Some time later she awoke in her darkened bedroom. Stretching gingerly she was grateful for the coolness of the crisp cotton sheets on her heated skin until she realized that she had been stripped naked. Her first reaction, to sit up with a start, was put aside as her head threatened to explode in pain. She stilled. Before she could open her eyes she attuned herself with the familiar pounding of her head and heart. If she could bring those two recalcitrant bodily functions under control then she might begin to seek out the rest of her senses.
Opening her eyes slowly was a mistake that caused her to groan. Immediately a cool wet cloth was placed on her forehead effectively covering her eyes. “Sshhh, my Darling. Lie still.”
Christian. He cooed his ministrations, whispering for her stillness in gentle tones that had not been present in their last encounter. She was more grateful for that tenderness than she could possibly express to him at this particular moment. Finally he held her hand and kissed her brow as she drifted back to sleep.
Christian stayed with her all the rest of the day and through the night, sending Taylor to deal with the night excursions as best he could. The ship was almost repaired and ready to sail. However, he was not. He refused to leave Ana while she was so vulnerable. In spite of the doctor’s reassurances that sleep would allow this condition to pass and that there was nothing he could do but to make her comfortable, he was still worried about her recovery. Ultimately, Christian wanted to be the one who was at hand for all her needs. As much as it pained him physically to see her naked body, he took full responsibility for bathing and toileting through the long hours as she slept. His response to her body was tempered by the frailty of her form and yet a constant state of semi-arousal had been his nemesis since she arrived in his world. What he felt now was nothing new and nothing that he could not control.
A knock at the door could only be Taylor or Mrs. Jones. No one else was permitted to enter.
“Sir, I am sorry to bother you but has she said anything more?” Christian shook his head. Since she had fallen into a state of semi-consciousness Ana had been talking in her sleep, muttering about the need to find Captain Blackheart. She seemed to be dreaming about a plan to save Ethan, claiming to have knowledge of his whereabouts. Even James with all his contacts had only been able to find out that Ethan had been in Paris a year ago but not where the French had moved him next. They had effectively lost track of him for nearly ten months until this latest information from Brest. There was a danger that he would be moved soon and they would just as quickly lose track of him again. What Ana thought she could possibly know was beyond him. However, given they had completed several fruitless trips to French ports in an effort to bribe officials and spies about Ethan’s movements, they were truly running out of options. The prison in Brest presented a number of substantive problems for them but if he were moved again it would be like finding a needle in a haystack.
Christian rubbed his face.
“I’ve tried to get her to talk but she keeps saying she will only talk to Blackheart. I refuse to push her any further while she is so ill. It seems that Blackheart has more effect on my wife than I do.” He glanced at Ana again with a sullen look.
“Jealous of him are you, Captain?” Taylor asked with a chuckle. “We could try searching the room again. There may still be a letter or something that can give us a clue.”
“I don’t feel good about prying into her private affairs. A woman must have some secrets, even from her husband.” Taylor grunted his ascent. He was an honorable man. Christian wouldn’t have bothered seeking his counsel if he weren’t.
“Even if they concern a notorious pirate?” Taylor raised an eyebrow causing Christian to grimace. Then he leaned in and lowered his voice. They both knew that it was folly to trust everyone who worked for them. “You know that this next journey to Brest is going to have to go ahead. Did you not think to tell her that you would be gone for two weeks or more?”
“Aye, I thought. I just couldn’t put it into words. I had hoped that we might…” Christian looked down at Ana’s sweet face. The fear that he had felt as she fell to the ground overrode all his reservations about speaking with her. The wasted time had played on his mind as he turned over her locket in his hand during the long dark hours of the night. He didn’t want to collect any more regrets. “Never mind what I thought. I just didn’t tell her.”
Taylor clapped a hand on his friend and employer’s shoulder once more. They had been through far too much to stand on ceremony. Christian sighed and reaching out, stroked his fingers down Ana’s flushed cheek. She stirred and Taylor took his leave quickly in case she woke up. As he got to the door, Christian said over his shoulder: “Blackheart will be leaving tomorrow night as planned. Let the crew know.”
