Christian did not arrive home for supper that night, leaving Ana alone with thoughts that caved in on her like a collapsing mine-shaft. Her head and body ached from the ordeal of the day. She retired early only to spend a fretful night tossing and turning in her bed, her mind troubled with half-formed dreams in which Christian was by turns presenting her with a child or lying hurt on the side of a dark and muddy road. Her restlessness caused her to wake later than her usual time and she was disappointed yet again to find that Christian was nowhere to be found.
By late morning Ana had remembered that today was Tuesday and she should be expecting to receive her visitors in the afternoon. Although she did not feel well she dressed, taking care to present herself in the best possible light. Louise had performed magic on her hair, taming the errant tresses into a stylish and intricate weave of braids and curls. Ana regarded herself in the looking-glass and was content to see that for the first time since her marriage, she actually looked as she thought a viscountess should look. There was a refined elegance to the ensemble and she knew that when those nasty shrews came to call she would be prepared to take them both down a peg. Ana didn’t like to feel so vindictive, but when someone was maligning a person she cared about she would defend her own. And she did care about Christian. He was her husband after all.
Once she was fully prepared she made her way down to the front parlor to wait. And wait. And wait.
No one came to call.
As afternoon turned to evening Ana became aware that she was being ignored by the women of local society, just as she was apparently being ignored by her husband. The isolation was an echoing abyss at the edge of a very high cliff. Being in this large house with no one to talk to and nothing to occupy the fearful recesses of her mind had Ana frightened that she might lose her sense of self and no one would be present to notice. Wandering aimlessly from room to room, Ana was about to pass out of the Orangery into the morning room when she heard voices in the hall outside. Louise was talking with another of the parlor maids as they worked, dusting the ornate woodwork that lined the downstairs hall. Their quietly animated conversation was carried on in French, a language that Ana had a passing acquaintance with. She was about to make herself known when she heard amongst the patois of their narrative, the words ‘coeur noir’ and ‘coeur diamant’. Pausing at the door, Ana concentrated hard to pick up the rest of the exchange.
“But how do you know?” Louise asked, moving her rag quickly and efficiently over the beveled wood-paneled walls to the ornately carved cats that sat atop the balusters.
The other girl, who was polishing the handrails with beeswax, was quick to reply and Ana struggled with the translation. “Madame Fleur and Etienne were talking in the village today. Madame had seen the Black Diamond off the coast this morning. Captain Blackheart will be back on shore tonight.”
“Were the flags flying?” Louise coated her rag with oil and swiped between the cat’s tail and its sleek body.
“No. No, it seems they have had no luck again. Etienne said they will have to stay ashore for a while this time. A runner had arrived from Dover to warn that the Diamond was being pursued up the coastline by a customs ship. They will have to lay low for a week or two.”
The girls went quiet as a door opened near them. Peering through the crack in the door, Ana saw Mrs. Jones standing next to the girls, quietly scolding them. Ana flattened herself against the wall holding her breath. Blackheart was going to be nearby. This was her one opportunity to locate him and request his assistance to rescue Kate’s brother. Her heart was racing as she thought about the possibilities. She could prevail upon Christian to make contact with the pirate just as he promised to do in London. Or better yet, she might locate the pirate herself. However she would not be able to do either, if she were to pursue her immediate plans for an annulment. If and when she explained her reasons for wanting to end her marriage to Christian, she was sure that he would want to send her away immediately. If that were to happen, there would be no guarantee that either man would help to bring Ethan back to English soil. No, her plans to discuss their marriage might have to go on hold until Ethan was safely home. Given the way that Christian appeared to be avoiding her, she was starting to think this would not be a problem.
As Ana prepared for supper, she heard the commotion of Christian arriving in his rooms next door. She hurried to the door and listened for a moment. There was a lot of thumping and grunting. Ana thought perhaps he had arrived home in a foul mood. Deciding that entering the room through their adjoining door was a risky venture and far too intimate, she moved out into the hall and knocked gently on the dark wooden door of his rooms. Her excitement at the thought that they might be able to secure Captain Blackheart’s assistance made her brave but not foolhardy. The next moment the door opened and it was not Christian who stood before her, but Taylor.
“Oh, I….” Ana faltered at the sight of Christian’s man. His face was calm but his eyes were wild. She stepped back a little and then decided she had every right to speak to Christian. “I wanted to speak with my husband, if I may, Mr. Taylor.”
