The regency romances, p.119
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       The Regency Romances, p.119

           Laura Kinsale
 

  Faelan blinked. He bit his lip, not knowing the right answer to that. To be ignorant—that was the first sin before his father, but it seemed now that knowledge was worse.

  His mother stepped behind Faelan, put her hands on his shoulders. He felt the brush of her stiff skirt against his back and legs. “He’s quite old enough to make his own decisions. Let him speak.”

  His father ignored her. In a low and frightening voice, he said, “You had best be sure you understand it, boy. Understand it well, for if you finish those lines, be certain that you’re no son of mine.”

  Faelan blinked, hearing the dire tone more than comprehending the words. He stood, caught between his parents, while his mother’s fingers hurt him, digging into his shoulders.

  “That’s not fair, Francis—”

  “Not fair!” His father made a furious move toward them. Faelan took a step back against his mother’s skirts, frightened of the wild look on his father’s face. He felt her accept that move, slide her hands across his body and forehead and pull him into her protectively.

  “Don’t touch us,” she hissed.

  “Not fair,” his father repeated with a sneer. “You speak of that, when ’tis you who taught him this abomination.”

  “I want what’s best for him!”

  “You want what’s best for yourself. ’Tis easy enough to see. You want your assemblies and your ball gowns and your theaters—”

  “Yes—I miss all that,” his mother cried. “Of course—when every happiness is denied me, when I’m locked in this great haunted prison, I wish for some small relief! I married you for love, Francis, in an Anglican church—against my parents, against my brother—against all those who knew best. I never thought you’d return to this Popish mummery and force me to waste away in a place that gives me nightmares—” She was weeping now, stroking and plucking at Faelan’s hair, her fingers shaking with her voice. “These strange servants and weird airs—’tis unchristian! ’Tis no work of God that makes music play in the dead of night—and the lights—that damned harp of yours—”

  His father glared. “Imagination,” he said sharply. “You let your nerves run away with you.”

  “I don’t! Oh, Francis—Come to me again, don’t make me stay alone.” She held out her hand. “I need you. I need you with me when it’s dark. It’s been so long, and I’m so afraid—”

  His father stared at her, the hard line of his mouth changing, weakening. He turned abruptly away. “I can’t. I know you, Christina. You’ll use it against me. You twist everything. Another child—How should I risk that, when already you bribe my son to damn what I teach him? How much worse if you had another pawn, to whisper in their ears that they might steal it all if they forswear their religion and their heritage?”

  “Francis—”

  “No.” His father gripped the curtain with white fingers.

  “All right,” his mother cried. “Live here like a monk, then! I’m taking him. My son won’t grow up in this place, surrounded by priestcraft and night hags.”

  “Your son!”

  “Mine. You said he was none of yours. The law will take him from you anyway, when he professes the Established Church.” She was pushing Faelan toward the door in a rush of stiff skirts. “My brother will be guardian—”

  His father cut off the words, grabbing her arm and dragging her around to face him. “By God, you forget yourself. You’re my wife—you won’t be stealing my own son from me.”

  “Freeing him! Look at him. Do you think he wants to stay with you? I’ve only given him the words to get away.”

  Backed into his mother’s skirts, Faelan looked up into his father’s eyes in a misery of confusion and fear. He hated it when they shouted, and this time was worse than ever before.

  “Is that true?” his father demanded. “Do you want to go away from here?”

  “No, sir,” he said quickly.

  “And that damned blasphemous oath she’s taught you—you won’t be mouthing that to any man?”

  Faelan swallowed and shook his head.

  “Faelan,” his mother wailed. “We can leave here. We can go away and be happy. He won’t be able to stop us. Just speak your lines to the vicar, and we’re free of this.”

  “Swear to me.” His father pulled him forward, both hands on his arms. “Swear to me you’ll never do so.”

  Faelan bobbed his head. “I swear, Papá.”

  “Oh, God!” His mother gave him a jerking shake. “You don’t know what you’re saying!”

  His father grabbed her wrists, shoving her hands away. For a moment they fought, his mother’s panting whimpers loud in the room’s quiet. But without effort, his father pulled her off and held her. Faelan saw her then, her face a mask of rage and frustration, like some cornered animal hissing in a trap.

  “Mamá,” he said, in muffled dismay.

  His father let her go, with an oath and a push, and swung away. And like an animal again she moved, reaching for the nearest thing, the heavy iron stand where the fire tongs hung. The tongs fell onto the hearth with a ringing clatter. Faelan watched in dumb fascination as she lifted the stand by its dragon-shaped head, looking dainty and small and impossibly weak against his father’s broad shoulder as he looked back. But her face—her face had nightmares in it, and the metal swung and his father fell, still turning, with a noise that went to Faelan’s bowels and wrenched them, and the black iron rose and came down again…

  He stood there, with his mouth slack and his mind blank. When it was finished she came to him and knelt, holding his face between her hands. “This is your fault. Do you hear me?” Her teeth showed as she spoke, like a vicious small dog’s, and there was nothing human, nothing of his mother in her voice. “You did this, Faelan. You should have listened to me.”

