After supper, Sarah convinced a reluctant Giles to escort her on a walk, and the couple departed, leaving Barnabas and Angelique alone with Natalie again.
As he sipped a glass of sherry, Barnabas watched Angelique talk to Natalie about whether or not Jeremiah could return to Collinsport without anyone's knowledge. "What I do not understand is why you are both so certain that Jeremiah is behind this," Natalie said. "The scrap of paper that Angelique showed me today is so scorched and blurred, that I could barely make out any handwriting at all. Yet here you are both insisting that he is behind it."
"We have - sources," was all Barnabas would say. "Angelique, until all of this is finished, it might be best if you and the children return to Martinique with Natalie-" he saw her shake her head in denial. "Only for a short while. I don't want to risk-"
Angelique came to kneel at his feet. "No. Collinwood is our home. I won't leave you to face whatever Jeremiah has planned alone, Barnabas. I can be of help -"
"Not with Trask here. The risk is too great."
"I can handle the Reverend Trask," Angelique insisted.
"You must be very certain of that, chéri," Natalie told her. "I do not think the good Reverend is a man who takes insult easily. I believe that he will be trying to find a means to cause trouble for Barnabas. And if that means is you -" her voice trailed off as both Angelique and Barnabas turned toward her.
"What do you mean, Natalie?" Barnabas asked, his hand on Angelique's. "How could Trask harm Angelique?"
"You both forget that I have spoken with Josette. And not only once. I returned to the Old House yesterday. She told me things-things that she had not known until after her-her death."
"You know about that?"
"That she took her own life?" Natalie nodded jerkily. "Yes. I believe it is the reason she is still in that house. It is her punishment for such an act. She also told me about you, Angelique."
"I should not have been surprised, of course. I knew that Belle was involved with such things - but I was not aware that she was part of Charles' coven."
"Charles- my father had a- coven?"
Natalie rose to move around the room as if the memory was troubling. "It was my only exposure to such things. I wanted so much to please him, I would have gone anywhere, done anything -" she shook her head. "I will not bore you with the details, but after that one time, I became determined never to return. And I never did. It was the main reason I decided to keep from him the knowledge that his daughter had lived. I did not want you to be brought up by such a man - but I failed in that, I suppose. Belle was part of the coven, apparently. Did you not know this?"
"I knew she attended a coven, yes," Angelique admitted quietly and softly. "But she never told me anything about where she went or who else was involved. She said that the time would come soon enough for me to discover - my birthright, she called it. She always insisted that there were great things in my future, and taught me-" she paused, uncertain of how much she should reveal.
"She taught you her spells and incantations-How you kept it from me all those years after her death -" She sat down again. "How can you keep from hating me for what I've done, child?"
Angelique rose and went to Natalie, sitting at her side. "You could not have known. And I don't know that it would have made any difference. Mother-Belle-always said that fate was something a person could not outrun, no matter how hard they try. I think, perhaps, it was my fate to be as I am. And I swear to you, Natalie, that I never used my powers against Josette."
Natalie took her hand. "Josette told me as much. But Barnabas might be right, chéri. You could be in danger as long as Trask is in Collinsport. I lost you once, Angelique, I do not wish to lose you again. Not now that I have another chance with my daughter."
"You won't lose me," Angelique assured her, then looked across to Barnabas, hoping he would read the same message in her eyes. "I can handle myself against a charlatan like Trask. Our concern is not Trask. It's Jeremiah."
"Are you certain that I can't convince you to go?" Barnabas asked his wife once again.
"Quite certain," Angelique repeated. "And
I'll hear no more about it."
"Until Trask is gone, it would be unwise of you to use your powers again," he told her. "For any reason."
"I considered turning that odious Mr. Greene into a stoat," she said, smiling at him to let him know she was only speaking in jest. "But I thought he might be even uglier than he already is, so I decided not to do it."
Barnabas shook his head. "Do not even jest about such things," he warned her. "After all, what is someone over heard you, and then Greene vanished and all that could be found in his bed was a stoat?" His own smile brought one from Natalie, who rose from the sofa.
"It is getting late, and I am still weary from my day with the children. They are going to show me around Collinwood tomorrow," she informed them.
"Don't allow them to monopolize you, Natalie," Barnabas warned.
"I am enjoying it," she assured him. "Bramwell is so like his mother-and Lucas -he makes me laugh."
"Good night, then."
Natalie turned to Angelique. "Good night, chéri."
Angelique gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. "Good night, Maman," she said softly.
Natalie smiled and quickly left the room.
Barnabas drew Angelique into his arms. "Shall we
go our own bed, my love?"
"An excellent idea."
Amos Greene finished his whiskey and was about to retire for the evening, when there was a knock on the door. "Who is it?" he asked, curious about who would be calling on him at such a late hour.
"Oh, please, sir," a female voice cried out. "Help me."
