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Authors: Donna Lea Simpson

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BOOK: A Scandalous Plan
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Twelve

 

 

Theresa thought of all the poetry she had ever read, all the romances describing in ecstatic detail a first kiss. It did not begin to compare. James was clearly a master of the craft, if she was to judge impartially. But then she was beyond redemption partial.

He was kissing her! Kissing. Her.

He stopped. She stared at him for a long moment. Doubt creased his forehead and he took a step backward.

“I’m terribly sorry.”

“Are you?” She clasped her hands together at her breast.

“Yes. I mean, I’m sorry if you didn’t like it, but you looked so adorable and I was tempted beyond caution.”

“Adorable?”

“Yes. You were pleading Angelica and Jacob’s case, and the only way to shut you up was to kiss you.”

“Shut me up?”

“So I could tell you . . . I love you.” Beads of sweat trickled down his forehead, down his cheek and neck, and soaked into his neckcloth.

“You love me?”

“I do. Very much.”

“Oh.”

“Have I shocked you?”

“No. Not at all.”

Suddenly the door behind them shot open and shuddered against the paneled wall. “For God’s sake, James, ask her to marry you!” Theresa’s father glared at them both. “Couple of forlorn idiots,” he said as he whirled and left the room. He could be heard muttering as he strode off down the hall.

“Will you?”

“What?” Theresa stared at James.

“Will you marry me?”

“Of course.”

“Of course?”

“What else am I to say?”

“Do you love me?”

“Well, of course. I wouldn’t want to marry you else.”

“No?”

“Oh, no, I have only
ever
wanted to marry men whom I loved.”

He laughed out loud and took her in his arms. “And has that happened so very many times?”

“Only once before.” She watched his face. It was time to tell him about Paolo.

“Oh?”

She told him about Paolo, how she was grief-stricken after her mother died, but Paolo had made her feel that someone could love her. James held her as they talked and rocked her against his shoulder. She felt cocooned in love, surrounded, padded, protected. But not from life, just from ever feeling again that there would never be anyone who could love her for herself. Life would still buffet her around from time to time. She had only to look at her friend Helen to know that a husband’s love did not protect one from all the world’s pain.

But there would always be someone there to share that pain.

She was going to marry! She looked up at him anxiously. “Is all of that all right? Paolo? The whole mess?”

“Poor Theresa; his defection must have hurt you badly. How could I fault you for having loved before? I did. Mary was very special and precious to me.”

“Your capacity for love was what first attracted me,” she confessed. “Oh, James! I have loved you for so long!”

“Have you? Truly? I am a merchant, just a rather successful sales clerk, in essence. I was afraid it would sink me in your eyes.”

“I could never think less of a man for choosing to provide for his family.”

He released her finally, and they stood, awkwardly. What
did
one say?

“Let’s tell your father and the children,” he said.

That was what she wanted to hear!

 

• • •

 

The windows of Meadowlark Mansion glowed in the setting autumn sun. Jacob, head bent over his drawing pad, sat at the edge of the stew pond—unfenced after all, since he could at last be trusted not to throw himself in—and sketched the ducks that paddled among the reeds. Dora sat at his side, throwing bits of bread to the birds.

In the lane James led a lovely white pony by the bridle and looked up at a laughing Angelica, mounted in her silver-ornamented sidesaddle. Theresa stood to one side and watched her husband—her husband!—with his . . .
their
daughter.

The wedding had been simple, performed the old-fashioned way, after the calling of the banns by Vicar Jamison in the village church on three consecutive Sundays. The wedding breakfast had been in the village green, with the entire population invited.

James’s open-handed generosity had gone a long way toward helping the Martindales assimilate into village life. But the rumors of Jacob’s “powers” had been refuted, too, and the slow transformation back into just a silent little boy had been started.

Mrs. Parsifal, encouraged by Theresa, had acted surprised that anyone had “misinterpreted” her tying of Jacob’s visit and her windfall together. How strange people were, she was heard to say. As if a little boy could affect fate in such a way. Why, her kinsman had been dead for months and the will written long before that; no magic charm had brought her the money.

Mr. Gudge, resplendent in his best suit of clothes at the wedding breakfast, had admitted that he had been lazy and curmudgeonly, not invalided. Anyone who had thought differently was a fool. ’Twas easy to see, he said, that the boy was just a quiet, decent lad, with an uncommon talent for drawing and carving. Nothing supernatural about that. And if he froze up now and then when folks tried to hug him, well, it just showed the child had uncommon good sense, for people were entirely too grabby, in his opinion.

And so now, a month into her marriage, Theresa was well on her way to contentment. James, after walking the pony a ways, let Angelica go with just a groom to guide her around the property.

He joined his wife and wound one arm around her waist. Nuzzling her neck, he whispered, “Shall we creep off into the bushes for a bit of naughtiness?”

“Behave, Mr. Martindale,” she whispered back.

“Do you really want me to?”

“No.”

“Good.”

They stood for a while, watching as Angelica walked the pony, and then, with the groom’s instruction, cantered. She was learning every moment. Theresa leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder.

“To think,” she said suddenly, looking up at him. “If you didn’t have children, I might never have met you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you moved here for your children’s sake, true?”

“I suppose. Though I always wanted to move back to the country anyway.”

“And then it was only Mrs. Greavely’s unkind comments about Jacob that urged me to break with courtesy and visit you in such an outrageous manner. And then, when I found Jacob about to go into the pond and I grabbed him, well, that certainly made things more informal between us from the beginning.”

“So, I have a series of happenstance, rudeness, and accident, as well as my adorable children, to thank for my current happiness?”

“Mmm, yes. But it was your love for your children, a father’s love, that first impressed me with what a kind and good man you must be. You were awfully frosty at first, and you thought I was looking for a husband; admit it!”

He laughed. “That seems so long ago. It didn’t take me long to realize that a woman of your stature would not need to ‘hunt’ for a husband. You must have had gentlemen begging for your hand.”

“Not a one like you, James. I could never have loved anyone the way I love you.” She gazed up into his eyes and touched his cheek gently.

“It’s a miracle, and I thank the heavens every day.”

He encircled her in his arms and she leaned back against him, content and filled with the spirit of love. She had a family. She had James. Whatever came now, good or bad, she had love to surround her.

About the Author

 

Donna Lea Simpson is a nationally bestselling romance and mystery novelist with over twenty titles published in the last eleven years. An early love for the novels of Jane Austen and Agatha Christie was a portent of things to come; Donna believes that a dash of mystery adds piquancy to a romantic tale, and a hint of romance adds humanity to a mystery story. Besides writing romance and mystery novels and reading the same, Donna has a long list of passions: cats and tea, cooking and vintage cookware, cross-stitching and watercolor painting among them. Karaoke offers her the chance to warble Dionne Warwick tunes, and nature is a constant source of comfort and inspiration. A long walk is her favorite exercise, and a fruity merlot is her drink of choice when the tea is all gone. Donna lives in Canada.

 

The best writing advice, Donna believes, comes from the letters of Jane Austen. That author wrote, in an October 26, 1813, letter to her sister, Cassandra, “I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on till I am.” So true! But Donna is
usually
in a good humor for writing!

BOOK: A Scandalous Plan
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