Christine watched the sunset in the distance as her carriage rambled down the road. The vibrant colors were amazing. She had to smile at Robin Marie's concern for her life. Her best friend was worried that she would be overtaken by some thieves or hooligans because Cordovia was not as safe as it should be. When Robin told her steward to drive Christine home in their elegant carriage, she refused the sweet gesture.
She had stayed with Robin and her husband for one week, taking care of her after the birth of their baby. When it was time to leave, Robin had scowled at her and said she would not allow her to go home in her little buggy because there was no protection from the elements. Robin's carriage was much more practical and Christine should have someone with her.
Realizing Robin would not give up, Christine finally agreed. Her friend was so protective of her and it made her laugh. Christine had joined Robin's Rebels and had learned to defend herself. There was no need to worry about her. Even though the rebels had disbanded after they received their freedom, she was still keeping herself in good condition.
As Christine settled back in her seat, she noticed the carriage had sped up and the road was becoming bumpier. She looked out the window and noticed that the driver was whipping the horses and making them run faster.
When Christine saw three horsemen chasing after her carriage with great speed, her heart sank. She had heard about the highwaymen in this part of the country, but she never thought she would meet one face to face. After all, she had no riches.
All three highwaymen wore black masks that covered the upper portion of their faces, with round holes for their eyes. They wore black pants and shirts. Their black horses were lean and ran at a speed that Christine had never seen before. She was shocked to see that the highwaymen were gaining on them without any effort.
Realizing they were going to be overtaken, Christine unhooked the golden chain from around her neck. It was a simple necklace with a golden cross, representing her faith in God. Her father had given it to her and she treasured it. Since it was made of gold, it would surely be taken from her. She pressed her lips to the cross and vowed they would not take it from her.
Christine quickly searched the carriage for a place to hide her precious necklace but soon realized there was nowhere safe. As the carriage slowed down, she knew she did not have much longer. She could not put it in her purse. They would surely search it. Without hesitation, she stuffed it down the front of her gown, safe beneath her undergarments.
After the carriage came to a stop, one of the highwaymen threw her trunk of clothes on the ground while another opened the carriage door and stared at her curiously.
With a smile, the man said in a rich smooth tone, "Will you please step out, ma'am?"
The man was tall and muscular and spoke with confidence. His eyes were chocolate brown and his dark wavy hair was unruly. He was an imposing figure, over six feet tall, and his chiseled jawline gave him the appearance of a man with authority.
Christine was surprised by his demeanor and hesitated.
When she did not respond, he repeated, "Will you please step out of the carriage?"
Christine shook her head. "I'd rather stay here while you do your robbing, if you don't mind."
The highwayman grinned and a mischievous look appeared in his eyes. "Oh, but I do mind. If you don't step out on your own accord, then I'll have to come in and carry you out."
Even though it was dusk, Christine could see the humor in the man's eyes, but could tell he meant business.
With a nod, she said, "Very well. If I must! I see no need for it, though. I have nothing of value."
"We'll be the judge of that, ma'am. I promise no harm will come to you."
Christine did not trust his word, so she narrowed her eyes and said with as much spunk as she could muster, "You had better not try anything or you'll be sorry."
The highwayman looked amused and acted as if he were trying to hold back a smile. "I'm sure I would be."
When she noticed his amusement, Christine asked, "What's so funny?"
He grinned. "I'm a highwayman. If I were in your shoes, I would be more obliging."
"I'm not a wealthy person, so you're wasting your time."
When the highwayman held out his hand to help her down, she glared at it as if it was a venomous snake.
Lifting her chin in the air, she said with obstinacy, "You don't need to help me. You're not a gentleman. That's for certain. Highwaymen are just common thieves."
"Oh, but I beg to differ with you. We are not common at all. The average highwayman keeps his spoils. We don't. We share it with others."
Christine scowled at him. "Do you think that makes you a better person? A thief is a thief."
When she saw one of the highwaymen rummaging through her clothes, Christine gasped. Lifting her skirts, she quickly climbed down from the carriage and strode toward the man.
Grabbing his arm, she pulled him away and demanded, "Don't touch my clothes! You have no right."
This highwayman was much shorter with curly red hair and green eyes. He smiled as he held up a rosy colored corset in one hand and a white chemise in the other.
When Christine noticed what he was holding between his fingers, she was appalled. Those were her undergarments.
"How dare you!" she said as she snatched them from his hands and stuffed them back into her trunk.
"Now, now!" soothed the tall muscular highwayman as he approached her. "You're the testiest lady we've ever robbed. Usually women are too scared to fight back. I don't know why you're so upset. Your father can just buy more clothes for you when you get home."
"What are you talking about?" she asked with confusion. "You can't take my clothes. They aren't worth anything. I thought you only stole jewels and money."
"Sorry for the inconvenience but they'll make a nice profit. I can tell they are of excellent quality."
Christine's chin rose with pride. "That's right. I made them myself. I'm not a rich lady, as you seem to think. If you don't want a fight on your hands, you're not taking my clothes."
The tall highwayman approached her and stared into her eyes with curiosity. "Why aren't you afraid of us? Why won't you allow us to get on with our business? You're wasting our time."
