The Noble Coachman – Chapter 16

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Chapter 16
The Picnic

 

A messenger arrived at Caldwell Hall in London, handing a note to the footman. He passed it to Chandler, who took it to Lord Caldwell. Upon opening it, he asked his Butler who Richards was.

“He’s the head footman when I am away.”

Lord Caldwell began to read the note.

 

Your Lordship,

Miss Lilith Caldwell was found moments ago in the ice house as Miss Mary. It appears she has met the same fate. The Constable is on his way. Although life has left her, the doctor is upstairs with her now. The staff sends their sincerest regrets.

Regards, Richards                      

 

Morgan led Kip through the house toward the back, where he would find Squeaks waiting. “Squeaks, you look like a little doll belonging to a child. Thank you for wearing that for me today. Here, let me take that basket.” He carried it to the coach and set it inside on the floor.

“You are so feminine today, perhaps you should ride inside the coach.”

“No, I will ride beside you.”

“But you have a frock on!”

“I think I can manage. Was this not the day you would let me rein Warrior and Soldier?”

“Yes, but I had not expected you this way. I am quite overcome. Would you care to change and allow me a proper evening out at another time where you can wear your frock? I think I am going to insist. We may have a wind kick up, and although I may appreciate it, it might not bode well for others to see me holding down your frock.” He laughed.

“But I wanted to look like a woman for you.”

“Squeaks, from your head to your toes, shows me that. You are always a woman to me. Please change. Perhaps, you have riding clothes such as I wear.”

“Are you quite decided on this?”

“I am.”

“Very well. I will be a few moments.”

As she walked away from him, Kip was struck with her slim build. The shapeliness of her hips and bust and legs were every bit female. He had fallen in love with her heart, her mind, and her face, never seeing her very feminine attributes. How unmanly of him, he thought to himself, and then laughed at the ridiculousness of such a notion. He had never known any woman who didn’t wear a frock. And now he was asking for her to change out of hers.

Squeaks was still breathtaking to Kip when she returned, wearing riding clothes and a dark green tam on her head. She was a pixie. At that moment, he thought of his sister. She had worn a tam when riding. Kip had seen few of those on women. Apparently, they could be a proper part of women’s riding apparel. He laughed when he saw her carrying a short crop with her.

“Are you off to the hounds, Miss Squeaks?”

“I might need this for you. My saddle is just in there,” she said pointing to the large stable door.

“Do you wish to ride today?”

“Can we do both? I brought apples for the horses.”

“Let me check.” Kip climbed to his bench and lifted it. “Yes, I still have my small saddle stored here. I think we can ride a bit, and I know just the place. Let me carry your saddle.”

He followed her into the barn. The depth of the stable surprised him. He started to wander down looking into all the stalls. “There must have been eight horses in here. Lord Stokes has eight horses?”

“No, he has ten. The wagon is out being used to collect firewood. I do not see it around here.”

“This is a mighty stable. He makes me jealous.”

“Someday you will have your Kipling line of livery, and then you can enjoy the pleasures of a fine stable.”

“One never knows, does one? Where is your saddle?”

Squeaks pointed to one hanging from a hook in the tack room. “There it is.”

“You ride astride?”

“Yes, another way father raised me. I am not sure it ever occurred to him, as I grew, to change it. There is no physical reason why I cannot ride astride.”

“Hmm… I have never had that conversation with anyone. Are you saying it couldn’t … it won’t…?”

“Yes, it can, to whatever you are embarrassed to ask. It’s a bit late, now. I’ve been riding astride for years. Can we go now unless you want a full accounting of the female body and riding?”

Kip, placed the saddle on the ground and folded his arms. Squeaks had started out the door and noticed he wasn’t behind her. She finally stopped and looked backward. “Why are you back there?”

“I am waiting for my full accounting you offered.”

He saw her blush.

“I don’t know you that well.”

Kip crooked his little finger.

She sighed and returned to him. “If you think I am going to ….” She felt his lips find hers. He walked her backward away from the door entrance to where no one could see them from the house.

