Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5 (10 page)

BOOK: Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5
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“How could it? Boston is one of the most learned cities in the nation, if not the world. Of course we would have a renowned library. I’d be thankful you have any sort of library in that backwater you call home.”

“Sophie, it’s a wonderful little town. I think you’d like Missoula.”

“I think the two important words there are little and town,” she said with a
harrumph
. I noted she leaned more heavily on her walking stick, although she still wielded it to push those out of her way who she viewed as an impediment to her forward momentum.

“I believe you are looking forward to seeing the exhibit,” Sophie said as we moved into the darkened interior.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s been some time since I’ve been to an art exhibit.”

“Well, they’ve some beautiful new pieces recently acquired from Europe. I think you’ll enjoy them. And, while you’re here, we should go to the symphony. I doubt you’re able to hear such music in Montana.”

“There’s an opera house in Missoula, Sophie.”

“And is there opera music?” Sophie asked with a raised eyebrow.

I shook my head and giggled. “No, the last performance Gabriel and I saw was a play. Although the Chicago Symphony performed at our opera house last winter.”

“My point exactly, my girl. You are in sore need of culture. One decent performance in nearly two years does not render a place hospitable.” We walked side by side into one of the galleries. “This exhibit opened only a few weeks ago.”

I nodded as I became entranced by the artwork. I tried to imagine how I would describe each piece of work to Gabriel, before giving up and becoming lost in my enjoyment of the beautiful paintings. “Sophie,” I said as I turned to find her. I blanched as I stood face-to-face with my grandmother.

“Clarissa,” she said as she leaned heavily to one side on a cane. “I’m disappointed to see you have returned to us.”

“Grandmama,” I said. “Grandpapa.” I nodded at my grandfather standing behind her like a silent sentinel.

“I had hoped, after your unfortunate defection to that worthless worker, that you would remain there. I assume you returned to Boston for your father’s funeral. Such a scandal that one such as he was ever aligned with our family. It’s regrettable you have yet to see sense and have remained here in Boston.” My grandmother looked me up and down, sniffing with disdain at my simple clothes. “It appears the manners of the West are more to your liking.”

“You are correct in that I returned to honor my father. I remain to spend time with friends and family.” I lifted my chin in defiance of her words, my eyes flashing with ire.

“Honor him? You don’t know the meaning of the word. Had you had any regard for your father, you never would have acted as you did last year. Not only have you brought your father’s house under a cloud of ill repute, one that your sister will never recover from, you’ve forced another estimable family to suffer the loss of their son.”

“I’ve done no such thing,” I said. “Cameron’s death was not at my hand.”

“He would never have been in that godforsaken place had you not traveled there for your illicit liaison with your disgraced laborer. You enticed a well-intentioned, suitable gentleman to travel halfway across a continent and then proceeded to jilt him. Your shame knows no bounds.”

“And yours knows no decency. You, who should have loved and protected me, were only ever worried about your standing in society. You, who should have cared more for my happiness than for any perceived alliance, wanted me to further enhance your social status. I refuse to accept any blame for believing I deserved more than sacrificing my happiness at the altar of your ambition.”

My grandmother turned a bright red and began to shake. I sensed Sophie standing near me and turned toward her. “Imagine my surprise to find my grandparents also visiting the museum today.”

“How … fortunate,” Sophie murmured. “I continue to find myself disappointed in the prognosticative abilities of physicians. Although, if you see your granddaughter with any frequency, she may aid in proving them correct.”

“I am not going to die any time soon, you insolent woman,” Grandmama hissed.

“Well, as we are to be denied such an event, Clarissa and I must continue our tour of the museum. If you will excuse us?”

Sophie and I strolled away at a leisurely pace, and I knew the nonchalant air was intended to irritate my grandparents further. “Sophie, what did you mean about physicians and prognosis?”

“Your grandmother had an apoplexy earlier this year. The physician who attended her assured me that we were soon to be relieved of her presence among us. However, as you can see, that has not been the case.”

