I know, I know, for some of you it’s already Monday or very nearly. Sorry! I have been buried under a huge pile of receipts and invoices today making sure I do all my accounting for 2013. It’s been crazy and I completely forgot until about two minutes ago.
Anyway, today’s sample is from Her Secondhand Groom.
To set the background, Patrick and Juliet met on a muddy road when his carriage got stuck and she was out taking her younger siblings for an educational walk. Patrick has three young girls who were acting decidedly unladylike the first time they met Juliet, and yet, she watched them for the afternoon. After hearing what a wonderful time they had with Juliet (who Patrick is somewhat confused about the identity of the two sister, but that’s for you to discover on your own), Patrick decides SHE is the answer to all of his problems and makes arrangements to marry her in lieu of calling in her father’s loan.
And now it is time for Patrick to enlighten his girls of the new arrangement and his splendid idea!
Patrick waited for her to ride off before turning back to Helena and Kate. “Can I interest either of you in a secret?”
“A secret?” Helena shrieked. “Always.”
He chuckled. “I thought you might be interested. How about you, Kate?”
Kate just stared at him with her big hazel eyes in a way that would have made him feel bad if not for the good news he was concealing. She was still disappointed she’d had to leave the Hughes’ home yesterday without a promise of return, but he also knew he had just the words to make her look at him as if he were the bravest hero in the world.
Locating the nearest mounting box, Patrick sat down and pulled Kate and Helena down to his lap. Settling one on each of his knees, he grinned at one, then the other. “All right, since only Helena’s interested in my secret, I’m only going to tell her.” He winked at Kate before turning to whisper his news in Helena’s ear.
Helena’s response caught him off guard as she bounced off his lap and started jumping around, while shrieking something he couldn’t understand.
Turning back to Kate who just blinked at her older sister, he said, “Are you the slightest bit curious now?”
She turned her eyes back to his and looked at him with an expression only a five year-old could make. “I suppose,” she said in the most insincere disinterested tone he’d ever heard.
“Hmm. That’s not quite the response I was hoping for. I expected more of a reaction from you. Perhaps I ought to just keep my secret to myself.”
Crossing her arms, she blinked up at him.
“I need a wee bit more excitement, Kate,” he teased even though it was obvious she was trying her hardest not to crack even the smallest hint of a smile. “You must really be angry with me.”
She nodded and glanced at her squealing sister.
He gave the most exaggerated sigh he could muster. “Well, I’m torn. On one hand, I could just keep my secret to myself until you’re no longer angry with me; or I could try to charm my way back into your good graces by letting it slip. Helena,” he called out, grabbing the attention of his other daughter. “What do you think I should do?”
Helena glanced at her younger sister. “Keep the secret.”
Patrick shook his head. “And here I thought I was raising loving little girls,” he muttered. He ran his fingers through his hair. “Well, since I cannot teach sisterly love, perhaps one Miss Juliet Hughes, soon-to-be Lady Drakely, can.”
Kate and Helena blinked at him, both silent.
Right. Yet again he was speaking with words beyond their understanding. “I’m marrying Miss Juliet Hughes on Saturday.”
Immediately, the squealing, shrieking, screaming, and giggling commenced again, this time Kate joining in the celebration. Patrick spotted Celia on the old brown nag she was riding. He’d tell her his news when they were alone. Being the oldest, at nearly ten, she was the only one who actually remembered her mother, which meant she would probably be the only one not happy about the new arrangement. He swallowed. If only things had been different.
“Papa,” Helena called, bringing him to present.
“Will she like us?”
Patrick blinked at his little girls. Not five seconds ago they were jumping up and down with excitement, and now Helena looked like she was about to swoon. “Of course she’ll like you,” he assured her uneasily. At least he hoped she would. He shook his head. She’d like them. She had her own brood of younger siblings whom she seemed to like, poor manners and all. His girls were no different.
Helena nodded, her eyes still uncertain. “What will we call her?”
“What do you want to call her?”
Both Kate and Helena stared blankly at him.
“What would you be comfortable calling her?” he rephrased.
Before they could answer, Celia rode up and cleared her throat.
Patrick looked at her, and she gave a pointed look to the mounting block he was sitting on. Tentatively, he stood up, casting her a questioning look as he did so. “Uh…you do realize even with me not sitting on that, you’re still not going to be able to get down without some help?”
“I know,” she said airily. “But even if you have to help me down, Harry says it’s good practice to use the mounting box.”
Patrick stared at her, dumbfounded, then chastised himself for even thinking of rolling his eyes at Harry who was reaching up to take Celia by the waist. He lifted her off, then set her on the mounting box.
