Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5 (4 page)

BOOK: Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5
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“If they were truly concerned about courtesy and respect, they would be upset with Mrs. Smythe for having the ceremony on the day we informed her we were to arrive,” Colin hissed but then cleared his frown with a vague smile at a passing couple.

“She knew you were to arrive?” Savannah asked.

“Of course,” I said. “We cabled her the minute we made our plans.”

Savannah sighed and said, “Here comes Mother.”

I looked around Savannah and nodded toward Aunt Matilda and Uncle Martin. “Clarissa, you are a sight for sore eyes,” Uncle Martin said and pulled me into his loving arms. “It’s good to see you.”

“And you, Uncle,” I whispered. My throat thickened at smelling his familiar scent and for feeling, for an instant, sheltered in his strong arms again.

He held out his hand and shook Colin’s. He looked at the two of us with a deep sadness in his eyes. “I’m terribly sorry about Sean. It came as a shock to us all.”

I gripped his arm in acknowledgment, my eyes filling with tears and throat thickening, unable to speak.

“I can’t believe you would disgrace your father in such a way by arriving as you did,” Aunt Matilda seethed. “Your mother would be appalled.”

I glanced around the site to realize very few people remained. I cleared my throat and blinked away my tears. “Mama would be appalled, Aunt, that our stepmother did not have the decency to hold the ceremony one day, even though she knew we were coming. She’d be appalled that her husband is not to be buried next to her. Our appearance would be the least of her concerns.”

“Well, I can see you’ve only become less refined in that horrid town you live in out West,” Aunt Matilda said.

“Yes, and I’m thankful for it. I’m able to decipher what truly matters,” I snapped.

“Mattie, you know the girl has the right of it,” Aunt Betsy said.

“Aunt Betsy!” I exclaimed. I saw her standing near Lucas and moved toward her to embrace her. “Thank you for all your letters.”

“I promised you that we’d have letters,” she said, as she wiped away one of my tears. “Have you spoken with her yet?” she asked as she nodded toward Mrs. Smythe. I shook my head no. “I’d speak with her and end your agony now, dearest.”

I nodded and turned toward my stepmother. I signaled to Colin that I needed to speak to her alone and approached Mrs. Smythe, who had turned to leave with Mrs. Wright. “Mrs. Smythe,” I said.

“How dare you? Have you no shame?” She spun to face me, her blond hair hidden under a black hat. She wore a stylish, flattering black dress and jacket that highlighted the curves she’d never lost after she had Melinda.

“I beg your pardon? I believe you are again asking questions that you should answer. I can’t believe you didn’t have the decency to hold the funeral for Colin and me.”

“Why should I have felt compelled to do anything for you and your feckless brother? You are nothing to me, and were nothing but a source of pain and disappointment for your father.” Any of the singsong sweetness she had used when my father was present was now absent, replaced with a grating, purposeful voice that no longer hid her cunning or ambition.

“Why would you think that statement would shock me? I’ve never been anything to you, other than a means to an end. And I chose my own path,” I said with pride.

“You deceitful girl. Your father despaired of you, and it’s your fault he was brought to an early grave.”

Colin had joined us after watching the heated exchange from a few feet away. She spun to him. “And you, you ungrateful leech. Learning all he had to teach you and then abandoning him to run the forge on his own. I’m not surprised he died such an early death with the likes of you as his children.”

“Why not look in the mirror, Mrs. Smythe, and realize that your endless harping and spendthrift ways were just as likely to have led to his early death?” Colin said with a vicious snarl. “You only wanted him for security and for the prestige he could bring. You never cared for the man nor his family.”

“You see, Mrs. Wright?” Mrs. Smythe simpered into her handkerchief, her voice taking on the sugary tone I despised. “These are the remaining members of Sean’s family that I’m to look to for comfort in my grief. I must find solace and strength on my own.”

“I am only thankful that such a woman never became a member of my family,” Mrs. Wright said as she glared at me. “Shameless, useless girl, only bringing pain and heartache to those around her.”

