It was strange how quickly exhaustion could become part of a daily routine. Hannah was so tired that her limbs felt like lead, and her vision kept blurring. The day wasn’t over yet, however.
With Lady Katherine, the work was never done.
She had gone out to a ball tonight, some dance and dinner organised by a disdainful, snobbish woman who would probably look through Hannah as though she did not exist.
Well, she didn’t. That was what Mrs Harris, the housekeeper, and Mr Loudwater, the butler, would say. Servants were invisible; everyone knew that. Their shoes didn’t squeak, their footsteps never made a noise, they didn’t cough or sneeze or whistle, and they certainly didn’t speak.
The whole purpose of servants was to create a kind of magic. Things were done – the house cleaned, the food cooked and served, things put away and tidied – but it was very important that nobody should see these things being done. The instant your attention was drawn to a servant, the magic was gone.
It drove Hannah mad. They weren’t magical pixies or genies; they were human beings, paid to do a job. Why the pretence of secrecy?
It must have been close to midnight, yet Lady Katherine had only just got back. There’d been no warning – in fact, Hannah had expected her home later, possibly around one or two in the morning. She liked to dance till dawn, and these wretched balls went on all night.
It was infuriating, having to stay up so late to wait for her mistress, especially after such a long and busy day. However, Lady Katherine wouldn’t be up until noon the next day, so Hannah could easily sleep in.
Not that she would sleep much later than six o’clock, though. She could try, however. It was always worth trying.
Of course, that assumed Mrs Harris didn’t decide to put Hannah to work until Lady Katherine decided to get out of bed.
The front door slammed, and there was a cacophony of loud noises and angry voices, mostly Lady Katherine arguing with her parents.
Damn, Hannah realised, I won’t get upstairs in time.
She ought to have been waiting for Lady Katherine in her bedroom, ready to help her undress and get into bed. However, she was in the laundry room, collecting some fresh linens. She grabbed the linens and hurried into the kitchen.
“They’re back already? That doesn’t bode well,” she commented.
“Watch out,” Percy Turner, the first footman, muttered, getting to his feet and abandoning his cup of tea. “They’re in bad moods, I’ll warrant you. Them coming home early isn’t a good sign.”
“You don’t need to tell me twice.”
Lucy Warren, the lady’s maid of Her Grace the Duchess of Donwood, Katherine’s mother, only sniffed and said nothing. She was rather full of herself and considered herself a cut above the other servants – including Hannah.
Since she was Her Grace’s maid, she had extra status in the household. Really, she was only outranked by His Grace’s valet, a tubby, middle-aged man who mostly ignored the rest of the servants and seemed to be pretending that he wasn’t a servant at all. Unlike Mrs Warren, he was rarely seen hobnobbing in the kitchen.
“Perhaps we ought to gossip less and go and wait on our masters, then,” Mrs Warren said loftily, sweeping out. Hannah repressed the urge to roll her eyes and followed.
She could have reached Lady Katherine’s bedroom more quickly if she could have used the main staircases and corridors. The servants’ stairs were steep and narrow, with not enough space to put your foot straight across the top of the stair. You had to walk oddly, walking sideways up or down, and heaven help you if somebody else was coming the opposite direction to you. One person could barely walk up without their shoulders brushing the wall at either side, let alone two people passing.
It was even more difficult when you were carrying something. There’d been dozens of accidents since Hannah started working here two years ago, mostly consisting of servants tumbling down the stairs. One poor scullery maid had horribly scalded herself while carrying up a cauldron of red-hot water for Her Grace’s bath.
Hannah didn’t know what had happened to her. She had been sent to the doctor, and then somebody came to collect her things, and that was that. Poor little Hope Rawkins had never been seen again. It was unlikely that the burns would have killed her, but Hannah was not a doctor.
Speaking of doctors, she didn’t even know if the duke and duchess had paid for Hope’s medical treatment. She’d never have got another job in a house like this, even assuming she could go on to continue working. Nobody had talked about her since she left. Hannah had a feeling they wouldn’t want to know. They just thanked their lucky stars that it wasn’t them, that they could continue to earn a good wage and support themselves.
Hannah tried not to think about poor Hope’s red-raw, scalded arms and face as she picked her way up the steep, uneven stairs. Everyone knew that it took twice as long to climb the servants’ stairs as it did the family’s stairs. The hallways weaved and twisted, designed more for secrecy and silence rather than speed and efficiency.
