Amelia Holbrooke’s first Season was going very, very well.
She stood on the modiste’s pedestal, eyeing her reflection with complacency. This Season was full of Beauties with a capital B, of course, but Amelia could modestly claim to be holding her own amongst the other belles.
She was of the perfect height, perfect shape, and perfectly formed charms and graces. She had blonde hair—thank heavens fair beauties were in mode again—and grey eyes with just enough blue to render them intriguing.
“Pull in the waist a little.” Lady Rebecca Holbrooke instructed.
She had never been much of a beauty in her day and had been charitably described as “handsome”. She was tall, well-built, and boasted the same wispy blonde hair and blue-grey eyes as her daughter. Her two daughters had the same delicate, pointed face and well-formed features as Lord Thomas Holbrooke, her noticeably better-looking husband.
Amelia sucked in her stomach, allowing the seamstress to pull in the waist of the dress. It was going to be a very pretty dress when it was finished. It was a sweet lilac colour, all ribbons and lace. She preferred other colours, but lilac did suit her.
Purple was Daniel’s favourite colour.
“Can I wear this dress tonight? Will it be ready in time?” Amelia asked.
Lady Rebecca glanced at the modiste, who gave her a brief nod. “I think so, darling, but it’s a rather fancy dress for an informal dinner. It’s just the Birchingtons, after all. There’ll be a little dancing, I think, but Lord and Lady Birchington are hardly planning to invite all the eligible bachelors. Unless, of course, you’re planning to entrap Adrian,” she added with a chuckle.
Amelia smiled weakly. Adrian and Daniel, the Birchington boys, as they were affectionately called among the ton, were tall, handsome, and much ogled by the Society belles. Adrian was the oldest, of course, and would one day be Lord Birchington.
Amelia didn’t care about Adrian. She could think of nothing but Daniel.
Daniel was tall, handsome, amber-eyed and chestnut-haired and tended to stand out beside his dark-haired, dark-eyed, sombre older brother. He was much admired, and it was said that he would make a marvellous match one day. Not as good as his older brother, but still good.
Only the two amiable, handsome brothers could outweigh their less-than-friendly parents. Lord Edwin and Lady Nancy were stern, unwelcoming, and generally unpleasant to be around. Amelia wasn’t entirely sure why they were such good friends with her parents, but as it often put her in Daniel’s way, she would not complain. She and Daniel had been friends since childhood, and it would be absolutely perfect for their future life together.
The modiste began to sew up the newly adjusted bodice, and Amelia smiled to herself, admiring her waistline. She wouldn’t be able to eat very much tonight, but she would have a truly enviable figure—one of the benefits of being a willowy eighteen-year-old.
That was what Daniel had said, more or less.
“Goodness, Amy!” he’d said at her debut ball, flashing a charming smile and drawing her arm through his. “I wonder how you can breathe in that thing.”
Amelia had beamed up at him. Was it a compliment? She was sure it was. “Thank you, Lord Daniel.”
“Oh, come, just Daniel will do. How long have we known each other? Oh no, there’s Mother, waving me over to meet some vain little belle.”
Amelia remembered clearly how her heart had sunk, and she’d pouted like a child. “But I thought we could dance together.”
Daniel had squeezed her hand. “And dance together we shall, little Amy. Now, I shall make a request of you. Excepting this first ball—as I know you’re planning to dance with your dear father for the first set—I shall request you to save the first set of each ball for me. We shall dance together for the first dance throughout your whole Season. How does that sound?”
Amelia had not been able to speak for a full minute, she was so happy. Was it possible to be so happy?
“I should love that, Daniel!”
“Marvellous. Now, if you’ll excuse me….” Daniel made a dramatic, flourishing bow, and Amelia giggled. I must attend to my mama. Good day, Lady Amelia.”
She dropped into a deep curtsey. “Good day, Lord Daniel.”
Tonight would be the first dance she shared with Daniel. The first of many, she hoped.
