“IT’S beautiful!” Emma whispered.
Josh bent and dropped a kiss on her lips, leaving her pale and trembling.
He straightened up, his voice strained.
“I hear the players tuning up. Do you like to dance, Emma? Of course you do.”
The bracelet came with a slender drawstring pouch which Emma conveyed to her pocket, after which she was whirled away to where a group of musicians were already pulling the dancers on to the floor.
Time flew by and it was later than intended when Josh dropped her off at the Dee Bridge at Chester.
With a confusion of emotions Emma watched him drive away, before transferring the bracelet from her wrist into the protective pouch, which she then concealed in her bodice.
No-one must know. No-one.
She headed off for home. As she was passing the entrance to the river meadows she glimpsed a pair of lovers kissing under the trees.
One of them was Alice and Emma naturally deduced that her companion was Alfie. It wasn’t until he raised his head that she saw it was not her brother at all. It was Hamilton!
* * * *
“I saw you!” Emma said accusingly. “You were kissing. Alice, how could you? What about Alfie?”
“Alfie’s not going to find out. You’re saying nothing, and Hamilton certainly won’t.”
“You don’t care!” Disbelief rang in Emma’s voice. “You planned this – to get me out of the way and make a play for Hamilton.”
“It was dalliance, a bit of fun. Like you and your horse-trader.”
“It’s not the same. You’re promised to my brother.”
“So I am.” Alice’s eyes narrowed warningly. “And so I shall remain, because if some little bird goes telling tales then I shall have a bigger tale to tell. Do I make myself clear?”
Emma’s hand flew to her throat in dismay.
“Alice, you wouldn’t? You are my friend. I trusted you and . . . oh, how hateful!”
She whirled round and left, giving the door of the vintner’s house such a slam that Alice’s little dog sprang to the floor and barked for all she was worth.
Emma was in turmoil. Her friendship with Alice was in ruins, her brother’s pending marriage a cause for concern and now Aunt Maisie was pressing for a betrothal date with Hamilton, when Emma could scarcely bring herself to speak to him.
Her mind swung to Josh. His kiss, brief as it was, had awoken something in her. Had he felt the same, or was he what Aunt Maisie would have called a philanderer, one who played on others’ feelings and quickly abandoned them?
Perhaps, she thought, it was best to remain living quietly here under Granfer Trigg’s roof, helping with the daily round and trying to school her clumsy efforts into the polished ways her aunt thought befitted a young miss.
In the privacy of her bedchamber Emma would take out the bracelet and look at the charms.
She found that the church opened up to reveal a bride and groom at the altar and the cottage roof also lifted to show a cosy scene within.
The cradle contained a baby; the wheel turned on the spinning wheel. Each one was a joy, but in her heart she treasured the little cantering horse the most.
“Wear the bracelet always,” Josh had said. No further word had come from him and as time wore on Emma decided she’d be naïve to expect it.
But she wore the gift in its silken pouch on a narrow ribbon around her neck, concealed under her clothes.