My writer’s block has passed, at least for the time being. I know all of you have waited so patiently for the next chapter and I am so sorry there has been such a gap. I am excited for you to read this chapter and hope you will enjoy it. Please leave me your comments below. I love hearing from you! xxoo, Barb
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Need to Catch Up????
If Kate could have seen a snapshot of herself at that very moment, she was sure her face would have portrayed a mixture of mild shock and unexpected delight. She stood motionless for what seemed like minutes, not sure what to say or do. Kate could still feel the warmth of Andrew’s kiss, and gently touched her fingertips to press where his lips had been mere seconds before.
“Oh…” was all Kate managed to say at the moment. A kiss was the last thing she had imagined.
Andrew smiled. “Is that a good oh or a bad oh? I am not up to date on American oh’s.”
“I’m pretty sure that was a good oh.”
“Katherine, I’m sorry if I caught you off guard. I guess I should have asked if it was okay if I could kiss you.”
That made Kate smile. “It would have been the gentlemanly thing to do, I suppose, but then there is always that element of surprise that gets lost in dialogue.”
They were still standing within inches of each other, when Kate stepped away, nervous and unsure of herself or the situation. “Um…tea?”
“I still have this great bottle of French champagne, you know.” Kate eyed the bottle he held up along with the two crystal glasses.
“How about we save that for another time. I think I drank entirely too much champagne earlier today.”
“Sure, I’ll take a rain check. Katherine, are you mad at me?”
“Mad?” she paused, looking at him. “No, Andrew, I’m not mad. Just…um, surprised.” Kate busied herself filling the kettle with water and preparing two cups.
“I won’t apologize, Katherine. I have wanted to kiss you since we had dinner that first night. I sense you are uncomfortable with me now.”
“Uncomfortable? No. I – um, Andrew I need to tell you something. I don’t want you to think I have purposely been holding out on info about my personal life. Can we sit and talk?”
“Sure, but do I need something stronger than tea? Have you secretly married in the past two days? I thought my assistant gardener looked awfully jovial this morning,” he joked.
“Married?” she looked at him with uncertainty. “Oh, you’re joking. Sorry my laugh meter seems to be a tad low after today.” She paused, and hated to say what she knew she must. “Andrew, I was seeing someone steady in Charleston before I left to come here.”
Andrew was not surprised. Disappointed yes, but he wasn’t the least bit surprised to learn that someone as beautiful and smart and funny as the woman who stood before him was attached.
“Is it a serious relationship?” he asked, leaning against the door frame. “I’m sorry, it’s really none of my business and I should not pry.”
“No, it’s ok. I want to tell you. His name is Mark, and we had been dating about 4 months. This trip to England came about quickly – literally within a 48 hour period. He didn’t understand why I needed to up and leave for several months, and felt as if I was abandoning him. In fact, he’s pretty angry about it all. Every one of our recent conversations since I’ve been here have not ended well.”
“Do you love him?”
Kate hesitated. Andrew wasn’t sure if her hesitance was telling or not.
“No, I don’t love him in the sense of true love. I have grown to care for him. He’s the first man I dated after David passed away. The night before I left, he presented me with airline tickets to Paris so we could take our relationship to the next level.”
“The next level? Oh, I see. That next level. So, where do things stand now? Between you and Mark?”
Kate poured two cups of tea. It allowed her to gather her thoughts and think how she could honestly answer his question. She motioned for Andrew to follow her to the sitting room sofa where they sat next to each other. “Like I said, there’s a lot of tension between Mark and I right now. He’s asked several times if he could come over here to England to stay with me for a few weeks. I’ve repeatedly said no because he would be a distraction. I don’t know, maybe that’s just an excuse. I have asked myself a hundred times if it’s me or if it’s him. Maybe I’m just not ready to be with another man yet. Or, is it because he is simply not the right man for me? I wish I knew.” Kate placed her hand on Andrew’s arm. “I am touched you wanted to kiss me,” she admitted. “I have enjoyed spending time with you. I just need you to realize I will be going back to Charleston as soon as my book is completed. I have a life there. My son and my daughter and my grandson are there. They were part of the reason I almost decided not to come here at all.”
