Can you believe this is the FINAL Chapter? Have you followed along with Kate and Andrew from the beginning? If so, I know you are anxious to see how their story ends.
Oh, and good news – Book #2 is already underway. 😀
Need to Catch Up????
By the time Callum’s driver dropped Kate off in Bourton-on-the-Water, she was so tired she could hardly put one foot in front of the other. She had not slept on the plane, having far too much on her mind and preoccupied with what she would say to Andrew. Prior to flying out of JFK, Kate had called Harriet to let her know what her plans were and to assure her that she would be in Toronto.
“I can cancel Toronto, Kate, and reschedule for later if you need me to.”
“No, no. That wouldn’t be fair after the book store staff has worked so hard to get ready for this event. I have two and a half days to get there and get back. Plenty of time.”
“You’ll be a walking zombie at the signing.”
“Bullocks! I’ll be chipper as a Billy Goat in a fresh pile of trash.”
“What? A who? Oh never mind, but you keep me informed of what’s going on, okay? And Kate?” Harriet paused. “Go get your man.”
“Thanks Harriet. I’ll talk to you soon.”
Kate stood in front of Imogen and Jasper’s pub. She had been gone from Bourton for months but it felt like she had left only yesterday. The tourist season was starting to slow, so the pub crowd was not as ample as it would have been during the peak season. She peered through the windows, trying to catch a glimpse of Imogen and Jasper.
“Mrs. Parker, is that you?”
Kate turned around startled, not hearing anyone come up behind her. “Lord Mayor Bittlewire, how are you?”
“I was under the impression you had moved back to the States. Have you returned to our marvelous little town?”
“Yes. No. Maybe. I’m not sure how to answer that, Lord Bittlewire. If you will excuse me, I have to see someone inside.” Kate was not in the mood nor did she feel like idle chatter with the Mayor. She had come with a purpose in mind and had to act before her nerves failed her. She walked into The Rose and Crown and stood in the doorway, just like she had the first time she had ever stepped inside. Jasper stopped mid pour when he recognized who had entered the establishment. “Well, bloody hell. I never thought we would see you here again,” he said to Kate. “Imogen,” he shouted towards the kitchen, “you might want to come out here. We have a surprise visitor.” At this point, all eyes turned to Kate.
“Quit ‘yer caterwauling Jasper, you’re gonna wake the dead.” Imogen walked from the kitchen and her eyes immediately landed on Kate, who had not moved an inch from the second she had walked in.
“Kate. My goodness, I never thought I would see you standing in our pub again.”
“Hello, Imogen. How are you?”
Imogen was filled with a strong emotion, that for once, made her almost speechless. Part of her wanted to run to her dear friend and hold her and tell her how much she had been missed. The other part of her wanted to turn around and go back into the kitchen and snub her as Kate had done to them.
“I’m fine. Me and my Jasper are just fine. What brings you back, Kate? Why now?”
Kate placed the small satchel she had brought with her on the floor and walked towards Imogen. Where did she begin explaining what had transpired to her friend, a friend who had taken her under her wings when she needed it most. “Because I have to right some wrongs I am responsible for. Because I need to beg the man I love to forgive me.”
“That’s a lot to ask for, Kate. A lot of people were hurt when you up and left for no reason.”
“I know, Imogen. And I know I hurt you badly, too. I am so sorry. I really had a reason and looking back, it seems so inexcusable but if you would let me explain I will try. I owe you that. I have missed you and Jasper so much. Please.”
Imogen could see the distress in her eyes. The least she could do was hear her out. “Tea?” she asked Kate. “I have some strawberry scones left over, too.”
“Yes, please,” Kate smiled broadly.
“That bitch! How dare she do that to you,” Imogen raged. “Dear girl, why didn’t you come to me and my Jasper? We could have figured something out. You didn’t have to run like that.”
“Imogen, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to involve anyone else, and I was afraid if I saw you and Jasper I would not be able to leave. So I just ran. I packed up my clothes and took a flight out that night.”
“We were supposed to go shopping the next day. You had dinner plans with Andrew. His daughter was home from college and wanted to meet you.”
“Ashley? She was here?”
