The First Hello © 2015 (Rough Draft Version) By: J.L. Jacobs *Sequel to: "The Final Goodbye"*

Fate has given Sophia Lancaster a second chance. As she wakes up from what seems to be an overly vivid dream, Sophia soon realizes that it was no dream at all, rather, she had been brought back from death's embrace to the very day she is set to marry Dr. Jeremy Thompson.

From the knowledge and perspective she had gained in her former life, she decides to make better decisions and choices that could potentially alter her life, the lives of her loved ones, and history as she once knew it. In this exciting sequel to: "The Final Goodbye," follow Sophia's new journey as she takes the chance in which Fate has bestowed upon her to find out who her soulmate really is and what the consequences of her actions will be.

*Please be sure to read The Final Goodbye first! This is a only a rough draft and may contain grammatical errors. It is formatted just as a hard-copy full-length book should be. I love to hear your feedback, and your votes and shares are greatly appreciated!

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26. Chapter Twenty-Six: Judgement Day

 

Chapter Twenty-Six: Judgement Day

 

 

     Sophia's heart was racing so fast and beating so loudly that she felt as if she would swoon on the spot. Not having any idea of what to expect from this hearing, she was ever-so-grateful that Rachel stood by her side through it all, even if she truly wished that Travis had left Wellington without doing all of this to her and her family. Even Jeremy. Sophia wanted nothing more than to be at home with her son in her arms and back to living the life she had with Jeremy. He was the happiest she'd ever seen him until this past week when he became suddenly withdrawn. Sophia knew his change in behavior was directly related to Travis being in town and her heart hurt for the pain that Jeremy must be feeling. If only he hadn't pushed her away. Why didn't he have faith in their marriage? Faith in her?It was as if he gave up without a fight and a part of her was truly upset with him for leaving her to deal with all of this on her own. They were married and should have faced this situation head-on, together, as a united front. Instead, he went back to his old habits and ways by drowning his sorrows with whiskey and keeping himself busy with work. What happened to the promises they had made to one another? What of the promises she had made to him? Didn't that mean anything? Wasn't her assurances good enough to ease his worries? She looked over at him again and silently pleaded with him to turn around and look at her but she was met with a man who's posture was stiff. Never once did he so much as glance her way. Not even for the briefest of moments. Her heart sank. She was trying to be a good wife and friend to him. She stood up for him and their marriage. She had chosen him over Travis! What in hells fire was wrong with Jeremy that he couldn't see any of that? It made no sense to her. None whatsoever!

The first person to be called up to the stand was Travis of course since he was the one who had initiated the process in the first place. As he took a seat in a chair to the left side of the judge, Sophia's eyes were once again looking over towards her Father and Jeremy. Her Father, Louis Lancaster, looked positively ready to murder someone. Never before had she seen such an evil look in her father's eyes and it truly scared her! Jeremy, on the other hand, sat there with a stony face. His emotions were less visible and it was hard to decipher what was going through that mind of his. 

Travis was sworn in and agreed to 'tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help him by God as his witness'. Mr. Hartley, his lawyer, stepped up to address the Judge and Travis. Rachel still held on to Sophia's hand, but now it was a vice-like grip. "Please state your full name for those present in the courtroom today." Mr. Hartley requested. Travis spoke up in that low southern drawl of his that always made her insides warm with desire. How was it possible that a voice could evoke such a pleasurable sensation from her? But it was and always had been. "My name is Travis Lee Ewing." "Mr. Ewing, you were the one who initiated this court hearing, is that true?" Mr. Hartley asked. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Sophia's heartbeat almost froze when she heard Travis speak up. "Yes it is true." he replied casually as if he had not a care in the world. If he had any cares, he certainly did not figure Sophia's wants, needs and desires into that equation! "For what purpose do you seek to be heard before the Honorable Judge McCarthy today, on July eleventh of the year eighteen hundred and ninety-one  Mr. Ewing?" his lawyer questioned. Without so much as a pause Travis spoke up in a loud and clear voice, "I seek to clarify the legalities of my marriage to Miss Sophia Lancaster and to have her restored back to my home in Turtle Creek, Texas with our children where she legally and rightfully belongs." A few of the townspeople who sat in the courtroom gave an audible gasp of genuine surprise. To their knowledge, Sophia had been married to Dr. Jeremy Thompson. Sophia instinctively knew in that very moment that this hearing and turn of events would be gossiped about for years to come, leaving her reputation within the small town of Wellington in ruins. She would never be able to show her face here in polite society ever again! Sophia's nervousness quickly turned to a white-hot anger and resentment which was geared solely towards Travis Ewing. Had he no care for her honor? Obviously not!

