Unseen Genius: Chapter 26: In the Arms of an Angel
A fragrant spring breeze gently wafted over Brielle as she sat rocking drowsily upon the front stoop. She could feel the wind coolly caress her cheeks as she tilted her face upward, smiling as the sun warmed her skin and turned the insides of her eyelids scarlet. The rhythmic creaking of her chair was soothing and she let her mind wander as she leaned her head back against the headrest. A wind chime tinkled bell-like nearby, sounding sweet and a little forlorn as Brielle breathed in the serenity of the moment. I never knew it felt so good to simply be still and listen.
She stopped the movement of her chair and opened her eyes as a peal of laughter interrupted her musings. Blinking as her eyes adjusted to the bright light, Brielle sat up straighter to catch a glimpse of Aria as the child ran happily across the yard. Watching her daughter playing out in the grass brought a grin to the white haired woman’s heart shaped lips, but after a moment the smile slipped from her face.
Though the scene of Aria was ideal, for some reason worry clenched at Brielle’s gut as her dove gray eyes followed the child. Something happened I should remember. Stiffening in her chair a flicker of another image super imposed itself over her vision. As Aria played in the yard Brielle could clearly see her floundering in the middle of an icy pond, but as she blinked the strange sight faded from her mind. Am I dreaming? What an odd thing to think about.
Driven by the anxiety remaining leaden in her abdomen the Irishwoman leaned forward in her chair, intending to climb to her feet and call her daughter back to the house, but was hindered by the heaviness of her own body. She felt weighed down, as if she had suddenly gained twenty pounds about her midsection. Maybe I am getting a cold. I do feel a little strange, she thought to herself with a sigh as she stepped to the edge of the porch and raised a hand to shield her eyes from the sun.
“Aria, do come back to the house.”
At her mother’s voice, Aria turned and skipped merrily toward the porch. Feeling more at ease, Brielle returned her daughter’s grin and leaned tiredly against one of the porch posts. Raising a hand to press against her forehead, the white haired woman once again closed her eyes out of fatigue. I am just being obsessive. Everything is fine.
When a heavy footstep sounded behind her, Brielle jumped slightly and straightened. Before she could turn to face the newcomer a pair of strong arms wrapped gently about her waist, the large fine boned hands coming to rest upon her stomach. Though this occurrence was highly irregular, Brielle found herself merely smiling in response to this man’s audacity.
“Did I not ask you to stay off your feet for five minutes?” a man’s voice with a delightful French inflection inquired against her ear. The rough bristles of his day old beard tickled along the side of her cheek.
Somewhere deep in her mind, Brielle knew that she should be outraged by the liberties this man was taking but instead she merely leaned back into his embrace, enjoying his smell, of mulled spices and the night. Everything about this stranger seemed familiar, but try as she might Brielle’s foggy brain couldn’t quite grasp onto the memory she was searching for. A name whispered through her thoughts but she was too content to pay attention to it.
“I would have thought that by now you would be used to me doing as I pleased,” she heard herself saying vaguely, her voice sounding odd and distant even to her own ears. What is wrong with me?
The man patted her tummy and laughed. “You always have the last word. I only hope our child will be slightly less talkative than you.”
Blinking to try and clear her head Brielle turned her face to the side, attempting to catch a glimpse of her gentle captor. “What child?”
Another chuckle rose up in the man as he gave her a squeeze. “What child? You do constantly astound me!” His laughter subsiding, the man nuzzled tenderly into the nape of Brielle’s neck. “Why the one we had so much fun making about eight and a half months ago, my dear.”
Even at this outlandish statement Brielle’s shock was muted, distant. Even as her eyes fell down to stare disbelieving at her extremely pregnant belly the panic bells only rang halfheartedly within her head. This can’t be right…her mind chanted, though her treacherous heart thrived on the situation, on the man’s arms holding her close, on the life she could feel kicking within her. She felt safe…happy. How long was it since she had felt like this?
Just as Brielle turned her head back and upward to smile at the mystery man, the ground under her feet gave a lurch, her world shifting and fading as she searched for his face. From out of the whirlwind of smeared colors now swirling about her Brielle could just make out the crystalline blue orbs of her mystery man.
“What is your name?” But the eyes didn’t answer and the pressure of those splendid arms about her loosened. “Wait!! Tell me your name!!” she cried again, reaching out to grasp at nothing but air.
The soft earth tones of the spring countryside bled out into blackness before her eyes, and she was left standing alone in the middle of a vast dark void. All the calm, all the warm contentment Brielle had felt only moments ago petered out and died within her heart. She turned slowly in the disorientating but slightly familiar darkness as she felt the cool, moist stones under her feet. I have been here before.
