Amberwood Manor, Outskirts of London
Hamish Gilbert, the Duke of Amberwood, flicked backwards through the thick pages of the heavy ledger, noting how his handwriting, now a messy scrawl, had been so neat and tidy at the start when he had taken over the running of the duchy. He stopped at his first entry, dated 1 November 1812, and pressed the pages down, causing the spine to creak and crackle so that the big book would lie flatter on his desk. He ran an ink-stained finger down the column, pausing over his father’s handwriting as he traced the outline of the late duke’s letters. A gap of six weeks between Hamish’s father’s last entry and his own first entry indicated precisely when his father had first taken ill and then passed away a few days later. But there was no physical gap between entries, only a distance between dates. Hamish smiled grimly, as he remembered those dark days when his mother’s frantic letters had begged him to come home, dragging him away from the roguish lifestyle he had been living since leaving college.
The lifestyle Hamish had adopted upon completion of his studies had been in part a protest against the loss of so many of his friends’ lives in a war far, far away, as well as partly out of guilt, for he had not been forced to join the army due to financial reasons as some of his friends had and had not followed any of them out of choice. It did not take him very long to discover that partaking of excess alcohol helped him forget his guilt and grief. Everything else simply seemed to go hand-in-hand with the drinking – smoking, gambling, ladies. His life was a blur, passing him by in a haze as he tried to blot out its terrible sadness and unfairness. Hamish had treated people badly in those days, a fact he was not proud of. Especially the ladies he had wooed and courted and then abandoned.
Hamish shook his head. He had not been a nice person during his post-college years, and when the memories returned of how he had acted, he felt ashamed, for he had certainly not been that person before, and he was not that person now. And while his father’s illness had been a short, sharp shock when the late duke was still so young, the man’s death had also been a blessing, if Hamish could call it that.
As it happened, he was completely sober when his mother’s letters found him. He and Ross Hamilton, the viscount, his oldest and closest friend, were on a walking holiday in the Lake District. In hindsight, Hamish considered that to be a blessing too, for if the letters had found him in the fleshpots of London, he would likely have ignored every single one of them. He remembered that the fresh air, clear head, and plenty of exercise had begun to show him the error of his ways, and he was already reconsidering his lifestyle upon their return to London. However, his father’s dying wish to clean up his act and discard his roguish lifestyle finally sealed Hamish’s recovery.
Hamish’s eyes lingered on his father’s last entry, dated more than eighteen months earlier, still in the strong, steady hand he remembered: Tree down, North Wood; attend with Jackson to survey the damage. It was not the only tree to fall down that summer as strong winds had thrashed the north woods. Hamish wondered if his father had even been to look at the tree with the estate manager before his illness consumed him, but it had certainly been one of his duties as the new duke.
Hamish flicked back to the current date in the ledger and shook his head again to rid it of such maudlin thoughts, smoothing down the page with one hand as he lifted his quill pen with the other and dipped it into the inkwell. He had just about added the date when the door to his study suddenly flew open, banging against the wall and making him jump.
“Mama,” he said, frowning down at the ink spot that now blighted his fresh, clean page. “Have you never heard of knocking?” He placed the quill carefully on its side and found something to blot at the ink.
Lady Marcia, the Dowager Duchess of Amberwood, laughed and said, “I do not have time for your jokes and japes.” The silk of her skirt rustled as she strode across the room, looking pointedly for somewhere to sit down.
With a sigh and a roll of the eyes, Hamish stopped what he was doing so he could turn around in his chair and lift a pile of newspapers from the stuffed armchair next to his desk. For want of anywhere else to put them, he dropped the newspapers on the floor. They landed with a soft thud amid a cloud of dust.
His mother glanced at the dust motes and turned her nose up, flicking at the armchair with her hand to ensure she was not about to sit down atop a pile of more dust. “I do not know why you will not let Laura clean in here, my dear. Or any of the household staff if you do not trust her not to untidy all of your …” she looked about the room at the unholy clutter “… so carefully organised books and ledgers,” she added drily.