Taylor regarded her for a moment then stepped through the door, blocking her view and closing them both out in the hall. “He’s indisposed at the moment, Milady.” Taylor’s voice was gruff. There was another groan and a thump and both Taylor and Ana looked at the door. When it quieted, Taylor turned back to look at Ana again. He was smiling at her but it was far from a genuine smile. This was the smile of a man who was used to making problems go away, like an unwanted wife. “I don’t think he can be disturbed.”
“Oh.” Ana took in the tenor of his words with wide eyes that had already begun to brim with disappointed tears. Christian was in his rooms and it was obvious he was not alone. Ana’s thoughts immediately went to a dark place. She knew he might take a mistress eventually as most husbands did, but not now and not right under her nose. Not in her home. Her first consideration was Miss Dalcrois, the school teacher or perhaps even her pretty little maid, Louise. Then she heard the soft but indistinct tones of a woman followed by Christian’s voice raised in a shouted curse and a grunt of pain. Ana’s eyes flew to Mr. Taylor and instead of the teasing smile she saw genuine worry. She focused her eyes back on the door. “Stand aside, Mr. Taylor.”
As she tried to push past, Taylor’s arm shot out effectively halting her progress. Ana stared in shock down at his heavy forearm. It was only then she noticed that his jacket was removed and he was standing in only his shirtsleeves and waistcoat. The sleeves were tucked over to reveal his strong arms, dusted with a soft down of light brown hair. Why was he not wearing a jacket? Ana bit her bottom lip in consternation as she stared at the grimy sweat of his sunburned skin. The pattern of small cuts across his hand looked fresh but he didn’t seem to notice them.
“I don’t think now is the time, Milady.” Another cry of pain sounded from inside the room. Her eyes instantly went back to his face with a glare.
“I said…Stand. Aside.” Placing both hands on his arm she was pleased that he had the good sense to move when she shoved, saving her the trouble of squeezing those fresh wounds until he cried with pain.
Entering the room, Ana saw Christian lying on the bed, his shirt open, revealing the taut muscular chest. Meanwhile Mrs. Jones ministered to him. His face was twisted in pain as the housekeeper ripped his breaches from hip to knee in a sudden movement. Ana gasped as Christian writhed.
“Aaarrggghhh!” Christian’s head was tossed back against the pillow, his face sticky with sweat. The veins of his neck stood out as he gritted his teeth against the pain. Mrs. Jones glanced over her shoulder as Ana moved closer to the bed, then returned to what she was doing. Christian’s thigh was exposed showing a large angry gash high up on his outer leg. The flow of blood had already been stemmed and Mrs. Jones was cleaning the wound and applying a salve.
“What on earth?” Ana’s first instinct was to cover her mouth and clutch at her breast. She did not easily faint at the sight of blood but the shock of seeing Christian in so much pain was unbearable. His glazed eyes focused and fixed on hers and her next impulse was to run to his side and hold him. Just as she was about to do exactly that, he yelled.
“Get her out of here.” It took a moment for Ana to realize that Christian was talking about her. She looked from Mrs. Jones to Taylor. Nobody moved. “Taylor! Get her out!”
Taylor came to his senses and moved in behind the now shocked Ana, gripping her shoulders and turning her toward the door. She wanted to argue; she wanted to stay, but she was simply too stunned to speak. Her eyes focused over her shoulder at that wound as Taylor ushered her from the room. Christian looked at her and she nearly broke free to run back to him but Taylor stopped her from doing so.
“I’m sorry, Milady. We’ll have him fixed in no time.”
“But, how did it happen?” They were outside the door now and Taylor had closed it firmly, blocking Ana’s view. She stared at the door and for a second Taylor followed that gaze before turning back to her.
“He took a tumble from his horse. It’s not bad, Milady. He’ll be right as rain in no time. You go on and he’ll be down to dinner soon.”
Taylor turned and slipped back inside the room. After a slight pause Ana walked away, once more feeling like a stranger in her own home. She had no idea what had really happened to Christian, but that did not look like a tumble from a horse. It looked more like the puncture of a knife. More importantly, Christian was hurt and she wanted to be the one to tend to him. Only he did not want her anywhere near him. She wiped a tear from her eye. He did not want her.
Inside the room Mrs. Jones was applying a bandage to the wound. Christian glanced up at Taylor who was tidying up his torn and stained clothes with a tight-lipped scowl. He looked at Christian accusingly.
