I looked at my sister’s in turn,they were reeling from my revalation.
‘Now it’s turn to say something?’
‘Receiving your letters? We were always given the impression that you were happy?’
‘I was happy…’ I sighed. ‘I’ve only stayed for the sake of Esme and Ava.They’re happy here.’
‘Ava and Esme are young,they will adapt to a new environment.As of William.’
‘Something’s not right?’ suggested Marianna.
‘How do you mean Mari?’
‘Well last time we saw you,you were finally at peace with the world.No longer Gisele who was full of regrets and hate.The one who was longing to be in the arms of a handsome stranger.Is that what it is? Is there another?’
I blushed a little,I took a deep breath I could no longer keep my love for Lord Henry a secret any longer.
‘I’m sorry.’ I whispered.
‘When will you ever learn?’
‘I know! I can do without a lecture from you thank you very much.’
‘Was it love or pure lust?’
‘At first it was lust,I’ve learnt it the hard way.I’ve faced my demons…I have fallen in the past.But this time I fell really hard it took a while to pick up the pieces.’
‘Don’t tell me,it’s a sleazy aristocrat?’
‘No!’ I protested.
‘It is isn’t it? You fell for him at the french court? You just couldn’t resist his charm?’
‘Oh please,give me some credit…I wouldn’t let a stranger steal my heart away.’
‘Aren’t you forgetting a certain Sir Holmes?’
‘Declan was different,he was a friend of Carls,this situation is far more complicated.’
‘Your situation with Declan was complicated…You deceived us Gisele,you swore blind after losing Lord Rickman first time round you vowed you would never fail us again.’
‘I know,but I’m only human.’
‘Please stop with your pathetic puppy dog eyes young Lady,they don’t work on us.’
‘Now you’re beginning to sound like Lucille?’ said Letitia.
‘So tell us Gisele who is your secret beau?’ asked Holly.
‘Oh girls,I’ve certainly gone and got my fingers well and truly burnt this time.My secret beau is Lord Benjamin Henry.’
‘Louisa’s Benjamin? The one she’s planning to marry?’ shouted Holly.
‘Not so loud Holly,these gardens have ears.’
‘A couple of months.’
‘Who made the first move?’asked Holly.
‘Oh honestly Holly,must you have every minut detail about my life,Lord Henry.’
‘He will be the ruin of you if this ever gets out.’
‘Benjamin has been pursuing me for months,you’ve got to believe me.’
‘Oh don’t come over all sweet and innocent with us Gisele,you’re not all butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth like you make out to be.Surely you had a part to play in this?
‘You’re making out as if I used my charm as an act of seduction?’
‘And didn’t you?’
‘No of course not,I resisted Lord Benjamin’s charm at first.On my part,it started off as perfectly innocent.Humouring him at first for making the effort.Just the odd glance,none of the fluttering of the eyelashes like you’re you’re suggesting? I left it at first.He was a good looking gentleman and he chose to take the time to pay me attention,words I craved to hear.Attention my husband aught to be giving me.I thought it was sweet that a gentleman like him would look twice at a girl like me.’
‘You’re beautiful Gisele why would you think that?’ asked Evangaline.
‘My looks aren’t what they used to be and I thought they mustn’t have faded like I feared.’
‘You’re looks will never ever fade,has Oliver gave you reason to think that?’
‘ Not in so many words,don’t you dare say have I no shame? Because yes I have! I look in the mirror every single day and I despise myself for getting mixed up in that business.’
‘And we never thought of how Louisa would feel if it all came out?’
‘We all have a cross to bare.’
‘You’re not some saint Gisele?’
‘Face it,Louisa and Benjamin are not the perfect fit.’
‘How could you possibly know that?’
Benjamin,he has been very open about Louisa from day one.Louisa has to face up to reality.Life doesn’t end with a fairy tale ending,Lord Benjamin isn’t the prince charming that she’s waiting for.We all get hurt by love sometimes.I didn’t care about the consequences.I wanted Benjamin mind,body and soul.This was my sordit little secret and I was going to enjoy the moment.I was planning on running away with him.’
