copyright 2019 by Clair Brett

WebGoddess: Mary Ann Jock

 

Chapter Four

This had stubborn, impetuous decision all over it. Gisele’s sweaty hands sat shaking in her lap and sweat stains appearing on her favorite gloves. What seemed a sound life decision the morning of her wedding did not appear so now. The carriage rambled along the country road. Mother pulled the curtains back, but it did little to brighten the inside making Gisele edgy and hemmed in. Her Ariel and Mother chatted, her sister insisting to next to her linking arms. Gisele looked down at their arms. She had missed her sister during her weeks at the desert camp, missed small tableaus like this. It did not now settle her nerves.

She had noted Jarrid looking at her, but refused to admit her fear for what these women might say or do.

I mean really, you dealt with worse situations without your family to protect you. She chastised herself. Perhaps if scolded enough she might listen. Giselle doubted it though.

The carriage rolled to a stop. Her mother bent forward and placed a wise hand on top of her own. “All will be well. Her Ladyship will allow none of her guests to treat you with anything but the best manners, and for those who will talk-- well, if not you, they would simply choose another to make the topic of conversation, so you are in good company, dear.” She gave one more pat and allowed the groom to hand her down from the carriage.

“You look beautiful. If I hear anyone say anything I practiced some well-placed set downs for the upstarts,” her sister said in a tone much like a soldier heading into battle.

“You will do no such thing,” Gisele said with a small amount of panic in her voice. If Ariel took up the gauntlet for her, it might compromise her situation which was rocky at best because of what had happened. “I am fine caring for myself and I am now married and settled, which you have yet to do, so shall we attempt to make that easier than my path please?”

“Oh, all right, but I dearly wanted to use my set downs. They would put those poppycock-eyed ninnies in their place.” Gisele had to smile at her sister’s acquiescence by way of a complaint.

“Thank you.” Gisele placed a soft kiss on her sister’s head and exited. If she only believed she could defend herself in this quarter. The rules were more direct in a desert camp. Ariel exited next, and then Jarrid emerged with no help needed. The luncheon was to be a garden affair. A footman led them around the house along a scented path lined with spring blooms. Her mother and Ariel opened their parasols to shield their faces from the sun. Gisele hoped the sun would help to conceal the designs on her face further. Cecily created some tinted creams and powders that helped to mask the darker more visible markings, and she had taken to wearing her hair to hide the left side of her face, but perhaps standing in the sun, would make the remainder of the circles almost invisible in shadow. She covered all the other marks with long sleeves, a high collar, and gloves. It would be a warm afternoon for her. Of that, she was sure.

As the women broke around the corner, Her Ladyship, Lady Litchfeld noticed them and waved, breaking from a circle of women. “Oh, my dears, I am so glad you came,” she said as the women all curtsied and Lady Litchfeld enveloped her mother in an embrace. “I won’t lie and tell you it will be an easy afternoon.”

“Your Ladyship, we are aware, but confident you will make it as easy as possible,” her mother reassured their host.

“Yes, well, I wasn’t expecting such a turnout. If we were in London I would consider it a crush.” She moved past Gisele’s mother and gave Gisele a hug as well. “This will not be easy, child, but thank you for putting your trust in me. Today will go a long way to aiding your re-entry into society. I was so relieved to hear you returned safely to your family.”

Looking at what could only be described as throng of women milling about; many stopping to whisper to their friends froze Giselle in her place. She couldn’t do this. Her heart near beat out of her chest. When she would have turned and run back to her gilded prison she felt Lady Litchfeld’s firm hug, enough to pull her out of her nightmare. Returning the embrace, Gisele bent into another curtsy. “Thank you, Your Ladyship.”

“Come along and I will do the introductions. They will talk dear, nothing can stop that, it is how you show yourself that will dictate the conversation.” The women followed their host and spent the next half hour meeting local neighbors, some from as far as three hours away. Gisele suspected they had not considered themselves neighbors until this luncheon. Most were very welcoming and only stared slightly to catch a glimpse of her famed tribal markings. There were a few, not about to accept her, which was fine. She doubted they would connect, anyway and suspected Lady Litchfeld would make sure they were punished in some social manner.

The women filled their plates or had servants bring the plates to small tables around the large lawn. Gisele had gathered her things and found a table set apart from the group. She sat looking at the scrumptious food as if it would grow a snake’s head. “Do you wish me to taste it first, my lady?” Jarrid asked from behind her.

