"The Harlans must have tracked Layle Johnson to Stockton, and somehow learned of Nick's relationship to her. Which means they are not through seeking their revenge." Jarrod surmised. "Their after Layle too."
"And that means Nick's in danger." Heath furthered. "Looks like were all going to a wedding."
"And not a moment to waste." Jarrod was the first out of the library.
SLAYING DRAGONS Chapter 17
Enid Champion could never be called a sedate woman, on the contrary, she was extraordinary and a power to be reckoned with as far as San Francisco society was concerned. One didn’t dare plan a soirée without Mrs. Champion’s seal of approval. It was for this reason that James Flood asked her to take over the planning of his granddaughter’s wedding.
At first, Layla was pleased at not having the burden of planning her own wedding; in truth she wanted a small ceremony with family and a few friends. But she knew her grandfather wouldn’t hear of it. When he first discovered she was his long lost granddaughter James Flood insisted on her having a coming out party. An introduction to San Francisco society. Not exactly something a woman her age would expect but her grandfather had a dynamic personality and could not be stopped once he caught a bee in his bonnet.
Layla wondered what it was about her that seemed to gravitate toward strong, stubborn men and women. She thought this when she heard the sound of Enid’s voice.
“Layla! What are you doing here? Madame Lavinia is waiting for you in the fitting room. The fitting room.” Enid Champion gathered her charge by the back of her shoulders and pushed her along the hall.
“What fitting room?” Layla asked as she let herself be swept up by the shorter, but obviously stronger woman.
Enid’s fake red curls bounced out from under her lacy skullcap as some of the hair pins holding them pinged on the parquet floor. “In the library of course, my dear. The library.” When Enid Champion felt harried she always repeated herself in hopes that all listening would relate to the seriousness of her commands, which they usually did. “That darling boy, you’re marrying is so dear. He’s in the armory practicing his swordsmanship with that Japanese man. His swordsmanship.”
“Really, Mrs. Champion I don’t think it’s necessary for Nick to take up sword fighting for our wedding.” Layla lamented.
“Nonsense! How will we ever have a medieval wedding without sword fighting? Such nonsense. Nonsense I say.”
“But all I wanted was a simple wedding.” Enid pushed her charge into the library and closed the door behind her.
“Foolish girl. You are the granddaughter of James C. Flood! There’s nothing simple about it. Especially if you’re going to have yours truly plan this wedding. After all, I have a reputation to uphold and costume soirées are all the rage this season. Your wedding, my dear, is going to be the talk of this town for decades! Especially if I pull it off in two weeks! And you may mark my words! I will! Madame Lavinia, do what you do best. Could we do something about her middle? It’s looking a bit puffy. I’m thinking a tight-laced bodice. Give her a more of a svelte look and push up her bosoms. Push up the bosoms.”
“Puffy? What’s wrong with my figure?” Layla pouted.
“Nothing darling, but in those days, women wore bodices to make their figures more appealing. Don’t fret. You’re beautiful.” With that, the bustling Enid fairly flew out of the library sans fitting room.
Yabo-san bowed to his victim who squatted on the floor.
“I didn’t see that coming!” Nick complained.
“Students must learn patience as I am patient. Beware the fury of a patient man.” The Japanese warrior said as he bowed again.
“You could have killed me.” Nick stood and placed his sword back in the sheath, which hung at his waist. He was wearing chain mail over a gray tunic and matching gray leggings, which clung, to his form. His long suede boots reached up to his knees and folded down into a wide collar. He looked every inch a knight of Olde.
“Of course, but it would not be prudent. You are not worthy opponent yet.” Yabo-san explained.
“Really? And just when do you think I will become a worthy opponent?”
“You will not live that long, Barkley-san.” With that, Yabo-san gave a loud, giddy laugh.
“A gun is still faster than a sword.”
“Not the sword of Yabo-san. Are you ready to work, or will you stand there like an old woman, complaining?”
“Let’s have at it, teacher.” Nick raised his sword once again.
"Master." Yabo reminded.
"Master," Nick agreed.
The doorbell was answered as always by the ever-faithful Osgood. He looked upon the party of five who stood before him and bowed.
“Good afternoon,” Jarrod began. “We are the Barkleys. This is my mother, Mrs. Victoria Barkley.”
