"What are you talking about Tally?" I was confused and enraged. He had expected me to follow him and act like this?
"Well, isn't this what we had planned? Didn't we say we would go North and live out the war here?" He looked upset and as if I had forgotten something important.
"Of course Tally, but that's over. You made sure of that when you ran away with Moira. Is this her grandparents' house? It really is quite nice. I understand now why you felt that maybe money had more to offer you than quality of character." Understandably, I was angry. Here we were sitting in this lovely house and he was feigning innocence.
"I went nowhere with Moira, Araine. I don't even know what you are referring to," his eyebrows knitted close together as he spoke.
"I received a letter only days after you left Whitmore saying that you and Moira had eloped to Maryland and that you're living here with her grandparents. Are you saying this is untrue?"
"Ariane, I had no idea. I mean, I have seen Moira in town a few times once here. But I hadn't realized that she wrote home that we had eloped. We haven't Ariane. You know I couldn't. We're married."
"But if you could, would you?" My question was too quick and sharp off my tongue and he looked strangely at me.
"Ariane, do you want me to be completely honest with you?" When he saw me nod my head he continued. "You and Moira are complete opposites. And I'm not lying when I say that choosing between the two of you was hard. You both had so much to offer. And it is going to make it hard on us having no income whatsoever as my father has given the lands to my younger brother after he heard I had come here to my aunt's house. And Moira has so much now that you have been disinherited as well. She may have some character flaws, but I could have learned to live with her."
"Sign this please." I handed him the annulment papers. Learn to live with someone you didn't really love. That was ridiculous, at least in my mind.
"Ariane, you're in jest. Why would I sign these? You're not upset over what I just said are you? I didn't think that you were like that honey."
"Just sign them."
As I left the house, I saw two horses ride into Baltimore. Mabs, holding my parasol, saw them too. Exhaustion had overwhelmed me as I left Tally's house, the papers in hand, to go to the church. I only hoped that the riders had not spotted me yet.
But, if wishes were horses beggars would ride. They headed in my direction, not wavering in the least. And when they stopped right before me I couldn't help but sigh, somewhat out of relief.
"What are those?" Rowan pointed to the papers in my hand.
"We need to go to the church. Immediately." And with that Slone reached down and pulled me up into the saddle in front of him. Mabs nodded to us and walked across the street to the inn where we were staying.
Rowan didn't speak at all. This wasn't the discovery he had envisioned. He began to brood. Had he come all this way just to find that Ariane had married that cavalier and that his only chance for happiness was gone forever? Snatched right out from under him. He looked away from her and happened to see Mabs standing just at the door of the inn. She winked at him. And Rowan made the resolution (or at least strengthened it) that he would do anything to make sure Ariane was his.
They pulled up right before the church and Ariane went to the door. Slone made a move as if to go with her, but she shook her head. "Just wait here."
"Do you think they are married?" Slone asked his friend. He surveyed Rowan warily. It was obvious there was something there between Row and Ariane. He knew that he hadn't imagined what he had seen that day at the picnic.
"I don't know. But I do know that no matter what happened, Ariane will somehow be mine." That was when Row saw her come out from the church, looking different from before.
I had finally achieved my goal all along. The marriage was annulled. I had the papers. Baltimore had the papers. And most importantly, I had a clean slate.
How had I ever thought that I could marry Tally? In the beginning there were things about him that made me love him, but now that I look back it's the South that I love and what he embodied of it. Probably if there had been no war, if Slone had never come, I would have been happy to live my life out on a plantation with Tally. But I knew that could never make me content now.
Rowan was the one who reached down and drew me into the saddle in front of him.
Slone looked at me and finally came to the conclusion that he voiced out loud, "We'll talk about this when we get back to the inn."
Finally back at the inn, with a cup of hot tea before me I told all.
"Then were those marriage papers? You're going to stay with him?" Slone was confused. He had interjected before I finished my part of the story.
"No Slone, I couldn't stay married to Tally and still be true to myself. Those were annulment papers."
Rowan grinned at that. Of course, I didn't see that because Slone industriously kicked him under the table as he reached across to grab my hand.
"Well then, it would appear that we can return to Whitmore. Mariah will be happy to have you returned to her in one piece. Though of all of us she had the most confidence in your abilities," Slone added as an afterthought. But that was when he was tapped on the shoulder by another man, one who carried a thick letter that looked (at least to me) quite forbidding.
"Sir, you would be Slone Kennedy?" When my brother nodded, he was handed the letter.
There was a preface to it by Mariah, who knew by some fluke that his destination was Baltimore. It was a dispatch from the Queen. An important one.
As Slone read it, his face changed emotions as quickly as his eyes scanned each sentence.
Finally he looked up with a smile at Rowan. "It would appear, my friend, that your expertise is needed aboard the Renown, lately docked in Baltimore Harbor. I believe that the captain fell ill on his return from the Indies and that the admiralty found you, as you were already on the continent, most qualified for the position. That is, if you will have it. Thought you don't have much choice," Slone grinned.
"A chance to prove your worth and quality," I added with a smile to Rowan. Those two things always appealed to a younger son.
"Yes, but at what cost to my happiness?" His voice was strong and his eyes rested on me as he spoke.
Slone looked between us. "Then what do you propose to do Rowan? Desert? I can't in good conscience tell the admiralty you just disappeared when I know for a fact you're in Savannah with my sister."
I looked to Rowan, "You have to go. There's no choice, it's your duty. And we all must do our duties."
Rowan reached for my cheek and turned me so that our eyes met, "There is one choice. Come with me Ariane. Don't stay here. There's nothing left for you. Your life as you knew it will never return."
I looked to Slone and he smiled at me. "One hasty marriage, an annulment. All to be followed by another marriage. How will I ever explain this?"
I smiled at that. "You won't have to. I'll be gone. And for all anyone knows, I ran away to Baltimore to go with Row. You managed to track us down and found that we were already married and gave us your blessing."
Slone looked affronted, "Why of course I gave you my blessing! But first, you must be married."
And for the second time that day I found myself in front of Rowan in the saddle.