Not a long segment, but I'm not far enough into the next scene to finish it tonight, and I'm posting, see? I'm being accountable.
"I'm serious," he said as she guided him into the cottage. "Alys. I am taking Melly Arceneaux back to New York with me."
She stopped and stared at him. "Melly wants to go to New York?"
"She doesn't know yet."
Alys threw herself on the loveseat. Her morning had been spent in contemplation of the Stillwater Ball and the way she'd held Malcolm at arm's length for most of the night. Rising within her was regret for her flippancy, and the fear that this time she might have driven him too far away. Ian's declaration was too much of a jolt to her reverie to process in full, so she grasped at the first objection that presented itself.
"Ian, people aren't toys. You can't just take Melly up like that. For one thing, she's not that kind of a girl. You can't just love her and leave her."
Ian made room for himself next to her and leaned in earnestly. "This is different, Alys. I love Melly."
"Love is a big word for you, son."
"This is real. It's right. I need her. She makes me a better person."
"I haven't seen any evidence of that."
"How can anyone help being better around her? I... I don't want this to be a casual thing. I want to help her, to make her life better. I want to take her somewhere where she's loved for her own sake and not because she does all the useful work around the place. She's not appreciated here, Alys. You know that."
Alys was silent for a moment, twisting her hair around her finger. "Okay, I'll admit that you've changed a little. I've never heard you be so serious about a relationship before. I'm impressed that you care whether she's appreciated or not."
"You see? She's already a good influence on me."
Alys turned over the idea of Ian and Melly, examining it from all sides, warming to the prospect. "This really could be exactly what you need, Ian. I've said for a long time that you need to settle down and get serious about something -- stop floating from one project to another. You need to put down roots."
"Melly will put down roots for me."
"You know, I don't think you've ever liked anyone who is so... good."
"She can't help but have a good effect on me! I have to be a better person with her. Bad people drag you down to their level and good people bring you up to theirs. It's the power of positive example."
"She is a sweet girl," Alys said. "I've always thought that it's a waste of her talent to be stuck here forever at Stillwater, always taking orders from Esther and being eternally dependent. I've never seen anyone who can sew so beautifully."
Ian paced in his excitement. "I can give her opportunities she'd never have here. I can get her established and make contacts. There's nothing for her here. They want to take advantage of her. I want to take care of her."
"You're going to have to keep Uncle Carson away from her," Alys warned. "She'll think our family has no morals."
"But Melly's exactly the sort of person to show him what morals look like! He always wants an argument, but she won't give him one. She'll just be sweet and gentle and he can't hold out against that forever. I think they'll end up being the best of friends in the end."
Despite her private conviction that Carson Winter could hold out against all sorts of sweetness, Alys could excuse this lover's hyperbole.
"Well," she said, "I don't see any harm in it, but you'll have to be careful not to overwhelm her. She's not used to having anyone pay attention to her. Take it slow."
"Believe me, I'm going to make this as easy and natural for her as possible. I don't want to screw this up."
His concern for the success of his venture was genuine, but it was focused on tactics, not on the more fundamental issue of suitability. Melly's acquiescence to the charms of a smitten Ian was taken for granted by both Winter siblings. Ian, who assumed that Melly's heart was ripe for the picking and free for the taking, was immersed in delicious strategies and scenarios in which only the details, never the outcome, were in pleasant flux.
By his own lights, he was as genuinely in love as his past modes of dealing with women would allow. These entrenched attitudes, reinforced by his cultural and social circles and his uncle's own (unpublished) contempt for the weaker sex, gave him the illusion that he had a lock on Melly's personality, that the only variable in the calculus of relationship was sexual. Usually he'd already determined that angle by now, but she was strangely, almost coyly, reticient in this regard, which granted him scope for imagination. Perhaps she would be shy and hesitant, unsure of her own worth, and he would have to lift her chin and brush the hair from her face and give her tender proofs of his love. Maybe she would resist her own feelings and need to be gently mastered. Maybe, underneath her veil of modesty, the heat of violent passions seethed. He might awaken a raging sexpot and find his desire met and matched... An array of scenelets, in which all parties figured as single-characteristic reductions, composed themselves. Melly the Ice Queen. Melly as Cinderella and Ian as her white knight. Melly as country girl being introduced, wide-eyed to the glamour of the city. Melly as good girl gently guiding bad boy Ian on the path to spiritual enlightenment. Like all fantasies, these pretty scriptings bore little actual relation to any choice a real complex woman might make given these circumstances, but then he was in love with Melly the ideal and had only the faintest glimmerings of how Melly the person would respond to Ian the person.
Alys, less involved and more practical, could well imagine that Melly would not be quite as easy a nut to crack as Ian's optimism might have it, but she too was writing and rewriting stories in which the connection between Ian and Melly served to bring Malcolm more permanently into her orbit.
"And when does Operation Melly Happiness commence?" she asked.
"All in good time," was the mysterious reply. "I'm just waiting for the right piece to fall into place."
It factored into neither of their fantasies that Melly, shy unexperienced lonely Melly, might simply refuse to play along.