A/N. #1 I have retweaked this, my first DS story submitted to fan fiction adding in a bit more details. For those of you who are reading, or in some cases re reading it please review. Thanks. P.S. All Chapters are now reworked.
A/N.#2 This being more of a novel than a story, I will be introducing the main characters at the beginning rather than Barnabas Collins. As soon the heroine gets to states, Barnabas will make his first appearance. Until then, hope you enjoy and review. Rated mature for heavy violence and explicit sexual encounters. Want to read all feedback positive and especially negative. Thanks Lisa :)
Kathleena gasped as she stood in awe transfixed by the enormous building rising like a goliath before her... Le Maison de Tell. The home she had known so intimately when she was une petite fille. "Mon Dieu, I'd nearly forgotten!" she whispered drawing her ermine cloak tightly about her slim form. Why was she so reluctant so... afraid to scale the steps and enter her sire's maison? Suddenly this imposing structure no longer felt like home. Not her home. She'd simply been away for far too long. The questions that had constantly perterbed Kathleena over the lengthy years instantly returned to torment her mind. Why had father dispatched her to England for instruction? Why hadn't he simply provided her a governess? The hardened Jacques Tell had not even allowed his daughter to visit during holiday. Nor did he choose to visit her. Just a dutiful impersonal post once a month for ten years. Why? Did she remind her sire so much of that fateful day? Of Pierre? Immediately thoughts turned to her handsome brother, still fresh... always fresh in her memories. "Non!" With a defiant toss of her chestnut head she brushed away a tear, stubbornly refusing to allow the images to resurface, the images that struggled tenaciously to draw her back into the past.
Perhaps it was folly to return. Wrong or otherwise, it was far too late to second guess her decision for here she stood on her sire's doorstep. Kathleena sighed. Nervous and feeling like an unwanted relation, the girl marshaled her courage and, hitching her skirts scaled the expansive marble steps. Closing her eyes, she silently prayed she was doing the right thing as she pulled the service cable. A welcoming sound resonated throughout the sprawling halls beyond. "C'est lui," (This is it.) she whispered. Slender hands shook in her warm muff as footsteps grew louder, coming closer. "S'il vous plaît," she begged. Kathleena watched as the massive mahogany doors opened soundlessly on well oiled hinges and a wizened old man peered out, gaping at her curiously.
"Bonjour Mademoiselle. May I help you?"
Instantly recognizing her father's butler with his shock of silver hair, Kathleena smiled. He'd changed not a bit in all the years but of course she had. Unable to suppress a bubbly giggle, the young woman couldn't help but tease. "Monsieur, you do not know me?"
With gaze narrowed suspiciously, the servant examined the odd miss more closely. "Pardon, but I…" Spotting familiar blue eyes, his expression quickly changed from confusion to surprised recognition. "Mademoiselle Kathleena?"
Laughing spiritedly, Kathleena realized she was feeling so much happier than she'd been but a few moments before. "Oui, Gibson. I have returned." As the servant stood aside in utter amazement, she crossed the entryway removing her delicate bonnet.
"Obviously, my arrival is…unexpected?" she frowned, noting her parent's conspicuous absence.
The man nodded as he took her things. "Master Tell said nothing."
How odd… Surely he'd received the letter for she'd written him several weeks before her departure. Suddenly a dark thought occurred to her. Did father simply choose to snub my post?
Gibson noted the expression of deep concern crossing her charming features. "Well, you needn't worry in any case, mademoiselle," he said, trying to reassure, "your sire shall truly be pleased to see you once again."
Kathleena quietly murmured to herself, "One can but hope…"
Leading his young mistress into the great room, the butler offered, "Shall I fetch you some rafraîchissements?" (refreshments)
She smiled. Despite the tender age she'd left the great estate, Kathleena instantly recalled the most delicious, the most delicate confections fashioned by Madame Tucker, one of the finest chocolatiers in all of Europe. "Please," she sighed gratefully. "Coffee and perhaps one of those delightfully fattening chocolate croissants."
With a curt nod Gibson turned to do her bidding, suddenly frozen by a single innocent question.
"Where is Father?"
The servant hesitated, uncertain how to respond. Had Master Tell notified his daughter of the situation? If not it wasn't his place. A fib quickly came to mind. With a clear of his throat, he said simply, "I believe Monsieur Tell is… is in the vineyards instructing a new overseer."
