‘This is so very exciting, is it not?’ Rebecca enthused as the carriage trundled the short distance to Cassandra’s home. Rebecca was going to be left off at Cassandra’s home so she could help her with the preparations, and Vincent was to continue on to Gregory’s home, for he was the best man. ‘After all these years, I can hardly believe Cassandra and I are getting married only months apart, and to cousins, no less.’
‘It could have been worse,’ Vincent smirked playfully, ‘Gregory and I could have been brothers.’
Rebecca swiped a hand dismissively, and shook her head. ‘I hardly think that would have mattered to either of us, but more so, Cassandra. She is a woman who knows what she wants.’
‘And you are not?’ Vincent raised his eyebrows, the smile now dancing at the side of his mouth.
Rebecca shrugged, pretending not to know his meaning, though she knew rightly to what he was referring. ‘I do not think I am so demanding,’ she replied coyly.
‘Rebecca, you have rearranged my entire library. Every piece of furniture in the drawing room is now in an entirely different place, and do not get me started on the dining room.’ He was laughing lightly, but neither was he wrong.
‘It is only that your house was so …’ She struggled to find the word. ‘Manly.’
‘Manly?’ He chuckled.
‘Yes,’ she nodded, ‘masculine, as though there was only a man living there.’
‘That is because there was only a man living there,’ he said, continuing to laugh.
‘And now, there is not,’ she said determinedly.
‘That is for a certainty, for I can no longer find anything I need. Only the other day, I went looking for a book in the library. It took me half an hour to realise it had been put on a shelf on the other side of the room.’
‘Yes, but now, everything is organised. There is fiction in one place, and poetry in another, and educational manuscripts in a place all of their own.’
Vincent chuckled at her again, for he did like to tease her so. If she were honest, she enjoyed it too. Life had become so much fun since they had wed.
It had been strange, having to move into another person’s home, and at first, it did take some getting used to. For a start, she did not know where anything was. She had also felt, for a small time, that she did not have any right to touch anything or make it look more homely.
Vincent had evidently noticed and one evening, about two weeks after their wedding, he had sat her down to discuss that specific subject.
‘This is our home now, my darling. Your home and mine. I see you walking about with a sense of trepidation, fingering things as though you are only yet a visitor. But I want you to immerse yourself in this house. I do not like to see you act as though you do not truly belong.’
‘It is only that I feel a little strange at the moment,’ Rebecca had replied.
‘Which is understandable,’ he had countered. ‘This is all new. You have lived all your years in the same house with your mother and father. But you are now my wife, Rebecca. Everything that is mine, is also yours. I want you to feel free to make this house our home. I want us to be happy here together.’
After a few days, Rebecca had taken his words fully on board, and going from room to room, moved things in a way she desired them to be. Of course, there was little in the way of any feminine influence; no flowers or pretty canvasses, and hardly any portraits or tapestries. When their finances improved, she was determined to rectify all those things, but at that time, the best she could do was make the room look as though it were a home, not some cave a man resided in.
Vincent had teased her relentlessly, telling her that while he said she could make the house her home, he had not meant for her to rearrange every piece of furniture he owned. He did not really mind of course, though the tables appeared to have turned, for on each occasion he returned from a meeting or walked into a room he had not been in for several days, it was he who could find nothing he wished to put his hands on.
Cassandra and Rachel had been regular visitors, as well as Eleanor. In fact, Rebecca’s home had become quite the meeting place, especially for the close group to gather to discuss the details for Cassandra’s wedding.
Last week had been their final gathering before the big day, and as each item had been ticked off their to-do list, the ladies finally relaxed and enjoyed their afternoon tea.
‘This time next week,’ Eleanor had said, ‘you will be walking down the aisle, Cassandra.’
‘I know,’ Cassandra had replied. ‘The time just seems to have flown by so very quickly. I must thank all of you, for I do not know how I would have managed it all without you.’
‘It was our pleasure, my dear,’ Rebecca had said. ‘As you were there for me with my wedding preparations, so we are here for yours.’
‘It is hard to believe, is it not, Rachel,’ Eleanor had said to Cassandra’s mother, ‘that both are daughters are to be married within months of each other?’
Rachel had smiled. ‘They have done everything together their whole lives, Eleanor. I cannot say I am surprised, for it would make little sense for them to change that now.’
Eleanor had nodded then. ‘Yes, I suppose you are right.’
‘Did you hear the latest about the Duke of Richmond?’ Cassandra asked, changing the subject entirely and leaning excitedly forward in her chair.
All the women had sat up and paid attention, for while gossip was not really something they engaged in, their interest in the duke had deeper connotations after everything that had occurred.
‘Do tell us,’ Rachel had encouraged.
‘It has now been reported, he is the most eligible bachelor in the east of England. Mothers from all over have been practically throwing their daughters at his feet in desperation for him to marry them.’
