“I don’t want to fall asleep,” Beatrix mumbled. “I want tonight to last forever.”

She felt Christopher smile against her cheek. “It doesn’t have to last. I’m personally quite optimistic about tomorrow night.”

“In that case, I’m going to sleep. I can’t keep my eyes open any longer.”

He kissed her gently. “Good night, Mrs. Phelan.”

“Good night.” A drowsy smile curved her lips as she watched him leave the bed to extinguish the last of the candles.

But first he took a pillow from the bed, and dropped it to the carpet along with a spare quilt.

“What are you doing?”

Christopher glanced at her over his shoulder, one brow arching. “You’ll recollect that I told you we can’t sleep together.”

“Not even on our wedding night?” she protested.

“I’ll be within arm’s reach, love.”

“But you won’t be comfortable on the floor.”

He went to snuff out the light. “Beatrix, compared to some of the places I’ve slept in the past, this is a palace. Believe me, I’ll be comfortable.”

Disgruntled, Beatrix drew the covers around herself and lay on her side. The room went dark, and she heard the sounds of Christopher settling, and the measured sound of his breathing. Soon she felt herself slipping into the welcoming blackness . . . leaving him to contend with the demons of his sleep.

Chapter Twenty-five

Although Beatrix considered Hampshire to be the most beautiful place in England, the Cotswolds very nearly eclipsed it. The Cotswolds, often referred to as the heart of England, were formed by a chain of escarpments and hills that crossed Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. Beatrix was delighted by the storybook villages with their small, neat cottages, and by the green hills covered with plump sheep. Since wool had been the most profitable industry of the Cotswolds, with profits being used to improve the landscape and build churches, more than one plaque proclaimed, THE SHEEP HATH PAID FOR ALL.

To Beatrix’s delight, the sheepdog had a similarly elevated status. The villagers’ attitude toward dogs reminded Beatrix of a Romany saying she had once heard from Cam . . . “To make a visitor feel welcome, you must also make his dog feel welcome.” Here in this Cotswold village, people took their dogs everywhere, even to churches in which the pews were worn with grooves where leashes had been tied.

Christopher took Beatrix to a thatched-roof cottage on the estate of Lord Brackley. The viscount, an elderly friend and connection of Annandale’s, had offered to make the place available to them indefinitely. The cottage was just out of sight of Brackley Manor, built on the other side of an ancient tithe barn. With its low arched doors, sloping thatched roof, and twice-flowering pink clematis climbing the outside walls, the cottage was enchanting.

The main room featured a stone fireplace, beamed ceilings and comfortable furnishings, and mullioned windows overlooking a back garden. Albert went to investigate the upstairs rooms, while a pair of footmen carried in trunks and valises.

“Does it please you?” Christopher asked, smiling as he saw Beatrix’s excitement.

“How could it not?” she asked, turning a slow circle to view everything.

“It’s a rather humble place for a honeymoon,” Christopher said, smiling as she bounded to him and threw her arms around his neck. “I could take you anywhere—Paris, Florence—”

“As I told you before, I want a quiet, snug place.” Beatrix pressed impulsive kisses on his face. “Books . . . wine . . . long walks . . . and you. It’s the most wonderful place in the world. I’m already sorry to leave.”

He chuckled, endeavoring to catch her mouth with his own. “We don’t have to leave for two weeks.” After he captured her lips in a long, searing kiss, Beatrix melted against him and sighed.

“How could ordinary life possibly compare to this?”

“Ordinary life will be just as wonderful,” he whispered. “As long as you’re there.”

At Christopher’s insistence, Beatrix slept in one of two adjoining upstairs bedrooms, separated only by a thin wall of lath and plaster. He knew it bothered her not to share a room with him, but his sleep was too restless, his nightmares too unpredictable, for him to take any chances.

Even here, in this place of unfolding happiness, there were difficult nights. He woke and sat bolt upright from dreams of blood and bullets, of faces contorted with agony, and he found himself reaching for a gun, a sword, some means of defending himself. Whenever the nightmares were especially bad, Albert always crept onto the foot of the bed and kept him company. Just as he had during the war, Albert guarded Christopher while he slept, ready to alert him if an enemy approached.

