In Regency England, a young man is disfigured in the Napoleonic Wars. He must learn to stand on his own and accept he is now a man with two faces.
He meets a lovely, fragile young woman one summer, as lonely as he is; can they find their way to each other, or will the scars they both have inside and out prevent a chance at happiness?
He meets a lovely, fragile young woman one summer, as lonely as he is; can they find their way to each other, or will the scars they both have inside and out prevent a chance at happiness? ~~THE TWO FACES OF AIDAN~~
It is 1823, and Anne Claymore was a spinster school teacher, who found herself enjoying part of her summer break at the summer home of Lord and Lady Chudley in central England. Little did she know she would meet an extraordinary man, and her life would be changed forever... While walking about the estates of her hosts, Anne soon became aware she was not the only one out taking in the early evening air. There was a man standing, one leg up on a bench, gazing at the gardens and the large picturesque lake beyond it. He was unaware of her presence.
Anne stood still, unsure whether to turn back in the hope he would not see her at all, or hurry past the man giving a brief greeting, and pray he did not detain her. Anne decided to slowly approach, so she would not startle the gentleman. She had never seen him before, although this was the Chudley's grounds, they did not mind if people walked about their lush gardens.
The man was deep in thought, he had not moved a bit. The slight summer breeze gently moved his long hair, hair far too long for the fashion, Anne observed. He was hatless, a tall man with broad shoulders, slender waist and hips and powerful muscular legs.
But it was his face in profile that held Anne stock-still and transfixed. It was a finely chiselled, extremely handsome face, what cheekbones! The hair, though long, seemed to suit him, giving him an air of dark mystery, and framed his perfect features like a dark curtain. The word beautiful came to Anne's mind, but it seemed an inappropriate word to describe a man. She had a desire to see him full face, but he was still quite oblivious to her presence. He looked as if he were in a world of his own, one that held him enthralled and motionless.
There was not a sound, except for the slight rustling of the leaves in the breeze, and the far off song of a solitary bird nestled in the trees. Something stirred in Anne, something that had lain dormant for years, and must remain dormant.
Good lord, he was a total stranger! He was probably someone's husband; he certainly was not a man she should be weaving romantic fantasies about!
But Anne could not help it, the nearby trees and flowers seem to close in about him, accentuating his stark male beauty. She wished then she had decided to go back, but it was too late now. As she came closer, he at last became aware of her and leaving the bench, turned sharply to face her.
Aidan Raycroft faced the woman standing before him; she was tall, willowy with a lovely oval face and large expressive eyes. For a brief moment he thought the beauty before him had walked out of his dreams. Aidan took a step toward the young woman, without speaking a word. All at once he saw the horror in her eyes. What had he expected, a warm smile? That she would open her arms to him?
Aidan stared at the woman defiantly, daring her to look at him full on. Glare at my accursed ugliness, he silently seethed.
Neither spoke. Anne gasped aloud; he was a man with half a face. The beautiful left side was all the more grotesque because there was no right side to balance it. He was beauty and the beast, rolled into one.
All of the sudden his broad, muscular shoulders and height, at first attractive to Anne, took on a menacing tone. Anne backed up several steps and cried aloud in shock, she did not expect such a horrid, ghastly sight, not after observing and admiring his handsomeness from afar.
The sight quite shook her, and before she could control her reaction, she turned and fled. He gazed after her, feeling grotesquely ugly, red raw scars down the right side of his face, paralysing most of the nerves there. He felt exposed, miserable.
Aidan had left self-pity behind some time ago, he was better off then some, however it stung to still see such reactions to his appearance, especially from such a lovely young woman. His eye narrowed with anger. He hoped he would never see her again, to look upon her lovely face and see the revulsion there. He had learned to be alone, without a woman for his bed or his heart, for many years now.
For one brief, unguarded moment he allowed himself to yearn for her. He thought to himself with some anger and resentment, she would no doubt haunt his dreams for some nights to come. Anne returned to the back entrance of the main house, she stopped running and caught her breath; she glanced over her shoulder and saw the man had not followed her. Suddenly she felt deep shame.
