They got it under control, Miss Ivonne, Silky, Ivonnes Negro maid, said from her place behind the pregnant woman.
I know, Ivonne whispered. Its just . . . She bit her lip, tears forming in her liquid brown eyes. If anything happened to his home . . .
Hush, child! Silky snapped, coming up to place a restraining hand on her mistress shoulder. You be careful what you say!
Ivonne hung her head. Sometimes I think . . .
Dont do no good to think! Silky remonstrated. Whats done, be done, and aint no good wishin it wasnt so!
Ivonne lifted her head and stared blankly across the manicured lawn of Windlass Plantation. She, like many of their neighbors, wondered just what Edward had promised the Yankees in order to keep the McGregor home place intact during the War. Nothing had been touched when Sherman and his men had marched through. Not one animal had been confiscated; not one barrel of molasses had been touched.
Evil that man is, Silky murmured as she made the sign of the cross. Her black eyes were narrow slits as she watched Newt Guthrie ride up to the front door. Evil as the swamp he crawled out of.
Miz Delacroix? Newt called up as he swept the floppy gray hat from his head in respect.
Yes, Newt? Ivonne replied, her own eyes narrowed with dislike.
Newt smiled and his tobacco-stained and rotted teeth were like broken fence posts in the hollow of his mouth. Mr. Delacroix said to tell you he sure would be obliged ifn youd come down to where hes at.
What he want the missus to come down there for? Silky spat, her fingers twisted in the folds of her skirt to ward off the danger this swamp-rat created. He knows the missus aint up to riding round in this heat!
Newt shrugged and his mount shifted uneasily, whinnying as the burly man dug his spurs into its belly. Aint no good askin me such questions, girl. You want to know, you ask the Mister.
Ivonne sighed. If she didnt go, Edward would be displeased and an annoyed Edward was something she wanted to avoid at all costs. Ill be right down, Newt, she replied. Bring the buggy around, will you?
Right away, missus! Newt agreed and swung down from his mount
You ought not to do this! Silky grated from between clenched teeth. Where is his mind? She trounced behind Ivonne as her mistress went back into her sitting room. She headed for the door into Ivonnes dressing room.
Theres no need for me to change, Ivonne said. If he doesnt like the way Im dressed, thats too bad.
You ought not to do this, Silky repeated. Her cinnamon-colored face had turned to dark umber in her anger.
Just let me lean on you going down the stairs, Ivonne remarked. She was afraid of the stairs—terrified, actually—and always wanted someone near her whenever she had to make her way down them.
You be careful, Silky urged as she took Ivonnes arm.
Newt had the buggy ready and was waiting at the front door when Ivonne and Silky made their way out. Taking a cue from the Master of WindLass, he swept the two women an elegant bow, unfortunately fanning his rancid body odor toward them as he swept his dilapidated hat in front of him.
Your carriage awaits, milady, he mimicked and reached out a hand to help Ivonne into the buggy.
Get way! Silky snapped, swatting at his filthy hand. Her eyes gleamed when he yelped as her fan rapped hard against his grimy knuckles.
There aint no cause to treat me like that, girl, he protested, but moved back as Silky helped her charge into the buggy.
Lord God Almighty! Silky said loudly. You stink, Newt Guthrie.
Been at the fire, Newt defended himself.
Need to be IN the fire, Silky grumbled.
Silky, Ivonne whispered, embarrassed.
Well, he do! Silky stated.
The ride out to the field was slow, at Silkys command, but nevertheless uncomfortable for Ivonne. She cooled herself with the delicate lace fan Silky had thought to bring along and wiped often at the perspiration which dotted her upper lip.
Where is his head? Silky repeated for the umpteenth time. Her hatred of Edward Delacroix was a mental barb that was forever poking into her thoughts. That he could be so thoughtless toward her mistress was nothing new: the Delacroix family was not known for taking anyones comfort into consideration when they wanted something.
Didnt cause too much damage, Miz Delacroix, Newt said. We got it under control pretty fast.
Thats good, Ivonne said, looking over the scorched field that was still smoldering. Here and there, field hands beat at the steaming ground with bags, stamping out the embers.
