Angelique watched Barnabas pace the bedroom like a caged animal. "What is wrong, my darling?"
"This business with Lucy. And now Daniel. I cannot believe that Jeremiah would cause any of what has happened simply to regain Collinwood." He sat down heavily. "But I can think of no one else it could be."
Angelique came to stand behind him, her fingers on his temples, rubbing gently. "Jeremiah is not here, Barnabas. Nor is Daniel as of yet. I think, perhaps, we must discover the truth about Lucy before we do anything else."
"Do you believe the story she told to Mrs. Hester about Jeremiah?"
"Do you? Knowing Jeremiah as you do?"
"For all his-faults," Barnabas reminded her, "my uncle was still able to appreciate the attractions of a beautiful woman. His marriage to Laura was proof of that. I truly believe that during that time he was faithful to her. It was after her death that he fell so deeply into that black pit of-" he closed his eyes, not wanting to talk about such things any longer. He brought one of her hands to his lips. "I should be comforting you, instead of you comforting me."
"For what reason?"
"You've had a very trying day," he reminded her. "And you're not two days out of child-bed." He brought her around to pull her onto his lap. "I know that finding out that the Countess is your mother must be difficult for you."
"I'll survive it," she told him, enjoying the feel of his arms around her. "So you think Lucy could have been attractive enough to turn Jeremiah's head?"
Barnabas sighed. "It's possible. But without hearing Lucy's side of things, I hesitate to make any judgments."
"She should return soon," Angelique commented, looking up at the clock on the mantle.
"Not too soon, I hope," Barnabas said, rising to his feet to carry her to the bed.
Deborah had only managed to put the charred corner of envelope into her apron pocket when the door to the room opened, and Lucy entered. Her cheeks were flushed from the cool evening air, and her green eyes flashed sparks as she saw Deborah standing before the hearth. "Deborah. What are you doing here?"
"I-I came to look for the letter. The Countess knows it's gone. She wanted it to show it to Angelique- to Mrs. Collins."
Lucy frowned as she removed her cape. "The Countess was going to show it to Angelique?" she repeated. "That makes no sense. Why would she suddenly do something like that?"
"I-I'm not certain. But she and Angelique-Mrs. Collins have settled their differences, and the Countess wants to help them find out who sent her here to make trouble. Are you going to take the letter to Angelique-Mrs. Collins now?"
"Of course," she said, going to her cape. Pulling an envelope from the pocket, she said, "It's right here."
"But-" Deborah frowned. That wasn't the letter. "May I see it?"
"I think not. I'll take it to Mrs. Collins myself. Tomorrow morning. It's rather late this evening, don't you think? I'm certain the Countess will be requiring your help dressing for dinner. And Mrs. Collins will be sending for me as well."
"But-" Deborah almost told her about her earlier conversation with Angelique. But something held her back from telling Lucy everything. Suddenly she didn't feel as though she knew the woman in front of her at all.
Lucy's eyes narrowed. "Yes, Deborah?"
"You're right. I'd better go. Oh. I almost forgot to ask. How is your mother?"
"Not well. Not very well at all. I'll probably have to go back to spend most of tomorrow with her."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Deborah said, her hand on the door knob. As the door closed behind her, she could have sworn she heard Lucy say something.
Something that sounded very much like "Pleasant dreams, Deborah."
Angelique barely had time to don a dressing gown when Lucy's knock came at the door. She smiled serenely up at her husband. "Perfect timing," she murmured. "Come in."
Lucy curtsied. "Forgive my being late, Mrs. Collins," she said. "My mother is quite ill, and I was hoping that you would be willing to let me have tomorrow off."
"Has the doctor been to see her?" Angelique asked.
"She refuses to allow him near her," Lucy told her sadly. "All he wants to do is bleed her, and she won't hear of it." She wiped a tear from her cheek. "Excuse me." She went to retrieve Angelique's gown from the armoire.
"Is there nothing else you wish to tell me, Lucy?" Angelique quizzed, watching the girl.
Lucy frowned. "Nothing that I know of, Mrs. Collins." She noticed the strange look that Barnabas was giving her. "Is something the matter, Mr. Collins?"
"Why did you not tell us that my uncle recommended you for a position at Collinwood?" Barnabas asked.
The young woman's face became a mask of shock and pain. "Because it's not easy to admit that I made an absolute fool of myself where it concerned your uncle, sir. It was something that I preferred to forget about."
"And if I ask you to explain that remark?"
Lucy blinked her eyes. "I first met-Jeremiah Collins while he was on a trip to Boston three years ago. He was so handsome, and seemed to care about me and my mother. He told me when he left that if I ever needed anything to let him know. When Mother became worse, I needed a position that would allow me to take care of her as well. So we came to Collinsport, and I asked him to help. He suggested that your mother hire me as a maid, and he saw to it that I had enough time off to go into the village and spend time with Mother."
