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  • The Lord Behind the Letters

Chapter 1

Profitless usurer, why dost thou useSo great a sum of sums, yet canst not live?For having traffic with thyself alone,Thou of thyself thy sweet self dost deceive.Then how, when nature calls thee to be gone,What acceptable audit canst thou leave?Thy unused beauty must be tomb’d with thee,Which, used, lives th’ executor to be.”

“It is beautiful,” Fiona said softly, still drinking in the words even as she spoke.

Kendrick stared out the window of the carriage a moment, the words moving through his mind. Yes, it was quite beautiful.

“Did you write that?” she asked. He almost wanted to laugh at the very thought of having written something so achingly wonderful, but of course his mother did not recognize that it was absurd to even think such a thing.

“I could only wish to have written something so lovely,” he replied, and she gave him a small smile.

“Your poems are lovely as well, Kendrick.” She always did believe in him and he gave a smile in response. The last time he had read her any of his own poems she had been extremely pleased with them as well. In fact, she had not even realized they were ones he had written rather than ones that were already published.

“I thank you, however this is a level to which I ascribe but cannot achieve. Perhaps someday I shall be able to write something as spectacular as these words. It is a dream I continue to seek.” It was a dream that he focused on each day when he sat down at his desk to write. Some days he felt closer to it than others, and his diary could certainly attest to that, with a multitude of poems of varying skill levels.

“Soon, Kendrick. Soon you shall be able to achieve your dream.” All he could do was smile, as he knew he was still quite a distance from such a goal. To be able to write anything even close to as marvelous as Shakespeare was a feat in itself. But he would continue to try for it. As yet, however, his own poems paled in comparison.

“We shall be arriving soon, Mother,” he said instead, glancing out the window toward the street. They were indeed approaching the front stoop of the duchess and the Deighton Estate.

“Ah, yes,” she straightened in her seat, brushing out her dress and smiling even more serenely. The blue color of it was her favorite, though their father had always said she looked best in green. Still, this dress looked elegant and the floral print was a testament to the fact that the weather was finally starting to warm in a way that called to mind summer and all the wonderful things that went along with it.

Though the duchess was quite above the station of his mother, as a countess, the two women were close as anything. They had grown up together and even at their age they bandied about practically like schoolgirls when they were together. Kendrick could not help but smile at the thought of it. They would come together quite often, and his mother always wished for Kendrick to accompany her, though often before he had been too busy to do so.

Each time that they would plan to meet, his mother would ask him to come, and occasionally he would accept. The two women seemed to enjoy having his company when he did come, at least as much as he enjoyed being there. Though often they would fall to gossip and stories that held no interest for him. When that happened he would settle into a chair beside the window to write or find his way to the library that Rose always told him was ‘available whenever he liked.’

“My Lady,” the groom opened the door and reached inside to assist her from the carriage and Kendrick followed after.

“Thank you, Gregor,” his mother said gently as she waited for Kendrick to alight and take her arm. The groom nodded his head with a smile and climbed back onto the carriage to take it around the back while Kendrick and his mother approached the estate. Gregor would see to the carriage and horses and then wait in the stables until they were ready to leave. Though Kendrick was quite certain there was a certain young maid in the duchess’s household who would see to it that Gregor had something to eat while he waited as well.

“Ah, My Lady, Her Grace is expecting you,” Markus informed them as they entered, gesturing them toward the front parlor. A maid, one Kendrick had not seen before, stepped forward to lead them into the parlor where the duchess was indeed waiting for them.

“Fiona! There you are. I have been waiting and waiting. You know it is not good manners to keep the duchess waiting, don’t you?” The tone was serious but the sparkle in her eye said she was jesting at their expense. Fiona laughed in response and the two women embraced warmly.

You would never guess that they had seen each other already once this week. And twice the week before. They always greeted one another as if they had gone months apart. Kendrick could only wish he had a friend whom he was so pleased to see each time. But there were none even close. In fact, his brother was his closest friend and even Edgar was not so much his friend as that.

“And Kendrick, it is nice to see you as well.” The duchess finally turned from his mother to notice that he stood still at the door.

“The pleasure is mine, Your Grace,” he replied, stepping forward to take her hand. She really was a pleasant person and she had been a part of Kendrick’s life for as long as he could remember. As it was, she treated him nearly as well as a son, and he thought of her as a loving aunt. Though she certainly looked like a high-class dowager. Her hair was always styled just so, pulled up to frame her elegant face and to complement the lovely gowns she always wore.

Rose always preferred to wear darker colors, and while some said it was because she was still mourning her own mother, Kendrick knew that it was because she felt she looked better in those dark colors, though through the occasional comments she made it was obvious that she did indeed miss her mother as well.

The deep green of her current dress was exactly the style that she wore most often, with a full skirt but none of the hoops that many of the younger girls had taken to wearing for special occasions. Rather, her gown draped elegantly about her, filling the chair but in a more graceful manner.

“Now then, Eliza, bring us the tea things, would you?” The maid, who Kendrick now realized had settled herself into a corner, likely to wait for just this instruction, now curtsied and showed herself out of the room. “And what has transpired since I’ve last seen you?” the duchess asked, and Kendrick could not help but laugh.

“I cannot imagine much has happened. It has only been a few days since we have been here last.” The two women gave him indulgent smiles.

“Ah, but a few days can feel like a lifetime when separated from your loved ones,” the duchess replied and they all could not help but laugh. Fiona had settled into a chair quite close to the duchess, and for now Kendrick relaxed onto the couch near them both.

“Kendrick has just been reading me a lovely poem. Have you brought the book with you, Kendrick?”

“I left it in the carriage,” he replied and his mother sighed.

“Well, it is too bad. But perhaps you could bring it along the next time we visit,” Rose said instead.

“I do love a good poem,” the duchess replied and he promised to bring a book of poetry with him to read to them the next time he visited. By then it would likely not be Shakespeare, but there were a number of other poems that he could bring along with him instead.

“Perhaps in two days’ time?” he teased and the women both laughed at him before falling into their own conversations. For a time he remained nearby, but it was clear that the women had already forgotten about him. Kendrick was left to his own devices and began strolling about the parlor a moment before settling before the fire where he could still hear their conversation and step in if needed.

“There has been news from London, have you heard? The Crown Prince has been betrothed,” Rose announced.

“Ah, yes. That princess from Spain, I do believe?” his mother replied, leaning closer with intrigue.

“Aye. She is a lovely thing, from what I hear of her. Quite accomplished.” Talk of betrothals between those he had no direct knowledge of was of no interest to Kendrick and he found himself gazing absently into the fire until the conversation turned to books.

Unlike many women of the ton, both his mother and the duchess loved to read and spent hours pouring over books when they were not busy with other matters. Not to mention the hours they could spend discussing such things. But this time the duchess did not seem to have her heart in the conversation and Fiona finally mentioned it.

“There seems to be something the matter, Rose. Whatever is it?” Her concern was evident in her furrowed brow and the way that her voice dipped lower.

“There is nothing of consequence,” Rose replied, shaking her head slightly.

