The Dream of Love: Episode 5


The rain had stopped by morning, leaving many puddles in its wake. Since the skies were now clear, not a dark cloud to be found, Remi knew the roads would be dry by midday under the heat of the summer sun. This would give Adam plenty of time to visit her father and find out whether he was still too angry to speak to her. “Remi, you’ve hardly touched your breakfast,” Poppy said, staring at the untouched pile of food on her plate.
“I don’t have much of an appetite this morning.” She nodded to one of the footmen, who came to take the plate away.
Lavinia lifted her black and tan spaniel, Periwinkle, onto her lap. “Wait! Bring it back,” she ordered the man before he could walk off with the coddled eggs and sausage. “No sense letting a good meal go to waste. Right, my sweet baby,” she crooned to her pampered dog.
It did not escape Remi’s notice that this animal was treated better by Lavinia than Remi had ever been treated by her parents in her entire life.
Poppy must have sensed her distress, and cast her a sympathetic smile. “I’m sure Adam will bring your father around. He’s smart and eloquent, and can be quite convincing. He also has courage and won’t back down if your father shouts and blusters.” She glanced out the dining room window. “The rain stopped before dawn. The main roads ought to be clear by now. We shouldn’t have too long to wait for news.”
To Remi’s surprise, Adam rode up to Sherbourne Manor well before midday. Poppy and Lavinia had gone into town to run a quick errand. Poppy’s husband, the earl, was off with his estate manager and young ward, Pip, checking his properties for damage after the storm.
Remi had chosen to remain behind with Periwinkle, passing the hours reading in the summer salon while the dog dozed atop her feet, adorably curled in a ball. Eating like a glutton was exhausting work for the little spaniel.
Since Adam had come through the back gate, she was able to see his approach from her position in the salon. Setting aside her book, she eased Periwinkle off her toes and hurried to the entry hall to await him.
She was glad no one else was home, for this allowed her to meet Adam alone and hear his report in private. If the news broke her heart and made her cry, she did not want an audience. Knowing her father’s nature as well as she did, she did not expect a happy outcome. He did not have a soft heart and would never relent.
The butterflies in her stomach began to flutter and her hands began to tremble as she watched Adam dismount with an easy grace that hinted of years’ experience riding. There was something in the way he moved and held himself that made her certain he’d spent time in a cavalry regiment, a Scottish one, since he called Inverness home. Why hadn’t he returned there after the war? She wanted to ask him and would eventually, but likely not today.
He gave over the reins to the young groom who’d run up to attend Alcazar. That he’d allowed the lad to take his horse could only mean this would be an extended visit.
Was this good or bad for her?
“Bad,” she muttered, peering out the window and noticing the frown marring Adam’s handsome brow. She stood by the door, her anticipation growing as he strode up the front steps.
Soames opened the door to him. “Good morning, Vicar.”
“Morning, Soames. Is Lady Remington...” He grinned when she peeked out from behind the butler. “Ah, there you are.”
“Have you seen my father?” She put a hand to her stomach to calm its nervous flutter.
“Yes. I suppose you wish to know what he said.”
“I do. Shall we walk in the garden? It’s a lovely day and I’d enjoy a bit of sun.” Also, she did not want their conversation overheard by the Sherbourne staff. They were discreet and trustworthy, but the entire town of Wellesford already knew her father had tossed her out of his home, and she simply could not bear another humiliation.
“Yes, let’s take a walk and I’ll tell you about my visit.”
They took a full turn around the flower beds before Adam said a word. Remi knew it did not bode well for her.
She cast him a hesitant smile. “Is the news so bad?”
He pondered the question a long moment before responding. “I’m not sure.”
“You’re not sure it’s bad? Or it is bad, but you’re not sure how to tell me?” She studied his features, his dark hair gleaming in the sun and the tense set of his fine, firm jaw. His eyes held her gaze with a power so captivating, they stole her breath away.
“He has decided to marry you off.”
“Marry me off?” Remi laughed, at first believing it was a jest. But Adam wasn’t smiling. She swallowed hard. “To whom?”
“I don’t know.” He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “Your father refused to tell me.”
