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Authors: Susannah Bamford

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BOOK: Blind Trust
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Tavish lounged against the wall and watched her go. A devil had been in him or he wouldn't have approached her. He should have left her secret safe, he shouldn't have risked it, but he couldn't resist it. He could use her, he should use her, for she was a link to Claude Statton. Better than her father, even. Why then, did he merely want to talk to her? To natter on about nonsense, to talk moonshine to her about wild roses, just to see her serious gray eyes flash, her delicate skin flush, just to hear her voice?

He liked her. That was dangerous. And he knew she was afraid of her husband; he was sure she'd been trying to leave him last night. She probably had been surprised as hell that her husband was at her father's house. Fear clearly had been in her face the night before; he had felt her trembling almost all the way home. Here was a double danger. A beautiful woman crying out for rescue. Oh, once it would have made him rub his hands together with glee. Now, he just felt tired.

But he couldn't stop looking.

She walked across the room with her uncle, and she was smiling. Whatever the man said, it had transported her out of that strange, abstracted,
mocking
way she had stood and carried herself and inclined her head with that gleaming hair, so dark it made him think of ebony, of sable. How could a woman convey such proper posture and yet such recklessness at the same time?

Tavish drew back farther into the shadows of his corner and watched her. Yes, he had seen fear last night in her eyes. But tonight in the glittering ballroom he saw more: her unhappiness fueled the recklessness, and he could also see that she did not know of the recklessness at ail. She imagined, he decided, that she
was
the proper lady she appeared. She had not yet glimpsed her courage. She did not know that her true self was revealed in her eyes.

Damn it to hell
, Tavish swore silently, and resolutely turned his back. He wasn't here to save Darcy Statton. She had married that weasel, hadn't she? What kind of woman would do such a thing? These overbred, oversilly society women deserved what they got, he thought fiercely.

Columbine stood a little away, talking animatedly to a group of men. Of course few of the women here tonight would talk to Columbine, but she didn't care. It was in other circles that she was hailed and feted, one of the most influential women of her generation. He caught her eye, and in a moment she excused herself and came toward him.

“What is it, Tavish?” she murmured. “Have you had your fill already?”

“Tell me about Darcy Snow Statton,” he said. “There she is, in the black gown, on the arm of the gray-haired man. And who is he, by the way?”

Columbine looked over her fan. “Oh, my. Mrs. Claude Statton and Lemuel Grace. He's stuffy Old Guard, will hardly talk to her husband, I hear. She's a Grace on her mother's side and a Snow on her father's—you've met her father, Edward Snow. Didn't you dine there last night? He's charming. And she married Claude Statton, imagine. Don't ask me for an introduction, for as soon as I was introduced to her she must have passed some silent signal to her father, for he immediately dragged her away before she was corrupted. Mr. Van Cormandt can get me here, but he can't get me a smile from someone like Mrs. Statton. Oh, you know the kind of woman. She gives balls and goes to them. She wears diamonds. She goes to the Academy of Music on Wednesdays and the Metropolitan Opera on Mondays. She has a box in the Diamond Horseshoe right next to Mrs. Astor. She doesn't talk of anything but the weather. I've never spoken with her, but I know her.”

“Hmmmm,” Tavish said. He knew her, too. But he knew her in a way that Columbine, with all her insight into her own sex, did not.

“Claude Statton is the wickedest man in New York,” Columbine said, smoothing her dress. She grinned. “More wicked than Mr. Van Cormandt. And I have more secrets about his wife's family, should you be interested. But that is a subject for my little sitting room, not a ball at Delmonico's.”

“Let's go, then,” Tavish said brusquely.

“But I haven't had my supper,” Columbine said serenely. Her warm brown eyes chided him good-naturedly.

“Of course,” Tavish said automatically. Then he turned and smiled at her. “Forgive me.”

Columbine pouted. “Perhaps.” She had a very pretty pout, did Columbine, and suffragist or not, she used it.

“Perhaps,” Tavish said, smiling, “you'll let me take you in to supper.”

“Perhaps,” she answered, taking his arm.

