An Arranged BetrothalWith aScarred Viscount
Albert’s brow furrowed, and he quickly wiped sweat off it absently. He tilted his head, looking at the page in front of him and surveying the lines he had put there. The image of a lean, short-haired dog was quickly taking shape on the page, and he was completely lost in the process. He tilted his head the other way, tapping his chin thoughtfully as he did so. Then, he went back to work, carefully outlining the hindquarter muscles before filling in the line with a charcoal.
He was so deep into his sketch that he didn’t hear his wife enter the room. He was only aware of her presence when he heard her laughing.
“Oh, darling,” she said, tugging something from her pocket as she approached.
Albert gave her a wide grin. He didn’t mind that she had disturbed him while he was sketching. She was the reason he had rediscovered his love for art, after all. Besides, he would do anything to make her laugh. And no matter how long they were married, he knew he would always feel that way.
“What?” he asked, beaming up at her.
She giggled again, and he saw that she had a handkerchief in her hand.
“You look like you used your face to sweep the chimney,” she said.
Albert glanced at his reflection in the window beside him, noticing a long streak of charcoal across his forehead, and smaller smudges along his jawline and chin.
He bellowed with laughter, pulling away from his wife gently.
“Well, I didn’t quite finish the job,” he said. He put down the charcoal long enough to smudge the scarred side of his face, making it look much like war paint, and making his wife dissolve into giggles. “There. Is that better?”
Martha laughed, dabbing her eyes with the handkerchief with which she was about to wipe his face.
“Beautiful, darling,” she said. “How’s it coming?”
Albert leaned back to let her look, remembering the day he first called on her, and their positions were reversed as he did so. She marveled over it, her eyes lighting up and her smile widening.
“Oh, Albert, that’s amazing,” she breathed.
Albert shrugged sheepishly. He never tired of her praise, and it never went to his head, either.
“It’s not finished yet,” he said. “But I’m not disappointed with it so far.”
Martha kissed his smudged scarred cheek, getting some charcoal on her nose as she did so and making him laugh, as well.
“Well, let me know when you do finish it,” she said. “I’ll be happy to add the paint whenever you’re pleased with it.”
Albert grinned. He adored the paintings they did together. Their walls were filled with them, so much so that they were about to run out of space.
“It shouldn’t be too much longer,” he said. “But there’s only one thing that will please me right now.”
Martha looked at him warily.
“You are wicked,” she teased, winking at him.
Albert pretended to be horrified.
“And you are incorrigible,” he said with a laugh, motioning for her to come closer until she did so. Then, he put his charcoal-coated palm against her cheek, running it down and leaving another big black smudge. “What I meant was that I want you looking like a chimney sweep with me.”
Martha laughed heartily, reaching up and touching the black mark on her cheek.
“Who’s incorrigible now, darling?” she asked. “You’re very lucky that I don’t have my paints out right now.”
Albert’s grin widened, and he wagged his eyebrows impishly.
“Now, you understand,” he said, abandoning his sketch and chasing his giggling wife around their shared studio. When Albert learned of his engagement to his wife six years prior, he couldn’t imagine a life with her. Now, as they decorated each other with their respective art supplies, as they often did when their children, Roger and Rose, were with their nursemaid, he couldn’t imagine life without her.
The couple finished their latest painting just in time for the house party they had decided a few months prior to host. As Martha was making the final preparations the evening before the guests were supposed to begin arriving, Albert was busy placing the new painting. He decided that it would go on the wall, just inside the entryway, where their family could see it when they arrived. He knew everyone, especially all the children, would love it. And he was sure that Martha would love its placement, as well.
The following day, he and Martha rose early. She finalized the day’s menu and arranged a picnic brunch. They were expecting all their house party guests by dinner that evening. However, they had several special guests who were arriving early. And those guests were their families and their closest friends. The excitement was palpable in the Billington household that day. That was evident when five-year-old Roger came wobbling down the stairs, carrying two-year-old Rose awkwardly in his arms.
“Are Hannah, Henry and Tamara here yet?” he asked.
“You aren’t concerned about Elizabeth?” he teased.
“She’s Rose’s age,” he said. “They’re too little to play with us big kids.”
Albert laughed again. His son wasn’t wrong. Henry was the oldest of the children by far, at twelve years old. His sister, Hannah, was the second oldest at six. Then beyond Roger was Tamara, the eldest daughter of Isabel and Patrick, who was four, and her younger sister, Elizabeth. In truth, Albert was surprised by Henry. Even at his advanced age, he still never seemed to tire of playing with the younger children. In fact, he seemed to love each of them just as much as he loved his own sisters.
“I’m sure there will be things that all of you can play,” he said. “And I know that Henry will love to see little Rose.”
Roger thought that over for a minute before nodding.
“You’re right, Father,” he said. “They can play with us, if they wish. I just hope they don’t get hurt.”
Albert smiled as his son gently kissed his sister’s head clumsily. Albert took the toddler from her brother as she began to slip awkwardly from his arms. He was impressed that Roger seemed to look up to Henry so. Whatever Henry wanted to do, Roger wanted to do. Albert supposed that part of it was because he and Henry were the only two boys of the whole bunch. But he also knew it was because Henry was such a good, wonderful young man.
