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Miss Charlotte tatlock's Wedding Day

Some women's lives are defined by a single trait: golden hair, perhaps, or a grating laugh. A woman might have feet as large as tubs, or remarkable musical talents. If someone had asked her, Charlotte atlock would have unhesitatingly pointed to her defining trait. She was unlucky. !nlucky is not the same thing as desperate. She had never been hungry, or beaten, or forced to work long hours in dim light. She wasn't ugly or deformed or illegitimate. "ut good luck had always evaded her. A case in point# $ne evening she fell in love with a winsome, laughing man who seemed to share her delight in the evening. hey danced all night, and she drifted home, her head full of dreams of marriage and babies. %er bad luck showed its hand when the man in &uestion '(ord "arnabe )eeves* was declared mad and carted off to the country shortly thereafter. +hile her parents were alive, her bad luck was reflected in small things, like a favorite doll being grabbed by a organ,grinder's monkey in the street. %er mother had been the daughter of a nobleman, and so family and friends invited the family everywhere. %er father's income had been sufficient to clothe them, and feed them, and send them on a cheerful whirlwind of happy activities during the season. hen her father was struck down by a man hauling turnips to the (ondon market. As everyone whispered at his funeral: very bad luck. urnips and mad lovers combined with her mother's small income to narrow Charlotte's life. She and her sister -ay kept to a small circle of balls and f.tes each season. Shortly after her mother passed away of influen/a, her sister -ay fell in love with an inestimable gentleman named -r. -uddle. %e was not only muddled in his thinking, but arrogant to boot. Charlotte found his officiousness intolerable. +hen -ay married -r. -uddle... what would Charlotte do# In all, there was a great deal of the bad kind of luck about, and it was enough to make a woman very cross. hen she met a man who seemed to en0oy talking to her, who celebrated her intelligence and wit. %er bad luck intact, that man was the 1uke of "eaumont, married to one of the most beautiful women in 2ngland 3 and "eaumont didn't even make a pretense of finding her attractive. hen one morning a letter arrived, brought to their house by luck of the other kind. It was a letter franked 'and written* by the 1uke of 4illiers, a man of such magnificent elegance and high ton that Charlotte had only ga/ed at him from afar. hey had been at the same table during a dinner party the year before, though he hadn't even noticed her, let alone said a word to her.

In this case, it was his bad luck that had instigated the letter: a fever, brought on by a duel, led to his letter being sent to an incorrect address 'hers*...and a short time later she found herself in the duke's bedchamber, trading barbs and laughter with one of the most admired and feared men in all 2ngland. hat was how an unenviable, une5ceptionable life, a chaste life, became something &uite different. And that was how bad luck transformed into its altogether more welcome twin, good luck. "efore Charlotte knew it, she was attending a country house party held by the 1uchess of "eaumont 'and she had not spent much time previous rubbing shoulders with the highest in the land6*. And then the 1uke of 4illiers asked her to marry him. $f course, there were many women who would consider this moment to be evidence of the greatest possible good luck. "ut not Charlotte. She'd grown terribly fond of her bitter, tongued, ailing friend 4illiers. She wouldn't marry him on his deathbed, even if it meant not having to live with the -uddles. 4illiers was dying, and he was asking her for the wrong reasons. Still, an offer from a duke was something to smile over, to hug to herself at night. 7aturally, 4illiers's heir, -iles 1autry, thought she was a baggage, a good,for,nothing hussy preying on is ill relative, planning to make herself into a duchess by a deathbed marriage. 8et even that un0ust accusation was a pleasure. It was delicious to be considered a seductress and temptress of men. +ith her long nose and faded clothing# Charlotte atlock ,, a Jezebel# 1autry stood on the other side of 4illiers's bed, a lean man with a rugged face and eyes black as midnight, and accused her of being up to no good. he thrill that Charlotte felt was worth every accusation he hurled. She could hardly stop herself from smiling. !nfortunately, 1autry was the type who got angry when a woman laughed at him. It was likely because he was so used to being captain,of,the,vessel9 one had to assume that sailors didn't tease their captain. 2ven now that 4illiers had forced him to wear clothes fit for a duke's heir, 1autry still had the air of a mariner 3 or perhaps a pirate. %is hair tumbled to his shoulders, and those shoulders looked too broad to fit in his shirt, even though it was made of the finest linen. It was when 1autry grabbed and kissed her that Charlotte's life truly became enviable. +hen her good luck came home to stay. :-arry me,: he growled. 7ay, he commanded it and there was nothing uncertain in his voice. $f course he thought that she, a poor spinster, would leap at the chance to marry him.

