It was an icy cold morning in early December when the first snow of winter made its’ appearance known. The countryside was covered with a blanket of milky white, glistening snow with large flakes falling ever so gently from the dark gray clouds that covered the sky. The trees were now barren of all their brilliant leaves for all signs of autumn had disappeared and winter was definitely upon them.
Kathryn gazed out the window of the Steele coach as it made its way slowly along the only road that led to Dartmoor. They had left early this morning but their progress was hampered due to the heavy snowstorm that had been threatening to fall for the past few days and finally poured down on them shortly after their departure.
Christopher had cursed and raised his fist in the air at the untimeliness of the storm that was now becoming a raging blizzard. They would have to find shelter soon because it was almost impossible for the coachman to see the road and the temperature had dropped well below zero.
Kathryn turned away from the window and cuddled up closely to Christopher who welcomed her by placing his arm around her, drawing her to him in a warm embrace. He had not realized just how cold Kathryn had gotten until now. Her teeth were chattering while she tried desperately to get warm. He drew her mantle tightly around her neck when she looked up at him with pleading eyes.
“Damn it to hell!” He bellowed. “We’ve got to find an inn soon before you freeze to death!”
“I’m… alright… Christopher,” Kathryn stammered through trembling purple lips. Her eyes were getting very tired and heavy and she would give anything just to lie down and go to sleep.
“No, you’re not alright, damn it!” Shaking her to keep her awake Christopher yelled at her, “you can’t fall asleep now, Kathryn. You’ll never wake up!” Desperation crept into his voice as he tried to keep her awake. “Talk to me, Kathryn.”
“I can’t think of… anything… to say, Christopher.”
“Then tell me a story or something.”
Kathryn couldn’t think about anything else except getting warm and didn’t understand for the life of her why Christopher would want her to tell him a story. She looked up at him as if he were mad.
Reading her thoughts, Christopher explained that as long as she was talking, she wouldn’t fall asleep.
Kathryn thought deeply for a few minutes trying to figure out what story she should tell him but the only thing that came to mind was her last journey she had taken on this road. That horrible night she had left London, alone on old Ginger’s back.
Christopher held her tightly and listened attentively as she related the sordid details of her terrifying trip so many months ago. Had she not been so daring and brave to venture out of London alone, he wouldn’t have ever met her. A pain wrenched his heart when he thought of how empty his life would be now if she wasn’t a part of it.
The coach came to a sudden stop as Christopher quickly looked out the window and saw that they had finally found an inn to hold up in for the duration of the storm. At once he gathered Kathryn up into his arms and rushed her in through the open door that was being held by his coachman and placed her down in one of the high back leather chairs that were in front of the fireplace. Barking out orders to the innkeeper to bring them some hot rum toddies, Christopher sat down in the chair opposite Kathryn. He could see the warmth from the fire having its effect on her for her cheeks became a rosy red blush and her lips were no longer that ugly purplish color but now were a soft pinkish hue. When the innkeeper returned with their hot drinks, Christopher handed Kathryn hers and insisted on her drinking most of it all at once. Wanting it to warm the rest of her so no traces of the cold would remain.
Kathryn began feeling the effects of the rum toddy almost immediately as she felt a warmth spread through her body like fire. Her eyes took on a glassy look as she saw two of Christopher sitting across from her. Never having had any kind of alcohol before in her life, Kathryn had no idea what was happening to her. She couldn’t understand why everything looked so funny to her. A burst of giggles exploded from her mouth while she viewed Christopher’s astonished expression as he stared at her in disbelief.
“I would say madam, that you’re no longer cold?” Christopher stared uncomfortably, feeling hard pressed from scooping her up and finding the nearest bed to make love to her in. He could not let his pent up desires be relieved because of her delicate condition. But how was he going to be able to control himself with her always so near but not being able to touch her. He groaned inwardly and closed his eyes wishing she didn’t look so radiant sitting there with the flames from the fire dancing across her face and well-feeling the effects of the hot rum toddy. He could see the desire in her eyes as she gazed at him with a sensual smile on her lips.
“Damn it to hell, madam! Must you look at me like that? Have you no mercy?” Christopher swore and threw his glass into the fireplace, shattering it into a million pieces and stomped over to the bar.
