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ONCE AGAIN A BRIDE
by Jane Ashford

Genre: Regency Period, England, Historical Romance

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“You poor thing. And so you are left all alone.”

“Hardly alone, as she is quite welcome here,” said a voice from the doorway. Sir Alexander walked in and took up a station by the fireplace. “Hello, Aunt Bella. Edward.”

“Alec, dear,” replied Lady Isabella. Her son merely nodded.

Charlotte heard the lack of enthusiasm in both their voices, and wondered at it. The atmosphere in the room seemed to tighten.

“You do know that rumors are flying all over town,” she added, almost as if it were Sir Alexander’s fault. “First Henry’s murder — murder, unthinkable! And now I hear there has been a robbery as well. In our own family! We can only be thankful that the Season hasn’t really started.”

“Indeed.”

“What do you intend to do?”

Charlotte expected him to explain about the Bow Street Runner and the investigation, but he merely repeated, “Do?” in the tone she herself found uniquely irritating.

“To stop the talk, of course. The Wyldes have practically become a scandal. You should hear all the tiresome jokes being made on the name.”

“I’m sure I have, Aunt, at one time or another.”

“Of course he has,” Edward said to his mother.

Charlotte couldn’t help but compare his soothing manner to Sir Alexander’s rigidity. The cousins seemed to be opposites in many ways.

A small movement caught her eye. One of the double doors leading to the corridor shifted a bit, but no one entered. A moment later a small dark shape was pushed through the opening. Charlotte glimpsed a white hand helping it along. The door closed. The cat Callie skittered across the floor and disappeared under the table holding the tea tray.

“What was…?” began Lady Isabella. A paw flashed out and snagged the fringe on one of the armchairs. “It’s some sort of animal!”

“Just a cat, I think, Mother.” Edward sounded amused.

“Oh, for God’s sake.” Sir Alexander bent, reached under the table, grabbed, and missed. Callie erupted from the other side, raced across the room, and clawed her way up one of the brocade curtains. She hung there, well above all their heads, glaring. Edward laughed.

Lady Isabella, on the other hand, went rigid, as if the incident had been designed to offend her. “A little joke of Elizabeth’s no doubt. I have told you and told you to send her to school.”

“So you have,” said Sir Alexander through gritted teeth.

“Well, you must admit that I am right! She is completely out of hand. I am sorry, Frances. I don’t mean to criticize your disciplinary methods, but really you…”

“Enough.” Sir Alexander strode to the bellpull and yanked it. “As you say, you have made your opinion quite clear on many occasions, aunt.” A footman arrived in a rush, not the one from before. “Our guests are leaving, Ethan. Fetch their things.”

Lady Isabella stood, her green eyes flashing much like Sir Alexander’s. “This is the way you treat me? And you wonder that I…?”

“On the contrary, I don’t wonder at all. Allow me to see you out.” He herded his aunt toward the door. Edward followed with easy grace and an amused glance for Charlotte as he exited.

Lady Isabella’s voice drifted back from the stairs. “Do not expect me to help you…”

“I expect nothing,” Sir Alexander replied.

Frances rested her forehead in her hand. Charlotte considered trying to coax the cat down off the drapery, but decided that stillness was the best choice at the moment.

“She practically forced her way in,” said Frances when Sir Alexander stood in the doorway once more. “There was nothing I could do.” Callie hissed from above.

The master of the house turned back to the corridor and shouted, “Lizzy!” There was no doubt he was heard all the way to the top stories.

“It’s rather like Bedlam here, isn’t it?” popped out of Charlotte’s mouth.

Sir Alexander turned on her. “It is nothing of the kind!”