Once upon a time, I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Rebecca, The Dowager Countess of Matlock (née Rebecca Fairchild) for the first time since she told me her amazing love story, The Earl’s Conquest. I’d never interviewed someone before, so I requested questions from readers who submitted some very insightful inquiries for the impertinent grandmother of Fitzwilliam Darcy. I thought I’d share it again here. I hope you enjoy!
LLD: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me once more, Lady Matlock.
LM: It is my pleasure. I cannot pretend to understand why you wished to know so many particulars of my and Gerald’s story, but I do hope you were pleased with the tale.
LLD: I was, and I enjoyed writing it immensely. I have had a few favourable comments and reviews from readers as well.
LM: (Blushes) I understand they have questions for me.
LLD: They do. I hope you don’t mind.
LM: (Smirks) Well, I suppose that depends upon the question.
LLD: Then I’ll get right to it. Our first question is from Patty. She would like to
know “What is the one thing that drew you to the earl?”
LM: One thing? As in one attribute or personality trait?
LLD: Yes, perhaps something you noticed when the two of you first met?
LM: I do not know if I can single out one trait. When I first met him, he was everything handsome and kind—even if I found him infuriating at the time—after all, he was spying on me as I danced. As we came to know one another he certainly earned my respect and my love. That man could have the patience of Job when he was determined, and he was insistent he would win my hand.
LLD: He never wavered, did he?
LM: He did not! Bless him! He was one of the most steadfast and loyal individuals I have ever known.
LLD: The next question is from Debbie. “How did you adjust to your new situation when you married the earl? Did you find it difficult, even with the support of your husband?”
LM: It was challenging in that it took time for me to learn all of my duties. I had been accustomed to running Marysden, but that house was a great deal smaller than Matlock. I also had the home in London to run as well. I was fortunate that Gerald had good housekeepers in place who did not mind helping me along.
Gerald and Sophie both aided me socially. Sophie took me on calls during my first London season and sponsored me when I was presented to the queen—such a ridiculous bit of pomp if you ask me! The gown I was required to wear was a monstrosity. (She rolls her eyes.) I do hope ladies wardrobes have become more sensible in the future.
LLD: (I laugh.) It depends upon the lady.
LM: (She gives a dry chuckle.) I suppose there is always a Caroline Bingley.
LLD: Yes, there is. Before we get side-tracked, how did your husband help your transition to countess?
LM: Oh yes! He remained by my side when we were at the theatre or a ball, especially when we were first wed. If he was required to be with the gentlemen, I had Sophie nearby. She never left me to the wolves.
LLD: Speaking of sisters, Jennifer asks, “How about a favourite moment with your sister, now that she ate humble pie.”
LM: She is referring to Sarah? (Her brow furrows and she pauses for a few moments.) Sarah was such a different person after her first marriage. Initially, she was so timid and worried Gerald would not forgive her previous behaviour, though she was rather humorous when she finally accepted Gerald’s cousin.
My father was travelling when they became betrothed, and I remember Charles waited until after dinner that evening to request permission from Gerald. Sarah had said naught of his proposal, but became so out of sorts. She paced. She bit her fingernails. She made one or two attempts to sit, but her skirt would never touch the chair because she would bounce back to her feet.
She was so concerned Gerald would withhold his consent. As if he would! He was just as pleased for her as he was for Charles.
LLD: Our next question comes from Gail, who asks, “What are some of the everyday moments from your relationship that made your marriage stronger?”
LM: We made time for one another every day. Even when the children were old enough to take meals with us, we at least had tea or a luncheon where it was just the two of us. We spoke of concerns, of trivial matters, and we teased—we were always finding humour in one another.
I remember Gerald took me to see Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and I fell asleep.
LLD: You fell asleep? Really?
LM: Oh yes. I was with child at the time. I had just felt Henry quicken a few days prior to the performance. Gerald wished to remain at home that evening—he could tell how exhausted I was, but I was stubborn and insisted.
At some point during the second act, my head dropped to his shoulder. He never let me forget it either. He always said he would take me to the theatre if I could manage to stay awake, or he would ask if the play being performed was interesting enough to keep me awake. If I could not sleep, he would offer to take me to the theatre. (Chuckles.)
LLD: One more question about Gerald. (She nods.) This one is from Kathy. She asks, “How did you cope, how did you manage to go on, after you lost him? How did you go on living with the joy in life that you still have after he passed?”
LM: I admit I did not cope well when he first passed. The physician believed his heart just gave out as he slept. I never had any clue or reason to believe he was unwell, so it was a shock. (Her eyes well with tears, and she dabs the corners with a handkerchief.)
I did fall into despair, but I saw the repercussions of my melancholy in the behaviour of my son and grandchildren. They were so concerned I would follow Gerald—that I would wish to follow him. I admit that a part of me did indeed want to go with him, but that attitude would not have pleased Gerald. He loved my laughter, my wit, and my happiness. He would have despised seeing me in such a state.
I realised my family needed me as well, and I would have missed so much if I had surrendered to my grief. My granddaughter, Lizzy, says she is not meant for melancholy, and I believe I am of a similar nature. Goodness knows, Lizzy and I have much in common and certainly are kindred spirits! We both much prefer laughter to tears.
LLD: Now, Lynn asks, “Is there one of your grandchildren that you feel is the most like your husband? If so who and why?”
LM: (Appears puzzled.) What a difficult question since each of my grandchildren share traits with Gerald. I would have to say Colonel Fitzwilliam is the most similar in personality and looks. He has Gerald’s sandy brown hair and eye colour. My grandson is also loyal and steadfast. I have heard the colonel described about Town as “not handsome, but in person and address most truly the gentleman.” (I can hardly be partial since he is my grandson.) So, whilst the colonel shares similarities with Gerald, he is not the same. Gerald was a very handsome man.
LLD: Lora asks, “Did you find it frustrating to help raise Catherine and see how difficult and unloving she turned out although she lived most of her childhood in a loving home. She never came to love her younger half-siblings as she should have.
LM: (She sighs.) Catherine was so recalcitrant, which was certainly frustrating. I attempted to spend time with her—just the two of us. I would take her shopping or to an art exhibit, but she never relented or showed much emotion. It broke Gerald’s heart, and that had to be the most disheartening aspect. Gerald offered to hire masters for her to learn piano, drawing—whatever accomplishments she desired to learn, but she refused them all. As she became a young lady, we had to insist she join us on family outings to the park or to ride as she preferred to remain in solitude.
Catherine and Anne had a friendship of sorts after Fitzwilliam was born, but of course, that was more for Catherine’s benefit than that of true caring on her part. She never did give up hope that Anne would help her betroth Fitzwilliam and her daughter, Anne DeBourgh.
LLD: Jennifer also asks, “Any other thoughts on that “mother – daughter” relationship?”
LM: That is broad. (Chuckles) I wish I could have enjoyed a mother-daughter relationship with Catherine as I did Anne. I do not want it to sound as though I expected them to be similar. They were as different as chalk and cheese, but I would have been pleased to giggle with her over a silly joke when she was young or a handsome boy when she was old enough.
After Catherine’s debut, I had a maid bring a tray with chocolate and biscuits to her bedchambers. I hoped she might like to speak with me, and I wanted to hear her impressions of her ball. I knew she might refuse, and she did. I was very happy to share the experience with Anne when the time came.
LLD: Your last question is from Carol. She asks, “What is your favourite book?”
LM: I cannot imagine picking one favourite, though I have taken a great deal of pleasure in an author whose first novel was published only a few years ago. The books are said to be written by “A Lady.” I imagine you might know her true identity in your time.
LLD: I do, but I know how she values her privacy too.
LM: (Gives a sly grin) I can keep a secret, but it is probably best that you do not tell me. I would not wish to break her confidence by mistake.
LLD: The readers and I thank you for your time, Lady Matlock.
LM: I have enjoyed the time we spent together, Mrs. Diamond, though I am still vexed you would tell me so little about the future. All I have seen is that device you always place on the side table.
LLD: I do apologise, but that was part of the agreement.
LM: Yes, but you need not remind me of that. I confess I hoped you would forget!
I was persuaded to remain for dinner before I returned to my own time and home. Lady Matlock still attempted to wheedle information from me about the authoress she favours, and I enjoyed changing the subject. She is an intelligent lady and much more used to ferreting out information than I am!
Success! You're on the list.
Whoops! There was an error and we couldn't process your subscription. Please reload the page and try again.
Did you know that in as late as Victorian times water was considered dangerous? In fact, one of the main causes of death in children was tainted water. Adults avoided a similar fate by mixing wine with their water—nothing like a little alcohol to kill the germs! So, in Regency England, if you eliminated plain water, what was left?
We often read of Darcy enjoying a brandy, Mr. Bennet having some Port or sherry, or everyone drinking a glass of wine with their dinner. Tea, coffee, and drinking chocolate were non-alcoholic options—particularly in more affluent homes, but the rich comprised only a small fraction of the population in 19th century England. Servants and the lower classes required something to drink and tea was an expensive commodity many could not afford. Servants drank tea brewed from what was left after the mistress of the house served the family and her guests, but what else did the servants drink?
Many of us are familiar with beer and ale, but did you know they were usually made in one’s own house? The wealthy would hire a brewer who would reside at the estate for a month as he brewed several hundred gallons for the family with hops and malt purchased from local merchants. This person would not only brew the higher quality ale for the master of the house, but also the weaker version for the servants. Some great houses even had pipes that ran throughout the servant’s area below stairs. These pipes were part of an elaborate system that brought the ale from the drums to the kitchen and other areas of the house to be served.
Small Beer, which was also referred to as ‘small ale’, ‘common beer’, and ‘rot gut’, was the low alcohol ale often drank by the servants of the house. On average, servants consumed a minimum of a quart of beer a day, and due to such heavy consumption as well as a short shelf-life, that particular mixture was brewed often over the course of a year.
Porter was a dark brown beer brewed from toasted malt. It had a “modest” alcohol content. Porters and laborers were said to drink it for strength and often cost around two pence. Though this type of beer originated in England and was likely popular due to its low cost, it is not widely consumed these days, much to my husband’s chagrin.
Gin was cheap alcohol in those days and was called such names as: Madame Geneva, Strip-me-naked, and Blue Ruin. Since it was more than fifty percent alcohol by volume, a man could get well into his cups for as little as a penny. Two-pence could render one in need of a bed of straw to sleep off its effects.
Rum was the other hard liquor common during this time as whiskey was virtually unknown. As this particular drink was imported, duties to the government were to be paid before a drop could be sold, so rum for the lower classes was often mixed with something else. For example, sailors often drank Grog, which consisted of rum, water, and lime juice; however, the wealthy would use rum in punches comprised of water, rum, citrus juice, sugar, and spices.
Punches was commonly imbibed during this time, and quite a few recipes can be found for different versions. Gin could be used in the place of brandy and rum, but gin was not as popular as brandy and rum.
