Chapter 14

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Aidens POV 

“If you call me Sir one more time I am going to dunk you in the pond, cold water or not.” I could tell by the hesitation in her step that she considered for a second whether I would actually do it. I was so sick of hearing ‘Sir’ I would do it but not in a vicious way. I was avoiding calling her Kiara and she seemed to be happy enough to indulge my attentions. I could see intelligence and wit lurking behind her eyes longing to get out but still too terrified to try. The bruises were fading now after a little more than a week.

She still didn’t speak much but she smiles a bit once in a while. Fear still ruled her world despite my attempts to get her to relax. Seeing her wary look and watching her chew her bottom lip at my threat to dunk her I couldn’t help but laugh at her. “If you are so worried about getting wet then just call me Aiden instead of Sir.” I tucked her a bit further into my arms and we continued our walk around the pond.

She no longer winced when she walked so I was fairly certain that no permanent damage had been done, but I still worry what might be going on in her head. Her gaze constantly drifted to my neck where my bruise had long since faded away to just a memory, but I knew she remembered it and blamed herself. If only she knew how I blamed myself for her injuries and for everything that happened to her in the last 15 years. Valencia was the one that sent her away, but it was because of me, my position and my land. She had wanted it for her family and marriage was the easiest way to get land and wealth.

As we walked under the fruit trees now growing heavy with their sweet burdens, I watched the wonder twinkle behind her eyes, a safe distance from the surface. Still not ripe, the fruit were all neutral colors hanging in their bed of leaves. Fall was the best time to live here if you enjoy fresh fruit and gorgeous colors, spring if you enjoy flowers and baby animals abound in the stable, summer was gorgeous but lacked the magic of spring and fall.

The untold hours I have spent just walking in silence with Kiara over the past week should have been encouraging but instead it made me aware that she only answered very direct questions and if possible only with a gesture or nod. “Would you indulge me for a moment?” I stopped her under one of the old oaks that towered over us. With the slightest nod of her head, she glanced at me waiting. “Would you choose a topic for conversation?” She looked at me, uncertainty clearly written on her face. “You must have a question to ask or an idle observation you have made?” Not fooled for a second she knew I was just trying to get her to talk despite her constant protest that she didn’t want to. “Anything at all.” I smiled and couldn’t keep the laugh from my voice at the look she was giving me.

After a few minutes of her looking pensive she finally squeezed my arm in anticipation of speaking, a funny little habit she has, “Why have you never married?” Her sweet voice, disguised perfectly the hidden meaning behind her words. She acted like it was idle curiosity but the look she was giving me warned that she was asking for the honest answer not the normal social answer,

I smiled at her question and paused to think about my choice of words before they were said and too late to revise. “I lost my love and my fiancé many years ago. I never looked for another.” Vague enough that she might not realize who specifically I was talking about but specific enough that it adds finality to the question.

“But surely there must have been many other girls that pursued such an eligible bachelor?” Her chaste look and sugary tone simply oozed innocence but her words were very clear. So long ago and no one else managed to catch my eye. At least this conversation manages to clear up any doubts that Kiara suffered from her lack of schooling or conversation. She is intelligent and witty enough to fit in with even the most social women I have ever met, and that is not a compliment to be taken lightly.

“You actually met one of the many women that vied for my attention.” She looked up at me with a slightly interested glance. Finally something has caught her interest! “You remember Lady Valencia’s daughter?” The interest turned into panic for a second before she processed my words. Valencia’s daughter had tried for my hand but I have already told her that none of the hopefuls had interested me in the slightest. She visibly relaxed on my arm as a shudder ran through her. Well at least now I know how strong of an effect Valencia has on people.

“Why Lady Valencia didn’t just try for you herself is beyond me. It probably would have been more subtle than parading her daughter around like that.” I smiled at her observation. Very accurate and yet at the same time I had to suppress a shudder of my own at the very idea of Valencia trying to bed me.

“So I wasn’t crazy when I thought she was being more than slightly obvious at her attempts to catch my attention.” I smiled at the memories of her daughters’ convenient placement for all social events or even accidental encounters which Valencia had planned. “Alright next question.” I knew I was pushing my luck with her today. One question was a great improvement so why not try for another. I waited silently while she thought.

A gentle squeeze on my arm alerted me that she was ready again. “What was your lost fiancés name?” This time the chaste and sugary tones were replaced by a perceptive glare and an equally knowing tone. I couldn’t help my mouth hanging open for a split second before I regained some measure of composure. Answering at this point seemed more a formality than anything, she already knows. She smiled despite herself at the look on my face.

“Her name was Kiara.” I could hardly deny what she already knew without feeling like I was trying to trick her into loving me again. Her smile was still there but was toned down from the one that had been enjoying my shock. “What gave me away?” I couldn’t help but feel like I had gotten caught with my hand in the cookie jar.

She batted her innocent eyes with their ebony lashes. “She was lost years ago, and no one else ever caught your attention. Yet you insist on trying to befriend me and act like a perfect gentleman courting me. Plus the hope in your eyes every time you look at me, I know you still see someone else.” She chewed her lip for another second, and I so struggled with the knowledge that she didn’t think of herself as Kiara. “Please let me tell you a story, a childhood dream even.”

She pulled me back along the path towards the bench by the pond. Once we were both firmly seated next to each other she closed her eyes for a second to organize her thoughts as was her adorable habit. “In my dream there was a boy and a girl, neither more than 7 years old. They were playing in a garden filled with roses and iris’s and a large marble fountain. The little boy with dark hair and his toy sword was always rescuing the girl and calling her his princess. He would hold her hand and would walk together through the garden, he always tried to hold her hand. The silly boy. The girl would just giggle at his attention but the boy would insist on holding her hand. The little boy picked a handful of the fragrant flowers, giving them to the girl, while she was looking down at the flowers in her hand the boy snuck a kiss from her startled lips.”

I watched her hand float to her lips as she recounted her story with her eyes still closed. She remembers. I felt my heart swell at the realization that the children in the story were us. I leaned forward unable to resist, placing a gentle kiss on her lips. Lost in the memory Kiara pressed the kiss deeper for a second before her eyes flew open and with a furious blush she turned away.

“Tell me if this story sounds familiar.” I took her hands in mine and she slowly turned back to face me, embarrassment still staining her cheeks red. “A little boy and a little girl are running through endless white halls together hand in hand. They burst out into the garden startling slaves and birds alike with their screams and laughter. They ran down the paths towards the pond and a bench that rested under a willow tree, their meeting place every day after breakfast. They sit together for several minutes tossing bits of bread to the fish that swim at the shore. After the last of the bread is gone the little boy turns to the girl and declares that she should marry him, then she wouldn’t have to leave. With a cry at the brilliant idea the two children took off running again through the house in search of their parents. Finally storming into the sitting room, hands still locked together, the parents asked what on earth we were up to. The little boy boldly announced “This is my fiancé. She agreed to marry me.” To the parents delight and praise.” I could see tears welling up in Kiaras eyes but didn’t know if I could help her.

“They are in my head but they seem like other people. There is no connection between myself and the girl.” I pulled her into my chest where we sat together until the sun started to dip in the sky.

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