“Yes, he was going to surprise you. He showed up at your cottage after he tried to call several times and your phone was disconnected. We all panicked and I met him at the cottage, sure something had happened to you and that’s when I found yer note. I can’t tell you the hurt in that man’s eyes once he realized you were gone, and especially when you didn’t leave any note for him, either. Just up and gone.”
“But I did leave him a letter, I left it at Rosethorne myself. I don’t understand why he didn’t get it. Oh, Imogen, what have I done?”
“Nothing that can’t be fixed, I pray. I gotta tell you, though. He’s not exactly a pleasant man to be around these days. My Jasper and I have been trying to convince him to take some time off now that his business is booming and he has a new Business Manager. But he won’t. He’s too wrapped up in his anger.”
“Anger at me. I can’t say I blame him. I am sure he feels like I led him on and then betrayed him.”
“You talk to him, Kate. Him and Caroline had a huge falling out. He doesn’t know that she is the reason why you left so suddenly. It’s probably a good thing that hussy has flown the coop to Italy or he might just throttle her skinny throat once he finds out. It’s getting late, how about you go rest up and then you can drive out to see him tomorrow.”
“Yes, I think that’s best. Maybe I can cover up some of these dark circles under my eyes and not looked like a warmed over bowl of mutton stew. Do you have any rooms?”
“Oh dear, no. I am all booked up. But I have an idea – stay here.”
A few minutes later Imogen came walking out with an old skeleton key tied with a familiar blue ribbon. “My cottage key!” Kate exclaimed.
“He hasn’t rented it out. No one has slept there since you left. Take this key and stay the night there.”
Kate hugged her friend and they held on tightly to each other, the depth of their friendship evident. “You make this right, Kate Parker. You two belong together.”
The cottage had not changed and appeared untouched since that fateful night she ran away from the life she had made in Bourton. A vase of flowers she had placed on the mantel remained, long dead and dried up. Kate hoped that was not a foreboding sign as to what her and Andrew’s relationship was like. She went around and instinctively turned on lamps, remembering every detail of the cottage like the back of her hand. So much hurt had been caused in this little town and the blame was mostly hers. Her attempts to prevent a lot of personal pain had failed, but now she had to make Andrew understand why she felt there had been no choice but to leave. Her small satchel contained only bare necessities that she had tossed into the bag in New York City. Harriet’s assistant had met Kate at her hotel to collect the remainder of her luggage and forward it on to Toronto for her next signing. Kate chose to travel as light as she could since it would be a quick trip. She changed into something more comfortable, feeling glad to get out of the same outfit she had worn at her New York City book signing. Her eyes screamed for the sweet release of sleep, but her mind was too occupied with imaginings of how her meeting with Andrew would go tomorrow. Suddenly, she remembered the river and hoped a walk by the water would sooth her as it had in the past. It was starting to get dark, but ample street lights would provide plenty of light. She picked up a pack of uneaten crackers on the kitchen counter, sitting where she had left them last, as a special treat for her duck friends.
The river ran clean and fresh through the town as it had for centuries. The waning sun cast an earthly glow across the water as towns people and tourists strolled by. Kate was comforted by the fact that all remained the same and that this precious little town held the same subduing qualities as it always had. She broke small pieces of crackers off and tossed them into the river, marveling at how quickly the mallards grabbed them up and quacked noisily, begging for more. “Hello, little friends. Did you miss me?” she said softly. The only answer she received back were more loud demands. Kate laughed. “Okay, I guess you’re not up to small talk tonight.” She threw the last of the crackers into the water and wiped the crumbs from her hands. Up and down the river, the life source of Bourton-on-the-Water was moving at a slower pace, the day coming to a close. She stood at the water’s edge, knowing she should go back inside to rest and to place calls to her son and daughter. That is when she looked at the stone bridge closest to her cottage and her breath caught in her throat.
Andrew. He stood at the crest of the bridge, motionless. His face showed no signs of recognition or any emotion when Kate looked at him. It was all she could do not to run to him as fast as she could. In her mind on the flight over, a hundred scenarios had passed through her head about how she would approach him and what she would say. Now, she stood like a statue, afraid to move and afraid to say anything. He turned, walking away. It was then Kate felt the true depths of his anger. He wanted nothing to do with her.