The news had made Rebecca feel a little guilty, though not so much to cause her any great regrets. Had the letters not been discovered, their wedding would have gone on as planned, but just as Rebecca had always deduced, neither of them would have been very happy. Owen deserved to find a woman he could truly love, and such a woman who would love him in return. Did not everyone deserve that? She had not even had any affection for him, let alone love, and while he had tried to make some effort to get to know her, it had been more of a chore than a delight.
Being married to Vincent had opened her eyes to what true happiness really was. It was the easiness they felt when spending time together, the laughter and the teasing, the evident connection that had been there from the very start. She would never have had any of that with Owen, and while she would have shown the duke respect as his wife, they would have been like two strangers living under the same roof.
‘I do not envy him,’ Rebecca had said. ‘The Season has only just begun, and I have no doubt, the poor man will be inundated with offers.’
Cassandra had frowned. ‘You look as though you feel sorry for him, Rebecca. But I cannot think for the life of me why.’
‘He is not a bad man, Cassandra,’ Rebecca had explained. ‘If anything, it was I who did wrong, not him.’
‘Perhaps, but it was only because you were not happy,’ Cassandra had countered.
‘I do know that, but still, that was hardly his doing. He did not deserve what I did to him. Things may well have turned out for me in the best possible way. That being said, I wished it had happened differently. I would never have intentionally wanted to hurt him.’
‘I would not worry about that,’ Eleanor had cut in. ‘Owen was not really hurt. Discovering the letters and eventually being told by your father that the wedding would not be going ahead was more of an inconvenience to the man. Believe me, he will find a wife sooner or later. He sees such things as a business deal, rather than anything else.’
Rebecca had shrugged. ‘Well, then I only hope he finds the lady that is right for him.’
Thoughts of Owen had lingered in Rebecca’s mind, but not for long, and as Cassandra continued to regale the group with more items of interest she had heard on the grapevine, he soon left her mind entirely.
Rebecca helped Cassandra on with her dress, while the mother’s fussed about her, cooing at how beautiful she looked. Cassandra looked directly at Rebecca. ‘Well? What do you think?’
‘You look stunningly beautiful, my dear friend,’ Rebecca replied, as she looked at the soft pink gown that graced Cassandra’s slender form so perfectly. ‘Gregory will feel like he is the luckiest man when you stand beside him at the altar.’
‘He is the luckiest man,’ Cassandra quipped back, a smirk on her lips. ‘As I am also the luckiest woman.’ She took a deep breath in and slowly breathed out.
‘Are you all right?’ Rebecca asked, looking a little concerned.
‘Perhaps I was wrong to tell you I would not be nervous on my wedding day,’ Cassandra said. Her words made Rebecca laugh, and the friends enjoyed the laughter together.
When they arrived at the chapel, Rebecca walked down the aisle beside her closest friend, and then slipped into the pews, leaving Cassandra to make the final steps to Gregory alone.
Vincent, who remained standing beside Gregory, threw her a tender glance, before turning back towards the alter, and then, the ceremony began.
When it was all over, Vincent and Rebecca stood side by side outside the chapel while the guests poured from the old building.
‘It feels a little strange to be back here again,’ he said as they both looked up at the same place they had been married.
‘Yes,’ Rebecca replied, ‘though I do wish we could do our wedding day again.’
Vincent looked surprised at her words. ‘Really? But you were so very nervous on the day. Would you really want to put yourself through all that again?’
‘It is strange, but Rachel said something to me on the morning of our wedding day, and it turned out to be so very true. She said the day would fly by, and I ought to enjoy every moment. While I did endeavour to enjoy every moment, the day seemed to pass in the blink of an eye.’
‘Then perhaps we can relive some of it today, vicariously through Gregory and Cassandra,’ he said with a smile. ‘Come, let us get to the carriage.’
They left the chapel along with many other guests and made the short journey across town, arriving at Lady Drummond’s large manor in a sort while. Rachel’s home was far larger than the Brewens’ household, with a surrounding garden that was always immaculately landscaped.
‘Do you know,’ Vincent said, looking about him with an expression of wonder, ‘I have not yet been to Cassandra’s mother’s home?’
‘I do know,’ Rebecca replied. ‘It is rather grand, is it not?’
‘It is. I knew Cassandra came from money, but until now, I had no idea of the extent of it.’
‘Yes, Cassandra does not flaunt it as many others might. That is why I love her so dearly. Her feet are solidly on the ground. She looks at people as equal, and though she can be a little forthright, her heart is always in the right place.’
‘Indeed. Besides, not suffering fools gladly is never a bad trait to have.’
A large ballroom had been decorated in great detail, and long tables with many chairs lay systematically around the room. Already, a hum of conversation danced on the air as guests mingled together, and in the background, musicians played a soft melody to entertain those present.
