Authors: Jennifer McNare
“You are well?” he asked, his expression eager.
“Yes, My Lord.”
He nodded and a smug smile tugged at the corners of his lips as he rose from the bed. “I shall see you at dinner then.”
That was all. Turning, he walked into his own room and quietly shut the door.
Later that afternoon, as Melody rested within the warmth and comfort of his arms, she fought the overwhelming urge to hold him tight and never let go. How could she bear to live without him? How could she possibly endure it, knowing that he was out there somewhere, but never knowing exactly where? Almost desperately she wanted to beg him to tell her his name, to tell her how she could find him when this madness was over. But of course she didn’t, she couldn’t. She had to protect her family, and though she didn’t know what it was that Charles held over
, she was certain it was something equally horrific.
Besides, though she had fallen hopelessly in love with him over the past weeks, she had no idea if he felt the same about her. Probably not, she realized with a touch of sadness. Obviously he cared about her and sympathized with her plight, so much like his own,
or so he thought
, but it was highly improbable that his feelings for her went much beyond that. It was for the best she supposed, for he was losing so much
already. If he felt even a small fraction of what she felt for him, it would only add to the tremendous cruelty of what he had already endured and serve to make the memories he would have to live with for the remainder of his life only that much more difficult. As much as she loved him and secretly longed for him to love her in return, she would never want him to suffer that kind of anguish.
Gavin lay quietly as her fingers brushed repeatedly across his chest in light, feather-soft strokes. More than a week had passed since she should have begun her monthly courses. She was likely with child. It was a painful realization in more ways than one. In all likelihood, nine months from now his son or daughter would be born, a child he would presumably never see, never know. Though he intended to discover the identity of the villain who had done this and ultimately the whereabouts of his child, he knew that he might not succeed. It was a disturbing realization, but one he had to acknowledge.
And her, would he ever learn who this woman was, this woman who had come to mean so much to him, more so than he cared to admit? If not, would the mystery haunt him for eternity? Sadly, he feared that it might. “What is your favorite flower?” he asked, wanting, no
to know something about her outside of the darkness.
Melody understood why he asked. She hesitated for a moment before answering, wishing she could tell him so much more, wishing she could tell him everything. “When I was a little girl, my mother planted a bed of irises in the rear garden. They were white and lavender, and when they bloomed I thought they were the most beautiful things that I had ever seen.”
“And you? Do
have a favorite flower,” she asked, her tone teasing and playful, wanting to keep the moment from turning melancholy.
“Hmm,” he thought about it for a moment. “I can’t say that I do,” he admitted with a light chuckle. “I do have a favorite tree however.”
“A favorite tree?”
“Yes. The apple tree.”
Melody smiled. “Let me guess. You have a fondness for apple pie?”
“Cinnamon-sugared apple tarts actually.” Gavin felt his mouth water just thinking about them. “When I was a boy I could eat them by the dozen.”
A gentleman, a member of the aristocracy who as a child dreamed of being a pirate and who loved apple tarts, was that all she would ever know about him? No, of course she knew more than that. She knew that he was intelligent and kind, funny and witty, and most definitely a skilled lover. She snuggled into him, moving her fingers from his chest to his face. She brushed them lightly along his jawline. She knew the shape of his face so well now, for she had traced its contours so many times. But even so, she wished she was an artist, or perhaps a sculptor, so that she could bring to life what she felt beneath her fingertips. “Thank you,” she whispered, suddenly overcome with the need to let him know how much she appreciated what he had done for her.
“I just realized that I have never really told you how grateful I am…for…what you’ve done for me. For making this…our time together so wonderful, when it could have been so…” she trailed off, leaving the rest unsaid, for he would know what she meant.
Gavin reached up and grasped her hand, drawing it to his lips, kissing her fingertips as they brushed softly against his lips. “You hardly need to thank me. Being with you like this is the one good thing that has come of this insanity. It is I who should be thanking you, for you are most certainly the only thing that has kept me sane during this madness. If not for you I might well have gone mad myself, confined to this place day after day.”
Melody felt the tears welling in her eyes and tried to fight them. She didn’t want what little time they might have left to be filled with sadness, and so she forced a lightness to her voice that she didn’t feel. “Well then, I am ever so glad that I could be of service,” she said, shifting her body so that she could place a light kiss upon his lips.
Despite her effort to conceal it, Gavin detected the sorrow in her voice and it pained him beyond measure. He wished he could take it away, tell her that everything was going to be alright, but of course he couldn’t. All he could do was make the most of the time they had left. Rolling her onto her back, Gavin grasped her face between his hands, resting his weight on his elbows as he covered her body with his own. Lowering his lips to hers, he kissed her with both tenderness and a profound reverence, almost as if it was the first time their lips had ever truly met. He wanted to tell her how special she was and exactly how much she had come to mean to him, but words simply weren’t enough. He would have to show her.
And he did.
Feeling the subtle shift of the mattress as Charles rose from the bed, Melody awoke from her slumber the following morning and turned to see her husband donning his slippers. Closing her eyes, she rolled onto her side away from him, not yet ready to arise from the comfort of the warm bed. She’d had trouble falling asleep the night before, her thoughts and emotions in turmoil after her last visit to the cottage, and she was both mentally and physically exhausted. When they had come together the second time it had been different somehow, more beautiful, more perfect, if that was even possible. They hadn’t just enjoyed each other’s bodies; there had been a connection between them on an entirely different level. She knew it, she’d felt it.
was what it felt like to be made love to.
