A/N: Well, it is the very last chapter. Hopefully I have had existent readers at one point. I beg of you to review this chapter, if not any other, if you are indeed reading this. With that said, I hope you enjoyed this. I feel like most people don't really take to the love but not of Clara & Daniel. Heh. The end of them in the book initially was pretty intense for me, and I felt so bad for Daniel, thus…Shrouded Innocence came into existence. Lol. Enjoy this final chapter. Thank-you for reading. ;p
"Maribeth! Don't run in the house!"
I smirked, loving the sound of my husband's demanding voice. Somehow it was a great comfort to me how dearly he thought of our beautiful little girl, even if it was bordering anger at the moment. I heard the barefooted pads of feet on the wood floor come to a halt, and leaned back into my chair, thrumming my lazy hands along the front of my dress. We were expecting again that December.
The shuffling of papers could be heard across the room in my husband's direction.
"Anything interesting?" I asked from my far off place in the corner by the window. I could feel his form turn towards me and his grand steps walk in my direction.
"Nothing of too much interest," he said casually, taking a seat in the chair just across from me. "A wedding invitation though," he continued, sounded incredibly indifferent. I felt just a pinch of tension in him and it kept me from getting too excited. I had grown to truly love weddings over the years, but something about Adrian's voice dissuaded me from the desire to smile brightly at attending another of the festive occasions.
"Whose?" I asked politely, forcing just slight curiosity into my voice. His head turned up towards me, abandoned the mail for just a second before looking back down on the name and address that clearly seemed to plague him, though I knew he would not show it.
"Daniel Sempere," he said plainly, rising from his seat and crossing the room again, back to where he had come. He tossed the invitation in my lap before he eagerly distracted himself with our bouncing almost-five year old daughter again. "Apparently he's marrying some girl named Beatriz Aguilar. I guess she's a relative of one of his old friends," he said offhandedly once again.
I swallowed hard, clutching at the invitation just enough to prevent its departure but not so much as to rip it to shreds. I had gotten over Daniel with Bernarda's help over the last few years. Having Maribeth had only helped the process, to a great extent in fact. In my daily life, Bernarda showed me how much I needed Adrian and our precious daughter. After awhile Daniel's name seemed a blur lost in time, a passing fancy that I'd been ridiculous to entertain. In the years of Daniel Sempere, I'd reversed back into my teen years. In the years that had followed my wedding and that third night of my honeymoon, I'd recovered from that dreadful fall. I'd grown up and was content with the way my life was. Uncle Gustavo loved Maribeth so very much and was already trying to teach her the intricacies of rare books and how to achieve them. I laughed when I heard them together. My heart beat wildly against my chest when Maribeth called out to me, "Mommy!" or to Adrian "Daddy!" Much to our relief, Maribeth was not born blind, not even with a hint of the dark world I was surrounded by. I was so glad for her and loved her with all my heart.
The pleasure and security Adrian brought me was more than gratifying. If our love story was told, which I intended it would be, it would be that of the most romantic kind. I had turned a pompous fool into a one-woman man with the biggest heart I'd ever known. When he kissed me it was like I was in another world, one where I was weightless and could see all the vibrant colors ever known. He sparked such life in me and when on the rare occasion I thought back to Daniel, I could not imagine why my heart had ever managed to stray.
But a chill ran through me when I felt that invitation in my hand, and I knew I had to dismiss it instantly. It was not that I could not forget it if it lingered awhile longer. I had grown up much farther past the sinking sand that was my misty feelings for Daniel Sempere. I could handle a simply wedding invitation that would cut me off from him for good.
Still, I called out to him.
I felt his busying presence in the room shift. His feet moved ever so slightly in my direction and it was almost if I could feel his heart beating heavily against me.
"What is it, dear?" he asked.
"Decline," I said lightly, tossing the invitation to the small round table beside me. In that instant the air in the room grew thick. It was either as though he thought he had heard me incorrectly or perhaps that I had said the wrong thing. Maybe he thought there was a hidden meaning to what I said. For just a moment my face grew very hot and I thought he knew about my heated kiss with Daniel on the night of our wedding when I should have been with him all along. I was so very guilty about that now. It seemed five years prior I was someone completely different, so very childish.
To clear the air, I spoke again. "The wedding invitation, Adrian. Tell Uncle Gustavo to go in our stead." Still, it felt like the room was thick with a poisonous vapor. I could not tell what he was thinking and I so desperately wanted to know. Maribeth was out of the room and playing with the other children in the front of the house. I could hear their laughter. It would not prove as a good enough distraction though, if there were raised voices. At least she wouldn't hear them if there were.