Good thing André seen it, Newt replied, bobbing his head.
Bout the only thing he be good for, I reckon, is seeing things, Silky sneered. She turned to look at her mistress and saw that Ivonnes gaze was fastened on the bare back of one of the firefighters.
Only one of a few white men who were beating at the recalcitrant flames, the mans tall, lean figure had caught Ivonnes eye. As she watched, he turned in half-profile to her and she drew in a quick breath, her hand flying to her throat. Lord!
What is it? Silky asked immediately. She leaned over. You hurtin?
It cant be, Ivonne whispered, never taking her eyes from the man who was now arching his back to relieve the ache from bending over.
Silky followed her mistress gaze and sucked in a breath as she, too, recognized the tall figure of the firefighter. Saints alive! the Negro woman gasped. Hes done come back!
Ivonne felt a twist of anticipation tug at her heart and she wasnt even aware that she was crumbling the lace fan in her fist as she stared out across the field.
Newt looked around and smiled hatefully. Came back just in time to help put out the fire. His gaze went knowingly over Ivonne. Ifn I didnt know better, Id think he was the one what set it.
The thunder beating in her chest was making Ivonne feel faint. Every breath she took seemed too shallow to sustain her; every thud of her heart threatened to rip the organ from her. Around her, the air had turned hotter than the flames Sinclair McGregor was helping to stamp out and she put a hand up to her lips, unaware that her fingers were trembling.
You dont go getting yourself upset, Silky warned, reaching up to draw Ivonnes fingers from her mouth. Aint no good you doing that.
Hes home, Silky, Ivonne said softly.
Glory be to God, Silky muttered, making the sign of the cross once more. But dont you be dwellin on it!
At the moment Silky spoke, Sinclair McGregor looked their way and his gaze locked with Ivonnes. For a moment, he didnt move; gave no sign that he recognized the woman in the buggy. He stood where he was, his hands hanging loosely at his sides and continued to stare.
Never had no manners, them McGregors, Newt snorted. Bold as they come, they are.
You want me to go fetch him? Silky asked in a low, conspiratorial voice.
Ivonnes lips opened, but she found she had no voice. Yes, she thought, with all my heart I want you to go fetch him; but even as that passionate desire filled her heart, she knew she dared not do anything that might be reported back to Edward. Such a thing could be dangerous for Sinclair.
Miss Ivonne? Silky prompted.
Slowly Ivonne shook her head. No, she said and her words were a mere breath of sound.
Sinclair saw Ivonne shaking her head, saw Silky give him a look of pure hopelessness, and he turned away, his heart aching so horribly in his sweaty chest he feared it would burst. Walking rapidly back to where his horse was being watched by a group of young Negro boys, he barely stopped long enough to scoop up the shirt C. J. had given him. With the white shirt clutched desperately in his grimy hand, the imprint digging deeply into the fabric, he had almost reached his mount when hoof beats came pounding toward him.
He didnt have to look up to know who it was.
I heard you were home, came an imperious voice.
The young boy holding the broken-down nag that had brought Sinclair from Illinois to Georgia took one look at the anger on the white mans face and practically tossed the reins to him. He moved quickly out of the way as the tall man grabbed the pommel and swung himself up onto the horses back.
I assume youre going to be staying at Willow Glen.
Sinclairs jaw was set, his glittering eyes chips of brown fire as he turned to look at the speaker. Do I have a choice? he grated.
Edward Delacroix smiled nastily. I suppose not. He controlled his prancing thoroughbred with a practiced press of his thighs. Its good to have relatives when one is down on ones luck, isnt it?
Go to hell, Sinclair snapped.
Delacroix clucked his tongue. Now, now, Sin. Is that any way to treat the man who saved your familys homeplace from Shermans torch?
An incredulous look flitted across Sins dirty face. You stole my home, you conniving Creole bastard!
The smile slid slowly from Delacroixs face. I bought the place for back taxes your family could not pay, he defended his actions. It was all legal.
Legal, my ass! Sinclair seethed, his teeth bared. I dont know how you managed to hold onto your money during the war, but I wouldnt put it past you to have been selling Savannah to the Yankees!