Yes, oh God, Yes! “No, thank you, Jarrid. I need to get used to eating without fear. I am sure a luncheon at Lady Litchfeld’s country estate isn’t a place someone might drug the food.” Giselle believed the words, but didn’t trust them. With one last calming breath, she dove in. The salads and meats were tasty, but the small cakes divine. Glancing at Jarrid, she spied a look of pride and satisfaction on his face, noting he had situated himself apart from her, but not too far.

As the women finished their meals, they began to break into smaller groups based on age. Ariel found several girls she had met since their return discussing fashion and the latest on-dits. Her mother and Lady Litchfeld sat with many women in the shade of a tree. There were but a handful of newly married women and Gisele wasn’t misguided enough to assume she would be welcome. Most had spent their time watching her and whispering. None advanced to offer her into their group. A desire to leave rose in her, but as Lady Litchfeld told her, the conversation would be controlled by how she shows today.

Gisele found a bench next to a rose bush in the sun. She missed the warmth of the sun in India. Sunny days were normal in India, not so in England. Her face warmed and she closed her eyes, enjoying the play of light through her eyelids. A small voice took her out of her private moment. “May I join you?”

Gisele opened her eyes to a kind yet tired face. She had seen the woman who was of her age, but had remained close to an older woman, perhaps her mother most of the day. Gisele noted the woman‘s demeanor didn’t show enjoyment of the fact, but the baby carriage with her seemed to denote the reason. “Yes, please do,” sliding over to allow more room. Gisele peered into the carriage, which she had wanted to do earlier, not daring to approach the new mother not knowing how she would accept her. To the Ton, she was a monster after all.

“Oh my, twins,” Gisele said smiling at the two plump, pink bundles squirming in the basket. “They are so beautiful.”

“Thank you,” the mother answered with pride. Gisele couldn’t take her eyes from the babies. She had disposed herself to the fact she would not have this opportunity, but now she was married to a man expressly to have an heir. Until this moment, she hadn’t taken the time to consider the gift Maxwell gave her by his proposal. She would one day be a mother, but not if she didn’t find her way to his bed. “Would you like to hold one?” The woman asked, seeing interest in Gisele’s eyes.

“I would love to, thank you,” but then Gisele thought better. “I shouldn’t. Most of those assembled will not see you in a good light if we talk, much less I hold your infant,” she said it as matter-of-factly as she could. Suddenly, Gisele felt tired and alone.

“Nonsense,” said the woman, plucking one of the pink bundles in her arms. The baby shifted getting comfortable, then grabbed Gisele’s finger. It looked up at Gisele and smiled before closing her little eyes, snoring quietly. “See, she likes you. My name is Lacinda, but my friends call me Lacey.”

“So pleased to meet you, and I am Giselle.”

“You mean Lady Sutton,” corrected the woman. “You of all people must remember your station. It will go a long way to helping your cause.”

“Sorry?” Asked Gisele trying not to appear stupid, but not wanting to be impolite either.

“These women, the ones who will judge you most, are below your social station. If you do not wield that as a sword, they will continue to treat you as they have today.”

“They have been very accommodating. None have spoken an ill word in my hearing.”

“That does not mean they will champion you. I hope I am not overstepping, but as a newcomer, I felt I needed to share what I have learned. These women are worse than the women in London could consider being. When I married into the community, I was treated horribly until I realized I was above most of these women not only in station but also in general good-heartedness. I married Lord Deerfield. Most of these women held no higher title than that of a baroness. One would think them all duchesses, by the way they behave,” she said with annoyance.

This surprised Giselle. She couldn’t understand how a woman who was above her neighbors in station would have trouble.

“It was very difficult for them to accept me. They considered my husband quite a catch in the area and many of the mothers saw me as a thief and I didn’t have the barriers you are dealing with.”

“Yes, well I am not surprised at the reception I have gotten, until now.” Gisele looked at the woman she hoped to form a friendship with. Before Gisele could comment further, the older woman Lady Deerfield had arrived with walked up.

“Lacinda, Lady Litchfeld wishes to see the twins right away. Come along,” she snapped turning, not expecting the younger woman to do anything but follow.

