The regency romances, p.113
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       The Regency Romances, p.113

           Laura Kinsale

  The silence stretched. Roddy bit her lip. She was shaking as hard as she had the night before.

  “Och, ye shame me, girl.”

  She heard him move, and when she opened her eyes, he was moving slowly across the empty forecourt. She watched him go with a relief that only made her shivering the greater, and a moment later turned away down the drive, running as fast as her aching feet would carry her.

  She had no idea where to go. Her small store of energy ebbed, and she came to a stumbling halt at the place where the road branched. To the south was Derrynane and the O’Connells’ home—miles away over Coomakista Pass. To the north was the army camp.

  She sat down, defeated. MacLassar came hobbling up, dragging his dirty little bandage gamely. She had forgotten him. The sight made her feel guilty and sorry and angry at once—that he had to follow her in this aimless wandering about the empty countryside. The sun hung at zenith, a bright opalescence in the overcast sky. Wherever Faelan had gone, by now he had to be far beyond where she could reach on foot. The small fields and stony hedges lay before her in a patchwork; the mountains rose into the drowsing low clouds behind. She laid her head across her arms and closed her eyes, tired and hungry and unable to think.

  She had no idea how much later it was when the touch of soldiers roused her gift. She lifted her head, stiff from sitting oddly, and searched the area suspiciously. After a moment, she saw them, a red splash against the green across the little valley.

  She sprang up. For an instant she had no strength to take a step, and then she gave a despairing cry and began to run again—down the hill toward the path to Geoffrey’s hiding place.

  Chapter 22

  “Dearest Papa,” Roddy wrote, and then stared at the paper.

  Dearest Papa, I’m sorry, I’m sorry—

  She made the pen move again. “I am writing with the utmost urgency. Two days ago, Earnest was arrested—”

  Earnest, my brother…Oh, God, Papa, I’m so afraid.

  “—along with Lord Geoffrey. They have been taken to Dublin to be charged with treason—”

  Papa, Papa, have you heard what they do to traitors? They’re hanged, Papa, and then their heads are—She closed her eyes and fought sickness. Outside the prison—on the palings—Oh, Papa, I can’t bear it—

  “You must come instantly. I have—”

  She looked up. There were voices and footsteps outside Maurice O’Connell’s study. Roddy felt her throat go dry as the lock turned and the door swung open.

  Faelan paused on the threshold.

  Seeing him was like a hard blow. She had expected to feel hate, disgust—but instead her heart reeled under the need to cling to him, to cry out her fear and desperation. As if he were deliverance, instead of treachery.

  He shut the door. The others outside drifted away. They felt sorry for Roddy; they were horrified at this event. They thought she would be glad that Faelan had come at last.

  But they did not guess what he had done.

  She sat staring at him, unable to speak or move. She was glad that her gift was useless now; glad that she did not have to see into the mind that could conceive such vengeance. Better that he should have murdered her and Geoffrey at the cottage, in the heat of anger, than coolly plan this atrocity. It was no action of the moment. It could not be. At one sweep, the arrests removed all that threatened or vexed her husband. The soldiers had withdrawn from Iveragh, Geoffrey was in bonds, and Earnest—who had wanted only to keep her safe and who had made the mistake of trying to intimidate with reckless threats—Earnest, too, was brought down and obliterated.

  Only Faelan was left, unpunished by law or decency.

  He crossed the room, and reached as if to embrace her. He was so good at it, so perfect in deception, his face a mask of exhaustion and worry. His hand came within an inch of her shoulder.

  “Don’t touch me.”

  A viper’s hiss could not have frozen him so fast. He stiffened, and an instant later drew back.

  “Forgive me,” he said. “I’m not yet aware of the new rules of our relationship.”

  “Forgive you.” Roddy turned away. Tears blurred the fragile lines and swirls of veneer on the writing desk. She put her fist to her mouth and whispered, “I will never forgive you.”

  The silence drank in her harsh words. She heard him move. A chair creaked, far away across the room.

  “It seems I’ve been misguided about the way of things,” he said lightly. Tautly. “I’ve been thinking that I was the injured party.”

