Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5 (5 page)

BOOK: Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5
10.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Sav, I’ve learned the fastest way to make myself miserable is to try to change the past,” I whispered.

“What in your past would you want to change?”

“What if I had gone to Gabriel sooner? What if that had prevented … events from that spring with Cameron? My life would have been very different.” I blinked away tears.

“Would you be happier now?”

“I have no idea. Because those events did happen. And there’s nothing I can do to change them. Wishing it were different only gives me a headache, causes Gabriel pain and leads to sleepless nights.”

“I told Jeremy I didn’t want to see him for a while,” Savannah whispered.

“Why? Did he frighten you? Harm you?”

“No! Never. I imagine he’s a bit like Gabriel.” Savannah half smiled. “Jonas visited Sophie, hurt her and then tried to force me to leave with him. He terrified me, Rissa. Reminded me of everything I had lived through and escaped. It made me doubt my ability to make decisions for myself. Besides, I’m not free. I’ll never be free. It’s not fair to Jeremy.”

“I imagine that’s for Jeremy to decide. If he wants to be your … friend, then that’s his decision, isn’t it? Does Jeremy think you’re afraid of him?”

“I worry that he does. He went through so much, Rissa, and now I worry I’m just bringing him more pain. He deserves to find some peace.”

“Being separated from you, the woman he cares about, will hardly bring him peace. Especially if he believes you fear him. On top of that, if he’s concerned about your safety with regard to Jonas, I imagine he’s beside himself with worry. I’ve rarely met a more determined person than a McLeod, especially when it comes to protecting those they care about.” I gave Savannah an ironic smile.

“What is it, Rissa?”

“As we speak of Jeremy, all I want is Gabriel. I wish he’d walk through the door right now and surprise me.” I gave a half shake of my head. “Isn’t it ironic? I’ve always thought of Boston as my home, but I miss Gabriel so much. I feel homesick for him, and I’m eager to return to him.”

“Don’t leave too quickly. You just arrived. I need some time with my favorite cousin,” Savannah urged.

I smiled my agreement. “I also realized today how much I’ve changed. I never cared for all of society’s rules, but to be snubbed because I wasn’t in the proper attire at Da’s funeral was beyond anything I could have imagined.”

“Wearing a red jacket at a funeral is highly irregular, Rissa.”

“It’s burgundy,” I said with a half smile before sobering. “I would think people would understand I’d just arrived on a train from the west and hadn’t had time to change. Instead there was immediate judgment.” I sighed my frustration.

“It’s how things are, Rissa,” Savannah said.

“I know. And I understand that there would have been murmurings in Missoula too, but I think people would at least have paid their respects. It just made a horrible situation that much worse.” I rubbed at my face.

“You look exhausted. You should rest.” Savannah squeezed my hand in support.

“It doesn’t seem real, Sav. I can’t believe he’s gone,” I whispered. “How can both of my parents be gone?” I lowered my head to my forearm resting on the back of the chaise longue, tears leaking from my eyes.

“I’m sorry, Rissa,” Savannah said as she took my hand.

“I know. I’m so glad you’re staying with Sophie. That we’re together.” I leaned forward and cried on her shoulder. She rubbed my back and held me but refrained from saying any of the useless platitudes about death and my da being in a better place.

I leaned away from her and swiped at my cheeks. She handed me a clean handkerchief, and I blew my nose.

“Will you be all right?”

“I’ll have to be. I’m filled with such regret, and I don’t know how to live with it,” I whispered.

“Why? Your father was very proud of you. Delighted in the news you sent home. Thankful that you were a faithful letter writer, unlike Colin.” She stroked her hand down my arm, as my mother had when I needed comfort.

I blinked back tears as I said, “I left here, disappointed in him. Convinced he would care more for Mrs. Smythe and little Melly than me. I couldn’t reconcile the man he’d become to the father he had been. And all the time I hugged my disappointment to me, I knew I was unfair. He never knew what occurred with Cameron. He never understood my desperation to escape. How could he? I refused to speak of it.”