“Thank you. Tell her I will be over as soon as I am finished talking with my newest friend,” she replied. The woman froze, but never turned, then continued walking back to the group of older women. “I am sorry. My mother-in-law can be less than accommodating. She assumes she has more control than she does. She did not approve of the marriage because she didn’t want a woman in her son’s life to out-rank her. I am sorry. I shouldn’t have said that, as it was not appropriate.”

“Nonsense, if we are to be friends that is something we would share with one another. I gather you being the only woman in the neighborhood to socialize with me doesn’t sit well with her.”

“I see it as my duty to bring courteous and polite behavior to this community. I have taken it as my cause. James assured me I couldn’t have chosen a more frustrating cause and that I would be better off trying to teach the pigs to speak Latin.” Both women laughed, stirring the baby in Gisele’s arms. She handed the infant back, noting the ease she felt snuggling the little one. “May I call on you? Possibly, in a few days' time?”

She hadn’t thought about receiving guests. If Lady Deerfield would set an example, Gisele would need to expect more visits if she entertained Lacy once. How would Lord Sutton feel with these women in his home? He made it clear to her father he did not participate in society. She could only assume that included accepting visitors. It was becoming clear this was going to be complicated. She was on her own journey back to life, but didn’t think a steady stream of curious visitors would help. How would she explain her new friends to Maxwell? How to explain without seeming impolite to her new acquaintance?

“I understand. I am familiar with your husband’s stance and cannot say that I disagree with him entirely. Would it be better if I invited you to visit me?” Lacy asked with a knowing look. Gisele assumed her sister-in-law had been the topic of many conversations until Gisele happened along. Perhaps, if she told Maxwell her arrival had shifted their attentions and his sister was no longer being discussed, he would see that as a good thing. Lacy settled the baby back next to her sibling and rose.

“I would like that very much,” Gisele answered

“Wonderful. You are welcome anytime you can get away. My mother-in-law never leaves the manor until after eleven o’clock and makes sure she is back before three, so visit anytime outside of those hours, as she requires my presence to show off the girls."

 Gisele rose to walk back with Lacy. She gave Jarrid a look and he left the tree he had been leaning against to get the carriage brought around.

“I think we will have a grand friendship. I am looking forward to getting to know you, Lady Sutton.” She stopped at the edge of the group of older women, turned to Gisele and curtsied, as did Gisele.

Before she could find her mother and sister, a striking woman walked up to her. The woman was a few years older than she was. She had some wrinkles around her eyes, and she looked tired, not fresh like a younger woman, but still attractive in her way. “Lady Sutton, it is wonderful to meet you,” she said exchanging curtsies. “I have wanted to call on you, but am familiar with Max’s dictate about no visitors.”

The woman using her husband’s Christian name in public peeked her interest and gave her a pang of something she feared was jealousy. Jealousy was an emotion that led to stronger emotions. Giselle was not willing to feel any stronger emotions to Maxwell at the moment.

“I am afraid I am at a loss, because it appears that you seem acquainted with me, but I am not familiar with you.” Gisele tried to sound polite, since this woman had done nothing to show her she was anything but a kindly neighbor. Gisele’s instincts were saying otherwise, however.

“Oh, how rude of me. It appears I am letting my past connection with your husband’s family make an assumption for me. I am Lady Rowena Roxford, but please I prefer Lady Rowena to Lady Roxford. I grew up with both Max and was a dear friend to his sister Ann.” Gisele curtsied again, as did Lady Rowena. The hair on her arms and neck began to prickle. She could have answers to many of the questions Gisele had about her sister-in-law.

“You knew Ann, before her death then?” She asked coyly.

“Yes, I was. Such a tragedy.” Lady Rowena sighed and looked away.

“You were still close then?” asked Gisele.

“Yes, we were in each other’s pockets,” Lady Rowena replied with a warm smile Gisele attributed to good memories. The other woman reached over, took Gisele’s gloved hand in hers, and patted it. “I am so happy Max found someone to share his loneliness with. Terrible he has closed himself off to those who care for him. By the time he returned from the continent, all had transpired. I attempted to console him, but he was too far gone in his grief.”

“I am sure your concern wasn’t lost on him. He is a very responsive man. He has been through so much,” Gisele responded, bringing back the fact she was now married to Max and it was her job to console him.

“I am sure you will go a long way to aid in his healing. If possible, I would love to call on you. You are very much like dear Ann. I suspect we will be fast friends.”

“Lord Sutton is still averse to anyone calling, as yet.”

