Read The Critchfield Locket Online

Authors: Sheila M. Rogers

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Historical, #Victorian, #Historical Romance

The Critchfield Locket (9 page)

BOOK: The Critchfield Locket
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Kate’s complexion paled as she slowly sank into a chair. Her voice was barely audible. “What of the woman?”

“When I asked the stable boy to describe the woman, he said it had been dark, that the cloak she wore covered her features.” Nicholas knew what it was she wanted to know. He could tell that she also suspected she was the woman in the tale. “If the woman he spoke of was indeed you, it could explain why Loganville stuck out in your mind. Perhaps it is the last place you stopped before your accident.”

Kate could only nod her head in response.
She felt lightheaded and a little sick to her stomach. She was aware of Nicholas moving, but not of his exact actions, until he lifted her chin and looked into her eyes. He could see fear and sadness as she began to tear up.              

“We will figure this out. You have my word on it. But I must ask, do you remember any of this? Does any part of this story ring true to you?
Was the man your betrothed?”

Kate’s voice trembled as she answered. “No. I
don’t remember, I...” She broke down, unable to stifle her cries any longer. Nicholas pulled her to him and held her close. He whispered soothing words as she cried on his shoulder.

Kate
took the offered handkerchief that was in front of her. She dabbed at her eyes and nose, sniffling as she went. She sat back slightly putting a little distance between herself and Nicholas. She stared into his eyes and for a brief moment, he looked as though he would kiss her before quickly diverting his eyes and turning his head.

Nicholas cleared his throat before he spoke hoping that it would help remove the lump that had been there ever since Kate began to cry. “I would ask that you remain close to the manor at all times until we know for certain that you are not in danger. I am sure that given the circumstances, Mrs. Dickson will understand your vacancy.”

Kate nodded in response. “What of the gardens? Am I allowed to walk outside?”

Nicholas’ eyebrows rose at her use of the term allowed but understood her tone. “If you are accompanied by me or one of the men I have hired, then yes, you are free to visit the garden. Now then, if you would excuse me, I have some business I need to attend to.”

“Of course.”
Kate replied dryly. Her mind was having enough trouble trying to process the story that Nicholas had told along with his behavior. One minute he’s soothing her, the next minute he seemed cold and detached. The sooner she could remember what happened, the sooner she could return to her real life and leave him to his indifference.

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

Nicholas took a deep breath and slowly let it out after Katherine had left the library. He almost forgot himself and kissed her – again. Despite her tear stained face, she had looked so lovely.  If he wasn’t careful, the situation could quickly get out of hand. He hated to admit it, but he was starting to fall for her. After Emily died he closed his heart off; making a silent vow to never let it guide his actions lest he get hurt again. The pain of losing her had made it easy for him to brush off any attempts by the women who saw him as prime husband material.

But now there is Katherine. A
woman he knows so little about, a woman who doesn’t expect him to support her, a woman who doesn’t see his wealth and believes he should share it with her.  Perhaps he felt this way because she was so different from those women, or perhaps she reminded him a little bit of Emily. Whatever the case, until they knew what had happened, until he knew she was free to return his sentiments, he would keep his feelings to himself. A task that will surely prove hard to do, but he must try.

He ate his dinner in the library using work as his excuse to avoid dining with Katherine. It seemed the harder he tried to not think about her, the more thoughts of her invaded his mind. He groaned and dropped his fork onto the plate.

Mr. Baxter raised his eyebrow. “Is the food not to your liking, sir?”

“What’s that? Oh, uh, the food is fine as always Thomas, I just have a lot on my mind.”
Like the way she bites her lip when she is nervous or unsure. The way…
             

“Sir, might I suggest a bit of brandy to help ease your mind?”

Nicholas took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Actually Thomas, I would prefer something stronger. I am in desperate need of sleep and would prefer to not be disturbed once I retire to my room.”             

“Very well sir, I will have it all arranged and awaiting you.” With that, Mr. Baxter gave a slight nod and headed out of the room.

             

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

“James, this plan is
preposterous, we’ll never make it in time!”

“I have to try, don’t you understand she is everything to me
! I can’t stand by and let her marry him knowing that he’s only using her. I should have made my feelings clear, I should’ve…”

Kate pulled him into an embrace and patted his back. “Hush now dear brother. I’ll help you in any way I can. What do you need me to do?”

“Be packed and ready to leave in one hour, we’ve no time to lose.” He stopped and turned to face her. “Thank you. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Kate shooed him out of the room and got right to work.

 

Tears were streaming down her face and onto her pillow. She gasped for air as the memories came flooding back. She gripped the sheets in sorrow as her heart broke for the loss of her brother. Her sobs rose in volume and Margaret was soon by her side trying to calm her.

“Ms. Katherine, is there anything I can do for you?”

Kate was barely aware of the maid’s presence as she curled herself up into a ball.

Margaret hated to do it, but she saw no other option but to wake Mrs. Thompson. Seeing how much pain Kate was in made the housekeeper pity her. She gave some instructions to Margaret then sat down on the bed next to Kate. She lightly rubbed Kate’s back and caressed her head as a mother might do.

Kate could feel arms slipping under her, lifting her up some, then a cup being pressed against her lips.

“Drink this. It will help you rest.”

Kate dutifully obeyed and laid back down. She turned her back to the women, pulled the sheets up over her ears and let the medicinal tea do its job. Mercifully, it had been a potent dose forcing her to quickly fall asleep.

