AN: Hello again, lovely readers. There aren't a lot of you but that doesn't make you any less awesome. Here is the second chapter. I don't know if I mentioned this or no but right now I'm trying to focus on my Pride and Prejudice fanfiction, so updates will be few and far between. I apologize in advance. All I ask is that you review! Please. Enjoy the story.
Chapter two: An Awkward Dinner
Nathan was in awe. She was here! His nymph was Miss Marissa Evans. He thanked whatever force had given him the chance to see her again. Although she was not here, the family portrait showed him that she was indeed one and the same as his nymph. He decided to talk to her brother, Mark, and learn more about the family, his sister in particular.
"Mr. Evans," he greeted the younger man. "How are you today?"
"I'm very well, my Lord," Mark replied. "And yourself?"
"Much the same as you," he laughed. "I must insist you call me Nathan."
"I would be honored," Mark grinned. They chatted amicably for the rest of the evening, although Nathan did have ulterior motives. Unluckily, Mark was unwilling to give up any secrets pertaining to his sister just yet. Nathan liked him. He was good-humored and lively. If his sister was anything like him—and he had evidence to prove that she was—then Nathan thought they'd get along famously.
"So tell me about the mysterious Miss Evans," Nathan said. "Has she already had a season?" And if so, why haven't I met her before? Nathan asked himself.
Mark nodded. "Yes. She came out when she was seventeen but had to forgo a season because our grandfather died. Her first was last year but she didn't go to many balls. We came late and left early. We hope to stay the full three months this year."
"You are studying at Cambridge, correct?" Nathan said. "And Miss Evans, Mrs. Evans, and Garrett are going to London soon?"
Mark nodded. "They leave at the end of the month for Evans House and I leave next week for school."
"Not for at least a week then," Nathan muttered, more to himself than Mark. Mark, being a clever man, had already started to suspect that the earl would admire Marissa upon first meeting her. Being twins, Mark and Marissa had always shared a sort of bond. Some might call it telepathy but it was merely a great understanding of a lifelong confidante, friend, and like-minded person. Yes, Nathan Blackwell would be a good man for his beloved baby sister.
Upstairs, Marissa was already dressed in her nightgown. She could hear the people talking downstairs and having a merry time but she was glad she was safely ensconced in her room. She didn't know if she could face that man. Her oak tree would have to forgotten until he was gone, or until she went to London. Whichever came first. She only had a few more weeks of freedom here in the country and he was ruining it. She fell into a troubled sleep at around midnight, unaware that Nathan was still awake thinking of her. He had to meet her at least once before he went to London.
Over the next few days, Nathan wandered the woods searching her. He didn't know that Marissa practically refused to go outside. So he roamed the forest, becoming familiar with the scenery that Marissa so loved. He never saw her and on the Friday before they were to leave for London, he trudged into Carrington Hall in defeat.
"Nate!" Jasper exclaimed when he entered the library. "I have great news. The Evans are to dine with us tonight. We shall finally meet Miss Evans."
"That is good news, Jasper," Nathan said calmly. On the inside, he was actually shouting for joy. He would meet her again, under more formal circumstances, and perhaps he could learn more about her. "When are they coming?" he asked Jasper.
"Soon," Jasper grinned. "You'd better go upstairs and get ready." Barely suppressing a yelp of joy, Nathan did just that.
"Deep breaths, Marissa," she told herself in the carriage on the way to Carrington Hall. "The earl won't say anything. He would have to admit to climbing trees as well. You will be fine." Her mother and brothers had already left the carriage and were being shown inside. Gathering her courage, Marissa exited the carriage. The few steps from the carriage to the doors of the manor were the longest of her life. With a deep breath, she entered. The footman showed her to the sitting room and left her to announce her presence. She heard the servant's voice telling the rest of the party she was here.
"Miss Marissa Evans," he said and Marissa struggled to control her breathing. They were just people. She tried to walk confidently into the room but feared her attempt wasn't successful. The gentleman stood and bowed. Mark had an insipid smirk on his face and Marissa resisted the urge to roll her eyes at her brother.
"It's about time you showed up, Mari," Mark smiled. "What took you so long?"
"My bootlace had come undone," she said quietly, looking anywhere but the earl. "I retied it back in the carriage." It was a poor excuse and she knew it but luckily no one else did.
"I'm glad to hear it," the dark haired man said. "Let me introduce myself and my friend. I am Jasper Carrington and this is my friend Lord Nathan Blackwell."
"Mr. Carrington, my Lord," she said demurely and curtsied to them both, eyes never leaving the floor. Please let him not say anything to me, she silently pleaded.
