He pushed to his feet and held his hand out to her. “Teeny, what’s amiss?”
Christine took his hand and looked up, her eyebrows puckering over her cornflower blue eyes. “Whatever do you mean?”
“Are you all right?”
“Of course. Why would you ask?”
Andrew took a deep, cleansing breath. “Goodness, Christine, I don’t know. You sent a messenger saying it was urgent that I come. I naturally assumed something was wrong. “
Christine dropped his hand and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t have used that particular language. It was urgent, just not life threatening.”
He forced a smile. “How may I be of assistance?”
Christine withdrew two rose appliqués from a concealed pocket. One white and one yellow. She held them up for Andrew to see. “I need to know if you have a preference for the yellow rose or white rose for your jacket.”
“Excuse me?” he sputtered.
“I need to know if you have a preference—”
“I heard you the first time, Teeny,” he interrupted. “Is this truly urgent? I don’t have an opinion on the rose for my jacket. I can say with certainty that either will be acceptable.”
“Oh, all right.” Fluttering around the room, Christine laid the roses on the mantel. “Wonderful.”
“Christine?” Andrew raised his eyebrow.
“Hmm?” She stopped and faced him.
Andrew smiled. “Why am I really here?”
Christine burst into tears.
Andrew closed the distance between them, handing her his handkerchief and wrapping an arm around her. “Teeny, what is this all about?”
“I just feel guilty, I suppose.” Her voice, just above a whisper, was muffled by her face pressing against his chest.
“About what?” She shook her head against the lapel of his jacket, so Andrew gently lifted her chin with this index finger. “About what, Teeny?”
“About my marrying Stephen.”
Andrew raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Why? Peter would have wanted you to go on with your life.”
Christine’s husband, Peter Martin, had been killed at Shiloh in 1862. The memory of that fateful night haunted Andrew’s dreams. Both he and Peter had been wounded and despite his best efforts, Andrew couldn’t save his friend as Confederate soldiers overran their position. It was only on the threat of capture and torture that Andrew reluctantly left his friend on the field where he fell.
“Do you think I’m betraying him?”
“Why would I think that?”
“You were his closest friend!” Christine laid her palm over her chest. “You were injured trying to save my husband, and now I’m marrying another man.”
“Come here.” Andrew handed her a handkerchief and led her to the sofa.
Sitting down, she wiped her tears and daintily blew her nose.
“Christine Marie, look at me.” He waited until she did. “I have never thought you were betraying Peter.”
“Truly? Even though I am marrying another man?”
Andrew smiled gently. “I can give you biblical precedence about marriage and death if it will help, but Stephen is a good man, and he’ll be a loving husband.”
Christine nodded. “I know he will be.”
“He’s devoted to you, dearest.” Andrew made a sweeping motion with his arm. “And it’s obvious he can provide for you and your future family.”
“I’m never having children again.”
Christine’s little girl died of influenza just before Peter joined the war. She lost her entire family in a very short span of time and it devastated her. The fact that she’d found happiness again thrilled her friends and family.
“All right. If you don’t want to have children, you don’t have to have children.” Andrew chuckled, having heard this particular declaration on more than one occasion. Most of the time, he wasn’t certain who she was trying to convince, the world or herself. “However, let me be clear about something. I do not think, nor have I ever thought, that you were betraying Peter. Do you understand?”
She nodded and wiped her eyes. “I’d never want you to feel as though I’d tarnished his memory.”
“Christine.” Andrew chuckled as he leaned over to kiss her forehead. “What you’re saying is nonsensical. And you know that. You are my beloved sister. How could I not love you?”
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Andrew’s eyes met Stephen’s as he walked into the parlor.
“Baby, what’s wrong?” Stephen frowned in Andrew’s direction.
Stephen Paxton was not your average nineteenth-century gentleman. In fact, he wasn’t a nineteenth-century gentleman at all. Catapulted back in time from the year 1997, he was still learning how to live in the past. His language gave him away – at least it did to those who knew him.
She glanced up at him and sighed. “I’m fine, Stephen.”
He pulled her from the couch and gently squeezed her upper arms. “Tell me.”
