"Willa?"

"Hm?"

"What do you think of Mr. Morton?"

Willa looked quickly to Abigail, frowning slightly. They were walking together down the lane, on their way to Wakefield from town. It was a rare occasion that they had the opportunity to go anywhere alone, as one of the men was always quick to join them, usually Errol or Mr. Morton if not both. However, that particular day Errol had invited Mr. Morton to join him and Edward as they went fishing and he had agreed most heartily, made giddy by the fact that he was seemingly being accepted by who had been one of his harshest critics. At the time, Willa could not stop smiling at Errol. His dislike of Mr. Morton had been evident for sometime, but he was trying to behave agreeably for his sister's sake and Willa found that endearing.

"What do you mean?"

Abigail spared her a sideways look. "It is a simple question, Willa, and this time I want the truth. I know you have been biting your tongue."

Willa laughed softly and shook her head. "He is a good man."

"Willa."

"Very well. He is a foppish sort of man who is far too concerned with carriages and fashion… but he is still a good man. He means well, he is polite and gentlemanly, and I believe that he loves you. I am glad to have him among my acquaintance."

"Then you will be my bridesmaid?"

Willa stopped short at this and looked sharply to Abigail. "He has asked you to marry him?"

Abigail turned to Willa and smiled brightly as she nodded. She took Willa's hands excitedly as the other girl stared in shock. "Last night, when we were walking in the gardens after dinner, he told me that he has loved me since we first met in London, at the assembly last autumn. That is why I was so happy this morning when Errol invited him along to go with him and Edward fishing. He was hoping for a chance to speak with them. He has already spoken to Mama and he has written to Lady Brandon."

"I am surprised he has not climbed the nearest church steeple to announce it to the heavens," Willa teased and she laughed at the slight scowl she earned in reply. Smiling wider still, she leaned forward and pressed a sisterly kiss to Abigail's cheek. "I am very happy for you. I have no doubt that you have made him the happiest man living by accepting him and so it follows that he will endeavor to do the same for you."

Abigail nodded. "That is good, because I plan to give him very little choice in the matter."

They laughed again at this and started down the path once more, arm-in-arm this time as Abigail went on about wedding clothes and where the blessed event should take place. However, after several minutes, Abigail's tone changed and she looked to Willa with something of a serious expression. "Now, we need only to find you a husband."

Willa waved a hand in a dismissive fashion. "I am just twenty this next month. I believe I have a few years left before there is any cause for alarm."

"What of Errol?"

Attempting to keep her countenance, Willa raised an eyebrow at her companion. "What of him?" she asked as she attempted to sound rather ignorant of what her friend was implying.

Abigail was wholly unconvinced. "You told me once that you were in love with him. Some time later, you told Mr. Lori the same thing. What of those feelings now?"

"We have just reconciled to be friends again after a year of not speaking," Willa replied with an awkward roll of her shoulders. She smiled, but it was weak at best. "I am very content at the present to keep things as they are."

"And if another Miss Lydia Rush should come along?"

"If another would come along and catch Errol's eye, I wish them all the happiness in the world."

Abigail let out a scoff of laughter. "I see. Well, my brother is very fortunate to have a friend as understanding as you."

* * *

Upon returning to Wakefield, the girls were informed that some of the ladies from town had come to visit Lady Vincent. Immediately, Abigail went to join her mother. Willa lingered in the doorway as she waved away the servant attempting to take her bonnet and coat. Resolving that she would not be welcomed among the ladies anymore now than she had ever been in the past Willa retreated to the library. She knew this would be her last opportunity for some peace and quiet before Abigail made her announcement.

