Disclaimer: This fanfic is rated 'M' for adult themes. I do not own any of the characters of The Hunger Games or of Pride and Prejudice, although I wish I did.

Chapter 9:

"One word from you shall silence me forever."

- Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

When Katniss awoke the next morning, she was alone. It was not an odd occurrence to be so, but it was odd to find herself in Annie's bed instead of her own. Unsure of how she got there, she tried to focus her thoughts, but the previous night's events were nothing but a vague blur.

The incessant throbbing of her head did not help the matter either, and so she sat up and rubbed her temples in a desperate yet futile attempt to sooth away the pain. Why was the room so bright? And why was she still dressed? With an unladylike groan, she slumped back onto the bed and draped an arm across her eyes, too sluggish to pull the blankets up over her head and hide from the rest of the world. She tried again to think back to what had led her to fall asleep in her cousin's bed when a knock on the door caused her to wince.

If it had been any other morning, the sight of her favorite cousin bearing breakfast would have lifted her spirits, but the sight of Annie holding a tray of dry toast and a glass of a pale yellow concoction was not a welcomed one.

"Good morning!" Annie approached the side of the bed with a little too much zest in her step for Katniss's liking.

Without returning the sentiment, Katniss balked at the proffered tray and pointed a finger at the mysterious brew. "Dare I ask what that is?"

"Best not if I were you." Annie chuckled as she lifted the glass and thrust it into Katniss's unsteady hand. "But if you must know, compliments of Mrs. Sae. She has already sent one up to Mamma, who I might add appears to be in no better condition than you this morning. Now drink up. It will do wonders for that head of yours, and—for all our sakes—your mood."

Releasing a pitiful groan, Katniss ground the palm of her free hand into a bleary eye. "What happened? Why am I not in my room?"

"Do you honestly not remember?"

Katniss shook her head. At Annie's hesitation and pursed lips, an unnerving sense of dread filled Katniss's chest.

"Well," Annie began, setting the tray down and taking a seat on the bed. "Not long after you left to give the slip to Mr. Crane, I found you hidden amongst the wallflowers with Madge. And from what I could observe, you had already partaken in your fair share of the brandy punch."

"Please tell me you are not serious."

"Three sheets in the wind, if I recall correctly."

Katniss grumbled before taking a sip from the glass, only to force back the urge to vomit as she swished the rancid liquid about her mouth. With a repulsed grimace, she set the glass down on the side table, unable to bring herself to finish it.

To her credit, Annie tried to bite back a laugh but failed miserably. "Trust me, you will feel like your normal cynical self in no time."

Katniss dropped back to her pillow and pulled the sheet up over her head. "Please tell me this is all a terrible dream." When she was met with silence, she moaned again, turning over and burying her face deeper into the pillow. "How bad was I?" she ventured, her muffled voice barely audible beneath the fabric.

Annie chuckled as she arose from the bed. "Do not fret, you were positively pleasant; laughing and smiling at everything and everyone, for that matter. But when Madge asked me to fetch Pappa and he saw your rather candid display from across the room, he thought it best to see you and Mamma home."

Katniss had acted foolishly, of that much she was certain. She had no recollection of the embarrassment she must have brought upon herself, but guilt tugged at her conscience for not being there to see out the rest of the night with her sister on her special day. "What of Prim? How is she faring this morning?"

"She is in far better spirits than you, I can assure." Annie turned to busy herself with collecting Katniss's slippers and stockings that were strewn haphazardly across the floor and continued, "We stayed well into the early morning. It was just past three when Pappa returned for the rest of us with the carriage. You should have seen all the gentlemen vying for Prim's attention! They were tripping over themselves! It was a very successful night, indeed."

Katniss peered out from under the covers, relieved that the ball had gone off without a hitch, but she was still mortified by her own behavior. When Annie pulled away the sheets and handed Katniss back the drink, she made a show of pinching her nose as she drained the remaining contents of the glass.

"Oh come now, it wasn't all that bad, was it?" Annie asked, but the amusement in her voice could not be missed. With a huff, Katniss sat up more fully and reached for the tray, balancing it on her lap as Annie continued to mill about the room. "You will feel much better once you have some food in you. Now, eat up."

Katniss was silent as she stared down at the slice of golden toast. She had come to associate all forms of bread with Mr. Mellark and just the thought of it caused her stomach to flip. But there was something lingering at the fringe of her memory that caused her to frown. With a narrowed stare, she picked off the crust of the toast and as she bit into the slice, a memory from the night before fluttered close to the surface. Then all at once, the feeling of betrayal and loss hit hard. Her stomach lurched, threatening to empty the sickening concoction she had moments ago forced down.

Mr. Mellark was engaged.

The piece of toast dropped to the plate and Katniss shoved the tray off her lap, her fists clenching into the bedcovers. How foolish she was! To believe that a man of such social caliber could possibly have a genuine interest in her. Men of his physical refinement were accustomed to easily gaining the attentions of women, which in turn only meant they were too easy to lose.

Was it a game to him? Was she an amusement to pass the droll tide of summer? Someone to toy with until he returned home to marry his no doubt genteel fiancée who Katniss could not help but picture in her mind's eye. A woman who matched him in appearance, with silky golden hair, fine porcelain skin, and deep blue eyes. What perfect children she would bear for him, with golden ringlets and plump rosy cheeks.

Shaking her head, Katniss turned to find Annie watching her quietly. "What is it?" Katniss asked.

"I know what it is you are stewing over."

With a sardonic laugh, Katniss stood up from bed and made her way to the vanity to splash a handful of cool water her face. "Do you, now," she said, reaching blindly for a cloth to pat her face dry. She then set to work on the buttons lining the back of her dress, but after a minute of fumbling with those that she could not reach, she released a frustrated huff. "Please do me the honor and enlighten me, then."

The click of Annie's tongue rang loud and clear. "I would have thought better of you."

"Pardon me?" Katniss snapped, looking over to Annie with an incredulous stare as she gave up on her dress and tried to finger comb the snarls from her hair. However, that too was a pointless endeavour.

"When have you been one to believe in idle gossip?" Katniss stared back at Annie with narrowed eyes. "Miss Odair may be obvious about her affections for your Mr. Mellark, but believe me, the man only has eyes for you."

"He is not my Mr. Mellark," Katniss seethed, turning away and crossing her arms over her chest. "And that woman is not the reason for my foul temper."

"But…I do not understand, then." Annie furrowed her brow and reached for a brush on the table, motioning for Katniss to take a seat at the vanity. When she did not move, Annie sighed in frustration. "He did not so much as glance at another woman all night, nor dance with one, even after your colorful departure."

