Chapter 38 “Never thought you’d feel the likes of that on your skin again, eh, Sir?” Eddie, the mansion’s butler, asked.
“Sod off, Eddie. The wife wanted to have a little sun… so be it!” Shawn smiled. They were in the garden, sunbathing with as little morning sunlight as they could find. It’d been two weeks since the two had slept together, and since then, Catherine had become moody and her morning sickness was getting worse by the day, and right now, they were both lying down in the grass doing God knows what.
Shawn turned his face toward the sun, closing his eyes as he let the warmth spread over his skin. “It’s perfect,” he murmured as he peered at his wife, who had closed her eyes and seemed to be fast asleep now. Her pale, smooth skin shimmered in the lights. “Or it would be if it weren’t so b****y cold.”
Eddie chuckled. “It’s not as cold as that, sir. The lake hasn’t frozen this year. Just a few patchy spots, not that cold.”
Reluctantly, Shawn turned away from the sun and opened his eyes. “It isn’t spring, though.
“If you were wishing for spring, sir, maybe you should have consulted a miracle worker.” : Shawn regarded him with a sideways glance. “Seriously, Eddie? Do I pay you for such irrelevance?”
“Yes, sir, and fairly handsomely, too.”
Shawn chuckled to himself as both men paused to enjoy the sun for a few moments longer, then he stood when Catherine began snoring and gesturing to Eddie to keep quiet.
“I thought you didn’t mind the sun, sir,” Eddie said conversationally as Shawn stood up and at once they’d resumed their walk to Shawn’s vegetable garden.
“I don’t,” Shawn mumbled, walking along with the morale of an innate athlete. “But just because I don’t mind an overcast sky doesn’t mean I don’t prefer the sun.” He paused, thought for a moment. “Be sure to tell the chef to c**k something healthy for Catherine and tell the others to take the cat outside today. And by the way, she called her doctor for an appointment because she had been dizzy lately. And she said she just needs the sun… Anyway, tomorrow I’ll be off to Norway. She might want to sunbathe again. She’ll need warm coats, of course, and hats and mittens and the like, but she ought to get a little sun on her face. She’s been confined far too long.”
“As have we all,” Eddie murmured.
Shawn snickered. “Indeed, this pandemic is a curse.” He glanced over his shoulder at his garden. He probably ought to take care of his correspondence now, but he had some seeds he needed to sort through, and truly, there was no reason he couldn’t conduct his business with Eddie in an hour or so. “Go on,” he muttered to the butler. “You and I can deal later. You know you hate the garden, anyway.”
“Not this time of year,” Eddie said. “The heat is rather welcome.”
Shawn arched his eyebrows as he inclined his head toward the sleeping Catherine. “Are. you calling my garden drafty?”
“All vegetable gardens are drafty.”
“True enough,” Shawn let out with a grin. He rather liked Eddie. He’d hired him years earlier to help with the mountains of mansion work and details that seemed to accumulate from the running of his massive property. Eddie was quite decent. Not too young and not too old, but good. And his dry sense of humor was absolutely welcome in a mansion where laughter was never in short supply. The servants would never dare joke with Shawn.
The children in the orphanage sometimes made Shawn laugh, but that was a different sort of humor, and besides, most of the time he did not know what to say to them. He attempted it, but then he felt too uncomfortable, too big, too powerful if such a thing were possible. And then he just found himself shooing them off, telling them to go back to their mother superior.
It was easier that way, yet now, soon to be a father, it was all peculiar, hard and easy at the same time, not to mention how Catherine could change her mood in a second.
“Go on, then,” Shawn said, sending Eddie off on a task he probably should have done himself. He hadn’t seen Catherine move from the grass yet, so maybe she was still sleeping and he supposed he ought to wake her up, but he didn’t want to spoil the day by saying something fierce, which he seemed to do.
He might as well call his lawyer. That would be a good idea. Then he could point out some sort of plant and tell them about it, and everything would remain flawlessly reasonable and benign.
Shawn entered his vegetable garden shed and shut the door behind him, taking a welcome breath of the moist air. He’d studied botany before in his spare time, even, and in truth, he’d probably have taken up business management if his grandfather had not told him to focus on the business instead.
He supposed it could have been worse. He could have been a landowner and a city gentleman, after all. At least here, he was able to pursue his botanical pursuits in relative serenity at his mansion. Maybe this lockdown has been a God-sent.
He bent over his workbench, examining his latest project-a strain of mushroom that he was trying to breed to grow fatter and plumper in the pod. No luck yet, though. This latest batch had not just dried up but had even turned yellow, which had not been the expected result at all.
Shawn frowned, then allowed himself a minor smile as he strode to the back of the greenhouse to gather his supplies. He never minded too much when his vegetable endeavors did not achieve the usual outcome. In his opinion, necessity had never been the mother of creation.
Accidents. It was all about accidents. No scientist would admit to it, of course, but most great inventions occur while one is striving to decipher some other situation completely. He giggled as he swept the shriveled mushroom aside. At this rate, he’d cure his boredom by the end of the month.
Back to labor. Back to labor. He bent over his seed collection, smoothing them out so that he could evaluate them all. He needed the perfect one for
He brightened and tipped out the freshly washed glass. A movement across the lawn caught his eye. Golden hair.