“The servants have a habit of moving things around, putting them where they do not belong, and even removing them from the room completely, Mama,” said Hamish, turning his attention once again to the large, spider-like stain on the page. Then he tore out the right-hand page, screwed it up, and tossed it towards an overflowing waste-paper basket. “Thank goodness the blot was mostly on the facing page,” he muttered, touching what remained of the ink spot on the left-hand page. He couldn’t tear that one out without having to re-write everything already entered onto it. But it would be fine if he only avoided writing too close to the spine of the ledger.
Lady Marcia took her eyes off the discarded, crumpled page that had bounced off the waste-paper basket and rolled beneath her son’s chair. She turned them towards the ledger. “It looks perfectly fine to me,” she said with a sniff.
It did not look fine to Hamish, but it would have to do. He rubbed a finger along the rough edge at the spine where he had torn out the other page, picking at small pieces that could easily be removed. He heard his mother sigh behind him, closed his eyes for a moment, then turned to face her.
“What is it you wish to discuss with me?” he asked her, trying very hard to keep his tone of voice neutral. He already knew what she wished to say to him. His mother never ceased telling him the same thing. And yet they still went through the charade of him having no idea why she had sought him out and in the sanctuary of his study too. As far as he could remember, his mother had never interrupted his father when the late duke was working. Then again, his mother seemed to spend as little time in his father’s company as she could. Hamish crossed one leg over the other at the knee and interlaced his fingers over his kneecap.
“Hamish, I have high hopes of you finding a wife during this coming season,” she began, and Hamish stifled another sigh, keeping his face as straight as possible and looking her right in the eyes. This he already knew, for she had told him several times a day for the past month. However, on this occasion, he could see that his mother had more to say to him on the subject, so he remained silent, knowing full well that Lady Marcia was awaiting his prompt to continue. It was Lady Marcia who conceded first. “Lady Patrina would make a lovely wife, Hamish.”
Hamish widened his eyes. Lady Patrina? “Have you lowered your expectations, Mama?” he asked.
His mother at least had the good grace to blush and lower her eyelids. “There is nothing wrong with the daughter of an earl, Hamish,” she replied a little indignantly. “I did not have you down as a snob, my dear.”
Hamish barked out a quick laugh. “It is not I who is the snob, Mama. May I remind you of the very many ladies you have trotted out before me? Not a single one has thus far been the daughter of an earl.”
“And yet you have discounted every single one of them!” countered his mother. “May I remind you of this?”
He laughed again, but this time the sound was less harsh. “There has been nothing wrong with any of the ladies you have suggested as potential brides, Mama,” he said, more kindly now, for he knew that she was only trying her best to do what was expected of her by society.
“Then why have you not at least courted any of them?” she asked him, throwing her hands into the air.
“It is simply because I am not quite ready to settle down, Mama.” He leaned back in his chair and waved a hand at the window, indicating the vast estate beyond. “I am still coming to terms with the rest of my responsibilities. Finding a wife at this stage truly is the last thing on my mind.”
Lady Marcia pressed her lips together. “You are twenty-six years old, Hamish,” she said. “When your father was your age, we already had you, and your sister was on the way. And yet you have not even considered marrying, let along continuing the line.”
“I should like to think that there is plenty of time yet for that, Mama,” said Hamish with a smile.
“Yes,” said his mother quietly. “I daresay your father also thought he had plenty of time.” She did not need to add that he was dead at fifty.
“Papa did not die of any familial condition, Mama,” said Hamish softly. “He died of a disease that he picked up in the village. Jackson and I are doing all we can to improve sanitation and drainage and suchlike so that the same disease does not return.”
In truth, he did not know why he was speaking so softly to his mother, for the only emotion she had shown around the time of his father’s illness and death was regarding their position and financial standing. She certainly did not seem to mourn the loss of a husband, which was another reason Hamish was not ready to settle down. He had often witnessed his father doting on his mother, but no matter how hard his father tried, his mother always pushed him away. Who wished for a life like that?
Lady Marcia sighed again and said, “You will come around to the idea.” Then she stood up and smoothed the creases from her skirt. With her hand on the doorknob, she added, “Do not forget that you are escorting your sister and me to the Figshires’ masquerade ball tomorrow evening.”
“I will not forget, Mama,” he said to the closing door. Then, as the latch clicked, he added quietly, “How can I forget when I am always reminded of it?”
“I heard that!” came his mother’s voice from the other side of the door, and Hamish could not help smiling.