"As he should not! Not when his fiancée is back home alone in the Capitol, none the wiser to his atrocious behavior!"

The hairbrush fell to the table with a clatter. "Oh no, Kat, it is not so."

"He fooled us all."

Annie listened with astonishment and concern as Katniss relayed what she had overheard the night before whilst hidden out on the balcony. "So you see, the man is a cold-hearted rake! Who knows what other women he's fooled along the way? Did Mr. Odair not happen to mention any of this to you?"

"No, of course not. He did not mention anything of the sort."

Katniss shook her head vehemently. "Why would he? They are no different from the arrogant gentlemen who think they can get away from the Capitol for a summer to toy with us country girls. Treat us as playthings when they grow bored of their stuck-up and overly groomed women."

Katniss turned to find Annie staring at the floor, her lower lip trembling. Although Katniss's words had been specifically directed to Mr. Mellark, she realized all too late the error of her choice of words.

"Oh Annie, I…I did not mean…not Mr. Odair. He is a perfect gentleman, not one to ever play a woman false. I did not mean him."

Shaking her head, Annie hugged her arms close to her chest. "No, of course not," she whispered, although the tremor in her voice belied her attempt to appear unaffected.

Katniss stepped forward to place a comforting hand on her cousin's shoulder, but Annie moved away to the doorway. "I should check on Mamma."

"Annie, wait!" Katniss called out but the sound of the door clicking into place was answer enough.

Never again would she indulge in brandy punch. Look at what good it had brought her?

Begrudgingly, Katniss snuck back to her room where she rung for the maid to help free her from the confines of her evening dress. After dismissing the maid, who had remained tight-lipped despite Katniss's shabby appearance, Katniss dressed for church and set about taming her hair, winding the wayward strands into an unkempt braid.

"Never again," she whispered to her scowling reflection. "Never again."

A dark cloud persisted to loom over Katniss for the remainder of the day. There was a tense air about Seamfirth that could not be ignored, and as such, Katniss avoided almost everyone, including her own sister, mostly out of shame for her previous night's behaviour, but worst of all, for her harsh words to Annie.

She was late to dinner, hoping to spend as little time as possible in the company of the others, especially Johanna, who had been merciless with her teasing. It did not make matters any better when Katniss noticed that her aunt was acting more peculiar than ever as they ate, shooting her knowing glances before looking to Mr. Crane expectantly. Katniss was not in the mood for her aunt's matchmaking games. At each of Mrs. Abernathy's attempts, Katniss rolled her eyes and remained silent as she poked at her meal, her appetite steadily decreasing the longer she sat.

For the most part, her family had enough sense to leave her be. As the dishes were cleared away, Katniss folded her napkin and placed it on the table to signify her departure. But it was her aunt's pointed stare that held her in place, hands fisting beneath the table.

Turning her attention to Mr. Crane, Mrs. Abernathy smiled brightly. "Mr. Crane, how did you enjoy the ball? It was quite a success, was it not?"

"Yes, madam," he said, looking briefly to Mrs. Abernathy before directing an energetic smile towards Katniss.

An odd feeling caused Katniss to tense, the knowing smile from her aunt too wide and too bright. But before Mrs. Abernathy could respond, Mr. Crane turned his attention back to her.

"I had the most pleasant evening, indeed. By a miraculous stroke of serendipity, I was introduced to a most splendid woman…a Miss Undersee." Pausing, he looked to Katniss. "A close friend of yours, Miss Everdeen, if I am not mistaken?" Weary and unable to speak, Katniss forced a nod. "Such a charming creature, a reserved yet well-mannered young lady who I do believe would make an excellent prospect as a clergyman's wife."

The notion of her gentlest and most soft-spoken friend having to endure such a life caused a lump to form in Katniss's throat. No. He would not dare pursue Madge. The mere thought of it was preposterous! Her innocent, shy friend deserved better than the likes of a pompous, ill-mannered boor of a man like Mr. Crane. If the daggers Katniss was already staring into him weren't enough, the almost murderous gaze of her aunt would be enough to finish the man off.

"Miss Undersee is pleasant, I suppose. Not one for much conversation mind you, or accomplishments for that matter," Mrs. Abernathy said, the scorn in her tone not sitting well with Katniss. "But I would not expect mediocrity to be a trait a gentleman such as yourself would be drawn to."

Katniss gaped, shocked that her aunt would sink so low as to undermine her friend's daughter. If this was what she would be subject to over dessert, then she had had quite enough. Never would Katniss willingly sit and listen to her aunt ridicule her dear friend.

No longer able to tolerate Mr. Crane and his infatuated musings and her aunt's snide remarks, Katniss excused herself, claiming that the richness of the meal was not sitting well with her stomach. Ever the doting sister, Primrose arose from her seat as well, but Katniss answered her questioning gaze with a discreet shake of her head.

Once in the safety of the hallway, she took a deep breath and escaped to the only place she was certain no one would bother to look: her uncle's study. Locking the door behind her, she finally allowed her temper to flare, stomping her foot and muffling a frustrated scream into her arm. It did nothing to calm her.

She had to speak with Madge and assure herself that her friend had not made a mistake and given Mr. Crane any hope of acquiring her affections. What a dull and dreadful life she would lead. It was not one Katniss would ever wish upon her dear friend. They would need to remedy the situation as soon as possible, before Mr. Crane went ahead and did something dreadful, such as propose.

Moving to her uncle's desk, she smacked at a pile of papers stacked on the edge, sending them scattering to the floor. Then slumping down into the lumpy and threadbare desk chair, she crossed her arms over her chest and stared out the darkened window, stewing in her thoughts.

Moments later, footsteps echoed down the hall and came to an abrupt stop outside the door. Although muffled by the thick wood, her aunt's words could be heard loud and clear: "Mr. Crane! Please, Mr. Crane!" which were followed shortly by more hurried footsteps.

Katniss rolled her eyes at her aunt's act of desperation and the whining tone of her profuse apologies for Katniss's behavior at the ball.

"Mr. Crane! A thousand pardons! My niece was not in her right mind last night, or this evening. I beg of you to please reconsider and make her a proper offer. Wait there! I will talk some sense into that girl this very instant!"

Katniss let out a mirthless laugh, shaking her head as she continued to listen to the commotion on the other side of the door. More heavy footsteps approached, the uneven gait of her uncle unmistakable.

"Oh dear, sweet husband, thank goodness you are here. I warned you this would happen, giving that girl the liberties that you do," her aunt said, punctuating her displeasure with a cluck of her tongue. "The life of as clergyman's wife is precisely what she needs to reform her wild ways. Tell Mr. Crane so! Tell him you will bring Katniss to reason!"

