Good morning friends. In today’s final ‘blog’ installment of my upcoming Vella series, a whirlwind of emotional tea spilling and the true nature of characters revealed.
Side note: If you happen to be in Denver this weekend, the Fan Expo is happening and I will be there, signing books, and participating in panels about writing, character development, series tips, and how sex changes and filters through time and genre. There will also be a lot of great speakers, some famous actors, tons of cosplay and nerding out all over the place. I hope I can see you there!
Here’s the link to that: Fan Expo Denver
And now, this:
Lillian knew what her proper place was supposed to be, knew the reaction she should give, when a man, the man who was promised to be her husband, the man she was to obey and cherish spoke to her in such a commanding tone. She knew the decent and right thing to do if she were to keep up the façade long enough to escape.
She knew all of these things and chose to open her mouth anyway.
“I will walk,” she began quietly without looking up at him. “When and where I please, in any and all manner of weather.”
Mr. Sutton’s shoulders tensed to his ears as if he’d been struck in the back. He turned on his heel, spun to confront her, his face red with anger. He breathed heavily out of his flared nostrils and his voice boomed so suddenly that it shocked Miriam into dropping the sugar dish on the carpet, spilling out the perfect brown cubes and they clattered like dice at Lillian’s feet.
“I will not tolerate a wife who dares speak back to me or deliberately acts against my wishes!”
Lillian stood, “How dare you speak to me in such a manner—” she grabbed a spoon from the tray and pointed it at him. “You, who had not one thread of common decency to visit me in my time of need! Now standing there issuing commands at me like a common dock worker? I will not be treated with such disrespect!”
Mr. Sutton leaned back in shock.
“I had business to attend to, more important than your bumbling down a few stairs. Proof in point that you should not be trusted to walk alone, lest you further mar that beautiful face. Though perhaps a good belting would help you remember just who is in command.”
Lillian let out a growl, held the spoon aloft dramatically and threw it to the floor. He watched with an astonished scowl and she refused to take her eyes from his. Miriam righted the sugar dish, grabbed the dropped spoon, and left the room quickly. Lillian watched her scurry out and felt the fear of being alone with Mr. Sutton. She didn’t know if the faithful maid would indeed go for help or if she had lost her nerve in the face of his anger.
“I will not tolerate such childish behavior from a woman who, by all accounts, should be lavish in her gratitude towards me at her great fortune in our soon to be union!”
Lillian tried to calm her breathing and looked squarely into the brown eyes that seemed to swallow her hole into their cold darkness.
“You will lower your voice, sir,” she said, both commanding and calm. Mr. Sutton took an angry breath and glared at her. Not in the way Dr. Blackwell would, as if he were trying to decide if her obstinance was charming or simply maddening. He looked at her coldly, as if he had no qualms about harming her, and in fact, might feel it was his duty.
It was then that the thought occurred to Lillian, that perhaps her great aunt’s death was no accident at all. That perhaps…a man of such a temper, and a woman of her own mind would not be able to occupy the same household for long without something disastrous happening. Mr. Sutton took a deep breath, tucked his anger inside like a pressure that would blow at any given moment and offered her a cruel, sharp toothed smile. She saw through its feigned sincerity immediately as it did not reach his eyes.
“I beg your pardon, Miss Byrne. I have had a long journey and I—forget that you have indeed sustained a serious contusion. Perhaps it is causing you to forget your—previous conversations and affection towards me. While I should permit you more patience as you heal, I think it is only fair for you to be aware that I enjoy the challenge of a strong spirit. In my horses, in my workers… in anything that I own.”
Lillian’s nostrils flared in anger and her cheeks grew hot. She opened her mouth to speak but he came at her, with brazen and overwhelming speed, threw his arms around her and locked her arms down by her sides. His breath was hot and smelled of onions as it blew across her neck and décolletage. He pressed his flaccid lips against her and forced his tongue into her mouth. Lillian yelled in outrage and struggled, biting her teeth down just as he pulled back, triumphant.
“I’m not above breaking such a spirit by any means necessary, whether it be by starvation, a strong hand, or a riding crop,” he whispered, into her ear, and pulled away to smile. The sharpness of his teeth seemed made for tearing, and his gaze fell to her neck hungrily, as though her throat could be torn out with nary a problem.
“Mr. Sutton, it would not do you well to threaten me thusly,” she said though her voice shook and she felt the cold sweat start to seep into her clothing. She wondered if she could push him away, if she stood any chance in a physical altercation with a man his size, and wearing the layers she did. Before she could chance the idea, Fitzwilliam burst through the doorway of the parlor; her calvary delivered by Miriam exactly at the right moment. Mr. Sutton let go of her quickly and backed away to a much more respectable distance.
“Mr. Sutton! Such a wonderful surprise to see you again! I hope I’m not late for tea, I do love tea.” Fitzwilliam said charmingly, flashed his dimple and shook Mr. Sutton’s hand in a firm grip. “Hello darling, feeling better?” he asked and looked at Lillian before planting a kiss on her scar gently. “Well, you look absolutely pale! Don’t you think she looks pale, Mr. Sutton? As though she’s been through too much in her delicate state?”
“She is quite unharmed I assure you,” Mr. Sutton blustered still red faced and seemingly befuddled by the sudden appearance of her brother into their intimate meeting.
“Oh! I’m sure she is quite safe, but in her delicate condition—” he sighed and looked at Lillian with a sly wink, “perhaps it best if she retires to her quarters. I’m sure seeing you has given her more excitement than she’s quite used to. And after a good rest this evening, I’m sure you’ll be much improved, won’t you my darling?”
