SEDUCED BY A DEVIL
Ten Years Later
Dimity, I have told the children that they are not to lean out the carriage window, so please refrain from doing so and thereby telling them that it’s acceptable to disobey me,” Gabe said.
His wife was craning her neck to get a better view, and thereby giving him a delightful one of her lovely rounded backside.
“I still cannot believe this is my birthplace.” She eased back inside and fell down on the seat beside him, she then poked out her tongue, which had their one year old son, Christian, who was seated in Gabe’s lap, giggling.
He and Dimity had been married eight years, and it was fair to say his life had never been the same since. Her energy was boundless, her ability to curse endless, and he sometimes grew tired just watching her. However, if anything, his love for her had grown into a deep, warmth that consumed them both, and their family.
“Are you excited to spend Christmas here, love?”
Her smile reached all her way to her eyes.
“I am. To have both our families together at such time will be special.”
“But?” Gabe prompted.
“Must there be a but?”
“Oh there’s always a but with you.”
Christian lunged at his mother, and she caught him with a soft smile.
“I have met the family, but not spent an entire three weeks with them.”
She wore a thick, burgundy velvet cloak lined with fur. She opened the edges and tucked Christian inside. The little boy seemed more than happy with that, a podgy hand grabbing the fur and attempting to stuff it in his mouth.
Lady Raine was a woman respected and envied by many. Society had fallen in love with her forthright ways and loud boisterous laughter. But sometimes, like now, and only with him did she show her other side. The woman who was still scared she would not fit into this world. She feared making a mistake and thereby, in her eyes, exposing herself in some way.
“They will love you as everyone does, sweetheart. There really is no need to worry I assure you.”
“Surely not everyone.”
“Well there is that maid I had to let go. The one who said you had uppity ways for a piano teacher.”
“Oh yes, I remember her.” She wrinkled her nose. “Where did you send her?”
“She works for the Duchess of Yardly.”
She giggled. A sweet youthful sound that made her sound about eighteen.
“Just remember, my love, there are more of us than them and should it be required we will just unleash the dragon.”
“Honestly, Gabe, the duchess is a lovely elderly lady now. She no longer snaps the heads off her staff or anyone for that matter.”
He snorted. “Her tongue is still a poison dart.”
“You can’t fool me. You love her as do I.”
The Duchess of Yardly had become part of their family, and he and his brothers constantly grumbled over her caustic tongue, but secretly enjoyed it.
The carriage rumbled upward, as did the five behind them containing family and staff. He moved to sit beside Dimity as she tensed. Placing his arm around her he held her close.
“I am here, my love, as I always will be. Your family already love you so there is no need to worry.”
They sat in silence until the carriage stopped minutes later.
“Ready?” Gabe said.
“Ready,” her shoulders went back.
Opening the carriage door, Gabe stepped down then took Christian, and his wife’s hand. She gripped his tight as together they looked up the pale stone facade of the estate of the St-Bonnard family.
Age and history were steeped in the cream walls. Three stories, it was vast and rambling. Paths led in several directions lined with manicured flower beds slumbering for the winter months. Windows on each floor numbered as many as ten, and that was merely on this side. Turrets, chimneys, it was vast and impressive.
“I wish I remembered living here.”
“Yes, I bet it would have been a special place to spend your childhood,” Gabe said.
He could not imagine the horror the family felt on the night the home was stormed by weapon wielding people, who wanted to destroy the St-Bonnard’s and everything they stood for.
Turning at the loud shriek Gabe watched his eldest children sprint toward him. Elliot who at six was a year older than Patrice, five was in the lead, much to her disgust.
“He held me back!” She stormed when they reached him.
“It’s not my fault you’re slow witted and footed.”
Elliot was an exact replica of the boy Zach had been, god save them all, and Patrice was her mother in every way, right down to her need to always be right. Life, it was fair to say, in their household could in no way be termed calm.
“Yes, Patrice.” He crouched before her and began to tie her shoelaces and straighten her clothes. Lastly, he pulled out his handkerchief and wiped the dirt from her cheeks.