"So you are stating that you claim to be legally married to Miss Lancaster is this correct Mr. Ewing?" Mr. Hartley asked further. "Yes, that is correct." Travis said smugly. He actually deigned to glance directly at Sophia and the cad actually smiled at her! Furious, she glared back at him and narrowed her eyes to show him that his smile would not charm her. "Mr. Ewing, please tell us the date and location of when your alleged marriage to Miss Lancaster took place." Mr. Hartley continued. "We were wed inside a Dallas courtroom on August twenty-third of eighteen hundred and ninety." Travis intoned. "Was Miss Lancaster willing to marry you of her own free will?" Mr. Hartley asked. "Yes she was. I even took her to the jewelry store in Dallas before we went to the courthouse so that we could purchase our wedding rings. It was she who picked them out I might add. She has expensive taste but I didn't mind. We loved each other and that's all that mattered." There were a few chuckles and smirks from a few various people. It seemed that Travis's charm was a bit infectious. Sophia could tell from the looks of other women sitting nearby and their tittering that they wished his charms were meant for them. The judge cleared his throat until all eyes were once again focused on him. 

Suddenly, the courtroom was silent. This had been a most intriguing turn of events indeed! Even though Travis spoke the truth, Sophia still felt incensed and embarrassed to her very core. "Mr. Ewing, please tell us how you and Miss Lancaster became acquainted with one another." the lawyer prodded. Travis gave the room a blinding smile and said, "She had come to Dallas with her sister and was seeking employment. Their carriage had been lost trying to find Exall Lakes which is near my ranch and the two women came to request aid from my housekeeper, Mrs. Cox, for directions. After having invited Miss Lancaster and her sister inside my home for refreshments, Mrs. Cox was the one who learned of Miss Lancaster's desires to stay in Dallas and suggested to her that she be interviewed by me for the temporary position of my housekeeper. You see, Mrs. Cox had a daughter who was close to giving birth. She had wanted to travel to San Francisco in order to be there for the birth of the baby. I interviewed Miss Lancaster a few days later on the sixth of August last year and offered her the position the following evening. gave Miss Lancaster and her sister a cabin that is located on my property to stay in so that everything was most respectable. However, it didn't take long for us to fall in love with one another. I asked her to marry me, and she eventually agreed, but it took some time for me to convince her fully. She's quite stubborn that woman. But I finally prevailed and we were wed on the date I mentioned previously." Mr. Hartley, without wasting breath, continued his line of questioning. "Is it true that Miss Lancaster, after being legally wed to you, had been forcibly removed from your home, along with other members of her family who were with her, against their will, more specifically, Miss and Missus Lancaster?" Travis nodded his head and said solemnly, "Yes it is true." Rachel prodded Sophia with her elbow and nodded her head towards the right of them where a reporter was setting up his camera on a tripod. Oh hells fire! This would be in the newspapers? She was beyond ruin now. Hell, her whole family was. Had Travis no consideration for any of them? 

"Mr. Ewing, who took these women and for what purpose?" Mr. Hartley inquired. This time, Travis gave a deep, long sigh. His face changed from being utterly charming to one who looked as if he'd just been punched in the gut. Was that a tear in his eye? Sophia couldn't help but feel sorry for him in that moment. This whole time she'd thought nothing but of her own feelings and now, here was Travis who looked as if he was about to break down. No doubt this all had been hard on him and the children. Sophia's eyes began to water as well. She just could not tear her gaze away from him. After a few minutes, Travis composed himself and looked out to the courtroom. "From the very beginning, Miss Lancaster's Father, Louis Lancaster, and her ex-fiance, Dr. Jeremy Thompson, have tried many times to prevent Sophia and I from being together. I have never understood why that was. I love Sophia, er, Miss Lancaster more than anything in this world. I provided her with a very nice home, a family who loves her, and I work hard so that they lack for nothing in this world. She loves me and I love her. Her Father has been completely irrational and has made both verbal and physical threats against me and my family. The man had me shot right off of my horse and yet I still love his daughter. For most sane men, what I offer and have provided Miss Lancaster would have been enough to make any father happy for his daughter. Any father should be so lucky to have a man love his daughter the way I do. I never understood why he has hated the thought of our marriage the way he does. Sophia was pregnant with my child when he hired men and had Dr. Jeremy Thompson and those hired thugs force Miss and Missus Lancaster from my home at gun point, and most certainly against their will. He has threatened to have me and my family killed if I ever tried to contact Sophia again. I have spent all these months without my wife. I was not there to see my son come into this world. My children miss their step-mother. There are people who work for me who have formed a bond with Sophia and also miss her. Despite Mr. Lancaster's threats against me and my loved ones, I will do whatever it takes to bring my wife back to where she belongs. With me. As my legally wedded wife!

