“Please, Father? Just once, that is all I ask for,” Licia Stewart begged, her large, brown eyes full of pleading.
“Enough, Licia. I already told you that you must remain home to look after your brother and sister. There is no need to attend balls and other parties when your duty remains here,” her father replied, standing to leave the parlour and Licia behind.
But Licia had never been one to give up. She knew what her father expected of her, but she didn’t think it was fair, and she would be hard-pressed to simply accept his refusal of her request.
Then again, it was not an unusual reply from him. Ever since his wife had died, nearly five years ago, Aaron Stewart had placed all the womanly responsibilities on Licia. Although she tried not to be bitter about it, there were times when she simply could not help herself. She knew that her father was wealthy enough to hire a governess for her siblings as well as a cook. The family had a housekeeper, but that was nothing for someone like her father.
Aaron, however, had not always been wise with his wealth, indulging in fine clothing and exotic trinkets. Licia often found herself wondering if that was the reason he refused to hire help around the home or if it was simply a matter of how much he missed Licia’s mother, a woman who had always been perfectly happy to do the cooking and child-rearing.
For the moment, however, Licia was not focused on all those things. Instead, she was determined to convince her father to hang his mind. She needed to attend a ball. She needed the chance to meet a dashing man and be courted and eventually marry and escape this home, which so greatly overwhelmed her.
“Father, it is only one night. Juliet can get William to bed and then herself. I will make sure of it when I return home. And I shall be with them all day tomorrow and the day after, as usual. It is merely one evening when I wish to be out,” Licia said, minimising whatever risk her father feared.
“I have already told you that I cannot allow you to attend tomorrow, Licia. It is for the good of our family that you remain at home. Your sister and brother deserve your full attention. Do you truly wish to hurt them by suggesting they are of lesser importance than your desire to dance?” he challenged her.
“It is nothing of the sort, Father. I do love them, and they know it well. But I cannot possibly find a husband if I am always at home. What am I to do? I am of marrying age, and if I do not secure an offer soon, I shall end up an old maid,” Licia reasoned.
“Oh, you are far too dramatic. You know as well as I do that there are a great many women who marry older than you are. And even if you were not to marry, would it be so bad? You have a good family here. A brother who needs you. He is still very young, my dear. And Juliet, of course. She requires your fine example,” he said.
“Juliet is sixteen, Father. She will be out in society soon enough as well, and I cannot be a good example for her if I have never had the opportunity to enjoy my season,” Licia said.
Her father paused before the door of his study, but he did not turn to look at Licia. She knew that she had him. He could not possibly refute her. This was her first season after entering society, and she wanted to enjoy it. He had made her wait until she was eighteen, even though many of her peers had debuted the previous year.
But it seemed to Licia that he truly wanted her to miss her chance. He seemed fine with it if Juliet found a husband soon enough, but he needed Licia to remain and look after William, as far as she could tell. Perhaps it was because she was the eldest, or maybe because she was so like her mother had been. Whatever the reason, Licia knew that her heart would never be satisfied living in the home forever. She needed to find the world for herself. She needed to know what was out there for her.
And all that would start with attending a ball.
At last, he turned to her. Even before he spoke, Licia knew what he was going to say. She wished, for a long moment, that she could start the conversation over, that she could give more convincing arguments. But it was too late for that. Her father had made up his mind, and he would never change it.
“I have already told you, Licia. You cannot attend the ball this evening. I know that you think it is the best thing for you, but I assure you that you are better suited to remain here at home and enjoy the duties you have been given. Your brother and sister shall be delighted to have you at home this evening, and you will make a fine meal for them,” he said.
Licia took a deep breath and held her tongue, knowing that she could not bring herself to argue more forcefully with him.
“As for me, I have a tenant to speak with, and I must find my papers regarding our agreement. I am likely to dine with him, and we will speak again tomorrow,” her father said.
With that, he entered his study and closed the door behind himself. Licia stood in the hall for a long moment, debating whether or not she should say anything more. Ultimately, however, she knew that it was hopeless.
Sighing, she turned away and made for the drawing room where she knew she would find Juliet.
As Licia walked in, her sister perked up and smiled from the settee. Juliet was busily stitching away and humming to herself.
“Do you need help getting ready for the ball?” Juliet asked.
