Betrayal

Each evening, the nightingale sang.

Tonight, it was a different, mournful sound that passed through the garden; muffled, quiet, as demure as the young woman who made it. She had waited until hearing his footsteps.

"Katerina?"

She looked up at him, her skirts damp from the rain. Trembling hands wiped away her tears. "I am sorry, my lord, I did not mean to disturb you."

Elijah knelt beside her, hesitating before placing a hand on her shoulder. He was always so careful not to take advantage. "Is this about Klaus?"

Dark curls moved in the wind. She nodded. At the banquet, he had paid her little attention. She wanted to know why. Elijah knew more than he shared with her; whenever he lied to her, he evaded her gaze. A multitude of stories existed behind his demure poise.

To Klaus, Katerina was a sacrifice, a necessary arrangement. Klaus had no more intention of marriage than in sparing her life. The truth was hidden from her.

Elijah hated that. For months, he'd been searching out a means of saving her life. His fingers lingered against the fabric of her sleeve, aware of the warmth beneath. "My brother…" he hesitated, "I fear he is not as attentive to you as he should be."

Maybe it was easier for them all this way, if Klaus gave her no false hopes. Yet, she was promised to him.

"But why?" she asked him, earnest in this at least. "Do I not please him? Is my beauty not enough? Am I not worthy to be a lord's wife?"

She knew that she was not, for she was tainted, had given birth, a secret that she hoped would remain unknown in England. Neither Klaus nor Elijah was aware of this, and she hoped her virginal appeal would soften him.

It did.

In a rare moment of sincerity, he said, "You are everything he could ever hope for, or any man."

Katerina searched his gaze and found a quiet sort of misery there. Her eyes dropped, long lashes making her appear demure, even flattered at this compliment. Elijah's hand fell—and she caught it, pressing it to her heart. This aroused most men and had an effect on him, as she had hoped. "You are so kind to me," she said.

Silence surrounded them, interrupted only by the dripping of rain. Her face turned upward, her lips slightly parted in an unspoken but subtle invitation. She knew he wanted her. He'd avoided touching her for weeks, other than the occasional kiss on the back of her hand. His gaze was never far from her in a crowded room, and it was always he who found her in moments alone, who was never far from the sound of her voice. She had but to weep, and he would appear, conscious of his place but incapable of allowing her to endure pain.

Elijah leaned nearer, considering the cost of tasting those sweet red lips—and drew back. "You should go inside, Katerina, or you will catch cold."

He was ever the gentleman; but it wasn't a gentleman she wanted. She wanted his secrets, the truth, and barring that, to know the ferocity of his lovemaking. Such restraint, such calm, such deliberation, such repression could have but one end. She did not love him, but then, she did not love Trevor, either. She baited him constantly, speaking of love and romantic attachments, intending to draw his awareness to his brother's lack of interest.

Elijah slid his hand out from under hers, still tingling at the faintest touch of bare skin beneath her gown.

"Perhaps if I were deathly ill, Klaus would pay more attention to me." Katerina strode out from under the arch and stood in the rain. It streamed down her face and flattened her hair. She was there an instant before Elijah yanked her to safety. Beads of water slid down her neck. He was aware of every drop, of the slightest rustle of fabric, of the steady beat of her heart.

"Then go inside for my sake, for I do not wish you to take ill."

A door opened somewhere behind them, and drew her into the house.