“Grandfather is here,” Grace cooed, lifting her six-month-old daughter out of her cradle.
Elizabeth smiled. Though she wasn’t speaking yet, Grace was sure she had begun to recognize certain words, and Grandfather was one of them. Elizabeth always seemed happy when she was told that her grandfather would be spending time with her.
It was easy to see why. The two of them had quickly become close. Though the whole family adored baby Elizabeth, Grace could see that her father had formed a special bond with her. He visited Kirklow Manor twice a month, each time bringing gifts for his granddaughter, and he spent as much time as possible playing with her.
Today, though, he hadn’t come just to see Elizabeth.
He was waiting in the foyer. Grace hurried down the stairs as quickly as she could with a baby on her hip and embraced him. “Father! We’re so glad you could be here.”
“I would never have missed Lady Margaret’s wedding,” her father assured her. “How is the bride-to-be?”
“She’s a bit nervous,” Grace said. “But very excited, I think.”
“And Lord Swindell?”
“He and his parents have been with us for the past week,” Grace said. “They’re lovely people. It will be a delight to have them in the family. But I’m particularly glad that you’re here a day early, Father. It will be wonderful to have our whole family together for a meal before the wedding.”
“Ah, Your Grace!” The Marchioness swept into the foyer. “You’ve arrived. Wonderful.”
Grace’s father bowed. “I hope I can be of help to you, madam,” he said. “You must be very busy, preparing your daughter for her wedding day.”
She laughed. “It seems you and I were just working together to create a perfect wedding party—and now we have another one to think about. And when I think of the fact that I have three more children after this—well, it’s enough to make a lady feel a bit overwhelmed.”
“You probably won’t have to plan a wedding for Tom, Mother,” Blaise said, emerging from the ballroom in time to hear the end of their conversation. “I don’t think he intends to marry. Certainly not any time soon. He seems quite happy in the Navy, to judge by his letters.”
He approached Grace’s father, who held out his hand. “Welcome,” he said. “Always a pleasure to see you again, Your Grace.”
“The pleasure is entirely mine,” Grace’s father said, accepting his handshake. “I very much look forward to seeing your sister married.”
Elizabeth let out a frustrated cry, demanding the attention that had so far been denied her, and reached out her arms. Everyone laughed, and Grace’s father took her into his arms.
“Good day to you, Lady Elizabeth,” he said formally. “I hope you’ve been keeping well. Why don’t you and I go into the sitting room, and we can see whether there is anything in my pockets for you?”
He strode away, Elizabeth in his arms.
Grace turned to her mother-in-law. “How is Margaret?” she asked. “Is she still trying on her gown?”
“Yes, and she’s a bit anxious,” the Marchioness said. “I’ve tried to reassure her that there is nothing to worry about, but you understand, I’m sure, how stressful the day before a lady’s wedding can be.”
In fact, Grace wasn’t sure she could relate to that feeling. When she and Blaise had married, it had felt like a sigh of relief. Everything that had come before their wedding day had been so upsetting and terrifying that by the time the day itself had come, Grace hadn’t had a bit of nervousness left to spare.
But she knew how uncommon her own experience was. It would be different for Margaret, and thank God for that.
“I’ll go see if I can be of help to her,” she said. “Blaise, will you sit with my father and Elizabeth for a while?”
“Of course,” Blaise said.
Grace smiled. Though they could have sent the nurse in to watch over Elizabeth, she and Blaise both preferred to spend as much time as possible in their daughter’s company. It was something she especially liked about her husband—how devoted he was to Elizabeth. It reminded her very much of the way her father had been with her when she was growing up, and she thought it was ideal for a daughter to have such a close relationship with her father.
She went upstairs. When she turned onto the hallway where Margaret’s room was, she heard the sound of voices bickering.
She frowned. That didn’t sound very much like Margaret. What could be the problem?
The door to Margaret’s room stood ajar, so Grace didn’t bother to knock before letting herself in. Margaret stood before the looking glass, dressed in her gown, with her hair pinned up off her neck. She looked absolutely radiant, if a bit pale with nerves.
“This isn’t right at all,” Cleo groused.
Grace turned to see that Cleo had also elected to try on her gown for tomorrow. She looked very good as well, but she was running her hands over the skirt, her face pinched with dissatisfaction.
“My sister is getting married tomorrow,” she complained to the seamstress who was pinning her skirt. “I need to look perfect for the occasion.”
“I think you look lovely, Cleo,” Margaret said.
Cleo’s tone softened. “You look lovely,” she said. “I don’t know what you’re so nervous about, Margaret, truly. I’ve never seen a lovelier bride.”
Then she seemed to notice that Grace was in the room. “Nothing against you, of course, Grace. You were equally lovely on your wedding day.”
“Thank you, Cleo,” Grace said, permitting herself a small smile. “And I agree with you—Margaret’s gown is beautiful and favors her well. But I also agree with Margaret that you look stunning.”
