Chapter Thirty Six
Nathaniel paused with the sword poised at my throat for possibly the thousandth time, his brows furrowed as he looked around him in confusion, something having drawn his attention away from me.
Hardly even noticing his behavior through the sweat pouring down my face even in the cool night, I groaned and knocked his blade away with my own. Stone had already put his own weapon away for the night awhile ago, but Nathaniel had insisted I keep trying. “It’s no use. I suck.”
He blinked and turned back to me. “You’ve only just started learning. It takes more than a few hours to become a master swordsman.”
“But we’ve been at this the whole day and well into the night, and I haven’t been able to deflect your sword even once,” I whined. “And look!” I gestured at all the tears in the sleeves of my shirt. “If you weren’t so kind, I’d be scarred right about now.”
He wasn’t listening to me, his attention once again wandering somewhere else. His sword dropped by his side and he narrowed his eyes at something just passed the tree line.
“Do you hear that?” he asked, one moment before I did.
The approaching sound of wheels crunching over dirt. And then, just there, behind the trunks of trees lining the yard, I could just make out the image of a carriage as it came up the expansive drive way to Kendon.
Frowning, I asked Nathaniel, “Were we expecting anyone tonight?”
“Decidedly not.” Immediately, he took off toward the house with me following close behind.
We burst into the study and Lydia looked up sharply as the door slammed open. Stone sprang to his feet, his good hand curled into a fist.
“What is it?” Lydia asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Where is my brother?” Nathaniel looked at Stone.
“He left here some time ago,” he answered. “Jennifer had asked for a word, but they’d not said where they were going.”
“But that was some time ago,” Lydia said. “Whatever they were speaking about ought to be well over now. Have you checked his room?”
“I will check there.” Nathaniel turned for the door.
“Will one of you please say what’s happened?”
“Nothing yet,” said Nathaniel. “But there is a cab coming to the house and—"
“Right.” Stone gave Lydia’s hand a squeeze and said, “If you need anything, I will make sure your lady’s maid is waiting right outside the door.”
“I am coming with you,” she argued.
“No, you must rest.” Stone picked up the sword that he’d left leaning against the plush chair beside the desk. “You will greet whoever this unforeseen guest may be,” Stone told Nathaniel, “while I go to the captain’s room.”
“He isn’t in his room,” I said, pushing past both men and heading into the hallway, knowing exactly where Carter would be if he’d just spoken to my mother.
I led Stone and Nathaniel into the Room of Fire and Grass, and Carter immediately rose from the sofa, his body wound and ready for a fight. He looked at me. “What’s happening?”
I responded, “You have a visitor.”
Without another word, he grabbed his suit jacket and charged for the front door.
Before we even arrived in the foyer, we could hear Mr. Jenkins’ offended voice bouncing off the marble walls. “I’ve no idea who you are, but you will not be entering this house—"
“Just tell the captain that William is here,” answered the familiar voice. “He will want to see me.”
“I do not care if your name is William or Edward or Charles or anything remotely of the kind,” said Jenkins. “You will not enter this home—"
“It’s all right, Jenkins, let him through,” Carter said as we came to the door.
Jenkins looked bewildered. “But, Your Lordship, this man—"
“I know him. Please, let him in.”
Looking as if it made him physically ill to do it, Jenkins parted the door and William—in his usual garb of only pants and no shirt, proudly showing off the tattoo that wound around his chest—stalked into the foyer toward Carter.
“I am sorry, Captain,” he said quickly. “But I could think of no other way.”
“What are you talking about, William?” Carter asked.
“Is everything all right?” Stone pressed.
“Well, she insisted.” William was speaking so quickly it looked as if it was taking great effort to not trip over this words. “And I thought it would be best for her to be accompanied if she had to come at all.”
Nathaniel demanded, “Who?”
“Where is he?” she shouted as she pushed easily past Jenkins and into the foyer. Sierra looked bedraggled, hair knotted, face oily and unclean, clothes hanging haphazardly off her shoulders, eyes rimmed in red, feet bare and filthy. She marched right up to Carter, craning her head to make sure he receive the full impact of her glare. “Where?”
“What are you talking about?” Nathaniel asked.
“James has not been on the ship for far too long and I want to know what you’ve done with him.” She was breathing so hard I thought she might pass out.