Hamish listened for a few more moments, and when he was sure that his mother had indeed moved right away from the door, he returned once again to his ledger. His eyes fell on the smudge of ink right on the join of the pages, and once again he ran his finger down the rough edge where he had torn the blighted page. He slammed the book closed, got to his feet, and followed his mother from the room.
“Watson!” he called. “Watson!” When the butler appeared in the corridor, Hamish said, “I am going out, Watson. Will you arrange for the carriage to be brought to the door in thirty minutes?”
“Of course, Your Grace,” said the butler with a nod of his head. “And will you be returning for dinner?”
“No, Watson,” said Hamish. “I will call for Viscount Hamilton on the way, and we will eat at my club.” He noted the slight frown that momentarily darkened Watson’s brow and added, “Do not worry, old fellow. I will not drink a drop of alcohol, and I will be back in time for bed. I will not be sleeping out on this night.”
“Very good, Your Grace,” said the butler with a small smile of relief.
Hamish knew it was not the man’s place to judge him, but he also knew that Watson still worried about him, even though it had been eighteen months.
Blanford House, London
Lady Abigail Clark gazed out of her bedroom window at the pouring rain. She had been in London for only a week, yet it had not stopped raining since her arrival. As she had on so many occasions during the previous seven days, Abigail allowed her thoughts to drift towards the North Wales coastline where she had spent the last two years at her grandmother’s country estate. Yes, it had rained there too, but in the mountains, not the coast or the towns. Or certainly not every day. Oh, how she yearned to be there now where nobody knew her and she did not feel the need to explain either herself or her spinsterhood. She knew that at twenty-one she was considered ‘on the shelf’ and pretty much an ‘old maid’, but she never noticed that in Wales, nor did she care.
Abigail had not socialised much since her father summoned her and her grandmother back to London. She had only been invited to one luncheon appointment and one afternoon dance and had fielded both invitations, using the excuse of not having anything suitable to wear. Two years living in the Welsh countryside had not necessitated ball gowns, evening dresses, or tea dresses, and while those gowns still hung in her closet, they were two years out of date by now and nobody truly expected a lady to go to any social event wearing fashions that were two years old. There had been several callers to the house, including the seamstress, but other than those, the only other people Abigail had seen aside from her father and grandmother were the servants.
She sighed and shifted her attention from the dark and gloomy grey clouds to the dark and gloomy grey streets below. Her bedroom overlooked Russell Square, in which the trees and bushes did look green and luscious, she was forced to admit. And yet the road that circled the small park was like any other road in London. The city was dirty and smelled, and it seemed to be populated entirely by grubby people with their grubby faces and ragged clothes who either peddled their wares or begged for a spare penny or two.
Abigail did like to hear the costermongers and tinkers first thing in the morning as they called out what they were selling, their voices competing with each other in a sing-song fashion. From fresh bread to cheese to fruit and vegetables to fish, one did not have to travel far from one’s own doorstep to buy fresh food. If there were knives to be sharpened or horses to be shod, a peddler provided that service. Even posies of flowers could be bought from a woman on the street. For the past week, these voices had been accompanied by the constant drumming of the rain. However, the hawkers were usually long gone by the time Abigail had finished her breakfast and was ready to start her day.
“I must try and rise in time to go and see them,” she said to the window with a firm nod.
She allowed her eyes to be drawn now from the road below to raindrops leaving grimy trails down the outside of the glass. She shook her head. “Goodness, I had not realised how dirty even our own windows are.” She raised her eyes to the sky again, looking over the rooftops towards where she knew factory chimneys belched smoke. She may not have been able to see them, so heavy was the rain and so thick the pall that lingered, but she knew they were there, leaving sooty deposits on practically everything.
“Ugh!” she shuddered, turning away from the window and sitting at her desk. She opened a drawer in search of parchment and ink to finally write a letter to the friend she had made during some of her time in Wales. Abigail had promised to write to her as soon as she arrived safely in London but so far had not done so. She knew not why, other than she did not feel she had anything of interest to tell her as yet. “It has been a week!” she chided herself now, pushing things aside to find what she was looking for. “Oh …”
Instead of the parchment and ink, Abigail found a portrait lying face-down in the drawer. As soon as her fingers felt the back of the miniature, she knew what it was and snatched her hand back in surprise. It was as though the tiny painting had burned her very fingers. She brought those fingers to her mouth and gently touched them to her lips as she stared down at the offending article. Abigail blinked twice, glanced at the window again, this time without seeing the rain still falling, and then back down into the drawer. Then she slowly reached out and picked the portrait up, turning it over as she did so.
