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Authors: Jennifer McNare

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BOOK: Dreaming of You
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Gavin said nothing, instead taking another drink of the hot coffee.
 

“Durin’ the mornin’ and evenin’, when it’s just the two of us here, ye can have free run of the place, and ye can go outside when ye wish,” he said.  “But understand, yer to stay in sight of the house at all times,” he added firmly, his tone uncompromising, his expression formidable.   He set his mug on the table then and pushed back his chair.  “Startin’ tomorrow yer ta stay in your room each afternoon from just before one, until just after two o’clock.”
 

Christ he was huge, Gavin noted once again as the man stood up.  He had to be at least several inches taller than his own six-foot-two-inch height.  His dark-blue, button-front shirt fit snug against his broad shoulders and massive chest, and his plain brown workman’s trousers enclosed legs the size of tree trunks.  His brown hair wasn’t long, just brushing the top of his shirt collar, and his beard was cut close to his face and neatly trimmed.  There was nothing overly sinister in his appearance, but his size, combined with that no nonsense expression, were imposing nonetheless.
 

“Ain’t my real name, but ye can call me Sam,” he said, before turning toward the door.  “Super’s in an hour.”
 

Gavin watched silently as “Sam” walked to the front door, closing it behind him as he went outside.  Setting down his mug, he stared at the closed door for a moment.  Then, resting his elbows on the table, he closed his eyes and leaned forward, dropping his head to rest against his upraised hands, now clenched tightly into fists.  “Bloody hell,” he muttered quietly to himself.
 

Chapter 4

 

“Are you ready to go, My Lady?”
 

The soft voice came from behind her, breaking Melody from her silent musing.  She turned from the window where she had been standing for the past several minutes and met the gaze of Mary Edwards, the woman who would be accompanying her on her daily visits to the location where the man her husband had abducted was being held.  
Was she ready?
  Of course she wasn’t ready.  How could someone ever be ready for something like this?  It all still seemed like a horrible nightmare, a nightmare from which she couldn’t awaken no matter how hard she tried.  She sighed heavily.  “Yes, Mary, I’m ready,” she said quietly, praying her knees wouldn’t buckle before she made it outside.
 

The older woman, whom she had met only once before, during her initial introduction to the household staff, looked at her with sympathetic eyes.  
How much did she know?
Melody wondered, embarrassed and humiliated.  Enough, she supposed.  According to Charles, Mary and her husband John were the only two people, other than herself and the man he had abducted of course, who knew anything of his treacherous scheme.  
What must they think
?  
Did they believe she was a willing participant in all of this?
 
Why had they agreed to aid Charles in this madness? Did he trust them or had he simply threatened them too?
  So many questions crossed her mind as she and Mary walked from the sitting room and into the large front foyer, questions she dare not ask.
 

Charles was there, waiting for her.  He was impeccably dressed as always, the dark grey of his finely-tailored jacket and trousers just a few shades darker than the color of his thinning silver hair.  “My dear, you look lovely,” he said, taking in her pale-blue muslin day dress and matching blue, low-heeled slippers with a quick sweep of his gaze, a deceptively warm smile upon his timeworn countenance as she approached.
 

“Thank you, My Lord,” Melody said, her voice low as she reluctantly met his gaze.    
 

“I am so pleased that you have decided to better acquaint yourself with our friends, neighbors and tenants,” he said for the obvious benefit of the butler and footmen who stood at their posts in the great hall.  As he had explained to her earlier, these “friendly afternoon visits” were the supposed reason for her daily excursions.
 

She forced a slight smile.  “I am looking forward to it,” she replied, fighting past the rising lump in her throat.
 

Leaning forward, he placed a light kiss upon her cheek with his cold, dry lips.  To those who watched, Charles must certainly seem the doting husband.  It was only Melody who noted the icy glint that sparked briefly in his dark-brown eyes before he pulled back.   
 

“Enjoy your outing, my dear.”  His tone was pleasant, his expression benevolent.  “I shall see you at dinner.”
 

