THIS CHAPTER IS FOR REBE, BECAUSE SHE WAS THERE FROM THE VERY BEGINNING. THANKS!
It was an odd sense of dread what came over me as the carriage took Lady Sophia, Luke and me to the opening ball of the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art. It would be my first dance ever, sure I had gone to child dances and some tea parties when I was younger but never a full on ball. I was very, very nervous about it and I had been eating chocolate and nuts cookies all day long because of my nerves.
"Calm down, sweet. You'll do great." Luke said, taking my hand and brining it up to his lips and kissing the backs of my fingers.
I smiled and leaned closer to Luke and rested my head in his shoulder, always seeking his warmth and the peace I felt by his side. Lady Sophia smiled at us from where she sat across from us. "You do make a handsome couple." She said approvingly.
I grinned in thanks for the complement, trying hard not to think on what Luke and I had done within this carriage a couple weeks ago… if Lady Sophia knew…
I couldn't help to giggle which just made Luke laugh as if he had been reading my thoughts.
Oh, the immorality of it!
Still, I wouldn't take it back for the world!
I had always been brought up with ideas of property, self sacrifice, pragmatism and morality drilled into my mind by Asha, and Michael and even my dad, but Luke let me be whatever I wanted to be, always, as long as I still loved him. We argued sometimes, neither of us was close to perfection but our love was perfect and it kept pushing us to solve our differences, sometimes he compromised, sometimes I did.
And what I loved the most was that he saw me as an equal, no matter that by law I was short of being his property. Luke was jealous to be sure, but his trust in me was bigger than his jealousy and so we never actually argued over it.
Distracted by this thoughts I barely noticed how much it took us to get to the Royal Academy of Art. Luke got off the carriage and helped his mother and me down. Lady Sophia stood there in a plum silk and velvet dress, she could have passed as a woman of thirty-something instead of the forty-something which was her real age; she shook her skirts into place and urged me to do the same. I did, shaking the white silk skirts into place and tiding up the bold blood-red ribbon tied over the high waisted gown I was wearing. It was a simple dress by most standards but Lady Sophia had agreed with me that simplicity suited me better than yards and yards of fabric and puffy pads and stays.
Then I turned to Luke to straighten his necktie, he always made a mess of it for he hated wearing it.
"I hate it, its suffocating." He said as I re-did the knot to it.
"But you do look dashing with it." I said with a flirtatious smile. I tip toed and kissed him lightly.
"Save that for later, love-birds, the night is young still." Lady Sophia said, calling for our attention.
Once we were in the ballroom I reluctantly let go of Luke and went with Lady Sophia to say hi to her many friends and acquaintances, most of them I already knew and they greeted me warmly, complementing me on the modesty of my gown –'Such a nice change from the dresses the young misses wear now, leaving nothing to imagination'- for, though it was off the shoulders, the neckline wasn't very low; and they also marvelled about my necklace – a fine creation of rubies and diamonds in an intricate web- which was what Lady Sophia had given me as a 'belated wedding gift' with the matching set of earrings. Even my dark hair was cause of admiration among all the blond beauties of the place. Earlier one of the maids – at Lady Sophia's request – had wove blood-red ribbons into my hair and pulled it up in a tight chignon leaving some curls to frame my face and brush my shoulders.
I was feeling very mature and refined until I heard a familiar giggle behind me. I excused myself and went to give Amelia a hug. She was radiant as usual.
"Caitlyn! I can barely believe my eyes! You look wonderful. No wonder all the men here are looking at you."
"I sincerely doubt it, Mia. More likely they are looking at you."
"Nonsense." She said, waving her hand dismissively. "Everyone is wondering who are you, since they don't recall you at any of the coming out dances last winter, but you're still standing next to some of the most respected society lionesses of Town."
"They are friends with my mother in law." I said with a shrug.
"Oh, you must come with me now, mother is making me stand with the evil wenches from school you can't leave your dear friend alone, now can you?"
"I suppose Sophia won't miss me for a while." I said, though in my mind I always called her respectfully Lady Sophia, she insisted that I only called her by her given name when addressing her or talking about her.
"Come then, I want to see them turn blue with envy when they see that necklace of yours. Stephanie's emerald pendant pales so much in comparison."
And so I was happily whisked away by my best friend.
I won't lie; it felt damn good to see the face of all those girls who turned their backs on me during the last year at school. At first Stephanie had wanted to scorn me by saying: "You took on a wealthy lover, didn't you?"
I smiled broadly and carefully lifted my hand to brush some curls away from my face, giving Stephanie and the other envious little wenches a good view of my wedding ring. All of them went quiet.
"My husband finances aren't any of your concern, Stephanie." I said coolly as she gapped at my ring.
Triumph, sweet triumph.