The courtroom was abuzz with Travis's emotional statement. It took several moments to calm everyone down. Tears streamed down Sophia's face as her heart shattered into a tiny million pieces. She was too busy staring at Travis to notice that Jeremy had finally turned around to look at her. Something inside him broke in that moment. He knew that he needed to let her go at whatever cost. She had never belonged to him. 

"Is it true that Mr. Lancaster claims that Miss Sophia Lancaster had already been legally betrothed? Didn't she sign such a document before she went down to Dallas? Is it also true that Mr. Lancaster also signed a marriage licence between Sophia Lancaster and Jeremy Thompson after she had left for Dallas as her proxy?" Mr. Hartley asked. Travis hung his head for a brief moment, but then looked back up at his lawyer and said, "To my knowledge, yes it is all true." Sophia began to shake uncontrollably at this point when she noticed her father's face was a very vivid shade of reddish-purple. Since his left side was facing her, she could also see a very pronounced vein protruding from his left temple. That was not a good sign. That only happened when he became completely enraged. Rachel still held on to Sophia's hand and gave it a tight squeeze. The lawyer turned around to face those who were seated in the courtroom. His eyes focused on Sophia. 

"I'd like to now ask that Miss Sophia Lancaster come to the stand. Mr. Ewing, you may be excused." he said in an authoritative voice. Oh gawd, no! she thought to herself. She felt as if she had been cemented to her seat. Rachel prodded her to move. All eyes in the courtroom were now focused on her with the exception of her father and Jeremy. "Miss Lancaster, please come to the stand." Judge McCarthy directed. She had no idea how she was able to stand up and move, but before she knew it, she was walking up the main aisle. Seconds later, she was now seated where Travis had just been prior. She felt short of breath as if she were about to faint. The blood rushed to her head and sweat beaded the hairline of her forehead. Just like Travis had been, Sophia was sworn in. Thump thump. Thump thump. It seemed as if her hear rate had only sped up. Sophia wondered if anyone could hear how loud it was. Rachel gave her an encouraging smile that did nothing to alleviate Sophia's level of panic. Sophia couldn't help but glance over at her father who was sitting only several feet away. Big mistake. He looked positively ready to murder her! Then she happened to look at Jeremy and that's when all the blood had drained from her face. He looked miserable. Sad. Defeated. Sophia had given him assurances that she would stay by his side, as his wife, no matter what. Surely that was why Fate had brought her back! None of this was fair! Why couldn't Travis have left all of this well enough alone! She had sacrificed her happiness to ensure the safety of him and his children! Now he was only making everything so much worse! She then looked down at her soft yellow dress. It had become badly wrinkled from where she was grabbing on to it. "Miss Lancaster," Mr. Hartley addressed her, "keep in mind when answering the following questions that your oath has been sworn in." She nodded her head as she tried to swallow past the lump that had formed in her throat. It was hard to focus when her Father was giving her a death glare. Whatever she said over the next several minutes would cause harm to people she loved and cared about in this courtroom today and she had never been so scared in all of her life. Hells fire, in both of her lives. 

"When you signed the alleged betrothal agreement to Dr. Jeremy Thompson, were you of sound mind and body at the time of the signing?" Mr. Hartley asked her. Her throat was so darned dry! "Um, yes. I was." she whispered loudly. The lawyer scrunched his eyes as he looked at her, "Were you not under the impression that you were signing papers to settle an assault charge that had been brought up against a Miss Angelique Milton?" Mr. Hartley disputed. How did he know about that? "Yes sir. I was under the impression that I was signing those papers to settle those assault charges." Sophia managed to squeak out. "Were you aware of the betrothal agreement being in those papers when you signed them?" the lawyer queried. Oh gawd. Dare she lie? What would happen if she did lie? Would she go to jail? If that happened, who would then take care of Joshua? She felt so sick to her stomach and her heart felt as if it would explode!

