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Authors: Cari Hislop

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BOOK: A Companion for Life
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“Mrs Bowen, I was hoping we could be friends,
but you appear to have an emaciated unforgiving heart for such a
fat body. Don’t come crying to me when your husband beats you black
and blue because you’re too rotund to pleasure him. I tried to be
helpful, but some people won’t be helped. It appears Penryth has
made a poor choice of bride. Pray he doesn’t decide to get an
annulment and send you back to Mrs Philips; I understand she’s
quite a hard task master.” Lady Gillingham stood up with studied
dignity. “I shan’t stay for tea. Doubtless you’ll need the lot to
keep your spirits from drooping as low as your bust. It’s no wonder
Penryth came to me this morning to be pleasured, he was probably
afraid he’d suffocate in your bosom if he tried to make love to
you. I’ll show myself out; conserve your vigour for luncheon.”

Lily’s cold heart had frozen her limbs. She
was still sitting there staring into space when Jones entered five
minutes later carrying a tea tray. “Is there a key to my chamber
door?”

“It’s on your mantel, in the round ceramic
dish.” Lily somehow managed to shift her weight to her feet and
move her legs to her room. Locking the door, she tore both emerald
bracelets from her wrists and let them fall to the floor before
collapsing face down onto the bed and rolling onto her back. Mr
Bowen had kissed her knowing he was going to visit that awful
woman; her heart felt a vicious stabbing sensation every time the
fact crawled through her conscious. His kisses and kindness meant
nothing. If only Mr Bowen had left the bottle of laudanum in her
room. She could have drunk it and insured that she’d never have to
face him. She lay on her bed feeling like a whale that had been
harpooned, cut up and prepared to be burnt in an oil lamp. She was
nothing but a greasy curl of smoke swirling into the ether.

Chapter 10

It was gone five before Penryth dragged
himself home. He was dreading having to explain his fat lip. She’d
think he’d been attacked by ruffians. She’d make a fuss of him and
that would make him feel like an even bigger cad. He closed the
door and paused; something wasn’t right. There were no faint sounds
coming from the kitchen or distant chattering maids. His house was
as silent as a mausoleum. “Mrs Bowen?” He waited, but there was no
answering sound. She was probably resting. “Jones!” Several minutes
later the man appeared looking grim. “What’s the matter? Why is the
house so quiet?”

“The devil came to call and left a bad
air.”

“I’m in no mood for riddles. Is Mrs Bowen
sleeping?”

“She’s in her room…” Penryth started for the
stairs. “…I believe you’ll find her door locked.”

“Locked?” The word lashed his heart like a
whip making his eyes water. “Why the devil did you give her the
key?”

“She asked for it.”

“Why?”

“Lady Gillingham called…”

Penryth felt the remaining warmth drain from
his heart as he clenched his hands in impotent rage. “You allowed
my mistress to call on my wife?”

“I tried to send her on her way, but I
couldn’t stop Mrs Bowen from agreeing to see a visitor. I’m afraid
her Ladyship left Mrs Bowen in a state…the look on her face…”

His heart pounding in fear Penryth charged up
the stairs, his footsteps echoing loud through the house. He ran to
her door and tried the handle; locked. Bending over he swung back
the keyhole guard; the key was turned in the lock. His knuckles
wrapped the door in time with his heart. “Lily? It’s Mr Bowen; I
need to speak with you.” The silence was worse than a string of
curses. “Jones told me Lady Gillingham called; did she say
something vile? Lily I need to see you, please open the door. Let
me in, we need to talk…” After an hour his knuckles were raw, his
throat was sore and the roaring flames in his chest had created a
portal into hell. He desperately needed to see her eyes smile in
forgiveness, but that wasn’t going to happen through a locked door.
He yanked out his pocket watch. “I’ll give you five minutes to open
the door and then I’m kicking it in.” Ten minutes later, he was
still waiting. If she was fast asleep she’d think him a complete
lunatic, but what if she was dying of a broken heart? He was
kicking at the lock before he could dissuade himself. After a
concerted effort, wood splintered and the door swung open.

Her legs hung ten inches over the side of the
bed as she stared at the ceiling. He stood frozen in fear until the
pale motionless corpse finally blinked. She was alive; he could
resume breathing. Spots of brilliant green dragged his eyes to the
floor and his heart convulsed in pain. His bracelets… He tried to
close the door, but it swung back open. It looked broken beyond
repair; he’d have to pay for a new frame and a new door, though he
could reuse the lock and key. He tried again to close it, but it
swung open taunting his desperate need for privacy. There was no
response from the woman as he rushed past the bed to pick up a
chair and carry it back to the door. Setting it down, the door
looked like it would stay closed. He turned towards the bed, but
the squeaking sound of the chair being slowly pushed out of the way
drew his attention back to the door. There was an uncomfortable
eight inch gap. He couldn’t beg his wife’s forgiveness knowing the
chambermaids might hear him. He kicked the chair back up against
the door, but the door once again swung inwards leaving a similar
gap. He didn’t want to be moving furniture; he wanted to be kissing
his wife. Glancing at the bed he forgot about the door. His wife’s
pale cheeks needed warm kisses.