“What?” Christian growled.
“Nothing, Sir.” Taylor continued to fold up the torn and tattered clothing.
“You have something on your mind. Spit it out.” Mrs. Jones completed her task and Christian used his hands to push himself back up the bed with a hiss.
“You’re …I have naught to say, Sir.” Trust Taylor to choose now to hold back. Christian quirked an eyebrow demanding that his Second continue. Taylor grunted and then did exactly that. “That lass would have fallen on a sword for you just then. And you…oh, it’s not my place.” Taylor gathered up the last of the items and walked to the door. Mrs. Jones said nothing but gave Christian a look of disapproval anyway.
“Not you too?” He called out as they walked through the door and left him alone. Ana had wanted to help. He saw that in her eyes. But then he might have had to explain and that would make things…difficult. He wanted to talk to her. He wanted to tell her everything about his life. But revealing himself put far too much at risk. He was still weighing up that thought as he entered the dining room half an hour later.
She sat at the dining table staring mutely at the plate of food that had been laid before her when Christian walked in. True to his word Taylor had delivered Christian down to the dining room in time for supper and apart from a slight limp and a grimace as he made his way to the table, he thought Ana would be hard pressed to see any ill effects of the injury. The memory of forcibly ejecting her from his rooms hung in the air between them and Christian was unsure how to apologize. If she had come any closer he would have been brought undone by her perusal of his naked leg and chest. The thought of her touching him the way Mrs. Jones had made him suck in a breath. Pain or no pain, blood or no blood, he was only human.
“Are you alright?” She kept her voice quiet, as if she did not want to raise his anger. Christian recalled that her father had endured a small cut from a broken glass at the wedding and had acted like a wounded bull. It was obvious to him that Ana had no way of knowing what his mood might be.
“Yes, I’m fine. It was a silly accident but no real harm was done.” He smiled, wanting very much to reassure her. She was so beautiful and he noted that her hair was done differently. It was so much more controlled than he had ever seen it before. He liked it but he liked the wild and untamed Ana, too. A vision of her writhing beneath him came unbidden and he had to move his napkin on his lap. “I’m sorry for alarming you.”
“But you were in such pain.” Ana’s eyes were glassy as they looked into his. Christian felt humbled by what he saw there. They held for a moment, both too afraid to look away. He had to touch her.
“I have a low pain threshold. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” He reached across the table and placed his hand over hers. Her hand was warm and soft in his. She wore no gloves. He liked that. “I promise you, it was only a scratch.”
Ana nodded, biting her lip in consternation. Christian stared with longing and finally could not resist. He raised his thumb and unhooked her lip from her teeth. Her lips were so plump and ripe and ready for kissing. Running his thumb over the moist cushion he was rewarded with her breathy sigh. Turning his hand over, he brushed the back of his fingers over her blushing cheek. With a shy glance downward she gasped before looking back at his eyes, the telltale glistening of tears beginning to form. Christian felt himself falling into the limpid pools of her blue eyes, drowning in the depths of emotions she was failing to hide.
“I’m sorry. I was so worried when you didn’t return to the house last night and then I dreamed about you lying hurt on the side of the road. And I had the most awful day, because… because I was so tired, I think and when I saw you lying on the bed….”
Christian could take no more. He leaned over and stopped her words with a kiss. It was chaste and sweet, just as she was, and he was so pleased when her small hands went to either side of his face pulling him closer. Their lips moved slowly together but without opening up to the sensual passion he knew she was capable of. Christian found he liked this kiss, its simplicity, the sincerity behind it. This was a kiss to cherish, a kiss to warm the heart. After a while they both pulled back, their foreheads resting against each other as they breathed in the air between them. He was reminded of her innocence and how right it was to take time with her, to coax her gently from her shell and to open up the passionate flower that he knew was lying dormant in her soul. She would be the greatest reward for his patience. And maybe, just maybe, he could make her forget her feelings for Ethan.
Knowing instinctively that she required more reassurance he spoke. “I am fine, Anastasia. I’m indestructible.”
She giggled softly. “Ethan used to say that.”