Never before had Lillian felt sibling affection. It was more often the case that Will, her brother back home, had done very little to help her in any way. In point of fact, he had always made it quite obvious that his sole purpose in life was to make hers more difficult. But she felt such a warmth spread in her heart at Fitzwilliam’s appearance and apt reading of her distress. The sudden relief shown on her face and she felt as though she might leap into his arms and kiss him. She promised herself that she would him to help him win Kitty’s affection right there on the spot.
“I think it best I take your very good advice, sweet brother. I will repay the kindness for your concern over my health.” She bowed slowly and both men snapped upright to bow. She bowed first to her brother, who placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. Mr. Sutton stepped forward and offered to take her hand. She could tell he was much put out by the interruption and their argument. Perhaps it was enough to make him reconsider their arrangement. But then again, he said he loved a challenge. Perhaps she should have tried to be more boring. She reluctantly slipped her hand into his and he bent to kiss her it as he squeezed her bones hard enough to crack one of her knuckles. She bit back the small cry that formed in her throat.
“Miss Byrne, it is always a pleasure to be in your company. I look forward to the day when we shall share all of our moments.” He kissed her hand again, this time with his teeth out and she pulled away quickly. Remembering a small curtsey before staggering out of the room, she made her way up the stairs two at a time. She wished she had someone she could talk to. Someone who would be on her side, to really listen to her fears and misgivings.
But she was alone. Her parents were dead, her guardians seemed distant, and probably were in strong favor of such an advantageous union if it meant taking her and her financial needs off of their hands. Her brother could be swayed to be certain, but he had little power to change the outcome. He was, after all, an orphan too.
She remembered Matthew’s words on that rainy hill. He had seen what poverty would do to young women. He begged her not to choose that course. But what could be worse than marrying such an abrasive and horrible man, whose only intent was to parade her as some child-bearing trophy and beat her if she did not comply?
She wished she could talk to Matthew right then, to tell him while it was fresh in her mind, but it wasn’t as though they had instant messaging or texts. She closed the door to her room and stared at the small writing desk beneath the window, it’s ink well, quill, and paper at the ready.
“I wish I would have taken greater care in Miss Denning’s cursive classes,” she whispered. She hadn’t written a letter in over three years, not since her grandmother had passed away. And certainly nothing so formal as he would expect. But then again, he knew her to be strange and not entirely proper, so perhaps he wouldn’t expect her language to be as poetic and perfectly formed as ladies of the era. He would, hopefully, remember their vow of honesty and respond with some other solution to the horrible matter at hand. Despite his affirmation that she was the bane of his existence, at the very least, as his patient, and a lady, her well-being must mean something to him.
I hope that you will pardon my horrid scribbling. It is rather dark and my eyes have not yet grown accustomed to the strain since the fall. Please know that I would not dare to write but it is with great fear and concern that I take pen and ink to you now. I have just had a meeting with Mr. Sutton. His temper is quite pronounced and he demanded that I obey him, but not in the lovely caring way you teased in the rain. In a frightening, horrible way that makes me think he means to do me great harm should I not do exactly as I am told. He says I can no longer walk as I am accustomed to, by myself in the fields and narrows of this blessed land, though it brings my heart such joy and calm. He says I have forgotten myself and am a threat to his reputation. He threatened to beat me with his hands if not a riding crop should I not comply. I fear that I cannot marry him.
My dearest friend. You once swore a pact to me and I to you, that we would in all things be honest. I know that I’ve upset you the day of the picnic and it was my own fumbling mouth that over spoke and caused your good and noble heart to flee. I cannot apologize enough (I am presently running low on ink and candle light), but I would spend every day doing so if you could help me devise a solution to this situation.
I have put so great a pressure on you in asking, and only ask that you know, I do not do so lightly. It is just that you’ve become the one confidant I’ve met, with whom I feel my heart can express itself most fully. Please, Matthew. Understand, that I cannot marry your cousin, or I shall surely live a life of regret, pain, and solitude.
Lillian sealed the letter carefully with the wax and metal stamp on her desk and pulled the bell chord next to her bed. She never used it, always finding the maids more attentive than she cared for, but tonight, she needed an ally and Miriam had proved her worth as a true and faithful friend. When she arrived, red cheeks and asking if the missus was alright, Lillian handed her the letter.
“First, I must thank you for sending Mr. Byrne to interject, you are a one and true friend and I owe you a large debt,” Lillian paused and took Miriam’s hand in hers and pressed a kiss to her cheek. The older woman blushed but looked pleased, as if she’d never received such affection from her charge nor children. Lillian pressed the letter into her palm.
“But, for now, I must ask of you one more favor. Please see that Dr. Blackwell, the young Dr. Blackwell I mean, gets this as soon as humanly possible, Miriam. I will owe you a great debt for your help in keeping it secret and safe. I assure you it is not improper, it is…something I can only speak to with my physician,” she lied. Miriam looked as if she really didn’t need so much explanation to deliver a note to the handsome doctor.
“Aye, Miss Lillian, I will see to it that the young doctor gets your love note.” She winked and giggled. Lillian tried to argue but ended up just sighing.
“It is not a—”
“Sure’n it’s not,” Miriam nodded. “An no woman would blame you even if it was.” She turned then on her heel and left the room. Lillian sighed and paced in the room, watching from her window as, minutes later, Robby, the stable boy took one of the fastest stallions down the road, lamp in hand at the encroaching dark. She watched the small yellow light disappear over the hillside and wondered if all her hope of survival was going to disappear with it.