“I can’t help feeling anxious,” Delilah said as she checked her appearance in the looking glass. “After all, it’s our first time leaving Ruth on her own.”
“But she isn’t on her own,” Victor reminded Delilah. “Ginger is here with her.”
“Her nurse. Not her mother. And we only hired Ginger very recently.”
“Mollie is here too,” Victor said, resting his hands on Delilah’s shoulders. “She would never let our daughter come to harm.”
“I suppose not,” Delilah agreed reluctantly.
“Not to mention the rest of the staff,” Victor said. “Ruth is perfectly safe for the evening.”
Delilah sighed. “I know you’re right,” she agreed. “It’s just difficult to be away from her.”
“I understand,” Victor said. “But you want to attend your sister’s wedding, don’t you?”
“You know I do,” Delilah said.
“Then we really do need to go,” Victor said. “It wouldn’t do to be late. You know your mother won’t thank us for that.”
Delilah laughed. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she turned us away at the door for it,” she said.
“Oh, I doubt she’d do that,” Victor said. “The more people show up to celebrate tonight, the better it reflects on your family.”
“That is something Mother has always been very interested in,” Delilah agreed.
“Are you ready to go?” Victor asked.
Delilah took one last look at her daughter, currently asleep in her cradle. Ruth was four months old and was a bright and healthy child, and Delilah knew logically that there was nothing to fear in leaving her on her own.
If only it wasn’t so difficult to do.
But Melissa would only get married once, and Delilah wasn’t about to miss that. “All right,” she said. “I’m ready.”
The carriage was waiting for them in front of the estate. They rode to Westmont Manor hand in hand, eager to see what lay ahead that evening. Delilah had never been to Westmont Manor before, and she looked forward to seeing the place that would be her sister’s new home.
The journey was short, and before Delilah knew it she was being handed out of the carriage in front of Westmont Manor. The building was smaller than her own home, but no less well designed, and Delilah felt sure that Melissa would have a very happy life here.
Victor took her arm. “Are you ready to go in?”
She smiled up at him. “I am.”
He escorted her up the path and through the open front doors. “It seems just yesterday that we were celebrating our own wedding ball,” he remarked.
“It does,” she agreed. “And yet, it’s been over a year since the day we were married.”
“I don’t know how I went so long without you in my life.”
“I’m just glad we found each other,” she said. “And I’m glad we were able to convince my parents that we belonged together.”
“I’m even grateful for the machinations of Lord Barmsfield!” Victor said.
“That horrible man?” Delilah was aghast. “How can you be grateful for the things he did? I know he’s your father—”
“It’s not because he’s my father,” Victor said. “And you know I consider him to be no father of mine at all. I’m only grateful for him because without his intervention you and I likely wouldn’t have found our way to each other at all. Your father would never have seen the light about my true nature and my feelings for you had his friend not proven to be such a dastardly person.”
“Perhaps,” Delilah said. “But then again, had Lord Barmsfield not interfered in our lives, Father might never have formed a negative opinion about you in the first place.”
“You may be right,” Victor allowed.
“Personally,” Delilah said, “I’m just glad he was convicted of his crimes when he went to trial, and that he is now behind bars. And Thomas, our old footman, as well, of course. I sleep much easier knowing that the two of them do not walk free.”
“And anything that gives you comfort is of course of the utmost importance to me,” Victor said.
“Enough talk of that man,” Delilah said. “We are here to celebrate, not to dredge up unpleasant memories! And look—there’s Melissa now.”
Delilah’s eldest sister looked resplendent, as she always did. Her face was alight with happiness, and she clung to the arm of her new husband. Lord Westmont looked equally delighted with his good fortune.
Delilah and Victor joined the receiving line. Though it was long, it moved forward quickly, and in moments they were standing before Melissa and Lord Westmont.
Smiling, Victor bowed. “Lady Westmont,” he said, and Delilah remembered how happy it had made her when he had referred to her as Lady Wringcaster for the first time. Melissa must be feeling that same joy right now.
“Good evening,” Melissa said, her face the very picture of happiness.
“You look lovely,” Delilah said. “And Lord Westmont! Welcome to the family!”
“It will be a remarkable privilege to have you as a sister, Lady Wringcaster,” Lord Westmont said with a smile. “I knew from the moment we met that you and I were destined to be in each other’s lives, though I could never have foreseen the nature of my good fortune.”
“I wish you many happy years together,” Delilah said.
She and Victor made their way into the ballroom.
Delilah’s parents were already there, of course, and they had brought her younger siblings along with them. Candace was dressed in finer clothing than Delilah had ever seen her wear before. “Oh no,” she said.
“What is it?” Victor asked.
Delilah indicated Candace. “I’m sure my mother means to begin looking for a husband for her tonight.”
“She’s only sixteen years old!”
