Perfection in my Eyes
by Cindy W.

Chapter 5b-The Courtship

One Week Later...

Archie lay on the blanket with his head cushioned on Leigha's thigh, he
played with the end of her long braid and watched her face as she glanced
over at Glory and Horatio. They had both decided to call a truce so Leigha
and Archie could enjoy the picnic without having to play referees. So far,
they had behaved themselves. There was only one tense moment when peace was
threatened and Glory, gleefully, took responsibility for the shakeup.

It happened during the meal, Horatio had just taken a bite of a wonderful,
sweet bread that he had never tried before.

"This is amazing!" he exclaimed, closing his eyes and savoring the morsel, "I
have never tasted anything like it. What is it, Leigha?"

"It's a corn pone," Glory answered him, instead.

"A corn porn?" Horatio asked with a frown at the unusual name.

"Yes, corn pone. It's made of flour, corn meal, sugah, and buttermilk." She
said, then added with a devilish gleam in her eyes, "It's American, suh, from
the southern states."

"It's delicious. I must hand it to you, Americans, you sure are inventive."
He replied, his eyes also gleaming.

"Ah'm surprised you like it, with your dislike of us 'barbarous Colonist,'
 Ah fully expected you to spit it out and declare it unfit for consumption."

"I don't dislike all Colonist, Miss Gloriana," Horatio said with a slight
smile, "just you."

"Feelings are quite mutual, Mistah Hornblower. Ah don't understand you
English gentlemen at all. Every one of you, with the exception of Archie, are
all prigs. And you, suh, are the worst of the lot."

"Well, if you are any example of the flower of American womanhood...I say,
good riddance to the entire continent!" he retorted.

"STOP!!" Leigha bellowed, in such a manner that it would have brought a smile
of approval from Captain Pellew himself. "You promised a truce. Now be still,
the both of you!"

"H'ratio, why don't you take Glory for a stroll around the park," Archie
suggested.

"Me? Walk with *her*? You've got to be joking?"

"Does it look like I'm joking? Really, Mr. Hornblower, go on. It won't kill
you...and if it does, I promise to avenge you."

"Very funny, Mr. Kennedy." Horatio muttered, casting Archie a glare, "This
really isn't a good idea, Archie."

"Are you chicken, Mr. Hornblower?" Glory taunted, "I am completely unarmed, I
assure you."

"Ha! Until they sew your mouth closed, you'll never be completely unarmed."
Horatio growled, but he rose and held out his hand to help Glory stand.

As they walked away, Archie smiled and shook his head, "I have no clue as to
why, but your friend seems to bring out the worst in Horatio."

"I wish I could say the same, but Glory is Glory. Though, she does seem to
take more of a fiendish delight in baiting him."

That was over an hour ago, and they hadn't heard nor seen anything of the two
since then.

"Leigha, stop worrying. They haven't fought in over an hour, and I doubt the
silence means they've done away with each other." Archie teased, giving
Leigha's braid a gentle tug. She smiled down at him and smoothed a lock of
hair off his brow.

"Ahhhhhh..." he sighed, "I'm going to miss this."

"Will you be leaving soon, Archie?"

"Aye, probably within the next three or four weeks. Horatio and I are
expecting our summons any time now. The Indy is almost completely repaired,
those damned Frogs really did a number on her this time."

"So soon? Oh, Archie," Leigha said sadly, "I shall miss you terribly."

"Here now," he replied, smiling up at her tenderly, "I haven't gone yet, Elf.
Please don't let this ruin our day together. We should enjoy what time we
have left. Really, if you're going to be a Naval Sweetheart, you'll have to
learn to be brave at the prospect of our parting, for as long as the war goes
on, it'll be frequent."

"Am I your sweetheart, Archie?" she asked ingenuously.

"Typical female, only hear what you want to hear." He laughed, then asked
seriously, "Do you wish to be?"

"With all my heart!" She exclaimed in delight.

"Then, yes, Elf, your my sweetheart and damned lucky to be. Just think,
scores of women clamoring for my affections, and you are the lucky lady who
wins them."

"Scores, Lieutenant?" Leigha scoffed, giving his hair a hard yank. "You've
had too much wine, sir. You're delusional."

Archie laughed and rubbed the tender spot on his head. "You know, Elf, I've
noticed you have quite a temper there. Whenever it's directed at me, you have
a tendency to call me Lieutenant."

"Really, Lieutenant? How very astute, you are." Leigha sniffed, but she
couldn't keep the smile from her lips.

************************************

Horatio and Glory walked along in silence. Every now and then, Glory would
stop to add another flower to her bouquet.

"How old are you?" Horatio asked from out of the blue.

She turned and looked up at him with an arched brow, "My dear, old Granny
says, 'a lady should never reveal her true age.' "

"You're hardly your dear, *old* granny, so I don't think there is any point
to hiding your age."

"Ah turn twenty this November, suh."

"Fancy that, nineteen and still unwed. Couldn't find anyone willing to have
your tongue sharpened on him on a daily basis?"

"For your information, Ah have turned down five marriage proposals since my
arrival in England, 8 months ago."

"Five, Miss Gloriana? I had no idea there were *that* many deaf gentlemen in
London all at one time."

The stunned look on her face was enough to keep Horatio in rapture for the
rest of the day. She was shocked speechless, a first for Glory, and not at
all a pleasant sensation. Usually, it was the other way around.

"Cat caught your tongue, Miss Glory?" Horatio goaded, grinning from ear to
ear.

"You, suh, are no gentlemen." Glory retorted as she turned and walked away in
a fury.

