Page 92 of The Husband Season

‘Why? What day is it?’

 ‘Sunday, September the twelfth. It would have been the first day of our married life.’

 He smiled and shut his eyes again.

 * * *

 It was the beginning of his recovery. He was soon sitting up and beginning to eat proper meals and grumble about the time he had lost lying abed when there was work to be done. Mark had been managing very well with the aid of his estate manager and Mr Harcourt at the mill, but he was itching to see how everything was progressing. Most of all, he worried about Sophie. She was thin and pale and obviously exhausted. He was also concerned about the proprietary of having her in and out of his bedchamber all the time, especially now he was sitting up and all he was wearing was a nightshirt.

 * * *

 ‘I am going to dress,’ he told her one day about a week later.

 ‘I’ll help you.’

 ‘You will not! Alfred will help me. It’s what I pay him for. So go away and amuse yourself elsewhere.’

 Hurt by his brusque manner, she left him and went to wander round the house. He had been right to describe it as half old and draughty and half an elegant modern home. Evidence of Anne’s exquisite taste was in the wing that had been refurbished: the drawing room, formal dining room, the breakfast parlour, the library and some of the bedrooms. The furniture was in the French style, the curtains were made of the richest fabric, no doubt woven in what was then her father’s mill. There were pictures and ornaments everywhere. One of the pictures in the drawing room was of a very beautiful young lady in a dress of amber silk. She had soft brown eyes and dark lustrous hair woven with a strand of jewels. A pearl drop hung on her forehead. Her gown was a rich pink brocade. She had small hands and dainty feet. This, Sophie surmised, was Anne. Beside her was a matching portrait of Adam dressed in a dark green coat and white breeches. He wore a sparkling pin in his cravat.

 With a heavy heart, she turned away and went to explore the rest of the house. It was just as it had been more than two hundred years before. The stone floors were covered with rugs, the wall hangings were faded and the furniture dark and heavy. She imagined the friars going about these rooms centuries before. She went back to the lived-in part of the house to find Adam in the small parlour, sitting in an armchair before a good fire. He was dressed in superfine pantaloon trousers and a shirt of fine lawn. He wore no coat or cravat. The sight of him apparently well and cheerful and almost back to his old self sent her heart skittering as it always did.

 ‘Oh, you are looking so much better,’ she said, walking towards him and kneeling at his side.

 ‘Yes, almost back to the man I was, thanks to you.’

 ‘I did not do anything that someone else could not have done.’

 He took her hand. ‘Oh, yes, you did. I may not have shown it, but I knew you were there. All the time I was aware of you. You gave me the strength to fight and exhausted yourself in doing it. But why did you come?’

 ‘Mr Farley sent for me. He said you needed me.’

 ‘I shall have to have words with that gentleman.’

 ‘Why, did you not want me to come?’

 ‘I did not want you to see me in that unmanly state.’

 ‘You were never unmanly, Adam, and no one could have prevented me from coming as soon as I knew you were in mortal danger.’

 ‘I thank God for it, but now I am better you can leave me in Alfred’s capable hands. Go and rest. You look tired.’

 ‘You don’t want me anymore. I can understand that,’ she said miserably. ‘You are here, in your own home, surrounded by memories of Anne, and there is no place for me. I shall ask Mark if we can go home now.’ She scrambled to her feet and ran up to the room next to his where she had been sleeping, ready to wake and go to him the minute he stirred. She sat on the bed, put her face in her hands and wept. How could she hope to make him forget his first wife? How could she live with him among all those memories? She got up and began throwing clothes into her portmanteau.

 ‘Just what, in God’s name, do you think you are about?’ Adam stood in the doorway, breathing heavily from the exertion of climbing the stairs.

 ‘Packing. My job is done. It is time to go home.’

 He strode across to her, grabbed her by the shoulders and fell with her onto the small bed. ‘Sophie, I would spank you if I thought it would do any good. Perhaps this will do instead.’ And he kissed her long and hard.

 She began to struggle, but he was stronger than he looked and held her firmly, and gradually she relaxed and sank into a kind of euphoria that soon became something else as his kisses roused her, something sublime yet fiery, sweet yet passionate. There was a new feeling in the core of her, an opening out and at the same time making her want to draw this man into her, make herself one with him.