It was Felicity's long-awaited seventeenth Birthday. The Merrimans had thrown a grand party out at the old plantation and invited everyone from Williamsburg to attend. Felicity herself looked every bit the full-grown woman she was in a lavender gown cut low off the shoulders to show her amble bosom and her auburn curls arranged delicately on her bare shoulders.
Already the oldest Merriman girl had at least five marriage proposals and dozens more prospective suitors. Every man vied for attention, which was altogether too exciting and confusing for the red-haired lass. Nearly every day on her walk to the store she had to pass the new tallow works, where the tanner's son James would always invite her inside to tan his hides, and then the baker's son would invite her to knead his bread, then the ink maker's son would toss a love letter down from his window.
All three young men happened to be at the party, all trying to get her alone during various moments and filling up her dance card.
At some point during the party, Felicity managed to sneak away for a breath of fresh air. She walked out to the creek just outside the main yard, close enough to the party so that she could come quickly if called, but far enough away that she could take a breather.
The early spring storms had cleared out the week before, bringing a wealth of wildflowers into bloom along with the wonderful sunshine.
Felicity plopped down on the little bench her and Nan had put out by the creek so they could rest and look at the water. Her feet ached from dancing in new shoes and her face hurt from smiling.
She was seventeen today... seventeen. It seemed to her like time had flown. Patriot was a full stallion now, her father was looking to breed him with a couple other mares. Polly was attending her first tea parties and lessons with Mrs. Manderly, William was working full time at the store under Ben since father retired, Nan had several suitors... and here she was, seventeen.
Old enough to marry. Next year she would be a borderline spinster if she didn't choose a husband.
"You don't look very pleased, don't you like your party?" a familiar voice said, startling her from her brooding.
"Hello Ben." She said, not looking at the voice's owner.
"May I sit?" He asked politely. She waved her hand in assent, looking at the slow-moving creek.
"Lissie, don't you like your party?" He asked.
"It's all very wonderful..." Felicity replied.
Felicity sighed but didn't say anything.
"But what, Lissie? Tell me."
"It's silly. You needn't be bothered." She said, trying to laugh it off.
"I'm seventeen now, Ben. I'm supposed to get married and start a family." She said, feeling tears prick her eyes.
"Oh." Ben said, sounding uncomfortable. "Well, that's what most young women do at your age. You needn't worry, Lissie... your parents will find you a good match."
"Perhaps." Felicity said, resting her elbows on her knees and then her face in her hands. "It all seems so... rushed. I don't feel like I know any of the men who've approached me! I don't know what to look for in a husband, I don't know how to raise children! It's all just..." She trailed off into sobs.
"You don't have to marry a man you don't know, Lissie... No one is forcing you into anything." Ben said quietly, handing her a handkerchief which she gratefully accepted.
"I just think it would be easier if I married you. Then I wouldn't have to worry about any of that." Felicity said jokingly, dabbing her eyes.
Ben stood up suddenly, surprising her.
"Then why don't you? Why don't you marry me?" Ben asked, his brown eyes blazing.
"I... what?" Felicity asked, startled.
"Marry me. For god's sakes... Marry me!" Ben practically yelled. "I've been in love with you since you were a child!"
"You...?" Felicity asked breathlessly as she slowly stood.
"Me." Ben replied, getting down on one knee and grasping both her hands in his. "Will you have me, lass?"
Felicity's breath caught in her throat and she paused, heart and head racing. She was terrified of marriage, terrified of not doing the right thing, of not being a good wife... but with Ben, she needed worry about that. She looked down into Ben's beseeching brown eyes.
"Aye, I'll have you. If you'll have me, Ben." She said, finding herself crying again.
"I'll have you." Ben said, standing and engulfing her in a hug. He pulled away slightly, then cupped her face and brought their lips together. Felicity smiled against his lips and melted into the kiss.
After a moment they broke apart and Felicity peered up into the deep brown eyes of her husband-to-be.
"I supposed James the tanner's son will be sad to hear I won't be over to help tan his hides. And the baker's son too, since I won't be kneading his bread." She said impishly.
"Not if I have anything to do with it." Ben smirked, swooping in for another kiss. "A respectable wife of a shopkeeper only shows her wares to one man."