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Authors: Julianne MacLean

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BOOK: Adam's Promise
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Near the door, Agnes pulled on her shawl. “I'm
going to the barn to do a few chores before breakfast.” With that, she was gone.

Adam remained in the kitchen, watching Madeline pour batter into an iron pot on the fire. She was so quiet. So calm all the time.

Suddenly he yearned to know more about her and her life before she came into his, and he couldn't resist the curiosity. He sat down at the trestle table. “Did you cook for your family at home?”

“My father had a housekeeper, but I was always in the kitchen helping her, if I wasn't in the garden digging in the dirt. Of course, neither of those things my father approved of, but he gave up trying to stop me after a while. To be honest, I doubt he ever expected me to do what Diana did.”

Her voice trailed off, and Adam was intrigued. “Which was?”

Madeline looked at him and giggled. “I don't know, Adam. She spent so much time away from home. She was constantly with our aunt in London, and when she came home she always looked beautiful. She was skillful with an embroidery needle, too, so I suspect she spent a lot of time doing what most
well
-brought-up young ladies do.”

He laughed. “Are you saying you were not brought up well?”

“I'm saying I was not as socially ambitious as most young women my age.” She threw him an apologetic look. “I beg your pardon, Adam, I did not mean to insinuate anything about Diana.”

“I didn't think you had.”

She stirred whatever she was cooking in that huge
pot. “Diana and I were eleven years apart, and we had very different childhoods.”

Why did he have the feeling she was still apologizing for what she'd said about her sister?

Adam watched Madeline a little longer. The desire to know more about her and the person she was beneath the surface she showed to the world would not leave him, so he simply gave in to it. “How so? Diana spent time in London with her mother and aunt. What about you?”

Madeline moved away from the fireplace to the worktable. She reached for bread dough that she must have set to rise before she'd gone out for the eggs. “Mother died when I was born, so I never took any trips to London. Father went, of course, and continued to take Diana with him, but I was just a babe, so he left me at home with the housekeepers. Habits form, I suppose, and as I grew older, he continued to leave me behind.”

“Did that bother you?”

“No, I hardly noticed. It was the way things always were, and I never questioned them. To be honest, I grew to look forward to their trips, so that I could have more freedom at home to do what I wanted.”

“Were you lonely?”

“No. At least I didn't think I was. I found much to interest me on the moors and in the garden, and later, in books. I know that when you came calling on Diana, I might have seemed lonely, the way I followed you about—” she glanced at him sheepishly “—but I think I was more curious than anything. About what you and she talked about and did to
gether. I had never seen a romance before.” She flipped the heavy dough over and smiled at him, an appealing smile that made the hairs on his arm prickle. “Is it too late to apologize?”

“If anyone deserves an apology, Madeline, it is you, for we were young and selfish. You were just a child, and we should have included you.”

That apology, he decided, was long overdue.

He absently twisted his wedding ring around on his finger. Madeline stopped kneading. “I've noticed you have not taken that off.”

“My wedding ring?” He turned his large hands over and looked at them. How candidly they revealed his age. “No, I couldn't bring myself to.”

“You must still miss her a great deal.”

Adam laid his hands flat on the table. “It's not so much that….” He had never spoken of Jane to anyone, at least not about their imperfect marriage. He wondered why he was compelled to do so now, with Madeline—a young woman who had never been married herself and probably assumed that every romance had a happy ending. “I believe it is guilt that keeps me from taking it off.”

Madeline sat down across from him and gently clasped his hand. “Guilt? Adam, surely you can't blame yourself for her death.”

“What husband wouldn't when his wife dies on the birthing bed?” She squeezed his hand. “But more than that, I regret the misery in our marriage. Jane was an emotional woman. She cried over a chipped plate, or flew into a rage when the fire would not light on the first try. In the beginning, I was sympathetic
and spent a great deal of time trying to appease her, when I was not walking on eggshells, for fear of setting her off. Later, as the years passed, I felt nothing when she wept, for she was not rational. My sympathy dried up, and she knew it. Things only got worse after that.”

“I had no idea, Adam. What about the children? Did they suffer also?”

“Penelope, of course, knows nothing, and the boys, thank God, were too young to recognize what their mother was going through. Mrs. Dalton was very good at distracting them or taking them out of the room when Jane was having one of her ‘spells' as I used to call them.”

He began to twist the ring again, remembering the earlier days. “It's odd, when I married her, she'd seemed so sensible. Looking back on it now, I see that the things she said to me were just words. Even if she knew what was sensible and what was not, she could not control her emotions. We married too quickly. She had known about Diana, and I don't think she ever believed for one minute that I was over her. I think that's what made Jane unbalanced.”

