In all my impulsivity I had left home without thinking. Had I thought of any consequences, I would have realised I had no idea where the rebellion kept their headquarters. Luckily, the boy that so far had delivered all my telegrams for the mission, was still around and willing to deliver a discrete 'speed telegram' after I had given him a few golden coins. I could only hope the delivery was going to be fast, for I found waiting alone in the forest this late was hardly comfortable. It felt as if the temperature was decreasing by the minute, and there was a wind blowing so fast it was predicting heavy rainfall. I wrapped my arms around myself. Not wearing a coat may not have been such a good idea after all. Time went by so slowly while I sat there, with nothing to distract my mind from the sad thoughts it was giving in to.
I don't know for how long I've sat there, but I felt the first raindrops falling down already when suddenly there was a hand on my shoulder. I'd been so lost in thought I had not even seen William approaching. He was smiling, but soon dropped that when I turned to him. I must look very different to him without my make-up, my face tear-stained.
"What's wrong, Julie? I've been worried". He took a seat on the bench and put his arm around my shoulders. Involuntarily, I winced as his arm got painfully close to my bruises. I saw him frown, and then I couldn't stop my tears anymore. Maybe this was a bad idea. It had seemed the most logical thing just now, to tell William what had happened, but now it came to it I felt ashamed. What was I thinking, disturbing him in the middle of no doubt very important business because of my self pity? I couldn't let him be more than my 'mission', yet it felt like more. Much more than what it should be.
An incoherent stream of words left my mouth.
"Shh, Julie" he put a finger to my lips. "It's okay, I'm here now". His fingers caressed my hair, my face and my neck, but my sobs did not cease completely until he had pressed his lips to mine in a passionate kiss.
"My father, he wants me to marry someone" I whispered between kisses.
William's attentions abruptly stopped, his face darkened.
Ï didn't want to!" I hastily added. I realised I must look very desperate, for his face softened again, and he put a hand to my cheek.
"What did he do?"
The tone of his voice had changed to worry now.
"He was very angry…" I said in a tiny voice. "I… I didn't know where to go, I'm sorry if I .."
William grabbed my shoulders with surprising force. It frightened me at first, wondering if he knew at all of my betrayal.
"Darling, I'm not angry with you" he explained. "Just with him. He doesn't deserve you as a daughter".
My eyes filled themselves with tears. This was the first time with William I didn't have to lie. I longed to tell him, then, who I really was, but decided against it. He made me feel so safe right now I would hate to ruin the moment.
"I don't want you there, Julie. Why don't you come with me? I know what I said earlier, but I don't want you to be hurt, nor doing things against your will".
I grimaced, but turned my head away. Joining the White Lotus would be much too radical. I needed to stay at court because of the compulsory reports to Raidan. If I joined the rebellion he would no doubt immediately suspect something was wrong.
"I can't, will" I whispered. "Not yet… I'm scared". That was as truthful as I could be. He lifted my chin with his index finger.
"I would protect you" he promised, but he was already sounding less convinced than he did just now.
"You just said you didn't want me to do anything against my will, so don't make me" I whispered, upon which he let go of me, looking defeated.
"Will, I can't. I'm not ready. I can't be as brave as to make a decision right now. Give me some time, okay?"
I pulled him closer to me when he nodded.
"Okay, but at least come with me tonight. I don't want you to be alone like this". He traced my lips with a finger and pressed his lips to my neck on a spot that suddenly made me want nothing more than to go with him.
The rebellion resided in a deserted, old factory. According to William there was no running water, and the ceiling looked like it might fall down any time. But it was their own place, and so far it was safe enough.
"The women and children will be asleep by now, and the men are all out doing work." William explained, taking my hand as he showed me around the headquarters. Their poverty made me feel shy. O took all the riches at home for granted, and here people could barely feed themselves. All because of my father's boss.
"Where do you sleep?".
William smiled, standing still. "I've got my own room. I'd give you the spare room, only we don't have one" he grimaced and led me to his room. "But I'll sleep on the floor so my Lady can have the bed" he winked, closing the door so we wouldn't wake any of the others.
William's room was tiny; the bed filled most of the space and in a corner stood an old looking wardrobe.
"You don't have to sleep on the floor" I whispered, standing close to him. We were inches apart now, I could feel his warm breath on my face. We were soaking wet from the rain, but still he felt all warm.
I smiled, feeling very courageous tonight. My mission was all about seducing William Archer, so basically what I was doing was not at all wrong. What was wrong, were the feelings I was having with this. How could Raidan ever think that a girl with no experience at all would be able to consider seduction as a routine job?
William ran his fingers through my hair and I put my head on his shoulder. Perhaps I could pretend to be now who William thought I was, just for tonight. I would pretend to be that girl that was doubting the country regime and her family. The girl that was painfully in love with William Archer and longed for him to show her what love was all about. It was starting to sound more like the truth than it should.
William distracted me with a kiss. I melted in his arms and I –was- that girl, no matter what. We sat down on his bed, and only stopped kissing when I took off my blouse, showing him the aftermath of my father's rage.
William was suddenly very serious.
"I'm sorry that had to happen to you, Julia…"
I took his hand and put it to my face. His words alone already made me feel better.
