The rest of November went quickly. Thanksgiving came and went. Shae felt she did well planning out her first holiday meal. Mr. Matheson was polite, but reserved. Their talks on the weekend evenings were the same. Little emotion was shown, as they talked of local politics, national events, and world history. Shae found herself quite content with their arrangement. He was becoming her friend.
Lucy was slowly warming to her. After a number of her tricks, she finally conceded to the fact that Shae wasn’t going to react the way she wanted her to concerning them. She was a bright child and threw herself into studying. She actually told Shae she was trying to get smarter than her. Shae had smiled and told her that she hoped that she would be.
Now it was December and there were a number of parties that her husband needed her to attend with him. Tonight was the first of about a dozen over the next month. Shae was excited to wear one of her new ball gowns. It was made of dark red velvet on the bodice and had pinched sleeves. Gold lacework ran across the neckline and came down to a V at her waist. More gold lace draped across the front of the skirt, which was made of wine-colored satin. The red velvet also draped beautifully in the back, making a small train. A gold necklace was around Shae’s neck and a gold-painted feather was stuck in her upswept hair.
She felt at her best as she made her way into the current mayor’s home. Her husband also looked well beside her in a black velvet suit. As they greeted people immediately upon entering, Shae finally felt that she was beginning to fit into her role as the wife of Randolph Matheson.
“There are some people that I want you to meet,” her husband said to her, extending his arm towards the couple in front of him. “Mrs. Matheson, I’d like to introduce you to my law partner, Mr. Wagner, and his wife, Margaret. Mr. and Mrs. Wagner, please meet my wife, Shaelene.”
It was the first time that she had heard her given name on her husband’s lips. Before he had always introduced her as Mrs. Matheson, even to his aunt, who still insisted on calling her Lena. These must be important people in his life; one of the very few that he could let down his walls around.
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Matheson,” a tall blonde man said.
“Likewise,” said Shae. “And I’m pleased to meet you too, Mrs. Wagner.”
“Do call me Meg,” the woman replied.
Meg was like sunshine, with wheat-colored blonde hair, and expressive grey eyes. She was warm and pleasant in her demeanor, like her insides were so pure and happy that her coloring could only be as fair as she truly was. Shae instantly liked her.
“Absolutely. Please call me Shae.”
“Shall we head into the party,” Mr. Wagner offered, as they were standing in the entryway still.
“Yes,” Matheson agreed.
Their wraps were taken, and they stopped in the doorway of a very large room.
“You are under the mistletoe,” Mr. Schull, the mayor, said loudly, gaining many people’s attention. “You know the tradition, Matheson!”
Shae looked at her husband, who paled slightly. She saved him by offering her hand. Thinking that had helped their situation out, she turned to look at the other couple, who were kissing with a deep regard and respect for each other. Nearly every eye in the room was on all four of them. The difference between the two couples was obvious. The mayor tried to relieve Mr. Matheson’s tension by stating that Mr. and Mrs. Wagner were newlyweds, just back from their honeymoon. However, Shae and Mr. Matheson were newly wed too, and there was nothing intimate about how he cooly kissed her gloved hand. Everyone there knew it. Panic started flaring in Shae’s stomach, and there was even a bit of it in Mr. Matheson’s normally stoic expression. Shae scrambled for something to remedy the situation that just seemed to grow worse with each person’s attempt to fix it.
“Mr. Matheson knows how shy I am about public affection. He was trying to protect me from embarrassment,” Shae offered to the crowd. “I guess that idea didn’t go according to plan!”
She laughed, as did the mayor, followed by the rest of the partygoers. She glanced a look at Mr. Matheson, who joined in. He patted her hand and pulled her into the room with him. The mayor then had the band start playing music for the dances. Mr. Matheson danced the first dance with her and then started making his usual rounds to the men of the group.
At first Shae began the rest of the night by watching the other dancing couples. After a few dances, Meg came up to her and began chatting for the duration of a couple more. Her and Mr. Wagner had just returned from their honeymoon overseas. That’s when Shae began getting snippets of conversation about their marriage. As she was walking to the refreshment table, she heard things about a marriage of convenience, that there was no true love between them, that Mr. Matheson had a woman on the side, and many other ugly rumors. The worrisome thing being that most of the rumors were true, besides there being another woman. She doubted the rumor about a dalliance on Mr. Matheson’s part. He was obviously in love with his wife– his dead one.
Ignoring the chatter, she had just taken a long swallow of her drink, when a strong hand grabbed her upper arm. It startled her enough that she spilled a bit of her punch. It was Matheson. He looked reserved, but his gloved fingers were moving restlessly on her upper arm. He looked intently at her.
“We must talk,” he insisted quietly, “in private.”
“Yes,” Shae agree, going with him out of the room and down a darkened hallway.
After trying one door and peeking in, Mr. Matheson muttered under his breath, and shut it quickly.
“Another room then,” was all he said to her.
He opened another, peeked in and rushed her inside. Shutting the door and locking it, he started pacing. This was the most emotion that she had ever seen him reveal. She had a good idea that his anxiety had to do with the rumors going around the ballroom about them.
“I know why you brought me here,” Shae offered.
