Authors: Cheryl Bolen
"No. Wasn't he to leave early this morning to visit your brother?"
"He was. If I didn't scare him off."
Glee issued a melodious little laugh. "Don't worry, you goose. George would never do that."
"Are you sure? Perhaps he had a letter delivered for me?"
Glee's brows lowered. "Actually. . ." Her words waned. "There
a letter for you in George's hand." Glee went to the bell rope and rang for a servant.
Sally's heart sank, and a sickness coiled in her stomach.
When the servant answered Glee's call, she met him at the door and sent him to get Miss Spenser's letter. As soon as the door closed, Sally leapt from the bed and began to search for her clothing.
By the time the butler returned a moment later, Sally was completely dressed and took the letter herself. Her heart drumming madly, she lowered herself into a chair near the window and began to read the hastily scratched note.
Forgive me for my beastly ways. I shouldn't like to go off with such ill-feelings between us.
Sally looked up at Glee through misty eyes. "He apologizes for our harsh words, though I daresay they were entirely at my instigation."
Glee strolled to her and set a gentle hand on her shoulder. "You will be ever so good for George."
Sally bent over the bed and began to smooth out the sheets and counterpane.
"Leave that for the servants, you goose!"
Sally sighed. "You know I cannot. I detest anything that's untidy."
"My poor niece and nephew. As their stepmother, you will no doubt demand they be as tidy as you."
Sally smiled. "I find it much easier to pick up for them than to teach them to pick up, but I'm trying to learn to teach them. I darsay I must be rather lazy."
"Never that! Now allow Patty to help with your toilette so we can go shopping."
Sally plumped up the feather pillow. "I don't see how I can go shopping when I have no money."
"Silly, you don't need to buy anything. I shall. Remember, you will have a certain image to uphold as the Viscountess Sedgewick. And you want George to be proud of you, don't you?"
Sally's stomach fluttered. She hated to think of being an embarrassment to her future husband. "But . . ."
"Don't spare a thought for the money. You know I have married a very wealthy man, and it will give me great pleasure to see my sister dressed as her new station will demand."
Sally felt utterly humiliated. Humiliated that she dressed so poorly. Humiliated that she might embarrass poor George. Humiliated that she had almost no money of her own.
"I'm sending Patty in to do up your hair," Glee said, "though I think 'twill take a great long time to render it curly again."
"It doesn't need to be curly today. I only curled it to please George. While he is gone, Patty can have a break from the tedious curl papers."
Glee gave her friend a peculiar glance before leaving the room.
* * *
That afternoon, courtesy of Gregory Blankenship's deep pockets, Sally was fitted for a half a dozen ball gowns and a similar number of morning dresses and promenade gowns. Glee took pleasure in helping her friend select new hats and gloves and shoes.
Though the shopping was exhilarating to Sally, who had never been indulged in such a manner in her entire life, it was also tiring. Late in the afternoon, the two ladies settled in a tea shop, where Glee had arranged to meet her husband.
Blanks came in, bearing a letter for his wife. She took it and glanced at the handwriting as her husband sat down next to her. "It's from George," she said, her puzzled glance sliding to Sally.
Sally's insides clinched. Was George going to use his sister to break off the engagement? Then why, she chided herself, would he be traveling to Surrey to speak with her brother?
Glee opened the letter and quickly ran her eyes over it, a smile hiking across her face. "What a dear!"
Sally heaved a sigh of relief.
"Are you speaking of your brother?" Blanks demanded with jest.
"I am." Glee set down the letter and shifted her vision to Sally. "He wanted me to see to it you got a new trousseau befitting your new station. He wished to have all the bills sent to him."
Sally flushed. She did not at all like feeling so much a charity case. Despite her embarrassment, she glowed over George's thoughtful gesture. He must have had many duties to attend to this morning in his haste to be gone on his journey, yet he thought of her.
He really was a very fine man. His sacrifice demonstrated it most assuredly. What great love he must hold for his children.
Then Sally's brows drew together.
