This is the first time Kent goes to see Ann after she went to North Dakota. 🙂
Kent’s heartbeat picked up as he stepped off the train in Jamestown. The surroundings were much different from what he expected. It wasn’t anything like the hustle and bustle he was used to in Virginia. There were open fields surrounding a small, dusty town, which had no more than a few stores and businesses surrounded by homes. He shook his head. This was no place for Ann.
She wanted to be in New York where they were supposed to go to balls and the theatre. She loved everything he’d described to her. This place out in the middle of nowhere was nothing at all like she wanted. If he could take her out of here today, he would, but he couldn’t just yet. What he could do was offer her hope, to let her know that he was going to rescue her from this life. He only had to wait five months before the investments yielded enough money so he could give her the life she deserved.
He scanned the few people who were lingering about along the main street, talking and laughing. Perhaps one of them would know where he could find Ann. He decided to ask one of the women, figuring they’d be more likely to have befriended Ann. He took a deep breath and approached three women who stood outside the small post office.
When one of them looked in his direction, he offered a greeting then said, “A friend of mine recently came to this town with a man who took over a farm, and I was wondering if you know her. She goes by the name Ann Statesman. She has brown hair, is slender, comes from Virginia?”
The woman’s eyebrows furrowed. “I don’t know anyone by the name Statesman, but Ann Brothers fits your description.”
“Brothers?” His polite smile faltered. Did she really marry Todd or was that the story he bound her to? Perhaps she went along with it to avoid harming her reputation?
“Yes. His sister Agnes came for a visit.” The woman glanced at her friends who nodded.
“Yes, that’s the Ann I’m referring to,” he replied.
The woman’s friend motioned to the grocer. “I saw her go in there.”
“Is she still there?” he asked, his gaze going to the store across the street.
“She spends a lot of time there, so I assume so.”
“She helps the owners out,” the other woman added.
Kent winced as he thought of Ann degrading herself to helping people who owned a grocer. Never would she have had to do something so beneath her in Virginia. Just what kind of life did Todd give her? How could he be so selfish that he would deny her the comforts she’d grown up with?
Kent swallowed the lump in his throat. It was his fault Ann was in this predicament. If he’d only refrained from getting drunk, his father never would have manipulated things so that he believed he’d compromised Rebecca’s virtue. Then he wouldn’t have ended his courtship with Ann, and Ann wouldn’t have run off with Todd. Kent had no one but himself to blame for how things turned out. But he was here to set things right, to let Ann know he was going to take her away from here.
Turning back to the women, he smiled. “Thank you.”
Straightening his frock coat, he headed for the store, not entirely sure what he’d say once he saw Ann. The last time he saw her, he ended their courtship, and that was seven months ago. Would Ann even be happy to see him? What a silly question. Of course, she’d be. She promised that she would always love him, had even assured him that she’d never love anyone but him. Surely, time wouldn’t change that.
He reached the store and stepped inside. He scanned the area but didn’t see anyone. From the room in the back, he heard someone shuffling around. He thought to call out Ann’s name but then thought he’d look foolish in case she wasn’t there. He went to the back room, his steps slowing when he saw her.
Her back was to him as she took eggs out of a basket and set them on one of the shelves. The simple dress and her bun couldn’t hide her beauty. No matter what time tried to do, it would never diminish her ability to take a man’s breath away.
“My goodness, Ann,” he whispered. “You’re just as beautiful as I remember.”
She paused then slowly turned around, her eyes wide.
Kent’s smile widened, knowing she was in shock but hoping she was happy to see him. “I believe I caught you by surprise,” he began uncertainly, not sure how much he should tell her, how much he could tell her. He promised Rebecca he wouldn’t say anything to hurt her reputation, and it was a promise he had to keep, even from Ann. After a moment, he ventured, “I admit we parted under dire circumstances. I made an error in judgment. I am no longer engaged to Rebecca. She was a mistake. I came to apologize and ask if I can court you again.”
“I’m married,” she blurted out.
So she had married Todd. It wasn’t what he hoped for but he couldn’t blame her. “I know why you married Todd Brothers. You were distressed over my brief encounter with Rebecca. It is understandable that you ran to the first person who offered you comfort. This is my fault.”
“But that doesn’t change the fact that I am married. I belong to someone else now.”
An uneasy chuckle rose up in his throat. “I’m sure we can find a way to get you ‘unmarried’. Really, we can work through it.”
