The Braxton estate on the outskirts of London had been the crowning achievement of Frederick Braxton’s great-great-grandfather, a man who upheld finery over all things. He’d orchestrated every unique detail of the mansion, crafting a stunning fireplace that had once garnered a visit from King George himself, an ornate ballroom with enormous mirrors that had busied themselves, over the centuries, with reflecting back one grand party after the next. Gowns swirled; lords and ladies cupped their hands together and whispered secrets. Marriages were forged, and babies were ultimately born, all because of this stunning ecosystem of grandeur.
Ella and her sister, Tatiana, had grown older down the road from this estate, frequenting its halls, taking tea as they grew older, and roaming the glorious gardens. Throughout spring and summer, stunning blooms crept toward the sky, ballooning out and billowing in the breeze. Frequently, they called the home their dream world, a place for ultimate escape. And they used it: darting across the moor to find their good friend, Frederick Braxton himself, a boy (now man) a few years older than they, always willing to walk through the woods or play tricks on his younger brother or toss around a ball or read, read endlessly into the afternoon and evening – read as though the world had stopped turning and no one required anything at all from you, and never would again.
At least, that was how Ella liked to think of it.
She remembered the long afternoons when she and Frederick had pored over books, whispering their favourite passages to one another and speaking excitedly about what words could possibly do, when stitched together from different perspectives. When Ella was around eleven or twelve, Frederick had introduced her to his love of history, thus propelling her into an entirely different section of the library. Frequently, she laid awake at night, thanking her lucky stars for having someone like Frederick in her world, someone willing to blast open the metaphorical roof of her mind and allow her to see, really see.
Ella considered these afternoons now: perched, as she was, at the edge of the stool before her make-up mirror, easing herself tighter and tighter towards her own reflection. She hated how typical it was, to be a woman and analyse one’s self in such a manner: with such severity. But at 22 years old, she ached with the knowledge that very soon, she wouldn’t look precisely this way; that every moment that passed cast her towards middle-age. It was a strange thought, being ever so single, and ever so aware that she needed to find herself a proper romance, a romance that “stuck,” that appreciated her beauty and then would forgive her when her beauty faded away.
She sensed that Frederick was precisely the sort to ignore the passage of time. Or, if not ignore, embrace it. She imagined him preaching of various poems he’d read, ones that counted the wrinkles on wives’ faces in a way that applauded their lives and celebrated the consequences of living such a long time. It wasn’t that Frederick himself was a poet, no. But he was well-read in the poets, was better-read than anyone Ella had ever met. Even herself, although she supposed she might catch up to him. Especially if she remained a single maid.
Of course, that wasn’t a part of the plan. Not now, with Frederick’s return imminent. He’d been away the previous three months, studying at a university in Bristol under several history professors, attending to his intellectual needs before, he said, his ultimate “time” to join Parliament, like his father. Frederick was nearly 26 years old, and, at least the last time Ella had seen him, had begun to look more and more like a man, and so much less like the optimistic, gentile boy she’d grown up with.
Ella had written him a few letters throughout his studies in the west. Each time, her stomach had ached with the desire to tell him her true, pent-up feelings: that, in fact, she was head over heels for him; that each afternoon she’d spent curved around a book, just to the side of him, had been some of the happiest times of her life. “I want to do that with you every single day,” she imagined writing, but never did. It was perhaps too forward.
In response to her letters, Frederick responded with what she deemed as excitement. He told her endlessly about his historical discoveries, about the letters he’d read between various monarchy members, about the affairs he’d learned about. How cheeky, she felt, him telling her about the affairs! She’d blushed at the thought of it, of Frederick being conscious in his writing of her. Was he trying to tell her something? Something about the state of their future?
For surely, he knew she was one of the only people in the world who could understand his excitement for what could be learned, for what could be read.
Ella swished her brush through her long red locks, turning her eyes towards the brimming May afternoon outside. How daydreamy she’d been, since Frederick had announced his return. Her thoughts swirled, unwilling to be pinned down.
There was a knock on the door. Ella pulled her shoulders back, called out, “Come in!”
