Maria was taking tea with Celine in the morning room when Sam arrived home.

‘We decided to call upon one another since we are both now social pariahs and no one else would care to visit,’ Maria told him.

‘Well, I’m sure that Celine’s company is preferable to those prissy ladies we used to encounter at those dull dinner parties,’ Sam replied, sitting and accepting a cup from his wife.

Celine smiled at Sam and put her cup and saucer back on the tray. ‘I will leave you two alone. You must have a lot to discuss. Sam, do you mind if I use your piano?’

‘Celine, you must treat it as your own. The reception rooms of this house are for you to use freely, how many more times can I tell you.’

As soon as she’d gone, Maria turned to him, her face serious. ‘Sam, are you angry with me?’

‘No! Why on earth should I be angry?’ he lied.

‘You’ve barely said a word to me since the doctor came. Are you not happy about the baby? I thought that you would want an heir.’

‘Maria.’ He took her hand and kissed it. ‘You know that I am not good when it comes to emotional matters. I will admit that I have not behaved appropriately. I am still getting used to considering myself married, after all!’

‘Well, it has been almost a year now,’ Maria reminded him. ‘At least the rumours that we were forced into a sudden wedding have abated now that no child has been produced as of yet.’

‘Your sister must be disappointed,’ Sam remarked. ‘I’m sure she was the one who started that particular piece of gossip. But I am sorry. I entered into this arrangement on the understanding that we would always maintain our friendship and that I would do my best to give you a proper marriage.’

Maria looked away, fidgeting with her skirt. ‘I know that you don’t love me. I don’t expect you to suddenly fall head over heels like we are in a fairy tale, but it is harder than I thought. You rescued me from marriage to a man that I hate. For that I am, and will always be, grateful.’

‘And you saved me from becoming a pompous and lonely old man.’ Sam took her face in his hands, gently forcing her to look into his eyes. ‘I am not in love with you, Maria, as you are not with me, but I do care for you. I can promise you that I will do my best to make you happy, and I hope this child will do that for you.’

She smiled finally. ‘You are a good man, Sam. No matter what everyone else says.’

‘What does everyone else say about me?’ He threw his hands up in mock distress. ‘I thought they all loved me.’

Maria giggled as he put on his act for her, David’s disapproving shadow just visible from the corner of his eye as he silently removed the tea set. He was not sure for how much longer he could keep up this charade of a life, different players performing various roles that even he could not always keep up with. Maria, David, even Daniel once the Hamburg child materialised, all complicit in different compartments of Sam’s life, none of them knowing the whole truth of how Samuel McCarthy had ended up in London. The perfect figure of a well-travelled gentleman, in reality a scared child running from his past, keeping up appearances in any way he could.



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