Adelina sat in the garden at Linford Manor. The lawn was soft and green, the sky blue. The summer was tending to the rich gold of autumn, and she felt sleepy and content.
“My lady?” the housekeeper, Mrs Emms, said as she came up the pathway. Adelina set aside the piece of fabric she was stitching and looked up.
“Yes?” she asked. “What is it?”
“I tidied away the silverware so you can use the dining room for tea, my lady.”
“Oh. Thank you very much,” Adelina said. She smiled to herself. She was expecting guests. She looked around the garden as the housekeeper went back up the path, thinking that it must have been a few hours past midday. She had come outside after luncheon, and after checking the silverware for the staff, spent a few hours stitching on a new sewing project and enjoying the late summer sunshine.
“Jeremy will be back soon.”
He had gone to fetch something from the village—a brief ride of half an hour, and so he would be early, lest their visitors come sooner than they expected them to. She felt restful and contented, but she was excited about the visit, too.
“Jeremy!” she called, as she heard someone riding up the drive and saw the familiar black thoroughbred racing over. Jeremy rode extremely well, she thought, her heart racing at the sight. He was so handsome! She admired him so much, and her cheeks flushed as she watched him ride up the path and up to the stable.
He dismounted and walked over, his boots firm on the grass as he left the path and hurried to her. She let slip a delighted whoop as he lifted her up from the ground and pressed a kiss on her cheek.
“My dearest,” he said, whirling her around and setting her on her feet firmly on the ground. He rested his hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes. “And how is my dearest this afternoon? Well, I hope.” He kissed her again, wrapping his arms around her and holding her body close against his.
Adelina felt her heart thud. She had quickly realised how deeply attracted she was to Jeremy, and their new closeness made her heart race. She could smell the leather-and-smoke scent of his riding-clothes and she drew him tight against her.
“My dearest,” he murmured. His face was against her neck and her heart was beating fast. She looked up breathlessly into his eyes.
“We should go inside. Mrs Emms wanted me to check the dining room,” Adelina said, blushing as she remembered their guests would be here soon. She looked into his eyes and saw a glimmer there.
“I forgot we were having guests,” he said. He laughed and she did as well, thinking that she would be happy to spend the afternoon with him in their chambers.
She blushed, and he took her hand and the two of them walked to the house. She took her outdoor boots off in the hallway, and they went into the house together, going into the dining room first. It was a small room with white wallpaper and long windows that looked out onto a terrace and the grounds. She could see the tea-things, impeccably neat, and the beautiful, porcelain tea-service that she guessed had been part of the collection for a few years.
She looked up at Jeremy, who took her hand.
“I think it looks very beautiful,” he said. “Thank you, my dearest, for organising that.”
Adelina giggled. “It was delightful,” she said. She had planned the tea and decided what they would eat—a tray of sandwiches and a delicious-looking gateau.
She looked around, thinking the space looked lovely, and then walked with Jeremy out into the hallway. Their guests were going to get there any moment, she reckoned. She glanced at the clock, and she was not surprised when, a few minutes later, the butler came up.
“My lady! My lord, a coach is there.”
Adelina felt her heart race with excitement as she stood with Jeremy. She grinned as, faster than she would have expected, she heard feet in the hallway. She had to brace herself as a medium-height presence ran at her and noted bright, shoulder-length curls bouncing with her motion.
“Minette! My dear friend!” Adelina giggled, embracing her friend who raced up the steps and wrapped her in a fond embrace.
Adelina giggled as Minette laughed and took her hands, looking into her eyes. Minette’s own eyes were sparkling as she stared at Adelina, her face shining with love.
“Adelina,” she said with a grin. “You look so lovely.”
Adelina giggled. She was wearing a dress with dark blue patterns—a silk weave, elegant and smooth. Minette was wearing green. Her friend had, like her, a small hat covering her curls.
“Captain Grayling,” Adelina greeted, as a man in dark red jacket and white trousers stepped forward. He bowed low, his brown eyes bright as he looked at Adelina and Jeremy, who stood with her, a hand curled around hers.