“How is it you both have dirt on you when you have been in a carriage with the duchess? I thought she was reading to you and that’s why you asked to travel with her?”
Looking down the carriages he watched the Duchess of Yardly climb down with the help of her footman. She was more stooped, but in no way could she be yet termed frail. She wore a hideous floral cloak that had bright puce roses all over it.
“Walter found a log when we stopped by the river. The Duchess forbade him to bring it into the carriage, but he did,” Patrice snickered. “So she let us inspect it. It was filled with insects, Papa.”
“Of course she did,” Gabe sighed, moving to where his son stood moving from foot to foot. Like Zach he hated standing still. He then cleaned his face and straightened his clothes.
“The Duchess of Yardly said she was going to make that uppity new maid she has, clean it up.”
Gabe snorted out a laugh as he took his children by the hand and lead them to meet the family who approached to greet them. That would teach the woman for being disrespectful to Dimity.
Refreshments were served in a huge parlor that would easily accommodate over a hundred people. Flames roared in the fireplace, the children and three dogs ran about the place squealing and barking, oblivious of the antique vases and delicate furniture.
“Elliot do not let your sister ride you like a horse if you please,” Gabe said calmly.
Dimity often marveled at the man she married. He’d adjusted to fatherhood and married life as if he’d been born to do so. In fact the stuffy, pompous Earl was hardly in sight these days.
The fierce love she felt for that man had scared her when first they married. This need she felt to be near him, to have his arms holding her had been terrifying for a woman who’d not needed anyone before. He told her it was no different for him, so at least the madness she’d felt had not been hers alone.
“Come, sister, I have someone I want you to meet.” Louis held out a hand to her.
“Who is it?” She took it and let him lead her from the room.
“We tried to find any of the staff that were here when your father was, but most had left or passed away. We managed to track down only one, and she had come here today to speak with you.”
“Really?” Dimity felt a spark of excitement race through her.
They made their way to another room; this one held a piano. The piano she’d been told her father had once played. Emotion choked her as she thought of him walking these exact steps she was now taking. Had he walked them that night carrying her?
“Madam Adair, this is my sister, Lady Raine,” Louis said to the lady standing by the window. She had snowy white hair and was wrapped in a thick blue shawl to ward off the chill. Her eyes were on Dimity.
“Bonjour,” Dimity said.
“Oh,” Madam Adair pressed a pale hand to her mouth, as she moved closer. “You look like your mother, my Lady.”
She felt Gabe arrive. Knew when he stepped to her side. Then he placed his hand in the small of her back to reassure Dimity he was near. Some of the tension eased from her spine.
“This is my husband, Madam, Lord Raine.” He rumbled out a greeting in his lovely deep voice. “I believe you knew my father?”
“Ah, Mr. Brown,” she sighed. “We were all in love with him you know.”
Luckily Dimity’s French tutor had done an excellent job and she could keep up with the rush of words pouring from the woman’s mouth.
“He was a favorite of all the staff. So kind, and such a gentleman.” The woman sighed.
“Do you know what happened the night I left with him?” Gabe’s hand rubbed her spine in slow circles as she talked.
“We were terrified. So many came, with torches and weapons.” The memory was there on Madam Adair’s face. “Everyone was panicking. Some crying others screaming. Most of the staff simply fled into the night fearing for their lives. I was in the kitchens with some of the maids, we were preparing to leave. I remember saying to Natalie, another maid that I need to check the family are safe before I go. I ran up the stairs and found the family all gathered together. The Countess Saint-Bonnard held you in her arms, my Lady.”
“I can’t imagine what it was like for you all,” Dimity whispered.
“The senior staff were there, and your brothers. They were so young and scared. One of the stable hands ran into the room stating they were breaking down the door,” she paused to dab her eyes was a handkerchief. “Your parents then hugged their three children close.”
Dimity could feel the tears welling in her own eyes now. She moved sideways pressing to Gabe’s side. A large arm then settled around her.
