(Manor home of the Earl of Havenshire, London. Early evening.)
The halls of the manor home of the Earl of Havenshire were filled with music, laughter, and smiling faces. Most people would look upon this high society ball with starry eyes and a vision of wonder, but Lady Penelope Withersfield saw it for what it was: a market for which men searched out a suitable bride and to which young women were forced to display themselves for judgement.
Penelope was in attendance with her mother Lady Winchester, Marchioness of Winchester, who was serving as her daughter’s escort. Lady Winchester was tall for a woman, and her golden blonde strands of hair glistened like strands of gold. Penelope had inherited her mother’s hair and blue eyes, but unfortunately, she had not inherited her mother’s stature. Penelope took after her grandmother and was rather on the short side at her 5’ 3” height.
The gentleman that Penelope was currently dancing with gave her a smile that would have made most women’s hearts flutter right out of their chest, but Penelope saw only that his eyes settled on her just long enough for the length of a breath before they were off to some other woman. Penelope glanced in the direction the man was looking but could spy no obvious object of his admiration. It could be that the man simply was of poor concentration, but Penelope felt certain that he was plotting who to lead out onto the dance floor next song.
Surely, Penelope wagered that her dancing was not to blame. Penelope had been trained since her sixth birthday in the art of dance. True, the couple’s dances did not really show off her form, but she thought it unlikely that she had made a poor showing.
When the music finally faded, Penelope almost sighed with relief to get away from the merchant. Penelope had no social qualms about marrying below her station, but she certainly was not going to marry a man who could scarcely keep his eyes on her for more than a second. Penelope curtsied to him and said, “Thank you for the dance, Sir.” She was attempting to be polite, but the man looked a bit put out. Perhaps she had judged his inattention wrong.
“Do you think your mother would allow you to walk with me?” the merchant asked. Penelope found that she could not recall the name he had been introduced by and momentarily panicked.
She squashed down the panic and shook her head. “I am afraid that my mother is most old-fashioned. To allow me to do something like that would be paramount to her abandoning me in the woods.”
The man looked a bit perplexed but nodded. “As you say,” he said still looking a bit confused.
“Ah, there is my mother now. Looks like she is lining up someone for me to be introduced to as always,” Penelope said not minding that to do so was not done and bordering on rude.
The merchant looked like a fish out of water as Penelope gave him a smile. “Take care,” Penelope said as she turned to leave, her smile still firmly in place.
Penelope walked towards her mother who was smiling at a man that Lady Winchester clearly thought was a good match for her daughter. Penelope took her turn at judging the man and found him entirely too preoccupied with smoothing his hair down, what of it there was. Worse still, if his straining coat buttons were any indication, the man was completely oblivious to the girth of his own waistline.
Lady Winchester waved her hand ever so daintily at Penelope when Penelope neared and introduced her. “This is my daughter, Lady Penelope Withersfield. Penelope, this lovely young man is the Earl of Chesterton.” Lady Winchester eyed Penelope with meaning, and Penelope knew all too well that her mother was wanting her to make a good impression on the man.
Penelope forced a smile on her face and extended her hand towards the man. It was a bit bold of her, but he seemed to appreciate the gesture as he took her hand gently. “Sir Chesterton—”
Her mother cleared her throat softly and laughed as if to soften Penelope’s mistake. The woman said in a low voice, “Lord Chesterton.”
“Oh, I do apologise, Your Lordship. You must think awfully of me now,” Penelope said with fervent sorrow to the man.
The Earl waved off her concern. “All is forgiven,” he assured her. His hand ran over his wavy, yet thinning strands again as his smile crinkled his face along well-creased lines. “Easy enough mistake, is it not?”
“Yes,” Lady Winchester said, but her eyes slanted towards her daughter.
Penelope kept her eyes on the plump man and thanked the Earl for his kindness. “That is very benevolent of you,” Penelope said. The man could have been angry for the slight, but at least he had the decency to understand that mistakes happen. It probably was not worth ruining his relationship with the Marquis at least.
“Her Ladyship was telling me that you paint. Was she telling me true?” the Earl said with the feigned interest that one gave a child for a hobby that was absurd.
Penelope nodded. “Oh, yes, I do love to paint very much.”
“She is quite the artist,” Lady Winchester said with what Penelope almost took for pride.
The Earl smiled. “What a lovely hobby for a young lady to have,” he said.
There was something about the way he said it that made Penelope bristle. “Is it a hobby that the women in your household participate in, Your Lordship?” Penelope asked as she folded her hands in front of her primly and smiled ever so sweetly at the man.