“I vowed to be with him for the rest of our lives,” she replied, and he sensed a slight uncertainty beneath her words.
“Vows are made to be broken,” he assured her.
“I’m not leaving him.”
“Hmm…” He struggled to figure out a reason why she would say such a thing when she had once promised to love him—and only him—for the rest of their lives. Then the answer came. There was only one reason why she’d willingly stay with Todd. A child. “I suppose you’re expecting then?”
She shook her head.
Relieved, his smile widened. “Then there’s nothing to fear. This marriage can easily be dissolved.”
He hesitated, not sure what motivated her to still refuse to leave Todd and then realized exactly what it was. She blamed him for how things turned out. Because of his father’s coercion, he’d broken his word to her. And she was right to blame him. With a sigh, he said, “I hurt you more than I realized. I promise that I will never hurt you again. There is no other love in my life. You will always be the one.”
He took a step toward her, but she blurted out, “I love Todd.”
He stared at her. Laughing in disbelief, he shook his head. The time she’d spent out here, away from her friends and family, had deluded her into thinking she wanted to be with Todd. “That’s sweet. Todd is a good boy. I’m sure he’s treated you very well out here, in the middle of nowhere. But a lady such as yourself deserves better in this life. You were meant for comfort and riches.” She’d even said she wanted those things when he asked her if she’d marry him if he didn’t have money, and she made it clear that she wanted the finer things in life, things that Todd could never give her. Hoping to speak reason to her, he gestured to her. “Look at your clothes, your hair, your hands! You don’t even own a single piece of jewelry. You may love Todd but he has you living like a beggar. You were born for beautiful gowns, servants to wait on you, for your every desire to be fulfilled.” He stepped closer to her. “Things I can give you.” Lowering his voice, he added, “Enough of playing wife. Come with me. I can give you things that he can’t.”
He reached out and touched her cheek, something she used to enjoy, but this time, she shrieked. Blinking, he drew his hand away.
She ran for the doorway, but he stopped her.
“You can’t be serious,” he insisted, growing upset. “You would give up what we had for Todd?”
“Yes. Let me go!”
“Perhaps I need to show you what you’re missing.” Then, in an effort to remind her of her love for him, he brought his mouth to hers, thinking she’d recall the time when he told her he loved her and she had replied in kind.
“What is going on here?”
Startled, Kent released her and turned to see Todd who stood in the doorway, his hands clenched at his sides.
“Todd!” Like a scared child, she ran over to him.
Todd shook his head, his cold eyes piercing into Kent. “I can’t believe this. I mean, it was a possibility but…”
“No. No! It’s not what it looks like,” she quickly insisted.
“Don’t lie to him, Ann,” Kent softly replied, not liking what he was seeing. Of course. It all made sense now. She knew Todd was going to be in the store. He probably told her he was going to pick her up and take her home. Whatever hold he had on her, she was afraid to upset him by admitting she wanted to be with Kent instead. “It will do you no good to deny it,” Kent added, hoping she’d have the courage to tell Todd that she really didn’t want to be with him.
Todd glowered at him, and for a moment, he thought Todd was going to strike him, but he just turned and stormed out of the room.
“Todd!” she cried and ran after him.
Kent quickly followed her, wanting to tell her she didn’t have to worry, that he knew she only said those things to him because she knew Todd might be in the store listening to them. It all made sense. Why else would she protest the way she had? But when he caught up to her, he saw another woman in the store.
“I’ll come back for you,” Kent said, hoping it’d give her hope. He wanted to tell her more, to explain he needed his investments to mature first, but with the woman staring at him, he didn’t dare. Who knew if the woman would tell Todd? If only he’d had more time to talk to Ann in private! Maybe next time Ann wouldn’t be so afraid of what Todd would say or do. “I’m sure you’ll come to your senses in time.”
With another glance at the woman who was still watching him, he inwardly groaned. Obviously, she wasn’t going to let him finish talking to Ann. Well, it didn’t matter. He couldn’t take Ann with him today anyway. Things might not have gone as he hoped just now, but maybe next time, they would. Ann thought she’d never see him again. He’d caught her off guard. He hadn’t prepared her.
Looking back, he chided himself for thinking she’d run into his arms and thank him for rescuing her. Maybe next time. Maybe now that she knew he would be back, she’d be more open to hearing him out. With nothing else to do, he left the store.