“Ah, yes, well I understand. I hope we have an opportunity to converse again. It is so difficult to find new and interesting people in the country. I much prefer the city,” she said with a haughty air that Gisele was never fond of coming from the elite.

“Oh, do you go to London often?” Gisele asked trying to gain a small bit of information. She could see Jarrid in her periphery waiting. She would need to get back soon before her husband found her away from the manor.

“Not as often as I would like. Now that I am a widow, I do not have the same availability to the London townhouse as I used to. I make sure I am there for at least part of the season. I make it a point to attend all the most important balls,” she said.

“Well, I would love to spend more time with you, but I am afraid I must excuse myself right now. I need to be getting back.” She curtsied to Lady Pointe who stayed her with one gloved hand on her arm.

“I will make sure I invite you to my next tea. I still have friends in the house, so I will get you an invitation other than the post.” She nodded and bobbed a barely there curtsy and made her way across the lawn. Gisele wasn’t sure she liked the idea the woman had any access to her household, but if she could get information from her, she wouldn’t fret on it too much.

Gisele collected her mother and sister, claiming a headache and thanked Lady Litchfeld who also promised to call at her mother’s house in a few days. She did so loud enough to make it a public comment, Gisele thought perhaps Lacy had already invited Lady Litchfeld to join her new cause, which appeared now to be Gisele.

            Once in the carriage on her way home, she found she really did have a bit of a headache. This luncheon gave her many things to consider. Did she want to be the project of the local gentry to teach the ill mannered how to behave? How did she feel about opening her home to visitors? Did she want a friend? That answer was a yes, she enjoyed Lacey and her children and would welcome the chance to spend more time with them.

Then there was Lady Rowena. She had answers, but would she give them up? Not to mention her use of Maxwell’s Christian name still bothered her. Some of society’s strictures were lax in the country, but it was poor form to use his name. Gisele got the impression Lady Rowena used such an intimate name to make her aware of her close relationship to the family, and perhaps even Maxwell. Now she had two mysteries on her hands. She had no right to be jealous of a childhood friend, or even one between two adults before they married, but something warned her that nothing about Lady Roxford was in the past. It was something she would need to be aware of.

 The most important realization of the day was that in marrying her, Maxwell gave her something she yearned for, but had not considered until now. Caught up in finding herself and controlling her destiny, she forgot her desire for a family, which she knew would mean giving her life up to those in her family. Could she give herself up to someone else again? If it were of her own choosing, would it feel different? She laid her head against the squabs and let her sister’s chatter about all her new acquaintances rule the moment. The most disturbing thought was the fact she would have to give herself up to Maxwell. A chill covered her entire body, and then heat rose. Good God, if she gave herself to him, would she ever make her way back?

***

Why was this woman so damned obstinate? Max stalked back and forth in his study. When he returned home from meeting with Anthony and the head grounds man, he wanted to spend time getting to know his new wife. After traversing the entire house with no sign of her, he pinned down her lady’s maid. He was certain the girl wanted to melt into the floor, but she told him her mistress went visiting her mother.

On a whim, he returned to the barn, grabbed his horse and rode to his in-laws. All day, it had bothered him to think his harsh words yesterday might have made her nightmare worse. The screams rang in his head all day. Being in a new place surrounded by strangers, he would do well to take care. Scaring her would not get her closer to his bed. His good charity went out the window when he arrived only to be told the ladies had gone to attend a luncheon at Lady Litchfeld's home and they wouldn’t return until late afternoon.

“Why don’t you sit down?” Anthony suggested.

“Why don’t you go home?” Max shot back. He knew Anthony was only being a support and when he ran into Anthony on the road on his way back, Anthony followed in case his aid was needed. Now, his presence was just annoying.

“I’ll take that as anger you mean to project onto your absent wife and ignore it,” he offered, as he sat straddling the sill of a high window that looked into the garden. They were open to let fresh air take the staleness from the air.

“I wish you would take it as a request to leave,” Max drawled. He did not need a lecture about how he chose his wife unwisely at the moment. He also didn’t need anyone helping to fuel his anger. If anything, he needed to rein it in.

He stalked to the door of the study peering out. She was not there. He would have heard the door. Her maid said she left at 10 o’clock on the hour, right after him. If she left from her parents’ house, they would have gotten to Lady Litchfeld’s by 11 o’clock. How long can it take for a blasted luncheon?