Melody nodded, the slight smile still frozen in place as the butler opened the front door for her and Mary.
 

A small two-seated curricle pulled by a single russet-colored mare awaited them on the front drive.  A slender young groom stood holding the horse’s reins and a liveried footman stood beside the lowered step, ready to assist them into the vehicle.  If anyone thought it odd that she and Mary were driving themselves unaccompanied, they wisely kept their opinions to themselves.  After moving into her new home, Melody had learned quickly that the servants did not question their employer’s actions, especially in the Earl of Edgington’s strictly run household.
 

In a matter of minutes they were settled comfortably within the vehicle, and then, with a light flick of the reins Melody soon had them moving down the wide gravel drive.  Before long, they were out of sight of the house and turning onto the worn dirt road, following the directions Charles had given to her earlier that morning.  The drive would take approximately twenty minutes one way he’d told her, and so she kept the horse at a slow but steady canter.  It was September and the weather was surprisingly warm, though the sky was presently overcast.  The leaves of the trees, in various shades of orange, red, brown and yellow littered the sides of the road where they had fallen, and many of the late-blooming flowers were just beginning to wither.  She tried to focus on the passing scenery, on the horse’s steady gait, on the pull of the smooth leather reins in her gloved hands, anything to keep her mind from what was to come, but it was nearly impossible.
 

Though she was seated only inches apart from her traveling companion, the first half of the journey was spent in awkward silence, and not surprisingly, Melody’s apprehension mounted with each passing mile.  More than once she considered initiating a conversation with Mary Edwards, but what would be the topic?  The weather?  The passing scenery?  It seemed so absurd, considering the circumstances.  Instead, she nibbled on her lower lip, the nervous habit she’d had since childhood.   She was so apprehensive, so frightened by what was to come.  If she were made of glass, undoubtedly she would have shattered into a thousand pieces by now.  Gripping the reins, she longed to turn the horse around and flee, but of course she couldn’t do that.  Her family’s entire future depended on her, and that was something that she could never forget, something she
would
never forget.  And so, despite her fear, she stayed her course.  
 

However, with the mare’s hooves continuing at a steady clip, the deafening silence between her and her companion seemed only to intensify Melody’s trepidation, the further they travelled.  She needed someone to talk to or she would surely go mad, she realized.  Of course Charles had instructed her not to discuss the situation with Mary, but if she already knew the gist of it, as she suspected she did, would it really matter?  Finally, she could bear it no longer.  “Mary,” she said softly, turning her head toward the comely, middle-aged woman who sat beside her.   “Do you know the real reason for this…this…for our o-outing?” she asked, stammering a bit as she searched for an appropriate word to describe the horrendous situation her husband had put her in.  
 

Mary turned and met her gaze, her expression sympathetic as it had been earlier.  “Yes, My Lady,” she nodded solemnly.  “John, my husband, he…explained the situation to me.”  
 

“You must think me the most horrible person alive to go along with this madness,” Melody uttered softly, fighting back tears.  She could feel the heat flame in her cheeks and quickly looked away, turning her eyes back to the road ahead.
 

“Were you given a choice?” Mary responded, her soft voice compassionate, the inflection in her tone surprisingly perceptive.
 

“No, not really,” Melody whispered.  “I have to… my family…they…” she trailed off, her voice thick with emotion.  Mary surprised her then by placing her hand lightly atop her own.  She looked up, meeting the older woman’s earnest gaze.
 

“None of this is your fault, My Lady,” she said, her voice firm with conviction.  “And I do not think that you are a horrible person, not in the least.  In fact, I think that you are very, very brave.”  Mary held her gaze for a long moment, squeezing her hand gently.
 

“Thank you, Mary.”  In that moment, they were not servant and employer, commoner and countess; they were just two women, bound together by an unthinkable situation that neither of them could have ever anticipated.  
 

