Outside The Sitting Room:
He saw a real spark of anger in Serena's eyes then. Though her fight had been with Kyra, he got the impression her anger was now directed at him. From the tone of that look, he wondered if this was a bad time to approach her. He was a little disappointed to know she was not in a good mood.
Jacob's sudden frown disturbed her. She realized he might be put off by her flustered appearance. In an attempt to hide her anger, she shifted her eyes to the floor.
His head flicked in the direction Kyra had run. Unable to help himself, he asked, "What was that about?"
Serena shrugged and answered, "She insulted my father and I defended him. That was all."
Gently guiding her by the arm, he led her away from the sitting room. As he thought over her remark, his frown deepened. "Somehow," he said, "I cannot imagine Kyra insulting anyone, even unwittingly. What was it she said?"
So he didn't believe her? The thought angered her and she grew defensive. "She was mocking his title and position."
"How," he wondered curiously.
"She'" That brought her up short. Serena broke off when she was unable to remember any particularly insulting things Kyra had said. She didn't want to lie about it. Eventually, she released a harsh breath and whined, "I cannot remember what she said!"
The pout on her face as she crossed her arms made him smile again. Amused now, Jacob reasoned, "I guess she might not have been all that insulting then."
It was true. She knew he was right, though she hated to admit it. Feeling even more ashamed of herself for yelling at Kyra, she turned away to watch the wall as they walked.
"It seems to me," Jacob suggested, "that you two do not get along very well."
"We do our best," Serena replied. She cast her eyes to the floor now. It was difficult for her to talk about this, especially with someone she barely knew. "I suppose we have no choice. After all, Kyra and I have no one else left."
"You have your father," he frowned, "and a fianc'."
She shrugged. "My father and I have not always been close. I mean, we love each other, but the tight bond that we should share as a family has not always been there. We hardly talk, except where Andrew is concerned."
"That's too bad," he sighed. As they entered the gaming room, he gestured to a table in the far corner of the room. "Do you know how to play," he asked, eyeing the board game that rested atop the table.
She nodded. "One of our servants at Tyler Hall is famous for playing this game. He taught me how to play a long time ago."
Jacob nodded pleasantly and pulled a seat out for her. Returning to the topic of conversation, he asked, "Why doesn't it bring you closer to Kyra? Feeling alone should draw you together. But, you were very stern with her a moment ago for insulting your father, yet you cannot remember the reasons for it. That sounds a little less than friendly. "
"I love Kyra very much," she corrected him mildly. "I don't expect you to understand our lives. Even I can't make sense of my feelings sometimes, but a lot of things have happened over the years. Time only makes the wounds grow deeper, because we never really discuss what bothers us. Well, I don't at least. I try not to let it bother me."
"Why? What makes you so angry," he asked gently. "I can see it in your face, even now. I know Caleb and I fight often, but I would like to think that we will always find a way to work things out. I would never hold a problem back from him unless I think it might hurt him in the end."
"Not us," she shook her head in denial. "We rarely talk about anything that matters. I suppose Kyra might not even know that I feel this way."
Jacob listened to her carefully as he set up the game board. He couldn't imagine what would upset Serena so much. To him, she seemed to have an ideal home life. Though she had lost her mother, he sensed these problems ran deeper than that. She almost sounded bitter about something.
At last the game was set. He had finished setting up the board and made his first move. She countered it the way she had been taught to.
"Very good," he complimented, and then he responded cautiously, "If you'll forgive me for saying so, it seems to me that Kyra does try to get along. When you were speaking earlier, her face remained quite passive while your voice kept growing louder. It seemed you were almost forcing the confrontation."
"I cannot help that," she explained as her face grew red. "I just get so furious with her at times. Kyra can get so clingy. She always gets the attention and the concern. Everyone always pushes me to help her."
"Do they," he questioned and positioned another piece.
"Yes," she flared. "Look at how your brother carelessly ordered me to act as their go-between. He had no concern for my desires. He never asked my permission to join or help them. He just ordered me to go as though I was expected to play the part of Kyra's guardian. You should have heard the way he spoke to me in that room! I felt so out of place. Even now, just speaking about it gets me riled."
Jacob shook his head and explained, "Caleb meant no disrespect to you, Serena. He has always overlooked proper etiquette when he wants something. There is little to be gained from getting upset about it."
Serena had known he wouldn't understand. Unable to hold back her anger, she flared, "It isn't just that scene in the sitting room. I have always been put second where she is concerned. My feelings have never counted for much. My mother always let her needs come first in our lives. Father saw that too, and I know he despised it as well."
With a thoughtful look, he eyed her curiously. "If you really feel so angry about it, then why did you come here with her?" His look was sincere interest.
"What?" She asked and fell silent. Annoyed with the whole topic of discussion, Serena answered, "That is ridiculous. I came because she needed my help adjusting. She cannot manage things alone. At least not right off..."
"I see. The favor she asked from you, coming here with her I mean, seemed necessary. So, you offered to give her some time and attention?"
She nodded hesitantly, wondering where this would lead.
"Why then, don't you seem to understand others also give her added attention because she needs it? They don't give her the attention to spite you." He smiled at his own deductive reasoning.
"I don't think anyone is trying to spite me," her voice was slightly insulted. "I never said that."
"Then why are you so jealous of her," he asked.
"I'm not!" She jumped up from the table. Before she thought better of it, she pushed back her chair and walked to the door.