"Miss Lancaster, please answer the question." Judge McCarthy said to her after a few minutes had gone by. She had no choice but to tell the truth. "No. I was not aware of the betrothal agreement being in there until after I had signed it." she replied feeling downright awful. She could see the crestfallen look on Jeremy's face and it truly devastated her to see him hurting like that! "So you signed the agreement but was not aware of it until after the fact. Let the record show that this was only the beginning of many deceitful acts put upon Miss Lancaster by her own father, Mr. Louis Lancaster." Sophia glanced over at her father and he looked apoplectic. Tears began to stream down her face even more. As awful as her father had treated her and her other family members over the last year or so, she never wanted to inflict pain on him like this. None of this was fair! "Miss Lancaster, is it true that you were supposed to marry Dr. Jeremy Lancaster on June first of eighteen hundred and ninety but called off the wedding that very morning? Then several weeks later is when the assault happened against you in which your father then slipped that betrothal agreement in those papers for you to sign?" She could hear more murmurs within the courtroom. This would be spread all over town by days end. Her whole family would be ruined. Her father's business and political aspirations would be ruined. Dammit Travis for doing this! 

"Miss Lancaster, answer the question please." Mr. Hartley directed. Sophia closed her eyes fearing the inevitable, "Yes it is all true but please let me explai---" Not allowing her to finish her sentence, Mr. Hartley began speaking over her. "So everyone is clear, Miss Lancaster cancelled her wedding to Dr. Jeremy Thompson back on June first of last year. From what I have learned of the subject, she then had surgery not long after the cancelled wedding. The very day she returned home from the hospital less than two weeks later, she had gone to the clinic in an attempt to speak with Dr. Thompson when she was physically assaulted by a Miss Angelique Milton. After the assault, Miss Lancaster was in a tremendous amount of pain and had asked Dr. Thompson to give her a dose of laudanum and return her to her parents' residence. He did give her that dose of medicine but he doubled it. She awoke the next morning in his bed, not in her own. Her parents came to get her from there because the authorities had come looking for Miss Lancaster that very morning. It all seems like such a mess I know, but this information in critical in establishing a clear basis for this hearing today. With the aid of Mr. Lancaster's lawyer, who is present here today in this courtroom, they reversed the charges that Miss Milton had filed against Miss Lancaster since she had been completely innocent of Miss Milton's assault charges since it was actually Miss Milton who had done the assault upon Miss Lancaster's person. At that time, Mr. Lancaster had his lawyer draft up papers to conclude those legal matters. At that time, a betrothal agreement had been slipped in with those papers. Miss Lancaster, trusting her father implicitly, signed each and one of those papers without knowledge of that betrothal agreement being in there." The courtroom became quite loud again as everyone began to talk amongst themselves. Rachel was now openly crying. Sophia sat there in shock. She had no idea Mr. Hartley had learned of all of this. Someone in her close circle of family and friends must have shared all of this information with him and it made her very angry to think that her confidences had been breached. It had to have been Travis who divulged this information. She clearly remembered the talk they had on his front porch last August when she confessed almost everything to him! The judge slammed his gavel down on the circular stone several times to settle the courtroom down. 