Delacroixs eyes narrowed dangerously. I am a true son of the South, sir! he declared, a muscle working fiercely in his lean cheek. Do you dare to accuse me of collaborating with the enemy? His right hand went down to the gun strapped to his thigh.
Sinclairs eyes flitted from Delacroixs red face to the Colt on his hip and he snorted before his gaze lifted once more to the other mans. If you want to call me out, feel free, Delacroix. You know where Ill be! With a twist of his wrist, he pulled on his horses reins and the animal turned away. Before Delacroix could answer the challenge, Sinclair put heels to his mounts flanks and galloped off.
Edward Delacroix felt the blood pounding in his veins and his hand itched to pull the Colt from its holster. He would have liked nothing better than to put a bullet in McGregors back, but that would have to wait for a better time.
A time when there would be no witnesses to the murder Delacroix was at that moment planning.
As he sped away, Sinclair could feel the hairs at the nape of his neck stirring. He hadnt lived through as many battles as he had without developing a keen sense of self-protection. The old wound in his chest ached and his back tingled. There was no doubt in his mind that Delacroix would have fired on him had there not been others standing there to see him shoot an unarmed man in the back.
Get yourself a gun, Sin, that little voice inside his brain warned. The man wants you dead.
Sinclair knew that was true; hed read the proof of it in Delacroixs eyes. Even now that Edward owned everything that had once belonged to Sinclair, the Creole would not feel secure with those possessions until the rightful owner was put into a position where he could never make claims on them ever again.
Not on the land or the plantation. Not on what would be left of the cattle. Not on the timber or the sawmill. Nor on the woman Sinclair had called his own.
Ivonne, Sinclair breathed and the name was like a soft caress against his body. For a moment he closed his eyes, squeezing them tightly against the sight of her sitting in the buggy.
From where he had been standing, he could not see the expression on her lovely face, but he didnt need to know she had been as shocked to see him as he had been to turn and see her watching him. The desperate longing that had driven straight through him as he had looked at her had almost drawn a groan of pain from him. It had taken every ounce of his willpower not to run to her, to sweep her from the buggy, clasp her tightly to him, then cover her mouth with the hot kisses he had dreamed of plying upon her soft lips as he lay in his prisoners bunk at Camp Douglas. He ached to hold her again. To feel her body along his own. To know the sweetness of her mouth, the pleasure of her arms wrapped tightly around his neck. To hear the gentle throatiness of her laugh and see the light of love glowing in her eyes as she looked up at him.
The scent of the lavender perfume she always wore seemed to fill his nostrils and he drew in a deep breath, opening his eyes—half in expectation of seeing her right there in front of him. Instead, he drew in a sharp breath for his mount was racing dangerously close to a stand of trees and he quickly reined it in, turning it just in time before it plunged on into the thick copse. The horse whinnied loudly, protesting the abrupt turn and bucked beneath him, almost unseating Sinclair, but an experienced rider such as McGregor had no trouble in controlling the already-tired horse.
Slowing the animal to a fast walk, Sinclair bent forward and patted the horses neck, talking softly to it, calming it. The beast had seen probably as much turmoil as its new master and was just as weary.
By the time Sinclair reached Willow Glen, the sun had set and the air was filled with thick humidity. It would be a hot night and already the mosquitoes were buzzing at his face. He swatted at the pesky insects, hating the feel of them. There had been more than a few nights when he had been made to endure the stings and bites of insects while he had been interned at Camp Douglas. On one such night—when he had angered one of the guards to the point of retaliation—he had passed the time bucked and gagged in front of his barracks while the vicious insects had made a meal of his flesh.
And he had come down with a fever that had nearly killed him.
He was brooding again and he shook his head. Dont think about it, he reminded himself. The litany was his safeguard against memories that had almost driven him insane. Surely they had stolen a part of his soul that could never be restored. Some things were best left in the past, stored there in a Pandoras box that should never be opened.
Ivonne, the nightwind whispered to him and he felt the hot prickle of tears sting his eyes. Angrily, he reached up and wiped them away, determined to keep his mind from the dark-haired angel who still held his heart so securely in her small hand.