“Oh, Anthony …” she sighed, touching the image of his face with the fingertips of her other hand. Her breath caught in her throat, but the tears she expected did not come. Instead, she felt nothing other than noting still what a handsome man he was and a slight sorrow at what might have been but would never be again. That did not, however, prevent the memories from flooding back.
Because of Anthony, Abigail’s friendship with Harriet Shelley in Wales was somewhat of a surprise, for like Anthony, Harriet and her husband Percy had eloped and were married under Scottish law. Yes, Anthony had also eloped, but not with Abigail, despite their very public betrothal. Anthony was a viscount, and Abigail was the daughter of an earl, so it was generally considered amongst so-called polite society that Lady Abigail Clark of Blanford was marrying beneath her and that the viscount was a fortune hunter. Alas, both descriptions had been true, for Anthony had found a far richer lady than Abigail with whom to feather his nest, abandoning Abigail at the altar, leaving her jilted, rejected, and distraught, and with her reputation in tatters. Harriet and Percy had shown Abigail that not every man who eloped was a blackguard and a swine, for Percy apparently adored his wife, citing Harriet as inspiration for some of the romantic poetry he had subsequently composed. Indeed, Percy Shelley had helped her with her own poetry, for which she very quickly discovered she had a deep passion.
She returned the portrait to the drawer, leaving it facing up rather than down. The two years since it happened had apparently healed her, and for that, at least, she was grateful.
Pushing the memories aside, Abigail found her writing materials and started to write her letter to Harriet, who had a baby girl now, and Abigail remembered it would very soon be the child’s first birthday.
I can hardly believe that it has already been a week since my father arranged for Grandmama and me to return from Wales in time for the season. Please forgive me for taking so long to send word. You will find on the reverse of this letter my father’s London address. I am so excited that we are both in the same town again, and I hope we may call on one another.
It has done nothing but rain since we arrived, and I am so missing North Wales with its long narrow beaches and sunny weather. I miss walking along the front at Llandudno, climbing to the top of the Great Orme, and breathing in all that clean, fresh sea air. I could have stayed at my grandmother’s country estate forever, but then I would not have been able to visit little Ianthe so easily for her first birthday. Please remind me of the exact date so I may come and see you all.
This evening I will attend my first ball since returning to London. I have managed to avoid all social events thus far, especially as the season has not officially started yet. But it is tonight’s event that Papa was particularly keen on me attending.
It is a masquerade ball, so I did not have to venture out and be measured for a new ball gown. Instead, I am going dressed as the Ancient Greek Goddess of the Moon, Selene, and the seamstress came to the house to make my dress. It is quite lovely, made of white silk, with a high waistband in silver, silver and white off-the-shoulder sleeves, and a double layer of skirt. The upper layer has a stole sewn into it to wear over my arms, while the under layer has a circle of black embroidery around the bottom. There is a matching face mask in white, silver, and black that I will have to carry around with me as well as a fan. Thank goodness I have no headdress to wear. Emma will be piling my hair onto the back of my head and curling it in the ancient fashion. You do remember Emma, my maid, do you not? I do not think the costume will be very warm, so I hope there are plenty of fires burning where we are going, and the ballroom is indoors rather than outside on the lawn. Papa is going as King Henry the Eighth and Grandmama is going as his mother, Queen Elizabeth of York. Their outfits are far more substantial than mine, but then I suppose they cannot be expected to go around in this weather so under-dressed as they are older.
You are so lucky when no one expects you to attend such society events. I would far rather sit at home in front of a roaring fire, reading or writing my poetry. Papa does not yet know that I have started to write poetry and verse. Grandmama warned me that it is not considered very ladylike nor an appropriate pastime for a lady of my station, and she tells me I am to keep it to myself. She knows, however, as do you and Mr Shelley. Perhaps I will take my notebook with me this evening, see if I can creep away, and find a nice, warm library in which to write.