Katniss chuckled, picturing with clear certainly the frown upon her uncle's face. Her aunt was doing a dreadful job at selling her off as a proper wife, so it was of little surprise when she heard Mr. Crane clear his throat and cut in.

"Mrs. Abernathy, I am sure Miss Everdeen will make a suitable wife one day, but I am afraid I cannot be swayed from my decision. I no longer wish to pursue your niece, for I have already made arrangements to call upon Miss Undersee tomorrow afternoon. Good day, Madame."

With the sound of Mr. Crane's hasty retreating footsteps, Katniss quickly felt the invisible weight upon her shoulders lift. "Thank goodness, and good riddance," she muttered to herself, sinking further back into the chair as she waited for her aunt to follow suit and chase down the likes of the detestable man. But the hallway was silent…until a loud bang against the door echoed throughout the room, as though someone had thrown a shoe against the solid wood. The door handle rattled and a few moments later Mrs. Abernathy burst into the room with Mr. Abernathy in tow, who peculiarly enough appeared just as unimpressed.

"Headstrong, foolish child!" Her aunt slammed her fists upon the desk, staring straight into Katniss's face with venom in her eyes. "Have you taken leave of your sense? The one and most likely only chance at a proposal you will ever receive and you let it pass you by without a care?"

The sting of her aunt's words, mocking the foolish hope she once held that perhaps Mr. Mellark would be the one to offer her a proposal made her blood boil. No longer would she sit idle as her aunt tried over and over again to dictate her life. The woman had once again overstepped her boundaries and gone too far, using guilt to sway her conscience in what would have been a terrible, terrible match.

Hardening her gaze, Katniss lifted her chin to address her aunt. "No, Aunt Effie, I am quite with my wits at the moment. But I am afraid yours left at the heels of Mr. Crane."

Mrs. Abernathy bristled, the excess rouge on her cheeks blending in well with the flushed anger of her face. "Is this a game to you?"

Katniss scoffed. "Is what a game? My life? My very future? For if that is what we are here to discuss, then my answer is no. I refuse to standby whilst you go about using my life as a pawn in your game of society!"

"The opportunity to save this family was within your reach, you foolish child! And look how you have failed us! Mr. Crane now has his sights set on, of all ladies, Madge Undersee! We are doomed!"

"Calm yourself!" Mr. Abernathy finally interrupted, stepping in to place a steady hand on his wife's trembling shoulder. "There is no need for such theatrics, for I can assure you both that not all is lost. Why don't we all take a deep breath and have a seat."

After helping his wife into an armchair, both Katniss and her aunt watched with a mix of frustration and curiosity as Mr. Abernathy moved to the sideboard and produced three snifters. His calm demeanor had Katniss narrowing her eyes, but she kept her mouth shut as he poured each glass half full with a dark amber liquid and capped the crystal bottle, but not before taking a swig from it. Taking a glass for himself, her uncle settled himself in the other armchair on the other side of the desk and took a sip, the room still quiet as both women stared him down.

"Care for a drink?" he asked, gesturing to the sideboard as the corner of his mouth twisted. "I insist. You both shall need it, but I fear for quite different reasons."

"What is the meaning of this?" Mrs. Abernathy huffed, refusing to take a glass.

"My dear wife, would do me this one favor and loosen that corset of yours and have a drink?" Katniss could see the quick-witted remark perched on the tip of her aunt's tongue, but by some miracle she held it back.

Katniss hesitated, but then followed her uncle's lead and took a glass, twisting the stem above the footed bottom between her fingers.

"Well, now that rationality has seemed to return to you both, I shall explain." Turning to Katniss, he took another sip before continuing. "My child, you will be pleased to hear that there is no expectation for you to marry Mr. Crane—that is, unless you desperately wish to do so."

Shaking her head vehemently, Katniss spared a side-eyed glance to her aunt, who had finally decided to take up her husband's offer, clenching her snifter so hard her knuckles had turned white. Her aunt's mouth opened to voice her opinion on the matter, but Mr. Abernathy cut her off with a wave of his hand.

"I am quite aware of your feelings towards Mr. Crane, or the lack thereof." Pausing to take another sip of his drink, Mr. Abernathy's face turned serious. "While the lot of you were fussing over the finer details of our dear Primrose's ball, an opportunity has come to my attention. One that would provide Katniss another opportunity to save this family."

"What kind of opportunity?" Katniss asked. The guarded look of her uncle sent an unsettling flutter to take up residence in her stomach, so she took a sip of her drink. The warmed brandy had a surprisingly calming effect on her nerves.

"An offer has been drawn to purchase Huntingford, as well as the surrounding properties that make up the estate."

"What?" Mrs. Abernathy sputtered, a spray of liquid flying across her lap. When her husband did not immediately answer, she looked to Katniss expectantly.

A long silence passed while Katniss digested her uncle's words. When they finally sunk in, it took just as long for her to remember how to breathe. It was not possible! "I beg your pardon? But…what of the entailment?"

The grim look on her uncle's face had Katniss sitting up straighter, tense as she waited for an explanation. "Huntingford was never bound by the restraints of an entailment, but your father, God rest his soul, did have the good sense to draw up a will once you were born."

"A will?" Katniss whispered in disbelief, the drink in her hand trembling from mixed emotions. "Are you saying that Huntingford is…?" she trailed off, not wanting to voice any hope, lest it be untrue.

"Yours," her uncle finished. He paused, allowing Katniss a moment to absorb the news. "Your father left it all to you, Katniss."

A loud gasp echoed throughout the room as Mrs. Abernathy lifted a hand to her chest, looking just as pale as Katniss. "But…but why?" her aunt asked. Then her voice took on a hard edge. "Why would you keep such pertinent information a secret for all these years?"

"What good would it have done anyone if I hadn't?" Mr. Abernathy shot back, narrowing his eyes at his wife. "I will admit at times my decision weighed heavily on my conscience, but I did what I believed best for the girls." Turning to Katniss, his features softened. "I understand if you are enraged with me, and I am sorry for having deceived you all these years. But with Huntingford in the state that it is, knowing that you held ownership of the estate would not help your affairs in any manner."

"Not help?" Mrs. Abernathy repeated incredulously. "Of course it would have helped! We could have sold that pile of rubble off ages ago and been living in luxury! Why, imagine the suitors the girl could have had these past years. My dear husband, this turn of events changes everything!"

"We could not have sold anything, my dear," he said, levelling his wife with another withering stare. "And the business of suitors is precisely why I chose to keep the will a secret until an opportunity such as this came along. I wished—and still do wish—for Katniss to marry for love and accept the hand of a gentleman who does not measure the value of her worth by her inheritance."