“Andrew! Please, wait.” She hurried to the bridge as Andrew kept walking. She was almost out of breath when she caught up with him. “Andrew, please. I know you’re angry with me and I don’t blame you at all. Please, let me try to explain.”
“Explain what Katherine? I think you made yourself perfectly clear the night you left, don’t you? What more could you possibly say now?”
Kate’s heart ached with the knowledge that his pent up anger was a direct result of her actions. “Andrew, I know it seems like I was heartless and selfish and I don’t blame you for feeling that way. I need to make you understand I felt I had no choice.” He turned away once again and tried to walk away. Kate ran and stood in front of him. “Caroline blackmailed me! I could not let her hurt you and Ashley.”
Andrew looked at Kate stunned. “Blackmailed? What did she have on you?”
“It wasn’t what she had on me. It’s what she had on you. And your daughter. She told me if I did not leave and give you up, she would make sure your daughter was told the information she had and it would ruin her life.”
“You mean the news that Ashley is not my daughter? That news?”
“Yes, Andrew! Caroline told you?”
“Yes, she attempted to blackmail me, also, when I refused to marry her.”
“Oh, Andrew. I’m so sorry. I never wanted her to hurt you or your daughter.”
“It’s not true at all, Katherine, it was all a miserable made up story she concocted. You should have trusted me enough to come to me. Instead you ran. Away from me and away from Bourton.”
“Andrew, I was so scared she would ruin your life. She said that even if the information she had wasn’t true it would still damage your daughter in society. I could not take that chance. Telling you now it sounds so idiotic, but Andrew – I could not bare the thoughts of you being hurt because of me.”
“So you thought leaving me the way you did would not hurt? You could have at least called me or something. ”
“I left you a note and tried my best to explain.”
“What note? I never received any note. All I know is that when Imogen and I came here to the cottage to see if you were okay, all of your belongings were gone. You were gone. Just like that. You were gone.”
“Please forgive me, Andrew. I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I have been so miserable these past few months without you.”
“Why did you come back Katherine? Why now after all of these months?”
“I ran into your friend Callum in New York City and he told me about Caroline trying to blackmail you, also. I knew then I had to come back and try to explain why I did what I did. I could not go on knowing I had not tried to win you back, and make you love me again. You did have feelings for me once, didn’t you Andrew?” she asked, her eyes pleading.
“Katherine, that was then. You shouldn’t have come back.”
“I had to. Whether you feel anger or love towards me, I had to come back to tell you how sorry I am, and that I love you, Andrew. The night I left, I was going to tell you that I had planned on staying through the Summer months.”
“It doesn’t matter now. I have to go, Katherine. I was on my way to the pub and saw the lights of the cottage on.”
“Imogen didn’t have any rooms and gave me the key. I hope you’re not angry. Will you come back to the cottage with me so we can talk? You can even throw things at me if you want to,” she tried to joke to lighten the mood.
“Goodbye, Katherine. Leave the key to the cottage with Imogen if you will please.”
Andrew turned and walked away. And, just like that, Kate’s heart broke into a million pieces.
“He walked away? He just turned and walked away?” Imogen asked, slightly shocked. “I knew he was angry, Kate, but I didn’t have any clue.”
“He showed no anger towards me. I wish he had. Instead he showed – nothing. No anger, no sadness. Nothing. Oh, Imogen, what do I do?”
“I’m not sure, Kate. If he won’t talk to you, I don’t know how you’ll get through to him. Maybe he needs to work through his anger on his own. Maybe give him some time.”
Kate felt dejected. She had not been sure what Andrew would say to her when they met, but this reaction was not what she expected. She had no alternate plan other than laying out her heart to him one final time. While she was flying back to England last night, she had accepted the possibility that Andrew might not forgive her for leaving as she did. Now it was clear; that possibility had become a reality.
“What will you do now, Kate?”
“Go back and continue my book tour. I have a red eye flight tonight to Toronto, Canada. Then, I’ll go back and start working on my next book. I already have a title and the characters – At the Water’s Edge – about an American who moves to a lovely village in the Cotswolds and lives in a romantic cottage on the river, and falls in love. Sound familiar?”
“Well, I hope your story has a happy ending. So that’s it then? Just give up?”
