Lucas' adoption was apparently accepted by the family, and everything settled quietly into routine. Barnabas found himself looking forward to returning to the Old House now, seeing Lucas and Bramwell, knowing that Angelique was there waiting for him.
Angelique, for her part, found that Josette playing mother to Lucas freed Angelique to do her duties toward Josette, yet she still found time to spend with her son - at Josette's urging. It was almost like she was the mistress of the house and Josette the child's nurse, Angelique mused on occasion. True to Josette's word, the only time she referred to herself as Lucas' mother was before visitors, as she had done during Naomi Collins' visit to the Old House six months after Lucas' arrival.
Barnabas returned to the house, pleased to find his mother there, and picked up Lucas to greet the child. Naomi's sharp gaze moved from the infant's face to that of her son.
"May I speak to you, Barnabas?" she asked. "Privately?"
He frowned, thinking that Sarah was causing problems again-or that his father was angry about something. "Of course." He held out Lucas. "Josette -?"
Smiling, Josette took the baby and held out her hand. "It's Lucas' rest time and Bramwell's dinner will be ready soon. Come along, Bramwell."
Naomi watched the stairs until she was certain that Josette was out of hearing before she spoke. "I shan't say anything about the fact that you didn't even greet Josette, Barnabas," she said, "But I cannot remain quiet about Lucas."
Sighing, Barnabas poured himself a glass of sherry, silently offering one to his mother, who refused. "Mother, I thought you had accepted our decision to adopt him."
"Of course I have. I haven't seen the two of you together in several months," she told him. "He looks exactly as you did at that age. There is no denying the resemblance."
Barnabas froze, eyes narrowed. "What are you trying to say, Mother?"
She faced him squarely. "Is Lucas your son?"
He thought to lie, to deny it, but he had never been able to prevaricate when she looked at him in that manner. Watching her carefully, he said simply, "Yes."
Naomi closed her eyes. "Oh, Barnabas. How could you? Does Josette know?"
"No. She doesn't."
"If she ever discovers the truth -. And she shall-"
Barnabas frowned. "How? You won't tell her -?"
"I won't have to. Lucas himself will be proof. Every year, he will look more like you until not only Josette but everyone will know the truth. Who is his mother?"
Barnabas refused to look at her. "No one you know," he told her. At all costs, he had to protect Angelique.
"Are you still - involved with her?"
"Yes, Mother," Barnabas admitted. "And I intend to continue seeing her. I love her."
"But, Josette -"
"Please, Mother. You're aware of the state of my marriage."
"Yes," she sighed heavily, sitting down at last. "I know all of the signs. I should - I've lived with similar ones for almost forty years. You were so much in love, Barnabas."
"No, Mother, I don't think we were. What Josette and I felt was like - like the flowers on Martinique. They were beautiful and flourished on the island, but not here. Transplanted here, they would slowly wither and die." He looked down at his glass. "Has Josette complained to you of my treatment of her?"
"No. She hasn't said a word. In fact, she's seemed happier these last months than I've seen her in ages. Barnabas, if your father should discover the truth about Lucas - his health isn't very good. And since Abigail's death last year, he's taken on the role of moral arbiter for the family," she reminded him.
He nodded solemnly. "Jeremiah mentioned the other day that they had quarreled about Jeremiah wanting to bring young Daniel to Collinwood and make him his heir."
"I wish I knew why Joshua disapproves," Naomi said. "Daniel's always been a very bright young man. He has money of his own; it's not as if he were using Jeremiah to further his own ends. Your father didn't even want him to come for a visit."
"When is Daniel arriving?"
"In a few weeks, I think. His sister is leaving for England with her husband then, and Daniel will come to Collinwood while they are gone."
In the hall way at the top of the stairs, Josette placed a hand against the wall to steady herself, listening to the conversation. Upon the change of subject, she leaned against the wall, trying to convince herself that she had imagined that conversation. That Barnabas wasn't Lucas' father.
She didn't remember going into her room, but Angelique found her there, standing at the window. "Lucas is asleep," she reported, "and Bramwell is finishing his dinner-" She paused as Josette turned to look at her. "Is something wrong, madame?" she asked, opening the closet door.
