A week to be wicked, p.49
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       A Week to Be Wicked, p.49
 

         Part #2 of Spindle Cove series by Tessa Dare
Page 49

 

  No, it wasn’t a medallion and a prize of five hundred guineas, but it was a symposium of sorts. And it had been well worth the journey.

  Afterward, she and Colin had traveled straight back to Northumberland. Colin installed her in a lovely cottage in the village, with his housekeeper Mrs. Hammond as chaperone. And then he’d gone about living up to all his promises of a tender, attentive courtship. He called on her most mornings, and they went for long, rambling walks in the afternoons. He brought her gifts of sweets and lace, and they kept the errand boys dashing back and forth with notes that needed no signatures. Several times a week, she and Mrs. Hammond dined at Riverchase, and he took Sunday dinner at the cottage.

  They also spent time apart. She, writing up her Spindle Cove findings and exploring the new craggy landscape. Colin, surveying the estate with his land steward and making assessments and plans for the future.

  As for plans for their future . . . Minerva tried to be patient.

  If Colin had taken a hurtling leap of faith when he’d proposed, her gesture of faith had been more of a long, slow skate on thin ice. As much as she’d been enjoying their courtship, she tried not to think about the potential for heartbreak. There was always the chance that he might change his mind.

  But in the month or so since returning from Edinburgh, they’d survived their first argument—a dispute over, of all things, a missing pair of gloves. They’d also weathered their second clash. It had begun as a tense disagreement over whether Minerva could safely explore the local crags unaccompanied. (Of course she could, was Minerva’s opinion. Colin begged to differ. ) The tense disagreement exploded into a grand row that involved loud denouncements of female independence, male arrogance, fur-lined cloaks, rocks of all sorts, and—inexplicably—the color green. But the eventual compromise—a joint excursion to the crags that became a passionate, frantic tryst in the heather—quite took the edge off their anger.

  Since then, their courtship had been as sweet and tender as ever—but not entirely chaste.

  Minerva put her arm through his, and they resumed walking down the path. “I’m not deterred. I’ll find some other way to publish my findings. ”

  “We’ll find a way. If you can wait five more weeks, I’ll celebrate my birthday by printing a copy for every household in England. ”

  She smiled. “A few hundred copies would do, and there’s no need to rush. Francine’s footprint survived in that cave for millions of years. I can wait a bit longer to make my own mark. ”

  “Would it help if I tell you there’s already a deep, permanent, Minerva-sized footprint on my heart?”

  “Yes. ” She kissed his cheek, savoring that hint of cloves from his shaving soap. “Do you have any business this afternoon? I was hoping to spend a few hours poking through the Riverchase library. ”

  He didn’t answer for a moment. “If an afternoon in the library is your desire, you shall have it. But I confess, I had something else in mind. ”

  “Truly? What’s that?”

  “A wedding. ”

  Minerva nearly dropped her posy of flowers. “Whose wedding?”

  “Ours. ”

  “But we can’t—”

  “We can. The vicar’s read the banns in the parish church three times now. I sent him a note before I left the house this morning, and I asked the butler to ready the chapel. By the time we return, all should be ready. ”

  Minerva blinked at him. He’d been planning this? “But I thought we agreed to wait until after your birthday. ”

  His arms went around her, wreathing loosely about her waist. “I know, but I can’t. I simply can’t. I slept well last night. But when I woke this morning, I missed you so intensely. I don’t even know how to describe the sensation. I looked at the other pillow, and it just seemed wrong that you weren’t there. As though I’d woken up missing my own arm, or half of my heart. I felt incomplete. So I rose, and dressed, and I just started walking toward you—because I couldn’t move in any other direction. And then there you were, walking toward me. Flowers in hand. ”

  Emotion glimmered in his eyes, and he touched her cheek. “This isn’t a whim. I simply can’t stand to spend another day apart. I want you to share my life and my home, and . . . ” He cinched her tight, drawing her body in exquisite contact with his. He bent his head, pressing kisses to the soft place beneath her ear. “And I want you to share my bed. As my wife. Tonight. ”

  His kisses made her dizzy with longing. She clung to him tight. “Colin. ”

  “I love you, Min. I love you so much, it terrifies me. Say you’ll marry me today. ”

  She pulled back a little. “I . . . ” Swallowing hard, she ran a trembling hand down her butter-yellow muslin. “I should at least change my frock. ”

  “Don’t you dare. ” He shook his head, framing her waist in his hands. “You’re perfect. Utterly perfect, just as you are. ”

  Emotion swelled in her heart and thickened her throat. She felt like pinching herself, just to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. But she never could have dreamed something so wonderful. She was perfect. He was perfect. This moment was perfect. She was afraid to speak, for fear of ruining it somehow.

  Don’t pause to think. Just run down the slope.

  “Yes,” she finally blurted out. “Yes. Let’s get married. ”

  “Today?”

  “This very hour. ” A giddy grin stretched her cheeks, and she couldn’t hold back the pure joy any longer. She launched herself at him, flinging her arms around his neck. “Oh, Colin, I love you so much. I can’t possibly tell you. I’ll try to show you, but I’ll need years. ”

  He chuckled. “We have decades, darling. Decades. ”

  Five minutes’ hasty walk saw them to the chapel door. While Colin went to find the vicar and round up a few servants as witnesses, Minerva passed into the small churchyard and came to stand before a slab of flawless granite, polished to a mirror gleam.

  She stood there for a long minute, unsure how to begin. Then she took a deep breath and dabbed a tear from her cheek.

  “I’m so sorry we’ll never meet,” she whispered, laying her posy atop the late Lord and Lady Payne’s grave. “But thank you. For him. I promise, I’ll love him as fiercely as I can. Kindly send down some blessings when you can spare them. We’ll probably need them, from time to time. ”

  By the time she left the churchyard and rounded the chapel corner, she caught sight of Colin leading the vicar, butler, and house servants marching in a bemusement-day parade. Holding open the door, he waved them all into the chapel.

  “Come along, now,” he said, tapping his boot with impatience.

  When the rest had all filed in, and only the two of them were left standing at the door, he caught Minerva’s gaze. “Ready?”

  She nodded, breathless. “If you are. ”

  “I’ve never been so sure of anything. ” He reached for her hand and kissed it. “You belong beside me, Min. And I belong beside you. I know it in my heart. I feel it in my soul. I’m certain, in every possible way. ”

  And he’d never been more handsome.

  “Certainty becomes you,” she said.

  Smiling, he laced her arm through his, leading her into the chapel.

  And that was how the grand, epic story of their future—the tale they’d tell friends and dinner party guests and grandchildren for decades to come—ended. Just as a proper fairy tale should. With a romantic wedding, a tender kiss . . .

  And the promise of happily ever after.

 
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