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Today is my wedding day. Perched from the balcony I could see the chairs draped in snow white satin neatly in rows in front of the priest. I glanced into the mirror and the dress looked absolutely beautiful. Lace covered my neck down to my neckline I was in a tight satin princess silhouette and the back was lined with white buttons down my back. It was the perfect dress for the perfect wedding. I heard a soft knock on the door only to see my uncle emerge. A wave of sadness washed over me, daddy’s little girl was getting married, but daddy wouldn’t be here to see it.
“Are you ready sweet heart?”
“Yes,” I said a smile pressed onto my face. The night before I hadn’t gotten any sleep. When my father died all of our money went with him. The only heir was a woman and that could not be done, all of the money and the house went to a distant cousin I had only met once in my life. Then Eric came along, a true prince he was and save me from and awful debt. His family has more wealth than anyone and I knew I would be happy with him. I love him very much, but sometimes the heart can love more than one at the same time.
“Do you, Eric Kingly take Elizabeth Darcy to be your wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.”
“I do.” He said this with such sincerity that I was momentarily blown away. Looking his emerald green eyes I could see our future together.
“And do you, Elizabeth Darcy take Eric Kingly to be you husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.” I looked into his eyes and I could see our lives together. But I couldn’t help of think of the life I could have had…once…long ago.
“Then I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss the bride.”
The reception party was everything I could have ever hoped for, everyone important had accepted our invitations.
“May I have the first dance Mrs. Kingly.” I placed my hand into Eric’s and we walked onto the dance floor.
I could hear the sound of metal on glass, it was time for the toasts. Eric’s father stood up first as we stood together our hands still entwined. It was then that something caught my eye in the shadows of my new palace home. I strained my eyes to get a better look, but all I could see were the grand pillars and the carvings that ran along the walls. After a few more toasts wishing us well on our journey through life together we all danced under the moonlight.
“May I cut in?” A strangely familiar voice said. I had my head resting on Eric’s chest and his arms felt warm around me that I was resisting the urge to close my eyes. Was it possible that there was anyone I hadn’t danced with yet. I lifted my gaze a stared in shock. James.
“Elizabeth are you well?”
“Uh…I’m fine, yes…I’ll dance with you.” With a kiss on the forehead Eric released me into the arms of this stranger that I had known in another life.
“You look lovely, Mrs. Elizabeth.” I stayed silent and stared into his glowing golden brown eyes.
“Why have you come Mr. Swan?”
“Well you don’t think that I would have missed this.” He leaned close so that his lips were pressed against my ear. “How could you do this to me Lizzy, how could you love someone else while in your heart you still love me.” His arms felt like iron bars holding me in place.”
“You’re a foul creature, let go of me.”
“No.” I didn’t want to cause a scene and every being in my body wanted to strike him across the face.
“Excuse me, Mr. Swan was it, I believe my wife asked you to release your hold.” Instantly I felt his arms drop and I rushed to Eric’s side.
“Well I fear I have over stayed my welcome, good night to you both.” He bowed and as fast as he came he left.
That night was a special night for me.
The next morning I woke to find that Eric had gone with a rose as soft as silk left on his pillow. I gingerly picked it up and Regina, my chamber maid, ordered breakfast. After I was dressed and my hair done up I walked to the railing over looking the grand stair case and I could see all the help bringing in the furnishings I had asked for. Eric let me do as I would like to the entire house..
“There you are ,Elizabeth.” I turned and came face to face with my best friend Charlotte. She was, as always, glowing with perfection.
“Charlotte how good of you to come.” I said as she embraced me in a hug.
“Well, I just thought you ought to know that your wedding will be the talk of a century, I was just in town and everyone was talking about it.” We laughed together.
“Won’t you join me for brunch.”
The garden was still being undressed from the wedding so we occupied one of the remaining tables.
“Well I do have something to ask you.”
“Well lets have it then.” Charlotte was the most trusted friend I had gained right after Fathers death, she may like to gossip, but she knew where her loyalty laid.
“There was a man at your wedding last night, a strange fellow if you asked me. I was chatting with your husband when he noticed your expression and wandered over. I can only imagine that he asked him to leave because shortly after he departed. It seemed like he knew you.” I had grown relatively quiet I knew exactly who she was talking about and tried to avoid talking by eating the eggs that had been brought out for us.
“Lizzy did you know him, I must confess I am mildly curious.” I knew I couldn’t avoid her forever.
“Why yes, I did know him at a time. Charlotte I know you wouldn’t and I trust you, but I must ask you not to say a word of this to anyone.”
