A call to a tea gathering
Mid-September 1836, Havenwood, England
“Good lord! What are you doing, child?”
Alicia looked up from the papers she held in her hands. She looked quite surprised at her aunt, who stood in the doorway.
“Oh, Aunt Peggy. I didn’t hear you come in,” she replied, tucking the curls of her hair in place. The silence that followed only proved the displeasure of her forty-nine-year-old aunt.
They were supposed to go out together but, as always, Alicia had just decided to go through some of the estate papers. She had realised that something was not right. She simply had to check and be sure her father’s business was going on fine.
Alicia was a young lady of nineteen with a tallness she had inherited from her father, and also from her aunt.
She looked at her aunt with pleading eyes. Alicia could tell from her aunt’s silence that Peggy was angry with her.
Peggy was a woman of elegance. She was wearing a muslin green gown with short sleeves. Her white long gloves crumpled around her elbows and she wore a hat, which was moderately seated on her head, perched to her left side.
Alicia stood up hurriedly, folding the papers. “Do calm down, dear aunt. I shall be dressed in a few minutes.” She knew that her aunt loved her very much, but she also knew that times like this always made her aunt want to strangle her.
“I shall be waiting for you downstairs, young lady. And you have ten minutes!” And she turned and flounced out of the room.
“You look beautiful!” Alicia quickly said, but her only reply was a loud groan and the slamming of the door.
Alicia gritted her teeth. She knew she was in trouble. Aunt Peggy would never forgive her if she spent one minute keeping her waiting. She didn’t want to go but she had to. Her aunt had always dreaded the fact that their family would end up being at the bottom of the social ladder.
“Sophie!” she shouted for her maid, who came out from the other end of the closet. She had been busy arranging some of Alicia’s clothes.
“Pray tell me you are done with the chores?”
“Yes, My Lady.”
“Good. Now, fetch me a dress quickly.” Alicia stood up, eyeing the folded papers on the table.
“Are you going somewhere?” Sophie asked, opening the closet to her right.
“Aye. Aunt Peggy requests I accompany her to a tea gathering.”
Sophie turned around abruptly. She was holding a red gown in her hand. “A tea gathering?” she asked and chuckled. “Oh dear!”
“At the Wilcoms’ manor,” Alicia added.
Sophie frowned. “That sounds terrible.”
“Trust me, I know. I wish I didn’t have to go. I detest that woman. I have never met a more dreadful woman.”
“Well, that’s what a tea gathering is all about. To meet dreadful people and smile with them.”
“More reason why she wants me to accompany her.” Alicia sighed, sitting on her bed. “I’d rather spend my day taking care of Father’s business than talk with all those old women.”
“She will throw a fit if you don’t go.”
“Yes, because she can’t stand them either. And if I fail to accompany her, she might not speak to me for a week,” Alicia replied with a chuckle. Then she stood up to get dressed.
Edward Egerton was one of the wealthiest landowners in the town. He was also a viscount and a widower. He sat on a chair in his chamber, a pair of spectacles balanced on the tip of his nose. His attention was focused on the rows of letters in front of him.
His business could have suffered a great deal these past weeks, but thanks to the training he had spent years giving his only child and daughter, disaster had been averted.
He had just suffered from a terrible illness, but his health had greatly improved these past few days. Sometimes he wondered what he would have done without Alicia since he had lost his wife to a similar illness many years before. Now he could at least do simple things, like walking around and reading. About a week ago, he could hardly stand up.
He was finding it hard to concentrate with the way his sister kept pacing noisily in his chamber. For a while he ignored her. But he could bear it no longer.
“That’s enough, Peggy. Pray tell me what the problem is,” he said. Then he took off his spectacles.
Peggy shook her head. “Nothing.”
The viscount sighed. “Are we doing this again? Time is a luxury, woman.”
Peggy thought for a while before turning around to face him. “I’m afraid our dear Alicia may not find a suitor if you don’t let her catch a break.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“All she does is work all the time. You need to allow her to be a woman.” she cried.
The viscount frowned, unable to grasp what she was driving at. “I have never stopped my daughter from being a woman and nothing will give me more pleasure than for her to find a suitor.”
