Lady Wentworth and Rebecca hatch a new plan to destroy the marriage of Erik and Isabella.
Lady Jane had been right in her assessment that night at the meeting hall. It was hard. Very hard.
The letters began coming in two days after my resignation. One or two a day. All stating the same thing. They could not, in good conscious, continue their association with Erik and I any longer. They were all very short and to the point, but nonetheless painful to read. Erik said he never cared, but I think he felt it for me. Each letter drove in the guilt of how I’d acted that night at the meeting. It was my pride that had gotten the best of me. Perhaps, if I’d just told them I would quit teaching, then continue on in secret, no one would have been the wiser. I’d even thought about just giving in and never teaching again, but Elizabeth said it would be too little too late. She said to give it a few short months and slowly, people would come around once everyone forgot about the scandal. I kept my trust in her, but secretly, I just wasn’t sure.
Of course, the first letters to come in were from Lady Wentworth, Lady Covington and Lady Andrews. I expected it and barely glanced at them to know what they contained. I was actually a little disappointed that Lady Wentworth’s letter was as passive as it was, I’d anticipated something more colorful after what had transpired between us. I suppose she saved her sharp tongue for face to face encounters where she had an audience.
I was happy never to see a letter from Lady Jane, but I never looked for it as we’d spent several occasions together since my resignation night and she told me she wasn’t leaving my side. Curiously absent, on the other hand, was a letter from Lady Wickham. Even after a month of waiting, I never saw it, although I’d searched everywhere. That made an impression on me. When I told Jane about the absence of a letter from of Lady Wickham, she simply smiled at me, but never said a word. It helped to know at least one senior member was behind me. It made it a touch more tolerable.
All in all, Erik and I ended up receiving thirty-eight letters from not just the League women, but from others around the county whom I’d met over time. I also counted at least fifteen who gave us their silent support and friendship, yet they felt they had no choice but to pull back from us, at least for the time being. I replied to them personally that I understood and respected their decision and that I would miss their company terribly. Their encouragement nonetheless was comforting and it was more than gratifying to find we hadn’t been completely shunned.
The fall season of late October to early December came and went with no invitations to parties or social events, so to help keep my spirits up, my staff threw me a Thanksgiving dinner and invited Elizabeth, Jane, their husbands and families to attend. Teresa, because of my teaching and her diligent persistence, actually wrote home to my mother, asking her to send traditional Thanksgiving recipes. By herself, she read and followed each and every one. I’d quietly accepted that I would be spending my first Thanksgiving away from home with just Erik and the staff, so the surprise of seeing a beautifully decorated table with roasted turkey, Mother’s chestnut and raisin stuffing, fresh cranberries, vegetables and homemade rolls, threw me into a fit of happy tears. To this day, I still never found out how they’d managed to keep it from me.
“Lady Cecelia Wentworth, my Lady.”
Rebecca Arrington had been pacing so long around her parlor that she’d worn a path in the beloved Persian rug that Erik had given her for her last birthday. By the time she’d realized what she’d done, she hardly had time to mourn over it. Her maids would have to find a way to fix it, she had more pressing matters.
“About time.” She grumbled under her breath as her butler opened the door.
“Lady Rebecca.” Lady Wentworth causally strolled inside the ornately decorated room, expecting the usual pleasant greeting.
What she got was an edgy sneer.
Rebecca waved dismissively toward the butler, “Leave us and find Mister Nicholas,” then turned toward Lady Wentworth and said, “I sent for you more than two hours ago.”
Lady Wentworth’s smile faded quickly. “Pardon me?”
“You have never kept me waiting so long when I have asked for you, never. Why were you so late?”
Lady Wentworth’s jaw went taut, as if she was grinding her teeth. In her hands, she wrung out the handkerchief she’d been holding, “Although I do not have to account for my whereabouts with you, Rebecca, I was detained by company when your letter arrived. I came as fast as I could. I would suggest in the future that if you want me to come here when asked, that you keep your impatience and your manners in check. Next time, I might not show at all.”