Greene frowned, and opened the door to reveal a disheveled and cold Lucy Mitchell. "What are you doing here?" he asked, trying to focus his eyes on the expanse of creamy white skin revealed by the torn bodice of her gown. "I don't have no business with anyone who works up at Collinwood."
"Please, Mr. Greene," she pleaded. "I- I need help. And I hope I can help you too."
"What are you talking about, girl?"
"Let me come in, please. It's so cold, - and I left without my cape -"
Taking a deep breath, Greene held the door open wider to allow her to enter the small cabin. He heard a rustle from the loft above, and lifted his eyes toward the edge, where a tow-headed boy peered down at them. "Get back to your bed, boy. Ain't nothing going on here that concerns you." When Lucy sent him a concerned glance, Greene smiled grimly. "He won't say anything if I don't tell him to." He pulled out a chair at the rough table. "I got some whiskey -"
"Thank you. I need something to warm me up. I'm shaking so much-"
"You have an accident?" Greene asked his eyes still on the deep cleavage of her breasts. He placed the cup before her, and then sat down at her side.
"No. But I think I might be able to help you get something you want," she said. "If you're willing to help me."
Greene hesitated. If Collins found out that one of his servants had come here, he would find some way to blame Greene. More trouble. Suddenly he felt something on his thigh, and looked down to find Lucy's hand there, perilously close to his growing manhood. He looked up to find her eyes alight with an inner fire as her hand moved. Greene gulped, and then smiled. "I think we could work something out."
Alone after Lucy left, her guest checked on her mother, and then went into the outer room to think. He was uncertain that he liked the changes that had taken place in Lucy since his return to Collinsport. Most of those changes could be directly attributed to his own traveling companion. He had been told to stay here in this cottage, to stay out of sight until he was needed. But he wasn't the type of man to do that. He wanted to know what was going on, what exactly the plan was that would return what belonged to him. This forced inactivity was going to end. After another glance at Lucy's mother, he left the cottage, taking the path down to the beach, before setting out for Collinwood.
Deborah was late, and she found herself running the final yards to the gazebo clearing. As she came into sight, Ben heard her, and came to meet her. "I was beginin' t'think you weren't comin'," he said as he pulled her into his arms.
"The Countess wanted to talk," she told him. "I'm sorry, Ben. But there was no way to let you know. Perhaps from now on, we should meet somewhere else. My room, perhaps."
Ben drew back, shaking his head. "Wouldn't be proper," he said. "Not 'til-"
"Until what, Ben?"
"'til I can find a way t'make ya stay here and be m'wife," he mumbled.
Deborah smiled. "Ben, it's not as if we hadn't-"
"Shouldn't talk about it," Ben said. "Shouldn't have happened at all. Takin' advantage of you like I did, when you was so upset-"
"I don't remember telling you to leave, Ben," Deborah reminded him. She sat down on a bench. "Sit down, Ben." When he was seated, she said, "Did you mean it, Ben? Do you really want to marry me?"
"Wouldn't have said it if I didn't," he said. "I know it'd be askin' a lot of ya, t'stay here and not go back t'Martinique with th'Countess-"
"I have a feeling that the Countess isn't planning to leave anytime soon, Ben," Deborah assured him.
Deborah frowned, looking away. "What do you mean, Ben?"
"I seen th'way she looks at you. Kinda a-hungry look. Like a man looks at a woman he wants t'bed. Has she ever-?"
Deborah shook her head. "No, Ben. She hasn't. But you're right. She wants to. And it scares me."
"Because you want her to?" Ben's eyes were on her face now, and before Deborah could voice a denial, he said, "I seen you look at her that way once, too. This afternoon. When I got back from th'village, I looked in th'window of th'cottage t'make certain you was all right. I saw you-"
Deborah turned to look at him. "I will admit, Ben, that the temptation is great to find out what it would be like, but I couldn't. I love you, Ben. Not her. And you are the only one I want in my bed-or anywhere else."
"I ain't got much t'offer a wife," he warned. "Just a little cottage 'tween here and Collinwood. Mr. Barnabas gave it t'me a few months back."
"I've noticed it," she told him. "And I would love to see the inside of it, Ben. Show it to me?"
"I don't know, Deborah," he said. "Mebbe we shouldn't-"
"We're going to be married, Ben," she reminded him. "I think I have a right to see the place I'm going to be living, don't you?" She rose and pulled his hand to bring him to his feet.
Ben shook his head again. "I can see now that you're goin' t'take a lot of time, keepin' you in line."
She smiled up at him. "But think of how much you'll enjoy it, Ben."
"Let's be goin'."
