When Angels Fall

Fifteen years after a botched murder attempt by his twin brother, Niles, Nicholas St. Aubyn has returned to England. Nothing will stop him from burying his infant son in the St. Aubyn cemetery. Not even the fact that he could be hung for piracy. Nicholas vows to retrieve his birthright for his daughter and ruin Niles’ reputation as an esteemed theologian. He takes the lead in a play and meets Isobel Montigue, a talented actress with dark secrets of her own. Soon, they must test their loyalty to each other and their limits of trust and forgiveness.

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Cornwall, 1651

“Come, Nicholas. Hurry up, will you? ‘Tis growing late and Mother will be furious!”
Nicholas St. Aubyn stumbled over a loose cobblestone and dropped to one knee, barely preventing himself from sprawling over the slick street. Niles, his twin, threw him a look of disgust and stalked down the narrow road. Lisette, his brother’s fiancée, shot him a sympathetic glance before she picked up her skirts and sprinted after Niles.
Scrambling to his feet, Nicholas sped after them. The cold wind that slapped his face did nothing to alleviate his aching head. His tongue felt thick and sour, as if he’d just licked the bottom of a hogshead of pilchards. Oddsfish! I haven’t had that much ale, have I? Three pints? Nay—four at the most? Or five? Not five pints, surely?
Niles pushed through the crowded street, his black cloak whirling around his knees, his sword swinging at his side.
Nicholas shook his head, and the stone buildings wavered before him. I did not have five. . .I could not. . .
Around him, the town of Camborne was closing for the night. Merchants pulled in their wares, drawing their shutters tight against the coming chill.
Despite the winter squall that had left west Cornwall drenched in an unrelenting downpour, Niles had suggested a visit to the local market to find a diversion. Nicholas fairly leapt at the chance. After an exciting year in Paris, it was unbearably dull to return home to Crowan, where his family was in mourning. ‘Twas not as if he did not grieve his father’s death. He did, but now his carefree days were over. Unlike Niles, who could return to the Sorbonne to finish his schooling, Nicholas would be shackled to St. Aubyn.
Hell. He was St. Aubyn.
Another wave of dizziness gripped him. In spite of the crowded street, Nicholas stopped and closed his eyes. Blocking out the cacophony around him, he tried to focus on standing.
“Nicholas, are you ill?” Lisette paused next to him and put a diminutive hand on his forearm.
Startled at the words, he turned to meet her ice-blue gaze.
“Nay, Lisette, he’s cup-shot. Pissing drunk!” Niles glanced back, his dark gaze raking him with contempt. “Can’t wait to see you explain this to Mother.”
“Bugger off.” As Nicholas took a step and a wave of nausea hit him. “I’ve carried you. . .few times. Besides. . .takes. . .more than. . .few pints to get me pissed. Stop.”
He shuffled to the edge of the road and sagged against the rough stone of Trelawney’s Haberdashery and tried to clear his head. This would be bloody amusing if he didn’t feel so ill. In the past year, he’d lost count of how many taverns, clubs, and inns he and Niles frequented. In all those times they’d left half-pissed, and he’d never felt this queasy and out of control. So far, he didn’t like the feeling.
“Perhaps you need air, non?” Lisette asked. Her delicate face filled with concern. “Niles, Cheri, un moment, s’il te plaît. Come see to your brother.”
Whirling, Niles stalked back to where Nicholas leaned against the building. “You do know they punish public displays of inebriation in England, don’t you?” He raised a brow and slung one of Nicholas’s arms around one of his broad shoulders. Lisette took his other arm, and together they stumbled past carts heaped with coal.
The narrow streets teemed with sailors, some pulling wagons of hemp, tallow, and wool. Others carried baskets of fish or struggled with big black barrels of grain as they pushed past Camborne’s pedestrians. Nicholas inhaled a bracing breath. The pungent smell of fresh fish mingling with wet wool made his stomach churn.
