Jeffrey Sullivan ran a hand over the smooth leather of his new buggy seat, then caressed the weatherproof top. This will make Melinda happy. And Libby too when I show it to her. He chuckled to himself. He was considered quite a catch among the ladies. He found it rather amusing the way they swooned over him.
I’ve got everything under control, he thought to himself with a smug smile. Not only was he courting Melinda Carter, he was also courting Libby Flanders and Katlin Wellington. All three of the girls were entitled to a large sum of money.
You’ve done pretty good for yourself, Jeffery. He certainly had his choice of girls. Granted, he had to be careful not to let any of them know about the other. If any of them suspected something, it would be over for him. “But they’ll never suspect, not while they think I love them.” he said out loud with a satisfied grin.
Replacing his hat, he left the barn and walked toward the back of the Apothecary. This week, Libby Flanders was in town with her family and he planned to make the most of the time. But it couldn’t be obvious that he was courting Libby, not with the whole town knowing about his courtship with Melinda. If the truth be told, he didn’t really care for any of the girls. They were simply something to fill his time with. Sure, maybe one day, if he decided to marry, one of them would make a wife. But even then it would only be for their money. If he was honest with himself, he knew that he rather enjoyed their attention. He knew he was one of the most eligible bachelors around and he was planning to use that status to his advantage.
He took off his hat as he ducked into the alley. Sure enough, Libby stood there, leaning against the steps that led up to the second story of the Apothecary. He looked in disgust at her clothes. While Melinda enjoyed being neat and fashionable, Libby took it too far. She looked horribly out of place in the large floppy hat trimmed with yards of lace and the velvet dress. Inwardly he chuckled. She must be nearly cooking in the 100+ degree weather.
“Jeffery! It’s so good to see you!” Libby squealed as she threw her arms around him. “It’s been terribly boring just sitting around all day in this horrid weather! And why do we have to meet back here?” she pouted. “Why don’t we go on a walk through town?”
Jeffrey grinned as he returned the hug, “Well, it always good to see you, Libby m’dear.” He put his hands on her shoulders. “And the reason I suggested we meet back here is because It’s so much cooler in the shade of the buildings. You do like that, don’t you?” He glanced anxiously at her as though he was afraid of displeasing her. It always worked before, and it did again.
“Oh, you're always so thoughtful, Jeffrey!” Libby exclaimed as she melted under his gaze. “Please, I didn’t mean anything by it. Forgive me?”
“Always.” He pulled her close and gave her a kiss.
Suddenly, a gasp made them both jump away from the other as though they had been touched with a hot iron. Turning, Jeffery saw, to his horror, that Andi Carter, Melinda’s sister, stood on the boardwalk looking into the alley. No doubt she had seen the whole exchange.
Before he could recover his wits and think of what to say, Andi’s temper got the better of her as she yelled, “Jeffrey Sullivan, you wait until Melinda hears about this!” Then she was gone.
Libby turned to him, a question in her eyes. “What did she mean, Jeffery? Why would Melinda care?”
“Uh, nothing, nothing at all.” He ironed the worry off his face and slid down the mask of a smile back into its customary place. “Melinda, um, liked me a while back.” He chuckled nervously. “That must be all Andi means.”
Libby nodded and seemed to accept this explanation, but he could see that the worry didn’t completely leave her eyes.
“I just remembered I’ve got something to do real quick. How about we meet back here in about thirty minutes?”
He turned and rapidly walked out of the alley. What happens if Andi tells Melinda? No, Melinda wouldn’t believe it. She’d just think it's something Andi made up. He argued back and forth with himself as he walked around town. What will I do?
He walked back toward the Apothecary. It had only been twenty minutes, but perhaps Libby was waiting early. As he neared the shop, he heard the voices of two girls talking. He froze when he realized who it was: Libby stood there talking to Andi . . . about him.
Without a second thought, he rounded the corner of the shop. Pointing a finger at Andi, he hollered, “Finish your business in town and go home.”
“It isn’t over yet,” she yelled back.
Jeffery felt his temper begin to rise. “Yes, it is. Go on. Get out of here.”
To his relief, she turned and left. It was over for now, but only time would tell.
After debating with himself all night, Jeffery decided he would go ahead with his plan to take Melinda out in the new buggy. It was just after lunch as he rode into the Carter’s place then tied the buggy under the sprawling oaks for shade. Well, here goes nothing. He took a deep breath and knocked on the door. To his surprise Melinda opened it as usual and invited him in while she went to fetch her hat.
He sat down in the parlor and let out a relieved sigh. It wasn’t lost. Either Andi hadn’t said anything, or Melinda didn’t believe what she’d said.
As Melinda entered the parlor, he walked over, offered her his arm, and said in his most gentlemanly voice. “You look lovely, dear. Now how about seeing the new buggy?”
Melinda’s eyes sparkled as he led her outside.
He turned to her. “Now, I want it to be a surprise.” He covered her eyes and led her slowly toward the buggy. A quick glance around showed no one in sight. Perfect, just perfect. “Now remember, I got this just for you,” he said, leaning close.
Melinda giggled as he took his hands off her eyes. To his delight, she squealed with surprise, then threw his arms around him.
He bent down and kissed her before helping her in the buggy, then he untied the horse from the hitching post and walked over to the water trough. As he glanced up, his heart fell. There stood Andi and Libby. He knew his face must show clearly everything he was feeling and he despised it.
Andi didn’t help it when she said, “Howdy, Jeffery. I told you it wasn’t over.”
Just then Melinda called from the buggy, “Is everything alright?”
“Everything is fine, Melinda. Stay in the buggy.” His voice must not have reassured her. She stepped out of the buggy and walked over to him.
Quick as a flash, Libby reached out a delivered a stinging slap.
Jeffery’s cheek stung, but his pride was hurting even worse. He didn’t hear what had gone on between the girls as, seething with rage, he reached over and grabbed Andi’s braid and yanked her around.
Melinda and Libby gasped as they listened to the names he called her.
He didn’t care. The act was over, but he would make Andi pay. Suddenly he was grabbed from behind by a powerful arm that propelled him to the ground, then picked him up and shoved him in the water trough.
Gasping, all thoughts of revenge fled his mind as he fought for air, but the arm held him down in an iron grip. Suddenly it let go, and he shot his head above water as he gulped in the air.
“I’ll inform my family that your courtship of Melinda is over. And if I ever see you around here again, you'll get more than a dunking from me and my brothers, clear?”
Opening his eyes he saw Mitch, just in time to be knocked once again to the ground. Apparently he hadn’t answered fast enough. “Is that clear?”
Jeffery nodded. He looked up just as Mitch drew back his fist then let it fly.
“And that’s for hurting my baby sister.”
He felt his hat, filled with water, shoved on his head as Mitch picked him up and thrust him into the buggy. Still recovering his senses, he sat up just in time to see Mitch give the horse a slap on the rump that sent him in a frenzied gallop down the drive.
Jeffrey groaned. It was over. . . for now. But he didn’t plan to give up, no sir-ee. There would be other girls, other chances, and he’d make sure something like this never had the chance to happen again.
And there’s still Kaitlin. He thought came to him seemingly from nowhere. He smiled. Maybe he hadn’t lost quite everything.