An Undeniable Passion Ch. 24byopels©
They descended the stairs and saw Billy's trunks packed and sitting in the foyer. Piano music was coming from the music room so they turned that way and found Billy and Elizabeth sitting side by side on the piano bench. Billy looked up at them and continuing to play he said with a smile, "Well I see you two are finally up and about."
Virginia smiled shyly and blushed. Drake wrapped an arm around her and hugged her to him.
Seeing them so affectionate, Elizabeth said happily, "Promise you won't get married until we get back, alright?"
Wriggling out of Drake's embrace, she replied, "We're not getting married."
"Not yet at any rate," Drake added with a smile.
Smiling and shaking her head, Virginia turned and walked out of the room.
Drake watched her until she was out of site and then flopped onto a chair. "How am I going to get a ring on that woman's finger?"
"Have you asked her properly?" Elizabeth asked.
"I've asked her a dozen times," he said.
"But properly. The way Billy asked me. With a ring, on bended knee?"
Drake sat up. His mind flew back just a few days to his mock proposal in the library. "No, I haven't done it that way. Do you think that would work?"
Billy laughed. "Quite frankly, Drake, when she's ready to marry you, she'll tell you. I'd even wager that she'll be the one to propose."
Virginia walked up the stairs to her sewing room and looked down at the gown she was currently working on. She ran her hands over the soft velvet fabric without really seeing it. Did he really want to marry her? More importantly, did she want to marry him? She sighed, admitting to herself, that yes, more than anything she wanted to marry him. But could she trust him to not run away and leave her, to not hurt her? She was beginning to believe that he wouldn't, but she still couldn't be sure.
When the Aurora's repairs are done, that's when I'll know, she thought. Whether he stays or sails away the first chance he gets, then I'll have my answer. It's going to be awhile before that happens though. Approximately three months, she mentally calculated. Alone in this house with him for three months. And they were supposed to stay apart and not have another night like the one that had just passed. She wondered how long that would last.
The next day they stood on the dock and watched as Billy and Elizabeth's ship set sail for England. They had a luxurious first class cabin and it was most likely going to be a very pleasant crossing. They waved at the ship until it vanished from sight and then turned and walked back to the carriage. Drake climbed into the enclosed driver's cabin and extended his hand to help Virginia climb in.
They drove in silence for awhile both lost in their own thoughts.
"Well, I guess it's just the two of us now," Drake said, finally breaking the silence.
"Yes, I suppose it is," she replied looking out the window.
"Are you alright?" he asked, noting her melancholy mood.
"Oh yes, I'll be fine," she replied in a tremulous voice. "I just miss them already, I suppose."
He fought back the urge to put his arm around her and give her a reassuring hug. He had made a promise to her and was going to keep it. It was not going to be easy though, he thought to himself. He cast a quick glance at her and his pulse quickened as it did every time he looked at her. She was so beautiful he couldn't help it. And now he had her all to himself for three months. How the hell was he going to manage to keep his hands off her for that long? His mind suddenly went back to Elizabeth's words from the day before, 'Have you asked her properly?'. He glanced over at her again. Maybe that's what he should do, propose properly. He wasn't sure though. If she said no there was no way he could remain in the house and he certainly wasn't about to leave her all alone. He would wait until he was sure. He could do that.
"They'll be back before you know it," he said reassuringly. "Have you given any more thought to hiring some servants?"
"Yes, I have. I think I'll put a notice up at city hall in the next few days."
"Two or three should do it. The house isn't really that big."
"Have you ever thought about building a bigger one?" he asked cautiously.
"Yes, of course. I'd like to have a family some day and will need a bigger one. Three bedrooms won't be enough. I've got plenty of time before that though."
"Would you like a big family?" he asked forcing himself to sound casual.
"Oh yes," she replied eagerly. "I was an only child and always wanted brothers and sisters. Of course, Violet is as close as a sister, but it's not quite the same thing." She turned to him. "Do you have any brothers or sisters? You've never mentioned anything about your family."
His face suddenly grew hard. "I never knew my parents," he replied coldly. "I was abandoned at an orphanage as an infant. I don't know if they survived or if I have any siblings."
