Evan Winthrop was more than willing to help Robert find Natalya and bring her home. But it had been four months and they had learned nothing new. The constables had decided she simply ran away and Evan was beginning to believe that was the case. Nobody was ever found, so there was no proof that she had been murdered. It was time that Robert accepted that.
But telling a man consumed by love that his betroth had run off wasn’t easy.
Robert had been following Peter around town for the past month. Apparently Robert suspected the man of wrong doing and was determined to prove he had something to do with Natalya’s disappearance. The problem was that he was behaving erratically. People were beginning to talk and Evan wanted to help his friend.
Arriving at Robert’s home that morning, Evan had planned to sit his friend down and give him some firm advice. Robert met his friend at the breakfast table, but barely touched his food. “You have to stop this,” Evan said, sipping his drink. “You need to accept what happened and move on.”
Robert eyed his brunette friend angrily.
“Now don’t look at me that way. The constables have concluded that she ran away. You following Peter around won’t prove different.”
Robert ran his fingers through his hair, blowing softly. “You don’t understand.”
“I certainly don’t. Would you care to explain?”
Staring at his untouched food, Robert decided that Evan was trustworthy enough. “Peter had been making inappropriate advances towards Natalya. We thought to marry quickly to get her out of that house.”
“So this is why you suspect him?” Evan asked.
“I believe he knows something.”
“The man is a drunk!” Evan laughed. “Not a mastermind!”
“He wasn’t always a drunk! And the lowlifes I’ve seen him consorting with are dangerous men!” Robert said angrily.
“In that case you need to be careful my friend. It’s no secret you’ve been spying on the man.”
Robert looked at him surprised.
“Aye. Why do you think I’ve come to you this morn? People are talking about your strange behavior.”
“I’m not the only one still interested in Natalya’s whereabouts. Lord Devall inquired about the investigation when he was here.”
Evan frown. “Why was he interested?”
“He was there when her parents were murdered all those years ago.”
“Sweet Jesus. He thinks the killer took Natalya?”
“Aye. And if Peter was that murdering bastard that means something awful has happened to her.”
Though he didn’t want to, Evan had to admit his friend’s suspicions were credible. “What do you know about Peter’s past?”
Robert ran his hands through his hair again. “I’ve managed to find out he was a petty criminal before marrying Estelle. Charged with minor thefts, but suspected of murder.”
“Murder?” Evan was astounded. “Why did Estelle marry him?”
Shaking his head, Robert wondered the same thing. “That is the question, isn’t it?”
“Indeed. I’ll see what I can find out about Peter and Estelle. You my friend need to suspend your spying. It’s shinning too bright of a light on you.”
That was easier said than done. Natalya meant so much to him that it was impossible to sit idle and do nothing! Devall’s visit rekindled the fire in him to find her. And he would! Yet… There was something about that visit that seemed odd now. His purpose for the visit was not what he said it was. Devall was seeking information from him for his own reasons.
“I will not be so careless. That is all I can promise you.”
Evan had no choice but to accept that. In the meantime he would gather all the information he could.
Eleanor took a walked through her son’s fields. The sound of young knights clashing metal against metal as they practiced could be heard in the distance. It was a sound she was all too familiar with. At her home in New Castle, near northern England, her husband, Sinclair Devall and son Wolfin, constantly had the knights beneath them practicing just as vigorously. She missed his gruff mannerisms and strong embrace. He was secretive to the world, but an open book to her. He was rude and dismissive with others, but kind and patient with her.
No one understood why their love was so strong, why he never strayed. It was because they complimented each other perfectly. He was her wall of protection and she was his bed of understanding.
As she walked she thought of her children; Wolfin, Angelica, Gabriel, Krystlyn and Felicia. They were her greatest accomplishments. And the source of her greatest worries. Wolfin was consumed with keeping the family fortune intact and never thinking of himself. Angelica was headstrong and proud. Gabriel completely stubborn. Krystlyn was manipulative and conniving. And Felicia was the eternal child, free spirited to a fault! And worry about them was all she seemed to do.
They were all she seemed to think about lately.
And now Gabriel was playing a dangerous game with his heart. Something bad happened to Natalya. Eleanor slept down the hall from Gabriel’s chambers and she could hear Natalya’s screams at night. Gabriel was there when the girl almost died the first time and he never forgot about it. And here she is again, hurt, but stronger and weaker at the same time. She trusted no one but him. And he wanted her. Though he had yet to admit it, it was true.
