The Dream of Love: Episode 6


Safe to kiss?
Had Remi lost her senses?
Adam ran a hand across the nape of his neck, wondering how their discussion had led the girl to this conclusion. He was the last man she ought to be kissing. He wasn’t nearly as resistant to her charms as she believed.
All the more reason to keep his distance. “Well, I had better be on my way. I’ll ride over to your father’s place again tomorrow. Perhaps he’ll have calmed down by then.” She nodded. “I truly thank you for all you’re doing. We both know this will not have a happy outcome unless I crawl back to him on bended knees. It will destroy a piece of my soul to do it, but I may have no other choice. I can’t remain a burden to Poppy and Nathaniel for much longer. Nor will I agree to spend my life going from friend to friend, living off their largesse.”
She shook her head and laughed. “I only have three I would consider friends, Poppy, Olivia, and Penelope. I didn’t see them often enough to really become close, so how can I impose on them when they hardly know me?”
He caressed her cheek, a mistake for certain. But the sun was shining down on the beautiful girl, catching the fiery auburn highlights of her hair. Her eyes were glistening with unshed tears, and he could not bear for her to cry.
Remi had spirit, but her father was doing his best to pound it out of her.
“Count me as a friend, as well,” he said, unable to tear his gaze away from her expressive eyes. He’d never seen eyes quite that golden brown, the gold in them making them appear luminescent.
She emitted a shaky laugh. “Well, in that case... friend, would you care to stay for lunch? Poppy and Lavinia will be back shortly. I expect Nathaniel will return as well. He took his young ward, Pip, along with him on his inspection of the storm damage. I doubt they’ll stay out all day.”
“Another time.” Because he was going to kiss her if he stayed in her company any longer.
She did not hide her disappointment. “Of course. I understand.”
They walked back to the house and she accompanied him to the front door. They were standing on the steps waiting for the Sherbourne groom to bring Alcazar around when she noticed a wagon coming up the drive. “That’s Mr. Langley, one of my father’s retainers. Do you think he’s been sent to bring me home?”
Adam put a hand around her waist and drew her close, an instinctively protective response. The girl wore her heart on her sleeve, wanting so badly for her father to love her. Adam dreaded what would come next, for this man driving the Hartfield wagon looked grim.
Remi was too hopeful to notice. “Good morning, Mr. Langley. Has my father sent you for me?”
The man looked ashamed. “No, Lady Remi. He told me to bring ye these.” He motioned to the pile of clothes dumped onto the back of his wagon without care. “And he told me to give ye this letter. I’m truly sorry, m’lady.”
Remi’s hands were shaking so badly, Adam reached for the letter on her behalf. “Thank you, I’ll take it.” He then turned to the Sherbourne butler. “Soames, send some maids to see to bringing Lady Remington’s things upstairs.”
The man nodded. “At once, Vicar.”
Adam kept his arm around Remi as the staff gathered her belongings and marched back into the house with them. He continued to hold her while they remained standing on the front steps, watching Mr. Langley drive the wagon out of sight of the manor. Only then did Remi emit a ragged sigh and turn to face him. “Well, at least I’ll have my own gowns now and won’t have to borrow Poppy’s.”
Then her composure crumbled and she ran off toward the shaded walk beyond the flower garden where they had just been talking. It was a spot hidden from view of the house. Adam kept a small distance behind her, wanting to give her time to exhaust her frustration. She finally came to a halt amid a copse of gracefully arched trees, and covered her face with her hands.
She was sobbing by the time he reached her side.
He took her in his arms and held her tightly, cradling her as she rested her head against his chest. “We’ll work it out, Remi.”
She tipped her head up to stare at him, although he doubted she could see much beyond her wall of tears. “How? All I wanted to do was make him see the cruelty of his traps. But he thinks as little of me as he does of the animals he snares in those iron claws. And my mother doesn’t think of me at all. Am I that wretched a person, Adam? Why do they hate me so much?”
“They hate each other. You’ve got yourself caught in the crossfire.” And now he’d gotten himself caught in something unexpected, as well. Remi’s body felt splendid pressed against his, quite right and perfect. It was more than the mere physical pleasure of it. Yes, her body was soft and nicely shaped.
But the yearning she stirred in him was like nothing he’d ever experienced before. It was as though the girl had hurled boulders off a catapult straight at the walls he’d built around his heart. She was crushing them, battering them down. Demolishing them.
Making him feel again.
Only, he had never felt like this before, not even in the years before he’d defied his father’s wishes and gone off to war. The horrors of war had numbed him and left him empty of sensation in all the years afterward.
