TO SAY THAT THE ride back to Cardon Hall in Lance’s luxurious air-conditioned car was magical, would be too banal a description. The miles of rocky landscape, alternating verdant hills with grazing sheep and picturesque villages just seemed to fly by as Lance and Claire delighted in each other’s company. They were like long lost lovers who had found each other again after a lengthy separation and realized that the passing of time hadn’t diminished their feelings.
At one point Lance declared,
“This is surreal carita, but I feel as though I’ve known you all of my life. We were meant to be together Claire.”
“The same goes for me and I don’t quite understand why, except that, for the first time in my life I feel incredibly at peace, especially with a man who isn’t my dad. I can’t explain it.”
What she chose not to reveal as yet was the feeling that the missing piece of the puzzle was finally falling into place, the vital something or someone that had created the gaping void in her heart had been found, and the void was now filled.
“Like you finally found the missing piece of the puzzle?”
“What?” She stared at him, stunned at how in sync their thoughts were. “H..how could you tell?”
“Because it’s the way I feel also.”
“You do? You felt the gaping void too?”
“For as long as I could remember.” He admitted.
“I must admit though, that I also feel a sense of disquiet about going back with you to Cardon Hall.”
Lance felt an intense need to reassure her, although he too experienced the same disquietude at taking her there. Yet at the same time, he also felt that it was something necessary, and the need to do so was almost compulsive. He reached over his free hand and took hers.
“There’s no need to be afraid, Claire. I’ll be with you all the time.”
Suddenly a horn honked behind them and just as Lance was about to exit the A374 near the village of Antony Elsa sidled up beside the sleek Aston Martin. They slowed down together, then Lance yelled through the window.
“What gives Luv’?”
“I thought I’d drive straight on into Torpoint to Jane’s house and see if she and Cal can make it. Then I’ll ring everybody from there.”
“Very well, see you later then. Try not to be too long.”
* * * * *
THE MOMENT CARDON Hall loomed into view, forbidding and fortress-like behind the trees, apprehension gripped Claire. As Lance drove through the huge iron gates and entered the long driveway, a chill crawled up her spine, engulfed her whole being and she tensed. Claire barely noticed the beauty of the manicured grounds; the myriad of colour from the profusion of flowers planted in neat geometric flowerbeds, the sculpted trees and hedges, the fountains, and the pair of peacocks that proudly strutted about like the king and queen of the grounds all went unnoticed. This was the place she had seen in her dream last night. The turrets at the corners of the structure, however, were now hexagonal instead of round. The building was indeed yellow ochre as she had seen it, except she had expected it to look greyer and weather worn, but it appeared to have been well maintained over the centuries.
“Hold still my girl, there’s nothing to be afraid of.” Lance whispered, tenderly squeezing her hand.
A uniformed chauffeur came out as if on cue to take the car and drive it around to the garage as it drove to up the entrance. Lance got out of the car first and walked around the bonnet to the passenger side to gallantly help Claire out. He then led her up the wide shallow steps to great, the carved oak doors of the intricately carved portal.
A knocker hung on one of the doors from the mouth of a large, shiny brass gargoyle. Before Lance could push it, the left door was opened by a dour-faced butler, obviously expecting them.
“Good afternoon Oliver.” Lance greeted the man as they entered the oak wainscoted walled, black and white-checked marble-floored anteroom. Light filtered in through tall mullioned windows at which hung gold fringed forest green velvet curtains, dispelling the otherwise gloomy, cavernous feeling this room would have been apt to convey because of its size. Two arched entrances in the central area led towards the interior of the castle, while off to each side were carved oak doors leading to the east and west wings respectively. Extending from the centre at five feet intervals twelve white marble Roman sculptures stood on high black marble pedestals against the wall.
“Good afternoon Mr. Stevens.” Oliver responded in his stiff, formal manner. Claire noticed immediately that the man had an effeminate voice despite his austere manner. Looking at him, the best word she could find to describe the man was beautiful, with his neatly styled golden blonde hair and fine-boned features. Though Oliver was formally dressed and carried himself with the dignity befitting his job, something in his manner screamed words ‘poof’ to anyone, meeting him for the first time. Claire didn’t say anything as she looked at Lance with a questioning smile. He shook his head to affirm what went through her mind.
“Any serious developments while I was gone, Oliver?” Lance asked.
