Authors: Julianne MacLean
“Of course I am. It's fascinating, Adam.” Too late, she caught herself using his given name, as she had so many times in her daydreams.
His head turned. She refused to look up at him. How could she? She was afraid he would see the awe in her eyes, and know how desperately she had wanted him the day she'd stepped off the boat.
“Sounds like a risky way to farm,” she continued, trying to keep her tone light, pretending she hadn't even noticed that she'd used his given name.
“Perhaps.” He finally turned his attention back to the river. She swallowed over her heart, now thumping in her throat.
“But good management dulls the risk,” he said. “The dykes are well worth the effort. We don't have to clear forests, there are virtually no stones, and we don't have to fertilize the marsh soil. It's already fertile enough. We can even use the marsh mud to fertilize the uplands.”
“Sounds like a perfect scenario.”
“Nothing is ever perfect, Madeline.”
Hearing him use
given name sent a flurry of gooseflesh down her back. He spoke with such a deep, resounding voice, yet her name spilled past his lips with fluid grace and buoyancy.
She looked him straight in the eye. “I'm all too aware of that.”
For a long moment, he gazed at her in the sunshine. She wondered what he was thinking, what he thought
of her, what he saw. Was he trying to understand her meaning? Was he wondering what kind of a life had shaped her into the person she was, or was he looking into her eyes and wishing he was looking into Diana's?
He turned his gaze toward the river again. “Perhaps we should go.”
“Yes, we should.”
We definitely should, before I feel more of what I shouldn't be feeling.
But she didn't want to leave. She wanted to stay here with himâhere alone on the dyke with the sun on her cheeks and the breeze in Adam's hair and the sound of her skirts whipping lavishly in the wind.
Then she thought of her sister and knew that even if Adam wanted to stay here with her, tooâwhich he didn'tâit would be wrong.
He tried to lead her down the steep slope, but she let go of his hand and broke into a run.
Adam laughed. “Are you all right? You practically flew down, Madeline!”
She burst into a fit of laughter herself. “I'm fine!”
He walked her to her horse and helped her mount. As she settled into the creaky leather saddle and gathered up the reins, he discreetly took a section of her skirt in his large hand and flipped it over to cover her leg, which she hadn't realized was exposed almost to the knee.
Good God. Her belly went
as his hand brushed over her petticoats.
Without even acknowledging that anything had been amiss, Adam mounted his own steed. Madeline felt a tremor of disappointment that he had not flushed
or nervously cleared his throat or expressed some other kind of abashment. Then she chided herself.
Why she should think Adam would feel awkward or shaken at seeing her leg was beyond her, for men had never stumbled over themselves with her the way they did with Diana. They looked right through Madeline as if she weren't there. She did not stir passions in men, and that fact was demonstrated to her yet again, as Adam hadn't even
her leg. He flipped her skirt as if it was the folded-back corner of a faded tablecloth.
She wondered then what it would be like to be Diana, to always feel beautiful and to know she captivated men wherever she went. What power Diana must have felt when they dissolved at her feet.
The horses started walking in the direction of the fort, and a moment of disconsolate silence hovered over Madeline.
At last, Adam spoke. “Care to race?”
Madeline shook her head. “No, I don't really think I'm up to it.” Then she kicked in her heels and swindled a head start across the grassy marsh, just to put some distance between them and avoid any more reminders that she was invisible.
Adam galloped after Madeline but did not push to win the race. He intentionally lagged back a bit in order to recover his composure after the shock of his intense response to the unexpected, startling sight of Madeline's long, slender leg.
Desire had sparked inside him, red-hot like a blacksmith's poker left too long in the fire.
He immediately attributed the response to his frustration over Diana's failure to arrive, for over the past few weeks, his eagerness to see her again had mushroomed into a burning, aching need. Madeline was a part of those long-ago days, and her presence here had no doubt brought it all closer to home and stirred what had been dormant in Adam for what seemed like forever.
If he was aware of Madeline's shapely leg or the creamy, soft-looking skin at her neckline, it was only because she was a woman, and he had not seen many “new” women since he'd arrived here in this remote section of the world. He would probably react that way to any feminine feature.
