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Authors: Lindsay Kiernan

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BOOK: A Taste of Honey
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The new money men didn't care about titles the way that their female counterparts did.  They found that wealth was powerful enough.  Some of the underhanded business deals they did everyday would have shocked their more gently bred counterparts, who would rather discuss options over brandy and cigars rather than fight with their fists.  Katherine supposed that it was one of the reasons that the new rich men now flourished, while the gentlemen seemed to be a dying breed obsessed with their own shrinking stance of power.  Or just aging she thought as she was released from the arms of a man more than three times her age.

Before she could speak to her sister Katherine noticed that Robin had a light gleam to her eyes that often happened right before she did something bad.  She didn't have time to warn her sister not to approach anyone from the other group before she was swept up into another dance that she had promised earlier.  Looking over the shoulder of her partner, she watched as Robin waited for Mrs. Brentley to become distracted by the arrival of another friend, and then Robin quickly wound her way between the many groups and towards the section of loud and gruff speaking men.

Robin paused beside them, not quite joining in, as she listened and watched intently.  One man stuck out from the group.  He was taller, seemed self aware and was more confident than the others in his circle.  The thick blond of his hair reminded Katherine of the honey that she adored the taste of, but she knew his taste would be far from calming as he looked too dangerous and exotic to be safe.

He was built too large and strong, with his sleeves straining from the force of keeping his muscles pinned inside of the slim style that less physically developed society men preferred and had made fashionable.

Robin waited nearby until she caught his eye before giving him a flirtatious nod and strolling over to the refreshment table with her hips swaying seductively through the silky green dress.  Katherine kept her eyes fixed on them, trying to watch her sister's every move, worried that she might have to stop Robin from making a terrible mistake like the one that she had made last night.

“The gown that you're wearing matches the color of your eyes, so truly,” Oliver whispered, trying to bring Katherine's attention back to him as he noticed her looking over his shoulder.

Katherine had not fully realized, until that moment, which man had asked her to dance and she smiled sheepishly up at his boyish looking young face.  “Thank you Mr. Buckman,” She said, trying to turn the dance back to where she could watch her sister and the strange man again.

“No, please Katherine, call me Oliver,” he insisted before again commenting on her eyes, the only subject that he seemed to know very much about.

During their brief exchange Katherine had lost sight of her sister, and she looked over at the group of men to find that one particular man was missing.  Looking over at the refreshment table Katherine found that the doors to the Emerson's back garden had been opened to let in some fresh air.  Once in a while a man or woman slipped over to the table, looked around the room and quickly vanished into the waiting darkness.  Knowing her sister's wild and competitive nature, it was easy to assume that Robin had fled outside with him and was searching for her own late night kiss with a stranger.

Katherine had to get outside to make sure that her sister was not making a scene where anyone could walk past and witness it.  Mrs. Brentley had been generous to them yet how would she react to having that generosity thrown back in her face?

She could only think of one way to escape Oliver, and fast.  Cringing from the humiliation of sinking so low, Katherine held her hand up to her forehead, the way she had seen her mother do so often before, and let her knees start to collapse before catching herself at the last moment.  She didn't let herself fall all of the way, Oliver did not seem like the kind of man who would know how to catch a fainting woman.  To sell the act, she then swayed on her feet lightly as Oliver grasped her around the waist with one of his weak, thin arms.  He really was more of a boy than a man.

“Do you need some air?” he asked nervously.

Katherine weakly held up her hand and pointed to the back doors and the fresh air outside.  Happy to play the hero, he rushed her through the dancing couples, not stopping until he had led her to the cobbled porch outside.

Once on the balcony, Katherine squinted through the dark in search of her sister.  “Are you sick, Ms. Wellings?  Do you want me to get Mrs. Brentley for you?” Oliver asked.  He pulled off his suit jacket and set it over her shoulders to keep out the cold night air.

