Author’s Note: So, this wasn’t quite how I expected this scene to go. It works. It’s just not what I thought it would be.
There’s still time to pick this serial as the one that stays. Get more information here.
“Violet, I do not think this is a good idea at all.”
“He sent a telegram to say he was coming. That means he could be here very soon, and I refuse to see him in my bedchamber or let anyone else do it for me. You know that it is not proper, nor could I trust anyone else to know the man better than I did. At least… that is…”
Violet felt herself flushing, and she could not believe she was doing it. Of course, when she remembered just how intimate her acquaintance with the man was—coupled with the lack of a legal marriage—she could not help but feel ashamed. She knew others had gone for a different morality, that “free love” was the banner call in some places, but she had been raised with all those values in her, and now to have them betrayed… She would have less guilty if she had chosen to do so, perhaps, for she would have reasoned her way past these ideals of her youth, but she had not. She had done it without intending to, and she felt all the more foolish for doing so—she had been tricked, and she did not think she should have been, no matter how many times she tried to convince herself that she could not have known Winston’s intentions.
She could find no evidence of his deceit prior to the moment he left, and even then, she didn’t know if he had meant to leave forever when he departed. Not all of his clothes had gone with him—she’d wondered for a bit if he was a victim of some sort of crime and that was why he had not come back—but her answer had been far from the one she expected when a letter finally came.
“Still, the doctor said you were to remain in bed. This is not in bed.”
“No, it is a fainting couch, but it shall have to do,” she said, not caring if her mother thought it was a poor choice. She’d been in her bed for long enough already, and her constant poor health had kept her from doing much at all during the pregnancy. The idea of staying in bed all the time held no appeal. She could not bear it a moment longer.
“I think you will make yourself sick again, and I do not want you to do it.”
“I will be careful, but I cannot possibly sit in bed all the time. I wish to meet him when he comes. After that, I shall lie down again. That I promise.”
Her mother folded her arms, snorting as she did. When her aunt came back from the market, she’d stand next to her with the same expression, both of them disapproving of Violet’s choice. She would not fight the two of them if it was not this important. “You do not know that he will come today.”
“I do not, that is true, but I will be prepared nonetheless. I will retire early if he does not present himself today.”
“I am worried about you.”
“I know you are.” Violet leaned back against the chair. “I am not unaware of my precarious situation. I have not been able to forget how much this pregnancy has affected me.”
“Then why will you not—”
“A visitor, ma’am.”
Her mother started at the maid’s words, but Violet was relieved. “Show them in, please, Harriet, and thank you.”
She ignored the look her mother sent her way, wondering if she should rise to greet their guest. She would have tried, she thought, if not for the first glimpse of him. Her stomach twisted, and she felt an ache inside her chest that made her still, trying to calm herself with slow, deliberate breaths. The initial shock over, she could see that he was not so much like Winston as she might have thought. This one was taller, thinner, and he moved with an awkwardness that Winston had not had. Everything about that man was smooth, honeyed and silk and so deceptive, but this one was a rather stiff sort of mess from his hair to his loose laces.
“Forgive me. I did not mean to startle you.”
“I… I should not have stared. I was simply lost in trying to find the differences between you and the man who used your name,” she said, putting her hand on her side. Her back had started to ache now, not one to be left out of the complaints. “You do have a resemblance, but your manner is not at all similar to his.”
The true Robert Winston nodded, and she pointed to the other chair, inviting him to sit. They had so many things to discuss, she knew, but she did not know how much longer she could stay here. “I imagine I am rather lackluster in comparison.”
“I think, in what little I have to judge your characters by, you are the better man, but I do not know you very well at all. You were willing to come, and that is more than can be said for him.”
The man across from her grimaced, reaching over to move his arm into his lap. “I would like to find the man who has done this to you—to both of us—and stop him from any further crimes, but I do not even know where to start.”
She shook her head. “I cannot tell you where he is. I only wrote because he left me almost seven months ago, and I discovered that I was… Well… I thought he should know, that it might bring him back or it might… end things between us once and for all, but he did not respond. You did.”
“Have you a good doctor? Is there anything you need at this time? I do not have much in the way of independent means—there is a certain problem with being the heir, one is rather forced to wait for that inheritance to be of much use to anyone—but I would offer all I have.”
She blinked. “Why? You do not know me. You do not have any reason to believe that I am telling the truth. I could have married some other man that abandoned me, one that never claimed to have your name.”
“Is that what you did?”
“To most people, then, I suppose I would be considered the man responsible for your troubles. It was my name he used, after all, and I do assume your papers say you are married… to me, as it were. In principle, then, it is my duty.”
“I am not an obligation, nor was I trying to be when I wrote to him—to you. I do not want your money. I want—Oh, hell fire,” Violet cursed as the ache grew sharper. “I think I must lie down again. I swear this child is trying to kill me before it comes out.”
“I hope it does not succeed,” he told her, rising. “I do not dare lift you—my arm can be as good as useless half the time—but I can let you lean against me if you should like assistance. After we have settled you and you are feeling better, you may reach me at the inn. I think we have a great deal more to discuss.”
“Yes, indeed, we do.”