Madeline continued to hold his hand, accepting what he had confessed without pushing him for more. He felt a weight lift in his chest.

“I cannot believe I burdened you with all of that,” he said, hoping to lift the somber mood that had descended upon the kitchen. “The melodramatic regrets of an old man's life.”

“You are not old, Adam, yet you keep saying it.”

It was true, he had been feeling his age more than usual lately. Since Madeline had arrived.

How could he tell her that
she
in all her youthful splendor, by bringing forward the past, had forced him to look inside himself at the man he once was, and the man he had become?

Gazing across the table at her cheerful, tender countenance, into eyes that actually saw the
old
Adam, he wanted to be that man again. Could he?

For the first time in many years, he felt the scattered remnants of his old self bucking within.

Then he reminded himself that Diana was coming, and
she
was the reason for all this, even though Madeline had been the one to help awaken him and make him see that he could change.

He began to tell himself that Madeline's arrival here—and his surprisingly strong responses to her—were happening for a reason. God had intended it. After all, if Diana had come first, and seen the empty shell of the young lover she remembered, she might not have stayed to see things come around right.

That realization disturbed Adam more than he could say. Did he have no confidence in Diana? Did he not trust her to be different this time?

Suddenly the kitchen door swung open, and both Adam and Madeline jumped. Agnes stepped inside, her gaze falling to Madeline's hand upon Adam's.

Madeline pulled her chair back and stood, returning to her bread dough which sat like a dry lump of clay on the worktable. She began to knead it again, asking Agnes about the weather.

Agnes hinted at nothing untoward—she never
would—and rambled on about the hogs being in an awful tizzy over the water trough.

Adam stood up to leave, but Agnes stopped him. She wrung her hands together with an uncharacteristic nervousness. “Mr. Coates, before you go, I wonder if I may have a word with you.”

“Certainly. What is it, Agnes?” Good God, was she going to chastise him for sitting alone in the kitchen, holding hands with his future sister-in-law?

“I beg your pardon, sir, but may we speak in private?”

Hell, she
was
going to chastise him.

They walked together into his study and Agnes paused by the door, still wringing her hands together. “I have something difficult to tell you, and I hope you will not be…I hope you will not be…”

Adam fumbled for his handkerchief and offered it to her. She took it and blew her nose. “I promised myself I wouldn't cry. You've seen enough of that in your life, sir.”

“Nonsense, Agnes,” he replied softly. “What is upsetting you?”

She collected herself. “I am afraid I must leave you and the children.”

Chapter Eight

H
is housekeeper's words came at him as if through a tunnel filled with echoes. “Leave us? Why, Agnes? You've been with us forever.”

“I have indeed, Mr. Coates, and my years with you have been good ones, the best of my life. I love the children like they were my own, I do. But I have a chance to live in my own house now. I'm to be married.”

Adam had to sit down. “Married? To whom?”

“To a man from Maccan, sir. We've been meeting every Wednesday at the market in Amherst.”

He took a moment to digest this news. “I noticed you've been late returning. I thought you were simply taking more time for yourself.”

“Well, I have been, sir.”

“Yes, of course you have been. He's a good fellow, is he? Dependable? Trustworthy? I won't have you marrying any dangerous or unscrupulous character.”

“He's a good man, Mr. Coates. A widower like you. He owns his own farm.”

Adam leaned back in his chair as the news settled upon him. “The children won't be happy to see you go.”

“Nor will I be happy to leave them, but I will visit often. I promise you that.”

Adam stood. “I suppose congratulations are in order, then. I'm happy for you, Agnes. You deserve every joy life brings you.”

He pulled her into his arms and held her. She buried her face in his chest and wept.

“When will you be leaving?” he asked, his own voice trembling.

“The end of the week.”

“The end of the week? So soon?”

“Yes, sir. I thought it a good time, since Madeline is here and taking such good care of things.”

“But she's not staying. She's leaving in a few days.”

Agnes blew her nose. “Yes, but I doubt you'd have any trouble convincing her to stay, if you explained the situation.”

“I've already offered her a position, and she's dead set against it. And she's headstrong, Agnes. Surely you've seen that.”

“I have, but she's only headstrong in the face of what she doesn't want. And she
wants
to stay here.”

“How do you know that?”

“I just know. Any fool can see it.”

“Any fool but me. Honestly, I've tried to convince her.”

“I reckon you'll have to try harder, sir.”

 

That evening, after the supper dishes had been washed and put away, Madeline ventured into Adam's study to look at his books. It would do her good, she thought, to immerse herself in an intriguing story for the next few days, to help pass the time.