I thought you was gonna sleep over to WindLass, someone called out and Sinclair reined in his horse. He peered through the gathering darkness, searching for the owner of the voice.
I wasnt invited, he replied.
A chuckle came from off to Sinclairs right and he turned that way. A match was struck, the sizzle giving way to a faint light, and the sharp scent of sulfur wafted under Sinclairs nostrils.
I reckon that would be the damned last thing Eddie would want, dont you? There was a crunch of gravel, then the speaker stepped out from behind a live oak. The tip of his cheroot glowed bright red for a moment, then subsided to a dull speck.
Sinclair swung his leg over his mounts head and slid wearily to the ground. Were you waiting for me? he asked, walking up to the man leaning against the oak.
You think I aint got nothing better to do than stand around out here being munched on by skeeters and wait for some fool of a cousin to come riding up? was the snort.
I would imagine thats about all you got to do, Sinclair mocked.
Heard you was stupid enough to get a bullet in you.
Heard you got captured up in Pennsylvania, Sinclair retorted.
Heard wrong, came the sneer. It was Ohio.
Sinclair smiled. Well, hell. Why didnt you come on over to Illinois and visit me, then, Leland?
Leland Brell shrugged. My accommodations were better than yours.
Wouldnt have had to go much to be better than mine. Sinclair laughed. He reached out and drew his cousin into his arms. How you been, Lee?
Fair, Lee replied, returning the fierce hug. He winced at the bony protrusions of Sins ribs, but nodded as he pushed the younger man away and gave him a long look. Bossie will fatten you up, boy.
Ive been dreaming of her lace bread since Memphis, Sinclair replied.
Grandmother is waiting for you, Lee said quietly. Supper is everything you like.
Sinclair nodded, his heart filling with trepidation at the mention of their grandmother. Is she okay?
Lee grunted. Shell live to be a hundred and ten! He draped an arm around Sinclairs shoulders and leaned against him. Lets go on in.
In the last letter he had received from his family before his own capture, Sinclair had been told of the terrible wound Leland had suffered in a skirmish near Cincinnati. The wound had become infected and Lees right leg had been amputated at the knee by a Union surgeon in order to save his life.
Does it bother you? Sinclair asked, the weight of his cousin leaning into him adding to his own weariness.
On occasion, but, hell, I make do. Lee pulled on the cheroot. Christinas made the comment that it makes me look rather rakish, so I guess I can live with it.
At the mention of Conors bride-to-be, Sinclair smiled. Theyve waited a long time. Im glad the wedding will be soon.
Would have gotten hitched sooner ifn it hadnt been for you, Lee snorted.
Sinclair stopped and looked around. Me? What did I have to do with them waiting?
Fool! Leland snapped. C. J. wouldnt have nobody but you be best man! He shook his head with disgust. Im his oldest brother and I get pushed aside for some uppity little snot I use to diaper!
You did not, Sinclair shot back.
Dropped you on your head a couple of times, I did, Lee remarked, nudging Sinclair forward again. I reckon thats what was wrong with you in the first place: brain damage. Figure the Yankees done went and finished the job I started. You cant be all that intelligent coming back to this place, Sin.
Sinclairs horse was walking behind them, its head hanging lower and lower. He glanced back. Ive about done the poor thing in, he said.
Lee nodded. Well get you a better mount, Sin. He took one last draw on the cheroot, knowing his grandmother would have no smoking in her home. Ifn you can keep your bony ass on a good piece of horseflesh.
He can sit a mount better than you, Leland Alexander Brell! You stop insulting that boy and let him get on up here!
Sinclair stopped at the commanding voice and steadied Lee. How much does she weigh now? he whispered.
Close to a ton, Im thinkin, Lee whispered back.
GET UP HERE, BOY!
Sinclair grinned and stepped away from Lee. There was a lantern sitting on the porch rail, which ran along the back of the kitchen, and against the glow of the light cast from the kerosene he could see a massive shape standing arms akimbo, waiting for him. Did you bake me a ham? he inquired.
