Last time in the Unwanted Suitor: Sir James battled through rain and mud and crusty gentlemen to return to Cornelia’s side. His heroism was rewarded and he and Cornelia were married by special license the night of the ball.
The morning was bright with sunshine and birdsong as Cornelia walked back from the village with her new husband. She smiled as she thought of him so in her mind. If she had imagined the day before when she had been in such despair that she would wake up in James’ arms as the new Lady Hawkston, she would have considered herself ready for Bedlam.
Not wanting to be forced to recount their late-night nuptials to all and sundry, she and Sir James’ had been glad of an excuse to escape to the vicarage. It had only taken a few minutes with the rector to sign the register there, but they were sure to walk slowly back to Somerstone when they were done, waving farewell to all the guests who passed them on the road with their carriages piled high with baggage.
As they entered the long drive approaching the house, Sir James paused, pulling her to a stop with him. “You’re quiet,” James said.
She looked up, glad her bonnet blocked the strong sun so she could see his handsome face. Every line and feature called for her careful examination. She reveled in the freedom of being able to study him at leisure. From the slight creases at the corners of his eyes to the shape and movement of his lips, everything about him fascinated her. “I am savoring my happiness before the day gets a bit more difficult.”
“What is worrying you? Saying goodbye to the Countess?”
“Yes. I feel so ungrateful leaving her without support.”
“Without support? My darling hoyden, her staff is nearly as large as the Regent’s. She’ll be perfectly fine.”
“Yes. You’re very right.”
Though their steps were slow, dragging out their walk as long as possible, they crossed into the shadow cast by Somerstone’s looming wall. As the walked up the steps, Cornelia paused.
“James, what will people think of me, marrying you in such a way?”
“What should they think? That I could not wait to claim you for my own? And who could blame me for that?”
“A great many people.” She clenched her fingers around his and looked down. “I overheard people gossiping about how I was setting my cap at you and how I was a poor, desperate spinster. What if they think I trapped you or somehow tricked you into it?”
James pulled his hand free and took her by the shoulders. “Cornelia, stop worrying about what others think. You know very well that it is I who have been pursuing you and that you led me on a merry chase. And having been married with both the Countess and your esteemed grandfather in attendance, how can anyone doubt the respectability of the match?”
Cornelia chuckled. “They wouldn’t dare.”
James kissed her forehead, then, as if he couldn’t help himself, tipped her chin up and pressed a kiss to her lips. “And after a brief visit to share our good news with your family, I intend to take you on a long honeymoon trip, during which time, the harpies will find some other object for their speculation.”
“Oh? Where are you going to take me?”
“Wherever you want, I for one will not care about the scenery when I have you to ogle.”
“You’re a rogue.”
“No, just besotted with my wife. Now, though I have no complaints about lingering here with you all morning, we really must get ready to depart if we’re going to make it any distance by nightfall.”
Since there was nothing she would like better than to get her husband to herself, she smiled and went into the house with him.
He walked her to her old room and opened the door. As she went inside, he moved up behind her and put his arms around her waist, then paid assiduous attention to the delicate skin just under her ear. Though his gentle kisses made her melt, she was all too aware of the maid across the room, keeping her back carefully turned to them.
“James,” Cornelia said in firm warning.
He looked up and saw the direction of her eyes. “Pity. Shall I meet you in the Countess’s drawing room so that we may say our farewells?”
“Yes,” She said, pushing him out the door.
She shut the door on his deep chuckle, then pressed her hands to her burning cheeks.
The maid turned and smiled at her then. “May I congratulate you, Lady Hawkston?”
Cornelia smiled. “Yes, you may. Thank you.”
“The whole staff is ever so pleased, my lady. If anyone deserves such happiness, it is you.”
Cornelia felt her eyes prickle with tears. “Thank you. I see you are getting my things packed. So kind of you. Will you also help me into my carriage dress?”
“Of course, my lady.”
Cornelia wondered if she would ever get used to being addressed so. Perhaps it would be easier when she was away from servants who had known her once as being only slightly more elevated than they were.
When she was dressed, she moved over to her writing desk and packed away a few of her meager belongings there. She came across a letter that she had started for her mother and sisters a few days ago. She had not known what to tell them and so the task had not been a success. She put the letter back into her writing case, smiling as she thought of returning home on Sir James’ arm.
The ticking of the ormolu clock over her dressing table caught her attention as she picked up her gloves. She smiled at it. Once it had been a constant reminder that her time was not her own. Now, it reminded her how little time she had left at Somerstone. With so many memories here, a part of her was sorry to be leaving.
But she was also anxious to begin her new life. She turned back to the maid. “Will you please see that my things are put into Sir James’ carriage?”
“Yes, my lady.”
Cornelia closed the door behind her and walked the long, familiar corridors to the Countess’ rooms. She cracked open the door and called, “Come, Wellington.”
The pug, who had been napping in the pool of sunshine near the bed, raised his head to consider if she was worth getting up for, then yipped and stretched before lumbering his way over to her.
As Wellington took his time, she looked over at Brimsby who was busy at her work, carefully stitching a torn flounce from the ball gown the Countess had worn last night. The woman was cross and exacting, but Cornelia couldn’t blame her too much for that. With no hope of anything but long days of service to look forward to, she had no doubt she would have become cross and miserable too. “Goodbye, Grimsby. It’s been an honor to know you.”
