I must survive these Temptations.
“Nurse did not seem comfortable leaving us alone together, Charles. I wonder why not. She looked at you strangely. It is almost as though she were afraid of what we would get up to, yet I am not so fragile. Am I? I do not feel it.”
She adjusted her position. “I need to see my leg.” She lifted the cover from her leg, and pulled up her nightdress without any hesitation, to reveal her splint, and even much more than that. She prodded with her fingers, as he looked at her and smiled at her carelessness.
“It does not feel too uncomfortable, but there is still some swelling, and minor discomfort.” She scratched at the flesh above and below the bandaging, sighing with relief. “I am not sure exactly where it is broken.”
“One or both of the bones in the lower leg; here.” He pointed, as he explained it to her. “Your splint extends from well above the knee as you can see, and to your ankle and below it, and it is bound securely to stop all movement in between those two locations. You will be off it for some weeks.” She flexed her other leg up to her body, now that she could move it without the restriction of her nightdress, and saw him blushing, as he averted his eyes. She laughed.
“Charles! Are you shy with me? Why? You have seen much more of me before and will again. This is not you.” She looked at him closely, and then touched his face as she smiled up at him.
He waited for the surprise of recognition, but it did not come. He would need to be careful just how much he was left alone with this wonderful woman. She touched at her leg in different places, before she lay back and looked up at him.
“Give me your hand, my love.” He gave it to her, and she moved it up under her nightdress to sit upon her warm and soft abdomen. He could say nothing.
“It is too early to feel anything stirring, and yet you sensed it earlier. What do you feel now about this baby, Charles? Can you detect anything more than you did?”
His senses were already overloaded! However, he closed his eyes, lest she comment upon the rising flush on his face. He could feel nothing other than his own heightened feelings as he touched her so intimately with her hand holding his upon her, and then pausing to let him better feel what he might, of that developing life within her.
“No. I should not ask. It is too early by far to feel anything.” Her mind was bouncing from one thing to another. She thought of something else.
“Why is everyone behaving differently around me, Charles? Nurse too. What are you all trying to hide? It is not the baby, or Sophia, or the children, so I can think of nothing that need worry me. There is something you are not telling me, and something different about you. You are striving to protect me from something. I wonder what it might be. You were never good at keeping anything from me. I shall learn soon enough.” She looked around. “I see everyone I love. Unless it is something to do with me.” He saw a moment of panic in her face. “Tell me, Charles, am I really going to get better?”
He felt that he could easily answer that question. “Yes, my love, you are going to get better.” He leaned over and kissed her to reassure her, very conscious of where she was holding his hand upon her belly. It had been one thing to examine her so intimately when she had been unconscious, but another, now that she was so alive and vibrant.
“We are not hiding anything. It only seems that way in our concern for you. There is nothing wrong with you or anyone else that you do not know about. It is just that we all received a great upset with that accident, and it is still affecting us. It takes a while to recover from such a thing.” He said nothing but the truth.
“I am sure we may all seem different, and cautious for a while. But at least you did not lose this baby.”
She seemed satisfied with that answer. Charles would never have thought to deceive her, other than in a playful and kind way. She studied him without speaking.
Robert was concerned about what she might see. Were any of his more obvious scars visible, even in this low light? He resolved not to worry about it. If he were discovered for sins of commission, or of omission, then he would be discovered, and he would have to deal with the consequences when that happened. He was acutely aware of his own feelings for this woman and would be able to refuse nothing she asked of him, no matter what he had said to Nurse. He hoped that he would be discovered soon, or never discovered. He liked the way she looked at him; the way he felt when he was with her.
He was not sure how long he sat there with her, or what they talked about with his hand resting where she held it. He was brought to his senses when he heard the clock strike four, and then noticed Sophia by his elbow.
“My sister is sleeping now.” He had not noticed. He might even have been nodding off himself. Sophia was smiling at him, and then he became conscious that his hand was still where Selena had placed it under her nightdress, was still holding it, and Sophia had seen. He slowly retrieved it and brought Selena’s nightdress down to cover her. He would not try to explain any of it. He was dug in deep enough as it was.
