“Oh, if only I could be still,” Rosaline murmured to herself as she bobbed on her toes. It was a nervous habit of hers, constantly moving, as if dancing, though she prayed some of the action was hidden by the grand gown she was wearing tonight.
Casting a glance down at her dress, Rosaline breathed in deeply, laying her fingers to the gossamer thin layers of the skirt. It was quite stunning, in every way.
Never did I think I would be so fortunate to wear a gown like this.
The gown was ivory white, with a thin lace over the skirt falling down from the high waist under the bust. Along this same seam were dark red accents with bold thread. Circling her body, the red thread stood out, complimenting the color of her hair, as it wound its way up the chest line in a rose pattern and culminated in tufts of red at the shoulders.
“At this rate, you’ll be exhausted before any man can ask you to dance.” The witty words of Chloe, Miss Green, earned Rosaline’s attention. She turned around in the ballroom to greet her friend with a smile.
“Oh, Chloe. I should not be here!” Rosaline said in a hasty whisper.
“Whyever not?” Chloe took her arm and purposefully drew her forward, across the ballroom.
“This is the opposite direction of where I was going…”
“You thought I had not noticed you were hiding in a corner?” Chloe aske with a smile. “Well, you will not be permitted to hide anymore.
“It is not that I was hiding, merely observing. I never thought I would be so fortunate to see an event like this. It is quite wondrous,” Rosaline gushed, ooh-ing and ahh-ing as they passed punch bowls full of glistening red punch topped with crystallized oranges. “From the smallest detail to the grandest spectacle, oh…what a sight this is!”
Rosaline smiled as her eyes cast around the ballroom. To their left, the dancers took to the dancefloor, each one smiling and hopping to the happy tune of the cotillion that was playing. Ladies’ heads trussed with feathers or pearls turned back and forth, as gentlemen sweated a little in the heat of the room, occasionally patting their black tailcoats with the palms of their hands in the hope their perspiration would not be noticed. Tables were full of crystal glasses, some stacked high in amazing displays. One stack even resembled a swan, around which, a multitude of ladies stood together, whispering into one another’s ears.
“I have walked into a dream, Chloe,” Rosaline whispered.
“I know what you mean.” Chloe sighed. “Never did I think I would be so fortunate as to see my designs here.”
“You deserve it.” Rosaline squeezed her friend’s hand in comfort, and thought of how far Chloe had come.
Born to a Baron, but one that had fallen from fortune, Chloe did not have the money to her name that many ladies had here. Yet, that did not discourage her. Working with her own wits, she was quite the seamstress and designer, and was hoping to open a modiste’s shop in town. Tonight was the announcement of her designs to the ton, and so far, it was going well. Many ladies stared and longed to know just who had designed these dresses.
Rosaline wore one such design, along with two other seamstresses, just like her. Chloe wore a fourth, and finally, the fifth and finest gown was worn by their hostess for the evening, the Duchess of Suffolk, a great friend to Chloe.
Self-consciously, Rosaline looked between herself and the other ladies in the room, just as the Duchess walked past, not far in the distance. Ladies followed in her wake, eager to know the designer of the Duchess’ gown.
I truly do not belong here. Who would invite a seamstress to an event of the ton?
“Now, no more hiding,” Chloe pleaded in Rosaline’s ear. “Let us circle for a while, so people can see your gown, and…” She paused, evidently seeing that Rosaline’s eyes had trailed away.
Rosaline kept looking toward the dancefloor, finding the ideas of her heart running away with her.
What would it be like to dance tonight with a gentleman?
“And maybe you will be asked to dance if I introduce you to enough men?” Chloe said, tugging on Rosaline’s arm to draw her attention back. “Clearly, it is what you hope for.” Chloe smiled, showing she was being playful.
“No, I do not.” Rosaline shook her head.
“Why should you not hope for it? You have just as much right to dance with a gentleman here as any lady does.”
She is kind to me.
Rosaline was drawn away by Chloe, following in her wake. It wasn’t long before Rosaline found herself amongst the wealthiest of the guests.
She stood near the entrance as Chloe was introduced to many approaching ladies by the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk. Rosaline hung just behind them, trying to listen into every word with keen interest, yet she kept growing distracted.
The group of ladies she had noted earlier kept drawing Rosaline’s eye. Turning away, she watched them for a few minutes, then recognized what was afoot. Whilst some were admiring the gowns on display here tonight, others were turning their noses up, quite literally, and angling their chins away, in derision.
They are gossiping!
More than one lady whispered to a friend behind a cupped hand or a fluttering fan, then gestured rather subtly in the direction of another amongst them, before sharing a giggle with their friend. They seemed to take delight in putting another woman in their group down.
Why must some ladies behave this way?
It all rather reminded Rosaline of being a child and playing in the streets of Covent Garden outside of her father’s shop. When he was hard at work, creating gowns or fine suits, he would urge her outside to play with the other shopkeepers’ children. Some children were welcoming, others were fond of belittling each other, pulling at hairs tied up with ribbon. Rosaline could remember once being belittled for the color of her hair, for it was so red, and having a white ribbon tugged out of her locks by another girl, who had left the ribbon in a dirty puddle.
It riled at Rosaline so much to think that some ladies had not changed with age, it meant she was so fixed upon watching them, she quite forgot to pay attention to the introductions by the door to the ballroom. She was aware of Chloe speaking with a lady, someone Rosaline didn’t recognize, then the Duchess abruptly moved to Rosaline’s side.
“Rosaline, how are you enjoying your first ball?” the Duchess asked.
“Oh, your Grace.” Rosaline hurried to curtsy, catching the glimpse of humor in the Duchess’ eyes. The Duchess was never one for great reverence. She had hired Rosaline as one of her seamstresses shortly after marrying the Duke and had often been known to come and sit with Rosaline and the other seamstresses to talk.
I do not imagine many duchesses do that!
“It is quite spectacular,” Rosaline whispered in a hurry to the Duchess. “Thank you so much for inviting me, your Grace.”
“Do not thank me. It is we who should be thanking you. After all, you are wearing one of Chloe’s gowns. I have so long hoped to help my friend with her career. Now, we have our opportunity to do so. It gladdens me, more than I can say.”
“Me too, your Grace.” Rosaline looked at Chloe a couple of strides away. Her long dark hair was curled delicately at the back of her head, and as she turned to smile at two people she was talking too, the light in her eyes was visible.
Chloe was always like this, full of life, wit, humor, and kindness. Rosaline had much to thank Chloe for, as she had helped Rosaline with her own work when it came to being a seamstress. She would be glad to see Chloe do well.
“Who is Chloe talking to?” Rosaline asked the Duchess.
“The lady beside her is Lady Shrewsbury, a friend to me and particularly to Chloe.” At the Duchess’ words, Rosaline recognized the gown. It was the last gown to be designed by Chloe for the evening. She had heard of Lady Shrewsbury before, talked of by Chloe and the Duchess, who was a keen supporter of Chloe’s designs. “The gentleman you see is the Earl of Gloucester, Simon Bingley.”
With these words, the Duke moved an inch to the side, revealing fully the Earl of Gloucester to Rosaline.
Rosaline felt her mouth turn dry at the very sight of the gentleman. She had seen enough handsome gentlemen here tonight, but she had not expected one to have such a piercing stare. He was looking straight at her, with his dark green orbs unrelenting. Then he smiled, such a lovely smile that Rosaline couldn’t help returning it.
