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I panted my way along the dark forest. Behind me, there were howls of some sort of fearsome creature. I stopped alongside a tree and inspected my surroundings. I was in a dangerous game of cat and mouse and the prize was my life. Through the darkness I heard a low growl and I began running again. I stumbled my way through the forest but suddenly I was caught in the mud.

I screamed. The beast was getting closer to me; its' eyes glittering in the pitch black forest. I tried to pull myself free but suddenly the hands of the beast's previous victims began reaching out and pulling me deeper into the mud. "Let me go!" I cried. Finally, the beast appeared in front of me, smelling the fear that was emanating off my person.

It's face was inches from me and it growled angrily. This was it; my end.

I quickly sat up and looked around my bedroom. The fireplace was lit real low and the soft crackles of the burning timber invaded my ears. It was a dream, it was just a dream. I have had this dream before but it appears that it becomes more real the older I get.

I quickly stood up out of bed and walked to the window. I slowly opened it and the cold air hit my face; I shuddered.

The sun was barely rising above the countryside and I would heartily welcome it's warmth and light. In a few minutes, dawn will officially be here.

I walked to my vanity table and looked in the mirror. My long curly blonde hair was slightly disheveled and my cheeks were flushed. I don't think I am an ugly girl but I've also never felt truly beautiful. In boarding school, many of the ladies were incredibly handsome and I knew they were bound to become the pride and glory of whomever they marry but me… what did I have to offer?

Agnes had mentioned something about marriage the other day. Apparently, my mother has been speaking boldly about the prospect of me marrying. She told Agnes that she wants to see me married soon since she does not feel she has long left to live. It made me very sad that my mother thought that way.

I never really thought about marriage. I knew that it may someday fall to me to marry a man of great station and produce children; every woman in society knew that her major role was to become wife and mother. From young ages, we are taught all about our future roles and our duties. So naturally, I was aware that I would someday become wife and mother but I never thought it would happen at this age.

My mother was sixteen when she and my father married. I have surpassed the age she was when she married yet I am not sure how long my singleness will last.

Dawn was welcomed graciously when the sun shone into my bedroom. I've always loved watching the sun rise more than the sun set. Perhaps I liked being able to start a new day with new adventures.

My door slowly creaked open and I smiled compassionately at Agnes.

"Child, what are you doing awake so early?" she asked.

My smile faltered, "I had that dream again. I could not sleep." Agnes immediately came to my side and touched my forehead.

"Pray heavens child, that dream has haunted you over the last ten years. Are you alright?" she asked with clear concern in her voice.

"Yes, I am," I answered simply.

Agnes was always so kind to me. I respected this woman more than any other person I know and perhaps it is because she is the only one to treat me with such kindness and such tenderness. My mother never treated me as kindly and my father tried but I suppose he could not bond with a daughter.

"Well, I am glad your awake. You must get ready. You are going to town with your father today," said Agnes. She grabbed a handful of my hair and threaded her fingers through the blonde thickness.

"Town? Why am I going to town with my father?" It was rare that my father ever spent time with me. I could not understand why he wanted me along.

"He didn't tell me why Lillian, he only told me that he was taking you with him. You leave in a hour so you must quickly ready yourself." Agnes put my hair down and looked at my reflection in the mirror. There was something clearly on her mind but she could not bring herself to say it.

She smiled faintly and quickly left my side. "Get ready," she said sternly and then quickly closed my bedroom door.

I pursed my lips. I don't really like going to town with my father.

~X~X~

My father crossed his arms as I descended the stairs. "Didn't Agnes tell you we were to leave in an hour?" he asked crossly.

"Yes father but you cannot possibly expect me to ready that quickly," I said with a hint of humor in my tone. Father did not appreciate the humor.

"Come Lillian, we are going to be late," he said. I followed him down the short hallway to where Agnes stood by the front door.

"Now child, behave yourself out in town," she scolded gently as she wrapped a covering about my shoulders.

"Please tend to my wife, will you please Agnes?" came my father's voice.

Agnes bowed her head in response and I waved to her quickly before following my father to the coach.

"Where are we going?" I asked once I was sitting within the confines of the coach.

"Town," he answered simply.

I pursed my lips unhappily. Why was no one telling me anything?

The ride to town was quiet. Father said no more than two sentences the entire thirty minute trip. The suspense of what we were doing was beginning to make me anxious and I caught myself numerous times biting my fingernails.

"We are having breakfast with Mr. Rayburn this morning," said my father after long moments of intense silence.

I arched a brow curiously. "Mr. Rayburn? Pray, why?"

"He asked that we join him this morning for breakfast at the restaurant in the inn," he said softly, "and considering he is my patron, I felt obligated to accept his invitation."

"Why didn't you tell me this when I asked you back at home?" I asked in mild confusion.

"I didn't want to worry you. Apparently Lily, you've made a great impression on him the other night at his ball. This must continue as it will benefit our family in the long run."

"You're using me to keep Mr. Rayburn's interested so that you can profit off it?" I asked incredulously. My father looked at me unpleasantly and turned to look back out the window.

"Lily, your mother is direly ill and it is not cheap to pay for all those physicians and tonics that are administered to her. One day, when you have a family of your own, you will understand."

I crossed my arms unhappily. My father withheld this "interest" of Mr. Rayburn from me because he knew I would not come if I knew of it.