Lucy Warren stalked ahead, not bothering to hold open the door at the top of the stairs for Hannah. Hannah wobbled on the narrow, tiny landing, trying not to drop the linens as she heaved open the heavy door, equally keen not to fall back down the stairs.
She succeeded, stepping out onto the plush carpet of the upstairs hallway. This was the west wing, the one along which Lady Katherine slept.
Hannah hurried along the quiet hallway, knowing that her mistress would be angrily waiting in her room. Hannah was uncomfortably aware that her uniform was over-starched, and it crackled and rustled as she walked. Hopefully, Lady Katherine wasn’t in too bad a mood.
She pushed open a bedroom door, revealing a luxurious lady’s bedroom inside, decorated in shades of white and pink.
Lady Katherine was in the process of kicking over her dressing stool as Hannah entered. She whirled around, her beautiful, doll-like face twisted in anger.
“Where were you? I’ve been here for a full half an hour! I can’t get this gown off myself!”
Hannah knew well that Lady Katherine had only been waiting in her room for five minutes, if that, but she knew better than to argue.
“I beg your pardon, My Lady. We thought you would be back later.”
That was the wrong thing to say. As Hannah bent down to put the linens away in a drawer, she saw Lady Katherine’s face flush crimson.
She knew what was coming next.
A china-doll ornament came whirling across the room, and Hannah automatically ducked. It shattered on the chest of drawers, scattering razor-sharp little shards of pottery everywhere.
Lady Katherine squealed with rage.
“I’ll tell you why we’re home early, you lazy, wretched thing. Papa told Mama that I am paying too much attention to Captain Richard Stevens and that we ought to be kept apart. I was just about to dance with him a second time when Mama whisked me away and made me go home. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. It was so, so unfair! I hate them. I hate them!”
“I am sorry to hear that, My Lady,” Hannah spoke politely, hastily sweeping up the shards of the china doll. She kept a dustpan and brush hidden behind the chest of drawers especially for moments like this. Lady Katherine had a terrible temper and never hesitated to take it out with her fists, feet, or any projectiles she had to hand. “Here, let me help you undress. Perhaps you’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep.”
“You’re an insensible brute; what do you know about it? It’s not like you’ve ever been in love,” Lady Katherine moaned, but the bite had gone out of her voice. She turned around, allowing Hannah to start unlacing the back of her gown.
Hannah had learned to ignore these casual insults. Getting upset would hurt no one but herself. If she didn’t like being insulted and slighted and even physically abused on occasions, she had better stop being a household servant. It was a rare servant who wasn’t mistreated in some way, and Hannah knew quite well that her situation could be worse.
“There we are, My Lady,” Hannah said, finally bundling the girl into bed. “Comfortable?”
Lady Katherine was just short of eighteen years old. She was devastatingly beautiful, with a doll-like face, pristine blonde curls, large blue eyes, and bow-shaped red lips. She was careful never to display her temper to any gentlemen she might want to impress or any of her friends she wished to keep.
However, the servants and even her parents were a different matter altogether.
Lady Katherine waved irritably. “Yes, yes, I’m quite all right. Go away, please. I’m rather tired of your sour face.”
Hannah, who had kept a polite smile during their interaction, only nodded, curtsied, and left.
She heaved a sigh of relief once the door closed behind her. Unless Lady Katherine took it into her head that she wanted a midnight feast at three o’ clock in the morning again, Hannah was free to go to bed.
The servants’ halls were on the lower floors, beneath the main hallway, but the servants’ bedrooms were in the attics, right under the eaves. They were sweltering in the summer and freezing during the winter, but Hannah had got more or less used to them.
She wearily climbed flight after flight of stairs, and shortly after the stroke of one o’clock in the morning, Hannah Grey, lady’s maid, finally collapsed into her own bed and prepared for sleep.
First things first, however.
The letter had arrived early that morning, and Hannah hadn’t had a moment to look at it, not with Lady Katherine going to the ball that evening. She recognised the handwriting and had been thinking about the letter all day.
Lying in bed, trying not to look at the cobwebs and their occupants above her head, Hannah opened her letter and began to read.