And there lies the problem.
Natalya was betrothed to another man. And who ever hurt her might want to finish what he started. And to make it worse, she was falling for him as well! Which would be wonderful if all those other circumstances didn’t surround them.
Eleanor thought the world of Natalya. She was smart, quick on her feet and resilient. Eleanor thought those were wonderful qualities for any wife of Gabriel. But there was a deep pain in Natalya. She kept it bottled up inside. One day it would come crashing to the surface. Eleanor feared it would break her. And that would wound Gabriel deeply.
Sighing, Eleanor stopped, looking around. The castle was about a mile back. It was early October. The autumn air was crisp. It never got too cold at Gabriel’s home. Unlike New Castle where the winter is harsh. She missed home desperately. With all her heart.
She headed back towards the castle. Sinclair had gone to Calais with his army, putting in his time for the crown there. Soon he would come for her and they would return home together. As soon as she entered Gabriel came upon her frowning.
“Where have you been?” he asked.
Sighing, Eleanor shook her head. “Can’t I take a walk to clear my head?”
Gabriel narrowed his eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“Just missing your father. He’s been gone a long time.”
Gabriel grinned. “Well, then you’ll be pleased to know a messenger from his army is here. He says father is only two days out.”
Eleanor’s face lit up. “I am pleased,” she said smiling.
“Please don’t leave alone again. I worry for you.”
“Fine Gabriel. I’ll take someone with me next time.” Eleanor left her son standing alone.
Gabriel headed for the soldiers quarters. James was there getting the young men settled in and ready for the day’s training. When Gabriel came upon him, he tapped him on the shoulder.
“Let’s walk,” Gabriel said. James joined him as they headed towards the fields where the rest of the men trained.
“What is it?” James asked.
“I have information that points to Peter Winster as the man that attacked Natalya. Cole has stayed behind to gather more information.”
“He’s a crafty lad, isn’t he?”
Gabriel grinned. “He’s getting a lot of information through pillow talk.”
James laughed. “Whatever works!”
Gabriel laughed too. “My father will be here in two days. I assume he will stay a short while then return home before the winter gets too cold.”
“Of course. And what of Miss Maria?”
Gabriel shook his head. “She’s running from her father’s mistakes. I promised to protect her.”
“The castle is filling with damsels in distress.” James joked.
“I am no damsel in distress,” Natalya said from behind them.
Both men stopped and turned to her. She wore a wool shawl over her slim shoulders. She appeared upset and somewhat out of breath. She must have run from the castle to catch up with them. James excused himself and the two were alone.
“It’s cold. We should go inside,” Gabriel told her.
“I’m from Russia. I think I can handle England’s cold,” Natalya snapped.
“Walk with me then.” Gabriel offered his arm and she slipped her slim one around it. “Now tell me, what is it that you need.”
They began walking at an easy pace.
“I’m no damsel,” Natalya reiterated. “I can go to Robert if you have too much to handle.”
Gabriel smiled. “No. You’ll stay here where you are safe.”
She didn’t like being told what to do, but he was right about her being safe there. “What have you found out?”
Gabriel guided her towards the stables near the lake. It was out of sight from the castle. “It appears that Peter Winster might be your attacker.”
Natalya shook her head. “No. He’s my uncle. You must be wrong.”
“You never suspected him?” Gabriel looked at her.
Hesitating, Natalya looked away. He was the first person she suspected. She looked up at him. “You said my attacker was most likely the same person that killed my parents.”
“Winster has a shady past.”
“A murderous one?”
“It appears that way.”
“Why would my aunt marry the man that killed her brother? That doesn’t make sense.” Natalya felt herself growing angry.
“I don’t think she knew. Maybe in her grief she made a bad decision.” Gabriel stopped them at the edge of the lake. “What can you tell me about your uncle?”
Natalya looked out over the lake. “He drinks a lot now. And he looks at me strangely.” Slowly she shook her head. “You really think he killed my parents?”
“He has a dark past. I believe he may have killed your parents in order to take advantage of your aunt.”
“And then, that means he killed Linda.” Natalya wanted to scream! That bastard! How could he? “We have to go to Robert.”
She still clings to him, Gabriel thought annoyed. “I’ve spoken to Robert. There is nothing he can do now,” he lied. He wanted her to rely solely on him. He was the one she called for that night.
