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THE TROUBLESOME APPRENTICE
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Note the faint image of a dead woman that Xavier appears to be inspecting. That is Vic's beloved aunt whom she loved very much. Now Vic is willing to risk the discovery of her gender to find out who murdered her aunt and why.
Fully dressed, Vic laid down on her bed. She closed her eyes and tried to relax, but her sister’s parting words haunted her. What if Xavier Thorn did uncover her secret?
Aunt Maddy had allowed her to ‘become a boy’ when she and Claire arrived in England, orphans in need of a home. Victor’s initial reason to change her gender had been because she never wished to wear a dress after seeing her mother drowned at sea, pulled to the bottom of the ocean by her heavy skirts. However, her new life soon became the only one she could imagine.
As a male, she could travel about town on her own, attend lectures closed to Maddy and Claire, and ride astride spirited stallions. As a young man, she could do anything, learn anything, and be anything. As a gentleman, she had endless opportunities. How could she ever go back to being a girl? The idea was unthinkable.
When Victor first attended Oxford, she had been terrified someone would notice differences and guess her secret, but a great many studious young men at the college had no interest in young ladies and drink. She fit in perfectly with them.
She no longer worried about people seeing through her disguise. For all practical purposes, she was a young man of twenty-two. She had no ‘tells’ to give her away. Her small breasts were crushed flat by the muslin undergarment that also thickened her waist, giving her a straighter masculine line. A modestly stuffed muslin roll attached to the bottom of the garment filled in the crotch of her pants.
No, after ten years of being a male, she was confident her secret would remain secure, even under the scrutiny of the renowned Xavier Thorn.
Want more Trouble?
At ten o’clock Vic received a not-so-gentle shake. “I’m awake,” she snapped in sleepy annoyance.
“Then get up,” Xavier ordered. He frowned at her clothes. “Well, you are a rumpled mess, but I give you points for speed.”
Xavier turned and left the room. He barked off orders, never once verifying Vic actually followed. When they reached Aunt Maddy’s bedroom, he stopped and stared at her.
“Is everything clear? From the moment we enter this room, there will be no more communication until either daylight or the murderer arrives. So, if you have a question, ask it now.”
“Should we not have guns? The man will be armed.”
“And what makes you think that?”
“He could not even climb in a window without assistance. He’ll not be depending on his physical prowess to get him out of trouble. I imagine he carries a gun wherever he goes, but he will certainly have one on him tonight.”
Vic decided Claire needed her eyes examined. Xavier was exceptionally handsome when he smiled.
“I also always carry a gun. What does that say about me, I wonder?” His right eyebrow rose in a teasing challenge.
“Given your occupation, you are constantly in dodgy situations. It is very rational for you to carry one. I should have a weapon as well.”
“Do you currently possess a firearm?”
“No,” Vic admitted.
“Have you ever fired a pistol?”
“No, but it hardly seems difficult. All one must do is point and pull.”
“Nonetheless, you will not carry a weapon until I have taught you how to shoot. Tonight, you must play a supporting role and allow me to subdue the criminal.”
“But he killed my—” Vic stopped objecting when Xavier’s jaw tighten. “Yes, sir,” she grumbled.
“Heed my words, Victor, for if you disobey me tonight, I will torture you each day forthwith and you will never be allowed to accompany me on another mission.”
His dark eyes narrowed as he studied her, evidently trying to determine if she intended to obey his orders. “Consider it a test of your ability to follow my instructions and do not dare fail.”
“I won’t.” Vic ensured her response sounded less surly and sincere in tone.
Xavier placed his hand on her back. “Good lad. Now, if Inspector Stone received my note, his men are probably watching the exterior of your house. When this man—we’ll use the name you gave him—Mr. GewGaw arrives, they will no doubt insist upon sneaking up the stairs to stand ready outside the door. I’ve forewarned your impudent butler, lest we have a commotion. However, the key reason I mention this, Victor, is to warn you to remain in the closet. If Inspector Stone burst into the room, he might mistake you for the murderer. You will thus remain hidden until I retrieve you. Do you understand?”
With a sigh, Vic nodded her head.
“Good. Now not another word or you will find yourself in hell.”
She wanted to say threats were not necessary but feared her protest might toss her into the promised hell since he had said ‘not another word’.