“Imogen, Andrew thinks I gave up on him and gave up on us, too, the night I left. Maybe when I get back to the States I can write to him. I won’t give up until I know there is absolutely no chance for us.”
“My dear friend, will I ever see you again?” Imogen asked forlornly.
“Yes! You and Jasper will always be my friend. I’ll be traveling back and forth to London several times a year for meetings with the British publisher and we can see each other then. And, I would truly love it if you and Jasper would come stay with me for several weeks in Charleston. I can show you some good ole’ fashioned Southern hospitality.”
Imogen smiled broadly. “Oh, me and my Jasper would love that.”
The two women chatted a bit about the book tour until Kate glanced at the clock on the pub wall and knew it was time to say goodbye. She hugged her friends, her eyes tearing that she would not see them for several months. “I promise to call you soon, okay? And you have all of my contact information. Promise me you won’t be a stranger.”
“I promise, Kate Parker, and that goes for you, too. Take care of yourself.”
Kate arrived at the book store about a half hour early as she always liked to do. She liked to pre-sign several dozen books for those fans who didn’t have time to wait for hours to meet her in person, but wanted to purchase an autographed book. She also brought along small gifts for the book store staff as she usually did. It was a small token of appreciation for their efforts in making sure the event was a success. Harriet had picked Kate up at the airport that morning and dropped her off at the hotel. She had fallen onto her bed, exhausted mentally and physically from her whirlwind trip to England and back. Her head ached from lack of sleep and too much thinking. Kate blamed no one but herself. Not even Caroline to a small degree. Andrew was right, she should have gone to him immediately and trusted him to deal with Caroline. Everything seemed so much clearer now in retrospect. Analyzing one’s mistakes with the benefit of hindsight almost always tells us where we went wrong. This could very well be one of those life mistakes that would haunt Kate for a very long time.
Prior to leaving for the book store earlier, Kate had opened her laptop and wrote a short email to Imogen to let her know she had arrived safely in Toronto. She considered sending an email to Andrew, but it seemed so impersonal and inadequate. She would pen a letter later tonight when she got back to the room after the signing. When Kate arrived at the book store, fans were already waiting in a line which seemed to wrap around the exterior of the building. Some held Kate’s most recently published novel, and others held older novels they had previously purchased. Most of Kate’s followers were her own age and older. The publisher of her first book had doubts that her books would be a success because the heroine was a bit older than most romance novels. Kate was presented with all the technical jargon and pie charts about the average age of romance book readers. The publisher felt Kate’s characters should correlated with these pie charts. Instead, Kate stuck with her gut. She knew there were mature readers who loved to read romances. She also remembered telling her first editor that just because the main female character didn’t have perky boobs and had a few extra wrinkles that it didn’t mean she did not deserve a second chance at love. The Editor finally saw her viewpoint and her first novel was a success. Now whenever someone mentioned piecharts of any nature, Kate rarely looked at them.
The Store Manager stepped in front of the growing crowd and asked for attention. Kate always felt uncomfortable being “introduced” like she was some rock star. She was Kate Parker from Charleston. That was all. Harriet would always scoff whenever Kate told her how she felt about big introductions at book signings, saying it built up the anticipation.
“You are a rock star, Kate, at least in the romance world. You are their rock star and that’s all that counts.”
Kate finally accepted that Harriet would get what she wanted one way or another, but it did not stop her from cringing every time the accolades were read out prior to her entrance.
“…so without further ado, I am so happy to present to you Katherine Parker,” the store manager announced. “Let’s give her a huge Toronto welcome shall we?”
Kate came around the cardboard partition wall featuring a supersized version of the cover of her book and smiled broadly and waived. There were lots of cheers and applause, and Kate was grateful to each person here. The first few fans were all from the same family – mother, daughters and Aunts. Picture posing completed, she moved on through the line to the next few fans. About an hour into the signing, a 15 minute break was announced. Or, as Kate and Harriet referred to it – “where is the bathroom break?” Kate grabbed her purse, and heard a murmur building within the crowd. She looked around but could not discern what was happening. She stepped behind the large cardboard wall, and about the same time heard someone shout “Oh my goodness! It’s the Duke of Ravenwood everyone!” followed by shouts and claps of excitement.
