Christopher Brandon’s life had always been about propriety, much to the detriment of his heart. He had dutifully joined the Army, rather than embarrass his family by trying to lay claim on the woman who had been destined to marry his brother. And while Eliza had come to a bad end, he had done everything in his power to look after her daughter.
He had truly believed love to be forever lost to him until he had come across Miss Marianne Dashwood singing for his neighbor and friend, Sir John Middleton. But while Eliza had returned his feelings, Miss Dashwood only had eyes for John Willoughby. The infatuation was almost her undoing.
Now, she ghosted around Barton Cottage, a mere shadow of the vibrant girl she had once been. While Christopher held no hope that his feelings might be returned, the thought that he might no longer see a smile grace her beautiful face was too much to bear, so he purchased a pianoforte and had it delivered to Barton.
When he visited Barton a week later, Marianne happily displayed her musical talent by perfectly playing the sheet music he had sent with the instrument. The edges of her mouth turned upward ever-so-slightly when he and her family clapped their appreciation.
As he bowed to take his leave, Marianne took a step closer to him, but did not look up to meet his gaze. “Pray, when do you think you might visit Barton again, Colonel?”
The question surprised him and it took a moment for him to find his voice. “I would be happy to stop by tomorrow with some more music.”
Still not looking at him, she gave him a small nod. With his heart soaring, he bowed deeply to her and then to her mother as well before taking his leave.
Over the next few months, the tone of his visits to the cottage changed. Mrs. Dashwood, always the perfect hostess, began to leave them unsupervised, finding duties to attend to either outside or in other parts of the cottage. Miss Margaret always delighted in asking him questions about his travel and he discovered that he enjoyed sharing his memories with her. He reveled in the fact that he had obtained the status of a true family friend. But best still, Marianne’s face began to take on a healthy glow. Not only did she meet his eyes more and more, but she often graced him with small smiles. There were even a few times when she appeared to be studying him, but for what purpose he could not fathom.
“Tomorrow then?” It was an early October afternoon and he was preparing to take his leave, always cognizant to depart before tea as he didn’t want to strain the Dashwood’s tight budget.
“Colonel Brandon?” She turned on her bench to face him.
“Yes, Miss Marianne.”
“Mrs. Jennings once informed me that you were well versed in several pianoforte duets.”
He stopped, surprised, unable to deduce why they were departing from their normal routine. “I am.”
“Do you know Ignace Pleyel’s Sonatina No 5 in G major?”
Christopher nodded. “Yes, but I believe the sonatina is normally played as a solo.”
“It can also be played as a duet.”
He inclined his head toward her, accepting her expertise in the matter.
“Do you have the time to play it with me before you leave?”
Brandon swallowed nervously. When Marianne played for him, he always sat audience on the family settee. However, before he could form his answer, she inched over on her bench and patted the space beside her.
Gathering his wits, he found himself looking for her mother. After the situation with Willoughby he did not want to damage Marianne’s reputation any further by acting inappropriately, but the Dashwood matriarch was nowhere to be found.
He leaned his walking stick against the wall and moved toward her. The smile she blessed him with was like the sun peeking out on a cloudy day. It warmed him in ways he never dared hope.
Sitting beside her, he held himself rigidly, not wanting to appear in improper in any manner. Her delicate perfume wafted enticingly around him and he took a moment to simply enjoy it. So many women in the ton felt the need to douse themselves in the latest colognes, but Marianne appeared to appreciate the subtler touch.
With his heart beating loudly in his ears, he almost missed his cue. While his hands played the appropriate notes, he became enraptured with watching her fingers as they danced around the keyboard -- firm and sure, never making a mistake. The melody rose and fell and Christopher found himself lost in the moment, the music merely an accompaniment to his dearest dream come to life. He wanted to live in the song forever, to see the shy smile on her face as she nodded to him in encouragement.
Their elbows brushed against each other as did their legs and Brandon was dizzy with desire.
He intended to stand immediately as the last note faded, but found himself unable to bring the fantasy to an end. He struggled to get his breathing under control before he turned his head to face her. He was not expecting the quiet adoration he saw in her eyes. Other men were worthy of that emotion, but not him.
“Perhaps tomorrow we can play another duet?”
It took him a moment to realize she was expecting an answer. Once again, he inclined his head toward her, knowing he would not be able to find his voice.
She gently laid her hand on his forearm. “I always look forward to our time together.”
And as he looked into her eyes, he saw that she spoke the truth. “As do I.”
The smile which blossomed over her face, a smile meant just for him, made Christopher realize that he was not too old for love nor, mayhap, passion. Daringly, he placed his hand over the one she had on his arm and returned her smile.
Tomorrow was certainly shaping up to be much brighter.