It was springtime in Cambridgeshire, and love was in the air. There was to be a double wedding in the lovely Church of St. George’s, near the Ayles family seat of Perlington Hall. That was the birthplace of one bride, and the newly-adopted home of the other.
The only worry was whether Viscount Perlington would arrive home in time. He had been called by Parliament to testify at what was already being called “the Trial of the Century.” For more than six years, a noble admiral and war hero had been imprisoned, an angry public’s scapegoat for the massive financial losses suffered in the Great Stock Fraud of 1814.
It appeared now that the Admiral might well have been innocent. It was said the real culprit had been found: one Harry Donovan, an Irish journalist who had misused the resources of a venerable newspaper to transmit false news to London. Harry had almost single-handedly swept up the profits from the fraud, wiping out the fortunes of many a family.
The mob was now baying for Harry’s blood.
It was up to Viscount Perlington and a few other nobles whose trust he had elicited to give the financial and personal information that would convict Harry Donovan. Viscount Perlington was in a particularly vulnerable situation. Inevitably, it would come out in trial that the Viscount had been trapped into wedding Harry Donovan’s right-hand accomplice—and indeed, that the Viscount had nearly lost his only daughter to the scoundrel. The press would not be kind.
All the Viscount wanted was to see this trial ended, and himself back home at The Church of St. George’s, leading his daughter and his soon-to-be daughter-in-law up the aisle, one on each arm.
Matthew worried about his Athena, his Evelina. He knew she loved him—he would never doubt that for a moment. But sometimes her beautiful dark eyes would look off into the distance, and he knew she was remembering something. Or maybe someone.
He did not ask. He was overjoyed to win her, just as she was at this moment. If she ever wanted to share anything...but, no, he would not ask. He would try to follow the good advice of Coachman MacAvoy: she was fragile now, and she just needed protection.
One day, as they walked the Perlington gardens holding hands, with the freedom allowed to an affianced couple, she turned to him.
“Matthew, do you perchance know what happened to the horse?”
“The horse?” he asked, playing for time. Because, of course, he knew the horse she was referring to.
“The horse I rode into Glasgow. I know the ostler said it wasn’t worth much—but it was such a good horse—“
Seeing Evelina close to tears, he put his long, strong arm around her. “Oh, that horse. Well, I thought the Scots might cheat us on the price, since they were talking the horse down. So I brought him back with us, and I sent him home to Hardingham Manor, alongside my own mount, Demon. The Scottish horse is eating twice his ration of oats a day, and thriving.”
“Last I heard, they were getting on famously, sharing a stable. Despite their history of border wars. So when you are Countess, my love, you may ride him whenever you wish!”
He looked over at Evelina. She had crumpled, and she was sobbing her eyes out.
“My love, my love! Did I say the wrong thing? All I want is for your happiness…”
“This horse, does he have a name? You’re his mistress, we did not want the grooms just calling him this or that….”
“MacLachlan. That’s the horse’s name,” Evelina said through her sobs.
“MacLachlan it shall be then,” said Matthew. “A fine name.” But he remembered the tattered tartan in her baggage that she took to her rooms and cuddled whenever stressed. Let it be. As the coachman said, she has been through hell. Perhaps someday, if she loves me enough, she will tell me.
MacAvoy seemed to know the details. But his lips were sealed. And he assured me it was nothing that should bother a husband at all.
Meanwhile, I will love her. And I will marry her.
And so it happened. It was a lovely Saturday in May when Evelina awoke and looked out the window of her girlhood home. “Sally, I’m marrying my Percy today!”
“Indeed ye are, Miss,” said the new Mrs. Trent. “Ah, ‘tis a delight bein’ married to a fine man. Ye’re goin’ tae love it, Miss.”
“I’m sure I will,” giggled Evelina, recalling some recent evening walks with Matthew that had almost gotten out of hand, so ardent had her betrothed become. She had indeed loved it, every single kiss and caress.
Around the same time that morning, Abigail was awakened by her sister, Diana, who was jumping on top of her. “Abbie, Abbie, you must wake up! Mrs. Rowley has your bath drawn, and your dress is all ready to put on!”
Diana had come a long way in five months. With constant reassurance from Mrs. Rowley, and the unstinting love of a new big sister, Evelina, and with gentle, brotherly teasing from Jonathan and Matthew, Diana was blossoming, showing the exuberance appropriate to a healthy young adolescent.
This morning, that exuberance was on full display. For Diana was to serve as bridesmaid to the two brides, and she was to wear a lovely new gown herself and scatter rose petals from a ribboned basket.
It was an intimate wedding, despite the fact that the brides were both Viscounts’ daughters, one groom a Viscount’s son, and the other, an Earl in his own right. Immediate family were present, although not the Duchess of Aspreydale, who was still abroad with the Duke’s lady sister. Neighbors, close friends, and the tenants and staff of both Hardingham Manor and Perlington Hall were out in force to wish the two young couples well. The staff of Hardingham Manor, in particular, were anxious to see their new Countess.
The church had been decorated with spring flowers by the Vicar’s daughter—who had planned a solo aria for when the congregation would later pause in silent prayer. One hoped she had chosen a song within her vocal range.
The two grooms were waiting at the altar on either side of the Vicar. They would serve as each other’s best man. Mrs. Trent and Mrs. Rowley stood in the back of the church, out of view, fussing over the two young ladies’ gowns and veils.
Then Evelina and Abigail, as inseparable as ever they had been years before at The Farris Seminary, each took one of Viscount Perlington’s arms and walked down the aisle together to their new life.
Ollie Brand was a guest at the wedding. And although he had brought small gifts from his family to the young couples, his main gift was delivered to Viscount Perlington.
“They convicted him, My Lord. Twenty-five years to life. Restitution to you and other families of a large part of what he took from you by fraud. And the Admiral has been set free—you’re something of a hero in London right now, My Lord, for your courage in speaking up.”
“And Lady Henrietta?” the Viscount asked cautiously.
“Cannot be found, My Lord. She appears to have fled the country entirely, without resources and relying on her own wits. Donovan abandoned her, you know, when she was no longer of use to him. Should she ever return, she stands to be convicted herself.”
“I hope I never see her again,” said Viscount Perlington.
And he never did.
Ah, before you go...
Please don't forget to follow me on Bookbub to get all my latest news and updates ♥