“My lady. A delight.” He bowed low, and when he straightened up, he shook Jeremy’s hand solemnly.
Adelina was laughing with wonderment. “You look so well,” she told Minette. Minette chuckled.
“I am so happy,” she said.
They walked over to where the tea had been set up, and Adelina felt proud to have her friend and Captain Grayling to stay in the manor. They sat down at the dining-room table, and she poured tea, grinning at Minette.
The afternoon went quickly—Adelina was pleased to hear news from London, where Minette and the captain had spent the last few weeks. They had spent some time in the countryside—the heat in London in summertime was oppressive—and they would return to London for the Season, which was special for Minette.
“Aunt will be there,” Minette explained fondly. “She would not miss the Season. It will be diverting to visit her and to go to balls and parties with her again too. She does love parties and balls.”
Adelina nodded. She felt warmth in her heart for Lady Amhurst, who had been so supportive of her during her stay in London, helping her and Jeremy to spend time with one another. She wanted to invite her to the house, though she was aware how fond of the town she always felt.
“Aunt would be delighted,” Minette assured.
They sat and talked, and Adelina was pleased to catch up with all their news. She felt no curiosity for the people in London, besides Lady Amhurst—her father was at Insfield, and she was going to visit him shortly.
She grinned at Minette, as her friend leaned back on the chair, her eyes almost shut. She looked half-asleep. Adelina could sympathize—after all, with the drowsy summer air, she was almost asleep herself.
“Would you like to see your chambers?” she asked Minette and Captain Grayling, who both looked quite sleepy. They would be staying in the house for a few days, on their way down towards Grayling Hall, and Minette nodded.
“Please, Adelina,” she said. She sat up and stifled a yawn. “I am so sleepy.”
Adelina nodded and stood, taking their guests to see their rooms. There was a suite suitable for guests on the left side of the house, which was a manor built, she guessed, several generations ago. The shape of the house was almost two L-shapes joined together, and Minette and the captain would be staying in one of the short wings.
“Oh! It’s lovely,” Minette gushed, as Adelina showed them into the room. It was decorated in greens, with white and green walls, and the view was onto the garden. Adelina felt proud of the place. Captain Grayling bowed.
“Thank you,” he said politely. “We will see you at suppertime.”
“Yes, indeed,” Adelina said with a smile. “Have a good rest.”
She walked with Jeremy up to the hallway where their own bedchamber was perhaps two doors down from the drawing room. She flopped onto a chair, feeling sleepy.
“I’m in need of rest, too,” Jeremy said, grinning.
Adelina blushed and she went to join him, wrapping her arms around him, his firm body pressed lovingly against her as he held her close.
As they lay in bed together, Adelina felt herself falling asleep. She was so relaxed, and her heart was so full of love. She suspected that Minette was with child—her friend’s appetite had increased, and she was even lovelier than usual. She suspected that she, too, might be expecting. She felt a little sick in the mornings and this drowsiness she felt struck her as unusual, even for the warm summertime; and there were other reasons, which she had discussed with her maid, that made her almost entirely certain.
She rolled over and looked at Jeremy. He was resting beside her, his arm around her, and when he felt her gaze on him, he opened an eye sleepily.
“My love,” she said softly. “If we were to have a son, might I name him after your father?”
He stared. “Um…of course,” he said softly. “Um, is there any, well, reason why you ask that of me?” He sounded excited and a little afraid and she grinned.
Rolling over, she whispered the news. He went stiff, and, when she rolled over and looked at his face, he was grinning, misty-eyed.
“My dearest,” he said. “My sweetest, wondrous dearest. That is the best news ever! I am…it’s all a bit amazing, really. I am lost for words.”
She giggled. “I love you,” she whispered. She felt her heart flood with the strength of those words.
“I love you, too.”
He held her close, and she felt her arms wrap around him, and she knew that she had never imagined something could feel so wonderful.
Adelina sat on the chair in the upstairs room that looked out over the garden. It was winter, and cold, and she had a shawl around her shoulders. She could see out of the window to the gardens, where the lawns were covered with the first snow, the grass still green and bright against the whiteness of it.
