The magic had fallen short. Maybelle tugged her gloves over the sparkling ring, the sight rolling her stomach. Her sister closed the door to Huxley’s Dressmaking Shop as they exited. “We could never have predicted that outcome.”
Maybelle flicked her gaze to the outline of the jeweled accessory as they passed shop windows, each sheen of light dangling over the doors like ribbon.
“The ring has never failed.”
For centuries the ring had served her family, a gift to touch others with love and romance. Her matchmaking abilities were what helped keep her wits and sense close. They were what drove brides to their shop for ivory and cream. Even still, never had she matched the wrong couple.
Her sister sniffed while sending her parasol close to Maybelle’s head. “Perhaps Reverend Clayden is not meant to be wed to the gracious Miss Lili.”
Maybelle avoided the collision, visions of the tall vicar swelling her head. “Appears he shall not. For between his dancing and her spilling of punch, no match twas made.” A sigh stretched from her lips, but she contained it from her dear sister’s ears as she began down the rolling pathway to the hilly parish, the wildflowers making her ire soften. Mistakes happen, May. She chided herself with the words Mamma had oft repeated to her when a stich had torn in her sewing.
“Where are you going, May?”
Maybelle recollected her surroundings and turned back to her sister’s hesitant form. “I need to apologize to the reverend for the trouble I caused him.”
“Go on without me, but I shall wait here. And please remember, you did not fail.”
Maybelle pursed her lips. Perhaps she did not fail—she glanced to where the green stone rested—but the magic did. The emerald had turned to a ruby in Miss Lili and Reverend Clayden’s presence. It had been wrong.
Leaving her aged sister, Maybelle continued to the stone parish, its steeple threatening her with every step. She let her arms hang stiff alongside her gown of lavender, her hands smacking the sarsnet fabric. At the door, she paused, hand suspended to knock.
He was her friend. Surely, he would understand.
Maybelle lifted her hand and—
The door swung aside, nearly smacking her dress and her, before she jerked back.
“Miss Huxley.” Reverend Thomas Clayden stood before her, his brown eyes as gentle as always. His mouth twisted in question. She stepped back from their near collision and slid her gaze from his eyes to his hair, the color of polished oak mixed with a drizzle of honey.
No wonder he was the most eligible bachelor in town, even though a vicar. Maybelle ignored that thought and forced her insipid tongue-tied mouth to open. Why had all their interactions recently stilted her breath and words?
“Reverend, allow me to apologize—”
“Do not start, Miss Huxley.” He sidestepped her and began rolling up his shirtsleeves.
Maybelle lifted her hem and trudged after him, toward the garden. Her mind slipping to the fond memory of hearing him say how gardening helped him prepare his sermons, but she forced it away.
“I still sent you. I had you think that the young lady was ideal for you—”
His head tilted to her as he bent to the ground. “And I listened because I trusted you in your judgement. It was my decision. And now I take advice from Ephesians, and forgive you.”
Maybelle lowered herself beside him, not minding her hem, her heart yearning for him to understand. “Reverend Clayden—”
“Thomas.” His hands touched the dirt. “As I have already told you to call me. And as I said, no apology is needed.” Thomas pointed to a hoe near her on the ground. “But if you doubt my sincerity, hand me that and I shall banish the memory of Miss Lili crushing on my toes.”
His chin tilted, a faint smile blooming like the flowers of burned yellow and white around them. Maybelle wiped a beginning smile away and removed her gloves before picking up the hoe. But as she looked down, her eyes latched onto the dainty ring situated on her left hand. The emerald was gone, replaced by the soft red of ruby.
Her hand went limp, the hoe clattering to the dirt between them.
It could not be. But her mind began to spin, just as it always did.
Her heart understood too fast, just as the ring. No wonder she had been wrong in pairing him. The ring burned on her hand, the truth making her question every interaction they had.
“Maybelle?” Thomas gripped her shoulder, pulling them up from the ground.
She closed her open mouth. “Thomas . . . I was wrong . . . and you cannot tell me otherwise. The match was unsuitable . . . she being the wrong woman.” No wonder her prayers had not been answered for Miss Lili.
His eyes squinted, his hands still encasing her own. Maybelle’s body relaxed under his stare, just as if hearing one of his sermons of the Heavenly Father’s grace.
Every limb faltered as the ring burned her hand, giving her the freedom to declare her love. Maybelle had not guarded her heart strong enough. For the matchmaker could never fall in love. Destined to be a spinster.
Yet . . .prayers she had uttered when the loneliness knotted her chest with rough wool pressed.
“Thomas,” her words came out in a breath, soft and confused, aching, and wondering. “All this time…I never—”
Instead of letting her finish, Thomas squeezed her hand, throat scratching his high collar. Brown eyes burning, he silenced her words as his lips meet her fingers, right atop the ring’s place.
“Never what?” His throat tightened around the question before his ragged words continued. “I must confess, I shall not be able to forgive you if you throw me amongst another again. There is only one whom I long for.”
And her soul caught.
If not writing, Payton can be found riding horses, reading, dreaming of ballroom dancing, or painting. ‘Ruby of Crimson’ is her first published work.
Connect with her on her website and Goodreads.