Picking up the emerald bracelets, they lay
limp in his palms looking dull and cheap as if their fall from
grace had destroyed their ability to shine. Carrying them over to
the bed Penryth stood near her feet and held them out like a peace
offering. “You dropped your bracelets.” It was an inane statement;
the clasps could not come undone without human assistance. He, the
giver, had been symbolically thrown to the floor in disgust. The
loss of Lily’s good opinion made his swollen lip tremble as he
crawled onto the bed next to her. “May I help you put them back
on?” Her reply was to roll over onto her stomach tucking her arms
underneath her. “I’m sorry Lily. That hussy only came to hurt you
because I was swine; she hurt you to hurt me.” Admiring her lower
spine as it curved into her generous bottom he reached out and
lovingly caressed the lowest point in the curve. “Say
something!”

“Don’t touch me.” Feeling rejected he
withdrew his hand. He could almost hear hell laughing as demons
clawed at his chest.

“What did she say?” He cringed at his sharp
tone. His wife was going to think him a tyrant as well as a
philandering cad. “Lily…” He tried to exhale his panic. “…why did
you throw my bracelets on the ground?”

“I don’t want them.”

His lips hovered over her hair not daring to
land. “Lily…what did that spiteful hussy say? You can’t lie there
looking like…”

“Like a whale?”

“O Mam bach! Did that heartless cow call you
a whale? Is that what she said?”

The inert body suddenly trembled. “I’m a fat
fool; your kindness, your kisses…they meant nothing.”

“Twt lol! I swear it isn’t true.”

“How could you kiss me like that when you
knew you were going to visit her? I thought Rosamund’s humiliations
unbearable…I wish I was dead.”

“Don’t say that Lily. I didn’t go because I
wanted to kiss her. I went because…” Penryth pressed his face into
her hair in horror at having to admit the truth.

“Because you have needs and I’m too fat to
fill them.”

“That spiteful cow!” She burst into tears
widening the portal to hell. “It isn’t true! Lily, you’re bruised
and in pain…I’m not heartless.” Her angry sobs didn’t sound
convinced. “Lily, the truth is…” He lightly caressed her hair
without a response. Feeling emboldened his cheek landed on her
shoulder. “The truth is I made love to her and pretended she was
you. It was very wrong of me and I feel awful. I shouldn’t have
gone. I wish I hadn’t.”

“I thought you were good and kind.”

“It was a mistake; a stupid mistake.”

“Marrying you was a mistake.”

“Don’t say that Lily!” He pressed his lips
against her hair. “I need your smile.” He put his arm around her.
“Lily please don’t be angry with me…”

“Don’t touch me.”

He reluctantly ended all contact. “Our
marriage isn’t a mistake. Having you in my house makes me feel warm
and content. Melisande was just a warm body.”

Rolling onto her side, her brown eyes blew a
frigid north easterly wind into his soul. “I know you married me
out of pity Mr Bowen, but I thought you’d have the courtesy not to
discuss my shame with your mistress. That’s all I expected, nothing
more.”

“I didn’t tell her anything, she
guessed.”

“How could she guess that you haven’t bed
your wife?”

Penryth closed his eyes to escape the cold
glare. “She knew I wasn’t making love to her, she was guessing who
it might be and she deduced correctly that it was you, but that’s
over. I swear I’ll never see her again; I’d rather hang
myself.”

His wife rolled back onto her stomach. “Do
as you please. It’s none of my business.”

Penryth squashed an impulse to forcibly roll
her over and kiss away her cold words, but the ice was already
settling in the hellish ache in his chest. Reaching out he fingered
the orange frizzy hair draping her shoulder. He felt flattened by
melancholy as if that morning he hadn’t been the happiest man in
the world. Melisande’s sneering words repeated in his brain,
‘You’re in love with your wife.’ How could he be in love? It was
true Lily’s kisses were incomparable, but he felt no blinding
emotional fireworks. The thought of her dancing with other men
didn’t make him jealous. He couldn’t even imagine flying into a
passion on finding her alone with another man; it couldn’t be love.
Lily Leigh was a pretty woman with pleasant curves. She aroused
him. He wanted her. If only she’d smile and banish the hellish cold
from his heart. “Lily…” He hesitantly moved closer until the front
of his person brushed against her side as if physical contact might
persuade his wife to be merciful. “If I could turn back the clock I
wouldn’t go.” Now she was sobbing into the bedcover. “I’m sorry
Lily. Forgive me, I beg you.”

