(Thanks to my betas, Suzanne Lyte and Terri Derr.)
“Two, please.” Scott dug into his pocket and retrieved some coins as the gangly youth in the booth tore tickets from a reel.
“That’ll be fifty cents, mister.” The youth slid the tickets through the opening in the glass, the dark blue sleeves of his jacket, at least an inch too short, riding up his arms. His eyes were focused on something on the far side of the entrance way. Scott glanced over his shoulder and smiled. An elegant young woman with a parasol was browsing the billboards. The ticket seller nodded towards her and smirked. “Nice.”
Scott grinned back. “I agree.” He tapped the tickets on the counter and winked. “Wish me luck.”
With the cream lace parasol resting on her shoulder, his companion turned and smiled as he approached. The red flowers on her muslin dress matched the cabochons hanging from her ears, and a scarlet ribbon held her hair clear of her face. Her skin was slightly tanned now from nearly two months in California. She looked…radiant. And what Scott wouldn’t give to run his fingers through that mass of chestnut curls tumbling down her back? He made a small bow and offered his arm. “Miss Eliot?”
“Mr Lancer.” Katie slipped her arm through his, and Scott escorted her through the wrought iron gates, leaving the hustle and bustle of Mission Street behind.
Scott had collected Katie precisely at eleven o’clock as arranged. He had rapped the black iron ring against Will and Anne McIntyre’s door, and it had been opened instantly by Katie’s cousin Olivia. As he crossed the threshold, he heard her younger sister Fanny shoo a servant girl back through the green baize door before she too came to greet him. “Mama’s just ordered morning tea.”
Scott stood in the hallway, hat in hand, his path blocked in two directions by the McIntyre sisters.
Olivia smiled. “Why don’t you have something to eat before you go?”
“Oh yes, do stay.” Fanny stood near the parlour door, twisting a ringlet in her fingers. “You could tell us more about what you did at the ranch when Katie and Auntie Beth visited.”
“Well, if Katie would like…”
“No, I’m ready now.” With a bounce in her step, Katie descended the staircase and lifted her parasol out of the umbrella stand. She relieved her cousin Olivia of the purse she was holding, took Scott’s arm and propelled him towards the front door. “My aunt has invited you to supper so we can talk about the visit when we come back.”
Pleased to escape the attention of her relatives, Scott offered his hand and helped Katie into the waiting carriage. Before they had time to get over the shyness of two weeks separation, the cab driver was opening the door to let them out again.
Scott had escorted Katie into the shade of the arched entrance of Woodward Gardens, and she’d waited while he bought the tickets. He was looking forward to having her to himself for the rest of the day.
He gazed around as they entered the grounds. For a week day there was a surprising number of people wandering about.
“Is something wrong?”
“Nothing that can’t be overcome.” Scott smiled and guided Katie towards the centre of the amusement park.
His thoughts had been seesawing wildly ever since Katie had departed Morro Coyo; one day he was buoyant and hopeful, the next unsure and disheartened. But he had had two weeks to think about the unexpected manner of her farewell—and what it could mean—and he had decided he’d had enough of teetering back and forth. He knew what he wanted, and he knew what he was going to do.
A gentle breeze caught Katie’s hair and strands danced in the sunlight as they strolled passed the massive tropical glass house and two-storey museum. “Impressive, but let’s stay outside for now. You’ve been here before. Which way shall we go?”
The tree-lined avenue had brought them to a crossroads with narrower paths, a signpost pointed left to Aquatic Birds and straight ahead to Grazing Animals. If they went right they would reach an exhibition of Predatory Beasts.
“You can choose, but first…” Taking Katie’s hand, Scott drew her sideways through a topiary arch into the comparative seclusion of a hedged garden. “I have some unfinished business.”
“I do.” Scott led her down the gravel path towards the middle of the garden. Finding refuge from the view of other visitors behind a boxwood elephant, he took Katie’s parasol from her and leaned it against the trunk. With a hand on each shoulder, he looked down into her curious but merry, brown eyes. “Before you left Morro Coyo, you kissed me.”
“Oh.” Katie dropped her gaze. “Yes, I suppose I did.” Her cheeks went pink, but she sneaked a glance upwards. “It was rather indecorous of me. Did I offend you?”