Candelabra in hand, she made her way down the dark center hall, the heels of her shoes tapping lightly over the wood floor. The door to Adam's den was open, but inside, the room was black, the curtains drawn and keeping out the moonlight.

She carried her candles in to the tall bookcase on the far side of the fireplace and held the light up to the spines of all the books, delighted by the simple pleasure of smelling them.

There were so many. Surely every one of Shakespeare's plays. She had not yet read King Lear. Perhaps she would begin with that one.

As she knelt down and let her fingers graze over others closer to the floor, she found new temptations—Homer, Hobbs, Norton, Milton, as well as a number of other authors whose names she did not recognize.

She pulled out something by Samuel Richardson—a thick novel called
Clarissa, or The History of a Young Lady.
Madeline set her candles on the floor and opened the book. Just then, she heard footsteps come into the room. She stood quickly, stepping sideways in a panicky effort not to singe her skirts on the candles.

Carrying his own candelabra, Adam slowly approached and bent to pick up hers. He set it in a safer place upon a desk.

“Did you think I was a ghost?” he asked.

She smiled. “I wasn't sure. You surprised me.”

“I do apologize. I thought I heard you come in here. Have you found anything that interests you?”

Heart still racing, Madeline cleared her throat to speak. “I was just about to look at this one.”

He came to stand next to her and held his candles over the book she held. “
Clarissa.
Are you sure? I believe it's the longest novel in the English language.”

Madeline laughed.

Her reaction seemed to amuse him. With a smile, he said, “It's no joke, my dear,” and furtively slid the book out of her hands. His were large and strong, yet graceful as he ran his fingers over the lettering. “Do you know anything about it?”

“No, nothing.”

“The characterization is magnificently sustained, but it's very tragic. I wouldn't recommend it to everyone. It all depends upon your tastes.”

“I'm open to anything if it's well written. I've read my share of tragedies.”
I've lived my share, too.

“Well, don't let me influence what you choose. Taste in literature is very personal.”

He handed
Clarissa
back to her. Their hands touched briefly, but he shied away, as if her fingers were hot to the touch. Madeline thought of their conversation in the kitchen that morning and colored fiercely. Did he regret confiding in her, and had he been uncomfortable with the way she had held his hand? Perhaps this was his way of telling her that he
knew she was attracted to him, and he intended to discourage her.

She was glad she would be leaving soon.

Madeline put
Clarissa
back where she found it. “Can you recommend something else? Perhaps something shorter?”

Adam held his candles up to the titles on a higher shelf. Madeline stared at the strong line of his jaw in the flickering candlelight and wished she could reach out and run her fingers along the shadow of stubble.

He looked over the spines for a few seconds. He seemed intimately familiar with where everything was. “Have you read any Shakespeare?” Then he smiled down at her. “Of course you have.”

She returned his smile. “Yes, but not everything.”

“What about
Measure for Measure?

“Yes, I've read that one.”

“What did you think?”

“I thought the ending was hurried.”

He continued to look over the titles on the spines, tilting his head to the side to read them, running his fingers over the embossed lettering. “I thought so, too.”

Madeline stood back, watching, enjoying these precious moments of conversation with him, talking about books. She realized now that she had come to understand him on a deeper level these past weeks—staying up late to talk about the marshlands and what he wanted to accomplish to ensure their survival.

She now felt a certain compatibility with him, for she, too, valued good land, and knew how important it was to nurture and maintain it. All her life, she'd
toiled in her own garden at home, proud of her accomplishments, always delighted to see the green shoots sprouting out of the dirt. The feel of the soil under her fingernails—even though Diana had badgered her for being so irresponsible about her hands—had always provided her a secret pleasure.

“What about
Twelfth Night?
” Adam asked, bringing her thoughts back to the present.

“I've read it.”

“Did you like it?”

“Very much. It was hilariously complicated.”

He smiled at her and nodded in agreement. Then his attention went back to the books.

“What about
The Merchant of Venice?

“I've read it.”

“The Merry Wives of Windsor?”

“Read that, too.”

He smiled down at her and said good-naturedly, “Perhaps it should be
you
doing the recommending, instead of me.”

She laughed. “Are there any books here, Adam, that you
haven't
read yet?”

“Only a few. I read most of them in Yorkshire, when Jane was alive. I needed a distraction, I suppose.”

Madeline found herself gazing into Adam's eyes in the candlelight, wanting to fill in all the years he had been absent from her life. In a moment of abandon, she chose to ignore her resolve to keep her emotional distance and began asking questions she had no business asking.

“Tell me more, Adam. Tell me about the day you decided to leave Yorkshire.”

He set his candelabra on a table. “Surely you don't want me to bore you with that.”

“I do. Tell me why you left your home when you had spent your entire life there.”

