Leonora Compton and Connor Talbot, The Earl of Redfirn (Five Golden Rings) were affianced at Christmas. They are now looking forward to a March wedding with great anticipation, but in the meantime, there’s a Valentine’s Day for them to celebrate.
It was impossible for Connor to relax as he strode through the foyer of the theatre, dressed in his evening black.
Christ, what a day!
To think it could be so difficult to pull off a surprise was unfathomable. Who would have thought that getting Leonora to the right place at the right time would be such a task? He’d lost track of how many times he’d had to alter his plans because of some infernal obstacle.
It was now eight o’clock in the evening, no less than ten hours since he’d first arrived upon Leonora’s doorstep, intent on taking her out for a morning ride, only to discover that she wasn’t at home. From what he’d understood, some emergency situation pertaining to Lady Rowena (the latest unmarried lady under Leonora’s protection) and Lord Vanick (the current candidate for Lady Rowena’s hand) had arisen. Muttering an oath as he climbed the stairs to the first floor of the theatre, Connor pictured Leonora hurrying off to save whatever disaster had befallen Lady Rowena without a single thought for herself – or him. A smile tugged at the corner of his lips. If there was a match to be made, then God help the unfortunate fellow who happened to get in Leonora’s way. It was one of the things he loved about her – her investment in other people’s future happiness.
Still, having the string quartet he’d hired start to play as he entered Hyde Park alone, was something he could have done without. The experience had been terribly flat, not to mention that it was supposed to have been the crowning glory of his Valentine’s Day surprise for her – the song they’d first danced to drifting through the air while they sat side by side in the carriage with blankets tucked around them, all snug and warm in spite of the frosty winter air.
Determined not to be so easily dissuaded, Connor had bundled the quartet into his carriage and taken them with him to Gunther’s. “I will fetch her ladyship,” he’d told them. “When you see my carriage, wait until it is parked, and then start to play – I want the tune to fill the air as Lady Leonora alights.”
Confident that the plan would soon be executed to perfection, Connor had hurried off in search of Leonora, deciding that Lady Rowena’s residency was as good a place as any to start. But when he arrived at number five, Maddox Street, there was no sign of Leonora, just a very distressed Lady Rowena. “You’ve no idea how happy I am to see you,” she’d blurted, springing toward him as he stood there on her front doorstep, the butler still openmouthed from making the necessary salutation.
Connor blinked. “I understand that Lady Leonora has left already.”
“Oh yes, only moments before you arrived in fact.”
“Right, well …” Connor had smiled as politely as he could manage, given his waning patience. “If you’ll excuse me then, I’ll –”
“Now that you’re here though, I was hoping you might offer me a ride. You see there’s been the most dreadful misunderstanding, which Lady Leonora is doing her best to sort out. She’s just hurried off to tell Lord Vanick not to meet me here as was previously agreed, but to go to Gunther’s instead. It seems –” A loud clatter came from the drawing room. “Mama’s redecorating again … today of all days – it’s a disaster.”
“I er … I see,” Connor muttered, not liking where this was going one bit. “Can’t you entertain his lordship in the music room or perhaps in the garden?”
Lady Rowena’s eyes widened. “I was rather hoping for a bit of romance, Lord Redfirn, not to bear witness to my sister’s music lesson, however lovely it may be, or freeze my toes off outside. No, I’m all set on Gunther’s now, and besides, Lady Leonora has already gone to inform Lord Vanick about the change of plan.”
“I don’t suppose Lady Leonora will be joining you there?”
One could always hope.
“Of course not, my lord. It’s Valentine’s Day for heaven’s sake. I’m sure she has her own plans – with you, I imagine.” A warm smile tugged at Lady Rowena’s lips. “I believe she mentioned visiting the Duchess of Arbergail afterward – perhaps you can join her there. Now, would you please give me a ride over to Gunther’s? The only horse available to me today has just lost a shoe. It will be at least another fifteen minutes before it’s ready and I’d really rather not be late.”
Connor breathed a heavy sigh of defeat. At least he could improve on the day by doing a good deed for someone. “You may take my carriage over to Gunther’s, Lady Rowena. I’ll walk over to the duchess’ home – could do with a bit of fresh air I think.”
After telling his driver to meet him at Arbergail House later, Connor had set out, remembering all too late that he’d left the string quartet at Gunther’s, instructing them to start playing when they spotted his carriage. Well, hopefully Lady Rowena and Lord Vanick would enjoy the music that he and Leonora seemed destined to miss.
He still had the earrings he’d planned on presenting to her later that evening – gold and rubies to match the engagement ring he’d given her. But he’d wanted to do more than that, had wanted to spend the day together in each other’s company. Slim chance of that happening though – it was almost three o’clock now and if she still meant to visit with Lady Arbergail, they’d hardly manage to exchange more than a word or two with each other before heading off to ready themselves for the evening ahead – Much Ado About Nothing, followed by dinner at his house. Lady Amy and Mr. Grenly had been invited to join them for the sake of propriety.
He was just turning onto Hanover Square, determined to make a lovely day of it yet, when it started to rain. Not just a light drizzle that would do no more than dampen his jacket and hat, but a very sudden, torrential downpour that promised to drown him.
Shoes thudding against the pavement, Connor broke into a run, arriving shortly at the duchess’ front door. One rap of the brass knocker and the door was opened by the butler whose outward surprise at seeing a sodden earl on his doorstep was as nonexistent as sunshine breaking through the grey clouds overhead. “By all means, do come in, my lord. I believe Their Graces are in the drawing room.”
