Chapter 26

Chapter 26
After checking the grounds to see if the guards were out, and they were, Ailesworth went up the back stairs to Esther’s room. He knocked and entered.
“Ailesworth. Please be seated.”
“Why so formal, my dear?” He sat where he’d been before.
She sat, a chair away from him and spread her skirts out. The typical feminine gesture made his heart ache. His Esther.
He waited until he had her full attention. “I apologize, Esther, for trying to trap you into marriage.”.
Her eyes grew huge. For the first time, he noticed shadows under them. What was causing his Esther to be fatigued?
“What do you mean, Ailesworth?”
“I said I’d protect you from conceiving a babe and I didn’t. I felt that I’d use any weapon to possess you. But I didn’t realize….” He ran his hand through his hair in frustration.
She wanted to sift his hair through her fingers. For such a brawny man, his hair was as soft and fine as a baby’s
“Esther.” He got up and came to kneel on one knee in front of her. “I don’t know anything about marriage, except how to avoid it.” He tried a smile. It didn’t work. “But I know that, if a marriage is to succeed, there has to be trust. And I broke that bond with my arrogant assumption that I could cozzen you into marrying me, that I was smarter than you, that I knew better.”
He was gripping her hands so they hurt. She made a small motion and he released them. “Oh, God, Esther. Look at how I’ve hurt you.”
She started to say it was all right when he took her hands to his mouth and began kissing them. So gently did he kiss the red marks that tears formed and fell down her cheeks. She was hardly aware of them, when he dropped her hands, went on two knees and whispered, “I hurt you, my love. Im so sorry.”
“No, you didn’t. I seem to be a watering pot these days.”
As he gently wiped the tears off with his hand, he suddenly remembered a breakfast years ago in the breakfast room in Rathbone Hall. His father had made one of his intemperate remarks to his step-mother. She didn’t reply-she never did-but tears began trickling down her cheeks. He’d watched in dismay. Was his step-Mama sick the way his mother had been? Was she going to die?
Step-Mama saw his expression and smiled at him. “Don’t be alarmed, Garick. It’s nothing. I’m fine,” and she wiped her cheeks with her napkin.
Eight months later, she’d had his sister, Alexandra.
“Esther, do you forgive me?”
She nodded, busy with her handkerchief.
“I need you to say it, dearling.”
“Ailesworth, I forgive you.” She looked up at him with a tremulous smile on her lips. The tears began again. Again he wiped them with his hand, ever so gently.
She got up and found a handkerchief to wipe her face. Really! This was ridiculous!
“Tell me. What are the methods one used to forestall conception?”
Ailesworth felt hopeful. “There’s withdrawal. That’s the one most men use. If they use any method at all. Then there’s a French sheath.”
She looked bewildered.
“For the penis. But it doesn’t always work. There are ways women use to avoid conception.”
She looked surprised. His darling Esther. Except when she was the Duke’s daughter, he could read her easily.
“Sponges impregnated with vinegar.”
“Oh! That sounds awful!”
Ailesworth shrugged. “It seems to work. I don’t know much about it.” He paused, looking into the fire. She forgave him, but would she welcome him again?
“Esther, do you believe you’re with child?”
She turned. “Of course not! I’m barren.”
“You’re barren?”
“Yes, all those years with Jacob. I never conceived. Not once.” The tears threatened again. She straightened her back and turned to him.
She was a Dramlee again, looking him right in the eye.
“Of course,” she continued, “after the first year or so, Jacob lost interest and took up with one of my neighbors. A fat, jolly woman who was so nice to me. I had to depress her pretentions.”
“I bet you did, sweetheart!” Ailesworth was grinning.
“But that’s not the point! I can never seem to stick to the point when I’m with you.” She frowned.
His grin grew. She was wrong, he thought. She always was with him, when he came to the point. But he knew better than say that to her. Too vulgar.
“So, you see, I’m barren. That’s why I didn’t mind becoming your mistress. I couldn’t become pregnant.”
“That’s why?” His eyebrows rose.
“No, I mean one of the reasons I was unafraid.”
He stepped closer to her and looked closely at her. She looked slightly different somehow. The smudges under her eyes were new. “Have you been sleeping enough?”
“Why, yes, more than enough. I seem to require naps,” she said in a disgruntled voice.
Ailesworth though of his step-mama. For a few months, she’d break into tears at the slightest excuse. It had worried him dreadfully until he’d heard two grooms talking of their master, the Earl, and how he was “good to go.” He’d demanded an explanation and the Countess was expecting a babe.