Katniss had sat eerily silent during the conversation going on around her, but once it seemed that her uncle was looking to her for some form of reaction, she sighed long and heavy. "I will admit, such news comes as a startling shock, but I am not angry. If anything, the truth is bittersweet." Katniss glanced back down to her half-full drink and fell silent once more.

It was true; she felt no anger or hatred towards her uncle for what he had done. Yes, he had lied and kept her in the dark for all these years, but oddly enough, she agreed with him and his reasons. Knowing that her father had made the conscious decision to leave his legacy to her made her chest tighten, but the corner of her mouth lifted in the smallest of smiles.

Mr. Abernathy grumbled, "You are handling this much better than I expected. Are you certain there is no ill will between us? No tempting urge to stab me with a butter knife when I least expect it?"

"I am quite certain." Katniss stifled a laugh. "Your intentions were pure, uncle, for that I cannot fault you, and as you said, what good to me is an estate lying in shambles? Rubble and charred remains do not put food on the table nor clothes on my back. I do hope the offer is enough to cover how much we put you out when you took Prim and me in. I can only imagine the financial strain we must have put on you these past years." Casting a hesitant glance to her aunt, Katniss bit her lip.

"Oh, not that again," he said, shaking his head. "To put your unnecessarily indebted mind at ease, the value of the offer more than covers the costs we have incurred since taking you and your sister into our care, and then some. My only hope is that, if you see fit, it is more than enough to ensure that this family will be well taken care of after I am gone."

Mrs. Abernathy regarded her husband with a stunned yet skeptical silence, then a frown swept across her forehead. "Are you certain you haven't been duped? You could not have received more than a hundred pounds for such an eyesore, but how did they know the estate was available to make an offer on in the first place?"

"That is still a mystery, but I assure you the offer is real." Draining the rest of his snifter, he bent down to rummage through the scattered papers on the floor. He plucked up a folded parchment and handed it to Mrs. Abernathy, who took it without hesitation. "Here, see for yourself."

Setting her drink aside, her aunt pursed her lips as she made a show of smoothing out the creases against her lap. Katniss watched with bated breath as her aunt's eyes raced back and forth across the page, eyes growing wider with each pass. "Oh, my dear husband, we are saved!" she exclaimed, clutching the parchment to her chest. "Now all we must to do is wait for Mr. Odair to wed our dear Annie and all our troubles are gone!" Dropping the paper to the desk, Mrs. Abernathy snatched up her drink and drained it with one greedy gulp. "Such wonderful news deserves a celebration! I shall inform Mrs. Sae at once to prepare the good china for a feast tomorrow night and—"

"Not so fast, my dear." Mr. Abernathy shushed his wife as he turned his attention to his niece.

Katniss stared down at the parchment, the letters and numbers printed clearly in ink as black as coal. But no matter how legible the document was her addled mind would not allow her to focus on the words, let alone their meaning. She could feel her uncle's eyes watching her every move as she calmly set down her drink and reached for the parchment, waiting patiently as she traced the words with her fingertips.

It was a bill of sale, and not having seen one before, she released a steady breath and forced her mind to work as she read word for word the contents of the contract. It was true, and her own eyes went wide at the sight of the considerable amount of the offer, far more than what she would speculate her home was worth. The amount was what Huntingford would have been worth if it was still standing whole, and then some.

Curious as to who would be mad enough to make such an offer, she searched for the potential buyer's identity, but it was not one she recognized. Frowning, she folded the parchment and placed it back on the desk. The only logical sense she could make of it was that a wealthy gentleman of leisure had seen past the decrepit remains and wished to purchase the property as a hunting investment, since it still housed some of the finest woods and game in all the country.

"Not being one in a position to look a gift horse in the mouth, but uncle, do you trust this? Does it not seem like a ludicrous amount to you?"

"Hush, child!" Mrs. Abernathy cut in, but her husband shot up a silencing hand that had her scowling. Katniss stifled the hot words that rose to her lips and stared stonily at her aunt, daring her to interrupt again.

Shrugging his shoulders, Mr. Abernathy stood and poured himself another drink. "It does, but I had a barrister look into it and he assures me that it is genuine and the interested party indeed has the funds to follow through with the offer." Returning to his armchair, he gingerly seated himself and levelled Katniss with a hard look. "But I would not feel right signing that paper unless I had your approval."

Tears welled in her eyes as Katniss looked back and forth between her uncle's sincere grey eyes and the opportunity of financial freedom for her family literally within her grasp. She could feel the pressure of her aunt's glare, boring into her as if to force her hand, but Katniss did not spare her a glance. Instead, she stared down at her trembling hands. Although she was in the clear for not having to marry Mr. Crane—or anyone for that matter—it would be a bittersweet alternate. If she agreed, her childhood home would be gone forever. All ties to her parents and former life severed with a single pen stroke.

To be selfish would do no one, not even herself any good in this situation. Her choice was clear, and although it pained her to do so, Katniss answered her uncle's questioning look with a solemn nod.

"Are you certain?" he asked.

"Yes, it is what's best for us all. That is my final decision."

"Alright. I shall see to it that the offer is accepted on the morrow. Now, what shall I do with our house guest?" Mr. Abernathy asked before draining his glass.

"Oh, that vile man has outstayed his welcome," Mrs. Abernathy finally said, no longer able to keep quiet. "I will see to it that Mr. Crane leaves us as soon as possible!" Then without so much as a backwards glance, she flounced out of the study, lifting her skirts as she hurried to the parlor.

Although Katniss made every attempt to keep occupied the following days, she did not feel herself. She ought to feel light as feather, the weight of financial burdens for not only herself and her sister, but for the rest of her family as well, finally lifted. But as much as she tried to convince herself that she was unaffected by what had come to pass with regards to Mr. Mellark, a dreadful feeling sat heavy in the pit of her stomach. It was a feeling akin to that she had felt many years ago as child, but in a way, this was worse. It was not only the crippling sense of loss that inflicted her aching heart, but the sting of betrayal beyond anything she had ever known before.

Most of the household was still in a daze, due to the aftereffects of the ball, and therefore oblivious to Katniss's aloof and distant behavior. Her only source of joy had been when she learnt that Mr. Crane had finally decided to return home and leave them be. But even that was short-lived. Sleep was hard to come by, and when it did, what little she got of it was restless.

There was no word from Madge, either. The two letters she had immediately dispatched after learning of Mr. Crane's intentions to pursue her friend had gone unanswered. Under usual circumstances, the uncharacteristic snub would have sent Katniss straight to her friend's doorstep, demanding an explanation for her distance and silence. But Katniss could barely bring herself to leave her own doorstep, expect for the few occasions Mrs. Sae had chased her out of the kitchen to fetch a basket of courgettes or a handful of beets or carrots from the garden.

