Outside the manor:
The afternoon passed quickly for Kyra. Blake remained true to his word and escorted her around the estate, pointing out what interesting facts he could as they walked. She found him to be a very entertaining man, especially when he spoke of his tales of mischief where he, Jacob, and Caleb were concerned.
Every now and again she thought he would bring an end to their adventure. She couldn't imagine he was enjoying their time together all that much. She basically followed and listened as he entertained her with one story after another. Still, he never seemed to tire from the chore of it at all. He truly seemed to be enjoying her quiet company.
Leaving a path from the stable area, they headed back along the stretch of road to the manor. Blake led them into the courtyard beneath a long row of giant oak trees.
Lifting the cloak from around her waist, Kyra found a thick patch of grass and sat down as gently as she could. She made sure to keep the white material of the cloak from sliding beneath her. Following her lead Blake also sat and carelessly let his legs and arms fall where they may.
What a relaxing day, he thought with a sigh. He felt more at ease today than he had in a while. Talking about his younger days here at Damon Manor had lifted his spirits. He had forgotten how much he missed being a carefree lad with little responsibility.
Looking over at Kyra, he knew she was part of the reason he felt this way. For once, he didn't feel the need to act like the high nosed son of an Earl that he was supposed to be. She didn't seem to expect from him what most women did. She wasn't looking for his imperfections or proper manners. The simple fact that she dared sit on the bare ground told him so. Most women would have shriveled at the thought, especially wearing such a beautiful gown. Most women would have waited for him to offer the shirt off his back, if they dared to sit down at all. Of all the women he had ever known, most would have thought him abhorrent if he had ever suggested sitting upon the ground without a blanket. Kyra hadn't even batted an eyelash.
He was surprised to note that he was in no hurry to dismiss her from his side. He had no desire to return to his friends just yet.
A comfortable silence had fallen between them. They stared out at the sunlit field to the manor. In the distance, they saw many of the guests wandering around outside the entrance. They watched a few of the men and women speaking in small groups as a few children played a game of tag further off. The sun had grown rather warm by now, so sitting in the shade beneath the trees felt welcoming.
Blake watched the children playing, remembering the feel of being so carefree in life. It was something he missed. Looking over at Kyra, he wondered curiously how old she was. She couldn't be out of her teens yet. She did not resemble a child, but the innocence of youth showed in her eyes. As the thought entered his mind, he quickly dismissed it. He had no desire to wonder about such a thing.
He glanced down at her hands as she toyed with a few sprigs of grass. Her eyes followed the children at play and she seemed rather content herself. It pleased him. He was glad she had allowed him this chance to rectify his earlier blunder. It was clear she hadn't given the matter another thought.
"Kyra,' he asked. His voice was hesitant when he spoke, but he kept his eyes steady on her face.
She pulled her gaze from the distance and turned to look at him slowly. Her brows raised in question as her fingers toyed with a small leaf.
"Forgive me if I seem rude, but..." For a moment he hesitated. She smiled and her brows rose higher as she nodded for him to continue. Her smile gave him the courage to speak freely. Her eyes told him that she preferred honesty to caution. Judging her mood as he spoke, he asked, "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
She crinkled her nose and shrugged her small shoulders carelessly. The pause in his voice caught her attention. She was curious to know what he thought was so private.
"Have you always been unable to speak," he asked lightly. It was something he'd been wondering about for the last hour. He wasn't sure if she would take offense at the question. A look of astonishment crossed her face and he wondered why. Maybe she was shocked that he had dared to ask such a question.
Kyra was actually amazed. No one in her life, outside of Isabel and Serena, had ever cared enough to ask. Seeing the insecure look in his eyes, she patted his hand on the ground beside him and nodded in assent. Yes, she had always been without a voice.
Blake understood that she didn't condemn his curiosity. She welcomed it.
Giving her a broad grin, he asked, "Do you ever wonder what it would be like to have a voice? You would be able to communicate with the world."
She smiled, because he didn't know she could communicate. She tried to think of the best way to tell him so.
Her hand came up quickly to point at her chest, and then she moved her mouth in a gesture that meant, I can talk. His brows furled in confusion. She realized he didn't understand what she had said.
She knew it would be so much easier to have Serena here to translate her words, instead of having to use these primitive gestures. But, as her friend often reminded, eventually she would be all alone in this place. She was going to have to learn how to communicate with others if she wanted to survive on her own. Now was a good time to start.
