All right, I did not forget about you guys! I promised a conclusion and here it is. It will come in two parts, the second of which should be up soon. I might be getting a new job in a few days so my schedule is going to be a bit shaky at first. But fear not, it will soon come. For now, here is the beginning half to whet your appetites.

"My dear, I hope that all of my mistakes and all of the horrible things that I did in my past have been forgiven. I pray that I am not now seen the same way I was when I was young."

Willa walked the familiar, desolate hallways of Wakefield with a swell of emotion rising in her chest. She saw herself as a child, clutching a book as she raced up the stairs, eager to return to the privacy of her room where she could bury herself in the confines of a new story and savor every word printed upon the pages. She was in the parlor, learning to the piano with Abigail, Emma, and their governess hovering over her shoulders. She was in the study with Sir Charles, reading aloud from the Sonnets.

Her whole life was in that house, embedded in the walls. Her memories wandered the hallways, rooms, and grounds, some of them vivid and others like watercolor, blurred and washed together but still beautiful.


She looked up quickly and smiled when she saw Abigail standing at the top of the steps, staring down at her. Mr. Morton was on the girl's right, looking equally surprised.

"Oh, dearest Miss Ward!" the man began to gush as he hurried down the steps behind his fiancée. "We were not told that you would be coming to join us! Had I known, I would have met you in town!"

"It was not exactly planned," Willa replied.

She laughed when Abigail's arms abruptly locked around her neck and she embraced the woman in return.

"What did Mother do?" Abigail asked in a whisper as she retracted her arms but remained conspiratorially close.

"How do you know of that?"

"I cannot recall a time when she has ever left the house for more than a day on her own. I think your sudden appearance speaks volumes for where it was she went."

"It is difficult to know where to begin. You see, in order to cleanse my son's name of your ill opinion… I must disparage my late husband's and divulge the secrets he kept so carefully concealed from the world."

"She did nothing wrong."


"You and your dearest Madam Whitmore have a great deal in common. In her youth she was spoken of as a great beauty, known for her wit and headstrong nature. You are however due some credit in that even at your most uncouth and ill-mannered, you have always been a great deal more discreet than she ever was. She knew both Sir Charles and your father when they were young and for years she and Charles had the most inappropriate of friendships. Their parents hoped that they would marry to rectify it all."

"It was actually quite enlightening."

"However, she was much more interested in flirting and only fell in love with him when it was announced that he would be married. Our engagement hardly deterred her and while I may be tempted to say that what followed was the direct result of her own imprudent behavior, Sir Charles was just as guilty as she."

"How so?"

"It was later discovered that she was with child."

"In many ways. Please, where is Errol?"

"I do not know the exact particulars, but Sir Henry, Sir Charles' father, was quick to cover it all up and protect his son. Madam Whitmore fled to London and I believe your father quit the house shortly thereafter for his own reasons.

I suppose a writer may call it justice that some years later Charles' son would befall the same fate and make an imprudent choice that would lead to a child conceived out of wedlock. It may then be called irony that his son wished to do right and marry the girl, though she had not a penny for a dowry or a title to bring to the marriage."

"He went for a walk. Willa, what are you going to do?"

"What I should have done before."

"Errol depended on his father to pay the debt he accumulated in France. Charles did so gladly, but he only ever paid just enough to keep the creditors from seeking Errol out. When Errol wrote to us and claimed that he wished to marry this girl he had so grievously wronged, Sir Charles refused to consent. He threatened to disinherit Errol and cut off the money that was keeping him out of prison, ensuring that even if they did marry, the girl would be tied to a man with no reputation, who owed a sum that could not ever possibly be paid. I will not claim that my son is a saint… but I think it is fairly clear that his father was the devil in this case."

Willa began to run through the house, holding her skirts up to keep from tripping over them in her haste. Doors, hallways, servants all passed through her vision as mere blurs as she raced a path through the house that she could have walked with her eyes shut.

She had been a fool. In the autumn before the Ashers' wedding when Errol had confronted her in the library, he had been perfectly just in his accusation. She had acted on Lori's word without ever giving him one thought. She had been so desperate to run from her feelings, from the regard she felt for him, that she had taken the first reason that availed itself.

A gust of wind greeted Willa as she burst through the front doors. She looked in both directions from the house, catching her breath as she tried to determine which way Errol would have gone. Of course, her rational mind told her that the chances of actually finding him were scarce, but making the attempt would feel better than simply waiting around for him to come back. She was tired of waiting.

Without another moment's hesitation, she made for the road.

Willa had spent several days pondering Lady Vincent's words. They had lifted a heavy weight from her, leaving her unbalanced as she had been comfortable in all of the things she had thought she knew. The thought that Errol had callously disgraced some innocent girl had made her feel justified in denying her feelings. It gave her an excuse to run away.

