Home > Her First Desire(8)

Her First Desire(8)
Author: Cathy Maxwell

She’d nurture the herbs one found in the wild over by the stream. Their powers to heal would increase with the water’s magical mist to encourage them.

And The Garland would not be known for whatever foolishness had been going on. No, it would become a place for women to gather, with their families. A place where they exchanged stories and encouraged each other. A place where she could sell her salves, potions, and teas. A place where not only would she heal, she would also be a healer.

Why, she could turn the lawn into a tea garden like the one she’d visited in London. It had boasted a bowling green outside and a place for children to play. There was plenty of space here for such ventures and still room for plants and for tables for guests to enjoy light refreshments.

Besides her healing potions, she would sell scented soaps. Her gran had a recipe that could rival the finest found in London. She even had a laundry day soap that made one want to do the wash.

On the right side of the building where she could see the morning sun was strongest, she would plant a perfume garden full of colors. There would be violets, pansies, daisies, roses—and bees. Hundreds of them. All busily humming while they gathered nectar.

A passion for something other than mere survival finally coursed through Gemma. She could do this. She could make The Garland the image of her dreams.

It would call for hard work, but she wasn’t afraid of that. She didn’t have much money. However, if she took everything one step at a time, she knew she could see her way through any challenges.

What is mine is yours.

She pulled the ties of her bonnet and removed it, a sign she was home.

A chilled breeze whipped through the air. It swirled against her black skirts and wound its way around her. The playful wind caught on the loose strands of her hair, gently tugging at it, and for a moment Gemma believed she was not alone. She felt the power of her gran, of Andrew, of her mother and father around her.

This was her place. The peace for which she’d yearned.

With a new purpose, Gemma entered the building. There was much to be done. She’d find seed, tools . . . she’d beg for them if she must. But she wasn’t leaving The Garland.

Off the kitchen was a small bedroom where Andrew had slept. She’d used it when she’d visited and it would now be hers. She would eat, sleep, and work her fingers to the bone to create her vision.

Walking through the kitchen, she pushed open the bedroom door. The one window had been shuttered for privacy and the room had a disturbing scent to it. She walked over and opened the window to let in air. Dust motes scrambled as the early-spring sun filled the room.

She was not surprised to see the bed was completely unmade. The sheets were twisted as if someone had suffered a restless night.

She doubted if anyone had touched the room since Andrew’s death. A few of his personal things were here. His good jacket was not hanging on the wall hook the way it had been when she’d spent the night in this room. Presumably, he’d been buried in it. Instead, his apron still covered with the splatters of the last meal he had cooked was in its place. She knew a local woman did his washing for him. He had several aprons that he’d said he turned over to her on a regular basis.

Gemma half closed the door to reveal the shelves built into the wall that held a few of Andrew’s possessions. She’d not snooped when she’d last visited. Now she opened the carved wood box shaped like a shell that had tempted her curiosity. Andrew had once been at sea. Her gran said that was why he’d left the family. He’d yearned for adventure.

Inside were a few letters and a miniature of a woman who could have been Gemma’s mother, except the portrait showed her much younger than in the one Gemma possessed. Her mother had been a wild, redheaded beauty. In the portrait, she had a child on her lap. The child’s eyes were blue like the summer sky and her hair as flaming as her mother’s.

Gemma immediately assumed the child was herself until she reconsidered, even about the woman in the painting. This could also be her gran and the child her mother, or even Andrew himself. Age had turned his red hair to the color of a mouse pelt and so most forgot that he, too, claimed the MacMhuirich red hair. Stepping back, she started to sit on the bed to investigate the rest of the box’s contents when her nose warned her to be careful.

The sheets were the source of the musky smell. She recognized that scent. Someone had been having a heyday with those sheets. And apparently recently.

Gemma gagged. What beast would do such a craven, vile thing in her uncle’s bed?

Men were pigs. Of course, Paul had taught her that. She’d tried to be all that a dutiful wife should be, and yes, he had been the worst husband in the world. . . . however, she had expected more excitement in the marriage bed than what it had turned out to be. She had imagined her husband taking her innocence and ushering her into a whole new threshold in life such as she’d read in poetry. She was curious and anticipating the experience.

Instead, after her first night with Paul, Gemma had wondered why people bothered. It was messy and dissatisfying. It was over before it started. She likened it to biting into a shiny red apple and realizing it was mush inside. All promise and no—what? Satisfaction. She remembered being disappointed.

Gemma hadn’t been able to wait to push Paul’s body weight off her. Meanwhile, he’d acted pleased with himself and was asleep almost the minute he was done. There was no romance to the whole act. Just smelly sheets—

“Bloody hell,” an angry male voice rang through the rafters, startling her.

He was in the main room, and he sounded furious. Was he upset at finding her valise on the floor?

Gemma put the miniature back in the box and set it on the shelf. Her every sense warned her to be wary.

Heavy footsteps echoed as the man began walking through the room. Furniture was moved, followed by a crashing sound as if something had been thrown in frustration.

She weighed hiding, hoping he would leave her alone, and then ruled against it. This was her place. If she was to be here, she had to claim it.

Cautiously, she opened the door and peered out.

A man’s form was silhouetted in the center of the main room. He wore a gentleman’s greatcoat and a broad-brimmed hat pulled low over his brow. His boots were muddy and, to her eye, worn, albeit good leather. He was tall, broad of shoulder, and intimidating.

Well, she could be a bit daunting herself, as well. She straightened her shoulders and moved toward the taproom where she could be seen. Her heart pounded in her ears. She wasn’t ready for a confrontation and yet, she’d not back away from it. She was done with being bullied by men.

He was shaking his head in disgust at the scene around him, his scowl deepening—and then he noticed her. They faced each other.

Time seemed to stop.

The mess, the smells, even the disgusting sheets faded from her mind until there was just him standing in the room. They took each other’s measure and for a second, she experienced a charge of recognition that had nothing to do with knowing him. Instead, it was as if something shifted inside of her. A recognition that this meeting was important—but why?

She did not know.

He reacted as if caught off balance. His weight rocked back slightly like he was resisting some unseen force . . . the same one that pulled her toward him.

The man removed his hat and raked his fingers through his hair and she was struck by the pure, masculine beauty of his face. He had a strong, straight nose to go with his hard jaw, and eyes as golden as a lion’s. Intelligent eyes. Bold ones.

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