Outside The Dining Room:
Downstairs, in the entrance hall, Jacob was entering through the front door just as Serena was descending the last step of the staircase. Jacob realized it was unavoidable. If he walked back out now, she would be rather offended, not to mention suspicious. He didn't want that.
After spending a fitful night in sleep, he had decided it would be best to create some space between them, but he didn't want to do it so abruptly that she might be hurt. Of course, he also couldn't avoid their meeting forever. He'd been able to eat the morning meal in his room, but if he continued avoiding the dining room Caleb was going to ask why. He had no desire to speak with his brother about this.
The moment of indecision was shattered as Serena stepped closer. Unable to think of anything better, he simply smiled down at her, trying to appear as though he had something important on his mind. He was glancing around the room, squinting his eyes as though trying to solve some complex problem. He reached up to stroke his jaw, wondering what more he could do to look busy without letting on that he was purposely avoiding her.
Greeted with so little enthusiasm, Serena stood quietly for an awkward moment before realizing she should leave him be. She saw that he was rather distracted. With a curious stare, she greeted, "Good morning, Jacob."
"Hmm," he replied. "Oh, uh, good morning Serena. Please forgive me, I have a lot on my mind today."
Seeing that was true, she sent him a sideways glance as she turned to enter the dining room. He made no move to join her as she entered the dining hall. When she had seated herself beside Kyra she watched him walk to the other side of the table. He sat across from her, hidden behind a large pitcher filled with water. Unable to see his face, Serena immediately felt a loss of kinship with him.
For an instant, she felt the urge to peer around the vessel to see if he looked a little less preoccupied yet. She would have to stretch quite a ways to do so though. It would look a little curious to Kyra and she didn't want to explain herself. As she sat waiting for the meal to start, she couldn't help wishing he would pour himself a glass of water. If he moved the pitcher, maybe she could goad him into beginning one of his teasing remarks or delightful speeches of yesterday. It appeared he was not thirsty, however.
Kyra was quick to notice Serena's lack of humor. Thinking she was still concerned with their fight the night before, she sought to apologize and end their hostility. She didn't want such a silly argument to spoil the rest of Serena's trip.
"Talk to me," she motioned at last, her face filled with remorse. Serena was slow to turn and face her.
"I'm sorry," Serena replied, trying to shake off her troubled mood for Kyra's sake. "What did you say?"
Frowning deeply, Kyra said, "I am very sorry for my words last night. I don't want you to be unhappy today, so please accept my apology. We have so little time together now."
Seeing the sincerity on Kyra's face, she realized how worried Kyra still was over their argument. She waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. Shaking her head pointedly, she assured Kyra, "I really have not thought about it since. Let's just enjoy this meal and forget that ever happened."
Serena was aware of how Kyra's words reminded her of what Jacob had said in the game room. She only had a few days left to spend with her. They were going to part on bad terms if she didn't find a way to get past this bitterness. The thought was very distressing to her. They might never see each other again once she returned to Tyler Hall. It was a very sobering thought. She knew she couldn't let that happen. Besides, it had been such a meaningless argument, just as Jacob had said. For the first time, Serena was able to see that Kyra was not the person she was really mad at.
Through all these years, refusing to admit her true anger had only made things worse. Unable to place the blame where it rightly belonged had caused a lot of the bitterness towards Kyra. Serena had only begun to admit that as she tried to find sleep last night.
It wasn't Kyra or her mother who should be held responsible for the anger she felt. If there was ever going to be any peace in her life, she must try and learn not to dwell on her mother's love for Kyra as a bad thing. She would always regret not being able to spend as much time with her mother as Kyra had, but it was not really Kyra's fault. She couldn't continue blaming Kyra for it, now that she had been forced to see the truth.
But she wasn't ready to name him' Though she had come to realize where the blame should be placed, she just couldn't allow herself to say it. He was all she had left. He was'
The room began to stir, breaking Serena away from the misery of her own thoughts. Looking across the room, she saw Caleb walking through the doorway. Cheerful calls of good afternoon came from the other residents who sat waiting. Caleb gave them no notice as he walked to the table and sat down without a word of greeting to anyone. Instead, he immediately turned his attention to Kyra. As the silence among them became overbearing, a servant scurried over to the table carrying a tray of food. Everyone except Caleb sighed grateful for the distraction.
Throughout the meal Kyra felt Caleb's eyes watching her like an ant under a magnifying glass. It was very unnerving. Though she tried to ignore him, every now and then she couldn't help looking up to find him still staring at her. He never flinched once. She was forced to avert her eyes every time. It was clear to see he was very upset with her. She admitted to herself that he had every right to be angry. Her actions had been unforgivable. She just wished he wouldn't display his hostility in view of the others this way. That bothered her more than Caleb's anger alone.
The atmosphere was stiff with silence, making it difficult to ignore him. Jacob and Serena were both aware of Caleb's mood, though neither knew the reason for it. They both continued to eat without appearing to notice him.
