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Authors: Jessica L. Jackson

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BOOK: Will She Be Mine
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Chapter Nine


Angus’ weather sense proved accurate. Rain started around
Sunday noon and had not let up by the time a knock sounded on the front door of
Rose Thorn Cottage soon after lunch on Monday. Amelia’s heart thudded an
orchestra of anticipation. She pinched her cheeks to add color and draped her
sea-green cotton dress more becomingly around her stomach and knees while she
waited in the front parlor. The sour look on Mrs. Edley’s face when she swung
open the door presaged trouble. Amelia frowned and stood up.

In a voice of doom, Mrs. Edley stated, “‘Tis the Lady’s
Guild, mum.”

“A-all of th-them?” Amelia whispered.

“Them as thinks they’re important, mum.” She stood aside to
allow four women to walk into the parlor. There were the Misses White, the
vicar’s wife, Mrs. Creston and a lady Amelia had never met before. “Will you be
wanting tea?”

“Um. Yes. Thank you. And—”

“We’ve got some parkin.”

Amelia looked at her unexpected guests. “May I offer you
some ginger cakes with your tea, ladies?” When they said nothing she nodded to
Mrs. Edley, who left the room, but did not close the door.

“Welcome to my home, ladies.” Amelia indicated that they
should sit. The four middle-aged village tyrants sat down on the very edges of
their chairs as if anticipating the need to bolt. “Mrs. Creston, would you kindly
introduce this lady to me, please?”

In a nasal voice that grated across her listener’s ears,
Mrs. Creston, a scrawny horse-faced woman, did the honors. The fourth lady
proved to be the butcher’s wife, Mrs. Teasel, who looked jolly and plump and
very uncomfortable dressed in her Sunday best.

“Miss Horton,” Miss Sadie said in a prim, determined, voice.
She displayed no sign that a deeper understanding existed between her and
Amelia. Miss Ann also acted coldly polite and distant. “We have not come on a social
visit. Mr. Milborough has become marked in his attentions toward you and we
wish to know the full, and correct, circumstances of your delicate situation.”
She looked at her fellow guild members for support. They all nodded
emphatically. “We know the story your parents told. We want the truth from your
own lips. Mr. Milborough has lived in Hinderwell for five years and is,
therefore, a foreigner.” She took a deep breath and fixed the quaking Amelia
with a basilisk-like stare. “But we are all partial to him.”

The air in the room seemed to vanish and for a moment Amelia
felt as if she couldn’t breathe. She swayed in her chair and had to lean
against its back. She could hardly meet the ladies’ searching gazes. A swift
glance at each was all that she could manage.

“Very well,” Amelia agreed, then took several long moments
to marshal her thoughts. “Eight months ago a gentleman came within my sphere.
H-he was charming, handsome, elegant and older. H-he was very much a man of the

“We know the type,” Miss Ann muttered bitterly. “Slick and
wily and full of themselves.”

“Hush now, Ann,” Miss Sadie ordered. She settled into her
chair more comfortably. “We are hearing a round tale and I don’t want you

Amelia proceeded with her story. When the tea tray arrived
Miss Sadie did the honors so that their hostess could continue. The ladies
clucked and tutted, depending on the event mentioned in the recounting. Amelia
shed a few tears and accepted Miss Ann’s handkerchief to dry her cheeks.

“I was inexperienced and foolish,” Amelia confessed at the
end of her story. “When I think of him now, I cringe.”

“It is an injustice that these types of men are not punished
for this particular sin as harshly as women,” Mrs. Creston commented
caustically. Mrs. Teasel looked at her and raised her eyebrows. “I know. I
know. Such men will be justly punished on Judgment Day. However. We women must
be doubly punished, both now and in the hereafter.”

“Enough. It is the way of things,” Miss Ann said, setting
down her teacup and saucer. “We can only do what we can to mitigate the damage.
As the Guild leaders, we’ve discussed your situation. We insist that you tell
Mr. Milborough everything that you have told us. Not the intimate details,” she
hastily added. “The essentials should be adequate. He has a right to know
before this courtship goes any further.”

“I had come to that conclusion myself,” Amelia admitted. She
smoothed her hands over her arms as if a sudden draft had chilled her. “I’ve
asked him to take me on a drive on the first fine day. I will tell him then.”