The fog lifted for a moment and Ana registered the male tones in discussion over her. She felt the sensation of a touch and the words she had been dreaming about. Blackheart. He was here somewhere and now was her only opportunity to get a message to him. The note that had been delivered to Kate weeks ago was copied out by her own careful hand and tucked into her locket. Ana’s hand reached to her neck but to her dismay, the locket was not there.
Trying to rise from the bed, she felt a hand press her back down. “Rest, Love. What do you need?”
“Christian?” Her throat was dry and her eyelids still heavy. The incessant pounding had settled into a dull ache.
“Yes, Darling, it is I. Tell me what I can do for you.” His fingers felt so good as they soothed through her hair. She moaned like a satisfied cat. Then his lips touched the skin of her forehead and she looked up into his face. “Oh, Anastasia, that is a sight that I cannot get enough of, your beautiful blue eyes, open and focused. I’ve missed you so much, my love.”
She felt she must surely be dreaming given his gentle touch and his soothing words of endearment. Gone were the harsh lines of Captain Grey and here before her was Christian, her Christian. She bit her lip unsure of the transition in him only to hear his hiss and see him close his eyes as if in pain.
“Christian?” Perhaps he had caught her malady, although in all her years of suffering from these headaches she had never known of anyone catching them from her. Oh, it was his leg. It must be his wound hurting him. Yes, he was rubbing his hands down his thighs. That must be it. But as she watched she felt a familiar longing welling up inside her. She groaned. It was always the same, first the headache and then…
His lids slowly opened revealing the intensity of his gray eyes as he smiled down at her with a smoldering look. “I’m sorry, Darling. For two days I have sat and waited for you to return and now that you are here, I find myself fighting for control.”
“Control?” She had the vague feeling that with all she was missing she may have leaked out a part of her brain. She could not understand what he was talking about but she liked what she saw in his face. His eyes spoke straight to the private places of her body and she could not stop herself from squirming in an undulating wave of response. He groaned once more, threatening to remove his hands from her face. She grabbed them with her own forgetting that she was naked beneath the sheets and completely unaware when her right breast became exposed.
He gasped, “Anastasia!” It was a deep rumble from his throat and she knew that she had to have his hands on her body, not just on her face. He looked at her in shock as she placed his hand on her breast. “Are you sure?”
Was she? She did not know what to be sure of. The fire was intense in her belly. And his hand, oh God, his hand, it soothed. Here she was wakening from a deep sleep to the man she desired beyond all reason and it all still felt like she was dreaming. Only this was real. She felt his touch on her aching breast. He was real and she wanted him more than she wanted to take another breath. Her body ached with the need and yet in the weeks since they had first met they had hardly kissed. Lord she needed him to fix that. She needed him to touch her. She licked her lips and he groaned again, sending a jolt to her groin. Oh God, it hurt. She needed to make it stop. She needed him to make it stop.
“Kiss me, please!” she gasped, as her hips lifted off the bed. Oh, she was so wanton and lustful asking so much of him. And then his lips were on hers draining her of all sense. He teased the edges of her mouth but she could not hold back as she opened up to him. Not requiring another invitation, his tongue swept through her mouth on a series of moans that threaded through her body. No she held nothing back, taking what she could while she could because surely he would be horrified by her passions and withdraw from her soon. If this was the last time he kissed her like this, then she wanted to remember. But the pain welled up from below again and she thrust her pelvis upward throwing him off balance. He had perched one knee on the edge of the bed, leaning his elbows on either side of her head. Now he had landed his groin to hers and she rubbed against him wantonly, trying to make the aching fire stop.
