Chapter 40

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"Lizzie, don't be ridiculous. Are you feverish?" Amelia raised a hand to Elizabeth's brow.

"No." Elizabeth swatted Amelia's hand away. "I'd rather not discuss it." She lifted the tray of partially eaten food toward Amelia, "Here, would you take this tray, please? I'm not hungry anymore."

Amelia took the tray, handing it off to Aunt Charlotte, who placed it on the side table. Elizabeth caught a glimpse of Amelia giving Aunt Charlotte a curious glance.

"Elizabeth," Aunt Charlotte began gently, "are you sure you won't see him? He cares so much for you; my dear, don't hold his father's actions against him."

"I'm not... It's just that..." Elizabeth stared down at her lap, fiddling with the edge of the bed sheet, fighting to contain the tears she felt welling up inside. She sighed, "Look at what lengths Mr. Stanton went to in order to make sure Edward had to marry Amelia... He's not going to change his mind. Perhaps it's better for...for Edward to leave, and...forget he ever came here..." She broke off, her chin trembling.

"Oh, Lizzie," Amelia leaned in and gently wrapped her arms around her sister. "Don't you dare think that way; everything will come out alright, you'll see. You know I'll never agree to marry Edward, I couldn't. And I know that he couldn't, either...he loves you too much. If I have to speak to Mr. Stanton myself, I will." Amelia pulled back, fixing a definitive look upon her face.

A chuckle escaped Elizabeth's lips at her sister's display of bravado, lingering with her tears; but she doubted that Amelia would be able to do any good where Mr. Stanton was concerned. The man was much too hard, too set in his ways. Even if Mr. Stanton were to release Edward from the demand for him to marry Amelia, there was no chance he'd agree to Edward marrying Elizabeth instead; it would certainly be a matter of pride.

Elizabeth needed to guard her heart, and she knew she would not be capable of doing so in Edward's presence; she would surely succumb to his tender affection. No, she would need some time before she could steel herself for what she needed to say. Seeing him now would only make parting ways more painful.

"Amelia, you are such a dear sister, and I love you." This time, Elizabeth wrapped her sister in an affectionate hug.

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Edward felt he was going mad with anxiety. After everything they'd been through, Elizabeth was refusing to see him. At first he had thought that it was merely because of her shy and reserved nature, that maybe she was uncomfortable with him seeing her in her bed clothes, or some such thing, but even after being informed by Miss Amelia that Elizabeth was out of bed and dressed, still she refused him entrance. He had begged her sister to give him a reason, any kind of answer for Elizabeth's behavior, but she had been elusive, advising him to give Elizabeth some time, insisting that she'd soon give him audience.

He could no longer deny the fear in the pit of his stomach; Elizabeth had acted peculiar last night, and the longer this behavior continued, the more Edward perceived he had a need to worry. One moment she had been so affectionate, clinging to him; and the next...she had closed up emotionally, almost as fast as a door slamming shut. One thing was for sure, he intended to question his father about everything that went on while he had held Elizabeth.

Pacing the library, deep in thought, Edward barely noticed when the door eased open, admitting Matthew. Edward didn't look up until his friend laid a hand on his shoulder, stopping him in his tracks.

Yesterday evening, when Edward had hurried back to the plantation to intercept his father; Matthew had stayed in the city in order to convince the detective to make a written statement against Edward's father in the event that it was needed. Successfully securing the necessary documents, Matthew had taken them, along with the box, to his family's home for safe keeping, before returning to the Montgomery plantation.

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