“Are you listening, Peter?”
Peter Compton, Marquess of Northampton, snapped his head up and smiled at his mother. He listened for the hundredth time as she spouted her grand scheme for his marriage.
“Of course, Mother.” He took a sip of Scotch and tried to listen. Since he was a young boy, his mother had been planning his betrothal, his intended five years his junior. He had not paid attention to Lady Abella DuBois when they were young. However, after returning from the Continent and her father’s native France, a fine lady straight from finishing school, his interest had been piqued. She was beautiful, to be sure. However, she could also be vain and manipulative. He had watched her wrap her father around her little finger, cajoling until she got exactly what she wanted. If she thought he would give in as easily as her father, she had quite a surprise waiting for her.
“I’ve invited Lady DuBois and Abella to stay with us for a few weeks during the season since you refuse to stay in town the whole summer.”
He rolled his eyes and stood, tired of sitting so long as she lectured him. “Mother, I’ve told you time and again that I cannot run the estate from town indefinitely. I must travel back and forth to make sure all is running smoothly.”
“Good evening, Mother. Peter. I hope I’ve not kept you waiting too long.” His little sister, Amelia, now eleven years old, was starting to blossom into a beautiful young lady. Mother was allowing her to take her meals with them in the evenings, now that she was grown. She approached Peter, giving him a quick peck on the cheek.
Peter adored his little sister, growing into a sort of father figure for her. Their father had passed away the month before she was born. It had come as a shock to them all when he had gone out riding one afternoon, his horse coming home without him. Peter had helped search their grounds, never thinking that he would find his father dead, his neck broken from a nasty fall. The fact that his sister had never met him still filled him with guilt and sorrow.
He had been a wonderful father to Peter, patient and understanding. When he died, his mother had changed, becoming hard and cold towards him. She wouldn’t even look at Amelia after she was born. For weeks she simply languished in the bed she had given birth in, grieving over her departed husband.
When she finally got out of bed, prompted by her battle-ax of a sister, she was a different woman.
“Lady DuBois and Abella will arrive on the 5th of May, so we’ll want to make sure the house and grounds are in pristine condition.” His mother came to Amelia’s side, looking down her nose at her daughter. “Amelia, how many times have I told you not to interrupt me when I’m speaking?” Their mother never raised her voice, but Amelia shrank nonetheless.
“I apologize, Mother. I did not know I was interrupting.” Amelia left Peter’s side and walked to the far end of the room. Peter hated how his mother treated her like she was a burden.
“Very well, I will make sure all is ready…”
“I am not finished,” she interrupted. Peter closed his mouth and nodded for her to continue. There was no arguing with her. “It will be the perfect time to propose to Abella. I want you to do it while they are staying here.”
Peter was taken aback. “Propose? Already?”
“You’ve dragged your feet long enough, Peter. It’s high time you settled down and produced an heir for the estate.” She turned as if they were talking about something as mundane as the weather, not his future. He glanced over his shoulder at Amelia, who was pretending not to listen, all the while catching every word. She met his gaze, compassion filling her eyes.
“What about gaining her father’s permission? Surely I will need to seek his blessing first.” Peter balked, looking for any excuse to forestall what he knew was inevitable.
“Nonsense. We’ve been planning this since you were children. He has given his blessing time and again. Lord DuBois wants to see this match come about as much as any of us.” She flicked her hand, signaling that she was done with the conversation. “Let’s go to dinner.”
The butler opened the door, and they all filed into the dining room. Amelia bounded over to him and took his hand, giving it a squeeze. “Chin up, Peter,” she whispered. He smiled down at her, feeling that if she were for him, he could get through anything.
He waited until their mother and Amelia were seated before he took his seat. Ever since his father had passed away, his mother had insisted he take the foot of the table, signifying that he was now head of the household. She sat at the head of the table as the mistress of the house. Although she would have preferred sitting next to him., Amelia was made to sit to their mother’s right. If she made the slightest mistake or even chewed too loudly, a heavy handled butter knife was used to bring correction. His mother wielded the unlikely weapon, knocking Amelia on the knuckles whenever Amelia made a mistake. And of course, there was never an evening where she didn’t make some small infraction. Nothing was ever exactly as his mother would wish it.
