It was not usual to hear raised voices in the house, let alone the voices of her parents. Alice looked towards the parlour in confusion, shocked to hear such a row. What could Mama and Papa be arguing about?
She could not remember a day in her twenty-two years of life when her parents had had the need to argue about anything. Her mother always readily agreed with whatever her father might say, a habit Alice disliked. If a man was wrong, then it was only right he be told, rather than have him believe he could do no wrong. So yes, she had wished for her mother to be firmer with her father, but not to the extent of the arguing she could hear just beyond the oak door. A servant passed her by, wide eyes looking to the door in amazement.
“Miss Campbell, would that be your parents?”
“Yes, Mary. Hurry along now, do not tarry. I am sure that Mrs Hodgkin needs the dresses you have in your hand.”
The maid curtseyed, dipping her face to hide her disappointment before hurrying away. The last thing Alice wanted was for Mary to know anything about her parents’ argument as she was quite the gossiper. Not only would the details of the argument spread among the servants, but amongst the people of London as well. Alice could not understand why her mother insisted on bringing Mary with them to London. The young woman was a nightmare. All she did was talk, gossip, and pretend to work while the other servants did all the work.
She should have stayed behind on the estate and Clara should have come with us, thought Alice, who far preferred the quiet maid who seemed to anticipate her needs without needing to be told. Of course, that might be because she was a few years older, but Alice had always preferred a more mature company. However, as Mrs Hodgkin was here with them, it was only natural for Clara to remain behind and take care of the household.
Alice put her ear to the door, jumping when she heard the thud of a fist connecting with a hard surface.
She had to enter the room and stop them before a hand landed on flesh. If her parents could quarrel so heatedly, what was there to stop her father from laying a hand on her mother? Alice did not necessarily think he would do such a thing, but she could not be sure under these circumstances. She flung the door open, making both her parents jump.
“Mama! Papa! Why are you arguing in such a manner? Your voices can be heard from the staircase!”
Her mother sobbed. “Just ask your father what he has done. Ask him!”
Her father raised his hand to point a finger at her mother. “Calm down, Helen!”
“Do not tell me to calm down when you have lost a large amount of money to the Duke of Richley! What were you thinking, Dougie?”
“I did not think I would lose that hand, all right? I am usually good at cards. It was that darn duke that put me under the table with his last hand.”
Oh heavens, her father had been gambling once again. No wonder her mother was in such high fidgets. Alice’s father had a habit of losing more than winning, and up until now the amounts lost had been reasonable. However, judging from this argument, they were close to ruin.
“Papa, the Duke of Richley? He is a notorious gambler, not many people can boast of having won against him.”
Alice’s father walked away from them to the drinks trolley, pouring himself a whiskey, likely smuggled in after his recent trip to Scotland. Her father owned some property there, his grandfather having been a wealthy Scotsman, and would often take a trip alone to survey his lands.
“We are nigh ruin, and yet you have the time to pour a drink?” her mother scolded. “Dougie, when will you take matters seriously? ’Tis but the start of the London season, what will happen once we return home? Would you leave us penniless? And what of your daughters? What dowry shall we give them in anticipation of suitable marriages? If potential suitors hear of our financial situation, it may cause them to disregard our daughters. Did you consider that when you threw our money away on a game of cards?”
Marriage? That was the last thing on Alice’s mind. Let them disregard her, she did not care. But what of Violet? Her sister wished to be married. She carried none of Alice’s cynicism towards love and matrimony.
“What else am I to say, Helen?” her father said. “Perhaps we should not have attended Lord and Lady Byron’s ball. If I remember correctly, it was you who insisted that we needed to attend the first extravagant ball of the season, and it did not disappoint in that department.”
“Is that not what we came here for, Dougie? You had said that if we arrive early, our daughters would stand a good chance of being seen by eligible suitors, or have you forgotten?”
