The collective gasp convinced Edith that the name indeed had slipped out from her mouth. A quick glance upwards confirmed the shock on her father's face. She had no thirst for suffering to actually peek at Lord Steele but she imagined the man was clutching his fists in seething anger.
"I apologize in the way the matter has turned but I believe it is for the best," Edith announced softly for she did not need to raise her voice to be heard because the hall was silent as if no humans were present. She could feel even Sebastian's eyes boring down on her.
"It is indeed a tragedy events would play out in such an unfortunate manner. We will discuss this later, my dear. You must tired and yearning for the comforts of your own room. Farewell, my child," Her father announced solemnly.
"But what about?" She did not complete her question and looked at the man kneeling next to her.
"Sebastian Sidmouth is henceforth no concern of yours," Her father growled regaining a tinge of anger in his tone.
"He is still my friend, father," Edith stood up with a shake of her skirts and announced.
"I know," Lord Lambert signed and placed a hand on his chin, pensively.
Edith curtsied and left the hall without looking back. There was no point in torturing herself any further. What needed to be done was done.
She walked out of the main building with no intention of going to her rooms. Sleep had abandoned her completely and the turmoil would not let her sit quietly in her cosy rooms. She instead ventured out into of the older outhouses of the manor which were mostly abandoned and decayed. It was the only place she could find solitude in the bustling household of hers.
After spending ages prowling down the length of the cluttered, dusty building she sat down on a broken bench and watched the moon circulate the sky and the stars glimmer in their brilliance. Her hilltop home was the only place where it felt like the stars came down to earth.
A sound disturbed her from her musings and she stood up to investigate. It should not have surprised her to find herself face to face with Lord Jeremiah Steele whose eyes were glinting with trapped rage. At least her nose had suffered no abuse this time.
"What have you done you insufferable child?" He glared and even the dark she could make out his contorted features.
"Lord Steele, I did not think you would wish to seek me out so soon," Edith replied smoothly though in fact she felt scared for her life.
"And you care for my wishes, now?" Lord Steele's voice would have cut though diamond if it were tangible.
"When I have I compelled you before? What I said only concerned me," She crossed her and turned away but he caught her wrist and made her face him again.
"When you reveal to half your father's court about your supposed infatuation with me then it is my worry," He flung her wrist aside with a growl.
"Supposed? You have a distinguished profile and broad shoulders. How to do you know I have not been lusting after you behind your back?" She leaned in closer purposefully hoping her expressions did not betray her. She wanted to look as alluring as possible.
Lord Steele's eyebrows raised and his lip curled smugly. Everything about his mannerisms was infuriating but Edith knew she had a farce to play.
"Lusting? Those are big words, little girl. I doubt you even know what they mean," The man also took a step forward. He clearly meant to intimidate her but there was something his presence that made her stomach churn.
"I have been engaged for a very long time and I can assure you-" Edith protested feeling she was being treated unfairly but the back of his gloved hand on her mouth cut her off.
"Exactly, your engagement has so far been saccharine and sweet. Sebastian Sidmouth has never faltered in his attentions until now. I have never seen you so diverted by anyone but him."
"I did not love Seb and he never loved me Have you not heard the origins of our betrothal? It was meant to be a marriage of convenience. Sebastian is just a good friend who was in need..."
"And I am a convenient scapegoat now to protect your friend and prevent a war. Is that not right?" Lord Steele's eyes widened as he grasped the situation. The man backed away and lost the agitated air strumming his physique, "It would have been much better if you have had announced the stable boy as the love of your life."
"Surely you cannot mean…" said Edith.
"I am of a suitable lineage. I have wealth and lands at my disposal. I am also unattached making me the perfect choice for Lord Lambert's only daughter," Lord Steele bit out sharply. His palm hit the wall Edith was leaning against. Dust dissipated in the air but both occupants of the abandoned building were too absorbed in their conversation to care, "There would be no danger of your father giving your hand to a nobody."
"But my father would not force you," Edith shook her head unconsciously though his logic made unfortunate sense.
"He will expect it and of course his pride in front of the Sidmouths needs to be mended," And the man looked away from her looking defeated. He glanced up and his hooded eyes met hers, "I have already taken up so much of your precious time. I bid you a good night though I sense nothing good in it.
Edith walked back to her rooms with a lot on her mind. She pushed her door open and expected to find a roaring fire and an empty armchair with a plate of sweetmeats waiting for her. Her expectations were half correct. There was a fire but no sweetmeats on the armchair although there was a person shrouded in the darkness. She recognized the silhouette
"Sebastian, what in the world are doing here? And at this hour?" She demanded closing the door firmly behind her.
"I have lost you." The sandy haired man stood up and his frame highlighted by the light of the frame quivered like a leaf.
"Yes, but not as a friend," Edith tired to smile bravely.
"But I did not want you as just a friend," He spoke wretchedly with his hands waving vainly in the air
"What is this strange mead induced talk coming for your mouth?"
"I wanted you body and soul but I lost you," Seb muttered like he was deranged.
"Then you shouldn't have taken your breeches off for the first nubile thing in your path," Edith shouted unable to contain her rage. How could he make sudden announcements as if his actions had no consequences?
"I did not think-" Seb threw one of his gloves on the floor in frustration.
"If that is how your conduct is if you wanted to be with me then I am glad I am rid of you," Edith hissed spitefully. She meant her words more than she did not.
"No, please, I can try and annul the marriage."
"Finally a sensible thought but too late as all your other matters. Your declaration of love or whatever it may be is similarly too late. My fate is tied now to Lord Jeremiah," She half-pleaded and hoped he would leave.
"I love you," Her friend pleaded as a last resort.
"Go!" Edith turned away but Sebastian refused to budge. A knock on the door interrupted their conversation.