Aniela reached into her wardrobe and removed a pale pink dress. Walking to the full-length mirror, she held the dress up to her thin frame and an anxious sigh flowed from her lips. A trembling hand traveled over the smooth silk material and images of the exquisite gowns she used to wear bombarded her mind. Staring at her image, she realized she wasn’t that girl anymore. These silk gowns seemed so meaningless to her now and she didn’t care if she ever went to another ball or party again.
Nettie knocked on the door, then inquired if she could come in to help her get dressed.
Since Doctor McDaniels left in the afternoon, Aniela noticed the sadness in Nettie’s eyes, so she knew he elaborated to her and Lucian the scope of her injuries. It led to more unwanted anguish, therefore she sought to avoid them, but in this particular instance; she allowed Nettie to assist her.
With the dress in place, Nettie worked at lacing all the ties. “I received word Lady Roseanne has arrived,” she announced, breaking their silence.
“Aunt Roseanne is here?” she murmured, as butterflies whirled in her belly. She turned to face Nettie. “Is Uncle Michael with her?”
Nodding, Nettie said, “He and Sir Lucian are in the stables. I am certain Lady Roseanne will be up shortly...”
Without a bother to knock, Aniela’s door flung open and suddenly there stood Aunt Roseanne with outstretched arms.
A sob flew from Aniela’s lips, then she dashed across the room into her aunt’s arms. They clung to each other with fear that it was all an illusion and were afraid to let go.
Over an hour had passed and they both still lingered in each other’s arms. Roseanne still couldn’t believe that after all these years, she was finally safe and at home. Desiring to gain a better view of her, Roseanne stepped away and studied at her. Her hand lifted to her lips, smothering a gasp that was about to tumble forth.
Aniela lowered her head. “I am okay Roseanne,” she said, attempting to alleviate her aunt’s fears.
Roseanne pulled her back into her arms. “Of course you are ok,” she murmured against her hair. “Our prayers have been answered, you came back to us.”
Aniela closed her eyes, reveling in the smell of her Aunt and for the first time since she returned, she felt like she was actually home. She drew away anxiously and asked, “Were you and Michael in town already? Surely you didn’t make it here from Leeds in a day's time?” she gasped, wiping tears from her eyes.
Roseanne pulled a silk kerchief from her sleeve and dabbed her eyes. “My goodness no,” she sniffed. “Once Brydon was born, Michael, and I acquired a residence in Northwich, so we could be closer to the family.” Roseanne immediately recognized her blunder when she noticed the perplexed expression on Aniela’s face.
“When Brydon was born?” Aniela asked, confused. “Why would you require to be closer to Lucian’s child?” She said suddenly, realizing she never considered to inquire about Lucian and his son; or his possible wife. “Do we know his spouse?”
Roseanne turned and glanced at Nettie for support, then back at Aniela. Grabbing her hands, she pulled her to the bed, requesting her to sit down beside her. Roseanne drew her back into her arms, staling for time. “We are so exceedingly happy you found your way home Aniela,” she whispered against her hair.
A sense of unease shifted through her body. “Roseanne,” Aniela said. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong,” Roseanne spoke quickly. “It’s quite the contrary. Our family is finally complete and we are all together again.”
The door opened and Michael walked in, he went straight to Aniela; pulling her into his arms. Over Michaels’ shoulder, she watched as Lucian entered also, and with him was Brydon. Then close behind, Nettie walked in and she hovered close to the door.
Aniela backed out of Michael’s arms, glancing around the room, she wondered why everyone appeared apprehensive. Except for little Brydon, he rushed straight to her and raised his arms. “Mum up,” he said, bouncing up and down.
This was the second time he called her Mum, and it made Aniela smile, but her smile faded when Lucian stepped forth to scooped Brydon up into his arms. “I must resemble his mother in some way,” Aniela inquired, glancing at Lucian. “Is she here with you Lucian? I can’t wait to meet her.” She heard Nettie’s stifled cry, and she turned towards her just as Nettie twisted away, battling to compose herself. Aniela looked at Roseanne and she also appeared to be attempting to contain her emotions. “What... what is going on?”
