For those of you who read my book titled The Earl’s Secret Bargain, you’ll remember that Lord Pennella was the braggart who went on and on about how he could get any lady he wished. Lord Davenport got frustrated with him and challenged him. This led to the infamous wager where the two bet he could win the hand of Miss Giles first.
I referenced this wager in my other Regency romances, His Reluctant Lady and, to a lesser extent, The Earl’s Scandalous Wife. If you read His Reluctant Lady, you’ll recall that Lord Pennella was deeply upset he lost the wager. I never mentioned why, though I hinted at it at the end of that book when the main character, Agatha, told Lord Pennella, “I hear Spain is nice this time of year. In fact, there’s a little town of special interest. It’s not far from Madrid. Does the name Raquel mean anything to you?”
This is short story answers the question, “Why was Lord Pennella such a scoundrel?” I’ve known the answer all this time, but I was unable to get his side of the story out there, so I figured I would do that here.
In a small town outside of Madrid, Spain
Blaise Jobbins, the Earl of Pennella, stood in front of home that was barely big enough for two people. He had to go in there. He had to tell them that he was unable to get the money. All of his efforts had been in vain. He’d compromised every principle he’d ever had in his desperation to save her, but nothing had worked. The wager had been a bust. His attempt at blackmail and coercion hadn’t worked.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, he brought a shaky hand to the door and knocked on it. In the quiet evening, the sound echoed with terrible foreboding. His trip to London had been for nothing. And everything around him was in shambles.
The door opened, and his father-in-law’s eyes grew wide with hope.
Before his father-in-law could speak, Blaise shook his head and passed by him, so he could enter the home.
“So, there is nothing we can do to save her?” his father-in-law asked in Spanish.
“I’m sorry,” Blaise answered in Spanish. “There’s nothing I can do.” His voice cracked. “I can’t afford a doctor.”
He couldn’t look at his father-in-law. He could barely even say the words. They seemed so final. No, they didn’t seem final. They were final. He’d just told his father-in-law that his daughter, his only child, was going to die. And there was nothing Blaise could do to stop it.
His father-in-law went over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “You did all you could. You mustn’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault things didn’t work out in London.”
“I should have done things differently. I should have figured out something else.” But all of the things he’d thought of hadn’t been of any help. All his thoughts had done was spin in circles until his mind shut down.
Blaise’s mother-in-law came out from Raquel’s bedroom, a bowl and washcloth in her hands. “Blaise!”
Noting the same hope in her voice that had been in his father-in-law’s eyes, Blaise shook his head before she could ask the question.
“He did everything he could,” his father-in-law told her. “It is no good.”
She collapsed against the wall and started crying. The bowl and washcloth fell to the floor, and the dirty water spilled onto the floor. His father-in-law hurried to pick the bowl and washcloth up then put his arm around his mother-in-law’s shoulders. He led her to a chair and urged her to sit.
With a glance at Blaise, his father-in-law said, “Go to Raquel. She missed you while you were gone. Seeing you will make her happy.”
Since there was nothing of use he could offer them, Blaise decided to take his advice. He went to the bedroom and opened the door. The room was dark, save for a single candle that was lit on the small table by the bed.
Raquel, his lovely Raquel, opened her eyes. Even as the shadow of death hovered over her, she was beautiful. Tears filled up his eyes. How could being with her both elate him and hurt him at the same time?
“Blaise,” she said, her voice weak. “I’ve missed you so much.”
She lifted her hand in a gesture that let him know she wanted him to come to her. And he couldn’t resist the pull toward her. He never could. From the day they’d met at the marketplace where her parents had been selling blankets and hats, he’d been drawn to her.
He shut the door behind him and closed the distance between them. As soon as he reached her, he knelt by the bed and kissed her. She was thinner than he remembered. Her skin no longer held the color it once did. It was terrible to see her this way, and yet, simply being with her, still filled him with such sweetness that he was grateful he was able to be with her before death finally claimed her.
“I love you,” he whispered, pressing his forehead to hers.
She wrapped thin arms around his shoulders. “I love you, too. I worried I wouldn’t see you again.”
“The entire time I was gone, all I could think about was you. You are my entire world.” As brave as he had wanted to be at this moment, he broke down and his tears wouldn’t stop. Holding onto her, he buried his face in the nape of her neck and continued, “I tried to get the money. I really did. I did everything I could think of. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I failed you.”
“This wasn’t your fault. It just happened. No one could have prevented it.”