“Perhaps I should have started by introducing him,” the Duchess whispered with a smile. Rosaline tried to look away from the earl, as if she had not been staring so openly at a gentleman so startlingly above her in position.
He’s moving this way!
The Earl of Gloucester must have said something to Chloe, for the next thing Rosaline knew, Chloe and Lord Gloucester were walking toward her, away from the others.
“Rosaline?” Chloe called. The Duchess quickly whispered to Rosaline that she’d leave her alone for this introduction and left. “May I introduce the Earl of Gloucester to you. He has been admiring your gown.”
Rosaline was so busy staring at Lord Gloucester as he approached in surprise, that she quite forgot her manners. She thought of his tall height, the athleticism there, and the dark auburn hair that was coiffed so neatly. His features were long, and handsome for it, emphasizing that lovely smile.
Abruptly, Rosaline felt Chloe’s hand on her wrist, pulling her into a curtsy.
“Lord Gloucester, this is my good friend Miss Rosaline Baker. She is a seamstress here at the estate and helps me with the Duchess’ gowns.”
“You helped make these creations?” Lord Gloucester seemed impressed as he offered Rosaline a rather deep bow.
When hearing I am just a seamstress, why is he bowing so deeply?
Rosaline would not have blamed him for turning his nose up at her at this revelation. She was sure many a gentleman here would have done, yet Lord Gloucester didn’t.
“They are all Chloe’s designs, of course. I mean, Miss Green’s.” Rosaline hurried to correct herself, knowing in formal company that she should use Chloe’s proper address. “But yes, I help as a seamstress. I must confess how lucky I feel tonight to be here, my lord.”
“You do?” the Earl said with a smile. If Rosaline wasn’t mistaken, he found amusement in the ball as he looked around it.
“Of course.” Rosaline nodded eagerly. “Never have I been to such an event before. I do not think I have ever witnessed such beauties, such…grandeur!” Something about what she said made that lovely smile flicker a little wider. Rosaline found herself staring at him some more, quite entranced.
“In my experience, Miss Baker, it is the people that can make these events special, rather than the grandeur.” He spoke as if they were alone, in a whisper, sharing a great secret, quite ignoring Chloe was beside them. Rosaline offered him a quizzical look, one he must have understood, for he went on. “As much as it pains me to say it, not all of these events are as fun as they should be.”
“Oh, I hope this one turns out to be,” Rosaline said excitedly. This was to be her one and only ball. Never would she be so fortunate to be invited to something like this again, so she intended to make the most of it.
“Have no fear, Rosaline.” Chloe seemed to inch back a little as she spoke. “As Lord Gloucester here has said, these events are made wondrous by the people in attendance, and I have no doubt the Duke and Duchess have invited many fine friends here tonight.”
Rosaline nodded, though in truth, she didn’t one look away from Lord Gloucester. He seemed to be staring at her too, just as openly.
Does he feel this too?
Rosaline had heard of such things before. Attraction… That deep feeling of being drawn to another, yet never had she thought she could be so attracted to a gentleman she had just met. Perhaps there was something in the way he spoke too, this deep voice and the way he whispered to her, sharing secrets. It all made her long to know him better.
“Ahem.” Chloe cleared her throat. Rosaline snapped her eyes to Chloe, noticing the rather amused smile Chloe was trying to bite down on.
Oh no, she can see it!
“Lord Gloucester, I know Rosaline here was eager to dance tonight, so that she could enjoy the event to its fullest.” Chloe’s words were not subtle. Rosaline felt a wave of embarrassment and widened her eyes, but it did little to stop Chloe’s question. Rosaline feared her cheeks would soon be as red as her hair.
“Well, I’d be keen to be your first dance partner of the night, Miss Baker, if you would do me the honor?” Lord Gloucester offered Rosaline his hand.
He wishes to dance with me?
Rosaline struggled to find the words, yet her body acted of its own accord. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she supposed a part of her thought it might look odd to others, that a seamstress was dancing with an earl, but when it was this earl offering to dance with her, everything seemed very natural about the idea.
“I would love that, my Lord,” Rosaline said, finding her voice as Lord Gloucester drew her toward the dancefloor.
As they approached the other dancers, Rosaline grew aware of Lord Gloucester stealing as many glances at her as she did him. The attraction was mutual, it was plain not just in those looks but in the touch of their hands, feather light, as if the very tips of a feather were brushing her hand.
When they reached the dancefloor and parted, ready to bow and curtsy, Rosaline was quite breathless. She couldn’t help feeling that this moment changed things. It wasn’t just the attraction that burned there, but the meeting in itself.
I hope Lord Gloucester stays in my life.
The music began and they bowed and curtsied. When the music struck up a waltz, Rosaline felt herself taken into his arms, with one light hand on her waist and the other taking her palm.
“Well, I did not think I would be so fortunate as to have a dance partner such as you tonight, Miss Baker,” Lord Gloucester said as he began the dance.
“How strange, my Lord, I was just thinking the same about you.”
He smiled, that lovely smile again that made her heart beat harder, then all effort was devoted to their dance and the touch of their hands grew stronger.
Six months later.
“Oh! Father, can you believe all that has passed in such a few months?” Rosaline asked as she stood by the mirror, turning back and forth excitedly, bobbing on her toes as she looked into her reflection.
“No, I can’t.” His voice missed any of her enthusiasm.
Rosaline didn’t take notice at first. She was too busy looking at her reflection, in scarce belief of the gown she was wearing, or the day that was upon her.
Today, I marry Simon.
She closed her eyes and thought back to the first dance they had shared the night of the Duchess of Suffolk’s ball. From that first moment, there was a spark there, a bond, but she had not realized just how that bond was grow and blossom into something as strong as it was now.
I love him, dearly, more than I thought it possible to love.
Opening her eyes again, Rosaline looked at her wedding gown. Though Rosaline had said she did not need anything expensive, Simon had insisted she had the gown she desired. Chloe had designed it, of course, and Rosaline had even offered help with the sewing.
Cinched high on the waist, just under the bust, the gown fell to the floor in soft cream silks. Inspired by the gown Rosaline had worn the first night she had met Simon, there were red accents throughout. However, this gown had accents in the skirt too. Periodically, red roses bled through the cream silk, more concentrated toward the hemline, bordered with lace. Across the bust, there were dark red beads, leading to the sleeves that were made of pale cream silk, finishing at the elbow.
“Is it not a beautiful gown, Father? Chloe has outdone herself,” Rosaline gushed as she giggled and turned round to face her father.
“Yes, quite beautiful.” Still, he did not share her excitement. He seemed rather morose to Chloe’s eyes, fussing with the bouquet she was to carry. He kept arranging the flowers, in the effort to make them just right.
“Father?” Rosaline said, her voice calmer this time. “Is all well?” She approached him and laid her hands over his on the stems of the bouquet. Between them, the red roses and the honeysuckle were filled with sweet scent. Alfred seemed to have his gaze set upon these blooms rather than her.
“I am sorry, Rosaline, you no doubt do not wish to hear my protests again.”
“Father, we agreed… No protests today.”
“Then let us not call them protests. Let us call them concerns.” He lifted his gaze to meet hers. “This courtship with Lord Gloucester. It has been so fast.”
“Do you believe it to be too fast?” Rosaline was tempted to dance on the spot, in her old nervous habit. She allowed herself just one bob instead, fearing her father’s next words.
