The Earl of Snowley’s carriage bounced and splashed in and out of puddles as it trundled along the cobbled streets, squelching and creaking as it rocked from side to side. It had been a cold and wet summer so far with no sign of getting warm or dry. A permanent grey pall lingered just above the rooftops, giving the impression of a perpetual twilight tinged with a blue-grey glow. Even in the streets lined with grand ornate townhouses, a gloomy air of despondency remained.
“Do you think the sun will ever shine again?” asked Lady Octavia Lambert, the earl’s eldest daughter, staring through the window at the rain as it continued to fall.
“Of course the sun will shine again,” replied her younger sister, Lady Anne. “And then everyone will complain that it is too hot and stifling in London, and they will yearn to be in the countryside again, where they can breathe in the clean, sweet air.”
“London is always stifling to me,” said Octavia with a shrug. “It matters not whether the sun is out, the sky is blue, or there is a thick blanket of snow everywhere. I always feel as though I cannot breathe and may faint with the effort.”
“That is not the London air!” said her sister with a most unladylike snort. “That is your corset. You always have it too tight.”
Octavia turned her attention away from the carriage window and looked down at her plump form, straining to be free from her restrictive bodice. “You know that if I did not have it so tight, I would look enormous,” she muttered, glancing across at her sister’s almost wraith-like body in comparison. “I detest how the current fashions seem to be designed for ladies who have straight up-and-down figures.” Then, for fear of offending her sister, who had exactly that, she added, “Apart from when you wear them, of course, Anne. You always look so elegant and graceful.” She returned her gaze to her own ball gown. “They make me look as though I am bulging out all over the place, and I always want to tuck myself away again for fear of revealing a little more than I intended to.”
“Nonsense!” said Anne, grabbing hold of her older sister’s hand and giving it a squeeze. “Out of the three of us, you are by far the prettiest.”
“Now you tell untruths!” said Octavia, looking down at Anne’s slender hand holding onto her chubby one. “Everyone knows and says that you and Margaret are the more beautiful of the three of us.”
“I wish that I had your lovely brown eyes and straight and shiny brown hair,” said Anne. “I can never do a thing with my curls. And my eyes are so pale. I would swear that some acquaintances may think I am sickening for something.”
Octavia met her sister’s blue eyes and blinked twice. Did Anne truly believe that her natural curls and her light-coloured eyes were something to complain about? Octavia’s eyes strayed to the delicate chignon atop her sister’s head, at the way her hair naturally cascaded from her fine coronet like a waterfall, and she cast her mind back an hour or so to the length of time it had taken Iris, her lady’s maid, to produce a similar effect with her own hair. In the end, Iris had all but given up and abandoned Octavia’s hair to the addition of a frivolous feathered plume. Octavia shook her head carefully for fear of disturbing the outrageous headdress and was about to reply when Anne continued.
“We have curling tongs and papers to make straight hair curly,” she said. “But where are the tools and accessories for smoothing out unwanted curls? And yes, I wish too that I had your figure, for I could so easily pass for a boy otherwise.”
Now it was Octavia’s turn to snort. “If any of that is true, then out of the three of us, how is it that I am the last one yet to find a suitable match? Margaret has been married for five years. You are recently betrothed to the wonderful and handsome Viscount Dormer, whom you met at your very first ball. Yet here am I, coming to the end of yet another season without a single suitor in sight. Papa must be so ashamed of me.”
Anne squeezed her sister’s hand again. “Papa loves you. Very much. He loves us all. All he wishes is for the three of us to be happy and settled.”
“Then I will be the one to let him down,” said Octavia sulkily.
“You will be if you do not cheer up!” scolded her sister teasingly.
“What do I have to be happy about?” asked Octavia, glaring at Anne now as they swayed from side to side in time with the carriage. “Margaret is happily married. You are soon to be happily married. No one will notice the plain duckling in the middle who remains unhappily unmarried.”
“Come now,” said Anne. “Everyone knows that the Duke of Gillingham is looking for a new wife among the young ladies attending his ball this evening. Is that not why Papa accepted the invitation on our behalf?”
Octavia laughed. “We are wasting our time, our father’s time, and the duke’s time.”
Anne frowned at her. “Why do you say such a thing?”
“As I say, you are recently betrothed to the viscount. Therefore, His Grace will not be able to choose you for his bride, not even if he wished it.”