She grinned to herself. It was a beautiful day—the sky was dark and cloudy, and the snow fell in white feathers from the sky. She was in the small, cosy space that Jeremy had recently cleaned and made into a small intimate room for them to share—a retreat of padded chairs and a panelled interior with beautiful wooden flooring. She looked around the space, a workbasket beside her where she was stitching a new project.
“Jeremy,” Adelina called. She stood as Jeremy came inside, and ran to him, embracing him tightly enough to almost knock him over. He grinned and held her close, laughing as she almost fell sideways.
“Dearest,” he said, kissing her and holding her against him, then stepping back to gaze at her. “How are you? I trust it’s warm here?”
She nodded. “So warm. Sit down! You must be so cold, my dearest. Come and sit.”
Jeremy nodded. He settled in the big armchair by the fire, reaching for her. She rested her hands in his and they sat together, his expression filled with love as he gazed at her.
“The road looks safe,” he told her. He’d gone outside to check it, as they were expecting her father and Minette and Captain Grayling, among other visitors. The house would be full for the next few weeks, Adelina thought excitedly. “I will check again later if the snow becomes thicker.”
“Thank you, my dearest,” Adelina said warmly. She admired him so much. He managed the estate tirelessly, doing many things that others might delegate to their servants to do. He was devoted to his barony and his family.
She smiled. He looked so elegant in his high-necked coat, his hair brushing his cheek on one side where he’d wiped it out of his eyes. He seemed to get more handsome every time she looked at him, and she blushed, heart racing. She couldn’t wait for Minette and Captain Grayling to get here.
“It’s a cold day for being outdoors,” she commented. The snow was falling more heavily. She hoped the roads were not slippery, although today would be a good day to travel. It was once the snow had settled, and been pressed into a hard, icy coating that the road became less safe.
“It is,” Jeremy agreed.
Adelina stood and went to the window, looking out over the garden. The snow was still only dusting the ground, though she could tell it would build up thick soon. She checked the fireplace—there was plenty of fuel beside the fire, enough to make it warm in this room for two days. She went to sit down and was glad the space was panelled and so cosy.
“I should go upstairs,” she commented after resting for a moment with Jeremy. He looked into her eyes and grinned.
“Quite so,” he said. “In the next half an hour, we will be entertaining guests until dinnertime.”
“Yes, but it is Minette and Father and…” She grinned. “…I’m sure they won’t mind if we have some need to slip out occasionally.” She stood, going into the hallway. The rooms on the corridor up at the top of the house were renovated, too. She tiptoed softly into one, pausing in the doorway.
Adelina grinned, tiptoeing to the cradle, where the little girl who looked so like her father—at least to Adelina’s thoughts—was half-asleep still, her dark eyes opening wide as her mother bent over the cradle.
“Good morning, Adamantina,” she greeted her daughter. She had an unusual name, being named for the former baroness. Jeremy’s mother had been a strong woman, if the portrait in the gallery showed her to any accuracy. They had both agreed that it was a perfect name.
Her daughter sat up. She was a year old now, or a little older, and curious about everything in her vicinity. She looked up at Adelina and smiled, a grin that showed a few teeth.
“Mama. Papa…?” She frowned. “Where?”
Adelina grinned. It was the first of a few words that Adamantina learned. She had started saying words that they said to her about two months ago, and now she eagerly repeated whatever was said, and often posed questions of her own, if hesitantly.
Adelina smiled. “Look at you! You understand everything. Papa is coming,” she added, lifting her daughter into her arms. The soft weight felt so lovely, and she kissed the soft floss-like hair.
Adelina giggled as Jeremy came in and, so tenderly, held out his arms so she could let their daughter crawl into his warm hug. He held her close, ruffling her hair and making her giggle.
“Papa!” she shouted. “Papa!”
Adelina grinned. Their daughter, now that she could, greeted them with a loud voice. She felt her heart full of warmth as Jeremy looked over at her. She came and stood with him, and they embraced, their arms holding each other tight and both holding Adamantina. Adelina felt that her heart was full of love.