“My sister had some training in the arts, as young noblewomen often do, but my mother never approved of it going too far,” the Earl said with a look to Penelope’s mother. “You will understand, I am sure,” the Earl said to Lady Winchester.
Penelope’s mother dipped her head as if conceding a point. “My very own mother condemned it as a disservice to the young feminine mind as it can put all manner of ideas into their heads.”
Penelope’s eyebrows rose. “Was it not you, Mother, who put it forth as a noble pursuit for me to undertake?”
“I did,” Lady Winchester said with a smile. “Times change, and now it is quite a fanciful way for young ladies to present themselves to the world. I think my daughter’s art embodies her quite well actually. Have you seen the pieces that are on display at the local museum?”
The Earl looked as if he did not quite know what to say. “No,” the man admitted. “I fear that I have not as of yet had that pleasure.”
Lady Winchester gave the Earl a smile. “You are probably like my husband, so busy. Men have all the weight of the world on their shoulders.” Her mother leaned in as if in conspiracy and said to the Earl, “Penelope has also studied dance as part of her education.”
Penelope felt very much like she was some horse at a showing, on display and having her attributes touted to potential buyers. The Earl’s face brightened upon hearing of Penelope’s skill in dancing. “Such a wonderful thing to be instructed in. It shall come in handy with all the engagements of a fine lady,” the Earl exclaimed with pleasure.
Lady Winchester seemed very pleased as well and gave Penelope a smile. Penelope sighed and acknowledged, “Yes. It will come in quite handy.” Penelope added in her mind that her whole value did not lie in how graceful she looked while dancing at parties for her husband’s friends. No, that would be quite rude to say out loud. Penelope forced a smile onto her face.
The Earl said, “I am now quite curious as to how you dance, Lady Withersfield. Would you accompany me on the floor for a song?”
Penelope saw no way of getting out of the dance and assented with a dip of her head. She lifted her skirts with one hand and placed her free hand in the hand that the Earl stretched out to her. The song was one that she loved, and Penelope just focused on it.
The Earl nodded to several others as they swept around the dance floor in the easy steps of a waltz. Penelope found it rather boring, but the Earl seemed suitably impressed. Truth be told, the man was not a wonderful dancer. His feet were heavy and dragged along the floor, causing Penelope to have to compensate.
It was far more tiring a dance than any waltz had a right to be. She was fuming inwardly that this man thought himself such a catch. Her family was of a higher status than the Earl, and yet the man treated her as if she should be honoured by every glance that he bestowed upon her.
She was more than grateful when the song came to an end and the Earl escorted her off the floor. Penelope noted the pink to the man’s cheeks. His breath came in short puffs. Penelope wagered the only time the man did anything strenuous was these dances.
Lady Winchester greeted them with a pleased expression that made Penelope feel slightly ill. If she did not somehow stamp out the Earl of Chesterton’s interest in her, then Penelope feared she would be betrothed before the morning. She glanced around and looked for something that might give her an escape route out of the acquaintance without causing her mother to go into a fit of rage.
Penelope cleared her throat causing the Earl to look back to her. She gave the man a smile. “Is that your sister?” Penelope asked as she jutted her chin to a lady across the way.
The Earl chuckled. “No. That is the Duchess of Trenton.”
“Oh,” Penelope said as she pursed her lips. “I thought you two were so intimate earlier that you had to be family.”
The Earl’s cheeks tinted with a pink that made Penelope smile, which she hid behind her gloved hand. Her mother interceded, “My daughter means no harm.”
“No,” the Earl said with a nod. “It was an honest mistake. The Duke of Trenton and I grew up together, so our families are quite close.”
There was something about the way the man looked at Penelope that assured her that the chances of him choosing her as a bride were all but demolished. Penelope gave the man a pleasant smile.
The Earl said, “Well, I must be off to talk to more of the guests. I do hope to talk to you ladies again.” He gave them both a deep bow before he swept away to the next knot of ladies.
Penelope regarded the man’s retreat with amusement, but her amusement faded when she looked upon her mother’s dire face. Penelope swallowed and clasped her hands together in front of her. The Marchioness was eying her daughter as if deliberating some awful punishment to be delivered even in these brightly decorated halls.
“What do you think you are doing?” Lady Winchester hissed in a low voice as she put her fan up in front of her face to hide her lips from those nearby.
Penelope shifted uncomfortably, her blonde hair brushing the bare skin at her neck. “I do not know what you mean, Mother,” Penelope said as she often had as a young girl.
