Part Twenty

     Angelique had just entered the Old House when Quentin, Maggie and Sarah returned.  The child was asleep in Quentin's arms, her head on his shoulder.  Seeing Angelique's concern, Quentin smiled reassuringly.  "She's fine.  She just got a little tired."
    "I'll take her up," Angelique said, aware of the auburn haired young woman behind him.  But Quentin shook his head.
    "Let me do it."  He nodded toward Maggie.  "You probably have several thins to discuss with Maggie," was his pointed comment.
    Angelique watched him climb the stairs, then turned slowly to face the other woman.  "Please, Miss Evans.  Be seated."  She indicated one of the wing chairs before the fire.
    Maggie smiled nervously.  "Sarah's a wonderful child, Mrs. Collins."
    "I think so," Angelique replied.  "Quentin told you that she's ill -?"
    "Yes.  She seems very bright.  Not that far behind where she should be for her age."
    "Would you be willing to live here at the Old House and be Sarah's governess, Miss Evans?"
    Maggie rose to pace across the room.  "Before I answer that, Mrs. Collins, I have to know that you won't mind my being here."
    Angelique's eyes widened in surprise.  "Why should I mind?"
    "Well, when you were at Collinwood two years ago, I had the feeling that you didn't like me very much."
    "I was - jealous," Angelique admitted, deciding on partial honesty, at least.  "You have to understand, Miss Evans, that while I married Sky because I loved him, seeing Barnabas again after all that time made me realize that I had never gotten over him.  When I left Sky, I came here, thinking that I might have a second chance with Barnabas.  But when I told him that Nicholas was here, his first thought was concern for you.  It was as if I didn't exist."
    Maggie smiled gently.  "I don't think there was ever anything serious between Barnabas and I.  We were attracted to each other, but it was more out of loneliness than any real romantic feeling.  Soon after you left, I started seeing Quentin."
    "So Barnabas told me when I spoke to him earlier."
    Maggie's face became curious.  "Is Nicholas Blair really your brother?"
    "Unfortunately, yes.  That's another plus to living here.  You won't be at Collinwood with him -" Angelique looked at her.  "Unless you want to be."
    "No," Maggie said without hesitation.  "I don't."
    Angelique relaxed.  "I'm glad to hear that.  Nicholas can be very charming when he wants to be.  But he's an evil man who wants only one thing:  to control Collinwood."
    Quentin returned.  "Sarah's all tucked in."
    "Thank you, Quentin."  She and Maggie watched as he poured himself a glass of brandy.
    "Mrs. Collins, why does Nicholas want Collinwood?"
    "He believes it is his destiny to establish a coven here.  A major one."
    Maggie blinked.  "A - coven?  There must be some way to stop him."
    "Well, Barnabas and I have a plan - but could use your help - and yours, Quentin."
    He frowned.  "Our help, Angelique?"

    Nicholas and Carolyn had just entered Collinwood, discussing plans for dinner, when the telephone rang and was answered by Mrs. Johnson.  "Hello, Collinwood . . . Just a minute. . . he's just come in."  She turned to Nicholas.  "It's for you, Mr. Blair."
    "Thank you, Mrs. Johnson."  He took the reciever as the housekeeper left the room.  "Hello? . . . Indeed? . . .No, that won't be necessary. . . I will take care of things from this end. . .Thank you for calling."
    Carolyn watched as he returned the reciever to its cradle.  "Business?"
    "You might say that.  A small - delay in certain plans.  Nothing major."  He walked away, into the drawing room, leaving Carolyn to follow.  "Tell me, do you know of anyone local who Barnabas might hire to be Sarah's governess?"
    Carolyn looked thoughtful.  "No.  Of course, if Maggie Evans was still here, - but she's with Sebastian Shaw."
    Elizabeth came downstairs, buttoning her coat.  She paused upon hearing her daughter's voice.  "Carolyn.  I didn't know you were home."
    "We just came in, Mother.  Nicholas asked me to dinner - are you going out?"
    Elizabeth's dark eyes moved quickly away.  "Yes.  Barnabas invited me to the Old House for dinner.  I won't be late."  She turned and left before Carolyn or Nicholas could ask any more questions.
    Nicholas' eyes narrowed with suspicion.  "Your mother was acting a bit - strange, don't you think?"
    "I think you make her nervous," Carolyn said.
    "I tend to have that effect on some people," Nicholas agreed.
    "Not on me.  Not anymore."  She smiled up at him, her eyes shining.
    Nicholas lifted a finger to her chin.  "I'm very glad to hear that, my dear.  Now, where are we going to go to eat this evening?"