Osgood smiled and bowed again. “We have been expecting you. Please come in. I’m afraid, Mr. Flood is not home at present, but I know he would be cross with me if I didn’t make you welcome. If you’ll follow me to the drawing room, I will have refreshments sent for immediately.” The butler glanced at Heath and Eugene who carried in the luggage. “Please, don’t trouble yourselves, I will have the servants place them in your respective rooms. Do follow me.”
“Thank you.” Victoria smiled, and then gave Heath and Eugene a silent motion to leave the luggage on the foyer floor.
Heath tugged a finger into his dress collar; his tie was all but choking him. He lagged behind observing the opulence around him, as he slowly followed Eugene and the others into the spacious drawing room.
Closing the door behind him, the butler left them alone. “Boy howdy,” Heath said under his breath. “I sure can’t imagine, Nick living in a place like this.”
“I bet he can.” Eugene smirked.
“Hush you two. You sound like farmers.” Audra said wrinkling her nose as she settled on one of the luxurious oxblood colored divans, which occupied a prominent place by the immense marble hearth. “I think this whole place is lovely. It’s obvious you two have never been anywhere as sumptuous as this place. I have.” She bragged.
“Oh pardon us your ladyship.” Eugene teased.
“Stop it, both of you. I wonder where Nick is?” Victoria was anxious to see her middle son after so many weeks.
The door to the drawing room flew open and a small, rotund woman with bright red curls and glittering blue eyes rushed in. She clasped her hands together in excitement. “Oh, I m so happy you’re here! I’ve been dying to meet you. You must be Jarrod. I’d know you anywhere!” The effusive woman held out her hand to Jarrod. “I’ve seen your picture in the Chronicle, it doesn’t do you justice. You’re so much more handsome in person.”
“Thank you, madam. May I introduce my family?”
“No need. I know you all. Mrs. Barkley it’s a pleasure, to finally meet you. I’m sure we’re going to be great friends. And this is your daughter, Audra. My, she is a beauty. Like her mother no doubt.” She patted Victoria’s gloved hand.
“Thank you.” Audra had stood when the bubbly woman had entered the room and curtsied.
“And these are?” She asked looking at Heath and Eugene. “More sons I take it. My, you do have a handsome family Mrs. Barkley. I must compliment you. Heath and Eugene, am I correct?”
Both men nodded to the verbose woman. They noted she had yet to take a breath in her salutations.
“I never forget names.” The woman bragged. “Dear Nicholas told me all about you.”
“I’m afraid we don’t know your name, madam.” Victoria interrupted.
“Oh, my, I’m so sorry! Silly me! I’m so use to being… Oh well, no matter.”
Before she could answer, the double doors flew opened and Nick walked in dressed in a knight’s fighting costume. The entire Barkley family fixed their eyes on the unusual sight. “Osgood told me you were here! What do you think? It’s my costume for the party?” Nick turned around to show off his apparel.
“Incredible.” Victoria breathed.
“I would say astounding.” Jarrod exclaimed.
“I love it! Nick you look so romantic!” Audra rushed to hug her brother.
“Thanks, Sis. This is not what I’m getting married in of course.”
“Well, I should hope not.” Victoria agreed.
“This is for the fighting later.”
“You planning on fighting at your wedding?” Heath finally said after the initial shock of seeing Nick Barkley in the strange get-up.
“We’re not really going to fight. It’s a demonstration. I’ve been taking sword fighting lessons.”
Eugene moved quickly toward Nick and grabbed at his collar. “All right, Mister! Who are you, and what have you don’t to my big brother?!”
“Quit it, Gene! Didn’t you explain it to them Enid? Tell them.”
“Well, I was about to, dear,…”
“You see,” Nick interrupted the woman as only he could. “Enid here is planning the wedding party and it’s going to be… What did you call it, Enid?”
“Renaissance, or medieval if you prefer. Costume parties are all the rage these days.” Enid explained. “And I have costumes for each of you. Each of you!”
“Oh how exciting! I can’t wait!” Audra squealed.
“We have to dress up? Like that?” Heath pointed disdainfully at Nick.
“Yeah. I figured you could be my squire. A knight needs a squire.” Nick laughed wickedly.
“A squire? What’s a squire?”
“He’s the knight’s servant.” Nick crowed. “Don’t you know anything, boy?”
“Servant? I’m not going to be his servant!” Heath protested.
“Of course not, dear boy.” Enid came toward Heath and placed her arm around his shoulder to comfort him. “I have a prince costume for you. I think you will make a very handsome prince, a handsome prince.”