“Sit up, Amelia. You are not a savage,” she snapped.
For the thousandth time, Peter dreamed of taking Amelia away on a long trip, leaving their mother behind, of course. What his mother refused to see was how kind-hearted and compassionate Amelia was. She would bend over backward to gain her mother’s approval. The sad truth was all too clear to Peter. There was nothing either of them could do to achieve their mother’s admiration. She had closed off her heart to them long ago.
Amelia ate in silence, her mother having pounded into her the old adage that “children should be seen and not heard.” His mother looked down the table at him, taking a sip of wine. “You should take Abella riding and propose to her on the hill overlooking the estate.”
Amelia gave him a cautious look, questioning him. He shrugged, swallowing his bite and wiping his mouth. “That is an idea,” he replied. He was still not sure about the betrothal. Even though he was mildly interested in Abella now, he still did not know her well. He sensed that she had changed much during her interim in France. Peter would prefer to get to know her better before he took such a momentous step.
“What do you mean, ‘that is an idea’? It is tradition.” His mother placed her wine glass down, wincing slightly. She touched her temple and closed her eyes. Peter glanced at Amelia and frowned.
“Mother? Are you quite alright?” he asked.
She did not answer for several seconds. When she did look up, her eyes looked tired, her face drawn. She gave a weak smile, “Of course, I’m alright. I have a slight headache, that is all. Please excuse me, I will retire for the evening.”
Peter was immediately put on the alert. His mother never excused herself from dinner unless she was extremely ill. He stood and met her at the door leading out into the hall. “Are you sure, mother? Shall I call for a doctor?”
She frowned at him, waving him off. “Nonsense. I don’t need a doctor, son— only a good night’s sleep. Finish your dinner, and I shall see you in the morning.” She nodded at Amelia, sighed in frustration. “Amelia, do stop slouching. Do you want to end up with a hunchback?”
Amelia straightened and bit their mother good night. When the door closed, Peter turned slowly to take his seat. Amelia gave him an impish grin, taking up her plate and moving down to his end of the table. It was a rarity when their mother was not at dinner with them. They both seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. He understood his mother wanting to teach her to act with decorum, but sometimes he felt she went too far.
“What is this about you getting engaged?” Amelia asked, taking a bite of her food excitedly.
“Mother demands that I propose soon.”
“But you do not love Lady Abella, do you? Oh, how tragic!” She looked appalled.
Peter laughed, “You read too many novels, Amelia. I suppose it cannot be avoided any longer.” He took a bite, amused by her antics. Amelia helped him see the fun in life. Ever the optimist, she believed in true love and happy endings, despite her painful upbringing.
On the other hand, he tended to be more severe and focused on the tasks at hand. He had little time or inclination towards the imagination. Amelia helped to balance out his serious nature, of which he was glad. The last thing he wanted was to end up cold and unfeeling like his mother.
They spent an enjoyable evening together, letting their otherwise strict rules set by their mother fall by the wayside. She talked of the novel she had started reading, some nonsense called Pride and Prejudice. He had heard of the author before, a woman of humble origins, but had taken little notice. His tastes ran more towards science and history.
When it was time for Amelia to retire, he walked with her out into the hall and kissed her on the cheek before sending her up the stairs.
She let out a contented sigh. “If only every evening could be like this,” she said.
“Indeed,” he agreed. He waved from the landing as she blew him a kiss goodnight, her brunette curls bouncing up and down as she bounded to her room. “If only…”
Peter was awakened early the next morning by furtive knocking on his bedroom door. He awakened slowly, blinking several times to clear the blurriness from his eyes. “Yes! What is it!” he called. Why were they making such an unholy racket?
“I’m so sorry to disturb you, Your Grace. But you must come quickly. It’s your mother,” a muffled voice said from the other side of the large wooden door. His heart skipped a beat, and he jumped out of bed, wrapping a dressing gown around him. He padded over to the door in his bare feet and opened the door.
“What’s happened? Is she ill? I was afraid of that last night. I’ll send for a doctor.” Peter started down the hall to go to the study.
