- - -
He was doing the right thing…He was doing the right thing…He was, he was sure, doing the right thing…Bugger was he doing the right thing?
She was all he could think about, his mind rehashed every word, every look every tiny little gesture. It would take more than those four double brandies he downed to wash them away. If he closed his eyes she was there, imprinted, perfect for all time a wonderful, terrible, heart aching memory. But was that what he wanted, just the memory or did he want more? Forget that of course he wanted more. In an ideal would he would have wanted her in his arms that instant, wanted to take her to his bed that night and wake up with her the next morning. He wanted to see his child grow within her and spend his years watching their family grow and change by her side. But it was not an ideal world and things had been left to late for them to change it now. And yet…
"Walter will you please pay attention." A decidedly un-amused female voice hissed like a scolded goose.
Suddenly dragged from his day dream the former butler glanced around, catching in one sweep his bride's far from amused expression scowling out at him from under her veil and the barely concealed titters of the congregation.
"Oh sorry." He muttered although he might have slurred a little as he said it earning him a scathing look from the vicar. "Where were we?"
"Do you Walter Corey take Amelia Francis Applegate to be you lawfully wedded wife will you honour and keep her, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health and forsaking all others keep yourself only unto her for as long as you both shall live?"
The pause was deafening.
And yet Walter still couldn't answer, there were at least a hundred people staring at the back of his head, one bride glaring daggers at the side of his face and know knowing Vicar staring directly into his eyes.
"Are you quite well Mr Corey?….Excuse us the groom is unwell here come with me…" The clergyman insisted assisting the panicking bridegroom through to his vestry leaving an irate Amelia behind at the alter.
"Perhaps you had better get it off your chest my son."
"I don't know what…"
"Come now I have seen happier faces at a funeral, why are you so conflicted? The last time I saw you and Miss Applegate you seemed most content and looking forward to the wedding so what has happened to change that?"
"I had a visitor this morning, they revealed things that I hadn't been aware of, not just about themselves but about myself…Feelings I didn't even know I had and…"
"Ah another woman." The vicar added now understanding just what the dilemma was. "You have feelings for her?
"I don't know…No I do know damn it she is the most infuriating creature on the planet who else would wait till the day a man is to marry another woman to tell him she's in love with him, has been for years…"
"I see so you have known her a long time."
"Over five years."
"And neither of you broached the subject of a relationship before?"
Shaking his head Walter stared at the stone floor. "It would have been too complicated, we were colleagues, then friends, then over the last year I don't know what, adversaries perhaps."
"All the time, it was hardly an ideal basis for anything more." Walter added. "A marriage needs more, a mutual respect and admiration, compatible personalities…"
"And passion?" The Reverend interjected.
"That is a rather unusual thing for a man of a cloth to say, I doubt most of the people you marry would claim passion as their main reason for marrying."
"You would be surprised my boy." The vicar quipped taking the chair opposite Walter as if they had all the time in the world and there was not an entire church full of people waiting for them. "I have seen many weddings, some for love and some for many many other reasons, but it is only the ones with love and passion that you can in truth call a marriage, the rest are simply contracts drawn up for the mutual benefit of both parties. I am afraid that your wedding to Miss Applegate would now be one of the latter."
"You do see a lot Reverend."
"That is my job…Now this other lady of yours I sense passion there, it is in your voice when you speak. Tell me I am wrong?"
"You're not wrong, there is plenty of that." Walter agreed a wry smile tugging at his lips. "I don't know whether I want to strangle her or kiss her most of the time."
"Then I believe you have your answer my boy, I could not with an easy conscience join in you marriage to another when you heart is elsewhere and now I think neither can you…"
"But I gave my word!"
Waving Walter's concern away the Vicar stood stretching out his old bones. "Yes you did, but do you not think it a greater kindness to break your word than doom that poor girl to life with a man who can never love her?"
"You do not know that! Love could grow, it has happened with other couples."
"Yes in a few rare cases true love has grown between strangers joined in matrimony the lord after all does work in mysterious ways, but I have yet to find it occurs where one of the pair is in love with someone else. In those cases jealousy and resentment takes hold and it tears the household down the middle affecting everyone, especially any children. Be a man now decide what it is you really want, if it is still Miss Applegate then I will not stand in your way but make the right choice."
