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Authors: Jennifer McNare

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BOOK: Dreaming of You
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He was nearly rendered speechless.  “Wonderful?” he somehow managed.
 

“She didn’t confide in me until the earl had passed, but even so, I knew well before then that she had fallen in love with you.”  Mary’s eyes were brimming with tears.  “When I received her last letter,” she
began with a little sniffle, “to know that she had found you at last and that the two of you were to be married, well, it was assuredly one of the happiest days of my life.”
 

 

 

A short time later, after having escorted Mary Edwards out and requesting that she leave her current address with Bertram to pass along to Melody, Gavin once again sat alone in his study.  With his elbows resting atop his desk and his head buried in his hands, he mentally went over everything that she’d told him.  His mind was still reeling.  How could he have been so stupid, he asked himself?  How could he have gotten it all so wrong?  Melody had never betrayed him.  She
had
been a victim, just as much as he had.  No, even more so, he realized.  She had been so young then, a true innocent, completely at the mercy of her deranged husband, a man who’d forced her to do his bidding by callously threatening those whom she cared about most in the world.  Charles Cavendish had used Melody’s love of her family against her, just as the miserable bastard had done to him.  
 

God, what a fool he was.  He should have known better.  Damn it all, he
had
known better, and yet he’d allowed Nelson’s twisted accusations to cloud his judgment and skew his thinking.  
Oh my darling Melody,
he silently bemoaned,
what have I done?  
He could only imagine
the depth of pain that he’d caused her over the past months and it sickened him.  
 

Dear Lord he thought, groaning aloud, she’d tried to explain that first day, about her family, the day he confronted her with his unwarranted accusations, but he’d misunderstood.  Worse yet he realized, he’d made her feel as if she deserved his acrimony and contempt, that she somehow warranted his bitterness and resentment simply because she’d sought to protect her family over his, over him.  He’d failed her, the amazing woman who had put her trust in him wholeheartedly at the cottage,
him
, a faceless stranger to whom she’d been forced to surrender her innocence in the most heartless manner imaginable, the woman who’d fallen in love with him years ago, the woman he could only hope and pray loved him still, even though he didn’t deserve it.  He didn’t deserve
her
, and yet by some miracle she was his.  
 

Each and every night since their wedding she had given herself to him wholeheartedly and without the slightest reservation, and selfishly he had taken all that she had offered, giving so little in return.  She had done it because she loved him still, in spite of everything, but he’d been too blinded by his damnable misapprehensions to see it.  And all the while he’d been foolishly fighting against his own feelings, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge how he really felt about her, how much he loved her.  How much he’d always loved her he finally acknowledged, after five long years of trying to deny just how much she’d really meant to him, even then.  
 

Fully comprehending the pain and heartache he had caused to someone so completely undeserving of it, now tore at his very soul like the thrust of a dagger.  How was her ever going to make it right, he asked himself?  Sadly, he didn’t know the answer to his own question.  But there was one thing he did know, he had to try.
 

 

Chapter 29

 

When Melody and the children arrived home the following morning, she was feeling both anxious and apprehensive, wondering if their or rather, if
her
, absence might have sparked a change in her and Gavin’s relationship, as she was longing for.  She’d missed him so much while they were away, and she could only hope that he had missed her as well.  Even if it were only a small fraction of what she’d felt herself, it would be enough, for she so desperately needed
something
, some sign, small as it may be, that would allow her to hold on to the dream that he might one day come to love her, as she loved him.
 

Following the children up the front walk and into the front foyer, Melody looked to Bertram with a pleasant smile.
 

“Welcome home, Your Grace, Lord Edgington, Lady Emma,” he greeted, turning his head in surprise as William and Emma offered a brief hello and then dashed past him en route to the kitchen.
 

“Since they were so well-behaved during the long drive this morning, I promised them that they could seek out Mrs. Kirkham,” Melody explained, “and partake of some of her delicious confectionaries.”  Mrs. Kirkham, the woman who oversaw the kitchen staff at their London home, adored the children, and always had a few scrumptious tidbits at the ready to satisfy William and Emma’s youthful cravings.
 

