Barton Cottage By A.P. Maddox
© A.P. Maddox 2017
Barton Cottage is an adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s most beautiful and beloved classics—Sense and Sensibility—reimagined and set in the picturesque Piedmont of modern-day North Carolina. Follow Caroline & Ashelynn Hathcock as they leave their family home, lose their hearts and navigate their way through life’s challenges.
Barton Cottage will be posted on the Little CAB Press blog—one chapter at a time—in 28 parts, from now until December 21, the end of which culminates in the Christmas season!
(YA/NA fiction/romance, Reading level: grade 7, Words: 1719)
Volume 1 Leaving Northland
Chapter 3 Conner Burroughs
She saw him walking straight toward her.
Her pulse began to race, she remembered the words she uttered before meeting him that evening and hoped she had not given offense. She reasoned, however, he wouldn’t walk over just to tell her his feelings were hurt.
“Miss Caroline,” he said with a polite smile taking a seat next to her. “I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve seen your family.”
“It’s all right,” she said. “If we’d made more of an effort to visit your family in Charlotte, we would’ve seen each other more often.”
“But,” he added almost laughing, “I do seem to remember how your father felt about my mother…” They both chuckled in agreement.
Conner and Dottie’s mother, Mrs. Burroughs, was a haughty woman and Caroline’s father took so little pleasure in visiting with his son’s mother-in-law they rarely made trips to Charlotte to see them. The last time they went, he’d become so aggravated with her disdainful comments they hadn’t made any further attempts to see Dottie’s family.
Conner’s smile faded as he added, “I was very sorry to hear about your father.”
“Thank you,” Caroline said.
The gentleman of the couple sitting with Sarah called over to Conner raising his glass toward them. “I’d dance with that pretty girl if I were you, young man.”
Caroline’s eyes widened and she looked away—embarrassed.
Conner stammered to answer, “Oh, yes, well, I think I will…that is, if she’d agree.” He looked at Caroline—the equivalent of the poor deer caught in headlights—she almost giggled but nodded her consent instead.
Her legs felt rubbery, she wondered why she felt so nervous, as they walked to the dance floor, a raised wooden platform which had been brought in for the evening.
She still felt guilty about what she said earlier in the reception line. As they began to dance, she softly said, “Conner, I need to apologize…”
With a little chuckle, he replied, “I just hope the poor man you were talking about has a good enough personality to make up for his unfortunate lack of good looks.”
She looked down with embarrassment, giggled, and looked back at him with a grateful smile. She felt the kindness she remembered from their youth.
“It seems your sister is very interested in shaping a future political career for you,” she commented.
“Yes,” he acknowledged. “Everyone seems interested in that.”
“But perhaps it’s not what you want?” she questioned.
A puzzled look came over his face. “What makes you think so?”
She worried; maybe she was wrong. She continued, “Well, it seemed your sister was more excited about dining with the governor than you were.”
“I’m surprised at you Miss Caroline,” he said.
She held her breath, wanting to kick herself for saying anything, sure now she was wrong.
“You’re keenly perceptive,” he added, “and maybe one of the few people on earth who understands.”
She breathed out slowly in relief.
The song ended, and before he could thank her for the dance and head back to his sister’s company, she quickly asked, “Would you like to go for a walk? There’s a pond beyond the stables; it’s gorgeous when there’s a full moon out, like tonight.”
He looked around wondering if he’d be missed if he snuck away. “I suppose it’d be alright,” he replied.
They left the garden walking along the path to the stables, continuing to become reacquainted along the way.
“So, if not politics,” Caroline said, “what then?”
“Can you keep a secret?” Conner asked.
“Sure,” she answered.
“I’ve been doing some work with my family’s business—incognito,” he said in a spy-like voice. “The staff I’m working with know who I am but my mother says ‘that’s what we pay others for’ so, I use a pseudonym, the way a writer would.”
“But you’ve been away at school. How did you manage it?” she asked.
“Well, there’s a funny thing we have these days called technology… you know, it keeps the world connected.” He teased her with a grin.
“Oh, stop it!” She laughed, giving him a shove.
“I haven’t told my family yet though,” he went on, “but I do prefer business to politics. I have so many ideas for improvement and we’ve been working on some great stuff!”
He paused and looked at Caroline smiling sincerely. “I haven’t told hardly anyone—outside of the staff who have promised to keep my secret—but somehow it feels easy to talk to you.”
“Why haven’t you told your family?” she asked.