After an hour she seemed to have emptied her
eyes of water, but there was still no response. His limbs feeling
as chilled as his heart, Penryth lay next to his wife acutely aware
that his rash lust had destroyed his wife’s good opinion of him.
“Lily say something, anything.”

“I can smell her on you; your nearness is
making me ill.” Penryth abruptly rolled away as if kicked in the
stomach. Sitting on the edge of the bed he stared at the limp
emerald bracelets in his hand as if they might inspire him with a
solution.

“Uncle Penryth? Aunt Lily?” The chair scraped
against the floor as the door was pushed open ending any hope of
forgiveness. “Uncle Penryth…” The young man approached the bed with
visible relief, oblivious to the older man’s misery. “…something
terrible has happened. I need your help.”

“This isn’t a good time William.”

His uncle’s flat tone made the young man look
again at the woman lying on the bed.

She was lying with her legs dangling over the
side of the bed as if she’d fallen forward in a fit. “Is she
dead?”

“No she isn’t dead. I thought I taught you to
knock on a closed door.”

“It was open. Is she ill?”

“She’s upset.”

“Why?”

“I mortified her.”

“How?” Penryth’s chilly look of displeasure
caused the young man to blush with horror. “I’m sorry Uncle
Penryth. When you finish…uh…I need to speak with you urgently.”

“Wait in my room.”

“You won’t be long?”

“I’ll be as long as I need to be.” Penryth
sat there for several more minutes hoping the woman behind him
would at least hint at forgiveness, but she remained silent. “I’ll
put your bracelets in their box. Where do you keep it?” Her answer
was a choked sob. “I’ll find it.” He forced his legs to carry him
over to her dressing table and open the drawer. He carefully laid
the limp bracelets in their cream satin bed and snapped the box
closed. “I’ll put them in a safe place unless you’d like me to
leave them in your room?” He looked once more at the bed hoping for
a last minute reprieve, but she merely turned her head towards the
wall rejecting him and his bracelets again. “I’ll send for a
carpenter to fix the door. I’m sorry I hurt you; I feel like the
devil.” What else was there to say? He walked from the room and
shouted down the hall for Jones. “I want a large fire in Mrs
Bowen’s room and send for a carpenter to fix her door.”

Chapter 11

William Bowen jumped out of the chair and
gulped down his nerves as his uncle opened the door. He was a man
even if he felt like a drowning boy. He licked his lips as his
uncle closed the door behind him and walked over to his desk,
opened the secret drawer and inserted the jewel case. William
thought it prudent to say something pleasant to help balance the
bad news. “Is Aunt Lily feeling better?”

“No.”

What was he supposed to say to that? “I’m
sorry I interrupted…”

“I’m sorry I got out of bed this morning.
What is this urgent business?”

William sank back onto a chair as his knees
gave way. “Uncle Penryth, I don’t know how to…I feel so ashamed.”
William looked up and shivered as dark eyes peered into his soul
waiting for him to continue. “I called on Grace this morning at the
usual time. I expected to meet her in the drawing room, but I was
led to a private sitting room at the back of the house. One of
those sittings rooms connected to a…a bedchamber.” The dark eyes
seemed to glint with comprehension. “When I arrived Grace was
reading a book. One moment I was asking her what she was reading
and the next thing I knew we were kissing. I hadn’t kissed her for
days. I don’t even know how she came to be in my arms, but it felt
so good to hold her. One minute we were innocently kissing on the
settee and the next I was on the bed in the next room and my fall
was unbuttoned.” William felt his face burn under the gaze of his
uncle’s all seeing eyes. “I was still wearing my coat, but her
skirts were… We hadn’t yet…but I thought I’d died and gone to
heaven. Then the door opened and there was Mrs Philips and Lord
Morley and I knew I was in hell. He picked up his eye glass and
ogled Grace like she was some sort of sordid entertainment and said
one of his sneering clever remarks. I could have killed him, but
Mrs Philips wouldn’t even withdraw to allow us to make ourselves
presentable. I had to pull Grace’s skirts down while Mrs Philips
gave me a tongue lashing on proprieties and then demanded I marry
Grace by special license. She says we must marry immediately
because Lord Morley is bound to repeat the affaire in a drunken
moment. Uncle Penryth I have to marry her this week; I’ve ruined my
beloved.” William blinked back unmanly tears as he waited to hear a
well deserved lecture on what it meant to be a man.

BOOK: A Companion for Life
2.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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