Home > A Twist of Fate (A Stitch in Time #2)

A Twist of Fate (A Stitch in Time #2)
Author: Kelley Armstrong

 

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There are two things I do before I leave the house that night. Two snippets of time to be preserved in the amber of memory, polished until they gleam sun-bright.

After August falls asleep, I slide from our bed and pull on the riding dress I secreted away before we retired. He groans, and I go still, my heart hammering. At a thump behind me, I turn, barely daring to breathe. He’s on his back now, eyes closed, sound asleep.

I exhale. As I do, clouds shift beyond the window, and moonlight hits him. That sliver of light plays across his bare chest and face, and three years seem to disappear, and instead, it is our wedding night and I’m looking at my new husband, my breath catching as the moon glides over him.

I will never be this happy.

That is what I thought. I’d been almost shamed by my joy, as if I did not deserve it. I’d been afraid for it, too, wanting to swaddle it in wool, lest it shatter.

How did I get so lucky?

I’d thought that, too. August Courtenay was the third son of an earl, and for a young woman like me—with a good name but nothing more—our marriage should have been the achievement of a lifetime. His family and his fortune meant nothing to me, though.

Perhaps, then, my joy should come from what that moonlight revealed: a man with the face and body of a Greek god. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the sight of him. Yet again, that wasn’t the source of my happiness.

If anything, August’s wealth and good looks had been detriments to our union, sending me fleeing his early pursuit. Only a fool falls for a man like that. A fool who thinks she’ll win more than a few nights of passion and a cheap bauble for her finger instead of a wedding band.

No, my joy in that moment, waking beside my bridegroom, was the happiness of finding that most elusive of romantic prizes: love. Love from a man who saw to the core of me, past all my rough edges and idiosyncrasies. And I saw everything in him and loved him back. Loved him beyond imagination, beyond measure.

That was three years ago. Now . . . ?

I have a secret passion for Gothic tales, and I know how this one should go. Penniless girl weds an angel and finds herself shackled to a demon instead. There is nothing demonic in August. Just something small and frightened that I desperately want to soothe, and I cannot.

In each of us, we carry a shadow of the child we were, and August’s is a very sad and lonely boy who is certain every woman he loves will leave him. One would think that marriage, and then a child, would cure his fear, but the more tightly we are bound to one another, the more fearful he becomes, that fear manifesting in an anger and a jealousy that has begun to frighten me.

I picture the bride who woke beside her husband three years ago. I imagine what she’d think if she could see herself now, slipping from bed, pulling on a riding gown, preparing to sneak back to Thorne Manor and retrieve her wedding band, innocently left in the kitchen as she helped the housekeeper fix an uncooperative bread dough.

That bride would laugh at her future self. Why all the intrigue? August knows she helped with the dough. He’d understand her removing her ring. What else would he think? That she’d taken it off for a tryst with the owner of Thorne Manor . . . August’s oldest and dearest friend? How absolutely preposterous.

That is the extent of my husband’s jealousy. The sick and sorry truth of it, that I have done nothing to ever give him cause for concern. I would never do anything, still being as madly in love with him as I was on our wedding night. Yet he cannot rest his watchful gaze when I am around other men, even his most trusted friend, who has treated me like nothing but a dear substitute for the younger sister he lost.

And so I must slip from bed to ride through the night and retrieve my wedding band while praying—praying—my husband does not wake to find me gone.

As I rise, I watch August, and my chest tightens with love and with loss, and with the determination that we will get past this. We must. I won this incredible man, and I will not give him up so easily.

I ease from the room to the second thing I will do before I leave. The second memory I will unknowingly create. I tiptoe into the room beside ours, where I creep to a bassinet. Our son—Edmund—sleeps as soundly as his father.

I bend and inhale the smell of him, his milky breath, his sweet skin. I cannot resist brushing my lips across his head, already thick with his father’s curls. One light kiss, and then I slip away, whispering a promise that I will be back before he wakes.

Escaping the house is not easy. It is the Courtenays’ ancestral estate, a “country home” that would fit five of our London townhouses. Having grown up in London, I’d shuddered when August first invited me to his family’s Yorkshire estate. Afterward, he joked that I very coincidentally fell in love with him on that visit, and it was the countryside that truly won my heart. Not so, but Courtenay Hall ignited a fierce passion for place that I’d never experienced before. It is, of course, his eldest brother’s estate, yet the earl abhors the countryside, and we are free to summer here.

A house of this size, of course, requires staff, and I must exit as stealthily as any burglar would enter. At one time, the staff was accustomed to their young mistress creeping out for a moonlit ride. I’d gallop under the stars, across the estate’s vast meadows and through its game forests, and never encounter a single person who felt obliged to tip his hat or who looked askance at my windswept hair. I’d return after an hour or so and crawl into bed, drunk on moonlight and freedom, and August would sense the cool draft of my night-chill body and roll over to greet me with lovemaking.

Last month, when we arrived at the summer estate, I’d slipped away for a ride, and August had followed. He’d stuck to the shadows, and when I caught him, he insisted he’d only been concerned for my safety. If that were the case, he’d have said so and ridden with me. No, he’d been following me.

So while I do not fear being stopped by staff, I do fear them innocently mentioning my moonlit ride to August. Yet I am prepared, and soon I am on my horse, riding from the estate without attracting any notice.

Thorne Manor is not, unfortunately, over the next hill or down the next dale. It’s nearly seven miles away. I am only glad that I have a young and healthy gelding and that the roads are empty at this hour.

When I near the village of High Thornesbury, the sound of voices drifts over on the breeze. Drunken male voices. I skirt the village at a quieter pace and then set my mount galloping up the hill to the manor house.

The house is dark and empty. William had business to tend to in London, and so August insisted he take our coach. Yes, a lord, particularly one with William’s income, should have his own coach, but our William is even more eccentric than I. As for household staff, he has only his aged housekeeper and groom, and he gave them two nights off to stay with their adult children in High Thornesbury.

I don’t stable my horse. I’ll give him a quick grooming before the return journey. For now, I leave him at the water trough and then slip in through the kitchen door, which never quite locks properly and needs only a certain lift-and-pull to open it.

My goal is less than ten paces from the door, where I’d helped the housekeeper, Mrs. Shaw. Baking is my passion. It had also been my salvation when my parents died and left their three daughters with a comfortable home and a small income but no money to bring into a marriage. As the oldest, I considered it my responsibility to provide that for my sisters. There’d been an easy and acceptable way: marry one of several rich suitors. Or a difficult and scandalous way: open my own bakery. Naturally, I chose the latter.

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