A Sister’s love...
In her haste to get out of the study and away from Jaylon - Aniela ran full charge into Harlow out in the hallway.
“Whoah,” Harlow gasped, clutching onto her to prevent her from dropping to the floor.
She struggled against his hands, trying to push him away. “Please let me go, Harlow,” she cried. “I need to get out of here.”
Maintaining his constraint on her, Harlow looked over his shoulder and noticed Camille step out into the hallway behind Aniela. The concerned expression on both their face’s caused him to pause.
“Follow me,” Camille whispered, leaning into Harlow. “And bring her with you.”
Confusion crossed his handsome features, but he did what she ordered. Grasping Aniela’s hand, he dragged her down the hallway in the same direction Camille had gone.
Aniela wiggled and squirmed, trying to get him to release her. “Please, Harlow,” she pleaded, toiling to keep her tears at bay. “I just want to be left alone.”
Ignoring her plea, Harlow continued his trek down the long hallway that led to the sunroom on the other side of the house.
Waiting for them, Camille motioned to an armchair, and Harlow guided Aniela there, encouraging her to sit down.
“What is going on?” he asked with drawn eyes, glancing from one to the other. Aniela turned away from him and Camille released a long stress-filled sigh, but neither of them preferred to answer him. “Oh,” he gaffed, with a shoulder shrug. “It’s fine, don’t tell Harlow. He is just an outsider here.”
Camille released a spontaneous smirk, then quickly squelched it with the back of her hand when she spied Aniela’s tear-streaked face. She took a deep breath, then walked over to kneel in front of her. “It’s not as awful as you think,” she murmured, clasping Aniela’s hands. “Jaylon didn’t know Elizabeth would show up here, and he wasn’t expecting her. Otherwise, he would have sought to shield you from their little confrontation.”
Lifting her eyes to Camille, a pathetic laugh erupted from her lips. “Little confrontation,” Aniela repeated with a sad smirk. “Is that what one calls it when a wife comes searching for her husband in another woman’s house? A little confrontation?”
“Ohhhh, I understand now,” Harlow mused with sudden clarity. “The woman I saw you with is Jaylon’s wi...”
Camille spun around, throwing him a threatening glance, breaking off his succession of words.
“You need to take Jaylon and leave, Camille,” Aniela suddenly exclaimed. “I-I can’t do this... Having him here causes too much stress for me, and I can’t handle it anymore.”
“Wh-what,” Camille stuttered, astonished by her request. “No, I couldn’t possibly do that.” She pushed up to her feet but continued to look down at Aniela. “Besides, you know Jaylon as thoroughly as anybody. So you know he would never agree to it. Add to the fact that your safety is a consideration. The answer would most unquestionably be a no.”
“I don’t care about my safety anymore,” Aniela whispered, disheartened. “Besides, Harlow is here. He seems adequate enough to protect me if needed.”
“Ummm, thanks,” Harlow mused, walking to stand next to the two of them. “But, I agree with Camille. There is no way Jaylon would agree to leave you, period. Let alone in my care.”
Aniela stared at the floor. “Then I suppose I will leave,” she sighed, then a fleeting thought swept across her mind causing her to sit up straight. “I will get a gun,” she blurted with insistence.
“What?” Camille gaffed as her mouth dropped open. “You will do no such thing. I just won’t permit you to leave, and only a demented woman would carry a gun.”
Ignoring Camille, she glanced at Harlow and reached for his hand. “You can get me a gun, can’t you?”
Stammering for words, Harlow looked between them. “I-I don’t know?”
“No! Of course, he can’t get you a gun,” Camille announced in a shrill voice. “Jaylon would never authorize it.”
Aniela’s head spun to glare at her. “I wasn’t seeking permission from you, Camille,” she said in a flat voice. “I am an adult now, and if I request to carry a gun for protection, you or Jaylon have no say in it.” She looked back to Harlow. “Can you find me a small pistol to carry?”
“I-I suppose that I could try,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
“Good,” she proclaimed with an aura of hope. She peered back at Camille and added, “Then you and Jaylon would no longer need to linger here. I could protect myself.”
“What? No... Jessie and Lucian would not agree to that,” Camille gasped. “They made me promise to remain here until their return.”
Rising to her feet, Aniela ignored Camille’s ranting plea. “I am going to my chamber,” she said flatly. “And I don’t wish to be disturbed.”
Again Harlow looked between the two of them, half expecting Camille to intercept her, but when she didn’t, he placed his hands on Aniela’s rigid shoulders and steered her unwilling form back to the armchair. Then he shifted and seized another armchair, and promptly drug until it to settle before her.
Cautiously, he seated himself and surrendered a long drawn-out sigh. Contemplating his words, he leaned towards her, resting his elbows on his knees. “Let me start off by saying,” he declared resolutely. “If you so desire to have a pistol in your possession, I will try to find you one.”
Camille lunged forward. “Harlow, you can’t...”
“That’s only if Sir Jaylon agrees and also approves of the pistol I should happen to acquire,” he added, suspending her words. He paused, expecting them both to refute him when neither did he carried on. “If you both find this acceptable, then I will move forth with it.” Both nodded their accord. “And secondly, what do you feel is taking place between Sir Jaylon and....” He shifted to look at Camille for assistance because he didn’t know Jaylon’s wife’s name.
“Elizabeth,” Camille stated for him.
He looked back at Aniela. “Elizabeth,” Harlow repeated. “Do you believe Jaylon is currently reconciling with her at this very moment?”
Turning her head, she lifted her eyes towards the ceiling. “No.”
Smiling, Harlow sat back in his armchair. “Good,” he said. “Because neither do I.” He gestured to Camille. “Do you believe he is reconciling with Lady Elizabeth?”