“Ah, I see,” Bertram said, nodding his head in understanding.
 

Stepping to the side as the footmen began carrying their traveling cases in from outside, Melody waited until Bertram had given them their direction, and then once again drew his attention.  “Is His Grace at home?” she inquired.
 

“Yes, Your Grace.”
 

“And do you know his current whereabouts?”
 

Bertram hesitated a moment before answering, his expression altering slightly, as if he were suddenly uneasy.  “I believe that His Grace is presently…in his study,” he said haltingly.
 

His odd manner struck her at once.  “Is something amiss, Bertram?” Melody asked, eyeing the older man curiously.  Before he could answer however, they heard the distinct sound of footsteps coming from down the hall, and they both turned in response.  It was Gavin.
 

Entering the foyer, Gavin halted mid-stride as his gaze landed upon Melody.  If such a thing were possible, his heart actually leapt at the sight of her.  “Melody, I… wasn’t expecting you home until later this afternoon,” he said, caught completely off guard by her unexpected appearance.  
 

“We got an early start,” she replied, her eyes widening in surprise as she took in Gavin’s unkempt appearance.
 

Noting her look of astonishment, he cast a brief, downward glance at his clothing.  He was a rumpled mess.  He hadn’t slept a wink, hadn’t yet shaved or combed his hair, and was in fact still wearing the same
clothes he’d had on since the day before.  As it was, he’d been on his way upstairs, intending to remedy the situation prior to Melody’s return.  Unfortunately, there was little he could do about it now.  
 

“Gavin, is everything alright?” Melody asked anxiously.  She’d never seen him in such a state.  “Has something happened?  Is it Jane, or Natalie?”
 

“No, no.  Everything’s fine,” he assured her.  He cleared his throat somewhat nervously.  “It’s just that…we need to talk…privately,” he said quietly, recalling Bertram’s presence.  He drew a deep breath into his lungs as he held Melody’s intent gaze.  “Would you accompany me to my study?”
 

“Of course.”  Melody’s legs suddenly felt like jelly beneath her as she stepped forward.  Despite Gavin’s assurance to the contrary, she knew that something was wrong, very wrong.
 

“Bertram, would you please see to it that Her Grace and I are not disturbed.”
 

“Yes, Your Grace.”  His curious gaze followed them as they moved away.
 

As they made their way to Gavin’s study, Melody’s heart began to race.  What did he wish to speak with her about?  Was it something to do with William and Emma, she wondered frantically?  Had their secret been discovered?  A thousand different scenarios were suddenly racing through her mind, all of them terrifying.
 

Entering the study, Melody watched in growing trepidation as Gavin pulled the double doors shut behind him.  “Gavin, what is it?  What’s wrong?” she queried anxiously the moment he turned around.
 

“Please, let’s sit,” he said.  Stepping forward he gently took her arm and led her to the leather sofa.  When she was settled, he sat down beside her, his eyes glued to her beautiful face as he struggled with what to say, where to begin.  
 

“Gavin, you’re frightening me,” Melody uttered softly, as she searched his troubled expression.  
 

Damn, he was making a mess of things already, he realized.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to frighten you, Melody,” he said soothingly.  “That is the
last
thing I would ever want to do.”
 

Confused by both his behavior and his tone, Melody regarded him in bewildered silence as she waited for him to explain.
 

Drawing a deep breath, Gavin held her steady gaze.  “I had a visitor yesterday, a very dear friend of yours,” he began.  “Mrs. Mary Edwards.”
 

Melody’s brow wrinkled as she absorbed that surprising bit of news.  “Mary was here?”  How odd, she thought, for the last letter she’d received from Mary had made no mention of her returning to England.  She pondered it for only a moment, as her thoughts then turned to the second portion of what Gavin had said.  He had referred to Mary as her
very dear friend
, his tone baring not even the slightest hint of animosity.  Did he not know who Mary was?  That she was John Edwards wife?  That she had played a role, albeit a very small one, in his months of captivity?
 

