Lady Violet Says I Do
Book 8 in the Lady Violet Mysteries series
Lady Violet and Sebastian MacHeath are trying to forge a cordial marriage out of unlikely beginnings. When they are invited to a summer house party, they accept, hoping to make the excursion into a belated wedding journey of sorts–or at least a respite from meddling relatives. No sooner do they arrive, than their host’s ward is accused of petty wrongdoing. As the charges escalate into familial acrimony and worse, Violet determines that a scheme is afoot to discredit the young man.
Unraveling the mystery before a criminal investigation goes too far will require that Sebastian and Violet trust one another as they haven’t in years. They can get to the bottom of the unfortunate developments at the house party, but can they solve the mystery of how to be husband and wife in more than name?
Enjoy An Excerpt
I had become a mother, to my most glorious delight, and I was married again, another development to be celebrated at least in some regards. Nonetheless, I had yet to embark in a meaningful sense upon the duties of a peer’s wife.
To the world, I had become the Marchioness of Dunkeld late in the previous year. In my heart, I was still Lady Violet Belmaine, only daughter of the Earl of Derwent, and widow of one Frederick Belmaine.
Sebastian, Marquess of Dunkeld, had been the dearest companion of my youth. We’d become estranged when he’d bought his colors, and our rapprochement over the previous two years had been gradual and halting. Sebastian had offered to marry me out a surfeit of gallantry. After the birth of my daughter, he’d deposited me at his family seat and promptly dashed off again.
His motivations for leaving, like much of the man, were a mystery to me, and a constant source of vexation. He was not Maeve’s father in truth, but as the world was concerned, he’d agreed to play the part.
Would he play the part of husband or be my husband in truth?
“More tea, Violet?” Aunt Hibernia asked, brandishing a porcelain teapot adorned with fat, pink thistles and hungry-looking eagles.
“No, thank you. I am for the nursery.”
“Take the child to the parapets,” Aunt Mairead said, peering at her needlework—more thistles. “The fresh air will put roses in your cheeks.”
In England, a lady avoided the sun, rubbed her skin with raw potatoes, and even resorted to cosmetics to ensure her cheeks were fashionably pale. I was Perthshire, Scotland, and had not seen my homeland for months.
Nor had I seen my husband in quite some while.
“High summer is a fine time to travel,” Aunt Bernie observed to nobody in particular. She perched her on sofa, the picture of a benevolent dowager, save for the two black long-haired cats who kept vigil along the sofa back. The feline familiars told the real story.
The aunties always meant well, but they never ignored an opportunity to meddle. Would I age into the same tendency, here in my husband-less highland stronghold?
“I refuse to go south without a summons from Sebastian,” I said, rising. “He knows the baby is a good traveler, and that I have weathered many a mile on Britain’s roads.”
“We know our nephew,” Aunt Mairead said. “He is likely sitting in that cesspit known as London waiting for any sign that you’d welcome him home. He is pretending to busy himself with the great affairs of the realm, but nobody worth the bother is in Town this time of year.”
“He’s sulking,” Aunt Bernie observed, petting one of her beasts. She could tell them apart, I could not. “Brooding, to use the manly term. You must be gracious in victory, Violet, and show him some mercy.”
“I wasn’t aware that Sebastian and I had engaged in hostilities.” I snatched a piece of shortbread from the tray. “Besides, he’s not in London. He’s biding at Ashmore, bringing the property up to standards.”
Ashmore was a pretty manor house on the border of Kent and Sussex. That put it a half day’s ride from my father’s family seat, Derwent Hall, and an enormous distance from Perthshire.
Sebastian and I had been married at Ashmore in a quiet ceremony by special license. My father, my two married brothers, and their wives had been in attendance. Sebastian’s small family had not been represented, but Hugh St. Sevier and his wife Ann had been on hand. I’d hoped their presence had been meant as a show of support for Sebastian as well as for me.
I’d been dyspeptic all throughout the ceremony, and had not lingered among our guests. When a bride is far gone with child, allowances must be made.
“Sebastian keeps you apprised of his movement?” Aunt Bernie asked.
“He does.” Short notes, inquiring after my health and my daughter’s wellbeing. Sometimes Sebastian reported his activities—called upon your father, who was fortunately not in residence at the time—and so forth, but his missives were dispatches rather than a new husband’s letters to his bride.