As he was preparing to step closer to hold her, she began crying again. “Oh, God, I can’t give you an heir, Ailesworth! “
He concealed his smile as he stepped forward to embrace her. Once he had her pressed to him, he knew. His Esther was carrying his babe.
“Esther, have you missed your courses?”
She buried her face into his shoulder. Ah, how good he felt. She sighed.
“Um, let me see. Yes, I am late! How did you know?” She pulled away and looked up at him.
His large hand rose and gently closed over her breast. “My love, my sweet love. You carry a child.”
He looked so happy, happier than she’d ever seen him.
“That explains your tears, the dark smudges under your eyes and,” here he squeezed her breast, “your beautiful breasts.”
“What! My breasts, what have they do…, oh.”
A look of wonder lit her face. She put her hand on her breast. “For the baby.”
“And me.” He grinned down at her.
“Garick, I’m going to have a baby.”
“Yes, my love.”
“But why. How could I be infertile with Jacob–“
”You weren’t infertile, he was.”
“But there was always, you know, wetness.”
“I don’t understand it. No one does. But I used to listen to an old salt when I first went to sea. One of the things I remember him telling me when I bragged–Oh, God! What a pup I was–was that men are infertile too and it is just as likely a man’s fault.”
Esther had stars in her eyes. “Garick, im going to have a baby. Your baby! Isn’t that the most wonderful thing to ever have happened?”
Ailesworth badly wanted her in bed right now, so he could show her the wonderful thing that could happen, but he knew better. “Will you forgive me, sweet? I should have–“
”Forgive you! How foolish. Of course, I forgive you.”
“Does that mean you’ll marry me?” Best to get a commitment while he was ahead. He held his breath.
Her eyes suddenly focused on him again. She looked at him as if he were a new species of animal, wondering about this new creature before her.
He didn’t know this Esther.
“Garick.” He began to exhale. “Oh, Garick, my love, of course I’ll marry you. I realize now that I never told you I thought I was barren. That’s why I would be your mistress and not your wife. You needed an heir and I–“
”For Gods sake, Esther! Will you stop talking about me as if I were my stallion!” He needed to stop her tears which had started again.
”Esther. I will be enchanted with a girl. As long as she looks like you. I don’t care about an heir. My father’s never even mentioned it.”
“Oh.” She stood there, blinking like a platypus. What ever that was.
She stood in the middle of the room, gazing at him. Slowly her eyes grew heavy-lidded. He crossed to her and reached behind her to release her hair from its pins. As his hand moved through her hair, she felt her head go back and she relaxed and sank against his body. He moved closer and the hairpins fell to the floor. He began murmuring her name and calling her his darling and his love and other foolishness.
She slid her hands beneath his robe and stroked his chest. She breathed his name as she untied his robe and slowly moved her hands up to push it off his shoulders. He released her head and let it fall.
His hands began working on her buttons but they kept returning to her breasts and hips. Thank God Esther was all woman. No skinniness here, all lush curves. And her breasts! They had been full before but now they overflowed his hands.
“Oh, Garick, they’re so big.”
“No, my love. Finally approaching a perfect size.” He gently massaged them, using his thumbs to rub her nipples through the sheer chemise.
She groaned and her nails bit into his shoulders. He untied the ribbon on the chemise and pushed it slowly down her body, his hands caressing her every inch of the way. He decided her hips had expanded too. He must buy her, no, he must urge her to buy some new gowns.
He picked her up and sat her on the bed. Then he rolled down her stockings. He took each foot in his warm hands and gently massaged it. She moaned. “Oh, Garick, that’s divine. Such a long day. A broken axle, we had and the children….”
He slid her into bed and came down beside her.
Her beast, her darling. She had forgiven him. How weak she was! And now they’d marry. He was a good man….
His hands had been caressing her body and now he levered himself over her and spread her legs wide. He looked down at her. She flexed her knees and said, “Now, Garick,” and he was in her, buried to the hilt.
She tensed at his size and weight within her and then relaxed, becoming molten gold in his hands.
He recognized her release, her melting around him. He was in her, of her. He’d never felt them so joined together before. He let his body press against hers and used his hips to stroke her, in and out. He murmured words of love, of desire, of promise–he knew not what.
He reached his climax and fell, fell, fell down, drifting amongst clouds and light and love. He fell upon her and her hands stroked his back and buttocks and legs.
“Esther. You didn’t reach your peak. You had no release.”
“Sh, that’s all right.”
