My breath escaped me as the Bray Manor estate came into view. Daniel spoke so often of it and so highly, I knew it would be spectacular, but yet I was unprepared.
The stone structure stretched between a green knoll, vibrant this time of year in rich purple heather, miles of pastures dotted with lazy cattle and sheep stretched out as far as the eye could see, and just to the rear, a lake, sparkling like a giant jewel in the summer sun.
Several chimneys darted upwards from the red roof, quiet and clean, as they weren’t used in the summer. Hooded gables over the windows looked like the eyes of a fabled giant.
“Oh, Daniel,” I said with a whispered sense of awe. The lines around his mouth twitched as he allowed a smile of pride to form. “She’s a beaut, isn’t she?”
“You grew up here?” I asked, still dazzled with the size. Hartigan House was no small affair, but this had to be at least three times as large.
“Born here, actually.”
No wonder Daniel had been willing to strike a deal with Father to marry in exchange for financial resources. A manor such as this would require plenty, and if one loved it as much as Daniel obviously did, one would do what they could to keep it.
Daniel parked the Daimler, then grabbed my hand. He knew I was nervous.
“It’ll be alright. Grandmama and Felicia will love you.”
Would they, though? Can one love another if they feel indebted to them? I had to do my best to put their hearts at ease. They must know that I deeply love Daniel, and that what we have is not a business arrangement.
Daniel walked me up the front path, and with this closer perspective I could see that Bray Manor wasn’t in its full glory. There were loose stones and runaway vines. The panes on the windows were dry and in need of paint.
I was surprised when Daniel failed to ring the doorbell, and instead walked right through the grand wooden front door, but of course, even though he’d been away for months, this was his home. Why shouldn’t he?
Before a butler could detect our arrival, Daniel called out, “Grandmama! Felicia!”
It was little Felicia that saw us first. She appeared shyly at the top of the winding staircase dressed in a soft pink cotton dress, white tights and satin shoes. Her long auburn hair was braided in one long strand with a large silk bow attached to the base of her neck.
“Daniel?” she inquired timidly, then she shrieked, “Daniel!” I worried she’d tumble to her death at the speed she descended the stairs, and in an instant she threw herself into Daniel’s arms. “Daniel, I miss you so!”
Daniel kissed the top of his little sister’s head and I almost teared up at the emotional reunion. I felt a little evil for being partly responsible for keeping these two apart.
Apparently, Felicia felt the same way. She glanced up from under Daniel’s arm, glared at me, and stuck out her tongue!
And so much like my own sister, Louisa, both at that awkward age approaching their twelfth year.
“Felicia, love,” Daniel said, completely unaware of the cheeky transaction that had just taken place. “This is my new wife Ginger, your sister, now.”
Felicia pouted. “I don’t need a sister.”
Daniel lowered to one knee. “But love, you’ve always wanted a sister.”
“I changed my mind. I just want my brother.”
Oh mercy. This was going worse than I’d imagined, and I hadn’t even met the overbearing Grandmother yet. She approached immediately afterward, the heels of her summer boots clicking on the marble floors announced her arrival.
“Daniel, my dear,” she said. I watched as Daniel warmly greeted his stately-looking grandmother. She wore a high-neck silk blouse, neatly buttoned down the back and tucked into a long black skirt. Her natural dark auburn hair blended with a good deal of grey and was neatly piled on the top her head. She stood tall, as did all ladies of her standing, helped no doubt by the corset all women wore.
The dowager Lady Gold eyed me up and down as if I was a horse she was considering to buy. If Daniel noticed her rudeness, he covered it up nicely.
“Grandmama, my wife, Ginger.”
I curtsied. “Lady Gold, such a privilege to finally meet you.”
“Yes. Well, I suppose we must get used to each other.” She turned back to Daniel. “Dinner will be served at seven. Enough time for you to settle into your room and change.”
“Yes, Grandmother,” Daniel said, amiably.
By now all the staff had congregated, curtsying and bowing, as they welcomed me and Daniel “home.”
Daniel, full of smiles, thanked them, then instructed the foot man to carry our luggage upstairs.
He looked at his wristwatch, then took my hand. “We have time for a quick tour. Would you like to see the old place?”
My nerves weren’t quite settled by the less than welcome greeting I’d received from Daniel’s family, but I smiled brightly anyway.
“I’d love to.”