“Sometimes,” he seemed to chew his lip with the thought. “I do not doubt the man’s devotion to you, Rosaline. I saw him turning up at our door every day for three months straight, he was so keen on seeing you.”
“Is that not enough then to assure you all is well, Father?”
“That is early love,” Alfred whispered, as if afraid to utter the words. “A love that lasts a lifetime, that can last a marriage, well, that is quite different in my mind.” He fussed with the flowers between them. “Your mother had these in her bouquet,” he gestured to the red roses. “I remember them well.”
Rosaline took one of her father’s hands off the bouquet and clutched it in her own.
“I wish she were here too.” They smiled rather sadly at one another.
Rosaline’s mother had died long ago, of consumption, when Rosaline was still quite young. Never had Rosaline doubted the bond that had been between her parents, even after her mother’s death. Alfred had never thought of marrying again, and simply devoted himself to his business and to raising Rosaline.
“She should be here,” Alfred whispered then moved toward Rosaline. He kissed her on the forehead, a doting touch that brought such a smile to Rosaline’s cheeks that any tension between the two of them seemed to disappear.
“Trust me, Father. I love Simon, and he loves me. Granted, maybe we are marrying quite quickly, but I have seen many a person marry earlier than we, and have been happy for it,” Rosaline said in a rush. “I do not doubt he and I will be happy together.”
“Yes, I am sure you’re right.” Though Alfred’s tone was not quite as buoyant as Rosaline’s own. “I remember the early days of your courtship, partly because they weren’t not long ago.”
“Oh, Father,” Rosaline laughed at him.
“He quite insisted on taking you promenading. He was never afraid of showing you off in front of the ton, was he?” Alfred seemed perplexed by the idea, with his own dark red brows that were beginning to turn white in his old age furrowed together. “He was never ashamed of the disparity in your position.”
By now, Rosaline knew how true this was.
“Simon does not care for where one is born in this world. He says it is the heart and mind that count, not the estates and purses we come with.” She had heard him use these very words countless times.
Rosaline took the bouquet from her father as she thought about all that had passed between her and Simon. Early on, she had grown nervous, and knowing the vast difference in their stations, she had asked Simon to speak plainly of why he was not afraid to court her. He had been quite open on the matter.
‘What do I care for where you are born? It is who you are that matters! What bothers me about this world is the stock people put in such things as position. My father was the same.’
Over a drink and a rather stilted game of cards, Simon had told her of the difficult relationship he’d had with his father. How the last Earl of Gloucester had quite looked down on anyone who was not a part of the ton. Simon had rebelled and practically cut himself off from his father in his later years.
Simon never regretted it. Before his father had passed, they had talked, but Simon knew they would never see eye to eye on such matters. Simon saw the good in everyone and saw more nobility in the action of a miner working long hours to feed his family, than he saw in a lazy politician who fell asleep in the House of Commons, purporting to do good for the country.
“Simon is different to other gentlemen of the ton, Father,” Rosaline explained to Alfred. “He loves me, and I love him. We will be happy together; I promise you that.”
“Then I wish you every ounce of luck I can.” Alfred allowed himself his first full smile. “I hope the ton will accept you with open arms, and will not be…”
“Be what?” Rosaline asked, prompting her father on.
“No. We have had enough doom and gloom today,” Alfred shook his head, refusing to go on. “Today is a day of celebration, so let us get to it. Here, I made you something. I know Lady Felton was to make your gown, but I have something special for you.” He turned away, delving a hand into a leather satchel in search of something.
Rosaline smiled to hear Chloe’s new title used. It had not been long since Chloe had married herself. She had married the Duchess of Suffolk’s brother, Lord Felton, in a very happy ceremony indeed.
“Here you go,” Alfred said, turning back and presenting a gift to her. Wrapped up in tissue paper, Rosaline took the bundle excitedly, unwrapping it in a hurry. “You’ve always had the same look with presents. Even as a child, those amber eyes of yours went wide. I imagine any child of yours will be just the same.”
“Ha! You’re jumping ahead a bit.” Rosaline giggled as she pulled at the last bit of tissue paper, tugging it away.
When the cream silk fell before her, Rosaline smiled. It was a perfect match for her wedding gown, right down to tiny roses that were sewn into the hem. Unfurling it completely, Rosaline found it was a shawl, handmade by her father.
“You talked to Chloe about the design, did you not?” Rosaline asked, her eyes lighting up.
“I did.” Alfred nodded. “Lady Felton is a good woman. She has forgiven my…” He struggled to speak. It was still a sore spot between Rosaline and her father every now and then, the way that he had attempted to destroy Chloe’s business when it had first begun, but he had done much to make up for it since. “Well, anyway. She was kind enough to show me the design in advance, so I could make you this to go with it.”
“Thank you, Father. It is quite beautiful.” She stood on her toes and kissed her father on the cheek.
“There. Quite perfect, and ready to be wed.” Alfred encouraged her toward the door of the chamber, just as two excited knocks came from on the other side.
Rosaline smiled the closer she got to the door, listening to the voices beyond.
“She’ll be late!” the Duchess of Suffolk was panicking.
“And where is Lord Gloucester going to? He’ll wait at the church like a lapdog would its owner,” Chloe said with her usual wit. “Trust me, Lord Gloucester is not going anywhere.”
“I know that,” the Duchess continued on.
Rosaline opened the door, greeting her friends who both smiled wider when they saw her gown.
“Rosaline, my dear,” the Duchess gushed, her smile wide. “You look quite stunning.”
“You are too kind to me, your Grace,” Rosaline hurried to say.
“Indeed, she is not,” Chloe stepped forward, opening the door wider. “She speaks the truth. She also speaks the truth that we may be a little late. So, come on, it is time to get you and your father to the church.”
Rosaline looked back to Alfred one last time. She could see the nerves there. They were apparent in the way the muscles around his eyes had tensed, but then everything softened, and he smiled, assuring her all was well.
Rosaline threaded the shawl around her shoulders and held onto the bouquet tightly, allowing her friends to lead her through the apartment and head downstairs toward the door. She had been invited to stay the night before the wedding at Chloe’s apartments. Once the wedding was complete, she was to return to the house that would soon be her own, the one that she would share with Simon, for their wedding breakfast.
When they reached the door, Chloe fussed with the shawl, pulling it tighter around Rosaline’s shoulders.
“The autumnal breeze is here today,” she said in a hurry. “For so long summer seems to have staved off winter, but it is here at last!”
“Today of all days too,” the Duchess declared with a smile. “If only we’d had one more day of sunshine.”
“Is the sun not out?” Rosaline asked.
Chloe and the Duchess exchanged a nervous look before Chloe nodded to her butler.
“Yates, better to show poor Rosaline the damage now.”
The butler opened the door and stepped back, giving Rosaline a view of the busy town street beyond.
“Ah…” Rosaline sighed, looking out at the rain that was pouring down. Whereas the day before there had been a bright blue sky and a golden sun, today, the rain was coming down hard, creating puddles in the street and turning the front stoop that led up to the door into a practical waterfall.
Where the carriage in the road waited for her, the footman hurried to set the roof in place on the phaeton carriage, to shield where she would sit.
“Autumn is indeed here,” Rosaline remarked. It was perhaps not the perfect wedding day when it came to the weather, but then she remembered just who she was going to meet.