He was not a monster, just a man, who no doubt suffered some sort of tragic accident. He had merely been out enjoying the early evening air just like her. He had done nothing threatening except take a step toward her.
She had run because he was maimed.
She was brought up to behave better, her late father instilled in her that every human being was a precious soul worthy of respect and courtesy and love. Anne was soon enveloped in shame, she ran back toward the way she had just come from, hoping to catch the man and apologize for her abhorrent behaviour.
But he was not longer there.
She could not see him anywhere.
She could have at least said 'good evening' to him, oh she felt wretched.
Poor man! Such physical perfection to have been cruelly destroyed!
How could she have behaved so? The next afternoon, Anne was reading in the drawing room, but having great difficulty concentrating. She could not get the man in the garden out of her mind, neither could she last night; she kept waking and thinking of him.
Lady Chudley came into the room. "My dear Anne! There you are! I want to tell you we will be having a guest at dinner tonight, his name is Aidan Raycroft. He is steward at the nearby Bridgehorn Manor." Lady Chudley's voice lowered, taking on a serious tone.
"Mr. Raycroft is actually an Earl's son, quite wealthy in his own right, but he works for a living. I must warn you so you are prepared, the poor man has a physical impediment, he was severely injured on the Peninsula when he was a cavalry colonel, The most glaring and visible injury is to his face."
Anne gasped aloud. It had to be the same man!
"Why would an Earl's son need to work for a living?" Anne asked.
"He does it to keep himself occupied, useful..." Lady Chudley rose to leave. "I must see to the dinner preparations!" Anne closed her book. It had to be the same man! At least now she could make amends, apologize for her rude manner.
Injured and maimed in the Napoleonic Wars, poor man! So he was not a stranger in these parts, and it seems she was fated to meet him again.
Now she knew why he kept his hair long, to hide his injury...tragic! After the introductions, Lord and Lady Chudley, Aidan and Anne were shown into the small dining room and sat down to begin the first course at dinner.
Anne found herself on Mr. Raycroft's left, she stole a few quick glances, but he had not made eye contact with her. He obviously disliked her for her behaviour the previous day, not that she blamed him. "Tell me Anne, how do you think Gregory is faring from your absence?" Lord Chudley questioned.
Aidan visibly stiffened. Gregory? Was this some suitor of hers, perhaps her intended?
"I cannot speak for Gregory, but I am most bereft and feeling his absence keenly. I have never been separated from him for this long before." Anne said softly.
"I daresay your son is being kept far to occupied at the Blenhiem Estate with the other children to pine for his mother. Courage dear Anne, you shall be reunited with him in a few weeks." Lord Chudley smiled.
Son? Aidan was surprised. And her 'MISS' Claymore. Wonder what the story was there?
Aidan stared at the loveliness sitting beside him. He did dislike meeting strangers, he was long past the stage of hiding his right side from people.
His ugliness had been hard to accept. Before his injury, he was used to seeing admiration in people's eyes, even adoration in female eyes, not that he took advantage of the latter. He was still so young when everything changed, he was never conceited about his good looks, he had in fact, taken them for granted, until they were destroyed forever.
No one in the area no longer flinched when they looked at him, but Miss Claymore...she did not know, she ran from him last evening like he were the devil himself. As Anne chatted amiably with Lord and Lady Chudley, Aidan stayed silent. He was intensely curious about this young woman sitting next to him. She was unmarried, of a lower class, she had a child, scandalous in society's eyes to be sure.
Yet here she sits at the Chudley's dining table. Why was the family so interested in this woman and her illegitimate son? Polite conversation continued through each course. Aidan finally joined the converse, chatting about his work at the estate. Anne asked a couple of polite questions, and he answered them in kind, but they did not really look at each other.
The dinner was soon over, and the men retired to the drawing room. Later Anne went into the drawing room; there was Mr. Raycroft. She took a deep breath and walked up to him. She observed when he got up from the table he had a very noticeable limp, he almost stumbled getting out of his chair, but he walked proudly without using a cane.
"Mr. Raycroft..." Anne murmured. She made sure she looked at both sides of his face.