Caitlyn was clearly the success of the evening.
Old rakes and young bucks, all seemed to like the sight of my Caitlyn; saying she was one sweet little bonbon, an adorable creature others supplied. Everyone wondered who she was. I smiled inwardly when I heard young Lord Ashby saying he was going to ask 'the mysterious' stranger for a dance. I'll be dammed if I'll let anyone waltz with Caitlyn.
"I think I heard Miss Amelia call her Catherine." Lord Ashby was saying to his companions.
"Caitlyn, actually." I said with a grin as I walked pass them, making my way to where Caitlyn stood by the refreshments table trying to decide between a salmon roll and a fruits tartlet. When I came to stand by her side, I slid my arm around her waist and leaned down to kiss the spot beneath her ear. Caitlyn pressed closer to me and I lifted my gaze to look at Ashby, his companions and some others who had been giving Caitlyn shifty glances all night long.
I stared at them challenging.
Then I felt Caitlyn eyes on me and I looked down at her upturned face, her lithe body pressed close to mine. I, as is natural, obligingly bent down to kiss her. After that, just for good measure, I spent the rest of the night glued possessively at her side. Caitlyn didn't seem to mind my possessiveness, she seemed to understand: there was a part of me that took some kind of primitive masculine pride in knowing that I had the most beautiful woman at the ball. But there was this other part of me that wanted more than anything to throw a blanket over Caitlyn's white silk dress and take her away, hiding her from everyone else because she was mine alone.
We danced sometimes, I forbade my mother to take her from me again since Caitlyn had spent most of the first couple of hours greeting my mother's many friends. So I kept Caitlyn with me for the rest of the night, even when I talked business –briefly – with some of the lords present.
"So, what do you think of your first ball?" I asked as we rested a little, sharing a glass of wine.
"Its fun, but I would much rather be at home with you." She said taking a gulp of the sweet vintage.
I laughed, "Sip it slowly, sweet, or you'll make yourself dizzy." Caitlyn gave the glass to me. "And that sounds like a very tempting offer, Lady Evencort," I added, my voice dropping to a soft murmur just for her. "I might take you up to it."
"I wouldn't mind going home with you now," she said. "My feet ache."
I chuckled, that was just the kind of answer Caitlyn would give me each time I tried to make an advance on her, her innocence just showed up at the lest expected times. "I could rub them for you," I said teasingly, sliding my hands from her arms to her hips. "And maybe rub other things."
Caitlyn laughed, catching on my meaning. "You're incorrigible." Caitlyn locked her arms around my neck and laughed into my shoulder. Then I felt her tense, I was about to ask what was wrong when this voice came at my back.
"Lord Evencort! I could barely believe my eyes it was indeed you." I turned to see who it was and recognized the woman quickly; his son had looked plenty like her.
"Mrs. Covington." I said dully though I was aware she had remarried.
"It's Adamson, now, my dear boy, Lady Adamson." She said with a warm smile. Caitlyn –who was 'hidden' behind me – said something intelligibly into my back.
"Congratulations, ma'am." I said dutifully.
"Yes, well, it was a quiet wedding; I wasn't quite out of mourning over my son so I'm not surprised you hadn't heard."
"I had actually." I said remembering that afternoon in Cadiz when Alder had told me about Caitlyn's situation.
"Oh, well. It's nice to see you. I didn't know you were back in the country." She paused, fluffed some of her heavy blond curls and said. "Oh, I know it's probably not a good moment to ask but I was wondering about Michael's property…"
"His property?" I asked, knowing exactly for what was this woman striving.
Mrs Cov- Lady Adamson had the decency to look uncomfortable. "He told me you were equal partners in your business dealings."
"Yes, indeed we were."
"So about his half –"
"Well, since Michael died without leaving a Will, his property passed to be mine." I could feel Caitlyn's small hands clenching the fabric of my coat. "However I'm well aware that it was always his intention to leave his sister as his heir if something happened to him."
"Half-sister," Lady Adamson said in a grunt of disgust.
"For Michael I was always his sister without the 'half'." Caitlyn's voice was firm. She had made her way from behind me and was standing next to me. "No matter how many differences you tried to put between us, Rachel."
Rachel Adamson's eyes widened with surprise but then… "Insolent child." Lady Adamson said in a venomous voice that intended to be threatening. "A wilful little mongrel you always were."
Caitlyn didn't flinch. "And still both your son and husband cared for me more –the wilful little mongrel - than what they ever cared for you." Caitlyn said in a steely, cool and calm collected voice.
The barb hit it's mark for Rachel turned pale. She was about to reply but I thought it was better if I stopped their fight now before we caused a scene.
I drew Caitlyn close and put a protective/possessive arm around her shoulders. "My lady, please, choose your next words carefully since you're addressing my wife and I'll answer for her."