Oui, of course his time would be consumed with the land. That was one aspect of her sire's life Kathleena was certain would never change. "Merci, Gibson." She waved him away with a slice of her hand. Striding to a large ornate mirror, the young woman critiqued her reflection. Breathing a shuddering sigh, she began to pinch color into her pale cheeks. Yes, she thought. The years certainly had changed her. Would father approve? Would he even care? Jacques Tell was never a man of much sentiment. At least sentiment directed toward her. Why... she'd never understood. Perhaps he blamed her for Pierre's death. God knows she blamed herself. Every single day. Perhaps it was because his wife had died while birthing her. A decade had passed since she'd left this severe castle of a home and still, the answer alluded her.
Pushing such headache-inducing thoughts from her mind, Kathleena paused to admire the stunning looking glass she was peering into, brushing long fingers along its exquisite gilded frame. Glancing about for the first time, she smiled. The entire room had been beautifully redesigned. Shivering, she could still recall how dark and dismal it had been long ago while she and her brother lived here, played here. At that time, the stiffly fitted château was not considered with young children in mind.
Gone were the thick window coverings that had muted any source of natural light. Now, lovely peach draperies enhanced the massive glass panes overlooking the eastern lawn. Draperies that were presently pulled aside to allow the midday sun to spill across the floors. Hard mahogany floors that had given her many a skinned knee when Pierre'd chased her down throughout the rooms were now buffered with beautiful Parisian rugs. Comfortable beige loungers and wing chairs replaced the austere furnishings that had once filled this salon.
Her brow furrowed in disbelief. Had father's tastes changed so much? Spying an attractive harpsichord standing regally before the hearth, Kathleena ambled to it, flipping through the sheets of music. Suddenly the large doors flung open, crashing loudly against the walls. Startled, the book fell from her grasp as a young boy dashed in shadowed by an even younger girl.
"Charles, you clod! Give me my Emily!"
Holding the doll high overhead, he laughed triumphantly, "Vous devez d'abord m'attraper!" (You must catch me first!) Suddenly he froze, gawking at the stranger standing beside his mother's beloved instrument.
"Bonjour," the teen greeted warmly as she bent to retrieve the pages, watching as the sweet little blonde sidled tightly against her much taller brother. Looking at the pair, Kathleena was instantly reminded of an earlier time in her life, a happier time. Of she and Pierre, side by side.
Quickly handing his sister her toy, the boy smiled shyly. "Bonjour dame. Are... are you here to see our maman or our new papa perhaps?"
Blinking, Kathleena was taken aback at his unexpected declaration. Their new papa? No, surely she couldn't have heard correctly. Certainly papa would have written her if... or would he? Perhaps these children belonged to one of the servants. Staring at the pair, she quickly turned her attention toward Gibson stepping into the room with the food tray, frozen as he overheard the youngster's innocent remark. The expression on his face spoke volumes. So, it was true. Taking a calming breath, she sank to her knees before them. "Well, I must say, this is a rather unexpected but absolutely wonderful surprise. It seems that I am your new sister." Kathleena moaned as she found her face trapped tightly between small curious hands. Choking back a sob of deep anguish she held herself completely still watching as warm brown eyes stared raptly, examining every detail. Finally, the little girl nodded as if reaching some conclusion.
"You've papa's eyes."
"Indeed I have," she smiled, exhaling slowly. Mon Dieu! Such pain... Such sorrow... Quickly she brushed such thoughts aside. "Je suis Kathleena."
The boy added timidly, "Je suis Charles. This is my sister, Charlotte."
"Would you care to join me for a treat?" The servant watched as his mistress bounded youthfully to her feet sweeping away an errant tear. As they obediently followed, Kathleena turned at their unchildlike silence. "You needn't be frightened of me, I've only returned home this very day having studied in England for many years. Have you ever been?" Charles shook his head. She prattled on hopeful to engage them. "Your…parents, they must take you very soon. Perhaps on holiday. It's so beautiful," she sighed wistfully, "particularly the Thames River. Would you enjoy that?" Their unrelenting quiet was discomforting. Well, so much for conversation... Choosing to serve the children herself, Kathleena waved Gibson away. Breaking her croissant, she handed them each a half.
"Merci," they said politely.
Smiling over the rim of her coffee cup, she watched as they happily munched on their goodie.
A man's deep voice, warm and rich resonated from far down the hall and Kathleena stood at the sound. Father, she thrilled, her heart skipping a beat. Father!
