Tara Manderino

Whisper My Name

 

After touring through the park, and letting Bethel wax poetic about the hunting, Lucia led the small group down to the stream bordering Bethel's own property. If Lady Luck smiled on her, the squire would take the hint and find his own way home from there. Even to herself she had to admit the man had not been too annoying. Either that, or the earl's presence so intimidated him he kept his remarks to a minimum. "Wonderful fishing here. Feel free to come any time," the squire said when they stopped.

"I understood the stream was on Raven property."

"Yes, of course it is. Didn't mean to make it sound like mine. At least it's not yet. Once I marry the gel I'm sure it'll all be considered one.  You know, keep it in the family."

Justin gave him a tight smile and turned his horse smartly about and waited for Lucia to follow suit.

As soon as she noticed Justin had turned, she joined him, and led the small party toward the opposite end of the property, toward the channel.

Dismounting with the intention of walking and getting a closer look at the land, he headed toward Lucia only to find the squire ahead of him and already lending her assistance in dismounting.

Inclining her head in thanks, she turned to face Justin, eager to be with him, yet knowing courtesy demand she remain with the squire. Even now she seethed at the man's careless words at breakfast. She no more desired to marry him than a snake, and if she caught up with Roger, she would make it very clear indeed that she would cheerfully join a convent than rather face life as Bethel's property.

But even as she thought it, she knew the real problem lie not in living with Bethel, but the very real fear she had that he would lock her away. He made clear his viewpoints on her intelligence, or as he perceived it, her lack of. He didn't seem to understand her not being able to hear was merely a physical inconvenience, like him having to pad the shoulders of his jacket to make up for what nature hadn't endowed him with. If she spoke more often when she was with him, it might help, she thought, but really he already made it known he found her voice decidedly unpleasant.

Walking toward the stream, she wondered at her audacity in even daring to speak in front of, let alone to, Justin. Ashton. She better start to remember that. He was Roger's friend, not hers. She glanced at him from beneath her eyelashes. He didn't look particularly pleased at the moment, but nothing untoward appeared to have happened, unless Bethel managed to say something and she missed it. Unfortunately that was entirely possible since she tried not to pay extra attention to the man. Lord knew he had enough outlandish ideas on his own that he didn't need any encouragement from her.

 

Soul Guardian

 

Lucien returned to his loft. Habit forced him to check any leads on the book, but experience taught him not to raise his expectations in finding it. Certainly, none of his expectations prepared him for the woman at the store.

The manner in which she handled his card evidenced she sensed something about him. Exactly what, he couldn't discern. He hadn't been so caught off guard in ages. If he hadn't heard someone walking towards the store, he would have stayed longer. Leaning his head against the back of his chair, Lucien rested his glass on his knee. Didn’t matter if he didn't finish the drink, he couldn't taste it anyway.

Unbidden, images of the woman in the store came to mind. He didn't want to dwell on thoughts of her, didn't want to picture her in case he could not contain his own thoughts. Yet, her image lingered in his mind. Her essence of goodness  had immediately surrounded him, taunting him with what he could never have.

He snorted aloud, yet hesitated in opening his eyes. In doing so, he might banish her image, one he was reluctant to part with. His life held no room for someone like her. Perhaps if -- no, he corrected himself-- when he found the book things would be different, he would be different.

"A friend of yours?"

Whom was she referring to? The woman in the store? Her existence was not something he was ready to share. Lucien opened his eyes, but looked steadily at the painting rather than his visitor.

"Caroline."

She moved to stand in front of him. "You're become rude, Lucien."

"Am I?" He fingered the glass resting on his knee. Caroline, dressed in the bright red she favored, set a jarring note standing next to the painting with its muted colors. She had been a beautiful woman, was still beautiful, at least if he didn't look close enough to see the avarice gleaming in her blue eyes.

"To what do I owe this...pleasure?" He took a sip of his drink, waiting for her reply.

"Why do you persist in drinking that stuff?"

"You're avoiding the question." He didn't question her right to come to him unannounced, that was a given. But why now?

"I was lonely and remembered all the grand times we had together. Being together. Hunting together."

Lucien took another sip. In retrospect, he couldn't recall any "grand times," but judged it best to remain silent.

"That's really a vile habit, Lucien."

"Is it?" He started to raise his glass again when in a flash, Caroline knocked it from his hand. He stared at the glass for a second, following the path of the amber liquid as it trailed across the polished floor, then lifted his gaze to Caroline.

"Feel better?"

"At least I know I have your attention."

About to respond, Lucien stopped and turned his head toward the window. Again, the sound came, and he knew Caroline heard it too. A sound of distress. The sound made him ill,. but he knew it had an entirely different effect on Caroline. Indeed, her eyes gleamed bright with anticipation.

"Adrian."

Rising from his chair, Lucien stood near Caroline, and followed her gaze out the window. "Who else but Adrian? I have never heard anyone wail quite the way he does when he doesn't get his way."

"Adrian does not wail."

Lucien gave her a tight smile. "Of course he does."

"He's frustrated."

"No doubt."

"You don't sound all together approving." Caroline stepped closer to Lucien, allowing only a few inches of space between them. "But then, I forgot. You have a very 'modern' view. You would rather go to the grocery store than hunt."

"I hardly think I can find what I need at the supermarket."