Part Twenty-two

"I need you to find out who Barnabas has hired as Sarah's governess, Carolyn," Nicholas said, as he stood the fireplace, one hand in the robe he was wearing as he watched her put on her coat in preparation for returning to Collinwood.

Carolyn froze, knowing she couldn't put off telling him any longer. "I already know, Nicholas," she said slowly, not looking at him. "I had lunch over there before I came here-"

"Indeed? And you met the new governess?"

"Yes. I did." She could sense Nicholas' frustration at her answer. She looked at him. "Nicholas, - it's Maggie."

Nicholas went still. "Maggie- Evans? But I thought you told me she was in California."

"I thought she was. Apparently I was wrong."

"And you were afraid to tell me about it." His comment wasn't a question. When Carolyn simply nodded, Nicholas moved to her, lifting her chin. "Why?"

"Vicki Winters told me that you wanted to marry Maggie once- the first time you were at Collinwood - "

"And you believe everything Victoria Winters ever told you about me? Well, it so happens that she was correct - " he admitted, refusing to let Carolyn move away. "I *did* ask Maggie to marry me - but she refused. I've no interest in Maggie Evans now, Carolyn - except for how she can help me further my plans."

"You wanted to marry her -"

"And if I still cared about her, I would have seen her during my last visit. I didn't. Whatever I believed I felt for Maggie was a - momentary aberration, Carolyn. Something that will *not* happen again." He touched her cheek with the back of his fingers. "Tell me, was my dear sister - pleased to have Miss Evans in the house?"

"She didn't appear to be pleased in the least," Carolyn told him. "In fact, she told me that she would have preferred Barnabas hired the young woman she interviewed the other day - but Barnabas insisted on hiring Maggie when he found out she was coming back to Collinwood."

Nicholas smiled, pleased at her news. "Excellent."

"And Quentin called Angelique while I was there. She sounded as if she might have been arranging to meet him after lunch."

"Wonderful. I knew that Quentin's return could only help things along. Keep your eyes and ears open, my dear- and I'll see you - later, I hope?"

Carolyn nodded, relieved that Nicholas appeared not in the least affected by her news of Maggie's return. "After dinner. Right now, I'd better get to the shop and let Lisa go for the afternoon or I won't have any help at all."

Nicholas brought her hand to his lips, then remained where he was as she left the house, maintaining his smile until the door closed and she was gone. He moved stiffly back toward the fireplace. Maggie was back. What *was* it about this place that everything seemed to conspire against him everytime he came here? He had mistakenly allowed Maggie to distract his attention on his first visit, assuring his failure. He had sworn on the second visit not to even see the young woman that he had been willing to give up everything for - but Jeb Hawkes' betrayal and awakening humanity had spelled doom for his plans that time.

Nicholas stared into the flames. He had believed Maggie wasn't at Collinwood. That he wouldn't be forced to confront that past mistake on this visit. It could only cause trouble - but he wasn't going to run from it. He couldn't. Facing her again, proving to himself that he felt nothing for the auburn haired beauty would allow him to focus on his mission. He couldn't afford the distraction, he reminded himself, then saw again himself and Carolyn in the flames. Turning away, he silently banished the vision and moved toward the stairs to dress.

* * *

Barnabas entered the Old House and removed his coat, wondering where everyone was. Willie came into the parlour from the kitchen. "Barnabas." He glanced at the clock on the mantle. "I didn't realize it was so late-" he frowned. "You're early."

"Not much going on at the yard, so I decided to surprise Angelique and Sarah. Where are they?"

"Sarah and Maggie are in the study," Willie said, suddenly nervous.

"And Angelique?" Barnabas asked, his sharp gaze fixed on the man.

"She - left right after lunch - didn't say where she was going-"

"Did Quentin happen to call today?" Barnabas asked.

"Yeah. During lunch." Willie pointed toward the kitchen. "I got- things t'do-" he said, leaving the room before Barnabas could say anything else.

Barnabas went to the library, standing in the open doorway as Maggie and Sarah went over the lesson. Everytime he saw the two of them together, he worried that Sarah would say something, *do* something that would bring back Maggie's memory of his failed, ill-judged attempt to turn her into Josette. Suddenly Sarah looked up and saw him there.