Suddenly her handsome sire and a tall, elegant woman appeared in the doorway. Immediately Jacques Tell's pale gaze flew to his daughter. "Mon Dieu! Can it be? Kathleena!" Nearly crying in amazement and shock, he rushed to her, abruptly drawing short... remembering. "Ma petite fille, you've returned!"
She'd expected his sorrow or his anger upon her return never such a fervent show of admiration. Pleasantly surprised, Kathleena couldn't help but blush as he beheld her beauty. Although certain he wouldn't, she longed for her father to gather her into his arms, to enfold her after their many years apart. No, she knew it was much too much to expect. Jacques Tell had always been so careful never to touch his daughter. Even when she was a child.
"You are truly a vision of loveliness, ma Cherie!"
Her heart near to bursting with happiness, Kathleena found herself suddenly speechless and could only nod in thanks. Glancing over his shoulder, she added with a smile, "I understand congratulations are in order, monsieur."
Standing in the doorway, a stunning older Frenchwoman wore a look of sincere bewilderment. Her handsome husband had spoken of his only daughter with such fondness if not without an air of melancholy. Why had he not embraced her after such a long separation? There seemed to be no disagreement between them and yet it appeared as though his child accepted his aloofness to be the norm. As Jacques held out his hand, she came to stand beside him. "Daughter, this is my wife, Madeline Dubois Tell. Maddie, Kathleena. I see that you've met Charlotte and Charles."
Noting her new mother's anxiety, Kathleena unthinkingly took hold of her hands and kissed her cheeks, putting the woman at ease. The teenager however trembled with knowledge, with misery, a sob lodging in her throat. Suddenly uncomfortable with his daughter's peculiar behavior, Jacques offered, "Perhaps you would care to bathe before dinner? Rest perhaps?" The utter relief in eyes as pale as his own caused him to quickly turn away; a sharp pain twisting his gut. "Gibson shall show you to your boudoir…Gibson!" he bellowed.
Kathleena cringed. This was the father she truly knew, the man she had remembered, expected... Angry. Emotionless. Why on earth had he changed so suddenly? What had she done? The servant appeared at the threshold. "Show my daughter to her room, if you please." Jacques said tightly. "It matters not which." The man nodded solemnly and Madeline jerked at the viciousness in her husband's voice. The group watched as the master of the home retreated down the hall and slammed the door to his study; strong emotions of grief and guilt overpowering him.
Never having witnessed his employer behave so callously, Gibson found himself at a loss and quietly addressed his mistress. "Mademoiselle Kathleena, follow me, s'il vous plaît."
As the two climbed the winding staircase, the young woman paused turning back to her new stepmother. "Madeline, please allow me to convey my deepest sympathy to you and your family."
"Whatever for?" she asked, lifting a silver brow.
"Vis-à-vis, the tragic loss of your husband and son," she said sadly.
Nodding slightly, the woman acknowledged her kind words of condolence. Following the pair with her gaze, a suddenly stunned Madeline was left to wonder how her new daughter had come learn so quickly of deaths of her cherished family members.
Sinking into the copper tub, Kathleena moaned with pleasure as the steaming bathwater engulfed her. A sudden frown creased the corners of her mouth as she gazed into the flames crackling loudly in the hearth. Her blue eyes narrowed with concern and more than a bit of curiosity. "Father, what is troubling you? Why won't you confide in me?" Ever since she'd first discovered her rare ability, Jacques Tell had continuously been a mystery to his daughter. Refusing to allow himself to touch or be touched by her, he was infuriatingly impossible to read. She felt utterly hopeless. Despite his unexpected words of admiration, her sire was obviously sorry that she'd returned. He did not want her here. Why? WHY?!
Closing her eyes she leaned back against the chilly rim, a tear sliding down her cheek. "No," she groaned, flicking it away. She would not cry. She was not one of those simpering ninnies she'd been forced to endure at school. Bathing quickly, Kathleena slid into a smart blue muslin gown that matched her eyes. She would go to him! Demand to know what he was keeping from her! Determined, she headed to his study praying her father would still be there.
