Later that afternoon, Cassandra was dressing for dinner before a tall mirror in her room. She had chosen a dark forest green gown that matched her solemn mood tonight. As she pulled the top up to cover her shoulders, she carefully checked to make certain it hid the faded bruise on her chest.
Frowning at the ugly mark on her skin, she fingered it lightly wondering what Caleb would do if he saw it. She shuddered to think it. She knew exactly how he would react. She had witnessed that rage once years ago, and it frightened her terribly to think he might ever grow so violent again.
As she fastened the hooks on the dress, Cassandra couldn't help but remember how she'd always wondered why Elizabeth didn't tell Caleb about their father. The memory of those terrifying days always made her shiver. She couldn't begin to count the times she sat crying, begging Elizabeth to write Caleb. She had been so certain he could end their nightmare. How many nights had she sat crouched in a closet, listening to Elizabeth screaming? It was unimaginable'
She had always believed that somehow Caleb would find out and he would take them both away from it all. Then that day had come. He did find out' He had taken Elizabeth away, and his immediate fury towards Anson had been ungodly! But in the midst of it all, she was left behind. She had been left alone to face Anson's anger without anyone left to protect her. Elizabeth had fled the house in Caleb's protective arms and Cassandra stood in the second story window, cheering the rescue, yet dreading what it meant. She'd been crying and laughing all at the same time.
Tears of frustration and hurt welled up in her now as she fought against the memory of it. She knew she couldn't blame Elizabeth for leaving. Had she been given the opportunity, she would have left their home too. Sometimes Cassandra found herself cursing Elizabeth for running away, but she quickly retracted that anger, praying for forgiveness in her mind. It would do no good to let her emotions overtake her.
And, she would never blame Caleb either. He had been so kind to offer her what refuge he could. There was just nothing more he could do for her at the time. She was legally bound to reside with her father. Caleb could do nothing to change that fact unless he married her, and he was not willing to do that.
Even so, she couldn't begin to thank him enough for all the trouble he went through each month. Just a week or two away from her father each month did so much to help her remain sane. She whispered her gratitude silently and prayed each time that her visit might last a little longer than the previous one. She always dreaded the thought of returning home again.
As she attempted to fasten the last of the hooks at the back of her neck, she grimaced at the tight fit of the material. It was the softest fabric she could find to wear, but it still put an uncomfortable pressure on the sensitive skin of the bruise. Her mind fought against the urge to break down before Caleb and tell him everything.
Would he marry her just as quickly as he had Elizabeth in order to get her out of Anson's home? Could she even allow him do that? In the end, the answer was obvious. She couldn't force him into such a situation. It just wouldn't be right'
When he spoke of Elizabeth during their private moments together, it was so obvious how unhappy they'd been in marriage. Forced into marrying a girl with such a horrendous background had been a great burden on their relationship. It overshadowed every part of their lives. Caleb once remarked that Elizabeth rarely smiled at him during their marriage. The thought seemed to make him so unhappy. Cassandra knew life with her would be the same as it had been with Elizabeth. Though she managed to hide her misery better than Elizabeth could, she would end up making Caleb just as miserable in the end. She had the same fears and terrors against men that Elizabeth had. Caleb would not be able to outlive it. He needed a woman who could offer him affection and closeness. He rarely spoke of such things to her, but she could hear how much that part his life with Elizabeth had lacked.
Once when Caleb had been drinking a bit too much brandy, he'd allowed her to join him out on the terrace within the garden he'd built. He'd been in one of those moods of reminisce and was speaking lazily about his picture of the ideal woman. It had been humorous to hear the great Marquess talking about such things. Yet, he'd been quite at ease and spoke freely of his feelings. And, more than likely, she knew it was the liquor talking.
"Have you ever wished you could take back your life and do things differently,' he asked her reverently. "Sometimes I wonder if I could, would it make things any better. Would I make the same mistakes over again?"
Cassandra stood a few feet away from him. The early evening shadows began casting the garden in an eerie light. His odd mood caught her curiosity, but she was growing a bit nervous about being out so late with him. She knew better than to push fate and remain alone in a man's company for too long, especially if that man was drinking. But, the doors were opened, so she stood close by listening to Caleb talk. She began to feel sorry for him. The way he stood as he talked seemed so distant and sad.
"I guess some of us are just fated for other things I suppose," she remarked lightly. "Perhaps it is the future you should be concerned about, not the past. There is little one can do to change what has happened."
"Ah," he raised a curious brow and pointed a finger in the air. "You are right that this is a pointless thought, but it still angers me to think I was never able to make Elizabeth happy. Ever..." he stressed and shook his head. Shrugging, he shook his head again. "I don't even know why it bothers me so much. She just used to look at me like I was a'" He couldn't finish the thought. He hesitated for an endless minute and stood watching the colors of night rise in the sky. He raised the hand that held the brandy and took a swallow before saying, "She looked at me like I was your father sometimes, I think, and she didn't even know I knew that. But, I could see it in her eyes. Every single time I held her, she'd shiver and I knew she didn't want me to touch her. But, God I wanted to hold her sometimes! And I thought if I held her long enough and often enough that she would grow to want that too..." He laughed miserably as he said, "She never wanted it though. Not ever... But you can't go back and change any of it, can you?"