The clock in the hall has just chimed thrice. Emma will be coming to get me ready for this ball at any moment.
Do write back to me as soon as you can.
Abigail read the letter back to herself and blotted the ink with a large roller blotter, then folded it carefully, tucking in all the edges. She neatly printed the Shelleys’ London address on one side and, much smaller, her own address in a corner on the other side. She would drop it into the silver tray in the hallway on her way out later that evening.
Taking a deep breath, Abigail returned to the window hoping that the rain may have finally ceased. It had not, but she was not in the least surprised. Thanks to the weather, it was starting to grow dark outside already and was almost as dark as night.
With a shudder, she pulled the heavy curtains across the window to shut out the gloom and went about her room lighting the candles. She quickly poked the fire with the poking iron and stepped back as tiny orange embers shot up the chimney. Then she returned to her desk, opened the drawer, took out the portrait of Anthony, and dropped it into her waste-paper basket without a second look.
She wanted to pull a chair up to the fire and start writing in the notebook she had brought with her from Wales. She had found it in a small stationer in the town. There was not time for her to start scribbling away now, however. Emma would be here soon to start getting her ready for the ball. Abigail went to her closet and pulled out an old white evening bag that had belonged to her late mother, and she tucked the book and a pencil stub in there. Hopefully, the masquerade mask and her fan would also go into the reticule when she escaped from the dancing and socialising.
A sharp knock on the door caused her to turn around with surprise and hide the bag behind her back. When she saw it was only her lady’s maid, she placed the reticule on top of the eiderdown on her bed and smiled at the girl.
“I was hoping you had perhaps forgotten and were carrying out some other far more important chores assigned to you,” said Abigail.
Emma grinned back at her. “Yer unlucky on this occasion, My Lady. P’r’aps next time.”
“One can but hope,” agreed Abigail.
The hair seemed to take an eternity, as far as Abigail was concerned. She was reminded of another reason she was not at all fond of such social occasions: they often took an interminable amount of time to simply get ready – time that Abigail would have far rather spent reading or writing her poetry.
“You are very adept with that papillote iron, Emma,” Abigail conceded as the maid wrapped yet another triangle of paper around another lock of hair. “How is it that you never used such a thing in Wales? Or even before we went to Wales?”
“One of the other maids ‘as been showin’ me ‘ow to use it since we got back, My Lady,” admitted Emma. “We’ve practised on each other, but we dint have time to let the hair cool down again. I’ve been dyin’ to try it out fer real.”
Abigail laughed. “It would have looked very odd indeed for all of the female staff to suddenly appear with their hair curled,” she said. “Perhaps it would have been kinder to ask you to simply curl the front of my hair the first time you did it ‘for real’.”
“Oh no, miss,” replied the maid. “It’s been much better doin’ it all over like this. You get into a kind of rhythm.”
“You must take care not to burn your fingers on the hot coals,” said Abigail, turning her head from one side to the other to see the almost finished effect.
“It’ll look much nicer when the papers come out,” said Emma with a grin.
“Really?” said Abigail with a raised eyebrow. “I was rather expecting to go to the ball with the papers still in!”
For a moment, Emma looked confused, but once she seemed to realise that Abigail was not being wholly serious, her expression softened, and she allowed herself a smile. “Yer teasin’ me, miss,” she chided softly.
“I am that,” admitted Abigail. She lifted a hand to pat at the hair to feel how much longer it might take to cool down sufficiently for the papers to be removed. Emma gently caught hold of her hand.
“Yer’ll flatten it if yer not careful,” she warned.
Abigail nodded and returned her hands to her lap.
“‘Av yer been ter the Figshires’ before, My Lady?” asked Emma as she worked.
Abigail frowned as she tried to remember. “I think not,” she said. “I do remember that they have always thrown the last ball before the season officially begins, and I am sure I would have been invited. I likely refused, however. Balls have never been my favourite pastime, and a masquerade ball, in particular, is likely to be the last kind of event I would have wished to attend. Even now.”
It was Emma’s turn now to frown into the mirror, meeting Abigail’s eyes. “You always enjoyed going to dances an’ balls and the like, My Lady,” she said. “What has happened that you would rather not attend?”
