His Christmas Countess(90)

By: Louise Allen

 ‘Yes, and I have a new bonnet for you to wear.’ He lifted a hatbox, white with bright red ribbons, from beside his chair.

 Kate took the box and opened it. The bonnet nestled in tissue paper, a confection of white velvet with a wide brim to frame her face and a delicate pale blue gauze veil with deeper blue silk ribbons, the colour of her eyes. ‘Grant, it is lovely. It is almost—’ Bridal.

 ‘You did not have anything pretty a year ago,’ he said. ‘Shall we go out now? We’ll be back in time to build a small snowman, Charlie.’

 Kate took Grant’s arm and allowed herself to be led through the snowy streets, along narrow ways she had not known existed, up to the door of one of the little chapels of ease that had been built to serve the expanding neighbourhood north of Oxford Street. It was not one they had ever used and, when they entered, it was obvious from its plain furnishings and lack of memorials that it was not a fashionable church.

 Grant had been carrying something in a straw basket, the kind that a goose would be brought home from market in, and Kate had been vastly curious to see what it held. He set it down on the porch and took out a posy. Trailing ivy, the red of holly berries, the pearl glow of mistletoe, crimson ribbons.

 ‘It was rather a plain wedding, was it not?’ Grant said and handed her the bouquet. ‘One sprig of holly, if I remember rightly. I think we should do it again, don’t you?’

 ‘It made me very happy, that first ceremony,’ Kate said, wondering how it was possible to want to cry, even as she smiled. ‘But I would like very much to marry the man I love, all over again.’

 ‘Shall we?’ He crooked his arm for her and together they walked down the aisle. She saw a clergyman waiting in a side chapel, two chairs set before him.

 ‘Welcome.’ He came forward, shook hands, ushered them to the seats. ‘I have never blessed a marriage on Christmas morning before,’ he confessed. ‘Weddings, yes. So many working people take advantage of the holiday. But this is rather special, is it not?’

 So special. ‘Grant, thank you,’ she whispered and did not realise she was crying until he took off his gloves and gently wiped away the tears with his thumb. He was giving her the one thing their marriage lacked, the one thing she had not thought important until that moment—a romantic wedding day.

 The clergyman handed them a battered prayer book to share. ‘I thought we would read it through,’ he said. ‘And then I will do the blessing.’

 They sat, following the familiar words read in the old man’s steady, gentle voice. Grant slipped the ring he had given her from her finger and then, as he made his vows, slid it gently back.

 ‘With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship...’

 Kate knew she was crying again, happy tears that slid down her cheeks and moistened her smiling lips and, when they rose from their knees, made their kiss salty and sweet.

 She thanked the clergyman with Grant, linked her arm through his again and went out into the brilliant sunshine of the snowy noonday. ‘That was the most perfect Christmas gift, thank you.’ He simply squeezed her hand against his side, but she could tell from his face that he had been deeply moved by the little ceremony. ‘When you came, that Christmas Eve, I thought you were my Christmas miracle. And now we have another, our love.’

 ‘We have two very different Christmases we will never forget.’ Grant’s voice was husky. Neither of them spoke for a while as they crunched through the snow.

 ‘I have a gift for you that might make this one even more memorable,’ Kate confessed as they came into Berkeley Square. ‘I did think I ought to wait another few weeks, just to be certain, but I can’t bear to keep the secret.’

 ‘Oh, my love.’ Grant stopped dead, right outside Gunter’s tea shop. ‘I did wonder whether you were simply blooming because you were happy or whether there was another reason.’

 ‘Both,’ Kate said. ‘I’m in love, I’m blissfully happy and I think we are going to be a family of five for next Christmas!’

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