About the book
"Sometimes home is not a place, it is someone's heart…
Ever since she lost her sight, Lady Abigail Wallace has been either pitied or ignored by the Ton. She doesn’t mind, though. Nothing is missing from her quiet life. Except, perhaps, everything.
When Hugh Richards, the Marquess of Gilingham, visits the estate of a Duke to court his younger daughter, he is surprised to find himself falling for her sister. Abigail’s strong spirit takes his heart by storm, no matter how much he tries to deny it.
Things become even more complicated when an unexpected enemy tries to poison their hearts with doubt. And when Abigail is nowhere to be found, Hugh is forced to come to terms with the awful truth: an awfully familiar figure wants to keep them apart, and it won’t be long before Abigail pays the ultimate price.
“Mother,” six-year-old Abigail said, bouncing a little on the seat of the carriage, “may I choose any gown I want today?”
Her mother smiled indulgently. “You know how important it is for you to have the very best, Abigail,” she said. “Your father is the Duke of Stapleton, after all, and what you do reflects upon him.”
“I know that,” Abigail said. She was reminded frequently of the fact that her behavior reflected upon her father. Even today, she hadn’t been permitted to leave the house until her hair had been meticulously arranged and her appearance judged perfect by her mother.
And we’re only going into town! It wasn’t as if they were planning to see anyone other than merchants.
Abigail had grown accustomed to the demands placed upon her, but they grew tiresome, and she longed to make choices based upon her own preferences rather than what her mother deemed appropriate.
“I’d like a black gown,” she ventured, thinking about the way such a thing might look with her blonde hair and pale skin.
Her mother shook her head. “Certainly not, Abigail. What a thought! A black gown, for a little girl such as yourself? You’d look like a ghost!”
“It might be fun to look like a ghost,” Abigail said.
“It would be completely improper,” her mother said firmly. “You know I want to take your choices into consideration, Abigail, but you do make it difficult when you ask for such things. Wouldn’t you like a pretty sky-blue gown?”
“No,” Abigail said.
“But you’d look so lovely.”
Abigail shrugged, bored of the conversation. She leaned over to look out the window, watching as the countryside sped by.
“Abigail,” her mother said sternly. “Sit down in your seat, please.”
Abigail sat but not happily. “I can’t see out the window from here,” she complained.
“You’ll be able to see just fine when you’re a bit taller,” her mother said. “For now, you can look at me. It’s good manners to keep your attention on the person you’re talking to.”
“Why didn’t we bring Harriet?” Abigail asked. She missed her little sister already. Her mother’s company was always a little easier to bear when Harriet was there too.
“Five years of age is too young for a trip into town,” her mother said. “You’re nearly a lady, Abigail. That’s why you’re old enough for this. Harriet is still a baby.”
“She’s only one year younger than I am,” Abigail pointed out. “How can she be a baby if I’m a lady?”
Her mother sighed. “Abigail, you wanted to come into town. Don’t you remember?”
Abigail knew that was true. She’d spent the past several days begging to be allowed to come along the next time her mother went into town. And her mother had relented—finally—but only after making Abigail promise that she would be obedient and well-behaved the entire time.
I’m not being very good. I know I’m not. Perhaps Mother will turn the carriage around and take me back home.
Abigail half hoped that would happen. She had wanted to come along on this outing, yes, but she had imagined it differently. She hadn’t imagined that she wouldn’t be able to choose her own new gown.
She had to try one more time. “What about a red gown, Mother?” she asked.
Her mother brightened. “Pale pink would be nice. Perhaps with some flowers on the skirt.”
“Not pale pink,” Abigail objected. “I meant bright red. Like the curtains at home.”
“Oh, Abigail,” her mother said with a sigh. “That sort of thing isn’t stylish at all.”
“But perhaps I could make it stylish,” Abigail said. “You always say I’m the daughter of a Duke, and that everyone is watching me. Maybe if I wear a red dress, other people will decide to do the same thing. Maybe all the ladies in London will wear them!”
Her mother laughed.
“Why is that funny?” Abigail demanded.
“I’m not laughing at you, darling,” her mother assured her. “It’s just such a fine idea, isn’t it? That we could simply do whatever we wanted to do, and that the rest of society would have to accept it? Even follow in our footsteps?”
“They do have to, don’t they?” Abigail asked. “Father is the Duke! That means he’s in charge of everyone.”