A pistol’s unforgiving weight pressed against the heel of her palm, but she could not remember why it was there nor was she afraid. It was as if she were watching her own actions from a distance. As she took a step forward Brielle held the gun steadily out before her. Her mouth opened to call out someone’s name but a sharp sound to her right stopped her. She swung her weapon around but it was knocked from her hands and discharged when it hit the floor. In the split second of light the gun powder provided Brielle caught a flash image of her attacker’s face or rather of the black mask covering the top half of his head.
Distantly, the sound of overeager bird song broke into the nightmare of Brielle’s sleeping mind. With a groan the white haired woman grimaced in the morning light, squeezing her eyes even more tightly shut as reality became ever sharper.
“Bless those bloody birds,” she murmured thankfully as she peeked one eye open to gaze about the room before immediately shutting it once again. She could feel the familiar twinge of a headache pumping between her temples, putting her in a terrible mood. And to top it all off, I seem to have fallen asleep in my clothes.
And that dream was so pleasant in the beginning, she thought with a touch of regret wrinkling her forehead. Whatever brought it on though? The end was rather odd. Pushing the nightmare chase from her mind Brielle turned her thoughts to the more pleasant aspects of her nighttime musings. Thinking about the first half of her dream brought a dark blush rushing into her cheeks. Obviously, with her awake mind analyzing the circumstances, the man in the dream must have been Erik. The realization was horrifying in itself, but even more terrifying was the fact that Brielle found herself wishing the dream to be true. She could still feel the phantom pressure of the dream man’s arms about her. I am letting my imagination run away with me. After all for awhile there I actually thought I was in love with Erik…and how silly would that have been? It would have been ridiculous, absurd. Oh, how she wished she still didn’t feel that wonderful and awful giddiness in her stomach at the very thought of the man.
With a great sigh Brielle shook her head slightly and moved to sit up, only to find she was unable to move. A great weight about her middle prevented any upward movement; her heart started to bang against her rib cage as she raised her hands to her waist only to find someone else’s hand already there. The sheer shock of the discovery sent her mind reeling, the panic delayed by the gargantuan effort it took for her brain to process the situation.
As her fingers slowly investigated the alien hand, her eyes dropped to gaze down the length of her body. Sure enough, there draped over the curve of her waist, was a beautiful musician’s hand. Even as she continued to stare, dumbfounded, those long fine boned fingers flexed and smoothed down the soft velvet covering her stomach. Brielle frowned terribly when even that slight movement sent a shameful thrill racing through her blood. She knew it was Erik she lay next to as surely as she knew her own thoughts. It was that hand - no one else had hands like he did, strong, capable, wonderful hands.
And now the panic set in, crowding all else from her head. What am I going to do? How did I even get here? I remember sitting up with him…I must have drowsed off and accidentally climbed in the bed. Oh God!! I am a wanton!! But even above these hurried conclusions, one thought reigned supreme. I have to get out of here before he wakes up!! It was vitally important that he should not know where she had spent the night.
Sucking in a deep breath, Brielle tried to calm herself. Ok. Ok. Just stop and think for awhile. You remember how to think right? Oh God I am going crazy!! Carefully raising a hand to the one resting against her stomach, Brielle attempted to free herself from Erik’s sleeping grip. After a short pause she carefully took hold of a few of the man’s fingers and began to pry them from her body. For a few moments it appeared that this simple extraction would work, but before Brielle could slip from the bed Erik’s hand clenched about her fingers, his arm tightening vise-like about her, drawing her closer as he shifted in his sleep. Brielle nearly came out of her skin when the hard warmth of the man’s chest pressed against her back.
Now in a worse spot than she had started out in, her own hand pinned under his, Brielle awkwardly angled her head to the side, frowning over her shoulder as she tried to assure herself that Erik was indeed asleep - the situation was just too comical to be real. Though unable to see his face, she felt certain that the deep, even rhythm of his breathing was indicative of slumber.
Huffing now with frustration Brielle rolled her eyes skyward, hoping to find some serenity pasted upon the ceiling. Seeing none, the woman turned her gaze upon the hand resting comfortably upon her hip. Slowly pulling her hand free Brielle scooted closer to the edge of the bed, trying to give herself enough leverage to turn over. With a grimace of concentration she painstakingly shifted her weight so that she lay flat on her back. Then, with great care, Brielle again rotated her body in order to bring her right shoulder up.
Now she lay face to face with the man who she had so recently come to consider as more than just a friend. Though this had been her intention as she had squirmed in his grasp, Brielle had not been prepared for the shock that paralyzed her now from being so close to him. The pair lay very nearly nose to nose, mere inches separating their faces. Her entire body went completely still; she hardly remembered to breathe as the warmth of his breath caressed her cheek.
