As we left the house almost at a run, Valentine followed me to the Creek. I had such a sense of freedom with the summer wind blowing in my hair and Valentine running beside me. We ran down the path, through the gardens and down past the Summer House until we came to the bank of the river. The water was flowing slightly faster than yesterday, and I could almost feel the pulse of the river in time with my own heartbeat. Valentine ran down the bank first and stepped into the little boat that I had sat in just yesterday afternoon. He reached out his hand back to me and I took it in mine. He jerked his arm and I fell into his arms in the boat. He caught me gently.
“Thank you, Valentine.” I whispered. He leant down and gave me a deep kiss.
“I love you.” I whispered to him.
“I love you too.” He replied. I felt for the first time in a long time my troubles had been taken off my shoulders. He sat down in the boat and I sat beside him. He picked up the oars which I only used to use to take me to the other side of the narrow Creek and began to row.
“Where are we going?” I asked him, startled.
“I know where the mouth of this river is, it’s Ravens’ lake about a mile away.”
“Why are we going there?”
“So I can show you my estate. Ravens’ Lake is just outside my house.” I felt a wave of hope come over me. I had never left the estate without my mother before, and I had certainly never been to another man’s house. Valentine began to row quickly down the river, the boat being knocked slightly by the current.
“What if we’re seen?” I cried to him, trying to be heard over the sound of the river which was becoming more and more like rapids the further we went.
“Who will see us?” he replied.
“No, they won’t, my mother is dead and my father is probably shooting some revolutionary at this very moment.”
“But Valentine, its too dangerous.”
“Look around you, at a time like this the world is danger. We are simply trying to use that danger which lingers in the air and whispers in the wind to our advantage. Come here.” He pulled me from my position into his chest. “If you had stayed there you would have fallen out after the next bend, that’s when the real rapids start.” He said with a gleeful grin.
“What?” I cried.
“Nothing just hold me. Hold me tight, Theodosia.” I did as I was told and put my arms around his torso, feeling his muscular stomach again my corset. This had to be the closest I had ever been to a man. I felt his muscular body buck as he worked the oars to stop us from capsizing and I was surprised; I knew men had bodies like this in books, but all the portraits of men I had seen depicted them as fat and displeasing to the eye (and touch) but Valentine was different. It was as if he had been directly transplanted from one of the books I had read into reality.
The rapid grew faster and I clung to him tighter and tighter, squealing a little (much to my embarrassment) I buried my head in his chest as we cascaded down the river with our little boat. This had to be the most exhilarating thing I had ever done. My hair got wet and my curls melted away into the summer wind. My hair was whipped back and forth by the midday wind. I could not believe that in all my seventeen years I had never let my little boat go from the bank of the river into the rapids. The rapids were wild and dangerous but they were heaven. Slowly, the rapids began to calm down as the river flattened out and a huge lake swam into view.
“Is that Ravens’ Lake?” I called up to him through the water which dripped off his face.
“Yes.” He smiled. “One day soon, you will be mistress of this place.” He looked ahead of himself proudly.
“Do you truly mean that Valentine?” I questioned him, blinking up at him through my wet eyelashes.
“I do.” He made sudden and deliberate eye contact. The little boat was almost still now as we approached, he is beginning of the lake. The house ahead of me was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was the ecclesiastical niche of colonial architecture. It was a vast white and cream building that towered high into the skyline, almost kissing the summer sun. The lake made up the centre of the grounds, it seemed. Valentine rowed us to the edge of the lake and jumped out of the little boat to beginning tying it up. He reached out a hand to me to help me out of the boat (even though it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference if I had gotten out of the boat in the middle of the lake, for I was already drenched). I made eye contact with him and placed my pale hand in his rather rough one and allowed him to try and pull me up out of the boat.
“Theodosia, that gown will be too heavy for you to stand in now its full of water.” He looked down at me.
“I know.” I whispered, almost admitting that this had been a cause of concern for me from when we started in the rapids. “Can you help me take it off?” I giggled to him.
“Yes, if you want me to.” He smiled, getting back into the boat beside me. I nodded. “Turn around.” He whispered. I did.
“Is there anyone else around?” I whispered, uncertain.
“No one else, just me and you.” He smiled.
“Go on then.” I whispered. His long ivory fingers began to gently unpick the blue ribbon of my bodice. It came undone easily. Valentine opened it up and peeled it back off my skin so that the dress would come off when I stood up. He helped me gently remove my arms from the sleaves and slipped his hands under my shouldered to help me stand up. Taking off his jacket, he placed it around me.
“Go inside.” He whispered to me.