Someone to Care (Westcott #4)(7)

All was well, in fact. Or as well as it would ever be after a few necessary adjustments had been made. Viola, who had lived her whole adult life according to the two guiding principles of duty and dignity, appeared to be back to normal, albeit with a different name. She had convinced herself that she was back to normal, anyway.

Until she was not.

Until she snapped—unexpectedly and for no apparent reason. The trauma of what she had experienced had stealthily crept up behind her and then pounced. And she knew that she had not healed at all. She had only suppressed the pain and the hurt. And the anger.

She had snapped at the worst possible time, when the family had all gathered in Bath for the christening of Jacob Cunningham, Camille and Joel’s newborn son. They had all agreed to stay on afterward for two weeks of family activities. But two days after the event, Viola, the baby’s own proud grandmother, had fled.

She had left Bath feeling guilty and out of sorts and sorry for herself and hurt and angry and all sorts of other nasty, negative things that had no rational explanation. She had simply behaved badly, and that was something she rarely did. Through all her forty-two years she had been known for her graciousness of manner and the evenness of her temper. Yet now she had hurt and bewildered those who were dearest to her in the world. And she had done it deliberately, almost spitefully. She had insisted upon returning home to Hinsford against all reason and against the pleadings of her daughters and son-in-law and the protests of her mother and brother and the Westcott family.

She had announced her intention of returning home. Alone. In a hired carriage. She had pointedly insisted upon leaving her own carriage and servants, even her personal maid, for the use of Abigail when she should decide to return home. She had ignored the shocked protestations of Camille and Joel that they would of course see Abby properly conveyed and escorted home when the time came. She had ignored the kindness of the Dowager Countess of Riverdale, her former mother-in-law, who had come all the way to Bath, though she was in her seventies. She had ignored the kind effort Wren, the present countess, Alexander’s wife, had made to come to Bath despite the fact that she was herself in expectation of a happy event, as Matilda, the eldest of Viola’s former sisters-in-law, liked to describe pregnancy.

Viola had told them all to mind their own business. Yes, she had used those exact words. She had probably never in her life used them before. And she had spoken sharply, without humor or consideration for the feelings she was hurting. She wanted to be left alone. She had told them that too.

Leave me alone, she had said more than once—like a petulant child.

And she had no idea why she had so suddenly snapped.

She had gone to Bath with Abigail just before Jacob’s birth, brimful of anxiety and excitement at the imminent arrival of a new grandchild, and she had been happier when it had happened than she had been in a long while. Camille and Joel Cunningham lived in a manor in the hills above Bath with Winifred and Sarah, their adopted daughters, and now with their son too. They used the house for a variety of purposes—for artistic or writing retreats, for workshops in music and dance and painting and other arts, for plays and concerts, and for visits varying from one day to several days of the children from the orphanage in Bath where both Anna and Joel had grown up and Camille had taught briefly before her marriage. The house and extensive garden were always teeming with life and activity. Even just before and after Jacob’s birth, it had remained a busy, noisy place.

The amazing thing was that Camille appeared to be thriving. She had not yet lost all the weight she had gained when she was expecting Jacob, and she often looked slightly untidy, some of her hair fallen out of its pins, her sleeves pushed halfway to her elbows, her feet as often as not unshod, even when she stepped outdoors. She always seemed to have Jacob bundled up in her arms while Sarah clung to her skirt and Winifred hovered close—except when Joel was around to share the parenting, as he often was. She never seemed harried.

Sometimes it was hard for Viola to recognize in her elder daughter the severe, straitlaced, always rigidly correct former Lady Camille Westcott, who had never set a foot wrong and had lacked any discernible sense of humor. Now she seemed vividly happy in a life that was as different from the one she had expected as it could possibly be.

Everything had gone well with the birth and the plans for the christening and the event itself. Abigail had been ecstatic, for her dearest friend came too for the occasion—her cousin Jessica Archer, daughter of one of Humphrey’s sisters. Viola had been happy. She had developed a close friendship with Alexander’s wife, Wren, the year before, and she was delighted to renew it this year. She was happy that her brother and his wife had come from Dorset. Dinners, parties, teas, excursions, walks, concerts—any number of family events had been planned. Viola had been looking forward to them.

Until she snapped.

And had to get away.


She had behaved badly. She knew it. She had left at dawn before the family on both sides could gather to hug her and say their farewells and express their concern and wave her on her way. And she had held steady on her determination to travel by hired carriage, though she had had the offer of half a dozen private carriages and servants to go with them to give her company and protection and respectability.

Leave me alone, she had said to more than one of them.

But then suddenly there was something wrong with the hired carriage. And finally it had been creaking and moaning more than ever and leaning ever harder to one side as it turned into the yard of an inn, though surely not a major posting inn. The carriage had ground to a halt.

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