TMS: Part 2: Chapters 7-8

7

The following morning was unlike any other morning, which would continue for three full months following. According to Charlotte, Maisie snuck into Marilyn’s bedroom, slipped a small piece of parchment on her nightstand, and did so for several days afterward. Every other day, it seemed, there arrived a brand new piece of parchment on her nightstand.

What were they?

Letters from Henry.

 

Dear Marilyn,

            I hope you are doing well and that everyone and everything in your life is treating you well. You deserve it. After you left my family’s estate, I did not want that to be the last time I was a part of your life. You enchant me, Marilyn, in ways I never even dreamed. You are the one who makes me smile more than anyone or anything else ever has. With dread I fear I may have said too much at this point. But now that I shown you how amazing you truly are, I hope you will not be taken aback by everything that I have said.

 

            In warmest affections,

            Henry Jackson

 

            After the second letter, Marilyn found herself responding in a way that both frightened and amazed her. Henry wrote with such purpose and emotion, but not only that, she had become able to see a different and better Henry, a man she was falling even more in love with as the days progressed.

With every letter, Marilyn gathered courage and wrote with even more happiness and passion about seeing him and being with him. As each month passed by, she wrote with the sudden urge and need to see him. She longed to know what it felt like to be needed, held, and caressed in every way in which she’d never known. She never told him these needs in writing except through some mild hints, since she was still timid, but she craved seeing him more and more with every passing day.

During this time, these sweet letters kept Marilyn feeling more alive than she’d ever been before:

 

Letters from Month One

Dear Henry,

            Thank you for your letter. I am sure the estate is manageable, and I hope your reading has been exciting. What are your favorite authors and books to read? I find reading one of the most exciting hobbies I do in any particular day. I love to write stories sometimes, too, but painting and drawing has always been my strongest suit. All of the servants of the household own at least one drawing or painting I have given to them at one time or another.

            Thank you also for your kind words in complimenting me as a person. It made me feel very much appreciated. I find your friendship delightful because, in all honesty, I’ve never known what it felt like to have a true friend. The closest friends I’ve ever had were the servants, except for my birth mother Maisie, who has been quiet all of these years up until now.

            I hope this letter will continue to make you smile.

            Sincerely,

            Marilyn James

 

            Dearest Marilyn,

            When I received your letter, I almost jumped for joy. In the past, nobody in their right mind would even bother to want to write to me. I’ve never had a female friend before, but I believe I quite like it a lot. It gives me a feeling of someone else caring about what I think and feel, in a way in which I have never experienced before.

            In my lifetime, if my friends (all male, of course) ever invited me to outings such as hunting, fishing, etc., I’d find myself getting bored with ease, even if we had a good conversation going. These are not naturally boring guys, of course, and I do enjoy such hobbies as hunting and fishing. But when I have had conversations with you in the past, including now over these last dozen or so letters we’ve communicated to each other, I find I’m enjoying myself more with these rather than other conversations, even those shared with my own parents. I’ve enjoyed learning about your life and who you are. You are quiet but intriguing, and that’s what keeps me writing the most…aside from my adoration for you.

            Hope you smile when you receive this letter as well.

            In warmest affections,

            Henry Jackson

 

Letters from Month Two

            Dear Henry,

            Today a beautiful blue bird sat on its nest on the branch above the estate gazebo. It gazed down at me and alas, as I remained very still, the bird acted like it wanted to perceive some sort of message to me. Perhaps the bird planned to warn me to not touch its babies in the nest, or maybe it had asked me to protect the babies while it went off on a food run. Whatever the case, I enjoyed its sight.

            To answer your question last time, I do enjoy nature. I enjoy painting nature canvases as well, especially about birds. Blue birds are probably my most favorite to paint. The servants have told me I have a talent for memorizing intricate details on any particular bird’s feathers, so complex and sharp-looking that the servants sometimes think the bird sat right on my lap while I painted a picture of it.

