In the last chapter of The Stable Master’s Daughter, Miles spoke with his solicitor about his interest in Marjorie. He spoke with his brother, hoping Reginald could explain why Miles’ name and credit were used. Reginald left angry and took Miles’ spot next to Marjorie during the poetry reading.
The morning was cool as the small group set off to walk to the Rockingham Mausoleum. A breeze blew Marjorie’s skirt and she admired the way the light fabric ruffled like a cloud. Reginald trudged beside her, and Marjorie tried to slow her steps to accommodate him. Miss Winters led the way, and a few clusters of people spread out along the forest road. Lord Beauchamp walked several paces ahead and stopped to examine the moss covering the trees or a mushroom, keeping within a short distance of them.
Reginald kicked a rock. “Why are we looking at an old sarcophagus anyway?” His mood was turbulent, veering from teasing to ill-tempered within moments.
She raised her brows. He didn’t have to do anything he didn’t wish to. “The sarcophagus is empty.”
“Then it’s not a mausoleum.” His hair fell over his eyes.
“That’s true,” she said, smoothing her dress. There was nothing like a grown man who sulked. “But it bears a striking resemblance to the Mausoleum of the Julii. Both have three stories and Roman pillars.”
He gave a short laugh. “I have no interest in ruins. How do you know about Roman architecture?”
Marjorie clenched her skirt, stung by his derision. “I read.” She turned her head, intent on ignoring him. She resigned herself to his sour mood and the long walk with him by her side.
Reginald exhaled. He took her arm and she slowed to a stop. “I’m in a dashed bad mood. Please forgive me.”
She opened her mouth to accept his apology, but Lord Beauchamp glanced back and her heart leapt into her throat. The way he looked at her—with his piercing blue eyes and an air of sadness—shifted something within her.
“Lord Beauchamp,” she called before thinking it through. He turned fully towards her, raising his brow. “Will you join us?” Her heart sped.
“I would appreciate the company, thank you.”
“Mr. Wright came to see you today,” Lord Beauchamp said to Reginald as he fell into step beside her.
“He is your solicitor. Not mine.”
She rushed to break the tension. “I found a poem on nature. I thought to share it last evening. Would you like to hear it?”
Reginald answered with enthusiasm. She had imagined sharing it with Lord Beauchamp, but not like this. Reginald clapped when she finished. “Well done. The sight of daffodils do make one cheery.” At least his mood swung back to jovial.
“I have a volume of poetry with that very poem.” Lord Beauchamp picked a wildflower. “I appreciate Wordsworth’s simple style—no flowery language. Very well chosen poem, Miss Fairchild.” With each word and look from Lord Beauchamp, Reginald’s contrary presence faded into the background.
“Yes, I borrowed your book at Strathford once. It is where I first read Wordsworth.” Marjorie’s cheeks felt warm.
He tilted his head and smiled. “I forget how similar our pasts are.”
“Not very similar,” she whispered, even while experiencing a sense of release at his attempt to find similarity in their situations.
He handed her the lacey white flower. She spun the stem, touched by the simple gesture.
“What other books do you enjoy?” he asked.
Reginald called out to Mr. Tierney and ran to catch up with him, leaving her to enjoy a cocoon of perfect contentment with Lord Beauchamp.
She listed her favorite books, mostly art and ancient architecture. The way he listened and focused on her warmed her. Their shoulders kept brushing as they discussed his tour of the Colosseum. She could picture him walking the streets of Rome.
“Have you seen the Roman Ridge near Somerstone?” he asked.
“No, I haven’t. What is it?”
“A road built by the Romans. It isn’t a replica.”
“Truly?” She smiled. “Will you show me?”
He flashed a brilliant smile in answer.
Reginald called out from further up the path. “The Rockingford Mausoleum.” He pointed to the trees on the east.
The monument came into view above the trees—a dome supported by a ring of columns. She wanted to run the rest of the way. When the full three tiered monument was visible, her breath caught at its beauty.
