Consuelo roused her early the next morning, and Catherine had no appetite for breakfast. She was ill again, and felt weak and tired. But she forced herself to get up and dress, again in her traveling clothes, and went to join them. It was heartbreaking to see Francis' look of concern and know that it would turn to one of disgust when he found out about her lack of virtue.
As she expected, her breakfast came up when she went back to her room to see that her things were packed. Consuelo gave her something she said would soothe her stomach, some kind of mint tea, and she found it did help, but not enough for her to want to eat.
The carriage was packed and the team harnessed when she and Consuelo went outside to leave. Francis was standing by the door, waiting to help them up. Catherine could not meet his eyes, and she wondered how she would endure the day of avoiding them. She decided she would pretend to be sleepy, though it was not so much a pretense. She felt overly tired, and she thought it was because she had not slept well, waking frequently to remember that it was not all a terrible dream; she was pregnant, Francis would reject her if he found out.
She did look at him as he got in, and she thought he was very stiff. Consuelo said she had put some oil on his wounds that morning, but he was still so bruised his back was a blotchy mass of purple, red and black. Most of his burns were like Catherine's now—a thin taut scab that was remarkably painless, but which needed the lubrication Consuelo provided. Only the one deep one was still serious, the place where Nicholas Medina had held the hot iron against him without moving it. Catherine could still hear his cry if she thought about it, and she could remember so clearly his face twisted into a terrible grimace of agony. Just the thought made her want to hold him, to be the one to care for him.
That was not to be, she reminded herself, her heart still going out to him. The ride today would not be easy for him, and she saw the first evidence of it when the carriage began to move. Francis was sitting forward and made a grab for the hand brace on the door. His face went tight, and his jaw clenched, though he looked out the window as if he felt nothing.
The carriage was devoid of conversation, and Catherine knew it was her fault. She was not behaving normally, not as she had been before finding out she was pregnant. But since that happened just after the events in Castle Medina, she thought they must believe it had something to do with that.
Francis did not press her about her health, nor ask her what was wrong. Perhaps he wanted to wait until they could be alone. Or perhaps he was so busy dealing with his own physical misery, he could not spare the effort for talk.
Several times Don Santoña tried to engage Francis in conversation, starting off with horses, then stories about hunting. Catherine thought Francis was trying to participate, but he had little to offer in return and the talk died out each time. It was just cold and tense, and Catherine closed her eyes, leaning back against the soft cushions Francis had been so kind to have installed.
They stopped in Santo Tomás for a brief respite from riding. Afterward, they would not be stopping until San Sebastian, unless one of the women required it.
Catherine stood beside the carriage for a moment, then went back to see her horses, which had been tethered on long leads behind it. Seeing them made her think of Francis the evening before when he'd kissed her. She did not think it was possible to love a man more than she loved him. And she did not think anything was worse than seeing the man you loved hurt. What Nicholas had done to him—oh, his suffering had been so tremendous! Would he have been so brave in putting himself between her and Nicholas if he knew she was carrying another man's child?
The answer to that was yes. Because he was gallant and honorable. Was he typical of Englishmen? Perhaps, but she didn't think the men in England would be so different from men in Spain, not when it came to the variety of characters they possessed. He was just a fine example of a man, no matter where he was born and raised.
After a moment giving her horses each a pat, and one for the gift mare from her uncle, Catherine returned to the carriage. She had felt the eyes of the soldiers on her, and it made her uncomfortable. They were coarser men than those whose company she was used to, Spanish nobility mostly, suitors who had come to court her, and men visiting the Santoña estate. There was a time in the past she would not have even noticed them. Like servants in the stables, they were simply doing their jobs, and were invisible unless needed. But not any more. Men of any station were no longer invisible. In fact, they were an untapped threat, a potential for something terrible. Only those few she trusted—most notably Francis, Maximilian Diego and her uncle—did not make her feel intimidated. Of course other men would never see the effect they had on her. She had been well-trained in maintaining an air of authority. But it did not erase the fact that she was aware of them, and their potential for violence.
Consuelo returned to the carriage with a small basket in her hands. There was something hot to eat in it, judging from the aroma of baked bread, and Catherine felt her mouth water. The morning sickness had passed. She was hungry now.