Christian pulled away from her returning his attention to the plate in front of him. For Ana it was a sudden and wrenching absence of his warmth, as if a penny had been flipped and landed unexpectedly on its other side. He picked up his knife and fork and began to eat the meal that had been growing cold. She had no choice but to follow suit but she was flummoxed by the sudden change of mood. It was very odd. He had been perfectly wonderful and then she had mentioned Ethan and…Ana’s anger grew quickly. He never wanted to talk about Ethan, as if he had no care for the man he claimed as his friend. Chomping down on her mouthful food she then dropped her knife and fork to the plate with a clatter that made him raise his head.
“I overheard some news today that I wanted to ask you about.” His face was completely impassive as if there was nothing that she could know that could possibly be of any use to him. Ana cursed his arrogance. He said nothing but returned his concentration to his meal. “Do you think it is possible that Captain Blackheart could be nearby?”
Christian’s mouth and hands paused before he looked at her again with an interrogative gaze. She saw shock, then suspicion, then anger, wash across his face and yet his features never moved. Finally, he shrugged and returned to eating.
Ana thought he should say something, especially if this was the opportunity he was waiting for to rid himself of her endless badgering about Ethan. Lord the man was stubborn and…unpredictable. First he wouldn’t let her near him; then he kisses her senseless; now he won’t talk to her, acting at first as if she herself were a spy and then as if he could care less what she thought or felt. She had had enough.
“Why are you being so mercurial? You promised to do what you could to locate Blackheart and now when he is so near, you are uninterested in making contact with him. And why have you done nothing to find Lord Kavanagh? You told me yourself that you were about to sail for France and yet here you are, languishing in Kent. I don’t understand.”
Christian to her disgust, kept eating through her tirade, delivering each mouthful of food to his lips with alarming precision. The control he was exerting over his utensils was anathema to her mood. He simply would not be goaded and oh, she wanted so much to goad him. She wanted some reaction from him. Finally, he paused from eating long enough to take a drink of wine and when he replaced the glass on the table he stared at her.
“Why are you so preoccupied with Lord Kavanagh’s rescue?”
“What? You know why!” she exclaimed. Throwing down her napkin, she pushed away from the table in one fluid movement and stood. Her eyes blazed with anger as he rose to meet her. The more her body shook with rage, the more calm he appeared to become, which only infuriated her more.
“No. No, I really don’t know why, Anastasia. I know why Lady Katherine is consumed with his return. I don’t understand why my wife continues this infatuation,” he stated through tightly clenched teeth. Ana took great pleasure in noting that his voice was not as level as she had expected. Then she saw the bead of sweat breaking on his hair-line. His leg; Christian was in pain. She surprised him then by crossing the distance between them and reaching up to wipe his brow. When she placed her hands on his face she could feel the tremble in his body and knew that fighting was not what was needed now. She lowered her voice to calm him.
“Infatuation, my Lord? No, you are mistaken. Kate is my friend, as was Ethan before his capture.” Her hands stroked down his jaw and landed softly on his shoulders. She could see the settling of the storm in his eyes. Peering up from under her thick lashes, she half-asked, “I thought he was your friend, too?”
After a mesmerizing moment, Christian replied. “He is”, although the look on his face said something entirely different.
Ana pushed on, her voice almost a whisper: “Then, Christian, please tell me why are you not doing anything to find him? Why has everyone in England given up on him?”
Christian looked down at his beautiful wife as she tried to soothe him. She couldn’t know how much her touch affected him. How every caress both burned and cooled. Her innocence shone through her pleading eyes and it was obvious to him that she didn’t know what had happened to Ethan. It began to dawn on him that perhaps Kate didn’t know about her brother’s alleged treachery either. For a moment he gave careful consideration to not telling her anything and then thought better of it.
“Because they think him a traitor”, he said.
Ana turned away from him quickly, back to her chair. She sat with her hand gripping her forehead as she tried to think. This could not be true. The Ethan that she knew was a man of honor, not a traitor.
After a moment, she asked, “And what do you believe?” She was afraid of the answer. Was this the reason why he was doing nothing, because he thought Ethan a traitor too? She saw him sit down again out of the corner of her eye and lean his forearms across the table as he considered his reply.
“We have tried several times to return him to English soil. All attempts met with failure. Then we got word that he had managed to escape prison and…” His throat tightened. The thought of the man he knew double-crossing his own country was untenable, but then Ethan had a lot of secrets that Christian, James and Elliot had been forced to keep over the years. Sometimes he wondered how well he knew Ethan at all, especially when he could see how upset Ana was by this conversation. “No, no matter what has happened, I don’t believe that Ethan would turn against England. But in the end it doesn’t matter what I think.”