Her eyes adjusted to the shadows as she stepped into the open doorway of the lower level. She marveled at the domed ceiling and statue in robes at its center. “This could be in the south of France.”
“Except for the statue of a British prime minister.” Miss Winters’ voice echoed in the chamber. She stepped past Marjorie, shaking her head.
Reginald laughed. “Not very French.”
“I’ll race you to the top.” Miss Winters strode off. Relief flooded Marjorie when Reginald chased after her. Lord Beauchamp passed by her to look at a mosaic.
Marjorie lost herself in studying the combined artistry of the monument. As she circled the statue, one conversation amid the reverberating voices caught her attention. Mr. Webb stood near a niche speaking with Mr. Oscar Easton, who stood with his arms folded over his broad chest.
“Reginald’s gambling debt is nothing to worry about.” Mr. Webb spoke in low tones.
She squinted to concentrate on the inscription below the statue.
“Yes, but he’s acting as if he is the heir, not the second son,” Mr. Easton said.
“He has a tidy estate coming to him from a great uncle once he pops off. And an income from his family.” Mr. Webb caught Marjorie watching him and his jaw clenched. She moved for the stairs.
“I side with Lord Beauchamp,” Mr. Easton said.
“Miles is far too high-handed. Reginald told me his older brother carries a substantial gambling debt of his own.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“He and Reginald are always competing, you know,” Mr. Webb said.
She slid her gloved hand on the cool iron railing, glad to be out of sight.
“Miles and Reginald have a bet over who can win Miss Fairchild.” Mr. Webb’s hushed voice penetrated into the stairwell.
The hair on the nape of her neck prickled. She froze on the third step, unable to move.
“I’ve noticed their spirited contest for her,” Mr. Easton said. “I can’t imagine either man would marry her, if the rumors about her social class are true.”
“They are true.”
Marjorie’s hands began to shake. Webb was a snake. She wouldn’t believe anything he said. Lord Beauchamp would never wager with his brother. She was sure of it. For the most part. But some of what Mr. Webb said had a ring of truth. Her confidence wavered as doubt pressed down
Lord Beauchamp gave her no reason to doubt his sincere interest. But he did try to keep Reginald away from her. And he showed up in place of his brother too often to be a coincidence. Hadn’t the Countess remarked on the brothers always competing? Could Lord Beauchamp’s interest in her be feigned?
Several people brushed past her on the stairs, their voices a booming cacophony.
She shook her head. No, Lord Beauchamp was not a man to trifle with a woman’s affections. She believed him sincerely interested and attracted to her. But she’d known all along he would never marry her. Their social stations prevented it and he clung to respectability and honor. So why did she feel hollowed out? The flower fell from her shaking hands. Her knees felt weak and she sank down onto the steps, wilting like a spent bloom.
The voice shocked her and blood rushed to her head, making her dizzy. She leaned more heavily against the wall.
Strong hands encircled her waist. “Can you breathe? Are you alright?” Lord Beauchamp demanded.
She nodded, her chin trembling.
“Answer me clearly. You’re worrying me.” His gaze darted over her face.
Lord Beauchamp was close, his body warm and solid, and his hands anchoring her. So why did she miss him so desperately her chest ached? “I’m fine. I was . . . walking too fast and tripped,” she lied.
Miss Winters and Reginald rushed down the stairs at the same time Mr. Webb and Mr. Easton came from the base of the stairs. Lord Beauchamp released her.
“Is everything alright? Miss Fairchild, do you need the doctor?” Mr. Easton asked.
“Sorry to frighten you. I tripped but I’m fine,” she managed to say. Mr. Easton’s shoulders relaxed, Reginald expelled a breath, and Miss Winters nodded crisply. Everyone except Lord Beauchamp walked away, leaving her on the stairs.
“Here, take my hand. We’ll take it slowly and make sure you’re steady on your feet. I’ll take care of you,” he whispered. She desperately wanted to believe his comforting words.
Marjorie took his offered hand but could not meet Lord Beauchamp’s eyes. She was afraid of what she might see in them.