Page 93 of The Husband Season

He moved back at last and smiled at her. ‘Still want to go home?’

 ‘Adam, you make me so confused. I don’t know what I want.’

 ‘Then I shall have to try again.’ And he did, until she was aching.

 ‘Why are you confused?’ he murmured.

 ‘I was looking round the house—’

 ‘I was going to have it made ready for you.’

 ‘I saw all the evidence of Anne and that picture in the drawing room,’ she went on, ignoring his interruption. ‘She was so beautiful. I cannot compete with your memories, Adam.’

 ‘You don’t have to. Do you know what Mark said to me weeks ago, when we were in London? He was urging me to marry again and I was telling him I would not.’ He put his finger on her lips to stop her speaking. ‘He said we are all unique in our own way, loved for different reasons. And he was right. I loved Anne, I cannot pretend otherwise, but I love you very, very much, indeed.’

 ‘Do you? You never said that before.’

 ‘Didn’t I? How remiss of me. I’ll say it again, shall I? I love you, Sophie Cavenhurst. I also remember you telling me that you would not attempt to make me forget Anne, but would try to make me look forward to a new life with you. Did you not mean it?’

 ‘Yes, I meant it, but...’

 ‘Sophie, you can do what you like to the house, change things to suit yourself. I intended to have Anne’s things moved before I brought you here, but circumstances intervened. I am sorry if you were upset by them. I want this to be our home, yours and mine, not a mausoleum to a dead wife.’

 ‘Oh, Adam...’

 ‘Of course, I will still have to send you home,’ he said, grinning. ‘There is still the little matter of a wedding.’

 * * *

 October was a lovely time of year for a wedding. The uncomfortable heat of summer had gone, but it was not yet cold. The trees in the park and bordering the lanes were a glorious explosion of russet and brown and deepest red.

 Greystone Manor was humming with activity as all the arrangements for the wedding came to fruition. Thanks to Jane’s expertise the gown was a triumph. The scent of flowers filled the house, and down in the kitchens the food preparation was nearing completion. Sophie’s fear that Adam would be prevented from coming either because of a crisis at the mill, or worse, that he might have a relapse and been too ill, had been unfounded. He had arrived at Broadacres the day before and had been over to the manor to reassure her. Together they had gone to the church and rehearsed their responses and received a little homily from the Reverend Caulder about the duties required of each of them as a married couple. They had left hand in hand, laughing joyously.

 Sophie wondered how she could ever have thought of Adam as austere, nor how she could have been so naive as to lay down rules about falling in love. Jane had been right: falling in love was not something you can order like a new bonnet or a new pair of shoes, it just happened. And it had happened to her. She could not believe her good fortune.

 Tomorrow the rest of the guests would come to the church: Aunt Emmeline, Lord and Lady Martindale with Lucy and Sir Reginald Swayle, to whom she had recently become betrothed. Likewise the Malthouse family with Cassie and Mr Richard Fanshawe. They were to be married in the New Year. Cassie had declared she was grateful to Sophie for introducing her to him, and they were friends again. They would be joined by friends and relations from far and wide, including most of the village. She would miss Teddy, of course, and Issie and Drew, but that could not be helped.

 Her last evening as a single woman was spent quietly at home with her parents, though perhaps quietly was not the right description as the servants were still busy with last-minute preparations and Sophie was so nervous she could not sit still. ‘I shan’t sleep,’ she told her mother. ‘I am far too excited.’

 ‘Bessie will give you a potion.’ Bessie had agreed to go to Blackfriars as her maid and companion and help her to settle in. ‘We cannot have you yawning through the service.’

 ‘Who is that?’ Sophie wondered aloud as the sound of horses and carriage wheels sounded on the gravel outside. ‘Are we expecting anyone as late as this?’ She rose and went to draw aside the curtains to peep out at the drive. A travel-stained coach was disgorging its passengers in the light from the flambeaux on either side of the front door. Sophie squealed. ‘It’s Issie and Drew! Mama, it’s Issie and Drew and Aunt Emmeline.’ She ran from the room and tumbled into the hall just as her sister came in from outside, followed by her tall handsome husband and their aunt. ‘Issie, you came. I am so glad. Now the day will be perfect.’