Chapter 24

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Peter rubbed his aching head. He'd be lying if he said he wasn't confused about all this mess. Edward had thrown him a curve ball, that's for sure.

Peter had to admit he'd noticed that Edward seemed to fancy Elizabeth, but after talking with Charles this morning, he thought maybe he'd been wrong. Charles had put pressure on him to agree to an arranged marriage contract between Edward and Amelia, in writing, saying that Edward had confided in him that he was very sweet on Amelia.

Peter had managed to put Charles off with the excuse that the original agreement had been based on a natural attachment between the two, and pointed out that they needed a little more time to get to know each other. Peter had no intention of moving forward with the agreement unless Amelia was to indicate otherwise. When Edward had come to him asking to marry his daughter, whom he presumed to be Amelia, Peter had thought that perhaps Amelia was indeed also partial to Edward.

However, in light of this new development, he was surely glad that he had been able to convince Charles to wait. He'd be in a real mess if he'd had a legal and binding contract to abide by, and apparently Amelia and Edward would have been bound to each other by mistake. Why would Charles lie to him about the object of Edward's affection? Peter felt sure that Edward had been sincere in his declaration of love for Elizabeth; Peter smiled as he remembered Edward's nervous question and how his face had beamed in happiness when Peter had responded positively.

Of course, Peter was sure that Charles would make things confoundedly difficult on them both when he learned that Edward had asked for Elizabeth's hand. Yes, Edward marrying Elizabeth would achieve the same result, but Peter knew Charles, and Charles had a specific reason for wanting Amelia for Edward. He just wasn't sure exactly what that reason was. He could hazard a guess; but no, that was just too abominable to consider, surely even for Charles.

At first, when Peter had agreed to have Edward and Matthew as guests, he had been afraid that Edward would be exactly like his father. Had that been the case, Peter had planned to find a way out of Charles' grasp; he'd sacrifice himself to save his daughters, rather than have one of them bound to a man of Charles' temperament. But upon meeting and speaking with Edward it became apparent that he was opposite in every way from his father. Edward had treated him and his daughters with the utmost respect, and besides that, Peter didn't know how to explain it, but there was something about Edward, perhaps a spirit of trustworthiness.

It was obvious that Edward was very educated and had a knack for business; he had made several insightful comments on ways to make the plantation run more efficiently when Peter had taken him out on horseback to view the property. There was no doubt Peter could use someone with his insight around here; as it was, things weren't doing so well. But none of that mattered at all if his Elizabeth didn't feel like Edward was the one for her.

One thing he had promised Lydia long ago was that he would not force his daughters into marriage, and he regretted that he had come so close to making an arrangement with Charles, of all people. It was despicable of him to even consider it, and all because of the hardships the plantation had faced. He truly liked Edward, yes, and would be honored to have a man like him marry his Elizabeth, but not on Peter's own terms, and certainly not on Charles'. Elizabeth would be the one to make up his mind.

A soft knock sounded at the door, and Elizabeth peeked into the office, pushing the door open slightly.

"Papa? You want to speak to me now?" She paused timidly before entering the room.

He looked up at her with a tender look in his eyes. "Yes, child. Come, sit down."

Elizabeth gently shut the door behind her and moved smoothly over to the chair before his desk. She lowered herself gracefully, her eyes watching his face closely.

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