintained a small garden for her, which was where I was going after acquiring a basket.

When I walked out, I was startled to an abrupt stop when I noticed the injured boy leaning against the storage walls. Except he was not so injured anymore! He was in brown overalls, with the sleeves rolled up to accommodate his small arms, which were just as smooth as his face. And he smelled worse than I did! I must have involuntarily wrinkled my nose in disgust because he chuckled.

“You smell just as terrible,” he said. I had forgotten how soft his voice was!
“I was feeding the pigs before picking eggs, I could not possibly smell like a bathed infant!”

I narrowed my eyes at his banter and he shrugged. He was so tiny, and the extra fabric on him moved more than he did! I wanted to laugh then, but I could not, not in front of him! And who had told him I was here anyway?

“My brother and I will earn our keep, and the old doctor said I only needed a couple more days until he could declare me fit for travel.” He said in explanation.

I only stared at him as he bit his lip, clearly expecting me to add my bit to the conversation. Which was not happening!

“Thank you for helping us, I would have died if not for you. How can I ever repay you?” He asked sincerely.

I almost felt ashamed to admit I had wanted to leave him on the road! If there was any thanks needed, it was due to Matthias. Kind, old Matthias. Ever so generous with my resources. Pugh, I would never be happy about that!

“I am all my brother has, and I cannot bear to imagine what would happen to him if left all alone.” The boy continued.

I felt a pang of guilt then, even though I should not have. I was not a charity or an orphanage, and I was not obliged to help out all the urchins who needed help! I just wanted my peace and quiet, and now this boy was delaying me in my day’s work!

“I am Hector by the way, but I suppose you already knew that,” he said, appearing nervous now, “it is nice to officially meet you, Mr. Donoghue.”

I looked at his outstretched hand and then back at his disturbingly beautiful face before nodding and walking away.

“Do you have a problem with me, or just people in general, Mr. Donoghue?” He called out, making me stop at a small distance from him.

How could I answer that? I did have a problem with people in general, but for some peculiar reason, he got to more than most. Perhaps because I did not want to keep my distance from him? I wanted to unearth all his secrets. And why he intrigued me so. Why, even now, I could feel his presence as if he was just beside me. What was the matter with me!? I suppose after all these years, living in my head, I had officially become insane. Perhaps I was just lonely, I did not know. But I was definitely suffering from an ailment I could not name yet.

“I know you were in my room the night before last,” he said again, lower now that he had caught my attention.

“Why?”

I clenched my fists as I turned to face him slowly, and the boy just stared at me. His rosy lips were pursed as he waited for an explanation that would not come. I should just walk away, I thought, except, I could not. I felt compelled to stand there and tell him that I was looking for evidence that he was a crook. And that I did not need to explain myself, it was my house and I could do what I darn well pleased. Wait, was I contradicting myself?

The boy looked amused as my internal battle raged on. So not only was I watching him as he slept, I was probably insane to him too! I raised a brow at him and he shrugged.

“I am neither a thief nor a threat, Mr. Donoghue.”

I almost scoffed, what thief would admit that they were, indeed, criminal. He spoke as if his word alone could change the world and how it functioned. Could change me and how I thought and felt.

“My brother and I were just travelling until we found a place to settle, once I secure employment of course. I am no stranger to hard work.” He spoke on.

I nodded again and turned to walk away. I supposed he had said all he had to say, all he had to do now was wait until his leg was fully healed. Then away, they would go.

“I am done with my work, perhaps I could assist you?” He said again, making me groan.

I continued walking but I heard him behind me. Could this boy not take a hint! Hint being, leave me alone!

“Are you hurt?” He said beside me and I looked down at him with a frown.

He was rather small, now that he was standing next to me, barely reaching my shoulders. But he was also still a growing lad, I was sure he would catch up someday.

“You are limping,” he explained his question and I narrowed my eyes at him, could he just not leave me alone? Besides, my limp was barely noticeable! Was he studying me?

I started walking again as he tried to keep up with my long strides, still chattering away. I had never met anyone less deterred by my lack of speech! I realized then we could spend the whole day together and he could speak enough for both of us! That was slightly concerning.

“I apologize for prying.”

Somehow I doubted that he was sorry at all, and his next statement proved me right.

“You are making me nervous by being quiet, which is only going to make me ask more questions.” He declared.

I rolled my eyes as I opened the gate and entered, the boy right behind me. Well, if he was going to stay, he better work! I turned and pushed the basket into his arms. A bit too harshly, it appeared, for he stumbled backwards a bit. He gave a smile nonetheless, as if somehow challenging me to bring on my worst. I groaned again as I walked to the carrots first.

#Hazel

Matthias had told me where he would be, which was where I needed to be. First, to thank him, and second, to question him. Although I had no idea what I would ask. What were you doing in your house, looking at a strange boy you do not know and have a right to investigate? Because I had no doubt he had been looking around to find out more about my brother and me. His eyes were too cold to only have been there out of concern for my well-being. Those silver eyes, beautiful, deadly, unsettling and intriguing all at once! And so, I waited outside as he was inside the storage room.

I could see my presence had startled him, but he tried to appear calm and unfazed, choosing instead to frown. He was just as beautiful as I remembered, meaning Henry had been wrong! I had not been dreaming that night, he really was there! The beautiful man with a scar. The beautiful man with the sad and angry eyes. The beautiful man who intrigued me above all else.

I probably looked hilarious in my borrowed brown overalls, with the sleeves rolled up to accommodate my small arms. One of the smaller boys had let me borrow it, even though it was still huge on me. I watched as Mr. Donoghue wrinkled his nose in disgust before I chuckled nervously. It was apparent he was content with just glaring at me without introductions, so I decided to break the ice.

“You smell just as terrible,” I said. I winced inwardly after saying that, and decided to talk about work. Yes, work, that seemed like safe ground.

“I was feeding the pigs before picking eggs, I could not possibly smell like a bathed infant!”

He narrowed his eyes at me as I tried and failed to jest, making me shrug. His eyes shone with amusement then, but it was gone so quickly I supposed I had imagined it.

“My brother and I will earn our keep, and the old doctor said I only needed a couple more days until he could declare me fit for travel.” I said in explanation.

He continued to only stare at me as I bit my lip nervously. I could see he would not be replying me any time soon! It was just not happening.

“Thank you for helping us, I would have died if not for you. How can I ever repay you?” I said sincerely

Even if he did not want to speak with me, I still needed to thank him. Though I still hoped for even the smallest response from him.

“I am all my brother has, and I cannot bear to imagine what would happen to him if left all alone.” I continued.

Still, the man would not say anything.

“I am Hector by the way, but I suppose you already knew that,” I said, becoming more nervous now, “it is nice to officially meet you, Mr. Donoghue.”

He looked at my outstretched hand and then back at me before nodding and walking away.

“Do you have a problem with me, or just people in general, Mr. Donoghue?” I called out, making him stop at a small distance from me. I was annoyed now.

“I know you were in my room the night before last,” I said, hoping he would react to that. “Why?”

I watched his clenched fists as he turned to face me slowly, and I just stared at him. He looked like he was debating with himself on whether to answer me or not. I almost laughed at the look on his face, making him raise a brow at me and I shrugged in turn.

“I am neither a thief nor a threat, Mr. Donoghue.” I said in amusement. Probably he was worried about that, although my saying it was neither proof nor would it put him at ease. I felt better saying it anyway.

“My brother and I were just travelling until we found a place to settle, once I secure employment of course. I am no stranger to hard work.”

He nodded again and turned to walk away. I did not want him to go though, no matter how rude he was being. I felt a pang in my chest at seeing his back, I just wanted to be near him, well as near as his present odor would allow me.

“I am done with my work, perhaps I could assist you?” I offered, making him groan audibly.

He continued walking but I followed him. And no, I had no pride at all. He had a slight limp as he walked, you could barely tell since he was walking so fast, but I saw it. And I was curious.

“Are you hurt?” I asked
beside him and he looked down at me with a frown.

The man was really tall, now that I was standing next to him, I barely reached his shoulders. His size was surprisingly not intimidating, it was actually rather comforting. I almost laughed at that. Here this man was, never saying a word and evidently in a hurry to get away from me, but I was finding his presence comforting! And he was frowning at me again.

“You are limping,” I explained my question and he further narrowed his eyes at me.

As I had expected, he just ignored me and started walking again as I tried to keep up with his long strides.

“I apologize for prying.” I said.

“You are making me nervous by being quiet, which is only going to make me ask more questions.” I said, rolling my eyes.

I followed him as he opened the gate and I almost fell when he turned and pushed the basket into my arms. A bit too harshly, I might add. But I took it with a smile as this was his way of saying I could stay. Perhaps I was getting somewhere.

:::::

We had been working for over an hour now, weeding, picking out the ripe vegetables and had planted some onions. I was tired now, and I bent over to scratch my leg for the hundredth time, darn thing was itchier than dry hay! The after effects of healing, or perhaps just the ointment the old physician had given me. When I finally straightened and looked up, Mr. Donoghue was looking at me like I was some peculiar being! I frowned at him.

“What?” I asked, watching him closely.

The man never uttered a word, no matter what I attempted! So I had been studying him the whole day, memorizing his reactions to everything. He shook his head and went back to uprooting the carrots, removing the leaves to feed the rabbits later.

“Why do you not speak?” I asked curiously, needing to get to the bottom of this. His silence had to have a reason somehow.

“Are you a narcissist and believe everyone is beneath you?” I teased, not managing to draw even a smile from him.

“Perhaps you enjoy being intimidating and threatening?” I tried again.

No response, of course.

“Do you have a terrible voice?” I chuckled.

“Or just-”

“Will you s-s-stop!” He finally burst out and I looked at him in surprise.

He stammered?

His face changed from beautiful to menacing as he pointed to the gate.

“L-l-leave my farm! Now!”

“Why-”

“Now!” He repeated.

All this time trying to get him to talk and these are the first words he utters to me? I glared at him as I turned to walk away. He wanted me to go away, then go away I would! I did not care where we would go at this hour but we would make it. Whatever Mr. Donoghue was angry at the world for, I was not going to stay and find out!

I was still breathing heavily in anger mixed together with so many emotions, when I found Henry in our room. I grabbed his bag and threw it at his feet.

“Pack up, we are leaving!”

My young brother narrowed his eyes at me in confusion,” What are you talking about? Where are we going?”

“I do not know, anywhere!”

“The physician said two more days!” He argued.

I knew he did not want to leave this place, but it had been an illusion. It was temporary and sooner or later, in this case sooner, Mr. Donoghue would have kicked us out anyway. He was an angry man and my finding out about his speech disability had somehow set him off. I did not understand, was he ashamed of it? Did people make fun of him because of it?

I did not know, but I would not be staying to find out.

Five: CHASING BOYS

#Wren

Take another horse, he said, follow those boys, he had ordered. Pugh! Had I lost all control over my life?? I admit, I felt bad, not much though. But just enough to actually listen to Matthias and go after the brothers. Offering them employment, however, was not what I wanted! The elder boy could take time to heal, but I did not want them permanently in my employ!

I cursed under my breath as the wind hit my face. It had gotten chilly all of a sudden and the clouds looked angry and ready to pour. There was no sight of Hector and Henry and I hoped they had not taken another darn shortcut again! If not, how had they gotten this far already! It had been two hours since they left, or more accurately since I chased them out, surely they did not walk that fast! I carried on as I led the other horse by my side, all the while thinking what if I just turned around and told Matthias I could not find them?

After about ten more minutes, I finally spotted two figures ahead. I smiled as I galloped faster, and Hector turned to look at me as I approached. His face had unmasked surprise and he frowned at me as I drew to a stop.

“Mr. Donoghue? What are you doing here?”

The younger boy looked at me with the same haunting questions in his eyes and I sighed, indicating the other horse I had brought with me.

“You rode all this way to give us a horse? What, you cannot get us farther enough from your farm?!” Hector scoffed.

This boy was something else!
I bet he impressed a lot of girls with that face and wit. I shook my head and he narrowed his eyes at me.

“You are inviting us back with you?” He asked in a disbelieving tone.

I nodded, wanting to get this over and done with already. I could still change my mind!

“What changed your mind?” He raised a brow.

I rolled my eyes and got back on my horse instead. Playing twenty questions was not getting us anywhere. Especially since I had no desire to give twenty answers.

“Wait!”

I looked expectantly at him and he looked at his brother before asking, hesitantly.

“Will you be offering me a job?”

I nodded as I drew the reigns, leaving without waiting for them. I had done what Matthias had asked, it did not mean I had to be nice about it!

#Hazel

“Just like that?” My young brother asked as we watched Donoghue ride away.

I shrugged, “I suppose.”

I was angry with him though, furious in fact. And hurt too. He thought he could just play with us? Chasing us away, then riding after us like some hero! I have to admit that seeing him did make my traitor heart skip a beat, but I was still mad at him!

“What do you think changed his mind?” Henry said as we rode back, slow enough to maintain the distance between Donoghue and us.

It looked like it would rain soon and I was glad Henry and I would be indoors by then. As much as my pride wanted me to tell the man to take his change of heart and shove it, I could not for two reasons. One, I needed to think of providing for Henry. We were safe here, Matthias was good to us and so were the other workers. Plus my brother loved everything about the farm already, he was truly happy doing different chores around the place. Second, I could not say no to Donoghue. I had already fallen in love with his home, and he intrigued me. I wanted to know more about the man, the story behind his scars and to hear his voice again. I could tell he never showed kindness to anyone he did not trust so I wondered why he had shown kindness to my brother and me. I could tell it took a lot for him to come after us.

“I do not know, Henry, but I am glad he did.” I answered honestly.

“Do you like him?” My brother asked curiously.

“He is a difficult man to like!” I laughed nervously.

“Yes that he is. But I like it at the farm,” Henry shrugged.

“I know, I like it there too,” I agreed.

“You should tell him now, you know, that you are a girl.”

“He would probably throw us out again!”

“He would understand our reasons for doing so,” my brother argued.

“He would not, Henry! The man is unpredictable and easily tempered. Besides, what work is there for a girl to do at the farm? He would never let me work in the fields if he knew! Or with the animals.”

“Alright, but do not say I did not warn you.”

Henry was right of course, my wise little brother, but I was too afraid of Donoghue being mad at me again. I just needed to prove myself irreplaceable at the farm, then I would tell him. What would he think of me? It was not a big issue, was it? But then again, I did not know Donoghue well enough to judge whether he would laugh about all this or think we were cons with some agenda! And if I remained a boy, perhaps I would have enough incentive to not like the man. I bit my lip, yes, I had to remember to keep away from the man!

:::::

It started pouring just as we got to the farm, really pouring. The kind of rain that hits mercilessly on your skin and could leave a bruise. The stables were closest to Donoghue’s house and he pointed to it as he locked in the horses.

“I will help you,” I said but he just glared at me, pointing to the house.

I hesitated before leaving him behind as we ran to the door. We should have waited for the rain to calm, I thought as the drops attacked us. But the distance was short and it did not look like the rain would stop anytime soon.

I felt bad as we drenched the floor by the doorway, waiting for Donoghue.

“Oh you poor darlings!” A voice shrieked, making us look up.

A tiny woman looked at us with a horrified look upon her beautiful face and I looked all round us.

“I apologize ma’am, we are ruining your floor-”

“Pish posh, I do not care about the floor! But you are soaked to the bone, Wren should never have chased you out in this weather! That boy!”

This must be his mother then! Henry and I chuckled as we looked at her. She had just called Mr. Donoghue a boy! Ha! The man was almost twice her height and intimidating to boot. There was nothing boy about him. I wondered if the woman kept a watch on the activities of the farm since she knew about us, I had never seen her till now!

“Mama?” Another female voice called out and the tiny woman turned away for a second.

“I am at the door sweetheart,” she called out.

She turned to us again and sighed, “You boys, come with me.”

I looked at the door again as she ushered us into the house, wondering what was taking Donoghue so long. Had the woman called him Wren? Hmmm, the name was unusual but it suited him I supposed. He was an unusual man.

Mrs. Donoghue had led us to a bathroom,” You boys can change in here. There are some of Wren’s old clothes in that cupboard there.”

We looked at her blankly, did she know how tall her son was! Even though Henry was taller than I am, he still would not fit in Mr. Donoghue’s clothes.

The woman laughed,” They are from when he was but a lad, he was smaller then. I kept his clothes to give to the boys who work here, it seems such a waste to throw clothes away when someone can use them.”

We nodded as she left, closing the door behind us.

Henry changed first while I faced the door and then it was my turn. There were not many items of clothing to choose from so I had to settle for a pair of trousers that I had to roll at the bottom. It felt nice to be in his clothes for some inexplicable reason and I failed to stop the grin spreading across my face. I found a small shirt though and I cursed the wet binding I still had on across my chest.

“My binding is wet,” I told my brother, who chuckled.

“Are you sure it is worth all this trouble? Pretending to be a boy?”

He was right, it was too much hard work.

“It was your idea,” I accused.

“Which I do not like anymore.” He pointed out.

I rolled my eyes and looked at myself again, thinking I was too small for anyone to notice anyway. Unless they embraced me, and no one was going to do that anyway. So I put on the shirt and a jacket I found at the bottom of the clothes pile, no, no one would be able to tell. When we walked out, we followed the voices to the kitchen where the tiny woman was cooking. Mr. Donoghue was back too, in dry clothes! That was fast, I thought. His hair was still wet though, making him look daringly beautiful. His white shirt had wet patches on it, and I found his eyes on me when I finished studying him. He frowned, probably because I was wearing his clothes. I only smirked, I was never returning these!

“Are you sure he is a boy, mother?”

I finally noticed the girl in the room. She had brown hair, just like her brother, and was every bit as beautiful it made me slightly envious. I could tell by the blush on Henry’s face, he thought her beautiful too. But the look that her brother gave her then, he certainly did not find her charm endearing!

“Of course!” Her mother laughed, “But he is rather handsome, is he not?”

My face instantly heated up as the girl looked intently at me!

“Definitely,” she replied, grinning at me.

I could see the slight smirk on my brother’s face, glad to see he could find some amusement in this!

“Now now, do not embarrass the poor boy,” her mother said. “Help me set the table.”

We sat down as the ladies set the table but Wren just took his plate, serving himself before leaving. His mother must have caught my stare because she waved her hand dismissively.

“Do not give mind to him, he is set in his ways. But Lord knows I try.”

I nodded as I looked to where he had disappeared to before returning my attention to the table again. Even though Donoghue had taken all my interest in food with him. Supper was an awkward affair, with Michelle staring at me throughout. I swear she had even winked at me at one time! This was the most uncomfortable I had felt since having a trap stuck in my flesh! I could also swear her unwanted gaze was just as painful.

I offered to help clean up after we were done, but Mrs. Donoghue was adamant there was no place for a man in the kitchen. I almost laughed then, and Henry had the biggest smirk on his face. Michelle was still eyeing me in the most peculiar of manner, and since it was still pouring, I could not escape her. And so I politely asked Mrs. Donoghue to show me where her son’s room was, in hopes that I could thank him. Henry smirked at me again as I walked out, making me roll my eyes.

I was at his door and hesitating to knock, reminding myself that I needed to stay away from this man. He was trouble with a capital T, Lord help me. I had never felt this way before and I appeared to have lost all my free will as I finally knocked.

There was no answer even as I knocked a second time, then I remembered the man did not speak. And I doubted he would come to open the door for me either! I smirked when I thought that I was a boy now, it would not be improper for me to just enter. Ha! Take that Donoghue!

He glared at me as I walked, frowning when I did not say anything, which evidently annoyed him. If he wanted me to leave, he was just going to have to speak now, wasn’t he! Or drag me out, and who knew what the man was capable of? I was pushing him here.

His room was exactly as I expected it to be, cold and dull. Too much black and brown. I looked around as I ignored his eyes on me; from the shelf filled with books, books everywhere really, to the beautiful portrait on the wall. I held my breath as I looked at her, golden hair, blue eyes and a gorgeous smile, everything I was not. I bit my lip as I finally turned to face him.

I wanted to thank him for changing his mind, for offering my brother and me employment, for riding after us and making amends, in his own way. But all I could seem to say was, “Who is she?”

He was quiet for what seemed like ages, not that I even expected a response from him! The man never spoke, after all. I finally opened my mouth to thank him anyway, perhaps apologize for prying, but he beat me to it. I barely heard him but I was not mistaken.

He whisper-said, “My wife.”

I gasped.

Six: KISSING BOYS

#Wren

He was quiet after I told him about my wife, and I felt a heavy weight in my chest for some unknown reason. He just stood there, my clothes looking ridiculous on him and yet oddly endearing. Because his posture was uncommonly soft, he appeared as if the clothes had swallowed him. There was something undoubtedly odd about this boy, or was there something wrong with me for feeling so drawn to him? I had no idea. All I knew was that I was beginning to seriously regret going after him and his brother!

“She is dead,” I whispered, in spite of myself.

I did not want to tell him that, but I found myself doing so anyway.

“I am sorry,” he said genuinely, but his face still betrayed his surprise.

We were silent for another awkward minute before he cleared his throat.

“You…are speaking to me. Why?”

I almost rolled my eyes, but he had a point. My voice was, in fact, slightly croaky from lack of use. But I had said more words to him in a day than I had in two years! As few as they were. I refused to say any more words though, so I did not answer him.

“I wanted to say thank you, for coming after us. Even after you had so rudely chased us out.”

I raised a brow at him and the little bugger smirked at me! The nerve! That provoking wit of his would get him in trouble someday, and someday soon. My goodwill had a sensitive expiration date.

“Alright, your surly-ness,” he rolled his peculiar eyes, “thank you for taking us in. And saving us from probable death in this storm,” he finished off somewhat sincerely.

I did not like him calling me surly though, he had to learn his place here.

“We are not friends!” I hissed, making him widen his incredible pair of eyes.

“You are not stammering,” he sounded intrigued.

That was true, but I stammered more when I was highly emotional. Now I was calm and the words somehow flowed better, as long as my sentences were short.

“You probably think me annoying, yes?”

I nodded at that, trying to hide the smile pushing its way to the surface. What was wrong with me!

“I just…” his voice trailed and he bit his lower, plump lip.

I waited for him to continue when I realized something seemed off about him. He appeared like a stubborn child trying so hard to stay awake, in spite of himself.

“Hector?”

He giggled,” You said my name…” before dropping to the floor.

I cursed as I rushed to his side, immediately checking his temperature to see if his fever was returning. He felt fine, it was probably just too much excitement for his recovering body. Now it had all just rushed back with a vengeance. And this was my fault. I had chased them out in bad weather.

I sighed as I picked him up, he weighed next to nothing! Nothing strenuous anyway, he probably weighed less than my younger sister! And that was considering the fact that my sister watched what she ate desperately! This boy definitely needed to eat more, perhaps the hard work on the farm would build some muscle in him. Because this would just not do, no wonder he fainted like some damsel!

I placed him in the middle of my bed and drew the linen from under him to cover him. He did not even stir. I watched him for a minute, thinking I should probably inform the others that the boy would sleep in my room for the night. My eyes were drawn to his rolled trousers, my trousers, and I reached out to push it up even more. I cursed again at his stupidity, he should have said something!

His bandage was moist and had a huge blood stain on it, he had burst open his wound again. I wondered if he had not felt it all this while, because he had appeared to be alright to me. Now I had to babysit the boy, and I certainly did not want his wellbeing in my hands. I got off my bed anyway and retrieved a clean bandage from my medicine drawer. I kept a few ointments and some pain medication there, which was handy when you worked at a farm with animals. Even the tools we used were danger hazards sometimes, and I encouraged all the workers to keep a small kit for the little injuries in their quarters.

I mixed some water and disinfectant in a small bowl and was returning to the bed when someone knocked. I sighed, placing the small basin on a stool I had positioned next to the bed, before walking to the door.

My sister smiled at me when I opened the door, making me inwardly groan. She rolled her eyes at my attitude and held up a tray.

“I brought up dessert, is Hector still here?” She said, trying to peep into my room.

I stepped aside so she could enter, which she did a bit too enthusiastically. I narrowed my eyes at her as she looked around slowly, a look of awe on her face.

“Do you know I have not been in your room since I was only a child?”

There was a reason why she was not allowed in here, but I would not point that out.

Her eyes finally got to the bed as we walked in and she frowned as she turned to look at me again.

“When did he fall asleep?”

I shook my head and pointed to his injured leg. She gasped and pushed the tray into my hands, before rushing to his side. I sighed and considered taking a slice of the delicious looking cake, then I remembered my hands still had disinfectant on them.

“What happened to his leg? Did you give him something for the pain, is that why he is sleeping?” She threw a string of questions at me.

I put the tray on my work table and went back to sit next to the boy again. Michelle eyed me from the foot of the bed as I went for the bandage. I hesitated and grimaced while I extended my hand, failing to reach the bandage. It seemed so far away and my head swam as I tried to grab it.

“Oh come now, let me do it!” She said as she came closer.

I sighed in relief as I rushed out of the room to my washing room. I breathed in relief again as I washed my hands, counting twenty tines as I did so. A wonderful sense of calm and joy came over me, clean was good. Clean made me happy. Clean kept me alive.

Michelle had already replaced the bandage when I came back in and was just staring at the boy.

“His wound was not so bad, just a few compromised stiches. What happened to him? And where did they come from? I was not aware any new workers were coming in.”

It appeared mother had not yet filled her in, and I almost rolled my eyes at that. Michelle had never been interested in the farm, but suddenly she wanted to be informed on my worker roster? Ha! That was hilarious! It did not take a genius to figure out she had taken a fancy to the boy, which was expected. My sister, bless her soul, was a shallow being. She had an expect eye on beautiful things. And my pocket had evidence of it! Anything shiny and pretty caught her eye easily until she saw the next pretty thing. And in this case, it was now an infatuation with the boy in my bed. I almost laughed, if anyone could put my young sibling in her place, it would be Hector.

“Look at his feet, they are almost as tiny as mine!” She said before giggling.

I shook my head and proceeded to cover him with the drawn blankets as I had intended. I wanted to tell her that the boy was not a doll! My sister sighed and looked up at me.

“Will he sleep here then?” She asked

I nodded.

“And where are you going to sleep?”

I pointed to the door that led to my joined chambers. Rooms that used to belong to my wife. My sister looked surprised at that, but I shook my head, indicating that she not talk about it any further. Thankfully, she got the message and pressed her lips in silence.

She stood and walked to take the tray, making me raise a brow at her.

“I know you will not eat it now, after being in the open and all.”

I nodded and she did the same before walking to the door. She turned as I followed her.

“I will tell his brother that he will be in here, and we should probably get the physician to come up here in the morning to check his wound.”

I nodded and she noticeably hesitated before looking up at me with her bright blue eyes, so like our mother’s.

“I miss when you actually used to talk to me like a big brother should.”

I sighed and leaned down to lightly kiss her forehead, making her smile faintly.

She nodded, “Alright then, have a good night.”

I closed the door after her and banged my head against the door, why was life so difficult. I failed to make my family happy, and I somehow managed to convince myself that that was their problem! I walked back into my room and checked the boy one last time before looking for a key from the bottom of a long-forgotten drawer, at least one I had pretended to forget.

#Hazel

I woke to a pair of bright blue eyes in my face, and I screamed! I scurried away to the end of the bed as Donoghue burst into the room, looking alarmed.

“I did not mean to startle him, I was only…”

Her voice trailed as her elder brother glared at her, even I felt a chill in the room! That is when I noticed his hair was all over the place, he had still been asleep. That was not the only indicator that my scream had woken him up, his white shirt was open! It appeared he slept in his clothes from the night before, with the difference of the open shirt of course. That was a new and welcome sight! I felt my ears heat up as I took in his toned chest and stomach, he was indeed beautiful! Oddly enough, I had never thought there would be anything beautiful about a man’s chest, but seeing this one made me giddy!

“Wren, I am sor-”

He held his hand up in anger to silence her, and she dropped her head immediately in silence. He walked back from whence he had appeared, slamming the door after himself.

I winced at the noise,” I suppose he is not a morning person?”

“He is not an anytime person!” Michelle laughed.

I cleared my throat to deepen my voice, “What are you doing in here?”

Most importantly, what was I doing here? I remembered talking to Donoghue before feeling this fatigue overwhelm me, then nothing.

“I came up to see if you were alright, you were ill last night.”

“And it did not seem odd at all to you that it was early morning and we were still sleeping?” I frowned.

She shook her head, grinning. “Wren is usually up by this time, this is the first time in years he has woken up late.”

I looked at the door he had disappeared behind, and she must have followed my quick check because she frowned at me.

“You hero-worship him?”

I frowned back, “What? No! Have you met your brother?!”

She laughed, “True. But he was rather kind to you yesterday, and he let you sleep in his bed! I surely have never met that side of him before.”

“Is this a magical bed?” I rolled my eyes

“You do not know?” She seemed surprised.

“Know what?”

“Wren, he is-” she bit her lip as if trying to decide what to tell me exactly when she snapped her eyes to mine.

“Your eyes, I never noticed!”

I looked away uncomfortably, letting the hair fall into my eyes as I did so.

“They are beautiful,” she said,” and so are you. It is almost unsettling,” she giggled.

“Michelle, I-” I wanted to do it then, confess everything. Because I could sense this becoming a problem.

“I have never seen anything like it,” she said, drawing closer as if to look at me more closely.

I drew even further away as my back hit the wooden board of the bed. “A little distance please-”

She wrinkled her nose in confusion,” You do not think I am pretty?”

I raised my hands to shield myself as I shook my head, “You are beautiful, but I am actually a-”

She grinned and crawled nearer.

“Michelle please listen-”

She giggled and came closer as I fell off the bed trying to get away. This was ridiculous, when did my life become such a jest! And there was something wrong with Donoghue’s sister I cannot believe I was trying to defend my virtue from her! She stopped then and narrowed her eyes at me, before looking at the door her brother had gone through, then back at me.

“You are a very strange boy,” she said.

I nodded vigorously,” Yes, yes, you could say that.”

She looked at her brother’s door again, “You are not like those men I hear about, are you?”

“That would depend on what kind of men you are referring to, how would I know what you have heard?”

She rolled her eyes,” Men who, you know…” she indicated with her hand for me to finish for myself.

I gave her my best I am darn confused look, and she sighed loudly.

“Men who like other …men?” She said in an almost whisper.

I burst into laughter then, I supposed that was true in a way. I mean, I obviously liked the girl’s brother. But I was a not a man, and I wanted to clear that up right now.

“I am afraid I have to explain a few things, but it is not what you think.”

“Then prove it,” she pursed her lips.

“Prove what?”

“That you do not like men, or should I say my brother in this case. I saw how you looked at him.”

“And how am I supposedly to fix that?”

“Kiss me,” she replied, matter of fact, making me laugh.

I clutched my stomach as I laughed hard. I only stopped when I realized she was serious, this girl was insane!
I shook my head.

“No, I will not be doing that. I do not have to prove anything to you.”

I decided then not to give her the satisfaction, because she was a spoilt brat and wanted to get her own way. Not to mention, she was insane! She glared at me as she took a step forward, and another, until I realized I was backed against the wall. I had been unconsciously retreating as she walked toward me. I stared at her, daring her to do anything. We were just about the same height, but I knew I had to have more strength than her. Then why did this delicate looking girl scare me so?

I heard the door handle click, distracting me to look up for a second just as I felt moist lips against my own. I struggled to push the girl away as she held on, she was stronger than she looked!! She pushed me away then and slapped me, hard. I clutched my cheek and gasped in shock, just as the girl began sobbing. I was still confused as I looked up to see Donoghue’s stone eyes piercingly glaring at me, his jaw ticking. I shook my head as I looked at his sobbing sister in disbelief.

And then the contents of my supper came pouring out of my molested mouth.

Seven: HONOUR AMONG MEN

#Hazel

Two days.

Two days and one afternoon.
Two days, one afternoon and two hours.
That was how long since Donoghue had led me out of his room, shaking his head when I offered to clean up my mess. He had been avoiding me like the plague since then, no matter what I attempted. I could never quite get him to stay in one place to listen to me, nor could I get him to talk to me. The man was difficult and stubborn and-, being mad at him was exhausting! I sighed again, this time daydreaming of his angry but beautiful face. Could men be called beautiful, I wondered.

“Stop sighing, you look pathetic,” Henry said, putting in more food for the chickens.

I swear these birds grew every night! And they were glaring at me for not giving them food. I let out a tired breath and continued removing the soiled wood shavings from the floor. We had pushed all the chickens behind one section fence as I cleaned it, and my brother was feeding them in another. I racked in a huge pile of manure and proceeded to shovel it into the open sack in the wheelbarrow. I spent most of my days here, if not taking care of the chickens then I was feeding the pigs or delivering milk cartons. I think Matthias gave me the less strenuous tasks because I was still recovering, or perhaps he just thought I was weaker than the other boys, which was true. But I was a hard worker and I would prove to him that I could do almost anything.

“Hazel?” My brother said, making me turn to face him.

“Yes?”

“It will be alright.” He said softly, speaking of Donoghue obviously.

I rolled my eyes,” He loathes me!”

“Well, he has not chased us away, which is something.”

“I suppose, but the silent torture is killing me!”

“You deserve it!” My brother pointed it out, making me gasp. He ignored my reaction, “How long until you do something again? I do not want to leave, Hazel, so please do not provoke the man!”

“I know, Henry, I am sorry. But it was not my fault, either of the times!”

At first, I had simply been surprised. The second time, Donoghue’s sister had basically molested me! Who would defend me? We finished the rest of our work in silence as I pondered on how to get Donoghue alone and force him to listen. I groaned when I stepped out and met his sibling instead.

She was in a sky blue dress today, and a matching hat. With her hair in two, curly ponytails on either shoulder. She looked innocent and pretty enough, but I knew she was insane. Literally. After kissing me, she had gone on to sob and make it appear as if I had kissed her against her will! Which was why I needed to speak with her brother, for some reason it felt odd not talking to him. I wanted to be close to him, even if he never uttered a word. I could not bear the thought of appearing quite the rogue in his eyes!

“Hector,” she started.

“Miss. Donoghue.” I responded, making my voice as curt as possible.

She grimaced at that, “Please, call me Michelle.”

“We are not friends,” I glared at her clean form in contrast with my own filthiness. We had nothing in common, and I had no desire to befriend her. She had everything and took advantage of that, all I had was my brother. She could afford to start trouble for me, but if ever I crossed Donoghue again, I doubted he would come after me a second time.

“I apologize for what happened,” she mumbled, biting her lip.

“I do not forgive you! Your brother looks at me like I am some kind of lunatic with no self-control, it is a wonder my brother and I are still here! What is wrong with you?”

“Will you not just give me another chance?”

“Another chance to what?”

“I was mad at you, alright?” She pouted.

“That I did not pay you any attention?” I asked, puzzled.

Her silence gave it away and I sighed.

“Look, I like my job here, alright? So please, do not cause trouble for me, I have Henry to take care of. Just keep away from me and I will do the same for you.”

“Do you already fancy one of the girls here? Emily, perhaps? She is real pretty.”

I groaned and rubbed my temples, then grimaced when I realized I was still wearing gloves.

“Miss. Donoghue, not that it is any of your business, but I am not looking to court anyone right now. I just want to make a living. Now, if you would excuse me, I need to get this manure to the garden.”

She pouted,” I am not going to give up just yet.”

I sighed and shook my head as she stomped away, if only she knew how foolish she was being! She would definitely send me to the gallows if she knew I was not a boy. Ha! Or chop my head off herself. I took up the wheelbarrow and started pushing it toward the garden. I laughed to myself at the ridiculousness of our situation, there was definitely no way I was admitting to being a girl now!

Donoghue was nowhere in sight, which was very disappointing because I desperately needed to talk to him. I had been expecting him to be in the garden, like he usually was this time of day. He and I were nowhere near friends, but I hoped for at least an amicable relationship, not this tension between us. Jacob, one of the workers, smiled up at me when he saw me.

“With the chickens again, Hector?” He chuckled.

“I have no green thumb, Jacob. I am better off with the animals.” I smiled.

“You fit in here quite well, I was a bit skeptic at first!” He laughed.

I frowned,” Why would you be, I am not a lazy worker.”

“I know that now, but you do not look like much of a worker. Let alone the hard work on a farm.”

I shrugged, that was true. I was small, and most of the men here were twice my size. And why was I even comparing anyway, of course they were twice my size! I was a darn girl! I almost laughed at that, now I was just going crazy.

“Well, I am full of surprises.”

“That you are,” Jacob shook his head, smiling.

“So where do you want this?”

“Just put the sack by the compost there, I will spread out the manure over the smaller vegetables later.”

I nodded and did as I was told, before pushing my wheelbarrow back to the tool shed. I cleaned it up before storing it, then went to the washroom to wash my gloves and hands. The laundry room door was, for some reason, locked, making me growl in frustration. What was I to do now? I looked at the opposite door, hesitating before opening it.

Emily looked up at me in surprise, Michelle had been right, she was a pretty girl.

“Hector, I could have been naked!” She shrieked.

I felt heat in my face,” I apologize Emily, the laundry room door is locked and I need a wash desperately.”

She frowned,” The men’s washroom is not locked, and you can go ask Matthias to open up the laundry room for you.”

I scratched my head, “But the men’s washroom is always so filthy.”