Christine lowered her eyes. “I don’t want Andrew to feel as though I am betraying…him.”
Stephen leaned down to capture her gaze with his. “Him, meaning Peter?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“This again?” Stephen turned to Andrew. “And what did you say?”
Andrew rolled his eyes. “That she’s not.”
“Exactly.” Stephen turned back to Christine. “Feel better?”
She mumbled under her breath. Stephen chuckled. “You can try all you like, sweetheart, but you won’t find any rational reason for us not to get married.”
Christine gasped. “Why would you think that’s what I’m trying to do?”
“Because you continually try to find a crazy one.”
Christine bit her lip. “Tell me again why I’m marrying you?”
Wrapping his arms around her waist, he leaned down to kiss her. “Because I’m irresistible.”
Christine let out an inelegant snort. “Oh, yes. That.”
“Two days, sweetheart,” he whispered.
Andrew cleared his throat, uncomfortable with their display. “I’m going to take my leave. You two have unfinished business and I have a certain young lady I need to prepare for.”
“What time does Gwen’s train arrive tomorrow?” Christine asked.
Andrew smiled. “Ten.”
“Will you finally marry the girl?” she teased.
Andrew raised an eyebrow. “You’re admonishing me about not getting married?”
Stephen laughed. “He’s got you there, sweetness.”
“All right.” Christine nodded. “I’ll agree that I was reluctant to give my heart to another.” She raised her finger to drive her point home. “However, in the case of Andrew and Gwendolyn, theirs has been a love story that deserves a happy ending.” Stephen’s mouth dropped open. Christine patted his chest with a sigh. “I’m not suggesting we don’t deserve a happy ending.”
“Mm-hmm.” Stephen smiled. “We have a lot to do before I drive you home, Christine, so let’s give your brother his freedom.”
“Thank you.” Andrew’s shoulders relaxed. He turned to his sister. “I’ll see you tomorrow to give you away.” Then under his breath, but loud enough for Christine to hear, “Gladly.”
Christine rolled her eyes but just as quickly, smiled. The couple walked Andrew to the door and bid him goodnight.
He mounted his horse and rode home. Pulling his hat lower over his face, the sun still bright despite the late hour of the afternoon, Andrew reflected back on the first time he met Gwendolyn Butler.
* * *
Six years ago, Andrew had offered to deliver a set of horses to Gwendolyn’s father. He convinced Peter to join him, and they made their way to Maryland.
They arrived in Catonsville early in the afternoon and were directed to the barn. Gwendolyn’s father would meet them there. As Andrew led his horse from the house, he noticed a young girl in the pen with the goats. She was wrestling with one of the kids whose head was stuck in the gate. He thought to assist, but before he could make a move, the kid broke free, knocking the girl into the mud.
His heart was lost in that moment, but assuming she was one of the servants, he knew he’d have to tread lightly if he were to inquire about her. He was not one to jeopardize someone’s employment, and Andrew didn’t know Mr. Butler well enough to know if he would frown upon Andrew’s interest.
The girl jumped to her feet and trudged from the pen. Her rich chestnut hair, having fallen from her pins, cascaded down the middle of her back and picked up hues of gold as she stomped toward the house. Andrew shook his thoughts away and focused on the job at hand.
Vincent Butler greeted the men as they led the horses into the cool interior of his large barn. “Gentlemen.” He shook their hands.
Andrew smiled. “Nice to meet you, sir. I’m Andrew Simmonds. This is Peter Martin.”
Andrew was struck with the resemblance between Mr. Butler and his son, Christopher. He’d met Christopher twice before when Christopher had visited Harrisburg for business. Both had dark hair, Mr. Butler’s graying throughout, and piercing green eyes.
“Let’s have a look at these beasts that I’ve paid more than should be legal for.” Mr. Butler’s comment was delivered with a smile, removing the barb from it. Mr. Butler investigated the horses, deeming the smaller one, sixteen hands rather than seventeen, sound enough for his daughter. “Her fifteenth birthday was last week, and she’s been hounding me to tell her what was so great she had to wait for it.”
