About the book
He chose to be her friend, but falling in love with her was out of his control...
Lady Emma Weston, daughter of the Earl of Westfolk, lives with a guilty secret.
Silently in love with her best friend, she has longed for his affection for years. But to be with him means to betray someone close to her.
After many years of yearning for Lady Emma from afar, Donald Stafney, Marquess of Stapleton and a successful businessman, is ready to proclaim his feelings. Desperate not to lose her to her other suitors, he is willing to fight for her heart.
Their friendship soon transforms into a smoldering passion and every doubt melts away under their delirious lust...
When an unexpected incident reveals that Emma is leading a double life, Donald must pay the ultimate price to discover the truth: his life. The sound of the lethal shot awakens Emma to the dreadful realization that the person she was trying to protect all along is the one pulling the strings to destroy them...
“Do you think she forgot?” Donald asked, unable to hide the small bit of concern, bordering on fret, that crept into his voice.
“Perish the thought, Donald,” Matthew practically laughed the words at him. “Overslept is more like it.”
The two gentlemen sat at a special dining table Matthew had set up for their breakfast in his garden. While Matthew’s garden was far from the most exquisite, its veranda made it an excellent place to share a meal.
The gentlemen seemed to be almost completely opposite. Donald’s mother used to say that the two boys must have been brought together to complement each other.
Donald Stafney, The Marquess of Stapleton, was tall and muscular, his red coat often straining against his broad shoulders if he moved the wrong way. His dark hair fell in tight curls just above his eyes. For being only of three-and-twenty, his handsome face wore many worry lines. He was a notorious fretter among his friends, which was part of the reason he got on so well with his companion, his best friend Matthew was often the only one to lift him from a dour mood.
The gentleman next to him might have been missed if you approached the table from the wrong angle and he happened to be hidden behind Donald’s stature. Matthew Bowles, the Earl of Thetmont, was a slight gentleman, strong but lithe, and a full head shorter and two stone lighter than Donald, despite being the same age. His fairer features made the contrast between him and his friend even greater. With short bright-blond hair and blue eyes he was often quick to draw the attention in a group, and his good humor and hearty laugh would usually hold it from there.
“She will be here,” Matthew reassured his lifelong friend, “there is no way she would miss my going-away breakfast.”
“You are right. We’ve all just been so busy lately,” Donald continued to let his melancholy demeanor shine through, “I don’t want the friendship to suffer due to our business.” He was surprised how much he had missed Emma’s continued presence, but chalked it up to not knowing you missed something until it was gone.
“Our incredibly successful business, Donald. You should give us the credit we deserve,” Matthew laughed and Donald couldn’t help but return at least a smile, which eventually forced itself into a grin.
Matthew was right, they had done extremely well for themselves in a relatively short time. Truth be fully told, the idea of the two young gentlemen being successful business partners surprised no one. And it didn’t hurt that the fur business favored a particular mix of social and business acumen, which suited them just fine. If you were attending an important social function in London, then you were going to see clothing made by furs traded by Donald and Matthew.
Donald and Matthew had been friends since they were both eight-years old. They had met at a holiday party, the Earl of Hannich’s annual Christmas ball, or so their parents had told them. They had little recollection of that social event. All they could remember was an instant and intense sense of fraternity with one another. One that their families had recognized and fostered. The first letter Donald had ever sent had been to Matthew, which still lived in a drawer somewhere on the lavish Thetmont Estate.
Their parents had seen it fit to have the boys educated together and the friendship was forged into something far stronger. Childhood friends to schoolboy companions to business partners. The only person who had come to know the boys as well as they knew each other just so happened to be the same lovely young lady they were waiting on.
“The Lady Emma Weston and The Lady Henrietta Puron,” the butler announced and both gentlemen smiled, a knowing smile from Matthew and a relieved one from Donald. They stood to greet the ladies who would be joining them.
