To Annabelle, With Love – Julianne MacLean

Dear Annabelle, You did not reply to my previous letter, so I have taken the liberty of writing again to request an appointment with you regarding the painting. I implore you—please do not let the past dictate your decision in this matter. Come and meet me at the gallery before the exhibition. The painting deserves this recognition. –Magnus Wallis ANNABELLE LAWSON TİPPED HER HEAD back against the rough bark of the oak tree on the hill and laid a hand on her stomach. Her heart pounded uncontrollably. She’d always feared this day would come—that after all these years, Magnus would be bold enough to contact her. She took a deep, slow breath, telling herself that at least this way she’d been warned that he had returned to London. It would have been excruciating to meet him unexpectedly somewhere. Not that this wasn’t excruciating enough on its own. Meet me at the gallery. Her stomach began to churn. He wanted to see her. But how could she see him? She had not forgiven him for what he’d done all those years ago. He’d ripped her heart to shreds and stomped on it.

He’d treated her appallingly. Inexcusably. He was her brother’s vengeful enemy and had no heart of his own. No. She could not see him. It would be too painful and agonizing to revisit all those feelings. A cool breeze fluttered the letter in her hand, and Annabelle gazed beyond her easel, down the grassy hillside toward her home. Or rather, her brother’s home, which she had been struggling to capture on canvas. She folded the letter and stuffed it into her pocket. Picking up her palette and brush, she took a step forward, but stopped and laid a hand on her stomach again, waiting for the churning sensation to pass.

She had not felt anything quite so intense in years, she realized suddenly. Eight, to be exact, because that was the last time she had dealt with Magnus—the day he left England for America. Permanently. She had been so very relieved that day. Relieved that he would disappear and never bother her or Whitby again. Whitby had made sure of it. He paid Magnus handsomely to leave, with an allowance forthcoming as long as he remained in America. Magnus knew that if he ever returned, the payments would cease. But he was here now, wasn’t he? Here on English soil, opening old wounds and causing Annabelle to question whether he had ever really been gone. Because the scars he had left were still etched sorely on her heart.

Forcing herself not to let those thoughts distract her further, because she wanted this painting finished, she assessed and appraised her work. It was nearly complete but did not yet convey what she wished it to convey. Determined to get it right, she dipped her small flat bristle brush into the black paint and redefined the outline of the far side of the house. She tried to touch-up the other side as well, then used her painting knife to delineate the lines she’d just added. Annabelle stepped back again to examine the subtle changes. She’d been working on this for what seemed like forever, and still she wasn’t happy with it. It was dull. It evoked no emotion. Anyone could have painted it. Whitby would be just as well off with a photograph.

Letting out a frustrated sigh, she set her palette down upon her paint box and backed up against the tree once again. She continued to stare at the painting. What was wrong with it? What was missing? The same thing that was missing from all her paintings, she supposed. Originality. Passion. Life. She didn’t take chances with them and she was never happy with them. She was her own worst critic, and she would tinker with them forever if she could. Another breeze blew by, gusting through the leaves overhead. Annabelle spent a few more minutes staring with dissatisfaction at the painting, wondering what she could do to fix it, then at last shook her head and decided to give up.

The truth of the matter was— she hadn’t the slightest idea how to make it better without taking the chance of spoiling it. Best not to risk it. Consequently, she cleaned her palette and brushes, set all her supplies into the paint box and closed it. Perhaps Whitby would think it was fine. He always disagreed with her about her paintings, after all, and fought to convince her they were marvelous, when she invariably thought they were catastrophes. Lying back on the grass to give the paint time to dry, she laced her fingers together over her stomach—which thankfully had settled somewhat—and crossed her legs at the ankles. She squinted up at the leaves against the bright white sky, listened to the whispery sound they made in the wind, and thought again of the letter in her pocket. The painting deserves this recognition. She realized then that she had been so shaken by the thought of seeing Magnus again, she hadn’t considered the larger picture. He wanted to show one of her paintings in an exhibition.