The drawing room was dark when he entered the house via the window. The only light was a soft glow given off by the banked fire. He paused there, warming his hands. Even in this dim light, he found himself approving of the changes that had apparently been made. He sat down in one of the chairs before the fire, and let himself relax, let the atmosphere of the great house wash over him, refreshing his soul. He chuckled at that. His soul wasn't his anymore, was it? Not after Paris.
"Who the devil-" Barnabas' voice stirred him, and he rose swiftly to his feet to face his nephew.
"Hello, Barnabas," he said, with a smile at the choice of words. Who the Devil indeed. More appropriate than he knew.
Barnabas had come downstairs to check the doors, concern for his family's security foremost in his mind. Passing by the drawing room, he had seen a movement and entered, only to stop in surprise upon realizing who was in the room. "Jeremiah. What are you doing here?" he demanded to know.
Jeremiah shrugged. "Collinwood is still my home, Barnabas. Is there some reason why I should not be here?"
"How long have you been back in Collinsport?" Barnabas asked, his eyes narrowed.
"Why, I only just arrived this evening, and simply couldn't wait to return -"
"You're lying, Jeremiah. I learned long ago to recognize when you aren't being entirely truthful. Why are you trying to harm this family?"
"Why on earth would I want to harm my own family?" Jeremiah asked. "It makes no sense. Has something been happening?"
"You wrote a letter to Amos Greene, telling him that I was ready to buy that worthless piece of land from him."
"I wrote nothing of the kind," Jeremiah told him. "Does he say that I did?"
"He believes the letter from me, and there is a witness who is willing to swear that it is in my hand."
"How very strange. And has there been anything else amiss?"
Jeremiah frowned. "That chit. She followed me about like a puppy, and when in a weakened moment I finally took what she offered so willingly, she took it as undying devotion. You can't mean to say she is still here? At Collinwood?"
"You know very well she is here and has been serving as Angelique's personal maid."
Jeremiah's laughter was brief. "How appropriate! The former maid turned mistress then wife, served by the former mistress of another. Tell me, how is the lovely Angelique? As beautiful as ever, I would wager."
"I want you to leave Collinsport, Jeremiah. Tonight. I do not care where you go, but you will leave-"
"I don't think so, nephew." There was a steely determination in Jeremiah's refusal that Barnabas could not recall ever having heard before.
"Something is different about you."
"I've learned many things in the last year, Barnabas. Things that will make it impossible for you to deny me that which is rightfully mine."
"Collinwood," Barnabas said. "Father did not leave Collinwood to you, Jeremiah. You were not his heir."
"He should have left it to me. It was mine-I spent much of my adult life planning every room, every corridor- the placement of every fireplace - To be forced to give it up simply because your new little wife wanted to rid herself of any memories of her predecessor -"
Barnabas drew himself up. "Have a care, Jeremiah, and remember that she is my wife, and mistress of Collinwood."
"But she should not be!" Jeremiah insisted. "You never liked this house, Barnabas. Even when I was planning it, you were forever asking why the family had to move from the Old House at all. That is where you belong. Not here. This is my house."
"Which you signed away your right to."
"Joshua should have left it to me. That he would not -"
"Was entirely your own fault. Father did not want to risk your embarrassing the family, creating a scandal as Master of Collinwood. Your losing Collinwood was due entirely to your own faults, Jeremiah, not those of others."
Jeremiah shook his head. "You'll see, Barnabas. Things will change. And the day will come when I will be back in this house, as its master -where I belong."
"Over my dead body," Barnabas challenged.
"If that is what it takes, then so be it," his uncle said calmly. Bowing, he moved toward the door. "Good evening, nephew. I'll be in touch."
Once the door closed behind Jeremiah, Barnabas felt as if all the energy was drained from him. So Jeremiah was back. And he had all but admitted his responsibility for the things that had been happening at Collinwood. The question was now- how were they going to fight and defeat him? He crossed the foyer to lock the doors, and then returned to the drawing room to lock the windows there as well, before turning toward the stairs to tell Angelique about their late-night visitor.
Jeremiah returned to the cottage to find Lucy had returned. She was pacing, her every movement speaking clearly how angry she was. "Where have you been?" she wanted to know. "You know how dangerous it is to go out. What if someone sees you and recognizes you?"
"I went for a walk on the beach," he told her, partially in truth. He had been forced to cross the beach to get to Collinwood. "I saw no one. I did not expect you to return so quickly. You said that you would have to go see him after completing your errand. Usually, you spend at least an hour-"
Lucy smiled. "You sound jealous again. Of another man this time. That is very encouraging, Jeremiah." She pressed herself against him. "Mother is asleep- what say you and I retire to the other room where I can try to make up for my preoccupation of today? I promise to block everyone else out of my mind."
He looked down at her. "Even Deborah?"
"Even Deborah," she said. "If you promise the same about Daniel." She saw the shadow of pain that crossed his eyes. "If that is too difficult," she said, starting to withdraw-
Jeremiah pulled her back to him. "No. I give you my word. My only thought will be of you." His lips met hers in a hard kiss.