I hope you’re doing well. The money you sent last month was more helpful than you can imagine. Thank you. Our summer harvest is coming up on the farm, so I’ll be able to send you a few goodies and treats when the time comes, which should be soon enough. The harvest looks like a good one, and I hope to pay off some of the money I owe.
On Monday, it was five years to the day when your mother passed away, which I’m sure you know. I thought I would have a miserable day alone, but then your Aunt Edith came to visit me, which was wonderful. We talked about you.
She misses you, you know. Little Amelia is doing well – she’s nearly nine now. Edith kept saying how Amelia is asking why she doesn’t look like her papa. They tried to ignore it at first, but Edith thinks that some spiteful person in town has said something to her.
The vicar is a clever man, though, and he makes jokes until Amelia laughs and laughs and forgets what she asked. She’ll need to know someday, though, and Edith dreads it. Her husband seems much calmer about the whole thing, and I daresay Edith will take her cues from him. He’s a good husband, I think. There’s certainly something to be said for marrying a vicar.
I think your aunt plans to write you a letter of her own. I didn’t tell her some of the more upsetting things you’ve told me about working at Donwood Manor. I know you’re a grown woman, my dear Hannah – some days I can hardly believe that you’re a full twenty years old – but I will give you this advice.
Tread carefully. Life for the likes of you and me is not easy. Your mistress at Donwood Manor might be spoilt and angry and make your life a misery, but there’s always someone worse than her. Always. Maids get harassed, underpaid, or not paid at all, or work for gentlemen who take liberties. Your job isn’t easy, my dear, don’t get me wrong, but it could be much worse.
Stick it out; that’s my advice. If you want to move to a different place, secure yourself a good reference first.
Oh, what am I rambling on about? You know all this already. You’re my clever girl, Hannah Grey. Just like your mother, you’re a clever girl.
I visited your mother’s grave on Monday. Edith stayed at home, and I’m glad. It was a private moment. I brought her some flowers and told her all about you and what you’re doing. You know, she’d be so proud, thinking of you working in a fine, big house like Donwood Manor. I daresay she can watch you every day from where she is, but I must wait until you get some leave and can come and visit me.
I miss you, my darling daughter, but I pray for you every day.
All my Love,
Hannah smiled, folding up the letter and pressing it to her chest. She missed her father and her Aunt Edith. It was strange to think how much she hadn’t wanted to go and stay with Aunt Edith and Cousin Amelia, along with her husband, Vicar Thomas Evans, the man willing to raise a child not his own.
It had been five years ago, and Hannah distinctly remembered her father sitting in their house, newly widowed, tears streaming down his cheeks. Aunt Edith had badgered and badgered him to let Hannah come to live with her, and Hannah had not wanted to go.
But go she had, and her life was completely different because of it. She would never have got this job at Donwood Manor if not for her aunt.
Although sometimes that seemed more like a curse than a blessing.
Sighing, Hannah folded her letter and tucked it underneath her mattress. She had no idea what tomorrow would bring, but Lady Katherine would certainly have a sore head and a terrible temper.
She would need her sleep, that was for sure.
Luke’s valet threw open the curtains, letting in a blinding stream of light. Luke groaned, burying his face into the pillow.
“Time to get up, sir,” Matthew said jovially.
“Not just yet,” Luke mumbled.
“It’s Lord Evington’s, sir. You are to be up in time to go out with your father this morning.”
Matthew was unapologetic and firm. He was a middle-aged man with a talent for valeting and a sense of loyalty towards Lord Evington rather than the young Viscount Sternford he had been assigned to dress and care for. He was quiet and serious, with no inclination for pranks, inappropriate jokes, or rude comments about his superiors.
In short, he had no intention of becoming friends with his young charge, despite Luke’s valiant attempts.
Luke had learned early on that his valet wasn’t anything like the jaunty, cheerful young Frenchman that Luke had employed in Paris.
Luke had begged Gaspard to continue working as his valet back in England, but Gaspard would not be moved. His life was in France, he said, and he simply could not leave. So, Luke returned home alone and was given a valet by his father.
At first, getting a valet provided and paid for by his father seemed like a gift of sorts, a kind gesture, something to make Luke feel more welcome in his old home again. Recently, however, Luke saw Matthew for what he was – a spy.
