Liam tried not to be nervous on his wedding day, garbed in newly tailored clothes and coat. Freddie waited with him at the chapel’s altar, also dressed in his finest. He sent Liam a quick wink, although his expression remained neutral. Glancing out at the small crowd in the pews, he met the eyes of Lord Bradford, who inclined his head briefly. Liam returned the gesture.
Within a few moments, the rear doors of the church opened, and Thea walked sedately down the aisle, dressed in an elaborate white gown, a diamond tiara on her head holding her long veil in place. Two young girls, distant cousins of the Willowdales, carried her train. Liam’s mother, Mary, dressed in a fine gown of white and gold, strolled ahead of the gleaming bride.
Thea reached Liam’s side, her broad smile clear even through the veil. She did not appear nervous at all as she stood beside Liam, facing the priest. Intoning the wedding prayers, the priest asked them for their vows.
“Do you take this woman to be your lawful wife, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, till death do you part?”
“I do,” Liam replied, a faint trembling in his voice, though he hoped no one noticed.
“Do you take this man to be your lawful husband, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, till death do you part?”
“I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride.”
Grinning, Liam lifted the veil from Thea’s face, revealing the happy bloom in her cheeks and her beautiful countenance. Though it seemed strange to him to kiss her in public, he did, tasting her lips and gazing into her lovely eyes. Then the applause rang out, the church erupting as Liam and his wife turned to the small crowd.
“I love you,” he whispered to her, briefly leaning his head in close.
“Good,” she replied, her lips turned upward. “Because I love you, too.”
Arm in arm, Liam and Thea strolled back up the church aisle, waving at their well wishers, at the people who had come to watch their wedding. Outside the chapel, the sun shone brightly down on their special day, although the early winter breeze spoke of the cold to follow. Joined by Freddie, they stood by as guests streamed out past them until Lord Bradford and his Lady paused to speak with them.
Liam and Freddie bowed as Thea curtseyed. “A beautiful wedding,” Lady Bradford said, wiping her eyes with a lace handkerchief. “You make such a lovely couple.”
“Thank you, My Lady,” Thea murmured, holding Liam’s hand.
“I have some news, Lord Carter,” Lord Bradford said, his teeth gleaming. “And a wedding gift, as it were.”
“Well, thank you, My Lord,” Liam replied, confused.
“I have spent much time with the Prince Regent,” Lord Bradford continued, the strange smile still playing around his mouth. “Of course, due to his crimes, the Baron of Ampleforth has lost all lands and titles, which have now reverted to the crown.”
“That is to be expected, My Lord,” Freddie replied, exchanging a puzzled glance with Liam.
“You, Lord Carter, now have the title, but no lands. Because of your exemplary efforts in saving the life of Lord Willowdale and his sister, His Royal Highness, The Prince Regent, has decreed the former Ampleforth lands and wealth to you.”
Stunned, Liam stared at Lord Bradford. “What? I mean –”
“Of course, given Ampleforth’s crimes,” Lord Bradford continued, “the name Ampleforth will be scrubbed. Your title will now be the Baron of Pinehurst. Congratulations, Lord Pinehurst.”
“I – I do not know what to say,” Liam stammered.
“How about thank you?” Thea said, nudging him, her own beaming smile wide.
“Yes, of course,” Liam said, still unable to get it through his head. He was now a landed lord. Lord Pinehurst. “Thank you, My Lord.”
“You earned it,” Lord Bradford replied. “Everything will be completed in a few weeks and you can take up residence there whenever you are ready. Now, did I hear there was a wedding feast planned?”
“Of course, My Lord, My Lady,” Freddie said, leading the way toward the dining hall. “Shall we?”
On feet he scarcely felt, Liam followed after them, Thea at his side. “I cannot believe it,” he said. “I am a lord now. With land and wealth.”
“Believe it,” Thea said, squeezing his hand. “Freddie told me he would not permit me to marry you. But if you be had a title, he would.”
Liam glanced down at her. “But he agreed we could marry before that.”
“True,” she admitted. “He finally found a grey area in his strict black and white outlook. I just think it means you were meant to have a title all along.”
“I am not so sure about that.”
“Well, you have one now. And a home of our own, and one not too far from here. Our children and Freddie’s can grow up together, just as we all did.”
“Is it not amazing how that all came about?” Liam asked, as they strolled down the hallway. “Us as children coming together as adults, and then our children beginning the same cycle again?”
Thea stopped walking, forcing Liam to also halt, gazing at her curiously. “I believe it was all meant to be, Liam,” she said, her voice earnest. “Our love, how we were close then, drifted apart, and came together. I love you so much, my Liam.”
