She knew not where it had all begun.
And she certainly did not know where it would end.
Lady Honoria Marie St. John was seated at the large, hand-carved mahogany desk, placed in the far northwestern corner of the dimly lighted yet spacious and elegantly bedecked masculine study. Her right hand, assisted by a pen, moved hurriedly over the starchy sheet of paper, pausing only to dip her instrument in ink. But that steady right hand faltered for a moment, a pained expression crossing the shadowed face of the owner.
Yet in due time, as honor and duty demanded, the letter was finished and carefully folded before it was slipped into a cream-colored envelope. Strong, slim hands lifted the nearest lighted candle and shuttered green-grey eyes watched as each drop of wax dripped and touched the pointed, triangular edge of the flattened flap. Before the wax could harden, a large signet ring was firmly impressed and released. The shoulders of an immaculately straight back suddenly fell, one hand carefully turning over the envelope so that the seal rested on the gleaming surface of the varnished desk. Her lips pursed, she reluctantly let go of the envelope and reached for the pen again.
Soon, he would go.
Honoria dropped the pen, heedless of where it fell, heedless of whether the still wet ink would mar the finish of the desk. She pushed the chair back so she could rise. Absently, she tucked the insignificant yet beautifully crocheted lace shawl more closely around her, the rustle of her stiff, crisp petticoats and muslin skirts breaking the barren silence of the room. Her hands unnecessarily smoothed the creased folds of her skirts as she began to glide across the plush tan carpets.
Her direction uncertain, her thoughts scattered, Honoria finally settled before the fireplace. She folded her arms across her chest, quelling the urge to collapse to the floor. Instead, she forced herself to stare steadily at the dancing, taunting flames, imbued with shades of orange, yellow, red, and the occasional glimpse of a vivid blue. She swallowed, her shoulders tightening for a moment before a faint, humorless smile crept upon her thinned lips.
She would not shed tears.
She would not cry.
When the double doors to the study opened, Honoria did not start. Instead, she remained before the fire in the fireplace, so perfectly still that Henton wondered if the strain of the past few months had harmed his mistress’ mind. He quietly closed the doors behind him and stepped forward. Henton waited, his hands clasped behind his erect back.
Honoria lifted her gaze from the fire and glanced at the relatively young man who had been more than a mere manservant and butler to her and to her family since the day she had brought him home from the hospital five years ago. The freedom afforded to her by the protective shadows of the fire allowed her to study her manservant: tall, stocky, blessed with an impassive, unhandsome but striking, rather intimidating visage. The manservant she had chosen to accompany her husband on his journey back to the Continent.
“Tell me something, Henton, and I grant you leave to be perfectly frank,” Honoria pronounced rather abruptly. “In fact, I demand it. Do you wish to go on this journey with my husband?”