Other variations of punches included-
Negus – Wine or port, boiling water, lemon, sugar, and grated nutmeg heated. Some recipes include calves foot jelly (Yuck!).
Ratafia – Punch flavored with the pits of fruits such as peaches, plums, or apricots. The object was to have it taste of bitter almonds.
Arrack – Distilled juice of a coconut palm.
Ramfustian – A dozen whisked eggs, a quart of strong beer, a pint of gin, a bottle of sherry, nutmeg, sugar, and lemon rind. This resembles what we today think of as Egg Nog, which according to my research was once also referred to in England as Egg Flip.
Regent’s punch – Two bottles of Madeira, three of champagne, one of Curacao and hock, one pint of rum, one quart of brandy, four pounds of oranges, lemons and raisins sweetened with sugar, two bottles of seltzer water. It could be diluted with green tea.
Madeira was quite fashionable in Regency England. This vintage was a sweet fortified wine from the Portuguese island of the same name. Madeira was matured in the hull of a ship as it sailed near the equator, the heat of the trip providing it with a distinctive flavor. No one is sure why the wine was not ruined from the maturation process.
Port was another wine imported from Portugal and often drank by the men after the ladies departed the dining room. The host would bring out the decanter, pour himself glass, and pass the bottle to his left (the port side), where that gentleman would pour his glass and pass the decanter again swiftly before he was deemed rude by the remainder of the guests.
Success! You're on the list.
Whoops! There was an error and we couldn't process your subscription. Please reload the page and try again.
I was rambling through a museum site that has open access artwork, found this lovely portrait, and thought it was time to spruce up Particular Intentions’ cover. I do love the old one, but I love this one as well. Oddly, I think the paperback is my favorite, when I usually prefer the Kindle cover. I can’t explain it, but there’s something about the way more images fit in the Kindle frame that I prefer.
As of today, the changes should be live. Yay!
Let’s start with the Kindle!
I even have an audiobook cover! Those take a bit longer since I have to email the cover to Audible and have them make the change.
I hope you love the new cover as much as I do! Now for an outtake! This was part of the blog tour, but I thought I’d share it with you here. I hope you enjoy!
The carriage came to a stop and the door opened. “Lord, but get out! It is so crowded!” Lizzy and Jane exited and Lydia exhaled as she spread herself as much as she could.
Once Mary and her father alighted, Lydia jabbed an elbow to Kitty’s ribs and pushed herself forward to step down from the carriage first. She shook out her skirts as her body hummed in anticipation.
It was a ball! Dancing, food, and soldiers, militia in their red coats, all waiting to dance with her, and she would do all she could to enjoy herself—especially when it came to dancing with Denny or Saunderson or Wickham!
After one last tug at her skirts, she pushed underneath her bosom until her breasts were straining against the edge of her gown. That was better! Now, she would receive more than one application to dance and if she was fortunate, a moment or two on the terrace.
She took a determined step in the direction of the house, but a hand grasped her elbow before she could take another.
“Where do you think you are going?”
She ripped her arm from her father’s hold. “I am following Lizzy and Jane into the ball.”
“You were informed of the rules for this evening before we departed Longbourn. You are to remain by my side when you are not dancing. Do not for one moment believe I have forgotten or I have changed my mind.”
“You cannot be in earnest!”
“Lydia, if you decide to have a tantrum, I will return you to Longbourn where you will remain for the entirety of the night. I will not countenance such an unseemly display in company. ”
Her foot smarted when she stomped the hard earth, packed firm from the numerous carriages which had already passed, but her father did not even flinch.
Her protests had been so vehement the night of the party at Lucas, she had rendered herself hoarse, but her father still did not allow her or Kitty to attend. He was being just as obstinate tonight. Why was he determined to torment her?
“Come along. Lizzy and Jane are about to enter, and we should greet Mr. Bingley as a family.”
Kitty trailed their father while Lydia crossed her arms under her chest. This was so unfair! She dropped one hand to lift her skirts as she trudged behind her mother; however when they reached the steps, her mother pressed her forward.
“Mr. Bennet,” called Mama, with a wink in her direction. “Surely this is not necessary. Lydia only means to dance with the officers. They will be quite disappointed if she cannot walk to the refreshment table or take the night air.”
Her father made an abrupt stop. “The last thing my daughters will do is venture out of doors with members of the militia. I forbid it! Why you believe that to be acceptable is beyond my comprehension.”
“But they must find husbands!”
Lydia bit her lip and did her best not to bounce on her toes. Her father always capitulated when her mother used that shrill tone.
“If Mr. Darcy’s courtship of Lizzy continues as it should, you will have a home after I die. He is an honourable man and would not leave you and my remaining daughters to starve in the hedgerows. Lydia is too young for marriage and I will not see her wed before she is at least seventeen.”
“Oh, Mr. Bennet!” Her mother dabbed at her eyes, but her father merely rolled his eyes and strode into the house.
When they caught up with Lizzy and Jane, a strange odour tickled her nostrils. She put her fingers to her nose and swallowed hard. Ugh! When did Mr. Collins join them? Was it not bad enough that she had to give him her third set?
She curtsied when they approached Mr. Bingley and the Hursts, then glanced around the ballroom at the guests. Saunderson and Denny would attend would they not? Her first set, however, was meant for Mr. Wickham. His handsome countenance in regimentals was why she had set her cap for him.
She was determined. She would be the first of her sisters wed and it would be to Wickham! His charm, his brilliant smile, and not to mention his firm buttocks would be hers for the rest of her life. Lord, she wanted that man!
Particular Intentions is on Kindle, Free with Kindle Unlimited, Paperback, and Audible!
This is a bit of goofy fun I wrote a long time ago. Once upon a time, when one of the JAFF sites had a chat page, a friend of mine and I began joking around about Lady Catherine as a child, which I wrote and posted in a shorts forum there. I took it out and gave it a quick once over and refresh so I could share it with you here. Happy Reading!
Tea with Lady Catherine
Lady Catherine Fitzwilliam studied those assembled at the table for tea. To her left, her younger sister Anne sat forward in her small, plush chair, an eager smile and her favourite doll clutched in her arms.
The remainder of her exalted guests were two of Catherine’s own dolls, the nursery’s rocking horse at the other end of the table, and lastly the rabbit her mother had crafted from a bit of soft, ivory muslin, left over from one of her mother’s best day gowns.
Mr. Collins had grown rather shabby over the last few years. How could he not since he was dragged everywhere Catherine travelled? One of his ears was frayed at the end, one button eye, salvaged from one of her father’s old topcoats, was missing, but despite his imperfections, he wore a tiny new suit her mother made from her father’s cast-offs. Today, Mr. Collins was bent at the waist in an undignified manner, his forehead resting on the table.
“Are we ready for tea, Catherine?”
She turned her gaze to Anne and straightened as tall as a girl of seven years was capable. “Has everyone a cup?”
Anne glanced around the table and nodded. “Yes, Sister.”
Catherine reached for the pot of tea the maid had delivered a short time ago. After she poured everyone a cup, Anne passed the tea to their guests then placed a cup before herself.
“Anne, be certain all have a piece of cake—Mr. Collins should have two since he is so fond of sweets. I am particularly attentive to such matters just as you should be when you are older and host your own tea.”
Her sister nodded with wide eyes. Dear Anne was two years her junior and followed Catherine everywhere, which was often a nuisance, but quite endearing as well. Catherine did take great pleasure in those who paid her the proper deference her position as the eldest deserved. Of course, Mr. Collins always flattered her and paid her such compliments, but he hardly counted.
Once the refreshments had been doled out as was proper, Catherine took a dainty sip of her tea. “Mr. Collins, I have decided it is time for you to take a wife.” Anne giggled, but Catherine paid her no heed. “I expect you to choose properly, choose a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high. This is my advice. Find such a woman as soon as you can, bring her to Matlock, and I will visit her.”
With a huff, she set down her cup and attempted to prop Mr. Collins so he was not leaning against the table, but it was of no use, he plopped right back against the table as though he were bowing in subservience.
“How does one know if she is useful?” asked Anne. “What sort of woman is a good wife to a clergyman?”
Catherine rolled her eyes. “I would not want my parson to choose someone who puts on airs as Mrs. Elton does. How could a parson’s wife think herself above us? Us, the daughters of an earl! It is intolerable!”
Anne sipped her tea as she thought. When she had swallowed, she tilted her head. “Yet she is an adult. Father and Mother insist we should have respect for Mrs. Graham as well, and she is the housekeeper. Should a clergyman’s wife not deserve more consideration than a servant?”
Her teeth dug into her cheek. Why did she include Anne? Her younger sister never failed to sour whatever game Catherine wished to play. She reached over and thrust Mr. Collins into his seat in one last attempt to forcibly straighten him. When she released the worn rabbit, he appeared as though he would finally sit, but once she returned to her chair, he began to inch forward until he fell face first from his perch.
She grabbed Mr. Collins, plunked him back in his chair, and sat back, to cast a critical eye upon her sister. “Have you practised the pianoforte since you last worked with Miss Hartley?”
Anne’s cheeks pinked while she placed her cup in its saucer. “I can now perform the piece if asked.” Her tiny pale palms pressed together. “I hope she will give me a new song at my next lesson.”
“I am pleased.” Catherine gave a nod as she had often seen her mother do when the ladies of the Ton paid their calls. “I expect you to apply yourself diligently. You cannot expect to excel if you do not practise a great deal. No excellence in music is to be gained without constant practise. Should I have the opportunity to learn, I would be a true proficient.”
Anne’s brow furrowed. “If you wished to learn, then why did you fly into such a temper when my father suggested you learn the pianoforte?”
Catherine’s cheeks burned as she placed another cake on Mr. Collins plate. “I do not want to.”
Anne started at her snappish tone. “I like the pianoforte. You would too if you tried.”
Catherine turned her attention to her cake. The pianoforte was a useless endeavour!
“How are my two favourite ladies diverting themselves this afternoon?”
Catherine’s eyes darted to where her father stood in the doorway.
Anne perked and bounced in her chair. “Tea, father!”
He gave a wide grin as he approached and kneeled between Anne and her. “And may I request an introduction to your guests?
“Emma did not want to sit in her chair,” said Anne, holding up her doll. “She preferred my lap.” She gestured towards the rocking horse. “You know Horsey of course.”
He nodded. “I am quite familiar with Horsey—”
“Mr. Collins has joined us as well,” interrupted Catherine. Her sister always tried to take all of their father’s attention!
Her father laughed when he looked in the rabbit’s direction. “Mr. Collins appears in his cups.”
Catherine glanced to her beloved toy and frowned. “He is very well, I assure you.”
“I am certain he is.” He placed a kiss upon her forehead. “I heard mention of the pianoforte. I hope you have changed your mind about learning, Catherine. I would dearly love for both my ladies to entertain me in the evenings after dinner.”
“I have not.” She turned and faced Mr. Collins as her father gave a weary sigh.