Lady Winchester’s eyes narrowed at her only daughter. “You have been behaving most horribly,” the woman whispered.
“I have not,” Penelope disputed as she smoothed her dress. It would not do to make a scene, and she certainly had no intention of drawing attention to them.
Lady Winchester’s free hand clenched. “So you suddenly forgot everything you know in a single evening? You address the gentlemen improperly. You are too forward, or too shy. You bring up inappropriate things.” As Lady Winchester spoke, she seemed to be ticking off a list in her mind.
Penelope sighed, “It is just nerves. I get all boggle-minded when someone asks me something, you know that.”
“No,” Lady Winchester said with a shake of her head. “I believed that the first time, but I no longer hold that delusion. You are simply trying to make yourself unfit for marriage, and I cannot fathom as to why that would be.”
Penelope unfurled her fan and brought it up to her face. “What is so wrong with not wanting to marry anyway?”
“It simply is not done,” Lady Winchester insisted.
Penelope blew air out her lips in a huff. “That is not true. Women have been made Baronesses in their own right. Why can I not also?”
“Well, you are certainly strong-willed enough,” Lady Winchester said with distaste. “Do you forget that you are at a great disadvantage already?”
Penelope grew silent. She knew that her mother was referring to the fact that Penelope had not been granted a voucher for Almack’s. Without it, she would not be eligible to attend the balls there, and that was where the most sought-after men and women would be.
After a time, Penelope said, “That is not a blame to be laid at my feet. You act as if I went over and slapped the patronesses of the establishment personally.”
“Of course I do not mean the fault lies with you, but it is still there,” Lady Winchester said as if to amend and soften her words.
Penelope eyed her mother. The woman looked quite uncomfortable. Penelope had suspected that her family’s reputation or her father’s reputation perhaps had soured her chances of obtaining a voucher. It truly had not bothered Penelope, but she could see now how much it troubled her mother.
“I am sorry to make you so sullen,” Penelope said in honesty. She reached over and touched her mother’s free hand with her own. The woman’s fingers folded around Penelope’s hand, and Penelope felt a tug on her heart. “I shall try to do better.”
Lady Winchester gave her daughter a restrained smile. “I would be pleased if I believed that.”
“You do not believe that I shall try and not make you sour at me?” Penelope asked, her hand still in her mother’s grasp.
Lady Winchester eyed her daughter astutely. “This is not the first time you have set yourself forward in such a way, and I must assume that since you are doing so on purpose that it will continue. I do not, however, know why you would be doing such a thing.”
“I told you,” Penelope reminded her mother.
Lady Winchester sighed at her daughter. “You have to marry, Penelope. You have a duty to not only the family but to yourself.”
“I will forgive myself,” Penelope assured her mother.
Lady Winchester shook her head at her daughter. “You might. I doubt your father will indulge your whim in this instance.”
“Must we talk about him,” Penelope said as she withdrew her hand from her mother’s grip.
Lady Winchester sighed. “Why, of course, we shall talk about your father. What has gotten into you lately?”
“Mother, are you truly happy with all of this?” Penelope asked as she turned her head back towards the woman.
The Marchioness of Winchester was a beautiful woman, and many had told Penelope that she looked so much like her mother. Penelope did not see the resemblance between herself and her exquisite mother when she looked into the mirror.
Lady Winchester said in a discreet tone, “Why would I not be happy to be presenting my lovely daughter to the world? Penelope, you can do so well for yourself.”
There was an ache in her heart with her mother’s words. “Cannot I do well by myself? Why must I marry?”
“Someone has to inherit the land and look after things once your father is gone,” Lady Winchester reminded her daughter.
Penelope sighed. “And I as a woman cannot do those things.” Penelope finished the old sentiment. She had heard it enough to know it by heart.
“And yet you persist in this childish game of yours,” Lady Winchester said in tones of disapproval. The woman lowered her voice as a tall man walked near them.
Penelope’s eyes went to the man’s tailcoat and the dark ponytail of his hair that hung down the sombre blue of the coat’s material. Penelope shook her head “Other women have made their own path in this world. I can as well.”
“And what of the lands and inheritance of the family?” Lady Winchester asked as she fanned herself lightly.
Penelope noted the colour under her mother’s make-up. The woman was becoming quite vexed. Penelope said soothingly, “Perhaps we should take our leave before our sullen moods offend the host of this event.”