"Oh Drake, I'm so sorry. You never found out anything about them? Not even their names?"
"No. I grew up there, helping to take care of the younger children as I got older."
"But what about your name? How did that come about?"
She thought he wasn't going to answer but he finally said, in a flat voice, "The orphanage was in Stratford." After a short pause, he continued, "There was a wooden toy in the basket with me. A duck, a drake. I was told I made such a fuss whenever anyone tried to take it away that they decided that's what they would call me."
"Oh," she replied in a small voice
Unexpectedly, he continued. "I was turned out at fourteen and didn't have anywhere to go or any idea what to do. I ended up in Liverpool and got a job as a sailor on a ship and realized it was something I was good at. I worked my way up quickly and saved every penny I made until I was able to buy my own ship. Made my own fortune. I'm a completely self-made man."
"Well, that's something to be proud of," she said encouragingly.
"I am proud of it. Now I just need someone to share it with," he said glancing at her.
She looked down at her hands and didn't say anything.
That night after they had eaten, they sat in the library. She kept looking over at him, until he finally looked up from his book. "What?" he said.
"I'm just so surprised to know something about you. You know almost everything about me but today was the first time I actually learned something about you. I never realized before that I didn't know any of your history."
He stared into the fire, the hard look returning to his face. "My history doesn't matter. All that matters to me is now and the future. But I'm only looking as far forward as the next three months."
When your ship will be repaired, she thought. She swallowed nervously. "And then what?" she asked, trying not to sound anxious.
"Then we'll see," he said returning to his book.
"Oh," she said quietly. She looked down at her book without seeing the pages.
"After that Billy and Elizabeth will be back, so you won't need me here anymore," he said.
"They'll be living in their own house, though. And maybe I will need you," she said haltingly, still staring blankly at her book.
He glanced over at her. "Like I said, we'll see."
She lay in bed that night, staring up at the ceiling. He's only looking as far ahead as the next three months, she thought. She sighed, knowing that she had made the right decision in waiting until his ship was repaired to see what he would do. What his true intentions were. But a small part of her was disappointed. She wished he had said he was staying, that he had no intentions of leaving her. But she realized she was being selfish. She wanted him to continue professing his undying love for her until it suited her to reply likewise. He might get tired of waiting for her and leave as soon as he gets the chance, having already given up on her.
She rolled over on her side and stared out the window. What was she going to do? She slid her hand under her pillow until her fingers touched the amber pendant. Pulling it out, she watched as it glowed in the moonlight. So much like his eyes. She would just have to see how things went, decide as she went along. Trust her instincts to tell her when it was finally safe to give in. Her closed her fingers around the stone and she shut her eyes.
A few days later as Drake was reading in the library, she entered wearing her riding habit.
"Where are you going?" he asked, looking up at her.
"Into to town, to post the notice for the maids," she replied pulling on her gloves. "I shan't be long."
He put down his book and rose. "Would you like me to come with you?"
"It's not necessary, but if you like, you're welcome to come. Actually, Billy's horse, Spirit, could use some exercise."
"I'll see if I can find something that passes for riding clothes," he said, heading upstairs to change.
A few minutes later he came back wearing an old pair of rough woolen breeches, boots and a heavy overcoat covering his shirt, waistcoat and frock coat. She pressed her lips together to prevent from laughing. Noting her struggles, he said dryly, "Perhaps you can make me a more suitable riding outfit."
"Oh Drake, I'm sorry, it's just that I thought you most certainly would own riding clothes."
"I do. I just didn't think to bring them with me," he said, patiently. "Shall we go?'
She was still giggling as they saddled the horses and led them out of the stables. "Maybe you should hire a groom to look after the horses," he suggested.
"I'm afraid I only have three rooms available for servants to sleep in, since I took over two of them for my sewing rooms." She turned and surveyed the small building where the horses were kept. "Although we could build some quarters onto the stables themselves."
"What do you think?"
"Certainly, and in about three months you can hire a groom."