“Are you prepared for your lesson, Sweetling?” Anne was probably nodding and doing her utmost to impress her father. Catherine drew her lips into a thin line.
“I have practised. Would you care to hear?”
“I would. Why do we not go down to the music room, and you can perform for me there? We can fetch your mother from her sitting room on our way.” At the sound of Anne’s little feet upon the floor, Catherine turned.
Anne paused before the door and looked over her shoulder. “Would you like to join us?”
“Yes, Catherine, do join us,” said her father with a warm smile.
She surveyed the table. “We have not finished our tea.”
His shoulders dropped a bit. “Very well. I do hope you will have Miss Carter escort you to the music room once you have finished tea.”
She gave a slight nod and watched as her father took her sister’s hand and strode through the door. Then she turned to Mr. Collins and returned him with rough hands into his chair. “Drink your tea, Mr. Collins! I will not tolerate your poor manners any longer!”
Mr. Collins lurched to one side and once again fell off his chair.
Catherine rose and stomped her foot so hard it smarted. “I am most seriously displeased!”
When I first laid eyes on the expanse of pristine white beach, I slid off my sandals, stepped down from the dock to the water’s edge, and gave in to the urge to squish the damp sand between my toes. The warmth of the sun magically prickled my skin as I took a deep breath, inhaling the air kissed with the heavy, salt scent of the sea while brilliant aquamarine water stretched forever until it darkened when it met the cloudless azure-colored sky. A slight breeze wafted in from the sea along with the occasional whitecap that broke along the sand. I still couldn’t believe I stood there absorbing every last breathtaking bit. I’d saved up for years for this vacation, and I was finally here. Two weeks! Two weeks to snorkel, lay out on the beach, or maybe scuba dive if I felt like it. Whatever I wanted. I was servant to no one’s whims but my own.
My plane had landed mid-afternoon, so it was already too late to plan anything for today, but I would definitely have to decide what to do tomorrow. I’d never traveled on my own before but why should being alone be an issue? I wouldn’t have to check with someone else before I made plans, and I wouldn’t disappoint or frustrate someone if I wanted to be lazy and relax in my villa with room service and a chick flick—not that I had any intention of doing so. At least, not yet.
“Miss Barrett?” I tore my eyes away from the picturesque view in front of me to the uniformed porter ambling down the dock. “Your bags are in your villa, number ten, just down on the left. Are you sure you don’t need me to introduce you to the amenities we offer?”
I shook my head. “No, thank you. I’m certain I can figure it all out on my own. I am interested in snorkeling tomorrow. Could you recommend a guide perhaps? Someone who knows the best places and can take me there.”
“You’re welcome to snorkel off the deck of your villa, but the resort also offers tours. Your villa has a portfolio with all of our packages on the desk near the phone. Be sure to call as soon as you decide. You never know when the tours will fill quickly.”
I lifted one side of my lips. “Of course, I will. I suppose I would’ve known about the portfolio if I’d let you show me around. I apologize.”
“No worries, miss. If you require anything further, feel free to call our concierge desk. One of our staff will be happy to assist you.”
“Thank you.” I opened the small purse hanging at my side and pulled out a tip, which the young man accepted with a thank you before heading back toward the huge hut-like building that housed the lobby, the restaurants, and probably some sort of conference center.
A warm breeze rippled through the palms behind me, blowing the long curls back from my face and pressing my gauzy white skirt against my legs. The resort was paradise—no fussy clients, no work, no family, no one to please but myself. My sister Jena was right. I did need this. The biggest question now was what to do first?
That wasn’t a difficult question to answer. A shower to wash the stale airplane smell from my hair and skin was a must! By the time I dressed, the different restaurants at the resort would be open for dinner. I’d need to call and book a reservation, not to mention schedule that snorkeling tour for the earliest slot available tomorrow.
My footsteps made a steady cadence down the wooden planking of the dock until I reached my villa on the left, but before I could open the door, a loud voice from one of the huts nearby almost made me jump out of my skin.
“No, I just arrived yesterday. I have no intention of leaving so soon.” I lifted my eyebrows. Whoever he was, his voice held a low tone that did not sound happy.
“No, I will not. I have some things I need to take care of and this is as good a place as any. I’ll see you when I return.”
I took another step but stopped when the voice continued, “How would you come here? You don’t even know where I am. Really, this is ludicrous. I asked for some time, and I intend to take it. Please don’t call me again. I’ll contact you when I’m ready to talk. Goodbye.”
With a quick peek, I checked to see if anyone noticed me standing there. What if he came out of his villa and found me listening? Not that I could avoid overhearing his conversation with how loud he was speaking, but it had still been rude to listen. I should’ve gone inside and booked that tour for tomorrow instead of being unbearably nosy. Before someone could catch me up to no good, I hurried inside. I had no intention of getting on that man’s bad side! Whoever he was.
~ * ~
When I stepped back onto the dock a few hours later, the sky had morphed from that azure blue to an amazing sunset, awash with vibrant hues of red, orange, and purple and the water had become darker with the setting sun, looking more an inky black than the brilliant topaz of earlier. It was beautiful.
I had no desire to rush, so I didn’t walk quickly. Instead, I took my time almost meandering down the walkway toward the main building of the resort, simply enjoying the sound of the waves breaking along the dock and the calls of a seagull from somewhere further down the beachfront. A gentle breeze still blew off the water, blowing my billowy sundress out from my legs. Unlike when I arrived, I stuck to the deck this time so I didn’t get sand in my favorite strappy sandals. I doubted the restaurant would appreciate it if I showed up barefoot—even if they didn’t have a sign that said, “No shirt, no shoes, no service,” it was still tacky.
The resort boasted a myriad of places to eat, but since it was my first evening, I planned on celebrating. I was on vacation, the one I’d dreamed of forever. Tonight was definitely a special occasion. I’d perused all the choices back in my room and chose a grill called Salt Water. Fine dining and an ocean view to enjoy while I ate—it sounded perfect.
As I approached the maître d’ podium, a man bumped my shoulder as he hurried around me. “Table for one, please.” I stopped and stared. What a prick!
The host glanced at me then back to him. “Do you have a reservation, sir?”
“No, I was tied up with business most of the day,” the man said with a huff as he shifted on his feet. “I didn’t get a chance to call.”
The maître d’ shook his head. “I’m sorry, sir, but we’re booked. Might I suggest the Thai restaurant? I know they have free tables this evening.” The host’s eyes returned to me. “Do you have a reservation, miss?”
With a careful step forward, I nodded. “Yes, Ellie Barrett.” I sneaked a peek at the man beside me. His eyes flickered to me before they returned to the host, whose finger trailed along the iPad he held tilted toward him.
“Ah, yes.” The host picked up a menu and held out his arm. “If you’ll follow me.”
That was when the man turned, his crystal blue eyes meeting mine, making me pause and swallow a gasp. Were those natural? I’d never seen a shade that clear and vibrant. I’d be willing to bet they’d probably match the shade of the water if it wasn’t so dark outside. I started to step past him, but something stopped me. Who knew what that something was, but I simply couldn’t leave him standing there. “Would you care to join me for dinner?”
His eyebrows drew down a little in the middle. “You wouldn’t mind?”
“I’m dining alone, and I’m sure the table will be large enough for two. If you don’t mind sharing with a stranger, I don’t mind either.”
I almost startled at how his face transformed when a small smile cracked the stern façade. I clenched my hands at my sides to keep from fanning myself. Good Lord, he was good looking! Two dimples peeked from his cheeks, his eyes crinkled a little at the edges, and most women would kill for those eyelashes. They were the longest I’d ever seen on a man. I even had eyelash envy! With his sculpted face, striking eyes, and dark brown hair, very few women would have had a dry chin in his presence.
“Thank you,” he said. “I’d be happy to join you.”
The maître d’ took one more menu from the stack and showed us to a table along the edge of the decking. I stopped and stared at the unencumbered view of the sand and sea until the maître d’ pulled out my chair and saw us seated and looking over the evening’s selections before hurrying away.
“Thank you again for sharing your table.”
I looked up from my menu and relaxed back into my seat. “I’m happy to do it. As I said, it’s just me, I have the room, and I don’t mind the company.”
He held his hand over the table. “William.”
“Ellie,” I said. I feigned shifting as I leaned forward so I could press my damp palm against the cushion of the chair. I would not shake his hand with sweaty palms! “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too.” He cleared his throat while he scratched the back of his neck. “I’m sorry for pushing ahead of you back there. It’s really nice of you to invite me to share your table considering how rude I was.”
“Do you always shove women out of the way when you’re hungry? Should I keep a look out for you in the future? Take a peek over my shoulder before I serve myself from the breakfast buffet?”
His deep chuckle traveled to the pit of my stomach where it caused a sudden flip. “Perhaps someone else might need to keep an eye out, but I’ll make sure I don’t bowl you over again. I promise.”
“I appreciate that,” I said with a laugh as I picked up the wine menu. “Would you like to share a bottle of wine? I thought I’d order some Prosecco.”
He lifted his eyebrows. “Are you celebrating?”
“Actually, yes. I’ve been saving up for this trip, and I’m finally here. I think it’s a good reason to break open some bubbly.”
“How long have you been planning this?”
“Since I graduated college. My sister, my best friend, and I started our own company, and when we started making a profit, I began to put a certain amount away from my earnings every month—so about six years. We’ve also been saving up for a better office space so it’s taken a little longer than it would otherwise.”
He opened his mouth to respond, but the waiter appeared seemingly from nowhere, took our drink order, and bustled off.
William leaned back in his chair. “What exactly do you do?”
Every muscle in my back stiffened. Most men liked to poke fun at my job. I was on vacation. I didn’t want to spend my first evening defending my profession. “I’m a wedding planner.”
“Really?” he said, leaning forward and resting his forearms on the table. “I’ve always wondered what type of degree someone needed to do that.”
“You don’t necessarily need a degree, but business, design, and public affairs are typically helpful. I studied design, my sister studied communications, and Charlie double-majored in business and finance.”
“I take it she handles the bottom line,” he said with a crooked grin.
“Pretty much. So, what is it you do?” He didn’t make a joke, comment that I planned occasions for lazy people or bash romance . . . yet. It was still a good time to change the subject, just in case.
The waiter returned and set to work serving our Prosecco. William glanced up at the movement but quickly returned to me.
“I own a construction company. We deal in new builds, custom floor plans, and such. The company originally belonged to my father. I earned my degree in architecture and took over when he wished to retire.” He sipped the wine set in front of him and gave a nod for the server to continue.
I snuck a peek at his left hand. I couldn’t help it! He was completely out of my league, but a girl could dream, couldn’t she? No ring and no tan line from one either, so he was unmarried. Why would someone who looked like that and was obviously successful still be single? “Are you here on your own as well?” It was a reasonable question. Hopefully, I didn’t sound like I was fishing for information on a potential girlfriend or even boyfriend somewhere out there.