Her face lit with a wide smile as she leapt from her chair. "Father!" she cried, running into his arms.

He picked her up, smiling at her. "Have you been enjoying yourself?"

"Oh, yes. Maggie's a very good teacher."

Maggie rose. "That's because you're a very good pupil, Sarah," she said. Smiling at Barnabas, she said, "She's really not far behind at all," she told him.

Barnabas frowned as there was a knock on the door, then a second. "I wonder where Willie's gotten to?" he wondered. Putting Sarah on her feet, he said, "You two continue your lessons while I find out who's come to visit."

He glanced into the parlour, considering that Willie must have stepped out back for a moment as he reached for the doorknob. "May I help-" He thought about closing the door as he saw Nicholas Blair's smiling face. "Blair. What do you want?"

"I've some to see my sister- is she here, by chance?"

"Angelique is out at the moment," Barnabas informed him, not inviting him inside.

"My timing would appear to be all wrong as usual. When do you expect her back?"

"I'm not sure," Barnabas said. "But I doubt she'll want to see you when she does arrive," he was saying as he heard Maggie and Sarah's voices coming closer.

"We'll go see if Willie has those cookies and milk he promised," Maggie was saying as she and the girl came around the corner. Maggie stopped as her eyes met Nicholas' dark ones. "Nicholas."

"I had heard that you were back, Maggie," Nicholas said. "Are you enjoying your new position?" he asked, keeping his voice carefully neutral.

"Yes. Yes, I am. Sarah's a wonderful little girl-" she turned to the little girl, who had moved closer to her upon seeing her "uncle". "Sarah, why don't you go on to the kitchen with Willie?"

Sarah nodded, keeping a cautious eye on Nicholas as she sidled from the entry hall and then ran across the parlour. "She seems a bit nervous," Nicholas said, still looking at Maggie.

Barnabas moved between Maggie and Nicholas. "Why don't you join Sarah, Maggie?" he suggested, obviously trying to protect the young governess.

"Perhaps Maggie knows where my sister went," Nicholas said quickly. "Did Angelique mention where she was going to you, Maggie? Or when she might return?"

Maggie glanced at Barnabas. "Mrs. Collins went to meet a friend," Maggie told Nicholas. "She didn't tell me when she would be home."

"A friend? I wasn't aware that Angelique had any friends in Collinsport - other than Collins family, of course -"

"I think she mentioned something about Quentin," Maggie said slowly. "If you'll excuse me, Nicholas, I do have to attend to my charge -"

"Of course. Don't let me keep you, my dear." He smiled at Barnabas once they were alone. "She seems to have settled in quite nicely. I'm sure Angelique isn't pleased to have a replica of Josette on the premises - I'm amazed that she agreed to hire her."

"If you've nothing further to say, Blair," Barnabas said, "I'll say goodday-"

"You *will* tell my sister that stopped by, won't you?" Nicholas asked. "And tell her that if she needs a shoulder to cry on, I'm available-"

"Angelique hasn't any need of your pretense at concern, Blair."

"Apparently not," Nicholas agreed. "After all, she has your cousin to console her, doesn't she?" He started to turn away, then stopped. "One more thing, Barnabas -"

Barnabas paused. "Yes?"

"Memory can be a very fickle thing. One moment gone- the next- surprisingly clear. I wonder what Maggie would do if she were to suddenly recall her previous meeting with another little girl named Sarah?"

"Good - bye, Blair," Barnabas said with finality, closing the door.

Nicholas turned, his smile fading. He'd faced her - and seeing those hazel eyes again had made him realize that he was *not* over Maggie Evans. He wasn't sure he ever would be comepletely over her. But he refused to allow those feelings to overwhelm him again.

The Plan. He would concentrate on the Plan. Once he was successful, there would be more than enough time for him to pursue Maggie - He realized his gloved fist was tightly clenched and forced his fingers to open, then moved away. He would find Carolyn - see if she could meet him earlier. He needed to focus on something else. Something more attainable.