She went downstairs with Jeremy, and they sat in the drawing-room, their daughter resting on his lap. While it was still somewhat unusual, they spent every second they could with her, preferring to take care of her themselves then delegate her care to a nanny or maidservant.
“She has grown so much,” Jeremy said with a laugh. “I suppose our visitors will notice even more.”
Adelina nodded. She and Jeremy, who saw their daughter each day, were probably unaware of just how she’d grown. She was sure her friend would notice at once.
She watched as Adamantina fell asleep on Jeremy’s knee, her soft brown curls turned buttery gold in the firelight. She was going to have Jeremy’s colouring when she was older, Adelina thought, though now she had hair that was close to her own curls in colour.
Adelina noticed the crib in the corner of the drawing room—they had a second one there, so that they could bring their daughter to sleep in the drawing room while they talked, and Adelina sewed or played the pianoforte. She looked over at Jeremy, who grinned.
“I should let her rest,” he said. “She’s falling asleep now.”
Adelina smiled and she rested the little girl in the crib, tense lest she wake her. She managed to settle her without the child stirring more than to murmur. Then she tiptoed to the door.
“Should we check if the path is snowed-under?” she asked. Jeremy grinned.
“I think I can hear a coach on the drive, my dearest,” he remarked. “I hope the path is ready. I did have it swept.”
“Grand!” Adelina said, then covered her mouth, forgetting she would wake Adamantine. She saw Jeremy grin, and they both glanced over, checking her, but she slept undisturbed.
“Shall we go and check?”
“Yes, let’s,” Adelina commented, hurrying into the hallway where she was relieved to spot a maidservant. “Please, could you watch my daughter a moment?” she asked. “We are going outside quickly.”
“Of course, my lady,” the maid said. A young woman, she was related to the housekeeper and seemed openhearted and kind. Adelina was glad to trust her with the baby for a moment, and she tiptoed back into the drawing-room, then followed Jeremy to the doors.
“A coach, my lady,” the butler said, as they walked into the hallway. He was already hurrying down it. “I saw it from the study windows as I was lighting the lamp.”
“Thank you,” Adelina acknowledged warmly. She watched as the butler hurried ahead, her own heart racing with excitement. She looked down at her midnight velvet skirt, which was a little creased here and there. She drew a breath and looked up as Jeremy opened the door.
“Minette!” she yelled, throwing her arms around her friend. Minette looked up at her. The butter-coloured curls of her friend’s hair were enclosed in a tight bun, her cheeks reddened. She held Adelina tight, laughing as they embraced, almost bowling them over as she greeted her vibrantly.
“Adelina!” she giggled. “I’m so glad! Look at you! You look lovely.”
Adelina chuckled, then drew an amazed inbreath as the captain arrived, leading a little girl. Emmeline, Minette’s daughter, had her mother’s buttery hair and big green eyes. Adelina stared, her eyes widening.
“Look at you!” she exclaimed. The child was only a year old, like her daughter, but seeing her able to walk, if uncertainly, was remarkable. She had been almost unable to move last time Adelina saw her, a small bundle with green eyes and a down of hair that was almost white-golden. Seeing her now, a small, round toddler swathed in a damask cloak, made her stare, amazed.
The child looked nervous, and Jeremy, who was standing beside Adelina, went down, making himself smaller as he crouched there. Adelina joined him and Emmeline looked at them hesitantly.
“This is Auntie Adelina,” Minette explained. She grinned at Adelina, who felt touched. “And Uncle Jeremy. We’re going to spend a few weeks with them. You can greet them if you like,” she said gently.
“Uh,” the child said. Adelina smiled. She didn’t know what that meant, but she was glad the little girl seemed unbothered. She watched as the captain walked with her towards the steps. They followed them.
He walked slowly up to the stairs, then lifted the child, who gasped and then chuckled. Adelina grinned at her where she looked over her shoulder owlishly at the three who walked behind. Jeremy took Adelina’s hand, and they walked a little behind Minette, who was talking to Emmeline as they went upstairs.
“Look at you. Auntie Adelina said you’ve grown so big! You’re such a big girl.”
Adelina chuckled. She looked at Minette with a big smile. “She is big. It’s quite remarkable. They grow so fast. I didn’t expect it.”
