In Davies, Shae was making preparations for a Thanksgiving feast. They were to have roast duck with all the trimmings. Aunt Martha had agreed to come, since Matheson was to be back. Shae had kindly asked that she not bring any of her friends. It was to be a family dinner only, with just Matheson, Aunt Martha, Beatrice and herself. Beatrice smiled knowingly at her, and agreed.
“Mr. McClure won’t be coming?” she had asked Shae.
“No, I need a break from Loudmouth McClure.”
Beatrice had blushed and giggled at that.
Now it was the day before Thanksgiving, and Matheson was due on the evening train. Shae was a bundle of nerves. She wasn’t sure how Matheson was going to respond to the news that she was performing piano in public, for money. She tried to get her mind off of the situation many times, but it keep taunting her.
She finally got some reprieve from her torturous thoughts when someone anonymously sent a book from the bookstore to their mansion. At first she was confused, but then realize the book contained a message to decipher. Once she cracked the code, she saw that she was required to have a new partner to work with for the next mission. The new partner’s code name was Wolf, and Wren was to meet Dragon, (McClure,) at his office at precisely 2 o’clock to meet him for the first time. This was urgent and she couldn’t miss the appointment.
It was nearly 2 o’clock, and Dragon and Wolf had been conversing for 30 minutes in his office, catching up on their cases, when Dragon mentioned to Wolf that there was a new detective at the agency that he’d been working with.
“I’ve been impressed with the new agent. Learns quickly. Follows instructions, unlike you.”
Wolf glared at Dragon.
“Sometimes instructions are required to be broken. The means justifies the end,” snarled Wolf.
“Spoken like a gentlemen,” said Dragon, devilishly.
Wolf merely grunted at him from his chair. He was a large and brooding man.
“The new agent has helped solve several cases in a very short amount of time, weeks actually. How long did that take you? A year. You are about to lose your position as the alpha dog, I think.”
“Your puns are always ludicrous. Has anyone told you how daft they make you sound?” Wolf retorted.
“You actually are to be put on the new assignment with this new agent.”
“Hold it right there. I have to break in someone this green, with mere weeks of experience, on such an important case?”
Wolf was aghast, and mumbled about the wisdom of such an order. His brow furrowed in anger and thought. Dragon only grinned ridiculously, and checked his watch for the umpteenth time.
“Why do you keep on checking the time?” Wolf demanded, a bad feeling developing in the pit of his stomach.
“Because you are about to meet this new agent.”
Wolf groaned, as a knock sounded on the door. Dragon walked over to answer it. His secretary whispered through the crack to Dragon, the news of the agent’s arrival.
“Ah, yes. There she is now. I’ll bring her in,” he said shutting the door behind him.
“A WOMAN!” Wolf growled, as he stalked over to the fireplace, wondering if this should be his last case. Perhaps he should even turn down this one and retire. He’d been at this for 15 years now. Gazing into the fire, he waited for the new agent’s arrival.
Dragon met Wren at the lobby of the offices. He walked her back to his offices.
“Hello,” he said, offering his arm, “I apologize for this intrusion of your time, but this meeting just cannot happen at any other time. You may talk of agency work. This is a safe environment.”
“Quite alright. Do tell me about my new partner. Wolf?”
“Yes, he’s a veteran agent. He’s brilliant, and one of our best.”
“Are you sure that I should be partnered with Wolf?”
“Oh, very sure. He’s very much looking forward to meeting you.”
He said this as they reached the door to his office.
“Really?” she whispered.
Something didn’t seem right with this situation. She stared at McClure, speculatively, as he opened the door.
“Wolf, meet Wren, our most promising new agent,” he said, gleefully swinging the door wide.
Wren walked a few steps into the room before she halted in her steps and gasped. The man at the fireplace swung around, and looked angrily from Wren to his superior. Dragon, the head of the agency in their area, swaggered in and shut the door. He rocked back and forth on his heels, his thumbs in the pockets of his vest, way too pleased with himself. He even started whistling a tune, quietly.
Wren dropped her reticule, but didn’t even notice. Wolf’s hands were clenching and unclenching at his sides, his breathing loud and angry. He was glaring at Dragon with a look that promised retribution.
“McCluurrrrrrrreeee!” he ground out.
It sounded more like the rumble of thunder than Dragon’s actual name.
Wren looked back and forth between the men, showing fear when she looked at Wolf and betrayal when she looked at Dragon.
“Whaaaaat the deviiiiiiilllll?” more thundering rumbled from Wolf’s chest.
Dragon finally began to see that his plan was not the brightest of ideas. He kept watching Wolf’s fists pump, and tried not to imagine one of them busting him in the eye. However, because he was busy keeping an eye on Wolf, and because he never expected it from Wren, he was completely unprepared for the little fist that came hurtling at him from her side.
“Aaaah!”, he yelped, as he stumbled backwards.
Wren turned around and picked up her reticule from the floor. She came back and beat Dragon on the back a few times with it.
“Ow. Stop. Stop. I taught you how to punch like that. It isn’t fair that you turned on the one who gave you that lesson.”
“Someone needs to teach YOU a lesson.”
And with that, she pulled his beard. Pulled HIS beard! Then when she heard Wolf’s laugh start rumbling from his chest, she marched over to him. He brought his arms up, fearful of his eye matching Dragon’s soon-to-be-black one. When he did that, she kicked him in the shin and marched out the door towards her carriage. Wolf growled and limped after her, but stopped in front of Dragon, and stared down at him, his eyes stormier than Dragon had ever seen them.
