March, 1881

Willamina was, as always, in the kitchen.

Today, however, it was because of the weather. The spring rains had set in, and it was a cold, damp day. Stephen had come home for the weekend, ostensibly to visit the family. In truth, he and his sister had spent the morning practicing with Casmin. Now, weary but exultant, they both sat near the hearth reading while Mariana readied an early supper. Seeing their exhaustion, Mariana had put on a large pot of strong coffee.

It was this aroma that drew Rafe, red-eyed and yawning, back to the kitchen.

“Late night?” Willamina asked when she saw him.

“Very. Let this be a lesson to you, sister. Getting a man drunk for information works, but you have to stay up late drinking with him. Is that coffee I smell?”

“It’s on the stove,” Mariana answered warily.

“Ah, Mariana, you’re a radiant goddess. You put me in mind of Byron, when he said ‘She walks in beauty like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies…’”

“Ah, Rafe,” she retorted. “You put me in mind of something my mother used to say.”

“What’s that, darling?”

She hoisted a bag of potatoes onto her shoulders. “Don’t touch that, you don’t know where it’s been.” With that, she swept out of the kitchen.

Rafe’s expression was stunned for a few seconds before he burst out laughing. He pointed after her as he caught his breath. “And she can cook. I think I’m in love.”

“Must be Tuesday,” Stephen quipped without looking up from his book.

Casmin slipped into Edmund’s study. Edmund looked up from the reports he was reading, and seeing the other man’s expression, he frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“I’ve had a message from the continent.”

“Bad news?” Edmund asked.

“No. Well… read it for yourself.” He handed the note over, and Edmund read it, grimacing.

“Do you want me to tell him?” Casmin asked.

“Yes,” said Edmund, “but he should hear it from me.” He rose reluctantly and walked back to the kitchen. He was already dreading this conversation, but his heart sank even lower as he watched his brother laughing with the twins. No help for it, though.

“Rafe, can I speak to you for a moment?”

“Of course.” They went back to the study, and Edmund closed the door. “Now you’re really starting to worry me.”

“We’ve just had word from Denmark,” Edmund said. He was struggling for the right words. “It’s about Amelia.”

Rafe’s wariness turned to concern. “Is she…”

“She’s fine,” said Edmund. ”In fact, she’s more than fine. She’s getting married next month.”

“Ah.” Rafe leaned back against the door and bit his thumbnail.

After a long few seconds, Casmin said, “It’s not for a full month. If you wanted…”

Rafe shook himself and stood back upright. “What?”

“She gave you a month’s notice. Perhaps in case you wanted to – “

“What, speak now or forever hold my peace?” Rafe asked with a snort. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m happy for her, really. I’m sure she’s been homesick. I’m just glad she found a way to get over it.”

“You’re really all right, then?” Edmund asked.

“Of course. Now, if there’s nothing else?” Rafe said..

“No,” Edmund said with some reluctance.

“Then I’ve got business to attend to. Gentlemen.” And then he was out the door and gone.

“That could have gone worse,” Casmin said. Edmund just raised an eyebrow at him, and Casmin frowned. “What, you don’t think so?”

“I would have been happier if he’d flipped the desk,” said Edmund. “I’d better go warn Willamina.”

“I don’t understand,” Mariana said. She was sorting herbs at the work table with Willamina, stripping fresh thyme while her student was measuring the last of the winter’s store for a throat tincture. It was the kind of work that went quickly when they wanted it to but that often got drawn out into long stretches of gossip and real teaching. In witchcraft, it was sometimes impossible to tell where one began and the other ended.

“Which part?” Willamina asked. It was one of the rare occasions Mariana could see Edmund in her: her eyes were on her work as she balanced the scale, but she had one eyebrow quirked up and a wry twist to her lips.

“Amelia was Charlotte’s… what, sister?” Mariana asked, trying to untangle the story.

“Ward,” Willamina said. “Actually her second cousin.” She paused. “I think. In any case, Charlotte was Amelia’s guardian. They both lost their parents around the same time, Charlotte became a wealthy heiress, Amelia was underage and under English law couldn’t hold her own property, so Charlotte took her in and worked some kind of legal magic — not literally, of course — to hold Amelia’s property in trust. Although for the last few years, Edmund managed it once he and Charlotte were attached.”

“And Amelia was Rafe’s, ehh, sweetheart?” Mariana asked. The way she said the last word, drawing into two clearly pronounced words — sweet-heart — matched the awkwardness on her face as she said it. It seemed to be a notion she found as suspect, a word too dainty for daily use.

“No,” said Willamina. “Not at all.”

Mariana huffed. “Then what are you worried about?”

“Rafe was very attached to not having her for a sweetheart,” Willamina said.

“So attached he let her go,” said Mariana.

“For her own safety,” Willamina interrupted.

“But alone, and then he sent no word for six months?” Mariana asked.

“As far as I know,” said Willamina.

“And now you are afraid that he will be upset that she’s getting married?” said Mariana.

“Oh, he’s devastated,” said Willamina.

“And how do you know that?” Mariana asked,

“Because he didn’t say anything about it,” said Willamina.

Mariana stared at her, a half pulled stem of thyme between her fingers. Then she shook her head and said, “Eiste holoi treloi.”

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