Chapter 70

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June 1871

Jackson and I have managed to find ways to see each other but it hasn't been easy. However when the weather's warm enough and the house is empty, that's usually when I find the courage to sneak away. Often we meet in the meadow or down by Morgan Bridge, two places that have held such sadness for me now have new memories attached to them, good ones.  

Luckily today is one of those rare sunny days with an empty house, so it's easy for me to slip out the glass paneled doors and disappear. I sit with my back against a tree and his head resting on my lap in a sunny patch in the meadow. The wildflowers have bloomed around us and insects buzz through the air. Everything feels alive here, it's almost magical. The sounds of the outdoors echo off the trees and the chaos of it is strangely soothing. I run my hands through his thick hair tracing the streaks of blond woven into the brown by the sun with my fingers. It's so different from last time but it still feels the same. Leaning my head back against the bark behind me, I smile as the sunlight hits my face. Jackson's voice breaks our silence. 

"So that's why you hate the water, huh? Because you drowned last time at Potter Falls?" I nod absentmindedly, lost in this peaceful moment with him. "And then your mother this time with the bridge." He pauses for a moment like he's imagining what that must've been like for me, and then shakes his head, obviously finding it too difficult to picture. "I can't believe how strong you are, how you held on." 

"It wasn't my time." Jackson sits up and I let out a frustrated sigh knowing our moment is now over.  

"How could she do that to you? Your own mother?" It's a question that there is no answer to. How could someone do that? Especially to a child?  

"She was sick." 

"Was she sick before she knew you weren't hers?" I think about it for a moment, trying to remember that far back and nod. 

"Yes," I decide, "I think something snapped the minute she lost her first baby, and each time after it just got worse. Then there was the deception on my father's part, replacing her dead baby with me. But I think she always knew deep down that I wasn't hers." 

"What happened that day? What made her break?" I look at him in confusion. "I mean something must have sent her over the edge, right?"  

I try to think back to that day. It had started normally with breakfast and a walk into town. I remember how cold it was and my mother stopping and chatting with a lot of different people, Felix at his store, Mrs. McNaab, the butcher, Carl, and then someone else. I remember her shooing me away to play with the horses that were tied up out in front of the inn. She was talking to someone then. I try to remember who, but I was so focused on the silly horses. I recall hearing their voices as they gradually grew louder and more heated. She was definitely talking to a woman. Then suddenly clear as day, the image pops into my mind. I remember her sweeping off. It was her hair, I'd never seen it down before, only ever in that severe chignon. It was Amelia Akenbrand. 

"It was Amelia! She spoke with Amelia that day!" The words pop out as quickly as the memory popped in. "I remember. That's when we headed for the bridge." Jackson is trying to piece things together in is head.  

"You don't think Amelia is your real mother?" I reel; feeling nauseas just at the suggestion, but manage to laugh the idea away. 

"There is no way. Catherine is only a few months younger than me; she'd have been pregnant with her when I was born."  

Jackson frowns, disappointed that he didn't crack the case on his first go around. He shouldn't feel badly, I have a lot of theories myself, and they're all pretty far-fetched, distractions really, because I don't even want to begin thinking about what the truth might be. I sigh.  

"It's horrible living in that house with them Jackson! Amelia terrorizes me every chance she gets, Harrison is never around, and Catherine wants nothing to do with me or anyone for that matter. When she's not at her lessons, she's sneaking off to god knows where, and worse, Tristan returns home soon."  

Jackson's eyes creased with concern. He remembers what he's learned of Tristan from my stories of Thomas in the past and now it seems he has more to worry about.  

"I'll be fine," I reassure him planting a kiss on his wrinkled forehead. "I don't want you to worry." He shakes his chiseled face and drapes his arm around me. 

"That's like asking me not to breathe Ellie. Until you're safe, that's not going to happen." He kisses the side of my head. "At least Marcus hasn't made good on his threats yet, but that's coming too. I can feel it. Adrian is all over the place. He's more wound up than I've ever seen him. Something is definitely going on with him and it's not just this job with Marcus." Jackson sounds like his confidence is starting to waiver. Facing me now, he looks dead into my eyes. "Do you really think my brother would hurt you?" I have to nod; it's the truth, I do. "You know I'll protect you, don't you? Now that you've told me Ellie, I promise I'm not going to let anything happen to you."  

It's a beautiful gesture and greatly appreciated but hopefully I won't need protection once I get far away from here. I don't know how Jackson means to protect me if he's not coming with me, unless-- I look over at him and his lopsided smile. He looks like he's been waiting for me to understand.  

"Jackson, do you mean--" He nods, smiling.  

"If it's okay with you, I'd like to come too."  

I lunge myself forward, taking him down to the ground with one sudden movement before the sentence is fully out of his mouth. He laughs contentedly, wrapping his arms around my waist as I sit astride him looking down in amazement. I didn't think it was going to happen this time, but it looks like it has. He's running away with me. 

"What made you change your mind?"  

"I think I believe you," he whispers, gazing up at me. "I think I did know you before. I feel it, it's something different."  

I look down upon him and my heart bursts into a million pieces making me catch my breath. I feel like we've got a chance. I swallow the thought, not wanting to get ahead of myself.  

"Ellie, my priority now is to keep you safe. I know Adrian won't get the job with Marcus. I known that's a done deal, but I'm not prepared to marry Louisa to keep him afloat. Not anymore Ellie. He needs to realize that I can't sacrifice everything for him."  

I watch Jackson's face. It's like he seems to be realizing more of the truth about his brother's character, seeing behaviors for the first time that I've already known Adrian to possess. He tilts his head back like he's emptying it. I don't blame him; it's a lot to take in. Leaning down over him, I bring my face close to his. 

"Are you sure you want to do this?" I study his reaction, trying to glimpse any trace of a hesitation, but he there isn't any. He just reaches his mouth out to mine and that's all the answer I need. Jackson believes me and we're going to be together forever.

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