Chapter 48

NPOV

Sir William had welcomed me home as if I were the prodigal, doing everything to make me comfortable save killing a fatted calf. I did feel better in the manor at Wolf's Bridge. Every room was filled with memories of my marriage - whispered conversations, intimate touches, and exquisite passion. It was here that I began to know my husband…or so I thought. I second guessed myself with every memory until I was convinced none of it was real. Then I entered the mistress' bed chamber and felt the ache within my heart deepen.

What I could not reconcile was how the man I thought I knew growing up had become the fearful and bitter man who had lashed out at his father. I decided to ask Sir William about his son and his insights were very helpful. Even more so after he returned the jewelry case to me on our first night in the manor. I had not really lifted it before; it was heavier than I expected, and I almost dropped it. In doing so, I pushed a catch on the bottom and a drawer popped open spilling a sealed letter upon the floor. It bore the name Billy on it and when I handed it to Sir William I saw the tears well up in his eyes.

After he read the letter alone he sent for me to join him in the rose drawing room. It was clear that this room had a much more feminine air about it and he told me it was Jacob's mother's favorite room. He handed me the letter and bid me read it. Then we spoke about his wife, his son, and how he had failed them both.

"When Sarah first became ill, I was certain that she would recover and we would simply go on as we always had. When it became clearer that her condition was worsening I was paralyzed. Sarah was the strong one between us, or so I thought. She insisted that we shield Jacob from the truth, and thus from us in her latter years. I indulged her, I admit it. There was so little I could do for her it seemed a small thing to allow her this vanity." He rubbed his eyes, trying to deny the pain the subject brought him. "In the end, I could not bring myself to cause her any pain, and even speaking about Jacob hurt her. I realize now that she was as afraid of leaving as I was to see her go."

I held his hand and tried to comfort him. He looked so frail and broken as he told me about the aftermath of losing his wife. "I was wrecked. She was my reason for living, and I felt rudderless without her. I turned to the bottle thinking to drown my pain, but in truth it made it more intense. It took two days for Jacob to be returned to home from school. By the time he arrived, I was well into my cups. I stumbled into the main hall to welcome him and…"

He hid his face and shook his head. I tried again to comfort him, but he sat up and I saw the guilt in his eyes.

"I saw him… really saw his features. He was her. The shape of his eyes, the cleft in his chin, the arch of his brow. I lost all sense of reason and screamed at the servants to take him out of my sight. I… I do not even recall the vile things I said. All I know is from that moment our relationship changed. He stopped looking to me for advice, and I stopped providing him an example to emulate. It took me far too long to put aside the bottle and face the world without Sarah. By the time I did… I had not only lost my wife; I had lost my son."

I felt for this man who so clearly adored his late wife. I could not imagine how I would deal with the loss of Jacob from my world completely. Then again, every time he left me I had no expectation of his return. Even now, when it was I who had walked away, I did not know for certain that he would return to my world. The pain I felt was excruciating. The pain Sir William felt must have been soul crushing.

Sir William and I had been rather subdued in the two days after our discovery. I tried to give him the time and space to come to terms with what he read. In the end, he said that it was his duty to help his son find the happiness he had known with Jacob's mother. He believed that Jacob could only find that with me. I hoped it was so, but I was not certain his happiness rested with me, and I loved him too much to trap him in a marriage that he did not truly want.

Mornings were not my favorite time of the day. Somehow my child seemed most troublesome as the sun rose. I spent most mornings emptying my stomach of anything it retained from the evening before. I often ended up weak and shaking in my bed two or even three times before Jane could dress me for the day.

Carlisle had emphasized the importance of consuming a reasonable diet for the nourishment of both my body and the body I was housing within. It had caused me to be diligent in my attendance at meals, and it made Sir William determined to keep me company at those meals. He delayed eating until I joined him and remained at the table with me until I had finished.

When I finally made my descent to the breakfast room, I heard male voices coming from that direction. Then I heard Sir William's voice raised to the level of clarity. "Jacob! What are you doing here?!"

I instantly knew why Sir William had raised his voice. He was allowing me time to compose myself before I was confronted by my husband. I turned tail and ran up to my room. Jane brought me some breakfast and caucused the staff for any news they overheard.

"The butlers say that his grace is in his small library with Lord Black," Jane reported.

"Are they yelling?" I asked dreading the answer.

"No, ma'am. In fact, they are said to be conversing quietly."

I had not expected to hear that. I tried to rest. I tried to read. I paced the floor in my bed-chamber. After a few hours, I knew I could wait no longer. I asked the staff where to find them and proceeded to the small library.

The door was slightly ajar and saw Jacob holding his father as both men seemed to genuinely need the affection and hope leapt in my heart.

Then I heard Jacob ask about the letters from the jewelry cask. So he had not understood that it was I who found them.

"Renesmee? Then you have seen her?" he said leaping to his feet. "You know where she is. My God! Is she well? Is she safe?"

My heart began to beat again, and I was thrilled at the possibility of his truly missing me.

