Part Twenty-four

"Any way, Barnabas and I talked everything over last night," Angelique was saying, but stopped to look at her lunch companion. "Quentin?" When his gaze remained on the untouched plate of food before him, she reached across and touched his arm. He jumped, startled, and looked at her. "Where on earth *were* you? I don't think you've heard a word I've said."

He grinned sheepishly. "Sorry. I've got a lot on my mind today."

"You and Maggie both, apparently."

At the mention of Maggie's name, Quentin dropped his fork back to the table. "Maggie?"

"She was rather- distracted this morning. Barnabas told me that she went to see you last night. You and she didn't have an argument, did you?"

"It would have been easier if we *had*," he said with a sigh. Looking up, he said, "We can't talk here. Nicholas and Carolyn just came in." He placed some money on the table and drew Angelique to her feet, turning her toward the doorway.

"Angelique," Nicholas said smoothly, forcing them to pause and acknowledge his presence.

"Nicholas. Carolyn."

"I stopped by the Old House yesterday afternoon to visit you," he told her. "You were- out," he explained, his dark gaze moving to the man at her side.

"Barnabas told me about your visit," Angelique told him. "But, he had the distinct impression that you were there to see Maggie- not me." Seeing Carolyn's concerned glance at Nicholas, Angelique smiled. "Enjoy your lunch, Nicholas. Good afternoon, Carolyn."

Nicholas' eyes narrowed as he watched her sweep from the room with Quentin beside her. "Nicholas?" Carolyn asked, her voice reminding him of where they were. He saw her seated at a table, then picked up a menu. "You *did* go there to see Maggie, didn't you?"

"We'll discuss it later, my dear," he said. "What are you having?"

"I want an answer, Nicholas," Carolyn said quietly, leaning across the table so that others in the dining room couldn't overhear. "You told me you'd gone to see how Angelique was taking Maggie's being there. But you really went to see *her*, didn't you?"

Nicholas pinned her with that dark gaze, "I *said* later, Carolyn. And I *meant* later. This is not the place -" He saw the anger in her eyes, the jealousy. "You've no reason to worry about Maggie, my dear," he hastened to assure her, reaching out to cover her hand with his. "Now, if you're going to get to the Shoppe this afternoon, we'd better order, hadn't we?"

Carolyn recognized his tone and knew that she wouldn't get anything further out of him. And he *was* right. This wasn't the place for this discussion. Later, at the House by the Sea, when they were alone and could talk more freely, she would find some way to get him to admit the truth. "Did you happen to notice Quentin's reaction when Angelique mentioned Maggie's name?" she asked him.

"I was watching Angelique. What reaction?"

"He looked - worried. Far more worried than he should be if he's really interested in Angelique and not Maggie."

"You said that he and Maggie had been seeing each other before she left- how serious were they?"

"I think Maggie was more than halfway in love with him -"

"Really?" Nicholas asked, hoping that she didn't notice the tremor of anger that he felt at that announcement. "And what about your cousin?"

"Quentin's hard to read. He likes the ladies. Always has, I think. But he was different with Maggie. Gentler, more protective. I never understood why he let her go with Sebastian to begin with."

"Because your cousin hasn't any future to offer to any woman," Nicholas told her. Seeing her curious glance, he smiled. "I'll explain that this evening," he promised.


"You're really in love with her, aren't you?" Angelique asked, watching him pace before her in the stone gazebo. "I don't think I've ever seen you act like this. Not even with Amanda Harris-"

"What I feel for Maggie makes my feelings for Amanda seem shallow. I know there's no chance for it to grow, that I can't give Maggie anything but heartache,- and I *should* have known better than to let her into my room last night, but- I could try to excuse it on the grounds that I'd had too much to drink, but we both know that that's not a legitimate excuse. I knew exactly what I was doing-I don't know how I'm going to face her-"

Angelique held out her hand to him. "Quentin, come here." He stopped and looked at her, that old uncertainty back in his eyes. She laughed softly. "Sit down. You're making me dizzy with all that pacing around."

He took her hand and sat beside her. "I guess it's pretty funny, huh? Quentin Collins, the great seducer, finally brought down by Cupid's arrow."

"It's not funny at all," Angelique told him. "You're so worried about Maggie's reaction. Did your force her to -"

"No. She never tried to stop me, never said a word -"

"Then *what* are you worried about?" Angelique asked. "At least this explains her distraction this morning. And Sarah said something about her being upset because she couldn't find a hair comb -"

Quentin reached into his pocket and drew out the tortoiseshell comb. "She dropped it last night. I thought I might return it to her today -"

"Then that's exactly what you're going to do." She stood up.

"Where are you going?"

"*We* are going to the Old House and you're going to give that back to Maggie and talk to her."

"I don't-"

Angelique reached down to take his hand and pull him to his feet. "Come on, Quentin. Really," she said, laughing, "I always knew you were a coward at heart."

"Born and bred," he drawled. "And proud of it."

