Authors: Murray Pura
Kipp hesitated. Then he leaned forward and put his lips to her soft cheek and wisps of shining blonde hair. “You look extraordinary,” he said when he straightened.
She kissed his cheek in return. “Thank you. And you’re still my handsome young aviator. You flew well today.”
“Not well enough.”
“Oh yes, well enough.” She traced a white-gloved finger along the side of his face. “You’re the one I’d have chosen for the prize.”
“Christelle is just downstairs.”
“Chris left in the third car with Matthew and Charles. The younger ones put up such a fuss they took the lot of them to Dover.” She brushed his cheek with the back of her gloved hand. “Besides, it was Chris who told me to hunt you down and pamper you, so I’m doing that.”
“Really? She said that?”
“Yes, she did.”
“Have you…have you heard anymore from Charles’s father?”
Caroline wrinkled her nose. “You do bring up distasteful subjects.
Tanner Buchanan writes letters to Charles. He comes by to visit in the company of that Kate Hall lady of his. He doesn’t want me and I don’t want him, if that’s what you’re wondering. It’s only about his son. He’s maneuvering for custody of him and for a seat in the House of Commons.”
“Where has he set up residence?”
“Scotland. South Ayrshire. Robbie Burns country.”
“What’s he doing there? I thought Buchanan fancied himself a highlander.”
“So he does. But this is the seat Labor offered him if there’s another election. The other chap will be stepping down. Tanner’s staking out his political turf, much as your brother Edward is doing in Dover.” Caroline pouted, bringing her full lips together. “Do we have to go on about such a dreary subject? The last time I saw you was at your Aunt Holly’s wedding a whole year ago. I wish you and Chris would come down for a visit to the Scarborough estate.”
Kipp swirled the ice cubes in his drink. “Chris thinks the world of you. Your boy and ours get along. It’s me…I’m to blame. Too much flying. And now Ben and I are doing the racing as well. There’s another one next month—Paris to Madrid.”
“So no time for your wife or me?”
“There’s time for my wife. You’re something else again. Why haven’t you picked up on another man by now? If it were possible, you’re even more beautiful than you were during the war—and at that time your charm was considerable.”
“Not considerable enough to keep you.”
“Truly, Caroline, you are a marvel. You can’t tell me, what with all the guests your parents bring home, there hasn’t been an offer or two.”
“I’m damaged goods, remember?”
“It’s 1925 in a few months. Attitudes have changed.”
“Not among us bluebloods.” She took the glass from his hand. “Here…let’s put that to one side, shall we?” Her eyes seemed to catch fire in the lamplight. “Chris and you always say the same thing about me—that I’m getting more beautiful as I push ahead into my late twenties. Is it true or is it just a French kindness on her part?”
“Christelle’s honesty is her French kindness.”
“I see.” Her lips brushed over his. “Then be nice to me, Kipp. Be kind. Just a little.”
“I’m not asking for the moon and sixpence, Lord Kipp. Just some charity. For a beautiful woman no one wants.”
“I’m married to Christelle now.”
Her arms went around him. The perfume of her hair and her skin filled his head.
“Oh, Kipp,” she murmured, tangling her fingers in his hair. “I love you.”
He turned away abruptly. “No, no.”
Without looking at her he walked quickly from the room.
She smiled after him. “We’ll try again, shall we?”
Port of Dover
“The government’s fallen! Can you believe it? Ramsay and Labor lost a no-confidence vote, and we’re to have an election.” Edward swept Charlotte into his arms and kissed her again and again.
Her hair had been bound up in a scarf while she cleaned the flat, but his sudden swoop and the draft from the open door brought her long, black hair down swiftly.
“That’s marvelous!” she laughed. “So when is your first speech?”
“Tomorrow night at the town hall. All the candidates will be having a go and introducing their families.”
“Their families?” Charlotte pulled back. “You’re joking.”
“I’m not. The good people of Dover and district shall want to see I am a respectable family man with a wife and child. And where is our little man?”
“Good! I can kiss you some more, you ravishing beauty.”
“Come, Edward, not in the middle of the afternoon!”
“What difference does the time of day make? You are spectacular.”
“I’m not! I’m all set up for cleaning.”
“Really?” He kissed the dark hair that had unraveled from its combs. “You look ready to go door-to-door with me.”
“Oh!” She pushed against him fiercely. “You’re not getting me out any door when I’m looking like a bucket of slops.”
“A bucket of slops? I’d like to know when you’ve ever looked like a bucket of slops!” He picked her up off the floor and swung her about in his arms. “You’re not afraid, are you, my Lady Charlotte?”
Charlotte? Of course I’m afraid. You’re the one who wanted to be a public figure, not me. I didn’t even want to be called
, but marrying you fixed that.”
“It wasn’t marrying me. It was dad being made a marquess by the king.”
“I don’t care whose fault it is, I’m quite happy to stay at home, and mop floors, and raise my boy, and brew tea. I honestly am. Now I suppose you want to become the prime minister of Britain and getting elected member of parliament for Dover is the first step.”
“It is. And the rocky road to success begins with tomorrow night’s speech and the unveiling of the magical and magnificent Lady Charlotte Danforth and her equally magical and magnificent son.”
