About the book
“I feel as though I am ice and he is fire. We are so completely different, yet the same.”
Rebellious and spirited, Lady Charlotte Bannerman wants nothing more than to achieve her dream of becoming a famous writer. Pressured by her family to give up on her ambitions and focus on finding a suitable husband, she desperately wishes her suitors were more like the heroes of her favorite novels.
Benedict Gulliver, the Duke of Oakley, has just sparked a huge scandal. Fleeing the Ton’s vicious gossiping, he seeks refuge in his only aunt’s countryside cottage. What he never accounted for was the inquisitive lady from down the street.
Yet happiness is a fickle thing. Between the dangerous man rumored to be roaming the streets at night and Benedict’s troubled past, one wrong move could lead to disaster. For even the most carefully constructed masks may break under the weight of truth…
“Daphne, you simply must stop. I cannot maintain my devastatingly handsome, serious stare when you continue to jest in my presence,” Benedict Gulliver, the Duke of Oakley replied.
“Ah, well, that is the point of it all, is it not? You might think your stare is handsome and intriguing, but I dare say, you look much more handsome when you laugh. I am only trying to help you find a nice lady.”
Daphne Baxley, the Baroness of Wycliff swayed back and forth, her canary yellow gown swishing as she did. She had a mischievous grin on her thin lips, and her blue eyes sparkled with delight at his reaction. She had always been a jolly girl, ever since their childhood days. A tomboy at heart, she’d been his best friend all through their early years. She still was.
If Benedict had told anyone that Lady Wycliff was a champion at bouncing pebbles across the water and tree climbing, nobody would have believed him. For, to anyone else, she was the perfect lady of the ton.
“Come on, Ben. Let us go outside into the garden.”
He stopped and canvassed the room. They were at the Assembly Rooms at Almack’s, and the room was packed with lords and ladies of all ranks, dancing, and conversing. It was the kind of setup that allowed the two of them to interact without worrying about their reputations being ruined.
While some in the room frowned at their joyful interaction – Daphne was a married lady after all, while he was a bachelor – the company was such that not many took notice. To go outside together alone was another matter altogether.
“Do not look as though I proposed that we invade France. I simply wish to take the air – and show you the most beautiful young lady I have laid eyes on all night. A true diamond of the first water. She just stepped outside.” She raised an eyebrow at him and grinned.
Benedict crossed his arms. “By Jove, why do I have the feeling you are playing a trick on me?”
“A trick?” she replied with mock alarm. “I would never.”
“She most certainly would.” Benedict’s cousin, the Earl of Creassey, appeared behind them a large piece of dry cake in hand.
“William, what a pleasure to see you here. And I am hurt by your insinuation. I was trying to help out a poor friend feast his eyes on true beauty.”
William grinned and took a bite out of his cake, his eyes growing large at once.
Benedict produced a handkerchief and his cousin discreetly used it to relieve himself from his food.
“You ought to know better than to eat the food they serve here.”
“I ought, and yet every Wednesday, I repeat the same mistake.”
Daphne sighed deeply and shook her head. “Well, if neither of you fine men will accompany me outside, I shall go on my own.” She turned and walked on, through the crowd of people.
“She’ll ruin her reputation yet,” Benedict said and hasted after her.
“I shall join you in a moment,” William called. “I must find some wine or some other kind of brew to wash this…” He stopped speaking as in that moment, Lady Marlborough, one of the Lady Patronesses, appeared and glared at him.
Benedict could not help but chuckle. His friend had a habit of causing trouble for himself. He skipped once and then rushed after Daphne who’d already made her way outside.
“Behold,” she said as she waved a hand. “A thing of beauty.” She turned dramatically and pointed toward the edge of the garden.
“You are a wench!” Benedict laughed when he saw what she was pointing at. It was by no means the most beautiful lady ever seen by man. No, it was not a lady at all. In fact, Daphne’s father-in-law, Viscount Stonely, was as drunk as a wheelbarrow and was presently engaged in a dance with the sturdy oak tree.
“Daphne…” Benedict said as he shook his head. “That is unkind.”
“It is just a little bit of fun,” she protested. “A lady has to take her enjoyment where she can find it, especially when trapped in a loveless marriage such as I am.”
