‘Do you want some help?’
Beatrix watched with detached amusement as Carla and Quigley began to tidy the bookshelves. She’d known her maid nearly as long as she’d known her cousins. Carla thought no one saw how much she liked Quigley, but Beatrix, the mistress of hidden emotion, saw much. And what she saw pleased her.
She always watched with a small smile playing upon her lips the first few moments of conflicting awkwardness that inevitably filled each meeting between the maid and the librarian. They were well matched – both quiet, gentle characters; he so unassuming and nervous; she so kind and friendly – they could not fail but love each other.
It was so easy for them. Quigley could marry whomever he chose, within reason – even Carla, a handmaid, had more freedom of marriage than the Lady Beatrix! She was a pawn, to be married to the highest bidder.
Life could be so unfair. But then, she’d known that since she was old enough to speak. And, if she was really honest (which she wasn’t often), did she really love anyone? She loved Owain, but that was a different love, sprung from obligation of blood and shared memories more than anything romantic. Maybe if she had a choice, she would die a maiden virgin, eternally unmarried.
But she knew she wouldn’t choose that path even if she could. Love held too much of a fascination for her to shut herself off entirely. And the only way to satisfy her curiosity was to be married.
But married to Aaron… ? It was a much more unpleasant idea that she’d ever thought it could be. But why? He was not repulsive in looks or behaviour – in fact, he was rather charming – he treated her well and seemed intelligent. She’d known him for a long time, knew his character better than her own.
‘Aaron is a strong, upright young man,’ Roald had told her. So why this irrational dislike?