Is the Flint River muddy as redeye gravy? came the retort.
Sinclair stepped into the circle of light from the lantern and shielded his eyes. You gonna box my ears for getting shot?
A low gurgle of laughter turned to soft affection. After I squeeze you some, I reckon.
Sinclair opened his arms. Come here, good-looking.
Bossie was a mountain of black flesh wrapped in a starched white apron and topped with a bright red bandanna wrapped around her thick white hair. She smelled of vanilla extract and molasses as she stepped off the porch and enfolded Sinclair into her huge arms. She pulled him none-too-gently against her massive bosom and cradled him as securely as she had when he had been a small boy.
You all right, son? she asked, tears thick in her voice.
Yes, Maam, Sinclair replied. He held on to her: this woman who had been his anchor against a world that had taken his mother and father on the same fateful, terrible night.
My baby, Bossie sighed, reaching up one large hand to stroke back the tousled brown hair that reeked of smoke and dirt. My precious baby boy.
Im fine, he assured her as she eased him back and studied his too-lean face. He watched as many emotions crossed the doughy expanse of her dark face: love, tenderness, grief, happiness, then anger.
They hurt my baby, Bossie said fiercely. Them damned no-good Yankees done went and hurt my baby.
Im fine, Sinclair repeated.
Will be, Bossie stated flatly. She pinched his cheek. When I get some good food in you, I spose.
He wont get any food standing out here, Bossie Mae. All he will get is another bout of malaria.
Sinclair looked up to find his grandmother watching him. The elderly woman stood bracing herself on her cane, her hands crossed on the wolfs head that formed its top.
You have gotten prettier while I was gone, Grandmother, he said formally, stepping away from Bossie. Have you found the Fountain of Youth?
Grace Vivienne Brell shrugged indifferently. Found something better than that.
Bossie snorted. Old man Roy Floyd Bartlett, she mocked.
A beau? Sinclair questioned, surprised.
Ifn thats what you wanna call it, Bossie grunted. Aint no fool like an old fool, ifn you asks me!
Nobody asked you, Grace Vivienne replied. She cocked her head toward the kitchen. Come on in, Sinclair. Were waiting table. The old woman started back in the house.
Dont I get a hug? Sinclair asked.
Well see, his grandmother answered. She had already gone inside. And pray take a bath before you join us, young man. The water is waiting in your room.
She mad at me? Sinclair asked Bossie as he helped the immense woman up the steps to the kitchen.
Some, Bossie admitted.
Bossie stopped and looked at him. You know the answer to that.
Sinclair did, indeed. He had known his grandmother would be angry that WindLass had been lost to them. It had been her home, the place where she had come as a girl to be joined in marriage to his grandfather, Devon McGregor. It had been her pride and joy, a material source of the status the McGregors held in Savannah and the showplace of Chatham County. To have lost it was a blow that could not easily be forgotten.
Dont go blaming yourself, Bossie advised as Sinclair opened the door for her. You wasnt the only boy of Mister Brents to go off to war. Ifn she gots to blame somebody, she better be blamin that hardheaded brother of yourn.
Duncan, Sinclairs brother, had been killed at Bull Run and he had been his grandmothers favorite. He had been the hope of WindLass, Grace Viviennes pride and joy. His death had been a terrible blow to the old woman and she had wept bitterly, taking to her bed for days on end as she struggled to get over her grief. At one point, she had cursed the God who had taken the best and brightest of the three brothers and left the middle and youngest alive and well.
Why not Leondis? she had screamed. Why not Sinclair?
Two months later, news had come that Leondis had been killed near Columbia, South Carolina, and a stroke had paralyzed Grace Viviennes right side and left her partially crippled.
WindLass! she had mumbled, her words garbled. My WindLass!
The old womans world was crumbling around her and there was only one grandson left to run WindLass, and he was the one she had never liked. For the first time in his life, she began to pray for Sinclairs safety. When word reached them that he had been wounded, she had spent hours on her knees begging the Lord not to take him. She had nearly succumbed from exhaustion and had once more taken to her bed, bitterly regretting the carelessness with which she had sent her two youngest grandsons off to fight.