The wedding was going to complicate things. She had wanted to leave within the week to join Madam Whitmore and Lady Brandon, but now that she was to attend as Abigail's bridesmaid there was very little point in going only to return again. In all likelihood the wedding would take place within the month, if not the next fortnight. She could delay her return to Hamptonshire a while longer. It would give her more time with Abigail before she and Mr. Morton disappeared into London society, more time with Edward to help him recover from his father's death, and more time with Errol to…

"Do not be a bigger fool than you can help, Willa," she scolded herself. "A month; I can go without making a fool of myself that long."

She shut the library door behind her and took a deep breath. After days of wading through papers and attending to business things, Errol had left the room in shambles with ledgers and books pulled from the shelves and never replaced, empty glasses forgotten on the side tables, and desk drawers left gaping with all of their contents in disarray.

Willa could not help but feel somewhat grateful for the opportunity to distract herself, for the chance to occupy her mind and hands. She shed her things as she went, laying her pelisse over the arched back of an armchair and her bonnet on the seat.

If the truth were told, she was no closer to a resolution then than she had been upon her initial return. She knew what she felt—she even knew what she wanted—but nothing was easier now than it had been before. In fact, everything was as it had been in the past. While his past was no longer a factor, Errol was also no longer simply the heir to a baronetcy. He was now a baronet. Lydia had been right about at least one thing: Errol would need a wife that could stand up beside him in the social circles he would be expected to blend with.

Taking a breath, she began to gather books into her arms and replace them and sort through the papers, stacking them on the desk in a somewhat uniform manner. She performed these tasks mindlessly. Even as her hands moved, sorted, and stacked the various papers her mind was elsewhere.

However, the trance was broken when her attention turned to one of the bottom drawers.

Her heart lurched violently as she lifted a familiar pair of gloves from where they had been laid over a stack of letters with broken seals in one of the bottom drawers of the bureau.

Her gloves.

Willa recalled her attempts to find them amongst her things upon arriving in London and her frustration at having to replace them there. Her newest pair was not even fully broken in.

"Willa?"

If not for the fact that the light pouring in from the windows had not shifted, Willa would have thought she had been there, in that same position, for hours.

"Willa? Are you all right?"

Snapping from her trance, Willa looked to Edward who was standing in the library doorway, watching her with a worried expression. "I am very well, thank you," she replied with a smile as folded the gloves in her hands to hide them from view. "I did not think you would be back so early, Edward. I hope everything went well."

"It did." Edward smiled as he stepped away from the door, his hands in his pockets. "Mr. Morton could not stand to be away a moment longer… that is, I suppose that Abigail has already told you the happy news."

Willa nodded. "She has."

"Well, he did not wish to delay telling her that Errol and I had given our blessing. Although, I cannot see why he felt the need to ask. As long as mother approves…"

"You are her brothers and he admires you both a great deal."

"I suppose." Edward paused a moment and stepped closer. "Willa, are you quite sure that everything is all right? You look very pale."

She nodded quickly. "I am perfectly fine," she said again. "I… I think the stuffiness of this old room is beginning to bother me. Perhaps I should take some air."

"Let me go with you."

"Thank you, Edward, but you have just arrived home and I am sure that Abigail will want to see you right away. I will be fine, I promise. I will not be gone long."

Although he looked doubtful of her claim, he made no further argument and departed from the room. Willa got to her feet, feeling shaken. She looked to the gloves again and then pulled them on. On her way out, she scooped her coat up, but left her bonnet forgotten in the chair.

"Willa!"

She was not quite certain how, but she had nearly charged past Mr. Morton and Errol without so much as noticing them and was only stopped by the sound of the latter's voice and the firm grip he had on her wrist. She turned to face him, to respond as casually as she could, but all that came to her mind were questions.

"Are you well?" Errol asked.

Her trance shattered and Willa shook her head even as she said, "I am." She laid her free hand atop his upon her wrist. "I am well."

Errol opened his mouth, as if to say something, but his eyes, which had darted down briefly to their joined hands, returned again and she saw the color flee from his cheeks. Her heart skipped. "Excuse me. Please. I must go," she said as she pried her hand free of his before turning and dashing down the hallway.

