[Edited to add, I must not have scheduled it for the right day! Sorry. Anyway, since books have no expiration dates, I think we can say that samples don’t go stale, either, so here ya go!]
This week, we’ll follow the story of that overly bubbly, mother of all things scandalous: Carolina Ellis as she snags John aka Trouble and becomes a member of the Banks family in the book His Yankee Bride.
To set the scene, Carolina and John have met a few days prior at a ball in Charleston where Carolina is just SURE he’s the one for her. Then, when she sees him again around town, she knows it’s true: he’s the one she’s to marry. Only her mother is not so convinced and when her father demands they return to the plantation, her mother is quite pleased to take Carolina home. But then, fate steps in again and when John shows up there, too, as a guest to her long-lost brother, Carolina is absolutely 100% sure he’s to be her husband and decides to talk to him about something of the utmost importance:
The muscles in John’s arm tensed. Slowly, he turned his head around to meet Carolina’s soft brown eyes. “Yesh?” he asked around the two nails he was holding between his teeth.
“I was hoping to talk to you.”
He turned his attention back to the fence post and board in front of him, then took one of the nails from between his teeth and put it into position. “It’ll have to wait,” he said, driving a nail into the board he was holding.
She didn’t leave. “Why can’t we talk now?”
Why did she always ask him questions when he was working? Wait. He knew the answer to that. Because, other than the night of the ball, that was the only time she’d ever seen him. He took the other nail from his lips. “How about if we talk later?” he suggested.
“No,” she said, stepping closer to him. “I need to talk to you now. It’s important.”
He cast her a sidelong glance. What could she possibly have to say to him that was that important? He shook off the thought. Females, he’d learned, thought everything was of the utmost importance. He lifted the nail to the board and tightened his grip on his hammer, ready to swing. “And you’re sure it cannot wait until a more opportune time?”
She shook her head so vehemently that two tendrils of her curly hair came loose. “It’s about our wedding,” she said just as he gave his hammer a hearty swing.
John’s hammer collided with his nail.
Unfortunately, not the metal one that would attach the two boards; no, his hammer hit his nail, his thumbnail to be exact.
“Confound it all!” he burst out, tucking his thumb against his palm and curling his fingers around it.
“Are you all right?” she asked, her small hands reaching for his.
He pulled his hand away. “I’m fine,” he replied, but only if fine meant being in severe pain from hitting oneself with two pounds of solid metal.
She didn’t seem a bit put off by his reaction and reached for his hand again. “Let me see.”
“No,” he bit off. “I think you’ve done enough.”
“I don’t recall hitting you with the hammer.”
“You might as well have,” he muttered to himself, squeezing his thumb as tightly as he could.
“What’s that to mean?”
He gritted his teeth. “Nothing; just go, so I can get back to work.”
“But I need to talk to you.”
He stared at her and suddenly the discomfort in his thumb was quickly being replaced with another sort of discomfort, the one that had caused him to hit himself with the hammer in the first place.
“When did you plan to return to England?”
“As soon as possible.”
Her cheeks grew pink, and the smile that spread her lips was enough to make a man’s heart stop. “Well, not too soon. Weddings take time to plan, don’t you know?”
There she went again talking about a wedding. “What wedding?” he burst out, his stomach knotting in anticipation of her answer.
“Yes, I heard that the first time.” He sighed and leaned back against the fence post. “Carolina,” he started. For some reason he couldn’t name or place, he preferred to use her full name. And it had nothing to do with her preferring it; at least, that’s what he told himself. “I don’t know what I might have said or done to make you think there would be a wedding taking place where I would be your bridegroom, but I’m returning to England—alone—as soon as I earn enough for my passage.” To be quite blunt, she’d have better luck waiting for her mother to grow a heart than for him to exchange vows with her.
It wasn’t that he didn’t like her; he did, well, in a way. She was as annoying as his older brothers used to claim him to be. But still, there was something about her… Something fresh and unique; something intriguing and intoxicating; something he didn’t want—nay, didn’t need—to discover.