"No response? I suppose this means that I win this round?"

"Go to hell, Mr. Hornblower!"

Horatio followed behind her, chuckling in delight.

*************************************

By this time, Archie had coaxed Leigha to lay beside him on the blanket. She
had her head resting in his shoulder and they stared up at the clouds and
pointed out shapes to each other.

"Look, there's the Indy." Archie pointed to a large cloud.

"How do you know that's the Indy? It could be any ship." Leigha teased.

"Nonsense, there *is* no other ship but the Indefatigable."

"Is my rival to be a ship, then? How can I compete with that? I have not the
proud carriage nor the sleek lines. Alas, my dear sir, you are lost to me."
Leigha said in dramatic tones.

Archie rolled so that he lay half atop her and her breath caught in her
throat at the grin on his face and the look in his eyes.

"Oh, my sweet, sweet little elf, you have no rival. True, the Indy may be a
mistress, but you will always be my true north. She cannot hold me forever,
maybe steal me from your side for a while, but I'll always come back to you."

"Archie," she breathed as her throat closed on a little sob of hope, "is that
a declaration? Do you love me? Can you find it in your heart to love someone
like me?"

"Someone like you, Leigha? If you mean, can I love someone as sweet, as
charming, as lovely, as delectable as you? I'll say, 'of course I can' and I
do. Elf, I do love you. I only hope the sentiment is returned."

For an answer, she pulled his head down to hers and seized his lips in a kiss
of joy and tender passion. He responded eagerly, and quickly brought a new
element to the kiss: lust.

She gasped in wonder and the in shock as she felt his hand travel over her
throat, breast, stomach and hip. The shock quickly turned to pleasure as his
hand rested gently against her thigh. He pulled away from her lips and rained
fiery kisses down her throat. He impatiently removed the fiche away from the
low decollete of her gown and planted kisses against the exposed flesh. She
cried out in startled pleasure when she felt the heat of his hand against the
bare skin of her thigh, just above her stocking.

Suddenly, he stopped. She looked at him in dazed disappointment. He lightly
chuckled, kissed the tip of her nose and, with shaking hands, straightened
her gown.

"I hear Horatio and Glory returning," he explained when he saw the question,
and hurt, in her eyes.

"Oh, " she silently mouthed and blushed bright red.

"I think it best if you sit close to me and spread your skirt across my lap."
He said with another chuckle and it became a full-fledged laugh when he
watched her eyes travel to the front of his breeches and her cheeks and
throat pinked even further at what she beheld.

"Come now, Elf, compose yourself, or one will think you've been up to
something naughty." He teased. Then said as he glanced over her shoulder,
"Oh, there you two are. Still in one piece, I see."

********************************

Disclaimer: The next two chapters touch on my interpretations of
what happened between Archie and Simpson. I am not turning this into a slash
and there is no vivid descriptions of what happened between them. If you are
easily offended by this subject, go no further than here.

Thank you,

Cindy

*******************************

Chapter 6- Secrets Revealed

Leigha sat on the windowseat in the drawingroom watching the rain pour down.
A book lay in her lap, still on the page she had opened it to an hour ago.
Instead of reading it, she traced lazy hearts on the cold glass and smiled
dreamily, her thoughts on Archie and the picnic two weeks ago. She blushed
slightly as other thoughts of that day came to her in vivid clarity. She put
her hand to her flushed cheek and recalled the excitement of that moment. How
she couldn't think of anything but the feel of Archie, the scent of Archie,
and the delicious weight of him against her. She, God forgive her sinful
thoughts, couldn't wait to explore those sensations again.

Then she sighed morosely, those things weren't likely to happen again for a
good while. He had been disappointingly proper towards her, even his kisses
were chaste! And then, he had a sent a message around to her stating that he
and Horatio had been summoned back to Plymouth. She cried herself to sleep
that night, thinking that he would not return for a long while.

"Not a great start to being brave." She chided herself, before drifting on
into a restless slumber.

Two days ago, she had received another message from him. This one said that
they should be returning to London within the week. Repairs on the Indy were
being delayed due to the arrival of a shipment of badly warped lumber; which
now had to be shipped back and replaced, thus, setting back the repair date
by another two weeks at least.

"If ye please, Miss Leigha? Milady be wantin' ye to attend to her." Pansy,
Leona's maid, came into the room to deliver the message.

"Thank you. Where is she, Pansy?" Leigha asked, wondering what menial task
Leona had set aside for her.

"She's still abed, Miss."

"Inform her that I'll be up directly, Pansy."

"Ais, Miss Leigha."

Leigha put the book aside, tucked Archie's note in her pocket, and with a
sigh headed upstairs to attend Leona.

"Madame, you wished to see me?"

"Oh, Leigha...thank God. Come in, dear, hurry."

Leigha glanced at her stepmother with surprise and suspicion on her face. She
entered the bedchamber warily, then took one good glance at Leona and her
suspicion became concern. Leona was pale and clammy and she knelt at the side
of her bed with her head over the chamberpot, retching miserably.

"Pansy," Leigha ordered, taking charge if the situation, "get milady some
weak tea with plenty of sugar and some dry toast."

"Ais, Miss Leigha." Pansy said with a curtsey and hurried to do as she was
bid.

Leigha then wet a cloth and brought it over to Leona. She gently helped her
back onto the bed and wiped her brow and flushed face.

"How long have you been like this?" Leigha asked.

"Oh, for about a week now, but it usually passes by midmorning."

"By midmorning, you say? Leona, forgive me for not being delicate, when was
your last flow?"

"My last flow? Oh, I don't know...mayhap, two months ago. Why do you ask?"