"She is well, and safe," Sir William began, "in fact…" He turned to see me in the open doorway and raised a brow as if asking me to make my presence known.

"Yes?!"

"What your father is trying to tell you is that I am here, my lord." I addressed him formally, not wanting to give away my unending joy at seeing him.

He turned, and I saw the bruise upon his jaw and the cut to his lip. He moved toward me, and I took a step back. Before he could approach further, his father caught his wrist. I do not know what he said, but Jacob stilled.

"You are a vision, my lady wife, one I thought never to see again. Pray allow me to say that it does my poor heart good to see you safe and well."

I swallowed hard, but made no move toward or away from him. I had too long desired such words from him. I could not trust them now. "I came to announce tea," I explained. "I thought to serve it in the rose room. Will you be joining us, my lord?" I asked, inviting Jacob to come. I held my breath waiting for his response.

"If I may," he responded.

"Of course," I said quietly. I could feel myself trembling, but I needed to appear calm.

"I think I shall decline, my dear, I am afraid I am feeling a bit fatigued. Still… You two children go ahead. I will join you for dinner." I looked to Sir William, willing him not to leave me to face this alone, but he gave an almost imperceptible nod as if telling me I could handle it. I was not so certain he was right.

Jacob and I walked silently down the hall to what I now knew was his mother's preferred sitting room. I rang for tea and took a seat on the settee. In short order, one of the under maids brought in the tea cart laden with tea and sweets. I thanked her and told her I could manage without her assistance.

"Tea, my lord?" I asked.

"Please," he said stiffly.

It seemed we were both being rather formal. I poured his tea, just as he liked it and offered him a selection of pastry. He thanked me and reached for the cup. As I handed it to him. our fingers brushed and I felt almost an electric shock course through my skin. My eyes flew to his. and I saw that he was not immune to it either.

"So, what brings you back to the country so soon, my lord?"

"I sought my father's counsel and company. I also owed him a long overdue apology. He was even gracious enough to accept it," Jacob explained.

I smiled "I am glad of it. I should not have liked being the reason that you two fell out completely.

"On the contrary, in finding those letters from my mother I believe that you have been the means of reuniting us. I am in your debt."

I sighed. I did not want him to feel beholden to me. He had to want me regardless of what he felt was owed between us. "You are not. Certainly someone else would have found them."

"Perhaps, but as with so many things, it is you who has facilitated goodness in my life." I swallowed hard. Willing myself not to be swayed by his sweet words. "You are well?"

"Tolerably so, and you? Might I inquire what happened to your face?" I said resisting the urge to touch it.

He lowered his eyes. "As you know I have been behaving quite badly of late. This is a reminder of that," he said indicating his bruise. "Rest assured that I provoked it, and am heartily sorry for having offended the giver."

I waited for several moments, but it seemed clear he would not elaborate. I noticed that he spoke of apologies and sorrow for his father and those he had offended, but he had yet to speak of the offense he had given me. I took a sip of tea to give myself something to do and to avoid his eyes.

"How long are you staying, my lord?" I asked a bit too brightly.

Jacob sighed and put down his cup and saucer. "Nessie… Will you not call me by my name?"

The pleading tone of his voice threatened to melt the ice I had tried to place in my heart. The forced civility of utilizing his title reminded me to protect myself from believing that he loved me and reminded me of the chasm that lie between us. "I did not wish to be overly informal with you; after all, we have not discussed our future."

Jacob's eyes flew to mine with a look of panic. "What's to discuss? I have found you again, and I shall never let you out of my sight again."

"I am to be a prisoner then?"

"No, no that is not at all what I meant," he said angrily.

I gave a little smile. "No, of course not. You meant that I should remain in the gilded cage of your keeping. That you and I should go on as we have been. Isn't that right?"

"Well… yes. I thought we were happy. I know I was." He looked completely confused.

"Really? Then why did you go to your father and denounce me as a whore? Is that the act of a man happy in his marriage?"

He opened his mouth as if about to protest and then closed it again. He stood and stomped about the room for a moment or two and then again took his seat. "I thought I was losing you?"

"Losing me? You all but pushed me out the door. I have never made a request of you, save one, and it proved too difficult for you to honor," I snapped. I had not meant to allow him to see my hurt, but it was so much stronger when I was facing him.

"I heard you, Ness. I heard you tell my father that it was too difficult to be faced with the man you love and not be with him. I know that you were planning to leave me for him, and that my own father was going to assist you. I had to find a way to stop him. To stop you."

It took me a moment to digest that. Jacob believed that I was leaving him? That I was desperate for the love of another man? Then it dawned on me. Jacob had no idea that the man I loved, whose love I was desperate to have was in fact himself. Part of me longed to confess and let him know the truth, but another part wanted him to understand that love was not a selfish thing. He needed to believe in me, and know in his heart that he was worth loving, and that I was not the type of woman to make a vow and break it.

I drew a deep breath and began to weave my tale. "You must believe I am what you called me."