The muscle in Carter’s jaw popped as he looked up at Jenkins questioning face. “I will explain,” Carter said softly, putting his hand on Sierra’s back and steering her back the way we’d come, to somewhere more private.
She shook him off so violently she almost slipped on the smooth marble floor. “What have you done?” she repeated, louder this time.
“We will tell you everything,” I said, trying to keep my voice as calm as possible, “once you come with us—”
“You lie. All of you, that’s all you do. Lie. I will go nowhere with you. You will tell me here. Where is James?”
Nathaniel looked up at Jenkins. “I’m sorry, Jenkins, but would you mind?”
Jenkins jerked as if he had forgotten for just a moment that he could be seen, and bowed slightly. “Of course. My apologies, my lord.” And he left the foyer.
Carter put his hand on William’s shoulder. “It was good of you to come with her. Go with Stone. He can show where you’ll stay tonight.”
Stone looked astonished at the dismissal. “But, Captain—"
“Please, Stone,” he said, his voice still maintaining that soft quality. There was something so heartbreaking about it that not even someone with a supposed "heart of stone" could help obeying.
“Aye, Captain.” Stone led William off, leaving just the four of us in the foyer.
Clearing my throat awkwardly, I whispered, “Perhaps—"
I cut off and looked down to see Carter had reached behind him without taking his eyes off his sister and wrapped his fingers around my wrist. No, he seemed to say, you will stay.
“Tell me,” Sierra insisted. “Where is he?”
No one answered her. That is, no one knew who to answer her. She was a bomb that no one knew how to diffuse. It was possible cutting one wire would set her off while it was equally feasible that not touching any wire would let her explode just the same.
She took in each of our silent faces and took a step back, her voice a lot smaller as she asked again, “Where is he?”
Nathaniel is the one who spoke. “I am so sorry, sister.”
She shook her head rapidly, back and forth, refusing. “Where is he?”
“He did it to save us,” I offered.
“Did what?” Her voice had reached a screech and she looked to her older brother again for answers.
His voice was devoid of emotion, making the blow that much more devastating. “James is dead.”
She froze. “What?”
“James is dead,” he repeated.
I took a tiny step forward, prepared to catch her if she collapsed. “He gave his life to save us, Sierra. And he wanted you to know how sorry he was for any pain he put you through.” I gave a small smile, the kind you give to someone who’s lost someone special in the hopes it will lessen the void opening inside them. I knew from personal experience it never worked, but I couldn’t seem to help it. “He was a hero.”
She was no longer looking at any of us, her eyes far away, staring through the walls of the foyer. “Dead?”
“If there is anything you need,” Nathaniel suggested, “anything at all…”
She said nothing, silence ringing out in the large foyer.
Carter’s grip on my wrist tightened but other than that, he gave no reaction.
Yelling and screaming always invites more yelling and screaming which ultimately results in some resolution of a problem, whether it be good or bad. Silence…silence is haunting. Silence allows one’s mind to run free with the world’s worst possibilities, all the while not having a clue what is running through someone else’s mind. Just like shouting, silence invites more silence, feeding into the eeriness of empty air. And Sierra…it was more than just the lack of words pouring out of her mouth. There was silence in her eyes, too, a hollowness that made her like little more than a husk.
“Dead,” she said again, the word dropping into the quiet like a large book slamming to the ground. Her body didn’t move, she stayed perfectly still, except her head turned ever so slightly so that she was staring at Carter. “To save you?”
He gave one sharp nod.
“He is dead,” she said, each word carefully and deliberately spoken, “because of you?”
The muscle twitched again. “Yes.”
“No!” Nathaniel was quick to say, stepping in front of his brother and pleading with Sierra. “It was no one’s fault but Hugh’s. But I swear to you, sister, we are going to catch him and—"
Somehow, Sierra looked through Nathaniel, still addressing Carter. “You killed him.”
Carter released my wrist, standing alone under the judgement of his sister.
The door to the foyer opened and Lydia slowly ventured in, Annabelle following cautiously behind her. Her maid gave us all an apologetic look. “I told Lady Lydia to stay put, but—"
“I knew I was needed elsewhere,” Lydia finished, coming to stand beside Sierra. She saw all our expressions and nodded. “You’ve told her, then?”
I nodded to Lydia.
“Right. Sierra, come with me.” She put her arm around the girl and tried to lead her toward the door. “I want you to tell me all about the man you loved and then you will have a good night’s sleep. All right?”