Ben looked at Deborah as she finished fastening her bodice. "Mebbe I should contact th'minister as soon as possible," he said.
Her cheeks still flushed, Deborah smiled. "I agree. If we continue to do this - he could become quite necessary."
Now it was Ben's turn to colour. "I ain't never thought 'bout bein' a father b'fore."
"Would you like to be, Ben?" she asked softly, putting her arms around him.
"Now you stop that, Deborah. I've got ta get you back over t'Collinwood before someone finds out you're missin'. I'll talk t' Mr. Barnabas t'morrow about speakin' t'th' Countess."
"No one will look in my room until tomorrow morning," she told him. "As long as I am there before the Countess summons me, there will be no problem."
"And what if she takes ill during th'night?" Ben asked. "Or if she can't sleep and sends f' you t' make her a toddy or such?"
"She never does such things," Deborah assured him, pressing against him yet again.
Ben reached behind his back to grab her hands and held them. "No. Not 'til I talk t'the minister and find out when he can marry us."
"Can you really wait that long, Ben? Now that we both know what such closeness is like?"
Ben turned toward the door, one of her hands still in his. "I'll make certain it ain't long," he promised, and Deborah smiled, knowing he was talking to himself as much as to her.
Angelique did not take the news that Jeremiah had been in the house at all well. She was furious that he would have shown his face after tormenting poor Bramwell as he had. "And as for that letter to Amos Greene," she commented, preparing another tirade.
"He's different, Angelique," Barnabas told her, cutting her off. "There's an air about him-an aura of evil. He wants Collinwood, and does not seem to care who he hurts or destroys in order to regain control of this house. It was almost as if I were talking to a stranger, Angelique. A stranger who knows everything about me. And about you."
"He couldn't know about me, Barnabas," she told him. "No one here knew until you found out."
"Does Deborah know about your secret?"
"Not entirely. I think she suspected before I left Martinique, but we never spoke of it. Why do you ask?"
"Could she have said something to Lucy about those days? Something that would cause Lucy to begin to suspect that you are more than you appear?"
"No. Deborah and I once swore a blood oath never to tell each other's secrets to anyone. She knew I was in love with you, yet she never said a word about it. And I know secrets about her that I will never tell another soul. No, Deborah would not have said anything untoward, Barnabas."
"If Trask were not here, I would almost be tempted to allow you to use your powers against Jeremiah. Or to teach me how to do such things-"
Angelique's surprised blue eyes gazed at him as he paced the room. "You would be willing to - learn the spells and incantations?"
"In order to save this family, yes."
"You do not understand what it would entail, my darling. You would learn them only to find that it could very well mean the destruction of the Collins family anyway."
He turned to look at her, frowning. "What do you mean?"
"Spells and incantations are but a part of what I am, Barnabas. Do you recall the gathering you attended in Martinique? When that poor man was raised as a zombie? As one of the living dead in punishment for something he had done in life?"
"Of course I do," he said.
"If you chose to become as I am, you would have to enter a covenant-"
"What sort of covenant?" he asked.
"With Satan himself," she answered simply, watching his reaction.
"You did," he pointed out.
"Not as Angelique, no. It was in another lifetime - long ago. I made that choice, and there is no going back on it. For you to make that choice as well would likely mean involving Collinwood itself in the covenant-as well as all the succeeding generation of the Collins family. Could you truly do such a thing, simply to solve a problem that pricks at you now? A problem might well be handled by other means?"
"What other means?" Barnabas asked.
She noticed that he had not responded to her other questions, but at least for the moment, his focus had shifted. "I have a plan. You will not like it, but it might be the only way to defeat Jeremiah at his own game."
"Tell me about it," Barnabas said.
Trask woke from a sound sleep to see the light of a candle in the main room of the suite. Frowning, he drew on his robe and went to the doorway. On the floor before the fire, Lamar sat, a book in his hands. "What are you doing, Lamar?" he demanded to know.
Lamar gasped, and quickly closed the book, trying to hide it under his own robe. "Father. I was - reading. My Bible."
"And what chapter were you in?" Trask asked. "Recite the verse."
Lamar swallowed. "Proverbs - "Fathers, incite not thy sons to wrath."
"Which verse?" When Lamar didn't answer immediately, Trask swooped down and grabbed the book from his son. Upon reading the title, Trask's eyes burned with indignation. "Filth! How dare you read such an abomination -" He flung the book into the fire as Lamar cried out.
"No, Father! It's not mine. I got it from a friend."
"Whoever gave you that book is not your friend, Lamar. Who was it so that I may go to them and inform them that they should beg the Almighty for His forgiveness?"
