The regency romances, p.117
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       The Regency Romances, p.117

           Laura Kinsale
 

  Faelan walked up behind them. “I’d forgotten that beast,” he said, and then belied his disgusted tone by tossing MacLassar a leftover pasty from their dinner on the road. Roddy turned and smiled up at him, but as he met her eyes his blue ones faltered. His thick lashes swept downward and he found somewhere else to look.

  Roddy bit her lip. It had been so since Kenmare, since she’d touched him with her gift: the old and miserable experience of seeing someone’s glance slide away from hers as if it burned.

  She hugged MacLassar again, a hard squeeze to hide the way her mouth crumpled up and her throat went heavy and too thick to speak. He squealed a complaint and shookw out of her hands, bounding after Faelan in hopes of more food. Roddy came to her feet slowly, watching her husband walk away without waiting for her.

  He didn’t realize it yet, but Roddy knew already whom he would find inside. The babble of thought reached her, an incoherent stream, instantly recognizable amid the quiet surroundings of Derrynane. Before Faelan came to the front steps, the door burst open and the dowager countess swept out.

  “Thank God!” she cried, running down the stairs with a quick, nervous tripping. Her blue eyes seemed huge in her thin face. “Roderica, my love—thank the Lord. They’ve been telling me—I can’t credit it—we must leave immediately. Faelan, you will arrange for it on the instant. My God, the reports we’ve had, and Lord Geoffrey and your brother part of the plot! I can’t imagine—Did you have any idea? Your own brother, my dear—You must be crushed. To think that I suggested that he come in my stead. And for you to go chasing off after him in that way—But Faelan’s brought you back now, and we’ll be out of this horrid place tomorrow. I should have insisted long ago; I knew I should have…”

  Roddy drew back, uncomfortable and dizzied by the dowager countess’ wild dance of thought and speech. The monologue went on at length, and then suddenly broke off, as the countess looked up at Faelan with that way she had—the expression of having just seen him standing there.

  A shock of fear blazed through the countess, even as her mind whirled with expressions of affection. She went forward toward her son with hands outstretched. The sickening force of that strange, vivid juxtaposition of thought and emotion made Roddy’s eyes blur. She pushed it away with frantic effort.

  “Faelan, it is dreadful, isn’t it?” The dowager countess’ words seemed to come from a distance to Roddy, so powerful were the barricades she’d been forced to raise. “Lord Geoffrey. I can’t credit it. He’ll hang now. He’ll hang for certain. And betrayed…hunted down like a dog! Who would do such a thing? Who could destroy that man—that good, kind man—He’s been your friend for years, through everything you’ve—”

  “Your Ladyship,” Roddy said, holding tight to her barriers and trying to stop the unfortunate flow of words. “I’m so sorry that you came out of worry for me. You should have stayed safe in England.”

  “Aye.” Faelan walked past her without offering his hand. “You know how much you dislike the place.”

  “But for Roderica’s sake.” The dowager countess seemed insensible to her son’s antagonism. “I couldn’t leave her here. Oh, no. I never wanted you to bring her here. It was a crime, Faelan. A crime.”

  He left her talking on the step. She turned to Roddy, her fine lips set in a pout. “Infuriating boy,” she said. “I don’t see how you abide him. Come in. Come in, Maire O’Connell is waiting to greet you. I’ve been here two weeks, and we’ve all been on tenterhooks. Tenterhooks, my dear. The things we’ve heard, you simply would not believe…”

  Roddy took a breath, knowing she would have to endure the countess at least long enough to express proper greetings to their host and hostess. And worse, she dreaded to tell them that she had no news of Davan, whom she’d last seen lying unconscious in a Dublin alley.

  Her fears of prostrating the intrepid O’Connells with worry on that score proved groundless. “Abandoned you to join the rebels?” Maurice roared when he heard. “Curse that brainless pup. Dublin stands—we’ve had that news a week since. By damn, he bids fair to make his exit on the scaffold if he don’t get clear and hie himself back on the double.”

  “He’s an O’Connell,” Maire said, in her voice of ancient and fine-tempered steel “He’ll be making his own choices and living with them.”

