The Sitting Room:
When they entered the spacious sitting room, Caleb was leaning against the mantle over the fireplace. He looked oblivious of the fact that the two women were now standing in the doorway awaiting his reception.
Realizing he was distracted, they glanced at each other and finally shrugged. Serena nodded, gesturing that Kyra ought to enter the room first. Trying to hide her immediate displeasure, Kyra decided it best not to push the issue. Serena was already irritated enough with this situation. She stepped into the room, followed by Serena.
They both stepped closer to the blazing fire in the hearth. While Kyra sat down on one of the small armchairs before the fire, Serena moved off to a darkened corner. She primly sat herself down on one of the straight-backed chair as though this business shouldn't have to take very long. Kyra felt the distance between them was a little too great and wanted to beckon her closer. But, she remembered what Serena had said earlier in the day. Caleb specifically asked to speak with Kyra, not Serena.
"Serena," Caleb turned to her. "When Kyra speaks, I want you to tell me what she says word for word, without comments of your own. I don't like being left in the dark. This inability to understand what is being said around me is irritating. I just want you to speak her words for her. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Lord Damon." Her voice was strong and sure. She submissively used his title rather than his name.
"Fine," he nodded. Turning away from her, he dismissed her presence from his thoughts. His attention focused on Kyra now. Very seriously, he began, "It seems, you are about to become a new resident under my roof. That means you will be living here under my care. If so, there are some rules which you must learn to abide by without question. First, there is one dictate that goes without argument. In this household, no one is welcomed to enter the garden that rests behind the Manor."
Her hands made a fluttering motion and Caleb broke off what he was saying. He turned to Serena.
Realizing she should have repeated Kyra's question, she quickly said, "Kyra wonders why the garden is closed."
Caleb grimaced as he turned back to Kyra. With a heavy sigh, he answered, "Since you will undoubtedly hear rumors of every sort floating around this manor, I will explain the reason very simply. The garden is a memorial to my deceased wife, not a recreational area for the household." His eyes were solemn as he returned his stare to the flames of the fire and recounted the old tale. "Elizabeth was a very special person to me. When we married, she was extremely young. There had been a contract signed at her birth, which is how we became acquainted. Looking back on it, I know that Elizabeth had been too young in both mind and body when we were finally forced to marry. But, her father was a very cruel man. I was trying to save her by marrying her long before she would have been ready for it.
"When she came here, she was an incredibly meek and shy person. I did everything I could to try and bring some happiness into her eyes, but nothing ever seemed to warm her to my presence. I despised the cold and frightened looks she gave me. The funny thing was, just a few short years before we married, Elizabeth was an entirely different person. We grew up together, knowing we were supposed to be married some day. But, then her mother died while I was off traveling. When I was finally able to see her again, she'd become as a stranger to me."
Caleb fell silent for just a moment. He gritted his teeth and tried to continue. Clearing his throat in effort, he said, "She just wasn't the same girl I had known." He rubbed the side of his jaw, trying to recall the events. Knowing he must guard against speaking the sordid details aloud, he finally decided to move on. Forcing the unspeakable memories from his mind, he continued, "We were married about four years. And, in all that time, Elizabeth never asked a single favor of me. I don't even know what brought it to her mind, but, one night when I returned home from working, she asked me for a simple favor that I could not deny.
"She asked me grant her a small area in the back yard to build a flower garden. I wanted to bring a light of love into her eyes. I was beside myself to give her anything she asked for if she would look at me just once in happiness, instead of sadness. You see, unlike it was in our youth, never during our marriage did she bestow so much as smile on me. So, I thought to myself, if a flower garden would make her happy, then she would have one. I took her on a trip the following week and tried to keep it all a surprise for her.
"And, the look on her face when we returned? When she took her first look at what I'd created for her to enjoy... It was an absolutely incredible thing. To this day I still cannot believe the excitement I saw in her eyes over such a simple thing as building that garden for her. "
Kyra smiled as she listened to his story. She could only imagine the reaction Elizabeth must have had that Caleb was trying to describe. The garden was an amazing sight, of that there was no doubt. The far off look of pleasure on Caleb's face was probably a good representation of just how happy he'd been as well when he'd bestowed his wife with his gift.
