Chapter 18

Charles watched Elsie sleep. She’d been fitful since she’d been tucked in, and as he’d feared would happen, she’d wound up back on the pallet in the corner.

Damn Alba and her showing up here without so much as a, how do you do.

When he’d come back to Elsie’s room and found her curled up in the corner, Charles had sighed and took up his familiar spot beside her, back resting against the wardrobe.

And that’s where he still was. He kept his hand near hers but not touching. He didn’t want to frighten her but he also wanted her to know he was there. He’d promised.

He’d had news about her divorce that he wished to share, but he hadn’t had the chance.

The thought made him angry again.

The man wasn’t married to her.

At least not by England’s laws he wasn’t.

Some strange old Scottish marriage custom of just simply putting on a wedding band and declaring you’re married. He thought the same thing now as he had when the Dowager had told him.

What the bloody hell?

Elsie had been through three years of torment…the bastard!

He scowled.

When he’d learned the truth, he’d wanted nothing more than to go and beat Connell McNeil into a pile of the dust with which he’d been created. The man had broke Elsie’s leg, Charles knew that much from what Beryl had told him, so he could only guess that they had been with a doctor instead of the minister. Why there had been no real marriage after, Charles could only guess.

With this new bit of truth, Charles knew he could now face Elsie and ask her to marry him. Ask her to let him take care of her, give her a home and safety, give her everything she needs, wants, hopes for.

Hearing Elsie stir, Charles hummed a song from the Great War, a song that had stuck with him the first time he’d heard it, always reminding him of Elsie when he’d heard it there after. As he hummed, the words floated through his brain, I have an ear for music, and I have an eye for a maid. I link a pretty girlie with each pretty tune that’s played. They go forth together like sunny weather goes with the month of May. I’ve studied girls and music, so I’m qualified to say. He wasn’t sure just how qualified his singing tunes in his misbegotten past made him, but he had, since the day he met her, linked Elsie with different songs.

The chorus of the song was the part that fit him, was what had made him link this song to Elsie.

Hearing Elsie’s murmured, “Charlie,” he began to sing the words as quietly as he could manage.

“A pretty girl is like a melody, that haunts you night and day. Just like the strain of a haunting refrain, she’ll start upon a marathon and run around your brain. You can’t escape,” Charles paused when he saw Elsie’s eyes flutter open. Smiling tenderly when she reached out and clasped his hand, he finished when she gave it a squeeze. “You can’t escape, she’s in your memory. By morning, night, and noon, she will leave you and then come back again. A pretty girl is just like a pretty tune.”

Elsie snuggled her face against the hand she held, her sleepy eyes holding Charles’ gaze as he gently caressed his thumb against her cheek.

“You’re safe, Lass. Won’t you let me help you back to the bed? I won’t leave. I promised.”

Elsie glanced down at his hand then back up at him. “Won’t let go?”

Charles shook his head, smiling at the sleepy way she spoke and looked at him. “Come on then, Lass,” he whispered as he pushed himself up and then held out his hand. “Let me help you. You’re feet and legs must be sore.”

“A bit,” she whispered as she stood and held onto Charles’ arms.

Charles helped her ease back into the bed, tucking the linens and duvet around her. “Warm enough?”

“Mmm,” she murmured. “Charlie?” she asked after a few moments.

“Yes, Lass?” Charles answered, his hand gently holding hers as he’d promised.

“The song, was it for me?”

“Oh yes, Lass. I sang when I was part of the Cheerful Charlies, but once I left that life, I never sang again, until a certain Scottish lass showed up at the back door of Downton. Of course, no one ever heard me singing, but so many songs made me think of you.”

“I heard you,” she whispered.

Charles nodded. “I know you did. I saw you watching me.”

Elsie shook her head, drawing his hand back up to her face and snuggling against it as she had before. “No. Dashing away,” she murmured as she slowly gave into the sleep she’d been fighting.

Charles blinked in surprise. She’d heard him that day? Why had she never said? Did she know that he knew of her scare? Gently caressing his thumb over her cheek bone, he watched her sleep, thinking about how frightened he’d been back then and how relieved he’d been that day when Beryl had told him it wasn’t cancer.

If only this could be resolved as that had been.

Isobel sighed as she settled back into bed, her body curled into her husband’s. “He’s with her and finally talked her back into the bed. He’s going to be very sore tomorrow from sitting up in that chair all night, but he made a promise to her.”

Richard pressed a kiss to his wife’s head as his hand caressed her back. “I just hope that this is the only bit of set back Elsie has.”

Isobel kissed Richard’s chest and moved closer to him. “I think she made a breakthrough today. She ran Richard. She fought back even though she was frightened. She did what she’d tried to do before and succeeded because there was no one there to stop her.”

“You think that if we’d heard her, and stopped her, it would have hurt her more than protected her?”

“I do. She needed to run, Richard. You know that she hasn’t really cried since she was brought home, but she did today. She sobbed herself to sleep.”

“And she needed that.” Richard whispered as he inhaled the sweet fragrance of his wife. “What news do you think Mr. Carson has to tell her?”

“More than likely something to do with the divorce he asked Cousin Violet to help him with. I hope it’s good news, but I suspect it isn’t.”

“I fear you’re right.” Richard sighed. “What do you think Elsie’s sister will do?”

“I don’t know, nor do I care as long as she leaves here and never comes near Elsie again. I shudder to think what would have happened had Beryl been here.”

“Oh laird.” Richard murmured. “I lashed out with words of truth, she would have beat the woman. She’s a fierce little thing who’s spent years wielding heavy knives and pots. Not someone I’d want to run into when they’re as angry as she is over what’s happened to Elsie.”

“Sean said he would stay in the village another day to make sure his wife left and to see Elsie again.”

“I don’t know if that’s good or not.”

“I think she’ll be alright with him. She was calm enough once she’d been assured her sister was gone.”

They lapsed into silence, both of them thinking of the woman down the hall and the man whose love and devotion had him sitting up in an uncomfortable chair instead of sleeping in a comfortable bed.

“Richard?” Isobel whispered as she pushed herself up to look down at her husband.

“Yes, Lass?”

As her answer, she pressed her lips to his, her fingers tangling in his hair. She needed this, needed to be with her husband, to feel his love.

Gently rolling them over, Richard stared down at her. “I love you, Isobel.”

“That’s good because I love you, too.”

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