There had been a time, at the beginning of the war, when both Leondis and Sinclair had signed up, that their grandmother had been eager to have them fight for their Southern honor. She had ordered the best uniforms, purchased the very best horses money could buy, obtained the most exquisite swords and precise rifles for them. She had given balls in their honor and ensconced their fiancées in beautiful rooms redecorated specifically for Marianne Dubois and Ivonne Boucharde. She had seen her grandsons off to war with a warm smile and hardy wave with never a thought to their safety.
They are McGregors, she had said proudly. I have no fear of anything happening to them. They will be here when Duncan weds Alexa! This war will not last long!
For awhile, things went exactly as she would have them go. Duncan had ran WindLass just as his grandmother wished; but his eyes often strayed to the northern horizon and he worried constantly about his brothers. He wrote to each of them every day, fretting like an old man when news of them did not come regularly. Finally, feeling guilty for not being his own man and after installing Conor James Brell in his stead to look after WindLass, he had kissed Alexa, asked her to wait for him, and simply ridden off without so much as a goodbye to Grace Vivienne, knowing his grandmother would put him in chains rather than allow him to enlist. His leaving had not only infuriated his grandmother, it had nearly killed her.
When he died, Duncan ceased to exist for Grace Vivienne. He had betrayed her, but, more importantly, he had betrayed WindLass. He had thrown away his home, his honor, and his grandmothers love. As a result, his name was never mentioned and his portrait had been removed from the gallery on the stairs. Now, the old womans hopes rested on Duncans brothers and when she was well enough, Grave Vivienne had sent word to General Robert E. Lee, himself, to have someone find Francis Leondis McGregor and send him home where he was needed.
But Leondis was dead and buried somewhere in the palmetto country of South Carolina. His memory, like that of his older brother before him, had been stricken from their grandmothers thoughts and her hope fastened—reluctantly and bitterly—on Rory Sinclair.
The meal Bossie had prepared was delicious. Baked ham with redeye gravy, collard greens floating with corn dodgers, thick hominy grits, sliced ripe tomatoes with cucumbers and onions, iced tea that was as sweet as liquid sugar. Sinclair relished the wonderful tastes flooding his mouth and had to keep reminding himself that he was in polite company and didnt have to wolf the food down.
Leland, Conor James, and Brendan had eaten their meals quickly and had already excused themselves, their grandmother having made it clear to them that she wished to be alone with Sinclair.
Now, sitting across the table from her grandson, Grace Vivienne watched him eating and studied the hollows and dark circles beneath his tired eyes. His hair had been washed, but it needed cutting badly. He was far too thin and his leanness made his face appear drawn. Pale and red-eyed from lack of proper rest and adequate food, he seemed frail, but one had only to look into his eyes to see the dogged strength that had carried him through two years of brutal imprisonment. There was a harsh manliness in his gaze that had not been there when he had ridden off to join the Confederate Army. She could not help but wonder what might have been had this brother stayed behind to run WindLass.
You have been home, she said abruptly, drawing her grandsons attention from the chunk of ham he had been about to place in his mouth. She watched him lower his fork and place his hands in his lap as he answered her.
Yes, Maam, Sinclair replied, knowing she meant WindLass.
Grace Viviennes face turned hard as stone. Did you see that man?
Sinclair nodded. I spoke with him.
A white brow arched upward. And what exactly did you say to him, Sinclair?
There was a slight hesitation before Sinclair replied. I told him to go to hell, Grandmother.
The old womans lips twitched ever so slightly. Is that so? When he inclined his head, acknowledging the question, she fastened her scrutiny on his carefully blank face. And did you see her?
He had known she would ask. By now, everyone within a ten-mile radius would know he had seen Ivonne out at the field; that he had spoken to Delacroix. Even as he sat there with his grandmother, he knew the details of that meeting were being discussed at every table in every home in Chatham County and by morning, speculation about the two men would be all over five counties.
I didnt speak to her, Sinclair stated. He had lost his appetite and he brought up his napkin to wipe gingerly at his mouth. He folded the crisp white linen and placed in beside his plate, took up his goblet and drank some tea.