“No, you silly pea-goose!” retorted Anne. “You are the one he shall choose.” Octavia smiled and felt the colour rush to her cheeks. “There!” said Anne. “When you smile, your entire face lights up, and your eyes twinkle. How can the duke resist?”
“His Grace will not choose me, Anne,” replied Octavia patiently, looking out the window again at the grand houses rolling by. “And I am not sure that I would want him to. Is it not his third wife he is looking for?” Anne nodded. “Then His Grace is likely an old man. I would sooner grow old and live my life as a spinster, which is likely my lot in any case. I will be a favourite aunt to our sister’s children – apart from when you are there. Then that position will go to you.”
“The children already adore you, Tavia,” said Anne. “You will be their favourite aunt whoever else is in the room or anywhere else.”
“Is your beau coming to the ball this evening?” asked Octavia, swiftly diverting the subject away from herself.
Anne dropped her gaze and turned to look out the window on her side of the carriage. “Alas, no. He has had to report to his barracks.”
Octavia immediately felt ashamed of herself. For as long as she did not have a man to love or care for, she would not have to be separated from him. Here was her seventeen-year-old sister, young and already in love, forced to live apart from her beloved betrothed. “I expect that you will miss his company,” she said. Instead, Anne did not reply, dabbing delicately at her nose with her handkerchief. She even weeps so prettily, mused Octavia to herself. If I were sobbing, my eyes would puff out, and my nose would run and run, turning bright red in the process.
The carriage swung to the left and Octavia peered through the rain-streaked window to see a brightly lit large house in the grand terrace. Anne sniffed and put her handkerchief away. “Are we here?” she asked brightly.
“I do believe that we are,” said Octavia, straightening her gloves and adjusting her headdress.
As they stepped inside the black-and-white floor-tiled hallway, Octavia had to keep reminding herself to close her mouth. When she looked at her sister, she was happy to see that Anne, too, was surprised by the townhouse’s opulence and that it was not only Octavia whose eyes looked everywhere.
A large doorway led from the hallway into a drawing room overlooking the front of the square outside. It was the size of the whole front half of the house. At the rear of the room, set into an adjoining wall, two pairs of double doors had been folded flat against the side walls leading into another room of equal proportions. The folding doors ensured the double drawing room could be enjoyed as one large airy chamber for parties and gatherings such as this one or closed to make two separate cosy rooms. To the rear of the house, two pairs of French doors led onto a long terrace. These doors were closed against the inclement and unwelcome weather, but the sisters could easily see across the terrace onto an expansive lawn where an illuminated pathway weaved in and out of the ornamental flowerbeds to where an outdoor ballroom had been erected.
To the left of the rear drawing room, another set of double doors was flung open, taking the visitor back into the chequered hallway, across which was a door leading to the indoor ballroom.
“Have you ever seen such a ballroom as grand as this one?” breathed Anne, still enjoying her first season, whereas Octavia, of course, was on her third.
“It is certainly the grandest ballroom I have seen in a townhouse,” she replied.
“It is so big!” said Anne. “I do hope we will not lose one another.”
The garden had been brought indoors into the ballroom, which made sense to Octavia. If they could not have the dance outside because of the rain, then why not bring it inside? The room was decorated with boughs and wreaths of summer flowers and greenery. The band, wearing the duke’s livery, was dotted about in alcoves lining the room, which were fashioned to look like the follies one often saw on splendid country estates. Candles burned in large chandeliers suspended from the ceiling on thick chains, their light glittering and reflecting off all the silver jewellery, trinkets, ornaments, punch bowls, punch glasses, and so forth. Meanwhile, dancers swirled around on the dance floor in a waltz, the ladies’ dresses in a multitude of colours.
“The Lady Octavia Lambert,” announced a liveried footman loudly. “The Lady Anne Lambert.”
Only those closest to the door acknowledged the arrival of the two young ladies. Octavia nodded back at them but continued around the outskirts of the dance floor to the other side of the room, where she could see some empty chairs.
“Tell me we are not to spend the entire ball seated!” said Anne.
“I should certainly not wish to spend it all on our feet,” said Octavia.
“Oh, but I want to dance!” said Anne.
“And you will need somewhere to rest when you have worn yourself out,” said Octavia. “These seats are perfectly fine. We have a good view of most of the ballroom without being too far from the punch table.”