“The Comte St-Bonnard then said, ‘take them to my brother, they will be safe there.’ The Comtesse then handed you to her husband. She bent to kiss the cheeks of her sons and hugged them hard for several seconds. Straightening she then took you back in her arms and walked across the room to where Mr. Brown stood. He held out his arms, and she handed you to him.”
“Dear Lord,” Dimity whispered pressing a hand to her mouth. “Why was I given to him?”
“Because she trusted him. He was a well loved and respected man in this household. He came here to teach the Comtesse piano, and they were often found laughing and singing together. I’m sorry that I can tell you no more as I too fled then. Following Mr. Brown and the others from the house.”
“Oh but you have told me so much more than I had hoped, Madam Adair,” Dimity hugged the woman.
“We asked them to flee with us, but they refused. Stating the children would not be safe if they did, as they would hunt them down, and the Comte stated he would not risk them being harmed.”
“They would be pleased their children are reunited,” Madam Adair whispered. She then left the room.
“Are you sad or happy?” Gabe asked her as they walked back to where their family awaited them.
“Perhaps some of both,” she swung his hand. “Sad that my parents suffered such a terrible fate, and sad that I don’t remember them. But happy that I was given to my father so that one day I could meet you.”
Gabe woke with Dimity in his arms. The best way to greet the day to his mind. She still slept; no doubt exhausted after the emotions of yesterday.
She felt that sometimes she was out of her depth, but he never saw it. Dimity listened to Madam Adair tell the story of the night she had left here in the arms of Mr. Brown. She’d then thanked the woman for the information rather than breaking down and weeping which he was sure she felt like doing. Gabe often thought the life she’d lived helped her with what she now faced. The hardships, and challenges had given her strength, and he admired her fiercely for that.
He nuzzled the side of her neck with his lips. She muttered something and tried to ignore him. Gabe was nothing if not persistent. He made his way down her neck to her shoulder.
Her soft sigh made his body tighten. Only her, he thought. She set him on fire with merely a sigh, even eight years after they’d wed and three children later.
He heard a scratch on their bedroom door, then whispers. His children were on the opposite side of that wood. The eldest two at least.
Dimity stirred on his chest.
“You need to wake up, love, as our two eldest devils are outside the door discussing who should knock and wake us.”
She stretched, pressing all those lovely curves into his side. Her sleepy eyes then looked up at him.
“I love you, Gabe.”
“That’s convenient as I love you too.” He kissed her again.
“This, what I faced yesterday and every day. So many new and challenging things, and you’re always there at my side. I need you to know that means everything to me.”
He braced himself over her, their eyes locking on each other. “I love you, and never want to be anywhere but with you and our children.”
She grabbed his hair and tugged hard. He settled on top of her ,and she spent the next few seconds kissing every thought from his head.
Someone pounded on the door and he eased back and rolled to the side. Making himself think of the Duchess of Yardly. It worked, in seconds lust was the farthest thing from his mind.
“Enter!” He called.
The door opened and in came Elliot first, with Patrice behind him.
“Good morning,” Gabe said easing himself upright against the headboard and taking Dimity with him.
“Papa,” Patrice said.
“Say good morning, Patrice,” Dimity said around a yawn. “And do we not warrant a kiss from you both?”
The children grumbled but climbed on the bed and allowed their parents to hug and kiss them. They then climbed off and stood beside it.
“They’re up to something, “Gabe whispered.
“Papa, are you busy?” Patrice asked.
“At the moment?” She nodded.
“I’ve just woken, as has your mother, so I’m not precisely busy, but then I don’t think many people are when they’re in bed, as usually they’re sleeping.”
Elliot nudged his sister in the side, which earned him a glare.
“But will you be busy in ten minutes?” She said with single minded determination her mother would be proud of.
“What is it you both want?” Dimity asked cutting to the chase.
“We have need of a book on rodents and wondered if you could ask Uncle Louis if he has one here?” Patrice said.
“Dear God,” Dimity muttered.
“Stay calm,” Gabe whispered.
“As you know we are always happy for you both to read books any time, but I have to be honest and say I don’t remember a book on rodents being on the shelves in here the last time I looked,” Gabe said.