Reaching up, she peeled a stiff piece of bark from the tree behind her. In the soft dirt below she spelled the word Kyra for him to see. She pointed from the ground back to herself.
"That's your name," he agreed. It was amazing to know she could spell. Only men in society were taught the skill of writing, and even many of them were unable to do so successfully.
She pointed to the letter 'K' and held up her hand, positioning her fingers in a specific pattern. Then she pointed to the 'Y' and held up her hand in a separate pattern. The same series went for the 'R' and finally the 'A'.
Blake watched her carefully as she finished by pointing to herself. He watched her carefully as he tried to make sense of what she was doing. A moment passed and he smiled with a conspiring grin. "Do that again," he said as he began to understand.
She repeated the same movements and he tried to copy her with his own hand.
"Is that how you talk without having a voice?" He had once heard rumors of a young mute girl who could speak with her hands, but he had never known how it was done. For some reason, he had thought her hands would make noise and speak words for her. It had never occurred to him that her hand movements would replace letters or words.
Knowing she could communicate with him made her seem more intelligent than he had first thought. In the back of his mind he had pictured her only being able to understand his thoughts and ideas. He hadn't imagined her wanting to express any of her own. It made her all the more intriguing.
"Do you know any other words," he inquired.
She smiled and opened her arms wide.
"Many," he asked.
They both laughed, each feeling a small measure of mental release. Blake couldn't help feeling a little relieved. Having passed such an awkward moment, he realized she did not condemn him for asking such a personal question. He felt a little less prone to offending her for it.
It was odd to feel so free to talk with the opposite sex about something so personal, especially when they were nothing more than friends and had no obligations to one another. It was an interesting game.
That was how he viewed her, as if she was a good friend who expected nothing from him. He had known so many women in his lifetime who were far worldlier than she. Blessedly, from the look in her eyes, he could see that she was no more than an innocent young girl. It was something he rarely encountered in his travels these days. During the last few months he had grown such a different opinion of the wiles of women. It was something so far removed from what he saw in Kyra at this moment, and interestingly enough, he found he desired nothing more than mere friendship from her.
At heart, Blake was helplessly branded a playboy. It was a fault of his nature that he found he had little control over when his hormones began flaring at an early age. Women generally sought him out for one thing, and he'd found no will to resist them.
Recently though, he'd very nearly managed to settled down into marriage. It was only when he became engaged to his fianc' that he had been forced to try and curb the baser side of his nature. He thought he had finally found a woman who could match his tastes for adventure in every way possible. Unfortunately though, their courtship had ended rather painfully, leaving his ego a bit bruised for the most part. For a while now, he found he had little compassion left for the fairer sex. Thankfully, spending just one afternoon in the presence of a truly innocent woman like Kyra had helped restore his faith that not all the decent women in the world had disappeared.
He could see in her eyes that she was still unknown by men. The truth lay in the innocence of her hand touching his. A woman who'd experienced passion from a man would think twice before doing such a thing, even if it was so seemingly innocent a gesture. No, he knew he was safe where Kyra was concerned. She knew nothing of games played by the wicked, of that he was certain.
Just as reached that conclusion, an eagle screamed out as it soared overhead. Kyra jumped up from the shade of the tree to get a better view, which broke him out of the reverent spell he'd fallen under. He watched Kyra cup her hands over her eyes to block out the sun as the bird circled overhead.
Seeing how low the sun was positioned told him that it was getting quite late now. Even the animals of prey were coming out to forage for food to keep their bellies full through the night.
"Come, Kyra. We must head back. It is nearing the evening meal."
Agreeing that it was getting late, Kyra happily grasped his outstretched arm and allowed him to lead her back to the manor.
"Perhaps," he volunteered, "you would speak with me later? I could use the time to learn some more of your words."
Kyra felt her spirits lifting with his sincere desire to see her again. She was both pleased and surprised. She nodded as much in appreciation as she did in agreement as he led her back to the house. Few men had ever dared spend more than a moment of time in her company, especially if they would be left without a translator to help them communicate. She was truly flattered that Blake wanted to spend more time with her. Her smile as they walked could not be contained.
Close beside the manor's entrance, Cassandra suddenly frowned. She had turned away from Serena to watch the two figures slowly approaching in the distance.