Lady Winchester slapped her fan closed against the palm of her hand. “Very well,” Lady Winchester consented. She pressed her lips together and gave Penelope a stern look. “If I press you into staying, you might just offend someone beyond what I can repair.”
“I would never,” Penelope said, but she could tell her mother was not listening. Penelope had chosen what she said carefully, despite what her mother might think. She knew well enough how to talk to these people, after all. It was one of the things her mother had impressed upon her so heavily.
The murmur of voices around them made Penelope look around the room. The candles flickering gave the scene a surreality. There were knots of people here and there doing their best to entertain and bewitch each other. Beautiful ladies hid smiles behind fans as gentlemen hooked their thumbs in their overcoats and chuckled at the lovely picture the ladies before them made.
How must it be to know that you can have whichever lady strikes your fancy? Penelope watched a tall man a few feet away who seemed to be sizing a potential group of ladies up in that way that men did. Penelope turned her face towards her mother again.
Lady Winchester took in a breath as Penelope watched the woman calm herself. “Indeed, we should go before others catch wind of our disagreement and it just makes your social situation worse.”
“I truly am sorry, Mother,” Penelope said. The very exasperation in the woman’s voice made Penelope feel as if she were once again six and failing to meet her exalted expectations.
Lady Winchester waved off her daughter’s words with a subtle gesture of her wrist. “Let us not speak of this further. I shall go and find our host and explain our departure.”
“What shall you say?” Penelope asked in curiosity.
Lady Winchester said, “I will say simply that you are not feeling yourself. That should be suitably true.”
Penelope shifted in her blue dress as she waited in the foyer of the home where the ball was taking place. The ruffles were not Penelope’s favourite, but her mother had insisted that Penelope looked quite enchanting in the ruffled fabric. Penelope’s fingers brushed over the ruffles that covered the lower half of her dress, and she sighed internally.
Lady Winchester’s elegant form emerged from the ballroom and headed with purpose towards Penelope. Penelope drew herself up to her full height, which was still dwarfed by her mother’s 5’6” frame. A man intercepted Lady Winchester, and Penelope never saw a bit of frustration in her mother’s features. Lady Winchester dipped her head gracefully to the man whom she clearly knew.
Whatever the two were saying was lost to Penelope, but then she was not that interested. Penelope could imagine for herself what bland platitudes the two must be saying. She let her eyes go to the bold fabrics that covered the walls.
The walls of the old house held the images of cranes in flight through wispy woodlands. Penelope smiled at the whimsy of it. Surely someone with real imagination and life inside them had once lived in these halls if the wall coverings were any indication.
“I see you are admiring my wife’s cranes,” a man’s rich voice said near Penelope, startling her. “I apologise for causing you a fright,” the man said.
Penelope turned towards the man as she laughed lightly while her cheeks coloured at being caught so out of sorts. The gentleman’s hair was graying, and he had a softness to his face that Penelope took to immediately. “My own fault for being caught dreaming,” Penelope assured the man.
His cheeks crinkled up as he smiled at her. “My wife would often daydream as well,” he said in a wistful tone that made Penelope ache inside.
She hated to ask but felt compelled. “Where is your wife now?”
“Oh, she is off on a very long daydream,” the man said. He paused for a moment. Penelope saw how he pulled himself inward, restraining his emotions.
Penelope said softly, “I wish I could have met her. She decorated a lovely home.”
“You are too kind,” the man said with another sad smile at Penelope. “Are you leaving the party so soon? A young lady like yourself should be dancing and winning some man’s heart.”
Penelope looked down at her feet. “I am afraid that I am not feeling myself. It was a wonderful ball, Sir.”
“I had nothing to do with it.” The older man waved off her compliment. “My son and his wife put these things on now. I just dawdle around in the library and nip a few drinks.”
Penelope laughed and covered her mouth behind her gloved hand. She smiled at the man when she got her laughter under control. “That sounds like a better way to pass the time than dancing.”
“Ah, so you dislike dancing?” he said with a grin as if he had caught her out in some sort of embarrassment.
Penelope shook her head at the man and his amusement. “I like dancing well enough. I just like reading better.”
“That is a wise thing,” he said. “Ah, here now, is this the Lady Winchester?” The man was no longer looking at Penelope, but his eyes instead had gone behind her.
Penelope turned and saw her mother had freed herself of her previous companion. Lady Winchester walked up and put her hand out to the older gentleman that Penelope had been conversing with. “Lord Gregory, I did not know you were about.”
