The Assembler

Chapter 3 - Eligible Bachelor

Jean G Hontz

@copyright 2009 all rights reserved

Despite the scary start to the evening, Emmie relaxed. Once she'd told the local bobby about it and promised to report to do a formal statement in the morning, she let herself be reassured by her friend Lady Parma and more surprisingly by Richard Ainsworth.

She and Sandy Parma had been friends forever, growing up together since Sandy’s parents owned an estate not far from her own family’s place in Sussex. Sandy, although happily married, still managed plenty of girls nights out, like this one. Her husband was a rising political personage and rather than sit at home demurely, Sandy had learned to entertain herself. She had nannies for the kids after all. Sandy often said she envied Emmie’s career and education, but she hardly looked like someone who envied anyone anything, except perhaps when she glanced speculatively from Emmie to Richard and back again.

Richard was quite the catch. Emmie was rather surprised he was still single considering all the debutantes regularly thrown at him. She might avoid balls and soirees like the plague but it was harder to avoid the gossip about people in her own set.

Richard’s father was a commoner but very wealthy. No doubt Mr Ainsworth had every intention of selling off his eldest son to the most eligible titled woman he could manage.

And yet here was Richard being attentive to little old her. It was a shock for Emmie. He’d mostly ignored her at university, even if he had been a fairly common sight in Cyril’s rooms there, and even at times hung about with Ned. But then Ned ... Well, Ned was Ned. He was gone from her life and she was less than pleased when Richard asked if she'd heard from him.

“I’ve heard he was in a good deal of trouble,” Richard added when she'd avoided answering about Ned.

“Ned is always in trouble. When isn’t he? His middle name is trouble,” Emmie huffed, glaring at Richard who just shrugged. “No doubt he’s in trouble now, wherever he might be.”

“So Cryil hasn't even kept in touch? Odd that. I thought they were best mates.” Following Emmie’s curt and discourteous no, Richard turned his attentions on Sandy who was quite happy to have them.

Emmie brooded.

Not long before closing time, Emmie, with the entirely unneeded assistance of Richard, saw Sandy safe into her private carriage and then she collected her things to go home to her London flat, not that far from the Tavern. She made particularly certain she had her trusty umbrella.

“May I walk you home?” Richard asked politely. “I won’t ask to come in,” he added, when she frowned.

“You had best not,” she replied pursing her lips.

“Well, you did have a bit of a fright earlier so I thought you might like the company. I realize it isn't very far,” Richard explained. “Even so...” he let the thought float away.

“Oh, all right. Are all men this protective and domineering?” Emmie demanded.

“Well, I don’t see myself as either, but I’ll accept that it’s your view of things and then merely tip my hat to you and say goodbye at the door.”

“Oh, stop being shirty. It’s fine. You may walk me home,” Emmie replied with a tone that implied the exact opposite. Ungracious again, she told herself. What was it about him that set her teeth on edge? Or was it that he actually attracted her much to her consternation.

Richard fought down a grin, and Emmie was annoyed and wondered if he could read her thoughts on her face. But he just held the door leading out to the street for her. “I’m rather surprised you’re in town. I understood that you spent quite a bit of your time in Mesopotamia digging for pots or something.”

“You make it sound beastly,” Emmie replied.

Richard shrugged. “I’ve never been the sort who enjoys primitive conditions.”

Emmie laughed aloud. Yes, she could easily imagine him miserable, hot and bored, stuck in the desert for months. He’d be completely out of his element. Now, dressed to the nines, he looked as if he’d just stepped out of a fashion plate.

“Yes, well, I’ll leave again in a few weeks. For Palestine this time. Father wasn't well, so I stayed here in London until we were certain he was fully recovered.”

“I see,” Richard said. “I’m relieved to hear he is doing better. I expect Cyril is at home with the Earl?”

“Indeed. And not best pleased about it, either,” Emmie replied with a grin. Cyril hated sitting about in the country. He neither hunted nor rode unless he had to. Served him right. The bloody fool would inherit the place after all.

The fog was thicker now, the streets just as empty as earlier. Emmie was, even if she wasn't about to admit it, especially not to Richard, happy to have him walk with her. The incident of earlier bothered her far more than she was ready to admit.

She relaxed in his presence now and listened to a story he was relating about a visit to Paris. It was funny and sweet and he told it well and she was laughing as they came up to the front doors that led to her flat.

“Thank you for seeing me home,” she said to him, and smiled at him.

He cocked his head and regarded her for a moment. “You are most welcome. Why didn't I pay more attention to you at Oxford?”

“Because I was all long legs and pigtails and gawky,” she retorted.

“Well, you aren’t any more,” he replied. He'd backed her up to the wall beside the door and she knew what was coming next.

Amazingly enough she wasn't even interested in attempting to avoid it. His lips looked eminently kissable to her at that moment, so she closed her eyes and waited.

There seemed to be a moment of hesitation but then his lips were on hers, not demanding, but warm and definitely interested. Then there was a slight sting against the side of her throat. Then there was nothing.


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