“Why, Rissa?”

“I feared I would be forced to marry Cameron to save face. Due to the fact, as Cameron said, ‘Now no one will want you but me.’” I shuddered as I said the words and fought the onslaught of the memory. “I refused to be tied to such a man. I was determined that I would forge my own destiny.”

“You’re so brave, Rissa.”

“But I never spoke with my da again after I was happy with Gabriel.” I choked on my tears.

“Surely you wrote him all this,” Savannah said.

“Of course. But I never looked into his eyes and saw the da I knew from when Mama lived. I left, with such anger inside me, Sav, and he must have sensed it.”

“I’m confident your father knew he’d married a woman who had only brought disharmony among his family. That was his great mistake. He never begrudged you your ability to escape and find joy with Gabriel. I remember once, before I had the baby, I visited my parents for dinner, and your father was there, regaling us of tales you had written. I’ve never seen a father more proud than when he spoke of you, Rissa. He rejoiced in you, your letters, your tales of that wild place you had settled in. I think he wished he could travel to be with you.”

I snorted. “Mrs. Smythe would never have borne traveling to Montana!”

Savannah giggled. “No, she wouldn’t have, although I would have loved to have received your letter describing her misadventures.”

I shuddered. “Not even in jest. I’m thankful knowing there is a place I can go where she has no interest.” I smiled, gazing distantly over Savannah’s shoulder before focusing on her. “Thank you for sharing that story with me. After what Mrs. Smythe said today, I worried he didn’t receive the letters I had sent to the forge.”

I studied Savannah for a moment before asking softly, “Sav, what did he do to you?”

“It doesn’t matter now, Rissa.”

“I think it does. You’re allowing fear, learned from horrible treatment, to prevent you from imagining a different sort of life with Jeremy.”

“What if I were to tell you Jeremy isn’t as you imagine?” Savannah challenged.

“Then I would trust your judgment. You know him much better than I do.”

Savannah’s shoulders stooped as she exhaled, and she bowed her head. “I’d be lying anyway. He’s a wonderful man. Though he is tormented by everything that happened in the Philippines.”

“I know. He told me a bit about it when I visited him in his workshop one day.” I traced an intertwining circular pattern on the pale-peach-colored silk coverlet.

“He thinks he’ll harm me. That he’ll lash out in some way. But …”

I waited a few moments for her to finish, but she remained silent. “But …”

She raised her eyes to me, glistening with unshed tears. “I know … deep inside, I know he would never intentionally hurt me. Unlike Jonas, who seemed to plan in that office of his the ways he could inflict the most bodily harm.”

“Sav,” I whispered.

“Do you know I think he even consulted with doctors on how long it should take me to recover from my injuries so he knew when he could inflict the next round?”

My eyes widened in horror.

“For the doctor was never called for my benefit.”

“Why didn’t you leave?” I asked.

“He told me that he’d hunt me down and kill me. That he’d lowered himself to marry one such as me, and I should be thankful for any sort of attention from him.” She looked away, blinking at tears.

“I’m sure Uncle Martin or Lucas had their doubts.” Savannah nodded as I added, “Never underestimate the strength it took to leave, to not waver and to refuse to do what your mother or Jonas wanted. To continue to do what
wanted and needed. You should be proud of yourself.”

“Thank you, Rissa.” She sniffled as she leaned forward for a hug.

“Have you stopped looking for your daughter?” I asked, biting my lip as I saw a deep despair flash in Savannah’s eyes for a moment.

“I looked everywhere I could imagine. I sent letters and visited orphanages, and I failed to find her. I console myself that she is with a good family, who treats her well.”

“Oh, Sav,” I whispered, unable to blink away my tears as they trickled down my cheeks. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here to support you. I’m so sorry I didn’t know what you had suffered.”

