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Authors: Fela Dawson Scott

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Historical Romance, #Romance/Historical

Angel in Black (4 page)

BOOK: Angel in Black
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As they walked through the small, perfect garden, Rina spoke her thoughts out loud. “Lord Roberts is a good and fair man. He treats everyone with kindness, no matter what blood runs in their veins. Why do the good men have to die, while evil men are allowed to live? It’s not right.” Rina’s fists clenched and unclenched as the fire built inside her.

Father Murray saw the sheer hatred glowing in her dark eyes and spoke, in a soft, yet firm voice. “I worry about this bitterness you carry in your heart. You mustn’t be so angry, child.”

“Father, I am sorry, but you, of all people, should know I have good reason for my anger, and to hate that man.”

“There is no good reason to hate. You must learn to forgive and forget — he
will
pay for his sins. But it is not for you to judge him,” Father Murray admonished Rina, but knew his words had no effect.

“Forget?” she asked. “The nightmares don’t let me forget. Eight years have passed and still I remember every detail. I remember the gore, mangled bodies of innocent men, pain and surprise forever etched on their faces. My own father’s and mother’s blood, soaking my dress … I felt the warm stickiness, so stark against the pure whiteness …” Rina paused as if seeing it all again, vivid and frightening, as it was that night.

“No, Father, I’ll never forget. Forgive? Can I forgive him for the private hell we all live in? Can I forgive him for murdering my parents before me? Can I forgive him his greed? Last winter, he hanged Paul Lanbeth for poaching a rabbit on his private game reserve; one small, insignificant rabbit to help feed his hungry children. Can I forgive him for that? Can I forgive him for leaving a woman widowed, with five mouths to feed? Can I forgive him for all the children who die each year because his greed leaves us less and less to live on? Father, I watched them die because of this one man. No — I will not forget and I will not forgive.”

The anguish on Rina’s face tore at Father Murray’s heart. She was good and kind, always ready to give and help unselfishly. It saddened him to know as long as Langsford lived, this grief would possess Rina and give her no peace from the bitterness she nurtured within. With tears in his eyes, he cupped her face in strong hands and kissed her on both cheeks.

“I love you, my child. I have had the privilege to watch you grow into the woman you are today. I know you carry much love and goodness inside of you for all, except this one man. I will pray for you, pray you are relieved of this dreadful burden you carry in your soul.”

“Thank you, Father. I am sorry if I’ve distressed you. You’ve given me so much since I came here to live. Perhaps someday I’ll be deserving of your love and kindness.” She kissed his weathered, aging cheek and left the secluded garden. She walked down the road to her house.

Her spirits lifted as she thought of the ride to Windsong. Blackstar would be as anxious as she for the run. She passed through the front gate and paused to pluck a rose from a nearby bush before entering the three-room cottage. The main room was the kitchen, with its large stone fireplace along one wall and a rough wooden table in the center. A worn cupboard, several old chairs, and a couple of sunny windows with shutters completed their main living area. Jake and Jenny’s room was at the back of the cozy home and a broad-stepped ladder led up to Rina’s attic space.

The smell of yeast drifted on the air as Rina entered. She found Jenny elbow deep in bread dough. She smiled as she crossed the room, tucked the red rosebud into her grayed hair and gave her a hug.

“Hello, luv. You shouldna’ be wastin’ those pretty flowers on an old woman like me.” Jenny’s protest was short-lived as she touched the rose appreciatively, a wide grin splitting her wrinkled face. “If you’re still wantin’ t’ ride o’er an’ see Lord Roberts, you’d best be gettin’ so as t’ be home for our Sunday meal.”

“Yes, I’ll hurry. Make sure that scoundrel husband of yours doesn’t eat all the bread before I get back.”

“I heard Lord Roberts’ oldest grandson, Blake, is comin’ home. I also heard he’s a devilishly good-lookin’ man,” cackled Jenny with a wink and a gentle nudge in her side with an elbow. “You’re not gettin’ any younger, girl. You’d best be thinkin’ of gettin’ yourself a man an’ marryin’ or you’re goin’ t’ end up an old maid.”