            I understand your feelings for me, Henry, and I deeply agree with you that if it is all right with you, I’d like to let our friendship discover stronger, closer elements of happiness that might lead us one day to marriage. I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, your words are not scaring me but giving me courage, if nothing else, to both write and speak from my heart a lot more and not be so afraid to do so. To answer your final question, Henry, I do think of you quite often as well, and a lot of times, I yearn to be near you more than anything. Lately, I have not been keen to sleeping, for it is you who fills my dreams the most.

 

            Yours Truly,

            Marilyn

 

            Dearest Marilyn,

            I’ve been thinking of you a lot lately, far more than the normal amount. I do apologize for that, but I cannot help it. Sometimes I wish God had granted me as much talent as you have, painting a picture of you, imagining you in your estate garden, in the gazebo, any thought that makes me happy to pluck.

            When I first met you, I never realized I’d have such strong emotions for someone. I plan to, and I very much look forward to, meeting up with you again sometime in the near future. It seems that lately, my family has been dead set in going to as many balls and other city extravaganzas as possible. I’m trying my best to avoid them, but I know also my dear mother doesn’t want me to sit around all day like a lovestruck bum. Since I still live in the house, I must do as they ask. There are plans, I can tell you, where I am truly hoping to take you far away soon, to lands beyond your imagination. It wouldn’t be until after a marriage of course, but I do not want you to fear, Marilyn. I say nothing about this to scare you or to even sound intimidating, but merely, and only most of all, to entrust to you a beautiful future where you will no longer have to be afraid or worry about what terrible thing your parents will bring to the estate next. I am sometimes sad, and also a little impatient, to get you out of that house and onto better and brighter things!

            I hope that if it is God’s will, I will truly be most successful in doing so.

            Yours Always,

            Henry

 

Letters from Month Three

            Dear Marilyn,

            I hope you are doing well. I am sorry to hear about the latest fighting going on in your estate. I was sad to hear about that, that there is always something terrible bringing the woman I care about so deeply such sadness and grief. I wish I could grab my horse and rush down there to stop this madness for good!

            But of course, it cannot be helped. Trials come and go in this life, and I know you are a strong, tough woman. I wish I could shield you from all of life’s terrible things and keep it away forever. But God lets bad things happen to us to teach us a lesson, and I believe with all my heart that He does this a lot, and that is why bad things don’t occur all the time.

            One of the things I want most in life, besides children like you said you one day wanted more than anything, too, is to run a coal-mining business. I’m not sure if I ever mentioned anything like this to you before. I know my family and I are wealthy enough where we most likely don’t even need careers. I cannot put my finger on it, but there’s something about the coal industry that makes me want to learn more about it. Maybe it has something to do with the suitcase I tried explaining to you in my last letter.

            I know that since you are such a kind-hearted, gentle person, you will not mind being a part of it, too. I want you to know, Marilyn, from the bottom of my heart, I admire you and adore you. I trust you also, and I know I can rely on you with anything, good or bad, that I am ever facing in my life.

            I hope to come and visit you really soon. Until then, you’ll continue to remain constant on my mind. I care about you more than you will ever know, and I long to see your face every minute of every day.

            Yours Always,

            Henry

 

            Dear Henry,

            Thank you so much for your letter, and also for your kind words in the trials my family has been facing lately. It takes a toll on all of us, servants included, and sometimes when I lay awake at night listening to their fights, I wonder why the servants haven’t left yet. They must be tired of all of it by now, as am I. Every day I wish for it to all stop, for my parents to appear married again. I long for my father’s happiness lately, more than I ever have before. He is a good man despite the disappointments he’s faced in his life, and as his daughter I would do anything to make him truly happy once more.