Golden. Shawn smiled to himself as he shook his head. It must be Catherine. Her hair was as golden as the sun, smooth and silky at the same time, and yellow was her favorite color, something that he’d always found different. Anyone who spent any time with her would have certainly thought she’d prefer something darker and more somber. He watched as she disappeared into the tulip and wood brush, then got back to work. It was unusual for her to venture outside. These days, she doesn’t often leave the confines of her room. Shawn was happy to see her out in the sun and enjoying her morning sleep in the grass. Maybe it would restore her moods. Not entirely, of course. Shawn didn’t think even the
sun had the power to do that. But maybe a brilliant, calm, semi-warm morning would be enough to draw her out for a few hours and bring a small smile to her face.
Heaven knew she could use that. Not that her weird craving had been nothing but odd. Shawn knew that she was having a hard time and was not made up for by him.
He sighed, a wave of guilt washing over him. He was not the sort of husband she needed, he knew that. He attempted to tell himself that he was doing his best, that he was achieving his only purpose when it came to parenthood-that he would not behave in the manner of his own grandfather.
But still, he knew it wasn’t enough.
With resolute motions, he pushed himself away from his workbench. The seeds could wait. His wife could probably wait, too, but that didn’t mean she should. And he ought to take her on their nature walk, not Eddie, who didn’t know a decent tree from a conifer and
would most likely tell them that a tulip was a rose and… He glanced out the window again, reminding himself that it was almost spring. Eddie wasn’t likely to uncover any sort of blossom in this weather, but still, it didn’t excuse the fact that he ought to take his wife on their nature walk. It was the one sort of pregnant activity at which she truly excelled, and he ought not to evade the duty.
He strode out of the garden shed but then stopped, not even a third of the way back to the mansion. If he was going to fetch her, he ought to take them out to see the lake. She craved his company, even when he did nothing more than kiss her on the lips, which he wasn’t complaining about. Yes, he should surprise her and escort her to the lake. A nature walk would be even more effective.
But he knew from experience that he ought not to make presumptions about Catherine’s state of sanity. Just because she’d not vomited earlier did not mean that she was feeling well. And he was not there for her during one of her morning sicknesses.
Shawn turned around and headed out toward the stone pathway where he’d seen Catherine disappear just a few moments earlier. He walked at nearly twice the speed of Catherine; it wouldn’t take very long to catch up to her and ascertain her attitude.
He walked through the planks, easily following her path. Where the hell was she going? The ground was moist, and she must have been wearing heavy boots because her prints had sunk into the earth with a clear description. They led down the slight ramp and out of the timbers, then onto a grassy patch.
“What the hell,” Shawn muttered, the phrase barely distinct as the wind picked up around him. It was impossible to see her footprints on the grass. He used his hand to shade his eyes from the sun and scanned the horizon, looking for a telltale scrap of golden blonde hair.
Not near the abandoned old cabin near the lake, nor at Shawn’s field of experimental grains, nor at the large boulder that Shawn had spent so many hours clambering upon when he was a child. He turned north, his eyes narrowing when he finally saw her. She was heading toward the lake.
Shawn’s lips parted as he stared down at her form, moving slowly toward the water’s edge.
Meanwhile, Catherine smiled and enjoyed the scenery. With a water bottle in hand, she started her excursion. Anyway, Shawn was gone, so now he won’t mind her little adventure. Besides, she was bored as hell and wanted to see the lake. Nothing could go wrong. Right?
For ten minutes of slow walking, she enjoyed the sight of nature, which gave her sudden energy. She wanted to explore her new surroundings ans breathe in the fresh air.
So now she took the path that led through the small brushes. The landscape was mountainous and amazing. The mansion was a mile behind her, and the woods were thick but not dense with underbrush. Sometimes there would be a break in the trees, and she’d be cautious over a grassy meadow, thick with wildflowers and root crops. She couldn’t find any clues about another human being nearby. Well, not that she wanted a companion anyway
Morning scarlet clouds cast elegant shades on the lake, as they chased away the noon. Catherine’s hand stroked a crooked rock as she reached out to steady herself, coming to land in a patch of overgrown green grass on a jagged, uneven path down below.
It was after she’d been wandering for almost half an hour that she reached the lake. There was strength, a sense of power and brilliance in the peacefulness, a place of serenity even in the outcry of the water.
Catherine watches the streaming water even in her sleep, a beautiful infinite dream. “Oh goodness me, I just want to play with the water.” She was a bit bored and exhausted. She wanted to find a spot to rest. Also, she sauntered downstream along the bank of the lake until she came to a spot where a meadow opened up on her left. To her right, on the far side of the stream, was a tall limestone ridge. Below the little cliff, the gush had cut a massive slump in the boulder that was filled with water. A natural lake, trees nearby filtered the orange morning light. She dipped her hand into the enchanting water and found that the water was quite warm. She took a glance around, biting her lip. “Good, I’m all alone here.” She whispered and smiled to herself. Yes, swimming at last. She thought to herself.
She was dared and tempted to do something she’d never done before. With her heart thumping hard, she yanked her white shirt over her head. It made her feel exposed to be sitting there in her bra. And then, with another careful glance around, she slid off her bra. It made her feel even more exposed and vulnerable, but also independent in a way she’d never felt before.
She might as well enjoy the water.