Edith Layton

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Authors: To Wed a Stranger
gardens were all in full sunlight. This was a country lodge, but also a gentleman’s home, so the lawns all around it were closely cropped by sheep or neatly scythed by gardeners. There was forest, but it was a long walk away. Brooks and streams ran everywhere, and a clever former owner had even diverted one to run near the lodge. He’d constructed a concrete channel, lined by flowers that led to a pretty ornamental pool filled with water lilies and golden fish. But that was in full sunlight too.
    Miles supposed he could set up an umbrella for his invalid wife, and should have done. But for now?
    He compromised. There was a small bench set beneath a huge elm, and he put her down there in the dappled sunlight at the edge of the canopy of leaves. He tucked her wrap around her shoulders and then sat beside her, watching as she closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sky.
    It was very quiet, nearing noon. The birds hadfinished saluting the morning, and the only sound was the soft flutter of the leaves above them. Miles stretched out his legs and gave himself to the silence.
    “You must be bored to bits,” Annabelle said suddenly. She didn’t open her eyes, and spoke as though to the sky. “Fine honeymoon for you this is, carrying an invalid from chair to bed and back again. You can go riding, you know.” She paused, swallowed, then added in that same cool voice, “You can even go away for a while if you wish. Back to London—or wherever.”
    “Can I?” he said, carefully.
    “Of course. It is, after all, only guilt and duty that keep you by my side, isn’t it?”
    She still didn’t look at him. But he watched her. Her face seemed to have taken on a bit of color, and he wondered how much was the effect of the sun on that fragile skin, and how much the effect of whatever emotions she kept so strongly in check. It was no little thing for her to send her husband away on her honeymoon. He had few illusions about their relationship and knew it wasn’t as though she couldn’t bear to be without him. But she had no family or friends there, only servants. So it was noble as well as kind of her to offer, and he was touched and shocked by it. Whatever else he expected of her, it wasn’t that.
    Duty and guilt? How could he deny it? Hecouldn’t claim love or even friendship kept him there by her side. She’d never believe him. To say he stayed because of worry for her health was true, but too cold and even cruel.
    “I’d look very fine leaving my wife on our honeymoon just because she was indisposed, wouldn’t I?” he said lightly. “And how many people would believe me if I said that?”
    She seemed to relax. That, she seemed willing to believe.
    “I’m not entirely a town creature,” he went on. “I do love this place. I can ride, as you say, or go walking. And I really enjoy fishing; the trout here are amazing.”
    Her eyes snapped open, she turned her head to look at him. “Trout? Really?” she asked excitedly. “But you were a sailor. I thought you seafaring fellows only caught whales and dolphins and such.”
    He laughed. “Few whales. But mackerel and many another fine dinner. Not much sport in that; ocean fishing is a matter of tides, luck, and strength. But trout! Now, they need a man with stealth, cunning, and skill. One who’s willing to practice to find the perfect cast, and research in order to pick the best lure. It’s a lot of bother for just trying to prove I’m smarter than a fish. But when—if—I do, it’s as delicious as any fine dinner—even if the fish gets away.”
    “Yes,” she sighed, “I know. I wish I could join you. But I can scarcely walk, much less go wadingif I had to. As you say, it doesn’t take muscles. Still, I haven’t the strength to pull in a minnow.” Her spirits lifted again. “But tell me about them, please. How big do they run here? Where’s your favorite place to cast: deep pool or running stream? At dawn or dusk? And do you use flies that you make

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