“You and I have an appointment here tonight at 10 o’ clock. We need to talk. If you aren’t here, then I won’t do this mission, and I happen to know that you desperately need my expertise for it.”
Dragon merely gulped, and nodded, truly humbled. With that, Wolf stalked out to Wren’s carriage, and hopped in as it was rolling away. Wren jumped in her seat as he threw himself into his own across from her and slammed the door in one smooth motion. His face had lost it’s passion, and now was an emotionless canvas.
“Hello, my little Wren,” he sneered, almost a whisper.
Wren was short-of-breath, partly from fear, partly from beating on two grown men, and lastly because of her rushed flight to the carriage. She had almost made it without him catching her. She forced her breath to slow.
She spat out his name with all the ire she felt. Her face was emotionless as well, but her eyes and voice held all the conviction that she felt. He knew he deserved her anger. He just didn’t want to admit it.
“Do you have a death wish or did I merely marry myself to a fool after all?” he asked.
Her eyes narrowed slightly. They were pushing each other, toying with emotions in attempt to make the other crack first. It was childish, Rand knew, but he let the thought fly away.
“I had quite forgotten I was married, since my husband has been away for these 6 months with only two brief notes and a shawl sent to me.”
“A shawl?” he asked,confusedly.
“Yes, this one…” she said, realizing as she touched it, that it had really been bought by McClure. “I’m going to make his other eye black.”
She threw the shawl out the window of the carriage. This action almost made Rand laugh. Instead, he turned it into a grunt of approval.
“Step into line after me.”
“For as clever as you seem, I assure you that would make him out of eyes to blacken.”
Matheson said nothing else for awhile, as he pondered on this woman he married. He regretted leaving as he did. He hated that she was all alone for the first two months that he was gone. He was in debt to McClure for stepping in when he had been too selfish to. He was going to have to give McClure a break for his recent antics because of it. Maybe he’d leave McClure’s second eye for Shae to blacken after all. God knows he deserved one himself. Letting her win the battle of wills, he dropped his facade. He sighed leaning his head back. After a few seconds, he looked her directly in the eyes.
“I have treated you reprehensibly. I don’t deserve your forgiveness for abandoning you, but please know that I am sorry.”
“We shall see how sorry you are, Matheson,” she said, stoically.
She had an iron-will, much stronger than his. He could see that now. As McClure had previously stated months ago, he didn’t deserve her.
They remained silent the rest of the way, both staring into nothing. When they arrived home, Shae went to the library, and Rand had a note sent to McClure, cancelling the appointment with him that he had made for late that night. Then he followed Shae into the library, and shut the door behind him.
“About this next mission, I’m still concerned that you don’t know what you are getting into.”
“I’m fully aware of the dangers.”
“No, I don’t think that you are. This is a national level mission in Chicago, dealing with politics and subterfuge. Has he not filled you in on this, yet?”
“No, but it doesn’t matter. I will still do it. This job has given me focus. I had none after Lucy died.”
Matheson sat down on the chair across from her.
“That I can understand. I knew I had to go to work after realizing I was drinking myself into a stupor. I felt that it was better that I go work away from you, rather than stay and hurt you. Now I realize that I hurt you, regardless.”
“Did you really stand-in for a lawyer there? Or did you go on missions?” she asked.
“I did both, actually. For awhile, I engrossed myself in both jobs, allowing the intrigue to numb me from what I needed to feel. What I needed to feel was the loss of the love of my daughter, and the loss of your friendship.”
Shae said nothing. She showed nothing.
“I am resolved to do this, Matheson,” she finally said.
Again with “Matheson”. McClure had warned him back in New York that things were becoming precipitous with their marriage. He had depended upon her being practical, but she was so practical that she now knew she could survive without him. He was loathe to admit it she could not only survive, but flourish. No thanks to McClure meddling ways, he now felt he needed to complete the mission in order to protect her.
“Very well. This should be interesting.”
“I think to do this, we not only need to get past this gap between us, we need to become friends again. I have been infiltrating the Chicago political arena for 6 years, as a lawyer. There has been some talk recently of someone plotting to assassinate one of the IL senators. Evidence in the form of of a letter or note is needed. To get that we have to attend a holiday ball held by the mayor of Chicago at his home. We believe that he may be involved.
“Due to my negligence, we have a lot to prove about our marriage. We actually owe McClure a lot for his idea of getting you to perform piano at society events. It gave you a reason for staying my wife. Without it, all attempts to prove we are a love-match would have failed. It will be hard to prove, even with McClure’s machinations. In order to seem “in love,” we have to act “in love.” And to act “in love”, we have to at least be comfortable with each other again. We really have to prove it to society. There can be no doubt, or one of us may end up dead.”
“What makes you think I can’t act “in love”?”
“Have you ever been in love, Shae?”
“Well, I have. Besides me, has any man every gotten close to you? Kissed you?”
“Then I have proven my point?”
Shae looked doubtful, so he flew from his chair, and in an instant was bending down over her. His arms were on either side of her. To her credit, she didn’t flinch, but she also didn’t look in love. She looked like an icicle. He told her so, then moved away.
“Perhaps. Of course, jumping at me, doesn’t exactly exhibit affection or love.”
“This is true. I guess we can practice tomorrow for Aunt Martha and Beatrice.”
“Yes,” was all she said.