A part of her knew—but would rather not acknowledge—the real reason why she did not stray too far from Seamfirth. To expect to hear from Mr. Mellark was absurd. A note or something to explain himself and his behavior, and above all, to apologize. But there was nothing. He had made it perfectly clear that now that his secret was out he would not spare her another thought.

Which was why on the fourth day, the arrival of not one but two letters addressed to Katniss was surprising. The first was marked with the seal of Undersee Lodge, a short note from Madge explaining that she wished to call upon Katniss later that afternoon. There was no indication that anything was amiss, the wording rather cordial; however, Katniss feared there was an underlying message her friend did not wish to reveal in her letter. The second envelope bore the seal of Seaforth, but curiously enough was addressed to her. There was an inner envelope with her name scrawled across the front in an all too familiar script. No letter was enclosed, but rather a sketch of her in the dress she had worn to the ball.

Her lips pursed as she studied the parchment, his attention to every detail from the pendant resting against her breastbone to the delicate stitched detailing of her dress. It was beautiful, even more so than all the others she still had pressed between the pages of her favorite book. But it angered her beyond measure that he thought her so daft and stupid, as though continuing with his false efforts in flattery would absolve him of his dishonorable actions.

She crumpled the paper in her fist, and fueled by anger and pride, she flung it into the fire, a mild sense of satisfaction filling her from the crackling sound of it burning. It was only when the portrait was completely incinerated that she felt a tinge of regret for her rash decision. Shaking her head, a sobering thought came to her: It would be best to cut ties all together to Mr. Mellark now, rather than be made into an even greater fool later.

Footsteps from the hallway caused Katniss to spin around at the exact moment her aunt and Annie entered the parlor.

"Oh! There you are, my dear," Mrs. Abernathy said, settling into the chair by the window. "Has the post come yet? It has been a week since the ball and we have yet to hear a single word from Seaforth!"

"Four days," Katniss corrected quietly, but she was certain her aunt had not heard. Looking to Annie, she gave her cousin a weary smile. Although Annie smiled back, it did not reach her eyes and the tense line of her bottom lip was unconvincing. Had she not heard from Mr. Odair in all this time? Had Katniss been more aware of the on-goings around her, she might have known. The lost look in Annie's eyes caused Katniss to push aside her own sorrows and focus on those of her dear cousin.

The two of them needed to break away from this slump. Perhaps some fresh air would do them both wonders. "Annie," she said, coming close to gently squeeze her cousin's shoulder. "How about we take a stroll into town? Mrs. Sae informed me that the milliner has just received a new shipment of raw silk that I'm certain would make an exquisite addition to your bonnet."

It was a white lie, for Mrs. Sae had mentioned nothing of the sort, but Katniss did think it best that with the summer's heat coming to a peak, they could all do with new bonnets. They could be to town and back well before Madge was scheduled to visit later.

But Mrs. Abernathy spoke first. "What an excellent idea, my dear! After seeing all those ladies from the Capitol, I was reminded of how long it has been since I've looked into the latest fashions. Thank goodness for Mr. Cinna or you poor girls would have been dressed in yesterday's styles. The country air will do that to a woman, you know: detract one from the important things in life."

Katniss snorted, but covered it with a cough. It was a relief to hear her aunt had her priorities straight; what ever would they do if heaven forbid they fall out of fashion for a season? Not one to argue with her mother, Annie nodded curtly and after retrieving a shawl and her bonnet, met Katniss by the kitchen door.

Although the weather had been agreeable for walking, the sunshine and light breeze that was fragrant with the perfume of wildflowers did little to spark conversation between the two. Katniss did not want to pry too heavily for fear of putting her foot in her mouth a second time, but Annie's downtrodden mood was distressing. As the first building in town came into view, Katniss turned to Annie. "I am so sorry! What I said the morning after the ball was awful and I should not have been so thoughtless."

"You needn't apologize. I am quite fine." Annie glanced away, looking anything but convinced by her own words. "I know it was not Mr. Odair that you spoke of, but it has been over four days and there is still no word from Seaforth. Perhaps you were right after all, and if that is the case, then we must move on." The forced smile in combination with the finality in Annie's voice was disheartening.

Weaving her arm through Annie's, Katniss drew her cousin in closer. "If there is one thing in this world I am certain of, it is the high esteem that Mr. Odair holds for you. When you are in the room, he only has eyes for you, and you alone."

The corner of Annie's lips twitched. "And when I am not in the room?"

"Why, what do you think men's minds are occupied with when we women are not around? Nothing, of course."

This time, the smile and laugh that escaped her cousin was real. "You truly are a genius."

"And it took you this long to come to that realization? My dear, I am appalled!" The sweet trill of Annie's laughter was contagious, and even after their giggles subsided their smiles remained in place as they approached the milliner's. But it was short-lived on Katniss's part, for just as they were about to enter the store, a familiar form dressed in a crimson red uniform filled the doorway and Katniss bumped into a hard chest.

"Oh, I beg your pardon, sir," Katniss said, catching her balance before she stumbled, but the corner of her mouth pulled in a pensive manner.

"Miss Everdeen." Mr. Cray bowed to her first before addressing Annie and bowing again. "The apology is all mine." He paused, taking a moment to run his gaze over her as if she were a prized mare at the auction. "You look well this fine day, and I hope you are in good spirits as well?"

Although it was not an entirely odd question to ask, more for the sake of propriety than anything, the tone in his delivery had Katniss wondering if the man had heard what had happened at the ball. No doubt the loose tongues around town had already had a grand old time with the scene she had created, but she decided to err on the side of caution and smiled politely.

"Yes, thank you for asking. It has been quite a while since we last saw you, and since we did not have the pleasure of your company at the ball, I hope all is well with you as well?"

"I am very well thank you, and am greatly humbled that my absence was noted. I heard from the other officers, Mr. Darius in particular, that it was a splendid affair."

"It was. Mr. Darius regretfully informed us that it was your regimental duties that kept you away." Katniss took note of the way his face tensed and his lips parted as if to speak, but then he hesitated.

"I must confess, it was not my duties that kept me away. The true reason for my absence was self-imposed." Glancing away, as if to ensure no one around them was listening too closely, he cleared his throat. "The longer I thought on the matter, I realized my presence at the ball would be purely selfish, and in the end would do more harm than good. For the sake of your sister, I wished to avoid an inevitable ugly scene with a certain guest who you are aware was present. I can only imagine his smug reaction when he learnt of my absence."

At the reference to Mr. Mellark, her spine stiffened, but she recovered quickly and narrowed her gaze. Katniss had been taken off-guard by Mr. Cray's truthful admission, but although he acknowledged that he had lied, he did not apologize. Not that it mattered, for she had no intention of showing him any warmth.