            You’re right with everything you’re saying, of course, as you always are. This madness, however, will not stop. But I know and trust, agreeing with you, that God brings us these trials for good reason, and I do rely on Him daily. No matter what may happen to my family, now or in the future, I will never stop believing in His promises or in Him and who He is as our God. He does so much for us, so no matter what I could ever lose, I vow to never lose my Christian faith. I know you agree with me on this, too. I am so glad we have both been baptized for the forgiveness of sins, we are both faithful church members, and that you agree with me with everything I say in regards to God and how to live for Him.

            You are so kind. I do very much appreciate your generous words in everything you always say to me. You are truly the most honorable person I know. I care for you deeply as well. As far as the coal mining industry goes, I agree with you that it is a fine industry to embark. My suspicions is if we are married, you will want to start it up somewhere besides England. I want you to know that even if I might worry for you while you are at work, understanding how dangerous this career will no doubt be, I would never keep you from any of your life passions. It’ll be a career that will be a lot of hard work, but one you will also love, so what sort of person would I be in keeping you from this blessing?

            You are a hard and trusted worker, a great leader to others, and the most gentle and caring person I’ve ever met. There will never be another person like you in my life. If I died tomorrow, Henry, at least I would be happy writing one successful letter to you about the feelings I share with you.

            I know it is supposed to be the man who is supposed to start this part, but I know who I am and what I feel, so I am going to say it. I love you, Henry.

           

            In True Love,

            Marilyn

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8

Three months passed. Then, one early afternoon, a quiet knock sounded on Marilyn’s bedroom door.

“Come in,” she called, focusing hard on her knitting project as she sat in her bedroom armchair.

Charlotte opened the door and peeked inside, grinning from ear to ear. “Marilyn!” she whispered, her tone thick with excitement. “There’s a handsome man downstairs asking to see you!”

Marilyn studied Charlotte for a long moment. Then, remembering Henry, she brightened. She stood, set aside her knitting, and went downstairs.

She almost couldn’t contain her excitement. Henry had come to see her! She’d never had a visitor who truly cared enough to see her. Even though she still was shy around him, not to mention careful since she wanted to make sure he deemed both a good man and the right one for her, she so wanted to make this time with Henry, long or short, a pleasant experience.

As soon as she arrived in the foyer, she noticed Zelda already there, speaking with Henry. Nearby, Ben stood by the front door. All three were waiting for her.

“Marilyn!” Zelda exclaimed, beaming with pride while walking toward her. “This young man would like to take you on an outing with him. Say you will, and put on your cloak and bonnet right away!”

Marilyn glanced past Zelda to Henry, who stood with his hat in his hands, grinning at her. He appeared handsome in his suit—he wore a brown suit today with a matching tan shirt and tie beneath it, far too good to be real. In fact, in her eyes, he had become the most wonderful man in the entire world.

But she was still trying to figure him out, so until she did, she’d be careful around him until she finalized with absolute certainty that she could rely him on him for life. After all, of all her entire life experiences, though most of them were bad ones, she needed someone she could count on for the rest of her days on Earth.

“I accept,” she whispered, and smiled over at him.

Ben brought her the gray bonnet she wore for outings such as these, along with her cloak which she tied around her, and together they exited out into the spring weather with Zelda smiling with glee behind them.

As the buckboard headed down the road toward the town of Brunnings, Marilyn glanced over at Henry across from her, who gave her a genuine, kind smile.

“Why are we going to Brunnings?” she asked, courteous when inside she screamed with joy.

“I figured it’d be nice to take a stroll around the town, get to know each other better.” He winked at her. “Besides, I like writing letters, but it’s not as important as seeing you up close.”

Marilyn raised her eyebrows, but then he tossed her another wink, showing his intention of only teasing her. She gave out a relieved sigh, and then twisted her face toward the stunning England landscape the open window gave.

Once they got to the edge of town, Henry requested the driver let them off at the start of town, and then pick them up at the same spot. They would be right by the gunsmith shop that sat as the first building into town.

Marilyn wondered what in the world they could possibly talk about within a two-hour span, but then, she reminded herself she’d never had a friend before. Henry was a friend, and she would not let this precious time with her brand new friend go to waste. Even if they never got married like both of their parents wanted them to, at least she had a friend to busy the rest of her days. For Marilyn, that seemed like a perfect way to live a good life.