Charlotte melted into his arms again, loved him, loved it... :7o,: she replied. She was pushing her luck. "ut no one had ever begged for her hand. 2ver. In fact, no one e5cept for 4illiers had asked for her hand in marriage at all. It was all different with -iles. %e looked at her, and she didn't feel faded anymore. %e kissed her cheek and she felt the softness of her own skin through his touch. %e pulled out her hair pins and she reali/ed that her hair was thick and curled around a man's fingers. %e pulled her against his lean, hard body and she reali/ed that -iles didn't care if she were wearing a dress of faded linsey,woolsey. %e wanted what lay inside, all those curves and valleys that she'd never considered. "ut now -iles brought her body to life, made it tingle and speak a language she'd never considered before. %is eyes narrowed and she saw suspicion flash across his eyes. %e probably thought she was secretly planning to marry 4illiers. She smiled at him like a co&uette, like the girl she was when she first met her mad lord, before the turnip cart took her father. %e didn't bother with words, 0ust kissed her so hard that her toes curled. :I'll think about it,: she said, compromising. It was the 1uchess of "eaumont's costume ball in celebration of welfth 7ight. Charlotte was dressed as the ;ueen of Sheba, and -iles had come as himself: a sailor. %e said, :8ou'll marry me, Charlotte.: here was a note of certainty in his voice that she didn't like. It wasn't the way to start a marriage. 7ot that Charlotte had ever given much thought to beginnings9she had longed so much for someone 0ust to look at her, to dance with her, to offer for her hand...and yet now that the offer arrived, she found that she was fussy. :7o.: %is eyes were dark as midnight, and still they darkened. -iles 1autry was heir to a dukedom through a younger son two generations back who ran away to sea. %e was the sole ruler of a shipping fortune. %e was the kind of man who stood before the mast and believed all the undiscovered countries before his prow could be his ,, and Charlotte knew instinctively that he saw her as his as well. %e was silent for a moment. hen: :+hy not#: hat was like -iles. %e didn't think to say that he loved her, or even that he thought she was attractive 'never mind beautiful*. It wouldn't do. Charlotte knew that instinctively. %e had to understand that she was precious, and not easily won. -en were pirates. hey had to win their treasures, not have them fall into their laps.

:8ou'd have to truly want 3 want to marry me,: she said, stumbling over the words. <or all she was a virgin, she wasn't stupid. here was something in his eyes that made it plain as day that he wanted her in that old, bawdy way. :I do.: $bviously, he thought those two words were enough. And they weren't. So she had to trust that her luck had truly turned, that he loved her. She shook her head and slipped out of the small curtained chamber off the ballroom. It was the hardest thing she'd ever done, walking away. If -ay had been there, she would have s&uealed 3 nay, screamed. =lain old maid Charlotte had turned down the heir to the 4illiers's dukedom# %ad walked away from him# Charlotte clenched her hands together and kept walking, slipping along the side of the room, heading for her bedchamber. It was the right thing to do. She had to believe that -iles wouldn't give up. rust him. And trust her own instincts. 2very moment that he thought she might not be his would lay the foundation for the right kind of marriage. Not 3 never6 3 a marriage in which he thought he had done her a favor, or a marriage which she accepted with an audible gasp of relief. It had to be a marriage of the kind he was worth. %e was beautiful, with his tumbling hair and honey skin, the crinkles at the corners of his eyes, from standing before salt waves, the muscles in his shoulders and legs. I did the right thing, Charlotte told herself silently. I did the right thing. %e has to want me. %e has to be afraid that he might not win me. %e can't know how desperate I am to even stand ne5t to him. She glanced back once, and he was watching her go. She couldn't read his eyes. Charlotte returned home the ne5t day by stage coach and never said a word to -ay. %er sister was full of flustered commentary about her own upcoming wedding so Charlotte satisfied her curiosity with minute descriptions of every gown that the 1uchess of "eaumont wore. She didn't tell -ay that the 1uke of 4illiers had asked for her hand in marriage, nor that his heir had done the same, nor that her heart wasn't living in her bosom anymore. It was gone 3 given into the care of a sailor who had likely sailed to the far shores, and left her without a second thought. =erhaps. $r perhaps not. here had been a connection between them, from the moment she saw him leaning against the wall in 4illiers's bedchamber. A week passed. wo weeks. <inally she received a letter. It was very short, and very to the point. :+ill you marry me now#: She smiled, and hid the letter in the fold of her skirts to answer in private.

:+ho wrote you#: -ay asked fretfully. And then, :1o you really think that I should put dried rose petals in the tea at my wedding breakfast, Charlotte# It's a charming notion, but it might put off older guests. oo new,fangled.: Charlotte 0ust smiled. She meant to reply to -iles as briefly as he did her, with a simple :no.: "ut she couldn't resist adding details about -ay and her muddled wedding, because they had laughed so together, and she loved his laugh. :1o you wish for a wedding breakfast with orange tarts#: came his reply. :"ecause you may have whatever you want, darling.: She cried over that letter. It was the word darling. She was someone's darling# She, old, maid,Charlotte who couldn't even attract a suitor as dull as -r. -uddle# :8ou are having a correspondence,: -ay accused her, some days later. :I saw you had another letter this morning. I demand that you tell me who is writing you6: Charlotte smiled a bit. :$r#: :$r I shall tell -r. -uddle,: -ay said impressively. :8ou know, Charlotte, he is to be the new head of our household now, and I'm sure that he will be as keen to protect your reputation as our own father would have been.: hat threat was enough to drive a woman to marriage with the knife,sharpener, in Charlotte's opinion. 7ot that she didn't intend to marry. he letters sometimes came twice a day now, full of details about the house -iles had bought in "edford S&uare. 7ot, perhaps, the most fashionable of all locations, but 0ust right 'Charlotte thought* for the two of them. hough she didn't say so. Instead, she spent two hours every morning, crafting a letter that laughed, and teased, and spoke to the heart 3 but never agreed to marry him. And every evening another letter would be delivered, and at the very bottom would be the magical words, Will you marry me# :>ust tell me that you're not carrying on with a married man,: -ay said, with an impressive swooning swoop onto the sofa. :=lease give that small comfort to my conscience6: :I'm not corresponding with a married man,: Charlotte said, with the smile that she couldn't seem to keep inside these days.