“No I'm fine Oliver,” she said, peeking over the edge of the balcony to the gardens down below.  She could make out a few couples here and there that were talking, some even kissing. But none of the men were as large and bulky as the blonde man that she had seen her sister flirting with.  Unable to see a trace of either of them, she decided that they had not gone out the back doors as she had expected, and Katherine turned to go back into the ball.  Then, out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a couple hiding in the darkest edge of the balcony beneath a vine covered overhang, whispering intimately to each other.

Robin's laughter was unmistakable.  Katherine watched her sister giggle at some quiet joke between them.  Her sister's hand went out to steady herself against his broad chest, nearly caressing him as she laughed again at something he whispered into her ear.

Katherine felt hypocritical, considering last night's events.  She had done far more with her stranger than simply giggling at his jokes.  Still, she couldn't let it continue.  She motioned Oliver closer to her.  “On second thought please get me a glass of water.  I'm feeling a little faint again,” she whispered.  Her eyes never moved from the target of her sister in case somehow they might disappear again.

Oliver hopped at once to do her service, and then ran back through the open doors, giving her enough time to venture closer to the couple.  “Robin!” she hissed, when she was close enough to hear a few words of their whispers.

The tall figure had been leaning up against the wall causing Robin to almost lay across him every time she tried to whisper in his ear.  He straightened his stance at the sound of Katherine's call.  “Just a minute,” Robin hissed before whispering back and forth with the man again.

Hearing Oliver behind her as he sought to find her in the gardens, she called out more loudly this time. “Robin, come here now!”  It finally got her sister's attention away from the man as she spoke her goodbye to him, touching his arm one last time before walking away.

“What were you doing?”  Katherine asked gesturing to the man who still stood back, cloaked within the shadows.  Robin smiled unapologetically as they walked back into the light from the open ballroom doors.

Oliver came running to greet them, the glass of water sloshing as he stopped in front of them too quickly.  “How are you feeling now, any better?” he asked.

“Katherine's felling quite ill,” Robin offered, guessing at her sister's game from Oliver's worried expression.  “I think we had best get Mrs. Brentley, so that we can take her home and set her to bed,” she suggested gravely.

Dropping the water into Robin's waiting hand Oliver ran to collect their sponsor for them.  “He is quite a likable young man,” Robin commented as she pulled her 'sick' sister into the ball room and giving her the physical support that an ill woman might need.  “Yet he has no title and he might not for many years to come.”

“Then you are still siding with mother on this?”  Katherine asked feeling slightly betrayed.

“On this, yes.  Mother is right that you are our only chance of having a Lord or Duke connected to our na
me.  I could never be a noble
man's wife.  My best chances rest with finding a wealthy man.”

Mrs. Brentley appeared almost instantly, showing concern for Katherine's well being and preventing her from questioning Robin any further.

While waiting for their cloaks, Katherine noticed that Robin's new suitor had rejoined his group, laughing loudly at another's joke.  At the same time he watched Robin carefully from his little corner.  He noticed Katherine staring at him, and raised his glass up to her with a wicked smile, before turning back to his group.  One of the ladies leaned in against him, and he pulled her in closer as if they might be more than friends.  The man seemed to be born
to break
women's hearts.

He was not the kind of man that Katherine wanted her sister's reputation to be connected to.

Chapter 4

 

 

“What were you thinking!?” Katherine shrieked at her sister once they had entered the quiet of their own room.

During the carriage ride home, she had begun quietly seething with her sister's selfishness at openly trying to catch a man's attention and then disappearing into a dark corner with him.  “If Mrs. Brentley had caught you out there, with him instead of with me, she would have sent us both back home.”

Calmly undoing her hair and brushing the twists out, Robin seemed to wait for her sister to finish the lecture.  “And don't tell me that it was the same thing that I did last night.  I never planned to kiss that man, it just happened.  You went out of your way to find the most controversial man in the room.  Besides what you did tonight could have been seen by anyone!”

