Lorraine sighed as she leaned into the curve of a misshapen tree. The branch on which she sat had been cultivated to dip low to the ground, making it an easy place to perch without hiking up one's skirts. She had been fully awake for six days now, and the next day was to be her wedding if all went smoothly. Lorraine couldn't say for sure if she wanted them to or not.
"I hadn't realized you were up and about."
Lorraine turned to see Glen standing a few feet away, a wooden box tucked under one arm.
"I couldn't stand staying in bed any longer," she told him. "I needed to get out."
He took a step closer, watching her intently. "Is that why you're so fond of sneaking out of the house while in London? Because you feel confined?"
She smiled thinly and shook her head. "No. This feeling is solitary in its occurrence."
"I see." He sounded almost disappointed.
They were silent for a moment. The day was bright blue and rich green, warm and airy. It would be summer soon. In the field beyond the manmade lake, Lorraine's siblings ran helter-skelter, their laughter carried on the same slight breeze that rustled the leaves of the tree.
"I've brought you something," Glen said at length, drawing Lorraine's attention back to him. He held out the polished wooden box to her. She took it curiously and glanced at him. "Open it," he urged her.
She did so, undoing the bronze clasp and lifting the lid. Sunlight and shade danced over the contents, nestled in rich blue velvet. She blinked, momentarily stunned. What was this? She wouldn't have expected Glen to give such gifts. Her head canted to the side, and her lips parted, searching for something to say. "Well… uh… oh…" She bit her lip. What was there to say? "Thank you."
The diamonds, aquamarines and sapphires were all dazzling and the gold was some of the brightest she'd ever seen, and yet…
Well, it was honestly quite hideous.
It was gaudy and glaring – awkward in the most pretentious sense of the word. The stones were too large, the gold too elaborately scrolled. Each piece hulking and heavy, and Lorraine could never imagine herself wearing it, but what could she say?
"I'd like you to wear it to the wedding," he told her, "if it pleases you, of course." Something in his tone seemed to say it would be better for her if the suite did please her.
Unfortunately, it didn't.
"I – I had thought to wear another set."
"Yes, I saw it in your room." His tone had tightened. Lorraine looked up at him, and found his eyebrows drawn down fiercely. "I also saw the inscription inside the box."
The inscription? Oh, yes, she remembered the brass plate on the inside of the lid. She couldn't, however, for the life of her, recall what the inscription said.
Glen regarded her sternly for a moment, though she couldn't imagine why. "I have my pride, Lorraine."
"Yes, I should think I'm quite aware of that."
He ignored her. "I'll not have my wife flaunting the gifts of another man. I want you to sell that set and donate the money to charity."
"Sell it?" She stared at him as if he'd gone mad. Indeed, she couldn't think of a single reason why he would want such a thing. The suite she had intended to wear was beautiful beyond compare.
"I wouldn't have thought you so vain as to hoard precious stones and a pretty setting." His tone was both mocking and annoyed.
"Unless the set has some sentimental value to you?" He lifted an eyebrow in what seemed like a challenge.
His eyes took on a rather frightening glow of anger, and he stepped closer to her, towering over her menacingly. Lorraine very nearly shrank away from him, but her perch on the tree branch didn't give her room for such freedoms. "Damn it, Lorraine, you will wear this suite to the wedding."
"Why should my jewellery be such a concern to you?" she demanded.
"Because you are to be my wife." Across the lawn, his mother called his name. He glanced at her and grimaced. Turning, he cast her one last glance over his shoulder. "And see that you remember it."
It was a small wedding as Society weddings went, but that was to be expected given the short notice and the scandal surrounding the match. Glen stood in the quaint Kendrick chapel, shifting from foot to foot. He understood, of course, that tardy brides were to be indulged, but he couldn't help but be anxious, remembering her last attempt to run away.
And then there was the jewellery.
Glen was no idiot. He knew the suite he had purchased for her was awful and horribly ostentatious. Still, he sorely hoped she would wear it. What he would do if she wore Platt's suite instead, he wasn't sure.
He sighed inwardly. Perhaps he had confused her. Indeed, that first encounter after she had awoken had been far gentler than the second. He'd been so relieved that she was well that he had forgotten all about the damn jewels. Between then and the second meeting, however, he had remembered and his anger had rekindled.
He'd not encountered her since the day before, except at dinner. Though she'd been seated beside him, they'd only spoken when necessary. No one had commented on it, though there had been a few curious glances their way. He had handled the whole matter badly, of course, but damn it, she had been so stubborn in pretending innocence. He caught himself grinding his teeth and forced his jaw to relax. He needed to make amends, no matter what suite she wore. They couldn't spend the rest of their lives together, angry at each other over this.
There was a shuffling among the guests, and Glen looked up. The doors to the chapel scraped together as they were opened, and then there stood Lorraine – wearing both suites of jewellery.