"And you saw it as proof that he cared deeply about you?" Barnabas suggested, wondering why Angelique was sitting there, watching, and listening in silence.
"Of course I did. I was a foolish child, thinking myself in love with such a wonderful man. Then your mother died, and I began to spend even more time with Jeremiah."
"And what about my cousin Daniel? Did you spend time with him as well?"
Lucy's face grew pale. "I never knew about-that," she insisted, suppressing a shiver. "Not until just before they left. I walked into Jeremiah's room one night and-found them. Jeremiah-forced me to stay and-join them."
Barnabas could see that Angelique was recalling a similar circumstance, and her own very different reaction. "And why didn't you leave?"
"Jeremiah-he swore to me that it would never happen again," she said. "He said that he was trying to arrange a marriage between Daniel and your sister, and that once that was accomplished, he would be all mine. He implied that he was going to marry me. And I believed him." She wiped a tear from her eye. "It was foolish, I know. But I was so desperate to think he loved me, that I would have believed anything he told me."
"And what happened when he left?"
"Please, Mr. Collins. Haven't I said enough? Can't you guess the rest? When the time came for him to leave, I presented myself to him in his room, ready to leave as well. That's when he told me that I was staying behind. That he and Daniel were leaving-alone. He told me-He told me that he had never loved me, that he would never have married a servant. Never have-" the tears began to fall more freely.
"So you decided to stay here," Barnabas surmised, "and asked Mrs. Hester not to tell us any of this."
"Because I didn't want you to know how foolish I had been. If you want me to leave, I will, Mrs. Collins," Lucy said, at last addressing her words to her mistress. "I know I should have told you-"
"What about the letter, Lucy?" Angelique asked.
"What letter?" Lucy returned, suddenly wary.
"The letter that Deborah gave you to show me. The one that brought the Countess du Pres to Collinwood."
Lucy shook her head slowly. "She gave me no letter, Mrs. Collins," Lucy said. "I can't imagine why she would say she had."
"Are you certain, Lucy? She told me that she gave it to you just before you left for the village."
"She came to my room," Lucy admitted. "But it was only to- talk. She wants to stay at Collinwood," Lucy told them. "She told me that she isn't going to go back to Martinique with the Countess. That she wants to stay here. That's why she told you that. Don't you see? She's hoping that you'll give me the sack and make her your maid." Seeing that Angelique looked extremely doubtful, Lucy became more insistent. "You might have known her as a friend before you came to Collinwood, Mrs. Collins, but she's not the same woman. She's-different. Before I left today-when she came to my room-she-" Lucy closed her eyes, wringing her hands together, and then shivered. "She-touched me-"
Barnabas became instantly alert, as did Angelique. His gaze asked her silently if Deborah had ever done such a thing to her knowledge. Angelique shook her head once. "I'll speak to her about it, tell her to leave you alone," Angelique told Lucy. "I won't be needing your services this evening, Lucy. You've have a very trying day. Why don't you get some rest so you can take care of your mother tomorrow?"
Lucy sniffed again. "Oh, thank you, Mrs. Collins. I knew you would believe me. And there's no need to speak to Deborah. I think I made it clear that she needn't bother again."
"As you wish. Goodnight."
"Goodnight. And thank you. Thank you both. I'm so lucky to be employed by such wonderful people." She closed the door behind her and smiled. Now, to take care of dear little Deborah.
"Well?" Barnabas asked.
"I think Lucy is a very accomplished actress."
"Then you didn't believe her story?"
"Of course not. Certainly not the part about Deborah. She and I shared a bed when she first went to work for the du Pres family. She never gave any intimation of such proclivities. No, I think it more likely that Lucy was simply trying to make us feel sorry for her. But to what end?"
"I think we should let her go," Barnabas decided. "The idea of keeping her around the children-"
"We can make sure that she's never alone with them. I think I would prefer to have her here at Collinwood, where we can keep an eye on her. And once Daniel arrives, I think much of this will be settled."
"I sent him a message this evening. He and Harriet should arrive within the week."
There was a tap on the door, and Barnabas frowned. "Come in." Deborah peeked around the door, clearly nervous.
"Forgive the intrusion, but I thought you might want this," she said, holding out a charred piece of paper toward Angelique.
"What is it," Deborah?"
"What's left of the letter," she said. "I found it in the fireplace in Lucy's room."
Angelique looked up from examining the charred, scorched corner of paper. "Lucy burned this?"
