Nigel Bateson dug his heels into the flanks of his horse, urging it to keep pace with the girl riding alongside him. The wind rushed past his cheeks. It was a wind from the sea tossing below, a wind laced with salt and the smell of the unknown. Nigel was 16 years old, dark and wiry, his muscles hardened from working alongside his father, his heart yearning for adventure.
Beside him, the girl laughed and edged her own horse ahead of his. She rode nearest the cliff. She always insisted that it was so, and when he protested about her safety, she would always point out that she was the lady and he the gamekeeper’s son. It was the only time she ever pulled rank on him – these moments when she wanted to coerce him into some new activity. They’d grown up together as children, and in many ways they still were. She was only a year younger than him, wild and carefree, her long red hair hanging loose about her shoulders, her leg flung over to ride astride on the horse, her skirts gathered up nearly to her knees and her clothes in disarray.
“Maggie,” Nigel called to her. “You should slow down. The valley is ahead.”
The ‘valley’ was what Margaret Somerville had teasingly named the sudden drop ahead where the cliffs made a sharp cut inwards to allow for a quiet inlet far below. It was easy enough to re-route the horses to go around the upper edge of the inlet, but Nigel knew they were coming to the dangerous spot far more quickly than was safe. He looked over and saw that the girl had heard him and chosen not to heed.
She gave a wild laugh and kicked her horse gently. The beast was like her mistress, eager for speed, and needed little encouragement to surge forward again. Nigel felt a stab of fear mixed with something deeper, something his young heart didn’t fully understand. He had always been protective of Margaret, but this feeling was more than care and companionship. It had been a few years now that he had felt he preferred her company above all others, that he missed her terribly whenever she was gone and craved her companionship so much sometimes that it pained him. Yet separation was imminent.
He pulled up his horse, hoping that his good example would encourage her to slow her own mount, but she drove on until his heart was in his throat for fear of her safety, until her horse was sending pebbles skittering over the side of the cliff. Only then did she rein in the creature and turn around to stare at him triumphantly, the strong sea breeze carrying her hair aloft as though she was underwater and it was floating, suspended, about her.
“You look like Queen Medb,” he said with a smile, riding up to her.
She smiled back, and the expression lit up her face, all the way to her grey eyes. “The Queen of Connacht had pale hair if I remember the stories correctly. And it is not altogether a compliment to tell a woman of England that she is like a queen of Ireland.”
He pulled up his horse near her, relishing this favourite place they had shared since they were children, the overlook with the waves crashing against the rocks far below and the scrub grass running up to the edge of the rocky cliffs.
“It would not be a compliment for any ordinary woman of England,” he said with a shrug. “But I happen to know about the little volume of Ulster myth you keep tucked between your study books. Your governess may think that you have got over your fascination with the wild and strong-willed warrior queen. But I know better.”
She laughed, a full and clear sound completely different to the tittering giggles of the village girls Nigel kept company with.
“There is some belief that Queen Medb was the inspiration for the fairy Queen Map found in Shakespeare’s work,” she said primly, imitating her governess. “And therefore, I can hardly find fault with a little outside study as long as it augments our current interests.”
Now it was Nigel who laughed. “You do a fantastic Miss Barlowe,” he said. “Although it does her no favours.”
Margaret reached up and tucked several strands of hair behind one ear, looking out away from Nigel and over the sea. Her eyes had a faraway look in them. Nigel watched her, jealous of the sea for holding her attention. It was moments like this when he felt she was beyond him. He had grown up knowing that she was Lady Margaret Jane Somerville, the daughter of one of the most influential lords in the country, and he only the son of the gamekeeper who managed his land. But it wasn’t only social status that caught his breath in his throat and restrained him from telling Margaret how he felt. It was these wild, beautiful moments that he was terrified to ruin.
He knew her better than anyone, and he knew that if he reached out right now to pull her to himself, to tell her of the secret affection he had held for years now, to tell her how beautiful she was and how enchanting, she would shrink back into herself and her friendship would be gone from him forever.
He smiled at her. “Maggie, should we head back to the house?”
“Not yet,” she said, looking up at him with an impish light in her eyes. “And you know Father hates it when you call me that.”