  “Aye. Or die by ’em.” Maurice looked gloomy. “Stupid young hothead. Wasting himself on this outrage, when I might have made a man of him in our own operations.”

  “I’m sorry,” Roddy said, with heartfelt regret. “But I couldn’t stop him.”

  “’Tisn’t your fault, lass. ’Tis this craziness that’s got the country by the throat. Great God, it’s madness! Sheer madness. What could be worse for us than French purges and French republicanism?”

  “No tax on French brandy,” Faelan suggested dryly.

  The elegant old smuggler inclined his head with a brittle smile. “True enough, my friend. God knows where this business will end.”

  Roddy escaped finally, pleading headache and backache and anything else that would get her at a distance from the dowager countess’ incessant mental babble. She had forgotten how it plagued her—or perhaps it was worse here, where everything about her talent seemed worse. In her room, she changed from the ill-fitting riding habit she’d managed to obtain from a seamstress in Clonmel into a familiar skirt and shawl, and slipped out the rear garden onto the path that led to the bay.

  She knew what drew her. The hope of meeting Fionn again was like a sweet, distant melody that called Roddy to come, to listen closer and learn the song. She pulled off her shoes and stockings and walked along the sand, allowing her barriers to ease as the cool water slid up the beach and ran between her toes, sucking the sand from beneath her heels as it retreated back to sea.

  She squinted against the late sun on the horizon. The abbey and its little island were cut off by the tide. No gay, golden figure beckoned to her this day; no seal played in the gentle surf. Roddy sat down on a rock, disappointed.

  She thought of Faelan. It was easier at a distance, just as it was easier to think of Fionn if Roddy did not try to visualize her features too clearly or concentrate too hard on the memory of her voice. Roddy’s mind skittered away from those things, from contradiction and illogic, from a reality that shifted and slid as easily as the beach sand drained from beneath her feet.

  Time lost. Days. I don’t remember, Faelan had said, and it was either lies or madness. She was caught between what she did not want to believe and what she did not dare to.

  He would not look at her anymore. That frightened her most of all.

  The empty strand seemed to mock her with its memory of a storm-swept day. You’ve lost time, too. Yet the thought seemed so impossible that she dismissed it. To give in to such doubts was dangerous—a commitment to irrationality that, once made, could never be recalled. There would be some explanation, some logic, if only she could find it.

  She stood up and lifted her damp hem, climbing above the wave swash, carrying her shoes and stockings, picking her way among the wrack, across the small dunes and up the path. Sand clung to her ankles and fingers. Strange leaves padded the path beneath her bare feet, odd tropical shapes that Roddy had seen nowhere but in the peculiar mild climate of Derrynane that was different even from Iveragh’s just over the nearby pass. Here where the mountains made a palisade to the north and the wind blew off the warm sea currents, it never grew cold enough to frost and the plants grew in green profusion.

  At the top of the path, she stopped to drag on her damp stockings before walking through the stableyard. A fallen log made a spongy seat as she worked at the gritty wool. Half consciously, she began renewing barriers, sensing the countess even at a distance. But the sound of a voice made her look up and open her gift.

  Rupert Mullane walked out into the yard with one of the many O’Connell cousins—one of the younger ones, who claimed no seniority or authority. It angered Mullane; his mind was full of offense that he had been pawned
off with this junior member of the clan. Too busy, he fumed over Maurice’s blunt excuse. Too damned high and mighty. Rupert took his horse’s reins from the stableboy and mounted, giving a curt answer to the young man’s offer of a later appointment. Thinks I’ve not the means to buy. He’ll be finding out, Aye, he’ll be seeing that my gold’s as good as the next man’s.

  He wheeled the horse. Roddy stood up just his gaze passed over her.

  Their eyes met. A shock went through him: guilt and fear, and Earnest’s face. For an instant Mullane held her look, and then he put his heels to his mount and galloped out of the yard.

  Roddy dropped her shoes. She began to run, into the house and up the stairs, calling Faelan’s name. He stepped out of Maurice O’Connell’s study, frowning question at her windblown figure in stocking feet.