"Doña, would you like one of these little pies?" the maid asked her. "Are you well enough?"
Catherine nodded. "I would love one, thank you." She reached in and pulled out a small pastry no bigger than her fist. It smelled slightly sweet, but meaty as well. One bite and the steaming contents nearly burned her mouth, but it was delicious. "You are so thoughtful, Consuelo. What will I do without you?"
"I will miss you as well." She held the basket up. "Mister Barnard and I went to the baker's for these. I was on my way when he suggested we get something to offer you. In case you were feeling better."
"You are both very kind." The pastry, some sweetened lamb and fruit combination baked in a flaky, self-contained pie, had cooled a little in the carriage and she took another bite. Leave it to Francis to do something so nice, so thoughtful.
"I tell you again, Doña, he loves you enough. You could tell him."
Catherine shook her head. "Perhaps he does. But how could I ruin his family name? It means a great deal to him. How could I hurt him so?"
Consuelo bowed her head. "I do not know enough to answer that. I only know he wants to help you. He asked me what was wrong. He thinks he has offended you."
Closing her eyes, Catherine sighed. "I will try to make him think otherwise." She looked out the window as a shadow fell across it, and Francis was standing there, holding the door handle in preparation to open it and climb in. But he hadn't. He was listening to someone. A fleeting cloud of vapor came from his nostrils as he breathed and it was quickly snatched away by the wind. She had felt his breath on her face, and now it was going to waste out there, unappreciated. Just that sign of his breathing, of his being alive and real, made her pray again for something to happen that would end this hell in which she had found herself. And if it means I die, so be it.
She looked quickly away as he pulled the door open and climbed in. He sat across from her, and she looked up at him. "Thank you for this," she said, holding up the remains of her pastry. "My stomach has settled."
He smiled, nodding. "I was hoping you would feel better. Consuelo had the idea first. I do not wish to take credit from her."
The servant blushed and offered the basket to Francis. "Would you like one, sir?"
"No. Thank you. Perhaps later."
"You should have one while they're hot," Catherine told him. "I shall probably have another. It has warmed me from the inside." Just as you have done.
Francis nodded. "A good suggestion." He reached into the basket and withdrew a pastry. Catherine watched him take a bite and finished hers at the same time.
"No garlic?" he said, smiling.
Catherine smiled back. "Not in something flavored so sweetly."
Don Santoña appeared beside the carriage then, and climbed inside, sending in a freshet of cold air when the door was opened.
"Uncle, have one of these," Catherine suggested. "They're very good, and they'll warm you."
"Thank you, Catherine." He signaled the driver with a slap to the carriage door, and it started forward with a jerk. "But I will have to pass for the moment. I am not yet hungry again."
She nodded and looked at Consuelo who held the basket out to her. Somehow the mood inside their vehicle had changed. She knew Francis was still struggling with his discomfort, but he did not let his conversation with her uncle die from lack of interest. Had it been the food? It certainly made her feel better, both emotionally and physically, though she suspected it had more to do with the manner in which it had come to her, the gesture that had been made, than any other reason.
The silences when they fell were not as uncomfortable. There was the anticipation of the journey's end, of some stability for a week or two in San Sebastian, of not having to ride any more in the carriage. They could be warm all day if they chose to stay inside.
Only poor Consuelo faced a long journey back. Don Santoña was sending his soldiers back to Barcelona with the carriage. There would be some snow melt along the foothills of the mountains, so she would be taking the same route Francis had to arrive in Barcelona. But she would remain with them for two days after their arrival to give them all and the horses a rest.
Sunset came early due to cloudy conditions, and the last of their journey was made in darkness. The driver had lit the lanterns, but they did little to light the road. But the horses' eyes were better equipped to see in the dark, and he let them go at a reasonable trot. Catherine found her weariness did not ruin her enjoyment of this last leg of the trip. Francis had stretched his long legs out before him, and she could feel his ankle pressed against hers, whether deliberate or not, she didn't know. She could not see his face in the darkness, but she imagined that he was enjoying the contact as much as she. Foolish, she thought, so foolish to let this continue. But her imagination in the dark had other ideas. It was a shame he was not sitting next to her. She could have tucked herself under his arm and leaned her head against his shoulder. He could have held her that way and they would be warm and comfortable.
