Another Pretty Nothing — Chapter 4

23 Feb

Well, I planned for this to happen a little later in the story but apparently they were ready for it RIGHT NOW so here it is. Our heroes will finally talk to each other. FFS, you two. Neither one of you is venomous.

When Edwin had decided to give up on getting to sleep and go for a dawn ride to try to clear his head, he had still been agitated by the entire scenario he found himself in. When his blushing valet entered his chamber, Edwin had been confused. When he finally got the man to admit that the lady of the house had fallen asleep apparently leaning against the wall just outside his door and, in fact, had to be stepped over to enter the chamber, well, after that he didn’t quite know how he felt. And all the riding in the world wasn’t calming him at all.

He’d felt obligated to get her into bed, certainly, but he could have ordered a footman to carry her or hell, he could have woken her up and sent her to bed. But some protective impulse had caused him to lift her himself and carry her to bed. She had smiled softly from some dream or another and cuddled into him. For once, he found himself not questioning her motives or wondering if she really meant it. She was really choosing to cling to him in her sleep. He was almost disappointed to put her down until she had reached out and grabbed his wrist, and he indulged in that stupid kiss. It had been a whim and now his head was swimming in thoughts and feelings he thought he had long outgrown.

Damn him, he was in love with his wife. Of all the potential outcomes of their marriage, this was the one he had the least hope of and the realization chilled him to the bone. He didn’t even know how long this had been going on for, but he suspected he had started to love her from the beginning. He loved his wife, but as far as he could tell she felt nothing for him but an obligation. Edwin wasn’t the kind of man who could seduce a woman. He wasn’t particularly versed in the art of making them fall in love with him. He’d never even cared before. But now, with his wife, he was at a complete loss for what to do.

He was torn between two warring feelings. Part of him wanted to forget about her betrayal, forgive everything, beg her to love him, and take her to bed and hope for the best. But there was a substantial portion of his psyche that refused and rebelled at the very idea. He had been the one betrayed, after all. He was just so afraid of being hurt again. Why did this have to be so complicated with feelings? It was just supposed to be a simple marriage of convenience, since when were those so very difficult?

Well, forgiveness or not, there was one thing he supposed he could do for her as her husband. He spurred his horse homeward as he prepared for the most horrifying conversation of his adult life.

“Mother. Do come in.” even though they shared a house, Edwin had never invite his mother into his office before – as far as he knew, she hadn’t been in it since his father’s death seven years past.

The dowager countess as a remarkably well preserved woman. He was inclined to blame it on sheer force of will. She was just too stubborn to age like everyone else.

“Edwin.” She said by way of greeting, sitting demurely in a chair in front of his desk. It had always been like this between them, stiff formality taking the place of maternal affection. Edwin didn’t sit, he couldn’t say what he had to say from across a desk. Instead, he stood, leaning against the mantlepiece and praying he had some bearing of authority in the process.

“Mother, I understand you’ve had a few…discussions with my wife – ” he took a breath to steel his nerves, “about grandchildren, particularly.”

If his mother was surprised at his bluntness and vague allusion to the marital act, she was far too well-bred to show it. She was silent for a few long moments, her eyes never leaving his.

“Well, of course the subject will come up whenever two women share a house,” she said airily, as though this were the most natural conversation in the world to have with one’s mother, “I’m sure I’ve never said something inappropriate however. And certainly nothing that would merit her complaining to you.”

“It doesn’t matter, Mother.” Edwin found himself growing frustrated, “What goes on between Rue and myself is our business.”

“I’m shocked you would think so low of me as to insinuate that I would overstep my bounds as your mother and the dowager countess.” She was on a tear now. He silently cursed his conceivably misplaced sense of responsibility.

“Mother – ” he began, but she interrupted.

“No, don’t explain. Truly, I understand.” she stood and stalked to the door, a motion that on a less graceful woman would have either been awkward or far less angry, “I don’t even know why I bother trying to help you, Edwin. You’re just like your father.”

And with that final parting shot, she opened the door and stormed out in a cloud of self-righteous indignation. Edwin was honestly just glad to have that over with. He checked the time before moving quickly to the sideboard and pouring himself a drink. He didn’t care that it was before midday, he was going to get no end to the sniping for at least a week. He had earned that brandy.

Rue was prone to snooping. It was a horrible, nasty habit that had gotten her in more than her fair share of trouble as a child. However, as the nominal lady of the house, it usually only caused a few second glances and the occasional snide remark from her mother-in-law. She felt that it was well worth the little bit of trouble for the joy it gave her.

She was not, however, snooping when the door to her husband’s office swung open and his mother stormed out looking like a Valkyrie. She had simply been walking past the door for the sixth or seventh time. However, the bare truth of the matter was never enough for Amalthea who, who shot her daughter-in-law a blood chilling glance before storming off towards God only knows where. Rue had absolutely no inclination to follow or ask.

She did, however, have an inclination toward asking her husband, who was far more likely to give in to her gentle probings and also far more likely to give her an accurate account of events.

Fortunately, Amalthea had left the door open, so it wasn’t even really intruding to poke her head in and take stock of what was going on. She scanned the room and saw no bodies, which meant Edwin had likely survived the encounter. She finally spotted him by the sideboard pouring himself a few fingers of brandy.

