Rand Matheson woke a couple of days later in a good amount of discomfort. He was exhausted, even after having just woken up. He was also thirsty and hungry. Looking around, he noted Shae curled up in a stuffed chair by the bed, asleep. His friend, McClure, was standing by the open door.
“Good, good. You’re awake.”
“Yes,” was Matheson’s reply.
“Do you remember what happened?”
“Yes, unfortunately. Was Wren able to open the box?”
“She certainly was. One of the most complicated locks I’ve ever seen. She’s brilliant.”
McClure’s regard for her made Matheson tense up. His friend seemed to not notice.
“You’ve got a gem of a wife, Rand,” he continued. “Do you realize she’s barely left that spot on that chair for two whole days?”
Matheson looked at his wife. She had done the same with Lucy when she had her relapse in January and February.
“I’m not surprised. She puts her whole self into most of what she does.”
“Most?” McClure seemed surprised that there were exceptions.
“She abhors painting and embroidery work.”
McClure smiled widely at that.
“She’s not overly fond of heights either,” the red-headed man added.
“Oh, really? How did you discover this?”
“When I was training her.”
Being reminded that McClure spent the early morning hours with his wife, while he was states away, gave him less than pleasant feelings. Without knowing it, he clenched his fists and growled a little. McClure did notice and remarked on it. Matheson ignored him.
“What did the doctor say about my wound?”
“You, my friend, are lucky. Another inch to the right and you’d have been dead on the spot. You’ve lost a lot of blood, so you are supposed to stay in bed resting for another 3-4 days.”
“And the letter? Did it contain the necessary evidence against the Mayor?”
McClure filled him in over the next few minutes. Matheson felt himself growing more tired. He excused himself and was asleep within a minute.
The next day, Shae walked into her husband’s room, and found him trying to get up out of bed.
“You are supposed to stay in bed,” she chided.
“It’s dull sitting and doing nothing.”
“You can’t have been awake more than 10 minutes. I left briefly to get you some food.”
She lifted the tray to show him.
“Long enough,” he answered.
While he ate his dinner, Shae kept his mind occupied while she read from the newspaper. After that she kept up the conversation, until he admitted he was tired and needed to sleep again. This continued over the next 2 days. Shae found she loved it. She got to know him, as they conversed about their childhoods, and their teenage years. She told him about the two horrid marriage offers that she received previous to his. He told her about the day that he met Claire. He told of the many escapades that McClure and he got into as boys. She laughed until she was holding her stomach. He tried not to laugh as it pained him. She found her friend again. He found contentment.
On the fifth day, after being shot, Matheson awoke to find that Shae was asleep in the chair again. She was a little thing, he noted. He remembered though, when he had kissed her and waltzed with her that she was curvaceous, as well. Her hair had felt like silk in his hands too. And her lips?…
BLAST! Why was he thinking of these things? Had he really pushed aside these feelings for her all these months? He was always running, it seems. McClure was right about that too. The jerk.
So, he sat and thought about all that he had put her through. He didn’t deserve her. He had also kept her from the possibility of finding true love by marrying her. He had been a selfish lout. At the same time, he didn’t want someone else to have her. He hated it when McClure flirted with her. What did that mean, exactly? He thought some more and came to a decision. Then he made a plan that followed along with that decision. When they got home, he would have a talk with his Little Wren, and see what she thought about it.
Matheson healed fairly quickly that week. McClure claimed it was due to Shae being there to make sure he stayed resting in bed. Shae couldn’t disagree, because she spent a lot of time coming up with topics of conversation to keep his mind occupied. Now they were finally home and on Christmas Eve.
They sat in chairs by the fire in a comfortable silence. After the drama last week, they were basking in the silence of that normalcy. Shae had her sherry. Matheson had his whiskey. That was when Matheson decided to approach Shae with his plan.
“Might I call you Shae? Would you mind?” he asked her.
“That would be fine.”
“Thank you,” he started. “Before we went to Chicago, I noticed how empty and expansive this mansion is.”
“When Lucy was living,” he said, “even as sick as she was, she filled it with life.”
Shae’s heart panged and her eyes welled up with tears. Nodding, she swallowed down the lump in her throat.
“I agree,” she finally answered, choking back tears.
“Thinking of you all alone in this monstrosity, for six months– I fouled up so badly. I know I’ve apologized, but I can’t say I’m sorry enough. I was a terrible husband, and I also let you down as a friend.”
He paused, and Shae didn’t disagree with his assessment. She couldn’t.
“Then, I almost died when I was shot. You would have been alone for the rest of your life here in this huge mansion.”
Shae didn’t respond. She didn’t know what he was getting at. He seemed frustrated, and that fierce wildness was peeking through his polished exterior. He stood up, groaning at the pain in his shoulder, and poured himself another finger of whiskey. Shae lifted an eyebrow at him.
“Liquid confidence,” he said, shrugging.
Shae was even more confused. She sipped her sherry. He sat back down in his chair across from hers.