Somewhat reluctantly, he began. “Well, knowing I was going to spend the rest of it working someone else's land, and earn nothing to pass to my children weighed heavily for me. I was tired of seeing my hard work go to support my landlord's mistress's apartments and baubles. Then one afternoon, his agent came by to discuss the harvest, and Agnes, wanting to be a good hostess, served him tea in Jane's best china—china we had received as a wedding gift from my family. Mr. Westing took one look at his teacup and the silver teapot, and said that if we could afford china like that, we could afford to have our rent raised.”

Madeline felt her temper flare. “Poor Agnes. I hope she didn't blame herself.”

He gave Madeline a look that told her otherwise. “It was only a few weeks later that the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia came to recruit families to emigrate, and I was more than ready to hear him out. We came here on the very first ship and made a fresh start.”

“And now, you're a landowner.”

“Sometimes I pinch myself.”

Madeline thought of what it must have been like, for Adam to sell everything, uproot his family and venture across an ocean into unfamiliar lands, when
his children were so young. Penelope would have been only five years old. And Adam—without a wife to support his decision, or keep him company during the lonely years settling into a strange place—must have often questioned himself and worried for his children's futures.

Madeline smiled warmly. “You've done well for your family, Adam. You should be proud.”

He nodded and let his gaze linger upon her eyes for a second or two, then he raised his left hand to look at it. “You know, I think I should take this off now.”

“Your wedding ring?”

“Yes. After our conversation about Jane, I've been feeling less burdened by what had been keeping it on my finger.” He pulled it off and put it in one of his desk drawers. “I have you to thank for that, Madeline. How can I ever repay you for your kindness?”

Even in the candlelight, Madeline could see his face go pale. He spoke awkwardly. “And I suppose it would have been bad form to still be wearing it when Diana came. Thank you,” he said again.

Madeline simply nodded to hide her own face going pale or flushing with pink. She wasn't sure what it was doing, only that her cheeks were burning. For she had a dozen ideas about how Adam could repay her for her so-called kindness.

Adam regained the composure in his voice. “So, I've told you why I left Yorkshire. What about you? Why were you so eager to leave your home and marry a man you barely knew?”

She stared at him blankly.

“Good heavens, Madeline, that came out not at all the way I meant it to.”

“It's all right, Adam, you're right. I acted hastily, knowing nothing about where I was going or who I was going to. I was just so happy to be leaving, I suppose I stuck my head in the sand.”

Maybe she fudged the truth a little, leaving out the part about wanting to marry
him
because he was the man of her dreams, but she couldn't very well tell him everything.

“Why would you be so happy to leave? Was your father that much of a tyrant?”

Odd, that Madeline had come to Nova Scotia to escape and hide from the scandal that had ruined her, yet now found herself wanting nothing more than to revisit it again and confess everything.

She supposed she wanted to feel closer to Adam, even though she knew it was wrong and foolish.

Lord help her when Diana arrived.

“My father was part of the reason I left Yorkshire, but not all of it. Mostly I wanted a fresh start, for I discovered the hard way that a woman's reputation is as fragile as glass and, once broken, not so easy to put back together.”

Adam gazed at her with interest. “What happened, Madeline? You weren't…”

She quickly shook her head. “No, it never came to that, but it's not what happens to a woman that matters as much as what
appears
to happen. When I was eighteen and visiting Stanley Hall to tutor Lord Jeffrey's children, the local vicar followed me out into
the garden and attempted to compromise me, for which I gave him a black eye.”

Adam's face lit up at that. “Good for you, Madeline.”

“Well, I thought so, too, but my father, alas, did not. He paid the vicar a large sum to marry me, but I refused. The story got out, don't ask me how, and the vicar blamed
me
for seducing him. My reputation was ruined, and the vicar lost his position and insisted on keeping the money for compensation. Father never forgave me for not marrying the man. Before that, I always felt he tolerated me. I may never have believed that he
loved
me—not like he loved Diana—but afterward, I knew he out-and-out despised me.”

“He despised
you!
His youngest daughter! For defending herself against a lecher! I can only pray that if Penelope ever encounters a man like that detestable vicar, she will have your spunk and spirit, and give him
two
black eyes.”

Madeline tried to smile, but the familiar shame and embarrassment that her father had pressed into her for years came upon her, despite her deep belief that none of it was her fault. She lowered her gaze to the floor.

To her surprise, Adam's strong arms enveloped her and pulled her close into the warmth of his chest, where the shock of being held by him—the profound sense of release—took her breath away. She could feel the heat from his body, smell the outdoors on his clothes. She could even hear his heart within, beating against her ear. A quiver surged through her.

ADS
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