Until now.
Mother in heaven.
Remi’s hair felt silky to the touch. He wanted to run his fingers through her lush mane and feel the silken strands slide through them. As he leaned closer to breathe her in, he caught the scent of lavender on her skin and the scent of honey on her mouth. He wanted to press his mouth to hers, crush his mouth to hers in an endless kiss. But he knew he would never have the strength to pull away from her once he’d kissed her. “Come, Remi. Let’s sit by the river and read the letter together. We’ll come up with a plan to bedevil your father.”
She nodded, making no protest as he took her hand in his. Even the touch of her hand felt perfect and sweet, the way her slender fingers trustingly entwined with his. His hand was big enough to swallow hers up as they walked across the meadow toward the river running behind the neighboring Gosling Hall. They’d be alone back there, away from prying eyes and straining ears. They’d be alone, no one to hear or see if either of them said or did something foolish that was better left forgotten.
While the sun had dried much of the area, there remained small puddles and muddy patches, especially as they drew closer to the bank of the river. Perhaps it wasn’t one of his brightest ideas, but privacy was more important than comfort at the moment. The wooden bench beside the swiftly flowing waters was still damp from last night’s rain, so he removed his jacket and placed it over the moist planks for Remi to sit on. “But your coat will get wet.”
He smiled. “But your dainty backside won’t.”
She managed a laugh.
“Sit down, Remi. Do you want me to read the letter to myself first?”
“No, let’s read it together. You needn’t protect me, I’m used to this treatment,” she said as he settled beside her. “I thought things might improve as I got older, but I fear it is just getting worse.”
The paper crinkled in Adam’s hands as he unfolded it. “My dear Lady Remington,” he said, reading the letter aloud and wondering at Hartfield’s formality in addressing his own daughter, “I had thought your becoming a young lady would improve your temperament, but I see you remain as spoiled and ungrateful as your mother, despite all I have done for you. So I will not mince words. If you do not apologize to me within a week’s time, I am disowning you–”
Adam broke off and turned to face her. “Remi, I will speak to him. I will make him see reason.”
“Don’t waste your breath on my account. He is intractable. Once his mind is made up, he will not change it. Please, there’s more. Let’s read the rest.”
He sighed heavily and nodded. “Do not think to plead to your mother. I have already written to her, threatening to cut off her allowance if she takes you in. Begging her will do you no good, for she will always choose her comfort over yours.” He stared at the letter, wanting to burn the odious thing and beat her father to a bloody pulp. As vicar, it was probably not the wisest course of action, but he had also been a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars. That need to fight and protect was in his blood and in his soul.
When Remi placed her hand over his, he realized it was because he had been trembling with rage and she was attempting to soothe him. Blessed saints! Despite her world falling apart, she still worried about him. He should not have been surprised, for Remi’s heart was soft and tender toward all creatures.
She continued to read, for he was too overcome with anger to do it. “Once this week is up, you need never contact me again. I will not accept you back into my home. It will be as though you died.”
“Wretched man,” Adam muttered.
Remi made no comment as she read on. “From that moment on, you shall be alone in the world. Find your own husband, although I am certain no one will have you without a dowry. Perhaps a dose of the harsh realities of life will humble you. If you do come home within the week and show me the proper respect, I shall provide a husband for you and a suitable dowry. The choice is yours. One week.”
Her father had signed it and added his seal.
Adam took the letter out of her hands because she was simply staring at it, and this troubled him. “We’ll figure out something, Remi.”
She refused to look at him and now stared at the river current as it swept past them with a steady whoosh, whoosh. “What are my choices? Grovel to him and hope he will not foist an ogre on me to wed? It’s either that, or find myself a husband I can tolerate. But I must find him before the week is out. How is it possible?”
She finally turned to look at him. “I’m sorry, Adam. I wish I was stronger, but the prospect of being penniless and alone terrifies me.”
“As it would anyone.”
She shook her head. “Not you. I don’t think you’re afraid of anything.”
He frowned. “Why do you say that?”
“Because I think our situations are a lot more alike than you let on. Why did you leave Inverness? Why have you not gone back after the war? What horrors did you experience during the war that turned you into a vicar? A vicar, I might add, who preached faith to his flock, and all the while he lacked it.”
“That isn’t so. I got my sign of faith. I no longer doubt.”
His admission surprised her. “Oh, Adam. Then I’m glad for you. But I hold out little hope for myself. I need a miracle in the form of a husband I can love. How will this miracle happen in less than a week?”