When Emma passed under the flowered gable that lead to the outside dining area, Donald felt his breath catch in his throat. She was accompanied by her dear friend, Lady Henrietta, and their two lady’s maids in close step behind them. But his eyes were, as always, drawn to Emma.
It had been several weeks since they had last seen each other, although they frequently corresponded. They had missed their usual socializing due to all the work that had come with getting the business up and running. That being said, no matter how long between visits, Donald was always a little speechless from her beauty.
The beams bouncing off the white blossoms softened the light and made the flourishes and bunches of Emma’s cream-colored dress look as though they were blooming too. The soft white of her dress was offset by her own pale and delicate complexion, and both were complimented by long silky tresses of dark hair. Donald was always hesitant to admit to himself how strikingly beautiful Emma had become, but he couldn’t deny the quickening of his pulse.
Both gentlemen were delighted by the smiling eyes of their dear friend. She had been there at that holiday party as well and, according to the accounts of their parents, the young girl had followed the two boys around all night. Admittedly, none of the children had any recollection of this, but they had certainly all grown to be close friends in the years to come.
Emma Weston was the daughter of the Earl of Westfolk, and a lady with an active social schedule. It made friendship an effort, to be sure, but it was considered well worth the reward by all of them. Emma’s education had been separate, but they had made every effort to spend their breaks with one another. Their friendship may have ridden the line of socially inappropriate at times, boys and girls being kept properly separate in many regards, but under the watchful eyes of their families, the friends were happy to enjoy their time together.
Donald bowed lightly first to Emma and then to Lady Henrietta, as they gracefully walked over to the table. Lady Henrietta carried herself with less grace than Emma, which she would often attribute to her height. She was one of the tallest ladies that he had ever known and woe to anyone who would point it out in the course of criticism. She was an angular beauty, contrasting her friend almost as much as Donald contrasted Matthew. Her long, loosely-tied hair was a light oak, too brown to be blonde but far too light to be considered a brunette.
Matthew moved to pull out her chair while Donald offered a chair to Lady Henrietta with a smile and made a sweeping gesture for her to sit. Their lady’s maids, Josephine and Selena respectively, were seated at a servants table nearby. It was only proper that their chaperons be close at hand to make sure all behavior was kept proper.
“I hope this morning finds you well, Lady Emma,” Donald began.
She laughed at this, “If I told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times to call me Emma, Lord Stapleton. Surely we have known each other long enough to justify that.”
“My Lady, that would be extremely inappropriate. Our dear Stapleton would hate to do something so flagrant,” Matthew playfully scoffed.
“And what is your excuse, Lord Thetmont?” Emma bent and stooped gently down into her seat, allowing herself to be moved to the table. Lady Henrietta likewise, assisted by Donald. Both gentlemen returned to their seats before Matthew answered. A bowl of fruit sat at the table, but out of the corner of his eye Donald saw the servant’s signal the cooking staff that they were ready for their breakfast.
“With the young lord leading by example,” Matthew said gesturing to Donald, “I refuse to be the one seen as uncouth.”
“Of course, how foolish of me to insinuate that you would put yourself in such an obtuse and unflattering position,” Emma retorted, stifling a giggle. “Though you might be too late, being seen as the more proper gentleman compared to Lord Stapleton is a struggle few will overcome.”
“How true. Allow me, then, to put myself in an obtuse and unflattering position by asking what kept you from arriving on time?” Matthew asked, causing Donald to sputter in secondhand embarrassment at such a forward question. Lady Henrietta let a smile creep up on her face.
Emma waved a white gloved hand at Donald, hoping to placate his indignation on her behalf. “Lady Henrietta wouldn’t leave the house until she was fully satisfied with her outfit. She is very picky when she goes out into public.”
Lady Henrietta cleared her throat lightly. “I am sure it has nothing to do with how similar getting you out of bed is like rousing a cat on a hearth.”
“And how many times had you changed by the time I had finally risen?” Emma retorted and the four of them had a good laugh.
