After the ceremony, Barnabas sent Ben for some champagne, and Brand quickly excused himself from the gathering, since he strongly disapproved of liquor. Barnabas poured glasses for everyone-even the servants in attendance.
Once Mrs. Burns took the boys upstairs-with Sarah's eager assistance, Barnabas refilled the glasses. Jeremiah, made bolder by the wine, perhaps, raised his glass. "To the beautiful Angelique. She knew what she wanted and got it. I hope you enjoy being a Collins bride, my dear. Few women have."
Angelique saw Barnabas' hand tighten on the fragile stem of his glass. "If you will excuse me," she said, "I have some things I should attend to. Good-day, Mr. Collins."
Jeremiah bowed gallantly. "Jeremiah, please. After all, you are a part of the family now." Daniel remained quietly at his side, wishing Jeremiah would watch his tongue. The look in Cousin Barnabas' eyes was truly frightening.
"Go on, Angelique," Barnabas bade his wife.
She hesitated now. "Barnabas-don't-"
He took her hand, bringing it to his lips. "Don't worry. Leave us."
As Angelique climbed the stair, Jeremiah sneered, "Such protectiveness."
Barnabas faced his uncle squarely. "It is past time I claimed that right, don't you think? As a matter of fact, it's about ten years late."
Daniel was suddenly uncertain of the undercurrents in the room as Jeremiah paled slightly. "Ten years, Cousin?" he questioned.
"Yes, Daniel. I don't suppose Jeremiah has never mentioned the name Jonas Thorne to you, has he?"
Daniel frowned. "Jonas Thorne? No, but-I seem to recall someone by that name who worked on the estate a long time ago."
"Ten years," Barnabas confirmed. "As a stable hand. He was a-friend of my Uncle's. Wasn't he, Jeremiah?"
Jeremiah looked around the room, anywhere as long as he didn't have to meet those accusing eyes. "I'm not sure I recall him, Barnabas."
"That's most strange. You don't recall a fishing shack on the beach, either, I suppose."
"There are several down there," Jeremiah pointed out.
"Oh, but this one was special. You must recall it. You met your 'friends' there because you thought it safe because no one else went down there after dark. But Angelique happened onto your little hideaway-"
Jeremiah snorted. "Surely you're not going to believe whatever story she might have imagined-"
"Did she imagine being raped by Thorne?" Barnabas demanded to know. Daniel gasped in shocked surprise, looking up at Jeremiah.
"She told you that? Come now, Barnabas. Her morals were rather questionable anyway, don't you think? I mean, any woman who would become the mistress of the husband of the woman she was sworn to serve-"
The stem of the champagne glass snapped, the pieces falling to the floor, shattering. "That will be enough, Jeremiah."
But Jeremiah didn't hear. He laughed softly. "She enjoyed it, Barnabas. Every minute-"
Daniel placed a hand on Jeremiah's arm. "Jeremiah," he whispered, "I beg you. Do be careful."
"Excellent advice, Daniel." Jeremiah fell silent now, as if he had just realized that he had said too much. "The only reason you and Thorne considered Angelique fair game was that she was a servant. She is now my wife, and as such you will pay her the respect she is due. If I had been told about this ten years ago, I might have challenged you to a duel. As it is, you are no longer welcome in this house. And if you cause even the slightest hint of scandal, I will personally see to it that you leave Collinsport."
Jeremiah frowned. "You're bluffing."
"Am I? Your-aberration has caused a great deal of embarrassment over the years. I had hoped that it was at an end. You assured me that it was when you married Laura. And even after she died-"
"You don't think I hoped it was so too?" Jeremiah asked, his voice that of a man in torment. "Do you truly think I like being what I am?"
"Then CHANGE!" Barnabas said.
"I've tried!" Jeremiah told him. "I can't. I've accepted it."
"So you draw young men like Daniel-"
"I did no such thing-" Jeremiah began, shaking his head.
"He's right, Cousin," Daniel told Barnabas. "Jeremiah did not make the first move."
Barnabas turned away, disgusted. "Jeremiah, that night-when Angelique discovered you and Thorne-what happened after she escaped?"
Jeremiah seemed broken as he sat down wearily. "Jonas was dead. She hit him hard with a rum bottle."
"So you set the fire to cover his death," Barnabas surmised.
"I did not set that fire. When I realized he was dead, I returned to Collinwood to think, to decide what to do. I always believed that Angelique returned and set the fire in anger."
Barnabas frowned. "I don't suppose it matters now. But I think it might be best for all concerned if you arrange to leave Collinsport for awhile."
"I've been considering a trip to Italy," Jeremiah mused.
"Then do so. Will you go as well, Daniel?"
"I think so, sir."
"When does the ship leave?" Barnabas asked.
"Tonight," Jeremiah informed him. "Come along, Daniel. We have much to do."
"There's one more thing," Barnabas said, bringing Jeremiah to a halt in the doorway. "I'll be over before you go. I want you to sign a paper giving up your right to live at the New House."
Jeremiah's back stiffened momentarily, and it was clear that he thought about arguing that Joshua's will had given him a home there for as long as Jeremiah lived, but his shoulders fell. "I will expect you." The two men left.