Marissa was beautiful in an evening dress, but Nathan decided she looked more natural in a tree with leaves in her hair. She seemed more shy here in a sitting room and her beautiful blue eyes were turned downwards. Why would she not look at him? He cleared his throat.
"Miss Evans, I hear you are very fond of nature," he commented and noted the steady blushed the suffused her cheeks.
"Yes, nature is one of my greatest passions," she said, eyes still glued to her toes.
"Might I ask what the others are?" he asked. "Your other passions, that is." Finally, she raised her speaking sapphire eyes to his.
"You might ask," she said, "but whether I tell you is a different story entirely, my Lord." Jasper's booming laugh rang out. Nathan held back his own laugh. So the nymph was simply hidden beneath society's veil.
"I believe you have found an opponent worthy of sparring with you, Nathan," he said and started into a new topic with Miss Evans. A surge of jealous rose up in him. What right did Jasper have to talk to his lovely nymph? Get a hold of yourself, man! he scolded himself. For heaven's sake, he just met the girl officially.
"I do believe that Mr. Carrington had been waiting to talk to her all week," Mark commented with a grin.
"Indeed," Nathan said dryly. "Are you and Miss Evans very close?"
Mark laughed. "Oh yes. Mari and I are thick as thieves. If she could, she would have come off to Cambridge with me. Instead, she contents herself with ready anything and everything at the library at Greenbrooke."
"I see," Nathan mused. "She mentioned she enjoyed the outdoors as well as many other things but she would not give me the specifics. Other than reading and…enjoying nature, what does she do?" Mark grinned wider. It seemed Mr. Carrington wasn't the only one who enjoyed his sister's company.
"She plays the harp," Mark informed him, "and sings. I swear, she is forever humming or singing some silly tune or other. She enjoys dancing, especially the waltz, and she also draw a little."
"What of you Mark?" Nathan asked, mentally digesting the information he had just gotten. "Any lucky young girl caught your eye?"
"How old do you think I am?" Mark laughed. "I'm still in school and still need to take my Grand Tour."
"Aren't you older than Miss Evans?" Nathan asked in confusion.
"Only by about ten minutes," Mark said. "Marissa and I are twins."
"No wonder you two look so alike!" Nathan exclaimed. "I had originally thought you were but Marissa seems so much younger than you."
"That's because she hasn't been hardened by the world yet," Garrett cut in. His dark hair and hazel eyes were so different from his siblings, it was almost shocking. He looked like a hardened man who had seen much tragedy.
"What do you mean, Garrett? Mark asked. "It's just because she's horribly short and doesn't act her age."
"One Season does not mean she knows the ways of the world," Garrett growled. "I'm reluctant to even let her go London this year. She's so naïve."
"And she'll stay that way if you don't let her live her life and make mistakes, Garrett," Mrs. Evans interrupted. "Pardon me, but I must talk to my son." With that she dragged him away, and whispered angrily at him.
Mark sighed. "He's been this way since he returned from the navy."
"But isn't he the first son? Why did he need to go into the navy?"
"He is the surviving eldest son," Mark clarified. "My oldest brother, Thomas, was killed in a carriage accident when Marissa and I were fifteen. Garrett was at sea and only heard of the news when he got back to England. The horrors of war and of losing his big brother changed him into what he is today. He's only eight and twenty but sometimes he acts like he was eight and fifty."
"That's a lot of responsibility to place on a young man," Nathan said. "I inherited the earldom at seventeen and it almost killed me. The only reason Hardwick Abbey survived was because of my excellent steward." Mark opened his mouth to comment but then Jasper's sister entered the room.
"Miss Amelia Carrington," the footman announced.
"Amelia," Jasper exclaimed. "I thought you were not coming." Amelia was beautiful with the same dark eyes and hair as her brother but for some reason, Nathan found himself comparing her to Marissa- erm Miss Evans. It didn't matter anyways; Amelia was more of a sister to him anyways. Nathan noticed that Garrett was staring at the woman. Hmm, perhaps there might be some hope in that regard. The introductions were made and soon the women were all conversing with each other.
Mark chuckled. "I wonder how long it will take for Marissa to make her escape."
"Escape?" Nathan repeated.
"She dislikes company," Mark explained. "She's lively enough at home and when she thinks she's alone but something about society changes her. From what I understand, she was like this in Town last year. Mother was worried for her but Mari always assured us she was fine."
Unaware that Mark and the earl were discussing her, Marissa was enjoying a conversation with Amelia Carrington. Amelia was almost twenty-one and was quite willing to take the younger girl under her wing for the up and coming Season. In fact, Amelia had great hopes for her new friend and her brother. To have such a lovely, accomplished woman as her sister would not be amiss with Amelia. Soon Marissa and Amelia had given each other leave to call the other by their Christian names.