Wouldn’t it be perfect if Daniel asked to court her this Season? It would make perfect sense. Their parents were friend, and they were friends. They were both young, attractive, and wealthy. Daniel had never shown any interest in other ladies. He was twenty-three, a full five years older than Amelia, and surely, he would have had plenty of opportunities. He was waiting for her to come out; Amelia was sure of it.
Lady Rebecca tweaked the hem of the gown and sighed. “This will need taking up a full inch, please. You’ll be opening the ball with Adrian, by the way, Amelia. That means everyone will be looking at you. If you trip on your skirts, nobody will talk of anything else for the rest of the Season.”
“I shan’t, Mama. But I can’t open the ball with Adrian. I am dancing my first set with Daniel.” Amelia did not add that she would be dancing all of her first sets with Daniel. It still seemed too good to be true.
“No, Daniel won’t be there,” Lady Rebecca said absently.
Amelia whirled around to face her mother, and the seamstress gave an exclamation of annoyance as the material she’d been stitching was yanked out of her hands.
“Amelia, have a care!”
“Mama, what do you mean? Of course, Daniel will be there. Why wouldn’t he be there?”
Lady Rebecca blinked at her daughter. Even with Amelia standing on the pedestal, they were more or less on eye level.
“Oh, of course, you didn’t know. I suppose you did hear that Daniel wanted to study abroad?”
Amelia’s head was beginning to spin. She vaguely remembered Daniel talking about places like Venice, Rome, France, and Germany. He’d talked about books and art, and places he longed to see. Amelia had listened to it all with only half an ear. She was interested in those things, of course, but the idea of travel wasn’t her dream. However, perhaps it would be nice to travel with Daniel after they were married.
“Well, yes, but…but he wasn’t accepted to study abroad, was he? All the universities he applied to…” Amelia stammered.
Lady Rebecca seemed oblivious to her daughter’s distress. She bent down, picking up a roll of ribbon and holding it against Amelia’s dress to compare the colours.
“One of them accepted him after all. It’s a university in France, I think. I do hope it won’t be too hot for him.”
Amelia turned back to the mirror. Her vision was swimming, and she felt as though she were going to burst into tears.
“When…when is he leaving?”
“Tonight, I think. Perhaps he’s already gone. I’m not entirely sure. Lady Nancy said that he wouldn’t be attending tonight, as he’ll be travelling to the dock and getting on board a ship. He’s very excited. Amelia? Amelia, what’s the matter?”
Amelia stepped abruptly off the pedestal, ignoring the poor seamstress’s tsks of annoyance, and wobbled over towards the plush velvet seats set along the wall.
“I…I don’t feel well, Mama. Are you sure Daniel is leaving tonight? He didn’t tell me about it.”
Lady Rebecca frowned. “Darling, why would Daniel tell you? I daresay he only sees you as a little sister, not a close friend. Oh, don’t be upset. It isn’t the end of the world, is it?”
Amelia flashed a watery smile. It very much was the end of the world, at least for sweet, naïve, eighteen-year-old Amelia.
“No, I suppose not. He did promise to dance the first set of every ball with me. Surely, he wouldn’t go back on his word?”
Lady Rebecca reached out, tucking a stray curl behind Amelia’s ear. “My dear, gentlemen are very fickle and not to be trusted. Not at all. I know it sounds harsh, especially to say something about Daniel. You know how I love him. However, that’s the truth. I daresay Daniel thought no more of his promise—or of you—than he would the feelings of his cat.”
“That isn’t true. Daniel would never…” Amelia began hotly but soon trailed off. Her mother wasn’t a woman given to gossip or idle speculation. If she declared something to be so, it was a fact. Amelia had never known her mother to lie, deceive—either accidentally or deliberately—or otherwise fudge the truth.
If Daniel really was leaving, then the truth was that he really had not thought of her feelings. He hadn’t told her himself or given her a second thought when that acceptance letter came through.