“They wouldn’t dare. I’m—I’m—well. . .” He couldn’t think of what he was. At the moment he had to concentrate very hard on putting one foot in front of the other. He had to get home. Get to bed. Sleep.
“Aye, my lord,” Niles fairly spat the words. “Fine example you’re setting too, weaving around the street like a common tradesman. Father would be disappointed.”
“Where. . .we going?” Nicholas stopped. The world spun out of control. Around him, buildings collided into one big blur. He tried to focus on his twin. Niles’s short hair stuck up in black spikes in the wind. With his sharp features, black billowing cloak, and his hair standing on end, his brother looked rather like a skinny crow.
“Down to the beach. You can get air there.”
“Not going to. . .bleedin’ beach. I want to go home!” He tried to twist free but could not seem to stand without help.
“Don’t be a fool, Nick. You can’t ride like this.” Niles pulled him onward. “‘Twill be best if you rest a bit.”
Stumbling over rough cobblestones then down a rocky path, they half-carried, half-dragged Nicholas past the dock and over to a hidden cove. The surf blew up a wet spray from the sea. The biting wind tore through him. He tried to tell them he’d forgotten his cloak and sword at the tavern but could not form the words. He was tired. More tired than he’d ever been in his life.
They let him go. He fell to his knees, then facedown onto the shore. A briny smell filled his nostrils, and rough sand scraped his cheek. The roar of the tide rang in his ears, drowning out reality. He closed his eyes. Mayhap Niles was right. If he could sleep even for a few minutes, he’d have the strength to compose himself to make it home. The brisk air ruffled his hair and permeated his waistcoat, chilling him to the bone.
Nicholas rolled on his back and opened his eyes. Above him, seagulls floated in the air like puppets on strings. Twilight enveloped them in a blue-violet haze, their sharp cries punctured the air, rising above muted voices around them and the roar of the sea.
“I don’t know, Lisette! I don’t know how long it takes!” Niles’s furious shout broke through Nicholas’s stupor. Niles stood over him with Lisette hovering in the background. Etched with trepidation, their faces were a stark alabaster against the coming night.
Nicholas tried to move, but ‘twas as if invisible ropes bound his wrists to the shore. His stomach bunched. Bloody hell! How can I be this addled from a few pints of ale? What if the ale was bad? Bollocks! His heart raced. People died from rank spirits, didn’t they?
Yet Niles had swallowed as many pints, and he was not sick. Nicholas sucked in a deep breath.
His brother removed his sword, squatted next to him, then leaned back on his haunches. His dark gaze roamed over Nicholas’ face. Niles reached over to put two icy fingers on the side of his neck. Shocked out of lethargy, Nicholas rolled over. Shaking with effort, he struggled to his elbows and stared hard at his twin’s pale face. Did Niles believe he was dying?
“I want—go home. Niles—take—me—home.” He slurred the words. Fear tightened his chest, robbing his breath. He dropped his head in his arms, trying to calm himself. He was now the Earl of St. Aubyn. It wouldn’t do to show he was afraid. He tried to sit up. The world careened around him.
“Non, you must rest.” Lisette crept beside him to fondle his hair. Nicholas squinted up at her. Her face had taken a ghostly pallor in the gloaming. She bit her lip, her blue eyes filling with careful resolve. His unease turned to full-blown panic.
Ever since their return home, Niles had been reserved and withdrawn, almost to the point of rudeness. He’d thought ‘twas grief for their father that made him ill-tempered. Suspicion burned Nicholas’s gut along with the ale, pushing hot bile into his throat. Could it be. . .?
“Niles.” Nicholas shook off her hand. With Herculean effort, he sprang and tackled his twin. His disorientation threw them off balance. Nicholas fell flat against him. Under his weight, Niles wheezed. Above them, Lisette screamed.
Nicholas pushed his arm against his brother’s throat, shaking with the force of it. “What. . .are. . .you playing at?”
Niles gasped. “Playing at? I want to be sure you haven’t killed yourself with drink.” His defiant gaze found Nicholas’s. “Leave off, you sodding idiot. Belike I should take you home. What’s it to me if you fall off your horse and split your brains apart?”
