By: Kristen Callihan

Chapter One

January 1825
“ ‘Dear Sir, it has come to my attention, by way of a most distressing yet undeniable order, that we are to be married. As I find arranged marriages to be both archaic and tantamount to a glorified stud service—’ ”
Eamon broke off with a choked laugh. “ ‘Glorified stud service’? This must be in jest,” he said to his brother.
Aidan was less amused. His mouth flattened into a grimace. “I fear it is not.”
Still gaping, Eamon turned the letter over to read the address once more. It had come in the morning’s post, addressed to Aidan. And Aidan had brought it directly to him with the usual order to “read it.”
The sender was Lady Luella Jane Moran, the name written in childish and rather florid script. Luella? She sounded like a nightmare.
“You are really to be married to this girl?” Eamon asked. “How old is the chit?”
Aidan sighed and ran a hand through his yellow curls. “Sixteen. And yes. Father told me a fortnight ago.” He scowled and paced over to the fire. At nineteen, Aidan was still shorter than Eamon, who was seventeen, but his body moved with quick assurance whereas Eamon bumbled about, still trying to adjust to his overly large frame.
“Apparently, when Father went down to London a few months back, Lord Edward Moran, Earl of Ballyloch, saved Father’s life during a gaming brawl. In return, Father offered him a boon. Ballyloch took it in the form of an arranged marriage between his firstborn and father’s.”
Eamon fingered the edge of the fine linen paper. It smelled vaguely of lavender and horse. “Rather odd, considering Ballyloch is a lord. I’d reckon he’d rather marry his daughter off to a titled gentleman, no offense.”
Aidan gave a small smile at that, but tension still had hold of him. “None taken.”
“Not to mention that we’re Irish. I realize that the Scots probably hold us in higher regard than they do the English, but not by much. They tend to stick to their own.” As did the Irish, for that matter.
“We’re half Irish. Half Scottish too,” Aidan pointed out.
That was true. Their mother’s family was Scots, from which Eamon had gained his red hair. And if he believed the tales, which he did, they were just as strange as he was.
“However, Father’s massive fortune appeared to be the deciding factor for the titled but cash-poor earl.” Aidan gave a careless shrug. “The contract stipulates a rather large bride-price.”
“Ah. Still, is she ugly or defective? I’d be wary if I were you.”
Aidan snorted. “Says the boy with ginger hair.”
Eamon grimaced. He knew his brother was in jest, but the quip stung just the same. Red hair, particularly on a male, was not only unfashionable, but most people—the English in particular—viewed it as a defect or, in the case of zealots, a mark of the devil. Lord knew his own father believed as much. Redheaded Devil’s child is what he called Eamon.
“Aye, well,” Eamon said, “I’m not the one having to marry her, now am I?”
Aidan’s expression grew more sour. “Just finish reading the blasted thing, will you?”
Eamon picked up the letter once more. “Let’s see… Stud service… Ah, ‘I am most unwilling for this union   to come to fruition. Therefore it is my hope that we might join forces against this tyranny’ ”—Eamon snorted—“ ‘and fight our oppressors by way of refusal to comply.’ ” Eamon shook his head. “Lord above, but this is painful to read. Can you imagine the dinner conversations? She’ll drive you mad!”
“Yes, thank you, that’s quite helpful, Eamon.”
Aidan made another circuit around Eamon’s room while Eamon stared off, considering.
“You know,” he said after a moment, “the silly chit might be on to something here, Aid.”
When his brother stopped short, Eamon continued, “Why not join forces, as she says, and simply refuse?”
“No.” Aidan made a slashing motion with his hand. “That is out of the question.”
“You want to marry this, this, wee blowhard in pinafores?”
“It is done. Bloody Father has already paid half the price upon signing the contract. Ten thousand pounds, E.”
Eamon gave a long, low whistle of surprise, and Aidan nodded. “You see? It no longer matters what I want. I will not impugn the family honor.” He let out a long sigh. “The marriage shall take place one year after I reach my majority.” Aidan’s mouth pinched in a sneer. “Apparently Father believes he’s doing me a service by giving me a ‘year of proper manhood in which to sow my wild oats.’ ”
Eamon could only gape at his brother. If ever there was a moment in which he absolutely hated his father, it was now. The bloody, arrogant tyrant. “Bollocks to that,” he finally got out. “Do you want to marry her?” He might be the black sheep of the family who never did a thing right, but Eamon loved his brother. He couldn’t stand by and watch him suffer.
Aidan sighed, his slight shoulders sagging. “In truth, brother, I don’t want to marry. Ever. I don’t fancy…” He bit his lip and glared at the letter. “Now that I think on it, I do want to marry her.”
“You do,” Eamon repeated with ripe skepticism.
“I do.” Aidan nodded brusquely. “In fact, she is perfect, for she will never fall in love with me. If I must marry, I want it to be an arrangement and nothing more.”
His brother had gone mad. Assuredly. What of love? Passion? Eamon was young, but still he craved that sort of bond, that sort of lasting affection, with all that he was. The worst of it was, he feared he’d never get it. He was shy around strangers, especially girls, and people distrusted him on sight. “Aidan—”
“Write to her, Eamon,” he said with a bit of urgency. “Please.” He strode over and clutched Eamon’s hand. “Persuade her to change her mind, that marriage to me will not be a burden to her.”
“All right,” Eamon said slowly, “I reckon I could tell her that you—”
“No!” Aidan’s grip became painful. “Be me. She mustn’t know that I can’t—” He pressed his lips together. “Just be me. Persuade her.”
Eamon glanced at the letter. His chest constricted at the idea of lying. But he’d been hiding his brother’s inability for years. What was one more deception in the scheme of things? But he wasn’t a fool; his brother needed his help more than he realized. And Eamon would be the one to set things to rights. But he’d have to do it delicately. He couldn’t defy Father. Eamon’s back still ached from the last time he’d felt the force of Father’s cane across it. For there was one rule in Evernight Hall that Father enforced with iron clad tenacity: Eamon was not allowed to speak in his presence. “Yes, Father” or “No, Father” was the extent of his allotted vocabulary, or he’d feel the cane and be banished to his smithy. Eamon preferred the smithy, at any rate. It was his refuge. The one thing he loved other than his brother. Only with Aidan was he able to speak up. Not that it was doing any good now. Bloody stubborn Aidan.
“All right,” he said. “I’ll do it. But I’m none too happy about it, brother.”
Aidan simply grinned wide as Eamon turned back to his writing desk and began to sharpen his quill.