Mr. Hartley began speaking after a few more minutes. "Miss Lancaster, once you found out about the betrothal agreement, is it true that you told your father you did not wish to marry Dr. Thompson?" Sophia glared at the lawyer, "Yes it's true." "Your father then declared you were to marry him, even though you didn't want to, the very next day. You were so against that marriage that you and your sister, Mrs. Rachel McCord, then fled by train down to Dallas, Texas. Is this correct?" Mr. Hartley queried. "Yes." was all Sophia could manage to say. Her face was beginning to sweat profusely now and was a unladylike shade of crimson. That small courtroom felt like a sweat box and she wished nothing more than to stand up and flee. Her poor breasts ached something fierce with the need to feed her baby. Mr. Hartley turned around so that he now faced the people who were seated in the courtroom as he continued to address all those who were present in the room. All eyes were on him with the exception of Louis Lancaster. "Miss Lancaster was so unwilling to be forced into a marriage with Dr. Thompson that she fled to Dallas, Texas of all places. Soon after her arrival, she and her sister were acquainted with a woman named Mrs. Cox after they stopped at the Ewing Ranch in order to get directions to Exall Lakes. Mrs. Cox, a housekeeper and cook who works for Mr. Ewing, learned that Miss Sophia Lancaster wished to remain in Texas and was looking for a respectable working position. Mrs. Cox then told Miss Lancaster that perhaps Mr. Ewing could hire her on a temporary basis so that Mrs. Cox could take a trip to San Francisco. A few days later, Mr. Ewing gave Miss Lancaster an interview. She was officially hired the very next day. Being the upstanding man that he is, Mr. Ewing then had Miss Lancaster and Mrs. McCord move into a guest cabin he had on his property so that Miss Ewing didn't have to travel back and forth to Dallas each day, and so she did not have to spend money on a hotel. The two women were moved into the cabin the same night that Miss Lancaster was hired. Only after Miss Lancaster had been properly settled in, Mrs. McCord went back to Wellington." 

The lawyer stopped talking just long enough to allow what was already said to sink in to the minds of those present in the courtroom, then he continued speaking once he knew he had the full attention of of those present. His task was not a difficult one; this hearing was the juiciest gossip to have hit this small town in a long while. "So Sophia Lancaster and Travis Ewing were married in a courthouse by a judge on August Twenty-third of last year. According to Mr. Ewing, a few weeks later they had received some unexpected visitors to their home. As it turns out, Mr. Louis Lancaster, Mrs. Lucinda Lancaster, and Dr. Jeremy Thompson were the ones to come calling during the second week of September of last year. It had been their intentions to retrieve Miss Lancaster in order to bring her home. More specifically, Mr. Lancaster still had designs on seeing his eldest daughter married off to Dr. Thompson until they learned that Miss Lancaster and Mr. Ewing had been married. From what my client, Mr. Ewing, has told me, even Mrs. Lancaster was furious saying that when Miss Lancaster signed those documents, she and Mrs. Lancaster were told nothing of there being a betrothal agreement. It was then discovered that Mr. Lancaster had signed, by proxy, a marriage license for Miss Lancaster to be legally married to Dr. Thompson. This apparently happened after Miss Lancaster left town and she was not aware of that, nor did she give her consent! Miss Lancaster is of a legal age and of sound mind and body. Legally, Mr. Lancaster falsified documents!" 

The courtroom was once again abuzz with this new discovery. It was at this point that Louis Lancaster stood up and began screaming in a fit of rage. "I did only what was necessary to protect my daughter and my family! If I hadn't done what I did then Sophia would have been ruined within polite society!" The judge slammed down his gavel once again saying, "Take your seat Mr. Lancaster. You will have your time to speak!" Louis, grumbling obscenities under his breath, sat back down. His lawyer leaned in to speak with him privately. Mr. Hartley shook his head and once again addressed the room. "Miss Lancaster, is it true that on September twelfth of last year, your father showed up the very next day with lawmen and you were not only drugged with a needle containing a sedative by Dr. Thompson, but you were also taken away against your will back to here to Wellington?" Sophia pursed her lips. She was so damned thirsty and could really use a drink of water. "Yes, that is true." she muttered. After a dramatic pause, Mr. Hartley spoke up to the people in the room, "So as you have just heard ladies and gentlemen, Miss Lancaster was drugged and forcibly removed from her home, against her will, and was taken back to Wellington only to be forced into a marriage with Dr. Thompson that wasn't even legal!" Various people made comments under their breath. Sophia could feel sweat falling down her face from her dampened hairline. Mr. Hartley once again directed his attention towards Sophia. "Miss Lancaster, is it also true that from the moment of your abduction, during the train ride back here, up until you reached Jeremy Thompson's residence that you were in handcuffs the whole time?" How did he know about that? Sophia cleared her throat, "Yes." The courtroom gasped after hearing that bit of information presented to them. "Were you and Mr. Ewing threatened to never contact one another ever again, and was it your father who made those threats?" Sophia could feel her father's glare on her person. When she dared to look over at him, he seemed ready to murder her on the spot! "Yes it's true on both accounts." Sophia defiantly responded. Her father was the one who created this whole mess and she'd be damned if she would lie under oath! 

