Adam is a busy man, somber and hard-working. He keeps his head down, minds his own business, and prefers other people to do the same. He's not a man of many words, so when Sarah Wetherby arrives in Slowly Fell and starts chatting to him, as if she's known him forever, he finds it all most perturbing. Even worse -- she has an inquiring mind and she's clever. When Adam finds himself wanting to impress her, he realizes he's in trouble.
"Women saw things differently and his father had warned him that females were often competitive with each other, especially when they felt threatened in some way. That was another reason why Adam kept to himself and showed no particular interest in any woman. He did not want to be the cause of anybody getting scratched in the face and having their hair pulled out. Or being accused of witchcraft.
There was less of that about these days, but it could return. Old habits die hard and folk don't change that much."
However, Adam is soon drawn to the new woman in Slowly Fell and can't seem to stop himself from caring about her, seeking out her company, and speaking up for her against the village gossips. There's definitely something about Miss Wetherby that has captured his attention. But he knows little of courtship and fears he's too clumsy and rusty. Beside her he feels enormous and awkward, a great foolish oaf, uneducated and uncouth.
But Sarah Wetherby keeps following him about, smiling and being friendly. Of all the ghastly things! What can she possibly see in him? Apparently she can't be put off, so he's just going to have to deal with her. Somehow.
* * * *
(Excerpt below from Slowly Fell: A Tale of Love and Thumbscrews)
Cold air nipped at the flesh of his face visible above his collar and below his hat, but if not for that bitter pinch keeping him awake he would have nodded off long since.
Again his stomach growled.
All this trouble for a bloody woman who couldn't arrive when she was supposed to. He was still confused as to who she was, what she was, and why she was coming there. The vicar had asked him to fetch her— said that she had been sent by the Dowager Lady Bramley, widowed mother of Sir Mandrake Bramley, the local squire— but apart from that he had imparted no further information and seemed almost shy and sorry to mention it.
Adam Wyatt, however, asked for no explanation. He was a discreet, private fellow, never poked his nose into the business of other folk. Perhaps that was why he'd been chosen to fetch the woman. So now, here he was, with no breakfast warming his innards, making this trip to the old oak for the third time and in hope of the mail coach finally arriving. It was well past due now, but that was not unusual in bad weather.
He opened his eyes and, this time, there she was. At last. He blinked thrice, to be sure. Yes, with each renewed squint the figure grew from a speck to a blob to a human shape. Apparently formed out of the snowy slush and that marbled expanse of awakening winter sky, she stumbled along, clutching a carpet bag and looking exceedingly windblown. It had to be the woman he was sent to find. Who else would be out in this cold, on foot and alone? The relief of finally seeing her there lifted his cloud a little. But not far. Adam was a cautious man with most people, especially those of the puzzling female gender. Preferred animals in general.
She looked cold and weary. Just about all in. But as she stopped on the verge and awaited his approach, the woman made an evident attempt to appear less crumpled, straightening her shoulders, blowing out several foggy breaths, and slyly scraping her boot heels on the stile behind her. He wondered why she bothered. Adam would never worry about his appearance for anybody. They could take him as they found him. Or not. Up to them.
That thing on her head was not very practical for winter, he mused grimly. The last time he saw a colorful contraption like that was at the May Day parade on the common. If this one was a dainty lass she'd come to the wrong place.
As his horse drew alongside the woman, he called out to her, "Mrs. Wetherby, is it?"
Her cheeks were tinged purple with cold, and her breath a brittle spider's web, spun through the frigid air as she exhaled a sigh. "Miss," she corrected with her nose in the air. "Miss Wetherby."
The mystery deepened. An unmarried woman traveling alone, and proud of it? What would the vicar want with an unwed, young lass, who was not, apparently, a relative?
"Should have stayed at the oak, where the coach left you, as was arranged," he muttered. "What if I came along this road and missed you? Could have frozen out here if nobody else came by." It was not like him to speak so much in one turn, especially to a strange female, but his temper was unsettled and he really had no time for folk who strayed from where they were put or couldn't follow a simple command for their own good.
"Well, I could have frozen just the same if I stayed there waiting." She managed something like a smile, although it must have taken great effort to curve her cold lips upward at the corners. "If I must meet my end I should rather do so fighting. Besides, after being cramped up so long it was good to move my legs again. I don't mind the exercise of a brisk stroll."
Brisk stroll? It was nearly two miles to that spot from the oak where the mail coach stopped.
As if she read his expression, the woman shrugged. "If I've somewhere to be and something to do, I don't like to hang about."
Was that a poke at him? Did the blasted creature dare accuse him of being late?
"Came along here twice last evening to fetch you," he growled, in a voice that would send most women scurrying in another direction, head bowed and hands clasped around their skirts.
"Yes, the mail coach was late, unfortunately," she replied evenly. "I'm sorry you were inconvenienced too." Apparently she was not "most" women. There was nothing bowed about her and no trepidation in her expression.
He took another look at her, beyond the first doubting, hasty glance.
* * * *
If you want to find out more about Adam and Sarah, don't forget to grab your copy of Slowly Fell this Wednesday the 24th. Available now for pre-order here !
Thanks for reading!
(Images used here: "Blacksmith" by Edward Henry Potthast, and a photo of the blacksmith's forge where my own father -- a teenager at the time(before that word was invented) -- worked as an apprentice.)