Matthew was a good man, of course, but Luke knew quite well that he reported anything he thought relevant back to Lord Evington. It wasn’t done out of cruelty, of course, more out of concern, but that didn’t make Luke feel much better. He felt trapped, out of place, and entirely at a loss.
His friends had all been abroad, and whatever acquaintances he had back in England had naturally lapsed. Luke felt entirely alone. He felt as though he were isolated from his family, friends, and culture.
He had only been home from studying abroad for a few weeks, and at the moment, Luke felt that this place, this country, would never seem like home.
One thing he could not get used to was the early mornings.
He’d forgotten just how rabid country-dwellers were for the early mornings. They considered getting up at dawn to be rising “on time”. If you weren’t up by the end of the sunrise, you were a lazy, useless fool wasting the day. They considered nine o’clock to be the end of the morning.
Luke did not like that at all. He also didn’t like how keen Lord Evington was to make his son “a morning person”.
Luke rolled over onto his back, squinting at the pale morning sun. Matthew stood at the end of his bed, patiently waiting for his master to get up. He had his hands folded neatly in front of him and gave out an air of long-suffering.
“What time is it?” Luke mumbled.
“It is almost six o’clock, sir,” Matthew said, with a hint of disapproval in his voice, as though he thought Luke should have been up much earlier.
“Good heavens, that’s still night-time. Well, I suppose I’d better get up, or Father will come up to get me.”
Matthew did not smile at Luke’s joke. Luke wasn’t entirely sure the man knew how to smile.
“I have set out your riding things already, sir. All that remains is for you to put them on.”
Lord Evington was already waiting by the time Luke came hurrying down to the stables. The house was gradually coming awake – footmen and maids were moving around in the house, cleaning, tidying, setting grates, and so on. Luke felt strangely out of place in his own home.
Not that this place felt much like home after all.
Lord Evington was tapping his riding crop impatiently against his leg as Luke approached. His Lordship was around fifty years of age, with neatly greying black hair and a waistline that was gradually leaving behind the elasticity of his youth. He was frowning, staring down at the ground as if it had personally angered him.
Some of the annoyance left his face when he glanced up and saw his son.
“Ah, there you are, Luke. Couldn’t get out of bed, could you?”
“Father, I don’t believe six o’clock is a proper time for anybody to rise.” Except for the servants, Luke added to himself, with a twinge of guilt. They probably didn’t enjoy their six o’clock starts every morning either.
“Hmph. Well, I daresay you lounged in bed till all hours while you were away from home.”
Luke chuckled. “Father, you know I studied abroad? The key word here being study. I did have to do some work.”
“If you say so. Now, I thought we could go round Old Marge’s Paddock, all the way up to Milton Lake, and back again. What say you?”
“It sounds like a good idea to me, Father.”
“Excellent. You take the grey, and I’ll take my old roan, Josie.”
The pair mounted their horses, and Lord Evington led the way. They rode on in silence for a few minutes. Luke sat up in his saddle, a little annoyed to admit that the early morning sun and delightfully crisp fresh air really were refreshing and enjoyable. Now that he was up and out of bed, he felt wide awake and energetic.
There was no need to let his father know that, of course.
“So, Father, let’s hear it, then,” Luke said as the two horses fell into step beside each other.
Lord Evington raised an eyebrow. “Hear what?”
“You clearly have something to tell me. I know you, Father. This little meeting smacks of a Very Serious Talk, and I’d like to get it over with so I can challenge you to a race and win.”
Lord Evington smiled vaguely but did not immediately answer. Luke waited patiently.
Luke knew that he was something of a fast-talking young man. He had a knack for words and a knack for languages, and he never found himself without something ready to say. He often did not think before he spoke and had blundered himself in trouble with his words more often than he cared to remember.
Lord Evington was a different type of man. His words were slow, few, and weighty. He thought deeply before he spoke and was entirely straightforward and honest in his speech. He would not be rushed.
“Are you happy here, Luke?” Lord Evington said finally. “In England, I mean.”
That took Luke by surprise, and he found himself searching for something tactful to say.
Simply put, the answer was no. Luke knew the rules for the only heir to an earldom when travelling abroad. The rules were simple: go if you must, have fun but be safe, and above all, come home when you are summoned.
