In the dark of the night, Ethan roamed the halls of the Grange unable to sleep. He felt odd being back on land, the rocking of the sea becoming a source of comfort to him. Worse, he felt displaced here in the Grange, amongst the understated grandeur of Christian’s stately home. He had the overwhelming urge to get out to the stables and ride across country until his lungs burst. Only, his limbs were fighting a war with his brain and he could not stop them from shaking long enough to walk a hall without holding the walls, let alone control a horse at full tilt.
Besides, he had overheard voices in the night, the Duke and Duchess of Carrick, talking about her. She had been here, in the house until today and then when she knew he was coming she had run. Run like the cold, callous bitch he knew she would grow up to be. Mia had always been spoiled by her brothers and father. She had always gotten what she wanted from everyone, even him. Once he had thought her the most beautiful creature on earth, the woman he was fighting to return home to, the love to whom he had made promises he intended to keep and then she, the fickle bitch she was, had changed her mind. Dying in Paris would have made it all easier to bear but then Castlereagh had called upon him.
Shoving the bile of memories down he continued to wander, willing his legs to cooperate. Before long, he found himself outside the house, the salt of the sea filling his nostrils and feeding the urge to run. The further he walked the stronger he felt until his bare feet were pounding the dewy grass beneath him. On and on, his heart racing, arms and legs pumping, he ran into the darkness until he reached the edge of a cliff, overhanging menacing rocks and crashing sea. How easy to step off,to end it all right now. To never have to think of her or France ever again.
The next morning, Ana had the opportunity to spend time with her mother and Grace while the men shut themselves in Christian’s study. Ana was anxious about their discussions, knowing full well that much of the conversation would be centered on Jackson Hyde. However, now that she had returned to the Grange, she would take up the duties as lady of the manor and that included entertaining her mother and mother-in-law.
“You know darling, you look lovely with a little color in your cheeks.” Her mother held the tongs poised over the cup to drop in a sixth lump of sugar into her tea, quite oblivious to the fact that Ana didn’t take sugar at all. Grace smiled and halted Caroline from adding any more with a gentle hand on her wrist. Caroline looked down and then frowned, as if recalling something.
“Are you alright, mother?” Ana reached out to take the cup. Having suffered through worse concoctions at her mother’s hand, Ana was not so concerned with her tea but with the sudden loss of concentration that had washed over Caroline’s features.
“Quite but I don’t think you should drink that, darling. You don’t usually like sugar.” Caroline looked quite confused and then her bottom lip sneaked out in a pout. “Oh, dear. I did it again, didn’t I? I forget. So easily. You know, I can recall what I was doing in 1792 but I can’t quite remember your husband’s name.” Caroline looked at Ana with another frown.
“It’s alright, mother. His name is Christian. Christian Grey.” Ana kept her voice soft and her face impassive as she swallowed a mouthful of the sickly sweet liquid.
“Oh, yes. He looked so handsome at your wedding. In his uniform.” She stopped again with yet another frown. “Why did he wear a uniform?”
“My son is a sea captain, Lady Caroline. A very successful one.” Grace’s words were full of pride as she gave Caroline a wide smile. Caroline nodded, as if she understood what was being said.
“He was involved with that terrible accident at sea with the Kavanaghs, wasn’t he, Ana?” Caroline’s ability to blurt out statements and questions that others would piously hold back was becoming legendary.
Ana’s eyes widened. Her mother had no control over a sugar bowl but she seemed to have a fairly good hold on events from five years ago. She had not noticed this about her mother before. Whenever she returned to her childhood home to visit she found her mother to be quite addled and unpredictable. This side of her, the one that could call on information from years hence, was something that Ana had not noted.
“Yes, mother. They decorated him for that battle.” Even though the Kavanaghs’ ship was lost, Ana thought immediately. Just as quickly, she reprimanded herself for thinking such thoughts.