“The feeling is mutual,” I snapped.

“Was Patrick informed of Da’s death?” Colin asked as he gripped Mrs. Smythe’s elbow. She glared at him, but he refused to release her. “I’m shocked he wouldn’t travel the short distance from New York City.”

“I cannot recall who I informed in my state,” Mrs. Smythe said as she cried.

“Save your tears. We know you for the conniving woman you are.” Colin glared at her with eyes the color of glowing blue ice. “You purposefully held the ceremony on a day when you thought we wouldn’t be able to attend. You didn’t tell our brother of his father’s death. Why, Mrs. Smythe?”

“You left!” she hissed. “You left. You have no right to any consideration after the way you treated your father and me. The three of you, all ungrateful children, abandoning your home and your duties. Always your duty to your family first. But, clearly your mother, such an unprincipled, wild woman, incapable of raising children, failed to instill that basic tenet in you. Thus, you deserve to suffer, knowing your father died missing you and was buried without you.”

I gasped, and Colin shook with rage. “How dare you bury him away from our mother.”

“Do you honestly believe I was to have him buried next to her, with no place for me? Besides, when I spoke with your grandparents, they were only too pleased to have one more space in their plot for a deserving member of their family, not an upstart blacksmith who had no right to marry their daughter.”

“You vile woman. I will forever rue the day you married my father,” Colin said.

“You may call me what you like, Colin. It does not bother me. I know what it takes to survive in this harsh world, much more than you do.” She glared at the two of us before pivoting and storming away, Mrs. Wright on her arm.

I shook and reached out to grasp Colin’s steady arm. “What did we ever do to deserve her?”

“Nothing,” Colin said. “Just had the misfortune of having a misguided da.” He noted my shaking. “Ignore her, Rissa. Nothing she says is true.”

“I know. But seeing her fills me with rage, Col. At the way she attempted to ruin my life and never feel any regret about what she did.”

“Never fear. She’ll receive her comeuppance.”

“It can’t occur soon enough,” I said as we moved to rejoin Savannah, Lucas and the rest of the family.

***

“WELL, DEARS, HOW WAS IT?” Sophie sat on a settee in her front living room, a roaring fire adding ambiance to the room.

“Sophie?” I said from the doorway.

Her head jerked toward me, and a satisfied smile flitted across her face as she rose. “Ah, my girl. You arrived in time, I hope?”

I nodded as I fought tears and rushed into her arms for a long embrace.

“There, there, no tears on my account,” she murmured.

I shook my head no and backed away. “Forgive me,” I whispered. “Sophie, I don’t know as you remember Colin.”

“Mr. Sullivan, welcome to my home. I hope you find it as comfortable as that luxurious hotel in Minneapolis.” She waved to the furniture around the room and Colin, Savannah, Aunt Betsy and I settled.

“How was the weeping widow?” Sophie asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Attempting to appear sad but failing on all counts,” Colin said.

“I’d think she’d be terrified of what will become of her now that she doesn’t have a husband again,” Sophie said.

“Why? You do fine on your own,” Savannah said. She smiled to the maid who delivered fresh tea and poured cups for all of us.

“That is my point, Savannah. My husband left me plenty of money, and my tastes were not of the exorbitant kind. She doesn’t appear to have the sense to know she must curtail her ways.”

“I’m sure Da left her plenty,” Colin said. “He’d want to look after Melinda.”

“Did you see your sister?” Sophronia asked.

“No, she wasn’t there. I thought it was because she was so young, Mrs. Smythe didn’t want to expose her to the ceremony.”

“Hmm … Well, I’m sure we’ll know in time.” She pinned a stare on Colin, her aquamarine eyes shining with curiosity. “Are you returned to take the helm of your father’s blacksmithing shop?”

“It’s what I should do,” Colin said.

“Hmm … I wouldn’t spend too much of my life worried about what I should do, young man. I’d determine what it is I want to do, and then endeavor to do it. Life’s too short for the shoulds in life.”

