Off And Away

Carolina

We’d packed, and had two carts (a recent gift from Alex and Emily, to celebrate the birth of their son) full, plus a carriage for Calla, The Dowager Countess and myself to ride in. I’d never gotten used to the long over country rides, and Calla is too little for them, sitting with myself and her grandmother means that Athena can ride freely.

But before we leave tomorrow morning I found my way to the inn and walked back to William’s office. He wasn’t there so I found my way to a small terrace out back.

“What are you doing here?” He asked, his voice soft.

“I wanted to say goodbye,” I said stepping closer, tentatively. “We’re going in the morning.” He nodded, his figure outlined by the moonlight. “And then we’re off to Westran and I don’t when I’ll be back and I didn’t want to part,” my mouth was dry. “I want us to be friends again.”

“Friends,” he said, as if he was tasting the word, “the first time I saw you, four years ago, all I could think about was how Tristan Dugarry was probably the luckiest man to ever live. Maybe it was just jealousy, that drew me to you. Jealousy that he had Annalise’s love when she’d never even looked at me, bitterness that Athena shoved me away from Marina to clear the way for him,” I closed my eyes, “and now he had this beautiful bride, who looked at him like he was the sun, and he rode away from her at the first chance.”

“Well if you’re looking to push me away further,” I said, my voice flat, “telling me that everything between us was about Tristan and Annalise and Marina is certainly the way to do it.” He looked at me. “I cared for you. And I was lonely and sad and you used that, to get some petty revenge for imagined slights?”

“That isn’t what I meant,” he whispered and walked over to me. He turned up my chin. “I cared for you too, I still do. But were you ever going to choose me over your marriage? Over your duties?” I swallowed.

“No,” I said softly. “But losing you,” I swallowed and he nodded. “William, did I use you terribly?”

“No,” he said, “we’re both guilty here, sweetheart, no getting around it. Your shouldn’t have come to me, and I should have sent you away.” He kissed me, softly. “I won’t regret it, ever. Even just one night, that you were mine.” I pressed my forehead to his.

“William,” I whispered. He kissed me again. I realized if he’d asked then, months ago, when I was so tired and needy, if he’d asked me to run away with him, I would have. I might now, even. “Ask me,” I mumbled.

“Oh, Caro,” he whispered, “we both know you’d hate me in a week.” I laughed with a light sniffle. “It’s good you’re going away, sweetheart, when you come home I’ll be good again.” I looked up at him. “He doesn’t deserve you.” I swallowed.

“I don’t think it’s about deserving,” I whispered. “That isn’t how hearts work.” I pulled back and squeezed his hands and turned and rushed back to house. Tristan was waiting in his study, he looked at me as I walked in and I swallowed.

“I won’t insult either of us by asking where you were,” he said softly. I looked down. “How long was it going on?”

“Long enough,” I said simply, “and it’s over anyway.” He closed his eyes.

“Why him?” He said. I sighed and sat down. “I know why you, I understand my part in it,” he shook his head.

“He was here,” I said. “And good to me, I wish it were more complicated.” Tristan nodded. “I’m more sorry than you could know.”

“I think I know,” he whispered, “I remember that particular brand of sorry.” I smiled and poured myself a glass of whiskey. “Caro, look at me,” I looked at him. “I hate leaving you, every time. It feels as though I’m ripping my heart out.” I nodded.

“You could resign,” I said.

“I can’t,” he whispered, “you know I can’t.” I nodded. “But we’ll be together this time.” I slid close to him.

“Yes,” I said softly. “I wish you’d be angry, then I might feel less guilty.” He kissed my hair.

“I was plenty angry,” he said softly, “when I saw you with him last week.” I nodded. “But I’d rather forgive you and be with you, than be angry and distant.” I kissed him. “Besides, you forgave me.” I nodded.

“I made you work harder for it,” I said. He laughed.

“You did,” he whispered, his voiced edged with teasing, “but I’m clearly more magnanimous than you.” I whacked him in the chest and he laughed. “Do you love him?” I closed my eyes.

“I don’t know,” I whispered, “I don’t think so. It’s not like us. Not even like what I had with Andrei. It simply is.”

“And it’s over?” He asked.

“Yes,” I said, “it is.” He kissed me. That night after we went to bed he didn’t touch me. In the morning when we left, he kissed my hand gently as I got into the carriage and I smiled.

A sleepy Calla yawned and curled in my lap. I smiled and wrapped my arms around her. Dowager Countess Olivia smiled at me. That I risked this family might be my deepest shame about this whole thing.