Hope this scene doesn’t give too much away 😉 But here is a sneak peak of the second book in my Walk With Me series, currently being edited. Forgive me, it sort of picks up in the middle of things.
“And where’s Lord Tristan this fine afternoon?” Molly asked, suddenly. “Not like you to be around without the esquire.”
Stuart turned away from Velena, giving Molly a suspicious look—which she ignored. Two could play at this game.
Velena only smiled. “I couldn’t tell you Molly.”
“Well that is something isn’t it? So often together, I figured you could read each other’s thoughts by now.”
Velena laughed. “We very nearly can. But today our connection must be severed for I hear nothing.”
“And neither can the rest of us,” Molly teased. “No bickering means peace and quiet for us all.”
“Surely, we’re not that bad?” Velena quipped. “Ah, well, perhaps the break will do everyone some good then.”
“Perhaps, but I’m sure he’s heartbroken even if you’re not.” Molly folded the lump of dough onto itself with one hand, and then the other, glancing over at Stuart as she spoke. “This girl’s as important to that young man as air is to any human being.”
“Molly,” Velena chided, picking up the basket to leave, “there’s no need to exaggerate.”
Stuart pursed his lips, deciding finally to speak up. “I’m curious as to why you speak of the man as if he’s my cousin’s suitor. I know this to be an absurd thought, since until just recently she was engaged to my brother.”
Molly clucked her tongue, enjoying the discomfort she was causing him. She leaned forward and whispered in mock confidence. “Engaged or not, he’s in love with her.”
“What?! Is this true?”
Velena glared at Molly. “No. It’s not. She imagines things, and is trying to cause me trouble on purpose—though I couldn’t say why. Keep to your work good Molly, we’ll be taking our leave, I think.”
“As you like, my lady—my Lord,” she said bobbing her wimpled head and smiling to herself. “God be with you, then.”
Stuart didn’t know what to think of this Tristan person, but just his name seemed to be getting stuck his throat. Then and there, he determined to find out what manner of man he was and if he posed any real threat to his plans—but not now. Right now he wanted to dwell on Velena; which was by no means a difficult task, as dwelling on her was something he did quite often. In fact, she was all he ever thought about lately.
Stuart watched her now, as she walked beside him, light on her feet and in high spirits. He slowed his pace a little letting her walk ahead; her figure from behind was pleasant. The curve of her hips—the way she walked. “You look lovely, Velena.”
Velena turned around to face him, but continued in a backward walk, a full smile alighting on her face.
Stuart continued, “The color of that gown is pleasing, and it suites you well.”
“Thank you, Cousin. I believe it’s your favorite color on me.”
“…and you remembered?”
“A woman always remembers when she’s been given a compliment by a handsome man—no matter how much time has gone by.”
Stuart raised his eyebrows. “So you think me handsome, then?”
Velena took in her cousin’s muscular frame and cinnamon colored hair and eyes, resting above a strong jaw line that narrowed at his chin. There she noticed a fading scar that he must have received sometime in their absence from one another. Still, it in no way detracted from his looks, which, consequently, had always stood out in complete contrast to his brother Peter’s blond hair and blue eyes. Standing side by side, Peter had always been the one more admired, but Stuart was still, in no way, someone to whom any young woman would stick their nose up at.
Velena giggled. “The world thinks you handsome, Stuart. As do you, yourself, I’d be willing to wager. How many times a day do you stop and compliment yourself?”
Stuart laughed, not used to Velena’s flirtations, but very pleased. He could get used to this, he thought as he caught up to her so that they might once again walk side by side. “You should try it yourself. I’m always able to leave my room bright and cheery that way.” He was rewarded with a hardy laugh and another smile. “But don’t worry,” he added, “I’ll be doing the complimenting today.”
“Oh yes. I have several others I plan on delivering as time goes by,” he said, chuckling then at her expression. Their friendly banter continued as they walked on towards the orchard, recalling days before the Plague—child hood memories when their families were once whole.
Having no expectations of what to expect from this older, more womanly version of his cousin, Stuart found himself thoroughly taken with her. They took their time walking in and out of the blossoming quince trees, until they came to one with especially low hanging branches. There, Velena set up their picnic, as Stuart plucked one of the pale pink flowers from its place above their heads and handed it to her. It had a sweet aromatic quality that seemed to be affecting them both. More and more, it began to appear that Peter’s death had not been the end of a thing, but rather, the beginning of something else entirely. Velena had never supposed to love Stuart, but found herself now blooming under his attention.
After all the food was gone, Stuart took great joy in making Velena laugh until her sides ached, as he detailed some of his more comical exploits with his cousin, Squire Jaren. Velena finally begged him to stop, as she wiped at the tears seeping from the corners of her eyes.
“No more,” she begged, “I have to catch my breath. I can’t remember the last time I’ve laughed so hard.”
Stuart paused then, staring very directly at his cousin until she began to fidget beneath his scrutiny. He couldn’t help but smile, finding her innocence charming. He reached out his hand to gently cup her chin, swiveling her head from one side to the other as he examined her profile. “Do you know what your hair needs?”
“What?” Velena asked in surprise.
She inhaled. “You would put flowers in my hair?” Her pleasure was made obvious in her tone.
Without another word, he helped her up and led her over to a large patch of them, where Velena felt like a queen sitting in a sea of red and blue poppies. She could feel Stuart’s hands on her hair as he tucked stems in and around her circlet, creating a crown of flowers. As he worked she began to pick daisies within her reach, making a chain—blissfully unaware that Stuart was having a difficult time not letting his fingers linger too long on her hair as he pressed the flowers into place. What he wouldn’t give to see it loose, tumbling down about her shoulders.
Stuart imagined himself removing her hair pins and slowly unwinding the long dark tresses. He wanted to run his hands through them—bury his face in them and breathe her in. First, he’d move his hands from her hair down to her neck, over her shoulders, and then…
“…can you believe that?” Velena’s words interrupted his thoughts.
Stuart blinked. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Tristan has never made a daisy chain. I think I’ll bring him this one.”
Here was this Tristan again—interrupting his thoughts. Stuart had plans now that he was here, and he wasn’t going to lose her to this Tristan or anyone else. Before today, it was clear that Velena had seen him only as her cousin, but now—now he felt confident that things were beginning to change. He had hoped to act slowly and delicately, allowing her time to love him, for he didn’t just want an arranged marriage, he wanted her devotion. But as he knelt beside her, listening to her bemoan Tristan’s lack of female-type craftsmanship, he began to feel as though time may not be on his side after all.