No, not just any painting. He wanted to show The Fisherman—which she had not seen in thirteen years. She could barely remember what it looked like and wasn’t even sure she wanted to see it. She’d always regretted painting it and had wished it did not exist in the world. Many times. over the years, she had wished she could get it back and destroy it. But he seemed to think it was praiseworthy. Was it possible he was right, and this exhibition could be the key to her future as an artist? And if that were so, could she ignore this opportunity, because of her personal feelings toward Magnus? Surely, she was stronger than that, wasn’t she? She knew the truth about him now, and she was a woman, no longer the naive girl she had been so many years ago when she’d stepped onto the train…. The Train Chapter 1 June 1879 “THAT SHAWL İS ENTİRELY TOO young for her,” Aunt Millicent said as she smoothed her skirts on the train seat. “She’s turning seventy-five.

The color is far too daring, and it’s not even fashionable. Speaking of which, why in the world did you wear that hat? It is the worst thing I have ever seen. It looks like a purple haystack on your head.” As always, Annabelle ignored her aunt’s narrowminded taste in millinery, because she was not giving up the hat. It was satisfyingly unique. “I suppose it suits our surroundings,” Aunt Millicent added with a self-important, haughty tone. She glanced around the second-class carriage, while looking down her nose in repugnance at the merchants and tradesmen. Annabelle ignored her aunt’s snobbery as well, for they’d had no choice about the traveling accommodations. First class was full, and they couldn’t possibly wait for another train, for, as it was, they were already late for Aunt Sadie’s birthday party. “The shawl is a very tasteful shade of blue, Auntie,” Annabelle replied, trying to distract Millicent from her discontent.

“It’s like the sky. It will accentuate the vivid color of her eyes.” “Her eyes do not need to be noticed in that way. Not at her age.” Growing frustrated, for she knew Aunt Millicent wouldn’t budge about the blue shawl, Annabelle turned her eyes toward the window. They were slowing down. The train was screeching to a halt to pick up passengers at Leicester Station. Steam spurted and hissed from the engine as a crowd gathered on the platform. Annabelle looked out and smiled at a family—a young couple standing in the shade of the station overhang with their baby in a brand new pram. The woman, wearing a fashionable green plumed hat, raised a gloved hand and waved, and Annabelle waved cheerfully in return.

“Now that is a lovely hat,” Aunt Millicent said, wagging a finger. “See how it fits in with all the others?” Continuing to ignore her aunt’s harangue and thinking they might be stopped for more than a few minutes, Annabelle reached into her bag for the book she’d packed. She was bent forward, quite distracted by the inconceivable mess inside the bag—why in the world had she put a cigar cutter in there?—when the door to their carriage suddenly swung open, startling her, for she was seated next to it. She jolted upright. “I do beg your pardon,” a man said, stepping inside behind an elderly lady and looking around the full carriage. He gestured to the seats facing Annabelle and Millicent. “These appear to be the last available seats. May I?” Naturally, Annabelle left it to her chaperone to respond, but even if she had been the one required to reply, she wasn’t sure she would have been able to speak, for her heart was racing in her chest and her mouth felt strangely tingly inside. Because the man standing before her, removing his black overcoat right in front of her eyes was, in a word, magnificent. The elderly lady removed her coat, too, but Annabelle was only aware of the man—tall, broad-shouldered, and dark.

His hair was shiny black, his eyes brown. He turned to face her again, and she had to struggle to keep her eyes downcast, though she did glance up briefly to observe the fine lines of his shoulders and back as he assisted the elderly lady by hanging her coat with his on a nearby hook. He was attentive to her, but they did not appear to be traveling together. Then all at once he turned and glanced down at Annabelle’s feet—his eyes lingering there for a moment. For the first time in her life Annabelle was embarrassed by her boots. They were made for boys, and they were not the least bit fashionable, but they were so much more comfortable than ladies’ boots, especially when she spent most of her time tramping around the countryside with her easel under her arm. She quickly drew her feet under her skirts. When the man finally took the seat facing her, he smiled politely, first at Aunt Millicent, who looked down her long, aristocratic nose suspiciously at him, then at Annabelle, who managed to smile casually in return. She hoped she wasn’t blushing. That would be mortifying.

