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6.52% Annie's Perfect Husband / Chapter 9: ATTACKERS {I}

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Chapter 9: ATTACKERS {I}

He could only hope that John had been diligent in making sure it was loaded and ready.

Despite that worry, Ian felt a swell of confidence as his fingers closed around the shape of the pistol. He hurriedly unwrapped it from the oilskin in which it was kept, the weight of it reassuringly the same as the one he had carried on the Peninsula. And he had always been accounted a good shot.

There had still been no shout of greeting, although the horses were now very close. And no talking at all, Ian realized. He eased nearer the door, turning his body top face it and laying the pistol in his lap, his right hand resting over it, although the darkness would certainly conceal that it was there.

With his left hand, he reached out and found Annie's arm. Without speaking, he applied pressure, trying to signal her to move over behind him on the seat he occupied.

If he could position her there, with his body between whoever was outside and hers, he could offer her even more protection than the pistol alone would afford. After all, he would have only one shot.

His every sense was trained on what was going on beyond that closed door. With the fall of night, Ian had pulled the shades down over the windows, hoping to keep out some of the pervasive chill. That was a move he now regretted.

There was a soft jingle of harness, quickly muted, probably by a gloved hand. Ian pulled Annie's arm again, more urgently this time, and finally she understood, slipping silently onto his seat and pressing close behind him.

He took a breath in relief.

As he did, the door he was facing was jerked open and a torch was thrust into the carriage. It came so close to his face that Ian felt a searing heat, and the sudden flare of light blinded him. He recoiled automatically, to escape both it's brightness and the flame, which seemed directed at his head.

He felt Annie's intake of breath against his spine, and he steeled himself, expecting her scream to follow. Apparently she was, as she had claimed, made of sterner stuff. George Darlington might have been a coward, but his daughter was not.

"What have we 'ere?" thanks voice behind the torch asked. "Lookee, mate. It seems we've got ourselves a couple of passengers in this 'ere deserted coach."

As the man talked, Ian's eyes gradually adjusted to the light and his face came into focus. The sight was not reassuring. Despite his years with His Majesty's army, never noted for attracting the cream of the underclass to fill its ranks, Ian doubted he had ever seen a more villainous visage.

It was obvious by the man's comment that there were at least two of them. Ian's gaze flicked to the darkness beyond the blaze of the torch. He could barely make out another figure behind the one who was doing the talking.

He could tell little about the second rider, however, and he quickly brought his attention back to the nearer of the two.

"And one of them's a woman," the torch holder said.

There had been a subtle shift in tone with the last word. The possibility of violence had been there since the door had been flung open without warning. Now the treat seemed more purposeful and more clearly directed.

And Ian's blood ran cold, lifting the hair on the back of his neck.

None of that fear was allowed to show in his features. They were as imperturbable as he had always determined they would be when facing battle. Then he had made sure of his control in order to give his men confidence that he knew what he was doing. Now he tried to use that same control as a form of intimidation.

"We are awaiting our outriders," he said calmly. "They should be arriving at any moment."

"Outriders?" the torch holder questioned, throwing a quick glance over his shoulder. "We didn't pass no outriders."

"Perhaps you came upon the coach from the opposite direction," Ian suggested logically.

The snow-laden wind whipped in through the open door. The flame of the torch reacted to its rush by leaning inward, as if reaching towards the occupants of the carriage. The acrid smoke from the pitch-soaked rag, which had been wrapped around a

broken branch, tainted the air around them.

"Mayhap we can fix whatever's gone wrong with your vehicle," the torch holder said. "Why don't the two of you step out, and we'll take a look."

Ian debated the suggestion, but he could see no advantage to them in being outside. As it stood now, these two would have to go through him—and the pistol—to get to Annie. He could be rid of at least one of them by using the gun. He'd have to take his chances that he could knock the second one out with his fists, but thankfully control wasn't the only thing Ian had learned in his years with the army.

Of course, there might be more than the two he could see. Which could present a problem to his schemes, he thought, fighting the urge to grin at his presumption of planning any kind of extended defence, given his very limited resources.

However, they couldn't both rush him through the narrow opening the door presented. The pistol would take care of the first, and his fists the second, he reiterated mentally, preparing himself for that sequence of events.


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