“Not at all.” Scott placed a forefinger beneath her chin and raised her eyes to his. “But you did leave me with unfinished business.”
The sunny day had very little to do with the warmth Scott felt as they emerged laughing from the garden, Katie’s hand in his and her eyes shining.
“Humph—disgraceful.” A crow-faced woman in black bombazine glared at them as she marched past with a tall rake of a man, several years her junior. He threw them an apologetic glance before leaning forward to attend to what the lady was saying.
“Oh my, what did she think we were doing?” Katie reddened as the pair disappeared down the walkway towards the Predatory Beasts.
“What we were doing, only more so, I should think.” Scott grinned and then thought better of it. “I’m sorry. I don’t want you to think I’m careless of your good name.”
The corners of Katie’s mouth twitched. “I quite like being in San Francisco—so few people know my good name. I should be horribly concerned about my reputation right now.”
“But you’re not?”
She wrinkled her nose and considered for a moment. “Let’s just not give that lady another opportunity to remember our faces, in case she knows Uncle Will or Auntie Anne. I think we’ll go this way.” Skipping backwards, she pulled him towards the Aquatic Birds. Scott laughed. He swung her gently around and tucked a muslin-clad arm into his. They walked demurely on, every bit the respectable young couple out for a stroll.
“Your kiss gave me hope. Are you happy here now you’ve had more time to get used to California?” Scott focused his gaze on the large pond ahead of them. Flamingos waded gracefully on the far side, and a small island to the right provided nesting for mallards, pelicans and other water fowl.
“I’m enjoying San Francisco. I still have reservations about other places, but I’ve set them aside for the time being.” As they came to the railing, Katie retrieved a crust of bread from the small embroidered bag suspended from her chatelaine. She gave half of it to Scott and began breaking her share into tiny pieces, throwing them to a squabbling family of Paradise ducks. “I seem to be prone to hasty decisions when I’m with you. In Boston and when we first met in San Francisco, I left you with the wrong impression of my feelings.” Colour bloomed on her cheeks. She threw the last of her bread to a duckling, and brushed the crumbs off her hands. “My kiss was another hasty decision…but a more honest one.”
A whoop of joy nearly escaped him, but Scott reined it in to what he hoped was a dignified smile. “I’m glad.”
Katie looked out over the pond towards the island, the playfulness of minutes earlier replaced by seriousness. “When the verdict is important the trial should not be rushed.” It was as though she was repeating verbatim something she had heard from her lawyer uncle or grandfather. Then she turned and faced him. “The jury is still out about California, but I realise now I don’t actually need to worry about that at the moment.”
“It was silly of me to be upset. It will take time to get to know each other properly, and I may never like you enough for it to matter. I might discover you have some dreadful habit like cutting your toenails in the dining room, and I’ll go off you in an instant.” The mischief had returned to her eyes. “But then again, perhaps I’ll never get the chance to find out. What should I understand from you kissing me? Is the ‘business’ between us now over?”
“I rather hoped it was just beginning.”
For a second or two Katie held Scott’s gaze. Then she slid her arm through his once again. “I’d like that.”
Scott placed his hand over hers, and they walked on. He fixed his eyes firmly ahead and tried not to grin like a demented fool.
The path meandered as it hugged a stream on one side and a grassy bank dotted with shrubbery and trees on the other.
As they turned the bend, a family with young children approached them. The oldest boy was jogging along in front with a spinning hoop while a girl ran beside him. She was beginning to get ahead. The boy reached out and pulled her pigtail, causing her to stumble and cry. But his victory was short-lived: he pulled in his tongue and opened his mouth in horror when he lost control of the toy. The hoop careered towards Scott and Katie, and the boy raced after it.
“Archie!” His father wrestled to free himself of other off-spring so he could give chase.
Sidestepping, Scott steered Katie to safety, and just managed to catch the hoop and then the boy before they went headlong into the water.
“Lemme go.” Archie wriggled to get free.
“Thank you, sir, for saving me from falling in.” Scott held fast to the boy’s collar. Archie stopped squirming and scowled, but Scott narrowed his eyes and stared coldly back with a look he’d fine-tuned as a lieutenant. It seemed to work at least as well on Archie as it did on insubordinate privates. “You were saying?”
