AS OLD FAMILIES WITH money go, Kelsey Blaylock's family was at the top of a very elite list. There probably wasn't a soul in Boston who hadn't heard of the Blaylock family. Her father was born to an Irish immigrant and his success was just the type of story that his fellow Irishmen in Boston found inspirational. Truly he was a good man and deserved every bit of the respect that people paid him. Kelsey Blaylock loved her father, but for a shy girl with strawberry-blonde hair and freckles, it was tough to be so well known.
For years she endured teasing about her thoroughly plain looks, but ever since she turned sixteen she had to endure a new type of attention. It was as if overnight her hair darkened enough to be fashionable, and her boney figure filled out. Her freckles faded and men started to vie for her attention.
After so many years of being a wallflower it was hard to adjust to her newfound popularity. Even though it felt good to be noticed, she still couldn't help but wonder if the men who seemed so enthralled with her were genuinely found her interesting or if they just wanted to be a part of the Blaylock legacy.
Tonight she was sitting at a very boring party for one of her father's business associates. She took a sip of champagne and glanced around the room. Everywhere she looked was a familiar face, but none of them did she count among her friends. She was too shy to enjoy these types of parties, but always attended because it was what her father wanted. Percy Whitmore, her father's assistant, had made it a point to stand near her all night.
Percy wasn't an all-together likeable fellow. He worked very hard for her father so she tried to ignore the fact that he was a little too smug for her taste. Her father didn't encourage or discourage Percy's affection for her. He completely left her love life up to her. He had married for love, and he wanted the same thing for her. Even though Percy was very attentive, she would never be interested in him romantically.
As the night dragged on, Kelsey finally decided she was ready to go home. She excused herself from Percy's side and went to find her father. He was sipping a drink with his friends when she tapped him on the shoulder. He smiled and excused himself for a moment to speak to her.
"Father, I'm ready to go. I'm going to take the carriage home, and then I'll send it back for you."
As she spoke, she noticed her father was sweating and his face was turning red.
"Are you feeling alright? You look flushed."
"You know all of the sudden I'm not feeling so well. Percy brought me this drink earlier, and I feel I may have over done it. I'll just say my goodbyes and leave with you."
He turned to leave, and then suddenly doubled over. She rushed to his side and he moaned in agony. Percy rushed to kneel down by his employer.
"Mr. Blaylock, are you alright?"
Graham clutched at his stomach. A crowd was quickly forming.
"I'm alright. Help me up Percy."
She watched her father struggle to stand with Percy's help.
"Father, are you sure you're alright? Should we call a doctor?"
"Not here, Kelsey. Let's wait until we're home."
Graham apologized to their host and they made a hasty retreat. She knew her father's episode would cause a stir among the party guests, and without a doubt her day would be very busy tomorrow explaining her father's condition to the people who would show up in droves to offer their assistance. It was a deplorable end to a wretched night.
She got her father home and into bed. Percy had accompanied them and insisted on coming over first thing in the morning to check on Graham.
The following morning her father showed no sign of improvement. The doctors had examined him, and figured it was just some sort of virus that had to run its course. Percy showed up very early as promised the night before.
Just as she predicted guests were starting to arrive to inquire about her father's condition. Percy offered to assist her father with breakfast while she entertained the well-wishers. It was mid-morning before she was finally able to excuse herself from their unwanted guests. She posted a note on the door that they wouldn't accept any more visitors, and went to check on her father.
Percy was leaving for the factory as she approached.
"Thank you for coming this morning, Percy."
He leaned in and clasped her hand. The same uneasy feeling she had every time Percy touched her rippled through her skin.
"I would never leave you in times of trouble, Kelsey. Graham is a strong man. He will be better before you know it."
Before she realized what he was doing Percy leaned in and kissed her on the check. She wanted to wipe her face where his cold, wet lips had touched her, but she just pulled back and forced a stiff smile.
"Thank you again. I better go in and check on him."
Percy smiled, and he looked entirely too triumphant for her comfort. She nodded curtly and walked into her father's room.
She was surprised by his condition when she entered his room. He was worse than the night before. She settled in to care for him, and prayed that the illness would pass soon. She also prayed that Percy's infatuation didn't become too much of a nuisance.