In the previous chapter of The Stable Master’s Daughter, Webb was arrested during the ball. Miles and Marjorie stole away for a moonlit conversation and became engaged.
Miles stood in the drawing room off the entrance, watching the first guests depart with the dawn. He was anxious to see Marjorie again. She and her aunt would arrive within moments to bid their hostess farewell. Carriages pulled around the circular drive, kicking up dust. Footmen jostled trunks and ladies maids scurried to stash hatboxes. One maid gazed up at the house and wiped a tear from her eye.
The Winters family approached and Reginald took Miss Winters’ gloved hand. “Always a delight to renew our acquaintance, Miss Winters.” He gave her an impish smile.
She retrieved her hand before Reginald could place a kiss to her fingers. “And when shall we see you again, Regi dear?”
Reginald raised his eyebrows. “Ah, that has yet to be determined.”
It would likely be some time, since the investigation into forgeries had barely begun. Reginald would ride with Mr. Wright to discuss the upcoming legal case against Webb.
Miss Winters patted Miles’ cheek, and he clenched his teeth at her none-too-gentle touch. “Congratulations on your engagement. Though I must confess I am astonished.” She swallowed. “You stood by my father during a difficult time and I shall endeavor to return the favor, should you ever have need.” He was touched by her sentiment and her offer of support. With one last glance, she marched to her waiting carriage, clasping her bonnet against the light breeze.
Miles and Reginald gazed out the windowpane, their silence companionable. His brother had assisted in Webb’s arrest, but how he chose to act in the coming weeks would determine if this was truly a turning point.
Reginald ran a finger beneath his collar. “When this disastrous business in London is over, I wonder if you would consider a deal of sorts.”
Miles’ curiosity was peaked, though he remained cautious. “I’m listening.”
“I propose my debts, in exchange for finally choosing a career.” Reginald’s voice was devoid of his usual carefree tone. He rushed to add, “I realize this is a shoddy deal for you, and no matter what, I will always owe you.”
Miles blinked. He could not have been more surprised had Reginald pulled the Turkish rug out from beneath him. He cleared his throat. “What career do you have in mind?”
Reginald glanced away. “This may shock you, but Lord Lieutenant Halsted commented I made a good inside man.”
Miles startled. “A spy?”
“Yes. Don’t look so shocked. Apparently the war office is always in need of intelligence.”
Miles pressed his lips together, his mind firing with questions. Did Reginald imagine himself in the role of cloak and dagger? He was a charmer, a flirt, and made friends with ease. He had come through by turning in Webb—a rare feat for someone who avoided confrontation as readily as he did. But if Reginald found his footing and meant to stick with a profession, their father would likely jump at any career.
Reginald’s eyes tightened. “I don’t make much of a gentleman, do I?”
Miles had taken too long to consider his answer. He could not help ribbing his brother who had never before batted an eye at acting in a scandalous manner. “I should say not. Some would be shocked by your lack of honor—but then they will never be privy to the knowledge you are a spy, should you become one.” Miles’ smile grew. “And sometimes the rules need to be bent for a greater good.” Like covering his brother’s debts in exchange for him signing an agreement he must fulfill.
Reginald’s smile reached his eyes. “I bet you’re already imagining me boarding a ship.”
Miles laughed and clasped him on the shoulder. “When we are in London, let’s look into a commission.”
“I will look into it. You will have other matters to attend to.” Reginald nodded towards the entrance hall.
Marjorie appeared looking as fresh as springtime in her light green dress. Miles’ heart lifted. The morning sun highlighted her red hair. Mrs. Jones gave instructions to a footman and Marjorie wrapped her reticule around her wrist.
“I believe you are right,” he murmured to Reginald.
Miles stepped towards Marjorie. Her eyes lit when she saw him and her full pink lips turned with a smile. His soul expanded with a happiness he hadn’t known existed.