Distress fell over her face. “What am I suppose to do now? I can’t go home. Robert won’t have me…”
That’s not what Gabriel said, but if that’s what she thought he wouldn’t correct her. He wanted her to turn to him.
“I told you before that I would have you. I will protect you,” he reminded her. “I will fight this battle for you.”
Looking at him, she felt overwhelmed. She needed to be strong, that’s what she kept telling herself. But what did that really mean? Robert wouldn’t have her and her uncle was a killer. She needed to protect herself and Gabriel offered her that protection.
But how could she accept it?
“No Gabriel. It wouldn’t be fair to you either.”
Gabriel grinned. “An why not? You are beautiful and smart…”
“And damaged!” Natalya interrupted. “How could you ever want to touch me after… after…”
“After you were raped?” Gabriel spoke tenderly, pushing a strand of windblown hair out of her face.
Hearing him say those words was like a kick in the gut. Natalya lowered her eyes.
“When I saw you that night, beaten and bloody, I just wanted to protect you.” He gently pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head. “You called for me. And I wanted you to be okay so that I could take care of you.”
His words warmed her, consoled her. She wanted him to protect her, but something was holding her back.
“Natalya, what are you afraid of? That I can’t protect you?”
“I can’t be your wife Gabriel. I can’t.”
“Because I can’t lay with you. I-I can’t lay with any man. Ever!” She pulled away from him and ran back towards the castle.
Gabriel let her go, satisfied with the ground he gained so far. It would take time for her to trust herself as well as him. And he could be patient.
Sinclair Devall appeared to be larger than life. To say the sight of him was intimidating was an understatement! Thick black and gray hair crowned his head and shoulders in a wavy mass. Dark brown eyes glared at everyone. He was definitely the man that sired Gabriel. They had the same handsome face! Except for Eleanor’s eyes, they were the exact image of each other!
Physically they were nearly the same size, Sinclair was larger, but Gabriel was more muscular. Time had touched Sinclair with wrinkles, but nothing terrible. There didn’t seem to be any humor with the man at all. His voice was forceful when he spoke. His mouth stayed a permanent line. That is…
Until Eleanor came into the room.
That is when his eyes lit up and the corners of his mouth lifted. He’d been sitting in the hall with Gabriel and James when she walked in and stole his attention away. Even now, he desired her the way he had in their younger days when he pursued her.
Rising to his feet, he extended out his hand to her. She rushed into his arms, embracing him as tightly as she could. The feel of her soft body against his own was enough to sooth away some of the agitation he’d felt over the last few weeks. He wanted to take her home and lie her down in their own bed.
“I’ve missed you!” Eleanor told him, looking up into his eyes.
His mouth fell on hers and swallowed her words. He was ecstatic to see her. Slowly he broke away from her. “And I have missed you.”
Eleanor looked at her son, still worried about his future. Then back to Sinclair. “I’ll give you two time alone.” She started to leave when Sinclair held her a moment longer.
“I won’t be long.”
Smiling, she left the room.
Sinclair took his seat again. He looked at his son and there was no evidence of the joy he had just felt on his face. “What’s been going on here?”
“What do you mean?” Gabriel asked.
“That look your mother gave you, what was that about?”
“That was about Natalya.” Gabriel hadn’t planned on discussing her with his father just yet. He wanted to get reacquainted first. With Mary now in control of England there was bound to be changes that would affect them. Their armies were sworn to serve the crown. And she would definitely require their service. But Sinclair wanted to discuss personal matters first. How unlike him.
“Natalya?” Sinclair narrowed his eyes. “Who is Natalya?”
Sinclair leaned back, raising his eyebrows. “Harold Huntington’s daughter?”
“Aye.” Gabriel explained the whole story to his father, ending with his decision that he wanted her for himself. Although James didn’t know the latter part, he didn’t appear surprised by it.
Sinclair nodded. His way of thinking was much like Gabriel’s. If you want something or someone, you had to claim it in order to acquire it. The two opposing components were Robert Thurman and, most importantly, the danger she was in. “Robert Thurman has supplied our family with arms for many years. He will react badly to this.”
“He can be handled,” Gabriel assured his father. “Mother is just being over concerned.”
“She has reason to be concerned from what I’ve heard from your own mouth. Harold Huntington was a good man. And now his killer has targeted his daughter. He won’t fear you.”
