Written in 24 minutes. Continuation of Yesterday’s Past.
Her first conscious thought was the delicious, toasty warmth as she slowly forced her eyes open. She turned her head to the side, wincing—why did her head ache so?
And why couldn’t she move? Why did it feel as though her limbs were weighed down by rocks and stones?
Elizabeth Webber blinked blearily, her fingers sliding over the soft thick cotton linen spread across her. She didn’t own a blanket like this—and could not remember when she last slept on a mattress so soft—
“Oh, miss!” a lovely accented feminine voice came from the other side of the bed, and a slight blonde came into her view, coming round the end of a bed. She wore a plain dark wool dress, a cap covering her hair. “You’re finally awake! The master will be so relieved—”
“M-master—” Elizabeth managed but to no avail. The blonde had flitted out of the room without waiting for Elizabeth to respond, obviously to fetch the aforementioned master.
Where was she?
She closed her eyes—she remembered being in Wapping, at a local pub. She had counted out her last coins for a chunk of bread and ale, her first meal in two days. There had been a conversation—two men talking nearby—and a name—
Oh, God, had she gone to seek out the man who shared the name of her childhood sweetheart? It had seemed such a crazy idea at the time—of course her beloved Jason was not a shipping magnate in London. How could he have gathered those kinds of resources—
But then—a flash of a rain soaked street, startled blue eyes—
The door opened, and a tall man stepped through. He wore naught but his shirtsleeves, his dark blonde hair mussed as if he had been sleeping. Was it day? Or night? She couldn’t quite tell—the curtains were drawn tight across the windows.
His voice was deeper, rougher than she remembered but it was him. He had always said her name differently from everyone else—had never called her Lizzie as her family had.
Tears slid down her cheeks at the sound of her name on his lips. After all she had been through in the last four months, it was like a balm to her soul.
Jason lowered himself into a chair next to her bed, his eyes on hers. “How are you feeling? I’ve sent for the doctor—”
“How—” Elizabeth coughed, closed her eyes. She swallowed hard, but her throat felt so raw and sore. She felt her upper body being lifted as Jason put another pillow behind her to prop her up slightly. Then he held a cup of tea against her lips.
She drank even as he apologized for it being lukewarm. He said something to the maid still in the room—to fetch her something to eat, some more tea, to get the damn doctor, but her mind was already struggling to stay in the moment.
“How long…” Elizabeth whispered. “Since—”
“A week,” Jason told her. He rubbed the back of his neck. “You had a fever—it broke last night.” He exhaled slowly. “Your child still lives according to the doctor.”
Elizabeth pressed her hand to her abdomen, at the distended belly that had cost her both her position and lodgings a month earlier. Of course he knew if she’d been recovering from illness in his home. Oh, God. Was he married? What did he think about—
“I should go,” she murmured, even as her eyes struggled to stay open. “I only—I only wanted somewhere to sleep for the night. I should go.”
Jason hesitated, then leaned forward. He tucked her hair behind her ears. “If you want to go, I couldn’t stop you.” A ghost of a smile flitted across his face. “I could never say no to you.”
Her heart ached at the sweet truth in that statement. It had been her idea to elope, to run away from her parents—it had been her fault he’d been sent away. “I can’t take—don’t pity me.”
“I don’t. But I know you hate asking for help. I’m asking you to stay. Until you’re strong enough to leave without being carried out.” His fingers drifted down her face before he sat back. “Is—is there someone I should send word to? Your father—” He swallowed hard. “A husband—”
“No.” She squeezed her eyes closed. “No. I’m not married. There’s no one.” She opened her eyes again, focused on him. “Is there someone—are you—am I making trouble by being here?”
“No, there’s no one,” he repeated. “The only people who know you’re here are my servants, the doctor, and my business partner, Sonny.” Jason hesitated. “I haven’t wed.”
“I still shouldn’t be—”
“Stay,” he cut off gently. He rose from the chair. “At least until you’re strong enough to argue with me. The doctor will be here soon.”
“All right,” Elizabeth agreed, her eyes closing. “All right. I’ll stay. For now.”