He sat in a huge leather chair placed before the fire, staring hopelessly into the flames. Swirling the brandy around and around in the snifter, Jacques scowled as he drained the amber liquid, glad to feel the burn sliding down his throat. Although he knew it was near impossible, he truly hoped to get roaring drunk. It would be so much easier than dealing with the truth... than facing Kathleena. With a frown, his thoughts turned to his beloved child as he grabbed the decanter to pour himself another. Why did she return? In his mind's eye, he envisioned long chestnut curls, full soft lips, a small body with a miniscule waist. Yes, she'd indeed become a fetching beauty. Other than her eyes which were as pale as his own, she looked very much like Marie.
Jacques growled with fierce hatred as he recalled his long dead wife. If she'd not been taken in childbirth, he vowed he would've killed the vile she-devil himself. Standing, the Frenchman paced about the room, growing angrier by the second. "Damn you, you bitch!" he roared, viciously smashing the liqueur bottle against the wall. A sharp gasp of surprise drew his attention to the doorway where Kathleena stood, her arm raised to protect herself from flying shards. She watched him, her delicate brows furrowed with concern. Dear God, he thought shaking his head as he stared at his creation. How? How can I ever tell her?
As she stepped into the room, Kathleena noticed the deep frown cross her sire's handsome face. "Father, please," she begged, "what is it?" Attempting to place her hand on his arm, she winced as he evaded her touch. "Please!"
Jacques could hear... could actually feel her misery; her longing, her need to be held, to be loved by him. Shaking his head in despair, he turned his back on her and stood at the window overlooking the gardens. He found no beauty in this glorious sunlit afternoon. "Father, I believe I finally understand. You are frightened of me or rather, of my ability. I'd grown up thinking you did not love me enough to show any physical affection toward me. There were moments when I was jealous of Pierre and his close relationship with you. But I now know that that was wrong of me. In truth, you are afraid that were I to touch you, I will discover the secrets you are keeping from me." Striding across the room, she came to rest behind him. "Father," she moaned wretchedly, her voice hardly above a whisper, "Please do not hate me. I did not choose to be this way."
He turned then. The expression on his face was one that completely frightened his daughter. He was such a large man, a strong and proud man. He seemed to age before her. His eyes looked tired. Eyes now brimming with unshed tears. "Kathleena," he choked, a lump clogging his throat, "Despite my disgraceful actions, I do love you; I have always loved you, my dear heart. Never doubt that, not even for an instant..."
"…But, be that as it may, you wish that I leave," she said quietly, forming the words that hung unsaid between them.
Although his face twisted with incredible sadness, Jacques nodded. "Oui, I'm sorry… but truly, you should not be here. I'd received your letter but thought had I not answered, you would have chosen not to return."
Expecting as much, still Kathleena nearly sobbed aloud at his blunt statement. "I will not pretend to understand. This is your home and I've no choice but to obey, Monsieur." Staring at his daughter, Jacques' heart constricted painfully at the utter sadness in her voice. "I only ask that you tell me why I have been unable to touch you all these years. Why you felt the need to distance yourself from me. Why did you send me away?" With a sniff, she implored, "Please papa... I must know."
The burden he carried within too great to endure any longer, Jacques collapsed into his chair. Lowering his face into his large hands, strong shoulders shook with grief. "Ma fille, ma belle fille... (My girl, my beautiful girl...) I tried... but I failed."
Slowly, hesitantly, Kathleena encircled her father in her arms, closing her eyes as vivid images swirled about her mind, nearly suffocating her. A sleeping newborn. A dead body covered with a sheet. A beautiful blonde woman with icy, piercing eyes. Kathleena instantly realized the infant in the vision was she; the blonde, a stunningly beautiful but malevolent witch who had given her the rare ability she now possessed. But... why? Suddenly, the vision changed. A man, impossibly handsome now stood beside the woman with blue eyes as cold and as penetrating as hers. Instinctively Kathleena knew that he was the woman's son. She shook her head, having the oddest feeling of deja vu. She'd met him somewhere before. But how? Where? Frightened, the young woman began to tremble as the couple glared at her brutally, viciously... especially the man. Narrow obsidian eyes were directed towards her and her alone, eyes filled with dark rage and hatred.
"No!" Gasping in horror, Kathleena pulled away from her father. The man in the vision was... was her betrothed?! How can that be? Although the images faded from her mind, there were so many unanswered questions. "This is absolument impossible!" (utterly impossible)
Jacques choked back a sob. "My darling, forgive me!" he blurted imploringly. "I've tried but I cannot free you from this ungodly situation."