“Well, I am glad you did come, Katherine. And thank you for your honesty.”
“Can I ask you something? That is if you wish to tell me. Where do things stand with you and Caroline? I get the feeling she is vying for a position as your next wife. She doesn’t like me you know.”
“Don’t take it too personal. Caroline doesn’t like any female. Katherine, I am not involved with her. I took her out to dinner a few times last year, then I made the mistake of asking her to co-host a large event at my home – totally stupid on my part. I have known her since we were children and I knew how she felt about me, or at least how she felt about my title. I take full responsibility that I have allowed her expectations to grow. But, I will never marry Caroline under any circumstances.”
“Have you told her that?”
“Yes, I have. Several months ago, in fact. Unfortunately her mind is made up that she will be the next Lady Weston. I have known for a while I needed to have another serious conversation with her. Did she say something to you to upset you today? I looked for you and Imogen informed me that you weren’t feeling well.”
“Let’s just say that Caroline and I had a little talk, but I can handle her. When I was in high school, there was this girl that was very much like Caroline. She had set her eyes on David about the time we started dating. Honey Sugarbaker.”
“Wait? Did you say Honey Sugarbaker? Her name was Honey?” he laughed.
“Welcome to the South,” she smiled. “Trust me – her name was the sweetest thing about her and she hasn’t changed one bit since high school. She tries to let everyone believe she is as sweet as a box of doughnuts but I know better. Last count, she has ruined three marriages and is on husband number 6. Wait,” Laura paused, counting on her fingers, “maybe it’s seven.”
“Oh my, you’re right. Caroline is an amateur.”
“Andrew, are you disappointed that I didn’t tell you about Mark sooner? It really wasn’t my intention to keep that from you.”
Andrew reached over and tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear. “Nothing about you disappoints me, Katherine Parker. I am enjoying getting to know you better, and that included kissing you tonight. If all we have together is a few more weeks, I will gratefully take that,” he smiled.
“Why do I feel like a shy schoolgirl all of a sudden? I always feel like I am sixteen again when I’m around you.”
“I am not sure if that is a good thing or not. I was pretty shy and inexperienced at sixteen. Mother was determined I would marry one of the girls she had chosen for me, someone she deemed acceptable, and that made me quite anxious and timid.”
“So when did that change, because you’re anything but shy and timid now.”
“Let’s just say my education at university wasn’t always in the classroom,” he laughed.
“Oh my,” Katherine joined in laughing. “Let’s save those stories for another night, shall we?”
“Yes, it’s getting late and I need to be going. I wanted to ask you something before I go. Remember I told you there was something I needed to talk to you about? I would like to know if you would accompany me to London this weekend. I have some business appointments, and thought we could go to dinner, maybe hit a museum or see a show. Whatever your heart desires.”
“London? Oh, I don’t know…”
“Katherine, I see the fret in those pretty eyes. I am not suggesting we jump into bed as soon as we arrive. In fact, I will book separate rooms so you know I only have good intentions. I would just like to spend some time with you. You can do some work on your book while I am attending my meetings, or do some shopping. It’s up to you.”
“Well, I won’t lie. A little getaway sounds wonderful. Can I think about it and let you know?”
“Absolutely, just don’t dally as I need to reserve some rooms and make dinner reservations.” Andrew stood and held his hand out to Katherine. When she took his hand and rose, once again they found themselves merely inches away from each other. “Katherine Parker, I am going to kiss you goodnight, so now would be your last chance to voice your disproval,” he smiled.
Katherine placed her hand on Andrews cheek and looked into his eyes, pausing a moment. If she thought too long of what she was about to do, she would chicken out. So she leaned in, and kissed him.