“Fifteen?” Andrew was a little surprised Mr. Butler would give his young daughter such a gift.
“She can outride all of us, but she’s been patient with the mare we bought her when she was eleven, so this will be a wonderful surprise.” Mr. Butler chuckled. “She thinks her mother commissioned a new gown and it won’t be delivered until next week.”
With the supper hour quickly approaching, Mr. Butler handed the horses off to the groom and offered to put Andrew and Peter up for the night. “In the morning, I’ll drive you to the train station.”
Andrew nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Butler. Food and a bed would be most appreciated.”
“Come up to the house. I’ll introduce you to Mrs. Butler and show you where you can clean up.”
Peter and Andrew followed.
Mrs. Butler was a large-boned woman, with graying red hair pulled into a bun at the nape of her neck. She had a warm smile and moved with grace and confidence. She enfolded her hand into Andrew’s and met his eyes. “Welcome, Mr. Simmonds. Nona has told me so much about her favorite brother.”
Andrew chuckled. “I’m her only brother, but thank you.”
“And how are your other sisters?”
Andrew smiled. “Elizabeth and Christine are doing well. Thank you for asking.”
Mrs. Butler shook Peter’s hand. “I understand, sir, that your wedding approaches.”
Peter grinned. “Yes, ma’am. Christine is preparing for it as we speak.”
She patted the hand she still held. “It must be nice to get away from the chaos for a moment then.”
Peter nodded. “Yes. Thank you, ma’am.”
“Let me show you where you can freshen up.” Mrs. Butler led them to a room off the kitchen and left them to their ablutions.
As Andrew dried his face, he noticed a streak of green pass by the tiny window. He stepped onto the back porch and saw the young girl he’d seen earlier, now in a green riding habit, rushing toward the barn. She glanced back quickly and then continued in earnest.
Andrew couldn’t resist the urge to find out what she was up to.
“Pete, I’ll return shortly.” Andrew didn’t hear Peter’s response as he followed the girl at a distance.
He arrived at the barn just as the groom lifted the girl onto the back of the larger horse Andrew had just delivered, and before Andrew could protest, she guided the horse outside and away from the structure. Andrew swore. “You there.”
The groom turned, eyes wide. “Yes, sir.”
“Saddle the other one. Now.”
The groom went into immediate action, and once he’d tacked the horse up, Andrew jumped on. Guiding his horse toward the open terrain, he kept to a casual gait. He saw the girl cantering just ahead of him. The sound of her frightened scream spurred him to push his horse faster.
As he drew up next to her, he noticed the saddle at a skewed angle, and without thought, reached for her. He wrapped an arm around her waist and hauled her up next to him. Her feet dangled in the air and Andrew had to work double time to pull his horse to a stop with one hand and not let go her.
As soon as he had control of both the beast and the woman, he lowered her to the ground and then dismounted. He was taken aback when she started to giggle. “Ma’am?”
“My word. I believe you just saved my life.”
She raised her face to meet his gaze and Andrew couldn’t stop his sharp intake of breath.
Black lashes framed dark green eyes—no, emerald—and her skin could only be described as flawless.
Andrew focused on her mouth…big mistake. “Who gave you permission to ride that horse?”
She squared her shoulders and met his frown. “No one had to give me permission. He’s mine.”
Andrew frowned. “And who are you?”
“Oh, dear.” Her tongued darted between her lips and she sighed. “I’m in trouble, aren’t I?”
“I suppose that depends on who you are and why you stole Mr. Butler’s horse.”
“I’m Mr. Butler’s daughter,” she said cautiously. “Gwendolyn.”
“The fifteen-year-old?” he screeched.
Gwendolyn took a deep breath, emphasizing the fullness of her figure, and Andrew groaned internally. “What does my age have to do with anything?”
“For one, you’re on the wrong horse.” Andrew crossed his arms and tried not to scowl. “Two, you’re entirely too young to be riding such an advanced animal…not to mention the fact you’re unescorted.”
She let out an inelegant snort, her eyes flashing with irritation. “I’m probably a better rider than you, and I’m on my father’s land. I don’t need an escort.” The horse in question came into view, the saddle now hanging from his belly. “And what do you mean by ‘the wrong horse’?”