“Thank you.” Heath smiled triumphantly at Nick.
“What do you have for me? Is it beautiful?” Audra cried.
“You get to be a serving wench,” Eugene teased. Audra grimaced toward him.
“I have a lovely lady in waiting costume for you. You are going to be a lady in waiting to the Queen, which is your costume Mrs. Barkley.”
“A perfect choice.” Jarrod delighted.
Victoria smiled and shook her head. “This is all very well and good, Missus?”
“Oh, I apologize. Mrs. Champion. Enid Champion at your service.” Enid rested her hand on her ample chest and humbly cast her eyes down as she gave a gracious nod of greeting.
“Of course. I’ve heard of you Mrs. Champion. I’m pleased to finally make your acquaintance.”
“And I you, Mrs. Barkley.”
The drawing room door opened again and a harried and pale looking bride-to-be entered. “Mrs. Champion I really must protest, this costume is too-,” Layla caught sight of Nick’s family and promptly collapsed on the floor.
“Layle!” Nick shouted as he rushed to her side. The ever-heroic knight scooped her up in his arms and rushed up the stairs to her bedroom.
Enid Champion looked back at the Barkleys flabbergasted. Her short chubby hands covering her red-rouged mouth. “Oh, my goodness, I guess the bodice was too tight after all. Too tight.”
Nick placed her on the bed then rushed into the bathroom to get a wet cloth. As he wiped her face with it she opened her eyes and whispered, “I can hardly breath.”
“Why, what’s wrong?”
“It’s too tight.”
“Turn around let me fix it.” Layla turned sideways on the bed and Nick untied the bodice that acted more like a corset. “Just what are you doing wearing this?”
“Thank you,” She said relieved after he loosen the lacings. “Believe me, it wasn’t my idea. It’s part of the costume I’m suppose to wear.” Layla swung her legs onto the floor and stood shakily. “Enid said I was puffy! Look at me, do I look puffy to you?”
“You look beautiful. I don’t see anything puffy.”
“Thank you. She said women wore tight bodices to make their bosoms look bigger.”
“Really? Well in that case-,”
He laughed as he walked over to the other side of the bed and pulled her into his arms. “You are perfect in every way.”
She pushed away from him. “Didn’t I see your mother downstairs? Oh my God, what must she think of me? Fainting like that!”
“I’m sure she didn’t think anything other than concern for you.”
“You’re mother hates me.”
“She does not! She loves you just like I do. Here, let me show you.” He leans in to kiss her but she pushes him away.
“Nick, we haven’t time for this.”
“We always have time.” He enveloped her in his arms and pushed her back so that she landed in the middle of the bed. Layle giggled and yielded to his attentions.
Jarrod paced the drawing room, while the rest of the family sat and watched. “Nick has been gone for an hour. We haven’t a moment to waste. What’s taking him so long?”
Osgood entered the drawing room with two small maids by his side, dressed in black dresses, white dust caps, and crisp white aprons. Each maid gave a slight bow when they were introduced. “This is Bridget and Sarah, and they are here to assist the ladies with their clothes. If you will all follow me your rooms are ready.”
While they walked along the corridors, Osgood pointed out the various rooms. “This is Mr. Nick Barkley’s room, the other is Miss Flood’s. Yours and your daughter’s, Mrs. Barkley are across the hall. The misters Barkleys’ rooms are around the corner. The large double doors you see at the end of this long hall are Mr. Flood’s rooms. He prefers to be well away from his guests. As he is a light sleeper and is easily disturbed. Please be advised that if there is anything you wish for, you have only to ring for it. You will find a buzzer by the fireplaces in each of the rooms.” The Barkley ladies dutifully followed Bridget and Sarah into their rooms. The men continued to follow the butler.
“Osgood, we need to speak to our brother, is there anywhere we could meet with him privately?” Jarrod asked.
“Of course, sir. There is a library across from your room, quite comfortable. Mr. Flood sometimes uses it to play cards with acquaintances. He hopes that you and your family will avail yourselves of all the amenities here. You will also find billiards’ room down stairs for your pleasure. It’s quite spacious.”
“Wonderful, thank you. Would you mind asking our brother to meet us in the library within the hour?”
“I will see if Mr. Barkley can be disturbed.” Osgood bowed and left the three Barkley men.
“Ask if he can be disturbed? Just what’s that all about?” Eugene huffed.
“Nick’s going to be disturbed all right.” Heath added disquietly.