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Here is health unto the man, said be, The man they call the groom; Here's health unto the man, said be, Who may enjoy his bride.
He didn't want to marry me," Mallory Edwards Barron said in a low, troubled voice. "I could tell."
Sitting on the bench in front of the vanity table, she took a steadying breath and met her mother's gaze in the mirror, daringâno, hopingâLady Craige would contradict her.
For the space of a heartbeat, Mallory saw her fears reflected in her mother's eyes before they were quickly blinked away. Lady Craige lowered the brush from Mallory's hair in mid-stroke and gave her daughter's shoulders a reassuring hug. "Of course John Barron wanted to marry you."
They spoke in whispers, conscious of the two maids cleaning up after Mallory's bath. The door leading to the hallway opening and closing behind them let in the hum of conversation, punctuated by laughter, from the wedding guests in the dining room.
"I overheard him arguing with his father last night in the library, Mother. It sounded as if John didn't even know he was going to be married until he arrived here. Can that be possible? Would a man not tell his son he'd contracted a marriage for him until the night before the wedding?"
"Mallory, you are allowing your imagination to run away with your common sense! What does it matter when John discovered he was to be married? What is important is our home, Craige Castle, and that this marriage will make you its future mistress. But first you must consummate your union with John Barron."
Mallory's stomach tightened at the thought. "He barely said two words to me this evening during the wedding feast. . . ."
Her mother's gentle squeeze on her shoulder, reminded Mallory that they were not alone. Sally, a young village girl who'd been hired to serve as Mallory's maid for the evening, had returned and was busily turning down the sheets on the ornately carved Elizabethan tester bed that dominated the room.
Mallory's own parents had consummated their marriage on this bed, and their parents before them, and the generation before that. And now she was expected to lie with a man she barely knew and fulfill the tradition, the tradition that would give her the right to be known as the Lady of Craige Castle.
Since the days of William the Conqueror, when William had given this castle to Mallard, his most trusted friend and confidant, each Craige bride had spent her wedding night in this room. Tomorrow morning, the parish priest, Mallory's mother, and her new father-in-law, Sir Richard Barron, who had inherited her father's title, Viscount Craige, would come to this room and inspect the sheets for the bride's blood, proof that Mallory Craige had been a virgin. From that moment on, she and her husband, John Barron, would be truly married in the sight of God and man.
The sheet would then be hung from the window of this chamber and a day of feasting for the parish surrounding the castle would begin.
Mallory's hand shook as she reached for the crystal wine glass on the vanity table. She avoided her image in the mirror. The virginal white of her graceful nightdress drained all color from her face, emphasizing the dark circles under her eyes. One month had passed since her father's death following a long illnessâa month that had turned her life inside out. "My nightdress should be black," she whispered.
"Sally, leave us," Lady Craige told the maid. "I'll see to my daughter from here."
"Yes, ma'am," the maid murmured before curtseying and moving toward the door. She paused a moment....
Falling in Love AgainBy: Cathy Maxwell