“With Lady Leonora by any chance?”
“Err, no. Her ladyship has not yet stopped by today.”
He’d finally beaten her to her destination. Now all he had to do was wait for her here. Perhaps he could even convince Their Graces to allow him a bit of alone time with Leonora – a chance to steal a kiss or two. But when an hour had passed and there was still no sign of the lady in question, he’d started to wonder if she was ever going to arrive. The duchess must have shared his misgivings, saying hesitantly, “I fear Lady Rowena must have been mistaken in her assumption that Lady Leonora would call on me. It would hardly take her this long to drive over from Vanick House. Perhaps she went home instead or ran some other errand. In any case, I think it best if you get yourself home, Lord Redfirn, or you’ll likely catch a chill from those damp clothes and that wouldn’t do at all.”
Connor had been forced to admit that she had a point for although the duke had immediately offered him a brandy to warm his insides and the house was well heated, he’d still felt cold. Admitting defeat, he’d risen and thanked Their Graces for their hospitality.
“Fear not,” the duchess had said. “You will see her tonight at the theatre.”
With a nod, Connor had taken his leave and headed home in pursuit of a warm bath and some dry clothes. Later, with an hour remaining before he had to set out for the theatre, he’d gone to the library and poured himself a Cognac. He’d still felt depressed about the way the day had turned out – not at all the romantic experience he’d been trying to achieve. A knock had sounded at the door and Connor’s valet, Mr. Frost, had appeared. “If I may make a suggestion?” he’d said. “I believe you can still salvage this … err … disaster.”
Straightening, Connor had looked the man squarely in the eye and asked him to elaborate, after which he’d hastily downed the remains of his drink and headed out into the hallway to grab his hat and gloves. There was a reason why he valued Mr. Frost’s service – he would have to ensure that the valet received an appropriate bonus the next time he got paid.
It was precisely seven o’clock when Connor strode into the Duke and Duchess of Arbergail’s theatre box to find Their Graces along with Lady Rowena and Lord Vanick waiting for him. He greeted them each with a bow.
“Thank you so much for lending me your carriage earlier,” Lady Rowena said. “I arrived at Gunther’s right on the heels of Vanick, and to lovely music no less. Of course it started to rain, but by then we were already inside. It was so very romantic, you know, and … well …” Lady Rowena’s eyes sparkled while her cheeks grew pink. “Vanick apparently spoke to my father yesterday at Whites without my knowledge. He has proposed and I have accepted – we are to be married!”
Connor couldn’t help but smile at the young couple - Lady Rowena who looked adoringly at her fiancé as he took her hand in his and placed a kiss upon her knuckles. Apparently Leonora’s efforts had paid off, once again.
The rustle of fabric sounded from behind him and Connor turned to see Grenly with Lady Amy on his arm. The couple parted as they entered the box, revealing a dazzling sight that almost tore the air from Connor’s lungs. There, dressed in the most exquisite gown of slippery, lilac silk, stood Leonora, the smile upon her face and twinkle in her eyes brightening the dimly lit space.
Stepping forward, Connor closed the space between them while everyone else faded into the background. He took her hand in his and placed a kiss upon her knuckles, lingering just half a beat longer than what was considered appropriate. They were to be married after all.
“I’m so sorry I missed you today,” she said, sincerity mingling with regret as she held his gaze. “I understand from the missives I received from you, the duchess and Lady Rowena that you probably chased me all over Mayfair - Lord knows I must have tried your patience, but at least it was for a good cause.”
“Yes, I understand that Lady Rowena and Lord Vanick are affianced.”
“True,” Leonora said, “but that’s not what I’m referring to.”
“I had to pick up the gift I ordered for you.” She smiled secretively. “I think it’s something you’ll like.”
“Coming from you, I know I will treasure it, whatever it may be.” He smiled as he looked into her eyes, the warmth of her gaze washing over him until he felt his heart quicken. With a gentle tug of her arm, he guided her toward her seat – right at the edge of the balcony. Sitting beside her, he waited while the lights dimmed and the music started. It didn’t take long before the theatre buzzed with whispers. This was not the overture everyone expected, and the spectators were probably wondering why a waltz was being played in its stead. Leonora turned her head toward him, eyes glistening with raw emotion, her lips quivering ever so slightly at the edges. “I love you,” she said as her hand found his, squeezing it slightly with gentle reassurance.
It had taken Connor all day to play that piece of music for her, during which he’d wondered many a time if she’d even recall its significance, if she’d even notice that this was a piece that would always stand apart from all the rest. Triumph lifted his spirits as quiet understanding passed between them, a message of pure adoration that he knew would last a lifetime. Leaning toward her, his lips brushed against her ear as he whispered, “And I love you, Nora, forever and always.”
Hours later, Leonora gave Connor a box wrapped in red satin and tied with a black velvet ribbon. Taking his time to savor the moment, he undid the bow with care, allowed the satin to slip away, and then gently pushed back the lid of the box. There, sitting on a cushion of black silk, was a gilded sprig of mistletoe, the very one, Connor realized, underneath which he and Leonora had shared their first kiss. She’d stolen it from him, the cheeky minx, and ensured that like their love, it would last forever.
Thank you so much for reading this short story - I hope you enjoyed it =)
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