For one of his children
, she amended. For though he always spoke of his children, only one of them held his heart.
Sally vowed to change that.
For the remainder of their repast, she watched Glee and her husband and the strange distance that had grown between them. Each of them bore the signs of heavy sorrow, and complete, tortured love for one another.
* * *
Even though she was much fatigued, Sally left Glee and Blanks at the tea room, and she went to see the children. Just thinking of them becoming her own brought sweet fulfillment.
She entered their house and marched up the narrow stairway to the top-floor nursery. It wasn't until this very moment that she considered she would actually be mistress of this house by next week. But being the Viscountess Sedgewick was not what was important to her. The children were. And their father.
When she opened the nursery door, Georgette came running to her. "Mama!" she called, her arms uplifted. Tears moistening her eyes, Sally gathered the child into her arms. "I'm so happy, darling, that you're to become my very own little girl."
Georgette's arms tightly encircled Sally's neck. "I'm happy, too. Now I shall have a mama like the other girls—and like Joy."
Sally stroked the little girl's thick mahogany-colored hair. Then she looked down at her own skirts and saw Sam standing there, his thumb shoved into his mouth. "I wonder if your brother knows what is about to happen?" Sally asked as she kissed Georgette's cheek, set her down, and drew Sam into her arms.
"I told him," Georgette said. "I do wish he would talk."
"He will," Sally assured. "You and I will teach him, beginning next week."
"Which room will be yours?" Georgette asked. "I hope it's next to mine."
Sally's stomach fluttered. Because town houses were a great deal smaller than country houses, the husband and wife generally shared a bedchamber at their town house. But, of course, George would not wish to share a chamber with her. "It doesn't matter where my room is, love. Nothing can ever take away the fact that we will be a family. I shall be your mother, and you shall be my beloved children." She nuzzled her mouth into Sam's golden curls, and he gave a hearty baby laugh.
Then Sam pointed toward the rocking chair.
"Say `chair,' Sam," Sally said sternly.
He shook his head.
The little imp!
He knew very well every word she uttered. "Say `chair,' sweetheart," she repeated soothingly.
He made the A sound, though the consonants weren't right.
She kissed his chubby cheek. "Good boy!" She drew him into her breast and squeezed him tightly before she sat down in the rocking chair and began to play the piggy game with him.
George was supposed to return on Monday. Because of that, Sally refused to leave Blankenship House all day Monday for fear of missing him. She thought perhaps he would come by the afternoon. But he did not. All through dinner, she looked for him, but he did not come then, either. She was heartily glad that Glee and Blanks did not wish to go to the Assembly Rooms that night, for she was far too worried to leave the house.
She and Glee took their needlework to the drawing room, but with every stitch of her needle Sally's thoughts stayed on George. Was he all right? Had something happened to him? Had he drunk too much and been unable to travel? Or, heaven forbid, had he changed his mind about marrying her?
By nine o'clock she began to worry she had done the wrong thing by not going to the Assembly Rooms. George must have gone there looking for them.
Moments after she entertained that thought, she heard voices, then footsteps, in the marble hall. She whipped her gaze to the door and saw George come strolling into the Blankenship drawing room. He wore evening attire and gave no sign that he had been traveling for several hours.
Sally's heart leapt as she gazed upon his manly countenance, upon that rugged face she loved so dearly. She wanted to run to him and throw her arms around him, but of course she could not do that. He would surely cry off then.
He glanced first at her, then came and took her hand, brushing his lips across it. "You have been well, my dear?"
"Oh yes," she replied. "And you? You must be greatly fatigued from the journey."
He nodded greetings to his sister before sinking into the soft silk of the settee next to Sally. "Glad I am that you're
at the Assembly Rooms tonight."
A timid smile brightened her face. Exactly why she had not desired to go there. "Pray, my lord, was your journey successful?"
"Indeed it was. You were correct about your brother. He was delighted to bless our union. In fact, he and your mother will be here Thursday for the wedding."