Kip pressed her against the wooden stall door. He wrapped his arms around her, almost pinning her own arms to her side. He licked her lips over and over. His tongue pressed for entry, and she parted them for him.

She stiffened momentarily then softened to the gentle stroking of his tongue. Her struggle to free her arms abated.

He progressed from her mouth, wandering down her neck, kissing it and nipping here and there. Squeaks tilted her head back abandoning her inhibitions. Feeling her earlobe being suckled, she began to slide through his arms.

Kip smiled, backing his face away from her body as he held her by her waist.

“Thank you, Squeaks. That is quite a compliment. If you beat me with your crop, I had no feeling of it.”

Squeaks dropped her short whip. There was no reply from her, just as it had been at the pavilion that one night. He watched her eyes slowly open as if she had been in a dream.

“Shall we go, my sweets?”

“Sweets, I still like that,” she said in a raspy voice as she stumbled forward.

As his coach, pulled from the Stokes’ residence, Clyde hobbled back to his bed. There was a knock. It was Lord Stokes.

“Clyde, it looks like you have been out of bed. Looking out the window perhaps?”

“Yes, I admit I was.”

“You and I are like mother birds … unable to keep our chick from jumping out of the nest. I believe she is flying solo now. Anyway … enough of that. I wanted to tell you that I talked with Mr. Trevor Kipling before they left. I was most impressed by his manners, demeanor, and articulated words. He did admit to holding back something, which he would not tell me. He did impart some information that your daughter knows nothing of, and which he wishes to remain confidential. I gave him my word, but I am here to tell you that I like him very much. I believe whatever is behind the mystery to the man is nothing to fear. I am convinced that he loves our Squeaks, and come what may, he will protect her.”

“Thank you, sir. I would have done the same, but I am not in a position to do it from my bed. Here we are worried about Squeaks. I think we need to give some thought to what that young lad is in for with her. He has probably never seen the spirit she can display.”

“Quite true, Clyde. Whatever it is, I think he can handle her. He spoke of her naiveté, and perhaps she only thinks she may love him. He is prepared for her to realize her true feelings, which would not include him. He wants to be the first man for her to allow closeness, as, in his words, she needs to be nurtured and treated with delicacy. He has a fine mind. I wish my own son, wherever he is, can match this Kip someday.”

“Do you think when he said, ‘allow closeness’ means what it could mean?”

“I do not care to speculate on that. He will do right by her no matter what. He’s quite taken with her, and I do believe he is honorable.”

 

“Where are we going, Kip?” Squeaks asked as the wind refreshed her consciousness.

“Have you ever driven into a forest?”

“No. I’ve never been to a forest.”

“There is one about an hour’s ride northeast from here. I think we can picnic, let you drive the team, and we can ride the horses. We will also be very much alone. Does that worry you?”

“I believe you to be a gentleman, and I am safe with you. Am I wrong?”

“I didn’t feel very much like a gentleman the way I kissed you in the stable, I’m afraid.”

Squeaks was quiet. Her cheeks flamed red.

“I do believe you are blushing. It is most becoming on you. Your dimples look like cherries.”

“What did His Lordship want this morning?”

“Now, you must know the answer to that.”

“Nothing was mentioned to me. Several times you have told me that I should know something. I feel rather foolish at those times. I have emotions about a few things. I know what I very much like. Father doesn’t seem to be able to explain the feelings of love and how to recognize it. He says, ‘I will just know.”’

“You are right, Sweets. I have been remiss. You have me off balance with the person I’ve always known myself to be. When we are not driving, I will tell you of my feelings for you. I will not assume that you know them. As for Lord Stokes, he wanted to meet me. He thanked me for watching over you this past week and for the night training. He cares for you a great deal, and I am an unknown, who is taking you away today, for the first time. He wants to feel confident that I can protect you.”

“You’re tall and vigorous. You can protect me. Protect me from what exactly?”