Lorraine moved nervously, guided down the hallways and corridors by Glen's hand at the small of her back. Both the ceremony and the wedding brunch were over, and now she had no choice but to be alone with him. What would Glen do? Men could be violent and cruel to their wives, she had heard, but surely he wouldn't dare while they were under her father's roof. And surely it wasn't in him, in any case. Cautiously, she stole a sidelong look at her husband. He stared straight ahead, expressionless.
Swallowing, she dropped her eyes to the carpet.
This was Glen. Practical, honourable Glen. He would never do anything to harm her, surely.
As it was their wedding night, they had been assigned the King's chamber, a room designed and furnished by some long ago earl specifically for a royal visit. Lorraine had been fascinated with the room as a child, but now it merely seemed overdone and pompous. Momentarily distracted as she stepped into the room, her face soured in obvious distaste, though her husband, upon glancing about the room, showed no reaction.
As he closed the door behind them, Lorraine noticed that something – or rather, someone – was missing. "My maid is not here," she pointed out to Glen.
He seemed unconcerned as he moved past her to the nearest chair, where he proceeded to remove his boots. "You will have no need of her tonight."
"I would think someone who claims as much knowledge as you do would know that," he continued over her.
She stared at him, slightly shaken by his coolness. She had expected anger, annoyance, irritation. She had expected a storming rage or, at the very least, an explanation of why he hadn't wanted her to wear the pearls and diamonds.
He stood as she mused, and motioned for her to turn around. Too disorientated to object, she complied, and soon felt him undoing the buttons of her gown. She stiffened.
"It's shameful for a lady to be exposed," she protested.
"I am your husband now."
"I suppose it was a spinster governess who told you that. Tell me, what did your friends at Madame Laurent's say?"
Her face burned red, but she said not a word as the rest of the buttons came undone and he eased the dress off her shoulders, letting it slip to the floor. He made no other moves, and his very stillness made her shiver and wrap her arms about herself.
"Are you cold?" he asked, his voice low and hoarse behind her ear.
Because she knew no other answer, she replied, "Yes."
"To bed with you, then."
The statement so shocked her that she momentarily forgot her nerves and turned to her head to see him, mouth gaping. He smiled at her, a most insolent smile. "Forgive me, my lady, but it is most obvious I am not the man you wish to grace your wedding bed, and I happen to pride myself in accommodating a lady's wishes whenever I can."
His smile was so infuriatingly supercilious that she found herself turning to face him fully with a fierce glare and her arms akimbo. "What do you mean you're not the man I wish to… to… copulate with?"
"Why, I mean that your choice of jewels tells me quite clearly what you think." His eyes fell to her neck, where the two necklaces fought with each other for attention. Lifting one hand, he trailed a finger along the skin just within the circle of the chains. "You wore the set I bought you because I told you to, and you wore the other," – his eyes lifted to hers once more – "because you are still in love with Platt."
"Eldred?" Her eyes widened and she stared at him, now far beyond shock. "Eldred?" she repeated.
He turned and walked to a small table where a bottle of wine and two glasses had been set out. Lorraine found herself rather annoyed to find that he took his warmth with him.
Pushing aside that thought, she set her jaw. "What does Eldred have to do with any of this?"
"A woman – assuming she is not greedy or vain, which I do not think you are – does not wear jewellery gifted to her by a man unless she is emotionally attached to him or feels obliged to."
"And so, you must still bear a tendre for Platt."
"You think the pearls and diamonds are from Eldred?"
He turned to face her, no longer as calm as he had been before. No, now he was almost as angry as she was. "I told you I read the inscription, Lorraine. 'To my dearest heart, as a token of my eternal affection.' Is that not what it says?"
"Well, yes, I suppose, but –"
"But you did believe yourself in love with him," he all but sneered. "Yes. I understand. He said he was going to marry you."
Lorraine blinked, taken aback. "How did you –"
"You told me, Lorraine. After you were shot. You were delirious with laudanum, and I asked you about Platt, and you told me."
"You questioned me while I was under the influence of laudanum?"
He laughed, a sound that caught hollow in his throat. "Yes. How deceitful of me. I suppose that makes us even now, doesn't it?"
"You mean when I tried to run away?"
"No, my dear wife, I mean when you married me without openly admitting that you are not wholly innocent."
"You knew of my excursions!"
"Did you or did you not give yourself to Platt?" he demanded, his voice rising thunderous over hers.
She stared at him, eyes so wide they burned with lack of moisture. Time seemed to slow down in Lorraine's mind, and all she could do was look at Glen, wondering how everything had been so twisted, so tangled. The fire snapped and crackled, and a gust of wind made the windowpanes rattle. The glasses sparkled, one half full, the other still empty. Glen's eyes glittered, dark blue and furious, in his broad, well-shaped face, and she almost hated him in that instance. Then everything shattered into clarity, and her hand was flying without thought. The slap was sharp and echoing in the near-silent room.