Christian watched her face carefully. She was obviously turning over each word of their conversation in her mind, trying to find some meaning. He could not tell her about James and the Ruby Queen, not until he knew more. He did not want to consider that he might have more deaths on his hands in this quest to bring Ethan home. Finally she looked back at him.
“What did you mean by infatuation?”
In part he was relieved that she had changed the focus of their discussion, but she had opened that particular door again and by God he couldn’t help it. He stepped through. “Do you have feelings for Ethan?”
Her mouth first dropped open in shock and then she snapped it shut. “No. Not in the way you mean.” Her voice was very calm and even as she wanted her meaning to be untainted by any hint of emotion. However her anguished gaze bespoke a belief in her own words. But Ana was young and naive. Perhaps she simply did not know her own heart.
Christian looked away from her face and continued eating, seemingly not hearing her words although his grip on his utensils was tightening when she asked: “So I wondered if you might be able to make contact with him?”
He paused with his fork on the way to his mouth but did not look at her. Then he continued to place the food in his mouth and chewed very slowly as if considering his next words carefully. Ana waited for his response but he said nothing. He just kept chewing on his food. She wondered if he had misheard her.
“Did you understand my meaning, Christian? I thought that perhaps you could…”
“I understood you, Anastasia.” His reply was stern although he did not halt his eating. She was still obsessed with meeting Blackheart.
“Well…?” She was starting to feel shrewish. He placed his knife and fork carefully across the plate, took his napkin from his lap and dabbed his mouth before folding it neatly and placing it on the table.
“I apologize, my dear. My leg is hurting a little more than I expected. If you will excuse me, I think I shall retire.” Christian was saying his words with the requisite amount of genteel politeness but his eyes were hard and cold and the line of his mouth thin. “Good night.”
This was unheard of. A man did not leave a lady sitting at the table. She watched open-mouthed, as he limped to the door. He had almost reached the handle when she jumped up from her seat.
“Christian, I was merely going to suggest…” He turned to look at her, his face like thunder. She took a step back nearly tripping over her chair as she did so. The glimpse of his barely restrained anger both terrified and enticed her. He stood his ground like a warrior giving her an overwhelming urge to throw herself down at his feet. Biting her lip she looked down at her hands clasped in front of her body, her supplication an involuntary reaction to the intensity of his emotions. She imagined that this was what it would be like to have the alpha wolf taking charge of his pack. She was only moments away from a cowering whimper.
Christian’s stillness in that moment before he left the room belied a calm he did not feel. He was not a violent man merely for violence’ sake but he knew that his anger in that moment was unreasonable and that any further challenge was likely to cause him to regret his actions. He didn’t want to intimidate or frighten her but he had to call a halt to her pleading for both their sakes. There was only so much that his male pride would take and her tenacity over Ethan and Blackheart were about to break the boundaries. He had only meant to send a warning with his words but when she cast her eyes downward he had the sensation that she was somehow handing him control. The thought thrilled as much as it concerned him. He would dearly love to command her body and bring her to completion. However he wanted her love and trust first.
But she didn’t trust him. He sensed that she was harboring secrets and fears and until she could share those, there would be no submission. To make matters worse, he could not divulge to her all that he was doing to bring Ethan home. Aye, trust was an elusive guest at their table.
Inwardly he cursed at what was still ahead of him. They had made some progress with understanding the layout of the Brest prison in which Ethan was being held but they had not expected to be pursued and engaged by excise-men on their way back to English waters. The skirmish had been brief and they had eventually outrun their pursuers but not before a few injuries to the crew and ship had been sustained. Now they would have to spend days on repairs that would delay going back to France. Until he completed this task he could not ask Ana to trust him.
The next few days brought about what Ana started to think of as the monotonous pattern of her life. She would wake early only to find Christian was already gone from the house. Mrs. Jones would claim that he was about the estate but when Ana left home each morning to visit the village or call on the tenants with baskets of food, he was nowhere to be found. Her afternoons were spent preparing the baskets for the next day, reading, consulting with Mrs. Jones on the running of the house and a myriad of other meaningless tasks to fill her lonely hours. She would wait for visitors who never called and try not to be disappointed that none of the local gentry saw fit to invite her to call on them. Once she ventured to Faversham only to be greeted with similar disdain as on her first visit.