"I - I don't remember his name. He's just someone I met." He looked toward the fireplace where the leather binding on the book was cracking, curling into ashes. "I hate you, Father! I wish I could go and live with Gerald -" He fell silent as the back of his father's hand connected with his cheek.
"I have told you never to mention that name in my presence."
"But he's my brother," Lamar insisted.
"The Prodigal Son has not yet seen fit to return to the fold," Trask said coldly. "On your knees, Lamar," he said, sinking to his own knees. "On your knees, and pray that you will be forgiven your sins. That you will be an obedient son, as the Good Book says you should be."
Lamar folded his hands and closed his eyes, but he did not pray. He was beyond praying any longer. There had to be some way to escape the man he called his father and go to live with his brother Gerald. Ten years Lamar's senior, Gerald was the son of the Reverend's first marriage. But Gerald had been smart. As soon as he had been able, he had escaped his father's clutches and run away. Lamar had word that Gerald was now a minister too, respected and liked by the people of his church in Rockport, just down the coast. There has to be a way, he found himself praying. A way to get away from his father. To get to Gerald. His cheek was throbbing as the result of the earlier blow, and as his father prayed, Lamar imagined how he was going to make his escape.
"What else do I need to do?" Lucy asked the man as they entered the back room of the Eagle.
He held up two items. "See to it that these are left in the proper location, and then make certain that they are found at the right moment."
"Will that be soon?"
"Very soon, my dear." He reached up with a gloved finger to stroke her cheek. "You have been a very willing apprentice, Lucy. And you will be amply rewarded for your work."
Lucy closed her eyes, allowing the sound of his voice to close around her, almost caressing her. "People are beginning to ask questions about you," she told him, then opened her eyes. Why had she said that? She hadn't intended to let him know that. It was something she believed she could handle on her own.
He was smiling down at her. "I know. Which is why I don't intend to keep my presence here a secret for much longer."
"I don't understand why it's been so important for it to be a secret," she insisted.
"You will soon, my dear. Now. What else did you wish to discuss with me?"
"Jeremiah. He's becoming restless, asking questions about what's going to happen. And- How much longer do I have to keep pretending that I am still in love with him?"
"Until I say so." When she frowned, he smiled at her again. "Is it truly such arduous duty? I have found Jeremiah to be a very-passionate man."
"He does not love me," Lucy said. "He still believes himself to care about-"
"Daniel. Yes. And Daniel is returning to Collinsport. I'm looking forward to renewing my own acquaintance with that young man." Lucy gasped and turned away. He came to her, placing his lips to her ear. "But unlike your Jeremiah, I prefer a much - softer partner in my bed. You shall have everything I promised, Lucy," he whispered. "And more, if you continue to do as I ask."
She turned to look at him, her eyes shining. "Oh, yes. I will do anything."
"Excellent. I want you to go back to Collinwood now. I will pay a visit to Jeremiah and reassure him."
She looked uncertain. "My mother-"
"Will never know I was there," he assured her, lifting her hand to his lips. "Now go. And I want you to deliver a message for me - a very important message."
Jeremiah sat in the main room of the cottage, his head in his hands. Daniel was coming home. Married - and he had fathered a child. Something that he himself had failed to do. He had often thought that if he and Laura had produced a child, then his life would have been very different. A blonde, blue eyed daughter to take the place of her mother. But that had been denied him - as had a future with Daniel. Where had it gone wrong, he wondered, not for the first time. He rose from his chair and went to the brandy bottle, pouring himself a generous portion. Damn Lucy. She had known that Daniel's return would do this to him. He had promised her to keep his mind fixed on her, but had been unable to keep that promise, and she had known it. "Damn her!" he ground out between clenched teeth.
"You might be too late for that, my friend," a voice said from the shadowed corner.
Jeremiah lifted surprised eyes to that spot, finally managing to see the figure there. "Well. I suppose I should be flattered that you've finally come to visit me. I haven't seen you since we arrived in Collinsport. If it wasn't for Lucy's speaking about you, I might have thought you had changed your mind and gone back to Paris."
"Oh, but, we made a bargain, remember? A bargain that I fully intend on seeing through to a successful end. Lucy informs me that you're becoming restless, that you don't like being kept in the dark about my plans."
"I thought they were supposed to be our plans," Jeremiah pointed out. "And I don't like hiding as if I were some kind of criminal."
"That will change very soon. And as for the plans, that is why I am here. I thought you would like to know that I'm on my way out to Collinwood to-renew an old acquaintance."
Jeremiah smiled. "Let me go with you. I want to see her face when she realizes you're here."
"No. It's more important that no one knows that we are even acquainted, Jeremiah. For the moment at least. Once you regain Collinwood, there will be enough time for such revelations."
Jeremiah's shoulders drooped. "Very well. But you'll tell me about it?"
"Every word that passes between us," he said, putting his hand on the other man's shoulder. "Lucy also tells me that you are aware that Daniel is returning."