‘Did you love him?’
‘You know I can’t answer that?’
‘I thought I did.’
‘It’s a simple enough question.Did you love Lord Benjamin or not? You must have cared for him if you were planning on leaving your husband?’
Yes Mari! I did love Ben,very much! Are you satisfied with the answers I have given you or are you prepared to interrogate me in this fashion all day! Because quite frankly I haven’t got the time of day for these fun and games.I would love to stay and chat but I have a crushing corset to squeeze into for dinner…’
‘Oh you must still feel deeply for him if you are still referring to him on first name terms? This explains everything.Your irrational mood swings with your husband?’
‘If you leave me be.In time I will learn to get him out of my system!’
‘Leaving you be,got you into this situation in the first place.When will you you ever learn my child?’
‘Is William even….?’asked Marianna.
‘Of course William’s Oliver’s! There’s no denying that.The business with Lord Henry is over.Finito! I’ve woken up to my senses!’
‘So he used you,abused you and threw you over for your sister-in-law?’ scoffed Holly.
‘You know nothing Holly! It was a mutual agreement.I kissed him goodbye.He’s living his life and I shall live out mine.None of this must ever come out.It will destroy us for good,Oliver will leave Esme Ava and I with nothing.Oliver has his heir,that’s all he’s ever wanted.I shall die if Esme and Ava was left penniless because of my foolishness.Please I’m desperate,I beg of you on bended knee.Do not judge your sister who who has once again fallen from grace.I just felt trapped inside my marriage.’
‘Oh please cue the violins! We’ve heard this story before?’
‘Enough Holly!’ yelled Marianna.
‘Benjamin offered me a way out.He made me feel wanted,and so alive.I have never felt passion like I experienced with him.’
‘But he’s not yours! He never will be! When did this start?’
‘Must you have all of the details Letitia? Next you’ll be asking where we made love? There’s somethings sister’s mustn’t be aware of.’ I begged.
‘You should be thankful that it’s not your husband asking these questions and if we are to understand your current act of recklessness? Then yes sadly we do.’
‘The night of Lady Chadwick’s,after my little outburst.Benjamin.’ I cleared my throat.’Lord Henry was ever so kind to me.I felt all weak at the knees.’
‘Gentleman like him shouldn’t have that kind of effect on you?’ said Marianna.
‘Oh but if you knew him like I did? At first it was just a brief encounter,I kissed him.I soon realised the error of my ways and told Oliver immediately.As I felt that we were strong and serets destroyed our marriage last time.He admired my courage and forgave me.On my part I remained strong,we rubbed shoulders at parties,exchanging brief glances and that was that.I simply said I wasn’t interested.But it soon spiralled out of control,the damage was done it went from stolen kiss in the corridorto making love in the stables.’ I blushed a little.
‘Gisele Delessop I never knew you had it in you?’ said Evangaline.
‘Please don’t humour me Evangaline,Oliver doesn’t know the extent of my illicit love affair and it shall remain that way.’
‘If you remained in London,this wouldn’t have happend?’
‘Oh Mari,Mari,it could have happend any where.I just couldn’t find the will power or strength within me to keep away.The past is past,William is my future.A brand new life for the Rickman Dynasty.He’s my salvation,my second chance in life.Louisa has asked me to be her Matron of Honour.’
‘You’ll look so beautiful in your gown.’ gushed Evangaline. ‘Has she decided what colour dress you are wearing? What is her wedding gown like? Tell me those horrid friends of hers aren’t going to be bridesmaids alongside you?’ asked Holly.
‘I’m sorry Marianna.’
‘Am I the only one that thinks this whole situation is wrong?’
‘I’ve said yes,and that answer is final.I shall not go back on my word.’
‘How can you possibly stand there at the alter knowing what you know?’
‘That’s the sacrifice I’m prepared to make Letty.’