"But, then..." His voice trailed away as his expression of peaceful remembrance turned grim.
He turned and walked slowly away to remove a decanter of dark rum from a nearby shelf. Pouring a double shot into a crystal glass, he swallowed half the contents in one gulp. He held his breath for a moment as the fiery liquid scorched his insides. A moment later, he walked back to the mantle and slid the glass on top.
Shifting his eyes back to Kyra, the look he saw on her face was one of deep sadness. He imagined she might have guessed some of the rest. The look in her eyes and the nod of encouragement she sent helped strengthen him. It gave him the will to continue speaking.
"A few hours after we returned home..." he spoke almost in a whisper, "Elizabeth was sitting there looking so happy... But something happened so unexpectedly that none of us were prepared for it. Elizabeth collapsed gripping her stomach, screaming in agony. There was absolutely nothing that anyone was able to do for her." Breathing deeply, he explained, "In London, she had taken a small fall down a flight of stairs. It had seemed like nothing really," he shrugged. "It had been just a few steps that left her a little sore, with a tiny bruise on her forehead. Other than that, she seemed fine. I was told later on that she must have taken on an internal injury because of the fall. They said it must have been building within her. I hadn't seen any signs of it, but..."
To this day, Caleb couldn't fully agree with the doctor's reasoning. Elizabeth should have been feverish or in pain, shouldn't she? But, what other explanation could there be for her sudden death?
The doctor had explained that there weren't always symptoms in these cases. A person could appear perfectly healthy for a day or two as the pressure slowly built, ultimately exploding inside. That's what the doctor assumed must have happened to her.
"Did she..." Serena was unable to finish Kyra's question.
Caleb was brought back to the present. When he looked at Kyra he saw tears brimming in her eyes. In that moment, he felt a strange bond growing between them. The fact that she was sensitive enough to feel such anguish for a virtual stranger said a great deal about her character. It was a virtue to be admired, at least in his eyes.
He nodded in answer of the unfinished question. It still stole his breath away when he thought about that day.
'At least she was able to see your surprise, before she passed on,' Kyra signed. His face brightened slightly as Serena interpreted what she'd said.
"You are right at that," he commented. He allowed himself a minute to breathe and clear his thoughts before speaking to her again. "Now that I hope we've cleared the air a little, at this point I'd like to talk about your position here at Damon Manor."
"Then you will allow me to stay," she interrupted, waiting breathlessly for Serena to translate.
"Did you think I would say no," he asked indignantly.
She shrugged in reply.
Caleb took her answer in silence. He wondered why she might think he would reject her. His mind wandered to their first meeting. Did she still hold such a low opinion of him that she believed he would dismiss an orphaned girl from his home over a misunderstanding?
She signed another question, but Serena interrupted, "Of course he doesn't expect you to'"
He raised a hand to silence Serena. With measured irritation, he asked, "What did she say?"
Serena turned away from his eyes and answered, "She wants to know what she will be required to do about payment for her room."
"Do?" His brow furled in confusion. He turned questioning eyes on Kyra.
"Obviously, I will have to do something to earn my keep if I am to remain here," Kyra remarked. "I don't know if I'll be able to afford to pay for the room I'm staying in right now, but'" Serena's voice broke off in exasperation. She was about to argue against the ridiculousness of Kyra's assumptions when Caleb sliced a hand through the air to silence her.
"Wait a moment," he nearly shouted. "Believe me, I have more than enough servants to run a building twice this size. As for your money, that is the last thing I need. You are here as my guest at the request of Serena's father."
