Chapter 3: Something Un-Lord-Like
Isobel and Dr. Clarkson were on their way back to the others when he paused in front of a window. The snow was still falling heavily and there didn't seem to be an end to the storm. Dr. Clarkson sighed and muttered, "So much for trying to make it back to the hospital tonight."
"You were going back? In this mess?"
"If we got caught unawares, other people may have too and they could have been injured. This is a horrible storm and even if they managed to get to the hospital, they can't call me for help."
"Doctor, it'll be fine. The nurses on duty can handle anything until the storm breaks and they're able to clear some of the snow to the village." Isobel rearranged the blanket that was over her shoulders to keep her warm and patted his arm sympathetically. Sometimes she forgot how dedicated he was to his job and his patients. He gave her a forced smile. And the two stared out the window together at the white swirling snow outside. It was almost as dark inside as it was out. Fires had been lit and candles placed around, but the hallways full of shadows.
"I had fun tonight," he finally said.
Isobel smiled and replied, "Me too."
"I missed us." He must have heard how his comment sounded, because he quickly covered. "I mean, I miss just being your friend. And I know that's partly my fault…"
"What on earth are you talking about?" Isobel looked surprised at the sudden change in topic. "Richard, we're still friends, I don't know…"
"Isobel, just let me talk." Dr. Clarkson put both of his hands on her shoulders, turning her to face him. "Please don't interrupt me. I need to say this…just let me talk, okay?"
"My goodness, Richard, go on." Isobel wrapped the blanket a little tighter around her shoulders. They had both had a little bit to drink during the card game and she knew that made him braver than normal.
He took a deep breath and looked into her eyes, although the brown was hard to make out in the low lighting. "We have been friends for a long time now and I was content with that. But when I heard you were engaged to Lord Merton, I didn't know what to do. All I could think at first was that he wasn't right for you and I couldn't get past it. So I acted like a complete fool…"
"Richard," started Isobel, but she stopped talking immediately at the look on his face.
"I panicked. All I could imagine was you becoming Lady Merton and moving away and we wouldn't…I was losing you. So for some reason I just tried to let go of you all at once. I acted like a jealous idiot and pushed you away…" He took one of her hands gently, as the other was clutching the blanket around her. "And that was a mistake. I want you to know that no matter what happens, no matter who you marry, you'll always have me."
Isobel waited until she knew he was finished before calmly stating, "I'm not marrying him."
"I know you called off the engagement, but you shouldn't let his sons dictate your happiness. If you want to marry him, to hell with them. He's in love with you and-"
"But I'm not." Dr. Clarkson didn't seem to hear her whisper.
"-and he would treat you right. So, as your friend, I'm telling you to marry him." By looking into his eyes, she knew his words were cutting him deep. Tears prickled in her own eyes and she gave his hand a gentle squeeze. Isobel had been certain she would never know love like this: unselfish and genuine. He was trying to convince her to marry another man because he thought that's what would make her happy.
"Richard, I'm not marrying him." Isobel let go of his hand long enough to reach up and brush her fingers across his cheek. "I'm not the type of woman who becomes Lady Merton. It's not me. I don't want to sit in cushioned chairs and have people over for tea for the rest of my life. I want to work- get my hands dirty. I don't want the kind of life where married couples sleep in separate bedrooms and only see each other for meals. Dickie loves me, yes, I believe that is true. But I'm not in love with him."
Her words must have come as a complete shock to him, because all Dr. Clarkson managed to stammer was, "I'm not sure what to say."
"People seem to forget that I didn't grow up in this life and neither did Matthew. Dickie is very dear to me, but I don't think I'm cut out to be a Lord's wife. My goodness, I didn't even realize he was courting me until he proposed- he's always so proper and by the rules. I can't live like that."
"No, I don't suppose you could. I can't imagine the woman who ran off to France in the middle of a war entertaining dinner guests for the rest of her life." They both laughed and the tension faded away.
Isobel fiddled with the edges of her blanket. "There's one other reason I decided not to marry him."
"I missed you." Isobel looked up to meet his gaze shyly. "And I realized I didn't want to live a life without you in it."
"Isobel," he murmured. "May I do something very un-Lord like?"
She raised her eyebrow and stifled a giggle. "Depends on what you plan on doing…"
"I'd like permission to kiss you right now."
Isobel felt the butterflies fluttering in her stomach. She was a grown woman, for goodness sake. A man asking to kiss her shouldn't make her so nervous. She gave a small nod and self-consciously wet her lips. Dr. Clarkson took a step forward and cupped her cheek. The first time their lips met, the kiss was soft and gentle, but Isobel felt her breath leave her body. She wanted more, but he pulled back.
When she spoke again, she hardly recognized her own voice. "I'd like permission to kiss you again."