“Probably protect you from myself. There is a big world out there with many different people. We are going to an area that we know little about. Who is going to protect me from you?”

“You will.”

“I’m not so sure I want that type of protection from anyone.”

 

Kip arrived at the outer rim of the vast forest. There were roads that crisscrossed through the dense woods. He turned onto a path and pulled to the side. He wanted to kiss the woman beside him but knew it would lead further than it should.

“Are you ready to rein Soldier and Warrior? They have been patiently waiting for your deft hand.”

“Like I’ve been waiting for yours?”

“Do you want the reins or not?”

“Oh yes, please.”

She won’t allow me to fight for control of myself.

“Do you want to sit right or center?”

“Do you mind if I sit center.”

“May I sit behind you?”

“Yes, of course. I will have more confidence if you were looking over my shoulder for a while.”

Kip moved back as far as he could, spreading his legs for her to fit in between them.

“I’m sorry. This is the best I can do, Sweets. We cannot have this.”

Squeaks looked at the situation. “Perhaps I will sit right.”

“No, I will move to the edge. You will sit center.”

“I … I …”

“You don’t have to say anything. That became quite obvious when I could not move further back. It was not intentional.” He should have known how it would look. He was just hoping to put his arms around her that way.

“Here are the reins. Take their heads and lead the way.”

“Walk on.” Squeaks ruffled the reins lightly. She thought it was too light a touch, but they responded.

“Kip, it was a very light touch on the reins. Are they reacting to the reins or the voice?”

“Both, I should think. They will react to the voice, but they only need a light hand to steer them. This type of horse is becoming very desirable because they can train well. If you read the old books, there are stories of the dedication of this horse to its rider four centuries ago. They were paired for life with their knight unless he was unfortunate. There is a myth that great warriors killed in battle return as great horses.”

“That is a fascinating story. I will hope to own one of these for myself someday. I would like to train one. I like training. He will dedicate himself to me.”

“You will be amazed when you ride one of them later today. What name would you give your own horse?”

“Oh, I’ve never given a thought to that. Let me think. By the way, how am I doing? Do they look nervous to you?”

“Sweets, you are doing an excellent job. Further ahead there are several small bridges and a few hard turns. After that is the last bridge. We will find an area near there to park. I will unharness them, and we will take them to the river to drink.”

“I have a name for my fabled horse.”

“Tell me.”

“Guess.”

“Guess?” Kip replied with incredulity.

“Well, you have told me their story of dedicating themselves to their master. They braved the battlefield with arrows and spears. I imagine a lot of them died during battle.”

“Yes, they did. They were almost wiped out. Eventually, full armor came along, and the knights became too heavy for these horses. Pestilence was next to take nearly all of them. That is why there are few, but coming back. So, your fairy-tale horse would be named Knight?”

“No, but I like that. They are as black as night, and they carried the knights. It may be better than my name.”

“Tell me your name.”

“I was thinking of Hero.”

“Hero! A splendid choice, if I do say so. Admiral is a good name as well as Knight. You are coming to the first bridge. I will be quiet.”

“I have never driven over an old wooden bridge before. Here we go.”

“Nothing extra to do, just keep them in the middle. They know wooden bridges. I said I was going to be quiet and just listen to me babble. Good. You came over that well. One thing to always know about your coach and team is how much wider your coach might be than your horses’ hindquarters. Some coaches are wider, and if you try to go over a narrow bridge just watching your team, you may lose a wheel off the edge. That would be catastrophic. Most of the coaches pulled by two horses are about the same width. Sometimes those large coaches, like touring coaches or those stagecoaches in the Americas, which all need four horses drawing, can be wider.”

“I wish I could live with you and know all you know.”

Kip opened his mouth to alert her to the next bridge but found himself stymied by her words.

“Here’s the next bridge,” Squeaks told an astonished Kip.

“Yes. Yes, I was just going to say that.”

“How much do these horses cost?”