"Miss Claymore." He said stiffly, folding his arms in a defensive pose. Anne looked into his face and quite purposely looked at both sides at once. He was indeed an imposing figure, but also did not seem to wallow in his disabilities.
'"I went back last afternoon, a few moments after I ran away, but you were gone." Anne said kindly.
Aidan stared at her a few moments. "I am sorry I frightened you, I did not intend it."
"You misunderstand, it is I who is sorry. Truly. That is what I went back to say." she whispered. "Thank you for returning even though I had departed for home." Aidan said courteously.
She supposed she had been forgiven, she was not sure if he still harboured any dislike.
She nodded and was about to move away when Aidan said, "Perhaps you would join me for a walk to the garden Miss Claymore, it is lovely this time of the early evening."
Anne smiled. 'I would be honoured, sir."
"I will meet you outside directly." Aidan stated. He watched her walk away, They walked and talked politely for over a half and hour, and finally made their way to a bench seat. Anne looked over at him, she did not like being close to him, she was ashamed to admit it, she did not like having to look at him. And here she was facing his 'bad' side.
There was silence for some moments, he was deep in thought, his long elegant hand resting on his thigh.
"Miss Claymore," Aidan said suddenly. "Shall we agree to pretend last evening did not happen, that we have met for the first time today?" "I should like that, Mr. Raycroft." Anne replied. "I have been feeling somewhat intimidated all evening."
"Have you?" Aidan replied. "Why?"
Now she wished she had not said that, but he was waiting for her reply.
"Lord Chudley offered to bring my son here for part of the summer, so he would have other children to play with. Gregory is with the rest of the family in Blenheimshire while Lady Chudley asked me to stay here with her. I did not expect to be treated as a guest. My son is related to the Chudley's; his father was their nephew. They wish to include Gregory in their family."
From his silence, Anne realized she had told far too much about herself, perhaps now he will run from her in revulsion, a fallen woman, a pariah in society. "I teach and live at an exclusive Girl's school near Blenheimshire, I like it very well, Gregory has always been happy there, but he is getting older, he will soon be nine years old. Lord Chudley is my employer and benefactor, he felt Gregory should be around boys his own age, when I hesitated, he extended his very kind invitation to include me as well." Anne breathed deeply, she was chattering far too much, revealing far too much.
Aidan stood and faced Anne. "Boys do need other boys, but most of all Miss Claymore, they need a caring mother, I daresay you did the right thing in allowing your son to visit, yourself as well." Anne delicately cleared her throat. "Lady Chudley tells me you are an Earl's son."
"I am." he answered. "Earl Strongham of Tidley's Park. My oldest brother will inherit the title one day."
"And yet you work for a living, surely it is not necessary." Anne stated bluntly.
"After my injuries and after my long convalesce, it would have been quite easy to let my family continue to care and fuss over me. But I was determined to stand on my own feet. The Duke of Bridgehorn is a family friend, he suggested I move here and take up the position of steward. It has been a Godsend to me. I am useful and feel I am doing something important." Aidan declared.
"It is very gratifying to feel useful and important Mr. Raycroft. That is how my teaching makes me feel. It seems we are beholden to two generous men, you to the Duke, myself to Lord Chudley."
Aidan turned at looked at Anne, her beauty striking him afresh. He had quite forgotten and forgiven her shocked and horrified response to seeing him the previous day. He could not hold a grudge against her. Anne Claymore seemed a straight spoken, honest woman; he found it refreshing. There was no pretence about her, altogether appealing in the stuffy society of the ton.
Aidan found himself quite moved, and quite taken with Miss Claymore. She might be repulsed by him; he thought to himself, how could she not be? But Anne Claymore was displaying unusual courtesy in her dealings with him, for that he was grateful.
Impulsively he laid his hand gently on her shoulder, he left it there only for a moment, she did not cringe nor pull away, he was gratified.
He supposed being an unwed mother, she was living in her own particular hell, the only difference was his was visible; hers was not. It was the first time she had seen him smile. "Perhaps you would not mind joining me tomorrow afternoon for a walk, Miss Claymore. Would you?"