“Now, just to clarify,” Anthony droned from behind Max, “we are angry with her, because she had the nerve to allow her mother, her parent, who arguably wishes only the best for her child, to take her to Lady Litchfeld’s home. The home of a virtual paragon of the area and London, as well, for a luncheon to be introduced to the community she resides in for the next, oh twenty years? Is that correct?”

“Shut up,” Max answered with annoyance. “I thought it would thrill you that she is proving you correct. She is nowhere near a proper English wife.”

“I do not intend to hold my wife prisoner, not allowing her the basic need of human connection. I have my standards, but I like to think I am a reasonable man,” Anthony chided.

Just as Max would have let into his friend, they heard the door open and Sherman greet his wife. Max turned to tell Anthony it was time for him to go, but he was no longer there. His seat on the window had been more of a quick escape. Good.

He heard the butler telling Giselle that Max wanted to see her as soon as she returned, but she was trying to make an escape of her own. Max wasn’t having it. He opened the study door and greeted his errant wife.

“My dear, I would like a word please,” he said as calmly as he was able.

“Yes, well I was told, but I would rather go to my room first and--”

“Now!” He cut her off and walked back into the room, leaving the door open for her to follow.

He did not turn around until she had entered and the door shut behind her. Walking to the open window vacated by Anthony, Max took a deep breath, hoping to school his emotions. The intention wasn’t to make her frightened, but he had to punctuate his meaning.

“How was your mother and sister?” he asked, figuring to start a bit unawares.

“Oh, they, they are fine. Ariel is suffering from a bit of a headache, but she is prone to that malady,” Giselle answered with a bit unease in her voice.

Max turned around crossing his arms in front of his chest to hide his clenched fists.

“And Lady Litchfeld? I assume she is doing well?” he bit out.

He was expecting her to react, as a guilty person should. Her head would hang and her shoulders sag a bit, as she turned very red for being caught in her deception. However, she gave no such reaction.

Giselle stood in his study for all the world to see, with her head high and he noted her chin hitched up a notch when he revealed her duplicity. Her shoulders back and her spine straight, her color was peaked, but he got the distinct impression shame was not coloring it.

“She appears to be doing well. Her Ladyship would be happy to know your interest in her wellbeing,” she said as she worked on unpinning the heavy looking hat that rested on her mounds of curls. “And, I had a lovely time by the by. I attended a public function and return unscathed. Do you find that comforting?”

“Should I be comforted? Because in the agreement your father signed, I forbade social events,” Max ground out.

“Yes, you did,” she agreed with a level stare. “However, I am your wife, not your child, and you never asked me to sign that document in agreement. Therefore, it does not pertain to me. If it will make you feel better, my father did not attend.”

“When a husband forbids something, it is not a warning as much as it is a dictate.” He chose to ignore her pert comment.

“I am aware of that, my lord.”

“Yet, you disobeyed me?”

“To be honest, I often disobeyed my father’s more intolerable mandates as well. I am afraid your purchase of me may have not been under the most honest of circumstances.”

That stopped him cold. It was as if his body froze and his muscles refused to react to his commands. How can she think he purchased her? He stepped in when no other eligible man would. His purpose was to protect her from society.

“I met several very kind women today. I’ll have you know I actually made friends.” She said the last more quietly, pulling him from his own mind and his list of why he should be honored and not just set aside.

“I am glad for you. If in fact those women are not just biding their time to find a juicy bit of gossip to have at their next gathering.”

She stood silent, but he did not miss her hands clasping in front of her and her whole body stiffening.

“I do hope you are mistaken, my lord, but I cannot live my life assuming the worst in people before I give them an opportunity to show me kindness.” Max watched the color draining like a watering can from her face, and as much as she tried to hide it, her breathing hitched up a notch.

He should stop, he knew it deep in bones, but his ego procured the reins and he barreled on. “And how is it you feel you have the luxury of being such a bleeding heart? After what the world has done to you--”

“Stop,” she said, but he was determined to make a point and opened his mouth to continue. Before he could take in enough breath, she raised a shaking hand.

“I said stop. We need not continue this conversation, because we are at an impasse. I cannot live my life as a cynic. It is not possible for me to assume everyone in the world will hurt me. There are people so entirely unhappy with themselves they will find one who seems weaker to target. I choose not to let them make me miserable as well. I disobeyed you and if there are any consequences, I will accept them. Either from you or from the few uncharitable people who will talk of me, and there were some that will, but I cannot stand here allowing you to tell me I am foolish for wanting friends. Also, telling me that if I trust anyone after my ordeal, I am ignorant.”