Emily laughed and shook her head,” Oh Hector, you are too adorable. You are just like my younger brother! But you cannot be in here, seriously, anyone could just come in here and Matthias would have my head if he knew!”

I nodded, “I understand, Emily. Sorry again for startling you.”

She nodded and gave me a small smile,” It is alright.”

I sighed as she closed the door behind her, this was getting ridiculous. I walked to the men’s washroom and opened the door slightly to peer in, just to make sure there was no one inside. When I did not see anyone and heard silence all around, I walked in and locked the door behind me. I started undoing my overalls, which desperately needed a wash, mental note to myself. I was going to bathe, then go looking for Donoghue. My mind was made up, regardless of his cold attitude toward me.

“Hey there, lad.”

I screamed as I looked up at Matthias, who stood in a bathing robe, grinning at me.

“You really need to keep ya wits with you, one could mistake you for a lass!” He laughed heartily, making me wince.

Thank heavens he was not naked! Oh the horror, I would not have been able to survive that! But I had not heard him in the shower stalls, how could he manage to be so silent?!

“Relax, lad. You look like you seen a spook! I am sorry I startled you.”

Could manly bits be considered spooky, I would have to get back to him on that!

“It is alright,” I said, clutching the unbuttoned sides of my overalls together. “I just did not hear you, is all.”

He chuckled,” You one of the shy ones, aren’t you!”

I felt my face heat up at that but remained silent. Matthias just shook his head, laughing at me.

“I will leave you to it, then.”

I nodded as he walked away but he turned to face me again.

“Did the others tell you we will hit go to the nearby town tonight?”

I shook my head no and he smiled.

“They must have forgotten. But we go there every month, when our pockets are still full, eh.” He winked at me. “So after supper, you and the boy get ready.”

I nodded and gave him a small smile, he genuinely was a kind old man.

I locked the door behind him and checked all the stalls this time around. The question on my mind now was, what did boys wear to impress girls when they were out on celebrations? Or in my case, impress a certain surly man? I groaned at my insanity and idiocy, I was a boy, why would Donoghue be impressed by me again? And so, I would just wear some clean trousers and shirt, then put on my favorite coat, Wren Donoghue’s coat.

#Wren

Two days.

Two days and one evening.
Two days, one evening and counting.
That is how long I had been avoiding him. And yes, I knew he wanted to speak with me. I could feel it at the base of my neck every time his unique eyes landed on me. And when I looked at him, no matter how brief, he would give me this wounded look, making me almost feel bad for being who I was. Hector. That boy was trouble, or at least would become trouble.

My sister had taken quite a fancy to him, just as I had expected. And she was not going to be deterred by anything! It was by no fault of his, but Hector had already started brewing trouble. And I was beginning to seriously doubt his wit could protect him from Michelle, when she was determined, she was determined. I looked up at her as she chatted away with our mother, seemingly innocent. But I knew better, she was no victim. Michelle was good at manipulating people, it was literally an extension of who she was. I never believed she was actually aware of it, she just naturally exuded it. When she wanted something, she would do whatever to acquire it. And now, she wanted Hector.

“Wren?” My mother said, making me look her way.

She smiled,” Do you want some more potatoes, darling?”

I shook my head no and went back to eating my mashed potatoes.

“Some more vegetables, perhaps?” She carried on.

I groaned, this is why I never ate with my family. My mother would fuss and fawn over me like I was a child, as if when I wanted more food I could not get it myself!

“Leave him be, mother,” my sister said, bless her conniving soul.

“I just-”

“The carrot soup tastes amazing,” Michelle cut her mid-sentence.

My mother beamed, she loved when her cooking was appreciated. It probably stemmed from the fact that she had nothing to do anymore, besides cook and clean. When my father had died, she had taken up cooking as her escape, firing the cook so she could do the work herself. I had always thought she should have remarried, she had been only two and thirty then. Even now, she was still beautiful, or perhaps I was just biased because she was my mother? Who knew! My father had passed on when I had been three and ten, Michelle just barely out of infancy. It had been a difficult time for us, my mother had withdrawn into herself and had spoiled Michelle as she grew up. Perhaps to make up for the fact that she had no father, although that had hardly turned out alright. I kept to myself, spending most of my time trying to salvage what had been left of our land.

“Oh yes, it came out fantastic didn’t it? Henry brought fresh carrots in for me this afternoon, you should take some to them, Michelle. He and his brother are such lovely boys!” my mother replied, drawing me out of my thoughts.

Mother had been fawning over Henry for a few days now. Henry is so polite. The boy is so well-behaved. Oh Henry is just the most excellent of boys… The list of excruciating praises went on and on. I watched as she stood to put away the dirty dishes, and to put some stew and soup in a bowl with a transparent lid.

I stood up just as my sister did and they both looked at me in confusion when I extended my hand.

“Wren?” My mother asked and I pointed to the bowl.

“You will take the soup to the boys?”

I nodded as my sister scowled,” I will do it, I do not mind.’

But I did, I thought. The less I encouraged the possibility of Michelle and Hector, the better for everyone. I ignored my sister’s pout as I took the bowl and left, putting on my coat and scarf before I went outside. Of course, I had no intention of actually taking the soup to the brothers. That was just to appease my mother and prevent my sister from spending any more time with Hector. And so I went to the stables to check on the horses and I left the bowl there. The intention was to empty it tomorrow then take it back to my mother. I could just imagine the look on her face when she asked Henry if he had enjoyed the soup, and the confused look on the young boy’s face when he said what soup? Pugh, I did not care!

I did not want to face Hector, nor did I want to speak with him. And not because I thought the boy was guilty or had taken advantage of my sister. I knew he probably thought I was mad at him, and thought him some kind of rogue. Which was untrue, of course. I knew he was no kind of rogue, if my stained carpet was any indication. Or the repulsed look and absolute shock on his face. My sister was as obvious as she was a terrible actress. Even a fool would have been able to read that situation! So no, I was not mad at Hector. I considered myself a fair man, and I would never punish him for my sister’s faults.

“Contemplating revenge on me?”

I looked up at the familiar voice and stopped kicking the stones in my path. He was in close-fitting hunting trousers and my coat. My old coat dwarfed him, of course, but he seemed very content in it. I raised my brow in question and he smirked, looking down at himself.

“It suits me quite perfectly, does it not?”

I groaned, how did he even know I was here anyway?

“I was watching you when you came out of the house, and I followed you here,” he said, as if he had some secret knowledge of my thoughts. “I wanted to apologize for before, I swear I did not-”

“I know,” I sighed, making him frown.

“But you have been avoiding me and giving me the death look,” he proceeded to attempt to imitate my supposed death look and I could not help it, I burst into laughter.

He looked genuinely surprised at that and I hurried to gain my composure, pretending it had never happened. “Stay away fr-fro-m Michelle,” I swallowed nervously.

Hector winced and held up his hands, "Believe me when I say this, I have no intention what so ever to be near that gi- , ermm, your sister. She frightens me!"

I tried to hide my smile at that as he extended his hand, “do we shake on it now, or what?”

“Sh-shake?”

“Yes, you know, mutual understanding between men, and all that?”

I laughed again at him and I could swear he pouted worse than a woman! “Y-you are hardly a man!”

“I am too, just ask your sister!” He smirked at me and I glared at him for a few seconds before laughing again. It really felt good to, and I could tell Hector felt good at seeing me so unguarded.

“Are you going to the town?” he asked.

I never went for those celebrations; that was just for the workers. And no one had ever invited me before, not that I would have agreed anyway. But now, looking into those beautifully odd eyes, how could I say no?

Eight: LAD IN DISTRESS

#Wren

The noise was an unwelcome feature, then the smell of ale on every passing man. Why had I agreed to come? Surely I must have been out of my mind! I wrinkled my nose in disgust when yet another drunken stranger bumped carelessly into me.

“You look like you are about to die!” Hector laughed from beside me.

I looked down at his smaller form and frowned at the two, large mugs he was holding. He extended one to me and I shook my head vigorously.

“Relax, your grumpiness, it is just harmless apple cider. I got one for Henry and thought you would appreciate one too.”

I accepted the mug and inspected it for finger prints and stains before bringing it to my mouth. But I could not quite do it, no matter how I tried. I sighed and lowered the mug, coming eye to eye with Hector’s questioning look.

“You do not like apple juice?”

I shook my head, no, inwardly wincing at the lie.

The boy just shrugged, unfazed,” We can get something else, then.”

I shook my head again and he sighed. “You are not going to have any fun, are you?”

I looked around, what was fun about this place? Because I certainly could not see its charm! There was a stand of roasted corn over an open flame, with people just lining up to get one. The younger boys were lighting up their noisy playthings. The older men were drinking and dancing and making more noise than the children! No, there was nothing fun here.

“You are getting wrinkles from frowning so much!” Hector rolled his beautiful eyes, and I had to smile at that.

It appeared I was doing that a lot this night, smiling, and earlier, even laughing. Because Hector was amusing really. He was like a carefree child that said and did whatever came to mind, and I was beginning to enjoy that he was not intimidated by me. When Matthias had seen me here he had literally gaped, before laughing and waving at me. I had just frowned at him and walked away, deciding not to indulge the old man’s amusement.

“Forget what I said about another drink, I am getting you some ale!”

I widened my eyes at that and glared at the boy, warning him not to try anything he would regret. He just winked at me before walking away. I sighed and looked away, rubbing my temple.

“What do we have here?” A voice said behind me.

I did turn around until Hector’s voice said,” Let me go!”

The man was filthy from head to toe, and his protruding beer belly was threatening to pop out a few buttons. He had Hector’s left arm in his own right, and the boy was trembling before dropping the mug he held. He threw the other one in his right hand at the drunkard, making the filthy man grin and bare his yellow, rotten teeth. I grimaced and watched as the sneer grew on his face.

“Ya too pretty to be a lad, eh, I ought to make ya my little lass.” He grabbed his short hair and tugged sideways, while Hector protested.

Hector made to shove him off but the man twisted his arm, making the boy cry out. I stepped forward and the man looked up at me. He was slightly shorter and had to raise his gaze. I glared at him and his brown eyes narrowed in annoyance.

“Ya trying to scare me, eh?” He sneered, twisting Hector’s arm even further as he tried to escape.

“I am not letting this one go! People come looking for fun here, well I just darn gone and found mine right here!”
He laughed and that made me clench my fists even more.

“Ya mute?” He narrowed his bloodshot eyes at me.

I grabbed the man’s collar and looked him straight in the eye before he finally gulped.

“He yours, or something?” He spat.

I bit my tongue and let him go as he chuckled.

“I thought as much,” he continued, turning to Hector. “I care not that he is a boy, he is pretty enough,” he said, licking his chapped lips.

I looked at Hector’s terrified face before throwing my first punch. I saw red, but I could not stop. Because I also kept seeing Hector’s face in my head. Those bright eyes, filled with fear and helplessness. I had never thought I would see the day when Hector was vulnerable, but today I had. And that fueled me.

#Hazel

“Forget what I said about another drink, I am getting you some ale!” I teased.

Donoghue widened his eyes at my jest and glared at me with a warning look. I winked at him before walking away. Perhaps I would get him that drink after all!

“What do we have here?” A drunk man stood in front of me.

I rolled my eyes and tried to step around him as I held on to my mugs. But the man just grabbed my left arm hard, making me spill some of the juice.

“Let me go!” I screamed at him.

The man was dirty and he reeked of filth and ale! He held my left arm with his right hand, and my hand began shaking until I finally dropped the mug. I threw the juice in my other mug at the drunkard, making the man grin and bare his yellow teeth. He actually sneered at me!

“Ya too pretty to be a lad, eh, I ought to make ya my little lass.” He grabbed and tugged my hair sideways, while I tried desperately to be free of his invasive grip to no avail.

He twisted my arm, making me cry out as I finally noticed Donoghue in front of us. The drunk’s words to him were all a blur as I struggled to free myself.

“Ya mute?” He was asking Donoghue, before he grabbed the man’s collar and looked him straight in the eye.

“He yours, or something?” He spat.

Donoghue let him go then as I looked on, helplessly.

“I thought as much,” he continued, turning to me. “I care not that he is a boy, he is pretty enough,” he said, licking his chapped lips.

I looked at him, no doubt appearing terrified before I saw Donoghue’s first punch.

I watched on as he ploughed the man’s face in. The other workers had finally gathered around and were cheering on, of course, men would always be men and sometimes adore violence. But they could not see what I saw, Donoghue was completely gone. Yes, he was mean most of the times, but he was not a bad person. And this man I was staring at was not the man I had begun to know. His eyes were as cold as ice and represented steel. They were no longer beautiful or hesitant, they meant to kill. He was angry, and I doubted it had anything to do with me anymore.

“Donoghue!” I called to him, praying he would stop.

He continued, another punch following another, and then another.

“Donoghue! Stop!” I screamed, knowing fully well I sounded like a girl right now, but I did not care.

All eyes turned to me and some of the men started snickering but I rolled my eyes and ignored them. I finally placed my hand on Donoghue’s shoulder, making contact with an exposed part of his neck. I almost jumped back at the jolt I felt just as he turned to push me away. I fell to the ground and seconds later, Donoghue was looming over me with a worried look in his eyes. He appeared to be almost in tears and reached out to help me, only stopping when he saw the blood on his hands. I got to my feet and grabbed Donoghue’s arm and thankfully he rose without a fight. The man seemed a giant now, I never would have been able to drag him away. The crowd parted as we walked through and we just kept walking until we got to the inn.

“I need to use your washroom, please.”

The elder woman narrowed her eyes at me and shook her head.

“You ain’t a guest, you ain’t washing.”

“You do not have a washroom for passing guests in the restaurant?” I asked, skeptically.

“The tavern one is it, darling.” She sounded bored.

I sighed, knowing the men’s room at the tavern would definitely be filthy. And I would definitely not be going inside there! I did not want to leave Donoghue on his own, not as how he looked right now, so I took out the few coins I had and placed them on the counter. And a smile emerged on her face.

“Will that be enough?” I asked impatiently.

“For an hour or two, yes. But this man of yours looks like a stallion, might have to pay a couple extra coins.” She finished off with a wink and held out her hand.

I growled at her and she laughed as she got a key for us. “Might want to try a dress darling, men do not really fancy the stubborn, unrefined types.”

She winked again and I groaned, grabbing the key from her and walking away. We walked in silence as we searched for the door with our key number, the least that woman could have done was show us the room! I opened the door and dragged Donoghue inside, but he shrugged me off and sat on the bed. I left for the washroom and brought back a basin with some water inside.

“Wash your hands, please,” I said, holding out the bowl.

He ignored me, still staring at his hands. He was beginning to scare me now, but I just stood there, patiently. I kept talking, calling his name several times until he looked up at me. He just kept staring at me, with those piercing steel eyes, never uttering a word. I felt heat in my face and he finally looked away.

“Donoghue?”

He looked up at me and gave me a lopsided smile,” The inkee-keeper thought you are a woman.”

I laughed nervously and scratched my head, “I suppose I have that look about me.”

He narrowed his eyes and studied me again carefully, making me slightly uncomfortable.

“Hmm, I suppose so.” He said, but ended there.

“And you, apparently, look like quite the stallion,” I wiggled my brows at him, hoping to get a laugh out of him.

He frowned and tilted his head,” Wh-what is that even su-suppo-posed to mean?”

I widened my eyes, then shook my head, chuckling.

“And you own horses?”

He frowned at me even more and I waved my hand dismissively, “Do not mind me, let us just clean you up, alright?”

He nodded and washed his hands while I held the basin for him. The blank look was back on his face once more, his grey eyes just staring ahead. I called him several times before he finally looked up at me.

“Are you alright?” He asked worriedly, “I hurt you.”

“I am right as rain,” I gave him a reassuring smile.

“Ce-certain?”

I nodded, “I am alright.”

“Why are yo-you not sc-sca-scared of me?”

I grinned at him,” Who says I am not?”

He shook his head at my antics and looked away again.

“What was that out there? Why did you lose control like that?”

He looked up at me slowly before answering, “He attacked you, and I co-couldn’t let it go.”

He clenched his fists and I drew back in surprise, he felt overprotective of me? Was that what that was about?

“You defended me, thank you.” I said softly, to hopefully calm him.

“I am not a good man,” he said in almost a whisper.

I shook my head vigorously, “That is not true; you just try to appear that way.”

He narrowed his eyes at me before standing up,” You know nothing!”

“I know that you continuously prove to-”

“No! Do not create some image of me that is not real!”

I knew he was angry when he did not stammer. I put the basin down and looked him straight in the eye, straining my neck in the process.

“What are you so afraid of?”

“Nothing! Perhaps you should take care of yourself more! Not look so vulnerable!”

I gasped, “So that was my fault?”

“Everything is your fault,” he mumbled, and I reached out to touch his arm.

“We are not friends!” He shrugged me off and burst out.

“Then why did you come out here?” I shot back.

He just growled that he should not have, then shoved me out of the way before storming out. I sighed and threw myself onto the bed, placing my arm over my eyes. What was I doing here? Donoghue obviously had nightmares I did not want to unearth, but my stubborn mind refused to accept that. I did not even what outcome and ending I expected out of all this, but here I was, pushing anyway. And stupidly spending all the money I had so that he could clean up!! Because I had not worked a full month, Matthias had generously given my brother and me some pocket money instead. We would only begin receiving a wage the following month.

The old woman raised a brow at me when I returned her key, making me roll my eyes.

“I am not a girl,” I growled, surprising myself with how much I sounded like Donoghue.

Her eyes widened at that then she smirked,” Oh so you are one of those?”

“Not that either. I just wanted to help my…” what was he, a friend, my employer? “..Friend.”

She sighed in obvious disappointment, “Well, your friend is lucky he is not this fast! But he is such a handsome devil, that he is!”

I bit my lip to hide the smile I felt coming on, then walked away to find my brother. He was with boys his own age, with this look of happiness about him. They were lighting fire crackers, rushing away before the tiny, explosive playthings popped. I stopped to just look at him, thanking God I had done the right thing.

“Henry!” I called out.

He heard me the first time, and ran to me.

“What do you want?” He asked.

“Let us go home,” I said.

:::::

:::::

“Something happened with him again, am I right?” My brother stood tall in front of me.

I sighed,” It is a daily occurrence, Henry, nothing to be alarmed about.

I wondered how he had not heard of the spectacle Donoghue had caused, but I was glad. I did not need him knowing that even as a boy, I was not safe. I ran a hand through my hair, I needed a haircut. And so did Henry, I looked up at him and frowned as we approached our door.

“There is something at the door,” my brother rushed and crouched to pick it up.

“What is it,” I asked, searching for our key in my pocket.

Henry shook the box as I unlocked the door, walking in after me.

“There is a note with your name on it.”

I turned around quickly at that, a note, for me? From who? Henry handed me the note, which had Hector written in the most meticulous of handwritings.

“Secret admirer?” I looked at Henry as he wiggled his brows, making me roll my eyes.

I hoped what he was saying was not true, the last thing I needed was one of the girls eyeing me! I hesitantly opened the note and a smile broke on my face at the single word.

FRIENDS? It said.

I grabbed the box from Henry and opened it, revealing the most beautiful coat I had ever owned. And it was exactly my size. I closed my eyes and breathed it in, oh Donoghue. Friends it was.

Nine: TO LOVE A GIRL

#Hazel

“I need to cut my hair,” I said to my brother.

He laughed, “Your hair is already too short, Hazel.”

It felt odd, hearing my name now. I laughed too, “For a girl, perhaps.”

“I rather enjoy having a brother, back home the other boys would always make fun of you.”

I smiled at that, “I do not mind that, Henry, neither should you. If anyone should like me, they should not do it because I am a girl or a boy, I simply am who I am.”

“But you are lying every day to be accepted here!” He argued.

“I grow more ashamed every day to confess, and I like it here. I will not do anything to ruin it now.”

Henry narrowed his eyes at me, “I will not hold my breath on that.”

I ruffled his hair, “As papa would say, have a little faith, little brother.”

His face saddened, “I miss him, Hazel. I miss papa, and I miss our home.”

I drew him into an embrace, “Home is wherever we are together, and I miss papa too, but he is gone now. No use dwelling on it, he is with mama now.”

I knew it sounded harsh, but what use was it crying over it. The dead could not comfort the living, nor provide for them, nor protect them. I would sooner cry over losing my home, the one that could have provided shelter for my only living kin, than for my deceased papa. He had left us, by no fault of his, but he had nonetheless. And I had to focus on Henry now.

“I am not like you, you-” his voice trailed and I urged him to continue.

“I am what?”

“No, forget it. It matters not.”

I nodded and kissed his cheek before going off to find Emily. I knew what he meant, though. To him I appeared cold and unfeeling, but this was not true. Much as I tried to strengthen myself. Because when I closed the door, a tear slipped down my cheek. A tear for my papa.

:::::
:::::

“Hector, lad, you look quite dapper!” Matthias exclaimed and chuckled.

I was certain my face was an unbecoming shade of scarlet, but I smiled and thanked him anyway. I had gotten a haircut earlier from Emily, and she had been excited to get into it! Exclaiming my hair was the softest she had ever felt. And she had done a good job too, cutting it almost daringly too short, but succeeding in making me look more like a boy. Donoghue had travelled the previous morning, and I had not had a chance to thank him for my new coat, or to show off my new haircut. I scoffed, what was he to say anyway, nice hair Hector? Men simply did not comment on each other’s appearances, unless done in a fatherly manner as Matthias had. But what did I know, I was not a man!

Which meant I had to stop this foolish errand of trying to impress Donoghue! Because I was a boy to him, I would never impress him with how handsome I looked! Arrgggh, I should probably borrow a dress and stop all this. If Donoghue truly wanted to be friends, then he would not have problems with befriending a girl. Honestly, it should not be a problem at all! I would still dress the same anyhow, never having been one for dresses.

“Thank you, Matthias.” I said simply.

“Trying to impress one of our young girls here?” He wiggled his eyes at me,
“Cassandra, perhaps? She does seem rather fond of you, poor lass always forgets her chores whenever you walk by!”

I inwardly groaned as the old man laughed, not finding this amusing at all. If only he knew the truth.

“There is no reason to be embarrassed,” his deep voice bellowed.

Of course there was! Just merely talking about it was cause to be embarrassed!

“You are a good looking lad, anyone could tell you that. And you have that fragile manner about you, mothers want to care for you and lasses want to cherish you,” he laughed again as my ears increased in heat.

“It would not do you harm to give our Cassie a chance, she is a lovely young woman. But do not go fooling with her, I warn you!”

He pointed a finger at me and I winced, making him chuckle.

“My my, Hector!” A voice said behind me.

I groaned again as Matthias winked at me before walking away, turning around to see my brother shrugging and walking away too, Michelle just behind him. I groaned once more at the enthusiastic look upon her face. Boys had never found me attractive my entire adolescent life, always appearing more intimidated than interested. But now, it appeared, girls had no such problems! Or rather, just this one insane female.

“I almost did not recognize you!” She exclaimed.

She had a girl with her who snickered, making me roll my eyes.

“And yet you called my name, even when I had my back to you?”

“True enough, I could never miss you even in a massive crowd of lookalikes!” She winked at me and I winced.

“You look especially handsome tonight, and that coat is perfect on you!”

I agreed with that at least, Donoghue had got my size just right! As if he had somehow, secretly taken my measurements and had it made especially for me.

“But it must have cost you a fortune!” She mused.

“It was a gift,” I smiled absent mindedly, daydreaming of her beautiful brother.

“A gift, you say? From who, pray tell? Certainly not from one of the girls here!” She laughed humorlessly.

I decided to use this to my advantage, and so I smirked, letting her draw all sorts of gruesome conclusions. She frowned at me, then pouted.

“They would not afford such a thing!” She argued.

“Alright, if you say so,” I shrugged.

“So, that is what it takes?” She asked.

“What?” I asked back, confused.

With this girl, it could be anything. I wondered if this was why not one female had wanted to befriend me. Was it because I was simply so far gone into my own world, I no longer understood my own sex?

“Buying you gifts?” She answered.

I gaped at her in surprise, what?! Did I come off as someone who would sell their dignity for measly presents?

“If I buy you things, would you be with me? Would you be mine?” She asked, seriously.

I was too shocked to laugh, this girl seriously had problems that needed solving! How could she even think, let alone suggest, such a thing? What did she lack in life that would lead her to be this way? Perhaps she was spoilt from having too much, or perhaps lack of firm guidance? Donoghue never spoke, and their mother was too much of a soft bird to even scold a child! Was she the product of her environment? Or was it simply a matter of choice. Bad choices to be exact.

“Well, Hector, would you?” She asked again, more impatiently this time.

I shook my head at her antics, lost for words, and she scowled at me.

“Is that not what drives you, poor lot? Anything and everything for a few extra coins, correct? It must be miserable, always desperate for money, trying to make ends meet?”

“I make a good living, I would have you know.”

“Oh yes, only because my brother is more generous than most! Otherwise, you might as well still be wandering, looking for someone to pity you and take you in!”

I clenched my teeth as I tried to fight the edge to scream and hit her with the back of my hand. I doubted her brother would see reason when he learnt of my actions, nor would anyone around here look at me the same. I would just be a man who hit women, and that was never an acceptable thing to do!

“You are just a vile, rotten egg in a beautiful shell, aren’t you?” I smirked.

She gasped, her cheeks coloring immediately. In anger or embarrassment, I could not tell.

“And you have no manners, how can you speak to me in this manner?!” She seethed.

I scoffed, “You speak to me of manners? Madam, you wanted to pay for my favors!”

I tasted blood before I finally felt the slap, making me gasp and see red. I raised my hand before I could stop myself and slapped that pretty, little face. She screamed as she fell to the ground, holding her inflamed cheek. Matthias ran to her side, glaring at me before inspecting the damage I had caused. Henry was by my side, shaking his head at me in disappointment. No doubt we would be kicked out now, and Donoghue would not be coming after us this time.

“He is a savage!” Michelle shrieked.

I spit the blood from my hurt cheek at her feet, before shrugging off my brother and walking away.

#Wren

“This would go a lot faster if you spoke to me,” Harold said.

The man simply annoyed and frustrated me. He was fat and pale skinned, with glasses perched on the bridge of his nose. Typical banker really, and I wondered how much of that well fed body was my money. Yes, he was a thief alright. Under the guise of advising me to invest in this or that, he wanted to rob me dry! I had noticed my savings had dwindled, not significantly, but enough for me to notice. He had been surprised I had even noticed really, and was mounting up lies to cover his theft. I loathed liars with a passion! Careless people who only sought their own gain.

“Mr. Donoghue?” He asked again, and I nodded.

His pudgy face lit up and I could swear his pupils shone gold as he handed me the papers to sign. I slowly read them as his smile turned to a frown, his nervousness filling the air by the second.

“We have already discussed everything in that-”

I raised my hand, indicating his silence was much needed at this point. He immediately hushed as he began tapping his foot. He had not expected me to go through the small print, which hid his treachery of course. But I read everything, my money was my life, and I would be damned if anyone try to swindle it!

When I finished reading the document, I relaxed in my chair and stared at the man. He had sweat on his forehead, and his bottom lip looked raw and just about to bleed. I wondered how foolish he had to be to think this would work. I suppose many imbeciles would have signed without reading, jumping at the chance to gain wealth they had not worked for. But this man had to have anticipated meeting someone a bit more cautious, and not to have printed his own guilt on paper like this. I narrowed my eyes at him as he squirmed in his chair, until he laughed nervously.

“We can review the terms if it eh, pleases you?”

I narrowed my eyes even further and he cleared his throat.

“Alright, I will leave you to it then. You can send a messenger when you are done?”

My jaw ticked as he grabbed his bag and papers, clutching them to his chest and hurrying out of the room. Of course, the inspector was waiting for him outside; that was the only messenger I would be sending his way. No one stole my hard earned money and got away with it! And if it had been up to me, I would have given him a sound beating before handing him over to the authorities. I sighed and stood, my business here was done, and it was time to return home.

:::::
:::::

When I finally arrived home, I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep and not wake for days. Surely the farm had not burned down in my absence, nor would it if I took a few days off. I opened the door to the sounds of my mother and sister in the kitchen. Removing my coat, I made my way to them, with the sole intention of getting a glass of water and going to my cold bed.

The scene before me was unexpected, my sister sitting on the table, sobbing. My mother holding a towel to her cheek as she tried to comfort her. She looked up, my mother, as I walked in, placing my coat on a chair.

I waited for her to explain when I pointed at my weeping younger sibling, whose sobs appeared to have increased in volume when I walked in. Alerting me she was obviously trying to get my attention and she needed me to take her side. A side which I could not wait to here, because I knew my sister well. Ever since we had been children, she had been like this.

“He hit her,” my mother sighed.

I frowned in confusion and waited for them to explain further. Who had the audacity to hit a girl, and my sister no less? Yes, she was a handful, but mine to deal with. Whoever had dared to raise a hand against her would suffer accordingly, I would not let them get away with this! Why was everyone just going out of their way to anger me today? And this was even worse, I could lose money, but I would never let anyone hurt my sister!

“He…hit me,” my sister repeated, sobbing.

I rolled my eyes and waited impatiently for them to continue. Where we going to go around this all night?

“He…pushed me to the ground…and…spit on me.” Michelle sobbed.

I clenched my fists and turned to my mother. A tear spilled from her eye and she hurried to wipe it.

“I thought he was such a sweet boy, I never thought…” her voice trailed, together with my heartbeat.

I clenched my fists tighter and took a deep breath,
“Who?”

My sister hushed then and they both looked at me in shock. But now was not the time to be amazed that I had, indeed, spoken. I needed to know.

“Who?” I repeated myself.

I turned from mother to daughter before my sister sniffed and said, “Hector.”

I felt dizzy.

Ten: A WANTED LAD

#Wren

I walked fast to the workers’ quarters, with one intention. To find Hector. I had no further plan after that, all I knew was that I needed to see him. To understand why he had done what he did. Peculiar how I had been so prepared to avenge my sister’s abuse, now I was ready to hear an explanation! I knew that boy would be nothing but trouble, and yet I had still kept him here. Had befriended him for the love of all that gave me money! I, who hated every living, walking, talking person, had befriended an orphan boy I had but known for a week! I cursed under my breath as I opened the door to the brothers’ room, silence and emptiness greeting me.

“They are gone,” Matthias’ voice said behind me.

My head whipped to face him, narrowing my eyes as I waited for an explanation as to why Hector and his brother were gone. Now my plan to confront and understand appeared foolish.

“He hit your sister, you did not expect him to still be here when you returned, did you?” He said, in explanation of the boys’ absence.

I took a step toward him in anger, no one had the right to punish them but me. How dare he think he could just make decisions in my absence, and I would simply roll over? Granted, he was in charge when I was gone, and those boys were technically his charges, but I loathed feeling undermined! Matthias raised his hands, as if in surrender or offering peace of some kind.

“He left of his own accord, I did not chase him. Although I would have.”

I narrowed my eyes at him again.

“He hit Michelle,” he repeated, obviously trying to make me see reason.

I shook my head, the Hector I knew was outspoken and unpredictable, but he would never raise a hand to a woman. I might not have known him well, but I had never felt any vibe of violence from him. And certainly not towards a female!

“Why?” I asked.

Matthias looked at me in surprise, his mouth wide and his eyes intense with disbelief. I cared not for that, I just wanted to know what had happened. My sister’s version had been somewhat exaggerated. With Hector coming off as the monster who attacked her from nowhere, and humiliating her in front of everyone. Of course, the question of what she had been doing at the workers’ quarters came to my mind, it was a rather odd thing for her to do. She never wanted anything to do with the workers, or the farm. But for some reason, she had found herself at the workers’ supper and small party for Benjamin’s day of birth. Again, I say odd.

“They were exchanging a few words before she slapped him.”

My fists unclenched, my sister had provoked him first? She had slapped him?

“But that is no just cause for any man to ever hit a woman!” Matthias defended.

I nodded and made to walk past him before he grabbed my sleeve. I stopped but did not turn to look him in the eye.

“We welcomed that lad, made him a part of the family, even against your own wishes. I defended him, and he went on to do this!”

I remained silent as he sighed.

“You spoke for him, because of him, why?”

I shook my head and made to walk again but he stopped me once more.

“Where are you going? Surely not after him!”

I turned then and faced the old man. A man who had been with us for so long, he felt like a father at times. Only a father to an unwilling son, and a very stubborn one.

“Henry?” I asked him.

“He took the boy with him, of course.” Matthias frowned at my question.

But that is not what I had asked him. I wanted to know why he had let them go, during a cold night. The younger boy should not be out there in this weather. I surprised myself at how much I had changed, just the last time I had been the one to chase them out. Uncaring whether they would be safe or not. I would sort out my complex mind later, but I needed to find Hector and Henry now.

“You cannot go after them again, he betrayed our trust!” Matthias protested when he guessed my intentions.

I would sort this stupid issue between my sister and the boy later, I could not think of that now. As far as I was concerned, my sister needed to get over her silly infatuation with him, and stay away from him. He had drawn her blood, but so had she, it was as even as it needed to be.

And so you have changed so quickly? I thought to myself.

Yes, if it had been anyone else, I would have drawn blood. But Hector had nothing, and my conscience would never let me let my young sister take the little he had away from him. Simply because she could not have what she wanted! If anything, I was impressed with him for rejecting her. Any other lad would have jumped at the opportunity to take advantage of my forward sibling, but not Hector. Hector and Michelle were the same age, more or less, and if it was alright for her to hit a boy, it was only fair for him to return a just portion. Of course, he would still be punished. He should have shown restraint, but so should have Michelle. I would not let her get what she wanted.

I was going after Hector, a second time.

#Hazel

“You could not just let it go, could you?” My brother scolded for the hundredth time.

I had lost count of the times he had sighed, or kicked a stone angrily, or shouted at me. I simply winced this time, but did not answer. I do not know what had come over me, I would never have thought myself capable of such a thing! But Michelle had angered me so much and I had sought to teach her a lesson. I might have been an orphan, who owed her brother everything, but I would never stand to be humiliated like that! I felt my anger building up again and I took a deep breath. That chapter was closed now, I knew Donoghue would never let us back in. It had been wise to leave before he dragged us out by our ears or worse. I had cost Henry a place he was fond of, we were both fond of, but I would make it out to him. This time, as his sister. My lie, together with my temper had cost us so much already, I just wanted things to be simple this time around.

I tugged at my now very short hair, sighing as I thought of growing it out again. It would take a couple of months or so, I supposed.

“I really hate you right now!” My brother scowled.

“Hate is a strong word Henry, I am your sister.”

“Then I loathe you, I intensely dislike you and I would shake some sense into you if I could.”

I bit my lip to hide an involuntary smile as he raged on and on. His tantrum was rather endearing, if I could say.

“Stop laughing at me!” He glared as he raised a threatening finger and pointed it at me.

I smiled,” I am not laughing, I swear!”

He narrowed his eyes at me before coming after me, the intention clear in his eyes. I yelped and started running, knowing he would catch up to me anyway, but not stopping regardless. When he finally caught up with me, he rubbed my head with his knuckles as I laughed and tried to duck. Then his hand stopped.

“Do you hear that?” He said in a low voice.

“Hear wh-”

“Shhh, a carriage.”

I listened this time, and for certain, I heard it. I reached for the knife in the side of my coat and prepared for the worst.

“Should we hide?” Henry said, looking around.

There was nowhere to hide anyway, and we could not run away from possible transportation. It was a risk we had to take.

“Hold your knife behind your back, we will wait and see if the carriage stops,” I instructed.

Henry nodded as we stood to wait by the road, our daggers in hand. This was the most foolish thing I had done yet, but I knew I needed to try and get my brother out of this cold. I had given him my new coat, but temperature was dropping and we needed a place to sleep and soon.

I should have thought of that before I slapped Michelle, I thought. Or at least, stolen a horse! I almost laughed at that, as if I needed Donoghue to come after me for being a thief too!

The carriage finally came into sight, and unexpectedly reduced speed as it drew closer to us. The driver came into sight then, an old man who reminded me so much of Matthias. My heart panged as I thought of the home we had left behind, but I clutched my dagger tighter and smiled.

“Good evening sir,” I greeted.

“Good evenin’ lads. Where ya off to in this time of night?”

“Making our way to the next town,” I replied, inwardly smiling at the fact that I had, once again, been mistaken for a boy. Not that I could blame him really, I looked the part.

“Do ya need a ride? We are headed just before the next town, and there is an inn not far from it. Ya can find rest there.”

I studied the man’s eyes, searching for any sign of threat from him. He appeared sincere enough, and I could not take the chance of my brother being out here any longer. Another carriage passing by would be nothing short of a miracle!

“Thank you, sir.” I gave a small smile.

We walked towards him but he shook his head, “No, get inside, this weather will get the better of ya.”

We nodded and walked to the door, and I opened it for my brother to enter first.

There was a man inside, I had not even thought the old man could have been driving someone somewhere! Which was silly considering the chances of someone dragging an empty carriage around were little, why not just use a horse.
The man was sleeping, and that was not the only obvious thing about him. He was simply perfect!

Flawless skin, pale lips, perfect nose and a glorious head of raven hair. I stared at him as the carriage started moving, wondering if he was ill or something. Surely he should have woken up when we entered.

“I can feel you staring,” he said, startling me into a gasp.