Through the crack slinked her sister, Tatiana: a taller, thin-boned, gorgeous woman of 25, who let out an infectious laugh the moment she locked eyes with Ella in the mirror. “Darling girl, what are you doing indoors on a day like today!”
Ella hadn’t yet declared her love for Frederick to Tatiana. She swallowed hard, balancing her thoughts, trying to imagine Tatiana’s opinion on the matter. The three of them had grown up together, had spent many an afternoon lazing about beneath the sun. Certainly, Ella had never suspected Tatiana and Frederick to have any sort of strong friendship, especially given that Tatiana thought the pair of them were “wasting their youths” with all that book stuff. Perhaps when Ella finally made the announcement, told Tatiana of her aching heart, Tatiana would spurn her, tell her that the pair of them would “waste their old age, too.”
“I’m just trying to brush through this bird’s nest.” Ella sighed, clunking her brush back on the wardrobe. “And my bangs, goodness. They’re entirely too long, aren’t they?”
Tatiana smirked. She swirled towards the mirror, leaning down and looking at herself, as well. In Ella’s eyes, as well as the rest of the world’s, Tatiana was a vessel of purity, a gorgeous specimen who’d never had to spend much time beautifying herself. Her long locks were nearly black, and coiled perfectly towards her waist. Her eyes were a stirring green, almost alien in nature, and seemed to sparkle when she laughed. Ella’s were green, as well, but a bit darker, reminiscent of, say, a swamp. At least, this was what she thought.
She’d never discussed this with Tatiana, either. Any time Ella gave any sort of indication that she wasn’t entirely thrilled with her appearance, Tatiana batted it away, telling her that it was a waste of time considering it. “You’re beautiful, Ella. And everyone knows it.”
Of course, this was easy for Tatiana to say: the prettier, older, more electric and outgoing sister. The one everyone remembered.
Complicated, when the person Ella loved the most was also, sometimes, the one she was most jealous of.
“I can trim your fringe for you if you like,” Tatiana said, after a pause.
“Really?” Ella asked, her voice a bit brighter than she wanted it to be. She sounded too eager, as though she really was “planning” for something. Something, like, say, Frederick’s arrival.
“Sure,” Tatiana said. She pulled open the drawer of the wardrobe, her fingers scavenging for the scissors. She released them from beneath several books and towels, pointing them into the air so that the May sun glinted off the top. “I’ve done it before.”
“Not the fringe. It’s a bit more delicate …” Ella said.
“Don’t worry. I have steady hands,” Tatiana offered.
Ella turned in the stool, splaying her hands across her lap. She inhaled sharply, closing her eyes. Her heart seemed to burst somewhere near her throat. She imagined a bullfrog, how his neck bulged out and in.
Tatiana turned the scissors over Ella’s hair, easing the metal against Ella’s forehead. “I was just downstairs with Mother,” she said, taking the first snip. A bit of red curl fell to the floor. “And she was talking about Frederick’s arrival this afternoon. I don’t know if you’re interested, but perhaps he could come to the house this week for a bit of dinner?”
“Oh?” Ella said, watching another curl drop. “I wasn’t entirely sure when he was coming back.” The lie fell from her lips.
“I believe it’s today, if nothing unfortunate happened on the way. Lift your chin,” Tatiana instructed.
Ella did. Tatiana snipped again. She drew her other hand along Ella’s jawline, as though she was trying to stabilise herself. “So, what do you think?”
“I think that’s fine,” Ella offered. “I can’t imagine why not.”
“Brilliant. I’m sure he has so many stories to tell.”
“About his time in a library?” Ella asked, her voice catching. She couldn’t imagine Tatiana being entirely thrilled with those sorts of stories, although she could soak in them for hours.
“I’m sure he got up to more than reading a few books now and again,” Tatiana said.
Ella’s eyes snapped open. She peered up at her sister, marvelling at how glorious her smell was. She so often smelled exactly like the flowers that bloomed outside of Frederick’s estate, the ones they’d spent tireless afternoons amongst as girls.