Catherine's uncle's voice interrupted her fantasy. He had the carriage stopped and got out quickly to speak to the driver. On this moonless night, it seemed to Catherine that they were lost in the darkness. But in a short while after they were moving again, the carriage turned off the main road and the tired team pulled up in front of a large manor house. Not a castle, really, but large enough to host a party three times their size, Catherine looked at it in the dark, seeing only rows of windows by the lights inside. She let Francis escort her inside to a well-lit grand foyer behind her uncle who greeted their host with an embrace.
"Ah, Fernando! I thought you would never arrive," said Don Christopher Palamos. He was a large, robust man, as tall as her uncle but considerably wider. His hair was dark but his eyes a startling green. Catherine had always liked him.
"Christopher, my old friend, you are a welcome sight." Fernando Santoña clapped him on the back. "We have been in Terrelavega for several days. The storm, and other things. I will tell you later."
Catherine looked up at her uncle's long-time friend and fellow noble as she removed her gloves. She had certainly stayed at his estate before, usually when traveling to Castle Medina from Barcelona or on the way back. "Don Palamos," she said, extending her hand.
"Catherine, you are lovelier than ever!" the big man said, taking and kissing her hand.
"And this young gentleman is her betrothed," said Don Santoña. "He is from England. Francis Barnard, meet Christopher Palamos, lord of the lands to the south and west of San Sebastian."
Francis shook his hand. "A pleasure, sir," he said in his typically dry voice.
"You are getting married, bonita?" Don Palamos asked Catherine. "I am delighted to hear it, but I hope this does not mean you will be leaving Spain!"
"Yes, I will be going to England." If only! she thought.
"Well, that is news indeed. Come, all of you, let me offer you a drink and supper. You must be weary."
"Yes, we are," Don Santoña said. "We have much to discuss, much news to share."
Catherine looked at Francis, then at Consuelo who was just coming in after directing the house servants to gather their things from the carriage.
Francis offered her his arm with a smile, and she took it, wondering where all this was going to lead. Her very real problem had not gone away, and she was so tired, she just wanted to lie down. She had an ache low in her abdomen, and she wondered if this was normal. She hoped it was not, then said a prayer for forgiveness for hoping such a thing.
"You are very pale, Catherine," Francis said as they walked through the house. "I hope you will rest after we eat."
"Yes, that is what I want." She glanced up at him. "You look tired, too. It was a hard day, wasn't it?"
He shrugged slightly. "It has passed now. I am looking forward to a soft bed and a night without revelers outside my door."
Catherine smiled, exhaling a soft laugh. "Yes, it was a noisy place in Terrelavega."
"It is not at Chipham Manor. It is quiet except for the singing of the birds or the neighing of horses. And sometimes the squeals of laughter from Anne."
"You miss it."
"Yes. But it will be incomplete in my eyes now without you. You will make it a warm household with your Spanish ways and beautiful smile."
"You will have to tell me what you think my 'Spanish ways' are," she said.
"Perhaps they are just womanly ways."
"I see." Could I love him more? she thought.
"I mean it in only the most complimentary way," he said, putting a hand on hers where she held his arm.
Catherine smiled up at him. "Such a gentleman you are."
He smiled in return. "I love you, Catherine."
"And I love you. With all that I am."
"I feel the same," he said.
Catherine sighed, but didn't respond because they'd reached their destination—a large dining room, lit by numerous candles in black iron sconces, on the table, the walls and free-standing candelabra. It was bright and warm for such a dark, cold night, and the smell of roasted deer made her mouth water. It had been hours since they had all eaten, and that only a meal of the cold mutton and hard bread they had packed with them from the inn.
She found herself seated across from her uncle and between Francis and Don Palamos. His wife, Illora, and three children had joined them and servants waited on the table efficiently.
But even with the warm, delicious food, Catherine did not find she was able to eat much. She was delighted when their host informed them that hot baths were being prepared for each of them, should they wish to warm the last of the chill from the road. Such hospitality was typical of the Palamos family, and Catherine eagerly accepted.
Consuelo came to help her, and Catherine let her have the still-warm bath water after she had gotten out. The maid was grateful for a chance to bathe also, even if the water had been used once. It was far better to bathe after Catherine than it would have been after several of the other servants in the house, which was the offer she'd been made before coming up to wait on Catherine.