Licia’s face fell once more, and she hung her head, not wanting to complain or express her sadness. She knew that her sister didn’t understand the extent to which their father had prevented her from having happiness, but she still hoped that Juliet would one day realise the sacrifices Licia was being forced to make for the family.
“Oh, dear. Did he refuse again? I thought he had told you that you would be allowed to attend now that you have debuted. But you have attended only three balls since the season began nearly two months ago. That is highly unusual,” Juliet said.
“I am well aware of that, dear sister. And yet, Father appears to believe this is justified and that I need not search for an adequate husband as I should like. To be truthful, there are times when I believe he wishes that I would not find a husband at all. He seems to think that I am best remaining here at home, forgetting all the things for which I should hope and anticipate in the future,” Licia said.
“Father loves you. It is just that he depends upon you so much. I think he really does believe that he could not survive without your help. You have done so well to carry the weight of all that Mother previously held. Once she departed this world, he had no one else to whom he could turn,” Juliet replied.
“Yes, and now I find myself wishing that I had not been so quick to accept the role of replacing her. I miss Mother terribly and wish she was still here, but although it is terrible to say, sometimes I am also bitter that she left us. My entire life has been changed because of it. I lost the hope of finding true love and enjoying my first season because I know that Father would prefer that I remain here, looking out for the family and home,” Licia confessed.
“You must tell him that you have had enough, Licia. You are correct that it is entirely unfair. Besides, I am sixteen now. I do not need you looking out for me at every turn. I can help you with William and with the home. And in a year or two, I shall enter society as well. As much as I hope Father does not force upon me the same demands he has placed on you, I wish he would see that you should not be subject to this at all times,” Juliet said, kindly.
Licia appreciated her sister’s words, but she knew there was little to be done. Their father had already made it perfectly clear that while he expected Licia to take on all these responsibilities, he did not think it Juliet’s duty.
Now and then, Licia would find herself dreaming about a happy life with a handsome gentleman. She would think about the joy of meeting a man and knowing that he was the perfect gentleman for her. But without being able to convince her father that he did not need her at home, those dreams were meaningless. She had no reason to hold onto hope.
“You mustn’t worry too much, Licia. He will understand soon enough. And while I know that you wish to secure a marriage promptly, there is really no rush. If he does not give you the freedom this year, you may still have hope for the next,” Juliet reasoned.
And although Licia knew that her sister was technically correct, it still felt hollow to have hope in something she did not believe would ever come to pass. Would she ever have a husband and a life of her own? Or would she forever be trying to replace the mother they had lost?
Lord Clive Manners, Baron of Sutton, clumsily dropped his umbrella, eliciting laughter from his dear friend, Daniel Walter.
“Oh, good heavens,” Daniel chuckled.
“Hush, you,” Clive replied with a laugh. “There is no man in creation so graceful that he has never dropped something.”
Clive held the umbrella tighter, glancing up at the sky and wondering if he’d been a fool to bring it with him in the first place. It had appeared that morning as though it would rain within a few hours, but still, there was nothing. Then again, it was England, and there was rarely a warning when the rain began to fall.
“Regardless of clumsiness and the like, we are nearly at the bank. Have you all the documentation we need?” Daniel asked.
Clive nodded, instinctively placing his hand on his leather satchel, which carried the papers for the most recent accounts of the business he had inherited from his father. It was likely to be a long day, discussing some of the particular expectations he had moving forward.
They were only two blocks away from the bank when Daniel brightened upon seeing someone Clive didn’t know.
“Good afternoon, Mr Stewart! What a nice surprise. I was just thinking earlier today that I should pay a call,” Daniel said.
“That would be lovely, Mr Walter. And how are you this fine day? Out for a stroll?” the man asked in reply.
“Indeed, we are heading to the bank. This is my dear friend, The Right Honourable The Lord Sutton,” Daniel said with great formality. “And this is Mr Stewart, a fellow landowner, and friend of mine.”
“It is very nice to meet you, Mr Stewart,” Clive said, shaking hands with the man.
“And you, My Lord,” Mr Stewart replied.
“How is your family?” Daniel asked him.
“They are very well, thank you,” he said.