“Yes, you know the ladies’ guild said some awful things about that. Vicious women, all of them. Only…I can’t recall what they said. Isn’t that odd?” Caroline peered at the inside of her tea cup as if looking for the answer there. Then she shrugged and replaced the cup in the saucer putting it carefully on the tray and picking up the sugar bowl. Holding the tongs out to Ana she asked, “Would like some sugar, my dear? You know, you look quite lovely with some colour in your cheeks.”
Luncheon was in full swing when Welch arrived at the door of the dining room and announced the arrival of two gentlemen. Christian rose and excused himself from the dining table, saying he would meet them in his study. Ana watched her husband make a business-like exit then returned to her guests. Whoever had arrived at the house was expected as Christian had shown no surprise and this gave Ana cause for concern.
Lady Caroline was in fine form, telling story after story of Ana’s childhood, while Grace punctuated with tales of her own children. Some of her mother’s stories were quite lucid and even accurate in the details. Carrick and Raymond carried on their own discussions of fishing leaving Ana to smile that it all appeared so normal. At least their parents seemed to hold a genuine affection for each other. Welch reentered the room to supervise the remainder of the meal.
“Welch, who has arrived to see my husband?” The butler leaned over and refilled her tea cup, gingerly.
“I believe it is Lord Haverstock and a Mr Hyde arrived from London, m’Lady.”
Ana picked up her napkin from her lap and threw it on the table as she rose from her chair. Her father reached out a hand to halt her.
“My dear, perhaps you should let your husband handle this.”
Ana looked at him incredulously. “Pardon me? In the same way that you dealt with him?” Ana didn’t mean to belittle her father, but the presence of that weasel in her house was making her itch. “Father, I apologise.”
“No, you’re right. I didn’t handle it. It is for that reason that Christian is best placed to deal with him.” His cheeks flushed red with shame and Ana moved toward him to give some reassurance when she noticed Carrick had shifted to stand beside her.
“Ana, perhaps we should go and support Christian.” Carrick placed a firm hand on Sir Raymond’s shoulder before departing the room.
Grace did not move out of her chair to join them. “I think I should like to stay here and finish me tea. Would you stay with me, Caroline?” Ana smiled at Grace gratefully. Somehow the thought of her mother being near any sort of confrontation with Hyde seemed like a terrible idea.
“Yes. Mother, I should be eternally grateful if you would keep Her Grace company.” Lady Caroline nodded at Ana with a benign smile. Ana turned and left the room on her father’s arm.
Entering the front drawing room a few minutes later, they found Christian with Jackson Hyde, Carrick and a very mysterious but distinguished gentleman who she presumed was Lord Haverstock. Hyde’s nasal whine could be heard clearly resonating around the room.
“I don’t believe that you understand. If it wasn’t for me, Sir Raymond would be destitute,” Hyde intoned. A shudder went through Ana’s body and she cringed to think what the simpering, sniveling rat would say next.
“It is because of you that he is almost destitute.” Christian’s voice was flat, emotionless, cold. If his words had been aimed at her, she would have been terrified. Hyde at least had the good sense to flinch.
“But…but it was Sir Raymond who ran the property into the ground, Sir. Not I. He had substantial debt when I took over the running of the estate.” The horrid little man was leaning his body to one side and wringing his hands in front of his body. He was quite pathetic and Christian wasn’t taken in.
“You were employed as the estate manager long before any real debt existed. My brother has been over the accounts and it is quite clear that you have either been a complete failure in your dealings or you are siphoning the funds into your own coffers.” Even though she knew that Elliot had been prepared to assist in extricating Hyde from their lives, she had not expected her brother-in-law to take enough interest to delve into their accounts. Everything in Lord Elliot Grey’s resume would lead one to assume that he was a cad and a wastrel. However, the fact that both Carrick and Christian held him in great esteem seemed to indicate that he was a better businessman than she had been led to believe.
“And where is your brother, Captain Grey? If he was so concerned about the monies and the work that I have dedicated my life to this past decade, then why is he not here to accuse me himself.”
