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The next weeks passed maddeningly slowly. The placid life she had on the farm was full of the sort of pursuits that she’d always wanted to do back in Boston, but had never had enough time for. Now, however, she could spend hours reading in the parlor. She passed whole afternoons on the porch, writing poetry. She even accompanied her brothers to the creek, where they would fish and trap crawdads while she sat in the shade of the aspen and sketched the countryside.
“What’s that, a box?” Jake asked, pointing over her shoulder at the tablet.
“No, that’s not a box. That’s the cornfield. Don’t you see the rows? The tiny ears of corn?” she said, holding the paper up higher for him to see it more closely.
“Since when do we have a bull?”
“That’s not a bull,” she said. “That’s Sam, riding Racer.”
He studied the drawing closely for a moment. “Better not show it to Sam,” Jake said, turning to head back to the creek. “He’d take offense. And so would Racer.”
Kate snorted at him and looked down at her sketch. Now that he had mentioned it, Racer’s ears did look a bit like the horns of a bull. She was about to flip to a blank page and start again when she decided to close the sketch book instead. She leaned back against the tree and gazed out across the fields. There was a limit to the number of times she could sketch the same rolling hills, and she had reached it today.
At least this evening promised something different. Edward made every effort to see her as often as his work—and Kate’s father—would allow, and he had invited the family to a poetry recital tonight. In fact, I’d better get back to the house, she thought, getting up and brushing bits of dry grass off her dress.
“Kate, where are you going?” Mark called.
“I have to get ready,” she said. “We have the poetry reading tonight. Are you sure you don’t want to come? You boys could use some culture.”
“Here’s a poem for you right now. I wish, I wish, to catch a fish,” Jake said, dropping his line back in the water. “See, we’re cultured already.”
She waved to the boys and walked back to the house. By the time she had eaten, washed up and gotten dressed, Edward had arrived and was sitting in the dining room with her father, having a cup of tea.
“Katherine, you look wonderful,” Edward said, rising from his chair. “You’ll be the prettiest one there, that’s for certain.”
“Shall we go?” Thomas asked.
“Yes, it’s supposed to start at six,” Edward said, eyeing the clock. They moved into the hall, but before they’d reached the front door, Edward gently took Kate’s arm. “Tom, would you mind if I spoke to Katherine privately for a moment?”
“Go right ahead.” He stepped outside to wait on the porch as Kate and Edward went to the parlor. As soon as Kate closed the doors and turned to Carter, he swept her into his arms and kissed her. The boredom of the days without him, the ache of his absence, seemed to have suddenly vanished with the touch of his lips on hers.
“I’ve missed you so much,” she said. “Every minute apart has been like an eternity.”
“It’s been the same for me. These past few weeks have been wonderful,” he said. “I knew that you were a special woman, but I never could have guessed how I’d come to care for you so quickly.” He glanced behind to make sure that the parlor door was shut before he closed in for another kiss. His lips felt like they were scorching her flesh with delicious heat, and only her fear of being seen kept her from letting him continue. Kate slowly pushed him back a bit, reluctantly drawing her mouth away from his. She took his hand and led him to sit on the sofa.
“Edward, I feel the same way,” she said. “When you’re not here with me, the time just crawls by, and when we’re together it has wings. Even now I’m just dreading the end of the evening when you have to leave again.”
“I’m happy to hear you say that,” he said. “I have some news, by the way. My father sent word; he’s coming to visit next week. I’d like you to meet him.”
“That’s wonderful! Of course, I’d love to.”
“Good. I’m sure he’s anxious to meet his future daughter-in-law.”
A half-smile crossed Edward’s lips as he reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a small, square box.
Kate felt her heart leap into her throat as he got down on one knee. “Edward, what are you doing?”
“Katherine, I want you to be my bride,” he said. “Marry me.”
It felt like the room was spinning, and she clutched the arm of the sofa. “You can’t be serious. This is too soon,” she said. “You didn’t tell your father already, did you?”
“No, not yet, but I’m serious. I want us to get married,” he said. “And I wouldn’t say it’s too soon at all. In fact, I don’t see any reason to wait any longer.”
“Edward, we’ve only known each other for a few weeks,” Kate said. “This is a big decision. I need more time to think about it.”
A cloud passed over Carter’s face, and he slowly got to his feet. “So you’re saying no?” he asked, looking down at her.
She extended her hand and he helped her up from her seat. “I’m not saying no,” she said. “But I’m not saying yes yet either. You need to give me more time.”
Carter’s sigh was no doubt as much for her as it was for him, and he ran his hand over his jaw as if trying to figure out what had gone wrong. “More time,” he said. “Very well. I’m not fond of waiting once I’ve made up my mind. But if you need more time, then take it, by all means.”
She squeezed his hand and kissed him quickly. “Thank you, Edward,” she said. “I knew you’d understand.”
He gave her a thin smile as they stepped outside to join her father. Thomas may not have noticed a chill between them, but Kate certainly did. Edward barely said a word on the ride to town, only answering in the briefest of replies when the others spoke to him. He made no effort to hide his boredom at the poetry recital, though she couldn’t blame him for that—as it turned out, the members of the Mineral Point Literary Society were probably better suited for reading poetry than writing it.
By the time they had returned to the house, it felt like a wall of ice had grown between them, and Kate had to almost literally twist Edward’s arm to get him to stay with her on the porch for a while, instead of leaping into his carriage and disappearing into the night.
She led him to the swing and they sat together, the chain softly squeaking as they slowly rocked back and forth.
“I know I disappointed you tonight,” she said, taking his hand into her lap. “I’m sorry.”
He sighed, then ran his hand over his eyes as if he were tired. “You have nothing to be sorry about. I just thought that you felt the same way about me as I do about you.”
“Oh, Edward,” she murmured. “Don’t ever doubt the way I feel about you.” She raised one hand to his cheek, turning his face until he was looking at her. “And remember, I didn’t turn you down,” she said. “I would be a very lucky woman to have you for my husband. I just need time to think.” She leaned over and kissed him, then laid her head against his shoulder.
The frost between them finally melted away as he put his arms around her and hugged her tightly.
“And I’ll be a lucky man,” he said quietly. He kissed her, then gently freed himself from her embrace. “But I should be going; it’s late.”
He helped her to her feet and she brushed a strand of hair out of his eyes. “Is everything all right between us?” she asked.
“Never better,” he said. He hugged her again quickly, then turned and went down the porch steps. After climbing into his runabout, he waved to her, guided the horse onto the gravel path, and in only a couple of minutes had disappeared from sight.