“And I won’t fear him.” Gabriel frowned. “I’ll kill that bastard as soon as I get the chance.”
Sinclair shook his head. His son was determined, but ruled by his emotions. Clearly his son desired Natalya. Now he suspected his son might actually love this woman.
Gabriel’s thoughts were void of tactical planning. This wasn’t a situation to be hot headed in. To catch this killer he needed to be cunning. And it was hard to be cunning when you were driven by emotions.
“When do you plan to wed her?” Sinclair asked.
“Soon. She needs a little more time.”
“Plant your seed in her and she won‘t be able to refuse you.”
Gabriel had considered it. “She needs more time for that as well.”
“After what she’s been through you’re right.” Sinclair reached for his cup of ale and drunk deeply. “What is the story with Maria Mendoza?”
“Antonio offered his debtors his most prized possession to stay his debt until payment was complete and they chose his beautiful daughter. She tried to flee with her fiancé but he died on the ship. So she came to me for help.”
“What a fool!” Sinclair exclaimed. “I’d tear a man’s heart out if he threatened one of my daughters!”
“Well Antonio sought a less violent way to handle his problem.” Gabriel grinned.
“A coward’s way. What do you plan to do with the girl?”
Gabriel shook his head. “I don’t know she needs to marry. That’s the only way she wouldn’t be considered her father’s property.”
Sinclair looked thoughtful. “Let me take her back to New Castle.”
“Why?” Gabriel frowned.
“Wolfin is long overdue to take a wife. He’s thirty now and needs to build a family the way he’s built his army.”
Smiling, Gabriel thought about how his older brother would respond to a forced marriage. Wolfin told him years ago he either wanted to die on the battlefield or in a brothel. And that it was Gabriel’s job to carry on the family name.
Maria would not be treated poorly as Wolfin’s wife. In fact, she would be well protected from anyone who dared to take her! But he wouldn’t like being forced into it.
“I would love to see how he handles that news.”
Sinclair smiled. “That will be part of the fun.”
Both Gabriel and James laughed. “How are my nieces and nephews?” Gabriel asked.
“My granddaughters are beautiful! And my grandsons are strong, but do not carry the Devall name,” Sinclair pointed out. He looked at James. “Why do my sons deny me a grandson to carry on my name?”
“I’m sure Wolfin will give you strong grandsons,” Gabriel grinned. “As will I when Natalya is ready.”
“You have to marry the girl first!” Sinclair chuckled.
“That would help,” James added.
“I don’t want any bastard grandsons.” Sinclair also added.
“I will not give you any. But I must know how my siblings are.” Gabriel hadn’t seen them in a long time.
Sinclair drunk deeply from his cup. Then leaned back in his chair. “Wolfin, as I said before, he’s built a magnificent army. Completely loyal to him first. I gave him several acres of land on the eastern side of our estate. There he built a large home for himself where he entertains many loose women.”
“Of course. It’s either blood or lust with my brother.”
“Angelica and Liam are back in Hawick, Roxburgh with their three boys. They come every June to spend four weeks with us. And they are well.”
Angelica’s sons were Scottish through and through. And cunning as a fox! The last time Gabriel saw them was after he was given his lands and Lordship in Winchester and baron over the surrounding towns.
“Krystlyn and Julian still reside in Dover when they aren’t travelling. And they vacation in Picardy during the holidays. He’s decided to give in to your sister’s every whim and she’s been playing concerts all around Europe. He’s actually turned out to be quite a good artist himself.”
Julian Rousseau’s father was a French warrior who died during the Battle of Pavia when Julian was five. His mother brought him back to England when she lost her husband. At age eighteen he inherited his father’s estate and title as Duke of Picardy just east of Normandy. His uncle Jacque governed there in his absence.
Krystlyn played the harp and was always in demand. Julian, though he studied to be a physician, was a painter who was also always in demand. The two of them decided to live out their artistic passions and were very successful doing it. They had one daughter, Ava. They wanted more children but because of complications with her second birth she wasn’t able to have anymore. They did adopt a little boy who was orphaned from Italy. Enzo Larenz.
“It’s just a short trip across the channel to Picardy,” Sinclair continued. “He’s quite comfortable ruling it from Dover.”
“How is Felicia and Connor?” Of all his siblings, the youngest Felicia was the most spirited and kind.
“Those two will never change. They throw caution to the wind and live as free as they can. They live with us and there is never a dull moment when their family is together.”