Adam then tried to picture his beloved's face, and wondered if her leg would be anything like her younger sister's, for he was sure he had seen some firm muscle in Madeline's calf. He suspected that Madeline didn't spend a lot of time sitting. She seemed to enjoy the outdoors.
He watched her ride ahead of him. She was indeed an accomplished horsewoman.
He wondered further where he and Diana would be now if she had come as she was supposed to. Would he be riding across the marsh with her? Would she be curious about the dykes, like Madeline was?
He preferred to imagine they would be married already and in bed together, for he had been without her too long. And after the bit of fire he'd just experienced, he decided firmly that he was even more starved for Diana than he knew.
dam and Madeline rode up the steep, grassy hill to Fort Cumberland. They dismounted outside the main entrance and led their horses into the courtyard.
A voice rang out. “Miss Oxley!”
Madeline turned and recognized the caller. John Metcalf, a young man who had traveled on the ship with her from Yorkshire, was approaching, ax in hand. He had come alone to Nova Scotia to rent land until he could earn enough to buy his own and send for his brothers. This morning, he looked as if he'd been hard at work, splitting wood and perspiring in the sun.
Madeline smiled and walked to meet him halfway. Adam waited near the barracks.
“Hello, John. It's good to see you. Have you been settling in?”
“Yes, Miss Oxley. Though I haven't found a place to call my own just yet.”
She remembered his optimism on board ship, speaking ambitiously about the fertile soil in Cumberland, and how he planned to acquire enough land
to someday make something of himself. “I'm sure you'll find what you're looking for soon enough, John. Have you been to see the marshes?”
“Yes, and it's fine land, but I knew it would be.” He peered over her shoulder.
Curious to know what had caught his attention, Madeline turned. There was Adam, standing by the barracks, watching their conversation. When he noticed her looking at him, he glanced the other way.
“So you didn't marry him after all?” John asked quietly.
“Were you very disappointed?”
Madeline cleared her throat. She didn't want to talk about thisânot with John Metcalf, not with anyone. “I barely knew him.”
“He's older than I thought he'd be.” After a pause, John settled his gaze upon her again. “Will you return to Yorkshire?”
“No. I haven't decided what I'll do exactly, but I do hope to remain here. For the time being anyway.”
Madeline couldn't help thinking that after spending the morning with Adam, so full of knowledge, wisdom and experience, John's eyes looked particularly youthful.
you doing at the fort this morning?” he asked.
“I came to see the Ripleys.”
Did she detect a hint of disappointment in his tone? She was probably imagining it. He couldn't possibly
be hoping she was here to see him. Men never had hopes about her.
“They're staying in there.” John pointed toward the barracks where Adam stood.
“Thank you, John. I must go now. It was nice seeing you again. Good luck finding land.” She returned to where Adam was now leaning against the barracks.
“An acquaintance from the ship?” he asked, still watching John.
“Yes. His name is John Metcalf.” Why did she feel uncomfortable answering that question? Was it her own foolish sense of loyalty to Adam? Did she feel she should not be talking to single young men?
“Did he bring a family with him?” Adam asked.
“Not yet. He plans to send for his brothers as soon as he finds property to lease.”
Adam watched John intently for a few more seconds, then escorted Madeline to the barracks.
They knocked on the Ripleys' door, which almost immediately opened before them. Adam removed his hat and held it under his arm.
“Madeline! How wonderful to see you!” Mrs. Ripley pulled Madeline into her arms, then stepped back. “Is everything all right?”
“Of course. Mr. Coates was very kind to bring me to visit you today.”
He bowed at the waist and settled his tricorn hat back on his head. He was so gentlemanly, so courteous and elegant. And how handsome he looked in his hat.
“I shall be in the courtyard, Miss Oxley.” Then he left them.
With his departure, Madeline felt the same way she felt when she was in her garden and a cloud moved in front of the sun.
Mrs. Ripley closed the door behind him and sat down on one of the beds with Madeline. “Why did you come? Has it been difficult for you? Have you been crying? Do you want to go home?”
“I'm fine.” Madeline laughed at Mrs. Ripley's flair for the dramatic, but at the same time, she couldn't bear the thought of everyone thinking she was heartbroken and pining away. She needed to set them straight, even if she wasn't being completely straight with them or herself.