Katherine knew that Robin was never this calm unless she felt absolutely sure of herself and her actions, which only frustrated Katherine more.  “You need to be more careful about who you sneak off with.  I doubt that man has a very good reputation to go with his handsome looks
.
  Since, you weren't the only one that he was paying attention to tonight either, I saw him with another woman just before we left.”

Robin waited for her sister to finish and then appeared to be counting down from ten.  Seeing that Katherine had stopped for the moment Robin spun around to face her.  “His name is Victor.  He owns a large plant in London that produces over half of the steel being used for the new railroad system.  He's richer than even I had hoped for, and I think he's falling in love with me.”  She giggled before turning back to brushing her hair in the small vanity mirror.

Seeing her sister so happy, it was hard to remember that Katherine had to be the practical one.  She wanted to squash all of the alarms that her sister's new beau set off, to just hug Robin with excitement, to let someone else clean up after the mess that was left behind afterwards.  Instead she started with the basics.  “What's Victor's last name?”

“He didn't tell me,” Robin answered non-pulsed.

“You kissed a man without even knowing his last name?”  Katherine let out, before biting her tongue a little too late.

Robin shot her a glare then returned to her happy thoughts.  “First of all we didn't even kiss,” she corrected.  “Victor asked me to go outside to talk with him alone, and that's all we did.  To be honest I thought that he would want to kiss me.  Instead he was the perfect gentleman, or as much as he could be considering he's such a large oaf of a man.  He asked about me and I told him the truth, that I was looking to marry a rich husband.”

Katherine gasped at her sister's frankness.

“He liked that I was so honest,” she said defensively.  “That's when he told me about his company, and his money.  Then right before you came by, he said that he had never met a girl like me.  That he might even be falling in love with me,” Robin boasted before dancing over to her bed and flopping down into the sheets with a dreamy far away expression.

“What about the woman that I saw him with?”

“Oh I'm sure it was just some former mistress or something,” Robin said waving the issue away.

A light knock at the door heralded Winnie's entry with a tray of bread and tea.  “Mother told me that you were sick,” she said, setting the tray on the bed in front of Katherine.  “I always eat this when I feel ill.” Taking one of the slices of bread from the tray she began to nibble at the edges.  “How horrible to have to come home early on your first outing in London.  At least it was near the end.”

Lifting the bread off of the plate Katherine found a jar of honey beneath it and dipped the spoon into the sticky pot before swirling it into her tea.  Winnie set the tray on the nightstand before guiding Katherine to lay down, even setting up the pillows behind her so that she could sit up while she drank tea and ate her meal.

It made Katherin
e feel guilty that
Winnie was playing nursemaid to someone who had faked the whole thing.  “Thank you for taking care of me but I'm much better now,” Katherine insisted. “You really don't have to stay to look after me.”

Winnie glanced over at Robin who hummed a tune to herself and smiled giddily.  It was clear that she wasn't worried about Katherine's state which seemed to worry Winnie even more.  “Just ring the bell if you do need something,” Winnie advised before taking another slice of bread and backing out of the room.

Thinking back to the topic before Winnie had interrupted, Katherine glanced over at Robin, who was still humming to herself like a fool.  “Be careful with Victor.  That's all I'm trying to tell you.  Don't get yourself into any situation that could get us thrown out of Mrs. Brentley's house.  I don't think that she takes well to charges that disobey her.”

 

Garrett found himself unable to sleep as he watched the stars outside of the window flicker.  Last night he had forgotten about Amelia for one moment.  He had held another woman in his arms.  Since then Amelia had felt like less of a presence in his life.  She didn't seem to haunt his every thought or movement.  For the first time in years he felt whole, without her shadow carving out a place deep inside of him.  Something about last night's kiss had cleared his head in a way that no friend or family member had been able to.  Amelia wasn't his anymore.

BOOK: A Taste of Honey
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