Last week, we saw Hannah Thornton on the mend and beginning to thaw toward her daughter-in-law, Margaret. With the crisis past, John and Margaret can now attend to other concerns, and each other, in this final chapter. If you need to start at the beginning, click here for Chapter 1.
Chapter 16 – Becoming Mrs. Thornton
copyright 2014 Jill Hughey
John found Margaret at his desk downstairs, head bent over paper, pen poised in her hand.
“It is late, love,” he said.
“I am almost finished,” she said apologetically as she dipped the pen in the inkwell. “I’m writing the order for the butcher. I’ve only been keeping a day ahead, but tonight have managed to make an order for two days.”
“That reminds me,” he said, pulling the small sack of coins out of his pocket. “This belongs to the cookhouse.”
Her brow furrowed as she opened the bag.
“Tim Smith,” he said.
“Oh, I had forgotten. He paid!” she said, looking pleased before her eyebrows pressed together again. “He paid you?”
“No. Higgins had the honor.” At her quizzical expression, he continued. “Higgins and some of the others took offense to Smith’s treatment of you and his attitude toward the cookhouse. They decided to intervene.”
“They did not hurt him, did they?”
John gave her an unpleasant glower. “I do not think so, though I have a mind to box his ears myself.”
“No man in England should speak to my wife in such a fashion,” he said crisply.
“I was perturbed at the time” she admitted. “His payment feels like a tiny triumph, though. Isn’t it an admission that I was right and he was wrong? That is enough for me.”
She circled the desk to unroll his fingers from the tight fists they’d made and place his arms around her waist. “My grand knight,” she whispered as she pressed her cheek to his lapel. “It feels to me as if ages have passed, and I’m certain Mr. Smith would also rather forget the entire matter. Perhaps the master could forgive this one small slight. After all, if I am to work among your laborers I may occasionally hear words stronger than those spoken in a London tearoom.”
“That is what bothers me.”
She leaned back to study his beloved face, still fierce in his protectiveness of her. “Why should it bother you? This is my life now. The life I chose. The life I longed for when I thought I’d lost you forever.”
His arms tightened around her but he was not yet ready to dismiss his concern. “Some of the men may be too rough.”
She put her hands on his waist to shake him, though he barely moved. “I missed the people of Milton. I like being among them, and if one occasionally nettles me, that is a price I am willing to pay.”
His eyes narrowed. “The thought of you within arm’s reach of a man willing to defy you — and curse at you! — makes my blood run cold.”
“He did defy me, but I think his curses were more general than specific.” She smiled. John betrayed no humor. “John, I am happy,” she said with a firm voice. “For the first time in years, I am truly happy, and part of that happiness stems from my work at the cookhouse. Please, do not try to protect me too much. The other men handled Mr. Smith. If I ever feel truly offended or threatened, I will tell you immediately. I will rush to your office and demand that you slap him with a glove, or whatever you gentlemen do. I will tie my colors on your jousting lance and — ”
He finally smiled and tipped her face up for a kiss that lengthened sweetly. “You are everything to me, Margaret,” he murmured.
“I know, my husband, and I couldn’t be happier about it.”
His eyes glowed in the way they did only for her. “I have planned a treat for you. We have been so distracted I forgot about the most exciting event of my entire journey.”
“What was it?” she asked, more interested in sliding her hands up the smooth wool of his jacket sleeves.
“While in Liverpool, I inquired about the finest ship and best time of year for passage to Spain.”
She gripped his shoulders as she gasped, “Do you truly mean it?”
Margaret tried to rein in her excitement by thinking practical thoughts. “We will have to see how your mother progresses, and there is Fanny’s happy event to anticipate,” she reminded him.
“We will take all of that into account, but you must resign yourself to a trip to Cadiz before the end of the summer.”
She threw her arms around his neck. “You are wonderful! It is what I want above all things, and I did not even realize it!”
He bent to kiss her with enough thoroughness she swayed breathlessly. “Perhaps not above all things,” she amended without opening her eyes.
“I sent Jane upstairs a half hour ago,” John said in a voice roughened by passion. “She helped Mother to bed and now I think I shall help my Mrs. Thornton in the same fashion, though with a vastly different purpose.”
She stepped back so she could slip her hand around his arm. He applied the familiar pressure of his fingers on hers as they walked, side by side, into their future.
I hope you have enjoyed this project that began as an exorcism of Richard Armitage from my brain, and resulted in a 26,000 word sequel to Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. I write original historical romance as well so, if you enjoyed this free read, I hope you will look for my books here or at most reputable ebook vendors. Happy reading!