She swung herself into the saddle. "Three months, three months. I'm sick to death of hearing about three months. Everything is in three months. Work on the out-building can't be started for another three months, I can hire a groom in three months, this rain won't stop for another three months, and..." she trailed off. She was going to add that his ship was going to be repaired in three months and then he'd be gone but she stopped.
"And what?' he asked, knowing that his ship would be on that three month list.
"Nothing," she said quietly.
They rode in silence for a while. "Where will you post the notice?" he asked.
"The town hall has a notice board," she replied. "That's where we found the posting for the farm."
They arrived at the town hall and tied their horses out front. Drake received a few strange glances as they entered but he held his head high and ignored them. They made their way to the board and pinned up the notice.
"Did you want to do anything else while we're here?" he asked.
"I was thinking of going to see Elizabeth's parents over at the mercantile. Did you want to come along?"
"Yes, but not right away, there's something I want to do first. I'll see you there."
They parted ways outside the hall and she watched him walk off down the street, wondering where he was going. She shrugged and turned towards the mercantile, looking forward to the visit.
Drake walked quickly down the street, looking over his shoulder to see that she wasn't watching him. Seeing that she was indeed gone, he slipped inside the goldsmiths.
Virginia and Mrs. Robbins were perusing the store's selection of patterns for men's riding costumes when Drake returned.
"You really will sew me some riding clothes?" he asked, obviously pleased.
"Certainly, I have a lovely dotted pink silk damask that will look so pretty on you," she said laughing. "I think I have some nice somber black for you," she said to mollify him.
"It doesn't necessarily have to be black," he replied, pretending to be hurt.
To Mrs. Robbins, Virginia said in a loud whisper, "Drake only wears black."
"Perhaps then, you should make him something with just a bit of color, to ease him out of it," she suggested. "Maybe a colorful stripe down the outside of the leg? Or even on the cuffs and lapels?" she said turning to Drake.
"What do you think?" Virginia asked him.
"I think I could do that," he said smiling. "Just no pink," he commanded, attempting to look stern.
They were riding back to the farm when Virginia, trying to sound casual, asked, "Were you able to do what you wanted earlier?"
He glanced at her and said just as casually, "Yes, I wanted to go see the ship. See how she's doing."
"And, how is the Aurora?" she asked.
"Fine. It hurts though, seeing her with her deck all ripped up and the masts reduced to charred stumps."
"Once the repairs are done, she'll be back to her grand self," she said reassuringly.
"Yes, she will," he said quietly.
They arrived back at the house and as they were unsaddling their horses, Drake noticed a door at one end of the stable.
"What's through there?' he asked.
"I guess it would have been a tack room," she replied. "We only have the three horses, so we don't really use it as such."
He headed towards the door, "May I?" he asked.
"Certainly," she replied, wondering at his curiosity.
He opened the door onto a rather large room, complete with a stove and water pump. "Why with a little bit of work, this could work out as a groom's quarters quite nicely. Another tack room could be built inside the stable, since you don't need all these stalls." He turned to her. "What do you think?"
"Could you do all that?" she asked.
"Of course, and I could do it now, since it's all inside. Not three months from now, my impatient little V."
"Why that would be wonderful," she said. "When could you begin?"
"Almost right away." He surveyed the stables and the tack room. "There are some supplies I'll need, but lumber will be foremost of course. I'll go back into town tomorrow and check things out." He turned to her with a humorous glint to his eye. "Then of course there is the matter of my fee."
"Your fee?" she said momentarily shocked, until she realized he was only joking. "You can just take it off your rent," she answered.
"Rent?" he answered. "I was going to charge you a fee for protection!"
"Protection? From what? The only protection I need is from you!" she said, eyeing him suspiciously, and trying desperately not to laugh.
"Me?" he asked, still playing the game. He approached her, and stroked her hair back. "Now why would you need protection from me?" he asked quietly.
At his touch, her heart lurched and a tingle shot down her spine, causing her to shiver. She looked up into his eyes and saw the humor still there but something warmer and more tantalizing lay behind it. She searched her mind for a witty comeback but came up blank. She was consumed by his eyes and was unable to think of anything else. With great effort she tore her gaze away and stumbled away from him. "Do whatever you need to do here," she murmured.
