Never Wager Against Love (Kellington Book Three) (34 page)

BOOK: Never Wager Against Love (Kellington Book Three)
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Arthur knew he’d never seen a more beautiful sight than
Vanessa beside him.  He wasn’t sure what had happened since being shot.  It
didn’t feel like he’d been asleep.  It was more as if he’d been on a trip, even
though he was sure he hadn’t left Lynwood House.  But now that he was awake, he
knew what he wanted to do.

“Let me hold you,” he said to Vanessa.

“Your brothers will be here any minute.”

“I expect they will not expire from the shock of seeing us. 
Come here, my love.  I’ve missed you so.”

Vanessa had been so worried that she needed little
encouragement to obey his wishes.  She lay against his good side and put her
hand over his heart.

“My love,” he said as he wrapped his arms around her.  “I
know you think you have any number of reasons why we cannot marry.  But the
only one which would matter to me would be if you do not love me.  Although,
even then, given how much I love you, I would hope that you could come to love
me even a little in the years ahead.  I know I would try my hardest to make
that happen.”

“You love me?” asked Vanessa, hardly able to believe it.

“Of course.  You’re the one I’ve been waiting for all my
life.  There will never be another.  So you have to marry me, to save me from a
life of loneliness and pining over you.”

The temptation was so great.  “You know there will be
obstacles,” she said.  “Not the least of which would be your family’s
disapproval.”

“I am my own man, Vanessa.  I love you and nothing will get
in the way of that.  Nothing.  Please say you’ll marry me, love.  I did, after
all, sleep outdoors for you and eat horrid food at dreadful inns.  I should get
some type of reward.”

She had to smile.  She didn’t want to resist anymore.  She
reached up and carefully kissed him.  “I will be honored to marry you.  I love
you, Arthur.  I cannot wait to be your wife.”

If he hadn’t been so weak and his infernal family hadn’t
been at that very moment tramping down the hall to see him, Arthur would have
sealed his proposal with something a good deal more satisfactory than just a
kiss.

Then all at once, they streamed into his room.  Vanessa
leapt off the bed as Lynwood, Ned, Jane, Vi, Hal, Lizzie, Riverton and
Stapleton came in to shake his hand and joke about what a terrible patient he’d
been, even though he’d been unconscious for most of the time.

Arthur looked at the family who meant so much to him.  He
didn’t want to hurt them, but he could not imagine his life without Vanessa as
his wife.  He cleared his throat.  “I have an announcement.  Vanessa has done
me the great honor of agreeing to be my wife.”

He didn’t have to wait long for a reaction.  There was more
handshaking.  Each of his brothers hugged Vanessa.  Hal, that rake, even made a
point to hold her just a bit longer than he should have, only so he could then
grin at his brother afterward.

Lynwood gently pulled her aside.  “Vanessa,” he said, “I
could not be more pleased to have you as a sister.  You are not just gaining a
husband.  You now have a family.”

*                    *                    *

A few days later when Arthur was finally able to leave the
house, he and Vanessa called on Lord Willingham at his home, where he was
preparing to leave town on family business.

“I’m glad you pulled through, Kellington,” said Willingham,
as he shook his hand.  He then surprised Vanessa by kissing her on the cheek. 
“And congratulations on your betrothal.  Lynwood, Riverton and the rest of the
Kellingtons have been spreading the word most vociferously.  It seems most of
the
ton
is anxious to meet the intrepid miss who helped save England’s
treasures.”

“Not all of the treasures,” said Vanessa wistfully.  “The
chalice was shattered by the gunshot.”

“Yes, the Duke of Newcastle was none too pleased about
that,” said Willingham with a slight smile.  “The pompous ass demanded
recompense until it was brought to his attention that he wasn’t in legal
possession of the chalice to begin with.  King Richard lent it to his family
with the understanding it would be returned to the Crown.”

“I wish you would have let us tell him,” said Arthur.

“I rather enjoyed doing it myself,” said Willingham.  “The
jewels from the chalice have disappeared.  I believe Frederick Mortimer took
them when he escaped.  He probably felt it was due payment from His Majesty’s government.”

“Was it true what Dumbarton said?” asked Vanessa.  “Did
Frederick Mortimer work for you?”

“On and off,” said Willingham.  “And always in an unofficial
capacity.”

Arthur watched Vanessa as she hesitated to ask the next
question.  “And is it true that he sold me to you?”

Willingham sighed and looked away for a moment.  “I’d hoped
you’d never find out.  But, yes.  When I told Mortimer I needed a female agent,
he reluctantly – and after weeks of my badgering – gave you up.  I know we
didn’t give you a choice.  But I hope your years of service had been meaningful
to you.  I know the Crown is most appreciative of your efforts.  In fact, we
hope you’ll continue your work – both of you.”

“What do you have in mind?” asked Arthur.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time.  I have neglected my estates
and my family.  I would like to try to make it up to them, which means spending
less time in London.  I was hoping the two of you could work together as my
deputies in the Home Office.  There would be no more field work for either of
you – you’re now too well known to be of much use there.  But you could be
invaluable in organizing operations and keeping me apprised when I’m away.  Are
you interested?”

Arthur looked at Vanessa.  They now knew each other so well,
they could answer without conferring.  “Yes,” said Vanessa.

“But only after our wedding trip,” added Arthur.