Although it was well known her proficiencies as an angler left much to be desire, she knew when a man was fishing. If he expected her to question him further about his strained relationship with Mr. Mellark, then he would be sorely disappointed.

Frowning, Katniss regarded Mr. Cray critically, seeing the obvious hatred burning in his eyes for the man he once considered a brother. She was fed up with these men and their games. Did they find it amusing to pull unsuspecting ladies into the midst of their rivalry? She did not care what quarrel these men had and the sooner she moved on from them the better.

"Well, it was a pleasure, sir, but we really must be going. A good day to you." Without waiting for a reply, Katniss all but forced Annie into the shop and with a firm grip on her arm, led her to the vibrant display of ribbons along the back wall.

Annie turned towards her and arched an eyebrow. "Dare I ask what that was about?"

Picking up a roll of black taffeta ribbon that so fittingly matched her mood, Katniss jerked her head back and forth. "Nothing worthy of either of our attention. Now, which suits me better, black or black?"

Upon returning to Seamfirth, Katniss's sour mood had moderately improved. Annie's, however, had recovered completely at the news that a letter had arrived for her from Seaforth. To Katniss's surprise, a letter had arrived for her as well, and although the sender had chosen to remain anonymous, she was quite certain who it was from.

Hesitant, yet achingly curious, she lasted all but an hour before retreating to the confines of her room, where she practically tore into the envelope.

Miss Everdeen,

I do hope this letter finds you well. I must admit I was weary when I did not receive a response to my earlier package, but the footman assured me that it was successfully delivered. Perhaps my eagerness will put me at a disadvantage, but I am willing to risk it. I do hope you are feeling better, and if you are not otherwise engaged this afternoon, I wish to call upon you. There is a matter of great importance that I wish to discuss. If today is not suitable, then perhaps tomorrow, but please do me the honor of a response so as I can make the necessary arrangements.



The nerve of him! To sign the letter as such, as though they had some sort of intimate understanding! And what arrangements could he possibly need time to prepare for? Katniss refolded the letter and crammed it back into the envelope, clenching it within her fist as she stomped her way over to the writing desk by the window.

Smoothing out a new sheet of parchment against the desk, she dipped her quill in the inkpot, waiting a breath for her hand to steady. The moment the nib touched the paper, words crashed forth like a dark tidal wave onto the page. In so few words, she was able to articulate in the coldest way possible that she did not wish to see him today, tomorrow, or ever, and that going forward, she would appreciate if they put an end to their correspondence.

Her hand still trembled as she pulled it away from the page, the sight of her hastily scrawled words only marginally satisfactory to her wounded pride. Before she could think better of her actions, she sealed the envelope with both his original note and hers and dispatched it immediately to Seaforth. As the footman and his horse disappeared from sight, a slew of mixed emotions overcame Katniss and she clutched a hand to her stomach.

On her way through the kitchen, she dodged the ever-watchful eye of Mrs. Sae, but in her attempt to steal back to her room where she planned to wait out the rest of the afternoon beneath her quilt covers, she was intercepted by Annie.

"Why, what is the matter?" In response to Katniss's silence, Annie guided her to the bench in the hallway. "You look as though you are ready to collapse. When I saw that you had received a letter from Seaforth as well, I had hoped that all had been set right between you and Mr. Mellark."

With a strangled sob, Katniss buried her face in her cousin's lap. "Oh, Annie, look at what a mess I have become." The steady strokes of Annie's gentle hand through Katniss's hair was comforting, but far from the cure for a fractured heart. In a rush, Katniss explained what had transpired between her and Mr. Mellark over the past few weeks: the letters, the flowers, even the pendant. All the while Annie remained quiet, listening intently as Katniss poured out her heart.

When she was done, Katniss waited for a response with her face still hidden amongst the folds of her cousin's skirts like a scared child.

"My dear, do you fear that you have reacted too rashly with your letter?"

Sitting up, Katniss wiped a stray tear from her cheek. "No, it is what's best for everyone involved."

"I still believe that Mr. Mellark holds true affection for you, but if you truly believe it would be prudent to cut him from your life, then I shall respect your decision."

After lunch had concluded, from which Katniss was relieved to see Mr. Crane was absent, Mrs. Sae had finally caught up with her. In a not-so-subtle attempt to keep Katniss from moping about the house, she was sent yet again with a basket in hand to the garden. After only a few minutes, her arms and back had begun to ache, having not been put to much use over the past week, but it was a pleasant soreness and she welcomed it.

Katniss lost track of time, too focused on the dirt and the line of lacy green carrot tops that swayed gently in the breeze. When a shadow loomed over her, it took a moment for Katniss to notice and looking up, smiled cautiously. She yanked a final carrot from the ground and tossed it in the basket before wiping her muddy hands on her apron.

"How are you?" Madge asked, genuine concern in her eyes, but then she smiled. "You appear much better than when I last laid eyes on you."

Waving a hand, Katniss got to her feet. "I am well enough, back to my own contemptuous self. And you?"

"I am as well as can be. In fact, I have wonderful news to share with you." Katniss froze, clutching the basket in her hand as a lump formed in the back of her throat. Her friend's forced smile did not help. No. Was she too late? Madge wrung her hands, dropping her eyes to the grass as she spoke. "Mr. Crane has made me an offer of marriage, and I have happily accepted."

Dumbfounded, Katniss shook her head. "As my dearest friend, you of all people should know that I only have the best of intentions for your happiness, but by all means, may I dispense with discretion and speak my mind?"

"I have never known you to speak otherwise." With a heavy sigh, Madge motioned for Katniss to continue.

"How could you possibly accept such an offer? And in such a short period of time? You barely know one another!"

Again, Madge sighed deeply but kept her composure. "At my age, a woman does not need or have the luxury to court a man for an extended period. We talked for many hours at the ball and when he came to visit us at Undersee Lodge. I am quite certain I have been able to gauge his character correctly during that time."

"If your conclusion is foolish and vain, then yes, by all means you know all there is of the man."

Pursing her lips, Madge frowned. "I do not care if my future husband is foolish and vain, as long as I have one that treats me with the respect I deserve. He has a respectable profession and more than generous means at his disposal and will provide for me a comfortable home to keep. It is more than I could ever ask for." With a sad smile, she stepped closer to Katniss and gently grasped her arm. "I know you mean well, my dear friend, but you of all people know that I am a realist. To a fault even. I do not harbor the romantic notion that a successful marriage must be built on a foundation of love. So as my truest friend, all I ask is that you respect my decision."