The four of them enjoyed a delightful breakfast; the meal was as well prepared as it was rich. And the good meal was only improved by the best of company. They reminisced about old times as they ate, talking just as much about fun youthful pranks as they did their teenage escapades. The three friends were too well socialized to let their additional guest feel like an outsider, filling her in on much of the context.
There was a heavy feeling hanging over the meal, however, and they did the most they could to delay talking about matters of the present. So they all chose to dwell in the past instead, a place that brought them great comfort.
“And these two! They were covered in flour and getting scolded while I was crawling out of the cupboard behind the cook!” Emma was struggling to keep her laughter to a civil volume. Donald could tell she was desperately trying not to snort. He had heard her do it once before and she swore him to secrecy. That had been many years ago, but he hadn’t told a soul. Not even Matthew.
“Made all the more demoralizing by the fact that raiding the pantry was your idea to begin with,” Donald pouted playfully, a move so surprisingly out of character that Matthew allowed himself to crack up a little more wantonly while the ladies laughed.
When they had all caught their breath Matthew let out a sigh, “I suppose we shan’t put off the topic any longer. It is what has brought us together this morning.”
“But our friendship is the topic, My Lord,” Emma offered.
“You are continuing to procrastinate, My Lady, but you are correct though. We are to talk about my departure,” he said with a smile.
“The first time we have all been so far apart,” Donald crossed his arms across his chest and leaned toward the table, “Your company will surely be missed. Are you certain I could not convince you to let me come along?”
“And leave our business completely unattended to on one side of the ocean for more than nine months? I think not! Besides, then we would be leaving another one of our friends completely alone,” Matthew chided his male companion.
“Alone? I think not,” Lady Henrietta remarked and Matthew gestured apologetically before turning back to Donald.
“I will be fine. Remember this is a good trip. Our business is doing well, this should be a celebratory breakfast, not a sad farewell.”
“Of course, Matthew. You are absolutely right. How selfish of me to not see the blessing before me.” Donald nodded and forced a smile that slowly became genuine. He was truly grateful that he and his best friend could have so much success in working together. It made the work they shared almost feel like no work at all.
“Are there any affairs you will need attending to while you are away? I am sure Lord Stapleton and I can make sure you don’t miss out on anything,” Emma offered. Donald knew it was entirely a gesture, but a necessary one.
“No, no, nothing that my staff cannot handle. If anything this will be a welcome holiday from social obligation. You know how suffocating I find such things.” Matthew leaned back and stretched lightly, casually. Donald knew that was anything but true. Whenever they would go out, Matthew loved being the life of the party.
“Don’t know how they will be passable without you there to enliven the mood,” Donald said while he struggled to cheer up.
“Don’t you worry, My Lord. I am sure you will find a way to make these dreary months passable.” Emma smiled at Donald reassuringly and Donald felt his heart flutter. Rather than feeling better, the butterflies simply confused and fuddled him more. The thought of being with Emma, just the two of them. The light blush of her skin, the light trail of her breath while she laughed.
How soft her lips must be.
He wanted to make her laugh, maybe even snort again, if she was only willing to do it for him. He struggled for a reply before Matthew stepped in.
“You have to promise not to mope the whole time I am gone, Donald. The only regret I have is being on a ship that is leaving early. Evening drinks would have been a much more appropriate send off to my dear self.” Matthew gently raised his fine cup of tea off its saucer. “Shall we toast to my safe voyage?”
“Proposing a toast to yourself, do you know no shame, Thetmont?” Donald asked as he finally lifted himself from his lament in an effort to give his friend a proper farewell. He raised his own cup, “To your prosperity,” and with an afterthought and a wider smile, “and the prosperity of our business.”
Lady Henrietta raised her own cup. “Oh good, now they are both doing it. What shall we add, Lady Emma?”
Emma smiled at the antics and raised the last tea cup. “To our enduring friendship. It has lasted through the years, may it last the distance of an ocean and anything else.”
