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Chapter Twenty-Two (Part Two)
The four of us, collectively, shuddered in that quiet, lavishly appointed dining room with those four tragic portraits.
"Is it...just me..." Lavinia began hesitantly, "or did the paintings..."
"Change," I replied. "Yes. They are alive. In a way. The souls of those persons are trapped inside the canvass. Perhaps that's the family that took over the estate?"
I asked Jonathon, but he had turned away, as if he couldn't bear to look.
"It's what happened to me," he murmured bitterly. "My soul was trapped within while my body was overtaken by a demon. The family that the Society sold this place to were mere vessels. Cursed into servitude to the Society's ungodly bidding."
"But, Jonathon, my love, we know the countercurse," I murmured, going to him, finding that looking away from the paintings was much better than looking at them. "Hope is not lost. The Society can't know the basic weapons we have."
"But we need their bodies," Jonathon said mournfully. "To throw the demons into the frame and rip the souls back where they belong..."
"Then let's be sure their demon-ridden selves are invited to our little dinner party," Nathaniel replied.
"I suppose that's the only option we have," Jonathon muttered. "To throw the countercurses before the police make arrests. I just hope the spy Brinkman and my solicitor contact, Mr. Knowles, have evidence enough no matter what the devils may try."
Jonathon stalked away. I gestured with a look to Lavinia and Nathaniel that it might be best if I went after him alone.
"We'll be in the foyer," Lavinia whispered. "As being here is just too..." She stared up again at the imprisoned family with an expression of horrified pity and shuddered once more, darting out in an opposite direction from Jonathon, Nathaniel behind her.
I took the route Jonathon took, listening to his footfalls, ignoring how much the corridors of his estate reminded me of my dreams. Dreams where something was always coming after us or keeping us apart. But unlike my dreams, here I could move. Here I could be active. Bold. Cross distances, be they physical or emotional.
I finally found him at the end of the next hall, as the door was open and I could see his silhouette near the doorway, a lamp lit in a small but grand little room...a study...
This was the room that Jonathon had been painted in. The study whose likeness had been his prison.
I recognized every detail of the finely appointed room; the stately furniture, expensive Persian rugs, the desk with gold-plated implements, leather chair, towering bookcases, the mantel with fascinating instruments and treasures, the grand window looking out to the darkened lands beyond, I recognized every detail. He turned a lamp, and everything took on the hues I'd been accustomed to. So much... So much had happened in this place. In the likeness of this place... It was surreal to see it real...
He must have heard me approach as I hadn't tried to quiet my footfalls and spoke quietly: "I wasn't sure I wanted to see it again. But now that I do, it's all right."
He turned to me, his beautiful face increasingly haunted the more time he spent in this house, and I moved to his side, reaching up as if magnetized to caress his cheek with my fingertips, to try and erase those wearying lines and darkening circles below those arresting eyes. "It is all right, Natalie," he insisted. "Because you're here and we're on the other side. I am reminded of what was always real. The demons can't take my love of this place away from me. I won't let them. Nothing can take my love away, be it this place or you..."
He dragged me into the room, to the center of it, the axis of where our love had blossomed.
And there he seized me and kissed me ravenously, hungrily, and I gave over to him, giving him my weight, letting him hold me, responsive to him in my sighs and in the way I let my mouth tease his, a conversation of the flesh.
This was so much better than my dream, in the throes of that storm. Here- he was right- I was reminded of what was real, and our passion was the most real thing I knew; it burned in me with a flame that could rival the fires of every fireplace in this grand estate. This desperate embrace was so much more vibrant and raw than when our souls had kissed, and I had been pressed up against the very bookshelf near us.
The situation we were in was so intense that it needed release, it needed love. Declarations of it. Displays of it. I understood what had driven Nathaniel and Lavinia to just such an explosion; it was far better than the alternative of fear and loneliness. I suddenly felt invincible, as there was nothing in the world but him and he wanted me as achingly as I did him.
And then suddenly he withdrew and I wobbled on my feet, having given over so wholly to his hold. He dropped to his knee, staring up at me, his previously haunted face now flushed with desire, given new life.
"Here. Now," Jonathon said, his breath between words coming in hitches. "You can't deny me, Natalie. I need to know that we face the horrors ahead together. Till death do us part. Marry me. Please."
He fished in his breast pocket and plucked out a beautiful rose-gold band set with a deep garnet in it, a gorgeous and elegant piece. I stared at it, at him, frozen in a sudden and overwhelming bliss, drinking in his glorious words as he continued: "I've kept this in my pocket every day, undaunted. Waiting for the right moment to make this right, to make us right. Heaven sent you to me, and I must have you. We'll be stronger for our union. On this day and for what lies ahead. I need you now to make a pact, together, here our love takes a stand against our enemies. Here in this haunted house, I need you to become my Lady Denbury—"
"Yes," I gasped. "I will." I dropped to my knees beside him, taking his trembling fingers up in mine and helping him slide the ring onto my finger where it fit perfectly as if he'd had it made for me. Perhaps he had. I stared into those beautiful eyes, and for the first time in a while, I smiled with sheer joy. "I do. My lord. My love. I must be your Lady Denbury..."
I kissed him with the kind of passion I'd only dreamed about, allowing everything within me to channel through my kiss. This kiss was a medium to call forth all the spirits of my adoration, hopes, dreams, desires, and needs.