“No, sir. That is, we’ve already sent for the doctor. But I’m afraid it’s too late…”
Peter halted in his tracks. “What do you mean?” He followed the butler down the hall to his mother’s room, dreading each step he took.
When he reached the open door and walked in, he could see his mother’s maid weeping by the bedside, her face covered with her hands. When she saw him enter, she approached hesitantly. “I’m so sorry, Your Grace. I found her like this…”
She motioned towards the bed. As he neared, he could see that her eyes stared off into the distance, cold and unseeing. He sucked in a breath. The right side of her face was limp, her jaw standing open. It was as if all the muscles on that side of her face had slackened.
“What happened?” he breathed, speaking to no one in particular. The maid approached, coming to his side silently.
“The best we can surmise is that she had a stroke in the middle of the night, sir.”
A week later, Peter and Amelia stood at the side of the grave, watching as their mother’s casket was lowered into the ground. They listened in a daze as the reverend read from Ecclesiastes. “…To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die…”
He placed an arm around Amelia’s shoulders. They were well and truly orphans now.
One Year Later
Miss Catherine Dalton woke up early, as she did every morning and stretched her arms above her head. Grey shadows crept across the floorboards of the room she shared with her sixteen-year-old sister, Eliza. Her sister snored lightly beside her in the bed they had shared since they were little girls. With a three year age gap between them, Catherine had always been the responsible one, and that included waking up early to help her father open shop.
Dressing quickly, Catherine went downstairs to ready their little bookshop for business. Catherine had only ever known the life surrounding the bookshop located on one of London’s busy streets. She loved everything about the world her parents had created at the Dalton Book Shop, the customers becoming more like family over the years. Someday, Catherine hoped to take the business over from her father.
She passed the front counter and opened the curtains, letting in the growing light of dawn. Catherine lived for the early morning quiet, a time when she was able to be alone with her thoughts as she put the books away. She took pride in cleaning the shop, making it ready to put on its best face for the day ahead.
When all was shipshape, she went back into the little apartment that abutted the shop. Her mother was starting breakfast in the kitchen while her father read the newspaper. “Good morning, Mama. Papa. Isn’t it a beautiful day?” she breathed cheerily.
“You say that every morning, my dear.” Her father smiled as she leaned down to give his cheek a quick peck.
“Yes, I do. Is Eliza still asleep?”
“Of course. You know your sister would never willingly wake up before noon.” Her mother rolled her eyes and motioned up the stairwell with the porridge spoon.
“Not to worry. I’ll wake her up,” Catherine said with an impish grin. It gave her great pleasure to wake her sister up each morning. She climbed the stairs, stomping as loudly as she could and calling Eliza’s name. “Eliza! Wake up, lazy bones! You’ll sleep the day away!”
When she got to the landing, she could hear Eliza groan from behind the cracked door. Catherine pushed the door open, seeing Eliza had curled up in the blankets, a pillow covering her head. Smiling, she laid down on the bed and threw an arm over her sister. “Breakfast is nearly ready,” she stated. Another groan was all that answered her. “Come now, Eliza. Must we go through the same rigmarole every day?”
Eliza turned over, throwing her arm out of the blankets. “I don’t know. Must you wake me up with such force every day?” She rubbed her eyes and stared up at the ceiling. “For once, I’d like to wake up on my own…”
“If we allowed that, you would never get up. Breakfast in bed, m’lady?” Catherine feigned a bow and got off the bed, throwing open the curtain covering the small window. “It’s going to be a lovely day, Eliza. Now get out of that bed and come down to breakfast.”
Instead of heeding her words, Eliza promptly turned over and covered her head with the coverlet once again. Rolling her eyes, Catherine plopped down on the bed. “What’s got you so down today, sis? You’re not usually so glum as this.”
Eliza’s muffled voice came from under the blankets. “I’m tired of this life, Cat. I just want to get on with my life.”
“What do you mean? Like find a husband and start a family?” Catherine smiled. “Once you have children, you’ll never sleep again.” She coaxed the blankets off her sister’s face and smiled down at her. “That is, if you marry a regular bloke. Perhaps if you found a rich husband you could take breakfast in bed and have a nurse to take care of your brood of children for you.”