Rebecca stiffened and swallowed hard. Turning her back, she paced once again, fiddling with a ribbon on her gown. Lady Wentworth had never used her first name in such an informal way before. Of course, it was her fault. No one ever spoke to Lady Wentworth in such a manner and remained on a friendly basis. She’d made a terrible mistake. Two hours wasn’t long, in retrospect, to wait for her, considering that she hated going out in the cold. The woman still never lacked for visitors.
Rebecca chose to heed the wise words and remember them in the future. She certainly didn’t want Lady Wentworth to disassociate with her, not when her help was needed.
“I see. Yes, well, would you like to sit down and have tea?” Rebecca feigned a smile; it was the closest she could come to an apology.
Lady Wentworth sat down in the large chair by the window, “No, thank you. I just need to know why you asked me here. We were to meet tomorrow for lunch at my home, or have you forgotten?”
Rebecca sat down in the chair across from Lady Wentworth, “No, I did not forget, but the information I have cannot wait until then. I think you will agree once I tell you.”
“Then by all means.”
“As you know, it appears our scheme with the earring failed miserably, as well as the plan to have Lord Helsey plant the seed of doubt within Lord and Lady Haven.”
Lady Wentworth nodded, “I know. We agreed that either one of the maids kept the earring and never told Lady Haven or Lord Erik found it, knew it was yours and put it away. If they had found out the plan, by now they would have confronted one or both of us. Please tell me that you did not ask me here to bring this up again. I told you that I would think of another way to break them apart and I…”
“That is what I am trying to say, Lady Wentworth. You do not have to come up with another plan, something has come to my attention that I believe will be quite beneficial to our cause.”
“Is that so?” Lady Wentworth was skeptical at best. While Rebecca was good at following her strict instructions and offering small ideas, thinking of things on her own wasn’t her strong suit.
“Two weeks ago, I discovered a disgruntled field worker from Haven Manor after he had approached my foreman asking for work. I had him brought to me. I thought he might be helpful and more willing to bring us information and less likely to be bought off by a shawl than your scullery maid.”
Lady Wentworth smirked to herself. She’d neglected to tell her or anyone else that Emily had been shipped off to work for her cousin, Lady Clara Ann Wyngate, in northern Lancashire County. She could never prove she’d been betrayed by her, but she knew the young maid liked Lady Haven very much and that she couldn’t handle. Maybe working for a less appreciative mistress, hundreds of miles away from her family in a tiny country cottage would make her see her mistake more clearly.
“So, you think this field worker is willing to help us.”
“Yes, in fact, per my instructions, he already has.” Rebecca let out a high pitched squeak of excitement.
“He has?” Lady Wentworth was a little more impressed. The woman was showing some new initiative.
“Andrew! Show Mister Nicholas in!” Rebecca called out to her butler.
A moment later, the door opened and a tall, very husky man walked inside timidly. He was filthy from head to toe from his early morning field work. He coughed and wiped his brow with an equally filthy piece of old cloth. “My Lady.” He nodded to both women.
Immediately, Lady Wentworth had to turn away from the man’s strong smell.
“Mister Nicholas, I shall not keep your from Haven much longer as you have been already untimely delayed, I would like for you to tell Lady Wentworth here what you observed two days ago.”
Again, Mister Nicholas coughed and turned to Lady Wentworth, “Ma’am, I was with another worker and we were filling the water canteens from the well. On the way back to the fields early that morning, we both saw our foreman and stable master, Dùghall Goddard behind the school house building kissing the house maid.”
“Lillian.” Rebecca said, looking over at Lady Wentworth, then back to Mister Nicholas. “Tell us what happened next.”
“Lady Isabella came outside and caught them, but she did not appear to be mad. They thought I went back to the fields, but I hid behind the door to the field kitchen and listened in. Dùghall told her that he and Lillian had declared themselves to one another. After he left, Lillian asked Lady Isabella if she could have a night off so that her and Dùghall could spend the evening together. She said he wanted to make a more formal proposal of marriage.”