"Do you think you could be with child?" Leigha asked hesitantly. "I remember
Aunt Clara being sick in the mornings when was enceinte."

"With child?" Leona asked in surprise, "I never considered that. Damn your
father!"
Then, suddenly she smiled, not with happiness but with smug satisfaction,
"Now that changes everything, doesn't it?"

Leigha looked at her stepmother in consideration, before replying, "Pansy,
should be up with your breakfast. Eat it, it'll help settle your stomach.
Perhaps, you should stay abed today and take it easy?"

"Yes," Leona beamed, "I believe I shall. Send your father up to me when he
returns."

"I will." Leigha promised.

"Leigha? Aren't you going to congratulate me?"

"Of course, Leona," She replied, forcing a smile, "I'm very happy for you and
father."

She shut the door gently behind her, leaned against it and closed her eyes.
She *was* happy for her father, but she couldn't help feeling some envy.
Envy, because someone like Leona, a woman who could never love a child, was
being so blessed. Leigha longed for a family of her own. A husband to lavish
love on and brood of children they could both adore and spoil. She touched
the note in pocket lovingly and turned in the direction of her room.

Genny's room door flew open and with a smile of satisfaction, identical to
her sister's, Genny invited Leigha in for a chat.

"Could this day get any worse?" Leigha thought to herself.

***********************************

Archie and Horatio rode the post on their from Plymouth to London. Both
trying to hang onto balance and dignity as the coach rumbled it's way over
very bad roads.

"Damn," Archie grumbled, rubbing his head where it had smacked against the
window frame," Must the driver seek out every rut in the road?"

Horatio shifted gingerly, trying to find an area on his abused posterior that
wasn't already bruised, "Oh, Archie, must you exaggerate? He hasn't hit
*every* rut, I believe he missed at least two."

"Just like you, Mr. Hornblower, to be counting them." Archie answered with a
grin.

Horatio chuckled and shifted once more. Silence descended, except for the
grunts and murmured curses. They both stared out the window and tried to
admire the changing landscape.

"Horatio?" Archie asked hesitantly.

"Mmmmmm...?" Horatio responded absently.

"I think I'm going to ask Leigha fro her hand."

"Think, Archie? Are you not sure? Do you not care as much for her as you
believed?"

"Oh, no! I have learned that, on my part, absence *has* made the heart grow
fonder, it's just that..." Archie trailed off.

"Just what?" Horatio prodded gently.

"I don't deserve her. She's too good for me. Too pure for me to even think
about touching. I have nothing to offer her. I'm a broken shell of a man,
prone to fits and panic attacks." Archie answered, his feelings pouring out
in a bitter rush.

Horatio stayed silent a moment, he pulled at his lower lip as he tried to
think of the best way to handle this situation. Sometimes, with Archie, it
was hard to figure what was the best approach to take; especially when he was
consumed by his self-hatred and doubts.

"Archie," Horatio began carefully, "there is nothing wrong with you. You have
not had a fit in several months now and I saw no signs of panic when we
engaged The Celeste, I witnessed only bravery on your behalf. Besides,
shouldn't it be Leigha who makes the decision as to whether you deserve her
or not? If she's willing to accept you as you are, how can you complain?"

"Horatio, she has no clue *what* I truly am, what nightmares I've had to
endure."

"Then tell her, Archie."

"I can't do that, I can't burden her. She's a gently raised lady, she'd never
understand." Archie protested.

"Look, you'll have to tell her something. If you pull away now, you'll only
hurt her. Do you want her to think ill of you? Do wish her to believe that
mayhap it was only her fortune you cared about after all? Because that is
exactly the conclusion everyone will come to. Can you hold her up to that
kind of ridicule? You love her, Archie, won't being without her only make you
miserable? Is that what you want?'

Archie remained silent and looked everywhere but at Horatio.

"My God! Do you really think you deserve this much misery? Why can't you
allow yourself happiness? It's *not* going to be snatched away from you, as
you seem to think."

"But it is, it always is. When things get better, something else comes along
and ruins it. I don't have your damnable luck, Horatio. I don't have your
charmed life, you know." Archie said, the envy he usually kept bottled away,
showing itself.

"It's not *like* that." Horatio protested.

"It's *exactly* like that." Archie sneered in response.

Horatio sighed, "Archie, we've had this conversation before, and, no, you
don't have my luck, but you have something infinitely better...you have the
love of a wonderful woman. What do I truly have compared to that?"  

Archie laid his head back against the cushion of the coach and closed his
eyes wearily, "Your right, your absolutely right, But I'm...scared, Horatio.
What will I do if she's taken from me? I know I'll be happy with her, but I
always seem to have these black clouds that hang over my head. Is it fair to
her? Should I ask her to live this life with me?"

"Let her decide. That is all you can do. Trust her judgment and believe in
her strength."

**************************************

Leigha was developing a headache. How much worse was this day going to get?
She rubbed her temples as she lay back on her bed and contemplated the
ceiling, as if it contained the answer to the question she just posed. For
over two hours her home had been in an uproar.

Leigha's father had come back from his club, and was immediately sent
upstairs to his wife. Leigha had sat in the parlor with Genny and listened to
her drone on and on about the Duke of Belshear, who was coming for tea and
also to discuss marriage arrangements with Sir Ainsley.

Wasn't it marvelous? Genevieve had asked Leigha, that Leona had only managed
to snare a Knight of the Realm and Leigha a mere naval officer (though there
were doubts about that coming to fruition) while she, the glorious Genevieve
Margaret Elizabeth D'Armond, was to get a Duke.

