When Fate’s Meet...
She sat watching her aunt Roseanne comb out her long curls in her mirrored reflection. She could hear Roseanne talking, but her fogged mind wasn’t listening to the conversation. She discovered she did that a lot lately.
“Aniela,” Roseanne spoke emphatically, bowing down to face level with her. “Are you listening to me? Are you going to the dressmakers with us today?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she responded, moving up to caress her temples. “I’m not sure... is Jessie going?”
“If she can get Olivia nursed and down for a nap,” Roseanne answered. “Either way, it will be a delightful day to go shopping for a gown. The Wittmer masquerade ball is fewer than eight weeks away. We undoubtedly need to have our gowns and matching mask made, or we will be left with the less desirable designs.”
Dropping her eyes, Aniela stared at her hands as they tapped on the smooth wood of her desk. The prospect of being around a room full of masked people caused her tremendous anxiety. “I don’t think I will be attending the ball, Roseanne,” she stated with unease. “I’m not certain I am ready to be out in such a totally public space as a ball quite yet.”
“Oh my dear,” Roseanne said, walking to settle beside her. “You have been back for over two months. I think the Wittmer Ball will be beneficial for you.” She placed her hands on each one of Aniela’s cheeks. “At least go to see MissTamara and MissCaroline with us today. What could it hurt?”
Aniela smiled, then nodded her head in nonverbal agreement. Sighing heavily, she shifted back to the mirror and her green eyes roamed over her pale face. The dark circles underlining her eyes almost caused her to cringe.
Roseanne was correct, she returned home sixty-five days ago today. and some days it seemed like years. Other days, it was like she had just stepped through the side door all over again.
Since her homecoming, Lucian and Jessie had their second child. Olivia appeared and was a healthy beautiful baby girl. Her full and complete name was Olivia Rose Lucy Hawthorne.
Time to play Rose.
Her muscles gripped her abdomen, and she fidgeted in her seat as Gordon’s words drifted through her mind. “When do you propose to leave,” she inquired, battling to force the dark and unpleasant images from her brain.
“I scheduled the appointment for one o’clock and requested we have a two-hour time slot.”
She recalled the last time she went to get fitted at the same dress boutique. It was the very first time she had ever set eyes on Jaylon. Just the thought of him now caused her heart race, and she felt a sudden flush flow through her body.
She decided Roseanne was correct, she needed to get out of this house and let her mind escape her unpleasant thoughts. “Okay, I will go, but I can’t guarantee I will wish a gown sewn. I just don’t think I am ready yet.”
“That is fine dear,” Roseanne said, leaning down to offer her a gentle hug. “Anything to get you some fresh air.”
Like so many occasions in the past, Roseanne finished styling her hair, by binding it in a loose bun with wispy curls framing her face and neck.
Aniela loved it when her aunt fussed over her. It made her feel young again like she didn’t have a care in the world. She regarded Roseanne as she walked over to the wardrobe and drew out a dark violet gown, then turn to drape it across the bed.
“I recall the day you were fitted for this gown,” Roseanne announced, allowing her hand to drift across the soft material. “It seems like it was very long ago.”
Peering down at her hands in her lap, she fidgeted with her fingers. “It was a long time ago,” she said disheartened. “It was a lifetime ago.”
“Yes, it was,” Roseanne agreed with sadness in her voice. She picked up her head to glance at Aniela and an easy smile developed on her lips. “Let’s get you dressed shall we.” She stepped to her and linked their hands together, pulling Aniela to her feet.
As they pulled up to the boutique, Aniela stared out the carriage window watching the oddly shaped building come into view. The bright teal colored awnings jutted out from the windows and doorway, bestowing an almost gay aloof aura to the structure. Its whimsical composition seemed to match the sister’s uniqueness and personality styles perfectly. Even so, she felt a sudden unsettling apprehension sink into her belly. Her back stiffened, and she rolled her shoulders, seeking to discharge the unwanted tension.
Jessie’s hand covered hers and she glanced up at Aniela with a crooked smile. “Are you okay,” Jessie asked, offering her hand a squeeze.
She felt the carriage come to a standstill. “I-I’m fine,” she stammered with a sense of foreboding creeping into her bones.
There were numerous carriages lining the street, and she found herself inspecting their exterior in an attempt to see if any held Jaylon’s family signature crest on them.
Since his climatic departure from her home four weeks ago, she hasn’t seen him since. But he made certain she understood his absence by sending a deluge of flowers and jewelry to the house with a brief to the point love notes. The gifts were sweet, but they didn’t prohibit all sorts of various scenarios to start imprisoning her mind. The most notable being; he had come to his senses and couldn’t deal with the trauma that had befallen her.