While his voice was polite, Claire didn’t mistake note of patronization in it. It was obvious that these two merely tolerated each other. A lot of people in great houses in England usually lived in terror of their butlers. A major complaint among the upper classes was “Good help is so difficult to come by these days!” None of this, however, seemed to faze Lance where Oliver was concerned. Claire wondered what was keeping Oliver here when he obviously didn’t like the man he was working for.
“No sir.” Oliver responded to Lance’s question.
“By the way Oliver, there’ll be a group arriving shortly. Could you see about providing some refreshments, to be served by the pool? We will be wanting some more in the ballroom later this evening. It will be very informal.”
“How many are we expecting, Mr. Stevens?”
“Very well, sir. I’ll see to it right away.”
Oliver briskly disappeared through one of the arched entrances, while Lance took Claire’s hand in his.
“Well milady, shall I give you the grand tour?”
“Why, certainly kind sir.” Claire bantered, although she couldn’t quite rid herself of the tight knot of queasiness in the pit of her stomach, or the rubbery feeling in her legs.
Lance led her through the other arched entrance toward the stately red-carpeted staircase. Over it, were paintings of his ancestors and one of himself next to the portrait of a pale blonde man with sad, haunted grey eyes. Claire’s insides started to churn when she realized this was the same man she had seen in her dream last night, and earlier this afternoon when Lance’s features just seemed to alter right before her very eyes. As she stood there looking at the portraits, Claire felt her head go light, then time seemed to shift and part of her was in the past, while the other was in barely in the present. Then it was as if someone else was speaking through her as the words poured out.
“It must have been hung up again over the years. Christian had ordered it removed from where it hung with the rest of the family at one time. It was going to be burnt but she had rescued it and kept it hidden in her treasure chest for years. Only in the quiet of the night when her husband didn’t come to her, did she dare to take it out and yearn for her beloved.”
Next to it hung Christian, her husband, and then hers.
She barely noted Lance trying to break through her trance, though there was something resembling panic in his voice.
“Claire? Claire are you all right?”
Her whole body remained taut and unnaturally cold as she stood there, her eyes transfixed on the portraits above the stairs.
“Christian gave it to Hobbs and ordered him to burn it. He said that he never wanted any reminder of his bastard brother around. After Père Cardon and Richard freed us from the tower rooms, you had left home vowing that no one was ever going to be able to hurt you again as long as you lived...”
* * * * *
Lance slapped her to try and bring her back to present reality. The girl was going into some kind of spontaneous trance. He knew fully well what happened when it came upon him, and he didn’t want to take any chances.
“Claire darling, come on, snap out of it!” He rasped, shaking her.
This afternoon he had wanted her to remember. Now, suddenly, he was petrified. Most of his life he had fantasized about and toyed with the idea of what it would be like when and if he finally met her/Marie again. And right now, he couldn’t afford to get upset.
Lance stopped, drew a few deep breaths and exhaled again, calming his mounting panic as Claire stood there, still unreachable. Meanwhile, the pictures hanging on the wall were beginning to vibrate and move.
“Bloody hell!” Lance swore, his fists curled into tight balls. Veins stood out on his forehead and his teeth were tightly clenched.
With no time to waste, he swiftly swept her up in his arms. He took her out of there, back through the anteroom and headed towards the door on the right end leading to one of the three main floor studies. There he laid her down on a red velvet covered settee, conscientiously fixing a cushion under her head. She felt very light in his arms and looked so pale and vulnerable that he felt such a strong surge of compassion and tenderness for her as he laid her down.
Afterwards, he walked over to the mini bar set up on a cart near a King George II bookcase filled with various leather-bound volumes; most of them irreplaceable. He then poured himself a double scotch and a sherry for Claire when he managed to revive her.
God, this young woman suddenly filled him with such conflicting emotions. One part of him now screamed to get her out of there and never see her again, while the larger part of him knew that he could no more let her go now, than he could he could raise the dead. He drank down the scotch in two gulps and refilled another double round.
He took it, together with the sherry, over to where he had laid her down. Her cheek was reddened from where he had slapped her. How the hell was he going to explain that when she came around...if she came around? Panic threatened to strike again.
“All right Lance, take it easy ol’ boy.” He counselled himself, as he sat down beside her on the settee taking another gulp of scotch, steadying himself before he attempted to revive her again.
At least one thing she said might answer a certain question for you: why it is you were born with the psychokinetic ability. You vowed back then that no one was ever going to be able to hurt you ever again. Seems a little far-fetched now, but it could make sense. ¡Mierde! What the hell I’m I doing? I should be concentrating on trying to bring her around.