Jaylon paced in the stable area, kicking up hay and debris as he walked back and forth. Pausing for a moment he couldn’t even consider Harlow would choose to ignore him. He glanced towards the barn doors again to see if Harlow had resolved to accompany him yet.
Shaking his head, Jaylon’s annoyance grew with each second that passed. He was finding it hard to believe Jessie’s acquaintance dared to spur his request. Reaching inside his coat, he raised a cheroot from the inner pocket and settled it on his bottom lip. He struck a match on a coarse piece of metal, and just as he went to raise it to the waiting cigarette, the barn door creaked open.
Jaylon watched as Harlow stepped tentatively inside and halted at the entryway kicking the heavy snow from his boots. He proceeded to linger at the door, shuffling his feet and fretting with his clothing, apparently unsure of what to do next.
Harlow cleared his throat and coughed nervously into his hand when he noted Jaylon was deliberately ignoring him. “What did you wish to speak to me about Sir Veltre?”
Drawing on his freshly lit cheroot, Jaylon blew the smoke from the corner of his mouth. His eyes scrutinized Harlow from head to toe; then a casual laugh spilled from his lips. “I’m not going to shout the length of the barn to converse with you.”
Harlow turned and glanced at the door, then opened his mouth to comment but held his tongue.
“If I wanted to do you harm,” Jaylon said, sensing Harlow’s apprehension. “I would have already done it.” He watched Harlow hesitate and glance towards the door again. His nervousness was palpable, but he squared his shoulders and commenced to step Jaylon’s way.
Stopping in front of him, again, Harlow cleared his throat. “You aspired to have a word with me?”
Jaylon snuffed out his cheroot, then extended his hand forward.
Looking down, Harlow’s lip curled, and he hesitated before tentatively offering his hand in response.
“Sir Jaylon Christofer Veltre II,” Jaylon introduced himself while gripping Harlow’s hand with a gentleman’s greeting.
“I know who you are,” Harlow said, gulping down his apprehension “We-we met once before. It was a long time ago, so you might not recall...”
“I do remember,” Jaylon interjected with an amiable tone. “You were one of the young men with Jessie the night she and Lucian met the first time.”
“Yes,” Harlow said, releasing a nervous laugh as he peered down at his hand still held steadfast in Jaylon’s grip. “Jessie, Perry, and I managed to do some outrageous things back...”
“What are your intentions here?” Jaylon suddenly asked, cutting him off.
Harlow’s mouth gaped open, and he stumbled for words. “What-what do you mean?”
“Were you in love with Jessie before Lucian showed up to whisk her away? Is that why you are here?”
“What?” Harlow gasped, affronted, and disturbed by his question. “No!”
“No,” Jaylon repeated with narrowed eyes. “Are you one to prefer the fellows then?”
“Wh-what? My god, no!” Harlow gaffed, taking a step backward. “I can assure you women are my sole interest.”
Presenting a smile that didn’t quite meet his eyes, Jaylon repeated, “Then what are your intentions here?”
Harlow shook his head, striving to provide an answer. “I-I was invited by Jessie and Sir Lucian. They insist that I reside here at Matthew’s Hall during my breaks.”
“And, Lucian approves of you living here?” Jaylon questioned with one eyebrow raised. “I find that hard to believe. Lucian is even a more possessive man than I am.”
“More possessive?” Harlow bulked, shaking his head. “Lucian knows I think of Jessie only as an exceptional friend, nothing further. She is like a sister to me.”
“A sister, you say?” Jaylon questioned with a stiff jaw. “So, you are not attracted to her in any way?”
Harlow’s eyes widened like a cat backed into a corner. “Jessie is an incredibly beautiful woman...”
“So, you are attracted to her?” Jaylon cut in. “I believe you need to find another place to reside until your so-called break from school has concluded.”
Thrusting his hands in the air, Harlow groaned in frustration. “I am not attracted to Jessie that way. I can assure you that! I admit she is beautiful, but that’s it. She is like my little sister.”
Jaylon rolled his eyes, looking away. “It’s not only Jessie I have concern for.” He finally revealed.
Harlow’s arms flayed out, confused. “What?”
Lifting his chin to stare at the ceiling, Jaylon released a low groan. “I can’t have you showing interest in Aniela.”
“Aniela,” Harlow gaped, confused. “I only just met...”
Jaylon dropped his eyes to scowl at him. “She is Jessie’s twin sister,” he declared, not trying to conceal his agitation. “If you had any interest in Jessie, but you couldn’t pursue her, of course, you would transfer all your admiration towards Aniela.”
A sudden realization settled over Harlow’s face, and his head bowed in complete understanding. “I get it,” he asserted with a knowing laugh. “It’s not Jessie you are concerned about at all. It’s Aniela.”
Turning abruptly, Jaylon’s hands ran down his cheeks, and he groaned as he raised his face towards the ceiling. “I can’t have you residing here with her. Even if it is only temporary, you will just be something else for me to worry about, and my plate is already full with worry.”
