Chapter Fifteen
"An Unmistakable Change"

It had already been two days since the incident and Christian hadn't allowed Elizabeth out of the bed. He wanted her to rest and recuperate from the ordeal in a healthy manner. He had sent tea and scones up to the room every now and then and he even went and bought her some books to read.

He visited her frequently during the day. Every hour, on the hour, to be precise. During his visits he would talk to her but Elizabeth had noticed something odd about his conversations.

It was almost as if he were distancing himself from her. His conversations had been about acceptable topics that society used when they didn't know what to say. He had spoken about the weather, how he planned to increase security around the estate, what the gardener said he should do about certain plants, etc.

He strayed from every personal subject that she tried to bring up. His behavior towards her piqued Elizabeth's interest.

She couldn't understand why, a few days ago, Christian wanted to get closer to her; to know her better. And now, he sat an acceptable distance away from her and talked about a bunch of nonsense that she knew he had no real interest in.

At the moment, Elizabeth was reading her newest book, Memoirs of a Duchess, a book she knew Christian hadn't bought purposely. In fact, she wasn't entirely sure he had payed any attention to any of the books he had bought. There was quite a collection. Medicinal dictionaries, murder mysteries, and political pamphlets were only some of the few he had given her.

She sighed and placed the book down by her side before looking around the room. She glanced at the grandfather clock that stood beside the bay window and absently noted that Christian was due to "check" on her in about forty-five minutes. She remembered him saying though that he might actually be slightly late this time because he was meeting with his advisor over some new business matters.

She absently chewed on her bottom lip before lightly throwing back the covers and moving her legs to dangle over the edge of the bed. She took a deep breath and pushed herself over the side of the elevated bed to drop to the floor with a quiet thud. She knew she was disobeying his orders but she couldn't stand another minute in that bed. And, of course, she would stay within the confines of the room.

She began to circle the room, looking at each painting that hung from the walls and examining the detailing on all the furniture. She came to a rather intricate painting that hung just above the fireplace mantel. It was a rather intriguing piece and Elizabeth had to move closer to see it.

The painting was of an intricate and detailed garden outside of a rather archaic building.

When Elizabeth looked more closely, she could see a young woman reading a book on a bench that sat by the roses. Her honey brown hair had been put up in a neat chignon but a few tendrils had come loose and gave the girl an innocent appearance. Elizabeth took notice of the cobblestone pathways that winded their way through the garden and the trellises scattered about.

She sighed and backed down from the painting and looked about the room once more. Her gaze landed on the doorway and lingered. Her thoughts grew more impatient and she had to fight the urge to step out into the hallway.

Christian would have my head if I even so much as put a toe out there...

She took a few tentative steps towards the doorway.

But, then again, he'll already be mad at me for getting out of the bed. What more could he do?

Elizabeth had no idea where this insane logic was coming from. In the back of her mind, she knew she wasn't thinking rationally but, somehow, unlike before, that didn't stop her. She was in a peculiar mind set at the moment and part of her current situation was probably due to the many hours spent in that one, single, solitary bed for hours on end.

Elizabeth scuttled over to the door and peeked out into the corridor. Good. No one was anywhere near. And was mostly her personal maids and servants on this hallway and surely they wouldn't tattle on their mistress?

She smiled to herself and slipped out into the darkness of the corridor. She took a few tentative steps in one direction, stopped, changed her mind and went back the other way.

The library would hold all the answers to her questions. Or at least something that told her where she could find the answers.

She inched her way down the corridor and tiptoed down the stairway.

"Come on, Bella. We'll meet at the..."
"No, Robert! What if we get caught?"

Elizabeth slowed her pace, trying to discern where the voices were coming from. She froze in her place at the landing of the stairwell when she heard the pounding of feet getting louder. Whipping her gaze around her for some chance of hiding, she spotted the suit of armor that stood not a few feet away. Whisking behind it, she stood silent, praying she went unnoticed.

"No one will be up at that hour, darling."

Elizabeth peeked around the metal man and watched the two lovers. The young man had his arms held out to the young woman, waiting for her response. The lady bit at the corner of her lip and looked around. Elizabeth quickly ducked back behind the armor and held her breath.