He sighed deeply. It was true; his friend was trapped in a marriage of convenience to a man that was so unlike her it ought to have been evident to all that it would never work out.
Alas, there was nothing she could do about it. Her father had insisted upon the match and so she had married the Baron of Wycliff two years ago. Now, she was sharing the estate with her unkind mother-in-law and a drunkard father-in-law.
As the man continued to dance with the oak tree, Benedict’s shoulders tensed.
“Come, we ought not to be out here alone. Your husband already holds a grudge against me, and William, as he disapproves of your friendship with us.”
She was about to protest, he knew it, but then relented and nodded her head, the pile of hair atop her head bopping as she did.
“Very well. But first, let me quickly throw this penny into the fountain. I need luck. Two years and no child, it cannot go on.”
She retrieved a small coin from her reticule and rushed toward the little fountain which had of late become a source of superstition among the ladies. Her feet splashed through the overflowing water as she ran. She closed her eyes, tossed her coin, and then ran back toward him. Benedict shook his head for he did not believe in such silly things. Then again, he did not have to worry about producing an heir. Daphne had to, and with a husband she did not care for either. Off in the distance, Daphne’s father-in-law had abandoned his dance partner and was lying flat on the ground, looking at the sky. His figure was almost entirely obscured from view and if he’d not known he was there, he’d have thought himself and Daphne entirely alone.
As his friend rushed back, he turned and was about to reach for the door when –
“Faith! No…” Daphne exclaimed with a cry and stumbled backward. Her hands grasped at the air in a desperate effort to hold herself up when he lunged and reached behind her, catching her just before her body landed on the ground.
“I slipped; my shoes must have got wet… And…” She stopped speaking and stared up, past him at the door that had just opened. When Benedict turned, he saw with horror that three faces were looking down at them, among them Daphne’s mother-in-law. He realized with horror the picture he and his friend were currently presenting – him on the ground and she in his arms as if they were lovers. In that very moment, Benedict Gulliver knew that he was about to find himself the subject of this Season’s most favorite activity – relentless gossip. And his reputation might just be destroyed – as well as hers.
“No, not this one. The portmanteau goes into the second carriage. I already told you, Tolston,” Catherine Brown, the Dowager Countess of Creassey, said in utter exasperation. She stood in front of her grand townhouse in Mayfair, clad in a most spectacular burgundy colored redingote that stood out against her white hair, whisps of which stuck out underneath a silver and burgundy turban.
“Aunt Catherine, please. Does it truly matter which carriage? There are only two after all and we are all going to the same place,” Benedict moaned as he sat on the stairs.
“It matters. Otherwise, if it is all loaded wrong, how am I to tell Mrs. Huxley how to put it all up when we get to the cottage?”
Benedict chuckled at the notion that Arden House was nothing like a cottage. His aunt’s home in Bedfordshire was almost as grand as the home of the Marquess of Haddington, the highest-ranking lord in Bedfordshire. For a mere earl, his uncle had accumulated much wealth and since his death, his aunt and cousin only added to it.
And yet, whenever she spoke of Arden House, she talked about it as if it were still the small home purchased many decades ago.
“Very well,” he conceded. “My belongings are packed. I shall sit in the carriage and wait.”
“Faith, Ben. I would like it if you could not act as if visiting the country for the summer was the worst fate to have ever befallen you. It is supposed to help you get away from all of this.” She waved her hand as if indicating to all of London. In a way, she was right. He was trying to get away from all of it. London, the high society, and most of all the gossip.
“I shall recover my spirits when we get there, I am sure.” He rose and kissed her on the cheek as he passed and walked to the first carriage. He caught his reflection in the window of the downstairs drawing room as he was about to climb the step into the carriage.
His dark, wavy hair reached down to the nape of his neck and stood in all directions. He was in the habit of wearing caps but had forgone it today, not wanting to bother with it on the journey. Thus, a gust of wind had sent his hair flying in every direction, and he looked a little like a wild man.
His long legs were in a pair of black pantaloons, and a white shirt hung out from the back of his pants. He stuffed it back inside gruffly and yanked his green waistcoat down, shaking his head. He did not at all look like the Benedict Gulliver the high society had adored up until a month ago.