“I’m afraid it doesn’t,” her mother said. “Holding a position in society is a much more delicate dance than simply being in charge of everyone.”
Then she reached across the carriage and patted Abigail on the shoulder. “But you don’t need to concern yourself with that, darling,” she said. “There will be plenty of time for these worries when you’re a little older.”
“What do you mean?” Abigail asked. “What will happen when I’m older?”
“You know the answer to that,” her mother said with a little laugh. “When you’re older, you’ll be courted by gentlemen, and eventually you’ll marry. If you’re lucky, darling, you’ll marry a gentleman of high standing in society as I did. Instead of simply being the daughter of a Duke, you’ll be a Marchioness or a Duchess in your own right.”
“Do you really think so?” Abigail asked. She knew that her future likely held balls and courtships, and yet it didn’t feel real. Would she truly become a young lady, admired by gentlemen, her hand sought in marriage?
What would it be like to be held in the arms of a gentleman? To dance with him, to gaze into his eyes, to know that he had chosen her, and that he loved her best of all?
“Of course,” her mother said. “As the eldest daughter of the Duke of Stapleton, you’re sure to be highly sought after, Abigail. And it will be very important that we make you a good match when the time comes, because that will determine how likely your sister is to get a good husband as well. You want Harriet to be happy, don’t you?”
“Of course,” Abigail said fervently. “Harriet is my best friend. I would do anything for her.”
Her mother smiled fondly. “I know you would,” she said. “That’s why we must make sure we choose the perfect gown for you. You’ll be wearing it on our trip to the Wilmington Estate to meet with your father’s good friend, the Duke of Wilmington. You’ll need to look your best for our visit.”
“Why?” Abigail asked.
“The Duke of Wilmington has a young son,” her mother explained.
“I believe he’s nine years of age,” her mother said. “You’re both far too young to consider courtship or marriage, of course, but it’s important to make a good impression upon him.”
“Do you think he’ll marry me someday?” Abigail asked.
“What I think is that he’ll be a part of the social circles you’ll be moving in when you both come of age,” her mother said. “If he remembers you fondly from his childhood, he’ll speak highly of you, and your reputation will reflect that. But if his memories of you are of a scruffy, ill-mannered ruffian, that’s the way other people will hear of you.”
Abigail nodded. She understood what her mother was saying. As much as she might enjoy having a black gown or a red one, such a gown had the potential to shock her father’s friends. And if they spoke ill of her to other members of the ton, she would grow up with a reputation that would hinder her in the future.
“Never forget,” her mother said gently, “people like to look at pretty things. The best thing you can do, my daughter, is make yourself as lovely as possible, so that you will appeal to a wide range of gentlemen and ensure that you have plenty of opportunities when the time comes for you to be courted.”
“All right, Mother,” Abigail said.
Her mother smiled. “And if you are very good, I’ll allow you to choose a bonnet while we’re in town,” she said.
“Oh, really?” Abigail perked up.
“You deserve a treat,” her mother said. “Though it might be something only to be worn at home.”
Abigail nodded. She could accept that condition. The idea of having something new, something she had chosen herself, was almost irresistible.
As the daughter of the Duke, of course, she was given new clothing all the time, but she was rarely allowed to make her own selections. She greatly looked forward to the day when she would be old enough to choose what she wanted for herself, and when those around her would have to go along with her preferences instead of disregarding them and telling her she was wrong.
Right now, though, that day seemed a long way away.
“Abigail,” her mother said sharply. “Sit down. What did I say to you?”
Abigail realized that she had lifted herself off her seat again to look out the window. She hadn’t even realized that she was doing it. “But look, Mother,” she said, pointing out the window. “There are cows.”
“You’ve seen cows before. Do as I say. Return to your seat.”
Abigail sighed. “Mother, please. I just want to—”
But she never finished her sentence.
The carriage jolted violently, and Abigail was thrown off her feet. She felt a sharp pain in her shoulder, followed by a duller one in her head. Her vision blurred.
Someone was screaming. Abigail thought she heard her name, but she couldn’t be sure.
She felt sick with pain. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t see.
And then, thankfully, everything went black.
The first thing Abigail was aware of was the sound of her name coming through the darkness. It felt as if she had been underwater for a long time, and now a hand was reaching down to her, pulling her toward the surface.
