The angry patter of rain against the window matched his mood. Patricia left and took their son with her. Why? He watched dark clouds enshroud the sky and heard the sudden gusts of wind rush across the field. The mind-numbing sounds and sights of the storm drifted him away…again.
“A penny for your thoughts?” A sweet voice chirped at him. Ewan turned away from the window to smile warmly and shook his mane of, oft times, unruly chestnut hair.
“I fear you will not be richer for the knowledge,” he replied. The storm beyond the window had reached a near-disturbing crescendo but inside the parlor, a fire burned hotly on the hearth. It created a sense of security inside the manor house despite the pelting rain outside.
“Permit me to judge, shall we?” Patricia replied sweetly, venturing closer. He could see she was yearning to be touched, if only by the tips of his fingers. Fully pivoted, Ewan studied Patricia’s delicate face, his smile faltering only slightly.
“Are you well?” he asked and stepped toward her with some concern. “Would you tell me if you felt something was amiss?”
It seemed that in the flickering light of the candles, she had paled significantly but it was difficult to be certain with the shadows.
“Yes, of course,” Patricia replied quickly and shifted her eyes downward, attempting to shadow the lie from her eyes. “And I tell you all. Do you doubt me?”
“Trisha, my love…”
“Ewan,” Patricia sighed gently, approaching him awkwardly. She stood before him, her pale fingers extending toward his face and the Marquess was forced to meet her eyes. In spite of the annoyance which had plagued him, he softened beneath her kindly gaze and they stared at one another silently for a long moment. “I am well, I promise you. There is nothing to fear, though I know you worry regardless. I worry too—this is new for both of us.” Her smile was broad and genuine, her blue eyes twinkling sweetly as she again looked down, but Ewan knew this time, she stared at her swollen womb.
A scream pierced his visions, blood-curdling and terrifying. He remembered that sound as if it were yesterday. He saw her pale face, scared and ghoulish. He heard her pleas and felt his heart break all over again.
He turned, realizing it had not been a scream after all. Someone was calling his name, and Patricia and their son were gone again.
“Ewan, you must stand away from the window! The trees threaten to crash through the panes without a moment’s notice.” The voice did not resemble the twittering chirp he had ringing in his ears still. Ewan felt his jaw lock, but he did not move himself, nor did he indicate he had heard his father. He wished to cling the final wisps of his reverie, but it was too late for that now—the Duke of Everly, Phineas Clark had smashed any fleeting illusion of contentment Ewan had managed to conjure.
“Did you hear me, Ewan?” the Duke insisted. “Stand away from the window!”
“I could not help but hear you, Father,” Ewan sighed, reluctantly turning to regard his elder. “You have a voice to raise the dead.”
The Duke scowled slightly at his son’s almost petulant tone, but he did not comment on the words.
“Come away from the glass,” Phineas said again. “It will grow worse out of doors before the storm calms.”
“I am unafraid of a small bit of rain, Father.”
“Ewan, must you always be contrary? I speak only from concern.”
A touch of guilt sparked through the Marquess’ chest and he did not protest again. Instead, he heeded his father’s warning and moved further into the parlor to claim a seat upon one of the winged chairs overlooking the hearth.
Ewan knew his father was not at fault for his son’s melancholy, yet that did not stop the Marquess from feeling a deep resentment, a need to lash out at anyone who dared approach him.
“Fancy a drink?” the Duke asked, nodding toward Vernon who stood nearby, awaiting direction.
“A scotch, Vernon.”
“At once, Your Grace,” the butler answered sonorously, shuffling away to oblige the request.
“Ewan, your mother and I are deeply concerned for you.”
The Marquess cringed inwardly, unsure he had the gall for such a conversation that afternoon. It was one he had endured numerous times over the past months, yet it never grew easier to hear. He had almost learned to anticipate that the discussion would eventually trail that direction, but he remained hopeful at times that it would not.
“Father, I would prefer not to travel this road with you again today. I was quite happy alone in my thoughts before you arrived.”
“Such is the problem, my son. You are far too often alone with your dismal thoughts. It puts quite a damper on the household.”
Ewan’s brown eyes flashed with indignation.
“Perhaps the household should do as I wish and maintain their distance. I would not want to infect others with my trivial grief after all. As I said, I was perfectly well alone here before you opted to interrupt.”
Phineas frowned, reaching to accept the glass from Vernon as the old servant placed the drink in his hands.
“Ewan, please, be reasonable,” Phineas grunted, casting his glass aside without so much as a sip. “It has been quite nearly a year since—”
“Father, I implore you again not to dredge this to the surface today. I have not the disposition for such things.”
“It is not I who carries this heavily, Ewan! Every step you take, every look you give—they are laced with a deep sorrow which seems apparently endless. Frankly, we are at our wits’ end with you.”
Ewan gritted his ivory teeth together, willing himself not to say something which would ignite an argument with his father. There was little he could say that would simply make the matter disappear.
“Ewan, you must say something,” the Duke insisted. “I will not have you moping about the manor. It is destroying you and I long for the witty son I raised, not this…”
Phineas waved his hand as though he was at a loss for words as if Ewan was a vagabond who had fallen into the manor quite by mistake. The Marquess bristled, unhappy to be reminded he was not the same man he had been. He did not need to be told. He knew he lost a part of himself, a part which he would never get back.
Certainly not with an unsupportive father and begrudging household. Would they rather I leave so that I take my cloud of despair away from the sunny walls of Nightingale?
“Forgive me, Father,” the younger man retorted with uncharacteristic causticness. “Does my sadness affect Mother’s galas?”
“There is no need to be belligerent, Ewan,” the Duke growled, his patience expired. “I have come to you as an ally, not an enemy. Your mother and I only have your best interests at heart. You know she refrains from hosting social functions, lest the jovial spirit affect you.”