  She turned on him. “Injured party!” Her mouth curved in vicious humor. “Oh, God, I wish you were injured. I wish you were dead! I’d kill you this moment if I knew a way.”

  He had been sitting and looking a little aside, out the window at the budding branch that whipped and scraped the glass behind her in the rising wind. At that he lifted his eyes. “Little girl,” he said, “I think you know the way all too well.”

  She took a breath that became a sob. “Oh, no. I’m not like you, Faelan; I don’t have that kind of strength. To turn on what I’ve loved and destroyed it—”

  “But we aren’t talking of what you’ve loved, are we? We’re talking of me, of what’s between us—” He stood up, strode to the desk, and took her chin in his hands. “You’ve destroyed that…” His fingers pressed painfully into her skin. “Or was there nothing to destroy? Was it all my hope—my fantasy—that we could make a life here? That there might be some affection in it. Some trust and loyalty.” He let go of her suddenly. “At least a pretense of it.” He shook his head and grimaced. “I’ve known better than to ask for love. The word comes too easily off your sweet lips, cailin sidhe. A fairy gift, all artifice and no substance. All shining surface, like a castle in the distance, and I’ve tried—God, when I think of how I’ve tried to reach it, like some besotted schoolboy—”

  “Of course I don’t love you,” she shouted. She stumbled out of the chair and backed away. “I hate you. I hate you. You’re a murderer—a beast—Why should I love you, when you’d as soon poison me as look at me, if I should get in the way of what you want? I’m afraid. Afraid of you. Afraid and sick at what you’ve done.”

  She found her words become chillingly real as she raved. When she spoke of hate and love, he was still human, still under control, but when she spoke of fear she saw the change, the cold rage that took him and drove the natural color from his face.

  “Afraid of me,” he repeated in a voice of sudden, icy calm. “It’s late for that, my lady.”

  She stared at him, holding herself upright and trembling.

  He glanced at the desk. “And what’s this, then? A letter to Papa? A cry for rescue?” He swept up the paper and began to read in a loud sneer: “‘Dearest Papa, I am writing with the utmost—’”

  The words stopped as if garroted.

  For longer, much longer than it took to read the few remaining words, he looked down at the letter. She could not see his face. The paper moved, crackled in his hand. He dropped the sheet as if it burned him.

  “You trapped them,” she cried. “As if they were nothing but animals!” She drew a choking breath. “If it had only been Geoffrey I might not have guessed, but you sent Earnest into it! You told him where Geoffrey was and you told him to go there, and then you sent the soldiers after him with that trumped-up charge that when he’d tried to arrange passage, it was for himself and Geoffrey, instead of me.”

  Faelan grabbed her by both arms. “How do you know that?”

  She would not tell him. She did not even want to remember those horrible moments when she’d watched them lead Earnest and Geoffrey past in irons—when Earnest had seen her and shouted in his mind for her to stay back, not to interfere—to stay free and get help.

  Not from Faelan, Earnest had warned as he stared at her with his silent orders. Never trust Faelan, whose doing this was.

  She glared up at her husband with furious hate. “It makes no difference how I know. It’s the truth. I know it’s the tr
uth.” She put both hands against his chest and shoved.

  Faelan tightened his grip and shook her. “I told your damned brother to take you to hell with him,” he snarled. “And I told him where to find you.”

  “Then you intended to include me too?” She twisted away, her arms throbbing where he’d held her. “Well—that part didn’t work. I’m a coward—we have that much in common, you and I. I stood by the roadside and watched, and they thought I was a cottier woman.” Her voice took on volume. “Do you understand that, Faelan?” She was almost screaming. “I stood there and watched them take away my brother and my friend—”

  “Your friend!” he roared.

  She took a step back, her heart thumping. Faelan narrowed his eyes. “You aren’t a coward,” he said softly. “Not while you stand there and say that to my face.”

  Roddy drew her shoulders back. “You’re a fool, Faelan.”

  A wave of cynical disgust crossed his face. “Aye, I am that.” He reached into his pocket and took out a small package. “O’Connell gave me this. It came with his last shipment.”

  He tossed the packet onto the desk. Roddy watched it bounce and slide on the polished wood with the force of his careless throw. When she looked up again, he was at the door. Without a word he slammed it behind him.

