As the brilliant blue sky relaxed into twilight, Cecily Brayton sat in her fatherâ€™s study, her eyes closed, her mind fixed happily on the success of her tea party. Despite a few alarming moments, it had gone off better than she could have hoped, and she felt with some certainty that James Haddaway now perched in the palm of her hand.
And Iâ€™m in the palm of his, she thought dreamily, remembering how masterfully he had wrapped her up in his arms and kissed her. Compared to Samuelâ€™s kiss â€“ the only other kiss she had experienced in her young life â€“ well, there really was no comparison. Samuel was like a violin playing some sweet but simple tune, while James was the whole orchestra, soaring and blasting in a heart-swelling crescendo.
It was unfortunate that Carol had interrupted the glorious music to serve her special yellow cake with nutty frosting, and Cecily made a point of telling her so later, but it had been a lovely interlude all the same. When she and James parted, he murmured, â€œSee you soon,â€ and never had those words thrilled her with such rich promise. Even now, her whole being tingled with the memory of it.
The clanging of the doorbell roused Cecily from her blissful state. Could he have meant this soon? she wondered, springing from her chair.
â€œIâ€™ve got it!â€ she shouted into the hallway. After a quick glance into the mirror to make she sure she looked presentable, Cecily opened the door.
â€œGood evening, miss,â€ said James, leaning casually towards her. â€œI was wondering if I might have a word or two with you.â€ The corners of his mouth curled up. â€œShall we take a stroll? The night air is quiteâ€¦invigorating.â€ He motioned theatrically to indicate the general outdoors, and Cecily laughed.
â€œI donâ€™t dare,â€ she said. â€œWeâ€™re having supper soon, and theyâ€™ll wonder where Iâ€™ve gone. Would you like to come in?â€
A look of mild disappointment darkened his face for an instant, but he smiled valiantly and stepped into the foyer. Cecily wanted to lead him into the study and shut the door behind them, but she was afraid of where that might lead and who might barge in on them. Instead she gestured towards the settee in the foyer, and they sat there for awhile, quietly basking.
â€œI have to go away for awhile,â€ James said suddenly, and the words were so contrary to Cecilyâ€™s mood that she didnâ€™t comprehend them at first.
â€œItâ€™s only for a day or two,â€ James added quickly. â€œMy father and I are going to Rivenberg on some business.â€
As the news sank in, Cecilyâ€™s heart skipped a beat. She remembered that Samuel had gone to Rivenberg just last week and returned with an engagement ring for Josephine.
â€œWhat kind of business?â€ she asked, her hopes rising.
James shrugged. â€œOh, you know. Business. Itâ€™s rather dull, but since Iâ€™m expected to follow in my fatherâ€™s footsteps, Iâ€™m stuck. My futureâ€™s fixed.â€ He smiled to show he didnâ€™t mind it so much.
Cecily clung to the word â€˜futureâ€™. She couldnâ€™t help but imagine that he included her in his future, that their kiss in the garden had sealed both their fates, and that his trip to Rivenberg was a pleasant yielding to that fate. In a matter of seconds she envisioned his proposal, her euphoric acceptance, the gala wedding, the honeymoon in Europe, their children running through the splendor of Haddaway Hallâ€¦
James continued, not seeming to notice that Cecily had slipped into a distant reverie. â€œI should like to see you as soon as I get back. I mean, I have to,â€ he said with an intense urgency, and Cecily felt his hand skim across her back, almost tickling, as he drew her close.
Cecily came down from the clouds blushing furiously. â€œJames, someone might see us,â€ she whispered, but she made no effort to pull away.
â€œI donâ€™t care if the whole world sees. Weâ€™re not doing anything wrong, are we?â€ As if to defy his words, his other hand crept towards her leg, and even through the layers of her gown, Cecily felt the warmth of his touch. With her heart pounding like mad, she placed her hand on his and turned her radiance towards him.
â€œItâ€™s not wrong, butâ€¦we shouldnâ€™t do this here,â€ she said, smiling apologetically. â€œWe have to wait till weâ€™re alone.â€
â€œBut weâ€™re never alone,â€ James sighed. â€œThereâ€™s always somebody here, or at home â€“ people everywhere. A man can hardly think what he means to say before someone intrudes.â€
James punctuated his last words with a meaningful gaze, and Cecily felt her heart racing at full gallop.
â€œSay it now, then,â€ she breathed, and he leaned forward either to speak or kiss her when the floorboards creaked above them, boyish voices echoed upstairs, and Cecilyâ€™s brothers came bounding down.
James and Cecily pulled away from each other just in time.
â€œHullo, Cecily!â€ Arthur called out. He glanced indifferently at James before addressing his sister again. â€œIs it time for supper yet? My stomachâ€™s roaring.â€
As Cecily shrugged, Arianna breezed out from the kitchen, bringing all of the cooking smells with her. Both Arthur and Frederick groaned hungrily. â€œTime to eat,â€ she said, but before she could even finish, the boys were halfway to the dining room. Upon noticing James, Arianna quirked a brow, then smiled. â€œAre you going to join us this time, Mr. Haddaway?â€ she goaded in her gentle tone.
James stood up quickly. â€œNo, thank you, Mrs. Brayton. My family is expecting me.â€ With his usual abrupt bow, he made his way towards the door. Cecily gave Arianna an apologetic look before following him outside.
â€œIâ€™ll see you soon?â€ she called out. James turned around, smiling, his face illuminated by the porchlights.
â€œAs soon as I return,â€ he said with a careless air. â€œGood night!â€
As Cecily watched him go, she felt her heart float upward into the starlit sky. Already a scheme was shaping itself in her mindâ€¦she was determined that the next time she saw James, they were going to be as alone as possible, and nothing was going to keep him from saying exactly what was on his mindâ€¦
(continued on Page 2)