She wanted to take hold of that hand. She wanted to accept the help she was being offered, but it felt as if the person speaking to her was a long way away.
“Abigail?” the voice tried again.
This time, she recognized it. It was her sister Harriet, and she sounded as if she had been crying.
Harriet. Abigail tried to turn toward her sister’s voice.
“Don’t move,” Harriet said. “The physician says your arm is broken, and you hit your head. You’re supposed to be staying very still.”
“What—” Abigail wet her parched lips and tried again. “What happened?”
“Your carriage had an accident,” Harriet said. “Do you remember?”
“No,” Abigail said.
But that wasn’t entirely true. The memories were starting to seep back in through the haze now. She could remember the taste of blood on her lips, the sound of her mother screaming, and the sharp pain in her body that had now faded to a dull ache.
“Where are we?” she whispered.
“Home,” Harriet said. “You’re in your room. I’m sorry the lights are so low. We were to let you rest. I’m not supposed to be in here.”
“It’s all right,” Abigail said. “You won’t get into trouble.”
“I should go tell someone you’re awake,” Harriet said.
“No,” Abigail said quickly. The idea of being left alone was strangely frightening. “Can you stay?”
“Okay,” Harriet said. Abigail wasn’t surprised. Her sister had always been willing to do whatever Abigail asked of her.
“My arm is broken?” she asked.
“It will heal,” Harriet said. “That’s what the physician said.”
“And my head?”
“He said that if you woke up, that meant you were going to be okay,” Harriet said.
“I guess I’m going to be okay, then,” Abigail said, feeling light with relief. “Can you help me get the bandage off my eyes? Or does that have to stay? I’d like to be able to see you.”
Harriet was quiet for a moment.
“What?” she said at last.
“The bandage,” Abigail said, reaching up for her face. “Can you help me get it off?”
Her fingers brushed her cheek.
Something was wrong.
“There’s no bandage over your eyes,” Harriet said, her voice shaking.
Abigail blinked, and blinked again.
She couldn’t see.
“Abigail, I know you’re awake.”
Abigail fought her way up from the recesses of sleep and slowly sat upright. In fact, she had not been awake when her sister had entered her room, and she suspected that Harriet had known that, but it didn’t matter. Harriet knew that she was the one person who was always allowed to enter Abigail’s room at any time, day or night.
Abigail didn’t even grant that courtesy to her lady’s maid, who by rights should have been free to come and go. Ever since the accident that had robbed her of her sight, she was very protective of her space. She needed to know who was in her room at all times, and she needed any visitors to announce themselves.
But it was different with Harriet. Harriet was practically an extension of herself. The two sisters were closer than Abigail imagined it was possible for any other two sisters to be.
Still, on mornings like this, Abigail rather regretted the fact that she had extended an open invitation for her sister to come in whenever she liked.
“It’s too early, Harriet,” Abigail said. “What do you need?”
“It’s not what I need,” Harriet said. “It’s what Father needs. He wants us both down at breakfast at once. He’s going to make some kind of announcement.”
“Well, for goodness’ sake,” Abigail said, fighting her way out of the blankets and getting to her feet. “Isn’t that something that could have waited until dinner? What is this announcement?”
“I don’t know,” Harriet said. “He wouldn’t tell me anything. He said he wanted to let the whole family know at once. But he was smiling, so I know he’s excited about it, whatever it is. Come on, I’ll help you dress.”
Abigail got out of bed and made her way over to her wardrobe. She had functioned without the aid of sight for many years now, and at three and twenty years of age, she had become masterful in the art of finding her way around her room.
Of course, the room was deliberately arranged to make things easier for her. All of the furnishings had been pushed against the walls, leaving a wide-open space in the middle, so that even if she became disoriented, she wouldn’t be constantly running into things.
The angles made things easier for her as well. For example, she knew that the wardrobe was on the wall opposite her bed. She had only to put the bed at her back, take five long and careful steps, and there she could be.
When her blindness had been new, she had been afraid of hurting herself. She had walked around slowly, arms outstretched, groping, always nervous. But now she was able to move with ease and confidence. She knew from experience that people sometimes didn’t realize she was blind at all until they got a look at her face.
Of course, that was when she was in the comfort of her own home. Things were different if she ever ventured outside, where she didn’t know where anything was.
Then again, Abigail had little reason to leave Stapleton Manor, and she’d done very little venturing anywhere since her accident all those years ago.
