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The train coaches were reaching capacity as John assisted Margaret inside. John sat on an end, with Margaret next to him and Grayson next to her, by a window. Mark had to settle for another coach but being tired from the week, he was glad for the privacy away from his group. John removed his great coat because of its bulk and wanting to feel Margaret’s warmth against his body. Using some pretense, he leaned her way and inhaled her fresh scent of which the sensation would feed his starved emotions. It wasn’t very long before John found himself standing, hoping to relieve some of the restriction he was fighting but finally gave up and threw his coat over his lap. He didn’t think he could endure a six hour train ride being aroused the entire time with Margaret beside him. Priority to that issue would have to find a solution even as pleasant as it was.
Until the coach eventually emptied out, it was noisy, giving John the excuse to lean closer to speak to her. “Margaret, I want to hold you so badly,” he said almost immediately. She blushed. “Oh my, I didn’t know mill owners blushed,” he added.
Now Margaret was laughing. She looked at Grayson, knowing how observant he always was but he sat like the god Zeus on his throne. Several people left the coach on the first stop, leaving more comfortable accommodations. Grayson crossed to the other side and retrieved an abandoned newspaper. He sat down at the window to read. Margaret didn’t budge from John’s side. As soon as Grayson opened the newspaper, clearly hiding his face, John kissed Margaret on the top of her head.
“John, would not you like to put your coat on the shelf?”
“No. I am fine,” was all he could say.
“I am sorry.” Margaret said, causing John some anxiety.
What could she apologize for? “You’re sorry? For what, Margaret?”
“I am sorry for being the woman sitting next to you making you uncomfortable. I am glad I am not a man.”
“I am very glad of that, too. What do you . . . “ John stopped right there. He didn’t want to ask the question hanging in the air. Her boldness took him quite by surprise, but he hoped he would never get used to her verbal ambushes. Margaret could be the cream at the top if she wanted to be, but he saw she preferred the spice of life, and he knew he was falling in love with her zest in all she did.
John whispered in her ear, “Do not be sorry. I am not, but I am not sure I can physically abide six hours of this coat on my lap. I may have to stroll the aisles now and again.
Margaret smiled and began pulling notes from her portfolio, getting ready for the coming week’s priorities. She had to meet with Thane and Sam before they left, although anyone arriving there would be swiftly pulled into the routine being set by Carlton. She had only one post from Thane and everything was going according to their priority list for the week at Helstone.
John was looking over her shoulder reading the notes while she swapped pages back and forth. After a while of what looked like her rapt attention to one page, he noticed how she started to list forward, ready to take a tumble onto the floor. He caught her gently and pulled her back against the seat. Grayson noticed it, too. He mouthed to John that she was sleeping. John nodded an understanding. It was only a few minutes before she did it again. This time, after he caught her, John turned slightly in the corner of the seat and settled her back into his arms being very careful how he held her. His trousers were really restricting him now with her lying against his chest. John noticed that Grayson still held his stoic face, turning the pages. “He really is on my side, I do believe,” John told himself. It was a few minutes later when Grayson rose, collected the papers in his Mistress’s lap and tucked them back into her portfolio. Finishing, he slid open the door to the coach and strolled out into the aisle, for what John could only guess. He didn’t miss this opportunity to place both his hands around Margaret and kiss her forehead. As soon as he did that, Margaret lifted her face for a real kiss, which he happily supplied.
“Why you little devil, you,” John said. “You have not been asleep at all.” John’s whole body shook from an internal laugh, trying to keep his voice down. “Remind me to include that in my documentation.”
Margaret smiled up at him, inviting his lips once more.
This time John held her by the chin and kissed hard, allowing his tongue to find the part in her lips. Gently he pushed through her resistance, eliciting a light moan from Margaret. He would not allow it to end and searched all of her mouth, savoring every second of her sweetness. Margaret lifted her arm to his neck and pulled herself harder against him. She was now aware of a growing fever in her intimate areas. She was so caught up in that new sensation that she pulled away quickly, wondering if she was becoming ill again.
“Margaret, What is wrong?”
“John, feel my head. Do I have a fever?” She asked innocently.
Worried, John quickly put the back of his hand to her forehead. He looked at her and saw the flush in her face that had no fever. He knew instantly what was happening to her but she apparently did not. This was a more than welcome surprise to John. Up until now he would not have thought she was still a virgin. “I am glad to tell you that you do not have a fever.”
“But I feel so warm all over. Are you sure?”
“Yes,” John smiled into her face. “I have that same warm feeling, too. You do not know what that is, do you?”
