“Ewan, we must hurry. It is absolutely unthinkable to be late to your own wedding,” Lady Garrett called out through the closed door.
Her nephew opened it abruptly, grinning wildly at her. “I no longer care what anyone finds unthinkable,” he said, shaking his head but laughing just the same. “For all I care, the ton can wag their tongues until they fall off at their feet.”
“Yes, that well may be, but the rest of us have to endure their stares and judgment. We don’t have the luxury of marrying the love of our lives and hiding away at our estates in the north. So hurry up with you!”
“Aunt Mariam, was that your way of hinting that you should wish to find a husband?” Ewan asked, only half-teasing. “You know, now that I am to be married and living at Tarnton, there is no reason why you should continue to live a life of solitude.”
“Good heavens, what would you have me do?” Lady Garrett, astonished at his insinuation but laughing just the same. “Dab on the rouge that is so popular with some ladies these days and simper around the room at parties, hoping a man whose nearly blind from age will find me still becoming?”
“Nonsense, Aunt,” Ewan said, laughing at her dire description. “Though I know there are a good many gentlemen who have found you still quite beautiful. You should spare a passing glance or a dance at a ball for some of those men.”
“No, I thank you. Those years are behind me. Besides, I think this family has endured enough mentions in the scandal sheets to last us quite some time, don’t you think? Hmm?”
“Quite so,” Ewan agreed with a nod of acknowledgement. “But one could argue that we have graced the scandal pages so often and yet no one has succeeded in bringing us down. So you may as well do that which makes you happy.”
“When did you become so wise, Ewan?” Lady Garrett said, though she was no longer having fun at his expense. Instead, her eyes were sad but still excited for him.
“When life did not permit me a choice,” he answered sagely. “I almost lost everything I cared about—or rather, those things that I was able to care about after losing Mother and Father—and I have decided that there is no such thing as ample time in life. There is certainly no such thing as ample time to waste on feeling down.”
“Lady Myra is a very lucky young woman. I hope she knows that,” his aunt said, brushing a lock of his hair into place.
“She has mentioned something like that a few times in the past two weeks. But today, it is I who is the luckiest soul on earth. I shall marry the woman I love above all others.”
“And learning that a certain two men have confessed to their crimes and will be paying dearly? Is that merely a top crust for your happiness?” Lady Garrett teased in order to make light of it.
“Something like that, yes,” Ewan agreed. “But let us go, lest my bride thinks I am not coming!”
Inside the small church, Ewan was greatly relieved to see that Myra had not arrived yet. He greeted the vicar warmly and looked around the immense room while he waited for the ceremony to take place.
Finally, the doors at the rear of the church opened and Rowland stepped through, leading his mother by the arm. She looked tired, and somehow greatly aged. If she were anything like the rest of them, this terrible time would have taken a toll on her. After all, she had lost her husband in the process of finding justice for them all.
Behind Lady Clifton and her son, Myra’s sister Emily and her best friend Jane entered next. A man who was staring at Jane in such a dreamy manner must be her betrothed.
At last, it was Myra’s turn to enter the church. A stabbing pain struck Ewan’s heart when he saw that she came in alone, the father who should have been by her side long since taken away. The sight of his bride all alone ignited an anger in him that he vowed to put away for another day.
Nothing was to mar the happiness of this day.
“You look absolutely beautiful,” Ewan told Myra so quietly that only they could hear.
“Thank you, Your Grace,” Myra answered, smirking slightly though her eyes still held a hint of sadness. “And I must say that you cut quite a dashing figure yourself.”
“All to impress you, my dear… wife,” Ewan replied, his expression and tone gravely serious now.
“Wife,” Myra repeated, the corners of her mouth turning up slowly until a wide smile illuminated her face. “At long last, a day I truly thought would never come.”
“It was always meant to be, Myra. Never forget that. We overcame far too many obstacles, solving daring puzzles that so many others would have failed to solve. But not us. We know all about the key, the one that unlocks the doors to our own happiness.”
The ceremony was brief but moving, and the few assembled guests smiled proudly at the couple as they signed the book and joined hands. Afterward, instead of a party that none of them wanted to endure, the wedding party returned to Lady Clifton’s house and enjoyed a simple luncheon.
“Do you not care that we had no lavish events, no hordes of well-wishers?” Ewan asked Myra softly as Emily played a song she had learned on the pianoforte in their honor.