“More than you have. Now watch the road.” The price of these horses would certainly add more questions that he was not prepared to answer, but truth be told they would cost an average lower-class worker around five years of wages or a London coach driver about four years for one of them.

“Can you see the turn ahead?”

“Yes.”

Kip sat back and folded his arms, gazed at the trees, hoping to give her a sense of confidence. He looked over at her profile. Her cheeks were ruddy from the wind.

“Can I take the pins from your hair?”

“Yes, if you wish.”

Kip pulled her tam off and stuffed it into his vest. He found a total of four pins. He pocketed them and again sat back watching the wind catch her long tendrils being blown about her face. There was a strand that caught on her moist lips. He pulled it from her face.

“Thank you.”

“I thank you. You are a vision, I must say. Am I allowed to say that?”

“What do you mean?”

“The other day I was overwhelming you with too much attention and compliments. Oh, here’s the hard turn.’

He sat up, although he had complete faith in her. She began to strain the reins in the turning direction. This was the motion he felt would forever prevent women from driving a team.

“Sweets, you need not pull so hard. These horses only need a light touch. They are not like your master’s horses.”
He went back to studying her hair. Now one was caught in her eyelashes. He slid over, putting his arm around her back and removing the wayward strand from her eyes with his other hand.

“Very nice, Sweets. One more and then a final bridge. You know … we make an excellent team.”

“I think so, too. I have thought about that several times.”

Kip wanted to ask her about that, but he would let it pass for now. She was concentrating, trying to give her lightest hand to their heads.

“I think I could let these reins go, and they would follow the road on their own.”

“Yes, they will, but eventually, they will stop if there is no one ruffling them to continue. And then there is the other action, which is to take off and fly.” Kip laughed, as that had happened to him as a young man.

“Where should I park?”

Kip sat up watching her hair begin to lie against her head. His arousal was painful.

“Just up the road is a small area to pull into.”

“How do you know about this place?”

“I brought a couple here, so the man could propose to his lady. He was aware of the area. I was not.”

“Squeaks, stop here. I will unharness the horses. Will you hold them while I push the coach backward? There is no turning room. We will park so that we can pull out easily.”

The two climbed down. Squeaks started looking over their rigging. It did not look too different from what she had been taught. She began loosening harness straps. Kip looked across the team, trying to watch her face as she studied the strappings. He could unharness blindfolded, so he did not need to watch what he was doing. All he could see was the top of her head. She was head height to Soldier’s back.

“How short are you, Sweets?”

“Don’t you mean to ask how tall I am?”

“I think I asked it correctly.”

“I am short compared to you, average for a woman, though.”

“I don’t think so.”

“How tall is an average woman?”

“Oh, about 5’5’’.”

“I am almost 5’1”.”

“That means I am three hands taller than you. In Stokes Castle, do you live in a toy box?”

“Are you going to carry me about on your shoulders?” she frowned but laughed.

“Sensitive about our height, are we?”

“I’m not, but I wouldn’t have thought you were,” she rebutted.

Laughing at that, “All right. Here are the reins.” Kip said, still chuckling at her comment.

Kip picked up the thill and easily rolled the coach backward.

“You make that look easy.”

“The wheels are heavily greased. Are you ready for a walk?”

“Yes, I’ll take this horse. Which one is he?”

“That is Soldier.”

“Give me a minute, I forgot something.” Kip handed the reins to her and went back to his box. Hoping she wouldn’t notice, he pulled a pistol from the box and slipped it into his pocket.

“Ready!”

Kip knew he could see the coach from the water’s edge. The last time he was here, the couple sat by the stream, and he stayed with his coach. He could see them if he wanted to, but he gave them their privacy, whether they knew it or not.

“Should I bring the basket with us?” he asked.

“It isn’t that far. Let’s leave it for a while. I would just like to sit by the water if the ground is dry.”

“The stream awaits,” he smiled.

Kip reached for her hand. Would she let him hold it while they walked? She did.

They walked in quiet, down to the bridge. Kip felt her small hand tighten around his fingers. He looked down at her, wondering what she was thinking. She was dwarfed by him on one side and Soldier on the other.