“And the eldest Miss Stewart? I thought I would see her more throughout the season, but I do believe our paths have crossed only once. Perhaps she has been invited to the vastly superior balls,” Daniel said with a friendly grin.
But Mr Stewart pursed his lips before flashing a forced smile.
“Yes, perhaps …” he finally said. “Anyway, I shan’t keep the two of you. It was very good to see you, Mr Walter, and nice to meet you, My Lord.”
“Indeed, it was nice to meet you as well,” Clive said again as the man quickly departed, leaving him with Daniel once more.
“You will have to forgive him. Mr Stewart has not been very sociable since the passing of his wife a few years back,” Daniel explained.
“Oh, how devastating. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been for him,” Clive said.
“Yes, I believe it was. Prior to her death, he was rather amusing. He had very fine properties throughout the countryside and a nice home for his own family. But after she died, he threw much of his money into unnecessary frills and had to move himself and his children into a smaller home. It is not so bad, but nothing like those he leases to nobility. And not like the home he had before,” Daniel said.
“Has he many children?”
“Three. Two daughters and a son. The eldest, Miss Licia Stewart, debuted this season, but you would know it. I have heard that she has attended only a handful of events—maybe fewer,” Daniel answered.
“Has she become a recluse as her father has?” Clive asked, thinking it strange that a young woman would not indulge in the season.
“I am not sure as to her reason. I know only that there is something very sad about Mr Stewart. He does not seem eager to enjoy his life,” Daniel said.
“Stewart,” Clive said, considering the name. “He did not sound like a Scotsman.”
“His grandfather. Apparently, he was the younger son of some laird of a clan. The rumour says that a family feud sent him to England and, once here, he met a young woman he eventually married. He worked hard, made decent money, and eventually managed to purchase land. There are still those who are rude to him for this ancestry, but I think it is not so important to him as it might be to others. He is hardly bothered by it,” Daniel explained.
“Well, that is good, at least. Still, I feel very sad for him. It must be difficult to lose one’s wife and then have to raise three children without her,” Clive said, thinking about how wonderful it would be to have children.
He always enjoyed being around his cousin’s children and when the workers at the factory would occasionally have their children stop by. He hoped that he would find a wife and have a family of his own one day. He often thought about the joys he would find in fatherhood and getting to spend time with his own little ones.
Of course, it would not happen any time soon. There were often women who fawned over him, but none Clive had found interesting yet. They all seemed too … eager. Certainly, there were many men who would have greatly appreciated this quality, but Clive was not one of them. He preferred women who had a mind of their own, and aspirations, responsibilities, or other enjoyments.
And yet, while he wished for a wife who had such depth to her, he also hoped, sincerely, that she would be a good woman who adored children and wished to care for their family.
Clive sighed and continued walking alongside Daniel. But before he could say anything, Clive rounded the corner and bumped straight into someone.
The woman gasped, and Clive’s heart sank. Of all the women in the world, why did he have to run into Miss Sylvia Trotter?
“Oh, good heavens!” she exclaimed with evident excitement, straightening her dress and standing a little bit taller.
“Good afternoon, Miss Trotter,” Clive said in a crisp but polite manner. Daniel pursed his lips and raised his brow but quickly joined in the greeting.
“Yes, good afternoon,” Daniel said.
“And a fine afternoon it is, gentlemen. I mean—My Lord. And Mr Walter, of course,” she said, grinning at Clive and barely glancing in Daniel’s direction. He was a clear afterthought, and Clive found her demeanour to be rather rude.
Then again, Sylvia Trotter was always quite rude without meaning to be. Although it embarrassed Clive greatly, he knew that this woman—nearly three years his senior—was rather fond of him. She was always eager to spend time with him and follow him at social gatherings. Indeed, Miss Trotter was one of the last women in all of England with whom Clive wished to interact.
“And what is it that you are doing out this afternoon? I certainly never thought that I might stumble upon such an important man as I was simply going about my own visits, having just had tea with Miss Clifton, but as you know, she is quite elderly and tends not to remember one sentence to the next,” Miss Trotter said to Clive, still eyeing him with those buggy, pale blue eyes of hers. She batted her lashes like a young woman not yet ready to be presented in society.
“Mr Walter and I require a visit to the bank. He has a better head for business than I and, as such, he has agreed to accompany me so that I may discuss my needs for the expansion,” Clive explained.