“My mother and sister have different plans for me,” he explained. “The eldest son of the late senator. My duty to the legacy of political influence… we’ll have a Burroughs in the White House one day!”
“I see,” Caroline said, her eyebrows raised, “that’s quite an expectation to fulfill. Is your brother Randall expected to do the same?”
“Sure,” he answered. “Though Randall has a real taste for it. He loves knowing people think he’s important because he’s the son of the late Senator Burroughs. My dad would have never wished for such a notion!”
“Your dad was a good man,” Caroline agreed. “And I remember your mother’s and father’s ideas were sometimes at odds. I am sorry though, your family can’t respect your choices.”
“Thank you,” he said. “Please don’t misunderstand me, though, being an elected official is a sacred trust, I respect anyone who dedicates their time to public service and I’m truly proud of my father’s accomplishments. I love my mother and sister for dreaming I could possibly be president one day—it’s a great dream! The problem is… it’s not my dream.”
“That’s understandable,” she said. “What makes America great is people applying their God-given talents where they can do the most good and if your talents lean more toward business than politics then that’s what you should pursue.”
He looked at her for several moments and smiled wistfully. “My thoughts exactly,” he said.
They arrived at the edge of the pond and gazed over the water as the moonbeams shimmered on the surface—the occasional ripple sent them dancing.
“You’re right,” he said, “this is beautiful.”
Caroline looked from the pond to Conner and noticed the moonlight shining on the red highlights of his dense auburn hair. She studied the details of his face, the strong brow line over his steel-grey eyes, glistening with a hint of slate-blue. She noticed how his full lips seemed to form a perfect heart shape when he smiled. She couldn’t agree with her sister that he wasn’t attractive; she thought his might be the most handsome face she’d ever seen.
They walked along the edge of the pond and Conner picked up a rock skipping it on the pond’s surface. He challenged her to do the same. She looked around and found a perfect skipping rock—hers skipped farther than his. They laughed and skipped a few more.
After deciding it was time to head back to the party Conner commented, “This has been a wonderful night. I haven’t had this much fun since…”
He paused and by the look in his eyes, she could tell there were several thoughts racing through his mind. Some not so happy she perceived as his eyes turned down and his smile fell but then brightening he looked up again.
“Do you remember that Christmas, when we first met and went sledding in the snow?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered thinking back to the time and smiling.
He nodded. “Since then.”
A grin overtook her face to think some of his best memories included her.
While they made their way back to the garden, they talked about some of their favorite things. Caroline discovered his favorite flavor of ice cream was pecan praline, and Conner found out her favorite gemstones were…
“Sapphires, of course,” he remarked. “Makes sense, they match the color of your eyes—which haven’t changed a bit by the way,” he said a little under his breath, “still as beautiful as ever.”
His compliment left her breathless.
Moments after stepping back into the garden Dottie started toward them, looking furious. She got to them and pulled Conner aside. “Where have you been?” she asked, in an angry whisper.
“I took a walk with Caroline, we were catching up,” he answered.
Dottie huffed. “I gathered these important people here tonight for you and you run off with Caroline? You owe your time to our very powerful guests here and now,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” he mouthed, to Caroline as Dottie towed him away.
Caroline felt selfish and guilty, I shouldn’t have distracted him from such an important party. She reconciled to make a full apology.
The rest of the evening was spent with Dottie towing Conner around, showing him off like a prized pony.
Caroline was asked to dance a few more times by friends and acquaintances. She caught Conner glancing at her on occasion as she danced but they didn’t get a chance to speak again for the rest of the evening.
She waited for the guests to leave and found Dottie in the kitchen. “I want to apologize,” she started, “I know you went through a lot of trouble putting this party together for your brother. I shouldn’t have taken him away from such important people. I’m sorry.”
“And you should be,” Dottie quickly replied. “But I’m glad you understand. His career will take years of dedication, sacrifice, and hard work! He has no time for silly walks and… silly girls. He must focus all his efforts on his future goals without wasting time.”
Caroline’s eyes widened realizing how heavy the weight of expectation was on Conner’s shoulders. How does he bear it, she wondered.
She lied in bed that night, waiting for sleep to come, wrestling with feelings of wanting to help Conner make his family understand but finally reasoning there was nothing more she could do than support him as a friend. Her thoughts returned to their stolen stroll and she fell asleep remembering how she felt when he told her her eyes were beautiful.
Up Next in Chapter 4 part: Ashelynn’s movie night
Who did you last dance with and where were you? Answer in the comments below.