Eric Price, the new Earl of Thornbury, had been described as many things in his life. His determination and bravery had been admired. His idealism had been considered a flaw.
But most of those opinions were the ones held by his late father. The same man from whom he received his fiery red hair and clear blue eyes. There was little else that they had shared in common.
That was all in the past now. The late Earl of Thornbury had passed away, leaving Eric to accept the title and all of the associated duties. And while he was comfortable taking them on, Eric secretly wished that he had a choice in his own life. He wished that he could have a say.
Someday, he would.
Or maybe that was just his idealism.
Whatever his future held, Eric was taking his time going through the past, looking at all of his father’s old belongings in one of the abandoned rooms upstairs.
The late Earl of Thornbury had passed away over a month prior, the result of his heavy weight and love of all manner of food and drink, a vice that he had not developed until the past few years. Before that, he had been considered quite handsome.
Eric pulled the sheet from one of his father’s old trunks and opened the brass buckle. It was a strange thing that it had been unlocked. His father had always been guarded about his belongings. More than likely, Eric’s mother had broken into the trunk long before now. She always had been suspicious of his father.
There appeared to be few things of import in the trunk. Some clothing, a few small paintings that Eric deemed to have been done by his grandmother, a woman known for her skill.
And underneath everything, Eric saw a stack of letters tied together with a little blue thread.
He undid the thread and saw that they were letters from a woman named Liza Lockhart with an address in Finchley.
Eric had never heard of this woman before and it was strange that his father would keep letters from her. After all, he was not a sentimental man, in general.
Unfolding the first of the letters, Eric allowed himself to read it. Instantly, he was shocked.
My Dearest Frederick,
How unbearable it is that we should now have to be separated! I know that the fault was not yours, but it still wounds me. As I write this, it has been three whole days since I was sent away. Three days of misery, for you are not here with me.
You know, as do I, that no one can take our love from us. We belong to one another and it shall always be that way.
I know, also, that you cannot leave her, even if you should wish to. Someday, perhaps our fortunes will return us to one another. Until that day, I will remain yours.
Forever my heart belongs to you,
Eric was perfectly stunned when he finished the letter. He looked at the date.
He had been eight years of age when the letter was written. His father, the very same Frederick that the letter had been addressed to, had been married to his mother for nearly ten years by that point.
He knew that it was wrong to read further, but there were dozens of letters and Eric had to know more about this woman. Had his father still been in a relationship with her up to his death? Who was she?
One by one, he read through the next four letters. Much of it was the same, proclamations of love and affection, answers to the questions that his father must have asked regarding her health and the wellbeing of her family.
Eric skipped ahead a bit, jumping into the middle letters.
Liza told him how she had been feeling unwell. She mentioned that things were growing difficult with her family and she could not find a new position.
Finally, Eric moved on to the very last letter. Even before he read it, he could sense the weight of the words that it contained, knowing that it had been the last for a reason.
Before he had begun reading the letters, he imagined they had been written over a number of years. But they had only spanned a matter of two months until now.
The date at the top showed that it had been written a full three-and-a-half months from the first.
My Dearest Frederick,
It is time that I tell you something I have been making every effort to avoid telling you. Oh, I ought to be ashamed of not having told you this sooner, but alas, I could not. You see, I know that you are a good man and I know that it will bring you much difficulty in how to handle this matter.
It shall affect your wife and your son. But as your wife is unable to have any further children, I hope that you delight in the news that I am with child.
I have known since some of our earliest letters, but I did not wish to grieve you with the choice that is now before you.
While I know that there may be no public affection, no marriage, nothing of the sort, I am sure that we may find a way to be together in secret. I am sure that we may find a way to be together and to raise this child of ours.
I know that she is a daughter. I am certain of it. Can you imagine? She will be beautiful. With your red hair and my green eyes, your pale skin and my delicate features. I can only imagine! Anyway, please write to me promptly and tell me what we are to do.
Eric took in a deep breath, barely comprehending what he had just read.
His father had once had another child? How was it possible that he was unaware of it? Who was this child and who was this Liza?
There, in the bottom of the trunk, Eric saw one more letter. It did not appear to have ever been bundled with the others, for it was missing the crease from the thread that the others had halfway along the envelope.
He opened it slowly and read this final note.
Why have you not replied? It has been three weeks since I wrote to you of my condition and I have written to you six times. What do you intend to do? Tell me that I am not abandoned!
Please, please reply to me.
There was no sign of the other letters, but Eric realised with clarity that his father had not replied to Liza upon learning that he was to have another child.
