Chapter 22

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Golden hair falls in ringlets over her shoulders, her emerald eyes beam as she turns her lips up in a brilliant smile. I stretch out my arm to touch her, but she is beyond my reach. She always seems so near, dancing around me, but yet so far.

Why is it she does not realize how precious she is to me?

Suddenly, I realize that I am in the parlor of her house; she is seated before me in all her splendor, regarding me with a curious stare.

"He is not good enough for you," I say.

"What-ever do you mean by that?" she asks.

"He is not one of us; he's just a poor farmer. You deserve...someone who can give you so much more," I reply.

"Like whom, you?" she laughs.

I feel my cheeks burning at her indignity. "Sure, why not?" I croak.

Her musical laughter fills the room. "Oh, you are so silly!"

Her words stab at my chest. "He only wants you for your money," I say flatly.

Her demeanor changes instantly. "How dare you! You know nothing of his feelings. Don't you speak of him in that way, he doesn't deserve your wrath." Her eyes flash at me.

I grind my teeth and struggle to contain my hurt and anger.

Her eyes pierce me sharply. "Why have you changed so? What happened to you while you were away? You have become so cold toward me, toward everyone."

I can contain myself no longer. I find myself catapulting from my chair, anger seething from within. I shout at her, "What happened to me? How can you be so dim-witted, so selfish, so uncaring? All you do is toy with me. I have done everything in my power... Oh, just forget it!"

She recoils as if I had slapped her.

As I turn to storm out of the room, the image of her shocked expression burns into my brain.

Days later, I am watching for her, hidden in the thick cedar branches separating our family's garden from that of her family's. I know that she will come, and so I wait.

She glides gracefully in the twilight, her golden hair glows in the absence of light. Never has there been a more beautiful sight.

I step out of my hidden place; she regards me as though she knows why I am here.

My eyes plead with her. "I... I am so very sorry for my outburst... Please, forgive me..."

She watches me with contempt in her eyes for a moment. "You must never speak to me in that manner again, or I do promise you that I will be done with you. Forever."

I fall to my knees before her. "It will be as you say. I promise."

She watches me for a moment more, considering me. Finally her radiant smile breaks free, and she puts a gentle hand to my cheek. "I cannot stay angry with you..."

Her touch swells my heart to the point I fear it will burst.

I grab hold of her hand, kissing her fingers. "I... I love you... I have loved you all my life..."

She gasps, an expression of surprise, followed by sorrow, crosses her delicate face.

She shakes her head slightly. "No, darling, no..."

My brows draw together. "What do you mean, no? Don't you see we are perfect for each other? Don't you love me as well? I know that you do, you must."

She pulls back, turning her gaze aside. "Why do you tell me this now? You know that you are quite dear to me, but... I... I'm afraid I don't love you, not that way. I'm sorry..."

I stare back at her. Her words slap me across the cheek; they punch me in the stomach, sucking the air from my lungs.

A growl sounds deep in my throat. "It's because of him, isn't it?"

Her emerald eyes hold a shade of guilt, answering wordlessly. She lowers her gaze to the ground.

I feel my eyes blazing. "Has he even come to see you? Has he confessed his love to you?"

A look of doubt comes over her face. "N-no, but..."

I rise to my feet and take hold of her shoulders, shaking her. "I told you before, he doesn't love you, he is simply using you for profit. I'm only trying to protect you."

She looks down at the ground again. "You don't know him like I do... He will come to me... I know he loves me..."

A feral rage comes over me at her naive confession. Before I can stop myself, I slap her face. "You are an imbecile if you truly believe that he loves you! He will not come to you; I know it for a fact." I glare at her smugly, knowing what I have done.

She holds a hand to her face, scowling at me. "You're a despicable human being. No, I don't love you, and I never will; in fact, I hate you!" She turns to leave.

I grab hold of her roughly and force a kiss down on her mouth.

She squirms against me, slapping me across the face with her free hand.

A growl escapes my throat. "I forbid you to see him!"

"Unhand me! I don't care what you say, you are nothing to me!"

In my fury, I grab her by the throat, pushing her back against a tree...

Charles' eyes flew open, and he sat up straight in the bed, gasping for air. Wiping at the sweat beaded on his forehead, he clapped a hand to his chest, feeling his wildly beating heart. He hadn't had that nightmare for some time now. He sat still, slowing his breathing, trying to recover his composure.

I suppose being here in this house, feeling Lydia's presence has me a little shaken... No, that's not it... This is all her fault. If she hadn't questioned me... If she hadn't caused me to remember...

Charles was angry at himself for his weakness; he was so close to completing the revenge he had begun planning all those years ago. It was bad enough that one integral part of the scheme had gone horribly awry; but he supposed that was what happened when one hires subpar help from unreliable sources. He had been younger and not nearly as sensible about business back then. Luckily, much of the arrangement was still intact, and could be completed as planned. Charles was determined not to allow anyone to derail his plans, not Peter, not Peter's daughters, and certainly not his son.

So far, he'd been successful at keeping Edward away from Peter's other daughter, the one who was too nosy for her own good. Thankfully, he'd had some leverage over Matthew, who had been doing a wonderful job of occupying the girl. Unfortunately, Edward seemed to still be resisting Amelia. Charles knew that this was too important to leave up to chance. He had to act fast to seal this deal.

He decided he would speak with Peter in the morning and try to find a way to convince him to go ahead and draw up a binding marriage agreement between Edward and Amelia - in writing.

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