He opened his eyes slowly, a smirk on his face revealing deep dimples set in both his cheeks. When his eyes landed on me, he frowned.

“You are a boy?”

I frowned back,” Should I check?”

He chuckled and shook his head, "No. I could have sworn you were looking- no, it matters not."

He grinned, revealing perfect teeth, “I am Jonathan.”

I nodded and settled in my seat, content that this narcissistic fool meant no harm to my brother and I.

“I am Hector, this is my brother, Henry.”

He chuckled again, “I apologize, but one could most definitely mistake you for a woman!”

I scowled at him, “And one could mistake you for rude, but I suppose that would be no mistake at all.”

He laughed then, “You have quite the mouth on you. I apologize for my earlier comment, though. You are my guests for this ride, I should have more tact.”

“By all means, just be your usual self. This is your carriage after all,” I plastered a fake smile on my face.

He smiled, shaking his head, as he reached for something under his seat. He pulled out a blanket and held it out.

“It is getting rather chilly.”

I genuinely smiled at his kindness and spread the blanket over my brother and me.

“So where were you headed this late at night?” Jonathan asked.

“To the next town.” I said.

“May I ask why?”

I shrugged, “Looking for work, a better life and the like.”

“I see. But it was rather careless of you to travel with the child, was it not?”

Guilt riddled me then, he was right. I should have thought of my brother first before unleashing my anger. I was continuously failing him.

“You are not very bright, are you?” Jonathan smiled.

I narrowed my eyes at him and cursed him inwardly, he was getting on my nerves. Those deep dimples mocking me with their beauty.

“And your mouth has no filter, does it?”

“No, I prefer to live as honestly as possible. My thoughts are my words.”

“If it were not for my desperation, I would have slapped you and left this carriage,” I grinned, “you were right, it does make you feel good.”

Henry pinched me and I turned to face him. His face clearly said, do you not ever learn? And he was right, seconds ago I had sworn to put him first. Now I was provoking the man who could very well throw us out.

Jonathan smiled,” No matter, I do not take offense.”

Henry rolled his eyes and I turned to face the dashing Mr. Jonathan.

“I believe we will get along well, then.”

Jonathan winked,” Oh trust me, we shall indeed.”

Eleven: GETTING PERSONAL

#Hazel

I was startled when Jonathan woke me up, gasping to see his face so close to mine. He smirked when I literally shrieked like a girl and drew back softly.

“I know, I have that effect on most.” He chuckled, winking.

I scowled at him, “Do you make an effort to be this obnoxious, or is it a disability?”

He chuckled again,” We are here.”

“Where is here, exactly?”

“Home, of course. Mine, if I should say.”

He did not wait for us as he exited, and I yawned before shaking my brother awake.

He opened his eyes slowly and groaned, probably from stiff muscles. A carriage was no pleasant place to sleep after all.

I was surprised to see we had slept through the entire night, and dawn had already passed! Jonathan was giving instructions to his driver, and another boy who stood next to him. He turned to give me a wink before finishing whatever it was he was saying. He walked back to where we were standing and gave us a huge grin.

“I am having rooms prepared for you, unless you wish to remain together?”

“We are continuing with our journey,” I said, before Hector cut in.

“Thank you, one room will be fine.”

I turned to glare at my brother and he raised a brow at me.

“I am tired, Hector.

Jonathan chuckled,” Apologies, who is older, again?”

I narrowed my eyes at him, telling him to stay out of this.

“Henry-”

“No, this time we are doing this my way. I am exhausted and still mad at you! We will sleep and then continue tomorrow.”

“Alright, fair enough. But only this time.”

“We will see.”

I stared at my younger sibling in surprise as he smiled at Jonathan.

“Thank you, for being so kind.”

Jonathan, with his signature smirk, replied,” Of course. Kindness is one of my few weaknesses.”

I rolled my eyes at that, this man seriously tried my patience.

“And your little sister obviously wants to stay, she is just being stubborn.”

I lunged at him as my brother tried to hold me back, with the sole intention of scratching that pretty face of his!

“That was uncalled for,” Jonathan laughed, “I apologize.”

I glared at him and shrugged my brother off me.

“Come on inside, we all need to eat something and rest.”

I walked behind the two and my younger sibling immediately betrayed me for the kitchen, soon as we entered. Then I was left with Jonathan, who eagerly offered to give me a tour of the house. I turned to look at my brother one more time as he left with the boy from earlier, not wanting to separate from him really.

“He will be alright,” Jonathan said as if reading my thoughts.

I sighed and turned to take in the extravagance that was Jonathan’s house.

Jonathan’s home was magnificent, that was the only way to describe it. With glorious portraits hanging everywhere, and rich rugs thrown over the plush chairs in a sitting area. There were also beautiful mirrors placed about the room. I rolled my eyes as I thought of the obnoxious man, who probably intended to look at his reflection wherever he went. Not that I blamed him, if I had a face like that, I would probably stare at myself too.

“I am pleased to see you are so easily impressed,” his voice sounded so close to my neck that I yelped. “It makes life so much easier for me.”

“Good Lord! Do you have any respect for personal space, at all?” I frowned at him.

“You thought that was personal?” He raised a perfect brow.

I rolled my eyes and remained silent. It would do me no good to fuel this man’s thoughts.

“Believe me; that was not personal.” He winked.

I shivered involuntarily, I was getting very peculiar vibes from this man. And I hoped I did not stay long enough to know what!

He then frowned and took a step closer to me, making me take one back, naturally. We played this dance until the back of my knees hit a chair. I gasped as he smirked, tilting my chin to force me to meet his eyes. Black, as black as a harsh night, to match his raven hair. It scared me and strangely thrilled me at the same time, I could not separate one emotion from the other. I gulped as he stared into my eyes.

“Your eyes, I had not realized! Why, they are magnificent!” He beamed like a child who had just discovered chocolate.

I shifted nervously as I pushed him away from me.

“We seriously need to work on boundaries!”

“You are willing to stay that long?” He raised a brow.

“Can you show me where our room is now?” I sighed, this man literally tired me even more.

“Oh darling, our room?” He asked with a smirk.

I groaned, disgusted with his behavior, “You are one of those?”

He appeared surprised,” One of what?”

“Men who enjoy the company of men. I have to tell you, I have encountered one of those, and I am not interested!” I warned, raising a finger for effect.

His face softened with understanding as he burst into laughter, and I felt foolish. Like I had been left out of some big jest. I narrowed my eyes at his laughing form. He did that a lot, laugh at me, and it was really annoying.

“I do not find that particularly amusing.” I voiced my thoughts.

“My dear, for me to be a man who enjoys, what was that you said? The company of other men? You would have to be a man yourself!”

“Have we not been through this before?” I asked, exasperated.

He walked toward me again, making me repeat my futile efforts to flee. When he had cornered me, he slipped his hand around my waist and pulled me to him. So close there was no space left, I ended where he began and he ended where I began. I drew in a breath I could not let out, as heat spread through my entire being and I cursed myself for being so weak! He leaned in and whispered in my ear.

“I can feel your curves, my beautiful darling. Soft, feminine and just ripe for me. I very much enjoy the company of women, and particularly divine creatures such as yourself.” He licked his pale lips as his black eyes darkened even more.

“Let my sister go, you rogue!” Henry’s voice boomed behind Jonathan.

I gasped and looked up at my brother, my senses finally working again as I shoved Jonathan away. He smirked and raised his still gloved hands, turning to face my appalled brother.

“I was just proving a hypothesis.” He said calmly.

Henry made to attack him but I shouted to stop him. He looked at me in confusion and I swallowed hard before explaining, “I am alright, he did not do anything.”

“But he-”

“I let him.” I said, making Jonathan smirk and Henry glare at me.

“Now that we have established you are not Hector, may you kindly reintroduce yourself?”

I groaned, “Hazel. My name is Hazel, alright? “

“And this one?” He motioned at Henry.

“My name is Henry.” My young brother said, his chest puffed out in warning.

“Very well, I will show you to your room, I will call on you at lunch time. If this pleases you?”

“Make that two rooms, please.” Henry spoke up.

“Henry?” I asked in surprise.

He raised his hand to silence me and shook his head at me. Jonathan, of course, chuckled. I really wanted to knock that grin off his face!

“Of course, please follow me.”

We followed him up the stairs as he showed Henry to his room. My brother mumbled his thanks and locked the door after him as I stared at the closed door in shock. I looked away when Jonathan nudged me.

“Come with me,” he said, his expression almost sympathetic.

I followed him quietly when he opened the doors to the most grand and beautifully decorated room I had ever seen. Surely this was not a guest room! I turned to face him as he closed the door behind us.

“Jonathan this is too much-”

He was in my face in an instant, “This is too little.”

“I do not-”

He pressed a finger to my lips, “I watched you sleep the whole way here, do you even know how exquisite you are?!”

I rolled my eyes and pushed him away, “You will not use me to quench your lust!”

“This is not lust, Hazel. And even if it was, I doubt a lifetime could quench what I am feeling right now.”

“And pray tell, what exactly is it that you are feeling?”

He closed the distance between us and took my tiny hands in his much larger ones. Then he leaned in, saying, “Let me show you.”

Before he crushed my lips with his hungry ones.

#Wren

I had searched for the boys, to no avail. They could not have gone far on foot, unless a carriage had picked them up. And I had searched in both directions for any sign of them, but the boys were gone. I had no idea where to find them, if they were even safe. I sighed as I locked my horse in, perhaps it was for the best. It was time to return to my sense and stop chasing a boy I barely knew. What was wrong with me anyway!

My mother was waiting up for me when I finally entered the house.

“I was worried!” She exclaimed, obvious anger marring her beautiful face.

I sighed and tried to walk past her, but she grabbed my sleeve and I stilled. I was exhausted and frustrated, I did not need this right now! But she held on, searching my face for answers.

“Do I need to get hit too for you to speak to me?”

I looked at her in surprise and she sighed.

“I do not understand you, son. Why go after that boy? In this cold?”

I opened my mouth to answer her, but no words would come. What could I say anyway, when even I did not know why.

“Will you not speak to me, my son?” My mother pleaded.

I shook my head and gently wiped the tear from her cheek. For some odd reason, it was easier with Hector. He never focused on it as much as everyone else did. Of course, at first he had been startled, but he could carry on a conversation with me, whether I spoke or not. That was a special talent of his, I supposed.

“Remember Catherine?”

My hand immediately left her face, as if scorched. I glared at her as I started walking away. Talking about my wife was forbidden territory, and my mother knew that. She could have easily proved her point another way, but not uttering that woman’s name! She was betrayal incarnate, and it was hardly fair to Hector to compare him to her. But I would end this foolish errand with Hector anyway, hoping wherever he was, he would find better luck.

#Hazel

His scent filled my nostrils as I pulled him down to tug at his hair. I was a woman possessed, and I did not even care at this moment. I was finally home, and my joy was reflected in my beating heart, which was in a race with my emotions. My hands trembled, just like his, but we carried on either way. Making our way, our mouths still attached, to the massive bed. My eyes remained closed as he gently lowered me on the bed, his mouth still on mine. Who knew I had so much passion in me! This was my first kiss anyway, not counting the one his sister had planted on me! I moaned as his hands gently squeezed my waist, before pulling me slightly off the bed and closer to his rigid body. Oh, this was heaven. The substance of dreams I had not even dreamt of yet! In short, if I could ever describe perfection, this was it.

I ran my hands through his soft hair and trailed my hands to his face.
My eyes immediately flew open when I felt no scars.

“Jonathan!” I gasped, pushing him away with all my strength and wiping my mouth.

What had I done!

Jonathan looked confused, his hair disheveled as I wiped my mouth over and over again. As if that foolish act would erase what we had just done! What I had allowed to happen.

“Hazel-” he began, but I raised my hand to hush him.

“No!” I did not want to hear what he had to say, not when I could not think clearly myself.

“I would never force you to anything, I thought…” his voice trailed and he looked much like a lost child then. Not the arrogant man who got on my nerves.

"I thought you wanted to- did you not feel that?" He asked, carefully and slowly, as if scared of my answer.

I did, I thought. Except I had been imagining dark brown hair, instead of his raven black. Soft, cherry lips, instead of his pale ones. A natural, clean scent, instead of his obviously expensive perfume. Grey eyes, instead of those black ones. I wanted Donoghue, and my little daydream had startled me with that revelation. But that physical connection was with Jonathan, my mind argued.

I had no idea what that meant. My body might have been confused, but my mind thought only of my scarred farmer. With all his imperfections that I grown to love.

“I need some air,” I said, making to get off the bed.

Jonathan’s jaw clenched as he ran his hand through his messed up hair. I did that, I thought. “I will leave, you can have the room to yourself.”

“Jonathan…”

He stopped at the door, but did not turn to face me. I took a deep breath and said again, “Thank you.”

“Like I said, kindness is my weakness,” he responded, before opening the door and closing it after himself.

I groaned and fell back on the bed, my hand over my eyes, as I repeated to myself over and over again.

What had I done?

Twelve: HIS WIFE’S GHOST

#Hazel

I woke up with my face itchy from my own tears. Oddly enough, I could not remember crying, so it must have been in my sleep. I groaned and wiped my face, before stretching and getting off the massive bed. Honestly, I did not comprehend why one person would need such a bed! It was enormous, ten or eleven people could fit quite perfectly! Jonathan probably needed it to accommodate his large head, I rolled my eyes. Lord knows that man needed to lay on the floor, and jump over himself!

I gasped when I spotted my blotched complexion in the mirror, I looked a mess. Then I remembered I had absolutely no care in the world, except my growling stomach and pouting brother. I ran a hand through my hair and looked about the room to locate a dresser, I was feeling rather cold. I walked to the window first, drawing the curtains and looking out, shocked when I realized it was already night. I had slept through the day?! I must have been more exhausted than I thought. I closed the curtains once again, before grabbing a beautiful shawl thrown against a chair in the room. It was probably best to stay away from Jonathan’s dressing room!

The noise hit me with a force when I opened the door, which was peculiar considering I had heard not a sound moments ago. There was music playing, and voices laughing and shouting at one another in merriment. I had no idea Jonathan would be hosting some sort of celebration, so I descended carefully down the stairs. The first thing that hit me was the smell of cigars. I knew that smell well, my stepmother would come home reeking of it, often. It was nauseating and upsetting, making my head swim momentarily as I tried not to gag. I coughed as I got off the last step, then finally looked up.

I screamed.

“Hush, little lamb, you will startle the guests,” Jonathan’s voice was in my ear in an instant, I wondered if he had some form of super human speed.

He held me against him as he turned us around, my back to the horrific scene I had just witnessed. I felt heat spread through me and I pushed him away, realizing he was shirtless! And hot to the touch! My fingers felt scorched where they had pushed him!

“Arrgggh!” I let out a frustrated protest,” please stay away from me!”

“You need to calm down, sweet,” he tried to soothe me.

I held my hand up,” Do not call me that!” If there was anything I loathed in this world, pet names. And coming from Jonathan, it was just worse.

He took my hand and held it in his, “I apologize, I never intended for you to see that.”

“So you expected me to sleep all day and all night?” I asked scowling, “That was rather a foolish gamble!”

“I could not wake you, not when you appeared so exhausted and were in need of the rest. Nor could I cancel tonight’s activities.”

“Activities?!” I gasped.

“Activities!?” My eyes widened even more in disbelief.

How could he be so casual! Behind me where men and women in all manners of undress, drinking, smoking and engaged in unmentionable activities. I suppose activities was the only word for it, after all. For however could one describe such? It was, literally the most disgusting thing I had ever witnessed! And that was after I had seen Helen unconscious in her own vomit once. I supposed she would have loved a place such as this, amongst her very own kin.

“Perhaps we better discuss this back in my room, the guests are beginning to stare,” Jonathan said, attempting to take back my hands in his.

I shoved him away, cursing my own stupidity when I, once again, touched his scorching skin. I considered throwing the shawl I had around him, then thought better of it, given how cold it was. How anyone could be shirtless in such conditions, was beyond me!

“Let them stare, Jonathan. I am not the one with anything to be ashamed of here!”

He scoffed,” And I, suppose, should be? You are my guest, and as such, I do not expect this much trouble from you!”

“You forgot to mention that interesting bit about yourself, Jonathan, that you run a brothel! How am I supposed to keep calm about that! Perhaps it would please you if I shed my clothing as well and joined the ball?”

He rolled his dark eyes, “This is a gentlemen’s club, do not insult me by insinuating I could ever run such a filthy and ancient practice!”

I laughed humorlessly, “Calling a donkey a horse, are we? Let me enlighten you, Jonathan, it is still a donkey!”

Then a realization hit me and I felt sick to my stomach, “Where is my brother!”

“He went on an errand with Henrison, they will return tomorrow at noon. You did not expect me to be so careless as to have a child here, did you?” He had the audacity to appear hurt!

“How dare you send my brother anywhere without my knowledge and consent! I am his guardian, you should have informed me and we would have been gladly on our way!” I seethed. He could throw his parties for all I cared, but no one would make decisions concerning my brother!

Jonathan rolled his eyes again, an action I rather loathed from him. He was not taking me seriously at all! To prove this, he grabbed my hand and practically pulled me back up the flight of stairs, until we were back in his extravagant room. The fresh smell and the silence was welcome, however, my gracious host, was not! I glared at him as I waited for him to explain just where exactly my brother was. Because I had every intention to go after Henry and leave this place!

“What kind of a guardian are you who travels with her charge in the middle of a cold night?” Jonathan accused, “was it so wrong of me to offer you a place to lay your head while you replenished your strength?”

“Where is my brother?!” I demanded. Whatever vices of mine he intended to highlight, he was welcome to do so after I knew where Henry was.

“Safe, and I would expect, enjoying himself as a boy his age, should.” Jonathan replied without emotion.

“I want to know where my brother is! I will-”

“You will not go after him, it is night already.” He said, finishing my thoughts exactly.

“I have no problem with-”

“But I do. Do not be stubborn, Hazel, you are more mature than that!” He scolded.

“You cannot keep me here against my will!” I screamed, proving my maturity could only withstand so much.

“Can I not, really? When I have the keys?” He raised a brow.

I glared at him and considered slapping him. How good my handprint would look on that perfect skin, the first blemish he would have had in years, I supposed. He studied my face as I planned my revenge, then sighed.

“I apologize about tonight, I really do, and I understand why such a scene might unnerve someone of your innocent nature. But your brother is well and safe, and both of you are welcome to stay here for as long as you both wish.”

“I do not think so, my brother will not live in a brothel!” I argued, meaning every word. I had made many bad choices and decisions when it came to being a guardian. But I swore, Jonathan would not be one of them!

“For the last time, Hazel, this is not a brothel! I can assure you everyone down those stairs is either married or in various stages of courtship. I do not provide courtesans, everyone brings their own!” He defended, his mouth drawn in displeasure at my accusations.

“And you just provide the premises?” I asked in disbelief. However could he think that would make me feel better? I almost laughed.

“It is good business,” he shrugged.

I then took a moment to appraise his form. He was well molded, enough to please I, who had no expertise on the male physique. I could only decide what was pleasing to my eye, and this definitely was. I scolded myself, remembering I was furious with him, then looked back at his gorgeous face.

“Is this what you meant by our supposed connection? Because if everyone is with their spouse or lover, why are you scantily clad?”

“A physician has his coat, a cook her apron,” he shrugged again.

I laughed then. A bitter laugh and shook my head in wonder, this man was too much! “So this is your uniform? Forgive me then, if a farmer should wear his overalls, why should you be denied your clothing in your place of work?”

He rolled his eyes, and this time, I was really certain I hated that. “Sarcasm does not suit you, sweet. But yes, it is my place of work, and it is not your place to judge me or tell me what I ought to do! As for our connection, my feelings stand, I wish you would not deny yours!”

I gasped, how dare he imply I felt as he did? I gave him a small grin, “I am not denying anything, and I have made it pretty clear how I feel about you!”

He scoffed,” Very well then. I will return to my guests. I will have someone bring you some food soon, you must be starving.”

“Make sure they are fully clothed,” I shouted after him as he closed the door.

I let out a breath in frustration and threw myself on the bed. Trying to think how badly I had lived to deserve all this! I took my pendant from beneath my chest and twisted it, saying a prayer of petition even as I did so. Because I needed help, badly. To deal with Jonathan, to raise my brother. To stop missing Donoghue. Because I did, and no idea how to stop. Since he would never forgive me, I probably should begin forgetting about him. A soft knock sounded on my door a few minutes after my moment of silence, disrupting my thoughts.

“Come in!” I called out, not really feeling like getting up from my woeful state on Jonathan’s bed. Even as I began to imagine the amount of disgusting things that had taken place on the bed.

“Jonathan asked me to bring up some food for you,” a soft and beautiful voice said.

I sat up and gasped. She was beautiful, with long, sunny hair and the most expressive eyes. But that was not the reason I gasped, and my mouth was now wide open.

No. It was because the beautiful woman in front of me looked the spitting image of Donoghue’s wife. The portrait that hung on his wall. The same portrait of a wife, I was certain, he had said was dead.

#Wren

I yawned as I rose from my bed, getting out of it from the right side. I felt a sense of comfort when I did that, and the silence around me did much to add to that comfort. Silence was good. Silence was peace. And silence was soothing. It was when people started talking and complaining and chattering, that life stopped making sense. If everyone could just stop all that noise, my life would be golden.

This was now the second morning after Hector and Henry had left, and I could not stop the feeling that was gnawing at me in my stomach. That they were in danger, wherever they were. I could not, for the life of me, comprehend why I would feel this way, with such conviction. But I did, and was seriously thinking of going out and searching for the boys. It could not be too hard to look for two boys travelling together. One, disturbingly beautiful, with exceptional eyes. No one could miss him in a crowd, nor was he forgettable. No one could ever erase that face from their minds. I made my bed as I made up my mind, fluffing my pillow before turning it over, then back again. Sighing with contentment, I went to take my bath.

:::::

“I miss Henry, he was always so energetic and hilarious,” Emily was saying as she arranged the eggs.

“And Hector so handsome,” Cassandra said, with a sing-song voice.

I laughed to myself, poor girl sounded infatuated. Emily chuckled too.

“He cast one deep spell over you, yes?”

Cassandra sighed, “He was just…unlike any other boy I have ever met.”

“I know what you mean, there was something quite peculiar about him. He always put a smile on my face when I saw him though, I could not help it. Too bad what happened with Miss. Michelle.”

“Arrgggh that spoilt brat, I should have slapped her myself. It is not fair Hector had to lose his job because of her!”

“Matthias told us he left of his own accord.”

Cassandra scoffed, “As if Mr. Donoghue would have let him stay after that! You know what kind of a man he is!”

“But he is also fair, if he had learnt that his sister-”

“Take the side of a worker over his own blood? Surely, you give him more credit than he deserves!”

I cleared my throat as I made myself visible, making Cassandra gasp and drop her dish. I clenched my jaw as I saw all the wasted eggs run on the floor, and the silly girl attempt to fix the damage. I had a ton of things to say to her, but I could not and would not say them. Instead, I focused on what Emily had said, that I was a fair man. I prided myself on that. And in said spirit, I would simply take the eggs’ worth off the girl’s wages.

Even though you are the one who startled her? Hector’s voice sounded in my head, I frowned at that. It sounded like something he would say, and now I was imagining his voice as well? And many more eggs are probably broken and you never get to find out about it! The voice further reasoned. I sighed, turning around and walking away, I was definitely going mad.

And I had to find that boy.

Thirteen: Miss Rashell West

#Wren

If I look back on my fairly long life, I have never been a patient man. Which was a problem considering my stutter. I was an angry child, always trying to communicate with other people fluently, but failing to. My brain could never properly coordinate with my tongue, and that was more frustrating than anything I had ever encountered. I could not do anything about it, unfortunately. The more I tried, the more frustrated I became, the more people either pitied me or jested at my expense. I could never win, I supposed, and so I decided to quit playing. Which, in my case, meant I stopped talking. For years, this had worked well for me, until now. Until an old man named Matthias. A man who was frustrating me more than my slow speech ever did!

“I do not understand why you are doing this,” he said for the umpteenth time as he followed me around the stable.

I was preparing my horse, a job meant for the man who was chattering away beside me at the moment. Peculiar, how a man could get paid to do just one job, and still fail to do it. Matthias was meant to listen to my instructions and execute them. But it appeared I had to accept his decisions more than he actually listened to me!
But his stubbornness brought Hector here in the first place, my mind argued. Which was true, except if I had never met Hector and his brother, I would not be worried at this moment. So either way I examined it, Matthias was still to blame for all of my current problems.

“The boy-”

“Enough!” I surprised myself with the weight in my voice, and apparently Matthias as well.

He blinked up at me with the faux innocence of a child and I scoffed. The man was a darn pain and stubborn to boot! There was nothing innocent about his old face. But true to my outburst, I had had enough of his rant, and was a quick moment away from acquainting him with my fist.

“This is quite out of character for you,” he said in evident surprise.

I frowned and said anything. What was, or was not character for me was no one’s concern but my own. I failed to comprehend why anything I did or did not do was to be such a fascinating event! And so I left the old man there, his mouth open in shock. Yes, I was going in search of the two boys. And yes, I would bring them back, all on my own.

:::::

The boys would never go back the way where we had found them, I had guessed. So my journey had taken up the whole day trying to find them in the direction I supposed they had journeyed. To no avail, of course. And I had asked every stranger I had met, knocked on every door I had spotted along the way. Had they seen two boys along the way? Had the two asked for shelter, or food or water from them? One young but tall, with tanned skin and dark hair. And the other with peculiar eyes and a small frame. The answer had been no every time. And I wondered if the boys were on their way to another town by now. I was losing daylight, and needed to find shelter soon. Which I did, in an inn an hour from the main road. The Shepherds’ Inn, the sign had read. And I wondered if I would have to sleep in a barn in my search for the brothers.

The barn turned out to be quite a lovely little establishment, to my relief. There were a few people inside, and I desperately needed something warm to drink before anything else. I sat down at a vacant table and waited for the woman moving around to come and take my dining request. It appeared she was engaged in a heated argument with a drunkard, and I wondered if she dealt with such scenarios often. I studied the other people in the room, which was a quick task for most of the tables were vacant. A commotion at one of the tables made me turn around, my eyes landing on a most interesting pair. Large, black orbs stared at me without wavering. If not for Hector’s eyes, I would have said this was the most extraordinary pair I had ever seen. Black as the enemy of day, to match a head of raven hair falling in waves on exposed pale shoulders. I felt a shiver go down my spine, as if I had been touched by something somewhat evil. She winked at me then, making me turn away instantly.

I looked back only after a seconds had passed, certain the woman was no longer looking at me. There was a small brawl over a game of cards apparently, and I looked on as she took all the winnings at the table and placed them in the apron of her skirts. She appeared quite pleased with herself, and I wondered what sort of woman she had to be to play cards in inns such as this!

“You will return my money you blasted wench!” One of the men said angrily, rising from his seat.

“Whoa gentlemen, let us all remain calm…” the serving lady attempted to pacify.

“Calm? She darn took all my money, the cheating-”

“No need for filthy names!” Said cheater cried out in mock horror. “I won fair and square. Too bad you cannot see past your large belly!”

“That is it! I will show you not to cheat again wench!”

The small woman had ran and was behind me in too fast a second I felt dizzy!

“Is she yours? Is she your woman?” The angry man questioned me, a putrid smell coming from his being.

I frowned at him and looked at the peeking head behind me. I looked back at the offensively reeking man.

“Hand her over!” He demanded, making my frown deepen.

I looked around the inn and no one was doing a thing to save the young woman. Cheater or not, I was sure handing her over to this man was not a fair fate.

“Do not try to be a hero, mate. The girl ain’t worth it!” One of the other men at the gambling table said.

“Hand her over!” The angry man demanded again, this time charging at me.

My hand was on his chest before he could advance any further, and I looked him straight in the eye, daring him to do anything. Wisely, he withdrew, choosing instead to spit at my feet. I grimaced, but did not waver.

“Enjoy her,” he sneered, “consider her bought and paid for with my coins. But you leave right now, before I change my mind.”

I looked around at his companions and decided it was probably best to do as he had said. So I left with the girl in tow, turning to glare at her the minute we were outside.

“That was fantastic!” Her face beamed, “you are fantastic. We make a fantastic team!”

One, we were not a team! And secondly, if she said fantastic one more time, I was going to hand her over without hesitation! I walked to where my horse was tied up and she followed me.

“So where are you headed?” She asked.

Away from you, I thought.

“Can you take me to my brother’s home, he lives not far from here.”

I ignored her as I got on my horse.

“If you leave me, they will tear me limb from limb,” she said with a deceivingly sad face.

I rolled my eyes and began moving. There was no way I was taking her anywhere with me.

“I do not have anywhere to go!” She shouted after me, but I ignored her and considered galloping faster.

“Please,” she said softly, finally making me stop.

She reminded me of my younger sister then, stupid but you could not help but rescue her out of bad situations. She grinned when I finally helped her up, getting on after her.

“I am Rashell, Rashell West. What about you?”

I sighed, “How do you kn-know th-that I will not ha-harm you?”

Irritated that I could never express myself effectively, I sighed again. She seemed to ignore this and went on.

“Will you?”

“No,” I answered, amused.

“Well, there you go. Now tell me your name.”

I ignored her as I tried not to think how close she was to me and how I did not like it!

“What is your story? A man such as yourself has to be travelling to someplace interesting?”

I refrained from questioning what she meant by a man such as myself.

“I am lo-looking for two boys, they ran away from ho-home.”

“That is sad, but why?”

I tried to think of a lie quickly, “To see-seek attention.”

“What are they like, perhaps I can help.”

“No!” My answer was quick and certain. I did not desire to spend any more time with this girl.

“Alright, just tell me what they look like then. In the event I do see them somewhere. I travel a lot, you see.”

And got into trouble a lot too, I could bet!

“One is tall, da-dark hair. One has one blue eye and one gr-green; he st-stands out.” I supposed that was all I could say, Hector really did stand out. If anyone met him, they would certainly never forget him!

“I hope you find them,” she said softly.

I hoped so too.

:::::

By the time we arrived at the girl’s house, she had almost succeeded in talking my ear off! I had learnt she had indeed cheated, and she travelled from place to place doing the same. She was a peculiar young woman, no doubt. She excitedly opened the door to the house and I hesitantly entered. She had insisted that I rest and meet her wonderful brother.

I looked around the house, feeling as little as a small child, and more uncomfortable with each step I took. Rashell was beside me, still talking, when a man entered. She immediately ran to him like a jubilant toddler.

“Shelly!” The tall man exclaimed as he drew her into his arms before swinging her around.

She laughed as he finally put her down and he looked up, noticing me for the first time. And when he frowned at me, I instantly knew I did not like this man! There was something about him, an evil glint lying in his dark eyes. I was sure the beauty of this house was simply to hide that. I glared back at him, until he smirked, making me loathe him even more.

“Rashell, who is your friend?”’

“He would not tell me his name,” the girl laughed. “But he saved me from some disgruntled gentlemen.”

“What! Were you gambling again?” The man narrowed his eyes, making his sister grin.

“Call it what you may, I was simply enjoying myself! Besides, they had it coming, thinking they could take all my money simply because I am a woman. Ha! The nerve!”

I almost smiled at that, she was an interesting one this one.

“This is Jonathan,” she said rolling her eyes, “my brother and guardian.”

Said guardian extended his hand, “Well, thank you for saving my sister.”

I looked at his hand, then back at him until he lowered his hand.

“I suppose you will be on your way now?” He asked, with a look in his eye that clearly told me I should be leaving now.

“Jonathan! Do not be rude!” Rashell cried out.

“What else is there for the man here?” Her brother defended.

As if I was not even in the room.

“He can stay for a drink before going on his way. Or at least a cup of tea.”

I shook my head at her, I really needed to get going anyway.

“Where are you headed anyway?” Jonathan frowned.

“He is looking for two young boys, perhaps they passed by this way?” Rashell replied.

Something passed in Jonathan’s eye before he smiled at me. “No, no two boys passed this way. Are you an officer of the law or something?”

I shook my head.

“Well, we will keep an eye out for them.” Rashell assured, making me force a slight smile for her.

“Who should we say is looking for them, you know, if we do encounter them,” Jonathan smirked.

“Donoghue,” I answered, never taking my eyes from him.

The man made me uneasy.

“And what do they look like?” He pressed on.

“One younger but taller, and the other has one blue eye and one green. Correct?”

I nodded at Rashell and watched as her eyes sparkled.

“Can you believe that? One blue eye and one green! I know of such people but I have never seen such a thing!”

Jonathan only nodded and turned to me. “I will see you out now.”

I traced my steps back to the door and did not wait for Jonathan as I opened the door.

“Well, I do not know what we can do if we see those boys of yours. How do we send word to you?”

I shook my head, I did not want any help of his. The man was making me more and more uncomfortable as the seconds in his presence went on! I would find the boys, I doubted any input from him could make the process any easier or any faster.

And so I left Rashell and her brother.

#Hazel

My whole body ached from my deep slumber, and for a moment I had an absurd thought that I had been possibly drugged! Ha! Would that not be something? Perhaps I had dreamt of the woman who looked like Donoghue’s wife as well, I could not quite remember. I shook my head a little, only succeeding in worsening the dizziness that had only been slight. I groaned as I got out of the massive bed, my empty plate on a chair nearby. I ignored the mess as I made my way to the window, all the while thinking I needed some air. To clear my head before I went downstairs to find Jonathan and ultimately my brother. I could not continue to sleep in this room forever.

The fresh air felt wonderful against my warm face, and I breathed in deeply. I missed my home, and mostly so, my papa. When we left this place, I would make sure we settled somewhere where there was a lot of open land and fresh air. I missed hunting, and teaching my brother how to hunt as well. But I would make everything alright once more, I would find a way.

I looked at the door as it opened and Jonathan entered, followed by a pretty young woman in a pink dress. I rolled my eyes and turned away to face the window again. I had not had enough air to deal with him at the moment!

“Starting early today, Jonathan?” I asked, still not facing him.

“I know not what you mean.” He responded in his annoyingly silky voice.

“Is she one of yours?” I asked, already dreading the answer.

“That is disgusting, I am his sister!” The woman cried out.

I turned quickly to look at her, surprised Jonathan had a sister. Perhaps she was married, living somewhere far, and did not know what he did in this house. My eyes widened as I took her in, the similarities between them were outstanding! From the raven hair to the dark eyes. And she was just as beautiful as her brother, but obviously younger. Her black eyes widened as she studied me as well.

“Why does he…she look like the boy that man was looking for?” She frowned as she looked at me from head to toe.

I frowned as well, “What man?”

“Do-”

A look passed in Jonathan’s eyes before he cut in, “Like I told him, I did not see any two boys passing this way.”

“But those eyes, I have never seen anything quite like it! What are the odds?” The small woman shrieked again.

“What man?” I repeated impatiently, my heart beating rapidly.

“It is none of your concern,” Jonathan waved his hand with a bored expression.

“Jonathan…” I began again.

“No, enough of this talk. It is not fruitful in any way, I promise you this.”

I glared at him angrily, he was treating me like a toddler! I turned from him to look for my jacket. I remembered then my brother had it, so I would just have to bear the cold then.

“And where do you think you are going?” He asked, narrowing his eyes when I faced him again, making it obvious I intended to leave.

I cared not for what he said or thought, I had to find out if Donoghue really was looking for us. Whether to punish me or invite me back, I needed to know. I was willing to take that chance. His sister still had a confused look on her beautiful face, and I cared not for that too. Jonathan could explain the situation later to her if he wanted.

“You are not going anywhere!” He commanded, blocking my way.

I rolled my eyes, “You are not my keeper, Jonathan. And even if you were, you do not own me! Now, please get out of my way.”

I tried to move but he blocked my way again, and I let out a breath as I looked up at him. He looked all tall and menacing now, which was a new look on him. I had once thought him gorgeous. I had thought him to be smug and full of himself. I had thought him to be shameless. I had even thought him to be thoughtful, perhaps even kind. But not once, would I have pictured him as scary. And he certainly was frightening now.

“I said, let. It. Go.” He punctuated each word, his eyes darkening even more as he looked down at me.

I gulped and clenched my fist, “Let me go, Jonathan.”

I was prepared to shove him out of the way, of course. Nothing would stop me from leaving the room. I found his sudden change in behavior odd and unwelcome, and I really did not want to investigate it now.

“Jonathan…” his sister tried again, but he turned to give her a sharp glare.

I saw my opportunity and attempted to go around him, but he had already grabbed my hand roughly before I made it anywhere. I faced him in shock, what was he doing?

“Jonathan, this is not funny,” I pleaded weakly.

His dark eyes were so cold and frightening I questioned my momentary lapse in judgment when I had ever been attracted to this man! My eyes widened in fear as he raised his hand to my neck, making me struggle in vain. The last thing I felt was his hand on my shoulder, and the last I heard was his sister screaming at him to stop. Before everything went black.

Fourteen: A DIFFERENT KIND OF LOVE

#Hazel

I winced as I opened my eyes, instantly closing them to shield them from the harsh light. I was not at all pleased with whichever cruel person had forgotten to put out the lights. And then I remembered! Jonathan!

