A week to be wicked, p.48
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       A Week to Be Wicked, p.48

         Part #2 of Spindle Cove series by Tessa Dare
Page 48


  Much less picturing it.

  She gave herself a brisk mental shake.

  “Well, you can spread the word”—and she knew Sally would—“that the women of Spindle Cove have nothing to envy. There’s absolutely nothing between me and Corporal Thorne. Nothing but polite acquaintance on my side, and certainly no affection on his. The man barely tolerates my existence. ”

  Thorne had been only too eager to see Kate leave that day. She recalled the terse impatience in his motions as he’d shown her to the castle gate, once their conversation was concluded. Evidently, digging a well was more entertaining.

  Sally shrugged, wiping a dusting cloth over the shelves behind the counter. “You never know, Miss Taylor. No one thought there was anything between Miss Minerva and Lord Payne, either. And look at them. ”

  “That’s entirely different. ”


  “It . . . just is. ” Kate was saved by the clip-clop of hoofbeats and a rumble of approaching carriage wheels.

  In an acrobatic maneuver, Sally clutched the shelf with one hand and leaned her weight to the other side, craning her neck to peek out the shop’s front window. Glimpse achieved, she dropped her dusting cloth.

  “Just a moment, Miss Taylor. That’s the post. I have to meet it, or they’ll be ever so angry. Those mail-coach drivers are surly ones. They don’t even like to slow down. ”

  While Sally gathered the post, Kate fished in her reticule for coins to pay for the ink. There weren’t all that many coins left. Winter and early spring were lean seasons for a music tutor in a holiday village. She had to exercise constant frugality.

  “Do you have change for a half crown?” she asked, as Sally came back through the door.

  “Just a moment . . . ” The young woman sifted through the small bundle of envelopes and letters. She seized on one missive, separating it from the stack. “Cor. Here it is. ”

  “Here what is?”

  “A letter from Miss Minerva. ”

  Kate’s heart jumped in her chest. The whole village had been waiting for word from Minerva. She rushed to Sally’s side. “That’s her penmanship. I’m certain of it. ”

  “Oh!” Sally squealed. “It’s sealed with Lord Payne’s crest, just look. ”

  Kate ran her fingers over the bumpy red wax seal. “Indeed it is. Oh, this is wonderful news. Mrs. Highwood should have it at once. I’ll take it to her at the Queen’s Ruby. ”

  Sally clutched the envelope to her chest. “Absolutely not. No one’s getting this away from me. I have to be there when she reads it. ”

  “But what of the shop?”

  “Miss Taylor, this is the Bright family. There are a half dozen of us. ” Sally dashed to the storeroom door and called through it. “Rufus, mind the counter. I’ll pop back in ten!”

  Together, they raced across the green and through the door of the Queen’s Ruby. They found Charlotte and Mrs. Highwood in the drawing room. The former, working an embroidered pillowcase. The latter, drowsing on the divan.

  “Mrs. Highwood!” Sally called.

  The matron woke with a snort. Her head swiveled so abruptly, her lace cap went askew. “What? What is it? Who’s murdered?”

  “No one’s been murdered,” Kate said, smiling. “But someone may have been married. ”

  Sally pressed the letter into the older woman’s hand. “Go on, Mrs. Highwood. Do read it. We’re all desperate to know. ”

  Mrs. Highwood looked at the envelope. Her face blanched. “Oh my saints. My dear, darling girl. ” With trembling fingers, she broke the seal and unfolded the letter.

  Charlotte put aside her embroidery and huddled near.

  The older woman thrust the letter at her youngest daughter. “Here, you read it. My eyes are too bad. And my nerves . . . ”

  Sally clutched Kate’s arm, and they all waited in breathless anticipation.

  “Aloud, Miss Charlotte,” Sally urged. “Do read it aloud. ”

  “ ‘My dear mother,’” Charlotte began. “ ‘I know you must be wondering what has become of your wayward daughter. I must admit, the past week has not unfolded quite as I’d planned. ’”

  “Oh dear,” Kate murmured.

  “She’s ruined,” Mrs. Highwood said weakly. “We’re all ruined. Someone fetch my fan. And some wine. ”

  Charlotte went on reading. “ ‘Despite the travails of the road, we—’”

  “We!” Sally echoed. “Take heart, Mrs. Highwood. She wrote ‘we’!”

  “ ‘We are settled in Northumberland at present. ’ ”

  “Northumberland. ” The color returned to Mrs. Highwood’s cheeks. She sat straight on the divan. “His estate is there. He told me so once. Oh, what was the name of it?”

  “ ‘And it’s with great pleasure,’ ” Charlotte continued, “ ‘that I write to you from . . . ’” She lowered the paper and smiled. “ ‘From the beautiful library at Riverchase. ’”

  Chapter Thirty-three

  Two weeks later

  My dear daughter, the Viscountess Payne,

  The bells are ringing in St. Ursula’s today! I told the vicar they must, no matter that you’re all the way in Northumberland. How happy we were to receive your letter. As my friends always tell me, my intuition is unparalleled. I always knew that rascal Payne would be my son one day. But who could have guessed his viscountess! You have done your mother proud, dear. Of course, you must take time for your honeymoon, but do think of returning to Town for the celebrations of the Glorious Peace. Diana must be next, you know. She will be well placed to take advantage of your new connections. I have higher hopes for her prospects than ever. If you can catch Payne, surely Diana can snare a duke!

  Yours, etc.


