(Four Years Earlier)
England’s rains did not abate even if Gwyn had hoped they would. She had just returned from being abroad with her aunt and waited breathlessly for the rain to let up so that she could cross the fields that separated her family home from the home of her love, Jack Shelton. Gwyn leaned her petite frame against the window that overlooked the fields and watched the rain pour out of the clouds.
At the tender age of sixteen, Gwyn was bursting with the excitement that only one of her age could muster as her mother looked on with a patient smile. Gwyn and Jack had been friends since childhood, having grown up at the same time. They had played in the same forest and creeks, having adventures with pretend swashbucklers, or sometimes they were the pirates.
Now, though, Gwyn was eager to see Jack and tell him of her trip abroad. She was just as eager to hold his hand and see that sparkle of amusement in his green eyes. Jack was only a few years her senior, but their families were expecting a betrothal between them soon. It was all Gwyn could do not to rush across the field and beat Jack to the asking. Gwyn knew that simply was not done, but waiting for the question was unbearable.
Gwyn sighed. It was much like waiting for the heavens to stop their torrential downpour. No, Gwyn would just have to wait. Her mother was watching her, and Gwyn would ruin her brand new dress, the dress that Gwyn had picked out in India specifically for Jack to see her in.
The rain finally seemed to slow, and Gwyn beamed with happiness as she ripped open the door and raced off across the field with her mother’s warning ringing in her ears, “Slow down, or you will fall, Gwyneth!”
Gwyn ran as fast as she dared and prayed fervently that the clouds kept their peace just a bit longer. By the time she reached the property line and slipped through the trees onto the Shelton family lands, Gwyn’s breath was coming in short puffs. She regretted immensely trying to run in the tight corset, but she persevered. She could see the familiar outline of Jack up ahead on the balcony, and her heart soared that he had waited for her there.
It was when she was almost to the edge of the light from the balcony window that she stopped cold and stared in disbelief. Jack was not alone, and although his back was to her, Gwyn could hear the distinct giggle that only a female could make when preening for a lover.
Gwyn found herself rooted for a moment. The world stood still. There was no sound. In her mind, she screamed with pain and fury, but no sound came out of her mouth. Gwyn turned and ran. She ran blindly as tears stung her eyes.
When she came in the door, she did not entertain her mother’s concerned gaze. Gwyn dashed upstairs and began ripping the dress from her with such ferocity that the chambermaid covered her mouth in fear at the young woman. “Mistress!” the chambermaid said in a whispered exclamation of shock. “Please, Miss, calm yourself, and let me help you. You’ll ruin your beautiful gown.”
“I want to ruin it,” Gwyn growled as she tore at the seams. She fought and struggled, but to her dismay most of the seams held. The maid helped her wriggle out of the dress, and Gwyn soon stood in only her corset and petticoat, her chest heaving as tears slid down her face.
The chambermaid looked at Gwyn in worry. “Is something the matter, Miss?”
“No,” Gwyn choked out. “Leave me.”
The maid looked conflicted as she eyed the half-dressed young woman. “Don’t you want me to find you something to wear?”
“Fine,” Gwyn huffed as she wiped her eyes. It was clear that the maid was not going to leave her be until she was properly attired. The maid quickly fetched a simple dress that Gwyn often favoured when she was just at home. As the maid helped her dress, Gwyn just kept seeing Jack’s betrayal. How could he?
By the time she was properly attired, Gwyn had set her mind on what she must do. Everyone always said she was as stubborn as her father, well maybe she was. Gwyn stomped downstairs and found her mother waiting for her in the sitting room on one of the soft couches. The woman looked up almost expectantly at her daughter.
“Mother, I have a confession to make,” Gwyn said as she folded her hands primly in front of her. Her curly brown hair, still quite drenched from the damp night she had just been out in, clung to the sides of her face.
Lady Stanton eyed her daughter curiously. “What sort of confession have you brought back to England with you?”
Gwyn swallowed and forced the lie from her lips, “I have become quite taken with an English missionary back in India. I wish to return there and live with Aunt Mabel.”
“Is that so?” Lady Stanton asked in a measured tone. “I did not acquire that impression from my sister’s letters. She went on at length to say how excited you were to come home to your young man.” Lady Stanton lifted a teacup from a silver tray that was set before her on a low table.
Gwyn loathed that her mother always seemed to see right through her, but she held her ground. “My aunt is not nearly as perceptive as you, Mother. She does miss things from time to time. I stand by what I say, and I would like to return to India. One might say that I wish never to set foot in England again,” Gwyn said the last part with feeling.
