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Authors: Jennifer McNare

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BOOK: Dreaming of You
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Lavinia brushed past Melody without a word, with Nelson following closely on her heels.  There was hatred in his gaze as he cast one last malevolent glance in her direction.
 

She watched them go, glad to be rid of them.  Any pity she might have felt for Nelson had quickly dissipated following the unwarranted accusations he’d hurled at her so viciously.  With a weary sigh, she sat back onto her chair and then turned her apologetic gaze to Mr. Stewart.  “Please accept my apologies, Mr. Stewart.  That was…inexcusable.”
 

The portly solicitor walked forward, shaking his head in negation, and then sat down next to her in the seat Lavinia had vacated.  “You have absolutely nothing to apologize for, Lady Edgington,” he assured her.  “It is my fault entirely.  I was well aware that this meeting would likely become unpleasant, once the earl’s directives in regard to Lord Hattford were made known.  Clearly I should have prepared you for just such an occurrence.”
 

“Oh no, please do not blame yourself, Mr. Stewart.  I was not unaware of my husband’s dislike for his nephew, I assure you.”  She smiled ruefully.      
 

“Yes, well…” he paused, pushing his glasses higher up on his nose.  “In any event, you need not worry.  The earl was completely competent when the will was drafted.  It is quite sound, I assure you.  The document is entirely legitimate and cannot be overturned, despite Lady Hattford’s claim.”  
 

“Thank you, Mr. Stewart.  That is most comforting.”  
 

He nodded and then glanced momentarily at her extended abdomen.  “Of course, we shall need to wait until the child is born before we can proceed with the final settlement.”
 

“Yes, I understand.”  
 

“Excuse me for being so forward, My Lady, but may I be so bold as to ask when the child is due to arrive?”
 

Melody placed a hand against her rounded belly.  “In about four months.  And it is
children
actually.”  She smiled as Mr. Stewart’s eyes widened in surprise.  “Dr. Blackburn is quite certain that I am expecting twins.”  
 

“Twins, how remarkable.”
 

“Yes, it was a pleasant surprise, but unfortunately my husband passed shortly before Dr. Blackburn discovered the fact.”
 

“Yes of course, that is indeed unfortunate,” he replied, his tone sympathetic.  
 

Melody merely nodded in agreement.  
 

“Hmm, well in respect to the earl’s will, I do not think this surprising circumstance should have any significant bearing,” he mused, crinkling his forehead.  “Regardless, we will still have to wait until the children’s genders are known before we can proceed any further.”  
 

Melody nodded again, watching as Mr. Stewart reached up to adjust his glasses, an unconscious habit it seemed.  After a moment, his features smoothed and his expression became reassuring once again.   
 

“In the meantime, you mustn’t concern yourself with anything other than your health, Lady Edgington,” he said kindly.  “My firm will continue to act as trustee for the estate, and you of course, shall receive the deed to the property in Lancashire, as well as the dispersal of your portion of the inheritance within the week.”
 

“Thank you, Mr. Stewart.  You seem to have everything well in hand and I am immensely grateful.”
 

“It is my pleasure, My Lady,” he said, rising from his seat.  
 

Melody stood as well, smiling in gratitude as the kindhearted gentleman placed a hand under her arm to assist her.   “Would you care to stay for brunch, Mr. Stewart?”
 

“Thank you, but no.  I am afraid that I have business to attend to this afternoon and I must be getting on my way.”
 

“Perhaps another time then.”
 

“I would very much enjoy that, Lady Edgington,” he said with a sincere smile.  “And please, if there is ever anything at all that I can do for you, it will be my utmost pleasure to do so.  You have only to send word.”
 

