After trudging through the untamed brush of the Virginia Colony for hours, Luke began to regret his decision to walk home. Surely he could have survived another wagon ride with his new bride, and would have been able to ignore her just as he had on their first ride. But his memories of Mary had been so strong, so vivid, that he needed time to let them settle. To give those memories all of his focus and attention for a few hours, without having to worry about this new woman who would soon interfere with most aspects of his perfectly lonely life. He couldn't make another mistake like the one he had nearly made inside the chapel.
Finally, he saw the smoke of his cabin lifting above the trees and almost yelled out with pleasure at the prospect of being able to take his boots off and sleep until the sun beckoned him to his work. When he opened the door, he observed Susannah and his brother, quietly talking in front of a smoldering fire, the single room dimly lit by the embers. At the noise, they both looked up at him and motioned that he should exit once more. They both rose and followed him out of the house, fingers upon their lips.
"Well I hope you realize the foolishness of that decision now," Jonathan scolded as soon as the door was closed behind them. "You could have been home hours ago."
"Believe me, my feet have been screaming at me for several hours, I don't need you to join them. But I needed that quiet time, and don't have to answer to you for it, sore feet or not. I thank you both for seeing the woman here, and for watching over Grace, but I'll not be needing you anymore tonight, and I'm mighty tired."
Jonathan looked as if he had more to say, but Susannah placed a gentle hand on her husband's arm that stopped whatever was on his lips.
"Both of your girls are sleeping and there is stew on the table if you'd like to eat before bed. I'll be back in the morning to help Kathryn learn the routine. Please don't do anything foolish until I arrive. She is truly a sweet girl who has a lot on her mind, and we don't need your attitude to do any more damage to her."
"I'll not speak a word to her until you return, of that I can assure you," he nearly growled, still hating the fact that a strange woman who may very well be a criminal was sleeping beneath his roof. "Good night to you both."
The pair murmured their goodbyes and walked arm in arm to their wagon. Their affection caused him pain. He and Mary used to be the same way, love and admiration spilling over into every action they completed together. They used to fold quilts together, granting kisses as they met in the middle, or they washed dishes together, playfully splashing water as they completed the tedious task, but perhaps his favorite thing was when they walked together, arm in arm. The feeling of Mary's body so close to his own, not needing to speak, just being completely content in the proximity of her, smelling the soap that clung to her skin, listening to her breath as it escaped from her sweet lips, was perfection itself. His brother's life made him envious, for he knew he would be missing that closeness for the rest of his life.
Opening the door with a sigh, he moved about the cabin, first removing his boots and then helping himself to a trencher filled with stew that had grown cold. He ate quickly, wanting so badly to end this day with a deep sleep that could not be interrupted by the events of this day. When his hunger was satisfied, he peeled off his clothes and moved toward the bed, which was almost completely shrouded by darkness, the dim light of the fireplace barely reaching the corners of the room.
Before he could settle himself, he noticed a figure in the bed, a mound of blankets and pillows that were far too big to be Grace. A grumble rippled up his throat. How could Susannah put her in his bed?! Well, she would certainly not remain. He had had a hard day, and would not be robbed of his one comfort. Leaning over, he was about to shake her awake, insisting that she sleep on the floor across the room. He would supply her with a blanket and pillow, but she was not welcome in his bed. She would understand, certainly.
Then he remembered his promise to Susannah. He could not speak to her until Susannah arrived the next morning, and truthfully, he did not want to. Seeing no way around it, he slipped his arms beneath her, gathering with her all of the blankets that encompassed her. She was feather light and did not stir at his touch. Her head lolled to the side, finding it's way to his shoulder, her hair fell over her face and past her shoulders, pooling on her body. He couldn't help but notice how beautiful the soft dark waves were, but quickly shook the thoughts away.
Effortlessly he moved her, making sure the blankets were tucked around her as he settled her on the ground. Then he placed a pillow beneath her head. She sighed, as if completely content to be on the ground, but her eyes never opened to signify her wakefulness. Feeling rather good about his solution, Luke moved to the chest that rested against the other wall and removed a quilt and extra pillow from it. Easily, he lowered himself to his bed, it wasn't long before everything melted from his mind, his sleep filled with peaceful memories of the woman who he would always consider his one and only wife.
Kathryn woke slowly, feeling as though she had slept for a year. She couldn't remember the last time she had been allowed the leisure to sleep past the rising of the sun. While working in the middle of London, she always needed to be awake before dawn, preparing for her employers to wake. Sitting up, she stretched, hoping to rid her body of the stiffness that had developed during her slumber. After a moment, she realized that she was no longer in the corner of the room, settled atop the pallet.