"I would." she said quickly, perhaps too quickly. Truly, she should be chaperoned on such a walk, but she dismissed the thought, She was 28 years old, she was no delicate flower that needed protecting.
"Tomorrow then, do you know where I live? The cottage?" he said gently.
"The one by the Bridgehorn gates? Yes, I have seen it. Tomorrow at 2PM then, Mr. Raycroft..." Anne turned to go.
"Good Evening, Miss Claymore..." Aidan said softly. The next afternoon, Anne approached the brick cottage at the edge of the Bridgehorn Estate. There was Mr. Raycroft, he had his riding boots on, he obviously had just gone for a ride. She admired the fact that despite the loss of an eye and his difficulty in walking, he still managed to ride.
Anne observed the obvious affection between man and horse as Aidan spoke softly to the stallion; the horse nickered softly and nuzzled Aidan's side. "You came. Good afternoon Miss Claymore." Aidan stated. "Let me return Triton to the stables, then we shall go for our afternoon stroll."
Anne was struck once again by his carriage and countenance despite his maimed face. No doubt his upbringing, the son of an Earl. He was not of her class, which was quite obvious. They strolled for sometime, Anne observed sometimes he walked quite straight, while other times the limp was noticeable.
It was a beautiful afternoon, a slight breeze to keep the summer heat from being too oppressive, they spoke of mundane things, the weather, gardens, horses. Anne would shyly look at him, his handsome profile facing her. The came upon a lovely spot, where the lush green grounds rolled down toward the water. Anne stopped to observe the scene. Her mind travelled over Aidan Raycroft once again. How tragic to have such looks marred, was he lonely, she wondered.
Her mind touched upon the years she lived on the very fringes of society, alone, friendless. She sat on the rocks next to the flowers, while Aidan stretched out on the grass near her feet. "Do you ever feel lonely?" Anne asked him abruptly. Aidan looked at her with some surprise. "I am sorry, sometimes I think aloud." she said with some dismay in her voice.
Aidan felt a little angry. "Do YOU?" he threw the question right back at her.
"I live and work at a school, I am friends with the other teachers, I am quite busy, how could I be lonely?"
"But are you?" Aidan asked pointedly. Suddenly Aidan realized she was lonely, that she asked the question not out of some morbid curiosity but out of her own loneliness, they were kindred spirits, no doubt. More gently he said, "Sometimes it is easier to confide in a sympathetic stranger than in a relative or friend." Anne looked at him. "Is that what you are Mr. Raycroft, a sympathetic stranger?"
"I suppose I am, have you ever noticed that people will admit to just about any vice or fault before they would admit to feeling lonely, like it is something to feel shame over."
"I am lonely..." Anne said breathlessly. "I should not be...I have my son, my friends."
"I have friends too, I have been here five years, friends I can call on and talk comfortably with, I have my family in Tidley Park, my parents, my brother and his wife. They love me dearly and would do anything for me." Aidan rose and walked over next to Anne. He propped one leg on the rock next to her. She could feel his nearness, his masculinity, it made her quite dizzy to have him so near. "But you are lonely?" she asked.
Aidan looked down at Anne. "Yes, I am lonely..." he admitted. He had never said those words aloud, not even to himself before. He did not pity himself in his loneliness; it was something he simply accepted. "No one has ever asked me that before, since my disfigurement people treat me as if I am a fragile flower, certain topics must be avoided." "But you are not, fragile I mean?" Anne asked.
"Are you?" he asked in return. "Because you have an illegitimate child?"
No one had ever put it quite that bluntly to her before. "I asked you first." Anne said.
"I have learned that humans can be quite resilient Miss Claymore. I could have pitied myself for my fate, but I chose not to live that way. I took my life in a new direction and have been successful at it. I do not feel fragile, not in the least." "Are you happy most of the time?" Anne asked.
Aidan exhaled deeply. "Happy? Happiness is such a fleeting thing. I know moments of happiness as much as the next person I suppose. I feel the summer heat at this moment, the lushness of the gardens, being here with you now brings me happiness."
Anne felt tears rush to her eyes. He was happy to be here with her, this man...this stranger. He was quickly no longer feeling as a stranger to her.
