Max was drained. He had seen his wife for only a short period on their second day of marriage, but the chaos she created in that small amount of time was immeasurable. He would bet his heart rate slowed only after. According to Sherman, the cook sent a tray to her room for dinner. Blasted woman.
Too tired to read, he snuffed the light and sank deep into the covers. Being naked and out of the confining clothing made bedtime worthwhile. He closed his eyes ready for oblivion to take him in the night’s silence.
The scream first came as a foggy warning call pulling him from sleep. He surmised it must have been in a dream, until the second scream rang out.
Panic hot and urgent filled him.
Giselle was in trouble. He flew out of bed and yanked on some loose fitting sleeping pants, tying them at his hips while he ran out the door and stopped. At that moment, he realized his viscountess was not in the viscountess’s suite next to him. She must still be in the guest wing of the huge house. Yet another scream filled the air almost lighting the night like a lightning bolt.
At a run, Devon flew down the corridor and around the corner. He almost slid through the large double doors at the end of the gallery that kept the family wing private from the public. He caught himself and ripped the doors open not stopping to close them as he continued down the corridor.
Ahead, a flurry of people bustled about holding candles and whispering. All told, there were only three. The housekeeper, Giselle’s lady maid, and Jarrid. He caught a glimpse of the man’s colorful robes before they disappeared into the room. Giselle’s sobbing tightened his chest.
When he got in the doorway, the lady’s maid shrieked and darted deep into her mistress' room. The housekeeper made tsking sounds, but bobbed a curtsy, but Max barely noticed. The sight of his wife thrashing on the bed tearing at the collar of her night rail took hold of him.
“What’s the matter with her?” He turned to the housekeeper whom was the only person paying any attention to him.
“I--I am told, my lord, that she suffers night terrors,” the housekeeper answered, then added, “Would you like me to call for Mr. Colby to get you a robe or shirt, my lord?”
Max looked down at his bare chest. “No, thank you. I am fine.” He had no time to worry about offending a maid. His wife was in distress.
He watched as Jarrid tried to stop her arms from flailing, while he spoke softly, assuring her that she was safe. Max walked deeper into the room until he could see her face. Terror, stark and white, made the circles on her cheek all but disappear. He must have said something aloud, because Jarrid turned and acknowledged his presence.
“My lord, it would mortify Giselle if she knew we awakened you for no cause.”
“No cause? She looks like she might die from fright at any moment. I thought she was being attacked.” Max decided it no time to discuss with Jarrid the impertinence of using his wife’s given name. Giselle had quieted, but her head still turned back and forth, and her expression was no longer of terror, but pain. What was she reliving? That was when the maid, finding her backbone, stepped up to Max putting the bed and all its drama away from him.
“My lord, Jarrid is correct. T’will not benefit the Missus if she were to wake with you in the room. Most nights, she never wakes and doesn’t even remember. Jarrid and I have been the only ones for months to be at her side. You should leave.”
She said the last bit with more bravado than her eyes showed, but it impressed Max.
“Come, my lord, if there is a change or your services are required, I will run to you, but I doubt you will be bothered again. After all, this is the first night it has disturbed you,” the housekeeper reassured, but all Max understood was the last part.
“She has been in this state in this house before? She has only been here three nights,” he said, shocked he could sleep through the screaming.
“Every night, my lord. Every night. This one appears to be worse than the others have been. I am told they get very unsettling,” Mrs. Coy said as she turned Max and led him to the door. Before he realized it, she had him in the doorway and bid him good night before shutting him out.
The house was quiet once more, and the darkness seemed complete as he made his way back to his bedchamber. How had he missed her screams and distress until now? The first night, her family had stayed. Even though they lived down the road, it was easier to be on the estate to prepare the day of the wedding. Last night, he hadn’t found his bed until late and in all honesty, was well into his cups waking the next morning still wearing his boots.
Entering his bedchamber, he stoked the fire to stave off the late night chill, but the scream had driven it into his bones. He might never feel warmth again. How can she not remember such a violent nightmare? Had the maid meant what she said about her and Jarrid being the ones to comfort her? Max thought back to his own parents. He had not thought of them much, instead pushing the memories away for the pain they brought. Tonight, though their memory comforted Max. He remembered as a boy of maybe nine he had come down with a fever. For days, his parents sat next to his bed. Every time he woke, he would see their faces. The nightmares from the fever were terrifying for a little boy and for a month or more after, Max had been too frightened to sleep alone so his father would come into his room every night and lie next to him talking about hunting or fishing, or the puppies in the barn until he fell asleep, safe in his embrace. His parents would never have tasked a servant with something like that. He hadn’t thought about that for years.
