Rockwell's Lady Online - A.C. Wilson

Prologue

“I am sorry. Jeremy,” Vanessa dropped to the soft grass beside him, lightly resting her fingertips on his thin shoulder. The young man remained unmoving, his head bowed. Only the sound of the sweet summer breeze ruffling the small copse of trees could be heard. Fourteen year old Vanessa’s chin wobbled slightly as she watched a single tear slide down her friend’s cheek and onto his folded hands. She reached out to comfort him, but was promptly denied. “Please, I do not want to talk about it.” His voice cracked; his raw pain evident in every line of his young body. She knew it was beyond her ability to take the pain away, but still the need to try was there. Scooting closer, Vanessa barely registered the grass stains on her muslin skirt. “But they were your parents.” Even the quietness of her voice sounded surprisingly loud and stark on such a beautiful afternoon. Something so tragic should never happen on a sunny summer day.

Jeremy jerked away as if her very person scalded him. His normally vivid blue eyes were shards of ice, filled with agony and anger. “And they are dead! What do you want me to do, Vanessa? Do you want me to cry?” Jeremy turned to her, already standing. His fists waving wildly in the air as he yelled. Vanessa felt the tears slip down her cheeks, but she never took her eyes away from him. Chest heaving, Jeremy bent to pick up some stones, threw them as hard as he could into the shallow stream. “Everyone I love goes away! Why should they be any different?” His breath came in shallow waves, choking him as he tried to give his feelings voice.

The desperation of an orphaned boy and the fledgling will of a young adult warred inside him. Vanessa couldn’t stop her tears. “I will not leave you. I promise.” Her solemn oath came in nearly a whisper, her hands cradling her arms as if she were cold. Jeremy held her hazel gaze, letting it all sink into his turmoiled brain. Swallowing hard, he turned back to the expansive landscape. Vanessa got to her feet, steadying her small frame and went purposefully to his side. For a moment they stood there together, her delicate hand sliding into his larger one. Each struggled to control their emotions realizing they had just crossed some invisible line from their childhood friendship into a realm of the unknown.

"You will leave. Soon. I heard your father talking about your sister’s betrothal. You will be next.” His voice was steady, a hint of chill in his words. He let go of her hand, fisting his own as he turned from her. “No, I won’t; not if you will marry me. We could be together forever, Jeremy.” Vanessa’s plea stopped him and he turned to look at her. Clearly the idea of marriage, especially to his friend, was unexpected. Vanessa saw him staring at her as if she were addled. Maybe love was madness, but hers was very real. “Marry me, Jeremy. Of course, we will have to wait until I am presented to the ton, but my father will agree.” Vanessa stuttered, her emotion overtaking her ability to speak. Her rosy cheeks blushing fiercely at her forwardness. “He dislikes me! Your father called me a ruffian and said my father was a cheating gambler!” Jeremy spit the words out, even more hurt by them now that his parents were deceased.

Vanessa shook her head, trying to change his mind. “He didn’t mean it. I can talk to him. I can make him understand you are not like that.” Vanessa’s hazel eyes widened as she saw her plea falling on deaf ears. “Please, Jeremy, I love you.” A young girl’s heart was open, on the line for a boy she had fallen in love with. Her last words floated between them as Jeremy struggled to comprehend. Her dark auburn hair fluttered in the breeze, framing her porcelain face. Those large hazel eyes were imploring him to consider her, to take the gift she was offering. “V,” his words were soft, achingly tender as he took her hands in his. She looked up into his blue eyes. “I have known you my whole life. We are friends.” “Yes, exactly,” Vanessa touched his cheek and decided to seize the moment. Leaning forward, she pressed her lips to his. Stunned by her forwardness, he didn’t pull away.

It was not his first kiss, but it was hers. Hesitating only