The last time she had seen him was in this very building the day before. They’d had a special goodbye, where he had stolen a quick kiss, far away from their chaperone. Rosaline could still feel the tingle of his lips pressed to hers.
‘Soon, we won’t have to say goodbye to each other again.’
He was right. It was worth getting through any weather to have that moment together.
“Oh well,” Rosaline stepped forward, making her tone buoyant. “I would go through a thunderstorm if it came to it. Besides, with the leaves beginning to fall, it might be quite beautiful, all those russet colors.”
“Beautiful and damp,” Chloe muttered. “Ow.” Rosaline looked round to see the Duchess had stood on Chloe’s toe to make her be quiet. “We best get you to the church, before I suffer any more injuries.”
They laughed together as they hurried toward the carriage, with Alfred standing by the coach and helping them all up one at a time. Once inside, they laughed together at how wet they already were.
Rosaline didn’t mind. She had never pictured a perfect wedding, never had she even thought she would have as grand a wedding as she was having now. Simon had been very particular in only wanting to invite the guests that mattered to them, so the party was to be small, yet his mother had urged him to invite her own guests too. The wedding had grown bigger and no expense had been spared on other matters, such as the flowers and the wedding breakfast.
Simon’s mother, who he had recently reconciled with after the argument with his father, had been most insistent that an earl should marry in style. That meant a grand church had been hired for the ceremony, and judging by what Rosaline had overheard, she suspected the wedding breakfast to be quite a spectacle in itself.
“Nervous?” Alfred asked as he took Rosaline’s hand. She held tightly onto her father’s palm, finding she needed the support just then.
“Yes, but also excited. Deliriously so.” Her words seemed to comfort Alfred, who smiled all the more.
“I hope he takes care of you,” he whispered, so low that only Rosaline heard him as the Duchess and Chloe continued to talk together.
“Take care of me?” Rosaline frowned, confused by this choice of words. “Who do I need protecting from?”
“Nothing, no one. I’m being silly. Ignore me.” Alfred shrugged off the matter. “So, what do you expect to be served at this wedding breakfast of yours?” he asked, lifting his voice a little.
“I have some ideas,” the Duchess said from across the carriage. “I believe the Dowager Countess is going to some lengths to secure something impressive.”
“Does that mean lots of saffron and spices? Or jewels on the table?” Chloe asked, smiling at her own jest. “I hope it is not the latter, I might struggle to chew them.”
Rosaline laughed hard before looking out of the window, trying to see some glimpse of the church.
I’m coming, Simon. Very soon, I will be with you, and we won’t have to part again.
“How is that?” Simon asked as he stood back, staring in the mirror. His valet had long since left, having finished the cravat once, but Simon had fidgeted so much that he had quite knocked it out of place and had to start again himself.
“It looks a little…” Lord Felton put his head on the side as he looked at Simon in the reflection. “Like it has had a drink or two.” He pointedly leaned sideways in emphasis.
Simon hurried to redo the cravat as the Duke of Suffolk chuckled on his other side.
“Were you like this when you got married?” Simon asked, hurrying to tie the cravat. At one point he tied the material around his fingers and had to shake it loose.
“Me?” the Duke asked, controlling his mirth. “I wasn’t so bad. I managed to get dressed and knock a bowl of water over my shoes, so they had to be changed. If you want more stories of disaster, ask Leo what happened at his wedding.”
“I remember the incident with the ring,” Simon laughed, recalling how Lord Felton had nearly dropped the ring he was to give to his wife.
“It was worse when I was getting ready,” Lord Felton called as he stepped away to find a chair. “I knocked over my valet. Quite a bit worse than knocking over a bowl of water.”
“Ah, why can’t I get this right?” Simon moved toward the mirror and tried yet again to tie the cravat just perfectly.
He could hear Lord Felton and the Duke jesting with one another, which left Simon alone with his thoughts as he stared into the mirror.
I can scarcely believe this day is here.
Since the moment Simon had met Rosaline, he thought a part of him knew she would be the woman he married. She was entirely different to any other lady he had ever met. Unaffected by the world of the ton as it was not the world she knew, she was a genuine person. She was honest in everything she did, full of heart, sympathy, and generosity. She had a delightful laugh, that whenever Simon heard it, it had a habit of making him laugh with her.
The first time they had danced together was scored on his memory. It hadn’t just been the feeling of a beautiful woman in his arms, with amber eyes that seemed to stare straight into him, it was the fact that she talked to him without pretensions or reserve. She had always been herself with him, and that person was bubbly, excitable, and effervescent about life in general.
She’s the champagne of women.
He snickered to himself as he loosened the cravat.
“This is hopeless. Why can’t I tie a cravat?” he asked, looking away from the mirror and turning to his friends, imploring them for help.
“It’s the excitement,” Lord Felton explained from where he was sat on a chair. The Duke leaned on the back of another chair beside him, nodding in agreement.
“It happens to us all.” The Duke shrugged. “Wait until you’re standing by the altar. I’ll be surprised if you can stand still at all.”
“That’s Rosaline’s trick,” Simon murmured to himself. He had a love for the way Rosaline could barely ever stand still, dancing on her toes, bobbing to-and-fro, especially when she was excited or nervous. “Is it the right cravat do you think? Should I be going for something a little more…?” Simone couldn’t quite finish the question, not sure what he was hoping for.
“The cravat is fine.” The Duke assured with a firm nod.
“I think most people tend to look at the bride’s clothes anyway on a day like today.” Lord Felton’s words brought Simon some comfort. “Though I don’t suggest turning up in a vegetable sack. That might stand out a little bit.”
“Just a bit,” Simon concurred and turned away. He abandoned fidgeting with the cravat for a minute as he moved to his window and looked down at the street. What caught his eye there startled him so much that he planted his palms on the window. “Good Lord…”
“What is it?” the Duke asked.
“Pigs might as well be flying,” Simon muttered.
Don’t get angry. Not today. Today is a good day.
He could see a stream of deliveries, with delivery boys carrying boxes on their shoulders, and maids hurrying on with sacks behind them. Each one was heading around the townhouse, no doubt aiming for the servants’ entrance.
“I fear my mother might have ordered from every market in London for this wedding breakfast,” he said with a deep sigh.
“It’s just a breakfast.” Lord Felton’s words didn’t help matters.
“Not to my mother,” Simon muttered quietly, watching as it started to rain and the delivery boys picked up their pace, running with their boxes. “To her, it’s a chance to boast.”
It was an argument Simon had often had with his father. When the late Lord Gloucester had instructed Simon again and again how it was an earl’s duty to look the part, to act the part, and be constantly dignified, untouched by mud, never to cower, never to talk with the lower classes in the street, Simon had scoffed. He knew the truth of the matter. There was no duty or nobility in behaving in such a fashion. His father had simply loved being above others.
It is never how I have wanted to be.
Yet now his father was gone, his mother seemed to be taking up where her husband had left off. Simon half expected it was his efforts to push away the fineries of being an earl, keeping company with writing groups and publishers, rather than the ton, that made her so obsessed with putting on displays of wealth.
“I’m tempted to go wearing that vegetable sack right now,” Simon called over his shoulder to his friends. “At least then it will make it clear to my mother what I think of all of this.” He waved a hand at the window and stepped back.
“Humor her,” the Duke pleaded, calmly. “It is your wedding day.”