He slid himself down her body, kissing her, making love to her breasts and belly, until he was at the apex of her legs. Once there, he began sucking and nibbling and biting. In seconds Esther was aflame, and a short time thereafter she convulsed. Ailesworth had become hard again and rose, crawling over her like a large prowling beast and thrust himself in her, letting himself feel her spasms and letting them give him a mild orgasm.
“Garick. That was different. I didn’t like it as much….” Her voice trailed away and she was asleep. He captured her in his arms, closed his eyes and in a few minutes, was asleep beside her.
Safer than the two babes upstairs, they slept.
Outside in the nearby woods, a man watched the house and watched the lights go out downstairs and then upstairs. He didn’t mind watching and waiting in the cold, although it was bitter tonight. He took another slug of gin from his bottle. His master paid very well, he did. But he understood his master. Every detail he wanted, every person described and how they looked and what they did. He was used to it. His master always wanted this information. He’d never failed him.
But he wished for more action. Slugging that groom had been fun. Killing that fat butcher had been better. He looked forward to more of the same and took another swallow from his bottle.

The next day, everyone was in the front hall and dressed to go out to the woods for Christmas greens, when a knock sounded on the front door. All the men stiffened as the footman pulled open the door.
It was Charles Miggs.
They all relaxed and went back to their conversations with their women folk.
Kay said, “Oh! Ailesworth. I forgot to tell you your brother came by to see you. And here he is!”
Ailesworth nodded. He had Esther on his arm.
Charles blushed slightly and nodded to the company. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but I’d just like a word with my brother, if you don’t mind, my lady.” He bowed to Kay.
“Come with us, Charles,” and Ailesworth took his arm and the three of them left the hall. “This is Mrs. Beryll. She has agreed to marry me.”
Charles turned and smiled at the two of them. “I give you felicitations, Mrs. Beryll. I wish you happy, Ailesworth.” Esther decided that Charles was nearly as handsome as Ailesworth.
“Thank you. What’s this about?”
They were walking slowly towards the woods. Others had begun to leave the house.
“I came to apologize, Ailesworth. For that stupid trick. The ship, I mean. God, how dumb I was! Acting like a stripling. A child’s prank!”
“So you meant to dirty the ship with– “
”No! I meant to blow it up. But Mac, I mean, my friend, delivered gunpowder made with soot instead of charcoal. Of course, it didn’t work.” He shook his head and mumbled, “Fool,” to himself.
“This Mac sounds like a good friend.”
“Yes, he is. But I should tell you that your office manager gave me your direction here. You should dismiss–“
”He told me.”
“The day you asked, he told me.”
They continued strolling, guests beginning to walk past them.
“That’s all I came to say, Ailesworth. If you can forgive me, all will be fair and square and I can be on my way to Yorkshire.”
“Yes. Say you forgive me.”
“I do, you clunch,” and Ailesworth socked him in the shoulder and nearly set him tumbling. “But it’s too late to go North. It’s going to snow again.”
The three lifted their heads to the sky as the first big flakes began to drift down. “Kay, Lady Dunphy, would be pleased to have you, nay, delighted.” Esther smiled up at him. So handsome, he was.
“I couldn’t do that.”
“No, but I can.”
The children had joined them, laughing and jumping around. “Ailesworth, you stay here and I’ll take Mr. Miggs to Kay.” She grasped Migg’s arm and started towards the house. On the way, she met Lord Glenfanning with two beautiful, wide-eyed children.
She nodded and smiled at him and when they reached the house, Kay was coming out, talking volubly to her housekeeper.
“Here’s another guest for you. Mr. Miggs is Ailesworth’s brother and we don’t want him leaving for Yorkshire in the snow.”
“Of course! How delightful! Mr. Miggs, join the others and I’ll send a groom for your bags. Come along,” and Kay put her arm in his and started for the woods.
Esther turned to the housekeeper and said, “A room for–“
”My lady. I know. I’ll take care of all of it.”
Esther rejoined them and put her arm through Charles’ other one.
“My ladies! I feel–“
”Full of Christmas cheer. That’s what you were going to say, wasn’t it, Mr. Miggs?” And Kay laughed. “Oh, to have a full house of friends to celebrate Christmas!”
“I’m not really–“
Esther pinched him. “Be quiet. Enjoy yourself.”
He looked at her and his worry disappeared and he smiled. It was as thought the sun came out. “Yes! Yes. I shall enjoy myself. I’ll write my parents and tell them I’ll be along after Christmas. I have presents for my sisters.”
“Your sisters? Tell me about them.”
