When Corinne was certain that Eric was deep in his slumber she dressed once more in the thick fur cloak she had worn during her walk and searched for a piece of parchment. On finding one, she wrote a note to Eric telling him that she was borrowing Whisper and riding to Dachshund Manor to talk to Richard; she placed this where he would see it before leaving the cottage.
At the manor, Corinne managed to tie Whisper in the stables without releasing any other horses. She proceeded to the door which when she knocked was answered by an astonished-looking Samantha.
“Corinne?” she asked, so surprised that she seemed to have woken up quickly. “Is that you?”
Corinne nodded. “Hello, Samantha. I need to see Lord Richard.”
“Lord Richard?” Samantha asked, puzzled. “But why come now? Why not during the day?”
“I was recently struck by this idea - I did not want to lose conviction in my actions. Also, Eric is asleep at this time so I can leave without disturbing him.”
Samantha frowned. “Those do not seem the greatest reasons.”
“Please let me in. There’s a chance I might live here again, Samantha. Wouldn’t that make Lord Richard happy?”
Samantha continued to frown.
“But perhaps it is unwise since you have hurt him so first. He may not be sober if he is awake, Corinne. He has been drinking alarming amounts of alcohol. There has scarcely been a night when he has not become intoxicated.”
“Please,” Corinne begged, willing to go to her knees in the snow if necessary.
Samantha sighed heavily.
“Oh, if you must then. But if you leave without any intention of residing here, I would advise that you never returned.”
“I understand,” Corinne said, nodding fervently.
The maid stepped aside and Corinne walked in, instantly overwhelmed by three strong, vivid memories of times when the manor had really had an impact on her: the first ever time she had entered it, the first time she had entered in the uniform of a maid and the first time she had entered it knowing that it was to be her new home.
“Is he in his chamber?” Corinne asked, part of her wondering how she could talk while she was remembering events during which her breath had been taken away.
“Pray do not upset him,” she said, a look of anxiety crossing her features. “He is already in such a state.”
“I will speak gently,” Corinne promised before hurrying up the staircase and along to Richard’s room. She took a deep breath before doing anything else, wondering what would transpire during this night-time visit.
Letting out this breath she slowly pushed open the door and stepped into Richard’s bedchamber.
On the floor between the bed and the wall which the bed was facing sat Richard. His face was covered by his hands and his shoulders were shaking and it took Corinne a minute to realise that he was crying.
“Richard!” she exclaimed, running over to him and embracing him tightly. The concern that had instantly arisen in Corinne reiterated the fact that she was in love with him and as she held him she could not help but feel guilt even if it had been Richard’s actions which had driven her to leave him.
“C-Corinne?” he asked, in a voice that sounded too young, too vulnerable to be that of her beloved Lord Richard.
“Yes, it’s me, my darling,” she replied, anguished by the tears which had moistened the skin on her neck.
“It can’t be,” he whispered but he held onto her all the same. “You’re living with Eric, you wouldn’t be here.”
“Oh, but I am, Richard,” she said, almost wanting to cry herself. “I’m here and if you can fulfil those promises you made earlier I will be here forever.”
“Promises?” he repeated, confused.
“To change. To tell me the reasons for your behaviour. Oh, Richard, I’m in love with you - goodness knows that - but I need to be sure: sure that we’ll be the happy couple we were always destined to be.”
“Happy couple,” Richard murmured, sounding like he was tasting the words on his tongue.
“Yes,” Corinne replied, remembering her dreams and the happiness on her and Richard’s faces in these as they had kissed for the first time as husband and wife.
Richard drew back, though still holding onto one of Corinne’s arms, and looked her in the eye. She noticed his chest rising and falling at a faster rate.
“Calm down, my darling,” she said soothingly.
Richard’s jaw clenched and he said, “Darling. You called me darling. And I ... I want to do the same.”
For some reason stating this put a great strain on Richard. Corinne could see pain in his eyes and feel tension in his arm muscles.
“You can,” she said gently. “I’m here so you can tell me how you really feel.”
Richard nodded but looked frightened.
“Are you all right, Richard?” Corinne asked anxiously.
“I am. I know I can do this.”
He took several deep breaths but afterwards shook his head, covering his face with his free hand.
“My darling, what is it?” Corinne asked, frightened by his behaviour.
Richard removed his hand and looked once more into her eyes. Reacting to a certain feeling he could see in them his expression hardened, becoming one of determination.
“I can tell you,” he said. “I can tell you what you need to know.”
“Yes, you can,” Corinne said, seeing that he needed support. “Be strong, my darling.”
“I will. For you I will.”
Once more he took a deep breath. But this time he did not lose confidence and began to speak.
“Seventeen years ago,” he said slowly, “there was a day when my mother started coughing. And ... the illness she had ... my dad caught it too. It... it was fatal.”
“Oh, Richard,” Corinne whispered, shocked, her heart filling fast with sadness and sympathy.
Richard embraced Corinne and buried his face into her shoulder.
“I’ve told you. Oh, goodness, I’ve told you.”
Richard began crying again, soaking Corinne’s shoulder yet Corinne didn’t care because she held him tightly, unable to imagine the pain he was in.
After a while Richard sat up straighter and wiped his eyes.
“Their death was the reason I never allowed myself to be close to anyone,” he said, his gaze focused on the floor of his chamber. “I did not want to love to find myself broken-hearted in the future.”
“Oh, Richard,” Corinne murmured.
He sighed heavily.
“I have never told anyone.”
Corinne reached out and grasped his shoulder, applying gentle but firm pressure to it.
“Then you are brave. I admire you for it. You are brave beyond what is to be expected of a man. To speak of a traumatic experience... it was amazing of you.”
Richard looked up and smiled at Corinne, a warm, sincere smile that set her heart racing in delight.
“The act has gladdened me. For now I feel liberated and able to ... well, allow me to demonstrate.” And Richard pulled Corinne closer to him and kissed her upon the lips.
When he withdrew the pair were both beaming brilliantly.
“I love you,” Richard said, and Corinne could hear his confidence as he spoke the words and the absence of fear which had caused him to hesitate before.
“I love you too,” she murmured, and embraced him tightly.
A few hours later they were both asleep, nestled close upon the floor, their expressions openly conveying their shared happiness and the love they felt for each other. If any member of the staff had encountered this sight their spirits surely would have leapt for joy because their lord was finally prepared to give his heart to a woman.