“Well of course Lizzy, mums the word.” My mood had become glum, but I knew I had to tell someone.
“His name is James Swan. He was apparently in charge of some business that my father attended to and had come to stay not to far from us. He had such an air about him that I felt myself being drawn to him. He courted me for a few months and then he was called away on business. The night before he left he proposed to me, my father couldn’t be happier and neither could I. We wrote each other every second, and I don’t know if this was possible, but it seemed like in his absence my love for him grew immensely more.” I looked down at my hands, tears welling up in my eyes, it was moments before Charlotte spoke. Her voice was a whisper.
“What happened, Lizzy?”
I put on a brave face and continued the story I had begun.
“Well, I don’t really know. I was already worried about father’s health when I got a letter from James. I kept hoping that his next letter would announce his arrival home, but instead the last letter I received called off our marriage. Without any explanation. That was the last I had ever heard from him and shortly after father died…. well you know the rest.”
“Yes I do.” She said in a lighter tone “You had nothing to your name after your foul cousin took in all away from you.”
“Charlotte, mind you, he did take me in after the death.”
“I suppose he did… and he was good for something. Just a few miles down lived the Kingly’s and that’s how you found your prince, fell in love and lived happily ever after. ”
The rest of the morning went merrily as I moved to wherever I was needed to direct the movement of the new furnishings. And shortly after Charlotte departed, it would only be a short while until Eric came home.
“Mrs. Kingly, a letter arrived for you.” Regina appeared at my side to hand me a folded letter.
“Thank you.” I opened the letter to find a hand writing I easily recognized. It read: Elizabeth, I am sorry that I acted so foolish. I didn’t mean to anger you I just had to see you. I wish to make it up to you. I am staying at the River Set Lodge. Please come and see me, I will be waiting. James.
I folded the letter and placed it into a pocket of my dress. The first chance I got I would feed it to the fire. Alone in the room suddenly arms wrapped around my waist and his lips were at my throat. Turning around I ran my hand through his hair and his lips were warm against mine.
“Did I startle you.”
“No.” I lied. He didn’t stop kissing me until dinner was brought out and laid before us. Even then he didn’t let go of my hand.
“I have some wonderful news.”
“Oh. What kind of news.”
“Well you see Mr. Callaway of Ridgeway is throwing a ball tomorrow night and he has invited us and a guest. I know how you fancy dancing and I thought we could bring Charlotte along.” I could feel a smile spreading on my face. How I loved to dance.
“We would have such fun, but you Mr. Kingly do not fancy dancing at all.”
“Yes, but you do and it would make you happy, so I would be happy. Besides one night of dancing won’t kill anyone.”
“Well then I must send someone to inform Charlotte.”
“I have already taken care of that and she said she would be delighted. Tomorrow she will meet you here at four and you will take a carriage into Ridgeway and I will meet you there.”
The next morning I awoke at first light to find Eric still at my side. His skin was always so warm and I pulled myself closer to him. I propped myself up so that I could see his handsome face. I kissed his cheek and rested my head on his chest, my eyelids still felt heavy.
When I awoke again the light was shinning brightly through my window and another rose was waiting for me. This time something else was there to. I got up to find a dark blue embroided ball gown waiting for me.
The way to Ridgeway was a long one, but Charlotte and I made the most of it. When we finally pulled to a stop night had already fallen and Mr. Callaway’s home was so lit up that it looked brighter than the stars.
I Stepped into the cream bricked mansion, the thrown light made it looked shadowed in gold, I could see Eric on the far side of the room. Making my way toward him I could see that Mr. Callaway was a rich man indeed , his home was filled with fine furnishings and all of his guests wore the most brilliant clothing.
“Darling you look absolutely wonderful.”
“Why thank you, who knew you have such an impeccable taste in ball gowns.” We circled the room and made polite conversation, Eric insisted upon introducing me as his Wife, Charlotte and I grew bored and we began to look about the room.
“Why Lizzy I think you have a secrete admirer.”
“Yes because all men fancy women who are already married. I don’t think that there is anyone here who doesn’t know that I am the new Mrs. Kingly… Well what on earth is he doing here?” I said allowing myself to look at the man Charlotte was referring to.
“Charlotte do you know who that man is, It’s Mr. Swan, from my wedding.” I quickly told her of the letter that I had received.
“Well don’t look now, but he is approaching us.
“What should I do?” my voice was becoming frantic. I had no desire what so ever to talk to him.
“Mrs. Elizabeth how nice to see you again.”