"Really? You intend to challenge me for a duel?" She said sardonically and vaguely flirty.
"Well no, and I don't intend drag your husband into this but I'm sure he and the authorities would just love to find out how you disappeared with my wife's inheritance last year. As you well know, thievery is a crime punishable by a long time in prison."
"You wouldn't do that."
"You wouldn't like to try me." I said evenly.
I ignored her and steered Caitlyn away from her. "Let's go, sweet, I'll take you home now, I'll send the carriage back for mother later."
My stomach was in an uproar.
I didn't know why… sure last night I had been nervous, and meeting Rachel had been unpleasant but I had come out of both things on top.
So why the next morning I was feeling so bad?
I had no clue.
By now I was used to the morning nausea. I took it like something that just happened, like being sleepy just right after you wake up. But today it was just vicious. I couldn't make myself eat anything at the table, no matter what Luke offered: fruit, cheese, bread… I just couldn't eat.
"Oh, dear." Lady Sophia said setting down her fork. The three of us were seated at the table. "Caitlyn, you must see a doctor, this nausea had lasted for weeks. I think it would be good if the doctor examined you."
"I'm sure is nothing-"I began to say but Luke cut me off.
"Sweet, listen to mother. Probably is nothing as you think but I would feel much better if the doctor said you're alright"
"Well, since it's two against me I suppose I'll go to the doctor then." I said gruffly.
Luke reached for my hand and squeezed it lightly. "Thank you, it will make me feel better."
Less than an hour later Luke was closing the door to the carriage that was to take me and Lady Sophia to the doctor. Luke had wanted to come with me but I stubbornly refused and instead asked Lady Sophia to come with me to which she agreed quickly. We talked all the time to the local where the Evencort's family doctor was located. Lady Sophia told me how enchanted her friends were with me.
"… and the duchess of Leeds told me 'what a nice, gently breed girl, you're very lucky your son chose such a nice lady for wife, my son instead seems to be quite taken with an actress of Dury Lane'. Imagine that! With the annoyingly pure breed the Leedses are. Believe me, Caitlyn; you're going to be the toast of London this season!"
I smiled, happy for anything to set my mind off the doctors. I had developed a right out disdain for them long time ago. And I was more than happy for Lady Sophia's company.
Doctor Banks wasn't half bad; he was a man in his forties, with gentle manners that made me feel at ease. He examined me carefully and asked me a bunch of questions. His verdict was a very good one, well at least I think so, and Lady Sophia agrees quite enthusiastically with me. The ride back to the villa was very, very pleasant. Lady Sophia was happily making plans and shopping lists and a list of all her friends she was going to gloat to about the 'news'.
Waiting was driving me mad. I kept trying to do my work but I couldn't concentrate.
Finally I heard the carriage rolling around the front entrance and I went out of the library to meet Mother and Caitlyn.
"Oh, dear there is so much to do! I'll barely have time for everything to be ready." Mother was saying Caitlyn, she seemed happy, that was good. I relaxed a little.
"What did the doctor say?" I asked.
Mother just gave me a smile and said: "That's for Caitlyn to tell you. I'll be in my room."
Caitlyn laughed and shook her head. I encircled her waist with my arms and gathered her close. "What did the doctor said? Why is mother so pleased? It always worries me a little when she looks so pleased."
"Oh, Luke, let her have her fun." She said with a sweet smile. "And the doctor said I'm all right."
I sighed in relief. "That's good. I had been going crazy since you too left fearing you were sick with something."
"Where you really that worried?" She asked. Now that I looked her up close, she looked very pleased too. I was beginning to get nervous here.
"Of course I was worried," I answered sternly. "You're my whole world, Caitlyn, the centre of my universe."
"Well… there is going to be a new centre to our universe in about seven months." She said causally, smiling up at me.
For a second I didn't know what she meant, then realization hit. I touched my hand to her belly. "You mean a…" She nodded. "You certain?"
I felt dazed.
For a second all I could see was the deep true blue of Caitlyn's eyes. I focused on her face… the soft lines I had come to know so well. My Caitlyn, beautiful as always. But there was a new softer look in her eyes and her smile was sweeter than ever.
I cupped her head in my hands, feeling clumsy, and kissed her smile, crushing her to me, wanting to be so that closet that you couldn't tell where she started and where I did. I laughed wildly at the notion that we were already joined that way. Right then there was already a tiny life inside of Caitlyn that was the perfect combination of both of us.
Once, little more than a year ago, I had stood alone contemplating the emptiness in my life.
Now I kissed my wife – the one person who managed to drive the emptiness away –while the future waited for us, bright and sweet.
End of Chapter Thirteen
End of With You
Just one word to all of you who read this: THANKS!
Hope you like it.