However, when she stated the reason they were there, the shop owner’s face fell. He told them to leave immediately and that he didn’t want to be involved in any court proceedings. He was their last hope so Siana persevered.
We cannot fail like this, she resolved. Siana begged him to be kinder and be their witness otherwise there will be no value of truth and honesty in this world and vile liars like Viscount North might always win.
“Please,” said Siana holding his hands.
The shop owner sighed. “Viscount North is a very wealthy man,” he said finally, “He is like a godfather among the aristocrats and hold everything in his hands. We are merchants. In this kind of business, we always suffer from unexpected financial trouble. And we always have the need to borrow money from Viscount North.”
The shop owner sounded defeated and very polite. Alan listened to him with undivided attention. “What if I let you borrow money from me?” he asked.
“You don’t understand,” said the shop owner, “We have been borrowing from Viscount North and paying his due. Borrowing money once is not enough. He will make out life hell. To me, my business is my livelihood. If I lose this, I have nothing.” The shop owner paced around the shop fretfully. “I wish I could borrow from the state, so I didn’t have to rely on the Viscount. But merchants like me, we belong to the bottommost ladder in the social hierarchy.”
“You borrow money from Viscount North because you can’t get any loans from the state,” said Hugh.
“Yes,” said the shop owner, looking at Hugh. “Although Viscount North is vile and repulsive, he helps us and our livelihood.”
“What if I lent you money whenever you have a need of it?” asked Alan.
“You don’t understand, Lord Legarde,” said the shop owner with a sigh, “Viscount North isn’t just known for his wealth and lending money to the masses. He has a lot of people behind him. Everyone here works for him. For people like us, if we have no one that wants to buy from us, it won’t matter. None of it would matter. He can make it happen. He can destroy us. For us who depend on doing our business in groups or in networks, he can make life difficult for us.”
The response shut Alan off, he finally understood why the shop owner was hesitant. Alan could maybe solve the financial difficulty, but Viscount North had power and connections. This was the reality. Alan might have been higher up on the social structure, but Viscount North held this town in this fist.
Alan’s connections were mostly the officers and acquaintances from his time in the military. Although powerful, they couldn’t do anything when it came to this town. They wouldn’t be able to help the merchants like the shop owner in front of him.
Siana was at a loss for words. She didn’t want to push the shop owner further. She understood his plight and could not bring herself to ask him for help anymore. Siana recalled her father saying that business was not only about knowledge and funding but also about connections.
Nobody is worth anything unless they have people behind them, thought Siana. Seeing Alan and Siana very quiet, Hugh and Yulia seemed unable to suggest anything as well.
“I feel sorry for you,” said the shop owner to Siana, “I would have helped in any way I can if my situation was different. But I have too many eyes on me. I would be grateful if you could, please, leave.”
They left the shop and walked away. Their way back to Legarde mansion in their carriage was gloomy.
“Viscount North’s power is insurmountable,” muttered Yulia, angrily, “I would never have thought so many people would support such a vile man.”
Alan sighed. “Is there any other way, Hugh?” he asked.
“As of now… Let me take some time to do some thinking,” said Hugh, “The trial is four days away. I will figure out a way.”
Siana knew Hugh was trying to raise their spirit. Siana directed him a smile but soon resigned herself to her sadness. She had been so hopeful until the last shop they visited. Now it seemed the odds weren’t in her favor, they never were.
What if we lose? Siana wondered glumly. Seeing how they had no lead made her very anxious. Does that mean Alan and I will have to part ways? Siana clenched her hands together in her lap.
The chance of them winning the case seemed extremely low and it made Siana very worried.
* * *
That night, Siana tossed and turned unable to fall asleep. She recalled the way Viscount North had sneered at her. She was unable to forget his words:
‘I only wish this ends in the courtroom and justice will be served. This time, I won’t fall victim to your plans like I did before, Miss Anetta.’
“Isn’t it better to get used to ‘Miss Anetta’ again? Since you will be stripped of the title soon. Or do you want me to start calling you ‘wifey’? Perhaps we still have a chance.’
At that time, she had been too angry to even entertain his bullshit but now the words filled her with dread because they had a possibility of coming true. Thinking about him still wanting her filled her with disgust and she shuddered.
What exactly does Viscount North want? Siana wondered. She didn’t have to end up with him. I could run away and live with Yulia for a while. But I can’t bear the thought of separating from Alan. If the court gave a retraining order, she would never be able to meet him again. I can’t bear it. I don’t want to be away from Alan.
Siana felt helpless. She felt like she could do nothing to resolve the situation. She was so tired of feeling useless and helpless. She curled up in a ball wrapping her hands around herself.
“Sia?” called Alan. She flinched when she heard his voice in the dark suddenly.
He propped himself on his elbow and turned to her. He had been lying so still on the ed that Siana had thought he had fallen asleep.
“Weren’t you asleep?” she asked, aghast, “Did I wake you?”
“No, I was asleep for a little while,” he said, “Then I woke up. What’s wrong?’
“Nothing,” said Siana.
“Alan’s hand stroked Siana’s cheek. He looked at her with worry. His concern touched her and made her feel even more sad that she might not see him looking at her like that in the future.
“Is it because of what happened toady at the courtroom?” he asked.
“Yeh,” she said sadly, biting her lower lip.
She had thought about pretending as though everything was alright for a moment. But she thought it would be wiser to just be honest. Alan wouldn’t have believed her anyway, She was trembling. Alan reached out and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close.
“It will be alright,” said Alan.
Siana didn’t respond.
“Nothing can break us up, Sia,” he said, “I will do whatever it takes to keep you by my side. Don’t worry.”
At his words, Siana buried her face into his arms. Siana wrapped her arms around his waist and held him tightly.
“Alan,” she called
“Love me for today,” she said.
Alan stilled himself. He understood what she meant. “Please,” she said, “I want you to love me.”
“I already love you, Sia,” he said after a long while.
His whispers made her body quiver. It was cruel to see that he confessed his love for her while pretending to not understand what she meant. “You know what I mean,” she said, “Do you want me to say it again?”
She didn’t know if he was turned off because she asked first. She snuggled close to him. “Show me how much you love me, Alan,” she said, “I want to feel safe and loved in your arms.”
When he didn’t respond or move, her heart started pounding. Has she said something wrong? Maybe she shouldn’t have…. She raised her head from his chest to look at him. He was looking at her so tenderly. His blue eyes bore into hers. She froze.
He turned her on her back and crawled on top of her. He kissed her passionately, his tongue exploring her mouth. She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around Alan’s neck. His hot breath tickled her skin as his kissed trailed down to her neck, her collarbone and her chest. His hands fumbled with the string tying her night shift together at the front. In a heartbeat, he had untied it. The cloth fell exposing her chest.
His hands caressed and grabbed at her chest. Siana gasped. Alan seemed more desperate than usual. But Siana didn’t mind. He kissed and caressed her. He tore the remaining clothes from her body. Her fingers fumbled with the buttons on his shirt.
His shirt fell away exposing his chest. Siana flushed at the sight of his pulsating muscles. She was so flustered that she turned her head away unable to look him in the eye. She was embarrassed at having asked him in the first place. Alan kissed her on the neck and bit her on the shoulders softly sending Siana trembling and gasping.