A tremor coursed through her at his ominous words. Dear Lord, what monstrosity was she about to face? Kathleena looked down into the dwindling fire. "You will tell me. All of it." At his silence she turned to him, an arched brow raised. Looking at his daughter, Jacques realized it was time. This was her life; she had the right. He had to tell her... everything. Motioning for her to sit, the Frenchman stood and began to pace. But what the hell was he to say? How was he to explain...this? This tale, this situation was so preposterous. He took a deep steadying breath and gazed at her. Resolute, Kathleena sat on the divan watching her sire's handsome face. She was determined to know all of it, no matter how dreadful.
He strode to the bar and poured her a drink. "You may need this." When she refused, he downed it himself; seeking courage perhaps? Cringing as if in pain, Jacques sighed. "It is long and complex, ma chérie. You will find it impossible to believe, as did I. However every word I am going to tell you is the God's honest truth. It all began before you were born. Unbeknownst to me, while we were anticipating your arrival, Marie was secretly participating in the black arts." At the stunned look on his daughter's face, he quickly continued. "It was during these practices that your mother had met a… a..."
At her father's inability to utter the word, Kathleena looked down at her hands. "A witch," she supplied quietly. At his nod, she asked, needing affirmation. "This witch… she was the one who had cursed me. This is why I am able to know a person intimately, isn't it?" Sighing at her father's abject misery, she realized the telling of his long hidden secret was difficult enough without her interruptions. Kathleena willed herself to remain silent. His next words, however, brought her bounding to her feet in an instant.
"This woman has a son. Your mother swore that were we to have a daughter, our children would marry on your twenty-first birthday."
"No!" Kathleena gasped in outrage. For the first time, despite her earlier vision to the contrary, she refused to believe it as fact. Surely she was mistaken. "I cannot even begin to imagine this! Witches do not exist! They are figments in fairy tales, not actual physical beings!" And yet... how else could she explain the ability she possessed. No one she'd ever encountered touted such a skill. The girl glared at him then, pale eyes narrowing. "You allowed this?" she hissed, shaking with the very thought.
Jacques gasped, horrified at even the hint of her accusation. "Mon Dieu, Kathleena! You must believe me," he begged. "I had absolutely no idea." Walking to his desk, her sire removed a portrait of Pierre from the wall to uncover his personal safe. As he began to dial the combination, he explained, "Before she died birthing you, Marie gave me a document..." Opening the door, Jacques withdrew a thick packet. "...it was a promise, signed in blood. Her's and Angelique's." At his daughter's raised brows, he added, "the witch, Angelique Bouchard."
Angelique Bouchard. The woman from her vision. "…Blonde and beautiful with icy blue eyes…" Kathleena remarked softly.
Jacques stared at her. "Oui." Handing her the evidence of his tale he watched as she paced the room, carefully reading the damn document, dissecting every word.
Placing a quivering hand to her temple in disbelief, Kathleena spun about. "Father," she said desperately, "I am nearly eighteen years old... soon to be an adult in the eyes of the law. Certainly I have a say in this!" At the sad shake of his head, she added nearly beside herself, "But I do not wish to marry anyone, particularly a - what is he, a warlock?" The young woman shuddered at the terrifying thought.
"Duncan is not a warlock."
Kathleena gaped at her sire. Duncan? Why did that name seem familiar to her? "Duncan, Father?"
Jacques clenched his teeth. "Oui," he ground out, forcing the accursed name from his throat. "Duncan Philip Fasette."
As she slowly repeated the name, a look of stark shock distorted her delicate features. "Father, Pierre had a close friend named Duncan, did he not?" Unwanted memories unexpectedly crashed over her. Tears sliding down her face she closed her eyes, her mind forcing her back a decade. As if she were watching some ghastly theatre performance, Kathleena saw herself, a young girl of seven running alongside the edge of an expansive lake. Shaking in abject horror, she watched on helplessly as the young man from her vision stood in a small dinghy, spitefully ignoring her brother's fervent pleas for help, her beloved Pierre surfacing alive for the final time, desperately trying to clutch the side of the craft. Despite her tender years, Kathleena felt a burst of guilt pressing down upon her, guilt that would forever stay with her. Screaming across the water, terror making her shouts wobbly, the child's voice pleaded, "Help him! Please! Just reach down and take his hand. You can still save him!" Looking upon Kathleena, the young man glared at her with a smile so diabolical, it forcefully released her from the vivid memories.