‘And there’s Benjamin…you’ll be visiting his place,sitting at his dinner table,making plans with Louisa.Living in each other’s pocket’s,getting under one another’s skin for months.Not to mention the Engagement Gala.He’ll be gazing at you across the crowded room,looking so lost and distant.Wanting you.’
‘I shall never want him again.’
‘And before you know it,you will be back to square one?’
‘I shall bite my lip,and resist the temptation that whispers in my ear.That’s how it’s always been.That’s the risk I’m prepared to take Letitia.’
‘You’ll give into him,you’ll be back in your arms before you know it? Making love to him in your maritial bed!’
‘I have tried to remain calm! Giving you the time of day to say you’re piece But how you come into my house and make assumptions.Not once did I take Benjamin to my bed! I may be selfish,but certainly not heartless!’
‘I’m so sorry for doubting you.’
‘It’s too late,there’s no going back from this.’
I tried to turn my back on Letitia.’Gisele?’
I turned back round,she placed her hand in mine. ‘I hate for us to drift apart over this matter,it shall break my heart if we do.’
‘Let’s not fight.’ I sobbed.
‘You will get past this,I know you will.’
I embraced all of my sister’s together,she is right how can I remain strong? Standing at the alter,looking on as they make their vows and eternal promises to one another.Knowing what I know,how it kills me so.I’m scared to admit it,but I still love Benjamin so.
‘Have you heard of that awful business about Duke Matthew? Found in the woods,choking on his own vomit? Some say he was so consumed by his love and guilt for Gisele that he attempted to hang himself from a tree? That’s more like Matthew than drinking himself to oblivion and hitting his head?’
‘That is crazy talk,Matthew was never in love with me then,how absurd…He was a monster who’s only true love was the one looking straight back at him,his one true reflection.’
‘Holly Delessop?You have such a way with words?’ scolds Letitia.
‘Sorry Letitia.’ says Holly looking down.
‘Quite right secrets almost ripped this family and my marriage apart.’
‘And so you should be…There’s been so many conspiracy surrounding his death.’
‘No.I haven’t heard.’ I replied trying to look shocked,I didn’t want my sister’s to be aware of my full involvement. ‘I’m speechless,what a frightful thing to happen?’
‘Maybe Carl decided enough was enough and killed his brother in revenge for the love of Gisele?’ exclaimed Holly.
‘Carl hasn’t got the killers instinct and please Holly do not repeat that in front of Oliver.’
‘Carl may have been crazy in love with our sister.But to kill his own brother? How absurd! You have been reading far too many murder mysteries.’
‘You may mock me but sometimes I’m right.’
Marianna saw the colour drain from my cheeks. ‘Good riddance I say,he made your life hell.I suspect you’re secretly relieved Gis?’
‘Matthew was a pussy cat compared to Jack.’
‘I’m surprised Carl never mentioned it?’ asked Letitia.
‘Carl was terrified of Matthew,but he could never kill another.He never once admitted it.But I could see it in his eyes.The look of horror and pain,he made Carl suffer.I came off lightly…That chapters finally closed for him….He has grown in confidence that I know and love about him,and thanks to finding Rose he can finally get on with living not looking over his shoulder in constant fear.’
‘How can you say you got off lightly? He sent your husband to his death,that’s the only reason you got involved with Jack and not forgetting he raped you?’
‘There isn’t a day that goes by,whenever I close my eyes I still picture his angry eyes flashing before me…his breath on my body,leering over me,ripping my beautiful gown off my body.I try to scream but he covers my mouth,to mask my scream.He grabs hold of my wrists,I still carry the scars…It may be still be up here,but it’s over despite everything I’ve found it in my heart to forgive him.’
Anna entered the garden just in time,it was painful to revisit that dark moment in time.An intimate moment should be shared with the one that you truly love,not be taking away by some vile creature.Some times I find it difficult with Oliver because of this,and whenever we do get close all I see is Benjamin’s face.When can I be rid of him?
‘Yes Anna?’ I smiled sweetly.
‘Lady Rickman,just to inform you that dinner is to be served in the grand hall.’
