Cursed & cherished the d.., p.10
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       Cursed & Cherished: The Duke's Wilful Wife, p.10

         Part #2 of Love's Second Chance series by Bree Wolf
 
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  Rosabel rolled her eyes at him. “The current state of your marriage, of course. Have you spoken to your wife?”

  “I have.”

  “And?”

  “And what?” Edmond asked, shrugging his shoulders. “It was a waste of time. Things are just as they were before. She wants nothing to do with me, and at least for the foreseeable future, I do not believe that there is anything I can do to change her mind.”

  “And so you came here?”

  “Obviously,” he replied, wondering where she was going with this.

  “Do you think it wise to leave whenever you happen to disagree on something?” Rosabel asked. “I doubt that your continued absence affects her impression of you in a positive way.”

  “I could not stay,” he replied. “Not with her looking at me like…” His shoulders slumped, remembering the disdain in his wife’s eyes. Would it be like this for the rest of their days? “You cannot truly expect me to stay under these circumstances. Who would?”

  Another smile curled up her lips. “I did,” she whispered, looking imploringly into his eyes. “As you remember, for the first year of our marriage, Graham tried his utmost to have nothing to do with me. And wasn’t it you, who encouraged me not to give up? Who tried to convince me that under his stern exterior lay a wounded man? A man who would love me?” She smiled at him then, and it was as though the sun had finally risen. “I will not lie to you. Many times I was ready to give up and accept the distance he so clearly desired between us. Many nights I cried myself to sleep.”

  “Then why didn’t you? Give up, I mean?”

  “I realised I had come to care for him,” Rosabel said, and a dreamy glow came to her eyes as she remembered how she had fought for her husband’s heart. Then her gaze returned to his face, and she looked at him in a way that made Edmond squirm in his seat. “Whether you like to admit it or not, I know you care for her, deeply. There is something about her that you admire, that you feel drawn to, and yet you also see the pain she feels over the deal you made with her father. A deal that did not include her opinion.” Rising from the settee, Rosabel sat down beside him. “I know that, given their position, men do not always understand what it feels like to be merely a pawn in someone else’s game, especially a game that concerns your heart. You do not know what it feels like to be considered devoid of sense and emotion, expected to love the man we are given to, because it is what women do. They care for their husbands, no matter who they are or how they came to be their husbands.” Rosabel shook her head, remembered sadness clouding her eyes. “Judging from Anna’s character, she would have fought her father’s decision, if she could have. She is not like me, not like I was. But knowing she was the only one able to protect her sister, she couldn’t. She didn’t even have the satisfaction of voicing her opinion, of fighting for what she wanted, even if she had been defeated in the end.” Her small hand settled onto his as she leaned forward, gazing even deeper into his eyes. “You do not know how insignificant and ultimately worthless this makes you feel.”

  Edmond swallowed, unable to look away and yet unable to endure her penetrating stare much longer. “But what can I do? I told her I wanted us to come to care for each other.”

  “Sometimes mere words are not enough to repair the damage,” Rosabel whispered, giving his hand a gentle squeeze. “What you need to understand is that, above all, it takes time. You cannot expect to speak to her once and have her rush into your arms.” Embarrassed, Edmond averted his eyes. “I cannot tell you what you need to say or do to heal her heart, her sense of self-worth. It has to come from you. Be yourself, but in moderation.” Now she smiled openly at him. “You are a wonderful man. Allow her to see that, and she will come to care for you.”

  “Thank you,” Edmond said, feeling uplifted in a way. Looking into her compassionate eyes, Edmond felt the need to hug her, and she return his embrace warmly. “Thank you for telling me all this.”

  “You’re welcome.” Sitting back, she smiled at him, and Edmond got the distinct feeling that she was proud of him; as though he had just done something right.

  “Is it all right if I stay a few days? I really need to think things through.”

  Still smiling, Rosabel shook her head. “No.”

  “No?”

