Authors: The Unintended Groom
Their eyes met and locked.
Since his coming here, this was the first time he had a strong urge to pull her into his arms and kiss her. He wondered what it would be like to love this woman who was beautiful both inside and out. What it would be like to... She blinked, breaking the connection, along with his trail of thoughts. Good thing. He couldn’t entertain what it was like to be married to her. Nothing good could come from that kind of surmising.
“Did anyone ever tell you that you have very unique eyes?”
It was his turn to blink. Where had that come from? And is that why she was staring at him? That it had nothing to do with the connection he’d felt? Why that idea disappointed him, he had no idea, but it did, nevertheless. Brushing it aside, he answered, “Yes. I’ve been told that before. Has anyone ever told you that you do?”
Watch it buddy, you’re flirting with trouble.
She tilted her head, and her perfectly shaped brows curled into an S. “Mine aren’t unique.”
“Oh, but they are. They’re always smiling.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“Even when you aren’t smiling, you’re eyes appear to be. They’re very beautiful, you know?”
And so are you.
But that last part he didn’t voice out loud. Best to keep that to himself, as it was too personal of a thing to say to a single woman, and could very easily be misconstrued as more than the simple compliment it was meant to be. “Shall we go?” He changed the subject.
* * *
Harrison arrived at Abby’s minutes earlier than what had been discussed the day before. Zoé met him at the door, and after leaving his sons with her, he made his way into the parlor. He stepped into the room, and his heart jumped to his throat. There Abby was, standing precariously on a rickety ladder, leaning over the fireplace mantel at an angle, holding a huge picture.
“Abby, what are you doing? You’re going to hurt yourself,” he said, rushing toward her.
Abby jerked her head in his direction, and when she did, her body yanked with it. The ladder flew out from under her and the picture went crashing to the ground along with the ladder. Her arms shot out but not before her head whacked against the corner of the mantel. Harrison caught her right before she landed on the hearth. With her still in his arms, he asked, “What on earth were you doing up there on that thing?” His blood pounded hard into his ears.
“What do you mean, what was I doing? What did it look like I was doing? I was hanging a picture.” Her blond hair covered one side of her face.
“That’s a good way to get yourself hurt.”
“I was doing just fine until you came in and scared me half to death,” she puffed.
She had a point there. It was his fault she’d fallen. Still, one look at the rotten ladder and he knew it was only a matter of time before that thing collapsed.
Abby yanked her head with a quick jerk to the side and winced. She reached up and brushed the hair away from her face. Her fingertips patted at her forehead. When she pulled them back, they were coated with blood.
“It appears that way, yes.”
“Let me see that.”
“No need. I’ll be fine.” She tried to get up, but he sat on the hearth and settled her onto his lap.
“Mr. Kingsley, this is highly improper.” She arranged her purple day dress by tugging its skirt to where it hung farther over her ankles.
“Hang propriety. Right now I’m concerned about that knot on your head and the blood dripping down your forehead.” He pulled out his handkerchief and pressed it over the wound, making her wince away from it.
“You’re ruining your monogrammed handkerchief. And,
care about my reputation even if you do not.”
“What? Who said I didn’t care about your reputation?”
She glanced at the way he held her nestled on his lap, then at the parlor door, then back at him again with one raised pointy eyebrow.
She was right. The way he was holding her could easily be misconstrued. “I see your point.” He laid her hand over the handkerchief, quickly shifted her off his lap and stood.
He helped her up and led her over to the couch. “Sit.”
Her small hand perched at her waist. “Sit? Excuse me? Do I look like a dog to you?”
“A dog? You? Well, if you are, you’re a very cute one.” He laughed, but she didn’t join him. Realizing how that must’ve sounded, his laughter died in his throat. “I didn’t mean to imply that you were a dog. I only meant...” Good-night, how did he get himself into these messes, anyway? “I mean you’d make a cute dog. Not that I think you look like one or anything. I just meant...” He clamped his mouth shut, deciding he’d better hush up before he buried himself even further into the hole he’d already dug for himself.
Her nostrils expanded, her lips twitched. “Gotcha!” Laughter bubbled out of her. “You should have seen the look on your face when you thought I was upset with you. I knew what you meant, but it was fun watching you try to talk your way out of it.”