Her desperation was like an opiate as his hands slid down the sides of her breasts, a tantalizing whisper telling her that there was more. Not knowing or caring that she was wresting control of the situation, his hips ground against hers and she cried out. As the gasp escaped her lips his head lifted in concern, concern changing to delight as he saw her response to his touch. Bowing his head he took one hard, peaked nipple into his mouth, sucking gently, then swirled his tongue around it. As he did so his hand massaged the underside of her full, aching breast bringing all the sensations together and Ana cried out as some connection was made to her womanly parts. To say that she had never experienced such a feeling would be an outright lie. It was part of her condition after all. However to say that she had not experienced it like that, at the hands of a master, was true beyond belief. When he elicited the same response from her other breast she thought she might rise off the bed unaided, such was the force of the sensation as it hit, and the relief, oh God, the relief.
“La petite mort.” He whispered as he moved to suckle her ear. Yes, quite. The Little Death, but already it was building up again, the fire all consuming. She was surely going to go to hell. “You are so responsive, my love, so beautiful to behold. I cannot express how much I want to lie with you.”
“Then do it. I want to be your wife.” She didn’t recognize the need in her own harsh whisper. If he did not take her now she would die. She knew it. Once more she pressed upward.
“But you have been ill. You need to rest.”
“NO!” Her eyes widened in desperation. Every other time in her life she had had to deal with this on her own. The results were always less than satisfactory, leaving her feeling shameful and unfulfilled. Now here was her husband and he could ease this terrible, fiery ache that burned between her legs. She simply knew that he could. It would be more than she could bear to have him walk away from her right in this moment. Tears threatened, choking her throat as she pleaded, “Please, Christian. Please!”
Christian paused for a moment. He had never witnessed anything like this in his life and he was not quite sure what to do. She had been by turns so pale and frail, then flushed and writhing with her illness; first, hardly able to drink or even lift her head from the pillow then unable to be still. The doctor had said that it would only last a matter of hours or days at most and Mrs. Jones confirmed that one of the women from the village also suffered with the same affliction. He had been sure that there would be days of recovery. Now here she was demanding, pleading for her conjugal rights, begging for sexual completion far better than an experienced whore in a brothel. His mind was spinning but having been in a permanent and painful state of arousal for days, he was powerless to resist her.
Stripping off his garments, he climbed in beside her naked body, the body that he had sponged so lovingly only hours ago. He touched her with reverence, his fingers grazing the silk of her skin but her frantic hands grasped his and shoved his hand firmly between her legs with a gasp. He nearly lost his control with that one swift movement.
“Christian!” She cried out again and he marveled at the speed and intensity of her orgasm. It was beyond anything that he had seen and it was beautiful, so beautiful. She was crying as he inserted his fingers, causing him to think that he had hurt her but then he felt her pulse powerfully around his hand yet again. God! She was amazing!
“Tell me, Anastasia. Tell me what you need.” He continued to stroke as he murmured into her ear, keeping his body pressed the length of hers to anchor her.
“You, all of you. Please.” Her plea held that desperation once more. He rose over her and poised at her entrance. He had never taken a virgin and his moment of hesitation was about not wanting to hurt her. He had thought to ease into her gently, to talk her through the worst of the pain and hope that she would want to continue. He breathed deeply preparing to use all of his control. Instead she grasped his hips and pulled him in, causing him to thrust harder than he had intended. She cried out with the short, sharp burst of pain as he breached her maidenhead and he would have stopped then and there if she hadn’t begun to thrust against him. Pushing her pelvis up toward his gave him no choice but to thrust down in response. Every instinct told him to slow down but he was powerless against her will.
“Ana! God!” those two words becoming a deity of higher proportions in his mind. He pressed on letting her set the pace, meeting her with his own power. With an almighty yell that started in the base of his spine, he let go of the most intense orgasm he had ever experienced, filling her completely as her body convulsed around him. She screamed out his name as she came harder than all the previous occasions combined, her muscles clenching so hard around him that it was almost painful.
Rolling their bodies over and holding her close as she came down, Christian was smiling so hard that he almost didn’t notice the wet drops hitting his chest. She was crying in earnest, her body shaking gently with the emotion.