“Can he do this?” She tried not to sound alarmed, but neither her body nor her mind was cooperating. Her heart began to race, her lungs were about to burst, and all her limbs were now shaking. “He can’t just sell me to the highest bidder. I’ll refuse. Am I permitted to refuse under law?”
“Were I officiating and the bride proved unwilling, I would not go through with the ceremony. But I doubt I’ll be asked to officiate. Your father will find some drunken sloth of a minister to accomplish the task.”
“Someone easily bribed who will lie and say I consented?”
Adam arched an eyebrow. “Yes. But before you panic, let me try to find out if he has someone in particular in mind. The man might not be so bad.”
“Do you really think my father cares if I am happily wed?” She laughed in disbelief.
A muscle twitched in his jaw. “What your father cares about is keeping up appearances, as you’ve told me yourself. He won’t marry you off to just anyone. Likely it will be to a gentleman of rank who is in need of funds to restore his estate.”
“Hah! Or just an aristocratic wastrel who will gamble away my dowry.”
“No, then he’d have you and your wastrel husband back in his house and creditors dunning him everywhere he went. He’ll choose someone who may need funds, but who will spend it wisely.”
“Or he might cast me off to one of his old-goat friends.”
“I hope not. I think not, for it would gain him no advantage. Marriage to a significantly older man would likely leave you a young, wealthy widow over whom he’d have no control. I think he has a younger man in mind. This man may even fall in love with you. You’re beautiful, Remi. There will be men who will put themselves forward simply because they want you.”
Remi shook her head. “Such men don’t exist.”
“They do.” He clasped his hands behind his back as they continued to take another turn around the flower-bed path. “You just haven’t bothered to notice them yet.”
“Is it my fault now?” She stopped walking and frowned at him to mark her displeasure.
“No, of course not. All I’m suggesting is that not every man is odious.”
“So I should be grateful to my father for choosing the least odious man to marry me?”
“Remi, I am going to throttle you if you don’t stop twisting my words. Arranged marriages are made all the time. Many of these couples are quite happily wed. Don’t hate the man simply because your father chose him. He might turn out to be someone you can love.”
The fight suddenly went out of her as she realized there was a serious problem. “But, Adam...”
“What is it?” He took her hand, running a light circle over it with his thumb to calm her when he noticed her chin wobbling and her eyes beginning to tear.
“I’ve had so little love in my life. Nowhere but here at Sherbourne when I was a little girl, and again now. Their example is love of family. How will I recognize love with a man when it comes along? Romantic, sweep-me-away-with-kisses love, I mean.”
He seemed to stop breathing for a moment, staring at her with an intensity borne of confusion. But he soon recovered and cast her a wickedly handsome smile. Well, everything he did was wickedly handsome because that’s what he was, and every young woman was painfully aware of it. “I was thinking about this very thing while I rode over here. You need someone to teach you about this sort of love.”
Now it was her turn to stop breathing.
She put a hand over her heart, hoping beyond hope that he intended to be the one to teach her. Merciful heaven, she’d quickly turn him into a sinner. Corrupt him morally with her wanton desire to know him in a physical way, as well as the morally proper ways. No wonder her father wanted her out of his house. She was a hoyden and a wanton. “Who will teach me? You?”
He regarded her oddly. “I was thinking you ought to talk to Poppy. She is happily married to Nathaniel. You can also speak to Olivia, who is obviously in love with her husband, the Duke of Hartford. They’re due to return to Gosling Hall tomorrow.” He glanced toward the meadow separating Sherbourne Manor from Gosling Hall. “I can assure you, Poppy and Olivia will do all they can to help you understand about love.”
He continued to regard her oddly. “Remi, you look confused. What’s the matter?”
She sighed, deciding to tell him the truth since she was not very good at hiding her feelings anyway. “I thought you meant you were going to teach me. Isn’t this what you do? Offer guidance to those who are lost.”
“Blessed saints, not that sort of guidance.”
She rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t speaking of the physical. Isn’t there some higher level of awareness and affection that I ought to be experiencing? An awareness of the senses. You know, sight, touch, taste, scent, and hearing.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Who told you this? Poppy? Is she going on about that book of hers?”
Remi shook her head. “What book?”
“Never mind.”