The implications were obvious. Hyde seemed to believe that Elliot was being used as some sort of foil in this discussion. Carrick rose and walked to the sideboard, calmly, pouring himself a snifter of brandy. Christian and Haverstock were still and silent, allowing Hyde to focus his rather beady little eyes on the duke. Carrick took his time.
“My son and I have gone through all of the accounts from the last ten years, Mr Hyde. It is quite clear to both of us that you have been fiddling the books in such a way as to convince Sir Raymond that the tenant farms were unsustainable. Your efforts were so convincing, in fact, that you forced my daughter-in-law into paid employment. My son tells me that you had designs on marrying Anastasia yourself. Taking away her choices seems a like a terribly gauche way of winning a lady’s heart.”
Ana wanted to break out in applause. Never had she thought that anyone would be able to prove what she had suspected Hyde of doing for years. Her father had given up all hope of being able to manage the properties himself when her mother had started to deteriorate. That was not long after Mr Hyde was employed as manager. Which reminded her.
“Tell me, Mr Hyde. What do you know about the diagnosis for my mother? I only ask you see, as my husband has given me cause to believe that perhaps the records that have been presented to us might not be an entirely accurate reflection of her condition.”
Hyde was starting to turn an unsightly shade of green as he realised the evidence was stacking up against him.
“Perhaps I might be of assistance here, Lady Trevelyan.” A deep voice spoke up from the corner as a very imposing gentleman rose from his seat and advanced on the group. “Lord Haverstock, Whitehall, at your service, m’am.”
Lord Haverstock bowed over Anastasia’s hand in a very charming manner. As he raised his head so that only she could see his face, he smiled broadly and gave her a quick wink, then turned back to face Hyde.
“I bring with me some records that Viscount Trevelyan wished me to procure from a particular Harley Street specialist. I believe these are the medical records of the doctor who examined the Baroness eight years ago. The medical diagnosis clearly indicates a slight but stable dementia accompanied by mild hysteria. Nothing untoward for her age and with a reduced level of stress, completely manageable. He was somewhat concerned to hear that Lady Caroline might be suffering a little more than anticipated.”
“I…I…uh…” Hyde looked decidedly ill at ease. The green pallor was turning decidedly gray. “I know nothing of any records.”
“But you were always so kind, Mr Hyde. Bringing us the reports from the London specialists when we were unable to attend to the task. You also delivered us the tincture that would keep my mother calm.” Ana smiled sweetly at Hyde who had suddenly started to match the off-white walls behind his head. He tugged at the cravat around his neck, as if it was too tight.
“Ah, yes.” Lord Haverstock flicked through the papers at a leisurely pace, peering through his pince-nez for a moment as they all waited patiently. All except Hyde, who was wriggling rather like a youngster who had rather urgent need of a chamber pot. Finally, he continued, “Sir Raymond, you will be happy to know that the specialist did identify the tincture you sent me as laudanum and he strongly advised you not to give it to Lady Caroline. It would be likely to become addictive and exacerbate her condition.”
Lord Haverstock was quite matter of fact with his delivery but the result was that Hyde began to have an uncontrollable apoplexy in the form of incessant coughing. His pale skin was turning bright red, perhaps even purple.
“Perhaps we should issue you with the laudanum, old bean, you don’t sound at all well,” said Sir Raymond, who had been uncharacteristically quiet up until this point, but now appeared to be quite enjoying the show.
Christian stepped toward Hyde, who was now not only coughing up a lung but shaking like a leaf. The slap on the back might have been an offering of assistance but Ana was quite sure it was a tad harder than was strictly necessary. Once the man started to get his bodily functions under control, Christian lifted him off the floor by his lapels.
“You are no longer in control of Sir Raymond’s estate. That task shall fall to me as the property stands to become mine, via my wife, in the event of Sir Raymond’s death. You will move off the property within the week and you shall have nothing to do with my wife or her family again. Do you understand me?”