* * *

"Errol?" Edward wasn't necessarily surprised when he found his brother in the study at his bureau. He smiled as he drew closer. "Errol, come into the drawing room. We are talking of the wedding and Abigail wants to know what sort of allowance you will give her. Errol?"

Errol was staring blankly forward and resting his chin against his fist with his elbow propped on the arm of the chair as he chewed his knuckles. He glanced in Edward's direction briefly and dropped his hand to join the other in his lap. "She found her gloves."

Understandably, Edward was taken aback by this. "She what?"

"Willa. When she and Abigail were leaving for London, do you remember her losing her gloves?"

Edward gave this a moment's pause and then his mouth dropped open and he gawked at his brother. "Errol, no," he whispered. "Errol! You took them?"

"She left them on the back of the settee," Errol muttered. He waved vaguely toward the sofa with one hand as he scrubbed his face with the other and sighed. "I took them. I wanted something to help me remember her. Edward… I have been a fool."

"I hate to disappoint you, brother, but that is not what you would call news," Edward snapped back. "What are you going to do?"

Errol shrugged. "She does not know why I have them. Anyone could have put them in the bureau…"

"Errol. You have been looking for a chance to tell her what you feel for some time now," his brother scolded. "Perhaps this is your chance."

"And if denies me?"

Edward leaned into the armchair nearest to him and took a breath. "Brother, you cannot convince me that that would hurt more than torturing yourself like this by wallowing in such deep feelings and never voicing them," he said softly. "At least then you would know."

Errol shook his head firmly. "I would know that I would have to live without her."

"And this is so much better?"

The man smiled and it was such a strained and forced grimace that Edward knew that even he did not believe what he said next. "This way there is hope."

Edward shook his head. "No. This way there is no finality. Errol… even if you do not do it for yourself, do it for her. She deserves to know. For everything she has been through, Willa deserves to know that someone loves her in such a way. Besides, eventually she will begin asking questions."

Abigail and Lady Vincent could be heard discussing plans in the drawing room clear across the house through the silence that hung itself over the study. Then finally, the tired office chair squeaked as Errol rose to his feet. He paused briefly to wrap his brother into a one-armed hug and then pressed a kiss into his hair. "Thank you," he muttered.

* * *

Willa knew that she being silly. Perhaps Sir Charles had just found her gloves last winter, tucked them away with the intention of giving them back when next he could, and then forgot about them entirely. Upon his demise, no one else would have known they were there.

But, if the truth were told, she was letting her hopes run away with her. She wanted it to mean something that her gloves had been in that drawer among Errol's things. She wanted to think that Errol had placed them there with hopes that he could someday give them back to her, when they met again face-to-face. She wanted to think that there was romance to be had in the gesture.

She wiped her tears with the back of her hand and sniffed indelicately. She was seated underneath her favorite oak beside the small stream to the east of Wakefield, trying desperately to ignore her racing thoughts. When had she lost her senses? Why could she not stifle the feelings now as she had before?

This tiny, insignificant thing, which could be swept so easily under the rug, seemed to be undoing her completely.

"You said you were all right."

The girl looked up sharply and was startled to see that it was Errol. He was not five paces away, holding out a clean, white handkerchief and looking rather sullen. "I am," she replied half-heartedly as she got to her feet. She smiled as she smoothed out the fabric of her skirt nervously. "I just… I do not know what the matter is."

Errol stepped forward to steady her with a hand on her shoulder as she accepted the handkerchief and began to dab at her eyes. "You forgot your hat," he murmured.

"I know."

He nodded and she was grateful when he turned away. She felt odd enough knowing that she would have to explain herself and she was glad that he wasn't going to stand there and stare at her as she tried to regain her composure. He turned back to face her only when she was finished, but he did not move toward her and he did not gesture for them to walk.