“Aye, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Nicholas gave him a vicious shake. A sour taste filled his mouth. Roughly, he pushed against Niles, rolled to his side, and vomited into the sand.
Without warning, a blazing pain stung his side. Stunned, Nicholas scrambled to his feet. Lisette swayed in front of him, Niles’s sword in her hands, her face a ghostly white.
His side throbbed. He put his hand to his ribs, feeling the sticky warmth of blood on his fingers.
“I thought,” Lisette whispered, her eyes wide with horror. “I thought you were going to kill Niles.”
“Lisette! Why would I—?” Disbelief spiralled through him. He stepped forward to grab her wrist. Dizzy, he tripped over the rapier and fell against her, knocking them both to the ground.
“Niles! Mon Dieu, he is killing me!” Lisette gave him a vicious kick to the groin before she rolled away.
Nicholas tried to stand, and another jolt of agony tore through his midsection. Shocked, he glanced down to see the blade of Niles’s rapier buried within his stomach.
He jerked his head up and stared at his twin.
Filled with horror, Niles’s gaze met his, his face bleached white as bone. “God’s wounds! Oh, bloody hell. Nicholas!” Niles pulled at the weapon. With a sob, he tossed it into the sea.
White lights danced before Nicholas’s eyes. He fell to his knees, then onto the sand. He opened his mouth and choked. The wavering outline of black sea and mist swirled around him.
“Oh, God! I’ve killed him!” Niles’s anguished voice rose over the waves. “What have I done? ‘Twas not supposed to happen like this. I—I have to get help. I have to. . .”
A shower of sand hit Nicholas’s face. His brother’s footsteps rang in his ears.
“But this is what we planned, cheri. You said—you said—” Lisette whispered.
Sand crunched in his ears. Nicholas caught the hem of her cloak in his hand. She hovered over him for what seemed like an eternity before she bent down, her cold gaze meeting his. Nicholas tried to speak, but the words came out a hiss. Without a word, Lisette slipped his father’s signet ring from his finger and ran after Niles.

Chapter 1

March 1666

He moved through the trees like a ghost. Silently, he crept up to the ornate wrought-iron fence that surrounded Crowan and stopped a hairsbreadth away. After fourteen years of travelling the world, Nicholas St. Aubyn had come home to a place he’d never thought to see again. Moonlight glinted off the mullioned windows, splintering into white shards over the well-kept courtyard.
He stared at the high stone walls and ornate frieze and cornices that made up the imposing façade of the estate. Outwardly, the manse had not changed. A solid reminder of his past, it loomed over the Cornish coast, a testament to St. Aubyn strength and might.
“Come, mon ami.” Stefan Vanier put a hand on Nicholas’s shoulder, urging him onward. “Come before we are seen.”
Nicholas threw a nervous glance back at the dark line of trees that hid their horses and clutched his blanketed bundle against his chest. His gut churning, he turned to survey the imposing fortress. Memories flickered through his mind like fireflies, connecting the gossamer strands of his past, some vivid, others elusive. His father’s soft-spoken voice. His mother’s smile. His sister’s giggles. The grand halls and draughty rooms filled with the ghosts of St. Aubyn ancestors.
Pushing aside the volatile images, Nicholas inhaled a bracing breath of cold air. He led Stefan through an iron gate. Like shadows, they passed through his mother’s wild garden into a woody copse of trees. A pale glow from the full moon flickered through the branches, illuminating small patches of light on the ground. Dried leaves crunched under his feet.
In the distance, a door slammed. Nicholas halted. Next to him, Stefan stiffened, his gaze seeking his. They shouldn’t have come alone. Stefan had argued against it, but he’d never been prone to heed anyone else’s direction. He was his own man and kept his own council, however unwise. He’d fought hard for respect in the many incarnations he’d taken on in his life—pirate, builder, merchant, and husband. He’d done it all and excelled, and in this task, he would not fail.