"When was it that you, your mother Mrs. Lucinda Lancaster, your housekeeper and your stable man all fled your family home in order to seek refuge with Mr. Ewing in Dallas?" Mr. Hartley pondered. After a few seconds Sophia replied, "We fled on Thanksgiving night. There was a snow storm so we were not able to board a train until the next day. I should also mention that my sister and her husband joined us as well." "And when you arrived at the Ewing Ranch on the first of December last, what did you find out about in regards to Mr. Ewing?" the lawyer questioned. "I had learned that he had been shot weeks before. It was my father who had ordered a hit on him. Travis was lucky to have survived." Sophia said vehemently while giving her father a cold look. Louis Lancaster shot up from his seat once more, purple in the face with an intense anger, and screamed out "There is no proof that I ordered a hit on Travis Ewing!" The Judge addressed him once again, "How would you like me to throw you in the gallows Mr. Lancaster? I suggest you sit down and keep your comments to yourself!" Mr. Hartley chuckled lightly and then continued questioning Sophia. "What day was it that Dr. Thompson and the hired thugs came to retrieve you and your mother from the ranch?By gunpoint I would like to make the court aware of mind you." "I believe it was on the fourteenth of December last." Sophia said in a choked up voice. That was back when Jeremy had been an utter ass. Her father's demands on him doing all those horrible things to Sophia was what had turned his personality into a deranged one. She truly felt bad for Jeremy in that moment. She looked over at him but he only stared at the ground. She sighed heavily. Jeremy had done so much changing that this was so unfair. "So let the court reflect that both the Missus and Miss Lancaster's were once again abducted from the Ewing Ranch against their most adamant protests and wills. This time by gunpoint and at the bequest of Mr. Louis Lancaster himself. Miss Lancaster, is it true that you were carrying my clients baby by this time?" "Yes I was." Sophia replied sullenly. "After you were on the train and alone with Dr. Thompson that night, is it true that he made a confession to you stating that your father had threatened his life and that was the reason why Dr. Thompson had done as your father requested?" Sophia's mouth opened in genuine shock. How did he know that? The only people who knew of that conversation were Jeremy and herself. This didn't make any sense! She quickly glanced at Jeremy but his head still hung down as he looked at the floor. Her father, however, was being held down by his own lawyer. She became truly frightened in that moment for what would happen to her, Jeremy, her sister, her mother, and even Travis and his children. This was a dreadful mess and a dangerous one at that!

"Miss Lancaster, please answer my question." Mr. Hartley said impatiently. She once again glared at him, then glared at Travis. For once, Travis seemed unnerved. Did he not know of that part? If so, then how had Mr. Hartley found out? "Yes, that is true." she stammered. "Do you fear for your life and those of your loved ones?" Mr. Hartley inquired. "I do." was all she could say in a quiet voice. "Very well. You may take your seat and I would like to call Dr. Thompson to the bench." Mr. Hartley directed. Sophia stood up and a momentary wave of dizziness overcame her. Hopefully this hearing would be over with very soon as the courtroom was a veritable sweat box and she really did need to return home to feed Joshua. She composed herself once more and walked on unsteady feet back to her seat next to Rachel. "Oh my goodness Soph, what do you think will happen now?" Rachel whispered softly. "I honestly do not know Rach but it doesn't look good for Father's defense." Sophia whispered back while fanning herself with her hands. They both looked to the front of the room just as Jeremy had taken his seat. He was immediately sworn in. 