I was a dashing, much sought-after bachelor with no shortage of women – no matter how vapid – who wanted my attention. Now I am looked at as if I were an outcast and why? Because they saw me with Daphne, seemingly alone. It is a pain, such a pain. And yet, I am better off than she. At least I can go to the country to escape it all and I have my aunt and cousin. Daphne…
“Ben!” his cousin called as he dashed down the stairs, past his mother - who was still directing the servants toward the correct carriages - with her assortment of luggage.
“William, where is your greatcoat?” Benedict’s aunt called out to her son as if he were a mere child, not the Earl of Creassey, a member of the House of Lords and Lord of the Realm in his own right. She had a habit of this, treating them as though they were still young boys.
“Tolston will bring it,” William cried back and jumped into the carriage. He landed beside Benedict and at once rolled his eyes. “My… don’t you look Friday-faced. Please promise this will not be the visage I must look at all of my days while we are away.”
He shook his head. “I promise. Although I cannot make guarantees as to today. I feel rather…. I am in high dudgeon if you must know. This entire situation is upsetting.”
He got no further for, in that moment, his aunt entered the carriage and sat across from him, with her ankles crossed.
“Well, let me tell you what I think. This entire affair – pardon my pun – is your own doing. You know that I love you as if you were my very own son, but your behavior is at times reckless and now you have to face the consequences of those actions. As much as it pains me to say this.”
Benedict said nothing. His aunt had raised him since he was a small child when his parents perished in a terrible carriage accident. He respected her as if she were his mother, and he knew she was right. That was the trouble. He knew she was right. He’d brought the gossip and scandal on himself.
“Mama, you know Daphne has always been a force of nature.”
“Then perhaps your cousin should have married her, instead of letting that dreadful Lord Wycliff take her hand.”
Benedict shook his head at this suggestion. “I never could marry Daphne. I love her but I do not love her as a man should love his wife. She is like a sister to me. Her mother and mine were good friends after all.”
His aunt sighed deeply and leaned back as the carriage drove off toward the family’s country estate near Thornberry.
“Love. You young people have such notions about love. It is not what is most important. What is most important is to carry on the family line, the name. I was lucky, as was your mother, that we both had sons to carry on the line. If you – and I mean both of you – wait for too long, neither of you will have an heir and both of your lines will end. The Prinny will be pleased, I am sure.”
She rolled her eyes, something she never would have done if they were not in the privacy of their carriage. To show disrespect to the Prince Regent was frowned upon, yes even considered by some treasonous. However, both Benedict and William knew of her low opinion of the present Regent and thus said nothing.
“He will be ever so happy to have not just an earldom but a dukedom in his grasps. He’ll install a new Earl of Creassey before your body is even in the ground, William. And you’ll see, one of his awful friends will end up Duke of Oakley.”
At last, William could take it no longer. “Mama, you speak as if the both of us are about to stick our spoon against the wall. We are young men; we have all the time in the world to find wives. Why rush? Why not wait for someone we truly care about?”
The older woman pursed her lips. “All the time in the world? That is what Benedict’s parents thought as well. That is why they did not have any more children. They thought they had time and then…” She shook her head and cast her green eyes at Benedict who sat with a grim expression on his face, his arms crossed in front of him.
I wish she would not talk about my parents. I find it ever so depressing. I was but three-and-ten when they died, away at Eton for much of it. To think it happened so long ago… To think I cannot even remember the voice of my mother, or the scent of my father.
“I am quite fatigued. If the both of you do not mind, I shall attempt to rest my eyes.” He did not wait for a reply but instead crossed his arms and leaned his head against the window. With his eyes closed, he thought of Daphne. Her husband and his mother had been outraged at the sight of them together and taken her away to their country estate in Devon at once. He would not see her for some time, and he knew better than to consider writing to her.
Their friendship, long a source of gossip, would have to be set aside for now. At least until the ton found something else to gossip about than their compromising situation at Almack’s. His mind drifted then and he thought sleep might catch up to him after all, however, every time he was almost at rest the carriage would ride over a rock or hit a bump in the road, jolting him awake again.
He passed several hours this way, not quite awake but also not asleep when they arrived in Thornberry, the small town just across the county line between Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. Home to his aunt’s country estate he’d spent time here now and then, although the family usually passed their time in London or at the estate of the Duke of Oakley, a beautiful castle located in Somerset.