“Not at all. I would have been miserable, as would you. This…” Myra said, looking around and sighing, “this is perfect.”
“Just as we are perfect for each other,” Ewan reminded her. “And from now on, there shall be no more mention of gossip or rumors or reputations. If I have to ban all newspapers from the town of Tarnton, I will see to it that every household is as joy-filled and carefree as we are without the oppressive weight of slander hanging over us.”
Myra’s face seemed to cloud over for a moment, causing Ewan to look on her in alarm.
“What is it, my wife?” he asked, enjoying the sound of this new moniker.
“Only… I cannot explain it, but I wish my father were here,” she confessed. “I know, it makes no sense after what he’d done in hiding me away and convincing you that I loathed you. But he is my father, and I’m having a hard time reconciling the man I knew as a doting, flighty father was actually a cold-hearted man of the worst degree.”
“I understand your meaning perfectly, there is no need to explain it to me,” Ewan said, looking around the room to ensure no one was looking so that he might press a delicate kiss to Myra’s cheek. “It is not your father that you miss, though, so much as it is the notion that he should have been a good man, one who cared for you and your family.”
“Instead, he let greed drive his every decision—even when his decision was not to make one!” she agreed. “But how did you know of Mr. Brooks’ hand in your parents’ deaths?”
“I knew when I saw his eyes that I’d seen him before. But as so much time has passed and his face had been partly concealed that day, I couldn’t place him. Then he uttered those words, words that he’d spoken to me after killing my parents and believing that I would die, too. I knew then that he was the same man.’
Myra winced then laid her head on Ewan’s shoulder longingly. “That must have been horrible for you to discover. I wish I had been there for you.”
“You? The young lady who’d been tied up and left for dead by her own father? Trust me, you are forgiven for this tiny slight!” Ewan laughed, but turned serious again. “In some ways, it was you who put all of these things in motion.”
“Me?” she asked, unsure of Ewan’s words. “But I did nothing to help you.”
“That is not entirely true. You were the one to ask about my mother’s necklace,” Ewan reminded her. “Without your interest in that portrait and bringing it to my attention, I may very well have continued to let her killer go free. I owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude.”
“I shall think of wonderful ways you can pay off that debt,” Myra said, laughing playfully. “But what of Mr. Brooks? He’s been my father’s steward for so much longer than just these twenty years since your parents… deaths. What would cause a man in his position to risk his freedom on something so meaningless?”
“He was acting on your father’s orders. Or more accurately, he went in search of a way to pay off your father’s debts while also covering his own bilking of the family’s fortune. As he said to me from the barred cage in the gaol, my mother was widely known for wearing her jewels. And he had been informed that she would be alone that day. Mr. Brooks had intended only to nab her jewels and be on his way. Instead, Father and I were there, and his plans went terribly awry.”
“And you truly do not mind being married to someone who is connected to such awful people?” Myra asked, hesitating a little as she asked.
Ewan shrugged. “There are some who might, but not I. Only I know what a delightful person you are, one who’s had no hand in these terrible dealings. I love you, Myra, and there is nothing and no one in the world that can change that.”
Myra smiled up at him, then rested her head against his shoulder. It felt wonderful to finally know that she loved Ewan ahead of all others, and that he loved her above all else. That was all he needed to know in life, and all else could fall away as far as he was concerned.
“I do have one deep worry about our new life together,” Ewan began, looking terribly serious.
“What is it?” Myra asked, alarmed. “Please do not tell me it is more terrible lies and gossip? I don’t know that we can survive all that again.”
“Nothing like that,” Ewan answered, waving off that concern with a gentle brush of his hand. “I only mean to ask, what shall we do when we finally grow bored of one another?”
Myra swatted his arm playfully even as she looked at him longingly. Ewan pretended to duck out of the way, but soon laughed at her antics.
“That day can never come. I find that I love you more and more with each passing day. Whether you are showing me a new book or rescuing me from a terrifying ordeal, our lives will never be boring.”
“I shall hold you to that,” Ewan said, kissing her once again before anyone could notice. “Though I would not mind a little boredom after what we’ve endured.”
“True enough,” Myra agreed as Emily completed her piano piece and the few guests applauded loudly. “I look forward to a long, happy life with you then, one that is filled to overflowing with boredom.”
“I would love nothing more,” Ewan agreed, leaning down to kiss Myra gently while no one looked on.
Ah, before you go...
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