Ana was sure that Hyde would have responded if he had the breath in his lungs to do so. However, Christian did have him in a rather awkward position and she was a little worried that the man might take on the color blue as a final aspect of the spectrum he had entertained this afternoon. She walked forward and placed a calming hand on Christian’s arm.
“Darling, I think we can take Mr Hyde’s trembling as acquiescence. I should so very much like to see him gone from the Grange as soon as possible or I fear I might have to redecorate this room.” She smiled gracefully at Hyde and then her husband, who looked far too calm for her liking. Her hand felt the tension in his muscles and she knew that he would break Hyde’s neck if he so much as breathed the wrong way. They needed to get him out of the house quickly so that blood was not shed. “Let Mr Hyde go, Christian.”
It took a moment or two but then Christian lowered Hyde to the ground, straightening out the man’s collar and cravat with an over enthusiastic flourish before patting him on the cheek, again, with a little too much vigor. No one would have blamed him for punching the man as a parting gift but Ana was relieved when he didn’t. The restraint Christian was demonstrating was admirable but tenuous. Finally, he let go with a slight shove that sent Hyde flying backward into the silent but immovable force that was Taylor.
“Now, be a good man and disappear before I lose my patience with you.” Christian gave Taylor a nod and the big man wrapped his hand around the smaller man’s elbow.
Taylor tugged and Hyde followed, backing away, eyes cast down with a small nod of his head. When he turned toward the door, Welch was already there with his hat and cloak at the ready.
“Permit me to see you out.” The duke placed a hand on Hyde’s other shoulder and ushered him after Welch. The three men escorted Hyde away from the room and down the hallway. Within moments Carrick had returned announcing that Taylor was following Hyde’s carriage on horseback, just to ensure that the weasel took the London road, post haste.
“Well, that was a job well done.” Sir Raymond stepped toward Ana and took her hand, reassuringly. “You were all simply marvelous, I must say.”
“I feel so guilty. I was so sure that the Harley St doctors would be correct in their diagnosis that I never questioned the reports. I insisted that mother be given the medicine regularly. Did I turn her into an opium-eater?” Desperation edged her voice, her eyes searching her father’s for reassurance.
“No, my dear. I shall confess that whenever you returned to London, I would make the maids stop giving it to her. She complained that it made her feel sick and I was too weak to fight with her. Besides, I found her infinitely more…manageable, when she didn’t take it. Of course, I thought I was probably making her worse. I was no wiser than you about Mr Hyde’s deception. He wanted to make you fearful, to make you believe that he was your only choice as a husband. He also wanted me to be preoccupied with Caroline’s health so that I would not notice what he was doing with the estate. He was very nearly successful on both counts.” Turning to Christian, Sir Raymond shook his son-in-law’s hand enthusiastically. “I can’t thank you enough, Sir.”
They all turned when the door opened and the duchess and Ana’s mother walked in supporting Ethan between them.
“Look who came to join us for tea.” Lady Caroline called out.
“I do believe that Lord Kavanagh is looking more handsome than when he was last on our shores.” Grace grinned up at Ethan who was making every effort to smile back.
“You are a terrible liar, your Grace, but I appreciate your kindness.” Ana was stunned. Ethan was acting more normal than he had any right to be. He still looked too thin and his eyes had a maturity that was beyond his years. But he was talking and smiling. She caught Christian’s eye, her own glassy with tears.
“It’s good to see you up and about, old man.” Christian went to approach Ethan but drew back when he saw a fearful expression flash across his friend’s face. Standing his ground he smiled but it was obvious that he only felt comfortable with the ladies. They walked him to a couch and sat down either side, somehow, perhaps because they were both mothers, understanding that he felt more relaxed between them.
Ethan glanced around and caught sight of their visitor. “Haverstock. You came.”
“Did you expect anything less?” Haverstock, too, did not move closer, instead using his response as an excuse to stand at an amused distance. Ethan shook his head with a smile and looked down at his hands which were sitting on his lap.