"With a wife who is expecting a child." He sounded despondent. "I never expected that he would turn from me in so complete a fashion."
"But think of how delighted you will be to see him again. And if his wife is with child, he will need someone to lean on - to turn to in times of - need -" he suggested.
Jeremiah's eyes lit up. "Yes. Yes, he will."
"Until he does return, and you can be with him, Jeremiah, it is very important that our dear Lucy be kept happy. Knowing that Daniel is constantly in your thoughts troubles her greatly."
"I know. And I try to keep him out, to concentrate on Lucy, but -"
"Well, I suggest you try harder, my friend." He smiled. "Perhaps, tonight, I might return to spend some time with both of you," he suggested, knowing that Jeremiah would appreciate the idea. "But right now, I have a call to make."
"Good luck," Jeremiah said.
"I'm very pleased that your mother is better, Lucy," Angelique said. "As you must be."
"Yes, Mrs. Collins. I was so worried that I was going to lose her last night. She's all I have," she said, sniffing delicately into a handkerchief. "I had best be getting to my work," she said, wiping her cheeks.
"Not until we talk first," Angelique said. "Sit down, Lucy."
Lucy seated herself on the edge of the chair, nervously aware that the Countess du Pres was standing by the fire, listening and watching. "What did you wish to talk about, ma'am?"
"I want you to tell me who you go to see every day at the Eagle."
Lucy frowned. "How do you know about that?" she asked.
"That does not matter. Who is it?"
"I - do not know his name. I was in the Eagle one day, having a pint when I felt eyes on me. I looked up and there he was. He beckoned me to join him, and I felt as if I had no choice but to do as I was bid. He led me to one of the back rooms, and I thought he was going to ravish me. He told me that he could help my mother, if I would meet him there every day and-let him look at me."
"Look at you?" Natalie questioned, quite obviously not believing any of the girl's story. "In what way, child?"
Lucy hung her head in apparent shame. "I am to remove my clothing and stand in the center of the room, while he walks around me, talking-about things I do not understand. Strange, almost foreign words. He promised me that Mother would recover, and she IS better, so, perhaps-"
"This man is a charlatan," Natalie declared. "And you are intelligent enough to know that," she said. "We do not believe your lies."
"Ma'am?" Lucy asked of Angelique, nearly in tears. "Please tell me you believe me. I've tried to find out where he stays, but he insists that I leave before he does, and - I'm afraid of what he'll do to my mother if he finds out I've told, Mrs. Collins," she said, sniffing again.
"Lucy, would you allow someone to follow you to the Eagle the next time you go? To wait in the front until your -friend makes his departure? That is the only way we shall get to the bottom of this matter."
"I do not think that a wise idea, Mrs. Collins. He seems to be able to - tell what I am thinking. He would know -he will know," she cried. "The next time I go to him, he will know, and my mother will surely die."
Natalie rolled her eyes at the theatrics of the girl. But Angelique put an arm around Lucy's shoulders. "There, there. Perhaps you won't have to go to him again at all. We know he rents the back room, all we have to do is send the Constable to get him -"
"He cannot harm your mother," Angelique told her. "He's only told you that to get you to do as he asks."
"No," Lucy insisted. "He can hurt her. He knows everything. He even told me to give you a message from him."
Angelique frowned now, confused. "A message? For me? From a man I am certain that I have never met?"
"What is this message?" Angelique asked.
Lucy's green eyes met hers. "Judah lives."
Angelique opened her eyes and realized she was lying on the sofa, with Natalie and Lucy both hovering over her, concern on their faces. But was it really concern she saw on the younger woman's face, or something far more sinister? "What happened?" she asked, starting to sit upright.
Natalie frowned at the movement. "You fainted," she explained. "You should remain where you are for a few moments -" she suggested.
"No. I must ask Lucy something."
Lucy stood there, eyes downcast. Natalie's lips thinned as she looked at the girl. "What name did she speak to you? Judah?"
Angelique nodded. "Yes. It's the name of someone I knew - a very long time ago," she said vaguely. Her gaze moved to Lucy. "I must know who this man is that you have been seeing, Lucy. It's vitally important. And not just for my sake. For yours as well."
Lucy frowned. "Mine? I have nothing to worry about, Mrs. Collins," she declared bravely. "I simply do as he asks me to do. Nothing more."
"For what reward?" Angelique asked. "What has he promised you in return for your obedience? Your mother's health? That you will become mistress of Collinwood?"
"I honestly did not realize that you would have such a strong reaction to his message, Mrs. Collins. I simply relayed it as I was told."
"Then your new 'friend' can pay your salary as well," Angelique declared, her blue eyes flashing with anger. "You are released from your duties here."
"You're - letting me go?" she asked, obviously surprised. "But - what shall I do?"