“You seem to have something on your mind. Whatever it is has you distracted and that means it is of consequence,” Fiona replied firmly.

Kendrick turned toward the women again, concerned himself. Or at least curious as to what might be the matter.

“You do seem quite distant, as if something were troubling you,” he added

“Troubling me? No, it is no trouble. However, I have been thinking on something for some time and perhaps now is as good a time as any to see how you feel on it,” Rose finally admitted.

“Of course. You can tell me anything at all, Rose,” Fiona obviously thought it was something difficult or perhaps something sad as she seemed to brace herself slightly, though her main focus was concern for her friend.

“Well, I have been…scheming at something,” Rose replied with a sparkle to her eye. “And we shall see whether you approve.” Fiona was immediately interested, and also very much more at ease, while Kendrick found himself intrigued as well. Whatever it was the duchess was very keen on it because her eyes were sparkling again and her voice sounded quite animated.

“It is about my daughter.”

“Hazel? Is something the matter?” Fiona looked concerned immediately and Kendrick shared in the emotion. He had not seen Hazel in some time, ever since she was sent to Bath to continue her education at the finishing school there, but he was still concerned for her.

“Oh no, nothing is the matter,” Rose reassured them with a wave of her hand, “But she is getting older now. Of an age to be married.”

“Is she that old already?” Fiona asked in surprise, “It seems no time at all since she was born.”

“She shall be 21 before the winter. It is high time that a suitable match be found for her,”

“Oh!” Fiona was immediately interested and had plenty of thoughts on the matter. The Earl of Rochester has a son of a good age. Just 30 I believe. An accomplished young man. Or perhaps the Baron of Kingston’s eldest son. He is a little older at 36 but he could be a good match.”

“Nay, I have no interest in either of those boys for my future son,” the duchess replied with a shake of the head.

“Certainly not the earl himself?” Fiona exclaimed in shock. “Though he is a widower he is far too old for your daughter. He must be near on 50.”

“Oh goodness, no. I should not even consider such an old man for my girl,” it was clear that Rose was thinking of something, or rather someone, specific and both Kendrick and Fiona leaned in closer as she continued. “I had thought that your eldest son, Edgar, should be the perfect match for my Hazel.”

“Oh!” His mother seemed very excited at the prospect and Kendrick was pleased as well. Hazel had been his closest friend when they were children and he very much liked the idea of having her as part of the family. Though, on second thought the idea of her marrying Edgar gave him pause. From what he had always known of Hazel before she was as different from Edgar as night and day.

Hazel was sweet and fun-loving, and gentle. His brother...well, Edgar was kind and would certainly treat her well, but he was not the free spirit that Hazel was. Though Kendrick realized with a start that he did not know if Hazel was still the same as she had been. It had been quite some time, after all, and perhaps she had changed as a result of her schooling, though he hoped not.

“Your son is of a good age to be wed as well, is he not?” Rose inquired and Fiona nodded.

“Yes, of course. He shall be 26 just next month.”

“Then he is perfect. Of course, I know that he will be good to her. I may not know as much of Edgar as I do of Kendrick,” she paused here to smile at him, “but I do know that he is your son and as such he is a wonderful young man. He will be an excellent husband. And an excellent duke one day.”

“We would be most honored by the match, of course,” his mother replied quickly, her smile growing even wider. “I had always hoped that one day our children would wed, but I never dared to ask.”

“Of course, it would make sense for our children to wed,” Rose admonished gently. “Whyever should you think that you should not ask it?”

“The daughter of a duchess could do well better than the son of a countess,” Fiona acknowledged.

“Oh posh,” Rose scoffed with a flip of her hand. “Titles and things. There is nothing wrong with the son of a countess for the daughter of a duchess. There is nothing to these titles. And even if there were there is nothing that any can say of such a match. It is a good one for my Hazel and it shall be a good match for your Edgar as well.”

“Indeed it shall,” Rose agreed and Kendrick laughed.

“Well, I congratulate you both on making such a match. I am sure it shall be a wonderful exhibit of your matchmaking skills.” The two women seemed quite pleased with themselves and Kendrick laughed again. “Perhaps, however, the two of you should discuss the match with Edgar and Hazel before you set a date?”

“Oh, it shall be perfect,” his mother waved off his concerns with a literal wave of the hand. “There is no need to involve either of them at this stage. Only to begin the preparations.”

“Yes, there is much to do and I should like to have done with it as soon as possible. It is hard to imagine my girl already 20, but I should very much like her wed before she is 21,” Rose replied firmly.

“There is a great deal to do for a wedding so soon!” His mother seemed nervous but excited at the same time and Kendrick could not help but catch some of their enthusiasm.

Yes, the wedding of Hazel and Edgar would be the social event of the season. It would no doubt be a true spectacle and he could only hope that it would be everything that they all believed it would be. But would the two really be a perfect match? Kendrick certainly hoped so for both their sakes...but as he listened to the two women begin to plan the entire affair…he wasn’t so sure.Chapter 2

“Oh, Louise, have you ever been so tired in your life?” Hazel asked with a barely concealed yawn.

“Perhaps not,” Louise agreed, stifling a yawn of her own. The recital was today, however and there was nothing to be done for it. Hazel had not felt ready and was certain that she had made the right decision in practicing late into the night. So long as she could stay awake at the bench when the time came. Or even through the rest of class.

Hazel yawned again as she glanced into the looking glass to check her hair and gown. Louise was struggling to keep her eyes open as she gathered up her textbooks. Still, they hurried out of the room and down the hall just in time for class.

“Oh, however will I manage to stay awake until it is time to perform?” Hazel asked quietly.

“How about if I tell you a joke?” She waited and Louise launched into not just one joke but a series of them. Jokes that were guaranteed to make her laugh, which wasn’t such a good thing in the midst of class.

“Mademoiselle?” She stifled a laugh and looked up at the teacher. Madame looked quite angry and Louise and Hazel both apologized quickly, doing their best to look contrite until Madame turned away and continued the lesson.

As Louise continued telling stories and jokes under her breath, Hazel could not help but think of another person who used to do the same. Another person who would always make her laugh and smile, no matter what was happening around her, or how she was supposed to be behaving. Ah, it had been so long since she had seen Kendrick. Yet she wondered just how he was doing.

Of course it would have been inappropriate for him to write to her. A young man writing to a young lady would have been frowned upon in the best of circumstances. But the fact that they had fallen out of contact even before would have made it even more strange. Not for the first time she found herself wishing that they had remained as close as they had been as children, and that he could have written to her while she was away.

With everything that had happened since she had been away at school it would have been nice to have someone from home to talk to besides her mother. And of course she wished that they could still share so much with each other as they had always used to do.

“Hazel?” she realized then that she had drifted away with her thoughts of Kendrick, and Louise was giving her a concerned look.

“It is nothing,” she replied and Louise let it go, though she still looked uncertain. Hazel felt her mind drift back to Kendrick. Kendrick. The boy she had once known everything about. The one she had been certain she was someday going to marry when they were ten and she had known nothing of titles or even what marriage truly was. She had only really known that Kendrick made her laugh and that he was the best friend she had ever had.