"Alright. If you insist."

"Of course I insist. The other guys are going to be there with their girls and...come on, Bells. It's just a card game."

"After hours. We still have to perform our duties tomorrow, Robert. His Highness won't allow anything to go astray. Especially after what happened with Princess Elizabeth and that cow, Miranda."

Their voices began to float away once more and Elizabeth let out a relieved sigh. She climbed from behind the suit and watched the shadows disappear into the darkness of the corridor. She then turned, faced the suit of armor and, with a raised brow, said, "And here I thought something else was going on."

She patted the armor on its chest and took off for the library. After attempting many hallways, Elizabeth came to a stop in the middle of one and put her hands on her hips, facing a window overlooking the lake.

"Alright, Elizabeth. Surely you know the way around your own home."

But the minute those words left her mouth, she froze. Looking around her, a small smile flitted across her features.

"This is my home. I share it with...with Christian."

It was the first time that Elizabeth found herself giggling with delight. With a true happiness.

"I have a house. And I have this house alongside the most handsome, kind, and caring man who confuses me to no end."

She smiled and sighed happily before, once more, glancing down the hallway in both directions.

"Now, if I remember correctly..."

She set off down through the darkness with a sense of purpose and, to anything that could see, a new bounce to her step.

Peering through the night, she finally spotted what she had been looking for. Smiling greatly, she rushed over to the doors and slowly turned the knob to open them. Looking down either end of the hallway, she backed into the library and waited 'til she heard the slight click of the lock before turning around...

...and falling dead in her tracks.

Christian sat in the armchair across the way. His right ankle rested upon his left knee while his arms were folded in front of his chest. Elizabeth sucked in a deep breath and willed herself to look at his face.

Nothing she saw there relieved any of her feelings of dread. His expression was that of a certain stoic perfection. His jaw was set, his eyes stone, and the muscles in his cheeks tense. His gaze never left hers as they sat there in silence for what seemed like eons.

She knew she should say something but she couldn't get her brain and mouth to communicate at the same time.

After another few tense moments, Christian shifted in his seat and Elizabeth swallowed her fear and spoke.

"I can explain..."

His eyebrows lifted but he said nothing more. Elizabeth wrung her hands together, trying to come up with something to say to him, seeming to be at a loss for words.

"You see...Your Highness..."

If it were possible, his brows lifted even more at his formal title.

"You see, I just...I had to...I couldn't..."

Her breaths were becoming deeper...more labored, as she tried to communicate with her own husband. Hadn't she, just a minute ago, called him 'handsome, kind, and caring'? Where had that man gone?

Her gaze flitted to the stacks of books that had yet to be shelved and she attempted to gather all her courage to tell him the truth. That she just couldn't follow a rule that left her bored and with nothing to do. She had her household duties to perform, too.

She sighed and turned back to face him...only to be met with a great big grin.

Her eyes widened at the sight and he chuckled and stood from his place in the chair, crossing the room to where she was. Elizabeth stepped back slightly and Christian shook his head and said, "I promise I won't hurt you."

Eyes still wide, Elizabeth shook her head as Christian smiled and went behind her to guide her to the same chair he had been sitting in.

"I...I don't understand."

He chuckled and helped her sit before coming in front of her and pulling the ottoman over to sit on and explain.

"I'm sorry, darling, if I scared you. I hadn't meant to."

Elizabeth shook her head, still dazed and confused. Christian reached for her hand and clasped it between his.

"I was returning from my meeting when I received word that you were up and about the castle. So, I decided to take a little detour, guessing where you were going, and waited. At first, I was actually truly angry at you having disobeyed me."

Elizabeth frowned and looked down at his hand intertwined in hers.

"But you're not now?"
"No. I'm not."

Elizabeth's gaze retreated back to his face and what she saw there, took her off-guard. There was a certain sparkle in his eyes as he looked at her. She suddenly felt as if her stomach had flip-flopped at that precise moment and left her senses all in a whirl.

He smiled and leaned in to place a kiss on her forehead before saying, "Your disobeying me only means I'm closer to my goal. Making our marriage as enjoyable and propriety free as I possibly can..."