“He still serves in Wolfin’s army?”
“Yes. I think he will serve your brother till hiss dying day.”
“It’s good to hear that they are happy. Let’s drink to the joy my sisters have found!”
Sinclair downed the rest of his ale. Then rose to his feet. “It’s time that I retire to my wife. What chamber is she in?”
“The one specifically for you two.” Sinclair headed for the exit. Pausing he looked back at his son. “I would like to meet Natalya. Make sure it happens tomorrow.”
Sinclair left to seek his wife.
James finished his ale. Sinclair had arrived that evening and now it was early morning. “I knew you were going to claim her. I just didn’t know when.”
“Aye. I think I knew as well. She’s beautiful and strong. Yet, fragile at the same time. I won’t give her up.”
“She trust you Gabriel. Right now you’re all she has.”
She had been quiet and distant these last few days. Keeping herself busy with servants work. Gabriel knew she was processing everything he had told her about her uncle. And the offer of marriage. She was terrified, but not ready to admit that weakness. It was okay. He had plenty of time to convince her that marriage to him was her best option.
“When you marry her, what will you do then?” James asked.
“Take her back to London and stir things up. As of right now no one knows what happened to her. It will take them completely by surprise to see her as my wife. Lady Devall.”
James was amused by his friend’s confidence. “What if she wants to go back to her betrothed?”
“That’s not going to be a problem.”
“And why not?”
“Because I let her believe that he no longer wants her.”
James chuckled. “You conniving fool. The poor girl must be distraught.”
“She is. And she’ll turn to me and I’ll protect her. No one will hurt her again.”
“You really do care for this girl. This isn’t just some lustful desire you want to satiate.”
Gabriel didn’t respond. Instead he rose from his seat. “I should retire.” He left his friend and made his way to his chambers.
When he got there, Natalya was awake. She was sitting beneath the window, the shutters were open. And she held a goblet in her hand. She stared up and out of the window at the stars.
He closed the door and made his way to her. Kneeling down beside her. He could smell the sweet aroma of wine. “What are you doing?”
Gabriel looked at the stars with her. “About the stars?”
“About my parents. My father said England was this great place. That it would be better than the way Ivan ruled Russia. He said we’d be happy here. My mother didn’t care where we went, just as long as we were together. But my father was wrong. England was the worst place we could have come to.”
“I’m sorry you’ve gone through so much hardship.” Gabriel brushed the strands of hair from her face.
“They were having a baby. They told me the night of the party I’d be a big sister soon.” Natalya sipped her wine. “My mother had miscarried a few times. I look back and think of the times she’d sit and cry. She wanted life to be better here in England. We should have never left Russia.”
Gabriel just listened, surprised by the things she told him. He watched her finish her wine. “It’s okay to grieve for these things.”
She chuckled. “If I could I would. My mother use to tell me that I was my father’s child completely and that’s why I was strong.”
“She was right. You are strong.”
“Not strong enough.” She looked down at the empty goblet.
He placed his hand over hers. “You would never be able to overpower a man if he sets his mind on taking what he wants.” She looked at him. “But you are a very strong woman to have survived the attack on your life. Not to succumb to the beating he gave you.”
For a moment all she could do was stare at him. She felt stronger just listening to his words. Her uncle was physically capable of hurting her. Regardless if she were sober or not. But she survived. She needed protection. Protection Gabriel was willing to give to her. It was her pride that kept her from saying yes.
Pride and fear.
“What are you thinking?” Gabriel asked her. Her eyes were flooded with so many emotions.
“I trust you Gabriel,” she said softly. “Not to hurt me or lie to me.”
Gabriel caressed her cheek with his free hand. “And I never would.” Slowly he leaned forward, not sure how she would react and gently kissed her.
Natalya closed her eyes. She had been kissed before by Robert, but never had she felt such warmth consume her! It started in her belly. Then spread throughout her body. She moaned, reaching up to touch his bearded face. He was careful, easing his tongue between her lips, slowly plundering her wine favored mouth.
He repositioned his hand from hers and moved it around to her lower back. She felt the heat of it through the fabric of her night gown. It excited and terrified her! She couldn’t remember what the violation felt like, but her body instinctively tensed.
She pulled back, lowering her eyes. “I’m sorry. I am. It’s just…”
“I understand,” Gabriel said. And he did. Lifting her chin so that he could see her face, he smiled. “Look at me.”