Biting his lip and scuffing his shoes on the gravel path, the young soldier fell into line. “Thank you…sir. Can I have my hoop back, please?”
“When you’ve apologised to the lady for giving her a fright.”
Archie looked aghast at Katie as though he just realised she was there. He grabbed his cap from his head. “I’m sorry, Miss. It got away from me.”
“I saw how it got away from you, but apology accepted. You might like to give your sister one as well.” Katie’s face was stern, but Scott saw her nose give a little twitch like a rabbit. She seemed to do that when she was amused.
Releasing the boy’s collar, he handed over the hoop just as Archie’s parents reached them, scolding and thanking all at the same time. Scott could hardly follow what they were saying, or to whom, but he waved their apologies and gratitude away. “No harm done.”
Retrieving Katie’s arm, he left the child to his fate, and went to explore his own.
The excitement should have given him something to talk about, but he felt unusually tongue-tied. It was several minutes before he found the words he needed. “Katie, now we understand each other, may I court you openly?”
She hugged his arm closer—and for one exquisite moment rested her head on his shoulder. “I think I could allow it, if you’re very good.”
Her hair smelled of rosemary. His heart seemed to be pumping at a rate of knots, and again it was a while before he trusted himself to speak. “Maybe I should write to your father. I don’t want your parents thinking I had any devious motive for waiting until your mother went home to Boston before I said anything. It was just the way things worked out.”
“I’m sure they wouldn’t think that, but it couldn’t hurt to write to Papa. He can be quite irrational when it comes to me and my sisters. He was absolutely awful to one of Julia’s beaux last year; a fellow called Edgar Armitage—do you know him?”
“No. Is he one of the Armitages from New York?”
“That’s right. I thought you might know him; he went to Harvard about the same time as you. He is connected with the Harraways, and visits Boston regularly on business. Julia met him at a music evening hosted by one of my aunts.” Katie stopped to buy some shelled peanuts from a vendor. She handed the bag to Scott, and tossed a few nuts towards a mixed group of monkeys that had appeared in front of them. “I’d have been sorry for Mr Armitage if he hadn’t been so arrogant. He was clearly only interested in Julia, because she was an Eliot. Why she couldn’t see it, I’ll never understand. Papa has no time for fortune hunters, wealthy or poor.”
A spider monkey swung down from a nearby tree and pirouetted about on its hind legs, long arms above its head and chest puffed out. Scott laughed and threw more nuts in its direction. “I hope Dr Eliot won’t see me in that category.”
“Mama would put him straight now if he did, but a little bit of old-fashioned courtesy might counteract any lingering doubts.”
“That you are trying to fulfil your grandfather’s aspirations.”
“No offence, but I don’t think Grandfather’s aspirations extend to me courting the granddaughter of James McIntyre. I wondered why I didn’t know your mother was Jim’s aunt, but now I know your mother and his father are the children of the lawyer James McIntyre, it makes sense. Grandfather never had much time for ardent abolitionists or social reformers, and sadly, he never allowed morality to undermine or influence his business decisions. I never heard him openly speak against your grandfather, but I know he faced him across the court room too often for them to be friends.”
“You don’t think the Eliot name would overcome the McIntyre-effect?”
“I suspect he would prefer I kept company with one of your Eliot cousins. He tried to push me in the direction of Beatrice once, and I believe when I left Boston he was hatching a scheme to have me see more of Jane.”
“Well, he’s too late on both counts now. Beatrice married last year and Jane’s engaged to Charles Winston.”
“Ah, a much better catch than Scott Garrett Lancer. Her father will be pleased. When is the wedding?”
“April—I’ll miss it thank goodness. Jane has been gushing ever since her engagement was formally announced last year. Everyone who is anyone will be at the wedding of course. It will be one of those nightmare extravaganzas that will make Jim and Alicia’s wedding look tight-fisted.”
“Is that possible? Between Alfred Burke and your uncle, I think half of San Francisco was invited.”
“I know you’ve no relatives in Boston of marriageable age, but didn’t any of your friends marry before you left? You’ve been robbed of an experience. I envy you.” Katie threw another handful of nuts onto the ground. “Do you truly not know how awful such weddings can be? I shall have to enlighten you.”