"No. Nothing. Tell me, Angelique, does Lucas much resemble his father?"
Angelique went still, holding a gown before her. "Why do you ask?"
"I am - curious. Bramwell looks more like me than he does Barnabas. With his dark hair, Lucas doesn't favor you at all."
"He is young yet," Angelique pointed out, laying the gown on the bed.
"I assume his father's hair was dark as well?"
"Yes. I would prefer not to discuss him madame," Angelique insisted softly.
But Josette was more insistent. "But Lucas does resemble him?"
"I suppose he does, madame," Angelique admitted, thinking it could do no real harm. A great many men had dark hair, after all. "Are you ready to dress for dinner now?"
Josette was staring out of the window again. "No. I won't be going down to dinner this evening."
Angelique frowned. It was very unusual of late for Josette to miss the evening meal with her husband. "Are you ill?"
"No. I am just not hungry. I can count on you to relay the message to Barnabas, I'm certain?"
"Of course, madame." She paused, looking again at her mistress. "Is there anything I can do?"
"No," Josette said with a sigh. "You've done more than enough."
"I hope you know what you're doing, Barnabas," Naomi was saying to Barnabas in the entryway as Angelique paused at the top of the stair. "I can't say I approve of what you're doing."
"Everything will be fine, Mother," Barnabas assured her. "Give my best to Father and Sarah."
"I shall. Sarah plans to visit tomorrow afternoon."
"She'll be more than welcome," he told her. "Good night, Mother," he said, closing the door behind her, then turned to see Angelique on the stair. "Where is Josette?"
"In her room," Angelique told him. "She won't be joining you for dinner this evening."
He glanced up the stairs, and then said, "Come to the study. We need to talk."
She led the way to the dark paneled room, waiting until he had closed the door behind him before asking, "What is wrong?"
"Mother knows," he told her.
"Knows what? About us?" she asked, concern darkening her blue eyes.
"No. I managed to keep that hidden from her. She noticed that Lucas bears a marked resemblance to me."
Angelique went still. "I see. And what did she say?"
"Not very much, actually. Her main concern was for Josette and my father."
Moving to the fire, Angelique took a deep breath. "Barnabas, is there anyway that Josette could have overheard your conversation?"
He shook his head. "No. She was in the nursery."
"But she wasn't," Angelique informed him. "She didn't go."
Fear was evident in Barnabas' eyes now. "What?!"
"I was coming from her room when she reached the landing and took the children so she might rejoin you and your mother."
Barnabas rested both hands on the mantle. "My God. She must have heard us. How did she act when you saw her?"
"Not herself. She-She wanted to know if Lucas looked like his father," Angelique admitted slowly, frowning. "I said he did-" at his reaction, she defended herself. "How was I to know what had happened?"
"I had best go and speak to her," Barnabas said, turning toward the door.
Angelique remained where she was. "Should I pack Lucas' and my things to go?"
His eyes met hers. "No. Let me talk to Josette before we make any plans."
Josette paced the floor many times before seating herself on the small divan. Her fist clenched tightly around the small object in her palm. She had made the only decision possible for any of them.
Rising, she went to the dressing table and picked up a pen, dipping the point into the ink well.
There was a tap on the door. "Josette?"
Barnabas. For a moment, Josette considered ignoring him. But she knew that he would enter without her permission if she didn't respond. "Just a moment," she said, putting paper and pen away. "Come in."
He opened the door and looked at her. "Why aren't you coming downstairs for dinner?" he asked.
She lifted her shoulders. "I haven't any appetite, that is all," she told him, standing to move gracefully across the room.
"Josette, did you by chance overhear my conversation with Mother?"
She bowed her head. "I am certain that Angelique has told you that I did not go to the nursery," she said softly.
"I'm sorry, Josette," was all Barnabas could find to say. "I never intended for you to know-"
"I think, perhaps, I've always known," Josette told him. "But I couldn't face it. How long has Angelique been your mistress?"
There seemed no reason to deny anything now. "Four years."
"And how long have you been in love with her?"
"I'm not-" he began, hoping to spare her further pain, but she turned to look up at him.
