Innocent Deception Part 2

I’m sorry to those who read the first part of this story and have been waiting for the conclusion. The last week has been busy and stressful, with a job interview and a viral illness that started last Thursday and hasn’t completely gone away yet. I haven’t had a chance to work on my current novel let along my blog. Thanks for being patient. I hope you enjoy the conclusion to ‘Innocent Deception.’

Happy Reading,

Rose Connelly

 

Innocent Deception Part 2

“What has put you into such a foul mood?”  Lee asked as he followed Adrian into the small sitting room and watched him violently tear off his cravat.  “You had poor Lady Milton almost crying when she did but grasp your arm.”

“And,” Adrian snarled.  “While that ‘lady’ was innocently clasping my arm she was whispering an invitation in my ear with her husband not ten steps away.  They’re all faithless jades.”  He sank heavily into a nearby chair, leaned back and closed his eyes.

“So,” Lee surmised as he picked up a heavy china elephant from the mantle and intently examined it.  “You had no luck tracking down your specter?”  His heavy sigh carried across the room and a weighty pause followed as if he were gathering the courage before he spoke.  “I am sorry for your disappointment, Adrian, but I warned you not to rekindle your hope.  No matter how much you may wish it, there is no way Emily could have survived that fire.  It burnt down to the very cellars.  Nothing was left.”

“You’re wrong,” Adrian gritted out, still trying to keep his boiling anger in check.  “She is alive and I found her.”  He opened his eyes and watched his friend as he tried to puzzle it out.

“Where is she then?”  Lee finally asked.  “And if she’s alive, where has she been all this time?”

Adrian stood up abruptly and headed for a heavy, elaborately carved side table that must have come from a previous century.  He spared a brief thought to his host’s appalling taste before lifting the full bottle of whiskey and examining the deep amber color.  “I have no idea how Miss Hale survived or where she has been for the past year, but I’m sure,” he added cynically, “that she found a gullible fool or two to keep her company.  Now,” he turned and raised the bottle.  “Why don’t we drop the subject and have a drink instead.”

Lee shook his head sadly.  “You can go right ahead and drown your sorrows in drink.  I’m going off to find some more pleasing company of the feminine sort.”  The door shut behind him.

Adrian gave a mental shrug and, deciding he didn’t need a glass, upended the bottle and took a healthy draw.  He couldn’t really blame his old friend, he thought philosophically, since he didn’t even want to be in his own company this night.  Besides hunting Emily down and beating her to within an inch of her life, which he couldn’t and wouldn’t do no matter how he was provoked, there was only one thing to do.

Cradling the bottle like a babe he walked back to his chair and stretched out.  With a mocking toast to women everywhere, he tilted the bottle and drank.

When the blast of sunlight hit his eyelids he groaned and rolled over, trying to hide his face in the pillow, only to realize that he had fallen asleep on the floor.  He had a vague memory of calling for another bottle and steadily drinking until he had finally passed out, only to be further tormented by visions of Emily as she once was, honest and refreshing, but blushing sweetly when he but held her hand.  It had been very late when he had finally gained some peace.

Whoever was responsible for waking him, he thought as he gingerly sat up and clasped his head, was going to be very sorry.  He fell back.  That is when he could move without groaning in pain.

“Good morning sunshine,” Lee chirped.  He backed up quickly and chuckled when Adrian reached out a hand to grab him.  “I can see that my evening was much more pleasant than yours.  Of course,” he continued cheerfully as he sprawled in a convenient chair, “I did have to deal with a particularly disagreeable young woman when the sun had barely risen this morning.  Apparently, she thought I was you since I did answer the summons.  I thought I would do you a favor since you were sure to be under the weather today.  If I had but known I would be taken to such task by a mere servant I might not have done you the favor, but,” he continued, holding up his finger to forestall Adrian’s speech, “I did learn some very interesting things.”

Despite the severe pounding in his head, Adrian found himself intrigued.  He stood up very slowly, wincing when both his back and his head complained, and stumbled toward the heavy chair that matched the one Lee was sitting on.  When a knock sounded on the door and a servant came in carrying a tray with two steaming cups of coffee on it, he groaned in pleasure.

