Episode 1 - The Confrontation
Some time after Kyra entered the sanctity of her room, a hesitant knock sounded on the door.
She was sitting at her vanity table trying to untangle the mess her hair had become from that man's harsh yanking. A soft spot at the back of her head still felt tender, but she tried to ignore it as she gently brushed the long, wavy strands with care. Her lips still stung as well and she knew why every time she looked up into the mirror. They were unusually red and puffy.
The knock at the door sounded again and she sighed in frustration. Why was Serena even bothering to knock? She certainly couldn't call out to admit her inside.
Having lost her patience, she removed her shoe and threw it at the door with a vengeance. It struck the wood loudly and she felt a small measure of victory over it. She signaled her to enter, waving her arm slightly as she continued with the task at hand.
When she'd come in several minutes ago, Serena had insisted that Kyra should sit down while she went to get some ice chips for her lip. Amazingly enough, she'd actually been able to convince her that she'd been struck in the face by a falling book. She couldn't conceive of telling her what really happened. Serena would be scandalized.
God! Why was she hovering in the door like that?
Exasperated, she turned around with irritation only to gasp and jump to her feet. The chair she'd been sitting on flew back and nearly tipped over before she realized he was there to right it. She shrank back from his terrifying size, tearful when she realized they were alone once again. This time, there would be no escaping him.
Why did he persist with this? She hadn't done anything to him. She hadn't meant to venture into his garden!
Caleb pushed the chair from between them when he saw she was about to cry. He felt the need to say something of comfort, but he hesitated when she stepped further back. He silently berated himself when he saw her eyes close out of fear.
"Be at ease, Kyra. I will not hurt you." He saw her shiver as she cringed, but her eyes opened up to look at him. He could see she wasn't convinced at all. "I'm sorry for what happened in the garden. Nothing like that will ever happen again."
He sounded sincere, but she certainly didn't believe a word of it. Testing his boundaries, needing an avenue of escape, she began to step slowly around him and he let her. She was carefully backing her way toward the door, but his words stilled her.
"It won't do you any good to run." Her head raised up at him in question even as she placed a hand on the doorknob. "Even if you won't talk to me now, you'll have to face me eventually. It's unavoidable."
No, she shook her head. If she could get away now, she knew she would never come within sight of him again.
"It will be harder to avoid me than you know," he assured her, although his tone remained subdued.
Before she could scoff in his face, a small knock sounded on the door behind her. It was already opening as she swung around with great relief. Serena was startled to see her standing there.
"Why on earth did you come to the door? You knew I was coming back—" Her voice broke off when she caught sight of the man standing behind her. "Oh! Lord Damon, forgive my intrusion. It is pleasant to see you again."
Kyra's legs nearly buckled and she swallowed nauseously as her eyes flew to look back at him. This was Caleb Damon? The man who would become her guardian? No!
Caleb nodded at her with calm assurance and then regarded Serena. "You've grown since I last saw you. How old were you then? Fourteen? Fifteen?" The questions were asked with a small measure of disinterest. It was apparent to them all that her interruption was indeed untimely.
"Around that age, I suppose. Oh—" she turned to Kyra. "I'm sure he's already introduced himself to you, but this is Caleb Damon. I suppose now that you've met him, you can stop worrying about living here."
Serena, my worry hasn't even begun! Kyra's heart felt like it was beating out of her chest. This could not possibly be the man Sherman had sent her to live with!
"Well, I suppose Caleb hasn't come to your room to socialize with me." Serena could see that Caleb was none too pleased with her arrival. She was anxious to take her leave. "I should go so he can speak with you in private."
"No!" Kyra signed furiously. Her sudden movement stilled Serena's hasty retreat.
"What do you mean? He obviously hasn't come to see me or he would have come to my room." She was speaking out loud, not understanding Kyra's concern.
"Serena, no," she pleaded with greater urgency. She moved to block the exit, unwilling to allow her to leave. "He doesn't understand my signing language. How am I supposed to speak with him if you go?"
"You seemed to be doing fine before I arrived," she insisted.
"Excuse me for, uh—interrupting you," Caleb broke in. "What are you doing?"
"Oh, I am sorry," Serena turned to apologize for the oversight. "I meant no disrespect by leaving you in the dark. This is how Kyra communicates with us. My mother taught it to her. She has no voice, you know."
"I know," he assured her.
"If you want, I could teach it to you."
"No, but thank you. I'd rather not look so foolish in front of my friends."
Both women stared at him agape, but they dared not argue the point. Who were they to disagree if he thought their communication looked foolish.
Leaving Kyra was the hardest thing she knew she'd ever have to do, but she really had no choice. Only an hour ago, Kyra had admitted the truth of it herself.
With a small sigh, she turned to face her, signing her words instead of speaking them out loud. "If Caleb came to your room, then he wants to speak to you in private. This is going to be your home, Kyra. You must learn to deal with him even if you cannot tolerate him. Don't mistake me," she insisted. "I believe he is a good man. Father wouldn't have sent you to live here otherwise. He's just a little too overbearing from what I've seen. In no time at all, you will be fine, but you heard what Father said. You cannot return home with me. You must make the best of this situation. You have no choice."
It was hard to push her away so forcefully, but she had to make Kyra understand what was at stake if she didn't remain subservient to the Marquess. Caleb could make or break her future. She had to learn to cope with him alone starting right now.
The truth was a bitter thing for Kyra to swallow, but she knew Serena was right. She'd angered Caleb for a reason she could begin to fathom and it would be foolish to distance him any further than she already had. At the moment, he seemed reasonable enough, so perhaps this was the moment to try and start over. She knew deep down that she would never be able to trust him. His temper was far too volatile. That was a fact she'd never let herself forget.