The distant voices faded. The iron fence banged against its post as a cold gust of wind jolted him back to the present. He clutched his bundle tighter, heading toward the parish.
The landscape had changed little since his youth. Every chance they had, he and Niles had come to the woods to escape their schoolroom lessons. Nicholas had cherished the absolute freedom of those stolen afternoons. His twin had rather liked to study.
Niles. Nicholas’s throat constricted. Despite the passing years, the thought of his brother’s betrayal still held the power to wound. To cut him like no sword or lash of the cat ever had. He had no idea what Niles had told their family, or if they had searched for him at all. When he’d finally put the pieces together, he’d been months into the Mediterranean heading toward Madagascar. No one on board had believed his claim to be the Earl of St. Aubyn. In the end, he’d had no choice but to join the merchant crew who’d rescued him.
Stefan turned, his craggy face etched with grief. “If you want help, you have only to ask.”
“Nay, I’ll make short work of it. I need you to be on guard. I’ll not have Niles arrest me for trespassing.”
Stefan handed him the shovel he’d taken from the ship and turned away.
Nicholas stepped forward and made his way past the church. He glanced around the shadowy graveyard. After fourteen years, was there anyone left to mourn him? Who else had death claimed? Among the crypts and crumbling tombstones of his ancestors, two slabs of cement stood apart like ghostly specters. His father’s grave? His breath caught but he forced himself to move. At this moment, he could not give in to maudlin grief. He had returned to Crowan for one purpose and one purpose only.
To bury his son.
He spied an empty patch of ground underneath a tree, tucked away in a corner. Nicholas wound his way around the stone slabs, then dropped the shovel to the ground. With one hand, he thrust the blanket back. Through the trees, a slash of moonlight painted Oliver’s elfin face an alabaster white. With his eyes closed, he resembled a small marble carving of a cherub instead of the rambunctious boy who had crawled around the Defyance’s staterooms just a day before.
Unbearable grief choked him, dropping him to his knees. One arm holding his little body, his hand fingering the silk strands of his hair. “Oliver. My precious son. I am sorry—so bloody sorry.”
Unshed tears clogged his throat, burning the back of his eyes. ‘Tis my fault. The unspoken words echoed his heartbeat. He’d been too impatient to escape the pious prayers and superstitious looks of Boston’s puritanical community. Escape the memory of Rachel. . .
Remembering his wife’s innocent face, Nicholas shuddered against the image. She’d bled to death delivering Oliver. He should never have taken him aboard the Defyance. Never should have let him roam the deck with only Patience beside him.
His daughter’s pixie face flashed through his mind. Patience was very much alive in his stateroom and needed him to kiss away her nightmares. Nicholas kissed Oliver’s forehead, pulled the blanket over his face, then gently set him on the ground. Cold wind slapped Nicholas’s face, pulling him back to his task. He picked up the shovel and began to dig.
As he promised Stefan, he made short work of it. It seemed as if only minutes had passed before there was a chasm deep enough to prevent wild animals from digging through the earth. Despite the cold, sweat dripped in his eyes. He swiped the rivulets with the back of his hand. He dropped to one knee, picked up his son’s small body, and lowered it into the ground, the smell of wet earth filling his nose. He stared at the hole holding the small bundle inside and eyes burned anew. Gritting his teeth, he pushed a mound of dirt into the opening, scattering it over the blanket.
“A man never shows emotion. It is a weakness, and St. Aubyn’s are never weak.” His father’s advice had encouraged him through the years. He tried to practise it now, shoving away biting remorse.
He worked until the ground was as flat and leaf strewn as before. He found two small sticks, stripping them of their leaves. He tore the lace from his sleeve, forming the branches into a makeshift cross. Winding the fabric around the wood, Nicholas stuck it into the ground, then stepped back to survey his handiwork. Mayhap no one would mark it, but at least he would have the satisfaction of knowing the fifth Earl of St. Aubyn lay in the family cemetery and not in some boneyard a half continent away.
Ignoring the burn behind his eyes, he picked up the shovel and trudged up the path. Stefan stood just as he’d left him. At his approach, his friend’s swarthy face sagged with relief, and they made their way toward the manse.
