In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(11) by Lorraine Heath
“I’m simply trying to determine why you put up with all that you do. What does he give you that makes any of it worth it?”
“It is a woman’s place to stand by her husband.”
Catherine squeezed Winnie’s hand. “Winnie, I’m not your family who insists you be the good daughter and the good wife. It breaks my heart to see you suffer like this.”
Tears rolled from Winnie’s eyes. “Oh, Catherine, sometimes he terrifies me so. They say his first wife was clumsy and fell down the stairs. And his second slipped in the bedchamber and banged her head so hard on the floor that it killed her. I knew these tales, but I didn’t doubt the veracity of them, not until after I was wed. He is so charming when he is not angry. Oh, but when he is displeased, he is most frightening.”
“Then leave him.”
“I can’t!” she ground out. “The law will not protect me. He can claim that I abandoned him and the law will give him my son. My family will be mortified and not stand beside me, and my husband, dear God, Catherine, the fury he will exhibit will pale in comparison to anything he has revealed before. I know it as surely as I know that our tea has grown cold. It will be miserable for everyone. It’s best if I simply accept my fate and strive to appease him in all matters.”
Catherine released Winnie’s hand and leaned back. “Oh, Winnie, I hate what he has done to you. The physical abuse is bad enough, but what he has done to ruin the lovely woman who resided inside you—I shall never forgive him for that.”
Grimacing, Winnie reached across the table and took Catherine’s hand. “I know how headstrong you can be. You must never confront him about this matter, you must never let on that you know. If he feels threatened, Catherine, dear Lord, save us both.”
“He will never know from me how much I despise him.”
Winnie seemed to physically relax, her death-grip on Catherine’s hand easing. “Can we change the subject now? It serves to only burden my heart further to know that I cause you such worry.”
“Don’t be concerned with my feelings, Winnie. I love you. No matter what happens, that will not change.”
A small boy of four raced across the garden, leaving his nanny behind. He slammed into Winnie. Gasping, she paled considerably. “Darling, you mustn’t jostle Mummy so.”
The boy looked wounded at the sharp reprimand. Catherine realized that Winnie was hurt much worse than she was letting on. She never scolded her child. Never.
“Whit, come see Auntie Catherine,” Catherine said. “My lap is in need of a child.”
He rushed over and Catherine pulled him close. She wondered how long before his father took his frustrations out on him.
It was late in the afternoon when Catherine finally returned home. How would she ever live with the guilt if Avendale killed Winnie? How would she be able to look at herself in the mirror if she did nothing—knowing all that was happening?
She had an abundance of acquaintances, friends, servants, and yet sometimes she felt so alone. She had no one other than Winnie in whom she felt she could confide all that troubled her. Yet, she dared not tell Winnie everything, because her dear friend was already weighted down with her own troubles, so Catherine carried her worries and her burdens alone.
Weary, with a heavy heart, she climbed the stairs and stopped outside her father’s bedchamber.
Since he’d fallen ill, she’d achieved an independence that few ladies ever did. Without her brother here to serve as her guardian, she could do as she pleased and answer to no one.
Was Winnie right? Would she lose this freedom if she ever did marry? Or was Catherine right—and no man would ever consider her?
Even as a child, she’d been a bit willful. All right, she scolded herself. A lot willful. Her brother had called her spoiled on more than one occasion. Not that he was one to point fingers. He was the one off touring the world, having his fun, sewing his wild oats, while she was left here to tend to their father. Although to be fair, Sterling didn’t know their father had taken ill.
After her father’s first apoplectic fit, he’d still been able to talk. He’d told her then that she wasn’t to contact Sterling for any reason. The next fit had left him unable to speak, to communicate at all. He was now simply withering away.
She took a moment to shore up her emotions. She’d not add to her father’s problems by weeping for her friend, weeping for him, weeping for everything she didn’t have the strength or power to change. She took a deep breath, opened the door, and stepped inside. She was immediately hit with the stench of illness.
His nurse rose from her chair near his bed, where she’d been embroidering. She curtsied.
“How is he?”
“All bathed and tidied up, awaiting your afternoon visit.”
Catherine walked to the foot of the bed and smiled down on her father. She thought she saw pleasure in his blue eyes, but perhaps it was only wishful thinking on her part. “It’s a lovely day. I should have a servant carry you into the garden.”
He didn’t react to her suggestion, other than to blink.
She wondered if he’d be embarrassed—or grateful—to be carted down. It was so
difficult to know what to do.
“Temperance, before you take some time for yourself, please have the servants move the chaise longue from the morning room to the garden and then send a footman up to carry my father down.”
Copyright © 2015 by Read Best Books Free Online