Deborah nodded. "Yes. She showed me another envelope that she said was the letter, but I knew it wasn't this one. I'm sorry, Angelique-" her brown eyes moved quickly to where Barnabas stood beside his wife. "I mean, Mrs. Collins."
Barnabas examined the paper, and then shook his head. "There's too little writing here for me to say with any certainty who the writer was." A thought struck him, and he looked down at Angelique. "Could you-?" He didn't want to say too much, with someone else in the room.
"Yes. If you would like me to. But first, let me talk to Deborah alone."
He kissed her hand, then said, "I'll go and tell Cook that we will be down for dinner shortly."
Once he was gone, Angelique placed the scrap of paper inside her vanity, and then turned to Deborah. Before she could speak, the maid said, "I really am sorry that I trusted her, Mrs. Collins. But she was so nice to me-so friendly."
"Don't worry yourself, Deborah. I was as taken in by her as anyone. You must be made aware, that she has made a-rather-lurid accusation about you, however."
"About me?" Deborah questioned. "I've done nothing to her."
En route to the kitchen, Barnabas discovered Natalie entering the house. "I thought you were upstairs, Natalie," he told her.
"I went for a walk," she said. "Where is Angelique?"
"Upstairs, talking to Deborah. Lucy returned from the village earlier."
"Indeed? And did she come running to Angelique with the letter?"
"No," he was forced to admit. "She claimed never to have accepted it from Deborah, never to have seen it at all."
"And what did she say about her-relationship with your uncle?"
"That she was a fool to think him in love with her."
"That girl is no fool, Barnabas," Natalie told him, her eyes moving toward the stairs. "She knows precisely what she is doing. It is simply for us to discover what she hopes to gain."
"There's more," he told her. "She accused Deborah of-making advances toward her."
Natalie snorted. "Deborah? She is such a timid, shy little creature. No, I would never believe such a thing. It is more likely that Lucy made the advance and was rebuffed."
"Angelique agrees with you. She gave Lucy tomorrow off to spend with her mother. And once she left us, Deborah came in-with all that remained of the letter. Lucy apparently burned it."
"No. What reason would she have? She cannot be in contact with Jeremiah."
"She is in contact with someone. And I'll find out who it is. No matter what it takes. I will not allow her or anyone else to threaten this family," he declared.
"I never, Angelique!" Deborah insisted, lowering her eyes quickly. "I never touched her, never-"
"Thought about it? Truth, Deborah. We have always been truthful with each other."
"It is-embarrassing to talk about, Angelique. I've never had anything like it happen before-"
"Tell me, Deborah."
Her voice low, the maid recounted her dream of the other night, in which Lucy, clad only in her bed robe, had come to Deborah's room and seduced Deborah into a night of forbidden passion. "It was so real, Angelique. The next morning, I tried not to look her in the eye, for fear that she would know about it and hate me."
"I see." Angelique silently rocked Rebecca's cradle as she considered the story. "I believe you, Deborah. But I must ask you to spend some time in her company without letting on that you suspect her to be anything more than your friend."
"You want me to simply forget that she's told these lies about me? That she's only been pretending to be my friend to get to you?"
"Of course I don't expect you to forget. But we need to find out why she's doing these things. I want you to offer to go into the village with her tomorrow to visit with her mother. Stay with Lucy, don't let her out of your sight. You don't have to stay all day-"
"The Countess won't let me go, Angelique."
"I'll speak to her. I simply want to know who she speaks to, where she goes. Perhaps you could find out how ill her mother really is. I hate to ask this of you, Deborah, but, it's very important. Until Barnabas' cousin Daniel arrives, we have no way of knowing if she's told us the truth about her past relationship with Jeremiah."
Deborah nodded. "Very well. I'll go, if she agrees. Should I tell her that Daniel Collins is returning?"
"I think the other servants will likely mention it to her. I've heard them whispering all afternoon about it," Angelique said with a smile. "Now. Do you think you have time to help me dress for dinner before going to the Countess?"
Deborah nodded. "Oh, yes."
"How long do you intend to allow Cousin Daniel and Harriet to stay at Collinwood, Barnabas?" Sarah asked him as they had their dinner.
"It will depend on Daniel, Sarah," Barnabas said. "I have some things to discuss with him."
"He's hoping," Giles said, "that they can stay until after Harriet's baby is born." Barnabas' fork fell to the china plate, shattering the sudden silence that Giles' words caused. He grinned. "Forgot to mention that, I guess."
"Harriet is with child?" Angelique questioned.
"Not very far into it, I think. Daniel mentioned something about six months. He wants the baby to be born at Collinwood."
"It would appear," Angelique said to her husband, "that Daniel has indeed reformed."
