happen,” Antonia accused her.
“Only fate arranges the affairs of mortals,” her grandmother replied. “I merely presented the two of you with an opportunity to reconcile and left the matter up to you. I am, however, pleased that you both had the good sense to mend your differences. You obviously belong together.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Richard said politely, while Antonia could only stare at her grandmother in surprise.
“Oh, dear,” Lady Sophia murmured, her expression still shocked. “I never imagined—that is—Of course, I am delighted for you, darling, if it is truly your wish to marry His Grace.” She gave Richard such a doubtful look that he grinned at her.
“I will send word to the vicar,” Lady Ware announced. “He has expressed himself perfectly willing to perform the ceremony at whatever day I should care to choose.”
Antonia regarded her wryly. “Only fate arranges the affairs of mortals? Am I not to be allowed to set my own wedding day?”
There was a hint of genuine amusement in the countess’s normally frosty eyes. “Certainly, Antonia.”
Antonia and her betrothed had discussed the subject on their way downstairs, but she saw no need to explain that the duke had gotten his own way. He had stated that he would marry her before the new year, and he would settle for nothing else. So she merely said, “December 31st then.”
Lady Sophia was flustered all over again. “Here? Do you mean this year ? But darling, an announcement! And the banns—”
“I have a special license, ma’am,” Richard told her. “We won’t need to call the banns.”
After an obviously stunned moment, she said sternly, “You were very sure of yourself!”
Richard grinned again. “No, ma’am—merely very hopeful.”
Lady Sophia, much ruffled, turned to her amused daughter. “Still, darling—so quickly!”
Glancing at her betrothed, Antonia said dryly, “Mama, I would really prefer not to attempt to word an announcement to the effect that the engagement of Lady Antonia Wingate and the Duke of Lyonshall has been resumed.”
“Oh, dear! No, I suppose people would think that very odd, indeed. But a spring wedding, darling—”
This time, Antonia very carefully avoided looking at her intended. Considering that they were lovers, a delay even of weeks could prove to be unwise. “We would prefer not to wait so long, Mama. Recall, if you please, that we actually became engaged more than two years ago. Even the most censorious of our acquaintance must surely forgive our impatience now.”
“But you haven’t even a gown!” Lady Sophia wailed.
“Yes, she has.” The countess looked steadily across the table at her granddaughter. “My wedding gown has been perfectly preserved, Antonia, and would fit you quite well, I believe. If you wish…”
Antonia smiled. “I do wish, Grandmother. Thank you.”
From that point on, Antonia found the day to be a full one. With the wedding set for just days away there were arrangements to be made which required lengthy discussions. Lady Sophia had to be gently soothed by Antonia and charmed by the duke into accepting the hasty wedding. Antonia’s efforts met with little success, but when Richard stated that he firmly intended Antonia’s mother to live with them at Lyonshall, she was so pleased and moved by his obviously sincere desire that much of her awe of him deserted her.
Since he had found a moment alone with Antonia to make the suggestion to her earlier, she was in perfect accord with this scheme. She and her mother had always gotten along well, and Antonia had no fears about the arrangement.
With the wedding details more or less agreed upon, attention turned to the last remaining preparations for Christmas day. The castle tradition was to celebrate the holiday with a large midday meal and the exchange of gifts—the latter being something of a problem for Antonia. She had gifts for her grandmother and mother, naturally, but she had not expected