Page 77 of The Husband Season

‘Saddleworth is situated in a long valley between Yorkshire and Lancashire, and is made up of four small hamlets: Quick Mere, Lord’s Mere, Shaw Mere and Friar Mere. It is famous for its woollen cloth, much of it superfine.’

 ‘Ah, that is why you wear such well-made coats—the wool is woven in your mill.’

 ‘Yes, and grown on my land. Friar Mere was once an estate belonging to the Black Friars, but it is part of my estate now. We grow a few crops but it is mostly sheep.’

 ‘And the house?’

 ‘Blackfriars sits on the hill above the valley. It was once the home of the friars. Anne started to refurbish it, but the alterations were not finished before she died, so it is half very old and draughty and half an elegant modern home.’

 ‘You didn’t go on with the work?’

 ‘No. I saw no reason to. Besides, I was kept very busy with the estate and the mill.’ He paused. ‘If I can persuade Mark and Jane to come on a visit, they could bring you, too, and you would see it for yourself.’

 ‘I should like that,’ she murmured.

 The countryside they were passing through was flatter than it had been, the land was criss-crossed with dykes and there were water mills everywhere. They were not cantering now because Adam had not planned to change the horses again and it was a longer-than-usual stage. They were moving at a leisurely trot, a pace that suited Sophie if only because it gave her a little longer to sit close to Adam, to feel his thigh close to hers, his arm touching hers, his warmth spreading all down that side of her, knowing it would be the last time.

 And there was Hadlea, the village where she had been born and brought up, with its main street lined with cottages. There was the Fox and Hounds, standing on its corner, there the church, and there, after a few minutes more, the gates of Greystone Manor. ‘Home,’ Adam said as the carriage drew to a stop outside the front door.

 Joe hardly had time to jump down, open the carriage door and let down the step before Lady Cavenhurst came out to meet them. Sophie tumbled out and into her arms.

 * * *

 As Adam completed the last three miles of the long journey in the coach, he was conscious of an emptiness inside him, a feeling that something were missing, something he had lost that was valuable and had to be searched for. It was almost like an ache, but he was reluctant to put a name to it.

 Sir Edward and Lady Cavenhurst had welcomed him, offered him supper and thanked him over and over again for bringing their daughter safely back to them. Hearing from Mark about Teddy’s disappearance and that he had been the one to find out what had happened to him, he was thoroughly quizzed. ‘It is to be hoped the voyage will do him good,’ Sir Edward had said at the end of the tale. ‘The tougher the better.’

 Adam had silently agreed and said he ought not to keep the tired horses waiting about and Mark and Jane would be looking out for him, so he would take his leave. Swift was left in the Manor stables until Jane’s birthday in two days’ time; the mare was to be a surprise and she needed a long rest and some careful grooming after her long journey, which Sophie undertook to do. Now here he was with Alfred Farley once more beside him, feeling flat and empty and wishing he could go back to Sophie.

 She had wormed her way into his head and his heart and, try as he might, he could not banish her. He had made a solemn vow never to let another woman into his life and he had certainly meant it, so what was he doing lusting after a female ten years his junior? Lust? He could satisfy that anywhere. This was nothing so vulgar as lust.

 The carriage turned into the long drive to Broadacres and he was met with the sight of a stately home to rival any he had seen. It was not overlarge, but its proportions were exactly right and its windows were ablaze with light to welcome him. Farley jumped down and lifted the heavy knocker on the front door.

 * * *

 Sophie rejoiced to be home. She chatted away to her parents about all she had heard and seen and done in the capital, being very careful not to shock them with her escapades. She explored the house and the grounds, exclaiming with delight as if she had been away years. She looked after Swift as carefully as if the mare had been a child, but nothing could assuage the ache in her heart. Her mother noticed it.

 ‘Sophie, dearest,’ she said, the next afternoon when they were alone in the drawing room. Lady Cavenhurst had been doing some embroidery but set it aside. ‘Is anything wrong?’

 Sophie, who had been looking out of the window at the front drive wishing he would come, turned towards her mother to answer. ‘No, Mama, what could be wrong?’