“Ana, Darling, what’s wrong?” He frowned as he pulled back from her a little so that he could regard her face, hoping that they were tears of joy but somehow knowing they weren’t. “Oh, God, I’m sorry Ana. It was too early. I shouldn’t have…”
“No, no.” Her finger touched his lips to silence his concerns. A wan smile was all she could muster through the ongoing tears. She tried to bury her head against his chest but he placed her down on her back and rose on his elbow to look at her. He had just watched the woman of his dreams come apart in his arms over and over again with such passion and delight that he felt transported. Now she was crying with the intensity of a lost child and he had to know what was wrong.
“Ana, please. You’re frightening me. Darling, tell me what is wrong.”
“You…you…must be horrified by me. I am so horrified at myself.” For an awful moment he thought she might be one of those pious religious sorts who demean that which is natural and beautiful between a man and a woman. Surely not a woman of such passion. Surely not his Anastasia.
“I don’t understand. Why would I be horrified? Why would you? Ana I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“But that…that cannot be normal.” She said in a small whisper. He had no idea about normal but he felt blessed. Only right at this moment, he had no idea how to explain that to Ana. They hardly knew each other. He blamed himself for that. He hadn’t given her enough of his time to know what might be in her heart. However confessing how amazing she was as a lover seemed wrong; he didn’t want her to think he was some sort of pervert. He tried to draw on the experiences that he knew of other married people but the only ones he had spent any considerable time with were his own parents and they were nauseating, hardly able to keep their hands off each other. He wanted that with Ana, God help him he wanted that, but looking at the abject horror and misery on her face, he wondered if that was what she wanted at all. What he did know was that if a woman didn’t want to enjoy intimacy then nothing would persuade her otherwise. Pure intimacy was a matter of trust that would allow passion to engage the body, mind and heart. The rest was just lust and obligation. That had its place but not in this marriage. He wanted Ana to trust him and he knew that she didn’t trust him right now.
“Ana. Nothing about you is normal.” And in those few words that he intended to expand on he knew he had lost her. She shot up from the bed taking the sheet with her and leaving him naked and exposed. From the look on her face that seemed only right and just.
“Please leave,” she whispered from the other side of the room.
Rolling over to face her he thought he might have a shot at fixing things but she turned away. “I didn’t mean that.”
“JUST GO!” she yelled up at the ceiling before her body crumpled down on the seat by her dresser.
He stood up and donned his breeches, not taking his eyes off her shuddering form. She sobbed into her sheet, her hair disheveled and curling around the bare skin of her shoulders. He suspected that even with red and puffy eyes she would still be the most beautiful thing he had ever laid eyes upon. If she rejected him completely his life would be over. He knew that without doubt. Now that he had had her there was no life without Ana. And if he left her here to rusticate while he jaunted off across the channel to play pirates then there would be every chance that she would high tail it back to London. A loose plan began to formulate in his mind as he pulled his shirt over his head.
For her part, Ana had never known such embarrassment. She had thrown herself at him like the wanton hussy that she always suspected she was and now she was paying the price for her lustfulness. There would be no annulment. Her uncontrollable urges had just put paid to that. Christian was now forever saddled with a wife who over time would descend into madness and this lustfulness was just one of the many symptoms. This…affliction was all part and parcel of the madness that consumed her mother. Her mother did not suffer with headaches but on more than one occasion she had been found with her hands under her clothes as she tried to sate herself inappropriately. Ana suffered from the headaches first, followed by the all-consuming pain of bodily urges that demanded attention to make them go away. Christian might have been mildly amused by what had transpired tonight, but in time the seeds of doubt and mistrust would be sewn. Her lusts were too wild when they came upon her and to lose him because of something she could not control was now unthinkable.
Strong arms wrapped around her and lifted her from the stool, carrying her back to the bed. Instead of laying her down he sat with her in his lap and simply held her while she cried.
“I wish you would go. It would be easier on both of us.” His body stiffened beneath her and then he softened his touch, placating the small child again.