Catherine's spacious room was warmed by a well-maintained fire, and the bed linens were clean. She fell into the bed gratefully, tired beyond measure. A week to rest, she thought, a week more to deceive Francis. She was too weary to dwell on it, however, and fell fast asleep.
Francis found the hospitality in the Palamos household the finest he'd had in Spain. The food, the bath, the warm room were like coming home. The day's struggle with his bruises and pains had taken a toll on him, and he was never so relieved to go to bed. He was half asleep when Consuelo came in to tend his back. He simply lay still while she pulled the bedcovers down from his back and gently rubbed her magic oil, which had been warmed, into his skin. He didn't know if he had thanked her or not.
The next morning he was still very stiff and sore, but after a few minutes, when he had stretched himself gingerly and shaved his beard, he realized his condition was improving. He dared to look at his back in the mirror, and the sight shocked him. His skin was purple and red, streaked with long dark scabs. And there were those miraculously healed burns, some four blackened places not painful to the touch, and one harder, thicker place he could not have easily reached if he tried. It was startling to think his own skin could look so bad, and Francis hastily pulled on his shirt over it. He thought between the scar left by the pendulum blade and the ones he would doubtless have from these injuries, he would, without a shirt, look like a battlefield.
During the night, a maid had taken all of his clothes and replaced them with suitable Spanish alternatives while his were cleaned. The collar of the blue doublet was not to his liking—the ruff was too large. But the hose was of fine quality, the breeches fit well, and the shirt was of soft, thick cotton. His boots and shoes had been polished, and he put the shoes on to go down to breakfast.
He was thinking of Catherine when he left his room, hoping she was feeling better now. He met Consuelo coming from the room Catherine had been given.
"Good morning, Consuelo," he said. "How is Catherine?"
The girl's eyes only rose briefly to meet his. "She is tired, Mister Barnard. I am bringing breakfast to her this morning."
Francis sighed. "Please tell her I would like to see her when she is up to it." Poor Catherine, he thought. She had not been ready for this journey.
"Yes, sir, I will."
He nodded and turned away from her, brooding. How can I help her? he wondered. Are women such fragile creatures? Oh, but she had been two months in that terrible mental asylum. She was not fragile to have survived that. But she was weakened, despite a fortnight of rest before the trip began. And of course being subjected to what her brother had done—that had to have hurt her a great deal.
"Ah, Mister Barnard," said Don Palamos, rising to his feet as Francis came into the dining room. "I trust you found my home to your liking?" With him was Fernando Santoña, his wife and children, though none of them spoke to Francis.
"Yes, Don Palamos, you have been most gracious." Francis favored him with a polite smile. "I could not ask for more pleasing accommodations or service, thank you."
"Then join us, please, for breakfast. Fernando tells me you are quite the horseman."
Francis seated himself where a servant pulled out a chair for him. "It is something I take pleasure in, yes." He took a taste of the eggs placed before him. Flavored with garlic, of course. Francis had gotten used to it by now, but it was not his favorite spice.
"That is good to hear. I have a fine stable of horses, and you are welcome to ride any of them while you are here. Fernando and I will be taking a country ride today, if you wish to join us."
Francis thought about it for only a moment. He could do it physically, at some cost to himself, but he had promised Catherine that he would ride with her when they were in San Sebastian. He found he wanted it to be something special between them, and decided he would wait for her.
"You are very kind to offer, sir, but I am still road-weary. Perhaps in a few days."
"I told Christopher your injuries might still need more time to heal," Santoña said.
Francis was uncomfortable talking of it. "Perhaps you are right."
"Terrible thing about Nicholas Medina," said their host in a grave voice. "I knew him, of course. He was a kind, but melancholy man. I would not have suspected him of madness, but living in that castle—it unhinged his mind, I am sure." He brightened. "But I'm delighted to know Catherine is at last going to wed. You would not believe how many suitors she's had, Mister Barnard. She turned them all down, and Fernando did not have the heart to force any of them upon her. She is, perhaps, a little beyond the age many young women marry, but she will make you a fine wife. You know that she does stunning embroidery, do you not?"
Francis only nodded and smiled. He had seen a few examples of her work before they left Barcelona. And he knew she was older than he by a few years. But why had she turned down possible marriages? Because she did not love them? She must have felt the press of time, it was surprising she had not taken the best one.