“You certainly don’t act like that.”
“Oh! That was such an unkind thing to say.”
“But it is true.”
“How? Do tell me? What wrong have I done training my daughter to be a reputable and hardworking woman?”
“No, you trained her to be a man.”
“I find it difficult to grasp your point, woman,” the viscount almost yelled. He was losing his patience.
“Do you not wish for your daughter to marry, Edward?”
“I most certainly do,” he replied. He observed his sister for a while. He knew that something else was wrong.
“What exactly is this about, sister? You don’t behave this way unless you are worried about something.”
Peggy sighed. “I’m afraid I may end up going to that horrible tea gathering alone. I do not think that Alicia wants to go with me. Not that I blame her. I can hardly bear to be in the same room with those horrible women myself.”
He shook his head. “Why didn’t you say all this in the first place? Why put all the aggression on me, making me feel bad for something else entirely? If you cannot be with those women, wouldn’t it be wise to decline the request appropriately?”
“Oh no. That is not an option. Those women will talk about it for all eternity, and then they might think I failed to show up because you were dying. Oh! They gossip so much, and those dreadful things they spurt out of their mouths with not even a single shame.”
“What would you have me do, sister? My health cannot stand all this stress.”
“I beg your forgiveness, brother, but you and that sweet child are the closest to me. Who else do I pour out my mind to?”
“That was not mind-pouring. That was more of an onslaught.”
Peggy sighed and smiled. “I apologise. Still, I need you to talk to your daughter for me. I believe this will be an opportunity for her to really meet Lady Wilcom and some of the older ladies of the town.”
“She met Lady Wilcom once. I think you may be right about her leaving her quarters occasionally.”
“Yes. I’m afraid the poor child may think I’m being too harsh on her. The last thing I want is for her to see me as a hard and a difficult aunt.”
The viscount smiled and approached his sister. “You know this girl very well, dear. And you know she adores you. She is level-headed and she always listens to you. Yes, she loves to work, and I am proud of her. But at the same time, you are right. She needs a man other than me. You are like a mother to her, speak to her of these things. A father can only do little. Oh, see, here she comes…”
Peggy raised her head and a beautiful smile spread across her face. Alicia came into the chamber wearing a red satin fabric with short sleeves that were decorated with lace ribbons. She covered her arms in a pair of long white gloves. Her hair was parted at the centre, falling loosely around her shoulders.
“Oh, look at you,” Peggy cried joyfully, embracing her niece. She planted several kisses on her face. “You need to dress like this more often.”
Alicia smiled, kissing her father on the cheek. “How do you do father?”
“Your aunt almost gave me a stroke. Aside from that, I am in a good condition. My health has remarkably improved.”
Alicia smiled. “She can be quite dramatic, but that’s why we love her. Now, Father, the doctor left a stern warning that you need to be in bed all day. What are you doing up? Did my aunt put you up to this?”
“Dear child, you worry too much. If your aunt is not the cause of my death, lying in bed all day will. I am fine. Try not to worry.”
Alicia sighed and nodded. “Do not forget your medication, I asked Sophie to remind you when it’s time.”
“Look at her, taking care of her father. What more can a father ask for?” he said, kissing her on the forehead.
“Are we ready?” Peggy asked after some minutes.
“We most certainly are,” Alicia replied.
“Have a delightful evening,” said the viscount as the ladies took their leave.
Alicia sighed as she looked out of the window. There were few trees and many women dressed as though they were going for a social gathering or even a ball.
“Are we there?” Alicia asked. She could see women stepping out of their carriages, all dressed in different coloured gowns. Some walked past, ridiculously fanning themselves.
“You are rather astute, my dear,” replied her aunt. “Yes. We have neared much closer. This is the heart of the city, as you must have perceived.”
“All these women couldn’t be coming to the tea gathering, could they?”
“Of course, not child. You really need to spend time outside more often and stop burying your nose into all those papers just like your father.”
“I love working. I can’t help it, Aunt Peggy.”
“Oh, please stop. My frail nerves cannot bear it any time you say that.”
“So, what would you rather I spend time doing?”