Frowning in the mirror at herself, Cassandra wished she could forget that conversation with Caleb. She knew he was no different than the rest of the people in the world. He craved love and affection as much as anyone, though he would never admit that if he was sober. And she could offer him nothing in return. There was little hope of her ever allowing a man near enough to touch her any more than Elizabeth could, and she understood the reasons for it all too well. The fears were deep-rooted and they would never be gone, no matter how understanding or compassionate a man was.
Yet, Cassandra knew that with just one word about Anson's sins, Caleb would marry her anyway. He would take her away from it all, just as he had taken Elizabeth away. That was the kind of man Caleb was! She loved and respected his honor, and that was why she held her silence. She would never admit that Anson continued to take his anger out on her. She would never use Caleb like that no matter what it cost her. He didn't deserve it'
"Cassandra?" A voice called from the door.
Raising her head, she brightened a little hearing Caleb's voice. "Just a moment," she called out and adjusted the shoulders of the dress a little higher. Picking up her skirts, she walked to the door and opened it with a smile. "Twice in one evening? You must truly be bored, Caleb."
Cocking an eyebrow in question, he said, "I am gathering a few people in the sitting room downstairs. I thought you might like to meet one of our other guests before dinner."
"Will Kyra be there," she asked curiously. She refused to let him censure her from the girl. Thoughts of the silent girl had plagued her most of the afternoon. Measuring what Caleb had said against the girl she'd met, Cassandra could not possibly decide which was the truth. It was not fair to judge her before getting to know her. Ultimately, she thought it would be best to spend more time with Kyra, not less, to see what would develop from there.
Biting his tongue against what he wanted to say, Caleb finally shrugged in answer. "I cannot say whether she will be there or not. I haven't seen her."
"Well then," she allowed the subject to drop, "I will most assuredly run into her at dinner. So, tell me about life here at Damon Manor. What has been happening since I've been away?"
Caleb took her arm lightly and led her through the halls of the manor. As they walked to the sitting room he told her of his endlessly quiet days since the soldiers had left for their visits home. Things had been dead around the manor before the Tyler party arrived. Of course, he refrained from mentioning that it was Kyra who had kept his days from remaining so quiet.
Within a few minutes they entered the sitting room. Serena had just sat down and was startled to see the woman at Caleb's side. What a beautiful woman, she thought enviously. Her gown was simply amazing. It was obvious she was someone of high-class. Serena was certain this must be Cassandra Carrington, the woman spoken about at the noontime meal.
Standing up quickly, she forced a nervous smile to her face and found herself standing a bit more rigidly than normal. She was not used to meeting such people on her own. Her father normally kept her and Kyra at a great distance from anyone with notable lineage. He was not here now and she felt a little at a loss for what to say.
"Cassandra," Caleb introduced pleasantly, "this is Baron Sherman Tyler's daughter Serena. She is visiting for a few days with the woman you met earlier. Serena, this is my wife's younger sister, Cassandra."
Feeling a little flustered at the formality of it all, Serena nodded and found herself a little speechless. This was his wife's sister? Should she comment on that fact? Should she offer her condolences? No, no, no' That had been years ago. What a silly thought. She should greet her simply, but with respect. How would her father do such a thing?
Hoping to hide the fact that she was nervous, Serena curtsied and said, "I am very honored to make your acquaintance, Lady Carrington."
Cassandra nodded and made her own small curtsy. It suddenly occurred to her where she had heard Serena's name mentioned before. Stepping forward, she said, "I'm pleased to meet you as well. Are you the one who is pledged to marry Lord Brady? I have heard mention of it back home. It is going to be a wonderful affair."
A little excited that she would take interest, Serena said, "I can't believe you have heard about that. I'm absolutely nervous about the prospect of moving to his home. I've lived at Tyler Hall most of my life and it terrifies'" Shaking her head at herself, Serena stopped and thought that Cassandra couldn't possibly be interested in that. "I apologize. I do get a bit carried away when talk of my marriage arises."
"Oh, no," Cassandra shook her head. "Please, tell me about it. I can only dream of the day a man decided to marry me. I can't even begin to'"
"Well, well, well," Jacob suddenly interrupted from outside the room. He was in an unusually delightful mood. The light in his eyes showed that. "If it isn't our long lost house guest. I was beginning to think you had moved out."
Turning around, Cassandra saw Jacob and turned her eyes away for a moment. He was always teasing her about her stays here. She didn't believe he meant to be intentionally cruel to her, but she sensed there was more to his remarks than he let on. His thoughtless remarks bothered her as they always did.