That sounded very much like the Earl of Thornbury that Eric knew.
And yet, his father had kept these letters.
Without giving himself time to think and consider, Eric made his way down the stairs with the letters in hand. He found his mother seated in the parlour as she often was, enjoying her stitching.
“Mother,” Eric began.
“Ah, my boy. What is it? You appear quite in shock,” she said, those hands that stitched trembling against the pain that Eric knew she had not yet confessed, even to herself.
“Do you know anything about these?” he asked, holding up the letters.
Lady Thornbury’s eyes widened before she looked away. She had not been quite fast enough to evade Eric’s question. She knew about the letters. It was clear.
“Mother, you must tell me about these. Who was this woman? Do I have a brother or sister?” he asked, insistently.
Lady Thornbury set the stitching down and before he knew it, her eyes welled with tears.
“Why must you ask me about this?” she cried.
Eric felt bad, but he had to know. He could not stop himself from learning the truth now that he understood that there was a truth that must be learned.
“You must tell me. Who was this woman? What do you know of her?” he asked.
“I long suspected your father,” she began, trying to wipe away the tears that continued to flood her eyes.
“Of what?” he asked.
“Of having an affair with one of the maids. Liza,” she said, using the name as a curse.
“So what happened?” Eric asked.
“I sent her away. I could not allow her to stay when I knew that there was something between the two of them. As far as I knew, she had returned to Finchley and there was nothing more of it. And then, a few years ago, I discovered your father’s trunk and I opened it,” she said.
“And that is when you read the letters?” Eric asked.
“Only the first. I read only the first,” she cried, as if it was a denial in the midst of a confession.
“You did not read until the end?” Eric asked.
“No, I could not. I was so appalled that I had been right. Your father really had been unfaithful to me,” she said.
“Then you know nothing of the child?” Eric asked.
His mother looked at him with her dull, grey eyes.
“There was a child?” she asked.
“It would seem,” Eric replied.
She looked away and the tears of betrayal were silent this time as they filled her eyes anew.
“Mother, if I have a sibling out in the world, I must find them. You cannot think that I would simply move past something like this, do you?” he asked.
“Whatever illegitimate children your father may or may not have had, that is no sibling of yours. It is a reminder of his ill behaviour and the fact that your father was a man who adored his vices. I cannot condone any such search for another heir of his,” she said.
But Eric knew his mother. She was bitter now, yes, but she would get over it. She was not like his father either. She was sentimental and would want Eric to know any brothers or sisters that he might have.
He knew that it had been hard for her that Eric had been an only child and he imagined that she would even feel a sense of kinship with any other child of her husband’s.
“Yes, Mother, I am sure that you are unhappy with the behaviour that Father exhibited, but I also know your heart. You will come around in time. Until then, I respect your decision to disapprove,” he said.
She continued her silent weeping and nodded, already conceding to the fact that he was right.
“I know that you must find this person. I can hardly be angry with you. I failed in giving you a brother or sister and there is nothing more that I could do about it. But you must also remember that sometimes people hold on to bitterness,” she said.
“I understand, but you must let go of it, Mother. Father is dead now and this child did nothing wrong,” he said.
She shook her head.
“I was not speaking of myself. Whatever feelings I have regarding your father and all that happened between him and myself and him and another woman, I am not the one whose bitterness you must be wary of,” she said.
“You mean the child,” he stated.
“Yes, the child who had to grow up without a father and without the fortunes that you now have,” she replied.
Eric looked at the letters in his hand.
Finchley. That was not so far. He could get there in not much more than an hour.
What would he find? Would it be a brother or sister who had long wished to meet him? Would they even know who he was?
He would find out eventually. Until then, until he met the young man or young woman, he would just have to hope that everything was soon to come together. He would have to hope that he could find his sibling.
Otherwise, he would forever feel a hole in his chest.
Emma Sproul threaded the needle with her expert eye, looping it through the metal and pulling the thread to the desired length.
The London season was approaching within the following months and it would not be long before the orders for gowns came pouring in. She would need to finish this gown quickly.
Her grey eyes looked up from a heart-shaped face, encompassed by hair that was nearly black and she observed how far Amelia had come in her project since that morning.
“Almost finished with Lady Washam’s gown?” Emma asked.
Amelia pursed her lips. Her complexion, so different from Emma’s, was turning red with frustration. She brushed back a red hair, her blue eyes looking back at Emma.
“That old bag thinks she can snag a young earl. What a riot,” Amelia said, rolling her eyes.