Barnabas watched their departure from the front windows, and was still there when Angelique came into the room. "They've gone?"
"Yes. They've both decided to leave Collinsport for a while." He looked down at her. "Angelique, the fire that night-Jeremiah says that he did not start it."
She picked up the empty glasses. "Perhaps he didn't. Thorne might have only been unconscious-"
"Jeremiah believed him dead," Barnabas said.
"He could have been wrong. Perhaps-perhaps I only stunned him. And possibly woken after Jeremiah left," she continued. "Groggy from his injury, he might have knocked over a candle and been too weak to get out?"
"It is-possible, I suppose," Barnabas agreed, and then drew her to him. "Well, Mrs. Collins, how would you like to be mistress of Collinwood?"
Her blue eyes grew wide. "Collinwood?"
"I've decided that we should move over to the new house."
"But I've grown so used to this place."
"It would be a new start, my love. There are no memories at the new house," he pointed out. No memories of Josette, he had been about to say.
"It means a great deal to you, doesn't it?" she asked, searching his face. "Very well, my darling. I'll get things set into motion. When do you intend to move?"
"This evening," Barnabas announced, smiling at her surprise.
Jeremiah put the tip of the quill to the paper on the desk before him, signing his name. Carefully replacing the quill to its holder, he sighed ruefully. "Now, I am a man without a home," he said. "Good-bye, Barnabas."
"Good-bye," Barnabas said simply, refusing to be moved by his uncle's apparent sorrow.
"Daniel!" he called loudly, as he went into the foyer. The young man came up from upstairs, a final valise in his hand. He glanced at Barnabas, and then looked at Jeremiah. "If you will go on out to the carriage, sir, I'll be along in a moment."
Jeremiah took one last look around the house that he had spent so much time designing, and then turned a walked out the door. Barnabas watched Daniel put on his cloak. "You don't have to go with him, you know."
Daniel's brown eyes were serious. "I want to, Cousin. Jeremiah won't admit it, but he needs someone to watch out for him. He tends to drink too much, speak too freely."
Against his will, Barnabas offered, "If you ever need help-"
"Thank you. Farewell."
"Good luck." Alone, Barnabas listened as the carriage moved away from the house, then turned to walk though the main rooms of the house. It was nearly complete at last, even the East and West Wings. Barnabas made up his mind to keep those sections sealed unless they were needed at a later date. Riggs came from below the stair.
"Excuse me, Mr. Collins-"
"Mr. Jeremiah told me that you and - Mrs. Collins would be moving from the old house-"
"He was correct."
"May I ask when that will be occurring, sir?"
"This evening," Barnabas informed him.
Riggs never showed his surprise at Barnabas' statement. He bowed slightly. "I shall have Mrs. Hester open some rooms for you and your family."
"But I don't want to leave," a boy's voice protested as Barnabas entered the Old House. "I don't like that house. It's too big."
Sarah smiled at her nephew. "There are all kinds of wonderful places to play," she told him. "I'll show them to you."
He looked up at her, his brown eyes more curious now. "Is there really a secret passageway as I've heard?"
"Yes," Sarah nodded.
He still looked uncertain. "But Mama liked it here."
Angelique knelt before the child. "Bramwell, I know how much you miss your mother. But as long as she lives here," she placed her hand to chest, "in your heart, then she will never be gone. And wherever you go, you will take her with you." She took his hands in hers. "Please come with us. I'll be ever so lonely if you don't."
"You'll have Lucas-and Father."
"But you won't be there," she said sincerely. When he still hesitated, she said, "Well, if you don't go, then neither will I."
His eyes searched her face before he spoke again, his voice solemn. "I'll go."
Angelique gave him an embrace, seeing Barnabas standing just beyond the doorway, watching and listening. His face wore the guilt of Josette's death, as it always did when Bramwell mentioned his mother. Angelique knew that he would carry that guilt to the grave with him, and there was nothing she could do about it. She rose to her feet, asking him, "Have they gone?"
"Yes," he told her, hoping she could read his gratitude at her handling of Bramwell's sensitive nature. "And we are expected at Collinwood." Looking down at the boy, he asked, "Are you ready?"
"I-" he glanced at Angelique before answering. "Yes, sir. I am."
"Then shall we go?" He waited for them all to leave the house. "I'll have Ben come over tomorrow and finish closing the place up." He looked down at Angelique. "After you, Mrs. Collins."
Angelique stepped from the porch and let Barnabas assist her into the carriage that would take them to their new home. As they departed, she couldn't resist a look back at the old house. Barnabas was right. They would happier at Collinwood. There were no memories to bring that look of guilt onto Barnabas' face, to mar their future. Everything would be wonderful.
She saw a movement on the porch, a flash of white, and gasped softly. Barnabas frowned, taking her hand. "Angelique?"
"I-I just remembered that I might have forgotten something-No, no, I have it," she told him, smiling at him. "I have everything I need." But her smile faded as he turned his attention to Lucas and Sarah. She had seen something on the front step of the Old House. And that something had been the ghost of Josette Collins.
Barnabas lifted the glass of champagne. "To my beautiful wife. I hope the last year has been as happy for you as it has been for me," he said, wondering if he would ever cease to be entranced by the play of firelight on her blonde hair.
