A special Valentine's Story for our readers:
Happy Valentine's day, everyone!
Carol fished out a pink vellum card when the footman brought in a salver with the mail stacked upon it. “Look what I found in the mail stack for you, Maris?”
Her eldest cousin waved it around in a teasing fashion, holding it just out of Maris’ reach. Everyone in the room seemed delighted at the prospect that a letter had been addressed directly to her and not the four Wickham sisters.
Maris tied off the thread of the floral pattern she’d embroidered into a handkerchief she’d worked on all morning and set it down on the table next to her. She’d sewn in yellow daisies to match the pattern of the dress she would wear that very evening to the grand duchess’ Saint Valentine’s ball.
“It’s probably an invite,” Maris said, though she knew it was no such thing. Had it been an invite Lord Wickham would have been the addressee and his daughters listed first and foremost.
Jane plunked herself down on the sofa next to her and snatched the pretty envelope away from Carol. “Do you have another secret admirer now that Sir Fabian has taken a fancy to Lady Dundry?”
Fabian hadn’t simply taken a liking to Lady Dundry; they’d run away together shortly after Fabian called off his engagement to Maris.
“Certainly not!” Maris said and tried to wrest the letter from Jane’s fingers.
“Regardless, I’m glad he’s gone, I never did like him,” Jane said before she released the envelope.
Maris flipped it over to see her name clearly written on the front. Oddly enough she didn’t recognize the handwriting. “Who do you suppose it’s from?”
“How should any of us know.” Carol stepped closer.
Lorelei, obviously impatient, sat on the other side of Maris on the sofa. “What are you waiting for?”
Maris looked around her knowing she wouldn’t be able to save the letter for a later time. There was no such thing as privacy in a townhouse with five young ladies near the same age.
With a heavy sigh, she flipped it over and slid her finger under the wax seal shaped in the form of a heart. The parchment was dyed a light rose, too.
Taking out the page, she read the contents before letting the parchment slide down her lap and to the floor. Her heart was beating so fast she couldn’t hear anything but the thumping of it in her ears. Her palms were sweating and her breathing so erratic that she had to stand and pace the floor.
Jane leaned over and picked up the fallen letter and read what it contained. Jane gasped and passed the letter to Carol, then ran over to the window to peer out into the garden. Carol, ready to appease everyone else’s curiosity in the room, read the letter aloud:
My Maris, my only,
This Valentine’s I wanted nothing more than to share the true feelings I harbor only for you. The feelings I’ve always harbored for you and no other. I’ve watched you over the past two years with a yearning in my heart that could not be quenched with simple friendship, but because that was what you wanted, I could do not more than obey. I’ve always been your admirer from afar, but no longer will I wait while another tries to win your heart. I will be the only one to possess it in future as you have always held mine. Attend the duchess’ ball on my arm tonight so that the world might know that we belong together.
Come to the window my fair lady and see me for who I really am.
All her cousins ran to the window with varying degrees of shock passing their lips and speculation on when he had fallen for Maris over the years
Maris had a suspicion of who stood in the garden, yet she couldn’t bring herself to walk over to the window. She had always suspected he had liked her in more a capacity than a friend. But with his lofty title and rich lands, she knew she could never play the society miss he would require in a wife—she was no more than a country bumpkin to most in society. And what if it wasn’t him standing down in the garden? She would not be able to temper the disappointment in her heart. It was better not to look.
“Come over here this instant,” Carol demanded, motioning with her hand that Maris should join them at the window.
Maris shook her head, unable to take a step in the direction they wanted her to go in.
“I’ll invite him up if you don’t at least have a peak,” Jane said. “Think of how you’ll hurt his feelings if you don’t.”
Every ragged breath she dragged into her lungs only made her feel worse. She thought she might faint. Lorelei took her arm and led her closer to her fate. Her vision dotted in front of her before she could make that final step, and her legs gave out before the world went black.
Maris’ next awareness was the sharp smell of vinegar under her nose. She turned her face to the side to escape the scent and cracked her eyes open. She was still in the parlor, but stretched out on the chaise.
“My lady, you scared us half to death with your tumble.”
She reached for her aching head and felt a goose egg at the top. Marcus pulled her hand away. “The doctor is on the way to make sure you didn’t hurt yourself too badly.”
“Why are you here, Marcus?”
“I thought that much was obvious.” It was then that Maris noted her cousins were hovering nearby. Marcus looked at them. “Could you give us a moment?”
They all made excuses and left the parlor, leaving the door ajar since they couldn’t technically be alone, no matter how long they’d been friends.
“I only meant to open your eyes to the truth, not have you take a tumble and hit your head.” He brushed away the hair that covered her brow.
“Why would you want me?” She’d obviously addled her brain with her fall to ask such a bold question.
“Because you are a darling woman and it’s not easy to look away even while you were courted by that buffoon. I’ve loved you since the first day we met.”
Maris pressed her palm to the side of Marcus’ face. “I always thought him a buffoon, too, but my uncle said he would make a good match since I have no real prospects and he has four daughters of his own to marry off.”
“You’re prospect enough for me, Miss Maris. And you would do me a great honor in allowing me to escort you to the ball tonight.” He leaned in closer with a wicked smile playing on his lips. “Unless the doctor says you’re to stay abed. In that case, I’ll have to keep you company—with your cousins on hand of course.”
“You’ll always be a rogue, Marcus.”
His smile only grew. “Don’t say another word, there’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time.”
Before Maris could ask what that was his hand went around the back of her head to support her and his lips met hers. Her lips parted on a sigh as they kissed for the first time.
“I love you, Marcus, and I would be honored to attend the ball on your arm.”
“Good, because saying no wasn’t an option. Because I love you too much to let you go now that we’ve confessed our feelings.” And then he kissed her again.
Happy Valentine's day, everyone!