"Willa…"

He trailed off as she lifted her eyes to meet his and then he looked away again, running his hands back through his hair. She cleared her throat and did all she could to rein in her feelings. "Are you all right?"

Errol laughed, the sound coming out hollow and joyless. "No," he replied

It surprised her and when he turned to look at her, she was even more taken aback by the lost, weary look in his eyes. It was if he had aged a hundred years in mere moments. "Perhaps you should go back to the house and rest," she suggested. "You had a long day; you may just be tired."

He nodded, but the gesture seemed to be simply made out of habit. "Will you come back with me?"

"I would like to stay here a while longer," Willa murmured. She looked down to her hands, picking at the fingertips of one glove with the other. "I will be along shortly. I think I will just take a walk along the stream here and get my bearings. Go home and rest."

Again, he nodded but neither of them moved. Willa found herself watching him and the way he was keeping his eyes focused elsewhere, the way he was shuffling his feet as if he were suddenly uncomfortable in his own skin. His fingers raked his hair again and when his eyes briefly met hers he looked away just as quickly.

I love you, she thought and her lips moved to match the words even though her voice did not follow.

No, he was not the perfect man, but he had never claimed to be. He never wore a mask or put on airs. He had owned to his past, to his mistakes, and to everything he had done wrong rather than denying it or claiming innocence. At the present, he was trying to be a better man and she liked to think that it was the better man she had fallen in love with.

"You found your gloves."

Willa looked up quickly from the ground and met Errol's eyes. She smiled as best she could. "I did," she said. Then, feeling rather brave she went on: "I was surprised to find them in the bureau drawer. I imagine maybe Sir Charles had found them. I was in a rush that morning before leaving to London and it had been a chaotic week beforehand so my mind was not in the right place. I must have overlooked them. I probably walked right by them."

Errol began to nod, but his thoughts seemed to shift and he set his jaw as he began to shake his head inside. "I found them," he murmured and then after a beat, he corrected himself, "I took them."

"Oh?" She felt suddenly very weak as a new wave of excitement overcame her. "Did they fit?"

He smiled, but it was brief at best and Willa felt her heart beating faster as she watched a fire come to life in his eyes. "I wanted to remember you. I wanted to think that someday you would come back for them." He rubbed at his eyes with a forefinger and a thumb and then let out a long sigh. "I am tired, Willa. I am tired of pretending—of lying to myself. I thought that it would be enough to have you in my life again. I truly did."

Willa took a step closer to him and then paused. She was clasping her hands to keep from fidgeting with them otherwise. "Is it not?"

"No." He was staring off somewhere over her shoulder, but she was too curious to mind. "When I came home last year I knew that there was nothing I could do to change who I was in my family's eyes and that we would all be counting the days until I left again. Trying to be someone else just seemed pointless. Then I met you. Willa, if there is any part of me that resembles a good man… it is all your doing. When you found out about Anne and left… it was like waking from a dream. I convinced myself that it was for the better and it did bring some comfort to think that you would finally have everything that you deserved all along."

The girl nodded slowly and lifted a hand to push a stray bit of hair behind her ear as the wind kicked up and began to pull at her already loose bun. "I never understood entirely what happened with Miss Rush."

Errol smiled faintly and shrugged. "After chasing you off, Father thought that it would be best if I settled down and stopped whiling away my life. I was introduced to Miss Rush not long after that, so I suspect my father had been planning it for some time before mentioning it outright."

"Why did you not marry her?"

A pause, a breath, and then: "I was in love with you. I am in love with you."

Willa pursed her lips and looked to the ground when she felt a new wave of tears come over her and her heart swell with happiness until it would surely break.

"You have no idea how those words have tormented me. I have fought them at every step, knowing what I would lose should they ever slip out. But I am tired of secrets and I love you." His voice shook as he spoke, heavy in the same moment with happiness and desperation. "Do you remember when we spoke before about feeling as if we had no where to belong?"

"I do."