  “Faelan,” she panted, grabbing his arm. “I have to speak to you. I know—” She stopped, looking toward Maurice, choking back the words that wanted to tumble off her tongue.

  Their host smiled indulgently as he walked into the hall and waved back toward the study. “Please. We can finish our discussion after dinner.”

  Roddy preceded Faelan inside without ceremony. The door shut behind Maurice. She managed to control herself until she was sure he was out of earshot, and then turned to Faelan. “I know who did it!” she blurted. “I know who informed on Geoffrey and Earnest!”

  He’d been looking toward her, frowning at her feet. At that, he raised his head. His face went suddenly and utterly neutral.

  “It wasn’t you, Faelan. It wasn’t. It was Rupert Mullane.”

  His shoulders stiffened. “How do you know that?”

  She opened her mouth, and found herself without excuse. In her anxiety to tell him, she had not stopped to think. Hastily she said, “He told me.”

  Faelan’s glance was too penetrating. She looked away, fingering her skirt.

  “Told you what?”

  The question was like a lance. Roddy sought madly for a plausible answer.

  “He said he did it. For the reward. It was a thousand pounds sterling. I’d been thinking—you know I had. I figured it out, and when I saw him in the yard just now I asked him, and he said I was right.”

  The last came out fast and breathlessly, and ended on a swallow as Faelan gripped her shoulders. “He admitted it?”

  This time it was she who could not meet his eyes. “Yes.”

  “You’re lying.” He pushed her away. “God, don’t do this to me.”

  “I’m not lying!” she cried to his back. “Mullane did it. I swear.”

  He put both fists behind his head. “I don’t remember.” His harsh sound rang in the room. “I can’t remember.”

  “I’m telling you—you didn’t do it!”

  “You’re lying, damn you.” He turned on her savagely. “Mullane never told you that.”

  “You saw him! Faelan, think of it. Try to think of it. You must have seen him on the road that day.”

  He looked at her, met her eyes. The wall cracked—one instant of desperation, of fury and raw fear. The face that broke from his memory was not Mullane’s. It was older, and younger—female and male, impossible and inhuman. It faded into her own: her eyes and chin and cheekbones. Faelan recoiled. “No,” he shouted. “No, damn you, God damn you—Leave me alone.”

  Roddy raised her hands uselessly, too late and too little to hold him. The wall had slammed down. The study door slammed behind him with the same furious rejection, leaving her alone.

  Unwanted. Fearsome.

  Sidhe.

  Chapter 25

  The black ruin of the great house sprang out of a hillside of purple and gold—of heather and gorse that blazed in the late-spring sun. Where Roddy had worked to tame a garden, the wild Kerry flowers waved glorious ridicule, mocking any civilized plant to match their form and color.

  She walked along the forecourt where weeds already pierced through the cracks, and watched as MacLassar rooted beneath the crowded, untrimmed shrubs.

  Faelan moved beside her in silence. He was not even looking at the house; he was staring at the weeds, his hands in his pockets and his mouth set.

  “It’s not too late to begin planting again, is it?” She gave her voice a deliberately optimistic air. “Perhaps you’ll plow me a garden this time.”

  He looked out at the sea. “You don’t have to stay here, Roddy. You don’t have to spend all your money on this.”

  Roddy pursed her lips. For her the lowest moment had come when she’d seen the stable, roofless, with a few weak new stalks of grass among the scorched walls where their bed of sweet straw had been.

  She reached to take his hand, but he moved away. He picked up a loose stone and sent it skipping across the pavement with a quick, savage move.

  “Go home with my mother,” he said. “She seems eager enough to have you.”

  And you’re not.

  Roddy said nothing aloud. Her chest hurt. It was a worse hurting—a duller, deeper pain than the piercing doubt of those days after the arrests. She had cried then, but this pain was beyond tears.

  He did not want her anymore.

  She recognized the signs. It took no talent to read the way he avoided her; the way he cut his answers short and found excuses to leave a room when she entered. She had touched him with her gift, and now she was exiled, as she had been all her life.