“I swear to you,” Harlow exclaimed, trying to retain his honor. “I have no interest in Aniela that way. I only see her as I see Jessie, and that’s strictly as a sister.” When Jaylon didn’t turn around, he proceeded. “Do you actually believe Sir Lucian would have let me stay these last couple of years if he didn’t trust me? You said so yourself. He is very possessive and would not tolerate me making advances towards his wife. You and I both know I would be buried in a hole six feet under if I had.”
Turning towards him, Jaylon rubbed his chin, knowing Harlow spoke the truth. “You are doubtless correct on that part,” Jaylon acknowledged eyeing him up and down again. “But I likewise can’t permit Aniela to start developing feelings for you. She seemed quite smitten with you, and I can’t warrant the risk.”
Harlow’s mouth fell open, unable to control his sudden burst of laughter. “Are you serious? She stabbed me on our first meeting!”
Jaylon’s eyes narrowed as he glared at him, but he didn’t reply.
“You are serious,” Harlow said flatly, suspending his laughter, giving Jaylon a sober glance. He walked to stand beside Jaylon, and he leaned in as if revealing an extraordinary secret. Harlow cleared his throat, then murmured, “You know Aniela is in love with you...right?”
Jaylon bulked at his words. “No,” he came back, shaking his head. “I don’t know that.”
Harlow stared at him incredulously. “Wow,” he exclaimed, trying to suppress a shocked smirk. His eyes wandered the length of Jaylon, and he shook his head in disbelief. “I feel that I need to say this to you, and I implore you to please not take it the improper way. Or seek to murder me because you think I am...” he faltered, not daring to say the words out loud. His eyes narrowed, and he leaned in with a low secretive tone. “You have to know the kind of effect you have on women? Or men for that matter... Right?” When Jaylon showed no response, one eyebrow raised, and he continued on. “You might not have noticed the expression on Aniela’s face or her body language when you walked into the room, but I did. She is completely and unconditionally in love with you. There is absolutely no mistaking it.”
“I know she cares for me,” Jaylon countered, giving his shoulders a shrug.
“No,” Harlow blurted, taking a step towards him. “What I witnessed goes way beyond caring. It’s kind of my thing to read women. I have indeed gotten pretty talented at it.” He witnessed the suspicion in Jaylon’s eyes, so he worked to prove his point. “Do you remember the night we met at the Mate’s Table? The bar wench Hannah? She was blonde with a marvelous scrumptious body?” When Jaylon appeared confused, he added. “You bedded her that night, didn’t you?”
Shocked by the route he was taking, Jaylon again lifted an eyebrow and nodded his head. “Yes.”
“Did you recall if you paid her?” Harlow asked with a crooked smile and crossing his arms over his chest.
“What?” Jaylon snapped. “I don’t know? What has this got to do with...”
“You didn’t pay her,” Harlow blurted suddenly, lurching at him and cutting him off. “Want to know how I know?”
“Ummm, yes, I suppose,” Jaylon shrugged, confused.
“Because Hannah told me,” Harlow explained with one of those smiles when someone knows something the other doesn’t. “Hannah also went on to reveal why and it all adds up to everything I have been trying to reason with you. Hannah made her living out of bedding men and collecting payment for it.” He waited for his words to sink in. “Again, don’t take this wrong because it could fracture my ego quite terribly. But, you, Sir Jaylon, are possibly one of the most handsomely virile men I have ever laid eyes on.”
Jaylon couldn’t help himself and burst out laughing. “Are you serious? You’re joking with me... right?”
Appearing shocked that he doubted him, Harlow’s mouth gaped open. “Do you honestly believe I would joke about something like that?” he charged, shaking his head. “Heck, if I were into buggery, I would give you a go myself, but fortunately, my eyes and body are strictly beholden to the fairer sex. Like your sister Lady Camille for example. Her beauty is so overwhelming one almost climaxes just by gazing upon her.”
Jaylon gaped as he stared at Harlow in wonderment confusion. Who was this man, and could he be trusted? “I-I don’t know what to say,” Jaylon stammered with a laugh.
Leaning back, Harlow shook his head and gave a sideways grin. “You’re welcome; sounds like an appropriate response.”
Glaring at him, Jaylon frowned. “So, I am expected to thank you for complimenting me?”
Rolling his eyes, Harlow released a slow groan. “No,” he sigh. “But, you could thank me for the spot-on advice I have offered you.” His eyes suddenly lit up. “I know, put a good word in for me to your sister, and all grievances will be forgiven.”
“You want me to talk you up to my sister?”
Harlows eyes swelled with delight. “Yes!”
“Camille is a beauty,” Jaylon agreed with a reluctant laugh. “But she also has thorns, and she’s not afraid to use them.”
Harlow leaned closer to him with a mischievous smile. “Sounds intriguing. Is she currently spoken for?”