Lady Wentworth waited patiently, a handkerchief over her face, for the man to continue.
“Please, go on, we have little time, tell us what she said.” Rebecca waved her hand.
“Lady Isabella suggested they use the school house since it had a fireplace and would be warm enough. She told her she was going to give all the staff the night off so that they would have all the privacy they needed. Then she told her that she could have one of her old gowns to wear and she’d help her fix her hair with a hairclip that Lord Erik had given her when she first came to Haven Manor.” Mister Nicholas stopped and Rebecca beamed proudly.
Lady Wentworth just stared at her.
Rebecca said, “They are to meet in the school house tomorrow night. He came to me early this morning with this new information, so I had him stay until you arrived. Now, you can see why I asked for you to come so quickly.”
Again, Lady Wentworth’s face was blank.
“Do you not see how perfect this is?”
“No, I do not. What do the romantic interests of two of Haven’s servants have to do with us?”
Rebecca stirred anxiously in her seat. “Because Lillian has blonde hair. Almost the same length and shade as Lady Haven’s. She keeps it in a small, tight bun most of the time, but I have seen it down once or twice in the many times I have visited Haven. If she wears Lady Haven’s borrowed hair clip and gown and if the lighting inside the school house is just right and if Erik is just at the right distance see the back of Lillian’s head and…”
“Lord Erik might assume that Lillian is Lady Haven and that she is having an affair with this Dùghall Goddard?”
“Will never work.”
“Because Lord Erik would just go into his home and find Lady Haven there, safe and sound and he would know it was not her. Think about it, who is to say that Lady Haven has not already told Lord Erik about the relationship between them, anyway? No, Lord Erik is too intelligent to fall for anything he could disprove so easily.”
Rebecca’s shoulders slumped.
“Oh, I am sure she has not, my Lady.” Mister Nicholas spoke up.
“Has not what?” Lady Wentworth asked him.
“She has not told Lord Erik of Lillian’s plan, my Lady.”
“How can you be so sure?” both women asked at the same time.
“Because, Lillian made Lady Isabella swear to keep the information from Lord Erik until after the engagement was official. She was quite insistent about it and Lady Isabella promised, but only gave her three days. She did not wish to keep it from him longer than that.”
“Are you absolutely sure of this?” Lady Wentworth asked.
“Yes, my Lady, positive.”
“Why did you not tell me this earlier?” Rebecca asked him.
“Because you never gave me the chance to finish, my Lady.” Mister Nicholas smirked slightly as he wiped his brow once again.
“Thank you for this information. I will see that you are compensated by myself as well as Lady Rebecca for your diligence. I do assume that you will keep your visit here a secret.” Lady Wentworth told him.
“Yes, my Lady.” He nodded.
“You may return to Haven and be sure to tell Andrew of anything else you see or hear. We will call on you again when we need you.” Rebecca added.
“Good day, my Lady.” Mister Nicholas nodded to both women and exited quickly.
“So, what do you think?” Again, Rebecca was beaming from ear to ear.
“Interesting, I grant you that, but I still am not sure it will help our cause. As I said earlier, Lord Erik is a very sensible man. He would not just see this happening and not either encounter the couple or just go to find his wife and question her. He has absolute trust in her.”
“Yes, but I know Erik in the past has had very quick and volatile rages when he feels he’s been hurt. I have witnessed them first hand. You cannot tell me that Lady Haven has quelled his temper so easily in just the few short months she has been here. He has had a bad past and therefore distrusts women when they declare their love. I believe his temper may override his senses if this takes him by surprise. On top of that, he hates Dùghall Goddard.”
“Yes, I do not know why, but every time I was there, I was told never to associate with the man. I was not even allowed to call him anything but Mister Goddard. Believe me, if I could have had contact with him, I would have. He can be a bit grimy and dirty from his work, but the man has the face of an angel and the body of a Greek God, I am sure he cleans up quite well. Every woman in that household practically fell at his feet. But, Lord knows why, he always had eyes for Lillian. That innocent, doe eyed little...”