Mr. Hartley wasted no time in beginning his line of questioning. "Dr. Thompson, upon hearing Miss Lancaster's testimony do you have any disagreements with what she has stated to the court?" Sophia noticed that Jeremy's hands were shaky and he looked so remorseful that it hurt her to see him look that way. "Everything she has testified to is nothing but the truth." Jeremy said solemnly. More murmurs could be heard in the courtroom. Mr. Hartley turned around to look at those seated in the room. "It might surprise most of you to know that Dr. Thompson came to see me two days ago. He was the one who made a complete confession as to everything you have heard so far and much, much more that you will not hear about today. I appreciate his forthright manner and honesty. That's a testament to this man's character and honor. He has also informed me that he believes that the marriage between Miss Lancaster and Mr. Ewing is the only truly legal one in the eyes of the law, based off of the sole fact that Mr. Lancaster has gone to extreme lengths to force a marriage between himself and his daughter against her will. Mr. Lancaster, as you already have heard, done this most illegally by signing a marriage license as Miss Lancaster's proxy. Since she is over the age of eighteen, that marriage license has been null and voided. While we still have one more person to call to the witness stand, I think we are close to settling these matters. Dr. Thompson, is there anything else you would like to tell the court today?" Jeremy looked over at Louis Lancaster with a burning hatred in his eyes, "The only thing I would like to request is that Mr. Lancaster be arrested and put behind bars for all his crimes against the legal system and his family. Perhaps even myself." Louis stood up and attempted to rush over at Jeremy before he was contained by two of the courts deputy's as they escorted him back to his seat. The Judge spoke up in a booming voice after being pushed to his limits, "Please handcuff Mr. Lancaster to his seat! Mr. Lancaster, you are now being fined fifty dollars for your behavior today!" Louis spat at one of the deputy's as he was being handcuffed to his chair and Rachel was the one to let out a squeaky giggle. "Serves him right!" she said happily. The irate Judge spoke up once more after seeing Louis spit at his deputy, "That is enough Mr. Lancaster! The fine is now five hundred dollars!" Louis kicked his feet down at the floor hard and his face was a deep shade of red. 

"Mr. Thompson, you may take your seat. Thank you for your patience and diligence in this matter." Mr. Hartley said. Jeremy stood up and walked back to the defense's table but elected to sit on the other side of the lawyer who was now in the middle of him and Louis Lancaster. Mr. Hartley looked over at Louis. "I was going to have you give your testimony today but now, in light of your antics here in this courtroom, I will forego your formal statement." Then the lawyer turned around and looked at the judge, "Your honor, I would now like you to look over the documents I have provided to both yourself and the opposing counsel and will await your verdict." Mr. Hartley then gave a quick bow and returned to his own seat next to Travis. The judge remained quiet for a few moments and every set of eyes were on him. The courtroom was at an unprecedented silence. "I will take a short recess in order to look over the documents. You may all come back in thirty minutes' time for my verdict upon this matter. You are all excused." Then the judge stood up and walked over to a door and went through it, presumably to his private chambers. "Oh thank gawd!" Rachel proclaimed, "I desperately need to use the commode!" She stood up and Sophia joined her, both of them shuffling out of the room and towards the long hallway where the men's and women's private commode rooms were located. Once inside, Rachel spoke up as she went into one of the stalls to relieve herself as Sophia did the same in the one next to hers. "Father looked the angriest I have ever seen him. I suppose he has brought all of this on himself though. Do you suppose he will be arrested?" Sophia sat there and shook her head, not that Rachel could see though. "I do not know. If he is arrested, I do believe it will only make things that much harder on us all. His reputation in this town, hells fire, in all of Lorain County, will be in ruins! There will be no political career for him after this. They might throw him in jail and slap fines on him but he will get out and when he does... well, I am truly fearful for us all!" They both remained thoughtfully quiet, each musing things over in their heads as to what would become of them. They finished relieving themselves, washed their hands, and patted the sweat from their faces. 

As they exited the room, Sophia noticed that Travis was standing there waiting for her. "I have nothing to say to you Travis!" Sophia muttered angrily. "Oh my love, why would you possibly be angry with me? I am only trying to get you back to where you belong darlin'." He looked so devilishly handsome and Sophia couldn't help but to get lost in those gorgeous light green eyes of his. Even so, she was still justifiably upset with him! "Have you no care for my family's reputations? After this, we will all be ruined! Let's not mention how hurt Jeremy is right now! I told you to leave this matter between us alone! Now you've only made everything worse for us all!" she cried out with tears stinging her eyes. He attempted to draw her in for a hug but she adamantly pushed him aside, then Sophia began to hurriedly walk away from him. She wanted to find Jeremy. She had things to say to him and it was very important that she do so as quickly as possible before they all had to go back into the courtroom. Rachel caught up to her and whispered, "Sophia, I swear! That man loves you and I know you love him! Why are you so damned obstinate?" "I don't have time for your lectures right now Rachel! I must find Jeremy! Do me a favor and keep Travis busy so I can talk to Jeremy privately. Please!" Rachel gave her sister a stern look but turned back around to do as Sophia had requested.