"I still want to speak to him. And not only about that matter."
"Natalie, do you think you can do without Deborah tomorrow morning?" Angelique wondered.
"I suppose I could, why do you ask?"
"I think she would enjoy a visit to village. Lucy is going to spend the day with her mother-I thought I might have Ben drive them in, and then wait to bring Deborah back to Collinwood."
Natalie's eyes narrowed as they searched her daughter's face. "I think that is a very wise idea, Angelique. Yes. I will inform Deborah this evening that she has tomorrow morning to herself."
Deborah was in her room, trying to decide how she was ever going to face Lucy after all the lies the red haired maid had told about her. It wasn't going to be easy. But she'd find a way. After she saw the Countess ready for bed, she would go to Lucy's room-there was a knock on the door, and Deborah jumped, so taunt were her nerves. Opening the door, she carefully hid her surprise to find Lucy standing there. "Yes?"
"I wasn't certain that you would be here. I thought you might be waiting in the Countess' room for her. May I come in?" She hesitated for a moment, and Lucy frowned. "Is something wrong, Deborah?"
"No. Are you still going to give Mrs. Collins the letter?"
"Tomorrow morning, just before I leave for the village. I'm to have the day off to spend with her. She's so weak and frail. And lonely." Lucy dabbed at her eye with a kerchief.
Deborah stepped back. "Come in. But I won't have long," she warned. "It's nearly the time that the Countess comes upstairs."
"I know. I brought you something. A gift. For being such a good friend since we met. I've never been the type of person who makes friends-real friends, very easily. Especially female friends." She held out a neatly folded bundle of silk. "Here. Take it. It would make me happy for you to have it."
Gingerly, Deborah took the gift and unfolded it to reveal a silk shift. It shimmered and seemed to glow in the candle light. "It's very beautiful," Deborah commented truthfully. "Where ever did you get such a thing?"
"You haven't heard that I was Jeremiah's mistress before he decided to run away with his cousin and leave me behind?"
"I might have heard-something about it," she admitted. "Mr. Jeremiah Collins gave you this?"
"And more. I have all kinds of things that he gave me to outfit me like a true lady ought to be dressed. Some of it he brought back from the Orient. Like that one. It feels so wonderful wearing it against your skin. So soft and cool-I wear one every day."
Deborah clenched the material in her fight to keep the mental picture of Lucy in a silken shift and nothing else at bay. What was it about this woman she wondered?
Lucy was moving around the room. "Do you think you could convince the Countess to give you tomorrow off, Deborah?"
At the suggested, Deborah's eyes widened. "I was thinking about it. I wanted to ask you if your mother would like a guest. I know when one is in sickbed, they usually welcome any guest, and I thought since you were probably going to spend the day with her-"
"Yes. Then you'll come with me?"
Lucy smiled, placing her hand on Deborah's. "Thank you. Mother will be so pleased. I've told her quite a bit about you. How nice you are, how much I like you."
Deborah went still. Lucy's fingers were stroking the silk in Deborah's hands, and the movement caused a shiver to run through Deborah's form. "Lucy-" Their eyes met, and Lucy smiled. She seemed to be moving closer, and then the bell rang, summoning Deborah to her mistress. Deborah dropped the shift on the bed and put the space of the room between herself and the other woman. "I have to go. Thank you for the gift."
Lucy preceded her from the room. "I hope you'll think of me when you wear it. I'll make sure you're awake so that we can leave together. Pleasant dreams."
Deborah watched her move down the hall, and when she turned the corner, Deborah leaned on the wall for support. What on earth was the matter with her? She had to see Angelique, to tell her this wasn't going to work. That Lucy was trying to destroy her soul as well as her mind. She closed her eyes, frightened by the thoughts that were running through her head.
"You all right, Miss?"
Deborah looked up to find Ben Stokes watching her with concerned eyes. She smiled, trying to reassure him. "Yes, Ben. Just a little tired, that's all."
"Y'look pale," the burly servant said slowly, as if uncertain about her reaction to his observation.
"Probably from spending so much time inside. I'm not used to it. In Martinique, I spend quite a lot of time out of doors."
"Y'need to get out, then, get some sun on those cheeks." He bowed his head. "Beggin' y'pardon, miss."
Deborah smiled again. "Thank you, Ben. I have to go."
"Maybe-you would agree t'go for a walk later? The moon's out, and it's not too cold." He wasn't looking at her at all. His gaze seemed to be fixed on the floor at his feet.
"Not tonight, Ben," she said. "Perhaps-tomorrow afternoon-"
"Mr. Barnabas has asked me t'drive you and Lucy inta th'village tomorrow mornin', and t'bring you back out here 'fore lunch."
