Part Twenty-three

Julia was just coming from the lab after having done another battery of tests on Sarah's illness when she found herself face to face with her fiance. "Roger," she said with a smile. "This is a surprise."

"I thought we might have dinner at the inn before going home," he suggested, pulling her arm through his to guide her back to her office. "If you can get away, that is."

She opened the door and entered the office, turning as she heard him lock it behind them. "Roger-" She couldn't say more, since he pulled her into his arms for a long kiss.

"I missed you today."

"Apparently," Julia teased. "But you really should unlock the door. What if I'm needed? I *am* a doctor, after all."

"How about dinner?" he asked again, not releasing her.

"Sounds wonderful." She looked pointedly at the door once again, and Roger moved to unlock it before going to the window. Julia sat down at her desk to write up the notes on her test results while they were still fresh in her mind. She glanced up to see him frowning. "What's wrong?"

"Nicholas just went into the Antique Shoppe," he explained. "I do wish Carolyn would reconsider seeing the man - I mean, I don't understand why she's willing to stay in the same room with him. All this time, she's insisted that he was somehow responsible for Sky Rumsen's murder of Jeb Hawkes, and now she seems to be treating him like a long lost friend."

"She's confused, and very vulnerable at the moment, Roger," Julia explained. "No doubt Nicholas knows that and used it to his advantage."

"She convinced Liz to rent the House By The Sea to him again, did you know that?"

"No. No, I didn't. When?"

"This morning." Julia looked at him. "I admit that I'm a bit confused myself, Roger. I thought you liked Nicholas Blair."

"I did- until that dream I had last night -" He shivered at the memory.

"What dream?" Julia asked.

"I was in the drawing room at Collinwood and there seemed to be some kind of ceremony going on - I couldn't hear words, just faint mutterings. Just the sound of it frightened me. I followed the sound through the secret tunnel down to the cellar. There was a light in the main room, and when I entered, I saw-"

Julia touched his arm. "What did you see, Roger?"

"It seemed to be some kind of black mass - the robed figures were chanting, following of the lead of the man behind the altar - I was about to step forward, to ask what was going on, when the leader pointed at me,and two of the robed figures grabbed me, dragging me to the altar. In the struggle their hoods fell back."

"Who were they?" Julia asked.

"Quentin and Barnabas. And the leader was Nicholas Blair. The other robed figures revealed their faces as well, as Nicholas offered me a choice: either join them or die. Liz, David, Mrs. Johnson, Carolyn, Angelique, Maggie - even you. All of you stood there, waiting for my answer."

"And what was your answer?" Julia wanted to know.

"No, of course. I refused his offer, and they tied to me to the altar, forced me to watch as the most - horrible scenes were played out - " he averted his eyes, not wanting to speak further of what he'd seen. "Then Nicholas held out a jeweled dagger, and you came forward, taking it in your hands and lifted it high. I woke when the knife began to fall -"

Julia pulled him into her arms. "Oh, Roger. Why didn't you come to me? It was only a dream-"

"Perhaps. But it made me realize that you've been right all along about Nicholas. He's evil- and he wants Collinwood. And I'm going to do whatever it takes to make sure he doesn't get it."


"I was thinking, Nicholas," Carolyn said later at the House By The Sea, "You asked if Angelique were upset about Maggie Evans being at the Old House-"

Nicholas focused his attention on the fire. "Yes?"

"Maggie had stopped seeing Barnabas for several months before she left with Sebastian Shaw."

"Indeed? And who was she seeing?"


He frowned. "Quentin Collins?"

"Yes. Mother was quite pleased by the idea. She thought that if Quentin married Maggie, he might decide to stay at Collinwood - "

"I doubt that, my dear. Your cousin Quentin has a very good reason for not staying in any one place for very long."

"What reason?"

Nicholas smiled. "All in good time, my dear. All in good time."


After dinner during which an apparently oblivious Sarah rattled on about her lessons and how glad she was that Maggie had come to be her governess, Angelique made a hasty retreat back upstairs, and Maggie took Sarah up to get ready for bed.

"Maggie," Sarah said at last as Maggie brushed the long brown hair, "Mother's not happy, is she?"