“He’s leaving, my dear, and that’s that,” Lady Rebecca said firmly. “Time to move on. Now, hop back up on the pedestal, and we’ll see what we can do about that hem. I have another suggestion about the ribbons for your bonnet. We want them to match, of course, but….”
Amelia obediently climbed back on the pedestal, staring blankly at her own reflection. She allowed herself to be dressed like a doll. The joy had gone out of the Season with Daniel’s departure.
The first seed of anger started to fester in Amelia’s mind. How dare he? She wasn’t a man, with the opportunity to study at prestigious universities and travel from country to country. Her world ended at the boundaries of London City, or at the edges of her father’s country estate. Her world was governed by rules and restrictions, with every avenue firmly closed except one.
Amelia set her jaw. I won’t forgive him, she thought.
Four Years Later
“Amelia, darling, we’re here.” Lady Rebecca reached out and shook her oldest daughter, long arms reaching easily across the carriage. “Better wake up and look alert. You know what a stickler Lady Nancy is.”
Amelia sat up, yawning and stretching.
“Ouch! You elbowed me in the arm, Amelia,” Chloe complained. “You’ll crumple my gown.”
“I think a lengthy carriage ride will do that rather than one nudge from me,” Amelia commented. “Is that a new dress? It looks very well on you.”
Chloe preened. “Yes, it is new. I thought it might wear it for my coming out.”
Chloe was just short of eighteen now, and quite different from the grubby, tomboyish thirteen-year-old who had sulked in the schoolroom when Amelia went out into Society for the first time.
Lady Rebecca’s smile faded at the mention of Chloe’s coming out. “Yes, well, let’s not talk about your coming out to Lady Nancy, for obvious reasons.”
Chloe frowned. “But she’ll find out sooner or later.”
“I’d rather it be later,” Lady Rebecca muttered. “The Season doesn’t start in earnest for two months. A lot can happen in two months.”
The unspoken statement hung in the air.
Amelia might be engaged by then.
It was too late to hope for a marriage before Chloe’s debut. The Season—and the Seasons—had gone by since Amelia’s debut, and the offers of marriage had gradually dwindled to nothing.
Despite her determination never to forgive Daniel, no man had ever been able to replace him in her mind and heart. Not during the first Season, at least.
Or the second.
By the third, Amelia had come to realise that she was no longer the new, sought-after young debutante she had once been. Then it was too late for Amelia to realise just how large a place Daniel had occupied in her heart.
Amelia had tried to summon some regret for the men she’d refused but couldn’t quite manage it.
At least Chloe didn’t seem to understand the humiliation she and Amelia would face when the younger sister was brought out before the older one was married.
Amelia pasted a smile on her face and tried to put it all from her mind. She had a house party at the Birchington estate to endure. Lord Edwin and Lady Nancy hadn’t mellowed with age. In fact, they’d gotten noticeably worse.
The carriage pulled up in front of a vast, sprawling mansion of a house, with at least half a dozen footmen standing to attention on the front steps. Lord Edwin and Lady Nancy had come out to meet them, along with their oldest son, Adrian.
Lord Thomas was standing on the steps, grinning, eager to be reunited with his family. He held out his arms, and Amelia momentarily forgot her embarrassment and dashed hopes, tumbling out of the carriage and into her father’s arms.
“I hear we are to congratulate you, Papa,” Amelia said, smiling. “The House of Lords is very grand indeed.”
“I confess, I’m terrified. Lord Edwin was so very helpful in helping me to realise my ambition. Of course,” Lord Thomas leaned closer, dropping his voice, “young Adrian has taken over much of the running of his estate, so Lord Edwin had much more time to do these things.”
“Adrian is in charge? Already?” Lady Rebecca enquired, climbing out of the carriage.
