Chapter 1

Peirce dropped his bags.  He had been gone for six months. It was not something that they had asked him to do, it was done out of simple courtesy.  Colin and Cassie had just gotten married, the manor had been filled with people, and Peirce knew it was time to take a break.  It was time for him to get some of his work done.  Not many people knew what he did, but it was his job all the same.

If he were honest with himself, he would admit that it had not been the crowd that plagued him.  Looking at the door, he admitted it was the look on his friend’s faces as they had married.  It brought back memories he wanted to stay in the back of his mind. It would only be a short time before Cassie and Colin had a family of their own.  When that time came, Peirce knew he would have to leave.  A small reminder of his past was enough to make him cringe.  He could not imagine how it would be if he had to watch, as another child grows, only to wonder when it would be snatched away from him.

Taking a deep breath, he bent to grab his bag.  The horse that he had ridden back was safely in the stables, which had been rebuilt in his absence.  That was not the only thing that was different.  When he traveled through the village, he noticed that most of the homes had been rebuilt, and those that have not were being worked on.

The land near the manor no longer looked as if it was abandoned.  Flowers grew around it, and what looked like a herb garden was to the left.  He had left the manor, not thinking of the changes that would take place, but as he studied it now, he had to wonder if he was still welcome.  Had they gotten rid of the old and replaced it all with the new?  Or would they allow their old cook back into the manor?

Stepping up one of the stairs, he felt his nerves begin to take over.  His fist reached up, ready to knock on the door, but he lowered it at the last minute.  Was he positive he wanted to return?  Did he want to see the happiness?  Did he want to put his façade back in place and pretend everything was fine? 

He shook his head.  He could not return.  He could not bring his darkness among the people who had had enough to last them a lifetime.  Turning away from the door, he was unprepared to see a pair of large blue eyes staring at him.


She frowned at him with an understanding look that he reveled in and hated at the same time.  “You were taking your leave when you had not even visited?”

He evaded her question.  “You came from the village?  Are they ill?” he asked while motioning towards the bag she held in her hand.  As he did, his eyes found what had been somewhat hidden by her gown.  “You’re pregnant.”

A flush spread across her cheeks, causing him to chuckle.  Cassie may have been through hard times, but her innocence was still present.  It was what caught Colin’s attention and it was what allowed Peirce to realize that she would be a great friend.


He looked at her stomach, remembering what his wife had looked like when she carried his child.  “You are far along.”

She nodded in confirmation, even though it was not a question, but a statement.  Looking at her, he realized that she must have become pregnant a short time after his leave.  He sent her a tiny smile, feeling guilty for not staying to help.

“I have Rose, Ramsey, and Will,” Cassie told him with a smile.  “You would be surprised to learn that my cousins can cook.  When you had left, I was sure we would all starve, but Rose took to the kitchen as if it were her home.”

He nodded, not the least bit surprised that she knew saw his guilt.  “I am not needed.”

She took a step forward, grabbed him in a tight hug, and whispered, “You are always needed.  I need a person to save me from Colin.  The man thinks that the child I am carrying means that I should be bedridden.  Has he forgotten who I am?”

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