Her heart leaped at his stunned expression. Holding the candle to one side, her mouth dried as light probed his features. Resignation lay in every line of his face.
In the privacy of his own chamber, he had shed the formality of jacket, neckcloth, and waistcoat. He stood before her as she had rarely seen him, in nankeen pantaloons and a long-sleeved shirt wrenched open at the throat. His feet were bare, as they had been on another fateful day in this room.
He turned away from her, leaned against the window frame, and stared out on the darkness as she had done earlier.
His expression, as far as she could judge in the dim reflection in the window glass, moved through resignation to wariness. He had guessed why she was here, and his face turned blank as a sea-washed beach.
Frances stepped into the room, closed the door, and hesitated, one hand grasping the porcelain door knob behind her. The words would come to her, if she let them. She glanced at her bare feet peeping out beneath the quivering hem of her bed gown. Somehow, she had to make him understand.
“Jack, I do not think I can go on.” It was difficult to speak, to force the words into the air. Her throat ached. “I thought I wanted a marriage such as ours, but I find…living with a man who refuses to touch me is insupportable. I thought I was stronger, but I’m not. I cannot bear it.”
His arms folded. The ruby winked on his hand as his fingers gripped his flesh. “Frances, please. It is late, and I am in no state to discuss anything of import.” His glance flickered briefly to the half-empty decanter at his bedside. “May we discuss this in the morning?”
She shook her head. “No, Jack. Tomorrow I may lose my courage. I must discuss it now.”
He inhaled and expelled air in a huge sigh. “Very well. What will make your life more bearable? You know you can order whatever you wish. You have complete freedom here, Frances. Order whatever you please…do whatever you want. Your friends shall be my friends. I do not know what else I can offer.” He spoke without emotion and stood quite still, his back to her. But he watched her reflection in the dark window glass.
“It is not enough, Jack.” Her fingers plucked at the pink ribbons threading the froth of lace ruffles at the front of her wrap, wound them over and around her fingers. “Already I know it is impossible to go on. I feel I am breaking apart… I hardly know myself.”
“What more do you need?” His voice, so gentle it hardly disturbed the air, held resignation. Perhaps he had expected and prepared for such a confrontation.
“I would like,” she said carefully, concentrating on the pink ribbons, “a husband who can bear to touch me, who can give me a child.” Her heart thumped like a blacksmith’s hammer. Even the pink ribbon vibrated.
Reluctance, by Jen Black
Available from MuseItUp Publishing,
or from: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Reluctance-ebook/dp/B007ROL46Q