The carriage barreled down the cobblestone streets for what seemed like forever, the cab jostling us back and forth so many times I could feel the meager amount of food in my stomach trying to climb their way up. Adding to my nausea was the anxiety of how I was going to make sure Mom didn’t see Robert. I knew it wouldn't matter how focused she was on helping her patient, there was no way she wouldn’t be jarred at seeing her dead husband smiling at her.
But all my thoughts flew out of my head as we pulled up to the small shack and I saw Catherine standing outside, her fingers tangled fearfully in her hair. When she heard the sound of the horses, she looked up, her eyes finding mine through the window, and she started running toward us.
The cab pulled to a stop and we jumped out, meeting Catherine halfway.
“What’s going on? What are you doing here?” I asked quickly.
“It’s Sierra,” she answered, looking back to the shack. “She was in so much pain and I knew taking her to an actual physician was not an option, so Robert was the only person I could thi—"
“Where is the girl?” Mom asked, already walking toward the shack. “Take me to her. Lizzie, you get the medicine.”
“Catherine,” I said as I rushed to keep up with them, “where is Robert?”
“He just went into the garden to get some sort of herb—"
“Thanks.” I rounded the shack and found Robert furiously plucking at plants right behind the wooden wall. “Robert!”
His head shot up and he turned, his brows furrowing. “Lady ELizabeth? What—"
“I don’t have time to explain. I need you to find me these things,” I said, handing him the list Mom had made.
He shook his head. “But the young lady—"
“She’ll be fine. I’ve got a physician in there right now. But I need these materials immediately. Stone—"
“Say no more. I won’t take but a moment.” And he went straight to work, looking for the necessary herbs in the ground.
A scream ripped through the thin wood walls and we both spun around to stare. Robert’s eyes met mine and he nodded. “Go. I will meet you when I am done.”
I hiked up my skirts and ran back around to the front door and paused. The table Carter and I had sat at the last time we’d come to Robert’s was cleared and Sierra was lying on top of it, legs parted, face red and sweaty, and another scream tearing out of her.
I slapped a hand to my mouth and met Catherine’s gaze. She nodded.
“Alright, one more time, sweetheart, push,” Mom instructed.
Sierra’s growl turned into another scream that rattled the flimsy roof.
Mom called to Catherine over her, “Get Robert back to the house and take him straight to the stable.”
“What house?” she asked, looking to me.
Her eyes widened but she didn’t hesitate, going straight out the door. In another moment, I heard the horses’ hooves and the carriage as it thundered away.
“The baby is coming now,” Mom said to me.
I took several deep breaths to keep my panic to a minimum. “What do you need me to do?”
“Grab that pillow from the bed, put it under her back. And then just hold her hand and help her breathe.”
“Like they do in the movies. Lizzie, now.”
“Okay, okay.” I did as she said, positioning the pillow behind her back and taking hold of her hand. She squeezed it so hard I winced. “Sierra, can you hear me? Just breathe, you need to breathe.”
Her eyes opened, blinking back the sweat that trickled into her eyes, and she frowned. “Where is he?” she asked, gasping.
I didn’t bother asking who she meant because it didn’t really matter. “He is on his way. You just have to breathe right now. Look at me. Breathe…”
I continued to mutter soothing words, mirroring how she was supposed to breathe. But she completely ignored me, continuing to scream at the top of her lungs.
“You’re doing great, honey, just a little more, come on,” Mom encouraged. “I can see it, you just gotta push a little harder—"
Sierra’s grip on my hand tightened even harder, cutting off the circulation to my fingers, a vein bulging on her forehead as she let loose another howl.
Mom said, “Here we go, here we go, one last push…”
Sierra screeched one last time, crushing my hand, before sagging back onto the pillow, her chest rising and falling like she had run a marathon, sweat dripping down her face.
But besides her panting, the room was utterly silent.
I looked at Mom where she knelt by Sierra’s feet, the small baby cradled in her arms. Mom raised her head to look at me, and I could clearly see the baby. My lip trembled and tears immediately fell from my eyes.
The teensy tiny infant was a terrible pale color, its lips, hands, and feet a horrifying blue. It didn’t cry, it didn’t scream, it didn’t breathe.
“Can I see my baby?” Sierra asked me, her weak hand grasping for mine again. “I want to see it.”
I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. Looking at the tired smile on her face, I didn’t know what to say, how to say it, how to make those words past my lips.