“I know that,” Delilah said. “And nowhere near ready for marriage. But that won’t stop Mother from trying to make an arrangement for her. We can only hope that Candace will have the wherewithal to resist, I suppose.”
Victor looked thoughtful. “Perhaps there is something I can do,” he said.
“What do you mean? What can you hope to do about it?”
“I know plenty of eligible gentlemen,” he said. “Perhaps I can point your mother in the direction of someone kind who will make Candace feel appreciated.”
“Would you?” Delilah asked gratefully.
“Of course,” he said. “Candace is my sister, after all. I want to see her happy. Anything I can do in the service of that goal, I’ll gladly do.”
“You’re wonderful.” Delilah embraced him. “I’m so lucky to have found you.”
“Good evening,” a voice interrupted.
Delilah turned. Gabriel Seton was behind them. “Good evening, Mr. Seton,” Delilah said.
“Hello, Gabriel,” Victor said. “Catherina couldn’t be with you this evening?”
“No, the physician instructed her to remain in bed until the baby arrives,” Gabriel said. “Her health is a bit fragile, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Delilah said. “Will she be all right?”
“I’m told there’s no reason for worry,” Gabriel said. “It’s just an extra precaution to ensure that no harm comes to her or the baby.”
“And when is the baby expected?” Victor asked.
“In a month’s time,” Gabriel said. “We’re both growing very excited about it, as I’m sure you can imagine.”
“I can indeed, having been there myself,” Victor agreed.
“How is Ruth, by the way?” Gabriel asked.
“She’s very well, thank you,” Victor said. “Tonight is the first time we’ve had to leave her in the sole care of the household staff, and that’s a little difficult, particularly for Delilah. But it was very important to both of us to be here.”
“Certainly,” Gabriel said. “And I’m glad to have had the opportunity to see you both.”
“You and I really need to arrange a time to meet, when it’s convenient,” Victor said. “It’s been some time since we made any significant investments in our orphanages, and I’ve thought of several things we might improve since Ruth has been born. Being a parent myself has made it easier for me to see what a child without parents might be lacking. And Delilah has thought of some interesting ideas as well.”
“I can’t wait to hear them,” Gabriel said. “Send a messenger to my home with a date and time for a meeting, and we’ll make sure to get together.”
“I look forward to it,” Victor said.
“As do I,” Gabriel agreed.
“We ought to mingle,” Victor said. “Do enjoy the party, Gabriel.”
“We’ll speak more later,” Gabriel said.
“Will I be permitted to attend this meeting?” Delilah asked as she and Victor moved away.
Victor glanced at her. “Do you want to attend it? I fear it might be a bit dull.”
“I would like to know what goes into the planning of an orphanage,” Delilah said. “I’ve heard so much about your philanthropy and your generous spirit. It would be a privilege to witness that firsthand. And I would enjoy getting involved in some way as well. Perhaps I might volunteer my time to read to the orphans, or even to take them on outings.”
“That’s very generous of you,” Victor said.
“It’s nothing at all,” Delilah protested. “You’re the one whose generosity has made you a legend among the peerage.”
“A legend?” Victor shook his head. “Infamous, perhaps. I’m derided for it.”
“Well, I adore you for it,” Delilah said. “It’s a part of your life that I long to involve myself in, if I am welcome.”
“You’re welcome in every part of my life,” Victor assured her. “You always have been, and you always will be. If you want to be involved with the orphanages, I would be more than happy to find a place for you. And you may of course attend my meeting with Gabriel.”
Delilah beamed. It was more than she had ever dared to dream possible. Her parents would have scoffed at the very idea of her attending an important meeting of this nature. Until she had met Victor, she wouldn’t have believed that her opinion could possibly matter to anyone.
But he had shown her differently. From the moment they’d met, Delilah had seen that there was someone who cared about what she thought, someone who valued her opinions as highly as his own.
He would never have married me if he didn’t think I wanted to marry him.
Even a year later, it still felt miraculous to Delilah that her life had been so entirely shaped by her own dreams and desires, and that no one else’s will weighed more heavily than her own. Not even her husband’s.
It was a rare thing, she thought, to feel as if one had such control over one’s own destiny. It made her very lucky indeed.
As the music began to play, Victor took her in his arms. “I love dancing with you,” he told her. “Every time I have the opportunity for a dance, it feels like reason for celebration.”
“There is much to celebrate already,” Delilah pointed out. “Our daughter is healthy and beautiful. My sister is married. And we are now planning to work together to improve your orphanages.”
“All good things,” Victor agreed. “And yet, even amidst all of that, my greatest happiness is the simple fact that I am able to hold you in my arms. What does that say?”
“That you’re a man of simple pleasures,” she teased him.
“That you’re the greatest pleasure a man could ever hope to know,” he countered.
She smiled contentedly, and the two of them continued in their dance.
Ah, before you go...
Please don't forget to follow me on Bookbub to get all my latest news and updates ♥