It was the evening of her engagement party, which was to be thrown at Martha Matheson’s fine, old home. There were to be some important people to Beatrice there, and then there were some people who were important in the community that she barely knew.
Beatrice looked the finest she ever had. Her light brown hair glistened in twists and twirls about her head. Her gown, a dark copper silk, complimented her olive skin, and belled out around her, making her waist look tiny. The gown was cut simply beyond that, with only a brown velvet ribbon tied about the waist. The neckline bared her shoulders, which she was discovering looked rather nice. She’d never worn a dresss with such a neckline before. She thought that Mother would have a coniption when she saw her shoulders bared, but when she saw it she nodded in approval.
About her neck was a simple brown velvet choker with a single drop pearl pendant hanging demurely from it. Her gloves were brown silk and went just past her elbows. She had no other adornment on her. She was wondering whether she should put on some jewelry on her wrists or perhaps a ring, when a quick rap was heard at the door.
Opening it, she was surprised to see John McClure. He seemed equally surprised to see her. He perused her face, and then her gown. His eyes ran over her bare shoulders again, before he looked into her eyes.
“Ol’ Trix,” he greeted, bowing.
“McClure,” she returned, giving him a nod.
“You look lovely.”
Beatrice blushed, and covered her neck with her hand. She didn’t need to get splotchy before the party.
“I realized yesterday that I hadn’t given you an engagement gift or really anything. So, I purchased this for you today.”
“Oh, thank you,” she said, opening the tiny box.
Inside was a square-cut topaz set in gold. It was simple, but lovely.
“It’s beautiful, McClure. Thank you.”
She went to remove her glove to put it on, but he stopped her, and asked her to allow him. After she nodded, he unbuttoned the three buttons right above the elbow. After he slid the glove off, he put the ring on her finger. Then he kissed her hand.
“I know we are in a predicament. I know this isn’t a love match either. But I promise to take care of you, Trixie. I hope that we’ll have a good life together.”
It was a sweet sentiment, and much kinder than anything else he had ever said to her. She smiled at him, and then kissed him on the cheek.
“Thank you, John. I feel much the same.”
“Shall I escort you downstairs?” he asked, handing her back her glove. “Guests will arrive soon.”
She nodded, and put her glove back on. He helped her with the buttons. Then taking her arms, he kissed her on the forehead, and led her down the stairs. Upon arriving in the parlor, her mother seemed quite pleased.
“You two make a handsome couple. I’m sure my grandchildren will be a delight to look upon. I’m sure that they’ll come soon after the wedding, yes?”
McClure stiffened beside her, and Beatrice blushed. She didn’t even know how to react to the statement. It was outlandish.
“How many should we have, Martha? Eight or nine?” asked McClure, not to be outdone by the old bat.
Beatrice gasped, and muttered “wicked man” under her breath. He didn’t seem to mind her saying it this time. She knew he heard it because he turned to her and grinned unrepentantly.
“Sounds about right to me,” Beatrice’s mother said, not giving ground.
Beatrice didn’t know if it could get any worse, when John McClure said that they would get right to it, as soon as they were lawfully able to. With that Beatrice’s legs gave out. McClure led her to a chair, and ordered someone to get a glass of water.
“Really, Beatrice,” her mother said, drolly. “There is no need for theatrics.”
Her mother went off to get a glass of water. McClure kneeled in front of her. His blue eyes were flashy with orneriness.
“Shocked you, have I? You keep calling me a wicked man. It’s only right that I live up to it.”
He winked at her. Beatrice paled even more. He was a rascal. She lifted her gloved hand up, and rubbed her forehead. She didn’t answer. To answer would be to spur him on. Her mother came back with a glass of water, of which Beatrice took a few gulps. She hoped that the conversation was over. Guests would be arriving soon. She didn’t want anyone overhearing anything like the conversation her fiance and mother had just had. It was indecent.
She looked at her fiance. He was now standing, looking down at her, while stroking his beard. He was so sure of himself, comfortable in who he was. However, he often crossed the boundaries of propriety. He was used to getting what he wanted. What would life be like with him? She started to regret her scheme to snare John McClure. It was far too late to back down though. She’d have to come up with some way to survive his antics. She’d have to give him what-for. She’d wait until she’d gathered her ideas though. She had to be well-prepared to face such a foe as John McClure.
It was announced that guests were arriving. McClure held out his hand for her to take. She accepted, and they went arm-in-arm to greet them.