“My lord?” she inquired gently and he spun around, relaxing visibly when he saw her.

“Oh it’s just you. For God’s sake, close the door Rue, before she returns to finish me off.” there was no mistaking the gentle teasing in his voice for actual malice, so Rue took the chance of entering before she shut the door.

“May I ask what all that was about, my lord?”

“Oh for the love of – Rue, please, I may have just signed my own death warrant for you so please, do me a favor and call me Edwin.”

“Alright.” She eyed him cautiously, he didn’t appear to be in his cups yet, but there was something slightly off about him. “Edwin. May I ask what just happened in here? First your mother fits me with a glance that could make Medusa blush and then I come in here and you’re…I don’t even know what you are.”

“I’ll tell you what I am, Rue, is in a good mood.”

“A good mood?”

“Yes. Is that so hard to believe?”

She pondered this for a second. She wasn’t sure she’d ever seen him in this good of a mood, which may account for some of the flaws in their marriage when she thought of it.

“I’m just not sure I understand what you’re in such a good mood over.”

“You wouldn’t understand. You like your mother.”

“Well, that’s true. But if it helps, I’m not particularly fond of yours.” That was a risky statement, she knew. He didn’t like his mother but she honestly wasn’t sure how well he would take her blunt declaration that she didn’t like her. Luckily, she had gauged the situation correctly and elicited a loud crack of laughter from her husband.

“Alright, Rue. I suppose you’ve made your point. Here.” he poured her a drink in a second glass, “I suppose you’ve earned your right to liquor as well as I have.”

She paused momentarily, unsure what to do. In theory, it wasn’t proper for a lady to take spirits. But this was an order from her husband. She was fortunately saved further deliberation by him.

“Oh drink it, Rue. Do you think me so oblivious that I don’t know you’ve had brandy before?”

Fair enough. She took a long drink, enjoying the spicy burn in her chest.

“So, now that we’re drinking friends, may I ask what just happened with your mother?”

“Oh a little of this, a little of that.” he made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “The important thing is, she is going to really hate us for a little while but I’m fairly sure she will leave you alone about grandchildren.” She almost choked on her drink and was forced to set the glass down.

“You mean you just got into a fight with your mother over me?”

“Yes.”

“You actually stood up to her entirely for me?” Nobody had ever stood up for her before, so Rue was having a difficult time quite comprehending the gesture.

“Of course I did. You’re my wife. It’s my job to protect you, damn it.”

He was surly all of a sudden, so she decided to remain quiet even though she was fairly sure she could have kissed him right then and there. They sat in silence for what felt like days, but for the first time in their married life it wasn’t because of a lack of things to say. She had so many thoughts she couldn’t figure out which one to let out first.

“Why did you marry me?” she finally got out, draining the rest of her glass. Might as well go for broke as long as she could blame it on the brandy later. Now it was his turn to be shocked. He dropped into his chair dramatically, setting his glass down.

“You don’t go halfway on anything, do you?” to her surprise, he didn’t sound disapproving, he actually sounded impressed.

“I try not to. And you’re avoiding the question, anyway.” she perched on his desk, facing him. “Why did you marry me?”

“Why did you marry me?”

“I asked you first.”

“Yes but I’ve already made my grand romantic gesture for the day. It’s your turn.”

He had a point, but Rue was loathe to answer anyway. This was dangerous new territory for them. Previously, discussions on feelings had been limited to discussions of art and the occasional bout of weather. Such frivolities had never entered their marriage. But maybe it was time for them to do so.

“I liked your eyes,” she finally blurted out.

“My eyes?” he narrowed the same eyes at her suspiciously.

“Yes, your eyes. They’re quite nice when they’re not glaring at me, you know. They’re a very nice shade of brown. Warm, cozy. Those sorts of things.”

“Oh come off it, Rue. Even you wouldn’t marry a man because of the color of his eyes.”

“Okay,” she sighed, “this sounds so silly when I say it out loud, you know.”

“Try me.”

“I remember the first time I saw you. It was at some function or another from my season, I’ve lost track by now. But you were standing off to one side of the room watching everybody else have a good time and I was off on the other side of the room wishing anybody would be really interested in me. And I thought, maybe if we were both going to be lonely all the time then maybe things weren’t so bad if we could be lonely together.”

“Rue. I remember your season. You had men crawling all around you.”

“I had men who would show up, talk for a few moments, maybe ask me to dance. None of them were actually interested in anything I had to say or in anything I did. It was a game to them, that season was life or death to me.”

“Why?”

“If I’d not been able to get married, I was going to have to marry my cousin. And I love my cousin, but we were raised as siblings. I just couldn’t bring myself to marry him.”

“Well, it’s always nice to be a pretty lady’s last chance.” he raised his glass in a toast before draining the last drops.

“So what’s your answer?”

“What do you mean?”

“I told you why I married you. Why did you marry me?”

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2 Responses to “Another Pretty Nothing — Chapter 4”

  1. Jessica March 8, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    I’m absolutely loving this story!! I can’t wait to read what happens next.

    • Charlotte St. Claire March 9, 2012 at 4:12 am #

      Thanks! I have most of the next chapter worked out but there’s a few parts that just don’t feel right yet so I’m holding off on publishing it yet.

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