Kay had left them to divide her guests into groups to search for greens. Ailesworth was with the children who danced around him, Eric following. Alma was with Lord Glenfanning whose children were engrossed in watching everything. They appeared shy.
Charles was talking of Mary and Alexandra, and Esther listened, enjoying the day. The flakes of snow were getting smaller and were sticking to the ground. The children were going around with their tongues out, catching flakes and letting them melt.
Soon the sky was full of white. The children were twirling and running and the snow made it hard to keep track of them. Ailesworth couldn’t see Jim. “Jim! Where are you?”
Jim came running up. “Here I am, my lord.”
“I couldn’t see you.”
Lord Glenfanning’s children had joined the others. All were spinning around. Catherine cried out, “I have snow flakes on my eyes.”
“Me, too,” said Clarissa, turning slowly.
“No, you don’t. Here, tilt your head back like this.” Clarissa did and began giggling. “Eric, I’ve got snow fakes on my face!”
Eric didn’t hear her. He was spinning around as fast as he could and falling down.
Tired of snowflakes, Jim started to run. He shouted, “Let’s get some greens,” although he didn’t know what evergreens to pick. John and Ailesworth left their ladies and hurried after him.
In the woods watching, the man fingered his pistol. His master was a fool. He needed a rifle, not a pistol. With a rifle he could hit his target and escape.
He put the pistol in his pocket. Maybe he could snatch him and kill him. He began to move, keeping Jim in his sights as the children began running. How many were there? Six now. That sturdy one of Dunphy’s looked as thought he’d enjoy a mill. But too small to matter. Besides, most children were easy to frighten and did nothing but run away.
He’d try it.
Maria and Lord Harmon were strolling behind all the others. They were walking hand in hand and talking, laying plans for their future. Harmon had decided he’d propose again on Christmas Eve and give Maria his ring. Then they’d announce it and he’d send off a letter to Mr. Castle, to put the announcement in the paper. The Duke, his father, was pleased with his fourth son for affiancing himself to money. Harmon didn’t care. He’d marry his Maria if she hadn’t a penny.
When he’d visited Mr. Castle the second time, he’d told him that he’d like to be involved in some way, in the business perhaps, once he and Maria were married. Mr. Castle had looked at him doubtfully. “Mutton, my lord?”
“Well, I don’t want to be a shepherd or a butcher.” Castle had laughed. “But there must be some way a man like me can be of help. I’m not a member of Parliament but– “
”Aye! There we be. What d’ye think yr father, the Duke, would think of ye running for Parliament?”
“What! I don’t know, I never– “
”Aye. If I put up the blunt, y’see. Merchants like me ha’ no one to represent ‘em. All you’d have to do is listen to us talk now and again.
“Well, you think on it,” he added. “ There’s plenty of time for that.”
Since then he’d been unable to forget it. To be a member of Parliament! To be doing something instead of passing his days waiting, waiting for something to happen.
Now he had his Maria and he had a future, a busy future, a helpful one.
So the two of them talked and walked. He’d of course told Maria of her father’s conversation. They talked of it often.
She spent each day in a state of excitement and happiness. To think her husband–she never said that word aloud–might be a member of Parliament. It dazzled her so, she seldom could get any further in her thinking. So she’d found herself in the happiest of existence–living completely in the present. She’d let her mother take care of the wedding.
The couple often found an alcove or a corner of a hallway where they could be private and kiss. Maria became aware of her sweetheart’s body, all hard muscle, so different from hers. And there was a part of him that stiffened and became hard when they’d been kissing.
She would become confused and look so adorably alarmed that Harmon would release her, yet still held her loosely in his arms.
“Don’t be upset, my love. You know what it is that you feel, don’t you?”
She nodded and blushed some more.
He drew her gently back next to his body. “It shows you have much I want you. That’s a good thing in a marriage, love, that the husband desires his wife.”
She nodded, a firm nod.
Good. She understood.
“Most marriages are arranged and the couple hardly know each other. We are very lucky that we fell in love.”
She nodded more vigorously.
He thought he’d try another step. “And wives, if they love their husbands, can be desirous, too.”
She nodded again.
A feeling of relief poured through him. He’d been so careful not to press her into thinking of carnal things too early. She’d seemed responsive to him, but it was a relief to know she desired him, too. There was time later for more lessons. She suddenly turned her head up and gave him a quick kiss under his chin. Then she pressed her head against his chest and giggled.