“Yes, I thought it was rather a good idea. After all, he’ll be the Duke of Birchington one day. He might as well start learning now. Right, come on in, ladies. Chloe, you look beautiful. Come here and give your old papa a kiss. Now, let’s go in.”
They went up the stone steps, making their greetings to their hosts.
Lord Edwin had always been a large man, tall and stout. In his later years, he’d grown very fat. The buttons on his waistcoat strained, and his flabby jowls made him look even more bad-tempered than he already was.
Lady Nancy was her husband’s opposite in every way except in temper. She was short and painfully thin and viewed any excess flesh on a lady’s frame as a severe flaw. Amelia had never seen her smile. As children, Amelia and Chloe had been terrified of the tiny and ferocious Lady Nancy. Chloe reached out and took Amelia’s hand, much to her older sister’s surprise.
Apparently, they hadn’t quite grown out of their fear of Lady Nancy.
Adrian stood a few steps behind his parents. A rather smart metaphor for his whole life, Amelia thought. His dark hair was greying, and his brown eyes now made his face look thinner and more tired. He must be close to thirty now, and it showed.
Greetings were exchanged, and the Holbrooke family was ushered inside as it began to rain.
“It’s so dull here I don’t think I’ll be able to bear it,” Chloe announced.
Amelia gave up on her correspondence. She’d intended to write to her friend, Ivy, who was newly married last Season, but it was apparent that Chloe wouldn’t let her have a moment’s peace. She set down her pen with a sigh.
“You mustn’t say that, Chloe. It’s impolite. The Berkley family has worked hard to welcome us. We’ve known them since we were children. They’ve been very hospitable, and we ought to be grateful.”
Chloe peeled herself away from the window with a grimace. “It has rained constantly since we’ve been here. We can’t even go riding and walking. There are no card games permitted—at least, none of the good ones—and we don’t do anything. I could probably force Adrian to dance, but you can’t get up a good dance with only one or two couples.”
“Who would the second couple be?”
“Why, you and Papa, of course.”
Amelia arched an eyebrow. “Why not you and Papa and me and Adrian?”
Chloe shrugged. “You’re older. I’m the eligible lady. I ought to dance with the single man. I suppose Adrian is the closest thing to an eligible man here.”
She hadn’t meant it to hurt, but Amelia felt the sting of her words anyway. She was well aware that at twenty-three, during her fourth—fourth—Season, hopes of matrimony had all but gone. She was a survivor, not a success.
It was a painful reminder that Chloe was the rising star now. Out of the two of them, gentlemen would look at Chloe as a prospective wife, and Amelia as…well, Amelia wouldn’t be anything. She was the unmarried daughter, something of an embarrassment. A peculiarity, especially when her first and second Seasons were so vibrant.
“Well, I’m sure the weather will clear up soon,” Amelia said, putting her hurt aside. “Lady Nancy said something about a picnic, didn’t she? Adrian’s promised to take me on a walk across the moors soon.”
Chloe threw herself down on the sofa, pulling a face. “Ooh, a walk through the moors. Wonderful.”
“Sarcasm is not particularly becoming, Chloe,” Amelia said sternly.
The Berkley home was so large that they had given the family rooms near each other, with a parlour for their own personal use. It was pleasant to have one’s own space, and it made up for Lord Edwin and Lady Nancy’s unfriendliness. Amelia often wondered why they bothered to invite guests at all. Adrian was too awkward to make up for his parents’ shortcomings.
The door opened, and Lord Thomas peeped in. “Ah, there you are, girls. Chloe, I believe your Mama is looking for you. Something about flowers?”
Chloe heaved a dramatic sigh, hauling herself up from the sofa. Lord Thomas closed the door behind her and paused, raising his eyebrows.
I’m not going to get this letter written anytime soon, Amelia realised.
“Let me guess, Papa. You have something to say to me, and you don’t want Chloe to hear.”
He chuckled. “I certainly do not. Your sister is a lovely girl, but she cannot keep a secret to save her life.”
