The Dream of Love: Episode 3


“Have I ever considered marrying?” Remi was surprised Adam had turned the question on her. He was now staring at her with his exquisite, assessing blue eyes, awaiting her answer. “I never gave it thought. No one’s asked me. Why? Are you thinking of–”
“Blessed saints. No, you little snoop. I wasn’t proposing to you.”  “Because you already have a sweetheart?”
“Never been married or in love,” he admitted, no doubt to shut her up, as they gobbled down the last of the lemon cake and finished sipping their tea.
 Remi understood the sort of man Adam Carstairs was, for one lonely being immediately sensed another’s loneliness. However, they were alone for different reasons. She was alone because her parents simply didn’t like her, and he was alone because he’d erected a massive stone fortress around his heart to keep everyone out.
This is why he’d never married.
Wellesford’s vicar now occupied her mind. She wanted to spend more time with him to learn about his past, but he was obviously eager to be rid of her. As soon as they finished their light repast, he left to saddle his horse. From the window, she could see him lead his magnificent beast, Alcazar, out of the stable and walk him to the back door.
Within moments, she heard Adam’s purposeful footsteps coming toward her as he returned to collect her. He would now take her to Sherbourne Manor in the hope of finding her a place to stay for the night. “You ought to let others in, Adam. They won’t all hurt or disappoint you.”
“What?” He glanced at her, but quickly averted his gaze when lifting her into his arms. He strode back outside, managing to ignore her even though their faces were inches apart. She tried not to stare at him, but he was too handsome to resist, and when would she have such an opportunity again?
He settled her on Alcazar. The steady, gray beast was possibly a remnant of his past. The Scottish cavalry regiment serving the Crown was known as the Scots Greys because of the horses they rode. It was not a leap to believe Adam had been a young soldier during the Napoleonic War.
“People are naturally drawn to you,” she said, “but you don’t allow anyone close to your heart. Why is that?” He’d placed her on the saddle because she was in no condition to walk to Sherbourne Manor on her own two legs. He now held the reins and led the horse at a slow gait in order not to jostle her bruised rump or sprained ankle too badly.
“Stop asking questions. I’m not one of your pet creatures to save.”
“Who says I’m interested in saving you?” She smiled at him when he glanced at her again, his expression startled. “Wanting to understand you is not at all the same as wanting to save you.”
The noonday sun shone down on them, but a delicate breeze kept the temperature quite pleasant. A short while later, they reached the back gate to Sherbourne Manor. “Adam, we’re almost there and you haven’t answered any of my questions.”
“Nor will I. Stop trying to understand me,” he said with a surprisingly angry grumble, shoving the gate open more forcefully than necessary.
She had no response for him, feeling as though she’d just been kicked in the teeth. But he was right. She had overstepped by asking him questions throughout their meal and during their walk to the home of the Earl of Welles.
She wasn’t trying to pry.
She was trying to make a friend and obviously going about it all wrong.
He sighed and turned toward her again. “Sorry, Remi. I was rude to you and I apologize for that.”
“I apologize for irritating you.”
He frowned. “You don’t irritate me. I’m worried about you, that’s all.”
“I can take care of myself. I’ve been doing it for most of my life. Rather badly, I suppose. But I’ve managed on my own thus far.”
His hand now rested on the neck of his horse as his tension eased and he leaned toward her. “That’s just it, you haven’t. A girl like you should have friends. You ought to be going to parties and having young men fall at your feet spouting odes to your beauty.”
“Oh, dear heaven. No.” She shook her head and laughed. “I hope to have friends beyond the creatures I spring from my father’s traps. I was hoping you would be one of them. As for elegant parties and gentlemen callers, I detest the entire meat market. It holds no allure for me.”
“You ought to give it a chance. There are some very good men out there who will appreciate you and wish to marry you.”
“Ah, if only this were true.” Her laughter faded. “I care nothing for wealth or rank. I’ve missed out on one very important thing in my life and that is love. This is what I want for myself. Love. I won’t find it in an elegant meat market. But I’ve seen it here in Wellesford, parents and children who are genuinely fond of each other. I will never forget the radiant happiness in their faces.”
He continued to look at her, his gaze unsettling as he penetrated into her soul. This time she turned away, for her heart was suddenly leaping and bounding as wildly as the fox she’d been trying to quiet while hiding in the confessional. It horrified her to think she was developing feelings beyond friendship for the vicar. “I’ve resolved to marry for love and settle for nothing less. If I’m to have children, I don’t want them treated the way I’ve been...well, you’ve seen how my parents shuttle me back and forth between them, or cart me off to one boarding school or another to keep me out of their sight.”