Perhaps it is destiny, he thought. She was waiting to meet me, as I was her.
"And she is quite a horsewoman as well. I noticed that you brought her two with you. Very good. If she feels up to it before you leave, you will have to take her for a ride. I'm sure she will miss Spain."
"Yes, I am sure she will. I am concerned more about her health right now. The journey has been difficult for her."
"Of course it has. But she will have ample time to recover here. Nothing but the best for my little Catherine."
Do you know what has happened to her? Francis wanted to ask him. Do you know that she was placed into a hellish mental asylum? "I am glad you care about her. She is such a kind and generous young lady."
"And beautiful, too." Don Palamos grinned.
Francis smiled at that. "Yes, and willful. I think she has a very strong spirit."
"That she does. And I can see in your eyes that you truly love her. Good. I would not want to see her wed a man who did not. Especially since she is leaving her homeland."
"She will be adored by my family."
"I am sure she will. So tell me of your family, Mister Barnard."
Francis complied, describing Chipham Manor and its beautiful grounds, his family and responsibilities, just has he once had to Don Santoña. Palamos was easier, less formal, and Francis told him more than he needed to. But all of it was true, all of it made him homesick and anxious to already be back there. He thought it was that desire that made him say so much. Previously he had only spoken so to Catherine.
Bundled against the cold, Francis accepted a tour of the grounds that afternoon, including the stable. He was most anxious to see Catherine, and he found the tour interminable, even if he thought the grounds were the lovely for winter in Spain. The town of San Sebastian could be seen to the northeast at a somewhat lower elevation. When he'd been there before, Francis had not known of this estate, would have had no reason to be here, but he found it a far better place to be than the town below. His flight from Spain the last time had him not even spending one night in San Sebastian. Maximilian had procured a carriage for him as soon as they'd arrived, despite Catherine's urging to stay over. Francis had just wanted to get home, he had wanted over the mountain passes as soon as possible, but had ended up spending the night in Irún because the driver refused to continue at night. His wound had been painful, and the journey back through France had seemed endless with the constant and increasing discomfort. For several days it would seem to be healing, only to remain tender and then display infection again. By the time he had reached England, he had done everything but pour hot water or salt onto it. He thought now that it was a shame Consuelo had not been there. He might have ended with only a small scar then.
But thinking about the past was not going to help Catherine, and he was glad to return to the house. He found her in a sitting room, having some tea. She looked wan and tired still, and he wondered if there was something more serious wrong with her than just fatigue.
Illora Palamos sat with her, and one of her daughters, the oldest one who was almost of marrying age. Francis joined them after an invitation and sat in the chair beside Catherine, which had been vacated by the girl upon his arrival.
"You are tired, still?" he asked Catherine.
"Yes. I do not know why, but I find myself still ready for sleep." She looked at her hostess. "Perhaps it is because I feel at home for the first time in days."
"Catherine, you are home," the older woman said.
Francis took Catherine's hand which was cold. He pressed it between his. "If you are not up to journeying to England, we will wait as long as necessary for you to be."
He watched her eyes look down for a moment. "Uncle says the ship will be a few weeks. I'm sure I will feel better in a few days."
Francis saw her lips tighten for a split second and the first thought he had was that she was in some kind of pain. Perhaps her burn had not healed as well as his had.
He brought her hand to his lips. "I will pray for that, Catherine." He did not feel comfortable enough to spout any declarations of love or endearments. "And our host has offered his horses to me to ride. I should like to go for that ride with you."
Her eyes met his then, and suddenly there was no one else in the room. "I should like that very much. I will strive to get better just for a ride with you."
Francis smiled, tenderness welling up inside him. "I want you to get better for much more than a ride through the country."
Her eyes widened slightly and she blushed, looking down at his hands holding hers. "I feel better now."
Francis was eased to think she might really feel better. Her hand was now warmer and she had better color. "Will you be at supper tonight?"
"Yes." She looked at the older woman. "Doña Illora has ordered the cooks to make some of my favorite things. You will enjoy them, Francis." Her face relaxed into a soft smile. "Some do not even have garlic in them."