Kip wasn’t sure what happened, but he felt a sense of danger before he heard the sound. He grabbed at Soldier’s reins and shouted for Squeaks to run to the side of the road. Pulling bridles, Kip managed to move both horses off the road just as a flying coach and horses were on top of them.

“Are you, all right?” he shouted to Squeaks.

“Yes, Kip. And you and the horses? I thought Warrior might have been clipped.”

Dust from the road was still billowing in the air when Squeaks made it over to Kip. He handed her Soldier’s bridle and began to look over Warrior.

“He has been brushed by the wheel hub. Bloody idiots.” He squatted down to take a closer look. Relieved that no real harm was done, he let out a sigh. “He’s fine. I don’t think the skin is broken. Let’s get them to the river so I can wash the area.”

Kip didn’t know what Squeaks thought just happened. Was it the foolishness of a driver racing his team? Recalling back, Kip knew there had been an undeniable sensory expansion acknowledging the danger before he heard the coach. Immediately, he knew his sister was responsible for awakening his inherent protective reaction. Otherwise, a tragedy would have occurred. Moreover, the speed of that coach appeared suspicious.

By the riverbank, Kip soaked his handkerchief and wiped away the loose hair around Warrior’s abrasion. Using his hands, he inspected the leg bone, too.  Squeaks watched while she held on to Soldier lapping at the water.

“He’s fine. Our rest here will do him good, but he is well enough to pull us home.”

“What would you have done if Warrior was injured?”

Standing, shoving the handkerchief in his pocket, “I have never had that happen, but I would ride Soldier to the nearest town and rent a horse to pull with him. Warrior could travel behind, unhindered by the coach weight. Anything less, and I might have had to put a bullet in his head.” Kip literally shivered at the idea.

Kip mulled over again what had happened as the two horses slurped from the chilled stream.

“Find us a seat, Sweets. I will tie the horses and be with you in a moment.”

It was mossy and damp near the water’s edge. She traveled toward the inside of the forest and found a fallen tree. Sitting down on the leaf bed in front of it, Squeaks leaned against the log. She wondered what Kip thought about the charging coach. She had not been looking ahead, but down at her own hand holding Kip’s. They could have been seriously injured or worse, but Kip saved her first. The driver must have been a madman, or his master was in a furious hurry. That slight bend in the road could have hidden them until the last moment. It was an old coach, once used by a privileged family.

Kip sat beside her and took her hand once again. “You’re trembling.”

“Yes, I guess I am You could have been hurt, saving your horses. I was not looking ahead. I never saw it coming until you called for me to run. You saved all of us from a horrible accident.”

“Don’t give me that much credit. You will learn as a driver, that you will make quick decisions. In a second, you can visualize the impending problem and compensate for changing the outcome. We do that in life, Sweets.”

“We do? How?”

“Had you not spoken with Lord Stokes about a building regard that I have for you …”

“And mine for you, too.” Squeaks interrupted.

“With reacting first, you probably have avoided a lot of questions and worry by those men who love you. Here you are with me today. We are alone. We are not hiding from anyone. You and I are freely deciding to be together. Personally, I think you just want to be with my horses.”

“Kip,” Squeaks began looking at her hands, not into his face, “I think I love you. I am young and naïve and never had a romantic thought about a man, but I think of you all the time. I cannot promise that it is love because I don’t know how that feels. But I like how I feel with you. Friday night I felt so empty until I spotted you. I was almost mad that you had to be called over. I thought about that later and understood why you did that. These may be words a lady ought not to say.”

Kip moved next to her and wrapped his arm around her shoulder ensuring her hair wasn’t caught under him. The breeze was fluttering through the long strands which he was intently watching. “Why … Sweets? Why was I not there immediately?”

He heard a small sniffle. Kip turned facing her profile, as she spoke peering at the moving water.

“You did that for my own reputation, didn’t you? You thought we needed to show some distance or rumors were sure to start. You did it for me.”

