Dearest Millie (The Pennington Family)By: May McGoldrick
The Pennington Family Series
To all who have fought the battle,
to all who continue to fight,
and to the families and friends who support them.
The Scottish Highlands
I should be working, but the golden sun is descending in the southwest, lighting my work room with a magical glow. In the gardens beneath the window, I hear my patients being brought in for their supper. I cast my gaze around at the disarray in this office and think for the thousandth time: I should keep better order here. Millie would not approve.
My thoughts rarely stray far from you, my love. Every memory of you is as brilliant as this setting summer sun. And like that celestial orb, my living recollection of all our time together only dips beneath the summer horizon for a few moments, it seems, before emerging again to light my day.
Star-crossed lovers! I hear the term often, but it does not apply to us. If fate had any part in our history, dearest Millie, it played a benign role in the end.
Our introduction was not an easy one, to be sure. Chance did indeed seem to be interfering. All those opportunities to meet, thwarted...
The first time you came to the Abbey, I was in Aberdeen on business. You were passing through with the intention of visiting with your sister and her new husband, my fastidious partner, Wynne Melfort. When I returned, I found my office had been completely reorganized. Books and journals were put away on shelves and in bookcases. Files were boxed and marked alphabetically by case. The floors were completely cleared, and my carpets shaken out. And my desk—there you went too far, m’lady—tidy and clean, pens and ink bottles lined up like soldiers on parade. And a fresh blotter! Every surface gleamed. Unheard of doings!
I must admit, I never knew the wood of my desk had such beautiful markings in the grain.
You, however, escaped my wrath, continuing your travels north by the time I returned.
After that, I longed for an opportunity to meet the much talked-about—and yet mysteriously alluring—sister-in-law of my partner, the woman who organized my office. I just missed you when I journeyed to Edinburgh that autumn to confer with old colleagues at the medical college. You were in Hertfordshire with your parents, cowardly lass that you are. Your sister Lady Phoebe happened to be at your family home on Heriot Row. I must say, she delighted in helping me to rearrange your rooms and turn every book in your personal library upside down.
I soon learned, to my dismay, that Pennington women are not to be trusted. You were duly informed of my efforts to disrupt your life. The following spring when I returned from only a short stay in Aberdeen—where I’d gone to engage a new doctor to assist me at the hospital here—I found you had again come and gone like a thief in the night. You can only imagine my surprise to discover the entrance to my office had been stolen. Where the door had once been, I found a row of bookcases that had formerly lined the walls of my work place. And, curiously enough, all the books were in order, by author, an organizational concept I admit I never once considered. I knew immediately the identity of my office thief.
Then, finally, my moment arrived, when I received an invitation to the Summer Ball at Baronsford. I was not about to miss this opportunity again, for you would be there. How strangely fate works, however, that we were destined to run into each other—albeit without introduction—only a few days before . . .
NO TOMBS LINED THE walls of the silent, murky foyer where Millie Pennington stood numb and frozen. This was no ancient crypt with some carved effigy of a crusading knight and his lady lying on a stone slab, blankly staring for all eternity upward into the shadows of a vaulted ceiling. But when the door to the doctor’s consultation room closed behind her, Millie felt sealed in, caught in an eternity of muted desolation, cut off from the world of light and air.
She turned her head at the faint sound of a funeral bell tolling somewhere in the great city. The dark walls wavered around her, moving inward, encroaching menacingly. The distant knell ceased, and her shallow breaths were again the only sound. The small fan-shaped window over the door to the street admitted a brownish light through the soot-covered glass. So far, she’d been able to hold her emotions in check, but now she felt her insides implode. Then the tears came, covering her cheeks and dripping from her chin like ice thawing and pouring from a slate roof.