Gavin could see the questions in her eyes.  “Yes, she was.”  He nodded.  “And
yes
, I know who she is?”  He would wait until later to tell her about John’s death.
 

“And you spoke with her?”
 

He nodded again.  “During the course of our conversation, Mary unwittingly made me aware of a very grave injustice,” he began, his tone laden with regret, “an injustice that I have committed against you.”
 

An injustice, against her?
  What on earth was he taking about?
 

“I had it all wrong, so very wrong.” Gavin said, his voice cracking slightly as he spoke.  With difficulty, he held her gaze.  “I’m so sorry Melody, sorry to the very depths of my soul.”
 

She could see the pain on his face, could hear it in his voice, but what he was saying made no sense.  She longed to reach out to him, to comfort him somehow, but she held back, uncertain.  “Gavin, I don’t understand,” she said, her voice little more than a whisper.  
 

“You were just protecting your family,” he said, shaking his head slowly from side to side, the pain he’d caused her once again slashing at him like the blade of a knife, “just as I was.”
 

She could see the pain, the absolute anguish in his expression.  “But…you already knew that,” she said softly, still woefully confused.
 

“Yes, but I-”, he faltered, once again shaking his head.  Dear God, how would she ever be able to forgive him?  He closed his eyes for a moment, and then opening them he looked her directly in the eye.  “I thought it was you,” he admitted in a ragged voice.  “I thought it was
your
idea.”
 

“My idea?”  She looked at him blankly, still unsure exactly what it was that he was trying to say.
 

“I misunderstood, you see.  After you arrived in London, once I discovered who you were, I was under the impression that you were the one, the one who came up with the plan, not Charles.”
 

Melody was stunned.  “But why, why would you think such a thing?” she breathed.
 

“Because I was a fool, a dammed fool.”  He didn’t tell her about Nelson’s accusations.  It wasn’t Nelson’s fault, it was his.  “I mistakenly assumed that
you
had conceived the plot because you had wanted an heir to Charles’ fortune, an heir to secure your future wellbeing, as well as that of your family.”
 

“I see,” Melody said after a moment, her thoughts as well as her emotions rioting in turmoil as she fully grasped what he was telling her.
 

“I’m so sorry,” he said again, all the while knowing that those three little words would never be enough.  “I’m so sorry that I doubted you.  So sorry that because of my own blindness and stupidity I made you feel as if you
were
to blame.”
 

“But Gavin, you were right.  I
was
to blame, at least partially,” she acknowledged, tears welling in her eyes.  “Though it wasn’t my idea, I
did
choose my family over yours, over you.”
 

“No, you’re wrong to feel that way Melody,” his voice took on a sudden intensity, “and it is entirely my fault that you do.  And
that
is something I will never be able to forgive myself for,” he said, his expression somber.  “You did what you had to do to protect the people you loved, just as I did.  And in turn, I punished you for it.”  He saw the moisture in her eyes and it brought tears to his own.  “I love you Melody, I’ve always loved you, and I’m so sorry that I failed you, so sorry that I hurt you.”  The rising lump in his throat made it difficult to speak but he got the words out, his voice hoarse with emotion.
 

Melody gaped at him in astonishment.  “You love me?”
 

He raised his hand toward her.  “I have always loved you Melody, though for years I tried desperately to deny it,” he admitted.  “I tried to move on, to get you out of my mind, but you were always there, lingering in the back of my thoughts, haunting my dreams.  And when I finally found you…what did I do?”  He made a sound of disgust.  “I allowed bitterness and resentment to cloud my judgment, and in turn I hurt you so unjustly.”  He dropped his hand to his lap, filled with remorse and self-loathing.  “I destroyed everything we had, everything we could have had, and that is something I will have to live with for the remainder of my miserable life.”
 

BOOK: Dreaming of You
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