In the distance, a rumble of coach wheels on cobblestones split the silence. With the jangle of braces, it came to a halt in the courtyard. Shadowy firelight from a taper flickered through the trees. Nicholas froze. Stefan stopped behind him. A high-pitched giggle rang through the air. Through the lacework of branches, a stocky boy with sandy hair ran toward the house, his red cloak streaming behind him. A small girl followed, her white gloves contrasting with the inky fabric of her clothing.
“Give that back, Jonathan! ‘Tis mine.”
“Shan’t. Maman’ said I could have it.” The boy glanced back.
“Then I shall tell Pére. He will make you give it back.” The girl followed him, ignoring the coachman’s assistance.
“Nay, he will not! Pére said—”
“Silence! Another word and I shall have the blasted book myself!” A deep voice boomed over the squabble. A tall indiscernible figure jumped down from the coach then disappeared through the front door.
His twin was within those walls with his children, who were decidedly alive, while his own son lay underneath cold earth along with Rachel and the stolen promise of his life. Rage seeped through Nicholas, pulling him from his anguished stupor. The last time he’d heard his brother’s voice, Niles had been screaming his name.
Images of that day rushed back with shocking clarity. His brother’s blade buried in his stomach. Lisette’s mocking sneer. The lacerating torment of Niles’s betrayal. He squinted through the latticework of yew branches, taking in the flickering tapers on the coach and the hard façade of the manse. I’ve spent the last fourteen years losing blood, sweat and skin on the high seas trying to stay alive while Niles has lived comfortably as the Earl of St. Aubyn impersonating me?
The reality of it crawled over Nicholas’s skin, seeping into him like a bone-chilling rain. His grip tightened on his sword. He was the heir. This was his house. His birthright. He might not have been in England for fourteen years, but the St. Aubyn legacy was his. Nicholas stepped toward the coach.
“Not now, mon ami.” Stefan stepped in front of him. “There will be another time.”
“Bugger that.” Nicholas gave him a hard shove.
“Non.” Stefan tackled him. He grabbed Nicholas’s sword and tossed it into the underbrush. “Have a care with your temper,” Stefan growled, his knee planted hard into the small of Nicholas’s back, his fingers gripping Nicholas’s right wrist. “We cannot take the chance. D’you want to dance with the devil?”
“Let me go,” Nicholas snarled, his hand on his scabbard. He could turn over and skewer his friend with one slice of the blade. They both knew it. “‘Tis mine, Stefan. Crowan is mine.”
“Perhaps, but now is not the time.”
Nicholas inhaled a deep breath, trying to control his shaking. Rage surged through him, the anguish, and frustration igniting his blood. His fingers tightened on his weapon. He inhaled another breath. The squeak of braces rang through the air, and the conveyance started to move. He let out a heavy breath, forcing himself to sag against the earth. Above him, Stefan relaxed. He pushed himself off Nicholas’s back.
Nicholas leapt to his feet. Stefan was right. He had not come to reclaim his lands. After one bloody battle between his crew and the British Navy, he’d given up his dream to return. Catching the glint of metal amid the foliage in the wavering moonlight, he reached for his weapon and shoved it into his scabbard.
What did Niles look like? What manner of man has he become?
He followed Stefan into the courtyard and toward the bailey where they had tied their horses. A beam of light speared the St. Aubyn creed engraved above the door.
Death before dishonour.
He stared at it, hearing his father’s voice as if he stood next to him. He remembered his father’s proud stance, saw his mother’s devastated face as she slipped the family signet onto his finger. He swallowed a tide of anguish. He should have come sooner, but he had been a prisoner at sea. With each passing year, his early life had slipped into shadowy memory.
Gazing at the fortress, the hard reality of it staggered him. He was the fourth Earl of St. Aubyn. His history and its legacy were Patience’s birthright. ‘Twas not Niles’s. Not Niles’s sons. It was his. His responsibility to the earldom had been ingrained in him by the time he’d left the nursery. He swiped a palm over his face.