“I’m not going to leave you while you are so upset by this. I am still in awe of the beauty of my wife and my heart hurts that she is so… sad.” His voice was low and soothing, his hands stroking her hair.
“You are enamored by this moment. In time you will be, most likely, disgusted, at best, piteous.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I do know that. I’ve lived with it all my life.”
“Yet, I was your first lover.”
“You will be my only lover. But this must be the only time I am loved. I am not naive. You must take your needs elsewhere and I will not stop you. We must not do this again. I have seen first-hand what happens when control is lost. Over time it worsens until there is nothing of self control left when the urges hit.”
“How will not being with me help you?” He wanted to understand her reasoning but none of this made sense. Only it seemed to make sense to her so for that he would try.
“If the disease is not fed then it cannot grow. It can be contained.”
“First of all, I don’t know why you think of this as a disease. Secondly, how do you know this…?”
“I don’t. But I have seen the damage that this disease has wrought on my mother, so this belief, this theory, is all I have to give me hope.”
“I see.” Christian was not sure that he saw at all. Ana’s mother was a tad eccentric and from all accounts had some strange ideas that Sir Raymond was keen to suppress, but other than that she appeared quite normal. “And if I disagree?”
“Then there is nothing I can do. I am your wife and I will do my wifely duties but you should know. I will not have children. I will not pass this…affliction on to my children.” Her face twisted with disgust.
“And exactly how would you propose to prevent children?” He knew that working girls had their methods but none of them were failsafe.
“I have sought advice on how to prevent and how to… cure.”
At those words he was tempted to throw her over his knee and spank the living daylights out of her. She would not ‘cure’ herself of his children. Not that being his child was going to be the most salubrious experience, always being outsiders to society. Perhaps she had a point about not having children, however, the chances of surviving these so-called ‘cures’ were minimal. He stored this information away for later. Arguing with her now would not help the situation.
“I can see I will have to think on this and we shall have to discuss this further.”
“Can’t we just decide this now? I’m right, I know I am.”
“You may well be technically correct but I am a businessman and a strategist. I don’t make decisions of such import without careful planning, consideration and negotiation. Therefore we shall both take time to think and discuss later. We shall reach a mutual agreement that will suit us both moving forward as that is the sensible thing to do. You have given me your terms and I shall consider my own.”
She paused for a moment and then nodded. “Alright.”
“I take it that you have particular measures that you would like to take now?” Ana nodded. She had not thought about that beforehand but he was right. She could not take any chances.
For his part, it angered Christian to think that Ana might take such steps but he also knew that her emotional state was fragile and this was a form of control. He would allow it for now and work to renegotiate this aspect of the arrangement in time. “Very well, I shall ring for a bath.”
Reaching into the pocket of his waistcoat he pulled out the locket and placed it on her dresser before he left the room.
Ana was grateful for the time and the space to clean her-self in the way that Andrea had instructed her. It was too late to insert the vinegar-soaked sponge but if Christian insisted on bedding her then she would not allow herself to be caught again. With regards to those other matters, Andrea had been quite adamant that if she chose that particular path she must consult with her first. There were inherent dangers that might cost her her life, however Andrea knew people who claimed to be able to minimize the risk to women who required these services. She had been clear about the horrors and why Ana should not try to navigate the charlatans and back-room murderers herself. When Ana asked Andrea why she was taking such care with a relative stranger she said she owed Captain Grey her life. She would repay the favor.
When she was bathed and ready for supper Christian met her in the dining room. Even though the footmen hovered he served her himself, taking great care with her every want and need. His gentle attentiveness was quite overwhelming and she knew that her heart was engaging. He had whispered words of endearment and love to her when she woke up but he said nothing of that now, somewhat proving to Ana that she had misinterpreted his intentions. Of course he would not say such things in front of the staff but her fear now was that when her love grew, as she knew it would, his would diminish as he realized the error of marrying her. All she could do now was guard her heart as best she could.