He knew she meant to comfort him, but he only sobbed harder. Many times, he had asked himself why this had to happen to her. There were plenty of people in this world who didn’t deserve the good things they got, but they had everything they could ever want. Their lives were free from pain. They enjoyed an abundance of material possessions. They lived long lives. They had children and grandchildren. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that they had everything so easy. They didn’t even appreciate how fortunate they were. They took it all for granted. They never once considered how blessed they were. If anyone deserved the good things this life had to offer it was Raquel. And yet, here she was on her deathbed, and there was nothing he could do to save her.
Once he was able to compose himself, he removed his boots, coat, and hat.
As he started to get into the bed with her, she said, “I don’t want you to get sick.”
“There’s no proof it’s contagious,” he replied.
He slipped in beside her and drew her into his arms. She was so frail he had to be careful not to hold her too tightly. This was so different than the first time he had taken her to bed. Back then, she’d been healthy. Her flesh had been warm and curvy. She hadn’t been skin and bones. The illness had done its worse, slowly eating away at her. And all he could do was watch and wait as it finished what it had started. He gritted his teeth to ward off more tears.
“I wish that I could die with you. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life without you.”
“Don’t say that,” she whispered. “I want you to live. I want you to be happy.”
“I’ll never be happy without you.”
“My prayer is that you’re wrong.” She lifted her head, so she could look at him. “Blaise, we will be united again. You must stay strong in the faith. There is a life after this one, and when your time comes, I’ll be waiting for you.”
“I don’t want you to wait for me. I want to go with you now.”
“I know, but it’s not your time. There’s something for you to do while you’re still in this life.”
“I can’t imagine there being anything other than you.”
She smiled and kissed his cheek. “God has His plans. I trust in that. He brought us together in this life, and He’ll see to it we’re together again.”
What could he say to that? Nothing. So, he did the only thing he could do. He kissed her, long and tenderly on the lips because it was the only way he had left to properly express his love to her.
Blaise didn’t notice the cold air around him. Winter had come. The state of the world around him was in the middle of death. Death hovered over the lands. Trees were bare. Grass had stopped growing. Animals weren’t as active anymore. Everything had slowed down. On the day of Raquel’s funeral, the sky even complied with the condition of his heart in that it was a cloudy and gray day.
He wished he could join her in the casket, but he was as healthy as ever. Death had touched her and everything around him, but it hadn’t touched him. He was stuck to continue living each and every day without her. He didn’t know how he was going to get through the rest of his life.
After the funeral, his father-in-law came up to him. “I want you to stay with Raquel’s mother and I until spring. It is not good to travel this time of year.”
Blaise nodded his agreement then asked, “Do you ever wonder why everything happened the way it did?”
His father-in-law hesitated for a moment before he gave his answer. “I do wonder. It’s only human to wonder. But I trust that one day, when this life is over and we get to the next one, we’ll find out the reasons then. Whether it be foolish or wise, I also believe we’ll come to the understanding that things worked for the best, even if they have been painful.” He pulled something from his coat pocket. “I was going to give this to you when we got home, but maybe now is the best time. This was Raquel’s favorite necklace. Her mother and I gave it to her when she was a little girl.”
Blaise watched as he showed him the silver chain with a red bird on it.
“She loved birds. She used to say they made the most beautiful music,” her father said. “I remember how she used to spend her time imitating their melodies. She got frustrated because she couldn’t quite get their songs right. But she’d keep trying.” Though tears filled his eyes, there was laughter in his voice. “I had thought to keep it, but you were her husband. I think it’d be better off with you.”
Blaise took the necklace. He had recalled seeing her wearing it from time to time. He’d never asked her about it, and she’d never told him. Finding out this part of her past brought him an unexpected warmth. He clasped his hand around it and put it over his heart. “Thank you.”
With one last look at Raquel’s grave, Blaise joined her parents and went back to their home.
Blaise stood by the port in Huelva, Spain that spring. Leaves were budding on the tree branches. Flowers were in bloom. The animals were more active than they’d been over the past few months. The sun was shining bright. But his attention was on the Atlantic Ocean. The blue waves lapped against the large ship, promising him a new start.
A child called out to his mother. Without thinking, he turned his attention to the lad who couldn’t be more than a year old. He had been trying to walk but had fallen, and his mother bent down to pick him up. She laughed and kissed his cheek. A gentleman, probably the father, went over to them, and led them closer to the ship.
Blaise braced himself so he wouldn’t give into his emotions. He hoped the gentleman appreciated what he had. He hoped the gentleman didn’t take it for granted. His hand went to the necklace he wore under his shirt. Raquel would always be with him. And, as she had said, one day they would be together again. It was the only consolation he had. For now, he was all by himself.
Someone called out that it was time to board the ship heading to America. With a sigh, Blaise let go of the necklace and picked up his valise. Raquel had said he had to remain here without her for a reason, and though he couldn’t imagine what that reason could be, he was going to find out.