“Mmmmhmmm,” she hummed in a sing-song tone, stealing his attention. “That’s what I thought.”
He scowled. “What’s what you thought?”
She gave a sigh worthy of an actress who’d spent her whole life on Drury Lane. “Your pride and your heart are at war, John.”
He knit his brow. What was she talking about? Nonsense, if he had to describe it. “Listen to me, please. I have no intention of marrying you.”
She looked unmoved.
Praying she wouldn’t ask him to elaborate further than what he planned to tell her, he said, “Carolina, for the majority of my life, I’ve been practicing what my brother Edward calls near honesty and haven’t knowingly told a lie for nearly ten years.”
She grinned at him. “See, you haven’t knowingly told a lie, which is why you’re lying to me now; you just don’t know it’s a lie.”
John groaned. “No. I’m not. Carolina, we’re from two entirely different worlds. We cannot marry.”
“Then just put aside your pride about accepting work from my father and then we’ll get married.”
John’s jaw dropped. “What, pray tell, has transpired between us in the last four days that has made you certain I planned to ask you to marry me?” he asked, matching her blunt tone.
She shrugged. “It’s your eyes.”
“Pardon? My eyes?” he asked, blinking.
“They told me so,” she said simply.
“I wasn’t aware eyes could speak.”
“Normally, they don’t. But yours do.” She grinned at the blank look he must have on his face. “See, I’m not one who puts a lot of credit in someone’s words. To me, their facial expressions—including eyes—say far more. It’s a gift, really. And your eyes, John Banks, say you want to marry me.”
“Really? And why have I never before heard of this—this—” he made a rolling gesture with his hand in hopes he’d think of a better word than preposterous— “unusual phenomenon of my eyes telling a young lady of my feelings for her?”
“Because you’ve never been in love before,” she said matter-of-factly.
John took a deep breath and closed his eyes, lest they tell her of the annoyance he felt toward her at the moment. He pinched the bridge of his nose then rubbed his closed eyelids. He hated the thought of saying something cruel to her; she might be an annoyance, but she didn’t deserve cruelty. Unfortunately, he didn’t know how he could explain what he was thinking without being cruel. “Carolina,” he said uneasily, forcing himself to meet her eyes again. “I think you’re a fine young lady, but I’m not ready to get married.”
“That’s all right,” she said airily. “Mother would never agree to a short engagement anyway.”
“No, your mother doesn’t seem the sort who would agree to any engagement between the two of us.” He sighed. “But that’s not the point.” Swallowing hard, he took her hands in his. “Do you remember when you told Mr. Cale you’d make a fine wife for someone, just not him? The same could be said for me.”
She recoiled as if he’d slapped her.
His eyes widened. “Wait, that’s not how I meant it,” he said with a ragged breath. “I think you’ll be a wonderful wife, but I’m not the husband you need. You need someone who—” He racked his brain for a positive adjective that didn’t fit him, but couldn’t be considered an insult to her—sadly, no such adjective came to mind. He sighed in frustration at his lack of finding the right words. Her brown eyes were still penetrating his and he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Right now you think you’re attracted to me because I’m somewhat of a curiosity. But that will pass. In a week or two, you’ll wake up and realize that I was nothing more to you than a passing fascination.”
She didn’t respond, and that bothered him more than if she had. The workings of her mind were a puzzle he doubted even Edward could solve. He nearly snorted. That wasn’t much of a stretch. Edward had the hardest time determining his own wife’s feelings and desires. In fact, it was John who had to help him. But, as easy as it was to recognize what did and didn’t interest Regina, where Carolina was concerned, he was at a loss. The only thing he knew for certain was that while she was the most beautiful creature he’d ever laid eyes on, she was also the most willful and brazen. How fortunate for him she had somehow taken into that unusual mind of hers the notion that one day, presumably in the not-so-distant future, they would be wed.
Her hands squeezed his a fraction tighter. “Very well. I’ll let you get back to that fence.”
Then, before he could have a chance to question her motives and talk her out of trying anything foolish, she fled.