Authors: Calista Taylor
“I’ve missed you, too.” She leaned forward and kissed him, but his words reminded her of what happened the last time they’d lost themselves to passion.
Though it may not be the ideal moment to tell him of her secret, she felt he needed to know. It didn’t seem right that Mason should be aware of it, when Corwin was still oblivious. She let out a weary sigh, steeling her resolve and gathering her strength to find the words.
“What is it,
“There was something I never got the chance to tell you.” She closed her eyes for a moment, and told herself he’d not judge her. They had a child together, and surely he’d see the joy in that, even if they’d not get to know her. “You’ll remember that one evening, when we wandered into the mountains?”
“Aye, love. Of course. How could I forget? It was just before I left for sea—and the last time I got to hold you.” His brow furrowed with worry. “It’s a memory I’ve always held dear. What has ye so worried?”
She shook her head to clear it, but thinking of Emma only started her tears falling. She knew not how she’d get the words out, and cursed herself for letting her emotions get the better of her.
“Och, love, what has ye so upset?” She still couldn’t look at him, so he held her tight, nestling her against him until she managed to find her words.
She took a ragged breath and tried to compose herself and her thoughts. “When I died…it was soon after bringing our child into the world. We have a daughter though I know not what’s become of her.” She had to choke down the sob that threatened to escape.
“We have a child?” He pulled away, his brow furrowed with the shock her words, as if he somehow had misunderstood her. “I was told you died in a carriage accident. How come no one told me?” He shook his head and dropped it in his hands.
“They were worried about the family name. Once I was forced to tell them—for I could not keep it a secret as the babe grew within me—they sent me away so as not to disgrace them. I tried to send word, even before telling them, but I do not think my letters ever made it to you.”
Her father had locked her in her room until she could be sent away, and most of their staff were too scared of losing their position to try and help.
He looked up at her, his eyes fierce with anger. “No, I received no word from ye, and once I returned, yer father said not a word about the child. He lied straight to my face about what happened to ye.”
“I’m so sorry, love.” She’d never seen him so angry and had to look away as her tears flowed over. All the guilt, worry and shame she’d felt while dealing with her family came crashing over her. She told herself it didn’t matter now. She was a different person and those rules did not apply to her anymore. Yet how could she not feel guilty about the child she’d been forced to abandon when she still walked amongst the living, or that she’d not been able to get word to Corwin of their daughter?
He tilted her chin up so she was forced to look at him, brushing her tears from her cheeks. “Dry yer eyes, love. Yer father’s the one I’m angry with, aye? I’m just sorry I was away when ye needed me. I should have been there for ye, and for that, I hope ye’ll find it in yer heart to forgive me.”
A weight lifted as she realized he did not blame her for all that had occurred, and yet her sadness lingered for she still knew not how her daughter faired. “I can only hope my aunt found her a loving home as she promised to do.”
“Lilly, I regret that we ne’er had the chance to marry, but I’d like nothing more than to take ye as my wife now. I promise to do right by ye.”
Lilly kissed him sweetly, her hand cupping his cheek, before pulling away. “You know I love you still, but… I do not think I’m not ready to marry you—or anyone else for that matter. It’s still been ten years, even though it feels like yesterday when you hold me.”
“I had not meant to imply… of course, ye canna just pick up where we left off. I just thought…” The light in his eyes dimmed as he let out a ragged breath. “I just want to do right by ye, for I canna imagine what ye went through. And I do love ye, Lilly. Ye’re my very heart.”
“And you’ve always been mine.”
Lilly walked to Mason’s side and took his hand. “What am I to do? I knew not how I’d feel about him, but I’m afraid the connection we had in life is still there.” She looked up into eyes filled with hurt and it broke her heart. With his chancellor’s façade so often present, she wasn’t used to seeing this side of him. “Yet I love you no less.”
“And how do you think he’ll feel about sharing your love with another? Or this?” He nuzzled her cheek, and then kissed her, his stubble contrasting against his soft full lips. He tasted like whiskey, smoky and sweet, his kisses leaving her breathless. “Do you really think he can keep up with you? Make you happy? For I’ll not give you up, Lilly.”
He kissed her again, the pounding of her heart and growing need pushing thoughts of Corwin to the dusty corners of her mind. She held onto Mason, her head dizzy as he filled her thoughts, her heart, stealing her words and any coherent thoughts.
His words were but a murmur between kisses. “You’re no longer the naïve and innocent girl he was meant to marry. She died when you did, love.”
She gripped his shirt in tight fists, holding on as if she might drown should she let go, her forehead against his. “Why do you do this to me? Why do you make question everything I know?”
“If what you feel for him is true, then certainly I cannot shake your conviction. It’s only when you’re unsure—when you’re trying to convince yourself of half-truths—that you become vulnerable to my questioning.” He nuzzled her, making her want to kiss him again. “In your heart of hearts, you know you should be with me. No one else will do, love.”
She laughed, even with all that had happened and all that was to come. “You’re awfully sure of yourself, Mason.”
He nipped at her bottom lip and then worked his way to her ear, his hot breath sending a shiver down her spine. “Shall I prove it then? I guarantee by the time I’m through with you, you’ll not even remember the lad’s name.”
She believed every word he spoke, for he’d certainly had enough time to perfect his technique.
Her heart all but stopped when he bit her neck, his hands reaching around her waist to pull her against him. If she could have, she’d have pushed him away. Yet she could not muster the strength to deny him when he set her very soul afire. She returned every touch, every kiss.
He nipped at her ear, which sent a shiver of desire through every nerve, her need for him blocking out all other thoughts. “I’ll not give you up without a fight, love.”