Her father moved his head from side to side as though he were listening to a tune in his head. Alice wondered why he must act as though he were insane. No, this was merely a ploy for him to gain time before he answered her mother. He swirled the whiskey in his glass, stretching the silence in the room.
“Dougie, this delay in response is unnecessary.”
Her father smacked his lips together as he took a glug of the liquid, eyeing his wife over the rim of his glass. “Dear wife, I do believe that you have forgotten your place. I am the husband, I am the head of the house, I rule this family with an iron fist. I do not have to answer any questions that I do not wish to answer, and I do as I wish. Is that answer enough?”
Alice inwardly sighed. Was it any wonder the thought of marriage was enough to have her running for the hills? A woman becomes her husband’s property and ceases to be a person.
“Oh, I see that you cannot recall the promise you made to my father when you asked for my hand in marriage,” her mother snapped.
Promise? Grandfather and Papa could hardly stand each other when in the same room. What promise could they have made together? This argument had gone on long enough and had to be stopped before they spoke of things that should not be spoken of in Alice’s presence.
“Papa, I am sure that you will find a solution to our predicament. You are, after all, a most intelligent man.” She turned to her mother. “Mother, you suffered an illness recently, it is not good for you to fret so. Come, we will sit in the parlour and drink some tea. I hear that Cook has baked a few biscuits and would appreciate it if we would taste her adaptation of an old family recipe.”
Her mother shook her head. “Alice, I fear that you do not understand the situation. Your father promised me that he would gamble no more, and yet he did that very same thing at the Byrons’ ball. I knew I should have never let him out of my sight once he became too engrossed in Lord Byron’s wine.”
Oh goodness, Mama was determined to have Papa see the error of his ways, and yet he appeared nonchalant about it all. Could Mama be overreacting? Alice peered closely at her mother, noting the grim line of her lips and the slightly crazed look her in eyes. No, she was undoubtedly under the hatches. This did not seem to be a light matter, and yet Papa wished to leave it be.
He had taken a seat, crossing his legs as he looked up at his wife. “Helen, perhaps I was not in my right mind when I entered Lord Byron’s gambling chamber, but an opportunity had presented itself to win a substantial amount of money, and I took it. The stakes were high, the cards were dealt, and I believed I had a good hand. That was until the duke revealed his own hand and took everything. I was not the only one to lose, my dear, but I will admit that I was hasty in the bet I placed.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I do not blame him for it is a game of chance and luck was simply not on my side that night.”
Her mother snorted. “Well, that makes a world of difference!”
Alice’s eyes widened at the venom in her mother’s voice. She had never seen her thus vexed.
“Helen, I am a grown man who does not need to be scolded by his foolish wife. Both the duke and I were aware of what we were getting ourselves into. He won this time around, but he may not be so lucky the next time.”
Was her father thinking of playing with the duke once more? Alice found that she could no longer remain quiet about her concerns. “Next time, Papa? Surely we should first address your debt before considering another round of gambling with the Duke of Richley?”
He scratched his chin, and she could just about detect the raspy sound of a growing beard. Papa had not shaved again today. That was unlike him. He was generally meticulous about his appearance, shaving twice a day to avoid unsightly stubble. He found it necessary as he had dark and thick hair growing on both his head and chin, causing a shadow on his face within hours. Alice took after him in both thickness of hair and colour but, thank goodness, it did not grow on her face as it did her father’s youngest sister, Aunt Tally. The poor woman was a rather handsome woman with an enviable figure, but she struggled with facial hair. Unfortunately, she had yet to find a husband who would take her as she was, and thus at thirty-one she was a seasoned spinster.
“Playing against the duke may be my only way of winning enough money to pay off my debt, Alice. I cannot think of another way.”
“And if you should lose?” her mother inquired.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Then we will most certainly be ruined.”
“Oh, goodness, Papa. There must be another way. I ask this with all respect due to you as my father, but just how much is your debt?”
