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Me and Mrs. Stone (Part 1)

Posted on Wed Aug 31st, 2022 @ 12:18pm by Quinlan Barrett Poe & Addy Stone
Edited on on Wed Aug 31st, 2022 @ 12:21pm

Mission: The Xiao Jin Chronicles
Location: Farmstead, Sweethome
Timeline: Mission Day 36 at 1900

They'd set back down in the field near Farmstead at Addy's request. It weren't that they couldn't have up and left. They could have with herself and Peter both safe and aboard the Xiao Jin. But there was still the matter of the contract and she and Peter both wanted to speak with Juliet. Besides that she'd promised Lori Jo. And she didn't want to break that promise. Enough of their lives were being upended without something that simple.

For the first time in what felt like ages she spent time with her siblings unburdened. She felt light, like laughter and praise, happiness and kindness, all came just that much more easily to her. Henry's family had been kindly accommodating as well and even though it was far from the most comfortable place for Quinn, she'd coaxed him into coming along; eager for her family to be around him and to see what she had seen a decade earlier.

The flutter of family circling, reconnecting and pulling apart, tugged at old memories. Not his early years, those were best forgotten but later, with his grandparents and Win. And so, he summoned his patience and tried his best to be communicative. He thought of it as shedding, at least for a moment, the armor he'd wrapped around himself in the difficult years to allow the person he might have been surface for a time. And it felt good to do so, even if it was difficult.

Mrs. Campbell had stepped onto the porch where the Weysmith siblings were arrayed along with Henry to ask her son to go retrieve something from the store. Quinn had excused himself nearly half an hour earlier with the understanding that he would return for dinner, but that there were things on the Xiao Jin that needed doing. Secretly, Addy thought he was perhaps happy just to find a few minutes free of Lori Jo's persistent attention and Gary's gruff attempts at asking grown up questions about their ship.

"I'll do it," Addy had piped up, quieting any complaints from Henry or Peter. "I'm a big girl. I can walk three blocks," she'd told them.

She'd made it two of those blocks, filled with an elated sense of freedom and confidence, before it happened. Two men stepped out behind her after the first block. At the end of the second the made as if to breeze by her, instead snagging her arms in rough grips, one man wrapping her mouth with his hand to cut off any protest. She'd fought them anyway, wrenching her arms and trying anything she could think of to get a purchase with her legs, but calmed when one of the men spoke roughly next to her ear.

"We've got guns trained on your family on that there porch," he said, tone condescending. "Would hate to have to use them."

And just like that all the fight drained out of her, all of her elation along with it to be replaced with dread. She slumped, showing her willingness to acquiesce and then, gravely, allowed the men to guide her back along the alley, to the next road over, and several more blocks down before directing her into someone's home.

Matthias Stone had been pouring himself a drink when she walked in; he turned, crystal glass in hand, and frowned at the way the men had her gripped tightly around the forearms. "Let her go, gentlemen," he said quietly. "Wait outside. She's not going anywhere. Not yet anyway."

The relief she felt as they released her arms was palpable and she reached up to rub where rough fingers had pressed into her skin. She'd have bruises there she was sure. "Matthias," she said coldly. She tried to remember any of the things Quinn had taught her about securing a place. Exits? There was only the one she'd come in. And windows were glass paned and would be difficult to escape through. "I'm not staying here with you," she said, flailing for a course of action. She moved as if she would make for the door, but the two men stepped between her and the exit. She glowered at them.

"Why not," Matthias asked, his expression turned vaguely puzzled, "because you see, my dear, you haven't heard the proposition yet." He raised his index finger, without jostling the glass at all, "and before you get all righteous and indignant about it, please do remember that it was your father that contacted me and not the other way around." His expression shifted, moving to sly in the length of time it took him to sip his fine whiskey, though he waited to speak until he had set the glass down carefully on a coaster. "Just tonight as a matter of fact ... to offer Juliet." He shrugged lightly. "Now, she's a bit young for my taste but he says you're unwilling and likely sullied. His words. I don't mind a bit of," his gaze caressed the length of her, "experience." He hummed softly as he licked his lips. "Still, the offer is solid and," his expression serious now and cold, "I do want that land."

She wanted to scream at him. Rail at him. Anything to vent the sudden helpless fury that filled her at the thought of Juliet being offered up to him like a prize heifer to stud. "That doesn't sound like a proposition," she ground out. "That sounds like trafficking in minors. Like..." she stopped, throat constricted at the thought of what marriage to this man would mean for her sister.