As the buckboard let them out and rode away, Henry offered his arm, Marilyn took it, and together they strode down the granite pavements, down through town, making their way through the charming Brunnings.

Marilyn very much enjoyed Henry’s company. They began talking about the weather, their speech both awkward at first, about how the shifting seasons had changed so fast. Marilyn asked what Henry did for work, and he said he helped his father in his law office, organizing papers and making a good salary, aside from the money he already had growing around him. He had extensive wealth, and for this, mainly because of the needs Zelda and her father both had, she was grateful. For if they had a family one day, which seemed doubtful because of it being an arranged marriage, they would have an abundance of anything and everything they could ever need.

They finished strolling out of the main street of town, beginning down the end streets toward where the residential areas formed. Aside from some children playing in the front walks of their homes, it seemed an otherwise quiet place to be. Its tranquility comforted her, and it caused Marilyn to relax even more in Henry’s presence.

After Henry finished talking about the extent of the law office, he slowed his walk as they approached a stone bridge which would carry them over the river and into the rest of the residential cottages of Brunnings. The well-off people all lived in the surrounding parts of the countryside not far from town in their own estates, compared to the cottages the poorer people of the community owned.

The stone bridge, Marilyn noticed as they approached it, had a beautiful location. Lush green bushes grew at the edges of each side of the bridge and across from each railing. The bridge also wore brilliant decorations of beautiful, long ribbons of flowers, a combination of pink roses, white daisies, and orange geraniums that bloomed both over and around the railings on both sides. Its view was quite stunning.

“I sense,” Henry spoke as they approached the bridge, “how you are still timid around me, Marilyn.” His voice dropped to a thick and kind, calm manner, with great understanding and no judgment at all.

Marilyn, however, was shocked that he could read her so well. “Why would you say that?” she asked.

“How you are. You’re quiet. You weren’t like this in your letters.” He glanced down at her. “You know you need not be shy around me, Marilyn. I’m your friend. Right? Aren’t I your friend?”

Marilyn smiled, not looking at him as they walked. “Of course you are.”

“Well, good.” He smiled. “So you should be able to tell your troubles to a friend, shouldn’t you?”

They had stopped beside the blooming flowers, and they gazed over the stone railing to the quiet waters flowing below. He glanced back at her, and then held her lace gloved hand within his palm.

“You can trust me, Marilyn. You know that, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.” Marilyn shrugged. “It’s not that I don’t want to trust you…” She bit her lip, unsure how to put it into words.

Henry waited for her response, studying her.

Marilyn glanced back up at him. “My entire life I’ve been confined to the estate.” She closed her eyes, ashamed of herself for acting this way around him, in whom she’d been so excited to see again. “I’d been given a governess growing up to give me an education. Every day she lived there, I had a friend I could confide in. She didn’t know about my father’s alcoholism or my mother—Zelda’s—very strict manner.” She shook her head in sadness. “I’m not even allowed to have much contact with any of the servants, as it might mess up their work habits.” She sighed. “Ever since the governess left, my education finished at age seventeen, it became rather boring in the estate. I’d spend a good part of my days at the gazebo drawing, painting, or reading, like now, and I’m very thankful Zelda let me at least do those things. I’d probably die of boredom otherwise.”

She turned, looking over the river afar off to where the flowing, tranquil waters didn’t seem to have an ending. Cottages curved around the river both in intricate patterns and sheer perfection, and she was thankful for being in such a quiet place.

“Before you came along, the only time Mother allowed me to leave the estate would be for church on Sunday mornings, which I made very important to Zelda after I became a Christian.” She shook her head again. “I’m nineteen years old now, and unless I marry, nothing in my everyday life will change up until my parents’ deaths.” She peered at Henry, who continue to study her with kindness. “I know that sounds terrible, but in the past two years, I’ve felt like all I’ve been doing is leading a sad life, waiting for my parents to die so I can inherit everything they own and perhaps then be much happier.”

