Deborah was sitting with a now sleeping Mrs. Mitchell when a breathless Lucy came running back into the cottage. "That stupid oaf! I told him to wait here! Now where has he gotten off to?"
"Who are you talking about?" Deborah asked, wishing she would lower her voice so not to disturb her mother's rest.
"Ben Stokes. He's not outside."
"No, he's not," Deborah said. "Because I suggested he go for a walk. He was so restless, pacing back and forth, that I became quite agitated. So I suggested he go for a walk. He should be back momentarily." I hope, Deborah thought to herself. "Did you get the medicine for your mother? She was coughing so terribly-she exhausted herself. I wonder if someone shouldn't stay with her all the time?"
"I can't do that. Not if I want to keep my position with Mrs. Collins. And Mother won't hear of my engaging a stranger to come in and take care of her. If things had worked out the way I intended them to, she would have been at Collinwood by now."
Deborah frowned at her. "What do you mean?"
"If Jeremiah Collins had married me as I thought he intended to." She looked down at the sleeping woman. "I have to stay here until she wakes, at least, to give her this medicine," Lucy told Deborah. "Why don't you go on back to Collinwood when Ben returns?"
"How will you get home?"
"I'll do as I usually do: walk," Lucy said, smiling grimly. "Don't worry about me, dear Deborah. I'll be back at Collinwood before nightfall. And then I want you to tell me everything you told Mother, so I can repeat the story for her. She likes hearing things over and over. Would you mind if I came to your room later? After you've finished your duties for the night?"
Lucy's emerald green gaze locked with Deborah's, and Deborah felt as if she were fixed in place, unable to move, to breathe. Time seemed to stand still as she watched Lucy lift her hand to touch her cheek, her fingers so hot that Deborah felt as if she were branded by the touch. Lucy's finger tip moved across Deborah's jawbone, then down her neck, and she was nearing the top of Deborah's gown when she heard the horse whinny. Rising quickly to her feet, Deborah blinked. "Ben. I think he's back. And I think I will return to Collinwood. Tell your mother that it was a pleasure meeting her."
"You'll have to come back again," Lucy said, no sign of having been affected by those few moments evident-except for the glitter in those eyes.
"Yes. Shall I tell Mrs. Collins that you want to see her as soon as you return?" When Lucy frowned, Deborah reminded her of the reason. "The letter?"
"Oh. Of course." She saw Deborah to the door, watched as Ben assisted her into the carriage and tucked her in. "Do be careful. And I'll see you later."
Ben waited until they were out of the sight of the cottage before reining in the horse and turning to Deborah. "You all right? Ya looked a little peaked when y'came out of that cottage."
Deborah smiled up at him. "I'm fine Ben. All I did was think of you, and everything was just fine." He smiled back shyly.
"I'd bring y'up here with me, but the box ain't big enuf f'two."
"I understand, Ben. Why don't we get back to Collinwood, and then we can go for that walk we discussed yesterday, and you can tell me what happened in the village."
He turned back and flicked the reins to start the horse back into motion. "Her mother really as sick as she claims?"
"She's very sick, Ben. I think she's consumptive."
"Ain't no cure f'that," Ben said. "And bein' in Collinsport ain't good f'it, either."
"No. It's not. I think Lucy knows that it's simply a matter of time." She sat back, recalling the things she had learned about Lucy during the conversation with Mrs. Mitchell. Lucy hated men, much to Mrs. Mitchell's chagrin, and guilt. The woman, during her weakest moment, had confided that she had earned her living at one time as a courtesan, and that when Lucy was 15, she had been raped by one of her mother's "customers". Lucy had run away for almost two years, and when she had returned, she took her mother out of that life, and set them up in Boston as respectable ladies. Mrs. Mitchell had had no idea of where her daughter had come upon the means to do this, but she had been most grateful that her daughter hadn't forgotten her mother.
Apparently Lucy's involvement with Jeremiah Collins had been her only relationship with a man since that day, and Mrs. Mitchell had harboured high hopes for the future. She confided to Deborah that she feared for Lucy sometimes, that she would end up a bitter old woman with no family and no one who cared about her.