“Do you hate it?” he asked.
She looked at him for a long moment and then shrugged. “I rather like it. He sees it as too casual for a fine lady such as myself.”
“Then I will refrain from the term in the presence of your father,” he said, “but shall reserve the right to use it here on the cliffs where no one is listening.”
She threw her head back and cried out in a loud, clear voice. “Can anybody hear me?”
The wind swept her words away, and she slipped down from her horse to the ground below. Nigel followed suit, coming around the side of his own mount to see her.
“I can hear you,” he said.
“Yes, but you always hear me, so there’s nothing new there.” She peered down towards the beach and brightened noticeably. “Follow me,” she said. “I think I see someone standing down there.”
The two left their horses tethered to a rock and wound their way down the long path, making use of the switchbacks to ease their passage down the steep cliffs. Margaret managed them with ease, bunching her skirts up into her fists and taking light, leaping steps from one stone to another as she did so. Nigel walked a little in front of her, ready to catch her if she fell. But she never did. They had only been walking for a short while, however, when Margaret pulled up short and stopped, shading her eyes at the figure standing below.
“I think that’s Molly,” she said, frowning. “Do you see the pale hair?”
Molly Smith was a girl from town, the daughter of a fisherman, who had taken up with Margaret and Nigel when they were children. She was a simple enough girl, and yet Margaret had opened her heart to her and the two seemed to be bosom friends. Nigel had seen the way Lord Somerville looked down on these attachments, but he knew that the older man was only waiting until Margaret was officially introduced into society, hoping that she would be distracted by all the proper friendships London would have to offer with people of the same status.
Margaret had never mentioned this and didn’t seem to see anything odd about her friendships. Now she began waving furiously to the blonde woman standing below them, calling out her name. Here, somewhat down the path of the cliffs, the wind was shielded and her words carried an echo out across the inlet. Molly looked up, and Nigel saw at once that it was indeed her standing alone on the beach.
She stood for a long moment as though trying to guess who was on the cliffs, and then recognition must have hit for she waved in response.
“Come up!” Margaret called, pointing with exaggeration to the top of the cliff. “Join us.”
“I don’t know if she understands you,” Nigel said.
Margaret cupped her hands over her mouth and called out more clearly, “Come up!”
Molly dropped her own hands and stood for a long moment, looking at them. Then she gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head and took a few steps back from them. Margaret turned to Nigel.
“She’s been like that lately,” she said. “So stand-offish. It’s as though she has no need of our friendship anymore.”
“Don’t take it personally,” Nigel said, waving once more at Molly and then starting back up the cliffs. “A lone woman on the beach? Perhaps she wants some time to think about her life in a whimsical, romantic fashion. You girls do that sometimes.”
“I do not,” Margaret protested, clearly offended. “I am not prone to wandering beaches alone thinking romantic thoughts. I have no romantic thoughts to think, firstly. Beyond that, I would not consider a lonely beach the place to wallow in my own drama.”
“Pardon me,” he said with a smile, bowing in mock penitence before her. “Perhaps it’s not a matter of brooding, then. Maybe she’s waiting for someone. A dashing young man, perhaps? It seems just the sort of secluded place to encounter a lover.”
He loved to tease Margaret like this. She seemed bothered by any suggestion of marriage and the change it might bring. She had spoken often about how she wanted life to continue forever like this, full of wind and beauty and freedom. Just as he expected, she frowned at his words.
“Molly is a good girl,” she said. “She wouldn’t do anything inappropriate.”
“She didn’t come when we called.”
“Perhaps she saw you waving and knew that our girlish conversation would be overwrought by an annoying boy,” Margaret snapped sourly, emerging at the top of the cliff and pausing only a moment to look back on Molly’s solitary figure before hurrying to her horse and taking the lead rope back in her hand.
“Now you’re just being unkind,” Nigel teased, unoffended.
He moved to climb back onto his horse, but Margaret interrupted him. “Let us walk back,” she said, a little wistfully. “I don’t want the ride to be over yet.”
He had seen this look in her eyes before, the desperation to stay out in the wind and sea breeze, to avoid the proper halls and parlours where she was being systematically turned into a young lady worthy of the London season. He nodded.