No matter how troubled the nights were, however, the days were extraordinary . . . pleasure filled, serene, imparting a sense of well-being that Christopher hadn’t felt in years. There was something about the light in the Cotswolds, a smooth opalesence that covered the hills and farmland in a soft binding. The morning usually began with sun, the sky gradually thickening to clouds in the afternoon. Later in the day, rain fell on the brilliant autumn leaves and gave them a boiled-sugar glaze, and drew out a dark, fresh scent from the loam and clay.

They quickly fell into a pattern of things, a simple breakfast followed by a long ramble with Albert, and then they ventured out to visit the nearby market town with its shops and bakeries, or to explore old ruins and monuments. One could not employ a purposeful stride with Beatrix. She stopped frequently to look at spiderwebs, insects, moss, nests. She listened to out-of-doors sounds with the same appreciation that other people showed while listening to Mozart. It was all a symphony to her . . . sky, water, land. She approached the world anew each day, living fully in the present, keeping pace with everything around her.

One evening they accepted an invitation from Lord and Lady Brackley to have dinner at the manor. Most of the time, however, they secluded themselves, their privacy disrupted only when servants came from the nearby manor to bring food and fresh linens. Many an afternoon was spent making love before the hearth or in bed. The more Christopher had of Beatrix, the more he wanted.

But Christopher was determined to shelter her from the darker side of himself, the memories that he couldn’t escape. She was patient when they came to stumbling blocks in their conversations, when one of her questions had veered close to dangerous territory. She was equally forbearing when a shadow crossed his mood. And Christopher was ashamed that she had to accommodate such complexities in his nature.

There were moments when her gentle prying spurred a flare of irritation, and rather than snap at her, he withdrew into a cool silence. And their sleeping arrangements were a frequent source of tension. Beatrix could not seem to accept the fact that he wanted no one near him while he slept. It wasn’t merely his nightmares—he was literally incapable of falling asleep if there was someone else next to him. Every touch or sound would jolt him awake. Every night was a struggle.

“At least take a nap with me,” Beatrix had coaxed one afternoon. “One little nap. It will be lovely. You’ll see. Just lie with me, and—”

“Beatrix,” he had said in barely contained exasperation, “don’t badger. You won’t accomplish anything except to drive me mad.”

“I’m sorry,” she had replied, chastened. “It’s only that I want to be close to you.”

Christopher understood. But the uncompromised closeness she desired would always be impossible for him. The only thing left was to make it up to her in every other way he could think of.

His need for her ran so deep that it seemed to be part of his blood, woven into his bones. He didn’t understand all the reasons for such mysterious alchemy. But did reasons really matter? One could pick apart love, examine every filament of attraction, and still it would never be fully explained.

It simply was.

Upon their return to Stony Cross, Christopher and Beatrix found Phelan House in disorder. The servants were still accustoming themselves to the new residents of the stables and the house, including the cat, hedgehog, goat, birds and rabbits, the mule, and so forth. The main reason for the disarray, however, was that most of the rooms at Phelan House were being closed and their contents stored in preparation for the household to be moved to Riverton.

Neither Audrey nor Christopher’s mother intended to take up residence at Phelan House. Audrey preferred to live in town with her family, who surrounded her with affection and attention. Mrs. Phelan had elected to remain in Hertfordshire with her brother and his family. The servants who were either unable or unwilling to move away from Stony Cross would remain behind to care for Phelan House and its grounds.

Mrs. Clocker gave Christopher a detailed report of what had occurred in his absence. “More wedding gifts have arrived, including some lovely crystal and silver, which I have placed on the long table in the library along with the cards that accompanied them. There is a stack of correspondence and calling cards as well. And sir . . . there was a call paid by an army officer. Not one of those who attended your wedding, but another. He left his card and said he would return soon.”

Christopher’s face was expressionless. “His name?” he asked quietly.

“Colonel Fenwick.”

He gave no response. However, as Beatrix stood beside him, she saw the twitch of the fingers at his side, and the nearly imperceptible double blink of his lashes. Looking grim and distant, Christopher gave the housekeeper a short nod. “Thank you, Mrs. Clocker.”

“Yes, sir.”

Without a word to Beatrix, Christopher left the parlor and strode to the library. She was at his heels immediately.

“Christopher—”

“Not now.”

“What could Colonel Fenwick want?”

“How should I know?” he asked curtly.