They spent the next several minutes in silence once again, but this time it was a more comfortable silence and didn’t seem nearly as awkward.  Talking to Mary, bringing things out into the open, as it were, had helped a great deal.  But as they drew closer to their destination, Melody’s anxiety began to escalate once again and her heart began to beat in a rapid staccato.  She couldn’t go through with it, she thought frantically, her anxiety rapidly turning to panic.  Her gloved hands began to shake.  She tightened her grip on the reins to keep them steady as she fought desperately to control her fear.  She thought of Adam then, her beloved brother.  She pictured his sweet face and recalled the sound of his warm, infectious laughter, and then thought of her parents, both so loving and kind.  If Charles followed through on his threats, and she was quite certain that he would, her father could spend the remainder of his life in prison, leaving her mother destitute, unable to adequately care for herself or Adam.  She couldn’t let that happen, no matter what.  Taking several deep, calming breaths, she tried to slow her racing heart.  
 

Beside her, Mary shifted slightly in her seat, her hands tugging nervously at the folds of her plain grey skirt.  “My Lady,” she began, her voice somewhat hesitant.  “I know that it is not my place to speak of such things with you, but I… well… I,” she faltered a bit before continuing.  “I was wondering if you know what to expect…if you are prepared that is, for… for what is to come?” she finished, stumbling over the words, obviously embarrassed.
 

Melody turned to the older woman, surprised by the question.  “Prepared?” she repeated, noting the concern and compassion in Mary’s warm brown eyes.  
 

“Before assuming my current position in the household, I served as lady’s maid to the earl’s first wife for nearly thirty years,” she began.  “We became rather close and…” she faltered again, her cheeks flushed pink.  She drew a long, deep breath before she continued.  “Well, she confided a great deal to me over the
years.”  She looked down at her hands for a moment, and then raised her eyes.  “I was wondering if you know what to expect, that is, if you know what goes on between a man and a woman…
in bed
?”  
 

It took a moment, but then she understood the reason behind the question.  Mary Edwards knew that not only was the Earl of Edgington unable to father a child, she knew that he was impotent as well.  Despite her own embarrassment, she was extremely touched by the other woman’s obvious, almost motherly concern.  And for the first time since learning of her husband’s nefarious plan, she didn’t feel quite so alone.  “Yes, my mother spoke with me before the wedding,” she said, recalling the uncomfortable, yet informative conversation she’d had with her mother.  “She was quite candid,” she continued softly, managing a slight, reassuring smile for Mary’s benefit.  
 

Mary nodded, seeming relieved.  “Please forgive me if I overstepped, My Lady.”
 

“No, Mary, not at all,” Melody reassured her.  “I appreciate your concern, truly.”  Her voice grew rough as she fought back her tears once again.  “In fact, it means more to me than you could possibly know.”  She thought she detected a hint of moisture in Mary’s eyes as well, and felt incredibly touched.  In that moment, she realized that a unique bond had been formed between them, and for that she would be forever grateful, for she feared that it might very well be the only thing that would get her through this nightmarish ordeal.
 

When they arrived at their destination a short time later, Melody pulled the horse to a stop before a small cottage constructed of large weathered timbers and mossy earth-colored stones, with two tall chimneys rising from its peaked, thatched roof.  The modest, well-tended building was set amongst a large group of towering oak trees, and she might have thought it a rather charming site if it weren’t for the situation that had brought her here.
 

She and Mary sat in silence for a second surveying their surroundings, and then the front door swung open and John Edwards stepped outside.  Melody turned toward him, slightly awestruck as she had been the first time she’d seen him at Edgington, amazed by the sheer size of him.
 

“Good afternoon, M’lady,” he said, meeting her wary gaze as he approached the curricle.
 

“Hello, Mr. Edwards.”  
 

He opened the door and lowered the step, and then offered her his hand.  Melody took it, casting her eyes downward, focusing her attention on managing the skirt of her gown as she descended from the vehicle.  She released his hand as soon as her feet were safely on the ground, stepping to the side so that he could assist Mary.
 

BOOK: Dreaming of You
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