But as Ella peered up at her, Tatiana’s face began to fall. Her smile curved downward; her eyebrows crinkled. She took a tiny step back and blinked at Ella, looking at her as though she’d never seen her before. This was, naturally, quite frightening.
Immediately, Ella smacked her hands across her cheeks, swirling back towards the mirror. She gaped at herself, at the fringe that was now crinkly and crooked across her forehead. She looked every bit a strange, scraggly boy, despite the wild red curls that still ran down her back and shoulders. She looked uneven, a crazed idiot. Her heart thudded, thudded, thudded. What on earth was she going to do?
“Ella, I’m terribly sorry,” Tatiana said, finally whispering it. “Ella, I suppose I wasn’t paying attention …”
“Tatiana …” Ella began, stuttering. “Tatiana, what – how – how could you possibly allow this to happen? Tatiana, my God. I don’t quite know what to say.”
“Ella, really. It wasn’t my intention.”
Ella popped up from the stool, storming towards the window. She felt as though she’d been punched in the face. Outside, one of the stable boys drew a horse around and around a fenced-off circle, training him. The horse cantered up and down, rollicking his head back and forth.
In just a few hours, Ella would see Frederick for the first time in months. All he had known of her was her rather brilliant letters, her ability with words. And now, now! He would see her as a complete disaster, as a product of this wretched hair.
And it was all Tatiana’s fault.
Tatiana hustled to Ella’s side, clearly distraught. “Ella, really. I don’t see why we can’t patch this up.”
“HOW, Tatiana?” Ella asked, her throat feeling parched. She blinked at her sister, aghast. This was a rather strange feeling, being angry with Tatiana. Ordinarily, her heart burst with love for her. “There’s nothing left to fix. It’s just empty. It’s just ratty bits of hair.”
Tatiana turned her hands one over the other, furrowing her eyebrows still more. There was a massive pit between her eyebrows, now: something that might have been used for storage. Ella longed to be alone.
“Ella, really. I can’t imagine a worse thing I did to you just now,” Tatiana murmured, her voice quivering. “I would never in a million years try to do something like this to you on purpose. You know you’re my favourite person on the planet, don’t you? You know I would do anything – anything – for you.”
Her words rollicked against Ella. Her soul felt like a boat stirring in wild waves. She longed to translate the true brevity of the situation: the fact that she wanted to appear the perfect life partner for Frederick, that she wanted to prove to him she wasn’t just brains, that she was beauty, too. But now, the fringe snuck up her forehead like a tree that had been whacked through during a storm.
“Ella, I can’t really describe how wretched I feel, just now …” Tatiana began.
Ella flashed her eyes towards her sister, suddenly awash with a memory. It had been perhaps two years ago, during a Season the girls had spent together. They’d been at a ball at the Braxton estate, although at the time, Frederick had been terribly ill and hadn’t been able to attend (he’d been sent to the sea at the time, a particularly wretched time of Ella’s life).
Tatiana was always the belle of the ball, the woman most sought-after, regardless of title or station. Throughout that Season, Ella had watched as man after man had danced with Tatiana, making her toss her head back with raucous laughter, causing her to grow dizzy with countless dances. Jealousy had stirred in Ella’s gut, but she’d assured herself, over and over again, that the man she truly wanted simply wasn’t available, at the moment: he was ill, cast toward the seaside, probably spending his hours latched to a brilliant book. How she longed to be beside him.
No, courting wasn’t necessarily Ella’s thing. But it was certainly Tatiana’s.
On this particular evening, Tatiana rushed towards Ella midway through the ball, her cheeks flushed with excitement. She twirled around, then swept her lips towards Ella’s ear, whispering, “The Duke of Cornwall just asked to be introduced to me, isn’t that grand?”
But in the midst of this encounter, Ella stepped forward, drawing her shoe across Tatiana’s gown. Ella and Tatiana both heard the mighty tear, the rush of the fabric towards the ground. Tatiana’s face had ghosted immediately, growing terribly, horribly white. Her hands rushed to her back, catching some of the fabric before it toiled to the ground.