‘Thank you Anna,is that all?’
‘That is all my Lady.’
Oliver stopped me in my tracks as I entered the grand hall.
‘Now’s not the time Oliver?’
He grabbed hold of my hand.
‘When will it ever be the time with you?’
‘Let go of me.’
‘You are my wife.’
‘I may be your wife and lady of this house but this doesn’t give you the right to man handle me in this fashion.Jack may have got away with it but you….’
‘Will you for once let me speak.’
‘Who are you to command what I will and will not do!’
‘God damn it woman! You can be impossible to live with sometimes!’
‘As as you,you said some hurtful things earlier?’
‘And so did you….’
‘I was merely defending Anna’s honour and you turned on me saying you no longer trusted me.’
‘I’m so sorry Gisele,it was unforgivable of me.’
‘A husband should never say that to her wife?’
‘I was driven wild with jealousy,Carl,Declan and Benjamin.’
‘You must know that was a mistake,I can’t believe I went near him…’
‘I can only keep apologising my behaviour.I have a small token to say how sorry I am.’
‘Youre tokens are worthless my lord,you need to do more grovelling to win this Lady over? You should know by now,that you can’t put a price on true love?’
‘Just open it please.’
I opened the box.
‘Oh my goodness are they real diamond?’
‘Only the best for my sweet pea.’
‘They are beautiful.’
‘Would you like me to put them in for you?’
Oliver gently placed them in my ears.
‘Still doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven you,maybe say if you stretch to a pearl necklace then I might think about it.’
‘I wouldn’t have it any other way Lady Rickman, that’s what I love about you,the fighting keeps the passion in our marriage alive.’
He kissed me,and walked away.I couldn’t bare to be touched by him,I rubbed my mouth in disgust,how I long to erase every trace of him off my body.
We were once again gathered in the grand hall,it’s only on rare occasions when we use this room.It’s so nice not to be just in a room with Oliver trying to make polite conversation with him. However there was one unwanted guest,Anna failed to mention and I didn’t wish to see.
‘Forgive me Lord Benjamin,if Louisa cared to mention that you were stopping by? I would have asked cook to…’
‘It’s not a problem my Lady,I called by on the off chance.Louisa insisted that I stayed for dinner.’ smiled Lord Benjamin.
‘Forgive my sister,she can twist you round her little finger,what Lady Louisa wants to damn well gets.’
‘You know that isn’t true,it was a lovely surprise Benjamin truly.’ gushed Louisa.
Louisa kissed Lord Benjamin,I looked down.
‘Those are beautiful earrings Lady Rickman.’ Lord Benjamin tried to catch my gaze.
‘Thank you Lord Henry,they are a gift from my husband.’
‘Louisa didn’t say it was your birthday?’
‘No,not my birthday Lord Henry.Just a token to symbolise his love for me.’
‘And to apologise for my recent behaviour…’
‘Let’s not discuss this in front of my family and friends…it’s all forgotten about.’ I lied.
‘Quite right sweet pea.’
‘I am so happy,that I could burst.It’s so overwhelming to be surrounded by my family and friends.I wish Mama was here,I fill up with so much love and emotion.It’s taken ever so long to get us all here sitting at the table,feasting on the finest cuisine and drinking the finest champagne!’
‘My beautiful daughters Ava and Esme,sitting alongside their dear Mama.If only Gran’Mama could see you now? You will want for nothing,my dear girls and I’m sorry to break it to you.But father said you are not to marry until you’re at least thirty.And beautiful William asleep in the nursery.I would like to raise a glass to Ava,Esme and William.The future Rickman Dynasty.’
‘Ava,Esme and William!’
A little while later,I was once again alone.I needed a chance to reflect,ever since William was born,I’ve never had a moment to breathe.I glanced at the Grand clock at the top of the stairs once more and sighed a deep sigh.You’ve did it Gisele,against all odds you’ve managed to get through a dinner without an encounter with Lord Benjamin.I shall not count the attempt that he made to rub his leg up against mine under the table.Maybe I can finally say yes I am over Lord Henry.But would I ever find the courage within me to say those three little words to him face to face,one look and I melt.He has such beautiful eyes,they certainly broke the mould when they made him.I felt someone touch touch my waist,I turned around.