  She stood with her hands locked before her, staring at the brown packet for a long time. It was marked with Faelan’s name, and Blake and Skipworth, Jewelers and Watchmakers.

  Her chest began to hurt. She put her locked hands to her mouth and pressed them against her lower lip. It seemed very hard to breathe suddenly; her throat was tight and aching and her eyes and nose stung. A little sound escaped her, a tiny moan of grief. She stood there until she felt the muffled thump of the O’Connells’ front door; until she saw Faelan through the window, wheeling his horse out of the courtyard below…until moisture splashed onto the back of her hands and slipped down her wrists to make silent drops on the floor.

  She swallowed, and drew a deep, ragged breath. Without looking again at the paper packet, she opened the door and ran out of the room.

  Roddy’s hair whipped across her mouth, a sliding, pricking touch. She squinted, turning her head from the spray, watching Derrynane Bay roll past and break upon the strand in fountains of green and cream. The storm was rising. She knew she should return to the shelter of the house and trees on the hills above. Instead she walked farther out the spit of sand.

  The ruined abbey drew her, set on its higher rocky ground above the tide. Through the arched, empty windows she could see the water and clouds beyond, driven by wind that moaned past the crumbling walls.

  As she looked, a shadow took shape and life somewhere beyond. She blinked. At first it seemed a trick of sky and sea. She went forward, lost the thing behind one of the abbey walls, and then turned an ancient corner to find Fionn leaning against the stone transept.

  She was dressed in the colors of the storm, white and green and gray that blended into the wild background and stood out starkly against the dark, wet abbey. Roddy opened her mouth to give a greeting, but Fionn laughed and called, “Come away! Come away, I can’t stay here.”

  Roddy gathered her cape and followed, down the hill toward the sea. Some confluence of land and wind created a space of calm in the tempest, a little cove where a seal lay resting above the reach of the waves. Fionn ran ahead, faster than Roddy dared, and stopped to stroke the seal’s silken head. It relaxed under her hand and rolled over luxuriously. When Roddy neared, the animal gazed at her placidly from a liquid brown eye.

  “Go,” Fionn ordered, and gave the seal a little flick about the nose. “Soon it will be too rough to chance.”

  The seal opened its mouth in yawning protest, then rolled upright and made its undulating way toward the water. It paused, breast-deep in the waves, and looked back once. Then it was gone.

  Fionn sat down in the sand. “I can’t stay long.” She looked over her shoulder toward the abbey. “That place is none of mine.”

  Roddy smiled, not understanding, and not caring if she did. “I’m glad you came. It’s been a long time.”

  “Has it?” Fionn smirked and giggled. “Has it?”

  “I tried to find the ring of stones. I never could. I’m sorry. I would have come again if I could have.”

  Fionn tilted her head, gazing out at the sea. Her hair blew in golden waves across her shoulders. “Perhaps you’ll learn the way someday.”

  “I don’t think so.” Roddy bit her lip. “I’m leaving here. I doubt I’ll come back again.”

  Fionn lifted a strand of her hair and played with it idly, batting the tip to and fro. “I said I would tell you a story.”

  “Yes.” Roddy huddled on the sand, lost in a sudden, piercing melancholy for what it would mean to leave this wild land. “Please.”

  “There was a king,” Fionn said. “A great king with three daughters, and the oldest wished to be married. So she went up in the castle, and put on the cloak of darkness which her father owned, and wished for the most beautiful man in the world as a husband.”

  A wave crashed high upon the sand and rolled almost to their feet. Fionn did not flinch or waver.

  She said, “The king’s eldest daughter had her wish. As soon as she put off the cloak, there came a golden coach with four horses, two black and two white, and in it the finest man she had ever laid eyes upon, and took her away.”

  Fionn looked sideways at Roddy with her laughing sly smile. “When the second daughter saw what had happened to her sister,” Fionn said, “she put on the cloak of darkness and wished for the next-best man in the world.”

  Roddy pulled her cape closer around her as the sky darkened to greenish black and the waves rose to pound the sand. They seemed very near, and yet their sound was muffled and distant. She rested her chin on her arms and listened to Fionn’s musical voice above the wind.

