Peace, at last. No barrage of guests to attend to...no chaos and heartache of a child gone astray. Even the weather seemed to bring a sense of calm, as a light rain fell like a lullaby. Guy might have felt at ease...were it not for the knowledge of one last obstacle to the peace and contentment he craved to restore.
After traversing the manor one last time, he made his way towards his bedchamber. He passed Evelyn's chamber as he went...and his foot stilled at the sound of gentle voices in conversation. Evelyn was there, of course. He was so happy to have her home again, and to have matters settled between them. She talked in joyful tones with Thea...and with her mother. Hearing Cassia's soft voice, he felt a sweet pain in his heart. How he loved to listen to her when she was happy. There was no sound in the world that he treasured more.
But his happiness was overshadowed by a dark memory. He could not forget the scene between them last night...how her eyes had become so fierce with pain and anger. She had spoken with such bitterness, her words wounding him deeply. But the worst had come late that night. He had waited, most impatiently, for her to come to bed. She had been terribly frightened about Evelyn, and understandably so. He had been fully prepared to endure all manner of punishment for his part in causing her despair. If she wanted to strike at him in anger, or even to lash at him with more cruel words, he had been willing to accept them. He deserved punishment for his harsh words to Evie, for it was his thoughtlessness that had caused her to run away. He had imagined the scene after the eruption of angry passion and pain...that she would fall into his arms, weeping, and he would comfort her. They would comfort each other, as they had done so many times in their life together.
In his bare feet and nightshirt, he had taken to pacing the floor of their bedchamber, hounded by his fears about Evie, and half-mad with longing for Cassia. But the night had gone on, and she had not come. Patience had never been his greatest virtue, and fraught with concern, he had gone in search of her. When he found her in Evelyn's room, asleep, he had been sorely tempted to join her there, to be of comfort to her and to find comfort from his own fears. But if she found some measure of peace, he could not take that from her. He left her there and returned to their bedchamber, although he found little sleep. Without her beside him, he was ever restless and melancholy.
The dawn had brought the blessing of a message from William. Evelyn was safe, and he was sending her home straight away. The entire household seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Cassia had wept with joy at the news, and he'd expected to share in her happiness. But she'd quickly occupied herself with Evelyn's arrival, shunning any attempt at words of conciliation. Nothing could calm her until she had their daughter home, and now that it was done, she seemed determined not to let Evelyn out of her sight.
So be it, he thought. If it pleases her, I will not interfere.
With heavy steps, he went to their bedchamber. As he entered, Francis...his groom...came to help him prepare for bed. He sat in a chair, lifting each foot as his boots were removed. The right was taken off as usual. But when his left was removed, he felt a stabbing pain searing from his ankle and traveling upward. The sensation was not new. It was as familiar to him as anything else, and it was as painful as it had ever been. Lord, it was hard to fathom...that twenty years had gone by since his accident. He could still recall being thrown from his horse...of his foot being violently twisted in the stirrup. He shuddered at the memory of the dark and icy waters closing in on him...
He shook his head at the horrid memory. Francis looked upon him, concerned.
"My lord," he said, "Shall I fetch hot water?"
Submerging his ankle was one way to ease the pain...but it was not the one he preferred. Still, he nodded, sending the manservant away on the errand. The door closed quietly, leaving him alone. For a small space of time, he sat with his head back against the chair. He closed his eyes and tried to ignore the painful throbbing in his foot, but it seemed only to increase in its intensity. He heard the door open behind him, but he did not open his eyes, assuming it was Francis returning already. He heard the latch fall as the door was closed. A soft voice fell on his ear.
"Francis tells me you are ailing."
His eyes opened instantly. He turned his head, seeing her there with her maidservant. As Celeste went to fetch her mistresses' nightdress, Cassia slowly came to his side. Despite his pain, he wanted to leap to his feet and throw his arms around her. He was but a moment from doing so...but he turned his eyes to the fire in the hearth. What if she denied his affection? She had been through so much these last two days. He was desperate for her love and attention...but feared his own selfishness would be too much. He answered her in a reserved tone.