Luke had loved his travels. He loved to study; he loved art and agriculture. He loved the different foods and cultures, the sun’s heat, and the scenery’s beauty. He enjoyed learning new languages and practicing his conversation with good-natured locals who laughed at his pronunciation and then helped him to correct it.
And the dreaded letter had come, summoning Luke home. He’d dutifully gone, of course, but with a heavy heart.
He was the heir, after all. He was the only child to kind, doting parents. What sort of son would he be if he did not return when called? If the heir apparent disappeared, died, or otherwise was indisposed, then the estate would be ruined. There would be entails to think of, as well as other serious problems. It was so important that Luke came home.
And yet, he would have given his entire inheritance to live the life he wanted. He would have handed over his whole fortune to stay across the sea in France.
Bland, grey old England could not yet measure up. Luke had no real friends in England, no prospects, no real desire to be here. He hadn’t adjusted to the cold and couldn’t see the beauty in the scenery. The food left much to be desired.
Glancing over at his father, looking hopefully at him, Luke knew that he couldn’t say any of those things.
“I’m getting used to it,” Luke said finally. “I’m still cold all the time, of course.”
Lord Evington smiled at that. “Well, when you are the earl after I’m gone, you can have all the fires in the house stoked at all times.”
Luke’s returning smile faded again. “That won’t be for a long time, though.”
“Luke, I summoned you home because it’s time to learn how to be an earl. A proper earl, not one of those ludicrous dandies who never bother with their tenants or their land and don’t care about anything beyond their money and fashion. You need to learn how to run an estate and start thinking about settling down. You’re twenty-seven. When I was your age, I was married and had a child. I had reassured my father – your grandfather – that our line would continue, that I was going to be a good earl, that I knew what was required of me. Simply being a good man is not enough. You will be an earl, and that requires more than good nature and a handful of good intentions.”
“Don’t you Oh, Father me. You ought to be thinking about marriage. The years slip by faster than you might expect. The older you get, the harder it is to find someone nice and settle down. The prospect of children becomes more distant. What’s more, your desire to marry and settle down fades away. You don’t understand how narrow a window you have to make all this happen. Your mother and I want grandchildren and to see you settled and happy.”
“And you think that a wife and child will make me happy?”
“It made me happy.”
Luke was silenced for a moment. “Do I have to choose this Season?” he said in a small voice. “It’s just that I don’t know anyone. I don’t even think that I like anyone.”
“It’s a weighty choice; I grant you,” Lord Evington conceded. The two horses reached the tip of the hill they were climbing, looking down over a large, glossy lake. The rising sun glittered off the water.
Luke took in the scene, and for the first time since he’d returned home, he had to admit that this was as beautiful as anything he had seen abroad.
They looked at the view for a few moments, then Lord Evington gave a satisfied sigh and turned his horse’s head around.
“Better head back to the house, eh? We don’t want to be late for breakfast.”
“Now, as to your marriage. Your mother and I have some ideas. Do you know the Duke and Duchess of Donwood?”
“I can’t say I do.”
“Well, they have a daughter, freshly out this Season. She is their only daughter and said to be an heiress. I don’t know how much she will inherit. Her parents keep it a closely guarded secret, no doubt to frighten away fortune hunters and other disreputable young men. I can understand that – any parent dreads their child being snapped up by callous, ambitious fortune hunters. Her name is Lady Katherine Munroe. She is extremely beautiful, very charming, and her family is an excellent one. Now, your mother and I cannot, of course, push you into any courtship you do not want, but we strongly recommend you consider Lady Katherine.”
Luke watched his horse’s mane blowing in the breeze, collecting his thoughts. To know his parents had all but picked out a prospective wife for him was a little unnerving.
“I don’t even know Lady Katherine,” he said finally.
“Not to worry. We have invited their family over later this summer for our annual house party. It will be a perfect, informal occasion for you and Lady Katherine to get to know each other. If you decide that you like her, it is all arranged. The duke has made it clear that he very much approves of the match.”
Luke snorted. “He doesn’t even know me.”
“No, but he knows me, and that is generally good enough.”
Luke did not think it was good enough.
They stayed quiet for the rest of their ride. Luke’s mind was whirring at top speed, all the joy and calm of their early-morning ride quite gone. He knew his father wanted him to take on more duties and responsibilities on the estate, and he was quite happy with that. He was getting older, and so were his parents. He was their only child, and it was time for him to help take some of the burden from his parents’ shoulders.