When Max stepped toward her, she stepped back making him hold still, but not before he saw her eyes gleam with unshed tears.

“At least when my father tried to hide me away, he was honest enough to not pretend to care about how I would be treated. He told me it was because I had brought shame on the family and it would harm my sister’s reputation and chances.”

“You don’t embarrass me,” Max defended himself. “I am concerned because these are the people who drove my sister to kill herself. I do not know you well yet, or your family, but I gather it is not good for you to put me on par with your father.” That garnered him a smile and a lady-like snort that hit him somewhere in the chest and knocked his anger down a notch. Perhaps in his own way, Anthony had been suggesting Max figure out why he was mad before he spoke. Anthony would never know he was about to take his advice. “I am sorry I yelled and hopeful we will figure out this marriage. I am glad you met people and hope I am wrong.”

“Thank you, my lord. May I take my leave now?” She requested without making eye contact or acknowledging the olive branch Max offered.

“Certainly,” he said turning from her to look out the window. She said nothing, but did not give the footman time to close the door behind her, for it shook the windows inside their sills. The delicate wallflower he assumed he was marrying was turning out to have thorns and to his frustration, he liked it. Now, what the hell was he going to do?

 

***

Max sat in his study, dinner tray forgotten. The open window allowed the full majesty of the storm to wash over him. The rain had not yet begun, but when it did, it would be all-powerful. Perhaps if the road washed out, the post would get delayed so he would not have to sift through an array of invitations for his wife. How long would he have to hide such things before people got the message to leave them alone? He knew if she accepted any of them, she would be the oddity, the sideshow at a carnival. Giselle might not realize, but he did and he was determined to protect her, as he was unable to protect his sister. His new wife was very much like Ann. She was determined, curious, independent, but she too went out in the world without thought as to the impression she would make.

            He swirled his port in the glass and took a long gulp. It warmed him on the inside as the wind cooled him on the outside. Suddenly, a vision of his wife in her chamber preparing for bed popped into his head. Perhaps, he should find something to cool him on the inside. He would have married her if she had been plain, even if she had been on the uncomely side. He was ready to marry her sight unseen, but by God’s good grace, he was a lucky man. Her beauty was that of an exotic bird. The markings on her face and hands did nothing to hinder her appearance. In fact, they added to the air of mystery he saw in her deep hazel eyes. He knew there were more markings. Her father had admitted so in their dealings before the marriage. His body tightened at the thought of discovering each one in a treasure hunt of sorts. He set the port on a nearby table.

            Max leaned into the open window, hoping the wind would cool his thoughts. Getting this worked up would not suit him, not now that she was but a closed door away. The storm, once it came to its full strength would not be what kept him awake tonight.

            A full two hours had passed since she left him. Perhaps she was settled in by now. He had heard no screams and thought that perhaps her busy day would help her sleep through. Max drained his glass, rose from the chair, and he closed the window shutting out the storm. Instead of exiting his study from the main door, he walked behind the desk to a priest hole leading to both the stables and the master suite. His grandfather had made the labyrinth to the master suite. He could exit to his chambers during one of Max’s grandmother’s famous soirées without having to interact with any of the upstarts along the way. Max would use it tonight so he would not make any noise in the hall to upset Giselle.

His room was lit and a fire was laid but not burning, waiting for the morning chill that would come with the rain. He undressed making only a small guttural noise when he took off his boots. It was a two-man job, that. Next, he pulled on a pair of satin pants slung low on his hips and made the decision of not wearing a nightshirt. Max would rather retire wearing nothing, but if Giselle needed him, this would save time.

He grabbed a book from the bedside table and opened it to the saved spot. The bed creaked under his weight. At least a half hour had gone by because he noted he was well into the next chapter when he heard it.

            The scream was that of a woman being attacked. He was out of bed and down the hall before the next one came. Was Jarrid hurting her? He was already planning the many ways he could kill the beast, when he burst through the door only to see Jarrid also bursting through an adjoining door. He stood in shocked silence at the scene. Jarrid made it to her first and began trying to get a hold of Gisele who was thrashing about like a crazed animal grabbing at her throat as if some invisible force was choking her. Jarrid reached up with his hand and to Max’s utter terror he saw a blade. He stepped forward ready to attack, but Jarrid took the blade to the high-collared night rail, tearing it away from her neck.

