The walk from Abigail’s house to the windmill was no short trip and had taken the better part of an hour. What a scandal it would be if they knew where she went on her daily walks. The windmill loomed ahead as she rounded the barn. Her heart skipped as she caught sight of Frederick clamoring around near the blades, fixing roof tiles of all things. He was always doing such dangerous things alone. The rope he used to scale the side hung down to the balcony so high above.
He hadn’t seen her yet and she stood in the shadow of the barn watching him. His shirt strained over his shoulders as he laid the heavy tiles. His dark hair glinting in the late afternoon sun. Abigail blushed as she realized his feet and calves were bare. She had come so late today. Her mother would be scandalized when she returned after dark unaccompanied but it couldn’t be helped.
She stepped from the shadows and started toward the mill door. Frederick lived alone at the mill his father had owned, his mother and father had passed and all his sisters were married. He did not like town and never came to events in her social circle. It was pure chance that she had encountered him that day last fall. She’d only ever heard rumors about the reclusive miller who lived on the hill producing fine grain and elegant furniture. Encountering him that first time had been exhilarating.
The stairs creaked as she climbed higher and she heard his feet thump to the balcony above her. He’d been bringing in the harvest and had offered her a ride back to the road. She’d come back every day since, his quiet, thoughtful conversation was fascinating to her. He was not like the society folks she saw so often; he smelled of earth and sawdust and looked directly at her. That focus was intoxicating. He saw her, not just a society veneer; the woman beneath was laid bare when she was with him.
She opened the door and stepped onto the creaking platform. Rounding the bend she found him leaning against the wall. His slim figure was silhouetted in the setting sun and she felt her heart trip. Her attachment to him had grown so much over their months of companionship. What a dear secret this was; how she treasured these afternoons spent here on his balcony.
She closed her eyes and breathed out. The way he spoke her name was like a caress from another man.
“I did not think you were coming.”
“I said I would.”
“So you did, but after the news of your betrothal I thought it would be imprudent.”
“That’s why I had to come.”
He drew on his pipe, the stem clamped between his firm, wide lips. Abigail leaned against the railing opposite him. The enormity of what she had come here to say bearing down on her. What would he say? This quiet, contemplative man, with hands calloused and scarred from hard labor. What would he say? She watched him as he watched her, his eyes betraying nothing. He waited for her. She wanted to pace, to do something. But she could only stare at him.
“Frederick. Do you care for me?”
Her question dropped into the silence. The creak of the windmill spinning round and round was the only sound. The wind tugged at the ribbon of her bonnet.
“Enough approach my father?”
“To what end? You are betrothed.”
“It is an arranged match to a man I’ve never met. I do not want it. I want you.”
He drew on the pipe again and looked out over the fields that gleamed in the rosy light of dusk. The hollow of his cheek twitched as he pursed his lips.
“And if I said I have already approached him.”
“Then approach him again, with me. Together we must be able to make him see reason.”
He tapped out the pipe and set it on the windowsill.
“Abigail. There is no need.”
“What do you mean? Of course there is a need. I want you.”
“And you will have me. Your father gave me his blessing months ago when I announced my intention to court you.”
Abigail’s mouth popped open. He’d never said, father had never let on that he knew anything, nor had mother. How had they kept this to themselves?
“I asked him not to say anything until I had money for a ring. I wanted to do this properly and approach you first but it seems another requested your hand and there was no avoiding an announcement.”
He took her hand and slid a thin gold band marked by a single green stone onto her finger. It was the exact shade of her eyes.
“Will you Abigail Weston take me as your husband? I cannot promise you silks or jewels but I will love you all your days.”
She nodded, her breath seemed stuck in her throat. He stood so close; she could feel the warmth of his body. Their breath mingled and his lips pressed to hers, sealing the pact.