It was only several minutes later, when he had finished half the cup, that his brain was capable of forming a coherent sentence.  He looked over at his friend and almost winced again at the bright cheerfulness on his face.  “All right,” he croaked.  “Who was this termagant of a woman and what did she say?”

“Well.”  Lee slowly sat his empty cup on a nearby table and steepled his fingers.  “Her name, she told me, was Rose Timmons and she has been a maid, housekeeper and, from what she told me, keeper for Miss Emily Hale for over a year.  She came to ring a peal over my head because my actions, well rather, your actions, of yesterday caused her mistress to become inconsolable.”

Adrian raised his palm, intent on halting the conversation.  After the events of yesterday and his restless night he had no desire to hear anything concerning the lovely, but deceitful Miss Hale.  In fact, he was eager to leave today and if he never heard anything else about the ‘lady’ it would suit him just fine.

Lee, however, seemed to have a different notion.  “Did you know,” he said, completely ignoring Adrian’s glare.  “Miss Hale is of the belief that her uncle is still alive and that he poses some danger to both of you?”

Adrian grunted.

“Yes,” Lee continued cheerfully.  “The lovely Miss Emily was beaten and locked up for refusing to seduce valuable information out of you and turn it over to her uncle.  I almost forgot, he also wanted to sell her off to one of his old cronies.”

“What kind of information?”  Adrian asked, intrigued despite himself.

“It seems, my friend, that her uncle Albert was working as a spy; delivering what useful information he could obtain to Napoleon’s compatriots.  He apparently made a very tidy profit.”  Lee leaned back in his chair and crossed his ankles.

“That explains some things.”  Adrian didn’t quite understand how someone could turn against their country, but obviously Albert Hale had.  Now that he thought about it he did recall some particularly prying questions that the man had asked him.  At the time he had attributed them to mere curiosity.  His heart was beginning to lighten, buoyed by the promise of hope, but something didn’t make sense.  “Why didn’t she come to me?”  He asked.  “I would have helped her.”

“From what Rose said, Emily’s uncle threatened to kill you if she didn’t comply.  The poor girl obviously believed that he had the power to do so.  I imagine that she didn’t think it would be safe.”

*******

 

“Come on miss,” Rose urged as she gently stroked Emily’s hair.  “Don’t take on so.  It can’t be good for you and it hurts to see you in such a state.”

I’m sorry Rose.  I know I’m a bother.”  Emily lifted her hand and wiped her streaming eyes.  Since the horrible scene yesterday she couldn’t seem to stop crying.  She looked blearily around the small, sparsely furnished room, searching for some distraction, and spotted the basket of clothes sitting by the door.  Making a quick decision, she pushed the wooden chair back and stood up.  “I believe I need some fresh air and exercise,” she said.  “I’ll just go and do the laundry.”  Before Rose could protest, she was out the door.

The day was warm and muggy.  By the time Emily had finished washing the clothes in the stream behind the house, her clothes were sticking to her.  She glanced carefully around the clearing to make sure she was alone and peeled off her dress.  After the stress of the last two days the cool water was like a balm.  She laid back and closed her tired eyes, content to just drift.

A twig snapped nearby followed by the tread of a booted foot.  Her eyes popped open and her feet touched down on the pebbled streambed.  Her hands automatically came up to cover her breasts as she quickly turned, presenting her back.

A horrified gasp came from behind her.  She had forgotten the scars, but there was nothing she could do but brazen it out.  “Please sir,” she asked, “could you hand me my clothing?”  She backed carefully toward the bank and waited.  Instead of the softness of cloth against her outstretched hand, calloused but warm fingers ran slowly over her back, tracing the stark white marks.

“Emily,” Adrian groaned, as the full extent of her suffering rolled through him.  “What he did to you and how you must despise me.”  Overcome by remorse, he bent down and smoothed his lips over each mark that marred her skins as if, somehow, he could erase the very memory of any pain she had suffered.  “I should have known.  I should have come for you.”