“Good question, darling. I’d rather you spend more time taking care of yourself.”
“But then who will take care of father’s business?”
“He will do that himself, Alicia. Your father is stronger than you think.”
“When Mother was alive, she often helped him with all these things. Now that she is gone I feel as though it’s my responsibility, and I enjoy doing it.”
Her aunt faced her and smiled. Then she pulled Alicia’s head closer to her lips and kissed her on the forehead.
“Bless your kind heart, child. Hannah will be so proud of you. But still, I daresay if she was to be here she would want you to take care of yourself more.” She said with a smile. “Get a decent man who loves you and who makes your heart beat faster any time he comes around. Marry him and live happily ever after.”
Alicia scoffed. “Aunt Peggy, I must so far differ from you as to see marriage like that.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Marriage should be a social partnership where you both help each other to run a business and make a profit that will be more than enough for your entire household. Not give yourself a heart attack.”
Peggy stared at her niece in horror and was about to say more when the carriage stopped. “Oh, finally we are at the Wilcoms’ manor,” she announced.
“Thank God,” Alicia replied, relieved. She took the coachman’s hand, who was waiting to help them out of the carriage. Once she got out, he helped her aunt as well.
“I will be here to take you back,” he said to them.
“Thank you, Will,” Alicia said, and the man took a bow before mounting the horses.
The house before them was the same as Alicia remembered it. She had come here with her mother when she was just five years old. The Wilcoms’ manor was surrounded with manicured lawn to give a small castle effect. Its stones were pale grey, void of the moss that clung to the walls of other houses surrounding it. There were two stone pillars supporting the porch roof.
“Do tell me why we are here, Aunt Peggy. Our family and the Wilcoms have never really got along.”
Peggy faced her niece. “They do not approve of us and we do not like them either, but this is what being social is all about. Come, darling.”
The two ladies faced the large oak door of the house. Just as the older woman prepared to knock, the door was immediately opened. They were confronted by a tall old man whose crooked thin lips broke into a weak smile on seeing them.
“Oh, if it isn’t Lady Townley and the young Lady Egerton,” the butler said with a smile, giving a slight bow.
“How do you do, sir?” Peggy asked politely, returning the nod whilst Alicia did the same.
“Very well, thank you. Do come in. The others await you,” the man said, opening the door.
Alicia whispered, “The others? Dear lord. How many are there?”
“Shh! Quiet child,” Peggy hissed as they waited. He led them along a dingy hallway to what seemed to be the parlour.
Alicia entered the room and instantly wished she hadn’t come after all. There were about seven women, all seated and talking in hushed voices. But they stopped suddenly as the butler announced their arrival. They were a bunch of old women, just like her aunt, and there was not a single lady of Alicia’s age. She recognised Lady Wilcom instantly. She had visited her father some time back, when she was looking to buy a house.
“Oh dear Peggy. Is it really you? I was afraid you might not make it,” Lady Wilcom shouted excitedly as she saw them. Then she stood up. “Is this the young Lady Egerton?” she asked.
“Aye, she really is,” Peggy replied. Alicia could detect the pride in her aunt’s voice. Peggy had always loved showing her off right from birth.
“My Lady,” Alicia said, dipping into a curtsey.
Lady Wilcom pulled her closer. “Oh dear. Such formality. How much you have grown, and such a resemblance to your mother. Hannah will be so proud, bless her heart. Sit with me, child,” she said, tenderly.
Alicia sat beside Lady Wilcom whilst Peggy exchanged greetings with the rest of the women. A maid came in with a tray containing two cups of tea and served Alicia and her aunt.
“How has your brother been, Lady Townley? I heard his health is getting worse every day.”
Alicia disliked Lady Wilcom. The lady was considered a queen of gossip in the town, along with her closest friends. Alicia could wager that they were talking about her father’s sickness, her dead mother or her widowed aunt before they came in.
“I’m afraid you must have heard wrongly, My Lady,” Alicia quickly replied before her aunt could. Eight pairs of eyes turned to stare right at her.
“How so, dear?” Lady Wilcom asked, looking surprised at the interruption.
“His health has greatly improved, contrary to what people must be gossiping about these days.”
