Chapter 12

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Elizabeth glanced down at the book in her lap and tried to read the same paragraph for what seemed like the hundredth time. The book was merely employed to occupy her hands, for her mind was on anything but. She was concerned about Edward. He had not been himself at all at dinner; he had barely spoken a word and rarely even looked at her. He seemed to be very sullen, the very opposite of how she had left him earlier in the afternoon upon their return to the manor.

She had longed to ask him what was wrong; to do anything that would cheer him up. But it was impossible to talk of such private things at mealtime. Now, they were all gathered in the parlor, and Edward and his father had excused themselves and gone outside to talk privately.

Elizabeth wasn't sure if Edward had talked to her father yet or not, but surely Papa wouldn't have been harsh with him. She glanced over at her father; he was talking with Aunt Charlotte. Papa didn't appear to be in a cross mood. Elizabeth shrugged. Perhaps the sudden arrival of Edward's father had prompted his surly attitude. Besides, she felt sure had Edward talked to Papa, that Papa himself would have talked with her as well.

She had not had a chance to speak to Edward away from prying eyes and ears. But sitting and wondering what was wrong and waiting for him to return was agonizing. Elizabeth only hoped that she hadn't done anything to make Edward angry, or to make him change his mind about her.

Elizabeth glanced up as Aunt Charlotte moved to join her on the settee. She was glad for her aunt's company; it would relieve her mind of its pressing issues.

"Elizabeth, my dear, are you quite alright? I have noticed you seem troubled." Aunt Charlotte took her hand.

Elizabeth glanced at her with a heavy expression. "Oh, Aunt Charlotte... I don't know what to do or what to think..." her voice trailed off.

Aunt Charlotte leaned in and spoke in hushed tones. "Does this have anything to do with Edward?"

Elizabeth blushed and looked down. "It has everything to do with Edward."

"I see. Do you wish to discuss it?"

"Well, I..." Elizabeth glanced up at a movement in the room. Edward's father had returned, and was now asking to speak to Matthew privately.

Where is Edward?

She looked down again, "Aunt Charlotte, things have become so complicated... I had a wonderful time with Edward today, and, well..."

Aunt Charlotte smiled and said softly, "You like him, don't you?"

Elizabeth looked up at her aunt with flushed cheeks. "Yes, I do...quite a lot," she whispered.

Aunt Charlotte chuckled, "My dear, I was wondering how long it would take you to come around. It was plain to see from the first day of his arrival that he was quite smitten with you. All of this is good news, is it not? What about it is so complicated?"

"Well... Earlier we were becoming so close, and..." She blushed again and looked down at the floor as she thought of the intimate kisses; she couldn't bring herself to share that with Aunt Charlotte just yet. "But tonight at dinner he was so...distant, and, well, I'm concerned about him..."

Elizabeth clamped her mouth shut when a pair of shiny dress shoes came to a stop at the edge of her vision. She looked up to see Edward standing in front of her. He bowed to her.

"Ladies, please forgive the interruption. I was wondering if I might speak to you, Elizabeth." His blue eyes pierced hers.

Elizabeth nodded, trying to read his expression.

Aunt Charlotte squeezed her hand. "My dear, you know where to find me if you wish to continue our discussion." She rose and went to the other side of the room.

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