My eyes flew open of their own accord as I drew myself into a sitting position. I looked about the room, letting out a deep breath when I confirmed I was alone. This was my chance to look for a weapon. Surely a room full of so many items had to have something I could use as a weapon! I had escaped my stepmother’s cruel plans for my fate, I certainly could handle this man. Even if I had to harm him in order to leave, he would not keep me here against my will! And if he had harmed my younger brother in any way, I would carve another dimple out of his stomach! I said a silent prayer for Henry and hoped mama and papa were watching over him wherever Jonathan had sent them. I had failed again, I doubted the heavens would open up to what I had to say, but I had to try. Henry was all I had, and if I lost him no doubt I would follow. How could I have been so stupid as to trust a man I had just met? Not every man could be like Donoghue, who even when cold and rude, was actually considerate and generous.

I frantically looked around for anything that could help me, but my efforts were in vain as the door opened. I hurriedly went to sit on the massive bed I had begun to loathe and hoped I would never see again.

“Good, you are awake,” Jonathan exclaimed happily, as if all was well and he had not rendered me unconscious who knew how many hours ago!

I scoffed and kept my thoughts to myself, choosing instead to watch him and see what he would do now. If he came anywhere close to me, I would bite him this time!

“I brought you food, you were sleeping for long.”

Sleeping? I wanted to scream. He made it as if I had gone to sleep on my own, willingly if I might add. This man clearly had something wrong with him.

“But you looked so beautiful, I did not want to wake you.” He carried on, coming to place a tray of food next to where I sat.

I only glared at him and he shook his head in amusement.

“You will need to keep up your strength in order to continue throwing that tantrum of yours!”

“Let me go, Jonathan,” my voice croaked, making me clear my throat.

“Go where, my little lamb?”

Home, I wanted to say. But I had no home, at least, not any more. My only option was to return to Donoghue and beg him forgiveness until he felt pity. Because it was the only safe place I knew, and for the first time I understood the world was no place for a young girl and boy to be alone.

“This is your home now, kitten, you have all you need here.”

I wondered how many animals I would have to be before he finally let me go!

“Except Henry,” I said carefully, hoping he would tell me where my brother was.

“Open up,” he ordered, bringing a spoonful of food to my face.

I grimaced and drew back, not willing to take the chance of being drugged by this mad man. He was not pleased, judging by the stern look on his face.

“You will eat!” He demanded.

“I am not hungry,” I argued, making him sigh.

“Henry will return tomorrow, I would never harm the boy.”

I had thought the same went for me as well, until I had felt his hand on my shoulder!

“Why so long? Where is he? He was supposed to be here yesterday!”

“Calm down, my little viper, do not upset yourself. As I said, the boy is fine. Now, eat.”

I opened my mouth before he force-fed me the food. I had no doubt he would do that.

“I am leaving when Henry returns,” I said carefully, “it is time we-”

“No, you are not going anywhere. My home is your home now.”

“Jonathan-”

“No arguing, little pet, you cannot provide for the boy the way I can. I am doing what is best for the both of you!”

“Thank you, but-”

“Enough!” His voice boomed.

I winced, reconsidering talking to him at all. I was only succeeding in angering him.

“You are mine to care for now, and to provide for and to protect.” He said softly as he pushed another spoonful into my mouth.

Yes, I really needed to get out of this house and away from this man.

“Where is Rashell?” I asked, thinking his sister could possibly be my only salvation.

He frowned, “She was being…difficult. So I sent her to her room.”

My heart beat faster at that, what did this mean for me now?

“Can I see her, I am getting rather-”

“No! You will stay in your room and she will stay in hers!”

His mood swings could be a bit overwhelming so I refrained from asking him anything else. We remained silent for a little while before he sighed.

“I am sorry, Hazel. I do not mean to be mad at you. I just want you to-” his voice trailed and I wondered what he had been about to say. Then his dark eyes widened as he smiled, “If I am good, will you stay with me? We can be good together and I…I promise to be good.”

For a second he was back to the Jonathan I had first met, warm, kind and beautiful. I wondered when he had turned into this. He extended his hand, making me flinch and him to frown, in turn.

“I would never harm you, Hazel. Earlier, you were just being…reckless.”

“So you put me down?!” I burst, not caring whether he was mad or not. If not for Henry, he could just kill me now for all I cared!

“I apologize, it will never happen again.” He said, almost sincerely.

I clenched my teeth when he reached out again to run his hand through my hair.

“You should grow out your hair, it will make you look more feminine.”

I drew back from him and scowled, I was not keeping my hair for anyone. That was why it was my hair!
His unwelcome hand was on my face now, palming my cheek.

“You are so beautiful, it is almost sinful,” he whispered, leaning in.

I drew further away from him and his intentions.

“It consumes me,” he shook his head sadly, “I do not know what to do.”

This man clearly was not in his right mind! Why would anyone be consumed with my face?! His face was so much prettier than mine!

“Be mine, Hazel. Let us come together as one, I know there is so much passion between us.”

No, there were many things I felt because of him, but passion was not one of them.

“Tell me one thing,” I said, looking him straight in the eye.

His eyes glinted as he smiled, “Anything.”

“The man who came here?”

His smile instantly disappeared, “We have already settle this.”

“Please, Jonathan.”

He stood up, “No! Now no more talk of this.”

“Jonathan-” I tried again.

“Do not provoke me, Hazel.”

And the look in his eyes told me I should, indeed, not. Then he was sad again.

“I apologize, I do not mean to raise my voice at you.”

So stop, I thought.

“I love you, Hazel.”

My heart stopped beating. Surely he had said something else. Like I loathe you, Hazel, or something. I must have been lost in my own thoughts for a while because he was angry when I finally looked at him.

“You are ignoring me, even when I am baring my heart to you?” His eyes darkened.

“No, Jonathan, I-”

“I think you have had enough for today,” he mumbled, taking the tray of food from the bed.

“Jonathan?”

He turned, but still with a scowl upon his face.

“Henry, he will return tomorrow, yes?” I asked as softly as I could manage.

He frowned, “I am a man of my word, Hazel.”

I highly doubted that.

I watched as he left, locking the door after him, of course. And one thought was on my mind, I had to get to Rashell.

#Wren

I was exhausted and filthy, the worst state to be in. I had searched for the boys as far as I could, with no such luck. I wondered how they could have gotten so far in such a short time, they did not have that much money on them I was certain. Perhaps they had worked for their board on a carriage to some faraway place, and perhaps I would never find them. I should just give up my search, except for the nagging feeling I had that the boys were in trouble. And I desperately needed to find them. I had finally decided to employ the services of an investigator to take up the search. I had to return home now, I had a farm to run.

I slowed down when I noticed a carriage in the middle of the road, and a man kneeling by one of the wheels. As I drew closer, I noticed they had trouble with the carriage. Possibly form the rough road they were travelling in. I was going to go past them when the man called after me.

“Please help us.”

I groaned, was I expected to rescue every mouse I encountered on this journey. What was I expected to do anyway, carry them all on my horse? However many they were!

“We have children on board,” he continued, as if that would make me change my mind.

Ha! I had never even met these children, why would I feel obliged to help them? If they wanted to keep them safe, they should have taken a better road. Everyone knew this road was terrible to use for heavy carriages! I sighed, turning around and going back to the carriage. My new found kindness would be the death of me! I got off my horse and patted him on the side to signal him to stay.

Walking over to the side where the man was, I finally noticed the two peeping children from one of the windows. They were beautiful, and identical, and each had an interesting pair of dark brown eyes. Eyes that were almost black. I shook the feeling away and bent to inspect the damage to the wheel.

“That rope on your beautiful horse would help. We just need to strengthen it so that it holds until we reach the next town.”

I nodded as I went to my horse to fetch the rope. I did not want to part with it, it was good quality rope to have at the farm! But he had brought those darn children into it, how could I say no now.

‘I am very grateful for this,” he said as I walked back.

Then before I knew it I was slipping, and his hands were on my arms to catch me, smearing dirt all over me. I rudely pushed him away as I desperately tried to get it off me.

“He does not like to be touched,” a familiar voice said behind me, instantly paralyzing me.

“He does not like dirt either, frankly I do not know which one he loathes more!” She said, laughing this time.

I kept my back to her but I could feel her as she walked towards me.

“You know this man?” The man beside me asked.

“Of course, I do. He was…is my husband.” She said sweetly, and I remembered a time when I actually believed in that.

“What? I thought Master Jonathan-”

“Hush,” she said quickly, “none of that. Not in front of dear Wren here, he was always rather sensitive.”

She finally came into my sight and she was still as beautiful as ever. Soft hair and big, bright eyes. She had not aged at all! But the feeling I once had when I saw her was gone now. I felt cold and empty when I looked at her, and I loathed myself for ever loving her.

“Hello Wren, it has been long.”

Yes, it had been long. And I had preferred it that way!

“You are still as glorious looking as ever, that is a plus.”

Yes, as glorious as I had been before she set our house on fire with me in it!

“What brings you to these parts anyway?”

I glared at her, hoping she would disappear and I would have been having a nightmare. But no, she was in front of me, alive and well.

She sighed,” I forgot you never were much of a talker, which is probable for the best because I never was very patient.”

She turned to the man, “How soon can we head back? Is the carriage strong enough?”

“Head back, madam? To master Jonathan’s house?”

Jonathan? Jonathan West? It had to be a coincidence.

“Yes, of course.”

“But it much for farther than if we continue on. The wheel might not hold any longer than that.”

“You think he will be pleased to learn that we carried on all the way to the next town? Even after we encountered some trouble?”

“But madam-”

“Enough, Richard. We are going back. You can walk the rest of the way to bring him back if you want to, but those are his children in that carriage. I will not continue this journey!”

Children? Those eyes! Surely Catherine was not consorting with that man, no wonder I had felt uneasy in his presence. He was evil, just like her.

“Of course madam.”

“Don’t know why I should care anyway, the man has a new toy that has caught his eye,” she snorted, but I heard her.

“That cannot be true madam, he adores you,” the man said, clearly uncomfortable.

I turned to walk away, there was no need for me to be here anyway. I knew I never should have stopped! In true Catherine fashion, she did not even notice my departure, just continued ranting.

“Quite a small thing too, with these odd eyes just like a cat. I do not even see what he fancies.”

I stopped then, my heart pounding in my chest. But Hector was a boy, surely she was not talking about him! And yet the man had behaved strangely when I had asked him about the boys, as if he knew something I did not. Could it be? I turned quickly and was in her face in an instant.

“One is blue and one is green?” I asked nervously.

She frowned, “What are you talking about?”

“The boy you s-saw!” I demanded impatiently.

“Umm yes? Odd sight indeed,” she said, “but he was not a boy.” Then her frown deepened, “and how did you know?”

I clenched my jaw as I grabbed the collar of her blouse, “You will take me to Jonathan, now.”

And I was bringing that beautiful girlish-boy home.

Fifteen: A FEW SNIPS AND A LATE HERO

#Hazel

I screamed as I woke up, glad when I realized I had only been dreaming. A nightmare really. About my brother. I had no idea how I could have fallen asleep again, and I groaned as I got off the bed. My head was pounding and I could only hope I had not slept through another day! Not without Henry.

I walked to the door, already knowing it was locked, but just grasping at straws. I turned the knob a couple of times before screaming out in frustration, I really had to get out of here! I resorted to searching for a weapon again and started going through Jonathan’s belongings. There was nothing in sight, of course, and so I went into his dresser. In there, I found everything ranging from beautiful to disgusting, but no weapon. Unless I could undergarment him to death! Seriously, the man was disgusting!

I sighed, feeling defeated, when I looked up and spotted a box. It was on a top shelf that I could not possibly reach on my own, and so I took the chair next to the bed. Enhancing my height, I reached for the box, heavily underestimating its weight, and all the contents falling on me. I groaned as I slipped and fell hard on my rear, cursing silently and hoping no one had heard me. Well, unless they wanted to help me, which I doubted!
There were papers all around me, but there was a glint of hope amongst them. A pair of scissors! I almost screamed with joy as I held it in my trembling hands, wondering if I could actually harm Jonathan in order to escape. What if I started a fight that would end up in my having to kill him? Could I live with that? Because the frightening thing about Jonathan was that he was as unpredictable as he was mad. I had no idea what he would do next; kiss me or kill me!

I gasped when I heard the door open, and quickly put the pair of scissors in my pocket.

“Hazel?” His voice sounded softly in the room.

I remained where I was, fully knowing he would find me anyway.

“Hazel, darling?”

I heard his footsteps nearing the open dressing room until he blocked the light. My eyes went to his extravagant shiny shoes, his neatly pressed trousers and crisp shirt, to his clean-shaven face. I wondered how I had ever thought him beautiful, and cursed my idiocy! His frown made his dimples more prominent, and I did not want to know the horrors going through his head at the moment.

“Are you alright, little pet?”

I just stared at him, a list of responses at my disposal and at the tip of my tongue. But none I could say right now, for I was indeed what he had called me, his pet. He saw me as one, and meant to keep me as one. If I provoked him now, I would never get the chance I desperately required. So I nodded, slowly, making his frown deepen.

“Then why are you in the dressing room?” He looked around, “and what is all this mess?”

“I was…bored.” I silently cursed myself, how exactly did sitting in a dressing room constitute as entertainment!

His face lit up as he grinned, “I could think of a few ways to entertain you, all you need have done was call on me!”

I almost grimaced, thinking of his kind of entertainment, but gave him a slight smile instead.

“Come, I will show you something,” he said, offering me his hand. “When did you take a bath last, love?”

I rolled my eyes as I got up from my sitting position and quickly snatched my hand from his. He noticed this and smiled, “It will become easier with time.”

I doubted, and who said anything about giving him time.

“Where is Henry? You did promise his return.” I said instead.

He sighed, “The boy should be here anytime now. Will you relax now? “

I nodded, but not until I set eyes on my brother! I heard him sigh loudly as he spun me around to face him.

“What is wrong, you have no faith in my word?”

No, you imbecile, I most certainly do not!

“Of course, I do. It is just that I do not understand why he has been gone for so long, and why you will not tell me where he is. If all is indeed well, then why all the secrecy?”

Did I say I had faith in him? After my little speech, I contradicted my lie more than Jonathan contradicted his claim to be a kind man!

“I thought you said you had faith in me?” He sighed.

Caught!

He took my hands in his, making me clench my jaw.

“Listen, I intended for us to have some time alone until I won your hand.”

I stared at him in disbelief, this man was truly insane.

“Whatever has happened, you cannot deny there is magic between us. I have never felt anything quite like it in all my years.”
He drew me close and sank his face in my neck.

This was it, this was my chance to take out my scissors and stick it in his neck! My hand slowly slid to my pocket but I halted when he grabbed my hips.

“You make me feel something I cannot quite describe, but I knew from that first day, I cannot get enough. I need you, Hazel. Can you not understand why I am doing this for us? For you to be the mistress of this house?”

I was glad he could not see my look of absolute disgust as he nuzzled my neck some more. His fingertips were lightly grazing the top of my pockets, and I held my breath. When Jonathan’s ministrations became more bold and aggressive, I faked a moan and tried to bring his hands to my back. He complied as I ran one hand through his hair and lowered the other slowly to my pocket. He raised his face to mine and met my lips with his. I almost smiled when he closed his eyes and deepened the kiss. This was it, my one and only chance to do it, but could I go through with it? Only one way to find out.

I faux-moaned some more as I lowered my hand, gasping when I felt nothing. Both my eyes widened as he opened his, an angry smile upon his perfect face.

“Lost something, my little dumpling?”

I shook my head as I stepped away from him slowly, ready to defend myself if need be. A look passed in his eyes, all the affection gone as I turned to run. I just had to make it to the unlocked door. But he was fast, really fast. He only had to take one long stride for my two, and my fear was not helping matters. I was on the floor in seconds, kicking and screaming as he pulled on my hair.

“What were you trying to do?!” he yelled.

“Let me go! Please.”

“This is how you repay my kindness?”

“Please, it is not what you think,” I sobbed

He laughed, “What then? You intended to cut hair?

I continued sobbing.

“Fine then!” He said.

I screamed as he yanked my hair back roughly and sank the glistening metal into my hair. Snip. Snip. I heaved as my locks fell, and continued to do so as the man pulled my hair back.

“You think your beauty can let you get away with everything?”

Snip.

“You think you can just spit at my generosity?!”

Snip.

“Why do you do this to me, Hazel?”

Snip.

By now I was just exhausted, my screams no longer audible. I watched the strands of hair on me and around me. Dark and thick, my mother’s gift to me. Hair I had once cut by choice and was now crying over! Hair I had always thought was an unnecessary and time consuming vanity! Hair that I was now screaming over.

I laughed then. A loud, deep laugh that freed my spirit.
This man would probably violate me and then kill me, and I was worried about hair? How humorous.

He stopped when I stopped wailing, and I nervously looked up at him. Wondering what he would do next. He had tears in his dark eyes, and immediately fell to a kneeling position as he gathered my hair with his fingers.

“What have I done?” He whispered, more to himself than me.

He was still holding the scissors, and I considered grabbing it and sticking it in his neck. Or at least anywhere that would cause him some harm and help me escape. The door burst open and Rashell entered. Her face was flushed and her clothes disheveled, as if she had been in a fight of sorts. Her eyes assessed the room, and she looked horrified at the sight of my hair all over the place.

“By God, Jonathan! What have you become?”

She rushed to my side and helped me stand. Jonathan was still sobbing in his kneeling position.

“I am so sorry,” he sobbed, still clutching my hair.

I could only manage what my appearance was like now!

“Your beautiful hair,” he sniffed, then looked up at me. His expression immediately changed at the sight of his sister beside me.

“What are you doing here?”

“I heard the noise, the screaming. I thought you were about to murder the girl, or worse, violate her!”

I grimaced.

“You will let her go! This is so unlike you!”

“I cannot, I need her.”

Rashell had stood firmly in front of me in a protective stance.

“Please, do not keep me away from her.”

“You have lost your mind, Jonathan, just like father.”

“I am nothing like him!” He spat angrily, “I love her!”

“This, “she gestured to my hair on the floor, “is not love, brother.”

He stood up, making Rashell take a step back in defense. But Jonathan walked past us to a cupboard in a corner of the room, retrieving a can and a box of matches. We watched as he sprinkled foul smelling liquid on the bed.

“Jonathan, what are you-” Rashell started.

We watched as he lit a match and threw it on the bed.

“I am becoming worthy of her,” he replied, pushing his sister aside and grabbing my arm as I cried out. He pressed the scissors to my throat and threw the can at Rashell, spilling some of the liquid on her.

“You will burn this whole house down-”

“Jonathan, please-”

“Or I will kill her, Rashell. And then myself.”

The bed was almost engulfed in flames, rapidly spreading across the room to the curtains.

“It is your choice.” He added.

And when Rashell rushed to do his bidding, screaming for everyone to vacate the house, I knew all hope was lost.

#Wren

I grabbed Catherine’s blouse as she screamed in protest.

“Unhand me you fool!”

I ignored her and gave the man a warning glance when he advanced. He immediately backed off, the wise man, while my wife continued kicking and screaming. The children were both crying now, but I paid them no attention.

“I cannot just leave the children!” She screamed.

I scoffed and continued dragging her to my horse. She struggled and I glared at her, I would consider knocking her out if it came to that! She must have read my expression well because she pouted and stomped her foot like the child she was.

“When did you become malicious?” She asked in surprise.

When you set me on fire and left me, I thought.

“One way or another, we are going to get that boy!”

She frowned at me, “Fine! But I will not leave the children!”

“The wheel is al-almost fixed. He can fo-follow with them!”

She rolled her eyes but did not fight me any further as I helped her mount the horse. And then we were on our way.

:::::

:::::

“So what is your plan? To exchange me for Jonathan’s new interest?”

I remained silent and she laughed.

“This is quite unlike you, you have never cared for anyone a day in your life!”

That is a lie, I cared about you, I thought.

“Does this boy owe you money or something? Is that why you are so keen on finding him?”

I remained silent as she scoffed.

“Well, if this is indeed the one you are looking for, I can assure you it will be quite a disappointment. Perhaps Jonathan deserves him after all!”

My jaw tensed as I wondered what kind of sick game they were playing. And what had happened to Catherine? She had once been such a sweet-natured girl. Had he done this to her? Was he the reason she had become this way? But when she had set the house on fire, she had had another lover then. Another lover who was not Jonathan. Perhaps she had fooled me from the start.

“You were always good for one thing, though,” she sneered, bringing me out of my thoughts.

“You never nagged. I swear every girl wants that in a man! And you gave me a wonderful last name, Catherine Donoghue has such a wonderful ring to it!”

I grimaced, considering stopping and strangling her. Then she gasped.

“Is that why you are so keen on finding this boy, Wren? Do boys excite you? You know, we never consummated our marriage and I thought it was because of your aversions. But even a man with your problems could not possibly resist me unless… oh thank the heavens! I thought perhaps it was me!”

I bit my tongue and journeyed on, counting the trees we passed. Anything to keep sane as I struggled not to throw her off my horse. Numbers were good. Numbers were safe. Numbers were certain. Numbers were reliable.

We seemed to have journeyed for hours, with me finally successfully tuning out Catherine. But I saw the smoke first before anything, and I encouraged my horse to go faster, hoping my fears would not come true. There were three figures in the distance, two men and one woman. My heart finally calmed when I realized one of them was Hector. I could not get off the horse fast enough!

I gasped when I set my eyes on Hector, his hair had been chopped off! Haphazardly and carelessly cut, I wondered what Jonathan had been doing to him! My heart only calmed when he looked at me like I was his savior.

“I really intended to make you happy, this is unnecessary!” Jonathan hissed at Hector and pointed at me.

“Let me go,” the boy sobbed, looking down at his trapped arm.

“I…I cannot. Do you not understand that?!”

I made a move toward them but Jonathan raised his knife, or was it a pair of scissors. “Take another step and I will draw blood!”

I halted and raised my hands in surrender, it was clear I was dealing with a mad man. Anything that I did could potentially put Hector in harm’s way.

“Hazel will stay here, with me. I will not harm her, but you have to leave.” He commanded.

Of course, I was not going anywhere without the boy! Not when I had gone through so much trouble to get him back and certainly not leaving him with this insane and violent man.

“Jonathan-” Catherine began.*

“Hush, Catherine! You are not a part of this!”

“How dare y-”

“Catherine!” Jonathan hissed again, as if in warning, making Catherine withdraw. In another situation I would have been in awe of the man, he had managed to silence Catherine!

“No one is taking her away from me!” Jonathan declared, and I believed him. He would not let Hector go, not without a fight.

And so a fight, I would give him.

I closed the distance between us without thinking further, and his eyes widened as he pushed Hector away to point the sharp object at me. I had had enough of his and I aimed to twist his arm instead. But the man was good, slipping his hand past me as I gripped his throat. I heard Hector scream, even amongst the ladies’ voices, and I tightened my grip.

We both fell to the ground as I punched Jonathan furiously, not giving him a chance to fight back. Blood oozed from him nose and mouth, and it only fueled me. I lost count of how many punches I threw, and how long the screams sounded in my head, until I heard his voice.

“Stop!” Hector shouted with a trembling voice.

I immediately stopped, looking at Jonathan’s unconscious form on the ground, was he even still alive? And then I saw it, the blood on my hands.

My skin crawled as I drew away from the man, and every part of my body was on fire. I could not make it stop, and how badly I wanted it to.

“Donoghue,” I felt small hands on my wrists, making me look up. “Your leg.”

I frowned and looked down, seeing a pair of scissors embedded in my upper thigh. I frowned, I felt nothing, but only burned further at the sight of the large stain on my trousers.

Hector said nothing else as he wiped my hands, as if he could hear my silent cries. Before he started sobbing himself, “You are hurt.”

:::::

It all happened so fast, the fight, the fire and finally rescuing Hector. I was still recovering from the evening’s events, and had not fully registered that there was a sobbing boy in my arms at the moment. Until I felt the wetness on my shirt. I gently pushed him away, grimacing at the mess he had made of my clothes. Adding to the blood already on me, I was surely going to die.

“Hector?”

He looked up at me with tear-filled eyes, and I badly wanted to reach out and wipe them away. To take away his pain and assure him everything would be alright. But I was not that person. Because I knew nothing could ever be alright in life. And the boy needed to toughen up.

“I am sorry,” he sobbed, his face pale and his nose red. He made quite a sight!

Only one side of his face was wet, I noticed, the peculiar things about this would never cease! Something stirred within me, and I fought my hand as it reached out to him, wiping his face. The boy bit his lip as he looked up at me with those big, extraordinary eyes that would be the death of me. I understood then what could drive a man like Jonathan mad with obsession, it was those eyes. The more you looked in them, the more you lost yourself. The more you began to do things quite out of character. The more you convinced yourself you had to always come to his rescue, even when he always got himself into trouble. And the more I was realizing if I was not careful, I would fuel my own obsession! I felt my leg begin to throb then, I needed to attend to my wound.

I let go of his face, confused and fearful of my thoughts. But no, I was not Jonathan. I would never be consumed by the beauty of a boy so much that I would deny him his identity just to keep him. To mold him to my darkest desires, just to have him. No, I was and would never be Jonathan. But I would protect the brothers from now on, they kept getting into trouble if left on their own. But at the farm, I would mold them into good and hardworking young men. Yes, I had made my decision.

      

Sixteen: A DIFFERENT KIND OF KISS

#Wren

When I look back on this memory, I will completely blame him! The little troublemaker was weaving some daydream around me, or perhaps a nightmare. But
that was the thing, I did not have to pretend like Jonathan. I did not want to put him in a dress or turn him into a woman to satisfy my own darkness. I knew he was a boy, and I was fully aware my lips were upon his. And I knew as well that I was enjoying it. Forty. Thirty-eight. Thirty-six. Thirty-four…

He lips were dry but unbelievable soft, it was unlike anything I had ever imagined. I had never been this bold with Catherine! I shivered when his tiny hands caressed the side of my face, touching my scars, leaving a different kind of burn. I felt like a man for the first time in my life, not the man who had failed to stir anything for his wife. The man without passion, the man who lacked in everything, the broken man. I could not even speak well, or walk without my slight limp, or keep an eye on two young boys. But right at this moment, I felt whole, and it was a euphoric experience!

I moaned as he ran his hands through my hair, tugging at it gently. Driving me mad with a passion I never knew I had, taking me to heights I never thought I would reach. He kept his tongue in his mouth, making it all perfect. Saliva was bad, and disgusting, but Hector was not. It was like he knew me so well. I promised myself, just this once. Just this experience. If I could bottle it up and store it, I would have. But I could not, so now was all I had. Because when I opened my eyes, reality would hit me hard. Who had I become? What was I doing? How had I come to be in this place? When did I start kissing boys? Sixteen…fourteen…twelve…

Hector tried weakly to push me away, but I held him even closer, molding his little frame into mine. Hoping this fantasy would last a little longer. Hoping this would not haunt me forever. Hoping…  Eight…Six…Five…  Odd numbers. Odd was never good. Odd was bad. Odd meant something was wrong. Odd was not my friend.

My eyes were open in an instant, “Hector…”

My voice trailed, the happiness from before quickly draining away. What had I done? I was appalled with my actions, I was no better than Jonathan! What was wrong with me?

“Donoghue, listen…” he started, but I did not want to hear any of it.

“No!” My voice sounded, surprising even me with its intensity.

Hector looked up at me, terrified and lost.

“Donoghue…” he tried again but my eyes bore into his, silencing him right then.

He took a step towards me, and I took a step back. He looked like he had a lot to say, a lot I did not want to hear. Ever! I held up my hand to stop him from coming any closer to me. I was not sure if I was going mad, or if Hector exuded some substance from his pores that made men crazy. Crazy with want for him. I had to get far away from him.

And so, I did.

:::::

:::::

Today had been a pretty ordinary day. I had woken up, performed my morning routine, and went down for breakfast.

My mother was being her usual self, fussing over everyone about everything. And I was beginning to loathe her budding friendship with Miss West, it was neither a good thing for me nor was welcome. I could only hope the girl had the sense to leave and be on her way before I kicked her out. I had only let her tag along because she had been in shock over losing her home and discovering her brother was a lunatic. She had promised to be on her merry way, gambling like she always did, after a short period of rest. But four days later and she was very much in my mother’s kitchen, eating my food.

I had asked the boys to move into the house, a move that had shocked my mother to no end. I knew my sister would have something to say about this development when she returned. But we had more than enough room and I had promised myself I would look after the boys. Or at least try to look after them. But they still had to work at the farm and pull their weight.

Henry was laughing about something, and Hector was sitting quietly, sipping his tea. He had not said anything since we returned, and I had told everyone to leave him be. Henry had arrived shortly after my fight with Jonathan, and had been horrified to learn of what had happened in his short absence. He blamed himself for trusting Jonathan so easily and leaving his brother in his hands. There was something odd in his eyes when Rashell had exclaimed she was puzzled Jonathan would call Hector, Hazel, and that she had believed him to be a girl. The younger boy had appeared to be more disturbed by the fact that Hector had a horrible haircut than the fact that Jonathan had tried to turn him into his concubine! Of course, they were a naive pair, and Hector had been excited over purchasing new things and acquiring a young colt, he could not be blamed for what had happened. If anything, having them both in danger would probably not have turned out well. Or perhaps they could have fought against Jonathan. It did not matter, they could not have known, no better than I had known Catherine. One could never prepare for such things. After all, had not the boys come to my home in a similar manner. Looking for help in the middle of the road? And had I not given them, albeit reluctantly, employment and shelter? Were they wrong to assume Jonathan would be the same?

I finished breakfast and made my way to the garden, Hector quietly behind me. The wound Jonathan had inflicted was fortunately shallow, I could barely feel it now. We had been planting more vegetables for consumption, and tending to the other existing ones. I found it was calming for me, perhaps for Hector as well, especially after the last few days. He did not need to work with the other men, who were already eyeing him with questioning eyes. I supposed people needed answers as to why he was back. And why he was now living in the main house.

We worked in silence for quite a while, and I found the whole situation unnerving. I looked up as Hector sighed, but his eyes were distant and he had a faraway look in his eyes. It was an unbecoming look on him, like it did not belong there at all. He was Hector, annoying, witty, blunt Hector. Not this shell I was staring at. But what did I care anyway? I loved silence, I loved not being bothered. He looked up at me then, and for a brief moment, those brilliant eyes sparkled. But the sadness was still there, which was understandable considering what he had been through.

His hair was now evenly cut, so close to his scalp, and it gave him a more mature but hard look. But it made him look even more beautiful, if that was even possible. Because his rosy lips suddenly stood out, his perfect nose, feminine bone structure, and by God, those eyes! I scolded myself for staring, wondering once again whether I was going mad. The heat was probably getting to me! I took a deep breath, two…four…six…eight…

“Stop it!”

I stopped and opened my eyes in surprise. Hector barely spoke now, just the occasional nod and shake. It was good to hear him talking again. And so I frowned at him, indicating I had no idea what he was talking about.

“You’re counting,” he explained.

I was genuinely surprised, however did he know?!

“Sometimes you mouth numbers,” he explained again, and my brow drew up.

I did that? I never knew. Hector sighed and continued preparing the small bed of rich soil that would house more king onions. My counting forgotten, I realized watching him performing the simple task was calming. His small hands raking through, removing the green weeds and setting them aside for the rabbits.

“Stop staring at me,” he sighed again, “just say whatever you want to say.”

I remained quiet and he drew his gaze upward to face me.

“I apologize,” he sighed, and I finally decided I loathed that sound from him.

“For?” I asked.

“For my rudeness, I owe you everything.”

An involuntary smile surfaced, “Do not e-ever forget that.”

I realized I had just managed to tease him, a feat I had always thought impossible for me. I never did random things to make people smile, I carried neither warmth nor happiness within me. Hector smiled as well.

“Donoghue,” for some reason, my name sounded wonderful coming from him.

“Did you just…my, I never thought that pigs could fly!”

I laughed then, was I really that impossible? I supposed even worse! My laugh subsided into a permanent smile as he looked at me in, was that wonder? It was as if time had slowed down as we stared, those eyes boring into mine with an overwhelming intensity. I felt it then, that something was missing in my life. And somehow, Hector could give it to me. I watched as he slowly walked over to me, as if in a trance, and I closed the distance to meet him.

#Hazel

Today had been a pretty ordinary day. I sighed as I got out of my warm bed, cringing when I felt the slight pain in my shoulder. Yesterday had been a hectic day, and I was hoping today would be easier. I could use some rest, but did not want to appear weak and lazy in front of the other men. After my morning ablutions, I went down to look for my brother and have some breakfast before going to work. Amazing how we started work so early at the farm, but Mrs. Donoghue always had food ready for us before we left. The kitchen was already alive and I followed the voices, knowing my brother was no longer in his room.

“Oh Hector,” Mrs. Donoghue’s face beamed, “good morning.”

I managed a small smile for her.

“Take a seat and eat, come on!”

I nodded good morning at Henry and then managed a slight smile for Rashell.

I was still mentally exhausted from the previous week’s events, but I was also beginning to put it at the back of my mind. If only the same could be said about Rashell. The girl was anywhere but the back of my mind. In fact, she was everywhere! She was at the table when I had my meals. She was in the stables when I wanted to have some time alone, away from everyone. She was in the garden with Donoghue, when I wanted to spend time with him. The girl was simply a thorn in my side! A thick, stubborn and irremovable thorn! And Mrs. Donoghue was quite taken with her. Not that I expected anything less, the girl was stunning. And had a lunatic for a brother, who could not sympathize with her.

Donoghue had handed Jonathan over to the authorities, and we had made our way home after Henry had arrived. I was more than happy to know he had not been harmed in any way, although I know he felt guilty for that. Another shock that day was to learn Donoghue was in fact, still very much alive. And the worst kind of human being! I never did ask him what happened with their marriage, but he obviously still loved her. The man kept a portrait of her in his room! How could I ever compete with that? The object of my turmoil walked in and ate quickly before leaving, and I was right behind him.

What I was not prepared for was for everything to change.

:::::

:::::

When I look back upon this, I will have a very good defense. His lips provoked me! And his eyes! How could anyone look at me with those silver eyes and expect me to remain indifferent! I was weak! But he had, and those lips had smiled. And I had lost it. Utterly and completely driven mad by this man. This man who inexplicably wormed his way into my head and heart. Whose silence was comforting to me and whose rudeness I could see through? He had followed me, twice. Granted, the first time was against his will but he had done it nonetheless. And he had taken care of me when I fell ill because of it. This was the man I loved. Yes, I loved him. Without a doubt. The emotion was alien to me, but I understood it well. It felt wonderful. Like everything would be alright as long as he was there.

We had been working in silence before he teased me, my stern Donoghue, jesting! How could I ever hope to resist that? And my feet had just carried me to him. Perhaps it was an illusion, but he appeared to be walking toward me too. I did not take my eyes off him as I stood on my toes to finally do what I had only fantasized about. Again, he appeared to be meeting me halfway, and lowered his head. Our eyes never lost their connection, and I was just about to turn into a puddle.

His lips were soft and perfect, he was perfect. I decided then, I could never get enough. Nothing could compare to this, not even the kiss with Jonathan. Which I still regretted! Donoghue’s hair was soft and I gave in to my desire and tugged it a little. He moaned into my mouth. A man actually moaned for me! And not just any man, Donoghue! And he still thought I was a boy.

He thought I was a boy, the thought registered, I had to tell him! I tried to push him away, not whole heartedly, just enough to claim I had tried. He drew me closer though, and I melted into his arms. This was heaven. This is a lie, my mind thought, and I finally succeeded in pushing him away. Or did he draw from me? I did not know. He opened his eyes, and they widened when he looked at me.

“Hector…” his voice trailed, the light in his eyes quickly dimming and his face paling instantly. He looked appalled and disgusted, taking a step away from me.

“Donoghue, listen…”

“No!”

I hoped I looked less wounded than I felt at that moment.

“Donoghue…” I tried again but the look on his face silenced me.

He had to listen to what I had to say, that I was a girl and not a boy. If he was so disgusted with kissing a boy, that could be easily solved. I was not a boy! If I had known my lie would cause me so much trouble, but you did know, my mind argued.

I took a step towards him, and he retreated again, holding up his hand. I watched as he turned his back on me, and I could not stop him from walking away.

Seventeen: AVOIDING CONFRONTATIONS

#Hazel

I moved out of the main house as soon as I could, against Mrs. Donoghue’s protests. How could I explain what was going on? Say, oh yes, I have fallen in love with your son, and it appears he likes me too. But I am also a girl, and I apologize for pretending otherwise! I doubted that would go down very well, not until I talked to Donoghue first. Or never talk to him ever again, whichever was easier and most practical.

“What have you done this time?” my brother sighed and crossed his arms in the doorway.

“Why are you not at work?” I changed the topic.

“I came in for a drink. Why did you just tell Mrs. Donoghue that you are going back to the workers’ quarters?”

I ignored him and continued shoving my things in a portable bundle. Giving him an answer was at the bottom of my list of things I would like to do at this moment. A list which included seeing Rashell, talking to Mrs. Donoghue or her son.

“Seriously, Hazel, I am tired of this. We cannot go through this again!”

“I am just moving to the quarters, Henry.” I rolled my eyes.

He frowned, “Why? Why would you leave this house to go there?”

I sighed and grabbed my things, walking roughly past him. Pretending to be a boy had me developing really bad habits.

“What did you do?” He asked, more like accused.