“That is because I am not supposed to be,” Lord Gregory said with a twinkle in his eyes as he took Lady Winchester’s hand and gave it a gentle pat with his free hand. He gave Penelope a wink before he continued, “I was just conversing with this lovely young woman.”
Lady Winchester smiled. “This is my daughter, Lady Penelope Withersfield.”
“You did not tell me that your mother was Lady Winchester,” Lord Gregory said to Penelope. “Then again, we were talking of my Beatrice and reading. So, it was probably my flight of fancy that kept the discussion from coming up.”
Penelope decided that she liked Lord Gregory very much. He was not like most other nobles who were stuffy and put far too much emphasis on how a person held her hand or if she used the right tone. No, Lord Gregory seemed to have more in his head than silly rules for a society mad with its own amusement.
“Your daughter said that you two were leaving for the night,” Lord Gregory said in a tone that was almost sad.
Lady Winchester inclined her head as she drew her hand back to fold gently over her other hand in front of her. “Yes, Penelope is feeling off, and I thought it better that she go home.”
“Can never be too careful,” Lord Gregory said with a nod of his head. “Well, young lady,” he said turning towards Penelope. “I do hope that we shall see you more this Season. My son and his wife are due to hold another ball here later, and I would be thrilled if I could slate a dance for you then.”
Penelope smiled and dipped her head ever so primly. “I would be honoured, Your Lordship.”
“Very good,” Lord Gregory said as he patted his chest as if looking for something. “I must be off and see if I can locate my pipe. Good evening, Ladies.”
Penelope and her mother replied, “Good evening, Your Lordship,” in unison. The man gave them a small wave before he wandered off down the hall.
Penelope whispered, “He seems nice.”
“Lord Gregory is a dear man,” Lady Winchester said softly. “I sent a maid after our shawls. It is still quite chilly after that storm today.”
Almost as if summoned by Lady Winchester’s words, a maid who looked to be no more than fifteen came scurrying into the foyer. “Begging your pardons,” the young maid said. Her cheeks were quite pink, and Penelope was sure that wherever she had gone to fetch the shawls was quite a distance. The maid held out the shawls to Lady Winchester who took them with a smile.
“Thank you very much,” Lady Winchester said kindly to the young maid who gave the noblewoman a curtsy before hurrying off to continue her duties.
Penelope smiled at her mother as the woman held out Penelope’s shawl to her. Penelope took it and swiftly swept it around her shoulders. The air from the door opening when people arrived or departed had made the foyer rather chilly in its own right. Lady Winchester settled her shawl as well and said, “Well, let us find our coach now.”
The doorman gave them a bow as he opened the door to allow them to leave. Penelope and Lady Winchester both dipped their heads and murmured their thanks. Lady Winchester let her fan dangle by the band around her wrist as she held her skirts up slightly to keep them out from under her shoes. Penelope followed her mother’s example.
“The night might be chilly, but it is breathtaking,” Penelope said as she stared up at the stars. “Look how clear the sky is, Mother. I think you could probably see even the planets that are said to be out there somewhere. You might discover one just like Sir Herschel and be a famous astronomer.”
Lady Winchester shook her head as she waved her hand at their coachman. “We are ready to depart,” she said to the man who quickly hurried away to get their coach for them.
Penelope smiled and said, “I think if we discovered a planet we should name it after father. He would hate that.”
“Do be quiet,” Lady Winchester said with a sigh. “You go on about the most preposterous things. I often ponder where you learn of such things. Is it that governess of yours?”
Penelope’s smile broadened at her mother’s words. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Lady Winchester laughed. “Yes, I do think it is your governess’ doing.”
Penelope sighed and looked up at the sky. Her governess was a lovely woman who spoke French and had quiet humour that Penelope enjoyed more than most. There was no pressing for applause, simply a smile upon the woman’s lips when she strove to lighten the mood of a room.
“You never did say whether you found any of the gentlemen that we met in this foray to your liking?” Lady Winchester’s question was not so much pressing Penelope to the point of compulsion, but it left her little room but to answer.
Penelope looked away from the twinkling stars and at her mother. The woman’s blue eyes were like stars, really, Penelope decided as Lady Winchester’s eyes caught the light of the lamp outside the manor home. “I cannot say,” Penelope said noncommittally.
“Seems to me that a lady of your learning should know whether she sees a man as a potential husband,” Lady Winchester said as she pressed her lips together.
