Authors Note: This is an alternate POV scene from Chapter 7 and features the FIRST KISS (!!!) but from Augie’s POV. I hope you enjoy!
I didn’t know what I was doing here.
Well, I did know, actually.
Time and experience had taught me that Emery would do what she thought was best in nearly any situation. At times, that made her reckless, but for someone like me, it made her entirely predictable.
I knew she’d come to the tree house tonight.
I knew she’d venture from her bedchamber in the dark of night.
I knew her worry over me would draw her out.
And so, despite my exhaustion and my internal turmoil over the evening’s events, I was standing beneath the tree to our secret place, holding a lantern and waiting for her to arrive.
I didn’t have to wait long. I was preparing to climb the ladder when I heard movement.
Peering around the sturdy trunk, I held the lantern aloft and saw her.
“Emery,” I called firmly.
Damnit. Even knowing she would come, I was still frustrated by her rash behavior. Here she was—alone, in the dark—when she very well knew the danger that lurked. We’d seen it with our own eyes on this very day.
But then she was running to me, and I abandoned the reprimand waiting on my tongue. She looked tortured, breath gasping out of her and face crumpling.
Her reaction was surprising and so unlike her that I stood stunned for a moment before placing the lantern on the ground and opening my arms. Emery barreled into me, but I absorbed the impact. Still frozen in shock, I registered her tears. A steady stream that wet the skin of my neck and had me swallowing hard against the rising tide of my own worries and fears.
She was quaking from the effort to keep me tight in her arms and I didn’t know how to reassure her that I was here … that I was hers.
With gentle strokes along her spine, she slowly relaxed and returned to herself. She pulled away slowly and I fought the urge to keep her close. This wasn’t the time.
“All right?” I asked hesitantly.
She nodded, but I could read the truth plainly in her haunted expression. Emery was rattled.
Sniffing lightly, she said, “Are you okay? What happened after you left?”
I allowed her the misdirection and replied, “I located Anders and asked him to assist me in finding the girl. We escorted her back to her father’s house a few miles away. I don’t think John would remember her in the light of day after he sleeps off his drink. So I don’t believe she’s in any danger of retaliation on his part. His friends took him back to the inn they’re staying at in the village. Likely for more carousing. You needn’t worry, Em. He won’t be in the house with me tonight.”
“Did you tell your mother what happened?”
I gritted my teeth at the remembered conversation. I didn’t want to get into this with Emery right now, so I hedged, “I did. Following the party. She was upset but resigned. I’ll speak with her again tomorrow.”
And I would. She needed to see reason where my brother was concerned. He was dangerous.
Emery frowned and stepped toward me. “What aren’t you saying?”
I fought a sigh. She knew me too well. I might as well have been speaking aloud the words I was withholding.
“She didn’t seem particularly surprised,” I finally admitted.
Recognition dawned after a moment and Emery asked, “Do you think—?”
Resignation and shame had me looking away. My mother’s easy acknowledgement of John’s actions had made me sick. She hadn’t needed convincing because she’d known he was a monster. “I don’t know, Emery. I keep trying to think back. There have been maids that have come and gone. Here on one visit home from Cambridge and gone the next. I have no way of knowing why. Anders swore to me he’d never heard of John abusing the staff beyond his typical poor manners and surly attitude. But … I just don’t know.”
I could hear Emery moving closer. When her hand pressed gently against my side, I fought to control my breathing.
“You couldn’t have known, Augie.” Her voice was quiet. She was being gentle with me.
Shame warred with guilt as a result. “I’m sorry I yelled at you, back in the garden. I just—I just felt like I needed to do something, anything to help the situation. John is so good at making me feel powerless. I couldn’t let him or his friends reach that girl and finish what he started. And I honestly hated that you were there to witness everything. That’s not how I’d ever want you to see me, Em.”
“What do you mean? See you how?”
On a deep exhale, I admitted, “So out of control.”
“Augie, you were …” Emery paused as if unsure how to finish her statement. “Before today, I was honestly worried that you were going to expire from repressing your feelings and never displaying your emotions. I am horrified by what your brother did. I wish that situation had not been the impetus for you to finally express yourself. But I think you desperately needed to say all of those things. I wish you didn’t feel you had to hide part of yourself from me.”
If she only knew.
I’d compartmentalized my life and hidden my heart from her for so very long. The fact that she realized something was amiss had my pulse beating wildly. This felt like a reckoning. If she knew the truth—how much I longed for her—then everything would change.
I didn’t know what was happening, but suddenly Emery was pressing herself close. Her body warm and soft against mine. Fear kept me from returning her embrace for a long moment. Would she feel my absolute devotion if I gave in to her touch? Would she learn the truth?
Leaning down, I whispered, “There are some parts better kept hidden, Emery. It’s necessary that I stay in control of myself.”
“Funny, that. I’ve never seen the need.”
And then her lips were on mine.
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe.
Emery held still for a moment, mouth simply touching mine, and then I felt her take my lower lip between her teeth. Her tongue was a warm, wet caress, and suddenly I found my breath and my strength.
I ran my hands up to cradle the back of her neck, tilting her head this way and that. Emery had never been passive about anything. And despite our inexperience together in this, she kissed me boldly and with confidence. It was intoxicating.
These drugging kisses were temptation incarnate. I longed to drag my lips down her jaw to the column of her throat. My desire burned to taste her delicate collarbone. My hands wanted to roam.
But I wouldn’t give myself over to my base desires.
I kept my pace slow and measured. I explored her with tenderness and care. I would not lose control in this—she was the most precious thing in my life. I couldn’t give her a reason to view whatever was happening here and now as a mistake.
It would destroy me.
So, I kept my hands to myself rather than haul her up around my waist and sink my teeth into the skin of her shoulder.
Because if my actions tonight cost me a future with Emery, I’d never forgive myself.
Balancing both desire and control, I tightened my hold. Bringing her close, I committed to the dream and reveled in her touch. An inelegant sound of need escaped, but I didn’t care. This was Emery and we were finally—finally where we were meant to be.
The truth of my love—the weight of it—didn’t feel so burdensome with her in my arms at last.
It felt necessary.
Thank you for reading! The Bartholomew series continues with Patty and Miles in Second Chance Dance!