Authors: Doyle MacBrayne
She relaxed, color returning to her face, “I would be honored, Mr. Poole. Thank you very much for…” she dropped her eyes to the floor.
Very gently he said, “Ms. Eyre, one day I hope you honor me with your confidence. I should like to help you.” Gray held out his hand to Ben and shook it firmly. “Good evening, Ms. Eyre, Mr. Spruce.”
“Good evening, Mr. Poole.”
Jane and Ben watched him leave. Ben hugged her, “Janie, I think that man has it bad for you.”
She shook her head, “He’s just being chivalrous. It’s in his nature.”
Ben cocked an eyebrow, “Chivalrous? Try gallant and obsessed… Courtly and kinky…”
She punched his shoulder, “Just be glad you don’t have to babysit me for hours while I paint some freaky guy’s cock. Jesus, what the hell was Richard thinking? And his friends, did they honestly think portrait is code for prostitute?”
Ben grunted, “The guy I talked to will spread the word. I really think we should consider” he moved in and whispered in her ear, “you let me handle Richard.” He stood up, “It’s time, kiddo. He’s not going to stop.”
“He needs to hang himself. Come on; let’s convince my Mom to leave now.” She waggled her eyebrows, “Maybe I can let her drive and she can run Richard over in the parking lot.”
Jane found herself running at five, Sunday morning, unable to sleep, nervous energy tearing through her body. Her brain was running back and forth between the events of last night and the fact that her mother’s monthly brunch was today. What the hell had Richard been thinking, and worse, did people actually believe him? And now Gray had involved himself when he really shouldn’t have, didn’t need to. She hated owing him a favor. Five miles added to physical exhaustion but didn’t seem to help her nervous energy. After a shower, she decided to try and calm herself with a cup of tea and
time painting. The morning passed faster than expected when Ben and Patrick surprised her on the patio.
“Hey, Jane!” Patrick leaned down and kissed her cheek, “You’ve got fifteen minutes until brunch.”
“Shit!” She rolled her eyes, “I’ll wash up.” She followed him into the kitchen, washed her hands and headed to the dining room. Her mother peeked her head in the kitchen and groaned.
You must go change,” she hissed, “The guests are arriving! Change quickly!”
“Yes, mother,” Jane groaned, plodding up the stairs. Feeling bohemian today she threw on a peasant top and a floaty skirt and sandals. She left her long hair down quickly applying some makeup.
She came down the front stairs hearing voices in the foyer and wanting to greet their guests. She heard the voice of Grayson Poole and bristled. He brought a box of chocolates and offered them to Mrs. Austen.
“Mr. Poole, how kind of you!” She turned to Jane, “Jane, look at the beautiful sweets Mr. Poole has brought us.”
Jane raised an eyebrow, upset that he had shown up at all, but answered politely, “You are most kind, Mr. Poole. Perhaps you felt a little sweetness on our tongues will sweeten our dispositions as well?”
Her mother laughed, “My dear, I daresay his very presence improves our dispositions.”
Jane nodded politely to Gray, took the chocolates and set them on the buffet table.
The other guests were outside in the garden enjoying a cup of tea. Jane overheard her mother, still talking to him in the foyer. “Mr. Poole, can you believe that my Jane is still unmarried? It is such a concern to a mother.”
Jane felt her cheeks redden and she sighed heavily, slowing her steps. She could see him, but her mother had her back to Jane and could not see her expression. Gray grinned mischievously at Jane.
“Is she not spoken for by Mr. Spruce or Mr. Whitfield?” he asked innocently.
Mrs. Austen’s eyes opened wide, “Oh no, Mr. Poole, they are just friends. Jane thinks of them as brothers, I assure you.”
Her face was a beautiful pink, and his smile grew. “Well, that is an interesting revelation Mrs. Austen, I assure you. You would not be opposed to someone such as
me, a widowed older man courting your daughter?”
Jane groaned softly while her mother spoke, “I would not be opposed to you, sir, to be sure. I feel Jane would be a fine match for you, but as to another man, I cannot say.”
Jane stepped forward, her stomach churning at his game. “Mother, please, I am right here. You have to stop this now. It is unseemly,” Jane begged.
“Unseemly, Jane, is a spinster of your beauty spending your time with two men. Did you not hear his accusation Jane? Have I not warned you that your acquaintance with Patrick and Ben would be your undoing?”
“Mother!” Jane moved closer and hissed, “Do not dare to speak unkindly about Patrick or Ben. They have shown me nothing but kindness and are the most honorable men I know. Mr. Poole is teasing you mother! Please, do not speak of such matters!”
Her mother turned to Gray, “I fear my daughter is correct, Mr. Poole. I am sorry to have spoken of such matters with her present. Perhaps you should speak with her brother, Richard.”
Jane’s eyes glared at Gray, and he knew it was time to put an end to the discussion. “Mrs. Austen, I am sorry to have upset you and your daughter. Please know that I have only honorable intentions. Perhaps I should discuss this with Jane first, with your permission, of course?”
She smiled warmly, “You have my permission and my blessings, Mr. Poole, most assuredly.”
She looked at Jane, “I am sorry child, to have upset you with this discussion.”
Jane leaned down and kissed her mother’s cheek. “I love you mother/ Please can we begin our brunch?”
She glared at Gray as her mother led them to the garden. She held him by his elbow, slowing him before leaving the room, and hissed “You are in so much trouble, Poole. Do not play with my mother like that ever again.”
He smirked, moved her against the wall and whispered in her ear, “I was not playing with your mother, Jane. Your cousin James suggested it, in fact. I court you; your mother gets off your back.”
Jane pushed him away, “And you get?”
“I get you, Jane,” he grinned, “lively discourse at dinner, and an escort with wit for various functions.”