Andrew held her back. “This is the one your father bought for you.” He pointed to the one he’d been riding.
Gwen wrinkled her nose. “But he’s so small!”
Andrew approached the larger horse, gathered the reins dragging on the ground, and undid the girth. The saddle fell with a clatter, and the horse stepped slightly to the side. Andrew whispered to him, calming him, so that he could secure the saddle properly to his back. Leading him to where Gwen stood, Andrew gathered the reins of his horse in his other hand, and began to pull them away from her.
Gwen rushed to catch him. “Where are you going?”
Without stopping, he said, “I’m taking the horses back.”
“No, wait.” She grasped his arm. “I came out here to ride my new horse. I intend to finish my outing.”
Andrew turned to face her. “I’m taking the horses back to your father.”
Gwen stomped her foot. “Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do?”
Andrew smiled slowly and then tipped his head. “I’m Andrew Simmonds, and even if you can outride me, the fact that you failed to check your girth gives me pause to believe in your superb horsemanship.” She bit her lip and Andrew had an overwhelming desire to kiss her. Instead, her turned away and started back to the barn. “Come on.”
“No, wait. Couldn’t I at least ride him back to the barn?”
Andrew turned again. “You’re not supposed to be riding him. I don’t think you’re supposed to know about him.”
Gwen smiled, causing his heart to catch in his chest. “I’ve known about him for months.”
“Months? Really.” He wasn’t convinced.
She nodded. “Daddy isn’t always the most discreet when he’s having conversations with my brothers, and he’s been boasting about two new horses being delivered. It wasn’t hard to deduce that one of them would be for me.”
“Even if that is the case, you’re not riding the one he chose for you.”
She shrugged. “Daddy was wrong in his assessment.”
Andrew raised an eyebrow. “You’re so certain of that fact?”
Gwen nodded and sidled up to the large horse. “I visited them both earlier, and Thunder and I got along famously.” She patted his neck and then grinned at Andrew. “Lightning will be a much better farm horse.”
Andrew dropped his head and tried not to laugh. “Thunder and Lightning…”
“Yes. Do you have an opinion on my name choices too?”
He shook his head. “No ma’am.”
“Good.” Gwen faced the horse and glanced over her shoulder. “Give me a leg up, will you? If you insist on returning them to the barn, I’d like to ride.”
After several seconds of debate, he lifted her onto the horse and waited for her to adjust her skirts. He gazed up at her and she grinned as she gathered up the reins. “Thank you.”
Andrew mounted his horse and led…actually, followed…her back to the barn. He had to admit her riding skills were impressive, and she beat him back by several minutes. Of course, her horse was a full hand taller than his, which is the reason she returned so quickly. Or at least, that’s what he told himself as he pulled his to a stop.
Dismounting, he handed his horse off to the groom.
He turned to see her strolling toward him. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Please don’t tell my father about today. I’d hate to ruin his surprise.” With one last, slow smile, Gwen turned and made her way back to the house.
Andrew watched her. Her hips swayed as she walked, and her head dropped back briefly, he assumed to glance at the large cloud forming overhead. Shaking off his thoughts, he strode into the barn and proceeded to instruct the groom on the correct way to saddle a horse. He was surprised by his anger toward the man who put Gwendolyn in danger, and had to physically stop himself from striking him.
He didn’t see Gwen again until dinner. She arrived in the parlor just before dinner, and Andrew’s heart raced. She wore a sea foam-green gown, and although it was modestly cut, it didn’t detract from her glorious form. Her hair was swept into curls on top of her head and exposed a long and elegant neck, to which a topaz choker was secured.
They both pretended they’d never met, and the secret…small though it was…made Andrew heady. They shared several knowing glances from opposite ends of the table, and he couldn’t wait to learn more about her.
When it came time for Mr. Butler’s surprise, Andrew watched concern flash in Gwen’s eyes, but he smiled, a silent assurance that he’d never betray her secret. Her shoulders relaxed and she beamed as they made their way out to the stables. In the end, Mr. Butler acquiesced to Gwen, and she got the horse of her choice.