They nodded their acknowledgements to the ladies seated closest to them, recognising the Countess of Richmond and Baroness Tatler, as well as Mr and Lady Whitbread, standing behind them.
“Are these seats already spoken for?” asked Octavia politely, to a murmuring of ‘no’s and ‘not at all’s.
Once they were seated, Octavia looked around the dance floor to see if there was anyone else that she recognised. On an elevated dais at one end of the room were two regal-looking chairs upholstered in a plush, deep-red fabric. One of the chairs was unoccupied while in the other sat a very elderly lady, back ramrod straight, head held high, and a lorgnette pressed against her eyes that missed nothing as she surveyed the room.
I wonder who that could be, wondered Octavia to herself, just as the old lady’s gaze came to rest upon her sister, Anne.
Anne did not seem to notice that she was being examined. She was far too busy watching the feet of the dancers as they swept around the floor. “I am not familiar with this new dance,” she said to her sister behind her fan.
“It is not so new,” replied her sister. “It is a waltz.” Octavia turned her attention to the dancers. “We have seen it many times before. Unless, of course, you were not paying attention.” Octavia watched her sister from the corner of her eye and smiled when she saw a delicate blush creep up Anne’s neck. “Ah, perhaps you were otherwise engaged,” she teased, causing the faint pink to turn a deeper crimson. Thinking about it, this was indeed the first ball since they had met that Anne had been without her betrothed, for from that first moment on, Lady Anne and Viscount Dormer had been practically inseparable.
I do hope the viscount returns soon, thought Octavia. Perhaps those in charge will feel sympathy for a newly engaged captain and not send him abroad.
“It is a splendid dance,” continued Anne, still watching the feet. “I am going to learn how to do it.”
Octavia raised an eyebrow. “It is a rather … intimate dance,” she said. “With whom will you learn it before the viscount does return?”
Anne turned and smiled at her sister. “Why, with you, of course.”
“The Right Honourable the Earl of Snowley,” announced the liveried footman at the door, causing both ladies to turn their heads and see.
“Oh!” said Octavia, surprised to see him. “Papa is here.”
“Perhaps he finished earlier than he thought he might,” said Anne, lifting slightly out of her seat so that their father would see them and be able to join them.
“We were not expecting you, Papa,” said Octavia as she stood up to greet him. He bowed to the ladies and the gentleman in his daughter’s company before replying.
“I was not expecting to make it,” he confessed, dropping down into a chair he had claimed from another group who did not appear to be using it. “I only came so that I might take the carriage home with you both later.”
“You must promise to dance with me, Papa,” said Anne, taking out her dance card and writing his name in one of the empty spaces. “I would like to learn the waltz.”
The middle-aged earl threw his head back and laughed, causing his thick but greying hair to ripple, before nodding a quick apology to their company. “I do not know how to waltz,” he confided, leaning forward so that he may speak with his daughter more privately. “Besides which, is it not quite the most scandalous of all? Choose a nice country dance for me instead,” he added, waving a finger at the dance card.
“Oh, very well,” said Anne, humouring him.
Octavia sat up straight in her chair to watch the dancers, but as she did so, her eye was caught by a movement on the other side of the dance floor, causing her to look again quite sharply. For there, a tall and very handsome man with tousled blond hair and thick eyebrows could be seen weaving in and out of the finely dressed people. He was greeting each guest in turn, and Octavia felt a sudden and bewildering attraction to him. She must have been staring at him for a very long time, for Anne soon noticed that her sister was otherwise distracted, and she looked to where Octavia’s attention had been diverted.
“Oh, Tavia!” cried Anne. “Do you think that is the duke?”
“I … er … I do not know …” replied Octavia, flicking her fan open again and flapping it against her face, for she suddenly felt rather warm.
The earl looked to where his daughters were watching now and leant forward again. “No,” he said, correcting Anne. “That is not the duke. It is the duke’s son, the Marquess of Westcastle.”
For one strange and enchanting moment, the marquess met Octavia’s eyes, and sweat prickled in the palms of her hands. She was spellbound. In a moment, Westcastle looked away again. The spell was broken.
“Come,” said the Earl of Snowley, getting to his feet. “I will introduce you both to the actual duke. It will not do for you to be in attendance at one of His Grace’s balls without either of you knowing your esteemed host.”