A smile crossed her face again and Louise was just about to speak up again when class ended. It made talking much easier and Louise quickly fell into step beside her.

“What is it you are smiling about so much?”

“I was thinking of a friend,” she admitted and Louise looked even more interested.

“Oh? And who is this friend?”

“His name is Kendrick. And he was the best friend I ever had, before you of course,” she added and Louise laughed.

“A boy?” Louise sounded shocked, though part of that was teasing.

“A man by now. Our own age.”

“And yet he was only a friend?” There was more of the teasing tone to her voice now, as she struggled to keep up with Hazel.

“Yes. Only a friend,” Hazel insisted. “We were but children when we were so close. And children know nothing of romance and love but what they see of their parents,” she laughed. “And at that age our parents are so very old.

“No, Kendrick and I were friends in an age when being a boy and a girl meant nothing at all. Oh, but I do miss him. It has been so long since I have seen him,” she added and Louise gave her a sympathetic look, though the glint in her eye said she still didn’t quite believe that there was nothing more between the two. “It won’t be long now that I will be returning home. And I do hope that I will see him again.”

“And what if you find that he has become betrothed to a lady? Or perhaps that he is already married to one?”

“I would be happy for him,” Hazel replied automatically, though she was a little surprised at the feeling that came over her at the thought of Kendrick being betrothed or wed. “My mother and his mother are the best of friends so I would always rejoice at his happiness. And besides, she would have written it in one of her letters if Kendrick had married.” Of that much she was certain. The thought made her feel a little better, but she did not tell Louise that.

“You have heard nothing of him since you came to school?”

“Only a few passing remarks from my mother,” was Hazel’s response. There had been very little in any of the letters her mother had written about Kendrick, though she could not blame her for not realizing Hazel wanted to know more. “But I shall return home soon and have a chance to see him again. Perhaps we will not feel so drifted apart once we have reunited again.” She had returned home several times since first going to Bath and had not seen Kendrick any of those times.

She had not even thought of him any of those times except on the occasions when she had seen Fiona. Even then she had merely asked the obligatory ‘how are your sons?’ and then changed the subject, or rather, allowed her mother to change it. There seemed to be always something for her mother to discuss with the Countess.

“It is always this way with friendships. Distance makes it much more difficult to maintain the friendship.” Louise fell silent a moment. “You will not allow that to happen to our friendship when we return home, shall you?” she seemed concerned but Hazel quickly denied it.

“Of course not,” Hazel insisted and Louise smiled again, though it was clear there was still some concern in her eyes. “Kendrick is a boy, and so of course it is different.”

“Indeed. He is perhaps not just a friend after all,” Louise’s voice was teasing but Hazel shook her head firmly.

“Absolutely not. Kendrick is only a friend. He always has been and he always shall be. Nothing more.” Her tone was resolute as she stated the facts. After all, how could he be anything more when she had not even spoken with him for nearly a decade?

They ambled into piano then and Louise was forced to stop speaking as Hazel was immediately directed to the front of the classroom. This was what Hazel had been concerned about all the previous night. Though if she was honest with herself she had been concerned about this for several weeks now. Ever since she had first set out to play the extremely difficult piece.

Louise gave her a bright, encouraging smile, which was better than the sea of very calm and blank expressions staring up at her from the rest of the class. But this was what she had been practicing for all this time. She could do it, right?

Hazel took a deep breath, smoothed her skirts, took her seat behind the piano, and began to play. As soon as her fingers touched the keys it was like they knew what to do entirely on their own. In fact, as her fingers raced across the keys she found herself wondering if she had even needed to practice as much as she had if her hands knew what to do. Though the thought was fleeting before the music swept her away.

Her red hair reflected the light as she sat at the piano, her amber eyes flashing with excitement as she played. It was always this way when she sat down at the piano. She felt as though she was in her own world. Her cheeks would flush with the joy of it, making the freckles fade slightly as they were hidden behind the deep pink that covered her face.

When she played, she did not need to worry about keeping a demure look on her face — soft but not ‘dim’ — or keeping her hands folded gracefully — but not gripped together — in her lap, or keeping her legs just so — at the edge of the chair, not out in front of her or under her seat. She could simply…be. Perhaps that was part of why she enjoyed it so much.

By the time she had finished there was complete silence. She had thought the room was quiet when she sat down, but it was even more so now, and for a moment she worried that it had not been as good as she had thought it was. At least, until her teacher beamed and stood, clapping her hands together.

“Ah, Hazel, it is beautiful. Absolute perfection.” The entire class dissolved into loud clapping and bright smiles covered every one of the previously impassive faces.

“Thank you.” She smiled in response and rose, curtsying to the rest of the class and taking her seat beside Louise. Louise did not have a performance today, though several of the other girls did. So they both sat silently as one by one the other girls performed their pieces. Each was beautiful and very accomplished, though Louise assured Hazel that none were as beautiful and flawless as her own performance had been.

It was not until they had returned to their bedchamber, however, that Louise finally acknowledged how tired she was. She had, after all, sat up with Hazel all night to help her practice.

“Goodness, I did not know if I would make it through that.” Louise told her, sinking down onto the bed. “I was certainly exhausted.”

“Me as well,” Hazel agreed, flinging herself down onto the bed beside Louise, in a most unladylike manner. They had just started to get more comfortable for their free period when a knock sounded at the door. With a groan, both rose to a seated position and then Louise went to answer it. Luckily it was not someone who wanted to come in and when Louise closed the door and turned back, Hazel allowed herself to sink back onto the bed again. “What is it?” she asked, distractedly.

“A letter for you, Hazel.”

“A letter? From whom?” She looked up, surprised.

“From your mother,” Louise replied, looking at the postmark.

“She always sends her letters on Friday,” Hazel replied confused, and Louise shrugged.

“It was just sent this morning. She must have sent it off in a rush. Do open it. What does it say?” Hazel was just as keen to find out as Louise was, nervous that there might be some bad news contained in the letter for her mother to have rushed it along so much. But as soon as she began to read, she knew that it was nothing the matter.

My Dear Hazel,

I have excellent news, Darling. I had intended to keep the secret until you returned home in two weeks’ time, however I could not seem to find anything else to write to you except to tell you the news and so I decided it would be best to do so now.

I have found a match for you, Darling. And you are now betrothed and set to be married to Edgar Anderton. He is the son of the countess, Fiona, you well remember. I am sure you well remember Edgar’s brother Kendrick. Well, Edgar is the Earl of Aethelred now, following the death of his father some years past. I believe he is an excellent match for you.

In prestige he is, of course, well within the realm of your equal. And in mannerism I am sure he shall be much more. He is most certainly an excellent young man and he shall be an excellent husband for you, I am certain. I am quite excited for the match, Dear, and I know that it will be an excellent one for you.

Well, now that I have imparted this information I shall conclude this letter. There will be another for you on Friday, of course, but I wanted you to know the news immediately. I am certain that you and Edgar shall be a perfect couple. And, of course, your wedding shall be the biggest event of the season.

