The moment I stepped onto the gravel path, I felt Juliet’s consciousness wrap around my own. Her intoxicating scent lingered around me. Confused, I whirled around searching her out. Had she simply followed me in a vision? Perhaps she resided near the house? Either way, I felt elated, comforted that she was close. I could not wait to see her.
Instinctively, I reached out with my mind, calling her name. It felt strange to attempt contact with another in such a fashion, and yet, natural. But I was met with silence, distrust, and fear. I refused to allow it to deter my persistence. My stubbornness proved to be an advantage, for finally, she answered me.
‘Go home. It isn’t safe for you here.’
I smiled to myself as I searched her mind, attempting to find out where she was hiding, marvelling at how I found it so easy a task. I ignored her rebuke and probed the reason for her presence at the house of my ward. A suspicion settled in my mind. I found the answer quickly, and with some startled amusement. ‘You are Constance Gaudain?’
She was indignant. ‘Don’t call me that. My name is Juliet Gaudain. Juliet is my middle name and the one I prefer to be acknowledged.’ I felt her reach into my own mind. I made no attempt to hide my thoughts, especially my resolve to take her from the house. ‘Now go please . . . wait, you are to be my guardian? This can’t be. You don’t know what you are getting in to. Please go . . . I beg you . . .’
‘I have no intention of going anywhere without you,’ I told her firmly, looking up at the windows trying to work out in which room she was being held. I tried to enquire as to her location, but she shrank back, hiding the answer from me. Once more, she begged me to leave before I was hurt.
Before I could continue our silent conversation, the housekeeper came bustling out of the house. Juliet retreated from my mind. The feeling of loss was immediate and strangely, almost painful. I quickly composed myself after feeling a frown settle across my brow and peered at the housekeeper. She was a fearfully haughty looking old woman. I gave her a courteous but sharp greeting. I had been fully briefed on what to expect from all members of the household, high and low, and wished to quickly convey that I would not tolerate any evasive behaviour. Especially now I knew my ward was Juliet.
‘Good morning, I wish to see Lady Juliet Gaudain.’
The woman frowned. ‘I am sorry, sir, but Lady Gaudain is not at home today. If you leave your card . . . ’
‘Nonsense, I know she is here. I am her new guardian and I insist that she is brought to me now.’ I made my way past the woman as she flustered around me trying to prevent admittance into the house.
‘Please, I have been given strict orders not to . . .’
I removed my hat and gloves and handed them to the footman who had appeared. I folded my hands behind my back. It was a habit when I wished to make a stern point. I’d learnt it from Lord Leggatt as a child.
‘I suggest you bring the master of the house whilst you are fetching Juliet. I wish to speak to him as well,’ I informed her, adopting a superior tone.
‘And what name should I give him, sir?’ the housekeeper asked rudely.
‘Lord Nathan Valancourt. I am here on behalf of Lord Leggatt. Be quick, I detest being kept waiting. I am a man of little patience.’
‘Very good, sir.’ She gestured at the footman, ‘Michael, take Lord Valancourt and Mr Paine into the drawing room.’
The footman gave her a nod and led us across the wide chequered floor of the reception hall towards the drawing room. I couldn’t help but glance up the long staircase wondering once again which room Juliet was locked in. If they refused to bring her to me, I would go and search for her myself.
As we entered the drawing room, I again called out softly to Juliet in my mind. Once more I received no response. Loud, heavy footsteps diverted my attention, someone was approaching the room. A raised, male voice berated the housekeeper who appeared to be following close behind the voice’s owner.
I turned to face the door and stiffened my composure, ready to deal with the abusive man who was about to enter. Mr Paine was clearly anxious, having borne the brunt of Lord Cameron’s anger on his last visit. He stood like a coward behind me. I folded my hands behind my back, eagerly awaiting the tyrant’s entrance.
The two oak doors to the room were flung open in a flamboyant display of rage from the master of the house, Lord William Cameron. I could not help but raise my eyebrows with some amusement and fought to suppress the smile that twitched wickedly at my mouth. The man was perhaps master of the house but clearly not of his emotions.
In my mind I heard an agitated gasp of fear from Juliet. Its loudness startled my senses. She spoke to me, ‘Be careful. He means to do you harm if you do not leave. Please go, I will not have anyone hurt on my behalf. He has shown violence to those who have tried to help me . . . I will face my fate alone, sir.’
I felt impatience gnaw me sharply as William Cameron stalked across the room. I told her firmly, ‘Hush, Juliet. I will not leave you in this house. Do not concern yourself with my safety, I can look after myself.’
William Cameron was an unpleasant brute of a man. He had a swollen, ruddy complexion, and a nose that spoke of too many nights spent heavily consuming liquor at leisure. He appeared much older than his twenty-six years as a result of it.
‘What is the meaning of this intrusion, sir?’ the fellow bellowed at me.
‘I am Lady Gaudain’s new guardian, nominated by Lord Leggatt on his death bed. I intend to take her to London. Please have her brought to me.’
‘That young woman is not leaving this house. I am master here. I do not acknowledge my father’s will, sir. My lawyers are contesting it. As far as I am concerned my cousin is staying here . . .’
‘I beg to differ, sir. I am not leaving this house without her.’
‘How dare you, sir.’
William Cameron moved towards me once more until he stood very close to my face. The smell of stale whisky invaded and assaulted my nostrils. No doubt it was liquor that infused his volatile temper. Despite his reputation, I was unafraid. I had fought and won against more threatening looking men than Lord Cameron when I’d frequented the gin shops of London.
‘But I do dare, sir. I have been informed that you are starving and beating my ward. Holding her prisoner so you can control her inheritance. I will not stand for it. Bring her to me at once, or I will search every room in this house until I find her.’
