Chapter 4

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The crunch of gravel and dirt under the horses' hooves was the only sound that could be heard as Edward rode horse-back beside Matthew across the countryside toward the Montgomery plantation. Their luggage had been sent ahead with one of his father's servants by a horse and cart. Edward glanced around as they rode. At least the view was beautiful out here. Rolling green fields lined by thick woods in some places spread as far as the eye could see.

He couldn't believe he was actually doing this. It was one thing to stay as a guest at a stranger's home. It was quite another to stay as a guest at a stranger's home with orders to seduce his daughter. Any way you slice it, this little adventure was going to end badly.

"I say, Edward," Matthew broke the near silence, "are you feeling alright? You look a little pallid."

Edward half-smiled at his friend. At least he would have Matthew for company. "You could say that I'm not exactly excited about this little excursion."

"I see... Why is that exactly? I've heard it said that the Montgomery's are nice people. I'm sure you'll like them."

"True, I might like them, but they probably aren't going to like me." Edward frowned.

More like despise me when they find out what I'm about. Maybe it won't come to that. God, please don't let it come to that.

Matthew laughed. "A little nervous, are we?"

Just then, they reached a large gate with "Montgomery Plantation" carved into an ornate stone pillar to the right. A long dirt path wound its way up the hill to a beautiful, sprawling house. Fruit trees in full bloom lined the pathway leading to the front door.

"I say, what a magnificent place!" Matthew grinned at Edward. "I do believe I'm going to like it here!"

Edward had to admit, it was impressive. Perhaps this wouldn't be as bad as he'd expected. He prodded his horse forward, through the gate and toward the house.

When the pair reached the front of the large estate, a stable boy came running out to take the two horses to the barn and feed and water them. Edward and Matthew dismounted and turned their horses over to the boy. As he led them away, a man exited the large front doors of the house and approached them.

"Mr. Stanton, Mr. Callaway," the man extended his hand to each of them, "Peter Montgomery. It's nice to meet you both."

"Just Edward will be sufficient, please," Edward grasped Peter's hand in greeting.

"The same for me; it's Matthew, if you please. I always say 'Mr. Callaway' is my father," Matthew said with a laugh.

Mr. Montgomery chuckled. "Good, good. Would you like to come in and meet the family? And then, of course, I'm sure you'd like to rest after your long ride in."

Edward swallowed. This is it. I'm about to meet the young woman that my father insists on my marrying. Maybe she'll be wonderful and this will be easy. God, I hope it will be so...

"Yes, please lead the way," Matthew answered when Edward just stood there, eyes gaping. As Mr. Montgomery turned toward the door, Matthew gave his friend a reassuring look, and Edward nodded gratefully.

They walked into a grand entryway with soaring ceilings and glossy dark wood floors and a sweeping staircase. A woman with dark hair stood in the entry, and Edward guessed she was about Mr. Montgomery's age. She stepped forward to greet them.

"This is my sister, Charlotte Gray. She's here as hostess in place of my late wife," Mr. Montgomery added.

"It's a pleasure to have you both here," Mrs. Gray said sweetly. Edward and Matthew both bowed to her.

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