The afternoon and evening seemed interminable. Theo spent every moment either fending off well-wishers or solving disputes ranging from the height of bunting to the positioning of the dance floor. He hadn’t exchanged as much as one word with his fiancée apart from a little polite conversation at the wedding rehearsal.
Nor had he seen Elisaveta.
He knew he should keep away from his PA until the wedding was over. Until the memory of her slim form snuggled under the sheet faded, until he didn’t find himself smiling as he recalled just how wholeheartedly she had thrown herself into singing ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, interpretive dance and all. But he couldn’t stop thinking about her. How she’d known exactly the right way to cheer him up, about her picture-filled flat. About how he sensed that she was as lonely as he was – and hid it just as well.
About how her mouth had felt under his, the way she’d sighed, sinking into his kiss.
His mother had ordered a celebratory dinner to follow the wedding rehearsal, glad of the opportunity to use one of the larger dining rooms for once. Course flowed into course but Theo barely touched his food, struggling to make appropriate conversation as his mother-in-law loudly made plans for changes he had no intention of carrying out. From the corner of his eye, he saw his mother’s concerned glances.
He tried to catch Madeleine’s eye, to gauge how she felt about her mother’s plans, but she seemed to be avoiding his gaze. He couldn’t shake the feeling that she wanted this marriage as little as he did – or maybe that was wishful thinking. Nobody had coerced her into accepting his proposal. She was a sensible girl who knew exactly what he was offering. That had been part of her attraction once.
The second dinner was over he headed out of the French doors and to the Rose Garden, needing some air, some time alone. He came to an abrupt stop as he saw a familiar form leaning against the fountain, her dark tresses freed from their usual knot tumbling around her shoulders.
‘You weren’t at dinner.’
Elisaveta looked up with a start. ‘It was for family only. Don’t worry, Mrs Mellors made sure I didn’t go hungry. Theo, what are you doing out here?’
Tomorrow he’d be married. He would no longer just be Theo Willoughby, CEO of Willow. No longer the Theo who couldn’t see a wave without wanting to ride it, a peak without wanting to climb it. He’d be a husband. He’d have to start being the Earl of Navenby with all the responsibility that entailed - not just responsibility for the Hall and for the people who lived and worked here, he already took care of that, but responsibility for society’s expectations of who an earl should be.
He just wanted a last night free of all those expectations. ‘Come for a walk with me?’
He could see the indecision playing over Elisaveta’s face before she nodded. ‘Okay.
Just a short one. You need your beauty sleep tonight after all.’