“Hello James, I didn’t know you were friends of the Callaway’s.”
“I fear I am not but the Lodge is not far off and I was hoping that I would run into you here.”
“Mr. Swan I-”
“Now correct me if I am wrong, but you have a love for dance and I have yet to see you out on the floor. Now will you honor me with a dance.” Before I had a chance to answer I was swept onto the dance floor.
“Do you remember all of the balls we attended in Pemberly, every night we would dance under the moonlight until I had to carry you home.”
“What is it that you want from me James, honestly, I haven’t heard from you in two years and now you suddenly show up.”
“What I want is for you to listen to me.”
“Well I’m listening .”
“No not here I need to talk to you privately, there was a reason I called off our engagement, you had to know that I loved you more than anything,….and for your fathers death.”
“What on earth are you talking about, Father died because of a heart attack and no I didn‘t believe that because the man who said he would always be there wasn‘t.”
“Yes, that is what you would think. I see your husband coming this way, I must be off. Elizabeth.”
“No wait, what do mean, about my father”
“Come and see me, I’ll be waiting.” Just like on my wedding day he was gone. I scanned the crowd for Charlotte and I met her gaze a few feet away.
“Elizabeth did you not hear me calling your name?”
“Huh…oh I must not have heard you.”
“Who was that gentleman you were dancing with?”
“Oh um I really don’t know.” It wasn’t entirely a lie it seemed as if I didn’t know who he was anymore.
“In any case I thought you must want to dance.”
“Actually I don’t feel so well.”
“Maybe we should go, what do you think Charlotte?”
“Yes I do think Lizzy looks a little pale, maybe we should leave.” With that Eric left to summon the carriage.
“Charlotte you must come and see me tomorrow.” She looked at me with such questioning eyes, but we talked no further on the subject.
“He wants me to meet with him Charlotte, I don’t know what I should do.” The night had passed in a haze and in the morning Charlotte had come to see me just as I had asked her to.
“Do you want to go see him?”
“Well…yes I suppose I would, I would like some answers. I just wished I knew what he meant… about my father.”
“If you leave now you could be back before the sun sets.”
“Will you not come with me?”
“I am afraid not, I am due back at home.” Shortly after Charlotte departed and before I could loose my nerve I left as well.
The River Set Lodge had a certain charm about it,
the forest backdrop made it look like a living painting. Opening the door I walked up to a young lady working about the room.
“Yes ma’am, can I help you”
“I’m looking for a man by the name of James Swan would you happen to-”
“Elizabeth.” I hate when he seems to appear out of no where.
“Oh hello James.”
“I thought it was you, you look lovely as always, green always brought out the color in your eyes.” he had gotten so close that I took an involuntary step backwards. “I thought we could go for a sail out by the river.” It was clear that he was waiting for me to say something.
“That sounds nice.” I would have to play by his rules if I wanted to get some answers.
The river was still and the clouds made patterns in the sky.
“I must say I didn’t think you were coming to see me.”
“Well after you ambushed me last night you made me curious.”
“Now I suppose you want some answers.”
“Why yes that would be nice.”
“But can you make me a promise. After I explains things…will you come back to see me at least one more time.” This had caught me off guard, but the simplicity of his demand was one I didn’t think I could refuse.
“Thank you. I guess the best place to begin with why I left. You know that your father and I were involved in business together, I was suppose to travel with other businesses partners and meet with some clients. They were rather untrustworthy people and we were suppose to make sure they would do good on their part. To say it lightly they threatened us. We didn’t take it seriously until Bremen ended up dead, they said it was a warning…When they found out I was madly in love and had you waiting for me they…I suppose sent someone near you. When you told me of your fathers sickness I knew it was there doing and they didn’t deny it.”
“The doctor had speculations about father’s death and then one day he announced it was a heart attack from old age.”
“They most likely threatened him as well.” A silence had fallen between us and just by looking into his eyes I knew that he was telling the truth. “They said that you would be next.” In that instant I looked at his face and I could see a million emotions. “I couldn’t….I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you…so I simply disappeared.”
“And you just couldn’t tell me.” I could hear the anger and accusation in my voice, but all those night I cried my self to sleep and feeling all alone flashed into my mind.
“Do you have any idea of how much you mean to me? I couldn’t let them take you away. But please don’t cry.” I could feel his fingertips brushing my tears away. Suddenly thunder rumbled in the sky. “I think I ought to get you back before that hits.” The way back we were in silence.
“Do I get to still see you again.” He asked softly.