“But you need to check, Papa,” Elliot said.
“Do I?” Gabe eyed his children. One stocking hung in folds around Patrice’s ankle, and her dress was torn on the sleeve. Elliot had a scratch on his cheek and his hair stood off his head. “Have you two been fighting with your cousins again?”
“No,” they did not meet his eyes.
“Who have you been fighting with?”
“Henry is horrid,” Patrice spat out her cousin’s name. He was Charles’s son, and three years older than Elliot.
“I’m sure he thinks you are both horrid too, but he puts up with you as you are guests in his home. Perhaps you could try harder to be polite as he is doing so.”
“Uncle Zach told me to tell you that Uncle Daniel and Aunty Abby are here with him,” she said hoping to change the subject away from them having to be nice to Henry.
Gabe had noted that his children may fight with each other constantly, but they close ranks when anyone else threatened on or the other of them. He found he quite like that.
“Him is your cousin Mathew, Patrice. Please try to be civil when you see him.”
She stomped her foot. “Oh all right if I must.”
“You must. Now leave so we can prepare ourselves to start the day,” Dimity said. “And try not to maim anyone, and that especially means a cousin.”
“I need that book, Papa,” Patrice’s mouth had that determined look she got when nothing would move her.
“Where is the mouse?” Gabe asked.
“What mouse?” Elliot looked up at him with a sweet smile in place.
“The one you have captured somewhere in this house. The one you want a book to check if it is some kind of rare breed of mouse.”
“Uncle Zach said it’s a field mouse, but I’m not sure.”
Gabe pointed to the door. “Release the mouse at once.”
Dimity was sure she’d always remember this day for the remainder of her life. Her first Christmas spent with both her families. Gabe’s brothers were there with their wives and children. The Duchess of Yardly barked orders from the head of the table looking extremely happy with herself and the situation.
She wasn’t sure just how old the woman was, but thought she must be nearing eighty, and yet still acted like a sixty year old. The grandmother I never had, Dimity thought.
The room was warm and filled with wonderful scents and laughter. Had her father ever sat in this room?
“Can I sit with you, Mama?”
“Of course,” she eased back to take Patrice onto her lap. Her daughter settled back, resting her head on Dimity’s shoulder. “Are you tired, my darling?”
“A bit, but I need you to protect me from Henry.”
Dimity retied the bow on her daughter’s head. “What did you do to him?” There was no doubt in her mind that the fault would be Patrice’s.
“I thought he might like to see the mouse.”
“And I released it in his bed.” The words were muffled now as her daughter relaxed into slumber.
“Did he deserve such a fate?”
The dark head nodded, but no words were forthcoming, so Dimity simply held her close. Her eyes met Gabe’s. He was smiling. Life, she had to say in that particular moment was near to perfect.
Soon one of her children would be tormenting the other, or a hapless cousin, but right now all she could do was smile.
“Have you read the adventures of Captain Broadbent and Lady Nauticus, Comte St-Bonnard?”
“I don’t believe I have Duchess.”
“Well how fortuitous that I have brought all ten editions with me,” the Duchess of Yardley preened.
“We are not—”
“Have you heard of my legendary impromptu literary salons, Comte?” The duchess cut Gabe off.
“I haven’t no, please tell me more,” Louis smiled gently at the duchess.
Zach moaned, his mouth full of strawberry tart. “It has been at least two weeks since I last read them surely we can move one?”
“You,” the duchess pointed a bony finger at the youngest Deville brother, “be quiet.”
“Do not encourage her,” Gabe said but his eyes were laughing.
And so, the first French impromptu literary salon was held in the dining parlor of the St-Bonnard estate. Dimity had tears rolling down her cheek when her brother Charles actually stood on the table to read his part. The children clapped and adults roared their encouragement.
Dimity held her daughter with her eldest son leaning on her from the seat beside. Gabe held Christian and every time she looked his way all she saw was love.
I am grateful for your love; she sent a silent prayer to her three parents. The two she did not know who sent her away with the man who would become her father.
Rest easy now.