Errol nodded and looked to his feet. "I was lying. For as long as I have known you, I have known where I belonged." He wetted his lips and then looked to her again, clenching a fist as if attempt to rein in his composure "Willa… please say something now. Anything. If I have not just made a complete ass of myself… if I have not broken what we have just repaired… please… I must know before this drives me mad."

For a moment, Willa could not say anything. Her heart was still beating wildly and her eyes were burning with unshed tears. She wanted to tell him a thousand things. She wanted to confide in him her fears that this day would never come and that she had reconciled herself to the idea that they may only ever be friends. However, nothing came to mind. Of all of the words bouncing around in her mind, nothing was right for the moment.

Errol turned away then, as if to leave, but before he could make a single step, Willa crossed the short distance between then and grabbed his arm. He looked to her, frowning as she slid one, delicate hand into his and then laid the other against his cheek. Hesitantly, he leaned forward, watching her wearily. She smiled and without a second thought she kissed him . It lasted for only a moment but even as it ended they held onto one another, their foreheads pressed together as he wrapped an arm tentatively around her shoulders.

"I also tire of secrets," the girl whispered. She stroked his cheek with her fingertips and pulled away from him just far enough so that she could meet his eyes directly. "I love you, Errol Vincent."

The arm that clutched her shoulders tightened its grip somewhat, forcing a breathless laugh out of Willa. She pulled herself closer to him again, her hand falling from his cheek to grip his lapel, and pressed her nose into the wool of his coat. At their sides, they still clutched the other's hand, their fingers knitted tightly together.

"I have heard those words many times," Errol said softly. He grinned as he pressed his cheek to the crown of her head and drew in a deep breath. "Then I would open my eyes and realize that it was just another dream come to tease me. Willa… say you will have me. Quickly, before I wake. Say you will marry me."

Willa smiled and listened to the wind as it rattled the Oak branches overhead and wove through the underbrush, tickling the long blades of grass. The air was cool and smelled faintly of earth and a coming rain. The sun shone brightly in a crystal blue sky.

"I will."

* * *

Dear Mr. William Ward,

I am writing this letter to request permission to marry your daughter Willa Ward and before you reach for your pen to hastily deny me, please do me the honor of reading further.

First of all, I know that your objections have, for their better part, to do with who my father was, but I am not him. I know what that man did to you and how he turned his nose up at common decency, your trust, and your brotherly affection. I know how he and my grandfather lied to cover him and then attempted to convince you to do the same as Madam Whitmore was forced to flee to London. You were both betrayed. For that I apologize and I feel the deepest shame of my own blood.

However, I am not that man. I am perhaps not the best man and I will freely admit to my past wrongdoings, which are numerous, but every day I strive to atone for my past and become someone else. I have been doing this since first meeting your daughter.

I love her. She is the most perfect and beautiful girl I have ever met and I long for that day that I can call her my wife. To attempt to illustrate my affections any further would require more paper than I currently possesses and more words than our meager language allows. Simply know that as her husband, I would live for her happiness alone and I would endeavor everyday to give her the life that she deserves with hopes of someday becoming the man she deserves as well.

Sincerely,

Errol Vincent

* * *

Dear Mr. Vincent,

If my daughter has given to you her consent, I will not argue. I trust her judgment implicitly.

William Ward

* * *

"I never quite understood this little habit of yours."

Willa turned to face Errol as he approached her across the field and she smiled brightly and uncontrollably upon seeing him. "Good morning," she called.

The air was cool and damp, but that would soon change with the sun just rising over the trees in the east. The breeze was steady, blowing in large, pillow-like clouds, pulling at their clothes, and forcing the tall grass to bow and hiss as it rushed between the blades. Her cheeks were flushed with the exercise, but it had little to quell the near constant excitement and overabundance of energy she felt.

"It is far too early to be 'good'," Errol replied. He wrapped his arms around the woman tightly once he was near enough and then laid a gentle kiss upon her lips. "Why did you not wake me?"

