Thomas stood on the terrace, surveying the lands now belonging to him. The sloping lawns, the wooded acres. It was all his. All except the great meadow. He could still hear his father’s recriminations. The last they had spoken, his father had once again blamed him for losing that precious tract of land.
The vigil period had been short. Celeste had called the tradition barbaric, and refused to allow it longer than twenty-four hours. Claimed it would scar the child. The procession to the family cemetery had been short, too. Only Baldwin had accompanied him. The majority of his father’s friends had paid their respects then left. The old man had driven away more friends than Thomas had realized.
Celeste stepped into the foggy gloom. Placing a hand upon his arm, she said “Thomas, you must come inside. You’ll catch a chill standing out here in the rain.”
Thomas took one look at his wife’s glowing face and jerked away from her touch. The severe black of mourning should have washed her out, as it did him. Instead, the black served to highlight the glow of motherhood. Even in mourning his wife stirred desire.
“I cannot Celeste.” The bloody woman understood nothing. What had he expected? “I need to be out here. The rain matches my soul. Do you not understand?”
“Now Thomas, that is no way to speak to your wife.” Esther’s soft voice slithered over his skin, sinking its claws into his heart. She came! And looked appropriately horrible in the somber black, as was expected. As was proper. Celeste shrugged her shoulders quietly before slipping past Esther to return inside.
“She does not mourn my father, Esther, not as I do.” Thomas wanted to confess his darkest secret to Esther. But would she still love him if she knew he was glad the rotten old bastard was dead? “She cares only for young Duncan.”
“She is a new mother, Thomas. It is only natural she is consumed with your son,” Esther said. Slipping onto the terrace, she came to stand next to him. “Don’t forget, everyone knows your father held no tenderness for her, nor she him. I certainly would not mourn someone who despised me.”
With Esther by her side, Thomas looked for the sun to break free of the fog and clouds. Instead, a fat drop of rain landed on his upturned cheek. Esther watched him, her gaze closed, unreadable. The weight of her stare became too much for him. Grimacing, Thomas lowered his gaze, fixating on the stone patterns at his feet.
“Come inside, my friend. When did you last eat?” Baldwin joined his wife speaking to Thomas in a cajoling tone. “Cook says you have refused all trays since Lord Blacke passed. Three days with no food? Think you to chase the old man to the grave?”
Oh, heaven save him. Was Baldwin making fun of him? Did Cook know he snuck into the kitchen pantry? Had she yet noticed the ham he had taken? How could he justify eating when his father was dead, and he not there to ease the passing?
Celeste’s husky voice echoed once more into the fog, breaking the silence that had grown after Baldwin’s accusation. “When last did you hold your son. That is a better question. You held no more love for that man than I, Thomas.”
Duncan. His perfect child. His heir. The one who would be a better man than he. His salvation.
“I am not hungry, Celeste,” he said.
“And what of your son, husband? Do you no longer wish for a son?” Celeste’s voice raked across his skin, shredding his dignity.
Thomas jerked at the accusation. Had the gypsy witch read this thoughts. “What was that, wife?”
“I asked if you would like to hold Duncan. He just fell asleep, and Nurse is about to take him back to the nursery.” Celeste tilted her head, looking at him quizzically.
He was going mad. There was no other explanation. Must be the sun peeking through the clouds. Thomas swept into the library, his long strides taking him to the sideboard covered with decanters and glasses.
Glancing at the tiny bundle cradled in Nurse’s arms, Thomas felt a momentary pang in his chest. Every night, while the household slept, he crept into the nursery. He watched tiny Duncan sleeping, his chest rising and falling with each breath. He undressed him, marvelling at the magnificent, tiny toes at the end of magnificent, tiny feet. He had even once endured the humiliation of being sprayed as he removed the swaddling cloth.
But hold him? Sweat broke out on his temples at the thought. Swallowing several times, Thomas said, “No. Take him away. In fact, take yourself away. All of you. Get out, now.”
Turning, Thomas ignored his wife and their friends. From a crystal decanter, he poured himself a generous amount of amber liquid. The glass was empty in one long, fiery swallow. He relished the burn of the smuggled Brandy. Pain was all he deserved.