London, December 1553
Snow was falling the night Gabriel and Natalya arrived in London with their convoy. They had left in three days time. It was a cold ride in the carriage for Natalya. Thankfully Clara had been there to keep her company. She was Natalya’s newly appointed chambermaid. Gabriel thought his wife should have one.
It felt so strange going back to London for Natalya. Like going back to a nightmare after living in a dream. She wanted to rush off to Estelle immediately and warn her of the danger she was in, but Gabriel wanted to make a grand entrance at Evan Winthrop’s winter ball. He had one of his men ride ahead to make the announcement that Lord and Lady Devall would be arriving in London for the season.
There was a beautiful house sitting in the midst of London’s upper society that Gabriel rented for them. He wanted to make sure everyone knew they were there.
That meant Robert would know too. What could she say when she saw him? Would he have already moved on? She missed the friend she had in him.
It hurt to know that everything he said he felt for her was easily set aside when she was compromised.
“Come Lady Devall. Let’s get inside where it’s warm,” Clara said, gathering hand bags as the carriage door swung open. She was out the door with the help of Connor in no time.
Natalya pulled her hooded cape tightly around herself and followed behind. The snow fall was thick. She could barely see through it. She felt a firm hand at her elbow and looked up to see Gabriel beside her. His eyes were squinted against the snow and his cheeks were flushed from the cold. He walked her from the carriage, up the steps through the front door.
It was a beautiful place. Natalya loved the color scheme of burgundy and light blues. It was warm. The servants had the fireplace going and were busy taking luggage to their proper places.
Natalya slipped the hood from her head, surveying the place. She felt uneasy, anxious maybe. She kept thinking about her parents and Linda. How they had felt safe in a beautiful home just like this.
Peter had to pay.
He will pay, she thought unbuttoning the cape down the front. He will pay for everything he has done.
Gabriel noticed Natalya’s brows drawn together and the tightness of her jaw. “Is it not to your liking?”
Natalya hadn’t realized he was watching her. She removed the cape from her shoulders. “It’s beautiful.”
“Then why the frown?”
“I was thinking about Peter.” Natalya turned to her husband. He hadn’t begun to remove his coat. “You aren’t staying?”
“No. I have something I need to do before I retire. You relax. I’ll have the servants bring up a tub.”
Natalya caressed his face. “Be careful.”
Gabriel grinned. “Worried beloved?”
He kissed her hard and long. Then patted her on the bottom. “Go. Get some rest. I’ll be back soon.”
Natalya grinned. “I’ll be waiting.”
Gabriel and James had left shortly after to meet with the constable. Gabriel planned to expose Peter at the ball. He wanted to make sure the proper authorities would be there to take him in custody. Though he originally intended to kill him, Cole thought it would be better for everyone if they simply put him in jail.
They met with Constable Langston, a reasonable middle aged man who firmly believed in the law. He wanted to arrest Peter that night, but Gabriel convinced him to wait.
“If he has any accomplices it’ll be easier to catch them if we do it off guard,” Gabriel explained.
Reluctantly, constable Langston agreed. “I’m only doing it in this way because I respect you Lord Devall. And see you as a fair and just man.”
“That I am.”
“Fine. We’ll handle it your way.”
That’s all Gabriel wanted.
On the way back home, James asked him what would he do if Peter tried anything before he was exposed.
“I’ll kill him,” Gabriel answered.
The hot bath was exactly what Natalya needed. It took away the chill of the long journey and put her body at ease. Tomorrow all of society would know she was alive and well, married to Lord Devall. The gossip would be horrible. Engaged to one man, but ran off with another! It would be ugly. No one would care what Peter had tried to do to her. They would call her a wanton whore.
Still, she wanted to go through with the plan. Peter had to pay to all cost. Even if it was her reputation that was the price. It would be worth it if she found justice for her parents and Linda.
Natalya got out of the tub, toweled herself dry and slipped in to her nightgown. She was exhausted. More than she cared to admit. She had been unconscious when she made the journey from London to Winchester. Her bottom was sore from bouncing in the carriage over icy roads!
Now she could relax. Rest before the storm, gather her thoughts and reflect upon her feelings. She was a child when her parents died. When she almost died. And she didn’t cry for them.
They were dead. And she was alone. Estelle had took her in, or moved in rather, but she wasn’t warm or consoling. She went through the motions of being a good aunt and taking care of all Natalya’s material needs. But she was distant. Always distant. Then she married Peter and he was attentive enough at first. Until she started to blossom into a woman. Then he too became distant. Only engaging with her when he was drinking.
Bastard! Murdering bastard!
Taking a deep breath, Natalya calmed herself.
Growing up with Estelle was hard. She wasn’t maternal at all. She never taught Natalya about love and compassion. Never taught her that there was more to life than what society thought was acceptable.
All Estelle ever pushed was for Natalya to marry someone. She always wanted Natalya to be a proper English woman and wouldn’t allow her he speak Russian in her presence. Natalya didn’t have friends because Estelle didn’t think she was proper enough to be around other English girls.
Estelle had problems of her own; She was barren and it was a shame for any woman to be that way. Her peers had snubbed her for years. Made rude remarks about it behind her back. She didn’t have to take Natalya and deal with her depression, but she did.
And Natalya owed her for that.
The door opened slowly. Natalya was lying on the bed at this point and the room was dimly lit. She sat up slowly. Smiled as Gabriel entered the room. He had slipped out of his coat and began to remove his shirt. He grinned, taking in the sight of her.
“You are beautiful,” he said in a low, husky voice.