Her footfalls left gouges in the earth as she ran and kicked up a bit of dirt with every step. The pounding of her heart was offset by the cool, spring breeze whipping against her cheeks as she ran into it. The cold sting was better than sitting and waiting at Lady Brandon's house for something to happen. It was better than just thinking about how she was going to do this. It was better than hoping that Errol would come looking for her. It was certainly better than simply waiting for his return to Wakefield.

Madam Whitmore had been the first to outright demand an explanation for Lady Vincent's sudden appearance and equally sudden departure. She was also the one to ruthlessly tear to pieces Willa's thoughts following the visit. Lady Vincent's explanation didn't give Willa permission to forgive Errol. He had done nothing that required forgiveness. It was she who had made the mistake. She had jumped to conclusions and then ran away from them.

All at once, the violent whirlwind of thoughts racing through Willa's head came to a clamorous halt and she found herself suddenly rooted to the earth, unable to move another step.

Errol had rounded the bend just ahead of her, carrying a cane and a letter. Her heart jumped when their eyes met and he stopped short, as if startled. She was quickly filled with a swell of worry and guilt. He looked ages older than he truly was. His countenance was washed in a haggard and weary pallor and his handsome eyes were rimmed in darkness. Even so, he still looked himself.

His lips moved, as if he was trying to speak but no sound came forth. On the second attempt he managed to whisper in a quiet, disbelieving voice, her name. With that, her remaining doubts faded and the walls that she had built in hopes of safeguarding herself from her own feelings tumbled down.

"Forgive me," Willa blurted. Her words feel into each other, breathless and barely intelligible. Then they got away from her entirely and she found herself speaking without thinking. "I have been… I have been such a fool, Errol. All of this time that I have spent thinking that I was right, that I was justified… when I wasn't. I assumed so much. I was arrogant and all of those years of being told how wise I was ran away with me. I have been so unfair to you. I demanded your honesty and openness, but never gave you the opportunity to be either. I asked that you be my friend, but I neglected to be yours in return. I hate myself for that."

Errol could hardly breathe—hardly think. From the moment she had disappeared from his life, she had consumed him. His thoughts revolved around her and he found his only means of escape to be diving wholeheartedly into work. It was tedious and boring, but it offered his mind another occupation.

He had been late in reaching Wakefield after his father's death and arrived only to be told that Willa had left the day before. He would never see her again, it was almost certain he thought. With a dowry and friends in proper society, she had no need to ever return to Wakefield. She had all of the companionship she could ever want. Their friendship would disappear into nothing on the sourest, most bitter of notes.

Or not. After months of trying to drive her from his mind, after nights of praying for some sort of relief from the emptiness, the very woman he thought he had lost for good was standing not three strides from him.

And she was stunning.

It was obvious enough what her year in London had done for her. Her clothes were far more expensive and far more ornate than anything he had seen her wear previously, with her dress made from fine, white muslin, her coat trimmed with velvet, and her bonnet adorned with ribbons and silk flowers. Even her features seemed more refined and there was a new radiance and warmth to her complexion.

However, what struck him most was the fact that her words were spoken without the measured control that she had bound herself in before. Now, she spoke with passion and feeling and for once he knew exactly what she was thinking

"Please forgive me, Errol."

It was those words that finally caught his ear and snapped him back from his reverie. She looked so pained. Her eyes were watery and pleading with him, her cheeks were flushed, as if she were about to cry. "For what?" he asked finally, managing to find his voice.

"Your mother visited me in Hamptonshire. She told me everything; that you didn't have a choice—that your father didn't give you one."

His heart jumped. If she knew that much, his mother must have explained everything—his gambling debts, the fact that he had chosen money and security over Anne—and she was there in front of him. Within arm's reach.

"Errol, if I had gone to you instead of listening to Lori—"

In three strides he closed the gap between them and drew his arms around the girl, cutting her words short as he pulled her tightly into him.

"Forget it," he said quietly, "forget everything. It doesn't matter."

Even as she decided that it did matter, Willa threw her arms around him in return and all of the tension that had built between them began to fall away, like the rain to the earth when a storm broke. She took a shaky breath and buried her face into the collar of his coat to hide her smile when she felt him gently tighten his hold on her.

"I missed you," she murmured as she lifted her chin to rest on his shoulder.

Errol gently set her away from him, his hands moving up and down her arms, as if he were confirming to himself that she was very much real. "I missed you too." He took a breath and then let it out with a tired laugh as he pressed the heel of one hand into his forehead. "I feel as though I should say something now… something emotional or charming... but I still cannot believe that you are here."

Willa took a step backwards. "Oh? Should I go?"

