Eventually Natalya did rise and fix her attire. Gabriel watched her from across the room. The pain and humiliation she felt was raw. She wished she could shut off every emotion she had. How was she going to exist like this? Emotionally wounded by the man she loved and now resented?
She sat in the chair closest to the fireplace, wincing at how tender her hip was.
Gabriel frowned. It was his fault her hip was hurt in the first place.
Sighing, she diverted her eyes to the flames.
“I’m sorry I hurt your hip,” he said softly. She didn’t show any sign that she heard him.
Of course she had, she just didn’t care. His apologies meant nothing to her. Not after what he did. He was selfish.
“We need to talk Natalya,” he said louder. “We need to have it out right now.”
“Haven’t you had enough?” Her voice trembled.
“I didn’t want you to leave me.”
Natalya smirked. “You don’t have to worry about that now. Why are you discussing this again?”
“Because you need to understand my decision.”
The flames continued to hold her gaze. “I understand. You wanted me, so you did what you had to do to keep me.”
It sounded callous to Gabriel when she said it that way. “When I saw you that night, at your engagement, I thought you were absolutely beautiful. I envied the man that got to be your husband. You radiated happiness and I lost my heart to you.”
Natalya closed her eyes, trying to ignore how deeply his words touched her.
Gabriel continued. “And then you stumbled upon me when you were drunk and the way you stared at me, like you knew how I was feeling, and I fell completely. I wanted you then, but you were Robert’s so I took you back to your room. Thinking you’d be better off with a man like him. But you weren’t.”
“Gabriel…” she wanted him to stop.
“I saw my chance to help you and I didn’t intend to keep you away from him, but the more I was around you, I knew it would be devastating to live without you.”
Why did he have to say such words to her? It didn’t matter anymore! “Please stop this.”
“Natalya? Don’t you realize I fell in love with you the moment I saw you again?”
“You could have just asked me to stay with you,” she said.
“Would you have?” he asked.
“Da, damn it! I felt the same as you!” She looked at the flames again. She wished she could erase the last day of her life.
Gabriel wished he knew that! “I didn’t know how you felt.”
“Well I was falling for you too. You made me feel things I never felt with anyone.”
“I wish I knew. I just wanted a life and a family with you,” he said.
“I know. You told that to Robert too.”
Gabriel was getting irritated with her going back to what he said in anger. “He was kissing my wife. What did you expect me to say?”
Natalya looked at him. “Not the things I heard you say. You talked about me like a whore you bought off the street.”
“Is that how you felt?”
“Then I apologize. That’s not what I meant. I just wanted him to stay away from you.”
“You could have killed him,” she said incredulously.
Gabriel’s eyes darkened. “He was kissing my wife in my den.”
It was pointless. Natalya knew Gabriel was never going to understand. She hated violence. That’s how she lost her family.
He’s a knight, she thought frustrated. Violence was a way of life to him.
Natalya looked away from him. She couldn’t deal with his anger. But she wanted to go to him, ask him to hold her.
You have to protect yourself, she thought sadly. Gabriel can’t be trusted with your heart.
“I was enraged. Which is understandable after what I witnessed.”
“I understand your anger. I just don’t understand how you could say those things about me.” She shook her head.
Gabriel went to her, kneeling in front of her. “Do you love me?”
“It wouldn’t hurt so badly if I didn’t.”
The next question Gabriel was hesitant to ask, but he had to know. “Do you love Robert more?”
Was he serious? Natalya frowned. Of course she didn’t. Annoyed that he would even ask such a question she answered, “It doesn’t matter how I feel about Robert. And I wish you never to ask me how I feel about him again.”
Gabriel stared up at his wife, realizing that she loved another man more than she loved him. The pain he felt ripped his chest in half. How was he going to handle knowing that? What a mess he’d gotten them in. A marriage tainted by her love for another man. A man she was ready to have an affair with. It was clear that he’d lost her heart and it was because of his own doing. He should have told her the truth.
At least he still had a part of her.
The part she feels obligated to give you, he thought miserably.
“What time will we be leaving tonight?” she asked.
Gabriel had forgotten about that. He had gone to the magistrate and reported the attack and murder to them. They were going to arrest Peter.
“I went to the magistrate and reported everything to him. Peter will be arrested. You don’t have to do anything now.”
Natalya nodded, relieved. “I would still like to go to the ball.”
Gabriel raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Why?”