"Well, then, we'll go for our walk when we return."
"Y'mean, you're really willin' t'go for a walk with me?"
"Why shouldn't I, Ben? I would be proud to be seen with you."
"There's lots that wouldn't," he told her.
"Well I'm not like them. I really have to go, Ben. We'll talk tomorrow."
Ben was in the gazebo around midnight, unable to sleep for thinking about Deborah. He knew he had no right to be thinking about any woman. He was no prize catch. A former convict, too big, too stupid to do anything except the work Mr. Barnabas gave him to do-at least he could make his letters now, thanks to Mr. Barnabas. And being able to read had opened up an entire new world to him. Gave him thoughts and ideas he felt he had no right to have. Such as thinking that Deborah was a pretty little thing that might possibly like him a little bit. She'd probably never given him a thought. Was probably just being nice when she agreed to go for a walk with him.
There was a rustle in the bushes, and Ben's eyes narrowed as he searched the darkness. "Who's there?" he asked softly, then frowned as the very woman about whom he had been thinking appeared on the path, shimmering and glowing as the moonlight reflected off of her shift. "Deborah." She came into the gazebo, seemingly unaware of Ben. "You all right, miss?"
She still didn't acknowledge his presence. Standing in the middle of the structure, she lifted her face toward the moon's light, then, before Ben could act, lifted the hem of her shift and drew it over her head. She dropped it to the stones beneath her feet, and remained there, totally naked, as still as a statue, eyes fixed on the moon.
Ben swallowed heavily at the sight of the woman before him, and then drew off his coat to put it around her. "Miss. Deborah, please." Her head lowered, and her eyes cleared, then filled with fear as she realized something was wrong.
"Where am I? What am I doing out here?" She shivered and drew the coat around her, her eyes growing wide and her face reddening with shame. "Ben?"
"Y'must've been sleep walkin', miss. Y'came down the path wearin' just this-" he held out the shift, "and then came up here and took it off. I shouldn'a woke ya', but I didn't see how t'get you back to the house without it."
"I've never walked in my sleep," Deborah told him. "Never. And I didn't put this on to go to bed." She had put on her serviceable cotton gown that was in serious need of replacing, and gone to her lonely bed. It had seemed forever before she'd fallen into a troubled sleep, disturbed once again by the vision of Lucy and herself. Then Lucy was gone, and Deborah heard the other woman, calling her, asking her to join her in the moonlight. She had followed that voice here, and done as it had asked her to do, then had stood, waiting for what was going to happen. Deborah shivered, both with shame and cold.
"You need to get back ta y'bed, Deborah," Ben told her. "You'll catch your death out here in this cold air with so little on-beggin' y' pardon."
"Could you-turn your back, Ben, so I can put this back on until I get back to my room?"
She didn't want to place that silk garment against her skin again, but Deborah was starting to shiver and needed the extra layer of fabric. It was false modestly, to ask Ben to turn while she dress, since he had already seen her naked, but Deborah didn't want him to see how badly she was shaking. When his broad back turned, she dropped the wool coat to the stones, then tried to untangle the silk. Her fingers wouldn't co-operate, and she groaned in frustration. Ben heard it, and concerned, turned back around, his eyes never moving lower than her face.
"Let me help ya," he offered, taking the silk and quickly lowering it over her head to fall around her chilled body. Then he picked up his coat and drew it around her again. As he straightened the collar, he looked down at her face. Suddenly he lowered his lips to hers, pulling her to him.
Deborah never thought to struggle against his embrace, simply reveled in the warm protectiveness she felt there, the strong beat of his heart against hers, the curious gentleness of such a big man. After the kiss ended, when he would have pulled away to apologize, Deborah remained in his arms, resting her head on his chest. "Thank you, Ben."
"I had no right," he began-only to find Deborah's fingers against his lips, silencing him.
"I gave you the right," she told him. "Thank you for being here to help me."
"We best be gettin' ya back ta y'room," Ben told her. "I'm used t'this cool air. You ain't, bein' from Martinique." They started back down the path toward Collinwood.
Deborah allowed him to keep his arm around her, and she had never felt as safe as she did in that moment.
Barnabas watched Angelique nurse Rebecca. "Is it a good idea to let Lucy take Deborah into the village?" he asked. "If Lucy wants to do harm to Deborah-"
"That's why I decided to send Ben with them," Angelique told her husband, laying the sleeping infant in her cradle and returning to the bed. "He'll keep a close watch on Deborah."
"You asked him to?"
"No. I won't have to. Haven't you seen the way he watches Deborah when he's in the same room with her?"
"Not really. Are you saying that Ben is-?"