The carriage jolted to a stop, and Deborah smiled as Ben helped her out. "Thought mebbe you'd gone t'sleep back there, 'twas s'quiet."
"I was thinking, Ben," she said. Linking her arm through his, she said, "Lead the way." He took them back to the gazebo, and saw her seated. "Now. Tell me where Lucy went in the village."
"She went t'the apothecary, like she said she was going t'do, and after that, she went t'the Eagle."
"To have a drink?"
Ben shook his head. "No. Ol' Henry told me she comes there most ev'ry day, goes directly to the back rooms, stays awhile, and then leaves again. That's what she did t'day."
"Who does she go there to see?" Deborah asked.
"Henry doesn't know. Said he's not from 'round these parts, he's a stranger. No one knows where he's stayin'. Comes into the Eagle every day, pays Henry for th'room, and waits for Lucy, then leaves after she does."
"And did you happen to see this man leave?"
"I did. After Lucy left, I watched her down th'street as far as I could. She stopped for a while t'listen t'that Rev'rend Trask rant, then started back t'the cottage. I was tryin' t'decide whether t'follow her when the man she met came out of th'Eagle."
"You didn't recognize him?"
"No. But there was evil all around him, Deborah. Terrible evil."
Deborah took his hands in hers. "Describe him to
me. So I can tell Mrs. Collins."
Lucy gave her mother the medicine and stayed until she was asleep. Going back out into the parlour, she jumped when the door from the other bed chamber opened. "What are you doing here?" she asked the man who came into the room. "What if Deborah had still been here?"
"I knew quite well that your little friend was gone," he told her. "And if I were you, I would watch her very carefully."
"I planned to do much more than that, but Mr. Collins sent that fool Ben along and told him to stay. What did you hear?"
"Only that she sent him after you, to spy on your movements in the village. How soon do you have to return?" he asked.
"Not until later. You must have heard me telling Deborah that." When he grabbed for her, she slipped from his hold. "I have something else to take care of first."
"Something for him?"
"Yes." Seeing his frown, she touched his cheek. "Don't be like that. If his plan succeeds, we will both be very grateful."
"But why won't he tell me what his plan is? Since we arrived, he's barely spoken to me at all. And you've been so preoccupied with your new friend-"
Deborah kissed him. "When I return from the village, I will make everything up to you. Now go back into the other room before someone looks in the windows and sees you."
"Your word?" he asked.
She brought his hand to her breast. "My word."
The Reverend Trask looked across the small table and frowned. "Really, Lamar. If you are not hungry, I suggest that you go to your room." Lamar, his thirteen year old son, put down his fork and neatly folded the napkin. His father sighed as the door closed behind the boy. Ever since his mother's death three months ago, Lamar had been forced to travel with him on his journeys. He simply did not understand why Lamar was so angry with him. Hadn't he explained why he had been in New York when Ruth had died? Lamar simply did not understand that importance of his father's work. That evil must be constantly fought or it would destroy everything. There was a knock on the door, and Trask rose to answer it. He was quite used to callers, mostly people wanting to ask him prurient questions about his witch hunting. Opening the door, he stepped back, surprised to find the red-haired woman who had stopped earlier in the square to listen so intently. "May I help you, miss?"
"I hope so, Reverend. I must speak to you." She looked terrified.
Trask indicated that she should enter the room. "Please be seated. What is your name, child?"
"Lucy. Lucy Mitchell."
"And why have you sought me out, Miss Mitchell?"
"I work at-Collinwood. Do you know of it?"
Trask looked thoughtful. "I knew Miss Abigail Collins. We corresponded quite frequently before her death."
"Miss Collins died before I began working for the Collins family," she told him, her voice quiet, still filled with some unnamed terror. "But I have heard what a wonderful person she was. She would be- horrified to know what is going on in that house now."
"What do you mean, child?"
"I-I'm afraid that-I think there might be a-a witch at Collinwood," Lucy said, her eyes wide with fear.
"I've been looking for you, Mr. Collins," a voice said as Barnabas came from the offices of the Collins Shipyards.