She was on the ground, a blanket wrapped snugly around her. The pallet where Susannah had directed her the night before was across the room and currently un-occupied. Unable to comprehend how she had ended up on the floor, she rose. She did not have time to waste on such thoughts; she had far more important things to work out, like how to make Luke Reid fall in love with her. Her ability to do that was absolutely essential to getting her sisters across the ocean.
Breakfast. Surely a good breakfast would be a start. Getting to her feet, she found her way to the dress Susannah had provided for her yesterday. She was still unable to believe how well it fit and how beautiful it was. It was hard to remember dresses that weren't grey, too big, and made of material that scratched and irritated the skin. Next, she wove her hair into a neat braid, hoping to avoid the massive knots that had caused her so much pain the night before. Finally she searched for food, waiting to be inspired by the ingredients she found.
Carefully she prepared corn fritter pancakes over the fire that she had just stoked. She had never watched food so cautiously, but she wanted to make sure that everything was just right for her new husband and daughter. When they were finished, she placed them on a platter near the fire to keep warm, then dug into the basket of blackberries she found to make a blackberry syrup to drizzle over them.
Just as she was finishing, the door opened. Wiping her hands on her pristine apron, she spun, turning her attention to her guest. Susannah stood before her, looking rested and jubilant. "Good morning, Kathryn. How did you sleep?"
Kathryn didn't answer immediately, weighing whether or not she should mention the peculiarity of waking up on the other side of the room. Ultimately, she decided to keep that to herself. "Very well I'm feeling much better," she answered shyly, still uncertain of herself in this new world.
"Well, by the look of you, I'd say you are doing very well indeed!"
"It smells wonderful in here, have you been cooking?" Susannah asked as she stepped further into the house.
"Breakfast, I made plenty, have you eaten?"
"Here I thought I was going to come over to make breakfast, and show you around the food stores." Susannah laughed. "Looks like you've got it all under control!"
Kathryn blushed. "I'm used to making breakfast, and using whatever I can find. I made corn fritters and blackberry syrup. Shall I wake Grace? We could all eat together."
"Sounds wonderful, though I'd be happy to wake Grace if you'd like."
"No, that's okay. I'm used to getting my little sisters up and moving. What about Luke? Does he usually eat breakfast? He was gone before I woke up." Kathryn moved toward the loft, lifting her skirts to climb up the ladder that was mounted on the wall.
"If he's gone before breakfast, I usually walk him out a basket. He probably wanted to get to work early on the fields, but the man can't cook anything for himself. It won't be long before he needs to harvest and get things ready for shipment. After we eat, we'll go out together, Grace loves to walk down to the fields."
"Help yourself to some coffee while I get her up, we'll just be a minute."
"Coffee too? My goodness I feel as though I'm in heaven. I suppose you didn't milk a cow after you woke for some fresh cream did you?"
Kathryn giggled as she reached Grace's pallet. She knelt beside her and was struck immediately by memories of her young sisters. Grace's dark curls were strewn across her face, her little lips parted, her thick eyelashes twitching, giving evidence of a fascinating dream. Gently, Kathryn brushed her fingers across the girl's forehead, moving the hair off her face. "Gracie," she whispered, then louder, her voice almost singing, she spoke her name again, "Gracie."
The little girl stirred, making a sigh that showed evidence of happiness, contentment. Kathryn tried again. "Grace, it's time to wake up. Breakfast is ready."
"Mama?" Grace uttered, her eyes still sealed shut, sleep not letting go of them just yet.
"No, it's Ryn."
At that, her eyelids fluttered open. "Ryn! I thought it was a dream." She sat up quickly, her hair rushing to keep up with the motion. "What's for breffast?"
"Corn fritters and blackberry syrup."
Without another word, Grace climbed from her pallet, her nightgown pooling on the ground where she stood. With Kathryn's help, she slowly descended the ladder with ease, it was obvious she was used to such a task, even for being such a small girl. Once on the ground, she hopped to her aunt, throwing her little arms around her skirts, wishing her a happy morning.
"Well isn't this a surprise! My little Grace waking up like sunshine instead of rain," Susannah laughed, planting a large kiss on her niece's forehead.
"I'm happy this morning, Aunt Susie, Ryn's still here!"
Susannah looked up and smiled at Kathryn. "That is a very good reason to be happy."
Grace smiled wide, throwing herself over the bench and into place. "Let's eat!"
I apologize for the hugely long delay! I hope you'll enjoy this chapter, and I only hope that my life slows down just a smidge so that I can update more regularly. Happy reading :)