He held one hand out to Octavia while Anne fell in behind them. The earl walked them around the dance floor, past the two regal chairs with the one elderly occupant around to the other side. A stooped and leering gentleman, who Octavia instantly dreaded, greeted them.
“Your Grace,” said the earl with a deep bow. To the ladies, he said, “I should like to introduce you to His Grace, the Duke of Gillingham.” As his daughters curtsied to the duke, their father added, “My daughters, Lady Octavia and Lady Anne.”
The duke barely flicked his eyes at Octavia, despite her obviously being the eldest as the earl had introduced her first, and instead picked up one of Anne’s hands, bending over it perhaps a little too long while he drooled on her glove, then seeming reluctant to release her. Octavia thought it was only natural that the duke showed more interest in Anne than he did in her. His actions simply reinforced the words she had said to her sister in the carriage earlier.
At the duke’s elbow was a middle-aged lady dressed in jewel colours like a Romany gypsy with her white-streaked blonde hair scraped back beneath a headscarf tied at her neck and large, gold hoop earrings latched into pierced ears. As the woman peered at them down her long, beak-like nose, green eyes glittering in the candlelight, Octavia wondered if she were part of the entertainment yet to come.
Apparently noticing that the duke had not yet surrendered Anne’s hand, the earl noisily cleared his throat. “I am very pleased to inform you that my youngest daughter Anne is recently betrothed to Viscount Dormer,” he said, indicating Anne with a wave of his hand. “Perhaps you know of him?”
“What? What?” harrumphed the duke, shaking his head and turning his rheumy eyes to the other gentleman. He glanced at the gypsy woman beside him and back. “Betrothed, you say?” He harrumphed again, gave a brief nod, and wandered off, somewhat ill-mannered in Octavia’s opinion, to speak to some other guests, with the strange, exotic woman trailing behind him.
With her mouth hanging open in disgust, Octavia watched the duke launch himself up the step onto the dais and drop heavily into the vacant chair beside the old and withered silent lady still peering at folk through her long-handled spectacles. The gypsy woman took her place beside his chair, but she remained standing.
“How rude!” Octavia said quietly to her father, who shrugged and held out both of his hands, palms upwards, while raising his eyebrows.
The earl cleared his throat again before continuing around the edge of the dance floor as though that was his intention all along. As they passed people he knew, he nodded his head, or he took time to introduce his daughters. Octavia already knew most of them by now, but for Anne, in many instances, this was the first time she had met some of them.
At the punch table, the Earl of Snowley requested three glasses, one for each of them. While they sipped their drinks, the three turned to survey the room. They were joined by Mr and Lady Whitbread, and Mr Whitbread fell into a discussion with the earl about the recent news from the continent.
“I wonder who that lady is sitting next to the duke,” murmured Octavia into her sister’s ear. She did not really expect Anne to know either and was simply making conversation.
Lady Whitbread leaned in and whispered, “That is the duke’s mother, Her Grace the Dowager Duchess.” Octavia smiled her thanks at the lady, who added, “The duke is on the hunt for a new wife, and the dowager duchess is here to ensure that he makes a choice with which she is agreeable.”
Octavia smiled at her ladyship before meeting her sister’s eyes and raising her eyebrows.
Anne was otherwise occupied by now, standing on tiptoe as though to see over the dancers’ heads. She turned and placed her empty glass down on the punch table and grabbed hold of her sister’s arm.
“Let us see who we can find to dance with us,” she said, leading Octavia away from the table.
Octavia drained her glass and dropped it down beside her sister’s empty one with her free hand, letting Anne drag her away. On their third circuit of the dance floor, Octavia finally protested. “What on earth are you doing?” she said. “You are making me dizzy.” They bumped into two gentlemen, and it was when Octavia recognised one of them as the Marquess of Westcastle that she knew exactly what Anne was doing.
“I do beg your pardon,” she said to the marquess, smiling at his brown-haired, blue-eyed companion, who was shorter than he.
“Not at all,” said the marquess, looking her in the eye before glancing briefly at her headdress. Octavia had forgotten about the extravagant feather Iris had adorned her with, and she felt her face burn under the attention. With a cockeyed smile, he returned his dark blue eyes to hers and bowed his head.