"I'm afraid not, Sarah," Maggie answered truthfully.

"She's afraid that I don't need her anymore," Sarah said. "She told me she was afraid it would happen when Father hired a governess." She looked up at Maggie. "May I go and see her for awhile before I go to bed?"

Maggie considered the request, then nodded. "That's a very good idea, Sarah. I think your mother misses spending time with you. I mean, it wasn't very long ago that she was all you had - and it's very hard for her now that you've got your father and everyone else."

Sarah stood up and gave Maggie a hug. "I'll ask her to tuck me in, if you don't mind."

"Not at all. In fact, I think I'll go for a walk before planning tomorrow's lessons." She gave the child a kiss, then walked to the door of the master bedroom with her, moving toward her own room to get her coat as Sarah knocked softly.

"Mother?" she called. "May I come in?"

The door opened, and Angelique smiled at her daughter. "Of course you can, darling. Is something wrong?"

"No. I just wanted to spend some time with you - if you want to, that is."

Angelique pulled the child to her. "Of course I do, Sarah."


Maggie found Barnabas in the study, where he had gone to do some work that he had brought home, but he wasn't at the desk. He was standing by the fireplace, one hand on the mantle, head bent, apparently deep in thought. "Barnabas?" she said softly.

He straightened, turning to face her. "Yes, Maggie?"

"I left Sarah with her mother- she's going to ask Angelique to tuck her in - "

"Your idea?" he asked.

Maggie laughed softly. "Actually, it was Sarah's. She noticed how unhappy Angelique was at dinner and wanted to try to cheer her up."

"I see." He had hoped that Sarah wouldn't pick up on Angelique's unhappiness, but he should have known better. His gaze moved back to the fire.

"What's going on, Barnabas? I thought this was only a plan to fool Nicholas. Now, Angelique is upset, and Quentin-"

He looked at her again. "You're very fond of my cousin, aren't you?"

"I could be - but he's so - difficult to understand sometimes - "

"A Collins family failing, I fear. Angelique is still uncertain about - things, Maggie. She wants to believe that things will work out between she and I, but our past history keeps returning to trouble her."

"Go talk to her, Barnabas," Maggie suggested.

He noticed her coat. "And where are you going?"

"Out for a walk - to think."

"Don't go far. I don't like the idea of your being out there alone with Nicholas in the area -"

"I might go to Collinwood and see if Quentin's in -" As he would have spoken, she smiled. "Don't worry. If I *do* see Nicholas, I'll tell him that I'm there to visit Mrs. Stoddard." Seeing he was still uncertain, Maggie buttoned her coat. "Don't worry, Barnabas. I'll be fine."

"Don't be too late."

"I won't be. I just have a need to talk to Quentin for a few minutes."

Barnabas walked to the door with her, then stood at the bottom of the stairs before climbing them. Maggie was right. Leaving this between them was the last thing he and Angelique needed. Too many times they had each let pride stand in the way of clearing up misunderstandings and it had always resulted in more misunderstandings and pain. And the last thing either of them needed was to cause each other more pain.

She was just leaving her room with Sarah on the way to tuck the child into her own bed. "Well. What have we here?" he asked, smoothing Sarah's dark hair.

"Mother was just going to tuck me in. Would you come too, Father?" she asked, slipping her hand into his.

Barnabas met Angelique's eyes. "If your mother doesn't mind," he said.

"No. No, of course I don't," Angelique said, watching as Barnabas lifted Sarah into his arms, then nodded for her to lead the way.

He placed Sarah on her bed, then stepped back for Angelique to draw the bedclothes around her. "Good night, Mother," Sarah said, kissing her. "I love you. Don't ever forget that again, okay?"

"I won't," Angelique promised, not looking at Barnabas as he sat on the other side of their daughter. "Good night, darling."

"Goodnight, Father," Sarah told Barnabas, giving him a hug and kiss as well. "I love you, too. And I'm very glad that we found you again."

"Not half as glad as I am to have both of you with me," Barnabas declared softly, lifting Angelique's hand from the quilt to his lips. He heard her quiet gasp. "Now go to sleep." He blew lamp out, then, retaining Angelique's hand, led her from the room and back to their room.