“Ben,” William said as he pointed outside. “Look at the welcome we are receiving.”
Benedict poked his head out of the window and sighed. Several dozens of townspeople were assembled on the road leading to Arden House, many of them waved enthusiastically.
“Well, isn’t it lovely,” his Aunt Catherine said with a smile. “People always have been very kind here. Thornberry might be a sleepy village, but it is filled with lovely folks.”
“Not that you know any of them, seeing how you never venture into the village,” William said with a snide tone in his voice.
“That is only because Darton is much more convenient for shopping and entertainment. Thornberry has only one establishment, and that is a tavern, not suitable for a lady.”
Aunt Catherine pushed her turban straight on her head as she graciously waved out of the window.
Benedict frowned. “Darton? Is that not the next town over?”
William nodded. “It is twenty minutes to ride from here to there. If you recall when we were lads we once rode there and passed the estate of the Marquess of Haddington, just over yonder.” He pointed toward the east, but Benedict just shrugged.
“I do not recall.”
“Enough of this chitter-chatter,” his aunt said at last. “We are here.” The carriage slowed in that very moment and the door opened. The coachman assisted first his aunt, and then William and himself, out of the carriage which had stopped right outside the front door.
Benedict glanced up to take in the entirety of the house and found himself in awe of it. Arden House was indeed palatial. It was built in the old Tudor style with steeply pitched gable roofs, several elaborate chimneys, and half-timbering. Even Grantham Castle, his home in Somerset, paled in comparison.
As they stepped inside, he remembered the first time he’d stepped through the doors of this home. He’d been a boy of three-and-ten and away at Eton when he found out his parents died. He wasn’t quite sure why he remembered this right then. Perhaps it was the scent of the roses that wavered in from the garden or the creaking of the old wooden staircase.
“It has been years since we spent any amount of time here as a family. You lads are so busy with the theater and the opera you never join me here anymore.”
“Well, thanks to the judgmental nature of the ton, we are here at last,” Benedict said unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice.
His aunt sighed deeply. “I do hope you will not be in high dudgeon the entire summer, Benedict. I shall not stand for it, I declare.”
He nodded and sauntered down the hall, arms clasped behind his back as he went. He was about to remark on the beautiful view from the upstairs windows to appease his aunt when –
“Are those…” His words trailed off as he stared up at a painting that hung high in the grand hall. He knew who they were before his aunt even had a chance to answer.
The young couple, beaming down from the canvas, were his parents. They were painted in warm light, giving them a pleasant appearance. His mother’s face showed a slight smile while his father’s eyes seemed to have a twinkle in them, although that could have simply been Benedict’s imagination.
“Arthur and Margaret, your parents,” his aunt gently said as she stood beside him. He looked down at her, for she reached only up to his shoulder.
“I did not know this painting was here. I remember it. It used to hang at Grantham Castle.”
She nodded her eyes fixed on the face of the young woman in the painting, her sister.
“Yes, it hung above the fireplace in the drawing room. You used to get so upset when you saw it. You’d cry because you missed them. It was so very sad. I could not stand to see you suffer, so I had it moved here. On the rare occasion that you came here, I’d have it moved. I forgot this time. I’m sorry, Benny.”
She looked up at him with large, regretful eyes. Her expression, combined with her use of his childhood nickname, made his heart fill with sorrow, and he turned away.
“It is quite all right. Do not worry. I am glad it is here. I…” He closed his mouth and pressed his lips together. “If you do not mind, I would like to ride out. It seems a beautiful day for a ride. The stable is just behind the house, yes?”
She nodded and opened her mouth to speak, but he walked around her and past his cousin who’d been silently watching their exchange.
“Ben, let me come with you. You don’t even know your way around.”
Benedict shook his head. “It is the country; it is flat as far as the eye can see. How could I get lost?”
He broke into a run and dashed down the staircase, taking two steps at once. Suddenly, there was nothing Benedict Gulliver wanted more than to get away from this place. The sudden sight of his long-lost parents and the sadness in his aunts’ eyes were more than he could take. He had to get out, he had to get away – far, far away. And at once.