"Your turn." He said quietly. "I do not consider myself fragile either. My life changed when Gregory was born, he brought such love into my life. Like you, I turned my life into a new direction with some help, and made it a success. You are right Mr. Raycroft. We adjust our lives to circumstances and take happiness where we can find it, even it if is in fleeting moments. This IS a happy moment, I will remember it."
Aidan was moved by her words. He thought deeply over her statement. Anne looked up into his face, his handsome side was facing her, his prominent cheekbone was working furiously, his eye glazed over with emotion. Aidan leaned down and assisted Anne to her feet. He turned to face her. "Did you love Gregory's father?"
Anne felt ill at the words. He had intruded in her private world, her private pain. "No, I did not. I hated him."
"Where is he now?" Aidan asked gently.
"Dead." she said flatly, offering no further explanation. Aidan did not press further. He took a few steps toward her. He slowly reached and took her delicate hand in his, he knew he was taking liberties he should not be, but he was drawn to her, kindred spirits as he thought earlier, they had confessed so much to each other, things he had not told another living soul. And he surmised, Anne had not told anyone else either.
Aidan gently stroked her hand with his long elegant fingers. She did not pull away. And even though they both said they were not fragile, he knew they both were. He would never be whole; she would never have a husband, home or more children of her own. He still held her hand. "One cannot dwell on what is lost. I cannot grow back my eye nor have my face and body intact no more than you can get back your innocence or reputation in the eyes of society. I have however, become I think the best steward in Britain, just as I am sure you are the best teacher." he smiled warmly at Helen, the corner of his mouth a little crooked from his scarring.
"Only Britain Mr. Raycroft, why I consider myself the best teacher in the world!"
They both laughed. "Shall we continue on our way?" Aidan suggested.
"Yes, let's." Anne replied. All of the sudden she became very aware of Aidan, dear heaven, to have such feelings for Mr. Raycroft! She usually had better control over such feelings! He looked so handsome in his dark clothes...yes, handsome in his own way. He must have been absolutely breathtaking before his unfortunate war injuries. As they continued on their way, Aidan realized he found her company exhilarating and a bit disturbing. She had asked him some very direct questions, questions his family and friends avoided. But he had asked her personal questions in return. So she hated the father of her son, he wondered why. Did she hate him because he refused to marry her?
Yet she was here with him, she had come walking with him.
With her he felt...undamaged. Back in her room, Anne had late afternoon tea, but the delicate biscuits remained untouched on her china plate. Her mind went over the afternoon's walk and conversation with Aidan. How probing and personal it all was, what possessed her? Was her aloneness exposed this afternoon for what it was, raw loneliness for a man in her life? When he held her hand she felt such a yearning, such a deep ache. It was desire she had felt. And that disturbed her. She did not recoil from his touch, but the man was damaged. He was missing an eye, the face scarred horribly. What other disfigurements lay beneath his clothes, she wondered. She found herself wondering how he obtained those wretched wounds. Sometimes it kept her awake, weaving it's way into her dreams.
When would she see him again? Why did she want to? It was over a week later and Aidan called at the Chudley home, hoping to see Anne again. Lady Chudley went off to question the servants as to Anne's whereabouts.
He stood next to the fire crackling in the hearth. He looked up into the mirror; The huge ornate clock hid half his face in the reflection. If only he could hide his ugliness so easily. Lady Chudley returned. "Anne has gone for a walk, but she should return shortly. Come Aidan, we will amuse ourselves. If you can bear it, I learned a new piece."
Aidan smiled. "I would be honoured to hear anything you wished to play Lady Chudley." Aidan cleared his throat and changed the subject. "Miss Claymore's son is related to you, she tells me."
Lady Chudley played a few keys. "Yes, our nephew Arnold was like a son to us. He drowned at sea. It is only the last few years we learned of Gregory's existence. Anne is very proud, it took a long time to convince her of our sincerity and accept some help, we secured the teaching position for her. We have invited her and the child to join us here before, this was the first time she accepted." Anne was returning from her short walk when she stopped dead in her tracks. She could see Aidan Raycroft through the window.
