Title: Venus Revealed
Summary: Adhemar finally wins Jocelyn after ten years have gone by.
Disclaimer: Not mine and I don't own them.
Notes: I had more of this that I thought I might include, a list of ideas to continue the tale, but I believe it unnecessary. This story is done and I'll leave this Adhemar and Jocelyn right where they are.
He was nearly ready to admit defeat, a crushing blow to his ego. Jocelyn was proving far more stubborn than he'd anticipated. Either that, or he'd grossly overestimated his abilities.
No, Adhemar thought, pursing his lips and shaking his head. That wasn't it. He'd broken down men a helluva lot tougher than this woman. So why wouldn't she let out all of those emotions she'd trapped inside her? What, exactly, was holding her back? It was looking as though it was going to take all of his cunning as both a man and a soldier to drag Jocelyn into the present. Unfortunately, his first instinct of dread had been appropriate. She was practically kicking and screaming in her reluctance to let go of the many months departed William Thatcher.
Why am I still here with her, Adhemar wondered. He didn't have to do this now. She was to be his, was as good as his at this very moment. This purging of her pain could wait. He could let her remain wrapped up and not fully on the healing path. Turning from the window, he looked at her with an impassive gaze, careful not to allow his frustration to show on his face.
Jocelyn was back on the bed. After three hours of pacing and denial, she'd plopped down onto the mattress with her arms crossed, still glaring at him. She'd moved her position while his back was to her. Now, the pillows were all piled behind her back, her knees were drawn up and arms wrapped about her legs. She looked uncomfortable, genuine despair in her eyes. "Please stop," she whispered nearly too low to be heard, voice flat, a slight tremble to the words.
Perhaps he would not be defeated after all. Going to the bed, he placed one knee on the mattress, his hands flat to brace himself and leaned towards her. She didn't turn away, merely continued staring. "What did you say, Jocelyn?"
Her brows drew together, but not with a frown. No. They drew together in an obvious effort to stave off tears. Her lower lip quivered, her breath fast and gulping. Jocelyn shook her head. "Stop." A cough left her. "You've no idea how much it hurts to lose someone you've loved so much....It's like losing a part of you and you can't breath your chest is so tight. You can't help but hope each morning that it was all a bad dream, that no one died and your life has not ended."
She was right. He hadn't lost any great love in his life. Indeed, he'd never given a thought to the different meanings of the word 'love' until Jocelyn had come back into his life. Since meeting with her again, he'd pondered love. Love of a man to woman. Love of a child to parent. Love of a parent to a child. What if....What if death came for one of his daughters? They were the only people in the world he could honestly claim to love more than himself; to love so much that he'd gladly give his life to save theirs. How would he feel in that instance? He imagined the picture, one or both of his beautiful girls dead and cold in a grave.
It was a painful wondering, the very thought of never seeing their smiles or hearing their laughter again pricking at him. He had the urge to run out of the room and find them to make certain they were well, though he knew them safe with Germaine.
Jocelyn was not unreasonable in her mourning.
"You're right, I don't know. I don't know what that feels like, but I am beginning to understand love. Isn't that a start?" She didn't nod or reply to that. Sighing heavily, Adhemar crawled across the bed to sit beside her, knees up and arms resting on them, unmindful of still wearing his shoes. "You know he's gone, Jocelyn, you just need to accept it."
"You've said that already."
"But were you listening? Have you listened to one word I've said, or have I been talking to myself?" She sat back, no longer hunched over, affecting a pose similar to his. Their shoulders touched.
Jocelyn reached up a hand, swept her long hair over her left shoulder, fingers wrapping the ends round and round. He could see the streaks of gray she tried to hide. "I've listened."
"Then why won't you release it all? You know what I've said is truth. You know you need to, and yet you still drag it out, intentionally hurting yourself. Refusing to come out of grief is self destructive. My God, do you truly want to stay in this state?"
Her tongue flicked out to wet her lips, a hesitance in her answer. "Don't you know? I had thought you'd guess at my reluctance."
"No, I don't know. Would I be asking if I did?"
