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Authors: Karla Darcy

Tags: #Romance, #Historical

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BOOK: The Five Kisses
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“No.” She shook her head with wistful regret. “My teeth grew in and it rather threw off my aim.”

“Pity.” His face was sad for a moment but then his mouth creased in a smile that lightened his countenance. “At least your throwing is right on the mark. Good show, Gillian.”

She returned his smile, feeling a glow of satisfaction at his words.

He stood up and brushed the dust off his breeches. Finished, he moved to stand just beneath her, one black eyebrow arched in question. “Would you like some help in getting down?”

Gillian was just about to tell him that she was quite capable of managing the wooden ladder when something strange happened. His face was turned up to her and she found herself staring into the most wonderful brown eyes she had ever seen. Surrounded by an almost girlish profusion of black lashes, Chad’s eyes were deep-set and so dark there were no pupils visible. Suddenly she could feel herself flushing and there was a strange quivery sensation beneath her skin. Without conscious thought, her mouth opened and she spoke in a breathless voice she barely recognized as her own.

“I would rather like a bit of help,” she said. “The basket will be awkward on the ladder.”

“Don’t worry,” Chad said. “I’m coming up.”

He raced to the ladder and climbed it with the agility of a monkey. Gillian was barely on her feet before he was beside her, reaching for the nearly empty basket of apples.

“I shall go first so that you will not be afraid of falling,” he said.

Although normally Gillian would have bristled at the suggestion she might be afraid, she contented herself with a nod of the head. She was impressed when Chad skinned down the ladder, setting the basket on the floor and returned to her side without evincing any sign of breathlessness.

“Can you handle your skirts?” he asked.

Until his mention of her clothing, she had not given them a thought. Normally she was alone when she scrambled up and down the ladder. Now, in his presence, she realized that her dress and petticoats represented a definite handicap to a modest descent. However with newfound aplomb, she raised her chin and indicated that he should precede her. She turned her back to the open space and, gathering her skirts decorously to the side, she began to descend, steadying herself with her free hand.

“Don’t worry,” Chad called from below. “I shall catch you if you fall.”

She was just about to snort in disdain when the heel of her boot caught in the hem of her dress. She had to clutch at the rung above her head to keep from tumbling backwards. Her heart was hammering in her chest as she continued downward. She was almost at the bottom when hands grasped her waist and Chad lowered her the remainder of the distance. Carefully he set her on the packed earthen floor. He was considerably taller than she and Gillian had to tilt back her head to examine him more closely. A pitiful meow interrupted her scrutiny.

“Oh, the cat!” she cried. “Where are you, puss?”

Gillian spotted the end of the pitchfork and followed the leather leash behind a barrel of grain where the kitten was struggling to get loose.

“Poor darling,” she crooned, untying the thong and scooping up the quivering ball of fur.

“It’s not hurt, is it?” Chad asked, kneeling down beside her.

“I don’t think so.” Without the least bit of self-consciousness, Gillian turned the cat over. “It’s a he,” she announced.

Chad extended a finger and stroked the underside of the cat’s chin, grinning at her when the animal began to purr. “What’ll we do with him?”

“We’ll get some more apples and then I’ll take him home with me. He shouldn’t be out on his own.” She looked across at Chad. His face was dirty, his lip was split and puffy and his nose had bled all down the front of his shirt. “I think you had better come home with me too.”

The boy cleaned up considerably better than the cat. In no wise could the animal be judged adorable. Unusual would be the best one could hope for. He was gray and white with a smattering of oddly shaped black patches on his coat. Aside from the strange markings on his fur, the chunk missing from one of his little ears ended any pretensions he might have had to beauty. Naturally Gillian thought he was precious.

“Will your mother let you keep him?” Chad asked.

“My mother died when I was born. Papa takes care of me,” Gillian said, her voice matter of fact. Head cocked to the side, she eyed Chad’s bruises and bloodstained shirt. “Perhaps you should come with me while I talk to Papa. Looking at us, he will see how much trouble we had saving the cat,” she said, flapping the skirt of her dress which was liberally covered with hay and smudged with dirt.