Minette chuckled. “Trust me, nor did I.” She looked up at Emmeline, who was grinning at them, a few teeth showing in her mouth. Adelina could barely believe the transformation, though her own daughter had transformed as much over the last nine months since Minette had seen them.
“I’ll fetch a blanket for Emmeline,” Jeremy said softly as they all walked into the drawing-room. Adelina watched as Minette looked over to where the cradle stood by the fire, the maid still faithfully nearby.
Adelina grinned as Minette tiptoed forward, then let out a little cry, covering her mouth with her hand. “Look at her,” she whispered. “Adelina! She’s grown big.”
Adelina giggled, watching as Minette tiptoed forward and crouched down. Captain Grayling was waiting by the windows, showing his daughter the snow-pale garden. Adelina grinned while her friend watched the cradle where her daughter rested and looked up as Jeremy returned softly.
“Here,” he said to Captain Grayling, and he bent down to put the blanket on the chaise. Captain Grayling swaddled his daughter in the blanket and the two men built a small wall of pillows to stop her from rolling off. Adelina felt her heart fill with love seeing the two military men guarding the small child.
“Look at her,” Minette whispered, as she and Adelina crouched beside the cradle. “She’s so lovely. They are almost the same age, but in some ways not alike at all.”
“True,” Adelina agreed. “Their natures are different.” She could already see that Adamantina was more adventurous than Emmeline, who had a relaxed nature already. She watched as the little child sat up and stared over the pillows at her father.
Minette giggled. She and Adelina stood up, keeping an eye on the cradle while talking, in half-whispered tones, about the plans for the festivities. Minette and the captain would be staying until Christmas and for a week on either side, and they had travelled up from London.
“Your father will be here any moment,” Minette replied as Adelina asked her worriedly.
“Good,” Adelina said, hearing the butler hurrying down the hallway. She guessed the next coach must have arrived from London and her heart raced. She waited with Minette while the butler opened the door, and was delighted when he came up, beaming, to announce their guests.
“Lord Insfield and Lady Amhurst, and the honourable Mr and Mrs Knapdale.”
Adelina grinned. She saw Jeremy’s eyes widen, and she smiled as she heard two pairs of booted feet on the stairs, followed more quickly by another two.
“That was a fast coach,” Jeremy commented, as four people walked into the hallway. They gestured their guests a little away from the room so as not to wake the sleeping children, but it was impossible to keep them from making a noise as Adelina ran to her father.
“Papa!” she cried. “Papa! It’s so lovely to see you!”
“I’m glad to see you too, daughter,” he said. He embraced her, holding her close, and Adelina looked up into his face. He still looked the same—his strong face lined by weather and his dark eyes gentle. He went to shake Jeremy’s hand and Lady Amhurst embraced Minette and Adelina, grinning at them both.
“It was a grand trip. Alexander did insist on coming directly, so I am quite hungry.”
Adelina grinned, embracing the gentle-faced woman, who smelt of lavender.
“Come in, Aunt,” Minette said. “But do try not to wake Adamantina. My daughter is already quite awake. It’ll only be a moment before she’s going to explore to find her friend.”
Adelina grinned. She saw Lady Amhurst’s face brighten and she watched as Minette’s aunt tiptoed into the room and then ran to embrace Emmeline. She went to greet her father, and then looked over to where Jeremy was in conversation with his uncle.
“Lucas, it’s grand to see you. You must be starving. Come and get a sandwich or two. Or cake.”
“Thank you, Jeremy.” Lucas, Jeremy’s uncle, grinned. He saw Adelina and made a courtly gesture, bowing extravagantly. “My lady, I’m delighted to see you. It is kind of you to invite us all.”
Adelina grinned. “I’m delighted to see you, both of you.” She was already fond of him, and she looked up at the red-haired young lady who Lucas had first met at the recital. “Juliana. I trust you didn’t get too cold?”
Lady Juliana grinned, showing white teeth. “Not at all,” she said. “I am pleased we arrived when we did. I’m already able to smell those sandwiches, which shows quite well how hungry I am as we’re out in the hallway by a good three feet.”