Who else could they look to if not their son?
But marriage? Luke shuddered.
Some of his friends had married at a young age, most of them snapping up heiresses on the marriage mart. Some of those friends regretted their choices; others lived lives of true marital bliss. To Luke’s inexperienced eye, it was either one or the other. You loved your spouse, or you hated them. Your marriage worked, or it didn’t.
Happy marriages were nice; he understood that. It was nice to be loved, pleasant to be wanted. The idea of raising children with a person you loved was an attractive one. But the fact was that many marriages – especially amongst the ton – did not work out. Those partners hated each other. They hated each other, but it was far too late. They were married, and until one of them died, they were stuck together. Many of them lived separate lives, seething with hate, resentment, and regret. They grew increasingly bitter, with no way of remedying their misery.
Not a pleasant idea. Luke had never been much of a gambling man, but fifty-fifty odds with one’s life happiness did not seem like a good bet to make.
He trusted his parents, of course – just not necessarily to choose his bride. After all, he was the one who would marry the woman and spend the rest of his life with her. It was only fair that he should have some say in who he married.
Better yet, he should have all the say. Mistakes could be made, and Luke would much rather make his own mistakes and only have himself to blame rather than resent his kind but misguided parents.
The horses trudged into the courtyard, heading to the stables without needing to be guided. The grooms waited, ready to take care of the animals.
Luke drew in a deep breath. He had to tell his father the truth. Lord Evington deserved that, at least. He would be frank. He would say that he did not wish to be married yet, no matter how lovely Lady Katherine was. He required more time, he would say. Perhaps he could suggest looking for a wife next Season, or even the Season after. That would buy him some more time to get his head straight and to get more used to England.
Lord Evington dismounted first, wincing as he swung his leg out of the saddle. Luke followed, slipping nimbly from his horse.
“Father,” Luke began, “I really think we ought to talk about this more. You see, the thing is … I …” Luke frowned, not entirely sure why his ready wit was deserting him. Then he noticed the expression on his father’s face and paused.
Lord Evington was frowning, staring into space at nothing in particular. He’d been flushed red from the exertion just half a minute ago, and now he was a livid shade of white. He bent forward just a little, one of his arms hanging strangely at his side. The other hand came up to touch his arm as if he couldn’t quite realise why it wasn’t responding.
The first cold spike of panic stabbed Luke’s heart.
“Father?” he said, his voice rising a little. “Father, are you alright?”
Both grooms looked towards them at the tone of Luke’s voice. Lord Evington opened his mouth as if to speak, but only a guttural groan came out.
His legs suddenly buckled, and he collapsed onto the dirt, lifting a cloud of reddish dust around him, and lay still.
“Father!” Luke cried out, dropping to his knees. He frantically felt for a pulse. “For heaven’s sake, fetch a doctor!”
“Loving the Wrong Viscount” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Hannah Grey is a hardworking lady’s maid, resigned to her lot in life. Determined to not let her family down, Hannah endures countless insults by her spoiled young mistress. However, her whole world is turned upside down when she meets the handsome and surprisingly kind Viscount Sternford. From that moment on, her feelings for him become stronger and stronger, even though she knows that a romance between them could never blossom…
With her aunt’s warnings about never trusting a nobleman, could Hannah’s guarded heart ever dare to love a man above her station?
Luke Sterling, Viscount Sternford, is a man in a quandary. His beloved father’s health is fading, and as the only son and heir, he needs to marry and secure the family. However, a harsh betrayal makes Luke unwilling to trust again, and certainly not to fall in love. That all changes when he meets the intelligent and outspoken Hannah, who awakens his heart. In the unforgiving world of Society though, love is unimportant next to the demands of family duty…
If only Luke gave love another chance and treated the deep scars of his soul with the kind-hearted maid…
There will soon come a time that neither Hannah or Luke will be able to deny their feelings or stop dreaming about a common future. However, someone has other plans for them, setting up an evil scheme to tear them apart once and for all. Will Luke dare to stand up to Society, where one’s social status can easily turn into an eternal prison? Will the two of them defy each and everyone turning against them and follow their hearts?
“Loving the Wrong Viscount” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.