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.Cole had no doubt that this was another attempt at getting revenge for the alderman's death.Panic seized his limbs, but he pushed on, ran faster, back up the stairs to his bedchamber.Lucy was alone, thank God, standing by the door with a large candlestick clutched in both hands.She lowered it when she saw him.He suddenly felt giddy and light headed and so fucking relieved.He wanted to take her in his arms and hold her, kiss her all over just to make sure she was unharmed.Instead, he strode past her and picked up his shirt.He couldn't face her interrogation without clothes on.Thankfully she already wore her nightgown again, thin as it was.Lucy set the candlestick down on the mantelpiece and watched Nick dress as calmly as can be.Her heart thumped wildly although she hadn't been the one who'd chased after an intruder.Two, if her eyes hadn't deceived her.How could Nick be so unaffected?"Did you see them?" she asked."Not their faces.""Have they gone?""Yes."He padded across the floor in his bare feet, but instead of meeting her, he walked straight past and opened the tinderbox beside the fireplace and removed the flint.She watched as he lit her candle and two others, throwing some light around the bedchamber.He placed the three candlesticks on the mantelpiece, but didn't turn around.She came up behind him and slipped her arms around his waist.He sucked in air and slowly turned."Lucy." He stepped out of her embrace and lowered his head."We need to talk."Ominous words, and all too familiar.It was how Edmund had begun his pretty speech that ended their betrothal.She folded her arms against a sudden chill and stepped back.He glanced up through his long lashes."Don't."His whispered plea clenched her heart like a vise."Don't what?""Don't look at me like that.I… " He shook his head."There's no easy way to say this, but I'll be leaving Cowdrey as soon as possible."The vise tightened."When your head is better.Yes, I know." She didn't tell him that she thought they'd be leaving together, had hoped they would.It seemed irrelevant now.She bit the inside of her lip but still her eyes welled with tears.His face seemed to change somehow, and the softness disappeared.The bones re-set into hard, unforgiving angles."It's for the best."She would not cry, nor would she beg.Past experience had taught her that hysterics and pleas changed nothing.But she had not given up.Not yet and not without a fight.Something had changed him.Most likely an old memory had returned, a terrible memory, something he needed to face alone, or thought he did.It was up to her to dig it out of him and try to fix it."Why? At least answer me that." Her voice sounded remarkably calm considering the turmoil inside her.Perhaps it was the new determination within, holding the pieces of her together.She would not give up.His gaze drifted to the window where the sky was beginning to lighten."Those intruders were probably after me."First the attack in the meadow and now this one."But why, Nick?""My name's Cole.I haven't gone by Nick in a long time."It was like watching a transformation from tadpole to frog, or calf to bull.Nick was being taken over by a tougher, more detached version of himself.Cole."I'll sleep in the barn until I'm ready to leave," he said."No! Don't be ridiculous.You'll sleep here.Nick—""Cole.""Nick.Don't do this.Don't push me away and pretend nothing ever happened between us.""I'm not pretending.It happened and now it's over.You're better off forgetting about me, Lucy.Remembering will only bring you heartache." His detachment made her shiver.It would have been better if he'd spoken harshly to her.This coolness was so out of character."You're not like this.You're not… Cole."He grunted a harsh laugh.It was so different from his joyous laughter, and yet looking at him now with those severe cheeks and rigid jaw, she could almost believe that he'd never smiled."Does this change upset you?" he said."Because this is who I am.I'm the man you met in the meadow that very first time.The man who wouldn't lift his hat.Ill-mannered, you called me.""Yet you came to my aid when I fell.That's the man you are, Nick.""Are you sure? Would you stake your life on it? Your future?"His words stung like a slap across the face."Nick," she whispered.But it was hopeless.He was already turning away and heading for the door."You'd better leave now," he said, opening it.She strode straight past him and did not look back.She didn't want him to see the tears streaming down her face.Later, when she felt more composed, she would speak to him again.Nick must be in there somewhere.Surely Cole hadn't completely smothered him.***Cole sat on the bed and felt under the mattress for the piece of wood and whittling knife he'd thrust there before Lucy had entered his room.He'd not wanted her to see it, although he didn't know why.It was quite good, considering he'd carved it purely on instinct.He ran his thumb over the sleek back, down the nose.The little statue, whittling knife, and clothes were the only possessions he had left.Everything else had been in his pack, now stolen.All his weapons.He closed his fist around the wood and stood to go down for breakfast [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]