The Duke’s calmness broke through into Simon’s frustration.
“Yes, you are right. I want today to be a good day. It is the end of old arguments and the start of the future.”
“Just so. Now, fix your cravat. We have to leave at some point,” the Duke said with a humored smile, gesturing to the loosened cravat. With Simon having long dismissed the valet before his friends had arrived, there was no one here to fix the cravat for him.
Simon once again took up the silk and returned to the mirror, trying to fix it, but he didn’t get very far. A knock at the door interrupted him and Lord Felton hurried to open it. He took two steps toward it before the Duke called out to him.
“Watch out for that chair leg!” It was a second too late. Lord Felton tripped on the leg and fell into the seat, before holding his arms out with flair.
“It was as if I intended to do that.” He was as surprised as they were to see himself sitting down so perfectly. A second impatient knock at the door sent him to his feet. “I’m coming.”
Opening the door, he revealed a face on the other side that Simon caught sight of in the reflection of the mirror.
Ah… I thought she would already be at the church.
Simon’s mother had appeared there, fidgeting with a bracelet that she wore around her wrist, jet black. It was a mourning bracelet worn in the memory of her late husband.
Georgiana was very tall, almost as tall as Simon himself, and seemed to his mind to be getting slimmer these days. Her thin face was becoming rather gaunt, and the dark auburn hair that had once been so full of life was beginning to grey in places. The green eyes he had also inherited from her lacked the exuberance they’d once had.
These days, Simon believed there was a coldness in his mother’s countenance that had not been there before.
“Simon.” She smiled, though that smile did not reach her eyes. “If you would excuse me, gentlemen, I would like a minute to speak with my son.”
“Of course. We’ll meet you by the carriage,” the Duke called to Simon and headed for the door. When Lord Felton tripped on the door jam, the Duke managed to catch his arm to stop him from falling in time. Simon laughed softly before the door closed and all fell silent.
Just be happy for me, Mother, I pray.
Abandoning his endeavors with the cravat, he turned to face his mother, smiling, wishing she would return it. She did, though it was still not a full smile. Then, it dropped completely away, making the gauntness of her cheeks quite prominent.
“I fear what your father would have said today.” She fiddled with the jet-black bracelet another time.
“I do not want to hear what he would have said, Mother.” Simon walked away and reached for the side of the room. His shoes were pressed against a wall, so he sat into the nearest chair and put them on. “He would have lectured me on how I should be marrying for money, for position, for connection, would he not?”
“Then clearly, I know what he would have said, so do not need to hear it. Today, we are to be happy Mother.” Yet she didn’t smile at his words. “Are you not happy at all that I am marrying for love?”
“Love? Is it really what it is?” The dubiousness of her question made Simon so angry that he felt his cheeks heat up. He didn’t answer her but let her go on.
I do not want an argument today.
“It is hardly surprising for a gentleman to lust after a beautiful young woman. Many do so, but they make mistresses of seamstresses. They do not marry them.” Her frown was deep, furrowing her brow.
“Mother!” Simon cut her off, having had enough. The anger in his voice silenced her, but he did not let that anger continue for long. He breathed deeply, taking his time over putting his shoes on. “Today, there will be no argument. You will be happy for Rosaline and I.”
“But I beg you to think more on this, my son.” She rushed to his side and dropped to her knees. Simon was so startled she would break her posture out of anything less than rigid that he froze on his chair, watching as she kneeled beside him, with her hands clasped together. “You can still back out of this. You can still refuse to marry her.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because it is not the way things should be. You are an earl. You should not marry a seamstress.”
“Does my father’s ghost walk amongst us? Has he borrowed your lips to speak, Mother?” Simon asked in derision, finding his determination to be calm quickly leaving him.
“I speak to you now with full sincerity, in the effort to wake you up from these childish and romantic notions.”
“Do not belittle me so.” Simon’s voice was so dark that Georgiana shuffled back an inch on her knees.
“I will always try to protect you, my son. It is what I wish to do as your mother.” Her eyes seemed wet for a minute, as if she was fighting tears.
“That maybe so, but I do not need protecting from Rosaline.” Simon shook his head. “Mother, please, listen to me.” He reached for her hand and rested it between his palms, staring at her with so much fervor that she didn’t look anywhere else but straight back at him. “Rosaline is the kindest woman I know. I do not need protecting from her. What I need from you today is to be happy for me.”
“It is not her nature that worries me.” Georgiana shook her head. “It is who she is. Right down to her core.”
“What does that mean?” Simon asked, feeling his words come slowly in apprehension.
“It means that she is a seamstress.”
“To the ton, she will always be.” Georgiana hissed with the words, as if it were a great secret and awful to speak of, even though they were alone in the room.
“What do I care for what they think?” Simon shrugged.
“You do not know how bad this will be. Clearly, you are determined to stick your head in the sand and think nothing of it.” Georgiana moved to her feet and stepped away, shaking her head back and forth. “You will soon find not all is as easy as you hope it will be. You will see how they condemn you, hate you for making such a connection. You will be cast out of all good society.”
“Mother, do you not think this is overreacting a little bit? This is like seeing a spot of rain and being certain a thunderstorm is about to come.” Simon laughed at the idea, just once as he stood to his feet and returned to the mirror, trying to fix his cravat. “Nothing will go wrong. Rosaline and I will be happy, and I tell you this now.” He paused, waiting until his mother looked at him in the mirror. Once their gazes were connected through the reflection, he went on. “You will come today and wish us well. You will be happy for us. Or you will not come at all.”
She looked horrified, her green eyes going wide and her thin lips parting. For a second, Simon thought she might have been fighting tears again, but no tears came and as she approached his side by the mirror, all trace of wetness in her eyes was gone.
“Let me. You’re making a mess of it.” She took his shoulder and turned him around, then fiddled with the cravat, adjusting it for him. “There. It is perfect now.” Standing back, Simon glanced at the mirror to see she was right. “It seems you are all set for the wedding.”
“I am. Thank you.” He nodded at her then looked to the door. Part of him longed to run to Rosaline’s side, to be with her now and to forget this argument with his mother, but then out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of the black bracelet on his mother’s arm and the way she fidgeted with it.
I must mend this relationship. It may not be easy, but my mother and I must improve our connection. I refuse to live my life in arguments forever more.
“Please, Mother,” he offered his arm, “say you will come to this wedding and be happy for me?”
“I will.” Slowly, she took his arm, as if hesitant. “Yet please, Simon, take heed of my warning. Your friends will pull away from you after this. Your life…it will not be as it was.”
“Amen.” The vicar bowed his head between Rosaline and Simon, before lifting his head and smiling upon them. “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
Rosaline had never known this sort of feeling before. Her heart fluttered in her chest like the wings of a butterfly, and she was doing her very best to stand still and not let her bobbing ruin the moment. Simon chuckled as an applause went up from behind them in the church and he turned to face her. When the congregation called for a kiss, Rosaline lost her battle and bobbed regardless, waiting for him to kiss her.
He bent down, brushing his lips against her own. It may have been chaste, but it excited Rosaline.
The first kiss as husband and wife.
She gripped his hand a little tighter as he moved back from her, smiling widely.
“Was it what you expected?” he whispered, so only he could hear her.
