“So, to what do I owe the honor of your divine company, Miss Holden?”
She quirked a neat eyebrow and opened her rose petal lips, a motion he watched with sober interest. Everything about her stirred a subtle, yet alarming attraction. All of this forced him to keep reminding himself the woman existed only as a means to an end, nothing more.
“My lord, I’ve come…” She hesitated, he believed, to gather enough courage to go through with her reason.
“You’ve come,” he repeated in an overly husky voice, trying to fluster her further.
She puffed out her cheeks and tempered a few silent words. He wanted to chuckle. He refrained, instead, by hiding his mirth behind a tight fist.
“You think my discomfort is amusing, do you not?” she asked, seeing right through him. If she expected an answer, she didn’t wait to hear it, her body set in motion at a hurried pace in his direction. “Edward told me—”
Wesley shot out of his relaxed stance and met her halfway. He towered over her, trying to intimidate her. To his dismay, she didn’t cower, she didn’t even flinch.
“Yes,” he said, bending down low enough to see a hint of amber reflected in her distrusting eyes. “Go on. I’d love to hear more about your dear cousin, Miss Holden.”
As he waited for her response, the light from the open window shifted, bathing his guest in the brilliant radiance of the late-day sun. She remained silent, her hands flying to the pocket of her dress, as if to protect whatever lay inside. Beyond any doubt, Wesley believed she knew something. She would not be here, would not have come swathed in mystery and risking her own reputation, if this did not involve Edward’s guidance in some way.
The curiosity of what she held compelled him to keep her at Penndrake until he found out what Edward Garrett wanted her to know. Out of patience, he eased away from her.
“Miss Holden, may I suggest we take a walk in the gardens? The day is almost gone, but there is enough light to see us through, allowing us to discuss this further without interruption.”
Again, she opened her curved lip but said nothing. Suspicion sprang from her demeanor, her gaze darting
around the room as if searching for the closest exit. Instead of fleeing, however, she motioned with a surrendering nod, stepping forward until the coat of arms over the fireplace caught her attention.
He studied her as she examined the Wesley motto, her lips moving mutely as she read the three words embedded at the bottom of the shield. Shameful heat rose from deep inside him, and he lifted a rare prayer to the heavens for her not to know the meaning of those powerful words. Maybes he was too poor to have been schooled like her giddy cousins.
Even so, he studied her curious face until she turned to him, her eyes void of any awareness or comprehension. Breathing a sigh of relief, he held his arm out for her to take. She paused, a timid and uncertain hand coming up to rest on his sleeve.
Outside, the day had faded into dusk and dazzled the sight, impressing upon it a majestic beauty of pearl-pink altostratus clouds. Behind them tumbled a blanket of slate-gray vapors, an ominous forewarning of twilight.
The much cooler breeze tugged at the tails of his heavy jacket. He slowed his pace and continued to escort her down a flight of stone steps onto a spacious unblemished lawn. They walked for several hundred yards in silence, him admiring her wondrous interest. On their way to the garden, they passed the stocked fish pond and the honeysuckle-laden labyrinth.
Toward the east, he halted at a stone fountain, centered in the thickest part of the coppice. Large shadows turned the evening darker, the chilly autumn wind transforming Miss Holden’s dewy skin to a nice pink. With his arm outstretched, he persuaded her to a wrought iron bench on the opposite side of where they stood.
“Please have a seat with me.”
He pointed, and she accepted his invitation, much too carelessly, he thought.
She sat down first, her behind resting on the farthest edge of one side. Not to frighten her, he followed suit, allowing enough space to fit her three female cousins between them.
After a quiet moment, he pronounced, “I believe you don’t think too highly of me, Miss Holden, and I would like to persuade you otherwise.”
She drew back and gawked at him with wide sage-like eyes. A wisp of her hair tumbled down into her thick lashes.
Unhindered, she blew it away with a quickly exhaled breath.
Her refinement, or lack thereof, surprised him. Most women—no—all women of her lower station practiced the art of how to appeal to a man and his interests, enough so to attract an amiable and sensible husband. Perhaps, however, Miss Kathryn Holden had no reason to draw the attention of the opposite sex, especially since she had another companion in mind. He tried to convince himself it didn’t matter either way.
Her experience might play to his advantage.
Still, he sought the truth on the matter, just because his thoughts weren’t able to let it go. “Forgive me if I seem too impertinent—”
She scoffed. “You’ve just now thought of apologizing for something you’re about to say? How extraordinary.”
He chuckled and shook his head. “Sarcasm does not become you, madam.”
“Neither does naivety.”
A LEO wife, mother, and military veteran, Tammy began writing when the shows
and movies she watched didn't end the way she wanted them to end. Whether
it's historical or contemporary, for her, there must always be a happy ending.
When she's not writing, she's spending time with her husband and two boys near
Cleveland, Ohio. Without their sacrifice and understanding, she believes she
would have never been able to pursue her passion of writing or her