The Barvolt Mansion
Twelve-and-a-half Years Later
“Mother?” Eleanor’s daughter of six years, Charlotte, asked.
“Why are you looking at that dress?”
“Because it was the one I wore when I got married to your father,” Eleanor replied.
She ran her hands over the bodice of the dress that, after its first use, had never been worn again. Her wedding dress was a work of art. Crafted in France, the dress was pale blue with silver accents. Against all tradition, the neck was high and was laced at the back like a corset.
Eleanor remembered how the trails of the dress had whispered on the Aubusson runner lining the house’s solarium as she had walked down it. She remembered how the open room had been lined with white lilies on beds of green leaves. At the end of the carpet was the bishop of the parish in his officiant robes beside Aaron and Julius who stood in dapper dark suits. Lady Darcy Wilcox, whose son was now thirteen-years-old, had been a step behind her, with her hand on her belly.
That day had been the best day of her life. After all the pain and tumultuous feelings that had come with her father’s betrayal, Eleanor had leaned on Aaron’s strength for many months. She had finally gotten over the bulk of the pain when she and Aaron had gone to her mother’s grave.
Charlotte’s blue-green eyes were thoughtful and Eleanor patiently waited for the child’s question. “If you have your dress Mother, does Father have his too?”
“His suit?” Eleanor assisted her. “A man wears a suit, darling, only women wear dresses.”
“Does he, then?”
“Yes, darling,” Aaron’s said as he came into the room. “Yes, I still have mine.”
Eleanor rose from her spot on the chaise, placed the dress on the arm and kissed her husband on the cheek. She then slid her hands under the lapels of his greatcoat as he let go of Charlotte’s hand for it to be slipped off, “How was today?”
For the past week and a half, Aaron had been spent many days and half of the nights sorting out a shipping mistake with his trading company. Eleanor had gotten tired of seeing the dark circles under his eyes and feeling him tumble into bed to sleep like the dead into the next day.
“Well, the company finally got the shipment of spices from India and my investors and distributors are happy so I’d say it’s all well,” Aaron said. “And I have a wonderful surprise for you.”
A slender woman with dark brown hair came in and happiness bloomed into Eleanor’s chest. “Maria!”
After the scandal with her father had petered off, Eleanor had taken the child under her wing. The young girl that she had unofficially adopted had been sent to school and had excelled. To her delight, Maria had gone on to become a governess.
It had been rocky her first couple of years as no one had wanted to hire a woman of such low estate, but she had proved herself and was now the governess of a countess’ son in Wiltshire.
Her dark hair was combed and in a low bun, and Maria's eyes glimmered with happiness. “My Lady.”
Eleanor tutted, “I thought I asked you to stop calling me that years ago.”
“Forgive me, it’s a bad habit,” the young woman of three-and-twenty replied. “My wards are off to France for a holiday. The boy, Alaric, is doing well at Eton and his sister Annmarie is learning quickly.”
“I am so happy for you,” Eleanor smiled. “I truly am.”
“Your Grace?” Maria said over her shoulder. “The others?”
Eleanor frowned, “What others?”
“Wilcox, Lady Darcy, and William are downstairs,” Aaron replied. “They came over for tea.”
“And you did not run it by me first?” Eleanor’s eyes narrowed playfully.
“Add it to the bank where I have put my stupidity pardons,” Aaron snorted. “But it’s spontaneous, dear, come let’s have a wonderful time.”
Rolling her eyes, Eleanor took Charlotte’s hand only to have Aaron steal her from her arms. She heard voices even before she entered the drawing room. Lady Darcy was brilliant in spring yellow and Mr. Wilcox in dapper grey. Their son, William had inherited his father’s ruddy skin and his mother’s light-blue eyes.
“Darcy!” Eleanor greeted as the older woman hugged her. “How was the trip? How was America?”
“See that Oberton,” Mr. Wilcox said. “One look and it’s like we’re not here.”
“Oh, you’re here,” Eleanor replied glibly as she attended to Darcy, “You’re just not as important.”
“I am insulted,” Mr. Wilcox laughed.
“We all are,” Aaron replied. “William included.”
The boy blushed.
“Well, let’s sit,” Aaron directed.
Eleanor took her place at the table. It was spread with a light white cloth, and laden with tea kettles and an array of sweet buns, tarts, diced fruit and cream. She smiled. When Aaron’s eyes met hers, a soft bubble of love began to overflow in her chest.
Twelve years ago, Aaron had been right, she was so much happier when she was surrounded by people. The tea was delightful, and with the people she loved around her, it was glorious. Later that night when Charlotte was off to bed, Aaron, in the privacy of their rooms, took off his shirt and wrapped her into a music-less dance.
As they swayed around the floor in the soft silence, Eleanor knew why he had said what he said years ago about not wanting her to dance with anyone else. She knew that she belonged in his arms and his alone. No one else would be as good for her as he was. Aaron had never failed to show her love and affection in the past decade and when they did fight, he always made it up to her, no matter who was wrong.
The dance was nothing more than a round of soft circles with his hands on her hips and hers around his neck. Could life be any more perfect? With her head on his warm, muscled chest, Eleanor felt his smile on the top side of her head and they moved in flawless, loving unison. She could not stop her mirroring smile.
She had friends in her life; her daughter was a beautiful, astute child; Maria had a bright future; her father had paid for his crimes, Aaron’s rival Wyndrake was living in shame in a comfy cell at Newgate; and she had the love of her life in her arms.
“My dance card is forever full,” Eleanor replied softly in the dark. “Every single line of it.”
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