Eliza frowned up at her. “Go ahead and make fun. It’s well enough for you to want to stay here at the bookshop for the rest of your life. But I have dreams beyond this place.”
Catherine softened. “I have dreams too, sis.” She had been writing a novel of her own since she was fifteen, hoping to publish someday. Female authors were still looked upon as being fit only for entertaining women. However, she had illusions of grandeur, with visions of her works being read by the masses. Perhaps she would have to publish under a pseudonym, but at least her words would touch the world.
Eliza was quiet for a long while, and Catherine was afraid she was drifting off to sleep again. Their mother called for them to come down, announcing that breakfast was served. “Alright, get up.” Catherine grabbed a handful of the blankets and ripped them off of Eliza’s body. Eliza moaned in protest, trying to get them back. However, Catherine had already taken them clean off the bed. “Now, you have no excuse for going back to sleep.”
Eliza sat up groggily and glared at her. “You are cruel, sis.” She swung her feet over the edge of the bed and stood. Starting to dress, Catherine left her alone, satisfied that she had woken her up. She made the bed while Eliza tied her long black hair behind her shoulders with a ribbon. Catherine did the same with her own dark tresses. Glancing in the small mirror hanging above the washbasin, Catherine studied her reflection. She had wished her hair was a light golden color as a child, but at least her eyes were a lovely pale blue. Eliza said she was lucky, having been born with “boring brown eyes.”
Eliza’s appearance was anything but boring. She was a classic beauty, which all the boys seemed to notice. Eliza hardly detected their advances. On the other hand, Catherine saw the way men looked at her and avoided their hungry glances. Catherine was in line to marry first. She would have to if Eliza were to find a husband. Their parents had insisted that Catherine marry before Eliza would be allowed to enter a courtship.
Catherine had tried and failed to dissuade her father from such a stipulation, but he would not be moved. “It is time you were settled, Catherine. Eliza has plenty of time to find a beau. You, on the other hand, are well…”
“Becoming an old maid?” she had finished. She had lost count of how many times they had had the same conversation. Catherine loved her father deeply and agreed with him on most everything else. What he did not understand was that she wanted to run the bookshop on her own. And she did not need a husband by her side to do so. Of course, she wanted to marry. Someday. However, she did not want to marry just for the sake of having a husband. She wanted to be in love with her husband, as childish as it might sound.
Catherine straightened in front of the mirror. Eliza came to her side and nudged her over with her hip. “My turn.” Catherine laughed and let her have her turn before the mirror.
“I’ll see you downstairs.”
Catherine drank a cup of tea and then went out into the bookshop to sweep the entryway. Her father brought in an armful of new books and set them down on the front counter. “These need to be put away when you’ve finished that.” He set them down and went back into the kitchen to eat his breakfast.
She finished sweeping and set the broom aside. Taking up the stack of books one by one, she read through the titles. One, in particular, caught her attention, and she thumbed her way to the first chapter. She started reading as she took up the others and began to put in the appropriate sections.
“What have you found now?” Eliza asked, watching her from the doorway leading into the kitchen. “Another adventure, I presume?”
“It is about India and the…”
“Yes, yes. You always talk of traveling, Catherine. When are you going to leave this shop and actually do it?”
Catherine closed the book and climbed the ladder, placing it on a shelf in the geography section. She frowned slightly at her sister as she climbed down, her heart stung a little by her accusatory tone. Eliza did not understand. Catherine had so many dreams beyond the shop, but she also loved her life in the confines of it. Eliza had never loved the shop as she had.
“I will. Someday. And you shall come with me, if you’re not married by then.” Catherine gave Eliza a wink and walked past her into the kitchen.
“I’ll never be married at the rate you are going. You have to be sacrificed first, remember?” Eliza plopped down in a seat at the small kitchen table, and Catherine sat down gracefully beside her.
“You’ll never find a husband if you go around plopping into chairs like that.” Their mother chided Eliza.
“Why should I put in an effort when we are back here by ourselves? Papa doesn’t care. Do you, Papa?”