“That was the sweetest kiss I’ve ever had.”
She laughed, blushing. “You promised not to lie to me.”
He chuckled. “I’m not lying. Your lips taste of wine.”
She was amazed at how easy it was to laugh with him and forget her fears. Despite how chaotic her life was, he was always able to center her. “I’ll do it Gabriel.”
He looked at her puzzled. “You’ll do what” He was hoping to hear she would marry him.
“I know that it will be hard, but I will try to be your wife in every sense of the word.”
Gabriel’s smile was one of jubilance. He hadn’t realized how much he wanted her until that very moment! It definitely wasn’t just a lustful desire. It was deeper than that. “You’ve made me very happy this night Natalya. I promise to protect you no matter what.”
Natalya was beyond grateful. “I know that you will.”
Gabriel continued to stare into her lovely face. This was going to be the face of his future wife. His heart seemed to swell in his chest. “Since my parents are here, I was thinking to get married this week.”
So soon! Natalya blew softly to steady her nerves. “Of course. That would be fine.”
Natalya lay still, in a dizzy haze as her uncle climbed on top of her, drunk and out of control. He kissed her with foul, sloppy lips. He held her hands above her head with one hand and groped her breast with the other. She struggled weakly against him, unable to get free.
“I know you like this,” he said. “Don’t worry. I’ll teach you something you can take to your wedding bed.”
She screamed, but his heavy hand muffled her cries. Then, with the hand that was holding her down, he punched her hard in the face.
She blacked out for a moment. Head aching, thoughts spinning. She couldn’t get away and she could stop him. He was going to have her whether she wanted him to or not. She could feel him separating her legs. Felt his fleshy member press against her. It was more than she could bear!
Natalya woke screaming.
It startled Gabriel out of his sleep. Heart racing, he reached for her, knowing she was trapped in her nightmare again. He took hold of her shoulders. She slapped his hand away and attempted to jump up from the bed. He grabbed her arm and pulled her back. Which he regretted doing the moment it was done. She screamed louder. Began kicking and clawing. Anything to get away. He let her go. Her screams were so loud, a continuous stream of anguish. He knew someone would hear and come if he didn’t get her under control.
“Natalya, it’s me. Gabriel. Calm yourself.”
But she couldn’t. She didn’t see Gabriel. She didn’t see anyone! She could only feel her uncle against her and the sheer terror that created.
Gabriel went to the vanity and lit the lantern. When he saw her balled up against the wall. Knees to her chest screaming, he froze. She was utterly terrified of him!
Not you, he reminded himself. Peter. The man that beat and raped her.
“Natalya,” he said softly.
The door burst opened and his parents came in. Gabriel turned to them, angry at their intrusion. He was handling the situation. Eleanor walked passed her son to Natalya, kneeling down beside the screaming woman. She embraced Natalya, rocking her gently.
“Shhh. Calm down sweet child. Calm down. It’s okay.” Natalya continued to struggle, but Eleanor’s embrace was firm. “Struggle not sweet girl. You’re safe.”
Natalya stopped screaming. “No. Don’t let him… touch me. Please.” Her voice trembled.
Eleanor shot her son a quick glance. “No one will touch you again.”
Sinclair grabbed his son’s arm and dragged him out of the room. Then he closed the door so the women could have some privacy. Gabriel glared at his father. Had they not interrupted he would have calmed Natalya himself!
“Relax. Your mother heard her scream and wanted to help. I personally didn’t want to get involved.”
“And you shouldn’t have,” Gabriel snapped. “I am helping her cope!”
“You obviously touched her the wrong way,” Sinclair shot back. “Let your mother handle it. She knows what to do.”
“How would she know? I’m the one Natalya confides in.” Gabriel shook his head. “I was making progress with her. I should be in there. Not mother.”
“Trust me when I say you have no idea how hard of a task you have set for yourself. Let your mother handle it.”
The words didn’t register in Gabriel’s mind. He couldn’t just stand there while Natalya needed him! He had to help her. “I’m going back in.”
Sinclair pushed his son back against the wall. “You don’t get it do you? It’s not about what you want. It’s about what Natalya needs.”
“She needs me,” Gabriel said, angrily.
“No. She needs someone who understands exactly how she feels.”
“Then what is mother doing in there? She doesn’t under…” Gabriel stopped. Realizing what his father was saying. “Who?”
