The Ryder Townhouse:
Satisfied that their traveling companions would patiently wait a little longer to be escorted onto the property, Caleb returned to his own coach to help Blake begin unloading their baggage from the vehicle.
“We have servants that can handle all of this,” Blake remarked unnecessarily, knowing Caleb was perfectly well aware of that fact.
With a small shrug, he admitted, “Kyra could use a little time alone with her father.” With that he took one of the bags from Blake’s hold and put it off to one side of the coach. A moment later he decided to finally tell him what was really on his mind. Taking a breath, he said, “I was also hoping to get a moment to speak with you before we go inside.”
Having suspected as much on the last half-hour of their drive home, Blake gave him a nod in response. They hadn’t taken the time to talk together since the day he’d whisked Cassandra away from the manor, and he suspected Caleb was curious to find out how their relationship was fairing after so much time had passed. In return, he still had a number of questions of his own to ask.
“You are wondering about Cassandra,” he regarded without pretense. As always, his first instinct proved to be the correct one. Gauging Caleb’s cautious reaction, he knew his friend’s concern was genuine.
“I am not normally one who likes prying into the personal affairs of others,” he admitted. “I just wonder how she is adjusting to life in marriage after all this time. I feel somewhat responsible for her, being that I was the one who forced this marriage upon her.”
Giving up on the notion of unloading the vehicle for the moment, Blake leaned back against the doorjamb silently, respecting the fact that Caleb still felt so protective of his wife. “I can’t honestly say it’s been easy for her,” he answered. “But, I am trying to give her the space she needs in order to try and heal after everything she has been through.” Releasing a heavy sigh, he added, “I sometimes wonder if I’m giving her too much space though. I really don’t know if it’s helping or hindering us from moving forward.”
“Is she—“ Caleb broke off with some difficulty, finding it hard to try and phrase the question he wanted to ask. Trying again, he asked, “Does she still seem so fearful of physical contact with you?”
Breathing evenly, Blake looked off into the bright distance behind the house as he weighed his answer to the question. It brought to the forefront the questions he was curious to ask Caleb in return.
Months of imagining what must have happened between Cassandra and her father was frustrating him immensely. After all this time, he still suspected the one man who knew the truth was standing directly in front of him now. The moment had finally arrived and he wanted some honest answers. Though he’d always suspected what the truth was, at this moment he wanted to hear the words spoken aloud. He wanted to know the details that had been denied him when he’d agreed to marry Cassandra in the first place.
“Caleb,” he uttered in a decidedly bitter tone, “there has not been an ounce of physical contact between Cassandra and myself since the day we took vows.” Lowering his eyes momentarily, knowing he had no legitimate reason to be angry about it, he tried to force his hostility regarding it down. Demanding to be told the entire story behind Cassandra’s numerous fears, he said, “You once told me about the abuse that Cassandra’s sister had suffered at her Anson Carrington’s hands. I am asking you as a friend to tell me how far that abuse extended toward Cass, because she will not speak about any of it herself.”
Staring at him without blinking, Caleb said, “I really don’t know how far it went.” Raising a hand to curb Blake’s immediate objection, he quickly amended, “I can only repeat what I told you the day that we took her father into custody at the Carrington mansion. What I told you that day was the God’s honest truth. I was there and I saw with my own eyes what he was capable of doing against—“
Breaking off from the conversation with a hiss aggravation, Caleb’s blue eyes darkened and he was forced to turn away from the subject of it, as always. The memory of witnessing Anson defiling one of his own daughters still sickened him to the point of nausea. The mere mention of it still caused him to wish he’s killed the man that very day.
Blake allowed Caleb a moment to compose himself, needing to regroup his own warring emotions as well. He was well aware that the odds were sadly not in Cassandra’s favor. She’d been forced to continue living under her father’s roof long after her sister had managed to escape. It was more than likely that Anson had sadistically shifted his attention to his younger daughter in the end.
