Wednesday, May 15, 2013
"So." Jordan injected a deliberate note of indifference. "It would seem felicitations are in order."
Annette's pallor deepened at the unspoken sarcasm, but Edward's features settled into familiar lines: dislike, triumph, superciliousness... but the quick flash of defensiveness spoke his underlying uncertainty.
"You should not have left her."
Ah. Justification. Of course Edward would seek to shift the blame. He'd never yet been man enough to shoulder the responsibility for any of his decisions.
"So it would seem." Jordan let his eyes flick with cold disinterest over them both, deliberately ignoring Annette's growing distress, the sudden rapid breathing which he could plainly see beneath the blue silk, the way her hands now clenched tightly together under her bosom, the plaintive expression in her blue eyes.
He let the silence hang for a moment, finding perverse satisfaction in the inner knowledge that they both dreaded and wanted an impassioned outburst. Well, he'd not give them the satisfaction, though every instinct within demanded an outraged protest. Casually, coldly, as if utterly removed from the moment, he flicked an imaginary speck from his immaculate uniform sleeve.
"Oh, Jordie, I know you're angry. But-"
"Angry?" He knew his voice reflected the unmitigated coldness he had summoned to protect his heart. "For a moment perhaps." His smile spoke a contempt he both felt and resented. "No longer. I realize, Madam, that I have rather had a somewhat harsh but timely reprieve. Heaven forbid that I should have wedded you before you discovered your preference for another man."
"Another man?" Annette found life at last, perhaps even a little anger, for she flounced down the last few stairs to draw up short before him, chin tilted at a defiant angle that matched the blue fire in her eyes. "Not just another man, Jordie. Your brother."
"Of that, Madam, I am very much aware - it is, perhaps, the greater insult. That you should betray your honour, and the vows you made, for another is enough. To do so with my own brother..."
He let the unspoken hang between them, saw her redden, sensed Edward's indignation rising.
"He was a great comfort to me."
He laughed, turning her defensive protest into a thing of mockery.
" A great comfort indeed. I trust he shall remain so for a long time to come."
"Oh don't, Jordie. You cannot be so... so cold, so indifferent. You know I loved you, I-"
Jordan laughed, a hollow thing that rung with mockery and disdain. "So you said. But it would seem that saying and living are entirely two different truths. Now, if you will excuse me? I have had a long ride in the cold and would at least change for dinner. I assume we keep country hours?"
He didn't wait for an answer. Her sharp intake of breath brought a measure of satisfaction quickly swallowed up but the bitter sense of loss and aching emptiness. Cliffside had never been home but now, more than ever, it seemed forever removed from him, like a distant world that both drew and repelled him.
The conflict wounded with it's disparate demands. Jordan took the stairs two at a time, just as the old clock in the hall chimed the hour. A death knell, he thought bitterly.
But of what, exactly, he couldn't be sure.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
A groom, unsmiling and taciturn, ran up to snatch the bridle as Jordan stopped alongside the sweeping stone stairs which led up to the heavy front doors. Though a stranger, the man's grim expression was coldly familiar. Clearly little had changed with the demise of the old Earl - Cliffside was still managed with the iron hand that left little room for cheer or any display of human warmth.
Jordan shrugged, as if the gesture could somehow dislodge the chill that settled around him, a cold that had little to do with the snow falling softly into the gathering darkness.
The doors swung open even as he approached.
"Selby. Good to see you." Jordan forced a lightness into his tone as he shrugged out of his greatcoat and handed it to the butler.
"And you, Mister Jordan, Sir." The old face, lined with the tales of many years, managed a broad smile for just a moment before it settled once again into the imperturbability of long practice. Yet... Jordan caught an odd look, a quick expression of disquiet.
"Is something wrong, Selby?"
"Oh no, Sir. Not all all." Selby turned quickly to close the doors with a quiet thud, and when he turned back he had his butler mask firmly in place. Only his eyes darted away, then back, and fixed themselves firmly on a spot somewhere beyond Jordan's shoulders. A sense of disquiet, of unease, settled around him, but he bit back the instinctive question. No point in pressing the man. Selby was nothing if not the model of the perfect butler. Jordan suppressed a sigh.
