Anthony felt as if he’d been punched in the gut.
If eyes were truly the windows to the soul, something had shattered within Kate Sheffield that night. She looked haunted, hunted, and utterly lost and bewildered.
“I don’t remember,” she whispered, her voice barely audible.
He took her hand, which he’d never relinquished his hold on, and brought it to his lips again. He pressed a gentle, almost paternal kiss on her palm. “You don’t remember what?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know.”
“Do you remember coming to the library?”
“Do you remember the storm?”
She closed her eyes for a moment, as if the act of keeping them open had required more energy than she possessed. “It’s still storming.”
Anthony nodded. That was true. The rain was still beating against the windows with just as much ferocity as before, but it had been several minutes since the last bout of thunder and lightning.
She looked at him with desperate eyes. “I can’t…I don’t…”
Anthony squeezed her hand. “You don’t have to say anything.”
He felt her body shudder and relax, then heard her whisper, “Thank you.”
“Do you want me to talk to you?” he asked.
She shut her eyes—not as tightly as before—and nodded.
He smiled, even though he knew she could not see it. But maybe she could sense it. Maybe she’d be able to hear his smile in his voice. “Let’s see,” he mused, “what can I tell you about?”
“Tell me about the house,” she whispered.
“This house?” he asked in surprise.
“Very well,” he replied, feeling rather absurdly pleased that she was interested in the one pile of stone and mortar that meant so much to him. “I grew up here, you know.”
“Your mother told me.”
Anthony felt a spark of something warm and powerful in his chest as she spoke. He’d told her she didn’t have to say anything, and she’d been quite obviously thankful for that, but now she was actually taking part in the conversation. Surely that had to mean she was beginning to feel better. If she’d open her eyes—if they weren’t sitting under a table—it might seem almost normal.
And it was stunning how much he wanted to be the one to make her feel better.
“Shall I tell you about the time my brother drowned my sister’s favorite doll?” he asked.
She shook her head, then flinched when the wind picked up, causing the rain to beat against the windows with new ferocity. But she steeled her chin and said, “Tell me something about you.”
“All right,” Anthony said slowly, trying to ignore the vague, uncomfortable feeling that spread in his chest. It was so much easier to tell a tale of his many siblings than to talk about himself.
“Tell me about your father.”
He froze. “My father?”
She smiled, but he was too shocked by her request to notice. “You must have had one,” she said.
Anthony’s throat began to feel very tight. He didn’t often talk about his father, not even with his family. He’d told himself that it was because it was so much water under the bridge; Edmund had been dead for over ten years. But the truth was that some things simply hurt too much.
And there were some wounds that didn’t heal, not even in ten years.
“He—he was a great man,” he said softly. “A great father. I loved him very much.”
Kate turned to look at him, the first time she’d met his gaze since he’d lifted her chin with his fingers many minutes earlier. “Your mother speaks of him with great affection. That was why I asked.”
“We all loved him,” he said simply, turning his head and staring out across the room. His eyes focused on the leg of a chair, but he didn’t really see it. He didn’t see anything but the memories in his mind. “He was the finest father a boy could ever want.”
“When did he die?”
“Eleven years ago. In the summer. When I was eighteen. Right before I left for Oxford.”
“That’s a difficult time for a man to lose his father,” she murmured.
He turned sharply to look at her. “Any time is a difficult time for a man to lose his father.”
“Of course,” she quickly agreed, “but some times are worse than others, I think. And surely it must be different for boys and girls. My father passed on five years ago, and I miss him terribly, but I don’t think it’s the same.”
He didn’t have to voice his question. It was there in his eyes.
“My father was wonderful,” Kate explained, her eyes warming as she reminisced. “Kind and gentle, but stern when he needed to be. But a boy’s father—well, he has to teach his son how to be a man. And to lose a father at eighteen, when you’re just learning what all that means…” She let out a long exhale. “It’s probably presumptuous for me even to discuss it, as I’m not a man and therefore couldn’t possibly put myself in your shoes, but I think…” She paused, pursing her lips as she considered her words. “Well, I just think it would be very difficult.”
“My brothers were sixteen, twelve, and two,” Anthony said softly.
“I would imagine it was difficult for them as well,” she replied, “although your youngest brother probably doesn’t remember him.”
Anthony shook his head.
Kate smiled wistfully. “I don’t remember my mother, either. It’s an odd thing.”
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