The regency romances, p.95
The Regency Romances, p.95Laura Kinsale
Faelan said, “Iveragh surpasses it. A thousand times.”
His mother laughed. “Nonsense. Iveragh is a wilderness. You won’t take poor Roderica there—I shan’t allow it.” She turned to Roddy. “Stay here, my dear, if you don’t care to come with me. I shall be back before Whitsuntide, and then we will have such a season! We’ll soon remedy this awful boy’s oversights.” She shook her head and put out her hand toward Roddy. “Not even an engagement ball, my poor darling child! He should be whipped, for marrying you in this slipshod fashion. Why—where were you wed? I wouldn’t put it past him to have carried you off to Gretna Green!”
Faelan looked toward her with an arrested expression. He set his goblet down and said, “We were married in the Delamores’ church in Helmsley. The records are in perfect order. You may be sure that I’ll make certain everyone is aware of that.”
The dowager countess sighed. “I’m vastly relieved. I hadn’t wanted to say anything, you know.”
Though his mother did not speak of them again, the rumors about Faelan seemed to be troubling the dowager countess far more than she admitted. Amid the agitated tumble of her mind, seduction whirled around with thoughts of blackmail notes and dueling pistols. Ellen Webster, she thought, and her brother, and suddenly there was a quick vision of a killing—whose, Roddy could not tell.
But there was no fear in the countess’ mind for Faelan.
“I’ll be leaving town tomorrow,” Faelan said, with a slight nod to the footman who stood behind Lady Iveragh with a dish of bonbons and crystallized fruit. The servant offered the dish to the countess.
Roddy looked up at her husband in startlement. He smiled at her, and added, “For a few days only.”
She opened her mouth, about to offer to accompany him, but before she could speak she received another shake of his head, as faint as the one he had given the footman. Roddy bit her lip and looked down at her plate.
“For several days, Faelan?” Lady Iveragh’s mind flooded with relief, but none of it showed on her face. Ellen Webster, she thought again and again in wild, tangled threads of reason. Time. Speak to her. Brother…brother. Money. Dead. “And where are you going, love? Will you be back by the fourteenth? You needn’t hurry, I’m sure; Roderica and I will spend the entire time shopping. And don’t worry over the cost one instant. I know you haven’t a feather to fly with, but I shall pay for everything. Everything.” She glanced at Roddy. “It will be a pleasure, my dear Roderica. A pleasure. When did you say you would be back, Faelan?”
“In four days, perhaps. Not before.”
The dowager countess gave a nervous little clap with her hands. “Excellent. We shall have such fun. Some jewels for Roderica, I think, now that you’re married. And hats—I have the most marvelous milliner. We won’t miss you at all, Faelan, I assure you. I suppose you’re going into the country to look at cows, or some such thing.”
“Yes,” he said evenly. “I am.”
Lady Iveragh began to laugh, a sound that started with a giggle and ended in mad hilarity. “Cows,” she sputtered. “Oh, my son. My poor, poor boy. Cows!”
He tapped slowly at the crystal globe of the wineglass as his hand rested against the stem. “I don’t wish for Roddy to wear jewelry not of my choosing,” he said, lifting the glass to his lips.
The dowager countess smirked at Roddy. “He wishes to be a bully. But you shan’t be browbeaten, my child. As soon as he’s well and out of sight, we may do just as we please.”
“It might please you to spend your time packing,” Faelan said, without lifting his eyes from contemplation of his glass. “Roddy and I shall leave for Ireland as soon as I return.”
Roddy woke in the midst of a nightmare. She came to confused sense with a cry of fear in her throat, a scream that emerged a choked whimper, and then Faelan’s voice murmured and his arms wrapped around her, soothing, warm and solid and real in the darkness.
She turned into him, pressing herself against his bare chest, breathing in hard gasps. Her heart seemed to have sunk deep in her belly with the jolt and dive of transition to consciousness. It wasn’t real, she thought in relief. It wasn’t real.
Faelan smoothed her hair. “All right?” he asked softly.
She drew a breath and pressed closer, nodding beneath his hand.
