James pulled off his boots, and then his stockings, and then—to Olivia’s shock—he climbed up and stood on the highest rock, letting the water foam over his feet and wet his breeches. “Don’t you want to climb up?”
She looked longingly at the rocks. The thought of water running over her feet and ankles was tempting, but not worth it. “I’d get wet, and my mother would be displeased.”
“Pity that. It’s great fun.”
Slowly she looked down at her shoes and stockings. Maybe if she held up her skirts, very high . . . But that would also be improper. “I’d better not.”
“Oh,” he said in disappointment. “You’re a coward.”
Olivia’s eyes widened. “How rude!”
He shrugged, kicking at the water and sending a spray over the grass. “I can tell you want to get up here but you won’t.”
“I’d get all wet . . .”
“So walk around until your feet and skirt dry. That’s what my sisters do.”
Olivia stole another look at the frothing stream. “Your sisters climb up there?”
“And they’re even younger than you. But if you’re too scared . . .” He started to climb down.
Her mouth firmed. She was not scared. “Those rocks are slippery. I don’t want to fall.”
He grinned as if he knew he’d won. “I’ll hold your hand.”
And he did. Olivia peeled off her stockings and slippers, folded up her skirts as high as she dared—all the way above her knees—and carefully stepped into the water. She gasped at the cold initially, but it was a hot day and soon the water felt blissful. James held her hand as promised and coaxed her to stand on the topmost rock at the edge of the waterfall. She balanced on the wide flat stone and a grin spread across her face. The water rushed over her toes and ankles and she thought she’d never done anything this daring in her whole life. “How did I never discover this?”
Still holding her hand, James laughed. “Good girls stay at home.”
“So I’m a bad girl for coming out here?”
“No,” he said. “A curious girl. I like that kind.”
That allayed Olivia’s moment of worry. Curious didn’t sound so terrible. She exchanged a tentative smile with James.
When their feet had gone numb, he helped her climb down and back onto the grass.
“Do you play dolls still?” he asked as he put his boots back on.
Olivia shook out her skirts, relieved to see that she had kept dry except for a small spot on one side. “Sometimes.”
“Good. Follow me.” He started off.
He turned at her indignant cry. “Call me Jamie. James if you must. You might as well come meet my sisters, who drove me from the house today with begging me to play dolls. My mother said I had to entertain them but they don’t like the way I play dolls.” He made an aggrieved expression. “Why can’t a doll put on a fine dress and then have a sword fight with another doll? What else have dolls got to do all day?” He shrugged. “You probably know better how to do it the way they want.”
“I can’t go into town without permission,” Olivia finally said. Privately she was curious to meet the Westons. Her parents didn’t view most of the local families as their equal, and Olivia and Daphne weren’t allowed much contact with other children. And even though she didn’t spend as much time with dolls as Daphne did, she wasn’t immune to wanting to see the Weston girls’ dolls, which were sure to be much finer than anything at Kellan Hall. But if Mother saw her, she’d be in such trouble.
He grinned as if sensing another victory. “We don’t live in town anymore. We took possession of Haverstock House this week, right over the hill.”
Her eyes popped open. Haverstock House was the finest house in the county, and lay between Kellan Hall and town. It belonged to the elderly Earl of Malke, who rarely visited since his wife’s death. Now the Westons owned it?
“I expect my mother will call on your mother soon, now we’re neighbors,” he went on. “Will she let you come visit then?”
Olivia doubted it. “Perhaps.”
Jamie Weston flashed his confident grin once more. “I’ll wager a copper penny she will.”
She earned a math degree from Harvard University and wrote computer software before turning to writing fiction. Ten years, twelve books, three Red Sox championships, and one dog later, she has never been happier with her decision.
Her books have won the NEC Reader’s Choice Beanpot Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award, and RWA’s RITA Award. Since she never won any prizes in math, she takes this as a sign that her decision was also a smart one. Visit her online at www.carolinelinden.com.