Alice could not help sucking in her breath as her father named a sum that seemed astronomical. How on earth had he lost that much in one night?
“If we only but had a relationship with a family who would assist us during this difficult moment, it would certainly help our family until we are able to pay your father’s debt.”
Alice could hear the unspoken suggestion behind her mother’s words. It would be beneficial for her family if she or Violet were to marry a wealthy suitor. As she was the eldest daughter, the pressure would be on her to find a man who would be willing to financially assist her family. But what of her dowry? It was an essential element to a pending marriage, but as there clearly was no money to fulfil this aspect, would a man, in turn, be interested in her? Oh dear, what would Violet think once she heard of their money woes? She was a sensitive sort. This would crush her dreams of having her own family.
“Helen, none of our friends would be willing to help me,” said her father. “We cannot look to them.”
“Why would they help you when they have expressed their disdain for your constant gambling? You have none other than yourself to blame, Dougie. And you have dragged our family down with you.”
“Is it perhaps too late to return you to your family? Had I known you would become melodramatic in your old age, I would have thought twice about marrying you.”
Alice closed her eyes in disbelief. Papa had lost himself. One eye peeped open to see her mother’s reaction, surprised to see no hint of tears but only pursed lips to indicate her displeasure. She trained a steady gaze on her husband, fixing him in place.
“I see that you have finally lost your mind, Dougie.”
Goodness, this would not do. They were intent upon hitting the other as hard as they could. Alice did not know what to make of her parents’ attitude towards each other. Here her father sat as unaffected as a grazing cow, and there her mother stood as cold as a bronze statue. It almost seemed orchestrated, or perhaps they were so unaccustomed to fighting that they knew not how to behave.
Could this have been Henry and Alice in a few years? Henry Tottenham, the man she believed herself in love with. That was until he had shown his true colours as a rake by running off with a pretty Parisian woman whose father was only too eager to display his wealth in a most unbecoming fashion. Papa had always said that merchants were far less refined than those that hold titles, and that Jacques Bordeaux was the epitome of new money and sudden elevated social status. While she could not generalise as her father did, Mr Bordeaux certainly fit that description. Alice was firmly against coming back to London for another season when last year had been such a disaster for her. But her parents had insisted it was necessary. And yet here they were, in another predicament. Alice was starting to believe that London held a curse for the Campbell family, for nothing good seemed to happen when they were there. Would her parents be open to leaving London and returning home? It was the only solution to keep her father away from gambling and give them time to consider the way forward concerning their debt, that preferably did not involve matrimony.
“Mama, Papa, it seems that London has not treated us kindly. Would it not be advisable to return home?”
“Certainly not!” her mother said. “We are here for a reason. Your father’s mistakes will not shadow our purpose.”
But had she not suggested that his actions would do that very thing?
“Besides, the duke will not allow me to leave London until I have given him a report of how I shall pay his debt,” her father added. “He is not a man I wish to anger.”
Both her parents seemed to have calmed down, which gave her great relief. Their body language and tone of voice held none of the severity of moments earlier, which gave Alice some doubt to the viability of their argument. Could one become so heated and lose it within a space of minutes? Perhaps it was possible for others, but certainly not her parents. Now that they seemed their usual selves, Alice would rather return to her painting. She was working on a portrait of Aunt Tally, sans her facial hair, and would gift it to her on her birthday, which would take place in a month or so.
“I shall leave you both to discuss this matter.” She turned away, only to be called back by her mother.
“Alice, do remember what we have said. There really is only one way to pay this debt.”
“Yes, I shall remember that.”
Marriage was undoubtedly the begin all and end all to countless situations. Alice left her parents, her mind on the notion of finding a suitor and getting married. She was not an advocate for matrimony, not since Henry had hinted at marriage and then disappeared with the Parisian heiress. But it looked as though she would need to set aside her cynicism and consider it. She would be doing it for Mama, Papa and Violet, not for her own happiness.