    Elizabeth hugged Maggie in welcome.  "You've lost some weight," she commented.
    "A little, perhaps.  You look wonderful."
    She put her arm around Maggie as they entered the parlour.  "I'm very glad you decided to come home.  Are you going to be Sarah's governess?"
    "I am.  In fact, I've already started," Maggie told her.
    Elizabeth beamed at Angelique.  "You see?  I told you that things would work out.  Now, if Nicholas would leave -"
    "I don't think he's going to do that soon, Elizabeth," Angelique said.  "Did he know you were coming here?"
    "Yes.  I saw them as I was leaving.  I don't like Carolyn spending so much time with him - if he's a dangerous as I'm afraid he is -"
    "I'll speak to Carolyn," Angelique offered.  "Perhaps she'll listen to me."
    "Thank you, Angelique.  Now, what is this plan you mentioned on the telephone?"
    "Why don't we wait for Barnabas to come down before we discuss it?"  Angelique suggested.  "Would you please pour drinks, Quentin?"

    After dinner at the Inn, Carolyn agreed to go for a walk with Nicholas.  "You're very quiet suddenly," Nicholas told her.  During dinner, she had kept up a steady stream of talk,  about nothing important.  But now, she had scarcely spoken a word since leaving the restaurant.  Nicholas turned her to face him.  "What's wrong?  Did I say something-?"
    "No," Carolyn quickly assured him.  "It's not you.  It's me.  I'm doing it again -"
    "Doing what again?"
    "Jumping in headfirst without knowing how deep the water might be.  Becoming involved too quickly for my own good."
    "Must you know how deep the water is?"  Nicholas asked, watching as she rested her back against a tree.
    "I've been hurt too many times, Nicholas.  I don't want to be hurt again.  And I'm afraid that's where this is heading."
    He placed a light finger against her face.  "I won't hurt you, Carolyn."
    "Yes, you will.  You think you can use me to hurt my family - turn me against them.  I don't want that to happen - but-"
    "But?" he prompted.
    "I don't want to stop being with you, either.  I know that doesn't make sense, -"
    "Then stop trying to make it make sense," Nicholas suggested.  He cupped her face in his hand.  "I can show you things that will forever change you, Carolyn, give you more power than you ever dreamed of having.  I thought you wanted that power."
    "I do.  But the cost -"
    "Will be no more than you are willing to give," Nicholas told her.  He lifted her face to his, studying it in the moonlight.  "There is so much I could teach you, Carolyn.  And I want to be the one to do it, to awaken you to a  new way of life - one in which you never have to apologize to anyone, never have to take orders from anyone ever again."
     "Not even from you?"  Carolyn asked.
    Nicholas' teeth gleamed white.  "For awhile, perhaps, but if you are a good student - "
    "Then teach me, Nicholas," Carolyn said.  "Teach me what you want me to know."
    He searched her face.  "I don't play games, Carolyn.  If you're using me -"
    "I'm not playing a game, Nicholas," she told him.  "Not anymore."
    He took her into his arms, pressing his lips to hers, demanding a response.  Carolyn's arms slid around his neck as she returned the kiss with a passion that shocked her.  It was Nicholas who ended the embrace to turn away.  Her abandoned response to him had surprised him.  And it shouldn't have, he told himself.
    "Nicholas?"  Carolyn said, reaching out to place a hand on his back.  "Is something wrong?"
    He took a deep breath.  "No.  Is the House-By-The-Sea leased?"
    Frowning at his change of subject, Carolyn shook her head.  "No.  The last tenants left several months ago.  Why are you asking?"
    "I believe it would be best if I have a place of my own during my - visit.  Could you speak to your mother about renting it to me again?"
    "I think so," Carolyn said.  Her eyes softened.  "Will you let me - come and see you?"
    Nicholas smiled.  "I'm counting on it.  It will be much easier to conduct your- lessons if there are no interruptions."  He ran the back of his finger along her jaw.  "I think I'm going to enjoy this, my dear."
    But later, after he had seen Carolyn back to Collinwood, Nicholas found himself in his room, his earlier smile gone.  Deciding to use Carolyn, to lead her into a covenant, might have been a mistake.  It had been a very long time since Nicholas had felt anything while close to a woman.  His reaction to Carolyn's passion had surprised him.  It was something he was going to have to guard against, if he was to succeed this third time at Collinwood.  He couldn't afford any distractions this time.  Failure would mean eternal banishment to the Pit- and after his brief stay there this last time, Nicholas had no desire to return.  He would have to be very careful in his dealings with Carolyn Stoddard Hawkes.

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