There was a sudden “Ah!” from everyone in the room. Alicia knew she had stepped out of line. But she didn’t care. She had disliked Lady Wilcom ever since that day she had come to their home.
Alicia had overheard Lady Wilcom telling her father that he had mourned her mother long enough, and then she went on to ask if he were interested in marrying another. Alicia had interrupted that conversation too, by walking in on them. She couldn’t bear the thought of her father and Lady Wilcom becoming wed. It would be a total disaster. Not that the woman wasn’t good-looking, but her attitude was completely inappropriate. One day she could be sweet, and then another day she was talking about people behind their backs.
“I apologise for my niece’s rudeness,” Peggy said, throwing Alicia a warning look. “She has a lot on her mind. As a matter of fact, she wasn’t supposed to come with me and…”
Lady Wilcom cut in abruptly. “Oh, that’s quite understandable for someone of her age. Not having a suitor can be a dreadful thing. I remember how I also behaved uncourtly before dear Lord Wilcom came to ask for my hand in marriage. But of course, then I was just nineteen. How old are you dear, twenty-one?” she asked, raising her cup to her lips.
Alicia was boiling inside and she kept trying to ignore her aunt, who kept sending her several looks, signalling to her to be quiet. All the women in the room were looking at her. Alicia could be calm and collected, but she wouldn’t be that calm and collected when it had to do with someone talking ill of any member of her family or herself. Still, for her aunt’s sake, she had to make things right. She needed to apologise.
“Well, I…” she started, but stopped as the butler returned.
“My Lady, the young Lord Reynolds is here,” he announced.
The ladies exchanged glances.
“I guess this must mean that the old lady will not be joining us. Do let him in, Bennet,” Lady Wilcom replied, and the butler bowed and left.
Alicia sipped from her tea and was putting the cup down when she exchanged glances with Lady Wilcom, who beamed at her with a sweet smile. That was odd, but she smiled back all the same. Apparently, the little drama had been forgotten. She lifted her cup to her lips one more time.
“Oh, darling. How do you do?” said the older woman to the newcomer.
A young man had joined them. His shoes tapped against the floor as he came in. He wore a burgundy double-breasted coat, striped trousers, and shiny shoes. He held his hat in his hand as he bowed quickly.
“I hope you ladies are in good health?” he asked with a smile. “I am here on behalf of my grandmother, whose health makes it impossible for her to be here right now, and…”
“Poor old lady. We understand dear. Quite thoughtful of you to have come to deliver this in person,” Lady Wilcom said, causing him to look towards her direction. As he did so, he caught Alicia’s eyes. His own eyes lingered on her for a moment.
Alicia though he couldn’t have been more than twenty-one, with a dark and smooth hair. While he exchanged words with Lady Wilcom, he kept looking from the older woman to Alicia, who kept sipping from her tea, ridiculously uneasy. She tried her best not to stare back. When she finally did, he looked away with a hint of shyness, which Alicia hoped no one in the room had noticed.
“That was the most dreadful event ever. I’m afraid, Aunt Peggy, I shall be forced to decline any requests in the future to accompany you to something like that,” Alicia said in the carriage on their way home.
Peggy was quiet and Alicia assumed she was still displeased with her for the rudeness she had displayed earlier.
“I apologise, Aunt Peggy, for my uncourtly behaviour. But I so detest that woman. She is so horrible. She just talks as she wants. I have never met someone so dreadful.”
Peggy turned around suddenly and kissed her repeatedly on the forehead.
“What was that for?” she asked in astonishment.
“I have never been this proud of you, darling. You said what you ought to have said. I do love you!”
Alicia frowned. “Does that mean you are not a bit angry with me?”
“Oh no, dear. I am so happy that you came with me to the tea gathering. You saw the look on all of their faces when you gave her that quick but deserving reply.”
“I sure did, Aunty Peggy. And I would have said more if not for the young gentleman who came in at the wrong time.”
“So you noticed the young man?” Peggy asked.
“It would have been hard not to. He was, after all right, in front of us.”
“Did you see him when he gave you that look?” the older woman asked, trying not to giggle.
“I have no idea of what you are saying, Aunt Peggy,” Alicia replied, feigning ignorance.
