Ketteridge, Leicestershire, April 5th, 1816
Barely three weeks later, Alex was convinced that the manner in which Rowena had directed the management of the estate had been the right one. The only one, in fact, since by now every farm was run smoothly and efficiently. His own approach had lacked the necessary inspiration to bring his tenants around, he knew that.
By now, hands, both male and female, were being exchanged between farms and directed to where they were needed. To Alex’ astonishment, some of his runaway hands had returned from the industrial cities and resumed their work in the fields. He could rest assured that his estate was on the way to recovery.
Furthermore, there was also one other fact standing out clearly and irrevocably; his countess was the pivot on which everything turned, be it on the estate, in the manor or in the village. His people, who had heartily welcomed her at their wedding as the new mistress of the house, now saw her as the linchpin in their daily lives. She was the person they sought out whenever difficulties arose. She provided them with the comfort they needed when fate presented them with setbacks. She was the one who showed Alex what he was missing, time and time again when they rode over the estate, which people needed his support and which problem he should tackle before any other one.
As spring blossomed in Leicestershire and painted vivid colours everywhere, Alex did quite a lot of riding with his countess by his side. He had purchased a spirited little mare for her, a bay of bright reddish brown she had immediately fallen in love with and given the name of Ruby. Alex’ own steed Titan had shown an instant attraction to the mare, guiding her on their rambles with a show of protection Alex had never seen before in his faithful mount. Titan was not easily swayed in seeking contact with other horses, having been trained as an army horse. So Alex could only rejoice that their mounts got on so well. It did indeed make for pleasant and invigorating rides.
Now that he found comfort of mind in the blossoming of his estate, Alex had now the leisure to turn to another matter that bothered him. What to do about his wife’s inheritance? He would be damned if he ever let that infamous cad of a half-brother of hers rob him of what legally and rightfully belonged to him. So he summoned his solicitor Septimus Middlebridge and his batman cum valet James Porter to his library and laid out everything he now knew about the matter. They had to concoct a scheme to rectify what was wrong, albeit the last thing he would do.
Rowena sat at her vanity brushing her hair , deep in thoughts. Usually this was a soothing moment for her after a busy day but tonight she was puzzled. Something about Alex’ behaviour was troubling her. He had begun showing some thawing from the icy manners he had deployed during their first months of marriage, yet to say that he was amiable towards her was exaggerated, to say the least. She had so hoped he would, though.
Alex was friendly, and at night passionate, but there was no tenderness during the day. No surreptitious touching, no secretive kissing, no smiling even. She missed his smile which he bestowed on her during her first days at Ketteridge House. At that time, he had been sweet and protective to the point that she must have fallen in love with him from the start. Oh, yes. She did love him, but only recently had she realized it had been from the very first moment she set eyes on him.
She recalled vividly how comforting and supporting he had been when Emma Rose was born. How she adored him when he adopted her child and gave Emma his name. How she loved being the subject of his unwavering protection during all the nastiness with her former lover.
Why had she ever believed Peter Johnston was sincere in his declarations of love? She had been twenty at the time, and she ought to have better understanding of men by then, yet she had not. What did that say for her, other than her suffering from extreme naïveté and wilful denial?
Alex was the complete opposite, she knew that well by now. He was straightforward and considerate, honourable and noble to a fault. She still could not fathom why he had opted to marry her, of all women. She had seen the looks women at parties and balls in London gave him, furtively from behind their fans, as well as openly and brazenly staring when he entered. He did cut a fine, proud figure with his tall, strongly muscled frame and his beautifully chiselled face. Yet most of all, Rowena loved his blue-grey eyes, had loved them when they were still half-blind, but so vivid in colour and changing with his mood and feelings.
Rowena sighed and put down her brush. She was in her own room, since Alex had not shown any signs of wanting to make love to her. He was in his library, working on something new that he had not mentioned to her. She stood up and walked to the high window overlooking the garden behind the house. The view was magnificent, with the bright moonlight painting the sunken garden and the rose garden silver. It was like a garden from a fairy tale, a secret, wonderful place where dreams could come true. In an impulse, she donned her robe over her nightgown and left her room for a stroll in that magical world.