Match Up a Tree

Spending the night up a tree leads you to discover a balance you wouldn’t think possible. It’s something innate, a skill for survival that keeps aloft. Up there with the invisible insects and winged nocturnal hunters you’re safe from the rest of the world even as your legs burn and the scratches you received sting with the cool breeze. The issue you don’t expect is, as time passes, how much harder it will become to get down.

I climbed up there because no one would expect a woman of my breeding to be up a tree. But you know what? Screw breeding, screw my pedigree, and most of all, screw him. I would not – could not – do what my father asked. That man was easily twenty-five years my senior and, from what I’d seen and heard, he was a scoundrel. 

“What in the world is a girl doing up a tree this far onto my land?”

I jumped, the sound of his voice startling me. I managed to keep my seat, but only barely. Looking down, I found a man dressed in only cotton trousers. He was of average height, with strong shoulders and a smattering of chest hair. His nose was crooked, his dark hair messy, and a light sheen of sweat covered his bronzed skin. Heat rushed to my cheeks. Even in my distraction, I have to admit I took a modicum of pride in the fact that I didn’t tumble to my death in front of this stranger. He was beautiful, but not in a conventional way. Not in the way my upbringing would agree with. He had power, a strength I could taste the air, and an aura that was more animalistic.

“Oh come now woman, this isn’t the 18th century. I am covered enough.”

As if taking that as a cue, he swung me up in his arms. I wiggled, shocked by his decision. I attempted to get him to set me down, but he refused stating that he would not until a doctor checked me out. 

He chuckled, “Is that right? Then why are you so flushed, young one?”

“Because you startled me,” I said. I brushed my hair over my shoulder and glared at him. “And excuse me, but I am nineteen next month. Why are you out here anyway?”

“This is my land. I was out for a run. Also, and I’m sorry to tell you this, but nineteen is young.”

An amused smile crossed his lips at the scowl I shot him. I wanted to scream. Instead, I pulled an apple from a nearby branch and threw it at him. 

He laughed outright, catching it in his hand. 

“I did not mean to offend you, Miss, only figure out why you are so distraught. And as such, up my tree.” 

I studied him carefully. He was not old, maybe twenty-five. He did not look like others at court. Maybe he was new to the area? I was not sure, but I sensed there was something more going on here. 

I shifted and winced. My back was tight, a spasm shooting down into my hip and thigh. I took a mental note; when choosing trees to climb in the future, select ones with a space comfortable enough for sitting. 

He saw my grimace and said, “I mean you no harm. That said, you cannot stay up there. It is to be cold tonight and there are wolves which roam here.”

My body began to shake. Wolves? “I, I cannot go back. What they request is too much. I will not do it.”

His eyebrow arched in question. He crossed his arms over his chest, his muscles flexing and waited for me to explain.

“They wish me to marry Sir Theodore Wrightcliff the Second.”

The man grunted and shook his head. “That man is twice your age and a swindler of the highest caliber. Come down here lady and I will help you. Both by hiding you and then by stopping this lunacy. You may stay with me until we get this is sorted.”

Stay with him? In his house? I did not know this man any better than my betrothed. He chuckled. 

“Do not worry,” he said, at my hesitation. “My mother and sister will be there as well. They can tend you. You will not be left alone with a man you do not know.”

A weight disappeared from my chest. For some reason, I believed him. Maybe it was the honesty that leaked from his pores. We watched each other until a howl filled the air. I startled, tilting violently. Again, I caught myself, but he’d stepped forward as if he were going to catch me. 

“Be careful, Miss.”


“Miss Lanette,” he smiled. “Let’s get you down from this tree before you fall and somewhere safe.”

With a grimace, I admitted, “I am not sure I can get down. I have been up here a long while and my legs and back are quite cramped.”

Chuckling, he said, “I have no doubt.” 

He stepped to the tree and began to climb. What had been quite difficult for me, seemed as easy as walking for him. Granted, I wore a gown, but still. Not fair.

Reaching the branch next to me, he scanned my position. He sat gracefully, dangling one leg and propping his other on a nearby branch. 

“That looks extremely uncomfortable,” he said. When I just glared he smiled. “Here give me your hand.”

I did so, his warmth instantly seeping into my skin.