She turned and almost ran to the house and immediately went up to her sewing room. She took several deep breaths, trying to calm herself. His warm eyes danced before her and the night and morning she had recently spent with him came crashing back into her mind with exquisite clarity. She needed something else to occupy her thoughts. Casting her unfinished dress aside she began to dig through her fabric, looking for something suitable for Drake. She found a wonderful black wool and a heavy deep burgundy silk. She liked Mrs. Robbins' idea of colored cuffs and lapels and set to work.
After a few hours upstairs she came down and found him again in the library. He looked up as she entered. "How are my new clothes coming?' he asked with a smile.
"Can I borrow some items of yours? I need them for measurements."
"Measurements?" He stood and stretching out his arms, he asked with mischievous twinkle in his eye, "Why not just measure me?"
She looked at him warily. "I think it would be best if I could just use some of your clothes."
He lowered his arms and replied, still smiling, "Very well, take whatever you need." She was almost out of the room, when he called out, "By the way, what colors are you using?"
She turned and said quite innocently, "I told you at the store. The lovely spotted pink silk damask. And as Mrs. Robbins suggested, with a bit of black trim."
He stared at her, not sure if she was joking or not. "You better not, because I won't wear it, and I would hate to see you go through all that trouble for nothing."
She began to laugh and replied, "If you want to know what your new clothes will look like, you'll just have to come up and see for yourself." She turned and walked out of the room and started up the steps. She went into his room and opened the wardrobe. She didn't know how long she would require the items and didn't want to take anything he might need. She returned to the hallway and called for him. He came out of the library and stood in the foyer looking up at her.
"Could you come up here please?" she asked. "I don't know which clothes of yours I can take."
He quickly came up the stairs and passing her on the landing, he said with a suggestive gleam in his eye, "Are you saying that you require my assistance in my bedroom?"
She gave him a patient stare. "Yes, Drake, that is exactly what I am saying. Now show me what I can take," she said following him into the room.
He handed her a few items and then followed her upstairs. He looked over the fabric she had chosen for him and was very pleased. "This is going to look wonderful. Thank you so much, V."
"You like the burgundy?"
"Yes, very much so."
"Good, now get out so I can get to work," she said pushing him out.
She worked until the light outside died and then returned down stairs.
"Giving up already?" he asked as she sank into one of the chairs in the library.
"Yes, I've given up. You must buy your clothes from the tailor in town," she said with a chuckle. She sighed and sat up. "I suppose I should go make us some dinner."
She was about to rise when he said quite casually, "No need. I've already started."
"You?" she said staring at him with astonishment. "Very funny," she said dryly, assuming that he was joking. She walked into the kitchen and was met by the most wonderful aromas. There was a chicken in the oven, and several pots on the stove top. She turned and saw him standing in the doorway. "You did this?" she asked.
"Yes. I am capable of cooking, you know," he said, acting as if she had hurt his feelings. "It was my first job on a ship."
"I must say, you're a man of many talents, Mr. Stratford. Tell me, will you be cooking all of our meals from now on?"
"No, I think you should hire a cook."
"Is that a comment about my cooking?" she asked indignantly.
"Well, my dear, let me just say that it is quite obvious that you grew up living a life of leisure."
"Are you implying that I cannot cook?"
He looked at her and wincing, he said, "I refuse to answer that. Especially in a room full of knives."
"Why you...!" she cried, stepping towards him. Her eyes were flashing, but she also saw the humor in the situation. She playfully slapped him on the arm and then danced out of his reach when he made to retaliate.
The dinner was indeed delicious and Virginia grimly realized that her own cooking skills were lacking. Billy had been tactful enough not to say anything.
The next morning, after breakfast, Drake announced that he was going into town to purchase the materials needed for the renovations to the stables.
"I'll write you a letter so that you can open an account in my name at the lumber mill and hardware store," she said, about to fetch some ink and paper.
"No need, I'll pay for it," he replied. Seeing her surprised expression he said, "You're not the only one with money around here." He turned and walked out the door. She was up in her sewing room when she saw him leaving in the cart.