Chapter 25

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A gust of cool wind brushed against Lady Diana Beaumont's cheek, and she felt it in its entirety. She felt it as though she'd feel the air of Southampton caressing her on her morning walks. It startled her, this real feeling, for it was perhaps the realest one she'd felt since she almost drowned. The truth was, that Diana wasn't sure anymore what the phrase meant. She wasn't aware of the solace it was supposed to offer, knowing that she hadn't drowned, and considering the fact that she hadn't opened her eyes or had the energy to move a long while after.

As a sigh left her lips, her eyes suddenly fluttered open. Blinking, as she tried to fathom the situation, she was met with the warmth of her surroundings. It was an unfamiliar guest room, beautifully furnished with elegant furniture and wallpaper. Looking around, she saw that there were two large beds, she lay on one and on the other, was Alicia.

Lady Alicia Kirkpatrick sat upright in her bed, an assuring smile on her face while her eyes inspected her waking cousin. She had been awake for a few minutes now, this morning Alicia had felt better and some of her energy had returned, but what she had really hoped was that her cousin might feel better as well.

"How are you?" Alicia managed to speak, her voice soft and unfamiliar to the guest room they had been in. She realized how unfamiliar the sound of her voice sounded to herself as well. It wasn't that her voice had changed; it was just that she'd somehow forgotten it in some ways.

Diana pushed herself up on her elbows, and struggled a little before she too sat herself upright and turned to face Alicia, "I feel better, I can see you do too."

"Indeed, I do," Came Alicia's satisfying response, and then she sighed, "What a disaster."

"I know," Diana acknowledged, her eyes staring up at the ceiling, "I've made such a mess of things."

Lady Alicia Kirkpatrick let out a shocked scoff, "None of this is your fault, Diana."

"It is," Lady Diana Beaumont argued, her voice persistent, "That night was my fault. I let my emotions dictate me, what was I thinking, confronting Lord Buxton like that? He has his own pile of troubles and does not need me scolding him like-," she paused, as her voice lowered, "Like I mean something to him."

"And I dragged you along every second of it. I'd much rather have preferred it if it was only just me falling into that lake," Diana ended, her eyes falling to her lap.

"Stop it," Alicia retorted, her brows knitting together in disapproval, "You do not drag me anywhere. I come with you because I want to. I admire you so much, the mere fact that you wanted to come to Portsmouth to help Uncle Arthur's family-," she stopped as she took in a sharp breath, "You are my cousin and you make me see the bright side of every situation, you always have. I would rather come here with you than any other person in the world, and I do not mind falling into a lake while doing so."

Diana's lips curled into a weak smile as they both looked at each other. Diana knew she'd instantly walk over and embrace Alicia in a hug were the circumstances somewhat different, but at present she was afraid her legs were not up to the task, for the last thing she'd want was to stumble and trip just to fall on her face.

As Diana moved her gaze slowly away from her cousin and allowed it to fall on her lap, Alicia's sudden gasp forced her attention again, "Diana, look."

On the intricate four foot side table against the wall between their beds, lay a big porcelain blue vase, full of fresh peach blossoms protruding out of it and scenting the air with the creaminess of a strawberry; or any other berry for that matter. Diana smiled at the gesture; peach blossoms were one of the most common flowers found in Southampton and almost everyone she knew grew the tree in their gardens. The Countess knew that, and so did Aunt Frederica. Peach blossoms reminded her of Southampton, they were as home as home can be.

"No wonder we woke up today, the air smells like honey and a dozen berries all at once," Diana gushed, reaching over to touch the pink satin petals with the tips of her fingers ever so lightly.

"Yes, but look behind it," Alicia breathed, her voice fazed. Diana's brows furrowed as she moved the giant blue vase a little to the side, revealing two single roses resting delicately against two small rectangular pieces of blank sided paper on the dark wooden surface of the table. One rose was a creamy white, and the other was a deep red. They were glorious, bright, whimsical things, lying elegantly and just waiting to be picked up by worthy fingers and admired in all their beauty.

"The Countess does not grow roses like these in the Brockenhurst gardens," Diana spoke slowly as her fingers clasped lightly around the thorn less stem of the creamy rose, and she brought it to up to her lips and breathed in its milky sweet scent, instantly closing her eyes and feeling as though she was laying in a bed of them.

Alicia leaned over to touch the petals of the red rose, in awe of its beauty. It was the brightest, and perhaps the biggest rose she'd ever seen; with its petals framing each other in layers and layers of deep red around it. Taking hold of the stem, she realized that it was perfectly smooth, as though someone had evenly sliced the small thorns with a sharp knife. "I haven't seen roses like these in Southampton," she managed to utter, although it wasn't a response to what her cousin had just pointed out. It was true, however. Alicia and Diana loved roses, but Southampton seemed to excel in other exceptionally beautiful kinds of flowers. There were rose bushes in abundance, lining the countryside, but they were twice smaller and less bright. Having made themselves used to those kinds of roses, it was stunning to touch and smell these ones, these giant ones that she'd never even dreamed of; that they'd never even dreamed of.