Sinclair lowered his voice. “It doesn’t matter. He’s long dead.”
Gabriel leaned back against the wall, running his hands through his hair. He wanted to hit something! Anything to release the anger he felt! “I just want to help her. How do I do that?”
“It’s different for every woman. There’s no easy way. She trust you I assume.”
“Yes. As much as she can.”
“You can’t rush her.”
“I didn’t! She was having a nightmare! I just wanted to console her!” Gabriel blew loudly. “I have to get him out of her head. How do I do that?”
Sinclair remembered what he did for Eleanor. “You have to show her that your touch is different. When she wakes up screaming you ask if you can hold her.” He looked at the bedroom door. “Are you sure you want to deal with this?”
“I told you before that I wanted her.”
Sinclair nodded his head. “I believe you do.”
Inside the room Eleanor was helping Natalya off the floor and back into bed. She hadn’t said anything else, but Eleanor didn’t expect her to. Seeing her so tormented brought back painful memories for the older woman. She wanted to help her through this, but soon she would be leaving.
All she could do now is give her words of comfort. Try to reassure her that the fear would pass.
Natalya stared at the wall, playing the memory over and over in her head. It was her uncle. There was no doubt about it now. She could still feel him touching her, between her legs! The disgust she felt was nauseating. She could bathe a hundred times and still feel dirty. She wanted to be left alone. She couldn’t stand Eleanor looking upon her with pity. It just humiliated her further.
“I’m fine now. Please go,” she said softly.
Eleanor sat on the edge of the bed. “You’re not fine, but you will be. In time you’ll feel clean again. You won’t flinch at a man’s touch. And you won’t dream about it. You’ll always remember. Time just makes the pain less. What you have to do is live. Don’t shut Gabriel out or seclude yourself from people. You are cared for.”
Natalya refused to look at her. “I need to protect myself. You don’t understand.”
“Oh, but I do. I felt like I wanted to crawl in a hole so no one could hurt me again. I didn’t trust anyone. And I refused to believe anyone could love me. But Sinclair loved me.” Eleanor sighed. “My son is very fond of you. Give him a chance to make you happy.” She rose from the bed and left the room.
Sinclair and Gabriel were waiting for her in the hall way. She went to her husband and embraced him. His arms folded around her. She looked at her son.
“She’s trying hard to be strong. It’s going to break her. She needs to grieve what she’s loss.”
“Thank you for trying,” Gabriel said softly. He hated that his mother had gone through this same torment. “I will see you at breakfast.” He went back inside the room. Natalya lay on the bed with her back to him, facing the wall. “Natalya?”
Slowly she sat up, keeping the blankets over her breast. She looked at him. Her eyes were completely dry. She hadn’t shed one tear.
Before he thought it was admirable of her to be so strong. Now he wondered if it wouldn’t just be easier if she cried and expressed the pain she felt. He went to the bed and sat beside her. She looked so pale and fragile. Like she was barely holding herself together.
“Did I cause this?” he asked.
Natalya shook her head. “I remembered a little more.”
“What did you remember?”
She hesitated. She didn’t want to speak it. She didn’t want him to hear the details. “Please don’t make me say it. Let it be enough that I tell you it was Peter.”
Gabriel wished he could instantly take away the anguish he saw in her eyes. He wanted to replace it with joy. He wanted to remove the worry from her face and the fear from her heart. “It’s alright. You don’t have to tell me anymore than that.”
Looking at him, his handsome face shadowed with the concern he felt for her, Natalya knew what she had to do. She was too damaged. Despite what he wanted to believe.
“Gabriel,” she started softly. “I can’t marry you. I can’t submit my body to you now or ever. I thank you for what you’re trying to do, but I can’t.”
She was understandably shaken by the dream she had. Still, he wasn’t ready to let her go that easily. Not when he knew he would have no other. “I told you I would protect you at all cost. No matter what. I haven’t forgotten that promise.”
“I won’t hold you to it!”Natalya said desperately. “There’s no way I can fulfill a commitment like that!”
“You don’t have to fulfill anything. That’s not what this marriage will be about. Trust me. I know what I’m doing.”
Natalya wanted to trust him, but she couldn’t let him be saddled with such a burden. “You’ll want sons Gabriel. Sons that I won’t be able to give you.”
“Sons? When you’re ready we’ll have them, but not before. I want you as my wife Natalya. Don’t deny me what you’ve already promised.”