She smiled. "I don't feel very beautiful at the moment," she said, placing a hand on her swollen abdomen. "But I am happy."
He finished the champagne, and then placed his hand over hers. "But you are beautiful." He brought her hand up to his lips. "I have something for you."
Angelique's eyes widened as she saw the long velvet box he held in his hand. "You shouldn't have," she insisted. "I didn't get anything for you."
"I didn't expect you to. I consider the new baby to be my gift."
Her smile was gentle as she fingered the soft covering of the box. "Mrs. Burns is certain that this one will be a girl."
Barnabas' eyes were dark as he told her, "I think I would like a daughter. With your blue eyes and hair like the sun. Aren't you going to open my gift?"
She lifted the top and gasped at the sight of the black onyx oval, similar to the ring he wore on his index finger, except that this one was surrounded by a dozen small diamonds and suspended from a simple chain of pure silver. "Oh, Barnabas-"
"Do you like it?" he asked, taking it from her to fasten it around her neck and bringing her a hand mirror with which to look at the pendant's effect against her skin.
"It's beautiful," she breathed. "You're spoiling me terribly."
"Because you deserve it," he observed. "You no doubt think I didn't notice how difficult this year has been for you, having to prove yourself to everyone-even to the servants." His hands caressed her shoulders. "And you have, my darling." His smile was rueful. "As a matter of fact, I believe that you can lay claim to more loyalty from the servants than can I." As she started to disagree, he came around to place a finger to her lips. "I don't mind. And you're well liked in the village as well."
"I've done nothing special," Angelique told him.
"Except be yourself. You've earned their respect, Angelique. Not demanded it as some might have in your position." His lips touched hers.
Angelique closed her eyes, reveling in the aura of Barnabas' love. This last year really had been so much more wonderful than she had expected it to be. Sarah's marriage to Giles six months ago had also served as Angelique's introduction to society as Mrs. Barnabas Collins. It hadn't been easy, but most people had quickly learned that simply because she might have started her life in Collinsport as a lady's maid did not necessarily mean that she was unable to perform the duties required of the mistress of Collinwood. She found she enjoyed running the household, taking care of the boys, and letting Barnabas pamper her occasionally since the discovery that she was again with child. Everything was perfect, she thought, sighing contentedly.
"NO! Keep away!! Someone help! Help me!!" The sound of Bramwell's terrified screams brought Angelique out of her reverie, and she rose to her feet as quickly as she could. Barnabas was behind her as she left the bedroom and went down the hall to where Mrs. Burns was trying without success to calm a still frightened, tearful young boy.
The nurse glanced apologetically to where her employer remained by the door as Angelique moved across to the bed. "I'm sorry, Mr. Collins. He's had another nightmare."
"It wasn't," Bramwell insisted from within the shelter of Angelique's reassuring embrace. "At least, I don't think-" he blinked, looking around.
"What happened, Bramwell?" Angelique asked gently. She saw that Barnabas had made no move to come closer, and urged, "Tell me what you remember."
"I was sleeping and-I thought I woke up. Someone was in this room, watching me. Someone-evil. I got out of bed and tried to run, but the faster I ran, the more quickly it came at me. I fell - I could feel it coming closer-" he shivered at the memory, burying his copper head again.
"Another nightmare," Barnabas confirmed. When Bramwell would have contradicted him again, he turned to the older woman. "Mrs. Burns, where was Bramwell when you came into the room?"
"In his bed, sir," Mrs. Burns confirmed.
"There. You didn't run from anything, except, perhaps, the extra serving of cake you had for dessert this evening."
"It's this house," Bramwell said, looking around as if afraid the walls would suddenly grow arms that would reach out to grab him. "It hates me."
"Stop being ridiculous," Barnabas said more sharply than he meant to. "You are nine years old, Bramwell. Far too old to believe that a house can hate or like anything."
Bramwell turned away from his father's anger, still shaking. Angelique smoothed his hair, and looked up at her husband. "He's still unused to the house, Barnabas," she began, but Barnabas shook his head.
"We've been here for a year, Angelique. It's past time he realized that he must become used to Collinwood. It will be his one day, after all."
"NEVER!" Bramwell said, he eyes huge in his pale face as he looked up at Barnabas again. "I hate Collinwood! I wish it would burn to the ground!"
Shocked silence filled the room. Angelique frowned, touched the boy's arm. "You don't mean that, Bramwell," she said. "You're overwrought. Shall I have Mrs. Burns warm some milk to help you get back to sleep?"
He pulled away from her, his jaw as set as that of his
father. "You don't believe me either. No one does!"
He threw himself across his bed. "I wish I were with Mama!"
He curled into a forlorn ball on the bed, sobbing quietly.
When Angelique would have reached out to him, she was stopped by Barnabas' hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him, read easily in his eyes the returned guilt that any mention of Josette still brought. "Leave him to Mrs. Burns," he told her, his voice roughed by heightened emotion. "You need your rest."
Mrs. Burns nodded sagely. "Mr. Collins is correct, ma'am. You're only two weeks at most from that new baby being born."
