Juliana sat in the parlor nursing the drink that William had brought to her after she and Bordon had returned to the house. They’d arrived about half an hour before and were awaiting Tavington’s return.
Bordon sat across from Juliana, a million questions racing through his mind, but the answer to only one of them would clear up many of the questions in his mind. “How did this whole … how did it begin between you and Colonel Tavington?” Bordon asked, his curiosity getting the best of him. “If you don’t mind my asking. I don’t mean to pry.”
“No. I mean, I don’t mind tellin’ it to you,” Juliana said. “I know that you and the Colonel have known each other for a while, and I know that he trusts and respects you.” She sighed. “To be honest, I don’t really know how all this started.” She paused in thought. “I guess I can trace it back to one night in particular. I don’t know if he ever told you this, but one of the slaves who used to live here a few months back – Eleanor – well, she had this plan to poison Colonel Tavington. She put rat poison in his food. I knew about it beforehand, and I couldn’t let him eat it, so I warned him about it. I guess you could say things changed between us after that. It wasn’t really a big change or nothin’ like that. Just little things here and there. But all those little things started to add up. He started treatin’ me more like a person, rather than just some piece of … property.”
Juliana shook her head. “Then we had that party here, and Ms. Staton showed up … now, I don’t know what to think. The Colonel does these things that make me think one thing, then he turns around and does somethin’ totally different. The whole situation has left me with my head spinnin’.”
“I wouldn’t worry about Ms. Staton,” Bordon offered.
“Colonel Tavington can hardly stand the sight of her,” Bordon revealed. “He thinks she’s an imbecile.”
“But that night at the party, I saw them together. They seemed pretty happy to me,” Juliana recalled.
“She might have been, but he surely was not. He called off the engagement three weeks ago. As I’ve come to learn, she isn’t the one he wants.” Bordon looked at her with a new understanding of Tavington’s actions. It became a little clearer to him why Tavington would put so much on the line.
A horse neighed outside. Juliana and Bordon both stood and watched the sitting room entrance intently. They heard the front door open, heard boots clicking with every step as they made contact with the floor. And Tavington appeared confidently at the room’s entrance.
Tavington’s blue eyes moved to Bordon, who understood and promptly left the room, giving his superior and Juliana some much needed privacy. Tavington stepped into the room and slowly approached Juliana. Her eyes fell to the red stains that soiled Tavington’s dark vest and the white shirt he wore underneath, and she immediately thought the worst as she quickly bridged the distance between them.
Tavington recognized the panicked expression on her face and was quick to allay her fears. “It isn’t mine,” he said. “I am uninjured.”
Juliana didn’t have to ask whose blood it was, then. She had a feeling that she already knew. She couldn’t honestly say that she was upset over it.
“I had intended to have them transported to Fort Carolina as prisoners,” Tavington began. It was a bold-faced lie, which he hoped Juliana would buy, because he didn’t want to give her another reason to doubt him.
He continued. “We were about to tie them to the horses, but they rushed at us. They didn’t have their weapons, but there was a struggle, nonetheless. I had to use my sword on Robinson. He gave me no choice; none of them did. I wish there had been another way.”
This is it, Tavington thought. It was the perfect time to pick up where they’d left off before Robinson and his rabble had interrupted.
“You just did what you had to do,” Juliana said softly before immediately asking herself why she was being so accommodating. She wouldn’t put it past Tavington to have killed Robinson and those other men in cold blood while they’d been completely defenseless. Had they deserved it? Had they earned it because they were colonial rebels? Juliana didn’t know exactly how Robinson had met his fate; but she realized that she didn’t want to know.
“That’s right,” Tavington said. “I merely did what I had to do.” He reached up to touch her … but fate, once again, intervened.
“What you did was go against my express wishes.”
Tavington would know the sound and the tone of that voice without even turning around to see, but he did, and he was not surprised. “My lord,” Tavington said.
Cornwallis stepped into the room. He didn’t attempt to hide his rage, as it was plainly evident by his expression.
Juliana stepped from behind Tavington. On the way to the door, Cornwallis’s eyes found hers and locked with them until she’d left the room.
He trained his glare on Tavington. “Colonel Tavington, you’re a good officer,” he began with a measure of calmness, though his patience was thin. “You are an officer of the highest caliber – when you follow orders.” He took a deep breath, trying to keep himself from completely losing his temper, then continued. “What on Earth possessed you to infiltrate that camp when I explicitly explained why we would not expend our efforts on the matter?”
“My lord, I accept full responsibility for my actions this evening and for the actions of my men,” Tavington said. “I ordered them to assist me. This was my doing.”
“Pardon my interrupting, my lord, however, what Colonel Tavington claims is not the truth.”
Cornwallis and Tavington turned to see Bordon re-enter the room.
“Bordon, this is a matter between His Lordship and myself,” Tavington said hurriedly. “It does not concern you, and we require privacy.”
“My lord,” Bordon began again, ignoring Tavington, “Colonel Tavington did not order the other Dragoons to aid him. The truth of it was that we didn’t even know what he was planning, sir. A servant delivered a letter to me written by Colonel Tavington. It was only then that I decided to take action, and it was I who ordered the other Dragoons come to Colonel Tavington’s aid. I must take responsibility for my actions and the actions of those officers, who were following my orders.”