Liam grinned, and kissed the tip of her nose. “Good.”
Two Years Later
Thea Carter, Baroness of Pinehurst, sat on the wide shaded porch of her husband’s estates, watching her year-old son sit on a blanket and gaze around himself in wonder. The summer had grown hotter than normal and the porch afforded a fairly cool place to sit with a breeze that quickly dried her perspiration. Horsemen appeared on the lane that led to her former home, Willowdale.
“Is that Liam returning?” she asked her companion.
Mary Carter, her mother in law, stood up and strolled to the end of the porch. “Yes, but who is with him?”
In the two years since Baron Liam Carter, previously a footman, had been raised to the titles and lands of the former Ampleforth estates, he quickly learned how to manage his small realm. Under the guidance of his brother in law, the Viscount of Willowdale, he ran his estates and tenants with a sure and fair hand. However, mastering how to ride a horse came with more difficulty.
Thea chuckled as Liam bounced awkwardly in the saddle, clear to her even from this distance. “He definitely needs more practice riding, does he not?”
“I cannot help but worry he will fall off and break his neck,” Mary said.
She turned back to Thea. “How is the little one?”
Thea glanced down at her slightly swollen belly. “Strong. I think I am having another boy.”
Mary walked over and picked up her grandson, named Joseph in honor of Thea’s father. Formerly the head housekeeper in the Willowdale household, she had no formal role in her son’s home. Yet, she helped run the Pinehurst household, and assisted Thea with her son. Joseph giggled and waved his chubby arms as his grandmother cooed at him.
“That is Freddie with Liam,” Thea suddenly exclaimed, gazing as the two horsemen drew closer. “I did not expect him today.”
“Maybe he is giving Liam a riding lesson,” Mary commented dryly, pulling Joseph’s fingers from her mouth.
Grooms trotted from the nearby stable to hold bridles as Liam slid, wincing, down from his saddle. Thea heard her brother make a comment about Liam sitting up straighter and riding more even as he, too, dismounted. The grooms took the horses away as Liam and Freddie ambled toward the porch.
Mary curtseyed awkwardly with Joseph in her arms as they climbed the steps.
“What brings you here, Freddie?” Thea asked, standing.
Freddie grinned, eyeing her up and down. “Why, little sister, you grow more and more every time I see you.”
Liam tickled his son’s nose with his finger, his pride in Joseph clear in his brilliant green eyes. Joseph screamed in delight, bouncing up and down in Mary’s arms.
“That happens from time to time,” she replied tartly. “Is everything well at Willowdale? How is Lucille?”
Her brother’s grin widened. “That is why I came. She is with child.”
Thea’s eyes widened and she bustled over to embrace her brother. “Freddie! I am so happy for you.”
“I am rather happy myself,” he said, laughing. “We found out for certain yesterday.”
“That is so exciting,” Thea exclaimed. “She may have your son not long after the birth of your second nephew.”
“Are you sure it is a boy?” Liam asked. “I am actually hoping for a daughter.”
“Well, I just think we are having another son, Liam,” she said.
Freddie’s grin faded. “I also have other news, Thea. Robert perished in gaol.”
Thea stared away from him, out over the hills and the fluffy white specks that were the grazing sheep. She had always despised Robert, Baron of Ampleforth, and he had spent weeks trying to kill Freddie so he could marry her and inherit the Willowdale estates and wealth. Deep in her heart, she knew he deserved such, but now that it had happened, she did not know what exactly she should feel.
“I am sorry, Freddie,” she said at last.
“I am too,” he said, standing beside her. “He was my friend once. I suppose I am glad he is no longer suffering.”
He deserved his suffering.
Though she thought that, Thea did not speak it aloud. Instead, she turned a bright smile on Freddie. “We need to celebrate. Come, stay for supper. Then tomorrow, Liam and I can take a carriage back with you and celebrate again with Lucille.”
“I like that idea.”
Mary carried Joseph into the house to keep him occupied while Thea and Liam escorted Freddie into the drawing room. “With the windows open,” she said, “I hope it is not too hot in there.”
Footmen bowed low as they passed, and Thea discreetly held Liam’s hand as they strolled across the tiled floor. Liam gazed down at her, his countenance filled with love. “I am so blessed to have you, Thea,” he whispered. “I love you so much.”
Thea squeezed his hand. “That is good,” she said, ignoring Freddie’s lifted brow and amused grin. “Because I love you, too.”
Ah, before you go...
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