 

 

Shortly after Mr. Stewart’s departure, Melody made her way to the front parlor where her parents waited.  Her head was still spinning with the knowledge that regardless of their genders, her children’s futures were secure.  It was as if an enormous weight had been lifted off of her shoulders.  The prospect of having two girls, and Charles leaving her and her daughters with nothing, had been a terrifying possibility.  She didn’t like to think that he would have been so callous, but she’d feared it nonetheless.   But now, knowing that she would have more than ample means to care for her children, as well as for her parents and brother, she couldn’t have felt more relieved.
 

Entering the parlor, she met her parents’ anxious gazes and quickly told them the remarkable news.  Though they still had no knowledge of the horrific deception Charles had coerced her into being a part of, they had been concerned nonetheless, for if she were to bear a girl, Charles could have easily left his entire estate to his nephew, leaving Melody with only a small widow’s portion.
 

While listening to her parents sing Charles’ praises turned Melody’s stomach, she didn’t let on.  She would never permit her kindhearted parents to learn of the shocking decision Charles had forced her to make to secure their wellbeing.  They would blame themselves, and she would never allow them to shoulder that horrible burden.  It was hers to bear, and she would bear it alone.  
 

Unfortunately her one and only confidant, Mary Edwards, had accompanied her husband to America shortly after her condition had been confirmed, as Charles had demanded.  Although, unbeknownst to Charles, she had secretly kept in written contact with Mary after she and Mr. Edwards had settled into their new home in Boston.  With Elizabeth’s assistance, she had been covertly exchanging letters with the woman who had become a true friend when she’d needed one most.  Even though she was now far, far away, Mary was still a tremendous source of moral support.  She could hardly wait to inform her of her good fortune, knowing how relieved her dear friend would be.
 

Chapter 12

 

London, 1845
 

When Melody arrived at the Cavendish townhome located at the center of one of London’s most affluent residential districts, she was slightly awed by the elegant four-story building.  The house was much larger than she had envisioned and was flanked on both sides by immense homes of equal size and beauty.  Despite having resided at Edgington Hall for the past five years, she still felt a bit out of place in the midst of such vast wealth and privilege.  Turning, she was delighted however, to see that a large sprawling park was situated on the opposite side of the street, a perfect spot for the children to play.  Looking out the coach window, she watched as several couples strolled along a wide walking path, and numerous children scampered about the grassy field under the watchful eyes of their respective governesses.  
 

Directing her attention away from the window as the vehicle came to a complete stop, Melody smiled affectionately at William and Emma who bounced excitedly up and down upon the opposite seat.
 

“We’re here, we’re here,” William cried excitedly.
 

“Hooray,” Emma cheered, grinning broadly.
 

The confining three hour ride from Edgington had been rather tedious for her spirited four-year-old son and daughter and Melody could hardly fault them for their enthusiasm, but she was quick to remind them of their manners.  “William, Emma, I shall expect you to be on your very best behavior as we enter our new home.”  Her expression was loving but firm, and the children quickly nodded their assent.
 

“Yes, Mama,” they chorused.
 

As the door opened and the steps were lowered, Melody took a deep steadying breath and prepared herself to begin the next chapter of her life.  With a polite thank you to the attending footman, she and the children made their way from the coach, through the low iron gate and up the front walk to the massive double doors that now stood open, as the second vehicle carrying Elizabeth, her lady’s maid, and the children’s governess, Miss Tibbs, made its way to the rear of the house.  The butler, tall and thin with a neatly combed head of salt and pepper hair and ramrod straight posture, stood at the top of the marble steps with a polite, welcoming expression, waiting to greet them.
 

“Good afternoon, My Lady,” he said with a polite bow as Melody reached the top step.  “I am Mr. Burke.  Welcome to Cavendish House.”
 

“Thank you, Mr. Burke.  Please allow me to introduce my son, William, Lord Edgington and my daughter Lady Emma,” she said, motioning the children forward.
 

“Lord Edgington,” he said with a bow toward the young earl, “and Lady Emma.”  His formal expression softened a bit as he took in the children’s upturned faces.  “It is my very great pleasure to meet you both.”  Returning his gaze to Melody he motioned toward the interior of the house.  “If you will come inside, I shall begin your introductions to the staff.”
 