Rina raised an eyebrow in amusement, her voice quite serious as she teased. “What-on-earth would a nobleman like Blake Roberts want with a mere commoner like me?”

“Fie. Commoner, indeed. You’re Lady Katrina Easton, a lady of fine breedin’ an’ don’t you be forgettin’ it. You’re every bit as good as he is,” scolded the older woman, ruffled at the thought of her Rina not being good enough for any man.

“But he wouldn’t know that, would he, Jenny? I would love to stay and argue with you, but I have to go or I’ll be late getting back. So no more talk of marriage.” Rina dashed up the ladder to change and ended the conversation.

She shucked the hot brown dress, glad to be rid of it, and pulled on a pair of worn breeches, a soft cotton shirt, and scuffed, black boots. She pulled the pins from her hair, and unwound the long, braid from its neat coil, leaving it to hang loose down her back. Anxious, Rina climbed down and started for the door; Jenny’s gasp of annoyance stopped her.

“Lordy, you aren’t goin’ t’ visit Sir Roberts lookin’ like that are you? I’ve told you it isn’t decent for a woman t’ wear men’s breeches. What am I goin’ t’ do with you?” Jenny clucked and threw her hands up in dismay, a cloud of flour drifting to the floor.

“Jenny, he has seen me in breeches before. Besides, it’s so much easier to ride this way. Would you have me hiking my dress up around my waist to sit astride Blackstar?” Rina’s face remained sober, an innocent look carefully played on her features. She could no longer still the giggle at Jenny’s shocked face, her mischief getting results.

“A lady does not ride astride.” Indignant, Jenny started pounding the mound of dough in front of her. “But I suppose you are old enough t’ wear what you like. I declare, no man will want you as wild an’ unruly as you are. Lord knows, I did me best t’ raise you right.”

Rina laughed and pecked Jenny on the cheek; wiped the flour from her nose. “Stop your fretting. You know I love you, don’t you?” Getting Jenny to smile, she disappeared through the door, practically running to the shed where Blackstar waited.

He heard Rina approach and excitedly called to her, pawing the ground with impatience. He always knew when they would be going for a ride and he quivered from anticipation. She grabbed his bridle and using the wooden boards of his stall, slid onto his broad, muscular back, foregoing the saddle on this hot day. She guided him from the shack and onto the cobbled road, skillfully holding his eagerness back.

Anxious to stretch his muscles, Blackstar skittishly pranced through town but when they reached the edge of the village, Rina gave the animal his freedom and he bolted into a run.

Down the road to Windsong they raced; rider and horse as one. The magnificent black stallion stretched his powerful legs, carrying them as fast as the wind, streaking past the countryside in a blur.

It was at times like these, with the wind blowing in her face and Blackstar thundering down the road, Katrina was truly happy. All the problems haunting her vanished. No one existed but Rina and Blackstar. She allowed him to run, to ease the tension of being cooped up from him. As they approached Windsong, she slowed his pace. Her cheeks were warm, feverish from the tantalizing speed, her breathing labored from excitement.

The tumultuous ride whipped her hair loose from the braid and it hung in wild disarray about her shoulders. Rina attempted to straighten the unruly mess and ran her fingers through the tangles. She found it hopeless and gave up, not one to care how she looked, but thankful Jenny was not there to disapprove. She rode straight to the stables, where she was greeted fondly by Jenkins, the old stable master. Rina entered Windsong through the servants’ entrance and made her way to the kitchen. She greeted the cook and sat to chat for a moment, enjoying a cool glass of lemonade. After, she was taken to Lord Roberts’ chamber. Rina knocked softly and entered.

“Come in — come in, Rina my girl. I’m so glad you took the time to come and see a dying old man.” Feebly, Lord Roberts held up a hand to Rina. She clasped it with her own; it felt cold.

“Please, Lord Roberts, you mustn’t talk so. You will be well soon.” Though she spoke confidently, her heart ached at the sight of the man so pale and gaunt in his sick bed.