Lady Stanton looked up at Gwyn and watched her daughter’s face for a moment before she dipped her head. “I see no reason that a young lady such as you should not have the experience of living abroad if she chooses,” Lady Stanton said in a way that made Gwyn feel as if the woman knew all her deepest and darkest secrets.
Gwyn’s eyes went to the floor to keep her mother from peering right into her soul and see the horrible sight of Jack’s betrayal laid bare. “Thank you for understanding, Mother,” Gwyn said softly.
“What should we tell young Lord Shelton when he comes to see why you have forsaken England?” Lady Stanton asked with a deeply curious look. “Or is that what you were so eager to go to Shelton Hall for this evening? Saying your goodbyes, were you?”
With a slow, measured breath, just like her mother had taught her, Gwyn kept her calm exterior in place. She nodded. “I was going to, but I lost my nerve, I fear. I would be most appreciative if the message could merely be passed onto him.”
“I would think that after all this time, you would want to tell him yourself, dear daughter,” Lady Stanton said in a disapproving click of her tongue. “You and he have been close your whole lives. Will he not be upset that you have changed plans on him?”
“I didn’t change plans, he did—” Gwyn said before she could catch herself.
Lady Stanton eyed Gwyn steadily before she said, “I see. He shall be given your message. I will make arrangements for you to return to your aunt’s abode in India, but do understand that never coming back to England is not an option, Gwyneth. After all, you and your missionary husband,” Lady Stanton said with a knowing smile, “will have to take over the estate one day.”
Henry visibly jumped, and the maid ducked back into the house. “Ah, Jack,” Henry said as he straightened his jacket even though it was not out of place. “Still on the lookout for your lady?”
“Mother has warned you about frolicking with the help,” Jack hissed as he stepped up onto the stone balcony beside his brother. “You’ll cost that girl her job, just like the one before and the one before that.”
Henry scoffed, “Oh come on, old man. It’s just a bit of fun.”
“You have a very warped idea of what fun is if you think it is worth the lives of those girls and the families they are trying to support,” Jack chastised.
Henry sighed and gave up on Jack as he turned to go back into the house. “If you are going to be so damnable ill, why don’t you just go over there and call on Gwyn?” Henry threw the unwanted advice over his shoulder as he sauntered back inside.
Jack sighed heavily and looked over at Stanton Manor. The house was half-hidden by the trees along the lines of the two properties. Perhaps he really should go see what the issue was that had kept Gwyn at bay.
The sound had barely echoed when Fulton, the Stantons’ doorman, pulled the door open. Fulton gave Jack a look that unsettled him. It was as if Fulton were judging Jack for some crime that he was unaware of, and Jack had the distinct urge to ask the man if anything was amiss.
Jack cleared his throat. “I’m here to call on Miss Stanton. I am concerned for her as she did not come to the house yesterday when I expected her,” Jack said, hoping that he sounded very courteous. It was hard to maintain full manners with people that Jack had grown up around. Fulton had watched Jack grow over the years, and Jack had never seen the look of disdain that now settled on the man’s face.
“A moment,” Fulton said in his thick accent before he shut the door and disappeared back inside the house.
Jack stood uncomfortably. He had never been left standing on the steps of the house before. Jack began to fear that something was dreadfully wrong and his palms sweated as his mind raced. Had something happened to Gwyn? Jack was envisioning all sorts of reasons why Gwyn might not have returned home when the door once again opened.
Instead of Gwyn, Jack looked into the disapproving eyes of the young woman’s mother, Lady Stanton, who stood tall and neatly dressed in a green gown with her hair braided and twisted around in an elegant spiral. “My daughter is not available, Mr Shelton. She is resting before so that she can leave early for her trip,” Lady Stanton said imperiously.
Jack frowned in confusion. “I am sorry. Did you say trip? I thought she had just returned. That is why I am here. I expected her last evening, but she never came. Is something the matter?” Jack was growing increasingly concerned with the coldness of the household, but at least Gwyn was okay as far as they would say. “Is she ill?”
“My daughter is perfectly healthy, Mr Shelton,” Lady Stanton assured Jack. “She did return home yesterday, but she insists on returning to India at once. She is rather eager to be back with her betrothed.”
The words stilled Jack’s heart. He fought to keep his expression polite but pain seared through him. “Betrothed?” Jack repeated the word, questioned it and held it up in front of Lady Stanton asking her to explain why she would say such a thing.
Lady Stanton heaved a sigh. “Yes. She expressed a fondness for an English missionary, and she wishes to return to India to live for at least the present time,” Lady Stanton said primly. “This really is none of your business, Mr Shelton. My daughter and yourself are not engaged, after all.”