“Ha-ha. Very funny. I’m not amused.” His lips compressed into a thin line, and he crossed his arms over his chest.
“Oh, don’t be so stuffy. Lighten up,” she said, giving a quick flip of her hand. “I’m just teasing you.”
He continued to scowl at her.
“Look, I was only—”
“Gotcha!” He smiled and uncrossed his arms.
Her mouth fell open. Then as if she finally caught on, her lips curled in that cute way that made her eyes smile, too. “You got me a good one, and I deserved it, too.”
When they stopped laughing, Harrison’s eyes caught sight of the blood-soaked cloth.
“We’d better take care of that.” He pointed to her forehead.
“Oh, right. I was having so much fun, I forgot about it.”
He was, too. Fun was something he didn’t experience much. It felt nice. Something he could get used to.
* * *
Abby enjoyed the easy camaraderie with Harrison. Who knew under that business suit lay a man with a sense of humor? An extremely attractive man at that.
He leaned over and removed the cloth from her forehead. Fingers light and gentle brushed the hair from around the wound. She peered up at him, his eyes intently glued to her forehead.
Her attention dropped to his chin, a firm, chiseled, neatly shaven one. A combination of bay rum, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and orange, a very enthralling aftershave fragrance on a very intoxicating man, floated around him.
Her eyes slid upward to his bottom lip, soft and not too full, but not thin, either. Her vision climbed to his upper lip. What would it feel like to be kissed by those perfectly shaped lips, and to feel the passion of the man behind that masculine mouth and tender heart?
Daydreams of what it would be like acted out in her mind like a romantic scene from a play, and she allowed them to.
Harrison wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close, their hearts beat to the tune of a single drum. Her knees weakened as he dipped his head until his lips were but only a breath away from her own. His gorgeous eyes connected with hers, seeking permission to kiss her.
Abby’s eyes darted open. “May you what?” She blinked.
“May I have permission to doctor your wound?”
To doctor my...
Uh. Oh. Jolted back to reality, she relaxed, relieved that Harrison hadn’t been privy to her romantic thoughts, because if he had, he would hightail it back to Boston quicker than a jackrabbit fleeing a fox. “Have you done much doctoring?”
His mouth and brow quirked sideways. “I have two sons. What do you think?”
Abby chuckled. “I think that I’m in very good hands. How bad is it, anyway?” Growing up on a ranch, she’d encountered many a cut and bruise. Some a whole lot worse than this one, and she had survived. Other than a throbbing headache, a bit of dizziness and a slightly blood-soaked handkerchief, how bad could this one be?
“It’s not bad.” The man had impeccable timing. As if he could read her thoughts. Now that was a frightening thought. Especially with all the daydreams she had conjured up about him. “Just a little cut that doesn’t need stitches or anything. But still, it does need to be cleaned and bandaged to keep infection out.”
“I’ll go and fetch my medicine bag.” She started to rise, but his hand gently pressed down on her shoulder, forcing her in the gentlest of ways to be seated.
Their eyes met as they seemed to do so many times.
“Oh, forgive me. I didn’t mean to interrupt anything.”
Abby’s gaze flew to the door.
Fletcher turned to leave.
“Don’t go, Fletcher. You didn’t interrupt anything.”
Fletcher’s eyes drifted to Harrison’s hand still lingering on her shoulder.
She slouched her shoulder until Harrison’s hand slipped away. “Oh. Yes. Well. You see. I hit my head on the mantel. I was just going to head to the kitchen to get my medicine bag, but Harrison stopped me. He insisted I stay put and that he go get it.” She rushed out the words and glanced up at Harrison, who was looking at her as if to say, “Why are you explaining yourself to Fletcher?” Just why was she? Nothing was going on here. She had no reason to feel guilty. Well, all right, in a way she did because of her daydreams about the man. But no one knew about them except for her and God.
Flattening her hands on the sofa, she pushed herself up.
Pain pounded into her skull.
Stars twinkled in front of her.
Light pressure on her arm steered her back into a sitting position.
“Abby. Are you all right? You don’t look very well.”
“I’ll run and fetch the doctor.” That was Fletcher’s voice she heard.