Respect her decision? Ironic how just hours ago Annie had uttered the exact words to Katniss, but unlike her cousin, Katniss was far from persuaded and could not bring herself to accept her friend's choice. It was an outrage, this pairing. Upset and unable to see success in it, Katniss shook her head sadly. "I wish I could, but you could never be happy with such a man. It is impossible. Please, I beg you, reconsider your decision."

"I expected as much from this visit, but my mind will not be swayed." Squeezing Katniss's arm gently, Madge smiled. "I love you as though you were my own sister. Nothing will change that. One day you will come to understand my choice, but until then, I hope that you will visit me once Mr. Crane and I are settled."

Unable to answer otherwise, Katniss nodded sharply. The silence between her and Madge was tense, but then Madge smiled and without another word, turned and left.

With a heavy heart, Katniss watched as one of her oldest friends walked out of her life. Because of her stubbornness, would Katniss ever see Madge again? It was too much to dwell on at the moment, the wound too fresh and the emptiness that seemed to be growing each day causing her chest to ache.

Bending over to collect the basket full of carrots, Katniss made her way back to the house, her mind lost in silent contemplation as she wandered into the kitchen. As she struggled with the knot of her apron strings, commotion from down the hall caught her attention and she peeked around the doorway. There she found her aunt fussing over her cousins and sister like a sheepdog trying to corral a group of wayward ewes.

"Johanna! What were you thinking pairing those hideous gloves with that dress! Go exchange them for the white ones this instant, and hurry, we must not be late!" Curious, Katniss stepped into view the moment Mrs. Abernathy turned around. "Oh! There you are. Go change out of those rags and fix that hair of yours."

Finally freeing herself of her apron, Katniss tossed it to the pile of soiled cloths in the corner. "What is going on?"

"Miss Odair has asked us to tea," her aunt answered, glancing away to assess the rest of her daughters.

Katniss found Annie, and with a worried look, silently pleaded for help. Lifting a hand to her mouth, Annie pretended to cough. With a grateful smile, Katniss mouthed a silent "thank you" and pressing the back of her hand to her forehead, exhaled rather loudly. "I do believe the heat has taken quite a toll on me today, I'm afraid I feel a rather nasty headache coming on." Wincing, Katniss swayed and caught herself against the wall.

"My dear child, you do look rather flushed." Coming closer to feel her forehead, her aunt tsked and patted her cheek. "Better to stay home then and rest. Have Mrs. Sae send up some feverfew tea and you will be right as rain on the morrow."

Primrose caught her sister's gaze and gave her an odd look, but then rolled her eyes when their aunt turned her back. Katniss stuck out her tongue. Then in a flurry of skirts and bonnet strings, the hallway emptied and Katniss found herself alone.

"What is this I hear of you feeling ill?" Mrs. Sae asked, peering around the corner. Wiping her hands off on her apron, she came forward and ran a skeptical eye over Katniss's form. "By the looks of it, the only thing you seem to be suffering from is a bout of deception."

"There is no pulling the wool over your eyes, is there?" Chuckling, Katniss wrapped her arm around the rotund cook and hugged her tight. "Is my uncle in his study? There is something I wish to discuss with him."

"He left for town not long ago to take care of some business, said he would return before supper."

"Very well. If you need me, I shall be up in my room." Katniss took her time as she strolled through the hallway and up the stairs, an odd sense of calm washing over her despite the trying events of the morning. But as she lay upon her bed, watching the curtains billow and bend in front of the open window, her mind began to drift.

What a cruel cycle she had found herself in. As long as she kept busy, there was no time to dwell on what had come to pass, but it was the quiet moments that were the worst.

A knock at the door startled Katniss awake. Blinking rapidly, she sat up. Taking in the rumpled sheets around her, she touched a hand to her head and attempted to smooth out the stray hairs that had fallen from her braid. "Come in," she called out.

"Miss?" One the maids poked her head through the doorway. "There is a visitor for you in the parlor."

"A visitor?" Frowning, Katniss got to her feet and tried to brush out the wrinkles from her skirt. "Who is it?"

The maid hesitated, but then swallowed thickly. "A Mr. Mellark." From the sour look on Katniss's face, the maid cautiously added, "Shall I send him away, miss?"

It was all too tempting and on the tip of her tongue to say "yes," but at the thought of seeing the man's face when she informed him that she knew his secret, she shook her head. "No, I will see him. Give me but a moment to refresh myself and I shall be down shortly."

Bobbing her head, the maid shut the door behind her and Katniss leapt into action. After splashing some water onto her face, she took her time brushing the knots from her hair and arranging it artfully into a beautiful braid that wrapped around the crown of her head. Then going to her armoire, pulled out her favorite green dress and a fresh set of undergarments. With the speed of a tortoise, she began to undress and smirked to herself. Let the man wait.

Over half an hour later, Katniss found herself lingering outside the parlor door, the bravado she had built up starting to wane. Holding her head high and pressing a hand to her heart, Katniss sucked in a shaky breath. No matter how strong the urge to storm into the room and wring the man's neck, she would steady her anger and face the man head on like an adult instead of a petulant child.

He did not hear her enter, and so she waited a moment and observed him, like a hunter did his prey. Mr. Mellark was pacing back and forth in front of the window, his hair disheveled as though he had been running his hands through it all day. Even in his state of disorder, she could not help but notice how handsome he looked. Scolding herself for her traitorous thoughts, she squared her shoulders before she addressed him.

"Mr. Mellark."

Turning to face her, he froze in place, frowning slightly as he took her in with an all-encompassing glance. She too found it impossible to move, his eyes roaming over her body just as she had hoped. What she did not plan for was the shiver that traversed up her spine at the heat she saw in his eyes. But then he shook his head before lowering into a deep bow. She dipped her head into a shallow curtsy before proceeding further into the parlor.

The room was deafeningly quiet as she seated herself on the seatee, next to the vase of lilies Primrose had picked earlier that morning. Turning to the floral arrangement, she inhaled a deep breath, hoping the sweet fragrance would help to calm her nerves and allow her to keep her wits long enough to dismiss the man in a civilized fashion. Or if need be, toss the sodding flowers, water and all, and hurl the vase at his head by way of dismissal. In the face of his continued silence and her stewing temper, the latter choice held much more appeal.

Forcing her attention back to him, she folded her hands across her lap. "I regret to inform you that my uncle has been called to town. How may I be of service to you? Do you wish to leave him a message?"

Mr. Mellark studied her for a moment, his mouth opening and then closing slowly before narrowing his eyes. "Miss Everdeen, it is not your uncle I came to call upon."

