One Summer of Surrender(2)

By: Jess Michaels


He placed both hands on the stone edge of the terrace and pushed up, pulling himself onto his hands and knees on the ledge. He rose to his full height as he widened his legs to stay steady.

He could jump. He could jump from here and there would be no more pain. No more empty future. No more anything at all.

“Stenfax!”

Lucien looked over his shoulder to see Gray, Folly and Folly’s new wife, Marina, standing at the terrace door. All three had horrified looks on their faces, but none more than Gray. Lucien’s younger brother had his hands lifted, pleading as he edged toward him.

“What are you doing, Lucien?” Gray asked.

Lucien shrugged as he looked once more at the ground so far below. “I don’t know yet,” he muttered, hearing the slur in his voice. He was so damned drunk. Would he do this sober?

“Please don’t do this,” Gray said, his voice catching. “Come down.”

Stenfax hesitated. “She left me in a letter. We’ve known each other since I was thirteen and she left me in a letter.”

Gray stepped even closer. “I know. I cannot begin to imagine what she’s thinking. It was an unforgivably cruel act by a woman who is clearly not what we thought all these years. But she does not deserve the satisfaction of you doing this, Lucien. Nor does our family deserve the devastation that would be caused if you jumped from that ledge.”

Stenfax looked over his shoulder at his brother. Gray was shaking all over and his face was so pale it looked like there was no blood left in it.

“How can I go on without her?”

“Please come down,” Gray whispered. “We’ll talk about it.”

Stenfax shifted again, sliding the toe of his boot along the edge of the rock wall. And for the next hour they went on like that, Gray pleading, Folly pleading, Marina pleading and Stenfax uncertain, unsure.

But as the time passed, so did the alcohol fade from his system. The pain increased as the liquor dissipated and yet he still didn’t jump.

“Perhaps I’m not man enough to do it,” he said at last.

“You’re man enough not to,” Gray insisted. “Because you know what it would do to our mother, to our sister. To me. Look at me, Lucien.”

Lucien did so, mostly because his brother’s voice got so sharp and so shrill at his order. Gray’s eyes were welled with tears and he lifted a shaking hand.

“Please don’t do this to me,” Gray whispered. “Don’t leave me.”

Stenfax bent his head. The idea of living without Elise cut him to the core of his being. But Gray’s plea hit home. Slowly he reached out his hand and let Gray help him down from the ledge. As soon as he was down, Gray cocked his hand back and punched Lucien square in the face. The physical pain of the punch ripped through him, and for a blissful moment it replaced the other pain.

Folly and Marina both gasped and leapt toward them, but Stenfax grabbed his brother and hugged him. Gray sobbed into his shoulder, holding on to him so tightly that Stenfax knew he would have bruises on his arms tomorrow, as well as a black eye.

But it didn’t matter. None of it mattered anymore.

“Come inside,” Folly said, motioning to the billiard room. “Come inside and we can talk about this rationally.”

Gray released him at last and allowed him to shake Folly’s hand and accept a quick hug from Marina.

“I’ll go inside. I’ll do whatever you’d like me to do, after what I just put you through. But let me make one thing clear: I will never discuss that woman again,” he said, lifting his chin and hardening his tone and his heart.

Marina’s lips parted. “Dearest, do you think that’s best? This is devastating to you and we’re here to help you.”

He shook his head. “If you want to help me, then do as I just said. We will never talk of this night or that woman ever again. And in return I swear I will never do something so rash again.”

He didn’t wait for the response, but walked back into the billiard room. They followed, their concern as obvious as their heavy stares on his back.

But Lucien didn’t care. He had nearly died for surrendering to his emotions. And he knew now that the only way to never let that happen again would be to never let his emotions rule. Not when it came to Elise.

Not when it came to anything.





Chapter One





Summer 1811

“I’m going home,” Stenfax said, not looking at his sister Felicity, nor at Gray and his wife Rosalinde, but continuing to stare into the spinning, laughing, all-too-loud crowd.

Felicity turned to him, her bright eyes filled with worry. God, everyone always looked at him with worry these days. It was exhausting. “Oh, please don’t go, Lucien,” she said, grabbing his hand with both of hers. “We haven’t danced an allemande yet.”

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