Natalya thought the reason would be clear. “Because I don’t want to be alone here with you.”
She was doing a great job hurting him, but he would no longer allow her to know. He harden his expression. “If that is what you desire.”
Natalya nodded slowly. “It is milord.”
“Then I will escort you.” He rose to his feet, angry at the decline in his relationship with her. He had to get away from her. Before he said something else to drive a wedge between them. He made his way to the door and then stopped. Remembering that Peter had hired men to do them harm.
Gabriel looked back at her. “We can’t go to the ball.”
Natalya looked at him. “Why not?”
“Some of Peter’s men are planning to grab me while he grabs you.”
Natalya paled, remembering Peter lying on top of her. She grew sick to her stomach at the thought of him coming after her.
Seeing her distress, Gabriel went to her, kneeling again in front of her. “The magistrate is going to arrest him today. I just want to be on the safe side. Don’t worry.”
When Natalya looked into his eyes, she believed him. “Are we safe here?”
“I have men guarding this place. I don’t take your safety lightly.” Gabriel felt that connection they had flicker back. He desperately wanted to hold on to it.
Natalya thought about Peter’s men grabbing Gabriel. Possibly kill him. Did he take his safety as serious as hers?
“What are you thinking?” He asked.
Should she tell him she was concerned about his welfare? She didn’t want him to think she forgave him.
“Nothing. Just that I’ll be here with you tonight after all.”
She wasn’t going to give him an inch.
“”Is that really so bad?”He asked.
“Yes.” She rose quickly and made her way to her room.
When Peter heard about the warrant for his arrest he got angry. One of his cohorts had informed him that the constable had been searching for him. It was a good thing he wasn’t home. He had unfinished business. If he got rid of Natalya and Gabriel, the magistrate wouldn’t have any proof of his guilt.
Estelle was gone. She wouldn’t be touched by this and their child would be safe. The plan would work.
Clyde, one of the men Peter trusted to do unthinkable things with, stood by his side at the townhouse located in an unsavory part of town. “What do you want to do Peter?”
Peter looked at him. “Go on with the plan. Gabriel will die and after I’m good and done with his wife, so will she.”
Clyde grinned, showing a row of rotten teeth. “All about the lady eh?”
“She is exquisite. And I am a man.” Peter needed to make sure they would be at the ball. “Send the men out. I want to know where the Devalls will be tonight.”
Robert walked through the doors of his home furious at what happened between him and Gabriel. The man didn’t deserve to have Natalya!
She tasted so sweet on his lips. He wanted her and because of Gabriel he couldn’t have her. Could never delight in carnal pleasures with her. He felt cheated! And humiliated after Gabriel bested him in front of her.
She had told him to go. Did she think he was less of a man?
That kiss felt passionate. She still cared for him. Why did Gabriel have to come when he did?
He walked to the den and sat. Tonight he would go to Evan’s party. Perhaps Natalya would be there. Maybe they could steal a moment together. It was desperate thinking, but he didn’t know what else to do.
He was tempted to drink.
If he didn’t need to keep a clear head he would have. He knew now that Natalya still loved him. That had given him hope that they could be together. She wasn’t happy with Gabriel. She could be happy with him.
They could be together.
Tonight they could run away. Never look back. They could leave England. Go somewhere Gabriel would never be able to find them. She had been through so much, she deserved to be happy. He could make her happy.
There was a knock at the door.
Robert didn’t wait for his servants to answer. He got up and answered it. It was a messenger with a letter from Evan.
“Thank you,” Robert said, giving the man a few coins.
He closed the door and went back to the den. He made himself comfortable in his chair and opened the letter.
I have just heard that there is a warrant for Peter’s arrest. He won’t be at the ball so you don’t have to go through with this insane plan of yours. Evan
Robert folded the letter back up. So there would be an arrest. Good. That bastard deserved to be jailed.
Did this mean Natalya would be home then? He didn’t see why she wouldn’t go to the ball if she was safe. Tonight he would see her at the ball and they would leave London behind for good.
Natalya stayed in her room all day. As the sun began to sink below the horizon, so did her mood. A night with Gabriel. So far he had managed to let her be. She had done some reading, taken a nap and did some more reading. She didn’t expect him to stay away from their bed tonight.
And honestly, she wasn’t sure she wanted him to stay away. If Peter was coming for her, she’d feel safer with her husband beside her.
Even an untrustworthy husband.
She shifted on the chaise she was stretched out on. Her hip was bruised now. What she needed was to relax.
At the moment she didn’t dare leave her room for fear of seeing Gabriel.
Yes, it was very cowardly of her to hide in her room. The humiliation of having the servant see her taken on the floor gave her another reason to hide. They were probably gossiping about it down in the kitchen now.
She stood up. Went to the bed and waited.
Something didn’t feel right in her gut. Peter was coming after them. He could get to her. He had before. He wouldn’t give up just because the authorities issued a warrant. No, he would keep coming after her until he was either killed or succeeded in killing her.
And Gabriel. Gabriel was in as much danger as she was. If he were to get hurt because he was trying to protect her, she could never live with herself! There had to be something she could do to help him. But what? Be the bait perhaps?
The door slowly opened. She didn’t have to look to know who it was. She could feel Gabriel’s presence. “Natalya?”
Sighing, Natalya turned to him. “Da Gabriel?”
He smiled at her. “I love when you speak Russian.” He closed the door behind him. He stood there. Keeping some distance between them.
“My aunt never approved of it. Said it was an unpleasant sound to hear.” She remember her visit with Estelle today. “She came by today. She’s finally with child. I had to tell her about Peter.”
“How did she take it?”
’Not good. I sent her home to Castle Devall where she would be safe.”
Gabriel smiled at her reference to Castle Devall as home. “She will be safe.” The distance was harsh. Physically he ached to hold her. “I have to go see the magistrate. There’s a small problem.”
Alarmed, Natalya knotted her fingers together. “What problem?”
“Nothing for you to be concerned with. The blizzard has hindered the roads. Some of the constables can’t assist in apprehending Peter. I’m going to take a few men and go help him.”
Natalya’s brows drew together. “You have to leave?”
Her concern gave him hope. “I’ll return after we’ve apprehended him.”
What could she say to stop him? Something bad was going to happen tonight. She just knew it! And she wasn’t ready to lose him. “Why can’t you send men in your place? Do you have to be there yourself? Your life has been threatened too.”
Gabriel folded his arms. “Do you think I would turn coward because of Peter? I have killed better men than him.”
“I don’t think to call you a coward. I just think you’d be safer here with me.”
So she was very worried about him. Good. Maybe riding off into danger would remind her of how much she loved him. “You’ll be safer when Peter is in custody. Do not worry about me.” He turned to leave.
Natalya rushed to him, grabbing his arm. She couldn’t let him go. She had such a bad feeling. He looked down at her. Slightly frowning with curious eyes. “Please, Gabriel. Don’t go. Stay with me. I have a horrible feeling something bad may happen to you.”
Gabriel took her in his arms. The feel of her warmed him. She was all he cared about. “Nothing will keep me from coming back to you.”
He wouldn’t stay. Natalya closed her eyes. “You better. We have much to work out.”
Smiling, he kissed her. “Keep the fires burning for me then.”
Natalya raised her fingers to her lips. Would that be the last kiss he gave her? “Pozhaluista, stay.”
Seeing that she was truly afraid, Gabriel didn’t want to disregard her feelings. “Your concern is duly noted. And I’m pleased that you worry so deeply for me. I love you. I swore before God that I would protect you. That’s why I have to go. I can’t rest until I know you are safe from him.”
Natalya threw her arms around his neck. “He took my parents and he took Linda from me!”
Her fear pulled at Gabriel’s heart as he held her tight in his embrace. She had lost so much in her young life. She was afraid of losing him too. “I will come back to you,” he promised. Her body trembled. “You won’t lose me. Ever.” He kissed the top of her head. “I have to go now.”
Reluctantly he let her go.
She could be strong for him. “Be careful then.”
Gabriel nodded. Then left.
Natalya sunk to the floor. A feeling of dread descended upon her. Why didn’t she tell him she loved him too?
The blizzard had put a halt on the ball. Not too many people were willing to brave the storm. Robert found himself in a room of only twenty people including himself. Evan was having a good time entertaining a handful of ladies at the piano forte.
There was no sign of Natalya.
She probably wouldn’t come out in such a storm. The Devall home was on the other side of town. It would be a dangerous trip to make.
Robert looked around the ballroom. Music still played, food was served and people still enjoyed the company of each other. No one would be going home tonight and they were ready to make the best of it. As usual, the ball was a success. Those who were able to attend would be talking about tonight for weeks to come.
A servant walked by with a tray of wine filled glasses. Robert helped himself to one. It went down fast and smooth.
He was going to ride out to the Devall home. Gabriel would be upset, but Robert didn’t care. He had to see Natalya. She plagued him all day. She would want to see him too. He knew she would. They should have been married, would have been if not for Gabriel! There was love between them. He couldn’t just let her go.
“Hello Mr. Thurman. Enjoying the evening?” Lady Cummings asked.
Robert glanced at the auburn beauty. She was a young widow with no children. Ripe for a new husband. And since he was no longer engaged to Natalya, he was now considered suitable.
But he was not interested.
“Yes, but unfortunately I must leave.”
Lady Cummings’ brows drew together slightly. “The storm is getting quite terrible. Are you sure you can’t stay?” Concern filled her gentle brown eyes.
Robert looked at her again. This time he gave her a polite smile. “No need to worry. I don’t have to go far.”
She nodded. “Okay. Just be careful.”
Robert watched her walk off to join the crowd on the dance floor. Then he turned and left the party.
It was a trap.
Gabriel and his five men never made it to the magistrate. Peter’s band of criminals had ambushed them only a few blocks away from his home. As they started down the road arrows zipped passed them, hitting horses and men. Then from the other side men rushed them, taking them by surprised!
Gabriel barely had time to unsheathe his sword before two men attempted to pull him off his horse. One lost his arm, but that gave the other enough time to knock him off with a make shift club. He hit the ground hard, landing on his back. He dropped the sword. His chest throbbed from where the club struck him.
“Quick! Get the other one!” Someone yelled.
Gabriel rolled out the way as his attacker swung the club down towards his head, finding his sword in the process and getting to his feet. He blocked the club with his sword and kicked the fool in the stomach.
The man doubled over. Gabriel raised his weapon and came down swiftly over his neck, severing his head. Inhaling deeply, the cold air felt harsh in his throat. The snow swirled around obscuring his vision. “James!” he called. He heard scuffling, but couldn’t see his men.
Damn it! He should have been prepared for an ambush!
The armless man lay bleeding to death in the snow, conscious, though barely. Gabriel went to him, kneeling beside him.
“How many of you are there?” Gabriel asked lifting him by the collar.
The man had gone pale, but he smirked defiantly. “Enough.”
“Where’s Peter? Tell me!”
His eyes closed. Gabriel shook him hard and he opened them.
“Where is he?” Gabriel shouted.
“Probably mounting your woman,” the man said crudely.
Gabriel took his sword and ran him through. His eyes widened in shock. “He’ll be seeing you in hell real soon.” He yanked his sword out and stood up
The horses had run off. Gabriel needed to get home fast. “James, where are you?” he called again.
That’s when he felt a sharp pain pierce his chest. He staggered forward, raising his hand to the source of his pain and felt the arrowhead protruding. Then he felt a blow to the back of his head and fell unconscious to the ground.
Natalya had retired to her bed attire, but she couldn’t rest. She wouldn’t be able to rest until Gabriel was home safe. She’d been pacing the floor ever since he left. It hadn’t been a full hour, but close to it. And it felt like he’d been gone for days!
He should have stayed. He should have listened to her.
Be positive, she told herself. He promised to come back to you.
There was only a single taper lit on the vanity table to light the room. She wished she had lit more. She could have, there was nothing stopping her.
She began to wonder if staying mad at Gabriel was worth it. He did mislead her about Robert, but that alone didn’t define who he was. He helped her through so much. She knew he genuinely loved her.
But the side of him she saw today was frightening. He was cold, savage. She had never seen him behave like that. That man cut her with his words.
Natalya shook her head, clearing her mind. That didn’t matter right now. Not while Peter was free.
Besides, his anger was provoked. Robert had kissed her. If only he’d waited just a moment, she could have handled the situation. She would have told Robert that she loved her husband. That she didn’t want to be with anyone else. There didn’t have to be any violence.
But Gabriel didn’t give her the chance.
He came in there like an angry boar. And she detested that side of him. He took her on the floor like a common harlot.
She stopped pacing and looked at the bedroom door.
Something was wrong. The house was awfully quiet. It was late, but not late enough for the servants to be sleep. She went to the vanity and picked up the taper. Then she opened the door and stepped out.
Where was Clara? Had she gone back to her quarters?
When she got to the foot of the steps she saw that more candles were lit. So they hadn’t retired for the evening, but where was everyone?
Walking around the corner, Natalya gasped. Cole was lying slumped over against the wall beside the front door! She sat the taper down and went to him.
“Cole? Cole wake up,” Natalya said patting his cheek.
He didn’t budge.
“Clara! Clara I need you!” Natalya called. There was no answer. “Clara!”
No answer – from anyone.
What was going on?
She tried pulling Cole to his feet. He was too heavy. “Cole, wake up!”
“He can’t,” a low voice said from behind her.
Startled, Natalya fell back against the wall beside Cole.
Peter stepped forward, out of the shadows. He smirked at her, his dark eyes glared. “Hello Natalya. Long time since I’ve laid eyes on you.”
Natalya cringed. “Peter.”
“Did you think you’d get rid of me that easily?” Peter said, slowly stalking her. “Did you think we were finished?”
Paralyzed with fear, Natalya began to tremble violently. “Get out,” she said in a choked whisper.
Peter shook his head. “I’m not going anywhere. I have all night with you.”
Tears fell from Natalya’s eyes as she closed them. “Clara!” she screamed.
Laughing, Peter went to her, kneeling down beside her, caressing her cheek. She jerked her head away from him. He grabbed the back of her head, wrapping his fingers in her hair. He lifted her to her feet. Then leaned close to her ear. “No one can help you. I made sure of that.”
“What did you do to them?”
“They’re drugged. I paid one of the servants to do it. The same drug I used on your parents. The same one Estelle used on you.”
Shocked, Natalya looked at him. “Liar. Estelle wouldn’t hurt me.”
“She tried to kill you because I refused to kill a child, but you survived. Grew into a beautiful woman.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“How do you think I got into your house that night?” Peter asked. “After she drugged everyone, she let me in to kill your parents. You never wondered why she was so cold to you? Why she never loved you? If you would have died that night, she would have been a wealthy woman. I knew her secret and that’s why she married me.”
It was true. In her heart Natalya knew he was telling the truth. Estelle contrived to destroy her family, but she had survived.
Peter dragged her to the sitting room across the hall and threw her on the floor. She rolled over on her back quickly. “I sent her away, to be safe. After I’m through with you though, I’ll send for her and we can live in peace.”
“Gabriel will kill you,” Natalya spat angrily.
Laughing Peter shook his head. “Gabriel is dead! My men killed him tonight just a few blocks away from here!”
Natalya’s heart sunk. “No.”
“It was an ambush. A well planned out one. That’s why I’m here. Because there is no threat from him now.” His gaze ran down the length of her body. “You’ve dressed for the occasion I see. I’ve waited a long time for this.”
When he spoke the words of Gabriel’s death, the fear left her. He was gone. That’s why Peter had dared to come. Gabriel, her beloved, was dead.
Peter got down on his knees, unfastening his pants. “This is going to feel so good.”
Natalya glared at him. Hot rage burned through her. “You bastard!” she yelled, raising her foot and kicking him hard in the gut. Peter grabbed his stomach. “I’ll kill you!” She got to her knees and lunged at him, clawing at his face. “I’ll kill you!”
Peter recovered quickly, shoving her back. But Natalya wouldn’t relent. She lunged at him again, punching with all her might. Peter caught her waist and wrestled her down to the floor.
“Do you think I can be beat by a mere woman such as yourself?” Peter asked, trying to kiss her. “I will have you.”
Natalya bit his lip, drawing blood. He pulled back, raised his hand and slapped twice across the face. The fight wouldn’t leave her. She struggled beneath him, bucking like a wild bull. She managed to get her hands free and drug her nails into his fleshy sides.
“Ow!” Peter cried. “Stupid wench!” He put one large hand over her face, forcing it into the floor. Then worked to lift her gown up her thighs. “You want it rough? I’ll make it rough!”
The feel of his hand on her thighs caused a flood of memories to rush her. He killed her husband and thought to rape her! She would make him pay! With all the strength she had, she placed her hands on his chest and shoved him in an upright position.
And then a long blade burst through his chest. Blood splattered over her. The blade vanished. The reappeared in his belly. The look of stunned pain in his eyes reflected her confusion. The blade vanished again. She saw it coming down fast at an angle into his shoulder and neck, sinking passed his collar bone. He fell over to the side of her dead.