  Her fingers came away from his cheeks, sticky, darkening red. She looked down at her hands, and up at him. As if he were still a child, she tugged out his shirttail and wiped her fingers on it, and he stood there and let her, unable to move then, or later when she tipped the oil pot and spilled it across the floor and threw the candle down. Only when she grabbed his hand and dragged him from the rising flame did he move, tugged out the door and into the black hall.

  “Papá,” he whispered as the door slammed shut on the reddening glow. “Papá.”

  His mother yanked him behind her.

  Someone wept.

  He thought it should have been himself, but it was his mother, sitting on the ruin’s steps, curled and rocking like a child.

  Faelan looked at her, huddled and small and terrified, unwilling to look beyond to the bright figure that burned there.

  “I came,” the other said to him. “That night, when she left you—right there, at the edge of the drive. The fire she set was yet small. She went to Derrynane, to pretend she had not been here. Do you remember? I took you…elsewhere. I let you sleep in my arms.”

  Faelan raised his eyes. As if it were only a moment’s time, the memory came clear in his mind—a shining in the darkness, a voice like the wind. “Yes.” His man’s voice was hoarse, recalling a child’s anguish and a strange comfort. “I asked you to undo it all.”

  She answered softly, “I did what I could. I made you forget.”

  “Kindness.” He leaned on the doorframe, seeking solidity, feeling the stone cold and hard against his spine. Still crazy, he thought. This is not real.

  But the memory of his father’s murder was a true one. That he knew.

  All those years, and finally he knew.

  He said, “Your kindness is a curse, sidhe.”

  She was sunlight and moonlight, and she shrugged like the blithest youth. “That is the way of it, sometimes.”

  He blinked at her, his eyes defeated by the taunting shimmer.

  Still crazy.

  “And the rest—” he said bitterly, to the threshold at his feet, because it was easier to look there. “All the other times. Have you been so kind as to make me forget every wickedness I’ve done in
my life?”

  “That is another matter. Another trespass. Ask this one who weeps for it.”

  He looked up again, though his mother would not. She only curled tighter, moaning softly.

  Above her it seemed that the bright figure opened a palm, and a white blossom fell from it. Like a small wave breaking foam upon the shore, the luminous flowers sprang up from every crack in the pavement and spread across the hill. “Ask her what can be done with stolen perfume. She’s taken my flowers and made you sleep, my friend. Done murder in your name. The gentle things, the small creatures, grieve us most—tortured and sacrificed at her bidding. You were but a child then, and she would have you believe in your own madness.”

  He remembered those midnights, dragged up from sleep to stand in line before a hard-eyed master. Even now the sweat broke out on his palms, a child’s sick fear to see the blood on his nightclothes, to be sure that something hideous and alien lived inside his skin.

  Mamá, did you do that to me? Did you hate me so much?

  The bright one leaned on her horse’s shoulder, sliding her fingers through its shaggy mane. Where she combed, he thought strands of silver and gold grew in shining profusion, trailing out in the wind. “As for the rest…I cannot speak for human machinations. A draft of this to make you sleep, a note in your handwriting, a word of falsehood whispered to a foolish young girl…and when you wake, you wake miles from where you last remember. I think much evil can be done in such a way. But she can tell you.”

  He thought he must be truly mad, to listen to light and shadow speak and think it proved his sanity. But he clung to the words, to the hope that it was truth. “Drugged,” he said harshly. “Have I been such a fool as that?”

  “A fool, aye. A man convinced of his own guilt. A man who feared to look into his own mind. The answer was easy, if you had but questioned.” She smiled, a sharp, slim figure of mischief and dreams. “But I gave you another gift, my friend. Have you not guessed it yet?”

  He had guessed. He looked at last where he’d not had the strength to look before—at his wife, who was storm light made into sweet reality, who had haunted his waking and his sleep, as bright and golden and elusive as the one who stood beside her.

  But real. Flesh and blood.

  He smiled then, because Roddy would not return his look—a slow, sensuous smile as he thought of her body beneath his, warm as sunlight on the earth. “Little girl,” he said huskily. “Come here.” He wanted to hold her and make love to her and lose them both in it forever…the way she felt, the shape of her, the warmth and scent and softness…

  Roddy obeyed him, finding her cheek pressed hard against a solid chest. His arms were around her, his breath blew harsh against her ear and throat and temple, his lips seeking, defining, as if by brute contact he could hold her and make her real.

  She turned her face into his body. She could not look at him. It was still too new, this clear touch of her husband’s mind. Still too raw. To know the way he wanted her—spur to his memory, the force that had battered down the wall…

  There had been no skill in that, none of Fionn’s elegance or Senach’s wisdom. If Roddy was one of them, she was sadly lacking in their mystic grace.

