Sunday, July 6, 2014
Chapter 7: The White Flag of Despair
Like a drop of blood on a mound of fresh snow, the duchess’s death stains Georgia’s once clean conscience, but as the single hint of color in an otherwise frozen, hostile world it offers her a strange sort of solace as well. She could not save her, but yet she finds strength in the woman’s decision. She escaped him.
Following the funeral, Georgia spends her days in a sea of white ice and blank faces, but despite her stoic, impassive demeanor the bitter isolation threatens to consume her. She misses her friends, her village, and her work, but most of all she misses Griffin, or at least the man she once believed him to be.
“You look beautiful tonight.”
Georgia nods silently as she surveys her unfamiliar reflection in the mirror.
“We make a handsome couple,” the duke presses. “Did you enjoy the banquet?”
“I- It was too much, Your Grace,” she whispers.
“When we are alone, you may call me Alasdair,” he instructs her in a commanding tone. “And nothing is too much for my bride on her wedding day.”
Georgia glances back at him, her eyes dim and defeated. “May I go now?”
Alasdair smirks. “You will share my bed tonight,” he decrees, “and every night from here on out. As my wife, it is your duty.”
“My duty?!” she cries, turning around to face him. “I have a duty to the people of Lincolnshire as their healer and apothecary. I feel no obligation to you.”
“You defy me, then?” he hisses, shoving her up against the frame of the bed.
“Alasdair, please,” she sobs. “Stop!”
For a moment, the duke refuses to release her, but as suddenly as his temper flares he loosens his grasp and lets her go.
“Leave,” he spits as she runs toward the door. “But I will not always be so generous.”
“Griffin.” Amara’s voice cuts through the air like a knife. “Stop. You cannot blame yourself for this. Georgia went there on her own volition.”
“How can I not?” he whispers. “I should have known better. I should have-”
“You tried to stop her,” she points out. “She wanted to go.”
“But why in hell would she marry that man?!” he chokes back his tears. “I thought… I thought she loved me.”
Her arms curl around his chest, temporarily startling him out of his desolation.
“She may not love you, but I do,” Amara murmurs in his ear. “I never stopped loving you, my darling.”
“Amara?” His voice sounds both husky and uncertain as she presses herself up against him. “What-”
“Don’t speak,” she breathes. “I don’t need an answer now.”
“No,” he whispers. “We shouldn’t-”
“Why?” she demands, eagerly tugging at his clothes. “She won’t know.”
“But I want to get her back. I-”
“Baby, she doesn’t want you,” Amara persists. “She doesn’t love you.”
Griffin shakes his head and pushes her away.
“You’re wrong,” he hisses angrily. “Georgia does love me, and you know it. But even if I never see her again, even if she turns me down cold, I would rather die alone than spend another moment with a backstabbing snake like you. Now get out of my house, Amara, before I really lose my temper.”
On the other side of the island, Georgia patiently coos to the infant in her arms, trying to coax her back to sleep. Celia, Alasdair’s daughter, fusses a bit, but she quickly relaxes within Georgia’s firm but tender embrace.
A quiet tapping at the door breaks the stillness in the room, and Georgia groans slightly as she heaves herself up to answer it.
“Bethany said I might find you up here,” the young woman chides her cheerfully as she enters the nursery. “She told me ya kicked her out again.”
“I enjoy spending time with Celia,” Georgia smiles down at the child. “She is such a sweet baby.”
“Aye, but you need your rest. His Grace-”
“His Grace does not know of my condition, and I would like to keep it that way,” she retorts bitterly. “I will tell him when the time feels right.”
The maid shakes her head and leans in to survey the baby. “He don’t know?!” she laughs, clucking happily at Celia.
“Know what?” Alasdair narrows his eyes and glances between the two women.
“I’ll just be leavin’ ya then,” the maid whispers to Georgia as she ducks her head and scurries away.
Setting Celia down in her crib, Georgia nods to Alasdair. “Your Grace,” she begins, carefully avoiding eye contact. “How may I be of service?”
“I love the way you look with a baby in your arms,” Alasdair murmurs as he comes up behind her. “I can’t wait until it’s our baby in your arms.”
Georgia glances down. “Well, you won’t have to wait much longer,” she whispers, fighting back a sudden onslaught of tears. “I’m pregnant.”
Spinning her around to face him, the duke lurches forward at her words. “But we haven’t- You just- Already?” he breathes.
“I didn’t want to believe it before,” she frowns, “but yes. Ever since that night.”
He inhales sharply and drops to his knees, running a gentle hand over her slightly distended belly.
“Georgia, I- I don’t know what to say!” he exclaims as he presses his face against her stomach. “Finally, after all these years, I will have a son.”
Georgia can’t help but laugh at his sudden enthusiasm. She’s never seen this side of him before, and it catches her by surprise. “It might be a girl, Your Grace,” she smiles.
“No, we will have a boy,” he declares, kissing her bump. “I will have a son.”
The next couple of months slip by quietly, and Celia outgrows the confines of her baby blanket. Georgia continues to monopolize the child’s time, spending as many hours as she can with her, but as her pregnancy progresses she finds herself struggling to keep up with the precocious toddler.