“Excuse us, “she said with a quick curtsy and dragged her sister away.
“I hoped that he might ask you to dance,” Anne hissed when it appeared they were out of earshot, glancing over her shoulder at the two gentlemen.
However, they were not quite out of earshot, for the acoustics in the room were really very good, and Octavia froze as she clearly heard what the marquess was saying to his friend.
“You know how much I despise these balls, Edwin.”
“I think they are rather fun, old chap,” replied Edwin.
“Rubbish!” snorted the marquess. “They are too frivolous by far and simply a means to display one’s wealth and status.”
“They are also a marriage ground, Patrick,” said Edwin. “Do not forget that.”
The marquess laughed. “A cattle market more like. I would certainly not expect to find the true love of my life at such an event. It is all such a great show and such a great disappointment. There is far too much frivolity. Take that woman with the bright blue feather perched atop her head. She looks so ridiculous squeezed into that dress. Surely she does not believe any man would fall in love with her looking like that?”
Octavia flicked her eyes up to see the bright blue feather hanging down above her forehead. He is talking about me! she realised. What a horrid man. And I thought him so handsome too. Silly, silly girl!
Feeling tears sting her eyes, she grabbed her sister’s hand and dragged her out of the ballroom into the large double drawing room.
“Whatever is the matter?” asked Anne, shuffling along behind her.
“That dreadful man!” she replied, feeling her eyes fill with tears.
“Which man?” asked Anne, handing her sister a handkerchief. “What did he do?”
Octavia took a deep breath. “Did you not hear what he was just saying?”
“No,” said Anne. “I was listening to the music, waiting for the tune to end so that the marquess might ask you for the next dance.”
“Ha!” said Octavia. “He would not wish to dance with me. He despises me!”
She relayed what she had heard to her sister and then promptly burst into tears.
Patrick Tremont-Ramsbury, the Marquess of Westcastle, known to his friends as plain Patrick Tremont, packed his own trunk the following morning. The servants always seemed to pack whatever they thought he would need rather than what they thought he thought he would need, and to save all the checking and unpacking and repacking, it was simply quicker and easier to manage it all for himself. After all, he was a grown man of twenty-eight, not a child of eight. He had already sent his valet scurrying away when the man had taken his best dress coat out of the closet and started to brush it down.
“I am going to stay in the country for a few weeks, Yates,” Patrick had told him. “I do not plan to attend any balls or parties while I am there. The dress coat will not be required.”
“But, My Lord. Surely Mr Martel intends for the two of you to dine out at least.”
“Then I will borrow a dress coat from Mr Martel,” said Patrick firmly.
The valet replaced the dress coat in the closet and pulled out Patrick’s new trousers.
“No, no, no,” said the marquess. “I have already packed my breeches. I do not wish to take trousers as well.”
“But, My Lord—”
“Here,” said the marquess, picking up a pair of boots. “Go and give those a polish. I will continue with the packing.”
“But, My Lord—”
Patrick glared at him until he had gone, and he continued to pack the garments he wanted to take to Martel’s family estate. When he had finished that, he packed a small case with his hairbrushes, hair pomade, shaving kit, and cologne. He pulled his riding coat from the closet and gave it a quick brush down, then with that over one arm and his toiletries case under the other, he headed downstairs to ask one of the hall boys to bring his trunk down.
The door to his father’s study opened. “Is that you, Patrick?” called the duke, shuffling into the hallway. Almost immediately, the door that led to the front parlour opened, and there was Mrs Agar, Patrick’s late stepmother’s companion, and his father’s constant guardian, it seemed to Patrick. The duke did not acknowledge the woman, who lurked on the outskirts of the hall.
It is as though she is listening at the door for any movement from my father, Patrick thought to himself. The study door opens, and she appears as though by magic.
He did not even know why she was still living in the house. His stepmother had been gone for more than a year now, yet her companion remained.
“Hello, Father,” said Patrick, trying to ignore Mrs Agar in her jewel-coloured day dress and ruby turban, and slightly irked that she did not even pretend to be doing something else while she eavesdropped on their conversation. “Are you well?”
The duke harrumphed, which Patrick took to mean ‘yes, thank you’, while Mrs Agar sprung to the older man’s side and immediately straightened the duke’s knee-length banyan collar. Patrick had to fight an urge to swat her away like an annoying fly. Then his father made a great show of looking him up and down. “Where are you going?” he asked his son.