“Excellent,” said Willingham.  Then he filled them in on the
missing pieces of their recent mission.  “I had a feeling Dumbarton would try
something that night, which is why I didn’t go to the ball.  And when I
received Arthur’s note to meet him at the docks, I knew my suspicions had been
correct.”

“How did you know it was Dumbarton?” asked Vanessa.

“I had an advantage over you,” he said with a slight smile. 
“I knew I wasn’t guilty, so that narrowed the field considerably.  Sir Lawrence
didn’t have the brains for such an ingenious plot.”

Arthur did a poor job stifling a laugh at that comment.

“I…I’m sorry I suspected you,” Vanessa told Willingham. 
“But I was only doing my duty.”

“I know,” he said.  “And once my pride recovered I
recognized that.  It’s one of the reasons I offered you the promotion.  You’re
dedicated to this job.”

“Almost as much as I’m dedicated to Arthur,” she said.

Arthur shook Willingham’s hand.  “We look forward to the
adventures ahead.”

EPILOGUE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arthur Kellington and Vanessa Gans were married in the
Lynwood Manor chapel in Hertfordshire.  They shared their ceremony with Marcus
Redmond, Marquess of Riverton and Lady Elizabeth Kellington, who’d decided to
forego the pomp of a
ton
wedding for the intimate setting, shared with
only family and close friends. 

Now that Arthur had a regular source of income in addition
to his trust, he gave up cards and gaming.  He and Vanessa would be staying at
Lynwood House in London until they found a home of their own, which he hoped
wouldn’t be too long in coming.

 Lizzie was looking forward to being mistress of Riverton
House and couldn’t wait to move in, especially since she suspected the
queasiness she was experiencing in the mornings had something to do with all
those nights Riverton had been sneaking into her room.

The reception was a very pleasant affair.  Cook had created
two magnificent wedding cakes, each of which was big enough to feed the nearby
village.  Since it was a family affair, the servants were much less formal and
had a celebration awaiting them belowstairs.

After a few glasses of champagne, the Kellingtons were
gathered in the sitting room, exchanging stories.

While Aunt Agatha had refused to attend the ceremony – much
to everyone’s relief – Aunt Prue and Mariah had been invaluable in helping plan
the day.  “Arthur,” said Aunt Prue, “you never did tell us about the Gypsy
woman’s predictions.  We know what she said about you, but what about your
brothers and sister?”

Arthur smiled, as he kissed Vanessa’s hand.  “Well, for
Lynwood…”  He looked around the room, only to find that his eldest brother
wasn’t there.  “For Lynwood, she said true love would not run smoothly.”

“I can believe that,” said Lizzie quietly.

“For Ned, she said he would go over the sea, face danger and
meet the love of his life.  And, obviously, all of those predictions came
true.  For you, sweet Lizzie, she said you would be safely delivered of six
children…”

“Six!” said Riverton with a mixture of fear and awe.

Arthur continued.  “And one day Lizzie would speak before
Parliament.”

“What a lovely future,” said Lizzie, as her hand went
unconsciously to her stomach.

“What about me?” asked Hal.

Arthur grinned.  “I’m afraid she was wide of the mark there. 
She said you would tell people not to drink.”

At that, everyone in the room laughed, including Hal.  But
then he suddenly remembered the dark-haired beauty with a courtesan’s
stockings.  He blinked.  He blinked again.  He had another glass of champagne.

Stapleton finished his drink.  “Unfortunately, I need to
leave for town.  I have to prepare for a meeting with the head magistrate.  Has
anyone seen Miss Carson?”  Rosalind had been given permission to attend the
wedding, provided she returned as soon as it was over.  Stapleton had escorted
her and her maid from London.

The Kellingtons looked around, but there was no Rosalind in
sight.

Lizzie hoped it was a good sign.

But a moment later, a flustered Rosalind Carson entered the
room.  As the others turned to look at her, she blushed.

“Are you ready to leave?” asked Stapleton.  “I have only to
say my farewell to Lynwood, then we can go.”

At that moment, a distracted Lynwood entered the room. 
While the man was always impeccably dressed, he seemed disheveled – by ducal
standards – and out of sorts.  A short time later, when Stapleton and Rosalind
were waiting beside the carriage, Lynwood handed Rosalind in. 

“Miss Carson,” he said, nodding.  The formality of the
farewell was in direct contrast to how long and how tightly he held onto her
fingers.

“Your grace,” she said in barely more than a whisper, before
she looked at him one more time then entered the carriage.

Lynwood barely muttered a farewell to Stapleton before
turning and heading into the Manor, looking for all the world like he wanted to
break something.

Neither Stapleton nor the Kellingtons said a word, although
they exchanged knowing looks.

*                    *                    *

Since Arthur and Vanessa needed almost a full day to travel
to the port where they’d leave for the continent on their wedding trip, they
spent the night at Lynwood Manor in Arthur’s old room.  As Vanessa lay snuggled
up against him, safe at last in his arms, he uttered a prayer of thanks that
the prophesy of long ago had been thwarted.  He also thanked God that neither
of them would be alone again. 

“Arthur,” Vanessa said sleepily, rousing from the sated
slumber she’d fallen into after the first time they’d made love.  “Thank you
for rescuing me.”

“And thank you,” he said, kissing her temple, “for rescuing
me, too.”

Then they spent the rest of the night celebrating their
love.

 

BOOK: Never Wager Against Love (Kellington Book Three)
13.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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