“Very sensible.”

The Misses White stood up, signaling to the others that it
was time to leave. Mrs. Edley awaited them in the hall. She handed each lady
her umbrella and held the door open for them in such a way that did not
encourage them to tarry. Mrs. Teasel, however, having summoned the courage to
speak, spoke to Amelia.

“I hope you enjoyed that nice liver Mrs. Edley came by the
shop for,” she said, revealing when she smiled the extra-wide gap in her front

“It was delightful. Thank you, Mrs. Teasel,” Amelia lied
politely. “I’m certain we will require more liver from you soon since my doctor
insists that it is in for me.”

“That’s champion. I’ll let my Mr. Teasel know.”

“Thank you.”

Once the ladies had left, Amelia tottered up stairs, lay
upon her bed and wept bitter tears of regret. Gradually, the anxiety of the
afternoon washed away and she felt more optimistic. Those four women had the
power to make her future life here in the village a living torment or a haven
away from the prying, unforgiving eyes of others. This proffered chance must
not be squandered. If she disappointed them by not confessing to Thaddeus, then
her status as a pariah would begin again. All the inroads into acceptance she
had made would disappear. She must tell him and pray for the best.

Chapter Ten


On the third rainy day, Amelia answered another knock at her
door, Mrs. Edley being at the chandler. To her surprised pleasure, Thaddeus
stood on the tiny porch, hunched against the driving rain, wearing one of the
new Macintosh coats designed to keep the wearer dry.

“Thaddeus,” Amelia said, searching behind him for anyone on
the street who might have noticed his arrival. No one appeared to be about on
this gray miserable day. “Please, step in out of the weather. I will leave the
door open, though, as Mrs. Edley is out.”

“Of course,” her neighbor agreed, stepping into the wide,
green, brown and cream tiled hallway where puddles immediately began to form
around his feet. “How are you?”

“Very well, thank you. I wish the rain would end, though, as
the house has been very gloomy.”

Thaddeus’ appreciative gaze roamed over her. He took a deep
breath and ventured, “I hoped, foolishly perhaps, that you were disappointed
that our drive has been delayed.”

“That also,” she admitted, chuckling softly. She noticed he
carried a package tucked under the edge of his overcoat. “What have you there?”

“Ah, yes.” Thaddeus pulled out a bundle and unwrapped it. He
handed her three books. “These are some botanical texts I thought might
interest you. Also, this is the published diary of a traveling botanist who
journeyed throughout the Orient collecting specimens and seeds to bring back to

“How exciting,” Amelia said, gratefully accepting the books.
She turned and placed them on a small side table set against the wall. After
facing Thaddeus again, she admitted, “I have been longing for something to
read. These will do nicely.”

“Excellent.” He fell silent, staring at her and playing with
the oilcloth wrapping he held between his hands.

“Is there anything else?” Amelia asked, feeling flushed and
pleasantly stimulated by his continued close scrutiny.

“I’m wet.”


“I’m dripping all over your floor.”

“Yes, you are. Mrs. Edley will have something to say about
it, I’m sure.”

“She frightens me to death,” he admitted. After another long
silence, heavy with expectation, he hoarsely whispered, “I want to kiss you so
badly that I’m aching inside.”

“Oh,” Amelia gasped. “But…you cannot.”

“I know,” he agreed, the hint of a moan coloring his
response. “Never?”

Amelia discovered that her breathing had quickened and the
urgent desire to fling herself into his arms was almost more than she could
resist. With immense reluctance she took a small step backward. “After our
drive. Maybe then. If that remains your wish.”

She watched understanding gleam in his eyes and he nodded.
An anticipatory grin brought forth his dimples.


“There is naught that you could tell me that would remove my
desire to kiss you,” he promised. Without approaching nearer, Thaddeus managed
to capture her hand with his long reach and press a hot, lingering kiss into
her palm. Feeling her pulse leap he ventured another kiss upon the soft skin of
her wrist, his eyelids half closing in heavy yearning.


Amelia discovered that somehow her feet had disobeyed her
mind and followed the direction of her heart instead, for now she stood much
closer to Thaddeus than was wise. Maybe he wouldn’t notice. He opened his
blue-green eyes and stared directly into hers. The heat she saw there startled
her. He’d noticed.