The disheveled threesome knocked at the library door, waiting for the deep voice of Professor Ethan Foster to call admittance. Gillian was delighted to discover her father standing over the mahogany table that was spread with open books, one on top of each other in higgledy-piggledy fashion. She knew that when he was involved in his research he was less likely to scrutinize her requests with the attention he would give them at other times. She came to stand beside him and without looking up, Ethan put his arm around her, bringing Gillian close to his side.

She snuggled against his old tweed jacket that smelled of the woods and the smoke from the fireplace. She giggled at the surprised expression in Chad’s eyes. His father must not be much of a hugger, she guessed. She had seen the Earl of Elmore at church and it appeared that the unsmiling man never forget that he possessed a title. Thankfully Chad was not so puffed up in his own conceit. From the shelter of her father’s arm, she winked at the slightly embarrassed boy and immediately his face relaxed into a grin.

“How is your project going, Papa?”

“Exceedingly well,” came the rather absent reply. “I have been able to trace much of Sir Hans Sloane’s life. There are some gaps, of course. It is most vexing that I cannot find where he was the year before he succeeded Sir Isaac Newton as President of the Royal Society.”

“Perhaps he was travelling,” she suggested.

“Excellent thought, Gillian. Searching for more plants for his herbarium, I would wager. I’ll have to check into that possibility. Was there something you wanted, poppet?” he asked, stroking her hair even as he leaned over to turn the page of one of the books.

“Chad Kendale and I rescued a kitten.”

Gillian held out the scrawny cat for her father’s inspection. Startled by such an occurrence, Ethan turned away from his books. He brought his face down to the cat’s level to peruse the mottled furball in his daughter’s hands. Unmoved by the scrutiny, the kitten stared back, his eyes never leaving the shaggy gray eyebrows that wiggled over the top of gold-rimmed spectacles.

“It doesn’t look like much of a specimen,” he declared.

“He’s had a bad day,” Gillian said, rushing to the kitten’s defense. “I’m sure he’ll be quite, eh, handsome when he’s older. Might I keep him, sir?”

Although less than enthused by the idea, Ethan took one look at his daughter’s expression and rolled his eyes in defeat.

“I suppose it will be all right,” he said. “Only keep it out of here.”

“Oh, I will,” she said, standing on tiptoes to give her father a grateful kiss.

“That’s a good girl,” Ethan said. He turned to show her to the door when he spotted Chad. “Hello, young sir. Have you arrived for a lesson?”

“Oh, no, Professor. I came in with Gillian.”

“Excellent,” Ethan said, an expression of relief crossing his face at the thought that his research would not be further interrupted. “Well, run along now. You best see to the cat.”

“Who is Sir Hans Sloane?” Chad asked as they returned to the kitchen.

“Papa’s writing a paper to deliver in London. Sloane was a famous collector. He was a doctor too. And you’ll never guess,” she said lowering her voice to a whisper. “He treated sick people with live millipedes and crabs’ eyes.”

“You’re bamming me,” Chad scoffed.

“Am not. Papa read it to me right out of one of his books.” She waited to see if he would challenge her but, when he shrugged in acceptance, she grinned and changed the subject. “Do you think Patch would be a proper name for the cat?”

Chad tipped his head to the side, his face screwed up in thought. “I’d say topping good,” he announced. He edged over toward the kitchen table. “May I have one of the apples?”

Gillian started to shake her head but, caught by the eagerness in the dark eyes of her new friend, she relented. “But just one. We need the rest for the kissing bough.”

She set the kitten on the hearthrug as Chad snatched an apple from the basket. He bit into it, the sound sharp in the otherwise quiet kitchen. His tongue snaked out to catch the juice that ran out of the corner of his mouth. Gillian watched in fascination as he devoured the fruit. It was obvious that he loved apples as much as she.

“Would you like to come to our Christmas party?” she asked. “We have one every year. People from the village are invited and of course the squire and his wife. Some of Papa’s students will be coming. The party’s on Friday. There’ll be ever so much food,” she finished breathlessly.

She knelt down on the rug, lifted the kitten into her lap and fussed with it, all the time waiting nervously for Chad’s reply. Somehow an affirmative answer was most important.

