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A romantic historical comedy, I would like honest critiques please! Out of all my books, this is one I intend on having published. Let me know what you think - and enjoy! :D
CHAPTER ONE: COLOGNE, TREES, AND OTHER DANGEROUS THINGS
Four Months Later
Elisabeth-Lu made her way down the stairs leading to the foyer, a basket of dirty laundry on her hip. She brushed a few loose strands of hair back from her work-flushed cheeks as she entered the kitchen, spotting her mother writing out the grocery list at the table. “The linen closet is organized and I have the boys dirty laundry right –” She stopped mid-sentence as she saw the looming pile of dishes at the kitchen pump…the same looming pile Leona was supposed to have washed after lunch.
“What were you saying, dear?” Her mother looked up. “Oh! You have their laundry. Good, thank you.”
Elisabeth-Lu nodded. “Yes, I’ll set it by the washtub in the back.”
“Are you busy after that?”
If you count reading a good book as busy… She smiled. “Nope. Do you need something?”
“Yes, as you can see, Leona forgot her dishes again. I’d rather have you or Lottie do them quickly then have to call Leona back in here. She went outside to play with the boys – and you know how rarely she does that these days.”
Yes. Elisabeth-Lu knew. Since Leona’s thirteenth birthday, her younger sister had deemed playing outside a thing for the ‘children’…and if by chance someone in the family did convince her to go outside for exercise or such, they’d be sure to find her sitting on the rope swing daydreaming within ten minutes of entering the fresh air.
Elisabeth-Lu bit back a groan at the thought of the tedious chore. “I’ll clean them right after I take the laundry out to the washtub, I think Lottie is still working on tidying Evan’s bureau.”
“Well then, I’ll get this grocery list done and then get to work on the laundry.” Her mother’s head bent back over her paper, reviewing her list. “Oh my! I forgot to write down that we needed more cornmeal.”
Elisabeth-Lu stared out the glass-paned window as she rinsed the dishes. She watched the younger Winton children – David age twelve, and James age ten – run around the yard pretending to fence with sticks they had found out in the brush. She smiled and shook her head as she saw that Leona was trussed up to a tree a few feet away…graciously playing the damsel in distress, Elisabeth-Lu was sure.
She looked back down at her dishwater as she scrubbed a stubborn from the last dirty plate. She rinsed the dish and snagged a dishtowel off the counter, drying it quickly. The back door opened as she reached up to stack the painted plate with the others in the cupboard. She looked up to see James rush in, his stick sword in hand.
“James if you’re coming in, you need to leave your stick outside.” She cast a glance toward her mothers newly painted walls. “You know mother will be upset it you mess up her walls.”
James frowned, his freckled face wrinkling. “I won’t scratch it, I promise!” His stick swung dangerously close to the wall sending Elisabeth-Lu lunging forward in a panic to stop the inevitable blow.
“Stop swinging the silly thing before you do!” Elisabeth-Lu propped her hands on her hips and glared at her younger brother. “If you’re not going to leave the stick outside, you’re not coming in.”
“Aww…can’t I just ask ma?”
Her eyebrows rose at his whining tone. “I’m sure mother will agree with me. If you want to go ask her, she’s washing the laundry out by the shed – and she probably needs help.”
James’s look was one of alarm. “Never mind! I’ll go back outside and play.” He turned quickly, opening the door to run back out – when he smacked into their mother.
“Slow down, James!”
“Yes, Ma!” James nodded, rushing past her into the yard.
“What ever did you do to the poor boy, Elisabeth Louise?” Sadie Winton moved past her daughter, sending her a bemused look as she passed.
Elisabeth-Lu snickered. “I just threatened him with laundry duty if he wouldn’t leave his sticks outside.”
“Ah, well that explains why he was charging out of here as if his pants were on fire.” Her mother laughed. “I know you’ve been busy today, but could you go get Evan up from his nap? He’s been sleeping for two hours now and I want him to go outside and play a bit so that he’ll sleep later tonight.”
Elisabeth-Lu nodded. “I’ll run and get him.” She moved toward the stairs to retrieve her four-year-old brother, but stopped abruptly as an idea hit her. “Ma?”
“Would you mind if I go for a walk after bringing Evan down? It’s a beautiful day and I was wanting to get some fresh air.” Elisabeth-Lu bit her lip in hope and sent up a quick prayer. God, how wonderful it would be if I could get away for a little bit!
Her mother shrugged, her eyebrows rising, “No, I wouldn’t mind at all. In fact, I think it would be good for you to get out for a little bit after all that reading you do!”
Thank you, Father! Elisabeth-Lu grinned. “Thank you, ma!” She turned, whipping off the apron she had dawned while washing dishes and headed out of the kitchen to the foyer to take the stairs two-by-two.
She was moving down the hall, making her way to the younger boys room when a flash of movement in her older brother’s room caught her attention. What would Bar or Con be doing home in the middle of the day? She cautiously approached the door, pushing it open with a gentle thud.
She gasped at what she discovered. “Evan Theodore Winton! What are you doing with Bar’s cologne?” Against the far wall of the room was a washstand, and Evan stood beside it, a grin splitting his cherub-cheeked face as he pointed the glass vial tipped over beside the water basin, its translucent green contents dripping onto the wood floor.
“It smells so yummy, Elisa-Lu! Come see!”
Elisabeth-Lu ran forward, tipping the vial upright and throwing the window across the room open as the strong musky scent assailed her. “Evan, why in the world did you dump that?” I should have known better than to even think about relaxing. She rolled her eyes as she thought of the walk that would now be postponed until she cleaned up the smelly mess before her.