Barnabas turned, frowning as he recognized that voice. "Mr. Greene." Amos Greene had purchased several acres of property that adjoined Collinwood, and seemed determined to sell the property back to the family. But Barnabas knew, as had Greene upon buying it, the property was mostly unusable, far too wet and boggy, and refused to buy it back, as had his father before him. As a result, Greene had told everyone he knew that the Collins family had lied to him about the land. "I am on my way to Collinwood," Barnabas informed the man. "How can I help you?"
Greene's bushy eyebrows came together. "Leaving? But - your note said you were interested in buying my property at last."
"What note? I sent you no note," Barnabas said.
"Someone is playing a prank, Mr. Greene."
"It was in your hand," Greene insisted. "What kind of trick is this, Collins? You send me a note saying you will buy, and now you insist that you did not. I demand satisfaction."
Barnabas glanced around at the faces turned in the direction of the confrontation. "The trick is not mine, I assure you, sir. Now, if you will excuse me, I am expected at Collinwood."
But Amos Greene was not to be so easily put off. "I will not excuse you. I bought that property from your father twenty-five years ago, and am only asking little profit from the matter. Surely you cannot expect me to sell it to you for the same amount for which it was purchased?"
"I do not expect to pay any amount for that land, Greene," Barnabas informed him. You purchased that land from my father in good faith, knowing that it was a watershed and remained wet year round. You have only yourself to blame if the deal did not suit you.
"I did not see the property before I gave your father the money," Greene insisted. "I came here and entered into business with him because I had heard he was an honest man. He took advantage of my being new to the area-"
"My father did not take advantage of you or anyone else, Greene. If you purchased property without first inspecting it for yourself, then you were a fool." He moved to pass the man, but Greene stepped into his path.
"We're going to settle this, Collins. Now."
"We will not settle anything as long as you are angry, sir. Once your temper has cooled-see my clerk and he shall set up an appointment-"
"Why? So I can be put off again as your father always did? No, sir. We will discuss the matter now. Here, with witnesses to verify the arrangement of the sale."
"There will be no sale, Greene," Barnabas repeated. "The land is yours. In time, it will belong to your son-"
Greene shook his head angrily. "Then why did you send me the note if you did not intend to buy? To simply make me look the fool?"
Barnabas sighed tiredly. "I sent no note, Greene."
"It had the Collins seal affixed," Greene told him. "And 'twas your hand. I've seen it before. I'd stake my life on it."
"Where is this note?" Barnabas asked, becoming concerned.
"I have it here," he said, extending the paper. When Barnabas moved to take it, Greene drew it back. "Oh, no. I'll not have you take it and say it's not your hand and destroy it. Be just like you to do something like that."
"Then how am I to verify that it is indeed my hand?" Barnabas wanted to know. He was growing very weary of this little game. The crowd around the two men had grown slowly, and Greene turned to look around the faces.
"Anyone here know Mr. Barnabas Collins' hand when they see it? Someone who will verify that it was indeed he who wrote this letter?" Several people shook their heads, some who could have verified Barnabas' handwriting, but didn't like Greene.
At last, when Barnabas was about to step around Greene once again, a young man stepped forward. "I think I can, Mr. Greene."
Greene grinned. "You're Henry Castle, aren't you?" The boy nodded. Barnabas' jaw tightened. Young Castle had worked at Collinwood until a few months after Jeremiah's departure. He had found the boy mistreating one of the horses while drunk and dismissed him.
Castle looked at the paper that Greene thrust at him, then at Barnabas. "It's his hand, all right. I seen it lots of times when I worked up at Collinwood." There was a murmur of shock that ran through the crowd.
"I shan't call you a liar, young Castle, but you are incorrect." His hand closed tightly on the cane in his hand. He had never used the cane to strike anyone, but Castle's smirking face was tempting him to do so now. In fact, he went as far as to hold the black stick higher, the idea apparent to anyone watching. "I did not write it, Greene, and I insist upon being allowed to see that paper," Barnabas said, his voice tight. "But I will not continue this discussion in a public place, Greene. I suggest you come to Collinwood later. We will talk further there."
