Midnight Bayou Page 81

"You must be tired," Lena said from the gallery above him.

"No." He continued to look at the sky. "I should be, but I'm not.”

"It's going to take you a week to clean this place up.”

"Nope. The General and her troops are coming over tomorrow to deal with it. I'm ordered to keep out of the way, and that's one command I won't have any trouble obeying. I didn't think you'd stay.”

"Neither did I.”

He turned now, looked up at her. A kind of Romeo and Juliet pose, he thought, and hoped for a better ending. "Why did you?”

"I'm not sure. I don't know what to do about you, Declan. I swear to God, I just don't know. Men've never been any trouble for me. Maybe I've been trouble for them," she said with a faint smile. "But you're the first who's given me any.”

He started up to her. "None of them loved you.”

"No, none of them loved me. Wanted me. Desired me, but that's the easy part. You can be careless with wants. And I'll tell you the truth.

Sometimes, most times, I enjoyed that carelessness. Not just the sex, but the dance. The game. Whatever you want to call that courtship that's no courtship at all. When the music stops, or the game's over, there might be some bumps and bruises, but nobody's really hurt.”

"But this isn't a game between the two of us.”

"I've already hurt you.”

"Bumps and bruises so far, Lena." He stopped, face-to-face with her. "Bumps and bruises.”

"When you look at me, what are you seeing? Someone, something else from before. You can't run the living on the dead.”

"I see you clear enough. But I see something else in both of us that shouldn't be ignored or forgotten. Maybe something that needs to be put right before we can move on.”

He reached in his pocket, pulled out Lucian's watch. "I gave this to you once before, about a hundred years ago. It's time you had it back.”

Her fingers chilled at the idea of holding it. "If this is true, don't you see it all ended in grief and death and tragedy? We can't change what was. Why risk bringing it on again?”

"Because we have to. Because we're stronger this time." He opened her hand, put the watch into her palm, closed her fingers over it. "Because if we don't set it right, it never really ends.”

"All right." She slipped the watch into the pocket of the short jacket she'd put on. Then she unpinned the watch on her dress. "I gave this to you once before. Take it back.”

When he took it, held it, the clock that had once stood inside the Hall began to bong.

"Midnight," he said with perfect calm. "It'll strike twelve times." And he looked down at the face of the enameled watch he held. "Midnight," he repeated, showing it to her. "Look at yours.”

Her fingers weren't so steady when she pulled it out. "Jesus," she breathed when she saw both hands straight up. "Why?”

"We're going to find out. I have to go inside." He looked up, toward the third floor. "I have to go up to the nursery. The baby …”

Even as he spoke, they heard the fretful cries.

"Let's just go. Declan, let's just get in the car and drive away from here."

But he was already moving inside. "The baby's crying. She's hungry. She needs me. Lucian's parents are sleeping. I always go upstairs early when he's not home. I hate sitting with them in the parlor after dinner. I can feel the way she dislikes me.”

His voice had changed, Lena realized as she followed him. There was a Cajun cadence to it. "Declan.”

"Claudine will walk her, or change her, but my pretty Rosie needs her mama. I don't like having her up on the third floor," he said as he hurried down the corridor. "But Madame Josephine always gets her way. Not always," he corrected, and there was a smile in his voice now. "If she always did, I'd be alligator bait 'stead of married to Lucian. He'll be home tomorrow. I miss him so.”

As he started up the stairs, his gait slowed, and Lena heard the rapid pace of his breath. "I have to go up." It was his own voice now, with fear at the edges. "I have to go in. I have to see.”

Gathering all her courage, Lena took his hand. "We'll go in together.”

His hand shook. The cold that permeated into the air speared into the bone. Nausea rolled through his belly, rose up his throat. Clamping down against it, he shoved the door open.

He stumbled, and even as Lena tried to catch him, fell to his knees.

"He comes in. He's drunk. I don't want him coming up here, but he won't go away. Everyone says, they say how he looks just like Lucian, but they don't see his eyes. I have to make him go away, away from my baby. I wish Claudine hadn't gone off to meet Jasper. I don't like being alone up here with Julian. He scares me, but I don't want him to see it.”

His eyes were glazed, glassy smoke in a face that had gone pale as death. "Declan, oh God, Declan, come back." She squeezed his hand until she felt bone rub against bone.

"When he grabs at me, I get away." His voice was breathless now. He still knelt, a rangy man with sun-streaked hair, wearing a tuxedo with the tie dangling loose. A man with a woman's memories, a woman's terror storming inside him.

"But I can't leave my baby. I get the poker from the fireplace. I'll kill him if I have to. I'll kill him if he touches me or my baby. Oh God, oh God, oh God.”

As her knees seemed to melt away, Lena sank to the floor beside him, tried to wrap her arms around him.

"He's stronger than me. I scream and I scream, but nobody comes to help me. He's drunk and he's crazy. He's crazy and he's drunk. He knocks me down, and he rips at my clothes. I can't get away. My baby's crying, but I can't get to her. I can't stop him.”

"Oh." Shaking, Lena tried to hold him, rock him. "No. No, no, no.”

"He rapes me." Fire burned in the center of him. Pain, the pain, and the fear. Oh God, the fear. "I call for help. I call for you, but you're not here.”

His voice tore with tears. "You don't come. I need you.”

"Don't, don't, don't." It was all she could say as she clung to him.

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