“Adrian,” Emily whispered, hardly able to believe that the sweet caresses and gentle voice were coming from the same man who had spoken to her so coldly.  She knew she should move away, it wasn’t proper for him to see her this way, let alone touch her the way he was, but her body was tingling, her legs shaking and God how she’d missed him.

Still, she dared not give in.  Nothing had changed.  She cleared her throat and straightened her spine, secretly mourning the loss of his soft lips as he moved away.  “What are you doing here My Lord?”

She heard the rustling of cloth and moments later a large, soft, linen shirt was pulled over her head.  She barely had time to appreciate the warm, masculine smell of the garment before she was lifted bodily and deposited on the bank.  Her mind squirreled frantically, searching for either an explanation or an escape route, while her weak body urged her to sink into his warm embrace.  With her last vestiges of strength she pushed out of his arms and walked away.  “What are you doing here?” she repeated.

Adrian remained silent, watching the proud girl he had fallen in love with, aching with tenderness as she struggled to keep her dignity while dressed in only a men’s shirt.  “I like it better when you call me Adrian,” he said hoarsely.  “Turn around and look at me.”

She couldn’t, Emily thought in helpless frustration, because her face would betray her.  Unchecked tears were again flowing down her cheeks.  When gentle hands reached out and turned her she bent her head.

“Emily,” Adrian whispered.  He brushed a flame colored curl from her face and ran his thumb along her cheek, capturing a drop of moisture.  “Don’t cry.  I promise everything will be fine.”

“How can everything be fine?”  She laughed harshly and shoved at him.  “Go away before you get hurt.  I mean,” she corrected quickly.  “I want you to leave.”  Before her heart splintered anymore.  “Wait a minute,” she said, her spine straightening as she replayed his words.  “What do you mean, you should have done something?”

“Your companion came to the house this morning and rang a peal over Lee’s head, thinking he was me.  She told him everything.”

Emily took a deep breath and turned her back to him.  “This changes nothing.”  She picked up her dress, tried to think of a way to put it on without exposing more of herself to him.  “You made your feelings perfectly clear yesterday.”

He cringed, remembering his harsh words.

“And I…” She tried to force the words past the constriction in her throat.  Her uncle was rich and powerful a man she’d heard even the King was wary of.  She would not place Adrian in danger, even for her own happiness.  The reminder made the words easier.  “I…”

      “Your uncle is dead,” Adrian interrupted quietly.  “He has been for this long year.”

“Dead?”  She sank to the ground as her legs collapsed.  Before she had time to blink she was being lifted and cradled in a pair of strong arms.  “But how?  He wasn’t even in the house the day of the fire.”  Though, God forgive her, there were times she wished he had been.

“It happened somewhere on the Continent.”  He laid his head on her hair, breathing in her scent, letting it soothe the tortured pain he’d been living with.  “Though I confess that I was too….preoccupied to pay much attention to the how.”

Emily thought of questioning him more, but then what he was saying finally sank in and she felt a release so profound she felt as if she could have floated away — if Adrian had not been holding her so tightly.  And then she realized that he was crying, his tears further wetting her already damp hair.  Her own feelings faded to the background, eclipsed by a need to comfort him.

When he felt a gentle touch on his cheek, Adrian turned his head and kissed her scarred palm.  Then the reality of the situation hit and he was filled with such profound joy that he laughed, the full-bodied sound startling birds from the trees.

Emily wrapped her arms around his neck and clung as he spun her around.  Her smile echoed his then faded as he stopped and looked down at her, the look in his beautiful blue eyes turning intense.  “What’s the matter Adrian,” she asked quietly.

“Nothing.”  He lowered his head until their lips were almost touching.  “I missed you, so much.”

The kiss that followed was nothing like the one they’d shared the previous day.  It was passionate, intense and full of love.  When Adrian finally pulled away — Emily didn’t have the strength or the will to do so — he put her down, but only long enough for her to grab her clothes.  Then he swung her back into his arms and strode away.  She snuggled her cheek against his chest and sighed in contentment, but her natural curiosity eventually got the best of her.  “Where are we going?” she asked.

“We, my love, are going to find a priest.  Then, I’m taking you home and not letting you out of my site for at least a year.”

Emily smiled and snuggled closer.  That sounded just perfect to her.

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