Greene smiled again, sensing that he might be near to his goal at long last. "I'll be there at seven, Mr. Collins." He clapped young Castle on the shoulder. "I believe I should buy you an ale at the Eagle."
As the crowd dispersed, Barnabas saw a man across the square, dressed in unrelieved black, watching him. Frowning at the intense scrutiny from a stranger, Barnabas levered into his saddle and turned his mount toward home.
Angelique met Barnabas as he entered the house. "How are the children?" he asked, hanging his cape and cane beside the door before leading her toward the drawing room.
"Quite well. Natalie spent much of the day with Bramwell and Lucas. They showed her all of their favorite places around the estate. The poor woman is so tired that she's not certain she can make it down to dinner this evening. So, if you don't mind, I've decided to have dinner served at eight-thirty."
"No. I take it that Bramwell is over his fear of her?"
"Apparently so. He's such a sensitive child that I think he realizes that she's no longer a threat to us. You look troubled," she said, pouring him a glass of sherry as he sat down.
"Amos Greene claims that I sent him a note telling him that I was ready to purchase his property. He confronted me about it in the village as I was leaving."
"When he shows the note-" Angelique began, her hands on his shoulders as she stood behind him.
"He found someone who said he knows my hand to identify it. Henry Castle."
Angelique frowned in distaste. "That one. Oh, but surely no one took him seriously. Everyone in Collinsport knows why you dismissed him."
"I came very close to striking him with my cane," Barnabas admitted, sitting back to allow her to place her fingers to his temples. "Then I realized that it would be the wrong thing to do with so many people as witnesses. Greene agreed to come to Collinwood this evening to discuss the matter."
"Are you going to give him what he wants?"
"I might have no choice. That land is worthless. Greene knew it when he bought it from Father, but he insisted that he would be able to do something with it. Father didn't like Greene."
"Few people do," Angelique pointed out. "Do you want to hear about Deborah's visit to Lucy's mother?"
"I had almost forgotten," he admitted. "Did she find out anything?"
"Deborah discovered several things about Lucy's past," Angelique confirmed, "but it was Ben who discovered the real news."
Barnabas turned to look at her. "Tell me."
Henry moved unsteadily away from the Eagle, having had too many glasses of ale. Old Greene had bought him several drinks before leaving, and then a stranger had come to his table and bought him several more. He stopped on the edge of the wharf, holding onto a pier to look down into the water.
He blinked at the reflection that was beside his in the torch lit water, and then turned to look at the woman. She was beautiful. "I know you. You work up at Collinwood. Lucy. Miss High and Mighty. Old Jeremiah's doxy."
Lucy's jaw tightened in anger. "Not anymore. Jeremiah is gone. And I've been very lonely," she told him, running her hand along his arm.
"You wouldn't give me the time of day before," Henry recalled, eyes narrowed. "What's different now?"
"Maybe I've just decided to set my sights a little closer to home," she said. "Speaking of home, why don't I help you back to yours?"
He shook his head. "I don't need help. I can manage on my own, thank you," he said, then tried to prove it by almost falling flat on his face.
Lucy put her hands on her hips, shaking her head. "Are you certain of that?"
Henry looked a bit sheepish. "I might be willing to accept a little help," he admitted. Lucy lifted his arm across her shoulders, her smile grim.
Barnabas stood in the drawing room, an untouched glass of sherry in hand, thinking about what Angelique had related about Deborah and Ben's activities in the village. If the man Lucy was meeting at the Eagle wasn't Jeremiah, then who was he? And why was he trying to cause trouble? He lifted a hand to his temple, wishing Angelique was there to quell the headache that was threatening to return as Ben came into the room with a load of firewood.
"Ben. Angelique told me about your morning. I want to commend you for being so helpful to Deborah."
The servant shrugged. "Weren't nothin', sir," Ben said. "I kinda' like lookin' out f'her."
So Angelique had been correct about this as well. "Ben, did you happen to see a stranger in Collinsport this morning? A man who wears black, thin faced-"
Ben nodded somberly. "Aye, that I did. The witch hunter Trask."
"Trask? What is he doing in Collinsport?"
"Rumor I heard 'em talkin' 'bout at the Eagle was that he's thinkin' 'bout settlin' here with his boy."