Kip was silent, still watching her face. She finally turned to face him. She was flushed. Her eyes were glistening, but she wasn’t crying.

Squeaks met his eyes and his smile, which was waiting for her.

“Are you not going to say anything?” She began to fret at his silence.

“Yes. I have been practicing something to say.”

“Practicing? Saying what??”

 

She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

Thus mellowed to that tender light

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

 

One shade the more, one ray the less,

Had half impaired the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,

Or softly lightens o’er her face;

Where thoughts serenely sweet express,

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

 

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love is innocent!

 

The tears rolled down her face as she listened.

“I’m sorry. Was that too personal?”

“No, it is beautiful. It is Byron, is it not?”

“Yes. I remembered the ‘raven tresses’ when seeing your hair. I have labored to remember it completely for you.”

“Why are you so nice all the time? I’ve never felt this comfortable before. When I am with you, it is a different world to me. Please do not play with my new feelings. It is challenging to wander through these blissful emotions. I want to enjoy them and not harden myself against them for fear of being hurt when they disappear. I am lost in this world of love and your romantic overtures.”

Kip heard words that only were in his dreams. He could not bring himself to interrupt the purest echoes resonating within him.

“The way you kissed me this morning in the stable caused new … well … I … there was much more awareness . . . umm …”

“Emotional feelings?” I must have her.

“More than that. It was something physical,” she said, embarrassed.

“Sweets, I think you are falling in love. I certainly know I have, but overtures; it will only be. You have changed my world, sweet lady. You know that you’re the breath of my life. You fill my senses. I wait from one moment to the next to see you, to hold you, to feel your hands touching me. I want to run my fingers through that long black mane you have. And I want to pleasure you beyond your own belief. Please don’t weep. I don’t know what to do when you weep. I’ll tell you one of the many reasons I love you more than there are words to explain it. Simply, I love you because you are you. You are Rebecca Dorset, a young lady raised by her father who allowed her spirit to fly. I’ve had my fair share of lady friends, and inevitably play the game of ladies. Oft times there is a myriad of meetings, both clandestine and proper before the final curtain is lifted. It is then that I see the true woman behind the expected shyness, who plays her games to hold my attention. Most of them are not interested in a long-term relationship. They merely want a man on their arm to take them places, and some solely want just intimacy. It is difficult for a man to find the perfect match for himself. I see none of those games in you, and I credit your father for that. It may not be from what he was teaching but rather what he wasn’t teaching you. Unknowingly, I believe he taught you what a man can understand about a woman, and made you uncomplicated. Men are common thinking and women are more complex. Had you a mother, I believe our situation would be very different and perhaps difficult at this point. With your naivete, spirit, bravery to achieve what you want, even though forever thought impossible, innocence and honesty, I feel I have known you my whole life. I dare any man to say these same words about his lady. You are an exception to every rule I’ve come to know about women, and I love you for it. I embrace the unexpected in you.”

“Your words are stirring my soul, I can’t think. My head cannot take it all in. I have this thrill of soaring when I am with you, yet I fear to fall.”

Kip faced her and pulled her into his arms during her sobbing storm. When their eyes met, the moment stood still. Before she could encircle his neck, his lips were upon hers. One kiss followed another and another until he roamed down her neck, which he had been yearning to taste. There he dwelled and licked her skin that was showing over her buttoned shirt. Her response to that was sensual. He returned to her mouth and parted her lips repeatedly.

He pulled her into his lap. As she opened to him, her tongue met his, and they salaciously intertwined. Occasionally, he would retract it and reenter. She ran her hands across the front of his vest, feeling the strength in his chest.

Kip left her mouth and began to nuzzle towards her cleavage and discovered no corset. There was nothing fitted there to cause him to cease. He was embarrassed that she might feel movement on her backside from his lap. A piece of innocence chipped away as she heaved a heavy sigh.