  “No,” she repeated. “You need to go home. Now. Today.” He stared at her. “Edmond, I love you dearly, but you are a bit of a scaredy-cat in these matters, and if you do not return today, I’m not sure you ever will. You’ll just postpone it again and again.” Once more she squeezed his hand. “Go home, and the next time you come for a visit, bring your wife.”

  Chapter Eighteen − Revenge

  Edmond didn’t know what he had expected upon his return. Maybe a silent wife, refusing to acknowledge his presence, much less speak to him? Or an enraged one, throwing his antiques against the mantle in outrage? Either option would not have come as a surprise. However, when he walked in through the door, he stopped in his tracks as delighted laughter reached his ears, and his feet turned toward the front drawing room of their own accord.

  Step by step he inched closer until his ear was pressed to the door. As muffled as their voices were, he was certain one of the two women was his wife. Her melodious laughter echoed through the door, vibrant and intoxicating, and he almost ripped open the door, fearing that what he heard was after all only an illusion.

  But he stopped himself, knowing that his presence would kill his wife’s laughter instantly. She was not aware of his return yet, which was probably the only reason for her to be in such high spirits. A lump settled in his throat as Rosabel’s words echoed through his mind. How was he to start? Be yourself, Rosabel had said. And yet he had been himself all along, and it hadn’t made the slightest difference.

  “Welcome home, your grace,” a voice spoke behind him, and Edmond froze.

  As did the voices on the other side of the door.

  Turning around, Edmond nodded at his butler. “Thank you, Rossman.”

  Doing his utmost to sneak back into his townhouse to catch an untainted glimpse of his unsuspecting wife, which had seemed so promising only a moment ago, Edmond felt disheartened as every chance of a cordial greeting shattered like a vase hitting the wall when the door to the drawing room opened.

  Face once again in a scowl, she eyed him with disapproval. “You have returned,” was all she said, but Edmond heard the accusation ringing in her voice. Rosabel had been right; by leaving he had made things worse.

  Completely focused on his wife, Edmond only now noticed the woman standing beside Anna. Although otherwise cursed with an inconspicuous appearance, the disgust in her eyes was far more pronounced than his wife’s; as though her hatred of him ran far deeper. The cold with which she regarded him sent a shiver down his back, and he couldn’t help but wonder if he had any chance of reconciliation with his wife as long as she kept this woman’s company.

  ***

  After seeing Henrietta to the door, Anna returned to the drawing room where, unfortunately, her husband was waiting patiently. “I did not expect to see you so soon,” she said, voice uninterested; she could see its effects in the exasperated expression on his face. Serves him right, she thought.

  “I had no intention of staying away.” Although he met her eyes, there was something about him that told her he was lying. Why had he returned? After their last encounter, she had assumed he would have finally given up. After all, what more was there to say?

  “Well then, welcome back,” she said with as much warmth as she would have shown a condemned criminal and turned to walk away.

  Before she could take two steps, a hand wrapped around her upper arm, stopping her. “Wait! I need to speak with you.”

  Eyes searching his face, she shook her head. “What more is there to say? I’m afraid, my lord, you are wasting your time.”

  “Yes, I’m starting to believe so too,” he mumbled as though to himself, before meeting her eyes again. “Listen, since neither one of us wants a di
vorce, we are stuck in this marriage with one another, whether we like it or not.” Anna snorted, which made him shake his head. “However, I do not intend to continue this animosity between us. Whether you admit it or not, you cannot want this either. Whatever happened happened. We cannot change that. Do you really intend to be miserable for the rest of your life?”

  Not feeling nearly as strong as the smile that lit up her face, Anna said, “It is you who is miserable. I, on the other hand, am getting exactly what I want.”

  A frown drew down his brows. “And what is that?”

  As though wishing to share a secret, Anna leaned forward and whispered, “Revenge.”

  ***

  “Are you mad, woman?” Edmond blurted out. Watching the smile on her face split into a slightly distorted grin, he shook his head. Was she insane? Was there even any chance for him to reason with her? “Revenge for what?”

  Now it was her turn to shake her head. “For ruining my life.”

