Her Secondhand Groom(9)

By: Rose Gordon

Nine-year old Celia tucked her legs under her bottom and giggled. “Juliet let us try on her sister’s hats!”

Patrick nodded. Lady Sinclair and Lady Watson used to let the girls do the same thing. Of course if he were to ask, he’d bet they’d allow the girls to come over for tea and to try on their hats and shawls again. But probably not as often as they once did. They were married now, after all. “Anything else?”

Helena reached behind her and grabbed a little bound book of what he thought to be blank paper. “We learned our letters,” she said proudly as she flipped open the book and shoved the page she wanted him to see right in his face.

Blinking, Patrick’s eyes scanned the lines. Sure enough, five sets of twenty six letters were scrolled perfectly on the page. With a slight nod of approval, he flipped the page and saw another five sets of letters. Flipping the page again, he saw another, slightly messier set. “Perhaps I should have left her a bit more.”

Celia nodded. “We could go back tomorrow so you could pay her.”

Grinning, Patrick shook his head. “Don’t think for one minute I don’t know what you’re about,” he teased before snapping the book shut and setting it down beside him. “Did you like Miss Hughes?” He only asked to help fill the silence, at least that’s what he told himself.

“Of course, we did,” Helena informed him, reaching up to grab her braid. “Look, Juliet even braided my hair for me.”

“Are you saying Mrs. Jenkins doesn’t do it to your satisfaction?”

“No,” all three of them said at once.

He chuckled. Mrs. Jenkins was originally their nursemaid and after they’d all outgrown the nursery, Mrs. Jenkins just seemed to keep her post. Not that he’d tried very diligently to find a suitable governess to replace her, mind you.

“Hmm,” he said, cocking his head to the right side as an idea popped into his head. “Did Miss Hughes―the one who helped you with your letters―happen to mention how long she’d be in residence?”

“No, why?” Celia asked, her lips tipping up into a smile that resembled her mother's.

Swallowing hard, Patrick tore his eyes from her. All three of them resembled Abigail so much that at times it hurt to look at them. “No reason,” he answered gruffly. There was no point in getting them excited about the plan that was forming in his head. Only a few months ago when he’d allowed the newly styled Lady Sinclair to act as their governess for a week, the girls had been beside themselves with excitement hoping the arrangement would become permanent. But that wasn’t meant to be. So he knew it best to keep his current thoughts to himself.

An hour later, the carriage came to an abrupt stop in front of Briar Creek. After helping his daughters down and sending them off with Mrs. Jenkins, Patrick walked to his study and plopped down into his most comfortable chair. Drumming his fingers on the edge of his desk, Patrick let his mind ruminate about the little kernel of brilliance that had planted itself in his head during his carriage ride home, and about an hour later, he knew exactly what he needed to do.

With any luck, Mr. Hughes would see the sense in his plan and Patrick and Miss Hughes would find themselves affianced.

With another stroke of luck, they could be married by the weekend.

Chapter 3

Juliet stretched her arms way up over the top of her head and yawned. Nothing felt better than a good stretch in the morning. She put her arms back down and rolled into a sitting position with her legs hanging over the side of the bed. Her feet touched the cold stone floor and she involuntarily shivered. Forcing herself to keep her feet planted on the floor so they’d adjust to the cold stone, she reached over to her nightstand and blindly groped for her spectacles. Just before nearly knocking them to the floor, her fingers closed around one of the stems. She put them on and stood to start dressing.

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