“Here is what we are to do. You will spin and place your back against the trunk here, alright?” I nodded. “Then, you will straighten your legs and brace one here on my thigh and the other on the branch here.” He pointed to the branch he sat on. “This will give you time to stretch your legs out. Then, when you are ready, I will lower you to the ground. It is not far.”

“I feel as though I should be embarrassed about my current situation,” I admitted, unable to look at him.

“Why? Any woman who can thwart her parents by running up a tree is one to behold. It says a lot about you.”

I snorted. “That I am an imbecile?”

“Hardly.” he chuckled again, and I had to catch my breath at the sound. “It says you are strong, smart, and willing to make hard sacrifices. I hope that my sister would do the same should we demand a match that is unfit for her. In truth, cannot wait for her to meet you, Miss Lanette.”

“Thank you for the compliment, but I think you overestimate me.”

His eyes crinkled, shining in the moonlight. “Ready?”

Nodding, I spun slowly, my hand locked to his. Once my back was against the trunk, I flopped back onto my butt and squeaked as I tilted backward. He wrapped an arm around my waist, stopping a dangerous descent. 

“Thank you,” I said, through heavy breaths. 

He led one of my feet to the branch next to him, the other he placed on his strong thigh. I groaned as my legs protested the change in position. Both grateful to be out of that spot and a little embarrassed at how badly it hurt, I leaned my head back to stare at the sky.

“At least it was a full moon tonight,” I said.

“It did make it a little easier to spot you.” At the alarm in my expression, he said, “Do not worry, I think you are right. Few would think to look so far, let alone to look up a tree.”

I giggled. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

He patted the foot which rested on his thigh. “As do most ridiculous decisions.”

I smacked his chest, then froze as we both realized what I’d done.

“I am sorry sir,” I said, embarrassed.

“Nothing to be sorry for, but I suspect I should tell you my name. Especially if we are so familiar as to have you abusing me.”

“Abusing? Hardly.” I smiled wickedly. “And I do believe I like that you are, for now, just my rescuer. I hope we can both agree to keep my improper actions to ourselves.”

He bowed his head. “I think acceptable. Now, Miss Lanette, let’s get you out of this tree. I will have to touch you.” I nodded. 

He slid sideways then moved one of his feet to another branch to brace himself. He reached out and gripped my waist with his large, warm hands. He pulled me closer and my fingers pressed to his chest for balance. I froze as his eyes met mine, a heat within them I’d never before seen in anyone. I bit my lip.

“I am sorry.”

“It is alright. I would rather you not fall. Place your hands on my shoulders for now.”

I did so. I glanced away unable to meet his eyes. He lifted my chin forcing me to meet his eyes.

“Miss Lanette, this is not a time to be shy. It is the time to lower you to safety. You must trust me, I will not allow you to get hurt.” He began to lower me, my grip biting into his strong shoulders and then his arms as I slid lower. “When you are about a foot away from the ground, I will let go. Land with your knees bent, roll if you must. Can you do that?”


His grin spread beautifully. “Then let’s get you out of this tree.”

I slid down his front until his arms extended. I dangled unceremoniously until he said it was time to jump. I let go and landed just as he’d instructed. I wanted to call out in triumph, but I did not. A moment later, he jumped, rolling. 

As he stood, he examined me from head to toe. He pressed a hand intimately to my cheek and asked, “Are you alright?” 

“Yes, thank you.”

“Can you walk?”

“I believe so. I am sore, but I will be alright. Just please forgive me for a slow pace.”

As if taking that as a cue, he swung me up in his arms. I wiggled, shocked by his decision. I attempted to get him to set me down, but he refused, stating that he would not until a doctor checked me out. 

“You are being ridiculous, an oaf.” I called him more names, but that did not deter him. Still, he carried me as if I weighed nothing.

It only took a few minutes to reach his house. A large cottage I’d seen only in passing. From what I knew, the family had been here for generations. They were of noble blood but rarely mingled in society. Too often they spent time at their other home in a nearby province.

“Serene,” he called out, once we were close.

A young girl of maybe fourteen appeared at the door. She stepped out, her eyes going wide before she turned and called for their mother. She held the door open as my rescuer carried me inside.

“Brother, what happened? Miss, are you alright?” Serene asked.

“I am fine,” I assured her.

“She is not fine. We should call for the doctor to come check after her. She has spent this night up a tree and it is quite cold out.”