"Please. Do not deny it." Her soft voice was more difficult to bear than an emotional tirade would have been. "I know you well enough, I think, to be sure you wouldn't have begun anything with her unless you loved her. Were you in love with her on Martinique?"
"Please, Josette. I don't want to hurt you anymore. I'll send Angelique away-"
She shook her head. "That won't be necessary." Her smile was serene. "No one is ever going to hurt me again. I've seen to that."
"What are you saying?" Barnabas asked, growing suddenly cold.
"Answer my question: were you in love with her on Martinique?"
"I wasn't sure of my feelings then," he told her. "But when you arrived back in Martinique, I did fall in love with you. You needed me in a way that Angelique never could."
Josette's voice sounded far away. "But what you felt was like the flowers you mentioned to your mother. It could not be transplanted and it slowly- died." She shook her head, gripping the bed post. "I don't blame Angelique - or you. At least you waited five years before you gave in to your feelings- and needs. It must have been very difficult to hide it from me. It won't be necessary to hide much longer-" She gripped the bedpost more tightly as pain drew a gasp from her, making her knees weak.
"Josette!" Barnabas took her arm. "What is wrong?"
"Nothing," she insisted. "It will stop soon." Another pain caused her to nearly fall, and Barnabas carried her to the bed.
"I'll send Ben for the doctor-" he said, but she grabbed his arm.
"No. The doctor cannot help me. Angelique. I must see her. Before- Before it's too late."
"Too late?" Barnabas asked, frowning.
"I took - poison," she told him softly.
"I-I love you too much to stand in the way of your happiness."
Barnabas crossed quickly to the door and called for Angelique, then Ben. Ben appeared first, Angelique from the stair at the end of the hall which led to the third floor.
"What is it, Mr. Barnabas?"
"Josette is ill, Ben-"
"You want me t'go for th' doctor, Mr. Barnabas?"
Barnabas didn't look at Angelique. "No. Go over to the New House and bring my mother. Speak only to her. Do you understand, Ben?"
"Be right back," the servant promised, already leaving.
At last Barnabas turned his gaze to the blonde woman who hovered in the hallway, her blue eyes revealing her confusion. "Barnabas?"
He led her silently into the room and picked up a small, easily recognizable vial from the dressing table. From the bed, a weak voice spoke. "Angelique? Is that you?"
She turned toward the voice and crossed to the bed. "Madame?"
"You've been an excellent servant for so long. Even-these last few years."
Angelique sat on the bed. "Please, let me prepare an herb tea for you. It might stop this. While there is time -"
Josette took her hand. "No. I am-resigned. It is the only way. You were willing to entrust your son to me, Angelique, now, I am asking you to take care of my son. You've always been so good with Bramwell. He-likes you."
"Do not talk this way, madame."
"Our mistake was to love the same man, Angelique. I want - you and Barnabas to- to marry and be-happy," she whispered.
Barnabas spoke then, his voice tortured. "Not at this price. It is too high."
"Dear Barnabas. You really are an-honorable man. This is the-best way. Marry Angelique. Promise."
"Give me your word, Barnabas. Now. There-There is not much time. If I'm to have any peace-give me your word."
"I will do as you ask, Josette. You have my word."
"You have mine as well, madame."
Josette shook her head. "We are-equals now, Angelique. No longer mistress and servant." She convulsed as another pain racked her body. "B-Barnabas?"
He knelt beside the bed. "I am here."
"I have-always loved you. Always." Her eyes fluttered closed, the lashes making dark smudges on her cheeks.
Angelique checked her breathing. "She is unconscious."
They turned as the sound of the front door opening reached them. "That will be Mother," Barnabas said.
"I'll stay here and keep watch," offered. "I am sorry, Barnabas. If I had known-"
"We can talk later," he said. "Under no circumstances is my mother to know that you are Lucas' mother."
"I understand," she said, watching as he left the room. Even now, he was trying to protect her. Angelique's gaze moved to the woman on the bed. She was so pale, so still. "How I hated you," she whispered. "You had everything I wanted-even my son. But I stood back, grateful that I had Barnabas' love, at least. Now, I will soon have it all, and for the first time, I wonder if I made a mistake by not acting so long ago."