“Come.” Stefan gripped his shoulder, urging him onward.
Patience is a titled lady. She deserves to grow up among the rank and privilege of her peers rather than amid the chaos of a merchant ship. At sea, accidents happened all the time. If anything happened to Patience. . .
Acrid fear sliced through him. The terror twisted deep, forging a blade of determination. He couldn’t lose another child to a life at sea. He wanted his daughter to run through the courtyard or sit by the hearth listening to him read to her instead of being cramped in the dingy cabin they shared. He wanted her to play with her peers instead of weaving her way through ropes and pulleys on Defyance’s deck with the cabin boy.
Nicholas threw a glance over his shoulder. He stared at Crowan’s massive structure, his determination turning to resolve. He would find a way to regain his title and his lands for Patience’s dowry, even if he had to hang to do it.
*** ***
One week later, Nicholas arrived in London. Dark timbered buildings leaned like drunken sailors over the dirty, cramped alleys that served as the city’s main thoroughfares. Narrow streets sloped into drains blocked by piss and horse dung. Drunks wobbled from tavern doorways, wavering like the wooden shop signs above their heads. He had heard Charles Stuart’s return to the throne had changed London from a God-fearing city to a frivolous one. Instead of the bleak, militant London Nicholas remembered, the city now pulsed with life.
Nicholas did not care about London. He wanted to meet his twin in the flesh, not just see a poor etching from the daily paper or illuminated in the dim moonlight. According to his research, Niles had succeeded to the title by special dispensation two years after his mother’s death. After graduating Cambridge, he’d married Lisette and become a professor of Divinity at Gresham College. He held a reputation as a critic of the immoral behaviour of the king and court and lived an exemplary life full of devotion and dedication to God. ‘Twas the kind of life his father always meant for them to have. For me to have. Nicholas grimaced. He would not dwell upon what his father would have thought of him now.
He rounded the corner, and a large pile of stone pillars and leaden windows came into view. Dismounting, Nicholas handed his horse to a linkboy, then took the stairs into the college two at a time. He strode down a long corridor lined with paintings and documents, passing students and professors. At the end of the corridor, two mahogany doors rose from floor to ceiling. He inhaled an anticipatory breath, pushed open the door, then slipped into the room’s dark confines.
Myriad leather-bound books were stacked in tiers from floor to ceiling around the circumference of the chamber. Lit iron sconces lined a narrow walkway from the door to where row after row of wooden seats formed a small, intimate circle around a platform in the centre of the library. A group of men, all dressed in grey or sombre black, sat around a wooden table.
“The licentiousness and depravity of this court has got to stop!” A gravelly voice rang through the room. “The king has replaced the head of parliament with a man who was recommended by his mistress. His whore! Are we, the good citizens of London, to suffer the consequences of that proposal?”
Scanning the dim chamber for a hidden alcove, Nicholas spied a narrow ladder leading to the second tier of shelves. Judging it to be a half-story above the floor, he quietly scaled it and made his way toward the dais.
“Where have all the leaders gone? The morally upright citizens of London are stewing in penury while this king and his court continue to debase themselves in sin. Have we, the religious motivators of this country, lost our right to speak?”
A stooped little man shook his head. Long white whiskers rained down his black doublet and onto his stomach. “The king hears us not, Alexander. We need a leader, someone who is not afraid to approach our sovereign.”
“Bah! I am not afraid to approach God if need be!” Another elder shook his snowy head and pounded the table with his knobby fist.
“Aye, but Charles will not listen to ye, Matthew. Who be ye but an old physic? We need a peer.”
Each turned toward a dark figure of a man who seemed to tower above the others. His broad shoulders filled the space between the two other men beside him. He sat across from the speaker, his rugged face shadowed in the feeble light. Slowly, he leaned forward to regard each man one by one. Lines of age ringed his eyes and pulled the skin under them into dark circles, while a thin layer of fat surrounded his square jaw.
