A/N: I’M ALIVE! I was on hiatus, not dead; aren’t you glad? XD I hope you didn’t think for a MINUTE that I’d left this story in the proverbial graveyard!
“Lord Landgraab hopes you don’t mind terribly that he took the liberty of moving you, you know. He knows the room is rather small, but there is some truly beautiful scenery in this area that makes him very fond of visiting this place…
When you’ve sufficiently recovered, I’d encourage you to explore the grounds.”
Estelle looked around her ‘small’ room, at the soft feather bed with an enormous headboard and silk curtains tied back around the bedposts. On the other side of the room stood a luxurious vanity and two large dressers, all made of the same fine polished wood. There was also a sliding door which looked suspiciously ike the entrace to a walk-in closet.
All in all, the room was incredibly elegant, and certainly not one that a governess had the privilege to occupy.
When Estelle asked what exactly that meant, the maid said that Estelle could probably answer that question much better than herself.
“You exaggerate what are, in fact, three very minor acquaintances. The Viscount is courting my charge, whom I shall return to once I am sufficiently recovered.”
No matter how Estelle tried, she could not stop her brain from constantly battling to reclaim the patches of darkness in its memory. To still not recall the events that had past, well, she felt more helpless than ever before.
There had certainly been a brief flash of… something when he Viscount had been reading to her earlier.
But, more suddenly than she could comprehend, her hand had risen and struck him hard. That was all. She had seen nothing else. She hadn’t know where or how or even why these feelings had come upon her.
Within the past two days, no, longer than that, the past three weeks, he had shown himself to be kind, understanding and – dare she say it? – sweet.
Of course, two days in particular could not erase the tempestuous history they shared, nor could it change the fact he had utterly disrespected her for much of their acquaintance. No, she would never forget that.
… but, perhaps, she could forgive.
Moreover, his recent behaviour proved something that she had suspected for a while now: beneath the stubborn façade of arrogance, cunning and conceit that he had built up much of his life, there was a gentleman.
It was simply, very, very… very deep down.
“It is not as strange as all that.” The maid stated when she expressed. “Lady Millerna is a physician, after all. Oh, it was quite the scandal back in the day, I assure you.”
Estelle repeated with astonishment.
The maid sounded quite exasperated as she fidgeted with the hairpins that had been dislodged.
“The former Duke Landgraab, Lord rest his role, saw her disinherited for it…”
Alice continued absently: “It wasn’t until Lord Charles inherited the Dukedom that he saw her titles rightfully returned to her. Lucky for her really, as that husband of her’s had up and died of consumption…”
She was forced to be content with what little Alice could tell her and what she could deduce for herself.
Little did she know just how soon she would get one.
She knew it had been hours because of the damned chimes from the grandfather clock out in the hall. She was growing more alert by the minute, the blankets growing more tangled, and her patience earning ever more thin.
Well… perhaps not.
Oh please, not a storm. That’s all I bloody need.
Oh, she did hope it wasn’t something awful – had something happened to Marielle’s parents on the continent? Or perhaps Liddy? If she had forgotten something like that she would never forgive herself. She simply had to remember.
This couldn’t happen now….
Her mother was gone.
She was alone—
The only way to get through it was to focus hard on other things. The smell of the duvet. The goosebumps on her skin. The sound of her breathing. The tick of the clock….
… the memory of his face.
His eyes and the dark fire behind them. How well she knew those eyes, with thick black lashes that Liddy would say were wasted on a man. And yet no feature seemed wasted on Vaughn’s face Not even that stern, solemn—
He did not know her. He did not care to know her—
She whimpered, sinking to the floor. It wasn’t enough. It was never going to be enough.
… I can’t do this.
How could she possibly forget?
The way his wicked mouth had found hers so many times, had shared her breath. And made her head spin and her body flare and heat so desperately. With those lips, he was made her feel beautiful and feminine and…
Suddenly, she was deaf to the thunderous crash outside…
And then it all flooded back.
