Two weeks earlier.
Robert was confused when he heard the news of Lord Devall and Lady Huntington’s upcoming nuptials. It really didn’t make sense to him. They had planned their life together for months. She confided in him and him in her. There was no logical reason for her to marry Lord Devall.
Evan had arrived that morning with the news. Apparently, the night of their engagement celebration, Natalya had decided to run away to Castle Devall. There she discovered love, or money, she’d never known with Lord Devall.
The constables concluded they were right about her running off and all of London was talking about her scandalous behavior.
“I’m sorry Robert. I know you care deeply for her,” Evan said sympathetically.
“I love her. None of this makes sense.” Robert sat down in the chair in the cabinet.
“Don’t over think these things. It’ll make you insane.”
“What happened to Linda? Who murdered her? Natalya wouldn’t just leave to marry another man when someone she loved had been murdered.”
“Then what do you think happened?”
Robert shook his head. He didn’t want to believe what he was about to say. “I think she married him for protection.”
That was reasonable to Evan. “He does have an army at his disposal.”
Robert looked at his friend distraught. “I promised to take care of her. Why didn’t she come to me?”
Sighing, Evan shook his head. “I don’t know. You were drunk out of your mind that night. We all were. Maybe she couldn’t come to you. Maybe whatever was happening that night called for immediate action.”
“And she couldn’t come to me because I was passed out drunk.” Robert groaned in despair, sliding his hand down over the front of his face. “I failed her Evan. I knew Peter was up to no good and I let my guard down anyway.”
“Don’t blame yourself. You thought she would be safe in your house.” Evan felt bad for his friend.
“But she wasn’t. And another man had to protect her.”
Another man. Lord Gabriel Devall. A client that Robert supplied weapons to. Why didn’t Gabriel tell him the truth when he came to him that day? Surely he knew Robert could be trusted.
Suddenly Robert understood. Gabriel didn’t say anything because he wanted Natalya for himself.
“You know what this means?” Evan said, realizing the same thing.
Robert nodded his head. “Gabriel lied to me. He pumped me for information so he could be the hero to her.”
“What a cold bastard,” Evan said disgusted.
Laughing humorously, Robert imagined Natalya falling into Gabriel’s arms. Relenting her body to his desires. “He fooled me.”
Some people thought having a title meant they were entitled to any and everything. Evan detested men like that and Lord Devall wasn’t any different. “What do you want to do?” he asked.
“What can I do? By now the marriage is consummated. She is his now.” Robert grew furious at the thought. Gabriel had stolen his fiancé!
“There has to be something. This isn’t right.”
No it wasn’t, but that’s how it was now.
Shortly after, Evan left and Robert found comfort in battle of spirits. What was he supposed to do? Continue to go after Peter? Why hadn’t Natalya come forward and told what happened that night? He would all have to wait until he saw her before getting that could be answered.
Time dragged by slowly. Days took forever to pass. Robert had grown curt with the servants, closing himself off from the world. Natalya was alive. For that he was grateful, but he could never have her. Never kiss her lips again. He had hoped that they would love each other for the rest of their lives. Hoped that they would have children and grandchildren. All that was gone now. Taken away.
Because of Lord Devall.
Because that snake interfered with their lives.
Yes, it was a long torturous time for Robert as he waited for Natalya to return to London.
When Estelle learned of her nieces upcoming nuptials she felt physically sick. Natalya was Lady Devall now. Richer than the Huntington family ever dreamed of being! And with that money came the power Estelle always wanted. It was what she killed her brother for to have.
And now Natalya had it.
Estelle walked the halls of her home. A place she had hoped would give her prestige and sense of belonging. If she could live her life over she would have done it so differently. She wouldn’t have gotten involved with Peter. He had ruined her life! And now everything was unraveling!
The fireplace was going in the den and she found herself sitting in a chair, staring into the flames. Her hands moved to her belly as tears fell from her eyes. Eight years of being barren and now when things were completely beyond her control, she was pregnant. The irony was that she was about to bring a new life into the world while the life she knew was coming to an end.
She knew it was coming to an end. Too many lies and secrets were coming to light. She knew Peter would take her down with him if he was exposed for the murderer he was. She didn’t want to die. She wanted to live and have this baby in peace.
The flames crackled. The only sound going in the room. It comforted her. She heard so much, all the time in her head. Worried thoughts she had since she conspired to kill her brother. What would happen to her if the constables found out what she did? Would they care that she was with child or kill her immediately?
God help her, she didn’t want to die. She didn’t want to pay for her sins. There had to be a way out. She had to find it.
“Estelle, what are you doing in here?” Peter asked, standing in the door way.
Looking at him, Estelle saw the whites of his eyes. He was actually sober! A state she hadn’t seen him in months! Should she tell him about the baby? Would it matter to him? “I heard about Natalya’s betrothal. Amazing how she’s managed to do so well for herself while we struggle to keep our lives together.”
Peter looked at her sympathetically. “It changes nothing. I’ll take care of her and Gabriel. I’ve found some of my old friends and they’re ready to get their hands dirty.” He went to her, kneeling in front of her.
“You seem quite confident. I think we should run and never look back.”
Frowning, Peer shook his head and his dark hair fell out of place. ”No. Everything will turn out fine. We’ve gotten away with it so far, right?”