He nodded. “Remi, I want you to promise me something.”
“Not to irritate you again?”
He chuckled. “No. I’ve told you already, you don’t irritate me. I want you to promise that you will come to me if ever you need to turn to someone for help. I will protect you. Will you remember that?”
“Why are you saying this to me? Has my father threatened something that has you worried? He always threatens, you know. This is his nature. He bullies and blusters, but he’s too worried about maintaining his respectable appearance to ever do me any real harm.” 
“Let’s hope so.” He turned away and led her up the back trail to the Sherbourne manor house.
She studied him now that he was once more facing forward, leading Alcazar to the manor. He was a big man, she decided, studying the broad expanse of his back and shoulders. The muscles he’d built up during his military service had not shriveled in the least and were still prominent.
This was not good.
She had to stop thinking of him in a desirable way.
Her sigh must have carried on the wind straight to his ears, for he stopped and turned around again. “What’s the matter now?”
“Do you know how old I was the first time I realized parents were meant to love their children?” Since he said nothing, merely gazed at her with crystal-blue eyes that seemed eternal in their wisdom, she continued. “I was five years old and it was right here at Sherbourne Manor. Nathaniel’s father was still alive and earl then. Olivia’s parents and those of Poppy were here that day as well. I’d been invited to a birthday party for Nathaniel’s sister, Penelope. We were all fairly close in age, although I was the youngest and quite shy.”
“You? Shy?” He arched an eyebrow and grinned in a teasingly affectionate manner that made her heart leap again.
Truly, this feeling had to stop.
“But they were sweet, generous girls and treated me as though I was their little sister. They took me by the hand and made certain to include me in all their games. As the afternoon wore on, Poppy’s and Olivia’s parents came over to us to take them home. I’d never seen parents hug their children before, or kiss them. I was startled. As afternoon turned to evening and my father still hadn’t come to pick me up, I began to cry. I thought they’d close up the house and leave me outdoors in the dark to fend for myself.”
He nodded and resumed leading Alcazar toward the house.  “Go on.”
She took a ragged breath. “Of course, they did no such thing. I had supper with them and was given one of Penelope’s nightgowns to wear to bed since my father had obviously forgotten all about me. Penelope had a big bed, so we shared it. Then an amazing thing occurred. Her father came in, hugged us both, and gave each of us a kiss on the cheek. Then her aunt Lavinia came in and did the same thing. I never forgot that day or those moments.”
Adam was not looking at her, but she knew he was listening, so she continued. “I’ve been to Sherbourne Manor several times since then and often played with Penelope and her friends. I hug them whenever I see them and they hug me back. I don’t think they realize how much it means to me.”
“I suspect they do. You’re not good at hiding your feelings.”
“Oh.” Remi sighed. “So you see, this is what I want most in a husband, someone who will hug me and kiss my cheek each night, and who will do the same with our children. I don’t want him to forget them...even if he decides to forget me. I don’t ever want him to stop loving our children.”
They were now at the house, at its welcoming front door. Soames, the Sherbourne butler, came out to greet them. At the same time, a young groom came running from the stables to take Adam’s horse, but Adam waved him away. “It’s all right. I won’t be staying long.”
He then turned to the butler. “Soames, let the earl and countess know I’m here and have brought Lady Remington with me. She’s injured.”
“At once, Vicar.” He hurried back into the house.
Adam placed his hands around Remi’s waist to help her down. “Don’t try to walk. I’ll carry you in.”
He did not remove his hands once he’d set her down, so she did not remove hers from his arms. She’d grabbed on to them to steady herself, but was in no hurry to slip her hands off his solid muscles. “No, let me hobble in on my own. If anyone sees me carried in your arms, it will cause an uproar. I may wish to bedevil my father, but I have no wish to embarrass you.”
He smiled. “Good to know. Remi, before everyone rushes out, there’s just one thing.”
She tipped her head in curiosity. “Of course. Anything.”
 Wordlessly he wrapped her in his massive arms and hugged her.
She dared not breathe, not even move or blink.
She thought she might shatter when he kissed her on the cheek. “You’ll be safe here. But if your father causes you any trouble, summon me. Do you remember what I told you earlier?”
She nodded. “You’ll protect me.”
He drew away as Poppy and Nathaniel came running out and began to fuss over her. They helped her into their home, and while Poppy continued to fuss over her, Nathaniel led Adam into his private study and shut the door.
Remi was still reeling from his kiss. It was only a gentle kiss on the cheek, but her heart was still in palpitations over it. Did he like her more than he’d let on?
Until this moment, she did not think he liked her at all.
He’d brought up her father again and offered to protect her.
Why was he so certain she would need protecting?
What was her father planning?