It's that time again. Time to VOTE!
Today marks the beginning of Clash 7. It's hard to believe we're already on our last week of the Tournament of Champions. On Friday, you chose Karen Witemeyer as Finalist #3. There are two more Clashes (including today's) left to decide Finalist #4, then we'll be set for the Ultimate Showdown! But we can't do it without you. Cast your vote and spread the word. It's too much fun to keep to ourselves!
To make a good thing even better, we're offering yet another chance to win a $10 Starbucks gift card. The game is as easy as 1, 2, 3.
Today's gift card is brought to you by our own COTT staff, Lisa Lickel. She is also senior editor at Reflections in Hindsight and a multi-published author, her latest novel being A Summer in Oakville. Thank you, Lisa!
And now, let's VOTE!
“You know, Allan Burbridge, you’re being a hotheaded young fool,” Mr. Holmes sniffed in his honking way.
Ann’s skin crawled.
Allan crouched and retrieved one of the pistols. He stood, pointing it away, raised the hammer with his thumb, then let it down again. “Holmes, you are well aware this is not a matter of stolen property. You have permitted a young lady to be outraged. I give you this last opportunity to apologize for it, and to turn over your accomplice to us. Or, you may ready your pistol.”
“I will confess nothing of the sort, nor will I apologize to thieves and the friends of thieves,” Holmes said, checking his own weapon. An unpleasant smirk pulled his mouth crooked. “But my offer still stands. And I must warn you, I’m an excellent shot.”
Ann’s father stood, the pistol box at his feet. “Do not persist in this course, Mr. Holmes. Your stolen property, as you put it, is not this young man’s fault. He knew nothing of it... If you need to address your grievance, address it to me.”
“Very noble of you, Mr. Miller. But I won’t agree to it. For though you might throw away your own life, I do not think you will let this young man go to his death to protect a couple of runaway slaves. So tell me where they are, or I proceed against Mr. Burbridge.”
Ann’s father did not hesitate. “I am certain that if I did know the whereabouts of the persons you seek, divulging them to you would be as good as a death sentence for them. So I will not weigh the value of one life against another. Mr. Burbridge must make his own decision.”
“I am decided,” Allan said. “And since you will not repent of what you have done, we will proceed.”
Ann squeezed her gloved hands into fists under her crossed arms. Her knees were unsteady under her cape, and she braced herself against the coach. Lord, Lord, please. Preserve Allan. Misdirect their shots. Bring it all to an end without bloodshed.
Her father and the other second went through the business of checking the weapons, loading them, and supplying one each to the duelists. Allan and Mr. Holmes moved away from their seconds; the snow blew thicker about them until they were hazy silhouettes. They stood back to back, pistols raised, Allan’s young, straight figure contrasting with Mr. Holmes’s portly one.
“Ten paces,” the other second called. “At my count!”
Ann clamped a hand over her mouth.
The figures drifted slowly apart like shrouded specters. Ann stopped breathing.
The pistols erupted, puffs of black smoke against the white.
Both figures staggered backward and fell. Ann rushed out into the snow, picking up her skirts as she ran, freezing wetness pouring over the tops of her boots…
Here men made themselves into little gods, who wrenched away breath with metal and black powder. And this murder had been done in her name.
"Can’t you ever mind yer own business? Never mind, I see that’cha don’t. Always gotta be puttin’ in where it ain’t none o’ yer concern.”
Destiny clamped her mouth shut. Every word he spoke seemed to feed his fury. She didn’t dare risk fueling that dangerous rage any further. Instead, she prayed in silence as he tied her ankles and wrists.
Finally he pulled another piece of dirty cloth from his toolbox and crumpled it in his hands, dousing her hope that he wouldn’t gag her. She had wanted to be able to scream for help.
He appeared to enjoy stuffing the smelly rag into her mouth with unnecessary roughness. “Someone should’a done this a long time ago, then maybe ya wouldn’t be so quick to tell folks who they ought and ought not to be with.”
Trying not to gag at the foul odor and taste of the grimy cloth, Destiny felt the jerky tremors from Julie’s body. What would become of the two of them? She sent up another silent, desperate prayer, aware of the added danger imposed by the gag in her friend’s mouth. Please calm her, Father. Don’t let her strangle.
After shutting and latching his toolbox, the man stood and looked down at them. Thin, sandy blond hair, parted precisely in the middle, brushed the collar of his blue chambray shirt. A long, narrow nose came to a cartoonish point over thin, tight lips. Looming over them as he was, he seemed tall, but Destiny realized he was average height. In fact, everything about this man was quite ordinary. Other than that comical nose, she could find not a single mark or characteristic that would make him easily identifiable.
“What are you lookin’ at?” A dark scowl shadowed his pale face and thinned his lips even further. She shook her head, almost glad for the greasy cloth in her mouth that kept her from spouting off some derogatory and inflaming description. He had, after all, asked!
“Bah!” He waved a deprecating hand. Striding forward, he passed Destiny and rounded her desk, where she heard him moving things around, searching. The scratch of a pencil on paper soon followed. When he moved once more into her line of vision, his long, bony fingers were wrapped around a sheet of her letterhead. The paper was rolled into a cylinder and held with a rubber band. He eyed Julie and Destiny for a moment. Then his lips widened into a cold grin. Dropping onto one knee, he laid the paper aside and grabbed a handful of Destiny’s hair.
The pounding of her heart echoed in her ears like thunder. What was he up to now? A rough tug of her hair brought her head sharply into contact with Julie’s. When he picked the paper off the floor beside him, she realized his intentions. Leave your cowardly message then, and just get out.
But he had one last thing on his agenda.
He stood, pulled the little handgun from his pocket and pointed it at Julie’s head.