“I wanted to let you know that I have tried to talk with Blackheart.” Christian was calmly spearing his mutton with a fork as he snuck a sideways glance at her. Ana was too stunned to speak. “He refused to meet with me. His ship was apparently damaged and he has been too preoccupied with the repairs.”
“But you will try again?” Ana’s voice was close to breaking.
“Before we married I was preparing to sail. I have postponed it for as long as I can but I must leave tomorrow. So no, I will not be able to talk to Blackheart until I return.” His hand reached across the table to her, his eyes filled with concern. “I’m sorry, Anastasia. We will have to hope that another opportunity presents itself.”
“How long will you be gone?” Fingering the locket, she kept her gaze focused on her plate as her heart began to shatter. She knew that as a sea captain there would most likely be long periods of time without him. She swallowed down her disappointment that it was happening so soon after they had finally started to communicate. It all seemed like a cruel twist of fate but it would mean that he would be making an attempt to locate Ethan.
“Two weeks.” Christian’s face was impassive. Ana waited a moment but he gave no other information.
“What are your plans?” He sneaked another look at her but she was concentrating hard on her food. His hope that she would share her information willingly was diminishing with each mouthful.
“I have a plan of attack. There is a small possibility that we will be able to locate Ethan in the place where we believe that he is being held but I do not hold out much hope. The French authorities move the political prisoners at regular rotations to stop such attempts. There is no pattern or reason to the movements.”
That, Ana thought, was where he was wrong. “Where will you start?”
Christian took a deep breath and hoped that his plan would work. “We will start in Calais and work our way through the sea ports before making our way to Paris.”
“Calais? But, why Calais?” She looked genuinely concerned and Christian took this as a good sign.
“We have to start somewhere. My plan is to be as systematic in our approach as possible, to take our time.” He didn’t want to give too much away. Their latest intelligence said that Ethan was in Brest and Christian would be heading straight there. However if Ana knew anything of value this would be the time for her to speak up.
She fidgeted with her locket again. He watched her carefully as she considered what she would do. Finally, she looked up at him.
“How long will it take you to work your way along the coast?” His heart sank. She was hedging, still weighing up whether to trust him or not. “I only ask because I wondered if it might not be more likely that he would be somewhere other than the landing port for the British fleet.”
“He may well be but without more information…”
“I…” He willed her to keep talking but she retreated once more. “I might know where he is.”
He laughed. “That would be a first. To achieve what the home office has been unable to for years.” And even though his intention was to lighten the mood he saw from the cloud that crossed her face that it was exactly the wrong approach to take with her.
Oh, the arrogance of the man, as if this intelligence was not genuine when she knew in her heart that it was, but men did not act on intuition, only hard facts, and what she had to show him most likely would be dismissed. He had just said that he was careful with planning and strategy. If Ana was right about the information then their best opportunity was going to be in Brest in 3 days. But she could be wrong. It was that thought that stopped her in her tracks. Christian noted her anger and knew instinctively that she would not be forthcoming.
“You’re right, of course.”
There was a spark of interest and then he did something that she only knew of from observations. He leaned forward, looked her in the eye and said, “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about such things, my dear. If the might of the King’s navy can’t locate Ethan, then I don’t know what can. But perhaps you should give that information to me just for safekeeping.”
There was something in his tone that caused her some alarm. He was smiling but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. Now did not seem to be the time to trust her husband.
“Oh, I have the information stored in my head. I would write it all out for you tonight, but I find that I am still quite tired after my illness. Perhaps tomorrow.”
He sat back and drank his wine, watching her intently. “Yes, perhaps.”
Christian found himself staring into his glass with disappointment but not surprise. For whatever reason Ana didn’t trust easily and as he considered all the things that he didn’t share with her he thought her wise. No, he was not surprised. He only hoped that she would take the bait.
