Excerpt

She stared, unblinking, at her reflection in the cheveled glass as her maid arranged her hair. If she had the choice, Suzanne might have spent the day abed--but Marguerite has asked...no, insisted....on calling that afternoon for tea. She had refused her friend twice this week, as it was.

It was difficult enough to pretend as though nothing was ill with strangers, or her own mother but--Marguerite knew the truth. It would be a long afternoon.

"Your ladyship! The carriage has..."

Annette stepped back, setting the brush aside as Suzanne rose and made her way down the stairs.

He leaned forward eagerly as they approached the house -- the long ride from the safehouse to the coast had been purgatory, the voyage difficult, but since arriving in England he had gratefully felt his strength reviving, and Blakeney, sitting opposite him with a hawk like gaze, had noted it too.

Now they were on his own land, nearly there, and he was simultaneously scarcely able to wait to hold her in his arms and shrinking from the sight of what two months of thinking him dead must have done to her. He had so much to atone for.

She stepped towards the door and the butler, with a bow, opened it. The early afternoon air was chilly, but she didn't mind much as she stepped outside. The carriage came closer, and Suzanne stepped down to meet it.

As the carriage pulled up, Percy moved to open the door...Andrew pushed forward, and Percy quelled him with a glance...you're not strong enough, Ffoulkes.

Percy steps out, turning 'round to help Andrew.

She stands there a moment--confused, as Sir Percy steps out of the carriage. He says nothing to her, almost as if he doesn't realize she's stand there, and she finds herself staring at his back.

An agonizing few minutes pass, and Suzanne doesn't move--frozen in place. Sir Percy steps back, gripping another man's hands as he helps him down from the carriage.

[Suzanne] ::whispered, still unwilling to believe the sight before her:: Andrew....

[Andrew] ::pushes aside Percy's support, which is not necessarily wise but he doesn't want Suzanne to notice he's being supported...holds out a hand to her almost hesitantly..::swoons:: picture Anthony in prison scene, you know..:: My dear..

[Suzanne] ::she hesitates, almost afraid to even move--if this is a dream.....:: Andrew....

[Andrew] ::steps toward her and nearly stumbles..praying she didnít' notice that:: Suzanne, I'm so sorry.

[Suzanne] ::all hesitation disappears as her name crosses his lips and she hurries towards him, her arms open:: You're really here.... Andrew....

[Andrew] ::pulls her into him quickly, as Percy discreetly looks anywhere but at them:: I've missed you so much, cherie!

[Suzanne] ::a small, trembling hand reaches up to touch his pale cheek--his much too pale cheek, her mind tells her. Dark anxious eyes peer into his own:: We...we should go inside....you shouldn't be outside....in the cool air....

[Andrew] ::takes her hand and squeezes it reassuringly, smiling down at her:: I am fine, ma cherie..

[Percy] ::had anyone been looking at him at the moment, they would have seen the expression best verbalized by "Cattlepoop" cross his face::

[Suzanne] ::looks past him, obviously refusing to believe his words:: Sir Percy?

[Percy] ::hesitates:: Your husband will be--is--well enough, my lady. Still, it would be for the best to step inside, out of the morning air.

[Andrew] ::sighs and shoots a rueful look at Percy, but takes Suzanne's hand and moves toward the house:: Then lets' go inside, dearheart.. ::and stumbles::

[Suzanne] ::pales, as she feels him stumble, leaning heavily against her:: Andrew....

Percy, who had been following a few paces behind, hurried forward to relieve the burden, speaking lightly: "Clumsy fella...."

[Andrew] ::straightening himself with an effort and smiling at Suzanne through his pallor:: Truly..forgive me, love, I'm stiff after the long ride.

[Andrew] ::steps away from her and determinedly walks toward the house, still holding her hand, giving Percy a Look that warns him to let Andrew do this himself::

When they entered the manor, Percy stopped.

[Percy] I should think you will both excuse me if I depart now?

[Suzanne] ::softly:: I...yes..... Andrew?

[Andrew] ::nods, reaching out for Percy's hand:: Yes, Blakeney, of course...my greetings to Marguerite..

[Percy] ::nods, his eyes searching Andrew's for a moment with an unspoken: "Take care of yourself....":: Of course.

[Suzanne] ::quickly:: Marguerite...she was to visit today.....

[Percy] ::smiles:: Never fear--I will relay both messages. ::with a bow to Suzanne:: Good day, then.

[Andrew] ::grasps Percy's hand a trifle longer than absolutely necessary, thanking him for..well, everything..."Yes, I will":: Goodbye then, Percy.

(And Percy exits, of course)

[Suzanne] ::still fretting:: Shall I have send for the physician, Andrew?

[Andrew] :;shakes his head quickly:: I am fine, cherie, truly..you mustn't worry.

[Suzanne] ::leading him into the parlor. The servants seem to be at as much of a loss as she is--they simply stand back, waiting for some word from word from their Master or Mistress:: Y--you can't be fine.... ::she whispers, her voice trembling::

[Andrew] ::nods shortly at the servants, dismissing them, with a private smile for the few whom he knows have some notion of where he's been and have been worrying, and guides his wife toward a chair:: I am, Suzanne, I promise you..::raising a hand to touch the tears on her cheek, and seeing shadows under her eyes that he doesn't remember:: I'm so sorry, my love.

[Suzanne] ::shakes her head quickly:: You...need to sit.

[Andrew] ::obediently sits down beside her, never letting go her hand::

[Suzanne] When....did you.... ::her voice trails off--confused, afraid perhaps?--of the questions she wants to ask him....::

[Andrew] Just a few days ago, cherie..::smiles a little:: Percy wanted to send word, but I..I was sure I would be ready to travel sooner, I am sorry.

[Suzanne] ::bites her lower lip--it was a habit she had taken as a youth, one her mother and countless nannies had desperately tried to break her of--forcing herself to continue:: Are you...certain, then...that we need not send for the doctor?

[Andrew] ::smiles reassuringly again, anxiously touching her face:: I am fine, cherie, please believe that. ::wryly:: Aincourt would not have let me travel were I not...and I even tried bribery.

[Suzanne] ::tries to smile, but fails miserably--the small grasp she had held to sanity slipping:: You...we-were gone so very long.... ::choked:: I was so afraid....

[Andrew ::puts his arms around her tightly and pulls her to him:: I know, I know, Suzanne. I am so sorry..::kisses her hair:: I'm so sorry, darling. ::with a rather soggy attempt at a laugh:: But come, little one...did you really think I would ever leave you..?

[Suzanne] ::murmuring against him, her voice broken:: Not of your own accord...

[Andrew] ::holds her tightly, rubbing her back:: It was in His hands, cherie...I simply prayed for strength. :;smooths her hair back from he r face, smiling:: And here I am..::looking at her almost hungrily, drinking her in, sobering again:: I dreamed so much of you...

[Suzanne] ::softly:: I never stopped....believing you would come home.... but I....I still wonder if I'm dreaming now...

[Andrew] I am too happy to be dreaming, Suzanne

[Suzanne] As am I....

[Andrew] ::Looking at her anxiously...she's almost thinner than she was before, and so tired..:: Are you alright, Suzanne?

[Suzanne] ::flushes, and slowly:: There....was something I should tell you... ::softly:: I..... ::her cheeks still bright:: There's a child.....

[Andrew] ::not comprehending:: A..child, cherie?

[Suzanne] ::nods slowly:: I'm....only a bit along, but...yes...

[Andrew] ::as it hits him:: Suzanne!..YOU'RE going to...?

[Suzanne] ::a small, happy giggle:: Yes....

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