Raven escorted Sammy to the door.
At least, that was his intention. Until his day exhaustion punched him. .
Sammy wound up doing all of the escorting.
Sammy made some form of polite good-bye sounds and Raven was pretty sure he responded correctly. Even though, he had a bad feeling he kept saying the word “Sir” over and over again and not much else.
That worried him.
He closed the door too soon and too loud.
He would have made an effort to apologize, but his energy was far too low.
Raven locked the door and stumbled up to his room. He took off his robe, hung it carefully on the coat rack, and staggered over to the bed.
He burrowed under his blankets and lay there, looking a lot like roadkill. “Mnngh.” He uncovered himself, removed his loafers, put them neatly side-by-side under the bed, and fell asleep on the floor.
Raven pulled on his white gloves.
Buttoned the cuffs.
He raised his gaze to his reflection in the mirror.
He stood straighter. “This is my own fault. I told her no when I could have told her yes.” I should have told her yes.
“There you are.”
His posture stiffened a whole lot more.
“Yes, Miss Farlington?”
“Will you not come?” Her reflection appeared in the mirror.
“I am deeply sorry, Miss Farlington. I have tasks to do.”
“I want you to come. Please.”
Come to see her marry another? Come to see her walk down the aisle with some other man?
“This is a happy day. I want you to be there to celebrate it with me.”
“You do not need me there, Miss Farlington. Besides, I am not feeling well.” Her scent of mulberries and vanilla entered his mouth and rippled down his throat. “I am too hungry.”
“We will have food after the ceremony.”
Her scent broke through his soft palate and snaked into his nose. Every breath was mulberries and vanilla. “Please. Please hold me excused.”
He turned to face her.
“I’m nervous. I’m scared. Am I making a mistake? Should I turn him down? Can I even do such a thing on my own wedding day?”
Her softness, her vulnerability spoke to him in a voice that drowned out his hunger. “I know of Charles Vansing. I know what manner of man he is.” He longed to touch her – gloved hand on gloved hand.
His hands stayed flat at his sides.
“I know he will love you. I know he will cherish and honor and respect you. Miss Farlington, you have nothing to fear.”
A silence fell between them. Silence that yearned for the right words to be said in that right moment.
She bowed her head.
He opened his mouth to speak.
She looked up at him and smiled. “Thank you.”
He closed his mouth. His hands lay still.
“Thank you, James.” She glanced about. “May I kiss you? Just this once?”
“Miss Farlington, I do not think—”
“Please. If I don’t do it now, I never will.”
“Then, that is how it must be. I am sorry. I cannot.”
She turned to leave.
“Miss Farlington, please try to understand. Your family, your position—”
She spun around and slapped him across the face.
Her gloves softened the blow and yet they did not.
“Don’t bother coming. If all that matters to you is status and social positions, I don’t want you at my wedding.”
He frowned. “Do you think I am the only one in this house who considers such things, who sees value in such things?”
“I want you to value me as me, for me. Not as my family. Not as Miss Farlington. Just me. May Rose.”
He shook his head. “I am Arden. You are Miss Farlington. There are lines between us, deep chasms I cannot cross.” Her scent filled his chest. It entered and exited his heart chambers. ” Marry Charles. Love him and let him love you.”
Raven opened his eyes to half-mast.
If I had not been a vampire at that point, would my response have been the same?
Would I have kissed her?
I would have.
And I would have regretted it.
He thought about the small glimpses he had of her in the years after the wedding.
At social gatherings.
At charitable functions.
Her eyes were on Charles and Charles alone. Her greatest smiles were only for him.
He had made her happy.
She had given him children.
She had died an old, contented woman.
He closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep.
I moved on alone, as I knew I would.
There was never anyone else.