"There are cards as well," Diana chimed in, a radiance in her voice as a result of the nice surprise, "That's strange, Aunt Agnes is not fond of sending written sentiments and I don't think Aunt Frederica has time to write one with nursing her baby."

"Maybe they are from Mr Templemore, or perhaps Michael and Theodore," Alicia asserted with a smile, as both the cousins looked at the cards lying face down on the table, twirling the stems of the roses in their fingers.

"Perhaps," Diana beamed, more so at the thought of receiving a card from her little cousins. Michael and Theodore were still learning, home schooled as they were, to read and write.

Alicia leaned towards the table and picked up the cards, "This one says my name, and this one says yours," she reached out to hand her cousin a card after a quick inspection, "They are anonymous."

Diana's heart skipped a beat as she received her card. Michael and Theodore loved signing their names at the end of everything, as the boys had just learnt the art of signatures, so it couldn't be them. A little voice in her heart said that perhaps the card was from Frank Templemore, but she hoped that voice was lying. If the rose was from Frank, then it was something very intimate, and intimacy with Frank was something Diana had come to dread.

Carefully she looked at the card and started reading past her name, her stomach knotting up intensely as she did so.

Rule Number 1: Your words,

Your words drag me to my knees,
leaving me breathless for more.

Lady Diana Beaumont gasped loudly, her heart forgetting to beat entirely. My words? She thought. Frantically she turned the card over, trying to spot anything that might give her a hint of whom it was from; an initial, a splotch of ink, or perhaps a tiny wax seal, but she found nothing.

Lady Alicia Kirkpatrick's lips quivered a little as she read her own card. Her right hand traveled to her chest as she pressed it against the drumming of her heart.

Rule Number 1: Your eyes,

I find myself following them,

getting lost in them and forgetting
my own self in the process.

The words were intense, desperate, and passionate. They did wicked things to Alicia's insides, a warm pang escalated at the base of her stomach, radiating throughout her body.

"Who could've sent this?" Diana's shocked breathy voice interrupted Alicia's thoughts as she turned to look at her, her brows knit together and her eyes glassy, "I can't bear it if this is Frank."

Alicia observed her as her cousin shook in worry, dropping the card onto her lap in a daze and touching her long raven hair that perfectly cascaded down her back against the white of her gown, taking deep breaths.

"I don't know," Alicia managed to let out slowly, tucking a lock of her own brown hair behind her ear, "But Frank can't send something like this to both of us-," she paused, looking at her card again, "This is intense." There was no point in trying to deny the fact that Frank Templemore may have sent the card to Diana, but he could not have sent Alicia one. For she had realized that Mr Templemore was still in love with Diana, and that all the advances he ever paid to Alicia were merely polite and brotherly.

"But why the Rule Number One thing?" She quickly added, realizing that she hadn't made Diana's discomfort any better, "Does yours say the same?"

"Yes, it highlights my words," Diana responded meekly, her voice low.

"Mine says my eyes," Alicia spoke,her gaze falling onto the red rose as she set the card aside and picked up the satiny stem of it with her fingers again. Never had Alicia imagined that written expressions of feelings could entice so, but at the end of the day, she still believed that declarations of love should be face to face, not behind ink and paper. "What if these are from-,"

"No," Interrupted Diana, her gaze moving from her cousin to the white rose between her fingers, "You may think like that for yourself, but I can't. I yelled at him for heaven's sake, in fact, I seem to be yelling at him every time I get the chance. He must despise me, I would despise me if I were him."

"Diana," Alicia breathed, sympathy lacing her tone, "Don't talk like that."

"My words are true, and you know it," came the blunt response, and Alicia'slips parted in protest, but before she could say anything, a click of the door sounded and the ladies, following an instinct, quickly tucked the card and the rose under their sheets. Both of the things had left them on edge, the words had twisted something inside them, knotting their stomachs in such a way that their hearts felt suffocated, yet alive. Alicia was full of hope, where as Diana was full of dread. For one lady it was the possibility of the card being from a certain someone, that excited her in ways she'd never been excited before. But for the second lady it was the possibility of the card being from a certain someone, which filled her with guilt and pain, for she knew better than to expect something from a person who made her knees weak yet had received nothing from her but criticism. 

"Thank goodness," The Countess exclaimed as she rushed towards them, seating herself by Diana's feet on the bed and leaning in to kiss her nieces forehead and then turning to look at Alicia, "Thank goodness you're both awake."

"I told you, Lady Templemore," Aunt Frederica's voice came as she came through the door, her smile bright and her eyes even brighter, "Our girls don't give up."

As she flashed her aunts an enthusiastic smile, it made Diana think. She really doesn't give up, she never has. All her life, there never has been a moment in which she'd truly felt defeated. Every dilemma she's ever been in, Diana has got out of like it never even happened in the first place, so who was she to give up on the matters of her heart now?

"The doctor came by two hours ago, he claimed that the fever was down and that you both would wake up soon," Mrs Fleming continued, "A little rest and you'll both be as bright as early blossoms in spring."  

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