When Grimsby looked up, her expression betrayed her surprise. She nodded and said simply. “And you, my lady.”
With Wellington lagging behind, it took Cornelia longer than she liked to get to the Countess’s drawing room. So many of the guests had already departed for the day. Cornelia had felt bad at not saying goodbye to some of the friends she’d made but was glad to have the Countess to herself before she said her farewells. Besides, having reclaimed her position in society, she hoped to finally go to London for the next season and renew her friendships there.
In the drawing room, she was surprised to find James scowling near the window and her grandfather taking tea with the Countess.
“Ah, there you are,” the Countess said. “I’ve been anxious for you to arrive and soothe your husband’s ill-humor.”
Cornelia narrowed her eyes at him and tilted her head questioningly. “He was quite cheerful when I last saw him. What has put him out of spirits?”
“You need not speak of me as if I’m not here.” His voice was deep with disapproval. “And let me point out that any man would balk at having his bride’s grandfather join them on their honeymoon trip.”
Cornelia’s mouth gaped slightly before she collected herself. “I have heard nothing about this.” She walked to sit beside her grandfather. “Sir, do you mean to do so?”
“I thought that it was high-time I went to Buxton to see your family. I admit I have avoided the place since your mother died. It was painful to not see her there, but I am now prepared to do my duty and help look after the interests of her children. I am gifting you a larger dowry, my dear, and intend to do the same for your sisters, besides seeing what I may do for the boys.”
“That is very kind of you. But, surely you are in a hurry to return to your businesses. I believe Sir James and I will be traveling quite leisurely.”
“It will take us a week, at least,” Sir James said. His expression was as uncompromising as his voice.”
Cornelia almost smiled when her grandfather flinched. He pressed his lips together then said, “A week? For a journey that may be done comfortably in three?” He sighed. “Well, I suppose that will be fine. I do like to rest often along the journey now that I am getting on in years.”
Sir James let out an annoyed breath. Cornelia thought about teasing him but decided that she would much rather travel with a cheerful husband than a disgruntled one. She did not quite know what to do about this problem without offending her grandfather or upsetting James. She looked to the Countess.
“Oh, so that’s the way of it, is it?” the Countess asked. Her shrewd eyes sparkled. “Well, I’ll endeavor, my dear. After all, I am quite good at arranging things.”
Cornelia stood and moved to kneel in front of the Countess. She took her wrinkled hands in her own, careful not to squeeze them too tight even though she was brimming over with emotion. “Oh, how I admire you, dear Countess. You are the best at arranging things. You have brought so much happiness to so many. And I am very grateful to you for mine.”
“Nonsense, my dear. Your happiness is due to your own courage and Sir James’ persistence.” She leaned closer. “And now you deserve to revel in it, just the two of you.” She sat back and turned to look at Sir James.
“You, sir, had best go ensure that all is ready for your departure.”
Sir James looked between the two ladies. His brows rose, but he merely nodded and took his leave. As he kissed the Countess’ hand, he murmured, “My eternal gratitude is yours, my lady.”
“I have no doubt about that,” she said, teasing him with great amusement.
When he had gone, the Countess took her hands again. “And you, my dear, must take one more order from me.”
“Take Wellington for one last, very long walk while your grandfather finishes his tea.” From her tone and the slight rise to her eyebrow, Cornelia knew she meant something very different.
Cornelia smiled. “Who will walk him when I am gone?”
“I must keep my servants busy somehow, you know.”
“And how will you keep yourself busy?”
She smiled, her cheeks wrinkling as her lips turned up, and her eyes twinkled merrily. “Oh, I suppose I shall start planning my next party. Though perhaps I shall let someone else be the hostess next time. I do not know how I could manage without you.”
Cornelia’s eyes filled with tears again, so she rose, kissed the Countess’ cheek, and hurried out before they had a chance to fall. “Come along, Wellington.” She scooped him up and all but ran to the front entry. Sir James waited for her in the doorway, and when he saw her coming, stepped forward to meet her.
She paused, set Wellington down and ran her hands over the folds of his face. “I’m going to miss you, you rascal.” She waved to a footman. “Take good care of him for me.”
Sir James took her elbow then and helped her down the steep steps and into the waiting carriage. As they went, Cornelia looked over her shoulder, afraid to see her grandfather following them. No doubt the Countess would keep him busy while she supposedly took the dog on a walk. She felt bad for sneaking away on him. He had been so kind after all. But she had no doubt she would see him again in Buxton.
When they were seated inside, James gave the order to leave by thumping on the carriage roof, and the carriage jerked forward.
“I never imagined I would have to elope after I was married,” Sir James grumbled.
Cornelia smiled and reached for him. “Don’t worry. I know how to chase that scowl from your face.”
Sir James smiled and pulled her onto his lap. “Really? You seem quite confident in your abilities, lady wife.”
“I have often been described as eminently capable, and I intend to spend my life making you as happy as you’ve made me.”
“No more sewn-together cuffs or fish-heads in my room?”
“I never said that,” she said mischievously, thinking of all the things she might do to tease him now.
He chuckled and played with one of the curls that had fallen from her pinned up hair in their dash to the carriage. “Good. Because I want our life to be as interesting as our courtship.”
She cupped his jaw with her hands and kissed him. “It will be.”