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Authors: Raine Miller

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BOOK: The Muse
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“You should have one of mine so you have something from me.  I’ll run up and choose one—a plain one.”

Graham grasped her hand as she turned to go.  “Not a plain one, please.”

She smiled at him, understanding that he wanted something decorative.
 
Imogene chose a handkerchief of white linen with an elegant crochet lace ruffle all around.  She had embroidered her initials in lavender thread into one corner: I. A. B. C. to represent her full name: Imogene Amelia Byron-Cole.

When she pushed the cloth into his hand, Graham unfolded it reverently.  Seeing her initials, his head snapped up immediately.  “Your initials.”  He put his other hand to her cheek.  “So perfect.  A perfect token I shall cherish and keep close to me every minute.”  He thought it read like a prophecy, too. 
Falling in love with Imogene had been as easy as…A-B-C.

Graham kissed her sweetly, lingering over her lips and then lastly on the forehead.  Gentle kisses that would have to hold her until they could be together again.  Her chest stung as he pulled away.

Graham cleared his throat and said the words she did not care to hear.  “Farewell, Imogene, do not come outside please, it will be too hard to leave if you do.”

“Goodbye, Graham, until Christmas Eve then.”  She could not resist one more question to hold him there for just a moment longer.  “Do you ride Triton?”

“I do.  He is fast and can convey me quickly.”  His eyes down, he spoke, “Imogene, you remind me of something.  I wish to ask a favour.  I think you will not like it, but I ask it of you selfishly, for me.”  He looked up and hit her with that solemn, green stare.

“I know what you wish.  You do not want me to ride solitary.”

“It would be easing my heart to know you are not alone when you ride.  So, if you can agree to do it while I am away, I would be very relieved.”

“For you, Graham, I promise to do as you ask.  I’ll drag Cari along with me I suppose.”

“Thank you, my darling.  Now I can leave you a little easier.  I love you so much,
chérie
.”  He kissed her again, caressed her face once more, and then he was gone.

Imogene stayed in the drawing room, frozen where she stood.  She heard the sound of Triton’s retreating hoof beats until they faded and there was nothing but empty silence.

 

 

GRAHAM rode hard to London, managing it in less than two hours.  He entered his house and went straight to the study where he wrote out an announcement of their engagement, sending the missive off immediately.

Sitting at his desk, he removed her letter from his waistcoat, touched it lovingly for a moment and then broke the seal.  Inside was a curl of her hair and he laughed out loud as he set it aside. 
I needed this.  Imogene, how did you know?
  He opened her letter.

 

My Dearest Graham,

You have just asked me to marry you tonight and I wish to share my deepest feelings with you.  I trust you as I have never trusted another person.  You are honest and good.  You are kind and gentle.  You are wise and steadfast.  I know you will love me and that alone will make me happy.  I vow to spend my days in the pursuit of loving you in hopes of making you as happy as I will be.  For the first time, in many months, tonight I go to sleep without a great sadness pushing against my heart.  The pain of it is nearly gone.  Your love heals it and it is fading away.  Here is my kiss to seal my words to you.
 
I am reminded of the
Walsingham
ballad by Sir Walter Raleigh.  This small part that I have written out expresses my true heart, and is meant to assure you of my constancy in loving you.

But true love is a durable fire,

In the mind ever burning,

Never sick, never old, never dead,

From itself never turning.

 

Return to me Godspeed,

I.B.C.

 

Graham read her letter over many times and wondered at the miracle of her.  She had used some coloured salve and made the mark of her lips upon the letter.

She is an angel, a princess, a goddess.  And she is mine.

He touched the print of her lips with the tip of his finger…her beautiful lips.

SEVEN

 

At Christmas I no more desire a rose

Than wish a snow on May’s new-fangled mirth;

But like of each thing that in season grows.