“Oh, I know you do,” her aunt replied, making her laugh out loud. “I think he was rather taken with you.”
“Aunt Peggy! That is quite soon, don’t you think? He barely knows me.”
“That is not a problem. It won’t be a surprise if I see him at the house tomorrow.”
“To ask you to accompany him to a ball or a social event. Then, after a while, he will make you fall in love with him, and the next thing will be marriage!”
“Oh, pooh! It’s as though marriage is the only thing this society thinks a woman is good for and, in that case, love is not a priority. Aunt Peggy, you keep talking about love, I don’t think that’s an option. My father and mother had a loveless marriage before they came together. Mother was betrothed to father on her eighteenth birthday and, somehow, they made it work. They were each other’s support and help. She helped father with his real estate business and together they made the family proud and rich. Yes, that’s the kind of marriage I want. ”
Peggy was quiet once again. She knew that marriage and love had never been a big issue for her niece. Alicia was a beautiful woman and she knew that once the time came, the man who deserved her would come along.
“You shouldn’t be comparing your marriage to your parents’, dear.”
“Why not? You all want me to be married. Society wants me to be married. And I need to marry. If it’s left to me, I’d rather look after my father’s business. However, due to what is expected of me, I can only do it in a way that is most appropriate to me. Once I’m married, everyone will be happy, yes?”
Peggy remained calm. Perhaps she had been pushing her niece too hard. Perhaps she needed to leave her alone for a while and not talk to her about marriage. However, Peggy knew that even if she did leave Alicia to her own devices, society wouldn’t.
“I’m so sorry, dear child.”
Alicia frowned. “Sorry for what, Aunt Peggy?”
“I think I might have been pushing you too hard instead of telling you the right thing.”
“I do not really see what you’re driving at.”
Peggy smiled. “I never told you about how I met my late husband, did I?”
“No, you did not.”
The older woman smiled as she remembered.
“It was at a ball. The moment I arrived, his was the first pair of eyes I saw. He was standing alone and looking straight at the door, as though he were waiting for someone. When I entered the room, he stood up and I could not see him. I ran into him whilst dancing with someone else and he simply asked if he could dance with me, and my partner excused us.
“The first time he took my hands, I knew he was my soulmate, and even though our marriage was short due to that sudden illness…” she heard her own voice begin to break, “…I promised myself that I would not settle for less.
“If I ever re-marry, it will be someone who will make me feel the same way Roger made me feel. So dear niece, marry. But I beg of you, marry for love and nothing more.”
Alicia collapsed on the bed as soon as she reached her chamber. She was weak and exhausted. This was most odd, as she hadn’t really done anything throughout the outing, merely sitting there and coping with Lady Wilcom was a chore on its own.
Sophie was busy folding some new clothes in her closet. Alicia knew how much her maid would want to know about her ordeal. Sophie was the closest to her aside from her father and her aunt. She was both her best friend and her confidante. But right now, she needed to rest. Maybe then she could tell her everything she wanted to hear.
“Would you like some tea, Miss?” Sophie asked.
“Not really, Sophie. What would help is a warm bath, and a nice, long sleep.”
“Oh! Was it that terrible, My Lady?”
“Well, it was average,” Alicia replied, knowing full well that she was about to tell all in any case. “I interrupted Lady Wilcom and said something that was a little rude and unladylike.”
Sophie’s brows shot up in surprise. “Do tell me everything, Miss. What did you do?”
Alicia told the maid everything that had happened earlier that morning. How she had interrupted and accused the woman right to her face. Then she talked about the young lord who had come in to deliver his grandmother’s apologies for not attending the gathering. She didn’t leave out the shy look the young man had given her before he left.
Sophie couldn’t stop chuckling. “Oh, was that the young Master Reynolds?”
“Are you familiar with him?” Alicia asked.
“Not much, just acquainted with one of his servants. His parents died when he was little and he was raised by Baroness Reynolds, his grandmother. Perhaps, your father would have more information regarding him.”
Alicia wasn’t really interested in asking her father questions about a man, any man. It would only raise further questions from her father.
“Do you like him?” Sophie asked.
