Saved! But barely! And a Surprise.
She made an impolite comment at being interrupted, pulling her nightdress down upon herself and replacing the cover over her legs. She saw him smiling, and patted his hand sympathetically.
“Next time, my love, I shall ask more of you! For both of our sakes.” He leaned in and kissed her on the neck.
“I should hope so. Leading me along like that, putting my hopes up, and getting my juices flowing just before we were so abruptly interrupted.”
Her eyes sparkled. “It must be soon, Charles.” He knew that. “If we leave it too much longer you will be about as restrainable as the bull, and probably just as obviously inelegant in your eagerness to have me, but I will not care.” She was well aware of the effect she had upon him.
He smiled weakly at her and dropped back into a more formal role, aware of what Abby would likely tell the others downstairs of what she had seen; that he was being very familiar with her mistress and was waiting to take advantage of her confusion about who he really was the moment they might be left alone together. He looked at Selena and smiled with a wistful expression on his face.
“It seems, my love, that there is no sympathy in this house for our plight and, not only that, but my presence is no longer required here. They have other plans for you. You are about to be bathed again and they would like me gone for that. I am sorry, but I will not be able to join you for a later lunch as I honestly had intended.”
Selena watched her sister and Abby laying out the towels and getting everything together to bathe her and to change her nightdress again.
“I know, Charles, but it cannot be forever. It is as frustrating for me as it is for you, and I have every sympathy for your plight. It is the same as my own. There are too many servants about us at all times for us to be able to relax as we need to. You have been deprived of my intimate company for far too long, and I, of yours.” There was a flush and a knowing smile on her face.
“You will not desert me for long will you, Charles? Not now that I am fully awake on all scores, although who might know when we might be left to our own devices again. I may have to ruthlessly banish Nurse and the servants altogether so that we might be private with each other as I would so like.” She looked up at him, with everything she felt for him revealed on her face.
He knew her mood. It was contagious, and yet this was not his wife, but his late brother’s wife, and she would soon recognize not only who he was, but who he was not. He would need to find strength to resist her and to tread carefully, or have everyone’s hand set against him, and deservedly so, even hers. Most of all, hers, and he would not want to do that.
“They would not allow us to do that, my love”—he patted her hand— “and nor would I just yet. You are still recovering, and we must take care of you. Besides, they have as little sympathy for my feelings; being denied your close company, as they have so much concern for yours. The feelings of a mere man, even your husband, do not count significantly in the grander scale of things.”
He sighed heavily, hoping he was not overplaying the role he needed to play for her sake. Or was it as much for his own? Robert envied his brother such a wife, but would need to behave cautiously, and ensure that someone was with them at all times, for both of their sakes.
“Oh, Charles. I knew how it would be with you. We have never been apart for any more than just a few hours, and there never was a time since we have been married when you were not in my bed either, or in my arms. I quite miss your attention!” The double meaning in her words was not lost on him. “But we shall make up for that when they see that I do not need so much fussing and attention, and truly leave us alone.” She blushed up at him and pulled him down to kiss her, letting him see how much she felt his deprivation of her intimate companionship.
Yes, he must ensure that he was never left alone with her for long. Despite her injuries she was too vibrant by far, and not afraid to express her feelings for him—her husband. He saw Sophia looking at him closely. He felt Selena put her hand on his arm before he could escape.
“There is something else that I need to talk to you about, Charles. Our tenth anniversary is coming up on us, and you know by now that we have no need to put that particular celebration off, though it may need to be revised. Now that I am recovering we can see it go forward, though perhaps not quite as you intended. I know that we discussed several possibilities, but with the way that I am, and stuck in my bed for some time, there is clearly some limitation to me going anywhere. However, I must leave it up to you to decide, and submit to what you think I can achieve in my delicate condition and with a broken leg.” He did not let any surprise show on his face. He was at a loss as to what might have been organized by his brother for this woman who was now so full of life.
“But whatever you decide I know that I shall be happy just to be with you. We do so like your surprises. I think that outing we had to Scarborough, last year was the one we all enjoyed so much, but then the children were of an age to explore, and marvel. I wonder what you have planned for me; for us, this time.”
“You will have to be patient, my love, and you are right, there is no need why it should be put off. Is there anything I should be doing to move in that direction, now that you remind me?”
“There are new dresses for the girls and me, at my dressmaker in the village, as for every anniversary, though the girls do not need to know of that until they are ready. If you remember, that is why you and I were out driving that day. I knew it would be the last new dress I would be able to wear for almost a year with my being as I am.
“The girls will be so pleased when they find out about a sister or a brother for them, and that we do not need to postpone our celebration. However, Nurse may not agree with any of what you may decide when she finds out what you are planning. Clearly, we cannot go as far as we did last year. I will leave it up to you to surprise us as you always do.”
He could ask Nurse about their anniversary plans, though it seemed as though she might not be aware of what they had planned, nor the girls either. Perhaps Sophia might know something, except she had arrived only after this upset. He would have to play it very carefully and look for an opening to ask for more details and gain some clues from those. Had Charles told anyone his plans? Robert would be on tenterhooks until he knew what his brother had decided to do, but how was he to find out?
“Do not be away for long, Charles. We have much to catch up on if they will only let us have some time to ourselves.” He almost could not leave, considering the way she was looking at him and the meaning conveyed in her eyes and her words.
Is this what fate had kept him alive for? To bring him back together with the only woman for him; the perfect woman, and to torment him mercilessly with possibilities and to tantalize him with such happiness that he had never expected to know again. But for how long might her memory fail her? Another day? A week? A month? Anything beyond that was likely not possible. Then, he would be discovered to have played her false and in a cruel way and it would all be snatched away from him.
The crushing hurt to them both that would follow that discovery would destroy him, and harm her in a way he must not think about.
She would hate him if he showed such weakness of character as to take advantage of her helplessness and ignorance in this more tragic circumstance when she recovered her mind.
But what might be the consequences to her peace of mind if he resisted Selena’s importuning, and in a way that might become obvious to her? He had not considered such difficulties, or he might never have embarked on this course, except she had begun it when she had first regained consciousness and had addressed him as she had.