January 1825

Dear Lady Luella,If you truly are whom you claim to be, for no sixteen-year-old girl in my acquaintance uses such florid and pretentious language. Young ladies are more apt to study water coloring or play the pianoforte.Therefore, I’m rather inclined to believe that you are an impostor, determined to trap me into saying something that I oughtn’t. If so, kindly desist in this course of action. It will do you no good. I am too wily to succumb to such antics.If this truly is Lady Luella, kindly cease this nonsense and devote yourself to practical matters. Such as how to run my household when we are wed.—Evernight

February 1825

Dear Mr. Evernight,I do believe you are making fun at my expense. I am quite serious in my intent. Patronizing your future wife is, in my estimation, not the most intelligent course of action, sir.—Lady Luella Moran

Postscriptum—You’re one to talk. Never in my life have I read a more turgid note such as yours.March 1825

Lady Luella,Are you then acknowledging our impending nuptials as fact? I thought as much.Turgid, was I? You should realize that, in an effort to make you feel comfortable, I purposely matched my tone to complement yours. So, really, you are only pointing the finger toward yourself.—E

Postscriptum—Flower? Dog? Horse?April 1825

Dear Mr. Evernight,I am becoming quite cross with you. And am beginning to suspect that you suffer from a character weakness in the form of monumental conceit. To use your words, I really do think it best that “we cease this nonsense” and work together to end this impending disaster. You cannot expect me to waste my time and attention on one so flippant as you.—L. L. M.

P.S. Horse, obviously. Would there be any other answer?

Eamon grinned wide as he set down little Miss Luella’s last letter. He ought not get so much enjoyment from baiting her, but he did. And he really ought not to have asked her if she preferred a flower to a dog or a horse. But he couldn’t help himself. He wanted to give her a little bit of him and see what she’d make of it.
Rising from his stool by the worktable, he went to the loosened wedge of masonry in the far corner of his smithy. There, he carefully set the letter inside the secret compartment to rest on top of the other one he’d received from her. Then he selected a length of iron. His forge blew hot, the heat making the skin of his cheeks tight. And as he heated the metal, he imagined the shape of a running horse. Then he began to work.