‘Rebecca,’ Cassandra called out, swiftly moving towards Rebecca and Vincent, while dragging Gregory behind her.
The two friends hugged tightly, before releasing each other again. ‘Can you believe it?’ Cassandra declared excitedly. ‘I am now married.’
Gregory smiled widely while he stood beside her.
‘Oh, is that what all that fuss was about?’ Vincent teased. ‘I thought we had just come over for drinks.’
‘You know, Vincent. Being married to my best friend has certainly changed you. You are far less uptight than you were before.’
‘Perhaps it is because I have far less to be uptight about.’ He grinned. ‘Joking aside, we wish to congratulate you both on your wedding. Both Rebecca and I could not be more thrilled for you.’
‘Thank you, Vincent,’ Gregory said, pulling Cassandra close in to his side. ‘And thank you both for all you have done to help us coming up to our special day. We are more than grateful for all your input and assistance.’
The meal was served, and many toasts were made, before eventually, the first dance occurred. Rebecca watched with a sense of contentment as Cassandra and Gregory waltzed around the floor. They had eyes only for each other and looked completely besotted. She could not be any more pleased for her closest friend and knew deeply in her heart that after all that had happened, everything would work out for all four of them.
The evening was a wonderful success, and when it was time to leave, Rebecca hugged her friend tightly once more. ‘I am so very delighted for you, Cassandra. Truly, you deserve each other. I just know you are going to be so happy together.’
‘Thank you, Rebecca. It looks like we both got our happy ending after all.’
On the journey home, Rebecca and Vincent reminisced on all that had happened over the last few months. It had been such a whirlwind adventure, and there was so much more to come.
‘I remember the night we came across your carriage in the snow as if it were yesterday,’ Vincent said, his arms wrapped around Rebecca’s shoulders as she rested her head on the upper part of his chest. ‘It has often crossed my mind that if another had come upon you that night, it may be that gentleman that you would be now married to, and not me at all.’
‘Oh, do not be silly,’ Rebecca replied. ‘I did not fall in love with you because you saved us from the bitter cold. I fell in love with you because of your wonderful heart, your intellectual mind, and your witty personality.’
‘I have a witty personality?’ he teased.’
Rebecca only laughed.
‘And I fell in love with you because of your soft and shy ways, your stunning beauty, and your dry humour. Of course, I cannot forget your absolute passion for your novels. In fact, I do not think I have met a woman with such passion for literature.’
‘Do you still love me even though I rearranged your library?’ she quipped.
‘Even after that,’ he confirmed. ‘Now, we have our entire lives ahead of us. It feels as though the winds have changed. Previously, the battles and troubles were relentless. But I am married to the most wonderful woman in the world, I have made a dear friend in your father, and those business investments I made before we were married are starting to produce dividends. I have much to be happy and grateful for, but mainly, I am grateful that you will be by my side for always.’
Rebecca pushed herself up from his chest and looked at him with an intense gaze. He frowned a little, for it was not a look she gave him often.
‘What is it?’ he asked.
‘You know the way you have just listed off all the things that have happened that have brought you joy.’
‘I have some other news to tell you, that you can add to that list,’ Rebecca said, the excitement dancing beside the nervousness in her stomach as she readied herself to reveal her secret to him.
‘What is it, Rebecca? Do not keep me in such suspense,’ he pressed.
Slowly, Rebecca placed a hand on the lower part of her stomach. Vincent looked down at her action, and his eyes flew wide.
‘You are pregnant?’ he cried.
At first, she could not tell if the astonishment of his expression was in delight or terror, but after another second, a beaming smile lit up his face so brightly, the entire carriage was nearly illuminated.
‘Yes, my darling. I am pregnant,’ Rebecca said, her own smile growing by the second.
Grabbing her and pulling her in close to him, he hugged her so tightly, she thought she might burst, and yet, nor did she want him to let her go. In that hug, she felt all his love, all his contentment, excitement and satisfaction as it flowed from his soul to hers.
When he eventually did release her, he looked down at her and gazed tenderly into her eyes. ‘I did not know that it was possible for you to make me any more happy than I already am, and yet, there you go, surprising even me. I do love you so very much, Rebecca. At times, I hardly feel as though I deserve to feel this delighted.’
‘Of course you do. What a silly thing to say,’ Rebecca baulked. ‘Everyone deserves to be happy, my darling, and with what you have endured, I would venture to say, you more than most.’
Taking her face in his hands, Vincent lowered his lips to hers and kissed her so tenderly. As always happened when he kissed her in such a way, sparks exploded and a sensation like no other swirled around her body. Their life was their own now, and they could live it how they chose. Rebecca knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that it would be a good life, full of happy times for her to remember in her old age.