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The Adventures of Ratha James: Part Eleven
Suddenly Amalee was exhausted. The turmoil, fear, and abuse of the past months bore down on her all at once and she sunk leadenly into the plush cobalt armchair, closing her heavy, dark eyes.
“We had heard about Maddie,” Joona admitted hesitantly after a few silent minutes. The shock of the evening left her voice thready and strained and even with the light of a cheery fire haloing her, there were dark circles beneath St. Clare’s eyes that had not there a few hours before. “Months ago. You and I knew, after the horror of that sickness, that her chances of bearing children were slim, and it has long been my fear that it indeed left her barren. But I so hoped…she’s so healthy now, I thought maybe in time, her body would continue to heal. No one deserves a child more than she, and she’s always wanted a babe so desperately…” Joona stopped, unable to say more until the clenching sob in her constricting throat subsided. “I knew she would take the news badly so I wrote to her, inviting her to stay awhile here with us. I thought the sight and smell of the sea might restore her. Maddie so loves the sea.”
“Eric and I even called on their home in London when the letters went unanswered but Robert dismissed us at the door without so much as inviting us in to speak of her. He said Maddie was indisposed, desolate, and wished to be left to herself for a time. He looked so wretched, I felt so poorly for them. I wanted to see her, but how could I know he was keeping her from us? What if, in her grief, she truly did not wish to see me? To intrude at such a time, I feared losing her, especially after you… I thought…”
“You thought I abandoned you,” Amalee breathed, her voice barely a whisper. There was so much pain, and she was so weary, but she mustn’t sleep, not yet. It was not safe.
“I’m so sorry, please forgive me! Joona cried, unable to hold back her tears any longer. After fearing for her friends for months and now seeing her fears confirmed she was close to breaking. “I should have known that you would…that you would never…But I missed you and you never wrote me and I did not know what to think! I worried of course, but also feared you no longer desired my friendship now that we were here on English soil, where you have risen so high. But this,” she said, touching the blackish bruise on Amalee’s cheek with soft, careful fingers. “I could never have imagined this.”
“Of course not you foolish thing, there was no way for you to know,” Amalee reminded her weeping friend affectionately, but sternly. “This is not your fault Joona. Nor is it Eric’s. I saw the blame in his eyes before and I see it in yours now and I forbid it. You found your happiness together as man and wife and I refuse to let anyone cause you to regret it.”
“We were going to find you,” Joona confessed, dropping her face into her slender hands and taking a shuddering breath. “After a few months with no word, we knew something must be done. Eric was gong to leave right away but I…” she laid a land on her swollen stomach as a new wave of silent tears slipped down her cheeks. “I discovered I was with child. For months I was horridly sick and I was so frightened, for the baby, for myself. I wanted Eric with me and he stayed. But now, I wish I had left him go. He would have found you. He would have never given up.”
Amalee took her friend’s hand, feeling the chill of the pale skin, and squeezed it tightly. “You needed him here Joona. Eric’s place is here.”
“But if I had been as brave as you,” Joona whispered, her sharp green eyes taking in every bruise, both faded and fresh, on her friend’s beautiful face. “Perhaps he’d have found you before…”
Amalee shook her heavy head minutely, bringing Joona’s words to a halt. “He hit me the first day we stepped off the ship,” she said quietly, her voice touched with sadness, regret, and anger at the madness of it all, at being delivered into the hands of a monster. “Before the carriage left the dock. You couldn’t have stopped him Joona. No one could have.”