Much love,


Hazel sat in silence a long moment after she had finished the letter. Betrothed to Edgar? Was it truly such a perfect match as her mother said? She was not sure. Though to be sure she did not truly remember Edgar.

“What is it about?” Louise stared at her with her brow furrowed in confusion and no small amount of concern. But Hazel could not bring herself to speak about the contents of the letter. Could not even decide just how to say the words.

It was not that she was upset. It was that she was not sure how to process what she had just read herself. There was no way to express it to Louise if she was not even sure whether she approved or disapproved of the situation in the first place.

Of course, it made sense that her parents were searching for a match for her. She was already twenty, after all. But there had been no talk of it and she had not realized that they were already so close to making a decision on such a thing.

As Hazel did not seem inclined to speak, finally, Louise simply snatched the letter from her hands, her eyes skimming over the contents quickly as she read. Her eyes widened in surprise as she did and then she beamed in excitement.

“Betrothed? Oh goodness, Hazel! This is most exciting!” Louise seemed more excited about the prospect than she was, though she was still in somewhat of shock about the entire thing.

It did not surprise her much that her mother had found a husband and that she was now betrothed. She had always suspected as much would happen while she was away. But she had never stopped to consider just who she would be betrothed to. Or when that announcement would come.

If she were honest, it was a long time coming that she should be betrothed. And the idea of being betrothed to the son of a woman whom her mother considered to be her best friend… well, it was a wonder the betrothal had not been set before the two were even born. And yet… she had never even suspected. Had never even considered the thought. Now, however, she was attempting to remember any little thing she could of Edgar.

“Well, tell me all about him,” Louise finally urged, sinking down onto the bed beside Hazel. There was very little to tell. Though Hazel was certain that Edgar was a wonderful man, just as his mother and his brother Kendrick were, there was little she could remember about him.

“There is not much to say,” she hedged, and Louise looked at her incredulously.

“You have met him, certainly? Your town is not so large as all that, is it?”

“No, it is not over large,” she replied. “And Edgar is the eldest son of my mother’s best friend, Fiona. But it has been quite a while since I have seen him.”

“Well? Is he handsome? Is he funny? Kind?” Louise pressed eagerly.

“I do not remember much,” Hazel admitted finally. “He is older than I. Where Kendrick and I used to play together, Edgar was much older. There were very few times when he played with us. By the time I can really remember he was away with a tutor while we would play.”

“You don’t remember anything at all?” Louise seemed disappointed and Hazel attempted to remember some small detail about him.

“Well...I do believe he was quite handsome. In a different way than Kendrick. And he loved to travel. Kendrick told me once that when he was not with his tutor, he would travel a great deal. And often his tutor would travel with him so that he could spend even more time abroad. He began to travel earlier than most because he was so interested in it.

“Kendrick remained at home most of the time. At least, he did for as much as I remember.” She found herself wondering if Kendrick had also begun traveling at some point after the two had stopped being so close.

“A traveling man. That is even more exciting. You will be able to travel the world as well, Hazel. Could you imagine it? All of those places we have learned about and you will be able to visit them.” It was an exciting prospect. While she did not know much of Edgar, she was not worried. After all, the countess was a lovely person and she had raised Kendrick. So, of course Edgar must be much the same. And if he was then he would suit her just fine.

There was certainly no danger of his being a cruel man or an unfortunate husband. Fiona would have raised him well and her mother would certainly never have arranged the match if she thought Edgar anything but a good man.

And the idea of traveling with him, going abroad, seeing so many amazing things...it was certainly exciting enough. So she took the letter back from Louise, scanning over it one more time to see if she had missed anything. No, her mother had not said a word about Edgar aside from that he was Fiona’s son. Had not given her any idea of the man he might be. But now that Hazel thought it over, she was less concerned and more excited at the prospect.

She was to be married. And soon if her mother’s letter was any indication.

“I am so happy for you, Hazel. But this will not separate us. We shall continue to correspond. And I shall come visit you when you are settled.” Louise pressed her hand with a bright smile.

“I am not married yet,” Hazel laughed. “And even when I am set to be married you shall be there with me. I should want you to be there for it.”

“I would be most honored to attend,” Louise replied, her smile growing brighter still. “I am sure it shall be quite the occasion.”

“That it shall,” Hazel agreed, glancing back at the letter one last time before she placed it carefully in the bottom drawer of her jewelry box. Now she had only to wait and try to find out more about the man she was set to marry. And to hope he would be everything she could hope for in a husband.

Chapter 3

Today was the day he had been waiting for. The day they had all been waiting for. Edgar was finally returning home from his travels. This had been one of the longest trips he had gone on, though it had also taken him the furthest from home and Kendrick was more than a little excited to find out more about his brother’s travels, and to share the news of home.

He picked up the letter from the edge of his desk, where it had sat for the last several weeks since it had arrived.

Dear Ken,

I write this letter to you, knowing that you shall share it with our mother and I flatter myself that you both shall be inordinately pleased to hear that I am set to return home. This trip to Africa has been truly remarkable and it is one that I cannot wait to share with you both. You would not believe the adventure I have had.

The date for my departure from Johannesburg is set for two weeks hence, and I am told the ship shall arrive in London on the 15th of June. You shall have little warning of my coming from that point as I plan to fetch a horse to ride home and to have my things sent after by carriage. After a lengthy sea voyage I am sure that I shall be more than ready to stretch my legs and riding such a way in a carriage shall not suit me.

Until we meet again,


He and his mother were in fact, ‘inordinately pleased’ to hear that Edgar was returning home and his mother had immediately set a person in London to inform them of the moment the ship arrived such that they could be prepared. The man had notified them a few days back and today was the day they were certain Edgar should be arriving.

Kendrick set the letter back down on the desk and dressed hurriedly, going downstairs to wait alongside his mother. Though it was early she was also dressed and waiting, both of them too excited to sleep any longer, though his mother’s excitement was somewhat tempered by her concern over whether or not Edgar would be pleased with what she had done on his behalf.

“Oh, to have your brother returned home again shall be so wonderful,” she told Kendrick. “It has been far too long this time.”

“The trip to Africa is quite long on its own,” Kendrick informed her. “He has likely not been there as long as it seems to us.”

“Perhaps not, but for him to travel so long is certainly too much for his poor mother.” Kendrick smiled, knowing that their mother worried every time Edgar traveled, especially as he was always going to such obscure places in search of new trades. She was always concerned that something would go wrong and they would not know of it. “And I cannot wait to tell him of the betrothal. Hazel is a wonderful match. She truly is a lovely young lady and I am sure that being at that finishing school has only made her more so.”

“I am sure she is quite accomplished,” Kendrick agreed and his mother practically beamed at him.

“She shall be an excellent match for your brother. Don’t you think so?” She had seemed quite pleased with herself ever since the match had been set, and so had Rose. In fact, Kendrick had gone back to visit Rose with his mother twice since they had set the match and it seemed all they could talk about.

“I am sure she shall,” he reassured her, though he was a little nervous about the prospect. Would Edgar actually be happy to be betrothed? It would certainly mean a change to his way of life and all of his travels. While some men would continue to travel just as much after being married, Kendrick knew that his brother would feel some obligation to remain home with his wife. Even if they did not suit.