She scoffed. "I did," she replied. "You muttered some sort of nonsense and then rolled back over. I realized that there would be no arguing with that sort of eloquently put statement and I decided to go on my own. I thought I would be back before you woke honestly. I hope I did not worry you."

Errol shook his head and squeezed her reassuringly. "I will grow accustomed to this," he replied. "I simply dislike waking alone. I always worry that the last month has actually been a dream and when I wake to find you gone I feel compelled to seek you out."

Willa laughed and then, unable to resist, she kissed him once more and let it drag out for some moments before breaking away again. "Awake now?"

He smiled and then gathered her up in his arms and kissed her again. "I think so," he said as they parted again at last. His hands moved slowly from her waist to her shoulders and then back again as her fingertips played with the small hairs on the back of his neck. "We should start toward home, I think. There are still some things to be done before we leave for Hamptonshire."

"Do you mind very much?"

"Mind what?"

Willa laid a hand over his that rested upon her shoulder, rubbing his knuckles gently. "We are still newlyweds and we have spent all of this time away from Wakefield," she murmured, "You even got that special license so that we could be married here."

Errol looked toward the small cottage on the hill above them and shrugged. "Your parents would not have been able to attend had it not been here in Ashworth," he replied simply, "And I know how much it will mean to you to see Madam Whitmore and Lady Brandon."

"The last I knew, it was important that we were both happy." Willa stopped abruptly, forcing Errol to turn toward her. "If you would rather we go home to Wakefield and plan to see Madam Whitmore in the fall—"

Her words ended abruptly when Errol bowed his head and sealed her lips with his, his hands gently holding her shoulders and hers loosely gripping his waist. He pulled away and let his forehead rest against hers. "We both know how miserable you would be if you could not see Madam Whitmore home to Bath," he murmured, "And if you were to be unhappy, I would be as well. Willa, pick a place on any map and we will go there and as long as I am with you, I am home."

Willa took a breath and then finally opened her eyes. She ducked her head as she began to chuckle to herself, letting her fingers stroke the fabric of his waistcoat. "You are spoiling me."

He smiled. "I will never tire of doing so," he murmured. He stepped away from her and turned to make his way to the house. "Come along now; there is so much to be done. I have not yet had the opportunity to discuss with your father the possibility of moving him and your mother into a more comfortable home and bringing your sisters with us to Bath."

If she did not so well, it might have taken her by surprise. However, as it was it simply threw her heart into her throat and she ran after him. He turned around to catch her, swinging her around as she kissed him again.

"I love you."

"I love you too, Willa."


First, a few historical notes:

Willa mentions a 'special license'. Back in the day, you had three options when getting married. Option A: the Reading of the Banns. Every Sunday for three weeks, the names of the couples that intended to be married at a certain parish would be read to ensure that everyone was aware of it. This was to help cut down on bigamy and other marriage-related no-nos.

Option B: A common license. You paid for it and you could get married without the Banns.

Option C: A special license. You paid a LOT of money for it (20 guineas was nothing to sneeze at back then). It was basically a permission slip from the Archbishop of Canterbury saying that you could get married in the afternoon (otherwise, weddings took place in the morning) and in whichever church you chose.

In all reality, I truly saw Willa and Errol running off together to Gretna Green just because that's THEM, but I thought this sounded a bit more kosher. Besides, it meant that Willa's family could attend and there are good feelings to be had there.

Now that that's done with:

FINALLY! I'm so sorry this took so long to get out (and for how long it turned out to be), but I just had the hardest time getting it down the way I liked it.

But isn't it satisfying? They're together! They have their sickeningly sweet happy ending! Rejoice my lovelies!

Now, as I am sure you are just dying to do, REVIEW!

(Also, pop over to any one of my other fics. I'm particularly interested to hear some feedback about "Shields".)