“No, I needed to get away. My father’s filling in for me while I take some time for myself. He insisted.” He gave a light laugh. “I saw no reason to argue with him.”
“I know what you mean.” The bubbles from my wine tickled my tongue as I swallowed.
“So, let me ask you a very important question.” He gave me a sidelong glance with a slight upturn of his lips. It was all I could do to keep my knees from knocking together. “What do you think of books?”
I leaned against the arm of my chair and tilted my head. “That’s a serious question. I actually read more than I watch television.”
“But what do you prefer to read?” He relaxed and crossed his arms over his chest. “Do you read about sparkly vampires, thrillers, boy wizards, or romantic earls in whatever completely non-romantic era?”
A burst of a laugh escaped before I could prevent it. “I’ve never read anything with sparkly vampires, I’ve read a few thrillers, I love to read about boy wizards and their quests, and I will sometimes read about romantic earls. If it’s well-written, I’ll read it.”
“I can’t tell you how relieved I am you don’t care for sparkly vampires.”
I lifted my eyebrow. Yes, I was flirting and I didn’t care. What did I have to lose? “And what do you read, sir? Biographies, legal dramas, or maybe you enjoy those romantic earls.”
He grinned and shook his head. “I’ve never read a story with an earl or even a viscount.”
The waiter returned for our food order, but as soon as he was gone, we picked up where we left off. William wasn’t just easy on the eyes, but he was also easy to talk to. He read a lot and it definitely showed. Dinner with him proved to be more interesting than most of the dates I’d had in the last five years. Yes, I possessed a sad and pathetic love life. The best prospect I’d had in a long time was a stranger I’d met in the middle of paradise and probably would never see again. Yet, something about him tugged at me—not literally, of course. I couldn’t explain it another way if I tried.
When the meal came, the food was cooked to perfection, and we ordered another bottle of wine. Even with the interruptions, our conversation never faltered once.
When the server brought the bill, I reached for it, but before I could so much as lay a finger on the edge, William scooped it up and signed it.
“How much do I owe you?” I edged forward in an attempt to see what was written, but he curled the paper toward him. I’d thought we’d split the tab. As much as I could wish it was, tonight wasn’t a date.
He smiled and shook his head. “It’s on me. You don’t know how much I appreciate your offer to share the table, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed having company for dinner. Thank you.”
“I had a great time, too, but I never expected you to pay.”
He held up the tray, which the server grabbed as he passed. “It’s done. Maybe we’ll be able to eat together again during our trip. You can pay then.”
“I’ll hold you to it.”
“Great!” He stretched his arms over his head. “I would love to stay and talk some more, but I’m still a bit jet-lagged from yesterday.”
If I was being honest, today’s travel was beginning to wear on me as well. The conversation had been amazing, but eventually, I would fall asleep on the table if we stayed so I followed his lead and stood. “I know what you mean. It took a couple of long plane rides to get here. Between that and the wine, I’m sure I could fall asleep in a matter of seconds.”
We didn’t talk as we strolled from the restaurant and down the dock in the direction of the villas, but the silence wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable. Instead, it was relaxed and oddly like it was supposed to be that way. He stood tall while he walked casually with his hands in the pockets of his pants. We both gazed out over the water where the moon hung low at the horizon.
When I started to veer onto the path to my villa, I pointed. “I’m this way.”
He peered down the walkway with his brow furrowed. “Really? So am I.”
We turned and walked steadily until we reached my door. I faced him and sort of pointed toward my suite. “This is me.” At his nod, I held up my hand in a wave, instantly wanting the water under the dock to suck me in. I must’ve looked ridiculous. “Thank you for a lovely evening.”
He nodded and glanced down to his feet then back at me. “Good night, Ellie.”
I smiled and backed inside while I opened the door behind me. “Good night.”
After you’ve read It’s Always Been You,
don’t forget to check out the rest of the Wedding Planners.
Hi, everyone! I’ve been spending some time lately re-designing the cover of A Matter of Chance. I wanted a bit of a different look but still incorporating my watercolor of the Mississippi Gulf Coast at the same time. I hope everyone loves the reboot! I’m really excited about it 🙂 The new cover is live on Amazon! You can also read A Matter of Chance free with Kindle Unlimited!
Charles turned onto a paved road surrounded by trees, that quickly forked, and they steered to the left. When the woods cleared, there was a lake with what appeared to be a very large barn on the opposite bank. As he again looked to the left, he saw the large house. He stared at the home in awe. From what he knew of Jane’s sister, he didn’t understand how she could afford living in such a place.
“I thought you said your sister was an artist. How can she afford the upkeep on a house like this?”
Jane turned so she could see William in the back seat. “The house belonged to my great aunt, who left it to Lizzy when she passed away four years ago. For years, Aunt Mel had requests from people who wished to have outdoor weddings on the property. When our friend Charlotte became a wedding coordinator, my aunt began allowing her to book the affairs. It began small, with a tent for the reception and as the demand grew my aunt expanded a bit to make the venue more marketable. Now there are weddings here nearly year ‘round.”
Jane cleared her throat and gestured to the right. “The barn out by the lake is actually a reception hall with a commercial grade kitchen. The facility is very nice; wood floors, Doric columns, a bar. During the months when it’s too chilly for an outdoor wedding, some choose to have their ceremony within the hall. The money made from the events has paid for the upkeep, as well as the main house’s kitchen remodel last year.”
“She doesn’t find it intrusive?” William asked.
“Most old homes like this give tours, hold weddings, and operate as bed and breakfasts,” explained Jane. “Lizzy values her privacy, so she’s kept it to weddings on the grounds, although recently, the reception hall has been rented during the week for business functions, as well. There’s parking out along the highway, and for events, a shuttle service brings guests from the lots to the property. Other than the catering trucks and a limo for the couple, there isn’t a crowd of cars.”
Jane pointed behind the pond next to the barn. “The fencing by the barn separates the wedding guests from the home, as does the pond. The pond narrows at the footbridge, but typically the bride and groom just take pictures on it, so that the house is in the background. There’s usually a rope up with a sign not to cross.”
She turned to face William once more. “By the way, you weren’t incorrect—Lizzy is an artist, but she also teaches a few art classes at the local college.” William nodded, truly impressed with the operation.
“Jane?” Charles asked, to garner his wife’s attention. “Why is Lizzy mowing?”
“Oh no,” Jane sighed. “I hope she hasn’t run off Billy again.”
Charles groaned. “Charlotte and I both had to convince him to come back after the confrontation they had last year. I don’t know if I can persuade him again.”
“I don’t understand,” interjected William. “Is she not supposed to mow?”
“With the reception area and the acreage around the house, there’s too much for her to keep up on her own. We hire a landscaping service that takes care of the mowing and keeps everything looking a certain way.” Jane chuckled. “Billy Collins, who owns the landscaping company, has had a thing for Lizzy since we were kids. Last year, he proposed marriage, and my sister didn’t appreciate his attempt. She told him exactly where he could shove his offer, and the weekend after, we found her mowing around the house. Although, sometimes she does it when she’s angry or frustrated about something.”
Charles was laughing. “You have to understand. She and Billy weren’t even dating. I don’t think Lizzy had ever had an issue with him in the past, but she certainly wasn’t interested in marrying the man.”
Jane picked the story back up from her husband as they neared the house. “They were never really friends, but Lizzy had nothing against him. To be honest, his proposal was offensive. I won’t divulge everything he said, but he actually said something to the effect that she could never expect that another offer of marriage would ever be made to her.” William raised his eyebrows, wondering what it was that would cause someone to make that kind of a comment.
A dog came up and began trailing the car as they pulled to a stop, and Jane quickly got out of the car, striding to where Lizzy was attacking the grass with a vengeance. William watched as Lizzy halted the mower and began obviously explaining something with large hand movements. As she made a gesture, he noticed one of her fingers was bandaged, and she pointed to the injury as she finished speaking.
“The dog is Bear. You’re going to want to wait until I get out of the car,” explained Charles. “He’s very protective of Lizzy and Mel.” Charles stepped out, and began petting the old blue merle Australian Shepherd. He motioned to William that he could get out as well.
William opened his door and rose from the seat. Bear watched him carefully from where he was standing near Charles, and then came over to give him a sniff. William put out his hand for the dog to smell, but Bear backed away and took a place near Charles.
“His trust isn’t easily gained, but once it is, he’s extremely loyal.”
Nodding, William turned his head to see Lizzy steering the mower around to the back of the house. He could see Jane chuckling as she made her way back to the car.
“Well?” Charles inquired.
“3-D design,” explained Jane.
Charles began to laugh. “What happened now?”
Jane looked at William as she began to explain. “3-D design is a class Lizzy is teaching. She didn’t like the class when she was required to take it, and she’s even less enamored of the idea of teaching it. But the university has no one willing to teach the class—well, that and no budget to hire a new instructor—so they’ve put it on Lizzy’s schedule for the last year.”
“Why doesn’t she like it?” asked William.
“Well, for starters, she isn’t a sculptor. Add to that a healthy fear of power saws and the fact that she doesn’t have a large amount of experience with the other power tools that are used in the class, and you have the general basis of her contempt.” Jane took a deep breath as she removed her purse from the passenger seat of the car and closed the door. “My sister has worried since she began teaching the class that she or one of her students will accidentally cut off her finger in class. Yesterday, she was helping a student, and he shot her in the finger with a nail gun.”
William and Charles visibly flinched at the idea. “Oh, no!” exclaimed Charles. “Is she okay?”
Jane laughed. “Yes, she’s fine. She had her hand x-rayed at Dr. Ladner’s office when the class was over. He also updated her tetanus shot.”
“Wait a minute,” paused William. “When the class was over?”
Jane nodded. “Uh huh,” she replied. “The incident actually happened very early in the class, but Lizzy pulled the nail out and bandaged it up so she could finish teaching.”
William’s eyebrows lifted, surprised, and although he was reluctant to admit it, impressed.
“Is Melly napping?” asked Charles.
Jane smiled. “She should be waking soon. Lizzy’s going to go shower while we finish up the garden.”
Charles nodded. “I guess we should get to work then.”
“Lizzy has all of the tomatoes and corn picked. She also brought out the tiller so you can turn under the plants that are done.” Jane turned and smiled at William. “As I said before we left the house, you can sit on the back porch and read or bark orders.”
Laughing, Charles grabbed a bag from the back seat and closed his car door. “There’s an occupation where a Darcy excels.”
As Jane brought the bag inside, William followed Charles as he began to walk toward the left side of the house. “Lizzy, Jane, and I have been sharing a small vegetable garden since Lizzy took over Longbourn. We often spend Saturdays working on it together, cooking or grilling dinner when we’re done.”
“How long has Lizzy lived here?”
“For almost two years now. She moved in when Melanie was about five months old.”
William began to scan the property. He could see where the drive branched and trailed back. His eyes followed it to a building that he presumed was a garage set back and to the left side of the property where it wouldn’t readily be seen from the front or the barn that was across the lake to the right of the house. A door on one corner of the garage had a path made of brick pavers that led through an arbor covered in wisteria to a courtyard behind the house.