“Oh, so it’s a secret? Well, now I’m intrigued.”
Lord Thomas smiled absently. “Not exactly. Now, come sit down. I want to talk to you, and I’d like your full attention.”
Amelia abandoned her letter, moving over to the sofa. Her father looked serious, and Amelia wracked her brains to think of any accidental misdemeanours she might have committed.
Nothing came to mind.
“Are you enjoying your stay here, Amelia?” Lord Thomas asked, after a pause. It wasn’t the question Amelia had been expecting.
“Certainly. The Berkley family are very kind and very hospitable.”
“Good. That’s good. They are a little trying at times, but they are decent people. I think so, at least.” Lord Thomas waggled his eyebrows. “However, I digress. Now, Amelia, you know that it’s been four years since you came out.”
Amelia flushed. It was clear now which direction this conversation was going to take, and she didn’t like it.
“I know, Papa. I’m sorry.”
“I’m not angry with you, my dear. There have been no illustrious matches that I think you would have regretted missing. Of course, there have been a few gentlemen that I would have been happy to greet as my son-in-law, but it’s too late now. It’s time to think seriously of marriage, Amelia.”
Amelia sighed. “I know, Papa. I do think about it, but I’m rather afraid it’s too late.”
“I’m sure you know why I’m bringing up this subject again.”
Amelia nodded. “Chloe.”
“Exactly. Now, I think the silly rules about ladies not coming out until their older sister is married are just nonsense. Nonsense, but prevalent nonsense regardless. Chloe is going to be mocked and humiliated in Society. It’s going to influence her invitations and her opportunities. You must see that, my dear.”
Amelia swallowed hard. She did see it. She’d seen it every day since her second Season had ended with no marriage and no engagement on the horizon. She was a burden around her parents’ necks, an embarrassment to her sister, and a curiosity in the eyes of Society.
Of course, she was never made to feel like a burden, but that didn’t change the fact that she was one.
“I know, Papa.”
Lord Thomas reached out and took her hand. “How would you feel if I could arrange a marriage for you?”
Amelia didn’t raise her eyes. She contemplated the ugly pattern of the carpet beneath her feet.
The truth was, after her first great disappointment in love (or something she had fancied was love—there’d been nothing else to compare it with since), she’d never felt inclined to matrimony. By the time her first Season was over, and it was apparent that he was not coming home to rescue her, Amelia had missed too many opportunities to recover.
“Marriage? Papa, I don’t know…what man were you thinking of? How did this even come up?”
Lord Thomas took a breath. “What about Adrian?”
You could have knocked Amelia down with a feather. Thin-faced, dull old Adrian had never shown even the slightest interest in her or in marriage in general. She’d assumed that he would marry some suitable lady eventually, but as a man, he had a much longer shelf life than her.
“Adrian? Papa, surely not!”
“Why, is he objectionable to you? Is he unkind or unpleasant?”
“No, nothing like that. I’ve just…I’ve just never thought of Adrian that way.”
“Perhaps not.” Lord Thomas shrugged. “Lord Edwin brought it up. He’s looking for a suitable bride, someone he would be happy to see as the Duchess of Birchington one day. Your name came up. You tick all of the boxes, and I don’t think Adrian would object to a more mature lady for his bride.”
Amelia’s eyebrows shot up. “A mature lady? Papa, I’m twenty-three.”
“Yes, well, you know what I mean. Lord Edwin suggested it to me, and I said I would talk to you. I have also talked to Adrian, and you should know that he is very much on board with the whole plan.”
Amelia chewed her lip. “Adrian wants to marry me?”
“He thinks you would be suitable, yes. So, what about it? You and Adrian would make a decent match, I think.”
Amelia got to her feet, pacing around the room.
“I…I don’t know what to say, Papa. I had no idea. Adrian isn’t…he isn’t in love with me, is he?”
“No, I don’t think so. Darling, most marriages are simply a question of suitability and nothing more. You and Adrian will suit.”