Emma laughed, knowing that she shouldn’t. It was a dangerous thing to mock clients, but Amelia was right.
They were very fortunate, however, to have the job in the dress shop. They were not forced to be factory girls like so many. They had the dignity of being the only two employees at Bonham’s Dressmaker and were free enough to enjoy their work.
Not to mention the fact that they had wealthy clients and were making a marginally higher salary than at the factories.
“I know it is wrong of me to mock her so freely, but what am I to do? That is precisely the life that I ought to have had,” Amelia said.
Emma had heard only snippets of Amelia’s story. Enough to know that she was born out of wedlock, but she was not aware what sort of life Amelia would have expected to have been from.
“I’m sure that it’s not all that great. Think about it, being paraded around constantly, having to prove your worth for a wealthy man to accept you,” Emma said.
“Oh, right. Surely it is awful. Wearing the gowns that we slave over and being offered anything you wish. The freedom to lavish your days away in reading and embroidering for entertainment rather than survival,” Amelia said, the sarcasm dripping from her lips.
Emma shrugged. Amelia was right in many ways, but wrong in others. It wasn’t really so bad, the work that they had to do. Certainly, it hurt their fingers at times and it was difficult when the light started to dim before they had finished, but that was only a problem during the winters and they had far fewer gowns to make during winter.
“I only meant that we ought to be glad that we have certain freedoms that they do not. Nor do we have to live like slaves in the factories. I must confess that I think we are in as decent a position as we may be given, considering our ill fortunes,” Emma said.
“I am certainly relieved not to have ended up in a factory, but I should like to live the life of luxury that belongs to those for whom we make these gowns. That is my true wish,” Amelia said.
“Then tell me why you do not have that life. You have mentioned that you should have. So why don’t you?” Emma asked, forthrightly.
Amelia sighed and shook her head.
“My father abandoned my mother. Had he not, all would have been well,” Amelia said.
“That is dreadful that he abandoned her. Was he a drunkard or something?” Emma asked, knowing a woman in her tenements who had been abandoned by an alcoholic husband.
“Probably. Who knows? What I do know is that he was a very wealthy earl and my mother was a maid in his house,” Amelia began.
“Oh, dear,” Emma said, already knowing this story too well. Husbands who drank too much and ran off were common enough, but nobility who treated their maids as mistresses? That was a frequent occurrence that she had always been appalled by.
“Anyway, the man’s wife sent her away, my mother thinks it is because she presumed the affair. And once she was gone, she continued to have a correspondence with him, but once she told him that she was pregnant with me, he never replied,” Amelia said.
Her anger was clear, and Emma recognised that this was something that still wounded her to talk about. Nevertheless, she was sorry that Amelia was holding on to these things rather than having freedom from her resentment.
“What did your mother do then?” Emma asked.
“She wrote to him many more times. He never wrote back. So then, one evening, she went to the man’s estate. She begged to be let in, but by then they had told the housekeeper that she had been fired for immoral behaviour. No mention of the earl’s behaviour, of course,” Amelia said.
“Well, we could not have that now, could we?” Emma added, feeling equally irritated on that front.
“Eventually, my mother’s friends and family all distanced themselves from her. She was an unmarried, pregnant woman. They could not continue to be associated with her,” Amelia said.
“Really? Even her family? There are many young women who find themselves with child out of wedlock. Why would they treat her so dreadfully?” Emma asked.
“You know the image in society that falls upon a young woman to whom it happens. Her mother and father were not so forgiving of the degradation of their reputation. Anyway, it has harmed our family greatly,” Amelia said.
It was sad to hear the story. Now she understood why Amelia was always so angry when the topic of her father would arise. She was bitter and angry that he had not cared for her mother.
Nor had he cared for her.
She had been abandoned and that was not something that she had taken lightly.
“I am sorry that you and your mother had to face something so awful as that. I can only imagine how hard it must be for you and how upsetting it was for her,” Emma said.
Although she and Amelia were close and had been very good friends for well over a year, this was the first time that Amelia had fully opened up on this matter. Emma was glad for learning a little bit more insight into her friend.
“Anyway, it is what it is. But you can understand now why it angers me to have to make gowns for these people,” Amelia said.
“Yes, I understand. It is very different from my own situation,” Emma said.
“Well, I don’t think we have ever talked about all of this. Why did you end up having to work? What sort of people are your family?” Amelia asked.
“We have never been in the poorhouse, but we certainly don’t have any nobility in our veins. We have always made ends meet, but we have struggled to do so. And my mother and father have always had hard luck. Wealth, fortune, all of that? It has always escaped us, no matter how hard we work,” Emma said.