“I’m afraid not, Rina — my time has come. But you needn’t grieve; I’ve had a full life and have been blessed beyond measure. Now — no more talk of death. I can see you have been riding that black beast. You look absolutely radiant.” Lord Roberts smiled, his weakened gaze taking in every detail of her appearance. “You do love the horse, don’t you?”

“Yes, he is one of my most prized possessions. I can never thank you enough for your gift.”

“It is I who owe you thanks, my dear. You saved his mother and him, for I most certainly would have lost them both had it not been for you. You were here for days, sleeping in the barn with her, tending to her hours on end.” He sighed at the memory.

“I still remember the first time my stable master sent for you. He was certain you could help when everyone else had failed. That was four years ago, wasn’t it? You were fifteen years old and scrawny. I saw you work magic with the beasts, and since you have always come when we needed you. Blackstar was merely a token of my sincere appreciation and gratitude for coming into my life. I know you two belong together — you were meant to have him, Rina.”

Rina blushed; his sincere praise touched her heart. “You have been more than generous, Lord Roberts. I can never repay you for all the baskets of food and clothing you’ve sent me over the years.”

His surprised look made Rina laugh, the sound warm and gentle to his ears. “Just because your servant always left them anonymously on my doorstep does not mean I did not know who sent them. I always assumed you were the culprit, and my suspicions were confirmed when I spotted your manservant sneaking away one night after depositing his bundle of gifts.”

“So you knew it was me, did you? Well — I admit to my plot, but you have deceived me as well.”

Rina grew concerned by his comment, Lord Roberts added, his voice admiring, rather than scolding, “You gave away most of the things I sent — things I had meant for you.”

“There were people who needed them more than I,” whispered Rina, afraid she had offended him.

“No need to fret, my dear. I understand — perhaps more than you think. You have a heart of gold and this old man finds your kindness and compassion refreshing. You’re a good woman, and
always
remember, if ever you need help, do not hesitate to come to this house. You will not be denied, no matter what your request may be. You will always have a home to come to. Do not forget.”

Overwhelmed, Rina’s eyes reflected her gratitude and love. Her voice shook slightly. “I don’t know what to say. It’s comforting to know you are my friend and forever in my heart. After my parents died, I thought I was alone in the world, and slowly, I’ve found myself surrounded by a new family. One as devoted and caring as the one I lost. I am grateful to you, my lord.”

Tears glistened in the old man’s eyes and they sat in companionable silence, hands clasped. Finally, sleep overtook the frail man. Rina kissed his cheek and whispered her good-bye. When she eased the door shut, she knew they would never see each other again in this world, but his memory would be with her forever.

 

Chapter Four

 

B
LAKE STOPPED ON THE
crest of the hill and gazed over the surrounding countryside. In the distance lay Windsong, the stately mansion spread out in grand splendor, its windows reflecting the bright sunshine. Happiness spread through him, the love for his lands warmed his heart. He could smell the salt air; hear the sound of waves breaking against the rocky shoreline. Blake envisioned the violent waters swirling and breaking against the gray stones as the mist sprayed in the air.

It was a beautiful place, enchanted and mysterious. At night the fog would roll in like a silent giant to shroud the coast and the winds off the North Sea would sing; sad and lonely sounds giving Windsong her name. The forests in the distance provided a dark green background for the estate, making nature’s artwork complete.

Each and every time Blake Roberts came home after a long absence he wondered at the perfection and beauty of his home. How he missed it. Beneath the heat of the sun, Blake had long-ago shucked his jacket and waistcoat, his shirt unbuttoned to his waist. Atop his gray-dappled Arabian mare, he leisurely took in every detail, and spotted a cloud of dust in the distance. Blake did not move, merely waited until the rider approached from Windsong.

When the horse and rider reached the top of the hill, the beast slowed its breakneck pace. Blake continued to watch intently as the black horse drew closer and surprise washed over him when he discovered the hell-bent rider to be a woman. Her cheeks were flushed a dark rosy hue from the exhilarating ride. An angelic face was framed by a tangle of golden hair and it whipped about her shoulders in disarray. Bold as brass, she returned his stare and sapphire-blue eyes sparkled with mischievous intent.

BOOK: Angel in Black
3.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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