"I know you have work to do-" Angelique said, stopping as she heard the key turn in the lock.

"Nothing that's as important as apologizing to you for upsetting you earlier. All I was trying to do was protect Maggie, Angelique. I would have done as much for anyone. Elizabeth, Carolyn, Julia -"

"But it wasn't one of them. It was Maggie." She moved away to sit before the fire. "I know it doesn't make sense, Barnabas, and I try not to be jealous, but -"

"You didn't see Maggie. You saw Josette," he guessed.

Blue eyes widened as they lifted to him. "How did you know?"

"Because, my love, I know you. I hoped that all of the hurts were behind us, but I was wrong, wasn't I?"

"It wasn't just that. I had just spent most of the afternoon listening to Quentin sing Maggie's praises and then to walk in here and find her in your arms-"

"He didn't."

"Oh, yes. I don't think he even realized how many times he mentioned her name. I think your cousin has finally fallen hard, Barnabas."

"He can't stay at Collinwood. The portrait -"

"He knows that. It's the reason he let Maggie leave with Sebastian Shaw."

Barnabas sat beside her, lifting her face to his. "I love you, Angelique."

She fell into his arms. "Can you forgive my jealousy, my darling? I try to control it, I really do -"

"I know. And yes, I can forgive you," he said, as his lips found hers. "Do you know how lucky we are to have found each other again, Angelique? I don't want to lose you again - not ever."


Maggie didn't bother using the main entrance to Collinwood. She moved around the building to the door that would take her directly to Quentin's West Wing rooms. She heard the grammaphone playing two corridors away. That usually meant he'd been drinking. The thought made her hesitat before knocking on the wooden door.

"Go away," Quentin's voice called out, the tone moody and dark. She knocked again, more insistantly this time, and a second later, the door was pulled open. "Look, I said-" He stopped. "Maggie." He stood there, one hand on the doorknob, swaying slightly, his blue eyes still filled with pain and anger. "What are you doing here?" he asked, turning back to the chair beside the old wind up grammaphone, picking up a bottle of brandy as he passed the bar.

Maggie entered the room, closing the door behind her. "I thought we needed to talk."

"About what? About how you wound up in Cousin Barnabas' arms this afternoon?" he asked, trying to pour the liquor into a snifter. When it refused to hit the mark, and ran onto the rug, he tilted the bottle to his lips and drank deeply. "Don't bother," he finished, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. "I just never thought you were the type to go after a married man."

"I'm *not* going after Barnabas, Quentin," she said. "I told you what happened. I was upset about seeing Nicholas again and Barnabas was simply being a friend. Nothing happened, nothing was going to happen -" She sighed as he took another drink. "Quentin, would you *please* listen to me?" When he sat there, blue eyes on some point across the room, she shook her head and rose from the chair she was sitting in. "I don't know why I bothered to come here. You said that you wanted to be my friend, Quentin - " She jumped as the empty brandy snifter shattered against the fireplace.

Quentin came out of his chair, moving quickly for a man who had been drinking for hours. He grabbed her arm. "I can't be your friend, Maggie. Not when all I think about is how much I want us to be more than that." He pulled her against him. "I must have bored Angelique senseless this afternoon, talking about you."

"About me?" she asked. "What about- me?"

"About how much I wish to God I had something more to offer you than a few years - how I wish that I could stay here with you, grow old with you -" He placed kisses along her brow. "How much I want to hold you and kiss you, to carry you into that other room and never let you out of my sight." Long fingers buried in her auburn hair, dislodging the tortoise shell combs that held it back from her face. "I don't have the right to tell you how much I love you, Maggie Evans, but heaven help me, I do." His lips finally closed over hers, hard at first, meaning to break down any defenses she might try to erect against his onslaught. It was a full minute before he realized that she was responding to his caresses, opening herself to him like a flower to sunlight. He lifted his head, his blue eyes clouded now with passion instead of alcohol. "Maggie," he sighed, before Maggie's fingers pulled him back down to her lips. "I want you, Maggie. Now. Don't leave me."

"I'm not going anywhere, Quentin," she whispered as he lifted her into his arms and turned toward the bedroom.

To Be Continued----
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