But Sierra didn’t budge, her eyes locked with Carter’s. Tears trembled on the edges of her lids but they didn’t fall over. “Death garners the steepest price,” she said.
Lydia gave Carter a look full of remorse. “Come along, darling,” she said gently.
“And one day,” Sierra continued, “I will claim from you what is due.”
“You don’t mean that right now,” I said hurriedly, hoping to stop the venom of her words before they poisoned Carter. “In the morning, you will—"
“It is not merely what I mean,” she said. “It is a fact. Your debt is mine. And I will collect.” Then she finally allowed Lydia to take her from the foyer, Annabelle following quickly.
Both Nathaniel and I turned to look at Carter. Though he was trying to stand tall, trying to be the terrible pirate he’d created, there was a shakiness to his expression that I knew meant he was close to combusting. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse. “Lydia will make sure she is taken care of. I will see you two in the morning.” He spun on his heel and started for the stairs.
Nathaniel immediately moved to go after him, but I grabbed his arm, giving him a slight shake of my head. “In the morning,” I repeated his words.
“But he shouldn’t be alone—"
“He won’t be,” I promised. “Be with your sister.”
He nodded and did as I said.
Before I had even reached Carter’s room, I could hear glass shattering. The moment I opened that door, I was going to walk straight into the center of a tornado, complete with the havoc and destruction of it. I paused with my hand on the knob, unsure if I was prepared to handle that kind of hurt. The sound of something else crashing shook the frame of the door.
I took a deep breath and turned the handle.
His mirror was fractured as if he had driven his fist into it, a chair lay turned on its side by the threshold, a leg missing. Carter let loose a broken yell as he swiped everything off the night stand, candle and holder plummeting to the wooden floor, water pitcher smashing into a million pieces.
He paused but didn’t turned around when the door clicked shut. “Go away, Elizabeth.”
Jutting out my chin, I said, “No.”
“I am not asking, I am commanding. Go. Away.”
He grabbed hold of another chair and sent it soaring across the room where it crashed into the window, every one of its legs exploding off it and the window cracking. He turned to me, his eyes blazing with the flames of hell and his voice louder than I had ever heard it. “Get out!”
I put my hands on my waist. “No.”
He came at me like a bull, complete with nostrils flaring. “Out.”
I looked into the storm in his eyes as he got closer. “No.”
It was clear he expected me to back away in fear as he charged me but I held firm and he stopped less than inch away from my face. His voice was just as loud and I winced as he shouted, “Get out of my room or I swear to bloody God, I will add your name to the list!”
My breathing was quick, my pulse was erratic, pumping loudly in my ears. I dug my nails into my palms to force myself to remain calm. “No.”
He stared at me for several long minutes, the fire not dimming in the least in his hazel eyes, his chest rising and falling just as rapidly as mine. He didn’t look like a man at all in that moment. He was an animal, out for blood, denied his kill. He snarled and if he could, there would have been foam in his mouth.
He jerked away from me, cursing loudly, shoving his fingers into his hair. He stood, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, in the middle of the destruction of his room. A sound forced its way out of him that was somewhere between a cough and a sob, and then it was if all the strength had drained out of him. One leg bent and he dropped to a knee. Then both knees. He curled over, pounding his fists into the wooden floor as he shouted again, indecipherable words.
I am broken.
With a deep breath, I took slow steps, approaching cautiously.
He rose back up to his knees, his eyes still firmly shut, his fists tightly clenched at his sides, his chin dropped to his chest.
Swallowing nervously, I rested my hand on his head, running my fingers gently through his soft brown curls. “I am here,” I whispered.
His eyes opened and he tilted his head up to look at me.
“I will not leave you.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed, and he dropped his eyes away from mine, staring at my stomach instead. Voice rough, he said, “You should.”
He reached up with a shaking hand to touch the tear in the middle of my shirt from the day’s training. He gripped it with his finger then his fist, bunching up the fabric so tightly. He jerked at it and I stumbled closer as his hand slowly reached around me to wrap around my back, and then his other arm. He pulled me closer to him and pressed his head to my stomach, holding me tightly.
I blinked at the top of his head in surprise for just a moment before I put my hand to the side of his head and hugged him tighter.
I am broken.
I had no idea how long he needed me to hold the pieces of him together, but I would do it gladly for however long he needed me.