“She looks quite strong.”

“If you ignore her leaning heavily on one side of her cane and talking mainly from one side of her mouth.”

“Her words are just as sharp,” I murmured.

“Ah, you did well, my girl. They’ve never known what to do with you. It’s been a joy to watch you flummox them.”

“Has Savannah seen them?”

“No. I spared Savannah the necessity of listening to her grandmother’s vitriol. Suffering through a visit from her mother and your Mrs. Smythe was enough penance for anyone to bear.” We shared a sardonic smile.

I turned for a moment to watch my grandmother’s shuffling gait. “I thought she’d be angrier with me about Cameron than she is. She and Mrs. Wright are friends.”

“From what you told me, I’m surprised Mrs. Wright wasn’t more vehement in her fury toward you when you saw her at the funeral.”

I shared a worried glance with Sophie before I looped my arm through hers, intent on enjoying the rest of the exhibit.

***

“I’D HOPED TO SEE YOU more appropriately attired,” Aunt Matilda said as she sniffed in disdain at my clothes.

I glanced down at one of the new dresses I had purchased in Missoula, an evergreen wool walking dress with ivory embroidery at the wrists, hemline and neck, and shook my head. “I’m not as concerned about style and the latest fashion in Missoula, Aunt. And there’s only so much black I have in my closet. Gabriel encourages me to buy what I need, but I’m unable to purchase as extensive a wardrobe as when I lived here.”

“You fail to show your father the respect he’s due.” Aunt Matilda sat in a stiff chair, her posture rigid and straight. She wore a severe navy tea dress that failed to highlight her figure.

“I disagree. He’d far more appreciate my presence than concern himself with the cut or color of my dress. He never worried about that sort of thing. It’s one of the many reasons Mama loved him.”

“She desired him because she wanted to defy her parents. I highly doubt she ever truly loved him.”

“How can you be so cruel?” I blinked away tears. “I remember them together. I remember their tender looks, the love that shone in her eyes when she spoke of him. His desperation when she became ill. His devastation when she died.”

“Believe what you like, Clarissa. It’s time you faced reality.”

“Such as the fact you married Uncle Martin to forestall a great scandal? Such as the fact you were an even greater scandal than Savannah or I could ever have imagined being? Such as the fact that you failed to have faith in love?” I gripped the arm of my chair in my anger, fearing I’d rip the delicate, decorative finial off in my agitation. “How dare you sit in righteous indignation, passing judgment on us when you acted much the same?”

“How dare you speak to me in such a manner in my own home?” Aunt Matilda fanned herself furiously, before whacking it closed with such a force on the edge of the table she broke the delicate ivory backing.

“I dare because I’m tired of you believing you have the right to ridicule the decisions I’ve made in my life. You, you of all people, should understand why I acted as I did.”

“You brought shame and ridicule upon our family again!”

“Then all I did was continue a family tradition. Started by my mother and you,” I snapped. “I’d think you’d have the sense to know by now what really matters in life, Aunt Matilda.”

She glared at me. “Don’t look at me like that.”

“Like I’m disappointed in you?” At her nod, I said, “Well, I am. I’m disappointed in the fact you didn’t have the sense to cherish your daughter and niece enough to support us in our decisions. That you’d continue to look to your parents for approval.” I shook my head in confusion. “How could you ever have wanted a better man than Uncle Martin?”

“You’d never understand.”

“No, I never would.”

“And that disappoints
me
, Clarissa,” Aunt Matilda said. “I’d hoped you, of all of them, would understand my deep disappointment. You who were brave enough to defy us all and live the life you wanted, rather than the life your family compelled you to succumb to. I’d thought you’d be able to understand my deep disillusionment and regret.”

“If you’d married a man such as Cameron or Jonas, then, yes, I would have,” I argued. “But you didn’t. You married Uncle. A kind, generous man who’s been able to provide well for you.”