Sighing, she and Jessie stepped through the dress shop doors together, with arms linked. The bells overhead rang, and it caused her to have a moment of déjà vu. Her abdomen muscles coiled, and she stiffened her grasp on Jessie’s arm. Prompting Jessie to lean over and murmur words of reassurance into her ear.
Miss Caroline stood at the counter and appeared engrossed flipping through a catalog. Aniela couldn’t help but recognize that she looked indeed the same as she did three years ago. Upon seeing them arrive, Miss Caroline’s face radiated with excitement and she sidestepped around the counter to the curtain that separated the two areas. She pulled it back and yelled to her sister. “Tamara, they are here.” Letting the curtain drop back into place, she gestured towards the three of them. “Welcome, welcome my ladies,” Miss Caroline said with a wide giddy smile and bright eyes.
The curtain flung back and Miss Tamara flew into the room with jubilance. “Lady Beckett, how nice to see you again,” she said, bowing in front of Roseanne, then shifted her attention to the sisters. “Lady Hawthorne and Miss Aniela, what an honor to have you both back here in our humble little dress boutique.”
Miss Caroline stepped before them and glancing from one to the other. “May I get you something to drink? Some tea perhaps?”
“No, thank you, I am fine,” Roseanne answered as she peered around the shop at all the various materials. “Maybe Jessie or Aniela would like something to drink?”
“No, thank you,” Jessie said, shifting to look at Aniela.
“I am fine too,” Aniela answered, fretting and rubbing the scars on her wrist. She couldn’t help but feel the sister’s gazes lingering on her and it made her uncomfortable. Even if it was her imagination.
“Are all these the new silks I’ve heard about?” Roseanne asked, from across the room as her hand skimmed over brightly covered materials. “I understand they are all the rage.”
“They are,” Miss Caroline answered passionately. “We have had many inquiries for them so far.”
“So you better get your request in quickly,” Miss Tamara added. “to preserve your ‘desired one of a kind gown’ or risk having one duplicated.”
Roseanne looked at Aniela giving her a wink and she spun to smile at Jessie. “I am confident you will do your very best to create a beautiful and unique gown,” she said assuring them.
“Oh, yes,” Miss Caroline gushed. “We pledge to do our finest work for you.
Miss Tamara looked towards Jessie and Aniela. “Miss Caroline and I, are so delighted that you made it back home Miss Aniela,” she said earnestly. She stepped over to her and patted her hand reassuringly. “It has been a genuine loss not being able to design your gowns for all these years.”
Aniela downcast her eyes. “Thank you,” she responded shyly, feeling her face grow warm, “I do appreciate your kind words.”
Jessie walked to her and squeezed her arm. “Are you okay?” she whispered close to her ear.
Aniela nodded apprehensively. “I am fine,” she murmured, letting Jessie loop their arms together and draw her to the other side of the room. They whispered and giggled amongst themselves as they lifted different types of fabric; allowing it to slip through their fingers.
“They are lovely together, aren’t they,” Miss Tamara said, bending for only Roseanne’s ears to hear.
Lifting her head, Roseanne smiled. “Yes they are,” she concurred. “We are blessed that they found each other.”
Then abruptly, the curtain that separated them from the other room was flung open. And the last person any of them expected to see was standing there.
Roseanne’s wide eyes traveled to Jessie and Aniela.
“Lady Camille,” Miss Caroline blurted louder than she intended. “Your session has concluded. Are you in need of something else?”
Camille didn’t acknowledge her. Instead, her blue eyes appeared anxious as she scanned the faces of everyone in the room. She walked purposely over to Aniela and dropped her gaze to her hands. “Hello Aniela,” she said in a low apologetic voice. “I recognized your voice from the other room and I just wanted to let you know,” she wavered, clearing her throat. “I wished to express to you, how overjoyed I am that you found your way home safely.” She picked up her head and her blue eyes pooled. “I owe you an apology for the shameful things I said to you,” she atoned, peering at the two of them. “My deeds were heinous and wretched. I hope you both can find it in your hearts to forgive me someday.” She shifted her head towards Jessie and bowed curtly. Then turned and strolled towards Roseanne.
Aniela stood with her mouth agape as did Jessie. And she felt Jessie grab her hand; giving it a squeeze.
Watching her walk away, she thought Camille sounded sincere and genuinely meant her atonement. Which was a surprise because there was a time when she wouldn’t have believed anything that poured from Camille’s lips.
Aniela watched as Camille and Roseanne embraced each other. They seemingly were going through all the cordial pleasantries; then Camille leaned and whispered something to her aunt. Instantly Roseanne looked distressed, and both turned their backs towards her but continued speaking in a hushed tone.
Biting her lower lip, Aniela couldn’t help but feel like they were discussing her. It was a feeling she learned to get used to.
“How do you like this color,” Jessie asked, butting into her thoughts and holding up a swath of the richest blue material.
