The door shut quietly enough. After a slight pause he decided to take his boots off. He didn’t want to wake her as he crept over to her bed. The only light in the room came from the fireplace, making it hard to see where he was going. He threw on another log and went to the bed.

Elizabeth was curled up on her side. She looked like an angel, his angel. His minx. He had to hold her. Now. He raised the covers and crawled beneath them. He curled up against her body and gently pulled her against him, careful not to wake her and not really caring if he did. Finally he released the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. She was safe. She was here safely in his arms. With that thought repeating in his mind, he fell asleep.

Chapter 15

“That look isn’t going to work on me, my dear. Ask your mother,” Richard said without looking up from his newssheet. “You are not going.”

Elizabeth stopped pouting immediately. It usually worked. Well, only if her mother hadn’t already used the same tactic. Her mother must have asked to redecorate the pink sitting room this morning. That was fine since her backup plan never failed.

“You’re right, of course, Papa,” Elizabeth said.

Her father huffed his agreement. She picked up a plate and headed to the side table and filled the plate to the rim with meats, cheese, sweets and bread, noting that the servants had started putting out a spread large enough to feed a small army since the Bradfords came to stay with them.

It was at least three times more food than was necessary, but she knew that not a crumb would be wasted, not with Robert staying here. She remembered that he’d always had a rather large appetite, something that she’d teased him about when they were children. The amount of food that he went through in a day was rather frightening. Even his family seemed to be troubled by his eating habits. She couldn’t help but wonder how he wasn’t fat by now, but that was a thought for another time. Right now she had a mission to accomplish.

When she placed the plate down at the spot next to her father, she made sure the plate clattered loud enough to catch his attention. As she turned around to return to the side table for another plate, she saw her father peer around his paper to look at her plate. His eyes widened considerably. She turned her head quickly to hide her smile and filled a second plate with pudding, muffins left over from breakfast and a few scones and the rest of the raspberry jam. She placed the second plate near the first and sat down. Her father shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

Elizabeth ignored him as she made a big show of spreading butter on a piece of brown bread. She brought the slice of bread halfway to her mouth, gave a little shake of her head and added more butter to it before bringing it towards her lips once again.

Her father spoke up before she managed to take a single bite. “Isn’t that a bit much, my dear?” he tried to ask casually, but failed miserably and for good reason. This was exactly how Heather started her road to spinsterhood. She went from having a figure other women envied to being rather plump all in a relatively short period of time.

He wasn’t worried that she would be pushed into the life of a companion. She was financially well off and wouldn’t have to worry about money a day in her life. Her father was genuinely concerned about her. He wanted to see her well cared for and he craved more grandchildren.

She sighed heavily. This was a trick she could only use every few weeks. If she did it too often, it lost its affect.

“Isn’t there something you would like to do instead, my dear?” he asked nervously, glancing towards the large plates of food.

“Well, yes,” she said only to shake her head and sigh heavily. “No, you said I couldn’t go without you or mother.” She gave her father a sweet smile. “It’s okay, Papa. I can manage to get those things done some other way.” She looked back at her plates. “The scones look delicious…hmm, I wonder if there’s extra cake.”

He put down his paper and cleared his throat. “Sweetling, let’s not be hasty. The man is in jail and, with an extra footman, you should be more than safe.” He eyed the plates in front of her anxiously. “Give me a few weeks to clear my schedule or come up with a better alternative. I’m sure we can figure out a way for you to go visit your estate up north.”

Her hand stilled halfway to her mouth once again. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, yes I think you should go out. I’m sure you have plenty to do.” He gently pulled the plate full of sweets away from her, afraid she’d eat it before she made a decision.

She exhaled slowly and put the bread down. “I suppose I could go out.”

“That’s the spirit, my dear,” he said cheerfully.

“Well,” she pushed away from the table, “If I’m going to get my errands completed, I should go now.”

Her father rubbed the back of his neck, looking as if he’d just averted a disaster. She bent down and kissed his cheek. He mumbled something before sending her off.

She had to hide her smile as she left. In a few weeks she would be free of Robert and start her new independent life early. Things were going very well indeed.

* * *
"That smile can only mean one thing," James mused as he held the front door open for her and stepped to the side as she stepped out onto the front stoop.

"Oh? And what's that?" Elizabeth asked as she accepted his escort. She placed her hand on his bicep as he took the large basket from her and walked with her to the waiting carriage.

"You've eliminated my brother once and for all and even found the perfect spot to dispose of the body," James said with a wink as he helped her into the carriage and placed the basket on one of the benches.

She sighed heavily as she shook her head, still smiling, "I'm afraid not."

James chuckled as he climbed into the carriage and sat across from her. Once she was settled and a maid joined them, he knocked on the wall twice, indicating for the driver to go.

"You don't mind if I invite myself along, do you?" he asked with that charming smile that used to make her little heart skip a beat, but now just made her smile.

It was funny how childhood infatuation worked. One day he was all she could think about, wanted and wished for and the next.....the next she'd moved on without realizing it. When exactly had she gotten over her silly crush on him? Most likely when he’d stepped out of her life for Robert's sake.

She was just thankful that she did eventually get over him. She'd hate to be that obsessed over a man ever again. Actually, thinking back on how she used to act around him was quite embarrassing. Thankfully he'd always been too kind to tease her about it, unlike Robert, she thought with an inward sigh.

Once Robert figured it out, and now that she thought back on it she probably hadn't been as discreet as she’d thought, he’d tormented her with the knowledge. After that horrible day in the park, he seemed to go out of his way to humiliate her. He wrote insipid love letters to James and signed them from her, making sure to leave them where anyone could find them. He made kissing sounds whenever James was around and tried to make it seem as though she was the one making those noises. He openly taunted her about it until it became so bad that she refused to be in the same room as James and Robert.

Robert's antics probably softened the blow of having James suddenly withdraw from her life. It had been difficult and she remembered crying more than once, but it probably would have been worse if she'd been free to secretly adore him. In a way, Robert had actually helped her, not that that had been his intention. Thanks to him she could sit here across from the devastatingly handsome man in front of her and not have to worry about being nervous or saying something foolish. When she looked at James, all she saw was a good friend in the making. She certainly didn't want to kiss him like she did Ro-