"Then how will I be expected to pay you for'"
"You won't!" His voice was filled with frustration. Raking a hand through his hair, he argued, "You offend me, Kyra. One moment you think I am so heartless that I would turn you out onto the streets. Now you imply that I would make my ward pay for her residence here? On the contrary, you will live here as my guest, not my servant. As far as I am concerned, you are now family to me. I would not demand that Serena pay for her board, and neither will I demand that from you. I accepted Sherman's request to let you live here and watch over you because I owe him a favor. I could not then turn around and have you to work for me. That would be deceitful.
"Now," he softened his tone, "the hour grows late and I have duties that demand my attention early in the morn. Besides which, I daresay that you've had quite a long day as it is. Retire to your rooms ladies," he commanded, at last including Serena. "The rest of this can wait until another time."
Kyra stood up on legs that were stiff from sitting so long. She nodded goodnight to Caleb and curtsied politely. With a slight feeling of disappointment that the night was ending so soon, she followed Serena out of the room.
Out in the hall, she wondered why she should feel that way. It was probably just the remains of the depressed state she'd been in as Caleb recounted his tale.
No' She had to admit to herself that she would have liked to stay to speak with him a little longer. Somehow, knowing what he'd done for the love of his wife made him seem less of a monster. Knowing that the man was capable of love reassured her that he was indeed human. Not that she trusted him, exactly...
"My, but he can be overbearing," Serena complained when they were out of earshot.
"Oh, I don't know," Kyra remarked. Knowing the reason for Serena's distress, Kyra said, "I think he just has so much responsibility and orders his men about so often that he forgets how to politely ask for things. I believe he wasn't intentionally trying to be rude to you."
"Well, I do not have to understand or accept his treatment of me in there. I felt like nothing more than a bug to him. After all, Father holds a position similar to his... Granted it is on a much smaller estate than this, but he still finds the courtesy to ask things from me with a simple please and thank you."
"Yes, but Sherman also has a much less difficult job than the Marquess. Your father's only responsibility is to collect the taxes for the King and see that his minions make improvements on the land when necessary."
They were standing just outside of the room arguing like children. Jacob caught them in the act, only hearing Serena's portion of the conversation.
Serena gasped, "How dare you insult Father like that!"
"It wasn't meant as an insult," Kyra replied, wounded now. "I was only stating the obvious. Sherman does not hold half as much obligation as Lord Damon."
Serena shook her head incredulously. "After all he has done for you over the years, you dare belittle his title?"
"That is not what I said,' she signed. Tears stung her eyes and she retorted, "Sometimes you can be so frightful. You use words as weapons and turn around everything I say. You know I would never speak ill of your family."
Serena at once felt guilty for losing her temper. She knew the reason for her bad mood was because of Caleb and not Kyra. But, she had already gone too far.
Kyra saw Jacob standing in the distance and humiliation washed through her. Unable to greet him with her face so flustered, she turned and ran away without another word to Serena. She was ashamed for arguing so publicly with Serena. It was unladylike to behave so vile.
But you aren't a real lady, her mind argued. And, that was true enough. She wasn't a real lady. She only pretended to be one in order to hide the fact that she had no real identity of her own and no memory of her past.
It occurred to her at times that a baron's opinion was something to give thought to. If Baron Tyler didn't like her, then the fault must lie with her. His opinion must count for a great deal or people would not hold royalty in such high regard. Now an odd little voice in the back of her mind began to chime in with a new thought. Caleb didn't appear to dislike her. If his title of Marquess was even higher than that of Baron, what did that mean?
Kyra suddenly felt very confused. All of her thoughts were so jumbled together'
Serena watched Kyra run away. She wanted to go after her, but pride stopped her. Deep down she refused to believe she was wrong. Kyra shouldn't have spoken so disrespectfully of her father, and that was that.
A tap on her shoulder made her jump. It occurred to her quite suddenly that Caleb might have heard every word of what she'd said. Trying to remember exactly what she had said out loud, she turned around warily. Seeing Jacob's face, she let out a sigh of relief. Then she saw the amused expression in his eyes and realized he was enjoying the fright he'd given her. He knew exactly whom she'd expected to see...
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