Chapter 30

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The terrace door clicked, and Edward turned to see Elizabeth appear in a dark blue and white dressing gown. Her glorious dark hair was half down, falling in waves down her back. She moved toward him slowly and timidly, like a young fawn stepping out of the security of the woodland for the first time.

In the soft moonlight and the faint golden glow of the indoor lanterns which flickered through the windows, she looked something akin to an angelic apparition, seeming to glide toward him with a sweet and gentle air.

I am in such awe that this beautiful, noble creature is very nearly mine...

Elizabeth stopped before him, about a foot away, watching him with a solemn gaze. For a moment, he thought that perhaps she was angry with him for leaving, that she intended to keep her distance and not touch him. He felt a prick in his heart at the very idea of it, and reached out to her.

"Elizabeth, please..." his voice broke off, low and husky.

At the sound of her name, she rushed into his arms, holding to him tightly. The prick he had felt was replaced with a joyous pride, swelling his heart. Oh, how he wanted to stay right here, holding her.

They stood still, quietly locked in the embrace for several moments. Elizabeth's face was nestled against his chest; he cherished the warmth radiating from her touch. Edward rested his chin on the top of her head, against her silken hair.

"Edward," she whispered against his jacket, "I'm sorry..."

He held her firmly and moved a hand to stroke his fingers through her loose hair. "What have you to apologize for?"

"I'm sorry for acting so..." she swallowed, "Honestly, I am not trying to make you feel horrid for leaving. I'm just worried...and I don't want to be away from you."

Edward felt his heart melt at her concern and need to be near to him. He squeezed her tight before pulling back to look down into her lovely face. He softly stroked her cheek for a moment, then pulled her close again as he leaned down to kiss her gently. Edward felt her yield to his touch; her body relaxed against him.

He looked down at her, stroking her hair, "The last thing I want to do is leave you, my love. But I want to be done with this ugly mess so that I can come back to you and we may celebrate our joyful news together with our families. I hope that will include my father, but I don't know...it's hard to say what may happen, especially when we confront him."

Elizabeth averted her gaze and spoke softly, "I'm afraid he won't be in much of a celebratory mood, even without the confrontation."

Edward reached out, pulling her chin up to meet her gaze. "Don't take his surliness to heart, my darling. I told you before it is difficult, if not impossible, to please him, and it's not worth it anyway. Besides," he smiled tenderly at her, "someone once told me not to give up praying for him. I'm still hoping he'll have a change of heart."

She gave him a doubtful look, "I know I said that, but, Edward, I just don't know if it's possible..."

Edward felt his heart breaking at her lack of faith. "My dear, nothing is impossible with the Lord; it is in the troublesome and uncertain times when our trust and faith is tested the most. This is not going to be an easy thing for me to do. I need you to be positive, and I need you to pray for me."

Elizabeth nodded at him, concern crossing her face, "Please just promise me that you and Mr. Callaway will be cautious..." her voice trailed off. She visibly struggled to speak, "I can't lose you, too," she broke off with a sob.

Elizabeth covered her mouth with her hand, squeezing her eyes shut in anguish. She tried to turn away from him, but Edward caught her shoulders and held her fast. He crushed her against his chest, his heart breaking for her.

"I'm sorry," she squeaked, "I didn't mean to... I wasn't going to cry..."

Edward silently held her and stroked her hair, closing his eyes.

Lord, please ease this heartache for her. I can't bear to leave her like this...

After a moment, Edward pulled back from her and took her face in his hands. He whispered hoarsely, "I will be back for you, Elizabeth. I promise it."

She stared back at him, wide eyed. Those deep, dark eyes held him, sending tingles throughout his body. When he could stand it no longer, he lowered his lips to hers, kissing her passionately. Elizabeth responded to him, grabbing onto the front of his jacket.

Reluctantly, he ended the kiss and pulled away from her quickly. "I have to go now, Elizabeth. Matthew is waiting for me." He took her hand and kissed it, "I should return tomorrow evening."

Elizabeth nodded and whispered, "I love you, Edward."

Edward watched her, thinking that she looked so small, so vulnerable at that moment. He felt as though his heart might burst in his chest with happiness.

He reached out and brushed his fingers across her cheek. "I love you, Elizabeth."

Edward turned quickly on his heel, and began walking away from her, knowing that if he didn't go at that moment, he wouldn't have the strength to leave her.

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"Hey there, old friend," Matthew greeted Edward as he drew near to the stables. "How did things go with your sweetheart?"

Edward's face was grim as he double checked his horse's saddle and his belongings. "It was tougher than I imagined, my friend."

Matthew grinned at him, "It's hard to leave them once attached, eh?"

Edward smirked back at him, nodding his head. "That's certainly an understatement. Especially with Elizabeth so upset... She's afraid I might not make it back, like her mother."

Matthew let out a whistle. "Oh my, I didn't consider that. The poor dear," he frowned.

"Yes, well," Edward began as he mounted his horse, "I promised that I'd return to her. Let us make sure that I can keep that promise, shall we?"

Matthew mounted his horse and nodded at his friend. "Quite. I've got your back, my friend. Let's see what we can do about this nonsense; I'm rather anxious to be back with my dear Amelia, as well."

Edward raised an eyebrow and grinned. "Your dear Amelia, is it?"

Matthew guffawed, and prodded his horse off ahead of Edward's. He couldn't see his friend's face, but Edward imagined a heightened color on Matthew's cheeks.

The two of them started their horses off at a walk down a pathway leading away from the stables and into the fields. The pathway wound around, passing the paddocks and met up with the main road about one half of a mile down. Peter had recommended it because it led away from the house and therefore lessened the chances of Charles discovering their departure.

The group had earlier decided that they would tell Charles at the morning meal that the two young men had departed at sunrise in order to check in on Matthew's parents and to collect some personal items. Edward hoped that his father would not find the story suspicious in any way, as he most definitely would if he had discovered their hurried clandestine exit under the guise of nightfall.

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