Aniela smiled. “It’s very beautiful,” she agreed, reaching to stroke it. “That color would look- ”
“We need to go,” Roseanne interrupted abruptly, plucking the material from Jessie’s hand, she set it back down on the pile. She captured them both by the hands and sought to move them towards the door.
“Are you leaving?” Miss Caroline asked bewildered and accompanying them to the exit.
“I am sorry,” Roseanne apologized, glancing at them over her shoulder. “We will come back another day. I promise.”
“Aunt Roseanne,” Jessie cried, working to keep up. “What are you doing? What’s the hurry?”
Roseanne’s eyes grew wide, and she stopped dead in her tracks. “Never-mind,” she blurted and peered over her shoulder at Camille giving her a silent plea.
Camille looked past Roseanne to the door window, and she took a step forward. “Maybe you should go out the back entrance.”
Jessie stopped and held her hands up. “What is going on?” she repeated in frustration. “Why do we need to go out the back? When there is an exit right there. Furthermore, why do we need to leave at all? We just got here.” She turned just as the main entrance door opened and the little bells chimed overhead. Immediately she recognized Roseanne’s concern and turned her anxious gaze to Aniela.
To Aniela, the room presented to be in mass confusion. She glanced at Roseanne’s face then to Camille’s and was at a loss as to why her aunt wanted to leave. Until her eyes fixed on Jessie and she recognized the complete and total panic nestled on her face. When Jessie’s eyes strayed towards the door, Aniela followed her gaze. It was as if the room commenced to close in on her and she struggled to breathe.
Camille rushed forward and established herself in-between everyone. “It was so nice seeing you all again,” she gushed with mock jubilance and hoping to cut off the arriving person’s view. “Let’s have tea sometime,” she blurted
But it was too late. The woman stepped into the dress shop and peered past Camille straight at Aniela. “Oh, how splendid life is,” the woman said as she thrust her head back and started laughing. “I would say, that I have impeccable timing.”
“We should go Lizy,” Camille urged, placing her hand on her arm trying to lure her back to the door.
“Why would I choose to do that?” she scoffed with eyebrows raised.
Roseanne stepped forward. “No, need,” she laughed nervously. “We were just leaving. I will make another appointment for sometime next week,” she shouted to the sisters. “Nice seeing you again, Camille.” She pulled Jessie and Aniela towards the door.
But Lizy blocked their exit. “Why are you rushing off so quickly Lady Roseanne?” She asked, clearly agitated. “My husband will be right in. I’m positive you all know him, but I am not certain if Aniela has had the honor.”
“Lizy, please,” Camille whispered, in a low desperate voice.
Roseanne turned around. “I think we’ll take Camille’s suggestion and go out the back.” She went to draw Aniela away, but she held fixed to her spot.
“Who-who is your husband?” Aniela stammered, feeling the knot in her stomach expand.
“We should go,” Jessie whispered in her ear, then she too sought to draw her away.
But Aniela pulled free; looking past Lady Elizabeth she saw his blonde hair as he ascended the steps to the shop.
Lady Elizabeth watched Aniela’s expression changed as Jaylon pushed the door open and the bells chimed with his entrance. She started laughing hysterically. “Or maybe you do know him,” she blurted between gasps, holding her stomach.
Jaylon stood at the door with his brow drawn together in confusion. Then he noticed Jessie and Roseanne standing on either side of his crazed wife.
Aniela stepped around Lady Elizabeth and was in full view of him now. “Jaylon?” she gasped.
Elizabeth looked from one to the other with a deviant smile. “Aniela. May I introduce my husband, Sir Jaylon Veltre II,” she smirked with raised eyebrows and a flush of excitement crossing her features.
She could feel the blood flow drain from her face. “You-You’re married?” Aniela whispered, not trying to conceal her disbelief.
“Aniela, please,” he gasped, taking a step towards her. “It’s not what you think.”
Elizabeth went to him and threaded her arm through his. “Yes, he is married,” she responded for him, marking him as her possession. “We have been in wedded bliss for over a year. Sorry, you missed our nuptials, but you were away for so very long. I am confident your aunt and sister can describe the wedding to you later. It was positively a memorable celebration.” She looked at Jessie and Roseanne, daring them to refute her words.
Jessie lifted her head and closed her eyes in disdain.
Aniela’s eyes grew wide and her head drifted to stare at her sister and aunt. “What?” said asked in disbelief. “You both knew?” betrayal and panic started to seize hold and her breaths came in short burst.
Pushing past his wife, Jaylon rushed to Aniela. “Please Aniela,” he implored, lifting his hands and placing them on her shoulders. “Don’t blame them. I wouldn’t allow them to tell you.”
“Don’t touch me,” she cried, shoving hard on his chest.