“Just rest now,” Mom said, her voice so calm there was no way Sierra could’ve guessed there was anything amiss.
Sierra frowned and struggled to sit up. “No, I want to see my—"
“You can hardly sit up. You must rest first. Doctor’s orders,” Mom said.
Sierra’s lids fluttered as they met mine, and she nodded, her head dropping back to the pillow, asleep almost instantly.
My eyes were glued to the still child in my mother’s arms and I hissed at her, trying not to wake Sierra up but hardly able to control my appalled trembling, “Do something.”
“You’re a freaking doctor! Isn’t there something that you can do, like—"
“Like what, ELizabeth?” Mom’s lip quivered and she bit it as her own eyes started to fill with tears. “This baby has probably been dead for sometime. There is nothing I can do for him now.”
I shook my head, refusing to believe what was clearly right in front of me, running my hands through my hair, tugging at the roots. “No, no, no—"
“Listen to me,” Mom said, grabbing my arm, yanking me closer to the small corpse and my mind rebelled at the image. I jerked away from her, but her grip was shockingly strong. “Lizzie, look at me.” She grabbed my face and forced my eyes to hers. “You can’t lose it right now. That girl is already mentally disturbed. Giving birth to the child of her rapist is traumatizing in itself, but after she’s talked herself into believing she loved him? Losing that child will be—"
The sound of a carriage pulling up gave her pause and then the door was flung open. Nathaniel and Carter stood at the threshold. Nathaniel ran past me to his sister. “Is she all right?” he asked, his brows furrowing when he saw my tears.
“Where is the child?” Carter asked, having not moved from the doorway.
I crossed my arms over my chest, digging my nails into my skin, trying desperately to hold myself together.
Mom took a deep breath, sniffling and blinking the tears out of her eyes as she turned her body toward Carter, the lifeless infant still cradled in her arms.
I saw the moment Carter realized what he was looking at. It was like a sail that had lost its wind; his hands dropped from the door frame to his sides, his mouth went slack, his brows crunched in a way I had never seen, his whole being cried in grief. His eyes turned red and watery, his breathing so uneven I thought he might pass out.
Nathaniel came around me to see what had left Carter so stricken. His hands flew to his head, grasping at his hair. “Oh, God! Oh, God, no, please, no—"
“I am so sorry,” Mom whispered, casting a nervous glance at the sleeping mother, keeping her voice purposefully low. “I wish there was someth—"
“Could I—could I hold him?” Nathaniel choked out.
Mom’s eyes widened slightly but she nodded.
Carter made a noise that was somewhere between a sob and snarl, before spinning around and charging out of the room.
Slowly, as if she were handling a sleeping baby instead of a deceased one, Mom handed him over to Nathaniel. Tears fell freely from his eyes and I could tell he was trying to control himself when his voice stuttered. “Sierra told me she had already decided on a name. Did you know that?” He didn’t wait for us to respond. “After speaking with James, she had decided to name her son John. I had asked what she would name it if the child turned out to be a girl and she insisted she knew it was a boy.” He laughed, the saddest thing I’d ever heard. “She was right.”
Another tear raced down my cheek. “Nathaniel…”
“He will be buried with the rest of my family,” he stated.
I shook my head. “But, the child is not legit—"
“Lizzie,” Mom hissed at me, staring at me in horror, “it doesn’t matter how this child was conceived. He is a part of this young man’s family.”
I blinked several times, shocked at myself for suggesting something like that. Of course Nathaniel would want his nephew buried in his family’s crypt. That only made sense.
“Right, I…apologize,” I stammered, confusion giving me pause. “I don’t…”
“You are right, of course, Elizabeth, but perhaps no one has to know a bastard is buried there?” Nathaniel hugged the young boy to his chest, another tear falling. “No one has to know.”
There was a loud thump from outside and both my mother and I jumped in surprise. Nathaniel’s sad hazel eyes met mine and he said, “That is my brother.”
“You can leave the baby with me,” Mom offered, “while you go check on him.”
“Thank you, Madam Jennifer, but I do not think I can—that is to say, I do not believe I am capable—" He bit his lip to trap a sob from escaping.
“Yes, of course.” Mom looked at me helplessly before glancing back at the sleeping girl who was twitching slightly. Mom’s brows furrowed, obviously worried. “If you will excuse me a moment,” Mom said apologetically, “I need to check on your sister. Lizzie, can you make sure that captain doesn’t kill any—or, I mean, doesn’t…uh—” Mom’s eyes flicked back to Nathaniel’s, embarrassed to have said something so insensitive.
