An Arranged Betrothalwith a Rogue
Clayton thought he would burst as he was waiting for Honoria to get ready. He hadn’t told her that he had a surprise for her, as a gift for their second anniversary. It had been a task to speak to the nursemaid about dressing Grace for their outing without Honoria finding out what he was up to, but he had finally ushered her to her chambers to get dressed. He was giddy with excitement, a feeling he was still learning to experience.
He used all his willpower to pull himself together and give his wife a casual, sweet smile as she descended the staircase. She was ravishing in a deep red day dress and matching hat and gloves, and she was beaming. She always took delight in anything they did together. But he knew that what he had planned for that day would be very special to her.
“You look positively gleeful,” Honoria said, kissing him affectionately on the cheek as she took his arm.
Clayton shrugged, trying to remain calm as he looked at her.
“I just happen to think that you look absolutely wonderful,” he said. “And I am thrilled for us to be getting out today.”
Honoria giggled and blushed, something Clayton never tired of.
“Well, let’s get to it then, shall we?” she asked.
Clayton grinned, breaking his casual countenance.
“I thought you’d never ask,” he said.
He walked his wife out to the carriage, with the nursemaid and his daughter in tow, helping them inside and then climbing in beside Honoria. Then, he gave the driver the signal, and they were off.
Honoria marveled at the birds flitting around outside the carriage window. It never ceased to delight him to watch her so thrilled and impressed by such simple things. It was her pure, innocent joy that had sparked happiness within him. And it had been her love that had cured him from the terrible nightmares that had plagued him for so long. To him, she hung the moon, and everything she did and was made him feel like he lived in his own little piece of heaven.
From the nursemaid’s lap, little Grace was pointing out the window on the other side, cooing at the scenery as they passed. Clayton saw just how much like her mother Grace looked, and his heart swelled with love. It occurred to him that this would be Grace’s first time going where they were. It was a special occasion all around, and he only grew more excited.
When the inn came into view, Honoria gasped with excitement. She whipped her head to look at Clayton, which made baby Grace giggle.
“Are we going there?” she asked.
Clayton waggled his eyebrows.
“You’ll see, my love,” he said.
The carriage pulled to a stop in front of the inn, and Honoria clapped her hands. Grace copied her mother, and Clayton smiled at his little family. He helped everyone out of the carriage, waiting as Grace reached for her mother and Honoria took her into her arms. Then, they approached the inn door, setting off the tinkling bell as they entered.
Grace came a moment later from the kitchens, her usual cheery smile on her face. But when she saw it was the three of them, she wiped her hands on her apron and rushed over to them. Honoria gave him a beaming glance just as the innkeeper took her in her arms and hugged her tightly.
“Oh, Lady Durant, my dear,” she gushed. “It is so good to see you again.” She turned her head over her shoulder. “Henry, come. We have some special visitors.” Then, she turned back to Clayton, dipping into a curtsey.
Clayton shook his head and opened his arms, enveloping the innkeeper into a gentle embrace and kissing the air beside her cheek.
“I could never expect a good friend to curtsey to me, Grace,” he said warmly.
Henry came out just then, lighting up much as his wife had when he saw Clayton and Honoria. He walked over to the little family and Clayton held out his hand before the man bowed, just as his wife had curtseyed.
“Good day, Henry,” Clayton said, clapping the inn owner on the back. “You’re looking well.”
Henry beamed, hugging Honoria briefly before turning his attention to the little one in her arms.
“It is wonderful to see you two again,” he said. “And who is this little angel?”
Honoria blushed, looking at Grace fondly.
“This is our daughter,” she said softly. “I hope you don’t mind, but we named her Grace.”
Grace’s entire face lit up, and joyful tears filled her eyes. She covered her mouth with her hands, and she shook her head.
“I don’t mind at all,” she said. “I feel immense honour and humility. Oh, my lady, that is very kind of you.”
Henry waved a finger at little Grace, who tried to catch it in her tiny hand.
“You are beautiful child,” he said, allowing the girl to take his finger. She grinned, immediately trying to put it in her mouth.
Honoria gently stopped her, letting the older Grace get close.
“Would you like to hold her?” she asked.
Clayton beamed at his wife and daughter, giving Henry a proud look. Henry winked at him, and they shared a knowing look.
Grace nodded, wiping her tears.
“I would love to,” she said, holding out her hands to the child.
Little Grace immediately went to the kindly woman, studying her face before giving her a little giggle. Honoria got her attention and pointed to the innkeeper.
“She is called Grace, too,” she said, pointing back and forth between the older woman and the child. “Grace, and Grace.”
The little girl looked confused, pointing to the innkeeper.
“Ga,” she said, her brow furrowing.
Older Grace nodded, laughing.
“That’s right,” she said. “I’m Grace, and you are Grace.”
The little girl thought it over for a second. Clayton doubted she understood, but he knew she would one day. Eventually, she just giggled and patted the older woman on the shoulder.
