Chapter Twenty-One

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I didn't want Nicholas and Isabella to think I was spying on them, so thought it best to give the happy couple some space.

"Let's come back," I suggested to Samuel, turning around and waving my arms at him to reverse back down the pathway.

We didn't get far when I heard Isabella call out behind me, and I instantly cringed at getting caught.

"Tilly! Tilly!" she squealed, and I reluctantly turned around to face her. She was bouncing my way, Nicholas following behind.

I put on a brave face and smiled at them.

"I hope we didn't interrupt. I was just showing Samuel where to set up the lanterns," I explained, gesturing to the stranger behind me.

"Nicholas just gave me this hair tie!" she shrieked, ignoring the presence of Samuel. "Isn't it darling?" As she dangled it in front of my face, I was reminded that he hadn't yet given it to her.

I was confused, though. Did men propose with hair ties in this century?

"It's lovely," I replied, waiting for the rest of the news.

"Would you like me to show you where to put the lanterns?" Nicholas asked Samuel.

"Thank you, sir," Samuel responded, with a nod of his head.

As the men wandered off, I was left wondering why Nicholas didn't want to stick around to tell me the news.

Even Isabella just stood there, admiring her hair tie.

The suspense was killing me.

"So... Nicholas gave you a hair tie, huh?"

"Oh, yes. It seems a little odd, don't you think? Seeing as it's not my birthday, and Christmas is still a couple of months away."

"So you two didn't talk about anything else? He just... gave you the hair tie?"

She nodded. "He said he saw it in Hobart Town and thought I'd like it. But he also bought you the journal, so maybe he was feeling generous that day. Grace is right, though, he definitely seems different lately. A lot happier. It's nice to see."

"Yes, it is." If only she knew why, I thought.

"Now that I think of it, it all started when you came into our lives, Tilly. Maybe you're a good influence on him?"

"Ha, maybe," I replied. More like Mr. Valentine's influence.

"Oh, look, more guests are arriving! How fun!" she said, clapping her hands together. "I'm off to find Lilliana. Are you coming?"

"Uh, no, I'll stay here." I'd rather throw myself into the rose bushes, I thought. "I'll catch up with you later." I had barely finished the sentence before she was off through the rose bushes, making her way around the front of the house.

I exhaled heavily. So Nicholas didn't just propose. Was he going to do it later tonight? Was he going to do it at all?

I groaned, frustrated with myself that I kept going over the same thing in my mind. I had to stop. I was going to experience a 19th century ball tonight, and I was determined to enjoy myself.

"Everything all right?" The sound of Nicholas' voice behind me startled me, and I spun around to face him.

"Why do you always do that?" I asked, crossing my arms across my chest in annoyance.

Shrugging his shoulders, he asked, "Do what?"

"Sneak up behind me."

He chuckled. "I wasn't sneaking up behind you. I heard you groan, so came over to make sure you were all right."

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