  “The second daughter put off the cloak, and instantly there came, in a golden coach with four black horses, a man nearly as fine as the first, and took her away.” Fionn still looked at Roddy. “Then the third sister put on the cloak, and wished for the best black dog in the world.”

  Roddy turned in puzzlement, and Fionn laughed. “Straightaway he came,” she declared, “in a golden coach and four pitch-black horses, and took the youngest sister away.”

  “A black dog?”

  “Aye. And when the first man brought his new wife home he asked her: ‘In what form will you have me in the daytime—as I am now in the daytime, or as I am now at night?’ And his wife answered, ‘As you are now in the daytime.’ So the first sister had her husband as a man in the daytime, but at night he was—” She paused dramatically, as if to see if she had Roddy’s full attention. “—a seal!” Fionn covered her face, her merriment pealing out over the sand.

  “Oh,” Roddy said, and felt quite stupid.

  “And the second man asked the same question of the second sister, and had the same answer, so the second sister had her husband as a man in the daytime and a seal at night.” Fionn was smiling, apparently certain that Roddy was enjoying this story immensely. “Now, when the black dog brought the youngest sister home, he asked her, ‘How will you have me be in the daytime—as I am now in the day, or as I am now at night?’”

  Something stirred in Roddy: a suspicion, a flicker of premonition. She gazed warily at Fionn. “What did she say?”

  “She answered, ‘As you are now in the day.’” The other girl drew a pattern with her finger in the sand. In a strange, gentle voice, she added slowly, “So the black dog was a beast in the daytime, and the most beautiful of men at night.”

  Roddy put her palm to her face, feeling it grow hot with confusion. “Is that the story?”

  Fionn looked back out to sea. She nodded.

  “But that’s not the end,” Roddy cried.

  “Is it not?”

  “No. That can’t be the end! It was only at night he could be a man.”

  Fionn rose. “I must go now.”<
br />
  “You can’t go. Tell me the rest—”

  The sky lightened, and Fionn’s clothes seemed to fade into the background of clouds and sea. Her hair drifted in a golden mist around her head. “I don’t know the rest,” she said.

  “Oh, no,” Roddy moaned, burying her face in her hands. “I need to know the end. Please.”

  Her only answer was the sound of the wind. She looked up, and the strand was empty. The day had turned bright and blue around her. In the light ripple of waves, a seal dove and splashed, looking back at Roddy for a moment before it gave an echoing bark and disappeared.

  She stood up, and began to run. By the time she reached the O’Connells’ house, she was gasping for breath. Maurice was just emerging from the stable to join his huntsman and the pack of beagles milling in the court. He looked up at her stumbling figure in shock.

  “Mr. O’Connell—” Roddy took a gulp of air. “Mr. O’Connell—do you know where my husband has gone?”

  “Lady Iveragh, are you all right?” He strode toward her. “Where in God’s name have you been? Saints above, child, we’ve been searching shore and hills over for you!”

  “His Lordship,” Roddy repeated. “Is he here?”

  “No indeed. He left four days ago, just before you disappeared.” Maurice reached out. His thin, strong hands closed over her shoulders, his sharp eyes searching her for signs of injury. “I don’t know where he went, but I’ve been in a dread that he’d return to find you gone. We were just going out with dogs again. My dear child, my dear, dear child, we’d given up hope. Where have you been?”

  “I’ve been on the island.” She waved vaguely back toward the bay and the abbey. “Not long.”

  “Not long? My lady—four nights we’ve been searching.” He let go of her, and spread his arms to take in the ravaged trees and littered lawn. “Four nights and five days, and the worst spring storm in fifty years.”

  Roddy found herself on a red-coated arm as she descended the gangplank onto Pigeon House quay. “’Tis all come to naught,” the Dublin yeoman said positively, in answer to a question she had not even asked. “All the jails are full, and we’ve had quantities of pikes surrendered. I’ve seen none of the flogging, but ’tis awful to hear—” He stopped himself, remembering that he was trying to reassure his companion, not regale her with the stories of how it had taken three hundred lashes before some of the conspirators would reveal where the pikes were hidden.

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