Page 84 of The Husband Season

‘But you left. I saw you...’

 ‘And I saw you. You were coming this way, I am sure of it, but you suddenly went off down that lane.’ He nodded in its direction. ‘I could only surmise you did not want to see me. I had my trunk taken off the coach and waited, knowing the road only led to the church and the vicarage.’


 ‘But why?’

 ‘Curiosity, my dear. I saw you come back and walk past here without turning your head, so I followed.’ He smiled. ‘In my effort to remain hidden I was farther behind than I would have liked to be when I saw Gorange stop beside you. My God, you took a risk, Sophie. You could have been kicked to death.’

 ‘But I was not.’

 ‘No, thank goodness. It all happened so quickly and I was not near enough to intervene. I started to run towards you, but you galloped past me with your head almost on the stallion’s neck and either did not hear me or chose to ignore me.’

 ‘I thought it was Lord Gorange shouting.’

 ‘He was in no position to shout.’

 ‘Oh, Lord, I haven’t killed him, have I?’

 ‘I think he’ll live, though he might be a little sore for a day or two.’

 ‘Thank God.’

 ‘Never do anything like that again, Sophie. My heart won’t stand it.’

 ‘Your heart? Do you have one?’

 ‘Most assuredly I do.’ He took her hand and laid it upon his heart. She could feel its steady rhythm. ‘Convinced?’

 ‘Yes, but...’ She looked up into his face. He was smiling and it was doing funny things to her inside. ‘What were you doing following me in the first place when you should have been on that stage?’

 ‘I changed my mind.’

 ‘Why?’

 He took her arm and led her into the cool interior of the inn. The next stage was not due for some time and it was too early in the day for locals to congregate, most of whom were working in the fields; the parlour was empty. He sat her down on a settee in a corner and seated himself beside her. ‘I realised I could not leave you, Sophie. I can never leave you.’ He smiled again. ‘And someone has to keep you out of mischief.’

 ‘What do you mean?’

 He took her hand and rubbed the back of it absent-mindedly with his thumb. ‘I mean that I want to take care of you. Always.’

 She was trying to maintain some semblance of composure, but it was very hard and she was unsure exactly what he meant. ‘And you decided all that between going to board the coach and seeing me?’

 ‘No, I think it had been coming on me for some time, but I was trying to ignore it. When it came to stepping up into that coach, I found I could not do it. My feet just would not obey me.’ He lifted her hand and put the palm to his lips. It sent a shiver right through her, from her hand to her arm, into her body and right down to the very core of her.

 ‘But what about your vow never to marry again? I suppose it is marriage you are proposing and not some other arrangement?’

 ‘Sophie!’ he exclaimed, shocked. ‘You surely did not think...? Oh, the devil take me and my clumsiness. Of course I meant marriage.’

 ‘And Anne?’

 ‘I loved Anne and revere her memory, I will not pretend otherwise, but in the past few weeks, I have realised that if I am not careful I shall become a bad-tempered old man whom no one loves. And what is an even worse prospect, I should lose you. So, my darling, I will break my promise not to marry again if you will break yours not to be a second wife. Sophie, will you have me?’

 Unable to take it in, she did not immediately reply, but sat looking at their joined hands. Joy was spreading through her; from the top of her head to her toes, she was glowing.

 ‘Say yes, Sophie. Please do not say I have prevaricated too long and you prefer not to link your life with a man who takes so long to make up his mind.’

 ‘It is less than two months since we met, Adam. In terms of courtship that is a very short time, don’t you think?’

 ‘Are you saying yes?’

 ‘I am saying yes, please.’

 ‘Oh, my love. We will be happy together, I promise you.’ He took her in his arms and kissed her soundly. The noise of people working in the inn, the sound of horses and carts on the road, the voice of the chef singing in the kitchen, faded and there was only the two of them in all the world locked in each other’s arms.

 ‘Adam,’ she said, pulling herself out of his embrace at last, ‘what do you think everyone will say?’

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