"We don't need his kind here," Barnabas said, his thoughts upstairs with Angelique. If Trask were part of this attack against them, then she could be in danger. "Keep an eye on him when you're in the village, Ben."
"I will, Mr. Barnabas." He left the room as a knock came at the door. Thinking that Greene was early, Barnabas finished the sherry as Mrs. Hester opened the door.
"May I help you, sir?"
"Yes, good woman. I have come to see Mr. Barnabas Collins."
"And who may I say is calling, sir?"
"The Reverend Trask."
Barnabas carefully placed the empty glass on the table to prevent himself from dropping it from suddenly nerveless fingers as his headache finally returned with a vengeance. Why was the Reverend Trask calling on him?
Drawing a deep breath, Barnabas moved toward the open doorway to greet his visitor. Trask was standing, hat in hand, examining the foyer. When his gaze found the portrait of Barnabas, he moved nearer. "Reverend Trask. I am Barnabas Collins."
Trask turned, his dark eyes searching. "Mr. Collins."
"I had heard that you were in the Collinsport," Barnabas said. "Are you en route to another destination?"
"I have not decided as yet. You may have heard that I have my son with me. His mother died several months ago, and he is - unsettled. I am considering places where he and I can set up housekeeping to give him a sense of order."
"My condolences on the loss of your wife. How can I help you, Reverend?" Barnabas indicated that they should retire to the drawing room.
"I have not come to ask anything of you, Mr. Collins. My reason for visiting is merely to pay my respects to the memory of your aunt, Abigail Collins."
Barnabas frowned. "I was not aware that you knew my aunt."
"It is true that she and I never met face to face, but we maintained a correspondence until her death. Such a great loss. She was a pious, Christian woman. The young women of today would do well to emulate her fine example."
"Yes," Barnabas agreed, and then glanced up to see Natalie enter the room. "Countess. Are you quite recovered from your day?"
She smiled. "I feel much refreshed. I appreciate Angelique delaying dinner for me." She turned to Trask. "And who is your guest?" she asked, curious as always.
"This is the Reverend Trask," Barnabas told her. "Reverend, allow me to present the Countess Natalie du Pres. My first wife's aunt."
"Madame," Trask murmured, obviously not pleased with the woman's bright clothing and face paint. "You are French?" he asked, his gaze reminding her of Bramwell's expression earlier when Lucas had picked up a worm to study it.
"Oui," she said, smiling. "But my home is in Martinique."
"I see," he murmured. His frown deepened. "I have heard stories that the islands of the West Indies are a haven for all sorts of evil practitioners. That they come there and work their dark ceremonies in the name of Satan himself."
Natalie smiled sweetly. "It is not as bad as that, Reverend. So, tell me, sir. Do you have the local church?
"I have no church with walls, madame," Trask informed her. "My church is the world, wherever I find people who have a need to hear the word of God, wherever I find darkness that must be illuminated by the words of the Good Book."
There was another knock on the front door, and Barnabas watched as Mrs. Hester ushered Amos Greene into the foyer, biding him to wait until she informed Mr. Collins of his arrival.
The housekeeper came to the drawing room doors, a sour expression on her face. "Excuse me, Mr. Collins-"
"Yes, Mrs. Hester?"
"Mr. Amos Greene is here to see you."
"Send him in, Mrs. Hester." She nodded and went back to Greene. His hat was in his hand, revealing dirty, unkempt hair that was thinning on top. "Collins."
Barnabas' eyes were cold. "You are before time, Mr. Greene. We agreed on seven, I believe. It is not yet a quarter of."
"I thought we might as well get this over with," Greene returned, then smiled as he caught sight of Trask. "Why, how d'ya do, Reverend Trask? You remember me?"
Trask's eyes narrowed. "Mr. Greene. It has been some time since our last meeting."
"Yes, sir. And I've followed your work closely since then. It's an important calling." He glanced at Barnabas. "I was one of the Reverend's witnesses at the trial of that witch over Ellsworth a few years back," he explained, not recognizing the flare of anger in Barnabas' eyes.
