Estelle didn’t remember falling into dreaming; she felt like she’d been dreaming longer than days, longer than years, even… but her dream was nothing more than it ever was: shadows and the sense of feeling around for something.
A lot of the time, she dreamt warmth and comfort and of being surrounded by gold and white angels. She always knew them, for their voices brought snippets of conversation that had no time or context or meaning.
A moment’s hesitation.
There was an expectant pause; finally the woman’s voice exclaimed incredulously:
“What? No defence for your friend?”
The voice paused, quietly searching.
“But I say cruel and think cruel; you are saying cruel and thinking mean or wicked or spiteful.”
“I sometimes think if he might be some of those other things, as well.”
It acted only according to its nature and something was unfortunately hurt.”
Millerna really loved him, you know that. She would have done anything for him. But he left her, as all the others, with no explanation!”
It works against you. It startles the hart away. All you can do is gently stay where you are, and hope that, in time, the hart will come to you.”
That is rare and pure and perfect.”
Then there was only darkness, darkness for hours.
“… the sky is dark tonight, and full of stars. One, I see, is shining brighter than the others, its light burns fiercer onto my flesh: Gaea. Perhaps fate’s fingertips will pluck me from my sleep and lift me to her shadowed shores…”
“Am I to meet my love upon that land? Does she wait for me there?”
Somebody… was somebody speaking to her as she lay in this unfamiliar place?
With time, Estelle caught the briefest of glimpses at this angel. It was imperfect, of course, with her keening in and out of consciousness, but it occurred to her that this dark angel of hers looked an awful lot like Vaughn.
And, for each of the seven days of her recovery, he always did.
Vaughn Afonsine longed for storm clouds and thunder to gather, for lightning bolts to be hurled down to earth in haphazard chaos. He longed for a gale to come and sweep down the pedestrians strolling by the window.
The Viscount was in a dark, dark mood. Yet the heavens were remarkably clear. The midday sun shone into the parlour, the bright flowers in the garden swayed slightly in the perfectly mild breeze, a little bird twittered softly upon the windowsill….
It was awful. Just awful.
He felt like a complete and utter ass. Estelle lay unconscious upstairs in the guest bedroom for the seventh day in a row, her life hanging in the balance as far as he knew, and all he could do was sit and curse at the lovely sodding weather!
He had been banished hours ago by Millerna who had returned to the governesses’ bed chamber at 8am sharp only to find him draped across the lower end of the bed, sound asleep. She explained that the governess suffered from a previously undiagnosed concussion, but that she should (god-willing) recover well.
She had been prescribed a further three days of bed rest, which meant no movement and absolutely no visitors. Vaughn was told to go about his business until the governess awoke but, for the next hour, he had continued to pace up and down the corridor outside the door.
Just in case.
This was a complete disaster. He had come here hoping to gather his thoughts, but now they lay as scattered, as paper pamphlets on a gusty day.
He had come here with the intention of speaking to the governess alone. He had thought that, mayhap, he could persuade Verity, Millerna or Eries to invite Marielle for tea. After that, he was confident he could find ample excuse to get her alone—
After all, his previous meeting with the governess had been rather… intense. His words, callous and cruel, had shocked her, stunned her. He doubted she would even look at him, let alone spend time with him.
And after he had seen her with Charles, well…
He had told her to stay, but it had not been enough. So he had tried to persuade in the only way he knew. They way he had persuaded countless women in the past. And yet, this time, he had propositioned her like a desperate man.
Perhaps he was desperate. Who knew?
Of course, at the time he had been furious, utterly unforgiving and stubbornly self-assured that he had, in fact, not said or done anything remotely wrong or offensive.
He wanted to spend time alone with her, to talk with her, to understand her. Dare he say it, having ruled out all other options, he wanted to be her friend.
Vaughn Afonsine, once the ton’s most notorious rogue, wanted to be friends with a woman— and, for all his experience, he didn’t have a clue how to go about it!
It irritated him, how worried he was. It was incredibly frustrating caring for someone who so relentlessly hated him, no matter his good intentions or heroic deeds.