Marjorie walked arm in arm with Miles to bid farewell to the Countess before leaving. Tabitha looked radiant with happiness. Miss Anne stood with her head bent near Mr. Tauney Easton, and Marjorie felt sure the two would announce an engagement in the near future. Her heart tugged with loss at saying goodbye. Luckily she need not say goodbye to Lord Beauchamp.
Miles stopped their progress and extended a wrapped package. “I have a gift for you. Go ahead and open it.”
Marjorie tried to hide the thrill that swept through her at his thoughtful gesture. She tore the paper off to find a beautifully bound book, with gold etchings. “A new sketchbook,” she breathed. “I love it.”
He bit back a grin, obviously pleased, and she wanted to throw her arms around him. Instead she opened her reticule and pulled out her sketchbook, filled to the brim with memories from the house party, including last evening. “I want to give this to you.”
“You’re giving me permission to look through your sketchbook?” He quirked a brow and feigned shock.
She laughed and swatted him with the book.
“I will treasure this gift. Truly.” His deep blue eyes communicated an intensity of feelings just beneath the surface.
The Countess waited by the door. Lady Du’Brevan had frightened her when she arrived, but now Marjorie saw her as an ally and a dear friend. Marjorie curtseyed. “I can never thank you enough for inviting me, Lady Du’Brevan.”
“Pish posh.” Her eyes roved over Marjorie. “You are a good match for Lord Beauchamp. I have never seen him so happy.” She pointed her fan at Miles. “You take care of this dear woman.”
“It will be my honor and pleasure.” Miles kissed Lady Du’Brevan’s hand.
The Countess waved them away. “I will see you in three weeks for your wedding. I take full credit for this marriage.”
Marjorie suspected Lady Du’Brevan would wield her sharp tongue should anyone speak ill of them. It was an odd comfort.
Aunt Harriet kissed Lady Du’Brevan on the cheek and exchanged goodbyes.
As Marjorie and Miles descended the steps, Marjorie surveyed the lush green grounds and home with fondness. The coach and four horses stood ready.
“Did you know your father found this matched set of Cleveland Bays?” Miles asked.
“Oh? Matched sets are difficult to come by, are they not?” she asked, surprised by her father’s talent. The horses seemed to mirror each other in color, height, and muscle mass.
“Your father’s reputation for superior matched sets is spreading. His side business may very well become a fulltime occupation, should he choose.” They reached the last step.
She bit her lip. “Speaking of my father, do you think he will mind terribly that we announced our engagement before he gave his blessing?”
Miles chuckled. “I suspect he will have something to say to me on the matter.”
She was relieved he did not seem worried. “And your parents?” Marjorie’s insides twisted.
Miles tipped his head and grinned at her. “My mother won’t be able to restrain herself from thanking you. You may suffocate from how tightly she embraces you. And my father . . .” he paused and smiled roguishly, “has always wanted a daughter. And grandchildren.”
Heat raced through Marjorie’s frame.
He stopped by the carriage, taking hold of her hands. “They will love you. I love you.”
“And I love you,” she whispered.
Miles looked at her with wonder. “I could kiss you.”
Marjorie glared playfully. “Don’t you dare. There are people about.”
He held her hand as she alighted into the carriage. “And when we’re alone?” he asked as he slid in beside her. His eyes darkened with the dim interior.
She smiled. “When we’re alone, you had better kiss me again.”
He pulled her close and pressed his lips to hers, soft and sweet, until Aunt Harriet’s steps sounded nearby. Aunt Harriet cleared her throat and twisted her lips, failing to hide her smile. A footman helped her inside.
“I am happy to return to London, but sad for this lovely house party to end.” Aunt Harriet gestured to Somerstone.
The carriage jostled them as the wheels turned over gravel. Light streamed across an endless expanse of sky.
“It isn’t an ending at all.” Marjorie shared a smile with Miles and he squeezed her hand.
It was a wonderful beginning.