I’m weathering the kind of storm that makes me miss you.
The sun woke Charlotte. Kane’s arm was draped lazily over her waist. He stirred when she moved, “Darling.” He murmured. The word she used so often sounded strange on his lips, with no lost syllables.
“Stay. Paulina won’t say a word.”
“She’s sweet on you. Did you know?”
He laughed, “She loves me and I her. It is completely platonic though.”
“You said, last night, That you have a few men. I’ve never seen them.”
“That’s part of their training. I’ll introduce you to them today before you leave. Be warned they are a prickly bunch.”
“Must be an Italian trait.” She teased.
Paulina knocked and entered expertly balancing a tray with coffee and fruit on it, “Tino said you had company- Oh! Miss Russo. What a pleasant surprise.” Her smile was genuine as she handed them each a steaming cup.
“Mr. Romano. I have collected your mail and set it in the study. I will be in town most of today running errands. Do you need anything before I go?”
“Just let Tino know to gather the boys and meet in the study in thirty minutes. Thank you, Paulina.”
“Whatever shall we do with thirty minutes, Mr. Romano?”
When they finally made their way into the study four men sat drinking coffee. They stood when Kane entered, “Morning Boss.”
Kane nodded, “I want to introduce you to our newest-” He paused, searching for an English word, although they only spoke English for Charlotte’s sake. “Recruit.”
The men looked from Kane to Charlotte and back again.
“This is Miss Charlotte Locke, although she goes by Russo in the Cabarro estate which is where I planted her as a spy of sorts.”
The men nodded and the largest of then stepped forward. He shook her hand firmly instead of kissing it. Treating her as equal, not a woman.
“I’m Ricardo, Ricky to most. These buffoons behind me, acting as though they’ve never met a pretty woman, are Leo, Frank, and Alex.” He had the same easy swagger as Kane. If his flirting bothered Kane he didn’t show it.
“A pleasure to meet ya’ll.”
“Is that what they call a Southern drawl?” Jack mused aloud and they all laughed.
“I should get going before I’m missed,” Charlotte said to Kane.
“Of course. I will walk you out.”
It was not lost on his men that she wore his shirt, but they knew better than to question him.
On the way back the Cabarro estate Charlotte stopped at her uncle’s store. He loaded her satchel up with sweet treats and a bottle of her favorite whiskey before sending her on her way.
When she got to the estate Mr. Cabarro’s carriage was gone. Tara sat reading in the lush gardens.
“What a lovely way to spend your afternoon,” Charlotte said, then laughed when Tara jumped. “You should be more aware of your surroundings, Miss Cabarro.”
“And you should stop stealing that poor man’s wardrobe.” Tara eyed the blue striped shirt.
Where is your father?”
“He left early this morning on some secretive errand. Said he’ll be back tomorrow night.”
“Well, that’s convenient.” Charlotte gave her a conspiring wink and laid her uncle’s spoils on the grass between them.
Tara’s eyes lit up, “You know me so well.”
They sat in the sun and gorged themselves on chocolates and sweet fruits. A blissful afternoon of pretend. Pretending that they were simply young women without the weight of both the past and future on their shoulders.
“I’m dying to know who he is!” Tara said suddenly. Charlotte turned to see her flushed and murky eyed from the whiskey.
“As am I, dying to know who she is.”
Tara flushed more than one might think her olive skin could, “I can’t say.”
“Then, I suppose we are at an impasse.”
“Would I like him?”
Charlotte downed her drink, “No. No, I don’t think you would.”
“That’s a shame.” Tara replied, then to her discrete bodyguards, “A little privacy.” They nodded and headed for the house.
“Charlotte, you’ve been such a wonderful addition to my life.”
“I haven’t figured out how I’m going to move forward with everything, but I know with you at my side I can handle it.”
Charlotte felt guilt prick at the back of her eyes, “You would manage just fine on your own, Darlin’.”
Tara leaned her drink-heavy head on Charlotte’s shoulder, “You have such beautiful hair.”
Charlotte laughed, “Thank you, Darlin’. Come on, I think you’ve had enough of both sugar and whiskey for one day. Let’s get you out of the heat.”
Tara stood, wobbling only slightly. They packed up their impromptu picnic and went to the sitting room. Tara curled up on a large soft chair and Charlotte made them both tea, when she handed Tara her cup she looked different, the light mood from earlier gone.
“Tara. Are you okay?”
Tara looked up at her, “Oh Charlotte. I fear I’ve gone and done something incredibly stupid.”
“What is it?”
“I’ve fallen in love with a woman who does not feel the same way.”
“How do you know she doesn’t, have you spoken to her?”
“No. Her heart is elsewhere. I’m well aware.”
“Love doesn’t run linearly.” Charlotte said, “It’s a winding, unstable path, full of pitfalls and crevices. There is no way of predicting how someone might feel looking in from the outside. You have to jump in and find out.”
Tara sipped her tea and stared out of the window, “I suppose that is true, but I have too much on my plate as it is to worry about heartbreak. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I do not like being bad at things, love is no exception.”
Charlotte could tell Tara needed a moment. She went to ready her bedroom for the night. Laying out a nightgown and putting water beside the bed. Tara appeared at the doorway a few minutes later. Charlotte unlaced her corset and then made to leave.
“Charlotte. Would you lay with me?”
Tara fell asleep almost straight away. Charlotte lay staring at the ceiling. She couldn’t imagine who Tara could be talking about. They spent very little time apart, other than church and events with her father. She was wondering if it could be the wife of one of her father’s friends. That would be a right mess.