What with colds and stomach viruses, I haven’t had much time to get work done in the last week or so. So, I will ply you today with a teaser from my upcoming novelette, A Fond Kiss. The ebook should be available soon.
A Fond Kiss
“Mr. French, will you be able to visit your family before beginning your clerkship?” Mrs. Manney, as was her habit, made polite conversation while Minerva, bustled around the table serving dinner. This was the regular way of things at meals in the Manney household. Despite her northern roots, or perhaps because of them, Maria Manney was forever striving to outdo her southern neighbors in hospitality and elegance. Each day at the dinner table she set about providing her daughters with an ideal example of womanly behavior. She kept up a steady stream of pleasant if vapid conversation, diffused potential conflicts, and demonstrated impeccable manners for her children. The result of her hard work being that her children all had manners so fine that she never realized that they found her efforts at conversation to be a somewhat of a nuisance.
Charles cleared his throat. “I’m afraid not, ma’am. I will be starting in Philadelphia almost as soon as I arrive. I am told that the attorney I’ll be working with is a stern taskmaster. I doubt that I will have time to visit them before I become an attorney myself.”
“You should try to find the time, young man.” Dr. Manney’s gruff voice cut in from the head of the table. Where Mrs. Manney ensured that meals were pleasant for everyone, Dr. James Manney ruled like a stone-faced monarch caring little for the opinions of the others. Although he never missed meals, Charles had always had the impression that his mind was frequently elsewhere, likely on his next business venture. Rarely did he allow himself to be drawn into the conversation, save the rare occasion when something caught his attention. “Family is important. You’ve been separated from yours for too long.”
“I have, sir, and I do miss them. However, my mother and I correspond frequently. She keeps me abreast of the news at home, and living with a family as generous as yours has prevented me from getting homesick.” He smiled around the table being careful not to let his gaze linger on Nancy too long.
The doctor merely grunted and returned to his beef. When the main course was removed and Minerva brought the dessert, the doctor picked up the subject. “I suppose a young man in your situation has to be willing to leave family behind in pursuit of professional success.”
Charles wasn’t sure how to respond to that. What had the doctor meant by ‘your situation’? He was rescued by Nancy who asked in seeming innocence, “You mean the way that you did when you moved here from New York, Papa?”
All eyes turned to the doctor to guage his reaction to this question. He eyed his eldest daughter for a moment one eyebrow cocked high. “Hmph, indeed.”
“I do believe this pudding has been burnt!” Mrs. Manney burst in from the foot of the table. “Minerva. I have told you that I cannot abide an overcooked pudding.”
“Yes’m. Can I get you some of that cantaloupe?” the house slave deftly lifted the pudding from in front of the doctor’s wife and placed it on the tray of dishes to be returned to the kitchen behind the house.
“No, I believe I have had enough. Nancy, when you are finished I would like for you and Francis to walk with me down to the mercantile. I want your help picking some ribbon for the new bonnets.”
“Yes, Mama.” Nancy cast Charles a look as she lowered her head appearing suddenly very interested in her pudding.
At the sound of her footstep in the hallway, Charles stepped from his room and silently followed Nancy into hers easing the door shut. “I’m going to talk to him while you’re out.” He whispered.
She took a nervous breath. “Should I try to delay us returning?”
“I hope there will be no need for that.” He took her hand in his. “I will give him the final progress reports on James and Julia, and that should conclude any work that I have left to do. Once I’m no longer working in the house, I don’t see how he can object.”
“I wish I had your confidence. I just don’t know how he’s going to take this.” She stepped away from him to her wardrobe to retrieve her bonnet and lace gloves from a top drawer. Charles was suddenly struck by the novelty of being in her room, of knowing in which drawer her gloves were kept. Had he not been so nervous he would have savored this small intimacy. “You’ve seen all the young men he’s introduced me to over the last couple of years.”
“I have,” He refocused his eyes on her face. “And in a few years once I’m practicing law I’ll outshine them all. He saw enough promise in me to bring me here, surely he can believe in my future success.”
A sound in the hallway silenced them and they held their breath for a moment afraid of being discovered. It wouldn’t do to find the family tutor in Nancy’s room. They had managed to keep their romance a secret for over a year.
When she was satisfied that they had not been overheard, Nancy began fumbling with the tiny crocheted buttons at the wrist of one of her gloves. She made a guttural sound of impatience. “My hands are shaking. This blasted button loop is twisted!”
He took her hand and attempted the button himself, but his blunt fingers weren’t of much more use on the tiny buttons and the twisted loops that were supposed to fit around them. “How do you ever wear these things!”
“Charles, what if he says no?” Her voice sounded impossibly small. He looked up to find her watching him, in her eyes a blend of uncertainty, hope and fear.
“He won’t.” He turned back to the button and finally managed to push the button through the tiny loop. He held her wrist up to show her. “See? It will work out.”
Her eyes began to get misty and she merely nodded and began fervently examining her bonnet.
He titled her chin up with his other hand and tried to sound more sure than he felt. “No matter what he says, we will be together. We were going to wait anyway until I am set up. If I can’t convince him now, then I will convince him then. I would rather leave here knowing that I have his blessing to return, but even without it I will be back for you. As long as I know that you believe in me, I can bring your father around eventually. You do believe in me, don’t you?”
“Of course, I do.”
“Then that is all I need.” He lifted her gloved hand and placed a kiss just where the glove ended at her wrist feeling her pulse jump. “I love you. No matter where I go or how long it takes me to return you have to know that.”
She swayed toward him and leaned her cheek against his lapel. It was the most contact they had allowed themselves in their long but secret courtship. Charles fought against the urge to wrap his arms around her and simply hold her there until all else fell away. He had to satisfy himself with bending to his head to kiss the top of hers taking a moment to mark the lemony scent of her hair.
“Nancy!” Her mother’s sharp voice barked from the bottom of the stairs. They both leapt apart.
They said nothing more but sought courage in each other’s eyes for a few more heartbeats before Nancy opened the door just enough to slip outside. Charles stood listening to the silence in the hallway and staring at the door she had just closed. He muttered a quiet prayer to himself before slipping into the hall.