Still, if the match did not seem quite perfect the pair would still do their utmost to make it a success. In fact, he was certain that they would have a happy marriage if for no other reason than they would both wish it to be so. And what he knew of both made him feel slightly more convinced that their marriage should be pleasant if nothing else.

“Do you think that your brother will be pleased with the news? Will he see it as a happy surprise?”

“Edgar will be pleased,” Kendrick replied, though again slightly uncertain. There had never been any news that his brother was in love with another or that he was to return with a young lady. As such, Kendrick was certain that there would be no qualms from Edgar as to the betrothal. He must suspect that something of the sort would happen at some point. After all, since the death of their father and his succession to the earldom, Edgar had always known it was his responsibility to provide a worthy heir to take his place someday.

As such, it was his duty to marry and to marry well such that he could have that heir. And he could hardly expect to do better than the daughter of a duchess. Hazel possessed an excellent title for his wife and was likewise a perfect lady. With the temperament of both, the union should be a relative success. Of that he was sure...mostly sure, he acknowledged.

“My Lady, breakfast is ready in the dining room,”

“Thank you,” his mother replied and, as there was no reason to wait, the two headed in to enjoy their meal. It would do just as well to wait for Edgar with a full stomach as an empty one, after all.

However, Kendrick and his mother had barely sat down to begin breakfast when the butler entered, announcing that the Earl had arrived, and followed almost at his heels by Edgar himself.

Edgar’s hair had grown a little longer in the time he was away, though that was to be expected as he had been quite out of the way in Africa and then at sea. But the blonde color was as striking as always and he seemed to have grown even more muscular during his time away.

It was clear that he had been on horseback for nearly the entirety of the last few days, as his clothes were wrinkled and somewhat dusty from the road. But none of them cared about these meager things. Edgar was home. Standing before them right now with a smile that broke through all of the dust and the scrapes that he could see on his face and arms.

“Ah, Mother, you are a sight for sore eyes,” Edgar seemed inordinately pleased himself to see them, reaching out first to hug his mother, who burst into tears at the sight of him, and then his brother, his green eyes shining at them both. “And Kendrick. Goodness Brother, you have gotten taller still since last I saw you.”

“It has been a good while that you have been gone,” Kendrick replied with a smile and a laugh. Edgar laughed along with him.

“Aye, that it has. I see you are just to sit down. It seems I have come at the perfect time.”

“That you have. Just in time for breakfast, as usual,” Kendrick teased and Edgar laughed again. Yes, it was nice to have his brother returned and as they sat back at the table he was more than pleased that it all felt so normal again.

“Are you quite all right? Whatever has happened to you?” Their mother asked, taking in the scrapes and cuts.

“Ah, this is nothing. A few marks from working on the ship the way back. And perhaps a few from the trip home,” Edgar brushed off the injuries and after a closer look that revealed they were quite minor Fiona relaxed.

“Tell us about your adventures,” their mother urged, knowing that Edgar would be more than eager to talk and tell them a great deal of what he had seen and done. It was likely best to allow him the time to speak first and then to share the news that they had for him.

“You know, of course, that I went to London over twelve months past. Well, the trip there was no difficult feat, but the voyage to Africa...well, that was quite something,” he began. “I have traveled by sea a great many times and yet I have never experienced anything quite like this past trip. The seas were rough, to be sure. Rougher than I had bargained for. And I felt quite certain that I would fall ill. Even more so when the scurvy set in. Nearly everyone else traveling was afflicted, save the sailors, of course.”

“Oh! Were you ill? Did the seas calm at any time in your travel?” Their mother looked very concerned, and Edgar waved it away.

“Nay, I did not fall ill with the scurvy. Though I did have my fair bout of trouble with the rough water. But the seas did not calm either. In fact, two of the crew were blown clear from the deck during our voyage. It’s a good thing these large vessels travel with plenty of crew or we could have very well been stranded in the middle of the ocean. Two crew short and we could have been in a great deal of trouble. But as it was there were enough men to cover the slack.”

“Those poor men,” their mother said sadly and Edgar sobered a moment.

“Aye. They were good men, both of them. But with the storms there was nothing to be done. By the time it was noticed that they had been lost it was far too late to attempt to rescue them. They were gone.” He fell silent a long moment, as did Kendrick and their mother. No doubt Edgar was remembering the men that had been lost. Kendrick was quite certain, however, that their mother was thinking of how easily it could have been Edgar who was lost at sea in such a way.

“I should hope that things got better after that,” Kendrick added, attempting to pull them all out of their melancholy thoughts and after a moment of thought Edgar continued.

“Oh, the seas did not get better at all. Not until we had nearly arrived. Then the skies parted and everything seemed perfect. It was as if the storms we had just traveled through had never even happened. And my first glimpse of Africa was under a beautiful sky. More lovely than I could have pictured.

“I have brought back trinkets, of course, but they shall come later, with the coach. However, I could not stand to be confined in a coach for several days, and to take the extra days before I could see the both of you. Ah, I have missed you a great deal.” He smiled at them both again and their mother pressed her hand to his. Kendrick reached for another helping of fruit while Edgar took a pause to enjoy the sausages before him.

“We have missed you,” their mother replied. There was another moment of silence and then Edgar continued.

“Once we arrived in Johannesburg there were men at the docks waiting for us. They had been notified of our arrival before we had even set out, so they knew to expect us at the beginning of the shipping season. And so we were most welcomed right from the start. But it is very improper to begin negotiations too early while in Africa. They prefer to get to know their guests first and then do business with them after.” Another pause for Edgar to eat a little more, and then he continued.

“On our first night there we had a grand feast in welcome, and there was no talk of business. It was not until two nights later that we were finally able to speak on the business that had brought us there. To do so earlier would have been to insult our hosts,” Edgar told them.

“And you found a great deal to trade?” Kendrick asked, interested.

“Aye, there is a great deal of tradeable goods in Africa. Such beautiful things as you could not imagine. Ivory is the main bit you hear of, but there is so much more. In Johannesburg in particular sugar is their main crop, and it is the best you’ve ever had,” he promised. “But also wait until you see the things I have brought back. And they are only a sample of what I found there.”

“You are not planning to return, are you?” Kendrick asked.

“Not for a great while. Not unless it is necessary,” Edgar replied, but it was clear that he would certainly like to go back. So perhaps his words were meant only to appease their mother, who seemed oblivious to any evidence to the contrary.

“Is the trade all that calls you there?” Kendrick felt obliged to ask and Edgar started as though he had been in a trance.

“Whatever else could there be?” He seemed genuinely confused and Kendrick merely smiled and shook his head. He could tell that their mother was also pleased with the response because it meant that Edgar had not lost his heart to another just before his mother was set to have him married off.

“So, you’ve brought us back ivory, have you?” Kendrick changed the subject and Edgar allowed it.

“Small pieces, yes. It is quite valuable in London and throughout the world, though it is rather ubiquitous there. And tobacco likewise is of a high quality. The likes of which you have likely never seen.”

