16 - reminiscences

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An ankle-length, emerald dress hugged Esmé's frame. Her eyes stared at her reflection in the mirror, a dull expression in her features. Leslie had prepped her Lady neatly for dinner tonight, but no matter how splendid she looked, if Esmé didn't change the look on her face, there was no saving her from naff commentary the upcoming hours.

Alder Benson had invited Jack and his father, Robert Winston, over for dinner. Esmé hadn't seen her fiance in two weeks after he had left with Everett - priorly known as Dean - that one day. She was unaware of what he was after and why he avoided her, although Esmé had tried to contact him.

They had arrived, seated in the dining hall but Esmé was still up in her room, finding something to keep herself busy with - her dress, her makeup, dreading what was to come.

"Lady Esmé, I think-"

"I know," She huffed, cutting Leslie off. It was about time that Esmé went downstairs before her father sent Mr Schubert up to get her. "Please, stay nearby. Let's leave if the situation comes to a head."

Leslie nodded, assuring her, "I'll find a way to excuse you out if I have to."

Esmé remained vacant yet reticent when she stepped inside the dining hall with Leslie following her close behind. The room had been silent as it was, but when the men around that had gathered around one end of the table noticed the young lady, the temperature dropped even lower, the atmosphere tensing staggeringly.

Jack jumped up from his seat to pull out a chair for Esmé, Alder's eyes tailing her piercingly. Robert's gaze was fixed to the food in front of him, seemingly in deep thought. When she approached the table, he looked up, a weak smile spread on his lips. He nodded, acknowledging.

Esmé sat down next to Jack quietly across her father and Robert. Leslie was quick to serve her some soup and for a while, they ate in silence until her father wiped his mouth with a napkin. He folded his hands on the table, inhaling sharply, "So, Jack, what have you been occupied with lately?"

Jack coughed lightly, his charcoal-like eyes taking a glimpse of Esmé before turning towards her father with a bland look, "Trying to sort things out, sir."

"You've been avoiding me. Lester, too." Esmé watched her father take a big gulp of water before continuing, "I asked you to find the journalist that published the article about you. Do you have anything?"

Not knowing how to respond, Jack could only shake his head, his jaw strained.

"Esmé still hasn't gotten used to wear her ring," Esmé's head snapped up, her lips pressed into a thin line. She hoped imploringly that he wouldn't use this moment to scold her, but his next words took her by surprise, "But if you don't manage to solve this problem, Jack, I won't aim at changing that- I'll aim at you."

"Alder, my friend-" Robert cleared his throat, but the Lt. Colonel cut him off.

"I remember asking you to get rid of said journalist." Robert sighed slowly, slumping in his seat. He ran his palm over his face, frustrated as Alder continued to speak, "This whole marriage is enacted to consolidate power. The streets are rife with tension, and this contract is our way to relieve those strains. But that article about you was anything but favourable. Do you know what'll happen if it comes to surface what happened years ago? I'll lose my position."

Esmé couldn't follow what the old men were discussing. Her father concealed something, a truth he had caused. Something that William might know about. Seeing the baleful look glistering in his eyes, a cold shudder ran down Esmé's spine.

Her father chuckled grimly, "But before that occurs, I'll find a way to drag you along."

"There'll be no need for that," Jack stated with a sudden confidence that Esmé hadn't seen in him before.

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