"As I said, go to your gentleman. I'm certain he will take excellent care of someone who is so willing to do his bidding. Go. I will have your pay sent to your mother's house this evening."
Lucy turned and ran from the room. So the woman had found the nerve to let her go. Well, she wasn't going to leave without taking something with her - She smiled to herself as she packed her case and then started toward the backstairs that would take her to dear little Deborah's room.
"That might have been a mistake, chéri. To send her to him -"
"Find Ben for me, please, Natalie."
"Ben? What reason-?"
"I want him to follow her when she leaves here, and find out who she goes to see."
"And will you tell me who this - Judah is, and why his name affected you so deeply?"
Judah. If he were somehow involved in this - "Yes. I'll tell you everything I know about him."
Deborah was in her room, looking over her meager selection of gowns, trying to decide which one would be suitable for a wedding. She held a cream tinted muslin, a cast off from the Countess, up and turned to look at herself in the full length mirror. This might work, she decided. Behind her in the mirror, she saw the door open and Lucy slip into the room. "What a pretty picture. It's a lovely gown, Deborah. I don't think I've seen you wear it, however."
"The- Countess gave it to me a few years ago. She decided it was too youthful for her to wear. I - took it in a bit - How is your mother? Does Mrs. Collins know you are back from the village?"
"Mother is much better," Lucy said, fingering the soft fabric of the gown that Deborah still held between them. "And as for dear Angelique, not only is she aware that I have returned, she's given me the sack."
"She dismissed you?" Deborah asked, uncertain of Lucy's phrasing. "For what reason?"
"Because you told her lies about me. You told her that I was plotting against her."
"What about the letter?" Deborah returned. "I gave it to you, and you told me you were going to give it to her. But you burned it." Lucy went still. "I - I found it. What was left of it, at any rate. In your room."
Lucy's face seemed to crumple. "And you couldn't wait to take it to her, could you? Pretending all this time to be my friend, when all the while you were plotting to take my position." She turned, her shoulders shaking, her head against the door. "I really thought you were different, Deborah. I thought we could become-close friends. I'll never be able to forgive you for going behind my back that way. Yes, I burned the envelope, but I just gave the letter to her."
Lucy nodded. "She has it now. I don't know what I shall do, Deborah. I've no other way to make the money I need to keep the cottage. And without it, Mother has no place to go."
Deborah went over and placed a hand on Lucy's arm. "I'll do what I can to help, Lucy. I suppose I should have asked you about what I found, but -"
Lucy fell against her, burying her face against Deborah's breast. "Oh, Deborah, you really do care, don't you? I knew you did. I simply knew it."
As she remained there, frozen in place, with the other woman so close, Deborah saw Lucy's hand move to turn the key in the door, locking it. "Lucy -"
Suddenly Lucy's arms were around her, and Deborah began to struggle. "Don't fight me, Deborah," she whispered. "You never did in the dreams, did you? You enjoyed it, then, when you were asleep."
Deborah went still, her eyes wide. "They were only dreams," she insisted. "Not real." Seeing the look in Lucy's eyes, Deborah's widened. "You sent me out into the night. Caused me to -" her cheeks reddened as she remembered waking in the gazebo to find herself totally naked.
"I had planned to join you there, to make love to you under the stars, but I saw you with the fool Ben Stokes and came back to my lonely bed." Her hands were on the buttons of Deborah's gown, unfastening them as she spoke, freeing the woman's treasures to her hungry gaze. "Did you sleep with him, Deborah? Did you find solace in his arms?" She began to lower her face to Deborah's only to stop as Deborah turned away. "Let me show you how much better it can be, darling. And a new world will open to you. You will never think yourself dowdy or plain ever again. Don't fight me, Deborah."
Deborah kept thinking about Ben, reminding herself that she was going to marry him, to become his wife. But she was tempted. She admitted that to herself, and it was almost her undoing as Lucy felt her partial surrender and placed her lips to the rise of creamy skin above the loosened gown. Lucy's fingers found the lacing at the waist, and with a soft sound, the fabric fell to the floor around them.
"You really are lovely," Lucy said, her eyes aglow. "From the moment I saw you, I told myself that I had to have you. To know you in every sense of the word. You'll never be happy with Ben, Deborah. Come with me into Collinsport. I'll show you pleasures that you never knew existed."
Ben. "NO!" Deborah said, pulling away from Lucy's hold with a strength born of her love for the gentle giant she had agreed to wed. Picking up her gown, she held it before her. "Get out of here, Lucy. Now. Or I'll call Ben to deal with you. He knows what you've been trying to do, and he told me that he'll tear you limb from limb to keep me from you."
"Does he know that you want me as well?" Lucy asked, her eyes narrowed, breasts heaving as she tried to recover her equilibrium.
