Anything You Ask Of Me
He stood alone in the parlor, examining a horrendous portrait of her mother that Sarah insisted be left above the fireplace. Hat hooked over his first two fingers, he tapped it against his leg with a certain sense of idleness common in someone tired of waiting.
“It is not a decent likeness of my mother.” She tilted her head toward the portrait. “Maybe in the eyes, but the artist was paid far greater than his ability deserved.”
“It does me well to see you again, Miss Archer.” He smiled and bowed slightly.
“It is a pleasure to be in your company again, General Stuart.” He wasn’t much taller than she, enough that she had to tilt her chin up to look him in the face, but there was something intimidating about him. Perhaps it was his broad shoulders, or the cut of his uniform. She wasn’t entirely sure, but he made it hard to keep her wits. “Did you fare well in Virginia?”
“I always do.” He held her hand a moment, then pressed her knuckles to his lips. “Although, I must say I much prefer the company I find in Maryland.”
“You only say that now. It will be a less desirable place if the Yankees decide to return.” She flushed.
“Do you anticipate their return?”
He chuckled, looking much younger when he laughed. She couldn’t imagine he was that much older than her. Not that it mattered. “I do believe they would find fierce resistance in you, Miss Archer, should they attempt to cross the threshold of this fine home.”
“When my father left, he certainly did not leave behind a coward.” Heat filled her cheeks. He still hadn’t let go of her hand.
“I wasn’t aware your father had left.”
“He relocated to the North when the war started.” She glanced away from him. The act was more than just leaving; he’d fled as fast as he could and never once looked back. “Said he wanted to preserve his business interests.”
“I should think leaving you behind is a decision he will regret but once,” he kissed her hand again, “and that will be continually.”
She smiled and looked back to his curiously bluish green eyes. His gaze was direct, much too steady to be appropriate.
She liked that.
A rustle behind her drew her attention.
Sarah, mouth pursed in so tight a line her lips nearly disappeared. “Martha has finished the noon time dinner preparation, General Stuart, if you’d care to follow me.” Her glare switched to Elizabeth. “Miss Archer.”
Sarah narrowed her eyes in response, then flounced from the parlor. Her heavy footsteps echoed down the hallway.
Elizabeth bit back a giggle and glanced at General Stuart. “As the notable Mr. Shakespeare wrote in, As You Like It, ‘Let us make an honorable retreat.’”
He coughed, probably to cover his laughter, and offered her his arm. She slid her hand over the crook of his elbow, the gray wool of his uniform rough under her fingertips. The dining room was the next room on the eastern wing of the house. If she could have found a way to take a longer route down the hall, perhaps up the stairs, past the bedrooms, and then back down the servant’s staircase, she would have done so, just to enjoy his company a little longer.
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