“What color gown do you want today?” Harriet asked.
“Oh, I don’t suppose it matters, does it?” Abigail asked. “We’re not expecting company.”
“I don’t think so,” Harriet agreed. “Father would have told me that. He would have wanted to give me the chance to dress for the occasion.”
Abigail ran her fingers over the gowns. She cared little about the colors, now that she couldn’t see them, but she had developed a keen interest in things like texture and ornamentation. She loved silks and satins, and she especially favored anything with beading or lace.
She found one of her favorites—it had a lace piece around the waist that she liked—and slipped into it. Her sister’s deft fingers appeared at her back, lacing her up.
“Opal is going to go to Father and complain that she has nothing to do,” Abigail said, laughing slightly. “You take such good care of me that I hardly need a ladies’ maid at all.”
“Opal has nothing to complain about,” Harriet said firmly. “She has plenty to do with keeping your clothes clean and your room tidy. What concern is it of hers if I want to take responsibility for helping you dress? Now, hand me that hairbrush. It’s by your right hand.”
Abigail fumbled around for a moment, found the brush, and passed it to her sister. Harriet ran the brush through Abigail’s hair, pulling it into a neat style at the back of her head.
“There we are,” she said. “You look wonderful. Father will be pleased.”
“It’s too bad we can’t say the same for Mother,” Abigail said ruefully.
“Mother will be perfectly happy with your appearance,” Harriet protested.
“Maybe,” Abigail agreed. “But she won’t be perfectly happy with me.”
Harriet didn’t respond, and Abigail didn’t blame her. There really wasn’t anything to be said. She was right, and Harriet knew it.
Abigail knew her mother loved her, but ever since the accident, it felt as if she had lost interest. It was as if Abigail was a sewing project to which she had once been devoted, but now the projected had been damaged, and Abigail’s mother had given up on the idea of repairing it. She had set it aside in favor of starting something new and unsullied.
Harriet was that something new.
Abigail could understand how her mother must feel. She remembered the way her mother had spoken to her in childhood, and she heard those same things when her mother talked to Harriet now. Ideas about finding a perfect gentleman to be courted by, to marry. Getting the perfect happy ending.
She wanted to raise a perfect daughter, and she will. It just isn’t going to be me.
The sisters left Abigail’s bedroom arm in arm. They often moved about the Manor in this fashion. Even though Abigail felt very confident in finding her way from place to place, there were always those days when something might be different. A servant might have accidentally left a door standing open that was usually closed, for example. Having her sister to guide her made Abigail feel just a touch more courageous.
And besides, she trusted Harriet completely. Being on Harriet’s arm was like having her sight back. She didn’t doubt a step as the two of them hurried down the stairs and into the dining room, where Abigail could smell the ham and eggs already being served.
“Harriet!” their mother exclaimed. “Don’t you look lovely today?”
Of course. It was typical that their mother would compliment Harriet and say nothing to Abigail.
Perhaps she thinks I simply don’t care to hear how I look. After all, it wasn’t as if Abigail could see herself.
But she knew that other people could see her, and it was always good to know that she was presenting herself in the way she wanted to. She hadn’t forgotten the early lesson of her childhood—wherever she went, whatever she did, she was representing her father.
I may have lost my sight, but I’m still the daughter of the Duke.
“Abigail, Harriet,” her father said fondly, and Abigail felt his broad hands on her shoulders as he kissed her forehead quickly. “Sit down. We have something of importance to discuss.”
“What is it?” Abigail asked, finding her way to her seat and feeling around her plate until her hand closed around her fork. “Is everything all right?”
“Oh, yes,” her father said. “Better than all right as it happens. Do you remember my good friend, the Duke of Wilmington?”
“Yes,” Abigail said.
“He’s the very thin gentleman who wears the garnet ring, isn’t he?” Harriet asked. “He comes to the Christmas Ball every year.”
“Yes, that’s him,” their father said. “He and I have been good friends since we were quite young.”
“You went to school together,” Abigail remembered.
“That’s right,” her father said, and she could hear the pride in his voice. “Very good, Abigail. You have a marvelous memory.”
Abigail pressed her lips together, hoping that she was hiding her smile successfully. She knew that her memory was better than average. It was something she and Harriet had discussed more than once. She needed to be able to remember everything that happened around her because she didn’t have her vision to rely on. She couldn’t recall the Duke of Wilmington as very thin, the way her sister had, and she had no idea what kind of ring he might have worn. She had learned other details about him instead.
