I remembered how lost I had felt sometimes, out of my element, and how my cousin had always been there for me, leading me out of the labyrinth, keeping my feet on the path.

Now I looked round the garden at everyone—Fabien once again trapped by my mother beside the geraniums, and his adorable family—my family—still hunting for spiders, and Noah at play with Michelle, and Denise flirting madly with Humphrey, and Geoff and his wife talking politics now with Luc’s parents while Claudine and Alistair sat holding hands, and my father and Luc coming through from the lane, and it all seemed so wonderful I felt my eyes stinging hotly. I closed them. And opened them.

Jacqui asked, “Are you all right? Do you want a Sudoku?”

Shaking my head I said, “Jacqui?”

“Yes, darling?”

“I love you.”

I wanted to thank her for not giving up on me. Thank her for making me take the job Alistair offered; for keeping me on the straight path that had brought me here. Thank her for leading me out of my personal forest of thorns. But there were too many words that needed saying all lodged in a jumble somewhere in my throat, so I didn’t say anything.

And yet she heard me.

“I love you, too,” Jacqui said simply, and turned her attention to Luc, who was crossing the garden towards us, the sun on his hair. “Now, let’s see if this beautiful, romantic man of yours knows how to mix me a decent martini.”

Chapter 40

He stood like a cloud on the hill, that varies its form to the wind.

—Macpherson, “Fingal,” Book Five

Rome

May 15, 1732

It had been built as a tomb and it felt like one. Back in the time of the Caesars, this massive and stern tower had been the tomb of the emperor Hadrian, and his bones lay still beneath them as they climbed the broad shallow staircase of herringbone bricks that ascended the cavernous space.

Mary was glad of the company of Captain Hay, who had come to collect her this morning at her hotel, walking beside her the whole way and over the broad stone bridge guarded by pale sculpted angels who’d seemed to look down with as much melancholy as could be felt within the heavy walls of the Castel Sant’Angelo, this fortified and impenetrable place that was at once a mausoleum and a prison. She felt small and cowed in its echoing passages. They had passed small dismal rooms and dark cells behind barred doors and wooden ones, and heard the coughing and shuffling below in the dimness their sight could not penetrate.

Captain Hay said, “It is better than this further up, do not fear.”

She did not tell him she was not afraid. These past weeks while she’d waited at the hotel, she had found herself retreating to that place behind the shields she’d used so long and which had always served her well when she felt vulnerable.

At first, when Thomson had been sent to prison here and she had been taken back to Effie at their hotel in the piazza close beside the Pantheon, she had not realized how much things would change. She’d thought that Hugh would still be staying there to guard them, but he had not even come back with them in the coach, and on the next day men had come to clear his few things from the room upstairs, and all she could assume was that he now was lodging closer to the palace or within it, where his patron the Earl Marischal could call upon his services more readily. She’d hoped he might come pay a visit to them when he’d settled in his duties and could find the time to spare, but he had not. At least, not in a formal way. One night as she’d looked down upon the fountain in the square beneath her window, she had thought she’d glimpsed the faint red glow of a lit pipe from deep within the shadowed darkness of the great tall pillars standing at the porticoed front entrance of the Pantheon, but even as she’d tried to look more closely it had vanished.

She had seen him in the street a few days later—he’d been walking at the shoulder of an elegantly dressed man slightly older than himself, and although the other man was talking to him, Hugh had glanced her way instead. Their eyes had met. But when she would have nodded to acknowledge him he’d shaken his head slightly, and she’d yielded to the warning and passed on, though she had not been able to resist the urge to look behind, to find the other man had turned his head as well to look at her with interest.

“Was that the Earl Marischal?” she’d asked Effie that night.

“Aye. A man of great influence, of an old family that long has supported the king and has lost their estate back in Scotland because of it. My clan and Mr. MacPherson’s are bound to the earl’s noble family by ancestry, and there’s not one of my kin would not rise if he called us.”

Mary had only a small understanding of the complex obligations binding one man to another in the Highlands, but she understood enough to know that Hugh, by virtue of his duty to the earl and to the king, was now departed from her life as fully as her father and her brothers were. In weaker moments, lying in her bed at night, she’d wondered what might happen if she called to him as he’d advised her once to call to Frisque—and then she pushed the thought aside because it was a foolish one, and even had he wanted to, she knew he could not stay.

No more than she could stay that happy woman she had been aboard del Rio’s ship. If it were true, as Mistress Jamieson had said, that any man deserving of her love would see her as she truly was and need no more from her than that she should be nothing but herself, then Hugh was more deserving of her love than any other man could hope to be, for through some subtle alchemy his presence had allowed her to be who she truly was, and now, without him there, she could not manage it at all. She did not try to reason why, nor did she let herself admit she loved him—only told herself that having never been in love, she could not know for certain it was love that had consumed her thoughts and heart. Besides, since Hugh had moved beyond her sphere it made no sense to feel towards him anything but gratitude and ladylike affection, for to love him could but lead to greater heartache when she left.

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