Chapter 6

June 7, 2013

The Lady Is Won

Much to the surprise of Royce Summerville—and the entirety of the ton—Savannah Wrightwaite not only agreed to be his bride, but actually arrived at the church for the wedding. Not a soul that could fit inside was prepared to miss the ceremony, not after the surprising turn of events that led to it. Nor were the ones waiting outside, however, they made due with the knowledge that they were present at the event.

First of all, Summerville wasted no time having someone collect his uncle and stripping the room—nay the house—of most traces of the odious man. Some said with flagrant disrespect to the dead and his “family”. Which led Royce to dispose of them faster, at one point sending invitations to a bonfire on the estate’s beach. Several attended, including Lady Savannah, whom Royce spent much of the night entertaining with touches of his hand to her face and laughter in his tone. As he had long ago passed the rating of Scandalous, the depraved Earl was also the most sought after invitation of the season.

The Summerville historical items, however, Royce took great pleasure in finally being able to touch and know. Word was immediately sent to his mother to come to Summerville—she was present for the bonfire—and she quickly took over the dowager home, a vast improvement to her previous state in life. Thankfully, the mostly relieved members of the Earl’s (deceased) household were more than willing to retire to various other households of the Summerville family, promising to care for them for Royce, and they went with his blessing—many taking the young maids who’s children bore the most visible stamp of Summerville: sniffles and dark hair.

Sadly, by the time the Ton discovered the dispersal of the Summerville daughters, it was widely believed that Royce had merely turned them out of their ancestral home with naught but wishes for a well lived future.

When Royce insisted on providing an excellent barrister for the murderer of his uncle, it was then decreed that he was the Lord Demon himself.

Listing the banns for himself and Lady Savannah—reportedly without actually asking the Lady to be his bride—however, was what proved it. The Lady was visibly aggravated, having seen the paper while shopping Bond Street and shortly thereafter shredded it before stomping on it twice and all but daring someone to follow her out into the busy street. According to many servants who breathlessly couriered missives between Summerville and Wrightwaite House, there was a flurry of messages back and forth for days. Finally, angry and all but frothing at the mouth—words only a Wrightwaite butler would feel comfortable uttering when deep in his cups, not that this author takes any responsibility for that—the Lord Earl arrived at Wrightwaite House late in the night and set up a racket by storming in as if the house were his. Then he stomped up to Lady Savannah’s room where an argument of undefined proportions ran long into the night. Said butler, however, was wagging his eyebrows meaningfully as to what the argument may have been about. All he would admit was that furniture was moved, the Lord left at sunrise and the Lady not only broke her fast with a largely stoned ring upon her finger, but a smile that lasted three days.

It was the longest period of time that anyone had seen Lady Savannah go without arguing.

The engagement was short, though it did not require a special license—a good many claimed it should have, but no one dared mention as much to Lord Summerville. Within a month, Royce Summerville waited at the church to claim his bride. Resplendent in a beautiful white gown, the bride arrived, said her vows and became Lady Savannah Summerville. It was all rather peaceful and lovely.

To say the crowd was disappointed was an understatement.

However, the Summervilles retired to their estate and promptly retired to their bedchambers.

Which was where they lay, sated and nibbling on cheeses, when the Lady finally asked her husband a question. “Why did you steal?”

Royce sighed, toying with the long curling masses of his wife’s hair. “I should ask the same of you, Blossom.”

“But I know why I stole.”

He mused for a while, most likely debating if he were fit to seduce her and shut her up, but such was not the case—his Lady had chosen her time to speak wisely. “My uncle cut my mother’s funds when he met me. He assumed I could never be a Summerville and as such, went to great pains to leave her penniless and destitute.”

Savannah looked up at him. “Is that to say you are a Summerville?”

His brow turned grim. “Do not tell me you believe all the stories.

“I actually do not know all the stories, only the myths which you used to your own ends.”

Placated, the Earl returned to toying with her hair. “Yes, my dear, I am my father’s son. It just so happens that he wasn’t as unhealthy as his cousin. I suspect there was less care with the breeding of only bluebloods by the time my father came around. He chose a French woman of wondrous health and spawned me. I have the birthmark to prove it, but alas, no one has much interest in truth when it comes to this family.”

“A mark?”

“A large splot of brown, looks rather like spilled ink. I had an uncle with the misfortune of having it on his face. His marriage, you can imagine, was arranged.”

“So your uncle financially destroyed your mother and you…because he didn’t like your hair.”

“Or my ability to breathe clearly, but that might have just been jealousy.” He smiled into the crown of her head while she grew indignant at the injustice.

A while later, she remembered what she’d been asking about. “When did you begin to steal?”

“Oh that. I was eight. I found a purse and returned it to the Lady. She gave me a reward. So began my life of crime.”

“But that’s not a crime.”

“Of course it is. The way I began doing it. Fraud, if you must know. I was hired out to steal things and return them to their owners, who kept their cherished jewels…and the money they had it insured for.”

“You…faker!” she cried, truly irritated now and pushing at his shoulder until he had to roll above her to stop her thrashing. “You’ve been stealing with permission! All this time I thought you were the better thief, but you had the way cleared for you!”

“Don’t be jealous, Blossom. You’re an excellent thief.”

“I know that!” she snapped, not willing to be soothed. “But you…you’re…oh, this is a mess.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, I…” She chewed her lip in that way that made him forget all about jewels. “I started stealing to see what would happen. I could buy anything, but it was so much more a challenge to take it. I simply never was caught. Not until you. I thought…I thought it made us two of a kind.”

“But we are, Blossom,” he soothed. “You think I don’t know you returned your prizes? Every single one.”

She batted her tears away. “There was no point in keeping them. I don’t care about jewels, I care about the challenge.” She studied him sadly. “But if you weren’t smart enough to outwit me, what good will our marriage be? I shall eventually get bored of you and your lackwitness. Then where will we be?”

He chuckled. “I never imagined being called stupid would be so arousing.”

“Royce!”

“I wouldn’t worry about boredom, Blossom. I’m just as devious as you are and if you like, I shall spend the rest of our lives proving it. When the children come along-”

“Who said anything about children?”

He ignored her. “I imagine it will take the both of us to stay on top of them. They say there’s not a bigger challenge in the world than raising children and ours will be more challenging than most. Strapping boys with brilliant minds. Dangerous combination, that. Almost as dangerous as a beautiful woman with a deadly intent.”

“My only intent was to get the better of you, my Lord,” she murmured, a small smile on her face, the softness returning to her limbs.

“Then be reassured, my Lady,” he said with a smile as he met her lips with his own, smile to smile. “For in this and any other request you make…you shall always have my best.”

And to his dying day, nearly fifty years later, while she held his hand, their lives having been full of adventure, laughter and many, many children, that is exactly what the Lady received.

 

Chapters

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