Elizabeth had to suppress her elation as she walked to Jaylon’s side. “Come, darling,” she cooed. “Let’s leave these women to their shopping and tedious gossip meandering.”
He seized her arm none too gently, dragging her towards the door. “Go home Lizy,” he seethed close to her face.
“Go home!” Lizy gaffed, wrenching her arm free. “You mean go home to Veltre Hall where we live contentedly as husband and wife?”
Camille’s eyes flashed between them and she approached her sister-in-law. “Come with me Elizabeth,” she said, trying to assist her brother.
“No!” Elizabeth fumed. “You are my husband Jaylon and I am not leaving without you.”
“Yes, you are,” he ordered, pushing her towards the door. “Camille, please take her home.”
Grasping her arm, Camille ushered her struggling sister-in-law out the door.
He watched them both leave, then closed his eyes in defeat. Drawing a breath for courage, he turned to Aniela. What he saw in her eyes almost made his knees buckle beneath him.
“You are a liar,” Aniela accused in a low flat voice. Her body trembled, and she struggled to remain in control. “You are no different than the man who held me captive and repeatedly raped me.” Her eyes pooled, and she reached up and wiped away a lone tear. “Only he articulated in great detail what he planned to do to me, he never lied or wavered from his specified check-list. Unlike you Jaylon. You voiced your love for me-”
“I do love you,” he admitted stepping towards her. “Please let me explain-”
“No!” she blurted, grappling to keep her voice steady. “You don’t lie to someone you love.”
“You do when you know the truth will hurt them,” he appealed.
Her lips released a sad laugh. “How gallant of you to think of me as lies unfolded from your lips.” She pushed forward attempting to go around him to leave.
But Jaylon blocked her exit. “Can we at least talk alone for a moment?” He looked at Roseanne and Jessie.
They picked up on his cue and stepped forward.
Jessie leaned and kissed her cheek. “Take your time, we will meet you in the carriage,” she whispered against her skin. Her eyes drifted to Jaylon giving him a warning before she left. Then Roseanne did the same.
Jaylon looked around the room and they were alone. He was sure the dressmaker sisters were sitting somewhere with the vapors, consoling each other in the other room.
Aniela turned away from him and walked to the other side of the room. He walked up behind her and put his arms around her waist and attempted to pull her to him.
But she spun around and slapped him hard across the face. “Don’t touch me,” she seethed, breathlessly.
His hand rose to rub his stinging cheek. “I suppose I deserved that,” he admitted as his eyes raked over her flaming face. “Are you going to at least allow me to clarify my actions?”
She wrapped her arms around herself but didn’t speak.
He dropped his eyes to stare at his feet and drew a deep breath. “When I arrived back from my search of you,” he explained. “My father was adamant that I marry right away. I had all these young beautiful women who wanted me to ask for their hand. I had wealthy men, who begged me to marry their daughters, with offers of lucrative dowries.” He lifted his head and stared into her hurt eyes. “But I didn’t want any of them. Because I only wanted you.” He waited for her to say something.
She turned, shaking her head and wiping her eyes. “I don’t believe you anymore, Jaylon,” she hiccuped.
“Please Aniela,” he whispered, taking another step towards her. “I married Elizabeth only to appease my father.”
Her eyes narrowed, and she kept backing away from him. “You forget all those years ago, I saw you with her. So don’t act like the aggrieved victim, Jaylon. You both appeared to be enjoying each other’s company a great deal back then.” He backed her up until she could go no further and she was pressed against the wall.
He lifted his hand to cup her chin. “That was so long ago Aniela,” he whispered. “I married Lizy only to appease my father and for nothing else. Each of our circumstances aligned perfectly. She was tired of being a widow and desired a husband to take care of her. I needed a wife to shut my father up. That is what this marriage consists of and nothing more.” He lowered his head and tentatively brushed his lips against hers. “You are the only woman I have ever wanted.”
Closing her eyes, she allowed his lips to glide over hers. He was the master of persuasion and knew how to work her emotions in his favor. Lifting her hands, she clung to the lapel of his jacket as he deepened his kiss, forcing her mouth open and inserting his will.
“Please forgive me,” he begged his whispered plea against her lips.
His words shot her back to reality like a glass of icy cold water and she quickly turned her head, denying his lips further contact with her own. She stared at the floor for a moment, struggling to regain control of her breathing. “I am leaving now Jaylon,” she said, trying to sound brave. She pushed on his chest and slowly moved away from the wall and him. “For both our sanities, don’t try to contact me again.”
Jaylon dropped his hands to his side and stared at the empty place she once stood. “I love you, Aniela,” he sighed in defeat.
She turned around and stared at his back for a moment; battling against her own emotions. But he hurt her, and she didn’t think she could ever forgive him. “Go home to your wife Jaylon,” she whispered sadly, then turned and walked out of his life.