Lady Wentworth went deadly quiet, her mind quickly trying to concoct a plan that would not only work but be plausible.
“Yes, play off Lord Erik’s hate for this Mister Goddard.” Lady Wentworth answered, musing to herself but loud enough for Rebecca to hear her. “First, we need a way to get Lady Haven out of the house for just that night. Something she could tell Lord Erik and he would believe it, but later could be disputed, thus raising his suspicions. Of course it would take some careful planning and preparation. Come, let us take a walk outside and think, we have very little time. When we are done, Lord Erik will banish his wife from his home and if we are lucky, from England all together.”
“Hold still or I’ll stick these in your legs instead of the gown!” Isabella swatted Lillian on the arm, mumbling with at least five pins in her mouth. She’d spent the past hour trying to get the fidgety girl to stand in place long enough so she could fix the hem in the blue gown she’d selected for her to wear on her special night with Dùghall.
“I have to get this sewn today and I have just a few hours to do so. Then I have to help you with your hair. The sooner I get this pinned, the sooner I can begin.”
“I appreciate all you are doing to help me, Mum, I am just so nervous. What if this does not work? What if Dùghall is not impressed? What if he hates what I prepare for dinner….and…”
Isabella laughed out loud, careful to spit the pins into her hand first. “Are you serious? Lillian, you could bring nothing to that school house except dried prunes and the man would think it was truffles. I assure you, he’ll see nothing but you and in this gown, with your hair down and brushed out all smooth and silky, you’ll be stunning. So please, stop worrying and for heaven’s sake, stop moving.”
“This is so important to us both. I already owe Mary Ellen for covering for my chores this evening and I bribed Jarrod into telling Lord Erik that I was visiting with Mummy and my sister for the night. Everyone knows this is going to happen tonight, I feel as if their happiness is now depending on the outcome.”
Isabella put the last pin into the bottom hem and stood up, “Don’t worry about anyone else, just yourself and Dùghall. He’s a fine man and he loves you…you two are...”
“My Lady, may I come in?” Mary Ellen interrupted from behind the sewing room door. A knock followed.
“Sure, come in.”
“Oh, girl, that gown looks beautiful on you!” Mary Ellen exclaimed as she walked inside. Tucked under her arms was the large sewing kit Isabella usually kept in the parlor. She sat it on the side table.
“Thank you.” Lillian grinned back at her.
Isabella patted Lillian’s arm, “You can take it off now, I think I have all the pins in it. Mary Ellen, will you help her?”
“Of course, but first, my Lady, a letter has arrived, special delivery.”
Isabella nodded and held out her hand.
“Oh, I see.” Isabella looked over at Lillian, who had frozen in shock, eyes wide.
“Not today.” Lillian let out a breath.
“What’s wrong?” she looked over at Mary Ellen.
“The last time a letter came for her here like that, her father had died. I suppose she is afraid of it being bad news again.”
“It might not be. A special delivery letter doesn’t always mean bad news, go ahead and read it.” Isabella told Lillian.
Her hands shook and she pushed the envelope back towards Mary Ellen, “No, you read it, please.”
“You are a good reader now, Lillian, you do not need…”
“I know, but I just cannot…please read it, Mary Ellen.”
Mary Ellen looked over at Isabella, eyebrows raised.
When Isabella nodded, she cleared her throat and opened the envelope, “Dear Lillian, I cannot stand it here in this tiny house. Lady Clara Ann is worse than Lady Wentworth in every way. I hate it here in Lancashire. There are only two maids and I work all day with little time to sleep. I am lonely. I am going to leave late tonight and run away. I cannot go home because my family would send me back. You are the only friend I can trust, please help me, I beg you. Your friend, Emily.”
A small hush fell over the three women.