Humor laced her voice. “That’s exactly what he said.”
Mason let Lilly sleep as their early carriage ride took them to the shore and the cottage she’d shared with Jack. Once there, he knew not what they’d find. He doubted Jack would be there, but perhaps he’d already come and gone, possibly leaving clues behind.
Mason knew it’d not be easy on Lilly, but as long as Jack was running free, Nelson would have her in his sites and would have no qualms hurting her just to get back at him. Corwin was just the start of it.
With her nestled against his side, he ran a light hand down her arm. Uncertainty about their future together ate away at him and left him feeling vulnerable, an emotion he was not comfortable with. From the moment he first laid eyes on her, he knew she would be his downfall.
What would she decide? With Corwin now a reaper, Lilly could finally be with him. Would she choose one man over the other or try to keep them both? No longer in the land of the living, she could certainly maintain her independence and take on as many lovers as she wanted with no one giving it a second thought.
Except, of course, for him.
He didn’t like the idea of sharing her affections with another, and he’d certainly been jealous enough of her relations with Jack, even though he’d had no right to be. But would he be willing to give her up entirely, if she decided to pursue them both? He wasn’t sure how well he’d tolerate no longer having her as his lover.
A quiet laugh escaped him when he pictured Corwin taking in such an arrangement. So new to being a reaper, he was sure the lad would be aghast at the thought of sharing her affections and her bed. If she did put forth such a suggestion, Mason could very well end up with Lilly all to himself without even trying.
If only it were that simple. Truth was, it had been a struggle to hold onto what they had at the best of times, let alone with Corwin now ready to win her back. Scared of losing her, he held her tight for the remainder of their journey, worry niggling at him, making him wonder if and when it would all come crashing to an end.
He’d been a fool to fall for her, but like she’d reminded him, sense was not for lovers.
She awoke as they pulled to a stop, and said little as he helped her out of the carriage. He then immediately turned his attention towards the stone cottage to search for any signs of Jack or his energy. A dirt path led from the road down to the small home with its slate roof, the ocean just beyond, another ten minutes’ walk over rock and sparse greenery. The salt air filled his lungs, while gulls screeched overhead. It was a beautiful yet remote spot, so unlike the congestion of London.
When he turned back to Lilly, it was to find her staring off into memories, her eyes clouded over. “I know this isn’t easy for you, and I appreciate you making the effort to come out here with me.” He took her hand in his and brought it to his lips.
She scoffed and pulled her hand away. “You make it sound as if I have a choice when it comes to you and your job. I’m surprised you didn’t threaten me with the Elders.”
“I could have, aye? Yet you’re still angry with me.” Perhaps he was wrong to give into his feelings for her, especially with things as complicated as they now were.
I have a choice?” Her eyebrows rose up in question and her hands went to her hips. “If I’m being unjust, please let me know, Mason.”
“I think you’re trying to start a fight with me because you don’t want to deal with your memories of Jack.” He hid all emotions from his face and kept his voice calm, not wanting to show any weakness or anger. She already had too much power over him. He’d not argue with her, nor would he give in.
“Can you blame me?” She went from defensive to hurting, tearing at his defenses, the need to comfort her, overwhelming.
“No, of course not.” He reached out and took her hand. “But you also cannot blame me when I must take care of my responsibilities.”
She looked away and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I know you’re right, though it makes it no easier.”
“If we can find Jack, this can all come to an end.” He’d not put himself in the role of villain though. The decision would be hers to make. “You can come and help me if you choose, or you can stay here and do nothing. Either way, I’ve got a job to do.”
He turned and, without another look, left her standing at the top of the path while he headed to the cottage. It was up to her now.
As he got closer, he started to pick up on Jack’s energy. It was very faint but still present, which meant he’d been here recently. It could be he stayed here before the most recent murder. Question was, would he be back?
When Mason tried the door handle and found it barred, he mentally pictured it unlocking and then let himself in. It was a skill every reaper perfected.
The stone cottage had the thick whitewashed walls typical of homes in this area, the rooms small, the ceilings low. A small cooking area shared the space with a sitting room, while a single bedroom and bath—no doubt added at a more recent time—were located in the other half of the cottage.
There were parts of the bedroom Mason recognized from Lilly’s memories—the carved wooden headboard, the lace curtains, the blue vase. Unlike her memories of a rainy afternoon, the sun now streamed in through the window, dappling the floor and walls in shadow and light. He thought of Lilly in Jack’s arms, in the arms of a murderer, and it made his blood boil.
Brutal as the murders had been, Mason could not believe there’d been no signs of Jack’s madness. Lilly was a clever girl. Surely she must have noticed something, yet she claimed he wasn’t capable of such crimes. Then again, Jack had also kept from her the fact that he was learning to disguise his whereabouts. Perhaps love had blinded her.
Funny that she didn’t see
shortcomings, only his.
He looked through the drawers of the dresser and wardrobe, but only found a few linens. The nightstands contained little more than a book and a photograph of Jack with his family, taken close to his time of death if he were to go by the children’s ages. His wife had been even more beautiful back then in her youth, her exotic dark looks passed on to both the children. The lad had Jack’s piercing eyes, and even at such a young age, there was a fierce intelligence behind them—another gift from Jack. The girl favored her mother’s good looks, and no doubt, had grown to be a beauty.
“He always had a photograph of his family around.” Mason turned to find Lilly standing at the doorway. So she hadn’t abandoned him, after all.
“Not terribly surprising when he’s not been a reaper long and has had difficulty adjusting to this life.” He put the photo in his leather case and went to Lilly’s side. “He was here recently. What remains to be seen is whether he’ll return.”