“Why do you bring up the Duke of Wilmington, Father?” Harriet asked.
“Because his son, the Marquess of Gillingham, will be coming to stay with us for the summer,” their father explained.
Abigail heard her mother gasp. “A Marquess? Coming here? You never told me.”
“I’m telling you now,” her father said. “The arrangements weren’t finalized until last night.”
“Why is he coming?” Harriet asked.
Abigail felt a rush of anxiety. There was something about this situation—she couldn’t put her finger on what it was—that was making her feel nervous. Uncomfortable.
What have I got to worry about? This can’t possibly involve me.
And she was right. “He’s coming to meet you, Harriet,” their father said. “We’re going to discuss courtship and possibly marriage.”
“Oh, Harriet!” their mother said, sounding positively overwhelmed with joy. “Marriage to a Marquess! Could you imagine anything finer?”
“But I haven’t met him,” Harriet said doubtfully. “What if I don’t want to marry him?”
“Then no one will force you,” their father assured her. “You needn’t worry, Harriet. You’re only two and twenty years of age, after all. I’m in no particular hurry to see you married.”
“Two and twenty is not so young,” their mother objected. “She really ought to marry as soon as possible. You must promise to at least give the Marquess a fair chance, Harriet.”
Abigail could feel her sister’s doubt in the air and came to her rescue. “What is it, Harriet?” she asked. “If there’s anything about this that’s giving you pause, you ought to tell us. Right, Father?”
“That’s right,” their father agreed. “All I want is to see you happy.”
“Well, it’s just…Abigail,” Harriet said.
“What about me?” Abigail asked.
“You’re the eldest,” Harriet said. “You ought to marry first. Not me.”
There was silence around the table.
Abigail wondered what her parents were thinking.
She was too afraid to ask. A big part of her didn’t really want to know.
“Don’t worry about Abigail right now,” her father said at last. “The Marquess is coming to meet you, Harriet. He’ll be staying the whole summer, so you’ll have plenty of time to get to know him and to explore your feelings for him. I hope to see the two of you engaged to marry at summer’s end, but if for some reason that doesn’t happen, everything will be all right. There are many eligible young gentlemen out there.”
Father would like to see his house and his good friend’s house unite, though.
“All right, Father,” Harriet said at last. “I’ll look forward to meeting the Marquess tomorrow.”
“We all will,” their mother said happily. “Harriet, you and I ought to go into town today. We should purchase some new gowns for you to wear this summer while our guest is with us. We want to make sure you’re shown off to your best advantage.”
“Yes,” Abigail said quickly, before her sister could object to leaving her alone. “You should do that, Harriet.”
She ate the rest of her breakfast in silence, trying to sort through her feelings.
A gentleman is coming to stay with us. A stranger will be in our home all summer long.
But at least he wasn’t going to be here for her. At least she would—hopefully—be permitted to keep her distance.
“Can you believe it, Abigail?” Harriet sang out. “A Marquess, coming to court me?”
Abigail laughed. From where she sat on the bed, she could hear her sister’s footsteps dancing around the room. “Are you practicing for when you meet him and dance with him in real life?”
“I want to be prepared,” Harriet said. “I feel as if I’ve been waiting all my life for this moment.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” Abigail said. “Mother’s certainly been preparing you for it for a long time.”
“But what about you?” The bed sank down slightly beside Abigail, alerting her to the fact that her sister had taken a seat beside her. “You should be the one to be courted before me. You are the eldest.”
“No one’s ever shown any interest in me, Harriet,” Abigail said quietly. “You know that.”
“But Lord Gillingham has never taken an interest in me either,” Harriet said. “He’s not coming because he’s enthusiastic about me personally. He’s coming because his father and our father are friends. He wouldn’t mind if it was you, he was arranged to court, instead of me.”
Abigail sighed. “You’re generous to a fault, Harriet,” she said. “I can tell how excited you are about the prospect of being courted by a gentleman, but you’re willing to offer the opportunity to me.”
“Of course,” Harriet said. “You’re my sister. I love you more than anything else in the world. Your happiness means everything to me.”
Abigail reached over and embraced her sister. “You’re the best sister anyone could ever ask for,” she said. “I hope you know that.”