As they rounded the corner of the home, the entirety of the courtyard came into view, and William paused to take it all in from right to left. There were pathways framing flowerbeds, and urns placed in a few of the beds. In the center of the maze stood a large fountain that didn’t flow, although it appeared to be filled with water.
As his eyes trailed back, he noticed the house made an L shape. Attached to the back of the main building on the opposite side appeared to be the former slave quarters. The doors and windows had been converted to French doors to blend in with the main building. The porches were also all joined, and ran the length of the rear of the house.
The flowerbeds were filled with roses, day lilies, crepe myrtle, agapanthus, and other decorative flowers mixed with herbs, tomatoes, and peppers of different varieties and colors. Behind a small black wrought iron fence, to the back of the courtyard, was what appeared to be a grove of dogwood that eventually blended into the tree line of the forest.
To the left, William’s view returned to the garage, and between him and that building was the vegetable garden. There were corn stalks, a couple of vines with some small pumpkins, what appeared to be small pea plants, a few watermelons, cucumbers, and squash. The plot wasn’t exceedingly large, but seemed to be well planned.
Charles turned and smiled to his friend. “The courtyard is incredible, isn’t it?”
A small smile graced William’s face. “It’s lovely.”
“Jane told me that Lizzy and her aunt drew out the plans themselves when Lizzy was a teenager. Then once the pathways, arbor, fountain and fence were all in place, the two of them planted everything together.”
William’s eyebrows lifted. “It must have been a lot of work.”
“Lizzy will complain about how much work it all is sometimes, but you can tell she loves it. It’s the only part of the yard the landscaping service isn’t allowed to touch.” He looked around at the garden. “Well, I guess we should get going, or we won’t be finishing today.”
There was the sound of a door closing, and they both turned to find Jane coming to join them. Jane and Charles pulled some gardening tools out of the garage, and William extended a hand.
“What would you like me to do?”
Charles stopped pushing the tiller and studied William’s face. “You didn’t bring a change of clothes, and this is going to get pretty dirty.”
William chuckled. “I’m not afraid of a bit of dirt.”
“We brought you along for company, and to meet Lizzy, not work,” explained Jane. Regarding her dubiously, he opened his mouth to speak, when Jane cut him off. “Before you get all half-cocked, we aren’t setting the two of you up. We spend a good deal of time with Lizzy and our niece, so we thought it would be good for the two of you to become friends.”
He relaxed, and Charles stepped closer. “You’ve been in the office all day every day since you returned from London. Take a break today.”
“I’ll feel lazy watching the two of you work,” he complained.
“Then keep us entertained,” suggested Jane.
He sighed as they put themselves to work and William found a swing hanging from an oak tree to the far side of the garden. He chatted with his friends until Charles began running the tiller, mixing the soil where the corn once was. He tried to read his book, but the noise was too loud, so he moved to a rocking chair on the back porch.
There was a light breeze, and he remained there for some time before he heard a voice to one side.
“I’ll be right back, Melly!”
He looked up from his book to find Lizzy closing the door and walking over to a gas grill. She turned on the gas and saw him when she looked up as she was lighting it.
“You must be William,” she said with a raised eyebrow.
“I am,” he replied, “and you’re Lizzy.”
She nodded and looked under the lid of the grill to ensure it had lit. Her eyes were a brilliant color green, and she had coppery brown hair that trailed down her back in long curls. William thought she looked about five foot six or seven, and she had a pleasing figure that he could not help but admire. Her bare toes peeked out from a long flowing skirt paired with a fitted top that resembled an old-fashioned corset. His reverie ended when he heard a small voice.
He looked to the door where her daughter stood in the open doorway.
“Hey, sweetie,” Lizzy called as she began walking toward the little girl. “Did you get bored with the pots and pans?” Mel nodded, but started when she noticed William. “It’s okay. He’s a friend of Aunt Jay and Uncle Charles.”
William watched as she began to pull her mother, who turned and smiled apologetically, inside the house. As he heard the door close, he turned his attention back to his book, until he heard the door open again and the lilting voice invade his solitude.
“Are you going to help mommy?” Lizzy asked as the toddler followed her out of the door.
“Can you please close the door for me?” Little Mel did as she was asked, receiving a thank you for her efforts, and followed her mother, who was carrying a plate of something William couldn’t identify out to the grill. He noticed that opening the lid would be difficult with her hands full, so he jumped up from his seat.
“Let me help you.”
“Thank you,” she responded, as he strode quickly over to where she was waiting.
He opened the grill and looked down at what looked like a tied-up bundle of twigs. “What is that?” he asked rather abruptly.
She paused and looked at him. “It’s a leg of lamb,” she answered. “The bone is removed and then the meat is seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic. It’s wrapped in rosemary that has been soaked in water, then tied together, and grilled.” She looked at him worriedly. “Jane and Charles said you like lamb?”
He was entranced, watching as her eyes sparkled as she spoke. “Um . . .I do, but I’ve never seen it prepared that way.”
“Oh,” she chuckled. “I saw it on a cooking show once and tried it. It has since become one of my favorites.” She looked down to the plate in her hands. “Would you mind holding the plate for a moment?”
“Of course.” He noticed that she lifted a work surface from where it was folded down the side of the grill before she took back the dish and set it on the makeshift counter.
“Thank you.” Lizzy gave him a small smile and he nodded briefly. He then watched her use tongs and a large fork to place the lamb on the grill before she closed the lid. She picked up the plate and turned to face him. “I should go back inside. You’re welcome to come in if you become too hot out here.”
“Thanks,” he said with a small smile.
Lizzy turned and walked to the door as her daughter followed at her heels once more. “Open the door for mommy?”
They were soon inside, and William was left to stare after her, realizing that he was attracted to this woman. He shook his head as he returned to his seat. She would definitely not do. She was an artist, after all, with an odd sense of style, and most importantly, a kid. No, the last thing William Darcy needed was to get involved with a single mother. Shaking his head as if to clear his mind, he returned to his book.
~ * ~
Lizzy eyed William as he sat across from her at the table. The lamb was wonderful, especially paired with the Greek salad she’d prepared on the side, and he’d graciously complimented her on the meal. He seemed everything that was proper and polite since his comment earlier, but she was still bothered by his attitude. He’d joined in the conversations with Jane and Charles; however, other than the compliment on the meal, he hadn’t said more than two words in her direction the entire evening. She took a sip of her wine, and glanced around as her three guests chatted away.
“Would anyone like any dessert and coffee?” she asked in a cheerful tone.
“Oh, I saw your chocolate cake in there!” Jane gushed and turned to William. “Lizzy makes the absolute best chocolate cake!”
William gave a small smile. “Perhaps a little later?” he asked. “I’m full at the moment.”
She nodded, and stood to begin clearing the dishes from the table. Her daughter picked up her own plate and followed her as she pushed through the swinging door to the kitchen. Lizzy set down the load in the sink and reached down for her daughter’s plate.
“Thank you,” she said, while Melanie smiled in return. “You’re welcome?”
“You welcome,” the toddler replied.
The kitchen door swung open, and Jane came in and swooped the little girl into the air as she burst into a fit of giggles. “Why don’t I take this giggle box upstairs for a bath and a story?”
“Yay!” cheered Melanie, as Lizzy smiled.
“You don’t have to, you know.”
“I know,” replied Jane, “but I enjoy it. Besides, you won’t let her spend the night with us, so I have to get my Melly fix while I’m here.” She began to tickle her niece as she was talking.
“What would I do while you took her for the night? Putter about this big house by myself?” Lizzy shook her head vehemently. “No, thanks!”
“You could go out with Charlotte—we could all go out. Have a girls’ night out?”
“Jane, Charlotte goes out looking for men. I will not find a man I want to date in a bar!”
“You never know,” Jane called out in a singsong voice as she carried Melanie out of the door.
Lizzy smiled and shook her head as she thought about her sister. She wouldn’t have survived the last two years without her, but Lizzy wasn’t a college student any longer. She’d never even been one to party much in college. While she was studying for her masters, there were a group of friends that she’d periodically go out with while Greg was who knows where, but the idea just didn’t appeal to her anymore.
She loaded the dishwasher, pressed the button to turn it on, and cleaned up any remaining mess as she wiped down the counters. She hung the towel on the stove handle and walked out of the kitchen toward the living room. As she crossed the foyer of the house, she heard Charles speaking, and crept to where he and William couldn’t see her. She knew she shouldn’t be eavesdropping, but she wanted to understand what this guy’s problem was. Charles praised him to the skies, and to Lizzy he came across as haughty and rude.
“It’s called an automata,” she heard Charles say. “Lizzy made it in her 3-D design class when she was studying for her BFA.” She heard the telltale clicking of the homemade gears turning and knew her project was being tested out.
“It sticks a bit,” was the arrogant sounding response.
“They’re handmade gears made out of discs of wood and nails. Do you really expect it to operate flawlessly?” exclaimed Charles incredulously.
“It’s tolerable for a first try, I suppose,” said William in a snotty voice. “But she could hardly expect a serious art collector to buy it.”
Lizzy drew herself up to her full height, incensed at the insult to something that she worked so hard to create. She paused as she heard her brother-in-law’s voice once more.
“Well, you could be a little less critical. Lizzy would probably agree with you about the project. She was proud of the fact that she built it, but she would never presume to try to sell it. She’s not a sculptor and she’s not mechanically inclined. This was a difficult project for her.”
Nodding, Lizzy mumbled, “Darned straight!” The conversation seemed to have ended, so Lizzy decided to remain a minute before she entered the room. She didn’t want them to realize their conversation was overheard.
“Lizzy! Melly wanted a kiss good night before I put her in bed,” called Jane, as she walked down the stairs, carrying her niece.
Lizzy had just leaned against the wall when she jumped. She whirled around, blanching at being caught listening, while Jane placed the toddler on the floor to run toward her. She lifted her daughter into her arms and rested her on her hip.
“I have a kitty,” Melanie said happily to her mother as she pointed to her nightgown.
“Yes, you have kitty on your nightie,” smiled Lizzy. She gave her daughter a big kiss on the cheek. “And what does a kitty cat say?”
Jane smiled and gave a little clap while the little girl beamed. Lizzy suddenly realized the men were standing in the foyer just outside the door to the living room. She turned and gave them a half smile.
“Is it bedtime?” Charles asked as he stepped forward to give his niece a kiss on the cheek. “Good night, sweetie.” Melanie gave him a noisy kiss in return, and everyone smiled.
“Sweet dreams,” William said with a small curve to his lips that almost appeared to be the beginnings of a smile.
Lizzy gave her daughter a kiss. “Sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite,” she whispered in Melanie’s ear, hugging her tightly. “I love you, my Melly.” The toddler returned the hug and gave her mother a kiss.
“Night night, Mama.”
