Barnabas sat stiff and straight on the jail cot. He held his head with pride and dignity. He regarded the bars before him with barely restrained disgust.
He thought about his upcoming trial.
He thought about the possible outcome. The most likely sentencing.
He thought about Victoria. Only then did his posture weaken. His cold expression softened. Only then did he fully grasp what he would lose.
He waited for her to visit.
He knew that she would visit.
He feared that she wouldn’t.
Barnabas sat on his jail cot, waiting and hoping.
Raven hid his yawn behind his gloved hand.
Missy smiled at him. “You ready to call it quits?”
He lowered his hand. “I believe I can make it through one more chapter. I want to know if Victoria visits him.”
“I could tell you, but that would be a spoiler.” She closed the book and set it on the couch.
“Hey.” It was a very feeble ‘Hey’.
“We can keep reading it tonight after you do your hunting thing. Right now, you need to get your sleep.”
He leaned his head back against the couch’s seat cushion. “Missy. Did I truly propose to you or did I only dream it?”
“If it were a dream, maybe we’re still in it. I really hope that isn’t the case. I really really REALLY want to marry you.”
He raised his head. “I realize it seems to be a strange question to ask one who said yes so readily. Yet, I would like to know why. Why do you want to marry me? There are so many people in this world. A certain percentage are extraordinaries. The rest are perfectly ordinary people.”
Missy turned to face him. “But none of them are you. You are my pretty shirtless Raven who sat with me in an abandoned schoolroom. You didn’t run away or freak out and throw things at me when I showed you my XQ self. I attacked you in my XQ form until you were helpless and weak, but you still came back for me. You showed me in so many small ways that you love me.” She tilted her head. “Why wouldn’t I love you too?”
He looked down at his gloves, too tired and too emotional to say anything intelligent.
“And I do. I love you, my pretty shirtless Raven.”
He looked up at her and smiled. “I love you as well, Missy. I do.”
Missy led him up to his room.
However, he insisted on undressing himself.
Missy shrugged and sat Indian-style on the bed.
He unbuttoned his gloves. “You shouldn’t watch me undress.”
“Don’t worry. It’s okay.”
“It is many miles from okay.” He carefully examined each glove for any snags or tears or missing buttons.
“Would it be better if I helped you undress?”
“Hardly. It would create an uncomfortable situation for both you and me.”
“An uncomfortable situation. What do you mean by that?”
“I’d rather not say.”
She smiled and flopped onto the bed. “I’m engaged. I’m engaged to marry Raven. I will be Mrs. Teresa…” Missy raised her head. “What is your proper name? I assume it isn’t just Raven. Someone as posh as you must have a proper name unless you can’t remember it if you can’t remember it then never mind.”
His gloves passed his meticulous inspection. Raven put them palm against palm and laid them in his dresser’s top drawer. “My name is James Arden.”
“James and Teresa Arden. Sounds right together.”
He smiled and removed his butler jacket. He ran it through his inspection process.
Missy sat up again and watched him. “Why do you do that? You aren’t that hard on your clothes.”
“As butler to the Farlingtons, it was important that I always looked my best. If I had so much as a button missing on my cuff, it could have reflected poorly on them and sullied their reputation.”
“I’m not sure how that makes sense.”
“It would have indicated a significant lack of care on their part. People would have spoken against the Farlingtons for neglecting to provide their servants with what they needed to keep their uniforms in presentable order.”
“But you aren’t their butler anymore.”
“Old habits die hard. Or they fail to die at all.” He completed his inspection of his jacket and hung it up in his closet. He removed his tie and examined it.
Missy shifted in her spot on the bed. “He’s going to take his shirt off next.”
He chuckled and seemed to take a lot longer than needed with his tie inspection.
Missy just couldn’t resist. She got off the bed and walked over to him.
He lowered his hands.
She looped her arms around his neck.
The air between them brightened with fire and heat and electricity.
He swallowed hard. “Missy.” he whispered. “It might be best if you step out of the room for now.”
“I want to help you.”
She kissed him.
His tie fell out of his hand as he yielded to her kiss.
The fire between them grew hotter with each inhale and exhale.
Raven abruptly broke off and ducked out of her embrace.
They stood apart, silent and breathless.
And Missy understood what he meant by ‘an uncomfortable situation’. “What do you want me to do?” she asked softly.
“I hardly know, miss.”
“Do you want me to take your shirt off?”
He hesitated before replying, ” No, miss.”
“Do you want me to stay in here?”
A longer hesitation. “No, miss. It would be unwise and imprudent.”
She nodded in understanding and left the room.