Letitia was exhausted. She had spent the afternoon with Mr. Parker, the gentleman she had persuaded to help her sort through her husband's muddled finances and create some order from the chaos. The situation had initially looked dire but there now seemed to be some light at the end of the tunnel. When she had first returned to the Howard plantation, she had expected to find nothing but a charred wreck of a house but had been surprised to find the majority of the house, at least the central rooms still intact. Much of it had been looted, but most of the furniture was still there and some of the servants returned once they heard she was alive and well. There was no money of course, Robert had gambled all that away long ago, but her jewelry was still locked away in the bank vault in Bridgetown and the sugarcane crops had not withered and died yet. She had spent the last two months purchasing field slaves, helping to clean and restore the house and she had hardly had a moment to stop and think of anything, let alone herself or any of the strange events that had occurred.
Only at night would she sometimes wake alone and sweating under her mosquito net and be assailed by sudden vivid memories, visions of a pair of indigo blue eyes in a hard sun browned face, of searingly hot kisses that melted her bones, of clever knowing hands. But those were sensations that belonged to another world and another woman, feelings that had never really been hers to own. They had been stolen from her through deception. Now she was her own master and that kind of passion was far too dangerous to ever feel again.
Letitia tidied away the last of the papers and placing them back in the desk drawer, poured herself a fortifying glass of Madeira. She picked up Henry Lucas's letter and read it again. It was such a relief that he was still alive since he was the only person left who could offer her any real support. Yes, she had Dr. Ferris, but Grace was busy fighting her own battles and who knew where she was now. Madam Bella had also been helpful since she had returned to Barbados but there was only so much company a Lady could keep with the owner of a brothel, however high class that establishment may be. She was looking forward to Henry Lucas's return, and the implied interest in his letter. It seemed he wished to reawaken their special relationship and she found herself feeling quite open to the idea. He was, after all, a very well bred and attractive man.
Then she caught a look at herself in the mirror and stopped short. It was easy to forget how much she had changed, but if Henry Lucas saw her now he would hardly recognise her. Her skin was tanned from months of exposure to the sun, her hair hung in curls around her shoulders and her dress was her oldest and most simple. The regal Lady Howard was long gone.
She took a sip of the Madeira as she stared at herself and lost in thought did not hear the slight creak of the study door behind her.
"Hello Letitia," said a horribly familiar voice behind her.
Her blood froze. It was as if her whole body had gone into shock. Her heart hammered furiously in her chest, her throat constricted, her head swam. She closed her eyes and prayed that she was having some kind of hallucination brought on by exhaustion.
But the voice spoke again. "Have you missed me?"
She forced herself to open her eyes and turn round and there he was, standing in her dead husband's study, as confident and nonchalant as ever. He looked more respectable than he ever had before, dressed in a conventional coat, waistcoat and a necktie, a hat covering his shorn head. But his blue eyes were the same, glinting at her from under the brim of his hat.
Her shock was suddenly replaced with a wave of red-hot fury as he grinned at her.
"What are you doing in my house?" she said, trying to keep her composure.
"I thought I would pay you a visit."
"And you decided to walk through the front door this time?"
"Well as you can see, I am a respectable merchant now," he said, gesturing to his costume.
She gave a cynical snort and he took a step nearer causing her to flinch. The way his eyes were grazing over her did not look respectable and her body felt uncomfortably hot.
"Pardon me for not giving you a warm welcome," she said, "but correct me if I am wrong, are you not the scoundrel who kidnapped me?"
"I am the scoundrel who rescued you, Madam," he said, taking one more step nearer, his body tensing.
She gave a bitter laugh. "Rescued me? Is that what you call it?"
He was up close to her now, so close she had to look up to him as he said, "You have no idea what your husband was embroiled in, do you?"
"What do you know about my husband?" she gasped.
"Plenty, and if you are a little nicer to me I might tell you all about it," he said softly, pressing her against the wall, the heat of his big body turning her raging bones to liquid.
Letitia could feel a familiar throbbing of need as he plastered his overwhelming hardness against her and she gritted her teeth against the unwelcome sensation. She gripped the collar of his jacket and staring up at him, spat out with all the venom she could muster, "I prayed that I would never see you again. I hate you. I will always hate you."