Jane reached out her arms, and Lizzy passed Melanie to her. The two proceeded back up the stairs, and Lizzy turned to face Charles and William.
“I’m thinking it’s time for coffee and cake,” Charles grinned, rubbing his mid-section.
Lizzy laughed. “I prepared everything earlier. Just give me a minute to go cut the cake.”
The men returned to the living room, and she made her way back to the kitchen to dish out the dessert and place it and the coffee on a tray for the four of them.
The remainder of the evening passed similarly to the first. Charles and William reminisced a good deal about the past and Jane laughed and joined in by asking questions as well as making comments. However, while Lizzy’s sister and brother-in-law included her in the conversation, William Darcy did not.
What was even stranger was that periodically, Lizzy would feel as though someone was watching her, and glance over to find William staring at her. He’d quickly look away, but it disconcerted her. She decided he must have found something he couldn’t like about her, and looked at her only to find more of her faults. This continued until Jane and Charles declared they were exhausted from all of the work that afternoon and the three of them departed to go to Netherfield. Turning off the lights and preparing for bed, Lizzy decided that regardless of the why, she’d think of William Darcy no more and went to bed.
~ * ~
William was once again in the back seat for the return trip to Netherfield. “Why have I never met Lizzy before?”
“Hmm?” asked Jane as she turned in her seat.
“Well, the two of you seem so close, but she wasn’t at your wedding.” He knew he’d brought up the subject with Charles before, but he still found it odd that she hadn’t been at such an important day in her sister’s life.
“No, she wasn’t.” Jane rested the side of her head on the headrest. “She was unable to attend.” He waited for a moment for either Jane or Charles to clarify, but neither did. “It’s really Lizzy’s story to tell, and I try to respect that. I hope you understand.”
“Of course.” He didn’t really understand, but since he didn’t feel like it was right to press the issue, he let the subject drop.
William reclined his head on to the headrest of the back seat, while Jane turned and began a conversation in soft tones to Charles in the front of the car.
When William had first seen Jane’s sister mowing the yard, she was farther away, she’d had her hair pulled up on top of her head, and she was wearing ratty clothes. He hadn’t spared her a second glance. But when she came outside after she’d taken a shower and changed, he’d been able to look at her—really look at her. Her hair was a brown color, but when the sun hit it, there were coppery red and blonde highlights that made it stand out from just simple brown. Her body seemed fit and she appeared to have just the right proportions in all of her assets.
Although, who knew what was hidden under those clothes—stretch marks, flabby skin? She did have a kid, after all. Speaking of her daughter, who was the child’s father? She wasn’t married, and neither Jane nor Charles had ever mentioned a husband, so she’d probably never been married. He didn’t even want to imagine the criticism he’d endure from his family if they had any idea that he was even remotely attracted to her.
He’d realized the attraction during their first face-to-face meeting, but he still held fast to his belief that she was the last thing he needed. He even recognized that he didn’t really believe any of the negative ideas about her, but he clung to them nonetheless, to squash the attraction. But what he couldn’t get out of his head were her eyes—emerald green, warm, intelligent. Keeping his own eyes off of her had been impossible; his line of vision was continually drawn to her.
He closed his eyes and sighed. He couldn’t avoid Lizzy in the future, especially while he resided with the Bingleys. He would just have to be very careful not to show her his admiration, or excite any expectation in her. William Darcy couldn’t afford the distraction that Lizzy presented.
Perhaps my title is a bit melodramatic, but I thought it fun! This came out of a conversation with Elizabeth Adams and we were giggling at something I did once. I won’t go into specifics, but you get a little short out of it. It’s a bit silly, but I hope you enjoy it 🙂
Elizabeth winced and rubbed her temples in the hopes the slight pounding behind her eyes wouldn’t explode into a full-blown headache. This always happened when her husband’s Aunt Catherine came to visit. She never failed to spend the entire week complaining about the mattress in her room, how tiny and poorly designed their home was (Seriously! 3,500 square feet?), and how their town in Maine was “provincial.” Why did she even come? As far as Elizabeth was concerned, Aunt Catherine could have stayed in her Boston mansion! Then she wouldn’t drive Elizabeth to drink the entire contents of their wine cabinet in 5 days! She had a bit of help from William, but the majority was consumed by her as her poor head demonstrated. Aunt Catherine brought her own wine. She only drank semi-sweet.
“Mom?” Elizabeth carefully turned her head to Ella, her thirteen-year-old daughter. “Am I going to have to live with Aunt Catherine if I go to college in Boston?” Ella had grand plans of going to Harvard one day, and William had made the colossal mistake of mentioning it to his aunt.
“Of course, not. You know your father never sold the house after your Aunt Georgie finished her Ph.D last year.” He had rented the property to some students so it generated an income, but they saw no reason to sell the place when Ella would probably be using it soon enough. “We’ve talked about the house often enough in front of you. Why would you worry about that now?”
“Didn’t you hear how often she talked about it this weekend?”
Elizabeth shrank a bit as she opened the cabinet by the sink and rifled through for the acetaminophen. Unless Aunt Catherine spoke to her, she tried to tune her out as much as possible. She really needed to stop doing that! “I’m sorry, Sweetie. I must’ve missed it.”
“Probably because she’d made comments about teaching me the manners you never did in the sentence before.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes but kept her mouth shut. Yeah, that was probably why. She popped the lid to the blessed pain reliever and swallowed two.
“I feel sorry for Dad right now.”
“Why’s that?” Other than the comments that he could’ve married better than her, William was rarely the brunt of his aunt’s complaints and tirades.
“Have you seen him outside?”
She followed Ella to the living room where her daughter pulled back the curtain. “She refused to let the driver from the car service touch her luggage. Dad and Tyler hauled most of it out to the car, but she insisted Dad load it. So far, she’s said he hasn’t done it right and made him take it out and do it again.”
Ten-year-old Tyler’s face was beet red and he was obviously sweating. Poor guy. She’d have to do something nice for him later. He didn’t deserve this.
Elizabeth frowned and counted the bags around William’s feet. “That can’t be all of her luggage.” She took off in the direction of the room Aunt Catherine used whenever she visited. The room was large for a guest bedroom and had a queen-sized sleigh bed with a top of the line mattress William insisted upon, but what drew Elizabeth’s attention was not the unmade bed or the overwhelming odour of Aunt Catherine’s perfume that assailed her sinuses, but the stack of shopping receipts left in a pile on the dresser. She suppressed a growl.
“She always does that,” said Ella in a quiet voice.
“I know. She’s done it since before you were born. When your great uncle was alive, he would pile coins up here. He didn’t leave those.”
Elizabeth’s foot started to tap as her eyes rested on one suitcase, laying open nearby. She couldn’t. She shouldn’t. Her heart gave a pang as she grabbed the pile of trash, lifted several items of clothing, and shoved the receipts under, tucking the clothes so they appeared undisturbed.
“Mom!” Ella covered her mouth as she giggled. “I can’t believe you just did that.”
Instead of removing them, Elizabeth zipped the suitcase and gave the handle to her daughter. “Take this to the car. I’ll get the rest.” She picked up the last two bags and followed her daughter out to the car. As soon as she left them, she hightailed it back inside and poured herself a cup of coffee in the hopes the caffeine would hurry along the pain relievers.
A half-hour later, her husband, son, and daughter all trailed into the kitchen, dishevelled and sweaty. “She’s gone,” said William. He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat beside her at the breakfast bar. “I suspect we have six months before she comes again.”
“Are you going to tell him what you did?” Ella wore a lop-sided grin, a hand on her hip.
He frowned and caught Elizabeth’s eye. “What did you do?”
With a sigh, Elizabeth told him about the receipts. He shook his head and propped his chin in his hand. “That was rather passive aggressive of you.”
She shrugged as she swallowed a sip of coffee. “Consider it sixteen years of repressed frustration finally escaping.”
He chuckled and wrapped an arm around her. “If she calls to complain, you’re taking it.”
Elizabeth grimaced. That was one consequence she hadn’t considered—not that Aunt Catherine ever called her. Hopefully, she wouldn’t take the time. Oh well, even if the impossible woman was angry, Elizabeth had at least six months before she had to see her again. She needed to start stocking up on wine now. She would need it!
Hi there, everyone! I’ve been meaning to get back to posting on my site again. My crazy back issues are loads better (and I hope they stay that way) so time to get back in the saddle! I posted this recently at Austen Variations, but I thought I’d go ahead and share it here just in case someone missed it before. It’s a sort of vignette/epilogue to Rain and Retribution. I did love writing a bad Jane, but I thought she needed a lesson. Happy reading!
As soon as the maid announced her, Elizabeth stepped forward to meet her aunt with a smile.
“Lizzy, I am so happy you could come,” said Mrs. Gardiner who carefully embraced her niece so as not to disturb the sleeping baby on her shoulder.
“I am pleased as well, Aunt.” The Gardiner’s well-appointed Cheapside home had been a welcome retreat when she was a child. The Gardiners affection for her was never conditional and made this place more of a childhood home than Longbourn had ever been.
Her aunt bit her lip while she folded down the blanket. They had not been in company together since the summer, so her aunt was, no doubt, eager to see eighteen-month old William’s face. “He has grown, and he has become quite handsome.”
Elizabeth could not help but smile. While she thought William the most beautiful child, it was always gratifying to have others praise him as well. “He has indeed grown. I believe if he continues as he has, he will easily be as tall as Will before long.”
Her aunt’s hand rested upon Will’s back. “I think you may have some time for that.”
“I know, but as of late, he seems to outgrow his gowns so quickly. I feel as though one day I will blink and he will suddenly appear before me a grown man.” The last was said on a sigh.
“This is not his normal nap time is it?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No, he was awake very early this morning. I knew you hoped to see him today, but I had no expectation of him falling asleep in the carriage. I apologise for that.”
“I do not expect an apology, my dear. I know very well how children can be.” Mrs. Gardiner quickly peered around Elizabeth to William’s nursemaid, who waited patiently near the corner of the parlour. “Perhaps I should show Mary where he can rest down so we can visit?”
Once Elizabeth handed William off to the girl, she took a seat while they disappeared up the stairs. When Mrs. Gardiner returned, she sat opposite Elizabeth on the couch with her hands in her lap. “Will you remain in London long?”
“We plan to remain for a portion of the season. After I am presented at court, my husband wishes to take me to the theater and Vauxhall Gardens.”
Her aunt nodded and relaxed into the cushions. “You should enjoy those outings. Your friend Lady Ashworth is sponsoring your presentation, is she not?”
“Yes, I believe you have made her acquaintance.”
“I have. I like her very much. If I remember correctly, her husband is Mr. Darcy’s cousin?”
“Yes, she is,” said Elizabeth. “I was very pleased when she became family. Friends are lovely but this means she will always be nearby.”
They paused at a knock that came from the front door. A maid stepped inside the room moments later and curtseyed. “Pardon me, ma’am, but Mrs. Mason is here.”
