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Authors: Jennifer McNare

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BOOK: Dreaming of You
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Several minutes later, Gavin shoved open the massive front door of his family’s home and barreled into the foyer, winded and nearly out of breath.  “Natalie!” he shouted, the sound echoing throughout the large empty hall.  
 

The butler appeared at once, his face registering his shock as he rounded the corner and caught sight of Gavin.  “My Lord, you are home,” he said, clearly attempting to compose his startled expression as he took in Gavin’s ragged appearance.  
 

“Hawkins, my sister, is she here?” Gavin demanded, turning anxiously toward the silver-haired man who’d served as Rutherford Park’s butler since before he was born.
 

“Your sister?” he said, obviously taken aback by Gavin’s frantic expression.  “No, My Lord.”  His eyes were wide as he regarded Gavin curiously.  “She has gone to London, with your mother.”
 

“She is with my mother?”  Gavin asked in relief, as the fear he’d felt since awakening on the path alone and confused slowly released its icy grip on his heart.
 

“Yes, My Lord.  They left over a fortnight ago, with your brother.”
 

Fourteen days!
  Natalie had been home for that long?  His mind reeled.
 

“Is she, is my sister alright?” he asked, his tone laced with trepidation.
 

“My Lord?” the older man replied in confusion.  Hawkins looked at Gavin as if he’d lost his mind.  “Is something amiss sir?”
 

Gavin faltered, something wasn’t right.  Hawkins continued to regard him as if he had suddenly grown a second head.  He was about to voice another question, but the booming sound of his father’s voice stopped him short.  
 

“Gavin!” the duke called, rushing forward to meet him, his expression revealing both surprise and relief.  “Thank God you are home.”  
 

His father looked as though he were about to embrace him, but then stopped himself.  He darted a quick glance at Hawkins and then past him to the two footmen who’d just entered the foyer.  His expression immediately became more reserved as he grasped Gavin’s shoulder.  “Come, my boy, let’s go into my study and you can tell me all about your adventure.”
 

Bewildered, Gavin remained silent as he allowed his father to steer him toward the rear of the house, the word
adventure
echoing silently in his head.
 

“Hawkins, please see that my son and I are not disturbed,” the duke called over his shoulder.
 

“Yes, Your Grace,” he replied, glancing briefly toward the two footmen standing immobile at the far side of the room, the slight lift of his arched, grey brows the only indication of his lingering confusion.
 

 

 

As soon as the heavy door had closed firmly behind them, Gavin’s father turned and wrapped his arms around him, hugging him tight in an uncharacteristic display of emotion.
 

“Thank God, thank God you are safe,” he murmured, before stepping back a moment later.  His eyes quickly raked him from head to toe.  “Are you alright?” he asked, his voice laden with concern.    
 

“I am fine, Father, truly,” Gavin reassured him.  “But Natalie, how is Natalie?” he demanded, his sister’s wellbeing still foremost in his thoughts.
 

“The bastards that took you never touched her, thank the Lord,” the duke replied, shaking his head, obviously grateful, though a spark of fury flared to life in his green eyes.  “She was distraught of course, as we all were when you were taken, but otherwise, she is fine.  It is your poor mother who has had the toughest time keeping herself together.”  He shook his head again, his features tightening.  “Go.  Sit,” he said, motioning toward the leather sofa that sat against the far wall of his study.  “I’ll fix you a drink.  It looks like you could use one.”
 

Gavin walked toward the sofa, his thoughts spinning wildly.  Natalie was fine.  She hadn’t been taken, had never been in danger.  He had been deceived.  Though he felt a flash of burning anger at the lie that had kept him bound more tightly to his captor than any chains ever could have, the relief he felt, knowing that
his sister’s safety had never been at risk, quickly overshadowed his initial fury.  He sank onto the seat, closing his eyes as he let his head fall back against the cushion.  
 

“Here, drink this,” his father said a moment later.
 

He opened his eyes and reached to take the bourbon-filled crystal tumbler.  “Thank you.”  He took a long swallow, relishing the burn as the fiery liquid ran down his throat.  Hopefully, it would chase away the last of the lingering headache that had yet to fully recede.
 

His father dropped into the leather wingback chair beside the sofa, eyeing him steadily as he polished off the potent whiskey.  He sat forward as Gavin rested the empty glass on his knee, his gaze anxious and concerned.  “Where the devil have you been, son?”
 

“Honestly Father, I haven’t the slightest idea,” he said, shaking his head as he thought back upon the weeks he’d spent at the isolated cottage in the woods.  And then, of course, his thoughts turned to her.
 

“Your brother was convinced there would be a ransom demand, despite what the letter said, but nothing ever came.”  
 

“Letter?”  The word momentarily redirected his attention.  “What letter?”
 

“Those villains, the ones that took you, they left a letter with your sister.”
 

Gavin sat forward, his expression suddenly intense.  “Do you have it?  May I see it?”
 

“Of course,” his father said with a brief nod, and then rose quickly from his seat.  
 

Gavin stood up as well and followed his father to his desk, setting his empty glass down atop the smooth, polished surface.  He watched as the duke unlocked a small drawer and then withdrew a thin envelope.  He took it from his father’s outstretched hand, pulled out the single sheet of paper and began to read.
 

Your Grace,
 

First and foremost, I wish to assure you that as long as you follow my instructions, your son will not be harmed.  Though I regret the means I have had to employ to obtain your son’s services, they were necessary.  I require his assistance with a confidential matter of which I cannot elaborate.  If you adhere to the following directives, your son will be returned to you alive and well within the upcoming months.  If you do not, you put your son’s life in serious jeopardy.  
 