"I admit that you are a beautiful woman, Lucy, and that I find myself somehow shamefully attracted to you, but I will not allow myself to give in to such a thing. I am going to marry Ben, and there is nothing you can say or do that will stop me."
"Nothing I can say, perhaps, but I think there might be something I can do," Lucy mused. "When is this marriage to take place?" she asked.
"Soon." She crossed to the door and unlocked it, then pulled it open. "Good-bye, Lucy. Tell your mother I sent my regards."
"You'll be able to tell her yourself, very shortly," Lucy told her, smiling as if she knew something that Deborah did not. "Au revoir, mon petite," she said, leaving the room.
Deborah closed the door and turned the key in the lock to prevent her returning, then sank onto the floor, shaking in reaction to the effect that Lucy had on her. At least she was gone now, and wouldn't bother her or Ben ever again.
Amos Greene knocked on the door of the small cottage in which Henry Castle resided. There was no answer, yet he had checked with the boy's employer on the docks and been informed that Henry hadn't come in to work. Apparently no one had been alarmed, they had simply decided that Henry had imbibed too much the evening before and was sleeping it off. But Amos wanted Henry to accompany him to the Constable's office to swear out a complaint against Mr. Barnabas Collins. He would need Henry's statement that the letter was in Barnabas' hand. He banged harder. "Castle! Wake up, boy! It's Amos Greene!"
"Apparently young Mr. Castle is hard of hearing," said a voice behind him.
Greene turned, surprised to find out who the person was. "Why, Reverend Trask. Didn't expect to find you in this part of town."
"Even poor creatures such as these need the uplifting message of the Almighty," Trask said, looking heavenward. "Are you certain that Mr. Castle is at home today?"
"He didn't report for work," Greene said. "Between you and me, Reverend, the lad tends to pay too much attention to the whiskey. He's probably laid up from too much last evening."
"Or he might have fallen ill," Trask suggested. "Does he live alone?"
"Far as I know," Greene said. Since he had a witness, he turned the doorknob and went inside. The room was dark, since the shutters were still closed, and Trask went to open one. Greene reached across a table for a candle, and then froze as he saw what was on the floor on the other side. "Reverend, you better come here."
Trask slowly rounded the dirty table, only to find Henry Castle on the floor. He knelt, placing a hand on the boy's chest. "He is dead," Trask announced. Looking at the body, he frowned. "There is not a mark on him-"
"Look at his face, Reverend," Greene whispered hoarsely. Young Castle's features were twisted into a grotesque mask of terror. "Looks like he seen the Devil himself, don't it?"
"Indeed it does, Mr. Greene," Trask agreed. "I suggest you go for the Constable. I will remain here with the body and say a prayer for the salvation of the boy's soul."
Greene nodded jerkily, and then backed out of the cottage. Trask re-examined Castle's body to make certain that there was no sign of any foul play. No knife wound, no sign that he had been cuffed in he head or suffered a blow there. Rising to his feet, he examined the cottage itself. There was no sign of violence; everything was in the same place it had been for some time, if the amount of dust and grime were any sign.
No sign of any physical murderer, Trask thought. But it was inconceivable that such a young, healthy man would have suffered a heart seizure or other deathly attack. So that left one other culprit. Trask decided that perhaps Miss Lucy Mitchell had been correct: There was indeed a witch at Collinwood.
Barnabas was in the yards when he noticed a crowd at the Constable's office. He paused, eyes narrowed, as he watched Amos Greene and the Reverend Trask leave the building. He still didn't like the plan that Angelique had come up with, but now was as good a time as any to put it into action. With Trask as a witness, it might possibly work. He crossed the commons to join the two men.
Trask saw him first, his dark eyes narrowing thoughtfully, and called Greene's attention to him. Greene stopped and looked at Barnabas.
"Come to gloat, eh, Collins?" Greene accused.
Frowning, Barnabas stopped short of reaching them. "I beg your pardon?"
"Well, it won't do you any good. I'll find someone else that will testify that the letter is in your hand, Collins. Just because young Castle is dead-"
"Henry Castle is dead? When did this happen?" Barnabas asked.
"Sometime during the night, I'd say," Trask told him. "He was seen leaving the Eagle after having several drinks."
"Was he robbed?"
"Nothing was taken, as far as anyone can tell. You looked as if you wished to discuss something with Mr. Greene when I first saw your approach, Mr. Collins."
"I simply wanted to repeat my offer for Mr. Greene's property," Barnabas said.
"The same offer you made last night? No, thank you, Collins," Greene said. "Like I said, I'll find someone else who can vouch for your hand. Must be someone else in this town who isn't afraid to stand up to the Collins family."
"If you insist upon pursuing this matter, Greene, I-"
"You'll what, Collins?" Greene challenged.
"I will withdraw my offer entirely." He nodded
his head to the two men. "Good-day, gentlemen." He
felt Trask's dark eyes on him all the way back to the shipyard