“No. No, that won’t be necessary.” The stars faded and light slowly replaced them. Harrison’s face came into view first. Seeing his concern, she reassured him. “I’m fine. I just rose too quickly, is all.”
“Fletcher. Go ahead and fetch a doctor for Miss Bowen.”
Before Abby had a chance to stop him, Fletcher was gone. “Really. I’m fine.” As if to prove it, she rose. Big mistake that turned out to be. The twinkling stars returned, then disappeared into the blackness that overtook her.
bby, Can you hear me?”
Abby turned her head toward the sound of Harrison’s voice and slowly blinked her eyes open. “Harrison? What happened?”
“Yes. Doctor Wilson is here to see you.” Harrison moved from her view, and a handsome young man with blue-black hair and a thick matching mustache replaced him.
“I’m Doctor Wilson.” He pulled a chair over in front of the sofa she lay on and sat down. “From what Mr. Kingsley here tells me, you hit your head pretty hard on that mantel. Is that correct?”
“Well, while you were out, I took a look at your cut. Harrison is right, it doesn’t need stitches. I’ve already cleaned it and bandaged it. It appears you have a mild concussion. Therefore, I want you to rest today and to do nothing, especially anything strenuous.”
Rest? Oh, no. There would be no resting for her. She had work to do. She shifted her legs off the settee and pushed herself into a sitting position. Her head throbbed and the blinking stars tried to return, but she drew in a long breath, forcing them into a hasty retreat. “Excuse me, Doctor, but I don’t have time to rest. I have a business to tend to.”
will tend to business.
will take care of yourself.” Harrison’s formidable tone had Abby’s attention flouncing in his direction.
Excuse me? Who do you think you are ordering me about like that? You might be my business partner but you have no right to tell me what to do and to take over like that.
She wanted to say the words out loud, but there was no way she would embarrass him in front of others, so she kept the thoughts to herself.
“Please, Abby?” He must have noticed the aggravation on her face. Noting his concern, her heart softened. He wasn’t trying to be bossy; he was only troubled about her welfare.
Her frustration evaporated. “I’ll try. But—” she held up her hand “—I’m not promising anything.”
After leaving a few final instructions, the doctor left.
“Where’s Fletcher?” she asked.
“He and his men are working on stabilizing the foundation.”
“Oh. I see.”
“As there is no immediate business to tend to right now, and as much as I hate to leave you, Abby, I must. I’ll only be gone a short time, though. I have a couple of pressing errands to run, and then I’ll be right back. In the meantime, however, I will leave strict instructions for no one to bother you if something does arise. I’ll let them know where they can find me.”
Reluctantly, she nodded.
He turned to go.
“Oh, before you leave.” She sat up, wobbling with the effort. “I was wondering if you and the boys would like to come to church with me on Sunday. Then afterward, I thought we could have a picnic down by the river here in my backyard. Maybe the boys could do some fishing.”
Harrison didn’t answer right away. Had she been too forward? Did he read more into the invitation than what was there? “I thought I would invite Fletcher and Julie, too.”
Still no answer.
“I’d love it if Staimes joined us. Colette, Veronique and Zoé will be there, too.”
“I’m sure my valet would like that. And I’m sure the boys would enjoy it, too. Especially the fishing. Yes. Very well. We’ll come.” He sounded so formal about it all, but Abby decided not to dwell on that.
In fact, it was quite easy to push it out of her throbbing thoughts. “Wonderful. It’s settled, then. You know where the church is, right? We drove by it on our way out to Fletcher’s.”
Harrison nodded as he spun his hat slowly in his hands. “I know where it is, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it for services, so I’ll just meet you here afterward.”
“Oh. Okay.” She wondered why he wouldn’t make it to church but didn’t ask. It was none of her business.
“Well, I’d better go. I hate to leave you, but this one pressing matter cannot be delayed. Promise me you’ll rest like the doctor said to, all right?”
“I won’t make promises I can’t or don’t plan on keeping. But I promise I will try my best. Fair enough?”
He sighed, gave a short nod and left.
Abby tossed a couple of decorative pillows onto the settee and lowered herself onto its firm, yet soft, surface. She closed her eyes and tried to rest, but after forty minutes of shifting and trying to sleep, she gave up. Despite the fact her head still hurt, she decided to go see how Fletcher was coming along with the foundation. The sounds of work had been reverberating through the house most of the morning, so she knew they were, in fact, working hard.