“Walking sounds wonderful.”
They moved along, both walking on the inside with their horses flanking them, so close they were nearly touching. Nigel was distracted by her nearness, but he could see that she hadn’t noticed. She seemed absorbed with her own thoughts.
“Are you looking forward to your first season in London?” he asked eventually.
She bit her lip and smiled half-heartedly up at him. “How did you know I was thinking of that?”
“It has concerned you for some time.”
“Father says fifteen is plenty old enough to step out into society, but I cannot believe it,” she said. “I know that it will be exciting in a way, but it seems a shallow sort of adventure at the heart of it. After all, what do elegant silk gowns and proper manners have to do with real living?”
“They have everything to do with real living when you are destined to be Lady Margaret,” he said with a teasing smile. Usually, it brought a twinkle to her eyes to hear him refer to her in the terms her father used almost exclusively. But today she frowned and looked away.
“Yes, I suppose so.” She took a deep breath. “It’s only that it seems so delicate, as though it could all blow away in a moment. Have you heard about the way people talk about society? They talk about saying just the right thing and walking just the right way, and avoiding a bad reputation. It seems to me that a person could be very careful in every regard and still be misunderstood. It doesn’t seem worth it. Here, with you, I know that even if I was very dreadful and shocking, you would not disown me. But it seems as though a teacup raised in the wrong fashion could turn me out onto the streets.”
He laughed gently, for he could see she was serious. “You have a unique perspective on the situation, that is for certain,” he said. “But you are an engaging and intelligent young woman. You will not blunder into mistakes, I am certain.”
She cocked her head to the side and looked at him. “Thank you, Nigel. Do you know, the cook told me a few days back that you have a way with words, that you don’t speak like the other children in the village.”
“I’m not a child, Maggie,” he said quietly.
“Can’t we be children just a little longer?” She reached over impulsively and looped her arm into his as they had when they were children. He did not pull away, but the nearness made his heart ache.
“I speak like this because I grew up in your shadow,” he said, trying to keep his voice light. “I was always reading the books you thrust upon me, always listening to you ramble on in that pious tone of yours – it is only natural that I should pick up your turns of phrase.”
“Father says it is unusual for the son of a gamekeeper to have such vocabulary, but I tell him that you were born an intellect,” Margaret said blithely, closing her eyes as they walked.
Nigel let his gaze rest a beat longer than was proper on her clear complexion and peaceful face, and then looked away. He knew her father, Lord Somerville, had not meant to compliment him with the comment on his vocabulary. Lord Somerville believed that people belonged in their proper place, that every man was born to a certain station, and that climbing above that station was frowned upon. He had always seemed uncomfortable with his daughter’s friendship with the gamekeeper’s son, but he had done a good turn for Nigel in recent days – a good turn that Nigel needed to tell Margaret about at last.
They crested the long hill that led down to the estate where Margaret lived. Beside it, nestled a good distance away in a copse of trees, was the little cottage where Nigel had grown up. He cleared his throat as they started down the hill.
“Maggie, I need to speak with you on a serious matter.”
She opened her eyes. “You sound unhappy. Is all well?”
“I am not unhappy. I am only…I am unsure what you will think of this news.” He waited for her to respond but she only looked at him, expectant. “Maggie, I have enlisted.”
She blinked not comprehending. “In what?”
“In the Army, Maggie. Your father purchased a place for me as an ensign in the infantry. Do you remember his friend, the major, who visited last year and took such a shine to me? He wrote the recommendation, and I received news only yesterday that I am to leave this very afternoon.”
He saw her face blanch white. “You’re going away? To fight?”
“I am.” He stopped and she did as well, her arm still linked through his. “Maggie, I’m a man now – sixteen years old and brave enough to fight for my country. Your father has given me a chance to rise above my station. Not far, mind you. But if I stay here, I will only ever be the gamekeeper’s son.”
“If you go you may very well die,” Maggie said. She pulled her arm sharply back out of his grasp and turned to look at him, her grey eyes filling with tears. “You’re leaving me? You know that I cannot do without you, Nigel. Why would my father agree to this? Why did no one tell me?”