After a moment, he set her back down beside him and held his head in his hands. “I am destroying your innocence little by little. I don’t want this for us. I have never been obsessed with anyone as I seem to be with you, Rebecca. I’ve always been a gentleman until now. I am losing myself,” he said hanging his head. I am becoming just a man around you and no longer the gentle-man. “I am going to scare you away. Please forgive me for being so forward. This is totally improper.”

Squeaks had concern on her face. “What do you mean to do? We love each other.”

He had no answer that he could tell her.

“Do you want to love me?” she asked.

“Yes. Desperately. I want to love you slowly. I must take these beautiful steps with you so we can enjoy them longer. I can’t imagine anything more perfect and pleasurable that could happen for us in the rest of our lives. Down deep, I seem to want to brand you as my own property.” Kip stood, paced and threw his hands in the air as if asking God for permission. “I don’t even believe what I hear myself saying to you after such a short acquaintance. These should only be my personal thoughts. When you spoke of being wooed to death, that set something off inside. I knew I couldn’t live without you. I want to skip over the wooing and go straight to pleasuring you. You are making it far too easy. You are too free with the favors you bring to a man. We shouldn’t have it this easy. Men pay for the ease you are allowing. Can you see my confusion? Because I love you, I want to take you, and yet I hear myself saying, don’t permit me such access. These are things that only a mother teaches her daughter, for which I am glad you haven’t learned. It’s not you, sweets. It’s me. If you knew how you shall be one day, you would understand why I feel I always need to be in control of myself.”

“What can I do to help?”

“I can’t believe you are asking that question as if I had rights to you. I need to get through this on my own. Someday I hope you understand why that is important to me.”

“My father wants me to be happy above all else. I want to make you pleased. You are making me happy.”

“Yes, but this is wrong if left unabated in so many ways. We’re charting our course to a physical relationship, and I know it’s not what your father meant by happiness. If you were just any woman, I would have no cares. There is guilt here, and I have ruined my life once with guilt. I am afraid I will ruin yours. And even though the physical relationship is what we desire right now, there is so much more to loving someone. That’s what you have to know within yourself.”

“I don’t understand that.”

“I know you don’t. And you should know what I mean by that. It is so much you don’t know about love and about me. I am the experienced lover between the two of us. This is totally my responsibility, no matter how encouraging you are.”

“Are you sure?”

“No, but please do not discuss this with your father. The world has opened up to you too quickly. You attained your goal. You are meeting the world outside Stokes. You are interacting with men for the first time. These are intoxicating experiences for a young woman and all men.”

“Do not worry about that. Your kisses and attentions are making my body fully aware of where the next step could lead. I think I still have enough strength to say no, not yet.”

“I believe you think so, but you don’t. I am still not sure in my heart that you know what you want. As you said, this is all new, it’s more than pleasant, and it begs to grow. My horizon is to love you beyond life itself. This does not give me unlimited privileges with you. I have another life you know nothing of. Someday, when the time is right, I will tell you. You must know me in every way before you give yourself to me. That knowledge could change the way you feel toward me and the life I must live.”

“What are you saying, Kip?”

“I don’t know. I think I am talking more to myself than you. I hadn’t expected my advances to be this well received. Can we lay this discussion down? I will collect my sketch pad and the basket. I must reflect on this when I am alone, which up until now has done me no good at all.”

“No more kissing?”

“Not for a while, Sweets.” Kip walked through the woods toward his coach.

As he tramped through the thick leaves, he was aware of the fool he was making of himself. He had been with a woman recently; it was not a physical need driving him, yet he was acting like it. She was of age. She was receptive. She regarded him. Where was the nurture and delicacy he’d promised himself? Away from her, his plans seemed honorable and gentlemanly. With her, they all went to hell. He couldn’t think around her anymore. He didn’t know what he could do about it. He couldn’t marry her and take away her career, not yet anyway.  Resistance was useless.  There had to be a way. Above all, for her or for him, it was not going to be paid for by her reputation.

Kip reached the coach and collected the luncheon-basket, the old coverlet, and his sketching kit.

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