Shes a whore, came the pronouncement.
Sinclairs eyes glittered dangerously over the rim of the crystal goblet and his grandmother took note of the reaction as he sat the goblet down. He would never dare to contradict her, had damned well better not; but she could tell from the way his hands clenched into fists on the table edge that he was angered at her remark.
You take exception to my observation? she inquired.
Sinclair had to swallow the bitter reply he wanted to make and instead took a deep breath before replying. When he did, he looked right into his grandmothers eyes, knowing the old woman valued bravery more than anything else, save Windlass.
I am sure you paid a goodly sum of money to have the sheets from their marriage bed brought to you, Grandmother, he said carefully, dropping each word as though it were poison from his lips. Are you going to tell me there was no blood on them?
Grace Vivienne threw out a hand, fanning away the question as though it were of no consequence and he had not spoken of something that was considered taboo in mixed company. There are many explanations for blood on a womans sheets, boy.
She was a virgin, Sinclair stated in a tone that said he believed it with all his heart, which he did.
And a woman can be a virgin on her wedding night and still be a whore, his grandmother proclaimed. All one has to do is sell ones self to the highest bidder to qualify for the title.
Sinclair was too tired, too heartsick, and too angry to get into this with his grandmother tonight. All he wanted to do was go to bed and sleep. Tomorrow would be time enough for the mental cruelty he now knew was to be his punishment for allowing WindLass to be lost to the McGregor family. His shoulders sagged with fatigue and he looked down at the food still on his plate, feeling a touch nauseous as he took in the congealing fat from the ham juices.
I really dont want to discuss this, Grandmother.
I would think not, she told him. I am told it is a bitter pill for a man to swallow when his fiancée leaves him for another.
Sinclair flinched, but he refused to look up. He knew there would be spite on his grandmothers face and he really didnt want to see it. Hearing it in her voice was bad enough.
Ivonne, he said, pausing for the sound of the name on his lips was, as his grandmother said, a bitter pill to swallow, believed that I was dead.
That is beside the point! She wanted to be mistress of WindLass and she is, Grace Vivienne snapped. She has everything she ever wanted.
No, Sinclair replied, looking up at her, his hurt glistening in his eyes. Not everything.
And what, pray tell, the old woman sneered, does she not have, Sinclair?
There was no hesitation. Me, he said.
Grace Viviennes chin came up. There are some things in life not worth having, now arent there, Sinclair?
The old womans words drove a dagger straight through his pride. He could not stop the pain from entering his voice. Is that what you think? That I wasnt worth her waiting for? He could have bellowed with annoyance when his voice betrayed his emotions and broke as he asked his question.
You lost this family our birthright! his grandmother accused. You! What good are you, Sinclair?
For a long time he simply stared at her, hating her for the first time in his life. He had always feared her, been wary of her, had never known from her the unrelenting love she had shown Duncan, and to a lesser degree, Leondis. She had always made him feel inferior, an outsider, and now, she had made him into the villain of the piece. When she said no more to him, he pushed back his chair, bowed elegantly to her and turned to go.
I did not give you permission to leave my table, young man!
Sinclair turned just enough so that his gaze met hers. I didnt ask your permission, Grandmother, he replied.
Grace Vivienne stiffened, opened her mouth to berate him, but for a fleeting instant she saw some of Devon McGregors blazing pride glaring back at her from Sinclairs dark, smoldering eyes, and she slowly closed her lips. Perhaps there was more backbone in the boy than she realized. She said not a word to him as he bowed once more and left her.
Sitting alone at the massive table she considered her possession as matriarch of the Brell family now that her daughter Leticia McGregor Brell had passed on, she listened until Sinclairs footsteps could no longer be heard above. She leaned back in her chair, relaxing her perfect posture, and rested her hands on the arm of the chair. For an hour she sat there, her mind working even though her body had begun to fail her, and thought perhaps, just perhaps, she could make of Rory Sinclair the kind of man she needed to regain WindLass.
And the best way to do that was to make damned sure he took Edward Delacroixs wife away from him. Or died trying.