I hope, of course, that you choose.
Robin Lewis, 50ish, solitary by nature, exiled from England. When in England, he lives in the Preston family house, Winterset.
Margaery Preston: 24, has spent the last 18 years in France with her family. Now she has only her grandmother (and a mother who wants to marry her off). She would like to go home, and being impulsive, seizes the opportunity.
Lady Margaret: Margaery's grandmother. She has raised Margaery almost from birth, and misses her English home.
Sebastian: Robin's manservant. Devoted, opinionated where Robin's needs are concerned.
For your reading pleasure, a portion of Chapter 68:
Our horses’ hooves struck sparks on the stone flags of the courtyard of the Preston house. Before my boots touched the ground, a child ran up and took the reins. Sebastian dismounted and followed as they were led toward the stable. The wide front door opened before I could knock. A liveried servant led me to a gracious chamber off the main hall. “M’lady will be right down.”
I waited, admiring the room’s appointments, which were luxurious without being lavish. Somehow, despite the difference in architecture and furnishings, it felt like Winterset. I wondered how it came about, the talent for making a home. I had made improvements to the house, but it was not this comfortable.
The door swung open, but instead of Lady Margaret, a young woman strode into the room. Taking no notice of me, she peeled off her gloves and flung them on the table.
She whirled. “Good afternoon, monsieur.” Her eyes narrowed. “I know you.”
“You do?” I remembered her: the small daughter of the slaughtered Preston son. “You were very young when we met.”
“You took our house.” Her eyes were her grandfather’s, sharp and canny; she’d grown into the nose at least. “I’m not likely to forget.”
I attempted a smile. “It was an arrangement with your grandfather to keep you all safe.”
Her mouth curved into a smile as sincere as mine had been charming. “If by safe you mean bored to death.”
“Good afternoon, Master Lewis.” Margaret Preston was in deep mourning, but her round face wore a genial expression. “How wonderful to see you again. Margaery, Master Lewis is our guest.”
Brows like slashes of ink rose to her hairline. “And has been these many years.”
“A moment, sir.” Lady Margaret marched her granddaughter from the chamber, and I listened to the rise and fall of their voices outside the door. She returned, her hands clasped at her breast. “My granddaughter is not much in society. Her manners are appalling.”
“I found her refreshing.”
“Like cold water to the face,” Lady Margaret said. “Please, come through to my parlor.” Another pleasing room, this one more feminine but with comfortable chairs and an inlaid table before the fire. Lady Margaret put aside an unfinished bit of embroidery so our refreshments could be set out. “Tell me, how is Winterset?”
“Well, when last I heard,” I said. “It’s under Fowler’s care at the moment, as I’ve been traveling. He reports to you?”
“Most regularly.” Lady Margaret sipped her wine. “But he doesn’t live there, and you do. I miss my house.”
After eighteen years, Winterset felt like my home. “I’ve been very comfortable there. I regret I’ve had to be away so much these last years.”
She gazed into her cup. “It’s time for us to return to England.”
“For me as well.” I explained the queen’s failing health, and her having—at last—made Princess Elizabeth her heir. “But if you plan to return, I’ll send word to Fowler to start packing my things.”
“Let us see how it goes,” she said. “We will not make a quick removal. Stay in the house for as long as you require. And until you are ready to take ship for England, you must be our guest.”
“It will only be a few days,” I said. “I have already arranged passage on the Unycorne, leaving from Honfleur on the sixth of November.”
I encountered Margaery Preston in the courtyard the next morning, returning from a visit to the stables. At supper the night before, she had kept her eyes down and spoke only when addressed, still feeling the effects of her grandmother’s lecture. She bid me good day, her manner still distant. By her costume, she was intending to ride. I returned her greeting, and we fell into step.
“I apologize for any disturbance my presence may have caused.”
A shrug. “You can’t disturb a tomb.”
It was quiet here; I liked that, but it was not an appealing life for a girl her age. “Is it just you and your grandmother?”