"Father," she gasped. "Are you actually trying to tell me that I will be forced to marry the brutal bastard who had slayed my brother? No!" she screamed, shaking her head with fierce conviction. "I will not do it! Never…Mon Dieu! Never! I do not care what that damnable paper says!" Jacques closed his eyes at her heartache. Suddenly, she recalled his earlier words. "I don't understand. You said, quite clearly in fact that Angelique's son is not a warlock. How can that be if his mother is a witch?"
Thick brows furrowed. "His father, Lucien Fasette was human. He was also my very best friend."
Trembling, Kathleena looked up into pale eyes. "Was?"
He nodded. "Yes. He is dead. Rumor has it that Duncan assassinated his own sire in an attempt to please his mother." At his daughter's gasp, Jacques explained. "Duncan is supernaturally powerless… But he is infinitely evil, make no mistake about that, ma chérie. He is forever trying to prove himself to Angelique who views him as a vast disappointment. The boy is cruel, merciless. That is why you must leave," Jacques said, his eyes frantic with worry. "I fear for your safety Kathleena… for your very life."
Violently, she shook the paper in her hand. "Father, such an unholy pledge cannot possibly be enforced, can it? Surely having had no knowledge of the plot concocted between Angelique and my mother, you could argue–"
"I have tried my darling. Numerous attempts. Please," he begged, "you must believe me. Despite the capital and the power I have at my disposal, nothing I've done has pardoned you."
Grasping at any possible avenues of escape, Kathleena cried, "But my mother is dead!"
Jacques strode to his daughter gathering her into his strong arms and struggling to comfort her. No longer did he fear to hold his child; the truth was finally known. "Angelique refuses to yield. I've offered twice the amount of your dowry's worth and still she will not surrender the hold she has over you. My barristers, the magistrate, the constables; they have informed me nothing can be done to end this engagement and even they are at a loss as to why! Her evil influence is governing the entire situation."
Slowly Kathleena pulled away, trying to make sense of all she'd heard and coming up woefully short. "Then there is no justice in this world. Duncan murdered Pierre, possibly his own sire and yet nothing is done to stop him. Please," she whispered, "tell me why. Tell me so I can understand."
Jacques shook his head, watching the flames dying in the fireplace, his voice barely audible. "I cannot answer your question, chérie for I ask myself the same each and every day." He turned to her then, gazing deeply into eyes so like his own; filled with such pain, such anguish. "Please, you must understand, this is the reason you'd studied in England. When I'd sent you away, I'd just suffered the death of my son; I could not lose you too. I'd sent you away to protect you."
Kathleena sniffed, brushing away a tear. "I'd always believed you hadn't loved me enough to want me to remain with you."
Jacques closed his eyes against the lifetime of hurt he had caused his beloved child. Gently, he kissed her forehead; something he had not allowed himself to do since she was an infant, newly born. He couldn't bear the thought of her leaving again so soon, but told himself it was for the best. Her best. "Never doubt my love for you, dear girl. You are correct; I could never touch you, would never hold you. I was so afraid you'd discover the horrible tale I'd kept locked inside for so long." He looked away. "I have truly been a coward and as such I have lost so much time with you." Hesitantly Jacques released her, holding his beautiful daughter at arm's length. "I will speak to Madeline. She has a relative in America. A niece, I believe. Perhaps there is a chance you could stay with her. The sooner this matter is handled, the better."
America!? So far away?! Sadly she nodded with painful acceptance.
Kathleena stopped her sire as he turned to leave. "Father, your wife... the children… Please, you...you are happy, aren't you?"
"I will not be truly happy until you are safely away from here," he lied, "but yes, I am delighted with my new family."
Despite the utter misery she felt, she smiled up at him. "I'm glad. Madeline seems like a very fine, compassionate woman. And Charles and Charlotte are little sweet things. I am thrilled for your good fortune," she said, her voice cracking. "Truly, I am." Before leaving, Jacques took one last look at his daughter. Her slim back now to him, she gazed from the window; her shapely shoulders quivering as she sobbed silently. She found no beauty in this glorious sunlit afternoon.
Sitting on the terrace just beyond her bedroom, Kathleena rested her head against the wall of the chateau, somberly watching as the final traces of sunset made way for the encroaching darkness. Her thoughts in utter chaos, a gentle knock sounded at her door drawing her temporarily from her reveries. "Come."
"May I speak to you for a moment, my dear?"