Oh, it was not a glorious thing to go against yourself for the well-being of others, but she was willing to do it for her family.
“Do you think that she has absorbed our words?”
Helen was still staring at the door when her husband spoke. She looked at him, wondering if she had made the right choice all those years ago. She had been married to him for many a year, but this was the first time she had been quite disappointed with him. Fooling her dear Alice was not something she had found easy, but Dougie had begged her to partake in his plan.
“I cannot say for sure, but she was shocked by our spat. Our daughter has never heard me raise my voice to you, nor have I gone against your word. But you insisted that I do it to show authenticity.”
“Do have faith, Helen, or we will all be doomed.”
She could have laughed at that. He committed a blunder, and the family were the ones to suffer right along with him. “Dougie, did you mean all that you said about me?”
Had he forgotten already? Helen would not have been concerned about his words had they not been said with such emotion. “Your comment about marrying me.”
“Oh, of course, not, Helen. What an odd thing to say. You know I was worried that she would pass us by and not hear our argument.”
“Your daughter has sharp ears, Dougie, and she is devoted to us. It would have been a surprise not to see her walking through that door.”
“Yes. Well, I hope that she is devoted enough to agree to the marriage. Our future depends on it.”
All this talk of debts, the futures and marriage were beginning to give her a headache. Helen remembered how affected her daughter had been when Henry had left her for the Parisian woman. Alice had changed then, and it was not for the better. Coming to this season may not have been the best for the family, least of all Alice. And now her husband had made a foolish mistake that would forever change the direction of her elder daughter’s life.
“And if she does not take the bait?”
Her husband shrugged. “Then we shall force her to marry the duke’s son. But I would rather she believe that the decision was all hers – it meets the needs of our plan better.”
“Oh, Dougie, is this necessary? Is there no other way? She is our daughter, after all.”
“You are correct in saying that she is our daughter, which means it is I who decides such things. The duke has kindly agreed to remove my debt in return for our daughter. I believe it is a fair exchange.”
“A fair exchange? Dougie, have you forgotten that she is your flesh and blood and not cattle to be sold to the highest bidder?”
“The duke’s son has much to offer, Helen. Alice would be fortunate to marry such a man. Imagine the new social connections that I shall have once my daughter marries the heir of the Richley dukedom?”
Everything was about him and only him. She could not stand the sight of him at that moment. “I am going to do as Alice suggested and try Cook’s biscuits.” She left him without waiting for a response.
Luke was beginning to consider hiring someone to watch his father’s every move just to make sure that he did not ruin himself and his family’s reputation. It was as though a fever had gripped his father for he shivered as a dog whenever he spoke of gambling. While luck had been on his side for several games, there was always the possibility that someone more experienced and richer than him would take him down. While there were not many men as wealthy as the Duke of Richley in all of England, it would still take one brilliant gambler to bring his father to his knees. Speaking of which, where was the man in question? Had he not said that he would return once he had relieved himself? His father was a crafty fellow. He may have used this excuse to escape him.
It was as though he were caring for a child rather than a grown man. George Connolly, a great man amongst his circle of acquaintances, had been reduced to someone who could think of nothing but gambling. Gone was the austere, disciplined and forward-thinking gent. Instead, here was a man who had finally identified his Achilles heel but was willing to do nothing to fortify himself against it. Instead, Luke seemed to be the one trying to remove him from tempting situations, and yet still his father ran straight into them.
Luke was near the window so he would have seen his father pass by in his carriage or on his horse. So far, no one had entered or left the estate. He spied his father’s steward making his way to the stables, his sturdy frame making quick work of the distance between house and destination. Had his father sent him to saddle his horse? Luke found himself needing to once again intercept probably another escape plan. He left the house running, meeting the steward as he left the stables.
“My Lord, may I help you?”
“You most certainly can, Vincent. Has my father ordered you to saddle his horse?”