She knew that arguing the point would gain her nothing, since the one time she has insisted to Barnabas that she didn't need to be coddled because of her pregnancy he had reminded her that he hadn't had the opportunity to take care of her the last time-and that since most people still believed that this child was her first, she was expected to need more rest. Glancing once again at the now silent figure on the bed, Angelique said, "Good night, Bramwell. I love you," before allowing Barnabas to lead her back to the room they shared.
Hours later, her eyes wide open, Angelique made a decision. Or was close to making one, at any rate. She needed to think it through, and she couldn't do it with Barnabas at her side, his arms around her. She slid as gently as she could out of bed and was tying the last ribbons on her robe when he stirred. "Angelique?"
She smiled at the concern in his voice. "I'm quite well," she assured him in a quiet voice. "You know how much trouble I have sleeping of late. Finding a comfortable position is quite impossible. I'm just going to go downstairs for a while until I'm sleepy enough for it not to matter."
"Don't be long," he murmured, already asleep again.
"I shan't be," she promised, touching his cheek before leaving the room.
There was a fire still burning against the late summer chill, and Angelique slowly lowered herself to kneel before it, placing a small log into the flames. Her increased size had made sleep difficult for weeks, but not impossible. Tonight, however, it had combined with her concern over Bramwell's fear-his insistence that someone or something wanted him dead-and sleep refused to come. As she gazed deeply into the flames, she considered her decision to use her "talents" to try and discover who-or what was tormenting the child. But still she hesitated.
Since her arrival in Collinsport, Angelique had used her powers only two times. She had hoped never to use them again. Closing her eyes, she saw again the terror on Bramwell's young face, and the concern in that of her husband. Surely this one last time, she reasoned. For a good cause-
Deliberately she cleared her mind, began the simple incantation that would show her who held such malice for an innocent, defenseless child. She concentrated on the flames. There was something there. But she couldn't make it out. "Reveal it," she said, "Let me see the face of the one who would harm one in my care." The flames were forming, the features almost recognizable.
"What are you doing, Angelique?" Barnabas. He was directly behind her. She hadn't heard him come in, hadn't felt his presence.
Angelique's blue eyes cleared as the spell was broken. Opening them again, she turned to face her husband. "Barnabas. I thought you were asleep-
"Obviously," he said, but his eyes were on the flames. "I saw-something. In the flames-" his eyes narrowed as they moved to her. "I asked you a question."
"I was-talking to myself," she began, only to watch as his gaze turned back to the fire as if drawn there.
"No. You were asking-someone to show you-"
"What do you think you saw, Barnabas?"
"A face," he said. "But it was hazy. As if seen through a heavy mist."
"It was nothing," she insisted. "Why don't we go back to bed-?"
He didn't move to help her to her feet. "Angelique, I think I know you well enough to know when you aren't being truthful about something. Now tell me what I just witnessed here," he demanded to know.
Unwilling to continue this conversation on her knees, Angelique levered herself up to stand before him. "Nothing. I told you-"
"Those words you were saying. They sounded like-an-incantation. Or a spell of some kind."
She didn't ask how he knew such a thing. He had told her about a visit he had made during a stop in Barbados en route to Martinique-about the local ceremony to put a zombie to rest. But she couldn't tell him the truth. "A-spell? I-"
Barnabas gripped her arms tightly. "Tell me what you were doing when I came in."
"I-I was trying to help Bramwell," she told him truthfully. Lifting her eyes to his, she said, "You're hurting me, Barnabas."
His hold loosened, but only so that it was no longer painful. "Help Bramwell? How?"
She took a deep breath. "By trying to discover who is tormenting him with this feeling that someone wants him dead."
"Bramwell is simply an overly sensitive child who has been allowed to dwell in fantasies for far too long," Barnabas insisted.
She shook her head. "No. Bramwell was happy. Until six months ago, he was happier than he's been since-" she hesitated, unwilling to say more.
"Since Josette died," Barnabas finished, suddenly thoughtful. "You're right. He started having these nightmares six months ago, insisting that someone wants him dead. Who?"
"That is what I was trying to discover when you-"
"Broke your concentration," Barnabas finished, his eyes on her again. "I don't-understand, Angelique. How-?" He shook his head in denial of the truth. "I've never believed in witches."
"Then how do you explain what happened in that ceremony on Barbados?" she asked.
"A witch," she said, watching is reaction closely.
"Josette," he said, his eyes distant. "Did you-"
"No," Angelique hastened to assure him. "I never used my powers against her, Barnabas, or Bramwell. I give you my word. Since I came here, I've only used them twice."
"Twice? To make me fall in love with you?"
"No," she insisted. "You and I were in love before you ever met Josette," she reminded him. "It was the-the day Josette arrived at Collinwood. You had come to my room, and kissed me just as you had on Martinique. Then you asked if we could be friends."
"I remember," he said.
"I was angry," she told him. "Even moreso when I saw you with her, when I thought about you being with her, marrying her. So I decided-" she paused, trying to say this properly. "I decided that if I couldn't have you, then no one would." She saw him withdraw physically. "I returned to my room. Sarah had shown me one of the toy soldiers that you had once played with-and I had one of your handkerchiefs. I tied the kerchief around the figure- In my mind, that figure was you. And as I drew the fabric tighter-"
Barnabas lifted his hand to his throat. "I began to choke. I nearly died," he told her.
