Chapter 12, Part 2

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 Peace, at last. No barrage of guests to attend to...no chaos and heartache of a child gone astray. Even the weather seemed to bring a sense of calm, as a light rain fell like a lullaby. Guy might have felt at ease...were it not for the knowledge of one last obstacle to the peace and contentment he craved to restore.

 After traversing the manor one last time, he made his way towards his bedchamber. He passed Evelyn's chamber as he went...and his foot stilled at the sound of gentle voices in conversation. Evelyn was there, of course. He was so happy to have her home again, and to have matters settled between them. She talked in joyful tones with Thea...and with her mother. Hearing Cassia's soft voice, he felt a sweet pain in his heart. How he loved to listen to her when she was happy. There was no sound in the world that he treasured more.

 But his happiness was overshadowed by a dark memory. He could not forget the scene between them last night...how her eyes had become so fierce with pain and anger. She had spoken with such bitterness, her words wounding him deeply. But the worst had come late that night. He had waited, most impatiently, for her to come to bed. She had been terribly frightened about Evelyn, and understandably so. He had been fully prepared to endure all manner of punishment for his part in causing her despair. If she wanted to strike at him in anger, or even to lash at him with more cruel words, he had been willing to accept them. He deserved punishment for his harsh words to Evie, for it was his thoughtlessness that had caused her to run away. He had imagined the scene after the eruption of angry passion and pain...that she would fall into his arms, weeping, and he would comfort her. They would comfort each other, as they had done so many times in their life together.

 In his bare feet and nightshirt, he had taken to pacing the floor of their bedchamber, hounded by his fears about Evie, and half-mad with longing for Cassia. But the night had gone on, and she had not come. Patience had never been his greatest virtue, and fraught with concern, he had gone in search of her. When he found her in Evelyn's room, asleep, he had been sorely tempted to join her there, to be of comfort to her and to find comfort from his own fears. But if she found some measure of peace, he could not take that from her. He left her there and returned to their bedchamber, although he found little sleep. Without her beside him, he was ever restless and melancholy.

 The dawn had brought the blessing of a message from William. Evelyn was safe, and he was sending her home straight away. The entire household seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Cassia had wept with joy at the news, and he'd expected to share in her happiness. But she'd quickly occupied herself with Evelyn's arrival, shunning any attempt at words of conciliation. Nothing could calm her until she had their daughter home, and now that it was done, she seemed determined not to let Evelyn out of her sight.

 So be it, he thought. If it pleases her, I will not interfere.

 With heavy steps, he went to their bedchamber. As he entered, Francis...his groom...came to help him prepare for bed. He sat in a chair, lifting each foot as his boots were removed. The right was taken off as usual. But when his left was removed, he felt a stabbing pain searing from his ankle and traveling upward. The sensation was not new. It was as familiar to him as anything else, and it was as painful as it had ever been. Lord, it was hard to fathom...that nearly twenty years had gone by since his accident. He could still recall being thrown from his horse...of his foot being violently twisted in the stirrup. He shuddered at the recollection of the dark and icy waters closing in on him...

 He shook his head at the horrid memory. Francis looked upon him, concerned.

 "My lord," he said, "Shall I fetch hot water?"

 Submerging his ankle was one way to ease the pain...but it was not the one he preferred. Still, he nodded, sending the manservant away on the errand. The door closed quietly, leaving him alone. For a small space of time, he sat with his head back against the chair. He closed his eyes and tried to ignore the painful throbbing in his foot, but it seemed only to increase in its intensity. He heard the door open behind him, but he did not open his eyes, assuming it was Francis returning already. He heard the latch fall as the door was closed. A soft voice fell on his ear.

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