Josette died peacefully, her husband and sons by her side near dawn the next morning. Naomi, being told only that Josette had overheard Barnabas' confession about Lucas, was distraught by her own possible guilt in her daughter in law's death. Before leaving, she informed Barnabas that she would tell the rest of the family that Josette, who was susceptible to the cool, damp air, had succumbed to a respiratory ailment that she had managed to hide from everyone.
After the funeral, Barnabas was in his study, poring over a letter to the Countess and Andre du Pres. Angelique, in black mourning dress, tapped on the doorframe of the open door.
"Come in," he bade her, signing the page before and standing. "I've finished."
She frowned. "The Countess will be most upset. She thought of Josette more as a daughter than a niece. Oh, Barnabas," she said, shaking her head, "I-"
He pulled her into his arms. "I know."
Drawing away from him, she asked, "What shall we do now?"
` "We will do what Josette wanted us to do," he told her.
"Marry? Could you do that? Knowing that we caused her death?"
Barnabas' features were set in stone. "No. We did not. I did. I should never have married her. We will wait a while-a year-"
"I cannot stay here," she told him. "I was Josette's maid. Everyone would wonder-gossip-"
"I've taken care of that," he said. "I informed my father that you had agreed to stay as housekeeper."
"And what was his reaction?"
"He was surprised, but since Mrs. Burns, Ben and Cook are here, he feels that we will be properly chaperoned. And there was always the promise you made to Josette to take care of Bramwell and Lucas." He looked into the fire. "I assured Mother that I have ended my liaison with Lucas' mother and that she is gone forever."
"Did she believe you?"
"I think so."
"I should go and see how the boys are doing. Bramwell is still quite upset. He needs to see you."
"Send him down," Barnabas said, still concentrating on the flames.
Angelique paused. "Will I see you tonight?" she asked, uncertain of his reaction.
By an unspoken mutual agreement, Barnabas had not come to her room since the night of Josette's death. The look her gave her now eased her fears. "Yes. I need you too much to stay away any longer."
Six months later, Joshua Collins died in his sleep. After some consideration, Barnabas decided to remain at the Old House, leaving his uncle at Collinwood, since Joshua's will had left everything to his son, giving Jeremiah a portion of the family business and fortune and a home at the great house for as long as he so desired. Daniel had arrived as scheduled, and Jeremiah had quickly named the quiet but personable young man as his heir.
Naomi's death a month after that of her husband surprised everyone. Everyone except her daughter, that is. Sitting in the Old House parlour a few days after the funeral, the young woman wiped the tears from her pretty face. "She just could not go on without him, Barnabas," she told her brother. "I never understood why she loved him so much. Do you know that I never heard him say one kind word to her?"
"Father was a-difficult man to understand, Sarah," Barnabas tried to explain. "It was almost impossibly for him to express his feelings in any way. Mother learned to accept and understand that."
Sarah sighed heavily. "There have been so many deaths these last two years. Aunt Abigail, poor Josette, Father, now Mother."
"I know." There seemed little else to say, Barnabas thought.
Sarah bit her lower lip before asking, "Have you spoken to Uncle Jeremiah about-Daniel?"
Barnabas frowned. "I haven't had the chance. Surely he isn't persisting in that idea. He knows that Father disapproved."
"He still insists on pushing us together. Daniel's a nice enough young man," she rushed on, "but I don't want to marry him. He seems entirely too dependent on Uncle Jeremiah for guidance. The man I marry will have a mind of his own."
Barnabas smiled, recognizing that look. "And do you have someone in mind?" he asked.
Her smile was shy. "There is a young man. His family lives in Boston and they're very wealthy. Almost as wealthy as we are."
Barnabas smiled, recalling her infatuation with young Philip Carter. That had lasted only until young Carter had accepted an apprenticeship from a friend of Barnabas who owned a shipping firm in New York. "That doesn't matter," he pointed out. "What does matter is that you and he love each other."
"Oh, we do," she assured him.
"And what is this young man's name?"
"Giles. Giles Redmond. He and his father will be in Collinsport next week, and I was hoping--"
"Bring him to dinner, and I'll speak to Jeremiah about the other matter."