Patrick stifled a sigh and bit back a quarrelsome retort. He had told his father only the day before that he planned on going back with Martel. He took a deep breath to ensure his tone remained level. “I am going to the country with Edwin, Father,” he said, sounding more patient than he felt.
“What?” harrumphed his father. “When was this decided?”
“It was decided soon after Edwin arrived in town. He has been here for a week now.”
The duke shuffled towards the front parlour with Mrs Agar hot on his heels. “What do you intend on doing in the country?” he asked. “How long do you plan on staying there?”
Taking this as not the dismissal he had hoped his father would give, Patrick placed the small case on a table in the hall and draped the coat over the end of the banister. Then he followed his father and Mrs Agar and pulled the door closed behind them. When the duke sat down in his favourite armchair, Patrick sank down onto the settee while the ever-present Mrs Agar selected an upright chair. Patrick looked pointedly at her and then at his father.
“Well?” asked the older man.
Patrick blew out his cheeks. “I will be staying with Edwin for at least three weeks, Father,” he said, having already told him all this before.
“But what will you be doing there for all that time?” asked the duke, sounding aghast.
“I expect we will go horse-riding and hunting,” said Patrick. “There is also some very fine fly-fishing to be had on his family’s estate. Or we may go sailing on the lake, or swimming even.”
“Swimming?” said the duke. “In the water? Is that safe?”
Patrick laughed. “Of course, it is safe, Father. Hundreds of people swim.”
The duke harrumphed. “I do not know of a single person who does so.”
“I do, Father,” said Patrick. “So too does Edwin. As well as his brothers and sisters. In fact, the entire family enjoys swimming so much that they frequently employ the services of a waterman.”
“I expect you learnt all that rubbish at Cambridge,” said the duke.
“That is true,” agreed his son. “Indeed, many of us enjoyed swimming at Cambridge. We had watermen there too, to ensure our safety.”
“But …” blustered the duke, “but the Earl of Vipand’s estate is nowhere near the sea!”
“It is not far from Highgate, where the bathing ponds are becoming quite popular, Father. However, you are quite correct. But as you know, there is a river and a lake, and a private part of the lake is reserved for swimming.”
As though he had run out of arguments against swimming, the duke changed the subject. “It has done nothing but rain so far this summer,” said the duke. “Surely you do not intend to partake in so many outdoor pastimes? You will catch a chill.”
“If it is too inclement, then we may find a game of cards. As you know, Edwin likes to paint and draw. I might join him in doing some of that. He is also fond of his architecture, and I understand that he would like me to look over some of his drawings.”
“Is he designing a building now?” asked the duke.
“His father has told him he can design a folly and, if he likes it, Edwin can build it in among the trees that overlook the lake.”
“Hmm,” said the duke, nodding. “The earl does like his temples and castles and summerhouse and whatnot.”
“I believe the earl uses the follies to demonstrate his immense wealth.”
“As his youngest son, one would expect Martel to go into the church,” said the duke, looking at Mrs Agar as if for her approval. Mrs Agar’s thin lips stretched into a taut smile as she lightly nodded her head, but her green eyes remained hard and cold.
“He may yet go into the church,” agreed Patrick.
The duke turned to look at Patrick again. “You can paint and play cards here in London,” he said at last.
“Yet I cannot go hunting or riding or fishing,” said Patrick, as though explaining something simple to a child.
“Or swimming,” piped up Mrs Agar, as though that were as good a reason as any. Both men ignored her.
“So it is your intention to go to the Vipand estate today?” asked the duke.
“It is, Father,” said Patrick.
“You cannot delay it for another few weeks?” asked the older man.
Puzzled, Patrick asked, “Why would I delay it? It is the height of summer, almost. Why would I prefer to stay in the city when I can be out in the countryside enjoying the fresh air?”
“If it ever stops raining,” said Mrs Agar.
Patrick flicked his eyes at her. It was very rude of her to persist in interrupting their conversation. Indeed, it was impolite of her to even be in the room with them, apparently uninvited as far as he could tell.
“By the time you return, the London season will be over,” said his father.
Patrick shook his head slightly. “What does the London season have to do with anything?”
“You have yet to find a wife,” said the duke.