Kathryn sat there stunned by his unwarranted display of anger. What she could have done to provoke him, she wondered as her own anger was piqued.
“Madam, I believe it’s time for you to retire for the evening,” Christopher said bluntly when he returned to his seat with a much stronger drink than the rum toddy.
Taken aback by his cool manner sending her to bed like one would a small child, Kathryn flew into a rage. She gave him a tirade of a few chosen words before stomping off in the direction of their room. She would not be treated like a child and he had better learn that right now!
Christopher stared after her and winced with every bitter word that she had hurled at him, deserving of each and every one of them for his treatment of her. But he couldn’t let her remain sitting there in front of him another minute. He was so full of desire for her, he would have grabbed her at any moment and made mad passionate love to her right there in front of the fire for all to see. No, it was better to offend her and send her to their room then to do something like that as much as he would have enjoyed every minute of it.
Kathryn was fuming when she finally entered the room, slamming the door shut behind her. “I will never understand that man!” She cried aloud. One minute he’s so caring and thoughtful and the next, angry and hostile. Is life with him always going to be like this? She sat down on the bed and held her head in her hands and began to sob. A knock at the door caused her to pull herself together long enough to see who it could possibly be.
“Evenin milady,” the chambermaid said. “I’ve brought ya up some nice dinner seeing that ya would be hungry and all.”
“Oh my, I really am starving.” Kathryn said, allowing the younger girl to enter the room.
“I’ll just set it on the table over here milady,” she said as she set the tray down and gave a slight curtsey to Kathryn before leaving.
Christopher watched as the young chambermaid returned from the upper floor of the inn and waited for her to pass by him. Quickly he grabbed her arm and whirled her around to face him. “How did my wife look?” He asked with a scowl.
“Beggin your pardon, milord?”
“I don’t see why I have to repeat myself to you, I made myself perfectly clear the first time! I said how did my wife look? What’s so hard about that?”
The chambermaid looked at Christopher as if he were daft. “Ya wife looked just fine, milord. How was she supposed to look?”
“Never mind! Just bring me another bottle of brandy.”
Quick to do his bidding, the chambermaid rushed off and was back in a few moments with this scowl-faced lord’s brandy.
Several hours later, Christopher stumbled up the stairs and entered their room in a drunken state. He stood next to the bed where Kathryn laid and stared down at her sleeping form. This was the same inn where he had brought Kathryn the night he shot her. And as a matter-of-fact, this was the very same room they had stayed in. She was also sleeping in this same position when he became mesmerized with her beauty. Her long, fiery tresses covered her pillow as they hung loosely around her lily white shoulders. Christopher eased himself down on the bed next to her carefully not to wake her and ran his finger down her cheek very slowly, going down further as he traced the lines in her neck and further still until he finally reached her over-abundant breasts. Leaning over he kissed her softly while his hand roamed freely across her bodice until he found the laces that held what he wanted prisoner.
Kathryn’s eyes flickered open as she gazed into the blue-steel ones of Christopher’s which were clouded over with hot, smoldering passion. “Christopher…” she murmured before his mouth came down on hers again and he moved on top her. All at once Christopher’s eyes went wide with surprise as he stared down at Kathryn. He had felt the baby kick when he had laid against her stomach. All passion suddenly subsided and Christopher rolled off her, closing his eyes, he realized the damage he could have done. He must not fall under her spell again! He was powerless to control himself when he was around her. He did not want to be the cause of his own son’s death even though he wasn’t born yet. “Go back to sleep, madam.” Was all Christopher could manage to say before he turned his back to her and wrestled with his own emotions the rest of the night.
Kathryn laid there in total bewilderment. She stared at the back of her husband, a tear forming in her eye. “How he must detest me,” she thought dejectedly. “He can’t even bear to touch me now that I’m heavy with child.” Her hand unconsciously moved slowly over her stomach for the child was very active tonight. She could feel it poking and jabbing as if wanting to be let out of its cramped living quarters and be set free. “Soon little one, the time will be here for you to make your entrance into this world, two more months and we will know you as a loving son or daughter, I care not which, for I will love you, nevertheless.” Slowly Kathryn’s mind eased and she was able to finally drift off to a much needed sleep.