“Well, I think I am beginning to understand it, because the heat is becoming localized. Please, do not explain it to me, John. I think I’d rather perform my own experiments to test my theory. I am a fairly good troubleshooter,” she smiled.
“Yes, trouble it could likely become.” John laughed, instantly having a flash of Rose in his head. It completely dispelled his mood and his restriction problem subsided. He wondered if it was fair to entreat Margaret with all his love when things could change drastically – so quickly. Knowing what he thought he knew, he was betraying her. John felt very selfish, suddenly. He thought he would tell her everything before the week was out as he said he had always be honest with her. If she would ever be the woman in his life, it must begin on solid ground.
“I am sorry, Margaret. I am going to sit you up because I need to find some control.”
Feeling that was a compliment, Margaret sat up but before long was lying out on the padded bench, away from John, really sleeping.
John just sat there agonizing over what may lie ahead for both of them. He felt like such a coward for leaving all his tangled affairs with Higgins. Knowing he probably could not look at himself the next time he shaved, he decided to return to Milton and settle everything. He would stay for two days, see Margaret’s mill and offer any suggestions. He would then confess his sins and tell her why he was leaving. His eyes misted over at the thought of bringing this love to a standstill or an end. He knew he would love her until the end of time. For the first time in his life he wondered what other gentlemen did in this situation. Rose was not the type to go quietly away with a fistful of money and John knew he could not let that happen to his child.
During the journey, at the times when Grayson was roaming the train aisles, Margaret felt a marked difference in John’s attention and playfulness. “What could have happened?” She assuaged her uneasiness with the fact that he was a gentleman, having manly problems.
John had been deep in thought about the coming two days he had originally thought of staying but it kept eating him inside and he made the decision to return tomorrow. Knowing Margaret would be interested in her mill while she had been away, he hoped to find some time with her and explain himself. Fortunately, she had to rest and he prayed for a quiet evening.
Arriving in Helstone at the scheduled time, Margaret’s driver was there to greet them. Mark said that he would find his own way home, being that he lived close to the depot. Before leaving he asked Margaret when was their next meeting.
“Mark, I am going to the mill tomorrow morning for no more than two hours. We will have a meeting at 10:00 in the morning.”
Mark bid his fellow passengers a good evening and started his walk home.
Pulling through the gate at her Helstone manor, Margaret could see relief on Grayson’s face but John looked far away. “Later this evening, I will find out what has happened,” she fretted to herself.
John forced his attention on the beautiful residence that Margaret, indeed, owned. The house she had looked at in Milton would very much suit her, as it was slightly larger than what he was seeing now. The small grounds were impeccable and the building itself had been very nicely preserved over all the years of its age.
Grayson walked ahead to open the door for his Mistress and Mr. Thornton, while the footman went out to collect the baggage. John smiled to himself . . . not only a butler, but a footman, too. He sensed that these people had most likely been with the family before her ownership and she kept them on. People employed by an affluent family were usually there for their life span.
“John, can I show you through the house?”
“Another time, if you do not mind. I know you are weary, as I am, even though we have done nothing but sit.”
“I think we have done something else during that time, but I do not know what it was. Would you mind pouring us a drink,” Margaret asked, pointing to the bar as they entered the study, “while I see what cook has ready.”
John strolled over to the highly ornate walnut and marbled-topped bar, with its gleaming silver topped decanters arranged on a silver tray. Cut crystal glasses were reflecting the firelight as he filled the port into each one, inhaling its aroma as he did so. He started to pace the room, disturbed over his whole behavior toward this Rose letter. He was going to find this evening one of the hardest of his life.
* * *
Higgins heard a knock on the door as he was about to leave. “Enter,” he shouted. He looked up as the flaming auburn hair hanging waist deep, entered the room. “Hello again, Miss Hawthorn, won’t you have a seat?”
“Do not ‘hello me’ Higgins, where is he?”
“Mr. Thornton has been called away at the last minute and was unable to meet with you. He has asked me to speak with you and see if I can settle what is on your mind.”
“Oh, how convenient for him that is. He knows why I am here and he is running like a scared rabbit,” Rose said with venom dripping from her lips.
“I assure you, Miss Hawthorn, he is doing no such thing. He is not running from anything. He will be back within a week or two. If this is something I can help you with, please tell me what it is. I could always write to him if this is an emergency. Is it?” Higgins asked.
“Higgins, I do not think you want to be the father of my baby, do you?”
“Are you saying that Mr. Thornton is the father?”
“Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. I have only one more week in Milton and I want to know what he is going to do about it. Actually, I know what he is going to do about it; I want to know when we are to marry? I won’t be able to perform much longer and I am going to have an angry manager on my hands. I need John nearby when I tell him that his free ride, at my expense, is over.”
“Miss Hawthorn. Mr. Thornton and I are close friends. I am going to write to him tonight but I must get some information from you which I know he will want to know. If you do not mind, take a seat and let us get started.
The auburn haired doll with her painted face, red dress, and a range of bracelets clear up to her elbow, flopped hard in a nearby chair. She sighed with disgust, having to go through this because Johnny was on the run.
“If I were in this situation, I would want to know all the dates of this particular relationship. I would want to be assured that I am the father in my own mind. Can you please explain what you know of the timing of all of this?” Higgins asked, pulling paper and pen from his desk drawer.
“I was here in Milton last October. I saw Johnny one evening in the middle of my performance. I can get the exact dates if you need them later. Last month, November, I was sure I was pregnant and waited until I came to Milton to see a doctor. I had figured out when I was due and knew the father could only have been Johnny. I hadn’t dated anyone for several weeks before him. Being that Johnny has to be the father, I decided to wait until my return trip here to see a doctor, like I said. I have had an appointment with him a few days ago.”
“So when is the baby due?
“The kid is due in Ju . . . Juuuuly,” Rose said, having to quickly add a month to her real June due date. I think That is all Johnny needs to know.”
“I am sorry, just one or two more questions. Who is the doctor that you saw here in Milton?”
“I believe it was someone called Donaldson. Will there by anything else?” Rose said in a huff, rising.
“Last question, is marriage the only agreeable settlement that you will accept?” Higgins asked, waiting for the backlash.
“How DARE you!! You cannot think I want to make money off this baby, do you? I will accept nothing but marriage and that is final.”
“So you are saying that if Mr. Thornton would come to some financial arrangement and keep and raise the child while you went on with your career – that would still be unacceptable?”
That made Rose pause to think. As much as she would have liked Johnny for the father and perhaps making a home with him, she hated giving up her career most of all. Besides, Milton was a smoky hellhole as far as she was concerned. “How would you know that he would agree to that?”
“I do not. I am going on my own assumptions, and when I give him this information, I would send along any options that were on the table.”
“Well, I might have to think about it now. If he would take the kid and give a monetary settlement worth my while, I might consider it. Might, I say. It would depend on the amount,” Rose said, smiling, beginning to click the wheels in her head. She hadn’t thought any money settlement would have also relieved her of the child, itself.
“Miss Hawthorn, I am sure if a settlement were to be agreed upon, it would be made official, written into a binding legal document, with you settling for the specified money and total relinquishment of the child.” Higgins was surprising himself with how official he sounded.
“Yeah, I think I could live with that, but only if I decide to do it. Maybe another idea will come along. You write him and see what he says. Contact me in the next couple of days with his reply.”
“Likewise, Miss Hawthorn, if you come to a fair settlement amount, please let me know. He may decide to be the gentleman he is always been and do the right thing by you, but if the asking amount is fair enough, he may turn his back on doing the right thing and accept, if he is assured of his parentage to the child. I just do not know.”
“All right. You write to him and I will think.” Staring into Higgins’ eyes using her most feared look, she said, “Good day, Higgins.”
* * *
After all the amenities to John, the wonderful meal prepared for the two of them and the talks they’d been having in front of the fireplace in the study, the hour had grown late.
Grayson entered the study and asked his Mistress, “Will there be anything else this evening, M’lady?”
“No, Grayson, please retire for the night. And thank you for all the marvelous care you took of me while I was sick and for finding our new home. I must admit, we should have had more of talk with the property agent before leaving.
With a courteous bow to his Mistress, Grayson left the room.
John immediately advanced toward Margaret and lifted her out of her chair. Wrapping his arms tightly around her, he kissed her hard, covering her mouth and stealing her breath away. The onslaught of his kiss was passionate, forcing her to give way and open her lips to his seeking, searching tongue. Margaret’s knees weakened and he caught her before she could slip through his arms, lowering her back into her chair while he knelt down, never leaving her lips.
Sensations shot through Margaret like a magnet looking for true north. Her heart was pounding and she was holding onto John with every ounce of strength she possessed.
John gradually drew back, allowing her to catch her breath and him, his.
“I am sorry, Margaret. I am more sorry than I can say,” John whispered, on the edge of losing himself. He held her by her shoulders, looking straight into her loving eyes, which now showed fright. “This is the hardest thing I will ever do. Margaret, I need to speak with you about a very grave subject.”