Leigha's hand itched to slap the smirk off of Genny's beautiful face,
"Besides" she told herself, "no amount of kissing from Princess Genevieve is
ever going to turn His Grace, the Bullfrog of Belshear, into a handsome
prince."

At that moment, Sommes and Leona came into the parlor together, and in her
excitement, Genny rushed to them exclaiming, "Oh, Brother, have you
forgotten? You cannot greet His Grace in those clothing. Too casual by far!
He is to ask for my hand, and you must prove that you are not going to be an
undesired connection; or all will fall through! Is this not right, Leona? Oh,
Sister! How exciting!"

Any other time, Leona would have joined in her sister's merriment and they
both would have banded together to lord Genny's triumph over Leigha. Today,
though, she had no time for her sister when her own news was far more
paramount.

"Yes, yes, Genevieve, it's all very well." She said, shortly to her sister.
"Where is Charles?"

"Here I am, Madame." A young man, said from the doorway.

Leigha smiled fondly at her twelve-year-old brother and patted the space
beside her on the chaise lounges. He returned the smile as he came to sit
next to her. His brown eyes filled with curiosity and trepidation. Leigha
ruffled his brown curls, so like her own, in reassurance.

"We have gathered the family together for an announcement of an event that
will bring great changes, as well as, great joy to us," Sommes began, " Leona
and I are to have a child."

Genny. who was in the midst of preening, stopped dead still as the words sank
in and she realized they had nothing to do with her. Suddenly, she leapt up
and screamed at her sister, "NO! YOU HAD TO RUIN MY DAY, DIDN'T YOU!? THIS
WAS MEANT FOR ME! IT WAS TO BE MY CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT! HOW DARE YOU!"

"Oh, Genny, be still! Must you be dramatic?" Leona snapped.

"I WILL NOT!!!!" Genny yelled back, and from there a strident argument ensued.

Charles sighed and rolled his eyes at Leigha, then a devilish light came into
his eyes and over the din, Charles made the declaration that if there was to
be a new child, then he would join the navy, like Mr. Kennedy. Sommes, who
was already annoyed with his wife and sister-in-law, did not find this funny
and quickly another heated argument sprung up between father and son. Leigha,
soon, was battered at from all parties to take a side.

She looked up in relief when Buckston cautiously opened the door and caught
her eye. She made her way to the butler and hurriedly closed the door behind
her.

"A message for you, Miss Leigha, just arrived." He said holding out the
salver. She took the letter and escaped upstairs to her room, where she
closed out the chaos of the household.

And here she laid for the last two hours, holding the message against her
chest and praying it was from Archie. Finally, she could no longer stand the
suspense and she eagerly broke the seal. She paled at what she read, it
chilled her to the very marrow of her bones.

Miss Sommes,

You have no clue as to my identity, and it must remain so. I have heard from
an acquaintance that you are being courted by a Lt. Archibald Kennedy. I am,
also, to understand that you are an innocent young lady of sizable fortune,
and I cannot in good conscience, remain silent on certain information I have
regarding Lt. Kennedy.

I pray this reaches you before you pledge your troth to him. Madame, he is
not what he seems. I know him for what he truly is, Miss Sommes; and that
truth is that Archie Kennedy is a sodomite, a lover of men. You have only to
mention the name Jack Simpson to him or his men, and you will see the guilt
and the truth of it on their faces. I will not go into detail, as you are a
genteel lady of good birth and decent upbringing, but I will go so far as to
say, that many suspect more to his close friendship with Lt. Hornblower than
meets the eye.

I apologize if I have shocked you, but I believe this unpleasant business of
informing you to be my duty.

A Friend.

Leigha dropped the letter as though it had burned her, she stared at it in
horror. She couldn't believe what she just read, Archie a...a...sodomite? No,
that couldn't be true. He couldn't have kissed her or touched her as he did,
unless he was an excellent actor.

She, quickly picked up the letter and hid it under her mattress where it
would remain out of sight. She'd wait until she saw Archie again, then she
would show him the letter and find out the truth for herself.

Pray God, it was all a lie.

***********************************
Chapter 7a- The Proposal

"Hurry, Horatio!" Archie called from the bottom of the inn's stairway.

"I'm coming, Archie! Stay calm!" Horatio yelled back as he closed the room
door and descended the stairs. "One would think you in a hurry, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie grumbled something beneath his breath and Horatio laughed as he caught
bits and pieces of it.

"I presume, it is I you wish to keelhaul and not Leigha. I heard both of our
names in that mumbled speech and wish to clarify the victim." Horatio
couldn't resist teasing.

"I SAID!" Archie bellowed, he flushed and lowered his voice when the other
patrons turned towards him and stared. "I said, that if you delay any longer,
I will personally see you keelhauled. Now belay teasing me, Horatio, I'm
already a nervous mess."

"What have you to be nervous about? It's not as if you're proposing marriage
or anything like that...oh, wait, you are proposing marriage."

"Just wait until it is your turn, Horatio." Archie threatened, "Just you
wait."

"Do you really need me along, Archie?" Horatio asked.

"Yes, you must keep Glory company while I talk to Leigha alone. I want to
know her answer before I approach her father."

Horatio scowled, "Must I keep that woman company? Couldn't you lock her in an
attic for a while?"

"I'm not going to dignify that with an answer, Horatio." Archie muttered.

"Better yet, a nice, small padded room at Bedlam."

"Horatio!"

************************************

Buckston had a footman show the two officers out into the garden where Leigha
walked with Glory. They all greeted each other, but Leigha seemed a little
cool towards Archie. He looked at her in surprise.