Determined not to stare, she raised her book, opened it, and pretended to read. Yes, pretended, because she could hardly concentrate with such a handsome man sitting not three feet away from her, facing her squarely. Trains could be decidedly awkward sometimes. The train blew its whistle and they lurched forward, rocking back and forth as the locomotive began to slowly move away from the station. Annabelle looked out the window at the young family again and watched them through the spiraling coal dust until they disappeared from view. Soon they were under way, the wheels clacking fast beneath them as they gained speed on the tracks. Feeling the chugging sensation beneath the soles of her boots, Annabelle peered over the top of her book to steal another glance at the gentleman across from her. He gazed absently out the window, so she recalled her artist’s mantra—there is no substitute for close observation—and studied his face meticulously. It was pure perfection—a straight nose, a strong chiseled jaw, and high cheekbones. Yet, accompanying all those sharp, manly angles was a set of full, moist lips that looked quite agreeably soft.

What she wouldn’t give to paint him. It was an odd thought, because she never painted people. She only did landscapes, preferably rugged ones, which was perhaps where this marked fascination with this man came from. He, too, was rugged, like the jagged English coastlines that captured her imagination more than any other place or thing. She loved the sound of the sea, surging and crashing up against the rocks, and she loved to try to capture the unfathomable depths and distances that were an intrinsic part of the ocean and coastline. She couldn’t explain it, but strangely, this man made her body feel the same way. He made her blood quicken, made her mind tick like a clock wound tight. Just looking at him made her feel happy to be alive when there were so many beautiful, wondrous things to comprehend. Though of course he was not a thing. He was a man.

Just then, he gazed directly at her, and she froze, caught in the embarrassing circumstance of ogling. She almost panicked and lifted her book to cover her face, but that would have been childish, and she was not a child. She was twenty-one. Instead, she smiled politely and lowered her book to her lap, lowering her gaze along with it. It was at that instant she noticed she had been reading the same page for the past ten minutes. “Are we all traveling to Edinburgh?” the elderly lady asked, causing Annabelle to look up again. The wrinkles on the lady’s face were in happy places, at the outside of her eyes, suggesting a lifetime spent smiling. The handsome gentleman replied, “I’m going past Edinburgh and on to Perth.” The lady leaned closer, raising a hand to her ear. “Where?” “Perth!” The lady stared for a few seconds, as if trying to decipher what she’d heard, then nodded.

“Oh, yes, yes! I once had an uncle in Perth.” The gentleman looked curiously at Annabelle and her aunt, waiting for them to respond to the question as well, but Aunt Millicent turned her face away, no doubt finding the exchange intrusive. The elderly woman turned to the gentleman beside her and began a conversation about whom she was going to visit in Edinburgh—her daughter and children—and how long she would be there, but it was a rather awkward conversation, as the woman was almost completely deaf and had to hold her hand up to her ear every time the man spoke. The two of them were shouting by the end of it, and when they finally stopped talking, Annabelle glanced up and found herself sharing an amused grin with the handsome man. It was not a grin at the expense of the elderly lady; they were not making fun of her. On the contrary, Annabelle recognized a look of compassion in the gentleman’s dark eyes. He, like she, was able to see the humor in life sometimes. What a dear lady, they both seemed to be saying to each other. Afterward, Annabelle returned her attention to her book but the printed words on the page held little allure. For one thing, she was still on the same page as before, and for another, her dancing thoughts were making it difficult to make sense of the story in her brain.

This was going to be a very long trip indeed, she thought as she crossed her legs at the ankles and struggled not to look up again. To be honest, she was afraid to, because—good heavens—she could sense that the intriguing man was now ogling her.

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