"Quite taken with Deborah. I don't think I've ever seen that particular look in his eyes before. He'll make quite certain that nothing happens to her tomorrow."
"I must admit that the idea of Ben falling in love and marrying is something I've never considered."
"He's a man, darling. And I think he and Deborah are perfect for each other." She smiled at him as he moaned softly. "Almost as perfect for each other as we are."
Barnabas struggled to retain his thoughts. "When are you going to try and find out who wrote that letter?" he managed.
"Later," she told him. And then all thought fled.
At the door to her room, Deborah drew off Ben's coat, then opened the door. "Thank you, Ben. Would you-like to come inside for a moment?" She knew to ask was shameless, but she didn't want to be alone. Not after what had happened.
Ben looked as if he might say no, then nodded jerkily and followed her into the room. He started when she closed the door, nervous of being alone with her. "Ya need t'get t'bed, miss," he told her, not looking in the direction of her narrow bed with its rumpled bedclothes. "It's gettin' late, and we're leavin' early."
"I'm afraid, Ben," she admitted, still wearing only the satin gown. "Afraid that I'll sleepwalk again-and that this time you won't be there to save me."
"Prob'ly won't happen again t'night," he told her.
"If you could stay, Ben, just for a few minutes, to make sure I'm asleep-I know I shouldn't ask-but-"
"I'll stay-for a few minutes," he told her. "But no more than that."
Deborah threw her arms around him, unthinking, burying her head against his chest. "Oh, thank you, Ben. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been there-"
Ben held himself stiff. "Beggin' y'pardon, miss, but-I'm only made of flesh an' blood, and-"
Deborah looked up at him, saw what was in his eyes. She brought the tip of her tongue out to wet her suddenly dry lips, and felt him grow more tense as his eyes followed its progress. "Don't leave, Ben. Stay with me," she whispered. She had never asked any man to do that before, and she knew she would never ask another.
"Y' don't know what y're askin', Deborah," he said. "Y're scared right now. T'morrow mornin'-"
"I'll feel no differently tomorrow, Ben," she told him, shamelessly pressing closer to him. Her skin was almost hot to the touch, such was the fever that she felt growing within her. A fever that Ben Stokes alone could cure. "I know exactly what I am asking you to do. I've seen you watching me, you know. But until you spoke to me earlier, I didn't dare think that you might harbour some affection for me." Her eyes pleaded with him to believe her. "I need you Ben. Tonight-and always. I know it's shameless of me to admit it-"
Any further words were lost as Ben's mouth came down on hers and he lifted her into his arms to carry her to the narrow bed against the wall.
Barnabas watched from the bed as Angelique moved across the room to her dressing table, found himself appreciating the way the firelight made her body glow. Even after bearing two children, there was very little spare flesh on her. He knew he would never tire of making love to her-or her loving him. He saw her take the remnant of the letter from the drawer, then go to the fire. Curious, he rose from the bed and drew on his robe to join her. "Are you going to do this here?"
"Would you prefer to go downstairs where someone might overhear?" she asked.
"You have a valid point, my darling. How will you do it?"
"Just listen, and watch the flames." She held the paper in her hands, and began the incantation, calling upon the powers at her command to reveal to her the person who had written the letter, to show his face to her in the flames.
"I see something," Barnabas said. "There."
Angelique's plea became stronger. "Show me the face, let me know who I must fight. Show me."
The features became clearer, forming into a face that Barnabas
knew too well. "It's
Jeremiah," he admitted, closing his eyes in sorrow. He had never wanted to have to fight his uncle. Never wanted to believe that Jeremiah could be behind all of the things that were happening. But the proof was there, before him, in the flames.
Jeremiah Collins was trying to destroy Barnabas and his family.
Deborah followed Lucy from the house to where Ben was double checking the bridle of the horse. She kept her eyes down, uncertain about looking at Ben. Lucy pulled her cloak more tightly around her. "Do hurry, Ben. There's still a bit of a chill in the air, and I don't want to catch my death."
"I still don't understand why you didn't show Mrs. Collins the letter, Lucy," Deborah said. "You said you would tell her about it this morning."
"She and Mr. Collins were still asleep," Lucy informed her. "I didn't want to disturb them. There will be time enough later for me to show it to her. Ben, are you going to take all day checking that harness?"
Ben mumbled something, and Deborah smiled, hiding it behind her hand. She was certain that Lucy couldn't have heard his words, but Deborah had. She lifted her eyes, and met Ben's, then quickly lowered them again when she saw the look he was giving her. He had left her room only minutes before Lucy had knocked on the door. She watched him hand Lucy into the carriage, then allowed him to assist her as well, not commenting on the way his hand lingered on hers longer than it had on Lucy's. Ben placed the blanket over their legs, and then climbed onto the driver's box.