  But she had done it.

  He was open to her now.

  Tentatively, she lifted her eyes. His hands sought her cheeks and helped her—forced her—until she looked directly up at him.

  The intensity hurt. It made her throat ache. The fortress of pride and defiance lay in ruins. He was not the Devil Earl—he was only a man, and he needed her. Wanted her. Let her look at him and see his soul laid bare and still loved her, with a fierceness that made her want to laugh and cry at once. The way he saw her…she never would have guessed: her strangeness he thought beautiful; her obstinance he called courage; her childish whims were joy and laughter to him, who had never known innocent laughter before.

  Wind and mist gathered, made a voice that murmured, “Is this your choice, then, little sister?”

  Roddy turned her face, still leaning in Faelan’s arms. Fionn sat the brown steed with her long hair mingling in its silver mane. There was a sadness about her bright figure, a gentle dimming of her light.

  “Fionn,” Roddy whispered.

  “Shall we let you stay?”

  Roddy felt her husband’s body, firm and real against her. She bowed her head and said, “Yes.”

  “It is not a gift. There is a price.”

  “What price?” Faelan’s voice was gruff, his hands tightening around Roddy in suspicion.

  Fionn looked at him. “My friend, it matters not to you what price. For you there is a debt, not a payment.” She gestured toward the dowager countess, still huddled in blank misery on the steps between them. “Tell me that first, then—how is justice to be done?”

  “I care nothing for your justice,” he said harshly. “Leave my mother be.”

  Fionn smiled, heartless and sly and shining. “A fit punishment. As she is, so she will be. A frightened child for her lifetime.”

  “Curse you—”

  “Do not curse me, Faelan Savigar. We stand fair and even now.”

  Roddy felt him take a deep breath, but he held back the oath that blossomed in his throat.

  Fionn said softly, “Lassar, little sister—have you guessed the price of staying?”

  Roddy nodded and blinked, seeing only a shimmer of light through sudden tears. “You’ll not come back,” she whispered. “I’ll not see you again.”

  “Does that trouble you most?” One of last summer’s leaves skirled across the ancient steps. “You give up other things as well.”

  Roddy shook her head. She could not speak. No farewell would come through the ache in her throat.

  Wistful laughter blew on the failing breeze. “You will not see me, little sister. But perhaps I will be there.”

  “Fionn,” she said brokenly.

  “Is it what you wish for…” Fionn’s voice was fading. “Do you give back all our gifts?”

  Faelan’s grip shifted and found Roddy’s hands, closing hard, a silent plea. But she knew the answer. She had always known it. She twined her fingers gladly with his, choosing Faelan, choosing love, over any other magic. “Yes,” she whispered.

  “’Tis done. The gifts returned.” Sunlight broke through the vanishing clouds, making transparency of Fionn’s lithe figure. Then suddenly she smiled, still mischievous even in her passing. “I leave you—with one more.”

  Roddy opened her mouth to speak. But farewell was too late. Fionn was already gone. A gust of wind took the flowers, lifting bright petals in a whirling cloud that made MacLassar sneeze and Senach shake his weathered head, and streamed like snow across the dowager countess in her huddled place on the stairs.

  The white mist drifted out across the wild hills and the empty fields and the fire-blackened pastures. It spread down to the sea and up to the mountains and over all that Roddy could see of Iveragh.

  And wherever the mist settled, its radiance sparked and then faded, and the land turned to living green.

  Laura Kinsale

  LAURA KINSALE began her working life as a petroleum geologist–a career which consisted of waking up at 3 a.m. on random Saturdays and driving hundreds of miles across west Texas to sit on drilling rigs, wear a hard hat, and attempt to boss around oil-covered males considerably larger than herself. This, she decided, was pushing her luck. After several years in the oil business, she packed up her dog and her husband David, whose greatest sorry is that He Never Gets To Go Fishing, and moved in to her great-grandmother’s restored farmhouse to write. David still Never Gets To Go Fishing, but Laura finds her book deadlines a great excuse to get him to go to the grocery store. She has since acquired a horse named Firedrake, was once accidentally elected a regional representative for Romance Writers of America (no one else ran), and is planning to get some exercise and go on a diet tomorrow.

  All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this ebook or a
ny portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

  These are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Midsummer Moon Copyright © 1987, 2010 by Hedgehog Inc.

  My Sweet Folly Copyright © 1997, 2013 by Hedgehog Inc.

  Uncertain Magic Copyright © 1987, 2010 by Hedgehog, Inc.

  Cover design by Lesley Worrell

  ISBN: 978-1-5040-5299-3

  This edition published in 2018 by Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.

  180 Maiden Lane

  New York, NY 10038

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  Laura Kinsale, The Regency Romances

 


 

 
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