"What did you do?" he asked softly.

"I made it look like a hunting accident," she whispered. “I dragged his body out to the woods. Everybody knew he was a hunter. No one suspected it was anything else, or if they did, they never said anything."

“You dragged him?'' he asked in disbelief. “Was your father a small man? I mean, you're quite petite, and—"

"He was about your height, although a bit thinner. I don't know where I got the strength," she said, shaking her head. “Born of pure terror, I suppose. I didn't want the children to know what he'd done." She looked up, the expression in her eyes suddenly unsure. "They still don't know."

He squeezed her hand.

"I've tried not to speak ill of him."

"And you've been shouldering this burden for five years," he said softly. "Secrets are heavy, Elizabeth. They're hard to carry alone."

Her shoulders rose and fell in a weary shrug. "Maybe I did the wrong thing. But I panicked. I didn't know what else to do."

"It sounds as if you did exactly what needed to be done."

"He was buried in consecrated ground," she said in a flat voice. "According to the church—according to everyone but me—it wasn't a suicide. Everyone kept offering condolences, calling it such a tragedy, and it was all 1 could do not to scream out the truth."

She twisted her head to face him. Her eyes were wet and glistening, the exact color of violets. "I hated that he was made to sound a hero. I was the one to hide his suicide, and yet I wanted to tell everyone that he was a coward, that he had left me to pick up his pieces. I wanted to shake them and shake them and shake them and make them stop saying what a good father he was. Because he wasn't." Her voice grew low and fierce. "He wasn't a good father. We were nuisances. He only wanted Mama. He never wanted us."

"I'm sorry," James whispered, taking her hand.

"It's not your fault."

He smiled, trying to coax one from her in return. "I know, but I'm still sorry."

Her lips quivered—almost a smile, but not quite. "Isn't it ironic? You'd think that love is a good thing, wouldn't you?"

"Love is a good thing, Elizabeth." And he meant it. He meant it more than he ever could have dreamed he would.

She shook her head. “My parents loved too much. There simply wasn't enough left over for the rest of us. And when Mama was gone—well, we just couldn't take her place."

"That is not your fault," James said, his eyes searching hers with mesmerizing intensity. "There's no limit on love. If your father's heart wasn't big enough for his whole family, that means he was flawed, not you. If he'd been any sort of a man, he would have realized that his children were miraculous extensions of his love for your mother. And he would have had the strength to go on without her."

Elizabeth digested his words, letting them sink slowly into her heart. She knew he was right, knew that her father's weaknesses were his weaknesses, not hers. But it was so damned hard to accept it. She looked up at James, who was staring at her with the kindest, warmest eyes she'd ever seen. "Your parents must have loved each other very much," she said softly.

James drew back in surprise. "My parents ..." he said slowly. "Theirs was not a love match."

"Oh," she said softly. "But maybe that's for the best. After all, my parents—"

"What your father did," James interrupted, "was wrong and weak and cowardly. What my father did ..."

Elizabeth saw the pain in his eyes and squeezed his hands.

"What my father did," he whispered savagely, "should earn him a place in hell."

Elizabeth felt her mouth go dry. "What do you mean?"

There was a long silence, and when James finally spoke, his voice was very strange. "I was six when my mother died."

She held silent.

"They told me she fell down the stairs. Broke her neck. Such a tragedy, they all said."

"Oh, no." The words slipped from Elizabeth's lips.

James turned his head abruptly to face her. "She always tried to tell me she was clumsy, but I'd seen her dance. She used to hum as she waltzed partnerless through the music room. She was the most beautiful, graceful woman I've ever seen. Sometimes she'd pick me up and waltz with me resting on her hip."

Elizabeth tried to comfort him with a smile. "I used to do that with Lucas."

James shook his head. "She wasn't clumsy. She never walked into a sconce or knocked over a candle. He hurt her, Elizabeth. He hurt her every damned day."

She swallowed, her lower lip catching between her teeth. Suddenly his uncontrollable rage at Fellport made a touch more sense. The anger was more than two decades old. It had been simmering far too long.

"Did he—did he hurt you?" she whispered.

He gave his head a little shake. "Never. I was the heir. He used to remind her of that all the time. She was worthless now that she'd given him me. She may have been his wife, but I was his blood."

A shiver rushed down Elizabeth's spine, and she knew he was quoting words he'd heard far too many times.

"And he used me," James continued. His eyes had grown flat, and his large, strong hands were trembling. "He used me to further his rages against her. He never agreed with her methods of parenting. If he saw her hugging me or comforting me when I cried, he flew into a fury. She was coddling me, he would yell. She would turn me into a weakling."

"Oh, James." Elizabeth reached out and stroked his hair. She couldn't help herself. She'd never known anyone so in need of human comfort.

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