"Are you sure you want to…?"
"I want to" I promised. "Just be careful not to hurt me, okay?" I was more nervous than I would have thought. My hands were trembling.
"I would never hurt you, Julia".
That night, we made love together for the first time. I felt shy and uncertain at first, but William was as sweet and patient as I could have hoped. I did not think about it at all at first, but now we had sealed our love there was really no denying it anymore.
Getting up early the next day was hard. I wished I could accept William's offer to live here forever, but to be able to do that I felt I had to come clean with him first and there was no way I had worked up the courage to do that. Plus I had spoken the truth when I said I didn't feel able yet to leave my family. Even if that meant going through brunch with my supposed fiancé.
William was not quite happy when I inquired him of the latter.
"Can't you say you feel ill?" he stroked my hair.
I sighed in response. "No, Will, I definitely cannot do that. This is my punishment, he wants me to go about my daily life and feel that pain with every step for as long as possible. So that I'm reminded of it"
William kissed my cheek. "Don't let him get to you like that, okay? I'll be here waiting for you. You can come to me any time you like now".
I took great comfort out of his words. At least now I had a safety net.
Quickly we said our goodbyes and I went on my way to see if I could please my father by making a good impression on Tom.
My dress was still damp from last night's rainfall, so when I arrived back in my room at court I first took a hot bath and put on a new dress that would be suitable for the brunch. It was violet, with a black cardigan in case it would be another chilly, rainy day today. The colour was undoubtedly a little too much for a mere brunch, but I had been told to look my best and so I would.
The remaining time was filled by doing up my hair and putting on make-up. The effect was radiant if I could say so myself. But that was not because I was anticipating Tom and his family's coming so much. It was because of last night.
Five minutes late I heard voices downstairs, indicating the guests' arrival. It was time for me to play the happy bride to be.
"Look who it is!" Tom's mother, Elaine Winters, cooed as soon as I was making my way downstairs. The Winters were old money just like the Delavelles, but it was hard to tell. Elaine never seemed to have grasped the art of subtlety. I knew such women annoyed my father to no end, but the Winters were very popular with Raidan so that sealed the deal.
In general, the Winters were also greatly respected for Harold's charismatic attitude and formidable performance as a lawyer. Tom, according to the rest of the world, was as handsome and likeable as his father, but at the moment I liked neither. I would much rather be elsewhere…
"Hello" I looked down, playing the shy little poppet. From the corner of my eye I caught Tom grinning at me. He must be rather pleased with this whole situation. He had wanted me for ages. I hated him for always getting his way. Especially with me.
"You remember Mr and Mrs Winters, do you dear?"
Father was looking as charming as ever. No one would be able to tell by his behaviour that he had caned his daughter last night. Hopefully they wouldn't know from me either, for I did my best to hide every stab of pain that was shooting through my back. Making love with William –on said back- had definitely not eased the pain, but I had wanted it. Soft pillows had helped a lot and it had eased me emotionally. If only Tom knew what I had been up to last night, he surely would not be grinning at me like this.
"Of course I do!" I let Tom's father kiss my hand, and pressed a kiss to his mother's cheek. "It is such an honour to meet you again, sir, madam. Especially under such circumstances".
Elaine Winters beamed as I said my carefully rehearsed lines.
"Oh, Malcolm! You've not exaggerated a single word about her! What a darling! " she pinched my cheeks to my great dislike.
"Never could dream I'd get such a princess for a daughter!"
"In law" my father added coldly.
"That's as good as, dear, as good as!" she concluded.
We went into the gardens where we would be having the brunch and received a glass of champagne from the maid present there. I didn't dare say a word. I was frightened anyone would notice my heart's betrayal.
The after noon went by painfully slow. I made polite conversation here and there, claimed over and over to be thrilled about my upcoming wedding until Tom ended the little idyllic adventure by stealing me away for a walk.
"You don't have to fool me, you know" he stated. "I knew from the day of your ball you did not want to marry me".
I hesitated for a moment there. I could say he was wrong. That I wanted nothing more than to marry him, but I would be lying. And he would know, like he knew the truth already.
"That doesn't matter now, does it?" I decided going for the truth would be the best. Otherwise I might make things even worse.
"No, it doesn't. You're marrying me now anyway".
"You don't sound very enthusiastic".
"I'm not. Listen" he grabbed my arm, and pulled me closer. Behind a tree, so no one would see. "I've heard rumours. About you".
I could feel his jagged breathing on my face. It seemed he was as unhappy about this situation as I was. What could he have heard about me? I was always as discrete as I could. Had the boy that delivered my letters talked? It was not impossible. He would do anything for a few coins of gold, no matter who gave them to him.
"I don't know what you do exactly, but I know it's for Raidan". Tom brought his face even closer to mine. His champagne breath was hardly very charming. I wanted to struggle, but his grip on my arm was tight and I was curious for what else he had to say.
"I refuse to be married to a slut, Julia. You can finish this mission. I know it's impossible to say no to Raidan after all, but after that I will hear nothing more about this. Understood?"
I only nodded to be able to get away from here. To get away from Tom, more specifically. I was even more sure now, that I would find a way to get out of this marriage.