Stepping across the threshold and into the house, Melody saw that the entire household staff stood at attention in the large foyer, clearly lined up according to their rank and station.  Though a touch
apprehensive, she was determined not to show it.  Squaring her shoulders, she did her best to appear poised and confident as she and the children greeted first the housekeeper, Mrs. Beechum, and then the rest of the staff.
 

 

 

Hours later, after having spent the majority of the afternoon exploring their new home, William and Emma had been fed their supper and tucked into their beds for the night.  About to retire herself, Melody was presently seated at the small writing desk in her bedchamber located on the second floor, penning invitations to tea to her aunt Esther and her cousin Penelope.  She hadn’t seen them since before her marriage to Charles and she was eager to renew their acquaintance.  Penelope, or Penny as she was most-often called, was two years older than she was, and was her only cousin on her mother’s side of the family.  She was Viscountess Wexley now, having married a well-to-do gentleman named Henry Dunham shortly after her first season, and the mother of two young boys.
 

Melody knew that her mother would have enjoyed accompanying her to London to visit her twin sister and her family, but she had declined the invitation, for she was uncomfortable leaving Adam for any extended length of time.  Although Adam now received the absolute best medical care available, thanks to the money Charles had left her in his will, his health was still quite tenuous and Melody well-understood her mother’s decision not to travel far from home.  It had been difficult enough for her and the children to go, for as she was with her parents, she and Adam were still remarkably close.  And so, after penning the notes to Esther and Penny, she dashed off a quick letter to her parents and brother, letting them know that she and the children had arrived safely in London, were settling comfortably into their new home and were looking forward to acquainting themselves with the city.
 

With those tasks accomplished, Melody rose from her seat at the desk, doused the lamp and then moved leisurely toward the large canopied bed set against the far wall.  It had been a long day and she was tired.  Tossing her rose-colored silk dressing gown onto a nearby chair, she sat down upon the bed’s soft mattress and then scooted toward the center, tucking her legs beneath the crisp linen sheets as she lay back against the pillows.  Closing her eyes, she listened to the quiet, unfamiliar sounds of her new home as she waited for sleep to claim her.  Surprisingly, despite her fatigue and several long minutes of lying in bed, sleep eluded her.  After a while, she simply stopped trying and allowed her thoughts to drift at will.
 

As they so often did, especially once she’d decided to venture to London, her thoughts turned to
him
.  She remembered their first afternoon together, when she’d asked him if he had ever been to London.  He’d been so kind and so patient as she’d bombarded him with question after question.  Was he here now, she couldn’t help wondering?  Was he in London at this very moment, just as she was?  The notion was both exciting and terrifying at the same time.  With the Season well underway it was certainly a possibility, as was the chance that their paths might very well cross at some point.
 

Rolling onto her side, her gaze moved to the bank of floor-to-ceiling windows that lined the rear wall of her bedchamber and then outward to the moonlit night beyond, visible through the partially opened drapes.  Staring into the dark shadows she considered what might happen if they did cross paths, if their identities were exposed, and once again pondered the questions that had haunted her for nearly five long years.  
How would he react to the knowledge that it was her husband who had held him captive?  That she had knowingly deceived him to protect her family
?  
That she hadn’t given up their child, or rather their children as it were, as he’d assumed.  
And ultimately, the question that mattered most,
would he ever be able to forgive her?  
 

Of course, there was always the possibility that their paths would cross without either of them even realizing it, she acknowledged.  Years ago, in the darkness of the cottage when she had lain within his tender embrace, she had been so attuned to each and every nuance of his voice that she’d thought she would never be able to forget it.  But had she?  If she heard it now, would it sound the same as she remembered?  And what of him?  If they did chance to meet would he recognize her voice, or had it faded from his memory with the passing of time?  
 

BOOK: Dreaming of You
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