June 1825

Dear Lady Luella,I have in my possession a portrait of you, provided by my father, perhaps in an effort to promote moments of romantic longing. Unfortunately, it is quite useless, as you appear to be no older than eight in the study.Even so, I imagine you thusly: Your prim little nose is always in the air, not a wrinkle nor scuff mars your pretty dress, and multiple ribbons likely adorn your hair. A perfect Luella.When, really, I believe you are a terror in secret. Or perhaps only to me?Regardless, I shall do you a favor and call you Lu. No girl named Lu could possibly remain so high in the instep.—E

P.S. Why is “horse” the answer to every question?P.P.S. You appear to fancy long, pedantic words. Try this one: honorificabilitudinitatibus. Should you divulge its meaning without cheating, I might gain a modicum of respect for your intellect.August 1825

Dear Evernight,“O, they have lived long on the alms-basket of words. I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word; for thou art not long by the head as honorificabilitudinitatibus: thou art easier swallowed than a flap-dragon.”—Costard, Love’s Labour’s LostYou bore me. Really, one would think you had some notion of my father’s character, or your father’s, at the very least. Their shared love of Shakespeare is the reason for their initial bonding. Well, before they became embroiled in fisticuffs with an entire gaming hell, that is. I do hope you have better restraint.High in the instep indeed. That is rather the pot calling the kettle. And I do not recall giving you leave to address me with such familiarity. We may be betrothed but that does not allow you to behave with impertinence.P.S. My friends address me as Luella. Not that you may do so. I am simply pointing out a fact.P.P.S. Thank you kindly for the clever little iron horse. It is astonishingly life-like. Wherever did you get it?P.P.P.S. “Horse” is the answer to all questions because I love them to distraction. Obviously.—L. L. M.

October 1825

Dear Lu,I make it a point never to pay too great attention to anything my father says. After all, look where that has brought the two of us. Were my father to have his way, not a thought would rattle about in my brain box, nor a sentence pass my lips that did not start with “Yes” and end with “Father.”Having never considered a horse more than a beast of burden or a means of moving from here to there, I must ask, what is it that you love so much about the animal?—Evernight

P.S.Lopado-temacho-selacho-galeo-kranio-leipsano-drim-hypo-trimmato-silphio-parao-melito-katakechy-meno-kichl-epi-kossypho-phatto-perister-alektryon-opte-kephallio-kigklo-peleio-lagoio-siraio-baphe-tragano-pterygon. Try to solve that one. Your knowledge of Shakespeare will not help you here.P.P.S. You are most welcome. My brother Eamon made the horse. He is quite pleased that you admire it.Eamon grinned wide as he set down his quill then closed the cover of the dusty, heretofore ignored, tome that rested beside him. Ha! He could not wait to read her reply to this letter. The only thing that could make his satisfaction sweeter would be to see her when she read it. Likely, her pretty face would scrunch up unbecomingly, and she’d stomp her little foot. Most excellent. He really couldn’t wait. Giddy anticipation had him whistling as he put the old book away and left the library.
November 1825

Dear Evernight,Now I know you are jesting with me. That is not a word! I won’t believe it. Furthermore, it is not even in English.As for horses, well, I suppose I love their faithfulness. A horse will run for its rider until its heart gives out. Can you imagine such devotion?And stop calling me “Lu.” We are to be married, for pity’s sake. One does not refer to one’s wife in such an undignified manner.—L. L. M.

P.S. It appears as though your father makes you feel as my family does me. As though you are a constant disappointment. If that is the case, I highly suggest you take up horse riding, if only as a means of escape. That is, if you do not ride already. Don’t all gentlemen ride?December 1825

Lu,It is a word. And we never stipulated terms. Not once did we say the words had to be in English. I dare you to discover its meaning. If you do, I shall send you another present.Of course I ride. Though I do not find the same solace in the activity as you do. In truth, I have a dislike of riding, as the horses seem to despair of me. However, when I put down my quill, I shall take to the saddle. And I shall think of you. Do you suppose I shall find peace? I think not, but anticipate the exercise regardless. Will that make you happy, Lu? If I do as you ask?You have to know, Lu, that I would do anything to bring you happiness.—E

P.S. I cannot help but notice that you insist on referring to yourself as my future wife. Are you, then, finally conceding to the eventuality? Or shall you continue to plot against fate?P.P.S. Were you to be my wife, I would call you Lu every day. I would call you Lu as I pulled out your hair ribbons and replaced them with lilacs. Purple, to complement your dark locks.