It took several moments to find where Jeremy was sitting. In the midst of that, newspaper reporters kept trying to stop her for comments but she shoo'd them away. She found Jeremy sitting outside on a bench. Thankfully he was alone. She rushed over there and sat down beside him. "Jeremy, I don't know what to say about all of this. I did not want any of this to happen! I told both Travis and his lawyer that I chose to be with you! You must believe me!" He didn't say anything right away. Sophia stared at him and couldn't help but notice the un-shed tears in his eyes. Just then, he looked over at her and gave her a tremulous smile, "I know Soph. I do believe you. I was the one who talked them into proceeding with this hearing. I cannot bear to see you unhappy being forcibly married to me." Sophia cried out in horror, "I wan't unhappy! Jeremy, I thought we were happy?" His lips trembled. "I have treated you so badly back then. I don't deserve you. I have given this matter much thought and contemplation and I have come to the conclusion that if we were to be together, I would live every day always wondering if I was second best. Which in my heart I know to be true even if you deny it. For me, that's not good enough. I only want your happiness even if it's with him." Jeremy said despondently, referring to Travis. "But I made you a promise and I always keep my promises Jeremy. I know that my father threatened you and that is the only reason why you have done the things you did. I know who you really are and that's the man that has made me happy these last few months." He stood up and looked down at her, directly into her eyes. "I am setting you free Sophia. Like you have told me on a few occasions now, I deserve true happiness. So do you. Our time with each other is done. We are all ruined now. I will sell my share of the clinic and move down to Dallas. Perhaps I will even pay a call on Miss Prescott as you have suggested. Go be happy with Travis. I wish you nothing but the best Soph. Really, I do." He leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head, then walked back inside the courthouse. 

Sophia sat there as tears streamed down her cheeks. She felt numb. Lost. Perhaps even in shock. How much could one person endure during a course of a year? During the course of two lifetimes? She felt so sure that her Fate was meant to be with Jeremy this time. But now he was rejecting her, so what now? Rachel called out to her which interrupted Sophia's thoughts. "It's time to head back inside!" 

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Everyone was seated once again in the small courtroom, but this time, it seemed like there were more people in there now than before. Sophia took notice of two new people in particular; Dr. Milton and his daughter, Angelique Milton. What were they doing here? Before Sophia could contemplate that thought much further the Judge's booming voice called out, "I have looked through all the documentation which both parties have given for me to review. I have also given full consideration to the testimonies I have heard here today and as such, I have made my ruling. I hereby decree that the marital union between Mr. Travis Ewing and Miss Sophia Lancaster is legally binding. At Mr. Ewing's request, Miss Lancaster, er, Mrs. Ewing, will now hereby return back to Mr. Ewing's residence as his lawfully wedded wife. I have also made another ruling. Mr. Lancaster, your actions towards your family, Dr. Thompson, and the Ewing family has been dreadfully abhorrent! You have proven yourself to be a threat to those aforementioned and I hereby declare that you shall be imprisoned for your very illegal activities for a minimum of ten years which is solely dependent upon your actions during that time. Furthermore, your business shall be dissolved, and all of your assets as well as any properties or residences you own will be sold and all proceeds will be given to your wife, Mrs. Lucinda Lancaster. I also declare that a sum of five hundred dollars from those proceeds will be given to Mr. Ewing, Dr. Thompson, Sophia Ewing, and your other daughter Rachel McCord for their pain and suffering. I also declare that a sum of one hundred dollars from those proceeds will be given to Miss Nellie Fitzgerald and Mr. Stevens Bodis for their pain and suffering. You are also not allowed to contact your wife, your daughters, Dr. Thompson, or any of the Ewing family members from here on out! This is legally binding proceeding and no further repercussions will be allowed to dis-sway my ruling, legally or otherwise. I now conclude this hearing. Bailiff, will you please take Mr. Lancaster into custody so he can be processed and transported to the Grafton Correctional Facility?" The judge then raised his gavel and struck it down onto the circular stone. As he went off to his chambers, the courtroom descended into total chaos. Sophia sat there feeling shocked and appalled. She was legally married to Travis after all! The thought both made her deliriously happy and equally saddened for Jeremy's sake. She was also still very much miffed at Travis for putting everyone through this today. Her father was now a completely ruined man and her mother was now a very, very rich woman. Justice was served.

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(This now concludes chapter twenty-six. Please feel free to comment and vote.)

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