During the night he disobeyed his own counsel and unable to resist went to her bed. Her sleepy welcome was encouraging as he made gentle love to her, relishing her body in his arms. Their passions matched perfectly as he drove her to her release and his own. Lying satiated beside her, there was a sense of delight in the fact that she had not refused him, but he knew she was still holding something of herself back. He wanted that part of her so desperately, more than he had from any other lover he had ever known. He supposed this was desire that came from love. Would that she might feel a little for him of what he felt for her. Afterward he had held her while she slept, knowing that he should slip out of her bed but being unable to make himself leave.
He had already put his plans in place and he hoped that when the time came Ana would be amenable. In the end he hoped that she would be able to forgive him his sins. If not, then this time away from each other might serve for both of them to determine how the rest of their marriage might proceed. The warmth of her skin as she allowed him to mold himself into her body was a comfort he would long for on the long days and nights at sea. He shook his head at the thought that he had become so quickly enamored of her, needful of her, when he had spent so many days avoiding her company. A waste, he determined as he drifted off.
Ana had taken longer to fall asleep than Christian knew. Twice she had been tempted to wake him and share the knowledge she kept from him. She had let her anger at his words stand in the way of helping Ethan. It was foolish pride and folly. Christian had been kind and attentive during her illness; he had not spurned her lustful needs, even seemed to welcome them. He had not laughed at her when she spoke of her fears, and even though she had not felt brave enough to voice them all, she suspected he would have listened with an open mind. He had spoken words of love hadn’t he? And she, out of fear or pride or foolishness, or perhaps all three, had said nothing. Eventually, in the wee small hours as his breathing evened out and his strong arms wrapped around her possessively making her feel safe and wanted, she resolved to tell him what she knew. But it could wait, until the morning before he sailed. For now he, they, needed sleep.
Only when she awoke, he had already gone and that was when her panic began to set in, in earnest.
Pacing the floor in the library she tried to decide the best plan of action. Ethan had only days left before they would move him again. Of that she was certain. And Christian, her beloved Christian, was about to take unnecessary risks and time by his methodical approach and that was her fault. If he knew the plans for movement he would go straight to Brest but she had failed to share what she knew and now he could be sailing into a trap. Ana presumed that she had one opportunity and she was basing this knowledge on a half remembered dream. However it was the only chance she had left to take matters into her own hands on Kate’s behalf and to get a much needed message to Christian. She had hastily penned a note to Kate outlining her plans and sent it back to London. Although they hadn’t spoken for some time it was important to Ana that Kate know that she was doing all she could for Ethan and that any part Kate had had in Ana’s wedding had long since been forgiven. However she was grateful that Kate wasn’t close by to stop her from her current course of action. Given Kate’s aversion to Christian, Ana was certain that Kate’s friendship was doomed to become a distant memory.
Moving quickly through the room, her hands were shaking as she fingered the locket. She had taken it upon herself to try to elicit the whereabouts of Blackheart from the villagers and although no one had been entirely forthcoming, there were snippets of information that Ana was currently turning over in her head. She had dropped into the inn to see Madame Fleur and the innkeeper had shared her knowledge of the trouble spots on the coast road with regards to recent smuggling activities. Ana had asked under the guise of keeping herself safe on her rides. Now crossing to the to the large map table, Ana studied the map Christian had in the library of the local area. Having considered Madame Fleur’s advice she had determined the two most likely places to find Captain Blackheart.
Ana traced the line of the coast road with her finger, committing it to memory. Her back ached from leaning over the map table and she straightened up looking about the room as she did so. The memory of the bookshelf came back to her as she glanced to the corner. Had she imagined that it had opened? She knew that there were often secret passageways in old houses, the remnants of Tudor times when priest holes and escape routes were a necessary part of the architecture. Could that really be what she had seen?