And yet his heart continued to call out for her. It begged for some kind of… acceptance, and Vaughn did not know when, or if, it would ever stop.
“My Lord? Lord Landgraab thought you ought to know that Miss Murphy is finally awake—”
Damn it, don’t be a coward, Afonsine. Just apologise.
It was his only chance.
She was standing by the window, staring out of it, her hair loose, the borrowed silk nightgown she wore pooled luxuriously around her ankles, baring a patch of creamy white skin he could not ignore. She looked like a goddess stood there.
She began to turn.
Their eyes locked. Widened.
“Where the bloody hell am I?”
“Answer my question!” She barked.
“Oh, calm down, for God’s sake! You’re in Sunset Valley, Landgraab manor. You’ve got a concussion, the doctor says you have to stay in bed for three days—”
“Landgraab manor—? Well, that is the most absurd thing I have ever heard! I don’t care what the doctor says, I’m leaving at once. Marielle will be worried sick! Where the hell are my clothes?!”
She opened her mouth in objection.
“Now!” He bit out over her refusal. Christ, but the woman made him furious with no effort at all.
“If you do not get back in that bed right now I will put you there myself.”
“You wouldn’t dare…”
All in all, Vaughn knew he looked a complete shambles, unpresentable in any other circumstance (hair untamed, sleeves rolled up, jacket long abandoned in the parlour) but here it meant he could move without hindrance.
“Oh, but I would.”
After a time, Vaughn’s frown deepened.
“Fine. Have it your way.”
“Wh– put me down at once! Put me down, I— PUT ME DOWN!”
“—won’t give a damn!” Vaughn finished for her. “Now for Christ’s sake, when I put you down will you please just lie still?!”
Vaughn placed her, gently but distrustfully, on the cushioned mattress. To his surprise, the governess ceased her rebellious squirming at last and then said nothing. He drew back, eyeing her with blatant suspicion.
A few moments passed, both sets of eyes narrowed upon the other….
Faster than his mind could process, Vaughn threw himself bodily over the bed after her with an agility he didn’t know he still possessed.
“You won’t win.” He muttered.
“Damn you!” She hurled abuse freely at him. “Damn you!’
A few more moments of struggling and then stillness. A stillness during which Vaughn pretended not to notice how flushed her cheeks were from exertion, nor the swell of her bosom as she panted… God, he was so close to her now.
“You will stay in this bed until I say otherwise. Understood?”
She conceded breathlessly. God, but she looked beautiful, tousled and dewy from sleep.
“You… you can let go of me now…”
Damned obstinate woman…
It was then that he briefly remembered something… something about coming to apologise?
Estelle blinked. “Do you know, I… I haven’t the slightest clue how I got here.”
“You said I was in Sunset Valley, but… I don’t quite understand. What exactly happened? I… wasn’t I supposed to be escorting Marielle to your house this morning?”
That had been a little more than two months ago.
“The last thing I remember…” Frowning, the governess shook her head. “The very last thing I remember… is that Marielle had received your calling card, you had… invited her for tea… but Marielle thought…”
He sat, thinking furiously in an effort to figure it all out before the chance passed. Good lord, had she forgotten everything? Had she forgotten their argument? Forgotten how he’d insulted her? Propositioned her? How he had infuriated her?
Had she forgotten her decision to leave…?
Her lack of memory explained why she was being so polite to him. Or, rather, why she hadn’t slapped him in the face yet.
Should I tell her?
“Vaughn, what is it? You’re worrying me.”
After all, would honestly really help the situation?
Had it ever?
The Viscount smiling disarmingly.
“Nothing for you to worry about – nothing happened. I merely invited Marielle over for tea and we had a pleasant stroll in the gardens.”
Estelle’s hands found their way to her head. They skimmed over a barely-visible bump.
“How old are you? Five?”
She was silent for a moment before she frowned again.
“… I think.”
A/N: God, I must have rewritten this about a gazillion times. Originally, Vaughn wasn’t in it at all! But I’m happy with it. Hopefully you are, too ^^