Her face brightened and she threw her arms around his neck. "Oh, thank you, Barnabas. I knew I could count on your help."
"Always," he promised her solemnly. What else are older brothers for?"
Sarah hugged his arm as Angelique entered the room. "Excuse me-" she was still wearing dark gowns, and Sarah found she envied the woman her coloring that kept her from looking so washed out in the dark colors. "Dinner is ready."
"Thank you, Angelique," Barnabas said, offering his arm fully to Sarah as the housekeeper turned back toward the kitchen.
Sarah bent her head toward her brother. "She is so beautiful. Although I'm sure you've already noticed it."
Barnabas didn't look at her. "Have I?"
"We'll talk more after dinner," she said, "after I spend a few more minutes with both of my nephews."
He stopped then, looking down at her clear brown eyes. "Sarah-"
She laughed softly to allay his fear. "Don't worry, big brother. I'm very good at keeping secrets. Growing up at Collinwood, one had to be, don't you think? Cook is going to be very upset if we allow her meal to grow cold," she prodded, smiling as he turned back toward the dining room.
She accepted the glass of sherry from him before saying anything. "They are both growing so fast. I think Bramwell looks much like Josette. That dark red hair."
"You're right. And he has her temperament, I think."
"Which could be a drawback," Sarah commented. "But Lucas-he looks exactly like his father. I know he's still young-"
"Yes," Barnabas agreed, watching her closely, "he is."
"Don't take me wrong, Barnabas. I'm not asking any questions about things that are none of my business, but I know that Lucas is your son. And I'm almost positive that Angelique is his mother."
Seeing the caring in his sister's eyes, Barnabas smiled. "You see entirely too much, Sarah Collins."
She shrugged daintily. "I just watch and listen. Are you going to marry Angelique?"
"In a few months-" he began, only to have Sarah shake her head violently.
"No. Do it now."
"No, Sarah," Angelique said, entering the room having overheard the conversation. "The family is still in mourning for your parents. Josette hasn't been dead a year. It wouldn't be proper for us to marry so soon-"
"It's been seven months," she pointed out. "And no one would blame Barnabas. After all, you've been here every day, taking care of his family and his home. I'm sure Mother would have approved."
"I still think we should wait," Angelique insisted, knowing that she would like nothing better than to become Barnabas' wife in the eyes of the world.
"I don't," Barnabas told her. He took her hand, looking down at her. "Unless you want to wait and have a big wedding-"
She shook her head, still uncertain. "You know I don't care about that. Are you certain you want to do this?"
"Quite certain," he told her. "Tomorrow I'll send Ben for the minister and I'll invite Jeremiah and Daniel-"
"Your uncle mightn't be so eager to accept me as your wife," Angelique pointed out, her happiness fading a little as concern crept into her eyes.
But Barnabas was too busy making plans. "Nonsense," he said. "In fact, I will walk Sarah back to Collinwood and extend the invitation."
Sarah, who evidently agreed with Angelique's assessment of Jeremiah's reaction, said, "I will be here tomorrow at least, Angelique. Nothing will keep me away."
"Thank you, Sarah." She went to the door with them, watching as Barnabas helped his sister with her cape, and then donned his cloak.
"I'll try not to be late," he told her.
"I'll wait," she said, trying not to be self-conscious as Barnabas gave her a brief kiss as his sister watched, the first expression of his feelings he had ever shown in front of other people, even the servants at the Old House.
On the path, Sarah turned to her brother. "Do you know that in all the years you were married to Josette-after Bramwell was born-I can't recall ever seeing you kiss her good bye as you did Angelique just now. It's one reason why I can accept her. Forgetting all the deaths, you're happier, more relaxed than I think I've seen you in a long while."
"I think I am. Angelique is good for me, I think."
"I just hope Uncle Jeremiah agrees," Sarah said, drawing a frown from Barnabas.
Sarah watched Barnabas hang both of their cloaks. "Uncle Jeremiah is probably in the study," she told him. "You don't have to mention anything about Daniel at the moment."
Barnabas frowned again, wondering at her seeming fear of their uncle. "We shall see what happens," he told her.
