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His English Lady
Eldon returned home after a long morning at the market. Stepping out of his hired coach, he paid the driver and turned to see his sister hopping across the lawn, dark hair loose and blowing like black streamers through the wind. Echo was nearby, preparing to throw a ball at Nilette. Near the girls, he noticed a tuft of crinkling grass and assumed that Thacker was there, too.
As soon as she noticed another person’s presence, Echo lowered her arm. “It’s all right, girls.” He assured them, even though Nilette certainly wasn’t deterred by his presence. When she whirled around, her eyes were huge. He had forgotten what it was like to be a child with boundless energy. “Have you eaten recently?”
“We just came in to have sandwiches. Eldon, do you want to play with us?”
Chuckling, he shook his head. “Perhaps another time. Enjoy yourselves.” He adjusted the sack of food under his arm and continued onward. With a small amount of struggle, he shouldered through the front door. After he placed the food on the kitchen table, he lurched down the hallway and opened his study door. He leaned against his desk and removed his coat, then rolled up his shirt sleeves and unbuttoned the collar.
He picked up the invoices that had arrived in the mail yesterday. Before he had a chance to deliberate how he was going to cough up any money for the bank without making it impossible for him to pay back his loan, someone tapped on the door. “Come in,” he said without looking up.
A slim, tall figure entered the room. Lifting his gaze, he stared for a long moment at Kitty, who lingered in the doorway. “Do you need something, Ms. Ranlyn?” He asked, remembering the way that she had whimpered when he licked open her mouth.
Kitty came fully into the room and hovered on the other side of his desk. Suddenly, she thrust a paper package into his face. “I brought you biscuits.”
Pushing the package away from himself, he slid his lips over to the side of his face. “Why?”
She set the package in front of him and went over to the chair that he had put against his wall. Dragging it to the desk, she plunked herself down beside of him. With a huffing breath, he peeled open the package and said, “These are cookies.”
Kitty frowned. “They’re biscuits.”
“No, they’re cookies.” He insisted. Picking up one of the cookies, he shook off a thin layer of cinnamon and sugar. “Why are you giving me cookies?”
Kitty opened, then closed her mouth. Rethinking what she was going to tell him, she said, “I thought that you would be happy if I gave you biscuits. But you look just as grouchy as you did when I came in, and now you’re telling me that these are cookies. Why don’t you just forget about the name and eat one of them?”
“Because it’s bothering me that you think these are biscuits.”
“Have you forgotten that I’m English?”
“Of course not. The English have a certain… way about them. They’re disingenuous. They walk around with their noses in the air, flaunting their wealth with extravagant house parties and ridiculous clothing. The English have no hobbies. Rather, they consume themselves by strategically planning out marriages so that they can either gain a title or become rich. And then they surprise you with things like this, but they don’t tell you why they’re giving them to you. Have I a right to be paranoid?”
“I suppose, but you seem crazy. Perhaps you could accept the fact that I’m being nice.”
Eyeing Kitty, he picked up one of the cookies and nibbled on the edge of it. “It’s fine,” he said. “You shouldn’t put it into your mind that you have a chance of becoming a baker, but the cookie was all right.”
“You would give it much more praise if you knew that I wasn’t the one who made it.”
“There you are! You could have told me from the moment that you gave me these cookies that you didn’t make them! But, no, you waited to see how I would react. If I said that it was the best thing I ever tasted, you wouldn’t have told me that this wasn’t your own creation. Because I said that it was fine, you removed the criticism from yourself and put it onto someone else. You sneaky Englishwoman! Now I think that the cookie is even blander, and perhaps a little dry, because you didn’t make it. You fooled me into thinking that you put effort into making these for me, but you only burdened yourself with carrying them into my study.”
“And you’re jumping to conclusions! I did attempt to make these biscuits, but I’ve never baked anything in my entire life. I told you that. I burned the first two batches. You should be pleased to know that my sister helped me, or else I would have given you melted, crispy biscuits.”
“Cookies!” Eldon said, knowing that he looked absolutely mad. “These are cookies. And, frankly, I would have rather had the melted, burnt cookies than anything that your sister made. Would you be happy if I gave you a gift, and then told you that my brother actually made it because he’s a better craftsman than I am?”
All at once, Kitty ruptured into giggles that shook her entire frame. Even though he tried to repress it, a smile broke out on Eldon’s face as she laughed so hard that she began to hiccup. “You poor girl,” he murmured. “I won’t accept any other gifts from you unless they’re made by your hand. Now what will you do, return home to make me some other awful, burnt thing?”
Kitty lifted her bright, hazel eyes to his face, and he shuddered as she flashed her pearly teeth in a smile. As if she had experienced that same discomforting feeling in her stomach, she wet her bottom lip with the tip of her tongue. Eldon’s eyes darted down to her plump mouth.
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