“Dear Amelia, you cannot possibly marry that man!” Jane exclaimed that same evening as the two ladies sat in Jane’s chamber.
Amelia was combing her sister’s long, silky hair, gently pulling the brush through the entire length of it from the top of Jane’s head all the way down her back. It had become a habit that both of them enjoyed immensely. When they were little girls, they both loved it when their mother combed their hair before bedtime. This was when they shared the impressions of the day, their most secretive hopes and dreams. Then, when their mother sadly departed, Amelia knew that they had to prolong this wonderful tradition, even if it meant that she would change her role in it.
Amelia smiled at her sister’s reflection in the vanity mirror. She could read her sister’s face perfectly. There was worry etched in those beautiful eyes and along the usually invisible lines on her forehead which were now prominent because of her brows furrowing. It was not the way Jane usually looked, and Amelia would have done anything in her power to disperse all those concerns.
“This is nothing you need to worry your little head about,” Amelia smiled as she was doing the final brush strokes then she placed the brush on the vanity table that once belonged to their mother.
“Of course, I worry,” Jane corrected her, turning around with a few loose strands of hair falling over her face. She looked so much like their mother, and with each passing year, Jane looked even more like her. Amelia, on the other hand, was like their father. She had his high forehead, his determination, and his sheer stubbornness. Sometimes, she wasn’t certain if those traits were a gift or a curse.
“I shall take care of all this,” Amelia spoke softly and confidently because she was telling her sister the truth. “I have a plan.”
“A plan?” Jane was curious.
“Well… sort of a plan,” Amelia admitted as she dropped her hands into her lap. “In arranged marriages, people expect to fall in love, don’t they?”
Amelia waited for her sister to reply, but all Jane could do was shrug. She had no idea what was expected of a lady in an arranged marriage. To be quite honest, neither did Amelia. All she was doing now was guessing from what she had heard and what she had read in romance novels although those could hardly be considered a good starting point.
“In any case, let’s assume that this is the rule,” Amelia continued with her theory.
“You expect to fall in love with that man!?” Jane gasped at the idea, and instantly, Amelia’s eyes widened in shock.
“Goodness me! I most certainly do not expect any such thing to happen!” Amelia was quite clear on that, even a little too loud, but fortunately, their chambers were situated in the west wing while their father remained in the south wing. That meant that they were separated by endless rows of walls and corridors, and even if Amelia were to shout as loudly as she could, it was doubtful that he would hear her.
Then suddenly, she considered what it would be like to actually fall in love. Not with the Duke, but with anyone, any man. Amelia had never felt the pang of love, that flutter of a butterfly’s wings deep inside her stomach as it struggled to get out. There were certain gentlemen she did find pleasing to the eye, but none of them aroused much interest. They all seemed devoid of much depth, focusing solely on the superficial.
In a way, Amelia had already accepted her fate of a spinster. The fact that she was now to become a married woman was unthinkable. It was still something she was struggling to accept as her reality, even as she spoke to Jane this evening.
Falling in love was a malady. It was something to be avoided at all costs… for her. In Jane’s case, it was a must. Jane had to marry the man she loved, the man who loved her back even more than she loved him. That was a promise that Amelia had made to herself. She would sacrifice her own happiness for her sister’s in a blink of an eye. If one of them had to remain a spinster for the rest of her life, that didn’t necessarily mean that the other sister would be doomed to the same fate. Now, it seemed that nothing was to happen as Amelia thought it would. She felt as if someone had pulled the rug right from underneath her feet, then pushed her into a bottomless pit. Now, she was falling and falling without the slightest idea of where she might land.
“All I am saying,” Amelia finally continued, once she managed to calm herself down, “is that I have no fear that I shall fall in love with the Duke, nor is he in danger of having that same thing happen to him. There shall never be any emotions between us, I am absolutely certain of that. That is why –”
“But… how can you be certain of that?” Jane interrupted her inquisitively, tilting her head as if in an effort to take a closer, more introspective look at her sister and find out a most profound truth about human relationships.
“Well…” For a moment, Amelia was caught off guard. Her sister’s question was deep. It required a deep answer as well. Only, Amelia did not have any. “The man seems to have a block of ice for a heart. I could never fall in love with someone who is so detached and distanced.”
“So, you didn’t really talk while you took that short walk together?” Jane continued.
“We did,” Amelia revealed, “but it didn’t expose much about him other than the fact which we already knew, and that is the real reason of his purchase of the winery.”
“He is afraid that we might bring it back to its old glory and drive him out of business?” Jane pointed out.
“Exactly,” Amelia nodded. “He thinks that we are too silly to see through his actions, but we know all. We see all. I want to make this absolutely clear to him when I go see him tomorrow.”
“You will go and see him tomorrow?” Jane gasped once more, her blue eyes wide with disbelief.