He did not let up as we walked back to our old room, which was just as I had left it. He banged the door behind him and stood with his arms crossed in front of me. I loathed that he was taller than me, because it made me feel as if I was the younger one. As if I had to explain myself to him!

“You do not want to talk about what happened with Jonathan, are moody for the whole week, and now you just do this?”

“You mean the same Jonathan you were so eager to stay with?” I shot back, knowing it was unfair but saying it anyway. Because I felt horrible and I wanted to share the feeling.

“You were under his shirt the second we stepped foot in his house!” he spat, surprising me with the venom in his voice.  He sounded very old then, and I wondered if working with the other men had made him that way. Or was it the tragedy he had experienced in his young life? Or was it my terrible guardianship?

“You blame me?”

“Yes! You are playing the victim when you were more than eager to-”

“Stop!” I said, knowing it was all true. I had kissed Jonathan, slept in his room, and told my brother to leave us be.

“You still left me.”

“How was I to know he was a raging madman?” He shouted.

I prayed to God no one was near enough to hear our conversation. And so I lowered my voice to a hiss.

“We were supposed to stick together, Henry.”

“You mean follow you when you make decisions? When you anger Mr. Donoghue and get us chased away? When you hit his sister? I do follow you, Hazel! And I apologize that I left you and you were in trouble, I really regret that. But take some responsibility and stop spoiling things for us!”

I gasped, “Henry!”

“Yes, sister, things are changing now. We have no one else so we have to work together.”

Tears prickled my eyes, he was right. Henry was no longer a child, he was becoming a man, and a young man who was right. I sighed.

“I kissed Donoghue.”

I watched as his eyes widened, “You what?!”

I rolled my eyes, “I kissed him. Put my lips on his. Lip locked. E-”

“Stop! This is not amusing, Hazel. You kissed Mr. Donoghue, and he thinks you are a boy, he must be livid!”

“On the contrary, he rather enjoyed it that is why he is mad at me!”

“Can you go a day without causing trouble?”

“Then I would not be me, would I?” I rolled my eyes.

Is that what he really thought of me? That I just went around looking for trouble?

“Sarcasm will not change the fact that you need to behave, Hazel. Did Mr. Donoghue kick you out of the house?”

“No, I left before he could do it.” I replied.

Henry nodded, “You need to tell him.”

“Tell him what?”

‘That you are not a boy, of course!” He rolled his eyes.

“I tried that, it is his fault he refused to listen!” I defended.

And I had, tried, but he just left me there. I could have made everything right, I had half a mind to run after him and bare my chest to him if I had to! My bosom might be small, but it would have been enough to convince him I was speaking the truth. I was surprised he still believed I was a boy after the encounter with Jonathan anyway. He believed Jonathan was a demented fool and Catherine was confused by him as well. Of course, Catherine had only ever seen me in men’s clothing, and I had never admitted to her that I was female.

“His fault?” Henry gasped, bringing me back to the present, “who lied in the first place. I told you we should have just confessed a long time ago. Besides, the man kissed you as a boy, surely he will be ecstatic to know you have the right…” his voice trailed and he blushed.

“Right what?” I urged him to continue.

“Female bits,” he finished quickly.

I sighed,” I tried, Henry, now I will just avoid him until he calms down. And perhaps this was a gift in disguise, if I reveal myself now, he will think I had some ulterior motive.”

“What motive?”

“With him. I have slept in the man’s bed, what if he thinks I was trying to seduce him or something. And then the Jonathan issue, he will just think I asked for it.”

“That is absurd, Hazel. Firstly, you were sick then. And secondly, Jonathan was a madman, even though you did ask for it just a little.”

I glared at him and he raised his hands in mock surrender, “I speak the truth.”

I knew I was just grasping at straws, but the more I thought of it, the more I doubted that Donoghue would receive the news well. And why had he kissed me that way, even under the assumption that I was a boy? What did that mean? As far as I knew, he harbored no secret fancy for males, but he certainly kissed me like he did. Perhaps the attraction only lied in the forbidden.  And Lord knew I did not want to have a job doing laundry, and I could not cook to save my life. Nor did I want the other men to suddenly take an interest in me. Especially since they all seemed to already notice my feminine ways. No, I had to forget about Donoghue and life would go on.

#Wren

I could still smell him around me, an oddly sweet scent for a boy. As if he bathed in rose oil or such. And even when he had been in the sun for long, he still smelled wonderful. And I could still feel him on me. Small, fragile, and clinging to me as if for dear life.  His hands caressing my face as if he could erase my scars. I could still taste him. Soft against my lips, and his taste just like what I imagined the elixir of life to taste like. Sweet, intoxicating, addicting and unapologetic. There was nothing quite like it. Even though in my rage and confusion, I had gone to wash the experience off me. But it appeared I could never scrub Hector away.

“The calves need to be vaccinated and branded,” Matthias was saying.

The first part of his conversation had fallen on deaf ears, because my mind was on the green-blue eyed boy. I knew he was going to be trouble from the first time I set my eyes on him.  I just never knew this kind of trouble! How could I have kissed him? And darn it, how could I have enjoyed it! I was a man, albeit a poor one, but a man nonetheless. How could I be going off kissing other men! Regardless of how beautiful the man in question was. Or how soft his lips were. Or how captivating his eyes were. Despite my lack of experience with women, I knew I liked females. Because it was Hector’s femininity that intrigued me. I appreciated the fairer beauty of women, their softness that was natural to them. There was nothing attractive about the hard corners of a man, or the stubble on their jaw. And certainly not in the tenor or bass of their voice. And all those things were absent in Hector, which was why I had forgotten. For just but a second, and kissed him. Oh, I knew he was a boy alright, but he was just…different. And I loathed him. I cursed the day he ever walked into my life, or rather, rode into my life. In my own carriage! Damnation on Matthias’ head as well! But I knew what I had to do now, I just had to keep the boy far away from me. Far, far away. Perhaps sent him on an errand. Yes, that would do. And give me time to clear this bug I had caught.

“What is on your mind?” Matthias finally asked.

I blinked rapidly, like a child caught doing something they should not be doing.

“You are as white as a sheet! Are you unwell? “Matthias continued.

Perhaps I was.  Did kissing boys constitute as unwell? Did my enjoying it constitute as unwell? Did my continuing to think about it qualify as unwell?

“We can talk about this at a later time. You go up and take a rest.” The old man instructed.

I growled, I was a not a child!

“Seriously, we are just wasting time here anyway. You have barely heard a word I said!” He defended.

The old man was right, my mind was wrapped around a certain boy.  I sighed and nodded, walking toward the house. Yes, the boy had to go away, even just for a while.

Eighteen: A NEW KIND OF PROBLEM

#Wren

He looked furious. Perhaps that was an understatement, livid would be most appropriate. To everyone he had that charming smile etched on his beautiful face, but because I knew him so well, I was not fooled. Wait, I knew him well? As the thought sunk in, I realized I did. I knew that simple things made him happy, like the new coat I had had made for him. His eyes had twinkled when he saw it. I also knew that even if he had lost his belongings in Jonathan’s house, wearing my old clothes was somewhat amusing and not a problem for him. I knew he was quick to anger, and foolish in his rash actions. I also knew when he was tired from the work on the farm. Even though he tried to hide it, he was not as capable as the other men, or even his younger sibling. He was quick to tire, and would take frequent rests as he worked. He smiled every time I spoke and he always called me by my father’s name as if it were my first. He also never looked away when I looked him in the eye, and he was perfectly content spending the day with me even if I never spoke a word. Yes, I knew this boy. And thanks to our little moment of insanity, I now knew what his lips felt like too. I shook my head to clear my thoughts, and when I looked up, those intriguing eyes were watching me.

I grimaced as he strode to me, a man with a purpose.

He stopped a few inches away from me and I immediately drew back. He scoffed and took a step closer to me, making me start to count. Two…four…six…eight…

“Stop that, I have already been closer than this and you are still alive,” he rolled his eyes, and I knew he made a valid point.

The counting faded in my mind, as he rolled his eyes again and stepped back. I sighed in relief and moved back myself, just to be safe.

“You are sending me away,” he accused.

My eyes widened and I gulped. For the first time, feeling intimidated by someone. And someone so small too! I looked around at the men nearby, then back at him.

He waved his hand dismissively, “It is alright if you do not want to speak in front of them.”

I blinked in surprise, although I should not have been. Hector had an uncanny ability to read my mind. I was still to decide whether I appreciated it or not.

“But I want you to know that I am on to you!” He continued, glaring at me for effect.

That made my lips turn up in a slight smile, this little thing was hardly intimidating. But he thought he was, so I should probably indulge him. Which I did, by schooling my expression into a serious one.

“You are running away from-” he looked around and lowered his voice, “what happened, but we need to talk about it.”

I narrowed my eyes in disagreement, but he held up his tiny hand. Lord, was everything on this boy tiny? I snickered as a disturbing thought entered my mind about his…well, his reason for being a man. If everything on him was tiny then … I frowned, when had I developed a sense of humor? And if that thought had been funny before, it was certainly sobering now. Hector was a man, regardless of how small he was, he was still a man. And I had kissed him! Which was why I needed time to clear my head, away from him! Because this was truly alarming!

“Do not get me wrong, I want time away too…”

I looked at him, surprised. He did?

“But there is a lot I need to tell you, and you will want to hear this. Perhaps, after we both calm down, we can talk?” he asked, a hopeful look in his eyes.

I scoffed, hopeful? About what exactly? And what would we talk about? I certainly had no desire to dwell on this any more than we already had! So I shook my head. No, we would not be talking about anything.

“You can keep whatever thoughts you have to yourself,” I lowered my head to whisper to him, thankful that it came out so well.

He shook his head furiously, “You do not understand, I-”

“Hush! No more of this!” I hissed, my anger already surfacing.

I needed to forget this.

“You stubborn fool, I am only trying to make this right!” he said angrily, so much for trying to keep it quiet.

I looked around, relieved no one seemed to be paying attention to us, then lowered my head again.

“I am not Jonathan, “I whispered, and he visibly tensed.
“Is that what you did, use your ch-charm on the man? Do you like men, Hector?”

I felt the slap before he even raised his hand, and when it finally reached me, it felt like an echo. A painful one to be exact. Everyone had stopped what they were doing to look at us. But one glare from me and they went scurrying away like the mice they were.

The look on Hector’s face was venomous, and I knew he wanted to slap me again, but he spat at my feet instead.

“You are vile and deserve to be miserable!” He said harshly.

I regretted what I did as soon as I saw his beautiful skin marred with my handprint, but he had pushed me! And not to mention embarrass me in front of my workers! After all I had done for him! He touched the side of his face where I had hit him and tears welled in his bright eyes. But he stood defiantly before me, the first act of a man I had seen him perform.

“You are fortunate I am not throwing you out of my gates! Disrespect me again, and you will see the extent of my wrath!” I hissed in his face.

“I am not afraid of you,” he hissed back.

“You would do well to be! And if you come anywhere ne-near me again, I will make that-” I pointed to his red cheek, “look like child’s play!”

I walked off as I felt strangely remorseful for my actions. But he had pushed me, it was only fair.

Then why did I feel as if I was the villain.

#Hazel

How dare he bring Jonathan into this? The man had some nerve! I should have slapped him harder, and twice.

I heard footsteps approaching as I angrily kicked a stone and looked up to see a gasping Cassandra.

“Oh Hector, your face!”

I silently cursed that I bruised so easily, I supposed my cheek looked worse than it actually felt.

“What happened?” She fussed.

I waved my hand dismissively, “Nothing to worry over, I will be alright.”

I was angry with Donoghue, the man was arrogant and stubborn! If he wanted things to be this way then fine! I would leave him be, the truth was mine to keep anyway!

“Alright, if you are certain. I could fetch some ointment for you to prevent swelling?”

I shook my head, no. I needed the reminder of this moment. I was about to ask the girl what she had brought when Jacob arrived.

“Is everything set?” He asked, his eyes widening for a bit as he studied my face obviously.

Cassandra answered for me and handed him the basket she was carrying. Jacob just gave me a weird look and got into the carriage.

We were quiet for a while, until we were an hour or so away from the farm.

“You and Mr. Donoghue; that was quite the quarrel you had back there.”

I looked up at him and shrugged, not willing to talk about it.

“I know this is none of my concern but…” his voice trailed and I raised a brow at him, making him shake his head slightly.

I wondered why people always did that, start conversations and not finish them. If it was truly none of his concern, he should have just kept quiet and not piqued my curiosity! He smiled sheepishly when I glared at him.

“Well, I saw you and… him, in the garden,” he almost whispered.

I frowned at him.

“You…ummm…kissed.”

My heart slammed against my chest, threating to run away from the shame I had caused it! I did not blame it, if I could flee from myself at this moment, I would too.

“It is not what it appeared to be!” I hurried to say, then groaned.

I had my mouth on the man’s, out for the entire world to see! What else could it have been besides exactly what it was! We had not even thought of that, about someone seeing us.

Jacob raised his hands, “It is alright. Like I said, it is none of my…”

“What anyone with you? Who else knows?” I asked in a small panic.

The last thing I wanted was for any rumors to spread about Donoghue, he did not need that!

“No one else, you have my word. I will not tell anyone.”

I let out the breath I had been holding and nodded a silent thank you.

“I apologize, I should not have said anything,” he mumbled, “your preferences are not…”

“Your concern?” I raised a brow and finished for him.

He bit his lip and looked away, making me roll my eyes.

This was going to be a long trip!

::::

The journey was long and my thoughts were still at the farm. With Donoghue. The man was driving me insane! Luckily our errands were in the same place and we bought everything we needed efficiently.

The inn we were staying in for the night was clean and cozy enough, I had no complaints. But all I needed now was to sleep, a good rest would do me some good I reckoned. I was still furious with Donoghue, but all that anger was emotionally exhausting! And I could feel my head pound already. It had not taken much to convince Jacob to let me have my own room, he was still visibly uncomfortable with my direction of attraction. Which suited me just fine, because I did like Donoghue, but could not share a room with a man.

“Hector?”

I downed the rest of my juice and turned around, wondering who could possibly know me in this place. I groaned when I laid my eyes on her, this was not how I wanted my day to go. But there she was, staggering to get to me. Did Donoghue know this is where his sister was?

“Oh, it is you!” She giggled and stumbled, pouring her ale all over me.

I cursed and stood, grabbing her shoulders to steady her. She reeked worse than the barrel the ale came in!! Unbelievable. I looked around for Jacob but the man was nowhere to be found, darn him.

“Are you alone?” I asked her, wondering why she was here anyway.

She burped and I grimaced, “She is here somewhere.”

“Who?”

She just giggled so I rolled my eyes and helped her walk out of the room.

“You can use my room and I will just have to find another one,” I said, mostly to myself.

I could not pray the inn was not full yet. That was my last thought as we entered my room, and I saw blackness.

:::

“Hector, what have you done!”

I groaned and opened my eyes, seeing an alarmed Jacob in the doorway before a soft shriek drew my attention. The girl quickly grabbed the linen to cover her nudity as Jacob winced. Michelle’s hair was tousled and her lips visibly swollen. The girl looked like a woman of the ton then, reminding me of Helen. I grimaced.

“Mr. Donoghue will kill you!’

I rolled my eyes, what now? The reason for my impending death started crying next to me, making me sigh. If Donoghue did not kill me, I certainly would kill myself!

“What have you done, Hector?” He repeated again,” you took advantage of her when she was drunk?”

I looked again at the supposed damsel who was not in any distress from me, and wondered what game she was playing now.

She was sobbing loudly now, her shoulders visibly shaking. I could not remember how we had even gotten here!

“You have to make this right!” Jacob demanded as Michelle hurried to get out of bed.

“Oh my word!” He exclaimed, drawing my eyes to the red spot on the linen she had wrapped herself with. He quickly averted his eyes as she looked down at herself, before backing into a wall and crying even more hysterically. I rolled my eyes, thinking I should just remove my clothes and show them both that I was not in the possession of anything that could damage her virtue! I frowned when I swung out of bed, I was only in my long johns and my shirt was creased badly, the fastenings a little loose. If the girl had bothered to take off my clothes, she would have known this was a futile exercise!

“You have to marry her, it is the only way!”

I looked between them both and laughed, surely this was some elaborate jest!

“Are you drunk?” He asked puzzled.

I shook my head and pointed at Michelle, “I am not marrying her.”

“But you have to, she will be ruined!”

I shrugged, “No one will know.”

“Hector! She could be with child!”

I nodded, finally realizing that she could be, indeed. Just not mine, obviously, but she needed a scapegoat. Only she had picked the wrong one!
I looked at her for a moment, thinking she was a wonderful actress, and I swear her eyes twinkled. This girl was unbelievable! They should probably just give her to Jonathan, they deserved each other!

“You want me to marry you?” I asked her, and she stared at me blankly. But there was no mistaking the excitement that lingered in her eyes.

I sighed, “I am no rogue, and I suppose the right thing for us to do would be to wed.”

I looked at Jacob, trying hard to hide the smirk on my face, “You are right.”

He nodded and I looked at Michelle again, thinking if she wanted me to make an honest woman out of her, I would.

This, would definitely make her honest.

Nineteen part 1: MOTHER KNOWS BEST

#Wren

The door slammed behind me, alerting me that I had used more force than was necessary. I cared not for that at this moment though, all I was needed was to bathe and forget my problems for just but a little while. Forget about peculiar boys and lunatic men and work that needed to be done at the farm. My life had suddenly become more exciting than I intended it to be, I liked simplicity. Being ordinary. In my solitude. I supposed that had all disappeared when the boys arrived, and a part of me would not change anything. But another part of me, the dominant part, was still struggling to hold on to the man I was. Yes, I had been a hard man, but no, I had no strange adventures in my life.

“Wren!” My mother’s voice called out from the kitchen.

I decided to ignore her and continued walking. The last thing I needed was to entertain whatever thoughts she was having right now. I knew my mother well, and having talks with her was never a good thing. Or rather, listening to her.

“Lawrence Donoghue come here this instant!”

I halted and sighed, counting backwards as I entered the kitchen. She was folding her dish cloths and humming to herself when I came in, but still looked up and smiled. I should have married her off, I thought. The woman would have been taking care of a husband right now instead of hovering over her children.

“I hope sparing your old mother some time has not greatly inconvenienced your highness?”

It had, actually. And I spared no appreciation for her sarcasm.

“Sit.” She instructed, and I did so hoping this was not going to be too long a talk.

“By God, what happened to your face?!” She shrieked.

I felt nothing, but I supposed my skin was inflamed. The boy had quite the strength in him! I almost smiled at that, but I remembered I was mad at him. I missed my mother running around until I felt her hand on my face, warm cloth in hand. A hand which I quickly grabbed and she smiled sadly.

“Oh, right. Well, here,” she said, giving me the warm cloth.

I took it from her and pressed it against my cheek, cursing inwardly at the sting I felt.

“Please do not tell me you got into a fight!”

I shook my head and she exhaled.

“Then what happened?”

I shook my head again, indicating I had no desire to discuss this in detail. She nodded and went back to nervously folding her cloths.

“Rashell told me she is leaving tomorrow.”

I nodded, the girl had overstayed her welcome anyway, and I had to break this habit of taking strays in.

“She is going to visit her brother at that horrid place for mentally ill people, poor girl.”

I raised a brow, wondering where this conversation was headed. Rashell would be alright, my mother was just fretting for nothing. The girl was very capable of taking care of herself, especially where money was involved. I was not sure about her means of getting that money, or her capabilities of getting herself out of trouble. But I am sure she would find a way, after all, she had gotten this far without my help. I supposed there were many men who fell for those dark orbs and rescued her when she got in too deep.

“She is lovely girl, is she not?” My mother asked, drawing me out of thoughts.

I ignored her question and got up, certain I knew now what this was about. And I had no desire to fuel her meddling.

“Lawrence, sit down will you!”

I remained standing, looking down at her tiny frame.

“You would make quite the lovely pair, I have seen how the girl looks at you. I know she has taken a liking to you.”

I rolled my eyes, thinking my mother was too naive. She did not even know the girl! She could be insane like her brother for all we knew.

“You are still young, Wren, it is not good for you to be alone.”

I supposed it would not be appreciated if I reminded her that I was still married. To the last woman she had encouraged me to be with! The woman who had almost succeeded in killing me.

“I just want my children to be happy, is that too much to ask? I suppose we should start looking for a suitable match for your sister as well.”

I watched her in silence as she blinked at me innocently, then I shook my head and left the room.

“Think about it!” She called after me, making me clench my fists.

I knocked impatiently and she opened the door, masking her surprise poorly at seeing me.

“Wren, hello.”

“You have been t-talking to my mother?” I got straight to the point.

She sighed and opened the door wider for me to walk in, which I did. I instantly regretted it the moment I walked in, the girl was a filthy slob. There were clothes everywhere, the curtains were drawn unevenly and there were plates on her vanity space.

I felt crawling all over me and I rubbed at my arms as I turned back to the door.

“Wren, are you alright?” Her voice said somewhere behind me.

I struggled to open the door and stumbled out, heading straight for the laundry room. I needed to wash my hands. That was the woman my mother wanted me to settle for?! I supposed she could not be beautiful and hygienic now, could she?

“Wren, you are scaring me,” she said in the doorway, making me look up from my hands for a moment.

I went back to washing them as I counted down to steady my breathing.

“It is my room, yes?”

I ignored her as I washed my hands again.

“I apologize, I did not think it through. I will clean everything up before I leave, I promise.”

I exhaled and took a handkerchief out of my pocket to dry my hands.

“I apologize about your mother as well, I did not mean to make you uncomfortable. I know that we can never be.”

I looked up at that, and wondered why she would say such a thing.

“You have never looked at me with interest, not in the way you…”her voice trailed, “never mind. Just know that I never expected anything. Your mother and I were just talking,” she bit her lip nervously.

I nodded and she smiled.

“I suppose I should go finish packing now.”

“Rashell,” I said, wanting to say something, anything to ease her embarrassment. But my social skills were not adequately developed, so I became silent again.

She nodded, as if she understood, then gave me a small smile.

“You are a good man, Wren Donoghue.”

I doubted that.

“I truly hope you find your happiness.”

I watched as she left, and wondered what that would be. I had never thought about it before. It had always been about the farm for me, anything beyond that had never crossed my mind. But perhaps my mother was right, being alone was not a good thing. Had I not been saying the same thing about her just a few minutes ago? Why did I think that would not apply to me? I felt my chest expand and my head pound. No, a man like me could never find happiness with another. Being alone was good. Being alone was familiar. Being alone was safe.

I really needed that bath now.

Nineteen part 2: BROTHERS IN LAW

#Wren

His name is Hector, I do not even know his last name. He has a young brother, and he works on my farm. But one thing he is not, and will never be, is my brother in law!

Hours earlier…

It had been two and a half days after Hector’s departure, and seeing him again so soon was both good and bad. I was still conflicted. But I had turned away as soon as my eyes met his, but not before catching a glimpse of my sister. I walked away, knowing I would soon see my sister and my questions would be answered.

I knew as soon as I saw Michelle’s face though, that all was not well. First of all, why had she returned with Hector? I was of the knowledge she was at our aunt’s, in a completely opposite direction from where I had sent Hector. So their being together did not make sense at all, unless my sister had travelled there for some reason. But if so, where was my aunt? Or her friend who was her companion? Surely they would not have left her in the hands of two gentlemen!

She threw herself at me, sobbing into my chest. I groaned and pushed her away, straightening my shirt glaring at her. What was she up to now?

“Oh, you are going to be so disappointed in me, brother,” she sobbed.

I raised a brow at her, refraining from telling her that I was already disappointed in her.

“I have done a terrible thing!” She continued.

I waited for her to cease her theatrics and finally tell me what was going on. A thousand possibilities raced through my mind, but I was certain none of them were colorful enough for my sister. She wiped her cheeks, and took a deep breath.

“I have shamed this family,” she sniffed, her voice so low I almost believed she was, indeed, ashamed.

I narrowed my eyes at her and clenched my fists, “Who?” I asked with faux calmness.

If she was telling me what I thought she was, then whoever was responsible had to be answerable! She bit her lip and looked at her feet, as if something interesting had suddenly appeared there. I was getting impatient with her silence when I demanded she tell me who it was.

“Who?!” I asked again.

She flinched at my tone, making me relax a bit, for her benefit. I needed to talk, not just stand there shivering in fear.

“Hec-Hector,” she stammered, my shortcoming instantly becoming hereditary it seemed.

“What?” I asked again, not sure if I had heard her correctly.

Surely my predicament with the boy was making me hear things? Everything I heard wax sounding like his name.

She, however, confirmed her words through repetition, “Hector.”

I felt like someone had punched me in my gut as I took a step back from my sister.

“WH-what?”

“I said-”

“I kn-know what you s-said! But you are lying!”

She had to be.

Tears fell down her face as she shook her head, “I am not.”

“How?”

“We were drunk,” she almost whispered, but I heard her perfectly.

“What were you even doing there?”

She hung her head low and I clenched my fist in anger.

“Answer me!”

“I am sorry,” she sobbed.

I shook my head at her and turned to walk away, I needed some air.

“Wren, please,” she cried out after me.

I unclenched my fists and started counting, wanting to calm down. I knew it had been a bad idea to trust him, or anyone really! People always betrayed you in the worst possible way, even seemingly innocent people. Innocent people with intriguing eyes.

I stopped then, as it dawned on me, and turned to look at my younger sibling. I narrowed my eyes as I studied her form, looking desperate. She was a beautiful girl, my sister, just like our mother. A rather timeless beauty, any man would be drawn to. I had seen many young men scramble to get her attention, and many young women envious of her, and she reveled in it. For every man who set his sights on her, she enjoyed the attention. It had always been her weakness, her vanity. And ever since she were a child, she had indulged in it. Done everything to quench it, with no success. And we had all foolishly fuelled it, let her get away with doing whatever she wanted. To whom ever she wanted. Until Hector. I could understand why she would be drawn to him, the boy was like a magnet for unwanted attention. He had stirred Jonathan’s obsession, and apparently my sister’s too. And he had not done anything to my sister, besides simply reject her.

I turned and walked away again, whatever was going on, I was not going to give Michelle what she wanted. Because what she wanted was for me to hand over Hector to her on a platter.

#Hazel

We returned earlier than I had expected, and I had spotted Donoghue for a brief moment as we unloaded the carriage. Now I was back in my room with Henry, as I told him about my eventful trip.

“You have officially gone mad!” My brother shouted.

I suppose I had, and I supposed my brother would kill me after all this came to an end. I wondered if Mama was looking down at me, thinking where she had she gone wrong with me! I grimaced at the thought, I never wanted to disappoint my parents. Even though they were both dead and were no longer affected by what we did. I looked at Henry, who seemed to be getting taller every day, and resolved to be better. But only after I had had my fun.

I smirked, “Oh, cheer up. You might be an uncle soon.”

He narrowed his eyes at me, “I disown you!”

One thing about my brother, ever since we were children, was that he always had to save me from myself. My eyes were almost always black because I got into fights with boys. So I was certain the thought of disowning me had crossed his mind once or twice.

“Do you not think I am of that age? Am I too young to marry?” I blinked innocently.

“Why are you getting yourself into trouble? Again?”

I rolled my eyes, “Remember those spoilt girls who would make fun of me?”

He frowned, “You want to teach Michelle a lesson?”

I nodded, “She is a selfish brat who is possibly pregnant and intends to pin it on me! Tell me she does not deserve at least a little punishment!”

“And your punishment of choice is marriage?”

“Of course not, I would never go that far! But I do intend to play her little game until I make her confess.”

“This is not a game, Hazel.”

I frowned, “It is not? Then why do I feel so immensely entertained?”

Henry shook his head, clearly in disappointment.

“She started this.” I said simply.

“No, this is about Mr. Donoghue. Because he-”

A knock on the door interrupted him and he turned to open it.

“Mr. Donoghue?” He said in surprise, making me frown.

Donoghue strode in and narrowed his eyes at me, making me roll mine. If he wanted to pick a fight, I was more than ready.

“Henry, please excuse us,” I said and waited until the boy left to return Donoghue’s glare.

He was on me as soon as the door closed.

“What happened?” He hissed.

I concluded Michelle had told him then, that little conniving…

I grinned, “We are going to be family.”

“No.”

“I am offended, am I not good enough for your sister?” I raised a brow, making his jaw tick in anger.

“Quit the jests, I know you are both lying.” He almost whispered.

He glared at me as if daring me to say otherwise, so I shrugged.

“I will do right by her,” I said firmly.

He shook his head, “Quit lying Hector, tell me what ha-happened.”

His sentences were clear and low, and I knew he was dead serious. I supposed my hypothesis had been proven right, he did not stammer if he was angry. And if he did not raise his voice, apparently.

“We were drunk,” I gave as explanation.

“No.”

“Yes, you were not there,” I rolled my eyes.

“But I know you.”

“No,” I replied, sadly now.

He did not know me at all, not the real me anyway.

Donoghue narrowed his eyes at me and took a step forward, then another, and another. Until he was right in front of me, with little space between us. I looked up at him, into his silver eyes, and my breath caught. He was beautiful, I could die just looking at him. Which was going to be soon if the increase in my heartbeat was anything to go by. I waited for him to panic and step away from me, but he did neither, pleasing and surprising me at the same time. He lowered his head until his breath hit my ear, making me shiver.

“You do not drink ale,” he whispered simply, making me gulp.

He raised his head and smirked, as if he had me right where he wanted me. And perhaps he did.

“You could have agreed to marry without co-confessing about damaging her virtue, but she made sure to tell me.”

I narrowed my eyes in confusion, what was he saying.

“As if to make certain I would be furious enough to insist that you make it right and marry her. That way it would be a done deal.”

I bit my lip when I realized that he did, indeed, have me. I wondered if he was so intelligent enough to see through his sister, why had he not seen through me by now. When he seemed to know me so well at times.

“But why are you lying?”

I blinked, my mind instantly blank. Blessed virgin, how was I supposed to think when he was so close to me? Whispering like that. Looking like that. Perhaps I should just throw something over that distracting face, and cover those distracting eyes. Instead, I looked straight into said distracting eyes and took a deep breath.

“You lied about Catherine,” I accused.

He looked taken aback by that and he took a step back as I continued.

“And you refused to acknowledge what happened with us that afternoon.”

“So you f-feel ent-titled to p-punish me? By marrying my sister?!” He shouted.

I stood on my toes and placed my lips on his without hesitation, I could not hold it in anymore. Not when he was standing in front of me just tempting me! The kiss was brief and not at all like our first one, but it helped calm him down. I opened my eyes slowly and sighed.

“I do not want to punish you,” I whispered.

Lies, I did.

“But you deserve it.” I continued.

His eyes widened as he wiped his mouth, looking at me in disgust.

“I am not interested in this!”

I rolled my eyes, “Everything is not as it seems, Donoghue.”

“Then by all means, tell me what this actually is!”

“I am not a b-”

“Hector!” A voice called out, interrupting me.

I groaned and went to open the door, glaring when I saw it was Michelle.

“Hello, darling,” I rolled my eyes.

“Wren?” She said, startled to see her brother.

“What do you want?” I asked, drawing her attention back to me.

“I wanted us to go for a walk,” she mumbled.

“Alright, but I need to talk to your brother first,” I said calmly, turning to look at him and begging him silently not to say anything.

She hesitated but nodded, and I closed the door behind her. Donoghue’s eyes were sharply on mine.

“What?”

“What is going on?” He asked.

I sighed and sat down, “The day we met your sister, you were right, I did not drink.”

His eyes never left my face as I continued.

“But something happened when I got to my room, I blacked out.”

He frowned, “She was with you?”

I nodded.

“In your room, why?”

“She was drunk, I wanted to give her my room before I went to look for a vacant one.”

“And Jacob?”

“What about him?” I asked, puzzled.

“Why not share with him?”

“I like my space,” I rolled my eyes, “you of all people should understand that!”

He simply nodded.

“And next morning I woke up with your sister in my bed, the umm… linen ruined.”

He narrowed his eyes at me, “Then you could have-”

“No,” I laughed, “definitely not!”

“But you were unconciou…are you saying you were drugged?” His eyes widened.

I shrugged. I had had much time to come to that conclusion on our way back. But I looked at the girl as she spoke animatedly, and wondered how she could have dragged me into bed on her own. Sure, I was not heavy, but I was not that light either.

“This does not make any sense, my sister is capable of many things, but not that!”

“Is she not?” I asked curiously.

“No, this seems elaborate. How would she have known you would be there?”

I shook my head, I had no idea. But I knew she had pretended to be drunk, but when I woke up she had been quite the actress!

“Why so much effort?” He said mostly to himself as he searched my face.

I had no answer to offer him and we stood like that for a while before he turned and walked to the door. I wanted to call after him but my voice failed me, I had no idea what to say. Not when he had just shown me that he trusted me.

“You are a peculiar boy,” he whispered, before walking out.

I sighed, that was just it; I was not a boy! And I was thinking perhaps I was not supposed to tell him that. I twisted the pendant and looked up, praying for forgiveness. Strength. Guidance. Because I knew now, I felt it even. If I told Donoghue that I had lied to him, he would never forgive me. He would never forget about it, and he would never trust me again. Sure, he might understand why I had lied in the beginning, but not why I had continued to lie.

I would be dead to him, just like Catherine.

Twenty: * LAST NAMES AND BEAUTIFUL VILLAINS*

#Hazel

I looked at my betrothed and gave her a small smile, even cunning fools needed love too! And this had always been a dream of mine, marrying a beautiful girl from a good family, and living happily. I would till the land and provide for our family, hunt and put meat on the table. Everything as it should be. Ha, I rolled my eyes, even my usual inner jests were not amusing today! I had to clench my fist to stop from slapping the girl what I was certain would only be the second time in her life! Why was it that every vile person I had ever met was beautiful? Helen, Catherine, Michelle, and the deranged but delectable Jonathan. Der-ectable? Could that be a word? Ha, my own thoughts actually made me smile this time.

But that was the truth, it was as if evil was so selective. Nothing but the perfect skin would do for it. The perfect eyes, the perfect lips, evil would never wear anything but a beautiful face. I suppose it was because certain bad things are usually tempting. Think of my desire to give in to my anger. My selfishness. My self-righteousness. And even my momentary attraction to Jonathan.

She was staring at me when I finally returned to the present reality, and I raised a brow at her, “What?”

Her face became a faint pink as she looked away, “Nothing.”

I shook my head with a slight smile, who would have thought. I was playing a dangerous game here with the Donoghue siblings. I had kissed one, who thought I was a boy, and now the other wanted to marry me, even though I was actually a girl. I sighed, it was time to end this. Time to have this girl confess and then it would be my turn to confess to her brother. We walked for a while in silence before I finally spoke up.

“Michelle?”

She looked at me, we were just about the same height.

“Yes?”

“I do not remember much about that…night. Perhaps you can umm, tell me what happened?” I tried on my best shy boy look, while trying hard not to roll my eyes.

She turned scarlet then and bit her lip, “Well…”

I waited patiently for her to continue, certain her account of what had happened would be nothing less than interesting.

“You were very, ummm, gentle,” she almost whispered but I heard her clearly.

“I would hope so,” I said with a smile.

She nodded and looked away, probably feeling guilty.

“I do not know why, for the life of me, I cannot remember,” I scratched my head, happy when I felt that my hair had grown a little.

“We were both drunk,” she said.

“Too drunk to remember even drinking at all?”

She blinked at me and I raised a brow.

“And why do you remember? Do you get drunk so often, you have learnt to handle your ale well enough to seduce men and try to get them to marry you?”

Her face paled, “How dare y…”

“No, Miss. Donoghue, how dare you? You are trying to ruin my life, all because you are a selfish brat who cannot handle being rejected!”

I caught her hand midair as she tried to slap me, apparently this family had it in for my face! And that is when I saw it, as small and insignificant as it seemed, but it was there. A small, red spot on her long, blue sleeve. I grabbed her hand, stretching it as she shrieked while I tore her sleeve. There it was, a cloth tied around her arm, with a red stain. I held on firmly to her as I tore it off too, glad that I was stronger than her. Tears were falling down her face as I stared at the clean cut on her arm, which definitely needed attending too. Some stitches as well. I quickly tied the piece of cloth back on her arm, and stepped back from her, smiling.

“I am supposing we just found your virtue again?” I smirked.

Her pale face confirmed my suspicions as she wrapped her hands around herself.

“Why, Michelle? And most importantly, how?”

She was silent for the longest time and I thought she would not speak to me. But then she looked up and sighed.

“I saw you and Jacob in the market place and I followed you,” she began quietly.

I checked her arm to see if she would be alright, but the stain was not getting any bigger. So I would listen, for now.

“I was angry at you, I suppose, you were so mean to me,” she sobbed.

Finally, I could roll my eyes.

“I just wanted to get even, make you suffer for a while. But then Jacob came in and I saw my chance to have you…” her voice trailed.

“You what!” I started, making her flinch.

“I am sorry.”

“No, you do not get even by doing something like that! Nor is it any way to get what you want!”

“Would you have given me a chance any other way?!” She shot back.

“So you decided to take what you wanted, regardless of the consequences?”

“You make it sound as if being with me is so inconceivable!” She cried out.

I rubbed my temples, realizing telling her now that she fancied a girl would probably scar her for life. She would probably demand any man she met from now on to strip naked before her, so that she could be certain!