He dropped the blade to the carpet and began tending to a still inconsolable Gisele. She fought his every touch, he held tighter whispering in her ear, until her sobs slowed and she began to rock in his arms. Max was sure with the silence now in the room all could hear his heart pounding. It would not have surprised him to see it burst forth from the force.

“They came at night. I couldn’t breathe. Don’t let them take me again,” she sobbed and buried her head in his chest. Max watched realizing another man was consoling his wife and not him. She hadn’t let him in.

“What the hell happened?” Max could finally get out in a gruff voice even he realized sounded like anger.

"She has night terrors. It is none of your concern, my lord. She will be fine now," answered Jarrid. He bent his head to her ear and whispered words Max couldn’t hear.

“What can I do?” Max asked, wanting and needing to do something. His body tensed with the need to get closer. Sheer will allowed Max to remain where he was.

“Truly, my lord, I can handle this. I have done so many times. We shan’t bother you anymore tonight. She would not want to know you were witness to this,” Jarrid warned.

He was being dismissed. Max couldn’t remember the last time someone dismissed him. That pricked at his ego, but this was not about him. He needed to do what was best for her right now. Every muscle in his body wanted to walk to her and hold her as Jarrid was doing, but he turned and left by the door he came and closed it behind him. Once back in his own room, he stood staring at his bed, so far away from his wife. Max grabbed a pillow and blanket, settling instead in the adjoining room to Giselle’s, but not in the bed. Opting instead to slide to the floor with his back against his wife’s chamber door and there he would stay. A sob now and then tugged at his heart. In the darkness with the wind howling and the rain beating against the window, he wondered on what they put her through to cause her to have that horrible dream. He wondered too at his almost overwhelming need to fix it for her. Before he dozed, he decided it was time for some answers. Jarrid and he would talk tomorrow.

***

The morning brought the chill from the storm and a pained neck from sleeping in a sitting position. A fire blazed in the fireplace, so he knew someone had seen him asleep up against his wife’s bedchamber door. He wished they had woken him, even a few minutes less of sleep might have helped his neck not to pain him so. He listened for noise in the next room, but none came. His hand itched to open the door and check on her, but he knew that would only cause more problems. She was proud and being confronted after such an awful event would make her angry. Max knew an angry Gisele would not benefit his cause either. A cause that had now shifted. He wanted her, but she was more traumatized than she would show. Helping her to heal before he could show her the pleasure they could share was his new mission.

Max rose and poured a cup of tea from the tray left for him. Once back in his own room, he pulled the bell and summoned Colby. Word of his state must have traveled fast because the valet was at his door in no time with a hot compress. Without words, Max put it around his neck. He felt instant relief in his neck, but the emotions still raw from last night would not ease with a warm cloth.

“Colby, do you know if Jarrid is about yet?” He quizzed as his man chose an outfit for him.

“Yes, my lord, I believe he is indeed.” He handed Max his vest and morning coat, which was already brushed and ready for wear.

“I need you to get word to him that I need to speak with him in the study. In fact, please have a plate prepared for me and sent to my desk. I will be occupied most of the morning.”

“Of course, my lord,” Colby answered, as he worked on tying a simple mechanical knot in Max’s cravat. “I will have Jarrid sent directly when they return.”

That made Max perk up. “They?”

“My lady, my lord. They are out on their morning ride.” Colby stepped back to inspect Max’s attire and nodded in approval of his works.

“Yes, I--I forgot she often rose before the sun.” He hoped that covered his surprise. She was the one with the night terror, and he felt like someone had dropped him from a cliff this morning. There was much more to his new bride than a haughty stare and tribal markings. She was a force in and of herself, he was learning. Perhaps it wasn’t her he should be protecting from the Ton, but the reverse. He was underestimating her, but then he heard her scream in the night and realized at least some of her outward appearance was nothing but a parlor trick. “Are you finished primping me, Colby?” He asked, brought back to where he was.

            “Yes, my lord. I will have a plate sent posthaste. I will also make sure Mr. Jarrid is sent to your study, without the knowledge of the mistress.”

            “Yes, please do,” he responded as he left his room once again from the priest hole as to not run into his wife being unsure he could control his reaction yet. It would not be prudent to react at all until he had answers from Jarrid. And answers he would have.