Seventeen – Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Anne actually smiled, albeit a little sadly. She put down the horrible letter Sir Walter sent her and looked at Wentworth and the Crofts, a quiet determination in her gaze.
“Dear loved ones, do not fear. My father has done me a great favour by sending me this. He has set me free!”
She took Frederick’s hands in hers and smiled into his anxious eyes.
“Do you not see, my love? Sir Walter might be my natural as well as my legal father but he does not love me. He has never done so. By this letter, he breaks all ties between us. I am no longer bound in duty nor love to obey him. I can live my own life, finally, after all these years of emotional slavery!”
Wentworth gave a gasp, full of distress.
“Anne, I know you! You will suffer the consequences of this break-up sooner or later. He threatens to call you before the Courts! In the end, it will harm you, emotionally and physically!”
His betrothed straightened her back and all at once, Wentworth saw a completely new Anne. She was strong and proud and she would not ever let her life be influenced by Sir Walter again.
“No, my love. As always, my father has acted like the impulsive, stupid man that he is, once again. He has probably bullied his lawyers in writing this, even if they told him, he did not stand a chance. I am of age, he cannot call an adult daughter before the Courts when she wishes to secure a marriage of which he disapproves. I have an independent income from my mother’s inheritance. Long time ago, I took the precaution of making inquiries about the rights of unmarried daughters. In fact, I did so, right after our break-up, eight years ago, dearest. I did not want to be left defenceless, should my father would want to interfere again later on my choice of marriage. Even in my numbing state of grief over us being ripped apart, I knew I had to arm myself against my family and I did.”
Wentworth uttered a suppressed cry and rushed forward to take her into his arms. His sister and her husband quietly left the room.
There was still the problem posed by Mary and Charles, Anne told Wentworth, later that evening, when they had dinner, together with the Crofts.
“I must try and help Mary as best as I can, Frederick,” she said, “I know she is a silly and shallow woman but she is heavy with child and her emotions are running amok. Father will not lift a finger to help her and if Charles does not take her back, she will be ruined. I do not dare to think what might happen when he should threaten to take the children from her.”
“Yes, of course,” Wentworth agreed, “we must prevent them from leaving each other, if not for the sake of little Charles and Lizzie. Listen what I have arranged, my love, I think you will find it to your liking.”
Anne looked at him, surprise in her eyes, and then she saw the Admiral and Sophie nod in acquiescence.
“Do not look so surprised, my sweetheart! I told you I would not let anything come between us anymore! I have sent a courier to Mr and Mrs Musgrove and explained the situation to them. The man returned just before dinner and in his reply, Mr Musgrove stated that he and his wife would take care of it right away. They would leave for Bath immediately and speak with Charles. I am pretty sure that Mr Musgrove has some leverage in the matter as he plans to cut Charles from his will if he does not right this misery!”
“Oh, Frederick! What a good idea of you!”
Anne jumped up from her seat and flung herself onto his lap, kissing him ardently! She had completely forgotten about the Admiral and Sophie and, to be honest, so had Wentworth.
After dinner, that night, the couple decided to retire early, because they had a busy day ahead, the next morning. They mounted the stairs hand in hand and Wentworth accompanied Anne to the door to her room. In awkward silence, they stood gazing into each other’s eyes, each of them feeling the sweet tension of desire rising.
Wentworth’s voice was raw with longing and Anne shivered with pleasure.
“You know we must part now, do you not, my darling?”
“Yes …” she breathed, her throat dry and her heart thudding.
Wentworth lifted a hand to cup her cheek, taking a deep breath.
“I do not dare touch you more than this, my heart … for fear I would be swept away by my feelings for you. Never think I do not want to do more, my love, but I respect you too much.”
Anne swallowed hard and covered the hand on her cheek with her own. She turned her face into it and kissed its palm in a shy, but, oh, so sweet way. Wentworth almost lost it as she looked at him the way she did now.
“Tomorrow, my love, we will be one. We will have our whole lives to be one every night to come. Yes, Frederick, I can wait … if you can?”
“I can, my love. Goodnight, sweet dreams, my heart.”
He withdrew and Anne entered her room, dazed by happiness and frustrated because she would be all alone, this last night.