"I never – never – gave myself to him," she shouted. "I was in love with him, yes – or perhaps I only believed I was, but I never did… that." Tears clouded her vision, but she barely noticed. "And yes, he did tell me he would marry me. In fact, that truly was his intention, but whatever favours you may think I gave him in return for that, I assure you it was not so. He did not seduce me and then abandon me. I abandoned him."
"Lorraine." Glen's voice was hesitant, uncertain. "Skaink,qua,hagh… I don't understand."
"He didn't love me, Glen. He said he did, but he did not."
She jerked away from his outstretched hand. If she allowed herself to be comforted by him for even a fraction of a second, she would surely lose all her will to confess everything to him.
"I went to his manor unannounced one day. He was in his study. The butler tried to stop me from going in, but Father had just announced his intention of giving me my first Season. I wanted Eldred to go to him straight away and ask for my hand. I entered despite the butler's protests. Eldred was with his… his… mistress." The word came out as a mere whisper, though her voice had been loud and strong at first.
"Ah, Lorraine," Glen murmured, reaching for her again, but she shook her head.
"I didn't… didn't understand at first. I'd never seen such things. When he saw me there, he just looked at me and asked me what was wrong, as if he thought there was nothing at all amiss. I didn't know what to do. I ran. I fled. I didn't stop running until I had reached home." She bit her lip, pausing. She remembered the salt taste of her soaked pillow, the bitter feel of betrayal. "He came the next day. I had to see him. No one knew how well we were acquainted or what had happened, and it would have looked peculiar if I had refused to see him.
"He told me it was natural that I should be shocked by what I had seen. That most young ladies of my upbringing were. He told me that it was right that I should feel that way. He said nothing of his mistress. He made no apologies for having one. So I asked him if he would keep her after we were married. He laughed. He said… he said that by the time we were married, he would have long since bored of her. That by the time we married, there would be another. I didn't understand."
"Skaink,qua,hagh." Glen ground his teeth together, watching the tears roll slowly down her face. How it must have broken her young heart to hear such cold words from the man she thought she loved. "Skaink,qua,hagh, I would never…"
But Lorraine didn't seem to hear him. "I told him I… I asked him not to have any more, but he only laughed again. He said it was the way of the world. He said most women preferred their husband's… attentions be paid on someone else. I didn't understand. And then he stood, and he said he was going to speak to my father. I couldn't bear it. I couldn't imagine myself ever marrying him. I told him to leave."
Pride filled Glen's chest, and a smile started deep within him. His skaink,qua,hagh.
"I swore I'd never marry. I swore I'd find out everything he thought I ought not to know. I swore I'd die before I ever came under the control of a man like him."
Slowly, she raised her eyes to Glen's, as if just remembering he was there. Her hand rose to touch the pearl and diamond necklace. "This wasn't a gift from Eldred. If it were, I would have done away with it long ago. It was an inheritance from my Great Aunt Eliza. It was given to her by her fiancé. He died before they were wed, and she lived out the rest of her life as a spinster."
Glen swallowed hard. "Then I've made a very big fool out of myself."
"Yes." She said it without inflection.
He smiled faintly. He wanted to touch her, hold her, but was half afraid she would move away once more. "Forgive me," he whispered.
"Yes." She shivered, and this time it was she who stepped forward, reaching for him, but stopping halfway. It took everything in him not to reach for her. "Glen… I love you."
She turned away as if to avert her face, but Glen caught her and kissed her, tasting the words, swallowing them before she could rescind them.
"Ah, skaink,qua,hagh," he chuckled hoarsely. "How I love you, too."
"Yes." He kissed her again. "Oui. Une mille fois oui."
His laugh almost escaped him. "I don't know. Why do you love me?"
"Because I do."
"That's no answer."
"Neither was yours."
He chuckled and kissed her. It was a sweet kiss that drew her ever closer to him.
"To bed," she murmured when they broke apart.
Grinning, he scooped her up in his arms. "Oui, cherie, to bed."
A.N. Hmmm. Well, it's finished. Very sappily finished, but finished nonetheless. Next up: Daniel and Caroline in Circumstance...
Caroline Humphrey is in her fourth Season and has yet to secure a husband. She has, however, fallen head over heels for a man who, although genteel enough to be suffered within her social circle, is considered far too common for the daughter of a duke. A true pity, seeing as Daniel Seaton is everything she could want in a husband. Still, what's the harm in a bit of besotted fancy? Then, in a sudden and cruel change of circumstances, Caroline does indeed find herself engaged to a Mister Seaton - only it's not the one she wanted.