He turned towards the sound of her voice, a part of him smiling, another part registering the incongruity of it here in the cold marble hallway of what should have been home.
"Annette. What are you..." She paused three stairs from the bottom, her small hand resting on the balustrade, slender fingers tight around the smooth wood. Her face, oddly pale, flashed a myriad of emotions - surprise, fear, discomfort, joy... His eyes caught hers, held them, and he read the growing distress in their wide, honest blue depths. Instinctively, hungrily, his gaze swept over her, down to the tiny blue slipper that peeped out below the hem of her gown, then back upward, driven by a discordant sense of unease.
"Annette?" He heard the harshness, the disbelief, in his question and saw her flinch. A part of him - some deep, primitive part of him - reveled in it, wanted her to feel the same pain that knifed through him as reality struck home. He wanted to look away, wanted to tear his gaze back to the perfect blue of her eyes and the memory that had been his truth for so long but, perversely, his eyes remained drawn to the impossible, the soft lines of silk that clung to her swelling abdomen.
"Don't." He drew a shuddering breath, the motion buying time as he struggled to regain some measure of sanity, to escape the escalating sense of implosion that sucked the life from him, that left him stranded in some desolate place of pain.
"You must understand..."
"Understand what? You're carrying another man's child, Annie. How do I understand that? You gave yourself to another man...to someone else...to...to who, Annie?" Somehow he knew, knew with a certainty that crushed the breath from him in an aching rush. He turned, slammed his fist into the wall, the pain of it swallowed in the greater sense of loss and anger and despair. "Who, damn you? Who?"
The cold, clipped tones penetrated the haze and struck home. Jordan sagged against the wall, fighting the rage, fighting the urge to hurt, to maim... yes, even to kill. All his experience, all his years of discipline and rigorous training in the field... he drew on it now, held on to it like a drowning man to a single, fragile rope. His hands clenched and unclenched, his breath rasped with the effort of fighting down the nausea and the frenzy of hatred that threatened to engulf him. Silence brooded hard and long and frightening.
Then, when he had finally gained mastery, imposed control beneath a layer of relentless coldness that settled around him like death, Jordan turned back to face his brother.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Jordan St John couldn't quite bring himself to add the at last that so many of his troops seemed to speak with enthusiasm. He scowled into the collar of his greatcoat as his hand reached automatically to smooth Rogue's neck. The gelding, perhaps sensing his rider's mood, side-stepped and snorted, and his head jerked with impatience.
"Right. It's cold. You want a warm stable and a belly full of oats."
Resigned to the inevitable, Jordan eased the horse back onto the roadway and into a slow canter. Duty had made Cliffside his first call, and he wished, for not the first time, that he'd followed his impulse to turn his back on responsibility and head north for Wiltshire and Annette. She, at least, would welcome him with warmth and affection. With love.
His heart tightened at the thought and Rogue faltered then resumed his easy gait as Jordan consciously relaxed. Too long. It's been too long. Two years too long. His mind conjured a sweet image, her classical features softened by the gentle smile that lit eyes too blue to describe... Annette, whom he'd loved since... since childhood, really, since he'd rescued her from a tree during a house party and smuggled her back inside through the servants' entrance to avoid her mother's wrath.
Soon, he promised himself. Just a few days, long enough to maintain the pretense and endure the distant disapproval of those he called family, a misnomer if ever their was one. Their was nothing at all familial in relationships among the St John family, never had been - not as long as he could remember. Perhaps things had been better before his mother died, but Jordan had only been two and his faint memories were long-since overshadowed by a cold, distant father and six older brothers molded irrevocably into the same unbending indifference.
Glacial as the weather, he decided irreverently and huddled deeper into his coat against the flurries of snow that swirled about him. He tried not to look at the unwelcoming red-brick facade that loomed like a grim dictator at the end of the long driveway. The old weathered house had always been that, utterly unwelcoming, and would remain so even with the glow of windows reflecting lamps lighted in the gathering gloom of dusk.
Damn the weather, damn the so-called festive season and, most of all, damn the sense of duty that drove him to endure it all.