“Michelle, firstly, stop thinking you are the heavens’ gift to everything male,” I stopped at her loud gasp, then continued, “and second, it would be unnatural and repulsive for me, in many ways, to be with you. Trust me.”

“What are you saying?”

“I am saying that I like boys…men,” I mumbled, and she gasped again.

“You are just saying that. I know it!”

“No, darling, I am afraid not. Your brother, to be more specific.”

I had never seen anyone look more horrified than she did at that moment, and I almost laughed.

“Hector…” her voice trailed.

I nodded, “So unless you can suddenly grow a beard and spot grey eyes, missy; I am not, even the slightest bit interested.”

She clutched her stomach and doubled over as if in pain, which I thought was a tad bit dramatic. Then the hyper ventilation started, and I touched her shoulder in concern.

“Are you alright?”

She pushed me away, “No, leave me be!”

“Michelle?”

“You would say such an awful thing, just to get away from me?”

“Lord no, I do not need to lie to you. You have known from the first day that I never liked you, I do not understand why you would think it was a good thing to shackle yourself to me in marriage.”

“I still want to be with you, it would have been no burden!” She screamed.

“Michelle,” I sighed, “you do not even know my last name.”

She blinked, “Well, what is it?”

“That is not the point, and you know it. You do not even know me, and yet you did all this!”

“Is there something wrong with me?” She pleaded now.

“Yes, doing all this!” I shouted in frustration.

“But if you would just leave things be, any man would die to be with you.”

“Just not the man I want,” she said sadly, and I nodded.

“Trust me, I am not the man that you want.”

“That is what she…” her voice trailed as she looked up at me in surprise.

I frowned, “What?”

“You were telling the truth, about my brother,” she said miserably.

“What?”

“Does everyone see it except me?”

I was puzzled, “See what?”

“You know, your…umm, preferences.”

I almost laughed.

“Why do you say that?”

“I gave you…something…to make you more…amiable,” she bit her lip when I glared at her.

“And the woman who sold it to me said exactly what you said, that you were not the man I wanted, and then she laughed. As if she could see it too. But I never thought much of it then.”

I groaned,” All that trouble, for me? Really, you should not have.”

She studied me, “Why?”

I shrugged, “Things are not always as they seem, trust me. You will understand soon.”

She shook her head, “I should have just done it!”

“Done what? Take advantage of me?”

“Yes, perhaps you would want me then!”

I groaned again, had we not just gone through this?! This girl!

I sighed, “What if the drug had taken effect sooner? How did you know we would end up in a room together? And by God, who helped you carry me into bed, I know you did not do it on your own?”

“Well…”

I raised a brow at her, waiting for her to continue.

“The woman who sold me the drug, she umm…helped.”

“You must have paid her some amount!” I scoffed.

She frowned, “Actually, I did not.”

“What do you mean?”

“She said you reminded her of a daughter she had lost, and that she…” Michelle paused and frowned, looking up at me.

“What?”

“..Wanted to see both of us get what we deserved.”

I frowned, that was an odd thing to say.

“I suppose I thought I deserved you,” she shrugged.

“How do you even meet such people?” I wondered out loud, thinking of how I had met Jonathan. And how this woman had just the drug Michelle wanted. How they had even met!

“Who, Helen?” She asked confused.

My heart stopped, what had she said?

“What?”

“The woman, her name was Helen. And we met in the inn, she was staring at you as I was, then told me about her daughter. I was a little drunk, that part is at least true. Then I told her about you, and she said she had just the remedy. When you ordered a drink, I just put a few drinks and had it sent up to you.”

I struggled to breathe as my mind tried to remember all the faces I had seen that night. But the place was full, and it had taken long for the food to come. I was sure I had even slept on the table for a few minutes. But Helen? No, it could not be!

“Did you…did you tell her where you lived?”

Michelle frowned,” I might have, I said you worked on my brother’s farm.”

No.

No.

No.

No.

This was not happening. If Helen found me here, that could ruin everything. I had to tell Donoghue. Or get out of here? That wretched woman!

“Hector, are you alright?”

I was not. What had Michelle done! What had she done!

Most importantly, what had I done?

Because I knew I should fear Helen, she was a cunning woman and who knew what she had up her sleeve this time? Running away had not solved anything. It had only fuelled her hatred for me. And I knew she hated me.

Twenty-one: REUNIONS AND TEARS THAT FOLLOW

#Hazel

“We need to talk,” I whispered to my brother and he frowned at me.

“Now?” he asked.

“No, tomorrow, when you have time. I just felt the need to inform you in advance.”

“You know that is not amusing, right?”

I rolled my eyes, “Then stop pushing me into it. Can we go now?”

I looked at Jacob who was glaring at me, and sighed. The two were packing the milk canisters, and I wondered where Donoghue was. Probably in the house with his sister, doing damage control. He usually liked to take inventory first before the canisters were delivered. I turned to my own sibling as he packed his last set and then wiped his hands. The work was doing him good, it seemed. He was becoming a young man in front of me, strong hands, and a nice tan to his skin. I supposed in a couple of years I would be beating girls off him with a stick. Which I had no problem doing, just for reference sake.

We walked to our room and waited to have our talk when we finally got there. We had secrets to keep, and never had our family talks outside. Hector closed the door behind us and leaned against it, waiting for me.

“Helen found me,” I said bluntly, no need to beat about the bush.

I could see the fear in my brother’s eyes as the years quickly peeled off him, leaving a scared child. He was standing now, as if in alert form.

“How?”

“Pure luck, it seems. Same town, same time,” I replied. The thought that she had been looking for us all this time was simply too frightening.

“Then why wait until now to tell me!”

“Because I did not see her myself. But Michelle spoke to her.”

He frowned, “Then how do we know for certain it is her?”

“It is, Henry,” I sighed sadly, “Michelle could not have described her better even if she were right in front of her. Who knows where she is now, or what she is plotting.”

“Will we have to leave?” He asked weakly.

“No!” I quickly responded, then repeated more calmly, “no. Henry, this is our home now. We have good work, friends, and Donoghue arranged for you to attend class at the governess’ house. Life could not be better for us.”

“And you love him,” he added simply, and I nodded.

I did, I loved that stubborn man. He was my scarred and stubborn farmer, peculiar to most but glorious to me. I loved his voice, broken or not. I loved how he never walked on cracked or uneven ground. I loved how he took exactly four sips of water at a time, he never gulped. How he always scratched the other ear if he scratched one, regardless of whether it was itchy as well or not. How he planted everything in the vegetable garden in perfect rows of ten. He was my imperfect man who wanted perfection. To make sense of the world even though the world was as confusing as it could ever be. I envied him too at times, because to him, it made sense. If the eggs were evenly arranged, all was right with the world. And most importantly because he believed me, even when he had no reason to. He had chosen to believe me over his sister’s lies, calmly and rationally. Yes, I loved Donoghue, with all his peculiarities.

“Are you going to tell him?”

I nodded again, “Yes. I was going to tell him anyway, now I just have to put Helen somewhere into that conversation.”

“It will be alright.”

“I can only hope so. I am not afraid of Helen, she can bring her worst,” I smiled at him, reassuring him that I would protect him.

I had lied to my brother, of course, I was terrified. Helen could not make us leave the farm for any reason, nor could she physically haul us from here. But the law was on her side, she was legally Henry’s guardian. She carried my papa’s name. Everything had been left to her upon his death. With disgust, I acknowledged everything included children. Us being the children in question. I had long since passed the age of being regarded a child, but unfortunately, my brother was not. Yes, the law was dreadful and unfair. I had no claim to my own sibling unless I was married. Then I could stand a chance to claim him. Because then I would have a home to give him. Which made no sense considering what made me an eligible guardian, was essentially a stranger. Just marrying did not mean nor guarantee a home. But I suppose law could never be perfect, because not every situation was the rule, and not every situation was the expectation.

I knew if I told Donoghue our situation, he would help. I had that much faith in him. But how could he help us, I doubted marrying me would be an option. Not when he would so mad at me anyway. Regardless, I was still going to tell him, this had gone on long enough. And because of my lie, Helen now knew where I was. Because Donoghue would never have sent me to run his errands if I was a girl. Then Helen would not have spotted me anywhere. And if I had been a girl, Michelle would not have taken a fancy to me, then we would not have fought, and I would not have met Jonathan. In trying to avoid problems by becoming a boy, I had created more problems by not being myself.

“I will not let anything happen to you, Henry,” I said, drawing him in for an embrace.

And I meant every word, I would die before I let any harm come to him. I might have a few errors in judgment, but I loved my brother more than anything in this world. More than my own life.

“I know you will not,” he said into my shoulder.

“And we will not run,” I said again, and he nodded.

“Unless we have to?” He asked.

“We will not have to, we can just hide.” I smiled.

Henry did not say anything, but I could see his thoughts churning. He did not believe me.

::::
::::

The main gate was open, and everyone else was busy doing various things. That is the only reason I was not looking for Donoghue right now. The girl had said she was looking for Matthias, but he had probably gone out. I sighed and mounted a horse, I might as well do it before the goats got out. They grazed during the day unattended as long as the gate was closed.

I was at the main gate in a few minutes and got off the horse. Who had left it open anyway, seriously. Probably the men who usually bought cow manure from us for their crops. It was too quiet though, not a single bird in sight. Which was odd, and it frightened me. I needed to close the gate fast and return to the house. I prepared to pull the huge gate on my own, and that is when I saw him. He seemed to have just appeared from nowhere!

Jonathan stood there, looking beautiful and deadly, and my heart stopped. He was dressed in white, as least what used to be white. I say what used to because he was covered in filth, from head to toe. Definitely looking more deranged than delectable at this moment. He looked like a mad man, although my opinion on what that looked like had changed. Drastically.

I watched him carefully as he stood there, just staring at me. Until he finally smiled, which scared me more than anything. A smile of utmost joy, a certain innocence even, as if he were a child who had just been given the world’s biggest toy.

“I found you.” He exhaled, “I knew I would, I believed I would.”

I blinked in disbelief, what was he even doing here? How had he found me? How had he escaped? Judging from his clothing, they had definitely not let him walk out of the home as a free man. Was everyone just tracking me down to ruin my life?
I remained quiet, knowing every move I made could startle him, bringing another Jonathan to the surface. He was unpredictable, and that gave me the most unfair of disadvantages. I wanted to run, but the house was far without my horse, and mounting it would take time. I should have brought someone!

“I did that,” he raised his hand, making me take a step back in reflex.

He thankfully seemed not to notice as he pointed at my head.

“Your hair?”

“It is alright, I like it this way.” I replied nervously. To think I had been scared of Helen, how would I have imagined Jonathan would get to me instead? Helen was a rabbit compared to Jonathan!

He shook his head, “No! I do not like it when you hide behind all this,” he gestured to my whole form.

“I want to see you as you are.”

“This is how I am, Jonathan,” I sighed.

And it was. I was a girl, yes. But no, I did not like wearing my hair long. It was thick and had always been difficult to maintain. And then Helen had cut it really short when I had been about eleven. To her disadvantage, I had actually loved it and had kept it that way ever since. And because I had so many chores around the house, and went hunting with my father, dresses had never been ideal. Hence, the look I had now.

“You could be so…so much more,” he whispered.

I remained silent and resisted the urge to look around for help.

“Why did you leave me, Hazel?”

“Jonathan,” I pleaded.

“You left me, I loved you, and you left me.” His volume increased.

What could I say to that?

“Do you know how horribly they treated me? As if I was some lunatic! Is that what you think of me, that I am mad?”

I shook my head quickly, my pulse loud in my ears.

“It is what you think, I can see it in your eyes!” He accused, taking a step towards me.

I flinched and he frowned.

“You are frightened by me, why?”

I wanted to scream that because you kept me prisoner, you lunatic! Because you cut my hair in a fit of rage! Because you burned down your house! And you stabbed a man! But I kept quiet.

“I love you, Hazel. Why will you not believe me? I came all this way for you, we can start over, just the two of us.”

I wondered if I ran, could I outrun him. Perhaps if I ran screaming for help, someone would come running to my rescue. I cursed my bad luck at the moment, why had I come to lock the gate!

“Say something!” Jonathan burst, startling me.

He was in front of me in a second, grabbing my arms and shaking me. No, I could never outrun him, and my voice seemed to be stuck in my throat at the moment.

“I love you,” he murmured, kissing my neck and my forehead next.

“I love you so much it consumes me, Hazel. I cannot live without you, I do not want to. Please do not make me.” He kissed my forehead again, softly.

A tear trickled down my cheek as I silently prayed for my life. I was terrified. I knew how erratic this man was, and how he believed he was doing the right thing. That was a terrible combination!

“I love you,” he whispered again. “And I am so sorry.”

I felt it then, it was quick and I felt as if my stomach was on fire. My mouth opened in a silent scream as I looked down at the knife in Jonathan’s hand, and in me.

“I am sorry,” he whispered again as the knife was withdrawn and plunged into me once again.

I thought of my Ma then, all I could remember of her. Beautiful face. Long, thick hair. Lovely voice. And my Pa, my gentle hero.

“I love you,” he sobbed, as he stabbed me a third time.

I clutched his arms for support and looked into his black eyes, silently asking why he was doing this. And when the knife disappeared in me a fourth time, I closed my eyes and thought of Donoghue and Henry.

And then I felt nothing else, no pain, except Jonathan’s lips on mine.

Twenty-two: A DIFFERENT KIND OF LASS

#Wren

I took a deep breath as I felt the heat spread through my stomach, I should have eaten in the morning! My fists clenched involuntarily as I felt it again, painful this time. I had never been one to belief in the supernatural, or any spiritual force whatsoever, but I felt it then. The same pull I had felt towards Hector in the carriage. The day we had found him in the middle of the road. The same pull I felt towards him every day, but this was somehow stronger. And somehow frightening. I almost brushed it off, thinking I was becoming insane. What harm could find the boy on the farm, unless he had somehow found himself at the bottom of a tractor! I cursed as I got out of the barn, if that foolish boy has somehow injured himself, I was going to slap him again. I looked around for him for a while before I finally found his brother loading a cart with milk canisters.

“Mr. Donoghue,” he greeted, and I nodded in acknowledgement.

“Where is your brother?” I asked.

“Hector?” he frowned.

“No, the other one,” I hissed in frustration.

The boy sighed and mumbled something about how I was just like Hector before replying, “He was coming to talk to you, last I saw him.”

“Talk to me? What about?” I asked, mildly curious.

“I do not know,” he answered, but I could tell that he was lying.

“Tell him I am looking for him, if he come by.” I said instead.

I decided not to press it and walked away, looking for Hector. After about ten more minutes without any luck, I shouted to the men in the vicinity. They had shocked looks on their faces as they approached, probably because I had never spoken to them.

“Where is Hector?” I demanded impatiently, as if they all kept him in their pockets.

Perhaps I was being a bit irrational, but I cared not for that.

They shook their heads and replied with negative answers.

I rubbed my temples, “Find him! Now!”

They all ran in different directions as I tugged at my hair and walked towards the workers’ lodgings. His room was empty, of course, and I was running out of places to search. If another minute passed by without that boy being found, I was going to hit someone! I walked back to my house and straight to my sister’s door, entering without knocking.

“Wren!” she shrieked.

I rolled my eyes, she was fully dressed.

“Wh-where is Hector?” I demanded.

She held one finger up and knelt on the floor, looking under her bed. I frowned at her and wondered what she was doing.

“No, he is not here,” she said as her head came up.

I clenched my fists as I glared at her, “I am being serious.”

She sighed, “Why would he be in my room, Wren? The man can barely stand to be near me for a second, what could he be doing in my room?”

I exhaled, I was grasping at straws here. Where could he be?

“Is everything alright?”

“I ca-cannot find him anywhere,” I replied.

My sister frowned, “You make it sound as if he has been abducted or something, perhaps he has gone out. Who delivered the milk today?”

I shook my head, “The milk is s-still here.”

“The fields?”

I shook my head again and turned to walk out.

“You are overreacting,” she called out.

I could only hope so as I walked away. If I was not, however, overreacting, and my fear was founded, I could only hope it was not serious. Because I had promised to protect the boy and his brother, even from himself.

Matthias met me outside, looking at me oddly. He looked like he had been sleeping in the sun for too long, the lazy old man. Or perhaps he was just that, old. I needed to get a new foreman, but someone I could trust.

“The lads tell me you have everyone running around looking for Hector? What has that boy gone done now?”

I shook my head, “Nothing. I want him found.”

“There is work to do, you know this?”

I glared at him, “I want him found!”

“Wren…”

I narrowed my eyes at him, daring him to continue testing my patience.

“Fine, I will get to it then.” He sighed, clearly not happy with my attitude. But I cared not for his opinion.

He turned to walk away just as one the men approached with a girl in tow. I frowned as they got near, the girl looking as if she wanted to be anywhere but here at the moment. I supposed it was my presence that made her uncomfortable, and I took pride in that.

“Yes?” I asked.

“She saw him,” the man whose name I could not remember said.

I turned to the girl and looked at her expectantly, wondering if she could not speak for herself. Turns out, she could.

“The gate was open…“she said with a low voice.

“What?”

“The gate, he went to umm…close it I suppose, after I told him.”

“When?”

“Umm, a while back?”

I knew he would never leave without his brother, so he had not left again. But for my own peace of mind, I was going after him anyway. And so I left the three standing there as I ran to the stables. One of the horses was missing, confirming Hector had indeed left for the gate. But what was taking him so long??

I rode as fast as I could, not wishing to waste a moment longer. The gate was still open as far as I could tell, but I could see two figures on the ground. My heart stopped as I rode even faster, coming to a dusty stop. I must have jumped off the horse whilst it was still moving, because I was on my knees, beside Hector in a matter of seconds.

Yes, it was him, unfortunately. There was blood everywhere, soaking into the earth. And a knife was lodged into his stomach. I waited for the panic to come, but it did not, because this was Hector. I glanced at the other form and stopped blinking, Jonathan? Surely my eyes were deceiving me! I turned to Hector again and nervously checked his pulse, which was still there, but hardly.

“Hector please,” I whispered, feeling my eyes itch with tears they had never experienced before.

I needed to get help, but I could not leave him here like this! I would never make it to the house when I felt like this anyway. Dizzy with worry for him. It was like I could feel his pulse in my head, weakening with each passing moment!

“Alright, Hector, what do I do?” I whispered to him, my eyes scanning his still form.

My hands trembled as I undid his vest, his blood loss was terrifying and I needed to try and stop it before I did anything else. The fastenings came of easily and I thought of how I could remove the shirt around the knife, finally deciding I had to tear it. I took a deep breath and immediately regretted when the metallic smell of his blood filled my nose. But I had to be strong, for him. For Hector. Because I would never live with myself if I lost him. He had to live.

I started counting when I remembered Hector telling me to stop it, which I did. Meaning I needed something to take my mind of the task at hand.

“You owe me, Hector,” I whispered as I took his collar in both hands, separating the shirt slowly away from the wound.

His skin was already pale from losing too much blood, blood which seemed to be still seeping. And then I narrowed my eyes at the odd…binding? And not only binding, but a small rise across his chest. A small, but significant rise! I drew away from him as breath left my lungs.

No.

No.

No.

No.

No.

No.

He was not.

He could not be.

He lied?

He lied to me?

All this time?

I glanced at Jonathan’s form, I hoped he was dead, but he knew. He knew. Hazel? Catherine knew. Perhaps a part of me always knew too.

I had held the boy so close to me, how had I not felt it. I should have felt it. I should have! How could I have been such a fool!

Those dainty hands.

That soft voice.

That scream.

The way he walked.

And his disgust at kissing my sister! Any boy his age would have been more than excited to have a beautiful girl throw themselves at them. Even if they did not like the girl! But Hector had vomited! And had kissed me just fine.

I should have known!

I gasped as I looked at the binding again, he had lied to me! Made a fool out of me. I was the man who had kissed a boy. I was the man who wanted him!

Taking deep breaths, I counted down to zero.

Hector was in trouble.

Hector was dying.

And I could not lose him…her.

I rushed to his side again, and checked his wound. The knife was in deep, and blood was still flowing. I needed a doctor, and now!

I kissed his forehead, “I am going to get help, but I will return just now.”

Please do not die on me, I added in my mind.

I could not pull the knife out or do anything for him now. But I needed to get a physician. So I rode back to the house, my fear threatening to consume me. Henry was just about to depart. He frowned at me, probably at my expression.

“Mr. Donoghue?”

“Go fetch the doctor, now! Take Jacob with you!”

“WH-why?”

I looked intently at him as I turned my horse around, “Your sister is hurt.”

Twenty-three: KILLING JONATHAN TWICE

#Wren

“We cannot move him…her?” The doctor frowned as he looked up at me and I sighed.

“We cannot leave him lying here!” I argued.

“Until I remove this knife, we have to.”

I nodded and looked at the hysterical boy beside me.

“Get him out of here,” I said to Matthias, who nodded.

“I am not leaving her!” He screamed.

“The doctor needs space, laddie,” Matthias said softly.

The boy sobbed and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. He looked at me with pleading eyes and I nodded firmly.

“I will not leave his side,” I assured him.

Henry looked at the doctor,” Please, she is all I have.”

The old man nodded sadly and I watched as Matthias walked away with the sobbing boy. Jacob sat meters away, waiting in case we needed to move Hector. He was still puzzled at the turn of events. How Hector was really a girl. Matthias had been shocked as well, but we had no time to process that when Hector’s life was in danger.

Hector…Hazel, I would never get used to that. How could I have been so blind! As soon as he got better, I was going to kill him myself! How could he keep such a thing from me? When I was agonizing over kissing a boy, he should have just told me!

“Her blood, it is not clotting,” the small man frowned.

“Wh-what does that m-mean for him?”

I ignored the puzzled look he gave me, and gestured to Hector. I had no time to adjust the prefix I used on him…her…whatever. For now, he was still Hector. As far as I was concerned, I had never met Hazel.

“It is almost as if the girl was drugged.”

I groaned, of course. It had to be worse and worse news!

“I have seen this before, with the heavy drinkers. They boil this drug and inhale it, and if it’s too strong it can knock out a man. But it thins the blood severely, takes days to make it right.”

I glared at him as he wiped the blood off Hector’s flat stomach. If he thought he was involved in anything like that, I was going to punch this fool of a doctor! But I needed him, so I would wait until he fixed Hector.

“So how will y-you he-help him?” I asked nervously, hoping that he could, indeed, help him.

“I will-”

“This one is still alive,” his apprentice said beside us, his hand on Jonathan’s throat.

“Leave him!” I growled.

The two looked appalled as they stared at me. Yes, I had said to let the bastard die!

“You cannot…” the doctor started.

“I said, leave him!”

“Mr. Donoghue, I cannot just let a man die! Vincent, attend to the man.”

“If you help him, I will just kill him again.”

“Wh-”

“You came here to save the boy, so do it!” I hissed at him.

We needed to clear things up here, once and for all. They were here to save Hector’s life, not Jonathan’s. The bastard was still breathing? Well, not for long. He had poisoned himself, he intended to die. So, we would let him. Gladly. And I meant what I had said, if he survived this, I would kill him myself. Wrap my hands around his throat and strange him to death. For trying to kill Hector. And for stepping foot on my land.

“Vincent, check the man’s palms. If he drank poison, we need to know what kind. You remember what I told you, yes?”

The younger man nodded, and hurried to do as he had been instructed. I watched as the doctor poured a foul smelling liquid over Hector’s wound, and I covered my nose with my hand.

“It is alcohol, “the elder doctor explained, “We cannot risk having the wound infected.”

I nodded at his medical update, all I wanted was Hector alive. I grimaced as he took out a syringe, as big as the one we used on the cows! What was he going to do with that? Surely not put it in Hector? Had the boy not been stabbed enough for one day??!

“This will ease his pain and hopefully help the blood clot.”

He filled the syringe with a bluish liquid, which I watched disappear into Hector. The boy did not even move. I felt like vomiting, even though my stomach was empty. Because I was afraid. Out of my mind, petrified! I dropped next to him and took his cold hand into my perspiring one. The doctor nodded next to me and prepared to pull the knife out. I squeezed Hector’s hand and closed my eyes, wishing then that I could absorb his pain.

“Do not worry, his skin should be numb by now,” the doctor reassured me.

But Hector was not awake to confirm that, was he? What if he was trapped inside his own head, screaming in pain? Could he hear me?

“Hector,” I whispered, hoping he did.

The hand in mine never moved, nor did his pulse increase. But if he felt me as much as I felt him, which I was certain he did, then he might hear me.

“I am right here,” I whispered again.

I was mad at him. Hell, I was furious at him! For playing his little game on me! But for now, I wanted him to live. I held my breath as the doctor slowly pulled out the knife, blood rushing out. I could not look away, but I never panicked. Because this was Hector’s blood, his life force. Somehow, my mind comprehended that. This was not bad.

This was Hector.

The doctor stacked clean cotton over the open wound, which immediately turned crimson. He put pressure on the wound and looked at his apprentice.

“How are we doing over there?”

“His palms are pale and his eyes are not in the back of his head. His mouth is not foaming,” he said, drawing a smaller syringe of his own. He held up a small bottle full of clear liquid and the doctor nodded.

I looked away in disgust, thinking it was such a waste of medicine!

I focused on Hector again, and pressed my fingers on his neck. His pulse was still faint but steady, which gave me hope. He was a fighter! The doctor lifted his hands slowly to check the wound, and a small smile appeared on his face.

“The blood seems to be stopping, I think we can move him to the house soon.”

I nodded and looked at Hector’s pale face. He was going to be alright. He had to be. I gripped his hand tighter as I realized my fear was growing.

“What about him?” Vincent asked.

“No!”

“We cannot leave him here!”

“He comes nowhere near my house!” I shouted at both of them.

Did they not understand my loathing for the man?! I was hardly controlling myself as it was, trying hard not to pick up a stone and bash his skull in in front of them!

“He tried to kill Hector, he is not coming near my house!”

“Alright, alright. Vincent will treat him here,” the doctor pacified.

That was still not good enough, but I had no energy to argue with him right now. I gestured at Hector.

This is what that man did! And you still deem it fair to save him?”

“It is my job to save lives, Mr. Donoghue, and I will let the law pass judgment.”

I scoffed.

“But I will need help, this wound is more severe than I realized.”

“Alright, anything you need. Spare no expense.”

“First, I need a room sterilized, cleaned from top to bottom.”

I supposed my room would do, as far as I was concerned, it was the cleanest place on this whole farm.

“We need to close the wound, but much damage has been done on the inside. Vincent can go with one of your men to fetch two of my colleagues who live not far from here, they have more experience with this than I. I am certain all has been done that can be done for the other gentleman.”

I nodded,” Less talk, more action doctor, and Jonathan is not a priority!”

“Of course, Mr. Donoghue.”

It was a waste of their efforts really, because after all this, I was really going to kill Jonathan!

:::

It was difficult just sitting there, waiting for the two doctors to arrive. Could anyone around here just do things with urgency??? It was agonizing, the most agonizing hour of my life!

I had changed my clothes and washed my hands over and over again until the doctor was satisfied.

There was a knock on the door and I looked up expectantly, hoping the doctors were here. The door was opened slightly, just enough so I could hear.

“Mr. Donoghue, there is a woman here to see you,” the girl, Cassandra I believe her name was, said nervously from the other side of the door.

What now, I wondered. I did not want to leave Hector’s side for any reason.

“No,” I replied curtly.

“She said it is important.”

“Nothing is more important than Hector!” I declared furiously, how could the girl not get that?

“I understand sir, but you do not understand,” she said.

I narrowed my eyes at the door, “What?”

“She was very persistent, sir.”

I groaned, “No. I will not see anyone until Hector wakes up!”

She hurried to leave and I turned to Hector. His pale appearance frightened me. I had seen him ill way too many times for one lifetime, I decided. I tightened my grip on the one hand that was had no needle inserted in it. His other arm had a needle with a tube attached to it, leading to a clear bag of fluids which were supposed to help deal with the blood loss. The doctor had explained it all to me, but my mind was too clustered with thoughts of my own. My own fears. My own hope. My own…prayers?

I leaned in and touched Hector’s pendant, I knew he had faith in a higher Being. Then why had life dealt him with such a hard blow, I did not understand. I only knew he believed, and so I would believe for him. Which I did, I prayed, and wished and hoped, that he would just open his eyes.

That his eyes would just flutter, even a little.

That color would return to his lovely face…her lovely face.

A face which I stopped to study. Which was usually full of life, amusement, mischief, adoration, sadness…but was now just…blank. Dull. Still. And dare I say it…dead. But still beautiful. And the longer I stared, the harder it became to imagine him as a boy. Hector was just too…feminine. Fair. Delicate. Gentle. Pretty. I suppose I could finally see Hazel now.

Hazel.

Hazel.

It would take some time to get used to.

Did that mean I had decided to forgive her? And let her stay? Right now I just wanted her to be alright. Because I finally knew what it felt like to be frightened for your life. Because that was how I felt, as if it was my own life fading away. My own heart beating slowly, weakly. Was this what love was? Had I fallen in love with this peculiar girl, even when she was a boy? What did that mean for me? Was it supposed to mean anything? Did it mean anything? Because it had everything to do with who Hector…Hazel, just was.

The one who made me talk.

The one who made me smile.

The one who made me laugh.

The one who made me feel, for the very first time in my life.

The one whose presence was as comforting as if he was an extension of my own being. Part of my sacred space.

The one who had reduced me to a weeping fool right now, as I prayed for his…her life.

I felt odd at this revelation, and studied her pale face once again. Those lips I had kissed twice, ashen, but still beautiful. I was going to kill Jonathan for doing this! And if heaven forbid she failed to make it through this… no, I could not even bear to think of it.

The door burst open, interrupting my thoughts and I turned around angrily.

A woman I had never seen before stood before me and I glared at her. Had I not myself perfectly clear that no one was allowed in here?!

“Who are you?” I narrowed my eyes.

She smiled, “Donoghue, I presume?”

I frowned, “Who are you?”

Oh darling, that girl whose hand you are holding, is my daughter.”

I looked at her, then at Hazel. It could not be! Then why were the siblings working at my farm. I remembered the younger boy saying his brother was all he had, the day we found them. And again, this morning. I had gotten the impression that they were orphans, there had been no indication they had a parent…or parents, alive.

“Yes, and I believe I am still one child short, where is my son?” She smirked.

Like hell I would let this woman anywhere near my family!

Twenty-four: A STORY OF TWO WIVES

#Wren

Two.

Four.

Six.

Eight hours had passed since the team of doctors started fixing Hector…Hazel. Eight hours. Eighty and four hundred minutes. That was a huge number. Huge. Enormous. Big. Large. My heart beat increased with each synonym, this was not helping at all! I had counted every crack in the room, every peel of paint. Renovated the entire house in my mind, but still, nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing helped. My foot was tapping in rhythm with my pulse, which was incredibly fast. My eyes ached, my throat itched, and my scalp was throbbing from tugging my hair so harshly. My mind was my prison, I could not escape it. I could not run from it. I could not avoid it. I worried, and worried, then worried some more. And when I thought I was done worrying, I worried just a tad bit more.

My sister had finally found out about Hector’s present predicament, and had been in tears. Real tears. I wondered if anyone had told her that he was a girl…that she was a girl. It seemed a petty matter now, when we were about to lose him…her. I had failed to speak to her, or my mother. Neither of them could help me, neither of them could take this pain away. And so I waited alone, even after they were gone. Even after their attempts to get me to rest. For how could I rest when my own mind was my prison? And my heart its warden in charge.

My mother was graciously keeping an eye on Helen, which we desperately needed right now. Because the boy was terrified of her, and she had a right to take him. My mind was unfortunately lacking the power and the will to think of anything else other than Hazel, and so I was grateful for my mother. Of course, the revelation of Hector’s true identity was something we would have to discuss later. For now, we had to get her better first. And the chances of that were low. Slim. Small. Minor. Minute.

Stop it! I thought to myself, this was not helping me to calm down. Neither was pacing. I had to see her.

I stood just as the door opened, one of the younger doctors stepping out. He was fresh-faced and looked more like a youngling to me, but the elder physician had assured me he was the best at his profession. Steady hands, they called him. And he looked the part too. If anyone was diving into my insides to patch them up, I would want it to be this man. Because even after hours behind that door, he was calm. His hands were not shaking. And his eyes appeared to still be alert.

Alert but sorrowful.
My heart sagged.

“How-”

“She is a fighter, I have never seen anything quite like it.”

“So she w-will be al-alright?”

He shook his head, “There is never a way to know for sure with these things, medicine and science is still finding its way. Are you a man of faith, Mr. Donoghue?”

I swallowed and nodded, if I could believe in a man to save her, I had nothing to lose in believing in a higher power. Because as the young doctor had said, he had never seen anything quite like this. Hazel was still alive, against all odds, and I believed she needed a miracle now.

“With the blood loss she suffered, she should have died before we arrived. I might join you in your faith, Mr. Donoghue,” he gave me a small smile.

“Thank you,” I answered instead, because I knew they had done their part to save her.

He nodded, “Excuse me, I believe I am in need of a hot beverage now, and quite a nap.”

My mother would arrange for their comfort, so I nodded and directed him to the kitchen.

Henry showed up as soon as the doctor left and I could tell the boy had been crying. His face was pale, his eyes were swollen and his nose was pink. The heart I never knew I possessed sunk at one look at him, he was a pitiful sight. And Helen’s presence was not making things any easier.

“Hazel?”

“She will be alright,” I said, barely audible. What could I say to the boy who was afraid of losing his only family?

“And Helen?

I clenched my fists, even hearing her name made me furious.

“I will take care of her.”

How? I did not know. But I would find a way. I had already failed Hazel and her brother twice now, and I did not intend for there to be a third. Because a third might mean losing them for good.

“I brought you some tea,” my sister’s voice sounded and I turned to look at her.

Her eyes were swollen too and her hair disheveled. I shook my head, I did not feel like eating or drinking anything. Michelle just nodded and cleared her throat.

“I know,” she said quietly.

I frowned in confusion and she nodded at the door.

“I know about…her,” she finished hesitantly and I exhaled.

I just nodded, not knowing what else to do or say. Hazel had lied to all of us, but it was not the time to talk about it. We all had to deal with it in our own ways.

“She will make her marry Mr. Worthington, and send me to the orphanage!” Henry said, making me turn my attention to him.

The boy’s eyes widened in desperation, and for the first time, I saw how young he truly was. Yes, he held his own during the day, working hard. But he was still just a boy, and I felt like the worst kind of person letting him work. Who was I? Really. Because at this moment I felt like a monster!

“Who is Worthington?” I asked, nodding at my sister who was now trying to comfort the boy.

She looked old too. Tame. Mature. Not the wildcat who had tried to trap a woman into marriage. Granted, we all did not know she was a girl, but the fact remained. Michelle had tried to trap her into marriage.

“He is a vile man,” the boy sobbed, “and a drunk.”

“Hush now, she will not do that,” Michelle said, patting his back and looking at me to confirm her words.

“Hazel cannot keep him unless she m-marries,” I sighed.

“But they are siblings!” My sister cried out, clearly outraged.

“The law is the law.”

And this was true. The only thing keeping Helen from taking the boy was because his sister was gravely ill. And not because of concern for his welfare either, she was trying to punish them. There was not one loving bone in that woman’s body, and I wondered what kind of man their father was to marry such a woman! Then again, what kind of man was I to marry Catherine?

“But what kind of law would permit a guardian to leave their charge in an orphanage? And even if she does, can we not just get him from there?”

I did not want to tell my sister what the woman had said to me, certainly not in front of the boy. I had thought of all that too, but it appeared Henry’s stepmother had everything planned.

::::

“You cannot take Hazel from here, not when she is still like this!” I said angrily.

“Oh no, the girl will recover…or die. Either way, I will take the boy after that and there is nothing you can do about it.”

“Why? You obviously have no care for them, just leave them with me.”

Her eyes narrowed, “You fancy her?”

I willed my face to remain expressionless.

“Ha! You do! I can tell, you know. That girl has always had quite the gift to charm any warm blooded male,” she said in distaste. “But those two ran away from me, it will be quite easy to put the boy in a disciplinary home until he is of age. You will not be able to get to him!”

“He is just a boy,” I said, my entire body becoming tense in anger.

“And I am just a mother doing what is best,” she grinned. “Do not fret, I cannot force Hazel to come with me, you know, if she lives.”

I narrowed my eyes at her in warning, and she laughed.

“She would never leave her brother, though. I suppose you lose either way, Mr. Donoghue. Do not try to cross me!”

::::

“Surely there is something we can do?” My sister’s voice brought me back to the present.

I would never understand my young sibling. One minute she was the most self-involved human to ever walk the earth, and the next she was fighting for a family? I was too exhausted to figure her out.

“You should sleep, brother,” she said, as if reading my thoughts.

I quickly shook my head.

“There is nothing more we can do for Hec-Hazel,” she frowned, clearly this was all still odd for all of us.

But one thing was that everyone seemed to know where she was. First Jonathan, and now Helen. Who else would show up and put her life in danger? I could not take that risk!

“The man is still out like a light, and mother is making certain Helen behaves. A little rest will do you some good.”

I shook my head again.

“Very well. Henry, what do you say to some rest yourself?”