“Please do.” Scott popped some peanuts into his own mouth.
“Don’t laugh. It’s deadly serious for those of us in high society inflicted with a million relatives.” Katie twirled her parasol, and her nose gave another tiny twitch; Scott had an urge to kiss the tip, but resisted. It was perhaps a little too soon. And besides, where they stood was definitely too public for what he envisaged would naturally follow. “Now Jane has got her Brahmin hooked she feels it’s her duty to find husbands for her unwed cousins and sisters. By staying here in San Francisco, I avoid her matchmaking zeal, and I don’t have to wear the most frightful bridesmaid’s dress imaginable. Those still caught in her web will be paraded down the aisle before all the eligible bachelors in Boston like cows at a cattle sale, dressed in pink silk organza and French lace. I’d have looked like a gigantic blancmange.”
“I’ve never seen a cow in a dress, but I’m quite partial to jellies.”
“I shall forget I’m a lady and hit you in a moment. It’s no laughing matter. Apart from anything else, my absence is causing a family rift. Aunt Maud, Jane’s mother, declared that I owe my Eliot cousins more attention than my McIntyre ones. Well, you can imagine what Mama had to say about that.” A crack showed in the solemn face Katie was trying to maintain, and her eyes glinted with mirth. “Jane is furious with me. I’ve robbed her of the opportunity to help me off the shelf.”
“Ah well, you can tell her you’ve found your own eligible bachelor to help you down. I’ll try not to disap….” Scott jumped as a monkey leaped onto his shoulder. “Hello little fella. I know what you are. Guiseppe, the organ grinder, used to bring a capuchin monkey to my birthday parties.”
“And mine. I’d forgotten. This little chap isn’t quite so charming—no clown hat.” She cocked her head to one side, appraising the monkey on Scott’s shoulder. “Actually he looks rather like Edgar Armitage but with more intelligent eyes.”
“Ouch.” Scott laughed.
Katie’s eyes danced as she held out the last of the nuts to Edgar. He grabbed them and dashed away into the bushes.
The other monkeys scampered to catch up with the nut vendor. Abandoned in favour of the next customers, Scott and Katie walked on to where the path forked. They could see the rotary boat in the distance.
“Shall we?” Scott looked between the amusement ride and Katie, eyebrows raised.
Soon he was handing her into the circular boat with its many billowing sails and canary yellow paintwork. They settled onto their seats, and Scott took up the oars. Katie trailed her hand in the water as the craft began to slowly turn like a floating merry-go-round. “How is Johnny?”
“Much better. He can comfortably walk short distances now. He still needs help on the stairs, but he’s making good progress.”
“Will Emily let him downstairs often or is he still largely confined to his room?”
“To the house officially but not to his room.”
“Ah well, what kind of brother would I be if I told tales?” Scott pulled on the oar and played his part in turning the floating wheel.
“I see; Johnny is breaking the rules once again.”
Anxiety balled up under Scott’s rib cage. What did she mean by that? He’d been trying to work out how Katie viewed his brother ever since their conversation at Cuddy’s Creek. “You disapprove of Johnny?”
“What? Of course not. I like Johnny. Whatever gave you that idea? He’s kind and funny…and wise. I like him very much.”
“But he was a gunfighter and that scares you.”
“Well yes, I dislike that part of his past. To be honest, I find it hard to believe that the Johnny I know could ever have lived as a shootist, but even he says it’s true so I must believe it. I’m not scared of Johnny though. I’m a little scared for him. I suspect violence has a way of not letting go, even when you commit to a new life. If I cared for him the way Emily cares for him, I’m not sure I could cope. She has a strength that I don’t think I have.”
“You don’t blame him, then, for me shooting Collier or getting into fights?”
“You are your own man, Scott. Why should I blame your brother for the choices you make?”
“I don’t know. I just got the idea that maybe you did. When you said Johnny had influenced me more than the other way round.”
“As we discussed before, it’s the lifestyle of California that I’m struggling to come to terms with. I owe it to myself and my family, and you, not to go into anything blindly. Eventually I may need to sort out what is important from what is not, and decide if I can live with some aspects of your life that I’ll never be comfortable with. Johnny says Emily accepts him as he is, even though she hates the life he used to lead.”
