As if they were friends, Abby thought now with a smile. As if it were the most natural thing in the world for Lucian Manet to take a turn in the garden with Abigail Rouse.
They'd walked in the garden many nights after that. Inside the house, where others could see, they remained master and servant. But all through that heady spring they walked the garden paths as young lovers, telling each other of hopes, of dreams, of sorrows and joys.
On her seventeenth birthday he brought her a gift, wrapped in silver paper with a bright blue bow. The enameled watch was a pretty circle dangling from the golden wings of a brooch. Time flew, he told her as he pinned the watch to the faded cotton of her dress, when they were together. And he would rather have his life wing by than spend it apart from her.
He'd gotten down on one knee and asked her to be his wife.
It could never be. Oh, she'd tried to tell him through the tears. He was beyond her reach, and he could have anyone.
She remembered now how he'd laughed, how the joy had burst over his beautiful face. How could he be beyond her reach when she had his hand in hers even now? And if he could have anyone, then he would have her.
"So now we have each other, and you," Abby whispered and shifted the drowsing baby to her shoulder. "And if his family hates me for it, what does it matter? I make him happy."
She turned her face into the soft curve of the baby's neck. "I'm learning to speak as they speak, to dress as they dress. I will never think as they think, but for Lucian, I behave as they behave, at least when it shows."
Content, she rubbed the baby's back and continued to rock. But when she heard the heavy footsteps on the stairs, the stumbling climb, she rose quickly. Her arms tightened in a circle of protection around the baby as she turned toward the crib.
She heard Julian come through the door and knew without seeing he would be drunk. He was nearly always drunk or on his way to becoming so.
Abby didn't speak. She lay the baby in the crib, and when Marie Rose whimpered restlessly, stroked her quiet again.
"Where's the nursemaid?" he demanded.
Still, Abby didn't turn. "I don't want you in here when you've been drinking."
"Giving orders now?" His voice was slurred, his balance impaired. But he was thinking clearly enough. Liquor, he'd always believed, helped clarify the mind.
And his was clarified when it came to his brother's wife. If Lucian had a thing-and what was a woman but a thing?-Julian wanted it.
She was small, almost delicate of build. But she had good strong legs. He could see the shape of them where the firelight in the nursery grate shimmered through her thin nightclothes. Those legs would wrap around him as easily as they did his brother.
Her breasts were high and full, fuller now since she'd had the whelp. He'd gotten his hands on them once, and she'd slapped him for it. As if she had a say in who touched her.
He closed the door at his back. The whore he'd bought that night had only whetted his appetite. It was time to sate it.
"Where's the other bayou slut?"
Abby's hand fisted at her side. She turned now, guarding the crib with her body. He looked so like Lucian, but there was a hardness in him Lucian lacked. A darkness.
She wondered if it was true, what her grand-mère said. That with twins, sometimes traits get divvied up in the womb. One gets the good, the other the bad.
She didn't know if Julian had come into the world already spoiled. But she knew he was dangerous when drunk. It was time he learned she was dangerous as well.
"Claudine is my friend, and you have no right to speak of her that way. Get out. You have no right to come in here and insult me. This time Lucian will hear of it."
She saw his gaze slide down from her face, watched lust come into his eyes. Quickly, she tugged her wrapper over the breast still partially exposed from nursing. "You're disgusting. Cochon! To come in a child's room with your wicked thoughts for your brother's wife."
From Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts, Copyright (c) October 2001, Putnam Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, used by permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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