A light flickered in the darkness as Kate slowly opened her eyes. She
looked about the room, her eyes traveling from the candle burning on the nightstand to Margaret sleeping in a chair. She quietly rose out of bed and slipped out of the room through the secret passageway to the library. When she stepped out of the bookcase entrance, she had to stifle a surprised squeal as she bumped into Nicholas.

“Oh, pardon me...”

“No, no, it was my fault. You could not have known that I would be entering this way.”

Nicholas could see the strain upon her face. He resisted the urge to touch her and instead, offered her a seat near the fireplace.
His staff had informed him about her earlier breakdown so he decided to give her time to open up to him.

Kate finally turned and looked him in the eyes. “Thank you for all that you have done.”

“It’s been no trouble really…”

Kate held up her hand. “Please let me finish.” He nodded in response. “You, your staff
, and even some of your friends have gone out of their way to show me kindness, and I will always be grateful for it.” She paused to give herself a moment before continuing. “I remember what happened now. My brother James had been away from home for several months while he sorted out our father’s business. Our father had passed suddenly, and since it was so unexpected, he did not have his estate in order.”

She took a sip of tea from the cup that Nicholas handed her. “Thank you. Anyway, James had to go east to
Springport and in doing so, he left behind Sarah, the love of his life. He had been home with me in Cedarwood for a few days before we received an invitation. It seems that Sarah’s parents could not let her wait indefinitely for James to return and had coaxed her into accepting another man’s marriage proposal.”

Kate rose from her chair and placed her cup on
the tea service tray. “James was both outraged and brokenhearted at the news. The invitation had arrived late – perhaps Sarah was hesitant about sending it to us. Either way, James was insistent that he should leave at once and asked me to accompany him.”

She sat back down in her chair, knowing the story would only get harder to tell. “We were behind schedule when we stopped in Loganville. It was as you said – the weather had been bad and we needed a fresh set of horses. The smart thing would have been to spend the night in Loganville, but James did not want to waste a moment. Once the horses were secured, we quickly boarded the carriage and were once again on our way.”

Kate stared at the floor. She willed her tears to stop but still one slid down her cheek. She wiped at it absent mindedly before continuing. “Usually we had a coachman, but James needed to feel that he was in control, so he took it upon himself to drive the carriage. He was out of practice, the road was slick from the rain. He rounded a corner too quickly and before I knew what was happening, the carriage bounced hard, hit something, and then landed on its side.”

The tears were now streaming freely down her face, but she forged on. “I managed to get the door open by standing on the edge of the seat. I climbed out and saw the carriage was just inches from a tree. I called out to James but heard no response. Then I saw him. He was lying in such a way that I knew, I knew it in my heart, but I didn’
t want to believe it. I lied to myself and thought that if I could just get a doctor to him, he would be fine in no time. I began to run. In my state, I had no sense of direction and ran the opposite way of Loganville. I ran until I could run no more and collapsed on the ground.”

Nicholas was kneeling before her now, his eyes reflected the sorrow in hers. “It was then that my maid found you?”

Kate shook her head affirmatively. “Though I do not know how long I was there.”

He stood up and pulled her to him. “I am so sorry for your loss.”

She briefly returned his embrace before pulling away. Her features turned very stoic when she looked at him. “Again, I thank you for everything, but now, I must return home. There are arrangements to be made, and estate business to deal with.”

Nicholas felt cold where her warm body had been. He took a moment to collect himself before responding.
“I understand. In the morning, I shall have Mr. Thompson ready the carriage and have Mrs. Thompson assist you with your things.”

They stood staring at each other a few moments before Kate returned to her room. She crawled back into the bed without ever waking Margaret.

She felt a light touch on her arm and woke to find Margaret standing over her. “Good morning, Ms. Katherine. Are you feeling better today?”

“A little I suppose.”

“I am sad to see you go Miss. It has been a pleasure knowing ya. And don’t go worrying about Stormy – I’ll see to it that he’s cared for.”


Thank you Margaret, for being so kind to me.” She pulled the girl into a hug. “I will miss you.”

Mrs. Thompson arrived and helped Kate pack the few belongings she had. She escorted her down stairs and to the front door where Nicholas was waiting. A slight nod of his head sent all the staff members scurrying away. “Before you go, might you take a turn about the garden with me?”

“I would like that.” Kate placed her hand through his arm as they traveled in silence. When they neared a bench, he guided her to take a seat before sitting down as well.

“Katherine, over the last few weeks, I have come to feel things that I had thought were no longer possible for me. I know that you must return home, but I would be remiss if I did not declare myself to you first. I am not sure of when my feelings began to change, but change they have
, for I now find myself in love.” He took her hands in his, kissed one, then the other. “Katherine, I love you. Do you think that in time, you may one day return my affections?”

Kate took a moment before she answered. “Nicholas, I don’t know what to say. I had dared to hope that you felt the same as I do, but it seemed foolish to do so. We barely know each other.”

“Yet I know that I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

“And I you.”

He leaned in and kissed her on the lips. “I have something for you.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a square wood box made of cherry wood and handed it to her.

Excited, Kate opened the box and found a locket inside. Though beautiful, it wasn’t what she had expected. She looked at him as he got up, taking the locket from the box.
When he secured it around her neck, he told her this was an early wedding present, that he would get her an engagement ring soon. He then instructed her to open the locket. Kate enthusiastically slid her thumbnail into the crevice and pushed it open.

 

Kate felt a little lightheaded as tears slowly slid down her cheeks. A hand gently squeezed her arm. “Miss, are you OK?”

BOOK: The Critchfield Locket
6.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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