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The Anniversary - M_Balogh

The Anniversary - M_Balogh

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11/01/2012

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The Anniversary
Mary Balogh
(part of the Anthology FROM THE HEART)
SHE stood with her forehead pressed against the glass of the window, staring sightlessly downward,
picturing in her mind how the day would be unfolding if she had accepted Hester Dryden’s
invitation
if she had been
allowed 
to accept it. She would have left here in the morning. She wouldbe arriving now if there had been no delays on the road. It was such a glorious mild sunny day that itwas very unlikely there would have been delays. She would be arriving now, kissing Hester, turning
her cheek for George Dryden’s kiss, linking arms with Hester, and going inside to meet the other
guests. Jane Mallory, her best friend along with Hester would be there, Edward Hinton, CharlesMantel ... She smiled bleakly. All her old beaux would be there, and numerous strangers, too.There would have been tea and dinner, cards and gossip, conversation and laughter, to look forward
to for the rest of the day. And Valentine’s Day tomorrow with its day
-long activities and ball in theevening. And then the return home the day after tomorrow. It would all have been quite harmlessand very pleasant. Pleasant
it was a very bland word. But it would have been no more than
pleasant. It never could be. And never had been. Valentine’s Day had never been the t
ime of sweetromance she had always dreamed of. She had lived in the country until two years before, and noone there had ever made anything special of the occasion. Her parents, she sometimes thought, didnot have one romantic impulse between them. Two years ago, although they had been in town
already, she had not been allowed to attend the Valentine’s day everyone
else was attendingbecause she had not yet been presented at court. Her parents were sticklers for what was sociallycorrect. It was rather funny under the circumstances..And then last year ... She closed her eyes and pressed her forehead more firmly against the glass. Itwas better not to think about last year.
He might have allowed her to go to Hester’s, she thought, opening her eyes and turn
ing from thewindow at last in order to wander across the room to her dressing table, where she idly lifted abrush and ran her hand over its bristles. She had thought it a mere formality when she had writtento ask his permission. He had never withheld it before. But this time he had. She was to remain atReardon Park, she had been instructed. He was to come there himself on the thirteenth. Today.There was no sign of his arrival yet.She might have expected that he would be glad of her absence during his visit. The last time he hadcome, he had stayed for three weeks. But they had not once sat together in the same room orwalked together or eaten a meal together. Except when they had had company, of course. They hadnot exchanged above a dozen words a day during those three weeks. If he felt duty-bound to comehome in order to consult with his steward or show himself to his people, then he should have been
relieved to know that she was planning to be at Hester’s for a few days.
 Or perhaps it was her very request that had prompted his decision to come home. Perhaps he wasdeliberately trying to spoil her enjoyment. Precious little enjoyment she ever had out of life these
 
days. Though there was no point in feeling self-pity. She had brought it on herself. All of it. It wasentirely her own fault that she was where she was now, living the life she was living.She set the brush back on the dressing table and raised her eyes to her image in the glass. Amy Rich-mond, Countess of Reardon. Her eyes mocked herself. She was wearing her best and her favoritesprigged muslin, the one she had scarcely worn the year before. In February! It was true theweather felt like spring and the sun outside felt almost warm. But even so
muslin was not quitethe fabric for February. And she wore the new blue kid slippers that matched the sash of her dressalmost exactly. Jessie had spent half an hour on her hair before she was satisfied with the way itlooked. Very often she did not even summon Jessie to do her hair. She combed it back smoothlyherself and knotted it at her neck. But today there were waves and ringlets. Her hair looked almostblond this way.She was looking her very best. As if for some special occasion. As if for someone special. Because hewas coming home? A faithless husband, who had married her almost a year before and not beddedher on her wedding night or any night since, who had brought her here on her wedding day and leftthe same evening to return to London? Who had been home only once since ... for those three silent
weeks? Who had now forbidden her attendance at the only Valentine’s party of her life? Had she
dressed like this for him?She hated him.She should be wearing one of the wool dresses she would normally be wearing. The brown one
the one she rarely wore because it seemed to sap her of both color and energy. She should have herhair in its usual knot. The fact that he was coming should be making not one iota of difference to thepattern of her day.She stared at herself in indecision. But even as one hand reached for the brush and the other for thepins in her hair, she heard it
the unmistakable sound of an approaching vehicle. Her stomachsomersaulted uncomfortably, and her hand returned the brush to the dressing table. She crossed tothe window, careful to stay back from it so that she would not be seen to be looking out. A curricle.He had chosen to drive himself rather than come in state with all his baggage. That must befollowing along behind with his valet.He was wearing a many-caped greatcoat and a beaver hat. He was dressed sensibly for winter. Itwould be very obvious to him that the muslin had been donned in his honor. She felt a wave of humiliation. And dread. Should she go down? Or should she stay in her own apartments and let himseek her out if he chose to do so? What if he chose not to? Then the situation would becomeunbearable. She would be afraid to venture from her rooms at all for fear of passing him on thestairs or walking into a room that he occupied. Better to go down now.The dutiful, docile wife.How she hated him.She left her room and descended the stairs slowly. She entered the grand hall reluctantly, feelingsmall and cold in its marbled splendor as she always did. She was aware of Morse, the butler, who
 