De Sable walked with everyone. He kept an eye on Jim. The idea of someone trying to do away with a child made him angry. This child was the rightful heir to a title and lands. He shouldn’t be deprived of his rights. Versland must be a cur.
He found himself next to Miggs who seemed, now that he saw him in a more comfortable setting, a jolly sort. They got to talking of horses.
Charles also had his eye on Jim. When the children, all six, began to run, Charles said, “Let’s go,” and took off behind them. De Sable began trotting.
Ailesworth saw the children start to run and tensed to follow. Then he saw Charles take off like a hare and de Sable following at an easy pace.
“Esther, I must go.”
“Yes.” She released his hand and he strode off, following all.
The man watching saw all the children begin running. He ran too. Despite his bulk, he ran lightly. He was soon upon them. They’d stopped because the girl was pointing to a tree. He was moving to snatch Jim when a man appeared and joined the children. He didn’t appear winded in the least. He was shortly joined by another.
The man withdrew himself slowly, trying to get out of any possible sighting. Jim suddenly stiffened. He started gazing into the trees, slowly moving in a circle.
The man remained absolutely still.
Drum, who’d arrived after de Sable, noticed Jim’s fear. “Do you see anything, Jim?”
He shook his head. “But there was someone there, somewhere in the trees.”
Drum turned to the other two men. “See if you can find anyone.” Ailesworth arrived. “I’ll join you,” and he gave them both instructions.
Ailesworth was angry that Jim had gone ahead of him. “Didn’t you realize you might be in danger?”
“My lord, I forgot. We were talking and then we were running and–“
A shout drew Ailesworth’s attention. He left the children in the care of the Castles and Harmon and took off through the woods.
He found Charles standing by some trampled leaves and snow. “De Sable is following the path he made. Now that you’re here, I’ll follow them,” and he took off.
Lord Harmon and Dunphy drew the party away from the spot where Jim had felt chilled. “There’s no mistletoe here. We’ll go back out to the field and try the home lot. Very old oak tree there. Sure to be mistletoe. And we can cut some greens on the way there. Leave ‘em for the gardeners to bring.”
John concealed it well, but he was very angry. To think of some bad ’un lurking about frightening his guests infuriated him.
The men found where a horse had been tied. Drum ran back, and, with one of the grooms, saddled his horse and galloped off to follow as far as they could. It didn’t take long before the tracks met a road where there were many other tracks. The snow was coming down heavily now and made tracking impossible. The two men returned to the stables.
Because of the snow, Lord Dunphy made short work of cutting greens. Jim had found the mistletoe and climbed the tree like a monkey. The ladies were anxious but he returned with two pieces of vine tucked above his ears. He jumped lightly to the ground and presented them to Lady Dunphy. All were pleased: the children in admiration of Jim’s agility and braveness and the rest in relief that he was safely down.
They began to return to the house. Jim and Catherine plopped down in the snow to make snow angels. Eric followed in glee. Clarissa stood watching Catherine who said, “And that’s the way you do it. Try it now.”
Clarissa slowly lay in the snow and began moving her arms and legs. Then she started rolling in the snow. Soon she was completely white and shrieking in glee.
Although it was a little girls’ game, Jim thought he’d show them how to do it. Esther let go of Ailesworth’s hand and found fresh snow to plop onto. She made a snow angel while grinning like an idiot. Catherine fell beside her and said, “See, Mrs. Beryll, we’re angel friends.” Clarissa, covered in snow, fell down beside her and said, “Angel frien’s.”
Kay finally give in and plopped down. “John, John, it’s such fun!”
“No, Kay, I must maintain some dignity.”
Alma and the Glenfannings found them. The children seemed thunderstruck and stood watching. Lord Glenfanning gave them a little push. “Go, join them.”
“But, Papa, Miss Welstone said a lady should–“
”You’re not a lady, Lauren. You’re a girl. Try it.”
She was reluctantly approaching a clear spot of snow when Alma said, “Here, Lauren, I’ll show you,” and lay down in the snow to make an angel.
Lauren, after checking again with her father, lay down beside her. At the feel of the soft bed beneath her and the snow falling heavily on her, she giggled and made her angel. She jumped up and moved away to look at it.
“Papa, look, it’s me.”
Glenfanning tore his eyes away from Alma’s ankles and said it was a fine angel.
She giggled and found another spot and made an angel much more vigorously than before.
Glenfanning helped Alma up and helped brush snow off her. That was an enjoyable treat. She grinned up at him. She’d caught him brushing snow off her bottom. She said, “My lord,” in what she hoped was a sufficiently repressive tone of voice. Unfortunately, she giggled and ruined it.