“I should hope that neither of my boys would know good tobacco from bad,” their mother admonished, and Edgar shook his head. She had always been opposed to smoking, even managing to convince their father to stop carrying a pipe with him wherever he went, though Kendrick knew he had smoked it when his mother was not around up until he passed, and their mother had pretended that she did not know it.

“I have not smoked it, Mother. But one can certainly tell the difference in the two. Most especially when those around you choose to smoke it. The smell of the two is quite different, after all.” She seemed at least slightly appeased and Edgar continued on with his stories, now interspersing his tales with bites of food, as though he had not eaten in some time.

Kendrick had never thought that he wanted to travel, but as he listened to the rest of Edgar’s stories about the people of Johannesburg and the trades that they had negotiated and the beautiful things they had seen, he wondered if perhaps travel might be an exciting prospect for him as well.

“Let us retire to the drawing room,” their mother finally interjected, once they had finished breakfast and still continued nearly an hour in the dining hall. Edgar and Kendrick allowed her to lead them from the room, settling into their usual places in the drawing room.

Kendrick retired to the couch, where he often reclined while he read to her in the evenings. The book of poems they had been enjoying was still sitting on the table beside his seat, though this time he sat upright on the couch as Edgar claimed a large chair near the window that seemed always to have the very best light. Not to mention a view out the window that he always enjoyed. And their mother claimed a daintier chair closer into the room, while the large, overstuffed, green chair remained empty. Their father’s seat, which had never been moved since his death.

“There is a great deal to tell, of course. Wonderful adventures and wonderful people,” Edgar began.

“Do tell us more,” their mother urged and Edgar did not need to be asked twice. Rather, he began his stories with renewed vigor as he reclined back in his favorite chair. None of them seemed to notice the time that went by. But when he took a pause their mother interjected finally. “You must be tired. Perhaps you should retire to your chamber and freshen up.”

“Nay, I feel more energized than I have in some time. I could talk for hours.”

“You already have,” Kendrick teased and Edgar laughed loudly.

“Aye, perhaps I have. But I do not need to freshen up. Unless that is your way of telling me that I smell of the road and the sea,” he told them and his mother quickly reassured him that was not the case.

“I had only thought perhaps you might like some rest. After all, it has been a very long voyage and a long trip here from London.”

“A long trip, perhaps, but one with family waiting at the other end and so it is most worth it. I have long looked forward to seeing you both again.”

“As have we,” Kendrick replied. They were silent for a few moments as Edgar looked out over the grounds. It seemed he had finally run out of stories. Or at least he had run out of the ones that he felt more important to share.

“Now then, what is it you have to share, Mother?” he asked finally, and Kendrick waited to see what she would say.

“Whatever do you mean?” she hedged and both boys turned to look at her.

“There’s certainly something that you want to talk with me about,” he replied, finally acknowledging the distinct sparkle in her eye that had nothing to do with his finally being home. Not to mention the way she kept wringing her hands together “Has something happened since I have been away? Are you both well?” He looked between the two and their mother rushed to assure him that both were healthy.

“But there is something we should talk about,” Kendrick replied, looking to his mother to begin the conversation. She seemed a little uncertain still and both boys waited, watching her.

She was silent another long moment as Rebecca entered the room, bringing the tea. They were all surprised to realize that they had talked away most of the morning and it was now time for tea, but thanked her as she curtsied her way out.

Kendrick helped himself to a cup of tea and a biscuit, while he waited for their mother to continue. Edgar seemed inclined to wait and see a little more before he decided to join in with tea. Their mother, on the other hand, set about preparing herself a cup and very studiously staring into it for several moments before she finally broke her silence.

“I have made a match for you, Edgar. You are betrothed to be married.” Kendrick had not quite expected her to be as direct as that, but she looked up to meet Edgar’s eyes with an unreadable expression.

“Betrothed,” Edgar repeated the word a little cryptically but Kendrick was pleased to see that he did not appear angry. He did not appear upset in the slightest, in fact. All he seemed was...surprised, perhaps. Of course, it would make sense that he would be surprised seeing as, as far as Kendrick knew, nothing had ever been discussed about finding Edgar a wife.

“Yes, she is a lovely girl. And you know her already. Hazel Tumbler.”

“Hazel? The name is familiar; however I cannot say that I remember anything about the girl,” Edgar replied, and Kendrick could tell he was wracking his brain trying to think who Hazel might be. Finally he turned to Kendrick. “Who is she?”

“Hazel is the daughter of the Duke of Deighton,” Kendrick supplied and understanding dawned in Edgar’s eyes.

“The duke? Duchess Rose then, mother’s friend?”

“Aye, the same,” Kendrick agreed and he could tell that Edgar was pleased to at least have a small idea of who the girl was and to remember even the slightest bit about her. Now that he seemed to recall at least something he collected his own teacup and a scone from the tray before settling back into his seat.

“She was a friend of yours, was she not?” Edgar asked, turning toward Kendrick again.

“Indeed. We used to spend a great deal of time together,” Kendrick added.

“I remember seeing the two of you together. Playing quite a bit.” Kendrick nodded and their mother chimed in.

“She is grown now. And quite ready to be married. She has been in Bath this last three years completing her education.”

“A finishing school then,” Edgar replied and their mother smiled and nodded.

“Yes. She is a perfect young lady. And an educated one at that. Her mother has missed her something terrible, but it is for the best that she receives a good education, of course.” The boys acknowledged her comments but both were still thinking of Hazel. One trying to remember anything, and one remembering everything.

“Well, it is good then that she is a good match.” Edgar seemed comfortable enough with that, relaxing into his chair as he had been before the conversation began.

“Oh it is indeed,” their mother agreed. “She is a perfect lady, and beautiful as anything. Isn’t she Kendrick?”

“I have not seen her at all these last three years, Mother,” Kendrick protested. “And only barely in the last decade.” And when he had last seen Hazel he had not been inclined to think her beautiful or otherwise. He had not thought anything of her looks. She had been merely his friend. That had been quite enough.

“Well, she is a beautiful girl. And she shall be a wonderful compliment to you, my son.”

“I am glad to hear of it,” Edgar replied, and he did look at least somewhat pleased, though Kendrick could not say that he looked exactly happy at the news. “I only wish that I knew more about her.”

“Kendrick can tell you a great deal. He knows her so well.” Edgar turned to look at him and he shook his head in protest.

“I have not spoken to her since she went to Bath. I know nothing of her now. I am sure becoming a true lady has changed her and I would not presume to know anything of who she now is.” Edgar seemed a little disappointed that Kendrick could not tell him anything more but Kendrick was not sure that any of his memories were accurate to the girl that Edgar would marry.

“You could write to her,” their mother interjected. “It would be the perfect way in which to learn more about her.”

“Perhaps,” Edgar hedged but it was clear that their mother liked this idea.

“It would be an excellent way to get to know her. There is no need to trouble yourself over how little you know when there is a simple solution. Hazel would welcome your letters, I am sure. And until she is able to return and meet you in person it would be an excellent way in which to learn to be comfortable with each other.”