He stopped pacing.
“I don’t have a mistress,” he said earnestly, taking her hands and looking into her eyes.
“I know. You are in love with Claire still.”
“What are we going to do? We aren’t convincing them we are in love. I can’t afford for the men to be worried about the sanctity of their marriages or the innocence of their daughters.”
“It’s not like you flirt with the women, Mr. Matheson,” Shae countered.
“I know that. You know that too, but they only see what they wish to.”
He started pacing again for a minute, but finally stopped in front of her. He must truly be worried if he were reacting so.
“We’re going to have to show more affection for each other in public. We are too much like good friends or like blood. I was told so tonight by another man.”
“I know. I don’t need anymore from our relationship than we have now. I’m content being your friend.”
He smiled gently, but his eyes stormed down at her.
“I wish to remain so too. But in public, we’ll have to pretend to be in love. We’ll have to try harder.”
Shae took a deep breath, and concern lined her brow. She’d never been in love. She didn’t know what that looked like, and told him so.
“Surely you’ve seen other people in love with their glances, and touches.”
“Yes, we’ve barely touched each other, let alone in such a way,” Shae said thinking of her parents and also the Wagner’s kiss tonight under the mistletoe. “In comparison to the ease of people truly in love, it will be awkward.”
“And painful,” Mr. Matheson added, obviously thinking of Claire.
“Yes,” was all that Shae whispered.
“I have confidence in you. You are a brick, and a quick learner. Just follow my lead. I’ll try to not make it too uncomfortable for you,” he said softly, “I’m sorry.”
He only nodded and led her out of the room. Making it back to the refreshment table, he poured her another drink. Taking one himself, he sipped and looked about the room.
“We’re being watched carefully. Can you waltz?” he asked her.
“Yes, but once again, I’ve never done it in this situation.”
“Follow my lead,” he said, offering his hand to her.
Shae just smiled at him as he led her onto the floor, trying her best to look infatuated with him. As the opening strains of the next song started, she hoped she didn’t look daft. A waltz started. A very romantic, and intentional choice by him.
They bowed to each other one second, and then in the next she was pressed very close to him, held tight by his strong right arm. Very close, so that she was enveloped by his warmth, and his strength. The very next moment she was being twirled about the room. His scent of bay and cedar surrounded her as much as his arm did. This dance was making her dizzy.
“Don’t look at the floor,” he commanded. “Look me in the eyes.”
So she did, which alleviated some of the nausea that she was feeling.
“Smile,” he directed her.
“You,” she countered, smiling saucily.
With that he genuinely smiled, and even chuckled under his breath a little. Shae felt the rumbling of it run through her. This was certainly much different than their usual distance from each other. It was very different, this dizzying, intimate experience.
“Now you see why I don’t dance with any of the other women,” he remarked, seemingly reading her mind, “Particularly the waltz.”
“Yes,” was all that Shae breathed.
“It is very important that they believe that we love each other, Wife.”
Shae agreed again. And then the song was over. While she was still reeling, he led her over to a quiet corner. She felt many eyes on them.
“Are you alright?” he asked, leaning close.
He swept a loose curl from her forehead. She was panting from the exertion of the waltz, and even perspiring a bit, but she nodded. He looked around them.
“I think that we should leave,” he observed, “There is still too much speculation, but we at least made an impression. I’m judging this is true by everyone trying not to stare at us.”
Shae looked up at him. His face was passive, but his eyes looked a bit devilish, like he had something else up his sleeve. All around them, people were watching, but pretending not to. Apparently their dance had definitely captured many people’s attention. She cleared her throat.
“Yes, I think that we should.”
They made their way to their hosts and let them know that they were leaving. As Shae looked around, it was obvious that people were still watching their machinations. It was such a difference from the last ball, where there didn’t seem to be such speculation among the community concerning them. She was sure that Neva had something to do with this. She wondered if Mr. Matheson was aware of the entire room’s continued attention. As if answering her thoughts, he led her to the doorway, but stopped just as they were going through.
“I don’t care about your sensibilities, Mrs. Matheson,” he said quite loudly, “I shall kiss you in front of anyone I please!”
And with that, his strong arms and spicy scent enveloped her again, and his mouth was upon hers. One of his arms held her even closer and the other held the back of her neck and into her hair. Then it was over. He moved away from her and bowed to the crowd, as she blushed. He looked down at her and smiled.
“How pretty you look when you blush,” he said to her, loud enough that those closest to them heard.
Then he led his shocked wife to retrieve her wraps. They said nothing as they waited. He just held her hand until they came. Then they got into the carriage and left.
Across from her, Mr. Matheson looked at her, with no expression. Shae was still in shock. She stared at him for several seconds, and then began laughing heartily. He looked at her broodingly with a faint smile on his lips.
“That was my first kiss,” she admitted, gaily.
His smile faded. His face betrayed nothing, but his eyes looked regretful. After a moment, he looked stoic again. Neither of them spoke the rest of the night, even upon arrival at their home. Both entered the house and made their way to their respective rooms, not looking at each other, not touching, not talking.
Shae shut herself in her room and leaned on the door for a few minutes, trying to get a grasp on what transpired that night. Then she went to bed.