The boy looked at me, then my sister. I nodded softly to tell him that it was alright to be tired and hungry. And he could eat supper and sleep for a little while. I would watch over his sister, and no one would ever lay a finger on her again. I watched as they walked away slowly, before the boy turned.

“Mr. Donoghue?”

I nodded.

“Would you marry my sister?”

My pulse ceased, what? Surely the boy was not asking me what I thought he was asking me!

“When she gets better, I mean,” he bit his lip in embarrassment while I just stared at him in shock.

“Well, Wren?” My sister asked, her own face was full of curiosity that I did not like.

“I…I cannot,” I sighed.

At least not in the time frame we had. I loathed myself for how the boy looked at me then, like I did not care what happened to them.

“Why not?”

That single question, so simple, yet so complicated. I had never thought I would be in this position again. Pondering marriage. No, certainly not me! But as soon as the boy asked me his simple question, my answer had not been that. The voice in my head had not immediately responded, I will never marry again. Or, I do not believe in that anymore. Or even, I have not known Hazel that long. No, I had no excuses to give, only the cold, hard truth. A truth I did not want to face myself.

“Because … I am already married.”

Twenty-five: WORTH EVERYTHING

#Wren

“I am sorry I slapped you,” I whispered to her.

Nothing. She was so still, like a beautiful corpse. I just wanted to see those beautiful eyes again. Hear her never ending chattering. I wondered again how I had never noticed it. This face was too soft, too pretty, and just too feminine to be male. And these tiny, fragile hands. Her entire posture was feminine, nothing male about it! Darn it, how had she fooled all of us? I would never have expected this. And I had hit her! I, Lawrence Donoghue, had raised my hand to a woman’s face.

“I am going to kill Jonathan for doing this to you.”

Still nothing. Would she ever wake up?

“I do not know what is going on, Hazel,” I whispered in desperation.

“I…I feel you,” I sighed, knowing how insane I sounded.

But I did, and the more time I spent with her, the stronger I felt it. Like she was calling out to me, just barely holding on. I felt weary in my spirit, as if she was giving up too. But I would not let her give up, I would not. I could not. I needed her to be alright.

“Do not let go,” I pleaded.

“I know it hurts, but just…just hold on.”

Her skin was pale and cold, but her chest would rise ever so slightly, reminding me she was, indeed, alive.

“I do not know how you do this, talk enough for the both of us,” I smiled slightly, the first time in days.

But she remained still.

“I will talk a bit more if you wake up.” I promised.

Nothing.

“And I will talk about how I… feel,” I grimaced.

I was certain she would be happy about that.

“Come on, Hazel, how long will you sleep?”

I stood and walked to the door, not looking back as I opened it and left. I needed some air, and food. And to know what was going on around the farm.

:::::

“Two days, Wren! It has been two days and already that wretched woman is driving me insane!” My mother exclaimed.

She diced her tomatoes with so much anger I feared for her fingers! But I understood what she meant, trying to be civil to Helen was proving to be a painful task. She was like sour milk to a good cup of tea!

I was now sitting in the kitchen with her as she prepared supper. She had already served me lunch, which I ate slowly because my appetite did not match my need to actually eat.

“That girl lied to us and we are still going through all of this? Unbelievable!”

“Yes mother, because that lie makes her deserve to lose her family,” I sighed.

She stopped moving and looked at me,” What has happened to you?”

“I am p-perfectly fine. Hazel’s lie c-caused no harm to us, so we need to help her. Even if it had, we still would help her.”

My mother sighed and nodded,” I know. I want to help them, especially the young one, but that mother of theirs is just…she behaves as if she was raised in a brothel! Are you certain there is nothing we can do?”

I shook my head sadly, for there was nothing.

“Life is always so unfair, and they are only children for heavens’ sake!”

I finished the rest of my food and stood.

“You should sleep, son. You look terrible.”

“Every time I c-close my eyes, I f-fear s-something will happen. And yesterday Helen was p-packing Henry’s bag with the intent of leaving-”

“Matthias is keeping an eye on the boy, Helen will not take him without your knowledge.”

“Helen will do what she wants, when she wants!”

My mother looked up as I turned to face said Helen.

“I have had enough of this place!” She screamed.

“Hazel is-” my mother began, before Helen cut her off.

“She is dead, that is what she is. Someone should put the girl out of her misery already!”

My mother gasped as I glared at Helen, the woman was unbelievable!

“Let the boy go, or I will do this the hard way!”

“You-”

“Hush, mother,” I said, raising my hand but never taking my eyes off Helen.

“Yes, listen to your son,” the woman grinned, “he is not as foolish as he looks, I hope.”

I ignored her taunting, “What do you want?”

She laughed, “You are serious?”

I narrowed my eyes at her. Anything to get this woman off my farm was a fair price to pay.

“My children are priceless, Mr. Donoghue, there is nothing I want other than the two of them.” She scoffed.

“We both know that is a lie. Now, tell me what y-you want, and it shall be yours.”

“Hmm, so you really do mean it? Is she truly worth it?”

“What.do.you.want?” I repeated.

She looked around, then smirked, “Everything.”

“Everything?”

She nodded, “Yes, everything. This farm, I want it.”

“You cannot-” my mother started but I raised my hand to silence her again.

“Either I get it, or the boy comes with me,” Helen said, looking quite pleased with herself.

“Wren!” My mother cried out in outrage, “Surely you are not considering this?”

I remained silent and fixed my eyes on Helen’s, who fidgeted under my gaze. You could tell a lot by how someone met your eyes. And Helen was clearly uncomfortable. She was a liar, and selfish and greedy. And somewhere deep down, she was disgusted with her own behavior. But she would never admit it, she was too far gone I supposed.

“You want this farm?” I asked, not taking my eyes off hers.

“Is that not what I said? Were you just making empty promises, Mr. Donoghue?”

“You want my farm?” I asked again, calmly.

“Yes.”

“And you will let them go?”

“Yes.”

“Alright.”

She blinked fast,” Alright? You will give it to me? Just like that?”

I nodded.

“Wren,” my mother’s voice pleaded.

“You would give up everything, just for them?”

“Yes,” I replied with a nod.

“That is the most idiotic thing I have ever heard, “she laughed, “You should listen to your mother.”

“I have my mind made up.”

“If I had known the girl was worth all of this, I never would have let her out of my sight!” Helen laughed. “I want it in writing.”

“Wren!” My mother cried out again, “stop this at once, this is our home!”

“Only after Hazel recovers,” I countered.

“No, now!” Helen glared at me.

“I am a man of my word, but not a second before that girl opens her eyes!”

Helen was quiet for a while, pondering my offer. I was counting on her greed to cloud her intelligence, which it did.

“And if she does not?”

My jaw ticked, “I will hand over the deed to you when she takes her last breath.”

Helen smirked, “You have a deal, Mr. Donoghue.”

“Now get out of my house!”

“You mean, my house?”

I narrowed my eyes at her and she laughed, before leaving. My mother pounced as soon as we heard the main door close.

“Have you lost your mind?!”

“No.”

“Then what was that?”

“Time.”

She looked at me in confusion.

“I n-need time to f-find…Catherine.”

“Why?”

“To get an annulment. Because when Hazel wakes up, and she will, I intend to marry her.”

I would station guards outside Hazel’s room, only the doctors would be allowed in. Because I feared Helen would attempt to kill her if I left her without protection. But I needed to find Catherine now, and I could not be in two places at once.

#Hazel

My entire body felt as if it were on fire. A fire from within me, concentrated in my stomach. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to move. It hurt to think. I could not even open my eyes! Was death so agonizing? Was it so slow? Was it so quiet?

It was dark everywhere, but I could see Jonathan’s eyes wherever I looked. They were haunting me, and laughing at me. He had won. He had succeeded in killing me. My short life had amounted to nothing at all. Nothing memorable. Nothing substantial. I struggled to remember my brother’s face, until I let him go. Let the living worry about the living, my fight was over. I cared not for anything but relief from this agony. Oh death, please be quick and merciful.

Would I see mama and papa soon? Would this darkness come to an end? Where was the light? Where were the angels who were to greet me? Mama had always said angels were waiting for us, to carry us to our final resting place. I closed my eyes and prayed.

Hail Mary, Mother of God
blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb

Hail Mary, full of Grace
Pray for us sinners, and now, at the hour of my death

Dear Lord, accept my spirit as it rests
Take care of those I have left behind
Forgive my transgressions, and cleanse my soul
May your light guide me to my final destination in your arms.

I stopped praying when I heard it. Sweet, sweet music. Oh, what a voice!
If death sounded so wonderful, I had no problem leaving this life. And I did just that.

I let go.

I died.

And my angel had the most beautiful grey eyes, like liquid silver. And he was beautiful too, my eyes almost hurt to look at him. But the side of his face was scarred…were angels not flawless? Created to be perfect, just as man was not?

Then he smiled, and I felt peace wash over me. Flawed angel or not, I was home.

Twenty six: CATHERINE DONOGHUE[++
++]part 1:

#Wren

“Hazel?”

Beautiful eyes blinked at me, one blue, and one green. Like the first day in the carriage. I could not help but smile at her pale face, my own miracle! But her eyes closed as soon as they opened, and I panicked at her still chest. Until she took another shallow breath, making my eyes water and I clasped her hand. It was cold but I knew all would be alright now. Hazel had come back to me. I leaned over and gave her a kiss on her forehead, saying a prayer of thanks for her life. I stepped away and exited the room, the doctors would be happy to learn of this.

Henry was waiting for me outside with Jacob.

“You sent for me?” He asked.

I nodded.

“I want to w-watch your s-sister, lock the door after yourself.”

He nodded.

“If she wakes up, just tell the doctors, only them. Understand?”

He nodded again.

“And y-you, Jacob, stand guard outside. Do not let anyone past this door.”

“Yes sir.”

“No one, understand?”

“What about the doctor?” He blinked.

I rolled my eyes, “Only him.”

He nodded and I left after the boy was locked inside, with two destinations on my mind. First, the doctor, and then Matthias.

::::

Matthias looked at me as I approached, narrowing his eyes as if trying to read mine.

“Any news?” He asked.

I shook my head, not willing to tell anyone just yet. Not even the old man. I nodded to the door and he sighed.

“He is awake.”

I clenched my fists, “Good.”

“This is not wise,” he said, his hand on my chest.

I looked down at said hand, and he removed it.

“You are not in the right frame of mind to do this, Wren. You might kill the man!”

Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say! This lunatic was a murderer, and Matthias was trying to protect him from me?!
I glared at the old man, daring him to continue blocking my path. He shook his head and let me through, after handing me the key. I took a deep breath and unlocked the door, then threw the key at Matthias before stepping in.

“Was that wise?”

I looked at him as the lock clicked into place behind me.

“Locking yourself in here, with me?” He smirked and I scoffed.

If anyone needed to be afraid, it was him. Because I would kill him if he so much as moved an inch from that bed. And I would take pleasure from it too, without the slightest hesitation.

“Where is she?”

I flinched but ignored him.

“I will get to her, eventually. You know this, right?”

I refused to be baited, so I just ignored him.

I watched as he ran his bound hands through his hair, “I really could use a bath, do you think you could arrange something?”

I glared at him and he chuckled.

“I suppose that is too much to ask?”

I remained silent and he sighed.

“If you did not come here to talk, why are you here?”

It was hard to reconcile this man with the one I had met weeks before. He appeared to be of a sound mind, one would never guess that he was actually a mad man. And homicidal.

“Catherine.”

“Catherine?” He frowned, “what of her?”

“Where is she?”

Two black eyes stared into mine in silence, and it took every ounce of self-control I possessed not to strangle him.

“What do you want with Catherine?”

“She is my wife, or were you not aware of that?!”

His eyes widened, then he laughed.

“Ha, it never even crossed my mind. Donoghue! Catherine Donoghue, by God! How small the world is!”

I waited until his amusement passed.

“Wait, she is your wife still? How is that?”

“It matters not. Where is she?”

“And just why would I tell you anything?”

“I am the reason you are still alive,” I replied simply.

“Ah ha, you say this based on the assumption that I do want to live?”

“Why did you do it?”

He shrugged, as if we were talking about the weather.

“Because I love her.”

“You stabbed her!”

“I liberated her,” he said in correction.

I shook my head in disbelief.

“I knew it from the first moment I saw her, knew that she was special. I desired her, craved her, having her in this life was never going to be enough.”

“So you stabbed her?”

“Again, I freed her! She was so terrified of me, I just wanted it to stop. Wanted us to be together, forever.”

“Hazel has her faith, and there is no together where you are headed!” I said in disgust.

“I love her.”

I could tell he believed that, perhaps even meant it. But he was deranged and dangerous, and I had no intention of ever letting him within Hazel’s vicinity again.

“And last I checked, you were so convinced she was a boy,” he sneered, making me clench my jaw. “What has changed?”

I hated that he knew before me, but there was nothing I could do about that now.

“Catherine, where is she?”

“She lives not far from here,” he said with a wave of his hand.

“You will take me there.”

“No. I have no intention of seeing that woman.”

“The mother of your children?” I raised a brow.

He scoffed, “Is that what she told you?”

I frowned and he laughed.

“I am incapable of fathering any child she might claim to be mine.”

I looked at him in confusion.

“Catherine is a woman of many talents I enjoy in my bed, I am sure you would appreciate that.”

I grimaced at the thought, for once glad I had never experienced it.

“But lying is not one of them. Those bastards are not mine, and my indulging her of the fact is based solely on my own ulterior motives. I know the man responsible for that creation, downright bastard he is too!”

“Still, you will take me to her, now. I have no time to waste.”

“Why the haste, when you have waited all these years?” He narrowed his eyes at me.

I ignored him and gestured to his hands, “Help me, and I will let you free before the authorities arrive to claim you.”

He looked at his hands and smiled, “My freedom matters not without Hazel. She is awake, is she not?”

I remained expressionless and he smiled.

“You would not have left her side unless something good had happened. And I do not know why you are rushing, but you intend to marry her too, do you not?”

I ignored him,” Catherine?”

“I will not take you to her, but I can tell you how to get there. Should not take you more than an hour or so. It is most unusual how she would want to remain so close to you, is it not? “He smirked.

“Perhaps you should give your marriage another try.”

I clenched my fists and fought the urge to just kill him right then.

“She really hit a nerve, didn’t she?” He laughed.

“Tell me where she is.”

And he did. It shocked me how close by she was, all this time and she was so near! Two of the young men could go, there was no way I would leave Hazel and Jonathan alone in the same place. Whether Jonathan was bound or not. And Catherine was going to come here, even if she was dragged kicking and screaming!

::::

I spent the next three hours sitting with Hazel, praying for her recovery.

“Her wound is still grave, but it should heal quickly if she does not move around much,” the doctor said.

“She is not moving at all!” I shouted angrily, tired of waiting for concrete news.

“Patience, Mr. Donoghue. She is lucky to be even alive! And if she opened her eyes as you say, then that is a good sign that she is not lost to us.”

He continued crushing some herbs and creating a paste before smearing it on Hazel’s wounds. He said it would help it seal faster, and prevent an infection from setting in. My Hazel would be scarred forever, just as I was, and I hated Jonathan even more for it! That man had no right to live.

“She is strong, and she will make it through this. All we have to do is wait now.”

I nodded, looking at her still form. Her hair was starting to grow and in a few months it would be back to how it was before. I wondered if she had cut it to pass as a boy. I tried to imagine what she would look like in a dress, or with long hair, but I failed. The image that came to me was just of her as I had met her.

Henry had explained that he lied to protect her, which made sense, a girl would have been more vulnerable than a lad would. Especially a girl with Hazel’s face. But her lie had put her in danger, when it should have protected her! Darn it! If I had known, I would have protected her better. Michelle would never have fancied her, and she would never have met Jonathan. Then she would not be fighting for her life right now. But it was too late, there was nothing that could be done now.

A knock sounded on the door and I turned around.

“I will get it, lock the door after me,” I told the doctor and he nodded.

Catherine was waiting for me on the other side, looking as furious as a charging bull. I was only glad she was here.

“Wren, what is the meaning of this?” She started.

I remained quiet and cocked my head, indicating she follow me. We walked to my study in silence and I closed the door behind her, and locked it.

“Talk! And this better be good.”

“I want an annulment,” I said simply.

She laughed, “After all this time, what has happened? I know you have not met someone.”

“Catherine!” I hissed in warning.

“What? Have you?”

I ignored her and went behind my desk, taking some papers out and throwing them onto the desk. I should have done this a long time ago, I thought. But I had had no desire to ever see her back then, or speak to her or have anything to do with her.

“What is that?” She frowned.

“Papers for you to s-sign. Our marriage was never consummated, this sh-should be easy enough.”

“Oh Wren, aren’t you just adorable!” She mocked, walking to sit on my desk.

My fingers itched to push her off it and into the chair, but I behaved. I needed her to sign the papers.

“I know this is bothering you, you do not have to hide it.”

“So sit in the chair!”

“And give you the satisfaction? No, thanks!”

“Just sign, Catherine,” I sighed.

I knew her games would never cease.

“No. Last time you bullied me into helping that hybrid child of yours, and had Jonathan arrested. I will not be doing you any more favors!”

I studied her face, she had no idea Jonathan had escaped!

“I can give you Jonathan,” I offered.

“I tried that already, they will not release him.” She rolled her eyes.

How I had ever thought the woman beautiful was beyond me. But I suppose she still was, just her soul was not.

“I have him.”

She narrowed her eyes, “What do you mean you have him?”

Exactly that. He is here.”

“Here, on the farm? Why?”

“He came to kill Hazel, so you can understand why I have no problem giving him to you.”

“He what?! Jonathan would never… it is that darn girl, isn’t it! There is something about her that just rubs me the wrong way!”

“I wish Jonathan shared your sentiments,” I scoffed, thinking it would make my life so much easier.

Catherine stood up, “He loves her then, to the point of madness. What use is he to me now?”

I realized my blunder the moment she said that.

“No, Wren. I will most certainly not be signing those papers!”

Twenty six part2: A MOTHER’S HATE

#Wren

“You intend to remain sh-shackled to me for the rest of your life?” I asked calmly.

“I will not give you what you want,” she countered.

“I can s-still do this without you.

“Ha! It would take time, you know they do not grant annulments easily if only one party is willing.”

“I found you with another man…s-several times!”

“Because you were a terrible husband!”

I scoffed, not believing I had actually married this vile woman!

“You were only have ever interested in my money!”

“Ha! You mean our money. The money you hid from me and barely allowed me to touch?”

“You were giving it to anyone who lifted your skirts!” I said in outrage.

“Only because you were not lifting them yourself! You expected me to live a celibate life forever?”

She had me there, but she was still wanton. There was once a time when I thought I loved the woman. I cared for her, desired for her a life of comfort and happiness. Of course, I had never desired her in the way a man should, but I always thought I was incapable of feeling that way. Feeling that way meant putting my lips upon hers, and now that I knew where that mouth had been, I was grateful I had never ventured there! And kissing was prelude to other activities I could never bear to participate in. Just thinking of it, the filth of it all, was already making me hyperventilate.

Ninety-eight.
Ninety-six.

Stop counting, Hazel’s voice sounded in my head, making me do just that. Catherine was eyeing me with an amused expression.

“How hard it must be,” she shook her head.

I must have appeared confused because she gestured at me.

“Being a prisoner in your own head.”

It was, of course. But no one could convince me that the world would not close in on me and kill me. I would rather be safe. Safe. Was Hazel safe? She had so easily become a part of my space, an extension of it, that I barely noticed it.

How easily I had let her into my bed. And embraced her. Most importantly, had kissed her. Multiple times.
I had kissed Hazel multiple times, I almost smiled! She was safe. Hazel was safe. Hazel was special.

“Why did you remain so close?” I asked instead, trying to understand.

I also knew I could never beat Catherine at her own game, which meant I had to learn what the game was first. Then try to avoid it.

She shrugged, “Hide in plain sight?”

I nodded, it did make sense I supposed.

“And why did you not send the authorities after me?”

I scoffed, “And admit my own wife had bested me?”

“I thought you were dead,” she rolled her eyes.

“You heard my screams, Catherine. And you left me to burn!”

I had caught her with her lover, who proceeded to knock me unconscious before they set me on fire!

“It was too late, and I was scared of what you would do to me.”

“You are a murderer.”

“Says the victim who is still breathing!”

“The least you can do, is sign th-”

“I am not signing those darn papers! Drag me to court if you will.”

“Why are you so bloody difficult?!”

“Because you ruined my life! You could have left me to marry someone who actually wanted me!”

“An annulment within the first month of our marriage would have s-set you free!” I argued.

“You selfishly married me even when you knew you had…shortcomings! So if this is what you wanted, I will gladly give it to you!”

I took a deep breath, she was right of course. I had married her, even when I knew I could never truly be her husband. Could I be a true husband to Hazel? Why was I even thinking of this? What was a true husband if not one who provided for his wife? Put a roof over her head. Put food on the table, and clothes on her back.

“Do your thoughts come in halting sentences too, or that is just how you speak?”

I growled at her and she held up her hands in mock surrender. She knew what my soft spot was and she was currently pressing on it with the sole of her shoe.

“Tell me, why the girl is how she is. Is she like you, crazy in the head?”

I ignored her and tried to think of a way to get what I wanted.

“Was she trying to be the man you can never be?”

My fists formed involuntarily as she laughed.

“I never did understand you, Wren. You are so-”

“Catherine, I care not for this conversation. Just sign the papers or I swear-”

“You will what? You are nothing but a toothless dog, Donoghue, and I care not for your threats either.”

There was a knock on my door and I looked up.

“Who is it?!” I called out angrily.

There was silence and I took a deep breath, this better be good. I walked to the door and opened it, facing a shaking young man. For the life of me, I never could remember their names!

“What?”

“Sir, it is Jonathan.” His eyes did not mean mine.

“What of him?”

I wondered if the bastard had finally succeeded in killing himself. Ha, that would certainly take care of one of my problems. And I did not even have to get my hands dirty.

“He is… gone, sir.”

I had not been expecting that.

“Who was watching him?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer.

“There were two of us, but that woman, Hector’s mother?” He looked at me as if looking for confirmation, but I just glared at him.

“She said-”

I did not want to hear anymore, “Who hired you?”

“You, sir.”

“Who gave you instructions to never take your eyes off that door?”

“You, sir.”

“Then, why?”

“I am sorry sir, I thought-”

“No, you did not! And I want him found, now! And bring Henry to me.”

“Of course, sir. Some of the men have already-”

“You are still here?”

He bit his lip and hurried out of my sight. I was surrounded by fools! And Matthias would pay for this, but not more so than Helen!

::::

::::

Helen was shouting at the doctor on the other side of the door when I walked into the hallway.

“What are you doing?” I asked her.

She looked at me,” I want to see her.”

“Why, you have no love for her.”

“You cannot keep me from her!”

“Where is he?”

“Who?” She feigned ignorance.

“Jonathan.”

“Oh, that handsome young man? I let him go, was I not supposed to?” She blinked rapidly.

I glared at her as she smirked at me.

“You think me a fool, making empty promises you will never fulfil?!”

My jaw clenched as I thought how best to handle this woman without hitting her! Because I really wanted to.

“Do you realize what you have done?!” I could not reign in my temper.

“Mr. Donoghue, sir?”

“What?!” I exclaimed harshly, without taking my eyes off Helen.

“The boy, Henry, I…I cannot find him.”

I turned to face him, slowly. “What did you s-say to me?”

“Henry,” he gulped, “sir… I cannot-”

“Find him! Now!”

He hurried out of my presence and I saw red. I really had been trying. I really had. Calming thoughts and counting would not help me now. Nothing would. Unfortunately.

“Where is Henry, Helen?”

“How am I to know?”

“If anything happens to that boy, so help me-”

“I think this is just poetic!” Catherine laughed.

“Catherine!” I hissed in warning.

Now was not the time for her taunts! I was barely controlling my temper as it was.

She scoffed, “What, Wren? We both know you are harmless.”

I counted from ten, is that what they all thought? I strode to my study and grabbed the annulment papers, walking back and throwing them at her feet, together with a pen.

“I am not signing those!”

“Yes, you are.”

She laughed again, “I apologize, Lawrence, but you seem to be under the impression that-”

I grabbed her hair as she screamed and I forced her to her feet.

“What are you-” her sentence was cut off by her scream as I cut a deep line across her right cheek.

My mother came rushing into the room.

“Wren what is…by God! What have you done?” She put a hand over her mouth.

I let Catherine go as she sobbed. I grinned at her, “There, look, they match!” I pointed to my own scar.

Helen looked frozen in place, just like my mother.

“For every hour those papers are not signed, I will draw blood. And who knows, perhaps I will even burn you for fun!”

“Lawrence!” My mother gasped as I took out a handkerchief to wipe my knife.

I threw the spoiled piece of cloth at Catherine, grimacing. Everyone in the hallway looked at me in shock, but I cared not for them at the moment.

“You are acting just like that vile man, Jonathan!” My mother exclaimed.

I smiled, “Good. At least he seems to get what he wants!”

I turned to Helen and pointed the small knife at her, “For every hour that boy is not found, I will carve a scar into you. Do not test me woman!”

She nodded quietly and I pointed to the floor, making her immediately sit down. I was tired of playing the victim, giving in to pointless demands. Even when we kept losing. No, no more of that! From now on I would just be as ruthless. I meant every word I had said, blood would be drawn.

“What has come over you?” My mother sobbed.

I did not know, and neither did I care. What I wanted now was to wash my hands.

Twenty six part3: THE BOY WHO WOULD AWAKEN

#Hazel

I could hear his voice, Donoghue’s, but it was everywhere! I wondered what kind of room I was in. I tried to open my eyes, to no avail, it was torture being trapped in my own body. At least the pain was gone, all that was left was numbness. I wondered how Henry was faring, and if he was handling this well. My brother was strong, mature beyond his years, but the threat of losing me would take its toll. And Donoghue, I wondered if he was mad at me. I also feared Jonathan, if he would return to finish his attempt at my life. Or harm my brother in any way! Oh Lord, no. Not Henry!

I struggled again to open my eyes, failing once more. I had to trust Donoghue would protect us both, if his soft voice was anything to go by. It would hurt to leave him, because I was certain after this he would not forgive me. But this time I would not leave without begging first. Yes, I would beg for his forgiveness. I would make him understand why I had dragged the lie. It would take time to build a relationship, but I was willing to wait for him. That peculiar man, he had already found a place in my heart without an effort. I knew there would be no one else but him, and I did not need years to know that. I just felt it.

All I had to do now, was wake up.

#Wren

I watched as the two men dragged a beaten Jonathan to my doorstep. He spit blood, then grinned at me.

“Donoghue, my old friend!”

I scowled at him and nodded at the two men to let him go. They did and he dropped to the ground, unable to hold himself up. I was glad.

“The boy?” I asked them.

“He is safe, just cleaning himself up.”

I nodded.

“Did you s-send word to the inspector?”

They both nodded, “He should be on his way with a team within the hour.”

I nodded again, praying that an hour would be enough to hold me at bay. Because if it took them any longer than an hour, I was going to kill Jonathan. I should have killed him the minute I laid eyes on him, I thought.

“You might as well kill me now,” he jeered, voicing my intentions clearly.

“Because I will not leave her!”

I wondered what it was that could drive a man to madness such as this. I seriously doubted it was all because of Hazel. Whatever demons this man was battling, he was simply focusing them on Hazel. And yet, here I was. Going out of my way to save this very same girl, perhaps it really was about her. Lord knows I had been captivated by those eyes from the moment she opened them! And her lying on that bed, unmoving, was wreaking havoc on emotions I never knew I had. Jonathan’s obsession was becoming mine as well.

“You feel it too, yes?”

I frowned at him, thinking of what he might have up his sleeve now.

“The pull? To her? It is quite strong, no?”

I glared at him, deciding not to respond to that. Because he was right.

“She is quite the vixen, you know? I had her writhing and moaning under me, oh yes, quite responsive too.”

I walked to him and kicked him in the stomach. He just laughed and spit more blood at my feet.

“You will always wonder, will you not? If she yearns for me. If she imagines my face instead of your pathetic one.”

I bit my cheek as I contemplated killing him now. Perhaps I had overestimated my control. An hour was too long!

“I love her, and I want her. There is nothing you can do about that. Death failed me, but I will get her away from you and-”

I frowned at Matthias as he examined the plank of wood he held. The same plank that had just wacked Jonathan in the back of his head.

“I hate the sound of his voice,” he shrugged.

I shook my head at the old man, but if I could smile, I would have. I did not want to have to look for Rashell and explain to her why her brother’s corpse was on my farm.

“He is too dangerous to let go.”

I nodded at the old man, but we had to trust the justice system. No doubt they would hang him for his crime, but stranger things had happened. Committing him to another asylum was out of the question now, because he was a determined man. And an obsessed one at that, which made him dangerous!

“Hector?” Matthias asked.

I shook my head, there had been no change. It still amused me how the old man continued to call Hazel, Hector. I supposed it would take a while for everyone to adjust. I smiled despite myself, that girl was always surprising me! But nothing could surpass this, if she still had anything up her sleeve. I supposed I should love her for it, in spite of the fact that she lied to me.

“Hmm, she will be alright, no?”

I nodded, truly believing that. If anyone could survive having a knife plunged into them multiple times, it was Hazel. I was sure of that.

Matthias laughed, “I always did see there was something off about that lad!”

I smiled and nodded.

“But I never would have guessed!”

None of us did, I thought.

“So what will you do?”

“Nothing, she is s-still welcome to s-stay.” I said, with an unexpected pang in my chest. I wanted her to stay, I realized.

“Working…or with you?”

I glared at the old man for prying, but I knew he meant well.

“Whatever she chooses,” I responded.

He nodded and smiled,” Well, well. Never thought I would see the day in my old age when Wren Donoghue would fall in love! With a boy no less!”

I chuckled and shook my head, he would never let me live this down.

“You have changed, Wren, it is a good thing. I do not approve of that girl’s way of doing things, or her temper. Lord knows between the two of you, one will most certainly kill the other! But it is refreshing to see you care for something other than this darn farm!”

“It is your home,” I smirked.

“Yes yes,” he waved his hand dismissively, but with a smile on his face.

“And Michelle?”

I shrugged, my sister had learnt her lesson, I could only hope. Perhaps now she would find a boy who would tolerate her ways enough to marry her. Ways, I had driven into her skull, she had to change! I smiled at how fate had dealt with her. Of all the people, she just had to go after a girl!

“I suppose the girl needed a mend to her ways, I have always said you spoil her too much.”

Because I did not want to pay attention to her. But now, I would try. To be a better brother, and a better son. For all her ways, if she had been the one lying in there, I would have been out of my mind with worry!

“I still worry about him, though. He will come back for her, you know this?”

I clenched my jaw and nodded.

“The look in his eyes, he is like a hound that smells blood. He will not let the girl go.”

I knew all this, and I still had to find a way to deal with it.

“But they will surely hang him for what he did, he is too dangerous.”

I could only hope what the old man was saying would come to pass.

“If they do not, I will.”

“You do not want a man’s blood on your hands, son.” The old man shook his head.

Perhaps, but I was a man with a lot to lose. Who knew what I was capable of?

“Bind him, make certain he is watched at all times.” I said.

I needed to be by Hazel’s side.

Chapter twenty seven: A DIFFERENT KIND OF MATE

#Wren

Nine days.

An entire week and two days!
I had no idea there were so many hours in a week! My capacity to be patient was dwindling by the minute, I had already stretched it out too thin as it was. Hazel was still not awake.

Her wound was healing well, and incredibly fast, but she had still yet to open those pretty eyes.

“I swear if one more day goes by…” my voice trailed as the doctor patted my shoulder.

I flinched just as he withdrew, but my eyes never left her face.

“All in due time, Mr. Donoghue.”

“But her wound is-”

“Sometimes it is not about the physical wound, rather the emotional ones.”

I nodded, even though I did not understand him. I needed answers, not riddles.

“W-will you leave us?”

“Of course, her dressing is changed and her stiches are healing nicely she is indeed my miracle patient. Send for me if you need me.”

I nodded as he walked out, and I got up to lock after him. It had become a habit of mine, I feared that someone would just come and take her away from me. Even though Jonathan was awaiting his judgment and they had him locked away. Even though Helen had left after I threatened her never to return again. I still feared for her every second that went by. I wondered if I would always worry about her for the rest of her natural life, or if I would trust my environment again one day. Only time would tell.

I walked to her bedside and sat next to her, taking her hand in mine again. I was getting used to her low temperature now, and her faint pulse. I knew she was still in there, because I felt her. Our heartbeats were in perfect sync, none faster or slower than the other. It scared me, but also reassured me.

“What have you done to me, woman?” I whispered as I kissed the back of her hand lightly.

She did not even stir.

“I will always protect you,” I whispered, hoping wherever her mind was, she could hear me.

“And I am not mad at you for lying,” I added, wondering if her guilt was keeping her away from me.

I looked at her hand, so tiny and fragile compared to mine. I smiled at how she had ever kept up with the farm work! Her hands were so delicate!

“Your hands are so small,” I thought out loud, knowing she would be enraged if she could hear me.

She was always out to prove her strength to me, perhaps because she had been trying to pass off as a boy.

“And you can wake up and argue with me on that,” I teased.

Still silence.

“Oh hell, Hazel! I cannot do this anymore!” I leaned over her and hesitated once before I placed my lips on hers.

#Hazel

“I swear if one more day goes by…” Donoghue’s voice trailed as it washed over me like a soothing balm.

I was not sure if my brother ever came to visit, but I never heard him speak. Only Donoghue. I heard him every time, which was almost all the time. Even when he did not speak, I felt him beside me. I felt his lips when he kissed my hand. I felt his pulse, steadily beating in rhythm with mine.

I felt him flinch and tighten his hold on my hand, making me wonder what was wrong.

“But her wound is-” I heard him say, before he went silent for a while.

“W-will you leave us?”

I felt him as he returned to my side taking my hand in his once again. He was so warm, which terrified me. It reminded me that I was barely alive.

“What have you done to me, woman?” He whispered, just as I felt his soft lips brush the back of my hand softly.

I supposed that answered my fears of how he would take my lie. He knew, and yet he was still here. I tried to move again, but my body was too heavy.

“I will always protect you,” He whispered, and I hoped he would never lose hope that I could hear him.

“And I am not mad at you for lying,” he went on, increasing my guilt for lying to begin with.

My hand felt so tiny in his, but wonderful at the same time.

“Your hands are so small,” he said just as I thought of it.

I smiled at the coincidence, even though I could feel my face remain still.

“And you can wake up and argue with me on that,” he said, and I could imagine the smile on his beautiful face.

Donoghue rarely smiled, almost never really. But it suited him so well, my handsome grump.

“Oh hell, Hazel! I cannot do this anymore!” I felt him as he got closer before his lips were on mine.

Oh, sweet heaven. I finally saw the light. And heard the Angel music. The pearly gates finally opened to me!

Silver orbs blinked at me as I took a deep breath, one I had been longing to take in while! He smiled, tears in his beautiful eyes.

“You know I have not brushed my teeth in what could be months, yes?” My voice croaked, but oh, it felt so wonderful to speak again!

He laughed, a loud, wonderful laugh that sounded like music to my ears. My body still felt heavy, but his hand around mine was my anchor back to the world of the living.

“So with a kiss she wakens?”

I smiled, but even my face hurt.

“I should have done that sooner,” he smiled, leaning to kiss my forehead.

“I could swear I saw the light,” I mumbled, making him grin.

“I am that good?”

I looked at him in surprise, Donoghue? Jesting? I should die more often!

“You would be better if you got me some water,” my throat felt like sand paper.

Donoghue’s face sobered instantly as he hurried to get me a glass. I was trying to sit up but my entire body was protesting.

“Do not move!” He commanded, making me roll my eyes.

At least that did not hurt, which made me do it again. If this was the only body function I could manage without pain, then so be it!

“Stop that,” he chided softly, making me roll my eyes again.

“You are such a child,” he smiled, helping me sit up as I groaned.

“You always make it a habit to kiss children, Donoghue?” I smirked as I took a sip.

The water seemed to heal me as it went down, because I could feel my body again. And the pain in my stomach! I coughed as Donoghue patted my mouth dry with a handkerchief that appeared from nowhere.

“Jonathan?” I asked, searching his eyes for some good news.

“He will not harm y-you again,” he said, nodding to the glass as I shook my head.

He walked to the small table and I watched as he emptied the water in a basin and dried the glass before putting it back neatly.

‘What happened, he-”

“Do not think of it,” he said, his jaw clenching.

“And my brother, where is he?”

Donoghue helped me to my side as he sat, facing me.

“S-safe. He is t-taking his lessons.”

I squeezed his hand, “You are shaking.”

“You almost died,” he said in explanation.

I flinched, “But I am here. Thank you.”

“For what, I failed you. Jonathan-”

“You found me, I know you did. So, thank you. And Henry too.”

He nodded and brought my hand to his lips in silence.

“You are being nice,” I teased, but it was true. I liked my Donoghue grumpy, and stubborn.

“You almost died,” he whispered again.

I nodded, my near-death must have shaken him. If all his conversations with me were anything to go by.

“I am sorry,” was all I could say.

That earned me a small smile.

“For?”

“Almost dying.” I whispered.

“Why are you whispering?” He smiled.

“Because you are whispering, “I whispered back, making him chuckle.