Alicia thought about the young lord. “He is just what a young man ought to be,” she said.
“Would you qualify him to be handsome?” Sophie asked.
Alicia didn’t answer. She wasn’t altogether sure if she could use the word ‘handsome’ to describe him. Probably. She didn’t examine him that much. She remembered how he had walked in, how he was dressed and how he had addressed the ladies. She also recalled the way he had smiled at her before leaving. Now she was sure that everyone in the room must have seen him, with what her aunt had said.
“Are you okay, Miss?” Sophie asked.
Alicia sat up abruptly. “Yes, I am. Sophie, what do you think about marriage?”
The maid smiled sheepishly. “I’m afraid, My Lady, I may not have the same idea as you do.”
“I just want your own thoughts and ideas. Tell me. I want you to be frank.”
“Well, to me, marriage is an agreement to be with this person for better for worse, no matter what happens…”
‘Thank you, like a social partnership, yes?” Alicia asked, walking to her bathroom.
“Um… you could say that, but –” Sophie started just at the time Alicia closed the door after her. “Well, I was about to say it had more to do with love,” Sophie said to herself before she continued with her work.
What she wants
“What is it this time, woman?”
“I’m afraid I may have been misleading the poor child,” Peggy replied soberly.
“Misleading her? Nonsense. How can you talk so?” the viscount asked. He was lying in his bed and Peggy was sitting on a chair.
“It’s regarding this whole marriage thing. I fear I may lead her to take some wrong steps and, oh dear, if she does take them, I daresay I might never forgive myself…”
“If so, you must indeed go and make things right. Why come to me?”
“She is using your marriage to Hannah as a model for her own future married life.”
“How so?” He was tired of this. “My nerves are already exhausted. Do get straight to the point.”
“Your daughter believes marriage to be a social partnership. She has no idea why you married her mother, yet she wants a marriage like yours. Do you really want that?”
The viscount didn’t know what to say.
“I need to talk to her.”
“Yes, you do, and…”
There was an abrupt knock on the door, interrupting their conversation.
“Yes, who is it?”
“It’s Austin, My Lady. A letter has arrived for you,” the butler said from outside the room.
The viscount and Peggy exchanged glances.
“Are you expecting a letter?” Peggy asked.
“Not at all. Do check what it’s about,” he said. Peggy stood up to receive the letter. “Who is it addressed to?”
She read the inscription on the letter and looked up sharply. “Oh. It’s for me and Alicia,” she exclaimed, opening the letter.
Viscount Edward waited anxiously, wondering why the letter had been written to his daughter and his sister and not to him.
Peggy’s face brightened and she looked at her brother. “Edward! Alicia and I have been invited to a ball!”
“A ball? By whom?”
“By the Reynolds. Oh dear. This is so exciting. I need to tell Alicia!” she said quickly, rushing out of her brother’s room.
“A ball!” Why would anyone invite me to a ball, Aunt Peggy?” Alicia shouted, for she was taking her bath.
“You simply have to go. That is what ball is for, to meet people.”
Minutes later, Alicia emerged from her bathroom, dressed in a blue dressing gown. “I do not wish to go, Aunt Peggy,” she said.
“Child! Why do you delight so much in vexing me?”
“But, Aunt Peggy, we barely know the Reynolds.”
“It matters not. We have to go,” her Aunt repeated. “Wear something nice,” she said before leaving, shutting the door behind herself.
Alicia tried not to groan. She would have to talk to her father.
The viscount sat on his chair, going through his business records. He loved doing this each night before going to bed. Everything was perfect. Alicia had really outdone herself. Not only had she managed to bring in some of the rent that was overdue, but she had also sold ten properties during the previous two weeks. Maybe he needed to fall sick more often. He chuckled at his own thought. As he was putting away his spectacles to retire for the night, he heard a light knock on the door. He frowned, hoping his sister wouldn’t give him any more grief. He needed his rest.
“Father, are you awake?”
He inhaled deeply as he heard the voice of his daughter. He went and opened the door. “I do hope all is well, dear?” he said, putting his arm around her and escorting her into the room.