The raging blizzard had now died down to nothing more than just a light trickling snowfall as the sun shined brightly in the sky when morning had broken. It was going to be a beautiful day for traveling, Kathryn thought when she opened her eyes to the bright morning rays shining in through the window. Yawning and stretching her arms high in the air she brought them down slowly as she glanced around the room and saw no trace of Christopher. With a frown crossing her brow she now realized she was indeed alone and felt a sudden wrench in her heart for the loneliness had begun to creep in. A soft tapping at the door brought her out of her thoughts and quickly rose from the bed and pulled her night robe on before answering the door. It was the young chambermaid bringing her breakfast so she allowed her entrance into the room.
“Good morning milady,” she said with a slight curtsey, passing Kathryn and placing the heavily laden tray on the table. “His lordship wishes you to finish your breakfast quickly and come downstairs because he wants to leave as soon as possible.”
Before Kathryn could reply, the younger girl was gone. “So, he doesn’t even want to be seen with me,” she murmured to herself as she picked at the food that the chambermaid had brought her. A little while later, Kathryn descended the staircase that lead down to the main room of the inn. Christopher was waiting impatiently by the front door when he finally saw her. “Well it’s about time you blessed us with your presence, madam,” he quipped, agitated by her lengthy delay.
“Well, if I hadn’t been so rudely awakened in the night, I would have been up earlier, Lord Christopher,” she spat back at him using his title purposely.
“Is our temper showing, madam or are we always this cheery first thing in the morning?”
Kathryn’s eyes turned to slits as she glared at her husband. “I guess that’s something you wouldn’t know, your lordship seeing that you’re never around long enough to find out!” Kathryn was out the door before Christopher could give a retort to her jibe.
Cursing under his breath, he stomped out of the inn, slamming the heavy oak door behind him. Deciding to cool his temper, Christopher untied Thor’s reins from behind the coach and swung up on his back. The mighty steed stomped and snorted when he felt his master’s weight and was biting at the bit as Christopher guided him forward to take the lead.
The coach lurched forward as Kathryn felt it pull away from the inn. She sat back disheartened, knowing she would have to ride the rest of the way to Crestwood Hall alone except for Dodger, who was curled up with a blanket on the opposite seat in the coach, unless Christopher changed his mind and decided to join her there. “What have I done to make him so angry with me again this morning?” She wondered and searched her mind for an answer. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I know he doesn’t have any more desire for me now that I’m heavy with child but why he not wish to be seen with me does or why, when we are together he always becomes irate and belligerent. It seems that just the sight of me disturbs him.” A horrible thought crossed Kathryn’s mind causing her to sit up with a start. “Oh my god! What if after the baby’s born he throws me out seeing that he has no more use for me and keeps the child. That is the only reason he married me, was for the child!” Kathryn closed her eyes as the anguish she was feeling over took her. Tears came streaming down her face at the mere thought of Christopher throwing her out, without the child. Now I must pull myself together, I’m letting my imagination run away with me, she thought, reasonably. Christopher may detest me but he wouldn’t take a child away from its mother, no matter how he felt about her. With that thought in mind, Kathryn was able to relax somewhat and leaned back against the seat again where she could better view the passing countryside from the window.
It was late afternoon when the small entourage passed through the gates of Crestwood Hall and pulled up to the front entrance where the servants had begun to come out to greet their returning lord. Christopher quickly dismounted Thor when he saw Jeffrey’s smiling face.
“Well it’s about time you came back, Chris. I was beginning to think you had changed your mind about staying here at Dartmoor and took up residence in London, permanently.”
“Now why would I want to live in London? The place bores me to no end.”
Jeffrey shrugged his shoulders lightheartedly at his brother’s curt response and continued. “Well, did you do it?”
Christopher looked at him in puzzlement. “Do what? I don’t have the foggiest idea what you’re talking about.”
“Marry the girl of course! Did you do it?”
“Of course I married her,” Christopher scowled, turning from his brother he walked swiftly over to the coach and opened the door. Taking Kathryn’s hand, he assisted her down carefully and brought her face to face with his brother. “Jeffrey, may I present to you my wife, Lady Kathryn Steele, the new Marchioness of Dartmoor.”
Jeffrey gave her a formal bow before taking her hand and placing a slight kiss upon it. “So nice to see you again, Lady Kathryn. I’m sure the circumstances are not so dire when last we met,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
Kathryn blushed deeply remembering the incident he was referring to. “I hope not, my gallant knight. Do you always go around rescuing damsels in distress?”