What was more frightening than the thought of him waking to find her in this awkward position was that Brielle found herself rather enjoying it. It had been a long time since she had felt the security of another adult body pressed to hers. The feeling wasn’t altogether unpleasant. In fact, the heat radiating from him was comforting. And although the touch at her waist was slight, the pressure from his hand was heady. Her mind reeled every time one of his fingers jerked. It wouldn’t be too bad if I just rested here a moment, she thought momentarily as she raised one hand to hover a breath’s distance from Erik’s face, her eyes watching his every breath with an intensity she hadn’t known she possessed.
He lay on his right side, the masked side of his face pressed deep into the pillow, leaving his beautifully rugged features out for the world to see. White spring sun wash flooded through the window, limning the hard planes and angles of his body like the silver edging on a cloud. It made him seem not a real man at all, but a thing made of stone. Brielle felt a strange seizing, deep in her heart as if it, like the whole rest of the world, had ceased beating.
Even as her eyes drifted shut in abandon to the magic of the moment, the logical voice within her head began shouting reprimands. Sighing with heartfelt regret Brielle shifted back slightly whilst she opened her eyes, her heart aching all the while. This wasn’t proper. It wasn’t right to torture herself with what wasn’t real.
Suddenly she was angry with herself for allowing the daydream to take over her thoughts, for allowing this sweet pain to engulf her heart. This isn’t real. I am being foolish. I just got a little overexcited because of the accident. It will go away…I’ll stop feeling this way. I have to be able to stop it. I will not allow it to happen again!
The prospect that she could possibly be subjected to the same sort of agony as when John died was terrorizing. Brielle refused to believe what her heart was trying to tell her. I am not in love with him!! Desperate now to be away from Erik, Brielle pressed a hand against his naked chest, pushing with all her might against the iron strength of his arm about her. She was done with using stealth in gaining her freedom and had decided to move on to brute force. I have to get away from him before I lose my mind!!
“Come on!!” she growled, as she raised her good foot to likewise add to the backward force she was applying upon his grip.
At her words, Erik’s eyes slowly fluttered open, his long lashes shading the china blue of his eyes as he stared foggily into Brielle’s flushed face. “It wasn’t a dream then,” he mumbled against the pillow.
“What wasn’t a dream?” Brielle breathed, feeling as if she had been caught doing something dirty.
“You,” he replied, one corner of his mouth curving up in a sleepy smile as he shut his eyes once again. On the verge of cursing, the white haired woman shook her head in amazement. Opening her mouth, Brielle decided to verbally rouse the man.
She was interrupted when Erik’s eyes flashed open once again unexpectedly. Recognition and utter shock flickered over his face as the man’s mouth gaped open. A few seconds passed as the pair stared silently at one another. Erik glanced dumbfounded down at his own arm as if he hardly believed the thing holding her to him was actually attached. Then the band of steel about Brielle’s waist vanished as he suddenly released his hold.
Startled, Brielle found herself unprepared for his hasty action and could not stop her backward motion. With a shriek, the Irishwoman tumbled head over heels off the edge of the bed. Her bottom smacked against the floorboards with a thump. The silence which followed her fall was deafening, until the subtle rustling of the bed sheets above her broke through the ringing in her ears. Hesitantly, Erik’s face peeked over the side of the bed, one of his hands carefully adjusting the placement of his mask.
“Are you injured?” he asked, almost bashfully.
“Not at all! I often throw myself onto the floor in order to get some exercise,” she snapped, venting her internal struggles on him. Pushing him away with her words because she was acutely frightened of what his close proximity had done to her.
At the overt hostility in her tone, Erik’s expression quickly closed in upon itself. Though his eyes continued to regard her with hesitant curiosity, his face hardened. “Excuse me, I hadn’t intended to toss you onto your backside, but I must confess you startled me!!”
Sighing, Brielle waved a dismissive hand his way. I shouldn’t take it out on him… “It is alright. It was my fault anyway,” she said as she moved to get to her feet.
Pulling back from her view for a moment, Erik swung his legs over the edge of the bed, a sheet firmly clenched about his waist. “Here, let me help you,” he stated, more as a command than an offer as he held out one hand to her.
Glancing at his hand as if it were a poisonous viper Brielle remained stubbornly where she was. If I touch him again… Erik waited with growing impatience while she merely stared up at him. Finally losing his temper the man reached down, gripping her hand and hauling her to her feet. Apparently he was feeling better than yesterday.
Brielle attempted to jerk free of his grasp, but his hand was like a shackle about her wrist. He looked roguish and rowdy, and a little lonely sitting there with his hair sticking up at odd angles with that sheet still griped firmly about his hips. She knew he was at his most dangerous at times like this, times when his vast arsenal was slightly off kilter.
