Sleep eluded her no matter how many sheep she counted, and at 5.00 a.m. Elisaveta gave up trying, slipping out of the rumpled sheets and pulling on leggings and a top. She might as well use the time productively and go for a jog.
The sun was already up, a fresh morning promising picture-perfect wedding weather. Madeline had probably ordered it. No, she scolded herself. She wasn't going to go down that route. Nothing Elisaveta was feeling was Madeleine's fault; she had to cope with the guilt and regrets on her own. At least she hadn't slept with Theo.
She sighed, misery clawing at her chest. Tomorrow she would start looking for another job. How had she failed to realise that she was deeply, irrevocably in love with her boss? Not for all the reasons he was considered a catch; not because he was an earl or because he owned this entire estate or because he had built up a multi-million-pound business. She'd love him if he was an itinerant musician like her father had been. She loved him because something in her heart recognized something in his. Only that recognition had come too late.
She increased her pace, hoping the pain of the exercise would soothe the pain in her heart, only to slow as she saw a slim figure sitting on a tree trunk. 'Don't tell anyone,' Madeleine said, brandishing a half-eaten pain au chocolat. ‘I’m supposed to be existing on fruit and air until all the photos have been taken.'
'Wedding nerves?' Guilt pounded through Elisaveta as if her feelings for the groom, the memory of the kiss were written on her face.
'Some, it’s a big event,' Madeleine admitted. 'The dress cost a fortune and the whole day's been choreographed to a split second. Still, I suppose it's worth it.' She didn't look like a radiant bride. She looked resigned.
'Worth it?' Madeleine must be in love with Theo after all. Somehow that didn’t make her feel better.
Madeleine took another bite, flaky pastry falling to the ground. 'For Flintock Hall. It needs a new mistress and I need a home. That's how it works for people like me. We trade our heritages and our names and our skills. I have looked after an estate bigger than this since I was fifteen but thanks to primogeniture my home and the title go to my younger brother, who would much rather spend his life ferreting about in a bog looking at moss. Meanwhile Theo has all this and would rather spend his life dangling off a rock face. Hardly seems fair, does it?'
'So today my mother gets a fancy society wedding and the satisfaction of knowing I'll be a countess, Theo gets a wife who won't demand anything of him and I get a home of my own. We'll all be happy.' But she didn't look happy - nor had Theo last night. He looked more like a condemned man than a groom.
All Elisaveta's life she had been told how rare and precious and important love was. And these two people were squandering their chance of love and getting married for the sake of a house and a title. But there wasn't anything she could do. They had made their choices.
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