“I got it,” I said, heading for the door.
“Elizabeth,” Nathaniel said, his voice shaky from the tears that fell from his eyes. He didn’t move his gaze from the baby in his arms, but he offered, “Be careful. My brother does not cope well with loss.”
I nodded and left, finding Carter in the small backyard where Robert grew his herbs. He was running his hands through his hair before he spun around, marching toward a thin tree, and crashing his fist into the wood with a grunt. I jumped in surprise, stunned as he wound his arm back and sent it flying into the trunk again, blood spattering the wood.
“No,” he cut me off, whipping around, pointing his bloodied finger at me. “Don’t.”
Don’t speak? Don’t stop me? I didn’t know what he was saying don’t to, exactly, but I simply shut my mouth and nodded. “Okay.”
He stared at me a moment more, breathing hard, eyes red but not wet as if he was too shocked to even form tears. He turned back around and drove his fist into the wood again. He glanced at me, like he expected me to step in.
I simply gazed back, allowing him to let out his grief.
Boom. Again, his fist slammed into the trunk. And again, his skin splitting open. And again, and again, and again, each impact punctuated with a choked grunt, like there was something lodged in his throat.
I watched him, watched his face, saw the pale color bleed into a mournful red, saw the shine in his eyes as the tears fought their way to his lids, heard a single sob punch its way through his chest. His hits to the splintered tree slowed, the loud booms fading into dull thuds.
Very cautiously, I approached him, careful not to step on any of Robert’s plants. I stood beside the tree, leaning against it, prepared to help this broken man in front of me in any way I could.
This was not the bloodthirsty Caspian Rogers he had desperately been trying to convince me was for the past few days. This was the Carter McLeod I knew, the one that cared about his family, the one that would do anything for them.
He didn’t meet my eyes, keeping his gaze locked on the crimson stains on the trunk. “She will not survive this,” he murmured almost to himself, voice hoarse and scratchy. “It will destroy her.”
I matched his low tone. “Perhaps she is stronger than she looks?”
He shook his head, still staring ahead. “Maybe she was, long ago. But this experience…it has broken her. This is not something she can come back from.”
I didn’t know what to say, how to assure him that his traumatized sister would pull through this terrible ordeal when she’s just barely survived another one.
His hazel eyes latched onto mine and I was struck by the amount of complete and utter heartbreak I saw there. “The death of that child might as well have been the death of my sister,” he choked.
I put my hand on his arm, shaking my head. Firmly, I said, “That is not true. She does not stand alone in this tragedy. She has you and Nathaniel.”
He swallowed hard, already forcing his unshed tears back into his head, his nostrils flaring as he took in an especially long breath. “We are not enough,” he stated. “I am not enough.”
“I left her, Elizabeth.” He didn’t raise his voice or shout at me or do anything even remotely aggressive like I would expect from a grieving Carter. If anything, his voice was fearfully soft. “I abandoned both her and my brother seven years ago. With all that she has been through, she has not forgotten that. No,” he said, shaking his head with complete and total certainty, “it will not matter what I do or do not offer; the ability for her to pull herself out of the abyss she’s unconsciously fallen into lies solely on her shoulders. And I fear—no, I know,” he said, his face looking incredibly pained, “that she does not harbor that kind of strength within her.”
That admission, hearing those words out loud, seemed to be the last straw for him. Those tears he had forced back returned with full force and he turned away from me to hide such a weakness, giving me his back. His head fell forward and he ran a hand through his hair. “I have lost my sister a second time,” he whispered.
I bit my lip, wiping my wet cheeks. “Don’t give up on her just yet. Perhaps she will surprise you.”
His head tilted back, staring up at the tree leaves. When he spoke, his voice was dead, like he was feeling so many emotions at once that he had to force a part of him to shut down. A muscle in his back twitched and he said, “I believe you are needed back in the house.”
“No, I...” I said, reaching my hand out again, pausing when he jerked away from my closeness. My arm fell to my side, useless. “I want to help y—“
“Please, Liz.” His voice broke on my name, and he refused to turn around, his cut up fist clenched at his side. He whispered, “Please.”
I swallowed hard, brushing away another wayward tear and drawing a deep breath. “Okay.”
No sooner had the word left my mouth than Carter was marching off into the yard of the next house, disappearing around the corner.