Mine to him were even worse. I said little about the baby, other than to assure him of her great good spirits. I did not know the neighborhood gossip well enough to relay much of that. Which left… elegantly penned weather reports.
And me, missing the husband who was doubtless not missing me.
And Sebastian, kilting about the Home Counties and probably wondering what he’d got himself into.
As I made my way up a winding stone staircase to the nursery, I realized why marital bewilderment felt so familiar. I’d barely left the schoolroom when I’d married Freddie Belmaine, scion of a respected and prosperous gentry family. Freddie had had many fine qualities—I could say that now with very little rancor. He’d been charming, financially generous to me, an attentive escort, and at bottom probably well intended, but he’d been young, self-centered, and merry hell as a husband.
We had not been in love, of course, and by the time of his death five years into the marriage, I had stopped hoping for more than cordial friendship. I’d been handed widowhood instead, an occasion for profound sadness which had blossomed into vexation and then—a fascinating discovery for a lady to make well into adulthood—a temper.
I came to the nursery, an airy suite of rooms on the topmost floor of the “new” part of the castle. Two hundred years ago, some MacHeath ancestress had tired of smoking chimneys and communal meals and had had a country house grafted onto the family citadel. The modernization had been carefully done, such that the castle still made a grand first impression on the main approach.
Visitors emerged from a bend in the wooded road to behold crenelated parapets, turrets, a drawbridge and portcullis, complete with a flapping pennant silhouetted against the brilliant blue of the Scottish sky. A fairytale edifice that I’d liked on sight.
Sebastian deserved such a home, though his feelings about the place had been conflicted even before he’d abandoned me here.
My feelings about my daughter were not conflicted. I heard Maeve’s laughter as I opened the nursery door, and all woes and misgivings fled my heart.
“Baa!” Maeve waved a chubby fist in my direction, and offered me a gummy smile over her nurse’s shoulder.
“We are in a good mood this afternoon,” Belkins said, jostling the baby gently. “All full of ourselves.”
I took the child from the nurse, delighting as always in the solid feel of a healthy infant—my healthy infant. I’d suffered two miscarriages in my first marriage, and been worried half out of my mind while carrying Maeve. She was to me the embodiment of rejoicing. After her birth, I had waited for that giddy excess of maternal sentiment to fade, but it never had.
She gurgled against my shoulder and kicked at my middle.
“Milady is in high spirits,” Belkins said, pushing a lock of red hair behind her ear. “Proud of them new teeth and more on the way.”
Belkins was not yet twenty years old, but when it came to Maeve, I trusted her implicitly. She’d been on nursery duty since the age of ten, and was the oldest daughter in a brood of eleven. What Belkins did not know about babies was likely unknown to God himself.
“I’ll take herself up on the walk for some fresh air,” I said. “You may nip down to the kitchen for a cuppa and Maeve and I will sort out all the troubles of the world.”
“No troubles for that one,” Belkins said, passing me a shawl. “She was born under a lucky star.”
She’d been born on St. Valentine’s Day, a bit of irony that. “She’s had lunch?”
“Both lunches. You’d think mashed peas were Christmas pudding to watch that child at her tucker. That’s the Scot in her.”
Not a drop of Scottish blood flowed in Maeve’s veins, alas. I waved Belkins on her way, tucked the shawl around my baby, and prepared to sooth myself with two of my favorite tonics: My daughter’s company, and the view from the castle parapets.
The heights were not even breezy for a change, but purely bathed in sunshine and fresh air. I settled with Maeve on a bench of ancient provenance and looked out over the pine forests and fields of my husband’s holdings.
The vista met a need in my soul for beauty balanced with wildness. England offered no such landscapes, and the first time Sebastian had shown me the prospect I now admired, I’d gained a whole new appreciation for how homesick he must have been as a boy.
The previous marquess had banished his heir to England at a young age to acquire English airs and graces. Sebastian had been entrusted to distant relatives on the estate next to Derwent Hall, and thus he and I had become acquainted. We’d both been lonely, both outcasts in a sense, and a friendship had sprung up.
Did we still have a friendship? I’d hoped so, but two months after Maeve’s birth, Sebastian had escorted me north to Perthshire, and then taken himself off south to “see to matters at Ashmore.”
I had had two days’ notice of his departure, and regular dispatches since, but no clue why he’d left or if he’d return.