“Poor girl.” Isabella sighed. “If she runs away…” She’d known for quite sometime that Emily had been sent to live with a relative of Lady Wentworth’s. Emily had paid Lillian a secret, late night visit to bid her goodbye. This was the first time anyone had heard from her since.
“I must go to her before she does something foolish. Please, give me permission to do so, Mum. Emily told me where the cottage was, I could be there in a few short hours by train.” Lillian whispered.
“No, you can’t cancel your special night with Dùghall, he’d be broken hearted.”
“He’d understand, we can do it another night. He could go with me.”
“No, I’ll go.” Isabella shook her head.
“No, Mum, I cannot ask you…”
“I insist. It’s my fault she was sent away in the first place. If I hadn’t been nice to her, given her the soup and the shawl, then betray her by telling everyone at the Meeting Hall that I’d done so, she would still be working for Lady Wentworth and none of the other women would have been the wiser. I embarrassed that old cow and she punished Emily for it. If I can help her in some small way, then I’m going to do it.”
“What will you do, my Lady?” Mary Ellen asked.
“I don’t know right now. Maybe if Erik allows me, I will buy her from her mistress and bring her here to work. If Lady Clara Ann and her husband don’t have much and only employ two servants, I’m sure if I offer enough for them to find someone else, they’d part with her. We’ve never needed a scullery maid, but there’s no reason we couldn’t start.”
“Oh, Mum, will you really hire her?” Lillian asked excitedly.
“I’ll go speak with Erik right now and explain the situation. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind taking her on. At least she’d be close enough to her family and could help them more. Right now, they’re suffering without her extra income.”
“But Lord Erik is at work.”
“Then I’ll just have to pay him a visit, won’t I?”
“Thank you, Mum, thank you!” Lillian threw her arms around Isabella and hugged her tight, sticking both of them with the pins in the gown.
“Ow!” They both cried out at the same time.
Mary Ellen laughed and while Isabella walked out of the room to find Dùghall to take her to London, she helped Lillian undress.
The people and carriages trying to make their way through the London streets didn’t deter Isabella. She barely noticed as Dùghall drove the carriage through, parking in front of the large building that held his office. The whole journey there, she did nothing but think of Emily. Again, another unexpected casualty of her zealousness that night in front of the Women’s League. This might be something she could fix, or at least try.
“We are here, my Lady.” The young man said as he jumped down from the top and opened the door for her. Taking his hand, she stepped out and took her first look around. It was the coming Christmas season and everyone was out walking and browsing in the shops. Children threw snowballs and ice skaters filled the local frozen ponds. Bell ringers rang their bells and twice as many vendors lined the sidewalks, selling everything from hot apple cider to roasted chestnuts. No matter how many times she’d been to London since she first arrived, the environment there never ceased to amaze. Even a busy place as Wilmington had seemed to her, it just didn’t compare. Now, bustling with cheery merriment, it was even better. She told herself she would have to return with Elizabeth when she had more time to take it all in.
“Thank you.” She smiled at Dùghall, still unable to contain her excitement about what would be happening later that evening. She could see he was just as excited, but also a little nervous.
“Shall I walk you to the door?” He smiled back.
“No, I can go inside on my own. Fourth floor, right?”
“Yes, my Lady.”
“I will return as soon as I can. Meanwhile…” she reached inside her pocket and pulled out several coins, “I think it might be nice if Lillian walked into the school house and found some lovely flowers there, don’t you agree? Why don’t you go to the hothouse and pick up a nice bouquet.” She slid the coins into his hand and winked.
“I could not ask…”
“You didn’t ask, I offered, now take them. Give them your order and if there is any problem, tell them you are purchasing them for Lord Renault of Haven. They won’t give you any trouble.”
The grin that grew across Dùghall’s face said more than words ever could. As he climbed back onto the carriage, Isabella went inside the building.
“I believe these are the last of the papers, Lord Erik.” Louis, Erik’s assistant said as Erik scrolled his name at the bottom of a stack of documents. It was the part of the job he hated, but it was also the most necessary.