“You know very well that I intended to ask for her hand in marriage when she returned from India,” Jack said losing all pretence of the polite refrain. How could the woman stand there so cold and tell him that Gwyn had suddenly decided to forsake him and move to India for some man that she had met while on holiday?
Lady Stanton’s shoulders lifted as she spoke, “It is nigh to impossible to control the wants of the heart, Mr Shelton. Perhaps if you had asked her sooner, then she would not be going back to India.”
“Can I speak with Gwyn?” Jack practically begged. There had to be some sort of misunderstanding. He and Gwyn were destined to be. They had been childhood friends long before they had become sweethearts, no there had to be something he could do. He could not just idly sit by while Gwyn threw everything away.
Lady Stanton’s expression softened with something akin to pity, but she held firm. “I do apologize, Mr Shelton, but as I said my daughter is resting. I will give her your regards when she awakens.”
Jack finally just nodded realizing that he was not going to be stepping foot into the house. He turned and walked away in a fog of numbness. Jack felt adrift and lost. If there had been one anchor in his life, it had been Gwyneth. She had always been his future. Now, what was he to do?
Gwyn’s mother had often told her that men were frivolous things prone to mischievous pursuits and dalliances with mistresses. Of course, Gwyn had merely thought that perhaps that was just other men. Jack had never seemed the sort, and he had always seemed as devoted to Gwyn as she was to him.
Shaking her head, Gwyn turned her back on the window and threw herself across the bed. It was a terribly dramatic thing to do, but Gwyn did not care. No one was there to see her, and she had no interest in listening to anyone at the moment, so that was just as well.
A few moments later there was a knock on the door before her mother’s voice called, “Gwyneth, Lord Jack Shelton has just been to see you.”
Gwyn rolled over and got up. She smoothed down her dress before she answered the door. Gwyn asked quietly, “Did he seem upset?”
“Should that matter?” Lady Stanton asked as her eyebrows angled up curiously. Without giving Gwyn the chance to answer the woman continued, “He seemed a bit bewildered at the news that you were leaving England. He’ll survive, and you must do what you need to do, Gwyneth. Now, you should rest. Your trip will exhaust you, otherwise.”
Gwyn nodded and said, “Thank you, Mother. I shall try.”
When Lady Stanton gave Gwyn a pleased smile and turned to leave, Gwyn eased the door closed. Her eyes stung with denied tears. Gwyn sat down heavily on the bed. By this time tomorrow, Gwyn would be well on her way from England. Gwyn fell back onto the bed and stared at the ceiling as she muttered, “Away from England and from Jack Shelton.”
Jack set the glass he had just lifted to his lips down on the table far harder than necessary. He had only just come in to grab a tumbler of brandy when his brother had found him in their father’s study. While Henry was the heir apparent and inherited the titles, Jack knew that even his mother held little hope that Henry would settle down any time soon.
“I don’t really feel like talking about it. I regret already with impunity that I mentioned it to you, to begin with,” Jack said with aggravation to his older brother.
Henry took no offence at Jack’s tone and carried on as if they were having a most civil conversation. “Did she not say why she was going back to India?”
“I did not speak with her,” Jack ground out before he downed the remainder of the tumbler of spirits. He placed it back on the tray and sighed. “I spoke only to the doorman and her mother as Gwyneth was resting for her return journey.”
Henry frowned, clearly dissatisfied with some portion of the tale. “It does not square up,” Henry said as he pursed out his lips in thought. It was an expression that Jack had often compared to a fish, but it gave him no amusement at present. Henry shook his head and continued, “If she were going to just return to India, it would have been easier and more cost-efficient just to remain in India and merely write home to inform them of her state of mind.”
“I’ll admit,” Jack agreed, “that it does seem an odd solution, but Gwyneth never was much for letting what was most logical get in her way.”
Henry nodded and eyed his brother with worry. “They told you why she went back to India, didn’t they? You are just too noble to admit it, am I right?”
“Yes,” Jack said wearily, “they told me.”
Henry motioned Jack to continue as he poured himself a tumbler of brandy as if he had been inspired to drink by Jack’s tale. “And what would that reason be?”
“She’s going to marry some man of God that she met there,” Jack said with a deep frown. “I wish I could say that I was joking.”
There was a long pause that ended with Henry pouring a second tumbler of brandy for Jack who gratefully took the glass of spirits from his brother. “Well, here is to finding out before the betrothal had been cast in stone,” Henry said as he tried to muster a jovial laugh.