Dr. Clarkson couldn't hide the smile on his face. This time he placed his hand on her hip to pull her body full against him and his other hand slipped around the back of her neck. This time there was force behind his kiss and she couldn't help wrapping her arms around his neck to deepen the kiss. Her fingers dug into his shoulders when he slipped his tongue between her lips. The two were lost in the darkness of the hallway, all by themselves.
They continued kissing as he guided her backwards until she was pressed between his warm body and the cold wall. The blanket fell forgotten to the floor and Isobel ran her hands over his chest and gasped as his lips found other places to kiss along her neck. He didn't linger long before recapturing her lips. His hands rand down the length of her torso, stopping to rest at her hips.
"Have you seen- oh my goodness!" A voice nearly shouted. Isobel and the doctor broke off the kiss immediately and he jumped away as if he'd been burned. Edith was standing in front of them, her cheeks were flaming red and glowing in the light of the candle she was holding. She stammered out an apology, "I'm so sorry…we're playing hide and seek with the children and I just...I'm sorry!"
By the time Isobel managed to find her voice, Edith had bolted down the hallway, leaving the two alone in the darkness once again. Dr. Clarkson was blushing nearly as bad as Edith had been and Isobel was still close enough to him to make out the change in color in his cheeks. For some reason this caused Isobel to start giggling.
"Should we go after her and…"
"And what, Richard?" Isobel shook her head in laughter. Smiling, she wrapped her arms around his waist and said, "It's our fault for necking like teenagers in the hallway. We're lucky it was only Edith who found us. She has enough secrets of her own to worry about. Now let's get back to the sitting room. People are going to start thinking we were up to something."
"Well, we wouldn't want that, now would we?"
She swatted at his shoulder causing him to laugh, his earlier embarrassment forgotten. Isobel picked the blanket up off the floor and wrapped it around her shoulders once again. "Come on. And stop looking so smug."
Dr. Clarkson started to open his mouth, but thought better of it. He was however, having a hard time wiping the smile off his face. Isobel rolled her eyes at him, but tucked her hand through the crook of his arm and they walked back to the drawing room. They were passing the partly opened door of the library when they heard giggling followed by a male voice hushing the giggler.
Curious, Isobel pushed the door the rest of the way open, but she didn't see anyone inside. As she was about to shut the door, she heard a loud THUMP and a voice cry out, "George!", followed by more giggling. Raising an eyebrow at Dr. Clarkson, she walked into the dark room. To her surprise, she found her grandson laying on the ground, laughing. Although she didn't have a candle, the fireplace gave off enough light to see him.
"George! What on earth are you doing?"
"Donk bonked his head," he informed her, still lying in front of Lord Grantham's desk on the richly colored rug that decorated the room.
"Isobel, is that you?" came a man's voice from what sounded like beneath the desk.
"Robert?" Kneeling down next to George, she was now at eye level with the underside of the desk. It took every ounce of self-control not to join her grandson's giggles when she peered into the darkness: Robert Crawley was sitting cross-legged and hunched over under his own desk. "My goodness, Robert!"
The man sighed in frustration. "George thought this would be a great hiding place."
"We're playing hide and seek!" piped up the little boy.
"But now I appear to be stuck," said Robert, rubbing his head, which Isobel assumed to be the source of the thump she had heard earlier.
Isobel bit her lip to keep from laughing. "Doctor, could you come in here and give me a hand?"
Dr. Clarkson squatted down next to Isobel and George to peer under the desk. "Having fun, Lord Grantham?"
"Very funny. Just get me out of here before anyone else sees me," muttered Robert, inducing more giggles from his grandson and cousin. Dr. Clarkson lifted one of the ends of the desk slightly so the other man could crawl out from under it. Robert stood up and dusted himself off. Turning to George, he said, "That's the last time you get to pick the hiding spot!"
"But no one found us!"
"Your Grandmama and the doctor did!" Robert scooped the little boy off the floor and over his shoulder. "We're going to find a new hiding spot."
"Well, you are going to have a hard time unless you get him to stop laughing," commented Isobel.
"Do you want to play Grandmama? You have to hide from Mama and Lord Mert."
"Lord Merton," correct Robert. George didn't pay him any attention, but continued to stare at Isobel hopefully. Robert shrugged and helped the boy out. "I believe everyone is playing now. Mama went upstairs and so did Lord Beverly and Mrs. Becker, but I don't think there is anyone left in the drawing room. Cora even got Dr. Rummel and Lady Shackleton to participate. I believe everyone is hiding in pairs. Marigold is hiding with Lady Shackleton and I believe Cora is with Sybbie."
"Pleeaassse…" begged George. Isobel kissed his forehead where Robert was holding him up.
"Well, if you insist." Turning slightly back to where Dr. Clarkson was leaning up against the desk, Isobel thoughtfully replied, "I'm sure the doctor and I can find somewhere where no one can find us."
Robert carried out his giggling grandson, having missed his cousin's innuendo. Dr. Clarkson, on the other hand, was glad the room was as dark as it was, for his blush was back.