|Subject: Chapter 230 - Part 2 (16 and above) (end of chapter 230)
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Date Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 06:59:35am
In reply to:
's message, "Dreams in the Dark (chapters 221--?)" on Monday, February 13, 07:24:07am
His gaze went back to his hostess, his look steely. "You'll have to look after her, Adrian. She'll need your protection." Whom he was talking about didn't need to be mentioned at all.
The woman before him nodded, hoping she was capable of it; more and more, these days, her body ached for rest. The sigh she gave was difficult but determined. "We'll do our best." Even with all those who cared for the girl, it was the most she could promise him now.
He saw this, hated it--but knew of little he could do, his fate mostly predetermined. He focused on her aid, instead--her earlier vow less than solid. "Nikita will need you, more than ever before." His look moved further in, the plea and determination mixing there. "*I* need you. If I don't know that she'll be protected . . ." His intention to stay, without a real promise from her, was all too clear.
Adrian didn't rise to his bait, twisting the screw in an almost Madeline-like manner. "I don't need to tell you that there's no way out of this. Mr. Jones has no intention of letting the two of you live together in peace." That truth, no matter what the businessman's promises, was only to clear to all of them now.
Michael saw it, as well, knew of nowhere to run--but he also knew that she was avoiding his plea, wasn't listening; he suspected he knew why, addressing her real concerns. "Nikita's angry with you now, but she understands the situation, as well. She's not a child." His eyes watched her, gauging her emotions. "If you turn away from her, while I'm gone . . ."
He let the sentence hang in the air, knowing from her look that she had understood her granddaughter's tentative condition. But her gaze moved away, the answer terse. "I'm doing what I can for you both. Don't ask me for more."
Still, her denial got her nowhere; he could see her real feelings all too clearly. When her gaze stayed turned away, he sighed, rising quietly to come to her, finally leaning down to put his hand on hers. "But she needs you." Her suspicious look found his, to the gentle shake of his head. "She needs all the tenderness she can get."
His overtures were well-intentioned--for both his wife and Adrian--but she didn't respond, her look growing haughty, turning away; her hand drew back from his. "I've asked Andrew to help look after her. He'll have to do."
The response should have infuriated Michael all the more--but he found only a saddened sort of acceptance. He stood before her, shaking his head. "Then you're playing directly into Madeline's plans. The entire reason she wants this is to finally rid the studio of Nikita."
His point was the obvious one, the tutor's intentions all too clear, but Adrian had no desire to listen--finding another excuse. "Andrew Shears is a homosexual. He's hardly likely to challenge you."
This was news to Michael--news he had trouble believing. "How do you know?" And it wasn't as though it would matter, anyway. All Madeline needed was public doubt of his wife's faithfulness--and the downfall the tutor longed for would be assured.
His hostess ignored all this, focusing on what she knew from Daisy's letters, her hardened gaze returning to him. "He was in a year-long relationship with another man." Her shrug was eloquent. "That should be evidence enough to end any doubts."
It didn't end Michael's, however, his snort dismissive. "Tendencies can change," he pointed out. He had been out in the world long enough to see that. The change might rarely be long-lasting, but it could certainly happen. "Besides, you haven't seen them together." His look moved in, making his real point. "He's already in love with her."
This insight caught Adrian's real attention for the first time, her gaze intense. Despite all her intentions, the words had sparked some sort of memory--the look Andrew had in his eyes every time they spoke about the girl. On reflection, he had seemed only *too* willing to console her; she closed her eyes for a second, sighing. Lord. Whatever had she gotten the girl into now?
This question went unanswered, as her gaze focused wearily on the other side of the room--the potential outcomes goading her just slightly. It wasn't that she suspected Andrew of any sort of evil intentions or unchained lechery; she didn't even suspect that he would make any sort of move on the girl, unless it was with her very express permission--and he might pause from the knowledge of her marriage, even then. But none of this really mattered. She had assigned as unofficial protector to her grandchild yet another man who wished for her, who would be incapable of seeing her--however his honor might guide him--as only a friend; she closed her eyes again, the sigh quite deep. It looked as though she had ruined things for her family all over again.
It took her several, long seconds, but she did finally look back up to her guest, her gaze so very pained. "I'm sorry, Michael." The look wandered. "I thought I was doing the right thing."
He didn't argue with her, not out loud, anyway, but thought he understood her truer motivations. It was probably some combination of the fact that she was dying--her fear of leaving the girl with no one to turn to--and of all that had gone wrong with her poor daughter, of her faults in that relationship, which held her back. When they were combined with her guilt over going to Jones behind their backs--whatever the necessity of her actions, if they wanted to live--the weight had become crushing. For all her formidable strength, there was only so much she could take, before something within her finally gave.
He knew this, had seen it in both this woman and her granddaughter--the pressures of their constantly-endangered lives only survivable so far; he leaned back over, retaking her hand, his eyes quiet. "Make me a promise, Adrian." Her look returned, a little tired, to meet his plea. "Promise me that *you'll* look after her." He nodded, giving in to his fate. "Then I can face whatever I have to without so many fears."
It took her a second, her guilt so strong--having raged to the point where she had been willing to be placed alongside Madeline in the precious girl's mind--but she did agree in the end, her nod soft. "I promise." It was clearly what had to be. And maybe it was for the best. The past did need changing; her smile was warmer. Perhaps, for once, she should just do her damnedest to save her heirs, rather than simply regretting her mistakes.
This bargain wasn't much, but it comforted Michael, leaning in to kiss her temple before pulling softly away. It would have to be enough. His own fate--whatever that might prove to be--was sealed. The one thing he could really change was his beloved's perilous situation; something burned quietly in the back of his gaze. And he was going to do everything possible to ensure that she was finally safe.
[End of Part 230]
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