No night rail?
No night rail.
Sara could not believe that she had actually not packed a night rail. What in heaven’s name was she to wear? It may be early June, but she would freeze.
This seemed to take adventurous too far.
She stole a glance at the man in question, sitting across from her in the coach. He was not pretending to read the book in his hands, but was watching her through his usual narrowed eyes. She quickly returned her gaze out the window.
She could not believe she was actually doing this. That she, meek and mild Sara Collins who never placed a toe out of line, was actually traveling unchaperoned with a man on their way to a love nest. What would it look like? Would it be a place where depravity openly ruled, where men and women flaunted their nudity and other vices? Or would it be dark and secretive, with only hints of what occurred behind closed doors with other adventurers? She preferred that word to the ones echoing in her mother’s voice: sinner, harlot, slut, whore.
She glanced again at Mr. Grant—Nathan, she remembered. That had been his third rule, that they refer to each other with familiarity. Looking at him now, dressed in all black with a white cravat—it was difficult to reconcile this somber man with his questions from the other day. When will your menses next occur? How long do they usually last? Do they pain you? These were things no one but her knew about, not even Claire and Louisa; it was a subject not to be broached.
Until he had asked them, citing necessity in order to prevent conception—and to ensure optimal pleasure.
Never had she met a man so blunt in his speech, especially regarding delicate subjects. Her father and brother had never openly discussed such things, Jacob did not, and certainly Mr. Pomeroy would never consider asking her such things.
Her life was quickly becoming unrecognizable. She did not even understand how she had been able to convince her friends she was off to visit a previously unmentioned aunt. Was lying so natural to her or were her friends too naïve or trusting where she was concerned?
Even now, instead of meditating too deeply on her current situation, she was worrying about how he had not kissed her since that day in his library. Not even in the forest maze where they had been entirely alone had he taken advantage and kissed her as he did in her dreams. She glanced at him again, wondering just how she could initiate such a thing.
“For the love of God, Sara.” His growl broke the silence, the unexpected sound making her jump. “Stop looking at me like I am going to ravish you where you sit. I am not that sort of man and a coach is not my preferred location for such an activity.”
Did people actually—she didn’t know what to call it—in coaches? Heavens. She felt her face catch fire. How would that even be possible? She could see how kissing would be feasible, for that could be done sitting or standing. Of course, it would require both of them to be sitting on the same bench. Would Mr. Grant ever do that? What if she moved to the same bench as he? Would he kiss her then or think her too forward? She bit her bottom lip, willing it to stop aching for his kiss.
His voice gentled. “You do realize you have not said a word since I picked you up an hour ago?” To avoid people noticing, he had arranged for her to take the mail coach and he met her several towns later with his own.
Sara blinked and took a deep breath. “I have actually not spoken since leaving Taft.” Her voice was little more than a whisper, but it was all she could manage. She banished the images of him kissing her in the coach from her mind.
Mr. Gra—Nathan cocked an eyebrow. “This distresses you so much?”
She shook her head. “Not so much distresses as is new. This has all happened so quickly—it has been less than a week since we first discussed it.”
He cleared his throat. “If you would prefer, we can return to Taft.”
Sara stared at him. “We could?” Did he want to? Had he changed his mind? Or had he realized that he did not desire her after all? Were his dreams of her preferable to reality?”
He pressed his lips together into a thin line. “As I said, I am not the sort of man to force a woman. If you so desired, I would order the coach to return to Taft and we would never speak of this. I have better things to do than spend my time with an inconsistent female who does not wish to be with me.”
Sara furrowed her brow in confusion as she watched Nathan lower his head and begin to read, not waiting for her response. It was odd; his words were simultaneously insulting and considerate. She had no doubt that if she asked it of him, he would order the coach around. But his dismissive tone made it seem as though he were indulging a spoiled child.
Yet for some reason, Sara knew if she were to call off their arrangement, he would be hurt. Oh, she knew that he would hide it, that he would pretend that it was of no consequence to him and likely disparage her character even more, but it would be a lie.
She looked out the window again to hide her small smile. He may be unpleasant, he may be off-putting and harsh, but all that concealed an inherent consideration and respect for others; one merely had to expend some effort to find it. This knowledge calmed and infused her with confidence. He may not wish to marry her, but she knew he would treat her well and protect her.
Sara had chosen well for her adventure.
Nathan stared at the book, wondering if she noticed he had yet to turn a page. He doubted it, as her attention remained fixated on whatever was so fascinating outside the coach window. As each moment passed with her silence, he let his body relax once more.
He had not lied. She had only to utter the word and they would return to Taft. Yet even as he had spoken, his primordial side howled its displeasure.
It had been a constant debate since that rainy afternoon. Half a dozen times he had almost called upon her at Ridgestone to cancel; even as he had waited for her in the blasted forest maze, he had not known whether he was going to call the whole thing off or tell her of his success with the arrangements. But as soon as she came into view, wearing an unfashionably out of date yellow dress along with a bonnet that stretched from shoulder to shoulder and spouted feathers, clutching her basket before her so tightly her knuckles had turned white, that primitive side of him had taken control of his mind and mouth. The next thing he knew, it had all been settled.
It had been that way the day she had visited him, her pale blue dress plastered to her body, leaving so little to his imagination. He could not claim ignorance—he knew exactly what had been running through his mind and it involved clothes flying through the air and a ruckus that would have cleared away all the birds living in his attic. His hands had shaken with the need to touch her.
He had been proud of his initial resistance. But then she had stated what she wanted and called him a coward. Primordial Nathan had taken over at that point and now here they were, on their way to Cloverfields.
He and Primordial Nathan could hardly wait.