Rachel urged the horse faster. He was a magnificent animal and moved like the wind. George was having trouble keeping up, and she didn’t care.
“Rrrrachel! Slow down!” he called.
Rachel eased up and let the horse slow and George catch up. She had him walking in circles by the time George made it to the clearing.
“You shouldn’t do that! The master will kill us if anything happens to that horse,” gasped George.
“Master or Maggie?” asked Rachel. She’d learned in the last few weeks that Maggie was more of a danger than Raven Darkwing.
“Both. Okay, both of them will kill you. He’d just be faster,” George said.
Rachel nodded. She’d angered Maggie a week ago and ended up scrubbing pots and pans all day. “Sorry, it just felt so good to run,” she said.
“Aye, and we’re too close to the border of the Darkwing lands. Need to head home,” said George. He turned his horse and started back. “Come on!” he urged.
With a sigh, Rachel turned the horse and they headed back. When they had cooled down the horses and put them in their stalls, Rachel and George headed into the manor for dinner. George had just gotten their food when Maggie came into the room.
“You,” she said pointing at Rachel. “Master Raven wants you in his study. Just take your dinner as he’s in there eating. Go! Hurry up!” Maggie felt she wasn’t moving fast enough and grabbed the trencher out from under her nose. She headed out of the room and Rachel had no choice but to follow. George laughed when they were out of sight.
Raven wasn’t surprised when Maggie burst into the room followed by Rachel. Maggie plopped down a trencher, made sure Rachel was in the room and then left.
“I was told you wanted me?” Rachel asked.
“No, but never mind. Maggie obviously thought we should spend time together and so let’s not make her mad,” said Raven.
Rachel nodded and pulled her trencher over to what she was beginning to think of as her spot. On the low table next to the chair was the book she’d been reading. Rachel had finished the one on breeding and training and had started a romance that Raven recommended. She didn’t think much of it, but she’d finish it. If for no other reason than that she got to sit and not do chores.
“How was your ride today?” Raven asked.
“Good. He handles real well now,” she said between mouthfuls.
“Glad to hear it. Next time though, don’t go so far,” he said with a bit of an edge to his voice.
“Did George rat on me?” she asked.
“No. the shepherds who’s flocks you scattered did. Keep in mind that my lands border the territories that the slavers frequent. You’ve been taken once, and I’d rather not have that happen again,” he said.
Rachel thought about that statement as she ate. “Does that mean he likes me? Or, is he just protecting his investment?” she wondered. “Alright. We just got moving and it felt so good to run,” she finally answered.
It was Raven’s turn to nod. That was the easy part. He’d gotten a letter from a merchant he did business with and had found out what happened to Rachel’s family. What he didn’t know how to do was tell her.
The two of them finished their meals, and Rachel stood up to take the trencher and fine china to the kitchen. Raven stopped her. He took the tray from her hand and put his hand under her chin to tilt her face towards his.
“Rachel, sit down. We need to talk for a moment,” he said.
“All right,” Rachel said just a bit confused. She wondered why he’d waited until now when they’d had most of the evening to talk.
“I… I spoke to a friend about you. Had him check to see if your family had survived the slave raid and if there was anyone I could let know you’d survived,” he started.
“And,” she hesitated.
Raven picked up a letter and held it up. “He wrote back. ‘Lord Raven, I inquired of the family you spoke of at market. Upon hearing no news, I rode out. Nothing. Buildings burned or ransacked. Livestock taken or destroyed. I buried the people I found, not knowing if they were family or servants. I suspect that the big male may have been the lass’s father.’ is what he said,” he finished quietly.
Rachel took in the words and yet it didn’t seem real. They couldn’t be dead. It couldn’t be possible. “No! No! This is a lie!” she cried out.
“No Rachel, it isn’t. The merchant sent this as well,” he said as he held up a chain that was scorched and damaged. It was part of a châtelaine.
Rachel looked at it and then the tears began to well up in her eyes. It had been her mother’s. Her mother would have never taken it off unless for bed. Rachel started to crumple to her knees. Raven stepped forward quickly and caught Rachel in his arms. She sobbed against his chest. Not knowing what else to do, Raven held her. He sat down and pulled her into his lap. Her cries were wrenching sobs that shook her body. Raven never heard the door open or Maggie come in.
“What in the hell did you do to her?” she asked scathingly.
“I had to tell her she is an orphan,” said Raven still holding the sobbing Rachel. He pointed to the letter and scrap of metal. Maggie picked up both items. She read the letter. She put them down on the desk and walked out of the room with the tray. Tears streamed down her face.
It took nearly twenty minutes for Rachel to exhaust herself. Raven gave her his handkerchief to wipe her face and blow her nose. He swept the wet hair tendrils back from her face and then ever so gently kissed her forehead. He wanted to do so much more. To never let her experience that kind of pain again. To kill the slavers who destroyed her family. To hold her in his arms and kiss away the tears. Instead, he picked her up, and carried her to her room.
Setting her on her bed, he took off her boots and then got her to lay her head on the pillow. Raven covered her up and kissed her again on the forehead. She never said a word the entire time. He blew out the candle and left.