Tuesday morning was ushered in by miserably wet and cold weather. Kate had planned a morning at the market but dreaded going out in these conditions. She quickly acknowledged that rainfall was part of the British way of life and why they had invented slickers and Wellingtons. She dressed accordingly, and grabbed her trusty market basket. Driving in England had become second nature to Kate, but she was still very cautious during this type of weather. It took her a little longer than normal to arrive at the market which meant she had to park further away than she wanted. By the time her shopping was completed and she had made her way back to her car, she was in great need of some warming tea. She headed to the pub and hoped Imogen would be there. Sure enough, as soon as she entered, her good friend waived her over and indicated a chair for Kate to sit.
“You are a site for sore eyes, my dear friend,” Kate said, while hugging Imogen.
“Child, you are drenched to the bone. You are in need of a cuppa and fast.”
“Imogen you could not be more correct. I really wanted to get some more shopping done but I finally threw up the white flag. I don’t know how y’all do this.”
“Do what, my dear?”
“The weather. Look at you. You look as fresh as a daisy and I look like a wet rag.”
“Kate, you are the prettiest wet rag I have ever laid my eyes on,” she joked. “How are you, by the way? I have not heard from you since the garden party. I hope you’re not still fuming over that petty Caroline, although I would not blame you if you were. Indeed not.”
“No, I’m not fuming. I refuse to waste my time thinking about her. Although, I will admit she rankled my nerves. I think I am more angry at myself for letting her get to me the way she did. I was already a basket case of anxiety before I arrived because I just felt so out of place.”
“I’m sorry, dear Kate. I didn’t realize you were so nervous about the whole thing.”
“It’s silly I know. I am a grown woman so I have no idea why. I feel doltish now thinking back on it.”
“Well, it didn’t help that you were ambushed by that distasteful woman and her man-ravenous claws.”
Kate laughed. “She does have claws, doesn’t she? You warned me correctly. Next time we cross paths, I will be ready. I have dealt with my fair share of women like that back in Charleston. I guess I was out of practice,” Kate joked.
“So have you seen Andrew? He asked why you had left and I told him you weren’t feeling well but he was suspicious. I think the guilty look on Caroline’s face when I gave her my famous ‘Imogen Stare’ told him all he needed.”
“Yes, he came by later Saturday night. With champagne.”
Imogen stopped with her tea cup midway to her mouth. “Champagne? For you?”
“I think more for us. He also brought along two glasses.”
Imogen leaned in closer. “I knew it! I knew he fancied you. Tell me more.”
“Sorry, this gal doesn’t kiss and tell.” As soon as those words escaped her, Kate knew she had said too much.
“Kiss? He kissed you? Oh dear Kate, he really does like you.”
“Shhhhh. I don’t want the whole pub knowing,” Kate teased. “Imogen, it was an innocent kiss. Don’t make more of it than it was. Well, accept he did ask me to go to London with him this weekend. Not as a romantic interlude, but to accompany him on his business trip. He said he would reserve two rooms.”
“Why did he ask me to go with him to London?”
“No, why two rooms?”
“Imogen Davies, I am surprised at you. What are you suggesting?” Kate answered, jokingly acted appalled. “You know I am a tender and innocent Southern woman,” she stated with an exaggerated Southern drawl.
“Pshaw! You’ve been married and have two children. Unless they were adopted I assume there were some romantic interludes in your bedroom. You know how this works. And Kate Parker you have a man who is obviously interested in you. A very handsome and virile man. I see no need for two rooms.”
“I don’t think I’m quite ready to go from one kiss, well – two kisses, to spending the night with the man. Even if he is handsome and virile,” she winked.
“Well, are you going? You did agree to go, didn’t you?”
“I told him I would think about it and let him know. I have some reservations.”
