Author's note: Welcome to the first Osborne Saga story! I hope you find it as entertaining to read as I find it to write. Comments encouraged. Constructive criticism welcome.

Many thanks to my bestie Lacey (writingbutunpublished) for agreeing to preread everything here and for listening to me babble on and on about this series and these characters for the better part of the last decade.

Happy reading!


At First Touch

Osborne Saga One

Danielle Cheri

Prologue

Charlie often dreamed of his earliest memory. He was with Athena and Alec, his twin cousins and constant companions. But he remembered Athena before Alec always. She always held Charlie's hand no matter where they were or what they were doing. On that particular day, they were at a lake. Charlie could still smell the water and the fish his father and uncle caught. And the way the sun mixed with Athena's hair.

Athena took his hand and spoke in her high voice, "I'm going to marry you, Charlie."

He gave her a laugh. "Can we do it now?"

"Yes, let's do it now." She'd pulled him along through the grass. He remembered the feel of it against his legs and the soft swishing against her skirt.

Athena had cried buckets when their mothers said no. Charlie leaned against his mother's shoulder as she softly explained that marriage was something adults did when they were sure they loved each other very much or could have a good life together.

In Charlie's dreams, he went from Athena's wails to the front of a church where she was speaking softly about how much she loved him. She still smelled of the water and the grass and the fish.


Athena's voice melted into McShane's. "My lord, we travel back to your school today."

Charlie sighed and opened his eyes. He saw the flat grey that signaled daylight to him. It was all his eyes were able to process since infancy when scarlet fever took his eyesight. His ears caught the rustling of the curtains as his valet opened them.

"Are my parents up?" Charlie asked as he sat up and stretched.

"Yes. And eating breakfast. Lady Jessalyn is down with them." McShane was closer. "Empty chamber pot at your feet."

Charlie gave his thanks. "Can I have a few minutes, please?"

"Of course, my lord. I will inform your parents you are awake. Your clothes are at the foot of the bed," McShane said. "I will be back to help in five minutes."

Charlie waited for the door to close before relieving his bladder. Afterward he sat on the side of the bed and moved all his joints slowly. He blinked and imagined what his life would be like today if he hadn't lost his sight. He wouldn't be seen as such a burden by everyone outside the family. There would be more ladies willing to talk to him.

Athena and Alec tried to help, but every time someone talked to him, he heard the pity in their voices. He heard the tsks of their tongues and, more than once, heard them crying to their mothers later that they felt sorry for him.

McShane walked back in. "My lord, the carriage will be ready soon and your mother insists on your presence at the breakfast table."

Charlie stood and stripped off his nightshirt. He counted the three steps forward and one step over to his water basin. "Has my cousin arrived?"

"Not yet, my lord." McShane waited until Charlie was finished washing and then helped him dress.

Charlie sighed as he made his way out the door. He counted the steps, but lost track. The top step came up before he could turn back to start over and he tripped. He tumbled down to the bottom. His head hit the wall and his nose cracked on a stair.

When he came to a stop, he rolled to his back and let out a soft, "Ow."

"Charlie!" Audrey cried out, helping him to sit up. "Oh, my darling, you're bleeding." She pressed a handkerchief to his nose.

"I'm fine, Mama." Charlie took the cloth from his mother and leaned against the wall. "I just miscounted my steps."

"You should carry a cane," Horace suggested. "Most fashionable men do anyway."

"I can get around just fine, Papa." Charlie snapped. The volume of his own voice made his head pound. He must have hit it harder than he thought at first.

The door opened and Charlie was met with the scent of outdoors and the godawful cologne Alec always wore. Charlie could smell it from a mile away. It was just too sharp to his senses.

"My god, man!" Alec exclaimed. "What the hell happened?"

"Nothing to worry about." Charlie winced at his mother's frantic but gentle prodding of his face.

"Charlie fall down the stairs?" Jane's little raspy voice spoke from a few inches away.

Reaching up to touch the face that made the comment, Charlie said, "Yes, Janie, I did." He slid his fingertips over her nose.

"You okay." Jane giggled and wrapped her arms around Charlie's neck. Her voice was very serious when she said, "Cara say you leaving."

"I am." Charlie pulled her onto his lap. He could feel the rest of his family gathered close. "But it's the final year and I will be home for a very long time."

"Good." Jane kissed his cheek and it sent a shot of pain over Charlie's face.

Audrey clicked her tongue as she finally finished her assessment. "You should be seen by a doctor."

"It just hurts a little, Mama. I'll be fine." Charlie sat Jane on the step and then pulled himself onto his feet.

"I can keep an eye on him, Auntie." Alec said, taking a hold of Charlie's elbow. It wasn't a demanding touch or done with condescension. Alec was one of the people who knew how to help guide Charlie without forcing him one way or another. Unless, of course, he was headed in the wrong direction or about to step into traffic.

"Goodbye, Mama." Charlie could feel the pull in his chest that always came with parting from his family. He hugged his mother tight and then received the same embrace from his father. "I will be home soon." He smiled as Jessalyn kissed his cheek. She didn't need to pull him down any longer.

Alec guided Charlie to the carriage waiting outside and up into the seat. They heard Charlie's family calling out their farewells as they rode down the drive in silence. Charlie felt the pressure more acutely in his chest. It would only be a few more months now.

"I have something to tell you." Alec said as the sounds of the city started to filter into the cab.

Charlie turned his face toward his cousin's voice. "Hm?"

"Athena is engaged." Alec's voice was gentle and Charlie knew that he was trying not to upset Charlie too much.

Charlie felt as though he was about to vomit. He hadn't spoken to Athena in a few days. He knew she'd been courted by a fair number of men and some had shown extra interest. And he'd always encouraged her finding someone else. They weren't children anymore.

But it didn't make the pain any less when he considered the man marrying her wouldn't be him.

"Who…?" Charlie cleared his throat. "Which man did she pick?"

"The earl. Thomas Archibald." Alec sighed. "He's a good man. A bit old, but…"

"Isn't he a widower? With a child?"

"No, but he has a ward. His brother's son. Thirteen. A nice boy from what I've seen." Alec gently kicked against Charlie's foot. "She agonized over the proposal for days. I told her not to, for what it's worth."

"Not much." Charlie reclined sideways on the bench and rubbed his eyes. "I want her happy, Al. She would never be happy with me. Not when everyone just feels sorry for me. They'd feel it even more for her. That she couldn't catch a man that wasn't blind."

"We need to do something to help you feel more confident, Chip."

Charlie shook his head. "And what do you suggest?"

"A long, hard ride from a filly with large breasts." Alec snorted.

Charlie laughed. "And what does the size of her breasts matter?"

"You need to have something to grab hold of." Alec grabbed Charlie's chest.

Charlie squeaked and nearly fell to the floor. He swatted in Alec's general direction. "I don't need a romp with a prostitute. I just need to finish out this year and come back home to figure out how to run an estate."

"I'll help you hire someone trustworthy to run your books." Alec promised. "Sleep. We still have two hours."

"Damn glad this is almost done."

Charlie closed his eyes and listened to Alec's breathing slow until he was snoring softly. Charlie didn't go back to sleep. He thought of Athena. He would never love anyone like he loved her.