Two Years Later
Lenora allowed herself to be helped out of the carriage by her husband. Her gown for today’s event was simple but elegant, a bright spring green that highlighted the color of her visible eye.
“It’s strange to be back here,” she commented, looking up at Brackhill Manor.
Adrian nodded. “I thought you might feel that way. It’s strange for me as well, to tell you the truth. The days I spent here were some of the most unusual and the most significant of my life.”
Lenora nodded. “A part of me doesn’t want to go inside,” she admitted.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while. We left so quickly before. The wedding happened, and the next day I departed for Galdhor Manor and the staff was able to forget all about me.”
“It’s the staff you’re worried about?”
“Not worried, exactly,” she said. “But I lived among them for years, and during that time they saw me as one of them. Then I was elevated from their midst. Suppose they resent me, or are angry with me for having lied to them about who I was for so many years?”
“There’s very little you can do about it,” Adrian said. “Besides, they wouldn’t dare speak against you or show you any unkindness now that they know you’re the Duke’s daughter. Their master would be outraged.”
“I know,” Lenora agreed. “I suppose I just want them to like me. Isn’t that silly?”
He leaned over and planted a gentle kiss on her temple. “It’s one of the things I love best about you,” he said. “You want to make people happy. I think you’d even prefer it if Lady Katherine liked you.”
Lenora gave a sharp laugh. “I know that will never happen. I’m not unrealistic.”
“We don’t have to go in there, you know,” Adrian said. “We can get right back in our carriage and just go home. We can open some wine, play a game of chess—”
“Of course, we have to go in,” Lenora said. “She’s my sister. Even if she does hate me, we’re obligated to each other. Besides, we were asked here by my father.”
“I think he would understand.”
“He might. But nobody else would. This is a well-attended event, Lord Galdhor, and if we fail to show our faces, there will be talk.”
He laughed. “You really are a member of the ton, aren’t you?”
“I suppose I am,” she said, groaning a little bit at the thought. “Let’s get this over with, shall we?”
He extended his arm. “My Lady.”
She took it and allowed herself to be led inside.
The foyer was full of lords and ladies, all of them dressed magnificently, and as soon as Adrian entered with Lenora on his arm, all conversations ceased. All eyes went to them.
“Great,” Lenora murmured. “We’re going to be drawing attention all evening, aren’t we?”
“No doubt,” Adrian agreed. “How could you not command the attention of any room you entered, as lovely as you are?”
Lenora laughed. “You flatter me, My Lord.”
“The fact that it’s flattery doesn’t make it any less true.”
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go and find Father and Lady Katherine, so that we can present our compliments.”
Lady Katherine, clad in finery that outshone her new husband’s considerably, was seated in the ballroom. The Duke stood beside her, and on her other side sat Lord Selden.
Adrian had given Lenora some idea of what to expect from Baron Selden. He was young, perhaps even a year younger than Lady Katherine, and slight of build. He sat up eagerly in his seat like a puppy being given a treat, and Lenora thought he looked like nothing so much as a child who has been allowed to stay up past his bedtime.
Lady Katherine glanced from time to time at her new husband, looking as though she would like nothing better than to get up and stalk out of the room.
She’s humiliated, Lenora thought. Not because of who he is. I would be surprised, indeed, if she knows anything about him as a man. But she’s ashamed of his title. She dreamed of marrying a marquess, and now she’s married to a baron.
This was a catastrophe for Lady Katherine. This was the worst thing that could have happened to her.
The very idea made Lenora sad.
She leaned into her husband slightly, remembering the fact that he had noticed her even when he thought her nothing but a chambermaid. Her station had never mattered to him. And to her, his station had been more an obstacle than anything else. She had been intimidated by the idea of joining a world she knew so little about.
She was comfortable, now, attending balls. The years she had spent as the wife of a marquess had given her that. But she knew she would have been just as happy if he had been a footman.
She stopped before her father and curtsied. “Your Grace.”
“Lenora,” he smiled warmly, “and Adrian. How wonderful that you could join us for this happy occasion.”
Lady Katherine all but rolled her eyes at the suggestion that there was anything happy about the day.
Lenora moved on to stand before her. “Sister,” she said, knowing full well that referring to Lady Katherine as her sister would only needle Lady Katherine further. “I wish you years of happiness in your marriage.”
A muscle in Lady Katherine’s jaw twitched. Lenora knew she longed to unleash her wrath on her sister, but that she didn’t dare to say anything with the room as full of people as it was. Instead, she inclined her head, barely.
Lenora moved on. “Lord Selden,” she said with a smile. “I am Lady Lenora Galdhor.” It still gave her great pleasure to refer to herself that way, even though years had passed since her own wedding.
Lord Selden beamed. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lady Galdhor. This is a lovely occasion, is it not?”
“Very much so,” Lenora agreed. “Congratulations on your wedding.”
“Thank you for attending,” Lord Selden said with a smile. Lenora felt sorry for him. Lady Katherine was making a fool of him, and the poor man seemed to have no idea.