It had been over a week since she had seen him. Her heart leapt with a joy she could not describe. She was very pleased to see him, and she was not sure why. The tears gathered in Anne's eyes as she watched Aidan Raycroft through the window. He was smiling warmly at Lady Chudley, the faint strains of Chopin wafted through the summer breeze. She was playing for him.
Dear heaven, he WAS beautiful. Looking at him from this angle he looked whole, undamaged, utterly glorious. He cut such a fine figure; he was such a sensitive, kind man. To be disfigured so! He truly was a man with two faces. Anne came into the front parlour just as Lady Chudley finished her piece.
Aidan turned and smiled warmly at Anne, his heart did a flip in his chest. She looked utterly stunning today in her blue and gold gown. He had missed her this past week, he admonished himself for not coming sooner, but he thought perhaps Anne was not that interested in seeing him, but he could see by the honest frank expression on her face that she was, and that pleased him. "Good afternoon Miss Claymore..." Aidan murmured. He was looking at her quite intensely, sending a shiver down her back.
"Aidan has come by for a visit, isn't that wonderful Anne?" Lady Chudley smiled. "Aidan, I insist you play for us. It has been too long since I have heard you play...or sing!" Aidan hesitated; he had not played for anyone since his injuries, but took a seat at the pianoforte. His long elegant fingers caressed the keyboard, sending such beautiful music from its ivories. He became quite engrossed. The notes filled the room with such a richness and vibrancy that Anne caught her breath in her throat. But nothing prepared Anne for the glorious voice that came from Aidan. He began to sing in a strong, sweet voice. The range! He had a multi-octave voice of incredible depth. He moved easily from each layer of the complicated piece. From bass to tenor, his voice vibrated with vitality and strength. The tears began to flow from Anne's eyes; she did not hide them. He had moved her to tears with his playing and singing. Never had she heard such perfection, she had no control over the emotions that were flooding her heart and soul. She so wanted to sob aloud, but she not dare. The piece was finished. Aidan stood, suddenly feeling self-conscious. It had been years since he sat and played and sung for anyone, What possessed him?
Anne burst into spontaneous applause.
"Mr. Raycroft, that was the most beautiful piece I have ever heard. Astounding!" Anne cried. "Aidan my dear, that was enchanting!" Lady Chudley enthused. "Your voice would make the angels weep, such range! Such clarity, such depth! You have quite moved me to tears. You must stay for afternoon tea, I will go see to it at once, you will both excuse me?"
Aidan bowed as Lady Chudley took her leave, but he was looking at Anne, the tears were still glistening in her eyes, her face was soft, her lips trembling.
He smiled slightly, Anne enjoyed his performance, he was deeply pleased. "Lady Chudley is quite correct Mr. Raycroft. I never heard such a lovely voice, and your piano playing, I wish I could play half as well." Anne demurred.
Aidan smiled warmly and took her hand. "Most kind, I daresay."
Anne drew a sharp breath at his touch, warmth traveled up her arm. She looked down shyly, was he going to kiss her hand?
He slowly, deliberately raised her slightly trembling hand to his lips. Anne gasped aloud; she could not help herself. Dear heaven! He was touching her hand! The few other times a man had taken her hand they barely brushed past her skin, some did not even make contact.
His warm, luscious lips caressed each knuckle; Aidan's heart was beating madly. It had been so long... He lingered over her hand for quite sometime, Anne did not pull it away. He even turned her hand over slowly and kissed her wrist, where her pulse was fluttering madly. She could not help but smile; she was enchanted by the romantic gesture.
But it was more than that...he was awakening feelings in her she buried forever...or so she thought. " I want you to know that you are not ugly..." Anne said suddenly. She reached up and gently stroked his scarred cheek. I know you must see some people flinch when they look at you for the first time, I ran from you. It is because people sense you have suffered something painful. It is later when people see the real you, and you do shine through your appearance."
Aidan smiled. No one had ever touched him there before.
"You are not untouchable..." Anne whispered, as if she could read his mind.
"Neither are you." he replied softly.
"I will...I will remember you after I have left here." Anne said.