Caleb was unable to take his eyes from Kyra. In such a foul state, he had no appetite at all. Even when the servants busied themselves by placing food on his plate, he never turned away from the object of his ire. He watched her look up at him once or twice and knew she was nervous. It was obvious she had been dreading their meeting today. He surmised that was why she had been absent during the morning meal. It irritated him all the more to know she had been avoiding him.
He had been looking forward to the meal this morning. He had hoped she might be able to clear up some of the questions he had about her.
After leaving the library to find Jacob earlier he had been in a better mood, especially after talking with Jacob about Blake. They had discussed the impending arrival and Caleb left the room feeling better able to deal with Kyra. When Jacob mentioned he would rather eat in his room, Caleb reasoned it would be a good time to talk with Kyra about the night before. No one would have been present except Serena and a few of the manor residents. He could have spoken freely without fear of embarrassing her. But she hadn't shown up for the meal. Instead, he was greeted by silence from Serena. It was obvious she was still angry about their confrontation over Jacob. She said nothing to him at all through breakfast and he asked nothing from her. He refused to speak with her behind Kyra's back. He preferred her to be in the room to hear him in person. His father had always taught him to deal with people up front. Fewer rumors were begun that way.
So, while he sat there in silence, his mind had buzzed with explanations for her absence. Kyra might still be exhausted, he'd thought reasonably. She might also be ill. But, it wasn't so. Sitting beside her now he knew the exact reason for her absence. She had been hiding then, just as she was continuing to hide behind her feigned wall of silence now. It irked him and he couldn't help but grow even more suspicious. She must have something to hide.
"Excuse me, My Lord," a young maid approached cautiously. It was apparent to everyone including the servant that they should tread lightly in the room. Caleb broke out of his thoughts and looked up at her. Whispering softly, she begged, "Pray forgive my intrusion, but Lady Carrington has just arrived with an escort."
"Has she?" That startled him out of his momentary fixation on Kyra. With a mixture of surprise and amusement, he asked, "What has her father sent her for this time?"
The maid smiled knowing the reason for the Marquess' humor. Everyone in the manor was aware of his plight.
For years now, Caleb's former father-in-law had been sending Cassandra to visit. She was Elizabeth's younger sister, now an only child to her father, Anson Carrington. Whether in good taste or not, Anson seemed determined to marry off a second daughter to him.
When Cassandra's visits first began, Anson's meddling had troubled Caleb. It seemed a mockery to Elizabeth's memory. He had no wish to replace his wife so quickly, nor would he entertain the thought of doing so with her sister. In time, however, Caleb began to find the man's spunk amusing.
Once a month, every month, Anson would send Cassandra to visit him using whatever excuse he could dream up. It was almost becoming a challenge to predict what reason the old man would conjure up next to send Cassandra for a visit.
"Very well," Caleb finally nodded. "I suspect she will be with us for a few days so show her to her usual room. Tell her I will speak with her in the study when the noontime meal has ended.
"Aye, My Lord," the servant spoke obediently and bowed herself away from the table.
Jacob sat quietly in his chair, concentrating on his meal. He listened to the exchange, forcing himself to relax. Though he had been looking for an excuse to take his mind off of Serena, he wished for any excuse but this. Had it been a month already, he wondered in anger. Throwing on his usual mask of humor, he sat forward and waited for the maid to leave the table.
"So," Jacob began sarcastically. "Old Man Carrington has decided to renew your friendship with his daughter once more, eh?" As he often did, Jacob managed to hide his growing misery beneath a careless remark.
"Looks that way," Caleb concurred.
"What do you suppose the excuse will be this time? She's just about used every imaginable one already. You would think the man might give up by now."
"I am almost glad he hasn't given up. I'm pleased she has an excuse to leave his dreary house from time to time. And, it's just as well that she has come now. At least she won't have to spend her days toiling away in her room as she normally does, since we'll be having the party tomorrow."
"Party?" Serena's ears picked up. "There is going to be a party tomorrow?"
"Of course," Jacob answered with true pleasure. "What else is to be expected when one of Caleb's dearest friends comes for a visit?"
"What friend do you speak of, Jacob?" Happy to have an excuse to speak with him, she peered around the pitcher as she spoke.
"Blake Ryder, son of the Earl of Westmoore. He is a man of legendary talents, known greatly for his ability to jump headlong into trouble before an hour passes."
The two men laughed and Serena smiled politely though she had no idea what the joke was about. Meanwhile, Kyra sat quietly wondering how she would deal with this unexpected turn of events.
"Oh my," Serena squealed excitedly. "How absolutely fantastic! I'll have to pick a dress from my wardrobe immediately. Oh, what shall I do with my hair! Shall I wear it in a coronet around'"
Kyra's head began to pound mercilessly. Whenever Serena was really excited about something, the words 'oh' and 'shall' appeared quite frequently in her sentences. Perhaps it was only meant as a way to express her excitement, but right now Serena's words were adding to a throbbing headache.