The man’s eyes widened before he quickly looked away. He regained his composure after a moment or so, looking up with a blank look. “I wished to speak with the stable-hand, that is all, My Lord.”
Luke narrowed his eyes. “Do you speak the truth, Vincent, or do you attempt to cover my father’s intentions?”
“My Lord, if it pleases you, may I return to your father? He is expecting me.”
“Ah, I see. Your refusal to answer my question is answer enough. Vincent, please inform my father that I am aware of his plans, and I do not approve of them.”
“Yes, My Lord.”
The man hurried off, soon disappearing into the house. His father was not yet fully sober. Nevertheless, he wished to go out again. If Luke were to lock him in his room, would that work? Or would he likely take a stick to his hide?
No, he would need to think of something else. His father was determined to leave the estate, and who knew where he would end up? There were far too many gambling establishments in London, some that were legal, and others held in the houses of the Ton.
Luke had to keep him busy with matters of the estate, so that his father may forget about gambling. There was no guarantee that it would work, but it was better than nothing. Luke knew his father was somewhere in the house, although not his study. His other favourite room to drink in was the drawing room, as it had its own drinks trolley. Luke set off at a light run, his mind focused on what he needed to do.
He was right about his guess as his father was indeed drinking in the drawing room.
The man jumped, spilling his drink all over him. He stood up with a stagger, holding his hand out to balance himself. “Luke, must you shout?”
“Why are you drinking? We have put in an effort to remove the alcohol from your body, but you are intent upon staying in this inebriated state.”
“I am a grown man. I can handle my brandy.” This was said with a sway to the right, causing a misstep.
Luke sighed. It was difficult to reason with him in this condition. “Where are you going?”
His father frowned. “Going? Why, I am right here!”
“Father, I know that you have plans to leave. I wish to know where.”
The man snorted. “Since when do I answer to you, Son? All you see is mine, it is you who should hold your tongue.”
“You forget that Grandfather left me a sizeable inheritance of my own, Father. I do not need to be here, yet I wish to help you.”
“Then you should go.”
This man was frustration personified!
“If not for me, you would have lost everything by now. This drinking and gambling must stop, Father.”
His father waved his hand. “You are too serious, Luke. You must calm down.”
“How can I when you have a family that still needs you? Your wife and daughters need you, or have you forgotten this?”
Hannah and Sarah were but his half-sisters, and Thomas his half-brother. But Luke doted on them and wished he could say the same for his stepmother. The Duchess of Richley was a woman Luke could never see again in his life and he would not fret.
“Since when have you been concerned about Suzannah, Luke? I was under the impression that you could not stand her.”
His father was not wrong in that, but Luke had never been disrespectful about it. After all, she was the mother of his sisters and brother.
“I care for my sisters and brother, and she is their mother.”
“I failed to find a mother for you, did I not?”
Luke was taken aback. His father had never spoken about this, not once during the past nineteen years. Was he so drunk that he knew not what he was saying?
“You found a suitable wife, Father. That is all that mattered.”
His father shook his head. “She would have never left had I…You know, I suddenly feel quite tired.”
“What were you about to say, Father?”
“What was I saying?”
“About my mother?”
“No, Suzannah is not my mother.”
His father smiled. “Oh, yes. She is not. She is my second wife, the one who chose to stay. Do you know –”
His words were interrupted by the duchess walking into the room in a dress Luke had never seen before. Why was he surprised? She never wore the same dress twice.
“Oh good. Luke, you are here. Your sisters are insisting that you take them to Hyde Park today. I cannot do it myself as I am to have tea with Lady English.”
Luke had things to do himself, but he would not argue with his stepmother. Fair, beautiful and as cold as an iceberg, the duchess was the epitome of a well-bred woman who could work a room at a dinner party like no other. She was a social butterfly, one who thrived when there were many to see her. It was a pity that she did not have time for her own children. Her daughters were but seventeen and fifteen, with Hannah attending her first season, and Thomas was ten.