Thursday! It really was going to happen. Sally still could not believe George was going to marry her. She fully expected to awaken from the dream any minute. Though she was not close to either her brother or her mercenary parent—not as she was to her younger brother and her late papa—Sally was nevertheless pleased to learn they would attend the wedding. For some peculiar reason, their presence would make the ceremony more sacred. More binding. More irrevocable. A sense of well-being bubbled within her. "You have the special license?"
He patted his pocket. "I do." He gazed upon her, his eyes running the length of the ivory gown she wore. "A new dress?"
Sally swallowed. "Yes. Your sister has done me the goodness of indulging me at half the shops in Bath. The new Viscountess Sedgewick will be very well turned out indeed." It felt exceedingly odd to call herself by so lofty a name. It was especially strange since she still thought of the lovely Diana as Lady Sedgewick.
He closed his hand over hers. "As it should be."
* * *
On Thursday morning they wed at Bath Cathedral. Despite the groom's high social standing, it was a small wedding attended only by family and a handful of close friends.
When George stood on the precipice of the sanctuary and gazed at Sally walking down the nave toward him, he swallowed hard. For a fleeting second he had expected to see Diana in Sally's place. But it was only Sally. Sally, whose face was grim and whose steps were unsure. In her unadorned ivory silk gown, she looked more like a frightened child than a woman about to become a viscountess. Sally Spenser certainly was no great beauty, but she would make him a good wife. A pity she was not Diana. A dark cloud fell over him as he linked Sally's arm to his own. Such an utterly symbolic gesture. Their whole lives would henceforth forever be intertwined. Irrevocably joined together. His stomach dropped.
As they stood with their hands clasped before the bishop, George once again smelled Sally's distinctive light fragrance. And it seemed as if huge shafts of sunlight began to fill the cathedral, dispelling the gloom he had experienced a moment before.
Following the ceremony, a lavish wedding breakfast was held at Moreland's Winston Hall, where the enormous dining room was spread with meats of every sort and a vast array of pastries from Moreland's talented French chef. Moreland insisted George sit at the head of the table. Felicity insisted Sally sit at her new husband's side.
It felt deuced awkward to be calling Sally Lady Sedgewick, yet he could never begrudge her the title. She was also assuming the loving care of the children who'd been deprived of their mother. He would have to quit thinking of Diana. She was dead. Two long years he had mourned her. He had even wished to follow her to the grave, but no longer. He must live now. For their children.
Throughout breakfast he found his bride exceptionally quiet. He also noticed that she barely touched her food, though Miss—blast it all, he must learn to call his new wife by her Christian name! Sally. He had long been aware that Sally was not possessed of a large appetite. No wonder she was so skinny. He vowed to help fatten her up. "Come, my sweet, you must eat," he said gently.
Her head bent toward his. "I fear doing so, my lord, for my stomach is not at all settled today."
By Jove! She had the jitters! He'd never thought the singularly strong Sally Spenser could have anything weak about her, but she was possessed of a weak stomach. He chuckled and brought her hand to his lips. "Surely you will toast our union with champagne."
She nodded. "It will be my pleasure."
A moment later they lifted their glasses for the wedding toast. Then George rose from the table and offered Sally his arm. "Lady Sedgewick and I plan to share the day with our children," he announced. Then he nodded at Appleton. "Bring the twins around about seven."
"But surely, Sedgewick---" Appleton began to protest.
George cut him off. "Just because I'm getting married doesn't mean I wish to become a recluse."
"Are you sure?" Appleton asked, his puzzled glance darting from George to Sally.
"I'm sure," George snapped.
* * *
At the town house George had been letting in Bath these past two years he escorted his bride from room to room, introducing her to the staff as they went. With her arm linked through her husband's, Sally glowed as she moved through her new home, George thoughtfully referring to her as "the new mistress" or "Lady Sedgewick."
On the second floor, they came to his room. Her heart stampeded as he led her within its chamber. She looked around at the masculine trappings and deep jewel colors. "I've had a new linen press brought here for you," he said as if he were commenting on the weather.