‘Try, sir, and I will knock you down where you stand.’
I smiled. Well, the man was rather amusing with his inflated ego and sense of personal power. ‘If you wish to fight, Lord Cameron, I would be more than gracious enough to indulge you. I box, sir, do you?’
Compared to my own tall, slim, but muscled stature, William Cameron was a stout man with a heavy swagger. He would have made a formidable opponent, but one I could have handled. I was a good amateur boxer, having won several trophies at school and university. I was ready for anything the bully was able to throw at me. I unfolded my hands as a precaution but remained in my stubborn stance, undeterred by his vulgar closeness.
‘Damn you and your impudence . . .’ Cameron blustered. He raised the back of his hand to strike it down upon my face. I seized my chance, executing a perfect blow to his jaw and then another to his solar plexus when he came back at me in a rage. He fell to the floor clutching his body, the wind knocked from him. I stepped over his prostrate form, quickly making my way out of the room, determined to search the house and waste no further time with William.
Paine followed closely at my heels like a faithful dog. I called to Juliet in my mind once more. But she was silent. I felt her distress like a sharp pain in my temple as I mounted the stairs. As the distance between us closed, our connection became stronger until I could view everything that Juliet saw in front of her. Someone was hurting her – a woman and a man, pulling her hair, dragging her from the small room in the attic where she had been confined. They were under the direction of an older woman whom I presumed to be my ward’s aunt. I could even feel Juliet’s pain coursing through me, spurring me on to her assistance. She was fighting back bravely, but her body was weak through lack of food and sleep. Her actions were in vain. She was close to fainting.
It seemed as though a lifetime passed before I reached the attic rooms on the third floor. I was horrified to find the reality of what Juliet had shown me in her mind. She had fallen to her knees with exhaustion from her struggles. A man I presumed to be Edward Cameron was dragging her along the floor by her long titian hair. The scene reminded me of the clergyman.
I felt anger rise and swell like a tidal wave inside me when I beheld Juliet’s beautiful, bruised face. I’d never felt the surging force of such anger before. I flew at the man, using my strength to pull him away from her. Succeeding, I slammed Edward against the wall, struggling with him as he tried to strike me. There was a distinct lack of help from Mr Paine. Edward took aim and managed to push his fist past my defences, making heavy contact with the side of my face. I staggered back, forced to lose my grip of him.
The two women had taken hold of Juliet. As I made my recovery to lunge at Edward once more, I heard Juliet shout loudly in my mind, ‘William is coming to help his brother. I am afraid for you. I will help all I can.’
I did not have time to rebuke her. What did she think she could do? I wanted to stop the women pulling her along the passageway, knowing from Juliet’s thoughts they intended to remove her from the house to some secret location. I could not permit it. My fear for her life was acute. If William got a hold of her . . .
My fight with Edward took us to the floor. By a quick twist of fate, he had placed his hand at my throat. He was determined in his strength to crush my windpipe, and I felt myself begin to choke. I heard Juliet cry out loud with a fierce anger. Suddenly the intense pressure on my larynx was lifted. I looked up at Edward confused. He was staring at his hand, poised in mid air just above me. It shook with the effort he made to move it, but he was unsuccessful. He stared at it fearfully a moment longer, before angrily turning his head to the women.
‘This is the witch’s doing,’ he snapped, his brown eyes burning with intense disgust at Juliet.
I was quick to take advantage of his distraction and jumped to my feet. Juliet stood between the two women who held her arms in a vice-like grip as they stared in horror at Edward. Juliet’s haunted eyes were fixed on his hand. She was somehow using her mental strength to hold it there. I could feel she was weak, and it was taking tremendous effort. I was astounded by the mental power she possessed.
William appeared on the landing. He stood aghast, a horse whip in his hand. Juliet’s eyes widened with fear. His presence prompted her into action. She flicked her eyes ever so slightly towards the wall, and I could hardly believe what I saw with my own. Edward flew against the wall, apparently pinned there by some invisible force.
The whole scene provoked William to raise his whip to strike her with it. I sprang towards him, catching his arm. Juliet began to struggle with the women as I pushed William backwards. I wondered if I had the same advantage of power as Juliet. For one, mad moment it seemed logical that I would. I had sensed we were kindred spirits. William was struggling ferociously, making it hard to hold him. I focused my eyes on him and felt a surge of energy erupt within my body. In my mind I simply instructed William to retreat and to drop the whip. He fell back hard against the wall, the whip falling from his hand. My wish appeared to be my command.
Violent abuse tripped from William’s mouth. I turned to free Juliet from the women, but they had already let go and were backing away, a picture of horrified fear worn on their faces. Without a moment of further hesitation, I caught Juliet’s hand and pulled her close to me. I felt intense relief the moment I made physical contact with her – as though a part of me had been missing since birth, and now I was whole. I did not understand, it was unlike any warmth or fleeting love I had felt for any other woman. The intensity was overwhelming.
Realising the urgency with which I must get Juliet out of the house and away to a place of safety, I began to lead her quickly down the stairs. The family were shouting at us, but I gave them none of my attention. As we descended, I felt Juliet lean against me for support. She was exhausted. I swept my arm around her waist and hurriedly continued down the steps.
She whispered urgently to me, ‘I can’t hold him anymore. My strength is weakening. I’m sorry, but Edward is free.’
I glanced back. Edward was pursuing us at speed. I hastened, dragging Juliet with me, hoping the carriage was still outside. But, at the bottom of the staircase, the housekeeper was rushing up towards us with two stable hands. One of them was armed with a pitchfork. We stopped dead. We were trapped.