"Why?" he asked so very quietly. I thought maybe he hadn't said it at all. I tried my very best to breathe evenly. I knew his underlining question. Do you still have feelings for him?
After what Bernarda had told me that fateful rainy night, I no longer assumed that the two men in my life were blind to what I seemed in denial of myself.
"Uncle Gustavo has been a friend of Mr. Sempere for years. Obviously he would have gotten an invitation as well because of this, but I really think we should stay home that night. We're going to be very busy for the next few months. I believe right around then is when the chaos will stop, will it not?"
He sighed, clearly resigning, and I was grateful for it.
"Very well," he said, closing the distance between us and pressing a soft kiss to my forehead. He snatched up the invitation in an instant and crossed the room once more, phoning my uncle to inform him of our decision. I eased in my chair.
The phone rang forever it seemed. I was comfortably tucked in bed and the last thing I wanted to do was untangle myself from its sheets and answer that ridiculous line of communication. But the ringing wouldn't stop and Adrian was nowhere in the vicinity, at least not in the one surrounding the telephone. So, I climbed out of our luxurious bed and felt my way around to the telephone in our bedroom.
"Hello?" I asked quietly. Maribeth was sure to be asleep, but I didn't want to take any chances.
"Clara, dear, it's your uncle."
"Uncle Gustavo," I said, surprised. It occurred to me then that that was the night of the wedding between Daniel and…whoever it was that he had decided to marry. I couldn't remember any longer. It had been over a month.
"What is it?" I asked suddenly, realizing he had been silent for a great deal of time.
"I've just gotten back from Aguilar-Sempere wedding. I wanted to tell you about it."
I blinked, yawned and that rubbed at my eye. Where was he going with this? A very possible conclusion came to me right then and I straightened myself on the bed and prepared to deny any of his accusations or causes for worry.
"I'm fine, Uncle."
The line was silent for awhile again and I sighed, knowing I hadn't said the right thing. He must have gotten the wrong impression, I told myself.
"I'm sure the wedding was lovely, Uncle," I assured him, in case he wasn't already aware. I heard him clear his throat on the other end, with slight disapproval I guessed, and that was the moment I decided to be quiet, at least for a little while.
"It was," he said, sounding like he was still calculating how he was to go about our conversation. I rubbed at my temple in a bit of anguish.
"Tell me about it," I said, sounding slightly annoyed.
"Well, I will only tell you a little bit. I know you must be exhausted. I am sorry for calling you so late. I just…thought you'd want to know. We've been acquainted with the Semperes for so long, and Daniel was always rather attached to you. I'm sure it did not heighten his spirits to see your absence."
I swallowed. I would have interrupted him to make him stop in his clear intent to provoke me, to test me rather, but I would not let myself be thwarted. I had come so far.
"I'm sorry, Uncle. Our home life has been rather chaotic for the last month and I knew tonight we'd have some time free to each other. That is the reason I declined the wedding invitation. If you were looking for some justification, that is it."
He did not sigh in response, but I could tell he was not pleased.
"Clara…" he trailed off, and I actually felt bad for the man. It seemed to me he thought I was in denial still over what I felt for Daniel, but I was not. Just because I had not explicitly talked to him on the matter did not mean I hadn't overcome that particular difficulty.
"…he looked very much in love," he said. "They both did. Everyone could see it. It was pretty hard to miss. They will make each other very happy, and have beautiful children I'm sure. Beatriz Aguilar was nothing short of stunning."
Jealousy burned inside me.
"T-That's wonderful, Uncle."
I cursed myself for stuttering. I was not in love with Daniel Sempere, not anymore. But that did not mean I enjoyed the fact that he had found another beautiful woman and was at that moment sharing his life with her. We had finally detached ourselves from each other. For all the bliss that had become my life, I could not help thinking in 'what if's.
"Well, that is all I have to tell you, dear. Perhaps we can get together soon and I can delight in seeing that beautiful grand-niece of mine," he said warmly, clearly moving on from the tense topic. I knew in that instant he felt he had won, that maybe he thought he had punctured my most sensitive healed wound and pried it open with a stick and a knife. I knew he would not do it deliberately, to hurt me or for whatever else.
I knew he only meant the best for me and my little family though. It was just meant to be a reminder not a cursed attack. For this realization alone, I smiled a little at the mention of Maribeth's name.
"Yes, Uncle Gustavo, perhaps."
The room was shrouded in darkness, deeper than I had ever felt, for the following ten minutes after I ended the call. I desperately wanted Adrian beside me, reminding me why I had chose him and not made my life more complicated. Soon the emotion became unbearable and I rose to my feet again, this time determined to find him. I stepped out into the hall, feeling against the walls to find my way.
