“Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, Lord and Lady McKinnon!”
At Father Mathew’s declaration, the audience went wild with joy. Happy music filled the air and the newest couple, Francis and Matilda McKinnon, smiled and waved their way out of the parish.
Once outside, they were met by family and friends who showered them with heartfelt wishes and love. They took their time to respond to as many as they could, then, they got into the carriage and rode for their new home in Eildmore where the wedding feast was to be held.
It was quite the feast indeed. There was plenty of wining, dining, and dancing. So much so that Matilda couldn’t help noticing a particular couple who seemed particularly cozy.
She leaned into her husband and with a soft voice, gossiped. “I’d say George and Alvena seem rather close, would you not?”
He flashed her that smile that still had the power to make her heart flutter and would always. “Anne did say the Carringtons would make good in-laws. I believe they just might after all. I’ve never seen my brother so smitten.”
Matilda giggled at this. “I believe Alvena is just as besotted.”
Although, the fair lady had tried to deny it every time Anne and Matilda had endeavored to tease her, it was clear for anyone who had eyes to see. She’d finally given in to notions of love.
Yes, after the Carringtons had so wonderfully accepted the end of the betrothal, Anne had insisted that she wanted to be friends with Alvena. It had not been an easy feat to achieve but eventually, the heiress had warmed up to them. It was true indeed, beneath the proud demeanor she liked to put on, Lady Alvena was a sweet, humorous, intelligent young lady. These days, she let that part of her shine through, making her seem like a different person. It was no wonder George had fallen so helplessly for her.
“And those? When do you reckon, they shall finally tie the knot?” Francis asked, referring to Anne who was dancing away with Howard.
“One of them would have to confess their feelings first. The way I see it, it’s going to be a while still.”
Yes, the sweet earl whom Anne had fancied had suddenly woken up one day and decided he wanted to take the holy vow. At first, everyone had believed he was simply jesting but eventually, they’d come to learn that he meant every word. Father Charles had abandoned all of his worldly possessions — including his title as Earl of Arundel — and put on his priestly garments.
Anne had been hurt but she’d understood and respected his decision. Matilda knew all too well that her blossoming friendship with Howard then, had played a great part in helping her overcome the pain. Even after Howard returned to Nordamme, they continued to correspond through letters. Every time he visited, they had eyes only for each other.
Anne was afraid to confess her feelings because she didn’t want to be abandoned again. As for Howard, well, according to what he’d told Francis, he was biding his time.
“It appears Benjamin wishes to remain a bachelor for life.”
Matilda gave into the urge to roll her eyes. “His one true love is protecting the Crown, have you not heard? He wedded his duties a long time ago.”
Both of them laughed at this. As they recovered, Matilda’s gaze settled upon her brother. He was standing in a far corner, ever alert, like the soldier he was. Even at his dearest sister’s wedding, he still couldn’t let himself be at ease.
She’d finally come to learn what it was he did for the Crown. Her admiration for him had grown and these days, Francis helped as well. The three of them, Gerald included, had grown quite inseparable. Matilda could not say that she was not happy about this. She was, thrilled in fact.
It’d been six months since the gentleman she had no doubt she would love all of her days had asked her to marry him. In the time since then, much had changed.
She’d gotten the chance to properly mourn her mother and in doing so, been able to find peace. Her relationship with the Duchess had improved. Even though she’d continued to stay in her brother’s home, she’d visited the McKinnons often and they’d visited as well.
Her brothers had eventually fallen to their knees before her, and Matilda had worked on a way to forgive them.
Her father and Lucius had received their sentence, two months after their arrests, having been found guilty of the crimes of which they’d been accused.
Hartcoll had been sentenced to life imprisonment for having a hand in various murders, disappearances and pushing his late wife to her death. Thanks to Mr. James’ witness — and all the evidence he’d provided.
As for her father, he’d been sentenced to seven years. They’d both been carted off to Newgate where they would never be able to hurt anybody again.
Matilda still could not say if she would ever be able to entirely forgive her father but she was working toward it.
And as for her Francis, he continued to keep all of his promises, making her fall more and more in love with him every day. She knew now without a doubt that she could never live without him. She’d been made for him. They were meant to be.
Having him by her side brought her joy that words would never suffice if she were to employ them in her description. Every day, she loved him more. Even on days when she thought it was simply impossible to, he showed her that she was capable of new heights and depths of love. She was beyond convinced that he loved her just the same.
Her life had been filled with many struggles but all of that was in the past now. All was in its rightful place, finally.
“A penny for your thoughts, Dear Wife?”
She smiled sweetly at him. “I was just thinking how I need to retire to my chamber now.”
“You mean our chambers.”
“Yes, My Lord.”
His eyes darkened with desire, causing her center to clench with anticipation.
“Well, don’t let me keep you,” he responded in a breathy whisper.
It was all the encouragement she needed. Rising to her feet, she announced her leave, said goodbye to knowing guests and retired to her chamber.
There, Lily helped her prepare for her wedding night.
He joined her an hour later and she was more than ready for him.
“My Sweet Love,” he whispered through sweet kisses. “You’re a vision.”
His words undid her as much as his touch and oh, did he touch her. He loved her, delicately, patiently, slowing, worshiping every inch of her body, and bringing her pleasures like never before.
When he finally entered her, for Matilda, it was like coming home.
Together, they climbed, attaining new heights of pleasure until finally, they reached the edge of the cliff and in mind-shattering ecstasy, crashed in each other’s arms.
Matilda saw a thousand lights. It was beautiful. It was perfect. It was everything she could ever imagine and more. They fell asleep, snuggled closely, naked bodies entwined.
When they awoke in the morning, man and wife in every way that mattered, they made love again. Afterward Matilda presented him his wedding gift.
“What is this?” he asked as he stared at the small box in delight.
“Open it,” she responded. Her lips hurt from smiling too hard. Yet, it was impossible not to. She felt like she would burst from all the joy that she felt as she watched him.
He did just as she’d asked and as the box came open to reveal over a dozen letters, his eyes gleamed at her.
“What are they?”
A giggle slipped free. “Why don’t you see for yourself.”
Once again, he obeyed. It took just one letter for understanding to finally dawn. In awe, he turned to her.
“You wrote all these while I was away, at war.”
“But you never sent them.”
“I wasn’t sure I could, so I kept them instead.”
He drew her into a toe-curling kiss then.
“Oh, Matilda, how could I not love you! You’re perfect!”
She kissed him again. “You are. Utterly perfect and utterly mine.”
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