"And I you." Aidan replied. Aidan's penetrating stare looked right through Anne, into her lonely, aching soul. "After tea, let us go for a walk, perhaps I can show you where I live, a tour inside and out." Aidan said huskily.
The meaning was not lost on Anne. He wanted to be alone with her, in his home...scandalous!
She should refuse, but she found she could not, nor did she want to. She simply nodded. After tea with Lady Chudley, and longingly looks over the teacups, Aidan and Anne went for their walk. He indeed did show her his tidy brick cottage. It was certainly no cottage, it was a good sized home and it was tastefully decorated and bespoke of a warmth that said something about the man himself.
They found themselves in Aidan's bedroom... After looking at each other for some moments, Aidan walked over to Anne slowly and embraced her. "Anne...oh Anne..." He whispered.
Anne smiled; he said her name! "I do not want to be lonely any longer, I do not want you to be lonely..." she whispered.
Aidan held her closer. "I cannot comfort you Anne. You can now look at me without revulsion perhaps, but what we are talking about is intimacy. I cannot inflict myself on you for that." Anne turned to face Aidan, she slowly undid his waistcoat and shirt. She had wondered what disfigurements lay beneath his clothes, now she would see. He allowed her to do so; soon he was shirtless. He stood behind Anne and whispered in her ear. "Are you sure Anne?"
"I am not a virtuous woman, I have seen men cringe from me as well, an unmarried woman with a child..." Anne's voice trembled.
"Anne, the same consequences might happen again. I would marry you of course, though I could not imagine a worse fate for you..." Anne did not reply.
Aidan led her over toward his bed. He gently removed her dress, and the two of them held each other.
"Do not belittle yourself in that way..." Anne finally said.
"You cannot pretend that you would wish to be bound to me for life." Aidan stated firmly.
Anne did not want to think of marriage, or a possible child, she only wanted to think of today...now. "I just do not want to be lonely any longer." she said again. "I do not want you to be. I want the memory of this afternoon, this whole month's visit to be complete."
Aidan could not hold back any longer, he embraced her and kissed her deeply.
"Anne...Oh Anne..." Aidan murmured softly.
She was responding to him; she was pleased. Perhaps this would not be as wretched as she thought... The air was rife with awkward tense silence. This was an ill-advised ending to their afternoon together, their acquaintance.
Loneliness was not a good enough reason for what they had done together. He did not turn his head and look at her. His friend and confidante would be replaced with a stranger, because they had been intimate when there was no intimacy between them. Anne had tensed and withdrew emotionally; it hurt Aidan.
"If you wish Anne," he said. "We will marry."
Anne thought for a moment. It was not much of a proposal. Dusk had settled over them, they both dressed. Finally Anne spoke. "I believe that some attraction and possible friendship are not enough of a reason to marry. There should be so much more than that."
Her words stung him, but he was also somewhat relieved.
"I will say no more on the subject, but Anne you must promise me that if you find yourself with child, you will allow me to marry you." Aidan urged.
"Yes Aidan. I promise."
Yes, intimacy did make the loneliness worse. Aidan already felt it like a raw pain. Close to two months passed by, Aidan fell back into his routine of steward of Bridgehorn Manor and the surrounding estates. All memories of Anne Claymore had faded to the corner of his mind. It was too painful to think about, it was painful to think of her, to conjure her lovely image in his mind, so he dismissed her. He would never see her again, of that he was sure.
Until he picked up the correspondence for the estate and he saw one addressed to him, postmarked from Blenhiemshire.
His breath caught, it had to be from Anne. He broke open the seal with his thumb and read the short note. It was devoid of any endearments or outward emotion, she stated simply that she was with child...his child. And that she was fulfilling her promise of letting him know if it occurred.
He closed the note. He must go to her at once. He could not allow his child to be born out of wedlock, nor allow Anne further shame of giving birth to another illegitimate child. Many days later, Aidan arrived at the Blenheimshire School. The Head mistress looked at him quizzically then tersely directed him where to find Anne. He followed the directions and found her in the parlour, painting.