  “Is this truly your opinion?”

  “It is,” she hissed. “Everything I had, everything I ever dreamed of is now in ruins, and all because of you. Because of your decadent life and complete disregard for a moderate lifestyle.” She laughed, sounding almost hysterical. “You are bankrupt, but I have to pay the price. Not you. Never you.”

  Stepping forward, he grabbed her by the shoulders and brought his face closer to hers.

  Instantly, she froze.

  “I have apologised for the way things turned out before,” he said, carefully watching her eyes. “I will not do so again. You are not a child, but a grown woman. It is time for you to accept reality and move on. For I cannot believe that you truly wish for your life to continue this way. As much as you might loathe the very sight of me, does revenge really give you happiness?”

  Eyes not veering from his, she swallowed. “I have given up on happiness long ago. All I want now is…” Her words trailed off, and she took a deep breath. For a second he thought her gaze had travelled down to his lips.

  “Is what?” he whispered, searching her face with equal frankness.

  Her eyes snapped wide open, and the intimacy he had thought to feel for the barest of seconds slipped away. “Let go of me!” she hissed, trying to free herself from his grasp. “I told you not to touch me!”

  “Why?” he asked, releasing her. “Because you might like it, and that would threaten your resolve to follow through with your childish plans?” Before she could say a word in outrage, he advanced on her, feeling the blood boil in his veins. “Maybe I should just…” His lips pressed into a thin line.

  “Just what?” she asked, eyes widening as his ravenous gaze slid over her body. “You wouldn’t dare!”

  He laughed. “Believe me, my lady, I would dare a lot!” Taking another step closer, he trapped her against the wall. Enjoying the feel of her body pressed against his, he smiled. “Do not worry. I won’t bite.”

  Her arms came up to keep him away. “I cannot promise you the same, my lord.” She swallowed as her chest rose and fell with her rapid breathing.

  A smile curved up his lips as he looked at her. “You are a little vixen, are you not?” he whispered, leaning closer.

  Her hands pressed into his chest, forcing a distance between them that he didn’t much care for. “I told you I would not give you an heir.”

  Again he smiled. “Believe me, my little vixen, an heir is the farthest thing from my mind right now.” Ignoring her hands, he leaned into her, arms pulling her closer, until, to his surprise, her resistance vanished. Gazing into her eyes, Edmond smiled…before a dull pain penetrated his head, and the world went dark.

  Chapter Nineteen − A Kiss Stolen

  Pressed against the wall, heart hammering in her chest, Anna peeked down her nose at her husband, currently lying unconscious by her feet. Remnants of the vase she had broken over his head were scattered all around them.

  Taking a deep breath, Anna’s eyes swept over the still figure before her. What was she to do now? Was he dead?

  Relief washed over her as she detected his chest rise and fall with each breath. There, she sighed, at least they couldn’t hang her for murdering her husband!

  “Your grace, can I−”

  Anna’s head snapped up, and for a second she could only stare at Rossman standing in the door, who in turn stared at his master’s rather unusual position on the parquet floor.

  Fortunately, the butler’s shock wore off quickly, and before Anna knew what was happening her husband was carried upstairs to his bedchamber and the doctor sent for. Like a ghost, Anna followed the small procession up the stairs and down the hallway. Once her husband was settled into bed, a maid brought a basin of fresh water and soaked a small linen strip in it, then placed it on his forehead. The curtains were drawn to shut out the sun, and Anna felt reminded of the darkened chamber she had reluctantly set foot in as her grandmother had lain on her death bed. A shiver ran down her back.

  An eternity stretched on, during which Anna felt completely useless, before Dr. Knowles, a balding, middle-aged man with a rather round mid-section waltzed in. His eyes on the patient, he approached the bed while Anna drifted into a dark corner, hoping to be overlooked. “What happened?”

  Rossman cleared his throat before saying, “He took a blow to the head, sir.”

  “A fight?” Dr. Knowles asked, examining Edmond’s head thoroughly.