"When were you in Ellsworth?" Barnabas wondered. "I was of the belief that you had been in Collinsport for the past twenty years."
"Spent some time over there working," Greene said. "I met the witch, and when the Reverend asked me to testify against her, I obliged."
"Because you knew her to be a witch," Barnabas asked softly, "or because you wanted to impress the Reverend?"
"Do you doubt that the girl was a witch, Mr. Collins?" Trask asked, his gaze sharp again. "Because I can assure you, she was. Oh, she was pretty, yes. But often the Devil uses beauty to lure the innocent into sin. She was tried and convicted-"
"On purely circumstantial evidence," Barnabas pointed out. "Shall we retire to the study, Greene?"
Greene rubbed his hands together as if anticipating something. "By all means. We must speak again, Reverend. I'll call on you."
"Greene," Barnabas said, his tone impatient. Greene turned and followed Barnabas from the room.
Trask watched after them, his expression thoughtful. "Mr. Greene is a most insightful man. Don't you agree, madame?"
Natalie shook her head. "Oh, yes. He is indeed full of something, but I do not think insight is the proper word."
He turned to look at her. "You do not approve of my Mr. Greene?"
"He is an opportunistic oaf," she replied, blunt as always. "A liar and a cheat. So. You are a witch hunter. Tell me, are you looking for a witch here in Collinsport?"
"I do not know where I shall find evil, madame," he told her. "But when I do, I will not rest until it is destroyed."
"There is much evil in the world, Reverend," she said smoothly. "You have set yourself up to a lifetime of searching."
"I do only what I am instructed to do by this," he said, holding out his dog-eared Bible. "Since my arrival in Collinsport, I have heard about your niece. She was much respected in the village."
"Everyone respected my Josette," Natalie said, smiling at her memories of the young woman.
"Her death was such a tragedy. So sudden."
"Yes. Quite," she agreed, wary now, uncertain of why he was broaching this subject.
"A respiratory problem," he said. "Yet no one knew she was ill-not even her own maid. Does that not strike you as- unusual?"
Natalie kept her features carefully relaxed. "Not at all. You would have to have known Josette. She was not one to wish others to worry. From what I have been told she kept Angelique away from her during the week prior to her death by saying she was tired and wanted to rest."
"Ah yes. Angelique. Who is now Mrs. Collins, is that correct?"
"Who, if you asked in the village, Reverend, is even more respected than Josette was."
"As you say. Yet there are questions about your niece's death-"
"Which I will not discuss with you, Reverend Trask. Tell me about your work. How many young girls have you hanged as witches?"
"That amount is outrageous," Barnabas informed Greene. "And I refuse to pay such an amount for that property."
"I've improved the property," Greene insisted. "Built a house and barn-"
"If you want to call the hovel a house, that is your business. But it is suitable only to be torn down for firewood. I will pay you no more than half again what you paid my father for the land."
"That is not enough," Greene insisted. "I can't get another place for that amount. You're not being fair, Collins."
"I believe that my offer is more than fair. If you choose to refuse it, then you are free to leave."
Greene shook his head, holding the note before him. "If I leave without getting my price, then I'll take this to the Constable. He'll know what to do with it. You made an offer for the property here, and now you want to go back on that."
"I am going back on nothing, Greene," Barnabas said. "May I see the note?"
The other man hesitated for a moment, and then placed it in Barnabas' hand. "Guess it won't matter now if you do something to it. Young Castle identified your handwriting true enough."
The broken seal on the letter was indeed that of the Collins family. Barnabas put little stock in that as evidence. He slowly opened the folded paper and gazed at the neat hand. It certainly appeared to be his hand. There were subtle differences, but Barnabas doubted they would make any difference. He was determined, however, that Greene not know that the note concerned him. "Do what you will, Greene. I did not write that note, nor make you any offer for your property other than the one I just made."
Greene frowned. "Could be you wrote it and forgot about it," he said, putting the paper back into his pocket. Some folks around here haven't been too certain that you haven't lost your mind. Said marrying a servant like you did proved it." He grinned lecherously. "Course, I knew exactly why you'd done it. Couldn't pass up something that was there every day."