"No?" she asked coolly, regarding the brief tick of his hard jaw as he stared back at her. "Then I am at a loss as to how I can help, for I cannot fathom what other business you may have with my family—"

"Your aunt informed me that you were not feeling well. I came to see you how you were faring, but by the looks of it…" He trailed off, making a point to assess every inch of her from head to toe. "You appear as healthy and radiant as ever. You are feeling better though, I hope?"

"Much," Katniss said with a snarky laugh, although she felt color rising in her face. "But I cannot imagine why you would bother."

"Is that so?" Mr. Mellark took a deep breath as he crossed his hands behind his back and took a tentative step toward her.

Not trusting herself with him any closer, she held up a hand to halt his steps. "Mr. Mellark, I do not wish to waste your time, as I am certain you do not wish to waste mine." A part of her found a deep satisfaction as she watched as his face harden and his lips purse into a thin line. His confusion was clearly evident and she no longer felt the need to drag this out. "I know your secret."

His face faltered and his eyes widened, clearly taken off guard by her revelation. She waited for him to deny it and defend himself, to say that it was not true and that it was all an unfortunate misunderstanding. A small yet hopeful part of her was dying to hear those words, but his silence as he stared back at her in disbelief, lost for words or any explanation, was all the answer she needed. She released a disappointed breath.

"If you have nothing further to say about the matter, then I have nothing further to say to you. Good day to you, sir." Rising to her feet, she reached down to gather the skirt of her dress before turning on her heel to exit the room. However, she did not make it far before a firm hand on her arm caused her to whip back around, the fire within her causing her eyes to reflect like liquid metal.

"Miss Everdeen," he said as he loosened his grip, sliding his hand down to gently take hold of hers. "I apologize for any offence I have caused you. I had hoped that after taking the chance to open up to you and allow you to see my true character that you would come to understand the reason behind my secrecy on the matter and that…I could ask you to find a way to overlook—"

"What kind of woman do you take me for?" Katniss shouted, no longer willing to hear him out as she retracted her hand from his grasp. She was filled with bitterness and fury and fear. "How dare you! How dare you ask me to overlook such a thing! You strung me along this whole time, blinding me with your well-rehearsed charm to make me believe that what you felt for me was real. And to think I actually allowed myself to trust you! I, sir, have no intention of becoming anyone's mistress!" She turned away from him, no longer able to look at his face. She balled her hands into fists as she paced back and forth in front of him in frustration.

"My…my what?"

"You heard me," she seethed. "Just because I happen to come from a more humble upbringing than your own, I am still a gentleman's daughter and I will not be treated as an ignorant little girl from the country whose feelings and livelihood you can play with to suit your own desires. I would never—"

"Miss Everdeen, I believe you are gravely mistaken, I am—"

"You, sir, have said quite enough! You are a liar, a fraud, and a coward and I do not wish to hear any of your excuses." Although she had made it this far without a single tear falling down her cheek, her voice was ragged at the edges.

A tense silence fell between them as she stared into his intense eyes, her mouth set in a hard line as if daring him to cross her.

"You will have to forgive me," he finally said, narrowing his gaze. "I am nothing more than an ignorant Merchant's son, lacking the ability to read minds. Am I undeserving to be privy to the specifics of your anguish? Unworthy of the opportunity to defend myself from whatever accusations have been brought against me? Because by the sounds of it, I have already been tried and convicted."

Katniss's scowl faltered for but a moment, before she turned to face the window, arms crossed over her chest. The nerve of the man, attempting to use untimely humor to throw her off-guard. She had to be strong. Although he wasn't a man of many words, he still wielded the ability to charm and persuade, and if she allowed him the chance to speak, he could twist her thoughts with a few choice phrases. Shaking her head, she shot a glance to Mr. Mellark.

His lips pressed tight as he surveyed her face. "So this is your opinion of me," he all but whispered, his voice void of any emotion. It was not a question, the absence of an inflection at the end of his sentence and the finality of his tone made it clear to Katniss that he no longer wished to pursue the matter. Crossing his hands behind his back, he cleared his throat before the cool formality of his voice when she had first met him returned. "I apologize, for it is now clear to me that I have indeed wasted your time and do not wish to burden you further with my presence. I will adhere to your wishes and inconvenience you no further."

He paused as he searched her face one last time, his pleading eyes threatening to break through the protective wall she had built up around herself. A flurry of emotions washed over her before he finally took a step back and bowed.

Katniss watched as he stalked to the door, his hand hovering over the handle as he peered over his shoulder. "Good day, Miss Everdeen. I wish you all the best."

And just like that, he was gone.

Her shoulders sagged a little when he left, waiting for the feeling of relief that didn't come. A feeling of panic suddenly struck her and chest tightening, she blindly searched for something to hold on to. Not finding an anchor, she collapsed onto the floor.

She had done the right thing. No matter what she felt for him, she could not change the fact that the man was engaged. Tears threatened to spill over and she bit her lip to stop them. But if what she had done was right, then why did the pain of it feel so very, very wrong? It was only when she noticed that her hands were shaking violently that she allowed her tears to finally fall.

How long she remained on the floor, she was unsure, but the bustling sound outside the parlor pulled her from her misery, the loud and excited voices echoing down the hall. Before she could get to her feet and pull herself together, Johanna burst into the room, flinging her bonnet across the room and twirling on her heel.

"Katniss, such wonderful news! Mr. Odair has proposed! Annie is engaged!"

Author's Note: So it's been over a year and a half, but there you have it! Thank you to all my readers who have stuck by me with this story and waited patiently for me to get my writing mojo back. And thank you to those over on tumblr who sent me lovely encouraging messages, they meant so much to me. What can I say, sometimes life just gets in the way of what we love doing, am I right?! I'm not sure when the next chapter will be ready, but fingers crossed not another year and half. A few readers have asked before, but this story will have 16 chapters and an epilogue, so there's still more to come!

Special thanks to my wonderful beta and friend court81981 for tackling this monster chapter and to Loueze (who just updated Degrees of Separation, an amazing fic that everyone should be reading) and sohypothetically for pre-reading and being my extra set of eyes when mine have become useless from too much editing :)

Fun Facts from Jane Austen's Time:

- Oh the unfairness of English law when it came to women and owning property! As many know, once a woman married, all her property was legally absorbed by her husband. God forbid if they separated, the man could take everything and leave his wife destitute, no matter who initiated the separation. The only way a woman could have complete legal control over her own property and inheritance was if she never married, or if she was widowed. In this story, if Katniss's home hadn't been destroyed in the fire and her parents had just passed, I feel as though Katniss would be the type to never marry so she would never have to relinquish control of her property to her husband.

- In case anyone is wondering, "courgettes" are what the Brits call zucchini :)

Thanks for reading and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Feedback is always welcome and very much appreciated, best motivation there is!

As always, come visit me on tumblr: pookieh