With a soft, happy sigh, the girl the world knew as Lady Luella Moran sat back against her window seat and watched crystalline rivers of water play over the glass. Lu. Aidan thought of her as a Lu. And she found she rather liked that. It was special because only he knew of it.
On the carved ivory mantel stood a little black iron horse so perfectly rendered that it appeared as though it were running over a lake of cream. Aidan’s gift to her. And now another. A tiny, delicate steel lilac. It was utterly beautiful. And hers.
“Lu,” she whispered with a tremulous smile. He’d put purple lilacs in her hair.
As if feeling his touch, her hand drifted to the dark locks hanging about her face. With Aidan, she could be someone else entirely. Someone new. A girl who could ride free across an Irish meadow. And a wife who would have a clever husband to tease her before he slowly pulled the ribbons from her hair. The idea was seductive, and she decided then and there that she would think of herself a Lu.

February 1826

Evernight,I find myself softening on the subject of marriage toward you. I don’t know why. It must be a temporary form of madness, for I still find you too forward and altogether too pithy. And yet I quite like it. Yes, I must be mad.Will you think less of me now that I have exposed my weak underbelly? Will it shock you to learn that last night I dreamt of lilacs, and felt the brush of your fingers through my hair? I am stopping now before I say too much.—Lu

P.S. I am determined to discover the meaning of that “word” you have sent me. Do not think otherwise!—Even if I still suspect skullduggery at play.P.P.S. First an iron horse, now a steel flower? You are spoiling me. Or rather your brother spoils me. Perhaps I ought to set my cap to him.March 1826

Lovely Lu,You honor me. I read your note with equal parts joy and dismay. Joy that you found something in me that caused you to change your regard. Dismay that I could not receive your acceptance in person.Think less of you? You are all I think about. I dream of hair like black satin. Of petal pink lips that do not simper, but move quickly with sharp wit. I could grow to adore such lips.—E

P.S. To me, you shall always be Lu. Whatever fate may bring for us, in my heart you shall always be mine.P.P.S. I would never dare assume you have given up your quest. And stop creating reasons to fail. The word is real, and therefore yours to find. Now, hurry up!P.P.P.S. Should you throw me over for my brother, he would be the happiest of men. Of that I have no doubt.April 1826

Aidan,May I call you Aidan? It hardly seems fair, you calling me Lu all this time and me remaining so formal. It rained today. I love the rain, have I told you? Which is rather a blessing, given how often it rains here in Scotland. Tomorrow, we go to London so that, in Father’s words, the ton might see Evernight’s bride. I believe you know how very much I detest being treated as cattle.I’ve only been to London once before, as a young girl. It is horrid there. The air is black and foul and the streets mucky. I cannot breathe in London.My only recourse is to think of you, wandering the rolling green grass of Ireland. Mayhap one of the reasons I adore you is that you detest the city as much as I do.Yours,


P.S. Just two more seasons, and we shall be together. Do you long for it as much as I do? Or have you forgotten me already, now that you are of age and frequenting parties and the like?May 1826

Dearest Lu,You have a lifetime to address me as “Aidan.” Call it selfishness on my part—though likely you’ll simply think me rude—but I’d rather you withhold that privilege until we are face to face. For now, would you be so kind as to humor your fiancé and refer to me as E?Your devoted, if not slightly eccentric, E.

P.S. Forget you? You are my waking breath, and my sleeping sigh.