"I wish you luck. I'll wait in the drawing room."
Growing up, Barnabas had known no closer comrade than his father's younger brother. The slight difference in their ages had made them more brothers than uncle and nephew-but since Barnabas' marriage their relationship had begun to erode as each followed their own paths in life.
Until this last year, Jeremiah had done much traveling for the family business, apparently content to be away from Collinwood often. Barnabas had understood his uncle's reasons for wanting to appoint young Daniel as his heir. "I haven't any children of my own," Jeremiah had pointed out. "Laura died before we had any. You have two heirs, and at my age I doubt I'll trouble to marry again. I simply haven't the interest to expend on the flighty young women I meet in my travels. Daniel is a bright young man-and if Joshua would only try to understand that it has the added advantage of re-joining the family fortunes."
Barnabas was thinking about this conversation as he approached the study door. The portal was slightly ajar, giving Barnabas a clear view of the area before the fireplace where Jeremiah and Daniel stood. Jeremiah's hand was on the younger man's shoulder as he spoke earnestly.
"Everything will be fine, Daniel. Just leave it all to me."
"But I do not want to marry. Oh, I know eventually I must, but at the moment, I would much prefer to continue as I have been."
"And you shall-but marriage is necessary now, Daniel," Jeremiah explained. "First, it will consolidate the family fortune-which you allow me to administer for you-and secondly, it will allay any suspicions that might arise."
Barnabas' blood ran cold. It had been years since he had heard Jeremiah speak in those tones. Since before his marriage to Laura, in fact. His uncle had sworn then that he had put an end to his- Barnabas clenched his fingers into a ball, unable to think that he might be correct. It had to be a mistake. Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the door. Jeremiah's hand fell away as he met his nephew's carefully guarded expression.
"Barnabas," he said, smiling. "Come in. This is a surprise."
"Good evening, Jeremiah. Cousin Daniel."
Daniel glanced up at Jeremiah, then down at the floor. "Cousin Barnabas."
"I would like to speak to you Jeremiah-if you have a moment."
"I believe I do. We will finish our conversation later, Daniel," he said, dismissing the young man.
"Yes, sir," Daniel agreed, quickly departing the room.
Barnabas looked at the closed door. "He seems rather nervous," he commented.
"His sister Millicent's doing. She is such a missish child-I quite feel pity for the man she married. Daniel will grow out of his shell. What did you want to speak to me about?"
Barnabas decided to leave the questions he had unspoken and said, "I've decided to marry again."
"Indeed?" Jeremiah mused, lifting his brows. "Josette has only been dead seven months. And have you forgotten that we are in mourning for your parents?"
"I have forgotten nothing," Barnabas assured him. "But it will be a small, private ceremony at the Old House. Just the family-"
Jeremiah poured himself a glass of brandy. "And who is the bride to be? Or need I even ask?"
Barnabas' eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
"Oh come now, Barnabas. I am not blind. Do you think I haven't noticed the way dear Angelique looked at you whenever she believed no one to be watching? Add to that the fact that she has been in your house these last months-"
"At Josette's request," Barnabas reminded him. "She asked Angelique to take care of Bramwell and Lucas."
"Yes," Jeremiah said, gazing at his nephew over his glass. "Lucas. That boy is yours. Do not try to deny it."
The time for denials was past, Barnabas decided, his anger beginning to grow at his uncle's attitude. "Then I won't."
"And I am sure that Angelique is his mother."
"All the more reason for us to be married as soon as possible," Barnabas pointed out.
Jeremiah shook his head. "She is a servant, Barnabas."
"I might have expected that comment from Father, Jeremiah," Barnabas said sadly, "But not from you. I love Angelique. She is more than a mere servant. And I am going to make her my wife."
"Why? She's obviously already your mistress. Why change something of several years standing in this way?"
"Because it is the right thing to do," Barnabas said. "I came here to invite you and Daniel to the wedding tomorrow afternoon. Your attendance is your choice." He watched as Jeremiah tossed back the remaining brandy, and then poured another. "And I also have come to another decision. Sarah will be moving over to the Old House."
Jeremiah shook his head, "For what reason?"