The bookshelf beckoned her and within moments she was engrossed in examining it with her fingertips. After half an hour she determined that she must have been dreaming. There was nothing that she could find that would shift in any way. Turning from it she walked back to the map on the desk. As she approached she noticed other documents, aged and stained, peaking from underneath the main map. When she raised the map to look closer, she could see first a detailed plan of the house and grounds of the Grange. The northern wing of the house was missing from the drawing indicating that the house had been added to over time. Beneath this was a topographical map of an area of land that extended from the Grange lands to the coast. Her husband was a collector of old maps it seemed, for this too, was quite yellowed and faded with age. Perhaps they should be framed behind glass to preserve their condition like the maps she had seen at the British Museum she thought. Then something about them caught her eye. She noted that the topographical map indicated a network of tunnels that led from the coast to one or two central areas inland. When she checked the map of the Grange lands she could see that one of those central points was beneath the main house.
“That bookshelf must open,” she said out loud, turning around to face the wall of books again. Instead of rushing over she leaned back against the table to look at the whole wall. There was something that she was missing. Her fingers played on the patterns of carved wood roses that edged the map table as she perused the walls and quite by chance she felt a small round knob in the centre of the pattern that suddenly depressed under her fingers. As it did she glanced down at her hand. Turning she squatted down to look at the circle more closely. Touching it again, she pressed harder until it disappeared into the recesses of the wood and a secret drawer on the table popped open. Turning to face the shelves again she noted the ornate carving on either side of the bookshelves that matched the table. Finally she saw what she was looking for and crossed to the panel that ran from floor to ceiling on the side of the shelves. As she concentrated on the pattern she located the same configuration of carving and depressed the round knob as before. Behind her she heard the sound of a latch releasing. Standing and turning at the same time she saw that a section of the shelf had shifted ever so slightly out from the wall. She rushed over and pulled it further. Expecting it to be quite heavy, she was surprised when it moved with ease and she stepped back to allow it to open completely, revealing a small room.
Ana took a candle from the mantle and walked inside. There was a small assortment of comfortable furniture in what appeared to be an anteroom, enough for a few people to sit at the table and meet under the candelabra that hung from the centre of the ceiling. On the opposite side of the room was another door. She hurried over and opened it, feeling a rush of cold air flow around her as she did so. Stairs descended down into the darkness. She made her way down to the bottom taking care to shield her candle from the cool breeze. At the bottom of the stairs was the start of what she assumed to be the tunnels with several options running in different directions away from the house. Ana heard an echo of footsteps down one of the tunnels to her left and stepped back toward the stairs. There were men’s voices that may have been distant but the tunnels were carrying the noise in ways that had her frightened. Unsure how close they really were she retreated to the stairs. If these were the tunnels on the map, then almost anyone who knew about them could be using them. She rushed back up the stairs as quietly as she could and secured the locks on the doors when she got to the top. Moving back through the room she emerged out into the light of the library and shifted the bookcase back into place with a click.
The rest of her afternoon was spent in studying the maps in detail. If her information from Madame Fleur was correct, then she surmised that the eastern most of the tunnels would be the fastest option for her as it was the most direct route to the sea. However the northern tunnel, while longer, would take her closer to the sheltered bays where she supposed a ship might easily be hidden. As she had worked she decided she would arrange for supper in her room and retire early, claiming fatigue from her recent illness. When she was sure she had committed the routes to memory she stored the maps again and went to find Mrs. Jones.
After the household had settled into stillness Ana furtively made her way down the back stairs to the library. She had located a small hurricane candle for her purposes and had wrapped herself in a warm cloak. Her sturdy boots would allow her to walk a distance safely, especially if the ground became damp as she got closer to the sea. She had also located a small knife in Christian’s room and strapped it on to the outside of her thigh using a garter. Second guessing her decision she had almost turned back to her room when she was struggling to find the right pattern configuration to release the bookshelf. However once the shelf popped open she found her feet moving of their own volition. Once inside the small anteroom she paused to go over her plan in her head. She wanted to go back to check the maps again just to be sure, but her worry that the tides would come into the tunnels urged her on.
In the gloom of the anteroom she saw something on the table. A sealed parchment was placed carefully under a paperweight. Ana chastised herself for not noticing if it had been on the table earlier in the day but she pulled it out to examine it anyway. It had one word written on it.