Horatio, too, caught the almost chilly reception and they way Leigha had
quickly removed her hand from Archie's. Concerned for his friend and knowing
that now would be a good to time to leave them alone, he asked Glory, without
further complaint, to show him the gardens.

She looked bewildered at his request, but after darting a glance at Leigha
and Archie, she nodded her assent and walked off with him.

"Do you know what is wrong?" He whispered.

"No," Glory whispered back, "she has mentioned nothing. Come to think of it,
she has not mentioned Archie at all, the last couple of days."

"Not at all?"

"No, Horatio, not one word."

************************************

A tense silence remained between Archie and Leigha. Unable to stand it any
longer, he broke it. "You look prettier than ever, Elf." He complimented,
though he noticed that she looked pale and tired. There were deep circles
under her eyes, which themselves, teemed with a thousand emotions. He wished
he could hold her in his arms and soothe her troubles, but something in the
way she held herself away from him prevented his approach.

"Thank you." She said flatly.

"Leigha, is there something troubling you? You look as if you have not slept
in days."

Leigha opened her mouth as if to say something, then quickly turned her back,
gathered her composure, and then turned to face him again with a wan smile
pasted on her lips, "Tis nothing, Archie. The household has been at sixes and
sevens the last couple of days. No one is talking to anyone else except me,
and I am run ragged."

Archie smiled, "My poor Elf, come, maybe I can kiss you and make it better?"

"I am fine, Archie, really." Leigha said abruptly, then winced as she saw
hurt cross his features.

"Leigha, will you please tell me what is going on? Is it something I have
done?" Archie asked hoarsely.

"I received a letter while you were away." She said briskly, before she could
lose her nerve. "Here," she thrust the letter at him, "perhaps you should
read it."

Archie took the letter and opened it. He read it quickly, then looked up at
Leigha with shocked eyes. His hands trembled as he held the paper away from
him, as if it were tainted, and slowly shook his head from side to side. The
blood had drained from his face leaving him deathly pale. His blue eyes stood
out in stark relief in the pallor of his face and they were filled with a
strange mixture of pain, terror, shame and guilt.

It was the guilt that broke through Leigha's concern, "My God," she
whispered, "it's true."

"NO!" Archie exclaimed forcefully.

"I don't believe you. I can see it in your eyes, the letter was right."

"No, Leigha, no! It wasn't like that!" He denied gripping her shoulders and
shaking her in his agitation.

"Don't touch me, Archie." She ordered, jerking away from him. "Leave, don't
ever come back. I won't say anything about the letter, but I never want to
see you again."

"Leigha, please, Love, listen to me, "Archie pleaded, "I can't tell you what
happened. I don't even want to remember, but trust me. Please, trust me?"

"Trust you?" She asked coldly, "Oh, I trusted you, Archie. I gave you my
heart, I let you take liberties with me, and what did I get for that kind of
trust? A sodomite, who planned to marry me for my fortune. Were you and your
lover planning to murder me afterwards? I was such a bloody fool to believe
you could love me. What was I thinking? You, Sir, are wasted on the Navy,
when Drury Lane would have suited your talents better. Now leave and never
darken my doorway again!"

Archie looked at her with agony plainly drawn on his face. He could see the
edges of his vision darken and feel himself withdrawing from all awareness of
his surroundings. He knew he was on the verge of a fit. For the first time in
his life, he could feel the start of one and helpless to do anything about
it, he collapsed, shaking, at Leigha's feet.

She dropped to her knees at his side and looked around for someone she could
send for help. She spied a cap of dark curls over a hedge and screamed,
"Horatio! It's Archie, come quick!"

Horatio came running around a turn and slid on his knees to a stop besides
Archie's thrashing figure. "It's all right. Archie, " he murmured as he held
his friend's head on his lap, "Shhh...Archie, your fine."

"Should I..." Leigha began, licking lips gone dry in fear, "should I send for
the Doctor?"

"No," Horatio answered shaking his head, "he'll be fine. See, he's already
calming."

Archie lay still, his breathing harsh and uneven. He stretched out from the
ball he had been curled into and tried to take deep, calming breaths. He
looked up into Leigha's eyes and caught the pity in them.

"Better that you would look at me with contempt again." He sneered at her,
then turned his face to Horatio and murmured, "Take me back to the inn,
Horatio."

"Archie, mayhap it would be better for you to rest here."

"No, Horatio," he said, grabbing a fistful of Horatio's shirt and glancing
back at Leigha, "she want me gone. She thinks Simpson and I were lovers. She
thinks *you* my lover now. She'll never understand the truth, I told you so."

"Could we have use of a carriage, Miss Sommes?" Horatio asked giving into
Archie's protest.

"Don't be ridiculous! No, you may *not* have use of a carriage." Leigha
snapped, concern for Archie evident in her eyes and voice, "Archie's in no
shape to travel. You'll stay tonight. I'll send Pax around to the inn to
collect your things."

"No," Archie objected, "we go back to the inn."

"Horatio glanced at Leigha in gratitude and helping Archie up, they made
their way slowly to an upstairs guestchamber, despite his strident arguments.

Leigha watched as Horatio helped get Archie settled into the bed and then
softly called out from the doorway, "I'll leave you. You have only to ring if
you need anything. I'll my father Archie was taken suddenly ill."

She glanced over at Archie, but he kept his face stubbornly turned away from
her. Horatio walked over to the door and whispered a thank you.

"Tell him, I'm sorry." She whispered back, "Let him know that I'm willing to
trust him, that I made a horrible mistake."