Without looking up from his newspaper, he answered, “Listen to your mother.”
Eliza rolled her eyes. “Nothing is ever good enough.” She placed her elbow on the table and cradled her head in her hands, giving a yawn that could have swallowed the Andes. Catherine patted Eliza’s chin, and she promptly closed it, straightening as her mother served them steaming hot bowls of porridge.
“I don’t know why we have to have porridge every morning for breakfast.” She tucked into the meal regardless, frowning at her lot.
Catherine followed suit, saying nothing as she knew that her sister’s foul mood would soon evaporate as she woke up. She took a sip of tea and thought about what her sister had said. Was she using the shop as an excuse not to get on with her life? She was a well-educated and mildly attractive young woman. She could have any pick of hardworking lads from around their neighborhood. Perhaps her father was right, and she was holding out for a fairytale love. “That kind of love does not exist, Catherine. Love is choice, not a feeling.”
Her parents would know well enough. It took hard work to have a love like the one they shared. Her mother had told her countless times that love was proven in the hard times, not necessarily in the good times. She longed to find a man that would love her even on her worst days, who would stand by her as she ran the shop. She wanted a man who could come alongside her dream, someone who would want to grow old with her here and raise a family.
They ate quickly, knowing that when their father folded his newspaper and took his last sip of tea, that breakfast would be over. In recent years, Catherine’s father had left the running of the shop to her. At the same time, he went around to different estate sales or purchased more merchandise. Likewise, he would speak with authors who came in, asking to advertise their works in the window.
Catherine was perfectly content to run the shop while her father went about town on business. She had proven her worth, and her knowledge of the works they kept on hand made her a favorite with the customers. Eliza was equally content to sweep or return books to shelves, doodling in the back corner when things were slow.
Catherine looked forward to the slow times as well, taking the opportunity to read anything and everything, soaking up knowledge like a little sponge. She read voraciously, wanting to know about different cultures and lands, places far from England. Despite Eliza’s beliefs that Catherine was all talk and no action, she did have plans to someday explore the world. That was another problem when looking for a husband. She had to find a man who shared that dream. They would travel the world, looking for obscure and beautiful books to bring back with them to the shop. If only she could find a man to live up to the dream she had built up in her mind.
“A Bookseller’s Charming Marquess” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
With her talent for bringing books to life, nine-teen-year old Catherine Dalton has taken it upon herself to make sure her father’s bookshop runs like a well-oiled machine. Her creative nature along with her love for literature made it her life’s purpose to help others cultivate a love for books. Even though Catherine wants nothing more than to continue living and working at the small, cosy bookshop, alongside her family, yet, fate holds other plans for her… When a handsome, mysterious man walks into the bookstore, her world is turned upside down… Will she follow her cautious mind and consent to an unwanted marriage with another man of her class? Or she will let herself free to delve into a thrilling romance, like the ones she reads in her books?
Lord Peter Compton, the brooding, handsome Marquess of Northampton, struggles after the death of his parents, with bringing up his twelve-year-old sister. As they travel to London for the season, his little sister begs him to stop by a cute, little bookshop. Upon entering, Peter meets the fiery Catherine, whose eyes flash with intelligence and confidence and he is instantly stunned by her kind and vivid spirit. However, he cannot allow himself to be distracted by the intriguing shopgirl, as he must fulfill his duty and marry Lady Abella DuBois. She has everything a man in his position could want: a title, wealth, and good breeding. Yet, after meeting the breathtaking Catherine, his confidence in his match with Abella is severely shaken. Will his decision to ask her to tutor his sister cause his feelings to grow? Could there be more to marriage than duty alone?
As Catherine helps Peter’s sister with her lessons in the most imaginative ways, they get to know each other better and both cannot resist their undeniable emotions. However, when Abella sees Peter’s growing attraction for Catherine, she does everything in her power to tear her down. As Catherine and Peter finally acknowledge their deepest affection, outside forces will soon push them to face the cruel reality that wishes to keep them apart. Will the barriers and internal battles overpower them? With the odds stacked against them, how far are they willing to go to beat them and cherish the sunshine of their unique, true love?
“A Bookseller’s Charming Marquess” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.