Their glasses clinked lightly together and they all drank deep, the three friends letting their cups hide their shared melancholy. When they placed their cups back down all of their smiles had returned. They let themselves return to more pleasant conversation as the table was cleared of their leftovers.
As the sun told them the time for departures had arrived, the gentlemen stood and helped Emma and Henrietta from their seats. “We must make our way to the pier, My Ladies. There are final arrangements to make and other business matters to attend to. With your pardon.” Donald gave a small bow, quickly followed by Matthew. Emma returned with a curtsy, followed shortly by Henrietta.
“I will miss you dearly, My Lady. Of course I will write from America.” Matthew gave a second bow and the young gentlemen departed from the street side exit reserved for members of the club.
The ladies made their leave through the guest doors. As they were making their way, Emma was stopped by the sound of Donald’s voice coming from the entrance to the dining area.
“Excuse me, Lady Emma,” Donald was suddenly right beside her, struggling not to breathe more heavily from the exertion. He smiled sheepishly. “If you have but a moment, something slipped my mind with all the conversation about Matthew’s departure.”
Emma smiled sweetly while Henrietta and their maids waited. “Please, My Lord, whatever you need to discuss, my time is yours.”
Donald nodded. “Our weekly walks through the park. I know they have been put off lately due to business matters. With Matthew’s departure, I thought it would be...your company would be immensely valued…if we were to recommence them.”
Emma was surprised at how much she felt her chest flutter when she thought about walking through the park with Donald.
She smiled. “I am excited to hear that visits will start again, as they had been the highlight of my week.”
Donald returned the smile, that shy smile that had a light all on its own. It made Emma’s heart flutter again. “I am glad, My Lady. Now if you will excuse me once more.” He bowed to the four of them and retreated back to the members’ only exit.
Emma let the smile linger as she joined the others in boarding the carriage that would take them home.
Emma sighed to herself and made her way up the stairs of her family’s London home that she currently shared with her Grandmother and Henrietta Puron, daughter of the Earl of Linklater. Henrietta was her only true friend aside the gentlemen, and her family had encouraged the friendship with the hopes that Emma could begin to keep more feminine company. Thus, while Henrietta’s family was away on one of their many trips around Europe, the young lady chose instead to stay at the Weston family’s London home.
Henrietta is being awfully quiet.
“Well that was certainly a mixed affair. Dour and jovial all at the same time,” Henrietta commented flatly, almost as if she was waiting for Emma to acknowledge her. Emma shook her head at this. The other side of the arrangement of the Lady staying in London was because Henrietta’s family was hoping that Emma’s gentler ways would rub off on the slightly coarse lady. Emma allowed the Earl of Linklater to dream in vain, doing little to change her friend’s ways. They were friends for a reason, after all.
“The whole endeavor must be very emotionally stressful. Are you feeling all right?” she asked directly, not one for “circular talk” or how she referred to polite conversation between her and Emma.
“It was a lovely breakfast, but I will miss my friend dearly,” Emma said with a sweet smile and she meant it honestly. Her fingers fidgeted with the tips of her gloves. Something gnawed at her, but she was having a hard time defining exactly what. Henrietta could probably sense that, she was terribly good at it.
“It is a shame, such a fine eligible gentleman leaving the country for so long,” her friend hinted. Emma had rolled her eyes at comments like this frequently. Not out of annoyance so much as the lack of elegance with the way the message was delivered. Emma’s family had subtly asked Henrietta to help keep an eye on their daughter and maybe spur her along toward marriage if given the opportunity. Henrietta made a passing effort.
“I am sure there will be many ladies who will find his absence quite distressing,” Emma nodded astutely to her friend.
This caused Henrietta to cluck her tongue, but if it was in approval or disapproval Emma was unsure. “You spend so much time with both of those gentleman, are you going to sit here and tell me that neither of them has kindled any sort of romantic fire with you.”
A fire? How could they kindle anything? They were her friends. But when she thought of Donald, didn’t that bring a flush to her cheeks? Didn’t the idea of his strong arms and broad shoulders quicken her breath on an occasion or two?