: hen why hasn't this man paid you a visit like a proper suitor#: -ay demanded. :+hy, we could invite him to supper, and have -r. -uddle. +hat's the matter with that man, Charlotte#: Since Charlotte could hardly say that she hadn't invited -iles, she 0ust shook her head sadly. :%is situation is...ve5ed.: :-arried6: -ay cried, pouncing on it. :-ark my words, Charlotte atlock, this is worse than when you were flirting with the 1uke of "eaumont. 8ou shall be ruined6: A horrible thought struck her. :8ou aren't corresponding with "eaumont, are you, Charlotte#: She almost fell off the sofa at the hideous thought. :$h, tell me that you're not#: :I'm not,: Charlotte said agreeably. "ut she was starting to long to see -iles. %is ne5t letter was much shorter. :I'm off to Italy in two days. +ill you come with me#: She wrote back with a trembling hand. :I can't6 I could not do such a thing to my sister as elope...when will you return#: "ut she despaired. Inside, she despaired. In her vanity and stupidity, she'd let him slip away. %e would go to Italy and meet a cherry,lipped, black,haired Italian signorina who would wind him around her finger and he'd be lost to her. She sobbed into her pillow, knowing, knowing that he would remember her. %e wouldn't forget her 3 how could he# "ut he would remember her as a chilly, hearted 2nglishwoman who refused to marry him time and again, and finally chose to stay as in her sister's household rather than ride the seas. here was no letter the whole following day. Charlotte didn't give up hope until late at night, when the small house had settled into its usual creaking sleep. -ay was snoring down the corridor. heir one maid was tucked away in her attic room. It felt as if the world had shrunk to the si/e of her room. here was only Charlotte and her sturdy linen nightdress, and her huge sobs. +hen the house creaked, it felt as if her heart creaked with it. She had made a mistake. =erhaps he hadn't left yet9 perhaps she could catch him before he left for Italy. She knew his residence. he moment the thought entered her head she knew it was the right thing to do. She would never let -iles go to Italy without her. +ithout a second thought, she rose from her bed and pulled out the battered trunk that she had taken to

he 1uchess of "eaumont's house party. She would say farewell to -ay at dawn, and then take a hackney to the address to which she sent her letters. %er hands paused for a moment as she put a nicely folded pile of nightwear into the trunk. A young lady was not supposed to arrive at gentlemen's houses, unaccompanied, let alone with all her worldly belongings. "ut -iles... She couldn't help smiling as she bent over the trunk again. -iles would be there. -ay was much less sanguine the following morning. She collapsed in hysterics, begging, pleading, screaming for Charlotte to rethink her foolish plan. :Save yourself6: she sobbed, throwing her hand to her brow. :$h, -other, mother, what would you have thought#: Charlotte didn't need to wonder about what their mother would have thought. She wouldn't have liked it. So she kissed -ay goodbye, unfortunately on her elbow as she couldn't reach her cheek, and left the room with a light step. heir maid was in the hallway, at the door, curtsying in that clumsy way she had. Charlotte frowned. +ho could 3 It was -iles. he door swung open and there he was, part duke, part sailor, part pirate. %e stepped forward three large steps and put his hand under her chin. :8ou're mine, Charlotte.: %e said it &uietly. %e said it the way a man talks when he's never going to swathe you in fancy words and lots of compliments, because that sort of flummery wasn't in him. %e said it like a man who knows when he's met his heart's match, and doesn't have a doubt in the world. :$h, -iles,: Charlotte breathed. And then she was in his arms, and his lips, chilly from morning air, were on hers. She could dimly hear -ay's little screams, and the maid laughing, but -iles 0ust pulled her closer. inally he said, not letting her go, :I've brought a special license, Charlotte.: She couldn't even speak9 she loved him that much. :!nless you truly loathe and detest me, I'd like you to marry me now.:

Since she could no more say no to the man than she could dance with a flea, she nodded. %e kissed her again, and kissed her once more, and she reali/ed that she was wrong all along. <or whatever reason, -iles cherished her as a treasure from the moment he saw her. %e didn't have to be convinced or ca0oled or refused... :-y wife,: he said, soft in her ear. And something changed in her heart forever: her certainty that she was the owner of bad luck. :I love you,: she said, and held her breath. :I've loved you since I saw you at 4illiers's bedside,: he said, :and I thought you were marrying my cousin.: %e kissed her hard 0ust at the thought. Charlotte atlock was one of the luckiest women in all 2ngland, if not in the world, and she knew it.