“How delightful it was to have us all together,” remarked Letitia Ridlington, as she walked over the lawn that stretched from the terrace toward the woods of Ridlington Chase.
“Indeed,” answered her sister Hecate. “A wedding is always a joyous occasion, isn’t it? But it is rather quiet now that Simon and Tabby have left on their honeymoon.”
“A couple of weeks in London wouldn’t be my choice for a wedding journey, but I’m sure they will enjoy themselves. And also they’ll be able to spend some time with Kitty and Richard.”
Hecate strolled on in silence for a moment or two. “Did it seem to you that both of them, Kitty and Richard, were eager to leave?”
Letitia thought about that. “A little, perhaps.” She nodded. “Kitty, yes. Definitely. But you know how she always yearned for London. For the salons and the fashions and the balls…”
“Yes,” agreed Hecate. “I can’t imagine what she sees in them, but to each his or her own, I’m sure.”
“Do you have any idea where we’re going?” Letitia gestured to the trees ahead. “We’ll be in the woods before long.”
“Does it matter?”
“Hmm. I suppose not. But shouldn’t one always have a destination? A goal in life?”
“Not necessarily,” replied Hecate. “And if not, I’ve always felt that a bit of aimless wandering goes a long way toward helping one discover what one’s goals should be.” She took in a deep breath of the warm summer air. “For instance, if your goal happened to involve a certain gentleman who will be moving into his new home soon, then now would be the perfect time to wander the woodland paths and decide how you will achieve said goal.”
“Hecate.” Letitia stopped dead. “How can you say such a thing? James is…is just a good friend.”
“Really?” The skepticism in Hecate’s voice could have carved rocks.
Flustered, Letitia walked on. “I cannot imagine where you get these odd fancies from.”
“Oh, let me see,” Hecate kept pace. “Perhaps the fact that you are more often with him than with your family. Perhaps because when he walks into a room he looks for you. And you look to see who has entered. Perhaps because you seek his opinion on matters of import. Or perhaps it’s just because you smile more when you are with him.”
“Nonsense.” She paused. “Oh dear.”
Letitia reached the edge of the forest and plopped down onto a convenient log, heedless of her summer gown. “I cannot, and will not, consider any kind of intimacy with Sir James FitzArden, Hecate. We are friends, we share a warm affection, and shall remain that way. Marriage to anyone, let alone James, is not one of my destinations, nor one of my goals.”
Hecate joined her on the log. “Why on earth not?”
“We Ridlingtons are almost incapable of love, and you know it. We have managed to remain a close family by some miracle, but when it comes to matters of the heart? Well—we don’t know how.”
“Tell that to Edmund and Simon.”
“I’m happy for both of them, of course. They didn’t have an easy time of it, but they’re also men. It’s different for them. You know that as well as anyone.” Letitia shot a glance at her sister.
“But it worked. Edmund and Rosaline will be parents any day now. Simon’s on his honeymoon. They’re happy, Letitia. You could be too.”
Letitia shook her head. “No, I wouldn’t. Such a state of raw emotionalism is not for me. Given our upbringing, Hecate, you know that we had to become independent; immune to emotions in any form. I am not right for James, and he knows it. He’s polite and everything a gentleman should be, but he knows how much I treasure my freedom. Anyway, his future could not include a solitary country mouse from a tainted line like ours. He will choose a Society beauty, I’m sure. And they will suit perfectly. Which is why we’re such good friends. We both know that we can be nothing more to each other.”
“That is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.” Hecate’s eyebrows drew together sharply.
Letitia looked up and gazed at the clouds, puffed balls of white scudding through brilliant blue sky. “It doesn’t matter, you know,” she said with calm determination. “I have other plans. And they will arrive at a successful conclusion. I swear it. Word of a lady.”