Both young men solemnly took a drink out of their tumblers. Jack said quietly, “I suppose that is true. I do not think I have had time to fully reconcile all of it. I keep expecting her to burst through those doors and tell me that it was an ill-timed prank.”
“When will you tell Mother?” Henry asked curiously. “She is quite busily planning out your married life, after all.”
Jack looked at the glass in his hand and nodded. “I think she was always more excited about the prospect of Gwyn and I marrying than either Gwyn or I.” Jack sighed, “I should tell her soon.”
“I imagine she will not be too pleased with young Gwyneth after this,” Henry noted.
The thought had occurred to Jack that this could put the alliance of their two families quite in jeopardy. Having friends and allies were necessary for this day and age with the war waging in France. Jack made a decision and told Henry, “Speak not of why Gwyn is forsaking the betrothal. It will do no good to have our two families at each other’s throats. I will simply tell Mother that the betrothal will not happen. These things do unfortunately happen, and it should not affect the future of the friendship that our families have built over these long years.”
Henry eyed his little brother for a long moment before he said, “I do believe you missed your calling, Little Brother. You have the makings of a good ambassador.”
“Yes, well, I think I have also decided that England is not the place for me right now,” Jack said earnestly. “With Gwyn gone, it will be nothing but a hollow reminder, and I want to make something of myself. You have the Dukedom to keep up, and I believe I shall do as Father has been asking and sign on with the army.”
Henry’s mouth set in a distressed thin line. “Little Brother, I cannot bear the thought of you at war. I do wish you would reconsider.”
“You are just upset that I will not be around to clean up your messes, Big Brother,” Jack said with the first hint of a smile since he had returned from Stanton Manor.
Henry nodded solemnly. “Perhaps that is so. I still do not fancy you with more holes than you have now,” Henry said wryly.
“Nor do I,” Jack agreed heartily. “I will endeavour to avoid projectiles and sharp objects.”
Henry chuckled. “You do that, Little Brother. You do that.”
Jack dressed with the help of his manservant. Normally, Jack would strike up a conversation with the young man, but he had much on his mind today. When he was dressed appropriately, Jack went downstairs to find his mother.
Lady Shelton was seated primly in her favourite sitting room with an embroidery loom laid on the soft cushion beside her. “You are up early,” she noted with a smile that soon faded when she saw her son’s face. “What is the matter, Jack?”
Jack sat down in one of the overstuffed chairs near his mother. He had always loathed the chairs with their pattern of pears and apples, but today he found them slightly comforting. “Gwyn and I have called off the betrothal,” Jack said as quickly as he could just to get the words out.
“You cannot call off something that never was, Jack,” his mother corrected. “Now what is this all about?”
Jack lifted his shoulders helplessly and said, “Things just sometimes do not work out, Mother. This is one of those things. I do not wish there to be any ill will between our families because of our silliness.”
“Of course not,” Lady Shelton said simply. “I would never be so childish as to hold a grudge over such as that. It is hard to make any marriage work, and it is better to have the good sense to see the faults and acknowledge them.”
Jack nodded. He felt relieved that his mother seemed to be willing to accept his version of events. It would make things easier in the long term, even if Jack himself wanted little to do with the Stanton family at the moment. Jack cleared his throat. “I thought I heard Father come in late last night. I trust his business dealings in London went well?”
“You would have to ask him. I have not as yet been graced with his presence,” Lady Shelton said with a soft laugh.
Jack nodded and stood up. “I am going to join the army, Mother. I need to speak with Father about it, but I just want you to know.”
The woman looked stricken at first, but gradually she returned the smile to her face with effort. She said softly, “If that is where your future pulls you then, so be it. Just be safe, Jack.”
Jack took hold of his mother’s hand that she held out to him. The woman clung to his hand desperately. Although she would never beg him not to go, Jack could feel it in her trembling fingers. “I will do my best to return safely, Mother. I just feel this is something I have to do right now,” Jack said gently to the woman.
Lady Shelton nodded as she reached her free hand up to brush Jack’s hair out of his face, much as she had done when he was a child. “Then you have to follow your heart, Jack,” she said with a smile. “I understand that, but it is hard for a mother to let her child go to such a dangerous fate.”
“I will return,” Jack promised.
Lady Shelton squeezed her son’s hand. “You always have kept your promises. I will hold you to this one as well.”
She had not even been able to bear a glance at Shelton Hall, let alone hold a conversation with Jack. Her heart ached for the boy she knew. It was hard to rationalize the man that Jack had become with the boy he once was. In the space of one year had Jack really changed so much?