As they went to the downstairs supper room and Tavish went through the fussy masculine ritual of seating Columbine, making sure there were no drafts by her chair, finding company for her while he filled a plate and found champagne, his eyes searched the gathering for Claude Statton. He finally spotted him in a corner. Unlike most unprepossessing men, Claude Statton did not gain even a modicum of elegance in his evening clothes. Though beautifully tailored, they could not disguise his sloping posture, his birdlike chest and his paunch. His thin blond hair was damp with perspiration, his scalp showing through like a white moon. He was alone. It took only a moment for Tavish to see that Claude was staring fixedly at something. Tavish turned to follow Claude's gaze.

He was staring at his wife. A cold shiver moved through Tavish like a rolling wave on a winter sea. What must it be like, he thought, to belong to that man? He looked at Darcy again, her back straight, her hands composed, her beautiful dark head inclined toward her neighbor. A perfect, sleek prize. Mrs. Claude Statton.

No, he thought, fingering the rose petals in his pocket, impossibly soft, the softness of the back of a woman's neck. No. Darcy, she was. Darcy.

Darcy slipped off her evening cloak and handed it to the maid. She felt wide awake, but she couldn't bear another moment with Claude. She wanted that long delicious time before sleep to think about the tall man she'd tried not to think about all evening, as he looked at her and she looked away. “If you'll excuse me, Claude, I think I'll retire,” she murmured.

“Of course, dear.” He waited until the three servants who had come to receive them had moved away. “I'll join you within the hour,” he said softly.

She was too shocked to be able to hide it. “Tonight?”

“You seem surprised, my darling. Surprised that your husband would care to visit you?”

“It's just that I'm so tired …” Darcy bit off the rest of the sentence. She was breaking so many rules tonight, and now she'd broken the worst one of all: she'd suggested that his attentions were unwelcome, and she'd made the mistake of alluding to their relations in the first place. Tomorrow, she would bear the marks of that mistake, tiny blue-green finger smudges on her flesh.

“Ah.” He took her arm and drew her down the hall toward the staircase. “Perhaps this is the time to speak to you about something. IVe been talking to a doctor about your condition—”

Darcy stopped. “My condition, Claude?”

“Your nerves, my dear. You've been especially high strung lately. I'd thought marriage would settle you down, as your family did, but,” Claude said, sighing, “it doesn't appear to have done so. So I talked to a Dr. Arbuthnot, a very famous specialist in female conditions, and he agreed to see you. Isn't that marvelous?”

Darcy's blood ran cold. “A doctor,” she repeated. “But I'm fine.”

“Just a precaution. I've seen how your inability to bear a child has weakened your nerves, my dear. I understand, of course, how the denial of your natural function would place such a strain on you. We won't speak of my private disappointment—I am only concerned with your health.”

He had touched on the topic that Darcy often wondered about. Was she really unable to bear a child? Or was it Claude's … deficiencies that made it impossible? Certainly the rarity of their successful relations meant her chances were reduced. Still, a doctor might be able to tell her …

“What about Dr. Temple? He's been taking care of our family for years. He's known me since I was a child—he delivered me.”

“That's precisely it, dearest. How could he really see the case with an open mind?”

“The
case?

Claude patted her arm. “Now, there's nothing here to distress you. Just an examination. Perhaps there is some treatment Dr. Arbuthnot can devise. He's had such success with neurasthenic women.”

She stumbled backward a step. “Neurasthenic women?”

He nodded. “I've discussed the symptoms with him. It's a type of neurosis of the brain, you see. Fatigue, weakness of the limbs, irritability … with no
physical
cause.”

An icy finger touched her, a foreboding she couldn't name. She shook her head angrily. “Claude, I don't want to see him. I won't!”

“You see, that's one of the problems, Darcy,” Claude said as he took her arm again and led her toward the stairs. “Dr. Arbuthnot quite agrees with me. Obedience, docility … lately, they seem to have deserted you. These strange midnight walks, for example. Any husband would be concerned. Solange told me that you even went out walking last night.”

“I was restless …”

“You see what I mean, then.”

Darcy felt sick. She clung to the banister as Claude walked her up the stairs, his voice low and insistent by her ear.

