Sara's anguish was apparent, however. She looked devastated, defeated. Colin began to have doubts about his quick judgment. Was Sara capable of such fakery? "Why don't you ask Nathan again?" he suggested in a softer tone of voice.
She shook her head. "He should have enough faith in me to know I'd never betray him."
"Get in the carriage," her father ordered again.
She whirled back to confront her father. "I've been such a fool about so many things, Father," she announced. "I actually made excuses for your sinful conduct, but Nora was right after all. You aren't any better than your brothers. You disgust me. You let your brother Henry dole out the punishment whenever you're displeased. Your hands stay clean that way, don't they? Oh, God, I never want to see you again." She took a deep breath, then added in a harsh whisper, "I'm no longer your daughter."
She turned her attention to Belinda next. "As for you, I hope you get down on your knees and pray God's forgiveness for all the lies you've told today. You may tell Mother I'm sorry she isn't feeling well. I'll come to see her when I'm certain neither one of you is home."
After making that speech Sara turned her back on her family and walked across the street. Colin tried to take hold of her arm. She pulled away.
Everyone watched her until she'd walked inside the office and shut the door behind her.
The earl of Winchester still wasn't ready to give up. The argument became fierce again and lasted several minutes before Nathan finally took a step forward.
Sara's father tried to go toward the office then. He shouted his daughter's name in such a booming voice that the veins in the side of his neck stood out. Nathan blocked his path. That action proved threatening enough.
No one said a word until the Winchester carriage rounded the corner. The men on horseback trailed after the vehicle. Then everyone started talking at once.
Jimbo and Matthew both argued in Sara's defense. "She might have told," Matthew said, "but only the way she told about Nora and me. Inadvertent like."
"I'm saying she didn't tell at all," Jimbo muttered. He folded his arms across his chest and glared at Colin when he made that emphatic statement. "You didn't help, Dolphin," he added. "You could have swayed the boy's mind if you'd argued in our Sara's defense."
"The last time I argued in a woman's defense Nathan damn near got killed," Colin replied.
"He was young and stupid back then," Matthew said.
"He still is," Jimbo stated. "You aren't at all surprised, are you?" he said then. "With your cynical heart, I imagine you expected our Sara to fail you. Isn't that right?"
Nathan wasn't listening to his friends. His gaze was centered on the corner where the carriage had last been seen. With a shake of his head he pulled himself out of his musings and turned to walk away.
"Where are you going?" Matthew called out.
"Maybe he came to his senses," Jimbo said when Nathan started across the street. "He might be going to apologize to Sara. Did you see the look on her face, Matthew? It tore me up to see such torment."
"Nathan wouldn't apologize," Colin said. "He doesn't know how. But he might be calm enough to listen to her now."
Sara had no idea Jimbo and Matthew had come to her defense. She believed everyone had damned her. She was so upset she couldn't stop pacing. She kept picturing the expression on Nathan's face when she'd admitted that she'd known the truth about his father.
He believed she had betrayed him.
Sara had never felt so alone. She didn't know where to go, whom to turn to, what to do. She couldn't think. Her fantasy of living in paradise with the man she'd always believed loved her was gone.
Nathan had never loved her. It was just as her relatives had told her. He was only after the king's gift. She'd thought those often-repeated reminders were lies meant to turn her heart against him. She knew better now.
God, what a fool she'd been.
The pain was simply too much, too overwhelming to think about. Sara remembered the vile threat her father had made against Nathan's sister Jade. Her heart went out to the sister, and even though she'd never met the woman she knew it was her duty to try to warn her so she could prepare herself.
The plan gave her a mission, a reason to move. No one noticed when she walked outside. They were occupied shouting at each other. She walked to the corner, but as soon as she was out of sight she started running. She lost her way almost immediately, yet she kept on running until she was out of breath.
God took mercy on her, for when she couldn't go another step she spotted a hack in the middle of the street only half a block away. A passenger was getting out of the vehicle. While he sorted through his pockets for his coins Sara hurried forward.