"Is that Kyra walking with Lord Ryder," she asked Serena hesitantly as she continued to watch them.
Shading her eyes, Serena looked up and nodded. "Yes, I was wondering what became of her," she remarked. She thought Kyra might have retired to her room by now. It was surprising to see that she hadn't.
Seeing how far away they were, Serena wondered where she and Blake had gone off to. Even from this distance, she could see a happy smile lighting Kyra's face. It was a welcomed sight to see.
"It looks like she's had a more pleasant day than I," Serena added with a grin. Her day had consisted of avoiding both Caleb and Jacob as best she could. That was not an easy task as they both seemed to be lurking about in one room or another. Finally catching up with Cassandra, she decided it might be better to take a walk outside.
"That's strange," Cassandra commented with a frown.
Hearing a note of doubt in Cassandra's voice, Serena asked, "Why is that so surprising? I knew she would open up and find a friend eventually." She just hadn't expected it to happen with someone who held such heritage. Blake was a very wealthy man. Serena could only dream of someone like Blake taking an interest in Kyra. It would be nice to see such a fairytale ending for her after all these years of sorrow.
Cassandra shook her head and sighed, "I supposed it is beneath me to gossip like this. I've just heard rumors about him, although I'm sure it was probably drivel."
"Cassandra, come on. We shared more than a few things last night. Tell me what you've heard about him."
With blushing cheeks, Cassandra turned to look at Serena with an embarrassed smile. "I shouldn't have had that brandy. I doubt I'll try anything so unbecoming again. Honestly, I've never been so emotional in my life."
"Maybe we could continue that conversation later? I really would'"
"No," Cassandra exclaimed. She shook her head suddenly and said, "You promised not to speak of that again, Serena." Glancing around quickly, she lowered her voice and swore, "I cannot speak of that again. It would be a very bad mistake. Believe me, I wish I could talk about it, but that will only cause more problems."
Serena frowned deeply. She disliked such feelings of helplessness. For the moment though, she decided to let the subject drop.
"Tell me what you have heard about Blake then," she suggested. "What is it you've heard about him?" Serena turned to face her and saw that Cassandra was reluctant to speak. That drew her interest immeasurably.
Lowering her voice almost inaudibly, Cassandra whispered, "I've heard he was not so kind to his fianc'. He came back to this area only a month ago, and the rumors have been flying all over the land about him. I don't know what happened for sure, but it's been said that he might have hurt her."
Gasping in shock, Serena looked up to see where they were. They were still a good distance away, walking rather slowly. Looking at Blake, Serena couldn't see the reason in it. He looked like such a nice man, especially as he continued making Kyra laugh.
"Are you certain about that," she breathed. The last thing she ever wanted was to see Kyra hurt by someone. The poor girl had suffered enough for one lifetime. Her early childhood could attest to that.
"One can never be certain about rumors, but I do believe that something unseemly must have happened. Why else would tongues have been wagging? Besides, you do not see his fianc' here do you?"
Shaking her head, Serena agreed, "I think it would be best to let Kyra decide for herself, although I'm not sure how I'm going to tell her about it. She seems so content right now. I hate the thought of spoiling that for her."
"I can only tell you what I've heard. Whether it is true or not, I don't know. But, I think she should be told. Men can be very frightening at times. I can well imagine what a man his size might be capable of." She shivered at the thought of it.
Though handsome to say the least, Blake was a very strong and agile man. He had been training for years in the King's army. He was well versed in the art of combat, and though his clothing was worn loosely, Cassandra could see he was extremely well toned. Her father was such a small man in comparison with Blake. The thought of being confronted by his unconfined rage made her shiver. She couldn't imagine witnessing the real thing.
No matter how appealing or handsome a man might look, she would never consider letting one such as him within twenty feet of her. Life was filled with enough demons as it was. He was a man she certainly intended to avoid this week. For both Serena and Kyra's sake, she felt obligated to warn them away from him.
In truth, she could not be certain about what she'd heard. Only bits and pieces of such things came her way at home, but caution was always the better side of things. She would much prefer to see Kyra kept away from that man. She felt better knowing Serena would speak to Kyra about him.
"I'll talk to her this evening," Serena assured Cassandra. Feeling uncomfortable about the thought of meeting up with Blake now, both women silently agreed to go inside and get ready for dinner.
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