His arm tightened around her shoulders as she shivered and clung to him. “Silly child.” He spread his fingers through her hair and his lips grazed her temple. “I’m here.”
Roddy voiced her agreement in a tiny, heartfelt sound of gladness. It was too dark to see him, but she heard the bedclothes rustle and felt his body shift as he turned on his back and drew her against his shoulder. She buried her face in the hollow of his neck and stayed there, breathing his deep scent and feeling the smooth warmth of his skin against her cheek. Her heart was still beating savagely. She could not hear his, but she could feel his steady pulse beneath her fingertips.
In the darkness, he traced the bones of her hand with his forefinger. “What frightened you?” he whispered. “Does the devil walk in your dreams, little girl?”
She raised her fingers and found his, lacing their hands together. “I don’t know. I dreamed…” She frowned, searching for the images, but there was only an echo, a sense of monstrous horror and fear and loss that was vanishing by the moment under the light caress of his thumb against her palm. “I don’t know. It’s gone now.”
He moved again, drawing his arm from beneath her head and rising on his elbow. In the dark, his slow search for her lips encompassed her cheeks and forehead and eyes. “Roddy,” he breathed. She felt his arousal grow hot and hard against her thigh.
She reached for him, sinking gladly beneath his weight as he moved across her. The devil, she thought, and knew that she did not care if he haunted her dreams. Not as long as he fired her body and heart and held her safe in his arms.
Faelan went away, but the nightmares remained. Over and over Roddy woke to the sound of her own sobbing whimpers during the first night he was gone. But the dream-demons always slipped away the moment she came awake, leaving no clear memory, nothing but the sleeping city like a great weight around her.
She missed him desperately. With Faelan she could sleep in oblivion, cradled in his dark, silent peace. In his absence she found herself defenseless. She lay wide awake in the shadows and thought of him: how he had looked on his blood-bay mount; how the horse blew frost and pranced in the dawn chill; how Faelan had smiled at her as she stood forlornly at the top of the front steps. “Four days,” he had promised.
She sat up in the bed and reached for her robe, finding no refuge in sleep this night. Bad dreams she’d had often in her life, sometimes her own and sometimes others’. She knew already that these dreams that plagued her now were not her own.
Her slippers were cold and stiff as she thrust her feet inside. She hardly knew what she intended, but it seemed impossible to lie back down among the bedclothes and give herself up to the dreams. Awake, her talent focused and controlled, she felt only a faint whisper of the troubled mind that raked nightmares through her sleep.
She slipped out the door, into a hall black with shadows, feeling her way with her hands and her memory. Her feet scuffed softly on the marble floor, the only sound in the sleeping house. Down one hall, turn right, down another, while the source of dreams drew stronger and closer.
She stopped outside a bedroom door. Since the night before, Roddy had been certain of the identity of the tormented dreamer. Her gift only confirmed what logic alone made an easy guess. The dreams had come with Faelan’s mother.
Roddy glanced around the dark hall, and found one point of reference in the blackness. At the far end of the corridor, a huge, round window showed the cold glow of the night sky beyond, silhouetting the spidery network of mullions that rayed outward from the center. Using the pattern for a mental anchor and clutching at her barriers like a soldier’s shield, Roddy carefully and slowly opened her talent to the dreams.
It was like leaning out over the edge of a cliff. The depths of fear dragged at her, pulling her down into someone else’s horror. She hung on to the double vision, the image of the window that glittered in starlight, while the dowager countess’ demons twisted and flowed and reached out from the depths with murderous fingers. They had faces, those monsters, they had eyes like blue coals. They wanted her with them, far down in the dark; they howled with frustration and madness. One came up, reaching, growing larger and stronger, wrapping hands of iron around her wrists and filling the night with a screaming curse as it fell back and dragged her down…
With a wrenching effort, Roddy focused on the window and pushed the vision away.
The hall seemed to ring with silence as the dream-voices vanished behind her mental wall. She stood there, breathing hard, and a moment later heard whimpers and a low cry from beyond the closed door. A nearby consciousness sprang suddenly to wakefulness at the sound—the maid, Tilly, who had been wrapped in deep, insensible sleep on a cot in the same room.