“Good. When is my meeting with the committee?” he asked him. He placed his fountain pin in the ink well and looked up at the man, who’d been diligent to keep his distance from the house since Isabella became a permanent resident. He knew he was just being polite, feeling his assistance was now best served in matters of business only, but sometimes he did miss his company.
“In an hour, my Lord. Then you have that meeting that Lord Helsey set up for you yesterday.”
“That is right. Isabella was not happy to learn that I would be working later than usual tonight, we always have our dinner together and now in the colder weather, we have been taking our meals in the sitting room by the fireplace.”
“Sounds very cozy, my Lord…”
A small knock interrupted their conversation.
“Again?” Erik’s patience was already wearing thin from the constant interruptions he’d received since he’d arrived. He couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t leave him alone for just a few minutes to sign some papers. He remained silent, hoping whoever it was would give up and go away.
A second knock came, a little more insistent than the first.
“I said I was not to be disturbed.” He groaned out loud.
“It is most likely Lord Helsey again.” Louis said.
“I do not care. Whoever it is, get rid of them.” He told Louis.
“Yes, my Lord.”
Erik kept his head down, reading over more papers, only hearing the door opening. Then, a small gasp and “Well, good morning, my Lady,” came from Louis.
His head flew up to see his wife walk into his office.
“Good morning, Louis. How are you today?” Isabella asked him.
Louis took her hand and kissed it, “Very well, and yourself?”
“Very well, thank you.”
Erik beamed at Isabella as he stood from his desk. What a pleasant, albeit unexpected surprise. It was the first time she’d ever seen where he worked. At first, he thought perhaps there might be a problem, but by the look on her face, the call seemed strictly social.
“Love. I would ask why you have come here, but then perhaps I might sound ungrateful at your visit.” Erik left his desk and approached her, but simply took her hands and kissed her cheek. He didn’t feel he could do more with Louis nearby.
“I know I should have sent word I was arriving, but there was little time. I hope I haven’t come at a bad time.” Isabella couldn’t take her eyes off her husband. It seems his eyes were just as bright as a copper penny.
“No, you caught me before I had to go to a meeting, but that is in an hour.” He said, then he looked over at Louis, “That will be all for now, come back when it is time for the meeting.”
“Yes, my Lord. Good day, my Lady.” Louis nodded to both of them and left the office, closing the door behind him.
Only then did Erik pull his wife into his arms.
“Ummm…I was wondering when you would do that.” She sighed, her arms wrapping tightly around his body. “I was missing your touch.”
“Even after we made love all night last night?” he whispered, inhaling her hair.
“Especially after.” She laughed softly.
“I must not be as satisfying as I had hoped. I will have to find new ways to please you.”
Laughing sharply, Isabella looked up, “More? There are even more ways?”
“Absolutely. I have just begun to delve into the Karma Sutra.”
“Is that so? What else can you show me?” she grinned.
Erik smirked, “Nothing I can show you here without getting into trouble. But beyond that, I must ask, what brings you out to see me today? Are you out shopping with Elizabeth?”
Isabella sighed deeply, her fun would have to wait.
Erik noticed the change immediately, “Is something wrong?”
“Not wrong, but I do need to discuss something with you, something very important.”
Reluctantly, Erik pulled from her embrace and led her to the large chair in front of his desk. Once she sat down, he sat down in the chair next to it.
“Now tell me.” he held her hand lovingly.
“You recall, a few weeks back, I mentioned that Lady Wentworth’s scullery maid, Emily had been sent away to Lancashire.”
“Lillian received a letter this morning from Emily, begging for her help. It seems that the conditions at her new home are atrocious and she plans to run away. If she does that, if caught, she would be sent back and punished. If she succeeds, then her family will be worse off than ever because she could never have contact with them.”
“Yes, that would be the likely scenario.” Erik said.
“So, with your permission, I would like to go there and bring her back.”