“Now that I'm here and I've had a chance to get to know Mr. Coates, I see that we wouldn't have been suited to each other anyway. He's a good deal older than I am, and he's not at all the man I remember. Honestly, I have not shed a single tear. I am glad things turned out the way they did. He and Diana are meant to be together, and he has already sent another proposal to her. In fact, it was I who encouraged him to do so.”
The older woman touched her hand. “But he's such a handsome man. Surely it's been at least a
difficult to bear, living under the same roof with him.”
“Not at all. He's been a perfect host, more like a father figure. Really, he seems very old to me.”
A father figure? Seems very old?
She was more skilled at hiding her feelings than she'd thought.
It was time to change the subject. “May I ask, Mrs. Ripley, if you've found suitable land yet?”
“Yes, we found a very promising spotâa farm near Amherst township. A section of the marsh is included and the ground is plowed, and a full crop of potatoes has already been planted.”
A rush of hopefulness surged through Madeline. “That's wonderful news. Will you be moving there soon?”
“As soon as the present owner vacates the house in two weeks.”
Madeline tried not to sound too delighted about it. “Wellâ¦the reason I came isâ¦I wonder if you might have need of a governess. Or even a housekeeper. Or both.”
Mrs. Ripley was quiet a moment.
Madeline shifted on the hay-filled tick. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound so anxious. You'll need time to discuss it with Mr. Ripley, of course. Perhaps I could return for an answer tomorrow.”
She made a move to stand, but Mrs. Ripley clasped her hand.
“No need to come back, Madeline. We would be delighted to have you. We've been saying that ever since we met you.”
A cry of relief spilled from Madeline's lips. “What good news.”
“We'll come by early, two weeks from Wednesday, to pick you up.” Mrs. Ripley hugged Madeline. “I'm very happy. In a couple of weeks, we'll all be together, and we can finally start to build a new life.”
Madeline rested her cheek on Mrs. Ripley's shoulder. “I will be counting the days.”
A short time later, Madeline said goodbye to Mrs.
Ripley and found Adam sitting on a bench in the courtyard, conversing with some local tradesmen. He immediately stood, left the men to themselves and crossed to meet her.
“Will you be returning with me?” he asked. The question came abruptly out of nowhere.
“Yes, to stay only temporarily. The Ripleys found land near Amherst township and in two weeks, I'll be able to move into their new home and begin work as their governess.”
His gaze swept over her face and settled on her eyes. His voice grew quiet. “I see. Well, that
“They're just waiting for the other family to remove themselves. The papers have already been signed.”
“Already signed. More good news.” Adam's tone was as cordial as always, but beneath it, she thought she detected a hint of disappointment. Could it be he had enjoyed her company and conversation this morning more than he had expected?
No, surely not. He was simply disappointed because his children would continue to live without a governess of their own.
He offered his arm. “Shall we go?” He escorted her to their horses, tethered near the fort's entrance.
Suddenly an unexpected sadness moved through her.
She chastised herself, for those feelings made no sense. She had accomplished what she'd set out to accomplish this morning. She'd found another situation. She should be overjoyed.
Perhaps a small part of her had still not let go of the dream.
She tried to ignore it and told herself that soon, when she was settled into a new life with the Ripleys, all this would surely pass.
Days later, Madeline ventured outside to feed the chickens. She closed the kitchen door behind her, but started at the unexpected sight of Adam pushing the plow behind a yoke of oxen in Agnes's vegetable garden. The sleeves on his loose, linen workshirt were rolled up to his elbows; he wore no waistcoat. He labored hard to push the plow, his muscles straining as he strove to keep the furrows straight.
She stood motionless, watching for a moment, realizing how much she loved to watch him work. The sight of him, with dirt on his clothing and perspiration dampening his face, made her skin tingle all over with gooseflesh. She could have stood there and watched him all day. He was rugged and strong, like the land itself. He was a part of it. He worked it, handled it, nurtured it.