“I suppose you expect a full report.” Ethan choked the words out.
“All in good time. I merely came to see for myself that you are indeed alive and well.”
“Yes, quite. Where is my sister?” Ethan directed his question at Ana who was suddenly at a loss as to how to explain. After all of these years, waiting and fretting over his welfare, she had run away, taking the son he didn’t know about with her.
“She doesn’t know you have returned yet. We thought you might want to get yourself at full strength before joining her in London.” She was fudging and she could see that he knew it. His smile was too calm, inappropriate.
“Yes, my sister is all about appearances. I should like to present well for her sake. Has she found herself a husband, yet?”
Everyone answered at once. Just as Ana and Christian gave a resounding “No”, Grace and Carrick intoned a confident and clear, “Yes”. Ethan glanced around the faces with bemusement.
“Well, which is it?” Christian and Ana looked at each other and shrugged. They had no idea what his parents were speaking of.
“Well, that is, we are ever hopeful that Kate and our Elliot will be announcing their marriage soon.” Grace seemed quite assured in her comment and Ana had to remind herself to close her mouth. Kate and Elliot would be married soon? She had no idea if she was surprised or not. Christian merely shrugged with a wide grin.
“Oh. I had no idea. Of course, how could I?” Ethan said, very much to himself.
Everyone glanced around, uncomfortably unsure as to what to say next. Christian was well aware that he had things that he needed to say but now was not the time. Carrick and Grace were fixed on each other, obviously trying to decide if something should be said about Nicholas, while Ana willed them not to say a word. Not yet. Sir Raymond was glad that the mistakes of his past were no longer the focus of conversation. Lord Haverstock seemed to be regarding them all with careful scrutiny while Lady Caroline kept stroking Ethan’s hand and hair in a very motherly manner.
“Well, I find that I am tired. I might withdraw.” Ethan struggled to his feet with Caroline’s assistance. Ana moved toward them, to lend her support.
“Goodness me but your little boy looks like you.” Caroline’s voice was unfortunately crystal clear and Ethan stopped, his head tipping to one side to study her. He frowned, suddenly unsure if he had heard her correctly and then deciding that he had.
“What do you mean… my son?” Tension, anger and disbelief shimmered beneath Ethan’s skin while a collective gasp all but refused to echo around the room.
Caroline glanced around, suddenly unsure about the stillness that had descended on the gathering. Glances were exchanged without eyes or heads seeming to move, without chests rising and falling. No one was prepared to stop Caroline from talking while they all simultaneously prayed that she would stop. Finally, she responded, “The little boy. Nicholas. He looks so much like you, my dear. Perhaps you are related?”
The rewording did nothing to wipe the concern from Ethan’s expression. He gave Christian a questioning look. Christian had no response. This was not how Ethan was supposed to find out. Hell, for the past two years, at least, Christian had resigned himself to becoming the lad’s legal guardian. He hadn’t prepared himself for this discussion because the person who should be telling Ethan had escaped to the north taking the boy with her. He cursed Mia for not waiting, even as he understood her motivations for going.
“I’m sure you are mistaken, m’Lady. I have no son.” Ethan’s mouth twisted in distaste as if the words soured on his tongue. “My sister is my only living relative.”
Christian’s face froze, all except for a small imperceptible tick of his jaw. Just as Ana was about to change the very awkward subject, her mother spoke again.
“Oh. I’m sorry. I’m always muddling things up. Of course, he can’t be your son. He does have your eyes, though. And he laughs just like his mother. As if the world and he share a joke that the rest of us are not privy to. He’s quite delightful.”
Christian saw the moment when Ethan started to form an understanding as to what or who Caroline was babbling on about. His face showed very little but the hardened eyes and clenched jaw said enough.
“I am sure he is. Please, excuse me.” Ethan shuffled to the doorway, retreating quickly.