“Such frank talk from you, Henrietta,” Emma commented trying to distract herself from her own thoughts. “What has aroused you such that you have become so flustered?”
Henrietta looked like she was about to put up a bit of fight but sighed and fell upon the nearby sofa. “Nothing surprising, truly. Another unsuccessful romantic rendezvous last night and spending time at the breakfast helped me realize all men aren’t louts. Do I simply have the worst luck? Tell me, Emma?”
Ah, that explains her mood at breakfast.
“I have known both louts and gentleman alike, and luck tends to play little role in what kind of men they are,” Emma observed. “What happened?”
“I had a run in with a brute at a social function last night. When I wasn’t forthcoming to his clumsy attempt at flirtation, he persisted, so I decided to give him a good public lashing. After being so dressed down by a lady, he made some rather tasteless comments.”
There was a flustered and frustrated look on Henrietta’s face as she stuttered through the previous evening’s events. “I take comfort that others noticed his lack of manners.” Honestly, at this point I am simply dreading the letter from my mother to chastise me for acting without patience and decorum. Easy for her to say, she didn’t have to listen to that baron’s inebriated attempt at romance.” Henrietta ended her rant with an exhausted huff.
Emma understood Henrietta’s frustration. It was pretty common for Henrietta to receive a chiding letter from her mother about once a month from some far off place. Emma wouldn’t say that she believed Henrietta acted rashly, but hearing it second hand, she could understand how her parents would believe it.
“I am sure the damage you did to him far outweighs any consequences to you,” Emma reassured her friend.
“Thank you, Emma.” Henrietta turned to look at her. “Did you think if you distracted me with my problem that you wouldn’t have to answer my question?”
Emma had hoped that but she decided to try and play ignorant. “Did you ask a question? I was simply occupied by a dear friend in need.”
“I did indeed, though I appreciate your concern for my social and personal well being. I was asking you if you have ever felt anything for your dear friends Lord Stapleton and Lord Thetmont.” Henrietta kept pressing. Emma didn’t know if Henrietta was asking out of commitment to her friend or her own romantic interests. She fought back a twinge of jealousy that she refused to acknowledge.
“Must one feel romance for every member of the male race that one interacts with?” It was Emma’s turn to let out an exasperated sigh. This was a conversation she had had on many occasions, often where people would toe the line of correct etiquette.
“If by “one” you mean you, then no. If by “one” you mean me, then yes. But I would be remiss not to point out that you still haven’t answered my question.” Emma figured Henrietta’s sour mood was the reason she was needling for an answer. An answer to a question that Emma was obviously trying to deflect.
“Unfortunately, some questions don’t have a clear answer. Especially for people who are so insistent on asking personal questions.” A voice interrupted. “Now was I supposed to learn of the young ladies return from their loud bickering in the halls or was someone planning on informing me?”
In the doorway leading to a back stairway stood the ladies’ guardian, Eleanor Weston, the Dowager Countess of Westfolk, Emma’s grandmother. She was a sour-faced lady, jaded to many social interactions by her years and what she described to Emma as the “changing of the tide.” She was harsh, where most ladies were expected to be delicate. Her age and wisdom meant that the ton allotted her some antisocial tendencies. Still, even if she had a hard time showing it, Emma knew her grandmother loved her very much.
Both the young ladies apologized and the Dowager accepted with a curt nod. “I am curious to know how the breakfast went, but such talk is best had over a meal, so that it is easier to feign interest if the conversation drones on. I know you both finished eating, so instead we will wait until lunch.
Henrietta nodded at the Dowager’s normally offensive commentary as if she had remarked upon the weather. “I have resigned myself to lamenting on the couch until lunch. Emma will rejoin us then as well?”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I promise Grandmother, that I shall keep the commentary both brief and refreshing,” Emma said.