With a small nod, she finally conceded and stepped aside to allow Serena to pass through the door. Caleb was the overlord of the manor. Fearful as she was, she needed to try and secure a home for herself. If she confronted this moment now, perhaps she could find a way to avoid him in the future.
Even with that grand mental speech to herself, she couldn't help feeling abandoned when the door finally shut. She turned hesitantly around to see that he'd wandered over to the window out of boredom. The distance he'd created was a welcome relief.
Fighting the urge to run and hide, she walked over to the vanity table to see what Serena had brought her. There was a mug filled with ice chips and a small vile of liquid.
The unexpected warmth at her shoulder had her shaking as her eyes rose to see Caleb's reflection in the mirror. Her heart picked up speed, as did her breathing. It was sheer will-power that held her in place.
He released a small sigh as his hand rose to lightly brush her chin. He was compelling her to turn and face him. Hesitantly, she complied. His gentleness sent an unexpected emotion rushing through her and she grew self-conscious when he ran his thumb over the tender skin of her bottom lip. The gesture caused her face to flame and her eyes lowered helplessly away from his.
Foreign emotions were arising in Caleb as well. He found himself acting completely out of character with this silent girl. It was not like him to force himself on anyone. Even now, he could see she wanted to withdraw from his touch, but he regretted his actions in the garden and he wanted to try and ease her fear. He wanted her to know that he was not a cruel man. He wanted her to see the gentler of himself.
"I'm sorry for this," he whispered softly. He bent to pick up the vile and opened it to dab a bit of the liquid on the end of his finger. "Are your lips sore?"
She shook her head quickly for fear of offending him. She couldn't help it.
"Do not lie to me," he grated irritably. "I know I hurt you and I apologize for that."
His angrily spoken words were totally at odds with his actions as he took her chin in hand and gingerly moistened her bottom lip with his finger. The softness of her skin startled him. Maybe he'd been too angry to notice before, but now he was realizing that she seemed to be soft all over.
Her long auburn hair floated around her like a band of fine silk and her eyes were the softest shade of green he had ever seen. The feel of her lips beneath his finger brought an awareness to him that began to disarm him. Along with softness there came fragility, and anything so fragile could easily be broken. A deeper understanding of that dawned on him as he tried to wipe away the pain he'd caused her.
Guilt washed through him and he was ashamed of himself. If only he'd known—but he hadn't... The past couldn't be changed. The most he could do was try to make up for it in the future. He owed her that much, even if it meant protecting her from his own vile temper.
As he continued his ministrations, he was awed for a moment by her beauty. A man would have to be blind not to notice it. Then it occurred to him that he hadn't taken notice of such things since his wife's death. There had been a few young women who'd caught his notice over the past year, but they'd been complete strangers to him—faceless women who satisfied his needs from time to time.
Earlier, he'd been walking through Elizabeth's garden, his mind wandering over the old familiar trails of the past. That garden was the only thing he'd ever closed off from his people. He had a thousand other acres of land for them to traverse, but this was hers alone. After all, it was the one and only thing his shy wife had ever asked him for.
She'd died only a few days after it was completed and he hadn't had the heart to destroy it. Instead, he'd closed it off from the rest of the manor and built the library around the glass doors. Everyone knew it was off-limits, for it was Elizabeth's final resting place. Until today, no one had dared to invade it.
He shook his head in frustration as he looked down at Kyra's upturned face. Her eyes were still wary, but begging for an explanation for his sudden kindness. How could he possibly make her understand what had happened? Even if he explained his relationship with Elizabeth to her, it was doubtful she'd be able to comprehend how deep her loss had cut him. He had failed his wife on so many levels. There was simply no end to the guilt he felt over it.
No… He could never explain it to her, he realized. He wouldn't dare to corrupt her any more than he already had. Dropping his hands from her, he closed the vial and set it back down on the table.
Kyra watched the array of emotions passing over his face and she wondered if she really wanted to know what he was thinking. She was caught between curiosity and apprehension where he was concerned. She wanted to try and understand him better, but his extreme mood swings frightened her. Still, he had not stepped away and now his eyes were regarding her intently.
"What happened between us earlier… I would never hurt a woman like that—" but even as he said it, his face turned down as he faced some inner turmoil. He broke away from her altogether for a moment, then seemed to think better of it. "I swear to you that nothing like that will ever happen again. I will never touch you like that again."
Caleb backed away from her with a rough shake of his head. He knew she deserved an explanation for his behavior, but words seemed beyond his reach. For a reason he couldn't fathom, he found it difficult to concentrate when she watched him with those confused and questioning eyes—and she did have questions. He could see it. He felt as if she could see straight through to his soul and that made him uncomfortable. The idea of it offended him. After all, he was the Marquess of Damon Manor. He was the last man who should be disarmed by anyone. Yet, at this moment, he was…
He couldn't look at her and not see the damage he'd done. Later, when she didn't appear so hurt and haggard, he might be able to stand up to the challenge of answering her questions. For now, he needed to go.
As he walked to the door, he stopped and pivoted on his heel. "For the moment, we will postpone any discussion of your living arrangements here as my charge—including the unquestionable rule concerning the garden behind the manor. Don't enter it again."
He left without further adieu, leaving Kyra's future hanging in the balance. Would he let her stay? He seemed civil enough now and he appeared truly repentant for his actions in the garden, but did that mean all was forgiven? Could she forgive him for hurting her so deliberately? If so, would he forgive her for crossing his path?
She stared pensively at the door with one question lingering foremost in her mind. Did she have a home?
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