“COME in, child,” Rosamund Platt said to Emma. “Sit here by me.”
Wondering, Emma obeyed. This was the mistress’s personal domain, a small, south-facing room comfortably furnished, smelling of beeswax polish and the spring flowers Emma had arranged that morning.
“I shall come straight to the point. I have reason to believe that you and I are related, albeit distantly. When first I set eyes on you I was struck by a resemblance to a young woman I knew as Verity Dawne. Your mama, it appears. Were you aware of a kinship with the Dawnes of Mollington?”
“No, madam.” Emma heard the surprise in her own voice. “I knew my mama was well connected, and that is all.”
“What else have you been told?”
“Very little. It all came out in a rush after I was in trouble with Granfer Trigg. Apparently the person I called ‘Papa’ was not so.”
“Correct. Verity spent her summers with relatives at Plymouth. There she met the man who was your father. I still correspond with the Plymouth people, the Widdecombes.”
Emma stiffened. Plymouth! She recalled the letter directed to the seaport, the uncanny stirring in the blood it had evoked. Whether it was the place or the name she had had no idea, but there had been a fleeting recognition. Was this, then, the reason?
“You are bewildered, child, as well you might be. Let us keep the explanations as simple as possible for now.” Rosamund took a breath. “Other issues made me realise there was more to this than coincidence. The name you shared with your mama – Verity. ’Tis a family name, and the cameo brooch you wear is a family piece. What sealed the matter was the portrait you were studying earlier on. Your likeness to that young woman is remarkable.”
Rosamund went on to say how she, like everyone else, had fallen under Verity’s spell.
“She had such zest for life! She was beautiful.”
“I remember. I’m not really like her. I’m no beauty, and I’m awkward. Bumbling, my aunt Maisie calls me.”
“Fie! As a girl your mama could never step into a room without sending something flying. I put it down to high spirits. As to the other, you do have a certain look of her.” Rosamund paused. “I take it the ‘trouble’ with your grandfather involved a young man.”
“Yes,” Emma said painfully. “We wanted to wed. Granfer Trigg came by some information and incorrect conclusions were drawn.”
“I see. Well, let us hope for better things to come. You have grandparents at Mollington who have lived to regret their harsh treatment of their daughter. ’Twould be gratifying to see the family rift healed.” Rosamund broke off, and then said tentatively, “Was your mama happy, Emma?”
“I believe so. We lived above Papa’s saddler’s shop at Parkgate. Mama would take my brother and me for walks along the front and show us the boats. Then she and Papa took ill and died and we went to live with Granfer Trigg and Aunt Maisie at Chester.”
Silence. The pretty ormolu clock on the mantelpiece ticked busily; a log collapsed in the grate in a splutter of sparks.
Rosamund straightened in her chair.
“So, what now? One can hardly continue to address you as a servant. It shall be Emma in future – quite acceptable for a lady’s companion, should it come under question. As to yourself, do you wish it to be known that you are a relative, and call me Cousin Rosamund? The choice is yours.”
“I think, madam,” Emma said in a voice that shook, “it might be best to leave matters as they are for now.”
She fingered the charm bracelet on her wrist and her heart twisted savagely. Life had indeed taken an extraordinary turn for the better. But deep down she knew that all she had ever really wanted was Josh.