McClure thought that the party went rather well. There were a few sly comments made by less-than-loving members of the community. However, Beatrice had a canny ability to smooth things over. Perhaps it was her lack of wit or her naivity that left people in wonder of her sweetness. He wasn’t sure how some lecherous snake hadn’t gobbled her up before now. That type of man loved to prey on sweet girls such as her.
He looked down at her as she was saying farewell to the last of the guests. He had to admit that he was surprised tonight at his attraction to her. Tonight was the first time he had really seen her as a woman, which was rather ludicrous, since she was 28 years of age. Before tonight, he hadn’t really thought of her beyond much more than a sister. Well, the two times he had kissed her, he thought of her more as a friend. He would never kiss one of his sisters. He shuddered thinking about that. Beatrice glanced over at him, strangely. She must have noticed his disgust. He’d better school his emotions better. He smiled broadly at her. In return, she gave him a weary smile. It was late, or rather, early in the morning.
As the last of the guests drove off in their buggies or carriages, Martha Matheson said that she was beyond weary and headed to bed. She also said that she expected him to be gone very soon.
“Of course,” he said, kissing her hand.
“Rapscallion,” said Martha Matheson, making her way up the stairs.
Beatrice was blowing out most of the candles in the stairway. There were a few left in the entry, where she was waiting for him to say his good-bye. The dim candlelight made her skin look dewey. Her large eyes sparkled in the dark at him. How had he never noticed how lovely she was before? Was his respect for Rand as a friend what kept his attention at bay?
Her chin had a bit of a stubborn lilt to it that he also hadn’t noticed before. He could tell she was pondering about something. He wondered what it was. He walked over to stand in front of her. She looked up at him, her brown eyes deep and dark.
“What will our marriage be like, John?” her lips asked him.
He wasn’t expecting that. He also wasn’t expecting this discovery of Beatrice Matheson’s beauty. How did he ever not notice before?
“Like this,” he said, and he took her in his arms and kissed her.
He made it more of a reserved, polite kiss, because they weren’t married, and it was obvious that Beatrice had received exactly three kisses in her life, including this one. All of them were from him. He felt quite proud of himself. It was the perfect kiss for that moment, reserved, but heartfelt. And a pretty good one, if you asked him. She stepped back, but instead of seeing wonder in her eyes, like he expected he saw… disappointment?
“Huh,” was what she said.
What the devil?
“What do you mean, “Huh”?” he asked, quietly.
“Well,” she paused, contemplating. “I thought for certain that we would have more of a- a “something” between us.”
“A something?” he repeated back, also quietly.
“Errmmm, yes. Like Rand and Shae have. Perhaps if we tried again?”
Perplexed, and wondering if she was pulling one over on him, he shrugged, and pulled her close to kiss her again. This time he put quite a bit more passion into it. He drew her close and caressed her lips. They were so soft. She was so soft, and smelled like dark spices, such as clove, and cinnamon. That should do it, he thought.
He released her and stepped back. She seemed unaffected! How could that be? He certainly felt something more than any other time he had kissed a woman. Not that he’d kissed THAT many, but still. With Beatrice, he had felt more of that “something” with her, than anyone else. By far.
“Good bye, John,” she told him, steadily. “We’ll talk about the wedding tomorrow.”
With that she opened the front door for him. He looked at her bewilderedly. He searched her face, her breathing, her eyes. She was telling the truth. She was too simple to lie so well. He bowed to her, grabbed his hat and put it on, and then looked at her one last time before leaving. She was looking at him like she was sorry for him.
“Farewell, old girl,” he said before walking away.
Beatrice shut the door and then leaned against it. Taking big gulps of breath, she slid to the floor. Then she started giggling as she thought about McClure’s face. He had been aghast at his lack of effect on her, except in truth he had effected her. The first kiss he gave her tonight was sweet and she felt it in her toes, but the second one? She didn’t know how she kept up her ruse, because she felt that one in every bit of her body.
She fanned her face, and sat there for a couple of minutes pondering on how long she should keep up the ruse. He was always playing a game, acting on the stage of life. It served him right to be put in his place, but at the same time, she didn’t like doing it. For one, it was exhausting hiding her emotions. Secondly, she knew deep down that she cared deeply for John McClure. She had a strong feeling, judging from HIS reaction to their kiss, that he at least had a strong attraction to her. Perhaps he even had an emotional attachment to her and he just didn’t know it yet.