Wedding Wagers(116)

By: Donna Hatch

“And we request your presence at our wedding, Saturday next,” Sherborne said. “Providing I can keep myself out of trouble between now and then.”

Eli caught Emily’s eye. “A man can do a lot of things for love.”

Moonlight shone through the bedroom window and the open curtains flapped gently in the breeze as Eli looked down on his wife. With care he brushed the strands of hair from her face then leaned over and whispered, “Emily.”

She stirred at once, responding to him in sleep much as she had when awake. He marveled to think of it, how in the two weeks of their marriage she had been both trusting of him and giving of herself, stepping willingly into this new life. She was everything he had imagined her to be and more.

Her hand came up to touch his cheek. “Are you having a nightmare?”

His heart squeezed then expanded at her concern, and he recognized the feeling. His love for her had grown a little more.

“Quite the opposite.” He took Emily’s hand from his face and pressed his lips to her wrist then proceeded to work his kisses up her arm to the bend of her elbow.

She giggled. “Oh. I see.”

“Not yet, you haven’t.” He flung the covers away from both of them then jumped from the bed and held a hand out to her. “Come on.”

“Where are we going?” She rose, and he helped her into the same dressing gown she’d worn that night in the stables. It seemed very fitting to him that she should be wearing the same garment tonight that she had when hope of a future with her had first presented itself.

“To see Claymere. It is most glorious in full moonlight.”

He pulled her from the room and they left the cottage, starting up the same path they’d traversed a few times already today. A short ways down it they encountered the dipper and pail still on the ground where they had been tossed aside. Eli thought he might leave them there permanently, as a reminder of a particularly sweet memory.

They left the roses and the confines of the property that adjoined the gardener’s cottage and wandered up the hill toward Claymere Manor. Though steps carved into the hillside made the climbing easier, it was still steep, and by the time they reached the top Emily was breathing heavily.

“All right?” he asked, stopping so she might catch her breath.

She nodded. Her face was flushed, but they’d just a little farther to go, so he continued on, following an overgrown pathway until they reached a terrace garden.

“This is as far as we’ll go,” Eli said as Emily collapsed on a bench. From this vantage point, about two-thirds of the distance to the manor, they could see in all directions. Behind them, at the top of another, smaller hill, overlooking all, stood the house, a grand building with a pillared front and circular drive. Eli had pointed out the front of it to her before, from the road below, which had a more gradual slope on which teams and carriages might travel.

“We’ve come up the foot path, the back way.” He sat beside her.

“The way your father snuck down to see your mother?” Emily asked as she snuggled into the crook of his arm.

“Yes. How did you know?”

“It would take true love to traverse those steps often.”

He laughed, pulled her closer, and kissed the top of her head. “No sneaking for us.”

Eli shifted his gaze down the hill, to the stone cottage, so covered with ivy it blended almost seamlessly into the surrounding garden. “The cottage will always be ours—whether we live there or not. We’ll keep it as our special place, somewhere we can escape to whenever we wish.”

“I like that idea.” Emily sat up and turned to him. “We don’t have to live in the manor, Eli. It just—seemed right that you should have all this. It was your parents’ place and their dream.”

“I am no longer concerned with their dream, but mine, right here.” He took Emily’s face in his hands and kissed her, long and slow. Moonlight spilled over the garden, seeming to rest just over them, over her, illuminating all that was good and beautiful within.

“I think,” he said, quite seriously, “that I would wager my entire life to have had this night with you.”

“Fortunately.” She kissed him once more. “You don’t have to.”

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