Here’s a bit of my latest work in progress, a sequel to my Regency Christmas story from last year, A Gift Unsought. This one will take place at Valentine’s Day, and will take up the story of Alethea Fenn and Pierce Rowland where they left off.
Lady Holmwood’s breakfast bell rang, and Alethea sprang into action like a well-oiled machine. With a smile, Pierce was already rising, and he caught her rounding the table with a swift kiss that made her blush in front of the other servants.
She held her tongue as she snatched up her ladyship’s tray and marched smartly toward the servant stairs. Pierce followed close behind. She could hear the tea cup clinking softly on his own tray for Lord Holmwood.
“I hope I did not offend,” Pierce said as they left earshot of the kitchen, in a teasing tone.
“You didn’t think a bit about offense, you libertine.” Her mouth quirked in a smile. “What were you thinking, kissing me in front of the others like that?”
“It was a mere peck, my darling. And you are my wife, besides, or will be soon.”
“Soon, and not now. Don’t forget that.”
He chuckled. “Sweet Alethea, don’t be angry with me. You know I can’t resist.”
“Well, resist you must.”
“Only until Saturday fortnight. Then you’ll be entirely mine.”
Something in his tone cast delightful ripples up and down her spine. “Only behind closed doors, mind.”
Pierce muttered something like “Merciless woman” as she pushed open the baize door with her back and twirled deftly through. She caught his eyes on the way, at once full of playful charm and serious intensity, and cast her gaze down with a blush.
No one spoke the words, but they both knew Pierce had won their little battle.
Pierce followed her right through the servants’ door into Lady Holmwood’s bedroom, but his lordship was waiting there, as usual, lingering in bed with his wife.
“Good morning, my lady,” Alethea murmured as she placed the tray on Lady Holmwood’s lap and adjusted her pillow more comfortably. On the other side of the bed, Pierce did the same for the Lord. “How did you sleep?”
“Passably. As I’ve told George countless times, I’m certain the country air is far better for the constitution.”
“I don’t doubt it, my dear Frances,” Lord Holmwood said. “But I’m far too young to go to Jericho. I’ve business to attend, Parliament to sit, and people with whom to hobnob. And besides, there’s our son’s wedding to consider. I do believe a certain Marchioness who will remain nameless insisted the ceremony must take place at St. George’s. That certainly couldn’t happen if we remained in the country.”
Lady Holmwood smiled warmly at his teasing as she tucked a dainty bite of ham into her mouth. “Of course coming to Town is necessary. But it is a necessary evil.”
Her charge attended to, Alethea went over to the dressing room to see to Lady Holmwood’s day dress. The chambermaid had filled the ewer with hot water earlier, and it was, as usual, perfectly warm for the Lady’s toilette. As she laid out a bronze-coloured gown, petticoats, corset, and stockings, Alethea listened to the companionable chatter of the long-married Holmwoods with a little smile.
Not for the first time, she marveled at their comradeship, the little endearments they shared as freely as newlyweds. She glanced through the sitting room to Lord Holmwood’s dressing room, where Pierce was brushing the shoulders of the master’s coat.
Not long now, and he would be her husband, to share every word, every joke, every breakfast with, just like the Lord and Lady. After a score of years married, would they still look at each other with such devotion?
Pierce caught her eyes on him and smiled devilishly. At this moment, in the first bloom of love, she couldn’t think how their fervour could ever fade.
But Alethea was no fool. She knew the Holmwoods were an exceptional couple. She had seen the cool tolerance of the Kendricks all her years in service at Harper Hall. And before that, a wide-eyed girl of ten in a house full of burdensome children, she’d watched her own mother and father tear one another apart with their hateful words.
Could that ever happen between her and Pierce, that heated spite, that awful frost?
She prayed God would grant it couldn’t. And besides, Alethea was not a girl to leave her fate to chance. She had worked her way to the stature of Lady’s maid to a Marchioness, and planned to reach the pinnacle of Housekeeper one day. With the same keen eye for a good example, the same determination and hard work, she would study the Holmwoods and build for herself and Pierce an exemplary marriage.
As always, please feel free to comment and critique! Let me know what you think. 🙂