Nodding Walter watched as the vicar went out to fetch Amelia, just what on earth was he going to do?
- - -
Brushing away the tears that still trickled down her cheek Flora Ryan paused in her packing to glance over at her mirror, taking in her red eyes, tear blotched cheeks and runny nose.
"What a beauty if only Walter could see you now what a lucky escape he would be congratulating himself on."
Glancing over at the small carriage clock that sat on the mantelpiece she could just picture it now. They would be at their reception, the bride in her flowing lace gown, Walter in his mourning suit as he danced his beloved bride around the floor. Flora had never actually seen Miss Applegate but she had pictured her in her mind. Young, petite, blonde ringlets that bounced when she talked and big blue eyes that stared up at her beloved Walter filled with adoration, oh and money, enough money that he would never have to work hard again in his life unless he wanted to. How could she ever compete with that?
"Too thin…Too pale…Too old…and bags…" She muttered pulling faces in the mirror. "Who on earth would ever want me?"
"Good point, perhaps I should go back to church maybe Amelia might take me back if I asked nicely?"
Whirling round Flora came face to face with a very sober Walter Corey, he took in her tearstained face and he flinched.
"What are you doing here…Shouldn't you be off living happy ever after with your little princess?"
Slinging his jacket down on top of her open trunk Walter stepped further into the room shutting the door behind him with a definite click. "For once in your life woman just hush!" Stunned Flora stepped back her mouth gaping but no words coming out. "See now that's better, you could be such a pleasant woman if you just learnt when to stop…At least you took my advice about getting the hell out of here…Now where were we, oh yes my bride, well I hardly think it is fitting to call her that now…"
"Your wife you mean."
"Flora we are never going to get anywhere if you keep interrupting, now listen I do not have a wife."
"Again with the talking, do I have to find someway of silencing you, a gag perhaps?"
Biting down her lip Flora waited in silence, her heart beating so loudly that she could feel it through her ribcage.
"Sure you haven't got something you want to ask?" Walter teased closing the distance between them and threading his arms around her waist, his smile growing when she shook her head waiting for him to continue. "Not even a little question?" He waited watching as the housekeeper's impatience grew.
"Oh for god's sak…" Flora began but was suddenly silenced by his lips crashing down and cutting her off mid sentence.
"hmmm better than a gag I think…" Walter murmured before kissing her again this time deepening it and pulling her firmly against him.
"Walter stop…Tell me…I refuse to be your mistress." Flora managed to gasp out in between kisses.
"No that is not a title that would suit you." Walter replied seriously running his fingers across her cheek. "And for the record you are not too thin or too pale, you are not too tall you are elegant and willowy and the bags will go after a good night's sleep."
Smiling Flora lent her head against his shoulder revelling in the strength of his embrace. "Thank you…So what would suit me?"
"Hmmmm?" Walter murmured running his fingers through her hair. "Oh how about beloved wife and then later mother? Or mama if you prefer?"
"You mean it? You're not joking?"
"Lady love I never joke about such things."
"No Buts Flora." Walter joked. "Besides since you were the one who got me into this mess it is the least you owe me, shall we say one child for every year of misery you put me through…"
"Five…If you want that many you can have them all by yourself." Flora retorted slapping his sharply on the arm.
"Alright we start with one and see how things go. Now Little miss don't you think you should be off to bed, I need to find a certain chef and grovel my apologies until he allows me to bunk in his room, it seems I don't have a bed of my own here anymore. Most annoying of Mr Adams do you think he would jump in my grave so quick?"
"Probably." Flora retorted threading her arms around his neck. "It seems a shame though…our last night at Taplows we should mark it somehow."
"My asking you to marry me isn't enough for you?"
"Oh well that was nice of course but…"
"But?" Walter scoffed in amazement. "What more could you possibly want?"
"Oh I don't know perhaps a free sample of the goods before I buy…" Flora retorted catching the edge of his cravat and pulling him in for a kiss. "Any good housekeeper could tell you that!"
- - -