Heart of Stone Ch. 09bypsyche_b_mused©
9. Arriving Apart To Be Together
It had all seemed like a simple idea when she accepted the invitation, she and Aiden would go to this gathering to meet the rest of the group. Getting there turned into more of a process than Mary could have anticipated. To begin with, Aiden wasn't able to travel by car. Mary trusted him to carry her, but bringing luggage would have been out of the question. There was also the issue of what to do once they got there. Aiden wasn't a pet that one could sneak in through the back door when no one was looking, but Robbie had told her how excited the rest of the group would be to meet him.
After a flurry of e-mails and phone calls it was worked out that all but a few of Robbie's servants would be sent away until the following Monday, those who remained could be trusted to keep silent. Mary would drive, bringing her things and a chair for Aiden in case Robbie didn't have one. He would fly, trying to avoid populated areas and roads as much as he could. He disliked the plan, and he disliked the idea that he may not be able to enter her bedroom whenever he wanted. Mary wasn't thrilled with that possibility herself, but both of them realized that it was the best they could do for the time being.
Mary arrived at Pemberley Court at a little after nine on Thursday evening. A fountain bubbled in the center of the circular drive and most of the first floor rooms were illuminated, giving the large house a warm and welcoming appearance, even in the darkness. It seemed to be larger than Beeson Hall, but that could have been because she was nervous. While she was gathering her courage one of the tall doors opened and Robbie stepped out onto the lighted landing.
"Mary?" He asked, she couldn't see his expression, but it sounded like he was smiling.
"Yes, sorry. I was just getting my things." She fumbled with the keys and started to walk to the back of the car.
"Don't bother, Bennett will take care of it." A nervous-looking servant appeared from the house and took her car keys. Mary murmured a thank you and walked up the wide steps. Robbie kissed her cheek and ushered her into the house. "I see you found us alright."
"Sort of, I drove past your access road twice before I found the turn." She looked around the entry hall and noted the unusual blend of antique and modern design.
"I should have made my map clearer." Bennett came in carrying her bag, Mary couldn't help but notice the anxiety on his face before he disappeared outside again.
"It wasn't your map, it was the fact that I'm not used to finding my way around after dark." Mary waited until Bennett disappeared through a set of double doors on the right side of the foyer. "Is there a reason he looks so nervous?" She asked, her eyebrows drawn together.
"Aiden arrived twenty minutes ago, I prepared them as best I could but-" He smiled slightly and even without hearing the rest of his statement, Mary understood the rest.
"But meeting Aiden for the first time can be overwhelming." She laughed softly. "Believe me, I understand."
"Come through into the drawing room." He led Mary toward a set of double doors on the left side of the foyer. The room was larger than her library, but it wasn't out of line with the scale of the house. It was more traditionally decorated than the foyer in golds and brown leather, but the art that hung on the walls was more modern than one might have expected. Aiden stood when they entered, his heavy brows were drawn together.
"I was worried that something happened to you." She could see that he was fighting the urge to touch her in some way. Mary touched his hand lightly as she sat down.
"I just missed the turnoff." She smiled reassuringly.
"Would you prefer tea, coffee or something a bit stronger?" Robbie asked.
"Coffee would be wonderful, thank you." She noticed that Aiden had already emptied at least one large cup of tea.
"How do you take it?" He asked, filling a delicate china cup.
"Two sugars." She accepted the cup from him. "Thank you." He sat across from her and sipped what Mary assumed was a scotch. Even though his posture was relaxed Mary could see that he was still a little nervous around Aiden. Before anyone could speak Bennett entered quietly and spoke into Robbie's ear.
"Put it in one of the twins' sitting room, and take Mary's things to the bedroom Mr. Aiden isn't occupying." He said after a moment.
"The twin's sitting room?" She asked when Bennett left.
"I thought the two of you would be most comfortable if you were close together. The twin's rooms connect to a sitting room between them. It makes a nice private suite. No one's occupied it since they died though." He explained and then turned to Aiden. "If you'd like to rest in the bed, I've made certain that you will be comfortable."
"That is very kind of you." He smiled and finished the last of his tea.