"Greene," Barnabas said warningly. His comments about Angelique were not to be borne.
But Greene wasn't listening. He was looking around the room with a proprietary air that further fueled Barnabas' growing anger. "I think I'll enjoy living in a place like Collinwood," he said. "I wonder if that pretty wife of yours will want to stay married to a poor Collins as much as she wanted to marry a rich one?"
"I think it's time you leave, Greene." He opened the door and ushered the man toward the foyer. As he opened the door, he saw Greene look up toward the stairs. Angelique was coming down, her blue eyes wary.
"Mrs. Collins," Greene said, bowing. "As beautiful as ever." He smiled. "I hope Mr. Collins is aware how lucky he is to have such a lovely creature to warm his bed."
Barnabas grabbed Greene's coat and pushed him through the door. "If I ever find you on Collins property again, Greene, you'll regret it."
"I'll be seeing the Constable in the morning, Collins," Greene shouted as Barnabas closed the slammed the door. "You'll see. You'll see."
Angelique came to Barnabas' side as he lifted a shaking hand to cover hers. Her eyes were filled with concern, and then moved toward where Natalie and Trask were standing in the drawing room doorway. "Are you all right, Barnabas?" Angelique asked at last.
"Yes. I simply could take no more of that man's innuendo and lies." He was just realizing that Trask had been a witness to his loss of control, and he groaned inwardly at the thought.
"He's an odious little man," Angelique agreed, her eyes flashing.
"On the contrary, Mrs. Collins," Trask said, drawing their attention. "Mr. Greene is only trying to receive what he feels is his due."
"He is due nothing from us," Barnabas insisted.
"Then you deny sending him the note that was identified as being in your hand by that young man in the village?"
"I sent no note to Greene or anyone else, Reverend."
"If he is asking a fair price for the property-"
"Forgive me, Trask, but I do not see that this is your affair."
Trask's eyes widened, and for a moment, Natalie thought he was going to explode. Suddenly his face relaxed. "I am merely attempting to mediate a dispute. But with someone of your temperament, Mr. Collins, I fear that my job will be most difficult. It saddens me greatly that you have chosen not to follow the example of your dear Aunt Abigail and allow faith to guide you-instead of the Devil's tool of anger."
Barnabas eyes darkened. "I remind you, Reverend, that you never actually met my aunt. If you had, you would have come to realize that she was a sharp tongued, bitter spinster, who spent much of her life trying to make everyone around her just as unhappy as she was."
The Reverend Trask drew himself up, eyes narrowed. "I cannot believe that you would say such things about such a fine, God fearing, Christian woman. Good evening, ladies." He left the house without another word.
Barnabas and Angelique moved into the drawing room. Barnabas went to the table and poured himself a glass of sherry. "I should apologize to both of you for losing my temper," he said.
Natalie shook her head, accepting the drink that Angelique gave her. "There is no need. Trask could drive a saint to swear like a sailor. He was driving me to distraction before you and Mr. Greene came out of the study."
"Forgive me for leaving you to entertain him, Natalie." She waved her hand as if to say there was no need to apologize.
"What happened, Barnabas?" Angelique asked. "Whatever did Mr. Greene do to make you so angry?"
"He insists that he will take no less than three times what he paid for that property. When I refused and made him a reasonable offer, he threatened to go to the constable with the note."
"How can he do such a thing?" Natalie asked. "If you did not send the note, then it will be proven, and Mr. Greene will be shown to be the charlatan that he obviously is."
"It might not be quite that simple," Barnabas told her. Seeing Angelique's confused look, he explained, "Greene showed me the letter. It appears to be my handwriting."
"But - you didn't write it," Angelique repeated. "Who would have copied your hand for such a purpose?" Suddenly her eyes met his as they both recalled what they had learned the previous night. "Could he have done something like that?"
"Very possibly. He and I both learned our letters from the same tutor. I recall that Mother often commented that our handwriting was similar. She was one of the few people who could tell it apart."
"But in order for him have done this," Angelique pointed out, "he would have to be in Collinsport."
Natalie looked from her daughter to her son-in-law. "Who would have to be in Collinsport, Angelique?"