It’s what she wanted, to be his wife. If she were to have nothing else but Gabriel as her husband, it would still be what she wanted. How could she satisfy him though? She couldn’t even let him touch her!
Confused she looked away from him. She didn’t know what to do. Only that there were no easy choices. He deserved more than a lame wife.
“No more than twenty-four hours ago did you agree to be my wife. Don’t let a dream interfere with our plans.”
Panicked, Natalya began to shake. “I… I’m confused. I know it would be wise for me to marry you, but what will you benefit from it?”
“I’ll have you,” Gabriel said sincerely. “And you’re all I want.”
His voice carried a passion she hadn’t heard from him before. It stirred emotions in her that she didn’t recognize. Looking at him, seeing the heat in his eyes, she wanted him to kiss her again. Her heart quickened at the thought and her lips parted in anticipation. But he didn’t move to kiss her. His eyes held hers, demanding an answer.
“I’ll honor the promise I made to you, but only under one condition.”
Gabriel raised an eyebrow. “What condition is that?”
“That you’ll take a mistress to fulfill the needs that I cannot.”
“I do not believe I’ll need that mistress. But if the need does arise I will take one.” He had no intentions of taking a mistress. He would say anything to get her to agree at this point.
She had hoped he would put up a little resistance to the idea. Even if it was all for show. Still, he had agreed to her terms and that’s all she needed.
Exhausted, she lay back on the bed and closed her eyes. “I need to rest now.”
He wouldn’t push her any further. He’s gotten what he wanted for now. By the end of the week she would be his wife. Then he would work on breaking down the walls around her heart.
Estelle watched Peter pace back and forth, anxious to hear what her idiot husband had found out about Natalya’s disappearance. He’d paid quite a few spies to find her.
Apparently they had.
Now he was pacing back and forth in their bedroom. The constable had decided that she ran off after Linda was murdered. And since she was just a chaperone her death wasn’t important enough for an investigation.
It was a break Estelle and Peter needed, yet, it did little to ease their minds. Peter couldn’t remember everything that night, but he did know Natalya lived. If she came forward with what happened it would ruin them.
So they came up with a new plan; find Natalya and make sure she never turns up.
And Peter found her. It was where she had been found that was the problem. She was with Lord Gabriel Devall! In his castle, guarded by his army.
“Please just tell me what you found out,” Estelle said irritated.
Peter stopped pacing and looked at her. She hadn’t been happy with him since he told her what he did to her niece. “I found her, but you’re not going to like where she is.”
Estelle rose from the chair where she sat. “Where is she?”
Gasping, Estelle covered her mouth. Gabriel Devall came visiting, looking for answers that day and now at least she knew why. She shook her head and walked to the bed. She looked at him. “You said you could handle Devall.”
“And I can. It’s his army that I’m worried about. There’s no way I can get into the castle and kill them both.”
“What will we do?” Estelle was afraid there was no solution.
That’s what Peter had been trying to figure out himself. Killing the man would not be a simple task. He was an adept warrior. Still, it was a task that could be completed. It was setting up the opportunity to kill him that would be tricky. He had to get Gabriel to London. That was the only way he’d ever get his hands on him.
“We have to get him to London,” Peter told her. “If we can get him here, my men can grab him and take him out.”
Estelle nodded, agreeing with his plan. “And what about Natalya?”
Peter grinned. “I’ll finish what you started ten years ago. Don’t worry my love. Everything will work out as planned.” He went to her, taking her hands. “When this is over I’ll be a better husband. I promise.”
Looking into his eyes, Estelle knew it was just another empty promise. One he had made several times before. “I know you will. Now we must figure out a way to get Gabriel and Natalya here.”
“I’ve already thought about that. You write a letter to Gabriel telling him how your husband’s resources have located Natalya. Tell him that you are thankful she is safe and that you wish her to remain there until her attacker is found.”
Estelle frowned, confused. “But we want them to come. Why would I tell him to stay?”
“He’s sure to know about me, but not you. If you make it seem that you are ignorant of my involvement, he’ll come if for no other reason than to protect you.”
It was a good plan. Estelle went to work writing the letter. Then she made sure one of her servants had the letter sent to Castle Devall.
With that set into motion she was able to relax a little easier. Peter was confident his plan would work. When Gabriel and Natalya returned to London they would be killed