"I know. I thought I could do it, but when I went to you, saw how close to death you were, I realized that I couldn't. I ran back to my room and was shaking so horribly that I was almost unable to untie the kerchief. I decided that I couldn't use my powers, not even to stop your marriage to Josette. Not if it meant hurting you. I give you my word, Barnabas. I-"
He turned away. "I have to think."
"Let me explain," she begged, but he moved toward the door. "Where are you going?"
"Out," he said. "I need to be alone for awhile. To try and decide what to do."
She grabbed his arm. "Barnabas-"
He removed her hand and shook his head. Angelique felt chilled by the look on his face. "Leave me alone, Angelique. Just-leave me alone." He stalked out of the room and up the stairs.
Angelique watched him climb them, her mind awhirl with confusion and fear. What if he decided that she was lying? That she had indeed been somehow responsible for Josette's death? She had to convince him. She ran to the stairs, but half-way up, a pain tore through her abdomen. Angelique cried out, waited for the pain to pass. It was just her fear, she told herself. She would find Barnabas, and everything would be fine. After the pain subsided, Angelique made her way to the bedroom only to find it empty, Barnabas' dressing gown on the bed where he had tossed it. He hadn't left by the main stair, so that left the servant's stair that would take him to the stable. She ran to the window, and opened it, leaning out. She could see him on the courtyard, putting on his coat. As he disappeared into the dark stable, she decided to follow him. He would saddle his mount himself to keep from waking the stable hands. If she hurried-another pain, this one stronger, and Angelique felt warmth on her thighs. The baby! It was too early. She called out for Mrs. Burns, and then everything went dark as she collapsed onto the floor.
Barnabas reined in his mount as he topped the rise that gave him a view of Collinwood as it lay calm and serene, bathed in the bright light of a new day. He had been riding all night, aimlessly, his thought a maze of anger, confusion, and even love. Only when he had reached a decision had he turned the black stallion back toward home.
As he sat admiring the view, a carriage appeared, moving away from the house. Even from this distance, Barnabas easily recognized the sorrel mare of Dr. Bailey. Barnabas found himself in the grip of intense fear that he might be too late, and kicked his horse into a hard gallop.
He tossed the reins to a young stable boy, who looked relieved to see him. "Mr. Collins. Everyone's been so worried-"
"Why was the doctor here, Carl?" Barnabas asked, already moving toward the house.
"Mrs. Collins collapsed," the boy told him. "Ben Stokes went out two hours ago looking for you-" he said to the empty yard as his employer entered the house.
Mrs. Hester's eyes widened as she saw him. "Oh, Mr. Collins. We've been so worried-" she began, as he started up the stairs two at a time, not acknowledging even her presence.
The housekeeper shook her head. She had been telling Mr. Hester only last week that it wasn't natural for two such headstrong people as Mr. and Mrs. Collins not to disagree about anything. When Mr. Hester had informed her this morning that Mr. Collins horse was gone, she had supposed that the couple had argued-it certainly explained Mrs. Collins' collapse. She sighed and went back to the kitchen to deliver Dr. Bailey's message to Cook.
Angelique was asleep, her lashes dark in her pale face, so Barnabas' attention turned to the cradle set before the fire. He moved closer, reaching out a finger to touch one soft cheek of the blanket wrapped infant. His hand was shaking, and he found his legs were as well, so he sat on the settee beside the cradle, his head in his hands.
"Barnabas?" her voice was weak, filled with an uncertainty that he had never heard before. He lifted his head to find those blue eyes focused upon him. "I was afraid that you wouldn't be back," she said.
He rose and went to stand beside the bed, hands clasped behind him. "I'm sorry, Angelique. I was-surprised. I should have been here-"
She smiled, but the expression didn't displace the fear in her eyes. "Mrs. Burns was right-you have a daughter."
"I saw her. Are you well?" he asked, noting again her pale features.
"Dr. Bailey assured me I would recover completely. He said that I would be able to have more children-I didn't tell him that I might not have a husband to give them to me."
He could see she was becoming upset again, and recalling similar scenes with Josette, Barnabas withdrew into himself. "We can talk later," he told her. "You need to rest."
"No," she insisted, extending a hand toward him. "I can't. Not until I know-what you're going to do. I have to find some way to make you understand-"
Unable to continue being apart from her, Barnabas took her hand a sat beside her. "I think I do understand." He smiled gently. "It's rather humbling for a man to discover that the woman he loves could have had any man she wanted-could have been a princess-and still chose to be his wife." He touched her fingers to his lips. "I could no more send you away than I could stop breathing, Angelique. You're my life. If anything had happened to you last night-I wouldn't have wanted to continue." He saw the tears in her eyes. "You had every opportunity to destroy Josette, but I don't believe that you did. You care too much for her son to have done so." He wiped a tear from her cheek. "You said you had used you powers twice. The second time was to destroy the fishing shack, wasn't it?"
Angelique nodded. "I had no idea that Thorne was still there," she told him. "I wanted to remove the reminder of what had happened-" she closed her eyes.