“You’ve talked to Johnny about this?” Scott stopped rowing.
“Ah well, he got bored with me reading Emerson.”
Scott pulled the oars out of the water, resting them in their locks. He turned away for a second, but he was too wound up to think straight. He met Katie’s eyes. “You read Emerson to Johnny?”
“I had things on my mind.” She blushed and looked down at her hands, twisting her cameo ring. “Your brother is very intuitive—and not at all Bostonian in his manners. On the Sunday—the day after the fight in Spanish Wells—he just came out and asked what was wrong between us. He caught me off guard. Do you mind? He made me see what an idiot I was being, worrying myself sick over things that might never happen, and decisions I may never have an inclination to seriously consider. As he said, I’d best get to know you properly first, because you might bore the socks off me.”
“He said that?”
“Something to that effect.”
“I’ll have to have a word with Johnny when I get back.” He could hardly be angry with him under the circumstances, but Johnny should have said something. They must have been talking about him when he’d popped into Johnny’s bedroom on the Sunday afternoon, when Katie was supposed to be reading the final chapters of Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
“Don’t frown like that. After all, he did help.” Katie reached over and touched Scott’s knee. “Promise me, I won’t be the cause of brothers fighting.”
Their little boat clunked against the pier, and the boatman held it steady with his pole. Scott nodded with a wry smile. He helped Katie out, gaining a glimpse of silk stocking as she stepped up onto the decking. “Are you hungry?”
Taking direction from the boatman, they strolled towards the tearooms, passing grazing deer and gazelle on the way.
“This truly is an amazing place. I’ve been to London zoo and the menagerie in New York, but they’re nothing like this. The animals are in cages there. Here they mostly wander free.”
“I understand Robert Woodward, the owner, wants to educate as well as entertain. He believes the best way to do that is to have the animals live here as they would in the wild—where practical of course. The dangerous ones are caged or chained.”
“I admire his vision. We will definitely have to bring my family here when they visit in September. Victoria will adore this place.”
“The reptile house, in particular, no doubt. I’m told they have an extraordinarily large collection of snakes.” Scott winked, remembering the tale of the hognose and the cook.
Katie laughed. “Really? Well, as I’m not as fond of snakes as my sister, I think we’ll leave that pleasure until she gets here.”
“Will your family travel to San Francisco together?”
“I think so, but it’s still uncertain who will come. My other uncles and their families will almost certainly not attend. But my parents and my brothers and sisters hope to be here; Jamie may be prevented by his studies.” Katie stooped to pick some long grass, and held it out to a young deer. It nibbled tentatively then skittered away. “I think Grandfather might brave the journey this time, even if Grandmother doesn’t. He has always wanted to visit California, and Olivia is a bit of a favourite.”
Scott and Katie climbed the stone steps arm in arm, and Scott opened the glazed door into the tea rooms. A maid clad in grey and white gingham with a frilly white apron and cap bobbed a curtsey. She showed them to a table by the window, overlooking the gardens. They looked at the menu together, and then Scott ordered.
“Jamie said in his last letter that he bumped into Julie Dennison at the Athenaeum. You didn’t mention she’d visited Lancer.” Katie poured coffee into blue and white china cups. “Milk and sugar?”
“No, thank you. I’ve got used to drinking it as it comes.” Scott accepted his cup of coffee, glad of an excuse not to answer her first question immediately. The few seconds it took to decide on an egg and chive sandwich, gave him time to choose his words. “Julie came with my grandfather. She was part of his grand plan to tempt me back to Boston. But we’re just friends now.”
“And yet she travelled so far. I suspect she thought there could still be more than friendship between you.”
“She had her reasons. I was pleased to see her, but I can assure you by mutual agreement we’re no longer attached in any way.” Scott bit into his sandwich without tasting it. He supposed he and Julie had been engaged. It was only natural Katie would want to know their relationship had ended. Please God, let it not be a problem.
“Miss Dennison’s loss is my gain then. You don’t mind me asking? Mama tells me I’m too direct sometimes, though from what I hear from Uncle Will, I pale in comparison to her in her youth.”