Penelope lifted her shoulders in a shrug, the material of her dress constricting the movement of her shoulders upward ever so slightly. Perhaps the dress had been tailored a bit too snugly. She might have noticed it more if she had consented to dance more than she had. Then again, Penelope did not favour dancing much, especially when it concerned gentlemen who fancied themselves halfway to the altar with her.
She knew that her mother would press her soon enough into giving in and answering the question, but for now, Penelope chose to avoid the waiting disagreement. There was not a way to tell the woman that Penelope saw too much of her father in all the men she had seen at the ball. Penelope frowned and knew that she would never tell her mother that. How could she say such as that to her own mother?
Lady Winchester stood beside Penelope unaware of the war of emotions that waged within Penelope. Penelope did not want to suffer the fate of her mother. There had to be another way, another sort of man in this world.
“Penelope,” Lady Winchester said in that way she had that told Penelope she required an answer.
Penelope drew in a breath and said finally, “I did not particularly like or dislike them. That is really the trouble.”
“Do not dance around with your words. It is unbecoming of a lady,” Lady Winchester scolded as she shifted her shawl tighter around her.
Penelope pursed out her lips. “None of them seemed to have any true fire in them. There was no passion or intellect to be found skittering around their empty heads. It is a wonder that they do not sing like the seashells at the shore when held up into the wind.”
“Penelope Withersfield,” Lady Winchester hissed in reproach to her daughter. The woman’s eyes darted around, but they were still quite alone.
Penelope sighed. “All of them were dull or fancied themselves the dictators of the kingdoms they rule in their hollow heads. Why should I be a subject to their whims? It is quite a fate that you would have me tied to, Mother.”
“You act as if I send you off to the gallows,” Lady Winchester said with a frown. “You really must outgrow this overly dramatic streak, Penelope. It is fit more for the roguish actors of the theatre than a lady of your standing.”
Pulling at her shawl, Penelope pretended to peer deeply into the dark night and promptly ignore her mother’s redressing of her. Perhaps she was overly-dramatic, but failing anything short of a death scene at the end of the night would probably be passed over by Lady Winchester’s discerning eye. Penelope was about to say something to her mother, but her thoughts were stolen by a loud noise that brought her up short.
“I say, I hope that was not the carriage,” Lady Winchester said as she peered down the street in the direction of the loud noise.
Penelope dropped down a step on the stone staircase that led to the sidewalk. “That did not sound of wood and stone, Mother. It sounded like someone was being murdered. Did you not hear the shout?”
“I heard only the sounds of a loud crash,” Lady Winchester said dismissively to her daughter. As Penelope took another step down onto the sidewalk in front of the manor house, Lady Winchester warned, “Penelope do not go jaunting off. It is probably just some swill who has fallen down on the slick stones of the street.”
Penelope threw her mother a frown. “And what if it is not?” With her question thrown at her mother, Penelope took off as quickly as she dared. The dew had begun to collect on the stones in the dark and, indeed, the stones were rather slippery on the sidewalk.
Behind her, Lady Winchester called, “Penelope!” There was a touch of fear in her mother’s voice, but Penelope had to see what the noise was about. If someone were in trouble, how would she ever forgive herself for not offering aid?
“Stay there then,” Penelope called back. “I shall just go to the alley there and spy what it is that has happened. Bring the coachman to help when he gets here!”
Lady Winchester stood under the lamplight. Penelope hurried off trying not to think about the frown on her mother’s face. Her mother had a particular look about her when she feared Penelope would be hurt in some way. Penelope tried not to think about what ways she could be hurt as she hurried towards the alley.
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Lady Penelope Withersfield had always dreamed of finding love like the one in stories she hears and reads. But when she discovers a collection of old journals and diaries, a terrible truth comes to the surface. How could she break free of the curse that surrounded women in her family? The past seemed doomed to repeat itself and Penelope vowed that she would never be chained to a man’s name, and forced to smile demurely at his whims. Her fire and determination could bring her fortune or ruin, but when she stumbles upon a fallen duke, how could she save herself from the beauty of his face?
All Lord Jules Daventry, Duke of Richmond, knew was revenge. His incessant search for truth had brought him to gloomy places full of people envying his blood or his wealth. He would not give up until the truth of his parents’ murders was brought to light and his good name was restored. Yet, in his darkest moments, he came to see an angel. Is she friend or a foe?
Lord Jules must let go of his past, in order to see that there is beauty to be had and that revenge is not worth it. During this critical moment, he will have to choose between the dark desire of vengeance and his deeper need for redemption. How can he fulfill his vow without endangering the woman he grows to love?
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“The Light in the Duke’s Shadow” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.