“The Duke of Ravenwood?” Kate said aloud. That was the name of the male character in Kate’s latest book. “What the what?” she said, moving to glance back around the wall. Please don’t let this be one of those stalker kind of fans who takes on the character of a book to the extreme. Kate almost dreaded what she would see. Harriet had heard the commotion and come from behind the wall, as well, curious to see how the character in Kate’s book had miraculously come alive.
“Duke! Can I get your autograph, too?” one reader shouted. The Mother/Daughter/Aunt ensemble looked like they were about to swoon. All attention, for the moment was centered around the stranger in the middle of the book store.
“You think I should call security?” Harriet leaned over and whispered in Kate’s ear. “We may have a nut job on our hands.” About that time, Kate got a glimpse of the “nut job.”
“No, Harriet, it’s not a nut job. I think it’s the man of my dreams.” Kate ‘s feet felt like lead. She hesitantly took one step, and then another. It felt like she were living out a chapter in a badly written romance novel –
The dashing Earl stood within arm’s reach, his pearly white teeth glistening under the light of the fluorescent bulbs. His suit stretched tautly across his broad shoulders, a perfectly tied silk ascot signifying his aristocratic standing. He gazed longingly into her eyes, and her knees buckled from the intensity of the passion in his eyes.
The strange part is that those exact words were almost true. Her knees were about to buckle, and she caught herself laughing aloud a bit at his perfectly tied ascot. She remembered the conversation when they had first met, and what her expectations were of a typical British Earl. Obviously, he had remembered, too, because it was the first time she had seen him wear an ascot.
“Katherine Parker?” The crowd swooned a little more. A British accent did that to women strangely.
“Yes, I’m Katherine Parker. May I help you?” she asked playfully. “Have we met before?”
He took several steps toward her and the crowd automatically parted, becoming strangely silent in the process. Several fans had already whipped out cell phones. Harriet stood by in amazement, thoroughly confused as she watched the scene play out in front of her.
“Yes, we met briefly the last time you were in England. You may not remember me, though. I was a bit ill-mannered and ungentlemanly and quite rude to you. I was wondering, if by chance, you would consider joining me for tea one day soon.”
“Tea? Um, will there be fresh scones. And jam?” Kate asked, smiling.
“Oh yes, the best jam you’ve ever tasted, I assure you.”
“Katherine, is this the Duke of Ravenwood?” someone shouted. Kate looked at the crowd and then back again at Andrew. She wasn’t sure how he was here, or why he was here. Her heart was just ecstatic that he was here.
“I don’t know, are you the Duke of Ravenwood?”
“No, I’m just a lowly Earl. But, I was hoping I could audition for your next novel. I have a fascinating storyline I wanted to propose.”
“Tell us,” a woman close-by shouted out, “what is the story about?” All eyes were on Andrew. The silence within the crowd was almost deafening.
“Well, you see there is this woman who lives in a charming Cotswolds cottage at the water’s edge. She has a glorious little English garden she tends to and lots of wonderful friends who love her.”
“She sounds fascinating,” Kate replied. “Tell me more. I am not sure where this story is going.”
“She falls in love with a handsome fella – tall, mysterious and drives a truck. He lives on a small farm on the outskirts of town.”
“A small farm, huh? What does he grow?” Kate asked amused.
“Sugar beets. Lots and lots of sugar beets. For all those sugar cubes used during High Tea. It’s a tough job but you know, someone has to.”
“Sugar beets? And what happens between this cottage dwelling woman and her handsome farmer? I’m becoming more and more fascinated.”
“We are, too.” someone shouted. “What happens next?”
“I’m sorry,” Andrew said in an apologetic tone. “That’s as far as I got when I was thinking up the storyline.” Audible sighs of disappointment radiated from within the crowd of bystanders. “I was wondering if you, Katherine Parker, could help me with an ending. I prefer it be a happy one, if it’s all the same to you.”
“These friends of hers, what do they think? Are they happy that she has fallen in love with this handsome farmer?'” Kate asked, moving to within an arms length of Andrew.