Charlotte Bannerman was sitting at her writing desk in the drawing room of Haddington Manor, about to finish her sentence when the door to the drawing room flung open. It banged against the wall with such force, she jumped in her seat and knocked over the ink jar which at once spread all across her page.
“Charlotte! You will never believe who is coming to Thornberry!” her sister exclaimed as she burst into the room.
“Bridget!” Charlotte yelled as she jumped up and attempted to salvage her work. It was of no use. The black ink spread all over the page, swallowing the words she’d so carefully crafted these past few hours.
She turned to face her sister so quickly that her long brown hair whipped around her face. She was in the habit of keeping it flowing freely over her back because she could not stand the way it felt when her maid, Helena, confined it to the top of her head. It was uncomfortable and gave her a trifling headache.
“Faith, Charlotte. Do not be in such a terrible mood. I bring wonderful news!” Bridget announced as she entered the room.
Charlotte placed her hands onto her hips and narrowed her green eyes at her sister who stood before her swaying back-and-forth with glee, as if she were a child of nine or ten, instead of a young lady of nine-and-ten.
“Unless the great news you bring is a way to salvage my work and remove the ink from the page, I do not wish to hear it.”
Her sister sneered and seated herself on the stool behind the pianoforte. Gingerly, she placed her fingers on the keys and elicited a pretty melody from the instrument almost without effort.
Charlotte had to admit, her sister was truly gifted when it came to music. Bridget was gifted in a great many things a lady of the high society ought to be gifted in. Embroidery, watercolors, and music all came to her sister with ease, while Charlotte struggled with all of them.
Not that she cared. The only thing Charlotte had ever been passionate about in all of her life were her books. The ones she read and the ones she wrote. Words, she found, were her melody. Words were her paint, and her needle and thread. Not that her family understood these notions.
If only my family shared my passion for the written word. Alas, it seems I inherited my passion for stories from my mother and nobody else in the family shares it. If they did then Bridget would not be so nonchalant about having ruined an hour’s worth of work.
“I suggest sand. Is that not how you soak up ink?” Bridget suggested with a serious face.
“Not when it is half of a bottle of ink that is on the page,” Charlotte replied with her nostrils flaring.
“Horsefeathers! It ought to work all the same. In any case, it is just a few words. You can write them once more. It is not as though there is a terrible shortage of pen or ink. Or quill. You bought a big box in Darton last week; I was there.”
Her sister sat back and twirled a lock of her hair around her finger. Bridget’s hair was a lighter shade of brown than Charlotte’s, but it was equally as wavy and just as thick.
“It does not matter that I have many quills and a lot of paper. If I took it upon myself to ruin your latest watercolor by pouring a jug of water all over it, you would not be pleased.
Bridget rolled her eyes. “Then it is only fortunate that I am nowhere near as passionate about my watercolors as you are about these little tales of yours. Besides, I did nothing but open the door. You spilled it all on your own. I came with good tidings and you do not even care to hear them.”
“I do not,” Charlotte exclaimed, her pitch higher than usual.
“Then it is your loss for I have grand news and now you shall not be a part of any of the excitement.” Bridget crossed her arms in front of her chest and stuck her pink tongue out at her.
Charlotte was about to fire back at her sister for the manner in which she referred to her cherished stories and her generally childlike behavior but did not get a chance. At that moment - her father Charles Bannerman, the Marquess of Haddington - walked through the door.
“What is this bickering?” he demanded at once. The smell of his Anais scented comfit wavered into the room as he spoke. “Have I not told you to behave yourself time and again? And yet, I walk in on the two of you behaving as though you were little girls in the seminary, arguing over a piece of plum cake rather than the two young ladies you are supposed to be. I really cannot…”
His eyes fell on Charlotte’s desk then and he swallowed hard as he shook his head. “Charlotte. What is this?”
At once, Charlotte crossed her arms again and glared at her sister. “I was writing when Bridget disturbed me, and I accidentally knocked over the inkpot.”
Her father sighed and stepped toward the wall and rang. Charlotte knew that below a heavy brass bell would ring, alerting the servants to their master’s need for their attention. Charlotte felt bad to think they would have to clean up the mess for by now, some of the ink had dripped onto the carpeted floor.
When he was finished ringing for attendance, her father glared at her. “I wish you would not waste your time in such a manner.”
