manor house. She had some pangs of regret for sneaking
from the house like a thief in the night, especially since his
mother had been so lovely to her. But she couldn't face a goodbye,
couldn't look at him again after what she'd heard. She'd been too
cowardly to risk being in his company for fear that she would
either cry and beg him to love her or rage at him for being unable
or unwilling to do so.
    Returning home hadn't made the heartache go
away, but at least her mother was a good distraction from it.
    As soon as she ascertained that Mariah wasn't
utterly ruined or mortally wounded, she launched into a lecture so
lengthy that even Mariah's father intervened.
    Escape had been made only when her mother
rounded on her father.
    Mariah had refused absolutely to answer any
and all questions about Brandon Haverton, save to say that she had
completed her work in the library and she no longer had any reason
to be at the house.
    "But your gowns," her mother had argued, a
glint of suspicion in her eye.
    "He has promised to send them along," Mariah
lied smoothly refusing to explain why she'd left them all there in
the first place.
    Now, it was the day of the fete and though
Mariah had tried every excuse and reason under the sun not to
attend, she was going.
    Her only consolation was that Brandon
Haverton was extremely unlikely to go voluntarily and his mother
seemed far too sad to insist upon it.
    The family left to walk to the square outside
the church where the festivities would take place. As soon as they
arrived they were greeted by friends and acquaintances and Mariah
used the ensuing chaos to slip away to a hidden bench behind the
    Relief filled her at finding it empty.
    She sat and allowed the serenity to wash over
her and heal her wounded heart. This place had always been one of
solace and peace in times of trouble but today her misery would not
be silenced.
    Sitting there, she looked toward the heavens,
seeing the North Star twinkling bright and felt a tear run silently
down her cheek.
    Mariah wished then, wished with all her heart
that Brandon and his family would one day be happy. She wanted more
than anything to be the one to bring love and joy back into his
life, but as much as she loved him, she could not make him return
the feeling. Yet she still wanted it for him.
    Wanted him to find someone that he did love,
someone who could bring him back to life. So she wished it for him.
Wished it with every fibre of her being.
    "Please," she whispered to the night sky,
"please just let him find happiness. Let him find peace."
    Mariah sat for a moment or two longer then,
with a heavy heart, she stood to go and find her family.
    The village square was resplendent as it
always was, festooned with holly and ivy and paper lanterns that
the children in the schoolhouse had spent painstaking hours putting
    Everywhere she turned, Mariah was greeted
warmly, and usually she would return the greetings with equal
cheer. But she could not.
    She tried her best to go through the motions,
but her heart wasn't in it.
    Her heart was firmly stuck at Greywood Manor
with a man who didn't deserve it.
    As the day turned to evening, the hastily
prepared dance floor started to fill. It was far too cold to be
dancing outside but this had been a village tradition since before
Mariah's birth. Usually she didn't feel the cold, since she danced
every dance. This evening, however, she refused to dance even
    Mariah stood back and watched as children and
adults alike danced and sang and had a marvellous time. She tried
not to be bitter, but she envied them their cheerfulness. She
wondered if she would ever feel happy again.
    "I believe you promised me a dance."
    Mariah gasped at the feel of a hand on her
    She knew it was him, of course.
    Nobody else's voice set her pulse racing.
Nobody else's scent set her heart hammering.
    She turned and looked up into his eyes.
    He looked so good she wanted to weep. There
were circles under his

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