Dry summer heat clothed her the second she stepped out the front door of her house. Rotten egg odor from the hot mineral springs hung in the air. She discovered she was getting used to the sulphur smell that was sometimes stronger than other times, so it didn’t bother her nearly as badly as it used to.
One day, she’d take the time to go soak in the natural cave pool on her property to see what all the hoopla was over about bathing in the stinky water. Sure didn’t make sense to her to bathe in something that directly afterward required a bath in order to remove the odorous water from a person’s skin. What sense did that make?
She took a moment to stare at the magnificent mountain view across from her front door. One she never tired of. Hundreds of trees dotted it and the light blue sky outlining it made for a breathtaking backdrop.
Seconds later, she headed down the steps and rounded the corner. Knee-high weeds brushed against her skirt as she strolled through the perimeter of her yard. Unattended rose bushes created a fence barricade for the sorely neglected flower garden.
Potentilla and forsythia bushes smattered the yard. Along with white-and-yellow daisies, blue columbines, bluebells and another bright pink flower she couldn’t identify. The tiered rock fountain was in need of a good scrubbing. She made a mental note to ask Fletcher if he knew of someone she could hire to rejuvenate the gardens. She would do it herself, but there was too much to do to get ready for the grand opening.
She went in search of Fletcher and found him and his men busy stacking rocks and bricks. Strong muscles flexed as Fletcher loaded his arms. Impressed with how much weight the man could carry, she watched him as he took them over to the pile with little effort. Before he caught her staring at him, she strolled over to him. “How are things coming along?”
Fletcher glanced over at her and smiled. He settled his burden, raised his hat and ran his sleeve over the sweat on his forehead. “It’s a little too early to tell. But so far everything’s going along pretty well.”
“That’s good to hear. Hey, I was wondering something. You wouldn’t happen to know anyone around here with great gardening skills, would you? I need someone to turn this yard into the glorious garden I’m sure it once was.”
Fletcher hooked his thumbs in his front pocket and looked around. “At one time, this place and this garden was the nicest one around these here parts.” He rocked on the heels of his cowboy boots. “Sure was a shame to ride by and see it so run-down. But I’ll tell you who can have it restored to its former glory in no time, and that would be Mr. Samuel Hilliard. He loves working in gardens. Matter of fact, he used to work for the folks that owned this place.”
“Who does he work for now?”
“No one. Not much use for a gardener around here. He does odd jobs for folks around town just so he can stay living here. In fact, if I remember rightly, I heard he just finished a job and was looking for work. So he might be available.”
Abby clasped her hands together against her chest. “Wonderful. How can I get a hold of him?”
“I can take you there during lunch if you’d like.”
“Oh, yes. Yes. I would like that very much. Thank you.” They stood there for a moment, neither saying a word. Finally, Abby spoke. “Would you and your men like something cold to drink?”
“That would be very nice. Thank you. I’m sure my men could stand a break. Lugging rocks and bricks is hard work.”
With those arms, it shouldn’t be too hard for him, but she wouldn’t voice that. Hogwash rules of propriety prevented a woman from expressing those kinds of compliments. “Very well, I’ll be right back.”
“Wait. Harrison said you were supposed to be resting. Why don’t you let me go and get it?”
“Nonsense. I can handle it.”
“That’s what Harrison said you’d say.”
“Harrison said you’d say what?”
Abby whirled toward the sound of Harrison’s voice and instantly regretted the fast shift. Her head swam in protest, but she would not let either of these men see her pain or the dizziness that was already lifting.
“That she could handle it,” Fletcher answered with something between a grin and a grimace.
Harrison turned those stunning eyes of his on her. “You’re supposed to be resting.”
“I tried, but I couldn’t sit still.” Why was she answering to him about this, anyway?
Who was she kidding? She knew why she was. As much as she didn’t want to, she liked having a man take charge and watch over her. She just better make sure she didn’t get used to it was all. No harm in enjoying it while it lasted, though.
“That, I can believe. What were you doing that you weren’t supposed to be doing?”