And those dispatches, which had been weekly at first, were less and less frequent.
“What is his lordship getting up to?” I asked my daughter. She smacked my chin and tried to grab my lip. “He was my best friend in the world once, and I have always esteemed him greatly.”
Maeve caught my nose in a surprisingly strong grip.
“His eyes are as blue as yours,” I said, which was nonsense, but what a joy, to be entitled to spout a mother’s nonsense to my offspring. “The marquess named you.”
Lady Maeve Fleur Caledonia MacHeath. Fleur was a nod to me—Violet, the family flower as my brother Mitchell had once put it—and Maeve had been Sebastian’s grandmother’s name. Nothing about the name was English, and I liked that.
And in some quirk of celestial humor, my daughter had flaming red hair. My nondescript brown hair had reddish highlights in strong sun, but by no aberration of reason would I have called myself a redhead. Her father however, had luxurious chestnut locks and brown eyes.
The summer sun was strong, so I was careful to keep Maeve in the shade. My own complexion was of less concern to me. I had never been a diamond. I was of medium height with regular features, brown hair, and blue eyes. Despite my middling attributes, I had always expected to make a good match because I was an earl’s well-dowered daughter.
And I had made a good match—a good, miserable match. I hoped my second attempt at matrimony would improve on the first.
I did not for one moment believe Sebastian was brooding away in the south, waiting for me to wave some wifely white flag. Sebastian and I were not at odds, and I was in fact beholden to him. He had married me to give Maeve legitimacy, and for that I would always be grateful.
Hugh St. Sevier—whom I also esteemed greatly—was Maeve’s father in a biological sense. Complicated circumstances in the person of Hugh’s presumed-dead wife had arisen after Hugh and I had become engaged, and as Hugh and Ann had embarked on a reconciliation, I had realized I was with child.
Sebastian had stepped in to offer matrimony. Had he been plain, untitled, and barely solvent, his proposal would still have been the act of a kind and generous man. In fact, Sebastian’s dark good looks had doubtless provoked many a swoon in Mayfair, his title was lofty, and his wealth significant.
He’d assured me that he was offering as much out of self-interest as gallantry, but perhaps the reality of our union had taken Sebastian unawares. Had Maeve been a boy, despite her irregular antecedents, she would have been heir to Sebastian’s title and the marquessate’s holdings. She was a girl, though, a delightful, bouncy, robust miracle of a girl, and that meant, Sebastian still needed an heir.
A part of me dreaded his return, because he and I would have to negotiate the specifics of our present circumstances. Sebastian needed sons—the more the better—and yet we had not married with a view toward anything but solving my need for a husband.
“It’s complicated,” I whispered against my daughter’s copper curls.
“That is your answer to everything, my lady.”
Did Sebastian think of me as Lady Violet? Lady Dunkeld? That woman wafting awkwardly about his castle?
I pondered those bleak questions while strolling the walkway that ran the length of the parapets and circled around the perimeter of the whole castle. I had never seen the view in winter, but I longed to know it in all seasons.
Maeve had become a drowsy bundle against my shoulder when I caught a movement from the tail of my eye. Far below, a rider on a large, dark horse emerged from the trees and plodded on toward the castle.
I knew that horse. Hannibal was the last mount Sebastian had ridden on campaign in Spain, a sizeable, elegant fellow well suited to his… While my mind took in the dust on the horse’s coat and the sweat matting his neck and flanks, my heart gave a sidewise leap.
Sebastian had come home.
And while a part of me had misgivings about the terrain he and I would have navigate now, another part of me faced a difficult truth: I had spent much of my adult life missing Sebastian MacHeath, and in the past few months, I had missed him more than ever.
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End of Excerpt
Lady Violet Says I Do is Book 8 in the Lady Violet Mysteries series. The full series reading order is as follows:
- Book 1: Lady Violet Investigates — Book One •
- Book 2: Lady Violet Attends a Wedding — Book Two •
- Book 3: Lady Violet Finds a Bridegroom — Book Three •
- Book 4: Lady Violet Enjoys a Frolic — Book Four •
- Book 5: Lady Violet Holds a Baby — Book Five •
- Book 6: Lady Violet Goes for a Gallop — Book Six •
- Book 7: Lady Violet Pays a Call — Book Seven •
- Book 8: Lady Violet Says I Do •