“When I almost died, I realized that I had amassed a great fortune. And what for?” he asked, almost to himself.
“I had always planned on giving most of what I had to Lucy. I had a large sum also set aside for you, and for you to choose whether you wanted to live here at the mansion in town, or at the country estate. But then my dear girl died…”
He trailed off. His eyes filled with tears. Shae had tears running down her face.
“The doctors told me that she would die young, but she was so vivacious that I convinced myself that they were wrong.”
He was nearly weeping while speaking. Shae set down her sherry and kneeled on the floor by him. She took his hand.
“But I was the one that was wrong. I couldn’t bear the though of living without Lucy, so I foolishly hid from the truth of that. I hurt you so much.”
His hand that she had been holding fell out of her grasp, as he tenderly caressed her cheek.
“I betrayed you, the sweetest friend I’d ever known. I let you down in the most horrid way. I’m so sorry.”
“Please stop apologizing,” Shae answered. “I forgive you.”
“You’re a good woman, Shae. Talented, brilliant, and kind. You’re best woman I’ve ever known.”
He slid off the chair and kneeled before her. He took her tiny hands in his huge ones.
“I’m mucking this up,” he admitted. “It’s such a tender subject. You are my favorite person in the world, Shae. You’re the most beautiful I’ve ever known too.”
Shae started to object, but he gently squeezed her hands to stop her.
“No, listen, please. A beautiful soul does wonders for the perception. You don’t have the common type of beauty, but you are dainty and sweet in yours.”
He put his forehead on the tops of her hands and sighed. Then he looked into her eyes, his own a storm of wild blue and grey-green.
“Shae, will you help me fill this empty tomb of a house with the sound of children’s laughter?”
She looked at him confusedly. He was acting so strange.
“Little Wren, with our children’s laughter.”
Then she got it.
“Oh,” she breathed out. “OH! But–”
“I know that you don’t love me. However, I’m committed to this marriage. I’ve resigned from spy work. I let McClure know a couple of days ago. I will continue my law business here, but I’m done with politics. All I want is a life with you, and if God willing— and I guess, if you’re willing, with our family. I can think of no other person that I’d want to share that with here on this earth.”
Shae was speechless. Could she push aside all of her fears? Could she let down her guard? Could God help her let go and trust Him, as well as to trust Matheson? She wasn’t sure what love was, but regardless of his one huge mistake with her, she respected him more than any other person of her acquaintance. She knew that she didn’t want to think about life without him. Him nearly dying had showed her that. She also knew that he would be an attentive father, just like he had been with Lucy. Although she felt that he would be a more present one with their children, if she agreed to his proposal.
“But– I thought that you didn’t want this. Last year, before we married, we agreed that we would maintain a conventional marriage.”
“Can’t a man change his mind?” he asked, incredulously.
For once his face wasn’t a stoic mask. His eyes were a storm, almost pleading to her. Shae eased out a quiet, husky laugh.
“But I’m not beautiful,” was her response to him.
“Did you not hear what I said earlier, Shae? Beauty depends on how one sees. When you don’t really look, you will never see the beauty in someone. If you stop, though, and appreciate the fine qualities of someone’s character, it changes your perception.”
Shae started to pull her hands away.
“Wait, I’m not finished,” he demanded, getting very close to her.
Shae could barely breathe. The smell of his cologne enveloped her. It brought her back to the other times when he was this close. His warmth and size made her feel safe.
“Yes?” she asked, a bit breathlessly.
“You are a beautiful woman, Shaelene Matheson. Have you not noticed the way the men at the parties and balls look at you? I’ve about torn the arms off of McClure a few times when he’s flirted with you.”
“Would serve him right,” Shae remarked.
Matheson’s reply was a rumble of laughter, then a pained wince because it still hurt his shoulder to move it too much. Then he took her into an embrace, one that felt like home. One that was like a blanket wrapped around her eager soul.
“I care for you, Little Wren. It’s different than it was with Claire, but it is a stronger feeling. I don’t know what else to say about how I feel about you.”
Just then a figure came out from behind the curtain.
“Tell her you love her, you numb-skull chicken!” McClure exclaimed.
“McCluuuuuurrrrrreeee!”, Matheson said, as he gently removed Shae from his arms.
He stood up to give McClure a walloping, even if it meant aggravating his wound. It was too late, however, as McClure had shot out the front door. Matheson helped Shae to her feet.
“For as much as he calls you that, it does seem like his is the one always running from you,” Shae pointed out.
Matheson laughed, and then cringed.
“I do love you, my sweet Shae,” he murmured.
Then he took her in his arms and kissed her gently, reverently on the lips.
“What do you think about all that I’ve revealed to you tonight?”
Shae knew her answer right then, looking into his sincere eyes. She felt safe and loved. This was home.
“I think that I love you, Rand.”
With a triumphant grin, her husband, Rand Matheson gave her a very thorough taste of his affection for her. Hot iron poured all over her, as he kissed her. Shae rather liked it.