Elizabeth startled, when after the introduction, her sister, Jane, entered. She straightened in her seat and pulled back her shoulders. No matter their current relationship, Elizabeth refused to be rude, so she rose along with her aunt and curtseyed.
“Thank you, Sarah,” said Mrs. Gardiner.
Jane glanced at Elizabeth but remained facing their aunt. “Forgive me if this is an inconvenient time. I came for the old baby gown you offered. The one you said would be ideal for a pattern.”
Mrs. Gardiner glanced back and forth between the sisters, no doubt debating on whether the two of them should be left alone together. After a look at Elizabeth, her aunt bustled from the room.
Jane’s eyes first lit on Elizabeth’s gown before moving to her face. “I would not have expected to find Mrs. Darcy in Gracechurch Street.” Her sister’s skirts did little to hide the swell at her waist, though Jane did not rest a palm to the babe as Elizabeth had during that time. Instead, her hands remained clasped tightly in front of her. The pose was reminiscent of Miss Bingley.
Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose as she returned to her seat. “I came to visit my aunt. Surely, you are aware of our uncle and aunt’s visit to Pemberley.”
A smirk appeared upon her sister’s face. “Yes, however, receiving one’s less than stellar relatives is more easily concealed in the country than here in town.”
“My husband and I are inordinately fond of my aunt and uncle. We have never, nor will we ever pretend the connection does not exist.”
Jane scoffed and rolled her eyes. “You cannot claim to be the same person you once were. You have cast off your ideals, why not cast off all of your relations?”
“I beg your pardon.” Elizabeth’s tone hardened and her entire body stiffened.
“Well,” said Jane in a high-pitched manner that resembled their mother. “You once said you would only marry for the deepest love, but you did not marry for love, did you? You wed someone you detest.” She gave a bitter laugh. “Though, I suppose now that you have provided his heir, he will seek other company.” She gave a slight titter. “Of course, you could always avoid him like my father avoids my mother.”
Lizzy clenched her fists at her sides, her fingernails digging crescent-shaped grooves into her palm. “You know nothing. Mother crowed for years how you could not be so beautiful for nothing and perhaps you began to believe it a bit too much. A person is only as beautiful as what is inside of them, and Jane, you have become a decidedly unattractive woman.”
Her sister’s smug expression disappeared. “You dare—”
“Why should I not? You have chosen to resent me, though I cannot fathom why.”
Jane pressed her hand to her chest with such force it the sound resembled a slap. “You left me behind! You could have sent for me, ensured I was in company again with Mr. Bingley! I was the one who was supposed to marry a rich man!” By the last word, her voice had become an ear-piercing screech.
“I would not have done Mr. Bingley such a disservice,” said Elizabeth as she stood. “His feelings for you were honest and true and you desired him because he was rich and amiable. He deserved so much more. I could not bear for him to be in such an unequal alliance so I told him you held no affection for him.”
Jane’s nostrils flared. “Perhaps I should have set my cap at Mr. Darcy. He married you. I could have captured him if I had wanted!”
Elizabeth lifted one eyebrow and took a few steps closer to her sister. “My husband did not think your heart easily touched—that is what he told Mr. Bingley. He thought you would accept his friend for mercenary purposes, and it seems he was correct. He never would have considered you either.
“I pity you, Jane. You have a husband, and you are obviously with child, but if you never allow anyone to touch your heart, you will be a lonely woman.” Jane made an unladylike noise through her nose. “That sounds more like Lydia than the Jane I remember. How long have you hidden that you are similarly selfish?” Her sister flinched.
Elizabeth took another step forward as she held her hand up with her finger pointed. “Lydia loved Wickham and that was the reason for her mistake. Your error has been closing your heart. Will you guard your heart from your child? I pity him or her if you do.”
“You have no right to criticise me for something you have done yourself!” Jane’s voice surely carried through the house.
“No, I married my friend who I love with everything in me. I have never sought to be so cold.”
The door opened as Mrs. Gardiner hurried back into the room, a baby gown grasped in her hand. “That is quite enough, Jane. You are in my home, and my guests will be treated with respect or you will not be welcome. Do you understand?” Jane’s chin hitched back as though she had been slapped. Mrs. Gardiner gestured behind Jane to where Mr. Mason stood in the doorway.
“Mrs. Mason, I would like a word.” Jane blanched but followed her husband into the empty dining room opposite the parlour.
“I am sorry for her behaviour,” said Mrs. Gardiner.
“You are not responsible for what she said. None of this is your fault.”
A sigh escaped her aunt’s lips as they both sat down. “I should not have left you alone with her.”
“I am capable of withstanding my sister’s spiteful words.” They both turned at the door opening to Mr. Darcy entering.
“I suppose you heard all of the fuss?” asked Elizabeth.
“Your sister’s voice did carry into the study. By his countenance, I would say Mr. Mason is displeased. He heard her mention of Mr. Bingley.”
Mrs. Gardiner exhaled heavily. “It is no one’s fault but her own. She should not have spoken.” A wail carried down from upstairs, prompting her aunt to smile. “I shall fetch William. I should be pleased to have a moment with him before you return home.”
As soon as Mrs. Gardiner exited the room, Darcy drew his wife into his arms. “How are you really?”
She smiled and placed her hands upon his chest. “I am well. I cannot claim what she said was a surprise, but I had hoped she could, at the very least, be civil.”
“I know, Love.” He pressed a kiss to her temple. A moment later, a loud squeal heralded William running towards them on his little legs. Darcy scooped him up with a laugh and wrapped his free arm back around his wife.
“The children have need of me upstairs,” said Mrs. Gardiner who followed just behind William. She kissed Elizabeth’s cheek. “I will visit with you more tomorrow night when we have dinner at Darcy House.”
Elizabeth smiled. “I look forward to it.” Her aunt tweaked William’s nose, prompting a babyish giggle, before she hurried back up the stairs.
Darcy wrapped his arms around his family once more. “Are you sure you are well?”
“I am very well.”
He leaned in and gently brushed his lips against hers. “Then let us go home.”
Mrs. Jane Mason quietly listened to her husband’s scolding as she fumed. How dare Lizzy tell Mr. Bingley she was indifferent! Lizzy was no better than her, marrying Mr. Darcy. She had always hated the man, and now to claim he was her friend and she loved him. Pah! Who knew Lizzy was such an accomplished liar?
“Mrs. Mason, are you listening?”
She started. “Yes, I apologise if I caused you any discomfort or embarrassment.”
He seemed appeased by her answer, and she exhaled as her shoulders relaxed. Mr. Mason left the dining room, and Jane’s attention was arrested by the sight of her sister in Mr. Darcy’s arms. Their young son was secure in Mr. Darcy’s embrace and leaned against his father’s shoulder. Meanwhile, Mr. Darcy softly kissed his wife’s temple while her hand rested upon their son’s back.
Her sister’s presence in his embrace was shocking, but the affection and happiness that radiated from both of their countenances left a bitter taste in Jane’s mouth.
A great yawning emptiness in her chest threatened to engulf her. She placed a hand to her belly and glanced towards her husband, who waited for her near the door. When the baby rolled, she looked down to the bump. Was it possible for her to have feelings for her husband?
“Mrs. Mason? Are you coming?”
She swallowed down the bile that burned at her throat, nodded, and stepped forward to follow her husband through the door.
Rain and Retribution is currently on Kindle and Paperback and free with Kindle Unlimited!
Hi everyone! He’s Always Been the One is up and running on Amazon. I hope everyone reading is enjoying it. I really adore Maggie, Harper, Elliot, and Cora. I can’t wait for you to get to know these characters. If you haven’t previewed the first chapter yet, you can read that here. If you want to follow along with my inspiration board, here is the link to my Pinterest board. 🙂 So, without further ado, let’s get on to chapter 2!
I’d been languishing in the surgical waiting room since Gram was wheeled into surgery. For the past hour, I’d stared at the muted grey-blue walls that had been paired with that horrible blue, vinyl furniture that adorned nearly every waiting room in existence. The decorator had, no doubt, taken a class on calming colors, yet I still tapped my foot in a frantic rhythm on the floor. I swear time had crawled slower than a herd of turtles while I read and re-read the obligatory signs posted around the room, unwillingly committing them to memory. I blew out a breath and dropped my head to rest on the back of the sofa, putting the heels of my hands on my eyes. I’d tried to read a novel on my phone. My mind refused to cooperate so I was stuck, the practically sterile surroundings closing in on me.
My body jolted at the proximity of the low, familiar voice, and I removed my hands to find a coffee cup from Starlight café held in front of me. “How’d you know?”
“I checked in on your grandmother yesterday after my shift. She might’ve mentioned her surgery was today.”
“Oh.” That might’ve explained why Gram had given me that shit-eatin’ grin yesterday. She could be devious when she wanted, though always for a good cause. I had to admit it was hard to stay angry with a five foot nothing elderly lady. She could give you some pathetic eyes capable of guilting even the iciest of hearts when she felt it necessary.
Elliot chuckled, a deep noise that rumbled through me. “She tried to persuade me to smuggle some whisky in for her.”
“Geez, Gram,” I muttered as I took the coffee. “She knows it’s the last thing I’d do.”
“Don’t worry. I told her no. I didn’t want to thin her blood before surgery.”
“Thanks.” I took a sip, waiting for the bite that comes from no milk or sugar of any kind, yet it never came. Instead, the perfect combination of milk, coffee, and hazelnut flavor rolled across my taste buds. “How’d you know?”
“I asked what you usually order. You know Miss Bates has the regulars’ orders committed to memory.”
“I don’t always order the hazelnut.”
He lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “She claimed you ordered the hazelnut more than any other flavor.”
My eyes traced over his cleanly shaven jawline. I preferred the stubble, but he was still hot. “Do you have to work today?”
“No, I went into the gym earlier to work out, and now I’m here.”
“You didn’t have to come,” I said softly. Shit! I sounded like such a bitch.
“I know. I wanted to.” He dropped into a chair in front of me and propped his forearms on his knees. “Look, Maggie. I like you. I like you a lot. I’ve never really come out and said it before, so I am now.”
“What about Harper?” My fingers tightened around the coffee as everything inside me clenched.
“What about her?”
I took another sip of coffee and rubbed my palm up and down the thigh of my jeans. Darned sweat! “Well, she’s not exactly a guy magnet.”
He frowned and shook his head. “Any guy who makes a kid his excuse is a douche canoe.”
An amused bark burst from my throat. “I agree.” His deep, warm laugh did strange things to my stomach. I closed my eyes, breathing evenly in the hopes it would stop. “I’m very flattered.”
I held up my hand. “You’re a great guy, but I’ve busted my ass to build a life for Harper and me. I rarely have free time, and when I do, I spend all of it with my daughter and Gram.”
He sat up and watched me with an odd dip of his eyebrows I couldn’t interpret. “Don’t you want to marry some day? Maybe have another child?”