She didn't have any shillings with her. She didn't know the address of her destination either. She couldn't worry about the lack of funds, though. She decided the coachman would have to be responsible for finding the address on his own.
"The earl of Cainewood's townhouse, if you please," she called out. She got inside the vehicle and pressed herself into the comer. Her fear was that Nathan might have sent one of his men to chase after her.
The coachman directed the hack to what he referred to as the fancy-pants section of town, yet he still had to ask directions from a passerby before he found the address his fare had requested.
Sara used the time to calm her queasy stomach. She took deep, gulping breaths and prayed she wouldn't be sick.
Nathan had no idea Sara wasn't waiting for him inside the office. He tried to rid himself of some of his anger before he spoke to her again. He didn't want to add to her upset. God help him, he couldn't imagine what her life must have been like living with such vile relatives.
Jimbo began to nag him in earnest. "I don't condemn her for telling," Nathan said. "I understand her flaws. I wasn't surprised. Now, if you'll quit your hounding, I'll go and tell her I've forgiven her. Will that satisfy you?"
Jimbo nodded. Nathan strode across the street and went inside the office. It didn't take him any time at all to realize his wife wasn't there. He looked inside the back storage area just to make certain.
Panic filled him. He knew she hadn't left with her father, and that meant that she had literally walked away.
The picture of just what could happen to an unattended woman in that section of the city terrified Nathan. His roar echoed through the streets. He had to find her.
She needed him.
Sara cried her way to her destination. When the hack came to a stop in front of a brick-front townhouse she forced herself to gain a little control. Her voice barely cracked when she ordered the coachman to wait for her. "I won't be but a minute," she promised. "I have another destination after I've finished here, and I'll double your fare if you'll kindly be patient."
"I'll wait as long as it takes," the driver promised with a tip of his hat.
Sara rushed up the steps and knocked on the door. She wanted to get inside the townhouse before she was spotted by her relatives. She was also afraid her courage would desert her before she'd completed her mission.
The door was opened by a tall, arrogant-looking man with deep wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. He was quite homely in appearance, but the sparkle in his dark eyes indicated he had a kind nature.
"May I be of assistance, madam?" the butler inquired in a haughty tone of voice.
"I must see Lady Jade at once, sir," Sara answered. She gave a quick look over her shoulder to make certain she wasn't being watched, then said, "Do let me in."
The butler only had enough time to get out of her way. Sara rushed past him, then demanded in a whisper that he shut the door and bolt it against intruders.
"I pray your mistress is here," she said. "I don't know what I will do if she isn't home."
That possibility was so distressing, her eyes filled with tears. "Lady Jade is home today," the butler told her.
"Thank God for that."
A smile softened the elderly man's expression. "Yes, madam, I often thank God for sending her to me. Now," he continued in a brisker tone of voice, "may I tell my mistress who has come calling?"
"Lady Sara," she blurted out. She suddenly grabbed hold of his hand. "And please hurry, sir. I'm growing more cowardly by the second."
The butler's curiosity was caught. The poor distressed woman was trying to squeeze the bones right out of his hand. "I shall be pleased to hurry, Lady Sara," he announced. "Just as soon as you let go of me."
She hadn't realized she was holding on to him until that moment, and she immediately pulled away. "I'm very upset, sir. Please forgive my boldness."
"Of course, m'lady," the butler returned. "Is there perchance a last name to go with the first?" he asked.
The question proved to be too much for her. Much to the servant's consternation, she burst into tears. "I used to be Lady Sara Winchester, but that changed, and I became Lady Sara St. James. Now that's going to change, too," she cried. "Come morning, I don't know what my name will be. Harlot, I would imagine. Everyone will believe I lived in sin, but I didn't, sir. I didn't," she whispered. "It wasn't sinful."
She paused in her explanation to mop the tears away from her eyes with the handkerchief the butler handed her. "Oh, you might as well call me harlot now and get it over with. I'll have to get used to it."
Sara realized she was making a complete fool of herself. The butler was slowly backing away from her. He probably thought he'd let a deranged woman into his employer's sanctuary.