“Aye, I am sure that is true,” Edgar acknowledged, but Kendrick wondered whether he would actually be inclined to write even a single letter. It was difficult enough getting Edgar to promise to write to them while he was away. He usually wrote once a week only because their mother made him feel guilty if he didn’t. But his letters were quite short, especially in comparison to the volumes that their mother wrote to him.

“She is a lovely girl,” Fiona repeated, “and you will be most pleased as you get to know her.” Edgar inclined his head in agreement, promising to write a letter to Hazel as soon as possible so that the two could begin a correspondence and get to know one another better. Kendrick wondered just when ‘as soon as possible’ might actually be.

Chapter 4

The abrupt shake woke him quite sharply and he very nearly sat up straight in bed. It had been quite some time since he had been shaken so roughly awake and he was not nearly used to it anymore. Though once he had quelled his racing heart and shook the sleep from his eyes, he was not surprised to see Edgar standing at the side of his bed, already dressed for the day.

“What are you doing about so early? And in my room too?” Kendrick grumbled, attempting to roll back over in bed.

“It is not early,” Edgar replied, staring at him in confusion. In fact, Edgar was looking at him as though he had lost his mind, glancing toward the window and striding over to it in order to draw the curtains. “Look, the sun has been shining for hours already.” Kendrick quickly turned back the other way again as the bright sun shone in his eyes.

“Aye, perhaps that is so but it is a time when even the chickens have not left the roost,” Kendrick replied. Edgar laughed at that.

“Perhaps not. But then I suppose it is a good thing you are not a chicken. Come now. Let us get on with the day. Since you are up, let us go for a ride,” Edgar urged.

“Since I am up? I was not up. I was asleep in my bed. Enjoying my day,” Kendrick protested, attempting to pull his pillow over his head to block out the brightness, and Edgar’s energy.

“You were not enjoying the day if you were asleep. You must be awake for that. Now come, there are only so many hours of sunlight and we are wasting them with quibbling here. Let’s go.” With that, Edgar strode out of the room, simply expecting that his wishes would be followed. And they would be, Kendrick grumbled good-naturedly to himself as he climbed out of bed.

The slight chill of the morning air nearly sent him back under the covers, but it would be warmer once he was dressed. And warmer still once they were outside and riding through the fields. With a sigh for the lost sleep, Kendrick began to dress for a ride. It would be nice to catch up with his brother, though he did wish that perhaps it could be done at a later time of the day.

Still, Edgar had always been athletic and had always been the type to get up and out of bed quite early in the morning to do...well, any activity that he could. He took early morning rides and even swam in the creek at this early hour. He was always doing something energetic, which was also why he couldn’t stand to wait around in a carriage after being cooped up at sea for so long. It was a wonder he traveled at all with how often he was confined because of it.

The six years between the brothers was not enough to put a wedge between them and Edgar always made sure to spend plenty of time with Kendrick whenever he was home. In fact, these early morning rides were only a part of the way that they would often spend time together during the brief interludes between Edgar’s trips. Often there was not a great deal of time between when Edgar returned home and when he left again so they made the most of it. Though perhaps this time he would stay closer to home for a while as he was to be wed.

“There you are. I was about to come back in again to see if you had gone back to bed,” Edgar teased when he finally left the room.

“I did consider it,” Kendrick admitted. “If only you would not wake me at such an unholy hour, perhaps I could be better prepared.”

“It is late, Brother. I have already been up and about the grounds twice this morning. And you have been lying in bed.”

“Cook is not even up yet,” Kendrick argued. “There is no coffee and no breakfast.”

“Ah, we don’t need anything warm just yet. There is bread in the kitchen if you need something to eat before we go. Otherwise let’s be off.” Kendrick grumbled a bit more but took a loaf of bread from the kitchen and followed his brother to the stables.

At least the grooms were about, though they did seem surprised to see anyone in the stables this early. No one said a word though, quickly saddling the horses that Kendrick and Edgar always rode and helping them into their saddles.

They set off at a brisk run across the open field until they reached the trails. Talk impossible while they raced along. It was only when they had both pulled up their horses to travel more calmly through the rough terrain.

“Now, tell me all about what I have missed being gone,” Edgar instructed.

“It has been quite a long while since we have seen you,” Kendrick agreed. “Though not much has happened here. There are new horses in the stables. We purchased two new ones from town for breeding purposes. And mother has had a time of redecorating in the manor.”

“You know those are not the things of which I am concerned,” Edgar told him with a shake of his head.

“It is your estate,” Kendrick replied and Edgar scoffed.

“Aye, in name alone. And I know that you and mother will ensure that it is cared for in the best way possible. I trust that the decisions you both make while I am gone are the best ones and that is why I do not concern myself with such things. What has happened with you since I have been gone?”

“There has not been much change in the past year in that regard,” Kendrick told him. In fact, Kendrick had not ventured off the estate much, save for rides through the grounds and a trip into town every once in a while.

“There is no young woman who has captured your fancy?”

“Not in the slightest,” Kendrick replied as they rode companionably, side-by-side. Sometimes the two would race, but for now they simply rode alongside one another, more relaxed than anything.

“And nothing to occupy your time?”

“I have been writing poetry.”

“Aye, you were writing poetry when I left, as well. Are you finally happy with the quality of your work?” Edgar was always very supportive of Kendrick’s dreams and had been one of the first to tell him that he should continue to write. It had happened when they were both quite young, while Kendrick was still writing poems that spoke of cat’s whiskers and horses tails. When he was only a child.

Even today Kendrick remembered how Edgar had discovered one of his journals and read through the pages. Kendrick had been embarrassed and had thought that his older brother, who had been 12 at the time, would make fun of him for his poems.

But Edgar had told him that they were good and had encouraged him to continue working at it. In fact, Edgar had bought him his very first poetry book that was just for him, rather than the ones in the library.

“I do not know if I will ever be truly happy with it,” Kendrick replied, pulling himself out of the memory. “There is always more to do and improvements to make.”

“And yet you have always been an excellent writer.” Kendrick laughed at the praise but he did appreciate it, coming from his brother. “The writing then, it has continued to improve, and it has occupied your time well.”

“Aye, I suppose it has,” Kendrick agreed and Edgar smiled, though there was something a little distant in that smile. “What is troubling you, Brother?”

“Oh, it is nothing of any matter,” Edgar replied, but then he fell silent for a long moment. “Have you ever fallen in love, Brother?”

“No. I can’t say that I have. I can’t say that I would even know the feeling if it were to crop up.” Edgar nodded sagely but did not speak and Kendrick felt obliged to ask, though he felt concern at the thought of what the answer might be. “Have you?”

“No,” but Edgar answered quite quickly. “At least, I do not believe that I have. I have met women who were certainly deserving of love. Women who I could perhaps have learned to love. But none that I found myself truly in love with.” Kendrick was the one to fall silent a moment now, weighing his words before he spoke again.

“Are you happy?” he asked.

“Generally? Yes, yes I am quite happy.” Edgar agreed and Kendrick could tell that he was. But it was Edgar’s style of life that made him happy. And that style of life was certainly set to change very soon.