Hesitantly, she reached up and delicately touched his cheek
with the fingers of the hand he still held loosely. He released her hand but
kept his hovering over the back of hers. No sound intruded on them except that
of their breathing. He turned his head beneath her caressing fingers so that
she could feel the shape of his cheek, then the outline of his lips, then his
stuttering warm breath, then his other cheek. When he turned his head back
again she held her breath while she felt his lips again. His ragged warm breath
again. His cheek. Again.

Boldly, Amelia reversed their hand positions so that hers
gently held the back of his while she guided his hand to her cheek. His fingers
trembled as they caressed her skin.


“So soft,” he whispered, not daring to get any closer to
her. She moved her head beneath his hand so that he could trace the outline of
her parted lips, then the velvety softness of her other cheek.

When she turned her head back again and his fingers reached
her lips he felt her warm breath as she whispered, “Your hands are beautiful.”

Shuddering with ill-timed desire, Thaddeus forced himself to
pull away and step back. His breath came in a rush and he realized he’d been
holding his it. He watched her sway on her feet and the knowledge that she
wanted him thrilled him to the core of his being.

“I need to go now,” he said huskily. “Please take care of
yourself.” She nodded while touching her fingers to her lips as if she could
still feel his touch. Damn, but he did not want to leave her. “I am going to
pray for a sunny day tomorrow.”

And then he was running down the walk. He glanced back and
saw her standing among the puddles, her palms pressed to her blushing cheeks.


Mrs. Edley found her in the workroom not long afterward.
Amelia sat at the table beneath the large window with her patterns laid out
before her. A neat stack of finely sewn baby clothes sat on another table.
There were white nightgowns, bonnets and booties, all exquisitely embroidered
with tiny flowers and green vines. Miniature jackets, their seams picked out
with piping and lace, lay next to gowns adorned with intricately smocked

Hearing her come in, Amelia said, not looking up, “I think I
will start on a wool cape next. What do you think, Mrs. Edley?”

“With the babe coming in October, ‘tis a good idea.” Mrs.
Edley held up the wet towels she’d found lying over the back of one of the
kitchen chairs. “Now look thee here, mum. What’s happened while I was out?”

Amelia skewed around in her seat. Catching sight of the
towels dangling from her servant’s hands, she smiled and blushed. “Oh. Those.
Mr. Milborough called. He brought me some books to read. He’s very thoughtful,
is he not?”


Mrs. Edley, secretly pleased with the couple’s progress,
harrumphed and said, “He’d be a might more thoughtful if he didn’t drip water
all over my clean tiles!”

“Mr. Milborough was fully conscious of his transgression, I
assure you,” Amelia said, twinkling at her. “He says you scare him to death.”

“Humph,” was all she said before she turned and bustled back
to the kitchen secretly thrilled to be considered frightening.

Chapter Eleven


Later that same afternoon, another unexpected guest arrived.
Amelia had taken herself severely to task for that morning’s near disaster.
Heaven help her if she should lose herself to another man like the wanton her
parents seemed to think her. If the caller was Thaddeus he would find her
correct and politely distant. She was determined not to let her emotions
control her actions again.

It was not her neighbor, so all her efforts to resist him
remained untested. Mrs. Edley slipped into the front parlor, closing the door
firmly behind her, shutting out anyone who might be waiting in the hallway.

“It’s Mrs. Knox, mum,” she said, her lips folding in
disapproval. “She’s sister to Mrs. Teasel, the butcher’s wife.”

“What is her business with me?” Amelia asked, frowning.
“Have I met her before?”

“Not so as I know, mum,” Mrs. Edley replied. “I’ve got
nothing against her, mind, but she’s come right up to the front door, bold as
brass. I know I’m new at being in service but even I see that she should’ve
come round to the kitchen door.”

“Did she say what she wanted?”

“No, mum.”

“I will see her.” Amelia set down the botanist’s journal
that Thaddeus had brought her. “You could bring us some tea.”

“That one can have a glass of buttermilk and be thankful,”
Mrs. Edley retorted, forgetting herself again. An extremely disapproving sniff
accompanied the comment.

