The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 19: Talk with Aunt Margaret

Jensen woke early and headed downstairs. No one was in sight so he headed outside to walk in his aunt’s gardens, which were extensive. His mind wondered back to the time he spent with her. He wished his father had never sent for him. Sighing, he headed towards the center of the garden, looking for the tables and chairs she kept there. The thought of sitting quietly and trying to clear his head was enticing.

The woman saw him before he noticed her. Jensen stopped, considering whether flight was an option.

“Come sit down, boy,” the older woman called to him. Resigned to his fate, the duke walked towards the table set under a tree. He leaned down and kissed the offered cheek. His aunt looked at him, scanning his body.

“You seem to be well rested. It has to be a first for you in quite a while, I imagine.”

“Thank you, Aunt Margaret. I did sleep well.”

“I don’t see a mark on you. Jared must have been very careful,” she commented watching the blush spread over her nephew’s cheeks.

“Aunt Margaret, I…”

“Don’t make excuses, my boy. I have a good idea why nothing happened.”

“You can’t possibly know what went on between us last night,” he objected.

“I still stay in contact with my friends in the Caerdon, Jensen. I have a perfect idea what happened last night. For once, Jared did the right thing.”

“I think I will go finish my walk, Aunt.”

“You sit right there, Jensen. It’s time we talked.”

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

“Let’s see.” the older woman spoke softly, watching her nephew closely. “Why don’t we start with the biggest problem. Shall we?”

“I’m fine, Aunt Margaret.”

“We’ll start with the rape. Is that a big enough problem, boy?”

The duke rose to his feet but froze when his aunt called his name. He closed his eyes, pain crossing his features, and sat back down.

“I’ve talked to the new king, and both he and his wife spoke highly of you. He wanted to know why you betrayed him. I imagine your father gave you strict orders where you felt that you had no choice. You wouldn’t risk losing what little control you held over Avenleigh.”

“I can’t talk about this,” Jensen’s voice broke as he whispered his response.

“It is past time you spoke to someone about it, Jensen. I’m a safe ear. I know that pretty much everyone knows it happened. I just want to hear the absolute truth…not assumptions.”

“Please don’t,” the duke’s voice was shaky.

“Jensen, be honest with me. You need to let this out of your system. You must face it, boy. It will eat you up inside if you don’t,” the older woman spoke gently, looking up to see the baron enter the area. She knew he heard what was being said. She glared at him so he found a seat in the shadows where he would not be noticed.

“I don’t know what you want to hear.”

“Start where you entered the palace,” she nudged.

“You want it all!!”

“That is always best, isn’t it, boy?”

“The Chamberlain took me upstairs to the private rooms. Sebastian and his five advisers were in room, sitting at a table.,” Jensen commented softly.

Jared winced, remembering how the duke froze when he saw the Bishop and his men sitting at the table in the Bishop’s Palace. “Damnation,” he whispered softly.

Margaret noticed the baron’s reaction and made a note to ask him what else had happened.

“Go on, boy,” she spoke quietly.

“I told him that Morgan was prepared to cross the water and invade, and that the people would welcome him. Sheppard countered my report and said I was wrong. He told the king that Morgan was nowhere near coast.”

“So, Sheppard is one of Morgan’s men?”

“If he was, I didn’t know it. Knew the people were unhappy. I wasn’t wrong; they welcomed him with open arms.”

“I see. Go on, son.”

The duke was startled at what his aunt had called him. He took a couple of deep breaths and continued. “He,” Jensen winced and tried again, “He asked his people to leave. He tried to get me to sleep with him, and he mentioned knowing about when I was eighteen. He said I was not a virgin because my father told him I wasn’t.”

“Were you, Jensen?”

“Yes. I wasn’t ready for him…or….or his men.

“I told him I would report him. He called his guards and they…they tried to take me down, but I fought. They all took turns before he let me go. He said they were witnesses that it was consensual.”

“Come here, Jensen.”

The duke fell at his aunty’s feet, and she pulled him into her arms. The duke broke down, sobbing almost hysterically. Margaret ran her fingers through his hair and whispered soothing sounds of comfort. She let him cleanse his soul of the pain he was so overwhelmed with. Looking up at the baron, she moved her head to make him leave.

For the next two hours, the duke stayed on the ground with his head in his aunt’s lap, his arms gripped around her waist. The trembling slowly calmed. Margaret quieted down but kept her fingers running through his hair. She knew that what had happened at the palace reinforced these fears, but Jared would have to aid in healing those wounds.

“Jensen, why don’t you go and take a soothing hot bath, then have a nap. This took a lot out of you. You should rest.”

“I can’t.”

“Oh? Why?”

“I..um…I slept last night because Jared held me,” Jensen whispered, almost ashamed to admit it.

“That is good, son. You need him. He is your husband, and he should make you feel comfortable enough…protected enough…to be able to sleep the night through. That is all good. Don’t be ashamed to ask him for that or anything else you need from him.”

The pale face stared up into hers. His eyes red and swollen from crying so hard, his nose red, and his lower lip split from where he’d worried it with his teeth.

“Go do as I suggested. I’ll send Jared to you.”

It took the duke a moment to rise to his feet. He felt shaky. As he turned to leave, his aunt spoke, “Jensen?”

Turning, the young nobleman stared at her, “Ma’am?”

“I love you, boy. Remember that. I’ve always loved you, and I’ll always have your best interests at heart.”

A small smirk crossed the duke’s face, “Even having Jared ravish me?”

His aunt laughed, “Definitely that.”

Taking his leave, the young man walked towards the house. He asked for a bath to be prepared. Jared had returned before him and told the footman to make sure a good breakfast was sent up to the duke when he came in.

The baron watched a servant girl carry the tray up to their suite, followed by several men who carried large pails of hot water.

After things calmed down, Jared walked to the gardens to find the dowager countess.

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