Hiding the insult behind a smile, she retorted, "And if it isn't the man who has no serious side."
"Cassandra, what brings you back to the manor," he asked with a smile. Something in his eyes grew a bit sarcastic, almost as though he could care less than to hear the answer. "It couldn't be that you've come here without reason. There's always a reason, isn't there?"
Caleb recognized the growing hostility in Jacob's eyes and wondered what could have caused it. If he was trying to be pleasant, he was failing miserably. Touching Cassandra's arm, he asked, "Why don't we go to the dining room? Dinner will be served soon."
Frowning up at Jacob, she said, "Yes, why don't we? I hope you'll join us, Jacob," she offered graciously. She followed Caleb out of the room, putting him out of her mind. He was always trying to annoy her with his jests. Even after all of these years'
"Yes well," he called out when he knew they were out of earshot, "it is my house. I can't see why I'd miss the chance to dine with'" He broke off the comment and swallowed deeply realizing Serena was still standing behind him in the room. She was staring at him. Shrugging innocently, he smiled crookedly and said, "I'm just hungry that's all'"
Glancing from Jacob to the door, Serena wondered what to make of all that. She hadn't pictured him being capable of such rudeness. It just didn't fit his character.
"I think you insulted her," she remarked at the obvious.
Laughing out loud, he said, "She's a big girl, I'm sure she can handle it."
Frowning deeper, she asked, "Did you honestly find that funny?"
Releasing a tense breath, he laughed, "Of course I did. Didn't you?"
She shook her head, unable to believe the way he was acting. He was being a jerk! "No," she answered as she passed him and walked into the hall. "I don't find anything about you funny. I think you said those things to purposely goad her, and I think you ought to apologize to her."
Without stopping to think about why she was angry, she left to find the dining room and tried to put him out of her mind. Whatever weird mood had taken his fancy, she hoped it would be gone by the time they ate. She didn't care for this derisive side of his nature.
Jacob stood there for a full minute pulling himself together. Why did he always have to act like that around her? It would be one of his greatest feats if he ever managed to hold a civil conversation around Cassandra without biting his tongue at least once. And now Serena was annoyed with him as well.
Releasing a sigh of disgust for himself, he gazed at the firelight, willing himself to calm down. She would only be here for a week or so. It wasn't going to be forever' Then she would go back to her father and he could return to his lonesome existence.
He shook his head at last, knowing there was no hope for it. As he walked out into the hallway, he nearly collided with Kyra. He apologized for not seeing her, but she was waving her hands at him shushing his effort to be sorry.
Unable to help himself, he smiled at her hurried gestures. She was trying to press a small pouch into his hand and he said, "Wait, calm down' I can't understand anything you are saying." Relieved to have something else to think about, he took the pouch and opened it. "You are giving me your money," he asked in surprise. "Well thank you very much but'"
Pursing her lips at him in annoyance, she grabbed back the purse and shook her head. This could take all night, but she was determined to make this work! Shoving the hastily scribbled note into his hands, she impatiently waited for him to read it.
"You want to make a what," he laughed before realizing she'd been insulted. Rolling his eyes in apology, he said, "I am very sorry for that. It seems I'm unable to keep from offending the young ladies tonight. But honestly Kyra, from what I gather, you are asking for quite a small miracle."
Frowning unhappily, she locked her hands together and made a plea for his assistance as best she could. He just couldn't refuse her this one small favor!
"Well, why don't we see if Caleb can'"
She grabbed at his shirtfront to hold him in place. Jacob was a little shocked by her forcefulness. When he looked down at her in surprise, she released the material and patted it flat, thankful to have his attention. She shook her head at him emphatically. She had no intention of letting Caleb know about this. The man must think she was a beggar as it was.
Sighing at last, Jacob offered, "I can help you to get what you need, but I don't see how you could possibly make a formal dress in one night. I used to watch my mother sew such things and it took her weeks, at best, to create presentable outfits. I'm sure our house tailors could fashion you with something much better in less time than'"
Offering the purse to him once more, Kyra eyed the contents skeptically and jingled it for effect. There was not enough in her savings to afford one hour's worth of the house tailor's time.
Gathering that the fact of the matter was really about her pride, Jacob scratched his head and shrugged. "If you honestly want to attempt it, I'll help you with what I can." Looking off toward the direction the other's had walked, he shook his head sadly. "I was in no mood to eat tonight anyway."
As he began to walk to the stairs, Kyra followed close beside and touched his sleeve to catch his attention. When he turned back to face her, she began shaking her head and placed a finger against her closed lips to shush him. If he told anyone about this she would die of humiliation, she honestly would.
Placing a gentle hand to her arm, he agreed not to tell, "Let's go find you some material. I promise no one will find out about this."
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