"Behave as the lady you are Lillian, I'd hate to think of what could happen if he became displeased with you," said my father.

I refused to look at him nor credit that I heard him. I don't like feeling used, much less by my father.

The coach rolled to a stop in front of the inn and the door swung open. My father took one look at me and sighed. No doubt I had my nose in the air like a stubborn child.

He exited the coach and held his hand out for me to descend. I swallowed my pride and took hold of his hand and exited the coach. I looked at the inn.

"Come," said my father. I followed him to the inn and after we had entered, he looked around anxiously. "There he is. Come Lillian."

I fought back the urge to retort nastily and followed him to the table where Mr. Rayburn sat. Derek Rayburn stood quickly when he saw us making our way to him.

"Mr. Pierce, I am so glad you were able to make it," said Derek. He turned to look at me and bowed graciously. "Miss Pierce, what a surprise to have you here as well. I am pleased."

I smiled politely, "I hope you don't mind that I joined my father for this," I said. I looked over at my father, a pleased expression played upon his lips. He was going to owe me for this!

"I do not mind at all. I am very happy to see you here, indeed I am," Mr. Rayburn said pleasantly. He held out the chair for me and I graciously took my seat.

I quickly became disinterested in all the talk of business that Mr. Rayburn and father began discussing almost immediately after we arrived. I smiled whenever it was polite and idly chimed in when they asked my opinion on something but I was neither interested nor inclined to chime in more.

I carefully eyed Mr. Rayburn whenever he was looking away. His blue eyes were enchanting. I found myself getting lost in them whenever he looked at me. I held back a giggle.

"What do you think Miss Pierce?" came his deep voice.

I opened my mouth in surprise. How long had he been talking to me? I opened my mouth to answer but was at a loss for words. I was saved when our meal arrived. I smiled; I should stop daydreaming about his eyes.

Maybe coming with my father wasn't such a bad thing after all.

Before we left, my father and Mr. Rayburn stepped away to have a private conversation. I sat in the coach eagerly awaiting for my father to return so that we could leave. Suddenly, Derek's face appeared in the coach and he smiled.

"Miss Pierce, I hope we may enjoy each other's company again in the future," he said. He held out his hand and I put my small hand in his. I watched as he lifted my hand to his mouth and placed a light kiss on the top of it.

"Until next time," he drawled.

I smiled but could offer no words for him. Now, I was really glad I came with my father today.

"How did you enjoy that?" asked my father on the way home.

"I admit, it wasn't all that bad. I'm sorry I was so rotten," I told my father honestly.

He faintly smiled and twiddled his thumbs. "You were right, I should have told you the true purpose for bringing you along."

"It wasn't all that bad," I said.

My father only smiled and I had to wonder why he was so quiet.

~X~X~

"I cannot believe you were behaving so childish," scolded Agnes.

I shrugged my shoulders. I should have known better than to tell her about my childish behavior but I had no one else to communicate with but her.

"I apologized to him," I said in my defense.

Agnes rolled some dough and patted it against her palms. "You know better than to act like that Lily, you must bear that in my mind. You are not a little girl anymore," she said.

"I know," I said in defeat. "Where's my father? He went straight upstairs as soon as we arrived from town and I haven't seen him since."

"He is with your mother. He seemed most anxious to be with her," replied Agnes.

I played with a piece of straw between my fingers. Father rarely spent time with my mother. He spent the majority of his time in his study doing paperwork.

Almost as if on cue, my father entered the kitchen. "Lillian, your mother wants to see you," he said.

I looked over at Agnes and she stopped with the dough and was looking at my father; almost as if they were communicating with their eyes and instead of their mouths.

I slowly rose from my chair. "I'll be back Agnes," I said softly.

She nodded her head and I slowly left the kitchen and made my way to the stairs. Agnes and my father were both acting odd today and I could only wonder why.

I knocked on my mother's door and entered when she bid me entrance. She was sitting upright in her bed, her eyes gray and dull. She looked so tired and weak, it hurt my heart to see her that way.

"You wanted to see me mama?"

"Lillian, child, come here." She held out her hand and I grabbed it. I heard the door open and looked at my father. He leaned against the door but quietly looked at my mother.

My mother squeezed my hand and said, "Lillian, I have something to tell you. Mr. Rayburn has expressed interest in you and asked your father for your hand in marriage. He thinks you chaste and honorable and finds many endearing qualities in your character. This is a good match!"

I took my hand out of my mother's grasp and looked at my father. He looked at me but said nothing. "Is it true?" I asked.

My father nodded and I heard my mother say, "He is a rich man Lillian. You will be well taken care of with him."

I looked at my mother in confusion. "Does this mean he loves me?"

I looked at both my parents but only my mother eagerly answered. "Oh yes! Of course he is in love with you. I knew you weren't this beautiful for nothing. Lillian, it is my most fervent wish to see you married before I perish."

I placed my hand on my chest. Marriage to Mr. Rayburn? This was unexpected and I wasn't sure if the notion was welcome or not. The look on my mother's face told me this is everything she hoped for.

I looked at her and faintly smiled. "If it is your wish mother, than I am only too happy to oblige." My mother weakly clapped.

"You have made me very proud Lillian. Very proud indeed."

I softly kissed her forehead. Who would have thought that at seventeen I, Lillian Pierce, would marry one of the wealthiest men in the county!