  He drifted away from her, up the hill behind the house. She had a moment’s thought of following, and then of the welcome she was likely to receive, and stayed where she was in the forecourt.

  The wind blew in the gorse and through the empty windows. She sat down on the steps and held out her hand to MacLassar, who came and plopped down beside her—a small comfort, an animal, who had no hopes or vices or needs beyond the moment; nothing to hide, and nothing to fear from her.

  “Nothing to hide,” a soft voice echoed her thought, and Roddy looked up to find Senach leaning on a staff on the step below her.

  Once she would have fled, as Faelan was escaping her, but now in her misery even Senach’s uncanny company seemed better than the loneliness. She sat still on the steps and looked at him.

  “You’re changin’, Lassar. You’re learnin’, I do believe.”

  “Am I?” She lowered her eyes, staring listlessly at the dark, heavy wool of her skirt where it stretched across her knees. Learning what? That everything I wanted is impossible?

  Senach smiled. “Dreams,” he said. “What is it you want?” His voice had changed. The old man’s quaver, the thick brogue faded. “What is it you want, and what is it you fear?”

  “I want Faelan,” she whispered to her knees.

  “And your fear?”

  She bent her head and hugged her legs.

  “What do you fear?” Senach repeated softly.

  “I fear…” Faelan.

  What he might be.

  What I might be.

  “All your life,” Senach said, “you’ve been turning from this.”

  She looked up. For less than an instant, Senach shimmered in the wash of midday light, something far and different from a stooped old man. Then she blinked the glare away, and he was only Senach.

  Only Senach.

  “What do you want?” he asked again.

  Faelan.

  “He’s lost. ’Tis dark.”

  I have to help him.

  “He fears you, Lassar. He fears you as he fears himself.”

  I’d never hurt him. Never. How could I hurt him?

  “The truth is yours. You’ve touched him, and he sees you for what you are.”

  She stared at Senach in despair.

  “He doesn’t want me now,” she whispered.

  “No,” Senach said with gentle cruelty. “He doesn’t.”

  She closed her eyes against his words. “I love him.”

  “You do not know him.”

  “I know him.” She scrambled up and cried, “He isn’t what they say.”

  Senach shook his head. “You
think so. You hope so. You do not know.”

  “He didn’t betray my brother and Geoffrey.”

  Senach moved his hand, a wave of dismissal. “’Tis darker than that. Far darker.”

  Roddy’s breath quickened. “He’s not mad. He never killed his father.” She backed a step. “He never did that.”

  The blind eyes looked through her, mocking her certainty.

  You think so. You hope so. You do not know.

  “He didn’t! I love him!”

  Senach stood before her, a weathered tree, brown and ancient and all-wise. “Not enough.”

  She cried, “What, then? What’s enough?”

  “The truth.”

  “But—” She stopped, the words lost in fright and sudden understanding. “No,” she said. “He’s forgotten it. He’s buried it. I won’t use my gift to plague him over what’s past and done.”

  “Your gift. Your curse. You’re afraid, Lassar. You make excuses.”

  She closed her eyes. “I won’t,” she moaned. “I won’t do it.”

  She felt Senach’s sightless gaze like cold burning on her skin. He said, in a voice of taunting lightness, “Why will you not, Lassar—if you think him innocent?”

  She looked down at her hands, twisted white before her. “Oh, God, let us stay as we are.” Faelan suffered her now, at least. He did not force her away. By her folly of trying to help, of finding a crack in the wall, she was reduced to this: that he tolerated her and held her at a distance. How much worse if she should do as Senach asked—

  “Let you,” he echoed. “You beg that of me? But the power is none of mine. ’Tis in your hands, this choice. On your head.”

  “I don’t want it. I don’t want it!”

  “Aye. As you don’t want the gift you have. But I will tell you, Lassar. ’Tis more than a gift. ’Tis what you are.”

  “But if he finds out…oh, please—if he should guess…” She remembered her mother, and the mark of a blow on a little girl’s cheek. Panic began to rise in her breast. “It can’t be the only way to help him.” Roddy drew a sobbing breath. “He’d hate me for it. Do you understand? He’ll hate me!”

 

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