"Adrian?" I called out in a soft whisper, hoping he'd hear me and there wouldn't be some sort of commotion that would wake our precious angel. "Adrian?" I asked again into the darkness. There were soft voices that I could hear near the front door and it stopped me dead in my tracks. The voices were too familiar. It was not only Adrian's that I recognized.
"There is something I have to tell you, Neri," Daniel's voice echoed in my mind.
"What is it?" Adrian asked. I was so very awed by the complete lack of anger or arrogance in his voice. If he had any thought of the two emotions, it was untraceable.
Daniel swallowed hard. "The night of your wedding five years ago…"
My eyes widened and it felt as though I had just been sucked into an unending black hole of complete despair. I had never requested Daniel keep the secret to himself. Perhaps it was because during the time it occurred I felt no guilt whatsoever. Now it was so very different. I panicked and wanted to move, to run at him and shout or do something to slaughter the notion and very true fact that Adrian was now unable to block from his mind. But I was frozen stiff. I couldn't do anything in the least. Let alone stop the transaction.
"…thank-you for telling me," Adrian responded. I blinked and my body eased. My panic had blocked out the event in motion and I had not heard exactly what words had passed between the two, but before I could hear another thing or make any clean assumptions, I padded my way back to the bedroom and tucked into the warm sheets.
I heard the front door close no longer than five minutes later. I felt Adrian's presence immediately when he crossed the threshold leading into our bedroom and closed the door behind him. The quiet sound confirmed my suspicions. Very quietly he slid into bed beside me. I did not realize I was so tensed until I felt one of his strong arms envelope me and pull me close. I was even warmer now when he tucked a soft strand of hair behind my ear.
"Did you hear everything, my love?" he asked into my ear, nuzzling his face against mine. I sighed uneasily.
"No," I said, glad I had been so honest.
"Do you love me?" he asked, his voice a mixture of vulnerability and absolute hatred. If I did not answer positively in his regard, he would know where my heart truly lay.
"With all my heart," I said, also with the deepest sincerity and honesty. He was silent for awhile but his fingers threaded through my hair and so I knew he was just contemplating my answers in order to figure out what he'd say next. His movements were gentle and I was glad that in the midst of my maybe wrong answer I'd given him some sort of relief.
"Do you love another as well?" he asked very quietly. I swallowed hard. I did not believe myself to love any other than Adrian Neri, the man I so deeply loved and who held me in a way that women dreamed men would hold them. I did not regret a second of our life together.
"They're only memories, Adrian. The only man I love is you." I reached up and traced the lines of his face with my hand. Somehow it felt as if he was tense again. I did not know what to do. If he believed I loved Daniel still, I would not know how to turn him back and make him trust me again.
I pulled back finally, fearing I had made things worse by touching him. He grabbed a hold of my hand before it had reached the covers I was buried beneath. His tension released itself as he kissed my fingertips and brought my hand to rest on his cheek. He drew me closer and would not let go of my hand.
"Just remember that you married me, Clara."
"We have an understanding, Adrian. I'm never going to talk or meet up with Daniel Sempere ever again. We have both married and lead separate, happy lives. I love you, not him. You and Maribeth are the most wonderful things that could have ever happened to me. I treasure you every day."
He seemed to be smiling sadly, but I couldn't tell.
"Shh," he said very gently. "Don't make promises you can't keep, love. Just remember." He tucked another rebellious lock behind my ear. I felt so very restless and hopeless right then, like I had to convince him there was no love between myself and Daniel and that is was purely a mix of feelings from the memories and the experiences I'd forced myself to get over during the last five years.
Finally, I closed up the final inch between us and tucked my head beneath his chin. I felt so very safe in his arms. He did not kiss me and I wanted him to, but I would not beg. It was not long until I became very satisfied with the position we were in. There were so many things I wanted to tell him, to debate, to convince him of. I desperately hoped that single kiss on the night of our wedding did not demolish the trust between us. I would not cheat on Adrian Neri in a million years, not since that night. And in the morning after of that fateful night, if I had given into the temptation, I would never forgive myself.
"Only you," I murmured nearly asleep. He said nothing in response and I wondered if he'd fallen asleep just a little before me, but then I felt his sweet lips press in an endearing, almost provocative kiss along the curve of my neck. I moaned very softly and felt him smile against me. That was when all my worries melted away. I lived in the world of shrouded innocence, but Adrian had uncovered me and wiped away my spotless stains. Forever I would love him.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed! =D Please review! ;p