Nigel suspected that her father was more than happy to see him slip out of Margaret’s life, but he didn’t say as much. There was no need to upset her further. I cannot do without you, Nigel. He wondered fleetingly if she was speaking out of love. But in the next moment, she seized his hands and said, “You are my very best friend, and I shall never know another like you.”
Of course. “Our friendship will not change,” he said quietly.
“I will be able to write to you?” she said, her eyes wide.
“I don’t think there will be any reliable communication available to us,” he said. “I have heard that we will be stationed on the front, and I do not think letters will often make it to and from the camp.”
The tears broke free from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. She took a shallow, shuddering breath. “Nigel, I don’t want you to go.”
He wanted to take her in his arms, and he knew from the look on her face that she expected him to. It’s what he would have done when they were children. But they were not children anymore. She didn’t yet understand it, but he did – love had taught him where the lines of propriety were drawn, and the fact that she still didn’t see a reason to avoid his embrace showed him the safe and miserable place he held in her heart. He took a small step backwards.
“I’m sorry, Margaret, but I have to. I don’t have any other choice. You’ll be fine without me – you’re about to enter the season, after all. And I’m sure you’ll have many new beaus…and friends, of course, to fill my place and distract you.”
“Don’t speak like that,” she snapped, fire in her eyes. She always grew angry when she was the most devastated. “You have to come back to me. You have to promise.”
He thought of all the war stories he’d heard when the major was hunting alongside his father and knew that he had no guarantee of his return. Fleetingly, he thought to tell her of the danger again in the hope that it would waken in her a sympathy akin to love. But he cared for her too much to earn her affection by manipulation. Instead, he did what he’d always done. He reassured her.
“I promise, Maggie,” he said quietly. “I’ll come back. You will be quite different when I return. You will be all grown up, a lady.”
She looked at him seriously and then said, “I don’t think I noticed it until now. But you’ve already gone and grown up without me. You’re leaving me behind, and I hate you for it.” She took a few steps away from him and stood for a while with her face turned towards the house and her arms crossed in front of her. Then she turned around again and looked at him with the tears running down her cheeks. “Nigel?”
“I know,” he said quietly. “You don’t hate me.”
She nodded, an apology and an acceptance passing between them as it always did, without words needed. They walked in silence to the stables, not speaking again until the separation demanded it. Margaret handed her horse over to the groom and then turned to leave. Nigel reached out and touched her shoulder fleetingly before dropping his hand back to his side.
“I won’t forget you, Queen Medb,” he said, harkening back to their childhood games where he knew she would feel the safest.
She turned around, and he saw that this parting had aged her strangely, as though his very leaving had drawn her from childhood into womanhood at last. She nodded. “Come back to me,” she said softly.
Then she turned and was gone.
Margaret stepped up onto the block and deftly swung herself into the side-saddle, arranging her skirts about herself. She had grown more accustomed to this more ladylike mode of riding as the years had passed, and no longer resented it as she had when she was a girl. She knew many women who were accomplished riders to outstrip a man even while riding side-saddle, and she had determined to build the skill herself. It was more conducive, anyway, to the long and heavy skirts that she now wore as befitted her station.
It was days like today, when she was travelling about her father’s estate visiting the tenants, that she felt most self-conscious of her attire. She was no longer the girl in loose skirts riding along the cliffs with the wind in her hair. Now she was quite proper, and even this, her most simple riding habit and gown, seemed garishly fine beside the farmers and sheepherders that she had been visiting all day. She raised her hand in farewell to the man and woman standing together in the door of their little home and turned her horse back into the main fairway.
Carrie, her maid, had accompanied her on the day’s travels for the sake of propriety, but at the crossing that led home again, Margaret turned to her with a smile and bade her go back to the main house.
“I have some business in town,” she said. “I don’t believe I will need your company there.”
Carrie looked at her for a long moment and then said quietly, “My lady, I will give you time alone if that is what you desire. But you should know that Lord Somerville asked me to tell him the next time you went to visit your friend in the village.”
Margaret sighed. “I already know that, Carrie. That is why I am asking you to go home now. You can have deniability. You can say that you parted ways with me after the tenant farmers and do not know what I did after that.”
