Disclaimer: The Watsons, all characters, places, and related terms are the sole property of Jane Austen.

How i love thee

Penelope happened to glance out the window overlooking the back garden, and spotted her sister and Mr. Howard seated on the bench in the shade of the apple tree. Smiling, she turned back to her work, speculating on their discussion.

Her guess was not far off the mark.

"Mr. Howard," Emma was speaking.

"James, Emma. Call me James," he interrupted softly.

"James...," she echoed, and smiled upon seeing his gaze light up with delight. "I knew I cared for you after father died, when I heard reports of the possible match between you and Lady Osborne."

The gentleman flushed deeply. "There was no truth to it, despite any hopes she may have harbored. I am not an ambitious man. We would not have suited each other."

"I realize that now," Emma acknowledged with a nod. "At the time though, I struggled with feelings of envy and low spirits. I almost accepted my brother Robert's invitation to move to Croydon!"

"My dear Emma!" Mr. Howard sighed. "You were not the only one fighting your inner dragons. You could have chosen from among the younger, more eligible men of the neighborhood. Often I thought my case was hopeless."

She interjected quickly, "Not so hopeless."

"I realize that now."

They shared a happy laugh and then gazed at each other, content, for a long time.

"And how long have you had feelings for me?" Curiosity shone in Emma's face.

"I confess I was quite ahead of you when it comes to that," he admitted with a tender look.


Mr. Howard gathered both of her hands in his. "I believe I started loving you when I saw you dancing with Charles."

The lady was amazed. "As early as that?" She recalled the stuffy air of the rooms, the eyes and whispers that followed her, and the particularly unwelcome notices of Mr. Musgrave and His Lordship.

"Your goodness and compassion towards my nephew caught my attention. And Charles had been quite right: he had a very pretty partner."

"You are making me blush, James!" Emma ducked her head.

"It becomes you." He smiled. "I cannot tell when you completed stealing my heart. Only know you did it in your very Emma way."

"And you do not regret the theft," she teased.

"No, not at all my beloved."

And to give proof to the sentiment, he kissed her sweetly.