“You are smiling,” I said, mostly to myself.

“You are awake,” he said.

“And you are a girl.”

I flinched and he patted my hand.

“I am not mad.”

I scoffed, “You are always mad!”

“The fight is hardly fair, you are wounded.”

“Meaning we-”

“You just woke up, you should rest.”

“Donoghue-”

“Do not be stubborn!”

I stuck my tongue out at him and he shook his head.

“Do you hurt, anywhere?”

“My stomach, but I barely feel it.”

He eased me onto my back again as he opened my shirt.

“Donoghue!” I exclaimed in horror, trying to wiggle away from him.

He halted and frowned.

‘What?”

“You are undressing me!”
Should that not have been obvious!

“And?”

Yes, there was my old Donoghue. I missed the gentle one already!

“And?!” I asked in challenge, he had to be jesting! But I knew him well enough to know that he was dead serious.

“I need to check your wound,” he replied.

“I am not a boy, remember?!”

He laughed, “Oh how interesting. The girl is shy?”

I gave him my best glare.

“Who do you think has been dressing your wound? Or cleaning you up?”

I felt blood drain from my face.

“You would not!”

He laughed, “Alright, my mother made certain you were clean. But I am going to check your wound, I will not look at your umm…womanly parts. Alright?”

I rolled my eyes but nodded, settling on the bed once more. He drew my shirt up until only my stomach was bare, then carefully checked my wound.

“No blood, but do not move too much,” he said, putting my shirt back in place.

I frowned, “Why are they buttons on my shirt?”

And why was it two sizes too big?

“It is mine.” He replied simply, making me bite my lip.

“Oh,” was my intelligent response.

“I noticed how you enjoyed wearing my other clothes,” he smirked as he took his seat again.

I felt my face heat up, “You are evil.”

“And you need to rest.”

“I have been sleeping for…” my voice trailed as I looked to him for information.

“Weeks,” he filled in.

That was better than I expected, it felt like months!

“I do not want to sleep anymore. Can I see Henry?”

He shook his head, “He will not return from his lesson for another hour or slightly more.”

I nodded, “How is he?”

“As well as can be expected,” he sighed.

“We were all scared.”

I looked at my shirt when it finally dawned, “Your mother…she knows. And your sister?”

“She was shocked, and then disappointed. But she handled it quite well.”

“So did you,” I said quietly, making him nod.

“It…It solved quite a few issues I had.”

I grinned,” About kissing a boy?”

#Wren

She grinned at me, “About kissing a boy?”

I nodded.

Indeed, I was. But I knew better than to voice my thoughts and so I did not. Instead, I extended my hand to caress her pale cheek, instantly regretting it when I felt that familiar warmth flooding my entire being. Hazel looked into my eyes then, she had felt it too.

“Donoghue…” she began, and I raised my hand to silence her.

“No.”

“But…”

“Hazel!” I warned, but she only glared at me.

Now was not the time to discuss our feelings, whatever those were.

“Deny it all you want, but I know you feel it too.” She pouted.

“Feel wh-what?” I feigned ignorance, terribly.

Her hand came from nowhere as she touched the side of my face, “This.”

She immediately withdrew his hand before I could remove it, but the warmth was still there. It was like electricity charging through my blood, at least, what I imagined it to feel like. But there was no denying it, my attraction for Hazel. But just because it was there, did not mean I had to acknowledge it or do anything of it. Now that she was awake, I was beginning to get scared.

“No!” I repeated again, loudly this time, to drive the point home. Not that it would ever work, the girl was as stubborn as a mule. And I had seen mules tamer than her!

“Why?” She asked.

Why? I asked myself. Why? Did I need to explain anything? Could I just not want to do something without providing a reason? Why? The nerve of the girl!
But even as I debated in my mind, I knew the answer already. Even though I refused to acknowledge it.

“Were you really afraid of what people might think?”

Ha! I almost scoffed. As if I would ever!

“That is ridiculous, you are Donoghue after all,” she answered her own question with a wave of dismissal.

“Your mother then?”

I sighed, knowing the girl could go on with her theories if I did not confess the truth. So I did.

“I…” my voice trailed, I could not do it!

“Wren?” She said softly, and I almost gasped at the use of my name. In all the time I had known her, she had never, ever, used my first name! Somehow, that stirred something within me that I had never experienced before. All over a stupid name! This girl would be the death of me.

“I w-would not kn-know where to p-put everything,” I said, feeling my face heat up for the first time in my life.

Hazel looked up at me with a confused look, but then her eyes dilated in realization, and the girl laughed. She laughed. Loud, full, as if without any care in the world. I gave her this moment until she finally calmed down enough to look at me. She studied my face for a moment, her eyes twinkling with amusement, before she burst into laughter once again. I narrowed my eyes at her, having half a thought to smack the back of her head, but she was still injured. And not a boy anymore. Ha! Anymore? She had never been one!

“I apologize, you just… you surprised me, is all. I just never thought of it that way.”

I raised a brow at her.

“I did not think you would be, you know… “Her voice trailed.

“What?”

“Interested in those-” she coughed, “activities.”

Now I felt my face burn up.

I whispered in surprise,
“You are prepared to remain …celibate for me?”

She frowned, “Is that all people do in relationships?”

“What?” I asked, confused.

“You know, mate?”

“We are not animals, Hazel.” I laughed, “But of co-course not!”

“But that is why Catherine left?”

I nodded.

“It does not matter to me,” she shrugged. “I never even thought about it. I just want to be near you, and hold you, is that wrong?”

I shook my head. I did not know whether it was wrong or not but I certainly felt the same.

“Does it bother you still, that you kissed me? Thinking I was a boy?”

I nodded.

“Would you have kissed me if I was a girl?”

I shook my head, making her frown, and her wrinkled forehead looking adorable then. “Then what?”

“I like you bec-cause you are you.” I said simply, hoping she understood.

The light in her eyes told me she did, which was one of the things I liked about her. She understood me. I liked her because she had the most expressive face. You could tell when she was happy, sad, angry, confused, intrigued and so much more. And I liked her because her eyes showed me her soul, different from everyone else, and enough to pull me in. I liked her because she seemed to be made specifically for me, in almost every way. I liked her because she pushed me, made me do things I never thought I would. And I liked her because I could not help it, but love her.

It would never be a question of whether she was a boy or not, Hector…Hazel was simply just a whirlwind I could not help but be caught up in. Of course, it would have be easier and less confusing now, but her spirit would remain the same. And all the things I loved about her.

“Thank you,” she said, her eyes already drooping with exhaustion.

“For what?”

“Kissing me when I was a boy,” she chuckled.

“I will never doubt your affection.”

I suppose it was a good thing, looking at it that way.

“You need to eat,” I said.

“Later, I am tired.”

I nodded.

“Donoghue…”

“Yes?”

“I could hear you.” She said lazily.

“When I was sleeping.”

I looked at her in surprise.

“And I love you.” She whispered, a tear slipping from her eye before I lost her to sleep.

Twenty eight: WHEN THE END COMES

#Wren

She loved me.

That is what I thought of as they pulled a bag over Jonathan’s head. He did not even struggle, but he did wink at me. A shiver ran through me as I imagined him coming back again. The man did have a neck for not dying when he was supposed to, after all. I took a deep breath as they put the loose loop around his neck.

Jonathan had been charged for attempted murder, and he had admitted everything. I looked over at Rashell, she was sobbing into her handkerchief as she watched her brother. I had talked to her briefly before the final judgment. She had seen the wanted posters for her brother when he had escaped. Only to learn of his capture a few days before, and ultimately his trial. She refused to accept her only sibling could be capable of such a thing. Admitting he had his fair share of problems, but not murder. That was before she saw his face during his verdict. The man was insane. And I knew a part of Rashell would always blame Hazel for her brother’s madness. Because that was human nature, there always had to be an explanation in order for acceptance to occur. Or perhaps I was wrong? Only Rashell could confirm that.

I looked at Jonathan again, wondering again why Hazel? Why die for a woman he had only known for a few days. Perhaps if I could understand him, I could understand myself. Because I found myself dreading the day Hazel finally went outside. Would the men look at her different? Would they covet her? Of course they would! Any warm blooded male would! But she loved me.

She loved me.

I wondered why. I had more flaws than I had virtues. I was rude, and scarred, and I would never be able to treat her in the way she deserved. The last two days I had spent with her showed me that. She laughed even though I was being impossible. And she smiled even when I was not doing anything nice for her. Not once did she complain about her pain, she took it gracefully. No, I did not deserve her.

I winced as Jonathan finally got life pulled from underneath him, leaving him hanging. It was over. Hazel was safe. And if Helen ever came near her again, she would meet the same fate. Jonathan never struggled, even as the seconds passed, he remained still. I wondered if the rope was tight enough! Because mad or not, anyone would struggle if they were being forced into death. Right?
Minutes passed. They declared him dead. They took the body down. And checked. I made my way through the crowd to the spot where his body lay, even as the executor tried to hold me back. The doctor was double checking his body and he nodded at his colleague.

“He is gone,” he confirmed.

I struggled until I stumbled in front of the corpse, and the doctors gave me a puzzled look.

“He is really gone?” I asked.

The one still next to the corpse frowned, “Who are you? Are you of kin?”

I shook my head as I dropped to my knees, slipping my knife from my sleeve as I plunged it into Jonathan’s eye. Everyone shrieked. Arms held me back. I did not struggle, only watched as blood ran down Jonathan’s face, as he remained still. I smiled.

Jonathan really was dead.

“What is wrong with you?!” The doctor cried out.

Two men held me back as the judge stepped up the platform and looked down at us.

“What is going on here?”

“He just came out of nowhere, stuck his knife into the corpse!” The executor exclaimed.

“Why?” The old man frowned at me.

I maintained eye contact but remained silent. They probably thought me mad. And I did not blame them.

“Take him away, lock him for the night.”

I frowned at him,” For what?”

“Corpse tempering,” he said with an air of authority.

I almost rolled my eyes, a result of spending too much time with Hazel. The two men led me away, but not before I saw the look of contempt Rashell gave me. I did not blame her either.

But I needed to make sure Jonathan really was dead this time around. And spending a night behind bars was not too big a price to pay.

#Hazel

“He what?!”

I listened impatiently as the old man explained to me that he had left Donoghue behind. Behind bars! And the imbecile had not even told me he was going to Jonathan’s execution!

To run an errand, he had said. I will be back soon. Pugh, I was such a fool. Falling for those silver eyes! And I wish I could say never again, but I knew that would be lying.

That stammering fool! I would hit him when I saw him. Hit him as hard as my pain would allow. Pain that was dwindling, but still present nonetheless.

“We have to go and get him,” I said, swinging my legs off the bed.

As much as I wanted to kill him, he would not survive the night. I did not know much about prison cells, but they could not be clean enough for him, of that I was certain. I loved many things about Donoghue, including his obsessive behavior. It was endearing. But it would be the death of him one day!

“Where do you think you are going, lass?” Matthias’ eyes widened.

“To get Donoghue, of course! Where you left him.” I accused, even though I knew it was that fool’s own fault.

“You cannot, you are still healing!” He protested.

“And tomorrow we could be attending Donoghue’s funeral!” I countered.

The old man scoffed, “It is only one night.”

“An entire night. In a prison cell. A small, filthy, prison cell. With other prisoners around, obviously.” I stressed, watching as realization dawned on the old man’s face.

“Yes, he will die!” I added, looking around for shoes.

“There is nothing we can do.”

“We need money to pay a fine or something.”

“Not we, young lady, just me.”

“I am not-”

“Wren will kill me if he sees you there! Then it will be my funeral you attend tomorrow!”

I huffed, irritated with his logic.

“Alright.”

“Good. And you, make sure she does not leave this room!” He instructed my brother. “I will do everything I can to get him out.”

The traitor nodded and I glared at him. I waited until the old man left, praying he managed to get Donoghue before the fool died! Or worse, actually killed someone who was not already dead! Or they could just kill him for being difficult. Because he was, difficult. Especially if he did not get his way.

“I cannot believe he did that!” I complained.

“He loves you,” my young brother said simply.

I wished that were true. Two days and Donoghue had not said anything to me. Yes, he attended to my every need, barely ever left my side, but still no I love you Hazel. No I cannot live without you. Pugh, not that Donoghue would ever be that…romantic. And he had not kissed me again either.

“Anything else you people are hiding from me?”

Henry shook his head and I narrowed my eyes at him, and he fidgeted.

“Helen was here.”

“What?!”

He winced, “She found us, but Mr. Donoghue chased her away.”

“And no one thought to mention this to me? Seriously Henry, Helen? And you kept quiet?”

“She will not bother us anymore, and Mr. Donoghue did not want you to worry.”

“Well, I am worried now!”

“She will not come back, Hazel,” my brother pacified.

I glared at him,” You still should have told me, Henry. This concerns our family.”

He smiled, “You should have seen him, Hazel, he was great! Totally scared them both, I have never seen him so angry!”

“Both?” I frowned,” Helen and who?”

He bit his lip and I narrowed my eyes at him again.

“Catherine,” he mumbled.

“Catherine? His not so dead wife?”

He nodded hesitantly.

“What was she doing here?”

“I do not know, I only saw her after…” his voice trailed before he continued, “I just found them outside your room. She was signing some papers, for their…umm, separation. I have forgotten the word they used.”

Not only was his wife not dead, but she was still his wife! They were not divorced?! I saw red. Was it too late to call Matthias back? Donoghue deserved to spend the day in a cell. He could crawl in a hole and die for all I cared! A hole full of filth! Ha! I wondered what would kill him first, starvation or his own mind.

“Do not be mad,” my traitor of a sibling said.

I gave him a small smile, “I am not mad, dear brother, I am livid. Seething, if you will. I am going to feed you both to the chickens!”

He grimaced, “Do they eat meat?”

I rolled my eyes, “The pigs then. And you will not be missed!”

Henry laughed, “You are being a girl!”

“Yes, and I will wear a dress to your funeral too! I will just get one from Michelle,” I glared, smiling when Henry continued laughing.

“I missed you,” he finally said, wiping tears from his eyes.

He embraced me and I smiled back.

“I missed you too, little brother.”

“Are you two not sweet?”

I looked up at Michelle and I remembered we had not locked the door behind Matthias. Donoghue would kill me if he knew! He had been adamant about it, my door was to be locked at all times.

“Michelle, what are you doing here?” I asked.

She had not been to see me since I woke up, I figured from embarrassment.

“My brother told me to check on you, to ensure you were not stressing your wound.”

She looked like she wanted to be anywhere but here, and I could not blame her. A lot had transpired between us.

“My own brother is babysitting, so no worries.”

She nodded stiffly and turned to go.

“Michelle, wait.”

She stopped and I looked at my brother, “Please leave us.”

He nodded and walked to the door, closing it behind him. I took a deep breath.

“I am sorry.” I began.

Michelle looked at me, surprised.

“I deceived you, and for that, I apologize.”

“I was the one who behaved like a lunatic,” she mumbled.

“True. But if I had not lied, we could have avoided the misunderstanding.”

She frowned, “That is very generous of you.”

“I am just being fair.”

She smiled,” I do not know, you are pretty good looking, boy or not.”

We both laughed at that.

“And you are insane, and I still do not like you. But perhaps we can call a truce?” I said, extending my hand.

“You do not want to kiss on it?” She jested but gave me a small shake.

I grimaced, “Sorry, you are the wrong Donoghue!”

She laughed, “How did you fool all of us, you are such a girl!”

I shrugged, “You all saw what you wanted. And I wanted to come clean so many times, you were both being so stubborn.”

“You make him happy though, Wren, I mean.”

“I did not think you meant Matthias!” I rolled my eyes, making her smile.

“I can see why you appeal to him so much,” she rolled her own eyes, “you are like a female Lawrence.”

“And yet you loved me,” I taunted.

“Please, let us not speak of that again, ever!”

“Aww Michelle, you do not want me anymore? Because we can share a wardrobe?” I mock pouted.

She laughed, “You are evil! I hope you die!’

I laughed too as she walked to the door.

“I am happy for Wren, honestly.”

I nodded, believing she meant it. She exited and I sighed, I could only hope Matthias found Donoghue before he died.

My handsome farmer, who could protect me from everything, it seemed. But hopelessly terrified of germs, how interesting!
At least he did not have to worry about that anymore, because I intended to kill him. After I kissed him. Hard. Then I would kill him.

#Wren

“She would not let you sleep here,” Matthias said when I gave him a questioning look.

I quickly looked behind him and around.

“Relax, she is home. Not that she did not try to come with!” He laughed.

“How did you-”

“Oh, I just paid a fine. The girl suggested it, said you would die if you spent a night in here. Judging from the looks of you, you appear to be getting there!”

I would have smiled, if I did not feel like a million things were crawling on me. I needed new clothes, and now!

And then I was going to tell Hazel I loved her.

Twenty nine part 1: A DIFFERENT KIND OF PROPOSAL

#Wren

“You lied to me!” She shouted, making me wince as if I had been slapped.

Judging from how frequently she was clenching and unclenching her fist, I should expect that any time now. She looked beautiful though, I never thought a woman could look beautiful whilst angry. This woman was driving me all sorts of mad.

“After you have drilled it into me how much you detest liars!”

I raised a brow, thinking it was amusing how she thought we were equals in everything! It was my job to take care of her, and provide for her and make rules. Not the other way round. And we were most certainly not equals!

“Why would you do such a thing?” She shouted.

I struggled not to laugh, since she really was making an effort to be mad at me.

“Donoghue!”

I blinked at her, my eyes twinkling with amusement no doubt. I approached her slowly as she narrowed her brilliant eyes at me.

“You smell nice,” she mumbled, as she raised a hand to stop me.

I grinned,” I bathed.”

She rolled her eyes, “Of course.”

I took the hands that were acting as a barrier into both of mine, and decreased the space between us. I felt no panic, she was an extension of my personal space. A part of me. I would never panic. My heart settled to a beat in sync with hers as I clasped our hands together and looked into her eyes. She was so short it was endearing, and I almost laughed at the thought.

“You are mad at me,” I said, caressing the back of her hands.

“You are a genius!” She widened her eyes in mock enthusiasm.

“Why are you mad?” I whispered.

“Because Helen was here, in your home, and you did not tell me!”

“What else?”

“You were still married! How is that even possible?”

Were,” I emphasized, “but not anymore.”

“I am not amused, Donoghue!”

“And I care not for your tantrums, you know better than to try them on me.” I said honestly.

She gasped, and if I was not holding her hands, she would have slapped me then.

“You are incorrigible!”

“And you love me.”

She narrowed her eyes at me and I raised a brow at her.

“Is that why you are mad?”

She huffed, making me smile.

“You are such a woman!” I exclaimed in amusement.

“You would know, you undressed me!”

“I saved you.”

She scoffed.

“Just say it.”

“Say what?”

“Why you are mad.”

“I do not like it when you whisper,” she gulped, and I smirked.

“Why are you mad, Hazel?”

She frowned at me, “I intensely dislike you, Donoghue.”

I smiled, “Do you?”

She shook her head, “Unfortunately, no.”

“So why are you mad?”

She sighed, “I told you I loved you, and yes, I meant it.”

“And?”

“You were…quiet,” she mumbled the last part but I heard her clearly.

“What was I supposed to say?” I chuckled, amused.

“I do not know,” she bit her lip nervously, “but something.”

“Like I love you?”’ I said, making her bring her eyes up quickly to meet mine.

I kissed her then, with every emotion I had. It was new, and exhilarating, and confusing and frightening; all at once. But for once, I welcomed it. Because this was where I was supposed to be. She was made for me, as I was made for her. No doubts, no looking back, no regrets. This was what love felt like. It was joy. It was fear. It was pleasure. It was pain. But it was all perfect.

We both came up for air before she grabbed my hair and kissed me again. I wondered what it would feel like to put my tongue on hers. Would it pleasurable, disgusting or suffocating. Would I be able to do it, and would she be alright with it.

She broke away, but near enough that I could feel her breath on my lips, “Stop thinking!”

I smiled and attacked her mouth again, this time throwing caution to the wind and venturing into unchartered waters. I begged for entrance which she afforded me, and our tongue began a beautiful dance. I felt proud of myself, no panic yet. Even if I was to die from this, what a beautiful death it was!

It felt good not to think about anything for once. I had never played as a child because I feared death. Never really experienced life. Until this beautiful, stubborn and intriguing woman walked into my life. And to think I had wanted to chase her away once, I was glad I went back for her. Because now I could not imagine life without her.

I pulled away.

“Hazel.”

Her lips were beautifully swollen and her unique eyes were slightly jaded. I did that, I thought with pride.

“This better be good, “she growled, and I chuckled.

“I am not very good with words,” I began.

“Yes, you stammering fool,” she stuck her tongue out at me.

That tongue that could create so many wonderful sensations!

“And what we have is very…unorthodox.”

She rolled her eyes, “I am a girl, Donoghue, there is nothing unorth-”

“Will you please keep quiet?”

She huffed, but complied.

“I meant we have never had time to court like normal-”

“You mean ordinary, boring-”

She hushed when I glared at her, then dared to blink innocently at me. I sighed.

“I have had to save you more times than I have actually courted you,” I continued, pleasantly uninterrupted this time.

“I do not know or understand all that we have, but I do know that I want it all.”

She licked her lips, “Hmm, keep whispering like that and you will get it all.”

I laughed. It was interesting how my whispering seemed to affect her so, when I only did it so that I would not stammer. Something she had brought to my attention and knowledge.

“I never divorced Catherine because I was too angry to look for her, and it never mattered to me. Until I thought that you would lose your family.”

She looked up at me with love in her eyes, if love could ever be visible. I saw it then, in her tears. And I felt it in my heart. My pulse increased in sync with hers.

“Not only that, but when I thought I would lose you too. That Jonathan had taken you away from me.”

She flinched when I mentioned his name but I continued.

“I love you, Hazel, if you want my feelings summed up into words. If love is fear of losing you, then yes, I love you. If love is the stirring I feel in my loins every time you touch me, then yes, I love you. And if love is the peace I feel whenever I am with you, then yes, I bloody love you.”

She rolled her eyes, “And he said he was not good with words!”

I laughed, “Will you just let me finish?”

She mumbled something that I did not catch, but it mattered not.

“I can explain everything, tell you everything you want to know, but now, will you forgive me?”

She rolled her eyes and nodded.

“Will you love me?”

“I never had a choice in the matter.”

“Will you listen to me when I tell you not to do something?”

She laughed, “Most definitely not!”

“But you will marry me?”

She blinked rapidly as she looked into my eyes, I had clearly caught her by surprise. I smiled, she was still just staring at me. Nothing. Silence. Hazel was speechless! I never thought I would see the day!

“I will not wear a dress,” she finally said, and I looked at her, confused.

“For the wedding,” she explained, making me smile. And kiss her.

#Hazel

“Will you love me?” He asked, and I almost scoffed.

I loved him from the first moment I saw those silver eyes, and I had been delirious then!

“I never had a choice in the matter.” I replied honestly.

“Will you listen to me when I tell you not to do something?” He went on.

I laughed, “Most definitely not!” Had this man ever met me at all??

“But you will marry me?”

WHAT?!

I could not stop blinking as I looked into his beautiful eyes, he had clearly caught me by surprise with that. He smiled, even as I battled with my thoughts. He had rendered me speechless! What could I say to that? Donoghue wanted to marry me? My grumpy Donoghue, wanted to marry me?

Me?

So I said the only thing I could say at that moment.

“I will not wear a dress,” I said, and he looked at me, obviously confused by my random comment.

“For the wedding,” I explained, making him smile.

And then he kissed me. My new favorite kiss, his tongue in contact with mine. This was a new level of intimacy for him, and I knew he must truly love and trust me for him to do so. He was my beautiful farmer, with his flaws as any human had. But he loved me, and he was all mine. And I was lucky to have him in this way.

My husband. Lawrence Donoghue.

“Wren,” I said as we pulled apart.

He smiled, “You called me Wren.”

“You asked me to marry you, it is a special occasion,” I rolled my eyes. Seriously, this man!

He laughed.

“You do not even know my last name,” I pouted.

“Donoghue?” He said in childish innocence as he faked confusion.

I laughed and hit him playfully.

“Shut up and kiss me, Donoghue.”

“With pleasure.”

And kiss me, he did.

Twenty nine part 2: A DIFFERENT KIND OF WIFE

#Wren

Her hair was almost covering her eyes again, which was such a shame because I loved it when she was not hiding. Her rosy lips were pursed in an endearing pout as she put her boots on. It was a hilarious sight, but she appeared determined. As if nothing in the world could deter her or hinder her from accomplishing this task.

“Are you Ce-certain those boots are n-not too heavy for y-you?”

She looked up at me and glared, making me laugh in the process.

“I am fine.”

“Of course,” I laughed, deciding to leave her be.

“You are laughing at me,” she narrowed her eyes in accusation.

Indeed, I was. But I knew better than to voice my thoughts and so I did not. Instead, I extended a hand to help her stand, instantly regretting it when I felt that familiar warmth flooding my entire being. Hazel looked into my eyes then, she had felt it too. Seriously, I could not touch her without reacting like a darn boy! I turned to put some much needed distance between us.

“Donoghue, wait!” She called after me.

I ignored her until I heard a soft thud and half a cry. I looked back to find her on the ground, covered in dirt, mouthing a curse. Now it was my turn to laugh, I had told her those boots were too darn heavy! I did not offer to help her as she struggled to right herself, and she glared at me for that. She sat on the ground and spit to the side, then looked at me.

“I hate you.”

I shook my head, “You love me.”

“Unfortunately,” she mumbled, and I extended my hand to help her.

“Why are y-you s-so stubborn?”

“I am not, I am just determined.”

I shook my head again at her, not being able to help it but love her anyway.

“I told y-you I do not like you working around the farm.”

“And I told you, I am no housewife!”

I had long since realized that, she was helpless around the house. And my mother had begged me to keep her away from her kitchen! But our wedding was in three days, and there was so much to do…or so my mother and sister kept saying. I had told them I wanted no part in it, and apparently my bride felt the same.

“I will kill your mother if I hear anything more about lilac frills or flowers!” She huffed.

I laughed then extended my arm, “Come.”

She hooked her arm in mine as she struggled to walk. I was taking her back to the house to change, evidently she would get nowhere with those boots. We were still sharing our joined room, so I went into mine as I left her to change.

“Wear your best shirt and coat,” I told her as I kissed her forehead and left.

She frowned but I knew her curiosity would make her comply. And so I whistled as I closed my door and began undressing.

#Hazel

The small chapel was beautiful, and somehow it reminded me of my mother.

“What are we doing here, Donoghue?” I asked as I hugged my coat close to me. It was a bit chilly and I had worn Donoghue’s old coat, which was still my favorite.

He winked at me and took my hand, pulling me inside. I shook my head and smiled. The inside was pretty, and I looked around until an old man cleared his throat.

“How can I help you, children?”

He was clothed in the robes of a priest, and I smiled at how they seemed to swallow him.

I looked at Donoghue as I waited for his answer.

“Will you m-marry us, priest?”

My pulse increased at that, surely he was not just telling me this now. I looked at myself, I was so not dressed for a wedding.

“This is so sudden,” the priest frowned.

“I assure y-you, we have thought long about this. And we s-simply cannot wait.” My handsome man grinned like a child.

The old priest was quiet for a while until he smiled, “Your marriage license?”

Donoghue smiled and produced the document. I frowned at him, had he planned this?

“I do not see your witnesses.”

Donoghue’s face paled, he clearly had not thought of that. But the priest waved his hand dismissively.

“No matter, two of the altar boys can stand in for you,” he provided, making Donoghue smile again.

“I will have you both confess before we begin,” he said, and we both nodded.

“Who will go first, it matters not either way.”

Donoghue looked nervous, clearly never having done this before. I took his hand and squeezed it, telling him silently that I would go first.

It took us both about thirty minutes to finish our confessionals, and when Donoghue finally came out, the two altar boys had finished preparing everything. I wondered why the chapel was vacant to begin with, but there had to be some occasion in the evening. Judging from the decorations. It had been such a long time since I had been part of a congregation, I should probably join this one.

“Alright, we may begin.”

We took our places, kneeling in front of the priest as he prayed for us and gave us Holy Communion and wine.

“We are gathered here today, to witness the sacrament of marriage. As declared by God, it is not right for man to be alone. This is not a simple step that you have taken, but rather a divine testament of your love.”

I stole a glance at Donoghue and he winked at me again.

“I bless your decision, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

“Amen,” we both said in unison.

“Please rise to your feet and take each other’s hands as I bless the symbols of your union.”

We did so as one of the boys presented a cushion with two rings. I shook my head, smiling. I could not believe Donoghue already had the rings and I knew nothing of it. When his mother had been nagging him for ages to take care of it! I missed the blessing of the rings as I stared at him, until he squeezed my hand to bring me back to the present.

“Have you prepared your vows?”

My eyes widened at that, but Donoghue smiled at me and I knew I need not have prepared anything, I just had to speak from my heart.

“Hazel,” he began, “you are stubborn and set in your ways.”

I rolled my eyes but could not help but smile.

“And y-you frustrate me at times, and anger me in others. You also make me smile, and laugh and fear, b-but in everything you have ever done s-since I met you, y-you make me f-feel.”

I felt a tear slip from my eye but made no attempt to wipe it. He smiled.

“I was dead b-before I met y-you, and I did not care about anything. And then I saw those eyes, and I f-felt this p-pull towards you. Even if it was wrong at the t-time, it was still there. And it has only grown ever since.”

My tears kept flowing.

“I am afraid of many things, but nothing scares me more than the thought of losing you. Being away from you. Or y-you l-leaving me. I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life doing so. Laughing with you. Fighting with you. Living life with you. Our love may not be perfect, but it makes me whole, and I am grateful you have given it to me.”

He took his ring and slipped it on my finger, “This is only a symbol of my love, everything I feel for you is stored right here.” He placed his other hand over his heart.

I exhaled, that had been the most beautiful thing I had ever had! I wondered why he kept saying he was no good with words!

“Hazel?” The priest turned to me, and I took another deep breath.

“Donoghue,” I began, and he smiled. “Lawrence,” I amended, making him laugh.

“I love you. And I want, more than anything, to be your wife. Even if I am an unconventional one, I still want to be yours. I want to grow old with you and I want to kiss you every time you are mad at me for leaving a mess behind me; which is every time. Our love may be different, but it makes me whole too. And happier than I ever thought possible. I could never want for anything, as long as I have you.”

I took my ring,” This is a symbol of my love, but the source is my soul.”
I placed it on his finger, raising his hand to my lips and kissing it gently.

“What God has joined, let no man separate. I now pronounce man and wife, you may seal your union with a kiss.”

Donoghue grinned at me, making me laugh before he captured my lips with his own. It was short and sweet, and I longed for more. But I knew there would be time for that. I was still smiling as we walked out hand in hand, as man and wife.

He stopped and turned to me.

“You will not regret this?”

“Never.”

“And you will not burn me?” He smirked.

“Only if you do not stab me,” I winked.

“Then I made the right choice,” he laughed, giving me a small kiss.

“You made an excellent choice!”

“Till death do us part?”

“Till your mother kills us both for doing this!”

We both laughed, “Then that will be soon.”

I nodded,” But worth it.”

“I love you,” he said seriously.

I touched his face, running my hand across his scar as he closed his eyes.

“I love you more.” I whispered.

“That is unlikely,” he smiled.

I smirked, “Prove it.”

“A marriage is not a marriage until it is consummated, correct?”

My head shot up at that, “Wren, you do not-”

“Shut up and bloody kiss me!”

And kiss him, I did.

Thirty: ONLY THE BEGINNING

#Wren

I gazed at my wife as she slept after another round of lovemaking, she looked beautiful. But I loved it even more when those brilliant eyes were wide open and looking only at me, she never ceased to take my breath away.

I loved her. In ways I never thought I was capable of, and I was still learning new things about her! I still felt jealous whenever men looked at her, which was every time she left the house! But I knew she only had eyes for me, and that pacified me somewhat. My love for her was consuming, scary at times, but rewarding at most.

And she had given me a family I never thought I could have.

#Hazel

“Hmmm, I like this consummation thing,” my husband whispered, biting my earlobe.

I groaned, “You have been saying that for the last eight years!”

And he had!

“Hmm, you make everything fantastic.” He growled.

“And you make me pregnant!” I rolled my eyes, pushing him off me.

He frowned, “Are you f-feeling alright?”

I touched his forehead, “Are you? You worry more about this pregnancy than I do!”

“Because you are always on your feet!” He complained.

“Not true! You have me on my back most of the time!”

He smirked, “That is not true, love. You have me on my back most of the time!”

I laughed and kissed him softly, “I love it either way.”

“Of course you do!”

“Mama?”

Donoghue quickly got off me and I thanked the heavens we were dressed.

“Yes, darling. Come here.”

I made room for my son and patted the space next to me.

“What is it?”

“Grand mama and I made some biscuits, would you like some?” He smiled his little chubby smile, making me smile back.

“What about your papa, Hector? Have you forgotten him?” Donoghue asked, with an equally huge smile.

The boy laughed, “No. Only for mama!”

“Ha! I will go away then,” my husband made to leave the bed and Hector chuckled, climbing over me to get to his father.

“No papa, I love you. Please stay!”

“Alright, alright, I will stay. And where are the b-biscuits?”

“I will bring them!” He shouted happily, before running out of the room.

“He has so much energy! Just like his momma.”

I laughed, and patted the distance he had created between us. “You are too far.”

He returned and gathered me in his arms. I loved it when he did this, shared his space with me. Even after eight years of marriage, I knew he still struggled with it. So I was grateful that he could do this for me and our son.

“You should lock the door,” I scolded, “I do not want our son to see things he should not!”

My husband grinned sheepishly, “I am sorry. I got carried away.”

I rolled my eyes as he patted my belly.

“I am bigger than I was with Hector.”

“Yes, but I find I rather enjoy it,” he smirked, his sneaky hand finding its way to my now generous bosom.

“Donoghue!” I scolded, but smiled afterwards.

“I am sorry, I think we must be magnetized.”

His hand started moving towards me again, “See, I cannot help it!”

He squeezed and let go when I pinched his side, laughing. I loved this man, how attentive he was to me during both pregnancies. He had proved to be quite the insatiable man after we had consummated our marriage, and I was not complaining! He had come so far for me, and I tried by all means to keep my surroundings clean for him. Which was getting more difficult as our son grew and learnt to explore.

It had been his idea to name him Hector, because Hector would always be a huge part of our love story. And Henry was the boy’s Godfather, while Michelle was his Godmother. She had married Jacob, to everyone’s surprise, and they were happy together. Oddly paired, but still happy. Henry was running the farm mostly, while Donoghue handled the finances and spent most of his time with me.

We had travelled together, always finding new adventures wherever we went. But most importantly, we were happy together. Every day with him was simply amazing, and he never ceased to surprise me. My family was amazing really.

“You are incorrigible,” I shook my head, laughing.

“And you love me.”

I nodded, “I do.”

“I love you more,” he grinned.

I scoffed, “Prove it.”

“Let me go and lock the door,” he smirked.

“I did not mean that! Donoghue, seriously!”

“But forever?” He asked.

I loved it how he still got vulnerable when it came to me. For all his strengths, my husband still feared losing me. And I knew he had someone keeping an eye on Helen even after all this time!

“Forever, love,” I confirmed, “even when you are a grumpy old man!”

He laughed just as our son burst into the room. My husband was right, he really had too much energy! And he was now covered on flour.

“Ah ah, Hector, what did I say?”

He pouted and stood by the bed, tray in his hand.

“That I should be clean for papa?”

I nodded and sat upright.

“Give me the tray and grab a clean cloth from the chair.”

He gave me the tray and hurried to clean himself, doing a terrible job of it.

“I will clean him up,” my husband offered, kissing my temple and leaving the bed.

I watched them, father and son. So alike and yet so different. Hector had his father’s eyes, and hair. But he had my spirit and complexion.

“I am sorry, papa,” Hector said sadly.

Donoghue smiled and kissed his white forehead, “It is alright, son.”

“I love you, papa.”

“I love you too, Hector.”

And I loved them both.

The end.

About the author:

A quirky twenty-three year old who loves storytelling and is inspired by the people around her.

In love with SpongeBob square pants, allergic to pink and eats cereal thrice daily, she considers herself the only normal person in the world, everyone else is just weird.

Contact: [email protected], she loves chatting!


A Different kind of lad.

Wren Donoghue might be handsome, with intense silver eyes and a body to die for...but he's an A-class jerk. He has scars that will never heal, a permanent limp and a stutter, just the excuses he needs to be horrible to everyone. Until he meets Hector. A deer trap accident forces Hazel's brother to lie about her identity to keep her safe, thus 'Hector' is born. Hector is just the smallest and most beautiful boy Wren has ever seen, and not only does he feels drawn to him, Hector seems to like him back...a lot! With Wren's sister falling in love with Hector and a gorgeous psychopath obsessed with the unique boy as well, Hector drags trouble wherever he goes. What happens when Wren discovers Hector is not actually a boy? Will it be in time to save their love from everyone who wishes to destroy it?

  • ISBN: 9781311771193
  • Author: Dylanne Enough
  • Published: 2016-06-21 14:35:14
  • Words: 77114
A Different kind of lad. A Different kind of lad.