Forevermore

By: Lauren Royal

A Jewel Trilogy Novella




For Terri Castoro,

critique partner and friend forevermore



I couldn't do it without you!





CHAPTER ONE




Village of Cainewood, England

September 1667



They'd sent a carriage to take her to the castle.

In all her thirty-one years, Clarice Bradford had never ridden in a carriage. Gingerly she climbed inside and perched on the leather seat, settling the pink skirts of her Sunday gown.

Dressed in blue to match her eyes, Clarice's five-year-old daughter bounced up and down on the seat opposite. "I've been in this carriage, Mama. When Lord Cainewood brought me to live with you."

In her short life, Mary had been orphaned by the plague and then abandoned during the Great Fire of London. But in the year since Lord Cainewood brought Mary to her doorstep, Clarice had come to love the girl like her own.

"I remember you climbing out of this carriage. That's one day I'm unlikely to ever forget." Clarice reached across and tweaked her daughter on the chin. "It's a fine carriage, isn't it?"

Mary shrugged, her blond ringlets bouncing on her shoulders in the same rhythm as the vehicle. "I would rather ride a horse."

"That wouldn't be a very elegant way to arrive at a nobleman's wedding."

A sigh wafted from Mary's rosy lips. "I s'pose not." She nibbled on a fingernail until Clarice pulled her hand from her mouth. "Who is Lord Cainewood marrying?"

"I haven't met her, poppet, but if she's marrying Lord Cainewood, she must be a grand lady. I've heard she's from Scotland."

"Scotland. Is that very far away?"

"Far enough." Clarice leaned across the cabin and took Mary's hands in hers. "Can you believe we're going to a wedding at the castle?"

Though Mary smiled, it was clear she wasn't overly impressed. "I lived at the castle before." Last year, after Lord Cainewood's brother had swept her from the fire and brought her to Cainewood. "For a whole month."

"Well, I've only been in the great hall for Christmas dinner once a year," Clarice said. "I've never seen any of the other rooms."

"I'll show you around," her daughter proclaimed, displaying nary a hint of the awe that made Clarice's heart beat a rapid tattoo.

The castle was grandly ancient; the very thought of entering the family's private living space was both daunting and exciting. And the carriage was clattering over the drawbridge already.

Shadows sheathed the carriage's windows as they passed beneath the barbican. Then it was bright again, and Clarice Bradford found herself inside the crenelated walls of Cainewood Castle.

The carriage door was flung open, and Mary ran down the steps into the enormous grassy quadrangle. "Who are you?" Clarice heard her ask. "And who is this?"

"You must be Miss Mary," came a masculine voice. Clarice alighted from the carriage to see a man crouched by her daughter, an infant in his arms. "And this is baby Jewel. Lord Cainewood is an uncle now, aye?"

"Lord Cainewood plays games with me sometimes. The babe is lucky to have him for an uncle." Four stories of stately living quarters looming behind her, Mary ran a small finger down the child's tiny nose. "But Jewel is an odd name. 'Specially for a boy."

"Ah, but Jewel is a lass." A grin appeared on the stranger's face, lopsided and indulgent. "Though she has little hair on her head yet, she's a girl."

"Oh. Will she have hair soon?"

"Aye. A bonnie lass she'll be. Just like you."

Mary's giggle tinkled into the summer air as the man rose to his full height and caught Clarice's gaze with his.

Something stirred inside her when she met his warm hazel eyes. Since he hadn't answered Mary, Clarice had no idea who he was. He looked to be a wedding guest, though, dressed in a fancy blue suit trimmed with bright gold braid. She'd been told this would be a small family wedding. Judging from his accent, he must belong to the bride's side.

The stranger was tall. Clarice was not a short woman, but he topped her by nearly a head. Straight wheaten hair skimmed his shoulders and fluttered in the light breeze, shimmering in the sunshine. And those eyes…she felt she could get lost in them.

She gave herself a mental shake. This magical fairytale day was sparking her imagination—that was all. She'd never thought to be inside the castle walls as an invited guest to the lord's wedding—she and Mary the only commoners invited—the only non-family invited, come to that. Lord Cainewood had said that since their misfortune had inadvertently led to his marriage, he wanted them with him to celebrate. The sheer wonder of it was going to her sensible head. Making her giddy.