“My goodness, Ella, what have you done?” Tatiana had hissed, anger flowing across her face.
Immediately, Ella had felt more wretched than she’d ever felt in her life. She’d never, in a billion years, wanted anything ill to befall her sister. And now, she’d been the cause of destruction to her gown, in the midst of a proper potential romance with the Duke.
Ella had reached out, latched her hand across Tatiana’s wrist, and led her towards the far end of the ballroom, out the hallway, and towards the dressing room in the back. Her heart rabbit-raced in her throat.
“Where are you taking me?” Tatiana had hissed. Between words, Ella recognised that she was crying. “There’s nothing to be done, now.”
But Ella drew the door closed behind them, turned Tatiana around, gazed at the evidence of the assault. She blinked several times, trying to wage an inner war she had with herself. How on earth had she allowed herself to do such a wretched thing?
“You’ll wear my dress tonight,” Ella said. “I’ll take it off just now. Yes, you’re a bit thinner, a bit taller, but it will have to do.”
That night, they’d chosen very similar gowns: both light pink, with low-cut bodies that made their breasts bulge. They’d both commented, that afternoon, that they looked like proper women, these days. The thought had made them giggle before their faces had fallen with the realisation that this – being a woman – would be the rest of their lives.
“No! Surely they’ll notice,” Tatiana said.
“They will not,” Ella affirmed. “They know only the colour. They’ve been watching your laugh and your smile and your eyes and your hair. Your dress? It’s just like mine in several ways. They won’t notice a thing.” After a pause, Ella had pushed her forehead against her sister’s, saying, “Go. Go tell the Duke you wish to meet him, as well.”
The memory curled around Ella just now, reminding her of a similar time, a time when she’d “ruined” Tatiana’s night. It hadn’t been purposeful, and the thought of Tatiana’s pain had ripped her to shreds.
“Really, Ella …” Tatiana murmured again. “I want to do something. Anything to help.”
Ella set her chin, drew her fingers across her bangs, and scrubbed her forehead. “Tatiana, you know you mean more to me than any sort of hairdo.” She paused, watching her sister slowly unscrew her face. “And you’re right. I’ve spent far too much time indoors this afternoon, when we should be amongst the flowers, the trees. Won’t you come with me?”
Tatiana nodded, before tossing her arms around her sister and drawing her head tight against her shoulder. “You can’t imagine what you mean to me, Ella. No matter what happens. We’ll always have one another.”
Ella draped a pretty hat over her head, shoving bits of her botched fringe beneath it. She followed Tatiana down the steps, praying her mother wouldn’t dart out from her sitting room to see the damage. Yes, seeing Frederick like this ate at her heart, but more than that, she was conscious that her mother would scold her, telling her that she made wretched decisions regarding her appearance. “You’ll never find a suitor like that.”
Once outside, Tatiana linked her arm with Ella, drawing her towards the garden. The silence hung heavy between them, and Ella hadn’t the energy to fuel conversation. In turn, Tatiana bucked up, beginning to tell her about the painting she’d recently finished, about the afternoon she’d had at a friend’s in Central London, about the ball she planned to attend the following week (“And wouldn’t you also like to come, darling Ella?”). As usual, Tatiana was the bright and sunny, charming London personality, the one the world craved. But her love for Ella drew Ella out into the world far more than she might have, up to her own devices. Ella knew this to be true.
Ella dropped her head back, gazing at the vibrant blue sky. She shivered despite it, feeling a kind of internal storm. Soon, Frederick would be back. Soon, she might have to make the biggest decision of her life, regarding marriage, her future. She blinked at her sister, the vibrant being before her, and reminded herself to thank her lucky stars. Her sister had been her rock, her best friend, throughout all times of strife and hardship and beauty. Someday soon, they wouldn’t necessarily be the first people they saw in the morning, nor the last person they spoke to at night.
She needed to appreciate the here and now.
“What’s it going to be like?” Tatiana sighed, unlatching herself from Ella and twirling so that her skirts echoed out around her. “When we’re married women? When we’re finally in love and loved?”