The furrowed brow on her new mother's face told Kathleena that Madeline was now well aware of her life changing situation. She frowned, refusing to experience anyone's show of pity. With a curt nod an errant tear slid down her cheek. "Please," the young woman said quietly as she brushed it away and gestured to a chair placed before the fire.
Certain she'd somehow offended the girl without meaning to, Madeline cleared her throat. Willing her tone to remain unemotional lest she upset her new daughter any further, she quickly stated the reason for her visit. "Your father has told me of the trouble you are facing. I wish to offer my assistance. Jacques, he has mentioned my niece in America?" At Kathleena's nod, she continued. "Her name is Tierra Benjamin. She, along with her fiancé, holds a large tract of land in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With your permission, I will contact the couple. Perhaps you could…visit," she said, for lack of a better word.
Seating herself on a comfortable divan place before the fire, Kathleena stared into the flames. Yes, she sighed. Yes, as difficult as it was to admit, she must leave. "Oui, please do so. Merci." Madeline gazed helplessly at the young woman. Returning her stare Kathleena sighed again, sadly aware of what was to come. "There is something else you wish to discuss." It was not a question but a statement.
As if a dam burst, words spilled forth, unable to be quelled. "My dear, when we'd met, you'd expressed your sympathies to my family. Rather surprised and curious, I'd questioned your father. Although he assured me he had never mentioned the situation, Jacques suggested that I speak with you. That… you could somehow... explain." As the elegant lady took hold of her hands, Kathleena could feel the utter desperation coursing through Madeline's body. "Please," she begged her voice intense with pain and yearning, "Please tell me. How … how you know of the carriage accident?"
Closing her eyes, Kathleena groaned inwardly. She loathed having to "perform" as though she were some avant-garde parlor game. Still, this…this stranger, under no obligation to do so, was attempting to help her. She was owed something. "Madeline," Kathleena began, staring deeply into warm brown eyes, "I have an uncommon ability. I am able to know a person through touch. Thoughts, feelings, experiences... they instantly become my own. When I held your hands in greeting, when your daughter held my face, I could feel your intolerable grief, the tragic loss." Placing her fingers over Madeline's, Kathleena tried to ease her gloom, despite the overwhelming despair she herself tackled. "When you'd heard your husband and son had perished in the tragedy, it took several months to finally admit to yourself that they were truly gone forever."
Unable to speak, the elegant lady nodded in anguish, tears tumbling freely down her cheek. "My loving husband, Maurice," she finally whispered, "My…" A sob, ugly and raw with pain escaped her, "...my beautiful boy, Jean. Tell me... please, I must know, did they... did they suffer greatly when the end came?"
Able to feel her stepmother's agony, the teenager closed her eyes. This woman's heart was broken. Kathleena wished she had the ability to answer her question; to be able to offer some small bit of closure. However, without physically touching the bodies herself, she was unable to offer the news that was so desperately wanting to be heard, needed to be known. Able to read of only Madeline's thoughts, her memories Kathleena took a deep breath and gazed into frantic pleading eyes. "The end… It came so quickly. There was ...there was no time for pain… for either of them." The lie tripped convincingly from her lips.
A smile of such profound relief immediately brightened Madeline's face. It was as if the proverbial "weight of the world" was taken from her shoulders, her body finally free of some of the strain she held within. She knew the answer she prayed for for so long! Their deaths were instant, painless; her loved ones had not suffered. "Merci, Kathleena! Merci! I shall be forever in your debt." A single tear slid down Kathleena's cheek as she felt a gentle kiss pressed against her hair. Oh, how easy it was to invent. If only her own problems could vanish so quickly. Yes, let's pretend...
Watching her step mother practically skip toward the door, she rose to her feet. "Wait, please!" Noting something peculiar in the young woman's voice, Madeline slowly turned; her hand upon the knob. Warm brown eyes were now murky with a sudden spurt of fear. Kathleena shook her head; there was no good reason to hurt her with the truth. She sighed saying simply, "Charles and Charlotte… love them well, for they continue to pine for their father and brother so."
Bestowing a smile of absolute gratitude, the newly instilled matriarch stepped out into the hall. "Of that, you can be certain. Oh! I feel so much better having spoken to you. You truly have an extraordinary gift. Bonne nuit, my dear."
Opening the armoire, Kathleena drew out a beautiful cream nightgown shaking her head as she began to disrobe.
Of course… she thought dryly… a gift.