“Oh, said Abigail, drawing her eyebrows together in a yet deeper frown. “Perhaps it is because I was not expected to go to such events for the past two years. They certainly have far fewer balls and dances in Wales. I am no longer in the habit and have experienced a life of not always having to stand on display. Perhaps I am growing old, and such things simply do not interest me any longer.” She thought for a moment. “Or perhaps …” but she let the sentence hang between them.
After what the maid probably thought was a suitable time to wait for the mistress to continue, Emma prompted her carefully, “Or p’r’aps …?”
Abigail sighed and let the frown on her forehead drop. “Or perhaps I am simply feeling anxious about attending my first social event since the … you know … the scandal.” It was the first time she had voiced this fear aloud, and Abigail felt strangely relieved to finally have it out in the open. “Yes, I think perhaps that is more like it. I feel as though every eye will be on the poor, jilted lady who ran away to hide and lick her wounds like an injured animal. I feel as though every gossip magazine awaits my return so it can take up where it left off. I feel I will be the centre of attention for all the curious and inquisitive.”
Emma fixed the last of the curling papers in place and tentatively felt the temperature of the rest of Abigail’s hair, then she wiped the pomade residue from her hands on her apron. She bent low to examine each of the curls, looking at them from every angle. Then she took the papillote iron off the fire and rested it on the hearth where it could cool down safely.
“If yer don’t mind me sayin’, miss,” said the maid carefully, politely waiting for Abigail to nod her head and indicate that she may continue. “If yer don’t mind me sayin’, it’s been two years. Surely the gossips will ‘ave moved on by now? An’ even if they ‘aven’t, you ‘ave nothing to worry about, My Lady. It wasn’t you what was in the wrong. If the gossips want to concentrate on anyone, they should be talkin’ an’ writing’ about ‘im, not you, miss.”
She went to the closet and pulled out the white and silver outfit that Abigail would wear for the ball. Abigail watched the maid’s reflection in the mirror as she waited for the curls to cool, careful not to move for fear of dislodging one of the papers and spoiling the overall effect. She was starting to get a crick in her neck from sitting upright and still for so long. Once again, she took advantage of the pause in proceedings to turn her head from side to side to see how the hairstyle looked. She would have nodded her appreciation and approval had she not feared such a sudden movement ruining all of Emma’s hard and patient work.
Abigail knew that Emma was quite correct in her words. Of course, she was correct. Why on earth would anyone still be interested in Abigail and her jilting betrothed? If anything, society would be hard-pressed to remember her at all after such a long time away. However, Abigail was also aware that she had made a mistake when she entrusted her heart to the handsome viscount who had fooled her into believing he was genuine but whom she hardly knew when she agreed to be his wife. Anthony had been nothing more than a charming rogue, and Abigail would be certain not to make such a mistake again. And certainly not so easily as she had done with Anthony. Never again would she allow herself to be so fooled.
“You are quite right!” said Abigail at last to the maid’s reflection in the mirror. Emma paused in her task of ensuring there were no creases in the silk costume and met her mistress’s gaze. “It is most self-centred of one to assume that society has no one else to occupy their time. With luck, they will have forgotten all about me and, as you say, moved on to some other poor, unsuspecting soul.”
Emma opened her mouth as though to protest, but Abigail held up a hand, indicating she hoped with her expression that she was not offended by the girl’s words. Emma clamped her lips closed again and turned once more to the task at hand.
“This is a luvverly dress, My Lady,” she said, her back to Abigail now. “With yer golden curls and yer white an’ silver costume, yer’ll be the belle of the ball an’ the gossips will find summat else to talk about yer for.”
Abigail raised an eyebrow. That was not quite what she’d had in mind either, but she was grateful to Emma in any case for trying to make her feel better about herself and her situation. She pressed her lips together and took another careful look at her hair. On the one hand, she wished to blend into the background in the hope that no one would notice her, and she would be able to creep off and hide in the library as planned. On the other hand, she also wished to show everyone how little she cared, both about their opinion – despite that of course being a falsehood, for she did care about their opinion – and about being jilted two years earlier – which too was a falsehood, for she did still care deeply about that too. “Nobody needs to know, though,” she muttered.
“Beggin’ yer pardon, miss?” said Emma, pausing again in her work and turning an enquiring expression towards her mistress’s reflection.