Cleo looked fretful. “The hem is too short,” she said. “It doesn’t look as if it was made for me. It looks like I’m wearing a gown intended for someone else!”
“It’s a minor problem,” Grace said. “There will be plenty of time to lengthen the hem before tomorrow.”
After a year and a half of marriage to Blaise, she had found herself growing very fond of Cleo. Though she was still emotional and prone to thoughtlessness, it was clear to Grace at times like this that what she really wanted was just to look her best for her sister’s wedding. Grace couldn’t fault her for that.
She went to Margaret, who was turning and trying to examine herself from behind in the looking glass. “Do you really think it looks good?” she asked Grace.
“I think it looks beautiful,” Grace assured her. “Lord Swindell will love it. I couldn’t possibly think of a single improvement to be made to it.”
“Are you sure?”
“If I saw something, I would tell you,” Grace said. “You can put your faith in me, Margaret. I wouldn’t let you get married looking anything other than your absolute best.”
Margaret smiled. “I know,” she said. “Thank you, Grace.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Grace said. It was so wonderful to have a sister, someone to go through these rituals with.
Margaret sighed. “I’ve got to stop worrying about tomorrow,” she said. “I have to get out of my own thoughts. I love Lord Swindell. I know that everything will be just fine.”
“Change out of that gown,” Grace suggested. “My father is here. I know he would like to see you. Let’s go down to the sitting room, and you can have tea with him and play with Elizabeth.”
Margaret smiled gratefully. “That sounds just perfect,” she said.
She changed quickly out of her wedding gown with the help of her lady’s maid. Once she was back in her everyday gown, she and Grace left the room.
“Tell the Duke good day for me,” Cleo called after them.
They reached the sitting room, and Grace took a seat beside her father while Margaret knelt on the floor beside Blaise to play with Elizabeth. “How are things at Leosted Manor?” she asked. “Is there anything new?”
“No,” her father said. “The new butler is still working out very nicely. He was a good hire.”
“As good a butler as Carlton was?” Grace asked.
“Better even than Carlton,” her father said. “I feel foolish, now, for allowing Carlton to remain in my service for as long as I did. I should have realized sooner that the service he provided me was nothing extraordinary, and that it would be easily matched.”
“Change can be difficult,” Grace said. “Especially when you have had too much of it in your life already.”
He nodded. “That’s very wise of you,” he said. “I suppose I clung to Carlton because he was familiar to me.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear you’re doing well without him,” Grace said. “I do worry about you, you know.”
“There’s no need to worry,” her father said, smiling at her. “I get along just fine.”
Blaise got to his feet and came to her side. “Will you walk with me?” he asked.
Grace nodded. “Will you excuse me, Father?” she asked.
“Of course,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll have a chance to speak more over dinner.”
She rose and followed Blaise out of the sitting room and into the ballroom. It was lavishly decorated in preparation for tomorrow’s festivities, with candles and flowers everywhere and chairs positioned by the walls so that the dancers might take breaks between dances.
“It does look magnificent, doesn’t it?” Blaise asked.
She nodded. “Was our wedding so beautiful?”
He looked at her. “I couldn’t say,” he admitted. “I hardly remember a moment of our wedding, to be perfectly honest with you. Or rather, I remember the moments, but I don’t remember the details. The only thing I really remember is you.”
She nodded, thinking back on it. “I feel the same way,” she said. “I remember what it was like to be in your arms. I remember the way I would catch glimpses of you, even when I was dancing with somebody else, and feel proud and excited at the knowledge that I was yours.”
He nodded. “I remember the same things,” he said. “But I couldn’t tell you what music was played, or what the flower arrangements looked like. I can’t even recall what we had for dinner that night. I was so carried away with the joy of being married to you that everything else faded into the background.”
“It will be interesting to observe this wedding,” Grace said, smiling. “I assume ours was much the same, really. Your mother had such a heavy hand in planning both of them.”
Blaise took her into his arms and began to move slowly, dancing to a melody only he could hear. “I wanted to bring you in here today,” he said. “Before all the excitement of the wedding tomorrow. Before this room fills up with people we don’t know. I wanted to take a moment to be together, just the two of us.”
“We’ve had fewer of those since Elizabeth came along,” Grace said.
He nodded. “Not that I regret her. She’s the most precious thing in my world. But nothing will ever replace a quiet moment with you.”
He turned her slowly, then drew her close, his arms holding her tightly. He kissed her forehead, then tipped her chin up to his so that he could kiss her lips.
“I’m so glad you’re my wife,” he said quietly. “I’m so glad that you’re the mother of my daughter. There is no one I would rather have built my family with than you, Grace. I love you so much. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us.”
“Whatever it is,” Grace said, “we know one thing for certain.”
“What’s that?” Blaise asked her.
“We know that whatever comes, you and I will face it together,” Grace said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Ah, before you go...
Please don't forget to follow me on Bookbub to get all my latest news and updates ♥