“I find it impossible to sleep ever since Aunt Peggy told me of this ball for tomorrow night.”
He smiled. “Why does it bother you so?”
She shrugged. “I don’t really know. I have never been to one before. Why do I need to go when I can stay here and handle business for you, Father?”
The viscount held her hands in his. “As much as I love that, you need some time for yourself. You are going to get married one day and putting yourself out there so that the right suitor may find you is necessary. I am almost certain you do not want to spend the rest of your life in this house, handling my business.”
“I find nothing wrong in that,” she replied but he only continued to smile.
“You are a lady and one day you will give birth to a dozen children…”
“Oh no, that will be awfully many. I’d rather give birth to only one child.”
“Just one? Why?”
“You and Mother gave birth to only one child so I plan to do just that.”
The viscount remembered what his sister had said to him earlier about Alicia modelling her life after him and his late wife. “Alicia, you very well know that you could have anything you desire.”
“Yes, I do know, Father.”
“You could have a better marriage and a bigger family, and you know that your mother would be happy seeing you go to the ball.”
“So why limit yourself to what your mother and I did?”
She shrugged. “It’s easier that way, Father. I don’t see any other way I’d rather have it.” She kissed her him on the cheek. “Well, it is late, and you need your rest. I will let you be. Goodnight.”
“Does this mean you will be going to the ball tomorrow night?”
She stopped and turned. “Yes Father. Maybe I will find a suitor, and everyone can relax,” she said with a smile. “Except that I don’t have a suitable gown.”
Her father smiled. “Then you are in luck, my dear. Tomorrow, you can ask Sophie to look through some of your mother’s gowns. There are lots of dresses she never had the opportunity to wear. She would be happy for you to wear any of them.”
Alicia nodded and quickly left the room.
The viscount sighed. This was one of the frightening stages in parenthood. Perhaps if Hannah was still alive all of this would have been easier, he thought, before finally withdrawing for the night.
Before Alicia fell asleep that night, several thoughts kept racing through her mind.
She didn’t know whether to be excited that her mother had left so many beautiful clothes for her, or whether to be sad that her mother never had the opportunity to wear them.
She went over everything that had happened that very day and how it had all come to an end with an invitation to a ball. She thought that the young man must have been the one who had invited her to the ball. Alicia had never attended one before. She was not the sort of person. She was a businesswoman and she had lots on her hands, until her father’s health improved.
Alicia thought of her mother. Lady Hannah Egerton had been a woman of class. If she hadn’t died, Lady Wilcom wouldn’t now be at the top of the social ladder. She and those other dreadful women were nothing compared to her mother.
When Alicia was younger, when her mother was alive, the family would hold social events almost every fortnight. Even though Alicia was never part of it, as she was always going about with her father who was always working, she knew her mother to be a woman of class. The necklace, the gowns, the shoes. They were always second to none.
“You look so beautiful, Mother,” she had said once. That was before the last ball, a week before she died. Then Alicia was just eight.
Her mother had just turned to her and said, “Do you want to know why I like being beautiful?”
“So that your father will keep looking at me.”
That had made her laugh then. But now she only smiled. Tomorrow, she hoped her nerves would have grown accustomed to the thought of going to the event.
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Alicia didn’t really believe life had great thrills for her. She had always lived in the simplest way and no such thing as true love existed in her mind. Even with her upcoming marriage, she expects nothing more than safety and security. But when she falls victim of a robbery attack and gets rescued by the most handsome man she has ever seen, things change dramatically… When she gets closer and closer to her savior, how is she going to deal with her unprecedented feelings?
After Duncan lost his wife, there was no more happiness for him in this world. And just when he had abandoned any hope of finding true love, fate proved him wrong. He could never expect that the beautiful woman he was about to save from an attack could be the one to make his heart flutter again. But what will he do when Alicia’s fiance shows up under his roof? Will he back down once again and let the only chance of loving again fly away?
Sometimes things are not what they appear to be and even a seemingly random robbery may be darker than it looks… What will Alicia choose in a situation like this, and how far is Duncan willing to go in order to prove that he is not there just to save her life, but to capture her heart as well?
“A Guardian Angel for the Lonely Lady” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.