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“Ach, blessed sakes,” complained Friedrich lightly, taking Jo’s fingertips between his own and inspecting every single bit of her exposed skin, “you’re going to give yourself blisters hemming tea towels.”

Jo flushed as the mending tumbled from her lap. She was not the sort to enjoy mending, let alone sitting still, but she had only a small amount of help leading into the wedding and had no way to stem the tide of alterations, letters, plans and vows once they began rolling in. And they both knew how terrible Jo was at sewing, how it was a refuge of total inanity that kept her mind from wandering afield when she was so busy. And she was so painfully busy that linear thought was nearly beyond her now.

“I wanted to feel useful,” she admitted ruefully. “Though I don’t see how I’ll manage to do so with blistered fingers.”

She heard him exclaim his exasperation, soft and fondly. Then there was the gentlest of brushing sensations – his lips against her wound. “Do you have salve?” he asked.

“Oh,” Jo murmured, sounding terribly distracted by his attention. She was not at all used to the strictures of life as an almost-married woman, and did not expect Friedrich to be so very attentive. “In the top drawer of the chest, but it’s no bother, I can help myself.”

“Dear,” she said, “you should not suffer in silence, and you definitely should never want for anything when you’re in pain.” He fetched up the salve, then he gently applied it to her fingers, bit by bit. The scent of roses filled Jo’s senses, and she sat up in her chair, stiff and motionless as a deer caught in headlights. Soon the salve had disappeared into her fingers, the liniment doing its work and numbing the ache in her flesh. Friedrich continued to hold on to her fingers. The massage stopped.

“I…” he began, and was completely surprised at the sudden kiss he pressed to her lips. He flushed and rubbed at his red cheeks when they parted. “You are amazing, Miss March, but I shall not tarry with you in this manner until we are wed.”

She gave him an awkward, rueful smile. “I knew that Friedrich,” she admitted. “But I do hate these strings that bind us apart.”

“It will only be a month,” he soothed her. “A time well worth your while to savor. You will miss this place when we move elsewhere.”

Jo knew she would, that no place in the world would be like the March home – yet her very marrow ached for the adventure of a new life. She simplified her feelings slightly for her husband to be. “I can’t wait to see what’s around the bend, you know me.”

“I suppose I do,” he agreed. “But your life will be changed forever.” His lips skirted her temple gently before he sat up to leave. “Don’t rush it all by. Take care that your fingers aren’t hurt further, dear. Let the salve soak in.” He bowed, said his goodbye and left Jo with her throbbing heart and her antsy dreams.