"No! I know it must seem that way, but I have never wanted anything as much I want you. The mere thought of losing you drove me mad."

"So mad that you forgot whom you married? You have known me the majority of my life. You provided me with an education by Monsieur Alistair. Did you really think that I would have absorbed the lessons of the brothel over the lessons of gentility?" I felt the tears sting my eyes. "You must have a very low opinion of me indeed."

"I swear I hold you in the highest esteem. You are everything I have ever wanted in a woman. You are friend and lover. You are perfection itself, and I know I in no way deserve you, especially after behaving so badly, but I need you, Ness." He fell to his knees before me and took my hands in his. "I have been searching for you everywhere. I have haunted my friend's wives for some scrap of information as to your whereabouts. In fact, I came here not only to apologize to my father, but to beg his assistance in locating you. I have been frantic not knowing if you were well, and cared for."

He laid his head on my knees and I saw his shoulders shake with emotion. It almost broke me, but I remembered Esme and Carlisle's advice and held firm. "I was careful not to inform Alice, Bella, or Rose where I was. I did not want you harassing them for my location, nor did I want them to be forced to lie to you."

"Have you been here the entire time?"

"At Wolf's Bridge? No, but Carlisle and Esme brought me to Kent about a fortnight ago. I was not alone in the world, despite what you think of me, I have made true friends." I stood, extricating myself from his grasp.

"Of course you have, who could help but love you? I was just so worried. Especially when I didn't find you at Clearwater's."

"Seth's? Why on earth would I be at…" Then light dawned. I began to laugh. Of all people for Jacob to decide I was in love with he chose Seth. "Lord Clearwater is a friend. He and I were practically children together. He was practice for my French, and I was practice for his English. I will own that he tried to kiss me once." I saw Jacob stiffen as his eyes followed me about the room. "I was thirteen at the time, and I blackened his eye for the effort. If you recall, I told you the man I loved was a frequent visitor to Mrs. Cope's. To my knowledge Seth has never crossed the threshold of that establishment, and believes I am the daughter of a gentleman. Unless you… oh, lord! Did you ask him if I… what he must think of me."

"He admires you, Ness. Hell, I am almost certain he desires you. He made it clear that he thinks very highly of you. I have been unjust to him. I have been unjust to you." He covered his face with his hands. "No wonder you left me."

I looked at him, there on the floor. He seemed so broken, and I thought maybe, just maybe, this was an opportunity to rebuild him from the ground up. I walked over to him and reached down to take his hand in mine. He looked up and when I pulled with gentle pressure he stood. "I left London, my lord. Despite what you believe, I took my vows very seriously. I swore to be yours until I die. I am your wife and shall be until such time as you divorce or annul me. Now why don't you go upstairs and clean yourself up. Your father is expecting us for supper."

He looked at me as if I had been speaking a different language. Still, I turned him toward the door and shooed him upstairs. I waited several minutes before I went up to my own room. Jane fussed as she usually did, but I begged her to allow me to rest and she left me after seeing me wrapped in a dressing gown.

My mind was reeling, and I found it difficult to turn it off. I found myself staring at the door which connected the duke and duchess' rooms. I could almost feel him calling to me through the air. After a while I forced myself to roll over and stop looking in that direction. It was then I heard the small snick of the door opening.

I felt Jacob cross the room and sit on the bed. He was dressed in his shirt-sleeves and looked so tired. I rolled to face him and saw the sadness in his eyes.

"Are you alright?" I asked.

"No," he said quietly. "I hate that room without you in it. Why are you not there with me?"

"I thought we could both do with a rest after such an emotionally draining day. Why are you not sleeping? You look dead on your feet," I said cupping his cheek in my hand.

"I have slept but little in the past two weeks. I am plagued by nightmares of my chasing after you only to find you gone. Now that I have found you, I am terrified to let you out of my sight, for fear I will awaken and you will be gone." I watched his eyes as he spoke and saw sincerity there.

"I have missed you as well. Still, I think we could both do with a lie down." I patted the bed next to me and motioned with my head that he should lie down beside me. He tried to hide a grin, but I knew his face too well. "You were invited here to sleep, my lord. Nothing more."

He eased his front to my back and draped a possessive arm about my waist. Then he leaned his lips to my ear and whispered, "But of course, my lady."

I lay there too aware of his heat behind me. I watched the light fade behind the curtains and listened as Jacob's breathing became deep and evenly spaced. I turned to face him and looked my fill. He always looked so perfect in slumber, yet I could see his perfection marred. There were dark smudges beneath his eyes confirming that he had lost sleep. His dark lashes brushed the tops of his cheeks adding to the look of fatigue. His lip was swollen and split. It looked painful, and I wanted to ease the discomfort. Then I remembered how he had come by the injury and I resisted.

Wrapped in his arms I felt warm and safe. I loved him so very much, I prayed I could make him understand that love had to take into account the other person's needs and desires. He would need to be able to focus on others when his child arrived. I would settle for nothing less. I would love them both and I would have the family I had never known.