We sunk from our knees onto the floor together, wrapped up in layers of fabric and tangling sleeves and locks of hair that caught on buttons and ribbons and latches and laces as our caresses and kisses travelled. This time I didn't need to dream the storm. We were the storm.
Eventually, he drew back, as there was a line we did not dare cross though our bodies betrayed our intentions in a way that was unmistakable. Not yet. Not here. Not on the floor of a study.
In the instant we both pulled away, knowing that if we didn't we'd pull away clothing instead, the rush of cold air in contrast to our built up heat sobered us. The slow, creeping dread of what we both knew lay ahead, and the roles we had to play, was like a ghost haunting us out of the corners of our eyes. I could see my own sentiments reflected upon
Jonathon's lovely face. My poor heart had swung in sickening pendulum swoops, careening from frightened to exhilarated, lovesick to impassioned, panicked to joyous. My life as presented to me was one of extremes.
I glanced to the side, out the door of the study. That was the corridor of my nightmares. Precisely. I stood, attempting to smooth my dress, my hair, all my undone strings and clasps. As I did and Jonathon rose to stand beside me to do the same to his own rumpled layers and undone buttons, I stared down at my new treasure.
"Should I hide the ring?" I asked, biting my lip. I blushed with pride and excitement to see it there.
"No, it'll keep me strong, seeing it there, as I have to play the part of the wretch. It will remind me that you trust me. It will remind me why we've taken the fight to this house. Because you will be Lady Denbury. Because Mother would approve..." His voice cracked as he said it, but he stared at me with adoration that pierced through his still-fresh pain.
I dived in again to press my lips to his before stepping back once more to smile, radiant, no threat could take the purity of this love away from me. I would be Lady Denbury. I would fight for this love. This house. For what God had brought together, let no demon sunder.
Still, there were details to consider.
"What if one of the "Majesties" sees or asks about the ring? How attune to detail are they? Will an affianced woman affect their 'ritual'...'" I shuddered.
"I'll say it was a pretty bauble I gave to you in order to toy with you," he replied. I shuddered again.
"Do you have any idea what will be asked of me? As "'bait"'?"
"Nathaniel and I will be theatrical, make suggestions to appease the Majesty and any who might come with him, but Brinkman will send in the brigade before anything is actually done. We'll keep things vague, I promise. It's your presence that I think he'll assume is done in good 'faith' as it were." He sounded very confident, but I wasn't sure if that was for my benefit or his own reassurance.
He continued: "Tonight we'll stay at the cottage. Tomorrow, I go into
meet with the Majesty, and set a time for a party," he said with false
cheer. "There we encourage others within his Society to attend, as the
scope of the organization and its possible members has been impossible to track
down or ascertain. Then, I meet with Brinkman and the helpful solicitor Mister
Knowles to update them. Together we'll see if we've enough straight evidence to
arrest more than one person. We're trying to drive as many roaches out with
light as possible, but the stage theatrics might be necessary for the results
to be more damning." London
I nodded. It was as sound a plan as I could hope for. We would have friends on our side. And hopefully the police. But in matters such as this, where every belief was wholly tried, I wasn't sure I could count on traditional law enforcement to quite be the security force it should be. For an age so obsessed with death, with mourning and spirits and the sciences of the unexplained, when something actually defied what was known about the natural world, a majority of people turned interest into frightened rejection and clung to the normal over the paranormal. But true believers knew the truth because the truth had happened to them. Undeniably. But the truth was oft stranger than fiction in cases such as ours.
I lamented that Mrs. Northe wasn't here. I always felt safer when I knew she was with us, on our side, my mentor and spiritual guardian. I no longer worshipped her as a god like I'd once done. I knew now that she couldn't solve every problem and that she wasn't perfect. But we'd truly abandoned her. And I felt certain that she actually wanted to be here. Surely she knew we were here, she knew us too well...
But at the same time I didn't know what she could have done to help, other than to be another frightened heart watching, wondering, waiting... She needed to remain in
, keeping an eye out on that front line of the
Society's unnatural warfare. Jonathon left her with addresses to inspect. I was
sure she was up to something productive. Father, on the other hand... New
I couldn't think about Father. I just couldn't. I embraced Jonathon so he could not see the pain on my face. When I got through all this, because I had to get through all this, I'd never again scare my father like this. We all deserved better than we'd been dealt, and him as much as any. Though he never faced the horrors we did directly, I knew his pain and anguish over me was as rife as any, and his confusion far greater. Being left out was the worst thing in the world, I knew it, and I hated having done that to him. But he was not to be involved. He was never a part of the equation on the supernatural side. However, his love was a force to be reckoned with, yet another reason to fight for love to win over evil.
Jonathon hugged me back, fiercely, and it was as if he read my mind. "We will get through this, Natalie. My Lady Denbury. And then I promise you a life so full of light and so far from all this haunted pain..."
"Yes, my love. My lord. We shall see that day together, until then we fight, stronger for our union."
We kissed once more and reclaimed that study, the place that had been used as a prison, for the freedom of our love. I ignored the corridor of my nightmares that awaited just outside.
(End of Chapter 22.2 - Copyright 2013 Leanna Renee Hieber, The Magic Most Foul saga - If you like what you see, please share this link with friends! Tweet it, FB, + it! The Magic Most Foul team really hopes the audience will continue to grow and it can only do so with YOUR help! If you haven't already, do pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and the sequel: The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause! Donations directly support the editorial staff.
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