She allowed herself to be led into the ballroom and into a waltz by her husband. “Do you recall,” he asked, “when we danced here on our own wedding night?”
“Of course, I do. How could I forget?”
“It was a much more pleasant experience, wasn’t it?” he asked with a smile.
“Well,” she said. “This is hardly unpleasant for me. I’m very happy for my sister.”
Adrian laughed. “She’s not very happy for herself, is she?”
“She would be, if she stopped worrying about titles and paid a little more attention to the quality of the people around her,” Lenora said. “Lord Selden seems very kind. I believe he’ll be a good husband.”
“You have a generous heart,” Adrian said.
“Still,” Lenora said, “I feel no compulsion to stay here any longer than politeness dictates. When do you think we should feel free to leave?”
“Oh, we’re not the guests of honor here,” Adrian said with a smile. “We’ll socialize a little—for an hour, perhaps—and then I think we’ll be fine to depart.”
“People will understand that?” Lenora asked. “They won’t judge?”
“I don’t get the feeling many people want to stay at this party, to be honest with you,” Adrian said, looking around. “I don’t think we’ll be the only ones to make an early exit.”
Lenora could see what he was referring to. A few couples were dancing, but many more people were standing around looking bored and tired. Conversations seemed dull and lifeless. It was not a good party.
“Why do you suppose supper isn’t being served?” she asked her husband.
He raised his eyebrows. “The truth?”
“After what happened between you and Lady Katherine, I don’t think your father wanted to spend that much money on a wedding for her,” Adrian said. “I think his anger with her persists, even now. Just look at who he’s marrying her to.”
“There’s nothing wrong with Lord Selden.”
“Not in your eyes. But for Lady Katherine, being married to that man will be a punishment that will last the rest of her life. She’ll never hold the rank she feels she’s entitled to. She’ll always be less than you now.”
“That’s a bit sad,” Lenora said.
“Don’t tell me you actually feel sorry for Lady Katherine?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “A part of me does. I know she’s done terrible things, things that should be unforgivable. But she’s had hardship in her life, just as I have. And maybe she dealt with it the best way she knew how.”
Adrian shook his head admiringly. “You’re some woman, Lady Galdhor.”
The hour passed pleasantly enough, with more dancing and conversation, and when it was over Adrian summoned their carriage to pick them up. As they rode back to Galdhor Manor, Lenora thought of the journey she’d made from Brackhill to Galdhor three years ago, after her own wedding.
How nervous I was! she thought. How unsure I was of what I was facing and what I needed to do. But I managed, didn’t I? I handled everything very well. And now here I am, the Lady of Galdhor Manor. The wife of the Marquess.
The carriage dropped them at their own front door. Adrian helped her down, and they made their way inside.
“Mama! Mama!” Two-year-old Thomas came tearing across the foyer of Galdhor Manor and flung himself into Lenora’s arms. “You’re home!”
She embraced her son. “And you should be in bed, little rascal. Where is Elizabeth?”
The nurse appeared in the doorway. “Thomas! You absolutely run me ragged, you little scamp.” She inclined her head toward Lenora. “Apologies, My Lady. I’ll see him right to bed.”
“Don’t worry, Elizabeth.” Lenora scooped up her son in her arms, paying no mind to the fine dress she wore. “I’m glad for the opportunity to say goodnight.” She kissed Thomas’s grubby cheek. “You missed a very boring party,” she informed him. “Your Aunt Katherine did not enjoy it.”
“We made ginger candy!”
Adrian laughed and tousled the boy’s hair. “It sounds like you had more fun than we did, then,” he said. “Off to bed with you, now.”
Lenora handed Thomas to his nurse, and Elizabeth carted him off toward the nursery, the two of them chattering about what story Elizabeth ought to recite that night.
Adrian wrapped his arms around his wife. “It’s so good to see him happy,” he remarked.
“He’s a delightful child,” Lenora said. It was so strange to find herself a mother. Strange, but wonderful. Her identity had changed many times over the past few years. She had gone from hated chambermaid to daughter of a duke to wife of a marquess. She had gone from servant to noble. But no role in the world suited her more fully than the role of mother.
She had intended to wait until after the wedding to give Adrian her news—but she had done that now, hadn’t she? The wedding was over. She had made it. She took his hands in hers and faced him, feeling lit from within, as if her secret were a warm little fire in her heart. “I have something to tell you.”
“Is everything all right?” he asked, concern writing its way across his features.
“Better than all right,” she assured him.
“What is it, then?”
“We’re going to have another baby.”
He stared at her, stunned. Then, slowly, a delighted grin spread across his face. “Are we really?”
“We really are. Are you happy?”
“Nothing could make me happier.” He embraced her, and his hold was somehow both firm and delicate. “I hope it will be a girl this time. It would be lovely to have one of each, don’t you think?”
“I do,” Lenora agreed, smiling, and her smile persisted even as he lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her.
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