“I wish I had never gone to India to live with Aunt Mabel,” Gwyn whispered fervently.
The maid who accompanied Gwyn looked at her in alarm. “Miss? Are we not to be travelling?”
“I meant when I left originally with my aunt,” Gwyn clarified. She looked over at the young woman seated next to her. “It must be hard for you to be forced to go with me.”
The maid shook her head and said quietly, “Not really, Miss. I was chosen to go because I don’t have any family here anymore. The other girls have children or parents to look after.” The young maid eyed her mistress curiously. “No disrespect, Miss, but I thought you were set to marry that young man across the fields.”
“Jack and I were planning to be wed,” Gwyn said as she blinked away tears. “Things change, though, Sarah.”
The maid nodded. “I suppose they do, Miss.” There was a knowing in the young woman’s eyes. Sarah was a couple of years older than Gwyn, and her life had obviously held some tragedy that Gwyn dared not pry into.
The young women looked out the windows as the only home they had known fell further and further behind them. Perhaps it was for the best, Gwyn thought. Sarah could be away from the shadows of whatever past haunted her, and Gwyn could potentially find a suitable match in India. There were plenty of gentlemen who resided there, after all.
It was with the staunch determination of her mother that Gwyn faced her uncertain future. She had made her choice, and she was going to see it through no matter where it took her. Sarah looked over at Gwyn and gave her mistress a brave smile. “India might be good for us,” Gwyn said to the maid.
“It will be an adventure, Miss,” Sarah agreed. “I’ve never even been outside the township much, let alone the country.”
Gwyn laughed. “Then you are in for a treat,” she told the maid. “India is really quite lovely. The food is delicious and the people vibrant. Near my aunt’s home, there are fields of awash in colours from the produce the locals grow. There are streets strung with fabrics so soft that you want to wrap up in them and the smells of spices drift on the wind like wildflowers.”
“The way you describe it, I’m surprised you left at all,” Sarah said with a grin.
Gwyn’s mouth dipped into a frown, and she said, “I had a good reason to come home, or I thought I did. However, like I said, things change.”
“He must have hurt you something fierce,” Sarah said softly.
Gwyn shrugged. “I am not even certain that he knows that I know his secret. Truthfully, he probably is quite upset with me, but I am not going to let thoughts of rogues such as Jack Shelton get in the way of my tomorrow.”
“Here, here,” Sarah cheered quietly to keep the driver from overhearing. “Men can be quite the despicable lot. I heard that Jack’s brother is quite the rogue himself. He got my friend Bess let go from Shelton Hall because he wouldn’t let her alone.”
Gwyn gasped, “That’s horrible.”
“And not the first time he’s done similar from what I’ve heard from the Shelton’s staff,” Sarah said with disdain. “I think you are better off away from that lot, Miss.”
Gwyn had to agree. “It would appear so,” she whispered. “It is so odd that you can think you know someone and yet not really know them at all.”
“They can be satisfied with their ridiculous conquests,” Sarah said as she grew more comfortable with Gwyn. The young lady was nearly her age, and Gwen could already feel a friendship growing between them. Sarah smiled. “We have adventures ahead of us, you and I.”
“So true,” Gwyn said with a bright smile as she clasped her hands together in her lap. “I’m glad you are here to share them with me, Sarah.”
“The Captain of Her Betrayed Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
After what should have been one of the happiest nights of her life turned tragic, Gwyn decides to run away from England and everything she knew and loved. For four years, she lived in India far away from memories of the man who had broken her heart to pieces. But then, an urgent letter suddenly arrives and beckons her to return home! Her family is in shambles and her father sick. She has little choice but to do her part and step back into society. That would have been a lot easier, if Jack Shelton, the man who taught her to put trust in no one, had not returned from war. How can she move on when her thoughts seem determined to surround the man?
Four years ago, Jack decided to join the army, when the woman he had loved fiercely had fled with no sign as to why. Now it’s time Jack returns home, to find himself in an unexpected situation. Not only did his family call upon him to redeem their name, but Jack is also forced to face Gwyn Stanton. This woman left him questioning everything, when she raced off to India without a word as to why she had broken off their engagement. As much as Jack tries to do what he must for his family’s sake, Gwyn is everywhere. Why does she seem to hate him so much?
The announcements of Jack’s impending betrothal and Gwyn’s own ardent suitor seem to mean the end for everything that Jack and Gwyn might rekindle… but can this love really be buried? Will they show their true feelings to each other after all these years?
“The Captain of Her Betrayed Heart” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.