“May I help you?” She asked him.
“I’m Neil Starling, a friend of Louis. I presume that you are his wife?”
“Xenia Dawson,” she said as they shook hands. “My husband isn’t here. The tea will come soon enough, please make yourself comfortable.” She asked the visitor to sit as she settled herself on the seat opposite of him.
“I was surprised to learn that Louis got married,” Neil said, eyeing her with curiosity. “You’re far more different from his typical woman.”
“Things differ from what you used to know, Mr. Starling.”
“Neil. Do call me that, please.”
“Neil.” Xenia repeated. “How long are you and Louis have been friends?”
“Since kids. I just lived two kilometers east, at the Pearl Estate. My father is acquainted to the duke. Louis and I are practically best friends.” Neil said to her.
“Did you know about the accident that he had?” Xenia asked. She noticed the man’s jaw clenched upon mentioning it, and she wondered why.
“I’m sorry. I heard about it but I can’t go home that time. I’m with the Royal Navy and had a mission in Northern Ireland. This is the only chance I got to visit home. I’m glad Louis is well and got married. And I’m sorry to hear about the duke’s death. Uncle Anthony was a wonderful person, and has been my mentor then.”
Xenia bit her lip. She felt guilty for not telling Neil that his best friend is already dead too. She saw the authentic grief from the man’s eyes. “I wished I met him, too.” She said, referring to the father and son she never met.
“Yes,” Neil quietly answered. “You should have met him. Anyway, how did you and Louis meet? Papa was surprised to hear of Louis’ marriage and didn’t get invited. But he’s giving Louis the chance to explain.” He winked at her. “Louis is almost his son. He must have loved you so much to marry you in haste.”
“Yes.” That’s all Xenia could say to Neil. She doesn’t want to continue with her husband’s charade but she has to, even if it will take to fool innocent friends like Neil and his father. She wished Nick is there to help her. “I’m from New York.”
Neil chuckled. “I could imagine Louis charmed his way enough for you to leave the city you grew accustomed to and live with him here in the quiet country. Have you met Nick, his favorite cousin?”
“That young man transferred here from New York years after his mother died. Despite being American, he had gained a title and does his duties in London. That’s another nice bloke, I’d say. Louis treated him as a brother, as I do too.” Neil said. Xenia just smiled. She heard the familiar car engine and sighed in relief. Her husband has arrived. She wished Arman informed him immediately about his visitor. Now, Xenia waited for the door top open and wondered if either Nick will come as himself, or ‘Louis’ will enter through the doors. She heard the footsteps on the marble floor and found the answer.
“L-Louis?” Neil exclaimed in surprise as he saw his friend donned in a mask. Xenia stood up and meets her husband halfway. “Do you know him?” she whispered when she pressed her cheek against him. Nick nodded.
“Anyone who did this to you must pay, Louis,” Neil added. “How are you now?”
Nick turned to Xenia and nods again. Xenia gave him a questioning look. Then turned to Neil. “I forgot to tell you, Neil, that since the accident, my husband wasn’t able to speak anymore. He mightily had so many scars and burns, and it’s been lucky that he’s still alive. He’s doing fine by now,” Xenia said. She smiled as her husband reached for her hand when she sat beside him.
“Neil just came from his mission, Louis.” She added to Nick.
“Yes. And I just came here as soon as I unpacked my things. Besides, Papa was worried when he learned that you got married and didn’t invite him.”
“Apologies to your father, Neil.” Xenia said, in behalf of her husband. There was silence for a moment when a maid entered to bring them tea. “Atty. Richardson and Uncle Marcus are already investigating the incident that occurred,” Xenia continued when the maid left the Sitting Room.
Nick is looking at him. Xenia wondered if Neil could notice the difference between Louis and Nick merely by just sitting there and looking at her husband. If there’s a difference, that’s probably the reason why Nick chose to play dumb speechless and let her carry the conversation. If chances came to it that Neil will find out, Xenia is willing to back-up on Nick’s explanations. Nick turned to his beautiful wife and met her look. There’s a silent understanding between them with the exchanged looks they had.
“Oh, my lovebirds,” Neil said and glanced at his watch. “I better get going for now, but I’ll be back.”
Xenia helped her husband get up from his seat. “Thank you, Neil,” she said, “from us.”
Neil nodded. “Don’t bother walking me to the door. I’ll take my way out. It’s nice meeting you, Xenia.” Neil kissed her hand, nodded at the masked man then left the Sitting Room. As soon as Neil has gone, the two went by the window to see him leave.
Nick puts his arms on his wife’s shoulders. They watched Neil get inside the car. “Louis and I spoke differently. He has the Scottish accent, while I got the Yankee brawl. That’s why I pretend not to be able to speak, so does to the other people here in the Hall.” Neil’s car went off. “Neil’s father is Viscount Starling. They lived on the Pearl Estate, just two kilometers from here.”
“I felt guilty not telling him that his best friend is already dead.”
“I’m sorry that I had to make you lie to other people, Xenia. Don’t worry. We’ll tell Neil soon enough.”
“Yes, but not soon enough. Honestly, I’m not yet trusting him fully enough to let you reveal yourself.” Nick look at her upon hearing that.