"I don't mean to pry, but who were the twins?" Mary sipped the hot coffee and felt herself starting to relax.
"You're not prying, they're one of those family legends. Matthew and Mark were my grandfather's older brothers, and the only set of twins ever born into my family. From that alone I tend to think some of the odd stories about them were exaggerated, but the fact is that they never married because they couldn't bear to be separated from each other. They worked in the same office and lived in those rooms and from what my grandfather said they were very content." He finished the last of his drink and set the glass aside.
"You never met them?" Mary found herself wondering if they died in those rooms. She wasn't sure that she wanted the answer to that question.
"They died of some sort of illness when I was two or three years old. I'm told that I did know them, but I don't have any memories of them. There's a portrait in their sitting room, so I have an idea of what they looked like. I DO remember sneaking into their rooms whenever I wanted to let my imagination run wild. You know how children are, they see ghosts and monsters in every closet and love every minute of it." He laughed softly. "If you're not comfortable though, this house has so many rooms -"
"No." Mary said quickly. "I'm sure we'll be very comfortable. I keep hoping I'll run across some family history at Beeson Hall, but there's nothing recent, at least not that I've found yet." She said, turning the discussion away from the twins.
At a little after 11:30 Mary found that her repertoire of small talk was as exhausted as her body was. She excused and herself and Aiden followed. Robbie called for the housekeeper, Mrs. Bennett. She learned that the young man who had brought in her things was her son, and that her husband also worked in the house. It was clear that Aiden made her nervous, but she was covering it reasonably well. He allowed Mary to walk closest to the older woman.
The twin's rooms were at the extreme east end of large house. There was only one door to the suite itself, and it opened into a comfortable, traditionally designed sitting room lined with books. Mrs. Bennett informed her that the door could be bolted from the inside and handed Mary a key, telling her that it was the only one to these rooms. The housekeeper gave them a brief tour and Mary was pleased to see there was a balcony that could be accessed from both bedrooms and the sitting room. It was too dark to see what the view was though.
"Mr. Barnaby told me that Mr. Aiden would see to his own meals, but will you be coming down for breakfast, Miss? If you prefer I can have a tray sent up." Mrs. Bennett said.
"I'll be joining Mr. Barnaby, if he doesn't mind." Mary said.
"If you would join him around nine in the conservatory, I'm certain that he'll be pleased to see you. Is there anything else you - either of you -- need?" She sounded uncertain when she addressed Aiden.
"You have made us quite comfortable, thank you." Aiden spoke softly, and with a reassuring smile.
"If you change your mind, there are working bellpulls in all three main rooms, the ones in the bathrooms were disconnected years ago though." Mrs. Bennett looked more relaxed now.
"You've been very kind, Mrs. Bennett. Goodnight." Mary smiled and she was certain Aiden was smiling too, even though he was standing behind her.
"Goodnight." She nodded at both of them and left the room. When the door closed, Mary turned the lock and stepped into Aiden's waiting arms. He lifted her off of her feet, and she wrapped her legs around his broad waist.
"I was so worried about you, child." His voice rumbled next to her ear. Mary tightened her arms and legs around him. She barely noticed when he sat on the bed.
"It was so hard not to touch you when I first got here." She nuzzled the side of his neck as she spoke. "The whole time I was driving I was worried that you had been seen, or shot at."
"The route I took was not direct, but it was private. You must remember that I am able to see much farther and much more clearly in the dark than you are." He kissed the side of her head softly. Mary smiled against his shoulder.
"That's why I was late. I couldn't see the entrance to the estate." She looked into his green eyes. "I didn't mean to make you worry though." Mary felt his low chuckle as much as she heard it.
"I know that, dear one." He tilted her chin up. "You look exhausted and the distance I covered was far greater than what I am accustomed to now, we should rest." He kissed her softly.
"I think that's a good idea." She moved away until she was kneeling next to him on the bed. "But I was thinking that maybe I should sleep in the other room, just until I can tell at least Robbie the truth." Aiden looked shocked and hurt.
"I have held you while you slept since before we were mated." Aiden's confusion showed in his face and in the tone of his voice.