“What a marvel you are, My Lord. I mean, you work hard for the sake of the people of England as a baron—much like my dear cousin and your friend, The Right Honourable The Lord Helmsan. And yet, you still find the time and energy to lead the family business, just as your father would have wanted. You know, I do believe you have only improved the factory in the two years since your father departed from this dear world. Then again, I suppose that is the duty of any right and honourable son, and you are, after all, The Right Honourable The Lord Sutton, so what more am I to expect from you? Oh, but I should not go on such as I am. What must you think of me, really?” she asked with a girlish laugh.
There were so many little hints and compliments in Miss Trotter’s monologue that Clive was not quite sure how to respond. Ought he to touch on the fact that he was a friend of her cousin, who was also a baron? Or thank her for seeing his efforts? Or scold her for being so callous as to the work his father had done? Or express appreciation for the light in which she saw him?
For a long moment, Clive paused, but he saw the pleading in those unsettling eyes of hers. At last, he tried to smile, all the while not realising that he was slightly leaning away from her.
“Well, thank you for that, Miss Trotter. I fear that we must be going, however. We do have an appointment,” Clive said.
“Oh! Why, of course! And here I am, going on and on about the business when you have actual business to handle, and you do not need someone such as myself getting in your way when, as we all know, you are a very important man who should not be held up by someone … well, someone such as myself,” she said in her strange, self-deprecating manner with sentences that seemed to end quite far from where they began.
“Well, indeed, it was very nice to see you, Miss Trotter. I do hope you have a wonderful afternoon,” Clive said.
“Oh, yes, of course. Thank you, My Lord. Thank you, my right and honourable lord, shall I say?” she asked with a breathy laugh.
But Clive simply bowed politely, and Daniel did the same. With that, they quickly turned away and quickened their pace slightly as they headed to the bank. After a few moments had passed, Clive glanced back to ensure that Miss Trotter was far enough behind them, and once he saw her going in the opposite direction, he breathed a sigh of relief.
“You must be cautious about that woman. I have never in my life seen someone so in love,” Daniel teased.
“There is nothing to do with love in this matter,” Clive retorted.
“To be frank, I am shocked that she believes there could ever be hope. She is three years your senior, and I never imagined a woman like that would be foolish enough to pursue you,” Daniel said.
“That is nonsense,” Clive disagreed. “I think it is utter nonsense that a woman should be deemed unmarriageable purely because of her age and—”
“I quite agree with you,” Daniel interjected. “That was not what I meant to say. I think there is nothing wrong with a woman marrying when society deems her a spinster, and I find it quite unfair that any woman should be so degraded because of her age when men are not chastened for it. But it is quite uncommon for a woman her age to seek a husband younger like you and of a higher rank when she has no wealth or status of her own. And while that may not be offensive to you, it would not be widely expected or accepted by society.”
Clive understood what Daniel meant. Right or wrong, the elite of London would never be kind about such a match, and it was strange that Miss Trotter would seem to push for it regardless. And Clive had never given her any reason to think that he might wish for the match, so why did she have any hope?
“I find it very tiresome when she speaks,” Daniel continued.
“While I have never said such a thing about a woman before, I must agree. She spends all her energy complimenting and seeking compliments in return. It is truly a wonder how she manages to turn any topic into a means of praising me and belittling herself,” Clive remarked.
“I suppose she just wishes for a chance to hear you refute her claims and tell her how magnificent she is and why you would like to be married to her,” Daniel said.
“Goodness, I cannot imagine such a feat,” Clive replied.
They reached the bank just then, and Clive was extremely grateful. He had no more desire to think about Sylvia. It was far better that he focused on the business and the future that he would build for the sake of a better England. He trusted that his factory could be among the best—particularly since he was deeply bothered by the frequent accidents that happened in others, and he desired to ensure that his workers had safe, reasonable conditions.
But all of that required money, and for now, he would need to see how much of his inheritance he would need to invest in achieving all that he wanted. As for the rest of his dreams in life, Clive knew he would just have to wait. Maybe, one day, he would have a son to carry on the factory’s legacy. But for now, he could do nothing but try to escape from women like Sylvia Trotter.