“You’re going to become a big sister,” Georgia grins sleepily as Celia drapes herself over her stomach and babbles incoherently. The little girl can’t quite formulate words yet, but that doesn’t stop her from trying.
“That’s right,” George tells her, tapping the toddler’s tiny nose. “Big sister.”
Celia yawns and snuggles up beside her, and Georgia allows her heavy eyelids to close for a moment.
“Just a small nap,” she murmurs as Celia gazes at her questioningly. “I just need a minute.”
Alasdair approaches Georgia’s sleeping quarters nervously that night with news from the capital, but when she doesn’t respond to his repeated knocks the duke hesitantly lets himself inside.
“Well hello pumpkin,” he chuckles and squats down to greet the toddler.
Celia squeals loudly and begins to crawl over a sleeping Georgia to get to him, but Alasdair quickly scoops her up into his arms before she can awaken his pregnant wife. “Come on, sweet pea,” he smiles. “Let’s give your mama a break.”
An hour later, Georgia groggily opens her eyes. She winces a bit as she sits up, the weight of the baby leaving her back feeling achy and sore, but despite the pregnancy pains she thoroughly enjoyed her stolen nap.
“Celia?” Georgia yawns and glances around the room. “Celia?” she calls out louder, but only silence greets her words. “I wonder if Bethany took her,” she muses, worry creeping across her face.
Georgia gasps as she peeks into the nursery.
“Alasdair?” she frowns, tiptoeing inside. She watches them silently for a moment as they play together, Celia giggling delightedly as her father swings her around the room and swoops her up and down, tickling and teasing the toddler until he finally notices his wife.
“Hi,” he smiles at her breathlessly and comes to an abrupt halt. “I- I thought you were sleeping,” he tells her in an almost apologetic tone. “I wanted to let you rest.”
Georgia’s eyes dart back and forth between Celia’s wide, happy grin and Alasdair’s tight, protective grasp. “Thank you,” she replies meekly.
They stare at each other for a long moment before Celia starts tugging on Alasdair’s hair, begging for more attention.
“Hey now, pumpkin,” he laughs at her expectant face. “I may just have to- WHOOP!” Alasdair pretends to drop the child, letting her fall just a bit before sweeping her back up into a hug.
Georgia smirks at Celia’s piercing yelps of enjoyment. “I didn’t realize you liked kids,” she comments as they resume playing together.
“Oh yes,” he pants. “I love them. I always have.”
Georgia glances up at the clock and sighs. “It’s almost her bedtime,” she reluctantly informs him. “I can-”
“I’ll do it,” he volunteers.
After Celia falls asleep, Alasdair makes his way back to Georgia’s rooms.
“You look worried,” he remarks, leaning his tall, elegant frame up against the doorway.
Georgia does not move, seemingly entranced by the fire flickering in the hearth. “I can’t figure you out,” she replies at last. “You’ve barely talked to me since our wedding, and then you go and do something nice? Why?” she demands. “What do you want from me now?”
The duke sighs and walks over to sit beside her.
“Do you-” Alasdair falters slightly. “Do you believe in love at first sight?” he asks softly.
Georgia leans in, carefully studying his face. “Yes,” she replies after a moment. “I do.”
“I didn’t,” he sighs. “I didn’t really believe in love at all. Until I met you.”
“No!” Georgia snorts and shakes her head in disgust. “You don’t intentionally hurt someone you love.”
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I have a temper-”
“And I had a life before you ruined it!” she snaps.
“You want to go home?” he frowns at her in response.
“Of course I do!” she exclaims angrily. “I miss my house, my bed, my dog! I miss my life.”
“Would you leave, if I let you?”
Georgia hesitates. “I- I don’t know,” she admits, reflexively running her hand across her swollen, pregnant belly.
“You may not believe me, but I do love you,” he tells her as he rises to his feet. “Ever since that day at the spring when I caught you watching me.”
“I didn’t know who you were then,” she replies flatly.
“You know now, and yet you stay.”
“For Celia and the child I carry,” Georgia retorts. And to keep Griffin and Amara safe, she adds silently.
Alasdair grits his teeth. “So you feel nothing for me?” he demands, pacing back and forth.
Georgia eyes him warily. “Your Grace…” she trails off as he abruptly starts toward her.
Leaning over her, Alasdair kisses her fiercely.
“Nothing at all?” he breathes, their faces just a hair’s breadth apart.
In a distant bar in the slums of Sarlat, Griffin slams his empty glass down and drunkenly motions for the barmaid to bring him another. The wiry middle-aged woman eyes him suspiciously, but she takes his money and grudgingly refills his drink.
“Alcohol only amplifies the pain,” a gruff voice informs him.
Griffin doesn’t even bother glancing up. “What do you know of pain?” he slurs irately. “I gave up everything for her, and she doesn’t want me. She doesn’t love me.”
“I’ve known more pain than most men experience in ten lifetimes,” the man responds with a hollow laugh. “Now come on, son. You can tell me all about it tomorrow when you’re sober.”