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Authors: Elisabeth-Cristine Analise

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BOOK: Underground Captive
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Underground Captive
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
21

 

"It's not only that," Charles interrupted, irritated that Blanche defended Nicki's actions so readily.   "The girl's getting out of hand.  She arrived from school two weeks early.  Not only didn't she have the decency to let me know, she thought nothing of the improprieties of returning home with a proper chaperone.."

    
             
Blanche threw up her hands.  "Bah!  Decency!  Maybe if you would not spend so much time with Antoinette, you would have been at your house on Rue Dauphine."

    
             
"Antoinette has nothing to do with this."

    
             
"I know,
mon frere
.  It's Nicki."

    
             
"
Oui
!  If I get a hint of propriety out of Nicollette, I'm grateful."

    
             
"What does the girl do that is not proper? She is young.  She is no different than you when you were her age," she reminded him, a little softer.

    
             
"That is the point I am making," Charles sighed, troubled.  "She is a young lady, but she has the iron will and rebellious nature of a young man.  The only way I can make her behave like a lady befitting her status is to see her married to someone respectable."

    
             
Her eyes narrowed.  "Like Jared Fleming?"

    
             
"
Oui
!  You've met the man.  He would be able to handle Nicki."

    
             
Blanche eyed him with doubt, then laughed.  "Nicki acting like a young lady today doesn't guarantee she'll continue to act like a lady next week, no matter who she is married to."

Charles groaned.

    
             
"Admit it,
cheri
, you admire her.  You have an innate knowledge that she will survive no matter what.  From the time Nicki was a very small girl she has shown herself quite capable of fending for herself."

    
             
"Please, spare me," Charles growled, holding up his hands in protest.  "My pride in Nicki is blown to the wind when she drives me to distraction with the things she does."

    
             
"I do believe your senses are leaving you.  What has Nicki done now?"

    
             
"Do you know she has aspirations to marry a wealthy planter, whom she can also love?  Tell me, how many times have you heard of such a match?  It is a rare thing, indeed."

    
             
Her soft laughter floated through the air.  "I don't understand your reasoning.  You and Marie-Claude had one of those marriages. Maman and PaPa. Rene and

I—“

    
             
"All right, you've made your point.  Marie-Claude and I  indeed had something more, and were deeply in love."

"
Oui
, but why Jared Fleming?"

    
             
"There is something regal about him," he said after a moment, "though he is only a carriage builder and a man of very modest means compared to our family.  He has enough money to take care of a wife.  And I will see to it that Nicki's sizable dowry takes care of the rest."

    
             
"You have them married already?" Blanche gasped.  "What about the other young gentlemen who call upon her?"

 

Underground Captive
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
21

 

    
             
Charles scowled.  "Their fawning won't get them anywhere with Nicollette.  I know Jared won't fawn over anyone.  There's something about him that suggests he should be the one fawned over."

"He does appear that way."

    
             
"I see in Jared honor, dignity, compassion, modesty, and bravery.  Everything Nicki should have--everything Nicki deserves in a husband.  Everything I wish Ricard could be," he said, his voice suddenly filled with sadness.

"Ricard," Blanche said quietly.  "Gone three years."

Charles nodded gloomily.

    
             
"That's a long time for any man to go without seeing his only son."

    
             
"I know.  Today is his twenty-fourth birthday and I know nothing of how he is."  The pain of Ricard's absence diminished the merriment that usually sparkled in Charles's eyes.  "God, what possessed the boy to leave in such a rush?  True, we argued.  But we always argued.  What was so different this time?  France?  I couldn't believe it at first.  I still cannot believed that Ricard went all the way to France to rid himself of me."

    
             
Sighing, Blanche stood, walked over to her brother, and hugged him.  "Oh, Charles, one day soon our Ricard will return home to Crescent Wood."

"I hope you are right.  I miss him terribly."

    
             
Blanche kissed him on the cheek and withdrew from his embrace.  "
Cheri
, I thought Nicki would return before I left.  But I must take my leave to return to the city in time for Michel's arrival from his plantation."

    
             
"I understand.  I'm sure Nicki will also.  Thank you for listening to me."

"Anytime, Charles. 
Au revoir, cheri
."

 

Underground Captive
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
21

 

    
             
Walking down the wide steps toward the carriage house, she waved a final good-bye.

    
             
Charles released a long breath, pushing thoughts of Ricard to the back of his mind.

    
             
Why would Jared, a young man with obvious good breeding, want to live among the worst kaintocks in the city?  Charles wouldn't object to his daughter living in the American sector, but he would never agree to her living down by the ramparts.  Jared would have to buy a house on Saint Charles Avenue.

    
             
He'd kept in contact with Jared through their business dealings.  Not only did Charles have carriages made for Crescent Wood, over the years he had recommended several of his friends to Jared.

