Emily was a hostage. She could taste the stale air from heavy brocade draperies pulled shut to keep out the light; or perhaps to keep her in; she never knew which. They needn’t have bothered. The death rattle rumbling in her chest with every breath in and out guaranteed her submission and killed any hope of escape. If she’d felt stronger she’d have been frightened. Her mother had died of an unnamed lung disease so there was reason to expect an attack from the same assassin. It was a matter of fact. She could feel the silence ringing in her ears, isolation and fever her only company. At least, until Corey put his head around the door and broke her solitary confinement. Then everything changed.
Soft blond hair curling into his blue eyes and brushing the silk collar of his coat, his delicate features could fool a casual observer into thinking a young girl had come to pay Emily a visit. But the spark in his eyes and swing in his step spoke of a male entitlement to freedom certainly found wanting and inappropriate in a female. Therefore the fine lines of his cheekbones, nose, and lips suggested aristocratic ancestors rather than femininity.
“Hello, Emi” he said, hanging on the edge of the massive door like a monkey wrapped around a tree trunk. “How are you feeling, fair maiden?” His pretty, upturned mouth lit his face as if he held the loveliest thought in the world and couldn’t wait to share it with her. She did her best to respond with a weak smile and a wave of her hand. Much as she loved seeing him, she could manage no more, her voice muted in a throat of raw flesh. The feeble greeting didn’t fool him though, which was a shame; because now Corey was scared.
“Not so good, I guess.” His smile faded into worry lines between his eyebrows, which saddened Emily because she was the cause.
He slipped silently through the door and turned to close it slowly behind him, so it wouldn’t make a sound when the latch caught.
“They don’t know I’m here,” he explained, turning back to look at her lifeless form; a small mound in the middle of the huge old carved bed. “I brought you something,” he announced, taking a few more steps forward. “Actually, it’s some things. I thought you’d need cheering up. I knew they’d have you constrained, but I didn’t think it would be this bad.” He glanced around the stuffy room eying the closed draperies as he walked slowly toward her. “Lord, it’s so still and dark in here.” He shook his head in disgust and the blond curls bounced. “Would you like me to open the window a little and let in some air?” She nodded. A very small move of her head up and down, but he saw it.
Running quickly to the heavy brocade covering the balcony doors to the left of her bed, he grabbed one side and yanked on the drapery with a determined pull. It took five tries with both arms, but he finally moved it away enough to let in some light and expose the casement door handle. Looking pleased with himself, he turned the brass lever and pulled the door open taking a huge breath of fresh air at the same time.
“Better!” he announced; “but maybe a little too much.” He pushed the door closed slightly. Looking back at Emily, he asked, “Is that enough?”
She felt better already with his attention, but she couldn’t say so because of her painful throat and chest. She nodded, putting the last bit of energy she had into showing appreciation on her face. The effort might push her fever up again to a place where she didn’t know anything, but at least he’d be here with her this time. It was worth the risk.
“Honestly, the way they treat sick children you’d think they were trying to get rid of us all,” he complained. “I won’t let them have at you anymore, now that I know what’s going on.” She looked at his twelve-year-old small, delicate frame and face but saw a giant defender; she knew she could count on him.
“So now that we have enough light, I’ll show you what I brought.” A furtive smile started across his face and he pulled something from inside his jacket and raised it up slowly. He held it high for her to see. A book!
Looking new and untouched, it forced a flood of questions through her mind at once. They weren’t allowed to take books from his father’s library, least of all new ones. They weren’t supposed to read grownup literature at all. Even the magazines that arrived, with installments of new fiction included with pictures of men’s beaver hats and ladies high-button shoes, were restricted to adults. Most of all, girls weren’t allowed to read novels. So how had Corey pilfered this delicious object and why had he taken the risk?
“For you,” he said; “It’s for you and me too. We’re going to read it together!” He saw her amazement this time without any effort on her part. He skipped across the room to her bed with a spring of pure joy.
“Shall I hide it behind your pillow so you can get it when you want?” he asked, sucking in a little on his pretty lower lip as he always did when he was excited. How familiar that habit of his was. It reminded her of trying to catch the last drop of juice from an orange slice, always luscious and sweet.
“Sorry. Not such a good idea. They’ll be changing your bed linens again.” His eyes locked on hers which she knew were wide with fright. “Don’t worry. The sewing table will do just as well. You won’t be reading it yourself for awhile anyway. It’s only important that I know where it is so I can read to you.”
Click here to read all of Chapter One.