Bordon looked at Tavington. Bordon knew that Tavington was trying to save him from suffering Cornwallis’s wrath, but Bordon couldn’t let him do it.
Cornwallis, angered and disappointed, looked at his two officers. He was appalled that two of his best would so brazenly disobey his orders. “This girl of yours must be very special for you to risk so much, Colonel Tavington,” Cornwallis said. “Was she worth it?”
Tavington opened his mouth, about to attempt an explanation, but Cornwallis continued his diatribe. “You are throwing away your career, Tavington! Everything you’ve worked for,” Cornwallis said, his anger finally exploding. “I don’t understand your behavior, Colonel. Surely, there are other ways for you to satisfy your desires, ways that don’t require you to disobey your commanding officer’s explicit orders.”
“My lord – ” Tavington began, but Cornwallis interrupted him.
“I don’t want to hear it, Colonel. You’re a good officer, and your services are highly valued; however, I have no use for officers who fail to follow my orders simply because they wish to pursue personal endeavors.”
Tavington felt his stomach drop to his feet. He prepared himself for what he was certain to come next. This was it, the end of her career. Had it really been worth it?
Cornwallis proceeded. “Colonel William Tavington – I hereby relieve you of duty for a period not to exceed one month. Until such time has passed, you will not participate as an active member of the Green Dragoons or the British military. During this time, you will not wear the uniform of His Majesty’s army, nor will you receive any pay for military service. And because you have a residence in Charles Town, you will not set foot on any premises in or surrounding any British forts. Have I made myself clear?”
Tavington blinked. “Perfectly, my lord,” he said. He was completely shocked that he hadn’t been immediately placed under arrest for court-martial.
“You should consider this a very lenient punishment, Colonel, as it is well within my rights to have you ejected permanently for your offenses,” Cornwallis went on. “And you will be if you fail to meet the conditions of your punishment. Your services on the field may be valuable to my operations, Colonel, however that does not give you free reign to do as you to do as you please. You follow my orders; I will not tolerate disobedient officers. Understood?”
“I don’t want to see you or hear of you until May,” Cornwallis said.
“Yes, my lord.”
Cornwallis turned to Bordon. “Captain Bordon, I’m temporarily placing you in command of the Dragoons. You, too, disobeyed my orders; however your behavior stemmed from the actions of Colonel Tavington. Regardless, I believe that you’re best capable of keeping things in order during his absence.”
Bordon nodded. “Yes, my lord. As you wish.”
“I’ll see you back at the fort,” Cornwallis told Bordon.
“Yes, my lord,” Bordon replied.
Cornwallis glared at Tavington one last time before leaving. Bordon turned to Tavington.
“Bordon – ” Tavington began.
“I know,” Bordon said. “I know what you were trying to do, and I appreciate the gesture. But you should know by now, Colonel, that if I’m going to risk my life to see to your safety, I’ll risk my career for it as well, fully aware of the consequences.”
“Thank you … James,” Tavington said, opting to use the man’s given name. “Take care of things for me while I’m gone.”
“Of course,” Bordon agreed. There weren’t many men that he would so willfully risk life, limb, and career for, and Tavington was most assuredly one of them.
Tavington took in a breath. He was lucky to have someone like Bordon on his side. “Until May, then.”
Bordon gave a small smile. “Until then.”
From her vantage point at the top of the stairs, Juliana watched Bordon leave the house through the front door. She looked to the sitting room doorway in time to see Tavington emerge.
What was he thinking, Juliana wondered. What would he do next? What would he say? If he followed his usual pattern, which is what Juliana expected, Tavington’s mood toward her would completely change, and he would proceed to push her back out to arm’s length. She watched him climb the stairs, and she braced herself, emotionally, for whatever she might be confronted with.
When Tavington reached the halfway point, he began to take the steps two at a time until he reached the top. He pulled her close and kissed her fiercely. He looked at her, his eyes intense.
“No more games,” he said. “No more distractions. No more silly excuses. This is ridiculous. We can’t dance around each other forever, you know. I love you, Juliana. And all I need to know is if you love me. Do you?”
After only a moment of reflective thought, Juliana nodded and said, “Yes.”
“Good,” Tavington said. “Then that’s settled.”
“I can’t tell you how sorry I am about what’s happened,” Juliana said. “You’re in trouble, and it’s all because of me. You wouldn’t be in this situation if you hadn’t come for me.”
“How could I not come after you? I don’t think I could have forgiven myself if I didn’t at least try.”
“But now you can’t go back until May,” Juliana reminded him.
“It isn’t as bad as it all sounds,” Tavington insisted. “All it means is that when I do go back, Cornwallis will be falling over himself, grateful for my return. Not that Bordon can’t handle things on his own; he can, and quite competently, I believe. But he just doesn’t have that … flair for getting the job done.” He smirked. “I’ll be surprised if Cornwallis doesn’t show up on my doorstep begging me to come back before the month is even up. But that isn’t even the best part of it all.”
“What is?” Juliana asked.
The smirk on Tavington’s face transformed from something pretentious to something thoughtful. “I get to spend time with you.”