Roseanne turned back to face her and held her gaze for a moment, then drew a deep breath. Lifting her chin, she stepped to Aniela and ushered her back to the bed to be seated. “We have a story to tell you Aniela,” Roseanne sniffed, dabbing at her eyes again. “It is an improbable tale, really.” She hesitated, working to control her voice from breaking. “But I can assure you it’s all true.” Roseanne’s eyes traveled over everyone in the room, then she reached for Aniela’s hands bringing them to her lips. Once her heart settled, her voice was calm, and she started to tell her tale.
Aniela stepped from her chamber, and a tightness flowed over her chest. She paused outside her bed-chamber door and her heartfelt as if it would burst from her breast. Her hand glided tentatively over the balustrade as she peered over the side to the floor below. With each stride she took, her pace quickened and became more urgent towards her destination.
Lucian had left the chamber before her and was already waiting for her at the library door. She watched him turn to glance inside and speaking to someone, then looked towards her at the top of the stairs. She wasn’t positive, but she swore that she could read fear in his eyes? If any of what Roseanne said was true why would Lucian appear so apprehensive? She went down the steps as rapidly as her wobbly legs could carry her. Lucian met her at the bottom halting any further progression.
He took her hands in his. “Are you positive you are ready for this Aniela?”
Aniela looked up at him, nodding her head.
“Please Lucian,” Jessie called from inside the library.
When Aniela heard Jessie call out, she glanced beyond Lucian to where the voice came from and slowly released his hands. She stepped tentatively around him and walked into her father’s study.
A sob flowed from her lips when Jessie rose and their eyes met. As they both stared at each other and the disbelief started to slip away, Aniela could feel her body sway.
A tear slid down Jessie’s cheek. “Hello Aniela,” she announced with a throaty whisper.
Aniela couldn’t form words to respond, she clutched her arms around herself struggling to breathe.
Jessie stepped slowly to her, closing the distance between them. When Aniela fell to her knee’s, Jessie sank to the floor in front of her.
Lucian went to assist Jessie, but she looked at him, as tears filled her eyes, shaking her head; making him halt in his tracks. So he hung back tentative by his wife’s tear-streaked face.
Jessie reached out and gently folded her arms around Aniela. She could feel her body shaking with uncontrolled weeping. Wiping her own tears, she whispered, “Aniela, I have waited for this day for so long.”
Aniela returned her embrace, clinging to Jessie as if her life depended on it.
Roseanne and Michael entered the room and close behind Nettie followed. Tears of joy were etched on all their faces as they watched Jessie and Aniela embracing each other. It was an emotional display of love for the sisters.
Lucian stepped to Jessie and crouch down, whispering something in her ear. She nodded in response, then he caressed her back before he straightened to stand. He looked at everyone else in the room, then waved his hand for them to follow him towards the door.
Giving them much needed time alone, they all exited, allowing the sisters one last tearful glance before the door closed behind them.
Lucian leaned on the door, recognizing there was one more individual that needed to know of Aniela’s return and it was going to be heartbreaking when he heard the news.
After being gone for two days, it was well past midnight, he was weary and exhausted, but that didn’t slow him down as he took the steps two at a time up to his bedroom chamber. Opening the door, his heart panicked for a second when he looked towards the bed and it was empty. His eyes scanned the darkroom, and that’s when he spotted Jessie sitting by the fireplace sound asleep in a chaise chair.
Staring at her, he smiled as he slipped his wet clothes off and put on the bottoms of his silk nightclothes. He stepped towards the bed, tugging a blanket free, thus he walked over to her and sat down next to her. Even with the fire, the wintry night kept the room cooler than usual, so he draped the blanket over her.
He leaned over, pressing his lips to hers. “Come to bed Jessie.” She stirred but didn’t open her eyes. Reaching for her, he caressed her cheek, then pressed his lips to hers again. “Jessie, wake up,” he whispered against her.
Her eyes creased open and fluttered a few times. “Lucian,” she sighed, reaching for him. It had been over a year since they had been apart for more than two days and seeing him drove her to realize how much she missed him. “Are you truly here? Or am I dreaming?”
Lucian rose to his feet, then leaned down to scoop her up into his arms. “I am truly here,” he declared, carrying her to the bed. “And I crave my wife in bed with me, to help keep me warm. It was a long ride home.”
She laughed, nuzzling his cheek. “Is that the sole reason you require me in bed with you?”