He settled back into bed, but didn’t bother to remove his pants, and lit the candle on his bedside table taking up the book he ignored earlier. Sleep would not come as before. In fact, he wondered, turning to his marked spot in the book, if he would have another restful night from this point on. He knew one thing; his viscountess would not remain as nothing more than a houseguest. She would be moved forthwith. He didn’t know her well yet, but what he did understand, warned him she would not accept the move with graciousness and quiet acceptance.
The last promise he made to himself was that he would make it so Giselle never had to scream that scream again, either asleep or awake. The responsibility of that task weighed so heavily, his chest hurt, but who’s to say his sister didn’t scream that scream after her accident. He wasn’t there to kill her demons. He would slay his wife’s dragons, no matter how many teeth they had.
The sound of her mother’s laughter reached her as she entered her parents’ home. The lilting strings acting as a balm after a trying couple of days.
“Good morning, Mother. Ariel, whatever is so amusing?” Gisele asked as she breezed into the salon where the two women sat working on needlework and reading the pile of invitations. She made her way first to kiss her mother, then her sister before sitting.
“Oh heavens,” said her mother. “What a lovely surprise. How are you fairing, dear heart?” Concern clear in her mother’s eyes.
“Truly, I am fine. I slept all yesterday afternoon and last night, so I am refreshed. What were you laughing at?” Trying to veer the subject away from her and the lie.
“Oh, Mother told a story of her and Lady Litchfeld. A most unbelievable one. It concerned a certain chicken--”
“Now, that will be enough. No need embarrassing myself twice in one day,” their mother scolded with a smile and kind eyes.
“Who is Lady Litchfeld?” Giselle never heard her mother speak of such a person.
“She is a local woman who married Lord Litchfeld. We were childhood confidants. She sent an invitation for a luncheon. I am sure you received one. She mentioned inviting you in her note.”
“I’ve not seen the post today. I am sure it will be when I arrive home. Are you going? I thought you refused to visit or accept callers?”
“Yesterday, the invitations started coming. People are curious now that you are the new Viscountess to Lord Sutton.”
This could be a perfect point for her plan to convince her husband she was capable of not embarrassing him in public. If this is a luncheon, Maxwell will not even realize she is gone.
“We are discussing attending, yes,” her sister offered with excitement. “Mama felt since it will be a small select gathering it would be appropriate.”
“Lady Litchfeld wants to help ease your way into the society of neighboring families, but was concerned that Lord Sutton would not approve, so she is keeping the event tiny and only those who she felt he would approve.”
Gisele needed to find her invitation if His Lordship hadn’t destroyed it.
“When is it?” Gisele asked
“Tuesday, next,” responded her mother.
“'Tis to be an afternoon affair ending in tea on the lawn. Doesn’t that sound just fabulous?” Her sister asked dreamily.
“Very,” Gisele agreed.
“We would leave here at half eleven. You are welcome to ride with us in Father’s carriage. Unless, you would prefer to arrive in your own,” her mother offered.
“I would much prefer riding with you if you don’t mind. I am concerned if I decide I must leave I wouldn’t want you obligated to go.”
“Nonsense. If you need to leave and are not needing assistance, you can have the coach bring you home, then it will return for us.” Her mother seemed pleased that Gisele wanted to arrive in her family’s coach.
“'Tis settled then, you will ride with us, we will come by around--”
“No bother, I will ride down here and go with you. Coming my way is preposterous. Besides, I will need to get in my morning ride. I will bring my clothes and dress here.”
Her mother looked as if she might argue, but she didn't. She might never have stood against her husband, but the woman was famous for knowing when one of her children needed speaking to. Gisele decided her mother’s apprehension to say something was the fact that Gisele was no longer simply her daughter, but a Viscountess and free to embroil herself into trouble if she saw fit, which at the moment Gisele did.
She allowed her sister to fill in the remaining time with her adventures as a new miss in the area. The local gentry was enamored with her little sister, further explaining the pile of notes. Both her mother and sister seemed lighter hearted than in months. Giselle acknowledged a great part of it was her marriage, but most of their giddy moods could be attributed to her father being absent. He left for London right after the wedding.
She wanted to ask when to expect him back, but didn’t want to dampen the mood. Jarrid said he would find out. She would know soon enough. Her father reminded her of her own husband. As her sister prattled on, Gisele wondered if she had married a man like him. Did she leave one unbearable situation to another?