Carrie bit her lip. “It’s not proper.”
“I appreciate your concern for my safety. But I have made this decision and I would like you to respect it.” Margaret had learnt this trick from her father, how to speak in a voice of authority when it was truly necessary. She saw Carrie accept the situation with a nod and then hurry on her way home.
Margaret turned her horse towards the village and picked the pace up to a trot. As she drew near, she hugged the river where it curved along the outer businesses on the High Street, taking the back path so that there would be minimal gossip, and found her way to the side of town where cottages were built one against the other. In the upstairs room she knew so well, there was a dim light burning.
She tied her horse up outside and slipped into the hall. It smelt of fish, and she saw the tools of the trade hanging on pegs against the wall. She climbed the stairs to the heavy door and knocked gently. At first, there was no answer, and then the sound of a bolt sliding away, and she was greeted by the weathered face of an old woman from the village, a herbalist who was an excellent alternative for those who couldn’t afford a doctor.
“Mrs Tarrow,” Margaret said quietly. “How is she doing?”
The old woman’s face was lined with worry. “Not well at all, my lady. It is good that you came.”
Margaret came inside the room, blinking at the sudden dimness. The light she had seen in the street must have been coming from the fire that burned in the grate, for there was no candle in sight. The whole home fit into a single room. She had been in this room often as a child, for it was where Molly’s father had lived before his accident at sea. The fishing hooks downstairs and the smell were the only tangible memories of the man who had tirelessly raised Molly when she was still young. He had left the space to his daughter.
There was a table against one wall with a few chairs and a sparse collection of food that Margaret had largely contributed to. She slipped today’s offering, a loaf of bread from the basket she’d been carrying, amongst the rest. There was a rocking chair by the fire, and a small chest of drawers. Other than that, the only thing in the room was the cot against one wall where Molly’s thin form was huddled.
She had been like this for some time, weakening every day over the course of nearly a year. It had been a painful thing to watch, but Margaret knew that Molly had no one else to care for her, not since shame had come upon her four years ago. The village seemed content to pretend that Molly Smith, the fisherman’s daughter, had already ceased to be.
Margaret slipped over to the bed and sat on a stool. She put her hand on Molly’s, coaxing her friend to roll over.
“Molly, I’m here. I came to see you again today.”
Molly turned only her head to see Margaret. Her arms and legs seemed impossibly thin and delicate beneath the coverlet. It made Margaret’s heart ache, for Molly had always been the stronger one, made hearty by her work at her father’s side.
“Where is she?” Molly asked, barely moving her lips as the question came out in a whisper.
Margaret frowned and turned to Mrs Tarrow. “I don’t know,” she said.
Mrs Tarrow came over to the bed. “I told you, Miss Smith, your daughter’s gone out to gather flowers for the table. It’s good for the girl to get some air now and again. She’ll be back soon.”
Molly turned her gaze to Margaret. There was a feverish glint in her eye. “No, I don’t want her to come back,” she said desperately. “I’ve already said goodbye. And I don’t want her to see me like this, I don’t want her to be afraid.”
Margaret felt a sickening stab of realisation at the words. For the first time, Molly sounded like a dying woman. They had known this was coming, but Molly had always talked as though a cure were possible, as though she would see the next summer or one day take her daughter into the village square again. Margaret had gone along with all of these dreams in the desperate hope that her friend would indeed recover. But now she saw something different in Molly’s eyes.
She reached out and took her hand. “Don’t say that, Molly. Of course you want her to come back. You should have let me take you to the seaside months ago – I thought it might help, and we should have tried. Maybe –”
“No,” Molly said firmly. “No, it’s over. I can feel it in my lungs. It’s been there so long and it has finished waiting.”
“Maggie.” Her tone changed from confidence to a quiet pleading. “You have to do something for me.”
Margaret shook her head. “Don’t talk like this, Molly.”
“Listen. Please.” Molly leaned forward and clasped Margaret’s hand with her own. Her touch felt hot and dry. “It’s about Poppy.”
