Part Fifteen

Claire Maxwell parked her car in front of the large, vacant house and entered the building. In the dust layered parlour, she foudn the one she sought. He stood before the cold, dark fireplace, outwardly oblivious to Claire's presence. She almost jumped when he spoke at last.
"Well? How did it go?"
"I was interviewed, but Barnabas Collins will be the one to decide whether or not to hire me."
"He will, my dear."
"You sound sure of that."
"I am. Angelique is a jealous creature. Barnabas won't be able to resist hiring you for that reason, if for no other. What about the child herself?"
"I met her. I believe she will support me with her father."
"Excellent. Go back to Bangor."
"Where will you be? And why did you want me to meet you here?"
"I had my reasons," he told her. "As for where I will be, I intend to renew some old acquaintances."

Carolyn sighed over the Antique Shop books, then abruptly closed the ledger. She couldn't concentrate on the numbers. All day, she had been on edge -as if she were waiting for something to happen. It was one reason why she had closed the shop early and come home. Something had told her that she needed to be at Collinwood this afternoon. Growing from the study to the drawing room, she detoured to answer a knock on the door.
It took every bit of her strength not to scream or faint upon finding the well-dressed, black haired, smiling man on the step. "Well. Hello, Carolyn."
"N- Nicholas. What - How -?"
"If you will invite me in, I'd like to talk to you."
"I don't think so," Carolyn, said, holding onto the door as if she might fall without its support. "Angelique and Jeb said you were dead."
"They were wrong," he said, still smiling.
"Then - you did send Sky Rumsen to kill Jeb," she accused.
"Not at all. Rumsen was insane. For some reason he had developed an unreasoning hatred for Jeb Hawkes and decided to kill him."
"Jeb -Jeb said you wanted him dead."
"Oh, I wanted him to leave Collinwood, I admit that. But I never said I wanted him to die."
Carolyn found she was curious. "Why did you want him to leave?"
"Because he wasn't right for you," Nicholas said, his dark eyes more serious than Carolyn had ever seen them. "May I come in now?" She stepped aside, then closed the door as he removed his gloves and put them inside his hat. "Ah, Collinwood. It never changes, does it?"
"No," Carolyn agreed, feeling a bit out of breath as she watched him. "No, it doesn't. Nicholas, why are you here?"
He turned to look at her. "Perhaps to see you, my dear."
"Neither Jeb nor Adam were right for you. You need someone more -experienced, more mature."
Carolyn shook her head both in an attempt at denial and to clear it. "Don't use your charm on me, Nicholas."
He smiled. "Is your mother at home?"
"She's resting. We're having a family celebration this evening."
"A celebration?" he asked.
"Uncle Roger's getting married."
"Indeed? To who?"
"J - Julia," she answered, uncertain why she was even telling him this.
"The good Doctor Hoffman? Well, well. I was under the impression that she and Barnabas were -"
"So were we. But when Barnabas got married -"
Nicholas' brow lifted. "Barnabas is married?"
"You don't know?"
Nicholas spread his hands. "Apparently not."
"He and Angelique were married last Sunday. Here at Collinwood. I guess I should say they were married again."
"So she's finally done it," Nicholas mused. "Tell me, was my - I'm sure you know that she's my sister?"
"Yes. Barnabas told us about it."
"Was she alone when she arrived?"
"You want to know if Sarah was with her. Yes. I assumed you already knew they were here."
"I'm afraid that I haven't seen Angelique since we were here last."
"She told Uncle Roger about Cassandra being dead."
Nicholas smiled, about to respond, when Elizabeth entered the room, and he turned that smile upon the mistress of Collinwood, becoming the epitome of gentlemanly charm. "Mrs. Stoddard. You are as lovely as ever."
"Mr. Blair," Elizabeth said, her manner reserved. "My head isn't easily turned by flattery. I suppose you're here to visit Angelique?"
"Actually, I wasn't aware my sister and neice were here until Carolyn informed me of that delightful coincidence. I was in Boston on business, and decided to drive up to see Roger. I was busy the last time I was in the area that I had no chance to contact him. Carolyn also tells me that he and Julia Hoffman are engaged to be married."
"The wedding is going to be Saturday afternoon," Elizabeth told him.
"Will he be home soon? I'd like to offer him my congradulations." His eyes never left the mistress of Collinwood, his smile never wavered.
"Why don't you stay for dinner?" Elizabeth wasn't certain why she extended the invitation, but once it was done, she couldn't very well change her mind.
"I would hate to barge in on a family gathering," Nicholas said hesitantly.
"You're Angelique's brother, and that makes you part of the family," she said. "In fact, why don't you stay the night?"
"I was going to get a room at the Inn," he began.
"Don't be ridiculous. I'll go tell Mrs. Johnson you're here. Why don't you fix Mr. Blair a drink, Carolyn? I won't be a moment."
Carolyn's soft laughter drew Nicholas' attention. "You are amazing."
"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about."
"The way you got around her- not an easy thing to do with Mother. And she didn't even know you were doing it."
Nicholas smiled. "I'll have a glass of sherry, if you don't mind."
"So will I. You know, I think I'm looking forward to seeing the expression on Angelique's face when she and Barnabas find you here."
"So there IS more to you than the demure Carolyn those around you see every day. You're aware that Angelique thinks I'm dead thanks to her treachery. I think there's a streak of - rebellion in you that makes you want to strike out against the expectations others have for you." He sat down beside her. "Why do you fight it -fight yourself, Carolyn?" he asked softly.
"I-" she focused on the glass of sherry in her hand, unable to deny his words. "I guess I've been afraid of hurting my family," she told him.
"Don't be. You cannot live the life YOU want, that will make YOU happy without hurting someone. Oh, they will be hurt, but they will come to understand why you did it."
She looked at him, mesmerized by those dark eyes. "Did what?"
He smiled at her, touching her cheek with a finger. "Anything you want to, my dear."
"I wouldn't even know where to start," she told him. "Would you be willing to -"
The sound of the front door opening made Nicholas say quickly, "We'll talk more later," before rising to his feet.

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