She reached for him. Her eyes began to water and she felt grateful for the tears. “Come. Let me warm you.”
Concerned, Gabriel went to her, sitting next to her on the bed. He embraced her gently, rubbing her back. She kissed his neck and he felt hot tears on his chin. “What’s wrong?”
She was so emotional! Wrapping her arms around him, Natalya closed her eyes. “I love you Gabriel!”
Gabriel chuckled. “I love you too. That’s no reason to cry.”
Natalya squeezed tighter. “I haven’t cried in eight years and because of you I can feel again.”
Closing his eyes, Gabriel felt his own love for her. She trusted him. Loved him! “I don’t know if I deserve you, but I am thankful you’re mine.”
Gabriel laid her back, caressing her body through her delicate gown. He was on fire with desire! She was absolutely breath taking with her hair spread across the bed like a black wave. Those icy eyes of hers were heavy with want for him. She made him feel alive in ways he never thought possible.
He rose from her, quickly undressed and rejoined her on the bed. She moved to undress herself and he stopped her. “No, not yet.” He kissed her breast through the fabric, lingering on her nipple.
Natalya gasped as the sensations of intense pleasure shot through her. She could never get enough of his touch or the way he looked at her with such love.
She was hot, flushed all over. Gabriel pushed her gown up over her waist and parted her legs. Slowly he entered her sheath. Her moans and his mingled in a sweet harmony as they found delight with each other.
Gabriel slid his hand up her belly between her breasts. Then took one perky nipple into his mouth. She wrapped her arms around him, trembling inside. He took the other breast in the same manner, pushing himself deeper inside. She couldn’t take it anymore. The pleasure was too great. She felt the trembling inside take on a life of its own until she could no longer contain herself and erupted in consuming bliss!
When Natalya cried out that last time Gabriel knew she had found her release. He wasn’t far behind. One last thrust and he found his own release. She held him close as he stayed inside of her. Her arms felt good around him.
“I am spent,” Natalya said breathing heavily. “I have nothing left to give you.”
“You’ve given me enough already.”
Running her fingers through his hair, Natalya smiled. “I don’t know why I ever thought I couldn’t be your wife.”
“You were scared. I had to prove that I could make you happy. And make you feel good.” Gabriel rested his head on her breast.
“You don’t have to prove anything. I know you wouldn’t hurt me or lie to me. I trust you.” Again Gabriel tensed when the topic of trust came up. Natalya wondered why. “Is something wrong?”
Taking a deep breath, Gabriel caressed her waist. He should tell her the truth. That Robert hadn’t given up on her. It was the right thing to do. Yet, he was so close to her now and after everything she’d been through he wasn’t sure how she would react.
Peter may not have successfully raped her, but he did beat and torment her. She had emotional scars. He didn’t want to add more, but how could it be avoided?
She had to hear it from him.
Slowly he parted from her body and lay next to her, propping himself up on his forearm. She stared at him. Waiting patiently for an answer.
“I have to tell you something and I know you’ll be upset. All I ask is that you remember what we have now.”
A feeling of dread formed in Natalya’s gut. “I’m not sure if I want to hear this.”
“I don’t want to say it, but you need to hear it from me.”
Natalya took a deep breath, bracing herself. “Go on.”
“Robert didn’t abandon you. When I came to London on that trip I didn’t tell him that you were with me. He’s never stopped looking for you.”
Natalya felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. All this time she thought he’d given up on her because of Peter and he’d been searching for her! “How… Why would you lie to me?”
“I didn’t lie. I just let you assume he didn’t want you.” It sounded bad to Gabriel’s ears as he said it. He knew she wasn’t going to react well.
Angry, Natalya sat up. “Why did you let me believe that? You knew it was tearing me apart.”
Gabriel sat up too. “I wanted you. I couldn’t imagine letting you go. So I did what needed to be done so you would want me too.”
Natalya slapped him hard across the face. He didn’t expect it and the surprise on his face told him as much. “You bastard.”
“I’m sorry Natalya. I didn’t want to hurt you.”
“But you did to get what you wanted,” Natalya snapped. “You manipulated me, knowing the hell I was going through, to satisfy your own desires!”
“Natalya please,” Gabriel said reaching for her. She jerked away from his touch.
“Don’t touch me,” she said through clenched teeth. “I trusted you to do what was best for me. And you schemed to take what you wanted.”
Tears began to fall from her eyes. Gabriel felt awful. “I’m sorry. I wanted you to choose me. To love me. And you do and we’re happy.”
“What about Robert? The man I chose to marry?” She covered herself with the blanket. “What about the life I wanted with him? You took that away. So you could have what you wanted.”
“Don’t you love me Natalya? Don’t I make you happy? You called for me when you were hurt! Not Robert!”
Natalya shook her head, unable to wrap her mind around his betrayal. “I trusted you,” she said crying. “I trusted you to protect me!”
“I will protect you! And love you and be the man you need me to be. I am sorry that I hurt you. Can you forgive me?”
“No! You’re just like Peter!” Natalya swung to hit him again, but this time he dodged her hand. “You wanted me so you took me! Not by force, but another cowardly way, manipulation!” She turned away from him as the sobs shook her body. “I gave myself to you. I… I…”
“I’m sorry,” Gabriel apologized again. He wanted to hold her. “I love you Natalya. You can trust me.”
“No! Leave me alone!”
Sighing, Gabriel stared at her trembling form. “Alright beloved. I’ll go.” He rose from the bed and got dressed. Uncertain if he could ever fix what he had broken.