He groaned. “You are a vixen, you know that right?” he laid her down, then slid in beside her, pulling her into his arms.
Her hands drifted up his arms and around to his back. “You feel so cold Lucian,” she said, pulling him tighter to her warm frame.
Lifting the blanket higher around them, he sighed with content. “It won’t take me long to become warmed up,” he said against her hair. “Not when I am in your arms.” His hand lifted to her chin, and he bowed to kiss her waiting lips. “Did you miss me?”
She sighed against him. “You know I did.”
His kiss deepened, pushing her mouth apart to taste and abate his mounting desire for her.
When they parted, she exhaled slowly then laid her cheek on his chest. Her fingers skimmed across his abdomen and drifted to release the drawstring of his silk pants. “Did my handsome husband also miss me?” she asked, as her hand dropped below the silk material to stroke his desire.
Groaning, Lucian stopped her hand and because of the baby, he turned her over so her back was pressed against his chest. “Jessie,” he whispered into her ear. “You are progressing to be the death of me.” He picked up her nightdress and pressed his manhood into her silken smoothness until he fully penetrated her from behind. He tried to take it slow, but her moans drove him into a frenzied climax sending them both over the edge of exploding desire.
Once their hearts settled and breathing was back to normal, Jessie drew a hesitant breath. “Were you able to speak with Jaylon?” she whispered.
Lucian sighed and draped his hand around her waist. “Yes, I spoke to him.”
She waited for him to say more and when he didn’t, she turned slightly to study at him over her shoulder. “And?”
He kissed the top of her head, dreading his next admission. “He-he traveled back with me.”
Thinking she heard him wrong, she turned more to look into his eyes. “What? Are you saying Jaylon is here? In this house with us right now?”
Lucian nodded his head. “Yes.”
“But what about...?”
“I don’t know,” he said cutting her off. “When I tried to ask, Jaylon disregarded all my questioning.”
She settled back to stare straight ahead blinking back her bewilderment. “He shouldn’t have come here,” she whispered, her voice laced with uncertainty. “I don’t think Aniela can handle seeing him again. Not right now anyway.”
He bent and kissed the top of her hair. “I tried to dissuade him, but when he heard she was alive and home. There was no talking him out of it. I couldn’t reason with him at all.”
Jessie lifted his hand and laid it on her abdomen. They both basked in the movement of their unborn child. “Did you tell him everything,” she asked, recognizing she didn’t need to explain what everything meant.
Sighing heavily. “No. I tried too, but he was so distraught at her being alive. I didn’t have the heart to explain further.”
They lingered in silence for a while, both in deep thought with concerns for Aniela. “What are we going to do?” she asked, as she stroked his arm and fingers.
Shaking his head slowly, Lucian whispered, “I don’t know. I suppose we’ll just have to let it all play out and hope for the best.”
She sighed, not liking his statement. It was many hours before they both were able to sleep.
Aniela rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling releasing a long-troubled sigh. As usual, sleeplessness plagued her with constant tossing and turning. Exhausted, she sat up and glanced around the dimly lit room.
Since she returned home, she was amazed by how nothing had changed in the three years she was gone. Even now as she lifted the blanket to her nose, it had the same lavender smell as if she never left. She slipped from her bed and donned a silk robe to ward off the cool morning air. Her shoulder caused her very little discomfort now and she had to remember the next time she saw Dr. McDaniels, to thank him.
She stepped to the window and noticed a light was just commencing to peek over the horizon and she resolved to go downstairs before the rest of the household was awake.
A shiver crept up her spine as she stepped into the sunroom, prompting her to draw her robe tighter around her body. She stepped to the frost-covered windows using her hand to wipe away the icy crystals. A fresh snow blanketed everything as far as the eyes could see and she smiled with the wonder of its beautiful whiteness.
A recollection of the snowball fights she used to have with the stable boys came to mind, and she smiled contently. She would give anything to go back to those days.
Voices broke through her melancholy thoughts and she turned in the direction they came. To her dismay, Jessie and Lucian appeared deep in conversation. Enough so, that they hadn’t even noticed her being in the same room with them.
Deciding to pay them no heed, she dragged an armchair closer to the window and sat down to watch the snowfall. The large white flakes drifted down from the gray clouds, making her feel tranquil and almost trance like. She drew her feet up and tucked them under her robe, seeking to keep them warm.