"He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, "Come back a little later,
Leigha."

She nodded and left the room. Glory was waiting for her in the parlor and she
walked straight into her friend's open arms and cried.

***********************************************

She sat by his bedside and watched the flickering candlelight cast shadows
over his handsome features. He muttered something in his sleep and then began
to strike out at something.

"No! Simpson, no!" He cried out, sitting straight up in bed.

Leigha moved to sit on the bedside and put her hands on his shoulders,
"Archie, wake up. It me, Leigha."

He slowly turned his head towards her and smiled in recognition. "My little
Leigha."

Then he became fully aware of his surroundings and pulled away from her, "Go
'way."

"No, I am not going to go away." She said ignoring the little sting that came
with his words. After all, did she expect him to give her a warm welcome
after the debacle of this afternoon?

"Go, Leigha, I'm too tired to fight with you anymore."

"I don't want to fight with you, I want to say I'm sorry. I didn't understand
what was going on, but I do now."

"Damn, Horatio! He had no right to tell you."

"He didn't tell me anything. I'm *not* stupid, Archie. I figured it out for
myself. I may be sheltered, but I'm not blind to what kinds of evil exist in
the world. You were forced, no, I must call it by what it truly is, you
were...raped by this Simpson, weren't you?"

"I don't wish to talk about it! Now, leave me alone, damn it!" he snapped
turning away.

"Then don't talk about it, Archie, but know that I'll be hear to listen if
you ever decide to. I promise, I won't judge or jump to conclusions this
time." She offered, gently stroking the nape of his neck. She leaned down to
place a tender kiss upon the satiny stretch of skin, "I was wrong, Archie. I
was scared and insecure, I kept thinking you were too good to be true. That
there had to be a catch, this whole thing was too perfect to happen to me,
and I used the letter as a convenient tool to push you away, to punish you
for loving me."

"He ruined me, Leigha" He said so quietly, she had to strain to hear him," He
destroyed me over and over again. I thought I would go mad. It wasn't just
the humiliation and pain, Leigha, it was the fact that I *let* him use me
like...like...a...a whore. I didn't stop him or fight him, I didn't even
*try*. I was too frightened by him, everyone was. That's no excuse, though, I
should have done something...*anything* to stop the abuse."

"Oh, Archie." She said with tear-filled eyes.

"You see why I couldn't tell you? To let you know what a coward I was? I was
another man's vessel, Leigha. Who wants that? Once, you asked me if I could
love someone like you, the real question is can *you* love someone like *me*?
Can you, Leigha? You could barely look upon me, barely stand my touch, but
hours ago; can you love me, accept me, know that you know my dirty secret?"

"Dearest Archie, how stupid I was. I shall never forgive myself for the pain
I caused you!" Leigha berated herself, her hands framed his face and the
tears in her eyes spilled down her cheeks.

He tried to pull away from her, but she wouldn't let him. "I don't want your
pity."

"No, no, not pity," she murmured, covering his eyes, cheek, lips and jaw with
kisses, "please, Love, don't pull away from me. I don't care about that,
you're all that matters. I don't pity you, but I do hurt for you. Archie,
what that sick bastard did to you was a heinous crime, but *you* do not
disgust me. I love you, want you, need you. Oh, Love, I need you very badly."

He looked into her eyes in amazement, not sure that he understood her
meaning. She stood up and keeping her eyes locked on his, she let her gown
fall from her body.

"Leigha..." he breathed, his voice trailing off as his eyes traveled over her
body from head to toe. Then, with a strangled cry he pulled her into his arms
and rolled her onto the bed beneath him. He began to worship her with lips,
hands and body.

She loosened his queue and removed his nightshirt, she ran her hands down his
muscular back and flanks and sighed his name in pleasure.

*****************************************

Chapter 7b- The Proposal

"I didn't hurt you, did I? I know I was a little rough, but it's been a long
time since I've had a woman." He asked, then realized how she might construe
such a comment, "Oh, God, Leigha, I didn't mean that you were *any* woman.
What I meant was...that you were...oh, bloody hell."

Leigha laughed and placed her fingers against his lips, "I know what you
meant, Archie. Now hush, before you end up digging yourself into a hole you
cannot possibly climb out of."

Archie smiled at her and placed a kiss against her fingers, then laid them on
his chest. She placed her head on his shoulders and played with his loosened
hair, "Archie?"

"Hmmm?" he replied absently as he enjoyed the sensual feel of her hair
tangled about them and her warm, soft body pressed against his.

"It only hurt for a moment. After that, I felt only pleasure. I love you,
Archie." She said shyly burying her face in the curve between his neck and
shoulder. She took a deep breath and then another as she reveled in the spicy
scent of his skin.

"I love you, as well." He answered tenderly, then with a devilish grin he
pulled her atop his body. She blushed at the strange position, but did not
move from it. She lowered her head onto his chest and sighed blissfully. He
tightened his arms around her and closed his eyes, at that moment, he didn't
think he could be any happier.

"Please God," he silently prayed, "don't take this away from me."

****************************************

Archie was startled awake from a deep sleep by the sound of a door closing.
He shot up in bed and quickly clutched the covers to him.

"Good morning, slugabed." Came the amused voice of Horatio as his eyes took
in the disheveled state of the bed as well as it's unclothed occupant. He
casually handed Archie his nightshirt from where it had landed across the
room. "That must have been some nightmare."

"Shut up, Horatio." Came Archie's laughing reply. He pulled the shirt over
his head and looked at Horatio expectantly. Horatio raised his brow
quizzically.

"Where's my breakfast?" Archie demanded.

