Dagonet leaned out over the railing of the bridge to watch the river lazily flow under him. He was in such trouble.
After avoiding it for nearly two hundred years, he was well on his way to getting caught once again in the hairiest of traps—love.
In his mind’s eye, Kate’s vibrant blue eyes had replaced his last wife, Margaret’s intelligent green ones. His fingers longed to run through Kate’s lovely, mahogany curls instead of Margaret’s thick, blond tresses. Kate’s generous curves made the blood pound through his veins just as Margaret’s slender, gentler curves had.
A heavy sigh escaped his lips. He would never forget Margaret. Could never replace his lost love. But now… he nearly groaned in frustration. Now it was Kate who stole all of his waking thoughts just as Margaret had so many years ago.
Margaret with whom he’d spent the most wonderful lifetime. They’d lived happily in their simpler time. Children had brought them joy and then grandchildren followed. Before the great–grandchildren could come, Margaret had left him, passing on to that better place which eluded Dagonet even now. Oh, how he’d longed to follow her and die peacefully, spending eternity with her in the afterlife.
But it wasn’t to be.
No matter how hard he tried, he just could not die.
That is why he had to avoid Kate, avoid becoming involved. He couldn’t take that… again.
The first time with Eleanor was painful, but he’d gotten over it. The second time with Margaret sent him searching the world for a way out, a cure so that he could join her. A third time with Kate? No. He just couldn’t do it. He could not!
He needed to leave. Now. Before his heart became any more involved. If he didn’t, he would only drown in a glow of happiness that would eventually lead to pain and suffering when Kate died and he did not. He had gone through this before. He could not do it again.
The pounding determination in his heart mimicked a pounding on the bridge as a dog thrumped by. But as soon as the dog passed, sweet laughter followed.
“Oh! Sir Arthur!” Kate’s voice was breathless with laughter. “I will never run as fast a dog,” she panted, coming to a stop just next to him.
“Good afternoon, Miss Cherington,” Dagonet said, unable to stop the smile that threatened to take over his entire face. He turned to look down at the dog that had come back to rejoin its lost companion.
“I do hope that this isn’t…” he started.
“One of the footman?” Kate laughed. “No. This one was truly born a dog, I’m happy to say.”
He chuckled in relief. “Good!”
“You looked to be deep in thought, sir. I hope I’m not disturbing you,” she said, her head cocked a little as she looked up at him. Her eyes twinkled with mischief.
“No! No. Not at all, not at all. I was just… thinking.”
“Is something bothering you?” she asked, her smile replaced with honest concern.
He started to deny that there was but stopped himself. She should be the first to know. It was only fair. “I’m afraid my time here at Vallentyn is coming to an end, that’s all.”
“That’s all?” she repeated, surprise and sadness filling her voice. “But… It’s my aunt isn’t it? She’s driving you away with her worry and obsession with the children. I assure you…”
“No.” he said quickly, cutting off whatever she was about to say. “No. It’s not Lady Vallentyn.”
“But then, what is it?”
“It is you, I’m afraid,” he said suddenly without thinking.
“Me?” She took a step back from him, as well she should. She looked stricken, as if she might cry.
Dagonet’s heart began to pound with an awful ache inside his chest.
“Have I done something? Said something? If so, please accept my sincere apologies; it was clearly unintentional.”
He reached out and took her hand in his own. “No, no! You misunderstand. My terrible tongue, you know!”
Her eyebrows knitted together in concern as she looked up at him, allowing her hand to rest gently within his own.
“You haven’t done anything wrong, I assure you.”
“That is the problem. You’ve done everything right.”
She shook her head. “I’m afraid I don’t understand. If I have done nothing wrong, why do feel you must leave?”
Dagonet sighed and dropped her hand. “How can I explain this?” He paused, and this time thought carefully about what to say before he let his tongue run away with him. “I’m afraid I’m not the settling down type. I’m the here and gone sort, really.”
She still looked confused, so he tried to explain further, hoping that he didn’t muddle things up even worse. “I’m bound for South America soon, and before anything happens to make my departure even more difficult, I thought it best if I make my exit now. Do you understand?”
“What would make your leaving difficult?”
“You,” he said, trying for a smile to ease the bluntness of the word. He really didn’t see how he could explain it any better, not with his tongue and brain tripping over each other as they did too often when he was with her.
She looked up at him, thought about this for a few minutes and slowly moved closer to him as she did so. “So, am I understanding this correctly? The problem is that you like me?”
“Er… Yes, I suppose you could put it that way.”
Then before he could comprehend her intentions, her arms came around his neck pulling him down as she planted her lips against his.
As kisses went, it couldn’t have been clumsier—or sweeter. Everything within him softened into slush.
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