“Shall I tell Father to change the arrangement?” Harriet asked.
“No,” Abigail said. “The truth is, Harriet, I told Father a long time ago not to worry about finding a match for me.”
“What?” Harriet asked. “You did? You never told me that.”
“You would have tried to talk me out of it,” Abigail said.
“Of course, I would,” Harriet said. “Don’t you want to be married? To find love? You don’t want to live here with Mother and Father for the rest of your life.”
Abigail laughed. “It’s not so bad here,” she said. "Mother is perfectly pleasant to me, even if she does favor you, and Father and I are close.”
“Of course,” Harriet said. “But is your weekly chess game with Father worth sacrificing the chance to find love?”
“Harriet,” Abigail said gently. “I’m not going to find love.”
“Of course, you will! All you have to do is keep trying.”
“I’ve tried,” Abigail said. “You must have noticed that there haven’t been any gentlemen calling for me recently.”
“Don’t be silly, there was…” Harriet trailed off.
“There was no one,” Abigail said. “The last gentleman who came to dinner was Lord Halliday, and that was nearly a year ago.”
“Well, he was nice,” Harriet said.
“He was terrible,” Abigail said. “He spent the whole evening handing me things. You didn’t notice? Every time I reached for my glass, he picked it up and put it in my hand. I’m surprised I didn’t spill it because it was never where I expected it to be!”
“He was trying to be kind to you,” Harriet said. “He didn’t realize you could manage for yourself.”
“He cut my meat for me,” Abigail reminded her sister, “without me having asked. As if I were a child. If I needed my meat cut for me, for goodness’ sake, I would have the servants bring my plate out that way.”
“That’s true,” Harriet said. “Still, I think his intentions toward you were good. He was better than that horrible Lord Willis.”
“Oh, God,” Abigail said, remembering. “He was appalling.”
“He didn’t speak to you all night,” Harriet recalled. “He only spoke to father, and once or twice to Mother. It couldn’t have been more obvious that he was hoping to marry you to collect on our family’s money rather than out of any particular interest in you.”
“This is what happens when I let myself be courted by gentlemen,” Abigail said. “Either I find myself with someone truly ghastly, like Lord Willis, or with someone who looks down on me, like Lord Halliday. I couldn’t marry either gentleman. I couldn’t bear to spend my days with them.”
“I suppose it would be difficult, even with someone kind like Lord Halliday,” Harriet admitted. “It would be hard to live with someone who believed you to be incapable of anything.”
“That’s right,” Abigail said. “I may have lost my sight, but I’m not helpless. And even though it’s not exactly a fantasy, I would rather grow old with my parents, who respect me, than with a gentleman who never will.”
“That makes sense,” Harriet said reluctantly. “But it makes me sad, Abigail. How can I be accepting an offer of courtship—and maybe even of marriage—when my elder sister hasn’t?”
“You can do it because you have my blessing,” Abigail said gently. “You know how much you mean to me, Harriet. You know how much I want you to be happy.”
“I know,” Harriet said.
“Don’t you want to get to know Lord Gillingham?” Abigail asked. “Don’t you want to see if he’s the right gentleman for you?”
“I do,” Harriet admitted. “It’s a very enticing idea.”
“Then don’t waste any time feeling sad for me,” Abigail urged. “I want you to do this. It’s an exciting time in your life, and I want you to enjoy it to the fullest. You deserve that.”
Harriet flung her arms around Abigail. “You must promise that you’ll be by my side the whole time,” she said. “If nothing else, you can experience the joys of courtship with me.”
“Of course, I’ll be there,” Abigail said, laughing. “I’m not about to leave you alone with a gentleman! You’ll need a chaperone.”
“I’m sure Mother and Father will make us bring one of the maids along as well,” Harriet said. “But I’m so glad you feel that way, Abigail. This will all be so much more enjoyable with my sister by my side.”
“Well, I appreciate your being willing to share it with me,” Abigail said. “There’s certainly nothing compelling you to do that.”
“Nothing other than the fact that you’re my sister, and I love you,” Harriet said. “You know how I hate to see you missing out on anything.”
Abigail smiled. “The truth is that I’ve rarely felt I was missing out on any of what life has to offer,” she said. “You’re such a good sister that you’ve always made sure I had what I needed.”
Her sister’s weight on the bed lifted, and Abigail knew she had gotten to her feet. “Get up,” Harriet said.