“You are one of the few I know who can.” Emma heard her grandmother’s comment as she trailed away to her bedroom, giving her lady’s maid, Josephine, permission to leave before softly clicking the door shut behind her. She moved to sit on her bed, allowing her gaze to drift to the window and to the bright late morning sunlight of new spring.
She knew in her heart the answer to the question that had haunted her long before Henrietta ever asked it, but wasn’t sure if she wanted to allow her head to process it. When she thought of the dock and the gentlemen of her life who were there she felt a mixture of sadness and excitement. Her heart was already forced to come to the answer, she simply had to wait and give her head time to catch up.
It didn’t stop her from resting her head on her pillow and thinking of those strong arms wrapping gently around her. What the warmth of Donald’s body would feel like if they were so close. What it would be like to share a bed with him. He was so much bigger than her, what would it be like for them to lie side by side and to feel one another.
It was these half thoughts that followed her into an unplanned nap.
Donald’s carriage carried him and Matthew from the quiet narrow streets of the more affluent parts of London to the wider, noisier market streets. Sitting across from him, Matthew went on about his genuine excitement of traveling to America.
“Less refined, for certain, but you know what sorts of trouble one can get into when they are a visitor rather than a resident.” Matthew gave his friend a wink despite him clearly being lost in thought.
Donald was thinking of the last conversation he had with Emma. He had only intended to reaffirm that their trio’s traditional weekly meetup would persist despite Matthew’s absence but…
Was I too forward? Did I presume too much by assuming she would want to continue to socialize with me alone?
They would have an escort, of course, but perhaps still it was too inappropriate. They were friends and nothing more, so what was there to worry about? Then again, people did talk.
Perhaps I am putting Emma in too much of position, since it would be rude for her to turn me down.
“Donald, I don’t mean to interrupt whatever thought you are lost in. But do you mind giving me your attention for the short while we have left?” Matthew interrupted Donald’s stream of thoughts by waving his hand in front of the other as they walked.
“Hm? Oh, I am sorry Matthew. You know how the mind can wander,” Donald said apologetically.
“Where has it wandered to, I wonder?” Matthew pressed on, wanting to know what could be occupying his friend more than the matter at hand.
“Nothing more important than my best friend leaving for an extended voyage,” Donald assured Matthew.
“Well, you are going to have to concentrate now. We have to talk to our new ship captain,” Matthew remarked as the carriage came to a halt. Matthew stepped off first onto the dock and smiled wide. He warmly greeted their most recently hired business associate.
Donald didn’t care for Captain Albert Todd. Not when he first met him, not now, and he doubted he would in the future. If he ever spoke his mind on the matter out loud, which he never would, he thought the fellow seemed very unsuited for being a sea captain. He had far too big of a mouth and a look in his eye that put Donald off. He was, however, a very distant cousin of Matthew and thus secured a place of trustworthiness in the business.
The Atlantic Animal Furs Company was the new and voracious company that was sweeping the economic scene. It went from supplying half-a-dozen tailors to half-a-dozen shops all over London in just over a year. They were known for their exceptional quality as well as their more than fair prices. In the end, though, it was Donald and Matthew’s infectious good nature that had gentlemen flocking to The Blossom Court to catch the two at dinner. These dinners often led to business arrangements, which were orchestrated by Matthew, who had a particular knack for sealing the deal.
The Captain was a stout man, busy checking over a manifest and monitoring the loading of supplies. “Good of you to join us, Lord Thetmont.” He gave a slight nod that Donald took was meant to pass for a bow. “I was worried I would have a boy to come and get you.”
“You know I wouldn’t be late to our sending off, cousin,” Matthew said with his usual energetic smile.
“Captain Todd,” Donald said in the formal greeting that had slipped Matthew’s mind in all the excitement.
“My Lord,” Captain Todd returned with another brief bow.
“Did all of my luggage arrive?” Matthew continued, ignoring the awkward air between the Captain and his business partner.