  “Eh…” Looking rather uncomfortable, Rossman glanced at Anna before quickly returning his eyes to the doctor. “Eh…he…that is…”

  “I’d call it a disagreement,” Anna said, stepping forward. There was no use in denying her involvement.

  Dr. Knowles looked up and gave a quick nod of the head. “Your grace,” he said, eyes speculative for a moment, then a grin spread over his face and he nodded his head. “A disagreement then. How long has he been unconscious?”

  “About a half an hour,” Rossman said, quite obviously relieved to be asked a question with an uncomplicated answer.

  Dr. Knowles nodded as though none of this surprised him. “Well, his breathing is fairly regular. His colour is fine. He hasn’t thrown up, has he?” Again Rossman hastened to provide the answer. “I think he just needs to sleep it off. The only thing to do is to continue cooling the swelling. Call me if he hasn’t woken by tomorrow morning.” Turning to leave, Dr. Knowles stopped by Anna’s side. A delighted grin lit up his face. “My compliments on your good aim, your grace.” For a second his eye brows shot up. “Good day.”

  “Good day,” Anna whispered, slightly taken aback by the doctors obvious delight with this situation. Never would she have thought that anyone would find her knocking her husband unconscious amusing! The world truly was a strange place!

  Slowly, the room emptied. Only the maid, who’d placed the cool cloth on her husband’s head before, remained, taking up position beside the bed.

  Anna took a deep breath. She wanted nothing more than to leave this room, but a small voice, barely audible, whispered that it was her turn to make amends. “You can go. I will watch him.”

  “Yes, your grace.” And with that the maid left the room, leaving Anna alone with her husband.

  Standing in the half-dark, Anna was at a loss. Her arms and legs quivered with the almost desperate need to do something, to move; and yet there was nothing for her to do but wait. Approaching the bed, she looked down at her husband’s sleeping face.

  His thick, blond hair was rather unkempt, revealing a slight bump on the left side of his head. Reaching for the linen cloth, Anna soaked it in the basin, then placed it back on his head. With eyes closed, hiding the usual teasing gleam she was so used to by now, his face looked completely different. Gone was that smug grin he wore like a uniform. His whole demeanour of arrogant pride was lost as he lay sleeping, and for the first time Anna didn’t feel the need to slap him. Brushing a strand of hair from his forehead, she marvelled at the different impressions a person could give of themselves. And yet after all, people were who they
were, which meant no matter how changed her husband might appear to her now, he was still the same man she had come to despise for his actions.

  Only unconscious he was a lot more agreeable!

  ***

  “Why did you make me do this?” she snapped, pacing the floor for the millionth time that night. Glancing at her still unconscious husband, Anna stopped by the foot of the bed, hands resting in her sides. “Did you not believe that I would defend myself?” She glared at him, shaking her head. “That is typical of men! First, they behave like scoundrels with no morals or integrity, and then they complain about not being treated like gentlemen,” she huffed, still staring at her husband’s silent figure. Then her head sank and her eyes closed. “But you’re not complaining, are you?” she whispered, her anger evaporating as quickly as it had seized her. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she whispered, stepping around the bed. “But you shouldn’t have−”

  Anna swallowed, remembering his strong hands holding her pressed against the wall. She had fought his advance with all she had, and she had taken him down, at least momentarily. Henrietta would be proud of her. And yet…

  Sitting down on the bed beside him, Anna closed her eyes and allowed the memories to take her back.

  Once more she saw him storm toward her, felt his hands close around her arms, his breath brushing over her cheek as his brilliantly blue eyes gazed down into hers, the hint of a threat shimmering within them. Anna’s pulse quickened with anticipation. Only then Henrietta’s words echoed through her mind, and Anna cursed. She knew what she had to do, what she couldn’t allow him to do. And yet…

  Opening her eyes, Anna once more glanced at her husband’s face, wondering how he could make her feel the things she did when she loathed the very sight of him. How could it be that in one moment she wanted to scratch his eyes out, and in the next she could barely keep herself from kissing him?

 
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