The boy appeared in her dreams that night. He smiled at her with Christian’s eyes and mouth and she awoke wondering about him. She thought she had spied him in the village once but just as before, upon her approach he disappeared. The day after Christian’s accident a child’s laughter had echoed up from the kitchens but when she ventured to talk to M. LeClerc, he denied any knowledge of the child. On more than one occasion that day Ana caught Mrs. Jones looking at her with concern. It seemed that while Ana was convinced that her descent into her madness was not imminent, the housekeeper was less so.
On the third evening after Christian’s accident he was walking Ana to her room after supper. Their conversation had been a warm and light affair that dwelt on matters of the estate. Ana chose not to speak of annulments or the snub of the local gentry nor did she bring up Ethan or Blackheart. She had noted that Christian looked tired and worried. Frustration appeared in the clench of fists and the incessant twitch of his knee. Most of all he looked tired, the weariness emanating from his pores.
The previous evenings had reflected the same mood, leaving Ana wanting so desperately to hold and soothe him and resolving to do so but at the end of each evening he would leave her at her bedroom door, effectively shutting her out with a quick kiss on the cheek and a terse ‘goodnight’. Part of her was grateful for the reprieve knowing that their lack of a physical relationship played into her plans for eventually releasing Christian from this marriage when the time came, but mostly she was frustrated both physically and emotionally. Her body longed for him, wanting him to touch her with his beautiful hands and to open herself to satisfy his needs, and hers. Her mind yearned to reach into his painful recesses and draw him out, to listen to his doubts and worries, as a friend. Overwhelmingly the ache in her heart was incessant, the cracks forming in jagged lines with each bit of distance he put between them. But in the wee hours of the morning when she could not sleep and her longing for his touch was a temptation almost too strong to bare, she didn’t go to him. Tonight she felt she could take no more.
Ana had paused at her door, one hand on the handle and one of the frame. “Christian, why have you not come to me?” Her words were whispered into the wood but he heard them just the same.
“Will you tell me what has been bothering you so?” He had been standing back from her but now his hands were either side of the door effectively trapping her in the space between the door and his body.
“There is nothing except that you don’t want me to be your wife.” Where did she start? Her fears and musings knew no bounds. He started to pull back and she turned to face him.
“Anastasia, I want to make you mine more than I can say, but you are keeping something from me; I can see it on your face. Why won’t you tell me?” She thought to see amusement but all she saw was concern. God, his eyes were beautiful, intensely gray with flecks of hazel in the centre. She was mesmerized.
“I promise you there is nothing to tell.” Part of her knew that was true. She had had no episodes in the past few days, nothing that caused any alarm.
Christian looked into the depth of her eyes and knew that she was not telling the truth. He thought perhaps to seduce it from her. Leaning in he placed a kiss on the line of her jaw and enjoyed her gasp. “Tell me.”
He let his lips travel in a lazy line to her ear where he softly nuzzled then sucked on her lobe. Another sigh. “Tell me, Anastasia.”
Catching the scent of arousal he smiled into her neck and slipped one hand to her waist. These were dirty tricks he knew but if Ana’s passion would help her to reveal herself perhaps this game of seduction was a useful means to an end. Her groan as he massaged the flesh below her breast enticed him to move his mouth to her lips. She opened immediately, wrapping her hands around his neck and pulling him in. Their tongues tangled playfully and he moved his hand slowly upward, feeling the heaviness of the underside of her breast. Her moans moved through her body and he doubted that she even knew she was pressing herself against him.
He was playing with fire now, but Christ she felt good. “Tell me, Sweetheart, what are you hiding?” His lips moved back to her neck, suckling gently as he massaged her breast.
“Nothing,” she sighed, “but I do have a message for Captain Blackheart.”
Christian stilled his hand then pulled back from her. “What message?”
“I need to tell Blackheart.” She tried to pull him back down to her lips but the fury was building in him. He released her breast and pushed back from the door.
“What message, Anastasia?”
“Christian, I can’t…” He smacked his hand against the doorframe above her head, making her jump.
“Then find him yourself.” He turned on his heel, marched the few steps to his door and went through, slamming the door behind him.
Ana stared after him; her tears threatening. “Stubborn, stupid man.” She had been about to tell him about her locket. That she couldn’t say what the message was because she would have to show him but the locket was in her bedroom. Instead he had jumped to conclusions and walked away from her like a spoiled child. He was arrogant and petulant and a fool but she resolved to tell him tomorrow at dinner. If she didn’t tell him soon, they would run out of time. In the meantime she would make one more attempt to locate Blackheart through the villagers.