"Good Lord, man! Do I look like a serving wench?" Horatio teased.

"No," Archie shot back, "wenches are usually more comely and not scrawny as
chickens."

"Chickens are noble birds, Mr. Kennedy."

"Aye, stuffed and basted in their own juices."

Their teasing was interrupted by a light knock on the door. A maid entered
the room, carrying a tray laden with food. Leigha followed closely on her
heels. She greeted Horatio with a smile, then blushed as she meet Archie's
eyes but her smiled widened. She walked to his bedside to fluff his pillows
and straighten his blanket.

"Okay, Millie, set the tray down and you may go." She told the maid, who did
as she was bid and left the room after bobbing a quick curtsey.

Leigha perched herself primly on the edge of the bed and fussily smoothed her
skirt down. Archie glanced at her and with a grin, he leaned over and placed
a kiss on her cheek. She turned to him with a brilliant smile.

"You look very pretty today, Leigha." Horatio complimented, "There's
something different about you, but I can't put my finger on it..."

Leigha gave him a startled glance and then lowered her eyes in embarrassment.
She missed the glare Archie shot Horatio in warning.

"I know what it is," he continued, "you arranged your hair differently. It's
very becoming, you should wear it like that more often."

"Yes, I did. Thank you, Horatio." She said, twining her fingers in one of the
long ringlets that rested over her right shoulder.

Archie looked over at her and had to swallow his laughter. He *knew* exactly
why she had arranged her hair in that manner, somewhere under that shiny mass
of curls, was a large love bite.

"Yes, it is becoming," He teased her, "I, daresay, you'll be wearing your
hair like that quite often."

"Eat, Archie." She said, picking up a sausage and stuffing it into his mouth.

Millie came flying into the room after a preemptory knock, "Gracious, Miss
Leigha, pardon me, but ye bes' come quickly."

"What is it, Millie?"

" 'Is Grace 'as come unexpected like, well not really unexpected, Miss
Genevieve known about 'is arrival; she jus' didn't tell no one. And Miss
Gloriana, she 'as come, too. Milady is in an uproar sumfink awful, Miss."
Millie told Leigha in one breath.

"Oh for heaven's sake," Leigha said impatiently, "if you will excuse me?
Archie, you just rest up here today."

"Yes, mam." Archie replied obediently, giving Horatio a wink.

"Horatio, you will join us for tea?" Leigha asked.

"Uh, no. I think I'll stay and keep Archie out of trouble, Leigha." Horatio
declined.

"Nonsense, you *will* come down for tea with His Grace, the Duke of
Belshear." Leigha insisted.

"Oh, 'urry, Miss," Millie begged wringing her hands nervously.

"Tell them I'll be down directly. Have Cook bring out the marmalade and
inform Buckston that we shall use the Peers' service." Leigha instructed.

"Yes, Miss." Millie said and left quickly.

"Now, Horatio, you *are* coming down and you *will* take tea with us. How
often do you get to spend the afternoon with the upper echelon of society?"

"I once had dinner with a French Count." Horatio hedged, but gave in when he
noticed the pleading in her eyes. "Oh, very well. I wish I was the one who
had the fit."

"Don't worry, H'ratio, You'll be in the company of both Genevieve and Glory,
there is still a good possibility of you having one before the afternoon
wanes." Archie teased wriggling happily into the feather mattress.

*************************************

"Poor Leigha," Horatio thought as he sat with her family and their guests,
"she is surrounded by lunatics."

He watched with awe as she sat in their midst, serenely sipping her tea. She
deflected the barbs thrown at her by Genny and His Grace, who amazingly
resembled a large frog, with a shrug and a laugh. She kept Glory from flying
off the handle in her defense, and she kept her father and stepmother's
bickering from getting out of hand. She did all this and still managed to
look as tranquil as a country painting. Horatio was beginning to envy Archie
his luck in finding her. What man could *not* want such a virtuous woman as a
wife?"

When he could politely do so, he excused himself from the group and went to
check on Archie. He found him sitting in a chair by the window, his booted
feet crossed at the ankles. A frown marred his features as he contemplated
the view.

"What is it, Archie?" Horatio asked.

Archie jumped, "Oh, it's you. Nothing's wrong. I'm just thinking."

"Would you care to tell me about what?"

"Leigha." Archie replied, "Horatio, she knows the truth, she saw me at my
lowest and, yet, she *loves* me. How can I ever repay her the gift she's
given me, and then last night she...ummm...she..."

"Gave herself to you?" Horatio supplied helpfully.

Archie flushed crimson and nodded.

"She's amazing, Archie. You should have seen her handle her family, and she
wasn't even ruffled. I would have been tempted to shoot them, or myself, by
now. You could do no better than her, but when are you going to ask for her
hand? In light of the current...ahem...situation, I honestly hope you have
already taken care of that detail." Horatio queried with a lift of his brow.

"Er..." Archie's blush deepened, "I forgot to."

"You forgot to?" Horatio echoed incredulously.

"It was the heat of the moment, you see and then I fell asleep."

"You fell asleep?"

"What are you? Blackbeard's parrot? Will you belay repeating everything I
say." Archie retorted irritably

Before either men could say anything else, a huge commotion broke out below
stairs. Horatio and Archie shot to their feet and down the stairs to
mid-landing.

"You, bitch! You, scheming, selfish bitch!" Leigha screamed as she struggled
against her father's restraining grasp. Genevieve cowered in her fiance's
arms and an angry red imprint of Leigha's hand marred the perfection of one
pale cheek. "How dare you interfere in my life! I should have known *you'd*
have something to do with the letter!"

