Chapter 13

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I actually sat and bounced on my bed the next morning. And I hadn’t even had my coffee. After a week of frustrated inaction, I could finally anticipate activity.

Obadiah didn’t have surviving family in town—just two brothers, both at sea—but he wanted to introduce me to his housekeeper. Actually he’d wanted to take me last night, but first we had to wait for Rawley to reappear and resume the watch (a detail he apparently hadn’t accounted for when he sent the crew off) and by that time it seemed wiser to put off introductions till the morning. He no doubt felt so for reasons of decorum, with dark approaching, and I for reasons of presentation and personal hygiene. I’d been walking and sweating and my hair was a tumbled mess and I didn’t feel at all like a proper young lady who should be paraded before a mother-figure.

So today he would take me to meet Mrs. Vanderhagen, and to talk to the preacher, and tomorrow to see the court clerk. We didn’t have time to publish banns before Obedience would sail, so Obadiah intended to undertake the expense of a license.

Rawley’s dawdling had given us time to talk about plans, and to shed some constraints (along with his jacket, once the formality of proposing was done with). I didn’t know what to expect—or what was expected of me—regarding a wedding, but he seemed to be taking matters in hand. Picturing him as a wedding planner struck me as deeply humorous.

Of course, we weren’t exactly picking out colors or flowers or music, there wouldn’t be a bridal party, and we weren’t writing our own vows. We pretty much just had to get ourselves licensed and in front of the preacher, and those are logistics even a man can handle.

Mrs. Vanderhagen handled my appearance with a great deal of grace, given the fact that she hadn’t been apprised of my existence. Maybe logistics shouldn’t be left to the groom after all.

“Bless me, child, I didn’t even know he was courting!”

Obadiah looked uncomfortable at the implied oversight, and I had to laugh. “I’m not sure you’d call it a courtship, exactly. It’s more like I made myself a fixture on his ship until he got used to me and decided he might keep me.” He looked startled by the description, and I wondered if I’d given too much away. But what if I had? He’d arrived at his decision to “keep me”—was it so bad for him to know I’d also arrived at mine?

In the course of proposal and acceptance—and even in the conversation that followed—we had shared a decision, but not really talked about underlying emotions. No professions or confessions of devotion or attraction. Clearly we were a pair of action-oriented thinkers, both of us less comfortable in the realm of feeling. A matched set—so would we move through a shared life without the intimacy of sharing what we felt? Well, if that were a hurdle, it was one that didn’t need to be jumped right this minute.

Right this minute, I intended to enjoy Mrs. V’s coffee and a muffin. And let her take over the wedding plan—which quickly grew to encompass flowers and music after all. I told her light-heartedly that all I wanted was clean hair and a pretty dress, and to be married to him at the end of it. But her sister was an organist, and she knew just the person to see about flowers, and…

A little quirk of surprised smile lifted Obadiah’s features when my words tumbled out, that I wanted to be married to him, and I realized it was only the second time he’d heard the sentiment articulated. Only the second time I’d ever said it. I had a fizz of excitement going, holding his gaze, and she saw I wasn’t following her friendly prattle.

“Laws, Mr. Starbuck, your bride is too fascinated with your face to pay mind to her own nuptials. Well, it bodes well for the marriage—if not for the wedding.” With which pronouncement she whisked away my empty plate and retreated, smirking in satisfaction.

Which left us alone feeling a little embarrassed by her observation, and a little shy as a consequence. So I addressed it head-on. “I do want to be married to you, Obadiah. I’m not much of one for wedding-fuss, but I wanted you to ask me. I was truthful in telling you I got involved out of loneliness and wanting something to do—but it was your face I looked for every time I came aboard. I spent so much time there on purpose, just hoping you’d show.” It wasn’t quite the same thing as telling him I had a flutter in my stomach when his face appeared, or that I could hear his voice in my head when I lay under my quilts at night, or that I couldn’t stop watching his hands, or that I’d imagined my own hands pulling his face toward mine to kiss… But it was what I had the courage for. I wondered with amusement what he’d do if I told him he had an admirable ass.

His low laugh made me resolve to get more chuckles out of him—even as much as we’d talked, that was a rare enough sound. “And here I thought sure you were rejecting me when you asked me why.”

“That was unfair of me—I should have said yes before I asked. I was just so surprised you had asked. I so wanted you to, and didn’t see it happening, and couldn’t imagine what had brought you to that point when I didn’t expect it.”

He cocked his head as if considering. “And yet you seemed so comfortable and confident all that time, I never guessed.” He leaned forward, and I thought for a moment he might take my hand. “We’ll learn each other better, lass. We’ve a fortnight before I sail, and now we can say what we think.”

Well, yes and no. I wasn’t about to say what I was actually thinking. That we were looking at far more than a fortnight together.

When Mrs. Vanderhagen reappeared at the door, he asked her to take me on a tour of the house. No doubt it would be improper for him to take me upstairs. I’d already registered that we sat in the parlor rather than the kitchen, and that he started when I addressed him by his first name. We might be beginning to talk more openly, but engagement clearly didn’t erase formalities.

I almost declined the tour, being considerably less interested in the house than Obadiah expected, but I wanted to get a feel for the housekeeper. Given how little time he spent here, I didn’t expect his home to tell me much about Obadiah, which proved an accurate guess. The place was clean and tidy and impersonal, saved from sterility only by homey touches that had to be Mrs. Vanderhagen’s work. It didn’t tell any stories of its owner, except the story of his success at his vocation.

Mrs. V was another matter—I was sure she could tell stories, but probably only once she got comfortable with me. I wondered how she felt about her expectation that I’d be living with her—as far as she knew, she’d just had an entirely unknown quantity thrust at her as a prospective housemate. I wasn’t sure I’d be as calm or as friendly in the same circumstances. As she talked her way through the house, I suspected she wanted to ask questions of me as badly as I wanted to ask them of her. So I started.

“What’s he like in the morning?” I wanted to know so much more than that, but it seemed a manageable place to start—and maybe a telling indicator, how someone wakes up before they put on their “outside face” for the world.

She turned from the bedroom curtains (it may have been my discomfort at the sight of the four-poster bed that prompted me to start an interview) and considered the question. Or maybe considered me. I wondered what she had known (and what she hadn’t) of her Mr. Vanderhagen before she’d married.

“He talks, Miss.” Okay, that’s not what I expected. “I’ve never known a man to run on so over his eggs. I’ve heard him called taciturn, but not by anyone who ever breakfasted with him.” I wondered how much else was different between his “captain face” and his private one. And I wondered if maybe I should get more coffee on board that ship—I’m not terribly conversational before I’m caffeinated.

The cheery yellow kitchen was clearly Mrs. Vanderhagen’s domain, far cozier than the rest of the house. I’m no cook, but if I were staying ashore, this is the room I’d gravitate toward. And Obadiah seemed at home there, waiting for us to reappear when we came back downstairs. I would have accepted Mrs. V’s offer of a coffee refill, but he declined for us both—time, he said, to leave for the church. Unaccustomed to having decisions made for me, I nearly protested, but thought better of it. If it looked like becoming a habit, I’d have time enough to talk to him about it without causing a scene now. Pick your battles and all that. I knew I was still playing for higher stakes than even a good cup of coffee.

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