 

William Shakespeare   ~Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1595

 

 

 

IMOGENE
lifted the door knocker and waited.  Ellenora Everley was first on her list of calls before she left Shelburne.  Now the wedding was over, there was nothing to hold the extended guests at Kenilbrooke.  A servant showed her to the parlor and Ellenora’s rapid footsteps preceded her arrival into the room just a few moments later.  When she saw Imogene she embraced her immediately.  “I am so happy for you and Graham.  We are to be cousins,” she said excitedly.

“Oh, Ellenora, I am happy.  So happy.  It hardly feels real as of yet.”

“Elle.  Please, you must call me Elle.  All my family does, and you,
Cousin,
are as good as family now.”

“I had to come and see you before you departed.  Are you away soon?”

“Yes, today, but tell me, when is your wedding to be and where?”

“Soon, a few weeks.  There is no point to a long engagement and as you know, I must get north soon, for my sister.  The final arrangements will be decided by Christmas, and I think we will probably marry in Town in the later part of January.”

Elle looked wistful.  “He loves you.  God, he loves you, Imogene.  When he came to me for assistance as a chaperone, my heart melted because I so wanted this outcome for him.”  She squeezed Imogene’s hands.  “To have helped, even a little, to bring the two of you together is a great honor.”

“I suspected as much and wanted to, ah…thank you for your efforts.”  She felt herself flush.  “I think perhaps your brother Jules was part of it as well?”

“We saw how smitten he was and wanted to help Graham in any way we could.  Jules cares deeply for Graham.  That first night at the ball, he worked so hard in his plotting to bring the two of you together and keep all others away.  Well, we all care about him—Graham, Jules, Colin and Henry, they are all so good.  They are the very best of men.  Graham will want nothing but to make you happy, Imogene, and I believe you will do the same for him.  He deserves someone like you.”  Elle sighed dreamily.

“Will you come to visit us at Gavandon when all is settled?” Imogene asked.

“Of course I will.  You could not keep me away.”

“Elle, where do you go now?  With your brother and Mina on their honeymoon, where will you stay?”

“Today, I depart for Worcester to stay with my aunt and uncle, Sir Thomas and Lady Hargreave—my mother’s sister.  Sadly, I will probably not be able to come to your wedding.  The roads in winter do not support the best of conditions for travel.”  She frowned.  “I will miss it.”

Both looked up at the arrival of Colin who swept into the room bearing a great, delighted grin.  “I thought I heard the two of you talking in here.  Ah, and here is the beauty that has captured my brother’s heart.  Congratulations!”  He gallantly bowed and kissed her hand.  “I look forward to having a sister.  You shall make the most magnificent Lady Rothvale, rivalling my dear mother, of course.”  His green eyes flickered as he smiled at her, the same colour and hue as Graham’s.  “My brother could not have chosen better.  Welcome to the family, Imogene.”

Imogene was touched by his kind gesture.  Colin was such a gentleman, just like his brother.  “You are both so kind in embracing me, and in putting me at ease.  I feel as if I am getting more out of this than is Graham, however.  I am gaining not only a husband but his wonderful family as well.  I think it’s safe to say I have made a good choice.”

 

 

18th December, 1811

 

GRAHAM walked his property at Gavandon.  He took in the winter fields, the trees, the dead grasses.  Everything was in hibernation, asleep.  Its entirety waiting for the warm breath of spring to gently stir the cycle of rebirth.  Imogene was like that for him.  Before her, his life was static, unchanging in its bleakness.  He moved through the daily requirements, but was waiting for something yet to come.  He had been asleep.  Now he was awake.  Her arrival into his world now brought purpose.  He had a reason for walking the earth.  Life had bestowed great responsibility, and great privilege upon him.  He intended to accept both in full measure.

Making his way up the path to the stone house, he thought of her, the way she looked that first time.  The pain came again.  He had such longing for her.

After being admitted by a servant, Graham announced himself, calling out as he walked toward a large, open room at the rear of the house.  Many windows facing east provided beautiful light that warmed the room.

“You’re back.  Such a long time since setting my eyes upon you.”  His friend stuck out his hand and Graham shook it warmly.

“I am.”