"I know, but yesterday Maureen was telling me that servants notice everything. They expect us to use separate rooms and if my bed isn't slept in that's going to start gossip." His heavy brows were still drawn together, but he was considering her words. "I think hearing it that way would make it seem dirty somehow."
The silence seemed to grow with every breath she took. He pulled her close again.
"You will sleep in here -"
"Aiden-" She moved to get up but he held her still.
"Until dawn. I will take you to your bed then." Mary relaxed against him. He lifted her chin. "And you will remember that a female does not question EVERY decision her mate makes." The twitch at the corner of his mouth was barely perceptible, but it told her that Aiden was fighting a smile.
"Maybe I'll never be good that part of being your mate." She smiled a little.
"I think my life would become rather boring if you were." He chuckled and kissed her lightly.
"I need a shower before we settle down for the night." She kissed him again and moved out of his arms. On the brief tour of the suite Mrs. Bennett had given them, Mary was pleased to see that each bedroom had it's own bathroom. That fact seemed a little surprising, considering the last time it was occupied on a regular basis, but she certainly wasn't going to complain. While both were a great deal smaller than the space she was used to at home, it was completely private.
She stood under the hot spray and allowed all the tension that had collected in her shoulders and back to drain away. She stood under the water for longer than usual, enjoying the feeling of deep relaxation. Finally, she turned the water off, toweled off and dressed for bed.
"Is that new?" Aiden asked when she entered the other bedroom again. It took Mary a moment to realize he was talking about the light pink silk nightgown she was wearing.
"Yes and no." She turned out the light, got into bed and snuggled up against him. While she was showering he had pulled the top sheet and blankets off the bed, Mary let him arrange them around her body, as he always did at home. "I bought it a few months ago, but it seems like whenever I decide to wear it we make love before I can change. After it just seems silly to get dressed again." He chuckled softly.
"Very wise, child." He kissed the top of her head. "I prefer the feeling of your skin, anyway."
Mary closed her eyes and tried not to think about the strange, dark room that surrounded her. She arched a little closer to Aiden.
"You are not comfortable?" He asked.
"That's not it. I guess Robbie's comment about these rooms being spooky got to me. Have you ever been here before? Before you were frozen I mean." She looked up and could just about make out the contours of his face in the darkness.
"My kind tend to be territorial, so visiting was not always a simple or casual matter." Mary was genuinely curious. The fact that his voice was soothing was a wonderful bonus.
"But you mentioned alliances." Her fingers moved lightly against his chest.
"Yes, some were formed through matings, others were simply negotiated out of mutual desire or need. Even so, there were rules." His hand wandered over her back and down to her hip, taking great care not to snag the delicate silk with his talons. Usually a request to travel through the territory of another clan had to be made in advance."
"Even for someone who was mated to see his or her family?" Mary was a little surprised, but too relaxed to register physical shock.
"Matings were a bit different. A female always went to live with her mate's clan, she could return with her mate, and children if there were any. For any other member of her mate's clan to travel with them carried other requirements, depending on the particular clans involved. Some alliances were stronger than others, and some clans were more inclined toward building peaceable ties." Mary felt herself starting to drift.
"That sounds complicated." She murmured.
"No more complex than your treaties." Even though Mary was close to sleep, she heard the small smile in his voice. In recent months Aiden had taken a keen interest in modern government and politics and he had formed some very strong opinions. As much as she enjoyed talking to him about it, her mind was too far gone to even begin the conversation. The last thing she remembered was feeling his lips against the top of her head.
After Aiden moved her into the other bed, Mary slept poorly. Instead of having a warm place that smelled like Aiden to curl up in, the whole bed was cold and smelled only of clean sheets. She tossed and turned until six-thirty and then gave up. She dressed in a pair of jeans, a light sweater and pulled her hair back in barrette.
It was her practice to find Aiden when she woke up to at least say good morning, even if he couldn't respond. Even though it was possible that he had decided to stay inside, Mary doubted it. Soon after they were first mated she asked why he still went outside to rest during the day. He looked at her strangely and said that he had rested outside since his birth. Mary wasn't certain what to say to that, so she hadn't brought up the topic again. Mary found him crouching menacingly in the corner of the balcony nearest the door to her room. She slipped her arms around one large bicep and rested her cheek against the cool stone.
