A/N: Here we are once more...sorry about the delay in updating! But I'm back! And here is chapter 15.
Thanks for reading!
Xavier watched her. He didn't know what to make of it.
She seemed troubled that particular morning, her brows furrowed as she stared unerringly at her breakfast, never taking a bite but instead, pushing it around uselessly on her plate.
His father on the other hand seemed pleased. Henry Cavendish's eyes flickered from his son to Elizabeth, his expression belying the amusement he found in such a situation.
"How did you sleep, Miss Sinclair?" He asked his tone impertinent.
Elizabeth stiffened when he addressed her, her dark hair falling from behind her ears and sweeping around to cover her face. There was a vague answer before she returned to her diverting occupation of playing with her uneaten food.
Shaking his head, Xavier reached across the table to grasp her hand. It took a moment, but Elizabeth eventually looked up and met his eyes timidly.
"It's a little cold this morning, but I thought we could go riding. Have a look around the grounds…"
She nodded but didn't say more, her gestures hesitant.
This answer was not what he usually expected of his lively girlfriend but a sharp pang of remembrance reminded him of the conversation his father and Elizabeth had shared just the night before.
He was not foolish enough to take his father's word. Xavier had long since learned that people should not always be believed, especially when his father had the rather nasty habit of saying one thing and meaning another in order have his way.
Having enough of this awkward spectacle, Xavier pushed back his chair and circled the large breakfast room. He stopped just behind Elizabeth, lowering his nose into her soft curls as he inhaled her scent. Placing his arms around her stiff shoulders, he leant in and pecked her soft cheek.
"Come on…let's get going…I want to show you around the house first."
Fingers laced tightly together, he dragged her from her seat. At first, his pace was eager, determined to have her to himself for the day before his father wreaked any more havoc, but he slowed and stopped short when he saw Henry watching Elizabeth very carefully.
The older man smirked, his eyes still fixed upon hers. An unspoken message passed but Xavier could not make sense of it and Elizabeth herself was not so eager to meet his eyes. She bit her lip, her shoulders still tense as she followed behind him.
When they had come into the hallway, neither had yet to say a word, it was as if Elizabeth were beginning to draw away from him emotionally…like they were mere strangers passing each other in life.
Out of pure frustration, Xavier lifted her chin, forcing her to meet his eyes.
Grey clashed with blue and something akin to guilt or unease flashed through her blue depths. Xavier made a frustrated noise in the back of his throat as he held her still.
Elizabeth shook her head and tried to glance away.
"No…come on, don't give me that. Tell me what's wrong…"
She bit her lip, her manner so reticent it seemed almost as if she were a different person altogether.
Xavier prompted her with a nod.
"He and I had a conversation about you…"
"Last night?" Xavier confirmed.
She just nodded, a blush sweeping up her cheeks as she wrapped her arms around him. Suddenly, her expression hardened and her eyes flashed with annoyance and Xavier was assured that the former Elizabeth Sinclair had returned with a vengeance.
"What did your father say about it?"
Xavier hesitated. "He said that he made you an offer…and that you'd consider it."
There was a moment of silence as Elizabeth held him tighter, her fists clenching in the thick material of his jumper as she turned to bury her face in his chest.
"Do you believe him?" Her voice was muffled, hiding the tense tenor of her question.
He considered it for a second, choosing his words carefully as she waited anxiously for an answer.
"Do I have any reason to?"
Elizabeth jerked away, her arms loosening their grip instantly as she backed away from him. She raised her eyes to meet his gaze and stared him down with blazing orbs which belied the anger she felt.
"Don't you trust me at all? Who do you think I am?" Her voice was barely above a whisper but Xavier thought she seemed abnormally cool about the situation…like she didn't care.
"So my father did make you an offer?" His voice was deadpanned.
"Yes." Her tone matched his.
"Have you considered it?" Xavier fought the tremor in his voice, hoping it wouldn't break with the sheer emotion he felt at her admission. He wished, fervently hoped that it had all been some elaborate lie concocted by his disgruntled father.
She was rubbing her eyes tiredly, her hands sweeping through those curls he loved so much. Her hesitation stretched in the tense silence.
It was as good as an admission of guilt.
"Money?" His eyes misted dangerously. "That's all I'm worth to you?! After all this…" His throat closed tightly as his voice faded, his eyes clenched tightly shut.
Elizabeth was bewildered. Her eyes were wide with disbelief as she stared at his face, the tense features and shimmering eyelashes revealing his distress at the situation.
"Don't assume!" She hissed.
Xavier's eyes snapped open, the bleak winter light reflected in their depths.