“They sure are, mum. Very happy.” Kate jerked her head to the audience and tears sprang to her eyes at the sight of both Imogen and Jasper standing within their midst. Imogen nodded her head, as to signify it was true that she and her Jasper were there to support her and Andrew. Jasper stood behind Imogen, his eyes alight with happiness, looking as spiffy and dapper as Kate had ever seen him.
“Tea did you say? When did you have in mind?” Kate asked.
“Do you have any plans for the rest of your life?” Andrew replied.
“Well, I do have a new book to write. I will need some new material, of course. Love stories aren’t always easy to write you know. I need lots of inspiration. Do you happen to know anyone that might be able to provide me with that?”
“Well, I am friends with a few Dukes. And a Baron or two. I could see if they are available.”
“Hmmmm…,” Kate reacted, thinking. “I tend to prefer ascot-wearing farmers, truth be told, but I guess I could settle for an Earl if you knew of any.”
“Let’s discuss this over tea. I’m sure we can figure it all out. It’s amazing what a good cup of Earl Gray can accomplish.”
“Katherine, are you going to introduce me?” Harriet asked, sidling up next to Kate, smiling. Harriet was already seeing a gold mine of public relations scenarios.
“Andrew, this is Harriet, my publisher. Harriet, the Earl of Rosethorne, Lord Andrew Charles Weston, III.”
“Lord Weston,” Harriet extended her hand. “Do I shake your hand or bow? I’m so rusty on the rules of the British aristocracy,” she joked.
“Please, please, no bowing. I may be forced to laugh and this abominable ascot is choking off my windpipe. I am so happy to finally make your acquaintance.”
Kate wanted to grab him and hold him and ask if she was forgiven. She glanced over at Imogen and Jasper and had so many questions. “I have to finish this book signing before I can have that tea? Do you mind waiting around a bit? Harriet can show you where you can wait for me.”
“Or, he could pose with you for pictures. The crowd is slobbering at the bit here. You have fulfilled the dreams of half of these women,” Harriet joked.
“Harriet, Andrew doesn’t want to pose with me -” Kate started.
“I’d be happy to pose with Kate and her fans. Why put a perfectly good ascot to waste is what I always say.” Andrew grasped Kate’s hand, and gently brought it up to his lips. “I may not be your Duke, but for a farmer I’m not so bad.”
“Kiss her!” someone shouted. “She wants to be kissed,” an older woman bellowed from the back of the room.
“Well, you heard the woman,” Kate replied. “You can’t let your fans down.”
Andrew gently placed his hand on the side of Kate’s face. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. Two years ago he had experienced a heartache like he’d never know and promised he would not love again for a long time. Little did he know a funny, beautiful and spunky American would enter his world and change his life forever – and allow him to love and be loved again.
“I love you, Katherine Parker. I think we are going to make beautiful tea for a long time to come.” He kissed her in front of everyone, quite uncharacteristically for a British Lord. Kate wrapped her arms around his neck, her heart completely melting. She cared not that their union was being observed by several hundred strangers who had erupted into a euphoric hysteria by this point. Kate was where she belonged.
The garden party at Rosethorne was off to a huge success. Several guests were already proclaiming it the most fantastic floral display they had ever seen. The theme was lavender and the arousing aroma circulated a sweet potency through the air that exhilarated everyone present. Champagne flowed freely, as did platters upon platters of party faire. Andrew’s three children milled about, helping their father greet the many guests in attendance. The RSVP’s had started pouring in the same day as the invitations were sent. Everyone was anxious to be part of this year’s event.
Emily Hayes nervously took the arm of her companion, the Marquess of Battenburg. She had never attended such a gala and was delighted in every way. She just wished she had chosen more sensible shoes since the pumps of her high heels made walking through the grass a bit difficult. The Marquess looked over at the woman on his arm, pleased he was able to convince her to accompany him to today’s event. She had argued relentlessly that as an American she would feel out of place. He had assured her she would not be the only American amongst the guests.
“Ethan, who is that beautiful woman standing over there? I don’t think I have ever seen anyone radiate happiness quite the way she does,” Emily asked curiously.
Ethan glanced in the direction of the woman in question. “Oh, I must make introductions. I think you will have much in common with her. She’s an America, too,” he added.
“Really? Yes, I’d love to meet her. What is her name?”
“Her friends call her Katherine, but her title is the Countess of Rosethorne.”