This next scene takes place after Kent returns to Virginia. 😀
Kent returned to Virginia as soon as he could. He’d taken the first train out of Jamestown, had thought of many things he could have done—should have done—differently. But he couldn’t go back and change anything. He had to get back home before his father suspected something. Next time he went for Ann, he’d make sure he had enough money to rescue her.
Before he could make his escape, he had to contend with his father and help Rebecca and Samuel get to Canada. Patience. He just needed to be patient. All good things came to those who waited. He repeated this to himself as he got off the train in Virginia and carried his luggage home. He could have summoned a driver, but he preferred to walk because it put off facing his father a little bit longer. As soon as the investments matured, he’d no longer be under his father’s thumb. His life would be his own.
“Patience,” he whispered as he strolled down the street. “It’s only a few more months.”
It didn’t occur to him that people were glancing his way and shaking their heads in disapproval until he reached the front of his house. Surprised, he studied the couple who quickly averted their gazes once he made eye contact with them. What was going on?
“Excuse me,” he told the man who jerked, an indication he hadn’t expected Kent to talk to him. Not letting this fact dissuade him, Kent waited for the man and woman to stop before he asked him, “Am I wearing something inappropriate?”
The man’s eyebrows furrowed. “You’re concerned about what you’re wearing?”
Letting out an uneasy chuckle, he glanced around and saw a woman across the street whisper something to her friend. As soon as she realized he saw her, she took her friend by the arm and the two hurried down the street.
“I can’t help but notice everyone’s looking at me as if I’m improperly attired, but,” he motioned to his clothes, “I can’t think of anything that’s out of place.”
The man sighed and asked the woman to wait for him then led Kent a few steps away from her. In a low voice, he said, “It has nothing to do with your clothes and you know it.”
“No, I don’t know that.”
“Mr. Ashton, far be it from me to tell you what to do, but if I were you, I wouldn’t be so casual about it.”
“Casual about what?”
“Miss Johnson. What you did to her is all over town.”
“What I did to her?” Kent asked, barely aware that his voice was rising in frustration and fear.
“Ending your engagement, especially after you learned of her miscarriage. If you were a decent human being, you’d do right by her and marry her instead of leaving her in disgrace.”
Miscarriage? Ending the engagement? Whatever was he talking about? Before Kent could ask, the man shook his head in disgust and returned to the woman.
Despite his apprehension, Kent proceeded to his home and gave the butler his luggage. Before he could make it past the parlor, his father stepped into the hallway, arms crossed and eyes narrowed.
“In the parlor,” his father said in a voice that indicated there was no room for argument.
Knowing it was pointless to protest, Kent released his breath and followed him into the room.
After his father shut the door, he turned to face him. “So, you thought you could fool me.”
“Watch what you say, Kent. I’m a lot smarter than you give me credit for. Did you really think I wouldn’t figure out you never went to New York?”
He hid his apprehension. He’d been so careful, making sure he covered all his steps.
“I’m more influential in this town than you give me credit for,” his father continued, his hands behind his back as he glared at him. “Do you honestly think you can buy a ticket for Jamestown and the conductor wouldn’t tell me about it?”
Kent gritted his teeth but didn’t reply. So that was his mistake. How was he to know the conductor would care where he was going?
“The conductor has connections to Mr. Johnson. When Mr. Johnson came over here, I had to say something to explain why you’d run off to find Ann Brothers.”
Managing to hide his wince at the mention of Ann’s last name, he focused on what his father was telling him. “Then the miscarriage and engagement ending… That was you who spread those rumors?”
“I had to do something.”
“What exactly did you say?”
“I did what any sensible father would do in my position. I told Mr. Johnson that you and Rebecca were engaging in inappropriate conduct and that when she had a miscarriage, you took that as your chance to quietly slip out of here to go after Ann. Congratulations, Kent. You didn’t want to be trapped into a marriage with Rebecca and you succeeded. Mr. Johnson won’t let you anywhere near her. He could have insisted I drag you back and make you do right by her, but Rebecca pleaded with him to let her live with the disgrace of being tossed aside so thoughtlessly. The poor girl isn’t the same. She won’t see anyone. Mr. Johnson said he’s never seen her so miserable. And why wouldn’t she be? What decent man is going to marry her now? I hope you’re satisfied. You have destroyed everything we’ve worked so hard for.”
“No,” Kent snapped, his shock over his father’s lies about a miscarriage and inappropriate behavior quickly fading in light of his mounting anger. “You’re the one who manipulated everything. It’s because of you Rebecca felt as if she had no choice but to go along with you and make me think she and I had been together intimately. You’re the reason Ann ran off with Todd. You got in the way of Rebecca and Samuel’s plans to marry. Don’t you dare point the finger at me,” he hissed and pointed at him. “This is your doing. And you’re still ruining people’s lives. I’m going to tell Mr. Johnson everything and set it all straight. I never laid a hand on Rebecca. She’s been honorable through the whole thing.”
As he turned to leave, his father softly chuckled. “And who do you think Mr. Johnson will believe? You or me? I’m not the one who ran off to North Dakota.”
Kent paused and thought over what his father said. He should have disguised himself. In his hurry to find Ann, he had never stopped to consider what might happen if the conductor or some other busybody didn’t have the common sense to mind their own business.
“No one will believe you,” his father added, sounding smug. “They won’t believe Rebecca either if she supports you.”
He tried to think of some way—any way—his father could be wrong, but with Mr. Johnson knowing he went to North Dakota, he knew how bad things looked. He stared at his father. Up to now he hadn’t hated him. Sure, he’d been annoyed by him, frustrated by him, even angered by him. But he had never hated him. Until now.
“You won’t get away with it forever,” Kent finally replied, an unexpected determination in his voice. “All you do is manipulate people into doing what you want, and so far it’s worked. You have things just as you want them. But mark my word. The day is coming when I will no longer be under your control.”
“If that’s supposed to make me worry, you’ve already lost your case. I have no use for you anymore. My financial standing is secure without you.”
Kent clenched his hands as his father left the room. It wasn’t fair that his father could use people for his own advancement and get away with it. And what was even worse was how little his father cared if he had to ruin lives in order to do it. But it couldn’t always be to his advantage. Sooner or later, he’d have to reap what he’d sown. No man, no matter how powerful or clever, could get away with it forever. There was always a day of reckoning. There had to be. But even as Kent kept repeating this to himself, he wasn’t comforted.