"I don't have to remind you that I am her legal guardian," Barnabas said. "She tells me that you are still pushing her toward marrying young Daniel."
He shrugged. "Why should it trouble her so? Daniel is a presentable young man-and with Daniel's money and Sarah's, and eventually mine, the family fortune would be to some extent rejoined." It was almost as if he had learned it by rote, Barnabas thought, the sickening feeling returning.
"And it would also have the advantage of putting any suspicions to rest regarding yourself and Daniel," Barnabas stated, watching Jeremiah carefully.
Jeremiah turned to face him, and then looked away, unable to meet that knowing gaze. "I don't know what you are implying, Barnabas."
"Sarah will not spend another night in this house, Jeremiah. Your-choices are your business. I will not allow you to involve my sister in them."
Jeremiah's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Be careful, nephew, with your accusations. Your own life is not with out blemish."
"I make no accusations. I will go and tell Sarah to get what she will need for the night. We will return tomorrow and get the rest of her things."
Jeremiah remained where he was, not speaking again, as Barnabas left the room. Suddenly a bubble of rage burst inside him and he hurled the brandy glass and its contents into the fireplace, where it shattered against the back wall.
Angelique frowned in surprised confusion as she saw Barnabas returning with Sarah. She opened the door to them, smiling. "Sarah."
"Hello, again," the girl said, looking a bit confused herself. She had quizzed Barnabas upon his telling her to get her things together, then on the walk back to the Old House, but he had refused to explain himself to her. She looked uncertainly at her brother as he spoke.
"Sarah is going to be staying with us, Angelique."
"I hope you don't mind," Sarah said.
Angelique smiled at the young woman. "Of course I don't mind, Sarah. You're most welcome. I'll have Ben light a fire in one of the rooms for you." Although curious, Angelique knew that Barnabas would explain what was going on later, when they were alone, so she turned to go up the stairs.
Barnabas had moved into the parlour to pour himself a measure of sherry, and Sarah followed, still curious. "What happened, Barnabas?"
He didn't look at her or at Angelique as he answered. "Jeremiah and I had a-difference of opinion. Since you are my sister, I decided that you belong with me here instead of at Collinwood." He looked down at her then. "Do you not want to stay?"
"You know I do."
Barnabas looked into his glass for a moment before asking, "Has Daniel ever spoken to you directly of marriage, Sarah?"
She shook her head. "No. It was always Uncle Jeremiah who brought it up."
"Did Daniel appear interested in the idea?"
"It's really difficult to say, Barnabas. Daniel always seems to go along with whatever Uncle Jeremiah suggests. They are almost always together. More so since Father's death."
Angelique returned, pausing in the doorway. "Your room is ready, Sarah. If you would like, I'll show you up."
Sarah gave her brother a kiss. "I'll see you tomorrow morning," she said.
Daniel backed slowly away from the anger in Jeremiah's eyes as the older man entered the room. "Did I see Sarah leave with Barnabas?"
"Yes," Jeremiah confirmed, his lips compressing into a thin line. "He wanted to remove his dear little sister from my - influence." He went to the window, and Daniel relaxed-but only for a moment. "We have been invited to a wedding tomorrow."
Daniel frowned, taken for a loss by the change of subject. "A wedding, Jeremiah?"
"My nephew's attempt to soothe his conscience by making an honest woman of his mistress. Angelique. The beautiful Angelique."
Daniel's fear returned. He wasn't sure he liked the strange gleam in Jeremiah's eyes. "Are we going to attend?"
Jeremiah smiled crookedly. "Oh, I wouldn't miss it."
Later, her daily duties finished, Angelique entered her room to find Barnabas sitting in the chair at the table. She smiled, sinking to the floor at his feet, placing a hand on his thigh. "Jeremiah didn't approve, did he?"
"That doesn't matter," Barnabas assured her, touching her cheek. "We will be wed tomorrow afternoon."
Her blue eyes searched his face carefully. "Something else happened, then. Something that led you to bring Sarah back here."
He nodded. "I found out the true reason he wants her to marry Daniel."
Angelique read that truth in his eyes, and withdrew slightly. "I hoped the stories were not true about that."
Barnabas frowned, taking her hand in his. "What you know about it?"
