Chapter Twenty Two

The staff were waiting at the door as usual. Mrs. McKluskey ushered them through the door. Laura, the house maid, and Alex's valet Thomas immediately came forward to take care of their respective charges. Beth saw the huge undressed Christmas tree in the entrance hall. She had no idea how they would ever get an angel on top of it.

"Nice to have you back Miss." Laura said as she took Beth's things.

"It's lovely to be back. Will you be with me again for this visit?" Beth asked hopefully.

She liked Laura very much and didn't know how comfortable with someone new.

"Yes, the Master has assigned me to you permanently. As long as you have no objections."

Beth looked over to Alex and gave her a grateful smile.

"That is just fine by me. Thank you Laura."

"Thomas, can you have Foster brought to my study as soon as he is free."

"Right away m'lord."

Alex then turned to the housekeeper. "Mrs. Mckluskey, if I could have a word with you straight away."

"Of course m'lord."

Alex came over to Beth. "I have a couple of estate matters to deal with. Could you go with Laura and get settled and I'll come and get you?"

"Yes, see you soon then."

Alex leaned over and kissed her cheek.

Foster and Mrs. Mckluskey stood in front of Alex's desk in her study.

"Is everything prepared?"

Yes m'lord, everything is as you requested," said Foster.

"And the special surprise?"

"All taken care of."

"I'm just nervous that's all, I want it to be perfect."

"It will, you have nothing to worry about." Said Foster.

"Thank you both. I couldn't have managed all this without you."

"You know My Lord? You've come a long way. The change you have made in your life is remarkable. I knew you'd find happiness one day. Mrs. Mckluskey and I are so proud of you and I know your Mother and Father are looking down, at you, as proud as punch. "

Alex got up and gave them both a hug.

"Thank you, you don't know what that means to me. I just hope she says yes!"

"Oh I have no doubt about that. She's a good girl. You couldn't have picked better. It's about time this estate had a mistress again. I'm getting too old to be running after you so much!" Mrs. Mckluskey joked.

Alex could hear the laughing and joking from behind Beth's bedroom door. She was so glad the two young women got on so well. It would ease the transition for Beth into Alex's life.

"Knock! Knock! Can I come in sweetheart?"

"Yes darling."

Alex popped her head round the door and said. "Hello, you ready for some lunch?"

"You know I'm always ready for food!"

Alex laughed as she put her arm round Beth's shoulders and steered her out the door.

"I thought we'd have lunch and then start decorating the tree since Poni and Lotty aren't here till tomorrow. I asked Mrs. Mckluskey to serve us an intimate supper in front of the fire instead of in the dining room. Sound good?"

"Sounds perfect!"

The rest of the afternoon was spent in fun and good humour fixing the tree. At one point Alex looked over at Beth sharing a joke with Laura as they put baubles on the branches. She had never been happier. This young woman had brought warmth and family back to this home. She remembered her Father telling her a wife was the heart of a home and he was right. This young woman was the key to her future and she would never let her go.

Later that evening Beth sat on the rug in front of the fire, her back leaning against Alex. The room was dark and they were staring into the flames.

"Darling, this has been one of the happiest days of my life. There is such joy to be had in anything I do with you, but to share this special time at Christmas is magical."

"Your right, I can't remember when I've had so much fun. You've given me such love since I met you. You've changed my life. Thank you, little bit."

Beth cuddled in tighter to Alex and sighed in utter contentment.

Christmas Eve arrived and the Woodward's along with it. Alex whisked Poni off for a strategy meeting explaining to Beth they needed to talk about the Boxing Day hunt. Beth was more than happy to be left with Lotty and little Kat. They gossiped over all the presents they had bought. Lotty appeared very excited to Beth. She had no idea what the older woman knew what was coming and couldn't wait!

Kat didn't quite understand Christmas fully yet but she picked up on the excitement and knew she was getting some new toys and was as high as a kite.

Later that evening everyone was dressing for dinner. There seemed to be an energy and excitement about the house that Beth couldn't put her finger on. 'Must just be excitement for Christmas.'

Over in Alex's bedroom things were much more frantic. Thomas was helping Alex dress. As he was putting in her cufflinks Alex asked. "The forecast was definitely for snow?"

"Yes m'lord. I'm sure it will come later in the evening."

Alex had been overjoyed that snow had been forecast for this Christmas Eve. It would be that final romantic touch that she needed. Unfortunately the snow had not started yet and this along with the other preparations was making Alex insanely nervous. She pulled at her collar nervously.

"This is too tight! How am I expected to enjoy my evening with this collar throttling me all night?" She combed her hair for the 50th time since she had gotten ready, thinking it was out of place but in reality she had enough Brylcreem in it that her hair might never move again. Thomas stopped trying to fix her bow tie as she was moving around too much.

"May I speak freely m'lord?"

"Of course, Thomas. We've known each other long enough."

"I think you need to take a few deep breaths, light a cigarette and I'll bring you a brandy. You'll feel a lot better. You have organised a wonderful evening for Miss. Beth and I don't think you have to worry about her answer. You only have to see the way she looks at you to know how she feels. I think I can speak for all the staff when I say she is a wonderful woman who will make you happy. We all like her very much m'lord and she will make a wonderful Mistress of this house."

Alex clapped Thomas on the back and said. "Thank you. That was exactly the pep talk I needed. I think you should order me that brandy all the same!" They laughed.