Camille’s eyes lit up and wandered over Harlow’s body. “No,” she beamed, shaking her head.
Harlow slapped his hand on his knee, causing them both to jump. “Well, there you have it then,” he declared, glancing between the two of them. “No one in this room believes Jaylon is reconciling with his wife, and I would wager if you asked Jaylon himself, he would answer the exact same way.”
Shifting back to look at him, Aniela didn’t share the same enthusiasm he undoubtedly did. “Are you done?”
Harlow’s mouth gaped open, and he placed a hand on his chest. “Are you angry with me?” he asked, perplexed by her tone. “I am just trying to point out what you obviously can’t understand for yourself.”
“Dually noted,” Aniela whispered, then moved to rise to her feet.
But Harlow halted her again by placing a hand on her knee. “Aniela,” he said, in a more sincere tone. “Please, believe me, you are mistaken about Sir Jaylon’s intention with his wife.”
Staring at him, she shook her head in disbelief. “Because you suddenly know him so well,” she bit back. “How long have you known him really, Harlow? Twenty? Maybe, thirty minutes?”
Smiling, Harlow refused to allow her to bait him. “Long enough to know he employed a solicitor to resolve his marriage.”
Aniela stared at him, blinking with confusion. “Wh-what?” she murmured, glancing from him to Camille.
He too turned towards Camille with eyebrows drawn. “She didn’t know?”
Camille’s face suddenly turned very thoughtful. “No, she didn’t,” she admitted cautiously. “Jaylon didn’t wish her to know in case Elizabeth contested it. He didn’t desire to hurt you anymore.”
Sitting back on his hunches, Harlow hung his head. “I’m sorry,” he exhaled. “I absolutely thought you knew, Aniela.”
A wave of nausea settled in her abdomen. “Can she? Can Elizabeth contest it?”
“Yes,” Harlow answered, nodding his head. “He is seeking an annulment, but it can spiral into a battle of his word against hers.”
“An annulment,” Aniela whispered, staring at Harlow. “But wouldn’t that mean...”
“Yes,” he answered before she could finish. “He informed me yesterday that he and Elizabeth never consummated their marriage.”
Her eyes narrowed as doubt from his statement crept into her mind. The thought of Jaylon remaining celibate while married to a beautiful woman was almost too much for her to comprehend and sounded preposterous to her. “Why-why would he communicate this information to you?” Aniela asked with suspicion. “He and Elizabeth have been married for over two years. So it’s inconceivable that their marriage had never been consummated.”
“Let me explain,” Harlow insisted, as he leaned closer to Aniela. “I am completing an internship with solicitor Blunkshire, and he is currently working on annulment legalities for Sir Jaylon.”
“I am not inquiring about the legalities,” Aniela said, feeling the warmth rise to her face. “Undoubtedly, he is lying about not consummating his marriage. Two years is a long time for a man like Jaylon to not sleep with his wife.”
Harlow cleared his throat. “My pardon lady Aniela,” he stated with apprehension. “I didn’t mean to touch on such a delicate subject with you.”
“Delicate subject,” Aniela laughed with disdain. “Are you serious?”
“I can attest for Jaylon,” Camille said, butting into their discussion. “He informed me just a few days ago that he and Elizabeth have not slept together.”
Aniela stared at her for a moment, mulling over her words. “Forgive me if I have a hard time believing either one of you,” she finally stated. “Many years ago, I had the misfortune to witness Jaylon out with the then Widow Lady Elizabeth.” She paused, feeling the heat rise to her face. “They both appeared to be enjoying each other’s company immensely. I saw them kissing and...” she wavered when the vision of Jaylon kissing another entered her mind. It was almost too much for her to bear.
Camille walked to stand in front of her, and she appeared suddenly very upset. “I recognize the two of us have had our differences, and after all these years, we only just recently became friends, Aniela,” She said with a broken voice. “But you need to hear my words as the truth.” She hesitated, requiring to turn away for a moment to compose herself. When she shifted back around, her face was blotchy, and tears pooled on the verge of spilling over. “When Jaylon came home after his search for you, he wasn’t the same man. He was crushed. The Jaylon of old was no longer with us. He had no interest in marrying and declared he could never give his heart to anyone but you. But you, Aniela, were presumed dead.” She faltered for a moment and gathered a couple of calming breaths. “Our father demanded he marry, and they fought nightly for weeks. Until Jaylon finally surrendered to his wishes, and he chose Elizabeth. It wasn’t because of love or desire; it was more because he recognized there would be no strings attached as there would be with a youthful bride. So before you start throwing shade at his honor or what he would or wouldn’t have done, maybe you should consider the heartbreak he has likewise gone through.”
Tears pooled in Aniela’s eyes, and she inhaled, working to wipe them away. “I’m sorry, Camille,” she whispered. “I-I am so torn on how to proceed with him. I have this extraordinarily handsome man, and he loves me, but he has this slight encumbrance keeping us apart. He’s married.” She hiccuped, looking down at her hands. “No matter how much I seek to wrap my mind around it, the result is always the same. We need to move on without each other.”
Lifting her hands, Camille settled her palms on Aniela’s tear-streaked face. “Or maybe you should quit fighting it and prove to him that you love him as much as he loves you.”
A half-hysterical sob laugh spilled from Aniela’s lips, and when Camille settled on her knees before her, she folded her arms around her. “When did you become so wise?” Aniela hiccuped, setting her forehead on Camille’s.
“I am not altogether certain,” Camille laughed between sobs, but then her face fell, and she became serious. “Please tell me you’re not going to hurt him, Aniela. Please.”
They stared at the other’s tear-streaked face, then wrapped their arms around each other. They whispered to the other; their repentance, their joy, and the most important, their newfound friendship.