“It’s not terrible, Marilyn. It’s what you grew up with.” Henry smiled, and then stroked the top of her hand with his thumb. “I know you’re scared, that I’m a brand new experience for you that you’ve never imagined before. But I promise you it’ll be worth it. You can trust me.” He studied her harder. “All right?”

“All right.” She touched his arm. “Henry, I’m so sorry for being cautious.”

“No, Marilyn.” He shook his head. “Please, don’t be sorry. None of this is your fault.”

Marilyn liked the expression on his face, so gentle and so kind. She had never known a man like him before. In fact, she’d never met anyone aside from the servants who looked at her with sympathy and understanding, instead of critical predicaments and judgmental, strict attitudes to life, mainly with how she lived her own. She was tired of feeling lonely, like she had nothing meaningful to look forward to in her future.

But now that Henry stood here, everything in her life became much more meaningful, and Marilyn liked that a lot.

“Marilyn,” Henry continued, letting go of her hand for a moment, “I’ve been thinking a lot about what you’ve been telling me both in your letters and in person.” He swallowed hard, then, and she grew still, sensing something different about him. “I’ve decided that I’m sick of working in the law office, and it’d be a great pleasure of mine to have my own land, my own worries to take care of on a regular basis without the burdens of our present lives.”

Marilyn studied him, wondering what he meant.

Henry smiled, then, and it caused her to feel a wave of relief rush over her, but her heart still pounded with uncertainty.

“Marilyn…” He sighed, as if he was preparing himself for something. “The first time you smiled at me, I fell in love with you.” He grinned. “It became love at first sight.”

She gasped then, shocked at his words, and recognized with all her heart that they were true.

He took her hand again. “I want you to be in a place where you no longer have to be afraid of living in your own home. I don’t want you ever to be scared of me or anything anymore. I want you out of your family’s estate forever, to live at a cottage somewhere with me where you will be safe, not a victim of family quarrels, violent fights, or harsh judgment.” He shook his head. “I both know and understand you’re timid with me, so I would of course give you as much time as you would like to be one-hundred percent comfortable with me. We’d sleep in separate bedrooms, we’d have our own space, and I’ll let you decide when you would like to take things further.” He massaged her hand. “Marilyn, I would love to care of you for as long as you and I live.”

Marilyn stared at him, shocked by his words, anticipating every dream he put forth inside of her.

Then, Henry bent down on one knee, holding her hand within both of his own. “Marilyn James…will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”

Marilyn gazed down at his sweet, handsome face, and smiled. She nodded, though, without hesitation. “I accept,” she whispered, and giggled.

Henry grinned back, rising back to his feet. He studied her for a long moment, intense emotions rising within his blue eyes, pausing like he wanted to say or do something, something important that might change this moment even more forever. But then, as if deciding it wasn’t the right moment, he instead extended his elbow again.

Smiling, Marilyn took his arm, and together they continued down the stone bridge of Brunnings and back toward the residential area of town.

~*~

The month that followed went by in a blur. Between all the people coming in to measure her for her wedding dress, which she chose as a beautiful, satin white gown, and other plans, it had been enough to make Marilyn tired. Except for the wedding dress and the matching veil, she let Zelda plan out everything else, from the decorations in the Brunner Church of Christ, to the seating arrangements.

Meanwhile, Marilyn awaited in her room, avoiding all the planning, glancing at her wedding dress hanging up on the opposite wall every so often, reminding herself of this brand new reality. Finally, before Marilyn was even prepared, she wore the wedding dress on their wedding day as she stood in the large dressing room of the church. She paced the floor and glanced outside her windows to watch the people coming up to the church.

Suddenly, a knock erupted at the front door, and Marilyn spun from the windows, wondering who it could be.

“Come in,” she called, willing her voice to sound calm while inside, the opposite was exploding.

