Chapter Thirteen

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Later, after Ysanne had finished her bath, and moved the empty tub to a corner of the room, they sat in front of the fire together, backs leaning against the foot of the bed, basking in the glow of the ever-present flames.

"May I ask you a personal question?" Edmond asked, bolstering his courage.

Ysanne gave him a speculative look. "You may. I won't guarantee that I'll answer, though."

That was fair enough.

Edmond took a deep breath. "How did you move on from the death of your husband?"

A quick blink was the only indication that he'd caught her off guard.

"I know you didn't love him the way he loved you, but he was still important to you, and his death must have come as a terrible blow," Edmond rushed on, hoping he hadn't offended her.

"It was," said Ysanne slowly. "I may not have been in love with him, but he was still my future, and in an instant that future was gone."

It hadn't been that way for Lucy. She had died slowly, painfully, and Edmond had been forced to watch, wishing there was anything he could do to save her, and knowing there wasn't. It wasn't even as if she had had his undivided attention – his brother had fallen ill at the same time, and Edmond had been torn between tending to them both. Then his mother succumbed to the disease, taking to her bed a day before Lucy died. Two days later, Edmond's brother followed. After another week, both his sisters went into the grave.

"Richart always wanted me to be happy. When he died, I grieved deeply for him, but he would not have wanted me to spend my life mourning. He would have wanted me to find someone else to make me happy." She briefly touched his arm, her touch cool. "If Lucy loved you, she would want you to be happy too."

Was there any invitation in her words, or was she just trying to reassure him?

"But what if she's the only woman I'm meant to love?" Edmond asked.

"Meant to? How do you mean?"

"Marriage is supposed to be permanent."

Ysanne spread her palms. "Sometimes life has other plans. And marrying someone doesn't necessarily mean you love them. When I was human, all my friends were expected to marry good husbands, but that doesn't mean they had to love those husbands."

"Did any of them?"

"I believe there was one girl who had the good fortune of marrying a man she desperately loved. The rest of us were simply lucky enough to marry men that we didn't loathe."

"I did love her," Edmond said, twisting them hem of his shirt between his fingers.

"I'm sure you did."

"But what if she's the only love I'll ever feel?"

Ysanne laughed a little, the firelight playing along the curve of her throat and making inky shadows pool in the hollows of her collar-bone.

"Oh, Edmond. I have loved many times over the years, and even when I lose those people, I know that I will love again one day. I hope you will too. I hope that you will meet another woman, and you will fall in love with her, and you will marry and have many children. I will not insult your love for Lucy, but it will not be your only love."

Edmond had assumed that his future lay with Lucy, and after he'd lost her, he hadn't been able to imagine any future at all.

Now he was here with Ysanne, and everything was different. He had met another woman, and though he couldn't honestly say that he was in love with Ysanne, he did desperately want her, like an ache in his bones, and perhaps that would become love one day.

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