First Page: Belong With Me
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“So, he bought Hampton Manor.”
Vivian put down her tea. She looked over to her brother, James, to see whether he would choose to elaborate on his pronouncement. He didn’t, and Vivian knew that it would be useless asking him for more information until he had completed reading the letter. James, Viscount Hastings, could only ever concentrate on one task at a time, and always completed a task once he had begun it.
Instead, Vivian looked over at her sister-in-law, and caught the look of affectionate exasperation she was throwing towards her husband. Vivian smiled, but felt the familiar twinge of envy.
Vivian nibbled on her toast as Emily looked across the table at her.
“Is Hampton Manor the one next door? The derelict one?” Emily asked.
“Yes, that’s the one. It has pretty grounds, but they are overrun now, of course. The house itself was once very grand, but it has fallen in to complete disrepair. I wonder if whoever the new owner is will try to restore it, or tear it all down and begin anew?” Vivian was quite familiar with the property, perhaps even more so than her brother and sister-in-law realised. She had spent many an afternoon exploring the area after slipping away from her governess, never fearing she would be discovered. Even then, the house had been abandoned.
“I’m surprised James has never taken you there. It has a lovely prospect, if you ignore the neglected house,” Vivian continued.
“You mean, go on another person’s property? Without invitation?” Emily was the most proper and polite person Vivian had ever met. The suggestion seemed to horrify her.
“Well, there is no one there to discover you. It would hardly matter to the owner, I’m sure,” Vivian told her. Emily didn’t look convinced.
“I couldn’t.” She seemed scandalised at the very thought.
“Well, too late now, I suppose. If there is a new owner, they’ll likely be in the area supervising repairs and such.” Vivian almost shrugged, before remembering that it wasn’t considered ladylike. She didn’t want Emily to think her attempted influence had been for nothing.
“That’s right,” said James. Vivian started as her brother unexpectedly joined the conversation.
“Who has taken the house? Someone you know, presumably.” Vivian asked.
“Yes, an old school friend of mine. William Halkett. Though, I think he said he was a a Major, now. No, a Lieutenant Colonel.” James frowned, as if trying to remember his friend’s entire military career.
“What is he like?” Emily asked, shooting a quick glance to Vivian. Ah, so she had been thinking along the same lines. “Is he…” She cleared her throat delicately. “…married?”
James glanced between Vivian and Emily, clearly unaware of the subtext of the conversation.
“Uh, no. Not that I am aware. Though we haven’t spoken in a while,” James replied.
“Actually,” Vivian answered, “I think I can tell you something of him. He came here once during the summer holidays. Isn’t that right, James?”
James nodded. “Yes, and I haven’t seen him much since then. Though, we have exchanged some letters during his time at war.”
“I was only 10 or 11 at the time but, I remember him being rather reserved. Very kind, though. I believe he helped a groom patch up a wounded horse.”
James smiled fondly. “That would be right. He always did love animals.”
“When is he to take up residence?” Emily asked.
James took up the letter again. “He says that he will be here soon.” He turned over the letter to check the franking date. “A few days, I should say.”
Emily slid a sly glance to Vivian, who pointedly ignored her. “And is he moving in to that ramshackle old building right away?”
“William doesn’t say. But I don’t imagine the place is habitable as it stands.”
“Well, how about we invite him here?” Emily suggested in a rush, blushing quite plainly.