The earl of Cainewood had just strolled into the foyer from the back of the house where his library was situated when he heard his man Sterns ask their guest what her full name was. Her bizarre answer had made him stop in his tracks.
Sara tried to skirt her way around the butler. She handed him the soggy handkerchief and said, "I shouldn't have come here. I realize that now. I'll send a note to your mistress. Lady Jade is certainly too busy to see me."
"Catch her, Sterns," the earl called out.
"As you wish," the butler replied. His hands settled on Sara's shoulders. "Now what, m'lord?" he inquired.
"Turn her around."
Sterns didn't have to force Sara. She moved without any prodding. "Are you Lady Jade's husband?" she asked when she saw the tall, handsome man leaning against the banister.
"May I present my employer, the earl of Cainewood?" the butler announced in a formal voice.
Her curtsy was instinctive, born from years of training. The butler made her stumble, though, when he added, "M'lord, may I present Lady Sara Harlot?"
She almost fell to her knees. Sterns reached out to steady her. "It was just a jest, m'lady. I couldn't restrain myself."
Jade's husband came forward. He was smiling at her. That helped. "You may call me Caine," he told her.
"I'm Nathan's wife," she blurted out.
His smile was so tender, so kind. "I guessed as much," he said, "as soon as I saw how upset you were. I also caught the part of your explanation about becoming a St. James," he added when she looked so bewildered. "Welcome to our family, Sara."
He took hold of her hand and gave it an affectionate squeeze. "My wife is most eager to meet you. Sterns, go and fetch Jade, will you? Sara, come along with me into the drawing room. We can get to know each other while we wait for my wife."
"But sir, this isn't a social call," Sara said. "When you learn the reason for my visit you'll both want to throw me out."
"Shame on you for thinking we'd be so inhospitable," he countered. He winked at her, then pulled her along by his side. "We're family now, Sara. Call me Caine, not sir."
"I won't be part of the family long," she whispered.
"Now, now, don't start crying again. It can't be as bad as all that. Have you come to tell on Nathan, then? What's he done, I wonder."
His smile indicated he was teasing her. The mere mention of her husband started the tears again. "He hasn't done anything," she said between sobs. "Besides, I would never tell on my husband if he displeased me. It wouldn't be loyal."
"So loyalty is important to you?" he asked.
She nodded. Then she frowned. "So is having faith in your spouse," she muttered. "Some do, others don't."
He wasn't certain he knew what she was talking about. "Do you?" he asked.
"Not anymore I don't," she announced. "I've learned my lesson."
Caine still didn't know what the conversation was about. "I haven't come here to talk about Nathan," she declared. "Our marriage will soon be over. You might as well understand that right away."
It took considerable effort for Caine to keep his smile contained. So it was a marital disagreement after all. "Nathan can be a bit difficult," he said.
"That he can, husband."
Both Caine and Sara turned toward the doorway just as Lady Jade came strolling into the room.
Sara thought Nathan's sister was the most beautiful woman she'd ever seen. She had such glorious auburn hair. Her eyes were as green as Nathan's, and her complexion was porcelain-perfect. Sara felt completely inadequate by comparison.
She forced herself to put the matter of appearances aside and began to pray in earnest that Jade didn't share her brother's cranky disposition. "I've come with distressing news," she blurted out.
"We already know you're married to Nathan," Caine drawled. "There can't be anything more distressing to you than that, Sara. You have our sympathy."
"How very disloyal of you," Jade replied. Her smile indicated she wasn't at all irritated by her husband's remark, however. "Caine loves my brother," she told Sara. "He just hates to admit it."
She walked over and kissed Sara's cheek. "You aren't at all what I expected," she said. "That pleases me. Where are my manners? I'm so pleased to finally meet you, Sara. Where is Nathan? Will he be joining you soon?"
Sara shook her head. She suddenly had to sit down. She collapsed into the nearest chair. "I never want to see him again," she whispered. "Except to tell him that I never want to see him again, of course. Oh, I don't know where to begin."