‘I am delighted, I could not hope for a better wife for him. I have had my heart in my mouth ever since I read his note where he told me what he was going to do. He had to tell the Buntings, of course, but I only told Mrs Redland and Annabelle this morning because I knew we’d need some help with the flowers.’

‘I keep pinching myself,’ Hester confessed. ‘I know Guy is inclined to take charge and just get his own way, but this leaves me breathless.’ She bit her lip, then decided to risk asking. ‘Lady Broome, would you be my matron of honour?’

‘My dear, of course, and you must call me Georgy. Now, what about bridesmaids?’

Hester cast a glance at the other room where Annabelle could be heard talking nineteen to the dozen. ‘I think I have just the two.’ The mound of greenery on the table was being ruthlessly ordered into wreaths by Maria, who looked up with an anxious smile when she saw Hester. ‘Do you think these will be all right for the pew ends?’

‘Delightful,’ Hester assured her. ‘I came to ask if you, Maria, and you, Annabelle, would be my bridesmaids.’ Maria promptly burst into tears, but Annabelle cast down the bow she was fashioning from gold gauze and hugged Hester.

‘Oh, yes, I would love it above all things! Oh, please don’t cry, Miss Prudhome, we have almost finished here and then we can decide what to wear. Isn’t this wonderful?’

Hester turned back to find Jethro in the hall, Parrott looming behind him. ‘We’ve found another turkey, Miss Hester, and a goose, a fine piece of beef and a pickled salmon.’

Hester looked around the chaos that was the Moon House and smiled. ‘It seems I have a wedding breakfast, bridesmaids, a wedding gown and flowers. Now all I need is my bridegroom.’


Guy stood at the altar rail and tried to recall if he had ever felt quite so nervous in his life before. Beside him Major Neil Carew, the friend who had braved the weather in answer to a plea delivered en route to Doctors’ Commons only two days before, murmured, ‘Stop worrying.’

‘Have you got the ring?’

‘In the same pocket it was in when you asked me ten minutes ago.’

‘Is my cravat straight?’


‘She’s changed her mind.’

‘All brides are late, it is traditional.’

Guy cast a harassed glance around the congregation. The entire village seemed to have turned out in their festive best, red faces beaming amidst the garlanded pillars and pews where berried holly and trailing ivy were crowned with flickering candles.

Then there was a stir at the west door, the unmistakable tones of his sister organising someone, a squeak of dismay from Miss Prudhome, which made Susan, standing a few pews back next to a well-scrubbed Ben Aston, grin and the organist struck up.

Guy closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them Major Piper was walking steadily down the aisle with a slender figure in cream and green on his arm. Hester.

Her face was hidden by a fine veil, but he would have known her anywhere as she trod towards him with the confidence of a woman who knew exactly what she was doing. Her hands were still as she held a bouquet of mistletoe and gilded ivy, its stems bound with trailing ribbons of gold gauze. His hands were shaking with awe and love and disbelief that he was this fortunate.

Then she reached his side and he turned to face Mr Bunting as Hester handed her bouquet to his sister and pulled off her green kid gloves to reveal long, white fingers, bare to receive his ring.

‘Dearly beloved,’ the vicar began as the organ sank into silence, and Guy found his hands were quite steady.

‘You may kiss the bride.’

Hester turned to face Guy and caught her breath as he gently raised the edge of her veil and placed it back over her bonnet. He was still white, almost as white as he had been when she had walked down the aisle towards him. Seeing him, she had known with a surge of love and confidence that this was utterly right. That feeling would never leave her now, she knew that.

She gazed up at him, a tender little smile on her lips, and waited while he looked down at her. Then he smiled back and kissed her, gently, possessively and as though he would never stop. Hester stood on tiptoe, put her hand on his shoulder and returned the kiss while the blood sang in her veins. When they finally broke apart, she knew she was blushing, Guy’s eyes were bright and a sentimental sigh swept through the congregation.

She took her bouquet and let Guy lead her down the aisle, past the smiling faces, down to the west door. Parrott was standing there, a cloak over his arm.

‘My lady, I believe you may need this.’ The ancient door swung open and Hester stepped out into a world of dazzling whiteness. The great soft flakes of snow fell gently. Above them the Christmas bells pealed out from a tower almost hidden in the snow, sending joy for the season and joy for this wedding echoing across the village.

Guy bent to take a sprig of mistletoe from her bouquet and fixed it in his hat band. ‘All the better to kiss you with,’ he whispered as, laughing, she turned to throw the bunch. It soared up through the snowflakes and fell neatly into Susan’s reaching hands.

Guy lifted her in his arms and carried her down the churchyard path through the untrodden whiteness to the waiting carriage. Inside he began to tuck a fur wrap over her knees, but Hester threw it back and curled up on his knees, her arms around his neck, her face buried in the warmth of his neck.

‘I do not need a fur to keep me warm,’ she murmured and was rewarded by his long fingers finding her chin, tipping up her face to meet his kiss.

‘I came here to Winterbourne to find the truth about an old love story,’ Guy said as the coach wheeled away from the church and began the short journey back to the Moon House. ‘I never expected to discover what love meant.’

‘And I came to learn to live alone,’ Hester answered, curling an arm around his neck and snuggling close. ‘I never expected to discover the one person I cannot live without.’

His lips closing on hers seemed the only possible reply.

Louise Allen

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