Touching her cheek again, Barnabas gazed into those blue eyes. "I know. Do you think-would you be able to try that spell again? To find out who is tormenting Bramwell?"
"Only if you approve my doing so," she agreed. "I can do it now-"
He shook his head gently, preventing her from rising. "No. It can wait until you've regained your strength. I noticed that it seems to drain you." There was a sound from the cradle, and Barnabas smiled as he glanced in that direction. "It sounds as if-our daughter wants some attention as well," he observed, going to pick her up. "Hello, little one," he said, looking into that tiny face. Carrying her to the bed, he looked at Angelique. "She's as beautiful as I imagined she would be."
"And you're going to spoil her terribly, I've no doubt."
"Of course. We have to decide upon a name."
"I'll let you choose this one," she said. "I chose Lucas' name."
Barnabas sat looking at the infant for a long moment. "Rebecca," he decided, looking at Angelique to see her reaction.
She smiled in approval. "Rebecca it is, then." The sound of a carriage came from the courtyard below, and Barnabas frowned. "Who could that be?"
"Sarah, perhaps," Angelique suggested. "She was planning a visit."
Barnabas placed Rebecca in her mother's arms and went to the window. He could see the hired carriage below, watched as the driver came around to open the door for the occupants. As he recognized who the person wearing the feathered hat was, Barnabas felt the blood drain from his face and pressed a hand to the window frame to keep from falling.
Seeing his reaction, Angelique felt a tremor of fear. "Barnabas? Who is it?"
He turned to look at her. "The Countess Natalie du Pres," he announced.
Barnabas encountered Mrs. Hester on her way upstairs as he made his way toward the stairs. "Oh, Mr. Collins. You have a visitor."
"The Countess du Pres," Barnabas said. "Yes. I saw her arriving. Where is she?"
"I left her waiting in the drawing room," the housekeeper informed him. "Does- Mrs. Collins know-?"
"Yes. Would you mind finding her maid? I rang, but Lucy-"
"She went into the village, sir," Mrs. Hester informed him. "Surely Mrs. Collins isn't going to attempt to come downstairs-"
"That is why I wanted Lucy. I thought she might be able to keep Angelique from attempting just such a thing."
Privately, the housekeeper thought that the girl would be unable to stop her mistress from doing anything, but she said, "I'll go and sit with her until Lucy returns-should I have rooms prepared for the Countess?"
The woman inclined her head and then watched as he moved away toward the stairs. She didn't envy him having to explain his marriage to the Countess-for she was certain he had deliberately chosen not to inform his first wife's family of his remarriage. Recalling how close the woman downstairs had been to Josette Collins, Mrs. Hester shook her head sadly.
Barnabas paused before entering the drawing room, taking a deep breath. This was his house now, after all, he reminded himself. There was nothing that Natalie du Pres could do to hurt him. She was standing before the fire, examining a miniature that Bramwell had purchased for Angelique. "Countess. This is a surprise. If you had informed me of your arrival-"
She turned, and Barnabas felt for a moment as if he were still a green, untested youth at the expression in those brown eyes. They were harder than Barnabas remembered them. "But if I had warned you of my coming, you might have found some way to prevent its occurring."
He took her offered hand and bowed over it as she spoke, then looked up, surprised at her statement. "Why would you think such a thing, Countess? You must know that as Bramwell's great aunt, you are always welcome at Collinwood."
"We shall see about that." She seated herself with her usual air. "You might offer me a drink, Barnabas."
"Of course. Sherry?" She inclined her head regally. "Is the Count with you?" Barnabas asked, carrying the glass to her.
Her face grew sad. "My brother is-dead," she told him.
Barnabas frowned. "Dead? When did this happen?"
"Only two months ago," Natalie informed him. She began search for a handkerchief, and was unsuccessful until a young woman that Barnabas hadn't noticed upon entering the room came forward to place a square of silk and lace into her hands. The woman smiled shyly, and Natalie dabbed at her eyes before saying, "Why don't you go out to the carriage, Deborah, and make certain that oaf of a driver has not damaged our cases? And then stay with them until they are brought inside."
"As you wish, Countess," the girl said. Barnabas realized that she was the Countess' maid. She was rather plain, someone that would draw very little attention to herself when with the far more flamboyant Countess du Pres.
"I am sorry to hear about Andre's death," he said to the Countess as Deborah left the room. "May I ask-how it happened?"
She shook her head. "He never recovered from the news of his only child's death. For the last year and a half he became less and less connected with-reality. Two months ago, there was a storm on the island. The house was struck by lightning, and caught fire."
"Oh no," Barnabas said, recalling the lovely house on Martinique.
"I was awakened by smoke, and when I found Andre, he was attempting to reach the room where Josette had spent her life before coming here. He seemed certain that she was there and that he had to save her. I tried to stop him, so did the servants. But he-was too strong for us. His madness, I suppose." She dabbed at her eyes again.
"Then-the house was totally destroyed?" Barnabas asked.
"Completely," she confirmed. "I have been living in a cottage on the estate until it can be rebuilt. If it is rebuilt. It is no longer my decision to make."
Frowning, Barnabas refilled her glass. "Why not?"
"Because Andre did not leave his property to me," she told him. "You know that Bramwell was his only heir. So I suppose as his father, it now falls to you to make the decisions regarding the plantation." She did not look any too pleased by that turn of events.
