Robert shook his head, unconcerned. "The choice is no longer yours, my Lord. In the eyes of the law she is already mine and she will marry me today."
Every pair of eyes widened at that declaration. Eerie silence once again filled the small ballroom. It was his father who finally broke the silence. "What did you do?"
Before he could answer, James was in his face, shoving him backwards. "You stupid, selfish bastard!" He swung at Robert and would have made quite an impact if Robert hadn't ducked out of the way.
Robert made no move to strike his brother. "I'm sorry, James. But there's nothing I can do to change this. Believe me, I wish there was." He didn't miss Elizabeth's soft gasp or her hurt expression before he was forced to duck out of the way of James' fist once again.
After a few more swings, he was left with no choice but to end the confrontation. With one well-placed punch to the jaw, he sent his older brother stumbling back.
James rubbed his jaw as he glared at him. "I hate you," James said evenly before he turned around and walked away, pausing only long enough to send Elizabeth a look of regret.
His father stepped in front of him. "Please tell me that you didn't do what I think you did."
Robert shook his head slightly. "I can't." With that his mother and Lady Norwood broke into sobs. They sat down on the small sofa and held on to each other while Elizabeth looked around nervously and the men looked wary.
"Papa, please don't let him do this."
"It's not up to him any longer, Beth. In the eyes of the law you already belong to me," he said, gesturing to the surgeon he’d brought with him. "Unless you can prove you're not carrying my child we will marry at once."
Lord Norwood looked pleadingly at his daughter even as the color drained from his face. "Elizabeth?" The way he said her name said it all. He wanted her to deny everything.
Elizabeth didn't answer her father. Instead she stepped forward and held his gaze. "If you force my hand in this, Robert, you will be sorry," she said tightly.
He looked into her beautiful eyes and sighed. "I already am, Beth."
"It's not so bad," Mary said softly as she poured warm water over Elizabeth's shoulders.
Elizabeth wiped her eyes with her palms. "Yes, it is. I'm married to a man who hates me. James now hates me. Mother and Lady Bradford have both taken to their beds and, according to the servants, haven't stopped sobbing since they found out word spread around the ton about my condition and the quick ceremony. Father will not speak to me," she mumbled pathetically.
"You have been rather busy, haven't you?" Mary asked with a kind smile.
She nodded numbly before she burst into fresh tears once again. "I'm so sorry. I don't know why I can't seem to stop crying," she said, mortified that she hadn't been able to stop crying since the forced ceremony.
"Shhh, it's perfectly natural. It's been a very stressful day given your condition."
Elizabeth simply nodded as Mary continued to run warm, lavender scented water over her hair. Today she was supposed to make last minute preparations for her trip. Instead she found herself married to her childhood enemy and there was nothing that she could do about it. The moment he’d found out about the baby, she belonged to him.
Despite everything she promised herself over the years, she was now another man's property. If that wasn't bad enough, the man she now belonged to hated her and she loved him more than anything. This situation was hopeless.
"Did you know?" Mary asked softly as she poured more water over Elizabeth's back.
"Know what?" she mumbled against her knees as she sniffled back another sob.
"That you were with child?"
Elizabeth closed her eyes tightly as she hugged her knees to her chest just as tightly. "Yes."
"Oh, Elizabeth," Mary said on a broken whisper. "Why didn't you come to me for help?"
"It was my problem," she muttered pathetically.
"Elizabeth, surely you knew that you couldn't hide this from everyone forever. What were you planning on doing once you began to show?"
"That's what I would like to know," Robert drawled, earning a startled gasp from Mary.
"You don't belong in here!" Mary said and Elizabeth didn't need to look up to know that her sister was already halfway across the room and shoving Robert out of the room. She'd never been happier with her sister's bossy ways than she was at that moment.
She didn't want to see Robert, not yet. Not when she was still so angry about what he’d pulled. He knew that she didn't want to marry and yet he forced her hand. She wasn't foolish enough to believe that she actually had a choice in the matter. As much as she detested the rules, she also knew that she couldn't fight them. She'd freely given herself to Robert and no matter the circumstances of that choice; she'd ruined herself and became damaged in the eyes of society.
Society's rules also decided that the baby in her womb was Robert's property and, as a result, so was she. The moment she realized that she was carrying his child she also knew that he now controlled her life, today only made it official. For the rest of her life she would have to answer to Robert and be dependent on him for everything. Everything she owned was now his and there was nothing that she could do to stop him from spending it however he wished.
He could spend every last pound on women and cards. She wouldn’t be able to do anything to stop him and she hated it. She hated having no say in her life, no choices, and she especially hated him for making her fall in love with him, because he certainly would never return those feelings. No, he'd go out of his way to make her life a living hell and there was absolutely nothing that she could do about it.
Of course she could make her situation tolerable by becoming a doting wife. She could become the perfect wife and keep her mouth shut and stay out of her husband's way and simply be thankful for his generosity, but that really wasn't her way. She hadn't been lying when she promised that he'd regret this, not only because she had absolutely no plans for becoming a simpering wife, but because she would make sure that he knew early on that it was best not to try and control her.
Her father had learned that he couldn't control her and now so would Robert.
"Leave us," Robert said in a hard tone.
Elizabeth softly snorted at that even as she sniffled. If he really thought that he could order Mary around he had another thing coming. Her sister loved her and would never abandon her. She would-
"Goodnight, Elizabeth," Mary said on a weary sigh seconds before she heard her bedroom door close with a deafening click .
Wonderful, she thought as she wiped away another tear, hoping that the dimly lit room was too dark for him to see her crying.
"How are you feeling?" Robert asked, his words were cordial enough, but his tone was cold as ice.
"You didn't need to check up on me, Robert. I'm fine. Goodnight," she said firmly, hoping he'd just leave and let her come to terms with everything.
Not only was she married to a man that didn’t love her, but he didn’t even like her. He’d certainly made his feelings clear on the matter when he’d humiliated her and forced her into a marriage that neither one of them wanted.