Colin shrugged with feigned nonchalance. “It’s what my da would have expected of me.”

“Humbug. Your father would want you and your siblings happy, wherever you live and whatever you do. He wouldn’t want you to martyr yourself to a forge you had no desire to run.”

“I need to honor him in this way,” Colin murmured.

Sophie began to speak but settled back in her chair when she met Aunt Betsy’s severe stare. Aunt Betsy said, “I knew Sean well. I know what he suffered after the death of your mother, and I’m confident he would want both of you to follow your dreams. If you have no desire to live here in Boston, Colin, then don’t,” Aunt Betsy said.

“It’s not that simple, Aunt,” Colin said.

“I don’t understand why not,” Savannah said. “I’d think you’d have the sense to find your happiness and fight to keep it.”

“That’s your battle, Sav, not mine,” Colin said. “The truth is that, if I’d been here, there’s a good chance Da wouldn’t have died. That he wouldn’t have had to work so hard.”

“Don’t even think of giving that woman’s words one moment of credence,” I hissed, my face flushing with anger. “She only speaks words of poison to induce pain and promote disharmony.”

“There’s truth in her words, Rissa. You know I’ve wondered the same,” Colin said.

“It’s just as likely your father would have died at the same time whether or not you were sweating away next to him in the forge. The only difference is you would have had the distinction of watching your father die without the ability to render any true aid. Would you then feel you had done your duty as a son? Would you feel free to live the life you desired?” Sophronia demanded.

Colin rose and paced about. “I just buried my father today. Talk of what is to be done with the forge is premature.”

Sophie sighed. “My boy, it’s premature to anyone with a modicum of decency. However, we all know your stepmother hasn’t a decent bone in her body. She’ll do what she sees fit with what has been bestowed upon her. I suggest you learn quickly what your father’s true wishes were, not what she wants you to believe they were.”

“Sophie?” I asked.

“I’ve heard rumors that she has debts due to her delusions about her grand house in the South End. Debts your father was attempting to repay at the time of his death,” Sophronia said, her words sending a chill of foreboding down my spine.

“She wouldn’t do anything precipitous with her means of income,” I said.

“We know she shows the world the appearance of an eminently ridiculous creature but do not underestimate her.” Sophie shared a fierce look with me.

I nodded. “No, never underestimate what she will do to obtain her desired goal,” I whispered.

***

AFTER A LIGHT DINNER, Aunt Betsy departed to return to Uncle Martin and Aunt Matilda’s home. I wished she could stay with us at Sophie’s, but I knew that, with our arrival, Colin and I were using most of Sophie’s spare rooms. I attempted to calm my racing thoughts as Savannah poked her head into my room.

“Rissa, do you mind if I join you?” she asked.

“Of course not.”

She shut the door behind me, walking soundlessly to the chaise longue set along the far wall of the room. I tucked my legs under me, giving room for Savannah to join me. My night clothes were on my bed, with the covers turned down. Lamps on the low tables throughout the room were lit, many in front of mirrors to give the impression of more light.

Savannah glanced around the room for a moment. “I’d forgotten this room didn’t have any windows,” she said.

“Sav, are you all right?” I asked, not caring about my room.

“Rissa, there’s no reason we should be speaking about me. You’ve just arrived from a long trip across country and buried your father today.”

“I know, and I’m exhausted, but I’m worried about you. I thought you were finally happy now that you were free of Jonas.”

“I thought I was. Happy, I mean. But I doubt I’ll ever truly be free of a man like Jonas.” She glanced at me, and I saw a glimmer of fear in her eyes. “A man like him doesn’t accept a woman’s wishes.”

“He can’t hurt you anymore, Sav.” I clasped her hand.

“He hurts me every day by being my husband. And it’s a wound I inflicted on myself. You can’t know what that’s like, Rissa. Knowing that all this pain and misery I brought on myself. Why didn’t I listen to you? Why didn’t I pay attention to my own doubts?”

BOOK: Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5
4.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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