"No!" he said quickly. He held fast to her and then smiled when she raised her eyebrows playfully at his tone. "I mean 'stay'. Please say that you will stay."

She smiled at this and nodded. "I will stay."

Again, this time pulling him with her, she stepped back and tipped her head in the direction of Wakefield. Errol simply nodded and released her wrist to offer her his arm.

"I acted like a child."

"You were upset."

"That isn't an excuse, especially not when I like to think of myself as someone who is not given to emotional fits."

Errol smiled slightly at this and then shook his head. They were walking together as they had in the past, with her hand tucked securely into the crook of his elbow and their pace unhurried. "How was I any better?" he asked. "I was so angry and so hurt when I saw you again in the autumn that, instead of trying to explain myself, I was an ass. I was so convinced then that you were beyond my reach that I lashed out."

"Why was I beyond reach?"

"You knew everything. Well, half of everything, but you knew the worst half."

"Which was?"

He hesitated for a moment at this and then drew in a breath. "Anne. I left her."

"But you wanted to marry her!" Willa protested with vehemence. "Your father—"

The man cut her off with a firm shake of his head. "I cowered to my father and I let him hold money over my head. I chose my fortune over her."

"You wouldn't have been able to help her as a poor man, Errol. Certainly not as a poor man in debt."

"Even so…"

Willa lifted her free hand to rub at his arm, trying to offer him some comfort in what little ways she was able. "We both have our regrets then."

"Birds of a feather," he murmured in agreement.

The air was getting colder as the sun settled behind the heavy clouds that were rolling in from the west. It seemed likely to rain before they reached Wakefield, but neither felt inclined to rush. They knew that the only things waiting for them at Wakefield were Abigail's questions, Mr. Morton's insipidness, and Lady Vincent's silent but overwhelming disapproval.

"I will have to go back."

Errol laughed. "Yes, eventually," he said. "Perhaps if we linger until after dinner…"

"I meant that I would have to return to Hamptonshire," Willa cut in. She looked up to him and, despite her best efforts, could not dispel the happy feeling that came to life in her at the deep disappointment she saw in his eyes. Perhaps it was unkind, but it offered her a good deal of comfort to know that he would miss her. "I promised Madam Whitmore that my time would be hers. I left rather abruptly and even if that were not an issue she will not be able to make the journey to Bath in the summer by herself. I will need to be with her"

"I know."

"Well, there isn't much that I can do."

"I know."

She sighed. "If you say that you will read them, I will write you a letter every week I am away."

"Of course I will read them, but I am not certain if that will be good enough."


He was quiet for some time and then let out a long breath. "It hardly seems fair. She has had you for so long already."

"You will hardly be left wanting for company," Willa chastised. "You will have your brother and sister… and Mr. Morton."

Errol groaned aloud as if he had been stabbed. "Do not remind me," he begged. "Especially of the latter."

"He is a good man."

He let out an indelicate snort and raised an eyebrow. "You must feel unusually endeared to him to speak so warmly of someone so vapid."

"He makes Abigail very happy."

Errol was silent for some time, as if he were mulling this over. Then he sighed and nodded, however reluctantly. "He does," he agreed. He looked to her and offered a warm but melancholy smile. "You will come back this time, won't you?"

Willa chuckled and nodded. "I will. I promise."

"Good evening, brother."

Edward looked up from his book as Errol entered the library later than evening. Since he had returned with Willa in the afternoon, the two of them walking arm-in-arm, there was a new lightness in his mood and consequently the atmosphere of the entire household changed as well. Everything changed. When they gathered for dinner, the conversation was warm and energetic. Errol, for the first time in months, was the affable, talkative showman that Edward had always known him to be. Overall, it had been one of the most pleasant evenings in months.

"Good evening," Edward replied.

"What are you reading?"

"Something Willa brought back from London. Where are the girls?"

"They went to bed."

Edward nodded slowly and then mulled over his next question as he watched his brother take a book from the topmost shelf and flip through a few pages. "Did Willa tell you when she planned to leave for Hamptonshire?"

Errol glanced in his direction and then replaced the book upon the shelf. "Not exactly, no. But she expects to be gone before the month is out."

"I see. Why won't you ask her to stay?"

"I don't have that right."

"I suppose you will say the same if I ask why you haven't told her you love her…" Edward frowned as his brother's shoulders tensed. "Do you still love her, Errol?"

The man scoffed softly and Edward felt his heart sink for Willa and his resentment for his brother rise. How could one man be so fickle? How could—

"I have never stopped loving her, Edward."

I want to thank you guys again for being so sweet and so supportive while I was posting and when I took Willa down. I love you all very much.

(I've edited this chapter to fit better with what has been said in part 2.)