Clockwise, p.16
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       Clockwise, p.16

           Lee Strauss
 
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I DIDN’T KNOW WHY he got so mad. What did he care, really? When we were finally alone in our cabin, Nate snapped, “What were you thinking?”

  “It’s not like I said yes.”

  Nate paced our small room raking his hand through his hair, short little puffing snorts coming through his nose.

  “Everyone was looking at me. The whole room just got quiet, I mean, what was that about? And I didn’t say yes.” Who did Nate think he was anyway? “I said maybe. How can that be considered a yes?”

  “Because,” Nate said slowly as if he were talking to a child, “maybe isn’t NO.”

  “I couldn’t very well come right out and say that, could I?” I splashed water onto my face and brushed my teeth with my finger. “I mean, he’s Robert Willingsworth, rich guy, lots of friends and a Very Important Person. It would have been inconsiderate of me to embarrass him after he’d been so generous inviting everyone to his mansion.”

  “So he’s a VIP, but what about Sara Watson? Anyone can see she’s crazy about him.”

  “That’s obvious to everyone except Robert.” Or maybe not. He probably knew he would hurt her by proposing to me in her presence. What a jerky thing to do. “Why do you think he would propose to me with a room full of people watching?” I stomped across to my side of the cabin. “He was trying to manipulate me into saying yes, can't you see that?”

  Behind the sheet I let my dress drop to the floor and scurried under my covers. “More than anything I hate how this hurts Sara, but I don’t think humiliating her family in front of all of Boston would’ve helped.”

  Nate carried the candle to the small table between our beds. He sat up with his back against the wall, a position that gave him full view of my side of the room through the crack between the wall and the hanging sheet. I needed to fix that, pronto. My own blanket was pulled up to my chin, but still. He made me nervous with the way he was staring. He was so intense. I knew he was mad I had hurt Sara and by extension the Watson family. I mean, the ride home in the carriage had been chilly—not just the cold weather kind—and having Robert kiss my hand as he helped me into the carriage hadn’t helped.

  I blew out the candle; the sudden darkness removed me from Nate’s strange staring behavior. I turned to the wall and pretended to sleep. What more could I say? The whole situation was just so bizarre. Sharing a room with Nate was getting really uncomfortable, even if he was just supposed to be my brother.

  The next morning I met Sara in the kitchen. She mumbled “Good Morning” without looking me in the eyes. She stood at the sink with her shoulders hunched, keeping her back to me.

  “Sara,” I started. “No need to say anything. It’s clear to me the way things stand.” She dropped a loaf of bread on the cutting board and started sawing it into slices as if to save her life. “I’m very happy for you.” She didn’t sound happy for me.

  “Sara, please. I don’t even want to marry Robert.” She stopped sawing.

  “He put me in a very awkward position. My choices were to let him hear what he wanted to hear, or embarrass him in front of everyone.”

  Sara put the knife down and turned to me. Her eyes were red from crying. “I’m sorry. It’s not your fault that Robert loves you and not me. It was wrong of me to be angry.”

  I was almost certain that Robert loved Robert and not me or Sara, but I didn’t say that. Sara reached for a wrapped package on the table. “These came for you this morning.”

  “From…?” I was sick of saying his name. Sara nodded. I opened it without ceremony. It was a box of chocolates.

  “Nice,” Sara said graciously. “Those are from the finest chocolatier in Boston.” Removing the lid, I offered the open box to Sara.

  “Take one.”

  “No, I’m fine.”

  “Are you sure?” I plopped a piece into my mouth. “Umm. This is so good! Come on. You have to have one.”

  She smiled, relenting. Nothing so girlfriend bonding as a good box of chocolates. “Okay,” Sara said, after finishing her third piece. “What are you going to do about Robert? He thinks you agreed to marry him.”

  “I’m going to have to tell him I’m not.”

  “How do you plan to do that?”

  “I guess I’ll just go to his house.” She raised her eyebrows.

  “Just go to his house? Cassandra, you can’t just show up at Robert’s house uninvited. Especially, not alone.”

  “Why not?”

  She sputtered for a moment. “It’s just not done!”

  “Oh.” I popped a caramel filled piece of chocolate. “Ten, I hab to tink of some-ting elf.”

  Sara burst out laughing.

  The door knocker sounded and she was still giggling when she called for Missy to answer the door. Missy returned.

  “It’s Mr. Willingsworth for Miss Cassandra.”

  My mouth was full of chocolate! My hair, a rat’s nest. I was so not expecting company. Sara saw my startled look, handed me a glass of water and a bonnet that hung on a hook by the back door.

  “Oh my goodness, Sara! He’s here. What am I going to do?”

  “Tell him the truth.”

  Right. The truth. I stood and smoothed out my skirt. Ugh. Well, this was guaranteed to be a very unpleasant experience; might as well get it over with.

  “This shouldn’t take long.”

  Robert was taken aback by my unruly appearance (though, it might work in my favor), but recovered quickly. “Cassandra, darling.” He took two long strides to reach me, placing his hands gently on my shoulders. “My apologies, my dear. I should have sent a messenger to let you know I was coming.”

  “Actually, I’m glad you came. We need to talk.”

  “Indeed we do. Shall we sit down?”

  We sat in the living room in front of the fireplace. Sara shooed away the kids that were playing hide and seek and then slipped discreetly into the kitchen.

  “Now, obviously, Cassandra,” Robert began, “I am disappointed that you didn’t give me a clear and positive response last night, especially in front of my guests, but I will take the blame for that. I shouldn’t have surprised you with such an important question in public.”