“Would you like a cup of warm tea?” Jessie asked her as she leaned down to kiss her cheek.
Aniela didn’t hear her come over but was delighted she did. “Only if you sit with me,” Aniela answered with a smile. She regarded Lucian as he pulled another chair over and Jessie sat down beside her.
“It’s beautiful isn’t it?” Jessie asked, her eyes held to the falling snow.
Aniela nodded. “It’s been a long time since I have seen snow like this.”
Lucian carried a tray over and sat it down on the table beside them. He poured them both a cup of tea. “Sugar?” he asked.
“Yes, please,” they said simultaneously with an awkward laugh.
He lifted the cups and handed one to each of them, then leaned down to Jessie to kiss her lips. “I am going to go and see where...”
Jessie cleared her throat and kissed him quickly. “Put another log on the fire before you go, Lucian,” she said, purposely cutting him off and giving him a look to halt the comment he was about to make. “You go ahead... I am going to sit with Aniela for a while.”
Lucian nodded, then kissed her waiting lips. His hand trailed up to her chin angling her head so he could whisper in her ear.
Aniela watched the exchange with tribulation, knowing what they were talking about. She monitored Lucian’s departure, then asked Jessie, “I’m sorry if I barged in on something between the two of you,” she said. “I honestly didn’t expect anyone would be up so early.”
Jessie leaned over and patted her leg with understanding. “Don’t be silly Aniela, you didn’t interrupt anything. I just couldn’t sleep and when I arose, so did Lucian.” She rubbed her belly and laughed. “This little man is pressing on my bladder something dreadful.”
“Little man,” Aniela said with a smile. “So you feel you are going to have another boy?”
“I do,” Jessie beamed. “I am carrying the identical same way I did with Brydon.”
Aniela looked down, fidgeting with her clothing. “I think that I need to express something to you, Jessie.” She bit her lower lip. “The relationship you and Lucian have-” she wavered, toiling to voice the right words. “I am so happy for you and Lucian; you both seem like you are truly in love. The way he looks at you... he never looked at me that way.” She lifted her eyes to gaze at Jessie. “You are so lucky to have discovered each other.”
Jessie’s eyes softened and her hand reached for Aniela’s hand, covering it with her own. “Thank you,” she smiled but saw the anguish in her sister’s eyes. “You don’t still hold affections for Lucian do you?”
Aniela laughed, shaking her head. “Oh god no,” she said with a halfhearted gasp. “Lucian and I were never meant to be together. I knew it then and I know it now. If I would have married him, it would have been for all the wrong reasons.” She sat up straighter in her seat, watching the snow as it came down harder and thick; making it almost impossible to see the stables out back. “He loves you, and you love him. I can see it in your eyes,” she added with a throaty whisper. “I am so happy for the two of you, I truly am.”
Jessie studied her and caught the anguish in her tone. “You will have a love like ours someday Aniela,” she said softly.
She turned her gaze back to Jessie. “I don’t think so,” she whispered cocking her head to the side. “Not after... I mean, I just don’t think any man will want me now once they find out-.”
“You’re wrong Aniela,” Jessie argued. “There is someone-”
Aniela suddenly leaned closer to the window. “Who is that coming in from the stables? It doesn’t quite look like Lucian.”
“I’m not sure,” Jessie said, with hesitation as she watched the man push his way through the deep snow.
“I don’t recall seeing him walk out to the stables,” Aniela added. “I would love to take a ride in this snow. It would be beautiful riding under all the snow-covered trees.”
Watching the hooded figure walk around the side of the house, Jessie rose to her feet. “We should go change for the day,” she said, attempting to not sound anxious. “Let’s walk upstairs together.” She extended her hand to Aniela, but she shook her head.
“I think I’ll remain here a while longer,” Aniela said.
Jessie stared at her for a minute, struggling on whether to go or stay. Reluctantly, she bent giving her a gentle kiss on the cheek. “I will send Nettie in to warm up your tea.”
“Thank you,” Aniela said, then she watched her leave. Her eyes wandered back to the window, and she felt the warmth of the sun as it peeked through the clouds momentarily warming her skin.
Her eyes closed, and she leaned her head back resting it on the soft cushioned armchair. It wasn’t long before her sleepless night caught up to her and she settled into a dreamless slumber.