The little girl grinned at her father with her half mouthful of teeth.
“Papa,” she said, touching her father’s nose.
Albert laughed and nodded.
“Very good,” he said. “Heavens, is that your first word?”
Roger shook his head, beaming proudly at his father.
“No,” he said. “She said my name this morning.”
Albert grinned at his daughter, kissing her cheeks.
“What a smart girl,” he said, laughing as the little girl giggled.
“Mart giwl,” she said, smiling at her father again.
Martha came flying down the stairs, beautiful in her pink day dress. Her curls were bouncing as she rushed toward her daughter with a wide, proud smile on her face.
“Is she talking?” Martha asked, looking at Albert with excitement.
“She is,” he said, looking at Rose and pointing to his wife. “Who’s that?”
Rose studied her mother for a minute before smiling again.
“Mama,” she said, showing her few teeth again.
Martha squealed and kissed her daughter on the cheek, as Albert had.
“Oh, my darling, I’m so proud of you,” she said. “I love you so very much, sweet Rose.”
Rose pointed to Martha and grinned once more.
“Love ooo,” she said.
Martha giggled and clapped her hands, and her daughter followed suit.
“What luck,” she said. “She starts talking just as we’re expecting our dearest loved ones to come.”
Albert glanced at the clock in the grand hall and nodded.
“Speaking of which, we should ensure that everything is set up,” he said. “They should be here any minute.”
Martha’s face lit up, and she nodded.
“Let’s go,” she said.
The family prepared to round up the footmen and the picnic items. But the butler rushed up to them, giving them a very broad smile.
“Everything is ready outside whenever you are,” he said.
Albert and Martha exchanged glances, but Albert eventually bowed.
“Thank you,” he said, confused.
Albert led his family to the back of the grand hall, down a short corridor and through the back door. Albert instantly smelled the freshly planted gardenias, which Martha had requested for Lily, as soon as they stepped outside. They had anticipated a nice day for their picnic, and to receive the rest of their guests for the house party. But that day was the most perfect one that Albert had ever seen. The children were instantly enthralled by butterflies and birds, and the floral scent from the gardens wafted halfway across the adjacent meadow.
The picnic was set up, just as Albert had requested, by the edge of the lake, beneath a tall fruit tree. What Albert didn’t expect was what else they saw there.
“Albert,” Henry cried, rushing up to the family as they approached.
All the other older children followed suit, running up to Martha, Albert and Roger.
“Oh, my,” Martha gasped as she looked over the faces of their loved ones. “Did you do this, darling?”
Her mother was the one who answered her, but not before pulling her into a warm embrace.
“No, sweetheart,” she said. “We showed up a little early, and we asked the butler and the maids to help us keep it a surprise. We just slipped around back, where you wouldn’t know we were here.”
Albert laughed, remembering the butler’s cheeky grin, and nodded.
“That explains a great deal,” he said. “And what a surprise it is.”
Everyone exchanged greetings, and the children rushed off to play. The two younger girls sat with the maids that had helped set up the picnic. Once everyone was settled, Albert poured all the adults glasses of wine. He hadn’t planned to make any speeches that day. But seeing his entire family together again, he felt especially inspired. He got everyone’s attention, then raised his glass in the air.
“Every day, I wake up thinking that I could not be happier, or more blessed,” he said. “But seeing everyone here together, sharing so much love, I realise that wasn’t true. Martha and I adore all of you, from the bottom of our hearts. Thank you so much for joining us today, and for attending our house party.”
“You just better make sure there’s plenty of whiskey,” he said.
The picnic was the loveliest that Albert had ever attended. As Albert watched everyone eat and laugh and enjoy themselves, he recalled a time when he thought he would never know such joy. Now, he lived for that joy, and he reveled in it every single day. He was grateful for his friends and family. And it was the best feeling he had ever known.
The picnic wound down about two hours later, and the servants made quick work of the clean-up. Albert waited, ready to lead everyone back to the manor to freshen up before dinner, when the rest of the guests should arrive. But Martha was the one who garnered the attention of their friends and family.
“Now,” she said. “We have a surprise for you all.”
There were murmurs of delight from their families. For a moment, Albert couldn’t imagine what she meant.
“We do?” he asked.
Martha looked at him and winked.
“Of course, we do,” she said. “Come. Follow me to the entryway.”
Albert remembered the painting then, and he nodded.
“To the entryway,” he said.
The children were busy racing one another, so they just walked around the manor to the front door. Albert opened the door, letting their friends and family follow Martha inside the door. When they reached the painting, Martha didn’t even have to point it out. The gasps of awe and admiration were instant and followed by loud cries of approval.
“Did you do this by yourself, Martha?” Isabel asked.
Martha grinned and shook her head.
“No, I didn’t,” she said, gazing at Albert fondly. “Albert did the sketch.”
There was another loud gasp. A moment later, Albert’s mother had her arms wrapped around his neck, and she was laughing.
“Oh, sweetheart, I’m so happy,” she said.
Albert laughed and kissed her cheek. Then, he looked at his father, who was watching him with a smile on his face.
“Well, I’ll be,” he said.”
This is the end of my novel “An Arranged Betrothal with a Scarred Viscount”. 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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