One eyebrow lifted with surprise. “At the moment, no Camille is not spoken for,” Jaylon answered.
“Perfect,” Harlow chimed with excitement clapping his hands. “At least there is one woman I won’t have to contend with you for.” He turned to leave but decided he had one more question. “So, what is your next move with Aniela? You obviously love her, so what’s the holdup? Why aren’t you properly courting her?”
Jaylon sighed and turned away from him. “I presently have a situation preventing me from moving forward at the moment.”
“A situation?” Harlow repeated with one eyebrow raised. “The only situation that could keep me from the woman I love is that I am currently strapped to someone else, and I know that couldn’t be true for...” Harlow paused when Jaylon’s eyes sank to the floor. He recognized what guilt looked like, and his eyes grew with dismay. “No! Are you betrothed to someone else?”
He lifted his eyes to the ceiling. “No, I am not betrothed to anyone,” Jaylon sighed.
Crossing his arms at his chest, Harlow was perplexed. “Well, what is it then? The only other acceptable reason is your already married...”
Jaylon lifted his eyes to stare at him but didn’t say a word.
“What?” Harlow gaped incredulously. “No! Are you married? To-to whom?”
Lifting a hand to rub his forehead, Jaylon sighed again. “Does it matter?” he exclaimed, his shoulders sagging with defeat.
Harlow thought about it for a second, letting a smirk flow from his lips. “No, I presume it doesn’t matter.”
Silence permeated between them until Jaylon finally spoke. “I briefly tried to find a solicitor to help me get out of my marriage, but unforeseen circumstances have thwarted my every attempt.”
“A solicitor?” Harlow said, perking up. “I am presently working on an internship with Solicitor Blunkshire. Would you like me to make an inquiry for you?”
Jaylon felt a wave of hope surge through him. “Would you do that for me?”
Jerking back, Harlow feigned being wounded and scoffed. “Of course, I would. I have a meeting with Louis today, and I will address the subject matter with him afterward.”
Eyeing him, Jaylon pondered why this man he barely knew would desire to help him. “Thank you,” he said, raising his hand to stroke his chin and studying him for a moment. “You can continue to live here as long as you keep to your word and not try to pursue Aniela in any way.”
“Of course,” Harlow conceded with a bow and a gracious smile. “You have my word Sir Jaylon. I will only treat Lady Aniela as a sister and nothing more.” He paused and gave a crooked smile. “But as for your sister Lady Camille, please for my own sanity, don’t request the same vow from me. I don’t believe I could honor it.”
Jaylon smirked at his audacity. “You can pursue my sister at your own risk. Just remember, I cautioned you about her claws.”
“Dually noted,” Harlow laughed with a mocking confidence. He held his hand out to Jaylon. “So does this mean we part at this time as friends?”
With Lucian gone, Jaylon became suddenly elated at acquiring a new-found friend. “The word part seems inappropriate considering we both will be residing here together under the same roof these next several weeks,” Jaylon pointed out as he also extended his hand to Harlow.
“Poor choice of words, I suppose,” Harlow resigned as he shook Jaylon’s hand. “I will keep you informed on what Sir Blunkshire says. It could be quite possible you are divorced or have an annulment by the end of the month if all progresses well.”
His comment surprised Jaylon. “It can happen that fast?”
“Sometimes- yes,” Harlow said, shrugging his shoulders. “Sometimes- no.”
Jaylon appeared serious for a moment, mulling over whether to reveal Aniela’s recent trauma to him. “I don’t know how familiar you are about what happened to Aniela or if Jessie informed you of anything,” he said with a somber tone. “But she has been through a lot these past couple months, and because of it, she has many scars. And they are not just on the outside.”
Sighing, Harlow nodded his head, understanding. “Jessie did inform me a little bit,” Harlow stated. “But she didn’t go into detail. I could tell it was an emotional subject for her. So, I didn’t press for any more information than she was prepared to give.”
Jaylon turned away from him, heavy in thought. “What happened to her is why I am here,” he eventually said. “I professed to keep her safe and away from harm, but I can’t be here all the time.” He turned back towards Harlow. “Your presence here can assist me in this endeavor. Would you agree to aid me if needed?”
Harlow perked up. “I will do anything you want, Sir Jaylon. Just name it.”
The corner of Jaylon’s mouth twitched. “I require you to keep an eye on Aniela when I am not on the estate. If she leaves, you go with her,” Jaylon declared. “If you believe that’s something you can handle?”
Taking a few brisk steps towards him, Harlow said, “I vow to do my best. You won’t be disappointed, Sir Jaylon.”
His eyes roamed the length of Harlow, not altogether sure if he could trust him. He offered his hand again and waited as Harlow readily accepted it this time. Then he leaned in and casually said, “Just so you thoroughly understand if you go back on your word and touch Aniela in any way... I will kill you.” He released Harlow’s hand, then turned and left the stable.