Then she began to entertain the most indecent thoughts. She imagined him alone in his bedchamber at night, taking off his shirt in the candlelight, preparing for bed. What would his bare chest look like, and what would it feel like to her touch? What would it be like to share a bed with him and feel those huge hands moving over her body? She imagined they would feel callused and rough, yet warm and gentle at the same time.
Shaking herself out of those improper thoughts,
Madeline started off toward the chicken coop. She stepped inside. There was a cackling frenzy, then the hens settled as Madeline made her way about, collecting the eggs from the nests of hay while she tried not to think any more indecent thoughts about her future brother-in-law.
A few minutes later, she stepped out to the barnyard, where more hens pecked at the dry ground. She reached into her bucket and sprinkled the feed at their feet.
A tiny voice caught her attention. Madeline turned. Penelope, resting her cheek on her arm and looking quite decidedly bored, watched her from the other side of the fence. “Father said you'll be leaving us soon.”
Hearing dejection in the young girl's voice, Madeline labored to sound cheerful. “Yes, Penelope, I've been hired as a governess and housekeeper for a family I met during the crossing.”
“Are they a nice family?”
“Yes, they're very nice.”
Penelope picked her way around the fence. Her gait was shy and uncertain. “Do they have a little girl? Or just boys?”
Sprinkling more feed onto the ground, Madeline held out the bucket for Penelope to lend a hand, thinking it would do the girl good to feel useful. “They have two boys and two girls. The oldest is ten and the youngest girl is only four.”
“Does the youngest one know her numbers yet?” Penelope kept her gaze fixed on the chickens.
“Not yet, but I'll begin teaching her right away.”
“I could count when I was two.”
A breeze fluttered Madeline's skirts and she stopped what she was doing to gaze down at Penelope, who seemed to be searching for approval. Madeline was more than happy to give it to her, for she knew what it was like to spend a lifetime feeling deprived of it. “That's excellent. You must be very bright.”
Penelope shrugged and sprinkled her grain on the ground. “Do you like those children more than you like us? Is that why you don't want to work for Papa?”
“Oh, no, Penelope! It has nothing to do with you and the boys. It's just that my sister will be coming here, and when she arrives, you won't have need of a governess. You'll have a new stepmother.”
“But Papa says she won't be here before autumn. Why do you have to leave now?”
Because if I don't leave now, it will be too painful later.
“It's just the way things are. I've already promised the Ripleys.”
Penelope was quiet a moment. “I never knew my real mother.”
A heaviness settled in Madeline's chest. She stopped what she was doing and touched Penelope's shoulder. “I know, sweetheart, and I'm very sorry. I never knew my mother, either, and I know how it feels.”
Madeline shuddered inwardly at the memories of her lonely childhood, of never being held or cuddled the way other children were. Her own father had
never offered her any affectionâonly blame and disdain, for having been the instrument of his wife's death. That fact had led to his favoring Diana all through their lives.
Madeline found herself wondering more about Adam as a father to these children. Was he affectionate? Had he ever blamed Penelope for Mrs. Coates's death, as Madeline's father had blamed her?
“Papa says that Mama had a good heart,” Penelope said, “and that she could thread a needle with her eyes closed.”
Madeline made sure to keep her tone cheerful. “That's quite a talent. I don't believe I could do that.”
“Nor can Mrs. Dalton. Or I. But I keep trying. Papa says it just requires practice.”
Madeline held the bucket while Penelope dug into it for more feed. She felt a sudden, strong connection to the girl beside her.
Penelope's tone brightened. “Is your sister anything like you?”
Now, there was a good question, Madeline thought. She had to think very hard to come up with some similarities to offer Penelope. “We both grew up on the moors in Yorkshire. And we both like the color blue.”
“Does she look like you?”
“Not at all. She has blond hair and blue eyes and she's very beautiful.”
“You're beautiful, too.”
“Thank you, Penelope, that's very kind of you to say. You're a sweet girl.”
“I'm not trying to be kind, or sweet. It's the truth.”
Feeling a pleasant swell of warmth, Madeline turned the bucket upside down and dumped the last of the feed onto the ground. Then she and Penelope went into the barn to fill another bucket for the hogs.
“Will you come and visit us when you're living with the Ripleys?” Penelope asked.