Jeffrey threw back his head and roared with laughter. “You are very quick witted, Kathryn. I can see we are going to get along marvelously.”
Christopher had a black scowl on his face, not appreciating their humor at all. “I don’t see what’s so funny about my wife being accosted at the Denham’s Ball by the Earl of Somerset,” he snarled.
“Oh Chris, don’t be so serious all the time. You weren’t even married then!”
“Even so, he better not ever come near her again or so help me…!”
Emma tugged at Christopher’s arm trying to get his attention. “Your lordship, Kathryn shouldn’t be standing out here in the cold, her with child and all,” she said, urgently. “She’ll catch her death if you don’t bring her inside right away.”
“You’re absolutely right Emma,” he replied, not realizing they had been standing all this time outside in the cold and quickly escorted Kathryn into the manor.
“Lady Kathryn, you best come upstairs and lay down child after such a long journey, you must be exhausted.”
“I am a bit tired, Emma and like you said, it was a long and uncomfortable ride.” She followed the housekeeper upstairs with Dodger at her side, leaving Christopher and Jeffrey in the foyer staring after her while she made her way slowly up the spiral staircase.
“That must be the infamous dog that I’ve heard so much about,” Jeffrey chuckled. “But you actually let him stay in her bed chamber?” He asked, doubtfully.
“It was the only way I could keep her from sleeping in my stables,” Christopher replied, dryly.
Jeffrey stared at his brother in astonishment. “This I got to hear!” He said, arching his brow.
Christopher cursed under his breath and pushed his brother roughly into the study and slammed the door. “What happens under my roof is my business alone, Jeffrey and is no concern of yours. Do I make myself clear?” Christopher shouted angrily and slammed the top of the brandy decanter down on the table, poured two glasses and shoved Jeffrey’s into his hand.
Jeffrey smiled inwardly knowing that Christopher took life much too seriously for his own good and took a sip of brandy while waiting for his brother to finish his lengthy tirade.
Christopher finally plopped down in the brown leather chair behind the desk and sat quietly for a few moments, trying to collect his thoughts.
“I’m sorry, Chris I didn’t mean to irritate you,” Jeffrey said, sincerely. “What did you find out in London about the Mariner?”
Christopher hesitated before he answered. “We don’t have any substantial proof yet but we suspect that those two new hands you hired did in fact cut the rudder and probably barred your door. Who hired them, we don’t know. They’re nowhere to be found. I offered a large reward for information leading to their whereabouts but no one has come forward with any information on them.”
“So where does that leave us now?” Jeffrey asked with concern in his voice.
“To wait,” Christopher said, picking up a cheroot and lighting it. “Whoever hired them should know by now that his scheme to murder you has failed and will try again. So in the meantime….”
“I must sit and wait for another attempt, was that what you were going to say?” Jeffrey interjected.
“Not a very bright future to look forward to, having to look over my shoulder all the time in fear that there’s a hired killer behind every door.”
“You’ll be safe enough here, Jeff until we find the culprit whose behind all of this so in the meantime, you’ll just have to cool your heels here until such time it is safe for you to leave.” Christopher concluded.
“Well I guess it won’t be so bad with Michele here but I would like to get back to London as soon as possible. I want to start looking for another ship to replace the Mariner.”
Edward, the butler informed his lordship that dinner had been served as the two brothers now famished, quickly left the study and took their places at the dining table. Disappointment showed on Christopher’s face when he saw Kathryn’s chair empty and no place setting there, making it very obvious to all that she would not be joining them for dinner.
“Her ladyship sends her regrets, your lordship but she’s not feeling well this evening and took a light supper in her room,” Emma explained, hoping he would not demand her presence at the table.
“I quite understand, Emma,” he answered before waving the long time servant off.
Christopher couldn’t get Kathryn out of his mind all through the meal. His non-responses to Jeffrey’s and Michele’s questions caused dubious looks from the two of them as they finally gave up trying to ask him anything and finished their meal in total silence. When he had finished eating, he excused himself and retired to his own bed chamber where he threw his jacket and cravat on the bed. Kathryn was still very much on his mind as he tried to decide whether or not to disturb her. Emma had said she wasn’t feeling well, maybe she caught cold because of my own stupidity making her stand outside this afternoon, he thought, worriedly to himself. Christopher began pacing, working himself into a real frenzy until he finally swore under his breath and barged through the adjoining door to her bed chamber.