You are to tell no one aside from your immediate family of his abduction.  Anyone who inquires about his whereabouts should be told that he is traveling abroad and is expected to return before the year’s end.  You will not involve the authorities in any way, nor will you illicit the aid of a private investigator or any other method in an attempt to discover your son’s whereabouts.
 

If you fail to follow these instructions, you will never see your son again.  You are being watched.
 

Gavin stared at the letter, written in the same elegant script as the one he’d been given by Sam after he’d awakened in the cottage, his mind reeling as he struggled to make sense of it all.  Thinking it through, he began to understand his father’s behavior.  Apparently, aside from his immediate family, no one knew of his abduction.  He felt an almost overwhelming sense of relief.  There would be no scandal, no gossip, and
no probing questions from those eager to learn the sordid details of his disappearance.  For that at least, he was grateful.
 

Tossing the letter atop his father’s desk, Gavin turned and made his way back to the sofa.  Once he was seated he allowed his head to fall backward and rest against the cool leather and then stared up at the ceiling.  His thoughts continued to spin wildly as his father moved toward him and regained his own seat.
 

“What on earth was this all about, Gavin?  Why were you taken?”
 

He considered telling his father the truth, but after a moment’s hesitation he decided against it.  What purpose would it serve to reveal the true depravity of what he had endured, that his own flesh and blood had been stolen from him?  Surely it would only cause his family pain, even more than they had already suffered.  Raising his head, he turned and met his father’s concerned gaze.  “I’m sorry father, but for reasons that I cannot explain, I think it is best that I say nothing of the purpose of my abduction or of what was required of me while I was gone.”  
 

The duke appeared utterly bewildered.  “Were you harmed?” he asked after a moment.
 

“No.” Gavin shook his head.  Not physically anyhow, he silently clarified.
 

His father looked as if he was about to demand an explanation, but after studying Gavin’s face, he then sighed in resignation.  “Fine, if you are certain that it is for the best then I will not question you further.”
 

“I am.  Thank you, Father.”
 

“Well then, I had best send word to your mother that you are safely home.  She has been distraught since your disappearance, and trying not to show it has become increasingly difficult for her, as it has been for all of us.”  Rising from his chair, he walked over to his desk, sat down and began to write.
 

Leaning his head back against the sofa Gavin closed his eyes and allowed his thoughts to drift.  Within seconds they had settled once again upon her.
 

Chapter 10

 

As Melody made her way to the breakfast room, she felt a tiny flutter within her abdomen.  She stopped, standing still, smiling as she placed her hand atop her expanding belly, waiting for another sign of movement.  She was five months into her pregnancy and the increasing signs of life within her rapidly enlarging abdomen were becoming more and more frequent.  She loved the feel of the tiny movements and her smile widened when she felt a second faint flutter a moment later.  
 

She was still smiling when she entered the breakfast room and settled into her chair a couple of minutes later.  “Has the earl already eaten?” she asked the bright-eyed serving girl who stepped forward to pour her tea, glancing toward the empty seat at the head of the table.
 

“No, My Lady.  The earl hasn’t come down yet.”
 

That was odd.  Charles was an early riser, always up before she was.  “Has he summoned
Monsieur
Theroux?” she asked, referring to his French valet.  
 

“I do not know, My Lady.  Shall I send one of the footmen to inquire?”
 

“No, Emma, that won’t be necessary.  I am sure he will be down shortly.”  She tried not to look pleased by his absence, though she was.  She might actually be able to enjoy her breakfast for once, without the uncomfortable weight of her husband’s watchful stare.  Ever since the local physician had confirmed her condition, Charles’ gaze seemed to fall upon her with increasing frequency.  She could almost see him counting down the days in his head as he waited for his highly-coveted heir to be born.  She found his self-satisfaction loathsome, but at least now that her condition was obvious for all to see, Charles no longer felt the need to come to her chamber each night, and for that welcome reprieve she was inordinately grateful.  
 

At night, alone in her bed, she was free to fantasize and to dream of the man she loved, the man whose baby grew within her womb each and every day.  She already loved their child so much and could hardly wait until the day she would be able to hold it in her arms.  The only thing that continued to trouble her was Charles’ expectation that the baby would be a boy.  He was completely convinced that the child she carried was the male heir he so desperately craved.  But what if it was a girl?  Although
she
would be just as happy if the baby was a girl, she was terrified of what her husband’s reaction would be if she gave birth to a daughter.  Would he expect her to try again?  Would he think to reenact his original scheme, abducting someone else and then expecting her to return to the cottage and steal yet another man’s child?  Just the thought of it made her feel sick to her very core.  She couldn’t do it, she wouldn’t do it!  No matter what Charles threatened, she knew she could never allow him to do something so heinous again, not to her or to anyone else.  
 

However, she was honest enough with herself to admit that there was another reason the thought was so utterly repellant.  
Him.
  After being with him, falling in love with him, she couldn’t even fathom another man’s touch.  Instinctively she knew that it would never be the same with anyone else; what they’d had was special.  She believed that with all of her heart.  In the meantime, she could only hope and pray that she
carried a son, for at this point there was little else she could do.  For the moment however, the low rumbling in her stomach managed to temporarily pull her from her silent musing, and with a low sigh Melody turned her attention to her breakfast.
 

Several minutes later, when she had finished her fully-laden platter of ham, eggs and jellied-toast, favorites during the past weeks of her pregnancy, she was surprised that Charles still hadn’t made an appearance.  Despite the pleasant reprieve, her curiosity was piqued.  What on earth was keeping him this morning, she wondered?  She had learned early on that Charles was the type of person who adhered to a strict daily routine.  It wasn’t like him to deviate from his long-established schedule.
 

Rising from her chair, Melody motioned to one of the ever-present footmen who stood at his nearby post.  
 

“Yes, My Lady?” he asked, his expression accommodating.
 

BOOK: Dreaming of You
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