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Temporary Paradise

A flicker of excitement hummed through her blood. It had always been a source of pleasure for her when she and Mark talked about the family business. As eldest son, he would one day inherit it, and Sophia was endlessly fascinated by the possibilities of what they could do. But as the years went by and Sophia grew older, she knew that anything to do with Haliday Brewing would be for Mark and Mark alone to determine. Her role in life was for something else entirely.

“Perhaps later,” she said vaguely, not wanting to disappoint him but knowing that she must. “I have to get ready for tonight.”

“The ball?”

“Yes. Lord Retford will be arriving at eight o’clock and I need to prepare.”

“But it’s only half five!”

Though Mark was nearly nineteen, his protests sounded more like those of a small boy. She was really letting him down.

“Show me tomorrow, Mark. I promise. You shall have my full attention then.”

They had reached the door to her bedchamber. Just behind it she knew her bath awaited her, and at the moment it seemed like a small slice of heaven. But before sending Mark on his way she suddenly found herself confiding in him, hardly aware she was going to do so before the words left her mouth.

“I must confess, it’s all rather overwhelming,” she said. “Sometimes I feel as if I can’t breathe.”

Mark was pragmatic. “Nerves, I should imagine.”

“Nerves? But that makes no sense. I’ve looked forward to this wedding for months.”

“Have you?”

Sophia stared down his raised eyebrow. “Of course I have. What kind of question is that?”

Mark shrugged. “Nothing.”

“You know how many years Mother and Father have saved and planned and done everything they possibly could to secure this betrothal, not to mention setting aside twenty-five thousand pounds for the dowry alone. But it will all soon be worth it, Mark. The wedding is finally about to happen, and our family will be noble. ”

“I know, I know.” Mark’s voice was coated with a layer of boredom. This was not the first time he’d heard it over the years, most notably from their mother. “We’ve got the money, Redford’s got the title. It’s a match made in heaven. Or a solicitor’s office, as the case may be.”

Sophia gasped in shock. “What’s come over you? You’re never so vulgar.”

Her brother bowed his head, immediately contrite. “Apologies. That was uncalled for.”

He paused, as if weighing whether or not to continue, but then shrugged as he added, “I’ll just miss you around here, Soph. You’re giving up so much for the family. And what do you get out of it? Marriage to a bore whose only interest is plants.”

Mark had touched a nerve, and Sophia willed away the sob that caught in her throat. How many times, in her most private moments, had she had that very thought? But always before, just as now, she convinced herself that marriage to Viscount Retford would be just fine. He was certainly polite and never used his fists or raised his voice. And yes, perhaps he was rather self-involved with his botanical research, but she might be able to change that a bit. Maybe.

She gave her brother a reassuring smile. “Lord Retford is a good man, Mark. And I’m entering this marriage willingly, for the good of the family.”

“Right.” He turned to go but then glanced back at Sophia. “If you’re looking forward to this as much as you say, Sophia, then your feeling of being overwhelmed is likely just from the excitement of it all.” Then, before Sophia had a chance to respond, her brother bounded down the stairs and out of her sight.

She turned away, doing her best to ignore the knot of nerves twisting in the pit of her stomach. Mark was reading too much into things. Of course she was looking forward to the wedding. How could he dare think otherwise?

She entered her bedchamber, pleasantly greeted by a steaming hot tub of water perfumed with lavender oil. Waiting, too, was her personal maid Hannah, who helped her out of her dress and into the tub before leaving with a quick bob as she closed the door behind her.

Sophia shut her eyes and let the fragrant steam seep into her pores. She settled deeper into the tub and tried to focus her thoughts. The excitement of the past several months was causing her to be distracted. And that little ball of nerves in the pit of her stomach? Well, surely that, too, was just the excitement of it all. Why else would she be nervous? She was about to be a peer for heaven’s sake, a reality some girls could only dream about. Sophia smiled and plunged her cleaning sponge into the water. She was looking forward to this evening’s ball, and was thankful for the invitation that George — Lord Retford — had secured for her as well as for Father and Mother. This was an exclusive affair, attended to only by the upper crust of society, a member of which she was about to become.

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with my webmaster, Alla. {photo credits: Alessandro Bologna}