Adelina chuckled. “Please, do come inside.” She stood back, waving their guests in. Her father walked in beside her and she felt her heart soften as he bent down to greet his granddaughter. She had woken up and was peering around, clearing wanting to come and greet them.
“Look, daughter,” Adelina said to the little, earnest child. “Look who it is. Grandpa.”
Adelina chuckled as her father’s eyes kindled. He bent down and reached out for her, and the little girl wrapped her hand around his finger. Adelina saw how close to tears her father was and she felt her own heart fill with love.
“Good morning, granddaughter.”
Adelina laughed as the child frowned at him, then smiled. She watched as her father gently lifted her from the cradle, standing her on her feet on the warm rug. She looked at everyone and grinned, coming to join them where Minette and the captain crouched on the floor by the fireplace, both watching Emmeline where she was walking about on the cushioned surface of the chair.
“She’s so lovely,” Lady Amhurst said lovingly.
Adelina went to join them, sitting on the rug with her daughter. They were all comfortable with less observance of the niceties, and Lucas had already found the sandwiches, quite content to eat one while sitting on the mat.
Adelina chuckled. She felt so happy. Their house was full of people, and there was such a sense of love and warmth in the drawing room.
Their guests settled down and when Emmeline was starting to get sleepy. Adelina and Jeremy took both girls up to Adamantina’s bedchamber, so they could sleep. Adelina sat by the fire while Jeremy stood by the cradle, waiting for the children to be drowsy and resting before they went to re-join the party over tea and cake.
“It’s a fine estate,” Adelina’s father commented. “And I am glad the road was clear,” he added to Jeremy. Jeremy nodded.
“I do my best to ensure the safety of those travelling,” he reassured him.
Adelina smiled fondly at him. She felt so proud of Jeremy, and so glad to have everybody who mattered so much to her staying under the roof. She had a cup of warm tea, and she was sitting by the fire, Jeremy beside her. They had moved the cushions off the big chair so they could settle in it, while their guests used the smaller wingback chairs that were arranged around the warm drawing-room.
Adelina listened to the rise and fall of conversation around the room. Minette was explaining a reference to a dress her seamstress had recently made, telling them a funny tale about she and the captain at a London event. Adelina watched her father chuckling, and she felt her heart fill with warmth. It was so grand to see her friend, her eyes bright with delight as she told them the story, and to see her father looking so well and happy was a relief.
She felt a bit sleepy, and she was not entirely sorry when the butler came to clear away the plates. She saw Minette stretch and she smiled warmly at her.
“Would you like us to show you to the guest quarters?” she asked. “We put you in the same room and there’s a crib too.”
“Good.” Minette smiled warmly.
Adelina stood to take them to their chamber while Jeremy led his uncle, still deep in conversation, into the hallway with Lady Juliana. They would be staying on the other side of the house, where there was another bedchamber that guests could use. They had put Adelina’s father in one of the newly renovated upstairs rooms, and Lady Amhurst on the same floor.
“Thank you, my dear,” she said as Adelina showed her the chambers. Adelina smiled at her warmly.
“Thank you, Devona.”
She was grateful for Lady Amhurst, not just because of how supportive she always was, but because she and Adelina’s father had formed a strong friendship. It was wonderful for her to see her father starting to take an interest in life outside business and governing. He had become so much more settled in the last few months, and she was glad to see it. She hadn’t realised before how reclusive he’d become from all but those few investors he always visited.
She heard Jeremy in the hallway and went to find him.
“Shall we go and sit by the fire?” he asked, indicating the room they had been sitting in.
Adelina joined him on the big chair. She closed her eyes, feeling sleepy. She was so contented, having the house full of the people she cared most for. She looked up at Jeremy lovingly, feeling her heart fill with warmth. She loved him so much. She nestled against him, feeling warm and peaceful.
He kissed her gently and she snuggled up closer. The cold made the windows frosty and the fire seem even warmer as she rested with her head on his chest.
She had never felt so much wonder and contentment as she wrapped her arms around Jeremy, and he returned her embrace, holding her close as they sat in the warmth.