"So, Deborah. Did you sleep well last night?" Lucy asked, her attention apparently on the leafless, still dark woods on the side of the road.
Recalling her sleepwalking-and its aftermath, Deborah smiled. "Oh, I had a wonderful night," she said loudly enough that she was certain Ben could hear. When his shoulders straightened slightly, she smiled again.
"Really? I thought I heard you going downstairs at one point," Lucy said. "I suppose I was mistaken."
"Yes. You must have been. Does your mother live in the village?"
"No. She has a small cottage just outside of Collinsport."
Collinsport was a tiny village, just a few buildings. "That is the Collins Shipyards over there," Lucy pointed out as they drove through the muddy street. "The Eagle Tavern is just past that, and-you've stayed at the Inn, haven't you?"
Deborah nodded. "The night before we arrived at Collinwood. It was very late, and the Countess decided to spend that night here instead of continuing. It was dark, however, and I was unable to see much of it." She frowned as she noticed the crowd of people on the town square, apparently listening to a dark-clad man.
"Evil often cloaks itself in beauty or some other pleasing form. It is the way that Satan beguiles the innocent to walk the path of darkness," the man was saying.
Deborah shivered. "Who is that man?" she asked.
"I have no idea," Lucy admitted. "Ben, do you know who that man on the square was?"
Ben's thick lips seemed to thin. "Do y' remember that girl they hung as a witch over t'Ellsworth a few years back?"
Lucy nodded. "Poor thing. She was a healer-wasn't she? And she treated the daughter of a wealthy landowner. The daughter died, and the landowner brought charges of witchcraft against the girl. Is he the one who prosecuted her case?"
Ben nodded somberly. "One and th'same. The Right Reverend Trask, or so he calls himself. I think he's the Devil's Own."
"Now, Ben. He proved the girl's guilt in court-"
"By lyin' about her. She weren't no witch."
"And how would you have known such a thing, Ben?" Lucy asked. "Are you an expert on witches? Perhaps you should take up the good Reverend's calling." She was smiling, but her eyes were hard.
"Does this-Reverend Trask live in Collinsport?" Deborah asked, wanting to change the subject.
"Lives down Bedford way," Ben told her. The buildings of the village proper were now behind them, and Deborah found herself grateful to leave it behind. Something about Reverend Trask had sent a chill to her very bones. "He hasn't had a witch trial in some time. Travels 'round now, tellin' people about his conquests, tellin' them to watch out for th'devil." He brought the carriage to a halt before a cottage, then helped both women to the grassy verge.
Lucy looked at him. "You might as well go back to Collinwood, Ben. You can come back in a few hours to get Deborah."
Ben was shaking his head. "I have orders from Mr. Barnabas t'wait right here and not go back t'Collinwood without Deborah."
"But that's ridiculous!" Lucy insisted. "There's no reason-"
"Mr. Barnabas thought there was," Ben informed her. "And I take m'orders from him. Not from you."
Lucy whirled away from the man, not seeing she grateful glance Deborah sent Ben's way before following Lucy into the cottage.
The front room of the cottage was dark, and Lucy quickly lit a candle. "The room isn't used very often," she apologized. "Mother is forced to spend so much of her time in her bed, and has so few visitors-"
"Surely there are people from the village who come to help out," Deborah suggested.
"Mother is very shy. I have tried to introduce others, but-that is why I was so pleased that you agreed to come to see her. You're the first person she's asked to meet out of all the people I've ever told her about. I suppose she could tell how much I -like you."
Deborah found that the room felt suddenly very stuffy, very warm. Strange, she thought, since there was no fire in the hearth. She turned away from Lucy, trying to regain her equilibrium. "I am looking forward to meeting your mother as well. Where is she?"
"I have to go in and check on her and let her know you're here," Lucy told her. She moved toward a door. "Wait here until I send for you."
Deborah found herself able to breathe normally again once Lucy was out of the room. Going to the window, she gazed out to see Ben, sitting in the carriage, waiting. She smiled, remembering again how curiously gentle he had been with her, how upset he had been upon discovering that she had never known another man's touch. Only Deborah's insistence had prevented him from putting her away from him. She had slept wrapped in Ben's arms, warm and secure. From now on, whenever Lucy was present, Deborah resolved to recall that feeling as a guard against whatever Lucy was doing to her.
The door through which Lucy had gone opened, and she appeared, her green eyes narrowed. "She's very weak this morning," Lucy told her. "But she insists that she's well enough to meet you. If you wouldn't mind sitting with her while I go into the village and visit the apothecary, I would appreciate it. She needs some more medicine."