“Bullocks. Get on that phone right now Kate Parker and accept his invitation. Darling, you deserve some happiness. Your husband has been gone now for several years and he would want you to move on with your life. Even if it’s not a romantic interlude, it’s a weekend in London for goodness sakes. Live a little.”
“I do so love London. It’s been a while since I was there last. But Imogen, what do I do about the man I have been dating in Charleston? I can’t just take off to a big city with another man like this. That is not my nature at all. It feels underhanded.”
“You’re right, it’s not you. I think you need to do some soul searching and figure out what you want with your relationship with this man. Is he the one for you? If so, then I agree, you do not need to go to London with Andrew. Will you give me your honest answer about something? Don’t hesitate and don’t think, just tell me your answer,” Imogen asked.
“Okay, I will.”
“What was the first emotion you felt when Andrew asked you to go to London?”
“Excitement. Followed closely by doubt.”
“Well, you know how I feel on the matter. But, I also respect that you have another beau back in America to deal with. Kate, you are one lucky woman to be wanted by two men on two different continents. I must go, please come by on Thursday night and have dinner with me and my Jasper at the pub. Thursday night’s menu features my much revered Shephards Pie. I want to know what you decide.”
Kate stood and hugged her friend, feeling even more confused as to what her decision would be. She concluded then and there she needed to have a talk with Mark about their future together. She definitely had some issues to resolve one way or another, but for now, she needed to make her way back to her car without getting soaked to the bone.
Kate spent the rest of the afternoon in her cottage, sporadically writing and staring out of the windows at the still falling rain. There were days when she welcomed the calming effect of rainy days, but for some reason today she felt restless and fidgety. She knew the cause. Two men. Two very different men who lived thousands of miles apart. Kate inwardly scolded herself. This was not why she had come to England, to get involved in a love affair on the other side of the pond. She had moved here for the sole purpose of finishing her book and getting her career back on track. And that was all. She didn’t need to complicate matters worse. Furthermore, she would be leaving Burton-on-the-Water as soon as her book was completed. It made no sense to involve herself in a relationship that had no future. Yes, that was her final decision. She would not go to London and she would not become embroiled in a fleeting romance with a British man, even though he had the most enticing eyes and heart-wrenching smile. Not to mention his kisses were sensual and heavenly. Stop it, Kate Parker, she silently reprimanded herself. She didn’t want to think about Andrew’s kisses or how relaxed and uncomplicated it felt to be with him. No, she would not think about that at all. She had to think about Mark and how disappointed and hurt he would be if he knew. Kate looked out her big bay window at the world beyond her flower-filled garden and stone fence. Even with the falling rain, and the ducks playing happily in the river beyond, the world seemed so less complicated out there than it did inside her little cottage. Today, her adored little home felt stifling. She knew she had to talk to Mark, and she glanced at the clock to see what time it was back in the States. He should be getting into his office about now, so she gathered up her nerve to call about the same time her cell phone rang.
“Harriet, how good to hear from you. Did I miss a phone conference today? Oh dear, I have been so busy writing I haven’t looked at my schedule in a few days.”
“No, no, Kate, you didn’t miss a call. I just needed to update you on a situation within the publishing company.”
“Oh wow, nothing bad I hope?”
“Not at all, in fact, it’s very good news, at least where you are concerned. Do you have time to talk?”
“Absolutely. I needed a distraction. It’s been raining cats and dogs for a few days and I am developing a bad case of cabin fever. Or cottage fever I should say.”
“Well, Heart Publishing has acquired a large publishing house in London. The deal was finalized yesterday. It’s not the UK’s largest publishing house but it has several well-known authors. Here’s the clincher. The new head of publishing for the UK Division wants to meet with you, Kate.”
“With me, but why?”
“He wants you to consider expanding your ‘Cotswolds’ romance series.”
“But, Harriet, I thought we had agreed this would be my next to last book in this line, maybe even my last. I thought Heart Publishing decided I needed to move on to a new series?”