Estelle’s shoulders sunk. She had no hope in him. “I can’t stay here and hope for the best. I have to get out now!”
“What is wrong with you?” Peter asked angrily. “We’re sticking with the plan.”
“To hell with the plan! I will not stay and risk my life!” Estelle looked down at her belly. “I am with child Peter,” she whispered.
For a moment, Peter wasn’t quite sure what she was saying. He glanced down and saw her hands protectively covering her belly. Smiling he looked at her. “I’m going to be a father?”
Estelle looked at him distressed. “Yes. And I’m going to be a mother. Which is why we can’t stay. It we’re found out we’ll be hanged.”
Peter didn’t see it that way. A child meant a new beginning! It was a good omen that she was with child now! He leaned forward and kissed her. “You go. Somewhere safe. I’ll stay behind and deal with Lord and Lady Devall.”
“Are you certain?” Estelle asked cautiously. “I think you should come too.”
“I’ll be fine. You go to the countryside and wait for my word to come home. When everything is over we’ll finally be able to live our lives the way we want.”
He was genuinely happy. Too bad she couldn’t shake the forlorn feeling she had. The life they wanted was the life they never had. She could see that as clearly as she could see him in front of her.
It was useless to stay in London.
There was nothing to gain at this point. Everyone knew that Robert blamed Peter for Natalya’s disappearance. If Natalya and Gabriel disappeared just as they returned, it would cast too much suspicion on them.
“You, me and our baby will have it all.” Peter continued happily.
Estelle didn’t expect this reaction, but was pleased with it. She never loved Peter. Her best years had passed her. All she had left was the baby she carried. She wasn’t confident that she could care for it on her own. Like it or not, she needed him.
“It will look suspicious if I leave just as Natalya returns. You have to come with me.” She would beg him if she had to.
“No. We started this eight years ago and I’m going to finish it.”
Stubborn fool wasn’t seeing the big picture. It was already over! Natalya would expose him as Linda’s killer if she hadn’t already. There was nothing left to do but run.
“It’s over Peter. You know she told Gabriel everything. What’s the point of waiting for them to come arrest us?”
Peter frowned. “If she told him anything I would be arrested by now. She’s coming back because she got your letter and she wants to protect you from me. The plan is working.”
“She married a Lord, who has an entire army,” Estelle stressed. “She’s coming to destroy you.”
“I didn’t do this alone,” Peter said curtly. “You set this whole thing in motion.”
Of course he would drag her down with him. No matter what he said or how he said it, she couldn’t rely on him to protect her or her baby. She would have to save herself.
“Fine Peter. You do what you have to.” Estelle didn’t want to talk anymore. She needed to think of a way to escape.
Peter smiled at her again. “I promise you I’ll take care of this.”
Estelle nodded. “Alright. I believe you.”
She wondered how far she could get away from London before the truth came out.
Evan came to remind Robert of the Winter Ball. He threw a party every season. It was one of his trademark parties now. He was a bachelor and many women wanted to be in his presence. And his bed.
Robert needed a night of fun to get his mind off of Natalya. It was Evans intentions to hire some beautiful whores, dressed them up like proper ladies and have them seduce his friend.
The Thurman house was quiet, as it had been lately. However, this time Robert was sober and dressed.
Smiling, Evan joined his friend in the study. “You look a hell of a lot better than the last time I saw you.”
Robert grinned. “I was in a rut, I admit. Now I am refocused.”
“No. Driven. I can’t have Natalya, but I can still help her.” Robert gestured for Evan to sit.
“They’ll be arriving tomorrow sometime. I sent an invitation to your ball on your behalf. I also invited Peter and Estelle. I plan to expose Peter there.”
Evan groaned, frustrated. “I thought you could use the ball as a means of fun and loose women. How do you plan to expose Peter anyway?”
“He’ll get drunk. I’ll hurl accusations loud enough to cause a scene. He’ll lose his temper and let something slip.”
It was a stupid plan. There were so many things that could go wrong. Clearly Robert wasn’t thinking like the clever man he was. “And if he doesn’t let something slip? Then what?”
Robert stared at his friend. He knew it wasn’t the greatest idea, but it was all he had. “I’ll kill him. It was his actions that set this all in motion.”
“Robert, think for a minute. How do you know he’s responsible? How do you know he killed Linda?”
“My gut is screaming it! He needs to pay for what he’s done!” Robert said furiously. He took a deep breath. “I can’t let this go. I can’t.”
Sighing, Evan walked over to his friend, resting a hand on his shoulder. “You’re obsessing over this. You need to let it go.”
Robert shook his head. “No.”
“You’ll drive yourself mad,” Evan said concerned. “And what good will that do?”
It was the truth. Robert didn’t deny that. But Peter robbed him of his life with Natalya. He had to pay for that.
“Would Natalya want you to do this?” Evan continued. “Would she want you to drive yourself mad?”
“I’ll ask her at the ball,” Robert answered.
Evan shook his head. “You stubborn fool. You’re going to ruin my party aren’t you?”
Grinning, Robert answered, “Just a little.”
“Damn it, Robert! Let this go before something else bad happens. You lost her. I am sorry, but she’s not the only woman in London!”
Robert narrowed his eyes. Someone had to pay. Gabriel was out of reach at the moment. That only left Peter. “I’m sorry you don’t agree Evan, but this will happen.”