Elizabeth straightened under his scrutiny.
"How could I not..." She hesitated. "God, Xavier! I would never accept it. I'm not dating you for that…after all we've been through, do you honestly think that I would…" She trailed off, her voice falling in volume until it was just a whisper.
There was another tense pause.
"I don't know what to think. You said yourself that you'd considered it and…"
He trailed off, not quite sure how to finish. Instead, he turned and walked away. What could he say…she had admitted it herself. She had considered it…she had considered trading their relationship for money…
Elizabeth sat stiffly on the cool bench, her eyes impervious to the beautiful sight of the garden frosted by the cold English winter. Her body warmth seeped from her inch by inch as both her body and mind numbed. She stared sightlessly as her fingers turned a faint shade of blue. Curiously, she flexed the stiff digits and slumped back into the cool bench.
She wasn't sure what to make of her situation. After Xavier had left her, she wanted nothing more than to run for the hills. But here she was in England…where could she go…especially this close to Christmas? All the flights were bound to be booked out and even should she arrive home, what could she do? Her parents were somewhere in Australia and the rest of her friends were bound to be off somewhere on holidays.
A burst of air left her lips as she sighed, her eyes watering in her frustration. This wasn't how she had pictured her first venture into the United Kingdom…she had tried to find Xavier, to explain, or at least to plead her case but the boy knew the property far better than she ever would and he undoubtedly had innumerable hiding spots scattered among the frozen grounds.
Anger warmed her as she thought back to that very morning.
Why should she be the one to explain herself?
She hadn't done a thing; it truly wasn't her problem…
And how dare Xavier believe that she would…that she would even contemplate Henry Cavendish's offer!
Her face flushed as her rage intensified, her stiff fingers clench and unclenching before she forced herself to relax and breathe deeply. The cool air chilled her lungs but not her anger. She had not come half way across the world to be insulted and vilified.
To her horror, Ellie felt tears trail her down her cheeks as she remembered the expression upon Xavier's face as he had walked away from her. He seemed so disappointed and…winded…as if he had truly believed his machinations had worked on her…as if she would simply take the money and run.
At first she had simply felt indignation, but now that feeling had transformed…she tried her best not to resent Xavier for taking his father's side on such a matter but even as she sat there shivering in the sudden wind, she couldn't help but feel the betrayal burning through her. It was all going so wrong!
Elizabeth was almost tempted to cry, rip out those slumbering rose bushes and scream at the shrouded heavens. There was lump lodged in her throat…it made her swallow convulsively; trying and failing to dislodge it…to wipe away that dull ache in her chest…
No, she couldn't stay here; she needed to be home, on familiar soil, away from the Duke who quite clearly resented her presence both in her home and in his son's life. She would find a way home…even if it damn near Christmas…she wouldn't stay. Her pride and dignity protested against it. She may have to spend Christmas by herself in an empty house or in an overdecorated airport but by God that would be better than being somewhere where she was resented and…disliked.
She sniffed and straightened her shoulders, pulling her coat more tightly around her. Warmed by her anger and determination, she marched back towards the main house, her eyes fixed on the distant doors.
The warmth engulfed her as she stepped into the elegant house. She shook the snow from her shoulders and ran a hand through her wet bedraggled hair. Ellie snorted; what a state she was in to go see a duke. Grimacing as she stomped her boots clean of snow and mud, she headed into the heart of the house, making only a slight detour before she headed straight for the lion's den.
"Here you go Elizabeth. You've made a wise decision."
Bile rose in her throat as she stared down at the check.
The words echoed in her mind and her hand reached forward to grasp the paper. The Duke relinquished it quite willingly for such a large sum of money and a smile spread across his weathered features. Elizabeth returned the smile mockingly and raised another hand to smooth the check and gazed at the numerous zeroes which lined the paper; at the top of the page, there was her name, printed clearly and elegantly in the Duke's masculine hand and at the bottom, there was a flourishing signature which was crossed and dotted perfectly.
Without preamble, she tore it, the mocking smile still fixed upon her face.
"Thank you; but not thanks."
The Duke frowned darkly. "You're leaving."
Elizabeth nodded grimly.
"I don't want your damn money." She ground out between clenched teeth. "All I want is someone to drive me to the airport. I can take care of myself from there on."
"That's all?" Henry Cavendish was glaring at her suspiciously, his thin lips pursed in agitation. Elizabeth could never in all her years fathom how this man had fathered Xavier.
"That's all." She confirmed. "I'll be packed and ready in 15 minutes."