“Did you sense anything of the baby? I overheard you talking about it?” He shook his head.
“You should go and stretch your legs while she is sleeping, Charles.” At least she had not forgotten to use that name. “It will soon be morning and you will need your rest. I shall look after her now. The house will be up and about in another hour or two, and the news of her pregnancy will be everywhere too. They need whatever good news they can get.”
“Yes. I should go while I can.” He did not know where the time had gone. He retrieved his other hand from Selena’s, and was about to stand up, except she revived as he moved. She had not been fully asleep.
“Must you leave me, Charles?” She took his hand again. “It was so nice to feel your hand upon me.”
“Reluctantly, my love, yes, I must. I shall take a stroll around the terrace to clear my mind.” God knows it needed clearing after that. “But to do that, I think you will need to give me my hand.”
“Oh. Yes, Charles. I am sorry. I did not realize I was hanging on to you so tightly. I was afraid that if I did not hold on to you or you were not touching me where you were, that you might turn out to have been a dream. I do not want you to go. You are a bridge to sanity. But yes, you do need to move about much more than I can, and Sophia and the children are here to keep me aware of where I am. When will I see you again? She seemed to need him, as much as he needed her now.
“If you can do without me for just a few hours I will try and get some sleep. I need little, now that I know you are recovering. And when I awake I will join you again. It may be before, or even after breakfast, though if you absolutely need me, you can send Nurse, or Sophia to wake me at any time. Nurse is not comfortable leaving me here with you.” She had seen that. “I also need to shave off this stubble.”
She smiled. “I wonder what she might think we would get up to, that we should not. I know she does not totally approve of us, or of our obvious affection for each other, but what do either of us care about that? We never did before.” Her eyes sparkled at him. She spoke so that only he might hear her. “Poor Charles. You could join me here once Sophia goes back to sleep, as she soon will. I am curious to find out how you might maneuver around this leg of mine, except others might see us intertwined in an undignified way when they come in, and unable to break away easily from each other. Yes, that might be awkward. Sophia would not care, of course. She already knows what we get up to. She spied on us often enough even before we were married.” She knew what she could see in his flushed face and felt reassured.
“I will not go far, my love. You will see me as soon after I awake as I can get here. I promise.” He did not want to leave, with promise of what she offered him, but realized that he had to go, or she might prevail.
“I shall see you when you are able to return, Charles.”
“Yes, my love, you will. But I also have a busy day ahead of me, so I shall be in and out all day. I shall come to see you as I can.”
“Yes, of course. Life still must go on. I suppose too many things have been neglected with me like this. Not only have you been neglected, but I am beginning to feel that I have too.” He felt his temperature beginning to rise again. This was the same vibrant and assured woman he remembered from ten years earlier. Just as eagerly alive, and just as demonstrative despite others being close by. “At least that is the way I am beginning to feel. Hold me, Charles, before you go. Kiss me again.”
He obliged her. She was warm and so very soft, and her lips were as intoxicating as he remembered. She even smelled as he remembered her. He pulled her very close into him, almost in desperation over what it was that he might soon lose when she was fully recovered. He was loath to let her go.
When he sat up from her, she felt dampness on her cheek. He had shed tears upon her! She noticed and smiled at him as he pulled her nightdress to cover her again, and then brought the coverlet over her leg.
“Now I know that I am truly alive.” So did he!
She reluctantly let go of his hand and watched him leave with a backward glance at her. He looked sad.
He leaned back against the door after he had closed it and heaved a deep sigh of relief. She was not safe for him. Nurse had been right. She would be able to override his resolve in the blink of an eye. Everything would be taken out of his hands before he knew it. Thank god Sophia had been there, but it could still have got out of hand, and almost had! He should get out for some fresh air and rethink all of this. He found that he was even beginning to plot Robert’s premature demise, and have him, somehow reborn as Charles. Would that it were that simple.