Leading up to the release of the 3rd book in
Ellen felt her eyes fill with tears which brimmed over. His thumb wiped one aside.
“I didn’t mean to distress you by saying that. I’m sorry. I don’t care about what’s happened before, Ellen, its past. From today, we’ve no history, we’ll make our own.”
Ellen held her breath. There was a past she could not escape, not when she had John, but she would not burden him with it. She trusted him, but she refused to let him look that demon in the eye on their wedding night. She hoped he never would. And if he did she would cling to her rock, Edward. She would hold on for dear life if she had to, no matter how bad the storm grew about her, or how much the tide pulled her back. She’d fight to keep him. He’d hauled her from the wreck she’d made of her life and she was holding fast to him until they reached calm water; if they ever could…
An hour or so later the bed covers were sticky, and John also, after drinking three cups of chocolate and eating three slices of bread with jam. Taking her son’s sticky fingers in her hand, Ellen led John from the room and back upstairs, to pass him into the care of his nursemaid.
“I like my new Papa, Mama.”
“I know, sweetheart. Are we not very lucky to have him?” Unexpectedly John spun about, securing his arms about her waist.
“You won’t send me away again, Mama, will you?”
Ignoring the instant rush of tears to her eyes, Ellen held him tight in return, the two of them clinging to each other in the way only two people who’d known separation could. “No, John,” she lied, unable to face the possibility of the truth. She would never let him go by choice, but so many times the choice had not been hers. Then bending to kiss his sticky cheek, she prayed she would have control over it, but even as she did so, she felt the web of lies, of half-truths, weaving about her, hemming her in. “Never willingly,” she said more quietly, then in a more bolstering voice, rising back up she patted his shoulder, “Now run along to your room, the quicker we are ready, the quicker we may look for that pony of yours.”
The strength she’d held on to for years, was worn down to the very marrow of her bones. Since Edward had broken the ice about her heart and unleashed her emotions, she seemed unable to hold them back anymore. She had seen more of John in the last week than she had for years, but she was terrified of what was to come, of losing him again…
She knew how soiled her life had been, she felt it eating at her soul every day and Edward could never understand that. But what she couldn’t comprehend was that he didn’t even seem to care about what she had been.
Her head still bent to the lapel of his evening coat Ellen whispered, “I have to look into John’s face every day knowing the things I’ve done. How can I teach him right from wrong when one day he may find out the truth and judge me? I do not feel fit to face my own son, let alone look into the faces of your friends, knowing how false I am.”
His palm brushed over her hair, the deep timbre of his voice rumbling in his chest beneath her ear as he spoke. “You are not false, Ellen. The false woman was the one forced to live with Gainsborough. That part of your life is over. You are not alone anymore, sweetheart, you have me.”
His voice was a soft deep caress, his words a balm which touched places inside her she longed to be healed. Hope, was the one word, she longed to wholly claim. She wanted to believe in a future in which John would be hers. She wanted to look at herself in a mirror and not feel disgust.
“I love you, Ellen. You are a good woman, with a good heart, despite everything you have endured, that makes you a better person than most.”
He was her rock. Lifting her head her fingers flattened his crumpled, tear
stained lapel. Then his fingers crooked beneath her chin, urging her to lift her head. Her gaze met the glinting dark blue-gray as it caught the candlelight, the onyx circles at their center a mirror which reflected back her pain.
Did he understand after all, had she misjudged him in this too?
“Now, John, what shall we do this afternoon?” Edward said, looking at John.
“Can we play backgammon, father?”
Father. That word sounded so natural on John’s lips now. It had become common place, a fact, the truth.
She looked at John. For his age he was a needy child, not for things, but for love. He’d been so starved of it through the years. She had tried to offer it in the written word but it was not the same as her physical presence in his life. He’d clung to her through their journey here and accepted Edward without hesitation. John had longed for a father as much as his mother and Edward had fulfilled John’s wish. Edward’s willingness to give often overwhelmed her, and her son soaked it up.
Edward had wanted to heal her and he had. She could feel the wounds and scars in her soul mending, disappearing, thanks to Edward. But he was healing her son too.
Ellen turned to Edward, who was sprawled beside her, resting on one elbow, and hugged him. Pressing his head to her chest, she summarily cut off the conversation which had continued between him and John.
He freed himself, laughing. “What was that for?”
She didn’t deem to give him an answer. Instead holding out an arm, she encouraged John to come for a cuddle too. He did, accepting her possessive and comforting grip.