“And may I add, you both have my most sincere regards and best wishes.”
The Honourable Frederick Standen smiled wearily at his valet, and closed the door behind him. “And that’s the last of ‘em!” he remarked, to no one in particular.
Now dressed only in his nightshirt, Mr Standen collapsed into a chair. Guests for the wedding had been arriving all week, and the preparations this morning had started at dawn. Freddy had been quite surprised at how many of those they invited came to the wedding. Biddenden, Hugh, the newly married Dolph—he had expected the Fish to come, but even Uncle Matthew had accompanied her from Arnside, no doubt complaining the whole way about his gouty knee. And he hadn’t even been the most troublesome guest; that honor went to Dolph’s mother, who had made her low opinion of both Dolph’s and Freddy’s marriages quite clear. On more than one occasion Freddy had found himself called on to intervene between the new Lady Dolphinton and her predecessor, in order to avoid bloodshed.
He knew that tomorrow would be another busy day, bidding goodbye to everyone and packing them back from whence they hailed. But tonight was his wedding night, and he was determined to ensure that his new wife would have fond memories of it.
He heard a soft knock at the connecting door. “Come in, Kit!” he called expansively, and his bride pushed the door open and came into the room. The former Miss Catherine Charing, now Catherine Standen, gave him a soft smile, and Freddy found himself speechless (a phenomenon, he would have been the first to acknowledge, that did not happen often). She was clad only in her new chemise, which clung to the curves of her body and offered intriguing glimpses through the thin fabric. Her dark eyes seemed larger than ever, and her hair fell around her face in soft, equally dark curls; both were set off by her pale skin, some of which Freddy was seeing for the first time. She looked natural and young and achingly beautiful in the warm candlelight.
“Well, Mr Standen, here we are,” she said.
Freddy forced himself to stop gaping and smiled at her instead. “Right you are, Mrs Standen. Like the sound of that. ‘Mrs Standen.’ Has a nice ring to it.” At her companionate silence, he continued on. “So…here we are. On our wedding night.”
Kitty looked away shyly, then quickly looked back at Freddy. “Yes. Our wedding night.”
“Come here, love,” Freddy said, and Kitty obediently came over. Impulsively, she threw her arms around Freddy.
“Oh, Freddy, I am glad we’ve got that over with! Now we’re well and truly married.” Freddy, overcome with affection, pressed his lips briefly to the top of her head. Had he imagined the look of distress before she embraced him? “Something wrong, love?”
She shook her head, setting her curls bobbing against his chest, but didn’t say a word. ”Truly?” Then he frowned. “Say, Meg hasn’t been filling your head with nonsense about the old marriage bed, has she?”
“Oh no, she’s been wonderful. She told me all about…what being a wife entails, which I’m grateful for. I’m afraid I’ve been woefully ignorant about it, you see. Fish wasn’t the best person to talk to about such things.”
“No, imagine not,” said Freddy, somehow managing to keep a straight face.
“And of course now she’s a married woman, but she’s still quite reluctant to talk about her life with Uncle Matthew, and to be perfectly honest, I can’t say I object. But Meg was very helpful, and now I know my…wifely duties, I suppose you’d call them." She gave a small smile. "And even that they don’t have to feel like a duty.”
"What's the problem, then?"
She looked up, and Freddy was mildly surprised to see the guilty expression on her face. “Oh, Freddy, I do so want to! But I am dreadfully afraid I should fall asleep in the middle of it.”
Another man might have been nettled by this remark, but Mr Standen was merely briefly taken aback. Regaining his aplomb immediately, he smiled at her and replied, “Not a problem, Kit. Been a long day, and I’m fagged too. Another time, maybe. When we can enjoy it more. Tonight, should just sleep.”
Kitty wore a woebegone expression on her face. “But we only ever get the one wedding night!”
“Well, suppose that’s true, unless you’re Henry VIII,” Freddy said. “Had half a dozen, I believe. No need to feel bad about it, though. Not in the habit of forcing my attentions on ladies, and not about to start now. Certainly not on my own lady.” He nodded amiably. “Besides, we are married, aren’t we? Not like there won’t be plenty of occasions in the future.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she said doubtfully.
“'Course I am.” He smiled at Kitty. “Before you start snoozing, there’s one thing I need to do first,” Freddy said cryptically. He went over and unlocked a drawer in his dressing-table, withdrawing a wooden box that was also locked. He came back and presented her with the box and a small silver key. “Here, Kit. For you.”
Kitty took the key, mild puzzlement on her face, and unlocked the box. A gasp escaped her as she revealed the velvet-lined interior and its sparkling contents. “Oh, Freddy!” She drew out a sparkling ruby necklace, and a matching pair of earrings twinkled from the box. “Rubies! I know you said—but I never thought—”
At this, Mr Standen did display mild offense. “Well, I said I’d get ‘em for you, and I did!” He picked up the necklace, the crimson gems glinting with reflected light and cascading through his fingers. “And why shouldn’t I buy you rubies? I hear those Arabian pashas roll in piles of the things, and hand ‘em out to their wives like sugarplums. And they have dozens of wives! Me, I’ve only got one of ‘em, after all, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t indulge her.”
Kitty smiled warmly at her husband and gave him a soft kiss. He looked slightly abashed at her gratitude. “Well, it’s a little thing,” he said. “You can wear ‘em tomorrow, when we see everyone off.”
“Oh, it will be such a relief to have everyone back at their own homes and not bickering here,” Kitty sighed.
“That it will. Now, should probably start off to the land of Nod ourselves. Don’t want to be at a disadvantage tomorrow, not with Dolph’s mama still here.”
Kitty nodded. Freddy gestured flourishingly to the bed, and she climbed in. Freddy clambered in after her. The bed was massive, large enough for them to sleep apart, but they did not. They stayed in the middle of the bed, close enough to embrace, and soon were.
“It feels so odd sleeping in the same bed with a man,” Kitty said. “But nice, as long as it’s you, Freddy.”
“No one I’d rather sleep with than you, Kit.”
Kitty turned over and nestled herself next to Freddy, the line of her body following his. She closed her eyes and yawned, and did not open them again. “Freddy?”
“I’m glad you’re not a pasha, and that I don’t have to share you with dozens of other women. It sounds exhausting.”
“I should think so!” said Freddy. He waited a moment for her reply, but all he got in return was light, even breathing.
“Only you, Kit. Only you.” With that, Freddy wrapped his arm around her. As wedding nights go, this certainly hadn’t been the worst.
And as it turned out, the morning after was quite good enough.