He caught his breath; he had quite forgotten how lovely she looked. A wave of intense feelings washed over Aidan, he struggled to keep his emotions in check, and the longing from his face. Anne turned to face Aidan. "I did not think you were coming..." her voice trembled.
"Forgive me Anne, I got held up by the weather, the rain, also I went to London first before coming here." Aidan stated quietly.
"London?" She asked in confusion.
Aidan patted his greatcoat pocket. "I obtained a special license, I have connections. We can be wed as soon as tomorrow, if you still wish it."
Anne cleared her throat. "I do not wish to force you Mr. Raycroft, to do something you do not want to do..." Aidan reached out and touched her chin gently. "What happened to calling me Aidan? Of course I want it, our child will have the protection of my name, and so shall you. I will do the honorable thing, Anne. We will be wed tomorrow, I promise."
Anne smiled slightly. Secretly her heart was beating quite fast. He spoke of no deep feeling or emotions, but he spoke honestly and from his heart. She was deeply grateful. "Thank you Aidan, thank you very much. I shall be a good wife to you. And a good mother to our child, and...and Gregory is welcome?" Anne whispered in his ear.
He held her close, she felt wonderful in his arms. "Of course he is, I will even adopt him if that is what you and Gregory both want, I promise I shall be a loving, understanding father to him...and our child." It was dusk the next day, the small wedding had taken place, Gregory was left in the care of the teachers at the school while Aidan and Anne took a room at a nearby inn for their wedding night.
She was in obvious distress; worry clearly etched on her face. Aidan walked up next to her, he could not think of anything to say to comfort her. Already Aidan could feel the tension emanating from Anne, was he that horrific in appearance that she was dreading their upcoming intimacy?
Did he mistake friendly sympathy for physical closeness that afternoon of a couple of months ago? The silence between them pulsed with discomfort. Aidan walked up behind Anne and embraced her, his arms bringing her close, he leaned his head on her shoulder. She was trembling slightly. She did not cringe at his nearness, his touch; he supposed that should be something.
Anne was afraid, terribly afraid...of herself, of him. No, it was not he, not really...it was all her...she was terrified of physical intimacy. Aidan was gentle, kind, considerate their first time together, but yet she shut down her emotions while in his arms, and she knew he felt it.
All day she was partly terrified and partly excited over the prospect of the wedding night.
She wanted to be normal, have a normal marriage... She was Mrs. Aidan Raycroft. They were fond of each other, but they had not intended to marry. Yet here they were.
"Aidan..." Anne said, almost whispering. "It isn't you. Please...PLEASE believe me that it is not you, it is me."
The truth crashed in on him like waves on the shore. Of course, it was not his appearance; like the nightmares of the war and how he obtained his injuries haunted his soul, physical intimacy was her nightmare. "It is me..." she said again. "You are beautiful to me, sweet, kind, gentle."
"Anne, I understand, at last. Sometimes it is necessary to go back before one can go forward. I suppose both of us need to go back, to heal. Perhaps if we both do it together, there will be hope. We are both damaged in our own way, we can help each other."
"Aidan, I know you did not want any of this..." Anne sighed. "you were content as you were, I was not the sort of woman you would have chosen to marry..."
"Were you not?" Aidan stated. "And was I the sort of man you would have chosen to marry?"
"We were lonely, it was a lovely afternoon..." Anne said softly.
"Stop there Anne, I want to tell you something, men do not find it easy to quite put our feelings into words. At first I said nothing because I did not want you to pity me, or feel any obligation. But I do love you, I always have I think...I know I always will. I am sorry I did not say it sooner." "You always have? Right from the start?" she declared incredulously.
"I thought," he said, "That you had stepped out of the dusk and into my dreams, but then you turned and fled."
"Oh Aidan..." she cried, tears forming in her eyes. She did love him; she realized it now. Perhaps she did all along. With Aidan's help she would overcome her fears "Aidan...I love you too. I will never run from you again. Ever." Anne whispered.
Aidan pulled her into a passionate kiss. Slowly, Anne lifted her arms around his shoulders and returned the kiss.
Aidan smiled. He felt whole, in Anne's arms, his scars disappeared, with her he was not a man with two faces...
~The Two Faces of Aidan~
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