Innocent looking big blue eyes blinked up at her as she neared Evan. “Don’t be mad, Elisa-Lu, I didn’t do it!”
She propped her hands on her hips a second time for the day. “If you didn’t do it, then who did?” His eyes grew wide as he motioned her to lean down; she did as she was bid.
Evan’s chubby hands grabbed her face, pulling it down to his level. Staring very seriously into her eyes, he whispered. “It was Jane.”
Of course. Elisabeth-Lu bit back a smile. She pulled back and glanced around the room for Evan’s ever-present partner in crime…she found the rag doll laying in a rumpled position on Con’s bed. She looked back to her brother, trying very hard to keep a straight face. “Evan, what you did was wrong.” And stinky. Her nose wrinkled, why did Bar have such a smelly cologne in the first place? Ick! “You shouldn’t blame things on – “ She glanced at Leona’s old doll, a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. “…on Jane.”
Evan’s lower lip stuck out, his eyes filled with tears – from guilt or from the overpowering smell surrounding them - Elisabeth-Lu wasn’t sure. “I’m sorry, Elisa-Lu! I won’t do it again!” His face wrinkled up and he sneezed multiple times. “It smells so icky now!”
She laid a hand on his head calmingly as she looked over his cologne-spotted shirt. “It’s no wonder, seeing that you’ve poured nearly half the bottle over yourself!” She tousled his sunshine-blonde locks and pushed him gently toward the door. “Come on, let’s get your clothes changed…” Her nose twitched. “Maybe you can have bath later.”
Elisabeth-Lu led him to his room, stripping off the offending garments and clothing him in fresh ones. She gathered the pile of laundry gingerly into her arms and stepped back. “Go get your boots on and you can go play outside with David and James.
Evans downcast face brightened, “Okay! I gotta go get my horsy first though!” He made a face. “You get my stinky clothes.” He hurried off down the hall to the stairs.
“Thank you, dear brother.” Elisabeth-Lu rolled her eyes and trudged after him, the soiled clothes in hand. She could honestly say there was never a dull moment in the Winton house.
Finally, peace! Elisabeth-Lu sighed in relief, strolling down the long winding dirt lane leading away from her house. Tall oaks, birches, maples, and an assortment of pines shrouded the pathway, their fall colors reflecting the afternoon sun. She kicked a loose rock out of the road with the tip of her boot.
She peered up at the sky through the fragrant pine boughs and colorful leaves. Now Father, could you have given me a crazier family? I love them all, but sometimes they can be a bit… She searched for the word. Overwhelming.
Elisabeth-Lu walked for a while longer before moving off the path and pulling off her bonnet. She wandered deeper into the trees, her bonnet hanging from her hand by its ribbons. As she reached a large clearing, she looked up in awe, for proudly in the center stood a stately maple tree…the best climbing tree she had ever seen. Elisabeth-Lu found herself smiling with mischief as she looked up at it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to climb a tree again? It had been at the least four years since she last climbed one…could she still?
Her curiosity got the best of her and she grinned, plopping down on the ground to unlace her boots and peel off her stockings. She dumped the pile of belongings on a nearby stump – still grinning. Oh, wouldn’t mother be appalled!
Standing up she grabbed the lowest branch, which happened to be higher than she had first thought, and swung up into the tree as lithesome as she had been as a child. Biting her lower lip to hold back her giggles, she climbed higher and higher. Perching herself on a strong branch about three-quarters of the way up, she slid comfortably down against the tree.
Elisabeth-Lu glanced down, trying to gauge how far she had climbed. Her eyes widened and she grasped a nearby branch for support. “Oh my!” Good thing I’m not afraid of heights! She leaned back again, her eyes drifting closed as a fresh fall breeze brushed caramel strands of hair across her face. Ah. I could almost fall asleep here.
Elisabeth-Lu grabbed her steadying branch again, nearly tilting out of the tree, startled as Bar’s voice penetrated the stillness.
What in the world, were her brothers doing prancing through the wood during work hours? They were supposed to be out at the lumber mill, miles away from where she was! She held her breath, hoping that they wouldn’t notice her boots and bonnet setting so obviously in the clearing.
“Have you met the new lumberjack yet?” They moved closer. “Says he’s from Ohio.”
“Ohio? What’s he doin’ working all the way up here? There’s plenty of mills that would take him down there.” They were only a few feet away from her tree now.
She saw Bar shrug through the collage of leaves below. “Said he came to get away from his rich family, or some such thing.” They were right beneath her now, but it didn’t seem as if either had noticed her things. “Though if I were rich, I don’t know if I’d be wanting to escape!”
Con answered back, “We should invite him to dinner, you know how ma likes to get to know all the new workers there.”
Bar snorted. “Can you imagine bringing him home with Lottie around? Her and that Lily Piper pounce on any man that passes – dinner would be a catastrophe.”
She heard Con snicker as they passed the tree leisurely. “Maybe she’d be taken with him and they would get hitched.”
Elisabeth-Lu rolled her eyes. Silly matchmaking brothers.
“Hey now!” Bar sounded shocked. “We don’t want her to get married, she can cook!”
That’s right. Elisabeth-Lu nodded. Con shouldn’t try matching us up with Bar around! He can be so sweet when he –
“That’s right!” Con laughed. “We want ‘Lis to get married!”
Oooh! She balled her fists on the branches at her side, trying to keep her balance as she glared down at her brothers. She watched Bar’s back as he passed into the trees, his loud voice reaching her one last time before they disappeared all together.
“You’re right! That girl can’t cook worth a lick!”
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