Glenfanning wanted a kiss, but knew better. But he did think they might be able to talk privately if someone could watch his children. “Mrs. Beryll, could you watch Lauren? Mrs Nelson and I–“
”Of course. Lady Dunphy and I will watch the girls. I’ll tell Ailesworth to keep an eye on your son.” She smiled at him and then flinched as a snow ball hit her in the back. She turned and glared at Jim and then, when he started looking guilty, she threw a snowball she had hidden in her hand at him. She grabbed a fistful of snow as she went to find Ailesworth.
Lord Glenfanning looked at his children and saw they were busy with their friends, new and old. They’d been rather clinging since his wife’s death. A little horseplay would be good for them. He turned to Alma and they began walking. “Tell me your story.”
Alma began. She told him of the happy years at home with her father, mother and sister, Amelia, how her parents had died and left them with only the house, how she sold it and tried to find employment and failed and her interview with Josiah Greene.
“I was trying to get a position as a charwoman. I had no idea why his chief clerk brought me into his presence. After all, he was the senior partner.” Glenfanning tamped his anger down. ”Josiah, Mr. Greene then, listened to me.” Alma sighed. “He was very sympathetic. I’m sure he saw my desperation.”
She fell silent.
“He called for a substantial tea. I was very hungry and tried not to make a pig of myself. He waited until I was through and then coolly presented his proposition: that I become his mistress and he’d care for me and send my sister to Miss Dunstaffle’s Academy for Girls.
“I was in shock. I think I became dizzy. I know he rose from his desk and pressed my head down to my knees. Then he helped me up and, gently holding my arm, talked to me a long time.
“Luckily he was a handsome man so he never repelled me. He told me his wife didn’t care for the marital bed since she had given birth to three children, two sons and a daughter. He admitted he’d had mistresses but was alone at the present.
“Well,” and she shook herself, ignoring the blush in her cheeks, “I went home and Amelia asked me if I’d had any luck. As soon as I looked at her, I knew I had no choice. She was thin, as was I. We had been living on the sale of the house, but I’d needed to be so frugal, we were both in danger of becoming ill.
“So I told her I’d gotten a well-paying job as a companion. It paid enough to send her to the Academy. Of course, she had no idea of money or expenses, so she was in alt. We began laying plans at once.”
Alma turned to him and gave him a watery smile. His arm had come around her and now he pulled her into his arms and hugged her tightly. “That bastard!”
“No, no, you don’t understand. He didn’t need to pay for Amelia’s schooling. It was a godsend. He invested my money–that was left from the house–for me and was kind to me.”
Glenfanning released her. “Tell me more.”
“I was with him five years. I’d saved my old, simple clothes and I wore them when I went out, so I never met any censure. I told people I was companion to a secretive old lady. They believed me.
“Amelia finished school and married the brother of one of her friends, a vicar in a small village. Something happened to me after that, something inside me let go and I fell ill. I was very ill,” here his arm tightened again, “and seemed not to care if I recovered or not. Josiah dismissed the doctor who only bled me and made discouraging noises and brought a healing woman in to care for me. She was wonderful, so kind. She got me to drink healthy broths and potions and talked to me. I told her all.”
They heard the voices of the house party growing louder. Glenfanning dropped his arm and they walked a little faster.
“She cured me. I owe her my life. Of course, Josiah didn’t want me any more.” Here Glenfanning twitched, but kept control of himself. “Mrs. Beryll was widowed about then and one day, while I was out walking to regain my strength, we met. I had met her before and liked her but couldn’t pursue the relationship. We had liked each other immediately. We met, by arrangement, a few more times and agreed to go to London and make a home for ourselves.
“And we did.”
The children were upon them, Lauren wishing to tell her Papa of all the snow balls she’d thrown. She was skipping and laughing with Catherine and Clarissa. Glenfanning listened and patted his daughter’s snowy cap. He turned to Alma and said in a low voice, as the girls shouted, “Please marry me.”
Alma looked at him, aghast. She’d been sure her story would drive him away. Instead….
His eyes were filled with love and desire. “Oh, yes,” she gasped.
He gripped her hand. “We’ll announce it over cocoa and hot biscuits.” His eyes were dancing. He knew she had expected him to deny himself. As if he would! Deny himself the kindest, most gracious woman, who happened to have a beautiful face and a luscious body!
He grinned at her and she smiled back, a bit weakly. He turned to Lauren and asked her if she’d won the snow ball battle.
Alma walked on a cloud.


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