"Morning Aiden." She murmured and looked out over the gardens and deep green countryside beyond. Robbie had said the house was isolated. She hadn't realized just HOW isolated until this moment. There was nothing else to be seen, at least from this angle. Even when she walked to the railing she could see nothing but the forested hills of the estate. She sat on Aiden's thigh and rested her back against his chest. "I wish you could see this in the daylight. There are a thousand shades of green and the sky is this golden color it gets when the sun hasn't been up for very long." Mary relaxed there for a few minutes, just enjoying the closeness in silence. "I'm getting kind of cold, so I'm going to go back in now, I'll miss you today." She kissed Aiden's shoulder and went back inside.
Mary glanced around the sitting room, her eyes scanning the titles of the books on the shelves. She was surprised to see some of the same titles she had in the basement library mixed in with fiction and ancient history texts. As curious as Mary was about the twins, it was too early to really process what she was looking at. If she were at home she would have gone down to the kitchen for coffee, but she didn't think wandering through the house was entirely polite. She pulled the bellpull and hoped she wasn't waking someone.
While she waited, Mary took a closer look at the portrait of the twins that hung over the fireplace. She had noticed it last night of course, but then it was just background to her tired mind, like everything else in the room. Now she stood in front of the portrait and really LOOKED at the two men it depicted. At the time it was painted it looked like they were in their thirties. The pose was unusual compared to the other portraits she had seen in Beeson Hall and in other parts of this house. The twins sat next to each other behind a table, and appeared to have just been interrupted while studying some papers that were spread out in front of them.
The twins themselves were unremarkable men, except that they appeared to be perfect mirror images of each other. One had a small mole on his right cheek, the other had one on the left. The opposite corners of their mouths curled up in a small smile. It was the background that drew her though, there was something familiar about it. Mary brought a chair over and was just about to step up to get a closer look when there was a knock at the door. She moved the chair back to its place quickly and opened the door to a young maid wearing a utilitarian black skirt and blouse.
"You needed something, Miss?" The young woman looked over her Mary's shoulder with a kind of nervous curiosity.
"Oh," Mary was a little surprised to see an unfamiliar face. "I don't think we met last night, I'm Mary."
"Mrs. Bennett told me you and a Mr. Aiden were in here. I'm Rose."
"I'm glad to meet you. If it's not too much trouble, could I get some coffee?" Mary still had a hard time asking for someone to wait on her. Rose just smiled.
"Of course, Miss. Will the -- gentleman - want some too?" She asked, her eyes still darting curiously around the room.
"No, Aiden rests during the day."
"Will you want anything to eat?" Mary had to fight the urge to look over her shoulder.
"No, I'll be eating with Mr. Barnaby. Is there something wrong in there?" Mary asked, unable to stand the curiosity anymore.
"No Miss." Rose looked embarrassed. "I'll be right back with your coffee."
"Thank you." Mary closed the door and went back to the painting again. The background was unusually detailed and that fact alone sparked her curiosity. Mary moved the chair and stepped up onto it. She used the fireplace mantle to steady herself as she looked more closely.
From her new vantage point she could tell that the artist had been talented. The fine emotion lines that made each face unique reached out from the corners of the men's eyes and gave each one his own character. One seemed more accustomed to smiling in joy, the other's face bore even a small smile with difficulty. The happy twin's forehead was smooth, the serious twin's forehead was beginning to show the signs of constant worry. The subtle differences in their hands were apparent too, and the unusual way they were posed drew her eye again to the papers spread out on the table in front of them.
The artist had given the pages the look of age and while most of them appeared to be blank there was one that was strangely but subtly marked. She squinted and realized the brushstrokes were different then those in the rest of the painting. Mary turned so that she could look at the page from an angle. The way the light played over the painted out section made it clear that whoever had made the erasure had been careful, but the roughly circular shape of the underlying image remained. She couldn't help but wonder what had been there and who wanted to hide it.