She roused herself with the patient aggravation of long habit. Now, now—I’m coming, she thought grumpily. Where’s the bleedin’ bottle? There…candle, no candle…
Several colorful curses directed at the negligent housekeeper occupied Tilly’s mind as she stumbled out of bed to her mistress’ side. Roddy heard the maid speaking sharply to the dowager countess, and knew she had grasped the sleeping woman’s wrist with a hard pinch to wake her.
Lady Iveragh reacted with a short, sharp scream, and then the moans and mutterings of a half-conscious brain.
“Your medicine, m’lady,” Tilly said. “Here’s your medicine. Sit up now and take it, and then you can sleep.”
The words were spoken with the brisk, cruel comfort of a hardened nurse. Like a child, the countess held on to Tilly and obeyed, still half sunk in the dregs of nightmare.
Roddy waited. Tilly shuffled back to her cot, asleep almost before she pulled the bedclothes up. For a while Lady Iveragh ran from imaginary horrors, and then the laudanum did its work. Her mind eased into a soft, silent void.
The dreams were gone. Roddy walked back to her own room, certain that now she could sleep undisturbed.
But when she lay down, no sleep would come.
She could not sleep, knowing that the demons that haunted Lady Iveragh’s dreams all wore her own son’s face.
Geoffrey’s voice rose a little, a dim reflection of the anger and consternation in his mind. He threw his hat and coat at Minshall and strode into the drawing room toward the pianoforte. Son of a…I told him stay put—damn him, damn him—“Where is he?” Geoffrey snapped as Roddy’s music came to an abrupt stop.
She lifted her hands from the keys. In the face of his heated emotion, her answer seemed absurdly mundane. “He’s gone into the country,” she said. “To look at some cattle.”
“Cattle!” Geoffrey stared at her. “Do you expect me to believe that?”
Her spine stiffened. She had never encountered Geoffrey like this: his unfailing courtesy and charm lost in a whirl of thoughts that bordered on panic. “I’m sure I don’t care what you believe. It’s what he told me and Lady Iveragh.”
He turned sharply. “The coun—” It suddenly occurred to him that Roddy was now the countess, and he cleared his throat. “The dowager countess is at home?” Pray God she doesn’t see me, he was thinking. That woman has a mouth like—
“Would you care to speak to her?” Roddy asked in dulcet tones—a small thrust in retaliation for his shortness and reticence.
“No!” He stood up again. “No, I—Don’t disturb her. I’ll need to write Faelan a message. Could I ask you to deliver it—” He hesitated. He was thinking causes and meetings again, and how to reach Faelan with news of new dates. Iveragh leaped into his head: an image of wild mountains, of distance and a desperate need of Faelan. “Privately?”
Roddy fingered the ivory keys and lowered her lashes, reaching for the truth behind the turmoil. “If you tell me what this is about.”
“I can’t, poppet,” he said quickly. “I’m sorry.”
She didn’t have to ask again. The question itself provoked a train of thought in his mind that was as illuminating as any spoken answer he might have given her.
Guns. Geoffrey’s head was full of them. French guns for the United Irishmen, smuggled through the wild western lands of Faelan’s estate on the Iveragh peninsula.
Roddy’s fingers clattered discord on the smooth keys. Philosophy and debates were one thing—but guns…
Only a lifetime of caution kept her from crying out her horror. She sat very still, groping for a question, for a way to find out more without arousing suspicion. She made herself relax her hands, and said in her mildest voice, “Can you not? Do you think my husband has kept what you’re doing a secret from me?”
He froze in his restless pacing.
“I’m fully aware of the circumstances,” she added in blithe dishonesty. “You needn’t be afraid to speak of it to me. And a spoken message will be much safer than a written one, will it not?”
Disbelief, confusion, and anger chased one another across Geoffrey’s mind. “He’s told you? For God’s sake—there was no reason for that; no reason on earth!” He paced to the fireplace and glared into the mirror above. Damn the man; him and his deal—He slid a glance toward Roddy’s reflection. Ah, poppet, he thought, with pain and guilt in his eyes. I shouldn’t have gone along, but there wasn’t a choice. He’d have it his way or not at all.