What did it matter which dress Serena picked out? She had a closet filled with twenty'if not more'luxurious dresses. And why on earth should she care how she wore her hair? A servant would be the one to fix it for her!
It seemed so ridiculous, because Kyra had absolutely nothing to wear for such a formal occasion. No doubt there would be a great number of people there, all of high nobility of course...
It would be impossible for her to find a suitable dress by tomorrow. She realized that there was the money she had been saving, but she hated to spend it for any reason. Thinking back to Caleb's valuables that lay smashed on her bedchamber floor, she wondered if she could possibly have enough to pay for their replacements. Bowing her head for a moment, she knew it might instead be enough to pay for some fabric to make a dress. In the back of her mind she was debating whether having a new dress was really that important.
Nodding her head to Serena, she stood abruptly and excused herself from the table. She wasn't much in the mood for dining any longer. She needed to be alone to think.
Caleb was not oblivious to Kyra's sudden departure, nor did her sudden stillness slip past him when they spoke of the social gathering tomorrow. Perhaps she was worried about the role she would carry as his ward. There was really nothing for her to fear. She merely need be at his side as they greeted the new guests.
He decided he should speak with her after he finished with Cassandra. He would be sure to relieve her anxiety so she might not worry herself to a frazzle. Women could be so overly concerned about these things.
Serena was a little more at ease now that Jacob was speaking with her again. She quickly forgot their awkward moments earlier. Peering around the pitcher between them, she asked, "Will there be dancing? I must know what type of dress to wear. If there are going to be activities I shall be sure to wear something light. I can't believe something so exciting is going to happen while I'm here. How many people will be there?'
Jacob couldn't help but smile at her frenzy of questions. Her excitement pulled him out of his unpleasant mood. Forgetting his resolution to force space between them, he moved the pitcher out from between them and sat forward.
"You're quite pleased about the event I take it," he commented with a smile.
Blushing as she realized she was getting carried away, she turned away from him self-consciously. Though she felt a little silly for acting so impetuous, she knew he was teasing her again. That made her smile.
"I've always loved social events," she sighed. "I feel like a girl again when there is music in the air. My mother used to dance with me when my father had parties. I can't help feeling so happy when I remember those times. Music brings it all back."
Hearing her speak of dancing with her mother reminded him of a time when he had danced with his own. He nodded in reflection of the memory. Some things would always remain special to him. The thought of his own mother laughing as she danced with him was something he would never want to forget either.
"Sometimes the simplest pleasures can come from the strangest places," he agreed soberly. "It's hard to bring back such memories of things after they've been gone a while."
Serena stared at him softly. She was stunned to hear him share something so personal with her. Her heart stopped beating for a fleeting moment when he spoke of his mother. She hadn't known men treasured things like that. Did he miss his mother then? The thought surprised her a little, but she wasn't sure why. It just seemed that men never admitted to enjoying or loving their mothers in childhood. Typical men held their fathers in high regard, not their mothers. She was pleased to see that Jacob was not a typical man.
"Well," he declared with a smile, "If music will bring it back to you, then prepare to enjoy yourself tomorrow. Caleb was mentioning a fabulous string of musicians who live just outside of the keep. I assume they will be playing with honors tomorrow. Isn't that so, Caleb?"
Glancing up at his brother, Caleb did not follow. He had been lost in thought and wasn't listening to their conversation. "Mmm' Sure, Jacob." Standing abruptly, he said, "I've got some pressing matters to deal with. I've sat here long enough."
Both Serena and Jacob shrugged at his lack of enthusiasm. He was never able to relax for long and they knew it. There was no telling what his mind was working on next.
"Oh," Caleb stopped. Giving a second thought to them sitting in the room by themselves, he said, "Jacob, the men could use you down in the fields right now. They're in need of some guidance and I have some other things to do before I can go down there. Please see to that for me?"
Jacob looked over at him in shock. "You want me to take over for you with your men?" Never in all of his life had Caleb asked him to do that. Not for life or death would Caleb leave his duties unattended. Though the field workers were only preparing the grounds for the soldier's training this week, Jacob was in awe of the fact that Caleb would allow him to watch over them. Patching the ground was not tedious work, but still'
Caleb knew that would grab his attention. He needn't worry about this situation with Serena. If he offered Jacob a little more responsibility around the manor this week, that would keep him thoroughly occupied. For years Jacob had been begging Caleb to let him take over some of the chores around the place. Knowing how important it was for Jacob to show his ability to lead, Caleb knew he would jump at the chance. The field workers could practically lead themselves, so he wasn't worried about letting Jacob take charge.
Nodding, he said, "I know you are capable. Prove me right." Turning to leave, he wondered if Jacob would. He decided to let fate runs its course. If he failed, what harm could be done. There was plenty of time remaining before the soldiers would return from their spring leave. He could always return the field workers out for another day if anything unpredictable happened.
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