“I had not expected your mother to go to town with all the flowers.” Rosaline’s eyes went wide as she nodded her head at the vast array of flower displays. Each vase was a spectacle in itself, the bouquets broad, flowing like fountains of blooms. “Everything else though was quite perfect.” She squeezed his hand in emphasis. “And you? Was it everything you expected?”
“Well, I may have thought you would dance much more standing here beside me.” He teased her and wound her hand through his arm. She elbowed him pointedly, drawing a laugh from him, before they descended from the altar and began to walk down the aisle.
Their friends and family congratulated them all the way. The Duke and Duchess of Suffolk were the first ones to step forward, followed by Lord and Lady Felton. Rosaline was delighted to see Gretchen was there too, another seamstress that worked for Chloe. Alfred was one of the last to come forward, kissing Rosaline on the cheek and wishing them both well.
“Take care of her, my lord. For my sake as well as her own,” he pleaded with Simon and offered his hand for a shake.
“I vow to you I will, sir.” Simon bowed, showing deference to Alfred. Rosaline giggled when she saw her father’s surprise. An earl bowing to a tailor? Oh! No doubt some in the ton would be shocked, but it simply made Rosaline love Simon all the more.
He shows people respect, not their positions.
Amongst all the well wishes, Rosaline noted there was one that was missing. As she and Simon reached the door, she glanced back, searching for where the Dowager Countess of Gloucester stood.
Between the smiling faces, the well-pinned hairdos and the hands throwing dried petals in the air to bless the ground, Rosaline caught sight of a tall figure by the altar. It was the Dowager Countess, moving forward. She bowed her head and seemed to say a silent prayer, before turning and following the rest of the congregation, with not even the hint of a smile on her cheeks.
“Now, home,” Simon’s whisper called Rosaline’s attention back to him. He held her hand on his arm tighter. “Our home, from now on.”
“Just for a short while,” Rosaline reminded him. “We are going to the country estate at the weekend, are we not?”
“You can depend on it,” he assured her as they stepped out of the church door. “Now we are wed, I am planning on keeping you to myself for a little while yet.” His seductive whisper in her ear made a shiver of excitement run up her spine, then they both halted as they reached the door that was flung open.
Beyond the oak church door, it was raining heavily. Thunder rumbled, interrupting the congregations’ chatter and calls of congratulations.
“Not quite what we were hoping for, was it?” Simon asked, grinding his teeth a little in a grimace. Rosaline shrugged, unbothered by it.
“Well, we are going to get wet anyway, aren’t we?” she asked, and stepped out. She danced in the rain for a moment, so sodden within seconds that people laughed and soon followed her. The children that had come to the wedding jumped up and down in puddles. Amongst them, Rosaline saw the Duchess with her son, making a mess and enjoying themselves. Some ladies cowered back, horrified their gowns were becoming dirty and wet. Rosaline’s friends were not so bothered though. Chloe and Gretchen hurried out, running in the rain toward their carriages, merely enjoying the excitement of rushing through the water.
Rosaline reached back and offered Simon her hand. He didn’t hesitate but took it. The moment their hands touched Rosaline was reminded of the first night where she had taken his hand to go dancing.
If only I had known then what we were leading to.
“We won’t let a little rain get us down, will we?” Rosaline called to him over the sound of the thunder as they ran for the carriage.
“A little?” Simon laughed as they reached the carriage.
“Well, no amount of rain then!” Rosaline hurried into the carriage, with Simon following behind her. They both shook off their excess water before Rosaline peered out of the carriage window, looking to others in the church yard.
Before her eyes, their congregation seemed to be splitting in two. Some were more than happy to take enjoyment in the rain, hurrying to their carriages or jumping in puddles with the children. Others were not so tempted. An increasing group seemed to have stayed by the church door, ladies and gentlemen amongst them.
Rosaline then noticed the way some of the ladies whispered, standing close to one another, their eyes downturned at others round them.
They think ill of this. Do they think running through a little rain beneath them? Or do they think the whole affair so low below them?
“Simon,” Rosaline whispered, leaning against him in the carriage as they took off. “Do you see them?” She pointed at the group that quickly disappeared past the window.
“I do. Ignore them.” He shrugged them off, as if they mattered no more to him than a breath of wind. “Most of those people are the ones we had to invite, on my mother’s say so.” He cast his gaze to the ceiling, as if pleading with the heavens for help. “They might not think too well of an earl marrying a seamstress, so no doubt they are whispering to such an effect. Forget them. It hardly concerns me.”
As he picked up her hand and kissed the back, Rosaline found herself forgetting the group entirely.
* * *
“I hope you have enjoyed the breakfast?” Rosaline asked two ladies that seemed to be in a hurry to take their leave. She was looking between a Lady Ruth McAdams, who had not deigned to smile once yet, and a younger woman on her arm, Lady Christina Worrell.
“Yes, of course,” Lady McAdams said tightly. “The Dowager Countess has always been good at holding such events. I wonder if they will continue at that quality now.” The insinuation as plain, though she didn’t look at Rosaline as she uttered the words. In fact, she seemed to be making a point of avoiding looking at Rosaline at all.
Slowly, Rosaline gulped, looking between her position with the two ladies by the door of the dining room and the rest of the room. The breakfast was a spectacular one indeed. Everyone had eaten well, and much champagne had been drunk in celebration, yet a fair few of the guests had seemed in a hurry to leave. Conscious of trying to be a good hostess, Rosaline had come to say goodbye to the latest pair rushing off.
“I am sure it will,” Rosaline said, offering a smile and trying not to be quelled by the words. “I hope you have enjoyed the day?”
“Do not ask such a question, Lady Gloucester. You may be disappointed by the answer,” Lady Worrell tutted with the words, turned on her heel and left, with Lady McAdams hurrying on behind her. “To think he would marry a seamstress…” The words faded away.
The insult was so plain that Rosaline barely took note of the fact it was the first time she had been addressed ‘Lady Gloucester’, now that she was a countess. All she could think of was the not-so subtle jibe.
Stepping away from the door, Rosaline caught sight of Chloe and the Duchess a few steps away. She hastened to their side, deciding she needed the support of her friends, when she overheard their discussion with another of their guests that left her cold and hesitating.
“I beg your pardon, Sir Walter?” the Duchess said, her voice shaking in the middle.
“Well, it may be the champagne talking a little,” he chuckled as he took another sip, “but I declare I have not had such good entertainment for a while. It is as entertaining as visiting the theater, to see an earl degrade himself so in public, in front of this many guests from the ton. Ha! What a sight it was!”
“I pray it is the champagne that is talking,” Chloe muttered. “For it anyone should be ashamed to utter such words.”
Rosaline backed up, before any of them could notice she had approached at all. She hurried around the table, heading for another part of the room altogether.
This was not the way this was supposed to be. Now we are wed, Simon was so sure such whispers would end.
She headed for him at the far end of the room where he was standing by a tall window. He noticed her approach, his eyes shooting to hers and extricated himself from the guests he was speaking to before coming to her and taking her hand.
“Rosaline, what is it?” he asked, his panic plain.
“I haven’t even told you something is wrong yet.” Rosaline felt the touch of his hand firm beneath her own.
“You think I do not know you well enough by now to recognize pain?” he asked with a gentle smile. “I can read you like a book, love.” The new name he used for her made the stiffness that had grown in her spine soften a little. “What is it? What has upset you?”
“The comments of some of our guests have been a little…” She searched for the right word but feared being too mean. “Unwelcome.”