"Surely he left you provided for?" Barnabas asked, suddenly wary.
"Of course. His will was quite specific that I was to have a home for as long as I chose. I have a copy of that document with me-It is in my case."
"I'll look at it later," Barnabas told her. "Why have you come to Collinwood, Countess? Surely a letter-"
"There is nothing for me in Martinique at the moment,"
she told him. "My only remaining family is here, and I decided
it was past time that I met my grand-nephew."
Her eyes narrowed again. "Has he recovered from his mother's death?"
"Bramwell-Bramwell is a very-quiet child. He has always been so. But he is bright, and while I think he still misses his mother, he realizes that he must look to the future. Not the past."
"A course which you yourself have chosen as well?" the Countess asked.
"I beg your pardon?"
"We arrived in Collinsport late last evening," she informed him conversationally. "I made the decision not to continue our journey until this morning, so I secured rooms at the Inn. The innkeeper and I had a most interesting conversation about - Mrs. Collins."
Barnabas tried to meet that diamond-edged gaze and failed. His eyes fell to the floor at his feet. "I see."
"When did you intend to inform me of your marriage, Barnabas?"
"I saw no reason to make you privy to the decision," he told her. "It did not concern you-"
"But it did. This woman is now responsible for the well-being of my niece's son. I should have been allowed-"
"To what, Countess?" He did look at her now, sensing that she might not know the identity of the woman he had married. "To vet her? To look her over and declare that she could not possibly take the place of Josette?"
"She could not," the Countess agreed. "Josette was irreplaceable. I thought you felt that way as well, else I would never have agreed to her marriage to you."
"I did not realize that you had any say in the matter of our marriage," Barnabas reminded her. "The arrangements were made between the Count and myself - I do not recall your attending that meeting."
She smiled, a tight, angry movement. "Do you seriously doubt that if I had spoken against the marriage that it would have occurred? I was obviously mistaken in my estimation of your character-and poor Josette suffered for it."
"Josette never complained of her treatment-"
"No," the woman admitted. "She never did. Her letters were always full of Bramwell-and very little else. Until her decision to adopt-Lucas." The Countess shook her head. "No. She was not happy here. There was much unwritten in her letters. No talk of the plans and dreams she had made regarding her life here."
"Josette-was never very strong physically after Bramwell's birth," he reminded her. "There was no possibility of her having another child."
"Your letter said that she had been ill for some time," she recalled.
"I should have seen it, I suppose," Barnabas told her. "But she kept it hidden from everyone until it was too late."
"That is not like Josette," the Countess pointed out. "She was never very good at deception."
"She didn't want to worry me, I suppose," Barnabas said, unable to look at her again. "When she died-"
"You recovered sufficiently to remarry less than a year later," the Countess pointed out. "Tell me, is Angelique still in the house?"
Barnabas turned to refill his own drink. "She gave her word to Josette to take care of Bramwell and Lucas," he told her.
"Of course she would take care of Lucas. But Bramwell? Does she treat him well?"
At her comment about Lucas, Barnabas took a drink of his sherry and turned. "Of course she does, Countess. She thinks of him as her own son. As she does Lucas."
"Since Lucas is her son, she could do no less," was the woman's comment into the quiet room. Barnabas turned to look at her, trying to form the words to ask her to explain.
"Do not deny it. When Josette wrote me of her decision to adopt Lucas, she told me that his mother had agreed to allow it, and then informed me that his mother was none other than Angelique."
Barnabas looked down at his glass. "And did Josette also tell you how Angelique came to be with child?"
"Something about a man in the village who promised to marry her, then informed her that he was already married."
"You sound as if you don't believe it."
"I don't. Angelique was always more certain of herself than to allow such a thing to happen."
"She fell in love," Barnabas suggested.
"Apparently. I would like to see her-if it is possible."
"Unfortunately, it isn't. She's-unwell-"
"I see. Then I will see my nephew," she decreed, sounding for all the world like a queen.
"I will have him brought down," he told her, only to pause as the front doors opened to admit the child himself-and his brother. Barnabas went still as Lucas saw him in the drawing room doorway and ran toward him.
"Papa," he said, lifting his hands to be picked up. Bramwell had followed at a slower pace, and upon seeing that they had a guest, he took Lucas' hand.
"Father is occupied, Lucas," he said.
Barnabas lifted the small boy into his arms. "Where have you been so early this morning?"
"Praying," Lucas said.
Barnabas looked at Bramwell. "I was worried about Angelique. And Lucas was too. So I took him out to the cliff after the storm and we knelt and said a prayer for her."
"She's going to be fine," Barnabas assured them.
"I know. We saw Ben on the way home. May we go up and see her?"
"Not just yet," Barnabas told him, turning toward the Countess. "We have a guest." He saw the look she gave Lucas, and then himself, knew that she had seen the resemblance between them, but chose to ignore it for the moment. "Bramwell, this is your mother's aunt. The Countess Natalie du Pres."
Her attention was now transferred to the young man who remained at his father's side. "Come here, child." He slowly crossed to stand before her. "You have my poor Josette's eyes. And her hair," she said, reaching out to lightly touch his dark red locks. "Have you ever heard of me, Bramwell?"