“I do not waste…”
He raised his hand and shook his head, cutting her off. Her father was a rigid man, always concerned about them behaving properly and not causing him embarrassment. Bridget was the apple of his eye in that regard. She was the perfect young lady at least whenever their father was around. Charlotte, on the other hand, was in her father’s eyes - peculiar. He never could understand her great love of books and her disinterest in balls and the opera. He would send for fine materials to be purchased overseas, and he’d have dresses made for them of the finest silk, the most precious of gemstones incorporated into the lace – and Charlotte would not care at all for it.
While she was grateful to her father for giving them so much when others had so little, she simply was not the kind of lady who would find excitement in something as mundane as a dress. Bridget on the other hand…
“Papa,” her sister said, with a voice as sweet as fresh honey. Charlotte eyed her and understood from the expression on her sister’s face that she wished to break the tension between father and daughter. Bridget, for all her faults, was still a wonderful sister who sought to keep the peace between Charlotte and their father. “I never did have the chance to explain just why it was I came to the drawing room with such enthusiasm.”
Charlotte sat down at the writing desk and glanced at the ruined pages, half a chapter of her latest story that she would now have to re-create.
“No, you did not. Say, what is it that has you so excited?” the marquess asked with a slight smile.
Bridget broke into a grin once more. “Why, would you believe it. The Duke of Oakley and the Earl of Creassey are coming. For the whole of the summer! They are to stay at Arden House in Thornberry.”
Charlotte frowned for she could not quite recall who it was her sister spoke of. Arden House was a grand estate outside the nearby village of Thornberry, but as far as she knew it was hardly ever used, the family seemed to reside primarily in London, or some such place.
“Ah, well at least the house will get some use. It is such a shame it should sit empty otherwise. It would make a great foundling’s hospital or an orphanage.”
Bridget ignored the notion at once and carried on in her excitement.
“Papa, don’t you think this requires a ball in their honor? Yes, I dare say we must hold the ball. It is almost expected, I declare. You are the highest-ranking lord in the area and if a duke is in town, a ball ought to be hosted for him.”
Their father’s visage softened as he looked at his younger daughter.
“I am quite familiar with both of the young men. I’ve met them both at the House of Lords, albeit briefly. They do not seem to take their responsibilities in Parliament very seriously. Nevertheless, I will call on them in the morning to welcome them back to the neighborhood. The dowager countess may well be planning a ball of her own, however. In any case, I ought to invite them for a hunt at the very least.”
“A hunt, yes. And then a ball. Either way, a ball there shall be! Oh, Papa. I heard that they are going to arrive here via Thornberry any moment now. A lot of people are turning out to greet them as they drive by. Can Charlotte and I see them arrive? I do not intend to introduce myself or anything of that nature of course. But I would like to see the duke and the earl. I heard they are both exceedingly handsome young men.”
Just where her sister received this information from, Charlotte didn’t know, but Bridget had a habit of finding information in the most curious of places, most often in the wash house where she liked to sneak away to, in order to spy on the servants. The servants, Bridget declared, always had the most accurate of information one could obtain.
Their father was quite pleased with this idea and at once agreed. “Of course, take the carriage. As long as you do not misbehave, I do not see why you could not at least go into the village to see them arrive.”
Charlotte shook her head. “I do not care to go. Bridget can take Helena with her as a chaperone. I shall take my notebook and go down to the river as I always do and attempt to fix what was ruined today.”
“Horsefeathers! Writing? When there is a duke to be seen? And an earl? Both of them bachelors?” Bridget’s eyes were wide with the lack of appreciation for Charlotte’s choices.
“Charlotte. I would prefer it if you went with Bridget. You spend too much time on your own and with your head either in a book or in a notepad.”
Charlotte rose and collected her pencil and notebook. She did not like to use the pencil quite so much. She knew it was expensive, but when sitting by the river, it was a necessity.
“I assure you, I would rather spend time alone with my stories than stand shoulder to shoulder in the dusty street of Thornberry to have to chance to look at some nobleman or other. For handsome as they might be, I am certain they are as obnoxious and vapid as any of the other lords I have met.”
Her father groaned and she knew he wanted to say more but controlled his temper and instead stood by and indicated for her to pass.