"Right away m'lord."

Alex looked across the table at Beth. She looked radiant. She had chosen her black evening gown to wear. The young woman seemed to have a natural elegance whether she wore expensive clothes or cheap. Alex couldn't wait until Beth would be frequenting London designers for her wardrobe. She knew Beth and Lotty would have such fun filling up her wardrobe with the latest designer creations.

Beth looked up and caught her adoring look and smiled. Dinner had been wonderful. Earlier in the meal Alex had looked nervous and looking back and forth to the windows, then exclaimed. "It's snowing!"

Poni had chipped in. "A toast to the snow!" and the three friends laughed.

Beth was lost but let it go. Alex had relaxed a great deal after this for some reason. After dinner they all retired to the drawing room. That was unusual. Normally after dinner Lotty and herself would excuse themselves and go to the drawing room, leaving Alex and Poni to enjoy a brandy and cigars.

Before they sat down Alex said, "Would you like to get a breath of air on the patio sweetheart and look at the snow?"

"You are very excited by snow all of a sudden! It'll be very cold."

"Please, humour me for just a little while."

"All right, are you joining us, you two?"

"I think we'll just cosy up together here," they smirked.

Alex took her hand and steered her out of the fresh widows onto the patio. Beth gasped as walked out. The patio and surrounding walls had candles everywhere.

"This is beautiful darling. What's all this for?"

"Oh, just to make our first Christmas Eve special. Do you think it is?"

"It's so romantic! The candles and the snow! So pretty."

"There's more. Come here." Alex pulled her into her arms. Alex raised her arm and music began to play. From round the corner a violinist and singer appeared. Beth was stunned as they started to play the first song they danced to at the Alley Cat, Dearly Beloved.

"How...? wh ...?"

Alex pressed a finger to Beth's lips. "No questions. Just dance with me."

Beth laid her head against Alex's chest as Alex danced them around the patio in the candlelight with the snow gently falling around them. The singer started.

Tell me it's true,

Tell me you agree,

I was meant for you,

You were meant for me.

Dearly beloved, how clearly I see,

Somewhere in heaven you were fashioned for me,

Angel eyes knew you,

Angel voices led me to you;

Nothing could save me,

Fate gave me a sign;

I know that I'll be yours come shower or shine;

So I say merely,

Dearly beloved be mine.

As the chorus started up again, Alex stopped dancing. She went into her pocket for the box she would need and dropped to one knee. She looked up at Beth and smiled. She opened the box. "Miss. Elizabeth Bentley. You have brought love and joy to my life. Please say you will be mine forever and consent to be my wife? Will you marry me?"

Beth's hand was clamped over her mouth. She was in shock. She had never experienced anything as perfect and romantic in her life. The stunned silence went on for what felt like hours to Alex then finally she heard Beth say.

"Yes! Oh yes Alex! I would love to be your wife!"

Alex released the breath she was holding, slipped the ring onto Beth's finger and stood up to scoop her into her arms and spin her round.

"Thank you so much sweetheart! You will never regret this. I will treasure you each day of our lives together!"

They kissed long and deep. Alex raised her arm again and suddenly fireworks were exploding over head in the night sky. It was an amazing sight.

"Alex, this is the most wonderful moment of my life. Thank you for making it so special. I love you."

"I love you little bit."

Just then Poni and Lotty joined them on the patio bearing glasses of champagne. Mrs. Mckluskey, Foster, Thomas, Laura, Charlie , Liz and Ella also joined them. Kisses and congratulations were shared between the friends. When Beth got a chance to properly look at her ring she was astonished. The diamond was big, but it was set in a simple manner. It was just how she would have picked herself. She kissed Alex.

"Darling this ring is out of this world! You have spoilt me too much again."

"Nonsense! Only the best for my future wife. You're only going to have one engagement ring this lifetime so it has to be the best!" Alex went on to tell her of the special nature of the diamond.

"The Rutherford diamond? Goodness me! I love you more than anything in the world. Thank you for this special evening. I'll remember it for the rest of my life."

"I propose a toast." Poni said. "To the future Lord and Lady Dalton!"

"Lord and Lady Dalton!" the staff and friends replied.

The celebrations continued into the night.

Later that night Alex escorted her new fiancé to her room. When they reached the door Beth said. "Can you come in for a few minutes? I have something I want to give you."

"Of course."

They stepped into the room. Beth went into the dressing table drawer and retrieved a small gift wrapped box.

"I was going to give you this with your other gifts tomorrow, but after tonight I think it's appropriate that you have it tonight. Open it."

Alex looked at her quizzically and started to open it up. She took Beth's father's watch out of the box and looked up.

"I can't accept this. This is all you have left of your father."

"My mother gave this to my father when they were married. They were soul mates and I only dreamt about finding that sort of love but I have with you. Read the inscription, I know you must have studied Latin at that fancy boarding school of yours."

"Ego dilecto meo et dialects meus." Alex read. "'I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine.' That is beautiful little bit, from the Song of Solomon isn't it?"

"Yes, that says what you are to me and you have completed my life. It's the most precious thing I can give you and I would love you to wear it and use it every day as a sign of my commitment."

"Then I would be honoured. I will treasure your gift. I can't wait to start my life with you, little bit and tomorrow we will start to plan for our future."

They kissed sweetly. A perfect end to a perfect night.

The End.