“I would like that, but maybe this time you could meet me instead.” This seemed to please him even more. And I did want to see him as well.
Naturally the first thing I did was tell Charlotte what happened, but I had decided not to tell Eric. I don’t really know why, but I had convinced myself that it wasn’t important. But my mind often wandered to him as the rain kept Charlotte away.
It was a week before James came to call. With nothing else to do he insisted upon listening to me play the piano. After we talked about his family and walked through the garden. It started to pour rain and we were trapped under a tree. But I felt slightly at ease, now that I knew the truth my perspective of James had changed immensely. It even began to feel like old times and I could feel myself being drawn to his presence one more. After awhile I could feel my self grow restless and ran out into the rain.
“Elizabeth you’ll catch a cold.”
“Oh stop worrying.” There was a part of the house not far off that would provide shelter. I hoped that he would get the hint and follow me. Sure enough when I turned to look he was right behind me. Reaching my goal I leaned against the hard stone wall. There was barely enough room for one and James ended up with his hands on either side of me our bodies pressed together.
“Well I must say that was fun.” I could feel his breath on my face. Looking into each others eyes I could feel his lips on mine. It was a kiss full of forgiveness and love, I had a strange notion not to let him go.
“Elizabeth are you out there?” I could here Eric’s voice coming from around the house.
“I have to go.” James whispered into my ear. I held onto his hands with a pleading glance. “I’ll see you soon, I promise.” I didn’t want him to go because it felt like my heart was being ripped in two. I watched him walk through the back entrance.
“Yes, I’m here Eric.” I said preceding in the other direction into his open arms. I hoped that he couldn’t see my tears mixed in with the rain.
“What should I do Charlotte?” I had to wait days after James left until I could speak with Charlotte. And honestly all I wanted was for someone to just tell me what to do.
“Lizzy, do you love Eric.”
“Yes and I feel absolutely awful about-”
“Even if you told him what happened do you think, honestly, that he could stay mad at you?”
“Well, maybe not-”
“Then maybe the problem isn’t Eric at all, Lizzy do you think that you might be in love with James.” The answer on the tip of my tongue was no, of course not, but there was once a time when I dreamed that I would walk down the isle to James and we would live happily together. Being with him made me feel like I didn’t have to be perfect for anyone, the way I feel whenever I’m with any of the Kinglys and company. James made me feel like I could do anything.
“Lizzy, maybe you should make your intentions, whatever they are, clear to him.”
“I think what I need to do is to see James and explain things…yes that’s it I need to let him know that I am in love with my husband and what happened, well I don’t know what that was.”
“Elizabeth I am delighted that you came to see me.” I had made another trip to the River Set Lodge this time Charlotte was not far off shopping in town. Night had completely fallen when we left and we left word that we would be spending the night in town after a day of shopping. I now sat across from James in the main dinning room of the lodge. I could hear the violinist beginning to strum. “Shall we dance.”
He held me closer than I would have liked, but I realized that this might be the last time I would see him.
“I’ll be on my way soon.”
“What? Where are you going?”
“You know your cousin is selling your father’s property and I think that it is time I settle down.”
“Well, I suppose that would be nice for you.”
“Elizabeth, I want you to come with me.”
“James, I can’t”
“I didn’t tell you something the other day. It involves Eric.” He had captured my attention. “There was a third party involved in all of this…the Kinglys. They were the ones that sent those men out to kill your father and I bet that it was Eric who took part in looking after you to threaten me.” There had to have been a look of shock on my face.”
“What on earth are you talking about, Eric, the Kinglys. No…no.”
“Elizabeth I’ve been looking into this for awhile. I wouldn’t lie to you. When I saw that the two of you were getting married it didn’t matter if I stayed away or not. What if he hurts you Lizzy?” I let him ramble on, I was lost in my own thoughts. I knew Eric had a past, but I had never inquired. It was frankly none of my businesses and Eric loved me that’s all that had mattered to me.
“Yes, oh Regina, what are you doing here.”
“Mr. Kingly is in town and Mrs. Charlotte sent me to get you. I believe she told him you were visiting with an old friend.”
“Then I must leave. Goodbye James.”
“Elizabeth I was worried. You shouldn’t be alone so late at night.” The smile on Eric’s face was genuine as he kissed me tenderly.
“Are we going home now?” I was barely myself I felt as if I was in a trance.
“I was under the impression you ladies were in town to shop.”
“Oh well, I think I would like to go home.”
“No, I think I’ll stay behind.” the ride back was a quiet one, although we were quiet I could feel the concern in Eric’s stare.