“Yes, My Lord. And if I may take advantage of our distant relation, I might question if you need such a large wardrobe while out at sea? Are we going to a grand event along the way that I am unaware of?” Captain Todd did everything he could to pull the judgment from his voice, but it was clear to Donald that he was used to being the figure of authority.
Matthew turned toward Donald rather than address the Captain directly. “It would appear that our good ship captain has forgotten that there is a destination at the other end of this voyage. What do you propose I wear while doing business in America?”
Donald’s reply was clipped. “I would advise against wearing the furs, My Lord, customers tend to look badly upon receiving second-hand goods.”
Captain Todd barely contained an indignant huff and again pushed the limit of what he could get away with by saying to these lords. “Are there no shops in America?”
“Not any as good as the ones here in England.” Matthew was quick to reply. “And on that note, I have just realized I forgot something.”
“You what?” Captain Todd and Donald asked him at the same time as Matthew turned to go back up the street.
“Forgot to take care of something before I left. So many preparations and I am afraid it slipped my mind. I’ll be back soon, don’t worry.” He turned to wave as if to send Donald and the captain’s mutual worries away. “Lord Stapleton will lend me his carriage, of course, so I may return hastily. He will be able to answer any questions you have in my absence, cousin.”
And before either gentleman could raise more of a fuss or ask another question, Donald’s best friend made his way to the carriage coachman, instructed him, and climbed inside to be whisked down the street.
Donald was able to get everything sorted out with Captain Todd, despite the seemingly mutual discomfort.
There was little more fanfare to the beginning of Matthew’s voyage to America. He returned, thanked Donald for the use of his carriage, and finished boarding the ship after one last brief, but heartfelt, goodbye.
Donald couldn’t help but feel the last moments with his dear friend Matthew were stiff and strained. Perhaps he should have pushed the prospect of going with him to America, made more of an effort to work out some sort of arrangement that would allow them to both run the business from across the sea. Would it have been ideal, no, but it would have spared his friend the loneliness and effort of having to go it alone.
No, it simply would have been impractical and too much of a business risk. Besides, the whole point of this trip was to take advantage of their recent bustling success. They needed to use their financial windfall to secure new avenues of furs to trade.
Their recent success was due in no small part to Donald’s keen mind for business. That was really why they worked so well as partners. Matthew was the voice, the charm, and the smile of The Atlantic Animal Furs Company and Donald was the mind behind its investments. That’s why Matthew was the one who had to go. He would have to strike the deals across the ocean and Donald would sort out what must happen with their coffers on this end.
Donald, despite every good reason, was still sad to watch his friend’s ship disappear over the horizon. It happened faster than he expected, lost in thought as he was notorious for doing.
As he turned to return to his North London manor, which was quite the ride from the docks, he tried to turn his thoughts to more pleasant ones. He had an enjoyable breakfast recounting past adventures with his two dearest friends. No need to let himself dwell on sadness when he began the day on such a happy note.
He let his mind drift again to the warmth and light Emma had brought to the beginning of his day, like a second sunrise.
Why am I so worried about my conversation with Emma?
She was always so kind and gracious. His dear friend would surely not let him impose and he even doubted he could be an imposition to her.
For a brief moment Donald thought of how nice it would be to spend time with Emma all by himself, but this led to muddled thoughts again. The light floral smell that she carried with her everywhere she went. The dark soft curls of her hair. Her cheeks always looked so soft and rosy, wouldn’t they be so nice to touch? Just once? What about her lips?
He shook his head, thankful that he was alone in this moment. He had always had such a good time when it was the three of them.
Why do I want her all to myself?
There was nothing improper about simply enjoying the company of his friend. Perhaps having her attention might allow them the opportunity to discuss topics that Matthew’s bombastic personage usually didn’t allow. Emma was usually such a gentle young lady. That was one of Donald’s favorite things about her.
Donald stopped outside the hand-hewn stone steps leading to his manor and shook his head again. The daydreaming had made him far too bold, especially when it came to a lady who was his friend.
Always my friend and nothing more.
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