  With an amused smile, Minerva refolded the letter and placed it in her pocket.

  She paused in the middle of the path, drawing a lungful of the warm, fragrant late-spring air and loosening her bonnet strings to let the straw bonnet slip down her back. Then with a light step, she continued on the country path that led from the village to Riverchase.

  Bluebells waved drunkenly on their slender stalks, begging to be plucked. As she went, she stopped to gather them, along with primrose and a few remaining daffodils. She had quite a posy accumulated by the time she climbed the hill. As she neared the ridge’s apex, a smile bloomed across her face. She warmed with joy, just anticipating the sight of the familiar granite facade.

  But it wasn’t Riverchase she first glimpsed as she crested the hill.

  It was Colin, walking down the same path—toward her.

  “Hullo,” he called, drawing near. “I was just on my way to the village. ”

  “What for?”

  “To see you, naturally. ”

  “Oh. Well, I was on my way to see you. ” She gave him a shy smile, feeling that familiar touch of giddiness.

  He gestured at her bouquet of wildflowers. “Collecting flowers today? Not rocks?”

  “I like flowers sometimes. ”

  “I’m glad to hear it. Vases of flowers are much easier to send round to the cottage. ” His gloved fingertip caressed her cheek. “Miss Minerva, may I . . . ?”

  “A kiss?”

  He nodded.

  She offered her cheek to him, leaning in to accept the tender, courtly gesture. But at the last moment, he turned her face to his and kissed her on the lips instead. Oh, he was ever the scoundrel, and she was glad of it. Their kiss was brief, but warm and sweet as the afternoon sun.

  After a moment, he straightened. His gaze wandered her form. “You look . . . ” He shook his head, smiling a little. “Cataclysmic with beauty today. ”

  She swallowed, taking a moment to recover from his masculine splendor. “You rather devastate me, too. ”

  “I’d like to think my kiss can take all the credit for that lovely blush, but I doubt it’s the truth. What has you so self-satisfied?

  “The kiss has a great deal to do with it. But the post came through this morning. ” She fished a pair of envelopes from her pocket. “I had two rather interesting letters. The first is from my mother. She extends her felicitations on our marriage. ”

  She handed him the letter from Spindle Cove. He unfolded the page and scanned its contents. As he read, the corner of his mouth curled in amusement.

  “I’m sorry,” Minerva said. “I know she’s dreadful. ”

  “She’s not. She’s a mother who wants the best for her daughters. ”

  “She’s mistaken, is what she is. I didn’t tell her we’d married. I only said we’d stopped at your estate, and she shouldn’t expect me back for a month or more. But she’s obviously assumed. ”

  “They’ve all assumed. I had a letter from Bram just the other day. He wanted to know why I hadn’t sent the solicitors written proof of our marriage yet. ‘Don’t I want my money?’ he asked. ”

  Together, they turned to walk toward Riverchase.

  “They’ll learn the truth eventually,” she mused.

  “Yes, they will. You said you had two interesting letters. Who sent the other?”

  “Sir Alisdair Kent. ”

  She noted a slight hitch in his step. The subtle hint of jealousy thrilled her more than it ought.

  “Oh, truly?” he said, in a purposely offhand tone. “And what did the good Sir Alisdair have to say?”

  “Not much. Only that the Royal Geological Journal has declined to publish my paper about Francine. ”

  “What?” He stopped dead and turned to her. The affectionate sparkle in his eyes became a flash of something irate, verging on murderous. “Oh, Min. That’s bollocks. They can’t have done that to you. ”

  She shrugged. “Sir Alisdair said he tried to argue on my behalf, but the other journal editors would not be convinced. My evidence was specious, they said; my conclusions were too great of a reach . . . ”

  “Codswallop. ” His jaw tightened. “Cowardly bastards. They just won’t be outdone by a woman, that’s all. ”

  “Perhaps. ”

  He shook his head ruefully. “I’m sorry, Min. We should have gone in to the symposium that day. You could have presented your findings in person. If only they’d all heard you speak, you could have convinced them. ”

  “No, don’t be sorry. ” She reached for his hand and squeezed it. “Don’t ever be sorry, Colin. I never will be. ”

  They stood there for a long moment, smiling a little and gazing into each other’s eyes. Lately, they could spend hours like this—a palpable happiness and love welling in the space between them.

  Minerva couldn’t wait to be his wife. But she would never regret refusing to marry him that day in Edinburgh, at the threshold of the Royal Geological Society.

  He’d been through so much just to get her to that doorway. Faced his deepest fears, committed feats of daring. Opened his heart to her, and his home as well. He’d given her courage and strength and hours of laughter. Not to mention passion, and all those fervent words of love. In proposing to her, he’d made the bravest leap of faith she could imagine.

  In return, Minerva wanted to give him this much, at least. The proper courtship he’d wanted. A chance for their love to take root and grow. When she recited those wedding vows, she wanted him to know they were vows of freely given, lasting devotion, not a hasty grab at scientific glory.

  Colin deserved that much.

  They’d turned their backs on Mr. Barrington and the Royal Geological Society that day. But Sir Alisdair Kent had the curiosity to follow. He invited them for a meal at the nearby inn, where they spent several hours engaged in scholarly debate with his friends. Sir Alisdair and company listened, questioned, argued, and generally afforded Minerva the respect due an intellectual peer. Colin saw that the wineglasses never went empty and kept his arm draped casually, possessively, over the back of her chair.
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