“The heart is not always logical. And, sometimes, what is lost becomes more precious than anything that could ever be.”

I blinked away tears as I studied her. “How tragic,” I whispered. “I can’t imagine such a life. Why cling to the past when you were gifted with a wonderful future? Most women, most men for that matter, aren’t that fortunate.”

Aunt Matilda stared at me with haunted eyes before turning away but not before I saw her blinking away tears. She clamped her jaw firmly shut, and we sat in an uncomfortable silence until I rose to leave.

CHAPTER 9

“HOW LONG ARE YOU going to live with Mrs. Chickering?” Jeremy sanded a piece of wood, his gaze tracking Savannah’s movement as she wandered his workroom. Nearly two weeks had passed since their reunion, with November nearing its end.

“I don’t know. As long as I need to. Sophie doesn’t seem to mind my company.”

“I know I promised I wouldn’t push, but, now that you’re back, I can’t seem to be patient. I want us to have more than a stolen hour here and there. I want us not to care that a newspaperman might be lingering behind a horse cart. I want to come home to you at night. That’s what I want.”

Savannah flushed red and trembled as she sat on the bench near the table. He moved toward her and sat next to her. “What I don’t know, is what you want. Is this the way you want your life to continue? Clandestine meetings, furtive kisses in a workshop or in one of Sophie’s parlors, always hoping we aren’t interrupted or discovered?”

“They know we are in love,” Savannah whispered.

“Is this enough for you, darling? If it is, I’ll temper my impatience.”

“Why?” She watched him with curiosity.

“For you, I would do almost anything. I love you, Savannah, and I don’t want to cause you harm. If living with me, without the protection of marriage, will only bring you shame, then I don’t wish that upon you. But I want you to know what is my dream.”

“Tell me your dream,” Savannah urged.

“To come home to you every day after work. To hold you in my arms every night. To no longer have to wonder when I’ll next see you. To no longer fear that those around you have changed your opinion of me.”

She turned to face him fully and clasped his face between her palms, rubbing her fingers in the whiskers of his beard. “They could never change how much I love you, Jeremy. You’ve treated me with compassion, honor and respect. You’ve shared your darkest secrets and scars with me, and not shied away from mine. Never fear that I’ll run from what we have again.”

“I try to trust in this, Savannah,” he said. She stroked his cheek and waited. “But every good thing I’ve ever known has gone wrong. I have difficulty having faith in us.”

“I have enough faith for the two of us,” she said as she fought tears. “I refuse to live in fear of Jonas. He had his chance to hurt me. To … kill me, and he didn’t.”

Jeremy smiled wistfully at her show of bravado. “Ah, but he could find other ways to hurt you, my love. And that I could not bear.”

“I have no need of his money or of his social prestige,” Savannah said. “I refuse to allow him to have such a hold over my life.”

“Will you move in with me?” Jeremy asked, hope lighting his eyes. “It won’t be nearly as grand as the places you are accustomed to.”

Savannah took a deep breath and nodded. “I will. Although I have one condition.” He watched her curiously, nodding for her to continue. “I want you to meet my father.”

Jeremy’s eyes shone with surprise and pleasure. “I’d be honored to.”

“I know my coming here today was reckless, and I shouldn’t be seen at the workshop with any frequency. I know there are still some newspapermen who are curious, although my absence last month aided us.”

“I’d rather be discovered than suffer any further separation,” Jeremy said, raising her hand to kiss her palm. Savannah freed her hand, tracing his bearded jaw, smiling in agreement.

“Can you call this evening at Sophie’s? It’s not unseemly as Clarissa is there, and she is your sister-in-law.”

Jeremy pulled her into his arms, sighing with contentment as her head came to rest in the crook of his neck. “I’ve been looking for places to live. They’re all quite expensive, but I found a small pair of rooms that should suffice.”

BOOK: Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5
6.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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