“Do you think it has something to do with the Victoria Cross?”

Christopher stopped and turned to face Beatrix with an aggressive swiftness that caused to her fall back on her heels. His eyes were hard, bladelike. She realized that he was overwhelmed with one of the rages that happened when his nerves had been stretched to the breaking point. The mere mention of Colonel Fenwick had overset him completely. To his credit, Christopher took a few deep breaths and managed to control his raging emotions. “I can’t talk now,” he muttered. “I need a reprieve, Beatrix.” And he turned and strode away.

“From me?” Beatrix asked, frowning after him.

The coolness between them persisted for the rest of the day. Christopher was monosyllabic at dinner, which made Beatrix miserable and resentful. In the Hathaway family, whenever there was conflict, there was always someone else in the house to talk to. When one was married and childless, however, quarreling with one’s husband meant one was, for all purposes, friendless. Should she apologize to him? No, something in her balked at the idea. She had done nothing wrong, she had only asked a question.

Just before bedtime, Beatrix recalled something Amelia had advised: never go to bed angry with your husband. Dressed in nightgown and robe, she went through the house until she found him in the library, sitting by the hearth.

“This isn’t fair,” she said, standing at the threshold.

Christopher looked at her. Firelight slid over his face in washes of yellow and red, gleaming in the amber layers of his hair. His hands were joined together neatly, like a folding knife. Albert was stretched on the floor beside the chair, resting his chin between his paws.

“What have I done?” Beatrix continued. “Why won’t you talk to me?”

Her husband’s face was expressionless. “I have been talking to you.”

“Yes, as a stranger would. Completely without affection.”

“Beatrix,” he said, looking weary, “I’m sorry. Go to bed. Everything will be back to rights tomorrow, after I go to see Fenwick.”

“But what have I—”

“It’s nothing you’ve done. Let me deal with this on my own.”

“Why must I be shut out? Why can’t you trust me?”

Christopher’s expression altered, softening. He regarded her with a hint of something like compassion. Standing, he came to her slowly, his form large and dark against the glow of the hearth. Beatrix set her spine against the doorjamb, her heartbeat quickening as he reached her.

“It was a selfish act to marry you,” he said. “I knew you wouldn’t find it easy to settle for what I could give you, and not push for more. But I did warn you.” His opaque gaze slid over her. Bracing one hand on the jamb above her head, he brought the other to the front of her robe, where a hint of her white lace nightgown spilled over the neckline. He toyed with the bit of lace, and bent his head over hers. “Shall I make love to you?” he asked softly. “Would that suffice?”

Beatrix knew when she was being placated. She was being offered sexual pleasure in lieu of real communication. As far as palliatives went, it was a very good substitute. But even as her body responded to his nearness, kindling at the warm scent of him and the sensual promise of his touch, her mind objected. She did not want him to make love to her merely as ploy to distract her. She wanted to be a wife, not an object to toy with.

“Would you share my bed afterward?” she asked stubbornly. “And stay with me until morning?”

His fingers stilled. “No.”

Beatrix scowled and stepped away from him. “Then I’ll go to bed alone.” Giving in to momentary frustration, she added as she strode away from him, “As I do every night.”

Chapter Twenty-six

“I am cross with Christopher,” Beatrix told Amelia in the afternoon, as they strolled arm in arm along the graveled paths behind Ramsay House. “And before I tell you about it, I want to make it clear that there is only one reasonable side of the issue. Mine.”

“Oh, bother,” Amelia said sympathetically. “Husbands do make one cross at times. Tell me your side, and I will agree completely.”

Beatrix began by explaining about the calling card left by the Colonel Fenwick, and Christopher’s subsequent behavior.

Amelia sent Beatrix a wry sideways smile. “I believe these are the problems that Christopher took pains to warn you about.”

“That’s true,” Beatrix admitted. “But that doesn’t make it any easier to contend with. I love him madly. But I see how he struggles against certain thoughts that jump into his head, or reflexes that he tries to suppress. And he won’t discuss any of it with me. I’ve won his heart, but it’s like owning a house in which most of the doors are permanently locked. He wants to shield me from all unpleasantness. And it’s not really marriage—not like the marriage you have with Cam—until he’s willing to share the worst of himself as well as the best of himself.”

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