“Up a tree?” A woman, obviously my rescuer’s mother, asked as she entered. Bowing she said, “Good evening, Miss.” 

My rescuer smiled as he sat me down upon the couch in the library. 

“Yes, up a tree. Possibly not the best decision I have made recently,” I said. “I got stuck and your brother had to help me down.” 

He grabbed a small blanket and wrapped it around me. I pulled it tighter and shot him a challenging glare.

Serene giggled as a servant entered and handed him a shirt. 

As he pulled it over his head, he said, “Do not laugh sister. Miss Lanette has had a hard night. Not only does she requires protection, but she is sore and had to deal with my boorishness.”

“You have been nothing but kind, a gentleman.”

“You? I do not believe it,” Serene said. He pulled his sister to him and kissed her head. 

“Hush sister. We have more pressing matters. An improper match which she requires protection from and we will provide it.”

At the questioning stares, they explained what happened, about the proposed attachment, the run through the woods, and even the trip back down the tree. The two women listened intently and when the story was complete they turned to him with amused smiles.

“Well you have made quite the impression, Son, but you seem to have left out some important information the dear Miss Lanette requires,” his mother said. She paused for emphasis, her arms crossed over her chest. “Have you not, Theodore?”

I sat straighter. Theodore’s embarrassed grin did nothing to hide the flush which spread across his cheeks. I thought back to the evening with my father, the meeting with what must have been the elder Theodore, and the calls which rang out as I ran from the house. I paled.

“I am confused,” I admitted.

Ducking his head, Theodore said, “You were not to marry the man you met. You see, he is already married with children.” He straightened and his eyes met mine. “The match offered was with his son, Theodore Wrightcliff the Third. Me.”

“But you called him a scoundrel.”

“As is his right as a firstborn son,” a man’s voice she recognized from earlier said from the doorway. Theodore’s mother and sister laughed. The smile on the elder Theodore’s face was genuine and filled with pride as he gazed at his son. “Theo likes to jab at me, as I do him.”

Theo stood to welcome his father. 

“Well done, Theo,” his father said. “I am glad you found her safe.”

“Safe and well hidden,” Theo smirked at her. Her lips pressed together in irritation and his father laughed at the exchange.

Just then, another man entered. He looked haggard, his jacket was askew and dark shadows lined his eyes. Her father’s eyebrows were pinched in worry. I swallowed hard. 

“Daughter,” he said, sitting next to her on the couch. “Are you alright?”

I nodded. “Yes, Father. I am sorry to have scared you. I was…”

He held his hand up. “No need to explain. I am sorry, I should have spoken to you about it prior to their visit. Not sprung it on you so. I would, however, like to know why you ended up a tree.”

I sighed, leaning back against the couch. “I shall never live this down.”

Theo approached, inclining his head to her father. His expression was a mixture of amusement and hope as he met her stare. He held his hand out. My fingers slid gently into his and then his warm lips were there, brushing her knuckles.

“Perhaps,” Theo said, a mischievous glint in his eye. “Should you accept the match, I will build you a treehouse. A place where you can hide, but is far easier to get down from.”

Laughing, I shook my head at him. I had to admit he was quite charming. Handsome, too. I stood, then gazed into his eyes meeting that dark humor head-on.

“I don’t know. It seems as though, with your help, I was able to descend quite easily,” I said, eyes bright. “Why would I need a treehouse? And besides, what makes you think I am so easily won.”

Theo laughed out loud at that. 

“Oh, Miss Lanette, I do not think that at all. I do however believe my initial assertion was correct.”

“Which was?”

“Strong, smart, and willing to make hard sacrifices. But, I think I shall add one more.” Taking far too many liberties considering her father stood just there, he brushed a hair behind her ear. “You are beautiful a well. Well worth any challenge you provide. I think you shall be a great role model for my Serene.”

The others chuckled knowing, in that instant, that this match was a good one. I could feel it too. It was a coupling found and tested in a moment of uncertainty. One that felt honest and clear, earned with trust and patience. I may have run into those woods afraid of an uncertain suitor, but I am happy to say that I am no longer worried. Theo would not push but instead would provide me the time to decide my own fate. Somehow though, I already knew that in the end he would be my choice and it was all because I was stuck up a tree.  

Published on OBW Blog February 12, 2021 © Tracey Canole 

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