“Well, they did, until they acquired this new publishing house. They think they can offer your romances to a whole new readership there in the UK.”
“But, do you think women here would even want to read about an American woman coming over to Britain and falling in love? Harriet, if you think about it, I am writing about their competition,” she laughed.
“Oh, I know it may need some tweaking and the storylines may need to be adjusted some, but yes, they do feel there is an untapped audience we can market to. The sales stats show you already have quite a good following in the UK. They think it’s worth exploring.”
“Okay, well, I guess we can at least discuss it. When does he want to talk? Will he call me?”
“No, he wants to see you. In London. As soon as you can. I can book you a room for tonight.”
“Tonight? Harriet, I can’t get to London tonight? Not in this weather, at least. Why the hurry?”
“His name is Sir Jack Burnham, and once you meet Jack you will quickly realize he is a man who gets things accomplished.”
“That is all well and good but what would a few days matter?”
“I guess it won’t. When do you think you could be in London, I will arrange it all.”
“Will you be flying over to meet with us?”
“No, I can’t be there in person, but we will conference call. Kate, I know you can handle this on your own. It’s just a meeting is all.”
“Well, believe it or not I had been asked to go to London this weekend. I guess I could extend for a day and meet him on Monday.”
“You were asked to go to London? With who?”
“Just a friend is all. To the museum.”
“Well, I will set up a meeting for Monday and email you the details. Kate, this is a huge step for you. This could set your career on an international course and your sales will hit the charts. I just know your stories will be a hit everywhere. This could be that big break all authors want.”
“It kinda gives me butterflies, Harriet. It’s exciting. I will look for your email with the details.”
Kate hung up. She was adrenalized and panicked and sorrowful all at the same time. She was sad that she could not share this news with David, as he had been her greatest champion. What if this publisher didn’t like her? What if she let herself down, as well as Harriet? Well, she was Kate Parker and her mama had taught her to face challenges head on – with a beautiful shade of lipstick, she smiled. Then, her heart immediately sunk. This meant she had to talk to Mark once and for all. Why did she dread it so? She picked up her cell and dialed his office number.
“Hello, Cooper, Hayden and Hadley Law Offices. This is Carli, how may I help you?”
“Hi Carli, it’s Kate Parker, how are you?”
“Mrs. Parker, hello. It’s good to hear from you. How are you?”
“Fine, Carli, I am well. Is Mark around by any chance?”
“Mr. Hadley? Um….” The young receptionist hesitated.
“Yes, Mr. Hadley. Has he come into the office yet?”
“No, ma’am. Not yet, I mean…he’s not here.”
“Oh, do you know when he might be in by any chance?”
“Mrs. Parker, don’t you know? We all kinda thought he was with you.”
“With me? What do you mean, Carli? Mr. Hadley isn’t here with me. I haven’t spoken with him in well over a week or more. Why would you think that?” Kate was extremely confused.
“He’s in Paris, Mrs. Parker. He left for Paris a few days ago.”
“Paris? Oh. Oh, yes, he did tell me he was going to Paris, I totally forgot what day he was leaving,” she lied. “Did he leave a number in Paris where he could be reached per chance? I really need to speak to him.”
“He sure did, hang on I will get it. I guess it’s okay to give it to you.”
Kate wrote down the number and thanked Carli for her time. Part of her wanted to just forget the whole conversation and leave Mark a message on his cell phone to call her whenever he could. Part of her was curious to know why Carli and everyone at the law office assumed Kate was in Paris with him. She dialed the number, and asked for Room 14. The line rang several times before someone picked up.
“Hellooooo? Or should I say Bone-Jooooor!” Kate stared at the phone. The shrilly and irritating female voice was well known and there was no denying who was on the other end. Kate immediately hung up. She wasn’t sure what she was feeling. Mark was in Paris with another woman, which would explain why he had not returned her calls. What she could not understand was why he was with Honey Sugarbaker.