“I fucked up my chance for that,” I said quietly while I traced the letters on my cup with my finger. “I’m happy with the way things are. I’m not ready for them to change.” I might wear out my vibrator in the next six months. A battery-operated boyfriend, however, didn’t have the same demands as a living, breathing man. They also didn’t leave. “I hope we can be friends.”
“As a friend, am I allowed to try to change your mind?”
My head shook back and forth. “I’m not changing my mind.”
He drank from his own cup before his eyes latched back onto mine. “Do I know Harper’s father?”
“No, he doesn’t live in Marysville anymore.” I couldn’t explain how I knew he would ask the history. Most people in Marysville remembered Sawyer from high school. Elliot hadn’t grown up here, so he’d never met him. I suppose it was natural he would wonder. “I started dating Sawyer Crawford when I was sixteen. We stayed together through graduation, and we both decided to attend the College of Charleston. He was majoring in systems engineering, and I was majoring in art. When I learned I was pregnant and refused to have an abortion, he decided he wasn’t ready to be a father. He’d hoped I would give the baby up for adoption. I simply couldn’t do it. I loved her too much. That ended our relationship. Fortunately, his father’s job was moved to Virginia shortly after we started college, so I don’t have to deal with them either.” That little detail was a blessing. His parents had always hated that Sawyer had “taken up” with me. I never knew what they hated about me. I only knew that they never wanted me around.
“Did you finish school?”
“Harper was born in June, so I was able to finish out my second year; however, even with Gram’s help, I couldn’t imagine trying to finish my degree full-time while being a single mom. For one thing, I needed a job of some kind to support us, and art classes are time consuming. Meanwhile, Gram’s house needed some work, and she was struggling to pay for the repairs on her limited income. In the end, I changed my major to business administration and finished online. I also bartended and waited tables at Mugs in the evenings to pay bills and help out Gram.”
“How did you end up wedding planning?”
“Jena, Charlie, and Ellie put out an ad for an assistant. Harper qualified for Head Start, so I dropped her off at school and Gram picked her up. I still worked at Mugs for nearly a year to save up some money. Tips were always good, so we were able to fix Gram’s house and I was able to buy a decent car.”
“Miss Dashwood?” I looked toward the doctor, who stood a few feet away.
I shot out of my chair and took a step forward. “Yes. How’s Gram?”
“She came through surgery like a champ. She’ll be monitored in recovery for an hour or so before she’s moved back to her room. We’ll need to watch her carefully for leg pain—more specifically thigh pain—for the next few weeks. The nurses should have her sitting up by this evening. Hopefully, we’ll get her standing by tomorrow.”
“So soon?” It sounded more painful than beneficial to me.
“Yes, we’ve found the sooner the better.” The doctor smiled and glanced at the wall clock. “You might as well get something to eat since there’s not much you can do before she wakes.”
“Thank you,” I said, holding out my hand to shake his.
“You’re welcome. From the conversation I had with your grandmother’s primary care doctor, she’ll benefit from this procedure more than a lot of people her age. With a little rehabilitation and physical therapy, she should be able to resume her former lifestyle in time.”
After saying “goodbye,” the doctor walked away while everything in me sort of sagged, a large exhale leaving my lungs in a whoosh.
Elliot twitched his head toward the door. “Come on. Let’s celebrate. I’ll take you to lunch.”
His eyebrows shot up. “Friends take each other out to eat—especially after good news.”
I cocked my head to the side and took stock of the man in front of me. Yes, I was the one who asked if we could be friends, but how much of a friendship could I handle with a man I was crazy attracted to? “Okay, sure. Why not?” Screw it. It was one lunch.
The hospital was on the outskirts of Marysville, though after its construction, a small community of businesses grew around it: a low-priced motel, a florist shop, a few medical supply companies, and a couple of restaurants—no doubt kept afloat by those who worked or convalesced in the hospital. The proximity to the medical complex made matters a lot more convenient.
Elliot led the way into a small place set on a corner. Outdoor seating begged for someone to enjoy warm air and sunshine, yet due to an overnight thundershower, no one braved the grey clouds to eat outside. Inside, a row of booths lined the windows while small tables were spread through the center of the room. A waitress invited us to seat ourselves, so Elliot walked backward for a few steps. “Where do you want to sit?”
“The booth that’s open by the window looks good.” It was still early for lunch, so while the restaurant had patrons, they weren’t packed to the gills yet.
As soon as we seated ourselves, the waitress dropped two menus on the table and took our drink order before bustling away in the direction of the kitchen.
“How long have you been an EMT?”
He relaxed back into the shiny ivory vinyl while he fingered the roll of silverware on the table. “My parents didn’t have the money for me to go to college, so I joined the Army National Guard in high school to become an EMT. I went to school part-time after to complete my bachelor’s degree. Three years ago, I started the physical therapy program at MUSC.”
“Oh, wow,” I said. “How much longer do you have?”
“I finished my coursework and clinicals last month and took my licensing exam two weeks ago. I’m just finishing out my last few weeks on the rig until my license comes in. I already have a job waiting for me.”
“How long will it take for your license?”
“About four weeks.”
He reddened a little and nodded. “Thanks. It’s been a long road, but worth it.”
“Are you still National Guard?”
“I am. Since I’ve finished physical therapy school, I’m now an officer. I’ve only got two more years before I hit my twenty years. I plan on retiring. I paid for physical therapy school myself so I wasn’t obligated to stay any longer.”
The waitress put our drinks in front of us, took our food order, and departed once more.
“You said you were an art major,” he said. “Do you still draw or paint or whatever you did before Harper?”
“I sketched using powdered graphite and a brush, and no. I simply don’t have the time.” I shrugged and sighed. “I hated the classwork for my business degree, but it seemed more practical for a single mom. I love working with the Three Weddingteers because I can stretch those creative parts of my brain that haven’t seen the light of day for so long.”
He laughed and lifted his eyebrows. “The Three Weddingteers?”
I smiled in return. “I made the joke not long after I started working with them. It’s kind of stuck.”
He shook his head. “Who are your art heroes?”
“Yes, who would you love to emulate? What artists speak to you?”
I crossed my arms under my breasts and peered out of the window. “That’s tough. I might not like an artist’s overall work, but one of their works might touch me or impress me with its technicality or emotion.”
“You’re stalling.” He leaned forward and put his forearms on the table.
“I am not.” My tone wasn’t petulant, it was a bit high pitched, incredulous. With a huff, I clenched my arms a little tighter. “Fine. There’s an artist out of Minneapolis named Melissa Cooke. She does these amazing hyper-realistic graphite and brush self-portraits. Some are quirky, some are strange. It’s her ability to make her artwork so life-like is amazing. I also like Alfred Conteh and Amy Sherald, even though their art is very different than mine.
He nodded and clasped his hands, his long fingers wrapping around the backs. I don’t know why they caught my attention. I couldn’t help but watch the way they moved as well as their strength.
“I’ll have to look them up,” he said. “Does Harper share any of your talent?”
“Who said I have talent?”
“You don’t go to art school without being able to draw more than a stick figure.”
I unrolled my silverware and put my napkin in my lap, smoothing it more than once. “Maybe I draw the best stick figures ever.”
He lightly kicked my shoe under the table. “You’ll have to show me those sometime. I’d love to see them.”
The rest of the meal was nice. We chatted about work and our experiences. The only problem was my body hummed like a tuning fork on overdrive the entire time we were together. What was it about Elliot that made my body stand up and shiver? Yes, he was attractive. He had these amazing chestnut curls that I’d never seen neat and tidy. They were always adorably tousled. His hazel eyes stood out from his lightly tanned skin, and when I was lucky, he wore a slight scruff that boosted his appeal even further.
I’d occasionally seen him in workout gear at the gym. I still don’t know how I kept my tongue in my mouth instead of letting it loll around on the floor in front of me. It’s a wonder I didn’t fall flat on my face.
Yes, he was good-looking—no, he was fucking hot—and I knew other good-looking men who didn’t affect me in the same way. Jensen, Charlie’s husband, was known for the way he filled out a police uniform, yet I didn’t have this reaction to him. Jena’s fiancé, Brandon was attractive. Again, nothing when I’d first checked him out. I had no reaction to Ellie’s husband either. Of course, that was a relief. The last thing I needed was to lust after one of my bosses’ significant others!
After we paid the bill, we walked outside, more strolling than moving with a purpose.
“Can I ask you a question?” He watched his feet while we headed back in the direction of the hospital.
“You’ve already asked me several without permission.”
His inhale was audible and uneven as he laughed under his breath. “Touché. I was just wondering about your parents.”
I shoved my hands into the pockets of my jeans. “Where are yours?”
“Mine live in Louisiana. My dad still works part-time at Home Depot to help pay bills, and he’s a handyman of sorts. Mom works for a florist.”
“Is that where you grew up? In Louisiana?”
“I did,” he said with a dip of his chin. “In Covington, which is across Lake Ponchartrain from New Orleans.”
I watched one foot step in front of the other. “My mother died of cancer when I was three. My dad tried to go on. I believe he didn’t know how to cope without her. He was in a car wreck a year later. He hit a tree off Highway 78. Thing is, no one knows why he was out that way. He had no reason to be.” I’d never said the word suicide. The last thing I wanted to do was say it now.
“Gram took me in, raised me. She was great. She went to every school event and art exhibition. Now she takes care of Harper when I have to work. She sews and quilts, and even has her own Etsy shop. Most of her sales are quilts for cribs, bumper pads, and matching patchwork and crochet animals. Larger quilts take up a large amount of time, are expensive, and don’t sell as often.”
“Not much of a profit if you’ve spent a ton of time on it.”
“That’s why they’re expensive.”
As we approached the rotating front door, Elliot stopped and turned toward me. “I’m not going to barge into your grandmother’s room while she’s not feeling her best. Tell her I hope she feels better. I’ll be by to check on her soon.”
“Okay. Thank you for lunch.”
I stared as his hand reached out and took mine, this odd current traveling up each and every nerve, creating this prickling that made me struggle not to squirm. “Do you need someone to pick up Harper?”
“Um, no, thanks. Jensen’s picking her up and bringing her to his and Charlie’s.”
He nodded and tilted his head in the direction of the parking lot, letting it sort of pull him that way. “I should go.” He held up a hand.
“Bye,” I said. Shit, this was awkward!
When I went upstairs, Gram was sleeping, so I settled in and opened the reading app on my phone. I needed to get my mind off the way Elliot made me feel. Usually sappy romance novels were the perfect distraction when I needed one—except now, the handsome earl out to win his fair lady bore Elliot’s face. Well, crap!
Hi, everyone! As you may remember, the wicked-talented Andrea Aguirre illustrated a fun cover for Confined with Mr. Darcy, and since then, the cover won the Cover Wars Cover of the Week and now has been selected to compete for the Creme de la Cover contest at InD’tale Magazine.
This contest is a bit different than Cover Wars in that only one vote is allowed per person and they must have a log in to vote. I do hope you’ll consider voting for our cover! Andrea and I would greatly appreciate it!