"It is nothing. An old complaint."
He felt at war with himself. She was heavy with child. She deserved complete devotion and caring. But he had always been weak when it came to her. Even after so many years together, he craved her affection to the point of desperation. He knew he was a selfish beast for wishing it, but he couldn't help himself.
Cassia gestured to her maidservant. "Celeste, veuillez apporter un tabouret."
Guy watched as Celeste brought a cushioned stool to him. He placed his foot on it, waiting and watching as the servant dragged a chair close. She helped her mistress to sit. With a kind word and a gesture of her hand, Cassia sent her maidservant away from them...and then she placed her hands on his foot. He felt himself melt as the warmth of her touch worked its magic. As she massaged his ankle, he stifled a sound of pleasure, leaning his head back. He was only able to reply with a gruff sound when she said his name.
"Guy," she repeated. The seriousness of her tone made him lift his head. He met her eyes. There was a sadness shining there...the same light of sorrow he had seen in his daughter's eyes. He wanted no more of that. She tried to speak. "Last night, I spoke while under the spell of despair, and I..."
"No." He would not allow her to say more. "Say nothing, Cassia. I need no apologies. I do not want them."
She tried again, but he shushed her. The sorrowful light faded from her eyes. He could see that a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Oh, this darling woman of his. She was concerned for him. For him. With his thoughtless behavior and careless temper, he had been the source of great suffering for them both. And yet she sought pardon for words she had justly uttered...words she had no need to beg forgiveness for. If anything, it was he who needed to seek absolution.
As they looked at each other, he could see her forming of a little smile. They needed no words, no pleas of understanding from one another. She turned her eyes away, giving her full attention to nursing his ankle. Francis returned with a pitcher of steaming water and a wooden bucket, and while Guy soaked his foot, Celeste helped her mistress to stand, moving with her behind a screen to prepare her for bed. Cassia spoke aloud.
"Evelyn seems to have a glow about her tonight."
Guy's eyebrow rose in curiosity. "Really?"
There was a smile in Cassia's tone. "I think, perhaps, her betrothed may have some part in her mood."
Coming from behind the screen, she moved to the bed to sit. As Celeste loosened Cassia's hair and brushed it, Francis helped Guy remove his surcoat and undershirt. Sitting there, clad only in his breeches, he felt a sense of tranquility wash over him. For the first time in days, he knew he would sleep well. Cassia seemed quite interested in discussing Evelyn and Simon, and he gave small replies to all that she said. But truly, he wanted only to slip into their bed and bask in the calm that was blessing them. Evelyn was safe, God be praised. Their guests were gone from the house, and he and Cassia had made their peace. Such blessed moments were a gift...and most often, short-lived. He did not want to waste them.
He removed his foot from the bucket. The heat from the water, and the warmth of his wife's hands, had reduced the pain to a dull ache. That would do well enough for the moment. He ordered the water removed and dismissed Francis for the night. As he came to bed, Celeste finished her work. Eager to be alone with his wife, he waved the servant away and moved under the covers. Cassia eased herself into bed, and when she was settled, he placed his head near hers on the pillow. His hand caressed the roundness of her belly.
"I have missed you, beloved."
She smiled, placing a sweet kiss on his lips. "I have never left."
"We have not shared a bed in many days. Nearly an entire week. First our guests forced us apart, and then last night..."
She hushed him quickly. "I do not wish to speak of last night."
He smiled, thinking how incredible her powers of persuasion were...how they had always been. And he was content not to argue with her. She adjusted her position for comfort, turning to her side with her back to him. She kissed his hand, pulling his arm around her shoulders. He pressed himself against her soft figure, delighting in her warmth and her scent of lavender. If she wanted no conversation, he would grant her wish...most willingly.