“Yes,” Amelia sounded more calm than she thought she would be. It pleased her. That meant that she had everything under control. “I shall need your help with that.”
“We shall tell father that we are going for a stroll to Hyde Park,” Amelia explained, “while, in fact, we shall pay the Duke a visit. You shall remain in the carriage while I have a very quick word with him in private.”
“But Amelia, that is inappropriate!”
“I know,” Amelia nodded, “but it is the only way in which I can assure that he knows that I will not succumb to his orders and demands. If we are to become a man and wife, then he needs to know that there are certain rules which we shall both need to follow.”
“Rules like what?” Jane wondered.
“Well,” Amelia sighed. “First of all, we shall have separated chambers without any physical contact of… you know which kind.”
Immediately upon hearing that, her sister blushed fervently. Even Amelia caught herself feeling slightly flustered as it was not the usual topic of their conversation. Suddenly, she remembered how he held her hand. His proximity did nothing to her. He was a handsome man, she could not deny him that, but the air of utter impertinence that he oozed destroyed the little charm that he could have possessed otherwise. Indeed, she could not possibly imagine herself falling for this man ever, despite his good looks which were only slightly marred by his scars. There were reddish protrusions to the side of his neck which she imagined went down into the insides of his shirt, hidden from plain sight. His left hand also bore marks of scorched skin, now fully healed but never able to revert back to its pristine condition.
Amelia wondered how it was to live with such scars that were out there in the open for all the world to see. Fortunately, she did not know. She tried not to think about it. After all, it was not like she would ever be seeing him without his clothes on nor would he ever see her. There was not a single doubt in her mind about that.
“Do you think he would agree to that?” Jane asked cautiously.
“I do not care one bit whether he will want to agree with it or not.” Amelia was adamant at arranging this situation to make it as painless for herself as possible. If that meant that she needed to show her teeth right from the onset, so be it. “If he refuses to comply with these few, minor conditions that I have, then I shall refuse his hand in marriage.”
“But… what about Father?” Jane kept asking one question after the other as Amelia revealed her plan which she was becoming less and less certain of. But it was the only direction in which she could keep moving. The alternative meant that she would remain in one place under the thumb of yet another man, just like she had been under the thumb of her father all her life.
“Father cannot force me to marry anyone,” Amelia stated.
Of course, that was only partly true. As the daughter of an earl, the firstborn at that, Amelia knew what her duties might be. By marrying into money to save her own family from ruin, she was executing the duty of a daughter. However, she could also refuse to comply. That, in itself, brought forth numerous complications and repercussions which Amelia dreaded to even think about. One of them might simply be that their father would force Jane to marry the Duke, and Jane, being the good, kind soul that she was, would comply. Her life would be ruined. Amelia could never allow that.
“Also, I am certain that the Duke will see reason,” Amelia finally concluded, more in an effort to convince herself than her sister.
“Oh, Amelia,” Jane suddenly wrapped her arms around her sister, laying her head on Amelia’s shoulder. Amelia in turn, embraced Jane’s delicate little body, and they remained like that for a small eternity, just embracing each other, allowing the love to flow from one of them to the other and back.
When they finally released each other, Amelia could see that Jane was crying. She wiped her sister’s cheek with her thumb.
“I told you, sweet Jane,” Amelia smiled although it was the most difficult smile she ever had to force out of herself. “There is nothing to worry about. The Duke seems like a reasonable man. Cold people usually are. Finding common ground, some rules which shall benefit us both, shall be easy. I am absolutely certain of it.”
“You are?” Jane’s voice trembled. She desperately wanted to be reassured.
“Of course,” Amelia nodded. There was not a single thread of doubt in her voice. “Now, go to bed. It is quite late. And tomorrow, we have a big mission ahead of us.”
“You don’t want me to accompany you to see the Duke?” Jane offered.
“I do not plan on remaining there for too long,” Amelia assured her. “Then, afterwards, we can go to Hyde Park, just so that our conscience is partially clear.” She smiled at her sister, watching Jane get into bed then proceeding to tuck her in.
“Good night, Janie,” Amelia kissed her sister’s forehead then headed towards the door.
“Amelia?” Jane’s voice rang in the silence of the darkened room.
“Yes?” Amelia turned around just as her hand rested on the doorknob.
“I love you,” Jane whispered as she always did when she was overwhelmed by emotion and unable to voice herself properly. Amelia knew that Jane was on the verge of tears again but was doing her best to keep them suppressed.
“I love you, too,” Amelia replied tenderly. “Now, sleep. Tomorrow is a new day, and it will bring wonderful, new opportunities for us both.”
With those words, she closed the door behind her and walked down the corridor towards her chamber. It was strange to think it would only be her chamber for only a few days longer. Then, she would call another place her home. The thought felt foreign. It felt frightening.
She hid herself underneath the blankets, but that did little to alleviate her fears, her worries. She closed her eyes. Sleep would not come.