"Jeremiah," Angelique confirmed. "We are both reasonably certain that he is the one behind everything that has happened."
Mrs. Hester entered the room. "Excuse me, Mrs. Collins, but this note was just delivered for you. The young man who brought it said it was from Lucy."
"Thank you, Mrs. Hester," Angelique said. She had been waiting for her maid to return to quiz her about the gentleman she met almost daily at the Eagle. Once the housekeeper was gone, Angelique opened the paper. "It says that her mother is in crisis, and that she needs to remain in the village for the night. She will return as soon as she can."
"How convenient," Natalie purred.
The sound of Sarah and Giles coming downstairs brought Barnabas' head up. "Nothing about this to Sarah or Giles," he told the two women. "Not yet."
Deborah was going toward the Countess' room when she almost collided with Ben as she had the previous evening. He put his hands on her shoulders to steady her, and left them there as she smiled up at him. "This seems to be becoming a habit," she said.
"Yeah. Thought you'd like ta know that Lucy's stayin' in th'village tonight. Sent a note ta Mrs. Collins that her mother was worse."
Deborah frowned. "I was afraid of that. She's so weak." If things had been different, Deborah might have asked Ben to drive her back into the village to help, but the memory of Lucy's last words overshadowed that idea. At least she wouldn't have to worry about dreams tonight. With Lucy in the village, Deborah would be free to spend a few minutes with Ben.
As if reading her thoughts, Ben said, "I was wonderin' - if you got nothin better t'do after th' Countess releases you later - that you might like t'go for a walk?"
Deborah smiled. "That's a wonderful idea. The Countess should release me around ten. She usually does. I'll meet you in the gazebo at a quarter after."
Ben's smile was shy. "I'll be there."
Lucy entered the cottage and removed her cape. "I've been worried," he said. "You told me that you would only be a few minutes. It's been much longer. She's been calling for you."
Hiding her anger, Lucy turned to face him. "Now, darling. I thought I had explained. It's all part of his plan."
"His plan." Eyes narrowed, he pulled Lucy against him. "Always him. What about me, Lucy? When I came back, I hoped that you would forgive me for leaving-"
Lucy touched his cheek. "I have. If I hadn't, you would not be here now." She met his gaze steadily. "I heard something that might interest you."
"What might that be?" he asked, kissing her hand.
"Daniel is en route back to Collinwood."
She felt his reaction as he paused, then continued his laving of her fingers, one at a time. "So? I told you that Daniel and I are no longer friends."
"Then it will not trouble you to know that he is not returning alone. His wife will be with him. And that she is with child."
His fingers closed around hers painfully, as his eyes flashed with anger. "What is it you want of me, Lucy? To admit that I still care about Daniel? I do. There hasn't been a day go by when I haven't thought of him." His hold tightened as he held her against him. "I thought I could return and convince you to help me. But ever since my return, you have prattled endlessly about the Countess du Pres' little maid."
Lucy smiled up at him. "Jealous, darling? Good. Because perhaps you understand now how I felt all those time you pushed me away in favor of your friend." His hold loosened as Lucy's eyes sparkled. ""Perhaps, once I have my fill of dear Deborah, you can introduce her to- other pleasures."
He brought his head down to hers, punishing her lips with his, pulling her even more firmly against his body. "Oh, Lucy. I need you so much-"
"Then you shall have me - for the rest of the night -" she dropped a kiss onto his chin as he looked surprised. "I sent word to Collinwood that I was remaining here, since Mother is worse."
"But she is better," he said.
"You and I know that, but no one else has to. Why don't you go into the other room while I go and look in on her? We can spend a few minutes together before I run my last errand of the evening."
He frowned. "Another errand for him, I suppose? Why won't he let me know what is going on? All I know is that it somehow concerns that fool Amos Greene."
"You'll know all you need to know soon enough," Lucy assured him, cupping his cheek with soft fingers. "I won't be a moment with Mother," she told him. "Do you really want to waste our time together arguing?"
His lips thinned, and his eyes narrowed, and for a moment, Lucy thought he might say something further. "Do not be long," he said, turning toward the other room.
Lucy watched him, and then went into her mother's room.