It would be eight days before Ethan would join them for a meal and that was only as a result of Christian and Ana’s respective parents departing. He dressed for luncheon but the clothes that he borrowed from Christian, hung off him like tattered curtains. Not only did his clothes no longer fit but Christian suspected that his life didn’t fit him either.
With limited time left before he had to return to London, Haverstock took it upon himself to try to debrief Ethan but all conversations resulted in a strategic psychological retreat. All Ethan would say was that he had been betrayed and the information that had repeatedly put him at the mercy of the French prison system, must have come from England. Eventually, Haverstock took the meager amounts of intelligence that he could glean from Ethan and returned to the city.
Wanting to encourage his progress, Christian invited Ethan to ride, hoping that his friend would open up to him. The hours in the saddle certainly seemed to help his friend to build up his physical strength but the walls of resistance were ever present with conversations about anything other than the condition of the horses they traveled upon. Any hope that Christian had that Ethan might trust him diminished daily.
Weeks passed by, and while Ethan’s physical progress was good, he kept mostly to himself, except at meals and during the odd times that he availed himself of their company for riding. He began to help out on the tenant farms, establishing tentative friendships with the locals, especially the children, who offered no threat to his sanity. Any attempts at conversations about returning to his own estates remained unresolved.
Correspondence arrived regularly from Kate who was keen to check on her brother but unable or unwilling to come to the estate to see him for herself. She maintained that Nicholas and Mia needed her more and she would remain with them until Nicholas’ safety could be guaranteed. Ana responded that Ethan was well but fragile. He was, however, well protected with the crew of the Black Diamond in residence at the Grange and surrounding properties.
Ana was woken often in the night by two young men who were wrestling with their demons. She had long since given up trying to rouse Ethan during the night. Taylor had assigned himself as bodyguard, often trailing after the haunted man as he ran across the sands in the night trying valiantly to outrun his dreams. Christian was her priority as his nightmares grew exponentially with each day that he was unable to talk freely with Ethan.
Another night, another agonizing yell rent the air as Christian writhed in the bed next to her. Wrapping her body firmly around him, she allowed the slick sheen of sweat from his naked torso to coat her skin. The last two weeks she had slept nude rather than find herself shivering in the night as a result of his night sweats. Instead, she would, as she did tonight, press her flesh against his until he calmed and then straddle him, taking his anguish into her body upon each of his hard thrusts. She could not deny the pleasure he gave her but she resented the manner in which their coupling would take place.
Once they had both found their release, she would collapse on him, whispering her love to bring some calm to his spirit.
“Please, my darling, tell me what you see in your dreams.” Every night she had asked and every night he had resisted, enfolding her body and encouraging her back to sleep. Tonight, she felt the surrender.
“Ana. I…” He lifted her from his body and placed her back against the head board. She watched as he lit a candle then left the bed, crossing to the water basin to splash cool water over his body. He reached for a towel, his muscles rippling with sweat and water and tension. Drying himself off, he returned to her and cleaned the moisture from her body and between her legs, before handing her a bed jacket to keep away the chill. Then he sat on the bed beside her, stroking her thighs through the sheets. Finally, he spoke.
“I dream of the night that the Ethan’s parents lost their lives. They had come to me after the first time that Ethan had gone missing in France. James had found that he was still alive and so they had done some investigation of their own. They claimed to have information that would ensure that the French released him. Something that would implicate a member of the English parliament.”
Ana knew some of this information from Kate. They had been convinced that if they delivered the message in person, their son would be released to their care. In times of war, this might seem naive but as Kate told it, her father was quite convincing and very well connected with members of the French parliament. Haverstock had been convinced that they could help and he had authorized that Christian would take a flotilla across the channel in escort.
“When we were attacked, we were ready. It was not unexpected that the French blockade would endeavor to halt our progress so we had formulated a plan. We had four ships, three fully armored warships and the small cutter. The larger ships would engage while the cutter would slip through the blockade to the coast. Ethan’s parents were on that ship.”