“You will have access to all his land and estates…”
“…under my supervision, be given an extremely generous allowance each month…”
He had died.
And she was legitimate.
Her chest rose and fell erratically, panic gripping the edges of her consciousness , shaking her over and over until she was forced to comprehend that she was…
She needed to breathe, to escape her past, escape her future, but—
“If you are not married within these six months, Lord Venture’s estates will be passed over to his nearest male relative…”
She wanted – had – to leave Sunset Valley and Moonlight Falls behind, to leave the country, to—
Now another voice sang out in her memory. This time, far more familiar.
“We’ll have a place in the house just for us. A secret, away from the rest of the world…”
“Marielle will never know.”
She lacked the energy, lacked the spirit to grow more upset by the fact that she had lied to her. Again.
And Marielle? What would Marielle do now?
Let me disappear. Just let me disappear.
She gasped and looked up towards the intruder.
Vaughn faltered. Stopped two paces away from her.
“I said don’t! Don’t come any closer!”
Heard him realise.
The words barely settled over the pelting of the rain upon the window.
“I have absolutely no wish to hear anything you have to say to me ever again!”
“Please, I—” Vaughn took another step toward her.
She shouted over the thunder, in terror, in anger.
“You acted as if nothing was wrong, as if you were my friend—“
“Oh please!” She shouted at him.“Do not insult my intelligence by pretending you considered me as anything more than a means to an end! That’s what I’ve bee all along, isn’t it?! Something you could use!”
“That is not true.”
As her anger increased, so did her strength. She glared at his frustatingly handsome face, carved in moonlight.
“How many times have we been over this?! From the moment we met you haven’t thought once about the consequences of your actions, about who I am, how I feel!”
Your little—little proposition! Like I was some common strumpet off the street!”
“Have I not shown you that I am not a monster?”
She shouted before she could stop herself, too dizzy, too distressed by unnamed black-fluttering panic.
Because reason meant wallowing in the echo of Liddy’s words from what felt like forever ago.
It simply hurt too much and Vaughn being here just made them all too real.
“… b-but now I know it was all a lie and you will never, ever be anything but a conceited, arrogant—“
I have replayed that day in my head over and over, and I cannot stop thinking of—”
“Will you let me speak?!”
“I cannot comprehend why you continue to treat me in this manner!”
Paying for the finest physician in this bloody country to attend you? Sitting by your bedside for days, reading to you for hours, telling you things I have never told anybody, giving you my brother’s book, the one thing I treasure most in this world?!”
What I wanted was for you to know that I was here for you, that you were not alone, that I cared about your well-being!”
Estelle demanded, incredulous.
“Is that what you’re saying? After everything you’ve done?! When I know for a fact that you have never once thought about me, never once considered—”
Vaughn interrupted, clearly frustrated by the fact.
“And if I could stop any of it, I would, believe me. But I can’t.”
Her words faltered as she tried to repel his. She tried not to believe him, not to listen. His words… they were not real. This was not real.
“Get. Out.” She repeated, slower, sharper.
Still he did not move.
“Is that the real reason you’re so angry?”
She shouted, furious, confused, ashamed.
“JUST GET THE HELL OUT!”
She sobbed, struggling in his grip.
“I’m afraid of you, the way you look at me and what you— what you say to me. I’m afraid of everything you feel for me and everything you want. Because… because I…!”
“Because you what?!”
This was the last piece of herself that she could give to this frustrating, hateful man, knowing that there might not be another chance to do so.
She tries to say with Vaughn’s hands sliding up her arms. His eyes are black now, bruised in the moonlight and Estelle shut her eyes so that she wouldn’t drown in the fear and insecurity and need they summon.
The kiss is accidental.
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
— Kahlil Gibran
A/N: So why did this take me so long? Many, many reasons, but mainly I decided I was terribly unhappy with my original chapter and completely re-wrote it. I really laboured over this one, so I hope you liked it!