“I have a bit of news I think will cheer you up. I think that now that the house is completely re-furnished we could have a ball of our own. You could even invite the friend you were visiting.”
“That sounds like a grand idea” Not even the thought of a ball would be able to lift my sprits.
With in a week the house was all dressed for the ball and I had decided that tonight I would have to do something. Eric had noticed my change in moods and James had agreed to come tonight.
There were so many people that Eric had invited that I didn’t even recognize the majority of my guests. James had arrived and so had Charlotte to whom I had already confided my conversation with James. I could see Eric across the way talking to some more clients.
“You look beautiful tonight Elizabeth.” I turned to find James staring.
“Thank you.” There was an awkward silence between us.
“I haven’t been here since the house was redone maybe you would be so kind as to show me around.”
“That seems like a grand idea.” We walked through each corridor and through each he made remarkable comments about the fixtures or the wood. The last stop was a room above the ball room that was so far down the corridor that I hadn’t even know it was there.
“Elizabeth, have you considered what I’ve said…these past few weeks have been torture, I keep thinking that he is going to hurt you.”
“James I’ve thought about it and even called in some favors and you’re right Eric does have some what of an unjust past. But I don’t believe that he would hurt me. He…he loves me and in front of those witnesses and god I vowed to be with him.”
“Elizabeth.” He came closer now and his hands around my waist. His lips were moving and his arms inching down. “If you can honestly say that you don’t still love me anymore I’ll stop.” I couldn’t bring myself to say anything and I could just feel myself being dragged under.
I felt sick to my core, but if felt as if I had finally found the man of my dreams.
“Elizabeth come away with me.” Before I could stop myself I could hear my answer and I could feel it in my heart.
“We should go before someone notices your absence.” With that we fixed our selves proper and made our way back down stairs. The evening passed solemnly with some withering glances from Eric. I found him staring at James quite a lot even though we had kept our distance. It only further proved to me that James was right, I could never be in love with a killer especially not one that killed my father.
Just as everyone was departing a parting whisper whistled in my ear.
“Tomorrow Elizabeth, I’ll come back for you.” My heart was accelerating just at his touch.
“I think that was all you needed” commented Eric “To lift your sprits.” I knew my mood had changed just at the thought that James would be back for me kept a permanent smile on my face. “I did notice a man here tonight… Did you know him?”
“Which one, you know there were so many.” Though I knew which one he was referring to.
“Never mind. I just thought that I recognized him.” With that we both turned in. Tomorrow I would pack away a few of my things and wait for James to return.
The next morning I was surprised to have Eric greet me.
“Darling what are you doing here?” You’ll be late for work if you are not off soon.
“I’m not going to work today. You know we haven’t spent and entire day together since the wedding.” He chose today, maybe he knew that I knew. No, I was just being paranoid.
The whole day he spent following me from task to task. I just hoped that James didn’t show up at the wrong time. But when night fell I had myself wondering where he was. It was close to midnight when Eric and I retired to our room and I found myself thinking that I had been foolish to have even diluted myself into believing that I could do this, that this would happen.
I awoke with a start. The night was still cloaked with darkness, but I had heard a crash from the back yard and turned to find that Eric was gone as well. I got up a little fast and felt my head spin. I scrambled myself to the balcony and I could see two figures in the darkness. I waited for my eyes to adjust and then I could make out James shape alongside Eric’s. I strained my ears to hear what the two men were saying.
“She isn’t going anywhere.” I could hear Eric’s gentle voice filled with confidence floating up in the hot summer night.
“She knows the truth Eric, she doesn’t want to be married to a murder.” James’s voice was gruff and behind them I could the outline of a broken garden table, I could only imagine that the crash that I had heard was James being smashed into it.
“I never killed anyone, but did you tell her that it was because of you and your judgment that her father ended up dead.”
“That wasn’t my fault.”
“Yes it was, take him away. You have to know James I do love her and I can protect her and give her more than you ever could.” I could see a group of men heading out from the back of the house. They grabbed James by the arms pushing his head down, I could see one man bearing a knife. I could look no further I knew James’s faith. He took it without a sound because a few seconds after I brought myself to look out again. His body was gone and I could see another group cleaning the mess up. I knew Eric would be back and I climbed back into bed.
I heard the small creek of the door opening, I allowed myself to stir so he would know that I was awake.
“Did I wake you sweet heart?” he slid his arms around me.
“No, I heard a noise is all.”
“Well its all over now.”
Yes, yes it was. I thought shedding silent tears.