Amelia tried to visualise a marriage to Adrian. She imagined sitting across from him at meals. For some reason, her imagination conjured up the ridiculously long table in Lady Nancy’s dining room. Only instead of crowding around one end, she and Adrian sat at opposite ends, as far apart as possible. She imagined a host of unsmiling, whey-faced children, all resembling their papa.
On the other hand, she imagined growing old with her parents. She imagined finding grey hairs and wrinkles, watching Chloe live a happy life with a husband and family. She imagined living in fear that her father would die, leaving her mother a widow and Amelia a poor, unloved spinster.
Neither scenario was particularly appealing, but one was certainly worse than the other.
“I think…I think I would like to marry Adrian,” Amelia said slowly. “It’s just all so sudden.”
“I understand, Amelia. It is very sudden. There is no need for you to decide now.”
Amelia brightened a little at that. “Really?”
“Certainly. Lord Edwin wasn’t happy, of course, and was all for setting a wedding date right away, before you’d even arrived. I said you would want to consider things, and Adrian agreed. His suggestion was that the two of you take some time to get to know each other first. It could be a sort of informal courtship. If you could make your decision before the beginning of the Season—or sooner, if you decide quickly—then we can proceed with the engagement and the wedding and all the sort of thing.” Lord Thomas took Amelia’s hand again, patting it. “You needn’t fret, my dear. There’s plenty of time.” He paused. “Although perhaps it might be best not to take too long. Lord Edwin hinted rather broadly that there are plenty of other ladies who would love to be a duchess someday.”
Amelia grimaced, remembering the money-grubbing, greedy-eyed young women at the Season’s best dances and dinners, flocking around even the ugliest rich, titled men. Those were women who intended to sell their beauty and youth for money and a title, and they were well aware that their wares would not last.
It was an unpleasant, vulgar business when one got down to it, and that was part of the reason why Amelia had distanced herself from the marriage mart during her third Season.
It was commonly said that her fourth Season had distanced itself from her.
There would not be a fifth Season. It would be too humiliating. Amelia had already intended to bow out this Season, and she hadn’t quite worked up the courage to tell her parents.
However, if she could enter this Season as an engaged woman—with a future Duke on her arm, no less—that would be a different matter altogether.
“Thank you for bringing me this opportunity, Papa,” Amelia said. “I’ll think about it seriously. I do like Adrian, and I don’t see why we wouldn’t suit.”
Lord Thomas’ face brightened. “Excellent, darling. I shall tell Adrian that your unofficial courtship shall commence. Now, let’s go down to luncheon, shall we?”
“A Lady’s Heartfelt Confession” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lady Amelia Holbrooke’s heart was torn into pieces when her childhood crush vanished without a goodbye, when she was only a young debutante. From then on, she endured Season after Season, alone without a suitor. Knowing that her sister’s upcoming debut will force her to face the unforgiving world of Society as the unmarried older sister, she feels trapped. Therefore, she desperately accepts a marriage proposal of convenience. If only she knew just how close her childhood friend’s return was and the effect it would have on her…
Will Amelia place duty over the true love that left her brokenhearted?
When Daniel Berkeley abruptly left for France, he never thought he would lose his beloved friend, Amelia. Years later though, he becomes content with his peaceful life away from his overbearing parents, and makes France his new home. However, when he discovers that the only woman who ever captured his heart is to be married, he feels he made the most horrible mistake of his life. Little did he know this was not the end of it…
It only gets worse when he finds out that Amelia’s betrothed is Daniel’s beloved brother, Adrien.
As Daniel and Amelia reunite after years apart, they realise that their magical connection is still alive. Lost in an endless labyrinth of doubts, they try to forgive each other and find redemption in their tender romance. Torn between love and honour, will their affection prove to be strong enough to battle past ghosts? Or is their story doomed to never find its path to happiness?
“A Lady’s Heartfelt Confession” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.