The door opened, and Henry appeared. He glanced behind him to make sure nobody would see him, and slipped inside, locking the door behind him.

“Henry!” Marilyn whispered. “What are you doing here? You’re not allowed to see the bride before the wedding.”

“I know.” Henry smiled, then, which caused instant relief to escape over Marilyn like a blanket. Coming toward her, he couldn’t seem to stop grinning. “Wow. You look beautiful.”

Marilyn blushed. “Thank you.” She noted how handsome he was dressed, with his lush white suit which matched her dress so well.

Henry closed the distance between them, and Marilyn let him, her heart pounding hard from within her. She swallowed hard.

He did, too, and they gazed at each other for a long moment before he spoke.

“I want to tell you, Marilyn,” he whispered, so as not to be eavesdropped by someone outside the dressing room door, “that I promise to take care of you. When we do our vows, I’m going to say something else to you that will give you a lot more peace of mind. After all, I know this is very difficult for you. I know you don’t want this arranged marriage.”

“Do you?” she asked. “I…I want an escape…from all I had to deal with at my home all my life.”

“I understand that.” He smiled, and there was another hint of emotion in his gaze that Marilyn couldn’t place. “And yes, I do want this marriage to a kind, sweet wife who will take care of me as long as I live.” He swallowed hard. “Even though it’s an arranged marriage, I promise you, Marilyn, that I will be everything to you that you want me to be. I will never hurt you, never abuse you, never give you anything or do anything to you against your will.” He smiled again, but then grew serious. “My objective in this commitment is to only take care of you, in a way you’ve never been taken care of before, making you happier with every passing day.”

Marilyn smiled, recognizing the sincerity and truth of those words, and adoring it.

Henry stepped closer, and then cradled her jaw within the roughness of his palm.

“I will never leave you, never be unfaithful to you, never disown you or be unkind to you.” He studied her gaze touching his own, and in the blink of that moment, realizing even more the honorable man he was, all of Marilyn’s nervousness melted from her body. Her body relaxed and stilled within extreme comfort.

He looked out for her, and he truly cared for her. It would be the most comfortable and happiest life she’d ever known, and Marilyn chided herself for being cautious before. She couldn’t wait to marry him.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “I…” She shook her head, one hand grazing his hand on her face. “Thank you so much, Henry.”

Henry gazed at her, him in his white suit and her in her beautiful, satin white gown. He shifted even closer, and opened his mouth to say something, but then there became another knock on the door, this one signaling the start of the ceremony in a few short moments.

He dropped his hand, and Marilyn let it fall to his side.

“I better go.” He cleared his throat, smiled at her once more, and then turned and left the room.

Marilyn smiled after him. For the first time in her life, she was truly happy.

This was a true blessing from God.

The wedding service began soon after that. As she and Henry stood at the front of the church exchanging vows, Marilyn meant it when she vowed in front of the evangelist and the entire congregation that she would marry the man beside her and be happy for as long as she lived.

When it came Henry’s turn to say “I will” during his vows, he held her hand, and then added: “I will love and care for you all my life,” he promised, causing her to still as she listened. “I will be there for you in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wellness, in happiness and sorrow. I will be your dearest and truest friend, the man of your house, the soul mate you’ve longed for.” He smiled at her. “I promise you, Marilyn Elizabeth James, that I will love and care for you all the days of your life.”

After finishing, he winked at her, and then moved to focus on the rest of the evangelist’s words.

Marilyn did, too, struggling on how to deal with this caring soul, who appeared to want nothing more than to fulfill her happiness and nothing more.

She may need to get used to that.

Soon after they exchanged rings, letting beautiful gold bands slide on each of their fingers, the evangelist proclaimed: “Henry, you may kiss your bride.”

Henry gazed down at her, and then smiled, comforting Marilyn once again. He lifted the veil from her dress. Then, propping up her chin with the crook of his index finger, he brushed his lips over hers, soft and brief.