Horatio stood in openmouthed astonishment and Archie raised a brow and
whispered, "Not a feather ruffled, H'ratio?"

***************************************

Chapter 7c- The Proposal

They sat in Sommes study, Leona had been sent upstairs to rest, She claimed
that the days excitement had taken a toll on her nerves, which in her
delicate condition, could not be considered healthy.

It was just Genevieve, Leigha and Archie. Leigha's cheeks were still flushed
and her eyes still blazed with anger. To her satisfaction, Genevieve's cheek
still showed the mark of her hand.

"Now you will explain yourself, Leigha." Sommes demanded, "Good God, girl,
'tis not like you to be so unevened tempered."

"She had a nasty letter sent to me, Father. It was filled with the most
vicious lies about Archie!"

"It was not a lie!" Genny protested, "Eustace heard the story from his
cousin, a former lieutenant aboard the Justinian."

"Silence!" Sommes demanded, "Now, what is so important in a letter that it
causes such a hullabaloo?"

"Mr. Kennedy, though I am too much a lady to want to repeat the word, is a
sodomite, sir."

"Genny, you best have good evidence to support such a slanderous remark."
Sommes warned.

Leigha felt Archie stiffen at the remark. She placed her hand on his thigh
and gave it a slight, comforting squeeze before settling it back upon her own
lap. He looked at her with heartbreaking hopelessness. She gave him a small
yet brave smile and mouthed silently for him to trust her.

"Of course, I can support the charge, Ainsley." Genny sneered," His Grace's
cousin, Lt. Reginald Clement, was a fourth lieutenant aboard the ship when
Mr. Kennedy first joined as midshipman. He told Eustace about the
relationship between Jack Simpson and Mr. Kennedy. He, also, explained that
shortly after Mr. Hornblower's arrival, a friendship sprang up between the
two men and Mr. Simpson must've taken exception to it upon *his* return to
the Justinian because a duel was fought. That duel was followed by another,
this one after their transfer to the Indefatigable, and Mr. Simpson was
killed."

Sommes turned to Archie and asked," Is this true, sir?"

"No!" Archie denied emphatically, "Mr. Simpson and Horatio did indeed fight a
duel, but only one, sir. The first time a shipmate, Mr. Clayton, ended up
fighting the duel after Horatio was rendered unconscious. That was brought
about after Mr. Simpson accused Horatio of cheating at whist. The second duel
was also for reasons that had naught to do with me."

"Are you saying you have no clue as to why the duel was fought?" Sommes
queried softly.

"At the time of that duel, sir, I was a French prisoner. You'll have to ask
Horatio if you wish to know the reasons, but if I may say, it has no bearing
on the situation now. I have been grossly accused of what amounts to a crime
and it has nothing to do with Horatio. We are not lovers, sir." Archie
stated, looking Sommes directly in the eyes. His voice ringing with a
conviction that never wavered.

Leigha looked at him with pride in her eyes, "Father, I believe him. You must
believe him, too."

Sommes turned towards his daughter, there was confidence in her voice he had
not heard before. He glanced at her, then at Archie, then back again at
Leigha. An understanding seem to come to him, he stopped pacing and sat down
behind his desk. He calmly steepled his fingers and stared at them all.

"Genevieve, your behavior is inexcusable. You have done nothing but show
yourself to be a selfish, silly child. You are to marry a Duke, and yet, you
still find it necessary to do something so petty and jealous. I am done with
you, Genny. You will still marry from this house, but after that I never wish
to see you in this house again."

"We'll see what Leona says about that." Genny replied smugly.

"I AM MASTER IN THIS HOUSE! MY WORD IS LAW!!" Sommes roared, slapping his
palms on he desk.

Genny jumped to her feet, "You stupid, old fool! You can nothing but your
perfect, precious, sweet little Leigha! She can do no wrong! She can tell no
lie! Well, let me tell you about your slut of a daughter, Miss Paragon of
Perfection! I saw her sneak out of Mr. Kennedy's room early this morning
dressed in nothing but her shift and carrying her clothes! So now, tell me
about dearest, *innocent* Leigha!"

"To your room, Genevieve, "Somme ordered," I have never raised a hand in
anger against anyone in my family, but I am strongly tempted now. Get thee
gone!"

Genny flounced out of the room. Sommes shot a stern look at Archie and
Leigha. "Is this true, Daughter?"

"Yes, Sir." Leigha said simply.

"Sir Ainsley," Archie interjected, " I was going to do this before the drama
occurred. I want to marry Leigha. I am not the richest nor the best choice
for her, but I love her. I will do all I humanly can to insure her comfort
and to make her happy. I have selfish reasons as to why I wish her to marry
me, I cannot live without her. It is easier for me to deal with what demons I
have when I know she is there to comfort and support me."

Sommes looked at Leigha, "Is he what you want? Will you be content with a
Naval Officer, who'll be at sea more often than naught?"

"Yes, Papa." Leigha once more replied simply, but the light in her eyes and
the smile on her face told Sommes more than words could ever express.

Archie leaned towards her and cupped her chin in his hand, "Be sure, Leigha,
be very sure. I could not survive if you ended up hating me later. I cannot
keep you in the style you have been accustomed to. An officer's pay is very
scant and the allowance I get from my father is not much more. Your life as
my wife will not be simple."

"I am sure, Archie." She assured him and leaned in to gently kiss him. Archie
wrapped his arms around her and happily returned the kiss.

Sommes, who was obviously forgotten, smiled and as he watched the two lovers
embrace, he murmured, "Welcome to the family."

***************************