Maggie and Sarah entered the clearing where the gazebo was located, and stopped. "Mother's here," Sarah said, smiling up at Maggie. She tugged on her governess' hand. "Come on -"

"Why don't we go toward Widows' Hill?" Maggie suggested, keeping her voice low. "Or-"

"I want to see Mother," Sarah insisted, pulling her arm.

Quentin's eyes met Maggie's and his laughter stilled, causing Angelique to turn around. "Sarah, darling. I thought you were at the house?"

"It's such a lovely day that we decided to come out for a few minutes," Sarah, informed her. She glanced from Quentin to Maggie. "Hello, Cousin Quentin."

He moved stiffly to pick her up. "Hello, princess. How are you feeling today?"

"Oh, *much* better."

"I'm glad to hear it." He looked at Maggie again. "Hello there."


Angelique took Sarah's hand as Quentin set her back onto her feet. "Why don't you and I go for a walk, darling and let Maggie and Quentin have a little talk?"

"Oh, no, Angelique-" Maggie began. "I-"

"I think it's a good idea, Maggie. We'll see you back at the Old House, won't we, Sarah?"

Sarah looked from Maggie to Quentin again and nodded. "Yes. Maybe talking with Cousin Quentin will make you smile again, Maggie," she said, drawing a concerned frown from Quentin." She and Angelique disappeared down the path that would lead them home, leaving Maggie and Quentin standing a few feet away from each other.

Quentin wasn't sure what to say. He'd never been this tongue tied before with a woman, he thought. What was it about this one that made everything so different? *You love her*, a voice answered. He held out the comb. "You might want this," he said.

Maggie's nod was jerky as she reached out to take it. "Yes, I-" their hands touched, and it was like a signal for them, as Quentin's arms went around her, and Maggie's head found his broad chest. "Oh, Quentin. I -"

"I know. I know, Maggie." He placed a hand on either side of her face, lifting it so he could see her eyes. "I'm sorry. I had no right to -"

"I'm not sorry. I was glad it finally happened."

"Maggie, it doesn't change anything. I *still* can't stay at Collinwood for more than a few years - and I can't explain why-"

"I don't want explanations, Quentin. Or promises. I just want -"

She tried to bury her face against his shirt again, but Quentin refused to let her. "What do you want, Maggie?" he asked in a gentle voice, lifting her chin with a finger.

"I just want to be with you- for as long as I can be. I just want you to hold me, and tell me you -"

"That I love you?" When she gasped, he smiled. "I do. I love you, Maggie Evans. Even though I've no right to, even though it's wrong, I love you more than I ever thought I could ever love anyone. What about you?"

Her face was bright, shining up at him. "I love you. I have for such a long time - I was so worried that you would be disappointed in me after last night-"

Quentin smiled, circling her mouth with his thumb. "Never. Even if we were never together again, last night was something I'd never be able to forget for the rest of my life," he promised, wishing he could tell her exactly how long that was going to be. His lips covered hers, then moved to her eyes, her nose, then back to her lips. "I'll love you forever, Maggie," he swore.

"We really shouldn't be here doing this," she reminded him. "What if Carolyn or Nicholas comes along-"

"Carolyn's at the Shoppe this afternoon," Quentin said. "And right now, I'm not sure I care if Nicholas Blair finds out about us. At least I'd be free to try and protect you from him."

"But it's not part of Barnabas' plan," Maggie pointed out.

"I guess you're right." He took a deep breath. "When can we see each other, then?"

"I'll meet you this evening, after dinner - "

"I'm having dinner at the Old House," he told her.

"That's even better," she said.

"Maggie, you deserve so much more than -"

She placed a hand over his mouth to silence his protest. "We'll take whatever we can get, Quentin."

Quentin kissed her fingers. "I don't deserve you, Maggie Evans."

"No, you don't. But you've got me - for as long as you want me."

"If I had my way, it would be forever." He kissed her again. "Let's get you back to the Old House." He kept his arm around her shoulders as they headed out.


Barnabas came into the yard offices, buttoning his shirt cuffs and picking up his coat from the coat rack near the door. "Any calls, Mrs. Davis?"

"No, sir. But you do have a visitor-" When Barnabas turned to look at the empty waiting area, she bit her lower lip as she continued. "He's- waiting in your office. He said that he's Mrs. Collins' brother and you wouldn't mind-"

*Blair*, Barnabas thought as he turned to look at the closed office door. "Thank you, Mrs. Davis. Is there anything else on my calendar for the day?"

"No, Mr. Collins -"

"Hold my calls," he said, his hand on the doorknob.

Nicholas was at the window, looking out at the yards when the door opened. He smiled. "Ah, Barnabas. The yards seem quite busy these days. Business must be good."

"Why are you here, Blair?" he asked, not letting himself be sidetracked.

"To offer you a deal."

"I've no interest in any *deal* with you, Blair," Barnabas said. "Now-"

"Not even if it means that your daughter will be cured?" Nicholas asked.

Barnabas' hand fell from the doorknob as he turned to look at the other man. "What sort of trick is this?"

"No trick. You give me what I want- and I'll give you Sarah's life."

To Be Continued----

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