Ella grinned. This was a timeless conversation, one they frequently returned to. She kept up her side of the bargain, saying, “We’ll always have each other, even when we’re old and grey.”
“Of course we will,” Tatiana said, her eyelashes fluttering. She tilted her head, looking in the midst of a daydream. Ella wondered if there was a man Tatiana wasn’t telling her about: someone from Central London, perhaps. A friend of a friend, one Ella hadn’t yet met.
“I hope like whoever it is you end up with,” Tatiana offered then, twirling again. “I hope he upholds you for all you are, despite your bookish ways.”
“Hey!” Ella cried, reaching for her sister’s hand. She feigned being insulted, scrunching up her face while they twirled and twirled and twirled. She was unsure anything could feel as electric, as free as this afternoon: the afternoon before she was sure everything would change for good.
When Frederick arrived, she sensed a wave would fall over them, crashing into everything they’d ever known. Perhaps Tatiana would blink at her, a bit enraged, a bit saddened, demanding, “Why didn’t you tell me you loved him?” And Ella’s only answer would be that she wasn’t sure how to say it.
Ella thought back to the previous summer when she and Tatiana had been lazing in the back garden, and Frederick had found them – bouncing over the garden bush and declaring that it was far too nice an afternoon for them to laze about. Behind him had popped his good friend and cousin, Lord Peter Holloway, who was perhaps a year or two older than Frederick (and, Ella had always thought, a bit pompous, if terribly handsome. Although, it wasn’t as though being terribly handsome was something Ella was into. She considered herself almost blind to that, so sure she was that one could gaze into the depths of people’s souls and find the truth, there).
From then on that afternoon, the world had seemed awash with glory. Ella had watched as Frederick slipped easily over his horse, while Tatiana had struggled, pouting a bit. Ella had followed Frederick in style, making her leap onto the horse look easy.
“Your hair matches the horse’s,” Frederick had said, his eyes flashing. Her heart had pounded, loving the feeling that he was eyeing her, noting her.
“Mine matches my horse’s, too,” Tatiana had called, sounding arrogant.
Peter had rolled his eyes, darting his horse in front of all of them. He’d swirled the horse back when he reached the clearing before everyone, demanding why everyone was taking so long. At this, Ella and Frederick had locked eyes as if to say, “Doesn’t this man know that this is our territory? Our world? We do as we please. We go at our own speed.”
“Sorry about him. He’s my cousin, and I do love him,” Frederick had said once, after a visit from Peter. “But he can be a tire to be around.”
In a sense, Peter had reminded Ella of Tatiana. He always had to be the one to have the last word; he was artistic and wild and adventurous, and he demanded everyone listen to his stories, first. In this way, Frederick and Ella were similar. They were happy to watch the world turn, as long as they could remain home, filling their heads with words.
But as they’d cut deeper across the moors, Ella had lost track of her thoughts. She’d raced faster, slipping past Frederick, occasionally keeping up with Peter, even. In a sense, she’d wanted to show off, show to Frederick and her sister that she wasn’t to be messed with, that she could roam fast and wild, just like the likes of them. The “older” ones.
She wasn’t just a little girl.
But it was in this thought that her demise began. For suddenly, her horse bucked up, surprised at a rabbit that cut through the grass before him. Her hands unclasped from the reins, and she was cast to the ground, falling on her leg. The crack rang out, loud and clear in her ear. Her eyes were so large she felt them bug out of her head. She lay, sombre and alert, staring towards the sky, waiting. She knew that if she moved, the pain would buck up and down her spine, and she wouldn’t be able to do anything but cry.
Frederick reached her first. It was in his very nature to care the most. He fell upon his knees, gazing at her, his skin becoming grisly white, just as she knew hers was. He placed his hands on her shoulders and connected his eyes with hers, whispering, “It’s going to be all right. We’ll get you home. Don’t worry.”
Peter and Tatiana had arrived moments later, but Ella had hardly noticed. Her arms slithered around Frederick’s neck. She allowed herself to be lifted into him, conscious of his smells and his thick muscles and his curly black hair. She nearly blacked out, willing herself back to her bed, to the doctor that would wrap her leg up and deliver medicine. Frederick was ensuring that all would happen. Frederick was all she needed in the world.