Ana had endeavored daily to find out all that she could about Captain Blackheart from the villagers in the hope that she might be able to secure a meeting with him. The estate was populated with a rag-tag assortment of ex-sailors or exiles and their families, all of whom held Christian in high regard. The more she got to know them, the less she thought about her first instincts and fears. These people were far too loyal to him to be fearful and they spoke only of his kindness and generosity. They were welcoming and accepting of her, with their ready smiles and laughter, but no one would say a word directly to her about Blackheart and although she often overheard snippets that confirmed he was still nearby. She was beginning to give up hope.
The afternoon sun streamed through the study windows playing light across the desk where Ana studied menus and household accounts. Her eyes were tired from lack of sleep and she sat back in her chair rubbing them gently. Normally she would be out on her visits by now, but after her lack of success in the village this morning she was content to stay at home, nursing the beginning of what she hoped would not become a major headache. Her hand went to the back of her neck and she felt the tightness there. She stood to stretch out her aching limbs when she heard laughter from the library. Ana left her study to investigate. As she slid through the door to the hall the library door opened and to her surprise Christian stepped out in full riding gear. He had obviously just returned from whatever it was he did each day and as usual he looked exhausted. Ana’s body responded in an inappropriately visceral fashion to the site of his boot-clad legs and the coating of stubble on his face. She longed to reach out and touch his skin with an ache so profound that her knees felt weak. His eyes held hers, with a little shock. It was if he could see her lust painted across her forehead and he was disgusted by her.
Trying to change both her mood and his, she straightened her palms down her skirts and took a deep breath. She noticed he did so as well, perhaps in relief at her change of demeanor. Ana knew she needed to focus on matters with Christian that could be considered neutral but her patience was growing thin. She recalled the abrupt ending to their conversation last night. Foolishly she had thought to talk to her husband but he was such an arrogant ass that she had not only failed in her task but had been left feeling physically unfulfilled. It was one thing for her not to want him to consummate their marriage, a whole other thing for him not to want to bed her at all. She had gone to her room feeling stupid for her lusts. It didn’t change the fact that the information she had was time-dependent. Ana had thought long and hard about the note she had kept from Christian. She had not intended to hide it from him but the more he delayed his plans, the more she had felt inclined to keep it to herself. Only if she was right about what the information meant they only had days to execute a rescue and she needed Christian to understand this.
“Christian, I wondered if I might have a moment of your time.” Ana fingered the locket at her neck resolving finally to hand over the paper it contained.
Christian eyed her with suspicion. “Speak, Madam.”
Ana bristled at the harshness underlying his tone, and yet she continued on as bravely as she could. “I heard again today that Captain Blackheart was near the coast and I wondered if now might be a good time to discuss the possibility of effecting a plan to rescue Lord Kavanagh.” As she spoke she undid the clasp of the locket around her neck and began to open it. “You see, I have…”
Christian closed his eyes and it took him a moment to answer. When he did, his voice was cold and hard, devoid of all emotion. “Why can’t you leave well enough alone, Anastasia?”
“But…” He stepped into her body and gripped her shoulders. Ana’s head started to swim as she struggled to maintain her balance. He was hurting her but she did not think he intended to. She saw now frustration, anger, disappointment, resignation. His jaw tensed as he glared down at her and spoke through gritted teeth.
“Do not challenge me any more on this.” Pushing her away, he turned. Ana watched in dismay as he stalked down the hall away from her outstretched hand without a second glance. She felt the high emotion of the day closing in on her, and she snapped the locket closed with one hand as she pinched the bridge of her nose with the other. She needed to sit urgently and blindly reached for the library door. There was a brief moment when she looked through the door and noticed that one of the bookshelves appeared to be standing away from the wall and there, between the shelf and the wall, stood the little boy in her dreams. Ana froze with the shock. With his dark hair and intense gray eyes he looked for a moment just like Christian. Then he began to blur and when her eyes cleared he was smiling. She frowned. The boy looked like a dark-haired replica of Kate. It couldn’t be! Ana blinked in confusion, looking from the boy to where her husband was now standing at the end of the hall staring at her with fear in his eyes. A wave of nausea hit her and just as suddenly the darkness engulfed her and she dropped the locket as she slumped to the floor.