"Minor," Matthias repeated as he smiled, slow and lazy, watching the play of emotions on her face. "One month is nothing. Not when I have willing parents and a judge right here on the property ready to perform the vows." He took a sip of whiskey, savoring the expression on her face as much as the whiskey. "Care to attend the ceremony? Your Mom should be getting her into her wedding dress about now."

"You're bluffing," she spat back at him. "Juliet hasn't been home since yesterday afternoon. No chance she's with my mother now happily going along with this... this... ridiculous notion of some marital contract between our fathers."

"And yet," Matthias said as he reached forward to press the intercom switch. "Would you ask Weysmith Senior to join us please?" He didn't wait for a response but instead circled around the desk to sit in a chair he'd had flown in from off world just for the feel of it. He gestured with his chin for her to look at the door, his dark eyes glistening with barely concealed delight, as he took a sip of his whiskey.

The man himself, lean and wiry, stepped into the room, weaving past the two muscular men who had drug Addy there in the first place. "Gentlemen," he said to the two with a nod before turning and inclining his head toward Matthias. "Matthias," he said acknowledging the younger man.

It was then that he turned his gaze, an ugly mixture of triumph and violent arrogance in his expression, on Addy. "Adorabella," he said, his tone that of a cat who had just gotten into the cream. "Fancy seeing you here." He said it almost carelessly, as if they had run into each other unexpectedly at a store rather than by the force of Matthias's goons.

Dread filled her belly as she eyed him, but she knew, as she had for some time now, that reasoning with him was a lost cause. If she was going to gain any ground it was Matthias she would have to appeal to and she needed to do so. To find some way out of this room if she could. She suddenly desperately wished she'd never left Quinn's side. She'd been foolish to think it would be safe here, even for a moment.

"Juliet was with Henry when I left," she said with barely controlled insistence. "You can't kidnap her off of his front porch."

"Kidnap is such a harsh word," Matthias said quietly, his deep voice dropping into a purr. "More like, the reality of the situation was explained to her. You," Matthias chanted, "didn't follow through and now she has to." He shrugged lightly as he steepled his fingers. "She doesn't want to be the reason your family goes hungry this winter." He pressed his fingers against his lips for a moment. "Unlike some people I might mention."

Addy knew he was telling the truth the way she knew her own heart was beating hard in her chest. The way she knew that it suddenly felt as if all the oxygen had fled the room and the way she knew that the utter disgust she felt for this man was beyond redeeming. "Peter will go get Quinn," she said firmly. "Or Henry will. Ain't no one letting you get away with this. Ain't no one letting you starve a soul."

"No need," Matthias said with a slight lift of one shoulder. "Take her with you now. You can both go and tomorrow? I'll execute the penalty clause in that legally binding contract your Daddy signed once upon a time. Now, why he felt the need," he said as he leaned forward in a conspiratorial whisper, "well, let's just say that he came to me to help bail him out of some truly bad decisions he'd made. I did my part and now it's time for him to your family to do yours." He leaned back in his seat, head cocked slightly to one side. "Now, one of two things happens tonight. I get married and our properties join according to the terms of the original contract or ... you all leave and I make things just a ... tad ... difficult for your family. All nice and legal thanks to your father's bad judgement." Matthias held one hand up to the side of his face, dropping his voice slightly, as though keeping it a secret from her father. "The man really does need a keeper, you know."

They could leave. And take Juliet. And if they could take Juliet... well... she figured surely she and Quinn could come up with some answer for Gary and Lori Jo too. Surely? Her head, though, wasn't entirely as sure as her heart wanted to be. And she hesitated just long enough to be caught in that. If she could just get through though. Out of this room. If she could talk to Quinn, maybe they could figure it out.

Maybe.

Or maybe her littlest brother and sister would starve.

He saw the hesitation and leaned forward to press the intercom switch again. "Bring the rest of them in, if you please." It took a couple of minutes for them all to assemble. Every member of her family with Juliet already in a dress far better than anything she had ever owned. Matthias tracked Addy, watched her eyes take them all in, and then he spoke, his own gaze flat, devoid of mercy. "Seems there was a fire over at Henry's place, so he dropped them off early. Not my doing, of course, just ..." and here he shrugged, "fortuitous timing. Things are dry this time of year. Anyway, I digress."

