L

Whatever anyone said afterwards, Sophia maintained that she did keep her word. Desirous of avoiding a wedding that would be the talk of their London circles, she and the Captain were engaged for three months. Long enough for her to realize the truth she had discovered at Lady Lascelle's: that she did not wish to be without Richard for a single evening. For this reason, their engagement had no hope of remaining secret. Sophia had never learned to lie, and the Captain saw no reason.

Their friends found it amusing that day after day passed without avowal of their engagement when it was clear every time the lovers looked at each other.

If a couple's love has its roots in mutual admiration, respect, and honor, later finding its crowning flower in the bloom of passionate love, it may be supposed that the day that such a couple joins in matrimony was a joyful one indeed, radiant with the promise of a happy future life.

Despite her efforts to avoid fuss, Sophia found her friends all too willing to make one on her behalf. Once the invitations had been handed round, not one on her modest list begged pardon for having already accepted another on the same day. Most even set themselves immediately to write long letters fulsome in praise of the new couple and overflowing with delight at the prospect of witnessing their nuptials.

The day Lady Worthington received her invitation, she invited herself to tea to discuss it. Between cake and fruit, she remarked only that it was unfortunate that a girl with so much promise should fix upon a mere captain, but then it was likely England's constant stream of war would swell his fortune.

Neither the Captain nor Sophia was uneasy on that score. Her inheritance and his pot of prize-money united was more than sufficient for a leisurely honeymoon tour of the country, as well as the purchase of a house in Weymouth, from which elevated prospect Sophia could always reflect on the sea where her oft-absent husband found his purpose and employment.

Into this house came the other Herrera ladies; Mrs. Herrera, to establish herself as the dowager-in-residence, and Diana to enjoy her first taste of a fashionable English watering hole. It had one added attraction in that latter point, as its very popularity with the restive young gentlemen of the day made it a unremarkable that Mr. Cox should visit there, or that their paths should cross from time to time.

Mrs. Mayfair had only a short four months to accommodate herself to that name when her sister traded hers as well. Diana finished her courtship in fine Romantic style, fooling even her family when she declared her intention to visit Miss Essex, her friend of the previous summer in Surrey. Both Mrs. Herrera and Sophia were entirely at ease, until they received a letter posted from Gretna Green, bearing the signature of a woman who called herself 'Mrs. Cox'.

Sophia thanked God for the first time that her husband was at sea, for it was difficult enough to write him and confess her family's shame.

His response was a prompt invitation of the newlyweds to their home in Weymouth.

They abused Diana roundly when she returned, husband in tow, to Weymouth. To her credit, Diana was duly abject in her apologies, but as 'dear John's mother had never consented to the match, they had no other choice.

When Sophia remarked dryly that she supposed Diana preferred it that way, her only reply was an arch smile and silence.

Even more amusing was Mrs. Cox's complete disinheriting of her son, which threw the handsome young husband onto total dependency on his wife, who relished caring for him as she enjoyed rearing the daughter she bore not a year into their marriage.

With so much to blacken the names Herrera, Mayfair, and Cox, the family returned to London in some trepidation as to how they should be received. Diana did not wait for the silent cut, and immediately began preparing a party to remind everyone of the benefits of friends possessed of fortune. Her musical review, which fetched a notable performer from La Scala itself, was the talk of London's early season, and caused rivalry between their acquaintance as to who could wheedle an invitation from the proud hostess.

There were those who cut them, but even more enjoyed Diana's glittering audacity and Sophia's solid respectability. Invitations fell on them like snowflakes, and Sophia only wanted her husband's presence to make it perfect.

She could not repine. Captain Mayfair's frequent visits to the Admiralty had worked their effect; the West Africa Squadron was, at last, flush with ships and men. At the center of it was her husband, more eager than the most voracious privateer to chase any vessel sneaking off the coast and liberate its human cargo. Sophia had the comfort of frequent, tender letters from a man she loved; that alone made her happier in her marriage than many women she knew.

Despite enjoying the season's social whirlwind, they all agreed that nothing was more comfortable than returning to their house at Weymouth. So comfortable was it that the Coxes remained month after month, showing no inclination of renting a house of their own.

There, in harmony with sea, country, and town—where Sophia might look at the sea and think of her husband—was where the promise of all their English ambitions found satisfaction. It was also a place where Maria and Domingo might visit as they wished; as indeed they did, six months after their own marriage.

When Captain Mayfair was promoted to Commodore, Sophia's cup of happiness, so deep and broad, overflowed. His position now required more frequent visits to England to make his reports on the progress of the Squadron; often he would appear before the letter foretelling his visit arrived.

Nothing could be more precious to her than the month's furlough he received, which they spent together in their own home. On warm summer nights they traced a path to the shore, walking on a track where the silence of evening was livened by the breath of waves on the sand. There, arm in arm with the man she loved, Sophia looked to the stars and wondered aloud whether there were any two creatures on earth happier than they.

Richard answered his wife with a kiss, stolen before she could object, witnessed only by smiling stars and a vast, benign heaven.

Fin

To everyone who has read this story, especially if you've shared your thoughts in reviews, THANK YOU SO MUCH! Especially the guest who's been with me this last push towards the finish line (if it's just one person, which I think it is). I would really like to send you a thank-you card...please send me your email or something so we can get in touch.

I hope you've had fun reading this story; if you have, please let me know. It takes a lot of self-doubt and solitary effort to put a book on paper, and nothing makes that more worthwhile than a word from an appreciative reader.

Please check back soon...it's almost time for NaNoWriMo, and though I don't know what book I'll be writing yet, I promise by then I'll be coming out with something new.

Hugs and kisses!