She leaned into my embrace, clutching me for a moment. “I needed you. I won’t deny it. But your absence forced me to find my own strength. And I learned that there are others who support me and care for me too, and that is a wonderful gift.”

She pulled away, rubbing at her cheeks. “And now I really think we should go to bed,” Savannah said.

I hugged her again before rising with a slight groan. “Remind me not to travel across country with any frequency.” Savannah smiled as she left. I crawled into bed, dreaming of Gabriel.


THE FOLLOWING MORNING, after breakfast, Savannah and I decided to walk to the Public Gardens. Although it was mid-November, the sun shone brightly, and the air was calm. I had donned my burgundy jacket, and Savannah wore a thick blue-gray coat that swirled prettily at her ankles as she walked. We walked arm in arm the short distance to the gardens, entering through the Beacon Street gate to stroll along one of the curving walks. The flower beds were covered for winter, and the bare tree branches swayed in a soft breeze with few birds remaining to serenade us.

“I imagine it’s quite a shock to be here rather than in Montana,” Savannah said as she squeezed my arm.

“It’s not as provincial as you would make it out to be, Sav,” I said. “Fashion isn’t nearly as advanced, but there is electricity.”

“Is there anything you miss about living here?”

“My family.” She squeezed my arm in agreement. “The smell of the ocean, the heavy humid air after a fierce rainstorm. The museums, the music.” I gave a wistful sigh and shared an ironic look with her. “The library.”

“I thought you had a library where you live,” Savannah said.

“There is one, although the elderly man I work with insists on calling it a depository until we have a proper building.”

“What is it in now?”

“A room over a storefront, with books piled high on tables. Gabriel just built us beautiful bookshelves,” I said.

“You say it’s not provincial but it sounds terribly rural to me,” Savannah said. She nodded to an acquaintance as we turned down another path.

“I imagine anything would, after Boston.”

“Are you planning to visit my parents while you’re home?”

“Of course, although I don’t relish the tongue-lashing I’m sure to receive from your mother. I can already imagine what she’ll say.” I thought back to the tea I had with her after Gabriel left when she admonished me to marry a man from a similar class. “How she’ll say it.” I raised an eyebrow to Savannah.

Savannah looked at me with mild embarrassment. “Did you know that my parents’ marriage was one of convenience?”

“Who told you that?” I demanded. “You know as well as I do that it was a love match, like my parents’.”

“It seems they fooled us all and, for those who did know the truth, had trammeled them into a veil of silence.”

“Why would they do that? Why would Aunt Betsy lie to us?”

“Loyalty to her sister. An ingrained training to follow the mandates of her parents. She had been told to repeat that my parents married for love until it would be believed as true. I think they had hoped, if it was said enough times, the lie would become truth.”

“What really happened?”

Savannah gripped my arm. “It seems my mother might have been even more shocking than you or me in her day. She frequented the theaters in Scollay Square and became pregnant with an actor’s child.”

I stopped walking to stare at Savannah with my mouth agape. “Now I know you must be joking.”

“Aunt Betsy told me in strictest confidence. I wanted you to know because I know how Mother likes to torment you and act as though she is perfect and that you and I are not living up to her standards.”

“Why would your father marry her?”

“I guess for the dowry. To keep the business going during a conflict in Europe when they had trouble obtaining the fine linen from France. As Jonas discovered, the dowry was quite substantial. And I imagine the grandparents were willing to pay whatever was necessary to prevent further scandal. They wouldn’t have wanted an out-of-wedlock grandchild.”

“And the child? I don’t remember ever meeting any older sibling of yours besides Lucas. Unless you’re telling me this child is Lucas?” I gripped her arm.

“No, of course not. He’s the spitting image of father. A few months after their marriage, mother lost the baby.”

“I can’t take this in. I can’t believe that, for over twenty years, they’ve lied to all of us. Why aren’t you angrier?”

BOOK: Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5
10.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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