“I am sure that is difficult as well. Are they planning to try and marry you off?” Amelia asked.
“They intend to when they are able to find the right young man for the job,” she said with a laugh.
“Well, good luck to them,” Amelia said.
“Yes, good luck. But they, like most, want me to marry someone better than us. They work very hard to keep our reputation clean. They think it will help me to find the right sort of man who can help us to climb the ladder of society.”
It was an irritation that she would always have. Could she not have value on her own? Without the attentions of a man?
No, that was not the life afforded to anyone. Not to the elite nobility, nor to the young women who stitched long into the night. In these things, they were given no freedom.
“Why can they not just accept that we will marry whomever we will marry? My mother learned the hard way that even having the child of a nobleman is hardly going to give a woman an opportunity to be more or to have more,” Amelia said.
Emma shrugged once more. She understood Amelia’s point, but did not think it was worth grieving. Nothing would be changed for them, no matter how much they desired it.
Thinking about the fact that she was already of the age to marry, Emma had been trying to keep her mother and father happy by being polite whenever they had friends to tea. Friends who had sons that were also of marrying age, that is.
But not one of them had interested her as of yet. She was still waiting for the right one and she feared that, eventually, her mother and father would simply choose for her and she would just have to go along with it.
It was not the way that Amelia had been raised. No, Amelia was always complaining about men. Her mother had encouraged her to stay single as long as possible, which was so different from anything else that Emma had ever heard.
The very idea of it was a bit of a shock.
But her own mother and father were quite typical, and she did not mind it for she understood that the times required they be intent upon her marriage. They were good people and they wanted to see their daughter happy and well, but she also wished that they were not quite so determined.
She had loved living in their home. She had always been happy there and could not bear the thought of living far away from her own mother who was such a good woman with a tremendous reputation in the community despite their lower class.
Of course, she did look forward to marrying. It was just that she was not yet ready, and she wanted to have some choice in the matter.
“Do you think that you will ever find the sort of man that your mother and father want you to marry?” Amelia asked.
“Perhaps. But if I do not, I think they will just have me married off to the next best option. They love me, but they are the sort of people who will honour society’s rules and I am simply expected to accept that,” Emma said.
“I would never stand for that,” Amelia said, rather boldly.
“I did not expect that you would. You are cut from a very different cloth than I,” Emma said, snipping a length of ribbon for the full effect of her statement and eyeing it against the waist of the gown she was hoping to finish before the day’s end.
“I simply cannot abide the thought that my fate is in the hands of those who have already wronged my family. It is not right and I cannot allow for them to take what little happiness we have away from us now,” Amelia replied.
For a moment, Emma imagined her future. She saw it bright and bold before her. A simple life, maybe in tenements similar to where she lived now or, if she was truly dreaming, a cottage on the outskirts of London. Married and surrounded by four children, maybe even pregnant with a fifth.
And then she thought of Amelia’s future.
Growing aged, seated with her mother and talking bitterly of society until it had consumed her. Once her mother passed, she would be alone, still angered that her fortunes had been so determined by a man that she had never met and had nothing at all to do with.
Yes, if things continued as they were, they would have very different futures.
Emma decided that she would simply have to keep dreaming.
“Dare to Love a Lord” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Emma Sproul has lived her whole life in the shadow of her vibrant friend, Amelia. When Amelia’s long lost brother tries to reconnect with her, Emma is utterly unprepared for the challenges and lies that are about to follow and land on her path. The only thing she knows is that he is the most beautiful man she has ever seen. When the lines of loyalty begin to blur, will their growing feelings turn into a true love?
When Lord Eric Price becomes the Earl of Elsben, he accidentally discovers some of his late father’s treasures. The unexpected revelation of some old love letters leads him to the shocking realisation that he has a sibling he knew nothing about. All he wants is a chance to meet his sister, but little did he know how much this would cost him. While he is trying to win her trust, he will start growing other, deeper feelings for her best friend. Could Emma be the salvation he has been looking for?
When a long buried secret comes to surface, a chance at love may finally be within reach. But Eric’s scandal and Emma’s tension with her friend will stand in the way of love. Faced with the dilemma of choosing between true love and friendship, what will they end up sacrificing? A tale of revenge, hope, and determination, where love is constantly challenged. Can a true, captivating romance be growing in such an unfortunate situation? Or will the many testing sacrifices end up putting out the flame of their love?
“Dare to Love a Lord” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.