“Very well, I shall take them this afternoon.”
“No, no. That does not suit me. I need Hannah to be back by three o’clock to try on her dress for the upcoming ball. You know that she is rather pudgy – no man wishes to have a heavy wife. Thus, we need to do a miracle and hide all her imperfections.”
Suzannah was certainly a crass woman, never worried about how her words affected others.
“There is nothing wrong with Hannah, and whoever marries her will be a lucky man.”
“Yes, her dowry should attract a good suitor. If she found herself a duke, I would be happy. But a marquess or an earl is all right as well, I suppose.”
There was no talking to this woman. Luke felt sorry for his sisters, but he could do nothing to shield them from her. Thomas was the only one who fared well when it came to their mother, but it was not due to motherly affection but gain. Luke had long since known that his stepmother wanted him out of the way so that Thomas would inherit the title. But Luke’s inheritance was set in stone. He would become the next Duke of Richley, a title he could have cared less about.
“Very well. I will go with them now. Are they ready?”
“Yes, they are in the parlour.” For the first time since entering the room, she noticed her husband. “George, do not tell me that you are drunk again? For goodness sake, it is still yet early in the day.”
The duke grabbed his head. “Do not screech so, woman. Tend to your friends and leave me be.”
“Do you know how it pains me to have a drunk for a husband? Luke,” she called, turning to him. “Do you know what your father did at the Byrons’ ball?”
“I assume dance?”
“Ha! If only it were that innocent. No. He became disgustingly drunk, but at least he won something.”
His father started to laugh and hiccup at the same time, a testament to his inebriated state. “Great game of piquet it was, cleaned out that old Baron of Leeds!”
“Lord Campbell?” Luke asked.
“Yes, that fool. He thought he could win against me. Well, the greater man was shown when I took all of his money. Left him penniless, I did.”
Luke vaguely remembered the man. He had two daughters, both dark-haired like him. The duke was too drunk on power at the moment to think straight. He boasted of this game today, but what of tomorrow?
“Foolish man!” said the duchess. “I do not know why I waste my breath on you. It is better that I leave you to your state.” She walked away, turning at the door. “Luke, do not allow Hannah to eat any sweets, do you hear me? She must fit into this dress. I shall not accept failure.”
He did not answer her, but he didn’t need to. Suzannah expected things to be done exactly as she ordered it, no questions asked.
“Beautiful woman, but a heart of steel,” his father muttered.
Luke wished to tell him that he was to blame as he had married the woman, but he held his tongue. Far be it for him to comment on another man’s wife. “Father, I shall have Vincent take you to your room to rest.”
At least the duke would rest rather than run to the next gambling house. The man’s eyelids drooped, his body limp as he sat in his chair. Luke could only shake his head as he went in search of Vincent.
“The Way to Capture a Marquess’s Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Alice Campell has been burned once before by betrayal and unrequited love, so marriage is not a topic she wishes to discuss. When she meets a charming Marquess who also loathes the very thought of romance, she is more than excited to have made a new friend. Soon enough, she finds herself in a position of questioning even her own feelings, until she realizes her father’s gambling habit has put her family in a precarious financial position. Could a secretly arranged marriage get them out of this messy situation or is it too late already?
Luke Conolly, son of a Duke, was abandoned by his mother as a child. He fears that he will get hurt again, so he trusts no one, while avoiding having any romantic interactions whatsoever. When he meets a young lady who amazingly shares his opinions on marriage and their stubborn fathers’ habits, something will just change. Friendship sparks between them, quickly evolving into something that Luke never expected. Will this charming lady make him reconsider his beliefs or is he too stubborn to deny his only chance for love?
Unbeknownst to Alice, a hidden deal has been made, which threatens to cost her more than just her freedom… Will Luke eventually convince her to trust him and believe that his feelings for her were always true?
“The Way to Capture a Marquess’s Heart” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.