Lu turned from the sound of men chatting in the hall. Pray God, her father wouldn’t call her down to entertain. She’d rather eat cook’s eel pie. Cold. Dipping her quill into ink, she applied it to the smooth vellum beneath her hand. From the silence of her room came the scratch of the nib across the page and the ticking of the mantle clock. A veritable menagerie of metal animals now called the mantle home. An elephant, turtle, cat, dog, lion, monkey, even a little ostrich made up the collection. She loved them all.
What she did not love was waiting. She was abysmal at waiting. The only thing she hated more was being in London, forced to give false smiles to people she did not want to know. Forced to pretend she was something that she was not. Her life was a mirage. Only with Aidan did she feel remotely like her true self.
And so she did the one thing that gave her happiness. She poured her soul into her letter.

June 1826

Dearest E,There are days when I hate the letter carrier. Where is he? Why hasn’t he brought me one of your letters? I curse him for leaving me to wait in a constant state of distraction. My neck grows tired from turning toward the door, as if by mere staring, I can somehow conjure up his presence. It never works. Yet I keep trying.In the silence of my London house, I hear the sound of footsteps coming up the walk, and my breath grows short, my cheeks flush, and my heart races. Is it he? The man I want most to see? By the time the knocker sounds, I am beside myself with anticipation, when it occurs to me that the letter carrier would not use the front door. My heart plummets. I hear voices in the hall, and my hopes are dashed. It is only Dr. Arnold, Father’s physician. And I hate him for who he is not.Most of all, I hate the letter carrier. And yet I love him, for eventually he brings you to me.—L

P.S. You run the risk of me forevermore thinking of you as “E.”August 1826

Dearest L,I am not certain I like this letter carrier fellow much myself. Love him, do you? The man you most want to see? In fact, I am quite certain I hate him myself.He arrived yesterday, bringing your letter. It was all I could do not to grab him by his lapel and do him a violence. For in my mind, he has seen your lovely face, heard your pretty voice, and I have not. I have to remind myself that this is illogical; he cannot possibly be the same man who left London, nor would any carrier have direct contact with you. However, logic seems to vacate my mind when I think of you.And I always think of you. Thoughts of you thread so tightly throughout my day that I lose track of where I am and what I am doing, until I cannot help but think that, although we’ve never met, your soul and mine are already entwined.All I have of you now are these letters, and I covet them, hiding the stack away like some miser before the winter. For I fear that, should I lose them, I’d lose part of you, and my soul would be irrevocably torn.—E

P.S. I shall take that risk. There are worse things you could think of me.September 1826

My dearest E,Ridiculous man, have you not realized? I am yours. In truth, I believe I was born to be yours. Just as you were born for me.In a few months, it will be spring and we shall be meet for the first time. Has anticipation ever been so keenly felt? Or so cruelly drawn out?—Lu

Snow swirled over hard cobbled streets, sinking white and pure into the cracks before growing black as sludge when carriages, horses, and people trampled over it. A hard wind howled down the lane, and Lu clutched the ends of her fur-lined pelisse with one icy hand. In her other hand, she held tight to the letter. The ends of the paper flapped, the words blurry in the whirlwind of snow.
She ought to be reading inside but Father was in a rare mood. And it was best to leave the house before he could take his anger out on her. A few steps behind her, Martha, her lady’s maid, and Fred the footman trailed her. She barely noticed them. A lump formed in her throat, and her heart squeezed as she read Aidan’s words, scrawled with such force that the nib had nearly run through the paper at some points.
When she finished, she pressed the letter to her heart and cried for him. “Oh, Aidan.”
February 1828

My Lu,My father is dead. It was sudden and unforeseen. I will not sully your tender sensibilities with gruesome details, but I cannot help writing to you. For I feel guilt for his death down to the marrow of my bones. I experience not loss but the release of a great burden. His constant disapproval is no more. I ought to be wracked with grief. Yet I am not.Sweet Lu, I fear I shall never be the man you believe me to me. In fact, I know so. It is only when I put pen to paper, with the image of you in my mind, that I am truly myself. Ink and vellum reveal my soul. If I should end up a disappointment to you, try to forgive me.And should, by providence or some small miracle, you find yourself content with our union  , would you, now and then, pull these dusty old letters out and think of this me? Of the pompous youth and hopeful romantic that I used to be?—E

February 1828

My dear and wonderful E,Neither of us are what we seem. Not fully. And how can we be anything different? When no one can know the whole of another’s soul. Just as you, I fear our eventual meeting as much as I long for it in my waking dreams. For I am not I know I will not be the woman you imagine.—Lu

[Never sent.]