“I was just going to get these men something to drink, is all. I mean, really. That’s not strenuous, and I’m more than capable of carrying a pitcher of fresh lemonade and four glasses. It’s only a slight concussion, and the doctor said it only appeared that I had one. He wasn’t even certain. Besides, if I didn’t feel like I could do it, I wouldn’t.” That wasn’t quite an accurate statement as she wasn’t one to take things lying down. “I need something to keep me busy or I’ll go mad. I thank you for your concern, but I’m going to go now and get those beverages.”
Harrison caught up with her. “No. You won’t. You go and sit down in the shade, and I’ll go and get it.”
A fleeting glance at the rickety bench that looked in worse shape than the ladder she’d fallen off earlier, and she wanted to laugh. Not used to taking orders, one glance at him, however, and she changed her mind. Yet again. The man had a way of affecting her like that. “Oh, all right. But don’t think I’m always going to give in this easily.” She shot him a serious, albeit teasing, smile.
“Trust me, I don’t.” He sent her a teasing smile of his own. “I’ll be back.” With that, he ducked into the house.
Abby headed over to the shade, but not the spot Harrison had indicated. Without a doubt, if he saw just how poor of shape that bench was in, he would have never asked her to sit there. Of course, there was no way he could tell that from a distance.
Underneath the large cottonwood tree, she found a grassy spot and sat down, fanning her skirt out around her.
Fletcher headed toward her.
She gazed up at him, but the sun shining directly behind him made it difficult to see his face, so she cupped her hand to shield her eyes. “Harrison is getting your drinks.”
Fletcher moved until the sunlight no longer blinded her. She lowered her hand and settled it onto her lap.
“He didn’t need to do that. My men and I would be just fine filling our canteens down at the river. The water’s nice and cold there.”
“I haven’t tried the water from there yet. I was afraid it would taste like sulphur.”
“It doesn’t. The springs and the river aren’t anywhere close to each other.”
“Whew. That’s good to know. I’ll have to give it a try sometime. Oh, by the way, I’m having a picnic Sunday after church down by the river. Would you and Julie like to come? Harrison and his sons and Veronique and Zoé and Colette will be there, too. Oh, and Staimes, Harrison’s valet.”
Fletcher hooked his thumbs in his pocket again and for a time looked everywhere but at her. Moments passed and he finally turned his focus back onto her. “We’ll come.”
Was that disappointment she heard in his voice? “If you don’t want to...”
“It isn’t that. It’s just...” He rubbed his finger over his bottom lip. “Thank you. We would love to come.”
Although his tone wasn’t completely convincing, it pleased her they would be there. “Wonderful. I’m glad you’ll be joining us.” That brought a smile to his face.
Abby loved doing things for people and this was just one small way she could do something special for those who were helping to make her dream become a reality. To make sure everyone enjoyed the day off, she’d hire Lucy, from Lucy’s Diner, to supply the food. Abby loved big, outdoor get-togethers, something her family back in Paradise Haven did often.
Plus, she couldn’t wait to spend more time with Harrison and his adorable sons. She knew she was opening herself up for more heartache by subjecting herself to being around the children, but she also knew children were a blessing, so therefore, she would enjoy them while she could. Before long, they would be gone. With the exception of Julie, perhaps. But even then, Fletcher would be gone, too, once the job was finished and so would Julie. She just hoped they didn’t take her heart with them and leave her to pick up the pieces again.
* * *
Having never made lemonade before or anything else for that matter, Harrison was extremely grateful when Veronique insisted she prepare the drinks. Not only had she prepared the beverages, but she’d also added some delicious-looking French butter cookies to the tray, as well.
On his way to give Fletcher and his men their lemonade and cookies, something his servants would have done back home, Harrison searched for Abby. He spotted her sitting under a large tree with her purple dress fanned out around her, looking very regal. She was the type of woman who could fit in anywhere. There were times she appeared every whit the high-society lady, and other times a person wouldn’t be able to differentiate her from the household staff. Either way, the lady was a breath-stealing vision of loveliness. One he could drink his fill of every day.
After he gave the men their drinks, he made his way over to Abby and handed her the already filled glass of lemonade with a slice of lemon hooked on the side of the glass.
“Thank you.” She smiled up at him.
Good-night the woman was beautiful.