"You won't be able to get a flight this time of year…"
Elizabeth clenched her fist tightly. "I've already checked, they've had a cancellation and I traded in my return ticket for an earlier flight…united airlines, flight 317." She added absently.
"I'll have the car waiting…" He raised his eyes to hers. "You won't be able to say goodbye to my son, I'm afraid. He went driving this morning and has yet to return."
Elizabeth didn't argue as she pursed her lips, she simply nodded and went to pack.
Later, as she sat quietly in the backseat of the well-heated Bentley, she couldn't help but wonder if she should have insisted that she say goodbye to Xavier, Lord knows what Henry Cavendish would tell his son. But it was too late to look back now; as she stared up into the thickening clouds, she could see the storm brewing and prayed that it wouldn't affect the flights.
She was glad, she told herself, glad to head away from house which was as frigid as the North Pole.
Glad. Yes. That was the word.
Her eyes misted quite suddenly and Ellie blinked furiously to clear her gaze. She focused once more on the country scenery passing by, the vast stretch of land carpeted in a thick layer of snow, interspersed with glossy green and grey. Even in the bleak, chilly winter, she found the landscape to be incredibly breath-taking. She wanted desperately to explore this incredible country, delve into its rich history and explore its fertile lands. And she wanted to that with Xavier…
She shook her head forcefully, dislodging her scarf and then pulling it tightly back around her neck.
"Are you alright back there Miss Sinclair?"
Ellie smiled at the driver, nodding as she noted the charming Irish lilt in the middle-aged man's accent.
"Yes. Not to worry." She muttered politely, avoiding the brown eyes reflected in the rear view mirror.
"As you say Miss."
She didn't respond, couldn't respond. The bitter ashes of her lie lay like a dormant omen on her tongue and it made her gulp dryly. She leant her head against the cool window pane and shut her eyes tightly.
This is the right thing to do. She told herself, repeated it again and again, like a sacred mantra. It was the only thing she could hold onto now. She didn't want to resent and hate a man who was dying, a father who only wanted to protect his son. How many times had this happened to Xavier before, she wondered, how many of those really took the money and believed that all would be well? Yet, most of all…she had resigned herself to Xavier's choice to take his father's choice and she didn't want them to…hell…she didn't fool herself as to how Xavier would react to her sudden departure…
He'd hate her. She was sure of it. She could easily imagine his reaction, his so easily forgone conclusion of why she had left…Elizabeth swallowed that bitter pill and she intended on keeping it down.
Slowly, the scenic country faded into the sparse habitations then to those of larger properties and finally to the typically grim city streets, still bustling with the pre-Christmas rush.
Even as night fell, the sidewalks remained packed to the brim with frazzled parents and screaming children, the windows of the shops bright with displays and festive decorations as couples walked hand in hand, their eyes caressing as their bodies brushed.
She turned away abruptly and stared resolutely at the headrest of the drivers seat, situated on the right side, which ironically enough to her, was the wrong side.
"When are we arriving at the airport?" She asked quietly.
"Quite soon enough, Miss." The driver gave her a nervous glance. "You won't miss your flight, if that's what you're wondering…"
Elizabeth shook her head lightly and closed her eyes against the sights rushing past the car. Even from her peripheral vision, she could see the people turning to stare at the beautiful vehicle sped past.
There was no doubt that money spoke. It made a statement; a loud one at that. The revelation only made her sick to her stomach and she closed her mind to the luxury which surrounded her. She didn't believe in this world, she couldn't ever accept it or be accepted into it…Xavier's father had only made that too clear. It was foolish of her to expect smooth sailing and a Disney fairytale.
Damn it all, she really should have known better.
As the bustle of the city faded once more into long stretches of road, the darkness was interrupted only occasionally by the passing of an overtaking car or perhaps a car heading back from her destination: The airport.
It loomed ahead. She could see the small flashing lights of the landing and departing planes, their appearance almost like shooting stars frozen in a thicker medium than air. She focused on one, a little red light, travelling the opposite path than that of a fallen star, a departing plane. Releasing a quiet breath, she made a small wish, a ridiculously small thing really, but she prayed that it would be carried to the heavens with the aircraft as it left the mortal constraint of land.
The brightly lit airport rushed towards her, the white fluorescent lighting piercing the darkness of the Bentley even from the distance. Ahead of her, there was a rush of chaotic traffic, cars of all shapes and sizes weaving in and out of the harshly illuminated car-park. She turned away from the human spectacle and instead chose to watch her own reflection in the side window.