“Adam, please tell me. Is this something I can learn from a book? I’m an avid reader and a good student when I put my mind to it. Will you tell me about it or must I ask Poppy?”
“No, I’ll tell you. It’s a book with a faded red leather binding. She is holding on to it for her sister, Violet, when she comes of age to make her debut. I must warn you, Poppy, Olivia, and Nathaniel’s sister, Penelope, claim to have used it to lead each of them to their true love. They are convinced it is magical. But I urge you to ignore that nonsense.”
“Are you speaking of the same book they loaned to Miss Billings, the Wellesford bookshop owner? Didn’t she find true love shortly thereafter with the village doctor?” Her eyes brightened and she suddenly felt hope about her situation.
He frowned. “The doctor fell in love with her at first sight, years prior. It just took him a while to come around to admitting it.”
“But it is no coincidence she happened to be reading this book when he finally found the courage to tell her. The more I think on it, the more it makes sense to ask Poppy for this book. What have I got to lose? How will I be any worse off? I’ll read it, study it, and then I’ll know what traits to look for in a perfect husband. No wonder she was going on about the five senses. It must have been discussed in there.”
“Remi, don’t place all your hopes on that book.”
“Do you have a better suggestion? I need to find the right man and marry him. Elope with him, if necessary. I won’t have much time before my father hands me over to the ogre he has chosen for me.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” He tucked a finger under her chin to force her to look at him. Oh, she was looking. She could look at him for hours and not blink. If only he knew how perfect he was, and how easy it was to stare at him all day. “Do not put your faith in this... pagan magic.”
“But you’ve seen it work. How can you deny it?” She slipped out of his grasp since he wasn’t holding on to her tightly, and put her hands on her hips. “If it worked for Poppy, Olivia, Penelope, and Miss Billings, why do you believe it cannot possibly work for me?”
“Because you would be reading it in desperation and might convince yourself to marry the wrong man, simply because he was the first to come along.”
“If you’re so worried about my inability to distinguish love from desperation, then why don’t you help me out? You’re the one who’s supposed to set the example for your parishioners, half of whom are madly in love with you, if you hadn’t noticed. And while we’re on the topic of marriage, why don’t you want to get married?”
“Blessed saints! That again?” He folded his arms across his chest and stood with his legs slightly apart, the stance somehow making him appear bigger than he was, and he was already as big and daunting as a warrior knight. “Because I don’t. This isn’t about me.”
“That is not an answer.” She had to tip her head back to meet his gaze, for they stood too close now, each of them too stubborn to give an inch. She still had her hands on her hips, and he still had his arms crossed over this chest.
“That is all the answer you are going to get from me. You’re the one with the problem, and I’m not the best one to help. Talk to Poppy.”
“I’m going to read Poppy’s book. If she thinks it’s magical, then it must be. I have no intention of staying ignorant about love. I will wholeheartedly seek out all the pearls of wisdom it might contain within its chapters. But don’t feel obliged to lift a finger on my behalf. I’m obviously not all that important to you. My struggle to help myself out of a difficult situation that may impact my happiness for the rest of my life is insignificant.”
He sighed and dropped his hands to his sides. “Lord help us all,” he muttered. “Do what you want. Just don’t do anything stupid.”
“Now you think I’m an idiot?”
He groaned. “No, but you are being incredibly pigheaded. Promise me you’ll come to me before you run off to Gretna Green with some pimple-faced nitwit you hardly know. And promise you’ll come to me if your father acts on his threat. I won’t turn you away. You know that, don’t you? I’ll never turn you away.”
She nodded. “Thank you, Adam.”
She felt ashamed for arguing with him. She knew he would continue to press her father, to talk to him and convince him of the right path to take. In the meanwhile, she needed to take her own path, no matter how desperate or foolish he believed her to be for wanting to learn more about this magical book. At worst, she’d simply be reading a book. At best, she might miraculously find true love. “Adam, don’t be angry.”
A deep and aching groan tore from his throat. “I’m not. Just don’t go around kissing men because The Book of Love encourages it.”
She smiled. “Is this what it is called? Even the title sounds magical, doesn’t it? But you needn’t worry. I won’t kiss just any man. I’ll come to you first, as you suggested. You’re safe to kiss, aren’t you?”