Sir Richard Wyndham strode up the steps to the entrance of Crome Hall.
The butler, anticipating his arrival, threw open the doors. Sir Richard handed him his gloves, hat, and whip and stood waiting, wary and impatient, to see Miss Penelope Creed.
Lady Luttrell, the mistress of Crome Hall, descended the stairs to greet him, took one look at his handsome but guarded countenance, and dispensed with the usual ceremony. Sir Richard bent over her hand, and she led him forward to the Library. Richard threw her a grateful look as she stepped away from the door and allowed him to enter alone.
Pen was standing near the window gazing out upon the grounds. It was Pen and yet not Pen. Richard had only known her, and fallen in love with her, as a golden haired youth masquerading in her cousin’s second best suit and suffering Richard to arrange her cravats, which were then nearly instantly crumpled. She was a scrubby schoolboy no more. A deep blue muslin gown cascaded down to feet shod in neat kid boots, and an embroidered bodice sweetly revealed a young woman’s charming form. Her curls glowed and tumbled loosely about her face.
As she lifted her large blue eyes to Richard’s, he saw hesitation and smiled reassuringly. “Pen, when I told you it was time to put on your petticoats again, I did not imagine what a delightful creature awaited me.”
“I am glad that you are delighted,” said Pen. “I had such an adventure as a boy that I fear being a girl will be sadly flat.”
Sir Richard’s lips twitched as he thought of all that was ahead for the two of them. “Oh, I imagine we will still contrive to have an adventure or two.” He lifted her chin, looked down at her, his grey eyes gleaming, and kissed her. He pulled her closer, and his mouth moved tantalizingly to whisper in her ear, “You are still you, and I adore you, my brat.”
Holding her in his arms, Richard realized that Pen in her petticoats only increased his ardour even as he kept in the back of his mind the vision of her long slim legs encased in her cousin’s buckskin trousers. Their easy banter took on a piquancy as they entered their betrothal. The small doubt that he would not love her as a girl—that he could not, indeed—fell away, and his arms tightened in his amazement that he had found her.
Attuned to his thoughts, Pen said, “The devil of it is, once I am a girl, I must always be so.” “Perhaps not always,” Richard mused. “I can teach you to fence! Once positively can’t wear a dress for that.”
Pen smiled, her dimples peeping, and twined her fingers around his neck. Richard gave her a considering look. “It is time, my little love, to take our adventure back to London and to your aunt, with, I must caution you, as much propriety as we can muster. And then, to wed.”
Two weeks later, which was as quickly as Richard could manage it, doing justice to his family and his station, not to mention overcoming the considerable hurdles presented by Pen’s Aunt Almiera, the two found themselves in Sir Richard’s yellow saloon in his house at Berkeley Square, having tied the knot and submitted to the felicitations of their—mainly Richard’s—friends. They observed each other.
“I am going to bed,” Pen said. Sir Richard nodded, and grabbed her hand as she walked by. “This time, there won’t be any need for you to lock your door, as no thieves trouble us now.” Pen laughed, pressing his hand, “Certainly not.”
As Richard undressed and Biddle brushed his coat and put away his things, he struggled with his impatience and his trepidation.
Pen was seated in the middle of the bed when he walked into the bedroom, a white negligee foaming about her. Her eyes were twinkling as she greeted him. Sir Richard went to his bride. As he slipped the frothy gauze and lace from her shoulder, revealing one small, round breast, Richard noticed a snowy white cravat lightly draped around Pen’s neck. He laughed softly. “This time I’d like a Wyndham Fall*, sir,” Pen said as they tumbled back upon the bed.
*the title of Richard's famed way of arranging a cravat