The girls roamed past the stables, each placing little kisses on their horses’ noses, and then cast themselves past the gardens, inhaling the sweet smells of roses. Tatiana chatted easily, fully filling up the silence that seemed to latch around Ella’s throat. Was it anticipation? Fear? As they eased out of the stables, Tatiana gripped Ella’s hand, whispering, “I really am very sorry about your hair, Ella. Know that it will grow back. It will grow back, and it will be luscious, just as it always was and is. You know I’ve always been so endlessly jealous of it. The colour, the way the light reflects off it.”
Ella had fully decided to forgive her sister. Her tongue hesitated, heavy with the truth she so wanted to blurt: that in actuality, she couldn’t wait for Frederick to return. That the moment he did, she felt sure something would finally happen between them. He was hers; she was his. She felt it bubbling beneath the words they’d sent one another.
But she kept her words to herself, feeling as though she was marching along the edge of a cliff, conscious that she was very much able to fix the situation, yet couldn’t.
The girls returned to the house. They walked along the little stone path that led between the gardens, with Ella counting the stones, just as she’d done when she was a girl. One, two, all the way to thirteen. At number ten, the path pulled to the right, towards the mansion. And at eleven, Ella was struck with a beautiful view – one of Frederick, of her parents, standing at the end of the stones, in a line, watching both her and Tatiana approach.
Ella’s heart fluttered wildly. Her eyes connected with Frederick’s almost immediately. It was as though a fire erupted in her stomach, assuring her that everything, everything in the world, would be hers. Her parents gazed upon their daughters proudly: her father tall, his shoulders pulled back, and her mother trim and still terribly beautiful, very much reminiscent of Tatiana herself. Tatiana snaked her arm through Ella’s once more, linking them. But Ella wanted to tell her that it would soon be over. That rather soon she would be latched to Frederick, rather than Tatiana.
“Girls! We wondered where you were,” their father, Lord Marvin Chesterton, called. He glanced sidelong towards his wife and Frederick, all-but beaming.
Ella felt a skip in her step. She so wanted to rush towards Frederick, to toss her arms around him. She so wanted to whisper in his ear that his letters had gotten her through a particularly rough winter; that she was fully ready for the sun and the love and the splendour of his company.
But before she could dart forward, her sister – Tatiana – sprung forth, looking like some sort of fairy, rushing towards her parents and Frederick. Ella stopped, stunned, watching as Tatiana snaked her arm – the very arm that had just been through hers – through Frederick’s. And he cupped her hand with his, beaming down upon her.
What was going on?
Ella felt as though she was being punched repeatedly, as though the world around her had stopped spinning. A shadow was cast over everything. The trees seemed to whisper amongst themselves, noting that everything had shifted, the rules had changed.
Again, her parents beamed at Tatiana and Frederick, looking at them with glowing eyes. Ella’s lips parted, heavy with questions.
“I suppose the two of you have a great deal to discuss,” her father said, his voice booming.
“I suppose we do,” Tatiana all but cooed, gazing up at Frederick.
Ella felt she was going to vomit. She searched her mother’s face, looking for some sort of empathy, anything. But it seemed that yet again, Ella was all but forgotten. As she stood there, a stuttering fool, Tatiana and Frederick whirled back towards the house.
As a kind of insult from the stars above, Frederick took this moment to turn back, albeit briefly, and link eyes with Ella. He gave her that cutting smile she loved so much, a knife through the heart. “Hello, Ella,” he said, his voice teasing. “What’s happened to your hair?”
“Yes,” Ella’s mother chimed in, turning her gaze back to her younger daughter. “Darling, what is it? You’re covering it with a hat, but I see something … Goodness, what have you done.”
But it was too late to protest, to alert Tatiana of the mess. Tatiana and Frederick had already passed along, darting up the steps of the mansion and disappearing behind the enormous red door. Ella blinked several times, her hands tightening into fists. Her mother drew closer to her, pulling her hat off her head with a flourish. Her face scrunched up, growing menacing.