Poppy, her daughter. Margaret’s heart lurched at the way Molly said her name, as though she was speaking about a crown jewel that she treasured more than anything else in the world. Poppy had come into Molly’s life after a dalliance she’d had with a mystery gentleman. Molly had never told Margaret who the man was, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. She had been marked as an outcast from the moment her child began to show beneath her loose dresses. Everyone had talked about the fisherman’s daughter with loose morals. Her father had been shunned before his eventual death, and Molly had been forced to exist on a meagre pension that was barely enough to keep her and Poppy alive.
Margaret had stayed a true friend, but she had been forced to do it on irregular visits to escape her father’s disgust of the friendship. And she had been unable to give all the help she desired. She thought sometimes of the man who had caused all the pain, Poppy’s father. He had disappeared long before Molly knew she was with child, and when Margaret pressed for her to reach out to him and tell him of the little one, she would only ever say that she had, once, and that she had received no response. “He owes me nothing,” Molly said over and over.
Margaret thought about that mystery man and felt bitterness in her heart. He had not faced everything Molly had endured these past four years. He had been able to play his part in the indiscretion and then disappear into whatever life he led without any repercussions. He had not given a penny to support the mother and daughter. He had not given his name to clear her reputation. And he had not been there to hold her hand as she faded away from this world. It was grossly unfair.
“What about Poppy?” Margaret put her hand over Molly’s, clasping her reassuringly.
“You have to help her,” Molly whispered, tears in her eyes. “You have to help her for me.”
“I will,” Margaret assured her. “Of course I will always be here for you both.”
“No,” Molly said insistently, the tears coming hard and fast now. “No that’s not enough, Maggie. You have to take her. You have to take care of her. I don’t have any other family but a few aunts and uncles in the country who have no spare place in their homes for a cast-off child. She will be sent to an orphanage or end up on the street. You have to promise me, Maggie, that you’ll care for her.”
Margaret felt a lurch in her stomach at the thought. She knew nothing about children, and she suspected the care of a child like Poppy, whose heritage was such a mystery but for the scandal of it all, would be a world of difficulty.
“I don’t know anything about children,” she said.
Molly’s grip tightened. “You know that you are her best chance,” she said desperately. “Don’t deny me this, not now.” Her face crumpled. “Please, Maggie. Don’t you think I’ve suffered enough for my one indiscretion? I have been fully repaid for all the laws of society that I broke. But she is a precious innocent and does not deserve to be cast out as I have been. You can help her, Maggie. Please.” She broke down into a fit of vicious coughing. It was worse than any Margaret had seen yet. It shook her fragile frame and, in the end, a small trail of blood was left on her pillowcase. Margaret laid her handkerchief over it and took Molly’s shoulders in a gentle grasp.
“It’s all right,” she said, wanting to calm her friend. “I promise. I promise I will take care of her.”
Molly took a deep, shuddering breath. “You will? You will not send her away?”
“I will take her into my own home,” Margaret said. Even as the terrifying words slipped out of her lips, she knew that they were right. Whatever the future held, she felt strangely tied to this little girl. “Now rest, Molly. Please.”
Molly’s eyes slid closed and she drifted into an uneasy sleep, her breath short and ragged. Margaret usually left after a brief conversation and the dropping off of the food. But she felt something heavy in the room that day and could not bring herself to do it. She heard a noise when evening was beginning to fall, a slamming of the door downstairs and the halting sound of little feet on the stairs.
Margaret stood up just as Mrs Tarrow opened the door to let Poppy Smith in. The girl had Molly’s same straight, pale hair, but she had dark eyes, and in every other way her face and form must have taken after her father. She had none of her mother’s strong features. She was frail and slight with a narrow chin and large, vulnerable eyes. Her blonde hair was hanging loose to her shoulders, stringy from lack of care, and her dress was short and ill-fitting. She held in her hands a crumpled bundle of flowers. It had clearly been picked a long time ago and clutched at intervals during the adventures of the day.
Margaret saw all this, but then her gaze was drawn to something far more concerning – a bright gash in the child’s forehead from which came a small stream of blood.
“Poppy,” she said, coming over to the girl and bending down. “What happened to your head?”
Poppy shrugged and looked past Margaret to where her mother lay in the bed.