Nicholas sucked in a hard breath. Once they had been so identical, no one could tell them apart. Now his twin had the look of their father at middle age. His fine baize waistcoat was flecked with gold, and his matching black doublet stretched around his widening middle. Nicholas leaned forward; his grip ferocious on the metal railing.
How many times had he yearned to see his twin? Wanted to hear his voice? Wanted to see the look in his eyes when Niles learned Nicholas was alive? Most of all, he wanted his twin to explain how he could put his love for Lisette above his loyalty to his family. At fifteen the two of them had been inseparable. Had Niles been consumed by jealousy over my inheritance, or was it Lisette’s ambition?
He’d asked that question for fourteen years. Now seeing his brother seated at a table as an esteemed member of society, the reality hit Nicholas with brute force. He clutched the railing hard to prevent himself from leaping down in front of Niles to demand answers. Images of what should have been his flashed through his mind. Holidays in Cornwall. A position at Westminster. A son that still lived. . .
“Nay, do not look to me to go to court.” Niles’s venomous voice filled the room, piercing Nicholas’s grief. “Evil permeates that place like the sour stench of the death carts. How dare you be so bold?”
“Do not lecture me, my lord. How can you condemn Charles Stuart after what he has done for you? How is it you still have your lands while so many others loyal to Cromwell lost theirs?”
“I care naught for his benefaction. I will not lower myself to the standards of the court!” Niles smacked a crown on the table. “The king hides the queen behind castle walls and parades his whore before the whole of London. Do you think I take pride in knowing an adulterer leads our nation? God will not bless a nation so entrenched in decay. How can you not call London cursed? Remember the plague this summer past? Our war with the Dutch? Even the king of France tires of the king’s duplicity!”
Murmurs echoed Niles’s sentiment.
“If Charles Stuart restored my lands, ‘twas because they were taken from my father for a crime he did not commit. I will grant Charles reprieve for one thing. He values loyalty and truth above all else. Gentleman, truth will come to light. Loyalty reaps its own rewards. ‘Tis quoted in Holy Scripture that God reviles idleness as much as murder, and our court is idle much.”
Revulsion spread through Nicholas. Does God bless a brother who attempted to murder his own flesh and blood? Had he brought his pistol, he would have shot Niles where he sat.
“From the taverns to the playhouses, people spend their time in drunken lassitude eschewing the words of our Lord to embrace the licentiousness of the courtiers. Children beg on the streets, and we, the God-fearing people of London, are expected to support them. I am not a supporter of Charles Stuart, nor will I venture into his world.” Niles stood. “Gentlemen, if you desire to take our sovereign to task, so be it, but do not look to me to do so. Petition the House of Lords. I have other things to see to.” Niles stood, shoved himself back from the table, and strode from the chamber.
Nicholas strode to the ladder, taking the metal rungs two at a time. He ran the length of the hallway and once outside, inhaled gulps of air, needing to quell the nausea roiling through him.
Christ’s blood! What gave Niles the right to be so pious? How dare he be so sanctimonious? Bloody hypocrite. Blind with rage, Nicholas headed down the rain-slicked road.
I’ll kill the bastard. Wait for him in the shadows. Skewer him with one thrust.
Nay, that is the coward’s way. Niles had always been the first to cry truce at the end of a wrestling match or an argument. He would never have lived through the floggings Nicholas had survived over the years. From the looks of it, his twin wouldn’t have the guts to stay alive.
Nicholas turned down College Street. Cold wind clawed his face, yet he didn’t feel the chill. For years, he’d lived for revenge. It had consumed him until he married Rachel. Then he had entrenched himself in a Puritanical world and clung to an uneasy peace. Now there would be no Rachel to stop him with her solemn looks or quotes of scripture.
Now he would shadow Niles. Take everything he valued, expose Niles as the hypocrite he’d become. He would show his twin how betrayal stole a man’s trust until there was no one left to believe in. How bitterness stained a man’s heart until there was nothing left but acidic rage. By the time he finished with his twin, he would see Niles on his knees begging him for forgiveness.