“No.” She turned and left him there, grinning stupidly. From the buffet she put together a small meal and sat down opposite her mother. Her mother was pleased to introduce Mr. Poole, Mr. Sanders, and Mr. Blake, as well as Ms. Jenny Simmons. She introduced Ben and Patrick, who sat on either side of her as Jane’s old friends from school. There was also another couple, Mr. and Mrs. Craig that she knew from her parents’ charity work for the symphony.
They discussed the weather, the benefits of ladybugs in the garden, and the opening of a new mall in the next town. Topics avoided were politics and religion, which Jane knew were considered unseemly by her mother, but noted the non-veiled attempts at foisting her spinster daughter at available men were not. Jane endured the brunch, remaining silent for most of the meal. Her mother was extremely courteous and polite throughout the meal, and for once, Jane didn’t have to endure platitudes about her qualities.
She realized her mother was seriously considering Mr. Poole’s discussion and relaxed a little. She would have to talk to James about it, but the idea had merit. It seemed that they were attending all the same stupid functions anyway. She’d have to discuss it with Patrick and Ben too; usually she attended with them, at least the functions when they didn’t want their dating status known.
But what had he meant, he ‘gets her’. There would have to be full discussion, because while she was willing to attend functions, that was it. No dating, no, well, nothing else. That much she would insist on, because while this was a game to him, her heart was slowly warming to the idea of more, much more.
Monday morning arrived and Jane found a single white rose at her desk with his sister’s name, address and phone number. Jane arranged to meet with her the following weekend. She hoped to get several candid shots of her as well as the family, and she was curious to meet his family. Maybe get a clue about the man himself.
At lunch time, he poked his head out the door and arched an eyebrow in her direction.
“Ms. Eyre, have you given some consideration to our discussion yesterday?”
Jane sat back in her chair. “Mr. Poole, I have. I am concerned as to your expectations. Certainly the title, escort, has many connotations, and of course my mother has her own expectations. I would be greatly relieved to not have to endure another Sunday brunch.” Jane put her elbow on her desk and leaned her chin on the palm of her hand, “It’s like my mother is playing the dating game with the most random of contestants.”
He moved over to her desk and sat down at the corner. His face was serious, “Jane, I truly have no expectations.” His eyes were alight with humor, “And what would your mother’s expectations be?”
“Oh, Mr. Poole, I believe she would expect you to attend dinner at my home, or perhaps tea on Sunday.” She sat up straight, “Of course we could get around that due to your busy work schedule.”
He grinned, “I see. So you would not have brunches on Sunday, but instead you would be required to endure tea with me.”
Jane grinned, “Endure? I believe that is too harsh a word.” She added sardonically, “I feel it could be entertaining, however. I would hate to bother you with such nonsense.”
“Perhaps it would be fair compensation to the events I wish you to attend. I guarantee that I will find your mother more enjoyable than you will find my business associates.” He grinned shyly, “Shall we try it Ms. Eyre? This Friday, I have a cocktail party at the law firm of Schmidt, Silvers, and Hansen; I would enjoy your company.” He winked conspiratorially, “You could develop a headache about forty-five minutes in, and we could leave.”
Jane laughed, “You are wicked, Mr. Poole.”
“Will you attend with me?”
“Yes, sir. If you pick me up at my home, it would probably count toward a dinner or tea too,” Jane said with amusement.
He held out his hand, “Then we have struck a deal.”
Jane shook it and sighed, “What time shall I expect you?”
“Seven, Ms. Eyre.” He stood up and went to the elevator and disappeared for the rest of the day.
On Wednesday she left right at five, excited about an appointment she had with a gallery a few blocks away. She wore a rose tweed suit, sensible beige pumps, and carried her large art portfolio. She had pulled her hair back into a sleek ponytail and was hoping to pull off the look of a confident woman.
Upon entering, she was greeted by the owner, who insisted she call her Lyn. The meeting only took a few minutes and Jane left elated. Lyn loved her work and accepted all of her paintings on consignment. She would frame and mat them for Jane. She even had a client who she felt would purchase her watercolors of Venice immediately.
Wanting to celebrate, Jane headed to Starbucks for a ridiculously indulgent coffee. She sat at a table enjoying her coffee and dunking her biscotti when she recognized the voice behind her.
“I assumed you always drank tea, Ms. Eyre.”
She turned, and there he was, a coffee and a small brown bag in his hand. She grinned and pointed to the chair, “Would you care to join me, sir?” She tried to keep her heart rate down as she looked into his delicious chocolate eyes.
“Thank you,” he glanced at his watch as he sat down, “I have missed our discourse Ms. Eyre.”
She grinned, “Thank you, sir, you flatter me. I dare not hope to have the wit needed to keep you entertained.”
“Wit and more, Ms. Eyre.” He sipped his coffee, “And pray tell me, what brings you here tonight?”
She couldn’t contain her joy, “I am celebrating, sir.”
His eyebrows arched, “You cannot celebrate in solitude, Ms. Eyre. What makes your eyes twinkle so this evening? Do not keep me in suspense!”
She grinned, trying to keep up with the language of the conversation, “I have been fortunate enough to secure gallery space for some works of art I have produced.”
“Fortune has nothing to do with it, Ms. Eyre. It is the gallery that should be celebrating they have found such an accomplished woman.” He sat back and relaxed.
She lowered her eyes, “You praise me too much, sir. I am happy what opportunity affords me, but I fear that I am wicked for wanting your praise.” The words slipped out easily, and she couldn’t reel them back in. She felt her cheeks flush and left her eyes on her hands as they played with the sleeve of the cup.
“I think I should like to taste that wicked tongue.” His voice was barely above a whisper.
Her eyes met his hungry gaze and she tried to remain calm as she replied, “I should think you would prefer a sweeter taste, one of virtue.”