A memory stood out sharply in his thoughts—Geoffrey trying to explain to Faelan how perfect Iveragh was for the smuggling; how much it would mean to the cause. And Faelan, impatient, unimpressed by Geoffrey’s speeches. Self-centered bastard, Geoffrey fumed even now, try to talk to him of freedom and all he wants to do is plant potatoes.
Roddy stared down at the keys, washed in the flow of Geoffrey’s feelings for Faelan: half affection, half fury, and then an anomalous recollection of some birthday spent entertaining three courtesans—a clear image of Faelan’s ironic smile as he presented the ladies, like a gift, knowing Geoffrey’s more earthly passions. Damned cold devil, Geoffrey thought ruefully. Call me a softheaded fool one day and lie down and die for me the next. So where is he now, curse him?
Geoffrey glanced at Roddy, and the guilt came surging back. Oh, God, I’m sorry, poppet. He wanted you. He wanted you and I needed Iveragh…
Roddy sat frozen, her insides contracting like the swift, sickening drop of flying with a fast horse off a steep bank. She saw the implication of his thoughts clearly.
They had made a bargain, Geoffrey and his friend. In return for Iveragh as a smuggling base, Faelan had gained what should have been impossible for the ill-famed Devil Earl: the sanction of a trusted family friend to ease his way with Roddy’s parents.
Roddy curled her fingers together into a tight ball in her lap. A bargain. As if she were a sack of flour. Something with a market price.
She set her lip and looked up at Geoffrey. But he had forgotten her already, lost in his internal agitation. The smuggling had gone awry somehow, the guns were stalled at Iveragh, and Geoffrey was terrified that Faelan might move ahead too soon with plans to revive the estate. Too much activity—the house, the guns…bloody informers, too risky to start repairs—Geoffrey’s mind went black with rage at the threat. Some bastard—make himself rich off our blood. Sweet Mary, ’twould be so easy. So damned easy.
At that, Roddy’s rigid spine went weak with sudden fear for her husband. If these rebel guns were discovered on Faelan’s estate, it would make no difference whether he was personally involved or not. He would be implicated far more deeply than Geoffrey.
“Give me the message,” she said. “I’ll find him.”
He turned toward her. “Do you know where he is?”
“No. But I’ll find him.”
“Tell me where to start. I can move faster—”
Geoffrey saw the force of her argument all too clearly, but he still clung to the idea that Roddy, as a member of the fragile and benighted female sex, should be kept ignorant of weighty masculine concerns. With a care that might have made her laugh at some calmer moment, he struggled to frame a message in his mind that would inform Faelan and still hide as much as possible from Roddy.
His efforts were pointless. Roddy used her gift with ruthless effect to glean what she needed to know. By the time he said, “Just tell him to contact me, and not to start work,” Roddy was fully aware that the guns might be held up at Iveragh for the next month while the Irish militia bivouacked and held maneuvers on the only road in the district. She also knew that the rebel lieutenant who had commanded the smuggling operation had taken to his deathbed with an inflammation of the lungs, that Geoffrey’s unfamiliarity with the countryside rendered him helpless, and that a parson in Ballybrack who was altogether too curious about ghosts stood in danger of his life if he persisted in nosing around the abandoned mansion at Iveragh.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll tell him. He was planning for us to go as soon as he returned.”
“Don’t,” Geoffrey ordered, appalled at this new possibility. “For the love of God, don’t let him take you to Ireland. Tell him you want to stay in London. That you want to shop, or that you’re sick or—” Pregnant flashed through his mind, but he said “tired of traveling” instead.
“I can manage,” Roddy said, a little testily. Lord, was everyone from the Duke of Stratton on down obsessed with babies?
“I’ll wait in Gravesend with Mary. The White Lion. You may tell him that, too—and have him post down there on the instant,” damn his hide, Geoffrey finished silently.
The Regency Romances by Laura Kinsale / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes