“Are you listening to me?” James asked Gabriel.
They were riding on the edge of Gabriel’s land, overlooking the newest soldiers that were training. It was beginning to rain and they were filthy, but they still trained hard.
“No, what did you say?” Gabriel had been thinking about Natalya. A week had gone by since she opened up to him about her fears. As of yet he had no idea how to help her.
“The king is dead. He died of tuberculosis.”
Gabriel stopped riding. “What?”
“As of right now Lady Jane Grey is the queen, but I’m certain Mary is not pleased with that at all.”
The young king Edward VI was dead! “The royal family must be in chaos.”
“As you can imagine they are. England is in trouble my friend.”
They continued to ride on.
“How is Lady Huntington’s sojourn? Has she remembered anything?” James asked.
Gabriel shook his head. “No. And I think I’ve made things worse.”
Natalya hadn’t uttered more than a few words to him lately. He didn’t blame her.
Still, if she were pregnant, he would help her.
“Cole hasn’t turned up anything in London. The authorities have no clues leading to Lady Huntington’s whereabouts.” James looked over his shoulder at a young soldier. “Her family and Mr. Thurman have put together a reward for any information leading to her return.”
Gabriel was confident no one would find her until he was ready. She was safe, for now.
“Does Cole have any suspects in mind?” Gabriel asked.
James met his eyes. “No. Not yet.”
They rode back to the stables and handed the horses over to the handlers there. Then they made their way inside the castle to the hall. They were early for dinner, Tiffany, the head servant and Clara’s mother, was organizing the table. Gabriel had taken her in when he first acquired the castle from King Henry VIII. At the time she was homeless with a small child and needed refuge. No man would have her because she’d been raped and saddled with the results of the unfortunate incident. Gabriel didn’t hesitate to provide her with a home, a haven for herself and child. She repaid him by her service and dedication.
“I’m sorry Lord Devall, but dinner is far from ready,” Tiffany told him. Her voice was soft and sweet. Like her daughter, her hair was a mass of dark curls pinned back. They had the same pretty features, except for their eyes. Tiffany’s were a soft blue.
“It’s okay Tiffany. Bring me a glass of spirits.”
“Yes milord.” She turned to James. “And you sir?”
“The same,” James said.
It only took a short while for Tiffany to return with their drinks. She paused, waiting to see if there was anything else they needed.
“We’re fine now.”
“Alright milord.” Tiffany started to turn. Then stopped. “Milord, if I may mention something about our guest?”
Gabriel held the glass in his hand. “Go on.”
“Clara has informed me of her fears.” She stared at Gabriel, her eyes revealing to him that she knew about the secret.
Nodding, Gabriel acknowledged that he knew what she meant.
“A strong rosemary tea can get rid of those fears.”
What she was saying hit like a wave of relief! He’d never thought to ask her if she knew of anything that would serve as an abortifacient.
“Make that tea and send it up with dinner. I’ll be dinning with our guest tonight.”
“Yes milord.” Tiffany bowed her head respectfully and left the room.
James wore a bewildered grin on his face. “What was that about?”
“Keeping a promise.”
Natalya’s day had been eventful, though it didn’t begin that way. Clara had taken her to the library since it was raining and they were unable to spend the day outside. The library was filled with bookshelves that stretched to the ceiling, a massive fireplace to keep them warm and the most comfortable chaise she’d ever sat in. They read silently to themselves for hours. Natalya wasn’t ready to open up about what she was thinking. It didn’t work out so well last time. She needed time to digest what this consequence would mean. And would she ever be able to face Robert again? With a bastard child on her hip? There was only so much she could ask him to accept.
This wasn’t one of those things.
So she sat, turning pages. Pretending to read when she felt nothing but relentless turmoil!
Sighing softly, she closed the book. Closed her eyes and began massaging her temples. She was getting a headache.
“I know a great masseuse that can make that headache go away,” a woman’s voice said.
Natalya’s eyes snapped opened. There stood a rather lovely woman with Gabriel’s beautiful eyes. Natalya quickly assumed this was his mother. She was obviously older judging by the fine lines that edged her eyes. The wisdom they held no doubt came from experience one could only acquire with time. Her maternal smile was genuine and curios. She walked further into the room. Her gaze stayed fixed on Natalya, observing everything about her.
Yes, Natalya could see what the older woman was thinking. It was written all over her face.
Slowly she sat up, not wanting to be disrespectful to the mother of the man that promised to protect her. Even if that promise was made out of pity.
Clara quickly rose to her feet and bowed. “Is there anything you require Lady Devall?”
The older woman waved a hand at the young girl. “I’m quite fine. Please go back to enjoying your book.”
Clara looked bewildered, but did take her seat.
Natalya watched as Lady Devall sat in the chair closest to her. “Now, let’s get acquainted.”
Straightening her back, Natalya tried to be the proper lady she never cared to be before. This was different, however. Impressing Gabriel’s mother was a must. “My name is Natalya Huntington, daughter of…”
“Herald and Mariska Huntington,” Eleanor interrupted. She brought her index finger to her lips, tapping twice, thoughtfully, before dropping it back down to her lap.
“You knew my parents?” Natalya asked.
“My husband had dealings with Herald, but I never got to meet your mother.”
“She was very beautiful like you,” Natalya complimented.
Eleanor’s smile broadened. “So I’ve heard.”
There was an awkward moment of silence. Natalya found herself utterly nervous around this woman! Perhaps it was the way Lady Devall stared at her, as if she knew every little secret she was trying to keep!
“Gabriel is my youngest son,” Eleanor began. He’s the spitting image of his father through and through. When he was a child he would make it his job to take care of his two younger sisters. He was always the protector, would never let a thing happen to those girls.”
Natalya understood what she was trying to say. “I’m grateful for everything he’s done for me. I don’t know how I could ever repay him.”
“Don’t let your fiancé know you’re here,” Eleanor said softly. Her words held no malice, just a concerned warning. As soon as Natalya said who she was, Eleanor remembered the invitation her and her husband received to attend the engagement party. They weren’t able to make it, obviously.
The blood drained from Natalya’s face. She must seem like a wanton woman, engaged to one man, but residing with another. “I have every intention of going back to my fiancé.”
Eleanor raised her hands. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I know Gabriel brought you here for your own safety. It’s just, my son has important dealing with Mr. Thurman and I’d hate to see that all ruined.”
“Well, then you have nothing to worry about since I have no interest in Gabriel.” Even as Natalya said it, she was certain Lady Devall didn’t believe her. The statement itself was out of place and it made it seem like she did have an interest in him.
“Don’t tell Gabriel that,” Eleanor grinned. She rose from her chair. “Enjoy the rest of your book. I’m sure we’ll talk again.”
Watching her go, Natalya wondered just how much Lady Devall knew about her situation. She turned to Clara when they were alone. The young girl still looked bewildered.
“How bad was I?” Natalya asked.
“Well Nat, I can’t really say,” Clara answered honestly. “I wasn’t expecting her to come in here and start interrogating you.”
Natalya sighed. “I hope I said the right things.”
“Natalya Huntington,” Eleanor said as Gabriel entered the cabinet where she sat. She wanted to get his attention and she did. Obviously he was annoyed. She could tell by the way his nostrils flared slightly as he inhaled slowly. No doubt in an attempt to control his temper. He shouldn’t be surprised that she did the opposite of what he wanted, she was his mother and it was her job to look out for his personal interest.
Originally Gabriel came to tell his mother that he would be dining with Natalya, but now he was in for an unwanted conversation. He walked over to the chaise where she sat enjoying the sun’s rays through the window. She looked at him wearing a smile on her pretty face. She was meddlesome. No wonder his father sent her here. He probably needed a break!
“So you know who she is. Congratulations for not minding your business.”
“Don’t be cross with me. I was beyond curious about her. She’s quite charming. I like her!”
Gabriel narrowed his eyes. “Charming? What do you mean?”
“I mean that she answered all my questions honestly. Except for one.” Eleanor loss the smile. She sat up, looked at him with genuine concern. “What kind of trouble is she in?”
“The kind I can handle. Now stay out of it. No more intruding on her.”
“I didn’t intrude. I simply asked a few questions. Maybe you should have warned her not to open her mouth.”
Point taken. “Mother, you needn’t worry about the situation that brought her here. As long as she’s here, she’s safe.”
“Safe from whom?”
“I’ll be dining with her tonight. That’s what I came in here to tell you.”
Eleanor didn’t want to argue with him. She simply wanted to know what he’d gotten himself involved in. “She didn’t appear fragile to me. Not your typical damsel in distress. Whatever you’re keeping her safe from must be very dangerous. Will you please be careful?”
Gabriel smiled. “Yes mother.” He leaned forward and kissed the top of her head.
“Tomorrow night you should both have dinner in the hall. Make this castle less dreary.” She watch her son leave, determined more than ever to find out exactly what’s going on with Natalya Huntington.
Natalya was use to eating dinner in Gabriel’s bedchambers; she had been doing so since she woke up. It wasn’t disheartening. She understood that Gabriel wanted to keep her low profile, which she didn’t keep when his mother questioned her earlier. It bothered her that he didn’t prepare her for his mother’s questions. She didn’t even know Lady Devall was in the castle! Now, as she waited for her dinner to be brought up, she wondered what the consequences of her actions would be. Just the thought of it was making her lose what little appetite she had left.
She rose from the vanity where she sat, brushing her hair and went to the bed, lying down. Exhausted was an understatement, mentally that is. Try as she might she couldn’t remember who had hurt her! She only remembered being with Robert and then waking up in the castle.
“Why can’t you remember?” she thought out loud. “Maybe you don’t want to remember.”
It was the second worst night of her life. Of course she didn’t want to remember it. She had so much pride in her. Ever since her parents died, she refused to be weak in front of anyone. Only Linda had seen her open up and that wasn’t much at all.
Suddenly Natalya sat up, trembling. “Linda,” she whispered. Why did the thought of her chaperone fill her with such dread? It was as if her heart knew something awful had happened to the woman. She felt a sharp pain in her chest and sadness so heavy she felt crushed beneath it!
The door opened and Clara entered carrying a rather large tray, setting it on the table near the window. She looked at Natalya and smiled.
“You’ll be having dinner with Lord Devall this evening,“ the young girl said quickly. Then she hurried out the room before Natalya could utter a word.
It didn’t matter. Natalya needed a few moments to calm her rattled nerves. She had to remember what happened that night. Sighing she closed her eyes and focused on that night of the party.
Focused on all the smiling faces. Remembered how happy Robert was as they danced in circles in the presence of their guest. They had their lives planned out completely. They were going to France after their wedding and traveling through Europe. There were so many places he wanted to show her. He promised to make her happy and take her away from the lustful eyes of her uncle.
She couldn’t shake the felling he was involved somehow. It just didn’t make sense that he would try to kill her. Or how he could be connected to her parents’ murder. She decided, albeit reluctantly, he wasn’t the one that hurt her that night.
She re-focused her thoughts on Robert. He had invited so many people. Business associates, family, friends and society’s most prominent figures. That was quite a list of suspects! She couldn’t remember the faces, let alone the names of half of them. This task was too much for her. She needed help. She needed Robert. He always knew what to do.
Sighing, she whispered his name, “Robert.”
The door closed and she looked to see Gabriel standing there with a large cup in his hand. His eyes held hers, the intensity of their gaze made her uneasy. The emotions playing across those greens orbs were difficult to read. It almost looked like anger. But why should he be angry with her?
Crossing the room, Gabriel went to her side. He looked down at her beautiful face, wondering why he gritted his teeth and fought down the bitter resentment he felt. The way she spoke her fiancé’s name made his stomach twist in a knot. He could see how uncomfortable his gaze was making her feel. That emotion came through vividly in her eyes. He didn’t want her to feel that way! He wanted her to trust him, to open up to him.
Instead she looked upon him with apprehension.
The longer he stared at her, the more she wanted to run away! Not because she was afraid of him, but because she wasn’t. If anything his unusual attentiveness to her was appealing. Even desired. Which were feelings she shouldn’t be having about him. She forced herself to look down at her hands, breaking the spell he had on her.
“You asked me to help you before and I didn’t have a solution for the problem then,” he said sitting beside her.
She wanted to look at him, but the risk of getting trapped in his eyes was too great. She needed to remain in control of her senses. Instead she chose to look at the cup in his hands. “So now you have a solution?”
He nodded. “Yes. This tea will abort an unwanted pregnancy. You won’t have to carry that burden.” His voice was low, almost tender, coaxing her to look at him. She did. “Do you still want this?”
Voice trembling, she spoke. “How can you even ask me that?”
Confused, Gabriel’s brows came together. “Because the child might be Robert’s.”
Now it was her turn to be confused. “What? No. This wouldn’t be Robert’s child. Why would you think that?”
Inside Gabriel was relieved, knowing that Robert hadn’t taken his beautiful fiancé to bed. Why that relieved him, he didn’t know. “It doesn’t matter. I found a solution. Like I promised, I’m helping you.” He didn’t mean to sound imperious, but he did. It wasn’t his intention to gloat over his success. And that’s how she took it. The way she narrowed her eyes and the muscles in her jaw tightened said it all.
“Well congratulations. You can exalt yourself as my savior. I am forever in your debt.” Angrily, she rose from the bed, walking over to the table with the food. It smelled delightful. She contemplated eating, though hunger eluded her.
More than anything she didn’t want to be in his debt. She could go back to Robert, he would help her because he cared about her, not because he wanted something from her. That’s where she needed to be. With her fiancé.
Sighing, Gabriel watched her stand rigid by the tables. Winning her trust was becoming harder by the second. Knowing her anger was a defense mechanism, he gave her a few moments to collect her thoughts and emotions. The last thing he wanted to do was make her feel like she owed him something. He wanted to find the man that hurt her and put him in the ground. He owed her that much since he didn’t protect her when he had the chance. If she needed more time to learn to trust him, he was willing to wait.
“You will never be in my debt Natalya. Never. I failed you that night.” He rose from the bed and went to her. Gently he took her hand and placed the cup in it. “If you are with child, you may have cramping and bleeding when it is aborted.”
Natalya took the cup. Inside she knew she didn’t want to do this alone. She wanted Gabriel to stay with her. Somehow she knew it would be okay. To ask him. “Like having my menses?”
Staring at the cup, she spoke firmly. “I’m not a feeble woman Gabriel.”
He loved the way she said his name, with her Russian accent. “I know.”
“Will you stay with me?”
Gabriel felt his heart leap inside his chest. “Yes.”
Natalya brought the cup to her lips and drunk deeply. Not stopping until the last drop was gone. She handed the cup to Gabriel. “Perhaps I should try to eat.”
“There is vegetable soup and bread for you,” Gabriel said walking her back to bed. “Relax and I’ll bring the tray over.”
Natalya sat on the bed, anticipating how much pain she would feel. At least a child wouldn’t be a consequence she would have to live with.
They ate, making idle conversation as if it were a regular dinner they were having. The awkwardness of it all didn’t go unnoticed, but what were they to do? Discuss what was actually happening? Natalya couldn’t, wouldn’t even attempt to. Her humiliation of being in the most distasteful of situations, was still very raw. She felt beyond dirty and no matter how long she soaked in a tub she didn’t fell clean. All those emotions of shame and fear and filthiness were all the emotions she didn’t want him to see. So she forced herself to stay strong, so he wouldn’t think she was weak.
If she could read his thoughts she would have known that he was amazed at how well she was holding up under such raucous circumstances. Not once had she shed a tear. Even when her emotions faltered, her eyes remained dry. He was impressed by her strength. He only wished she would trust him enough to let go and drop her emotional shielded. At some point she was going to have to bend or she would shatter into pieces.
Watching her, as she ate slowly, Gabriel imagined the satisfaction he would feel if she confided in him. All her fears and joys.
Why does that even matter? he thought scolding himself. She is another man’s fiancée. She would never have you.
Or would she?
He remembered the spark that was between them. It was undeniable! Even she felt it and forced herself to deny the obvious. Had the situation been different he would have pursued the attraction, breathed life into it until the flames of passion consumed them both.
But he couldn’t.
Though this Russian beauty shared his mutual attraction, she was too emotionally wrecked to think rationally. But if she wasn’t, Robert Thurman would have had quite a battle on his hands.
When she was finished with her soup, he took the tray back to the table for her. He then went to the wardrobe and picked out a soft blue nightgown for her to wear.
“Here,” Gabriel said handing the gown to her.
Natalya took the gown. Then looked at him. “It’s beautiful.”
“As are you. I’ll step out so you can get dressed for bed.”
“Gabriel wait,” Natalya said raising her hand to stop him. He paused, waiting for her to speak. She blushed, lowering her eyes. “Clara normally helps me undress. The corset laces up in the back.”
Gabriel took in a sharp breath. Was God playing a joke on him or was she really asking him to undress her again? Slowly he walked back to her. “Alright. Stand up.”
She did, undoing a couple of buttons on the side so that her dress fell loose around her torso. Carefully she removed her arms from her sleeves, making certain her breast remained covered. With her back to him, she pulled her hair over her shoulder. “I’m ready.”
Staring at the creamy flesh between her slim shoulders, Gabriel began the task of untying the yellow lace corset. Never had he undressed a woman twice without taking her to bed afterwards. His fingertips lightly touched her back and he felt her shudder. She was flushed all over now. He wondered what thoughts she was having.
“There. It’s done.” He left the room quickly before his restraint gave way! It was a tease, the small glimpse of her body that he saw! He wanted more, so much more!
Inside the room, Natalya struggled to get out of the dress and corset as her body trembled! He stirred the most nerve wrecking emotions inside of her! Why, she didn’t know. He was hard, overtly masculine and held a domineering presence. He was everything she feared in a man and yet, it was that thing that drew her to him. There was raw passion in him that excited her and it shouldn’t have. She had a life planned with Robert. When this was all over that’s who she would be going back to.
Once she was dressed she crawled into the large bed and under the covers. Eyes to the ceiling, she thought about how the night would end. To abort the child was the right thing to do.
There was a knock at the door and Gabriel walked in. He glanced at her lying in his bed, looking as if she belonged there. Then he walked around the room blowing out all the candles but one. When he was done he made his way to the bed and lay down beside her on top of the covers. Together they stared up at the ceiling. It was then that he acknowledged that she was more than just a beautiful woman that needed her protection.
“When do you think it will happen?” Natalya asked softly.
“Maybe it won’t,” Gabriel answered.
“And if it does? Then what?”
“It will be one less thing for us to worry about.”
“Us?” Natalya asked. Her heart pounded in her chest. What did he mean ‘us’? And why did it mean so much to her that he said it?
“Yes, us. Try to sleep. I’ll be right here if you need me.”
Natalya closed her eyes. Sleep would be a long time coming, but she would try.
Gabriel woke before Natalya did the next morning. She had slept the entire night. No signs of distress. Gently he lifted the blanket and checked for blood. There was none. A child hadn’t been conceived. He sighed in relief. Then made himself comfortable beside her again. Lightly, he stroked her shoulder blades and she cringed. Rolled over on her side and balled up. She was facing him now. He could see her fearful countenance. Obviously she was having a nightmare.
“No,” she whispered. “Please don’t.”
She was remembering! It was the first real clue he had to finding out who wanted to hurt her. He sat up slowly, listening. She tossed and turned, struggled in her sleep with the mysterious attacker. She began to moan, sounding as if she were in great pain.
“Don’t… Let her go… Please!” she begged.
Gabriel realized then that she had witnessed Linda’s murder. “Give me a name,” he whispered. “Who did this to you? Tell me Natalya and I’ll destroy him.”
Her pleas slowly died down to nothing and calm regained control over her. She was passed the nightmare for now. It wasn’t much to go on. Somewhere in her subconscious were the answers he needed to possibly solve an eight year old mystery. But he couldn’t push her. She wasn’t ready to remember.
She fell back into an easy rest as her features softened.
` Rising from the bed, Gabriel left the room, careful not to disturb her. He was still wearing the same clothes, but wanted to see that her breakfast was brought up to her promptly. As he was making his way down the stairs Clara was making her way up carrying a tray of food. She smiled at him.
“Good morning milord,” she said brightly. “Is Lady Huntington doing well?”
“Yes. Have a basin brought up for her after her meal. And one for me in the next room. I’ll dress there this morning.”
Clara nodded her head. “Yes milord.” Then continued on her way.
Gabriel continued down to the hall. His mother and James were already there eating. James looked up as he took his seat at the table.
“And how was your night?” James grinned.
The speculation was clear, though far from true or appropriate.
“Peaceful,” Gabriel answered. He didn’t want to say too much in front of his mother. She sat quietly enough, pretending not to listen to a word. “What’s going on in London?”
“Lady Jane Grey is no longer queen,” James said. “The Lord Mayor of London proclaims that Mary is the rightful queen.”
“What happened to Lady Jane Grey?” Gabriel asked. This was troubling news.
“She was imprisoned. No one expects Mary to let her live.”
With things unfolding the way they were in London, Gabriel knew the search for Natalya was probably the last thing the authorities were concerned with. Which meant it was solely up to him to make a trip there and see for himself how things were progressing. Cole was efficient enough, but a little help would hurt.
“What are you thinking about Gabriel?” Eleanor asked. She could see the wheels in her son’s head spinning.
“I need to know what’s going on with the royal family. A trip to London is what I’m thinking.” Gabriel looked at James. “I need one squire and a few soldiers to travel with me.”
Eleanor sat her fork down. “You’re going to London?”
Gabriel looked at her. “Yes. Today. You’ll have to be the castellan in my absence. Do you think you can manage that?”
“Of course I can. But who knows when your father will be coming for me.” Eleanor picked up her fork and began eating again. “What are you really planning to do?”
“Mary is the queen now. I need to be present to know what she plans to do with this country.”
It was a good excuse, but not the real one. He would find out while he was there what was going on with the royal family. His main objective, however, was to find out what was going on with Natalya’s case.
“Are you going to tell Natalya?” Eleanor asked.
James grinned. Apparently Eleanor too noticed the extra attention Gabriel was giving his guest. He’s been attracted to her since he laid eyes on her again at the engagement party!
Gabriel shot his friend a glance. Then answered his mother’s question. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”
Eleanor looked at her son. “Then perhaps you should let her fiancé know she is well.”
Coughing, James spit his food across the table. When did Eleanor find out who Natalya was? Gabriel made it clear he wanted no one to know!
Angry, Gabriel glared at her. She had over stepped. Being his mother didn’t give her free reign with her words.
“When she was hurt she didn’t call for her fiancé she called for me,” Gabriel said sharply. “So until I know for sure he had nothing to do with her being hurt, he will know absolutely nothing.”
Immediately Eleanor lowered her eyes. “I apologize. I was out of line. But I am worried about you Gabriel.” She looked at him. “Please be careful.”
Tiffany brought in a plate, setting it in front of Gabriel a long with a cup of juice. “Is there anything else milord?”
The audacity she had to come to his home and question him.
“Would you like me to join you in London?” James asked. He wanted to ease the tension between mother and son.
“No. I want you to stay here and over see things with Lady Eleanor. Cole and I will manage the situation fine.”
Breakfast was far from enjoyable and when it was over Gabriel went to his designated chambers to wash and dress. The entire time he thought about the beautiful guest in the next room. She would be safe here, that he knew. Still a part of him was dreading the thought of leaving her.
“She’s another man’s woman,” he told himself. “She is off limits.”
But was she really? Robert hadn’t married her yet. And when she needed help she called for him, not her fiancé. What was stopping him from marrying her himself?
“Marry her Gabriel?” he asked himself looking in the mirror.
She had been in his home less than a month and he was already having thoughts of marrying her!
No. He had to get a woman in his bed and be done with such thoughts. When he got to London he would have to procure a whore to satisfy those needs he was obviously neglecting. How else could he explain thoughts of marriage?
Once dressed, Gabriel made his way to his bed chambers where Natalya was. When he opened the door she was sitting at the vanity while Clara braided her long hair. She seemed in good spirits which pleased him. Her eyes lit up when they fell upon him and her lips parted into a smile. His heart sunk! How could he leave that beautiful smile?
“Gabriel, nothing happened,” Natalya said happily.
Gabriel couldn’t help but smile also. “I’m glad. You look radiant.”
Natalya looked at Clara. “Can you excuse us?”
“Yes.” Clara tied off the braid she was working on and then left the room.
Once they were alone, Natalya took Gabriel’s hand. “Thank you. I don’t know if I could have handled last night alone.”
“You don’t have to thank me. I told you I was going to help you any way I could.”
Natalya released his hand and stepped back from him. “I feel so relieved, but also worried.”
“Da.” Natalya began to fidget with her hands. She looked down at them. Then back at Gabriel. “I need you to deliver a message for me.”
Gabriel assumed it was for Robert and felt bitter jealousy rising in his chest. “A message for whom?”
“Linda. The woman is very dear to me and I don’t want her to worry anymore than she already has.”
Gabriel was taken back, realizing she was never told about Linda’s fate. He took her hands. “I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
“Please, you have to. She wouldn’t reveal our secret to anyone!”
“Natalya, Linda is dead,” Gabriel said gently.
Confused, Natalya frowned. “What?”
“The morning you went missing a servant found her body in your room.”
Natalya shook her head. “No. You must be wrong.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you didn’t know.”
The color drained from Natalya’s face and her knees grew weak. She gripped Gabriel’s hands tighter and managed to keep her balance. Linda! She was dead! But why would anyone kill her?
Horrified, Natalya guessed that Linda must have tried to stop her attacker. She was the reason Linda was dead!
“Damn it!” she swore angrily. More curses followed in her mother’s tongue. She was hurt, extremely so, but it was her anger that rose to the surface. She pulled away from Gabriel and began pacing the room. “You have to find this bastard! Do you hear me? You find him and kill him!”
Her anger wasn’t surprising, seeing how it was someone very close to her that was harmed. It was expected. She was livid with unbridled rage! So much so that he didn’t see her as a victim that he needed to protect from the world. The woman before him seemed determined and powerful, passionate and alive! In this moment of obvious pain and distress, he saw a side to her that excited him! She wasn’t wallowing in her misfortunes. And he admired her for it.
Shaking her head, Natalya continued to pace. “It’s one thing to hurt me, but not Linda. Not her!”
Gabriel went to her and took her by the shoulders to still her. She looked at him, her beautiful eyes glazed over with rage. “It’s good to feel anger. It’s healthy, but don’t let it consume you.”
Slowly, Natalya nodded.
“I’m going to London to help with the investigation personally. I’ll find out who did this and I will kill him.” He held her gaze, allowing his words to sink in.
“When do you leave?”
“This afternoon. You’ll be okay?”
Brows drawn together, Natalya shook her head. “How can I be now?”
It was a rhetorical question. He couldn’t give her closure until her attacker and subsequently Linda’s killer, was caught. Gently he caressed her face. He didn’t want to leave her for a moment. “I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.”
He spoke to her as if he were her lover leaving on a dangerous journey. Not a man that was emotionally unattached. She could imagine herself as his wife. Imagine him as the dark, strong husband that came back to her no matter what the circumstances were. And no part of her felt guilty because of it.
“I’ll be waiting here for you,” she replied. There was no longer room inside of her for self pity and fear. She wasn’t the true victim. Linda paid the ultimate sacrifice. “Please bring back answers.”
“I will Natalya. I promise you I will.”