stood in the open doorway, and of several silent footmen, none of whom looked at her. What mustthey make of her marriage? she wondered. Did they laugh below stairs at her humiliation? Sheclasped her hands loosely before her and raised her chin. She took several slow, deep breaths.And then his voice outside was giving instructions to a groom and greeting Morse, who was bowingwith the stiff dignity peculiar to butlers. There was the sound of his boots on the steps at the sametime as Morse moved to one side. And then there he was, seeming to fill first the doorway and thenthe hall with his tall, solid presence. As sternly and darkly handsome as ever. His expression was asstony as ever, though she had the strange impression that he had been smiling before entering thehall.His steps did not falter when he saw her standing there to greet him. He strode toward her, stopped
a few feet away, and bowed to her. “My lady?” he said. “I trust I find you well?”
 
“Thank you, yes, my lord,” she said, watching his eyes move do
wn her body. She felt proud of thefact that she was as slim as ever, perhaps slimmer. Jessie said
not entirely with approval
that shewas slimmer.
“And my son?” he asked.
 She felt a flaring of anger at his assumption of singular possession. He had not set eyes on his son for
two and a half months. “Well too,” she said, “I thank you.”
 
“You will take me to see him before I go to my room?” he said.
 It was phrased as a question, but really it was a command. She was to take him to see his son. Nomatter what the household routine might be. The master had come home, and the master wishedto see his son. She inclined her head and turned to lead the way to the stairs. Fortunately, shethought, she had turned away soon enough to make it seem likely that she had not seen his offeredarm. She had no wish to take his arm. Since she did not take it, he paused for a few moments inorder to remove his greatcoat and hand it to the butler before following her.He was glad she had come down to greet him. God, he was glad of that. For the last several miles hehad felt nothing but dread. If he had not written to warn her of his arrival
and he probably would
not have done so if she had not first written to ask permission to attend Hester Dryden’s Valentine’s
party
he feared that he would turn utterly craven and change his destination. Going back toReardon was the hardest thing he had done in his life. Last time it had been difficult but at least thenthere had been a clear reason for going. He had gone home for the birth of their child. Their child. Ithad been hard to believe, being alone in London, that he had fathered a child. Even more difficult tobelieve when he, Reardon was supposed to find her huge, ungainly and unbeautiful that his seedhad caused that bulk. He had stayed for the birth and the christening before fleeing back to London.He should have stayed there and worked something out with her. But how could one worksomething out with a stony-faced, tight-lipped, hard-eyed girl when one knew oneself responsiblefor ruining her life? The word
rape
had never been used
not even by her father that first day.Never by her. But it had hammered in his brain for almost a year. Very nearly almost a year. A yearto
morrow. A valentine’s wooing! A rape that no one else call
ed rape except him. How could one

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