  Robert shifted off the chair. Oh no, he was getting down on one knee!

  “Cassandra, darling, marry me.” It didn’t sound like a question. More like a command, with his expectation certain that after a good night's sleep, I would have come to my senses.

  “Robert, I can’t marry you.”

  His eyelashes fluttered involuntarily, “What?”

  “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to lead you on in any way.”

  “Lead me on?”

  “I was only trying to be your friend.”

  “My friend?”

  Was he just going to keep repeating me? “Yes, I want to be your friend, but I’m not ready to get married.”

  He huffed, smirked and then he started belly laughing. This guy was whacked.

  “Oh, Cassandra, you are so funny. Of course you are ready to get married. All girls your age are dying to get married. Now, I understand if the idea of us, uh, being intimate…

  “Oh, I so didn’t need that mental picture. “…makes you a little nervous, well, that’s normal.” He put his hand on my knee and smiled. “I promise that you will enjoy our wedding night.”

  I stood up sharply. Robert’s hand dropped to his lap. “That’s not what I meant.”

  “Perhaps I am still rushing things.” Robert stood, tugging on his lapels. “I will return tomorrow and we can speak of this again.”

  “No. Not tomorrow, Robert. Please, don’t make this any harder than it has to be.”

  Robert’s lips twitched. “I know what this is about.”

  Besides the fact that he was so not my type? Not to mention from the wrong century?

  “Cobbs has talked to you,” he said.

  “What? How do you know Cobbs?” Tiny nervous shivers crept up my arms as the clues started to fall into place. “Is that why you saw us at the tavern? You were wi
th Cobbs?” He didn’t deny it. I was flabbergasted. “You capture runaway slaves for reward?”

  “The reward is just peanuts to me. It’s the principle of the thing. Had I known you had returned once again to the Watsons’, I wouldn’t have employed Cobbs. There are plenty like him who’d jump at the chance to work for me. Besides, he is a rather unreliable type of fellow. It’s probably all for the best.” He didn’t seem at all worried about how I might feel about this. Surely, he must have heard from Cobbs that Nate and I had freed Samuel?

  Or maybe he hadn’t made the connection before?

  “What were you and your brother doing at the tavern that day?”

  He knew Samuel got away. Now he knew we had something to do with it. “We were just riding.”

  “Just riding?”

  He paced the living room, a long finger on his chin, “Just riding, you say. Well, tell me, my dear, why do you leave Cambridge all the time? Where do you go?”

  He made me sick. “I don’t have to answer to you.”

  “I beg to differ. We are betrothed, if you don’t recall. Soon, you will be Mrs. Willingsworth, and you will answer to me.”

  Was he trying to scare me? “I will not marry you.”

  Robert grabbed my arm, squeezing it hard. He pulled me close, and not in a romantic way. He was trying to scare me—and it was working.

  “I don’t know who you think you are, Cassandra Donovan, but no one publicly humiliates me, no one!”

  “Ouch, you’re hurting me!”

  Instead of loosening his grip he pressed tighter, “You don’t even know the meaning of pain, my dear. Do you understand me?”

  The door from the kitchen burst open. Nate! His gaze moved from Robert’s hand on my arm, to my face. His eyes narrowed. “Is everything all right?”

  Robert smiled like a boy caught stealing candy. His fingers uncurled from my arm. I rubbed the spot furiously with my other hand. There would be bruising. Nate stepped in between Robert and me, fire in his eyes. His hands kept curling into fists.

  “Ah, the brother,” Robert said, “or are you?”

  I jumped in, “Of course he is. What are you saying?”

  “I’m saying that the mystery I found so attractive in you, involves him somehow. The way he looks at you, it’s not natural for a brother.”

  He pulled his vest down sharply.“So, yes, I think you are right after all, my dear. There will be no wedding.”

  He turned to leave. “Please, I will find my own way out.”

  Nate’s eyes were closed tight in the way that you do when you’re trying to control your anger. He breathed in deeply then turned to me.

  “Casey, are you okay?” I thought I was. I nodded my head stoically, but my eyes gave me away. I wiped away tears.

  “Your timing was amazing.”

  “Sara came to the barn looking for me. She told me Robert had arrived.”

  He shifted around uncomfortably. “I thought maybe you’d need moral support, to uh, do the right thing.”

  The door to the kitchen cracked open. I called quietly, “Sara?”

  Sara opened the door wider. “Excuse me, I didn’t mean to intrude.”

  “It’s okay. It’s over now. He’s gone.”

  “Cassandra, did he hurt you?” She saw me rubbing my arm.

  “A bit, but I’m okay.”

  Sara stared at the carpet, dumbfounded. “I’d never believe him capable of such ungentlemanly behavior.”

  “I’m just glad we all know the truth now.”

  Suddenly, I felt tired. “I think I need to lie down for awhile.”

  “Of course,” Sara rushed to my side, ready to usher me out.

  “Sara,” Nate said, “I’ll take her.”

  “Oh,” she said. “Certainly.”

  Nate put his arms around my shoulders and walked me outside. I felt fussed over. “I’m okay, you know. I could walk myself.”

  Nate shrugged. He was too busy grinding his teeth to say anything. We were almost at the cabin. I was just happy to be this close to him right now, basically hugging. Two more steps to the cabin. One more step. Dizziness. A flash of light. I grabbed Nate’s hand. The food court.

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 
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