It was the coldest of February days when Stewart, his wife, and Elizabeth gathered in the courtyard as the horses were brought out for Gerald and me. Brittle winter air shattered our frail words of farewell. Reluctantly, I handed my Marjorie back and she clung to Egidia’s skirts. Tears glistened on her pink cheeks. Coll padded across the slick cobbles, leaned against her leg and nuzzled her fingers.
I took Elizabeth’s face in my hands and kissed her sweet and long upon the lips. My mouth trembled not from cold, but from the wave of pain pulsing with every beat of my heart. For weeks, I had denied this moment would ever arrive. Now that it had, it was as though some emptiness threatened to devour me whole. Fool that I was, I thought I would be able to endure this parting bravely, like some eager young soldier venturing off to war. Instead, I felt . . . desperate. Or determined. I didn’t know which.
Once, ambition had consumed me. But for all that I wanted to pursue what my grandfather had begun, it seemed meaningless without Elizabeth. What I thought I had always wanted—it had changed.
“Say you’ll be my wife, Elizabeth. Say that you will and I’ll fly back the moment I can and take you in my arms and never let go.”
She looked down, as if she sought to hide the tears brimming over her long lashes. “Please, Robert, I . . . I can’t promise that. You know why.”
Gently, I lifted her chin in my fingers and stared into her eyes, as green and glistening as the Lothian hills after a spring rain. “I thought surely we . . . Oh, damn it, Elizabeth. Do not give breath to such murderous words. Give me reason to hope.”
She brushed my whiskered cheek with smooth fingertips. “We can but hope. That is all, no more.”
I pulled her in close—yet even as I did so, I realized I had brought this upon myself . . . upon us.
“We’ll find a way, my love. By all that is true and sacred, we will find a way.”
I meant it, more than I even knew.
I had mourned long enough for Isabella. I wanted to live again—truly live. Not for some tomorrow that might never come, but for now.