"Couldn't I go with you and then meet her?" Deborah suggested, recalling Angelique's request that she find out where Lucy went and who she spoke to.
"I would feel so much better if you were here with her," Lucy insisted, touching her hand to Deborah's. "I'll even leave Ben outside, so if anything happens, he can come and get me straight away."
"Very well," Deborah agreed, removing her hand from Lucy's touch. "Are you ill, Lucy? Your skin-feels so warm-"
"It is always so," Lucy said, smiling. "More with some than with others," she finished cryptically. "Shall we go in to Mother?"
The room was lit only by a single candle near the narrow bed in which a pale woman lay. Deborah stopped beside the bed as Lucy's mother opened her watery eyes. "So you are Lucy's new friend," she said in a hoarse whisper. "She's spoken so much of you, I feel as though I know you already." She coughed for a moment, and Deborah found herself wincing at the sound. "She tells me you are from Martinique. Tell me about it. Are there many flowers? I love flowers."
"Oh, yes, madame. There are flowers everywhere," Deborah told the woman, sitting down beside the bed. "And they are always in bloom. Everywhere one looks, there is colour. And the fragrance-" she inhaled, as if recalling the smells of the island. "It is indescribable."
"Deborah is going to stay with you, Mother, while I go into the village and get your medicine at the apothecary."
The woman in the bed frowned. "It does no good, Lucy. I do not like to think of you wasting your money on me."
"I'm not wasting anything, Mother. Now be a good girl and listen to Deborah's stories about Martinique." She leaned down to lay a kiss on her mother's brow. "I shan't be long."
Once the door was closed behind her, Mrs. Mitchell smiled. "Such a good daughter. And such a beautiful one. She has her father's looks and his charm."
"Has-Mr. Mitchell been gone for many years?"
"Since Lucy was a baby," her mother confirmed. "She has never forgiven him for his desertion," she sighed, saddened by the memory.
"Desertion? I thought-Lucy told me that he had-died."
"He did. Years after he left us. I was forced to-do some things that Lucy finds unforgivable in order to keep the two of us alive." She stopped as another spell of coughing overcame her.
"Excuse me, Mrs. Mitchell," Deborah said. "I shall be back in a second. I must make certain of something." She went to the front door of the cottage, and was relieved to see Ben still there.
"Y'ready t'go back home?" he asked eagerly.
Deborah smiled at the thought of Collinwood being her "home". It was a nice thought. "Not yet. I need you to follow Lucy into the village, Ben, find out where she goes and who she speaks to."
"Lucy? She's not inside?"
Deborah frowned. "She left a minute ago for the village-the apothecary. How could she have left without your seeing her? Unless there is a back way out of the cottage-"
"There is. On the other side. I don't like leavin' y'here by y'self."
"I'll be fine, Ben," she assured him. "Just find Lucy. And don't let her know you're there."
Ben was obviously torn between wanting to help, and keeping an eye on Deborah. "I'll go. You be careful, y'hear me? I don't want t'go losin' ya now that I've found ya," he said.
"I'll be right here when you return, Ben," she promised. He reached up to touch her cheek with the back of his hand, and then turned to follow Lucy into the village.
He caught up with Lucy easily, and watched as she did indeed enter the apothecary's shop, exiting a minute later with a small package. Then, she moved down the street to the Eagle Tavern. Ben watched her go inside, and then waited outside of the window, watching still, as she went straight to the door in the back of the tavern that led to the private rooms beyond. Ben entered the tavern and went to the bar. "Well, Ben. It's been a long time since you've been in here," the tavern keeper said with a smile.
"Keep y'voice down, Henry," Ben admonished. "I'll have an ale."
He poured the drink, then looked at the man. "Such a serious look, Ben. Something wrong up at Collinwood?"
"Could be," Ben said. "Did I just see Lucy Mitchell come in here?"
Henry grinned. "Lookin' for a bit of skirt, eh, Ben? Well, that one's too high above you, let me tell you. Thinks she's too high for any of the likes of us."
"Where is she?"
Henry jerked his head toward the doorway that she had gone through. "Back there. Has a-"gentleman" friend that meets her here every day."
"Not likely," Henry said with a snort. "Fancy dandy, that one. Don't even know his name. Just come in, gives me my money, and waits for her to get here. Then, once she's gone, he leaves. Pays good money for the room, so I don't ask no questions about what they're doing in there." He winked. "But I have a good imagination."
Ben finished his ale. "Don't tell her I was lookin' for her."
"Whatever you say, Ben," Henry agreed. Ben had, after all, been one of his best customers for years.
Ben wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve, and then
went back outside to watch and wait for Lucy to leave the Eagle.