Kathryn had been sitting at her dressing table when his sudden entrance gave her quite a start and whirled around to face him. “Christopher, you frightened me. Must you enter my chambers in such a manner?” She said with a trembling voice.
Taking in her appearance, Christopher assured himself that she was not ill and relief flooded through him. Before Kathryn could utter another word, he had turned on his heels and was gone, leaving only the faint aroma of his cheroot lingering behind.
Kathryn shook her head and stared at the adjoining door in utter confusion. “Will I ever understand him” she muttered to herself. Memories came flooding back to her as she glanced around the room. So much had happened here she thought, remembering her three months of captivity. And now she’s here for the rest of her life, willingly? A blush came to her cheeks when she viewed the bed as vivid images of their love-making came to mind. Her hand moved slowly down over her now swollen belly knowing that this was where her child, their child was created. “Well maybe something good at least has come of all this,” she said, speaking to the unborn child.
Emma entered the room quietly and saw Kathryn still sitting at her dressing table where she had left her. “Lady Kathryn, are you alright? You look so… forlorn.”
Kathryn stood up when she saw the housekeeper had returned and tried to give her a warm smile. “Oh Emma…” she wailed before flying across the room into the older woman’s arms.
“There, there child. Everything will be alright. You just wait and see. His lordship isn’t really all that bad,” the housekeeper said, while she cuddled the sobbing girl like she would a small child. She hoped she hadn’t made a big mistake in telling his lordship who Kathryn was and that she was also carrying his child. By the look of things, the two of them were not getting along very well as husband and wife. But maybe things will change after the baby is born, she hoped. Children have a way of making life a little brighter for people.
Kathryn’s body wrenched as her last tear was shed and turned a red and swollen face up to the elderly gray haired woman. “I didn’t mean to get so… emotional on you… Emma. It’s just this room… brings back such memories….”
“I know it does, honey. But it’s important that you take good care of yourself and not let these things bother you so much. You must think of the child you have growing inside you.” She patted Kathryn’s hand and helped her into bed, drawing the covers up tightly under her chin. “Now be a good girl and try to go to sleep and remember what I’ve told you.”
After the housekeeper left, Kathryn laid there with her eyes closed but was still awake. She had such mixed feelings about Christopher and wished he would come back through the adjacent door and talk with her a while. She needed reassurance from him that she was indeed his wife and a proper young lady and was not the person he had accused her of being so many months ago. They had never discussed the events that took place during that time and Kathryn didn’t know how Christopher felt about it. “If only you were laying here next to me Christopher, could I then rest easy,” she murmured softly before finally dropping off to sleep.
“Damn it to hell!” Christopher swore, slamming his fists down on the constable’s desk. “When is this ever going to end?
Constable Hawk winced under the fury of the raging Marquis while he and his two assistants waited for him to come to a decision on their next course of action.
“This murderer must be found… soon!” He bellowed, swinging around coming face to face with Steven who glared back at him with open disdain.
“Your lordship,” Constable Hawk said from behind him. “You know why we can’t find him but maybe, just maybe we’ll get lucky with this one. A clue or two perhaps.”
“Then the sooner we inspect the body the better.”
“David and I are ready to go now, sir if you are. Steven will stay here in case some other matter comes up.”
“Excellent, my thoughts exactly.” Christopher stated bluntly before the three of them departed the office.
Steven leaned back in his chair and watched the small group ride away, heading for the murder site of the fourth victim. He knew they wouldn’t be gone as long as they were with the other victims because this time the body was located only a few miles on the outskirts of Dartmoor.
After Christopher returned from the latest murder site that evening he joined the others in the study. He explained that Michele’s parents had sent word for her to return to London at once. Her mother was not feeling well and they needed her to come home and take over her duties until she was better.
“I’m sorry to hear that Michele,” Kathryn said sympathically. “I know you had planned on staying until after the baby was born but maybe you can come back when your mother gets well.”
“Oh, I plan to Kathryn,” she said, with a smile.
When the coach was packed the following morning with all of Michele’s bags, the three of them escorted her outside and made their goodbyes, wishing her a safe and pleasant journey back to London.