“Thank you, Father!” Licia exclaimed, throwing her arms around her father after he had finally given her permission to attend the ball that evening. It felt like a dream to have convinced him to grant her this opportunity.
He backed away slightly and cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable with her display of affection and gratitude.
“Well, I suppose it is time that you attend another,” he said awkwardly. “It would appear that your absence has been noted.”
At this, Licia cocked her head to the side in confusion.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, nothing. Nothing at all. Anyway, I suppose you had best get to work. As I said, you may only attend if you finish the cooking and instruct the maid in the cleaning. You must also speak with your sister and brother and ensure they are aware that you will not be here this evening and it is up to Juliet to ensure that they both get to bed,” he said.
“Indeed, I shall. It is no trouble at all. I will speak with Juliet, and I am certain that she will be happy to get William off to sleep this evening,” Licia said.
She truly was determined. All she needed to do was take care of everything that needed looking after in the home, and then she could spend time indulging in getting ready for the ball before departing.
With that, Licia got to work. She was petrified by the idea that she might not be able to get everything done as quickly as she needed to. And if she failed to accomplish all the tasks she had been given, it would mean that she could not attend altogether. No, she would do her work. She would achieve it and succeed. There was no other option for her.
It felt as though everything took twice as long to complete as it normally did, and Licia threw herself into the kitchen, preparing a true feast for her family for dinner. She knew that it would take quite some time to ready herself for the ball, and it did seem impossible. Nevertheless, Licia finally completed her work on the meal, tugged off her apron, and rushed to her room to find her gown pristine and ready to be worn.
She always kept it as nice as she could, just in the hopes that her father might give his blessing to allow her to enjoy herself. But this time, she really could go to the ball. This time, she would get to dance with gentlemen, laugh with the other ladies, and indulge in the refreshments.
Licia piled her loose, blonde curls atop her head and pinned them with neat little pearl pins. She hoped it looked as lovely as she thought it did and that others would find them elegant. Juliet entered the room and gasped.
“Goodness, Licia, you look striking! Everyone will stare at how lovely you are,” she said.
“You really believe so?”
“Indeed, you shall have your pick of the fine gentlemen,” Juliet replied.
Licia wanted to believe that her sister was being honest, but she knew in her heart that Juliet would have complimented her no matter what. Nevertheless, Licia was delighted by the time she departed from home, hailing a coach to take her to the ball at Mr and Mrs Durham’s estate.
When she reached the majestic home, Licia took a deep breath. She walked up the stairs with the other guests just arriving and greeted a few of the young ladies she already knew.
“We have hardly seen you all season, Licia. I had begun to wonder whether or not you had already been married off and were too busy to attend,” Miss Kendall remarked.
“Yes, I know; it has been an age. But I have simply had so many duties to which I must attend, and it was very difficult to get away,” Licia replied, hoping that no one would question her further on the matter.
Soon enough, they were all inside and making their way through the throngs of people. It was such a magnificent event, and the sea of young ladies in white gowns was striking. Licia nearly forgot that she was, at last, one of those beautiful debutants.
“Did you see Miss Lawson?” Miss Kendall asked, leaning over to Licia and nodding towards a red-headed beauty who was said to be an illegitimate descendant of King Charles II.
“Yes, what of her?” Licia asked.
“Well, I have it on good authority that she is being courted by Mr Winscott, who is quite wealthy at eight thousand pounds a year. Can you imagine?” Miss Kendall asked with delight.
Licia raised her brows in surprise. That certainly would have been a blessing to any young woman. She considered how fortunate Miss Lawson would be, as well as the fact that the young woman deserved something so wonderful. Her heritage was both a reason for fame and a source of mockery. Licia understood that. With a Scottish surname, there were still those in society who believed her to be inferior and a woman less than deserving.
“Anyway, I thought that she would do very well to accept his proposal, should he offer it. I know that she has been through much in her life, but she is a very kind young woman, and she has always been more than reasonable,” Miss Kendall said.
“I certainly agree,” Licia said.
“Good heavens, is that Licia Stewart?” came a voice full of surprise.
Licia turned around to see Miss Rochester and the newly married Mrs Frank come over. She greeted the young women just as she had years before when she was young and was able to spend time with her peers before the loss of her mother.
“How delightful to see you!” Mrs Frank exclaimed.