Christine stared back at the man with lips pressed in a straight line. She was apprehensive and a bit fearful, but her spunk helped her to stand up to him. It was not good to show fear when being challenged. When Christine had joined Robin's Rebels, she had learned to control her fear. She had been a rebel of the best kind.
When Christine did not answer the highwayman's question, he asked, "Who are you?"
She looked into his eyes and said, "No one of consequence. Why don't I act afraid of you? I've fought against men like you before."
She gave a curt nod. "I know how to defend myself adequately."
The highwayman glanced at his two partners who were watching the conversation. The shorter redheaded highwayman was still standing by her trunk with a look of amazement. The third man, with long blond hair tied into a ponytail, was still on his horse with his pistol aimed at the driver. He, too, seemed to be enjoying the banter.
The tall highwayman swept Christine's rich brown hair from off her shoulders and looked at her neck. He lifted her chin and asked, "Where is your necklace, milady? A lady of refinement such as yourself would definitely wear jewelry."
It was apparent that the highwayman had not believed her when she told him she was not wealthy. Christine creased her brow and refused to answer his question.
Taking her purse from her arm, he searched it. When he found nothing, he tossed it to the redhead. "Nothing. It's not here. Did you find anything in the trunk, Joshua?"
The man shook his head. "Nothing. I searched every inch." Nodding toward her, he asked, "Shall I search her?"
The tall highwayman shook his head and knelt down on the ground before her. Placing his hands on both sides of her upper waist, he slowly slid them down her body along her hips and thighs, as if searching for something.
Christine gasped and jumped away from him. "What are you doing?"
The highwayman stood and looked into her eyes with soberness. "You know what we're after, milady. You might as well hand it over."
When she realized what he was after, Christine slid her fingers inside her bodice and began pulling the golden chain out.
The highwayman watched her with a raised brow as she pulled her necklace from beneath her clothes.
As she handed it to him, the redhead looked at it with stunned surprise. "A cross?"
The tall highwayman held the necklace between his fingers with a curious look and then turned to her. Gently rubbing his thumb over the cross, he asked, "Where did you get this?"
"My father gave it to me. He's the pastor of our Parish over at Little Valley."
"Who are you?"
Taking a deep breath, she answered with strength in her voice, "You have robbed the wrong person. I am not a wealthy woman. I work at a bakery that is owned by the woman who lent me this carriage."
"What's your name?"
"I'm Christine Griffith."
With a slow nod, he licked his lips and then handed her the necklace. Turning to his men, he told them to secure the trunk and put it back on the carriage. As his men obeyed, he took Christine's elbow and led her to the coach.
"Be on your way," he said with a hint of a smile. "Next time you come upon a highwayman, it may not go so well. He may not be so generous. You should watch what you say to thieves."
He then opened the door and motioned for her to get inside.
Staring at him with disbelief, Christine said, "Generous? Is that what you call it?"
"You searched me and inappropriately ran your hands over me. You had no right." With that, she slapped his face soundly and climbed into the carriage, closing the door behind her.
The driver, realizing it was time to leave, quickly snapped the reins. The horses jumped and sped off down the road.
The highwayman stood in shock as he put his hand to his cheek. Not only had her slap stung, but he was shocked at what she had done. No one, absolutely no one, had acted so courageous and stubborn when he stopped them on the road. Where was her fear?
Austin rubbed his cheek as he watched the feisty woman disappear.
When he heard his men laughing, he turned to them. "What's so funny?"
Casey, the man with the ponytail, chuckled. "She's a feisty one."
Joshua shook his head and grinned. "You didn't search her very well. You should have had me do it."
Austin pushed his hand through his wavy hair. "I searched her good enough. I couldn't shame her."
"What if she has it?" asked Casey.
Austin shook his head. "She doesn't."
"How do you know?"
"She's Pastor Griffith's daughter. I didn't recognize her. It's been many years, but she's turned into one beautiful lady."
Joshua raised a curious brow. "You know her?"
Austin nodded. "I used to live in Little Valley when I was a boy. She was a cute girl and just as spunky back then as she is now. She used to wear that necklace every day. I remember teasing her about it just to get a rise out of her, and she lit into me like a mad woman. One day I stole a kiss from her and that spunky girl slapped my face like she did just now. She was not one to be taken advantage of." He smiled and shook his head at the memory. "I haven't been back there in years. Maybe it's about time I visited the community."
With a chuckle, Casey said, "You're not thinking straight. A woman like her wouldn't be interested in a highwayman."
Austin grinned. "She doesn't have to know."
"She didn't have what we're looking for. What do we do now?"
Austin walked toward his horse and said, "My source told me that a wealthy woman would be passing by here on the way to Winston Manor this evening and she would most definitely have it. This is the only road to the manor. We just don't know when she'll be coming through."
"So we just rob every woman who comes by?" asked Joshua with humor lacing his eyes. "All right! But I get to search the next one."
Casey shook his head. "Now that's not right. It's just not right."
Austin climbed upon his horse and laughed at his friends. "No, it's not. But we have to find it."
"Who is this snitch, anyway? Is he someone we can trust?" asked Casey as he scratched his head.
"Yes, I believe him. His name is Robert and he's only fifteen."
The two men then climbed upon their horses and rode into the woods to wait for the next carriage that would pass by.