“I shan’t say anything. I’ll just smile and nod.”
“Hair up?” Edward asked.
“Yes, hair up.”
“Our lad in his suit?”
She smiled. “He’ll be out of it in a month, so the suit might as well go out with a splash. Yes, our boy will be all suited up like his father.”
Edward swung her about a final time and planted her on the floor. “It will be the most exceptional month—the most splendid array of days since the reign of Queen Victoria!”
“Oh, will it? Fancy that.”
“I need your love to keep me moving forward.”
“You always have that.”
“And your kisses.”
“You and your kisses. You get more than your share. Most men don’t get half so many from their wives in a lifetime.”
“I haven’t had any lately. Not today.” Edward raised his eyebrows. “And today is such a special day.”
Charlotte put her hands on her hips. “Not today? How can you say
that! You’ve been kissing me nonstop since you walked through that door and took me away from my broom and dustpan.”
“There it is! I’ve been kissing you, but
haven’t been kissing me.”
“Is that so, Lord Edward?”
“It is so, Lady Charlotte.”
She gave him a peck on the cheek. “There you are.”
“Lip kisses now? We’ll be at this all afternoon.”
“Excellent! Once I’m properly inspired, I’ll write my speech.”
“Little Lord Fauntleroy will be up in half an hour.”
Edward peeled off his suit jacket with a grin. “Then we’d best get to the lip kissing. What a capital day for it!”
Charlotte shook her head and gave him a sly smile that made her blue eyes flicker with light. “I’ve never seen such a man for the loving.”
“No other man has had you to love.”
“Ah, a charmer.” She put her arms around his neck. “Lip kissing it is for the future prime minister of England. Ready…set…go!” She brought his head towards hers with a sharp tug and kissed him with relish.
She didn’t pull away until Edward was sure he was going to drop like a stone to the floor.
He tried to break the kiss, but she wouldn’t let him.
Finally she drew her lips away only long enough to smile at him darkly and murmur, “Oh no you don’t, Mr. Prime Minister! In for a penny, in for a pound.”
“Skitt! Good to see you.”
“Leftenant Commander.” Skitt’s reply was frosty.
“I’ve come to collect Lady Catherine.”
“Is that right, sir?”
Rain pelted Terrence’s officer’s hat and trench coat. “Uh, may I step inside, Skitt?”
Skitt opened the manor door a bit more. “As you wish.”
Fordyce squeezed into the hall, water running off his coat and forming a puddle on the floor.
Skitt glanced down at the puddle. His lip curled. “I’ll have to fetch one of the maids and have her come with a mop,” he said in a flat voice.
“Sorry about that. English weather, you know.”
“One shouldn’t be out in it, sir.” Skitt walked away. “I’ll get the maid.”
“Will you please tell Lady Catherine I’m here?”
Skitt glanced back at him. “To be sure. After I find Harriet or Nancy and help them get the bucket and mop.”
Skitt vanished down the hall. Neither Skitt nor the maid appeared as Fordyce stood impatiently by the door. After a good five minutes, he glimpsed Catherine upstairs, moving from one room to another.
She appeared at the head of the staircase. Peering down, she said, “Terry! What on earth are you doing standing there? I didn’t even know you’d arrived.”
“I’m not surprised. I don’t think your butler approves of me.”
Catherine put her hand over her mouth as her eyes crinkled. “Skitt doesn’t approve of anyone. I’ll be down in a minute. I want to kiss Sean goodbye.”
In just a few minutes Terrence watched Catherine float down the stairs toward him. He helped her with her coat as they discussed the atrocious storm.
Harriet showed up with mop and bucket just as the couple headed out the door.
“Just a bit of water like this?” she grumbled. “Skitt made it sound like I had to mop up Noah’s flood.”
“Thank you, Harriet,” Catherine said just before Terrence closed the door.
As they drove through the rain and the dark, Catherine rested her
right hand on Fordyce’s arm. “Mum will try Skitt out till Christmas, she says. He’s mostly the groundskeeper; however, he’s done very well as a butler. It’s only my suitors he has issues with.”
“Your suitors? You have more than one?”
“Oh, millions, Terry!” She smiled and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “That’s all you get for now. Keep your eyes on the road.”
“So we’ll have time together after the speech?”
“We shall. I’ll want a hot coffee and a snack.”
“Char is so hospitable.”
“She is. But it will be late, they’ll have their son with them, and Edward goes on the road again tomorrow with this election flap. So you don’t need to worry about losing out on our time alone.” She leaned her head against the window. “It’s absolute madness—only three weeks for an election campaign. One week gone now, and I’m sure neither my father up in Lancashire nor Edward here in Dover have had a wink of sleep. I just hope it’s a happy ending.”
“Me too. I’ve had my fill of Labor and the Liberals both.” Fordyce honked as he passed a car. “Listen, I know everything’s moving rather quickly between us, Cathy. But—”
She lifted her head. “Oh no! You have that naval ‘take charge’ sound to your voice. You’re not going to ask for my hand in marriage, are you?”
“Nothing so rash. I just want to make sure you will attend the Christmas Ball in Plymouth in December with me. I very much want to show you off.”
“Haven’t we already established that I’ll be hanging off your arm in silks and pearls at that event?”