“Murdoch says she was always a force to be reckoned with, and a loyal friend. I’ll never criticise you for being too much like your mother though. I owe her a lot.” Scott took another sandwich. Eating seemed to help smooth a path over rocky ground. Katie chose a cheese one, he noticed. “Since we’re being direct, I heard rumours about you and a certain gentleman in England before you returned to Boston.”
Katie swallowed and looked almost gleeful. “Really, how fascinating; what did you hear?”
That wasn’t quite the response Scott expected. “Only that you were walking out with a young lord and your family had expectations of an alliance.”
“An alliance, indeed—how very Boston and very Eliot; I do love my father’s side of the family. I’ve never been quite certain how Papa and Aunt Dottie came to be part of them. Their information must have come from Aunt Dottie, but she would never have suggested romance.” Katie chose a cucumber sandwich and smiled at Scott as she chewed. When she finished, she assessed the selection of cakes, eventually transferring a butterfly cupcake onto her plate. “In the interest of full disclosure, there was a young man. His cousin was my dear friend, and he very kindly acted as our escort to a number of functions during the London season. I had a marvellous time. He was English gentry rather than a lord, but he had a title and was reasonably rich. He knew all the best playhouses and had such an interesting variety of friends. He would no doubt satisfy the Eliot criteria for a prospective husband exceedingly well, except for one major hurdle.” Katie popped a sponge butterfly wing half covered with whipped cream into her mouth.
“Which was?” Scott reached over and stole the other wing. Katie narrowed her eyes at him; then smiled.
“He wasn’t the least bit interested in me.”
“I find that hard to believe. I suspect you left a broken heart behind you.”
Katie’s eyes twinkled. “You may believe what you like, Scott Lancer, but I assure you, although I met several very agreeable young men during my time abroad, I was never seriously enamoured with any of them, least of all Bertie, though I shall always treasure him as a friend.”
Scott had a feeling there was something he was missing, but at that moment the maid brought them more coffee, and the subject turned to which was better, arabica or robusta.
From the tearooms they walked past the eagle aviary and camels. They avoided the cages containing large cats, wolves and bears. Katie didn’t wish to linger in that part of the gardens. “I’m sure they are magnificent animals, but I’m in no hurry to encounter anything more dangerous than a domestic cat again.”
As neither of them was fond of stuffed animals, they neglected the taxidermy display in favour of the art gallery until it was feeding time at the seal pool. The animals dived and swam streamline through water to retrieve the fish thrown to them, and then with incredible agility jumped from the water onto the timber rafts chained to the bottom of the pool.
“In my next life I’m coming back as a seal. Look at that one.” Scott pointed to a large bull dozing in the sun, surrounded by females.
“You aspire to having a harem?”
“No, perhaps not that, but I wouldn’t mind being fed every couple of hours with the delicacy of my choice and sleeping in as long as I liked.”
“You had that kind of life in Boston. If I’m not mistaken, you got bored.”
“So I did. Oh well, perhaps I’ll stick to rising at six o’clock and waiting until my stomach growls before I eat.”
The day was drawing to a close. Scott hired a hack and escorted Katie back to her uncle’s house on Nob Hill in time for supper. Furtive glances, raised eyebrows and secret smiles from Katie’s cousins plagued him during the meal, but he and Katie had agreed not to announce they were courting until they had heard back from Katie’s parents. She was of age. She could do as she chose, but they both believed it was right and respectful to get permission first.
“Will you excuse Scott and me from the game, Auntie Anne?” Katie sat down on the sofa again after delivering coffees to her uncle and cousin Billy. They were setting up the card table. Olivia and Fanny were too busy discussing dresses to assist their mother; the latest Peterson’s Magazine had arrived that afternoon. “I left the letter I wrote yesterday unsealed so I could include a description of Woodward Gardens, and now Scott says he’d like to add a note to my parents as well.”
“Beth will be pleased to get the latest news of your family, Scott.” Anne McIntyre paused from her duties and smiled up at him. She was a sylph-like woman, petite with long bone china fingers and porcelain-white skin, despite over twenty years living in California. She had known his mother in Boston but only very slightly. “Katie, you’ve forgotten his milk and sugar.”