“Yes, I think a doctor would know best what to do. IVe spoken to your father, and he agrees. That's right, dearest, he is concerned as well. You mustn't blame yourself, my darling. It's just a matter of nerves, you know. Oh, you stumbled. Here, take my arm. Perhaps I'll take my brandy in your room instead of the library from now on. I should sit with you more in the evenings. I've been remiss; I haven't devoted enough time to you. Here, watch the carpet, I'll have that seen to tomorrow. Let me get the door, dear. You must let me comfort you. No, leave on your diamonds, my darling. And send Solange to bed.”

Four

D
ARCY PUSHED ASIDE
her untouched morning chocolate. She was alone in her private sitting room adjoining her bedroom. It was exquisitely furnished with the most delicate French furniture of that classical period of Louis XVI. Claude had told her proudly several times that every item in the room had Royal provenance. The window hangings had been made for Marie Antoinette's apartments, and the elaborate silver chocolate service had been hers as well. Or so Claude thought. Darcy had always loathed the room. She had to watch her skirts every moment, afraid some priceless piece of Sevres that cluttered every available space would crash to the floor. Today, the elegance and lightness of the pieces nauseated her. She felt a sickness deep in her belly, and she would cheerfully smash every priceless piece in the room if she could.

Why had she done it?
What had possessed her, why couldn't she have controlled the impulse that swept her so fiercely last night? Couldn't she have continued to distance her mind from her body, lie rigid until it was over? She never should have aroused Claude's ire at this time. It was an error she could not afford to make.

But she had. This time her revulsion had been too strong. Everything had changed that night at Edward's house as she crouched behind the velvet hangings. She had left that last vestige of belief in her marriage vows at her father's house. The knowledge of what her husband was had hardened her uneasy hysteria to leave into a cool-headed rebellion. No longer did she think it her duty to submit. Perhaps it was her duty to resist.

Enraged by his attempts to push himself inside her, sickened by his breath, and cringing from the dank feel of his skin, a thought had floated across her mind. She remembered with sudden acuteness a simple thing: the way Tavish Finn had talked to her. Yes, he had teased—flirted, she supposed—but he had always spoken to her as one adult to another. The anger at him she'd felt at the ball disappeared in a flash as though it had never existed. There was another way for a man and a woman to be, she had thought wildly. It was not necessary to be patronized, to live with contempt. This was not right. This was not right.

She had done it. She had pushed Claude off with sudden strength, surprising him. With a thud, he had fallen to the Savonnerie carpet.

It might have been funny, to look back on it, if she hadn't seen his expression so vividly. For the first time in their marriage, she had seen a true emotion on his face. He had lost control. His face beet red, he had pointed his finger at her, gasping.

You will pay for that
,
madam
.

But something in the fierce expression on her face must have halted him as he started back toward the bed. He had smiled; remembering that smile, Darcy's stomach tightened with fear. Gathering his dressing gown around his thin legs, he had walked out, the crimson sash trailing behind him like the flag of a cowardly recruit abandoning the field. Darcy shuddered; she was not amused at the memory.

She had remained here all morning, for truth to tell, she was terrified. She had had to hide her hands in her dressing gown to disguise their shaking from Solange. Claude was postponing his revenge. She had known that her husband could be brutal, God knew. But she was beginning to fully understand now how much he
enjoyed
his cruelty. That smile spoke of a perverse satisfaction from what she had done, for now he could retaliate. And he would make her wait for it.

Who could possibly help her? Who would not turn away? Who would not condone her husband and condemn her? Who could possibly understand how a husband could beat a wife down, day after day after day? How he could patronize in public and humiliate in private? How that humiliation only excited him the more? Who could understand such things?

Agitation and despair propelled her into movement. Darcy rose and went to the French windows overlooking Fifth Avenue. She laid her cheek against the cool pane. Columbine Nash, she thought suddenly. She would understand.

“I'm sorry, sir, Mr. Hinkle is not at home.” The butler was already closing the door as he spoke in his refined British accent. He didn't like the looks of the tall man. An Irishman he'd bet, by that mad look in his green eyes. Probably drunk. No matter that he claimed to be a business associate of Mr. Hinkle's, he was not getting through the door. “If you'll leave your card,” he tried for the third time.

BOOK: Blind Trust
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