‘What do you want?’
‘I don’t care anymore.’
‘I do,someone might see us.’
‘Lady Gisele,I came to congratulate you on that spectacular display you performed at the dinner table? You’d make a fine actress? If it was part of your twisted scheme to make me jealous? Then it certainly worked.’
‘I saw the way you looked when he called you sweet pea,how it made you squirm?’
‘I don’t make you squirm do I?’
‘I miss you.’ Benjamin touched my face. ‘Must you wear your hair that way?’ You know that drives me wild?’
‘You can’t get into my head anymore.’
‘Dont put barriers between us Gisele? I saw the way you were biting your lip was that for my benefit? How I want to hear you screaming my name again.’
‘I want to hold you but my senses are telling me to stop.’
‘You must know that I still love you?’
‘I’ve heard those words so many times? Yawn Yawn,Benjamin you are beginning to sound dull and tiresome.’
‘What do you want me to do get down upon my knees and beg? If that’s what it takes to get you back I will.’
‘Before you start filling my head like you used to.Full of promises you simply can not keep because of Louisa.They know,my sisters know about us.’
‘They sensed that all was not well between Oliver and I.Mari sensed the icy atmosphere was to do with another and she was so right.’
‘You could of denied it?’
‘How could I Ben? I was dying over you.’
‘Oh my poor love.’
Benjamin pulled me closer to him,I could feel his breathe on my body once more.My heart went a flutter at his slightest touch,his fingers ran down my spine. ‘And that dress your wearing Lady Gisele,is a tad tight in all the wrong places.Do I detect your corset ribbons need loosening?’ He kissed my neck.
‘What about Louisa?’
‘You know I don’t care a jot about Louisa? You’ve gone and killed the moment now.’
‘She’s just a stupid girl,she’s nothing compared to you….I’m prepared to risk everything for you! God damn it!’
‘Please don’t yell at me.’
‘I’m sorry it’s the effect you’re having on me,I fall about without you,I’ll go dancing alone if I have to.My heart beats only for you.’
‘Oliver is waiting fcr.As is Louisa for you.’
I kissed Lord Henry upon his cheek,then left his side.I saw a figure in the shadows,my heart stopped dead.
‘It was Sophia.’
‘How long has she been standing there for?!’ demanded Lord Henry.
‘How the hell should I know?!’ I yelled.
‘Go after Gisele,get your version of events across.Find your voice,plead your case if you have to.Louisa mustn’t find out.’
‘You’re such a coward,you said you didn’t care if they caught us together!’
‘If Oliver finds out,he will throw you out for sure,and heaven help us when he finally gets his hands on me.Start fearing for your life,Gisele.Run!’
I tried to keep up with Sophia,oh why did Marianna insist on tieing my corset ribbons so tight? Maybe I should have taken Benjamin up on his advice in loosening my ribbons? But no I’m worth more than a quick fumble.I almost stumbled over the bottom of my gown as it caught on the stairs,oh I wish these gowns weren’t the height of fashion.It would make my life so much easier.I eventually caught up to her as she reached the guest bedroom.
‘Please don’t shut me out.’ I stuck my leg in the way of the door. ‘Give me a chance to explain?’
‘Wriggle your way out of a tricky situation? You’re awfully good at that?’
‘It’s not what it looks like?’
‘Oh really? So kissing Lord Henry on the cheek…’
‘It was just a friendly kiss,no shame in that?’
‘Gisele I’m sorry to say this,but I seriously think you have an illness?’
‘You can’t see what you’re doing is wrong? Ever since I’ve known you you’ve been Gisele the nymph.I can see you clearly still care for Lord Henry?’
‘He’s just a friend that I lean on in my time of need.’
‘Oh come off it Gis,I wasn’t born yesterday? It was obvious I interrupted a moment?’