“Everything was going to plan and their ship made it through and was heading away from us. We had damaged the three French ships that came for us substantially and they had looked to be turning away in pursuit of the cutter. We were ready for that, too, and were about to go after the limping ships and sink them, when a large ship appeared out of nowhere. It turned sailed right through the middle and turned to present its side, the maneuver of a warship as it launched a second attack. We were sidetracked from the pursuit by the need to restrict the progress of the newcomer so I gave the order to sink it. It was only when the ship started to go down that we realized that the ship was in fact a passenger ship, possibly taking emigres to the America’s, I don’t know. All I know is that there were hundreds of women and children aboard. After those first shots, the ship went up in flames so quickly and began to descend into the ocean. I couldn’t get all of those who needed rescuing on board the Queen alone. I signaled one of the other ships to pursue the others, to ensure the cutter got through safely and the other ship stayed. We circled for hours and hours, fishing bodies out of the water.”
Christian ran his hands through his hair as his body began to shudder. Ana picked up a blanket and wrapped it around his shoulders, trying to rub some warmth back into his large body as best she could. The anguish in his voice broke through her defenses and she felt her own tears forming.
“There were so many bodies. For every person we saved, there seemed to be three that were dead. They lined the decks of both ships, many burnt by the fires started by our gunfire, others drowned in the icy cold of the channel sea.” Christian shut his eyes but he could not block out the haunting vision. “It felt like we had only just begun our task when we saw the cutter in the distance being fired upon. It went down in a blaze of flames that broke it apart and it was gone in seconds. The French ships must have been damaged, as they didn’t come back but merely sailed off into the night.”
Christian held out his hands and stared at them. “So much blood on my hands.”
“No. How could you have known?”
“I should have known. I should have followed the cutter and escorted it through. If I had we would have stopped that final attack and the Kavanagh’s would be alive. If I had, we would not have attacked the other ship and all of those innocent people would not have been killed. They were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Christian, you were in the middle of a war. How were you to know it was a passenger ship?”
“I just should have known. It was flying the wrong flags but I should have known.” He huddled under the blanket, his body hunched over in pain. “I killed all of those people. I killed Ethan’s parents. And I see them, every night in my dreams, all of those faces.”
Ana had no words of comfort to offer him. She was certain that he could not have done anything differently. Certainly, the navy felt that he had acted admirably under the circumstances or they would not have decorated him. Kate had told her none of this story and Ana wondered if her friend even knew. Kate’s reticence as far as Christian was concerned seemed to be about a lack of effort and initiative regarding Ethan’s rescue. Given that Christian must have spent the past five years second guessing every order he gave, it was no wonder he was reluctant to go running off to France on a fool’s errand.
Now Ana began to understand why Christian needed to talk with Ethan. There would be no absolution for his wounded soul until he had confessed all of this to his friend. Ana wondered if she might lose the friendship of the woman she considered her sister or if this knowledge might force the Grey family to somehow cut Christian loose. She seriously doubted that would be the case. However, she could see that he might believe that he stood to lose everything and everyone if he spoke to Ethan as much as he stood to lose his mind if he didn’t.
“Do Elliot and James know what happened? Does Lord Haverstock?”
Christian nodded, squeezing his eyes shut. “Yes.”
“And they choose to stand beside you?”
After a moment’s silence, Christian nodded. “Yes, they have tried to convince me that it was beyond my control. Elliot has theorised a conspiracy of sorts and James is in agreement. I’m…I’m just not sure.”
“What do you mean, conspiracy?”
“James feels, and the others agree, that this is all tied to the attempts on Ethan’s life in France. Someone here wanted him and his perhaps his father dead. I can’t put my faith in that. For me it was a series of horrific mistakes.”
“If they are standing firm on this then you must talk to Ethan, and soon. Regardless of any conspiracy you must have faith that Ethan will see that you did all that you thought best. All that was possible.” Ana suspected that if Ethan heard this story in the same manner that she had, he would find the strength to fight for his inheritance and his life. And perhaps his son.