Ewan could not suppress the grunt of dubiousness which he released loudly and rudely.
“How kind of you, Father,” he intoned. “Your concern is noted—as always.”
There was a long silence, but Ewan did not bother to look at his father. He could envision Phineas’ reproving look in his mind’s eye. Ewan had come to know it well.
It seemed a lifetime ago that the men had shared a bond stronger than the hardest of diamonds. The Duke and his son had been inseparable whether in business or social affairs, their conversations light hearted and never burdened with the pain that plagued them now. On occasion, when images of Patricia did not plague him, Ewan thought of the hunting trips which had once been the tradition of the Peterborough men and it filled him with a different kind of longing.
Matters are different now, Ewan thought firmly, dismissing the wave of regret in his gut. I am not the same boy who idolized his father. Any sense of wonderment died with Patricia…and our son.
Ewan jumped as a warm hand closed around his shoulder and he looked up toward his father in surprise. He could not recall the last time his father had touched him. In fact, he could not remember the last time he had had contact of any kind with another person.
“You will persevere, Ewan. You are a Clark. Our bloodline is strong and proud.”
“And if I do not?” Ewan replied, misery tinging his question. “What then, Father?”
He was unsure if it was meant to sound as plaintive as it did, but he could not retract the words once they had been spoken.
“You shall,” Phineas vowed. “Your mother and I will not see you fail.”
A lump formed in Ewan’s throat and he blinked several times, deeply concerned that tears would fill his eyes, humiliating him further before the Duke.
“I will retire to my chambers,” Ewan said abruptly, rising and shaking his father’s comforting hand from his body.
“We have not yet had supper,” Phineas proclaimed. “I will not have you failing to eat above all else.”
“I will have Anna bring something to my room.”
Yet Ewan did not permit his father to speak again, his long legs taking him from the parlor toward the center stairs and away from the reminder that there was a terrible reality about him.
It was much easier for the Marquess to lose himself in the memory of his late wife, the musical timbre of her voice, the guileless blue of her eyes. He wished that his parents would leave him be but lately, it seemed impossible.
He entered his spacious apartment, closing the door firmly in his wake before moving toward the fireplace. The cold had seeped into the belly of the manor, slowly like death’s stealthy hand. Summer had gone before anyone had truly taken note and all which remained was the reminder that the anniversary of Patricia’s passing loomed directly ahead.
Our son would have celebrated his first birthday in a week’s time. Perhaps Patricia would have been with child again by now.
It was an abysmal game to play, one which never had a pleasant end, but it did not stop Ewan from wondering what could have been if he had not lost his wife in childbirth.
He whirled to stare at Anna who stood in the doorway, her face pale yet relieved.
“Have you taken leave of your senses?” Ewan snapped at the servant. “You cannot simply walk into my chambers without announcing yourself!”
“I rapped, My Lord. Several times.”
Ewan had not heard a sound, but he knew he oft became so consumed in his own thoughts, he alienated the world around him.
“Anna, you must not barge into my quarters,” he reprimanded her but his voice gentled. The maid was one of his more favored and she did not often make mistakes, particularly not ones of a privacy nature.
“What is it you have come here for?” he demanded.
“Allow me, My Lord,” Anna offered. She hurried forward to light the fire, but Ewan sensed that she was purposely avoiding his gaze.
“Is something troubling you?” he asked slowly. It was not that Ewan deigned to involve himself in the servant’s woes, but he was unable to suppress the idea that Anna’s presence in that moment had been ordered by the Duke.
“No, Lord Peterborough.”
“Are you certain? You seemed relieved to see me when you entered.”
Deliberately, she pivoted, her motions slow and calculated.
“You may be frank, Anna. I will not be angry.”
“I feared the worst, My Lord.”
Ewan’s eyes widened in shock. It was not the response he had expected. He had thought that Anna would simply confess that she had been sent in as the Duke’s spy, that his father had sent her in to ensure he ate something.
“The worst?” he echoed. “What is the worst?”
She dropped her head in shame.
“Forgive me, My Lord.”
Yet Ewan realized he was less angry than intrigued by her words.
“You did not answer my question. What did you fear?” he asked but as he did, he suddenly realized what atrocious notion the maid had concocted in her own mind.
“Please, My Lord, I do not think you the type of man capable of such a sinful act—”
“You thought I would take my own life!” he gasped, his eyes nearly bulging from their sockets.
“Forgive me, Lord Peterborough!” Anna squeaked but Ewan was no longer minding the servant.
He turned to look at himself in the glass above the toilet, his jaw firming as he did. No wonder they worry for me. Staring back at him in the mirror was a man he barely recognized, a dark stubble encasing his face, mimicking the darkness in his heart. He looked unkempt, dirty almost, his shirt untucked around the breeches. Ewan tried to recall the last time he had bathed or been shaved but he could not. He had lost so much weight, his face appeared hollow, gaunt.
“My Lord, may I fetch something for you to eat?” Anna breathed, perhaps hearing his innermost thoughts.
Anna scurried from the room, leaving Ewan alone with his reflection.
Would Patricia recognize me if she saw me today or would she take me for a transient sleeping in the manor?
He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, attempting to gather his wits about him. For one long year he had mourned the death of his wife and child and yet each day did not heal the gut-wrenching agony which filled him. When he opened his eyes again, a blank, broken man returned his stare as one question echoed through his mind in the most reasonable fashion.
For what else do I have to live for without Patricia?
It was not the first time he had entertained such a morbid thought but, in that moment, as he peered at the stranger before him, he was consumed with the desire to end his own life.
I will see you again, my love, he vowed quietly. You and our son.