“And you as well. I have not seen you since you were married,” Licia remarked.
“No, indeed, it has been quite some time. And how are you? How is your dear family?” she asked.
“They are very well,” Licia replied. “And you? How is Mr Frank?”
“Charming as ever,” she said with a grin.
It was so lovely having this opportunity to simply enjoy being a young woman and getting to experience the life that Licia had always longed for. It seemed so strange to her that this was precisely how it ought to be, and yet she was hardly ever given a chance to have something that most young ladies were simply accustomed to having. Would she be allowed to indulge in this way again in the future? Would her father consider her need for friends and acquaintances moving forward?
And would he ever accept a gentleman whom she might meet and fall in love with?
Licia pushed aside her questions and continued chattering away with the other girls. She learned all manner of facts about who had fallen in love with whom and which young woman had disgraced herself. Although she had never been one to speak much about others, it was intriguing to learn about the matches made thus far in the season.
Licia was beginning to wonder if there could possibly be a gentleman remaining who had not been spoken for. It seemed as though every young lady was being courted or had recently become engaged. Miss Kendall and Miss Rochester were both soon-to-be engaged, and when the next dance began, Miss Kendall left the girls so she could enjoy a dance with her intended.
“She seems very happy,” Licia noted, smiling.
“Oh, yes. And he is quite smitten with her. You should have seen the way he looked at her the first evening they danced. It was the Woodsmith Ball. I am sure you remember it,” Mrs Frank said.
Licia turned to her with a blank expression, catching herself too late.
“You do not recall? It was a lovely ball,” Mrs Frank said.
“I was not in attendance,” Licia replied, remembering the lovely blue silk bow on the invitation and how she had begged her father. It was still quite early in the season, and before she had given up hope that he would allow her to attend at least two events per week.
“Oh …” Mrs Frank said, trailing off in awkwardness. “Well, it was a fine ball in many ways, but not half so wonderful as this one.”
Licia sensed that Mrs Frank was trying to make her feel better, and she gave a polite smile, hoping that she could cover for her own discomfort. It was always quite distressing when others noted her absence, but this was difficult as well.
In truth, Licia had received a great many invitations at the start of the season. She was requested at balls, tea parties, the theatre, and other small gatherings. But after the first month, the embossed invitations began to dissipate, and now, she only received one every few weeks. She could hardly believe that anyone still remembered her enough to even try and invite her.
A short time later, another dance had come and gone, and Licia still had not spoken to any gentlemen. She realised that she had come to this evening in the hopes of finding someone to dance with, and she had been foolish enough to interact only with the other young women. That was hardly the wisest thing for her to do, and she knew it.
Deciding that she would be bold and make herself available for conversations with gentlemen, she figured the easiest way was to be alone near the refreshments.
“If you will excuse me, I think I am going to get something to drink,” she said to her friends.
With that, Licia turned away and ran straight into something solid. When she stepped back and looked up, she found herself staring at a man with dark hair, ocean-blue eyes, and a cleft in his strong chin.
She had never seen anyone like him before.
“Smitten with the Charming Baron” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Ever since her beloved mother passed away, Licia Stewart has been forced by her father to step in as the homemaker and act as a mother to her siblings. Regardless of how desperately she longs to live as a young woman of society and find her match, it seems that she will never have such freedom. Everything changes when Licia convinces her father and attends a ball. There, she will run into Clive Manners, a man who will charm his way into her life…
Will Licia find the strength to stand up to her father and fight for her feelings? Or will she be doomed to an endlessly miserable life?
Lord Clive Manners, Baron of Sutton, has never been impressed by the young women who flaunt themselves before him. However, Licia is different, and will instantly ignite his interest with her kindness and beauty. To his dismay, the only way to find happiness by Licia’s side, is to first help her escape a prison created by her own father. Will Clive free Licia, and help her choose the path of her own life?
If only Licia’s father was the only obstacle between them…
When Clive and Licia find each other, they know they are meant to be together. However, Licia’s father makes it clear that he will never allow her dream to come true. To make matters worse, an evil woman who has set eyes on Clive, is determined to tear them apart forever. Could the two of them survive the whirlwind, or will it all prove to be too much for love to endure?
“Smitten with the Charming Baron” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.