Featured Author: Kimberly Duffy
What a delight to receive your letter! It’s been so long since you last wrote–at least eight months. Has it really been more than a year since Travis and Wells performed for the king and queen? You were very enamored with my poodle, Sissy, who rode a bike with the expertise expected of any circus animal.
I was very enamored with you—the queen’s own private butler! My, that was impressive. And I have met some eminent people in my twenty years as the country’s first female clown.
I’m very sad to hear your father has passed. I remember from our conversations how close you were with him. Will you return home for a time or are your responsibilities so great at York Cottage that you must remain with the queen?
As far as my news, until tonight, we are encamped near Hershey, Pennsylvania which, you will not believe it, smells of cocoa. There is a chocolate factory here, and twice a day, when the tent fills with its laborers and their families, we entertain beneath the heavenly scent. I do believe there is nothing better than chocolate.
I leave you with best wishes and tender thoughts for your grief.
“You received a letter from him.”
Rowena looked up from where she sat rereading what she’d just written and narrowed her eyes. “It’s really none of your business, Polly.”
Polly, her oldest and nosiest friend, crossed her arms. “I don’t want you to get hurt again. Your heart was broken when you realized nothing could come of your affection for one another.”
Rowena swallowed hard and folded the letter in thirds. “I know what I’m about.” She’d suffered heartbreak before. It was always worth it to have experienced the thrills of love.
York Cottage, England
I’m sorry for the late reply. I returned home to Keltonmore House for Father’s burial and spent a fortnight there. My eldest brother will inherit the house and title, such that it is (the FitzWilton barony isn’t an illustrious one), and I don’t envy him the task. It is an albatross around his neck. I, upon retirement, will find myself the owner of a comfortable pension and freedom to do as I wish.
I think I might travel. Perhaps I will visit Hershey and see (rather, smell) for myself its bounty. I do love chocolate. Will you join me there, dear Rowena, if I ask nicely and promise not to gape at you? Though you really cannot blame me for I’d never seen a female clown, and certainly not one who looked so nice in such a monstrosity of a pink wig.
Covington is who I am on staff. But my friends call me Paul, and I wish you would, too.
Friend? Rowena stared at the word until it turned blurry, and she drew in a ragged breath. All right…friend. She could be his friend. She didn’t want to be, but she could. But why would he write to her so suddenly after such a prolonged quiet? Why, when he knew how she felt? It was cruel.
“Rowena, are you going to join me? It’s nearly time.”
Rowena glanced up at Mabel, whose strongwoman act preceded her entrance into the ring. “Yes, of course.” She slid the letter into her bodice for safekeeping, and wondered if Paul’s words pressed against her heart were the nearest thing she’d get to having him.
… Of course I will meet you in Hershey, Paul. I hope
desperately, entirely, unceasingly to see you again one day very soon.
Not “your friend.” Rowena blew on the ink and then traced the word staring up at her stark against the creamy white paper. She shouldn’t be so bold, but she couldn’t lie. And she was his. Had been since she’d caught him staring at her outside the Travis and Wells circus tent erected on the grounds of York Cottage. In that inauspicious moment—while Sissy relieved herself in a nearby bush—she’d realized there would never be another. She’d fallen in love a dozen times, but he would be her last.
Somewhere in Kansas
It has been months since your last letter and I wonder…have you disappeared again? My love…my love…my love…
Rowena crumpled the paper and tossed it onto the floor below her dressing table. Then she caught Sissy up in her arms, grabbed a Hershey bar from a drawer, and stalked out of the dressing tent.
“Go on.” She set the dog down onto the backyard’s trampled grass, snapped off a piece of chocolate and popped it into her mouth.
Sissy sat on her haunches and whined at Rowena’s harsh tone.
Swallowing her bite, she sighed. “Oh, darling, I’m sorry. Mama is just a little grumpy. Men, you know?”
“What of us?”
Rowena whirled, her pink wig wobbling a bit atop her head, and blinked.
Paul took a few steps toward her. He bent down and reached for Sissy, who inched forward to sniff at his fingers. The little traitor pressed her nose against his palm and licked it. “You still wear that wig.”
“You stopped writing again.” Rowena blinked back tears. She’d thought she was so strong. That another broken heart would be worth it.
“I was preparing for my journey. And then, of course, the crossing and train—have you any idea how large this country is?” He laughed and stood, Sissy promptly sitting upon his foot. “Of course you do.”
“What are you doing here?”
Oh, no…there was a little spark—a tiny flame—in her belly. Flickering and growing. Hope. It was a dangerous thing. “You’re very young.”
“I’m fifty. And the queen is a great romantic, you know.”
“What has that anything to do with it?”
“I became unhappy when I stopped writing you the first time. She noticed.”
Rowena inhaled sharply when he approached and reached for her, his arms going around her back. “Are you saying I have the queen to thank for your being here?”
“The queen. The circus. Sissy. Your silly wig. Whatever and whoever. I’d like to travel with you for a while. And then, maybe…you might consider retiring, as well.”
She leaned back to peer at him. “What would we do?”
“Oh…” He lowered his head. “I can think of so many things.” And then his mouth caught hers. “You taste like chocolate.”
“I do believe there’s nothing better,” she whispered against his lips. “Except, of course, for this.”
Kimberly’s latest release from Bethany House Publishers is The Weight of Air. She is also the author of A Mosaic of Wings, A Tapestry of Light, and Every Word Unsaid.
Connect with Kimberly at her website, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.