Her eyes slipped shut. "I can't be vulnerable before you. If I crumble in the slightest you'll trample me. You're so much like Will was, though I don't think either of you realized how alike you were. So similar and...I have to be strong to maintain myself."
She was afraid of him and she was afraid of being that silent woman society demanded women be. "There's a time to be firm like that Jocelyn, but there's also a time to let others be the strong one. This is one of those times for the latter. I won't be an absent husband. You know what I mean by that. I won't be absent from your thoughts in favor of a ghost. That must change and it must begin now. You've shouldered all of your pain and your sons and it's time to stop. Lean on me. It's one thing a husband is for."
Staring up at him, she gasped, then glanced away. "I can't."
"You won't. It's not a matter of can or can't, Jocelyn, it's all about want. Do you want to move on? Do you want to live?" Adhemar put an arm around her. She was almost there, almost to the last mountain of grief.
"Then let it all go. Cry, scream, yell at the unfairness of it all. Curse if you must."
And then she was beating at his chest with her fists, following the advice he'd given, laying bare her soul and all of the sorrow within. She yelled and she screamed, but still she didn't cry. He closed his eyes and held her.
Jocelyn remained silent. What was there to say? He'd stripped her bare, in more ways than one, over the past few hours, tearing away the masks she'd worn all of her life. She was no longer a daughter, sister, or lady. She was not beloved of anyone or even confident. Those masks were stripped from her with a cool efficiency and only in the last minutes had he shown any frustration at her. A muscle on his jaw had ticked. Lean on me. It's one thing a husband is for. His expression had been the last push she needed. Nicholas Adhemar cared. He might try and hide it, but he cared enough to make her face the loss. It was encouraging.
The masks were gone now. The woman beneath it all was revealed.
Will's Aphrodite, his Venus, was gone.
There was only Jocelyn, frightened and uncertain in the cold light of morning.
"You will live, Jocelyn, though I know it doesn't feel like it right now." Adhemar held her as he would a child, a daughter perhaps, stroking her back with comforting passes of his warm hands. "Mourn. It's alright to do so."
"He's not coming back." She looked up at him, tears flooding her eyes, an unchecked torrent, sobs bursting free. The words left her lips in an air of revelation. Never before had she been able to say it aloud. Over the months, the idea had twisted around in her mind, not allowing her to fully grasp the reality. Nicholas Adhemar was right. Will Thatcher was dead and buried. He was gone. Her husband was gone. "He's not...."
"I know." One hand pressed her face to his chest, the other still soothing.
Jocelyn's arms found their way around him and she held on, crying until no more emotion could be forced from her, until she'd accepted her loss. Through a fog, she heard light feminine voices -- children -- enquiring as to why the lady was crying and Adhemar's soft reply for a bit more time with the lady. The conversation continued with the girls, but she didn't pay attention. She also heard Germaine saying there were two visitors waiting below. Sniffling, she eased herself back from Adhemar, surprised when he released her readily.
"Better?" His brows raised.
Jocelyn nodded. "Yes." And she was better, strangely. For the first time in her life, she was no one but herself, and true mourning had begun for a much loved spouse. She accepted. She'd been through the denial, the anger, the bargaining and the depression, though not in that order. She'd gone through it all and come out on the other end with acceptance. It was a start, and a relief to know that Adhemar would not begrudge her her grief. She could begin to genuinely deal with her loss. She would lean on him as he'd suggested.
Lean fingers pushed her hair off her face, straightening the mussed strands before he climbed over her and off the bed. "Do you feel up to meeting my daughters? I fear Germaine didn't keep the news of our impending nuptials to himself. They're anxious to meet you, and I believe Christiana and Miles are also waiting." He held out his hand.
She wiped her eyes, staring at that hand. She saw this man in a different light than previously. Yes, he was still cool and arrogant and mercenary, likely to kill a man for some trivial offense. He was also generous to those he cared for, protective of what he considered his, and complex in ways she'd not tapped the surface of. Life with him would not be boring. She'd need all of her wits to keep on top of his moods. The world was starting to become interesting again and Jocelyn found she couldn't wait to live. Slowly, she stood and reached out, grasping his hand with hers.
"I'm ready." Head held high, Jocelyn stepped out the door and into her new life.