“K,” she said, beaming.
Honoria looked at Clayton with one of her delighted, beaming smiles.
“This is the most wonderful surprise anniversary present in the world,” she said.
“I knew you’d say that,” he said. “But it’s not over yet.”
Both Grace and Honoria looked at Clayton, puzzled. But Henry cleared his throat and gave Clayton a knowing smile.
“I take it you’ve been keeping up with the village fair?” he asked.
Clayton nodded enthusiastically.
“We had such a lovely time there two years ago,” he said. “I thought I would surprise you by taking both you and our little Grace this year.”
Honoria’s face brightened ten shades more, and she stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek.
“You are the most thoughtful man in all of London,” she said.
“Oh, how wonderful,” she said. “Would the two of you like to eat before we leave?”
Clayton looked at Honoria, who was looking at him. Grace was becoming fussy, and Clayton realized she hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
“We would be delighted,” he said.
Grace ran to a back storage room and fetched a small highchair for her namesake. Then, the group sat down to a bowl of lamb stew that Grace had just been finishing when the family arrived. They talked and laughed and caught up on each other’s lives. Little Grace laughed and clapped, simply reacting to the happy atmosphere around her. Clayton noticed how her eyes sparkled just like her mother’s when she giggled, and how her cheeks turned pink when someone spoke directly to her. His heart melted, and he thanked the heavens that he had let go of his foolish notion that he and Honoria couldn’t have a happy life.
After lunch, everyone went to separate quarters to freshen up for the fair. Clayton and Honoria watched over little Grace in the room they had once shared as awkward newlyweds, and they fell asleep leaning against one another. They awoke a couple hours later to little Grace cooing and babbling. Then, they went downstairs to meet the older Grace and Henry to walk down to the fairgrounds.
“Oh, may I carry her?” the older Grace asked.
Honoria nodded, smiling sweetly as she turned little Grace toward the innkeeper.
“See Grace?” she asked.
The child still looked confused. But when the older woman held out her hands, just like before, she went to her immediately. Clayton put his arm around his wife as Henry held open the door for them. The afternoon was even more beautiful than the morning had been, and Clayton thought again about just how lucky he was.
The path they took to the fairgrounds that time took them right by the lake. Clayton looked at it, recalling his breakfast picnic with his wife. He now smiled as he thought of the kiss he shared with her there. He was grateful that he had come to his senses afterward. He knew now that he could be the man Honoria deserved and then some.
As they approached the fairgrounds, Clayton watched as his daughter’s and his wife’s face lit up. The smiles on their faces and the light in their eyes was more than enough to make the entire year for him. He also noticed that the older Grace lit up, as well. He and Henry shared a knowing smile as they entered the fairgrounds.
Little Grace found great delight in a mime that was performing just before the tents began. It was clear to Clayton that he was not a professional mime, like one might find in London. The man was evidently just a villager who had practiced a little in his free time. But little Grace loved the performance, just the same. Clayton took out a few coins and tipped the man, whose eyes lit up, and he did a little performance in gratitude. Honoria was smiling wider than ever, and Clayton’s heart swelled with pride.
As with the first time they attended the fair, Honoria fell in love with the jewelry tent. She gushed about many of the pieces, particularly a small diamond ring. But unlike the first time, Clayton bought her several pieces, including the ring. Her face was as bright as their daughter’s as he purchased the items, and she put on the necklace, two of the bracelets and the ring right away. She beamed up at him, making his heart melt.
“Thank you, darling,” she said, giving him a sweet kiss.
Clayton grinned and shrugged.
“Anything for you, my love,” he said.
They continued wandering through the tents, and Clayton even found a hat that matched the dark blue suit he was wearing that day. He put it on, chuckling as Honoria straightened it for him. Little Grace wanted to help, too, and she had the lip of the hat down in his face. But he wore it that way until the child became interested in some bright scarves in another tent.
As they were walking, he saw the bright pink tent that he knew well, even two years later. Honoria looked at him, and he grinned broadly. Little Grace saw the brilliant color, as well, and she began pointing and cooing. Just before they reached the tent, the same gypsy stepped out into the midway. She locked eyes with Clayton and gave him a knowing smile and nod. He returned it, looking at his wife.
“Would you like to have your palm read again, darling?” he asked.
Honoria shook her head, giving her husband a sly smile.
“I don’t need her to tell me what I already know,” she said.
Clayton tilted his head, puzzled.
“Oh?” he asked. “What do you mean?”
Honoria looked away, a slight flush blooming in her cheeks.
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
Clayton held up their entire group when he took his wife into his arms.
“Oh, darling,” he said, his chest bursting with happiness. “You have made me the happiest man in all of England.”
This is the end of my novel “An Arranged Betrothal with a Rogue”. I hope that you enjoy it! Your effort to read it means a lot to me and I have to thank you for your love and support these difficult days!
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