“Darling, how many times do I have to tell you?” she demanded, her eyes black dots. “You aren’t to mess with your hair without my say first. And this, right before all the events –”
“What sort of events?” Ella asked, her throat tightening. She was playing the fool, and she knew it.
Her mother and father exchanged a glance, one that spoke of their apparent realisation that their youngest daughter was a buffoon. Her father cleared his throat, taking a full step towards her. His heavy feet crunched against the stones beneath.
“Frederick has asked for your sister’s hand,” he said.
The words were deafening. Ella felt her knees quiver beneath her, apt to cast her to the ground. Would her body truly give out on her now, during her biggest moment of need?
“Oh,” Ella said.
Her mother tittered. “Is that all you have to say? Your sister has found a marvellous match. Lord Frederick Braxton, our future son-in-law! Can you imagine?”
Actually, Ella had imagined that. But the story had been far different, one of whispered poetics and secrets told. Her secrets. Not her sister’s.
“I didn’t quite know they ever had a …” Ella began, conscious that this wasn’t the sort of thing she should have been verbalising to her parents.
“Well, apparently so,” her mother said, arching her brow. “And now we busy ourselves with planning a wedding, don’t we? But first, an engagement party.” She reached again for Ella’s forehead, swiping her palm across it. “And you, looking like some sort of animal …”
“It’s not as though we don’t think you’ll ever find anyone,” her father piped in, seemingly trying to assist. “It’s just that we want to make sure—”
“You don’t take our advice, Ella,” her mother said, drawing her little arms over her chest. “Tatiana has never needed it, of course. Although I dare say it’s good she waited for the proper suitor. Don’t you, Father?”
Ella stepped back. Already, her mother shifted in conversation, mentioning something about the menu at the upcoming engagement affair, about chatting to Frederick’s mother about her opinion. Ella’s stomach lurched. She tapped around her mother and father, aching to dart into her bed, to be alone. But she knew that the moment she entered her house, she might fall into the presence of the happy couple. Imagining their strange giggling, their glowing eyes of wonder and excitement, chilled her.
She felt cast out, an orphan, a woman without a country. She headed towards the door, her body fully shaking, now, and then through it and finding herself in the same hallway she’d walked along nearly every day of her life. Her ears ached, hunting for some sign of Tatiana and Frederick. Perhaps this was masochistic in nature.
Ella heard nothing. The house hummed with its emptiness. She darted toward the staircase, rushing up, blasting into her bedroom and falling into the mattress. Her nose pressed against the comforter. Her inhalation was deep, loud. She kept the air in her lungs as long as she could before releasing it. And with that release came what she knew would come: aching, horrific sobs, ones that made her body clench tight.
The world she’d expected had fought back, lent her nothing in return. She’d never felt less hope for her future. She’d never felt more alone.
“The Lord who Captured Her Innocent Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lady Ella Chesterton has always ached with love for her childhood best friend. To her eye, he seems like the perfect match, so she is secretly dreaming of living a wonderful life by his side. But when he returns to London, Ella’s world is about to crash down once he announces his engagement with her older sister. Crafting a plan to prove how incompatible the prospective couple is, seems like the only promising option left. But when she finds the right partner for her plan, will she manage to distinguish a child crash from deep true love?
Lord Peter Holloway is brash and occasionally arrogant, sizzling with artistic promise. But just before he drudges up the courage to confess his romantic feelings to the woman he’s loved for years, he learns about her wretched engagement with his dull cousin. The idea of showing them how miserable their lives will be together seems like a bright one. Soon enough, he finds just the right person to help him: an enchanting lady who agrees to support his plot. But what if she eventually turns out to be one to shake his world and touch his heart?
Over the course of their scheme, Ella and Peter end up learning far more about themselves and one another than they could have possibly dreamt. And as their desire to make their initial plan succeed fades, will they be brave enough to face the truth and take the leap to real love?
“The Lord who Captured Her Innocent Heart” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.