Vaughn had been reading to her for the past two hours, and it had been wonderful. As he read, his voice flowed over each word with the poise of a skilled actor, each syllable carried through an array of tones and timbres.
She had never heard his voice like this before; it was beautiful as his piano.
She sighed deeply, shaking her head.
“What’s the matter? Shall I stop?”
And now the young Princess has been forced to marry the warlord… it… it’s…”
She concluded sadly.
“Fate – and duty – demands what it will, and sometimes we have no choice but to obey.”
For a minute Estelle thought Vaughn had began reading from the book again, yet when she looked up she found he wasn’t. His gaze was on her, dark and intent.
I have no choice.
There is always a choice, Estelle.
There was a flash; a slap.; a memory; a face.
“… when did you say that to me?”
“Did I… did I hit you?”
“What in Gods name are you—”
Dear lord, had she actually managed to offend the man? She hadn’t done that in quite a while. “No… wait.”
“You need rest.”
Her words trailed off as she glanced up at him, catching his eyes again. The candlelight, somehow, made his gaze impossibly darker.
Of that one look.
And it didn’t make the slightest difference that she had tasted that sin before.
“You would tell me if you knew anything… wouldn’t you?”
“You can trust me, Estelle.”
“Oh, but I do!” She hurried to explain. “It’s just that…”
He’s never looked at me like that.
“… I’m sorry. It must have been my head playing tricks on me.”
— unable, it seemed, to even think anymore when it came to Vaughn.
Even so, he simply could not bring himself tell her.
And the rickety bridges he had rebuilt between them would surely collapse into dust.
No, she didn’t need to know. Things were… simpler this way.
“Please, won’t you read to me a little longer?” She implored.
“I really should leave you alone. Tomorrow we will continue–”
“But supposing we do not see each other tomorrow—” She interrupted earnestly.
“I’m almost certain you will live to see another dawn. And so, once more, I bid you goodnight.”
The governess trailed off and began to grow more and more restless.
Vaughn stared at her, knowing full well that he should definitely exit the room for both his sake and hers, but knowing that he would also take great pleasure in reading her the rest of his brother’s novel.
“We will finish it next time.”
He said softly.
The governess released a mirthless laugh.
“Surely you know as well as I that we will not see each other again.”
He knew she had seen it.
She had talked of this in his parlour before she disappeared from his life. Indeed, it had been the very reason why, the very spark that had set the fire ablaze between them. He had asked her to remain her, he had implored her to stay on as his mistress.
And what had followed, he did not wish to re-live again.
If she were to remember…
“Oh, do not look so shocked, my Lord. You’ve always known I couldn’t stay on in your household after you married Marielle.”
Perhaps in her subconscious memory she was awaiting his plea for her to stay.
“I have no choice.”
“There is always a choice.”
Vaughn searched his mind, trying to find the right thing to say at a time when everything had to be said.
Estelle blinked, once, very slowly.
“Back home in Barnacle Bay, the lights go out one by one, the stars fade, then the horizon glows, almost like it’s on fire. It spreads… first to the sea, then to the sky, brighter and brighter until everything glows.
It’s really very… beautiful. I know you’d like it.”
The governess said quietly.
His mind was a roaring void, and he willed it to stay like that. He didn’t even know what he was saying, except that he had to say it.
“We can both go.”
Estelle’s eyes flickered shut and Vaughn feared that he’d overstepped, somehow, that those words were the wrong ones even if they were true; but he couldn’t look away from her – he didn’t think he’d ever win at that game – and watched her pale face twist and struggle.
Marielle Harrington, the ton, his inheritance…
What would they tell his father, that old man imprisoned by illness in his dank rooms?
Something akin to sorrow – or even anguish – rose in him. Reality seemed to fragment around him as he found himself torn in two directions, incapable of moving without destroying an integral part of his self.
Mother… Father… I don’t want to… but…
Estelle resolutely avoided his gaze, her face hidden in the heavy fall of her hair.
“I just can’t, Vaughn… I can’t go.“
“… of course.” He said, barely hearing the words.
He wondered what she’d taken of his sentiments, half-formed and unfinished. Did she think he had meant to recruit her merely as Marielle’s lady’s maid?
“Then, in case my predictions are inaccurate: this belongs to you now. Consider it a token to… remember me by. Take it.”
She moved, but her hand faltered as reached for the book. “A-Are you quite sure—?”
“I will not offer again.”
“I will cherish it.”
The words, said with such sweetness as he had ever heard, made him want to take her face in his hands and kiss her until she was breathless.
At that moment, Vaughn could not honestly say why he had decided to give Falcon’s book to her. It was the object he had taken no small amount of solace from since his brother’s death, the words scrawled in Falcon’s own meticulous hand.
He only knew that the sight of her with his brother’s book made his chest contract painfully with something he dare not acknowledge.
But only one thing had seemed right, slipping from his lips as they brushed against her lily-white knuckles.
Until we meet again.
A/N: Phew! So I thought this was another swift update, but it turns out the last chapter was published 19th Feb? What.
(09/03/14: So this post had comments disabled for some reason unknown to me (annoying!), but that’s sorted now! Feel free to comment away ~)
Thanks for reading x