It was just before dawn, and her place in bed was empty. He stared at the space for a long moment.
Stubborn witch, he thought. More stubborn than any woman born.
She had not said a word to him since last night. After she had turned away from him, he had tried to do the same – giving his back to her and saying nothing. But as the silence had lingered, it had grown into a gnawing frustration. His anger had burned out with the snuffing of the candle flame, but his stubborn pride had convinced him to lay there in silence, feigning indifference – until the silence had gone on too long. He had been too harsh. He admitted to being so, though not in words spoken out loud. But he was certain words were not needed. She knew him well enough to expect the occasional foolish outburst. And he knew her – which caused him a moment of concern. The changefulness of a woman was a bewildering thing, and he did not pretend to understand it. Turning to her, he had studied her for a few moments, contemplating what to do. For a moment he had considered talking to her – if she was awake. She had been silent, but that meant little. Like him, she had probably found it hard to sleep. Maybe she was lying there quietly, just waiting for him to speak. But he found himself unsure of what to say. Physicality came more naturally to him. Easing himself closer to her, he had gently pressed his body against hers, desiring her warmth and scent.
The rebuff was instant and harsh as she shook him off. And to further pain the wound, she had moved away from him, almost to the edge of the bed. Clearly, she had not taken the quarrel lightly, and her response was typical of a woman.
Torture with silence and torment with rejection, he thought.
He had not made another attempt to touch her. But he had hoped to reconcile their dispute when they arose at dawn. She could not avoid him then, and she would not make fools of them both by erupting into an argument in front of the servants. He had fallen asleep with the hopeful prospect in his mind and heart.
But he was awake now, and she was gone.
His first impulse was to go and search for her. But he quickly decided against it. More than likely, a few hours had not been enough to calm her. Throwing back the coverlet, he turned and sat on the edge of the bed, and rubbing his face with his hands, he muttered out loud.
“Damn all women.”
“Pardon, my lord?”
He looked up and saw his valet standing there. Frances, ever vigilant of his master’s needs, was ready with a fresh set of garments and polished boots. Such dedication was expected of him, and he rarely disappointed. But it occurred to Guy that he had never acknowledged his man’s loyalty. Not that he owed him such a kindness. But he felt a strange desire to be more communicative that usual. They hardly spoke beyond the usual commands given and taken between a master and servant. But at that moment, he felt no wrong in letting the barriers of status lessen, if only for a few moments. The two of them were, when it came down it, just men. And Frances was married to Beatrice, the housekeeper – so surely, he knew something of it. He sighed as he walked to the wash basin, with the servant in step behind him, waiting as Guy washed up for the day.
“How long have you been married, Frances?”
“Sometimes it seems interminable, my lord.”
“But it has been a happy union, has it not? Despite the occasional trouble?”
“It has. Because…”
The hesitation was not unexpected. Lords of the manor were not often known to have such conversations with their servants, and Frances was probably wondering what had come over his master. But as Guy rubbed his face dry, he pressed for an answer.
“Well, man? Speak!”
Frances hesitated a moment longer before replying in a soft voice. “My father once bestowed upon me, in the greatest of confidence, the secret to understanding a woman. A wife, above all.”
“And that secret was?”
Frances seemed to wear the hint of a smile as he answered. “Choose to be right, or choose to be happy.”
Guy could not help being amused by the remark. He sighed as he pulled his shirt over his head. But the sigh was not an unhappy sound. His mood had suddenly become lighter.
“We men are hopeless Adams, are we not? Destined to be swayed by an Eve, despite our better judgments.”
“So it seems.”
A quiet fell between them as Frances helped him finish dressing. And it was broken by a surprising remark. One that might have considered bold.
“Yours is a very fine lady, my lord.”
Frances seemed rather nervous as he knelt down to assist Guy with his boots, and Guy looked at him for a long moment, thinking about the declaration. It was daring for a servant to make such a remark about the lady of the house, and perhaps Frances expected to be corrected for it. But there was such truth in the words – the intention clearly meant to compliment, and Guy was generous in his response.
“She is, Frances. She is indeed.”
The conversation had not solved the matter. But he felt better able to manage things now. And with Matilda’s help, perhaps the matter would be concluded altogether…