She looked gaunt. Pale except for the faint pink tinge on her nose and the purplish circles under her eyes which looked puffy even in the dim image of the glass, she looked damn miserable. Elizabeth had indulged in a few moments of self-pity as she had packed, allowing those repressed tears to flow free and fall unrestrained onto her neatly folded clothing. She had railed against the world, against herself and slowly resigned herself to her situation.
For those brief moments of grief, frustration and anger, Elizabeth had surrendered that healthy glow she had acquired those few weeks with Xavier.
When she had finally pulled together the shreds of her famous conviction, the old cynical Elizabeth had reclaimed her place behind Ellie's eyes, ready to forget the past months and return the world where she spent every waking moment striving for academic perfection and the ultimate achievement of her goals.
The car rolled to a smooth stop and the Irish driver jumped out nimbly, darting to open her door before she even truly woke from her daze. He smiled politely as she stepped out, clutching her hand bag tightly, jostling her passport and ticket as she resettled it on her shoulder.
There were cars collecting behind them, a cacophony of disgruntled beeps signalling the inherent displeasure and impatience of the crowd. The nameless driver gave her an apologetic smile as he rolled her moderately sized suitcase towards her.
"I'm terribly sorry Miss, but I'm afraid this is a no-parking zone, perhaps I could find an empty park if you'll only just wait here…"
Elizabeth shook her head insistently.
"No…no, don't bother…I can handle the bag myself…"
The driver made to protest but Elizabeth gave him a small complacent smile. Something in her expression must have silenced him because he suddenly looked down, his expression distinctly uncomfortable.
When she slowly turned and made to leave, his hand darted forward and grasped her wrist gently, freezing her movements and making her turn back toward the her unknown driver.
"Begging your pardon Miss, but Master Xavier really would not…"
Ellie stiffened and shook her head gently, turning away resolutely. She began pulling her suitcase away, towards the sliding glass doors and the glaring light.
"Lass…" The man began again.
"No." Elizabeth uttered; her voice tight. "Please. No."
She swallowed and tossed a look over her shoulder, eyeing the driver kindly.
"Will you do me a favour?" She asked quietly.
Elizabeth reached into her pocket and retrieved a beautiful necklace, the fine silver chain glittering in a pool around a dark jewel of indistinguishable colour in the palm of her hand.
"Will you give this to Xavier for me?"
The man looked at the expensive piece uncomfortably before reaching out and taking the piece, tucking it safely in the breast pocket of his uniform.
"I'll see that he gets it lass…"
She nodded and turned to leave, but paused again. She reached into her handbag, past all her private documents and retrieved a beautifully wrapped box and passed it into the driver's waiting hand.
"And this too…please…see that he gets it…"
Without waiting for an answer, Elizabeth turned, grabbed the handle of her suitcase and moved into the chaos that was check-in.
The next moments flew past in a blur of disgruntled holiday travellers and weary check-in counter flight attendants. She would remember later, clumsily lifting her suitcase onto the luggage belt and being reminded of Xavier's easy movements as she had watched him back home. She would remember passing through the security check without Xavier's reassuring warm hand holding hers and slipping out of hers as they passed individually through the metal detector. She would remember standing at the boarding gate, numbly handing over her crumpled boarding pass, looking over her shoulder as the flight attendant shot her a disgruntled look.
In that moment, she had turned her back to the tall boarding desk and the frustrated flight attendant smoothing out her crumpled pass, she had stared into the milling crowd, willing it to part and reveal the one person she wished desperately to see. The one person she wanted to run after her, call out her name and ask her sincerely not to leave.
That voice rung in her ears as she closed her eyes to the crowd, could hear it echoing in her head, rich deep and graceful, her name rolling from his lips in a seamless and loving caress.
Elizabeth. It said.
Elizabeth Victoria Sinclair…
Her eyes snapped open and she whirled to face the bemused flight attendant with her odd little cap askew.
"Miss Sinclair. Are you quite alright? I've been calling your name for…"
She cleared her throat suddenly and interrupted the woman.
"Yes. Sorry. Just…procrastinating, that's all."
Collecting her things, she accepted the still crinkled pass from the attendant's hands and moved towards the gate.
That cherished voice never came.
There was no fairytale, no Hollywood ending, no dashing hero rushing towards her to beg her not to leave him, no romantic reunion among the applauding passengers, no tearful kiss and laughing sobs.
There was only impatient people, shrill children and that dry artificial heating.
Elizabeth stepped onto the plane, found her seat and never looked back.
A/N: YAY! Chapter 15...it's all wrapping up soon...very soon...
Hope you enjoyed the chapter...though I doubt any of you would be very happy with me right now! Ok...please review!