"Yes, Countess," he told her. "My mama used to tell me about you and her father. And Angelique has continued to tell me about Martinique-about Mama when she was young."
"Yes," the Countess mused, her gaze lifting momentarily to Lucas again, those eyes filled with certainty. "Then I must be certain to thank Angelique for all she has done, mustn't I?" She looked back at Bramwell. "Have you ever wished to visit Martinique, Bramwell? To see the places where your mother played as a child?"
"I have thought about it," he confessed. "But -"
"We shall have to see what can be done," the Countess told him. "Why don't you take your-brother upstairs to see Angelique now?" she suggested. "Your father and I have some things that require to be discussed. We will talk more later."
Bramwell, ever the sensitive child, felt the tense undercurrents in the room and looked at his father, uncertain. Barnabas set Lucas back onto his feet. "The Countess is correct, Bramwell. Go upstairs. If Angelique is asleep, don't disturb her."
"We won't.," he promised. "Come along, Lucas." He waited for the child to take his hand, and then moved slowly toward the stairs.
Barnabas felt the Countess' eyes on him again as he watched them up the stairs until they had crossed the landing and disappeared from sight. Knowing that she intended to quiz him about Lucas, Barnabas decided to take the offensive. "I will not allow Bramwell to leave Collinwood to go to Martinique, Countess," he said. "He is too young yet-"
"We can discuss that later," she said. "What I wish to discuss at the moment is Lucas."
"What about him?"
"Was Josette aware that he is your son?"
"No," Barnabas said. "She never knew."
The Countess shook her head. "I should never have allowed Angelique to remain here. I should have insisted that she return to Martinique. I knew that she was enamoured of you-"
Barnabas frowned. "You-knew?"
"Of course. But I thought you were sufficiently in love with Josette that it would not matter. I never considered that she would-worm her way into your bed-"
"Countess-" Barnabas began, his tone a warning that she failed to heed.
"That she would betray my poor Josette so terribly. And she is your wife, I should think? The woman responsible for raising Josette's son? No. No, I cannot allow such a thing to continue-"
"It is not your decision, Countess," Barnabas reminded her. "Yes, Angelique is my wife, and she loves Bramwell as if he were her own son. She gave her word to Josette-"
"Her word? And what weight does the word of a woman like that carry? She betrayed the trust of the woman she was sworn to serve, by becoming your mistress-"
"This conversation is finished, Countess," Barnabas informed her with finality. "You are welcome to remain at Collinwood to visit with Bramwell, but I will remind you only once that Angelique is my wife, and I will not tolerate your mistreating her in any way. If you cannot abide by that, then I would suggest you return to the Inn in the village and from there back to Martinique."
Natalie du Pres' eyes narrowed as she looked at him. She seemed to be considering all of her options, and at last she inclined her sharp chin. "Very well. For the sake of my nephew, I will remember my manners and not say anything against your wife."
"Then I will send someone to escort you to your rooms. If you will excuse me."
"But of course." Alone, Natalie went and poured herself a drink of sherry, then took a well read letter from her pocket. As soon as possible, she would reply, informing the writer of what had occurred upon her arrival. This is not over, she thought to herself. It is only beginning.
Lucy Mitchell was returning to Collinwood after a spending the morning with her mother when she noticed the young woman standing nervously beside a pile of traveling cases. The girl's dull brown hair was well-arranged, Lucy noticed, but it did little to enhance her plain features. "Can I help you?" she asked.
The girl turned quickly, her brown eyes widening in surprise. "Oh. I was instructed to remain here until the cases were taken inside."
"Instructed by whom?" Lucy asked, surprised to hear the slight French accent.
"My mistress," she explained. "The Countess du Pres."
Lucy's gray eyes widened. "The Countess is here? At Collinwood?"
"Indeed. We arrived this morning. She is inside with Mr. Collins. Are you-a member of the family?"
Lucy shook her head, almost laughing. "Oh, no. I'm Mrs. Collins' maid. Lucy's my name."
"I am Deborah." Those brown eyes searched Lucy's face. "You are Angelique's maid?"
"Do you know Mrs. Collins?" Lucy asked, considering the fact that the Countess was obviously aware of Angelique's changed circumstances-although Lucy was certain that she had overheard Mr. Collins telling his wife that he had not informed Josette's family of their marriage.
"We served together in the du Pres household in Martinique," Deborah told her. "Before she came here for Mademoiselle Josette's wedding."
"You took over her position when Miss Josette asked her to remain here," Lucy realized. "Why did the Countess decide to visit?"
Deborah lifted her shoulders. "I do not know. She was still recovering from the Count du Pres' death two months ago, and I did not expect her to plan a trip at all. Then she received a letter-and within the week, we were en route to Collinwood."
Lucy frowned. "A letter? Do you have any idea who it was from?"
"I have never seen it. But the envelope carried an address in France."
"Why don't I go and find Ben Stokes to help you with these?" Lucy suggested, indicating the cases. "And then, I'll take you to see Mrs. Collins. I am quite certain that she would enjoy a visit from an old friend."
Lucy's face brightened at the prospect. "Thank you,