Barnabas stood at the parlour windows, watching as Nicholas descended the steps to the path that would lead him to the cliffs. "Has he gone?" Maggie asked from the dining room doors.

"Yes." He looked at her. "Are you all right?"

"I think so. For a moment, when I first saw him - " she shivered slightly, and Barnabas moved to put a comforting arm around her. "I'm sorry, Barnabas."

"For what?"

"Reacting this way. I didn't think seeing him again would do anything to me."

"Well. Isn't this a pretty little scene," Angelique said, standing in the dorway, Quentin just behind her.
Barnabas released Maggie immediately. "Angelique. Quentin."

Maggie looked up, past Angelique to where Quentin was standing. "Hello, Quentin."

"Maggie." Those blue eyes were like chips of ice, and Maggie shivered again.

"Nicholas was just here," she tried to explain, wondering why she even felt the need to do such a thing. This was the plan, after all, wasn't it? "I was upset at seeing him, and Barnabas -"

"Dear, sweet, understanding Barnabas was just trying to comfort you," Angelique said. "I understand perfectly," she said. "I invited Quentin to dinner this evening," she informed Barnabas. "I hope you don't mind."

"Of course not."

"Where is Sarah, Maggie?" Angelique asked pointedly.

"In the kitchen having a snack," Maggie informed her. "If you'll excuse me, I think I'll go see if she's finished." She escaped the room.

Barnabas went to the bar and poured himself a glass of sherry, a glass of port for Angelique, and some brandy for his cousin. "I'll go inform Willie that there will be one more for dinner," he said.

"I'll do it, Barnabas," Angelique offered quickly, leaving the two men alone.

"Where did you and Angelique go this afternoon?" Barnabas asked.

"We had a drink or two at the Blue Whale," Quentin told him. "And then did some window shopping on main street in full view of the entire town. By tonight, I don't think anyone in town won't be certain that Angelique and I are spending a *lot* time together." When Barnabas finished his sherry quickly, Quentin frowned. "Why are you upset by that? I thought it's what you wanted -"

"It is," Barnabas agreed. "I just didn't expect Angelique to enjoy it as much as she's apparently doing."

"What about you? You certainly seemed to be enjoying having Maggie your arms," Quentin accused in return.

"She explained that. She was upset about seeing Blair again -"

"And of course you felt it absolutely necessary to comfort her." Quentin finished his brandy. "Look, tell Angelique that I changed my mind. I'll have dinner at Collinwood tonight. I'll call her tomorrow."

Barnabas stood there, frowning, as Angelique returned. "Where is Quentin?"

"He changed his mind," Barnabas told her. "I think we need to reconsider this plan, Angelique-" he began.

"We can't. We've already begun, Barnabas. If we stop now, Nicholas well simply become more suspicious. Why did he come here anyway?"

"To see you. He said to tell you that if you needed someone to console you over Maggie's arrival, that he was available."

Angelique shuddered. "Never. And he knew I wouldn't accept his offer. He was here to see Maggie, Barnabas."

"He threatened to return her memory," Barnabas told her.

"He said he would? In those words?"

"No, of course not. He implied that memories can return quickly, without warning."

Angelique frowned. "He wouldn't do that- anymore than he would return the curse to Quentin - "

Maggie and Sarah returned. "Mother," Sarah said, running to greet her mother. "I didn't know you were home."

"Why don't you and I go outside for a few minutes, dear?" Angelique suggested, suddenly wanting to be alone with her daughter the way they had been before she'd made the decision to come back to Collinwood.

Sarah looked from her to Maggie. "But- Maggie's going to give me a history lesson now."

"Surely that can wait a few minutes," Angelique said.

"She really needs to do another hour's study before we stop for the day, Angelique." Maggie held out her hand. "Come on, Sarah."

Sarah took the hand and left the room. Angelique watched them go. "I'm losing her. I knew I would. And there's nothing I can do to stop it.  And I'll never forgive you for letting it happen," she declared, running from the room and up the stairs.

Barnabas sighed heavily and turned turned toward the kitchen to tell Willie that dinner plans had changed once again.
Back  Home  Vault  E-Mail  Next