“You look different.  That long hair suits you in a brooding, lordly way,” he drawled.  “Oh, and my sincerest congratulations as well.  She appears very lovely.”

“Well, you look exactly the same, my friend, and it is good to see you after so long a time, and I thank you.”  Graham gave a nod of appreciation for the salutations.  “You have been in receipt of my letters, and the items have made it safely?”

“Yes, of course.”  He walked over to one wall and lifted the cloth covering.

Graham approached it reverently, breathing in long and hard at first sight of the image.  “It is spectacular.”  He eyed his friend with determination.  “I have a new priority for you though, and you’ll be kept very busy.  I will even have to help you.”

“Let’s hear it.”

Graham tapped his forehead.  “I have it here.  It’s all here, every detail, and we don’t have much time.”

His friend swept out his arm in a slight bow.  “Shall we get to it then?”

 

 

THERE were so many things requiring his attention, but Gavandon Manor was not one of them.  Fortunately Mrs. Griffin had charge of the house.  It had not suffered from his absence even slightly.  She ran her domain with efficiency and fairness, demanding hard work and loyalty in those under her, but organizing everything as if it was no effort at all.  Graham could not have done without her.  Mrs. Griffin had been with the family for twenty-five years.  She had been the one to tell him he had a baby brother on the day Colin was born.

He awaited her in his study.  She had been brought to tears upon hearing his news.  Both of them likely thinking the same thoughts so there was no need to speak them aloud.

Your mother and father would be so happy for you.

Her soft knock touched the door, and at his call, she entered his study.  “Lord Rothvale, how may I serve you this day?”

“Mrs. Griffin, I have need of your sensible mind in a matter that I fear has been left for far too long.  It concerns the lady’s chamber,” he trailed off.  “I need,” he took a deep breath, “I need your help in readying that chamber for my bride.  I know it cannot be left as it is but I am at a loss as to what should be done.  What are your thoughts?”

“My lord, I am happy to be of help.  May I suggest we go there and discuss?  I believe that would be the best course.”

Entering his mother’s rooms with Mrs. Griffin, Graham felt like he was trespassing into forbidden territory.  It could not be said it was grief actually for he believed he had conquered that emotion quite thoroughly in the past year.  Rather, it was being in her private space.  As her son, he had not come here except on very rare occasions, and then it had been to her adjoining sitting room, never into her bedroom. It was only at the very end of her life, during her lingering, after the accident—

He pushed those images of his mother down and away.  They were too painful and did not honor her goodness and beauty.  Graham felt out of place here and that worried him.  These would be Imogene’s rooms.  She would dress here.  She would bathe in this room.  He would come to her here, to this bed. 
Yes, you’ve spent plenty of time thinking about that part. 
Feeling a headache coming, he moved to sit down on the settee.  Graham looked around his mother’s room slowly, taking it all in, seeing her things laid out, then looked to Mrs. Griffin helplessly, his hands palm up.

“How do I do this, Mrs. Griffin?”

Ever the efficient, she took pity on him.  “My Lord, lord, do not worry yourself about this, it will sort itself out easily.  These rooms will not evoke the same feelings for Miss Byron-Cole as they do for you right now.  She is a lady, raised and bred, the daughter of a peer.  She has been prepared for claiming a place such as this.  If I might suggest, sir, it would be important for her to make these rooms her own by choosing the furnishings, fabrics and ornaments such as they please her.  What if they were cleared of everything personal and stripped down?  It would be a clean slate.  Tell her you wish for her to make it up in the manner she prefers.  I believe she would be honored by your confidence.  Once the rooms are done up, you will find your countenance greatly changed in regards to this space.  It will no longer belong to
Lady Rothvale
, your mamma—it will belong to
Lady Rothvale
, your wife.”

Graham leapt up and embraced her hands.  “You are the wisest woman!  Thank you for your kindness.  I knew you would know the best course of action,” he whispered. “I’ll leave everything in your capable hands then.”  He welcomed the relief he felt as he quitted the chambers.

 

 

BOOK: The Muse
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