"Hey," he protested and stood up to follow. He hadn't meant to anger her so much. Seeing she intended to leave, he remarked, "It's your move."
"I forfeit the game," she called back to him. Opening the door stiffly, she shouted, "You win!"
"No," he pushed the door shut. A silence penetrated the air as they stood there.
Serena turned around slowly. She was angry at his words, but stunned by his brazen move. She met his eyes and realized he had grown serious. His eyes were no longer smiling.
Angry that she would give up so easily, he remarked, "It's cheating to walk away like that."
She wondered foolishly if he was still talking about their board game. Or did he mean the conversation they'd been having? That was ridiculous. Why would he care if she walked away from his words? "It doesn't matter," she replied quietly. "You won."
He shook his head slowly. "No," his look was sad, "but I think that you lost. And, if you keep heading in this direction, I don't think you will ever be able to regain the friendship you are going to lose once you leave here."
So, he was speaking about Kyra and not the game. Why did he care so much? Why was he so persistent?
"You have no idea what it has been like. You didn't grow up in that house," she cried in defense. How could she make him end this conversation? It hurt so much to speak about the past and her mother. But, Jacob just wouldn't let up!
Leaning back against the door jam, she closed her eyes. All of the hateful memories were flooding her mind. Had her father really thought none of it had mattered to her?
"When I was very young," she whispered quietly, "my mother and I were very close. We did everything together. No one could separate the two of us. Then, one day, my father hired a nanny to take care of me. After that, my mother was never around. It seemed as though she was glad to be rid of the burden I had become. For a long time I was able to accept it. I thought that when I grew older the nanny would go away. I thought Mother and I would grow close again." She closed her eyes again, remembering the night of the great storm. "It took my throwing a foolish tantrum to get any attention at all!"
Jacob watched the hurt in her eyes as she spoke. Oddly he found himself almost wanting to apologize for having such loving parents in his childhood. He knew he couldn't though. Instead, he listened to her words giving sympathy when he could.
Spying a loose tendril of hair at the nape of her neck, he twisted it in his fingers unconsciously. Reverently, he pushed it gently away from her face.
"I know it shouldn't matter now," she cried softly. "It just seemed that when Kyra arrived, she had all of Mother's attention. There were no nannies chasing her around, only Mother... You can't understand how it felt to be left alone while a stranger moved in and stole the one thing you craved most. I just wanted to spend time with her."
"Serena," he spoke softly. She refused to look up until he reached out a gentle hand and tilted her chin up slowly, "I know it must be hard to understand, but think about it. I can't imagine any nanny being able to do as much for Kyra as your mother could. My God," he added in amazement, "I can't even imagine how much work it was for your mother to try and help a girl with Kyra's problems. And," he added in an effort to comfort, "Do you realize how many other children in the world have nannies? I did."
She turned her head away tearfully. In the back of her mind, she knew there had been more to hiring a nanny than just having a helping hand, and she still felt bitter over it. Nothing Jacob said would change that, but at least it relieved her somewhat to have a voice of reason listening to her. With sad eyes, she looked back up at him wondering if he thought she was ridiculous for feeling so jealous of Kyra. It would hurt to know that he did.
Searching his eyes, she asked, "Do you think I'm being petty?" She looked away afraid to see his mocking eyes. If they were mocking'
"I think you are beautiful," He replied distractedly. His eyes were tracing the curves of her face, taking in every detail. When they reached her amazed eyes, he realized that he had spoken his thoughts aloud. His face flushed to a bright red, but he kept his eyes locked with hers.
It was a dangerous game to be speaking these thoughts aloud. To be looking at her this way... She was already pledged to marry another man. It was sheer lunacy to speak such words to her, but her eyes questioned his. She looked so uncertain. It bothered him that she didn't really believe him. She thought he was teasing her again.
The fingers at her neck moved up to caress her face. He lightly traced the soft plane of her cheek, enjoying the warm satiny feel of her skin.
"Your face," he breathed, "is soft and smooth. Your eyes," his thumb followed one brow adoringly, "are so pale blue. They remind me of the sky on a soft summer day. But, your lips," his words trailed off and he could only shake his head in answer. One finger caressed the skin tenderly.
Did he have any idea what this was doing to her? She felt her heart race each time he touched her, every time he breathed such words. She found herself staring at his mouth as he touched the sensitive curve of her lips, wondering what it would be like if he kissed her.
He saw where her eyes were focused. If he was less of a man, he might give in to this temptation and kiss her just once. Standing against the door, it was doubtful they could be discovered. But no... He couldn't be the one who would teach her these things. That undeniable honor belonged to the man who would make her his bride. She would hate him if he robbed her of that. Andrew would likely end their engagement if he ever learned she had been kissed by another man.
Pulling back carefully, afraid to startle her, he took her hand and brought her back to the table. After seating her in the chair, he pushed her forward. He walked around to his own seat and returned to the game they'd been playing.
Serena's thoughts were hazy. She couldn't believe what just happened. If he had lowered his head, would she have let him kiss her? Would she have let him do more? She was thankful, yet disappointed that he had come to his senses. It was impossible to believe she had almost lost every ounce of common sense her parents had instilled in her throughout her life. Andrew Brady would never tolerate such a scandal if they were discovered. Her family would become a disgrace and her father's rage would be boundless. She realized Jacob was right to pull away from her.
Taking a deep breath, he smiled innocently, "It's your move."
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