A Heart to Love
A Newsletter Subscriber Exclusive Serial
The word was simple, emphatic, Browning’s delivery lacking the courtesy a gentleman should accord a lady. At this moment, he did not care. “I don’t know what you’re considering,” he continued “but I advise against attempting to disrupt the ceremony. Such action would not be taken kindly.”
“You expect me to do nothing while my brother throws his future away to someone with no lineage or position?”
“He is happy in a way lineage or position cannot provide. Look beyond your plans and ambitions, for once.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but the butler reappeared to announce, “Miss Harper’s room is ready. The housekeeper will show her the way when she wishes.”
“Excellent!” Harper said, stepping away from his intended. “Kitty, I’m certain you wish to freshen up.”
For a moment, Browning thought she might decide to stay, but she said, “There is much you do not understand. We will speak later.”
With that, she left the room, not acknowledging the other guests. A moment’s pause, followed by a collectively held breath releasing. Conversation returned, albeit at a lower level. Browning made his way back to Beatrice. “My apologies she treated you in such an unpleasant manner.”
For a long moment, she remained silent, her nose wrinkling as she pondered something. “May I speak plainly?”
“Is Miss Harper always so rude to those she meets?”
He did not fault her for the annoyance on her face nor her question, blunter than polite. “Only to those who offer no elevation to her status or whom she considers social inferiors.”
No need to state which category the Archer family fell into. Beatrice’s eyes narrowed, her expression growing tighter. Leaning in, he added, “I would suggest not attempting to eviscerate her until after the ceremony. Then, I will be happy to help.”
Her face did not lighten, but one corner of her mouth twitched up. “You’re trying to ruin my scowl, are you not?”
“Only because Miss Harper would be pleased she upset you. Also, your parents are preparing to take their leave. I suspect your hands will be full dealing with your mother.”
Mr. and Mrs. Archer were on their feet, as young Jeremy reluctantly closed the atlas. “I fear you are right. How I wish Thursday were here.”
“You do what you can to ensure your sister keeps her spirits up. I will be watchful for tricks from this side.”
The day they met, he would not imagine himself giving such a promise. Nor would he be cheered by the slight smile she offered s she took her leave to join her parents.
Given memories of other times Kitty Harper encountered an obstacle, he hoped he could keep his word.
Mrs. Archer’s opinion of Harper’s sister dominated the trip home. Beatrice sat in silence, not wishing to offer anything to feed the torrent. “I do not doubt Kit,” Agatha said once they were alone in their shared room. “He assured me Catherine cannot stop the wedding.” She paused as she wrestled momentarily with her gown. “Her appearing as she did upset him, though.”
Perhaps because there is reason. “Christopher Harper loves you,” Beatrice said. “If I had doubts before, he conquered them. What’s more, Mr. Browning is convinced the two of you are made for one another.”
She did not miss the small sigh which escaped her sister, or the way her shoulders settled a bit lower with the release of tension. “I am glad. He values his friend’s good opinion. All will be well.”
The words sounded more designed to convince herself than anyone else. No, Thursday could not come soon enough.
She found sleep elusive, worries sliding through her brain as she tried to drift off. What rest she achieved proved troubled, and she woke unsure of her dreams. She only knew they had been unpleasant.
With nothing to be gained by staring at the ceiling, she rose, taking care not to wake Agatha. She pulled on a simple day dress, then fetched her hat, gloves, and gardening tools. The dew would still be on the plants, making this the perfect time to cut those items ready for drying. With luck, the task would help turn her mind from her troubles.
Her basket was almost full of statice flowers from the front garden when the sound of hooves on packed, dry earth caught her attention. Carts rolled down the thoroughfare, but this was sharper than the steady clop-clop of a horse pulling a load. Looking up, she spied Browning atop a fine hunter coming in her direction. A nod of acknowledgment as he steered his mount toward the low stone wall which defined the edge of the Archer property. “I am surprised to find you up this early, Miss Archer.”