“That was absolutely ridiculous,” Patrick mumbled under his breath.
“I heard that,” Celia said while her sisters giggled. Shaking out her skirt in the most unladylike manner possible, Celia looked over at her sisters. “Was there a snake?”
“A snake?” Helena asked.
Celia shrugged. “I heard the two of you screaming like banshees, as Lord Sinclair would say, and I thought there was a critter of some sort.”
“No critter,” Helena chirped.
Patrick opened his mouth to tell Celia he’d like to speak to her in private, but before even his first word came out, Kate started jumping around exclaiming, “He’s going to marry Miss Juliet! He’s going to marry Miss Juliet!”
Swallowing the lump in his throat, he firmly placed his hand on Kate’s shoulder to signal for her to calm down while he simultaneously scrutinized Celia’s face, looking for some sort of sign. This was not how he wanted her to find out. But he had no one to blame for it except himself. He should have told Celia first. Everyone―except him, apparently―knew a five and eight year-old couldn’t keep a secret if their lives depended on it.
“Is it true?” Celia asked, her voice cracking.
Patrick gave a simple nod and swallowed hard. Celia was five when Abigail died. Following her death, Celia had spent several months quiet and distant. Of the three, she might be the most resistant to having a new “mother”. Sinking to his haunches in front of her, his eyes met hers and his fingers came up to cup her chin. “Celia―”
Before he could say another word, her arms wrapped around his neck and she buried her face in the crook of his neck. It took but a moment to realize her body was trembling.
He brought his hand up to rub her back. “It’ll be all right, Celia,” he crooned. “I know you miss your mother, but Miss Hughes isn’t going to replace her. She’s just going to…um…stand in for her,” he finished dully.
Celia’s body slightly jerked and she pulled her head back. “I don’t think there’s a difference,” she said in a tone that was far more even than he expected.
“No, I suppose not,” he agreed. “What I meant was―”
“It’s all right, Papa. I’m not upset.”
“You’re not?” he asked, staring dubiously at the tears that streaked her face, and the memory of the tight embrace she’d just been holding him in flashed in his mind.
She shook her head carelessly, making her long black braids swing around. “No. I want you to marry Juliet.”
“Then why are you crying?” he asked. He wiped a tear off her cheek with one long finger, then turned it around to show her the evidence.
“Because I’m happy,” she said with a giant grin.
Patrick started. He hadn’t been expecting that response. “Those were happy tears?”
“Yes,” she affirmed, nodding wildly.
Patrick blinked. Celia was so much like Abigail it was almost frightening. Abigail was the biggest watering pot he’d ever met. She cried when she was happy, she cried when she was sad, she cried when she was tired or overwhelmed. There was rarely a circumstance that didn’t result in tears from her. He shook his head. At least these were happy tears. He could handle happy tears. “So you’re happy?” he asked like a simpleton.
All three of his daughters stared strangely at him. “Yes,” Celia said loudly.
Patrick winced. “You don’t have to talk so loud. I’m right here.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I just thought you were getting to be like Lord Rutherford, you know the one who holds the horn up to his ear.”
“I know who he is,” Patrick remarked testily, standing.
Celia shrugged and fingered the end of one of her long braids. “I’m very happy for you,” she said at last. “And I think you’ll really like Juliet.”
A slow smile spread across Patrick’s lips as a picture of that beautiful creature he’d seen reclining on that sofa flashed in his mind. He may not wish for another woman to love, but this woman had all the necessary qualifications for what he was certain would make him a good wife, and the girls a good mother. Besides her abundant beauty, she was educated at one of the finest schools in England. The fact that her father didn’t seem to turn a hair at Patrick’s arrangement for the marriage, was all the assurance he needed she was biddable―and beddable, too. A sobering chill ran down his spine at the mere thought of the repercussions of sharing her bed. Perhaps she wasn’t beddable, after all.
“Papa!” Kate yelled, catching his attention.
He cleared his throat. “Yes.”
“Can we go visit Juliet today?”
“Not today. Miss Hughes will be very busy the rest of the week.”
“Oh,” Kate said glumly.
“Not to worry,” Patrick said, scooping her up and holding her against his chest. “Once we marry you’ll get to spend all the time you want with her.”
“I will?” she squealed.
Chuckling, Patrick ruffled her hair. “Of course you will. You’ll probably spend so much time with her you’ll sneak out and try to avoid her.”
“No, I won’t,” Kate declared, shaking her head for emphasis. “I could spend all day with her.”
“That’s very good to know since you will be spending all day with her,” Patrick said easily. “See, in addition to being my new wife, she’s also going to be your new governess.”