Francis cast a glance at Illora Palamos and nodded. "You are kind to my Catherine. Perhaps your cook could provide recipes for the cook at Chipham Manor? I would not want Catherine to grow homesick for lack of good Spanish cuisine."
"Francis!" Catherine said, sounding surprised. "That's so thoughtful of you. But you know, I have already brought some with me. I thought your cook would not, perhaps, mind trying to cook a few of them."
"She will have more, Mister Barnard," said Doña Illora. "My daughter Dolores will transcribe the recipes for you."
Francis looked at the girl and smiled. She was a pretty thing, fair and dark-haired with delicate features. And she blushed brightly when her eyes met his. Her face split in a charming grin, and it didn't take much to see that she had developed a crush on him in the short time he'd been there.
"That would be very kind of you," he said to her.
"Oh, it will be a wonderful opportunity, Mister Barnard," said the girl. "I will even transcribe them in English. I have learned it very well."
"Have you now?" Francis said in English. "Then you will make it easier on myself and my cook."
"It will be my pleasure," she said using English as well.
"And here I thought you had become Spanish, Francis," Catherine said. "When you came in, I thought you were a Spanish lord. Hearing you speak English is startling."
Francis laughed. "I look a Spanish lord now?" He reverted to their native tongue.
"Your clothing. It is . . . less conservative than your own things."
He nodded. "Our hosts have been kind enough to clean mine and loan me this." He looked at Doña Illora. "You are welcome to the same kind of hospitality at Chipham Manor should you ever come to England." He looked then at the daughter, Dolores. "And you as well."
"Thank you, Mister Barnard," said the girl, her cheeks flushed pink.
Catherine stood up and Francis quickly did as well. "I think I will go to my room and prepare for supper."
"May I escort you?" Francis said, keeping the eagerness from his voice, but holding out his arm.
"Of course. Please excuse me, Doña."
Francis bowed slightly to the older woman and her daughter and went out with Catherine on his arm. "Our hosts are most gracious."
"They are wonderful people," she agreed.
"Catherine, are you ill?" he asked a moment later as they approached the stairs.
"No, I do not think so. I am just so tired from the days in the carriage."
"I fear you will find sea travel even more difficult." He put his hand on hers. "I want you to be strong enough to withstand it if you do become seasick as I was."
"I'm sure I will be. I have weeks to regain my strength."
He thought there was a note of sadness in her voice, but he wasn't sure if that was what he'd heard. "Please remember you may tell me anything, Catherine. If you are not well, I want to know so that I can take care of you."
She stopped and looked up at him at the top of the staircase. "Oh, Francis, you are so kind. I do love you. But I am merely weary. Perhaps I had not fully regained my strength from being in the . . . in that awful place."
"Yes, that is certainly possible. I just want you to know I will do whatever I can to help." She did not hold his gaze for very long.
"I would do the same for you."
"I know you would." He lifted her hand from his arm and kissed it. "I am here for you. No other reason exists."
She looked down then, clearly upset by something. "I should dress for dinner."
"Catherine, please, do not turn away from me. I love you."
He could see her chest rise and fall rapidly. "I. . . . I am just . . . I am just tired. I have lost Nicholas twice, and I cannot. . . ."
"Oh, Catherine, I am sorry." He put his arm around her shoulders, wanting to hold her. "I am a thoughtless brute. I will take you to your room now."
Of course she was upset, he thought as she went, unprotesting beside him. She had loved Nicholas very deeply. To see him go mad twice, to see what had become of him must have been agony for her. And she had begun to deal with that loss again. How humiliating it must be to know that the brother you loved and trusted went mad and hurt the one you loved as a mate. To see this firsthand, to experience it. After the appalling mental asylum, Catherine was in no condition to deal well with this grief.
"You are not a thoughtless brute, Francis," she said when they'd reached her door. "It is just difficult for me."
"Of course. I understand." He held her hands to his chest. "I never meant to hurt you. Forgive me, Catherine."
"I would if there were anything to forgive." She gently withdrew her hands. "I will see you at supper."
"Yes. And I will be ever supportive of you." Her smile seemed sad to him when she went inside and shut her door. Francis decided he would dress for dinner also if his clothes had come back. And when he next saw Catherine, he would not badger her, he would offer her only his love and companionship. I will be your pillar Catherine. I will not fail you again.