Abigail paused for a very short moment and blinked. “Oh,” she said, “did I say that last part out loud?”
Emma smiled and looked away. “Not if yer dint mean to, miss,” she said, and Abigail was once again reminded of the girl’s discretion.
She is a good worker, Abigail said to herself, ensuring this time that her mouth was firmly closed.
Satisfied that the dress was in as pristine condition as it could be, Emma busied herself lining up everything else on the bed next to each other: white and silver masquerade mask, white and silver matching fan, white and silver slippers; the old white evening bag … “Are yer tekkin’ this ol’ thing with yer, miss?” she asked, holding the bag up for Abigail to see. “Oh, tis heavy …!”
Abigail frowned again. She had hoped no one would notice she was taking her notebook with her. Emma had started to tug the drawstring around the top of the reticule, so Abigail quickly held her hand up to stop her.
“I was hoping to find a quiet corner in which to read,” Abigail said quickly. “However, you are quite correct – once again. Please put it back in the closet. I will have no need of it at the Figshires’ ball.”
Emma paused for only a moment before shrugging her shoulders, pulling the drawstring tight again, and returning the reticule to the cupboard, placing it on the bottom next to the pair of shoes Abigail had also kept of her mother’s. Emma picked the slippers up, made of off-white silk. “I don’t remember seeing these in Wales,” she said with a smile. “Nor that ol’ bag,” she added, pointing at the reticule she had so recently replaced in the cupboard.
“However, you do recognise them?” asked Abigail.
“I do,” said Emma. “They belonged to the late countess. Do yer ‘ave any more of her things?”
Abigail reached forward and pulled a drawer open on a jewellery box she kept on her dressing table. “I have this,” she said, pulling out a diamond and silver necklace. Emma returned the shoes to the cupboard and rushed to Abigail’s side to see.
“I dint see that in Wales either,” said the maid. “It’ll go right nicely with yer dress.”
“That is because I left them here,” said Abigail holding the necklace up so she could see it properly. “I did not wish to risk losing such precious possessions while we were travelling. I knew they would be safe here and that they would be waiting for my return.” She turned slightly in her chair and pointed at a large trunk on the floor at the end of her bed. “The rest of my mother’s clothes, cloaks, shoes, and bags are in there, where they have been since she died. Or the good ones, at least. I am surprised that you did not already know this.”
“I only go into yer closet an’ yer drawers, miss,” said Emma. I don’t go rootin’ around in yer room.”
“Well, you have my permission to root around in that trunk to your heart’s content and let me know if you see anything you like.” She placed the necklace on the tabletop before her.
“I don’t rightly ‘ave the time to do that, miss,” said Emma, turning back to her mistress and trying the first of the curls. “I think yer hair’s ready, though.” She put her hands to her mouth and squealed. “Oh, I do ‘ope it’s turned out right.”
“There is only one way to find out, Emma,” said Abigail. “Let the unfurling commence!” And in truth, Abigail was also excited to see the result.
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When Lady Abigail Clark was left at the altar, she ran away to North Wales to heal her wounds by her grandma’s side and do the only thing that makes her happy; read and write poetry. Despite her efforts to stay away from the humiliation, her father summons her home two years later to make a new match with Nigel Cornworthy, a man she has absolutely no interest in. Her luck is about to change when she shares a dance with a charming Duke, who will make her heart skip a beat.
Will Abigail dare to open her heart again? Will she manage to escape the dreary future her father has in stock for her and choose her own path in life?
After his father passed away, Hamish Gilbert finds himself saddled with the title of Duke, feeling trapped in an undesirable transition. However, when he meets Abigail, he feels like a whole new brighter world opens up ahead. Nevertheless, with his mother insisting he marries the daughter of her old friend, will Hamish allow his secret feelings to determine his future?
Two soulmates full of hope who are in danger of mourning their dreams…
Though Abigail and Hamish instantly feel a strong connection between them, their social statuses and family expectations may prove too difficult to overcome. Even if they choose to follow their own paths, they still have to decide if they can trust their love enough to take that risk. Will Abigail and Hamish be able to leave their fears of being hurt behind and find true love? Or will they realise that despite their efforts, the threats around this relationship are too many to defeat?
“The Duke’s Dear Poet” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.