For a few moments Estelle was lost in his promises. She had no doubt… absolutely no doubt that he would act on them. The thought of being so close, so impossibly close to him, was both utterly terrifying and absolutely wonderful.
Even now, although she had experienced the acts he had so willingly described, she was fascinated by how easily he had conjured images in her mind; images that made her breath catch, that made sensation spear the most intimate parts of her body.
She looked into the impenetrable dark gaze that was searching her face.
“I wish you and Marielle happiness with all my heart.”
” … oh.”
Estelle shivered at the cracked edges held in that small word and used the opportunity to back away.
Never in her life had moving forwards proved to be so hard. Or so sickening.
The last ten minutes had been as surreal and arduous to her as the first time they had met. But then he had mentioned Marielle, and suddenly the promises had crumbled into dust, the words had rotted away.
Finally, it was happening.
It was really happening.
The thought of him touching her caused a dull pain to grip Estelle’s heart.
It was time to stop. It was over.
But she didn’t, and the knowledge of it only made things worse.
A week or two after Estelle had officially broke up their… relationship, she realised that she had not been the only one trying, however oddly, to give Vaughn the benefit of a doubt. The first letter arrived a mere two days later.
It was from Charles Landgraab.
It was… something, though Estelle couldn’t quite define what that something was; or if it made her feel any better, or just plain worse.
…only to receive another letter a day later.
As time had gone on, their communication had eased away from the social parameters of thanks and good health, progressing instead to questions of philosophy and literature, the personal thoughts and feelings of both parties.
“I’ve mentioned my fiancée of some years ago, have I not?”
“Her name was Lily, and she was a childhood sweetheart, of sorts. But my love for her was never childlike, nor was it sweet. I was consumed by it, and thusly I was consumed by grief upon her untimely death.
Since that time I have found no real comfort, nor had I reason to seek it.”
My sisters tried to console me constantly, but their efforts meant nothing in the face of what I had lost.”
Was there, too, an absence of something essential in him now? An estrangement from himself that made everything feel grey and taste of ashes?”
Did anyone realise how lonely he was… other than me?”
I could have helped him then, too. And I didn’t.”
“That’s why I travelled to Barnacle Bay, even though everybody had warned me that trying to get him back was pointless. After all, getting Vaughn back from Barnacle Bay would never get me back Vaughn, not the Vaughn I was looking for, nor a person I could understand.”
A part of him had died with Falcon. That was, perhaps, the greater part of Vaughn.”
I sometimes wonder whether Vaughn will ever realise it too, and try to take back the pieces of himself he’s scattered. We’re both still alive, and I want – so badly – to believe in that personality I had glimpsed as a child.”
Needless to say, she had not yet replied. She had read and re-read it four times before finally accepting that Charles Landgraab, heir to a dukedom, was inviting her to tea. The very fact he was asking her was… well, it made her stomach do a little flip.
What if the Viscount had put Charles up to this as a sort of… joke?
She didn’t want to think about it. So for the rest of the week, she didn’t. Unfortunately not everything she wished to forget was quite so escapable.
“Why, Marielle Harrington! I do believe I am in the company of the luckiest, most priviledged young lady in the entire world!”
Marielle giggled, her barely concealed vanity all but devoured the compliments laid before her. “I am, aren’t I? Is my Lord not devilishy handsome?”
As the young debuntantes indulged in their silly banter, Estelle and Liddy reclined on the park’s bench. Although once Estelle would have enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with her old friend, she found her heart was not quite in it.
Liddy frowned when all the governess did was nod in a vague, non-committal way.
“Is something wrong, Estelle?”
“You’re not unwell, are you?”
“But something is definitely amiss.”
“How does one know when a woman is with child?”
Liddy’s eyes darted to the young debuntante. She had heard the Viscount Afonsine was a rogue, a notorious rake, but she had felt, quite assuredly, that Estelle would have been vigilant in the defense of her charge’s virtue.
“Do you think she might be…?”
“Then… might I safely assume then that you have taken the necessary… steps to create a babe?”
“You can safely assume that… yes.”
Estelle’s mind sorted through the layered pain that Liddy’s words evoked. It wasn’t really a new feeling, rather, it was something she hadn’t wanted to consider.
“About… four weeks ago.”
“But aren’t there other symptoms?” Estelle ventured, throat tight. “Aren’t I supposed to get sick?”
“Not all women get morning sickness. Some get tender breasts, some get no symptoms at all until their belly starts to swell.”
“Let me guess. You couldn’t bear the thought of porridge for breakfast this morning and wondered if you were pregnant?”
“Something like that.”
“Oh, do not look so glum, my dear girl! You aren’t the first woman to make a mistake when a dashing young man makes his intentions toward you known!”
Estelle was shocked. “Really?”
“As you might recall, Mr. Cook was much older than me, forty years actually, so we didn’t have much in common. Ambrose was a minor Lord of the ton. Now, I’d be foolish to say I was in love with the man, but I was certainly in lust with him.”
“It didn’t last long – it couldn’t last long; affairs like that are doomed to fail. If the news had leaked out, the scandal would have been much worse than the few moments of pleasure that precipitated it.
He knew it, but more importantly I knew it. I knew I had the most to lose from our trifle.”
With that one admission, the aging widow had took her world and shook it to its very foundations.
Liddy’s lips were pursed into a thin line that spoke volumes of her worry.
“… yes.” Estelle agreed with a resigned sigh.
“There’s a good girl. Now let us think of it no more.”
There’s a good girl.
She wondered whether Liddy would be able to say the same in another nine months.
So basically I’ve recently graduated and got a job out of it ~ but it means I have to move to Hong Kong next week!!! Obviously I’m really excited
and terrified; unfortunately, this means that the next chapter is delayed until I settle in/arrange my internet etc. But I will continue this story, 100% – you just need to be patient with me!