He took a sip of whiskey. "Here is my only offer. One of you," he pointed to Juliet and then to Addy in turn, "marries me tonight and the deal goes forward as your father intended. If not, and you leave, then tomorrow morning, Hank's house of cards comes tumbling down. Now, who it should be, that's up to you all to decide. Juliet, if it's you, then you live here with me as a proper wife should. Addy, if it turns out to be you, well, I can be generous. You can stay aboard the ship with your scavenger lover. Once I'm married and the property has been signed over, we'll burn the paperwork that would beggar your family, and all will be well. Course, in return, I do have some conditions." He paused for a second, reading her, reading them. "And Addy? Do not mistake my generosity in this for weakness. If you plan on appealing to your lover for rescue, know that I will put a bullet through your man's skull and sleep just fine afterward."

She surveyed them. Her siblings. Peter, the only other legal adult in the group, was bound and gagged. A bruise was blooming above his eye, evidence that he hadn't gone quietly along with this plot. Juliet's expression was dead. Her eyes unfocussed as her fingers worried at the ends of her sleeves as if confirming they were real. Gary, too, held a dead expression, though his face was set as if steeling himself. When her eyes settled on Lori Jo her heart lurched painfully. The little girl, only 7 years old, stood tall, head back, fire in her eyes. Her red hair, so much like Addy's, seemed to burn in the light and though there were clear tracks of tears down her cheek she did not cry. Instead she glared at Matthias as if her gaze alone could tear his heart out.

And Addy knew. She knew, as she thought of Quinn, pictured the gun to his head, arms restrained by the same goons who had brought her here. She knew as Lori Jo turned her eyes, pleading, on her. She knew even as she caught the scant fear in her father's expression, quickly hidden away behind a wall of hubris.

"You have conditions," Addy said, feeling like she might vomit, but holding her head high all the same. "I do as well, but only one and it is for him." She gestured backward toward her father, barely affording him a glance.

"Interesting," Matthias said with an amused glance toward the elder Weysmith. "Very well, name your condition."

For a moment Addy felt panic well up in her, thoughts of Quinn and what she was about to do twining in a way that made her want to curl up in a ball and hide. But she fought it back. She needed to trust that he loved her enough. Enough to get through this.

"They all come with me," she said, turning to Hank Weysmith. "Gary, Lori Jo, Juliet. All of them. If I do this, you sign guardianship of them over to Peter and I. We won't be pawns for you to use as leverage anymore."

Before Hank could even open his mouth to answer she whirled back to Matthias. "If he agrees to this then I'll marry you. But only if he agrees. It's less mouths for you to worry about. You lose nothing but extra work and children that need rearing. Children you can't be sure will be loyal to you or..." she chanced a glance back at her father, expression full of disgust, "...him. It's a bad investment to keep them here."

"Agreed," Matthias said as he lifted his glass in salute and took a small sip. "And Hank, there'll be none of your shenanigans. You know the markers I hold against you. So, you'll do this and no argument." He didn't speak again until he'd set the glass back down on the desk but when he did, he was all business. "My terms. We marry now, the contract goes through, and I get the land. The farms will merge, of course, and I'll take over management. Your father will have a job but no real power. As for you, you take my name. There will be no hiding the fact that you're married to me. If you're needed here, to put up a good front, you'll come but otherwise, you return here to this home once every six months ... to visit. That should keep up appearances. Keep your affairs private and I'll do the same." He rose from behind the desk and circled around to the front. "So, what do you say? Shall we get married?"

She hesitated and as she did guilt roiled through her, though at this point she didn't know if the guilt was for the hesitation or for what she knew she was about to do to Quinn. She heard his voice in her head plain as day telling her he loved her and it took everything in her not to sob. She couldn't. Not in front of the others.

With a backward glance she looked at each of her siblings one more time. Lori Jo, tears now streaming, but with hope in her eyes. Gary, face a mask of anger, though his eyes glinted with trust as he met her gaze. Peter strained against his captors, muffled cries coming through the gag. She knew he was telling her no. Telling her not to and she tried to will him to calm with a look. She met Juliet's eyes last and it was her sister's gaze that cemented her wavering resolve. Relief and horror were both writ plain on the younger girl's face and Addy nodded once to her, acknowledgement that she understood.

"Let's get this over with," she said, voice a dull monotone. "Where do you need me to sign?"

 

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