Listening for the thump of Charles’ cane as he made his way to his own room, Melody snuggled into her pillow, her thoughts already drifting to the afternoon ahead. But in the next instant her eyes flew open as the unexpected sound of her husband’s voice caused her to tense.
“I have good news for you, my dear.” He paused for a moment, as if waiting for her to turn back toward him. When she didn’t, he continued on. “Your daily visits to the cottage have finally come to an end.”
Charles’ sudden declaration caught Melody completely off guard, and she was immensely grateful that she was facing the opposite direction, for it gave her time to hide her shock, as well as her dismay as she strove to school her features into an unreadable mask. Rolling onto her back once again, she turned her head; eyeing Charles with what she hoped appeared to be only mild curiosity.
“I will not be releasing our guest until your condition has been confirmed of course. But for the time being, I see no need for you to continue your daily sojourns.”
Melody strove to keep any sign of emotion from her voice. “Oh?”
Charles seemed to study her expression for a moment. “I thought you would be relieved.”
She had to be careful. “Of course I am relieved. How could you possibly think otherwise?” She allowed a slight flicker of revulsion to cross her features, and prayed that it was convincing. Apparently it was, for after one last speculative glance, Charles nodded and then turned and left the room.
Once she was alone, Melody turned back toward the wall and buried her face in her pillow.
No, not yet!
She wasn’t ready.
She bit her bottom lip to keep from crying the words aloud and squeezed her eyes shut tight against the tears that wanted desperately to fall, knowing that Charles could return at any moment. With difficulty, she stifled the sobs that threatened to tear from her throat.
It was over.
The three words kept repeating themselves over and over in her head for what seemed like an eternity. He was gone, lost to her forever. Dear lord, how was she ever going to bear it? She hadn’t even gotten to say goodbye.
Three weeks later, Melody’s pregnancy was confirmed by the local physician, and the following day, after being summoned to her husband’s study, Charles informed her that the man at the cottage had been released.
“I see.” Her tone was deliberately impassive, though she felt anything but. During the past weeks she had tried to come to terms with the fact that she would never again hear the gentle timber of his voice or feel the warmth of his touch, and for the most part she had. But still, at this very moment, the absolute finality of it hit her hard. It really was over. Though the realization filled her with an overwhelming sadness, for
she was glad, knowing that he had finally regained his freedom, for despite her own sense of loss, his continued captivity had pained her beyond measure. In spite of her inner turmoil, she strove to appear unaffected as she met her husband’s gaze.
“I know these past months have not been easy for you,” Charles said as he eyed her from behind his desk, displaying the first ounce of compassion he’d shown her since he’d concocted his wretched scheme. “But now that we have achieved our goal, I am certain that you can see that our efforts were all worthwhile.”
efforts. Melody stiffened. How dare he insinuate that she was anything but an unwilling pawn in his treachery? With difficulty she kept from screaming out her hatred of him. Instead,
drawing in a calming breath, she met his gaze with as much outward composure as she could manage and simply nodded.
She could see that he was about to dismiss her, but before he did, she needed to know that the future of her family was no longer in jeopardy. “My Lord,” she began, holding Charles’ gaze, “now that I have done all that you asked, do I have your assurance that my family’s wellbeing is secure?”
Charles hesitated only a moment before answering. “Yes, of course. I give you my word.”
Though it made her sick inside, she did her best to appear grateful. “Thank you.”
With a benevolent smile that belied the heinousness of what he had done, he looked upon her almost fondly. “You are quite welcome, my dear.”
Rising from her seat, she managed a slight smile to mask her anger and resentment. “If you will excuse me, My Lord, I am feeling a bit fatigued. I think perhaps I should lie down for a bit.”
“Of course, my dear.” Standing, Charles immediately nodded his assent. “I shall see you at dinner then.”
“Yes, until dinner.” Turning, Melody swept quickly from the room, silently praying that she could maintain her rapidly flagging self-control until she reached the blessed solitude of her bedchamber.
Gavin emitted a coarse, muffled groan as the dull throbbing in his head gradually pulled him toward consciousness. He fought to open his eyes, but his lids were like leaden weights. He lay motionless for a minute, struggling to pull himself from the murky darkness that held him in its grasp. As awareness slowly began to dawn, he noted an unfamiliar, bitter taste in his mouth and tried to make sense of it. He felt sick, similar to the way he felt when he’d had too much liquor to drink. Had he been drugged? With another low rasping groan, he forced his eyes open, blinked and tried to focus. The oddly distorted sight of dirt and dry, matted grass met his bleary gaze. Where was he, and why in the hell was he lying on the cold hard ground? He closed his eyes for a moment against the sunlight that lit his surroundings, feeling the rough texture of hard-packed earth beneath his cheek. Forcing his heavy lids to open once again, he viewed the area around him, fighting to clear the last of the lingering haze from his befuddled mind.
Pressing his palms against the ground, he pushed himself upward, and with only slight difficulty managed to right himself into a sitting position. He sat still for a moment, collecting his bearings as the throbbing in his head continued its slow, pounding rhythm. After drawing several deep steadying breaths, he rose to his feet, wobbling a little as he gained his footing. Glancing about the surrounding vicinity, he was surprised at the familiar sights that met his sweeping gaze. He knew this area like the back of his hand. He was on the path that led to the small fishing pond at the eastern corner of Rutherford Park, his family’s estate, the same path from which he and his sister had been abducted.
The sudden thought of his sister spurred him to action. He turned quickly, feeling a touch of dizziness as he frantically scanned the area around him. Where was she? Where was his sister? “Natalie!” he shouted. Stumbling forward, he called out to her again and again as he walked and then ran along the winding trail. But she wasn’t there.