‘Promise me you’ll give him up?’
‘How can I? He’s toxic to the point that I almost find him impossible to get out of my mind….There isn’t a single waking moment where he isn’t on my mind.I crave for him to be near me,that’s how I felt when I first saw Oliver.I’ve even considered moving back to London.’
‘Is that the answer? Will you be truly happy?’
‘I don’t think I shall be happy again…I love Benjamin so much to the point that my heart is breaking.But on the other hand I love my children so much more,I shall find it in my power to give him up.’
I decided that I would pay Mama a visit in London,I insisted that Oliver should remain at home and take care of Esme and Ava.I know I feel awful as Mama is longing to see the girls,but as they grow older they are becoming more highly strung and I doubt Mama has the strength.It was a long journey,rather tough travelling solo as William wasn’t settling.I know I shouldn’t say this but I’m finding it extremely difficult to bond with my son.I connected instantly to Esme and Ava.He acts so differently around his father,more content.Maybe deep down he resents me for almost leaving his father.I stepped out of the carriage,and looked at the house,cradling him in my arms. ‘William my darling,this is your Mama’s childhood home before I married your Papa.Oh so many happy memories here.How I miss it so?’
I walked towards the door,and rang the door bell.A maid servant answered the door.’ Can I help you?’
‘I’m here to see Lady Antoinette,tell her Lady Gisele Rickman wishes her to see her.’
‘Ah Lady,and this must be the Master William? Do come in,her Ladyship is in the library.’
‘Don’t bother her,I know my way.’
I made my way to the library,everything looked exactly the same.It was a though I was being transported back to my childhood,I closed my eyes.
‘one-two-three! Ready or not here I come!’
‘Letty! Where are you?!’ I squealed.
I was faced with my five year old self.I was wearing a satin blue dress,my hair was in tight curls,I was playing hide and seek with Letitia and Marianna.I was not very good at this game,Letitia and Marianna knew this house at the back of their hand.I always chose the wardrobe to hide in or under the table.I was always the first one to be found.
I opened my eyes again,I walked on,laughter filled the corridors.I past the West Wing,aw so many memories of that room.This used to be our nursery where we would be brought up by our Nanny Laura.Mama didn’t play a big part in our up bringing.Maybe if I was loved and nurtered as a child then maybe I wouldn’t crave and long for love like I do now.As we all grew up the rocking horse and toys were replaced and was converted into a room for papa,it was almost forbidden to enter this room,like Papa was hiding something.But I didn’t care I broke down all of the boundaries even then.
Carl and I used to go here for some alone time,I blushed a little at the thought of this.
I turned right to the drawing room.So many painful memories here.If only I could turn back time.If only I hadn’t turned down Carl’s proposal.So many regrets,I couldn’t resist walking back into the ball room,music filled the room.
‘This is where your father first fell in love with your Mama William.How things have changed now.’
I was twenty one again,so full of life.Not a care in the world.I still had the twinkle in my eye,that old sparkle has gone and all I have in it’s place is shadows under my tear stained eyes.I was greeted by a beautiful spritely Lydia,she was so beautiful.I tried to reach out to touch her.
‘Lydia….This is your Auntie,the Lady Lydia.Oh she would have loved you so much.’
I took a few steps towards the ball room floor,closed my eyes once more.Carl and I were in hold.But somehow it had a twist.I was wanting him,needing him,strange feelings.Sent shivers down my spine.We were alone in a darkened corner,hiding from Mama and Papa I suspect.He had pushed me against the wall,I wanted him badly,my hands in his hair,him kissing every breadth of my body.But he wasn’t tender,he was wild and very passionate.I bit my lip.I quickly opened my eyes.
‘That was different? I’ve never desired Carl in that kind of way.I eventually reached the Library.I knocked on the door.
Lady Antoinette had her back towards me,the fire was roaring in the background.
‘What is it?’ She demanded. ‘I said I shall not be disturbed!’
‘I…It’s your daughter Gisele.I’m home.’