“Yes. I stayed on as her companion when my grandfather died.” She looked at the sky. “Do you think it will rain?”
It was cloudy, but it did not feel like rain, and I said so.
“Good. I dislike riding in the rain.” She fiddled with her gloves; the edges were neatly ornamented with blackwork. Was she the embroiderer? “My mother has married again; did grand-mère tell you?”
Talking to her was like playing tennis. “I’m surprised you do not live with them.”
“Grand-mère needs me.” Her pointed chin challenged me to disagree. “With Uncle Walter gone, I’m all she has left.”
I remained silent, thinking of what Lady Margaret told me about her daughter-in-law’s new husband, a minor French nobleman who spent much of his time at court, begging for scraps of royal attention.
“And they want to marry me off.”
“That is what parents do.” It was surprising that a match hadn’t already been arranged.
The path split: the stables were to the left, while the right path curved around the back of the house toward a walled garden. I turned toward it. “I didn’t have parents.”
She frowned at me comically. “Everyone has parents.”
A scrolled iron gate let us into the garden. As we walked, I sketched my origins: Wardlow, Hawley, Hatton.
“I’ve been threatening to join a convent,” she said. “Do you think they’ll accept me?”
“Do you have a vocation?” I tried to imagine Margaery Preston taking the veil. Stranger things had happened—women ended up in convents for reasons above and beyond a love of God.
“Of course not,” she said, kicking at the gravel path, “but it would be easier to fake that than enthusiasm for Jean Rigard’s choice of a husband. You should see the men he’s paraded in front of me.”
“Ah.” She had been her grandparents’ darling for so long; she wasn’t likely to accept her mother’s husband in control of her future. “I’m not sure a convent would welcome you without a vocation.”
“Grand-mère will give me a dowry,” she said. “And I’d rather marry God than some fat old man who only wants a broodmare.”
I ignored her language, even though I agreed with the sentiment behind it, remembering Dorcas and her brewer. “Do you want to be a nun?”
Her eyes glinted. “What I want is to be left in peace.”
“That’s not going to happen.” No one who wanted peace ever had it for long; I had learned that lesson over and over in my life.
Margaery ran her fingertips over the flowers, dusting her gloves with the drying stalks. “Then it’s the nunnery.”
“You’ll have to profess vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.”
“Obedience is the only hard one.”
Even during our few interactions, I had been struck by her forthright manner; this was not a girl who would take easily to the bridle. “You will have to give it to someone,” I said, “whether it’s God or your husband.”
“Why? I’m happy with grand-mère. I don’t want to marry anyone—especially if it benefits my stepfather.”
“Perhaps Lady Margaret could find a more acceptable match?” She had been twenty years in France and had family here besides; surely, she could find someone her granddaughter could tolerate.
“I don’t want a more acceptable match.” She crossed her arms. “I don’t want a match at all.”
“Marriage is a fact of life.”
“You aren’t married.”
“I’m a man.” I admired the view of the house from this angle; the garden had been laid out to take advantage of every view. “It’s not the same.”
“Why did you want my grandfather’s house, then? He assumed you had a family; I remember he was surprised to find you intended to live there alone.”
Margaery asked very probing questions. “I’d never had a home before.” I gave her the look that cowed my underlings in Cromwell’s offices and, occasionally, Seb. It did not seem to bother her at all. “Hasn’t your grandmother ever told you it’s rude to ask questions?”
“Yes, but I didn’t listen.”
“I can see that.” I tried to conceal my amusement.
“Wait.” She stopped and was still for so long that I turned around to see what was wrong. “Master Lewis.”
“What is it?” She looked like she’d been struck by lightning.
“I think you should marry me.”
“What?” Perhaps I was the one struck by lightning.
“You should marry me,” Margaery repeated with growing conviction. “I’m an heiress. You could own the house you’ve been living in all these years. It would solve both our problems.”