“Why?” Abigail asked.
“Because I need someone to dance with,” Harriet said. “Come on, I have to practice. I don’t want to step on Lord Gillingham’s toes.”
Abigail laughed. “You’ve never once stepped on a gentleman’s toes,” she said. “You’re a very skilled dancer, and you know it.”
Still, she got to her feet. Her sister’s excitement was infectious.
“Do you think there will be a ball?” Harriet asked.
“I’m sure there will be several,” Abigail said. “Mother will want to show off the gentleman who’s come to court her daughter, and she’ll want to show you off as well. Didn’t she buy you several new gowns while you were in town today?”
“She did,” Harriet said. “More than I imagine I will need.”
“I’m sure Mother will find occasion for you to wear each one,” Abigail said. “You’re not the only one who’s been dreaming of this, you know. She’s been talking about your courtship since we were children.”
“Always mine,” Harriet said, slipping her hand into Abigail’s and pulling her into a basic dance step. “She never talked about yours, did she?”
“No,” Abigail said. “Not since I was very little.”
She did have memories of the days when those conversations had been about her. She recalled her mother telling her that one day a gentleman would visit and try to win her hand. She remembered believing that.
“Do you think she knew?” Harriet asked. “That you would give up on the idea of finding romance, I mean?”
Abigail lifted her sister’s hand and spun her slowly. “I think that imagining my future stopped being fun for Mother,” she said. “It wasn’t that she thought nothing good would happen for me. But she likes to fantasize, to daydream about perfect things, and I wasn’t perfect anymore.”
“Nobody’s perfect,” Harriet said. “I’m certainly not. I have a crooked nose, and my hair doesn’t curl nicely like yours does.”
Abigail smiled. “You’re sweet,” she said, “but those things can be covered up or overlooked. No one can overlook my blindness. It’s a part of everything I do. It’s impossible to be around me, to have me in your life, without considering it.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Harriet allowed. “But—”
“And when Mother imagines the perfect courtship, or the perfect wedding,” Abigail went on, “it’s easy for her to imagine pinning your hair so it curls or putting it up so that it doesn’t matter. But there’s nothing she can do to fix me. If she wants to imagine my wedding, she has to imagine it with a flaw.”
Harriet was quiet.
“It’s just not a fun thing for her to daydream about,” Abigail said, “so she stopped dreaming about it.”
“What about you?” Harriet asked.
“What about me?”
“Do you still daydream about your wedding? Even though you’ve decided to stop trying?”
Abigail hesitated before she answered. “I don’t know that I ever harbored such daydreams,” she said, “at least, not after my accident. It is too hard to imagine a gentleman who would want to marry me now.”
“I’m sure such gentlemen exist,” Harriet said.
“I’m not,” Abigail said. “How could anyone fall in love with a lady who will never look upon his face? How could anyone fall in love without looking the object of their affection in the eyes? So much of falling in love happens when two people gaze upon one another. I don’t think it can happen. Not for me.”
Harriet said nothing.
“Please don’t be sad, Harriet,” Abigail said. “The future still holds many fine things for me. After all, I’ll get to be involved in your courtship. I’ll still dance at your wedding. And one day, when you have children, I’ll be able to play with them, and I’ll love them as if they were my own.”
“You’ll be the best aunt anyone could ask for,” Harriet said.
“I’ll do my best,” Abigail agreed. “Now, for goodness’ sake, let’s stop this sad talk. This is a happy time. You’re going to be courted. Tell me what you’ll wear tomorrow to greet the Marquess!”
Harriet launched into a description of the gowns she’d purchased that day in town, listing the many colors she and their mother had chosen for the summer’s events.
Abigail listened. She had never explained to her sister that her memory of what each color looked like was dim. Her sister’s description of a lilac dress sounded lovely, but Abigail had no idea what it looked like or how the color would look on Harriet.
Still, she tried to imagine. She thought of Harriet descending the steps, a smile on her face, ready to meet Lord Gillingham.
I’m sure she’ll look positively radiant, no matter what she wears. She didn’t remember much about the visual world, but her sister had always been lovely.
As for Abigail—well, she’d be there for the Marquess’s arrival too, of course. She would make sure to wear something simple but elegant. She wanted to make a good impression, but she didn’t want to take any focus away from Harriet.
It’s her big day. I’m just there to be supportive.
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