“What was that all about?” he inquired quietly, a dark flush working its way up his throat.
“Oh, don’t pay it any thought,” she replied hastily as she spun her wedding ring around her finger. “I had been sitting up with both you and Aria through the night to make sure no fever developed. I must have nodded off the last time I came in here. Though I am not sure how, while I was sleeping I must have accidentally climbed onto the bed.”
At the end of her explanation, Erik merely stared at her quietly. As Brielle watched, she was almost certain a flicker of disappointment rose up in his eyes before sinking below the surface again. I have lost my mind. Now I am seeing things.
Plastering a bright smile over the nervousness on her face, Brielle once again gave her hand a sharp tug, but to no avail. Just as Erik opened his mouth to reply to her, the bedroom door burst open. Whipping her head toward the sound, Brielle felt Erik’s grip upon her wrist spasm in surprise.
“My, my, what seems to be going on in here?” the laughing voice of Conner asked loudly as the redhead leaned absently against the door frame.
At his question Erik immediately released Brielle’s hand. Glad for the excuse to leave, Brielle hurriedly crossed the room to stand near her brother. “Oh nothing. I was just checking up on his condition, but I will be going now.”
Cocking one eyebrow at her, Conner grinned devilishly. “Yeah, I am sure you were giving him a checkup,” he laughed as his sister punched him in the arm. “I just came from looking in on Aria. She is awake now. Did you know she is calling that new doll of hers ‘Erik’?” Confused by the sudden change in subject, Brielle could only nod.
Reaching up to rub his chin, Conner hummed in thought. “Did you tell her to do that?”
“Of course not. She simply likes that name.”
Pushing off of the doorframe, Conner dropped his hand to his side. “That is funny - you had a toy by the same name when you were young. I believe it was a little cloth monkey, though.”
“Oh, I did not you liar. I don’t remember anything about that!!”
“Yeah well it disappeared when you were about three or so. Da never did find it.” Pausing for a moment, Conner glanced over at Erik with a wink. “Anyway, I came in here to tell you that Mister Fancy Pants has arrived and wishes to speak to you, Brielle.”
“Fine, thank you very much,” she replied as she breezed past her brother raising her hands to hastily fix her hair. Quickly hopping down the hallway, Brielle could hear Conner’s voice chatting loudly with Erik. She turned a corner and their voices were shut off.
When she didn’t find Andrew standing in the front hall, Brielle popped her head into the parlor. There she saw the man in question looking out the side window, his arms clenched behind his back. Crossing the threshold, Brielle stepped into the room. At the sound of her foot upon a loose floorboard, Andrew turned to look at her.
He smiled and unclasped his hands. “It is good to see you, Brielle. I trust everything is well now. I did not hear from the doctor I sent. Did you find him satisfactory?”
“Forgive me, I did not thank you for sending the doctor.”
Andrew continued to smile as she talked, his coal black eyes glittering in the strong sunlight. “There is no need for thanks. It was the least I could do,” he said with a slight shrug of one shoulder. Slowly the smile faded from his face. It was replaced with, surprisingly enough, worry. “I do hope you are not still upset by my actions yesterday. I care for you and Arianna deeply. I was just trying to think of the best way to save her. When you partially fell through the ice I nearly had a heart attack.”
Shaking her head, Brielle averted her eyes. Deep in her heart of hearts she still felt betrayed by his lack of action, but in her head she knew what he said now must be the truth. “I am not upset with you, Andrew. You were only doing what you thought best. Your concern is admirable.”
Nodding in understanding, Andrew once again smiled stiffly at her. “I am glad to hear that. I must confess I was terribly worried last night that you would hate me this morning.” Taking out his gold plated pocket watch, the black eyed man checked the time quickly. “Forgive me for not staying longer, but I have a great deal of business to take care of in Paris. If you should need anything, do not hesitate to call upon me.”
Secretly glad he would not be staying for long, Brielle grinned at him. Her foot was beginning to pain her; she was not in the mood to entertain. “Do not worry about us. Everything is fine here now.”
Striding confidently across the room, Andrew stopped in front of her to place a light kiss upon her hand. Brielle shied at his gesture of goodwill, but tried to not outwardly show it. It had not been long ago when it was Erik gripping that hand. How she wished it was not Andrew holding her now. When he released her hand, she walked him to the front door. Not waiting to watch him go down the road, Brielle quickly closed the door and leaned back against it.
“You have gotten yourself into terrible trouble this time, Brielle,” she murmured to herself as she stared off into space before straightening and walking across the hall to go and check on Aria.