Her father was involved in her kidnapping she was certain, but possessed no proof. Was Maxwell the type to take advantage of her for his own gain or did he just want to lock her away from the world forever?
Her intuition told her he was a good man. She didn’t know him, yet. However, she had the impression she was not dealing with her father. If she could save him from himself and his sister’s legacy perhaps, she could save her marriage and her future.
“Gisele?” Her mother’s voice and soft hand on her arm brought her from her woolgathering.
“Sorry,” Gisele said embarrassed.
“Is something bothering you?” her mother asked. “Sometimes, speaking to someone about your troubles is just the thing.”
“No, I was just thinking of all the items on my task list today.”
“Yes, I can imagine,” her mother said with a tone that told Gisele she had been caught in a lie.
“Well, I guess, I must be going. There is a full day of things needing my attention at the manor.” Gisele rose as did her mother and sister to walk her out.
Outside, Jarrid already sensed it was time to leave and stood with the horses ready and waiting. “I will send word if I cannot attend the luncheon, but I would plan on seeing me.” She kissed her mother and sister, mounted her horse and headed back to the manor. She led Jarrid toward the road, but once out of sight of her family, she turned her mount into the field and back along the moors.
“Your father will remain in London a few more days, but will be home sooner than expected,” Jarrid offered in way of starting a conversation and breaking the silence. “I do not trust him. I worry about what will become of your mother and sister if he abandons them.”
Gisele never considered that, but her mother was clear she would not travel abroad again. He was not a nice man, but to abandon them without protection seemed harsh?
“I would not want to think so, but I realize we are talking about my father whose political aspirations far outweigh familial ties. Perhaps, I should speak to Lord Sutton about them staying with us?” That, she considered, would go one of two ways. He would say no because they are not his responsibility or he would say yes, perhaps as one more pawn to hold against her in getting his way.
“Perhaps, it would be better if I found time to bring up the subject first so he might consider it. I am aware he doesn’t like your father, so it would not surprise him. I think him an honorable enough man to take care of his wife’s family,” Jarrid offered in his defense.
“We shall see, won’t we?” Gisele queried with no small amount of sarcasm. She wasn’t sure yet about the man he was at all. They continued in silence enjoying the warmness of the day and the fragrance of the English countryside. She loved how fresh everything smelled, unlike the aridness of India. They slowed in the field to take care not to lead the horses into rocky terrain, and then found a shaded place by a stream to eat.
“He is not aware you are planning on going to the luncheon, is he?”
“It is rude to eavesdrop, you know, even in India,” Gisele pointed out settling down with a chicken leg and several selections of cheese on her lap from the satchel Jarrid brought.
“When those I care for will not talk, I need to find my information where I can,” he said no shame in his voice.
“I just found out so how would I have mentioned it to him?”
“But, you have no plans to. At least until after your return,” retorted Jarrid.
“Perhaps,” Gisele responded, paying too much attention to the specks of sage in the piece of cheese she was eating.
“How do you English ever have a union worth having?” Asked Jarrid. ”You cannot work against each other if you wish to be joined. Is it not that simple to see?”
“Jarrid, he is trying to keep me a prisoner. I cannot stand by and allow that to happen. I need to prove to him that he will not succeed,” Gisele said with a pleading note to her voice.
“I won’t go to your husband, but you are making a mistake. One you will be forced to deal with sooner rather than later. I will be going with you,” he insisted
“Fine. I am more secure if you are close by, but it is a gathering of women so I am sure it will bore you beyond belief.”
“I assure you I will keep myself entertained as I always do.” They both laughed at this and bent to eating their food and enjoying the sun and the babble of the brook. Gisele didn’t like the quickening feel of her stomach for disobeying her husband, but she concluded he left her no choice if he had hidden the invitation.
She thought about the lonely night she had ahead of her in her room with a tray for dinner. After their argument over Hera yesterday, he had not sought her out, and with her night terrors making her exhausted, she didn’t have the stamina to attempt genteel conversation.
As the sun began to dip toward the horizon, Jarrid insisted they return to the manor. She hated thinking of her new home as a prison, but never having friends visit or never having playmates for her children made her heart hurt. If she felt that way, it mustn’t be pleasant for Lord Sutton to shut out everyone but Lord Poole. Sadness for her husband weighed on her. Not so much so she was willing to give up her freedom, but enough to make it clear she didn’t hate him. Not yet anyway.
Continue reading, click below to purchase!