"Are you excited for the Season?" Amelia asked.
"Oh yes," Marissa smiled. "It was very exciting from what I saw last year. I was so hoping I'd be able to see some Shakespeare at the theatre this year. I missed the opportunity last year."
"Are you a fan of the classics then?"
"I have read almost all of the Bard's plays and sonnets," Marissa answered, "but I must admit that Miss Austen's works are some of my favorite."
"I love Mansfield Park," Amelia said. "Although Emma was also very good."
"My personal favorite was Pride and Prejudice," Marissa said. "The idea that love is for everyone, not just the lower class, was most refreshing."
"But did the book not prove that love seems only like for those with some misfortune in their life?" Amelia countered.
"The misfortune is not the reason for the love," Marissa smiled. "It's the kind of people who are in love. Even the haughty Mr. Darcy fell in love because at heart he was good. That is the material part in this story. Only the truly deserving, receive and feel love. I have also noticed that the humbler people of the world seem to be the most deserving."
"Are the people of the ton so undeserving then?" Amelia teased. "Rather harsh on your own class."
Marissa laughed. "I do not believe in the idea of 'class.' People are people no matter what they do or do not own." Amelia did not have the chance to reply, as supper was ready. Much to her distress, Marissa was seated next to Lord Blackwell and across from Garrett, who was much too preoccupied with Amelia. The first course was eaten in uncomfortable silence.
"How are you today, my Lord," Marissa finally worked up the courage to ask.
"Very well. And you?" was the reply.
"I am fine," she said. "I believe that the weather shall be good enough for my daily walk tomorrow."
"You walk every day then?" Nathan asked. "How strange. I have been walking every morning as well. I'm surprised we haven't met yet."
She blushed. "I frequent much different paths than you, my Lord."
"Do you, indeed?" he smiled. "As you are so familiar with the surrounding woods, perhaps you could help me with a little problem I've come across."
"I'd be happily to oblige," she replied into her hands and didn't see his grin growing more pronounced.
"A few weeks ago when we first arrived, I stopped by a beautiful oak tree," he said and held back a laugh at her blush. "There I met a mysterious, impertinent nymph. Tell me what you know about these nymphs. I have been searching for her everywhere but she has not returned to her oak tree."
"Nymphs do not exist, my Lord," she said, voice wavering.
"Are you quite certain?" he smiled. "Perhaps she is pretending to be a lady but I think that the nymph inside her is trying to break free."
"I do not know why you would think such things," she sniffed. "Mythical creatures are just that: mythical. They do not exist."
"Sometimes, I wonder whether we are the mythical ones and others are saying that we don't exist."
"Surely there must be better things to wonder about," she said. "I understand that you inherited Blackwell Keep, which is a massive estate." His eyes narrowed slightly at this comment. Perhaps he was wrong about her. Maybe all she was after was his money. Her next statement banished the thought from his mind. "I'm sure that must keep your mind very occupied. The tenants and the fields must always be in want of something. Are you a diligent landlord?"
"I'd like to think so," he said. "The people of Derbyshire are stalwart and do not like to ask for things needlessly. Nevertheless, I stay busy."
"Then it's surprising you have time to wonder about mythical creatures," Marissa whispered conspiratorially.
"Not at all," he replied. "I find that I need something to occupy my thoughts when I oversee the farms or when my solicitor is being particularly boring." Marissa stifled a laugh in her napkin and Nathan took some pride in the fact that he had been the cause of her laughter.
"Wondering and searching do not mean the same thing, my Lord," she said, once she had recovered. "Wonder all you wish to, but do not search for them."
"I wouldn't be inclined to do so, if I had not met one," he said. "You remind me a little of her."
"Despite what you might think, I do not climb trees," Marissa sniffed. Both of them knew she was lying through her teeth.
"Maybe you should attempt it," he whispered. "I find it most invigorating."
"Did you just admit to climbing trees, my Lord?" she asked. "Hardly proper behavior for an earl."
"It's a good thing that the nymph did not know I was an earl then," he responded. "I preferred it that way."
"Things cannot be unlearnt, my Lord," she said demurely.
"But they can be ignored," he said. "For instance, I ignored my mother telling me not to climb trees."
"Some people might say that you should have listened to her."
"But you aren't some people, are you." It wasn't a question.
"I believe that I've used up all my conversation for the night, my Lord." He obediently fell silent but when he helped her into the carriage, he slipped her a folded piece of parchment.
Marissa all but ran upstairs when she got home. The earl had given her a note and she knew she shouldn't read it but the temptation was too much. The hand was elegant and steady. The message was, well, shocking but exciting at the same time.
Miss Marissa Evans,
Meet me by the oak tomorrow at dawn.