“You? She asked for Lillian’s help. We can allow her to go with Dùghall.”
“No, Lillian can’t go, not tonight.” Isabella replied too quickly, then bit her tongue, knowing what his response would be.
She paused a moment. It was all on the line now. Would she lie to her husband or betray the promise she’d made to Lillian. Erik, yes he would forgive her fib once he knew the reasons why. But would Lillian forgive her, even if she explained? It meant to much to her to have complete secrecy.
“Since we had decided to give the whole staff the night off, Lillian is going into town to visit her mother and sister. Apparently it is her mother’s birthday and she really wanted to be there. I can’t let her miss that.”
Well, that was easy enough. She wasn’t sure if she should be relieved by that or bothered.
“And being that Emily’s letter was urgent and that I do feel that I’m partly responsible for her being sent away, I thought the least I could do was go find her before she makes a huge mistake. Time is of the essence.” She tried to read Erik’s expression, to sense anything that might show he didn’t believe her. She saw nothing.
“It is not a very long trip there by train, but it would put you very late coming in this tonight.” Erik rubbed his chin, something he always did when he was conflicted.
“I would ask you to go with me, love, but you did say this morning that Lord Helsey is keeping you very busy, at least for the early part of this evening.”
Erik groaned. Damn Lord Helsey and his business matters that needed immediate attention. He swore the man seemed to just know when it was the most inconvenient time to bother him.
“Yes, unfortunately. But still…”
“I will be just fine. Besides, Emily and I can stop for the night and sleep at the Inn in Stafford. It’s very close to the train station and I can be home bright and early tomorrow morning.”
“That is true…”
“Please, love. There is no time to waste. If she is serious in her decision to leave, I have to stop her. Will you allow me to go?”
Slowly, Erik nodded. He didn’t like letting his wife go off to the northern part of England, but he trusted her and admired her desire to help. Yet, propriety dictated she not go alone.
“If you have to go, I will send Louis with you.”
“That is fine.” Isabella breathed a big sigh of relief. Part One was a success, now on to Part Two. Would he agree to pay off Lady Clara Ann and hire Emily?
“Thank you, love. There is one other thing I need to ask of you though.”
Erik smirked, “And that being?”
“Would you be interested in hiring Emily? You had mentioned before that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to hire on another maid. Lillian can vouch for her and she’s been a scullery maid for about three years…”
“That is true, good idea, love…”
“She is very experienced and loyal…”
“I said it was...”
“I am sure even if we paid her more than she was paid by Lady Wentworth, it would be more than enough to help her family…”
“They are in the worst way right now. The youngest sibling barely recovered from a serious infection and….”
Isabella jumped slightly in the chair.
“Pardon?” her eyes widened.
“I said it was a good idea, hire her.”
“Oh.” She slowly smiled.
“We do need another maid which would free up Teresa in the kitchen, so by all means, pay what amount Lady Clara Ann asks for her release and bring her here. I will send Louis with the money ledger.”
“Thank you, love. This means the world to me.”
Erik leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers. “Then you will repay my kindness, dear lady, upon your return? I plan to take the entire day off tomorrow. I will be yours.”
Isabella moaned, Erik’s breath brushing across her cheek, “The entire day? What do you have planned for us?”
“Umm…let me see. A picnic by the lake perhaps?”
“No, too cold.”
“A trip to the theatre then?”
“No, we went to the theatre just two weeks ago, nothing new is playing.”
“Then how about we stay at home in bed all day long, while I make love to you endlessly and sleep only when we are completely exhausted, then awaken and I love you even more?”
Erik laughed deeply, “I thought you would agree to that.”
“Not that I do not love the theatre, but we cannot make love there. As for the lake, we would have to wrap up in blankets, thus making ourselves quite cumbersome. Of course, when warm weather comes, that will not be an issue…”
“You, my beautiful Belle, are ingenious as well as stunning.”
“And you, my loving husband, are a flirt.”