For some reason, he had never extended an invitation for Jared to visit

Crescent Wood until today.  Of course the reason today was Nicki.  His and Jared's business had always been completed over supper at Maspero's or at the Saint L
oui
s Hotel.

             
It would be no small task getting Jared and Nicki together.  Nicki's views were liberal, but Charles knew her dislike for Americans and anything not Creole.  He didn't have the aversion to Americans that his daughter and so many of his friends did.

    
             
But was Jared an American?  His accent sounded Irish.  Charles didn't even know how Jared felt about Creoles.  Jared was acquainted with quite a few Creole gentlemen.  That was business, however—a necessity, not a choice.

All anyone knew about Jared Fleming was only what the man wanted them to know, Charles realized.  But he would discover every intimate detail about Jared, because he was determined to see Jared and Nicki wedded.

    
             
The pounding of horses's hooves galloping up the drive cut into Charles's thoughts. 

 
             
Seeing Jared and Nicki riding side by side, Charles hid a joyful smile.  Maybe his goal would be easier than he'd thought.   He gave Floyd Williams a cursory glance, fixed a wide grin on his face, stood and went down the steps.  "Jared! Welcome to Crescent Wood.  I see you have met Nicki."

    
             
"Aye, Charles, I have.  Yer daughter is lovely."  Jared dismounted.  Wanting to touch Nicollette again, he went over to her and placed his hands around her waist to help her from her horse.  She shrugged off his hold and slid off unassisted.

    
             
Her father frowned at her when she shook off Jared's hand. 

    
             
"Wha...?" he began, seeing Williams for the first time as he dismounted his horse.

    
             
"
Mademoiselle
Duplantier learned that he is stealing the food that ye provide for the slaves," Jared volunteered, indicating Williams with a nod of his head.

 

Underground Captive
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
21

 

    
             
"I am more than capable of speaking for myself,
merci
beaucoup
,
Monsieur
Fleming!" Nicki said, annoyed that he thought it necessary to speak for her.

"Mind your manners, daughter!" Charles snapped.

    
             
"Nonsense, Charles.  I overstepped my bounds. 
Mademoiselle
Duplantier has a right to take me to task.  I apologize,
mademoiselle
.  Ye are indeed capable."  Jared attempted to sound sincere and not display his annoyance at just how
capable
she was.  She was capable of defending herself; capable of mounting and dismounting unassisted--a stallion at that; capable of setting a man's blood on fire with her kisses.

    
             
"Your apology is accepted,
Monsieur
Fleming," Nicki said with a vague hint of disapproval, sashaying to her father.  "PaPa,
Monsieur
Williams has betrayed us.  He has stolen the food you provided for the slaves."

    
             
Charles looked at Williams in puzzlement then back at Nicki.  "What on earth happened to him?"

"He tried to attack me," Nicki answered.

    
             
"And Jared came to your rescue?  Jared, I owe you a great debt of gratitude.  You've saved my daughter's honor.  Perhaps even her life."

    
             
"PaPa!"  Nicki stamped her foot.  "I defended
myself
against
Monsieur
Thief! 
Monsieur
Fleming came too late to help me.  When are you going to realize that some women can care for themselves?"  Not wanting to hear her father's answer, she stormed past him, running up the stairs and disappearing inside the house.

 

Underground Captive
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
21

 

    
             
Charles turned toward Jared, undaunted by Nicki's outburst.  "I want to know about my overseer.  Speak,
Monsieur
Williams.  What did my daughter mean when she said you stole the slaves's food?"

    
             
"I don't know, Mister Duplantier," Williams answered.  "Some field nigra filled her head with them notions.  I don't know what she's talkin' about."

    
             
Jared glared at him.  "Then ye don't mind if we ride out to yer cabin and look around, do ye, Williams?"

    
             
"There ain't no need for that.  Them field nigras is a greedy, lyin' lot.  They probably stashed their food some place themselves."

    
             
"You've been with me a long time, Williams, and what you say may well be so.  But not likely.  Even if it is true, there's still the matter of you trying to assault my daughter.  Get on your horse, man," Charles commanded.  "We're going to your cabin."

    
             
"Don't think of running, Williams, because I can bring ye down with one shot," Jared warned.  "Besides, yer horse is no match for King George."

    
             
"I'm sure your creature wouldn't be a match for Nur either," Charles said, going to the silver steed and mounting him.

    
             
Getting on his horse, Williams glowered at Jared.

    
             
Charles led Jared and Williams down the lane toward the river road, going beyond the cane fields and slave cabins to a lone cabin near the riverbanks.

Jared dismounted first and patted King George's head.  "Stand," he told the

palomino.  Awaiting Charles, who was dismounting, Jared nodded for Williams to get down from his horse.

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