Anna hadn’t realized how much she needed the escape until she and William drove out of the massive stone gates of Hampstead Hall. It felt like skipping school, like breaking the rules.
It was a perfect day for an outing. The sky was pale, the color of river rocks, but the sun was bright and clear, giving a freshness to the cold, winter air. William’s Range Rover had a sunroof which gave the feel of a convertible without the cold, biting, November wind.
Anna peeked at him as he drove. She noticed he had long forearms and long fingers that he rested casually on the steering wheel. His face had relaxed once he left Hampstead Hall. The past few days, his jawline had been continually tense, but now he looked peaceful, and it made him look younger, like a boy. She wondered what he had been like as a boy. Had he been difficult for his parents to manage? Had he been carefree and imaginative, or sullen and serious? For some reason, she imagined him always out-of-doors, roaming around the property, climbing trees, even when he was supposed to be dressed for some aristocratic event.
William glanced over at Anna seated beside him. She had been studying him, but she focused her sight out the window at the passing landscape when he turned his head. He smiled, settling himself into the leather seat as he drove. He felt different somehow, outside the gates, like a weight had lifted. He felt content for the first time in a long time, and he suspected Anna had something to do with it. The light coming in through the sunroof exposed a sprinkling of pale-colored freckles across her nose, and he noticed her eyes were a golden amber this morning. He sighed, smiling at the pub on the corner as he passed it, and at the Sainsbury’s grocery store, and at St. Mary’s Church. Everything looked beautiful and alive to him, even the brown-tinged grass and the barren gardens. He felt alive again, after so many years of death.
That’s what it had felt like, he realized. Years of death. The death of his father had only been one kind of death; Geoffrey, the Eighth Earl of Somerville may have died physically a few years ago, but his soul had died long before. He had been a different man—a partial man—for years, and it had taken part of William’s mother’s life as well. And of his own. He had lived under the shadow of death for over a decade, when he should have been in his prime. Was it too late?
No. There were sparks of life in the auburn hair beside him, and in the pale freckles on her skin, and in the pinkness of her lips. There was life in the chameleon color of her eyes and the clear honesty of her gaze. She had given life back to him, and he knew in the depths of his heart that it was a sacred gift, something to treasure, like his own soul.