“Just the stones,” she said. She moved around Margaret without greeting her, used to having her in the house and not educated enough in manners to understand the propriety of introductions. She came to her mother’s side and pushed the mashed blooms into her mother’s hands. Molly’s fingers closed around them, but her eyes stayed shut.
“What stones?” Margaret asked.
“Sometimes the children throw stones,” Mrs Tarrow said. She had been sitting in a chair with her eyes closed, rocking by the fire. Now she stopped and got up, moving about to warm some soup.
“At her?” Margaret cried. “That’s barbaric.”
Mrs Tarrow shrugged. “The child is an outcast. The other children don’t mean anything by it – they don’t know any better.”
“She could have been seriously wounded.” Margaret came to Poppy’s side and leaned down. “Poppy, I must fix your head. It looks like it hurts.”
Poppy pushed her hands away. She had dirt on her arms and face, perhaps from a fall, perhaps from crawling around in search of the perfect flowers for her dying mother. Either way, it broke Margaret’s heart. “No hurting,” Poppy said simply.
Molly’s eyes opened as though she was looking up at them, but Margaret could see that she was looking through Poppy to some distant place.
“Poppy?” she called.
Margaret’s heart clenched. “Molly, she’s right here.” She reached forward and drew the child’s small hand into Molly’s weak one. “She came back with flowers for you.”
“That’s nice,” Molly said, her eyes still unfocused. “That’s nice, Poppy. You’re Mana’s girl. Remember…” her voice trailed off, her mouth went slack, her eyes still open, unfocused. Margaret knew what had happened even before she bent down to feel for her pulse and breath. She was gone.
Poppy, however, seemed not to understand. She nudged her mother’s shoulder, face, mouth with gentle, probing fingers. “Mama?”
Margaret felt a knot in her throat. She didn’t want to frighten the child by crying, so she fought back the tears and knelt, pulling Poppy to her side. “Sweetheart,” she said in a shaking voice. “I think your mama has gone away to a better place. She was very sick, but now she is hurting no more.”
Poppy turned and fixed Margaret with a gaze too knowing for a four-year-old. “Dead?” she asked weakly.
Margaret sucked in her breath. “Yes, sweetie.”
Poppy’s face registered this in intervals. First shock, then confusion, then desperate grief. She turned and threw herself on her mother’s body on the bed, shaking her and sobbing out her name again and again. It took both Margaret and Mrs Tarrow some time to pull her away. Mrs Tarrow promised to make the arrangements for the burial and then stopped by the door, her hand on the knob.
“Where do you want me to take the child?” she asked.
Margaret swallowed hard. “There is no need,” she said. “The girl will come with me.”
“A Lady’s Forever Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lady Margaret Somerville is a nobleman’s daughter cherished by any man seeking a proper wife. Against society, she takes on the child of her deceased poor friend, and she is determined that she will never marry a man who wouldn’t approve of her. When her childhood friend returns home from war, Margaret has no doubt that he is the fairytale prince she has always been waiting for. Little does she know that her father would rather die than see his daughter married to the gamekeeper’s son. To make matters worse, she becomes betrothed to a man who craves nothing but her generous dowry. Will Margaret escape the grim future her father has planned for her? Will she find meaning in her life again by Nigel’s side?
Captain Nigel Bateson comes back to Cornwell to discover that his secret crush is engaged to a hateful man, raising a child of mysterious origins. Unable to bury his growing feelings for her and defying all odds, he wishes to marry her at the earliest opportunity. But this is going to be an uphill struggle, as he first has to help her run away from her detestable fiance and prove to her father that he is a respectable man despite his class. Will Nigel rescue the affectionate woman who stole his heart years ago? Or will he have to witness her marry a man that will make her life a living hell?
Even though Margaret and Nigel come from different worlds, their love can overcome the obstacles that tend to keep them apart. But her evil husband-to-be will never accept his defeat, and he is determined to do whatever it takes to make her suffer. Will the two of them find a way to overcome the obstacles that threaten to take away the happiness they deserve? In the end, will their love survive a violent storm and bring sunshine to their hearts?
“A Lady’s Forever Love” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.