“The London season is the last place where I would want to find a wife,” he replied. “Have you seen the ladies who parade themselves at these events?”
“Yes, I have seen them, and I must declare that you might have made more of an effort at last night’s ball.”
“I showed my face, did I not? And so too did Edwin.”
“That is very well,” said the duke. “However, you could have met your future bride if you only had a mind to do it properly. There were plenty of suitable ladies for you to choose from last night. Why else do you suppose that I hosted the event in the first place?”
“To find yourself a new bride?” suggested Patrick, cutting himself short when he heard the sharp intake of breath from Mrs Agar. He would have said more, but the woman’s action surprised him. He glanced at her, and she turned her cold green eyes down to the floor.
She does not wish my father to marry another, he thought to himself as he watched two spots of red colour her cheeks. Feeling a little belligerent now, he said to his father, “I thought that was the reason for the ball, Father. Everyone I spoke to thought that was the reason for the ball. Perhaps had I known in advance that the objective was for me to choose a bride and not you, then I may have tried harder.” He gave Mrs Agar a sideways look. “Did you find a new bride, Father?” He suspected that she was holding her breath now, so he waited for his father to reply before saying anything further.
“There was one young lady whom I thought might suit the role of duchess,” the duke admitted. Out of the corner of his eye, Patrick saw Mrs Agar’s eyelids flutter closed. She was still holding her breath.
“Did you speak with the young lady?” asked Patrick.
The duke sighed. “Sadly, it seems that she is recently betrothed and therefore no longer on the market, so to speak.”
Mrs Agar coughed quietly into her hand as she started to breathe again.
“What a pity,” said Patrick drily. “It would have been interesting to find out who was to be my next stepmother.”
The duke frowned. “There were plenty of young ladies for you to choose from at the ball,” he said. “If only you had stayed for longer. Where did you go?”
“Edwin and I had a card game to attend in Mayfair. However, before we left, I am afraid that I did not see any such ladies.”
“You did not try hard enough,” said his father.
I did not try at all, admitted Patrick to himself. Out loud he said, “I cannot imagine having the slightest interest in any of the ladies present at last night’s ball. And if I did not try hard enough, then neither did you.”
The duke pushed himself up out of his chair and put his hands on his hips. “I do not want you to go the country today, Patrick. However, I cannot prevent you from doing exactly as you please.” Patrick stood up as well, and so too did Mrs Agar, shaking out the creases in her full skirt. He started to agree with his father when the duke continued, “But if you fail to find a wife by the end of the year, I will find one for you.”
“I would sooner choose my own bride, Father, if it pleases you,” said Patrick.
“Then you have until December. After then, it will be my choice.”
“You cannot force me to marry someone, Father,” said Patrick quietly.
“No, but I will cut off your allowance and disinherit you if you do not marry,” said the duke, looking quite pleased with himself and turning again to Mrs Agar as though for approval.
“Then it is my good fortune that I still have Mother’s money,” said Patrick, turning on his heel and charging out of the room.
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Lady Octavia Lambert has a crucial problem; she is on her third season and yet to find a suitor. As her father wants to save her from a life of spinsterhood, he makes the decision to betroth her to the repulsive and much older Duke of Gillingham. What Octavia would never expect is that when she steps in the Duke’s manor, she would find love in the eyes of Patrick Tremont, son of her new husband.
Will Octavia find the way to escape a miserable life and let the light of a new, warm love brighten up her future?
Patrick Tremont-Ramsbury, Marquess of Westcastle, has never forgiven his father for remarrying so soon after his mother’s death. Now that his father has remarried for the third time, he is determined to dislike the new Duchess of Gillingham. Little did he know that when he meets the sweet and caring young woman, he will find himself smitten with her presence. Will Patrick ever dare to dream of a life with Octavia? Will he find the courage to confront his father for the sake of love?
Two souls that want more than anything to make their two worlds one despite meeting under the most unorthodox circumstances…
As time passes, Octavia and Patrick find solace in each other and realise nothing could make them happier than being together. However, they both know that they will have to make sacrifices to keep their love alive. To make things even more complicated, Octavia needs to unveil the true face of a deceptive figure residing in the manor… Can Octavia and Patrick find their happily-ever-after in the midst of all this chaos? Or will they realise that that their love will cause more hurt than it’s worth?
“A Duchess in Distress” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.