“I’d like to come,” he announced. Then with a casual salute he sauntered across the kitchen and out the door.

Chad did come to the Christmas party and, despite the fact he was heir to the Earl of Elmore, he fit in well with the other guests. While the adults congregated in the drawing room, the children were permitted to play games in the kitchen and the back parlor, with occasional forays into the dining room for sustenance.

The party wore on, becoming less formal. Chad and Gillian, along with the other children, took turns hiding behind the draperies in the foyer to watch as the ladies were kissed beneath the mistletoe. When the squire’s wife took over the piano and began to pound out “Bernie Bough”, the adults returned to the drawing room, much to the children’s disappointment.

“Just when things were getting interesting,” Chad said.

“There’s still one apple left,” Gillian said, staring up at the kissing bough.

“Go on, Gilly!” someone shouted. “Stand under it and pay the forfeit.”

Gillian hesitated. It was not that she was reluctant. She’d had her eye on the apples all evening and felt one kiss was a small price to pay for her favorite fruit. However she’d never been kissed before and was not eager for the other children to discover her ignorance.

Stalling for time, she said, “There is no one who can reach the apple.”

There were giggles and a rustle of movement among the children. Gillian squirmed in embarrassment, wondering how she could get out of the awkward situation. Suddenly Chad stepped forward.

“I can reach the apple,” he said. His voice cracked on the words but he winked to indicate he was quite willing to save her as she had saved him a few days earlier.

Gillian relaxed, determined to enter into the spirit of the game. With exaggerated gestures, she sashayed across the hall, pantomiming the simpering young women she had watched earlier. She flipped her curls with one languid hand and fluttered her eyelashes outrageously in Chad’s direction.

He played along, acting the part of the amorous gallant. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a snowy white handkerchief. He fluttered it under his nose then made an elegant leg, sweeping the hand holding the handkerchief close to the floor. He straightened up, leaned forward and kissed her with a resounding smack. On tiptoes he reached up and unfastened the apple which was presented to her with great ceremony, amid the cheers and applause of the other children and some of the adults who had come to investigate the cause of such hilarity.

Everyone said it was the greatest fun, almost like watching a play. Gillian laughed along with Chad and it was only later when she was tucked up in bed that she had time to think about the evening. Her first kiss had been much different than she had expected. She was surprised that Chad’s lips had been so warm and firm. More surprising yet was the funny, shivery feeling she had in the pit of her stomach when he kissed her. It was like falling, a curious but not unpleasant sensation.

The uneaten apple rested on the table beside her bed. She had found it in her pocket when she came upstairs. It was strange that she hadn’t felt any desire to eat it. After all she had earned it.

 

 

 

 

 

The Second Kiss

 

 

Gillian threw down the rope she had been pulling and turned to glare at Chad. Her breath ballooned out in the frosty air. She stamped her feet on the frozen ground, wishing she had worn something more substantial than her half boots. She was inordinately proud of them but the shiny red leather was ill-suited to hauling the Yule log through the woods. She had wanted Chad to see how well her boots and mittens complimented her new black cape with the military braiding. Excited about his own news, he hadn’t even given her fashionable ensemble a glance.

Reminded of her grievance, she hurried into conversation, “I still don’t see why you have to go up to London right after Christmas. From what Papa says the town will be light of company.”

“That’s quite the point of it,” Chad said. “Mother feels I need a touch of town bronze and since I have learned that it is pointless to argue with her, I will go. Besides I would much prefer to make my mistakes when not under the eagle eyes of the old biddies who line the walls at every ball. When the season starts, I shall be up to snuff, ready to take my place in society.”

“Piffle!” Gillian waved a hand, dismissing his pretensions to a proper place among the ton as if they were inconsequential. “You will miss the best of the trout fishing, is all. Now that you’re the earl you’ve become a dead bore.”

She knew part of her ill temper was due to the fact that she was feeling abandoned. Perhaps if Patch were still around to rub against her ankles she would not feel so friendless. For five years the ugly little cat had comforted Gillian when she seemed most inconsolable. A month ago she had found her furry friend lying dead at the edge of the woods, his unusual markings blending with the mottled colors of the autumn leaves.

BOOK: The Five Kisses
12.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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