Page 94 of The Husband Season

Issie laughed as she hugged her. ‘We could not miss your big day, could we? Let me look at you.’ She held her at arm’s length and studied her face. ‘You have changed, little Sophie.’

 ‘I have grown up.’

 ‘Indeed you have.’ She turned as her parents came out to greet the travellers with hugs and kisses.

 The remainder of the evening was spent catching up with everyone’s news while the travellers were served with a meal. Issie and Drew had already started for home and had reached Calcutta when they’d received the news of Sophie’s engagement. They had known nothing of the postponement of the wedding due to Adam’s injury until they’d arrived at Lady Cartrose’s house in Mount Street. ‘We knew if we set out again straight away we could be here in time.’

 ‘They offered to bring me,’ Emmeline said. ‘So I shan’t miss it after all.’

 ‘There is only one person missing,’ Lady Cavenhurst said a little sadly.

 ‘Teddy,’ Issie said. ‘We have seen him.’

 ‘When? Where? Is he coming home?’

 ‘We were on the docks in Calcutta waiting to go aboard The Lady Isabel after stopping off there on our way back to England,’ Issie went on. ‘There was a convict ship berthed nearby taking on water and supplies. Naturally no one on board was allowed off and the miserable sinners were crowding the decks. I heard someone shouting my name and looked up to see Teddy leaning over the rails, waving to me and shouting. I could not believe it was him.’

 ‘There was so much noise going on, we could not hear what he was trying to say to us,’ Drew said. ‘I managed to go on board and speak to him.’

 ‘How is he? Is he well? Did you fetch him off?’

 ‘I offered to, but he would not come. He said to tell you he is well and learning to be a good seaman. When the captain realised he was an educated man and not the usual sort of pressed man, which happened about halfway round the Cape, he made him a clerk in charge of the ship’s stores.’

 ‘Did he not want to come home?’

 ‘He said he would come home when he had redeemed himself. He is deeply sorry for all the pain he has caused you and for letting Sophie down. I told him we had heard of Sophie’s betrothal and were on our way home and he laughed and said, “Good old Sophie. I told her that was her best bet. And mine, too.” I don’t know what he meant by that.’

 ‘I do,’ Sophie told them, and explained about the wagers. ‘They each owe him a thousand pounds.’

 ‘In that case, it can go towards repaying Adam,’ Sir Edward said.

 ‘I doubt he will take it,’ Sophie said, smiling. ‘He said it was a small price to pay for me.’

 ‘I think it is time we all went to bed,’ Sir Edward added. ‘Tomorrow is going to be a long day.’

 * * *

 The wedding was a happy affair, shared by the whole village. Sophie looked radiant and Adam proud and handsome. Everyone said they had never seen such a well-matched couple. The wedding breakfast and the music and dancing went on late into the night, but Adam and Sophie were oblivious to it. They retired to the bedchamber that had been prepared for them in a distant part of the house, eschewing the help of valet and maid.

 ‘Well matched, I heard them say,’ Sophie said, giggling as Adam set about removing the beautiful gown.

 ‘So we are.’ The gown was set aside and he started on the ties of her petticoat. ‘I am dull and staid and you are young and exciting and unpredictable—two halves of a whole.’

 ‘You are a long way from being dull, but perhaps you are the unpredictable one. Do you remember ever saying you would never marry again?’

 ‘No, did I?’ He chuckled. ‘Do you remember ever saying you would not be a second wife?’

 ‘If I did, I was very foolish.’ She was almost naked now and was doing her best to redress the balance by unbuttoning his shirt and slipping her hands inside. She could feel the ridge of his scar, the result of his caring for others. It had healed well. She ran her hands down his torso and down inside his breeches.

 ‘Sophie,’ he said, ‘do you know what you are doing to me?’

 She smiled. ‘I think I am about to find out.’