Their lips met and Erik deftly pulled his wife into his lap without missing a beat. Their arms enclosed around one another and with a sigh, they melted together. No matter how many times Erik made love to her, Isabella found that she got the most enjoyment from just the closeness they share on a daily basis. Sometimes she felt her heart would stop beating when he was away from her.
“Oh, I wish we could stay like this all day.” She sighed against his full lips.
“I wish the same, love, but then I would not get any business done.” He stroked her cheek lovingly.
“I know, and I really need to get started. Dùghall is driving me to the train station.”
“I will have Louis meet you there.”
Isabella removed herself from Erik’s lap and straightened her gown and fixed her hair. “I will return home and pack a small overnight case, we should make it to the station by afternoon.”
“He will be there.”
At the door, once again, Erik pulled Isabella into his arms, desperate to hold her as much as possible before she had to leave. He’d grown so accustomed to her in his bed, he hated the thought of her absence. Without her body, her scent, her warmth, that he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep.
“I’m going to miss you. I bet I won’t sleep a wink.” Isabella said, “I will have to pack a couple of books.”
“And I have enough paperwork to keep me busy in the library tonight anyway.” Erik agreed with a small chuckle.
“I hate this, but I do really have to go.”
He released her, but he hated doing it. “Take care of yourself and I wish you the best of luck with Emily. I hope you can convince her to come and work for us.”
“Thank you, my dearest love.”
Dùghall sat on the top of the carriage, checking his watch every few minutes. The trip to the hothouse had gone surprisingly smooth, all he had to do with mention Lord Erik’s name and they gave him anything he wanted. Now, he was left to wait. He knew Isabella would probably keep her meeting short, but she was in there for longer than he’d anticipated. He had a lot to do before his night with Lillian, being late wasn’t an option.
He sighed when he saw her come out of the building nearly an hour later, all smiles. He jumped off the carriage and approached her.
“My Lady, I assume Lord Erik was most agreeable with your plans?” He asked.
“Yes, very. I’m going to leave this afternoon on the train, Louis will accompany me and take care of paying Lady Clara Ann for Emily’s release, then we’ll stay in Stafford overnight and be home early in the morning.” She replied optimistically.
“I knew Lord Erik wouldn’t refuse you. Here…” he turned and took out from the seat of the carriage a large bouquet of mixed wild flowers, “What do you think of these?”
Isabella squealed with delight, “Oh, Dùghall, they’re beautful!”
“I have three more just like these. I found it cost as much to purchase more of the mixed flowers than it did for one bouquet of roses.”
“That’s very sensible thinking, Dùghall, you’ll be able to put these all over the school house, not just in one place.
“Will you hold them for me on the way home? I do not want to put them up with me for fear of crushing them.”
Carefully, Isabella took it all in her arms, “I’d be delighted.”
“I put the other three inside the carriage already. Oh, and I have this too.” He pulled a small bag of roasted chestnuts out of his coat pocket and handed it to her.
“They smell delightful!”
“They are for you, to warm you on the way home.”
“How kind of you, thank you.” She smiled back at him. “I’m sure I’ll finish off the bag before we get back.”
“Do you really think Lillian will like everything?” he fidgeted, shifting from one foot to another.
Gently, she reached up and patted Dùghall reassuringly on the cheek. “Dùghall, you are doing a wonderful thing for her. You are a true romantic at heart and she adores you.”
Dùghall briefly leaned into her touch before taking her hand and helping her into the carriage, “She deserves the best, my Lady and I plan to see that she has the best, tonight and for the rest of your lives. Thank you for your help and support. No mistress has even been as kind hearted.”
“You charmer you. Now, let’s go home. You have a lot of do to prepare for tonight after taking Louis and me to the train station.”
“Yes, my Lady!” he smirked before shutting the door. He happily leapt onto the front of the carriage.
Just as the carriage pulled away, Erik, who had been watching the exchange from his office window, leaned his forehead against the cold-frosted glass.
“Umm…” He hummed thoughtfully and returned to his desk.