You forget, my darling, that I am a servant. Servants often discover family secrets. One of the maids at Collinwood told me about Jeremiah's-inclinations. She said she discovered them one night when he tried-" She looked away from Barnabas' frowning anger. "I had discovered the truth myself before that, but I had no idea that he would carry on under your father's roof and risk exposure."
"How did you find out?"
"I heard-rumors soon after my arrival," she said haltingly, "and-" She paused, uncertain if she should reveal the episode.
"And?" Barnabas prompted. "Go on, Angelique," he said gently.
"It happened not six months after you married Josette."
She saw the worry, knew his temper. "Never mind. I should never have mentioned it."
"But you have, and you're going to finish."
"Please, Barnabas," she pleaded. "I don't wish to cause further trouble between yourself and Jeremiah."
When she would have moved away, Barnabas' fingers gripped her wrist. "What did he do to you, Angelique? Tell me."
She took a deep breath, her gaze moving to the fire beyond him, so she would be unable to see his reaction to her tale. "I was walking on the beach late one evening, as I often did when I could not sleep. I noticed a light in one of the fishing shacks there. I had been informed that it was deserted, so I thought to look inside and find out who was there then come and tell you." She closed her eyes at the memory of what she had seen. "Jeremiah was there-with one of the stable hands."
"Good Lord," Barnabas ground out. "Why did you not inform me about this then?"
"I was-afraid to. There-is more. The other man saw me in the window and told Jeremiah. They-chased me. I was almost back here when they caught me and drug me back to that shack-"
Barnabas' hold on her wrist had loosened to a caress.
"Angelique-Did they -?"
"The stable hand-" she swallowed heavily, trying to rebury the anger she'd felt then, the anger that was threatening to overcome her again.
"He would have, but I grabbed something-something heavy, and hit the other one over the head. He collapsed. Jeremiah was so surprised that I was able to make my escape and return to my room unseen. The shack burned down that night, and I heard that the stable hand had left Collinsport."
"I remember that shack burning. Jeremiah must have set fire to it." He pulled her into his lap. "If you had only told me about it. I feel so responsible for what happened. If I had married you, Jeremiah would never have dared touch you."
"I had the same thought," Angelique admitted. "I was very angry for a long time. I wanted to tell you, have you hold me, take away some of the pain."
"Is it too late?" Barnabas asked, his arms tightening.
"No, it's not."
He rose, lifting her into his arms to carry her to bed. "I have so much to make up to you. So many years. Once you're my wife-legally my wife," he clarified, smiling slightly, "No one will ever ignore or slight you or hurt you ever again."
Angelique brought his head down to hers, needing him more than she could ever remember.
Ben accompanied Sarah back to Collinwood the next morning, at Barnabas' request, to gather the remainder of her things. He wasn't certain that trusted himself enough to face his uncle just yet.
Sarah returned to say that Jeremiah and Daniel were both planning to attend the ceremony that afternoon. The two men arrived with the minister, and Sarah went upstairs to see if Angelique was ready. Barnabas was greeting the Reverend Brand when he glanced around to see that Jeremiah was talking quietly to Bramwell, his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Excuse me, Reverend," he said, turning. "Bramwell,-" the eight year old lad looked up at him with the solemn expression he habitually wore.
"Go stand over there with Mrs. Burns and your brother, please. We are almost ready to begin."
"Yes, sir." Bramwell moved away from Jeremiah as Barnabas took a step closer.
Seeing the smirk on his uncle's once handsome face, Barnabas smiled himself. "I will deal with you later, Jeremiah." He saw the other man pale before he turned back upon hearing the Reverend's next words.
"Here she is, Mr. Collins."
Angelique came down the stairs behind Sarah, and Barnabas
found himself thinking that she had never looked lovelier. She
came to his side, her smile almost shy as she repeated her vows.
Angelique could not help but recall the last wedding held in
this house-that of Barnabas to Josette. There had been more people,
more pomp, but Angelique felt that she would not trade any of
that for this moment. At last, she was Mrs. Barnabas Collins.
There was only one dark cloud on the horizon, she thought, aware
of Jeremiah's presence behind them.