“Nonetheless. She’s likely cold and wet from the rain. Tea
would do her good,” Amelia insisted.

“As you say, mum,” Mrs. Edley said dourly. She opened the
door and gestured to the woman waiting outside. “Please to come in, Mrs. Knox.
Miss Horton will see you.”

A well-worn middle-aged woman entered the front room,
looking ill-at-ease but fiercely determined. Her sharp chin stuck out at a
belligerent angle and Amelia couldn’t tell if the skirmish with Mrs. Edley had
brought on the pugnaciousness or if the woman was just uncomfortable with her
mission. The thin woman dropped an awkward curtsy and when Amelia indicated
that she should sit, Mrs. Knox sat on the edge of a chair holding her straw bag
on her lap like a shield.

“While we are waiting for the tea to arrive, Mrs. Knox,
please be so kind as to inform me how may I be of service,” Amelia said
pleasantly but in such a way so as not to encourage familiarities.

“Well, I don’t rightly know how to begin, mum,” the woman
said. Amelia blinked at her, surprised to hear such a lovely voice coming from
such a plain, no-nonsense woman. “It’s my oldest daughter. She needs a position
and I was hoping that you might find your way to hiring her.” Mrs. Knox looked
at Amelia keenly but when she didn’t stop her from speaking the woman rushed

“My Beth has a right good hand wi’ the young ones, mum.
It’ll be a sore loss to us to part wi’ her, she’s that good wi’ them, truly.
She’ll be ever so good wi’ the new baby. Y’see, mum, she’s made up sixteen
earlier this month and it pains a mother to say it, but my Beth is a plain girl
wi’ no prospects. She’s got to make her way in the world, she has. Else I don’t
know what may become of her.”

“I see,” Amelia said, frowning lightly in thought. Before
she could say anything, though, the woman continued.

“Our Beth can turn her hand to any housework that needs
doing, too, mum. I taught her good and she’s always been a quick learner,” Mrs.
Knox promised, leaning forward eagerly. “Mrs. Edley is a hard-working woman and
she’s always been house-proud. But a babe is a lot of extra work. I’m thinking
she’ll be happy for more help.”

Mrs. Edley entered the front parlor carrying a tray laden
with tea things accompanied by bread and butter.

“Thank you, Mrs. Edley. Would you stay for a moment, please?
I think you should be consulted in this matter.”

“Yes, mum?” she asked, suspicion in every line of her stiff
body. She plunked the tea tray down on a table and glared at Mrs. Knox.

“Mrs. Knox has suggested that her daughter, Beth, would make
an excellent nursery maid and maid-of-all-work.”

“But I’m your maid-of-all-work,” Mrs. Edley stated blankly.

“Ah, yes, but if I hired Beth, you would need to be promoted
to housekeeper.”

“A proper housekeeper?”

“Yes. A proper housekeeper, with staff to direct,” Amelia
said, smiling at her dazed henchwoman.

Mrs. Edley visibly shook herself back in control. She pulled
a chair from where it sat against the wall and placed it beside Amelia’s.


“Please, sit.”

“Thank you. Now, Mrs. Knox. Can your Beth sew at all?”

“Out of course, she can,” the affronted mother asserted. “She
has a right pretty hand and makes up all the clothes for the young ones.”

Amelia leaned close to Mrs. Edley and whispered, “You are
thinking that Beth could make the baby’s clothes? I’ve been making those.”

“Those are beautiful clothes, mum, but babes are messy and
many more will be needed. There’s also the nappies to consider. You’ll need
dozens,” Mrs. Edley whispered back.

“Dozens and dozens, mum,” Mrs. Knox agreed, overhearing
their conversation. “And they all need hemming or they unravel at the edges in
the laundry, so they do.”

Amelia’s eyes widened. “I will have to bow to your greater
experience, Mrs. Knox. And, yours as well, Mrs. Edley.” Amelia moved over to
the tea table and poured them all some tea. She understood the significance of
Mrs. Knox’s arrival here today. The common villagers had decided to accept her
in spite of her situation—most likely because they believed that her situation
would soon change. She prayed they were right. “Ladies, let us make some

BOOK: Will She Be Mine
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