“Never have I known anyone with your generous spirit.” He threaded their fingers together. “You could have said the word ‘cruel’ or ‘belittling.’”
“I could…” Yet Rosaline would have been reluctant to call someone out so to their face.
“Pray, ignore them,” Simon pleaded and winked at her. “I only saw two people at that altar today promising to marry, and it was you and I, was it not?”
“That it was.” Rosaline felt the tension leaving her.
“You and I are in this marriage, no one else,” Simon reminded her. “Now, my butler is waving earnestly to get my attention about something. I must see to him, but I’ll be back soon?”
“Of course.” Rosaline loved the way he squeezed her hand one last time in parting before he rounded the dining table. Rosaline moved toward the window seat where she saw someone had been listening into their conversation.
The Dowager Countess was sat quite alone with a cup of tea in her hands, not the champagne that was flowing elsewhere. She took the smallest of sips, peering at Rosaline rather suspiciously as she sat beside her.
She may not be the warmest of people, but she is to be my mother-in-law now. Perhaps we can at least be friends.
“Thank you for the lovely wedding breakfast, my Lady. It was so kind of you to arrange such an affair,” Rosaline gushed warmly, gesturing to the food. She was tempted to go on at length of how she’d never had saffron before, nor meringues, but she decided against it when she saw the Dowager Countess merely nod, and not utter a word. Determined to get the lady speaking, Rosaline chose another topic. “I know we are to go to the country estate for a while, but I hope we will be all together soon. Simon and I have often talked of children, and how we long for a family. I hope my children will know their grandmother well.”
At last, there was the smallest of smiles. Lady Gloucester seemed to try and hide that smile behind her cup.
“I have longed for a grandchild for some time,” she accepted in a small whisper. “I would like that, a close family, I mean.”
Rosaline was delighted at the words. They may have been hurried and uttered in a deep voice, but it was certainly progress with Lady Gloucester. All of a sudden though, the smile vanished. Lady Gloucester turned to face Rosaline quite firmly and laid her teacup on her lap.
“I confess it is not entirely how I pictured this moment though.”
“How do you mean?” Rosaline soon wished she had not asked as Lady Gloucester frowned even more and tilted her chin down.
Rosaline was reminded of the ladies she had seen gossiping outside of the church, that look of staring straight down one’s nose, as if a person was nothing more than a dead rat at their feet.
“I never pictured the mother of my grandchildren would be a seamstress.” She whispered the word as if it were a scandalous thing.
“Well, my lady, it is not the summary of who I am.” Rosaline shifted on the seat, struggling to sit still. “It was my occupation only. It is not the culmination of my mind or my soul…” Yet she trailed off, certain that Lady Gloucester wasn’t really paying any attention to her words.
“Look around you today. What do you see?” Lady Gloucester gestured at the room with her teacup. “I see long-standing friends hurrying out, disgusted at what my son has done.” Rosaline flinched at the use of the word disgusted, it seemed so strong. “I see people avoiding you. They avoid me too.” Lady Gloucester shivered. “It seems we are all quite ruined.”
“Ruined? Surely not, my Lady.” Rosaline knew her tone was becoming quite desperate, but she stayed calm, never letting her voice raise in volume. “I have heard from my friends that the ton are fond of a scandal, it gives them something to talk of, but they soon find something new to talk of. It is merely entertainment for a short while.”
“What friends are these?” Lady Gloucester’s nose seemed to wrinkle as Rosaline gestured toward the Duchess and Chloe.
“Ah, a modiste, daughter of a fallen baron, and a duchess who managed to marry well to raise herself out of the poor state her father fell into. Birds of a feather, perhaps.”
Rosaline blinked, startled at the temptation to cry.
“Lady Gloucester, please…”
“Let there be no misunderstanding between us.” Lady Gloucester held her gaze. The green eyes that were quite like her son’s were much more piercing, almost painful in their stare. “Everything has changed now. Simon has shamed the earldom by marrying you.” She stood to her feet and walked away before Rosaline could summon any words.
One Month Later.
Simon blinked a few times. In his sleepy state it took a minute to remember where he was. Sunlight was streaming through the curtains, the golden light falling on his face. There was a slight warmth to the sun, despite the quick advancement of autumn.
Yawning and stretching, Simon angled his head on the pillow, trying to have a better look beyond the glass. He could see hints of the trees that were between the house and the coastline, but the view that dominated was the ocean beyond. The sea was calm this morning, with gentle white horses rolling in.
Beautiful. Like everyday.
When there was movement beside him, Simon turned his head to see the other beauty in his life. Rosaline was there, still half asleep as she turned toward him, her head falling into the crook of his arm. His smile widened to see her red hair wild across the pillow.
Never did I think I would be so happy.
Simon sighed audibly with contentment. He could remember the years of arguing with his father, insisting that he didn’t want to be a part of the world of the ton. In those arguments, his father had said repeatedly how Simon would grow up someday. How he would do as he had to. How Simon would marry a wealthy lady with a good dowry and who came from a well-to-do family.
Thank God I proved him wrong.
To marry for love was proving the best choice Simon had ever made. Lifting a hand, he reached for Rosaline’s cheek and brushed a lock of her red hair behind her ear, the better to see her face. Her lips were parted ever so slightly, and her cheeks were pink with warmth.
The mere sight of that blush reminded him of all that they had shared this last month. It wasn’t just the joys of the bedchamber, which he certainly loved, but there was so much more.
Here at his coastal estate, they were able to escape the ton. He imagined them living in their own world, able to talk for hours on end without interruption. Just the day before had they spent the day by the ocean. Rosaline with excitement had trailed through the rock pools, looking for wonders she could find. Simon had followed behind her as they had talked at length about the beauty they had seen around them.
“What can London have to compare to this?” Rosaline had asked excitedly when they had found starfish in one of the rock pools.
“Nothing. Especially the ton.” Simon was glad to leave the world of London and the ton behind. The only reminder he’d had of them was the occasional letter from his mother, who was asking with eagerness when they would return.
Simon was enjoying his time too much with Rosaline to even think of planning a return journey, even if he knew it had to be soon. His work with the writing circle and the writers he was supporting would have to be attended to soon enough.
“Now, that’s a frown.” Rosaline’s sudden voice drew Simon’s focus. He turned his head to see Rosaline was awake, with a smile playing on her lips. She lifted a hand and drew it down his temple, softening the lines that had creased there. Instantly, he smiled at that touch.
“You have a habit of making such frowns disappear.” His words were soft in the room.
“What were you thinking of?”
“The writers.” He confessed the truth. “I was thinking of all that will have to be done when I get back to London.”
“Ha! Think of the fun stuff! The exciting moments, not the work,” Rosaline urged. Her excitement made any chance of that frown returning disappear. “Tell me of all the writers you are working with at the moment.”
“You wish to hear it?” His smile grew wider.
“Of course I do!” She inched up, sliding on the bed until she was resting on her elbow. “There’s something about seeing you light up that I love so much.”
“I love you,” Simon said quickly, raising himself to steal a quick kiss. It was a chaste thing, merely the brush of lips together, but it still gave him the same thrill. He matched her position, both of them leaning on an elbow and facing one another.
“I love you too. Now, tell me,” Rosaline pleaded. “Talk to me of the writers.”
“Have I ever told you of the first writer I discovered?” Simon asked, watching as she shook her head. “It was such an exciting time. I had walked out of my father’s house, insisting that I would live in a small apartment in town instead.”
