“Even with all my foibles and peculiarities, it appears that the duke has become somewhat enamored with me,” Catherine laughed, seeing the astonishment on her mother’s face, which was swiftly followed with a broad smile. “Yes, Mama, it seems that you are to have your wish at last.” Her heart lifted, her face shining with joy. “If you will permit it, Mama, then I will soon marry the Duke of Blackwell.”
“Good afternoon, Your Grace.”
Catherine hid a smile as her mother greeted the duke, aware that her mother was still quite overcome with all that had occurred, even though it was now two days since the Gold Cup had come to a close.
“Thank you very much for allowing me to call on you, Lady Whitehaven,” the duke replied, bowing low over Lady Whitehaven’s hand. “I understand from your daughter that you are very glad to have her returned home at last.”
Lady Whitehaven shot Catherine a look that said a good deal more than her response to the duke. Catherine smiled meekly, recalling how many sharp words had been sent in her direction since she had returned home, for her mother had not held back from berating Catherine for her foolish and reckless behavior, even though it had brought with it some excellent and agreeable outcomes.
“I am delighted to have her back home safely, yes,” Catherine’s mother replied, gracious and considerate, as she gestured for the duke to sit down. “I was in something of a state over her disappearance, I confess.”
Catherine winced, recalling just how upset and confused her mother had been and feeling fairly guilty still over her lack of consideration for her mother’s frantic state. Thankfully, Lady Whitehaven had told Catherine only this morning that she had quite forgiven her, stating that whilst she could not condone what Catherine had done, she could understand it and was glad that she had found someone with such understanding and consideration thereafter. Catherine had silently thought to herself that her mother would not have been so quick to forgive had it not been for the fact that Duke of Blackwell had made his intentions clear. Had she returned home without anything other than an apology, then Lady Whitehaven’s reaction would, most likely, have been very different.
“I am sorry for the part I played in that,” the duke replied, as Dinah rose to ring for tea. “But I cannot help but think that, without your daughter’s tenacity, I might never have found so much happiness.” Looking up at her, he smiled tenderly and sent a flush straight to Catherine’s cheeks. “I was quite set on being a bachelor for some time yet – much to the chagrin of my mother, I might add – and then, for reasons I could not understand, such an idea became almost repugnant to me.” He held Catherine’s gaze as he spoke, leaving her feeling as though she were the only one in the room, the only one of any importance. “I could not imagine being without her. I could not abide the thought of having her gone from me.” Pressing his lips together, he turned back to look at Lady Whitehaven. “Which is why I must ask you, Lady Whitehaven, if I have your permission to marry your daughter.”
Catherine held her breath, knowing full well that it was foolish to feel so anxious when her mother was not likely to refuse the duke, but still feeling the need to do so nonetheless.
Lady Whitehaven, however, looked utterly enchanted by the duke. Her smile was already present, her eyes bright with happiness.
“I have no doubt that you will make each other very happy indeed,” she replied, rising to her feet and coming across to the duke so that she might press his hand. He rose immediately also, taking Lady Whitehaven’s hand in his and inclining his head again. “I know that my son, the new Lord Whitehaven, will have no objections whatsoever.”
“Thank you, Lady Whitehaven,” the duke replied, sounding more relieved than Catherine had expected him to. “I promise that I shall spend my life doing all I can to ensure that Catherine is happy and content and able to live her life as she chooses.”[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======
Lady Whitehaven chuckled and dropped the duke’s hand. “I am quite certain that you
shall be able to do so without any difficulty,” she replied, coming to embrace Catherine. “My daughter is clearly enamored with you, if you do not mind me saying so, and I can see that your shared passion will only bring you closer together. Although,” she added, beginning to make her way towards the door, “I do hope this will mean that Catherine will never again have need to dress in her brother’s clothes!” She laughed as Catherine and the duke exchanged a long look, a twinkle appearing in the duke’s eye. “Just allow me a few minutes to call Dinah. She should be here for this news.”
The door was left ajar but Lady Whitehaven had obviously left them alone for a short time, which was something Catherine appreciated. With a long sigh of happiness, she came towards the duke and walked directly into his open arms.
“My dear lady,” the duke breathed, as though he had been apart from her for some time, when in fact, it had only been a little longer than one day. “I have missed you so.”
“And I you,” Catherine replied, leaning into him all the more and resting her head on his shoulder. A feeling of contentment settled over her, leaving her feeling as though this was the only place she ever needed to be. “I find that I look forward to returning to your estate – and to Beauchamp, of course.”
The duke’s chest rumbled with laughter. “I am quite certain the horse misses you also, my love,” he replied, his arms encircling her waist. “Although you shall have no need to reside in the servants’ quarters any longer.” He looked down at her as Catherine raised her eyes to his. “It shall be your home.”
The thought of living in the estate as husband and wife filled Catherine with such overwhelming joy that, for a moment, she could not speak. The duke lifted one hand and brushed it gently down her cheek, making her heart leap wildly.
“How long must we wait until our wedding day?” she asked, seeing his lips quirk. “The banns can be called this Sunday, can they not?”
The duke chuckled but nodded. “I am as eager as you to make you my bride,” he answered. “I think in three short weeks, my love, we shall find ourselves standing before God and man, ready to make our vows.” Leaning down, he kissed her cheek but did not lift his head completely. “That does not seem too long, does it?”
“It seems much too long,” Catherine replied with a wry smile. “But I shall find a way to endure it.”
“And I shall call upon you every day,” he told her, his head still low, his nearness capturing her in every way. “I cannot be apart from you now, Catherine, not when you have become so very dear to me.”
Catherine, her eyes and her heart filled with nothing but the duke, sighed contentedly and tipped her head back a little more, feeling her heart overflowing with love for the gentleman who now held her so tenderly in his arms. He had given her so much, more than she had even allowed herself to dream of, and now she was going to be his bride. Her future stretched out in front of her, bright and filled with days of joy and contentment with the duke by her side, her ever-loving husband. They would ride across the estate grounds side by side, and he would forever be her stalwart, her supporter, and her defender.
“I love you most ardently, Catherine,” the duke murmured, as she wrapped her arms about his neck, her fingers twining through his hair.
“And I love you, Blackwell,” she replied, before bringing her lips to his and delighting, once more, in his loving embrace.