“Very well. If you must. Bridget, I shall take you into Thornberry. Collect your bonnet and such. And you… I hope you will see one day that there is more to life than imaginary stories.”
She passed him without speaking and stepped into the hall where Oxford, their butler, retrieved her sky-blue pelisse and she placed the matching bonnet, with a blue ribbon on her head, tied it under her chin and then donned the pelisse.
Leaving her disapproving family behind once more, she set out towards the path to the river. There, a bench waited for her to sit and write all that was in her heart upon the page.
Charlotte sat at the riverbank and flicked through the pages. Several hours had passed since her arrival at the river and she’d recreated several of her pages. Now, however, another enemy presented itself. Writer’s block. She peered at the last page of just completed words.
“We must not! No, we must not! They will see us, surely they will.”
“Do not be silly, Lady Priscilla. The enemy is entirely occupied with the sky-blue assault from the west. We can go now. Right now.”
Lady Pricilla gave her companion a curt nod and then gathered the hem of her dress together as they prepared to charge across the clearing ahead of them and to freedom when…
Charlotte sat up and stretched her arms until the joints in her shoulders popped audibly. What would happen when Lady Priscilla and the stable boy escaped from the barracks at Holborn Prison? She was not quite sure. She’d written beyond what she’d created that morning and found the plot to her story running empty.
This happened at times when she was occupied with more worldly things, such as her sister and father’s disapproval of her person and her likes.
I ought not to say they disapprove of my person. Bridget certainly doesn’t. Papa… He will always wish I were a son, first of all as he does not have an heir now. Maybe he would like me better if I pretended to care for the things he cares for. Maybe I ought to try and please him more. Faith, how I wish Mama were here. She would know what to do and she would understand what desires and passions.
Her mother was a beautiful young woman. Charlotte cherished her memory. It was through her writing and reading that she could feel close to her. Her mother always insisted on her reading. Charlotte treasured the memories of sitting with her Mama in the library every night before the roaring fire as they read together.
She missed her terribly. Even though she’d been but six years old, she remembered the day her mother passed away. It happened while giving birth to another daughter – a baby girl who’d been born looking blue and purple and never even drew a breath. Both mother and newborn daughter died that day and now lay buried in the family’s cemetery on the grounds of Haddington estate. She often visited the site and spoke to her mother, reading to her and…
A smile spread on her face as she rose.
“I shall read this part to Mama and see if I can find inspiration from her,”
Charlotte said to herself as she walked toward the house once more. Whenever she found herself at an impasse with her words, she could count on her mother’s spirit or at least her vision of it, to help nudge her along. Today certainly called for a visit to the cemetery, for she had much to tell her mother and much to read to her.
Charlotte strolled along the road, her eyes focused on the path ahead and her notepad tucked under her armpit.
Perhaps once she knew where to take the story, she’d be able to finish it, and then perhaps she might even find someone who would –
“Halt!” A deep male voice called out behind her as the sound of a horse’s hooves galloping down the street forced her to abandon her thoughts and turn again. She looked back just in time to see a large black gelding barrel toward her, a young man riding atop the steed. There was a look of horror on the man’s face. For a moment, Charlotte was taken aback by the expression of sheer mortification he displayed, but then she realized just why he looked so horrified – he’d lost control of the horse!
He will run me down!
Charlotte had a fear of horses, ever since she was thrown from her favorite horse, Horatio, many years ago. She would not ride a horse, nor did she like to be around them. She especially did not like it when they barreled toward her at this speed and entirely out of control. She attempted to jump out of the way as she realized this, but it was too late. The man, in a vain attempt to redirect his horse, grazed her with his foot and she was flung backward. As she fell, her notebook flew into the air, the pages flapped in the wind, and then her body crashed onto the grassy ground. A pain seared through her with such force, she could hardly stand it. She lay there as her notebook came to rest beside her.
Charlotte could not move, could not rise on her own such was the pain. She reconciled herself to having to remain here for some time when suddenly a face appeared before her.
As she looked up into the visage, illuminated by the bright light behind him, she could not help but feel her heartbeat increase. For the man standing above her was by far the most handsome she’d ever laid eyes on. She pushed herself up but to her horror as she attempted to rise, the world twisted and spun before her and suddenly, she felt the sensation of her head slamming into the ground – and everything went dark.
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