“Scott, drinks his coffee black, Auntie. One of the corruptions of ranch life, I believe.” She glanced mischievously over at him, and he nodded in agreement.
They escaped to the writing desk at the far end of the sitting room. Katie finished her letter quickly. She sang the praises of Woodward Gardens and her escort, and at the very end directed her father to a note from Scott of a private nature, also enclosed.
“You exaggerate my powers as a disciplinarian.” Scott laughed as he read what she had written about the boy with the hoop.
“Nonsense. You handled the little rascal very well, Lieutenant Lancer. I nearly stood to attention myself.” Katie got up from her seat at the desk and gave a very-passable salute. “Now it’s your turn.”
With her standing by his side, Scott took a fresh sheet of white paper and wrote a courteous note to her father, explaining his intentions and asking permission to keep her company.
There were no strong reasons he could think of for Robert or Beth Eliot to object to him. He dared hope Beth would be pleased that he and Katie wanted to be more than just friends. He was less confident about Dr Eliot however. The Eliot women were forthright, but the Boston grapevine acknowledged they were also dutiful. Scott had heard more than one story about Robert Eliot, and he didn’t know the man well enough to know how many of them were true. Katie’s brother Bob had always appeared on reasonable terms with his father, but that was no guarantee Dr Eliot would look favourably on Bob’s friend as a suitor for his daughter. If he’d given an Armitage—and others— short shrift, how would he feel about a Californian rancher?
“I hope this will allay any concerns your father may have.” He folded the letter twice and sealed it with red wax. “You will let me know what he says as soon as you hear.”
“Of course. As we’re not likely to see each other again until May though, it will make little difference.”
“It will make a difference to me. And I won’t breathe a word to my family until I hear from you.” Scott rose and looked towards the McIntyres at the other end of the room. “I must say my good byes. I have ranch matters to deal with tomorrow morning before I catch the train. It will be an early start. I won’t be able to call again before I go.”
Katie tucked his letter inside the envelope with hers and placed it in one of the pigeon holes to post in the morning. Then they joined her relatives. The laughter and taking of tricks subsided long enough for Scott to say his farewells. Will McIntyre stood up and shook Scott’s hand. “You’ll excuse me Scott if I leave Katie to show you out. We’re at a crucial point in the game, and I don’t trust this lot not to peek at my cards while I’m gone.”
“Not at all. Thank you for a delicious meal and a very enjoyable evening. I’ll look forward to seeing you all next time I’m in town. Good night.”
Scott collected his hat and jacket from the hallstand as Katie sent the maid away and opened the door herself. They stood on the front porch looking out into a soft darkness. Gas lamps surrounded by moths painted the tall wooden houses along the street with pale yellow light and mysterious shadows. Jasmine, sea salt and evening meals scented the air, and someone across the street was playing a piano; net curtains escaped an open window as delicate strains of Beethoven were caught by the breeze. Suddenly after all the intimacy of the day, Scott didn’t know how to say good night. Twisting the brim of his hat between his hands, he watched Katie finger the muslin on her skirt. It helped to know she was no more at ease than he was.
“I had a wonderful day, Scott. Thank you.”
He hung his hat on a post cap and placed his hands gently on her shoulders. One hand strayed upwards, his fingers lightly touching her neck. He looked down. “Katie, I think before I go I’ve some more unfinished business.”
“No, I don’t think that’s quite right.”
“You don’t?” Taken aback, Scott waited, more curious than worried.
Katie took her time, but he was in no rush while her eyes kept smiling into his and the softness of The Moonlight sonata wrapped them snug in a world of their own.
Eventually, she dropped her gaze and rested her hands gently side by side on his chest. She paused and studied her own long slim fingers, allowing time for their warmth to travel through him from top to toe.
Scott stroked her hair, and his heart beat in time with the melody still filling the air. Katie raised her eyes again. Her lips were moist, and he could feel his body tremble. Lead us not into temptation…. And then the music stopped. And his heart seemed to stop too. She smiled.
“I think…we’ve got unfinished business.”
1. Woodward's Gardens was a combination amusement park, museum, art gallery, zoo, and aquarium operating from 1866 to 1891 in the mission district of San Francisco.
2. Peterson’s Magazine (1842-1898) was a popular women’s magazine in America.