“May I introduce Mr. and Mrs. Henry Jackson!”

The small crowd of people applauded, expressing their obvious happiness for them.

All the while Henry and Marilyn gazing with keen adoration at each other, gaining a brand new line of complete trust.

~*~

Once the ceremony had ended and after descending the church stairs, to Marilyn’s surprise, Henry grasped her hand and led her toward his carriage. He walked fast, as if he sensed they were in some sort of danger.

“Marilyn! Henry! Hold up, please!”

Marilyn glanced behind them toward her parents hurrying down the dirt road after them, but Henry didn’t stop. He kept right on going, until they came to the double doors of the black buckboard—

Adamant, Zelda ran over until she stood in the way.

Henry clutched Marilyn’s hand, half hiding her behind him in protection. “Mrs. James,” he greeted her, with a sigh, as if trying hard to hold onto his patience. “I appreciate the beautiful wedding ceremony. Now if you don’t mind, I’d like the privacy of assisting my wife to our cottage.” He began to edge past her, but she held her ground.

“Mr. Jackson,” Zelda demanded, her tone of voice brisk and assertive. “In turn, I appreciate something from you: your obvious stubborn loyalty in wanting to escort our daughter to a different place.”

Marilyn bristled at hearing the term “our.”

“However,” Zelda continued, “when I wanted our daughter to marry, it had never been planned out for your benefit. It had been for ours, so she might be able to carry on the family wealth so to speak, along with not being seen one day as an old maid.”

Henry frowned then. “Are you telling me,” he said in a rougher, impatient voice this time, “I was to only marry her and never take her home with me? That was your objective?”

“Indeed, yes.” Zelda sent him a humorless, bitter smile. “You do not need to understand our situation, Mr. Jackson. Your duty is now complete. Your selfishness in preventing her from receiving her inheritance one day is obscure. Now may I ask of you to get inside your carriage there and be on your way, so we can take our daughter back home with us where she belongs.”

“Absolutely not.” He shook his head. “Rules or not, Mrs. James, this is my wife now. You have no legal authority.”

“I propose I do have legal authority!” Mrs. James stepped forward, until she and Henry were eye to eye. “This is my daughter, our estate. Or would you prefer not to get a penny of her money she inherits when her father and I pass on?”

“I don’t care one bit about money nonetheless!” he declared, enraged.

“Oh, you will,” Zelda snapped back. “Or this will be on you. I insist you leave her with us. Or would you rather me go by any legal means necessary to make you and your family as low in wealth as the ground below us?” She glared at him.

Henry stared at her, shocked, as did Marilyn.

She did not remember this in their plans, of her being carried away from Henry to live at the estate forever. She did not want this.

“Mother, please,” she insisted. “Let me go home with my husband.”

“My dear, this is not your husband. He is a product of our little plans.” She glanced back at Henry. “Well, Henry? Will you give us all of your family’s hard-earned wealth? Or will you give us back our daughter?”

Henry stepped back, staring at Zelda for a long time, frustration rigid in his gaze and in his body. “Can I…” he whispered, and then cleared his throat to speak louder. “Can I at least say goodbye?”

“Very well. One minute.” She spun away. “Come along, dear!”

Henry glanced at Marilyn, whose body had begun to tremble with fear. “I promise you,” he whispered. “I will do everything I can to get you home with me. I promise.”

“Henry…” Marilyn swallowed hard. “I…”

He shook his head to keep her from speaking. “You know the vows I gave to you today? They were real. Even if I’m away from you, I will keep those vows. Forever.” He cupped the back of her neck, kissed her forehead, and then whispered something magical: “I love you, Marilyn.”

With that said, he turned, letting go of her hand, and climbed into his carriage.

Ben clasped her arm, sympathy written on his face, and he led her away from Henry and toward her family’s own carriage a few yards away.

But as they walked, Marilyn kept glancing behind her, searching for Henry while in complete shock.

And anger.

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