Offering Caleb what solace he could, he said, “If I had to say one way or the other whether Cassandra is happy living here, I can honestly say that she seems content. Hell,” he shrugged, “I’m content as well. The problem really is that as much as I always said I could want nothing more from her than companionship,” he finally admitted, “lately I find myself wanting so much more from her than that. She does not even allow me to so much as hold her hand when we are together. Right now, the truth is that these secrets from her past are completely blocking any chance we could have at growing closer in the future. I just keep wondering if I should try and take the next step with her in pushing her to talk about what happened before she moved to live at Damon Manor, because after all this time together, we are no closer to knowing one another than we were the day we first met.”
Eyeing his friend quite suddenly, Caleb couldn’t help raising a bit of caution. “Do you really want to know what happened,” he asked rather abruptly. “Do you really think you’ll be able to deal with what she might say if such an ugly truth finally escapes her lips?”
Leveling Caleb with a deadly serious stare of assurance in that regard, he replied, “I’m a fully grown man, Caleb. I’ve seen and heard many tales of horror in my time, perhaps even more so than you.” With a shrug of defiance, he declared, “If I am not prepared right now, I never will be. Too much time has been wasted already. There has to come a point in life when you reach an impasse and ultimately it is time to try and make some decisions if you’re ever going to finally move forward. Simply ignoring the facts—no matter how lurid they may turn out to be—hasn’t done anyone a bit of good for nearly six months now.”
Blinking in reaction, realizing how much his words made sense, Caleb could only pray Blake really was as ready as he claimed to be. He knew better than anyone that once such an ugly seed of truth unearthed itself, there was no way to ever bury it again.
Blake straightened up just a little, coming to a firm decision in his mind the longer he continued to think about it. For Cassandra’s sake, as well as his, he needed to finally ask the questions that had been plaguing him since the day Caleb had first told him that she was in danger back at Damon Manor.
Reaching to pull a new bag from the storage compartment under the coach, he spoke with an air of finality as he continued on with their work. “Tomorrow I am going to be escorting my mother away to visit her relatives in London. In the meantime, Cassandra is going to be traveling back to Damon Manor to stay with you for the month.”
Caleb took the bags from him one at a time, listening quietly as he began to speculate what Blake’s intentions might be. Blake was talking more to himself than anyone else right now, almost reasoning the plan out in his mind, before actually putting his words into action.
“I think when everything quiets down in the house tonight, I am going to try and sit her down to talk about some of this. I’m not going to pressure her for answers tonight, mind you. Instead, I’m going to employ some psychology she once tried to use on me. She’ll have almost a month to sit and think about our future together while she’s away at Damon Manor. Perhaps this time it is I who will give her some productive things to think about during that time.”
Blake knew Caleb could have no knowledge of that long ago conversation he’d had with Cassandra, but he had not forgotten it. Even as he continued to work, his resolve was already steeling itself in his brain. There could be only one possible path for them to take—the same path he always seemed to choose when it came right down to it. It would be the most difficult once, of course.
“Just remember one thing,” Caleb warned. “What you are about to do may open a Pandora’s Box that you may never be able to close. Think about that very carefully before you talk to her tonight.”
In Blake’s mind the decision was already made, although he nodded as though heeding his friend’s words solemnly. But really, there was nothing more to think about. The time had come for him to take action in an effort to begin solidifying his marriage to his wife.
Once upon a time he had made Cassandra a promise that he would never make a move to touch her physically until the day she asked it of him. At the time he hadn’t thought that promise would be all too difficult to keep. The trouble was that he hadn’t anticipated it could possibly take this long to even reach the point where she could stand comfortably in his presence for more than a few minutes at a time.
Remembering that morning in the soldier’s quarters at Damon Manor when she’d asked him to spend the days of his impending trip thinking about the course of their future together, he sweetly remembered the moments that followed. That was the moment when he’d bestowed that single kiss upon her lips. It was then that he’d allowed himself to so arrogantly believe how easy it would be to possess her in both mind and body, despite all the warning signs blaring at him to the contrary. If he’d had any idea how wrong he really was that day…
But, it was time to take action to try and push them towards the future he really wanted now. Never would he allow himself to break the vow he’d spoken to her… No matter the purpose, he would not touch her until the day she asked it of him… But, perhaps it couldn’t hurt to begin bending the rules just a little. He had sworn never to push an advance on her physically, but he’d never once spoken of making an advance on her emotionally. That was an entirely different matter altogether…
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