“After what happened in the library,” she mumbled. “I didn’t know what to do or how to tell you.”

“Would you have told me?” he asked, closing his eyes as he waited for her answer.

“As soon as I figured out a way to tell you without making you hate me” she admitted, sounding so damn miserable that he couldn’t help but smile.

“Then perhaps it’s time that we called a truce?”

Chapter 25

“A truce?” Elizabeth repeated back slowly, understandably wary considering the suggestion was coming from Robert Bradford and that this wasn’t the first time he’d suggested such a thing.

“I think that it would be for the best,” he said, repeating the same words that he’d used sixteen years ago when he’d tricked her into crawling out from her hiding spot in his father’s barn where she’d been hiding after a rather unfortunate incident involving Robert, a bowl of honey, and about five sacks of chicken feathers.

“I see,” she said, carefully disengaging herself from him as the need for self-preservation kicked in.

Although she wholeheartedly agreed that a truce of some kind would be beneficial so that they wouldn’t end up killing each other, she just couldn’t quite ignore the voice screaming inside her head to make a run for it. Knowing that it was both foolish and pointless since there was no longer anywhere to run now that they were married, she forced herself to remain in the kitchen so that she could hear him out.

That didn’t mean that she was going to do something foolish like staying within reaching distance of him. As casually as she could, she walked around the table and started to work on the eggs, telling herself that she’d be able to make it to the door if this turned out to be a trap. Other than an amused smile that told her that he knew exactly what she was thinking, he didn’t comment on the action.

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting with you,” Robert explained, stating her biggest concern.

They didn’t have a love match, the one requirement that she’d had for marriage. She couldn’t even say that they were friends and given their history and how their marriage came to exist, she hadn’t expected a cordial marriage when her father had grudgingly agreed that she had to marry Robert.

After his announcement that first night when he’d described what he’d expected of her, she’d anticipated to live a life of solitude where he ignored her until their child was an adult and her usefulness had come to an end. Then she’d imagined that he would probably move her into a cottage where he would never have to see her again. It wasn’t an existence that she would have accepted meekly, which meant that their marriage probably would have been filled with turmoil, arguments and eventually hatred.

She didn’t want that kind of marriage.

So, if he was offering her an olive branch, she would happily accept it. As long as it was beneficial to both of them and it didn’t end with her living in the middle of nowhere with only squirrels and her ever growing hatred for Robert to keep her company.

“What are you suggesting?” she asked, trying not to get her hopes up that they could be friends. He’d been very kind towards her for the last couple of days and while that gave her hope, she also realized that it could have been out of pity.

“I’m suggesting that we work together to set some terms for this marriage that we can both live with,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest as he watched her work.

“That sounds reasonable,” she had to admit, more than reasonable considering that most men didn’t care one whit if their wives were happy.

“From this point on, I think that it would be best if we started with a clean slate,” he suggested, sounding hopeful as she grabbed a pan, the small bowl of butter and the plate of cubed slices of ham and headed for the stove. She opened the stove door, making sure that the fire that the servants had set before retiring for the night was still going before adding some more coal and wood to ensure that the fire was hot enough to cook their food.

“Meaning?” she asked, not exactly sure where he was going with this.

“That we forget the past and start fresh,” he said after a slight pause.

“And how exactly do you propose we do that?” she asked as she dumped the ham into the pan. “We’ve always hated each other.”

“Not always,” he pointed out as he moved to lean against the wall to her right.

Instead of arguing with him or admitting just how much she didn’t hate him, she focused all of her attention on stirring the ham so that it wouldn’t burn. He didn’t say anything for several minutes, probably waiting for her to admit to something, but she refused to confess anything until she knew where she stood with him. Finally he grumbled something about her being stubborn and began.

“Most marriages start with a fresh beginning and I’d like that for us,” he said as if what he was suggesting was even possible.

“That’s because most couples didn’t grow up hating each other,” she pointed out, stirring the ham a little more than was necessary.

“True,” he murmured his agreement as he reached over and plucked a piece of ham out of the pan and popped it into his mouth. “But, most couples spend the rest of their lives hating each other.”

She didn’t bother arguing that point, because he was right. While she knew of several couples that were able to tolerate each other, she knew far too many couples that couldn’t stand the sight of each other. Her parents, unfortunately, fit the latter category. On the surface, her parents appeared to tolerate each other and to even like each other, but that was just a show they put on for the ton and their friends. They barely acknowledged each other in private and, when they spoke, it usually ended in arguments.

“What I’m suggesting,” he said, pausing only long enough to steal another piece of ham, “is that we accept what happened when we were children and move past it. I’d like a fresh start with you, Elizabeth.”

“And do you really think that’s possible?” she asked, her lips twitching as he stole another piece of ham.

“Yes,” he said without pause.

“Oh, and why is that?” she asked, sighing heavily as he stole another piece of ham and forced her to dump the rest of the cut up ham into the pan.

“The orangery,” he simply said as he stole another piece of ham.

“The orangery?” she repeated back in confusion, wondering what exactly that night had to do with starting fresh.

“Mmmhmm,” he said around another stolen piece of ham.

“Why?” she said, frowning down at the pan as he stole another piece of ham. At this rate there wouldn’t be any ham left in the pan by the time she threw in the eggs.

“Ow! What the hell was that for?” he demanded with a pout as he yanked his hand back.

“Stop stealing the ham!” she snapped, gesturing with the wooden spoon she’d just lightly rapped against his knuckles in warning.

“This isn’t making me hate you any less!” he snapped back, doing his best to glare down at her, but the way his gaze kept dropping back down to the ham as he licked his lips hungrily had her smiling and reaching for a small plate.

“Here,” she said, scooping some ham onto the plate. She’d barely moved to hand it over to him when she suddenly found the plate ripped from her hand and Robert devouring the ham.