“How did he take that?”
“Oh, really well,” Simon said wryly. “So well that he sent his footman round to see me every day. In actual fact, he kept asking me when I would return home.” Rosaline smiled at his words. “I was there wondering what I would do with my life when I became lost in my books. They were another world, entirely. The promise of a better world. Maybe even…a fairer world.”
“Fairer? How do you mean?” she asked, her eyebrows raising in interest.
“In created worlds, people have better opportunities than they do in the real one, I am convinced of it. Out of nowhere, an idea presented itself to me.” Simon went on with excitement. “If I could create this world of movement, one where writers were encouraged to share, no matter what their background was, well, that would be truly spectacular.”
“See? You have lit up,” Rosaline said softly and gestured to the smile on his face. He chuckled, amazed how easily Rosaline could make him feel light and free, just by encouraging him to talk of the things that he loved so much in life. “Where did you find your first writer, then?”
“I went to my club. I was thinking of how to create this world, perhaps a group of fellow minds, when I came across a man in the club, down on his luck. The younger son of a baron, he did not have much opportunities to his name and was there drowning his sorrows whilst writing poetry on an old handkerchief.” Simon could remember the night well. He had sat down beside the poet, his eyes dancing over the handkerchief. “What beautiful verse he wrote, quite thrilling. When I said it deserved recognition he laughed. He said he’d tried, but funnily enough, no one was interested in seeing the work of a younger son of a baron.”
“That seems mad!” Rosaline gushed as she sat up straight on the bed, the bed sheet still wrapped tightly around her.
“It was. I found myself possessed with this desire to help him. I took the handkerchief, wrote up the verse properly, then the next day visited publishers. I purposefully didn’t tell them who the writer was, for I wanted them to be sold on the work alone.” Simon could still remember walking into the third publisher that day. They were the only publisher who had been open to the idea of reading the poetry before hearing the poet’s name. “He had a publishing deal before sunset.”
“Simon, that is wonderful,” Rosaline declared wistfully. “You changed his life.”
“I helped to change it, that is all.” Simon would always lay the credit at the poet’s door. He was the one, after all, who had the talent. “That was when I set up the writing circle, encouraging others to come. It wasn’t long before the Duke of Suffolk appeared. He has been instrumental in changing many writers’ lives.”
“Indeed! Look at his wife?” Rosaline said with eagerness. “He has introduced her to a world that accepts her and doesn’t judge her for being a woman.” She flopped back down onto the bed dramatically, making her hair dance about her head. Simon chuckled as he drew himself out of the bed.
They only had a week or more here on the coastal estate and he wished to make the most of it. As much as he loved staying in bed with Rosaline, there was more of the area he wanted to show her first. He offered a hand to help her out of bed and she took it, her fingers entwining through his own.
This feeling. If only I had known this was how we would be when we met.
“This is the problem with the ton,” Simon went onto explain. “There seems to be this collective opinion of what people can and can’t do, and what they should and shouldn’t be. Ladies having careers? Madness! For some god knows reason. Younger sons being successful? Oh no, they should go into the army or become vicars. They should not be outstripping their older brothers in terms of income.”
“Your wryness knows no bounds,” Rosaline said and followed him around the room. For now, she laid a dressing gown over her shoulders that distracted Simon.
It was unadorned, quite plain, yet elegant too. He quite adored her in the gown, for it was so much a symbol of her character. Rosaline might now be his countess, but she was not one for excessive fineries. She was not demanding or greedy, as he knew some ladies of the ton would have been.
She is humble. It is one of the reasons I love her so much.
“It baffles me though, I have to say,” Rosaline said, suddenly distracted enough to freeze with the ties of her dressing gown.
“What does? My wryness?” Simon asked playfully, earning a giggle from her.
“I mean the ton’s determination to keep people in their places.” She chewed her lip in thought.
Without having to ask, Simon knew where her thoughts had gone. Once their wedding breakfast had finished, Rosaline had told him not just of what his mother had said, but the actions of some of their guests, hurrying off and muttering how they believed he had made a mistake.
What right do they have to comment on my life?
“People who like to pass judgement are not worth our time of day,” Simon reminded her softly and bent toward her. He kissed her gently on the forehead, a sweet touch that made her sigh with happiness.
“I know, you are right. It is just sometimes I think ladies need to talk more of such things.” Her words caught Simon’s interest and he stepped back, reaching for a wash bowl at the side of the room.
“How do you mean?”
“I mean look at the Duchess of Suffolk, and Chloe too,” Rosaline urged. “They were both ladies from the ton who had fallen on hard times, yet they have been successful. Chloe made her business out of nothing. The Duchess is now a famed writer. They are both respected. That respect did not always come easily. It was as if the ton were wary of accepting them for who they really were.”
“No doubt they were. Any lady that breaks the mold is something they have a distaste for.” Simon splashed his face, reviving his body when he realized Rosaline had fallen quiet. Slowly, he lifted his face from the bowl and noticed his wife’s expression. She was saddened, her eyes downturned. “Love, I did not mean you.”
“I know.” She smiled sadly. “Though we would be fools to pretend it was not the case, wouldn’t we?” She accepted with a nod. “I am not one of them, so they do not care for me.” She fidgeted with the ties of the dressing gown, getting them in knots.
“And what does that matter to us?” Simon encouraged, drying his face as he walked back toward her. Swiftly, he took her hands from the dressing gown ties and entwined their fingers together. “I care for you. You know that.”
“I do.” Her smile was full this time. “Oh, we have been morose for far too long this morning, have we not?”
“Indeed. The ton will not change, even if we wish them to.” Simon nodded and walked away, ready to call the bell for his valet and Rosaline’s maid to help them dress.
He had often pictured the ton like some immobile marble statue. Beautiful at first glance perhaps, yet the more he looked, the more ugliness he saw. It would not change, not when put under any pressure. Those long stone noses looked down on anyone that walked by them, and those eyes were half lidded, not deigning to look to long on anyone they thought beneath them.
“I wonder if that is the case,” Rosaline whispered.
“I’m sorry?” Simon asked distractedly.
“I just wonder sometimes by opening discussions, encouraging conversations, if things can be changed?” Rosaline seemed to be speaking more to herself than to him, looking out of the window at the ocean beyond. “Chloe and the Duchess are hardly the only two women who have broken the mold. Perhaps some ladies are simply nervous of talking of their own dreams, for they fear what others will say.” She sighed deeply, just as Simon rang the bell.
Hmm. Perhaps she is right.
He got no further with the thought. Rosaline shrugged off the conversation, bobbed on her toes and turned to face him.
“Oh, enough seriousness for today. What shall we do? Take another walk to the seaside? The ocean looks beautifully calm today.”
“There is an old castle ruins not far from here. I would love to show it to you.”
“Then I can’t wait to see it.” Rosaline bobbed and kissed him on his cheek one last time. It was the last intimacy they could share before the valet and the maid arrived. “Do you ever think this place has a happiness you do not want to leave?”
“Every day, Rosaline,” he confessed quietly. “Every day.” Then he could say no more as the valet arrived.
Simon was glad they shared their chamber here and did not have to part. They continued to talk as they dressed on opposite sides of the room, with Rosaline behind a screen. Here, Simon was happier than he had ever bene.
If only we didn’t have to go back to London and the ton at all.
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