She gestured to the basket. “Some tasks require my attention. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
He dismounted, keeping the reins in one hand as he stood in front of the wall. “It was not my intention to call. Kit and his sister are already arguing, so I thought it wise to indulge in a ride.” A weary sigh escaped. “Miss Harper not only objects to the marriage, but backs her own candidate. She has apparently made certain representations to the lady.
The stem of the plant bent, the stalk damaged as Beatrice tightened her grip. Annoyed, she cut the flower below the bend and trimmed the end. “If things were…not as they are, I would urge Agatha to delay, if not change her mind. I do not like the idea of her going into a home where she will not be welcomed. At the very least, it would be wise for Mr. Harper’s parents to meet her before the wedding.”
“When Harper informed me he planned to marry. I advised him to wait for the same reasons. Once the baron and baroness come to know your sister, they will stand by him when his sisters try something. I’m hoping once introductions are made, they will take that stance.”
“What if they don’t?” She turned her full attention to Browning, thoughts of gathering plants abandoned. “What if their mind are poisoned to think her a fortune-hunting slattern?”
The harshness of her language raised an eyebrow, but Browning did not try to mitigate what she said. “Unlikely. Kit takes after his parents, wanting to see the best in people. I believe they will be pleased with their new daughter-in-law, and welcome the coming child with open arms. If he stands firm, things will come out right.”
She opened her mouth to ask at what cost, but stopped as a boy dressed in the livery of Fieldham Hall trotted toward the gate. “Miss Harper sent this note for Mrs. Archer. A reply is requested.”
“I suspect she and Mr. Harper have ceased arguing for the moment,” Beatrice said, taking the missive,
“Which means I should head back, find out if Kit needs anything. Stay true, Miss Archer. You are the strongest support your sister can have. Between us, we can see them through.”
There was a warmth to the words, along with an underlying certainty which brought a smile to her lips. A week ago, she considered Laurence Browning a potential foe, set against this marriage. Now, he was an ally. “Are you certain you don’t want to learn what message says?”
“Given she wants an answer, I’ll wager you are invited to dine, possibly this afternoon. Your mother may view this as an olive branch.”
They both knew that would not be the case. “Dare I hope we might see you there?”
A shake of his head. “I suspect she means this only for the ladies. Don’t worry. Kit and I will be here this evening as arranged. No, we won’t bring her unless you send word.”
He touched his gloved hand to the brim of his hat, then mounted once more. Beatrice watched him urge his horse into a trot before turning to the lad who still stood waiting. “Come with me. Cook can find something for you to eat while you wait.”
The young man grinned, following her around to the kitchen. With him in Cook’s care, she found her mother settled in the parlor with the housekeeper, going the menu for the wedding breakfast. “Here is a note from Miss Harper. She’s requested a reply.”
Mrs. Archer frowned as she took the paper, reluctance in every move. Scanning the lines, though, her face lightened. “She’s asked us to luncheon this afternoon, myself, Agatha, and you at two of the clock. She’s keeping city hours. I suppose this means we must ask her to join the gentlemen for supper. Tell Cook we will be gone, and may be one more at table tonight. Jeremy can have a tray for his meal, unless Mr. Archer is home early.”
The housekeeper nodded, gave a slight curtsy and withdrew to carry the message. “This will give us a chance to learn her plans,” Beatrice said as her mother pulled out a fresh sheet of paper for her response.
An indelicate snort. “If Miss Harper believes we are country cousins she can dismiss, she can think again. She’s set against this match, but may want some peace since it will be going forward.”
While her mother wrote, Beatrice hoped against hope this invitation did not contain some unforeseen trap.
If you’ve landed on this page because someone shared a link and you’ve enjoyed the story so far, consider joining my mailing list. New episodes will land in your mailbox on a monthly basis, along with updates regarding my books and other items.