“About your match? The betrothal?” Edgar thought for a long moment and Kendrick thought perhaps he would not answer.

“I am happy,” he replied finally, and Kendrick could tell that he had given it a great deal of thought in those few moments of silence. “I have long known that I would need to step up soon. To take on the responsibilities of the earldom and my place. I have abandoned you and mother and the estate as well for a long time since Father died.”

“Neither of us wanted you to stop your travels,” Kendrick told him. And they had never resented the fact that he continued on with those travels either. Their mother had never been upset to continue to run the estate as she had since their father fell ill. And Kendrick had never felt deprived in having to care for some of the other decisions that needed to be made that she could not handle.

“And I appreciate that a great deal more than you know,” Edgar told him with a smile. “But it is time I step into my role. And marriage is the first step in that process. Settling down and putting down roots here is important now.”

“You are staying then?” Kendrick asked, cautiously.

“Aye. I will have to return to London to give a report of things in Johannesburg, and to settle the remainder of the trade agreements. But then I will return. And I will not travel further than London again until the wedding.” He paused a moment, “I presume Mother wishes it to be soon.”

“The duchess wishes it to be done before winter,” Kendrick agreed. Edgar nodded his head at that.

“It will be good to have it done quickly.”

“And Hazel? Are you content with marrying a girl you do not know?”

“I trust you and Mother. If you both believe that Hazel is the perfect wife for me then I am certain that she is.” It pleased Kendrick that Edgar was so firm in his resolution and that he was so confident that things would be just fine. He truly believed that if their mother and himself approved of the match it had to be a good one.

“You will not dispute the match then,” Kendrick stated, and Edgar looked to him as though the thought had never entered his mind.

“Why would I?” Edgar seemed truly confused at the idea of it and Kendrick was even more assured that Edgar would do everything he could to make the match a success. Silence fell between the two for several long moments as they led the horses around to head back. “Enough of this plodding along. Let us race now, shall we?” Without waiting for an answer Edgar urged his horse to a gallop and Kendrick laughed before urging his to do the same.

The fast speeds were definitely what he needed to wake up the rest of the way. The cool breeze whipping across his face as they ran across fields that had long been familiar haunts for them. They had ridden these fields from the time they were small. Had played in the knolls and grasses. Had climbed the trees on the outskirts of the area. They had practically lived in these fields. And Kendrick knew exactly where this race was heading.

The two pulled up, breathless, at the edge of the clearing, their horses panting heavily and both of them doing the same. Yes, this race was one that they had had many times. And it was one that Edgar nearly always won. No matter how much Kendrick practiced with his horse he could not beat the camaraderie that existed between Edgar and his own, no matter how much time Edgar spent away.

“I must ask a favor of you,” Edgar stated, growing serious and Kendrick turned toward him.

“Anything,” Kendrick agreed immediately.

“These letters to Hazel that Mother wishes me to write ... I am no writer. The letters I send to you and Mother are the extent of what I can hope to achieve. To write letters to another with the hope of getting to know her...I am not up to the challenge,” Edgar admitted.

“I could help you with what you could say. We can work on them together,” Kendrick offered.

“Perhaps,” Edgar began, but then continued, “but it would be best if you would write the letters yourself.”

“Me?” Kendrick was startled at the prospect. How could he write letters for Edgar that would be to learn more about his future wife?

“I am no good at writing letters. I would likely scare the poor girl off and I know that is not what anyone wants. But you have a way with words, and a way of making people feel at ease.”

“It is not proper for me to write to her,” Kendrick protested, wondering just how Edgar could think that it was right for him to even try.

“You would be writing as me. In place of myself. There would be no impropriety in it.” Kendrick gave him a wry look. “There would be no appearance of impropriety then. No one but you and I would know that it was not me writing the letters.”

“It would be deceiving Hazel,” Kendrick replied, and Edgar inclined his head in agreement.

“It would be only a few letters. Just to appease Mother and to learn a little of the woman that I shall marry. There is no harm in that, is there? It shall be a brother helping another in matters of love,” Kendrick still wasn’t sure but Edgar always did have a way of convincing him of things and so he reluctantly agreed. “Thank you. And when I am finally wed, I will find you a wife as well,” Edgar promised with a smile and a laugh. Kendrick shook his head.

“It shall be a long while before I shall be ready to wed. I shall wait until I am an old man, like you,” he teased, and Edgar reached to cuff him with mock outrage, but Kendrick was already on the move, his horse bolting back toward the manor.

Edgar was racing after him in a moment, the horses running as fast as they could as the two boys tried to best one another. In the end, it was too close of a race to call, though Kendrick insisted that he had gotten back to the stables first, and Edgar said the same for himself.

“You are certainly blind! I was clearly here a full stride ahead of you,” Edgar cried.

“Ha! You were most definitely blinded yourself by the dust from my horses hooves or you would have seen that I was practically in the barn before you reached the edge of the barnyard,” Kendrick retorted.

“You were not even close, little brother,” Edgar shoved him good-naturedly, though very nearly into a stall full of hay, and strode toward the end of the stable.

The grooms were ready as the two boys swung themselves down from the horses and handed over the reins, still bickering in a friendly fashion as they made their way back toward the manor.

When they arrived in the breakfast hall it was to find their mother anxiously seated at the table, though she visibly relaxed as soon as she saw them.

“Where have you been? Oh, goodness, I was so worried.”

“Whyever would you be?” Edgar asked, his tone surprised and more than a little confused.

“All that time on your own may have made you forget that a mother worries,” she replied and both boys looked slightly abashed.

“We were up early and decided to go for a ride.”

You were up early,” Kendrick replied, “and decided to coerce me into a ride.” The teasing began again in earnest and Kendrick could tell it had at least slightly appeased their mother. Though she still looked somewhat concerned.

“I woke and neither of you were here. I did not know what could have become of you,” she added.

“We are sorry. We thought it would be a good morning for a ride. It was so clear and warm out,” Edgar told her.

“Don’t leave without telling me again. Not knowing where you are worries me greatly.” Edgar gave her a hug and Kendrick followed suit.

“We are grown men, Mother. It is not as though we are little boys anymore,” Edgar’s tone was gentle but firm, and their mother gave a sad smile as they sat and filled their own plates for breakfast.

“Aye, that you are. Yet it is difficult for a mother to think of her children as such. No matter how many years it has been.”

“We shall be your children always,” Kendrick added, taking a bite of his eggs. “But not little boys. We can take care of ourselves.” He gave a gentle smile and she returned it with one of her own.

“Perhaps inform a servant at least that you are going out. I should hate to be expecting you for breakfast or for tea only to find that you have left already.” They both acknowledged that not letting her know about their plans could be an inconvenience in such a case.

“We will make sure to keep you informed,” Kendrick promised, though he knew it would be difficult to get Edgar to follow through with that. After all, he was so used to being on his own he likely never even thought of telling someone else where he was going or what he was doing.

Still, he nodded his head and the three of them continued with their breakfast. It was like old times again, before Edgar had left on this last trip. And they were all enjoying the long moment.

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